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An Act of Kindness

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Darcy groans as she presses her hands to the small of her back and stretches. With a sigh, she slumps back over and picks up her rag to wipe down the counter. She stares mindlessly out of the the wide windows set into the front of the small diner. The night is black as velvet out there, anything could be lurking in its depths. She shivers at the implications, willing herself not to think back on the events from six months ago. It is done and over with. Time to close the book and let sleeping dogs lie. She had survived. Barely, but she is still here, which is more than she can say for some.

She picks up the pace, swiping from one end to the other at warp speed. She has already balanced the cash register for the night and locked up the safe. She doesn’t have to be in until eleven tomorrow so she can at least sleep in a little. It will be a nice change of pace after pulling doubles all week. Maybe she’ll treat herself to some pancakes. Yeah, that sounds good. She hasn’t indulged in that since before. . . shit.

“Get a hold of yourself, Lewis,” she says under her breath, recalling her Supervising Officer’s words during her first weeks of SHIELD training. Her hands shake as she tries and fails to straighten the salt and pepper shakers. The salt shaker tumps over and spills its contents across her freshly washed counter.

“Fuck,” she mumbles and begins to sweep it into her palm to toss in the trash. She hates this place. She hates this shit job with its shit manager, but she’s reasonably safe here. No one knows her. No one gives a fuck about her. No one is going to ask her to throw herself into mortal danger for scientific advances or to save the goddamn universe. She can quietly waste away here and no one will care.

It is as she is gathering her purse and jacket that Darcy feels what she can only describe as a ripping through the air. There is no noise, only a building of pressure that makes her ears pop. Moments later, she hears a high pitched shriek and a boom. Something sounds like it landed right outside the diner back where they keep the trash. Something big and not local.

Her hands do not shake as she gets the 12-gauge shotgun out from underneath the counter. She quickly loads five slugs into the magazine, pumps the forestock, and turns off the safety. For a moment, she misses her trusty old taser, but it had been time for an upgrade. Aliens from the asscrack of the universe tend not to be impressed with by a 5’3 girl wielding nothing but a taser.

Darcy slowly exhales and heads for the back door. She kicks the exit open with her left foot, pressing the butt of the gun to her shoulder and her back to the door. She sweeps the area for any threats, all of the training from her Supervising Officer coming back to her. Something rustles by the dumpster, and she circles around quietly.

Her finger is itching to pull the trigger, during the Infinity War she had learned to shoot first and asked questions later. Whatever it is, it’s dressed in what look black leather scraps, still smoldering from its descent through the atmosphere. She squints and slides her left foot back. Humanoid in shape, which means it could be any number of species.

“Stand up with your hands or whatever other appendages you might have in the air,” she says in a steady voice.

It stands in one fluid motion, spinning on its heel, and going into a crouch with its back pressed against the wall. It takes everything in her not to let her index finger hug the trigger just a little more tightly.

It eyes her warily, twin daggers gripped between its long blue fingers, ready to filet her like a steak if she gets within stabbing distance. She takes a step back to get out of range and get a better look. The alien watches her with eyes as red as blood, blades still gripped tightly. It appears to be male.

“What are you?” she asks calmly.

The intruder does not answer, only skins his lips back from short fangs.

“Who are you?”

Still no answer, only an exhalation of breath that sounds suspiciously like a hiss.

She feels the tension drain out of her. If it had wanted to kill her it would have done so by now. Whatever, whoever the alien is, it’s clearly terrified. Darcy knows the look of a hunted thing when she sees one. Slowly, she lowers the barrel of the gun and looks around at a loss.

“What the hell am I supposed to do with you?” she asks no one in particular.

The alien eyes her again but keeps his blades up.

“You can’t just stay out here,” she tells him, “you’ll scare away the customers, and they already tip shitty. Besides, you’ll piss off the possums.”

He backs himself further up into the corner, and she notices that his hands have begun to tremble from fear and exertion. His eyelids flutter until his eyes roll up into his skull, and he collapses onto the gravel.

The former intern sighs. It will not be the first time she’s slept at the diner.

****

Darcy takes a moment to examine her new guest/patient as she daubs more Neosporin onto a cut on his forehead. She has no idea if it will help at all, but figures it can’t hurt. After a thorough pat down, she has determined the alien is in fact male and oddly, cool to the touch.

She has laid him out on a table used to hold cleaning supplies. She was not about to wipe down the dining tables outside again.

He is breathing shallowly and quickly, and his color has faded from azure to almost violet. Darcy brushes a lock of sweaty black hair out of the way to get a better look at the odd patterns that flow along his skin. She can’t tell if it is some sort of ritualistic scarring or simply his natural texture.

She can tell though that the scarring around his wrists and ankles is not natural. It is rough and only half healed, still weeping and raw in some places. She binds them up as best she can. Whoever had him obviously didn’t want him getting away. The thing she finds though most disturbing are the marks around his lips. They are a series of holes lining the top and bottom lips. Almost as if . . . .. No, she thinks as she shakes her head. It can’t be. It almost looks as if they were sewn shut. She gives them a once over to make sure an infection hasn’t settled in and allows them to be. She wouldn’t know how to tackle them anyways.

Her guest is still sleeping soundly as she finishes bandaging him up as much as she can. She checks her phone. There are the usual texts from Jane that she will not answer and a couple of phone calls from a former SHIELD agent or two that she will not return. It is now past one o’clock in the morning. She groans and begins to send the text to Sadie saying she will take her solo opening shift tomorrow at 6 am. There is no way she can explain the sudden blue alien appearing in the supply closet. If she’s lucky, she’ll get about 4 and a half hours of sleep.

Grumbling to herself, Darcy pulls some towels from the shelf and begins to make herself a pallet on the floor next to the table where the alien’s legs dangle off. She uses her jacket as a pillow and toes off her shoes.

“Goodnight, you weird, extraterrestrial popsicle,” she murmurs as she sets the alarm on her phone and flips off the switch.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The next morning arrives far too soon for Darcy. She wake at five to hear the jingle of a key in the door and curses herself for not thinking of the cook. Of course, he would need to get here early to prep the dough for biscuits.

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, she glances over at her unexpected guest. He is still passed out cold, and she checks his wrist for a pulse. It is still thready but seems stronger than it was a few hours ago. That has to be a good sign, right?

She rakes her hands through her hair a few times and pulls down the yellow dress that is her uniform. With a groan, Darcy stands and thinks of a lie to concoct to keep anyone from going into the supply closet until she can somehow smuggle a 6’2 alien out of a public building. No problem. Easy peasy.

“Chemical spill,” she mutters to herself as she slips on her shoes. “Coulson always said to go for a chemical spill or biological hazard.”

Darcy lets her expression fall into resting-bitch-face mode, which isn’t hard given her lack of sleep, and steps out of the closet.

Maurice is already washing up at the sink in the kitchen.

“Hey girl,” he calls out in a deep booming voice.

“Morning,” she grumbles as she takes her apron off the peg and ties it around her waist.

“Whatchu doing up so early?” the big man asks, drying his dark hands off on a towel.

“I tried to clean up last night and ended up making a big mess. Don’t go into the closet. It needs to air out. The fumes are terrible.” She walks into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.

“Hmmph, you now Joe’s gonna chew your ass out of that, right?”

She shrugs. “What else is new?”

****

Morning passes in a rush as Darcy darts from table to table, balancing a tray and a migraine. She pours coffee and serves hashbrowns and biscuits with a big-ass false smile plastered across her face. Periodically between complaining customers and refills, she peers into the supply closet. He remains thankfully asleep, and no one questions her excuse.

Joe does indeed chew her ass out once he gets there around ten.

“You’re a real piece of fucking work, Lewis. You know that?” He says as a lit cigarette bobs between his lips. “You’re lucky I keep you around.”

Darcy scoffs as she stands in the doorway of his small office, arms crossed over her chest. “You’re lucky I stay around. My rack brings in more customers than your greasy road kill ever could hope to.”

“Just get back out there and wait some goddamn tables, alright?” The middle-aged man grumbles from behind his desk.

“Love you too, Joe!” she shoots back as she flips him the bird and hustles back to her tables.

The almost daily berating has gotten to be the norm by now, and it takes a lot more than a trailer park slumlord to get under Darcy’s skin these days. She has bigger things to worry about, and just prays that her luck holds out until after her shift ends at three.

It doesn’t of course. It does however wait until the lunch rush is over.

Around 1:15, she hears Maurice let out a string of curses as something slams into the door of the supply closet.

“Must have been the cleaning vac falling over,” she calls out to him as she hurriedly finishes refilling her table’s drinks. “I’ll be just a minute.” Without another word, Darcy turns on her heel and jogs into the closet.

The door shakes beneath the impact as something slams into it again. Bracing herself, she grips the knob and turns. She sighs as she took in the mess the creature has made. The metal shelving has been ripped down from the walls and twisted into pretzel-like shapes. There are several huge dents in the door from where he has slammed his body into it.

Said alien is currently crouched in a corner, wide-eyed and snarling much as he had been the night before. He brandishes his knives in front of himself in silent warning.

“Where did you even get those?” she asks in exasperation. “I searched you last night, and they weren’t even on you.”

A snarl is her only reply.

She presses her thumb and her index finger to the bridge of her nose, taking several deep breaths. The migraine feels like someone is drilling into the side of her skull. She tries to recall any of her SHIELD training for dealing with hostile alien forces, but those methods tend to end in death. Forcing herself to take a deep breath, Darcy forces her hands down by her sides with fingers spread wide to show she hides no weapons. “Just calm down,” she says in as soothing a voice she can manage, given the fact that her tip is probably nada at this point, “I’m not here to hurt you.” She takes a tentative step forward. The alien flinches and gives a low growl.

“Do you know where you are?” Darcy asks, already knowing she will get no answer. “You’re on earth,” she supplies when only silence greets her. “You’re in a place called Virginia.”

She takes another step forward.

“I know it’s scary not knowing where you are, but you gotta trust me, okay?” she pleads, already preparing herself to dodge a carefully aimed blade. She has no doubt he could eviscerate her in the blink of an eye. “I don’t want to hurt you. My name’s Darcy Lewis.” She puts her hand over her heart as she says her name.

His eyes flick warily from her hand from her face, and she can practically see the gears grinding in his head. He’s wondering if it’s a trap or some ploy to gain his trust. He reminds her as nothing so much as a beaten dog cowering in a corner with teeth bared against the next kick. An idea comes to her then.

She dashes out of the closet and into the bustling kitchen where Maurice is yelling at the newest busboy who can’t seem to stay out from under foot. Darcy sidles past the cook’s considerable bulk to snatch three freshly made rolls from the pan and slather them with a generous helping of butter.

“What the hell?” he yells after her even as she is spinning on her heel and heading back out.

“I’m starved!” she calls back over her shoulder as she juggles the hot bread between her bare palms. Maybe she hasn’t fully thought this out as she barrels back into the closet with her shoulder after unlocking it, hoping no one sees her. It would look fairly suspicious if she decided to have a snack in a place where a supposed hazardous spill had occurred.

“Here!” she says breathing heavily and offering up the stolen bread.

The alien continues to eye her suspiciously until his nose catches a whiff of the rolls. His nostrils flare and raw hunger takes hold of his features. The knife in his left hand vanishes as he reaches towards her to pluck a roll out of her open hands.

She must have made some small move because Darcy suddenly finds the keen edge of a dagger to the hollow of her throat even as he is stuffing the food into his mouth. “You know if I wanted to kill you,” she drawls, “I could have just done it while you were passed out on the table over there for hours last night.” She nods over towards the rickety table that had somehow miraculously held his weight for twelve hours.
He finishes the first one and scarfs down the other two before withdrawing the knife. After a moment of careful consideration, he lets the other one vanish too.

She lets out a breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding in. “We good?”

He raises a black eyebrow and steps back into the security of his corner.

“I’ll take that as a maybe. Listen, I need you to just chill out here for like another hour or so. Then, I’ll come back for you, and we can breeze out of here, ok?” she says as she gives him a double thumbs up.

His brows furrow in indecision, and Darcy watches as his body tenses. She knows that in a moment his flight or fight response will activate, and he’ll try to tear his way out of there through her.

“I’ll give you more food if you just wait here,” she says as she holds her hands up in front of her. She’s not sure why she does it. She’s not much of a barrier between him and freedom. “You want some more bread? I might can even score you like a steak or something, but you have to stay in here and be quiet. Please?” She clasps her hands together in front of her face.

He forces himself to relax, his muscles loosening and his shoulders lower ever so slightly. With a nod, he accepts her offer and seats himself in a corner with his back against the wall. His red eyes remain firmly fixed on her.

“Awesome,” she sighs and turns to leave. She stops dead in her tracks when something goes thunking into the door right beside her head. A dagger’s hilt vibrates from the impact. She looks over her shoulder to see the alien staring at her calmly, casually flipping another dagger in his right hand. “Point taken,” Darcy swallows and goes out the door without another word.

“Fucking aliens,” she mutters under her breath as she heads back out onto the floor. Her table is empty by now, and all that’s left is fifty cents in a tip.

***

Three o’clock doesn’t arrive soon enough for Darcy. So far she’s only collected seven dollar tips, and she still hasn’t worked out how she is going to get out of here with her strange new visitor. With a sigh, she unties her apron and sets it on the hook in the back where all the employees put their personal belongings. The cramped space is far too small to be called a break room. It would barely qualify as a broom closet.

She does a mental count of the employees. Maurice is gone and replaced by the afternoon shift cook Dante. Emily and Harley are currently out on the floor for waitressing. Joe will be cooped in his office chain smoking and trying to find ways to screw them over on payday.

She bites her lip in thought. If she can create a big enough distraction, she might be able to sneak out without anyone noticing. She eyes the kitchen where the dishwasher and busboy are rushing to finish before the dinner rush starts. Dishes and silverware and glasses are stacked so precariously high.

Darcy hates herself for it even as she makes up her mind. SHIELD had taught her the ends justify the means if nothing else. She walks calmly back into the kitchen as if she had forgotten something and snatches a bottle of cooking off of the counter while Dante has his back turned chopping onions at a breakneck pace.

It only takes a small amount right inside the threshold that she spreads with the toe of one shoe. Slipping the oil back onto the counter, she makes her way back to the supply closet. Before her hand even closes around the doorknob, there is a shout and then a crash and clattering as a mountain of dishes and plates land on the tile floor.

She cringes in guilty sympathy as she opens the door a crack. All the other employees rush into the kitchen to see what the cause of the noise is.

The supply closet is still wrecked, and she knows there is no way to concoct an answer for that. Joe will just have to deal with it not that she’s sure he’s ever seen the inside of the supply closet.

“C’mon,” she says in a low voice as she makes a hurry up motion with her hand. She sneaks a glance outside. They’re all still milling around trying to clean up the catastrophe.

He comes to his feet in one elegant, fluid motion, long legs straightening neatly. The air of a caged beast has lessened a little, but Darcy can still sense the nervousness coming off of him in waves. He takes a step forward and hesitates.

In exasperation, she takes out the granola bar she’d been saving for a snack, unwraps it, and holds it out towards him. Fear wars with hunger on his face until hunger wins, and he gets within arm’s reach to snatch the food from her.

Darcy takes the opportunity to place a hand on the small of his back and shove him out while everyone is still distracted. He whips around faster than she thought was possible to level her with a gaze and point a knife at her jugular vein.

“Do you want out of here or not?” she whispers at him, careful not to swallow. “I have more food back at my place.”

He takes a bite of the granola bar and lets the knife drop to his side. Pressing himself against the wall, he nods for her to lead the way. She tries not to imagine a knife going into her spine as she leads them out of the back of the restaurant to where the employees park. Still, her shoulders go tense as she feels that red gaze boring into the space between her shoulder blades.

They slip out quickly and quietly. Darcy hunches in on herself to be as small a target as possible. The alien slinks across with long limbed grace, casting furtive glance over his shoulder as if he expects an attack at any moment. She doesn’t exhale until she is behind the wheel with the keys in the ignition. He goes in the back and lies down out of sight. She nods in approval, and they take off without a word.

Darcy fights the urge to go zipping through town to get back to her trailer as fast as she can, but the last thing she needs is a cop pulling her over and discovering that in the back. She can’t even begin to imagine the disaster it would cause. No, she can. All too easily, and this time there is no SHIELD to back her up. She’s well and truly on her own in this shit storm.

Just like you wanted, a vicious voice in the back of her head says. The alien remains thankfully quiet and still while she navigates traffic. Twenty-five minutes later gravel crunches under the tires as she pulls into her driveway.

He pops up so quickly behind her that Darcy finds herself reaching for the gun she keeps in her glove compartment. There is a long, tense silence as they face off, gun and knife. Darcy has slid into the passenger seat and has both hands gripped tightly around the firearm. The monster, alien, whatever does not seem impressed. He only glares at her impassively, wielding the same goddamn knives.

“Don’t spook me like that,” Darcy says at last as she lowers the gun and clicks the safety back on.

He blinks slowly, pauses in consideration, and nods as if to say “fair enough”.

“I’ve just seen and been through a lot of weird shit ever since . . .”she finds she can’t finish the sentence so she gives a vague wave of her hand in reply. The alien lowers his knives and lets himself out of the car.

Darcy gets her keys out of her purse and climbs the rickety steps to her double wide. Seeing it in the thin, grey light of a watery sun, she has to admit it’s not much, but it was cheap and nondescript. As she studies her very blue houseguest, she finds herself grateful for the fact that her closest neighbor is a half a mile away. The last thing she needs or wants is for some paranoid local to make a fuss.

He follows her at a distance inside once she manages to open the door and looks the place over thoroughly. He wanders off down the hallway opening every door, and she can hear him opening and closing cabinets. Darcy doesn’t have to wonder why he’s doing it. She’d done it every night herself after work for those first few months. Even now, she sleeps with her back pressed to the wall.

“What happened to you?” she asks herself as she listens to him open up her bedroom closet.

He returns several minutes later and stands staring at her expectantly.

“Food?” she says and suppresses a smile.

He nods.

“Follow me,” she says as she walks into the galley style kitchen. “I don’t have much, but you’re welcome to whatever. Do you like PB and J?” She looks at him over her shoulder, getting a butter knife out of the drawer.

He blinks at her owlishly.

“Dumb question, huh?” she asks, feeling stupid for even asking. Why would an alien even have a concept of a sandwich? Hopefully, he can digest peanut butter and jelly because that was about the extent of her culinary skills.

He nods with a raise of an acerbic eyebrow.

“Hey,” she retorts even as her mouth quirks into a grin, “I’m feeding you, okay? Don’t bite the hand that makes your sandwiches.” She pulls out a spoon and smears some jelly onto one slice.

He watches her intently and silently as she goes about making his lunch. The red eyes are still unnerving to her even though she is fairly sure at this point he won’t decide to randomly shank her. The other thing is how still he can make himself as if he has turned to marble. He doesn’t flinch or fidget except for the slow rise and fall of his chest.

She opens up the cabinet for the peanut butter and gives a groan of frustration. “How did it even get up there?” she whines as she stares at the jar on the very top shelf. Surely, she wouldn’t have put it there. She doesn’t even own a step ladder. Darcy rises up on her tiptoes with her fingers stretched as she struggles to reach for the jar. Every muscle in her body is taut, her fingertips just barely touching the smooth plastic.

Suddenly, a blue hand reaches over her head and grasps the peanut butter. Darcy looks up in surprise to find that her alien visitor is close, too close. She can feel the air chill around him. She swallows nervously and gives him a sheepish smile of gratitude even as she backs away so that the counter is digging into her back. “Thanks,” she say as he hands it to her and takes a quick step back. Darcy clears her throat as she turns back around to finish making the sandwich. “I just don’t like it when people that I don’t know really well get close to me. It’s stupid but . . . I can’t help it.” She shrugs, not bothering to check his reaction. Her hands don’t even shake when she unscrews the lid. That’s got to be an improvement.

The alien takes the sandwich and devours it in the blink of an eye. He looks at her as he sucks the last of the peanut butter off his long fingers.

“You want another one?”

He gives a vigorous nod of his head. Ten minutes later he’s managed to inhale two more sandwiches and half a bag of potato chips. Darcy can only watch in amusement as he licks the last of the salt from his lips.

“Satisfied?”

He shrugs.

“I’ll take that as you’re not starving right now,” Darcy replies, setting the silverware in the sink to wash later. “Do you have a name?” she asks, realizing that she cannot keep referring to him as the alien or creature.

His features turn guarded, eyes narrowing and lips thinning into a compressed line. He shakes his head and focuses his gaze on the ground.

“Hey, it’s okay,” she says gently. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. That just means I get to pick the name.”

He looks back up at her and relaxes, folding his arms over his chest.

“How do you feel about blueberry?”

His lips turn down in distaste.

“Popsicle?”

Another frown.

“Smurf?”

He lets out a huff, rolls his eyes, and finally, nods his head in defeat.

“Smurf it is then,” she says wickedly.

Chapter Text

Darcy’s feet hit the floor before her brain even registers the action. Her hands reach for the gun she keeps looped in a holster around the head of her bed. She is all muscle memory as her mind attempts to work through the fog of half sleep. Her heart and muscles are jump started as adrenaline pumps in her veins.

Her eyes are only half focused as she stands and pads over to her bedroom door where she had heard the noise come from. She waits for a second, muscles tensed and ready to spring at whatever new threat is lurking just in the other room. She stands there a full minute, listening and waiting as the noise continues. Thrashing, thumping, snarling. A beast caught in a blind rage.

She blinks slowly as the memories from the past twenty-four hours come rushing back to her. She shakes her head in realization and lowers her gun. Darcy tucks it away into the top drawer of her nightstand. The former SHIELD Agent cracks open the door to see her guest tumbled onto the floor with the blanket tangled around him like the Gordian knot. His eyes are closed and his face is screwed tight in the throes of a nightmare or more likely a bad memory.

She approaches slowly and tries to make her steps loud to avoid surprising him. Whatever he is reliving, it holds him fast in its grip. He rolls to the side and straight into the coffee table.

“Smurf,” she whispers.

The blue alien snarls in his sleep, long black hair tangled.

“Smurf,” she says more loudly.

His feet kick out at something that isn’t there, lips skinned back from his teeth.

“Smurf!” she yells as he bucks violently one last time and goes limp.

“Shit,” she curses under her breath as she watches him tremble like a leaf caught in a summer storm. Darcy goes to her knees beside him and reaches forward with one hand to check his pulse.

Just as her fingers are about to brush his neck, blood red eyes snap open and a hand like iron grips her wrist. His touch is so cold it feels like her skin is burning. A scream rips out of her throat, and the sound seems to awaken something inside of him. His eyes open wide in surprise and the fingers loosen enough for her to snatch her wrist back.

Darcy cradles it against her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks as she looks over the frost burnt skin now turning from purple to a necrotic black. She gasps and scrambles back on her heels to put space between them.

The alien quickly disentangles himself from the blanket and rolls into a crouch. His eyes focus on her, flicking between her face and her injured hand. He licks his lips nervously as he starts to pick at his hands.

“What?” Darcy says in anguish, voice strangled against the pain and fear. “What do you want?”

His dark eyebrows tilt down, and he reaches forward.

Instinctively, Darcy flinches from him, heart still pounding. He withdraws and curls his fingers. He tries again, more slowly this time.

“Can you heal it?” she asks. She can’t feel her hand anymore.

He nods and scoots forward on his knees.

“You won’t do . . . that again will you?”

He shakes his head and brings his hands closer to her, fingers hovering just above her skin. She can feel their coolness, but it is not the burning cold she had known moments before. He looks at her imploringly. She pauses in consideration for a moment, every instinct telling her to run and keep running until she does not where she is, until no one can find her.

Finally, Darcy nods and presents her hand gingerly to him. Smurf bows his head to study her injury and turns the dying appendage between his long fingers. A green light emanates from his fingertips and a slow tingling spreads through the blackened flesh. After that, blood and heat return and within minutes the skin is smooth and pink.

He lets go and scuttles away from her, arms wrapped tightly around his chest.

Darcy stares down at his handiwork in wonder, fingers touching the restored skin in disbelief. “Thanks,” she says softly as she looks at up at him.

He nods in acknowledgement with eyes glued to the ground.

She flexes her hand again for good measure, marveling at the strength and movement of her own fingers. The waitress glances at the clock to check the time. It’s seven, and she has to be at work at by ten. Worry settles into her stomach as she returns her gaze to the alien in her living room. He is practically curled into a ball, shoulders hunched and arms pressed against his stomach. The strength from his original adrenaline surge is gone, and now, he’s frozen in the aftermath. He is probably terrified of what he has done to her and what else he might do. Darcy wishes she didn’t know how that felt.

“I have to go to work today,” she tells him.
His eyes remain fixed on the floor.

“You have to stay here,” she continues, eyes searching for some sign he has registered her words. “Will you be okay?”

Smurf remains in an almost catatonic state. If he hears her, he gives no indication of it. Darcy sighs and gets up to head to the kitchen. She loads two pop-tarts into the toaster and fills up a glass of water. When the pastries are done, she puts them on a plate and walks into the living room with them in one hand and the water in the other. Darcy sets them down beside him and takes a seat on the couch to watch.

Just as she thought, the smell of food breaks through to him and he reaches out a tentative hand to snatch one off the plate. They’re gone in seconds, and if he burned his tongue she can’t tell. Smurf drains the glass a moment later and smacks his lips in relief.

“There is more food in the fridge and cabinets,” she explains. “Make yourself another sandwich and finish off the chips. I should be back by seven tonight. Don’t leave or look out the windows. If someone spots you-”

He holds up a hand to stall her next words, a shiver running through his body. A muscle twitches in his jaw as he represses baring his teeth.

“You know the drill then. Good. I’m going to go get a shower. Why don’t you try to get some more sleep?”

He shakes his head vehemently and glares at the rumpled blanket lying on the floor.

“Alright then,” she says as she leans forward to grab the remote and turn on the television. She flips through the channels quickly, looking for something safe that won’t remind him of whatever horror haunted his sleep. She stops at Spongebob. Darcy herself uses Spongebob to help her forget when shit gets too real. It takes weed too, but it gets the job done. “Watch this. Maybe it will take your mind off things.”

The springs in the couch creak as she gets up to head to the bathroom. She looks over her shoulder to see Smurf staring at the television with one eyebrow cocked up in utter confusion. Well, it’s doing something at least.

The rest of the morning goes quickly and quietly. She makes him a sandwich before she leaves, being careful to point out where she keeps everything in case he wants more. He nods in understanding and returns to the couch to watch Friends reruns.

Darcy can only say a silent prayer that her trailer will still be intact when she comes home that night as she drives to work.

****

The day goes by slowly dragging on and on. Even the lunch and dinner rush are little more than a trickle, and Darcy can only groan as she shoves a handful of crumpled dollars into the pocket of her apron. She’ll be lucky if she has enough to cover her rent.

Her thoughts grow darker as she bids Maurice and Darla good-bye and slips into her car. She has another mouth to feed now, a mouth that eats quite a bit. She frowns into the darkness as she makes a left turn. She has no idea what she’ll do in the upcoming days and weeks.

“Smart move, Lewis,” she grumbles to herself and hunkers down behind the wheel, the knot of dread in her stomach growing. “But what I was supposed to do? Leave him there to die?” she says angrily to herself.

She shakes her head in frustration and slams on the brakes as the light changes from yellow to red.

“Maybe,” she huffs out as the car idles loudly. “No,” she affirms to herself, “that’s not who you are. No.”

The rest of the short car ride is spent in an internal debate over whether inviting a strange blue alien into her trailer is the move of a humanitarian or a complete idiot. Could you even be a humanitarian when the person wasn’t human?

“I’m an idiot,” Darcy concludes as she pulls into her gravel driveway. She bounces her forehead against the steering wheel a couple of times for emphasis.

She is only slightly relieved to see her trailer still standing and not ripped apart into a pile of plywood and siding. Her feet feel heavy as she drags them from the car and up the steps.

It is dark as she enters, only the dim glow of the tv is on. Smurf is nowhere to be seen. Darcy takes a step forward cautiously, eyes scanning the room for her guest. He’s not there, and panic seizes her.

“Smurf?” she calls out as she peeks into the kitchen and finds no one.

Darcy’s heart pounds as she searches her bedroom and bathroom, looking under the bed and flinging open the cabinet.

“Smurf!” she yells. It would be funny if she wasn’t so scared. If he got out the results could be disastrous. At best, he would cause panic once found. At worst, that didn’t bear thinking about.

She rummages one more time through a pile of clothes at the bottom of her closet, somehow thinking a 6’2 alien could hide himself in a pile of dirty jeans.

“Fuck,” she breathes and starts to pace down the hallway with her hands threaded in her hair.

It is only the hall closet out of the corner of her that causes her to stop briefly. She pauses and turns to stare at the tiny space where she keeps her winter coats and sweaters. She squints at the door before she opens the door.

Darcy is not even been aware she is holding her breath until it comes rushing out of her lungs in relief. He is tucked into one corner with his knees drawn up to his chest and head resting against the wall. She can see the dark red slits of his eyes as he looks up at her.

“What are you doing in here?” she asks as she sinks to her knees to get a better view of him.

Smurf shrugs and cleans the fingernails of his left hand with a dagger.

“Did something scare you?”

He graces her with an indignant expression, all traces of this morning’s earlier terror gone. Something in the way he cocks one brow niggles at the back of her mind like a memory trying to surface. Darcy brushes it off. She’s pretty sure she’d remember a blue alien with red eyes.

“Just thought it wouldn’t hurt to ask,” she replies gently, but there is no change in his expression. “I’m going to the living room to watch tv before bed if you want to join me.” With that, she stands and closes the door until only a sliver of light can get in.

He doesn’t join her that night, and the hallway door is completely shut as she shuffles to her bedroom to go to sleep.

When she awakes the next morning at roughly 10, he is sitting on the couch with the tv going in front of him. It looks like a rerun of Seinfeld from what she can tell through blurry eyes.

“Good morning,” she slurs as she shuffles into the kitchen to make her coffee. Darcy rolls her neck to get the last kink out. Smurf gives a nod in acknowledgement and returns to the show though his eyes look distant.

Darcy is not a morning person, never has been never will be. Even in the midst of the War, mornings had been hell for her. Her thoughts are slow and muddled. The only reason she had survived was pure reflex and muscle memory. Nat and May had taught her to load and aim a gun almost in her sleep. Sometimes she still woke up expecting to hear their curt voices waking her up for morning patrol.

The memory shudders something awake in her, and suddenly, her thoughts are clear as crystal as she waits for the coffee. Currently, there is an alien sitting in her living room watching old 90s sitcom reruns. A blue alien. An alien who hasn’t bathed in at least two days and is wearing little more than rags.

Darcy grunts as the realization comes to her. He can’t just wear the tattered remains of what once might have been the extraterrestrial version of a BDSM costume. She does a mental calculation. If she dips into her savings, she should be able to get something passable at the goodwill. She spares a glance into the living room. He doesn’t appear uncomfortable, and he doesn’t smell. But still.

The coffee begins to drip, and Darcy takes a quick measurement of his frame. He’s slim so she doesn’t have to worry about anything being too tight, but he’s tall and long limbed. Most of his height is in his legs, and if she’s not careful he’ll end up wearing flood pants.

But shit, isn’t that the style now? She thinks to herself in irritation. She knows she’s gotten old once she realizes that current trends no longer appeal to her and the music is terrible.

Darcy shakes her head and pulls a cup from the shelf cabinet. It doesn’t matter. It’s not like he’s going anywhere, and besides he has no idea what earth fashion looks like, right?

***

Of all the things Darcy had thought she could be wrong about, alien fashion sense was not one of them. After coffee and a banana, she’d skedaddled and picked up three pairs of pants and three shirts that looked like they might be the closest to his fit.

Smurf now shifts through the contents of the plastic bag with obvious disgust written on his features. He tosses the acid-washed jeans onto the floor as if they might somehow infect him. The flannel shirt goes next.

“I paid good money for those,” she complains as she bends down to pick the up off the floor.

Both eyebrows shoot towards his hairline as he gives her an incredulous look. Who would pay money for that? He seems to be silently asking.

“You can’t go around wearing those scraps you’re in now,” she says as she puts the clothes back in the bag.

Another look. This one arrogant and challenging, a look down his long nose at her. He turns around and saunters away.

Something in her boils over at this point. She’s not sure why. The clothes altogether had not cost more than $12 bucks, but that was gas money to her. She feels tears prickling at her eyes, a response she has never been able to get rid of. Three days, she’s been living on the edge of a knife wondering how to balance this new addition to her already precarious existence. An existence she has so painstakingly cultivated.

“Hey,” she calls out after him, her hand reaching out to snatch at his wrist. Thankfully, she only touches worn leather this time.

He whirls on her, spinning her so fast that her brain can’t keep up. Even her reflexes are too slow to counter his move. Her vision is spinning and a moment later, her back is pressed to his front with a knife to her throat. Again. Fucking again. How did this keep happening to her?

She can feel his heart racing through his rib cage and feels hers beat in sync with his.

“That was stupid. I admit it,” she says quietly as they both breathe heavily. She looks up into his face and sees the gears turning, the awareness coming back. “But you can’t just . . . “ she trails off in frustration as she frees herself from his weakening hold. The tears are back with a vengeance, spurred on by her anger at him, at the situation, at herself. They leak down her cheeks, and she wipes them away angrily.

“I don’t have a lot of money, ok?” she says lamely, not even sure he understands the concept of money. “That just. . . I can’t,” she says in frustration and starts to stomp off, words failing her. She refuses to cry in front of him. He will not see her break down.

Cool fingers pressing gently into her right shoulder stop her, and Darcy turns like a viper, ready to shoot off some snarky retort. Smurf is clutching both bags to his chest in one hand. He looks almost embarrassed, mouth slightly turned down and eyes darting off to the side. His cheeks flush violet.

He lets go of her and bows awkwardly and slightly at the waist, the whole motion hesitant.

“So you’ll wear them?” she says as she crosses her arms over her chest.

He nods, eyes still downcast.

“Well, you need to shower first before you put on clean clothes, and I need to wash them. C’mon,” she says with a jerk of her head as she leads him to the bathroom.

Darcy gives a quick demonstration of how the faucets and knobs work to adjust the temperature. Smurf runs one hand under the water and turns the knob on his right and almost shuts off the hot water completely.

“Are you the abominable snowman or something?” Darcy asks as she shivers, withdrawing her fingers and drying them off on her pants leg. “Or maybe a White Walker.”

He blinks at her in confusion. “My talent for pop cultural references is truly wasted on you. Anyways, wait a little bit about the shower while these get cleaned up.”

An hour and a half later, he is clean and dressed in what Darcy’s assumes he found to be the most pleasing outfit, black jeans just a tad too big in the waist and a dark green v-neck t-shirt. His black hair is still wet and beginning to curl as it dries out. It reaches well past his shoulders at this point. He fidgets self-consciously, adjusting the jeans and plucking at the hem of the t-shirt.

“It doesn’t look bad,” she says to him from the couch as he shifts from foot to foot. “It has to feel better than what you were wearing.”

He shrugs, running a hand up the exposed skin of his arm, and sits down beside her.

“Are you a Kree?” she asks abruptly, eyeing the blue skin of his forearms. They are the only naturally blue alien race she can think.

His head snaps towards her as if she had slapped him. His eyes narrow in anger as he shakes his head forcefully.

Darcy shrugs, “Sorry, didn’t know you found the idea offensive.” She had only just started handling interstellar political relations at the agency when Thanos had decided to royally fuck things up. It would make some sense that a Kree refugee would be a potential victim.

Smurf purses his lips as if he doubts the sincerity of her words but sits down beside her anyways.

She turns on the tv and finds a Golden Girls marathon starting. “Allow me to introduce you to the greatest sitcom ever made.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Darcy stares into her empty cabinets, standing up on tiptoes to see if she had missed anything pushed to the back. There is nothing. She sighs and opens up the fridge one more time to find nothing but a half-empty carton of eggs and a jar of pickles. She’ll have to eat at the diner again for supper, but that still leaves the problem of what to feed Smurf.

She reaches for the eggs, opens the container. There are three left and a little bit of butter and cheese. She’ll make him an omelette before she goes. Darcy scrambles the eggs and liberally applies the sprinkled cheese to them in hopes it might mask how truly desperate she is. She doesn’t get paid for another five days, and that will mostly go to utilities and rent.

Smurf is sitting on the couch in his jeans, clicking through the channels. Over the past several days, he has managed to watch an ungodly amount of sitcoms. She can’t fault him though. He at least has good taste He had loved the Golden Girls the night she had forced him to watch the marathon with her, particularly loving Sophia. Right now, he is watching Fraser, face fixed in a blank stare.

“Alright, blue boy, I gotta go to work. This will have to tide you over until I come back. There’s nothing left in the fridge, but I’ll sneak you some food from Maurice.”

He pokes at the eggs in confusion before deigning to take a bite. He chews thoughtfully and swallows before shrugging and finishing them quickly. He looks up at her expectantly. Darcy has seen that look plenty of times from her mother’s dog when he is waiting for her to slip him some food under the table.

“That’s it,” Darcy say helplessly. “I have no more food, and no money to buy any.”

He raises an eyebrow in question.

“I’m broke as fuck,” she says bluntly, words punctuated by the growl of her stomach. “Here’s to that diet I always meant to start.” She laughs weakly at the end as his eyebrows climb towards his hairline.

Smurf’s eyes dart from side to side before he starts to make a strange gesture with his fingers as if he is taking something from his palm and putting it on the table like . . . coins.

“Money?”

He nods.

“Yeah, that’s the problem. I have none of that so we’re gonna have to live off of Joe’s kindness, and by that I mean we’re gonna have to steal food from him.”
Smurf’s brow furrows, and he points to himself.

“It’s not-you didn’t. . .” Darcy stutters as she tries to find the words to get herself out of this social bear trap she has ensnared herself in.

His face goes somber, and he nods though Darcy doesn’t know what that nod means exactly. All she knows is that she feels like shit because she made him feel like shit, and it’s most definitely bad manners to tell your alien refugee guest that he’s the reason you two have no food.

“I’ll figure something out, okay? Just don’t worry about it.”

He shakes his head and gives her another impossibly meaningful look.

Darcy gives up and let’s him go back to watching television. She doesn’t have time to argue with a mute alien with a Canadian complex. Her keys jingle as she dashes out of the door to her car. Gravel flies as she backs out and speeds down the street. If she can keep doing 60 without getting pulled over, she’ll only be five minutes late.

She curses under her breath as she breezes through a red light, checking her rearview for blue lights flashing behind her. The last thing she needs is a speeding ticket. Thankfully, she manages to get through her commute without getting pulled over.

For the first time, Darcy is grateful to see to the parking lot packed. She hurries in, dragging her fingers through her messy hair to pull it into a loose bun. The place will be too busy for Joe to be pissed at her, and the tips should help put her in the black.

Darcy hits the ground running as soon as she clocks in and goes to her assigned tables. She has six tonight that send her darting to and fro to get more iced tea and condiments. One table has her send back the steak three times.

“These folks don’t know what medium rare means,” Maurice grumbles from the kitchen as she deposits the plate on the counter.

“Want me to spit in their mashed potatoes for you?” she asks around a mouthful of bread. She swallows it down with a gulp of diet Coke.

“Nah,” he says as he tosses a new steak on, “just give ‘em a fork that fell on the floor.”

Darcy picks up a clean piece of silverware and promptly drops it, counting to 10, before she picks it back up.

A broad grin splits his brown face as he chuckles to himself. “You’re crazy, you know that?”

Darcy shrugs and scarfs down another roll. She grabs the next order off of the counter and twirls out the room, the carbs and caffeine giving her a burst of energy.

Darcy makes sure to plaster on her best fake smile when she pushes the door open with her shoulder to head to her next table. She adds an extra twist to her hips for good measure, it’s a table full of older guys. There might have been a time when Darcy’s pride would have balked at such a thing, but Nat had taught her to use every weapon in her arsenal. Pride has become a luxury ever since a purple alien had decided to wipe out of half of the population.

She sets the plate down nice and slow, bending over a little lower than necessary. They eye her appreciatively, and Darcy ignores the way her skin crawls. They’ll leave a nice tip.

“Thank you, hon,” a grey haired man says as she puts his fried chicken in front of him.

“You’re welcome, darlin’,” letting her Southern accent thicken for a moment. It had always been faint, and she’d done damnedest to get rid of it after high school. She would let it creep in though when need be. The world had become even more wary of strangers and hearing a familiar accent always helps to loosen the cash flow.

Just as Darcy is walking away, she overhears part of the conversation.

“It is the strangest thing,” one them says, a heavy set man in a blue jean jacket, “they found a cow killed out in the pasture. Damn thing was mutilated.”

“Musta been dogs or maybe a coyote,” another one says. “There are packs of ‘em running around these days, you know.”

The three grunt in agreement, the conversation over as they prepare to eat, but the news makes something inside Darcy shiver and she doesn’t know why.

By the end of her shift, Darcy has over $100 in ones and fives and even a few tens stuffed into her pockets. She is bone tired and her feet ache in the flat soled shoes that are part of her uniform, but she finds herself in a better mood than when she got there ten hours ago.

She heads to the back towards the kitchen and darts in to see what food is left over that Joe won’t miss. Smurf has to be starving by now with nothing but eggs to live off of. She picks four rolls off of the tray and wraps them up in a napkin to stuff in her purse. She snatches a couple of baked potatoes and chicken wings for good measure. The former intern doesn’t consider how weird it must look until she hears Maurice clear his throat loudly behind her.

Darcy whips around, dropping a thigh in her haste and wiping the grease from her fingers onto her uniform. “Um, uh-this isn’t what it looks like.”

“Really?” Maurice asks incredulously with an eyebrow raised and his massive arms crossed over his barrel chest. “Cause it looks like you’re stealing food to take home with you, and I have never seen you do that before.”

“I just am really craving your cooking today for some reason. Are you using a new recipe?” Darcy lies. It sounds lame even to her ears.

“No,” he answers flatly and waits for the truth.

She deflates and looks down at the scuffed toe of her shoes. “I’ve hit a bit of a rough spot. Money is tight, and I’m trying . . . to help out a friend.”

The cook’s face softens, and he unfolds his arms to let them hang at his side. “You’re a good girl, Darcy. If you need help you know I have your back, don’t you?”

She nods, a lump forming in her throat. “I know,” she says tightly, “and if I really, really, really, really need help I’ll come to you. I’ll get through this. I’ve gotten through worse.”

He gives her another skeptical look, narrowed eyes looking her up and down. “Just don’t be stupid about it. You need help you let me know.”

Darcy doesn’t have to force the smile she gives him.

Just as she is about to get in her car, she decides to check her phone. She has seven new text messages. Three are from Jane asking after her. Her thumbs hover over the keys and then she closes the message out, leaving on it read. She misses her friend, but she can’t get sucked back into all of that again.

Didn’t you already do that to yourself when you took in an alien refugee? She thinks bitterly.

Two more are from Daisy and the last is from Coulson. She is almost tempted to text him for some quick cash. He’d do it too with no questions asked or strings attached, but she can’t bring herself too. She’d feel too guilty, and then before you know it, she’d be out on missions and assignments again, helping to clean up this pure, utter shitshow of a world.

She shoves the phone back into her pocket and climbs into her car. The engine makes that weird noise again, but Darcy ignores it and turns up the radio instead. When it goes, it’ll go, and there isn’t much she can do about it right now.

It is dark by the time she arrives home, and she can see the dim glow of the television through the thin curtains in the front window of the trailer. Smurf is planted on the couch as usual when she enters. I Love Lucy is on, and a faint smile is curling his lips.
“Honey, I’m home,” she calls out as she toes off her shoes and lays her keys on the kitchen counter.

The blue alien stands up, a perplexed look on his face.

“It’s a figure of speech,” she says sheepishly, realizing how it must have sounded coming from her. “And I got food!”

She shoves her purse at him and watches as he opens it cautiously. His expression goes from perplexed to wry as he picks up the chicken wing and gives it a sniff.

“Those have only been in there like five minutes.”

A quirked eyebrow.

“Okay like forty-five minutes tops, but it should still taste decent and beggars can’t be choosers,” she says as she flops down on the couch.

He takes a small, tentative bite, and Darcy gives him an exaggerated eye roll.

“Don’t be so picky, Princess,” she says as she curls her legs up onto the couch. “I got some potatoes and rolls too.”

Eventually, his hungers seems to get the better of him and five minutes later, he is licking the last of the butter from his fingers.

“You really should have eaten that slower,” she tells him as she props her chin on her fist, “you’ll give yourself indigestion, and that’s all we have until tomorrow.” She does a quick mental calculation, and figures she can spare about $25 on groceries. Well, she’s lived off of ramen and cereal before. She can do it again, and her new bottomless pit does seem to like his junk food.

He frowns but his face quickly transforms as he seems to remember something, eyebrows shooting up his forehead and lips turning up into a slight smile. He gestures with one blue hand towards the coffee table.

Darcy leans forward to examine the small pile she hadn’t noticed before. There on the glass top is a haphazard stack of twenty and fifty dollar bills along with a loose collection of gold and diamond jewelry.

Her mouth falls open, and Smurf beams with pride at his small hoard of obviously stolen goods. Darcy blinks slowly as she tries to process what has just happened.

“Where did you get this?” she exclaims, hands waving wildly in the air as panic rises in her chest. “You weren’t supposed to leave the trailer. What if you had been seen?” she continues in a rush, mind going a million miles a minute as she tries to remember if any of the diners had said anything about a blue man.

Smurf’s expression turns bewildered, and he looks from the pile of stolen money to her and back again. He shakes his head emphatically at her last statement, pointing at himself, and then covering his eyes with his hands.

“How did no one see you?” she asks in exasperation, crossing her arms over her chest as she stands. “You don’t exactly blend in.”

Smurf pauses for just a second in consideration before he closes his eyes and concentrates. Then, he vanishes before Darcy’s eyes, leaving her to blink stupidly at the space where he once stood.

“You turned invisible!” she yelps, covering her mouth with her hands. She can see straight through to the wall behind him. For good measure, Darcy waves her hand around. Smurf grunts as she smacks into his abdomen. The illusion drops revealing her blue house guest, frowning at her. “Sorry,” she says sheepishly, suppressing a grin. “If you could do that all along, why didn’t you before?” she asks quietly, recalling finding him huddled in her closet.

His expression turns hesitant, eyes dropping to the floor and idly picking at his fingers. Smurf shrugs and then shakes his head. Eventually, he taps the side of his head with his index finger.

Darcy can sense she’s treading on sensitive ground and decides to switch topics as she watches a shudder pass through his body. “So you stole this?”

He nods.

“From who?”

He shrugs carelessly.

She suppresses the laugh bubbling up within her at his casual admittance to burglary. “Why?”

He points at her mouth, her stomach, and then his clothes.

“Repayment?”

Another nod.

Guilt wells up in her. She has no one to blame but to herself. She had openly told him that she was broke, and he knew they had no food. Fuck. She glances back down at the money in consideration. She has no idea where it came from to return any of it, and she cannot deny that she needs it. All of it is probably worth over a grand. That will last her the rest of the month and then some.

“Thanks,” she says softly with a smile, “I appreciate it.”

Smurf beams at her, sketching a quick bow.

“But,” she says sharply, raising a finger under his nose, “you can’t do that again. Stealing is against the law.”

He snorts dismissively and takes a seat on the couch, crossing his long legs to prop his feet on the coffee table.

Darcy won’t tell him this but the real reason he can’t continue is that she knows they’ll get caught someday. That’s what always happens. Her luck always runs out in the end. If she gets caught harboring an alien in her home without telling the proper authorities not even her Shield background can get her out of it.

“If you want to earn your keep you’ll need to get a job,” she says as an idea comes to her. If he could turn invisible who was to say he couldn’t change his appearance entirely?

The look he gives is incredulous and scorching as if she has suddenly grown a fire-breathing third head.

She raises her hands in a placating gesture and sits down beside him. “Hear me out. We just had a busboy quit. You would basically just be responsible for picking up dishes and washing them in the back. It’s not a hard job.”

He shakes his head and turns back to the tv, intent on ignoring her.

“It would get you out of the house,” she pleads, not that that was a strong incentive anymore since she has learned he can turn invisible.

He flips channels as a commercial comes on.

“You’d get to hang out with me,” she says sweetly, batting her eyelashes.

His finger pauses on the button, and he clucks his tongue. He turns to look at her, the light from the tv reflecting in his green eyes.

She waggles her eyebrows.

He snorts and looks away quickly, mouth curling into a sardonic smile. He reaches out to her chest and then touches his own and twines his middle finger over his index finger.
“Yeah, we’ll be together,” she says breathlessly, her heartbeat racing for some inexplicable reason.

There is an awkward silence, tension building, and Darcy does not know what would happen if she let it break. So she clears her throat and says, “You’ll need a disguise, of course.”

He rolls his eyes, and a green shimmer of light passes over him. His blue skin is replaced with alabaster but the black hair and green eyes remain the same. His features are off though. The cheekbones are not quite as high and the nose is not as prominent. The English aristocrat is gone and replaced by a regular looking guy you might see at the local drug store. Darcy is surprised at how disappointed she is at the change.

She swallows and gives a thumbs up.

Smurf nods in satisfaction and drops the facade, returning to his natural azure skin.

With that out of the way, Darcy settles in for another marathon. They flip channel to channel as Smurf grows restless with the commercials. Occasionally, Darcy offers a side of snark that makes his mouth twist into a wry grin. He never laughs though, not fully, and she cannot help but notice that he remains firmly glued to one end of the couch with his back and side pressed into it. Three hours pass, and her eyes are drooping. With a mumbled good night, Darcy shuffles to her room and slips into an old ratty t-shirt.

It is only as she is drifting off to sleep that night that Darcy wonders how Smurf knows what their currency looks like.

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

Darcy is dreaming. She knows she is dreaming, but that doesn’t make the terror any less real.

She coughs from the black smoke boiling into the building and collapses. Crawling on her hands and knees, she reaches the shattered window to look out. More smoke and ash and fire fill the sky as the giant robot tears a destructive path through New York City, the sun glinting cruelly off of its chrome skin.

The screams coming from behind her mix with the wail of the sirens from the ambulances and fire trucks fifteen stories below. Some part of her tells her that the integrity of the building is compromised, and she needs to find the nearest stairs and make an escape before it comes down on her head. The other part is too terrified to leave for fear of the metal monster lurking outside. She automatically drops down to the floor when it gives a screech signalling another blast.

Gaining control of herself, Darcy scurries across the floor to where the nearest screams had come from. She dodges around a splintered burning desk to a pile of debris where one of the beams in the ceiling had given way. A single pale hand with a slender wrist and long fingers is all that is visible. With shaking hands, Darcy begins to pull away some of the plaster that had come down with the beam, tossing it carelessly over her shoulder. She digs and digs but seems to gain no ground. Behind her, the Destroyer turns her city into a living hell.

After what feels like hours, she uncovers a face, grey and smeared with black soot, but terribly recognizable. The scream catches in her throat as she presses her fingers to Jane’s pulse and feels nothing. Darcy manages to gulp down a breath before trying to administer CPR but knows it is useless when her lips brush Jane’s cold ones.

She fights back a sob and scrambles away to the exit, tears leaking down her cheeks. Her chest feels tight, her heart wanting to burst within her rib cage. Her mind shuts down then, her world narrowing to the door looming in front of her. The green exit sign shines like a beacon.

She leans her whole body against the door to throw it open and begins flying down the stairs two at a time. There is no one else in the stair-well, no one living at least. She passes by bodies slumped against the wall or twisted at odd angles on the steps. Darcy doesn’t look at their faces. She knows what she’ll see.

Somehow she makes it down to the bottom and bursts through the door. Above her, the blue sky blazes with fire as buildings are consumed. The Destroyer looms ahead, the ground shaking with each step it takes.

Darcy’s head snaps side to side in desperation as she looks for Thor or Cap or Tony. They’re nowhere to be found. People flood around her, some shuffling like zombies, others running in terror. The direction is the same though, away from the giant deathbot. Her feet take her towards it, first a walk, then a jog, and then a flat out sprint.

She is running full tilt, arms pumping and her feet slapping against the pavement. Darcy dodges and spins with all the grace she never possessed in real life. Impossibly, she manages to catch up with the thing.

“Hey!” she yells, heart hammering in her chest. It stops and turns with a creak.

She wants to turn around and run away but her feet are glued to ground. She can’t move a muscle. She has tried to alter this detail of the dream countless times, but it never does. The Destroyer faces her, deathly still as if studying this strange new insect. Sweat trickles down the column of her spine.

The fire begins to kindle in its helmet, turning the silver metal orange. Darcy starts to say something, but the words catch in her dry throat just like the scream had earlier. She doesn’t even know what she means to say. It doesn’t matter anyways because suddenly there is a snap reverberating throughout the whole city, and the hairs on her arms raise. The flames rise higher licking at the faceplate of the helmet.

She closes her eyes and feels herself melt away as the fabric of her being dissolves.

Darcy comes awake with a start, breath rattling in her chest as she sits up in her bed. She blindly gropes for the water on her nightstand and takes a shaky sip. With a grunt, she peels the sweaty sheet back from her legs and throws them over the side of the bed.

She takes another sip of water and presses the heel of her hand to her forehead. There is a pounding pain behind her eyes as there always is. Darcy takes five deep breaths and tries to ground herself in the here and now as her therapist taught her. She focuses on the hum of the air conditioning and the coolness of the glass in her hand. It helps a little. The pain subsides for a moment, and her heart slows.

She opens her eyes and sees only blackness. Darcy clicks on the lamp next to her bed and walks to the door. She won’t get anymore sleep tonight, and she has been putting it off long enough.

It has been three days since Smurf showed her the stolen goods. Three days since her slow mind pieced together the fact that an alien from another planet shouldn’t know what American currency looks like. The English should have given it away, but she had chalked that up to magic or tech like Thor’s Allspeak. This cannot be explained away though, and it has eaten away at her. If Smurf senses the tension building between them, he gives no indication of it.
She shuffles into living room where Smurf lies asleep on the couch in nothing but a pair of pajama bottoms and an old band t-shirt Darcy had from an ex-boyfriend. He still sleeps light and fitfully, legs and arms thrashing out and his lips curling back from his teeth. Darcy has even heard a growl rumble from out of his throat on occasion.

Right now though, he is twitching, brows furrowed in pain or fear, and a whimper escapes his throat that breaks something inside of her. Darcy resists the urge to kneel beside him and stroke the hair out of his face. She knows how that will end.

“Smurf,” she says in a loud firm voice and jumps back as he sits bolt upright with daggers drawn.

His eyes are crimson and scanning the room rapidly for the non-existent threat, muscles tensed and ready to spring. When they land her, it takes a moment for them to focus. With a defeated sigh, they revert to green, and he lets the daggers disappear. Smurf slumps over with his elbows on his knees, and his head held in his hands. Darcy allows him a few moments to collect himself

When his shuddering breaths have stopped and he looks up at her in question, she clears her throat and takes a cautious step forward. “We need to talk,” she says as calmly as she can at three in the morning.

The change those few words render in him is instant. His posture goes rigid and his expression distant and cold.

Darcy runs a hand through her sleep rumpled hair. “Be honest with me, have you been to Earth before now?’

He pauses for a moment before nodding his head slowly, face tight and controlled. His eyes flick up and down her body in question.

“The money,” Darcy answers in a tired voice. She scrubs a hand over her face. “Aliens shouldn’t know what American money looks like.

He nods again in understanding and leans back against the couch, crossing his legs at the ankle and folding his hands in his lap. Something about the casualness of his posture angers her.

“This isn’t a game or a joke, you know,” she says sharply, folding her arms in front of her chest. “This is serious.”

He tilts his head to the side.

“I need to know when and why you came here, and don’t lie to me. I’ll know!” she says as she points her finger. She would laugh at how much she sounds like her mother if her heart wasn’t going a million miles an hour.

He spreads his hands open in offering and uncrosses his legs.

“Did you come here during the Infinity War?”

He shakes his head. Darcy feels the tightness in her chest loosen a bit.

“Did you work for Thanos?”

Smurf flinches, eyes flashing to crimson and expression going feral. He surges to his feet and begins to pace the length of the living room, fists clenching and unclenching at his side. The temperature in the room has dropped fifty degrees, and Darcy can see her breath.

“I’ll take that as a hell no,” she says as she rubs her bare arms with her hands. “So when did you come?”

Smurf slows his pacing and turns to her, holding up three fingers.

“Three years ago?”

He nods. His daggers materialize and demateralize in his hands. Ice coats his fingers and is working its way up his arms. The ridges along his skin are beginning to glow.

“Why?”

His head snaps back towards her, lip curled in obvious irritation. His fingers flex uselessly. Finally, he mouths a word.

“Family?”

Smurf nods.

“Holy shitballs, hold on a second, you have family here on Earth? Does that mean there are more of you or are you half human or something?”

He shakes his head and holds up a hand to stop her questions.

“No way, Blueman. You can’t tell me something like that and then just cut me off.” Darcy takes a step towards him, but Smurf is faster. In the blink of an eye, he’s gone from the living room, and she hears the slam of the closet door in the hallway.

She stomps into the hallway and tugs on the doorknob. Somehow it is shut fast like it has been vaccuum sealed from the inside. She gives it a pull, rocking back on her heels. It doesn’t budge.

“No fair, Smurf!” Darcy yells through the door as she bangs her fist on it.

There is only silence on the other side, and she knows she will get nowhere tonight.

“Good job, Lewis. You really fubared that one,” she says she as she walks back to bed. She doesn’t have work for another ten hours, and she figures she might as well get back to sleep.

Darcy fails at that as well.

***

Darcy looks at her front door and finds that only dread fills her. Never has she been more reluctant to unlock and walk through that janky wooden door after a ten hour shift. Business had been decent, but nowhere near enough to put her totally in the black. So that meant she would need to dip into the money Smurf had stolen. That left a bad taste in her mouth. He had not exited the closet after their fight last night, not even for the smell of eggs and toast at breakfast. Darcy had been forced to leave a plate and glass of orange juice outside the door, and it still hadn’t been eaten by the time she left for work at 1:30. She honestly doesn’t know what she is more afraid of finding Smurf inside waiting for her or finding that he has left.

Rolling her shoulders, Darcy works up the courage to step out of the car and head up the steps. The only light around is the dim porch light that flickers with each step she climbs. The night is warm and humid, but she feels a shiver down her spine as the hair on the backs of her arms rise. She spares one last glance over her shoulder as she takes her keys out and inserts the house key into her lock.

It is dark inside as the door swings open, and the only sound are the creaking of the floorboards underneath her feet as she steps inside. The tv is off, and the remote remains sitting on the table where they had left it the night before.

Her shoulders slump, and she is surprised at how empty the place feels now. She turns and locks the door behind her. Darcy walks into the hallway to see that the plate is empty and the glass drained. At least, he had eaten something before he left.

Darcy heads for her room and finds the door cracked and lamp on. Smurf is sitting on her bed with his hands clasped between his legs and his old tattered clothes on. The ones she had given him neatly folded and stacked on the bed beside him.

He stands up when he sees and shifts restlessly from foot to foot.

“What are you doing?” she asks softly as she sets her purse down and shrugs off her jacket.

He gestures to the clothes behind him and makes his index and middle fingers walk through the air.

“You’re leaving?”

The nod he gives is curt, and he clasps his hands behind his back, shoulders squared. He even bends at the waist slightly in a bow.

“Oh,” is all she can say back as she tucks her hair nervously behind one ear. Of all the scenarios, Darcy had not expected him to stay around to say good-bye. “Where will you go?” she asks.

Smurf shrugs and looks around as if the answer will come to him if he just doesn’t make eye contact with her.

A tense moment passes as Darcy fidgets and tries to find the right words. After several heart beats, he decides to act and walks across the small room to exit it.

“Wait!” She steps in front of him, blocking the doorway.

Smurf looks down at her in confusion, brows quirked together and hands hovering at his sides as if he is considering whether or not it is worth the trouble of physically removing her from his path.

“You don’t have to go alright. It’s dangerous out there.” Darcy is surprised at the desperation in her voice.

Smurf snorts in exasperation and takes another step forward. She raises her hands and presses them against his chest. She can feel the coolness from his skin tingling against her palms. He pushes against her gently, but Darcy holds her ground.

With a clicking of his tongue, he wraps his hands around her wrists.

“I’m sorry,” Darcy says as she looks up into his impassive face. His fingers still and go slack, forming loose bracelets. “I’m sorry, ok? We don’t have to talk about your family if you don’t want to.” She gives him a slight push, and Smurf takes a half-step back into the room.

He studies her for a moment before turning his head to the side to stare out the dark window. His fingers tighten and then loosen around her wrists in indecision.

Darcy can see his mind weighing the benefits of each decision and decides to go for her ace in the hole. “What if I order us pizza, and we put on The Nanny? You know you love Niles.”

He snorts and looks down at her, a reluctant smile pulling at his lips. His fingers tighten once more around her wrists and pull her a little closer. Darcy lets out a shaky breath when she realizes she’s close enough to make out his individual eyelashes.

“I’ll go order the pizza then,” she whispers, and Smurf releases his hold on her.

He takes a slow step backwards, and Darcy turns to leave the room, fighting the spring in her step.

***

Joe sits behind his desk, squinting as he taps awkwardly at the keys of his smartphone trying to send a text. Darcy not-so subtly clears her throat as she leans against the doorway.

“What is it, Lewis?” the old man grumbles around the cigarette dangling from the left corner of his mouth.

“I have a proposition for you,” she says sweetly as she takes a step into his office.

“You’re not getting a raise or Saturdays off,” he barks without even bothering to look up from his phone.

“I wouldn’t dream of asking that. I’m not stupid,” she drawls and drops down into the wooden chair in front of his desk.

“Yeah, well, just don’t want you or anyone else getting any ideas around here.” He gives her a hard look before returning to his text.

“Believe me, no one is getting that idea,” she huffs.

“So what is it?”

“We need a dish-washer/busboy,” Darcy says as she coughs from smoke inhalation and waves it away with her right hand.

“And?” Joe stabs angrily as the phone.

“And I know a guy,” she says casually, making a show of studying her nails.

Her boss pauses long enough to fix another glare at her. “He got any experience?”

“Not really, but he’s a hard worker and honest,” she lies smoothly.

“So you want me to hire some dirtbag friend of yours with no experience or references?” He stabbed the button three more times, cursing under his breath.

“Since when did you care about references?” Darcy said with a roll of her eyes, “and besides, no one else wants to work for this dump. You’ve run off the last three we had.”

“Fine,” Joe grumbles, “but he gets minimum wage.”

“Nun-uh,” Darcy says with a shake of her head, “he gets a dollar plus and works the same shifts as me.”

“You’re really pushing it, Lewis,” Joe growls.

“We got a deal?” Darcy asks as she leans forward and snatches the phone from his hands.

He gives a yelp, but by the time he can form an angry retort, Darcy has already texted “sure, dear!” to his wife’s request to pick up milk on the way home.

She can practically see the fumes coming out of his ears when she lays the phone on the desk in front of him.

“Just get the hell out of my office!” he yells as Darcy dances back with a grin.

“I’ll take that as a yes!” she calls back and slams the door behind her.

***

Two days later, Darcy and Smurf stand outside of the diner. Her hand is wrapped around his arm as he fidgets nervously in the black jeans and grey shirt she had forced him to wear. She can feel him trembling beside her, wanting to bolt. She just preys that her presence is enough to hold him there because if he really wants to leave there is nothing Darcy can do to truly stop him.

This is his first time at the diner after the night he had crash landed behind the dumpster. Joe still doesn’t know what to make of the disaster Smurf had made of the supply closet. There had been no interview, and Darcy and Joe had both agreed he would be paid under the table in cash on a weekly basis to avoid paperwork and drawing government eyes. Joe is a paranoid, conspiracy theorist, and Darcy is only too happy to indulge him in that. The last thing she needs is to draw Coulson’s eye to her more than it already is.

“I’ll be here the entire time, okay?” she says in as soothing a voice as she can. “If shit goes south just let me know you need to go home, and we’ll leave.” She gives him a reassuring squeeze. The night air is cool and soothing. Darcy had traded shifts with Carla to avoid the dinner rush to let Smurf start at a quieter time.

Darcy had had to do some quick thinking for his back story. It had been basic and rushed. He is her cousin who had served in the army during the Infinity War. Most of his friends and family were killed, and the PTSD had set in. That would cover most of her bases in case shit went side-ways, and it is really only half a lie. Darcy is almost certain he has PTSD. And who knows maybe he was in some kind of army at some point? At this point, she’ll lie to the fucking pope if need be.

Smurf gives a nod of his head and steps through the glass doors. The overhead fluorescent lights seem too bright and the cheap pink tile too shiny. There are only a handful of customers seated at the tables, but even that sounds too loud to Darcy’s ears.

Slowly, they walk across the restaurant, and Darcy prays that it is only her paranoia telling her that everyone is watching them with laser vision. Smurf is ramrod straight beside her with his fingers tightly laced through hers and freezing. His steps are careful and measured as his eyes scan the place for threats, ears straining to catch and decipher every sound.

There is only one waitress working tonight, Kathleen who gives them a wide berth, but not before cutting her eyes at the newest employee/victim.

After what feels like decades, they make it to the kitchen in the back where Maurice is busy making burgers.

“Hey girl,” he calls to her from grill.

“Hey Maurice!” she chirps back, trying to play it cool as Smurf’s head whips to the new presence. She feels his body go tense. “It’s okay. It’s just Maurice, he’s the cook,” she whispers out of the corner of her mouth.

Smurf’s muscles are still taut, but maybe he won’t lash out and break out through the window in the bathroom.

The big man turns around to study her. “This the new guy?” He gives a Smurf a once over as he wipes his hands on his stained apron.

Darcy feels the tension in Smurf ramp up almost like the hackles of a wolf rising, and she is surprised to find his face fixed in a placid expression and not with his lips skinned back.

“Yep,” she says a little too eagerly as she pats his arm. “This is my cousin Luke.”

“Nice to meet you, Luke,” Maurice says as he offers him his hand.

Smurf stares at it blankly.

“He’s happy to meet you too, Maurice,” Darcy says tightly as she pats Smurf’s shoulder and starts to move them along. She throws Maurice a sheepish look over her shoulder.

He only gives her a raised eyebrow and crossed arms in reply before he shrugs and returns to his burgers.

Darcy lets out a sigh of relief once they go further down the kitchen. She stops them in front of the sinks and dishwashing machine and gives a brief run through of the machine.

“Any questions?” she asks, leaning against the counter to stare up into his face. He certainly doesn’t look confused or bewildered. He mostly just looks skittish and bored all at the same time somehow.

Smurf shakes his head, eyes darting all over the kitchen and lingering for a moment on the steak knives.

“Which one turns starts the dishwasher?” she prods.

Smurf points a long finger at the appropriate button and rolls his eyes into the back of his skull when Darcy says “good job!” a little too enthusiastically.

Just to be safe, she makes him give her a quick demonstration of how to operate the dishwasher.

Smurf goes through the motions quickly and easily, placing the dishes in the washer and detergent in the right compartment. Plates, and bowls go in the dishwasher. Silverware and cups are handwashed in the sink and set into the drying rack so the waitresses can rush in and out and quickly to reset the tables once customers leave.

Darcy checks at the clock on the wall. It is 6:22. Thankfully, it’s a Tuesday so it should be fairly mellow.

“Our shifts start in eight minutes so I am about to head out to the dining room. Are you going to be okay by yourself?” She gives him a concerned look. She had almost suggested if he had any questions to ask Maurice, but that would be pointless. Somehow she and Smurf have developed a communication that requires no words on his part. Darcy doesn’t see that translating over to other people.

Smurf shrugs one shoulder and attempts to fake nonchalance, but Darcy can see the tension running through him like an electrified wire.

Biting her lip, she steps forward and grips his biceps in her hands. “Listen, if you don’t want to do this I get it. I can drive you home right now, and then I can come back. It’s no big deal. I shouldn’t have pushed you into this.” She squeezes his arms.

Smurf shakes his head and gently removes her hands from his arms. He turns from her to face the sink and begins to wash his hands.

“Are you sure?” Darcy asks as she backs towards the door.

He gives her an annoyed glance and jerks his head towards the door. When she doesn’t move quickly enough, he flicks his hand at her as if shooing away a fly.

With a nod, Darcy walks backwards out of the door and into the dining area. Only two of her six tables are occupied, and tonight is a short shift so she will have to hustle for those tips. Even as she is slipping her pad and pencil from the pocket of her apron, she can feel worry begin to gnaw at the back of her mind.

It is two hours into her shift before shit hits the fan. Darcy is refilling sweet tea for an old trucker with a ZZ Top beard when Maurice comes jogging out of the kitchen, hands wringing his apron.

“Excuse me,” she says to the man as she finishes topping off his cup and power walks to the cook.

“What?” she says too quickly, mind racing over the possibilities. Has Smurf disappeared? Did he try to stab Maurice? Had he turned into a giant kraken? She has no extent of his power and abilities so her imagination has no limits. What had she been thinking bringing him here in the first place?

“He’s locked himself in the bathroom and won’t come out,” Maurice whispers under his breath.

She breathes a sigh of relief that makes Maurice’s eyebrows shoot towards his nonexistent hairline.

“It’s complicated,” Darcy forces out and rushes back to the employee restroom.

The door is locked and shut tight. She presses her ear to the wood to see if she can hear anything. No sound comes from the other side. She knocks lightly and gets no reply.

Maurice is back at his grill cleaning up. Thankfully, all orders have been filled so she should be good for at least ten minutes.

“Smurf,” she says softly and knocks on the door. No answer. “C’mon, dude, it’s Darcy. No one else is out here. Just let me in.” She holds her breath waiting and is about to give up when she hears shuffling from the other side.

The door opens a crack, and she can see a long line of his body. His skin is blue. She turns her body sideways and slides in, shutting and locking the door behind her.

Smurf is pacing, running his hands through his black hair. His eyes flash from red to green to red again. His right arm is human. His left is still cobalt blue.

“What happened?” Darcy asks as she presses her back to the wall to give him as much room to move as possible.

He scrubs his hands over his face and growls. He claps his hands forcefully.

“There was a noise?” she guesses.

Smurf nods vigorously, his long legs crossing the bathroom in two steps. His chest is rising and fall as he breathes rapidly.

“Let’s just sit,” Darcy says as she slides down the wall to the floor.

He crosses the room six more times before he slumps down beside her, head and hands hanging between his knees. His breathing is still too fast for Darcy’s liking.

“Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth,” she says in as calm a voice as possible. She takes in several deep slow breaths to show him.

Smurf gives her a murderous look, top lip curling into a snarl of disgust.

“I know it’s dumb,” she concedes, “but what have you got to lose?”

His face relaxes as he leans back against the cold tile of the walk, head tilted up to show his long, smooth neck. Closing his eyes, he inhales slowly through his nose and out through pursed lips. Darcy hesitantly places a hand on his shoulder and begins to rub in slow circles. She starts to work a knot out underneath her thumb as Smurf breathes in more air.

After ten breaths, he opens his eyes, now both a solid, human green. With a shimmer of green light, his disguise returns.

She gives him a weak smile. “Better?”

He nods reluctantly, eyes focused on the floor. It takes Darcy a moment to realize she is still massaging his upper trap and embarrassingly clears her throat as she lets her hand fall to the side.

“You wanna go home?”

Smurf shakes his head and gets to his feet. Darcy accepts the hand he offers and lets him pull her up.

They both stand there in a silence for a moment as Smurf finishes collecting himself. Darcy checks her watch. Twelve minutes have passed.

They exit the bathroom together. Smurf goes back to his station at the dishwasher and begins to load the silverware onto the drying rack. Maurice gives her a sidelong glance as she heads back to the dining area.

Darcy is relieved to find her trucker still at his table quietly eating as he checks something on his phone. There are only two other tables with customers, and both seem to be taken care of.

She takes a moment to sit down in one of the booths and prop her feet up on the seat across from her. She is more tired than she originally realized. These past days with Smurf have been rough on her. An emotional roller coaster that is leaving her drained. Darcy will be all too glad to crash tonight.

She allows herself to sit for five minutes before getting up and checking on her tables again to see if they need anything. No one does thankfully, and the trucker is ready to pay for his food. He slaps down a five dollar bill for Darcy’s tip and thanks her for her service.

“You be careful out there, darlin’,” he says to her as he gets out of his seat.

“Will do, sir,” she says cheerfully as she collects the money and slips it into her apron pocket.

“I’m serious,” he replies, leveling a stern look at her. “Weird shit goin’ on lately. The world hasn’t been right since all that shit in New York happened, and it just keeps getting weirder.”

“You’re not wrong there,” Darcy says lightly, beginning to collect his plate and cup.

He shakes his head. “A nice girl like you doesn’t need to get caught up in all that.”

Too late, she thinks mournfully but thanks him for his concern. The man leaves out the door with the ringing of a bell.
The rest of the night continues without incident. Smurf continues to work quietly in the back with no complaint from Maurice, and most of her customers tip decently for once. Eleven rolls around, and Darcy finishes wiping down the last tables and putting the chairs on top.

Her feet and back are aching fiercely as she stoops over to pick up a fallen salt packet. When did she start feeling so fucking old? It doesn’t matter. Shit still has to get done, and she has to do it.

Smurf and Maurice come out to help her finish up once the kitchen is clean. Maurice gives the floor a quick wash with the mop while Smurf takes out the trash. He shouldn’t have any trouble finding the dumpster.

They finish up by eleven forty-five. The keys jingle as Darcy closes up for the night, the interior dark and ominous. She shivers as she recalls what the trucker said to her earlier that night. Smurf looks over at her with one eyebrow quirked in question. “It’s nothing,” she lies, “just a breeze.”

He narrows his eyes at her but doesn’t push it.

“I guess you don’t need me to walk you to your car tonight,” Maurice says as he looks from her to Smurf.

“Nope,” she says, popping the “p” for emphasis.

“Alright. Good night, Darcy. See you later.” He lifts his hand to her in farewell and walks off into the parking lot.

Darcy keeps the keys in her hands as they walk to her car. She knows without asking that both she and Smurf are keeping their senses sharp for any unwelcome visitors. Something has her spooked tonight, and she walks close enough to Smurf that her shoulder brushes his arm. He notices and gives her another funny look that she can just barely make out in the dim light of parking lot.

“It’s nothing,” she insists again, even as she hunches her shoulders and picks up the pace.

He lets out a sigh of frustration and keeps up with her all too easily. Finally, they make it to her car, and Darcy slams and locks the door with relief. “So how was your first day?” she asks as they buckle their seat belts.

He fixes her with a stare as if he cannot believe the shamelessness of her subject change. When she doesn’t let it drop, he shrugs and makes the “so-so” gesture with his left hand.

“Can you do it again?”

Smurf gives her a derisive sniff and a haughty look to match.

“Okay, okay,” she grumbles, cranking the car and thanking the stars when the engine turns over the first time, “let me be more specific. Do you want to do it again?” She turns on the headlights and begins to back out of the parking spot.

Smurf pauses, considering his hands clasped in his lap.

“You know, it won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t want to,” Darcy says as they pull out of the parking lot.

He taps her shoulder, and she looks over. He is rubbing fingers and thumb together.

“Don’t worry about money,” she answers, returning her attention back to the road. “We’ll manage.”

“So do you want to or not?” Darcy asks again as they roll through the third red light of the night. The town is dead at this hour, and she sees no point in obeying a traffic light when there’s no real traffic.

Smurf finally answers by tapping her shoulder and then tapping himself. His fingers twine together like they had the night she proposed the idea.

“We’ll be together,” she confirms, that weird warmth seeping through her chest again. He spreads his hands helplessly and then rubs them on his thighs.

Darcy takes that to mean yes, or at least not a vehement no. She doesn’t talk for the rest of the car ride. By the time they reach the trailer, Darcy is yawning and even Smurf looks a little wilted. They shuffle in and head off to their respective beds.

She is all too grateful to shuck off her shoes and clothes, not even bothering to hang up her uniform. Darcy wraps herself in a sheet and prays that no more nightmares will visit her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Smurf’s first two week fly by surprisingly quickly and with little incident. He and Darcy mostly work the closing shifts when things are slower. It’s safer that way for Smurf while he adjusts. The other waitresses are all too happy to give up those late shifts. They develop something that looks dangerously like a routine. It all feels oddly domestic to Darcy, something she hasn’t experienced since before she left for undergrad.

Typically, they come home and veg on the couch while trying to find a sitcom Smurf hasn’t seen five times before. At this rate, Darcy may have to breakdown and get cable or Netflix or heavens forbid both.

This night though as Darcy drives them through the all-too quiet streets of the small town, she thinks it is time to change up the routine. She glances over at Smurf out of the corner of her eye. He is staring out of the passenger’s side window with his chin cupped in his hand. It is hard to believe that her blue alien roommate is hidden beneath that perfectly mundane exterior.

“How do you feel about books?” Darcy hazards as she makes the turn onto their street.

He perks up noticeably, turning his face towards her with a look of interest.

“I was thinking we could do something different tonight instead of channel surfing.”

He frowns in puzzlement, and Darcy can’t help but smile. Who knew aliens could be such couch potatoes?

“All that television isn’t good for your brain,” she says as she reaches over and ruffles his hair.

He slaps her hand away and huffs before cupping an icy cold hand around the back of her neck. Darcy gives an undignified squeak as she swerves over into the opposite lane. “Stop that! Are you trying to make me kill us?” she scolds half heartedly.

He gives a sniff of triumph as he turns his imperial gaze back out the passenger side window.

Darcy pulls into the driveway two minutes later and kills the engine. She and Smurf clamber out of the car and up the rickety steps to the door. As soon as they step inside, the alien drops the facade and returns to his natural blue state. Darcy is surprised at how happy it makes her to see that blue skin. He even lets his red eyes shine through, a detail she hadn’t realized she had missed until they were back.

He goes automatically to the couch and reaches for the remote. She darts forward and snatches it away before he can grab it. He scowls at her, looking like a petulant five year old denied a cookie before supper.

“I meant what I said. We’re going to try reading a book. It’s about time you got more exposure to Earth culture than Friends reruns. Too much longer, and you’ll be forced to resort to watching reality tv show. I refuse to sit through The Bachelor with you!” Darcy calls as she walks into her room with the remote still in hand.

She walks over to her small bookshelf that is crammed to bursting with her collection of used paperbacks. Darcy lets her fingers slide over the creased and broken spines, searching and thinking. She pauses at Pride and Prejudice an old favorite of hers. No, she thinks shaking her head, she doesn’t think eighteenth century romance would appeal to an extraterrestrial. She keeps going and pauses again on Stephen King’s The Stand but decides against it due to the sheer length of the thing. They have been gorging themselves on thirty minute television episodes, and Darcy doubts either of them have the attention span necessary for such a mammoth book. She continues until she reaches the bottom shelf where she keeps her few hardbacks and stops. Perfect. She plucks her much abused copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from its slot and turns it over in her hands lovingly.

It’s short, simple, and fast paced, and no one can deny it’s a major cultural landmark. Besides, she thinks Smurf might be able to relate to a lonely boy who suddenly finds himself in a strange new world.

Darcy strolls back into the living to find the tv turned on to an episode Frasier, and Smurf reclining back smugly. “How did you do that? I know you’re too lazy to actually get up and turn it on.” She narrows her eyes and fights the urge to fling the book at his face.

He gives her a lopsided smile and a careless shrug of one shoulder.

“Turn it off,” she commands.

Smurf makes no move, eyes glued to the screen.

“Turn it off or I’m never making pancakes again,” she says, folding her arms over chest. She feels a bit queasy at how much she sounds like her mother.

His head whips towards her, eyes narrowed to slits in challenge.

“Oh, I would,” Darcy says defiantly.

Smurf doesn’t waver.

“Suit yourself,” she says in a dangerously soft voice and turns around to head back to her bedroom. “I’m turning in for the night. Enjoy watching tv alone and having nothing but cold cereal for breakfast tomorrow!”

She is only half way down the hall when she hears a groan and a snap of fingers before the television shuts off. Darcy struts back into the living, a sweet smile plastered on her face. “Now was that so hard?” she says innocently plopping on the couch beside Smurf.

The alien rolls his eyes dramatically and huffs as he lets his head fall back against the couch. Darcy scoots in a little closer and accidentally lets her elbow catch him in the side. Smurf sits up straighter with a quiet “oof” and glares at her.

The former SHIELD agent only glances at him innocently and clears her throat. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much,” she begins.

***

Bright midday sunlight slants through the blinds and forces Darcy to crack open an eyelid. It takes her sleep addled brain a moment to realize she is not looking at the door to her bedroom closet but at the black screen of her television She shifts a bit preparing to push herself up from couch when she realizes that there is something cool and hard underneath her hand and cheek. She rolls her eyes upwards and sees Smurf’s face turned in profile away from the light, his expression relaxed and serene for once.

Darcy sits up slowly, not wanting to wake him, and remembers last night. They must have fallen asleep while reading and arranged themselves on the couch. She had been nestled between Smurf’s long body and the back of the couch, her upper body resting on his chest. The book lies on the floor, facedown, having fallen from her slack fingers.

Her first instinct is panic, her heart racing as she realizes the line she’s crossed. Darcy hasn’t slept in the same space as someone in over a year. She worries her bottom lip in consideration. She needs to leave and quietly so as not to disturb him. Her throat is dry from having read all night and her bladder is full to bursting. Still, something keeps her rooted there to drink in the sight of him. The dimness of the room paints his skin a dusky blue and turns his black hair into coils of ink. One hand rests by his side while the other arm is raised behind his head. He looks calm and peaceful, and Darcy realizes this is the first time she has encountered him sleeping without being in the throes of a nightmare. There is no line of tension or worry between his brows. His lips are not peeled back in a snarl. His long limbs lie perfectly still.

She does not remember when she had nodded off, and so has no idea how long they had been like or who fell asleep first.

“Fuck,” she says under her breath as she gingerly tries to untangle herself from him. There is a precarious moment where she is straddling his waist with one foot planted on the floor and the other knee on the couch.

Darcy manages to make her way to the bathroom and back into her own bed before she hears him stir in the living room.

Neither one of them bring it up as Darcy makes them pancakes for lunch. If Smurf remembers, he gives no indication of it. The only proof is the lack of dark circles underneath his eyes. His appetite remains as monstrous as ever, and he manages to eat three stacks before she cuts him off. She doesn’t know if aliens can get diabetes from consuming vast quantities of syrup, but she isn’t going to take the chance. He tries to charm her for more but relents after she stares him down over her own plate.

“We’ve got a shift today,” she says around a mouthful of food, “four to close, which means you’ll be dealing with the dinner rush. Are you okay with that?”

Smurf gives her a shrug, which she has come to know means yes in a very casual way. She nods and goes back to eating, trying to keep her eyes off of his face. Darcy can’t shake the memory of how serene he had looked those few hours ago as if all of the worry and stress had simply melted away. She wonders what he was dreaming about or if he even dreamed at all. She certainly hadn’t had any dreams she can remember. She’d slept like the dead as far as she knew, a first in a very long time, years she thinks. Darcy hasn’t slept well since 2011 in all honesty. Seeing your town get blown to smithereens will do that to a girl.

She finishes up and dumps the dishes in the sink. Smurf slumps off to the living room to get in his daily fix of tv before their shift. Darcy imagines he is going through something like withdrawals after last night. She decides not to join him but instead to start working on the pots and pans she has allowed to pile up recently.

The chore is mindless, and the hot water feels good on her hands. It gives her time to think and reflect. She has an alien living with her, an alien who is currently obsessed with consuming every 90s sitcom known to man. Darcy takes the Dawn and squirts it on a particularly stubborn spot, scrubbing at it with steel wool. An alien she still knows nothing about despite the fact that they have been sharing the same space for weeks. Well, that’s not necessarily true. Darcy actually knows lots of things about Smurf if she thinks about it. She knows that he doesn’t sleep well, that when he feels threatened or upset he tries to run from things. She knows that he appreciates her sarcasm and her pancakes. She knows that he can chill a room with his breath and burn her with his touch, but that he can also heal her with those same hands. Darcy also knows that he wears a mask day to day. She had grown up around her fair share of conmen and smooth talkers, and he ticks off all of her boxes. The sly smiles, the arrogant twitch of his eyebrow, it’s an act if she ever saw one. All to hold himself together because otherwise he would scatter to the four winds.

She just doesn’t know why. His past remains an enigma that she can’t crack because he can’t or won’t discuss it. Darcy shakes her head and sets the pan on the drying rack. It’s something dark she knows that much, and possibly a fresh wound but his coping mechanisms seem to be well ingrained so his whole life probably hasn’t been a walk in the park.

She searches her memory for all of the alien species she had learned about during her stint as an agent. She had only been out in the field for two years before everything went to shit, but they had put her at the forefront of the Extraterrestrial Research and Reconnaissance Team. She thinks once more of the Kree, the only blue-skinned species she knows of, but they didn’t have red eyes or the ability to freeze people. Something about that gnaws at a corner of her mind. Maybe he was Xandarian? They had certainly seen a few of those refugees after Thanos destroyed their planet.

Darcy sighs in disgust as she comes with nothing once more. She swallows the lump forming in her throat. She could always ask Coulson or Jane or even Thor and Starlord, but she knows what would happen. She would get sucked right back in. Coulson would have her on a mission serving as a goddamn ambassador or Jane would have her in the lab working out the kinks in her latest machine. Even the mere thought sends her hands shaking, and she nearly drops the last plate as she sets it to drip dry in the rack.

“Nope, nope, nope,” she mutters to herself as she dries her hands off on a dish-towel.

With that done, she walks into the living room where Smurf is sitting on the couch with his long legs tucked underneath him. Darcy can only hope that if his past is important, he’ll tell her in time.

***

The diner is dead when they pull into the parking lot, but Darcy knows it will pick up in about an hour and a half or so. They get out of the car and walk inside.

“Hey girl,” Carla says as she wipes down a table.

Darcy waves to her as she heads towards the back to clock in. As she does, she can’t help but notice the way Carla’s cheeks color as her eyes linger a little too long on Smurf as he passes by her silently. Well, that’s a new development. The blonde waitress has hardly even spoken to Smurf, and now she has the hots for him?

She gives Smurf’s disguise a second careful look as they clock in. His face is rounder and the nose shorter and broader. The mouth is more generous with thicker lips that seem ready to smile. She supposes it has a certain mediocre appeal and coupled with the fact that he’s tall and walks like he’s in a fucking fashion show doesn’t hurt either. Well, to each their own.

“I guess I’ll see you at the end of the shift. If you need anything or something happens, you know where to find me.”
Smurf nods, giving her a wistful look, and heads into the kitchen to get started on the pile she knows is waiting for him.

Pulling her hair up into a messy bun, Darcy heads out into the dining room with her pad and pen. She walks over to her first table, a young couple sitting across from each. They’re mid-to-late 20s Darcy would guess and new from the way they’re making making eyes at each other. They’re so close, their noses almost touch, fingers meeting and tangling together in the center of the table. Part of Darcy wants to gag. The other part, teeny tiny part she will never admit exists, is jealous.

“What can I get you guys?” she says with forced cheer.

“I’ll have the O’Brian Burger with fries and a diet Coke,” he says without looking away from the woman.

“And you ma’am?” Darcy prompts as the woman.

“Oh, um I’ll have a Caesar chicken salad,” she says dreamily, voice soft with affection.

“Would either of you have like a reality check with that?” Darcy snarks, unable to stop herself.

“Hmm, what?” the guy says, barely registering her words.

“Oh, I was just wondering what the lady would like to drink?”

“Water with lemon,” she answers.

Darcy jots it down quickly and turns on her heel to deliver the order. The best that she can hope for with those two is that their stupidity makes them tip big.

“Got the order for the lovebirds at table 7,” she calls out to Maurice as she slaps the paper down on the steel counter.

“Something the matter, Darcy?” the cook says as he reads the order.

“What? No,” she answers, hands on her hips. “Why would you say that?”

“You just seemed annoyed. That’s all,” he says with a shrug of his broad shoulders. “Jealous, maybe?”

The waitress rolls her eyes and snorts in derision. “No, why would I be jealous? I like my brain in operating condition. Thank you very much.”

Maurice gives her The Look that he only reserves for special occasions when Darcy is being particularly belligerent. “You sure about that?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asks defensively, arms crossing over her chest.

“I’m just saying you’re a young, pretty girl, and you’ve haven’t been on a single date since I’ve known you. I just thought maybe you were unhappy about it.” He turns from her back to the grill to start preparing the burger.

“Well, it’s fine Maurice, really it is. I’m not exactly relationship material right now, and there’s no one in this town who interests me anyways.”

“Whatever you say,” he replies as he squirts oil on the griddle.

“Well, I have orders and . . . stuff to get back to,” she shoots back lamely, beating a quick retreat back to the dining area.

Darcy spends the next hour trying her best not to let the new king and queen of PDA get under her skin like the parasites they surely are. She swears at one point they were trying to swallow each other’s heads and wonders if it might be some new mating ritual among the particularly stupid. Darcy has long suspected there is a subspecies of Homo sapiens single handedly responsible for bringing down the mean IQ of the whole species.

“Fucking morons,” she curses under her breath at the two dollar tip. At least, they’re gone, and Darcy can go back to unhealthily suppressing her bitter loneliness like a normal adult.

Her shift doesn’t get much better. There are the usual old regulars who have been dining there since before Darcy was out of diapers as they so fondly remind her every damn week. They of course tip their usual buck-fifty on a fifteen dollar meal while thinking she doesn’t notice them stuffing the free bread into their purses. There are also the normal creeps who do their usual of trying to get a look down her shirt when she gives them their food and maybe let their hands linger a little too long on hers as they take their plates. Darcy consoles herself though with the fact they at least usually throw down a five for a tip, and if they copped an “accidental” feel she might get a ten.

The night does go fast though and Smurf has no meltdowns. Darcy has learned to take the small victories where she can get them, and if she actively avoids conversing with Maurice that’s her prerogative.

Things are starting to wind down around nine when she sees an unfamiliar face, strange for this part of town. Even if Darcy doesn’t know a customer by name, they are usually vaguely familiar to her. She’s run into them at the grocery store or the library or even just at a redlight. That was one reason why she had chosen this small town. She would be able to keep track of most of the local population.

She can’t say she isn’t pleased that he has her table. He’s young and clean cut with dark brown hair and blue eyes. Darcy doesn’t even have to force her smile that much as she approaches him. “What can I get you?” she says with her pen poised above her pad.

He looks over the menu carefully. “What’s good here?”

“Depends,” Darcy says, “if you want the managerial answer or the truth?”

He looks up suddenly and gives her a flash of a smile. “Oh, um, well the truth I guess.”

She leans over and picks up the menu, scanning the options. “Don’t get the chili-cheese fries, your toilet will thank me. The burgers are decent for the price, but the grilled pimento cheese sandwich is pretty good if you aren’t a devout carnivore.”

He gives a quiet laugh as she hands the menu back to him. “The pimento cheese it is then,” he orders as he looks up at her.

“You want fries or onion rings with that?”

“You tell me.”

“Onion rings.” She jots it down quickly. “And what to drink?”

“I suppose the water is safe?”

Darcy bites the inside of her cheek to stop from smiling. “It won’t kill you the first time round, but the sweet tea will.”

He gives another laugh, blue eyes crinkling. “Sweet tea then.”

“Brave man.” Darcy writes it down and saunters off to the kitchen with just a bit of extra twist to her hips.

She waits by the window for his order to get ready, trying to watch him out of the corner of her without being too conspicuous. He’s cute in a very down home kinda way she decides. A little short for her tastes, but Darcy is nothing if not adaptable.

He thanks her politely for the food and the suggestions. She checks on him periodically offering refills and asking if he needs anything.

He looks her up and down before answering, and Darcy fights the blush working its way up her neck.

Finally, he shakes his head and says, “No, I think I’m fine. If you could bring me the check though that would be great.”

“Sure,” she says tightly, humiliation burning in her cheeks. “Really? How desperate am I?” she mutters under her breath as slips the receipt into the book and hands it to him. He hands her cash and tells her to keep the change. The waitress thanks him flatly only to open it up and find a $20 tip inside. Darcy is only a little disappointed to find his number isn’t written on it.

They close up quickly that night since the last hour had been mostly dead. Smurf leaves the safety of the kitchen looking only a bit worse for wear. His movements, normally fluid and graceful, are ragged as he wipes down the counter space where they serve cheap beer.

They are quiet as on the ride home. Darcy has no one idea what is going on in Smurf’s head, but hers is a whirlwind of thought. Her mind keeps bouncing between her aborted conversation with Maurice and falling asleep on the couch with Smurf and the cute dude at table nine.

Darcy pulls up in the driveway and gets out of the car. Smurf follows quietly behind. She fumbles for the keys in the flickering of the porch light when she feels him stiffen behind her. “What?” she whispers, senses going on high alert.

He raises a hand to silence her, his eyes turning scarlet as they scan the darkness around the trailer. His ears prick to catch some noise she can’t register. Darcy clutches her keys in her hands and wishes she had packed her nine with her.

He gives a sniff and the tension drains out of his shoulders.

Darcy jerks her head towards the door, and Smurf nods. She slams the key into the lock, twists it, and almost falls on her face in her rush to get in. He follows closely behind her, locking the deadbolt and giving it a jerk for good measure.

“What’s going on?” she asks, her voice shaking slightly. “What did you sense out there?” Her heart thunders in her chest.

He looks away from her to the floor and shrugs.

“You don’t know or you won’t tell?” She steps into his field of vision, craning down so he has to look at her.

He sighs and runs a hand through his black hair, his skin going blue. He fans his long fingers out helplessly.
“You’re not sure?” she says, and he nods.

He throws one hand up and out to the side.

“It certainly didn’t seem like nothing. Could it have been a panther or a bear? We have a few of those around here.”

He shakes his head and shrugs again. Probably nothing, he seems to say. He taps his index finger to the side of his temple.

Darcy gives him a skeptical look. “I hope you’re right.” She doesn’t think it’s in his head, but she doesn’t want to believe there’s something lurking out there either. Something dangerous enough to freak Smurf out. She already knows she won’t sleep well tonight.

She restlessly paces the living room, hands ringing the bottom of her apron. Her body is entering fight or flight mode. She knows this, but she can’t stop it. There had been enough times out in the field where it had been the only thing that saved her. If she were still a member of SHIELD, she would go shoot a few rounds at the range or find someone to spar with. Anything to get some of this nervous energy out. As it is, there is nothing much she can do about it.

Her heart is pumping so hard she can hear the blood rushing in her veins, and her breaths are coming fast and shallow. She forces herself to close her eyes and count to ten as she takes a deep breath in through her nose and out through her mouth. Darcy can almost feel her whole body vibrating as she tries to keep her emotions in check.

“Pikachu, Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Eevee, Raichu. . . um . . .Ponyta. . . shit . . Volpix,” her tongue grows thick in her mouth as the names leave her. Her nails dig into her palms deep enough to draw blood. She can feel the warmth seeping between her fingers.

Her shoulders hitch up, her eyes screwing shut, and her knees buckle. Darcy screams when she feels a pair of cold hands catch her under her arms and lower her gently to the ground. The waitress dares to open her eyes, half expecting to find some Chitauri soldier or Outrider in front of her, but it is only Smurf.

He is crouched in front of her, hands hovering just above her upper arms. His fingers flex in indecision. Red eyes look over her face, trying to determine the best course of action.

His face looks so far from human with his blue skin and red eyes and strange markings, but Darcy thinks she has never seen anything so wonderfully familiar in her life. She flings herself at him without thinking, arms looping around his neck and burying her face in his shoulder. A few hot tears escape and trail down her cheeks.

He is tense and still against her as if he has suddenly turned to marble. She can feel the reassuring coolness of his skin through the material of his shirt.

“Jesus Christ, I’m sorry-,” she says as her senses come back to her, and she begins to pull away from him.

Her words are cut off though, the breath driven from her lungs as two arms wrap tightly around her back and crush her to him.

Darcy can feel the flat planes of his chest and stomach pressing into her. His chin rests on her shoulder, his black hair tickling her cheek and ear. She leans into it, rewrapping her arms around the back of his neck. She lets herself relax into it and breathe in the smell of him, an odd mixture of cold, clean mint and dish soap.

They stay that way for hours or minutes or seconds. Darcy cannot say, but only that she feels some loss when she forces them apart. She focuses her gaze on the ground while Smurf gets to his feet. She accepts the hand that he offers, careful not to let it last too long.

They stand there awkwardly, the silence building until she can tolerate it no longer. “So what now?” she says with a weak laugh.

Smurf looks around the living room, eyes sliding over the remote to land on the book left on the floor. He picks it up and hands it to her.

“Really?” she asks in surprise, flipping to where they had left off. “You liked it that much?”

He rolls his eyes and takes a seat on the couch, arms crossed over his chest and feet resting on the coffee table.

“I knew you would,” she says smugly, taking a seat beside him.

He fakes a yawn.

“Oh hush,” she chides gently and starts to read “ ‘A Nimbus Two Thousand, sir,’ said Harry fighting not to laugh at the look of horror on Malfoy’s face. . .”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Darcy had known shit would go wrong that very morning when she woke up to find that she had started her period during the night. She just hadn’t realized how wrong.

It’s an odd day at the diner. Maurice is manning the kitchen as best he can with the help of the newest line cook who didn’t even look old enough to grow peach fuzz. They are down two waitresses, and there is an unexpected busload of senior citizens traveling up to Williamsburg from Harrah’s Casino in North Carolina. Needless to say, everyone is on edge. To top it all off, Darcy is still slightly freaked out from a few nights ago when Smurf smelled something weird. The alien has not mentioned it since or given any sign something is lurking around there, but she can’t shake the feeling.

It should not surprise her that right as she dashing table to table, cramping like a motherfucker, is when shit hits the fan. There is a crash and a curse, and Joe comes flying through the two metal doors that lead into the back of the diner. Her boss lands on his back and stares up stunned at the ceiling.

She quickly deposits her tray on the nearest table and busts through the still swinging doors. Smurf is standing in the hallway with one foot forward as if he is thinking of charging through and finishing the job. Darcy can see the glint of the dagger he is palming. Maurice is standing to the side, mouth hanging open and a dish towel gripped in his hands.

“What happened?” she asks breathlessly, eyes darting between the two men.

Maurice hazards a look at Smurf who is struggling to regain control of his anger. The alien’s mouth is a thin line and a muscle in his jaw is twitching.

“Joe came up behind him and grabbed hold of him, and then . . .,” Maurice pauses and scratches the back of his head, “he just went flying. It all happened so fast, Darcy. I just . . .” he trails off again as he shakes his head.

“Fucking idiot,” Darcy mumbles under her breath as she thinks of Joe. He should have known better than to approach Smurf like that. “Thanks, Maurice. I’ll handle it from here.”

The cook nods and heads back into the kitchen. Darcy grabs Smurf by the shoulders and feels him jump under her touch. He glares down at her and reluctantly allows himself to be steered towards the supply closet.

She opens the door, pushes him inside, and slams it shut with her foot.

“I’m not mad at you,” she clarifies, rubbing her palms on the front of her thighs through the skirt of her uniform. “I’m just tired and in a really, really pissy mood.”

He raises an eyebrow in question.

“It’s a girl thing. Don’t worry about it.” She is most definitely not in the mood to explain human female biology to an extraterrestrial. “I’m going to go smooth things down with the supreme douchebag. You lay low in here for like the next half hour, okay?” She doesn’t let the sigh slip out. Smurf looks drained enough as it is now that the anger and adrenaline have left him. She gives his hand a quick squeeze for reassurance before slipping out the door again.

Joe is barreling down the hallway straight towards her. “Where is he?” her boss demands, crowding her against the door. “I’ll kick his ass.”

She gives a harsh bark of laughter. “I think you just proved that isn’t going to happen.”

The man’s face turns red, and Darcy wonders if he is finally going to have a stroke right in front of her. “I want you and him gone in the next three minutes or I’m calling the fucking cops, Lewis!”

She gives him a cold, analytical look, one she had picked up from May what felt like a thousand years ago.”You won’t,” she says smoothly, cocking her head to the side.

“Like hell, I will!” he snarls as he looms over her.

“You won’t,” she repeats, “because this whole incidence is your fault.”

He starts to say something, but she cuts him off.

“You should have known better than to approach him from behind without warning. He saw you as a threat and treated you as such.”

“This is my damn restaurant, and if you think I’m going to let some psycho-”

“But there already is a psycho here, isn’t there, Joe?” she spits, eyes narrowing. “Don’t forget our little arrangement. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Wouldn’t want to draw any unnecessary attention now would we, hmm?”

His expression goes dark, and Darcy from eight years ago might have actually felt intimidated. Unfortunately for both of them, that girl was long gone.

“You play a dangerous game, kid,” he mutters under his breath.

“After everything I’ve seen, you don’t even pop up on my radar.” She takes a step and watches him back away. “Now, you’re going to return to your office, and we are just going to skim over this bump in the road. Alright, old man?”

There is a murderous glint to his eyes that tells Darcy he is going to make the next few weeks of her life a living hell. She’s going to be on her knees scrubbing the toilets at least for the next month. It’s worth it though to see him back down and start walking away.

“One more chance,” he says to her over his shoulder.

Darcy waits until he has shut and locked the door to his office before popping her head into the supply closet. “It’s safe to come out,” she says to Smurf, who is leaning against the wall examining his fingernails.

He glances up at her, bored and disinterested, before sauntering towards the door.

“We both still have jobs,” she says cheerfully.

Smurf nods as if he expected no less.

Darcy jogs back out to the dining room and picks up her tray. The food has only cooled slightly, so hopefully her tips haven’t been completely shot to hell this round.

Another disaster diverted, she thinks to herself as she puffs her cheeks and lets out a big breath. She doesn’t even want to think about the next one looming on the horizon because there always is another one waiting in the wings. Working for SHIELD had taught her that.

Still, she smooths down the fly-away strands of hair around her face and slaps on her biggest smile. It has become second nature to her now, sliding into that oily second skin that is required for customer service.

Her customers are of course curious as to what the ruckus had been about, trying in vain to crane their necks around to see what lay beyond those shiny metal doors. She does her best to distract and charm her way through, laughing and dropping plenty of “good Lord”’s and “bless his heart”’s into the mix. It works for the most part. It’s all too easy for them to believe that a waitress in a small town diner doesn’t have two brain cells to rub together and no idea of what’s going on around her. After all, only stupid or lazy people work in these places, right?

Joe leaves in a sullen, angry silence around eight-thirty. He casts Darcy a stormy look over his shoulder on way his out with his hands tucked deep into the pockets of his ruffed leather jacket. She casually bumps her glasses up her nose with her middle finger just in time for him to see. The war goes on.

Smurf seems to have settled into his normal routine in the back because there are no more fires for her to put out.

Darcy is refilling the salt and pepper shakers when the bell on the door rings. She checks her watch. It reads 8:45 and in comes the Cute Guy.

He strides in slowly, dressed in dark blue jeans and a grey v-neck t-shirt. He takes a seat at his previous table right smack dab in the middle of Darcy’s section. She finishes up refilling the shakers and heads towards him.

“Hello again,” she says, pen and pad in hand. “What will you be having tonight?”

“How likely am I to be seriously ill if I ask for the chicken fingers and french fries?” He looks down thoughtfully at the menu, fingers curled in front of his mouth.

Darcy’s mouth pulls into a reluctant smirk. “I think you’ll be back on your feet in a week with only some mild nerve damage.”

“Excellent,” he quips as he folds the menu closed. “I think I’ll have that then.”

She jots it down. “And what to drink? We have a special on lemonade laced cyanide tonight.”

“I think I’ll just take the sweet tea with a hint of nightshade,” he says with a laugh as he laces his hands together in front of him.

“A man of refined taste,” Darcy says, nervously a tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

“I like to think so.” His eyes crinkle at the corners as his smile widens.

Shit that was charming, and Darcy suppresses the tittering laugh wanting to flutter out of her. It truly has been too long since anyone has shown any sort of attraction to her that wasn’t completely unwanted. She forcefully ignores the memory of her and Smurf’s hug rising to the surface.

“Oh-um-I’ll just go and put your order in then,” she says nervously and spins on her heel to race to the safety of the window.

She slides the slip of paper to Maurice who thankfully makes no comment about her flustered appearance. When had she gotten so bad at flirting? She had always been awkward, but it used to at least been endearingly so. This is a complete and utter trainwreck that has been combined with volcanic explosion.

Darcy rests her forehead against the cool metal of the counter when the bell dings next to her. She sits up with a jolt to see Smurf handing the plate to her.

“Huh?” she mumbles stupidly, eyes searching the background for the cook.

Smurf jerks his head to the left where Maurice is scraping down the griddle.

“Oh,” she says in a small voice.

The alien narrows his eyes at her and reaches through the window to press a cool hand to her forehead.

“I’m fine,” she says as she takes the food from him. “Just a little tired. I didn’t sleep well last night.”

The look he gives her in reply is skeptical to say the least. He only purses his lips in displeasure and shoos her away with a flick of his hand.

“Remember who’s driving you home tonight, dude.” With those departing words, Darcy walks back to the table.

Cute Guy is staring at his phone but puts it away when he hears her approaching.

“Thank you,” he says warmly.

“No problem.” She sets his plate down in front him and refills his tea. “Is there anything I can do for you now?”

“Not at the moment, but I’m sure I’ll think of something,” he teases, popping a fry into his mouth.

“I’ll be waiting,” she answers stupidly, wanting to kick her own ass the moment the words fly out of her big, fat mouth.

God, I sounded so desperate, she chastises herself. That’s it. Tonight she is going on Amazon to order a new vibrator, and when it arrives, she is going to lock herself in the bedroom and wear out the batteries.

While Cute Guy eats, Darcy sits down in one of the booths in the corner where she can keep an eye on him incase he needs something. She’s totally not spying on him. Not at all. He’s a customer. She’s a waitress. It’s her job. Nothing weird about it.

She waits a solid five minutes after he has taken his last bite before approaching him again.

“Should I call an ambulance or will you be dragging yourself out of here tonight?” She takes the plate from him and piles the empty glass and napkins on top.

“I think I might be able to hobble my way out though I’m not sure how I’ll fare the rest of the week.”

“Oh, really? Do you have anyone to check on you?” she asks in mock ignorance, letting the unspoken hang in the air.

“Not around these parts, no.” He takes his wallet out to count out the cash. Most people pay that way now after the system crashed when half of the population got wiped out. The debt system is up and running again, but no one really trusts it anymore.

“That’s terrible,” she says in a heart-broken voice.

“Truly, it is.” He gives her a mournful look, eyes going round and innocent as a child’s. “Maybe you could next Friday at eight at Luigi’s?”

“Make it Mulligan’s at seven, and I think I might be able to spare the time to do my Christian duty.”

“Not a fan of Italian?” he asks, handing her the money.

“You have no taste buds if you call that Italian food, but that would explain why you came back here.” Darcy counts the bills out and reaches into the pocket of her apron for change.

Cute Guy waves his hand at her to keep it. “This place has its charms,” he says, eyes fixed on her face.

“Would you like the charms’ number?” she says boldly.

His eyebrows rise a little at her confidence. “I wouldn’t mind it.”

She writes down her cell phone and hands him the little piece of paper. He looks down at it, folds it, and tucks it into his jeans pocket.

“Would the charms like to know the name of the guy she is going out with?”

“If you insist,” she drawls, “I was content to just call you Customer #2.”

He snickers and offers her his hand. “My name is Michael.”

Darcy gives it a firm shake and is pleasantly surprised to find he returns it. She never could stand guys who gave women the limp-fish handshake. “Nice to meet you, Michael.”

“And you, Darcy,” he replies as he squints at her name tag.

***

Darcy grips the steering wheel until her knuckles turn white. She is both giddy and terrified. Smurf sits beside her, too exhausted to give her his wordless recollection of the day like he normally does.

She wants to tell someone about the date because it feels just about as big as a Beatles reunion complete with a resurrected John Lennon or the debut of a new Ben and Jerry’s flavor. Darcy just doesn’t know if it should be him. She can’t (or won’t) pinpoint why. He has in many ways become her best friend out of necessity, and this is definitely the kind of stuff best friends talk about.

She decides to bite the bullet. He’ll wonder where she is going anyways, and he’s far too smart and crafty for her to hide it from him. “So, I’m going out next Friday,” she says, forcing herself to relax back into the carseat.

He turns his head towards, intrigued.

“Like on a date,” she pauses and chews her bottom lip, “do you know what a date is?”

He gives her a look of disgust, arrogant lip curl and all.

“Alright, dumb question, I guess,” she says with a nervous laugh.

Smurf turns his face away to stare out at the darkness.

It is the longest two minutes of Darcy’s life until they pull into the driveway. Smurf doesn’t even wait for her to turn off the engine before he’s jerking the car door open and stalking towards the porch.

“Hey,” she calls out, stumbling after him in the dark and fumbling for the key to the trailer.

He is standing on the porch with his arms crossed tightly over his chest, eyes firmly focused on the door. He has already shed the human facade, skin blue and eyes blood red.

“Who pissed in your Cheerios?” Darcy grumbles as she inserts the key into the lock and lets the door swing open.

Smurf cuts in front of her and shoves his way in, plopping heavily on the couch. He pointedly ignores the copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets lying facedown on the coffee table. He picks up the remote and begins to click through the channels quickly as Darcy locks the door.

“What’s going on with you?” she asks irritably. She would almost say he’s . . . but no, he couldn’t be. She’s his caretaker. His friend. They are not even the same species. There is no way he could feel that way for her.

He doesn’t even spare her a glance as he continues to make his way through their limited channel selection for a third time in a row.

“Don’t ignore me,” she pouts and reaches out to grab his shoulder.

He surges to his feet so fast she can barely track the movement, and she can see the anger seething in him.

“Why are you reacting this way?” she asks in exasperation, bringing her hands to her head. “I thought you would be happy for me. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been on a date?”

He rears back in disbelief, that arrogant snarl planting itself on his elegant features. God, he makes it look so condescending as if Darcy were some worm he had stepped on. It makes her blood boil, and she finds that she wants to slap it off of his face. She can take that look from a lot of people, but not him. Not him. It hurts her, wounds her in a way she didn’t think possible anymore.

“Oh, is it really so hard to believe that someone would be interested in me and actually want to take me out? Is that it?” she snaps.

He gives a bitter snort through his nose and looks away, shaking his head.

For once, Darcy has no patience to figure out the meaning of his actions. She grabs her pen and pad and forces them at him. “You wanna say something? Write it down.” She nods her chin up in challenge.

He studies them for a moment before tsking and tossing them onto the couch.

“Are you jealous is that it?” she asks, her voice going low. She’s not sure how she wants him to answer that question. It seems crazy to even say it loud.

He whips his head back towards her, face frosty and arrogant. He looks her over from head to toe, weighing and measuring each inch of her. Darcy becomes acutely aware of the fact that her uniform isn’t particularly flattering, and she’s gained about ten pounds since leaving SHIELD. Somehow those red eyes have never seemed so alien or inhuman before even when he’d first arrived.

After a moment, he gives a dismissive sniff and takes a seat and returns to watching TV as if Darcy were not even there.

“God, you’re such an asshole,” she says, voice choking with unshed tears. “You might want to end up alone forever, but I certainly don’t.” With that, Darcy walks down the hallway to her bedroom and slams the door shut behind her. She sheds her uniform with a shaky breath and throws on an old t-shirt. Then she crawls into bed and throws the comforter over her head.

Chapter Text

She does not speak to Smurf the next morning as she shuffles from her bedroom to the kitchen to make coffee. She does not make him breakfast as she pops two slices of toast into the toaster and and scrambles eggs. She does not even look up from her phone as he pathetically pours himself a bowl of cold cereal while she slathers butter on her bread.

The wound from last night is still too raw for her to even spare more than a glance at him. Darcy busies herself with scrolling through her Instagram, which is filled with nothing but cute animal photos and dumb memes. She can’t tolerate looking at anything news related anymore for fear of seeing something on one of the Avengers or worse SHIELD.

Smurf takes his breakfast to the living room and eats on the couch while watching I Love Lucy. She fights the urge to go in there and join him. Since neither of them were morning people, most of the time they would remain silent, perhaps acknowledging one another with a friendly grunt. Still, Darcy always made them breakfast and they always ate together even if it was just sitting at the table together trying not to fall face first into their food. This felt strange and wrong. It made her squirm in her seat, but she refused to get up.

Darcy once again leaves Smurf to fend for himself at lunch when she goes to the grocery store to pick up a few things. She swings by the local wings place and makes a show of unpacking the bags to leave the tantalizing food right in front of him on the coffee table.

The alien’s face remains unreadable as he scarfs down a pb and j sandwich. The only noise in the trailer is the sound of the tv and the creaking of the floor as they wordlessly walk past each other like ghosts. She does not speak to him on the ride to work, which is the longest she has ever experienced.

On the ride home, Darcy is almost glad for the exhaustion for it dampens her natural instinct to bitch about her day to him. Smurf always gave her the funniest insights. Her mood only sinks further when they walk into the place and immediately go their separate ways. She thinks for a moment that Smurf pauses at the book that is still laying sadly on the coffee table, only a slight hesitancy that is quickly masked. She crawls into bed and begins to reread Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time.

The silence continues throughout the week until it feels like it might snap from the tension, but Darcy does not give in. Her mother had taught her how to master the passive-aggressive silent treatment. Smurf lives off of Pop-tarts and sandwiches, occasionally sparing her an envious glance while she shovels pancakes into her mouth.

There is an awkwardness between them now that had not been there before. They brush past each other tensely in the hallway and kitchen. Darcy has all but seceded the living room and tv to him.
Once when exiting the bathroom, her hair still dripping and clad in nothing but a robe, he’d grabbed hold of her elbow and held her there. They’d locked eyes for a few intense moments with the patter of water dripping on the floor the only noise.

“Well?” she had finally asked impatiently.

Smurf let go of her as if scalded and shook his head before ducking into the steaming bathroom. Darcy had stood there for a few moments afterwards staring at the door not sure why. She had raised her hand to knock, thought better of it, and retreated to her bedroom.

The day of her date arrives, and she is giddy. She does nothing to hide this. She hums annoyingly all morning, increasing the volume when she sees Smurf grit his teeth at the dinner table. Finally, the alien can take no more and gets up suddenly, the chair screeching on the linoleum. He stalks into the living room to flop down on the couch and turn the tv on max volume.

It does nothing to deter her. She finds any excuse to go into the living room, making sure to walk right in front of the screen and stay there as long as possible.

Smurf lets out a grunt as he leans to the left to look around her as she writes out the check for next month’s rent. Then he leans to the right as Darcy adjusts her position to write up the grocery list.

“I think I should get some bananas this week. There is this awesome banana’s foster recipe I have been really wanting to try out,” she says, resting her chin on her fist in contemplation.

An episode of M.A.S.H. is blaring in her ear when she feels two cold hands grip her around her waist. Darcy gives an undignified yelp as she is lifted into the air like she weighs nothing and deposited to the left of the tv screen.

“Hey!” she squawks as Smurf looks at her smugly with his arms crossed over his chest. “Last, I checked this was my trailer, and I could stand wherever I pleased, dickwad.”

He gives an exaggerated yawn.

Blood rushes to her face in a wave of anger, and she is surprised to find there isn’t steam boiling out of her ears. In a fit of rage, she gives him a shove, putting all of her strength behind it. He doesn’t even take a step back, looking more amused than anything.

She breathes heavily, forcibly pushing her emotions down. She smoothes her face over, lips curving into a pleasant smile. He thinks he can get under her skin? That’s adorable.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says loftily, flipping her hair over one shoulder, “have fun here by yourself tonight. I’m going out, and I’m going to have the fucking time of my life.”
Darcy has always hated cruelty, always saw it as a pointless, but she cannot deny the triumph she sees when his face crumples. For only an instant, his expression is open and vulnerable like a child’s. Her moment of glory is quickly snuffed, replaced by shame and disgust. She swallows it down. He only has himself to blame, she thinks and walks out of the room.

***

She spends the rest of the evening in her room going through her closet and trying to find the best outfit to wear. By her fifth scouring, Darcy has to admit that her wardrobe is severely lacking in date appropriate attire. Most of her shirts are either dark solid t-shirts or consist of cartoon characters and stupid memes.

In the end, Darcy settles on a hunter green bodycon dress with long sleeves that barely goes down to mid-thigh. She eyes herself nervously in the mirror, smoothing the fabric over her stomach and hips. She has never worn it before and only bought it impulsively because it was a steal and Nat told her she needed a “man-eating outfit” for covert missions. There are a few lumps and bumps that she is not pleased with, but overall, Darcy likes what she sees.

She pulls out all the stops on her make-up, doing the best her measly skills can. No amount of Youtube tutorials could make her a beauty guru.

Dressed and dolled-up, Darcy checks her phone for the time, slips on her heels, and places her Sig P320 subcompact into her purse. She is for once leaving right on time, a sheer miracle in and of itself. Smurf is seated on the couch as usual, pointedly ignoring her until he hears the clack of her heels heading towards the door. She cannot help herself as she looks at him out of the corner of her eye.

He stares at her blatantly, doing nothing to hide the fact that his eyes are tracing the outlines of the dress. His mouth is a thin line and his cheeks are tinged indigo. She can feel her own face burning as she fumbles to unlock the door.

Smurf stands to his full height and takes a heavy step forward.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be back,” she says hurriedly, keeping her eyes focused on the deadbolt, “so don’t wait up for me.” She manages to get the door unlocked and stumbles through it, resting her back against it after slamming it shut.

Darcy closes her eyes for a moment to gather herself. She tries not to think about what would have happened if he had reached her.

“You can do this, Lewis,” she says as she straightens the dress out and carefully navigates her way down the steps in 5 inch tall heels.

 

***

Darcy pulls into the parking space twenty minutes later and scans the parking lot. It’s packed as she had expected and hoped it to be. She picks out Michael’s car quickly, a shiny silver Toyota Camry with a Maryland license plate. It sticks out like a sore thumb in a sea of beat-up trucks and SUVs.

Blowing out one final breath, Darcy walks towards the bar aware that every eye in there will be drawn to her when she goes through the door. The bell jingles overhead as she pushes on the brass bar, and a wall of noise hits her.

She totters in and looks over the tables to see if she can find him. Darcy finds herself automatically checking out which tables would tip the most, and which wouldn’t tip at all. She stops, reminding herself that she is there to have fun not to work.

Her eyes roam over the crowd one more time before spotting her date in a corner booth. He sees her from across the room and gives a little wave. She blushes and walks over as casually as she can, hoping desperately she doesn’t bust her ass in these heels.

Michael has stood up and offered his hand to her. She takes it gratefully and slides into the booth. They both take their seats and glance down at the menu to avoid direct eye contact. Odd how all of the chemistry between two people can vanish when it is needed the most, Darcy thinks as she decides between getting the shepherd’s pie or bangers and mash.

Michael is the first to look up and clears his throat to get her attention.

“Oh, um, sorry,” Darcy stutters as she folds up the menu and places it to the side. “I just can never decide what I want here.”

“Is it because everything is so good?” he offers hopefully.

Darcy smirks. “It’s because everything is so mediocre, which is the best you can hope for in a small town like this. The bartender has a heavy hand though so getting a good buzz won’t cost you an arm and a leg.”

He cracks a smile at her. “Thank God for small miracles, I suppose,” he says.

The waitress pops over, and Darcy’s feet hurt in sympathy as she watches her zip off after taking their orders. Darcy gets a standard margarita and Michael gets an old fashioned.

“Sooo, what brings you to Hicksville, USA?” she asks, sipping her water through a straw.

“Taking care of some family business. My uncle lived out here with no kids so I am taking care of his estate. He got hit by a truck after the Snap.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Darcy says. “Were you guys close?”

“Hell no,” he says with a laugh, “that old bastard thought I was a liberal, city slicker pansy as he once so elegantly put it.” Michael shakes his head. “Still, he didn’t deserve to go that way.”

“That is a rough way,” she says with a wince.

He shrugs it off.

The waitress comes back with their drinks, and Darcy takes a big swig of hers gratefully. Any liquid courage she can get is well appreciated. If need be she’ll steal a tractor and ride it home. It wouldn’t be the weirdest way she has made it back to where she needed to be.

Michael rolls his tumbler nervously between his palms. “So what about you? Were you born and bred here?”

Darcy chokes on her drink, the tequila burning her throat. “Fuck, don’t insult me like that,” she rasps. “No, I’m from Virginia but not a town this small. I grew up in Charlottesville and then moved out to New Mexico.” Just enough truth to soften the necessary lies.

“What brought you here then?”

“After all that. . . “ she flaps her hand vaguely to her left, “I wanted to get away, lead a simpler life. Shit just got too crazy, ya know?”

“Yeah, yeah, I do,” he says with a shuddering breath.

Their food comes, and they talk and talk and talk in a way that Darcy hasn’t talked in a very long time. It is absurdly normal to her to ask someone who their favorite band is or where they would like to travel to if they could. Michael’s is Led Zepplin and New Zealand. He’s an LOTR nerd who does programming. All such good solid answers. They check all of her boxes. Perfectly. A light goes on in Darcy’s head.

“Sorry, I need to check my phone,” she says sheepishly as she dips down into her purse and feels the reassuring grip she was looking for.

“You got another date lined up?” he asks in a half joking manner. Just the right amount of jealousy.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” she says with a curve of red lips, tucking her right hand along her body and sliding it along the faux-leather seat.

“So tell me about yourself,” he says, leaning forward on his elbows, reaching forward to take her left hand in his.

“What would you like to know?”

“Everything.”

Darcy laughs despite herself. “Oh just that.”

“What are your interests? Why do you keep hanging around this little town when you’re clearly so much more than all this.” He drags his thumb across her knuckles.

Oh, he really was laying it on thick. “I was a political science major with a double minor in anthropology and linguistics. I like to people watch. I like to see how society functions and figure out what went wrong. But you already knew that from reading my file already, didn’t you?” She removes her hand from his to finish off her margarita.

“Yeah, I-” he starts nodding along before stopping cold and fixing her with stare like she had suddenly grown a second head. He leans back from her withdrawing his hand.

“Play it cool,” she warns in a whisper, letting the barrel of brush against his inner leg.

He gives a smile as fake and brittle as old glass. “Haha, of course,” he replies and leans forward again. “I don’t know what you’re implying.”

“How long ago were you recruited? I’m guessing right after the Snap. Long enough to be trained for field work but still green. Coulson would have been desperate with half his people gone.” Darcy tilts her head to the side, studying him like he was a particularly interesting specimen. It was a waste really. He wasn’t even that cute now that she got a good look at him.

Michael-or whatever the fuck his name is-takes a sip of his water nervously. “What gave it away?” he says hoarsely.

“What first tipped me off was your backstory. Really the old man is getting sloppy if he didn’t teach you to recon your place first. A town this small I would have heard about an old man getting hit by a truck even during the Snap and his city slicker nephew rolling into town. You should have known that.” She take his glass finishes off the dregs of his drink. “Secondly,” she says as she smacks her lips, “you were literally too good to be true. You got every bit of info you could from those assholes about what I would like in a guy and spun it into one perfect little profile. Let me guess, Daisy was the one who told you I had a thing for computer nerds?”

His mouth drops open, and Darcy gives him a nudge with her gun. “Remember act normal.”

He starts to cough into his hand and takes a sip of water.

The waitress floats over. “Can I get y’all dessert?”

“Oh no thanks,” Darcy says sweetly, beaming across the table at Michael, “we’ll take the check now.”

She gives them a knowing look before walking back to retrieve the check.

“Why did he send you?” Darcy asks in a flirtatious tone, resting her cheek on the heel of her left hand.

The newbie leans in, regaining his cover. “He wanted me to see what you were up to, to see if you were hiding anything or planning anything. Mostly, I think he just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Darcy nods. That sounds plausible. Coulson liked to watch over his flock and brood like a mother hen. “You tell him I’m fine, and that if he wants to ask me any questions he comes to me himself. Got it?” She lets the gun brush his leg again for emphasis.

The blood drains from his face. “Got it.”

“Good. Now you’re going to pay the check, tip the waitress very, very generously and never show your face in this town. Am I clear, dude?”

Michael jerks his. “Yes, ma’am.”

Darcy smiles again and gives his cheek a pat. “You guys really are adorable when you’re this fresh.” With that, she withdraws the gun and places is snugly back into her purse. Then, she stands up and struts out of the restaurant.

It isn’t until Darcy has pulled into her driveway that she allows her shoulders to slump and her forehead to rest against the steering wheel. She sighs, exhausted and disappointed.

“Well that was a complete and utter fucking disaster,” she says. She doesn’t even want to think about Smurf’s reaction when he sees her walking dejectedly through the door. She might well and truly just shoot him point blank if he gives her that shit-eating grin of his. Could an alien of unknown origins survive a gunshot wound from 4 feet away straight to the crotch? Did she care at the moment? No.

She dithers for a few more minutes, checking her phone for texts and then Twitter and Facebook and Snapchat and every other social media app known to man. Finally, Darcy knows she can’t stay out there any longer unless she plans to sleep in her car.

The waitress climbs out of her car and up the steps. She forces the key into the lock and gives it a violent twist. The door creaks as it opens slowly and she shuffles in, heels hanging from one hand. She looks over and sees Smurf has already gotten to his feet, face carefully neutral.

“You’ll be glad to know it went terribly,” she bites out, running a hand through her hair and starting towards her room.

A gentle touch on her shoulder makes her turn around.

“Listen, I’m not in the mood, okay? You can get all of the soul-sucking satisfaction you want out of it tomorrow. Just let me go lick my wounds.” She pinches the bridge of her nose, refusing to look at him.

He grabs her chin and forces her to look at him. Smurf tilts his head to the side, one black brow quirked.

“It was just a shitty date. I should have known that he wasn’t really interested in me. He was just an asshole trying to get information. That’s all.” She swallows around the lump in her throat.

Smurf draws a finger along his throat and smiles viciously, long canines showing.

“NO,” Darcy yells, “don’t kill him. It’s not that serious. I hate him, but I don’t want him dead.”

He mouth turns down in disappointment, and Darcy laughs. “Besides, why do you care?” she says, suddenly remembering that she isn’t supposed to be talking to him except in snide remarks. She takes step back and hugs herself.

He heaves a sigh and looks searchingly for how to convey his meaning. He settles for showing her his crossed fingers.

“Friends don’t treat each other the way you treated me,” she says.

He spreads his fingers wide with palms turned up in supplication.

“No,” Darcy shakes her head, “an apology won’t cut it. You can’t just do that shit like that and then pretend like it never happened. I’m going to need some serious grovelling.”

He gives her a sharp look, eyes narrowed and spine rigid. Glass green eyes scan her figure, lingering on the curves of her breasts and her hips. They flash to red when he finally refocuses on her face.

“Kneel,” she commands, pointing one finger at the ground in front of her.

His eyes go wide as dinner plates and his eyebrows almost disappear into his hairline they climb so high. He looks absolutely affronted, and it takes everything in Darcy to stifle the laughter bubbling up inside of her. She bites the inside of her cheek.

He cups his hand to one ear.

“You heard me. If you want my forgiveness you’re going to have to kneel.”

There is a long pause where neither of them moves or even seems to breathe. Darcy refuses to budge from her spot. She will wait there all night if she must. He’ll not get her mercy any other way, especially not if it gets this kind of reaction from him.

Smurf continues to glare daggers at her. Grudgingly, he goes down on one knee in front of her.

“It’s gotta be both,” she says with one hand on her hip.

He lets out a huff as he slowly pulls the other knee underneath him. He sits waiting, and it is only then that Darcy realizes she has no idea what comes next since she never actually expected him to do it. It’s not like he can swear fealty to her or anything seeing as he doesn’t tallk.

“Um, well, that was awesome,” she says awkwardly, biting her bottom lip. “You can get up now I guess or err something.”

But Smurf doesn’t spring to his feet. Instead, he reaches out and snatches her right hand and turns it palm up. He looks up at her as he kisses the delicate skin running over the blue veins of her wrist. Darcy flinches when she feels the grazing of teeth but he holds her fast.

She can only stare helplessly as he presses firm, cool lips to the area that is surprisingly sensitive. A furious blush is starting in her cheeks despite the blood rushing to other long neglected areas of her body. Darcy cannot say if it is merely the touch of his lips or the sight of him in such a position that does more to her. She feels as if she could melt into the floor.

He pulls away and gets to his feet.

“Apology accepted,” she says in a breathy voice.

Smurf nods happily, seemingly unaware of the fact that he has made her heart flutter like a bird in her ribcage.

“I think I’m going to go to bed now,” she tells him though sleep is the last thing on her mind. She doesn’t let herself ask if he would like to join her.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Things are almost back to normal between them. They eat breakfast together in the mornings and crash on the couch to read or watch television before bed. There is a strange tension now that has only simmered beneath the surface before. It has been building for sometime, if he is completely honest with himself, which he rarely is. Loki cannot pinpoint the exact moment things changed between them, but there is no denying they have now. She grows rigid beside him now before relaxing into his side to take up the book or the remote. She is careful coming out of the bathroom or bedroom, no longer quite so free with wearing only a robe or towel after bathing. A pity, he thinks to himself as he misses the sight of her white bare shoulders and legs.

The hot water pounds against his shoulders at he washes the last of the shampoo out of his hair, leaving a lingering scent of mango. Loki will say this for the Midgardians, they have come a remarkably long way with indoor plumbing. It is a far cry from the last time since he spent any significant time here when you were simply forced to wait for water to be heated and bathe in a copper tub. Still, he admits, there was something to be said for having a bath hand-drawn by a servant.

He forces down memories of his old life. Recalling the golden halls of Hlidskjalf inevitably leads down darker roads, his mother’s death, the world burning, flames and death and darkness all spiraling together. . .

He is trapped, wrists and ankles bound in heated shackles that scorch his skin, make it blister and blacken. He sees the iron being heated on the coals, glowing white hot. His chest heaves in terror, and he prays that the Norns will be merciful this once and let his heart burst.

The iron is lifted and turned this way and that by a large hand admiring the pattern it will make on his skin.

“This will go nicely with your other markings,” an impossibly deep voice rumbles.

Loki jerks against his chains in a wild panic. Ice coats his skin in anticipation for what is to come. It does no good. The brand is pressed into the tender skin of his inner thigh, searing into the fat and muscle. He can smell his own flesh burning.

He screams and screams, but the sound is muffled. It cannot escape past his sewn lips. Even in that, there is no relief.

He forces himself to breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth as Darcy had taught him what feels like centuries ago. Truly, is he even Loki anymore? He no longer responds to that name, and all who knew him by it are dead or believe him to be so.

Better to focus on the here and now. He can stay Smurf for as long as need be. There is no rush. He stands under the showerhead, the water sluicing down his blue skin, and lets his mind wander. It inevitably finds its way back to the events of three days ago when they had finally made their amends of a sort. He is still shocked at the audacity of her. A small insignificant Midgardian woman having the nerve to tell a prince to kneel before her. Yet, she is not insignificant to you, his mind hisses as it recalls the feeling of his knees on the slick floor. Even then, she had not had much height on him. Her surprise had amused him, and he had seized the opportunity it presented to him.

He can recall the feel of her pulse fluttering against his tongue and his teeth as he had bitten lightly into her wrist. It had been an instinctive act. He had merely intended to kiss her hand in mockery, but then that expanse of delicate flesh and bones had been too great a temptation to pass up. How easy it would have been the let his teeth nick the skin and leave her with a mark, proof that he had been there. Proof it hadn’t all been some surreal fever dream. He had wanted to badly, very badly. He had wanted to mark her as his.

Loki’s thoughts turn to self-loathing as they often do. He chalks the disgusting urge up to some Jotun instinct that is just now kicking now. Norns, he thinks scornfully, I really am a beast. It is bad enough that he wears this unnatural blue skin around her, but now, he must act the part as well? He has considered switching back to an Aesir skin but knows it would draw suspicion.

He can’t help but remember the way her eyes had darkened though, her pupils expanding and lids lowering. He is certainly no expert on current Midgardian courting rituals, but that expression seems universal from his findings. Loki’s nose is much more sensitive in this form than his Aesir one. If her expression had not been a dead give-away, the pheromones her body had pumped out had been. She had enjoyed it.

Of its own accord, Loki’s hand travels down and grips himself at the base of his shaft. He is already half hard from the memory alone. He leans on a forearm against the shower tile and rests his brow against it. He gives a small huff of pleasure as he moves up into the first stroke. It has been a while since he’s done this and knows he won’t last long. For so long, he has lived second to second with only survival occupying his thoughts. Now, that Darcy has come along in all her strangeness and charm, he finds that his body remembers its other needs.

He gives a twist of his wrist and runs his thumb over the head before sliding back down. He shuts his eyes and slides back up for the second stroke. His mind grows fuzzy around the edges as old pleasure flares to life. His grip tightens as he speeds up, breath hitching. Loki bites his bottom lip to muffle a moan.

He tries to remember old lovers he’s had in the past or those he once lusted after but never caught. He tries and fails. His mind latches onto her.

She’s standing there in front of him with a coy smile on her face, long brown hair wet and plastered to her back and shoulders. Her eyes dance with amusement as she watches him in his current state, working himself into a frenzy.

He can feel the first drop of precum sliding down the underside of his cock and slows down, wanting to savor the fantasy. Loki relaxes his grip and swallows.

“You need some help with that?” she asks him in that infuriatingly flippant way as her pink mouth quirks into a smirk. “Cause I know a guy.”

The steams builds in the shower. He must have been in here half an hour already. She will begin to wonder. He can’t bring himself to stop though. He runs one finger along the underside of his shaft to further delay the pleasure.

He wants to speak to her to say a thousand witty retorts, but they get stuck in his throat even here. So instead, he smiles at her slow and savage, a dare, a challenge.

Her eyes wander over him, up and down, up and down. His eyes follow the trail of the water as it courses down her body. It glides down the column of her neck and the ridge of her collarbone and the slope of her breast. He has never so badly wanted to be anything as that single drop of water that is now perched precariously from her taut nipple. It shivers in the air between before falling as she takes a step forward, all bravado and swagger. Her hips sway hypnotically, and he watches even as she reaches for him.

Loki’s hand forms a ring round his cock again, the grip loose and easy. He gives an experimental first stroke much the same way he imagines she would testing to see how much pressure he likes.

She learns quickly and adjusts the strength accordingly when she has him thrusting into her grip. She goes achingly slow, teasing him as she walks in closer. Her breasts brushing his abdomen. Darcy tilts her head back and gives him a wicked smile, tightening her grip as she comes to the end of an upward stroke. She goes back down and comes back up again giving a twist that makes him go up onto his toes.

“Like that don’t you?” she says evilly and does it again but stronger. Loki groans and watches as her lips part, her eyes blackened by her pupils blown wide.

He supports himself with his hands on the slick tile and leans forward so that he can press his lips to her ear. She elicits the sound from him again and gives a breathy moan of her own. He can smell her arousal, fragrant and heady. With two slim fingers, he reaches forward and she widens her stance for him. He slips into her and feels her walls grip him. She’s hot and slick and makes the most delicious sound when he curls the pads of his fingers. His world is narrowed down to just the sensation of her hand around him and his fingers inside of her.

He slides his fingers out and thrusts them in again. “Ah,” she says and rises on to her toes to help him get better leverage. Her strokes become faster and sloppier. She runs her thumb over the head, brushing the frenulum, and his cock twitches in her hand.

His back is starting to ache from the awkward position, but he doesn’t care. All that matters is the feeling of her fluttering around his fingers and her hold on him.

“Like that,” she urges him even as she makes him growl into her ear.

They are almost there together. He can feel the edge of the cliff looming ahead of them. On impulse, he kisses the side of her neck, letting his long canines bite her lightly. Perhaps that is what finally does the trick because Darcy’s breath comes out as a sob. He feels her clutch around his fingers and a new wave of slickness.

Loki’s breathing becomes ragged as he imagines her hand wrapped his cock to drive him to completion. The pleasure spikes, and he screws his eyes shut against the image of his own blue hand instead of her pale one. He muffles a cry of pleasure by biting the skin of his forearm.

A heaviness sinks into his limbs post-orgasm as he lets the water wash away of evidence of what has occurred. When the buzz of it wears off, Loki forces himself to shut off the water and prays that Darcy doesn’t suspect what has transpired.

***

Her eyes flick to the clock on the wall. It’s 10:45 and Smurf still hasn’t exited the bathroom. It’s unusual to say the least. Normally, he spends 15 minutes in there max. So far, he’s been in there over half an hour.

At last, the door opens with a squeak and Smurf comes out in a puff of steam. He is dressed in a grey t-shirt and dark washed blue jeans. He pads on bare feet down the hallway to the living room, eyes staring at the floor.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, hopping up from her chair in the kitchen. His body language is all off. His shoulders are hunched, and he seems uncertain. Almost embarrassed she might say.

He waves it off in his usual way. Darcy is tempted to push it but knows it will get her nowhere. He’ll shut down and run away like he always does.

She sighs. “Sometimes I wish I knew what was going on in your head.”

He settles onto the couch and stares fixated at the television. So he is totally ignoring her. Something must have really spooked him.

“Actually,” Darcy says slyly as she picks something up from the dining table and saunters into the living room. “I was thinking we could watch something new for a change.”

His eyes flick to the cover of the first season of Game of Thrones. He gives her a skeptical look and points to the current episode of Friends playing on the television.

She takes the remote and shuts the tv off. “I really do think you’re gonna love this. It’s full of people getting stabbed.”

Smurf cocks an eyebrow in weary interest and motions elegantly with one hand towards the DVD player that sits below the television.

With a beaming grin, Darcy shuffles over and pops the DVD into the slot. Within half a minute, she’s seated on the couch tucked in next to him with the thrum of violins and drums starting.

Four episodes later, she forces herself to press the stop button. Smurf blinks and looks over at her.

“Sorry, dude, we gotta go back to the real world now. Those bills won’t pay themselves.” She gives him a gentle pat on the shoulder.

He graces her with a disgusted sneer and a dramatic flop on the couch.

“I told you you’d love it,” Darcy says in a knowing voice. “Who is your favorite character so far?”

He holds up his pinky.

She scoffs in disgust. “Of course, it’s Little Finger. You would pick the creepiest one on there. I kinda liked Jon Snow. Those curls,” she says in a dreamy voice.

Smurf rolls his eyes at her and slides the tip of one icy finger down the back of her neck. She yelps and jumps to her feet. Her hand clamps the back of her neck. “Gah, one day I’m gonna get you back.” She shivers.

He gives her a condescending smile, sitting upright with arms crossed over his chest.

“Oh, you don’t think I could?”

He eyes her up and down, weighing her and waves her off.

Darcy puts her fists on her hips. “Is that a challenge? Because I refuse to be outdone by a blueberry colored alien.”

Smurf tilts his head to the side and shrugs.

“Oh, that was definitely a challenge. You’re gonna rue the day you challenged Darcy Marie Lewis. You’ll wish you had never heard my name.” She launches into a villain laugh, head thrown back and cackling maniacally for dramatic effect.

She stops to draw in a breath for another round and feels the hair on the back of her arms and neck stand up. The temperature in the room has dropped twenty degrees. She looks up and up, and Smurf is standing in front of her, his chest two inches away from the tip of her nose. She takes a step back, but he follows. His gaze his boring into hers, his expression unreadable. A strand of curling black hair falls into his face. Darcy stands on tip-toe, reaches up, and tucks it behind the shell of his ear. She can feels the ridges of his skin against her fingertips as she lets her hand trail down his cheek.

She thinks for just one wild, mad second that he is going to kiss her. He will stoop down and end the distance between them, and Darcy does not know if she wants him to or not. How would it feel to kiss him? Would his mouth be cold? Would he taste of mint? God, I’m so fucked, she thinks.

It is bad enough that she rescued an alien and allows him to live with her. Quite another to make it something more than what it already is. Then, there truly will be no return. Darcy realizes that some part of her always assumed that the arrangement would be temporary until she could find some sort of way of dealing with him, and she could go back to her normal life. It dawns on her that she has no exit strategy and had not even the slightest intention of coming up with one. She has been living day-to-day and hand-to-mouth for so long, she doesn’t remember what it is like to plan for the future She had lived in a world for a long time where a future wasn’t guaranteed.

She puts a hand to his chest and forces herself away. “We need to get ready for work,” she mumbles as her eyes focus on the floor.

Smurf gives a grunt of resignation and walks away to put on his shoes. Darcy takes a steadying breath and goes to put on her uniform.

***

“The crazies are out today,” Maurice says as he mops his bald head with a dish towel. Sweat glistens on his round cheeks.

“And they aren’t everyday?” Darcy quips as she clocks in for her shift. Smurf is already at the sink in the kitchen working on the mountain of dishes.

“Even worse than usual. Must be a full moon or somethin’. Seems like every asshole nutjob within a 10 mile radius decided they wanted to come and eat here. I can’t tell you how many orders were sent back today.” He rubs his left temple with his fingers.

“You alright?” Darcy asks, concern lacing her voice. She touches his shoulder lightly.

“I’m fine, hun.” He wipes a hand over his head. “Just not feelin’ real hot today. Think I might be coming down with something.”

“Do you want some aspirin or anything?”

Maurice raises his hand. “No, I’m good. Just gonna go get some fresh air.” He slips out the back door to have a smoke by the dumpster.

She wishes she could go out there with him to see how he really is feeling, but she already has four full tables waiting on her.

Darcy makes it a priority to stick her head into the kitchen to check on Maurice everytime she gives him an order or has to take one back. He wasn’t wrong when he told her all of the nutjobs were out tonight. She is used to a few of her regular asshole customers showing up, but it seems like all of them made a concerted effort to come on a single night.

Jim Dale, a mechanic and the local conspiracy theorist, purposefully knocks his drink so she is forced to clean it up, and he can get a look at her ass. Nancy Woods, a beautician and resident holy roller, has too many Bud Lights and has to be escorted out of the restaurant when she threatens to shave Darcy’s head after she gets cut off for the seventh time in the past three months. A trucker from out of state that she recognizes but can’t remember his name sends his dinner back three times claiming the steak is overcooked. Darcy is not quite sure what he expected when he ordered a $9 steak well-done. She puts it down as missing a few chromosomes. He certainly looks like the missing link between humans and some distant chimp ancestor.

By nine o’clock, things have slowed down considerably, and most of the lunatics have left to terrorize someone else. Maurice looks like he is standing on his last leg. The cook leans heavily against the stove with a wet rag on his forehead.

“Why don’t you head home?” Darcy asks as she sidles up to him.

He looks at her incredulously. “And leave you two here to handle this alone? Nuh-uh.”

She rolls her eyes. “C’mon. It’s dead out there. You don’t think Luke and I can’t handle slinging coffee and making hashbrowns for the local drunks?”

He stoops down to look through the window and finds what she says to be true. All of the tables are currently empty, and they haven’t had a new order in the past half hour. Maurice shakes his head. “Alright, but if this place blows up while I’m gone, it’s on you, Darce.”

“But of course,” she says sweetly. “We can handle it, can’t we?” she calls to Smurf/Luke who is currently elbows deep in hot sudsy water.

He graces her with an indifferent shrug and goes back to scrubbing the inside of a coffee mug.

“See we got everything covered. You have nothing to worry about.”

“What about Joe?” the cook asks as he unties his apron at the back.

“What he doesn’t know won’t hurt us, and will hopefully kill him,” she says with a wicked smile.

Her words only make Maurice hesitate for a moment longer before he says “oh hell” under his breath and tosses his apron on the hook before making his way to the backdoor.

She sighs to Smurf and drags a hand through her tangled waves. She is about to have a seat on the stool they keep back there when the bell above the door jingles. “Fuck,” she curses and heads out into the dining area.

Darcy knows trouble when she sees it, and the guy who stumbles in has it coming off of him in waves. Of fucking course, he shows up the moment Maurice leaves. He’s not exactly a regular, but she’s seen him around a couple of times before. He always has a pissy look on his face and doesn’t tip worth shit. Tonight though he is rare form. Her eyes practically water from the alcohol seeping out of his sallow skin. His brown eyes are blood-shot and unfocused, and they scan the room alighting on her.

“Welcome,” she says with forced cheer.

He jerks his head and grunts in greeting, taking a table in the far corner. He’s a big guy, about 6’4 with a gut on him. She figures he probably works construction from the faded jeans, stained white t-shirt, and steel toed boots.

Darcy picks up a menu and a roll of silverware and lays them out on the table for him. “What can I get you to drink?”

His eyes rake her up and down, stopping briefly on her chest and wandering down to the scuffed toes of her black Nikes. “Beer,” he mumbles and turns his gaze to the menu.

“Got it!” she says and twirls on her toes. She heads behind the counter of the bar and fills a third of the cup with water before adding in the Budweiser. She walks back and deposits it on the table in front of him. He grabs the glass and takes a long gulp.

“You know what you want yet?” Darcy asks with pen and pad in hand.

Jim-bob, as she’s taken to calling him, looks up from the menu and sucks his teeth for a second in contemplation. “Burger and fries.”

“Awesome, I’ll have it out for you in a jiffy,” she chirps and heads back to the kitchen. She can feel his eyes follow her ass the whole way.

“Smurf! We got an order of burger and fries! You take care of the fries. Just dump some of the frozen stuff in the deep fryer.”

He shoots her a questioning look.

“He’s too drunk to know the difference,” she clarifies, throwing a thawed beef patty onto the metallic surface.

The alien’s face lights up in understanding.

Ten minutes later the food is on the plate, and she is walking it out to him.

“Enjoy!” She slips the plate onto the table and gives him a cup of water. He’s already finished the beer she brought him.

“I’ll have another.” He tilts his head towards the empty glass.

She nods and takes it to be refilled. Again, she waters it down and makes sure there is a big beer head. The last thing she wants is to have to drag him to his own damn truck because he’s too blind drunk to walk there himself.

Darcy sets it on the table and watches for a moment to make sure he’s satisfied with his food. He takes a bite of the burger and makes no complaints so she turns to rest her feet in one of the booths in the corner.

She is surprised to find Smurf already occupying said booth.

“Dishes done?”

He nods but doesn’t look way from where his eyes are boring into the drunk as he cram fries into his mouth.

“You find yourself a date for Friday night?” she teases.

He gags but doesn’t take his eyes away.

She shrugs and wonders what goes on inside his alien brain. Sometimes she swears it is like living with a cat, a large blue cat. Perhaps she should have nicknamed him Cheshire instead.

Her feet are just starting to stop aching when a belch rings throughout the dining area followed by the thunking of a glass on the table. The waitress gets to her feet and walks over to the table.

Jim-bob has decimated the food.

“Did you like it?” she says mechanically as she reaches for the plate and empty glass.

A meaty hand suddenly grips her wrist like a sweaty vice. She internally sighs and gives a tug to try and break free. He holds on.

“I’ll be having your number now, sweetheart,” he slurs, causing her to openly grimace at the smell of stale beer on his breath.

“No can do, sugar,” she says, letting the sarcasm creep into her voice. “I don’t date customers.”

The grip tightens, and Darcy can feel the bones in her wrist grinding against each other. “You think you’re too good for me?” he replies in a low voice. He straightens from his slouched position to bring his face closer to hers.

“Actually, I do,” she quips, acid dripping from her voice. “Now let go of me before I call the cops on your drunken, inbred ass.” Darcy has no intention of doing anything of the sort, but often, the mere threat is enough to make them back down.

He yanks her forward by the arm until they are eye level, his breath washing over her face and neck. “I would like to see you try with a broken arm,” he threatens as he begins to twist.

Darcy is already switching the plate to her free hand to smash it into the side of his face when she sees a blur pass her. The guy’s head bounces off of the table: one, two, three times in quick succession.

The dumb bastard only has time to groan before a blue hand hauls him out of his seat and tosses him like he weighs nothing across the room. He miraculously misses hitting a table or chair and lands heavily on the tile. Smurf is on him in a second, straddling him with a knife pressed to his thick throat. His chest is heaving and his lips are skinned back to reveal his long, white canines. His eyes are the color of fresh blood, and he looks like he would enjoy nothing more than painting the floor with this guy’s.

She is too stunned to do anything but stand rooted to the ground and stare as she processes everything that just transpired in the past three seconds. She has not seen him this wild since the night she found him.

Jim-bob is coming to and squeals at the first drop of blood the knife draws. Smurf’s expression at the sound is nothing but pure glee. Darcy realizes the only reason he hasn’t killed the guy yet is because he’s having too much fun. He wants to draw it out and make him suffer.

“Shit,” she says to herself and walks the twenty feet over to them.

“Whatthefuckwhatthefuckwhatthefuck-” the drunk is rambling as he stares up into Smurf’s face. He looks demonic as if he has come to drag the man down into hell where he belongs.

“C’mon, let him up,” she says in a tired voice.

Smurf whips his head over to her, expression a mixture of fury and disbelief. He clenches his teeth and presses the knife harder, earning him more blood and another choked off scream.

“You can’t kill him.” She gestures for him to come toward her.

He shakes his head and stares pointedly down at her reddened, aching wrist.

“It’s not that I don’t want you to or that I don’t think he deserves it, but it’s a mess I am not in the mood to clean up right now. You know how much blood is in the human body. Are you gonna mop it up and dispose of him because I’m sure as fuck not going to?”

The man’s eyes are bulging out of his skull as his eyes switch from the demon sitting on his chest to the girl casually discussing what they will do with his corpse. His chest is rising and falling so fast Darcy is afraid he might have a heart attack and die before Smurf actually does kill him.

Smurf studies him for a moment, eyes narrowed and grip steady on the knife. Finally after several tense breaths, he sniffs dismissively and gets off the man.

Jim-bob lays there for a moment, sucking in deep breaths as if he is just coming up for air. His face and neck are still blood red. He stares up at the ceiling without blinking for several long seconds. With a great effort, he gets to his feet in an apparent daze, swaying dangerously. Smurf has now returned to his normal disguise as a mundane dishwasher. All traces of the blue-skinned beast he had been gone.

The construction worker puts both hands to his forehead and shakes his head. He blinks rapidly at the two of them.

Seizing the opportunity, Darcy walks over and lays a tender hand on his shoulder. She does her best to look as small and concerned as possible, a role SHIELD had her play many times. Nat and May were great at espionage but neither of them pulled off innocent and harmless quite as convincingly as Darcy.

“Are you okay?” she looks up at him with big blue eyes. She can feel Smurf tense behind her in the background. She silently prays his temper holds long enough to get this dickwad out the door.

Jim-bob glances down at her, confusion written on his stupid face. He flinches as he looks over to Smurf and sees only a normal guy in his early 30s.

“What happened?” he says, licking his dry lips.

“You got pretty drunk and fell and hit your head. You were out for a couple of minutes. I think you might have a concussion,” she says in a honeyed-voice. The hairs on the back of her neck rise, and she doesn’t have to turn around to know Smurf is staring murderously at them. The temperature is starting to drop as well. Never a good sign.

“I hit my head?” he mutters in a stunned voice. “But-but there was a thing, a monster, a demon. He was blue and had red eyes. He had a fucking knife! You were talking about killing me!”

Darcy’s expression turns to pity. “Wow, you must have banged your head really hard.” She stands up on tip-toes in a show of looking at his pupils. “Does it hurt? Is there any ringing in your ears?”

He backs away from her, heading for the door.

“You might want to go to a hospital. I think someone slipped something into your drink before you got here. You were acting weird before hand.” She takes a slow step towards him like a skittish animal.

He pauses and weighs her words. The sweet power of suggestion, she thinks to herself. She can see him already questioning what he saw.

“There was this weird guy at the bar. Maybe . . .” He shakes his head again and stumbles, the alcohol still thick in his blood. “I just-I’m going to get going.” He turns and clumsily pushes the door open. She watches him stagger to his pick-up. He’s technically still too drunk to drive, but there will be no one else on the roads at this time of night. Besides, Darcy hopes he drives over a ravine.

When at last, his headlights leave the parking lot and can no longer be seen she lets herself relax. Smurf is in front of her, once more wearing his azure skin and crimson eyes. She should chew him out for blowing their cover like that. It’s what May would have done to her if she had just flown off the handle. He has jeopardized everything with that one stupid move. If that guy blabs and SHIELD catches wind, they’ll be all over them like flies on dog shit.

She opens her mouth to chastise him, but the way he takes her wrist and runs his fingers over the bruising skin stops her. His touch is tender, and his brows are furrowed with worry. The sight makes a lump form in her throat. The cold in his fingertips is soothing as he brushes them over her hand. It has been so long since she has let anyone take care of her. Darcy had forgotten how good it felt to have someone to depend on. Even if they were a psychotically violent blue alien.

When he’s satisfied that she is healed, Darcy swallows and says, “Thank you.”

Smurf nods and reaches out to grab her chin and tilt it side to side as if to assure himself she truly is alright.

“But-” she continues and watches as he turns petulant, “you don’t have to do that. If I killed every drunk asshole who had gotten too handsy with me this place would be out of business.”

He rolls his eyes and points once more to her wrist.

“Okay, okay, he got more than handsy, but I can take care of myself. I’m not sure if it means anything to you, but I was a SHIELD agent at one point. I used to take on guys who could eat that idiot for breakfast.”

He blows air out through his lips like a horse.

“I know I don’t look it, but I can kick some ass.”

He takes on a cocky pose, and Darcy can smell the challenge from a mile away.

“Not your ass,” she explains, “but enough to get me by in most scrapes.”

He grins at her.

“Don’t let it go to your head. Otherwise, you won’t fit through the door.” Darcy looks over at the clock. It is 9:42, and she’s already mentally checked out for the night. She cups her hands to look through the glass doors into the customer parking lot. There’s no one out there and not likely to be either. “Let’s close up,” she suggests. “It’s only an hour, and Joe can’t bitch about that.”

Smurf nods and flicks his hand. All of the chairs flip themselves over on the top of the tables.

“Did you just-” Darcy says dumbfounded.

He is smug all over again but ten times worse. With another twitch of his fingers, the broom and dustpan come out and begin to sweep underneath the tables.

She stares at him in stunned silence while he proceeds to silently order the Windex bottle and paper towels to wipe down the bar counter.

“You asshole,” she finally says as she wads up a dirty napkin and throws it at him. “You could do this the whole time, and I’ve been cleaning the trailer the Muggle way. From now on, you’re in charge of housekeeping, dude.” Smurf bats the projectile away.

He makes a show of sitting back in one of the booths with those long legs stretched out in front of him and his hands behind his head. He slaps the top of the table for Darcy to join him. She does so and watches in amazement as the restaurant cleans itself.

“Good thing, Joe is too cheap to have real security cameras. Otherwise, we’d be fucked,” she snorts. She had known Smurf had powers, but not to this extent. She had pegged him as some sort of shape shifting alien, but this is something far beyond that. This reminds her nothing so much as some of Strange’s antics. Darcy feels something heavy settle in the pit of her stomach. She pushes it aside, knowing Smurf will answer none of the questions she might bring up about it, and she is too tired to stir up more bullshit.

When the cleaning is done, the broom and dustpan place themselves in the corner and the Windex bottle and paper towels float back into the pantry.

With a self-satisfied sigh, Smurf stands up out of the booth and offers her his hand. Darcy takes it with a smirk. “Aren’t you the gentleman all of a sudden,” she snarks as he helps her to her feet.

He sketches a flourishing bow, bending at the waist with his free hand extended out to the side. It should look ridiculous and mocking, but somehow it only seems elegant and natural when he does it.

“Were you like a prince or something before all of this?” she asks, unable to resist. She braces herself for the walls to come up.

He surprises her by merely nodding and giving her his most mischievous smile.

“That certainly explains why you’re such a royal pain in the ass,” she deadpans as she gets the keys out of her pocket to close up for the night.

She manages to duck under his hand just in time before he can lay a cold palm against the back of her neck.

“You’re gettin’ slow,” she says over her shoulder as she straightens and opens the door.

He scoffs and runs a finger up the back of her right thigh. Darcy screams in surprise and drops the keys.

“Goddammit,” she curses as she stoops to pick them up. “That’s not fair. You can’t suddenly change tactics like that.”

His white teeth show brilliantly in the dark against the blue of his face. In the dim light, he looks almost indigo. It vanishes suddenly, and Smurf freezes in place. Darcy hears him inhale through his nose as he turns slowly on his heel.

“What is it?” she whispers. He holds up a hand to silence her, knees bending into a slight crouch.

She palms the keys to keep them from jingling as she finishes locking up. She scoots over to the wall and puts her back to it, eyes scanning the roof overhead to see if anything is peering over the edge.

He lopes ahead slowly and flicks his fingers for her to approach. Suddenly, Darcy wishes she had brought her purse with so she could at least have her gun. As it is, she grips the keys between her fingers like claws.

They inch their way slowly to the car with Smurf scouting just head of her and gesturing when it’s clear for her to follow closely behind. The gravel crunching underfoot seems to echo around them, alerting whatever is out there that there’s a late night dinner waiting for it. She swallows and tries to focus on slowing her breathing and heart rate. Freaking out will get you killed more quickly than anything. Adrenaline makes people stupid and flighty. The whole point of it is to get you out of danger, but that isn’t a great plan when the thing you’re fleeing can outrun you.

After what feels like a decade, they make it to her car. Darcy gets the key ready to unlock the door but stops. The driver’s side from right behind the front tire to the back tire is rent. Four jagged streaks part the metal and peel it back like paper mache. Like clawmarks. The shock of it makes her freeze, and Darcy knows it is the worst thing she can do. She can’t help it though. New York flashes through her mind. Images of the Chitauri striding through the streets as buildings burn and crumble. Of her hiding behind a dumpster while they scour the city for survivors only to kill them off. Of her waiting for someone to rescue her and realizing no one would come in time.

Smurf takes the keys from her numb fingers and opens the door. He puts a hand on the back of her head and forces her to duck to get into the seat. Then, he closes the door and lets himself in on the passenger’s side. He locks the doors as she sits there blankly.

It is only when he rubs a cool hand up and down her upper arm that she manages to snap out of it. With a shaky breath, Darcy takes the keys from Smurf, cranks the engine, and drives like a bat out of hell.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Darcy’s car looks worse in the light of day and draws no small amount of attention. Maurice is the first to ask her what tried to take a chunk out of it. For once, she is completely honest when she says she has no idea. It is clear the thought unnerves him when he flinches. There have been more reports of cattle killing and mutilated deer that can’t be road kill. She wishes she could reassure him, say it was a bear or a cougar or anything. But there is nothing big enough to make those kind of marks in the area. Besides, what was the point of pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes after they’ve seen half the population disappear in a puff of smoke?

She has never been so glad to have Smurf riding with her to and from work. He has taken to exiting the car first and scanning the area, and when they walk out of the building together at night he is almost glued to her side. Darcy knows if push came to shove she could probably handle whatever is out there with enough fire power, but she has also learned to never turn down a bodyguard when she can get one. Especially, tall, dark haired ones with killer cheekbones.

It has been three days since the incident when she sees him sitting casually at one of her tables, looking carefully at the menu. It’s all an act of course, but Coulson has always been able to blend in better than almost any other agent. It doesn’t hurt that he’s just about as average looking as you can get. Nothing sticks out about him except for that infuriatingly calm demeanor that he can seem to maintain no matter what.

“What do you want?” she asks without pretense.

“Are the fish tacos any good?” he responds, never taking his eyes off the menu.

“Depends on how you define “good”,” she quips then says, “cut the crap, Coulson.” She leans over and places her hands flat on the table top. “I got real customers I need to get to.”

He pauses just another second in contemplation before tapping the menu against the table and dropping it. He gives her that smile, the one that says “so you’re going to make it hard? Alright, let’s play.”

“I think I’ll take the chicken tenders with a baked potato and side salad.”

Darcy stares hard at him for a long second before breaking and jotting it down. “Got it. What do you want to drink?”

“Just water, thanks,” he says blandly.

She doesn’t bother to muffle the “goddammit” she mutters under her breath as she turns and places his order at the window.

She brings him his food. “I’d like to talk when things die down,” he says quietly as he puts butter on the potato.

Darcy can only nod before she has to hurry over to refill table 7’s drinks. It happens to take three hours for things to settle down, and if Darcy picks up extra tables on purpose well that’s not her problem. Coulson waits in placid silence as she expects him to. The man has the patience of a stone. When she can find no other excuses, she plops down in the chair in front him.

He puts his phone away and spins the simple gold band around his finger. A soft smile graces his face, a tiny bit of vulnerability.

“So you finally did it?” she asks in disbelief.

“Yeah, took us long enough, right?” he says as he looks up at her.

“How is May and everyone else?”

Coulson takes a sip of the coffee he ordered while he waited on her. “As good as can be expected given the circumstances. We’re still recovering from The Snap.”

“I can tell,” she drawls bitterly, thinking of her botched date.

“He’s a good kid,” Coulson explains, “he was just performing his mission.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t appreciate being a mission. I have these things called feelings. I know it’s a new concept for you and all, but I’m sure May will catch you up to speed,” she snarks.

He gives a small chuckle and looks down at the table, shaking his head. “I’ve missed that sarcasm.”

“I’m sure Daisy does a decent job.”

His face turns serious. “She’s got a lot on her plate these days. She’s taking on more and more responsibility. You wouldn’t have to be a mission if you were an agent.”

“Nope,” Darcy says with a popped “p” and stands to leave.

“Hold on,” he urges, “I figured it was worth a shot. I have something else we need to discuss.”

Darcy groans but sits down again. “Talk,” she commands with her arms folded across her chest.

“I would like for you to hold onto something for me.” He digs into his coat pocket and produces a small cube shaped box.

“No can do. I don’t deal with that kind of crap anymore.” She slumps further down in her seat to put more distance between the unknown object and herself.

“I wouldn’t ask you if it wasn’t important.”

“Did you seriously just say that to me?” she asks with a snort. “Of course, you would. You’re Coulson, Fury’s apprentice.”

He sighs and looks off to the side. “Okay, you got me there, but it needs to be hidden.”

“I don’t want it. Find someone else.” She tips the chair back on two legs.

“Which is why it has to be you,” he insists, sliding the box across the table towards her. “I can’t trust anyone else, and if it’s on another agent it could be found.”

“What is it?” Darcy asks, her curiosity getting the better of her.

“Let’s just say it can cause a lot of trouble in the wrong hands. We can’t have the bad guys getting hold of this.”

“Jesus Christ,” she says under her breath. “If I take the stupid thing and promise to keep it safe, will you leave?”

“Yes,” he says with a slow smile, lacing his hands in front of him on the table.

Darcy snatches the box up as quickly as she can and stuffs it into her apron pocket. She waits for Coulson to get up. “Well?”

“I didn’t say when,” he says slyly, taking another sip of coffee and staring out the big windows at the front. “Nice little place you found here.”

She sighs and says, “It pays the bills. Sort of.” The small box is a heavy weight against her thigh. She determines that she is going to bury it in the bottom of her closet as soon as she gets home and never think of it again.

“You find anything else here recently?” He doesn’t even spare her a glance, just takes another long sip.

Darcy goes stiff in her seat. “Not sure what you mean.”

“Your roommate. Please tell me you didn’t think we wouldn't notice? We’re short-staffed right now, but not that bad.” He turns back to her to take in her rigid posture.

“I had hoped you didn’t think it was worth investigating.” She deflates even as she says it, realizing how stupid it sounds. Of course, he had eyes and ears on her the moment she left SHIELD.

“We haven’t done much digging yet. Truth be told we didn’t find anything on him when we did. I know he’s not your cousin though so who is he?” He peers at her over the rim of his mug as he drains the last dregs.

Darcy shrugs. “I found him out back one night. He needed a place to stay, and I needed someone to split rent with. Seemed like a good fit.”

“And that’s all?” he says skeptically.

“That’s all.”

Coulson’s mouth compresses into a thin line. “I see. If you have anything else you would like to share with me or if you change your mind about my offer you know where to find me.”

Darcy nods curtly and stands to leave.

Coulson pulls out a fifty dollar bill and leaves it on the table. “Keep the change,” he says.

“Thanks,” she says hesitantly, taking the bill and shoving it into her other pocket. “I hope everyone is doing okay, and just . . . “ she pauses unsure of what to say now that the outrage has left her, “try not to get yourselves killed.”

He smiles, slow and sad. Darcy can clearly see how much he’s aged since Fury stepped down. He must be closing in on fifty if the lines around his eyes and mouth are any indication. “We try. We do miss you though, Darcy. Daisy especially. You were a good agent and a good friend.”

She looks down at her feet, searching for the words. “I miss you guys too,” she says, surprised at the honesty of the confession, “but I couldn’t keep doing that. If I had . . .” she trails off and bites her bottom lip.

“I know.” With that, he slips on his jacket and heads out of the diner. He walks across the parking lot into the woods in the back. More than likely, he has a Quinjet parked in the empty lot in stealth mode.

***

Darcy is shaken by the time they head home that night. Between having her car mutilated and Coulson’s surprise visit, she is sitting on pins and needles. Everything seems to bring back old memories. The smell of a match being struck reminds her of the fires of the Destroyer. The shrieking of a baby makes her recall the mad scramble of New York as the buildings tumbled down around her. She jumps when Smurf lays a protective hand on her shoulder while she unlocks the car door with trembling hands. He recoils as if she has burned him.

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs drained, hands gripping the steering wheel until her knuckles turn white. “It’s not you. It’s everything else.”

Smurf only blinks at her owlishly, uncertain of how to comfort someone who flinches at his touch. Darcy slumps back in her seat and drives in a daze.

They are half way home when she feels his cold fingertips tap her cautiously on the shoulder. She looks out the passenger’s side window to see colorful lights filling up the normally deserted parking lot where the Walmart had moved out two years ago.

“A fair,” she says stupidly, slowing down to gawk at it.

Smurf gives her a small, hopeful smile and jerks his head towards the brightly-lit rides.

“You really wanna go?” she quirks an eyebrow.

He nods.

She chews on her bottom lip and mulls it over. “Why not? I haven’t been in years, and I could go for a funnel cake.”

Darcy does a u-turn in the road and heads back to turn into the parking lot. This late it’s not too crowded since most of the families left. She figures they have another hour and a half or so until everyone else leaves and the place closes for the night. She parks the car and reaches for her purse. She checks her wallet and finds only $20 in cash. Darcy looks up at the pricing sign for wristbands. It’s $17 a person.

“I don’t think we have enough money,” she grumbles as she starts to dig into her purse to see if maybe a few dollars had slipped through.

She looks up to find a $50 bill being waved under her nose.

“I don’t even want to know where that came from,” she sighs as she takes the money from a smirking Smurf.

They step out and head to the booth. A heavy-set woman in her 50's with blue eye-shadow and Texas sized hair sits on a stool smoking a Virginia Slim. “Two?” she asks in scratchy voice.

Darcy nods and slides the fifty towards her. The carny gets the change out of a lockbox and wraps two wristbands around their right wrists. She barely has time to shove the change back down into her purse before Smurf is towing her behind him by her left hand.

“Okay, okay,” she says breathlessly, trying not to trip over her own feet. “I’m coming.”

He gives her a charming smile, which seems strange on the disguise’s face. It would fit more gracefully on the angular features of his true face.

“I wish I could look at the real you,” she whispers without thinking when they are basking in the lights of the Scrambler ride.

He turns to look at her sharply, brows furrowed and mouth down turned.

“I’m sorry,” she replies quickly, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to say that out loud.” She smacks herself in the forehead with the palm of her hand for emphasis. “I gotta learn to control my mouth.”

His expression softens, and he shrugs. The air shimmers around him, and then he looks like himself, skin blue and eyes red.

“What are you doing?” Darcy says through clenched teeth, head swiveling to see if anyone has noticed. There could be a SHIELD agent lurking anywhere waiting to shoot them full of tranqs.

He gives her an offended look and gestures around them where people continue to mill around back and forth as if nothing has changed.

“They-they still just see you as human?”

He nods.

“You can do that?” she says incredulously.

He scoffs and folds his arms over his chest.

Darcy gives another look around for good measure. No one is paying them anymore attention than they were before. Whatever illusion Smurf has woven it seems to be holding.

He looks at her haughtily, clearly waiting for some exclamation or apology.

She rolls her eyes and falls onto her knees in front of him, hands clasped beneath her chin and eyes going round as saucers. “Oh please, forgive me, great Papa Smurf. I grovel before you, the peasant that I am. I will give my entire original Pokemon collection as recompense.”

Now people are starting to stare.

He turns his head to the side, granting her a view of his striking profile. A muscle jumps in his jaw, and she can see amusement dancing in his eyes as he glances at her from his periphery.

She shuffles forward through the grass on her knees. “Please, my lord, I don’t know what I shall do if you don’t grant me mercy.” She presses the back of her right hand to her forehead and sways on her knees. “I feel faint,” she whispers dramatically.

He exhales loudly through his nose and looks at her full on, mouth compressed into a tight line to suppress laughter. With one regal wave of his hand, he instructs her to get to her feet.

“It’s too late, Your Majesty. I am afraid I shall expire.” Darcy sways again dangerously once more and intends to swoon dramatically onto the grass like she has seen so many flustered maidens do in period pieces. Except she never touches the grass. She isn’t even on the ground anymore.

He is holding her bridal style in his arms.

She squawks and flails in surprise, but his hold remains secure and effortless.

“Jesus H. Christ,” she exclaims. There are several pairs of eyes focused on them now. “Point taken. Now put me down.”

He flashes a smile as sharp and deadly as one of his daggers before setting her gently down on the ground.

Darcy takes a moment to straighten her uniform and gather what little remaining dignity she might have. Smurf continues to grin at her like the cat that got the cream, and she wonders what that expression looks like on his disguise. On his true face, the teeth stand out white and sharp against his cobalt skin. His red eyes glint eerily in the light of the rides. He tilts his head back and to the side arrogantly, and it is then Darcy sees the beginning of small horns that have never been there before. All he needs is a tail, and he would like like every Sunday school illustration of the devil. If it were not for her familiarity with him, he would look positively frightening.

“C’mon,” she says and heads towards the guy operating the ride.

They present their wristbands and slide into the Scrambler with Smurf wedged against the wall. “You ready?” Darcy asks with trepidation. She has no desire to be covered in alien puke.

He nods, and then the ride starts slowly. It quickly builds up speed though and within a minute, Darcy is being slung to the other side only to ram back into Smurf who looks perfectly calm. She gives a shriek of excitement as she goes hurtling to the other side, only to have his arm snake around her shoulders and hold her in place like an iron vice.

When the ride stops, Darcy gets out on wobbly legs, her vision still spinning slightly. Smurf appears none-the-worse for wear. She can only guess that extensive space travel makes the ride seem terribly mundane.

Switching his attention, Smurf drags her over to the games. “You know those are totally rigged, right? Believe me, my uncle runs one of these.”

He rolls his eyes and steps up to the nearest counter. It’s a shooting game where you have to take down the aliens made of tin and coated with chipped paint.

“You look like a sharp-shooter, sir,” the man calls from behind a greasy mustache. “Care to win your little lady a prize. You’re guaranteed to get lucky tonight!” He gives Smurf a big wink and an elbow to the side.

“Eugh,” Darcy says as she hands Smurf a five to try his hand.

He handles the fake shotgun with uncertainty as if trying to get used to the weight of it before the music starts and the lights start blinking. Then his eyes narrow, and he lets off round after round, hitting each target dead center. The carny’s eyes go wide in disbelief when he hits the final target and the lights flash red.

“Well,” he says as he clears his throat,”what would you like?” He gestures towards the back wall filled with over-sized stuffed animals.

Smurf glances back to her and motions for her to come forward. “That one.” She points to a large green snake on the back wall.

Smurf gives her an approving look and takes it from the carny to hand to her.

“Your man has quite the eye,” the carny comments, eager for them to leave. “You’re a lucky gal.”

“Ya know,” she says, the casual sexism finally getting to her, “I’d like to try myself.”

The man behind the counter blinks at her. “Sure,” he answers as he accepts her $5 and hands over the plastic gun.

She hefts it in her hands for a moment. It feels weird, but she settles the butt of the fake rifle against her shoulder. The music starts up, and her world narrows down to the barrel of the gun. Her first few shots are shaky. The bullets hit but on the side. By the fourth shot, she’s getting bulls-eyes. When she lands the final shot, the lights blink red, and the carny stands with his mouth hanging open.

“Which one do you want?” she asks Smurf smugly who is standing just behind her left shoulder. He points to the giant hammer. The carny retrieves it silently.

“Thanks,” Darcy says as she hands it to Smurf, who flashes the carny a condescending smile.

The vendor nods and swallows. “Well, you two have-have a good night.”

“You do too,” she replies, trying not to sound cocky and failing. It has been so long since she’s done anything like that. It felt good.

“Where to next?” she asks as she hugs her snake closer to her chest.

Smurf gives her a secret smile and makes a bee-line for the food stands.

“Of course,” she mutters as she struggles to keep up with his much longer legs.

They use the last of their cash to buy two funnel cakes and three corn dogs for Smurf and a funnel cake for her.

“God, I wish I had your metabolism,” she says as she licks powdered sugar off of her fingertips. “I look at one of these, and I gain five pounds.”

She can’t help but notice how Smurf’s eyes follow the action. Darcy briefly ducks her head to hide the blush starting in her cheeks.

“We probably shouldn’t get on anything too crazy since you just ate enough to feed a small village,” she teases as she wipes away the last bit of powdered sugar from her mouth with the back of her hand.

He nods as he scarfs down his last bite of corn dog and daubs away the grease with a paper napkin.

She looks around to see what rides are the least likely to make either of them hurl. There isn’t a lot of choice anymore. It’s past 12, and some of them have already shut down for the night. Darcy weighs her options. The tilt-a-whirl is absolutely out of the question as is the free-fall. The octopus and Viking ship rides are too risky as well. She stares longingly at the carousel, but it had shut down hours ago after the last of the kids left. Her eyes alight on the ferris wheel still glowing brightly against the black of the night sky. Perfect, she thinks.

“I think we have time for one more thing, and then we have to beat it. That sound good to you?”

Smurf nods and stands up, raising his arms overhead in a stretch.

They walk over to the ferris wheel and wait as the woman puts out her cigarette to open up one of the booths for them. She doesn’t even bother to check their wristbands.

“Have fun lovebirds,” she croaks in a rasping voice as she makes sure they are locked in tightly.

“Oh, we’re not-” Darcy starts to say, but the ride operator has already turned away from them to start up the ferris wheel. She shrugs and contents herself to enjoy the view as they slowly start to rise into the air.

She steals a glance at Smurf to see how he is handling the jolting ascension to the top. His expression is serene as he looks out over the twinkling lights of the fair laid out before them. Outside of the cheerful glow of the carnival lights, the night sprawls like a dark carpet over the trees and houses. Darcy can’t help but wonder what is lurking out there. She can’t help but think that even now the thing that ripped up her car like it was wet toilet paper is hiding somewhere beneath her very sight. Not to mention, there’s the unknown object Coulson forced her to take earlier today. Suddenly, it feels like there is a bomb about to go off, and she’s the only one who doesn’t know when the timer will reach zero.

The thought makes her shiver and her breath hitch in her throat. Smurf looks over at her, brow furrowed with concern. He rests one slim hand on her shoulder in question.

She clears her throat and shakes her head. “So, why don’t you do this all the time instead of wearing the disguise at the diner?”

His expression tells her that he knows perfectly well she’s changing subject, but he does not push it for which she is grateful. He wipes the back of one hand across his forehead and gives a sigh of exhaustion.

“That makes sense,” she says. “I guess it would be a lot more work to keep up an illusion in a larger area rather than just your body.”

He smiles enthusiastically and raises his eyebrows in approval.

“So where does your magic come from? Do you like have some sort of wand or sacrifice goats or something?”

He clacks his tongue at the ridiculousness of her statement.

His finger makes a zigzag pattern on her forehead before he gives her a forceful shake of his head as if to say This is not Harry Potter. He points to the middle of his chest where his heart is.

“It comes from inside,” she hazards and is met with a nod of agreement.

Silence lapses once more, and they are still at the very top of the wheel. Darcy’s pretty sure it’s because the woman decided to take another smoke break or three. She can’t really complain though. Now that’s she distracted herself from the mess she is certain lies ahead of her, it’s peaceful up here. The breeze is a welcome gift from the normally balmy atmosphere of Virginia summer nights.

Smurf is tense beside her, and she can feel his eyes fixed on her. She turns to look at him again. “What? Is there something on my face?” she asks, trying to lighten the mood.

The alien shakes his head and tucks a stray strand of hair behind her ear. Darcy can’t help the smile that quirks her lips at the action, and she doesn’t say anything at all when he loops his arm around her waist and pulls her flush to his side. It feels foreign and completely natural at the same time to feel the coolness of his skin radiating through his clothes against her hip and side.

“So what now?” she says.

His gaze goes from eyes to her mouth and lingers there for a long, dangerous moment.

He moves forward a hair’s breadth, and Darcy can see his breath misting in front of her despite the warm night air. She feels like a compass drawn north or a small moon caught in the gravitational pull of a larger planet. It is something magnetic and undeniable, and she knows all of the Avengers combined couldn’t stop what is about to happen.

The ferris wheel gives a loud creak, and they are jolted forward as the wheel starts to turn again. Smurf’s arm is dislodged from her waist as he braces himself against the metal bar locked across their hips. The moment is broken, and the pull Darcy felt earlier dissolves into the night air. She feels like she can breathe again.

“Alright, time to pack it up,” the woman at the bottom says through a cloud of cigarette smoke.

She and Smurf step off and back into reality. She feels slightly nauseated from the intensity of it, and the relief. They seem to be toeing a dangerous line more and more frequently lately, and the last thing she needs is to start a romantic relationship with an extraterrestrial refugee with Coulson breathing down her neck.

“Did you really want to come here? I imagine you’ve seen way cooler stuff out in space,” she says to break the awkward silence building between them.

He turns to look at her and shrugs, the magic of the carnival wearing off as the lights turn off.

“Then why did you want us to stop?” she asks softly.

He lays a hand lightly on her shoulder and gives a brief squeeze before walking on ahead to scout the area. Darcy watches his long legs stretch out in front of him, wondering what he meant by that. She shakes her head in confusion.

It is only as she is driving home that all of the pieces fall into place: they had just gone a date.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Darcy paces the floor, biting her thumb. She is tired but cannot sleep. She knows what waits for her when she closes her eyes. The dreams are the same but different. She is running through New York or Puente Antiguo away from the Destroyer or the Chitauri, but this time there is some other nameless, faceless monster pursuing her. One that seems to be lurking around every corner, always on the cusp of snatching her and dragging her into dark alley.

She shivers and begins a 17th pass around her room. She wouldn’t be surprised to find the floorboards wearing thin beneath her feet she has walked them so much. She pauses briefly to check the clock. It’s four in the morning, and she needs to be up by ten in order to get ready and make them breakfast. Plus, there is the load of laundry she needs to do, and she needs to pay the electric bill. The pounding in her temple increases.

Darcy sighs and flops back onto the bed. She wastes a few minutes tossing and turning uselessly trying to get comfortable, but her eyes are unwilling to close with the prospect of another nightmare looming on the horizon. Finally, she kicks the covers off in frustration and pads out of her room. Perhaps a cup of tea or a snack would help her rest.

She isn’t surprised to see the dim glow of the television. Smurf’s sleep has been even more troubled than her own, and it is starting show. There are deep purple circles under his eyes as he stares blankly at an episode of Happy Days. He doesn’t even look away when she enters the living room and stands by the couch.

“Can’t sleep?”

The look he gives her is baleful for having the nerve to ask what Darcy realizes is a stupid and obvious question.

“Sorry,” she mumbles as she lets herself fall onto the couch beside him.

He grunts in irritation as he scoots over to make room for her.

“How many nights are going on now?” she yawns as she rests her head on his shoulder.

He holds up four fingers never looking away from the television.

“God, how are you even still functioning? I would say sane, but you were never really sane to start with,” she quips, hoping to get a rise out of him.

Smurf responds with chilly fingers grazing up her side. It is so half-hearted, and Darcy is so used to it by now that she does little more than shiver.

Her jaw cracks wide with another yawn as she watches Fonzi bang his fist against the jukebox.

“Do you wanna watch another episode of Game of Thrones? We still got three seasons left.”

He shakes his head, the skin tightening around his eyes and mouth.

“Yeah, me neither,” she sighs. “I just thought it might get our minds off of . . . everything.”

The alien lets out a frustrated wheeze as his reclines against the back of the couch to stare listlessly at the ceiling. She takes a deep breath and tucks herself more securely into the space between his shoulder and hip. The tension that had been kinking her shoulders and back ebbs a bit. Darcy relaxes against him.

Just as her eyes are finally starting to drift shut, a thought occurs to her. The memory of the night they had fallen asleep together on the couch comes swimming through the hazy mist of exhaustion. He had looked so peaceful that morning, and really she hasn’t slept that well since that night.

“Do you ever get sick of sleeping on the couch?” she asks as nonchalantly as she can manage.

He stirs beside her, dragging his eyes away from the ceiling to her face. His eyes narrow in suspicion.

Darcy shrugs nervously. “I’m just saying. It has to get uncomfortable sometimes and well, er . . .” Get your act together, Lewis, she mentally scolds herself.

He cocks one eyebrow in anticipation and tilts his head to the side.

“I just figured you might be more comfortable in a bed. It might help you get to sleep easier.” She moves away from his side to look directly into his face.

He gestures irritably to the empty space between the couch and tv.

“You could sleep in mine,” she replies.

His eyebrows shoot towards his hairline as his eyes widen.

She fiddles with a strand of her hair as she looks down at her lap. “I mean I am just saying that it’s not right for me to force you to sleep on the couch all the time, and the bed is big enough for more than person and we have to wake up at the same time anyways and you don’t snore so it’s not like-”

He tips her chin up with two fingers to force her to look at him. His expression is guarded and curious at the same time.

“And I just feel like there’s something’s watching me,” she whispers, naming the unspoken fear that has been dogging her, “and it freaks me out.” She lets out a shuddering breath.

Smurf lets his fingers fall away as his face softens with understanding. He stands from the couch and offers her a hand. Darcy takes it and lets him pull her to her feet.

They walk down the hallway hand in hand until they are standing beside the bed. She crawls in between the sheets first with her back to the wall so she can face him. He hesitates, but she pulls him forward with a tug that forces him to balance one knee on the mattress. Nodding to himself, he slips under the cover curled slightly on his side.

There is only a hand’s breadth between them, and Darcy fights the urge to throw her leg over his lean hips. Smurf clears his throat and looks her up and down in uncertainty with one arm pillowing his head.

It is Darcy who reaches out first, fingers tentatively spanning the space between their bodies that feels like chasm. She had forgotten how much she used to love to touch and be touched. It had been so long, and somehow doing it here in her bed versus the couch feels a thousand times more personal, vulnerable.

Her hand settles on the slight dip of his waist just above his hip bone. The tension seems to bleed out of him, and she feels the muscles relax beneath her touch. She rubs her fingers lightly over the skin, feeling the ridges of his skin beneath the thin material of his shirt. Darcy can almost picture the patterns they make. His hand comes up to cup the side of her face.

She catches the hem of his shirt and feels the cool, smooth skin underneath. She pulls her hand back quickly, but Smurf shakes his head. His hand slips from her face to her neck to the center of her back just over her spine. He runs his palm over the area between her shoulder blades.

Darcy lets her hand slide once more beneath his shirt and go from his hip to the small of his back. He lets out a sigh of contentment as her fingers press into the tense muscles there.

“Is this okay?” she asks as her hand inches a bit higher.

He nods and sweeps his hand up and down from the nape of her neck to the dimples at the base of her spine.

If it were any other time, Darcy’s mind would have turned to more carnal pursuits, but she is tired and scared. And it has been so very, very long since she sought comfort from anyone.

Her hands makes its up towards his ribcage when the smooth expanse of skin is interrupted by the ridged feeling of scar tissue. Smurf flinches and hisses underneath her touch but doesn’t pull away or stop her as she continues to map the mottled landscape of his back.

His whole back from the lowest rib to the last knob of his spine just before his neck is covered in a patchwork of scars of varying shapes. There are layers to them that Darcy can feel as her fingers trace the shapes. There a long thin stripe like the crack of a whip. Here an odd curling shape, a distinctive and deliberate design like a brand. Darcy stifles the sob in her throat when she feels the splotchy ragged edges of healing burn scars scattered over his skin.

“What happened to you? Who did this to you?” she chokes out, her fingers stilling on the edge of another burn.

Smurf’s expression is raw like an open wound with his lips parted and his brows peaked. He shakes his head.

“Tell me,” she pleads, voice breaking. “Tell me who hurt you, and we’ll make them pay.” Darcy knows it is an empty, useless threat even as she says it, but it is all she can think of to say. What else is there to bring comfort except for the promise of revenge when the pain is already inflicted and no amends can be made for it? She hopes that perhaps the sentiment may mean something to him.

He looks at her sadly, unshed tears shining in his red eyes. He lets out a breath that borders on a sob and crushes her to his chest. Darcy fits perfectly beneath his chin as he buries his lips and nose in her hair. She feels the brush of lips against her scalp and then the warmth of tears as they seep into her hair like rain.

She wraps herself tightly around him as he begins to shake with the power of his weeping.

***
In the end, it is sheer exhaustion that drives them to sleep at last. Darcy drifts off first after he has shed the last of his tears into the pillows and her hair. Her arms slackening with the weight of sleep and breathing evening out. He follows her quickly after when the hollowness in his chest becomes too much to bear.

He has only been asleep for a couple of hours when her stirring awakens him. Loki comes to with heavy, slow blinks as Darcy twitches in his arms. Her eyes are screwed shut and her bottom lip quivering. She whimpers and thrashes against his hold. He loosens his grip around and shushes gently. His fingers stroke the back of her head to soothe her. Whatever, she is dreaming, she is in it so deeply he cannot coax her out.

He knows he shouldn’t. She would hate him for it if she knew he had done it, but he cannot help himself. He has long been curious as to what the nature of her nightmares are. What could possibly haunt a woman who had fearlessly faced a blue-skinned snarling demon in an alleyway? His fingers probe deeper until he is touching her scalp.

Loki closes his eyes and allows himself to sink into her dream as only a spectator. She will never even know he’s there.

He is standing beside her on what appears to be the main street of a small town. The desert rolls out on either side beneath a hard blue sky. The buildings once quaint and cramped are now burning. It feels vaguely familiar.

Darcy is looking around desperately trying to find a safe space to seek shelter. There seems to be nowhere for as soon as her eyes alight on a building it collapses or bursts into flames. There is a terrible shrieking of metal scraping on metal. Loki looks over his shoulder to see the Destroyer looming in front of them.

Now, he recognizes it with a heavy, sickening feeling in his stomach. This is the small town where his brother was banished. But why would her dreams bring her here?

He has no time to further contemplate the matter because Darcy has started to sprint off down a side-street. Her legs pump furiously, but Loki keeps up easily as he floats behind her. She turns a sharp corner and dives behind a piece of rubble just as the Destroyer turns its gaze towards the building beside her. Loki can feel the heat mounting in the air as the robot prepares for another blast.

She is trembling from her hiding place, arms wrapped around herself as if she is trying to keep herself from coming apart at the seams. The Destroyer fires and the building is consumed in a wave of orange flame. Darcy screams and folds in on herself. Then the monster turns its sights somewhere else and clanks down the street towards what was a drug store.

Loki feels sick watching her shake. She looks up and peers around the side to make sure the thing is moving away from her. When the coast is clear, she darts out from behind the chunk of concrete and races down the street.

“Jane?” she screams.

And he stops in his tracks. Surely, she couldn’t mean Dr. Foster.

“Jane??” she walks forward slowly, head whipping side to side.

He continues to follow her at a distance, his nausea building, as she begins to call for an Erik. No one responds. She seems to be the only living person.

His mind works furiously as he traces her path through the burning town. Yes, now he does recall Thor mentioning something about Jane having an assistant, but he had had no idea. Norns, he had never thought it was her. The God of Thunder had never bought up what happened to her after the events with the Dark Elves.

It can’t be. It just can’t be. Fate would not be so cruel as that, not after bringing him back from the brink of death not once but three times.

Darcy is still searching frantically for anyone while the Destroyer continues to do what it was designed to do in the background.

Another voice finally answers her, but the sound of it makes his blood run cold. Darcy stops in her tracks, rooted to the ground. “No,” she whispers to herself. “No.”

“Oh dear girl, you didn’t think you would escape me this time, did you?” that terribly familiar voice says smoothly.

“No,” she repeats.

The clacking of dress shoes echoes down the narrow street, the sounds of the Destroyer suddenly muted. Loki does not want to turn but does so at the same moment as Darcy.

The figure is blurry at first as he saunters arrogantly towards her. As he draws nearer, it is easy to pick out the crisp clean lines of his black suit, the sharpness of his smile so elegant and yet so feral at the same time.

Darcy but makes to run, but the man reaches out his hand, freezing her to the spot where she stands.

“Can’t have you running off, now can I? You’re the last one.” He comes closer, the scepter in his hand swinging with the cadence of his steps.

Loki feels bile rising in his throat. His heart is pounding in his chest like a blacksmith’s hammer against an anvil. He nearly chokes on his tongue as he watches himself swagger towards Darcy, dark and menacing as a draugr.

He wants to scream, take Darcy and run until they are lost in the desert, but he is less than a shadow here. He watches in horror as the doppelganger raises the scepter and points the tip of the blade to her heart. There is only a heartbeat before her eyes turn icy blue.

He pulls himself out of her dream with a gasp, ice forming in beads on his skin. Darcy has stilled in his arms but continues to whimper.

Loki forces himself to calm. He presses the tips of two fingers to her temple and coaxes her mind into changing course. The sands of the desert dissolve into a beach, and the blue sky melts into an ocean. The buildings disappear into puffs of smoke that form into palm trees, and his double fades into nothing. Darcy goes silent and boneless next to him. He can feel her mind latch on eagerly to the dream he’s conjured for her.

He takes the opportunity to untangle his limbs from hers and slip out of bed. His knees nearly buckle when he stands, but he manages to make it to the bathroom and stumble to the sink. His fingers grip the counter, and he hears the porcelain crack and groan from the pressure. He stops and takes a deep breath.

Loki looks up and studies his reflection. For once, he is grateful to see his woad blue skin and red eyes. He drags his fingers over his markings just to be certain they’re real. He doesn’t think he could face seeing his Aesir skin in the mirror after that nightmare. Even thinking about it makes nausea rise within him, and he spits for good measure.

Frigga’s words come back to haunt him. Always so perceptive about everyone but yourself. He had thought himself a monster now, but he had been wrong. In her mind, he had been at his most terrifying when he had looked the most human.

He fingers the small nubs of his horns curving out from his brow. It had bothered him when he first noticed them a few days ago, but now after this revelation, Loki is not sure how to feel about them. They are another way to set him apart from his past, his old life, his old ways. He is literally turning into someone else before his very eyes.

He is not sure why exactly they are showing up. He can only suppose it is due to remaining in his Jotunn form for so long. His Aesir disguise had suppressed many of his Jotunn abilities and instincts, so it seemed certain parts of his appearance as well.

He meets his reflection’s eyes once more. He should leave her before she wakes. He should leave without notice and never return. Her life would be better that way. She would be hurt, one part of him says. But she would heal quickly, the other says.

The Jotunn scrubs a hand over his face in indecision, the two sides of him warring. It has never been this hard in the past. When Loki chose to leave a man or woman whom he no longer considered worthy of lying with, he had simply left with no explanation. He was the god of mischief and chaos after all. How could they expect any differently from him?

But this is different, his conscience whispers. You are different, it says in a voice that sounds suspiciously like his brother’s. There is the other issue. If she is connected to Thor then it is very possible he may show up, and then the jig really will be up. Another reason to leave.

Yes, he decides. He will leave. It will be better for the both of them. He has recovered enough and taken advantage of her kindness for too long as it is. Time for him to move on and seek out a new life and adventure. He is a shapeshifter and master sorcerer. He can go anywhere and be anyone he wishes to be. There is nothing to hold him here to her. Except for her.

You’re going soft, he thinks in disgust and turns from his reflection to face the wall.

Loki has always prided himself on his ability to think and plan and strategize, to weigh the pros and cons and act in the manner that will most greatly benefit him. The choice is obvious as to which he should choose. Not only is it to his benefit to leave but hers as well. If whatever is out there is pursuing him, he may be able to draw it away from the town.

But if I’m wrong, he thinks. If he is wrong and the thing isn’t after him then the consequences would be dire. Besides, there is no guarantee it would follow him. His scent is all over Darcy by now, and almost all predators track by smell to some extent. His heart almost stops at the thought. If he leaves, there would be nothing to stand between her and it. Loki knows she can take care of herself, but until, he knows exactly what they are dealing with he cannot take the chance.

He begins to pick nervously as his hands, twisting an imaginary ring. What is he to do? If he stays they are damned. If he leaves they are damned.

A wave of unexpected, foolish hopefulness rises within him. Perhaps, they won’t be caught. After all, Darcy has renounced anything to do with the Avengers. He has seen the way she ignores the texts and calls she gets on her phone. And his brother does believe he is well and truly dead with good reason.

It is so very tempting. And you want to stay, a dark part of him hisses. You want to stay with her for your own selfish reasons, consequences be damned. He swallows thickly and pushes it back down into whatever pit it crawled out of.

He is different now, he tells himself. The old Loki died on that ship. He has a chance to rebuild a new life, something better, and he will not squander it.

He turns back around to his reflection in the mirror. He is still Smurf. His eyes rove over the raised ridges patterning his face. The very sight had once filled him with disgust and horror, but now, well, this face at least has not been the one haunting her dreams. This is the face that makes her smile, and that makes all the difference.

***

Darcy groans as the alarm on her cell phone goes off. She cracks open an eye and reaches for it laying on her nightstand. She swipes it to dismiss it and lets her head hit the pillow.

She must have turned over during the night because now Smurf’s cool chest and stomach are pressed to her back and hips. It feels wonderful in comparison to the stifling humidity that has built in the room overnight. She stretches quickly and settles herself firmly against him, slotting her body with his.

Her hips wriggle just a bit when she feels something nudging against her. It takes Darcy’s sleep laden mind a minute to figure out exactly what it is.

Ooh, Darcy thinks as she re-adjusts her hips to put more space between her and Smurf’s morning wood. His arm tightens unconsciously around her waist and draws her back against him, and welp, there is it again.

She can feel it pressing against her ass and lower back, and suddenly, a lot of questions just got answered. She had wondered if they were . . .compatible in that way. She had been cautious to assume that just because he was humanoid his form of reproduction would be the same as hers. Apparently, it was, and Darcy can’t help but think that they would be very compatible.

Slide part A into slot B very slowly because it’s going to take some work to make that fit, she thinks wickedly. Jesus fucking Christ, get a hold of yourself, she curses as she reins her thoughts in. One minute, she doesn’t know if she wants him to kiss her or not, and the next she’s imagining him fucking her into the mattress.

She must be ovulating. That has to be it. Darcy’s libido always goes into overdrive around that time of her cycle.

“Time for a nice cold shower,” she mumbles as she removes his arm from her waist and slides off the other side of the bed.

He huffs and comes awake grudgingly with one red eye open.

“Go back to sleep,” she says. “I am just gonna get ready. You can stay in bed until breakfast if you want.”

Smurf rubs his hand over the space where she had been lying and looks at her imploringly.

For a moment, she considers it. She contemplates crawling back across the mattress to him and flipping him onto his back so she can grind herself against his thick. . . Nope, nope, nope. Definitely not.

“Tempting but no,” she answers to which he just blows air through his lips like a horse and rolls onto his other side to turn his back to her.

“I’m going to remember that when I’m making pancakes,” she calls back as she heads out of the room. “I think you may find we’ve suddenly run out of chocolate chips.”

Darcy hears him whine pitifully as she opens the door to the bathroom. She shakes her head and quickly begins to strip. Kicking her underwear into the corner, she sets the water at tepid. It's not even noon and already the humidity is unbelievable. Her uniform is going to be sticking to her all day because Joe is too cheap to run the AC that much.

Goosebumps cover her arms as the cool water hits her, but it feels pleasant once her body adjusts to the shock of it. She pours shampoo into her palm and begins to lather up her hair, thinking. Her thoughts concerning Smurf are stupid at best and downright dangerous at worst. Darcy knows that by all definitions of the word, he is a strong, independent alien who doesn’t need a human woman, but she can’t help but feel she would be taking advantage of him if she jumped bones like she had thought about doing this morning.

She recalls the feel of his tears as she works the shampoo into her roots. He had bared himself to her last night in ways she had never seen. He had come unravelled, and his past was far darker than she had anticipated. Darcy had thought him broken before, but that seems too mild a term now.

The shower rinses the shampoo from her hair, and she squeezes body wash onto her loofah. How long had she held him as he sobbed into her arms? It had felt like hours until there had been nothing left in either of them, and they had been left weak and shaking with the catharsis of it.

He doesn’t need his only friend in the literal world to go all pervy on him, she thinks as she starts to scrub herself down. Darcy reasons with herself that it doesn’t matter that he had looked at her the way she looked at a double chocolate milkshake after a work-out the night of her date with Michael nor does it matter that he clearly conned her into going a date the other night and would have surely kissed her if it hadn’t been for the ferris wheel moving. None of that matters because I’m the-what? The adult? She scoffs to herself. Ridiculous. She doesn’t even know how old he is. He could be as old as Thor or older. And she knows she's a hot mess too.

Darcy shuts off the water and wrings out her hair. If she keeps up with this train of thought she is going to give herself a literal headache on top of all the metaphorical ones she is going to have to deal with when she goes into work. There is no way Joe didn’t notice Coulson sitting in his restaurant for over three hours. It’s gonna be a fun night.

***

She doesn’t even have time to clock-in and put her stuff in the back before Joe is barreling towards her down the hallway.

He grips her upper arm tightly in one hand and begins to steer her towards his office. Darcy is too grateful that Smurf is already in the kitchen to be more than annoyed by the sudden manhandling. She has a feeling if he were there Joe probably wouldn’t have a hand anymore or a head for that matter. Not that he ever used it much anyways.

“Would ya let me go?” she gripes as she twists out of his grip. She doesn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing her wince and rub at the red spots on her arm.

He releases her but jerks his head towards his office and says through clenched teeth, “In there now!”

The waitress rolls her eyes and follows behind him. “Geez, who pissed in your Cheerios this morning?”

“Enough with the jokes, Lewis,” he seethes as he slams the door behind her. “I don’t know what game you’re playing, but it isn’t going to work.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Darcy says coolly as she leans against the door.

“You gotta be shittin’ me,” he laughs bitterly as he runs a hand through his short-cropped grey hair. “I fucking saw him out there. We had an agreement. I give you a job, let you disappear, and you keep those assholes off my back.”

“And I am ain’t I?” Darcy says irritably. She knows she isn’t going to get paid for this little pep talk.

“Is that what you call Agent Coulson sitting in my restaurant for four goddamn hours?” He slams his fist on the desk for emphasis.

She really wishes she had some gum right now just so she could blow a bubble and pop it to annoy him further. “He didn’t arrest you, did he? You’re not rotting in some underground bunker right now. Your assets aren’t frozen in some off-shore account where you can’t touch them. Your wife and daughter haven’t been dragged in for questioning again.”

“No,” her boss bites out like he tasted something vile. “But-”

“Then, I’m upholding my end of the bargain,” she snips. “Coulson won’t trouble you as long as I keep things kosher. He’s got bigger shit to worry about than some second-rate has-been like you.”

He lets out a long breath, face turning red as a tomato. “Fine.”

“We done here, Joe?”

He nods silently and sits down heavily in his office chair. She might even feel sorry for him if he wasn’t such a colossal asshole.

Darcy turns to leave when he asks, “Do you know what that thing is out there?”

She doesn’t have to ask what thing he is referring to. “No idea,” she answers honestly.

“If you did would you tell me?” he says grumpily.

“Mmm, nope,” she says as she leaves to start her shift.

Chapter Text

“I must not tell lies. The parchment was now shining with drops of blood from the back of his hand,” Darcy pauses to yawn, “which was searing with pain. When he next looked up,” another yawn, her lids drooping dangerously low, “night had fallen and the Quidditch pitch was no longer visible.” She feels Smurf wiggle beside her, a not-so-discreet poke in the side for her to continue.

She smacks her lips and closes the book, setting it on the nightstand by the bed. “I wanna keep reading too, dude,” she mumbles as she struggles to keep her eyes open, “but I am done for the night.”

Smurf nods in resignation as Darcy turns off the lamp and slides further underneath the covers. She turns over on her side and curls slightly in on herself. The alien positions himself behind her as the big spoon and throws an arm over her waist. She unconsciously snuggles deeper into the now familiar position. Much like a cat, Smurf had interpreted that one night as a permanent and open invitation to sleep in her bed. Luckily, Darcy doesn’t mind, and besides, she doesn’t think a squirt bottle would work on him.

The alarm from her phone awakens her the next morning, and she finds that once more she has been shoved over to the edge of the bed. Smurf is sprawled out starfish-style with the covers kicked off and one foot hanging off the bed. A tendril of black hair is plastered to his blue skin, and his mouth hangs open.

“Ridiculous,” she mutters affectionately as she turns the alarm off and swings her legs off of the bed. There is no doubt that they have both been sleeping better since the new arrangement.

“Hey, monkey-toes, time to get your ass out of bed.”

Smurf shoves a pillow over his head in response.

“C’mon, you know you want to see my brilliant, cheerful face,” she cajoles, giving him a slight shake.

He swats her hand away sleepily and growls low in his throat.

“Fine,” she says airily as she gets up from the bed and pads over to his side. “We’ll do it your way.” She does not hesitate as she viciously begins to attack his ribs with her fingers. Much to her delight, Darcy had discovered that Smurf was terribly ticklish. He squirms madly beneath her touch as he tries to roll out of the way. She follows him across to the other side of the bed until she is forced to retreat when a pillow is thrown with incredible accuracy directly at her face.

Smurf glares at her from under his black brows and runs a hand through his long curls.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Darcy scolds as she gets her clothes together for a shower. “You should have come peacefully.”

He curls his lip in a half-assed snarl and stands. With a groan, he stretches his arms over head and stands up on his toes. The waitress keeps her eyes focused on picking out a matching bra and underwear and not the trail of dark hair that disappears into the waistband of his sleep shorts.

Darcy showers quickly and starts on breakfast when Smurf jumps in after her. She decides on French toast instead of pancakes. There are three pieces waiting on the kitchen table complete with syrup and powdered sugar when he walks in on silent feet. She only knows he’s there by the accompanying chill.

“Eat up,” she commands from the stove as she prepares her own breakfast.

She looks over her shoulder to see him poke suspiciously at it with a fork, disgust written all over his features.

“It’s French toast,” she explains to which he answers with an exasperated shrug.”It’s bread dunked in egg and fried in butter. Don’t act like you care about your health after what I’ve seen you eat.”

She hears the clinking of knife and fork against the plate as she turns back to the pan in front of her. Smurf “mmm”s in appreciation and digs-in in earnest. Darcy is just getting her last slice of bread onto the plate when he puts his in the sink and looks at her hopefully. “Don’t even think about it,” she says as she snatches her plate from the counter and hustles over to the table. He sighs and shuffles over to join her. “I’ll make you some more after I finish eating,” she says around a mouth full of food. Smurf wrinkles his nose delicately in distaste and looks away when Darcy opens her mouth wide to show off the half-chewed French toast.

“For a guy who likes to regularly stab and murder people, you sure are squeamish,” she teases after taking a sip of milk.

Smurf shrugs and drums his fingers on the table impatiently. He glances out of the corner of his eye at her half-finished plate. Darcy brings the fork up slowly to her mouth and makes a show of chewing as slowly as she can. He huffs in frustration and looks at her fully, eyes narrowed in displeasure.

“I don’t even know how you can eat so much and still have a body like David Beckham. It’s not fair, man,” Darcy says as she scrapes syrup from her plate and licks it off the tines of her fork. “This is gonna go straight to my thighs.”

He purses his lips in displeasure at the statement, and he looks as if he is about to do more but stops himself and shakes his head.

“Being a modern American woman who loves carbs ain’t easy,” she quips and finishes off her second slice of French toast with gusto. “How many more do you want?” she asks, standing to take her plate to the sink.

He holds three fingers.

“Of course,” she deadpans, already mixing up the eggs, milk, and vanilla in a bowl. “C’mere, it’s time you learn to fend for yourself in the kitchen.”

Smurf quietly walks up behind her and peers over her left shoulder, not hard considering he has about a foot of height on her.

“Okay, so first things first, you gotta have the right bread. It’s gotta be a good thick bread, not any of that cheap loaf bread crap that I have to buy after we just paid the rent. Then, you gotta dunk it.” She picks up a slice and coats both sides liberally in the mixture. She tips her head back to check Smurf’s expression. The same wrinkling of the nose and furrowing of the brow. “You can’t be prissy about it, Your Highness.”

He sniffs indignantly, watching as Darcy adds a generous dollop of butter to the frying pan.

“My grandmother’s motto when it came to cooking is when in doubt add more butter, which is probably why almost everyone in my family has heart disease. But that kinda goes out the window when Evil Space Barney decides he wants to annihilate half the universe.”

She feels him stiffen behind her, body going as rigid as a board.

“Sorry,” she says softly and turns to face him, the food temporarily forgotten. “Sometimes I let my mouth run away from me.” She wraps her arms tightly around his waist, careful to avoid his upper back.

He hugs her back, letting his cheek rest against the top of her head. He sighs deeply before forcing them apart so Darcy can get back to teaching him the ways of the kitchen.

“I can see where your priorities are,” she says sarcastically and drops the prepared bread into the pan. “You gotta cook both sides until they start to brown. Don’t burn it cause otherwise it’ll just taste like ass.” She lets it simmer for a moment before flipping it over with the spatula.

“See, easy peasy,” she says with a flourish as she drops the finished product onto the plate beside them. “You just add powdered sugar and syrup. Now, you try.”

Smurf proves to be a quick study as he deftly dunks the bread and lays it flat in the skillet. Within five minutes, he has three fresh slices covered in a mountain of powdered sugar and drenched in syrup. He demolishes the plate in under four.

Darcy stifles a laugh at the smears of white sugar that stand out so starkly against his blue skin. He cocks an eyebrow when a snicker escapes, and Darcy knows danger when she sees it.

“No, no, no. Don’t even think about it,” she says as she tries to make a break for it. It’s too late. The bag of powdered sugar is levitating over her and with a flick of his wrist, its contents are emptied onto her head.

She blinks several times, stunned at how fast it all happened. It coats her hair and eyelashes. It drifts like snow with every small movement. She wipes it away from her eyes to see Smurf standing in front of her with one hand clasped over his mouth, which does nothing to hide the giant grin that splits his face.

You” is all she can think to growl as she swipes the bottle of syrup off the counter and flips open the cap. Darcy curses her height and lack of telekinesis because she would like nothing more than to dump it all over that sleek black hair. She settles for grabbing the waistband of his pants and squirting it into his boxers.

For a long heartbeat, he is too shocked to act. His eyes seem to swallow his face they go so big and such a dark crimson. Darcy can only grin evilly beneath the fine layer of sugar still dusting her face.

“Payback’s a bitch, and so am I,” she says smugly.

Coming at last to his senses, he wrenches the bottle from her grasp and chucks it across the room. Smurf exhales loudly through his nose as he shifts uncomfortably side to side, his pants sticking to him.

He acknowledges his defeat with a graceful dip of his head. Then, he turns and walks bowlegged back to the bathroom.

Darcy can’t bring herself to regret the act despite the fact that it means she’ll have more laundry to do.

***

They do not leave the diner until after one in the morning. It had gotten busy last minute, and they were short staffed. One of the new waitresses had called out sick, but Darcy could smell a bullshit lie from a mile away. More than likely she wouldn’t last another week. The place had been a wreck by the time they closed, and it had taken her, Smurf, and Maurice two hours to get the place looking somewhat decent. Joe will be still be pissed when he walks in in the morning and can’t see his reflection in the surface of every urinal. She can’t find it in her to care though. She is too bone tired, and Joe doesn’t scare her. Never has. He wants to keep his nose clean too much to give her trouble. Smurf is on edge too. He is a quiet nervous presence in the passenger’s seat beside her. He had worked himself to the quick just like the rest of them, and she knows now that it must truly irk him to not be able to use magic that would make it infinitely easier.

There is something else though. She can almost taste it in the air. He almost reminds her of the Smurf she met that first night, barely contained violence just underneath the surface.

“What’s wrong?” she asks, waiting for the red light to change.

He shrugs a shoulder and continues to stare out the window.

“Do you wanna read tonight or just go straight to sleep?” She doesn’t really know which one she wants herself. On the one hand, she’s dead tired, and on the other, she needs something to help her mind calm.

Another shrug.

The light changes, and Darcy presses the gas pedal. She glances over him to see that he has returned to his normal appearance. It’s so late and so dark the chances of him being seen are next to nothing. “Is it something I did?” she hazards.

He shifts in the seat to turn towards her and shakes his head. Then, he returns his gaze back out the window, shoulders drawn up towards his ears.

She doesn’t ask him anymore questions on the car ride home, knowing she won’t get anything out of him that he doesn’t want to tell her. So she drives in silence, too tired to even listen to the radio.

Gravel crunches under the wheels as they pull into the driveway, and Smurf slips out of the passenger’s side before Darcy can even unbuckle herself. She watches him as he stands to his full height, chin lifted as he sniffs the air. The alien lopes around to her side and opens the door for her. She can feel him looming over her protectively as they make their way to the front door of the trailer. The porch light turns on when she gets her keys out.

“I really need to talk to the landlord about getting some kinda security lights out here,” she says and looks around at the dark, oppressive wall of trees and shrubbery. The jingling of the keys seems amplified to her paranoid senses.

With a twist of the lock, they go inside, and Darcy slams the door behind herself. Smurf glides into the living room and heads down the hallway to the bedroom. The floorboards creak with his pacing. He exits the bedroom and goes to the bathroom, taking a minute to scope it out. He sweeps the trailer room by room until he’s satisfied nothing is going to pop out and eat them.

“You sure you don’t wanna check the fridge?” Darcy drawls as she toes her shoes off, “there’s some potato salad in there I think might be sentient.”

He scowls at her joke, shaking his head.

“You win some, you lose some,” she states as she walks towards her bedroom and shuts the door to change into pjs, which are really just a ratty old t-shirt and some booty shorts. She is just pulling the shorts up when she hears the front door slam and someone racing down the stairs. The steps crunch quickly over the gravel and head off into the woods. Darcy reaches for the pistol she keeps in the nightstand beside the bed. She checks the clip to make sure it's loaded and pops it back into place. Slipping on an old pair of Vans, she sneaks down the hall towards the living room.

She holds the gun down by her side and scans the room. The front door is unlocked with no signs of forced entry. Darcy lets out a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding. She makes her way towards the entrance of the trailer and pauses with her ear pressed to the wood. She can’t hear anything outside. With a nod to herself, she twists the knob and raises the gun to shoulder height. There is nothing on the other side but the screaming of cicadas.

She waits another beat before descending the stairs. The porch light is still on casting a small ring of weak yellow light. Besides that it’s pitch black, and Darcy knows she’ll be going in blind if she goes into the woods. She chews her lip in indecision and walks to just the edge of the yard, hoping to hear or see something.

“Smurf?” she whispers into the night, not daring to say it any louder.

Something rustles further off into the woods. She swings the barrel of the gun towards the sound. Her hands only shake a little as her finger folds over the trigger.

“Smurf if it’s you whistle or clap or something,” she says under her breath. Her adrenaline is spiking and her hands are starting to sweat. She shifts her weight back onto her left foot as she takes a step back.

The rustling happens again, louder and closer, it’s followed by a crash. Darcy’s heart thunders in her chest, and the cicadas now seem to be shrieking. Her world shrinks down to the barrel of her gun. She forces herself to take a deep breath and let herself sink into her stance, both feet firmly rooted to the ground like May had taught her. If something comes rushing at her out of the forest, the last thing she needs is to lose her footing. Her finger squeezes just a little tighter, ready to pull at any moment.

She can see the underbrush sway with the force movement and a shuffling noise like something is being dragged. Something grunts, deep and pained.

“Smurf?” she yells, unable to control the volume of her voice.

Her whole body tenses as the thing finally breaks through the trees and steps out into her small circle of light. Darcy lets out a shuddering breath and lowers the gun when she sees Smurf in his Luke disguise pulling a very disheveled man behind him.

“Who the fuck is that?” she asks, stepping around Smurf to get a better look at the stranger.

With a huff of disgust, the alien releases the trespasser and steps away to stand beside Darcy.

“Michael,” she growls, taking in his torn clothing and injuries. From the scratches on his face, Smurf must have drug him the whole the way, not caring what the brambles caught.

“Darcy,” he squeaks desperately, looking up hopefully at her with puppy-dog eyes. “This guy’s psycho. I was just-just,” he stops when he sees the scowl marring her features and her arms folded over her chest.

“I thought I told you to never come back,” she says, taking a step forward. For one stupidly blind second, she almost tells Smurf to drop the facade so this asshole in front of her can see what he’s really dealing with. He’d probably shit his pants if he realized he had just been found by a blue-skinned, red-eyed alien with horns to boot. Darcy forces herself to take a deep breath and count to ten. “What are you doing here?”

“I know. I know,” he wheezes, holding up his hands in defeat. He swallows loudly and licks his lips. “Coulson just asked someone to keep an eye on you. That’s all, and I was the closest agent on the ground.”

“Why?” she asks with narrowed eyes, crouching down to get a better look him. How had she ever thought he was cute? “I just spoke to Coulson a few days ago.”

Michael shakes his head in frustration. “I don’t know. He mentioned something about that thing that’s been fucking up the cattle around town and maybe something else. You know he doesn’t tell shit to anyone below a level 6.”

Darcy pinches the bridge of her nose. That definitely sounds like Coulson. For the longest time, he hadn’t shared jackshit with her until they were forced to take her on missions. Even then, he had played things close to his chest.

“Just please don’t kill me,” the agent pleads, eyes flitting between the gun hanging in her hand and Luke standing beside her.

She lets the silence sit for a long while just to let him squirm. Darcy had been in a bad mood before, but now she can barely see straight she’s so pissed. She stands up from her squat. Finally, she composes herself and sighs. “We’re not gonna kill you,” she says flatly, giving Smurf a pointed look when he seems crestfallen.

Michael breathes a sigh of relief and stands up. “Thanks,” he replies, voice breaking.

“Just get outta here,” she says irritably, waving him away with her hand. “Tell Coulson if he’s going to send anyone after me at least let them be competent.”

“Yes, Dar-ma’am,” he corrects as he takes a stumbling step backwards to keep his eyes on both of them.

“Whatever.”

Michael doesn’t say anything else as he paces backwards into the woods until they can no longer see him. Even then, she doesn’t leave until Smurf gives the all’s clear signal and walks with her into the trailer with his hand resting on the small of her back. The coolness of his skin through the t-shirt is a reassuring weight. Honestly, he’s ten times the protection even the best SHIELD agent could give. Almost the same level she might get from an Avenger.

He lets the disguise drop as soon as they close the door. The bruising under his eyes and the slowness of his steps show how tired he really is. He even seems a little pale, his skin faded a bit.

“Are you okay?” Darcy asks in concern as she notices the gouge across his cheek for the first time. Dark blood leaks down his face.

He dabs at it and looks down at his fingertips in surprise. He wipes his hand down the front of his dark t-shirt and kicks off his shoes.

“C’mon, just lemme see it,” she whines, standing on tip-toe to get a better look. “Did he have a knife or something?”

Smurf nods and bats her hand away. He smooths his thumb over the wound. Green light glows underneath his touch, and the skin is sealed with only the faintest hint that the injury was ever there.

She lands back on her heels with a thump. “I guess that will have to do,” she says, screwing her mouth up in displeasure. “Let’s go to bed then. I’ve had a long day, and I am looking forward to doing a whole lot of nothing tomorrow.”

He laces his fingers through hers and lets her lead him into the bedroom.

***

Darcy awakens to cold, damp sheets. She shivers and cracks an eye open to glance at the ceiling. Was the roof leaking again? But it hadn’t rained last night or this morning as far as she can recall.

She sits up with a groan and feels her hands sink into the spongy mattress. It’s soaked and freezing.

“Smurf, if this is some kinda prank I’m going to-” she says before looking to her left. He is lying on his back, chest rising and falling shallowly. His red eyes are sunken and fixed on the ceiling like he isn’t even aware of her presence. His skin has faded to a periwinkle blue, and she can see veins pumping dark blood beneath it. Beads of ice coat his skin. Darcy watches them melt due to the heat of the room and slide off.

She presses a hand to his forehead. Normally pleasantly cool, it feels about the same temperature as her own. She assumes that’s bad. Very bad.

“Smurf!” she says again, voice frantic as she gives him a gentle shake.

He groans and lets his head loll to the side to look at her. He blinks slowly and reaches for her. Darcy laces her fingers with his and squeezes. He tries to return the gesture but feels as weak as a kitten.

“Shit,” she says, trying to think and fight the rising panic threatening to overwhelm her. He needs cold, she reasons. The air conditioning wouldn’t cut it though. It could run 24/7 and it would never get below 75 between the heat wave and shitty insulation. The tub, she concludes.

“Can you stand? I can help you, but I can’t lift you.”

He licks his lips, the skin parched and cracking. Finally, he nods and grunts as he manages to prop up on his elbows with Darcy supporting his neck. It takes them 10 minutes of struggling and resting to get him sitting on the edge of the bed. By the end of it, he is hunched over his elbows resting on his knees sucking in great lungfuls of air.

Darcy sits beside him helplessly, rubbing his back in soothing circles. She lets him rest for another five minutes before looping his arm over her shoulders and hers around his waist. He is not a very bulky guy like Thor, but he’s tall, which means their center of gravity is fucked.

“On three,” she says.

He nods weakly.

“One, two,” Darcy says as she rocks them forward. “Three!” She pushes off from the bed and holds onto him tightly. Smurf manages to get to his feet and sways dangerously beside her for a second. Darcy widens her base of support and braces herself for his fall. When it seems he has finally regained his balance, he nods his head to indicate he’s ready to move.

She tightens her hold on him and takes a small step forward. He shuffles beside her, feet barely leaving the ground as if they are lead weights. They take it step by painfully slow step. Smurf has to stop and lean against the doorway to rest and regain his energy. He shakes his head and stares off into the distance with unfocused eyes.

“Don’t quit on me now, dude,” she begs and coaxes him to start moving again.

When they get out of the bedroom, she lets him steady himself against the hall with one hand while she guides them like a ship in stormy seas. They are halfway to the bathroom when his knees buckle. Darcy manages to keep him from hitting the floor as he hangs onto her for dear life. She can feel his wintery breath brushing her neck, and the clammy warmth of his skin through the soaked t-shirt. He’s getting warmer. Fuck.

She bends her knees and lets him put more of his weight on her. She can feel her legs shaking from the strain of carrying both their weights. With a grunt, she manages to straighten just enough to stand and take a tiny step. She never thought she would thank Natasha for making her do all of those squats.

After Darcy has taken six or so steps, Smurf manages to get his feet back underneath him. Together, they steer him into the bathroom where Darcy lets him sit on the toilet. She takes a step back to take in the sight of him. If possible he looks worse than before. He’s trembling all over like he’s freezing, something she didn’t think was possible.

“It’ll be okay,” she murmurs and snatches a washcloth out of the closet to run it under cold tap water.

His eyes close in relief as she presses it to his forehead and cheeks.

“Here drink this.” She picks up the cup she normally keeps for rinsing out her mouth and fills it with water. Smurf lets his jaw fall open and tilts his head back to let her pour it down his throat. Darcy steps to the side to cradle his head and watches his throat works to swallow. After he’s drained the glass, she refills it twice more and forces him to empty those as well. He doesn’t look much better than he did before but the shaking doesn’t seem as intense.

“Now to get you in the tub,” she says as calmly as she can manage. Smurf doesn’t protest when she pulls his shirt off and tosses it carelessly into a corner. She turns on the water and puts in the tub stopper. Darcy tests the temperature with her fingers. She frowns. It’s cold but not cold enough. It needs to be icy.

When it’s about a third full, she helps him ease down into it. The sight would be hilarious if the circumstances weren’t so dire. He’s so tall and his legs are so long that his knees stick up like skyscrapers. He barely fits into the tub that is a tight fit even for Darcy. She briefly considers a shower, but there is way she’s strong enough to help him stand for that long.

The water begins to lap at the sides of the tub, and Darcy shuts it off. Ice sweat continues to dot his forehead. “Hang on,” she says as she dashes out of the bathroom and heads for the freezer. She whines in frustration at the pitiful sight that greets her. Piling the two ice trays and bag of frozen green beans into her arms, she walks back into the bathroom.

Smurf tries to offer her a smile, but it flickers and turns into a grimace.

She cracks the ice trays into the water to try and bring temperature down and lays the bag of green beans across his brow. She scoops a handful of water from the tub and lets it run down his right shoulder. Darcy dips the washcloth from earlier into the tub and begins to rub down the areas of his body that aren’t under the water, which seems to be most of him except for his torso.

“I should call Coulson,” she thinks aloud. “Maybe SHIELD knows something about alien illnesses.” She gets off of her knees to get her phone when a clammy hand wraps itself around her wrist.

Smurf shakes his head, eyes large and feverish.

“Listen, I know I bitched about them a lot before, but I don’t know what to do for this.”

Another shake of his head, this time more vigorous.

“I know that they won’t be happy that I’ve been keeping you here, but things are different now. You might be-” She can’t bring herself to finish the sentence, but there’s no need to.

Smurf closes his eyes and nods slowly in acceptance. So be it then, he seems to tell her.

“What about if I just call friend of mine?” she begs, voice choking with tears. “I could call my friend Jane or Bruce. They’re really nice and really smart. They’ll help me take care of you.” His grip tightens with some of his old strength, and shakes his head once, curtly. No, and that is final.

“God, I wish you weren’t such a stubborn asshole,” she sniffs, her nose and throat clogging up. She never had been a pretty crier like Jane who always looked like she had stepped out of a BBC period piece.

His fingers loosen around her wrist, and he pulls it away to let it slip back into the tub. The tension leaks out of his body and with it his strength. He seems to go boneless in the tub. Darcy picks up the forgotten washcloth and begins to wipe down his face and neck. She places the bag green beans back across his forehead. It had slipped off during their discussion. Smurf closes his eyes under her ministrations.

The ice is already melting, and it will take a couple of hours to refreeze some more. In about another half hour, the bag of green beans will be useless mush. After all that the water still isn’t nearly as cold as she thinks it needs to be.

She chews her lip. “Listen,” she says gently, and his eyes flutter open briefly in acknowledgement. Otherwise, he makes no move. “I need to get you more ice. A lot more. That means I am going to have to leave you alone.”

His eyes fly open, blood red and wild. He shakes his head and dislodges the green beans again. Darcy’s hand goes still where she is wiping down his neck. “It won’t be for long,” she soothes. “I will be right back.”

Another shake of his head, and he begins to grip the tub to stand. Darcy realizes they haven’t been out of each other’s company except to shower and use the bathroom since her car was attacked that night a couple of weeks ago.

“Sit,” she orders and forces him back down into the tub with her hands on his shoulders. “You’re too weak to come,” she says and hates herself for how harsh she sounds. “I could barely carry you here. There is no way you would make it to the car in this heat.”

Smurf sighs in defeat, eyes closed and brows knit in displeasure. “I’ll be right back, I swear. I’m just going to the gas station ten minutes from here. You’ll be fine.”

He opens one eye and cocks his eyebrow.

I’ll be fine,” she amends. “I can’t die without getting you back for all the times you tried to freeze me half to death. That syrup was only the beginning. Your reckoning is still coming,” she teases half-heartedly.

He sighs, graces her with a fleeting smile, and shoos her off with a weak flap of his hand.

On impulse, she leans across the tub and presses her lips to his forehead. His skin is the same temperature as a human’s against her lips. Darcy pulls herself away and pads out of the bathroom.

She doesn’t bother to put on her shoes or change out of her soaked pajamas. She swipes the keys off the nightstand where she had left them and runs out the door. The sun beats down on her shoulders overhead as she makes her way to the car. It must be at least 90 degrees, and it isn’t even noon yet. The thought makes her heart stutter in her chest.

Darcy gets into the car, ignoring the giant rents down the side for once. The inside of it reminds her of the one time she had seen a lobster being boiled alive, it’s skin turning bright, bright red. She sticks the key in the ignition and cranks it. She can hear the engine sputtering and stalling.

“C’mon you stupid, piece of shit,” she curses between clenched teeth as she tries it again. A flicker of hope, and then, it dies. “Please sweet baby Jesus help a girl out.” On the fifth try, the engine comes to life. “Halle-fucking-lujah,” she crows as she puts the car in reverse and tears out of her driveway.

Darcy hauls ass to make the ten minute drive in six. The pavement of the gas station burns the soles of her feet as she jumps out of the car. The engine idles loudly in the background as she walks to the freezer. She hadn’t bothered to turn it off out of fear it might not restart. She flings open the metal door to the freezer standing outside and grabs two bags in each hand. She tosses them into the back seat and repeats the process five more times until her entire backseat and trunk are filled with bags of ice.

She hops back into the car once she’s through. There is no time to pay, and she didn’t bring her wallet anyways. If Bobby the store clerk wants to make an issue of it, he’ll take it up with her at some point, though he does owe her for those free beers she occasionally slips him for an increased tip.

Either way, Darcy doesn’t care as she puts the car into drive and pulls out of the gas station so fast her tires squeal as they to gain purchase. Five minutes later gravel flies out from under the wheels as she pulls into the driveway.

She wastes no time in hauling the ice from her car into the kitchen. “I’m home!” she calls breathlessly as she packs bags of ice into the freezer of the fridge, and then the excess into the old deep freezer a storage closet that she’s never really used before. Darcy leaves four bags out for the tub and carries them into the bathroom.

Smurf is exactly how she left him, reclined in the tub breathing fast and shallow with his eyes closed. Her heart clenches at the sight.

“Hey,” she says softly, “I’m back, and I got you some ice.”

He doesn’t respond.

In a panic, Darcy rips open the first bag and dumps it into the bathroom. She opens the second and third bags. By the time, she empties the fourth, he has come around a bit. He grunts pitifully as she heaps the ice around him and tosses the bag of veggies in the trash. She takes an ice cube and runs it over his face and neck until it melts in her hands. She does it again and again until her fingers are too numb to hold it anymore.

Smurf sighs and sinks a little lower in the tub until the ice water comes past his nipples. It seeps into the ends of his long black hair and turns it into inky tendrils. He doesn’t look quite real with his light blue skin and horns and black hair. Her life has always been strange, but Darcy thinks this might be a new peak. Normally, any aliens she had encountered were either trying to kill her or protect. Either way, they had always been stronger than her, incredibly so. Smurf had been the same way even that first night. Now, she finds it hard to fathom that she’s having to save him.

She takes up the washcloth once more and drenches it in the freezing bath water. With both hands, she wrings the excess over his face and watches him shudder. She does it again, chewing her lip and thinking. She doesn’t know what else to do.

“I wish you’d let me call someone,” she says in defeat, wiping down his legs.

Darcy considers disregarding Smurf’s wishes and calling SHIELD. They would be the most likely to know something about alien biology. But they would ask questions and want answers, she thinks to herself. Coulson’s SHIELD is different since the downfall of Hydra, but it’s still a secret government organization. There’s also the little matter of an alien invasion half a year ago that resulted in half of the human race being wiped out. They would definitely be more hostile and suspicious towards one now even if Darcy did tell them he was a refugee seeking asylum, which she wasn’t even sure of. Her mind races and her hand stills. God, what if they took him away? What if they lock him in some lab 50 feet below the earth and experiment on him?

She forces herself to resume her task and rewet the rag. Smurf remains despondent as she dips the washcloth into the water time and time again. Darcy checks his pulse and feels it beating like a bird’s wings against her fingertips. She frowns and pulls another bag of ice from the freezer to add to the tub.

Hours pass, and it is an endless cycle of letting the tub drain enough to replenish it with another bag of ice. Darcy gets a cup from the kitchen and scoops water from the tub to pour over his face and shoulders when her hands began to ache from wringing the washcloth. When she can rouse him, she forces him to drink ice-water, and when he cannot tolerate that, she slips ice chips into his mouth to let them melt. Darcy tries to get him to eat. She offers him Pop-tarts and toast and yogurt and just about anything else that she can find. He refuses it all, turning his head towards the wall. Most of the time, he sleeps or at least, Darcy hopes that’s what it is.

Around six or so, Darcy stops by the gas station and steals another 10 bags or so just in case they run out. She must have looked crazy as she leapt from her car with her hair tangled and dark circles under her eyes. She can’t find it in her to care though. When she returns from her second ice run, he seems no better or worse than he had been hours ago.

Darcy forces herself to eat something around eight when she realizes she hasn’t had anything since supper the night before. She settles on a couple of pieces of toast and a cup of coffee to keep her going. She doesn’t want to eat a big meal that will make her drowsy. She eats with one hand so she keep bathing him in the cold water, hoping that it somehow brings his temperature down. When she’s through, she presses one hand to his forehead. It feels cooler than before. Maybe. She hopes.

At ten, she calls the diner to let them know they won’t be able to make it for the closing shift tomorrow. She claims a stomach bug and hangs up abruptly despite Carla’s knowing sigh.

“Let ‘em bitch,” she gripes to a Smurf whose eyes have been closed for some time now. “I covered her lazy ass plenty of times.” She slicks his black hair back from his forehead with the palm of her hand. “We can go without the money. I even have a little bit saved up,” she tells him, not sure if he can hear her. She just needs someone to talk. She’s been sitting at the edge of the tub now for 12 hours or more. Sometimes she catches her thumb hovering over the call button to speed-dial Jane or Dr. Banner, but they could be on the other side of the world now. She has purposefully tried to stay ignorant of their whereabouts.

“It’s weird, but for a guy who doesn’t talk, you say a lot,” she comments, realizing that the house now feels empty, silent without his constant gesturing and ever changing expressions.

About midnight, she thinks his color has deepened some since that morning. His veins cannot be seen as easily as before.

“Or maybe I’m just a hopeful idiot,” she says to herself as she takes another sip from her third cup of coffee.

It is five in the morning or so when the caffeine begins to fail and her eyelids feel as heavy as stones. She jerks awake with a start when the tips of her fingers drag in the cold water. Darcy stands and drains the tub while she gets two more bags of ice. She dumps it in and strategically arranges it around his hips and stomach. Smurf shivers as her hand brushes across his abs. It's the first time he’s moved since she forced some water down his throat four hours ago.

She should feel elated or at least hopeful, but the fatigue is too much. A few minutes later, she dozes off with her head pillowed on her forearms.

***

Darcy comes to when she hears water sloshing against the side of the tub.

“What?” she says groggily, pushing herself into a kneeling position. She looks up to see Smurf standing on legs as unsteady as a newborn colt’s. “What are you doing? Are you trying to give me a freakin' heart attack?!” she yells as she surges to her feet.

He takes a deep breath to steady himself and grabs her hands as she offers them to him.

She looks him up and down. His coloring has almost returned to normal, and she can feel the coolness of his skin against her palms. “You feel okay?”

He nods and steps gingerly out of the tub onto the bath mat. The shaking in his legs is not so bad as he supports himself on the sink counter. Darcy takes the opportunity to press the back of her hand to his forehead and then the nape of his neck just to be sure. She checks his pulse next. It is strong and steady.

“Thank David Bowie and Prince,” she breathes, blinking back the tears threatening to spill over. God, when had she turned into such a sap? She thought all of her tears had been dried up during the Infinity War. “You turn me into a hot mess,” she scolds teasingly, wiping the tears away angrily with the back of her hand.

He smiles at her, genuinely without a hint of his normal smirk.

“Can you make it to the couch?” she asks, composing herself.

Smurf nods.

"Sit tight for a just second more," Darcy says before heading to the bedroom to get him some more boxers. "Can you get these on by yourself?"

He rolls his eyes and smacks her hands away with them.

"Alright, alright." She waits outside the door until he taps on the counter to signal for her to enter. She leaves the wet pair on the floor for now.

Then he lets her help him into the living room. She can tell he’s still weak due to the slowness of his steps, but he bears most of his own weight. He eases down onto the couch with a relieved sigh and looks up at her gratefully.

“Can you eat?” Darcy asks, already turning before he even answers. “I’ll get you some water and maybe make some pancakes? Or would that be too heavy? Then, I need to shower and change the sheets on the bed.”

His cold grip on her wrist stops her.

“Do you not want breakfast?” she says, turning around with a frown. That would be a first.

He tugs at her with enough strength to bring her to the side of the couch. Darcy delicately poises herself on the couch beside him.

Smurf manages to get himself into a sitting position with his back propped against the arm of the couch before Darcy can stop him. She supposes it’s a good sign he’s getting his strength back.

“Do you want me to turn the tv on? I’m not sure what’s playing right now, but I am sure we could find something. Or I could rent something from RedBox.” She reaches for the remote, but he stops her with a shake of his head.

Darcy snorts. “Who are you and what have you done with Smurf? You don’t want food. You don’t want tv. So what do you want?” She tilts her head to the side in question.

He reaches out towards her, his palms cool and rough from his calluses where he cups her face.

“Wh-”

Darcy never gets to finish what she planned on saying. The thought leaves her head entirely as he pulls her forward towards him and seals her mouth with his. For a moment, there is a tense frisson between as they both await her reaction.

Something in Darcy melts at the contact. It thaws beneath the touch of his lips and hands, and she feels something knotted within her release. It’s like sinking slowly into a hot bath at the end of a long day. It is right and natural, and it feels painfully like home.

She lets herself relax, closes her eyes, and parts her lips. He surges forward, tilting her head back so he can have better leverage. He licks into her mouth, urgent and demanding as if he had not been wobbling on weak legs moments ago. His dark hair forms a curtain around them that tickles her cheeks and blocks out the light. The hold of his hands is firm but tender as one slips behind to cradle the back of her head.

She moves her lips in ways she had thought she had forgotten. Ways that had been wiped out like all the good things in her life had been. Her tongue slides along his as her hands rest at his hips and glide along his ribs. She can feel them tremble with contained breath and knows she is the cause of it. Her heart is fit to burst in her chest, and she is thankful for it.

She does not know who or how the kiss stops but only that she is flushed and breathless when it is through. He pulls away from her slowly and looks down in wonder. His lips are kiss-swollen and tinged lilac, his eyes darkened to the color of garnets. He presses, one, two, three more quick kisses to her lips that leave her humming dreamily.

Smurf lets his hands slip from behind her head and jaw to grip her shoulders lightly.

It takes Darcy a moment to come back to herself. Her mind is going about the speed of molasses in the winter. She blinks up at him lazily.

It is the all-too familiar smirk tugging at the corner of his lips that brings her back fully to the here and now.

She sits up a little straighter and clears her throat. “I . . .um. . . guess I could lay down for just a little while. It would be terrible of me to leave you unattended anyways. You could relapse, and then where would we be.”

He quirks a skeptical eyebrow as he settles himself back down onto the couch with arms stretched out for her. Darcy takes a moment to appreciate the view before lying down beside him. She’s never seen him with his shirt off before today. She had been wrong about the David Beckham comment. He looks better in her opinion. Of course, having her brain melt out of her ears from a mind blowing kiss might have something to do with it.

Smurf flicks his fingers impatiently, beckoning her to lie down.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming. Don’t get your blueberries twisted,” she complains good-naturedly as she lays her body alongside his, resting her cheek on the cool plane of his chest.

He sighs contentedly into the top of her hair, wrapping his arms around her. She snuggles a little closer, already feeling sleep pull at her again now that she’s finally lying down. Everything can wait until after they take a nice, long nap. Even the fact that Darcy is almost he had been poisoned.

Chapter Text

Loki knows it isn’t a dream the moment he steps into it. He is certain he is asleep. He distinctly remembers falling asleep on the couch with Darcy pressed against his chest. He had drifted off to the steady beat of her heart against his and the soft sounds of her breathing.

It feels far too heavy for a dream. Besides, there is no way his poison-addled psyche would ever cook something up this pleasant. Even on his best nights, his dreams are unsettling things.

The Trickster looks around himself as he takes in his surroundings. Far too pleasant, he thinks grimly. Somehow he has found himself in a sunny garden laid with paths of pale marble and overgrowing with roses of every color. Loki picks a seemingly random path and heads off down it, passing bushes of wild honeysuckle and violets. His ears manage to catch the notes of a harp drifting on the wind.

He does not know how long or how far he walks before he finds himself standing at a plaza with a fountain in the center. The fountain is made of the same pale marble as the path and is trickling water from ewers held by three women all with eyes closed and long hair covering their bodies. Beyond the the fountain, he hears a familiar sound he had never expected to hear again, the clicking of heddles.

He cannot stop himself from racing around the edge of the fountain. His feet slap loudly against the stone, breaking the peaceful air of the place. Loki stops abruptly at the sight in front of him, his heart in his throat.

Her back is turned to him as she works the tall warp-weighted loom in front of her, but he would know her anywhere. As if sensing his presence, she turns towards him, and it is like feeling the sun upon his face after a long, cruel winter.

“Loki,” she coos with affection and spreads her arms wide for him, and just like that, he feels like a boy again rushing to her after suffering some scrape or slight.

She feels real and solid against him as she wraps her arms around his back and crushes him to her.

Mother, he longs to choke as he buries his nose in her hair to breathe in the smell of her favorite perfume. The word lodges like a stone in his throat and even here he is mute.

Frigga hugs him, fiercely, tightly, for a long time as if he is the dream and not her. Perhaps he is in some way. At last, she lets him go and takes a step back to look at him. It is only when her eyes trace the raised ridges on his face that Loki realizes he is in his Jotun form.

He takes a step back in surprise and horror, calling his Aesir skin to cover him.

“There is no need,” she reprimands gently, resting a hand against the side of his cheek. “You forget I first saw you like this as a baby when your father brought you to me.”

He swallows in hesitation.

“Please,” she insists. “It gladdens me to see that you have accepted this side of yourself.”

Loki nods slowly and lets the pale alabaster of his skin recede into its natural blue.

Frigga smiles broadly. “Better,” she says with approval and drags her thumb along his cheekbone. “Come let us sit.” She gestures to the rim of the fountain. She sits first and arranges her skirts carefully before Loki joins her, perched nervously on the edge. He recalls all too well his last words to her and wishes the earth would swallow him up.

“No words from my dear little Silvertongue?” she teases, peering up at him. Her face is a millennia younger than he has ever recalled seeing it, and she wears her hair long and loose like a maiden’s.

He shakes his head as he stares nervously down at his hands resting in his lap. He begins to pick at the palm of his right hand with the fingers of his left.

“Hmmm,” Frigga hums in contemplation and places two fingers under his chin to force him to look at her. She tilts his face side to side, her eyes roving over his throat. “Ah, so that is the nature of it,” she says in understanding and lets her hand drift away.

Loki nods in shame.

“I wish there was something I could do for it, my love, but I am afraid my powers are rather bound here.” She waves her hand to indicate their surroundings. She need explain no more. It is already a sign of her great skill and power that she is even able to cross over into his dreams for so long from the other side of the Veil.

He only shrugs in reply. He had not even dared hope. Disappointment has become a familiar flavor to him over the past few years. What is one more?

“Do you know why I came to you now?” she says in a tone that she often took with him as a boy when he had pulled a particularly cruel prank on one of his tutors.

He shakes his head slowly though he has a sickening feeling he knows what it is about.

Frigga quirks one eyebrow in knowing but lets it slide. “You must know that one of my first gifts was prophecy. Even before I married Odin and had Thor and became the goddess of marriage and childbirth, I had the Gift. It always came to me in dreams when the line between the worlds is the thinnest.”

He nods. Yes, yes, he knew that. All of Asgard knew Frigga had been a great seer. It was in no small part why Odin had chosen her as his bride. The fact that they had grown to love each truly and dearly was only an added bonus.

“Ever so impatient,” she chides jokingly with a narrowing of eyes. She smooths the merriment from her face as she continues on, “Even here, I feel the pull of destiny.” Her blue eyes go round and glassy as if she is staring a thousand miles out into the distance. A minute passes before she blinks and shakes her head, coming back to herself. She gets up restlessly and paces to the loom where she had been working earlier. Loki follows, concern building in him. Destiny calling is never a pleasant event, at least for him.

Frigga stands back to exam the pattern she is weaving into the blanket. Loki squints to see if he can make out the tapestry she is attempting, but sees only the long lines of the weft and warp wool. He can tell by the furrowing of her brow though that his mother sees something much more troubling, and it makes the skin on the back of his neck crawl.

“I do not-I do not know where the path will lead, my dear heart, but you cannot stay on it,” she says with her back still turned from him, “you cannot keep running from your past.” Now, she does turn to face him, suddenly looking the age he remembers her. She reaches and catches his hands in her own. She runs her thumbs lovingly across the backs of his hands, an odd sight given that his knuckles are bluer than the sky overhead. Frigga swings them impatiently and looks up at him with imploring eyes.

“You must tell her who you are,” she says, sorrow lacing her voice.

His chest tightens at the sound of her words, and he tries to pull his hands away. Frigga clings onto him with tenacity, her strength enforced with something beyond pure muscle. “It cannot go on this way. You must know that.”

He lets out a huff through his nose and turns his face to the side, closing his eyes. He does not need to look at his mother to know her expression is pained.

“Loki,” she says, squeezing his hands for emphasis, “you cannot run from yourself forever. She has a right to know. It will go better for you if you tell her yourself.”

And lose everything?, he thinks in horror. It takes no great feat of imagination to think of what Darcy’s reaction would be. He knows all too well what she thinks of Loki. It sickens him to even think of her recoiling from him, lip curled in disgust and flinching from his touch. Or worse, what if she were to freeze in absolute terror? He shakes his head slowly and bitterly. His mother had always been too optimistic for his own taste. He supposes that is where Thor got it from. The Norns knew it wasn’t from Odin.

Frigga’s expression turns from pain to despair. She releases one of his hands to return hers to the side of his face, cards her fingers through the wild curls of his black hair. “Oh my son, you still have so much to learn, and you always insist on learning the hard way,” she says in a soft voice, eyes searching his face for some hope he might relent. After a moment, she sighs, “I cannot hold you here much longer. You must return to the waking world. At least, consider what I have told you. You are not the same person anymore. You’ve changed.”

Loki blinks slowly, heavily as he feels his mind begin to reel. The flowers around them go fuzzy, and Frigga’s hands become translucent. He no longer feels the weight of them on him.

“Loki, try, just try,” she says before she and his surroundings disappear altogether.

He wakes up abruptly, eyes flying open and muscles jerking. Darcy complains drowsily from within the circle of his arms. He automatically adjusts his hold on her and stares up at the ceiling, his mother’s words haunting him.

Loki swallows and looks down at the top of Darcy’s dark brown head. Her face rests against his chest, the top of her head just reaching his collarbone. Her breath washes warm against his naked skin. One leg and arm are thrown carelessly across his body, and she presses her chest and stomach against his ribs and hips. A wave of affection, intense and fierce, rolls through him. He holds her a little more tightly, his heart beating just a bit faster when she gives a sleepy murmur of approval.

For years, he has wandered through the universe with nothing of his own, not even a place to call home. Perhaps he never had when he recalls the long shadow of his father and brother. Not even Frigga’s love had been enough to warm that frigid place. Now, he has found it in a small village on Midgard of all places with a girl who once worked with his brother and SHIELD to stop people like him. And he will not give it up lightly.

***

Smurf is still asleep when she wakes up on the couch. His color has returned to normal, and his skin is cool and dry. Darcy breathes a sigh of relief at the sight of his sleep slackened face. He looks peaceful like that, a word she never thought to use when describing him.

Carefully, she extricates herself from his arms and stands up from the couch. It is completely dark now. They must have slept through most of the day. That is going to play hell with their sleep schedule, but she can’t bring herself to care too much. She has far more important things to worry about now.

She picks up her phone from where it rests on the coffee table to check the time. It’s already past ten which means she was asleep for probably close to 12 hours. Even after all that, Darcy still feels drained. Smurf is dead to the world. She decides she will wake him in a couple of hours to get some food down him.

For now, there is something she needs to take care of. She checks her texts. There are two from Jane, but that’s it. They are the usual “how are you?” and “hope you aren’t dead”. She gives short monosyllabic replies. Even if she had the want, she doesn’t have the focus to get into a lengthy text message convo with Dr. Foster who loved to wax poetic about her latest gadget or scientific discovery given half the chance.

Darcy goes into her contacts and scrolls down until she finds the one labeled “Bob” and hits it. She holds the phone and listens to it ring, heart racing in her chest.

A fourth ring, a fifth, a sixth, and then, “Darcy,” the calm voice on the other end of the line says in pleasant surprise, “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon. Did you reconsider my offer?”

“No,” she spits bitterly, pacing from the living room into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her, “and I sure as hell won’t after what happened the other night.”

“Whoa, whoa, slow down,” Coulson says in his infuriatingly placid tone. “What’s going on?”

“Michael,” Darcy replies, the name making her free hand curl into a fist, “he was here last night. Next time, you send someone to spy on me make sure they’re at least properly field trained.” A red, red rage is building within her at the sound of his name, at the memory of Smurf lying still and pale in the bathtub. She doesn’t want to believe Coulson would order something like a poisoning on someone he doesn’t even know. She wants to believe he is trying to make something better out of the corpse that had been SHIELD.

“I didn’t order Michael to spy on you,” he says slowly, deliberately, voice dropping a note.

She inhales through her nose and out through her mouth, the tension draining from her. Her assumption had been right. “Well, he was here, and he attacked Luke.”

“We actually haven’t heard from him in over forty-eight hours. I thought maybe his communications device was on the fritz. The electromagnetic fields are still wonky after everything that happened so it’s not unusual. I think that may not be the case now.”

“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” she snarks, pacing the length of the room.

“It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Captain America, but I’ll take it,” Coulson says with a quiet chuckle. Her sarcasm had never ruffled his feathers much to her frequent frustration. “When was the last time you saw him and where?” he asks, voice serious once more.

“Uh, maybe like twenty-two hours ago or so outside of my trailer. He ran off into the woods. He claimed you sent him so I let him off the hook. I should have seen through it.” She shakes her head at her own naivete. She should have seen it from a mile away. Of course, Coulson wouldn’t be stupid enough to send the same rookie after her twice.

“It’s not your fault. It seems he’s fooled us all, and here I thought the kid was bad at acting. It seems the opposite was true all along. I just wish I knew why.”

“So do I,” Darcy huffs, resting a fist on her hip and making another lap around her bedroom. She almost wishes now Coulson had been behind all of it. It would at least answer more questions than create them.

“I’ll have my people look into it. We’ll try to track him down and find out where he’s headed and what his prerogative is.”

Darcy frowns into the phone at the generic answer. She doesn’t know what more she could have hoped for, but that definitely wasn’t it. “Uh, thanks, I guess. What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“We’re still stretched thin, Darcy,” he complains, “we can’t expend all of our resources on someone who may not be a direct and immediate threat.”

Not a direct and immediate threat my ass, she thinks and contemplates telling him about the poison, but decides against it. That would raise far too many questions that Darcy couldn’t/wouldn’t answer. “I get it, “ she says in a tired voice, because she does. She remembers all too easily the long, long days and nights when sleep was a luxury. “Just what should I do?”

“Lay low, live your life like normal, but be more aware. Carry a bigger gun with more high-powered ammo. You know the routine,” he replies in a bored voice as if he is reading from a script.

She cannot stop the sigh that rolls out of her throat, her shoulders sag beneath the weight of Coulson’s words. Easy for him to say when he has access to the world’s latest tech and weapons. “Yeah, yeah, I do,” she mutters. “Alright, thanks for the info, Coulson, but I gotta go.”

“Darcy,” he interrupts, “do you still have the package I gave you?”

“Uh, yeah, of course,” she says uncomfortably. It is currently lying in the bottom of her closet underneath about five layers of clothing. She has purposefully kept it out of sight and out of mind. “Why?” She hates herself the moment she asks, knowing it’s exactly what Coulson wants.

“You might want to look there for answers,” he answers cryptically. Jesus Fuck, the older Coulson got the more like Fury he became.

“To what questions?” she says.

“It just might help you see things more clearly,” he says nonchalantly, and Darcy can hear the shrug in his voice.

“Thanks for the specifics, boss,” she snips, “that really clears things up.”

“I aim to please,” he says into the phone, and Darcy knows he’s staring down at his ring and smiling fondly just like he had in the restaurant. He only sounds this dopey when he’s thinking about May.

“Well, you’ve just ensured I am not going to touch that thing with a thirty-nine and a half-foot pole.”

“Quoting The Grinch, already? It’s not even October yet,” he observes.

“What can I say? Talking to you always brings out the holiday spirit in me,” Darcy drawls.

“It’s a gift,” he shoots back.

“But seriously, I have to get going,” she says, looking at the time. She wants to check on Smurf again and then get started on making some food. Her stomach growls for emphasis.

“Alright, it was good talking to you, Darcy, and just remember what I said.”

“Will do,” she says before hanging up, her resolve hardening to never touch the thing sitting in the bottom of her closet.

***

Smurf is awake when she pads back out into the living room. He blinks heavily and gives her a drowsy smile.

“Good morning or . . . er . . . I guess good night,” she greets as she looks at the darkness outside the window. The lamp beside the couch is the only source of light. It is an oddly cozy sight seeing a blue alien stretched out on her old couch with only the warm light of the lamp to illuminate him. It is just now that she notices Smurf is mostly naked besides the boxers he went to sleep in the night before. His lean, blue torso and legs are bare, and it makes her blush and look away.

Darcy hopes he doesn’t notice the embarrassed heat burning in her cheeks. She realizes that given other circumstances the kiss this morning may have led to something more than just an extra long nap.

“You hungry?” she asks in a rush, turning her back on him to head towards the kitchen never even bothering to wait for an answer. “I’m starved,” she continues as she crouches down to get out the cast iron skillet and mixing bowls.

“You’ve never had breakfast for dinner,” she rambles as she gets the flour and eggs out. “It’s awesome, best time to have breakfast really. I’m thinkin’ biscuits and eggs. I bought that new jam at the farmer’s market that should taste pretty good, and I think we have some bacon left over.”

As she turns to set everything down on the kitchen table, she bumps into something solid and cool. A wall of blue greets her, and she looks up and up into those red eyes.

Smurf quirks an eyebrow and takes the eggs and flour from her to sit behind him. He’s leaning down, and Darcy quickly puts a hand on his chest, his firm, surprisingly muscular chest, to stop him.

“Of course, you can’t help!” she yelps and pushes him with enough force to have him walking backwards on his heels. “You’re still sick. I won’t have you keeling over in my kitchen because you wanted to snatch the bacon as soon as I got done cooking it.”

He retreats into the living room and takes hold of her wrists when she goes to give him another push towards the couch. Darcy struggles uselessly in his grasp for a few seconds. He doesn’t even seem phased despite his weakened state. His grip is firm but gentle as he lets her arms hang loosely between them.

“No fair,” she complains, “you have alien biology on your side, and I don’t even have my taser.”

She gives another experimental tug, and Smurf spreads their arms out to either side to decrease her leverage.

He smirks down his long nose at her, smug and self-satisfied.

“Do you want food or not?” Darcy threatens, expecting it to do the trick. Smurf, much like many other odd creatures who have claimed her over the years, usually responds to food.

He shrugs carelessly.

“So what are we doing here?” she says giving their arms a little shake. “Are we gonna start waltzing or something?”

A dangerous spark catches light in his red eyes, and he slides the fingers of his right hand through the fingers of her left.

“No, wait, I was kidding,” she pleads as he places her right hand on his left shoulder and lets his free arm wrap around the small of her back. “I can’t dance to save my life. I have worse than two left feet. They’re basically two left flippers. A lobotomized seal could dance better than me.”

He raises his left eyebrow again, incredulously, and shakes his head at her ridiculousness. Slowly, he begins to sway to some music only he can hear. Having no choice, Darcy finds herself mirroring his rhythm. He takes a step back and she follows.

“If you end up with 10 injured toes, it’s on your head,” she tells him, staring down at their feet to make sure she doesn’t do what she just said.

He tisks and directs her attention back to his face. Darcy scowls as he takes a step forward and steps on her toes when she is not fast enough to react.

“After all, I did for you this is my repayment? Humiliation through dance?”

He rolls his eyes dramatically and snorts in exasperation. They take a step to the right, his head nodding to a silent beat to try and guide her better. Darcy remains stiff and grumbling as he takes her through the paces. Smurf’s face is frustratingly bemused. He doesn’t even flinch when she steps on his big toe accidentally and doesn’t step back quite as quickly as she could. Instead, he merely draws her closer and slows down their speed even more than the snail’s crawl they were going at before.

Somewhere in the background, she hears the radio click on. There is the sound of static and slurred music as the stations change rapidly. It settles on the classical music station.

“You?” she asks with raised brows.

He nods beatifically and carries on dancing.

“I’m impressed,” Darcy remarks. He had not even moved his lips or mouth.

Smurf gives her another roll of his eyes and gestures for her to be quiet, a task easier said than done. Still as the music flows from one note into the next, the tension in her shoulders drains away until her arms are held at ease out to her sides. The steps gain a familiarity they had not possessed before, and Darcy finds that she can anticipate his next step before he takes it. She is already coming up onto her toes to slip her foot back before he moves his forward. She follows his lead easily, naturally. She, who has never done more than awkwardly shuffle at a bar or drunkenly grind against some nameless man on the rare occasions she went to a club, feels as if she floating on air. Her hands aren’t even sweating as he grips them in his strong, cool palms.

She should for all intents and purposes feel utterly ridiculous. She is dancing with an absurdly tall, blue alien around a trailer in rural Virginia wearing nothing but a t-shirt and shorts. He is wearing even less in nothing but a pair of boxers. They could both do with food and a shower. Darcy does not even want to imagine how they must look from the outside so she doesn’t.

She lets herself get swept in this odd bit of magic that she helped conjure. She has not felt this weightless since she met Jane all those years. Has it truly been eight years since she felt anything close to bliss? It is frightening and sad and almost unfathomable. Almost.

Darcy does not dwell on this realization and takes to studying Smurf’s face as he moves them seamlessly around the room. He is composed and at ease as if he has done this a thousand times before, and he probably has. She has had an inkling for a while that he was some noble on his home planet, but now, she is sure he was nothing less than a prince. He’s like some weird extraterrestrial version of a Disney prince and for once, she isn’t the pumpkin or animal sidekick left out of the action.

“What planet are you from?” she asks, daring to break the spell.

He does not pause as he takes her hand and spins her in a circle. She cannot help the giggle that escapes her.

“Were you someone important?” she asks. Once the questions begin bubbling to the surface, she finds she can’t stop. “Are you from the Milky Way or outside of it? Could you write down your name?”

He smiles down at her indulgently, slows until they are hardly doing more than swaying side to side. There is another question perched on the tip of her tongue like a bird preparing to fly as he cranes his head down to her level.

“What was-” she starts to say before he silences her by sealing her mouth with his.

Darcy knows all too well what he is doing but can’t bring herself to care. His lips are warm and soft, his tongue intoxicating and sweet as he slides it over hers. His arm tightens around her making her back bow to accommodate his greater height. Those slim, strong fingers are gathering the material of her t-shirt at the small of her back twisting it into a knot. His other hand rests on her hip, fingertips digging into the flesh there.

Darcy comes up onto her toes as his lips move from her mouth to the corner of her jaw to the column of her throat and back again. He kisses her long and deep with a ferocity that borders on bruising. What had started out as an obvious if effective distraction technique has turned into more. It is only after her calves begin to cramp and her back aches that she takes his hand in hers and drags them back over to the couch. Even then, he does not stop kissing her, bringing the back of her hand up to his lips.

He sits first, and Darcy slides into his lap sideways without hesitation. The fingers of his left hand make a nest of her curls as his right slides up her t-shirt to the bare skin of her low back. She shivers as the cool skin of his palm lies flat against her spine.

He kisses her again, gentle and tenderly, almost chaste in comparison to earlier. It is Darcy now who demands more, who catches his bottom lip between her teeth and gives it a nip. It is she who leans into him and maps the terrain of his collar bone with teeth and lips and tongue.

He moans soft and low in his throat as Darcy comes up for air. His red eyes are heavy-lidded as they sweep her up and down. He kisses her again with one hand pressed to the back of her head and lowers her onto the couch until she lying on her back.

There is a moment of tension as their eyes lock and he looms over her. It feels dangerous, and Darcy finds she is afraid. There truly is no turning back anymore. She juts her chin forward in act of defiance to meet him halfway as his mouth descends toward her. Darcy Lewis has never believed in doing things half-assed.

Their mouths meet, and she can feel him melt above her as he rolls her onto her side so that their bodies are aligned. He licks into her mouth as his hands rove from her back to her ass and he squeezes one cheek possessively. Instinctively, she throws a leg over his hips and draws him into her body with her heel digging into the small of his back.

Oh, is all she can think as she feels the length of his cock pressing into her. It certainly isn’t the first time, but she had never been facing him. This is different, very different. He feels bigger this way than when he had been merely pressing against her ass. Three thin layers of fabric are all that separates his cock from her cunt, and the thought makes her grind herself against him.

He growls into her mouth and grips her ass so tightly it is almost painful as his hips rolls against hers. Darcy can only whimper in response and fist her hands in his hair, drawing him down deeper into the kiss. Her hips press into him harder and faster, the delicious friction of their clothing and him hitting just the right spot.

Darcy’s lips latch on at the juncture of his neck and shoulder, and her tongue laves the cold skin there. The tip of it glides over the ridged patterns that line his body, and his cock twitches against her. She moans against his throat and does it again. She is rewarded with a bucking of his hips.

When she does it a third time, he groans and rolls onto his back so that Darcy is straddling him, gripping her hips tightly so they don’t lose contact even for a brief moment. Her lips pull away with a wet pop, and she is looking down at him. She is pleased with her handy work.

She has never seen in him such a state of disarray. His hair is tangled around his head, one stray curl falling across his face. His eyes are darkened from pupils blown wide, and his lips are parted as he lifts hips to rock against her. She falls forward with her hands on his chest for better leverage and takes up his rhythm.

It is rough and fast, born of desperation. Darcy screws her eyes shut as he grazes her clit with the head of his cock, and she grinds herself into him harder. She shudders when he hits it again and again.

“Just. Like. That.” she gasps, her nails digging into the skin of his chest. She can’t help it. She couldn’t stop it if she tried. Darcy hasn’t had this level of intimacy with another person in so long, she had forgotten what it felt like. This is better, so much better, than her own fingers or a vibrator. It isn’t just the feel of him sliding along her. It’s the strength of his fingers grasping at her if she is the only thing in the world that isn’t falling apart. It’s knowing that tomorrow there will be bruises there as irrefutable proof that this happened. It’s seeing the gouges from her nails, seeing his blue skin turn indigo and then purple. It’s the way he looks at her with his eyes that will swallow her if she stares into them too long, drinking greedily of her desire and giving it all right back. It’s every small gasp and sigh and whimper and moan that they pull from each other.

Ahhaaa, mmm,” he sighs beneath her as he drives his hips up to gain more traction.

They’re both close, she knows. The front of his boxers are soaked from his precum and her slick that has gone through her underwear and shorts.

She adjusts the angle of her hips slightly so that the feeling of him dragging along her clit is stronger. With the next slide, she swirls her hips in a circle while he keeps his still, breath catching in his throat. The pressure builds low in her stomach, that promise of things to come that makes her toes curl in anticipation.

Please, please, please,” she begs of him, his strong hands canting her hips just so. Something about the slight change is enough to send her over the edge. Darcy wants to close her eyes as the tide takes her, but she forces them to remain open, forces herself to keep her gaze locked with his through the spill of her hair that has fallen in front of her face.

She bites her lips and continues to ride him through her orgasm, pelvis undulating in a slow rhythm. Darcy knows the moment he breaks, watches in pleasure as his expression softens into awe. His jaw goes slack, and his eyebrows slant upward. He takes up hand from her hip to reach up and drag his fingers along her cheek. They catch on her lower lip, and she sucks on his index and middle finger while he spends himself under her. He gives a small gasp at the stimulation and throws his head back. She is still riding high on the last waves of her own pleasure, a dim echo ringing throughout her body.

“It’s alright,” she murmurs around the tips of his fingers, “I’ve got you.”

When the last tremors subside, he goes boneless and soft beneath her. Darcy leans down and kisses him slow and sweet, fighting off the drowsiness that wants to overtake her. Smurf sighs happily against her mouth, hands gliding up and down her back in soothing motions. He looks up at her sleepy and sated when she pulls away from him.

She continues to straddle him, the shock finally setting in. She hasn’t had an orgasm that intense since . . . well, longer than she cares to remember. Tonight, she hasn’t just crossed the line, she obliterated it. From the dreamy look on Smurf’s face as he beams up at her and the heavy, uncomfortable feeling in her chest, Darcy knows there is no coming back from this. She’s not sure what that makes them or where it will take them in the future, but things cannot go back to the way they were. The kiss perhaps could have been undone, brushed off as nothing more than a rush of emotions in a crisis, but this is on an entirely new level. She is stunned into silence.

At last, Smurf reaches up again to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, eyes questioning.

“It’s nothing,” she says too quickly, grabbing his hand to kiss that rough, cold palm.

He looks as if he is about to pursue the issue when his stomach growls loudly.

“C’mon,” Darcy says, seizing the opportunity, “I’ll make us some food like I had planned to originally, and you can get cleaned up.” She is acutely aware of the stickiness between her own thighs, and the damp patch on the front of his underwear.

He narrows his eyes at her suspiciously, clearly seeing her distraction.

“Two can play that game,” she retorts sweetly as she swings off of him and stands up.

Smurf snorts and sits up as his stomach growls again. He looks down at his crotch and sniffs delicately in disgust. Reluctantly, he gets off the couch and heads to the bathroom.

Darcy allows herself to relax when she hears the water of the shower running.

“What have I just done?” she asks herself in bewilderment.

Chapter Text

Loki is elbows deep in sudsy water as he rinses another coffee cup. It is busy tonight. He is not exactly sure why. The Trickster believes it has something to do with the changing of the seasons and the beginning of some barbaric sport called “foot-ball” where overly large men slam into each other. The Midgardian summer is dying though you wouldn’t know it in this part of the world. It is still unbearably hot and humid.

He can’t truly be sorry for the lack of change in temperature though when it drives Darcy to wear nothing but a thin strapped top and shorts that barely cover her ass. Sometimes she doesn’t even bother with that when they go to sleep and simply puts on an old t-shirt that hits the middle of her thighs. It would be nothing to let his hand slide underneath it and go up . . .

His hands go still in the water as his mind imagines exactly what the weight of her breasts would feel like cupped in his palms.

“Luke!” Maurice calls behind him in exasperation.

Loki turns and sees the large man standing behind him with his fists planted on his hips. From the expression on his face, it is not the first time he has addressed the dish-washer.

“Can you man the griddle while I go and take a smoke break? I swear to God these folks are tryin’ to kill me tonight,” he mutters already walking away to leave Loki standing in front of the grill where several hamburger patties are sizzling.

The god stares down at the food idly as he waits to hear the door close. When it does, he gives a quick look around and with a careless wave of his hand flips all of the burgers at once. With another wave, he lifts the the basket of fries out of the deep fryer and sets them aside. He sets up a series of cantrips to begin slicing the onions and tomatoes. He has always been a firm believer in working smarter not harder, and isn’t about to change that motto now.

He figures he’ll be manning the food for 15 minutes while Maurice puffs through two cigarettes. As he preps the food and slides it on to the plate, he considers the life he has now. Ridiculous really given where he started. Truly, could he fall any lower? Even by American Midgardian standards, Loki is near the bottom of the heap so to speak.

And yet. . . he cannot say he hates it or regrets it or even resents it. Maurice for example for all of his bluster and frustration at the current working conditions is what most people would consider a good man. Loki’s own perspective of morality is so skewed he does not trust it. While he could not call the other man his friend per se, Maurice has been nothing but accommodating to Luke, even sympathetic to his occasional episodes.

“My brother served in the Persian Gulf War,” he’d said quietly one time after Loki had collapsed into a ball in the corner after hearing a loud noise. “He never came back the same after that. I’ll take care of the dishes and stuff. You just . . . just come out when you’re ready.” Then he’d left Loki in the quiet and dark until his heart had stopped beating against his ribs and he could breathe without wanting to hyperventilate.

Even more important than that though is his concern and kindness for Darcy. He worries after her in much the way someone might worry after their daughter. She always writes it off, even when Loki knows she’s about to fall apart she doesn’t let anyone see past the smirks and sarcasm.

Much like someone else I know, his mind whispers in his mother’s voice. That, of course, brings up the uncomfortable memory of the dream he’d had with her in it. Her advice rings in his head like the tolling of a bell. Frigga had spoken the words so lightly, so easily as if she had merely suggested they go for an afternoon stroll in the gardens.

He chews over it briefly and tosses another hamburger onto the grill as he has commands the deeper fryer to start on a new batch of fries. Her words had made a blunt sort of sense, but she didn’t know. His mother couldn’t see the whole picture. She had not been inside Darcy’s mind. She had not seen and felt Darcy’s fear when Loki in all of his full and terrible glory had come strolling down those streets towards her. Even now, the memory of it makes his stomach roil.

No, it is foolish even to consider it. She wouldn’t understand. How could she when he cannot even speak to defend himself properly? There are things that simply cannot be conveyed in gestures and expression no matter how adept Darcy has become at reading him.

He will not. He cannot tell Darcy who he is. He would gain nothing and lose everything.

Once again, he mind turns to the prospect of leaving her. It is still not too late. That thing, whatever it is, is still lurking out there. For now, it is content to take cattle and skulk on the edges of civilization, but who is to say when it will move on to other prey? Who is to say that pitiful Midgardian man who once courted her won’t come back for her as a target? He could be doing nothing more than drawing all of this danger to her. After all, had her existence not been relatively peaceful until he had shown up?

He grimaces at the thought and calls his daggers to his hands before he even realizes it. Loki waves them away in irritation. He wishes they were on Asgard. Then there would be no question as to her safety. She would be safe within those Golden Halls with all of the Einherjar to guard her.

It is not the first time Loki has wished they were back on Asgard. Still, it has not happened as much as he would have thought if someone would have told him he would end up on Midgard with an infuriating woman named Darcy Lewis. The thoughts are few and fleeting. It happens when Darcy is hunched over her phone calculating their grocery budget when the time to pay the bills comes. He thinks of how they could feast every night on delicacies she has never tasted or dreamed of. Then, he remembers the taste the syrup clinging to her lips when he kisses her after breakfast. It happens when he sees her lamenting having to throw out another pair of jeans with holes on the inside of the thighs. On Asgard, she would have been draped in silks and velvets in every color imaginable and it would have flowed over her figure like water. Then, he recalls the smooth length of her legs when she kicks off her pants at the end of a long day. He always realizes in the end that Asgard for all it’s golden glory was false and rotten at its core. Perhaps, there was no saving it after all.

Loki’s keen ears pick up the sound of Maurice’s heavy steps and the creaking of the door. With a snap of his fingers, everything stops, and he walks over calmly to start slicing the onions by hand. The dark-skinned man comes back in to find Luke hunched quietly over the chopping board.

“Everything, alright?” he asks warily as he eyes the amount of food prepared.

Luke nods genially and returns to his place at the sink. A mountain of cups and glasses has accumulated that he attacks quickly. He does not want to stay any later tonight than he has to.

Maurice rests his fists on his hips and hmmms appreciatively. “Maybe I should leave you in charge of the kitchen more often.”

Loki bites back the smile wanting to curl his lips and gives a deferential shrug of his shoulders. He certainly would not object to Darcy and he having the place to themselves at closing time.

****

Darcy checks the clock for the thirtieth time that night as she hustles over to table seven to bring them their order of onion rings. Only eight minutes have passed since the last time she checked. How can time go by so slow when things are so busy? The former SHIELD agent feels like she hasn’t had time to think this whole evening, and her bladder is beginning to get uncomfortably full from the coffee she has been downing to keep herself going. If she doesn’t get a 15 soon, she’s pretty sure she’ll pee herself.

She plasters on a smile as she rests the plate on the table, asking politely if they need anything else, and silently praying they don’t.

“If you would be so kind as to get us some more ketchup,” one of the elderly women says as she discreetly tries to stuff one of the free dinner rolls into her purse.

“Of course,” Darcy chirps with false cheer as she pivots on her heel and heads to an empty table. She’s not about to walk her ass all the way to the back for someone who won’t tip more than five percent.

The woman murmurs a thanks, and she jets off to the restroom, ignoring calls for refills. Darcy slams the door behind her and locks it. As she sits on the toilet with her skirt around her hips and her panties around her ankles, she holds her phone and checks for missed calls and texts.

Nothing out of the ordinary. Jane sent her a funny cat pic and a smile emoji. She feels a twinge of guilt when she sends a simple “lol” in return. Dr. Selvig sent her directions for some science conference taking place in Switzerland with an “oops” afterwards. Darcy’s only grateful he didn’t send her another pantsless pic on accident. There isn’t enough brain bleach in the world to unsee that.

There is also one from Coulson that reads, “hear anything yet?”.

“Nope,” Darcy says to herself as she types out the reply and hits send. She hasn’t seen or heard hide nor hair of Michael since that fateful night one week ago. If the dude’s smart, he’ll stay away, far away, because she’s pretty sure she’ll kill him next time she sees him.

She takes longer than necessary to exit the bathroom, not wanting to return to the hellacious world of little league moms and drunk rednecks. The waitress takes a moment to splash some water on her face and comb the worst of the flyaways from her face.

She leaves the bathroom and goes to check on a couple of her tables. One of them has already left, and Darcy grimaces at the pocket change left on the tabletop for her. With a sigh, she piles the empty plates and cups onto her tray and heads towards the back. They have lost yet another busboy. This one though was through no fault of Joe’s, for once. They kid just stopped showing up, not unusual given the industry, but he hasn’t been heard from by his family either. That thought makes her a little queasy.

The cattle killings no longer make the news or frontpage of the papers, but Darcy overhears enough of her customers grumbling to know it’s still a problem. Just last week, someone’s bull had been eviscerated, ripped to shreds. Ten years ago, it would have been written off as a bear or pack of coyotes, but now, everyone’s fears take on a darker tone.

A pall seems to have settled over the whole town. Life goes on as it must. People still worship football and God in that order, but the tailgating isn’t boisterous as it once was nor does it last as long. Church is still held every Sunday but Wednesday evening services are few and far between. People sit at the bar hunched over and quiet as they sip their beer or whiskey and watch the games on the tv. Even the pervs aren’t as bad as usual, she’s only had the one guy stare at her chest tonight.

She bumps the door to the kitchen open with her hip. “Happy birthday” she sings mockingly as she deposits the stack of dishes on the countertop next to Smurf who is furiously scrubbing at the glasses. He scowls and flings dirty water at her with a dishrag, but she manages to dance out of the way just in time. “You gotta be faster than that,” she cackles on her way out the door, knowing she’ll pay for that later.

Darcy can’t help but wonder how everyone would react if they knew the person washing their dishes was a blue-skinned alien who had crash landed on Earth four months ago. The thought makes a smile come to her face even as her feet and back ache. She wishes he didn’t have to wear the disguise. It’s always weird seeing him as Luke even after all this time. She tries to imagine what he would look like with human colored skin and his normal features, but it’s just too far of a stretch for her imagination.

The night wears on, and she is run ragged, dashing from table to table. She loses count of how many times she heads to the back to give Smurf more dishes and cups and glasses and silverware. Each time he flings water at her and misses, but the last time as things are finally dying down and Maurice has gone to take his fourth smoke break, he comes out from the behind sink to give chase.

“Shit,” Darcy squeaks as she scrambles back out the door, sneakers slipping on the wet floor. She tries to make a break for the dining room where he can’t pursue, but he’s too fast. An arm loops around her waist from behind, and she is lifted into the air. She flails for a moment before Smurf spins and plants her feet on the ground.

He has her crowded into the corner, arms bracketing her in. Darcy can feel the coolness coming off of his skin, refreshing after going non-stop all night. Smurf stares down at her wolfishly, the expression looking skewed on those features that don’t quite layover his own correctly. He leans down to kiss her, and for an instant, Darcy swears everything comes together. Just for a split second, his human skin lies perfectly over his natural features. It is gone in the blink of an eye. Her mind can only catch the impression of sharp angles and alabaster skin and a haunting familiarity that she can’t place.

Then, he is kissing her with a mouth that tastes of spearmint. His hands find their way to her ass as they seem to frequently now-a-days since the couch incident. She loops her arms around his neck to pull him down to her. She closes her eyes tightly and lets a rush fill her that reminds her all of the 80s teen rom-coms she’d binged on in high school. All those movies that promised first kisses filled with passion and tenderness and a sweet awkwardness. Darcy never had that in high school, not even anything close to that, but she imagines it would have felt something like this. This close intimacy mixed with nervousness born of the sheer newness of it.

Smurf’s hands dig into her ass as he pulls her closer to him. They slide down to her thighs, and he is in the process of lifting her when the clearing of a throat cuts through the air like a knife.

They break apart like two divers coming up for air. Darcy’s heels touch the ground with an embarrassing squeak.

Maurice is standing in the hall, his eyes flicking between Darcy and Luke. His expression is not surprised but merely exasperated. He wrings a dish-towel between his two big hands and then dabs at his gleaming forehead with it. “I know this is the South and that kissing cousins shit flies down here, but at least, try to to keep it in your pants until your shift ends.” With that, he curses under his breath and returns to the kitchen with a shake of his head.

Smurf looks shocked, skin flushed a bright red and mouth hanging open. She knows underneath his disguise, his real skin would transforming into a lovely shade of indigo. Darcy only flings her head back and gives a bark of laughter at the ridiculousness of the situation and the relief that it wasn’t Joe that caught them. Once, she starts laughing she can’t stop herself. Another comes up and another until tears are streaming down her cheeks as she presses her forehead into Smurf’s chest to hide her reddening face.

He shakes underneath her with silent laughter, and Darcy doesn’t have to look up to know that a smile is splitting his face in two. They spend another minute or two standing there in the corner, leaning against one another for support as they laugh and laugh. Finally, she catches her breath enough to stop and look up at Smurf. He wipes away the last tear trickling down her cheek with his thumb.

“Phew,” Darcy says as she rests her hands against his chest. “I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.”

He nods.

“But we have to get back to work, or Maurice will skin us alive,” she sighs and ducks under his arm.

Smurf turns and frowns at her as she heads out into the dining room.

“Only two more hours,” she calls over her shoulder as she winks at him.

Those two hours turn into three and a half as people trickle in at the last minute and hang around longer than necessary. They don’t finish cleaning up until close to 12:30. By then, the parking lot is empty but for her and Maurice’s cars and only one light is on.

“Thanks for helping me out back in the kitchen, Luke,” Maurice says between yawns as they stumble out into the cooling night air.

Smurf dips his head in acknowledgement as he walks next to Darcy, so close their shoulders brush if she leans a hair’s breadth too far to the left.

“You work tomorrow, Darcy?” the cook asks. The end of his cigarette glows red as a coal in the darkness.

“Yeah, unfortunately,” she replies, digging her keys out of her purse.

“See ya then,” Maurice says as he flicks the cigarette, and they split ways.

“Good night!” Darcy yells across the lot as she opens the car door.

He raises the cigarette in reply, smoke streaming from the burning tip.

She unlocks the door and slides into the seat. Smurf undoes the lock on the other side with a bit of magic and lets himself in.

“God, I’m glad tonight is over,” Darcy grumbles, sticking the key in the ignition and cranking or trying to. The lights come on as do her warning lights along the bottom, but the engine doesn’t turn over. “Shit,” she curses and tries again. Nothing.

Smurf raises an eyebrow in question.

“I think it’s the battery,” she groans and pulls the tab to release the hood. She goes back into the cool air, shivering a little as it hits her, and props the hood open. Using her phone as a flashlight, Darcy peers under the hood to see if she can tell anything. She checks the terminals for corrosion or to see if they’re loose. Everything looks fine from what she can tell.

The passenger side door opens and slams shut as Smurf gets out to join her. He looks down in curiosity, eyes jumping from one thing to another.

“I guess you don’t know how to work on cars, do you?” she asks hopefully.

He shakes his head and gives a helpless shrug.

“Fuck,” Darcy mutters. “I don’t even know when the last time the battery was replaced. I just bought this piece of shit off an old guy who wanted to get rid of it for like four grand.” She runs a hand through her hair in frustration.

She jumps at the sound of heavy footsteps approaching.

“Everything, alright?” Maurice says as he comes walking towards them. He blows a puff of smoke out and crushes the cigarette beneath the toe of his sneaker.

“My car won’t start,” she says pitifully, hating how helpless she sounds. Darcy Lewis, Agent of SHIELD, defender of the world, professional scientist wrangler, friend and unofficial mascot of the Avengers, and completely useless when it comes to repairing her own car.

He bends down to take a look under her hood. “Probably the battery,” he concludes, “I got some jumper cables in my trunk let me go get ‘em.” He drives his car over and parks next to hers.

Darcy instructs Smurf to go sit in the driver’s seat of her car so he can crank the engine when it’s time. He slinks away sullenly like a dog who’s been denied a treat. The truth is she doesn’t know how much help he could provide, and it would look suspicious for a guy supposedly born and raised in the South not to know how to at least jump start a car.

So Maurice digs through his trunk for the cables while Darcy covers the lighting aspect.

“He’s not really your cousin, is he?” the big man asks casually, moving the spare tire aside.

“You knew?” she quietly asks, lip bitten in embarrassment. She’s glad he can’t tell how red her face is getting.

He shoots her an incredulous look, the whites of his eyes showing. “As if today didn’t give it away. How stupid do you think I am?”

“Not stupid, just trusting,” she wheedles as she positions the light at a better angle.

He rolls his dark eyes and shakes his head. “Lord help me,” he mutters to himself.

“How long?”

“Awhile,” he grunts, grabbing the cables and straightening.

“What gave it away?”

“The way he looked at you,” the older man says as he slams the trunk shut. “No one looks at a cousin that way. It was obvious the boy was crazy about you even if you didn’t notice.”

She laughs nervously and clears her throat. “Does Joe know?”

“Nope,” Maurice answers matter-of-factly as he opens his own hood and proceeds to attach the cables to his battery.

“Thank God,” Darcy breathes.

The cook shrugs and connects the cables to Darcy’s battery and the engine mount. “I doubt he would care as long as the guy wasn’t stealing from him. You know Joe isn’t the type to really care what other people do as long as it doesn’t interfere with him making money.”

“Heh, that’s an understatement,” she snickers as she crosses her arms over chest.

“You got dirt on him or somethin’?” Maurice asks, looking at her sharply.

Darcy shrugs, letting go of her bravado. “Not really,” she lies, “I just know a scumbag when I see one, and Joe has it written all over him.”

She can tell he doesn’t fully believe her, but he lets it go. “Alright, I’m gonna go crank the car up to let it charge. Give it about three minutes and then we’ll try cranking yours.”

“Gotcha,” she nods.

Maurice revs the engine to give her battery juice and gives a thumbs up when he’s ready.

Darcy signals Smurf, who after a brief pause, cranks the engine. She holds her breath as she waits to hear the engine come to life. Maurice presses a little harder on the gas pedal, and suddenly, her jalopy roars to life. She lets out a whoop of joy.

Smurf keeps the car idling while she goes over to thank Maurice. The cook waves her away and kills his engine to unhook the jumper cables.

“It’s what friends do for each other, Dee,” he tells her affectionately and gives her a one-armed hug.

She nods and tells him good night around the lump in her throat. He doesn’t leave until she and Smurf switch seats and she proves that her car can actually make it out of the parking lot. Then, he follows her out, and they part ways at the red light.

Darcy groans, “What a night,” as she stares listlessly out of her front windshield into the blackness.

Smurf responds with cool, strong fingers kneading her upper trap to try and release some of the tension.

The brunette sighs contentedly as the muscle relaxes under his skilled touch. “You’re good at that,” she says, her voice dreamy.

As she drives, his fingers work their way to the nape of her neck and to the base of her skull. Darcy practically purrs as they pull into the drive with his fingernails lightly scratching against her scalp. She mewls pitifully when he withdraws his hand to get out and wait for her.

They walk together, shoulder to shoulder, to the door. Smurf is vigilant as ever, eyes and ears open to catch any information they can, but his motives are not as pure as they once were, if they ever were now that Darcy thinks back on Maurice’s words. He leans into her, and she into him. His hand is back to working on undoing the knots along her shoulder blades, fingers moving in deep circles.

Darcy’s keys jingle as she takes them out of her pocket to unlock the door. It is dark and quiet inside, and something within her unwinds at being back within this safe space. It is strange that as ragged and run-down as the place is, as small and as cramped as it can sometimes feel, it has become home to her in a way that no other place ever has. She thinks it in no small part has to do with the now blue alien standing at her side.

“Ugh, just what I need,” Darcy complains out loud, “another expense to pour into that money pit of a car. First, it’s a new battery, and then next week it’ll be a belt or a fan or whatever it is cars need fixed. And then, I’m sure it’ll be the transmission or the motor, or it’ll just explode in a giant fireball. Blew!” She expands her hands outwards for a demonstration.

Smurf looks on in amusement and produces a hundred dollar bill from thin air.

“Gah, you know I hate it when you do the magically appearing money bit. It makes me nervous.”

He shrugs and makes as if to shove it in his back pocket when she snatches it out of his hand and throws it wadded up into the fathomless depths of her purse. “I said I hate it,” she explains with one finger raised, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t take it. Desperate times call for less than ethical measures on occasion.” She pretends not to see his shit-eating-grin and heads towards the bedroom.

“And then, there’s the fact that there’s still something big and mean and most likely would eat me given half the chance roaming around out there, and we have no idea how to catch it,” she rambles, toeing off her shoes and socks and flinging them into a corner.

Smurf has followed her in and is watching her intently from the corner in which he is leaning with his arms folded over his chest.

“Not to mention, there is that fuckhole Michael to contend with. Coulson doesn’t even know what to do about him.” She undoes the string of her apron and drops it over the side of the bed. “He has the nerve to tell me to just sit and wait like a fucking lame duck. Can you believe that?” She asks Smurf.

He makes the appropriate sound of disgust and walks over to sit on the edge of the bed beside her.

“To top it all off, Joe is probably gonna ride my ass about that jerk-off tonight who said he was gonna file a complaint because I told him that pamphlets about Jesus don’t count as a tip. Like yes, I get it he fed like a fifty people with a single fish-stick or whatever, but his pamphlet won’t!”

Her face feels hot as the anger rises to the surface fresh and new. She tugs irritably at the zipper on the front of her uniform and cusses when the teeth get caught.

Gently, Smurf pulls her hands away and slides the zipper down to her hips.

“Thanks,” she says in defeat and shrugs out of the uniform, revealing her black tank top underneath. She stands and shimmies out of it, thinking nothing of being in only a tank and panties in front of Smurf. Honestly, it’s kind of hard to feign modesty around someone you’ve dry humped on the couch. With relish, Darcy throws the hideous red and yellow outfit into her laundry basket and sits down again, bouncing gently on the springy mattress. It’s newish. She’d bought it off of Craig’s List for $50 and fumigated the hell out of it before hauling it onto the bed frame. The old one was moldering in the dump somewhere.

“There’s just a lot going on right now,” she says with a huff, framing her face with her hands and willing the blood to return to her body.

Smurf gives her a sympathetic look, and then, takes up a seat behind her, long legs reaching the ground easily. He presses the pads of his thumbs along the middle of her neck and sweeps up into her hairline.

“You don’t have to do this,” Darcy purrs even as her chin tilts down.

He kneads deeper and drags his thumbs back down to wing out across her shoulders. Smurf presses a light kiss to the place just beneath her left ear where her birthmark is. He kneads and presses and mashes the muscles of her neck and shoulders and upper back with the pads of his fingers and his knuckles for half an hour until Darcy swears she doesn’t have a single bone left in her body. Smurf works a particularly troublesome spot right above her left shoulder for a solid five minutes until the knot uncoils.

“God,” she sighs gratefully, “I’ve had that thing for years I think.”

Smurf slides out from behind her and pats the mattress with the open palm of his hand. She scoots back and lies down on her back, watching him as he moves down to her feet. His thumbs dig into the ball of her right foot and sweep into the arch, easing some of the tightness of the tendons and muscle and fascia. He tilts her foot to stretch the back of her calf and begins to massage there. Darcy feels cool lips against the thin skin of her ankle.

Slowly, he works way his up her right leg, kneading and rolling the skin and muscle there. He sprinkles kisses along the way: the arch of her foot, behind her knee, the top of her thigh. Along the inside of her upper thigh, he sucks a bruise onto the soft skin and sighs contentedly as he lets his cheek settle there for a moment. His eyes are dark, but he moves on. It seems as if he will not satisfied until he has loosened every muscle in her body for he does the same on her left side, kissing the top of her pelvic bone on both sides. He rolls up her tank top and runs his hands along the swell of her hips and soft stomach.

“Not everyone can have a six-pack, dude,” she teases, suddenly self-conscious of her less than ideal body.

He frowns at her and responds by blowing a raspberry on her stomach.

“Hey!” she giggles in surprise as he blows another and lets his fingers skim dangerously over the sensitive skin of her ribs. “No!” Darcy exclaims as she feels those cold fingers. “Don’t you dare!” she squeals, but it is too late, the attack is already in motion.

Smurf is without mercy when it comes to these things, tickling and trying to land another raspberry until tears are streaming down her cheeks. She wriggles and squirms until she is at the edge of the bed. He manages to plant on last raspberry on the outside of her thigh before she finally breaks free and heads for the door.

“You’re looking at SHIELD’s wrestling champ,” she taunts from the doorway, “not even Nat and May could hold me down.”

She realizes the danger of what she has said as his eyes light up with challenge, and that familiar, mischievous grin spreads across his face. Smurf slips off of the bed as smoothly and gracefully as a snake sliding into water. He stands there loose and composed, but she knows she is a rabbit facing a fox. The moment she bolts he will be after her.

He takes one slow step and then another. Darcy swallows and realizes she has no choice. She runs for it. She is to the end of the hallway when she realizes she doesn’t hear footsteps behind her and risks a glance over her shoulder. He isn’t there.

“What the-” Darcy is cut off mid-sentence when there is a flash of green light, and she collides with something. That something is Smurf who stares down at her smugly.

“No fair,” she whines up at him. She dodges to the side, trying to use her height to duck under his arm, but he’s too fast. Before she knows it, he has somehow hoisted her over his shoulder, her front dangling down his back. Darcy doesn’t kick and punch, knowing it will do her no good; instead, she goes limp as a sack of potatoes hoping her dead weight might slow him down. It doesn’t, of course. He continues on blithely back towards the bedroom.

Two can play that game, she thinks to herself as she reaches down and gives his left butt cheek the wickedest pinch she can. He yelps in surprise but doesn’t drop her, only swats her on the ass with enough force to sting. She bites the inside of her cheek to keep from moaning. She had never thought she really liked spanking, but she also never thought she would be into aliens.

He tosses her roughly onto the bed with so much force she bounces and follows after her.

“No tricks,” Darcy says. “No teleportation or telekinesis or Jedi mind tricks.”

He raises an eyebrow in question at her last reference.

She sighs, “I have got to catch you up on all the geeky shit on this planet.”

He shrugs in indifference and prowls after her. She tries slip off of the bed again, but he grabs her by the ankle and hauls her back until she is underneath him. He brackets her in with his long arms and legs, pins her wrists down with his cold hands. She squirms and writhes in an effort to break free but his strength is too great.

It’s a cheating, dirty tactic, but she doesn’t care if it means victory. She wraps her legs around his narrow hips and licks a long line up his throat. He freezes above her, allowing his hands to go slack around her wrists. Darcy rolls her hips for added effect and feels him shudder.

“God, you’re so un-freaking-believably hot like this,” she tells him sincerely right before she uses the distraction to throw him off the bed with her legs. She just catches the look of shock and betrayal as he goes over the side and hits the floor with a heavy thump.

She cackles wildly and sprints down the hallway. Smurf doesn’t follow, and Darcy stops before she gets to the living room. Quietly, she pads down the hallway and back to their room where she finds him on his side, staring blankly at the darkness underneath the bed. He is trembling, and beads of ice coat his skin.

“Smurf,” she calls softly, closing the distance between them and going to her knees. She reaches out and grazes him with the tips of her fingers. He flinches from her, sits upright, and backs away from her until he is pressed against the edge of the bed. His eyes are wide with fear and confusion; he does not recognize her. He looks like the night she sound him.

“Oh, god, I’m so sorry, hon,” she says to him. “I’m so stupid. I should have known that might trigger you.” She forces herself to keep her voice calm and even, fighting the tears wanting to fill her throat. She shifts closer to him on her knees, and he scrambles to sit upright, lips skinned back from his teeth.

Darcy reaches for him again and lets her hands hang in the air between them, waiting for him to finish closing the distance. They sit that way for a long time until her arms go heavy. Smurf continues to eye her with suspicion, breathing shallow and rapid.

“I won’t hurt you,” she whispers. “I would never intentionally hurt you, baby.” The endearment is out of her mouth before she can stop herself. She thinks it might be a step too far for he goes terribly still, crimson eyes focusing in on her with all the intensity of a laser.

He grabs her hands and yanks her forward so that she is half way into his lap. Darcy straddles his hips and wraps her arms around him until they are pressed chest to chest. Like this, they are eye to eye. Gone is the panic and fear, and now, it is replaced by sadness and exhaustion. He looks so tired, and Darcy knows she looks the same. She kisses his forehead, the tip of his nose, both cheeks, and finally his mouth. He shivers and relaxes beneath her, tucking his head onto her shoulder while she gently untangles his midnight black curls.

Some time passes before she finds the courage to speak again. “You know,” she begins, “I have nightmares sometimes of things that happened. Things I don’t wanna remember, but I do. I dream about . . .” she pauses and takes a deep breath, “things that happened along time ago in a small town. Things that happened in New York when the Chitauri attacked.”

The muscles of his back bunch with tension.

“About this guy named Loki,” she says, another pause.

Smurf flinches underneath her, looks up with wide eyes.

“Did you know him?”

He nods slowly.

“Is he one of the people who . . . hurt you?” she asks gently, combing a black curl behind his ear.

Smurf shakes his head, a quick jerk of his chin and buries his face in her shoulder again.

“Oh,” she murmurs in surprise, threading her fingers through the dark fall, “well, that’s good. I’m glad he didn’t. He tried to take over Earth a few years, and he hurt a lot of other people. He hurt me. . .”

Smurf twines his arms around her waist so tightly she almost can’t breathe. He presses a kiss to her neck.

“Not-not directly. I wasn’t in New York at the time it went down, but I saw it all on tv. I saw him make his speech in Germany. I found out later he was responsible for the attack on my town, and he hurt a good friend of mine. All this from a dude dressed like he belongs at a Ren Faire,” she finishes with forced humor. It rings false even in her ears.

Smurf kisses her neck again and works his way up to her mouth, where he kisses her once more. Tears are shining in his eyes, threatening to leak down his cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” Darcy asks, cupping his face between her hands. “Are you sure he didn’t hurt you? He’s gone now. He can’t hurt anyone anymore. He’s dead for good this time.”

He draws in a shaky breath and nods. He lifts her carefully, deposits her on the floor, and gets to his feet. He offers her his hand, which she takes and allows him to lead her to front door. They step outside onto the small porch. Moths dance around the light that comes on at the movement.

“Are you sure everything is okay?” she pries, afraid he may storm off and lock himself in her closet like he used to.

Smurf only nods and squeezes her hand tightly in reply. He does not look at her but faces forward with his eyes shut taking deep breaths. Darcy has to admit that the night air is bracing, cold against the bare skin of legs. Perhaps, that’s why he had to get out. It was getting too hot inside. Still, something stirs uneasily in the back of her mind. His reactions and secrecy were not quite adding up. He is hiding something. That much is obvious to her.

She is about to ask another question when a breeze rises and blows an unpleasantly familiar scent into her nose. The sharp tang of copper. Blood.

Darcy looks to Smurf who had already caught the scent before she had. They lock eyes. Then, he starts down the steps first with her following closely behind him. They do not go far into the front yard before the find the source of the odor.

A body is sprawled out in the grass, arms and legs spread-eagle, neck twisted at an odd angle. The grass around is smeared with blood in a trail leading from the woods. The clothes are in tatters and one arm is only attached by a few strands of sinew. Darcy wrinkles her nose and crouches down to get a better look at the body. The torso is eviscerated, the organs removed and most likely eaten from what she can tell. The cuts are not clean like a from a blade but ragged and curved like claws or teeth.

Smurf stands beside her poised to attack anything that moves. He has both daggers out, and the air ripples with power around him. Her breath is frosting in front of her, and she would be freezing if she weren’t so focused on the corpse in front of her. Smurf has actually formed a ring of frost in the grass.

“How did you not notice this earlier?” she asks, peering up at him. “You would have heard it or smelled it.”

His lips thin into a compressed line, and he nods grimly. He gestures to the air around them.

“Someone concealed it,” she concludes, and he nods again. “But how?”

A shrug of his shoulder, he goes back to scanning their surroundings.

Darcy heaves a sigh as she inches closer to the body, all thoughts of Smurf’s secret gone from her head. Gingerly, she moves aside the jacket drenched in blood to get a better look at the wounds. They’re big, no doubt. The whole belly is wide open, but there are marks extending all the way from the chest to the groin. She works her way to the neck. The head lolls grotesquely to the side where the C3 vertebrae had been fractured.

With the tips of her fingers, she turns the chin towards her to get a look at the face. Her heart stops.

“Shit,” she curses.

Smurf’s head snaps back to her, one eyebrow cocked in inquiry.

Darcy withdraws her fingers and lets the head roll back onto the grass. “It’s Michael,” she says.

Chapter Text

They decide to bury the body in the backyard. Darcy has no other method for disposing it at hand, and she does not dare to put it in her car to dump it somewhere. She manages to find two rusty shovels in a toolshed in the yard, and she and Smurf get to work. They dig well into the nigh. Until, Darcy’s hands are blistered and bleeding. Until, she can see the sky beginning to lighten. Until, it is so deep even Smurf cannot see out.

He picks her up effortlessly and lifts her onto one shoulder so she can scramble up onto the wet grass. Then, he hoists himself over the lip of the hole.

“Showoff,” Darcy mutters in the grey dawn light.

He flashes her a sharp smile, teeth white against his dusky face, but it vanishes when his eyes land on the body.

She sets about removing his clothes and stuffing them into a black trash bag. She’ll burn them later under the guise of burning leaves. Darcy pauses in consideration as she looks over Michael’s corpse. She shakes her head and looks away as Smurf lifts it by the shoulders to drag it to the hole. She had briefly considered removing his fingers and possibly teeth to reduce the risk of identification, but her stomach had turned. Darcy is cold, but not that cold. Not yet. She had left before SHIELD could do that to her like it did so many. She can only hope that no one reports him missing. That he had no family or friends that are concerned of his where-abouts. Bile rises in her throat, and she swallows it down.

She steps away while Smurf starts shoveling dirt back into the hole, tamping it down every once in a while with the spade of the shovel.

He’s dead, she texts to Coulson, not trusting her voice enough to call him.

How?

Not sure, police just reported finding the body, she lies. There is no point in telling Coulson that something killed and ate him and then left it’s scraps in her front yard as a clear warning. All it will do is worry him. They’re stretched too thin handling the aftermath from The Snap to give her the proper backup she needs, but that won’t stop Coulson from sending someone (maybe even himself) with some hair-brained plan to save her. That will lead to questions about her, about Smurf, about them. Even Darcy can admit falling for an alien that she found behind the dumpster at her work isn’t her best life decision.

Alright, keep me up to date on any developments. She can practically hear the skepticism.

Will do.

With that, she shoves the phone back in the pocket of the hoodie she had thrown on before the digging began. Smurf is at her back, a solid, comforting presence. His cold hands rub up her arms and shoulders as he bends down to plant a kiss at her temple. He smells of dew and wet earth, not unpleasant if she doesn't think about why.

Darcy leans into the gesture of affection and yawns. It’s probably close to five or six in the morning. “C’mon,” she says around another yawn, “let’s try to get some sleep. We can probably sleep in until 11 today.”

They file sleepily back into the trailer and pile up on the couch, too tired to make it to the bed. Smurf lies down first with his back to the back of the couch, and Darcy slots her body next to his. She shouldn’t be able to fall asleep as quickly or as soundly as she does. She shouldn’t have a dreamless sleep, but she does.

***

Their shift goes quickly for Loki. Maurice seems to be purposefully overlooking the exchange he caught between Luke and Darcy for which the Trickster is grateful. Joe leaves an hour into his shift, only shooting him a cutting glare, that amuses Loki more than anything. There is a man who is hiding something if he has ever seen one, and Darcy must know something of it to handle the man so well. Still, he will let Joe have his secrets if it allows himself this bit of peace.

Tonight though he finds little peace. He works tirelessly like a machine. The dishes come, and he washes them. He does not even pay mind to when Darcy flirtatiously stoops down to pick up a fork that had fallen on the floor. This causes her to leave the room baffled.

He goes through his shift quiet and focused. They clean up quickly that night and get out by 11:30. Even Maurice notices his change in demeanor and gives him a wider berth, assuming it must be an episode. It is in a way, but not for what they think.

“Are you okay?” Darcy asks on the ride home, reaching over to place a warm hand on his knee. He gives it a reassuring squeeze but forces a smile, one he had used in his courtly days when he was seething with envy over Thor’s latest conquest. It was one he had become quite practiced at, so it came quickly and easily. All too believable. He shies away from thoughts of his brother. That way lies pain and confusion, and Loki has no room for that tonight.

“If you say so,” she responds, only half believing with a crooked smile. He wants to freeze frame that moment, trap it in amber. The quirking of her full mouth, the fall of dark hair over her shoulder. The slight lopsidedness of her glasses. All of it. He wants to crystallize it because in this moment Darcy is safe and happy, and he wants nothing more than that.

Then, it passes like millions of other moments in his long life, and the car rolls into the gravel drive leading to the trailer. They get out of the car and hurry up the steps. He follows at her heels like a shadow, practically glued to her back.

“You know a little breathing space would be nice,” she says as she fishes for the keys in her purse. She finds them and turns the key in the lock.

Loki puts his arms over her shoulders and leans until he is nearly bent in half. She huffs in amused irritation.

“Alright, alright, you’ve proven your point, Popsicle,” Darcy gripes good naturedly as she struggles to get the through the living room with his chest and shoulders draped over her. “You’re deceptively heavy, you know that?” she wheezes under his weight, going down onto her knees to try and escape him.

Smurf follows her down, arms and legs lying on top of hers until she is forced to lie flat. She struggles to get onto her hands and knees before giving up and lying with the side of her face pressed against the floor.

“You’re such an asshole sometimes,” she says in smooshed voice, giving one last futile effort to rise before going limp again.

He laughs silently, and he knows she can feel him against her back. Loki gets to his feet and hauls her up with one arm around her waist until her feet are dangling off the ground.

“You just love using that height to your advantage, don’t you?” she asks with narrowed eyes, glaring over her shoulder at him until he sets her lightly on her feet again. She squirms in his grasp, but he holds her tight and buries his nose in the crook of her neck inhaling.

“Are-are you smelling me?” her voice colored with indignation and disbelief.

He snuffles loudly into her hair like a hog rooting in the dirt. Darcy goes "eewww" and squirms in his arms. He is in fact smelling her, drawing in her essence to try and imprint it in his brain. Just in case. . . well, that doesn’t bear thinking about. He’s noticed since he has started wearing his Jotunn form full time that sense in particular has become much keener. Darcy doesn’t smell like anything else really, not beneath the perfumes and soaps. She just smells like Darcy, and that alone makes it precious to him.

“Okay, Edward Cullen,” she snarks and manages to pry herself from his grip, “creepy much?”

Smurf smiles wide to bare his teeth and show off his long canines. She rolls her eyes and hits him on the shoulder with her purse.

“Put those away. I’m gonna go pop in some Pizza Rolls and maybe a scary movie. Tis the season after all.” She shuffles into the kitchen, shedding her shoes, socks, and apron as she does so.

Loki is all too happy to park himself in his usual corner on the couch and wait as the microwave cooks. She comes in several minutes later with a plateful and sets them on the coffee table. Darcy then turns her attention to her extensive DVD collection.

“And don’t eat all of them before we start watching!” she warns as he pops the first one into his mouth.

He immediately regrets the decision as magma-like cheese fills his mouth and scalds his tongue. Smurf gives a pitiful cry of pain and pants with his tongue out.

“Serves you right,” she says without looking away from her careful inspection of the bottom shelf. “I think we’ll start with the original Ghostbusters.”

***

Three hours later, the Pizza Rolls are demolished, and Darcy is tucked in bed with the blankets up to her neck. Loki sits on the edge of the bed, sleep the last thing on his mind. He is wired with a feverish energy he hasn’t had in quite some time. His fingers drum against the mattress as he thinks.

There had been the distinctive burning smell of magic in the air the night before, and it has been plaguing him ever since. He had known the thing stalking them was bad, but this was worse than he had anticipated. The signature had not been recognizable either between the stink of the corpse and the thing that had dragged it there combined. That was another thing. They were apparently not dealing with a mere dumb beast. The magic and the message behind the body meant the thing was intelligent enough to communicate and hide it’s tracks.

He knows that much, has known it for the past 24 hours, and come up with nothing. Loki does not have enough information to build a decent plan off of. Which means now is not the time to act, his father’s voice whispers in the back of his mind. Which means acting is the only thing you can do, his brother’s voice counters. Loki’s fingers go still in indecision as he mulls over his options: answer the challenge or don’t. It is plain as day to him. If he rushes in without enough data the results could be disastrous. If he does not, Loki shudders to think what they might do next.

Just do it and be done, he thinks to himself as he stands and pads quietly across the room. He checks over his shoulder once more to be sure Darcy is fast asleep. Her small form is still beneath the blankets, the only movement the even rising and falling of her breathing. With that done, he weaves the last layer of his protection spells and leaves the trailer barefoot armed with both daggers drawn.

He does not bother to don his Midgardian guise. Let whatever is out there know what hunts them tonight.

***

The night is cool and the moon is bright and his daggers glitter like ice. Loki stops in the woods, looks around him, and draws in a deep breath. The thing is out there. He can feel it. It makes goosebumps rise on his skin, and there is an odd musk in the air. The forest is quiet around him, deathly so as if whatever is lurking here has driven out all other life.

He slinks between the trees like a shadow, knives poised and at the ready. He has been closing in on it for the past 10 minutes or so. It had taken him a good hour of tracking to catch its scent and follow it here. It’s entirely too close to the trailer for his liking.

Loki moves to the east and catches another whiff, stronger this time. He lopes ahead, feet moving swiftly and silently along the dead leaves. He’s used a bit of magic to muffle the sound of his footsteps.

A thick branch snaps off to his left, loud and heavy. There is a rustling of leaves as Loki turns, and it is gone in a flash. He can only catch the shape of it out of the corner of his eye, large and vaguely humanoid. The Frost Giant whips around eyes searching in the darkness for it.

He sinks into a crouch, proverbial hackles rising. His lips skin back from his teeth in a feral grin, and the clan lines on his skin prickle with cold. The air within seven feet of him plummets twenty degrees, and frost lies on the ground.

The thing moves off over to his right, frightfully fast. It’s skin blends in with the grey and black shadows that dapple the forest floor. It seems to sway in place as if making up its mind. The stink of it is overpowering and maddening. A growl builds in the back of Loki’s throat, rumbling through his chest in warning.

It answers with a strange chuffing sound like a bull about to charge. Then, it darts off into the woods again, and he is left blinking in surprise. It takes Loki’s brain only a moment to take a back seat to instinct and give chase. It is nearly impossible to see in the ever shifting lighting. One moment, he sees it flash through a streak of moonlight, the next it is lost to the darkness.

He pursues the creature mindlessly, zig-zagging between trees and over roots. Loki leaps over a fallen log and lands on his knees in a small ditch. He looks overhead in search of his quarry, his sight blocked by trees all around. His chest heaves and his heart races as the adrenaline pumps through him. He can hear it prowling around the edges, leaves rustling and an odd ticking it makes from somewhere deep in its chest. Loki gets to his feet and searches the treeline in vain. He can hear it but can't see it. It moves too fast for him to get a lock on it. A shiver works down his spine as everything goes quiet once more.

It comes roaring down the embankment at full speed and slams into him. It drives him into the ground, rocks biting into the skin of his back and shoulders. The air rushes from his lungs in one great whoosh. He tries to get a dagger up to strike at it, but the thing is everywhere at once. Claws grasp and scratch at the skin of his arms and chest. He can feel the air being cut as jaws snap above his face. A hand strong, callused, and slimy grips his throat. The pressure of it of crushes his windpipe. He gasps for air and black spots dance in front of his eyes.

Using the last of his failing strength, Loki manages to get his legs between himself and the thing atop him and kicks out with all his strength. It lands a yard or two away, and he scrambles to his feet. He barely has time to breathe before it rushes him again. They fall over in a tangle, and Loki doesn’t have time to do anything but survive. All of his clever tricks and plans fly out of his skull as he tries to keep his throat from being ripped out.

A taloned hand slashes the skin of his arm and the smell of copper fills the air. He gets a dagger up and drives it into tough, leathery skin mottled grey and black on its back. It screams and the sound is deafening, his ears ring. The monster is huge whatever it is, ten to twelve feet tall at least.

Another paw scores him across the face, and more blood washes over his cheek and mouth. Loki exhales from the shock of it and feels his whole body light up and the temperature drop until his breath clouds. Then, the monster screams again, and suddenly, he is released.

He sits up and watches as it backs away slowly, four hands cradled to its chest as if they are burned. He looks down at his own skin and remembers how he had frost burned Darcy all that time ago. Loki gets to his feet slowly and takes a cautious step forward, but the thing backs away, still nursing useless hands.

He hurls a knife after it that finds its mark in its back with a satisfying thunk. It turns and runs again, sprinting flat out this time at a speed he can’t hope to match. It might be injured, but it is far from dead. This has to end tonight.

Loki projects a double of himself further ahead and sends the monster veering the other direction. When it makes to turn again, he transfers his twin to that location until it slowly circles back to him.

The creature is fifty feet away now, crouched in on itself prepared to lash out at anything in its path. The Trickster flings his second dagger and watches it get batted away by one arm. The thing snarls at him in warning.

He wishes he could speak now for he has a feeling it might understand his words. I can’t let you go. There can be no mercy in this, he thinks to himself as he walks forward and calls more daggers, these made of ice. You sent a message, and it must be answered. You came for her, and I cannot forgive that.

The closer he gets, the more hideous the thing becomes. It’s flesh is discolored grey and black and white that seems to shift depending upon the angle of the light. The head is huge and wedge shaped with four black eyes like a spider’s above slits for nostrils that flare as they smell the air. A mouth wide and cruel filled with teeth like old knives. Shoulders and neck heavily muscled so that it's head juts forward.

It shuffles back towards a tree, and Loki chucks another dagger of ice to try and provoke it. It swats that away too. Closer and closer he draws and hurls knife after knife, but the thing is too intelligent to be baited. That makes it all the more dangerous.

When he is less than ten feet from it, it lunges, but Loki is ready. A spike of ice erupts from the floor and skewers the thing through its chest and out its back. It screams pitifully and writhes, black blood dripping slick down the ice. The four arms lash out and flail, reaching for him uselessly. The mouth gnashes, and the eyes wink out one by one like stars until the body goes still with one final shudder.

He walks forward with a knife at the ready and touches it tentatively with two fingers. The skin underneath feels paper thin and the body a husk. A breeze stirs it into flakes, and the whole thing crumbles into a pile of dust.

Loki lets out an unsteady breath and takes a step back as the ice melts into a pile of black slush. He smells the air to see if he can catch a whiff of the acidic smell of magic of the other day. There is none. All he can smell is the lingering stink of the thing he just killed and his own blood. Whatever that thing was, it was not the true master.

He turns and begins to make his way back home, hoping he has bought them some time.

***

Loki sees the kitchen lights shining through the windows as he walks into the backyard. Darcy is awake. He sighs. He had hoped he could get back and cleaned up before she woke. He can imagine her pacing the length of the trailer while he was away, sick with worry. He does not relish the tongue lashing he is about to get.

The Trickster climbs the back steps slowly. The door flies open before his hand can even touch the knob. She stands in the doorway, fists braced against her hips and chin tilted up defiantly. Her eyes are red and swollen from crying, but her expression is nothing short of murderous.

“Where have you been?” she asks in a low hoarse voice.

He points behind him to the woods, red eyes meeting her blue. He won’t cower before her. He did nothing wrong, and does not regret it.

“I can see that, smartass, but what were you doing out there, and God, what is that smell?” She covers her mouth and nose with her hand and turns her body to the side to let him through. Loki sidles through from the dark porch into the bright light of the kitchen. He doesn’t notice the trail of blood still dripping from the wound on his arm and across his face. Darcy gasps behind him, a sharp and sudden intake of breath.

“What happened? What did you do? Who did this to you?” she asks, all anger gone from her voice. She is by his side now, hands floating helplessly along his body. She makes as if to cup his injured cheek but doesn’t and lets her hand wander down to his hurt arm. For the first time, he notices how stained with blood his clothes are. He’s covered in it, rusted red and inky black from the thing he killed. He must look a ruin.

“Did you kill that thing?” She is tugging at the hem of his shirt, and he lifts his arms automatically so she can pull it over his head. Fire shoots up his arm at the movement, and he hisses in pain.

“Sorry, sorry,” she murmurs softly, casting the shirt aside on the floor. She moves to his side to get a better look, already at eye level with it.

He nods yes to her question. But it wasn’t enough, he thinks to himself. There is still something else lurking out there. Something that had enough power to control and possibly make that thing. He won’t tell her that though. She has enough on her mind right now, and what good would it do? He has no idea how to find and defeat the source of the problem, but he has no doubt it will make its presence known once more in time.

Darcy looks at the wound carefully and hums thoughtfully to herself. “I don’t think it’ll need stitches. It seems to already be closing up. So do the marks on your face.” She glances up and catches his eye. He could tell from the tightness of the skin that he was already starting to heal. In a few days, they will be nothing more than silvery scars to add to his ever growing collection.

She circles around his back and pauses. Loki goes stiff because he knows what she is looking at, his mosaic of scars from his time in Thanos’s company. She has felt them and caught glimpses of them but never seen them in bright light. Her finger brushes the edge of a branding scar. That one is in the shape of a Turbian glyph that meant “liar”. He remembers it well. It had been one of the first. Thanos had taken quite a liking to marking him so when he realized Loki was especially susceptible to fire.

“God, baby,” she says in a thick voice, and he can hear the unshed tears in her voice. “I wish you would tell me the story behind these.”

He looks over her shoulder and raises an eyebrow in question.

Darcy chews her lip for a moment and shakes her head. “You’re right. I don’t know if I could stand it.”

She moves around to his front and gently touches his undamaged cheek. “C’mon, let’s get you cleaned up. You’re covered in blood, and you smell like you went dumpster diving with the raccoons.” She attempts a smile, but it is a weak, forced thing.

She takes him by the hand and leads him into the bathroom. Loki waits by the sink as he expects her to leave so he can shuck out of his pants. Darcy does no such thing. Instead with shaking hands, she undoes the top button and then the zipper. She slides them easily down his lean hips all the way to his ankles, her slender fingers skimming his calves. He steps out of them and waits with his breath caught in his throat as she stands.

He had not bothered to wear underwear underneath his pants. He found the clothing strange and cumbersome especially when fighting. Midgardian clothing already fit so poorly, why add more layers?

“Oh,” she says softly, not bothering to hide the fact that she is openly staring. A red flush creeps up her face. “Well,” she says after clearing her throat and forcing herself to look at his face.

Loki cannot help the smug grin plastered on his features.

“Two can play that game,” she says haughtily and pulls the t-shirt off over her head and tosses it into a corner. Next go the panties kicked aside in haste.

Loki’s mouth goes dry as he looks at her. She is different than he had imagined her. Her right breast is slightly larger than the left, and somehow the asymmetry makes everything more perfect, more real. He reaches for her without thinking, hands stretched out to touch whatever bit of her he can.

“Not so fast,” she says holding up a hand to halt him in his tracks. “Shower first.” She wrinkles her nose in disgust and jerks her head to the tub.

He gives her his most pitiful expression, eyes big and wide like he used to when he wanted an extra helping of dessert after dinner as a child. It seems to have no effect for Darcy only turns the knobs to adjust the heat of the water, and then twists the middle one to switch it to the shower function.

“In you go,” she commands as she gestures widely with one arm as she holds back the shower curtain with the other.

He steps in reluctantly and shivers as the hot warm water slides over his skin. He will admit it does feel divine enough to divert his attention away from her for a moment, but only a moment. Darcy steps into the shower behind him and starts to scrub down his back with a washcloth and soap.

The water in the shower runs red with his blood, and he hears her swallow thickly. He turns to see her holding the washcloth to her chest and staring up at him with blue eyes. Loki runs his hands down his chest and stomach to prove to her he’s fine and in one piece. She follows the motion, biting her lip and forcing her gaze away once more to his face. There is heat building there despite her worry.

He leans in, meaning to take advantage of the moment, but she thrusts the washcloth against his chest. “I think you can manage the front,” she says snarkily, but he can read the tinge of nervousness in her voice. Where is that brash arrogance now? He thinks wistfully. This certainly isn’t going like his fantasy, but then, things rarely do.

Loki scrubs himself down quickly and efficiently, letting the blood and stink and grime wash away down the drain. With that done, he returns his focus to her. She does nothing to hide the fact that she is eyeing him now. Her gaze runs over him hot and fast.

“Just checking to see if there are any injuries I might have missed,” she lies terribly. She does a quick once over. “Good. There aren’t.” She runs her hands up her arms nervously, arms clasped underneath her breasts. Loki thinks of how he would like nothing more than to pry her arms apart and kneel in front of her and . . . He pulls his thoughts from that line of thinking and gestures for her to stand under the shower head.

Darcy nods, and an awkward bit of shuffling ensues as they try to shift around in the small tub. Then, she is standing under the running water, and it is sluicing down her like rain. And his tongue grows thick in his throat, and he grows stupid with want for her. And his hands are reaching for her of their own damned volition as she lathers herself down. And she gives the most delightful squeak when he presses against her back and leans over her to nuzzle his cheek against her brow. And his hands are sweeping up to flick his thumbs over her peaked nipples.

She melts against him, her body going lax in his grasp. The suds of soap slide down, and he traces their path. His palms sweep from her breasts to her stomach to her hips to the tops of her thighs. Darcy shifts, and her legs part to create a gap. He hesitates at the crease of her groin, fingers gripping and squeezing the flesh in question. Dipping his head lower, he rubs his nose along her ear and throat. He has to be certain.

“You come here often?” she asks, peering up at him. The attempt at lightening the mood is so feeble and ridiculous that he cannot help the wave of laughter that takes hold of him. He shakes silently with it, and soon, Darcy’s wicked laugh is bubbling up as well.

They are dissolving into laughter while the steam builds carelessly around them. She moves slightly to the left, and his hand slips just a bit and tenses. She grows still, and the laughter dies as the air grows heavy again. Her throat convulses as she swallows.

“Not here,” she murmurs even as her legs part further. “Just let me finish washing up and then. . .”

Reluctantly, Loki lets her pull away from him, and he aches with the loss of it. It takes everything in him not rub himself against her back and mouth at her neck as her hands slip and slide over her own skin. He is very tempted to take his own cock in hand he is so hard at the moment. But he won’t ruin it. The sooner he lets her finish, the sooner they can move on.

Darcy lets the water run over her for three more agonizing minutes before she shuts it off. She turns to him, rises up on her toes, and kisses him with an open mouth. Their slick bodies slide together for one perfect moment, and then she is gone again and stepping out of the tub. Loki can only follow in her wake and allow her to drag him along by the hand down the hall to the bedroom. They leave wet footprints behind them, and the only sound is their mingled breathing and the drip of water on the cheap linoleum.

The bed is a mess with the comforter and sheets churned this way and that from when Darcy must have awakened without him. Loki feels a twinge of guilt when he realizes what she must have felt when she found he wasn’t there. He can’t be sorry though, not when he imagines what that thing might have done to her. He’d have gladly skinned it alive if he’d had to. Honestly, he would have done it if even he hadn’t had to. Alas, there had not been time.

“Don’t ever do that again,” she admonishes him, reading his thoughts clearly like she always does. “Don’t ever try to take on something like that by yourself.” And despite being so very small and naked and vulnerable, she seems to fill up the room with the force of her conviction.

He smiles, he cannot help it, and stalks towards her. She backs up a step and another as he draws closer until the back of her legs hit the mattress. He wraps his hands around the back of her thighs and lifts her onto the bed in one swift movement. She gives a squeak of surprise and falls back onto her elbows.

She stares up at him, eyes gone as dark and blue as oceans. He can smell the lust coming off of her much like the night she’d made him kneel or the night on the couch, but this is touched with something else. Apprehension. Nervousness. A bit of fear. Loki pauses with one knee on the bed, the other foot still on the floor. Even like this, he could cover most of her body with his. They are eye to eye.

Darcy bites her lip in embarrassment and looks down. “I just haven’t . . . done this in a long time. Like a really, really long time. Like an unbelievable amount of time,” she rambles like she is prone to do when nervous, “I guess what I’m say is just take it slow . . . gentle even.” She cringes at the last, cheeks flushed.

His expression softens in understanding. He brings a hand to her face and cups her cheek and jaw. Her face relaxes, and her brow smooths beneath his lips when he kisses her there. He nuzzles the side of her face and neck, pressing his lips to her cheekbone and the angle of her jaw. She sighs in contentment and runs her hands down his back. Loki does not worry when her finger tips run over the bumps of his scars. He forces his memories down with an iron will born of long practice. You won’t taint this, you purple bastard, he thinks as he kisses her plush lips long and deep. His lets his tongue run along her bottom teeth, licks into her mouth and earns a moan in return.

He reaches above her head to the top of the bed to snatch a pillow. Darcy looks at him in question when he breaks the kiss and slips it underneath her hips. It is only when he slides back down the bed with his knees on the floor and her legs settled over his shoulders that understanding dawns on her.

“I didn’t mean . . . you don’t have to . . .” she sputters, attempting to curl into a sitting up position.

Loki silences her with a gentle bite along the inside of her thigh and a cutting look. By Ymir’s balls, who had ever made her believe this was a chore? Seeing this new side of Darcy, tender and vulnerable. I’ll take them apart piece by piece with my own hands, he seethes silently and returns his attention to her.

He kisses and sucks the skin on the inside of one thigh and then the other. There is already a deep bruise forming on her right leg a hand’s length above her knee. Loki lets his breath ghost across her and feels her hips squirm in anticipation. He leans forward and spreads her legs further apart. His tongue darts in and traces the shape of her outer lips and then her inner. Darcy gasps above him, and her fingers tangle gently in his hair. He repeats the action, tastes her on his tongue, and pulls her hips forward for better access. He lets one leg slip off of his shoulder and rest on the bed.

Teasingly, he stiffens his tongue and enters her, feeling the slickness of her and lapping at it. He curls the tip and pulls out before thrusting back in. She murmurs her approval above him. He pulls back, replaces his tongue with his index finger and swipes his tongue across her clit.

Yes, there, right there,” she moans as her fingers tighten and the nails dig into his scalp. Loki’s cock twitches and leaks at the sensation.

He does it again, flicking his tongue horizontally and then vertically. He builds a rhythm, starting slowly and working to a faster speed. He alternates swirling his tongue in a circle and flicking it left to right cross her clit. Her hips buck when he pumps his finger and in and out of her in time with his tongue.

“Fuck,” she breathes and grinds herself against him, pushing his head closer to her.

Loki can feel the trembling in her thighs, and the building pressure in her cunt. She’s close, so close. He can taste it. One small nudge, and she will fall over the edge. He just can’t be sure she won’t take him with her.

He adds a second finger and twists his wrist. Darcy lets out a sigh that ends in a swift exhalation of breath when he begins to suck on her clit. Her feels her walls tighten and flutter around his fingers. She comes with a hoarse cry around his fingers and against his mouth. Loki grips her hip with his free hand with bruising strength to keep from stroking himself to completion. It wouldn’t take more than three at the most as hard as he is now.

He works her through the orgasm, fingers pressing against her sweet spot as she grips him, and lips and tongue maintaining the pressure on her clit. When the last shudder washes through her and she lies limp on the mattress, Loki gets to his feet to admire his handiwork.

She is wrecked and ruined, lying there perfectly debauched. Her hair is mussed, her cheeks pink with pleasure, pupils blown wide. Her chest is still heaving as she tries to catch her breath. Loki thinks he has never seen anything so beautiful in his life.

“Hey, you don’t look too shabby yourself,” she pants, blinking slowly as she comes down from the high.

He makes a show of sucking her slick off of his fingers and licking it off of his lips. Darcy moans softly and reaches for him. He leans down, and she loops her arms around his neck, drawing him in for a kiss. It is sloppy and messy, all lips and teeth and tongues and desperate need. He rests one knee at the bottom of the mattress and chucks the pillow across the room. Her legs wrap around his waist, ankles digging into the small of his back. With one arm around her middle and the other on the mattress, Loki shifts them up towards the headboard.

He kisses her again before lowering her head cradled in his hand down onto the other pillow. She looks up at him dreamily, lips pink and swollen. Her hair is a dark halo fanning out around her.

Darcy reaches down between them to palm his cock. Loki sucks in a breath through his teeth and lets his head hang, his hair curtaining his face. He hears the sheets rustle as Darcy shifts lower so that her lips brush the top of his shoulder. Without thinking, he drops his hips and straightens his elbows to better line up with her. She presses a kiss to the junction of his neck and shoulder, lets her teeth graze his collar bone.

He feels her guide him down to her entrance, the head of his cock just nudging there. It takes everything in him not to push into her with one quick thrust. He steals a glance at her through the black fall of his hair. Their eyes meet, and Darcy nods her consent.

He pushes in slowly, achingly slow. She groans, and he looks at her sharply checking to see. She nods again, fingers now digging into his back and legs hooked over his hips.

“I just-ahh-need a second to adjust,” she says as he slides in another inch. “You’re not exactly small, you know.”

Loki nods and waits a moment. He feels her stretching to accommodate his girth. His fingers curl to grip the sheets. Norns, she feels wonderful, wet and hot, and he wishes he could tell her. Wishes he could tell her, that this is maddeningly perfect as he works himself in inch by inch. With each push, Darcy gives a small “oh”, hands scrabbling at his back and hips widening.

When he’s buried in her up to the hilt, he lets out a shaky breath and kisses her temple. Her lips brush his jaw, just where his pulse lies. He waits a few more heartbeats before he begins to pull out agonizingly slowly. His breath hitches at the loss, and Darcy tenses under him. He thrusts back in more quickly this time, her body more loose and pliant than before. The third thrust is quicker still, but he focuses on maintaining a steady rhythm. Anything too fast or frantic, and he won’t last. Already, he can feel his breath coming short and his heart hammering in his chest.

They develop a sort of harmony. Loki pumps into her slow and deep until he has nothing left to give, and Darcy rises to meet him in time, rolling her hips and arching her back. The whole world has condensed down to just the two them. There is no sight but Darcy. There is no sound but the obscene slapping of flesh and their own labored breathing scattered with endearments. There is no feeling but her.

You are mine, and I am yours, he thinks as he enters her. He wants to tattoo it across their skin, on the surface of every rib, on the inside of their eyelids, so that they might never forget it. So that this moment might be ingrained in every action and word from here on out. It is a silent offering and confession all in one.

Darcy’s hand slips down between them once more. Loki watches as she rubs at her clit with her index and middle finger.

“Hnnff,” he huffs as his hips begin to stutter and lose their rhythm. She tightens around him, her face goes soft and awe-struck. A breathy moan escapes her mouth as she starts to come a second time. He is drawn deeper into her. He tries to fuck her through it, but he can feel himself unraveling. Loki tries to pull away, biting his lip so hard, he tastes blood.

“No,” Darcy says as she shakes her head and wraps her legs around him. Her ankles bite into the small of his back and force him deeper into her still. “I-ahh-love you,” she gasps as she comes undone, bringing a hand up to cup his face and rub a gentle thumb over his cheek. “I love you,” she says again as she rides another wave of pleasure.

He falls apart then. His hips piston into her erratically against the hold of her legs. Loki can feel dampness along his lashes and hides his face by burying it in her hair. Darcy continues to murmur it against the shell of his ear as he comes in her. A sob is torn from his throat as another wave of pleasure crests in him. He is a maelstrom. Pleasure and frustration and anger and joy and confusion all fight for dominion.

When the pleasure finally ebbs, he collapses in a heap atop her, arms finally giving out after supporting himself. He remains there for a long while. Darcy holds onto him loosely with her arms and legs, kissing him softly along his neck and shoulder and smoothing his hair back from his face. Finally, he finds the strength to right himself and rolls off of her onto his side.

She stares at him silently, meaningfully, eyes large and dark with worry. “Listen,” she whispers and starts to tuck a strand of hair behind his ear but stops herself, “I’m sorry if I freaked you. I didn’t mean for it to slip out like that, and I totally get it if you don’t feel the same.” She looks down in embarrassment. “I know it kind of puts people in an awkward position, especially guys. Especially alien guys who probably don’t anything about courtship here on Earth.”

Loki can only look at her stunned. When she looks up again, her expression slips from embarrassment to horror.

“Look, I mean don’t worry about, okay? I guess I just misinterpreted somethings, and then Maurice put this dumb idea into my head. And just, just . . .” her voice trails off into a nervous laugh that Loki knows it teeters on the verge of tears. She draws away from him.

It is true love has never come easily to Loki much less admitting it, much less to an infuriating Midgardian woman. Truth be told, he’s probably felt this way for quite some time but has never wanted to label it for fear of ruining it. To think though that Darcy would doubt the return of such feelings after everything strikes him as utterly absurd. My dear, sweet, silly girl. Who hurt you so to make you doubt such obvious things? Tell me, and I will open them nose to navel. But Loki cannot say these things. He cannot even utter three simple words. He cannot even say yes or no. So instead, he wraps her tightly in his arms, pulls her back to him, and kisses her until she has no cause to question his feelings at all.

Chapter Text

Chapter 16

Darcy awakens the next morning shivering with weak autumn sunlight slanting through the blinds. The temperature in the trailer must have dropped overnight, and it doesn’t help that she has a walking freezer sleeping next to her. It had been wonderful in the sweltering summer that seemed to last forever, but now, it just feels like someone slid an ice cube down the back of her shirt. Her teeth chatter as she struggles to get away and burrow further under the blankets, but Smurf seems to have a death grip on her. He tightens an arm around her waist to drag her back against his icy chest and stomach. Not that it isn’t an extremely nice chest and stomach, but that doesn’t change the fact that he runs cool.

She tries again, this time wriggling methodically in hopes he won’t notice. All to no avail once more as he throws a long leg over her hips.

“Jesus fucking Christ,” she curses, “what are you a spider monkey?”

She might swear he is doing it to annoy her, but he is far too peaceful. In fact, they’d both slept like the dead that night. It’s just that Darcy’s internal thermometer had panicked and woken her upon impending hypothermia.

It is another solid fifteen minutes before Smurf decides he’s had enough of using her as his personal security blanket and flops onto his back with a snore.

Darcy holds back a soft laugh as she scoots to the edge of the bed and swings her legs off. Her feet dangle in the air, and she swings them gently. She looks back over her shoulder and smiles when she sees Smurf flat on his back with one arm flung across his eyes and the other flung out to the side where she had been lying.

“Some fierce warrior, you are,” she snickers as she hops down from the bed and pads into the kitchen.

She is standing in front of the pantry up on her tiptoes looking for flour when a blue arm reaches overhead and pulls it down from the top shelf for her and another snakes around her waist.

“I was gonna let you sleep in and surprise you with pancakes for breakfast,” says Darcy while Smurf sets the flour on the counter.

He hums thoughtfully behind her, pulling her against him in a tight grip much like he had that morning.

“Is that a no to pancakes? Would you prefer eggs, bacon, and toast?”

A pause, another thoughtful hum, and then, she feels his teeth graze her neck as he gently nips at her before he starts sucking at that same spot. It is in that instant that Darcy finds she suddenly isn’t very hungry at all.

***

They go one round in the kitchen with Darcy bent over the table, and another in the shower with him holding her up. After that, Smurf seems satisfied enough to let her make them breakfast. She decides to compromise and make eggs, bacon, and toast while Smurf takes care of the pancakes. They work together side by side at the stove with him pouring the pancakes into the pan while she flips the bacon.

It is odd to Darcy to find such joy and peace in domesticity. She has abhorred the American dream since her childhood after watching her single mother struggle to make ends-meet, and a father that sent her a birthday card every other year and usually a month late. Honestly, SHIELD had seemed a dream to her when they had first approached her with the opportunity to work for them. Travel the country, maybe the world, never settling down. Training with the best of the best. It had been a little intimidating, but after hanging around Thor and entertaining Tony’s ego, Darcy had felt sure she could handle anything. And she had been able to for a little while. Somewhere though between the Convergence and Thanos something inside of Darcy broke, and she could never quite heal it. Even now, she feels her heart race and her hands shake (just a little) when she thinks of the chaos following the Snap.

Smurf and the smell of burning bacon pulls her from her dark thoughts. He bumps her with his hip and looks at her with concern.

“It’s nothing,” she breathes shakily and tosses a burned strip of bacon in the trash.

They eat in the living room with the tv turned onto an episode of Friends. One of the later seasons Darcy guesses by Rachel’s haircut. Darcy makes her way slowly through her stack of pancakes while nibbling on a piece of bacon, occasionally dipping it in her syrup because she’s an adult goddammit. Smurf, of course, demolishes three quarters of the food in under twenty minutes and has the gall to go back and prepare himself a bowl of Lucky Charms.

“I don’t even know where it goes,” she says in disgust as she studies his lean frame while he shovels another giant spoonful into his mouth.

The alien shrugs and continues to stare fixedly at the television screen.

She sighs and checks her phone. There’s a missed call and a text from her Jane. Guilt gnaws at her. She hasn’t spoken to her friend in months and hasn’t seen her in over a year.

How’s it going, Darce? Jane says with a smile emoji.

Good, Darcy texts back

She watches the ellipses at the bottom of the screen to indicate Jane is texting something else.

I miss hanging out with you. The lab is so quiet now, the astrophysicist says.

She chews her lip in shame. If Darcy is being perfectly honest with herself, she has missed being around Jane too. Taco Tuesdays were never quite the same without her former boss rattling on about her latest theory. Then, there were all of the Saturday nights with margaritas and off-key karaoke.

I miss you too, she answers after an uncomfortably long time.

More ellipses that seem to go on forever. She has no doubt Jane is texting and deleting and texting again and deleting again as she tries to come up with the perfect reply.

I’m going to DC for a conference next weekend. Jane says and then texts, We could meet up right before then if you want.

“Shit,” Darcy mutters, realizing she just walked right into that trap. Smurf looks over at her sharply. “It’s nothing,” she says and adds, “I’ll explain in a second.” When that does not appease him, he huffs indignantly and returns his attention back to the tv.

Wish I could but-Darcy starts to text and then stops. Can’t, work is-she tries again and deletes it. With a sigh, she types That would be great!

Jane’s reply of Does next Thursday work for you? Comes quickly after.

Sure, she types and hits send. She flips the phone face over in her lap so she can’t find some way to try and get out of this. She has to face to her past sometime.

Smurf looks over at her expectantly, angling his body towards her. He crosses one leg over the other and settles his hands in his lap. She could almost laugh he looks so elegantly misplaced on the sinking cushions of her fourth-hand couch.

“So we’re gonna be having a visitor next week,” Darcy says lightly.

His calm expression goes stormy, brows furrowing and his lips thinning into a line.

She holds her hands up. “Just hear me out. It’s an old friend of mine. I haven’t seen her in forever.”

His faces smooths into a mask and his shoulders seem to relax a little. He nods his head for her to continue like a king granting permission for her to speak.

“Her name’s Jane, and she’s a crazy brilliant scientist that I used to work for before I came here.”

Smurf goes still almost rigid, and his color washes out from azure to cornflower blue.

“What? Why are you freaking out on me?” Darcy asks in concern. “Don’t worry I promise she’s one of the good guys. You don’t have to worry about her ratting you out or anything.”

He swallows thickly and waves her off with one hand. With a shake of his head, he reassures her with one quick smile, suddenly all easy charm and confidence.

“Are you sure you’re ok with this? I can cancel it if need be,” she offers.

He shakes his head again, more vigorously this time.

“Alright,” she says uneasily. His odd reaction is throwing her off. She knew he wouldn’t be happy about an unexpected guest, but his reaction to Jane had seemed personal. As if he knew her. A heavy knots forms in the pit of her stomach.

Darcy lets it go though when she feels a strong, cool arm wrap itself around her shoulder and pull her into Smurf’s side.

***

“Don’t you dare use up all of the hot water!” Darcy yells down the hallway as she walks from the kitchen to their bedroom.

She heads to the closet in search of a clean uniform for work. She had forgotten to do laundry and now she’s having to resort to searching in the bottom of her closet to see if a spare skirt and top can be found.

Crouching down, she throws aside a pair of boots she hasn’t worn in three years and finds a pair of jeans that stopped fitting after high school and a hideous sweater Jane had given her for Christmas. She flings those over her shoulder and finds another layer of winter clothes that haven’t seen the light of day in at least two years. Darcy keeps digging and digging hoping against hope to see the hideous red and yellow of her uniform. When she finally reaches the bottom, she does not find her uniform but something else entirely.

The small cube Coulson had given her all those weeks ago glints darkly from the bottom of her closet floor. Darcy pauses and sits back on her heels. She had forgotten about it. Tried to at least with varying levels of success. Now, it’s directly in front of her, and she would be a liar if she wasn’t tempted by it. It’s black with a geometric design cut into the top and edged in steel. She reaches for it and stops herself.

Darcy reminds herself all of the crazy tech SHIELD has in its possession. Who knows what would happen if she touched it? It might zap her unconscious or inject her with a chip that can read her thoughts. Swallowing thickly, she piles the clothes back on top of it and walks out of the room. She’ll just have to rewear a dirty uniform and hope no one notices.

***

The week passes quickly, and it is one of the best she’s had in a long time. Work goes by relatively quickly and easily with Darcy raking in plenty of tips. She even picks up a couple of hours, and they go in early. Smurf even manages to skate by without any major incidents. Joe is what some might call almost pleasant, almost. There is a certain smugness to him that she can’t quite place. He is almost humming with satisfaction and as much as it freaks her out, she admits it makes her job there infinitely more tolerable.

There’s the sex too, of course. That doesn’t hurt either. It’s like after that first time a dam had broken and five years of repressed urges and libido came roaring to life. They fuck in every room of the trailer, which isn’t really difficult given how small it is. They fuck in her car in the front and back seat. They even manage to work in a quickie against the wall in the supply closet where she had originally stowed him away that first night. If anyone notices the added heat and tension between them now, they wisely keep their mouths shut - no one has forgotten how Smurf tossed Joe across the hallway.

It is the day before Jane is set to visit, and the mounting tension in Smurf is palpable.

“Eat up,” Darcy scolds gently, “it’s probably gonna be a busy night.” She shovels a forkful of pasta into her mouth.

He snaps out of whatever place his thoughts had wandered and quickly finishes his plate off. The ever growing knot in Darcy’s stomach tightens when he doesn’t go back for a third helping.

“What’s eating you?” She places a hand on his shoulder and massages the tight muscle.

He smiles up at her easily and shrugs.

“Are you getting sick?” she asks, pressing the back of her hand to his forehead. He feels his normal cool temperature.

Smurf swats her hand away and stands to take his plate to the sink.

Darcy can only watch in confusion, a dreadful sinking in her stomach.

True to prediction, the diner is stupidly busy, even beyond what Darcy had anticipated. The place is jam-packed with little old ladies wearing track suits or slacks and glittering tops. They had come from the two charter buses parked out front on their way to Harrah’s Casino in North Carolina. Darcy gazes out at a sea of gray perms and her hopes for good tips come burst into flames. If she is lucky she might get a dollar from each of them. More than likely, she'll get stuck with a pocketful of loose change, sticky hard candy, and some religious pamphlets. Gamble in the name of Jesus.

She tries to sneak in glimpses of Smurf when she picks up the silverware and cups. Every time, Darcy sees him he is hunched over the sink with his elbows covered in suds, working on in grim determination against the ever growing stack of dirty dishware.

Joe catches on her just such a trip when he stops her in the hall.

“Lewis,” he says gruffly, arms crossed over his chest. “Don’t you have somewhere else you need to be?” He jerks his head towards the doors that lead into the dining.

“I was just checking on an order for a customer. They sent it back,” she lies smoothly with a shrug of her right shoulder.

“Uh huh.” He looks at her skeptically, one grey eyebrow cocked so far up his forehead it practically disappears into his receding hairline.

Darcy truly doesn’t care if he buys it or not. She just needs to get him off her back.

“Well, I’d better get going. Those old ladies get antsy without their sweet tea.” She turns to leave, arm already outstretched to push open the door.

“Not so fast,” Joe cuts in.

She looks at him over her shoulder.

“My office.” He walks towards the door and waits with his feet planted shoulder width apart.

“What for?” she asks without moving.

“We need to talk,” he says softly and opens the office door.

“Alright,” she answers softly, walking slowly towards the room. Let him wait on her for once.

When they’re both inside, Joe closes the door and gestures for her to have a seat in the chair across from his desk as if she hasn’t done so a hundred times before.

“What do ya want?” she drawls and slumps down in the chair with her arms hooked over the back.

“I have a proposition.” He takes a seat in front of her, fingers steepled and a shrewd glint in his eye.

If he asks me to fuck him, I’m gonna kick him the balls so hard he’ll be able to taste his own ballsweat. I swear. I’ll quit this fucking place. Smurf and I will go-she thinks furiously as she stiffens into proper posture.

He must be able to read the expression on her face because he straightens up too and holds a hand on in front of himself in supplication. “Whoa, whoa. A business deal. That’s all. What do you take me for? Some kind of pervert?”

Darcy keeps silent and her expression neutral.

“Nevermind,” Joe mutters and lets his hands rest on the desk.

“So what is it?” she prompts impatiently, relaxing once more and crossing one leg over the other. She contemplates putting her feet up on the desk just to spite him but decides not to push her luck tonight. Things have been going good, and she doesn’t want to jinx it.

Joe purses his lips in contemplation before saying, “I am expecting a delivery in a few weeks, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind picking it up for me.”

Something inside her perks up at the idea, but she doesn’t let it show. She waits an uncomfortable amount of time before answering, letting the silence unsettle him. It was something Nat had taught her. Most people hate awkward silence and would do anything to break it.

“I’ll pay you.”

Perfect.

Fifteen heartbeats pass.

“Three grand.”

The former SHIELD agent tilts her head to the side thoughtfully, puts her hand over her mouth. “Five,” she says finally, “before the delivery and five after.”

Joe’s face goes as red and swollen as a tomato. “Ten fucking grand? Ten motherfucking grand?” he sputters. “You’re out of your goddamn mind.”

She shrugs. “You’re the one who needs it done not me.”

“I could fire you,” he hisses, leaning forward over the desk.

“And I could inform Coulson of your existence. Or,” she pauses dangerously, “I could tell Tony. Imagine how he would react if he knew you were up and about breathing freely.”

The older man swallows harshly and reclines back in the chair. The color drains from his face as the blood leaves. The anger fades, and she sees the gleam return to his eyes. He studies her carefully. “You’re a tough one,” he tells her.

If Darcy listens closely she thought she might detect a hint of respect in his voice. Might. “I’ve been known to hold my own.” Not that, she’s ever really had a choice.

He lets out a breath through his nose and steeples his fingers in front of his face again. “I’ll give you three grand before the delivery and three grand after.”

She hums thoughtfully and rolls her eyes towards the ceiling. Six thousand dollars would set her up nicely for a few months. She might seen be able to put some back in savings, maybe get her car fixed properly for once. “Fine, but I get any weekend off I ask for no matter how short the notice and the best tables.”

He squints at her, hands clasped together, and lets out another deep breath. “Done,” he states and extends his right hand to her across the desk.

Darcy grips it, making sure to give an extra hard squeeze. “Pleasure doing business with you,” she says with a smile that doesn’t reach her eyes.

“Bullshit.”

***

Loki awakens and reaches out to the side to find Darcy gone. The imprint where her body was is still warm so she must have just gotten out of bed. He finds that he often wakes up immediately after she leaves, some internal alarm in his body that tethers him to her.

He rolls out of bed and finds the pair of boxers he wore last night in front of the window. He stands up and slips them on; he doesn’t bother with anything else since the chill autumn air feels wonderful. Running a hand through his hair, he exits the room and grimaces. It’s gotten far too long for his liking. He’ll need it cut soon though he’s sure Darcy will pout. She’s taken quite a liking to brushing and braiding it.

When he enters the kitchen, she is bent at the waist searching the farthest corners of the fridge muttering to herself.

“We have nothing!” she exclaims as she shoves a half empty jug of milk to the side.

Loki only raises an inquiring brow at her as he leans against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his chest.

“For Jane,” she clarifies, and Loki’s stomach ties itself into a knot. “All she eats is junk. I should cook her something nutritious. God knows when the last time she saw a vegetable or a piece of fruit.

He seizes control of his face to not let the dawning horror show. Jane’s visit has been forcibly repressed for the past week, and he had been praying that somehow the Universe might intervene on his behalf. Alas, the Norns have seen fit to throw him to wolves once more.

“I’m going to have to make a grocery run. You want to come with me?” She is already walking back to the bedroom to get dressed.

Loki shakes his head as she passes him. He does not trust himself enough to venture out into public with how frayed his nerves are already. Best to stay here and collect his wits.

Darcy pauses when she sees his response. “Are you sure? It’s your turn to pick out the cereal. We can get some snacks too if you want. I thought I saw a buy one get one free on Poptarts.”

He shakes his head again, and her brows knit together in concern.

“Alright,” she says reluctantly. “I’ll be back in a little while.”

While Darcy shops, Loki schemes. He briefly thinks that all of this could have been avoided if he had just let Jane die on Svartalfheim but pushes it aside with a pang of regret. If he had done so his brother would have never forgiven him, and Darcy would unknowingly hate him even more. Besides if he is honest with himself, he does find the petite Midgardian amusing if only for her sheer nerve and spunk. It was not everyday a mortal woman dared to slap Thor and punch him.

Whatever affection, he might feel for her though he needs to prevent her from coming here. A spell might do it. A jinx, perhaps? Something relatively innocuous that would not result in major injury or maiming - more of an annoyance really. Yes, a jinx would do nicely. Just something to delay her travels, deter her will.

So he sets to work. Normally, a jinx requires something personal of the individual one wishes to jinx but being the god of mischief does have it perks. All Loki is required to do is picture her clearly in his mind’s eye. He conjures up the last time he had seen her several years ago: her heart shaped face, brown eyes and hair, and that glimmer of passionate intelligence that had drawn his brother to her. She is beautiful in her own way, he must admit, but her features inspire nothing more than a sort of distant admiration they are so far removed from Darcy’s.

Focus, he chides himself before his thoughts drift too far from the task at hand. His lips move silently as he mimics the words and his fingers trace runes in the air. In front of him blaze the runes for isa, raido reversed, and kaun all in a venomous green light. Slowly, they dissipate until only the faint scent of burnt ozone is left. There that should be enough to hinder her journey and discourage her visit.

Darcy returns home shortly after and forces Loki to help her bring in the groceries. The trunk is full of plastic bags filled with vegetables and seasonings. She had even gone to the trouble of purchasing a bottle of white wine. Loki almost feels guilty that Jane won’t be able to make it. Almost.

Once the groceries are brought in, Darcy sets about putting everything in its right place with a thorough single-mindedness that he finds both admirable and mildly frightening. He is not used to see her this intense and frantic. He finds himself getting underfoot as she dashes madly about the kitchen to get out this or that skillet and prep that vegetable.

“Here,” she eventually says as she steers him to the countertop where a cutting board and knife lay. “Since you’re so eager to stab people put those urges to good use and cut up these onions and peppers. Slice not dice.” Then, she is gone again, grumbling as she looks down at the recipe on her phone.

Loki sets about doing away with the vegetables quickly and efficiently though the stench coming off of the onions makes him gag. Just as he is starting in on the second bell pepper, Darcy’s phone gives a chirp.

She looks away from where she is marinating the chicken to check her phone. “Shit,” she murmurs and bites her bottom lip. “Jane just texted me that her flight has been delayed.”

He does his best to look appropriately dismayed even as his heart lightens.

“Well,” Darcy sighs, “I guess that just means we’ll have more time to prepare than I thought. It’s a bit of a relief.”

They go back to their respective stations with her sliding setting the chicken in the fridge to absorb the marinade and Loki dispatching of the bell pepper.

“You know,” she says casually as she closes the refrigerator door, “you don’t have to wear your disguise around Jane if you don’t want to. She’s seen plenty of weird shit, even weirder than you.”

He keeps his gaze focused on the cutting board, his hand steady on the knife. Either, he has gotten very bad at concealing his emotions or Darcy has gotten very good at reading him because she somehow picks up on the subtle change in him.

“I know you’re not used to that and maybe you don’t feel safe or comfortable doing it, but I just figured wearing the disguise all the time was a little tiring. Jane’s one of my best friends so I want you to be comfortable around her.”

Loki forces himself to turn and look at her and offer a simple smile. It’s the least the he give her. After all, it’s not as if he will actually have to deal with Jane.

***

Darcy is curled into his side on the couch watching a holiday episode of Friends when she receives another text message.

“Her plane’s landed, but now, they’re stuck on the tarmac for some reason. She’s not really sure why.” Her face screws up into a frown. “I hope I didn’t go to all that trouble for nothing though I guess you’ll finish it off, huh?”

He smiles down at her and drops a kiss onto the top of her head. His muscles slowly unkink as he realizes his spell is in full effect. It’s already past six. At this rate, Thor’s former flame will be forced to head straight towards her lodgings due to time restriction.

Around 7:30, Darcy comes to the conclusion that Jane will not be showing up and decides they should eat dinner without her. Loki is only too happy to comply as they sit down at the dining room table and eat while Darcy discusses her plans for the holidays.

“I don’t know if I should do like a Friendsgiving because I don’t have any family to do a Thanksgiving. Then again, I don’t have any friends either.” She stares dejectedly down at her food and moves around some of the green beans.

Smurf purposefully clears his throat and drums his fingers on the table.

She looks up and grins sheepishly. “Oh sorry, I didn’t mean-I just-you don’t really count as a friend though.”

Loki cocks an eyebrow and sits back from the table in mock indignation.

“Don’t look at me like that! You know what I meant. We’re more than friends. I was referring to having people that I don’t have crazy, awesome sex with.” She leans across the table to try and take his hand, but he snatches it away and crosses his arms.

“Hey, haven’t I made you delicious breakfast food for like months now? If that isn’t a sign of love and devotion I don’t know what is. I don’t even bitch when you leave your towel on the bathroom floor.”

He scowls at her, recalling at least five separate occasions she has in the past month.

“That much,” she amends in a quiet voice. Darcy stands and walks around the table to his side and takes a seat in his lap, wiggling her ass for good measure. His hands find her hips out of habit. He knows what game she’s playing and finds he doesn’t mind at all. It’s rather nice to have the tables turned for once.

“How about I remind you how much of a not-friend/more-than-friend you are to me?” she whispers into his ear, swinging her legs around to straddle him.

Her words send a thrill down his spine and his hands reach around to knead her ass. Loki presses a kiss to her shoulder where her t-shirt has slipped off and has every intention of sucking a bruise onto it when her phone goes off again. Darcy groans and starts to twist around to get it when he decides to seize the opportunity to slip his hand underneath her shirt and run a thumb across her nipple.

“No fair,” she moans, “I gotta check it could be Jane.”

He gives her a gentle twist before releasing her. It’s just going to be Jane informing her that they won’t be able to meet tonight. No harm done.

“Oh,” Darcy says excitedly as she dismounts from him, “she’s off the plane! She’s getting an Uber right now. She says she should be here in forty-five minutes.”

Loki feels his heart drop down into stomach and his skin grow ashen. Suddenly, the room is too hot. He thinks he might boil alive.

“Hey,” Darcy says as her lips turn downwards, and she puts a hand on his shoulder, “is the food making you sick?”

He shakes his head numbly. There’s still time. The car might never come. It might break down. They might get sucked into a freak-occurrence sinkhole. There are a million possibilities that could occur in the next hour or so, but he cannot help but feel like a noose is being pulled tight around his neck.

The next forty-five minutes seem to pass as slowly as a millenia to Loki. He is pressed into the side of the couch while Darcy sits perched on the edge, ready to leap up and open the door. He watches the time pass from the clock on the wall, the seconds ticking down.

When the knock finally arrives, Loki is in the bathroom. He had heard the car coming down the road, known it wasn’t one of the usual ones, and excused himself. Now, he is standing in front of the mirror looking at the illusion he has constructed and perfected over the past few months. It is seamless. The features move perfectly. The face is so average that is forgettable. Still, he flinches when the door opens, and the familiar voice of Dr. Jane Foster rings out in the small trailer.

There is no way that woman will recognize you, he tells himself. Everyone thinks me dead. Not even Thor himself would not know me in this form. Thoughts of his brother make the nausea come back ten-fold so he banishes them ruthlessly.

He closes his eyes and listens as they greet each other and exchange pleasantries. Darcy asks how Jane’s research is going. It’s going well. Her funding is good, and she believe she will get approved for another two million dollar grant to continue looking into the role of the Higgs-Boson particle in the formation of Einstein-Rosen bridges. Darcy makes all the appropriate noises of approval.

Loki estimates about eight minutes have passed since he retreated to the bathroom. Darcy’s former boss is seated in the recliner facing Darcy on the couch. He pads as quietly into the room as he can. Jane, ever so perceptive, whips her head around to study him with coffee-colored eyes.

“This must be Luke,” she states as she stands and extends her hand out to him. Loki takes it robotically. “Darcy’s told me about you.”

He smiles, tight and controlled, careful not to show his teeth out of fear she might see some glimmer of his true self underneath. He sits awkwardly on the couch next to Darcy, fidgeting to try and get himself comfortable. He settles on reclining back with his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle.

The two women talk of many things: Jane’s career, Darcy’s lack-there-of, Dr. Selvig’s continued hatred of pants, even an old flame of Darcy’s named Ian. It is only a matter of time though before the inevitable subject of his brother is brought up.

“So,” Darcy says primly as she waggles her eyebrows, “how are you and my favorite muscle-bound space viking?”

Jane’s cheeks flush pink. “He’s-he’s good.” She takes a sip of her water, looking anywhere but at Darcy’s keen gaze.

Loki’s heart beats hard against his ribcage. Beads of ice are forming on the back of his arms.

“And?”

“And what?” Jane asks innocently.

“Are you two trying to get back together or what?”

The scientist’s face goes from pink to flaming red. “Umm, we’re kinda, sorta working on it.” She hunches her shoulders up to her ears and attempts to sink into the chair.

“You guys are banging,” Darcy says matter-of-factly as if the statement were written across Jane’s forehead.

Jane spits her water into her cup. “How-how did you-”

“Janey,” Darcy replies easily, “you’re not that hard to read. It was obvious the moment I brought him up.” She smirks mercilessly as Jane gives a mortified squeak.

“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” The astrophysicist tucks a strand of hair behind her ear as she smiles down into her glass.

Loki thinks he may very well vomit.

“It’s just hard right now for us to have any sort of relationship not that it was ever easy, but Thor’s got a lot going on.” She sighs and takes another drink of water. “He’s got so much to do with getting the Asgardians resettled, and he’s still grieving so much. So much. He’s taking Loki’s death really hard. Harder than I thought he would. He’s still not over it.” She looks from Darcy to him, and Loki’s heart seizes in his chest.

Darcy shrugs with one shoulder. “I’m sorry for the big guy’s loss, but let’s face it, Loki never did Earth any favors. Probably best he didn’t make it to come terrorize us again.”

He leans forward, elbows on his knees and head held in his hands. He is almost positive he is going to vomit now.

Jane’s face scrunches up. “I don’t know. Thor seems to think he was turning over a new leaf there at the end. He did save me on Svartalfheim and the Asgardians as Hela took over.”

Darcy scoffs, and it reminds Loki as nothing so much as the cracking of ice on Jotunheim, cold and cruel. “Tell that to Puente Antiguo or New York. Tell that to Selvig and Hawkeye when he mind controlled them, and Coulson after he killed him.”

His head is pounding like a war drum, and he stands quickly and walks to the bathroom without a gesture or backwards glance.

“Luke?” Darcy calls out behind him, but he doesn’t stop.

Loki walks into the bathroom and locks the door behind him. He is stripping out of his clothes when Darcy gives a gentle rap on the door.

“Babe is everything okay? Was it something I said?”

He doesn’t open the door. He knows he cannot hold it together. Even now, he is fighting the sob that is stuck in his throat. Darcy knocks again, this time more insistently. He turns on the shower at full blast with icy water and steps in. The disguise washes away beneath the frigid water and reveals his blue skin.

“Smurf,” she says so softly through the door he knows only he can hear it. “Please let me in. I’m sorry if I triggered you.”

Loki closes his eyes and lets the water slide down his face. The floorboards creak as Darcy shifts from foot to foot in indecision. Finally she whispers, “I’ll be out there. I’m going to ask Jane to leave. Come out when you’re ready.”

He curses himself for being so weak, but it had all been too much. The sight of Jane, the mention of Thor, the vehemence in Darcy’s voice when she spoke of him. Just this morning, Darcy had made love to the monster she so hated. If she knew. . . Norns help him.

The pounding increases and with it comes memories, dark, scarred things he thought he’d banished into the black void of his mind forever. He remembers the sinister grin Thanos had given him after he had been found floating half dead in space. The vicious whispers of the Other worming their way into his mind until he no longer knew his own desires from theirs. The crippling promise of more pain if he failed to carry out their orders. Ebony Maw’s disfigured face hovering next to his as he drives another spike of black energy into his belly. His own screams echoing in the dark and then silence.

He empties the contents of his stomach until there is nothing left, and he is dry heaving bile and acid. The running water carries it down the drain, and Loki's legs betray him and he slumps down into the tub. He feels as if everything good in him has been hollowed out and burned before his eyes.

Pressing his head down to the wet floor of the tub, Loki stays there letting the shower water pelt him long after he hears Jane leave.

***

Darcy stares down at Smurf’s exhausted, pale form. She tucks the sheet more tightly around him and smooths his hair from his brow. He’s sound asleep, chest rising and falling steadily. He’d been in the shower for two hours before finally coming out after Darcy threatened to kick down the door.

When she’d come in, the bathroom had smelled like puke, and he was standing naked before her dripping wet with his eyes locked on the ground. “What’s wrong?” she had asked and gotten no response. He’d flinched from her touch but eventually after some coaxing, allowed her to help him dress. Then, they had shuffled into the bedroom and tucked him in. She had offered to leave to allow him some peace, but he had clutched at her with all of his considerable strength, eyes wide and fevered and dark crimson. So Darcy had stayed and comforted him as best she could until he had fallen asleep

That all happened about an hour ago, and now, she does not know what to do. She had thought perhaps at first it was a virus or the mention of Loki had triggered bad memories, but that wasn’t it her gut told her. He had been acting fidgety all day, had seemed shaken when she mentioned Jane visiting a week ago, like he knew her, and he worsened at the mention of Thor. So how could he know Jane and Thor, and yet Darcy didn’t know him? It makes no sense.

She sighs and takes one of his hands in her own. She plays with the long, elegant fingers lacing them through her own and then untangling them. She brings his hand to her mouth and kisses each knuckle. Smurf sighs softly in pleasure. Darcy smiles against the back of his hand, but it quickly faded. The face that she has come to know and love seems foreign now as if he has been replaced with a life-size replica doll. She does not know the man who lies in front of her, not really. He still doesn’t trust her with his past and his identity despite everything they’ve been through together.

Darcy replaces his hand by his side and looks around the room as if she will find answers to her dilemma on the stuccoed walls. Her eyes fall on the closet where the door stands wide open. She swallows and thinks back on the cube she had seen earlier that week. Her mind has been returning to it again and again this past week. Why had Coulson given it to her? Just for safe keeping. Not likely. He never did anything without a reason. He had wanted her to have it. Wanted her to use it.

She stands from the edge of the bed and walks slowly towards the closet. She stops at the threshold as if there is a monster lurking there that might spring out and snatch her up. The thought makes her glance over her shoulder where Smurf still deeply sleeps. Perhaps the monster is out there.

Kneeling down, the former SHIELD agent digs through the mountain of clothes she has piled on top of the mysterious object. She stops when she reaches the bottom and it shines up at her. Darcy picks it up and lets it rest in the palm of her hand. Nothing happens. She presses the sides and the top and the bottom in various order. Still nothing.

“Agent Darcy Lewis,” she says clearly.

The cube lights up blue and three holoscreens pop up.

“Welcome, Agent Lewis,” it says in a cheerful woman’s voice. “Identification required for authorized access. Performing retinal scan now.”

She waits while a thin beam of green light scans one eye and then the other.

“Identification completed. Access allowed. Welcome to the Toolbox.”

She lets out the breath that she had been holding. That’s what this was? Fury’s motherfucking Toolbox. The one place where every bit of SHIELD information is stored. She has access to everything Coulson and Fury did. There’s nothing that is off-limits from her.

“Goddamn you, Coulson,” she whispers.

Darcy flicks through screens and screens of information in search of something valuable or relevant that might help her figure out Smurf’s identity. She scrolls through various alien species SHIELD has encountered but finds nothing that stands out to her.

“Thor,” she commands and the holoscreens bring up his file.

“Thor: Asgardian God of Thunder. Current member of the Avengers Initiative. Son of Odin (deceased) and Frigga (deceased). Brother of Loki (deceased).” the computer reads out.

She stares at the screen for a long time before her finger touches each of Thor’s family. Odin’s file is sparse, and Frigga’s even more so. There is only Loki left. Perhaps there something in there to help her.

Splayed across the three screens are a series of pictures and texts. There a shot of him in Stuttgart. Another of him on the top of Stark Tower. There are many others that SHIELD had managed to get a hold of from various angles. She has never seen him this close before with pictures taken from bodycams. His face. She knows that face: those high, sharp cheekbones and that aristocratic nose. Sweat is beading on her brow, and a drop trickles down the length of her spine.

Darcy continues, forcing herself to look at and study every picture, trying to find some difference. She goes through each individually and then a second and third time. Each pass the certainty rises.

“He’s dead,” she says out loud to herself. “He’s dead. Thanos killed him. He’s dead.”

The pictures make her sick with dread so she begins to read. It takes her an hour or more to wade through all of the details of his two attacks on earth and the resulting consequences. The happenings of the Convergence are relatively sparse since SHIELD was not directly involved at that time. Ragnarok is barely nonexistent. Coulson must not have had time to update the files properly.

She heads back up to his basic profile status.

Loki: Asgardian God of Mischief. Adopted son of Odin (deceased) and Frigga (deceased). Adoptive brother of Thor (Avenger).

Status: Deceased.

Age: 1000-1500

Race: Once believed to be Aesir has since been confirmed as a Frost Giant though considered a runt.

Darcy stands up, blinking slowly and stupidly, and lets the cube fall from her nerveless hands.

Chapter Text

Darcy sways dangerously on her feet. The room seems to be spinning around her. The walls are closing in on her. Her heart pounds in her chest, and her breath comes fast and shallow. Darkness edges in around her vision, and she realizes she’s hyperventilating so much she is about to pass out. Some of her old SHIELD training kicks in, forcing her to take deeper, slower breaths, and focus her attention on one spot on the wall of the closet. She can’t lose her shit now. She has to think fast and act faster.

Smurf is Loki. She cannot deny it any longer as much as she would like to. The signs have been there, staring her dead in the face, but she hasn’t wanted to see it. I’m a fucking idiot, she thinks to herself as the pieces fall into place. She shakes her head before she gets lost in berating herself; there isn’t time for that. Darcy needs a plan, one she can enact quickly and smoothly. May had taught her to go with the simplest plans whenever possible as they were the hardest to fuck up.

She looks at the figure still sleeping soundly in the bed, his chest rising and falling evenly. Bile rises in her throat at the sight, knowing just underneath that blue skin there is a liar, a thief, a murderer. She has to leave. Now.

With a shaking breath, Darcy gathers her resolve and walks as quietly as she can across the floor, trying to be mindful of where the squeaky floorboards are. Silently, she gathers a few pairs of socks and underwear from her dresser, a couple of sweaters and her one good winter coat, gloves and a scarf, her Gerber knife, and the hundred bucks in spare cash she keeps lying around. She raids the kitchen and bathroom for the bare necessities. She dumps in the box of Poptarts and granola bars along with three bottles of water. Darcy has no idea where she is going, only that she isn’t going to be coming back. It all gets dumped into a black dufflebag. There is no time to neatly organize to maximize space. Even now, she is struggling to keep it together. Her first instinct is to run, get out of there as fast as she can without looking back.

Hefting the bag over her shoulder, she steps lightly across the floor to get her pistol out of the night stand. The drawer slides open quietly, and she checks it to be sure the chamber if full. It feels good resting against the palm of her hand, a familiar and comforting weight.

She looks from the gun to Sm-Loki lying quietly in bed. She swallows and switches off the safety. Now is the perfect opportunity. He’s completely unaware. He suspects nothing. Darcy knows she’ll never get a better chance than this. She raises her arm, lines up the barrel of the gun with the back of his head, barely a foot away. From this range, his brains would blow out the front. She lowers her arm and takes a step back.

It’s not worth the risk, she tells herself, if having Thanos break his neck didn’t kill him, what makes me think a tiny Earth bullet could? Darcy ignores the way her arm had shaken as she had held the gun, the sweatiness of her palm, the tears pricking her eyes. She eases the bag onto the floor and starts to get dressed in jeans and an old sweatshirt. She stubs her toe on the dresser while looking for her warmest socks when she curses loudly.

“Fuck!” She freezes the moment the word flies out of her mouth, body tense and alert.

Smu-Loki murmurs sleepily and sits up on one elbow with his black, sleep tousled curls covering his face.

“I-I just stubbed my toe. Go back to sleep,” she says in as soothing a voice she can manage.

His mouth curves into a sweet smile as he reaches forward with his free arm, indicating for her to come back to bed. Darcy steps forward without thinking before she stops herself. It has become instinct to crawl into bed with him, to tuck her body against his while he wraps an arm around her.

He notices her hesitation, his expression going from sleepy to sharp as he takes in her clothes. His eyes scan the room and find the dufflebag sitting on the floor. He frowns and sits up in bed. He points at the duffel bag and then at her.

There is no point trying to play along any more.

“I know who you are,” Darcy says and raises the gun level with his eyes.

***

It takes Loki a full minute to comprehend exactly what has transpired in a matter of heart beats: his entire world has turned upside down and collapsed in on itself. One moment, he had been reaching to bring Darcy into bed and the next he is staring down the barrel of a gun with her on the other end. It takes a moment longer for her words to sink in, and then, his stomach drops.

“You’re Loki, aren’t you?” she says in a low voice with her eyes focused intensely on him.

He shakes his head to deny it, tries to feign confusion. How? How? He thinks desperately to himself.

“Don’t lie to me! It’s you. You’re . . .him. You’re Loki.” She grips the gun tightly, her finger tucked around the trigger.

Another emphatic shake of his head, and he slowly moves across the bed.

“Don’t come near me,” she growls and takes a step back, gun still trained on him. “I want the truth. I know you’re him. The way you look, your powers, the way you can’t stand the mention of Thor or Thanos.”

His silver tongue does him no good now. Loki sighs, broken and sad, and allows his Aesir skin to cover him once more. It feels strange and uncomfortable like an ill fitting tunic. It feels wrong. He stares down at his hands now as pale and white as Darcy’s.

She gives a strangled sob and takes two more steps back across the room towards the door. He looks up at her helplessly, tears are threatening to spill over her cheeks and her nose has turned as red as a cherry.

Loki has never so badly wanted to be sucked into a black hole. Perhaps all is not lost, not entirely. If he can make her see reason he might be able to fix this. He stands up carefully, aware of the Midgardian weapon aimed at him. Truthfully, he doubts it could hurt him. Most Midgardian weapons are so primitive they would do little more than annoy him.

He holds his hands up in front of him and sheds his Aesir skin once more, surprised at the relief that floods him when his skin returns to its natural blue. Some of the tension seems to ease out of Darcy’s hunched shoulders, and he dares to take a step forward. She shifts her weight back onto her heels and retreats further into the hallway.

He stretches out one arm in front of himself to calm her and watches in dismay as she raises the gun a little higher, finger squeezing the trigger.

“I don’t know what game you’re playing,” she says in a shaking voice, “but I’m sick of being a part of it.”

Suddenly, he is overwhelmed by the urge to touch her, to hold her. He is sick with the need of it, to press his skin to hers as they had done only hours ago, but he can’t. It is as if every trick he has ever played, every sin he ever committed, every cruel joke or jape he made has come back to haunt him in the form of this Midgardian woman who looks at him as if he has turned into some venomous snake at her feet.

Loki takes one step forward and then another and another until he finds he cannot stop himself. Darcy skitters away from him until her back hits the wall leading into the living room. He looms over her with her holding the gun out by her side, chest heaving and face turned to the side with her eyes screwed shut.

“Whatever you’re gonna do just get it over with, okay? If you’re gonna turn me into some kind of mindless zombie at least make it quick.”

His heart contracts painfully in his chest, and he forces himself to breathe. Gently, he runs his fingers down the side of her face, trying to commit the feeling of her soft skin to memory. She flinches at his touch and tries to press herself flat against the wall. The gun hangs limply at her side. Loki stands there trying to will her to understand. For once, there is no scheme or plot. There is no mischief or ulterior motive. There is simply her and him.

When nothing happens, she opens her eyes to mere slits and glares at him. “What are you waiting for?” She turns her face fully towards him, eyes lit bright with defiance and anger.

His breath catches, and he plants a kiss on the top of her head. She jerks her head up violently and makes him bite his tongue. Loki’s mouth fills with the coppery tang of blood as he takes a step back, fighting down his temper.

Her brow is furrowed, and she points the gun at him once more. “What’s wrong with you? You think you can just lie to me and use me for months, and then, it’ll all be okay? You think I’ll happily go along in whatever new plot you’ve got going for world domination or killing off humanity just because you managed to fool me into thinking you loved me? Just because you fooled me into loving you?” Her voice cracks on loving, and the tears return. Her anger seems to gutter and snuff out like a doused fire until nothing but smoke and ruin remain.

There was no plot! There is no scheme or plan! It was never a rouse or a trick or anything. There was nothing false! It was real. It was all real. It still is! He wants to scream at her. He wants to rip the gun from her hand and take her by the shoulders and shake her until she sees the foolishness of this. There is only one fool here, and it is not her, his mother’s voice chimes in.

They stare at each across a chasm that seems wider than the length of the Bifrost and longer than the shadow his brother once threw over him. Out of spite, he spits blood onto the floor between them. He is a storm of emotions. He is hurt and worried and angry. Oh, he is so angry at her, at the Norns, at Thor, at Thanos, but mostly, at himself. The first rule of magic states that all things come with a price, and it seems his debt has finally come calling.

When he doesn’t move, Darcy lowers the gun once more with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I just wanna know why,” she hiccups and wipes the tears away furiously with the sleeve of her shirt. “I just wanna what I did do to deserve this shit. What did I ever do to you to make you want to come into my life and fuck it up so royally?”

A sob bubbles up in his chest and catches in his throat as the desperation builds in him. Loki sinks to his knees in front of her, willing, submissively, so unlike the first time. He settles onto his hands with his head hanging, his hair curtaining his face. He looks up at her desperately, pleadingly. He will grovel if he has to.

“You’re still trying?” she says in a voice thick with tears and disbelief. She gives a disgusted scoff and wipes her nose messily on the back of her sleeve. “You got a lot of fucking nerve. Just leave.”

Loki remains where he is but sits back on his heels and tilts his chin up in offering to expose his throat.

“What are you-nevermind,” she says in frustration, “I don’t care what you’re doing or why you’re doing it. I just want you out of my trailer. I don’t care where you go or what you do. Just get the fuck away from me.”

He swallows heavily. Please, Darcy, please, not like this, he wants to say to her.

“I said get the fuck out, Loki, or I’ll call someone who can make you.” She hurls his name like a stone from a sling at him.

He winces at her use of it. Never has it been spoken with such venom before.

“Fine, I’ll call fucking Tony or Thor or anybody. I don’t care,” she says and starts to walk back into the bedroom to get her phone.

A static charge fills the air and a golden ring of sparking energy hovers in the middle of the hallway.

“What are you doing?” she says in a panicked voice, turning to look at him with wide eyes and levering the gun at his head. “What the hell is going on?”

Loki can only shake his head as his stomach sinks at the familiar sight as if things could not get any worse the Norns have to go and prove him wrong once more.

The portal widens before their eyes revealing the interior of a private study.

“I was just going to ask you the same thing,” a smug voice says from the other side as a sickeningly familiar figure steps through. He looks around the narrow hallway with a look of faint disgust written on his narrow features.

“Who the fuck are you?” Darcy barks as she switches the gun from Loki to the sorcerer.

“My name is Dr. Strange, master of the mystic arts and sorcerer supreme, Ms. Lewis,” he replies smoothly, a slight smirk twitching his lips.

“Oh, so you’re him,” she says in a voice clearly unimpressed, and Loki cannot help the vicious glee that rises in his chest.

That’s my Darcy, he thinks reflexively.

“Yes, I am,” Strange deadpans as he wipes imaginary dust off the shoulder of his sentient cloak.

“So why did you suddenly decide to apparate into my trailer like a knock-off Lord Voldemort?”

He gives an indignant sniff at the insult. “I’m here for him,” he says as he turns his gaze towards Loki who is still kneeling on the floor.

The Frost Giant feels his hackles rise as he looks at Strange, his back going stiff and his hands curling into fists.

“I knew you really being dead was too good to be true,” the sorcerer snarks as he begins to move his hands in a circular pattern.

Loki feels his seidr pooling in his chest and lets it run into his fingers. This time he won’t make the mistake of underestimating the Midgardian magician.

“What no threats this time? What’s the matter?” Strange says as he takes a step forward and glyphs begin to shine the air.

Green light crackles at Loki’s fingertips.

The tension is so thick it could be sliced, and his focus has narrowed down to Strange. Let the upjumped hedge wizard think he could take Loki a second time. He was nothing but borrowed power.

Darcy breaks his concentration with a loud clearing of her throat.

“As much as I would like to witness this magical pissing contest, could you not do this in my trailer and thus possibly destroy it, maybe? Just a thought.”

Strange’s nose wrinkles in irritation. “I thought he was attacking you. You said his name in distress. That’s what triggered my wards. Though,” the sorcerer pauses and sniffs the air and gags, “you reek of his magic.”

“So?” Darcy says as she shifts nervously from foot to foot.

Strange’s face goes blank, and he tilts his head to the side like a dog puzzling out a trick. “His aura’s all over you. You’re saturated in essence of Loki. You’ve been fucking him,” he says in a clinical voice, “Really, Ms. Lewis, and Stark told me you were intelligent though I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s been wrong before.”

“Well, someone said-”

Loki doesn’t hear the rest of Darcy’s quip because he launches himself at Strange with a snarl. The sorcerer goes down with a yelp of surprise. That was the thing with magic users, they often forgot the power of a physical attack. Thor had beaten that out of Loki quite literally at an early age in the practice fields.

Strange is pinned beneath him and tries to land a punch but Loki catches it in one hand and pins it to the floor with his free hand wrapped around his neck. Strange is just starting to turn the ugliest shade of purple when that damned sentient cloak comes out of nowhere and wraps itself around Loki’s head. His hands fly up to rip the cursed thing off, and Strange uses the opportunity to roll out from underneath him.

His hands are tearing at it uselessly when suddenly it releases him, and he is being dragged across the floor by his ankles. Strange is pulling him towards a new portal with his ankles bound by a chain of orange, glowing glyphs. With a twist of his fingers, Loki changes Strange’s spell into a pair of snakes that uncoil from him and head towards his opponent.

With a tired sigh, Strange snaps his fingers and dissolves the snakes into nothingness.”Really? Aren’t you supposed to be a master sorcerer on Asgard? No wonder it blew up.”

The Asgardian gets to his feet and dodges an attack from the former surgeon with a space shard. He cannot help the grin that splits his face when his daggers fall easily into palms. Strange sends three at him at once that he deflects easily with a shield of green light. He hurls a spike of ice that Strange turns into a puddle of water on the floor. Loki conjures an illusion of a wall of daggers to send flying towards Strange when Darcy’s voice cuts in savagely.

“Hey dickweeds!” she yells. “Please take this outside or to another planet.”

“Ms. Lewis, I am trying to apprehend a known war criminal. If you would just let me-”

Darcy fires a shot into the ceiling, making them both jump. “Did I fucking stutter? I know exactly what he is,” she says venomously, fixing narrowed eyes on Loki. “Believe me, I know what kind of monster you’re dealing with.”

It is then that Loki is glad he is forcibly mute for the thousand cruel things he would say to her. Things that would cut her to the quick. Things could not be taken back or forgiven. A monster you made love to, he thinks, A monster on whose fingers, tongue, and cock you came until I was the only thing you saw. A monster you begged to fuck you in the supply closet where you work. My dear Darcy, if I am a monster then what does that make you?

“Then, you know how difficult he can be to catch sometimes. I would appreciate it if you would-”

“No,” she says flatly, eyes still on Loki, “I just want the both of you to go. Leave. If you don’t I’ll put a bullet in both of you.”

“As you wish,” Strange says and begins to move his right hand in a circle. Another portal opens in the middle of the hallway, revealing a section of the woods where Loki had hunted just a few nights ago.

The sorcerer steps through and looks expectantly over his shoulder. “Are you coming or will I have to force you?”

It is not Strange’s threat that convinces Loki to step through the portal, but Darcy’s expression. She looks so tired and defeated, but her mouth is set in a firm line and she holds the gun steadily at him while she says, “I meant what I said. I want you to leave and never come back. I won’t ask nicely again.”

Finally, he dips his head in acquiescence and follows Strange through. Loki keeps his eyes focused on her diminishing figure as the portal shrinks. She remains with the gun leveled at him the whole time until the very end when he sees her knees give way, and she kneels on the floor sobbing with her face in her hands. He runs towards the circle to get to her but it closes before he reaches it.

“Now, you’re going to come with me. We can either do this the easy way or the fun way,” Strange says snidely once again wearing that insufferable smirk. Had Loki looked so ridiculously pretentious when he mocked his opponents? Had he ever looked so ridiculous wearing his cape and horns as Strange did in his regalia?

Loki throws the magician a glare and spreads his arms in invitation with daggers drawn.

“Fine,” Strange replies, “have it your way.” He lifts into the air using the cloak and throws out a handful of long red bands of energy that surge towards him. Loki rolls out of the way and watches them bounce off the ground back towards him. When they come snaking back up, he cuts through them with his daggers, dispelling the energy into crimson sparks.

Strange’s hands move in a whirlwind, and Loki blocks a barrage of space shards with a thin wall of ice.

“That’s a new skill,” the Midgardian magician says in fascination.

The Frost Giant takes the distraction to freeze the end of the cloak in ice. The additional weight proves to be too much, and Strange comes crashing to the ground, the ice breaking with a tinkling sound.

Strange gets to his feet and walks around in a slow circle, his hands and lips moving the whole time. Suddenly, Loki is facing another attack from the red bands that come up from the ground like worms and crawl up his legs. He breaks them with a counter hex, and they fly away in a swarm of moths.

Loki knows he needs to end this and quickly, he has to get back to Darcy. He has to make her see. He creates eight independent duplicates of himself that run off in different directions while he circles back around behind Strange to a craft a counterattack.

He moves silently and swiftly until his back is pressed against the rough bark of a dead oak tree.

Strange continues to walk and starts to speak. “You really do care for her?” he says as he crunches slowly through the dead leaves littering the forest floor, his voice heavy with shock. “You know I thought it was another trick, but you really are just delusional enough to think you have a chance.”

Loki’s breath hitches in his throat at Strange’s words, anger bubbling in his chest. He tries to stamp it down, but it keeps rising.

“Take it from someone who knows from personal experience, you’re better off coming with me. There are some things you can’t fix no matter how much you would like to. Sometimes things are just too broken to be repaired.”

He is about to run from behind the tree to disembowel the chattering monkey when he finds himself pinned to it by his throat and his hands.

“You really didn’t expect me to fall for that petty little illusion, did you?” Strange appears before him suddenly closer than his voice had indicated, and Loki feels like a fool ten times over. Of course, Strange had used a throwing spell to decrease the volume of his voice.

“It might work on your brother, but I’m a little bit more sophisticated. It will take more than elementary spell work to throw me off,” he says as he takes a step closer to inspect his prisoner.

Loki skins his lips back from his teeth to bear them in a snarl. Strange tilts his head to the side in thought. “So that’s why you’re not running off at the mouth like usual. That’s quite a nasty piece of work. You must have really pissed someone off. I can’t say that I’m surprised. Now, I’m going to drag you back to the Sanctum as per our agreement. I’m sure your brother will be very interested to hear how you survived this time.”

The Trickster grins viciously, spits in his face, and activates the curse with a wave of his left hand. The bonds holding him evaporate, and he rubs his wrists to help return feeling to his hands while Strange stumbles backwards stunned.

“What did you do?” he gasps as he flails his arms uselessly about in the air. “What did you do?!”

Loki’s grin widens so much it is like to split his face. The solution had been simple really once he realized the source of the Midgardian’s powers. That’s the difference between Asgardian seidr and Midgardian craft. Seidr came from within. It is the wielder’s own life force and power made evident. While the sorcerers on Midgard are forced to draw power from other dimensions. Once, Loki had found the trail of power Strange was utilizing it was a simple matter of knotting it so badly it could not be accessed.

He walks forward slowly, relishing the rising distress evident on Strange’s face. The human moves his arm in a circle trying to summon another portal but nothing happens.

“You cut me off,” Strange chokes out as he stares down at his badly shaking hands. He clenches them into trembling fists and holds them to his chest. “You think you can win her back, but you can’t. She’s done with you, Loki.”

The Frost Giant hurls a dagger at Strange that catches him in the shoulder. Strange staggers and clutches at the wound as bright red blood pours between his quivering fingers. The wizard curses under his breath and rises into the air using his cloak.

Loki watches him leave as his figure grows ever smaller. When the last sight of Strange has disappeared entirely, he looks around himself. It is just now approaching dawn. The sky is cold and grey and the tree branches reach clawing into the sky like skeletal fingers. He orients himself and finds the direction back to the trailer. He picks his way carefully through the leaf litter with his blue bare feet and thinks. It is only perhaps a mile and half from home. He should be able to make it half an hour or so. Ten minutes into his journey, Loki stops in uncertainty. He flexes his hands into useless fists and stares up into the sky as if the answer will come to him there. Memories from earlier today replay in his mind and will not settle no matter how he tries. He cannot shake the image of Darcy leveling a gun at him with tears in her eyes. The sight of her sinking to her knees sobbing because of him haunts him.

He finds that his legs will no longer support him so he slumps against a barren tree and lets his hands dangle between his knees. He thinks and picks at his palms and fingers. He feels sick with the thought of confronting her again, the coward in him cringing at the thought of her words. Monster she had called him, and he could not say it wasn’t fitting given the rage he’d felt at her insult. Loki has ever been a slave to his temper in some ways worse than Thor.

Perhaps he can wait just until tomorrow to allow her time to cool off, process things, Yes, that’s what he’ll do. In the meantime, his jaw cracks open wide with a yawn, and the fatigue of the day starts to set in. Loki lays down on his side and conjures a wall of shadow to protect him from the rays of the sun and any prying eyes. He drifts off with words caught in his throat and thinking how much easier it would have been if he could have just told her.

***

It is not so much a dream as a memory because his day had not been bad enough apparently.

“Surely, we can come to some sort of agreement,” Loki says between broken and bloody teeth, voice smooth and silken as always. He pulls at his manacles, ignores the way they dig into his blue skin and burn the flesh. It is an old sensation. What is one burn atop a thousand older ones?

The figure in the shadows tuts at him and breaks into a giggle. “Ever the silvertongue, Jotunn?” a high, reedy voice says. “Are you sure you aren’t Odin’s get? He liked to talk quite a bit too if I recall.”

“I assure you, Odin was as much father to me as Thanos,” he lies. Odin had been a cruel bastard, but Thanos made him look positively paternal. Still, he couldn’t tell that to his most devoted child.

“But Thanos is the great father to us all,” Ebony Maw says as he steps into the watery violet light of Loki’s cell. If the stench of burned skin and hair bothers him, he does not show it. “We do not deserve his benevolence, but he seeks to to bestow it none-the-less,” he says in the reverential tone of a true fanatic.

Loki hides his cackle with a cough and a bowing of his head. “Yes, well, I’m sure the Universe will be quite grateful once he finishes his noble task.” He swallows against the dust gathering in his throat.

“As they should be,” Maw replies as he takes a step forward. He studies Loki with his small colorless eyes. His odd mouth quirks in amusement. “You know I was expecting so much more from Asgard’s premiere magic user. It seems your reputation exceeds you. You are a mere shadow of Frigga.”

“Do not speak her name, you vile-” Loki’s words end in a scream with a twist of Ebony Maw’s spidery fingers. Pain shoots up his spine and radiates through all of his limbs. He feels as if he has been spit roasted on one of Thor’s lightning bolts. At some point, the pain becomes too great, and he blacks out from it.

He does not know how long it is before he comes to, but Maw is standing before him with his square chin held in his hand. “What you lack in power, you certainly make up for in durability, don’t you? That spell I used on you has been known to rip lesser beings apart at a cellular level. It’s a deviation of Lordalian’s dispersion spell. It was originally intended to aid in the removal of noxious gases. I found it has delightful results on solid matter as well.”

“Fascinating,” Loki bites out, letting himself sag against the manacles. “Perhaps, you could show me if you would but remove these shackles. I think you’ll find I’m an apt student, and I could be of some use to Thanos. There are things I know that no one else in the universe does.”

Maw’s face screws up into a hideous facsimile of amusement. “Still you try to weasel your way out of it? Amazing. I do wonder how you would fare without that voice of yours. Certainly not any worse.” He taps the tip of his index finger against lips and then begins to chant in a low voice, words that Loki has never heard but somehow grasps the intent of.

The air fills with the smell of burning ozone that means powerful magic is being worked. Loki’s mouth and throat do not feel any different, but the spell is not quite done as Maw circles him slowly once more, still chanting softly under his breath.

When he comes back around to Loki’s front, he says, “Let’s test it shall we?”

Another electric surge hits him, and his back arches into a single great curve as his mouth opens and out comes a single terrible scream. The pain ends as quickly as it began, and he is left gasping raggedly for breath. Loki licks his chapped lips and gathers his wits about him. A witty retort comes to mind, but when he opens his mouth no words come out. His lips pull back from his teeth, and he tries to shout but still more silence.

“Perfect,” Maw says in delight and gives a little clap of his hands. “But these things must always have a loophole, mustn’t they? That is the way of magic after all. Cheques and balances. Let’s see, I know just the thing. It should be like something out of a fairy tale, don’t you think? You Asgardians are rather fond of them fashioning yourselves as false idols to those simple Terrans. Wouldn’t you like to hear it?”

It is then that Maw leans forward, fetid breath blowing across Loki’s cheek, and whispers his price.