Her fingers were latched around his shirt collar and the coffee she’d used as the excuse for the interruption was sitting forgotten on the desk. He slid one hand across her jaw so that her check rested against his palm. Her smile became the most adorable pout.
“Darcy. I have work to be done.” He gave in then and kissed her. He wasn’t so immune to the way her bottom lip stuck out when she was disappointed.
“As do you,” he added seconds later.
“Filing.” There was no small amount of loathing in that word. “Not like it’s anything important.”
He leaned down so their foreheads met as he answered. “Lies.”
“And when the information needed to save the world is easily found, I shall be certain to give you all due credit.” His face must have given away something of his thoughts, because she looked intrigued and her protest died before she could mumble it. He took advantage of the distraction – stepping away and prying her fingers from his shirt. When she moved to give chase he kissed her knuckles, smoothly picking up the drink she’d brought with his free hand.
“I will see you tonight.”
She gave a huff that made a grin spread across his face. She was singularly fun to tease. “It’s a promise, then.”
“Of course.” He watched her move to the door. “And Darcy, thank you for the drink.”
She waved her reply, slipping out the doors, and he watched her through the glass as she wandered back down the hall before shaking his head and turning his attention back to the screens in front of him.
It was hours later when he moved back from the screens again and rubbed his hands over his face. Sitting so long at a computer screen was still an oddity in his mind. Though he was grateful to be included in the work – it was fascinating research and held his interest as much as any spell book he’d studied in his youth. He still found he preferred the texture and personality of those dusty pages to the bright backlight of midgardian technology.
Still, theory and calculations will only carry one so far, and this had continued for months now. Loki was tired of thinking in circles. The upper corner of the screen informed him that it was already growing late and he did have a promise to keep. Still, testing this one theory would take only a few moments and at this hour the lab should be empty of any delicate mortals should anything unfortunate occur.
Mind decided, he was standing in the empty lab between one breath and the next. Before him was the glowing cylinder containing what he had made his project. A work of science and magic he – and several others among his teammates – hoped would replicate the infinite energy source of the cube that had brought so much trouble in years past. Though the original was returned and safe in Asgard and few were unhappy with those facts, it was a source of power that could solve many of this world’s problems so long as it was kept in safe hands. Hands that would never seek to turn such a force into a weapon.
Guarded by the Avengers, and given into the control of Tony and the Captain in the event of his departure from the realm, Loki was fairly certain this was a course worth pursuing.
He stepped slowly around the sphere, studying the pulse of it against his outstretched hand. Its energy was not the same as the cube, which had been wild and violent and seemed almost to think for itself. No. Loki’s work was far tamer, less likely to bite the hand that built it. Less likely to open portals for hostile forces. He’d been assured of that much. While the potential to open ways was certainly there, the sphere had no point of connection, and merely looped back on itself.
As he stood, the power seemed to wake. Magic was like that, and he could not have made anything of this nature without it being at least somewhat aware.
He checked the wires and machines connected to his creation first, double-checking those with explosive potential.
Part of him did desire to wait out the weekend, but it was best to initiate such a trial without an audience. However upset they may be with him for such action later. But metal heart or not, Tony was still less than durable. And Loki did not want to consider the possible effects of a mistake should Banner be present for it. It was only a week ago that he had been thrown into that bus, after all.
He reached into the fold of space where he kept his personal items of power and pulled the staff into existence. It was modeled on the spear Laufey had used to activate the cube. Loki had liked the idea of it and had designed his own to control this power source. Though this would not be a tool of destruction or mind control as the other had been, it would be an amplifier for his spell work and a safety measure for the sphere.
He held the staff against the glass wall of the cylinder and whispered the incantation that would send power outward.
The glass shattered.
Loki closed his eyes against the sudden glow as he was thrown back, and when he opened them again, it was to see the business end of guns pointed in his direction.
In medias res! I hope you don't mind terribly. I find it more fun to tell the differences as I go than rewrite two entire movies.
And a quick shout out to my lovely and wonderful betas! You guys rock so much.
“Put. The weapon. Down!”
Loki eased his hand from the staff slowly, raising both in a show of peace. His eyes darted, taking in the vast changes in the lab and the hostile expressions and body language of those surrounding him. There were few situations in which he did not understand the events unfolding, but he was currently at a complete loss as to what was happening.
His eyes turned to the most familiar face in the room. The look in the man’s single good eye was such that even his frost giant blood turned chilly in his veins. While he and Fury had their differences, most often due to his refusal to use his recent project to certain ends and his tendency towards manipulating others to suit his own idea of what was best, he could think of nothing he had done that would incur a look of such wrath. No. It was more than mere anger in his countenance – his face spoke true hatred.
“Have I offended?”
“Offended?!” There was every ounce of the venom Loki had seen in that single word. “I think we’ve moved past offending.”
The men beside him pulled him roughly to his feet, making a show of kicking the staff from his reach. It was as much a surprise as the treatment. He had thought it was well known that the item was his – would be in his hand as soon as he desired it to be so. For a brief moment he considered resisting. But Loki was still at a loss as to what had happened to change things so drastically. He assumed an air of calm and allowed the treatment. His confusion the only emotion he allowed to show.
Orders were given to lock him away, and again Loki felt a strange sort of dissonance. These men knew that would be a pointless exercise. They had seen enemies with far more knowledge of his arts try and fail in attempts to do the same. Loki was never caught unless he allowed it. And yet they seemed to have forgotten this.
He was marched none too gently down several corridors and into a containment unit built for the unfortunate instances in which Banner lost his control. And yet these were as changed as the labs, without the subtle wards he’d placed to encourage peace and calm. A pity, as at the moment such magic would be a benefit to all present.
He was questioned exhaustively through the thick barriers, his answers all seeming to bring more frustration. He catalogued the most disturbing queries in his mind. Puzzle pieces that didn’t yet fit together. How had he escaped? How had he returned to Earth? What was he planning?
What in the nine realms did they believe he’s done? And why would they believe him a prisoner of Asgard? How did they seem to know him and yet not?
When he sensed the line of questions had become a circle he held up a single hand to call for silence. It was shock more than anything, he knew, that granted the request.
“Nicolas. I believe we have come to an impasse. I assure you I know nothing of the things you ask of me, and it is clear my own desire for answers will go unreturned. I would rather we not chase our tails in these matters.”
Fury’s reply was a string of insults that would have offended even sailors and to leave Loki alone in the prison that could not hold him.
Loki did not wait for more of the same treatment.
It was more effort than normal to arrive at the door of Darcy’s apartment. As if the path had not been traveled before and often. Still, it was no more than a muttered spell and he had lifted his arm to knock.
The man that answered was not his Darcy. What he could see of the room beyond the stranger’s shoulder would not have belonged to her.
Loki leaned against the stairwell wall. Hand over his face as he tried to suppress rising panic.
Something had gone very wrong.
I should probably mention I like writing short chapters.
He set up the spell to veil himself first. If things were as wrong as he suspected, he did not relish the idea of the gatekeeper watching his every move. The spell work had been altered from the original he’d created in his youth, interfering with mortal cameras as well.
He needed time, needed information.
He found his way to the library near Darcy’s – what should have been Darcy’s – apartment. It was blessedly unchanged. He walked unnoticed, bypassing the books in favor of the speediest way of obtaining news of recent events. Though there would be little to inform on the inner workings of shield, he had at least one publicly available point at which to begin.
He sought out information on the Avengers.
It was not difficult to spot the glaring abnormality and point of change. He was no longer listed among his teammates. Instead they stood with his brother, who was no longer working to rebuild their kingdom. He traced the difference backward to the first public battle.
He watched the news video four times to process what he was seeing.
There was no mention of his name. But then, there had been no mention of Laufey’s when events had happened as they should. Yet there was no mistaking the glimpses of golden horned helmet no matter how the camera shook. One did not wear such armor for centuries and not know it on sight.
The very thought was sickening.
He had not done what he was watching himself do.
It was not possible.
He had fought to save the city, to save Midgard. He remembered that very battle, standing with those who he did not know then beyond the talk of a few days. He had pulled screaming children from a bus. Had struck down the invaders with tricks and with daggers and with ice. Conjured the giant serpent in the sky to close what he could of the enemies’ entrance.
His mind shied from the image of his helmet. Oh what he was seeing himself do.
He found himself recalling the bus. The children.
The apartment that had not been Darcy’s.
He found footage of another battle. A specific date. The day he’d found his ridiculous mortal girl again. He could not find her face in the confusion or learn her fate through the cameraman’s backward run.
His fingers shook as he searched her name in other places.
Odin bless her obsession with social media.
I wanted to take a moment and send a huge thank you to everyone that's left comments or kudos. You guys are really so awesome it defies description.
Also, I want to say a big thanks to my betas. I know you guys have been busy, and yet you still made time to help me out and I don't say enough how much I appreciate that.
It was a long inner debate. He knew her home – the one she’d occupied before he’d found her had never been vacated if the photos were to be believed. Yet, he was believed to be a villain. He needed a safe, private place to regroup and think things through. He could not stand to see the look Fury had turned to him on her face.
It was not the sentiment that decided him.
Logically, there was no reason that he should assume going to her would be any different than returning to the cell he’d vacated. He was a stranger to her now or worse.
It was a longer debate as to what his remaining options were.
He found himself at the bifrost site. The hub that had built itself around it was nowhere to be seen and the marks in the earth long faded so that there was not even a trace of energy left for him to find. There were other ways to travel between the realms, but they were exhausting and he had no more knowledge of what he would find there than he would anywhere else.
Still, he dropped the veil.
He did not yell. He was no mad man to shout at the heavens. And from what he’d seen his mere presence would inspire immediate attention. No doubt he should be suffering long and creative punishments. Rightly so, if he had in fact been the cause of such destruction.
He waited an hour. Then two. At the close of the third he knew the next action would be his to take, not one he would be able to wait for another to initiate.
His fingers closed around the familiar metal staff. One item that was familiar in this place and not a half version of itself. The mortal clothing he’d donned shimmered and became his familiar Asgardian attire. He took a deep breath to steady himself and then opened the way.
It was faster, even than the bifrost, and quieter by far. Even so, he seemed not to be unexpected and for the second time in far too short a time for his liking, Loki found himself facing armed guards who were less than pleased with his presence. This time, it was exhaustion that encouraged his compliance.
I apologize for the length, but the next few chapters should /hopefully/ make up for it.
There will also be a prequel of sorts beginning soon, for those like myself that are wondering where all the shipping fluff is.
And as always, I love my betas and readers. You guys rock!
He awoke in what was unmistakably a cell. He sat, eyes focusing on the wall before him as events shifted through his mind. He had, shortly after arriving, succumbed to the exhaustion of travel. He disliked admitting that weakness even to himself – fainting was rather unseemly even when wits and action were not so desperately called for.
His side ached, proof of being thrown unconscious into his prison.
Staff and daggers were nowhere to be found. Obviously. His hands were bound, as was his mouth, it seemed. The gag was heavy and uncomfortable, armed with spines that punished any movement of tongue or lips. Unfortunate.
All this was a secondary notice that brushed only the edges of his thoughts for he was far more concerned – intrigued, confused, alarmed – by the other man occupying the cell.
Green eyes studied him with curiosity, anger, and not a little distrust. Each emotion crystal clear on the face that was and was not his despite what he knew could only be an identical gag. Loki found he reciprocated each and every thought that flickered in the other man’s eyes, though he doubted his twin could say they same.
Loki also felt relief. Overwhelmingly.
He had not been the one to cause such reckless harm.
Which meant the man that was and was not him was not to be trusted. Was damaged, twisted in some way that Loki could not fathom.
The other version reflected that much in his appearance, at least. Hair unkempt, eyes sunken and a little too wild. And yet he seemed to be content to sit and glare from the corner. Well enough for the moment.
Loki tested his own strength and then expended what energy he could to free himself. The shackles fell away easily, the gag less so. It was meant to be protected against his spells, but not to such an extent that he was incapable of releasing the barbs. The fastenings lashing the thing to his face he worried free with fingers and patience. He disliked the idea of wasting power he was regaining only slowly. And disliked more the idea of being enclosed with a mad version of himself while helpless.
The other man had straightened abruptly when the shackles fell away, but Loki ignored him, leaning back to recover and to plan.
It would be easier if he had a basis of comparison – knew these half versions of his family well enough to guess what they might think of his sudden arrival and accompanying lack of escape. Likely that he had some plan. In which case he might be stuck for some time before even being able to make an appeal to see his father and impart his explanation.
Or they may be just as likely to question him once they were certain he was awake and aware.
Minutes ticked by, and still he could see no solution. The problem was that he always worked to achieve some end. Without such a goal he was floundering.
His mind supplied him with small hands against his chest and soft curves tucked into his arms. A familiar overstuffed couch that one sank far too deeply into and the sounds of some movie he had never paid the slightest attention to but made his woman cackle with insane glee. Banter with fellow warriors in the bright rooms of the tower. The damnable cat assuming it was welcome to perch on his lap. Starbucks paid for with a stolen Stark credit card just to prove a point.
If it could be achieved. If there was a way to reverse what had happened.
The sphere had caused this somehow. The flash. Being thrown back.
Sphere. It had been, after all, a tame replica of the cube. The cube was, in essence, a source made with the purpose of creating doors. Only, he’d not allowed his reproduction that function. The power was an endless loop connecting only with itself. Only with the space it already occupied.
Or identical space it might occupy. Loki glanced back at the man that was not him and corrected his thought. Space its twin might occupy.
If that held true, he could return. To his proper life and proper place. His proper home.
To build such a device again, to do so in a location that had any chance of transporting him where he desired to be, required access to S.H.I.E.L.D. equipment, materials, and the Avengers tower. Obtaining such access required the cooperation and trust of his brother. Which would come if and only with his father’s belief of his tale. He needed to speak with the man that was and was not his father.
And he needed some amount of preparation when he did so. By honesty or manipulation he would do what he must to achieve this end.
Thick curls and the smell of coconut shampoo.
Answers. Ones that, in the end, he could only hope to achieve from one source. No matter that the source was the god of lies.
Or one of them, as fate would declare it at the moment.
The gag bound on his alternate self was far easier to remove than the one on his own, though less pleasant as this version of himself emerged cursing and spitting.
“What trick or punishment is this?!”
“No trick, merely misfortune.” Loki backed away with a frown. “I am you. Better groomed and in possession of all my senses, but in essence we are the same.” His twin considered this and slowly grinned.
“Release my arms.”
“Do I look a fool?”
This earned a bitter laugh. “Then why free me of any part of these bonds?”
“And what good does my cooperation do me, I wonder.”
Loki allowed himself a bitter grin.
- - -
They spoke of the attack on Midgard and the battle with Thor before it, Loki found it equal parts interesting and horrifying. Hours later Loki had an understanding. He had known theories of alternate worlds created by single decisions, and now he had traced the diverging paths down to a single point. A single fact withheld and he would have been the man he saw before him. The denial of his talents versus embracing them fully. A relationship with his father built on knowledge or lies. He did not envy the creature of self loathing he might have been.
The noise at the door startled them both and his twin fixed wild, accusing eyes at him as the guards entered and lead him away.
Loki waited until the door had drawn closed behind him before breathing the spell that would fulfill his portion of the bargain.
The way he was led was familiar enough he could have done without the escort. Not, he supposed, that he was trusted to go where he was asked. Not here in this place that was not the Asgard he had known. He suffered the armed guard, if not the grip on his arm, for the sake of his goal.
Trembling fingers skating across the catches in his armor and soft sighs of frustration.
The doors of the throne room were thrown open with flourish. Loki couldn’t recall a time they’d ever opened subtly - at least some things seemed unchanged. The guards left him at the doorway, allowing him at least the small dignity of approaching the too familiar figure on the throne under his own power. Loki knelt at the base of the steps and allowed a small smile to play on his lips.
“I would say it was a joy to see you again, Father, but I imagine you recognize that I am not the son you raised.” An indignant sound met his declaration, but Loki pressed on. “I would beg assistance, however, for the love that must surely span beyond worlds.” He had known such talk would halt the man’s own thoughts. The man that had spoken in the cell would never voice such soft words, least of all to the All Father. It was several long breaths before Odin spoke.
“What manner of trick is this, Loki?”
“No trick. I am merely the son you might have had.” Loki stood, noticing his mother for the first time and wishing she had not been present this once. Some truths were not always pleasant and he would not spare her feelings for ones necessary to more than his own ends.
“Speak plainly.” The command was sharp and echoed in the cavernous empty chamber.
“So far as I have been allowed to study events since my arrival, this is what I believe befell me: that this is not my realm. I am not the man you think me, though I might have been had the father I knew been so dishonest.”
“In another realm, one the Bifrost cannot see and I imagine even Heimdal is blind to, there is another All Father. A mirror image save for the echoes of one small lie. Or truth, if you wish to see from my perspective.”
“And what lie was this?”
“The truth of my birth. Withheld in this world but known well in my own, of course.” He willed his face not to show his anger at how close he had come to being the raving man he had spoken to.
“And this makes you one to be trusted.”
“Not at all.” Loki grinned. “However, the result is a man who feels no desire to dominate other realms and no hatred towards you. Only pity for what was denied to all parties.” At the look that crossed Odin’s face, Loki reminded himself that he was attempting to win favor and not declare the man’s failures. Wise as he would be to heed them. “If my tale is in doubt,” he added smoothly, “perhaps the gate keeper could offer the truth of things.”
With a nod, Odin summoned Heimdal, a voice he would trust and who, Loki knew, would not be able to deny the manner of Loki’s appearance.
Apologies for breaking the update schedule last week. It seems I've heaped more than I should on my plate. I've caught up a bit now, so the fic should be back on track.
Thank you so much to my betas and to my readers. All of you are amazing!
Loki paced the rooms that seemed so like his own. It was missing a handful of scrolls and texts, contained more weaponry, but was similar enough to feel comforting. The peace made something between his shoulder blades ache. He wanted to begin the work. He wanted to see his true chambers. His companions. His lady.
He was loath to admit he would even feel joy at seeing the damned cat.
Yet this night it was wiser to rest. There was nothing to be done while his hopeful allies in Midgard slept and his own power felt drained still. Loki had begun to wonder if it was perhaps an effect of the travel between worlds. He should have felt more refreshed by now.
At the very least his plan was in motion. He was no longer a prisoner, and arrangements were being made for the rest. If he had no one’s genuine trust, it mattered little so long as they allowed him to do his work. He would be home soon enough. He halted and fell upon the bed and forced sleep to come.
The spell that had made slumber possible broke with the first light of morning. Loki blinked at the rays spreading across the wall a moment before rising with a long sigh. It was too early yet for things to be in motion. He waved a hand, replacing the clothes he’d slept in with a fresher, more casual, set. His feet, when he left his chambers, carried him to the dining hall. Loki vaguely recalled skipping the midday meal when he was last in his own world. One… no closer to two days past now. It was no wonder his middle complained so.
He ignored the stares as he served himself from the ever waiting, overburdened tables. Though he did glance at the four whose distrustful glares spoke louder than most. Loki found himself an empty seat far from his brother’s comrades. He would not answer for sins that were not his own. He was halfway through his bread before the room’s atmosphere changed.
Loki would not admit the long drink was fortification. Or stalling. It certainly made no difference either way when the hand came down with only slightly too much force and coughing into one’s goblet was unavoidable.
“Thor.” Loki turned in his seat and allowed his eyes to flick over the man. “Surely they must have explained-“
Thor waved a large hand in good humored dismissal. “It matters not.” He sank into the empty seat at Loki’s side. “And I am to take you to Midgard.”
This was a surprise until Loki recalled the footage he’d seen when first puzzling out the mystery. He smiled. “Of course. I have heard of your connections there.”
At this statement, Thor’s grin faltered. “Is it not so in the realm you’ve come from? Has Midgard no need of protection?”
“I did not say the realm was unprotected, brother.” Something sparked in the man’s eyes and Loki recalled the bitter words of his maddened mirror image. He would, he decided, have to make use of the endearment while he could. “Only that the privilege did not fall upon your shoulders in every world.”
“Who, then?” Thor’s gaze regarded the four of his companions briefly before dismissing the possibility and turning back to meet Loki’s own.
“And why else would I be mixing the magic and mortal machines that brought me here?” Loki picked at a slice of meat, sandwiching it in the remains of bread. It was less dignified, but seeing as his guide was already present he would opt for speed. Perhaps he had been spending more time than was wise in the laboratories of late.
Thor, and no doubt many others in the hall, watched the action with no small measurement of astonishment. Loki resisted the urge to chuckle. Maybe he wouldn’t have found it amusing had it not been clearer on Thor’s face than any other. Or perhaps that was the news of the largest of the differences between himself and the mad impostor. Instead of displaying his amusement, however, he concentrated on filling the emptiness of too many missed meals. There was a surprising silence that followed, as they both ate and as Thor downed his mug of… well Loki hoped it was something weaker than normal, given the journey ahead.
“You are acting as guardian of Midgard?” Thor rubbed his beard. “That is a change.”
“Is it?” Loki tipped his empty cup to study the bottom. “Perhaps from my point of view it is not so strange a thing. It has been my task for years now.”
“It is a glad thing, I think. I would have the story, but later.” And with that Thor slammed his mug down. “Come, brother. We have a quest to attend to.”
And we're back!
The journey to return to the SHIELD facility was not as easy as travel by the Bifrost, nor was it as draining as Loki’s initial escape. And he was, reasonably in his own eyes, troubled at the thought of using the tesseract as a means to power their travels. And yet intrigued by the science and magic of it. He was already sorting through methods of study that would not send him yet further from his goal. Ways it might possibly be of use.
The agents that greeted their arrival seemed equal parts confused and troubled that he accompanied Thor. And frightened, though their training did not permit them to show it overly much. But he recognized at least a few of the faces well enough to see past the pretense. Obviously this would go over well. He quickened his step to match his brother’s and reinforced his personal protection wards to stop any stray bullet that might be tempted to find the back of his head.
Thor made his way to the larger of the meeting rooms, the one with the glass top table, where Fury and the captain were already waiting. The looks of distaste and mistrust were twins upon their faces. Thor’s bellow of greeting washed over the room, doing nothing to lessen the tension.
Loki inclined his head in a gesture of respect. “Director. Captain. I believe we have much to discuss. If we may do so without the cages this time?” He paused briefly to cast his eyes to the pistol in Fury’s hand. “Or weapons pointed in my direction. I would take that as a kindness.” Though perhaps he should have known better than to try for a jest, Loki thought when the gun was only raised higher.
“And why should I worry about kindness towards you?”
“I am not what you think.”
“And we should believe you?” It was Rogers that spoke this time.
“Friends. My brother speaks the truth. He is not the… brother responsible for…”
“I believe what Thor means to say is that I am not of this realm. By means that I am myself still making a guesswork of I have found myself at your mercy. In my own reality we are colleagues and brothers in arms and I believe even in realms where such friendship is not known we may still be of some benefit to each other.”
“And what benefit would that be?”
Loki held out a hand, weaving the illusion of the sphere above his palm. Blue light filled the room. It was Steve that stepped forward to inspect what they saw.
“That looks like the tesseract.”
“Yes,” Loki admitted. “A clever device. Far less potent, of course, and merely an energy source. Not a portal. Or not meant to be, in any case. It seems I was rather largely mistaken on that point.”
“And that is how you say you arrived?” There was skepticism in the captain’s voice that was not unwise.
“In the very same laboratory I left, it seems.”
Fury crossed his arms, which drew Loki’s attention to the fact that his gun was put away. Not that it would be a deterrent should the man decide it was needed, but comforting none the less. “And how is that of use to us?”
“An identical device would be as much use to this world as it would my own, director. And it is my best, perhaps only, chance to return home.” Loki closed his hand and the sphere vanished with one last shimmer of blue light.
Rogers rubbed a hand along his jaw, looking from Thor and Fury, who looked on the verge of declining the offer. Yet whatever might have been said in defense or refusal of the proposal was cut short as the door was thrown open and a voice behind Loki called out his brother’s name with an enthusiasm Thor returned twofold. Loki turned, taking in the mortal with curious eyes. Something about her seemed familiar, though he could not quite place her face. Not even when she turned to him, expression uneasy.
“Jane. It is good to see you again.” Thor lifted the woman’s hand to press a kiss to her fingers.
And recognition sparked in his mind, accompanied by a sizable amount of confusion when Thor went on to press their lips together in what was hardly a decent display of affection given present circumstances. “Jane Foster?” Loki did a poor job of masking his surprise. “The scientist?”
Thor turned, face falling. “Are you not acquainted with Jane?”
Loki looked from Jane’s face to Thor’s. “We have met,” he said with hesitation. “Though… I did not suspect you were also.”
I wanted to say thank you for all the notes saying they were happy to see that updates are back. I always feel too awkward to answer to the comments individually, but each and every one makes me so very happy. I adore you all.
It turned out that Jane’s distraction, and the reaction following, played in Loki’s favor. He was currently awaiting the arrival of the Avengers’ resident science team so that discussions could begin in earnest over what would be needed. Loki sat alone, quite aware of the eyes still on him, nursing black coffee from a small disposable cup. He had shifted the Asgardian garb for the dress shirt and slacks that made up his usual attire while on Midgard. Thor had retreated to a corner, still visibly unsettled that the version of himself in Loki’s world had never even made Jane’s acquaintance.
There was a pad of paper in front of him, requested because despite everything Loki still preferred writing over typing. The list of things he would require was still incomplete. And yet his pencil had stilled as he watched his not-brother fret over his fragile lady love. Oh, but it was certainly an interesting mix. And Loki, ever one to enjoy setting chaos into motion, was beginning to imagine the benefits and amusement of making such an introduction upon his return. Beyond the delightful havoc and happiness that might result, Thor taking to court a mortal lover would most certainly silence the protests at the serious turn his friendship with Darcy had taken in the past year. If only by hanging another target. And, he mused to himself, it would never hurt to add more intelligence into the family.
He was also fairly sure his partner in mischief would ‘ship it’. If, Loki reminded himself, he could make it home at all. He turned his attention to his work, not even glancing up as the door opened.
“Ok. I know I miss a lot. Sometimes I don’t pay attention on purpose. But could someone just clue me in? What is Reindeer Games doing here?”
Loki let the corners of his lips turn upward. “Never fear, Tin Man. I come in peace.”
- - -
The dungeons of Asgard were eerily quiet as the prisoner stirred, tested the door. True to the bargain struck, the wards meant to keep him contained and powerless fell away before him. Loki grinned as the man standing watch turned. The cry of warning and alarm died as a breath on the guard’s lips.
- - -
“No.” Tony’s voice was firm. “I’m sorry, does not compute. He threw me out the window.”
“I really can’t see why anyone would find that action appealing.” Loki waved his hand and the paper in the other man’s hand materialized in his own. “Though I would point out yet again that I was not the one -“
“And I seem to remember something about you being the god of lies-“
Thor clapped a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “My friend, he speaks the truth.” His assurances went ignored by both parties.
Loki rolled his eyes. “Oh, must we truly dwell on titles still?”
“I find it highly relevant to the situation, yeah.”
Loki frowned, studying the man. After a moment he pulled a slim device from the pocket of void he kept tucked away, and was relieved the item had followed. He tapped his fingers across the screen before sliding it across the table. Tony hesitated before lifting the phone and frowning.
He slid his thumb across it a few times. “It could be an illusion.” He slid his thumb across the scene again and his frown deepened. “But why would you fake a picture of me drunk?”
“To remind myself that you handle Asgardian ale poorly.”
“Huh.” Tony continued to study the images. “Ok, so it’s a very thorough trick.”
“Or I am, rare as it is, being entirely honest about the matter.”
Tony huffed. “You don’t do anything without someone watching you.” He waited until Loki gave a solemn nod. Really, the deal was fair and no less than he had hoped. “Who’s the chick with the vulcan hand sign?”
Loki reached to snatch the phone away, but Thor was closer and the photograph had caught his attention. “This is Darcy.” The look on his face was far happier than the one he’d worn when learning of his other self’s relation to Jane. And it would be, Loki supposed. That particular picture had left little room for denial of his affection for the girl. Even ignoring the look caught on his face, he hadn’t been the one wearing the helmet. “You and Darcy-“
“Are something of a mystery,” Loki responded, summoning his device back to its safe, private little dimensional fold. Whatever he may think of their counterparts, he was not yet comfortable with sharing all his weaknesses with those gathered.
Jane had perked up slightly, her brow drawn. “My old intern? How did you-”
“The world is full of many coincidences, is it not, Ms. Foster?” He turned his attention back to Iron Man. “I agree to your terms, and am eager to begin.”
Tony looked at him a moment too long for his liking. “Fair enough.” And he turned, the others following him from the room with only a few glances back to study the displaced god.
Thor’s hand settled on Loki’s shoulder as the door swung closed behind the group. “I am happy for you.”
“And I you, brother.”
Work progressed slowly the past week, though it had been steadily gaining speed as Bruce and Tony both began assisting and better understanding the mechanism they were attempting to make. The original sphere and its containment unit had been the labor of nearly a year. However, it had been a year of trial and error - which knowledge of past mistakes Loki hoped would all but eliminate. Indeed, the basic structure was already taking form and with the original staff ready at hand to speed the process… Loki considered two months to be an optimistic but obtainable goal. And still far longer than he felt acceptable.
If he had ever before forgone sleep and sustenance in favor of his work, it was nothing to the determination he harbored now. Even the often starved and sleep deprived scientists watching and assisting him had commented on the fact. He waved away their remarks. Or had until the spells wavered in his vision and fell apart in his hands. He shook his head to clear the trance. Even so he felt slowed. Fuzzy. He looked around the lab, spotting Banner near the far wall, sandwich in hand as he studied his screen. The man must have sensed the eyes on him, because he turned.
“You’ve been at that since last night. You should sleep.”
“Perhaps,” Loki allowed. He rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“You won’t do yourself any good if you collapse from exhaustion.” Bruce set down his lunch and brushed off the crumbs. “There’s a couch in the office.”
Loki nodded. He didn’t enjoy giving in and delaying further, but if he made mistakes in his fatigue then it wasted far more time than he would need to rest. He gave another nod, and made his way to the suggested furniture. He collapsed with a groan and surrendered to unconsciousness even as he settled into the cushions.
“Jane?” The familiar voice startled Loki awake, and for a moment he froze in confusion. But no, he was still draped haphazardly across the obnoxiously red sofa in the office off Tony’s lab. The voice rang out a second time, closer now to the open office door. Loki jerked up into a sitting position, but considered teleportation only a moment too late. Darcy rounded the corner and poked her head in. “Oh I thought Jane would be…”
He could pinpoint the exact moment she realized who she’d found instead of her once mentor. It was the moment she looked utterly horrified. He had to remind himself sharply that this was not his Darcy. Not the girl he… “I mean no harm.” His voice came out somewhat broken. She already had her little black device aimed towards his chest, and he was smart enough to make no move other than to raise his hands and his magical shield. His Darcy could be trigger happy given the right circumstances and that was a similarity he was in no hurry to test.
“Where’s Jane? And if you’ve hurt her I swear to God I will tase your ass to next Wednesday.”
“Which god would that be?” It was unkind, perhaps, to tease her so. But hearing her voice… or perhaps he could blame that on lack of sleep. Or whatever bizarre activity his stomach was now set upon.
“Where. Is. Jane?”
“I haven’t the faintest.” He offered a smile, tried to be reasuring. “Truly, Darcy, I am no danger to you.”
“You fricken blew up New York!” He’d panicked her by using her name. Foolish mistake.
“Uh, yeah. I saw it on TV.”
“Surely you are imaginative enough that you avoid believing everything you see.”
“Uh…” She’d been backing away slowly, but paused at the hidden compliment. Loki took the chance to lower his hands and settle back on the couch.
“The woman you seek isn’t here at the moment.” He settled back, still watching her. “You might try using your phone.”
She was giving him a dirty look still. Loki found he didn’t care much for it. “You won’t fool me that easily. She’s the one that called me to meet her here.” When she got no further response her temper flared. “I took off work and drove all the way across town in traffic to get here and I’m not going to-“
“Darcy!” It was Thor’s voice that broke her tirade. “There you are!” Thor barged in, but hesitated at the less than pleased expression on his brother’s face.
“A word, brother?”
“Jane is waiting in the lobby to greet you, fair Darcy. Perhaps you might tell her I will be delayed briefly.”
Darcy wasted no time darting from the room. For his part, Loki was only proud he did not lean sideways to watch her depart. “What was your purpose in bringing her?” When Thor’s mouth opened, Loki held out a hand. “No. I can guess it easily enough. And I would rather she were not brought into this.”
“I only seek to make your time here happier.”
“In hopes I decide to stay?” Thor at least looked sheepish at the accusation. Thor was too honest to make such a plan, but the hope had been there all the same. Loki shook his head. “No. It’s alright. But you must know that I cannot choose to stay here.”
“And if your plan fails-“
“Then I will conceive another. I understand, brother, truly I do see that you mean to help.” Loki looked away. “There are those waiting on me. Who know not of what happened, if I even live. Bringing her into it is cruel to us both.”
Harry Potter ending spoilers. I mention it just in case.
Hi! I love you!
He went back to work after Thor had left, though he did not feel overly refreshed for the several hours sleep he’d managed. He found the lab empty. It had not been so before and he took a moment of the solitude a pull out his phone and stare at the image that had brought the girl that wasn’t Darcy. One of her arms was off screen holding the phone to take the photograph, the other hand held up in what Loki figured was not actually a gang sign despite what she said. Her hair stuck out from underneath his helmet sitting at an awkward angle on her head. It hadn’t fit her well at all, and in fact was being held in place by his own shoulder as he stood behind her. That had been the evening they’d exchanged ransom notes, the photo taken as proof of her victory - despite that they had declared themselves even in the end. It was the picture, the awe on his face at her absurdity, that had prompted his proposal to change their relationship to… whatever it was now. What it would be if he could get home.
He abruptly shut off the device, setting it on the table as he activated the hologram display of the sphere and its progress. It spun lazily as he studied it, making notes of the changes made during his rest. Satisfied that at least his wasted hours had not put them behind schedule, he summoned his staff and began to prepare his spells. The sphere would, like the first, be a creation of pure magic housed in the containment his human partners would build.
Loki looked up, startled. Through the blue shimmer of the hologram he could see the girl that was not Darcy hold out one of the two coffee cups she was carrying. He frowned. “What are you doing here?”
“Gee, thank you, Darcy, for getting me the caffeine the bags under my eyes are so clearly broadcasting to the world that I need.” She set the cups down on one of the counters a little too forcefully. The liquid sloshed out to create dark puddles against the white that she completely ignored. “If you aren’t going to be polite, them I’m drinking them both myself. And for your information, I got hired to watch you while the Avengers had to run off to investigate something.”
Loki dropped his head into a hand and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Damn Thor. “Get yourself fired.”
“Oh no. Don’t think so. Babysitting crazy god things? Pays really well.” She perched her hands on her hips. “Well? I’m still waiting for that thank you.”
Loki stood and strode forward, claiming one of the cups. He was both pleased and hurt that she took several steps back when he approached her. With no more than a nod, he returned to his seat. Though it seemed doubtful that rudeness would cause her to leave, it was likely kinder to them both in the end.
“Ass.” She snatched back the cup he’d left and retreated to a chair on the opposite side of the room. She pulled a book from her pack and opened it roughly. Loki felt relief, even as the guilt settled in. Nevertheless, he turned his attention back to the task at hand.
- - -
The city had rebuilt itself since last he’d seen it. And he had been above it then, not slinking in the shadows like the pitiful ants he should be ruling. They bustled around the barrier he’d erected, not knowing their punishment for rejecting his rule stood close enough his breath stirred their hair.
- - -
Loki finished yet another layering of spell work, the power now tangible, if far too small and shakily formed. The pressure in his skull informed him that it would be a while yet before the next layer could be placed. He looked up at the sound of Darcy turning the page. The girl looked utterly miserable. He sighed, took a sip of the now tepid coffee, and turned back to her. She had the book propped up, the colorful cover familiar. Against his better judgement, he spoke.
“Does the twin die?”
Loki waved a hand absently, focusing on his drink. “You - your alternate self was always rather unsettled by the way the books ended with the death of the Weasley. I had thought that if the story went differently in this world I might take a changed copy as a gift when I go.”
Darcy pushed her hair back over her shoulder. “Are you seriously sitting here and talking to me about Harry Potter?”
“You read Harry Potter?” The look of disbelief on her face was almost amusing.
“I read a lot of things. I was offered access to the novels and so I read them. Works of fiction are not of particular interest, but I was under the impression it was wise to decipher the term Slytherin.”
“Wow.” She was leaning closer now, head on the heel of her hand. He leaned back in response. “Ok, so you read fantasy books. That’s not something I expected.”
“Only rarely. And you did not answer my question.” He’d tried for no small amount of snippiness in his tone. Distance was far preferable. Unfortunately, Darcy was rarely one to cooperate with good sense. She closed her book and crossed the room, doing a far too familiar hop and backward slide onto the counter beside him.
“So. Jane said that you… in your world we’re dating.” Her voice made the statement into a question Loki did not answer. After the pause she huffed and kicked out her feet. His Darcy had the same boots. “How did that happen?”
“No shit.” She pursed her lips. Not that he was looking at her lips. “Are you always this talkative?”
“Of course. I’m known for my skill with words.”
He wasn’t sure if the quip angered or amused her, turned towards the hologram as he was. Then she nudged his knee with the toe of her shoe. “Ok. So then is there anything else I should know?”
“Fridge yof?” Even in alternate worlds her talent to mangle names proved true.
His smile turned slightly wicked. “Our son.”
“What?” The question was flat, disbelieving, yet color leached from her face.
“Yes. I was just as surprised when he was brought home.”
“We have a kid?!” Now there was an undercurrent of panic.
Loki shrugged, retrieving his phone and seeking out an image of the beast before turning the device for her to examine.
“That’s a cat, you ass.”
“You are familiar with mythology, are you not?” Loki asked in cajoling tones. He pretended to ignore the look of horror on her face and rose to refill his coffee in the room down the hall.
“I did not give birth to a cat.” Loki paused halfway in the door, seeming for all the world as if he were unaware of why such a statement would be directed at him, and so forcefully. Darcy was staring him down, arms crossed and feet planted firmly as if expecting physical resistance.
“Ah.” Loki nodded, setting his coffee down. “I see. Your ignorance of mythology once again reveals itself. You gave birth to nothing. It was decided that I had -- how did you phrase it? -- the better health insurance plan.” He tapped a finger on the display screen near his borrowed work space and it flared to life.
“That’s bull crap.”
“Is it? Do I strike you as a person who would keep photographs of a mere pet on my person?” Her silence spoke of her renewed panic as Loki once again brought the picture up on the phone’s screen, staring at it fondly. “He’s due to begin school soon. Or so I’ve been informed. Midgardian educational institutions are not something I’m overly familiar with, but I imagine one learns quickly.” He glanced up, taking great pleasure from the look on her face. “They do grow up so swiftly.”
“You needn’t look so panicked, Darcy. It’s simply a figure of speech. We have only the one.”
She stood for a moment more, and then hurried from the room. And he watched her go with no small amount of relief as he went back to his work. Over the next few weeks he hardly laid eyes on the girl, though he knew she was still about. Coffee would appear waiting for him at random times at times accompanied by take out. The spicy Chinese chicken he simply placed near the little sitting area she’d set up in the hall with a small yellow tacky note. ‘I do not eat heavily spiced foods.’ After the first note the next container had been tacos and salsa. He revised the message. ‘I would appreciate edible meals.’
He was laying a new set of spells upon the windows, partially as a mental break from his true work and partially because one was only guaranteed the upper hand by being prepared, when Thor burst into the lab. It was not so unusual as it might seem. His brother had spent countless hours being a distraction, if a happy one. Often they had traded tales of past adventures. Loki found the comparisons interesting, and they seemed to give Thor some small measure of hope. Other times Thor seemed content to simply watch as Loki worked. Though that was hardly less distracting.
Yet he could never find it in himself to ask Thor to go.
This day he burst in with a bag in one hand. “Brother, the lady Darcy asked that I gift you with sustenance.” Loki accepted the bag gratefully, only to frown at its contents. Peppers bobbed in a gold tinged liquid, while the label depicted crude drawings of flames.
He held the glass in his hand a long moment before standing and throwing open the lab doors. Darcy, startled that he hadn’t timed his return of the inedible leavings during her coffee or bathroom run, nearly fell from the chair she’d commandeered for herself. “Darcy.”
“Holy shit!” She shut off the phone, silencing the game she’d been playing. Loki held out the jar silently. “Dude. Can’t you take a joke?”
“I will not play this game with you.”
Darcy’s face was a portrait of confusion. “I just… you seemed upset and-”
“And I will have no part in this. It is better that you dislike me.”
“Oh.” Again she seemed perplexed, yet her eyes widened in some small understanding. “That’s… you’re trying to be nice. You’re actually being an ass to be nice.”
“One might put it that way.” He leaned one shoulder against the wall and hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his slacks. “I’m leaving when the machine is done. Very soon now. Whatever pure intentions my brother had in bringing you here were poorly informed. I will not force you to go if staying will better your life in some financial way, but I do not want your friendship. Or your jests.”
“You know… pointing out that you were making twenty kinds of uncomfortable to not break my heart or whatever crap you’re thinking… probably not the best way to help your cause.” She shrugged as if it didn’t matter to her one way or another. “Just so you know.”
Parts of this will make more sense if you have read Pranks, though it is not necessary.
And all my reviewers, oh gosh I adore you all! Thank you so much!
The damned stubborn girl had moved her ‘camp’ back into the lab after the confrontation. Though she had relented and ceased her jokes, he would have much preferred that she maintained the careful avoidance they had developed. But no, she had not only moved in, but discovered Tony’s ‘trash can’ hologram and spent no less than an hour each day creating new files for the sole purpose of throwing them at the glowing ring. Loki found it rather distracting, especially given the way aspects he did not wish to notice would bounce when she danced in victory each time the rings displayed praise of her aim. And yet that was still better than when she attempted to speak with him. Or when she and Thor both would beg conversation of him.
It was not that he did not desire the interaction. Which was entirely part of the problem.
He would feel guilt when he left. He knew that now. Despite that it was right. Despite that he would feel far more for staying. Despite the woman waiting for him. He would feel guilt for leaving these two behind with the knowledge of what might have been.
This was one of those moments when he felt that weight strongly. Darcy had brought the brothers a box of donuts, and somehow ended up perched between them as she and Thor ate and he pretended the white powdered sweets were not the least bit tempting. He was close now. Another day. One day. He sighed and settled the glowing orb into its unit. He would spare at least a moment more before he would leave. He held his hand out to the pair, which caused Darcy to make a loud sound of triumph and turn back to the box.
The treat had only touched his fingers before the glass exploded. Loki threw his barrier around the girl, shielding her from injury. Still her eyes were wide and frightened and she was offering up a steady prayer. “Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit.” He turned to follow her gaze, not at all surprised to see himself standing in the gaping remains of the window.
“Impostor.” The man in the window looked little better than he had in the cell, and his voice was still rough with disuse.
Loki stood, drawing Darcy up unintentionally by her grip in his arm. “One would think,” he drawled in a far calmer tone than his double expected, “That you would at least manage to see to your own hygiene before setting out for your… is this revenge? Or simple jealousy? I’m not entirely certain.”
“Loki!” Thor’s shout was loud and too near Loki’s ear. “What-“
“I am not here for you today, brother.” He stepped through the hole he had splintered in the glass and froze. Loki could feel him test the web of spells and knew they would not hold long. Like magic was a poor entrapment. But he would make use of what advantage he could, and pulled his sleeve from the grip Darcy had upon it.
“Thor, if you would take Darcy from this place. It seems I have business to attend to.” Loki never took his eyes from the man his power held trapped, the spells weakened too quickly for such a mistake, but he felt the girl pulled away from what shield she’d made of his own form.
His twisted shadow, however, focused only on her retreat. “Such sentiment. You may wear my face but you are no better than any of the others. Pathetic. Weak. I-“ Loki didn’t allow the double to voice whatever threat he might have made. He pinned the man to the side wall in an instant, blade of his scepter against the man’s throat.
“Let me make this very clear. Should you imply even the smallest breath of threat against that girl I will grant to you a greater agony than this realm, or any other, has ever conceived. And when at last it is more than your mind and body can take and you think death a blessed release I will venture to Helheim itself and draw you back to live that pain again and again until the end of all worlds. All this so that you may know, my dear friend, that such sentiment has not made me weak.” He could hear Thor ushering Darcy from the room, knew his - their - brother would not take long in his return. As the door shut, he eased his grip by only small amounts.
“And still too soft to finish it?”
“Perhaps my pity is greater than my anger.”
The retaliation for such a remark was swift. Stabbing pain brought Loki nearly to his knees.
I'm sorry for releasing this a bit late. As always, thank you to my betas and to my wonderful readers.