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The Green Gentleman

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Darcy woke to a gentle shake of her shoulder and Loki softly calling out her name. She startled for a moment, drawn abruptly from a muddled dream where she was torn to pieces by a horrible storm. When she blinked her eyes open, Loki was leaning over her, a frown pinching his features.

He saw her eyes open. “Are you alright?” he asked. “Were you dreaming?”

“Yeah, it was nothing,” she said dismissively, pushing herself upright and rubbing a hand down her face. “What’s up?”

“Breakfast was sent up,” he told her. “My mother thought we would not be up for joining the household for meals at the moment.”

Darcy smiled faintly. “I’ve mentioned that I love your mom, right?”

“Several times,” Loki replied, returning her smile. He gestured toward the door to the sitting room. “I will be waiting for you, whenever you are ready.”

“Thanks,” Darcy said, and got out of bed to head to the bathroom.

Frigga had put the two of them in Loki’s old room. Loki had insisted that Darcy take the bed while he slept in the sitting room, if he had actually slept at all. Having to sleep separate was an unfortunate necessity and it hurt Darcy to the core, but she said nothing.

In the bathroom, she unbraided her hair and brushed it out so she could pin it up, washed her face, and slipped a thick robe over her nightgown before heading to the sitting room to join Loki. He was sitting at a small table on the terrace, the table itself loaded with more platters of food then they could possible eat in one sitting. He was reading from a tablet of some transparent material, golden runes displayed on the surface. As Darcy neared the table, she was met by the smell of coffee.

“Coffee?” she asked in disbelief. “How the hell did we manage to get coffee here ?”

Loki looked up at her and, with a perfectly straight face, replied, “Magic.”

Darcy rolled her eyes as she sat down. “Right. Of course .” She still poured herself a cup from the copper carafe and spooned sweetener into the dark liquid. Since it appeared that they had been given a dairy meal, she went ahead and added milk. She settled back in her chair and raised the cup to her lips, staring at Loki.

“So your dad is throwing you a party in two days,” she said. “You gonna be up for it?”

“It will hardly be the first time I’ve suffered through a banquet I had no desire to attend,” he said with a sniff.

“Yeah, but you’re, you know,” Darcy said with a vague wave.

“Broken?” Loki said archly, putting the tablet on the table with more force than strictly necessary.

Sensitive ,” Darcy corrected firmly. “I don’t think it’s healthy for you to be around that many people right now.”

Loki looked down at his own steaming cup of coffee, turning it around with restless fingers. “I do not have much of a choice,” he said at length. “As a prince, there are certain… expectations.”

“Even at the expense of your mental health?” Darcy challenged.

Loki still didn’t meet her gaze. “It would not be wise to allow Asgard to see me as weak, or afflicted,” he told her softly.

“You’re not weak,” Darcy interjected, more bite to her voice than she’d intended. Loki looked up at her, his eyes inquisitive. “Being a victim does not make you weak. You were barely more than a kid when Skuld…” She trailed off and shook her head. “You’ve never been weak, Loki,” she finished instead.

Loki licked his lower lip. “The Asgardians will not have so intimate a knowledge of what occurred as you,” he told Darcy. “They will not understand things as well as you have.”

“Well, they can all go to hell as far as I’m concerned,” Darcy said flippantly with a shrug.

Loki snorted, a smile touching his mouth. “You are… remarkably unconcerned with everything, my dear.”

“I try to be,” Darcy said, putting her cup down so she could load food onto her plate. It was the usual Asgardian breakfast; fresh fruit, yoghurt, cheese and cheese curd, fresh bread studded with dried fruit, butter, and clotted cream. As they ate in comfortable silence, Víl the raven flew in from the city and landed on the arm of Loki’s chair.

Loki studied the raven for a moment before offering it a chunk of bread. Víl daintily plucked the morsel from Loki’s fingers and gulped it down before hopping onto Loki’s arm and side-walking up to his shoulder, where he settled down and began preening Loki’s newly-shortened hair.

Darcy snorted while trying to cover up a laugh and Loki glared mildly at her while trying to keep his head still under Víl’s ministrations.

“Admit it,” Darcy challenged. “You like it.”

Loki’s glare grew more heated but he didn’t reply. Instead he allowed the bird to continue to preen him until Víl deemed his self-appointed duty complete, and began to beg for more bread, which Loki immediately caved and gave him.

A servant appeared on the terrace and bowed to both of them. She caught sight of the raven on Loki’s shoulder and stared for a moment before remembering herself and turning to Darcy. “My lady, Lord Heimdall requests the privilege of your presence at your convenience.”

Darcy nodded regally. “Thank you. I will be along shortly.”

The servant bowed again and exited the room. Darcy turned back to her food to see Loki watching her. “What?” she demanded.

He smiled faintly. “It is good to see you as Lady Sigyn, sometimes,” he replied. “She suits you well.”

Darcy shrugged. “She’s me. It’s hard to reconcile that, sometimes, but she is.” She put down her fork and got to her feet. “I should get dressed. Do you want to go to the Bifrost with me?”

Loki nodded. “I will,” he replied. He was already dressed; wearing simple, plain garments, not at all in keeping with his status as prince. It was more suited to a lagsmaðr of a norn, who needed no accoutrements of rank.

Due to her spending the night in Loki’s room, Darcy had no Asgardian clothing to change into. She decided against putting on the white chainse from the Well of Fate and went with the black t-shirt and black jeans she still had from earth, layering her purple coat over it. When she rejoined Loki in the sitting room, he raised an eyebrow at her.

“What?” she asked defensively. “I’m human. No harm in reminding people of that.”

“Human, yes,” Loki agreed. “But mortal no longer.”

Darcy’s brow furrowed. “Right,” she said slowly. She’d tried not to think about it, the fact that her lifespan was now measured in the thousands. “Moving on,” she continued briskly, shoving her hands in her pockets. “Are you gonna invite Víl along, too?”

The raven was now perched on the table, drinking milk from a glass Loki had poured for him. Loki eyed the raven for a moment, and then raised his arm. He whistled sharply, experimentally. The raven immediately abandoned his milk and flapped to Loki’s arm, which he crab-walked up to settle on Loki’s shoulder.

“I guess so,” Loki said, looking back at Darcy.

“He is a messenger bird,” Darcy pointed out. “Probably wouldn’t hurt you to use him as such.”

Loki reached up absently and rubbed Víl’s head. The bird closed his eyes blissfully under Loki’s attentions. “Perhaps,” he said.

The walk to the Bifrost was a long one, and took them through most of the palace and through the city of Asagarth. Everywhere they went, people stopped to greet Loki, their expressions guarded, wary. Darcy got the impression they were watching him, trying to evaluate him, to see exactly what sort of man he was now. Loki returned each greeting with neutral politeness, remaining distant and regal but above reproach.

They were almost out of the city when they ran into a group of young nobles, all gathered in a tight knot around Tyr. For a moment Loki looked as if he wanted to flee, and he grabbed Darcy’s arm, drawing her close to him as if he intended to teleport them. But then one of the noblewomen caught sight of them.

“Loki!” she cried out, and broke away from the group to bound over to them as if intending to throw her arms around Loki. Darcy pressed herself against Loki’s side to discourage this, and the young woman thankful ground to an awkward halt in front of them.

She was beautiful, as most Asgardians were, with bright, honey-gold hair and deep, emerald eyes. She was wearing an elaborately embroidered gown of dusty rose and had two heavily-jeweled daggers sheathed on the right side of her gold belt.

“Hello, Hretha,” Loki greeted, a bit stiffly. Hretha clasped her hands in front of her and composed herself.

“Hello, Loki,” she replied solemnly. “I was pleased to hear the Allfather’s proclamation last night.”

“Thank you,” Loki replied, relaxing slightly. He inclined his head in Darcy’s direction. “May I present my spouse, Lady Sigyn of the Norns? Darcy, this is Lady Hretha, my cousin.”

Hretha blinked. “I am sorry, shall I call you Lady Sigyn, or Lady Darcy?”

“Darcy, please,” Darcy replied, holding out her hand. “It’s the name of my current vessel and I prefer to use it.”

“Of course,” Hretha said instantly, squeezing Darcy’s hand firmly. “It is wonderful to meet you, Lady Darcy.”

“Yeah, you too,” Darcy agreed neutrally.

“You must meet everyone else!” Hretha insisted, tugging Darcy along by the hand towards the cluster of young Asgardians. Darcy shot a look at Loki, who only shrugged helplessly. “This is Baldr,” Hretha announced, pointing to a golden-haired young man with somewhat effeminate features. “And his wife Nanna.” This was a young woman with a solemn expression and grave, brown eyes. “And that is Bragi and Idunn.” They were fraternal twins but still looked eerily alike. “And this is the eldest of us, Tyr.”

“We’ve met,” Darcy said flatly.

Hretha must not have picked up  on Darcy’s tone, because she smiled and finally released Darcy’s hand. “I suppose we are your family now, for we are all Loki’s cousins!”

Darcy blinked and looked back at Loki again. “How many cousins do you have?” she demanded.

“On my father’s side, this is all of them,” he replied. “On my mother’s side… many.”

“Good grief,” Darcy said.

Idunn stepped forward and offered her hand to Darcy. “We are all very much looking forward to the banquet in yours and Loki’s honor,” she said as Darcy took her hand. “It has been some time since the Allfather has held such an event.”

“Yes, I’m told it will be quite… extensive,” Bragi added.

“Of course, if Loki is not feeling up to it, I suppose the two of you won’t attend,” Tyr said, tilting his head and staring challengingly at Loki.

“But if I did not, you would be so distraught at my absence,” Loki returned, his voice sickly sweet.

Hretha frowned and looked between them. “There’s no need for that here,” she said firmly. “Can you two not be civil to one another for a few moments? We have a guest .”

“Oh, but I would hate to give Lady… Darcy … a false view of life with her new family,” Tyr replied.

Hretha scowled at him and turned to Darcy. “I wish I could say they are not always like this, but they are always like this.”

“So I gathered,” Darcy said dryly. She looked up when Loki once more took her arm, drawing her close to his side.

“It was lovely to see you again,” he told Hretha. “But Darcy and I are on our way to see Heimdall. I bid you good day.”

“Yes, of course!” Hretha said. “Good day! We will see you soon, I hope.”

“If all goes well,” Loki replied, throwing a dirty look at Tyr, who grinned maliciously and inclined his head mockingly.

“It seems as if very little is going well for you these days, my lord cousin,” Tyr said.

Baldr smacked Tyr upside the back of his head. “Shut your mouth, you dolt,” he said in a surprisingly deep voice. “Loki is our kin, and a prince . You would do well to remember that.” He turned to look at Loki. “We do not share his sentiment, my friend.”

“No, Baldr, I never thought you did,” Loki said mildly, and started walking past them without another word.

Darcy blew out a deep breath. “Dude. You weren’t kidding when you said Tyr loathed you. He has hate down to a science .”

Loki looked down at her. “You felt it, then?”

She nodded. “I wanted to see what you were talking about. Does Odin know?”

Loki pressed his lips together. “Tyr is not subtle,” he said at length.

“And Odin appointed him as his advisor?” Darcy demanded.

Loki sighed through his nose. “It is… complicated.”

“Make it simple,” Darcy ordered.

Loki sighed again. “Odin’s brother Odr governed Vanaheim, for a time. He was entitled to a position in Odin’s council, as a ruler of one of the Nine Realms. But Odr was not a wise man, and the Vanir grew displeased with his rule, so they removed him from the throne and elected a ruler of their own.”

“Their very own revolutionary war,” Darcy muttered. Loki gave her a quelling look and she gestured for him to continue.

“Odr died shortly after, of shame, some say, but his son Tyr inherited a great many lands on Vanaheim, and much wealth. However, the Vanir are afraid he will try to claim kingship over them once more, and have forbidden him from returning to Vanaheim. But he is still entitled to his father’s holdings here, on Asgard, and to his father’s place on Odin’s council.”

Darcy frowned. “If Odr was Odin’s brother, how come Odin didn’t try to stop the Vanir from kicking him to the curb?” As soon as the question was out of her mouth, her recalcitrant memories filled in the blanks. “Because they did everything peacefully and legally. Right. Sorry.”

“The Vanir were well within their rights to depose an unfit ruler,” Loki told her. “The Asgardians can do the same. It has been so for many thousands of years.”

Darcy rubbed her forehead. “Okay… but Odin still lets Tyr parade around the palace while making it no secret that he hates you?”

“This hate… this is a new thing,” Loki told her. “Before, we merely did not get along. I did not get along with many people. It is only now that he actively loathes me.”

Darcy glared. “Well, he needs to back the fuck off before I break his nose. I won’t let him talk to you like that.”

Loki shook his head. “As a norn, you are above our laws and customs,” he said. “But it would be extremely unseemly for you to resort to physical violence over a childish feud. You would lose a great deal of respect on Asgard, and I will not allow that.”

Darcy’s glare devolved into a scowl. “Fine,” she relented. “But if he keeps talking to you that way, you need to break his nose. Can you challenge him to a duel? Do Asgardians duel?”

Loki snorted. “I am a member of the royal family, even if just by adoption. I will never sit on the throne of Asgard, but I am still considered too valuable to be allowed to partake in a duel.”

Darcy pouted. “Shame.”

Heimdall was, of course, waiting for them when they arrived at the Bifrost. He stepped down from the dais to greet them, eyes resting on Víl perched contentedly on Loki’s shoulder.

“Hello again, Darcy,” he said, choosing to raise Darcy’s hand to his lips rather than embrace her, as he was wearing his full armor. “I am glad you accepted my invitation.”

“As if I would refuse,” Darcy said with a snort. “How you been? Seen anything exciting?”

“Mostly I have been watching you,” he replied with a faint smile. “Though you have been hidden from my sight since you reached the Well of Fate.”

“That would be my doing,” Loki said softly. “I shielded us both from unwanted attention.”

Heimdall nodded gravely. “That was a wise decision.”

Darcy frowned and pointed at Heimdall. “Wait a sec. You’ve been watching me?” she demanded. “Since when?”

“Since the Convergence, most recently,” Heimdall said easily. “But I have always kept at least one eye on you, since your death on Midgard.”

Darcy blinked and exchanged a look with Loki. “So… you knew Loki was alive?” Darcy asked slowly. “After, you know, Svartalfheim?”

“Yes,” Heimdall said, resting his hand on the hilt of his sheathed sword.

It was Loki’s turn to blink and stare at Heimdall. “You knew, and said nothing?” he pressed.

Heimdall shrugged with the scrape of metal against metal. “It was not my place to do so,” he told the two of them. “You were not a threat to the safety of this Realm, and Darcy seemed to have the situation well in hand.”

Darcy and Loki exchanged another look, Loki’s sour and Darcy’s resigned. Loki turned back to Heimdall, schooling his expression. “Heimdall,” he said slowly. “Any grievances I might have caused you--”

“--Were not caused by you,” Heimdall interrupted dismissively. “And you have nothing to apologize for.”

Darcy felt a surge of affection for Heimdall, her oldest friend, and couldn’t hide the smile that spread on her face. Loki, for his part, looked taken aback, and then inclined his head gratefully towards Heimdall. Heimdall turned and strode back to the dais.

“I invited you here because Sif is shortly to return to Asgard with Thor,” Heimdall told the two of them. “I thought you would want to be present to greet them.”

Loki drew in a sharp breath, audible enough to cause both Darcy and Heimdall to look at him inquiringly. But all he did was slowly nod his head, and then reached out almost instinctively for Darcy’s hand. When their skin touched, however, Loki jerked his hand back, remembering himself, before Darcy had a chance to absorb anything from Loki’s mind.

Heimdall drew his sword and slid it into its place on the dais, waiting for a signal only he could see and hear. After a few seconds of silence, he pressed the sword down, triggering the Bifrost. The chamber began to spin as the mouth of the bridge lowered into position. The panels bordering the mouth of the bridge opened, ready to safely deposit the travellers into the reception chamber.

The rainbow energy surged forth from the generator, piercing the far distance, shimmering and humming with its own power. It lasted only a handful of heartbeats before three familiar figures stepped out of the column of light and into the chamber.

Jane blinked and looked around, slightly dazed. She caught sight of Darcy almost right away, and squealed in excitement before bounding over and wrapping Darcy in a hug so tight that Darcy’s feet came off the floor.

“Eep,” Darcy squeaked, and hugged Jane back. “Good to see you, too, Janey.”

“Oh, my god, I was so worried about you!” Jane babbled without letting go of Darcy. “The last time we heard anything you were going to do the symbiosis thing with Yggdrasil, and then we didn’t hear anything from you for like, three weeks, and we didn’t know what was happening, and then Sif comes back and tells us Loki is alive , which--”

Jane abruptly cut herself off and whirled to look at Loki, who was watching Jane with something akin to amusement. “Can I hug you?” Jane demanded of him. “Or would that be too weird?”

Loki’s amusement vanished behind a smooth mask of emotionlessness. “I’m afraid I cannot bear to be touched at the moment,” he told her in a neutral tone. “But otherwise I would say no, it would not be strange, nor unwelcome.”

“Oh,” Jane said weakly, stepping back from both Darcy and Loki, and looked uncertainly up at Thor, who had spent the last few moments staring intently at Loki.

Thor closed the distance between himself and Loki and held out his right arm, staring Loki straight in the face. “Well met, brother,” he said quietly. Loki reached up to briefly grip Thor’s forearm before dropping his grip.

“Well met, indeed,” Loki replied. “It is good to see you, Thor, after everything.”

“I am very pleased to see you are not dead,” Thor said earnestly. “And it pains me that this is the third time I’ve had cause to say that.”

“Not by intent, I assure you,” Loki replied wryly, his mouth twisting into the ghost of a smile. “I would hope not to do it again.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it,” she said dramatically. “I don’t think I could take it a fourth time.”

Jane looked between the two of them. “So, are you two, you know, still… together?” she asked hesitantly. “Because didn’t you guys bond while Loki was still…” she trailed off, a frown creasing her features.

Darcy and Loki exchanged a look, during which Loki shrugged fractionally to Darcy’s unspoken question, causing Víl to shift his balance.

“Yes,” Darcy said finally, choosing to leave it at that.

“Oh,” Jane said, and they fell into awkward silence. “Oh!” Jane said again, more enthusiastic this time, and reached into her pocket. “Before I forget.” She pulled out three creased envelopes of differing sizes and colors, and shoved them towards Darcy. “These are for you.”

Darcy took them curiously. Each one had a name somewhere on it. One read “Steve,” another “Natasha,” and a third one “Erik Selvig.” Darcy blinked at them through suddenly watery eyes. “Thanks,” she told Jane, and carefully stored the envelopes in her pocket dimension for later.

“So… Apparently there’s gonna be some kind of party?” Jane asked, looking between all of them.

Darcy cleared her throat. “Yeah. Supposed to be pretty big, too.”

“All of Asagarth has been invited,” Sif replied flatly, restlessly playing with her sword-belt.

Thor beamed and, forgetting himself, clapped Loki heavily on the shoulder. “Of course! We have much to celebrate! Loki’s return, and his bonding with Darcy. Father wants all of Asgard to share in our joy!”

“Father wants to present a united front after our family being in conflict for so long,” Loki replied dryly, but not bitterly. “And to show his support for the norns, now that it is publically announced I am Darcy’s lagsmaðr. It would be unseemly for him to continue his… disapproval of Darcy.”

“Wasn’t he considering banning you from Asgard at one point?” Jane asked Darcy.

“Yeah, he didn’t take too kindly to me helping bust this one out of jail,” Darcy replied, hooking her thumb in Loki’s direction.

“No, he didn’t,” Thor agreed, but then recovered his jovial mood. “But come now, that is all in the past! For now, we celebrate!” He turned to Darcy and held out his arms. Darcy obliged by hugging him, and like Jane, he lifted her off her feet in his enthusiasm. “Now you truly are my sister, in more than just spirit.”

“What’d I do to deserve that?” Darcy asked mockingly, but Thor only laughed and put her back on her feet.

Bidding farewell to Heimdall, the five of them set off back towards the palace, Thor regaling them with tales of previous celebrations, one of which had almost incited a battle much like the one they had been celebrating. Apparently that one had been Sif’s fault.

They headed straight to the throne room, as Sif had been instructed to bring Thor directly to Odin. When they arrived, both Frigga and Odin were waiting for them, along with Freyr, Tyr, and another Asgardian male Darcy hadn’t met yet. He was wearing formal clothes, but not armor. His hair and eyes were both dark brown, and his expression was haughty though he was not especially attractive.

“Thor!” Frigga said, extending her hands to her older son. Thor took her hands in his and kissed her cheek.

“Hello, mother,” he greeted.

“It is good to see you again,” Frigga told him, and then turned to Jane. “Hello, Jane Foster. Welcome back to Asgard.”

“Thanks,” Jane said breathlessly. “It’s good to be back.”

While Thor greeted Odin, Freyr, and Tyr, Darcy elbowed Loki in the ribs and indicated the unfamiliar Asgardian. “Who’s that?” she asked in a low voice.

“Svein Lothbrokson,” Loki whispered back. “He is Tyr’s blood brother and sworn companion. They were fostered together on Vanaheim.”

“So he’s a flunky?” Darcy asked.

Loki raised an eyebrow. “Essentially, yes.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “Awesome.”

As if attracted by the mention of his name, Svein Lothbrokson zeroed in on Darcy and then prowled over, his focus entirely on her. “Lady Sigyn,” he all but purred, extending his hand towards her. “So wonderful to meet you. I am--”

“Svein Lothbrokson, I know,” Darcy interrupted him, not taking his hand. Rude and petty, yes, but she was a norn, and she was allowed.

Svein, however, was not fazed. He merely lowered his hand and smiled faintly. “I have been looking forward to meeting you, ever since I’d heard you were a guest here.”

“Yeah?” Darcy asked, raising her eyebrows. “Which time? I’m here, like, every other week.”

“For the banquet, of course,” Svein replied. “Have you ever attended one of the Allfather’s banquets before, my lady?”

“Not for over a thousand years,” Darcy replied mildly. Víl decided to hop from Loki’s shoulder down to Darcy’s, and Darcy managed not to jump in surprise. Svein’s intense gaze was momentarily sidetracked by the raven when the bird started pecking at the sparkly pins keeping Darcy’s hair up.

“I fear you may find it a bit overwhelming after so long spent on such a… quaint Realm as Midgard,” Svein continued, dragging his eyes back to Darcy’s face.

Darcy shook her head to discourage Víl from stealing any of the pins, which had been gifts from Frigga, and leveled a mild glare at Svein. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, Mr Lothbrokson. But thank you for your concern.”

“Oh, do call me Svein,” Svein said in a manner that would have been called coquettish had he been female. “If you desire, I would be happy to attend to you at the banquet, should you need someone to… guide you.”

“Lady Sigyn will be in attendance with the royal family,” Loki interjected coldly, staring at Svein with ice in his eyes. “As is her right, as a spouse of a prince.”

Svein merely smiled back with that same smug, unfazed expression. “I was given to understand that bonds with the norns are more… informal. So could she really be called a spouse? Is that the correct term?” Before Loki could respond, he turned once more to Darcy. “I ask only for the sake of my own education. I would hate to appear ignorant.”

“How they want to define their relationship is up to each norn and their lagsmaðr,” Darcy said flatly. “Which is, frankly, none of your business.”

“Is it not?” Svein looked genuinely surprised. “Does it not concern the royal family, which in turn concerns us all? Loki is, after all, second in line to the throne, and as a member of the court, it is my business to be aware of all… political aspects.”

“Do not hide your meddlesome plots behind some veneer of duty,” Loki abruptly snapped, and Darcy, who was standing close to him, could feel the temperature of his body plummet. “You have always been a dreadful climber, Lothbrokson; intent to claw your way up to power, using whatever and whomever you can along the way.”

Svein pressed a hand to his chest. “You wound me, my lord,” he said, without looking insulted. “I pray you, do not defame me in front of such a noble witness.”

Loki stepped forward, bringing himself face to face with Svein. He was a good three inches taller than the other man. “She belongs to me,” he growled in a low, dangerous voice. “Come near her again with your treacherous words and I will slit your throat.”

Svein didn’t blink, didn’t waver from his cat-like smirk. He didn’t reply, and didn’t have to, because Odin’s voice cracked out in the ensuing silence.

Loki !” Odin barked. Loki’s head jerked around towards his adopted father. The king of Asgard scowled at his younger son, and gestured angrily. “Are we so ill-mannered that we offer insults and threats to members of our own court?” the Allfather demanded. “I would no longer expect such behavior from you. Not anymore.”

Loki swallowed, his fists clenched, and stepped back from Svein, who continued to watch Loki with a predatory expression. Loki bowed stiffly to the Allfather, and then turned and left the throne room without a glance in Darcy’s expression, leaving the raven to stare forlornly after him. Once Loki was gone, Svein drifted back to Tyr’s side, forgetting Darcy as if she was suddenly beneath his notice.

Jane crossed over to Darcy. “What the hell was that about?” she whispered.

“I have no idea,” Darcy whispered back, reaching up to stroke Víl’s head with one finger. A moment later, Frigga joined them.

“Is Loki well?” she asked Darcy quietly.

“No,” Darcy said bluntly. “He was imprisoned in his own body for hundreds of years and then he had the entire universe downloaded into his brain, after which he was torn into tiny pieces and put back together.”

Frigga flinched at Darcy’s words. “It is so easy, to forget,” she murmured. “All we want is for things to go back as they were, but they cannot. Not for him.”

“No,” Darcy agreed, pressing her lips together.

For a moment Frigga stared after Loki, her expression pensive. Then she shook herself and looked down at the two shorter women. “Well, I suppose we need to find you both something to wear at the banquet. You will be the center of attention, no doubt.”

Jane gulped. “Um. Yeah. Maybe can we not be that?”

Frigga took Jane’s arm and looped it through hers. “Oh, there’s nothing for it, I’m afraid,” she said. “You will spend the evening on the arm of the heir to the throne. Every woman will envy you and every man will want you.”

“Oh,” Jane said, deflating. “Fantastic.”

“Do not be troubled,” Frigga told her kindly. “It will be no different for Darcy. At least the two of you can commiserate.”

“You’re so considerate,” Darcy said sarcastically as they headed out of the throne room. She looked over her shoulder in the direction Loki had left one last time, and wished she knew what was going on inside his head.