Neither Darcy nor Loki got any more sleep that night. Darcy didn’t dare, lest the nightmare return, and Loki remained awake to keep her company. They spent the rest of the night huddled together, not speaking. Sometimes Darcy would almost start to drift off, exhaustion taking hold, only to jerk awake when her brain thought it was once more unable to move her limbs. Each time, Loki would stroke her back, murmuring soothingly in her ear, until her heartbeat calmed and her breathing slowed.
By morning, Darcy was bone-tired and strung out. Loki was no better off. His headache had returned and he was irritable and light-sensitive, which Darcy only found out when she accidentally hit the control for the window coverings on her way to the bathroom.
Morning light flooded the room, and Loki made a startled sound of pain, burying his face against a pillow and dragging a second one over his head. Darcy hurriedly stabbed the panel with one finger until the coverings darkened again, blocking out the light.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Loki, I’m so sorry.”
She heard his muffled groan, his only reply, and sighed before finishing her shuffle into the bathroom. Loki had no mirrors anywhere in his quarters, not even in the bathroom, which Darcy suddenly found herself grateful for, because she really didn’t care to see how awful she looked. She was further grateful that Loki was a fan of expediency, and had a shower stall rather than an olympic-sized bath tub.
Her hip and leg were still covered in bruises, but they had faded to yellow-green, thanks to the care of the Asgardian healers. The bruises around her throat were similarly faded, and her throat was barely sore. Score one for advanced medical care.
Showering did nothing to wake her up, and she didn’t feel like struggling with her hair, so she braided it into a simple plait and went in search of something to wear. Frigga had provided her with several dresses, but she didn’t feel like struggling with those, either, and stole a shirt from Loki’s closet. It was olive green, with darker stitching around the neck and hem. She had to roll the sleeves up so she could free her hands, but Loki’s lanky build meant that she filled the chest out pretty well. She put on the black jeans she’d left earth wearing and a pair of flat slippers that had been meant to go with one of her Asgardian dresses.
Loki was still in bed when she emerged, head still buried under the pillows. Darcy poured a glass of water and shook out a tablet from the bottle of painkillers the healers had given them. She also summoned a pair of sunglasses from her pocket dimension.
“Loki,” she said, poking his bare shoulder. He grunted and didn’t move. She poked him again. “ Loki .”
He pulled the pillow aside enough that she could see one eye squint blearily at her. She held out the painkiller. He took it from her and swallowed it dry, ignoring the glass of water she offered. When she handed him the sunglasses, he held them gingerly in one hand, eying her inquiringly.
“What?” she asked. “They’re unisex.”
They were oversized aviators, which Darcy honestly believed flattered everyone. Loki put them delicately on the side table and rolled reluctantly out of bed. It wasn’t until he was showered and dressed that he realized she was wearing one of his shirts.
He stared at her for several seconds, expression unreadable, eyes dilated and bloodshot. Darcy eyed him back, unable to read his reaction. “What?” she asked again. She plucked at the shirt. “Did you want to wear this?”
Loki crossed over to her and put his fingers under her chin, tilting her head back. He kissed her, slow and sweet, deliberate, but only as a means to its own end, leading nowhere. He asked for nothing more. It was still enough to make Darcy’s breath catch in her throat and she swayed forward, having to catch herself with one hand against his chest. She didn’t try to follow when he pulled away. She would let him take the lead with this, let him determine what he was comfortable with.
“Keep the shirt,” he told her with a faint curl to his lips. “It suits you.”
Despite his initial reaction, Loki took the sunglasses when they left, and Darcy allowed herself a moment of amusement at the sight of him, wearing Asgardian clothing and dark-tinted aviators, before her mood darkened again.
They both knew where they were heading without speaking, and when they arrived in the antechamber of the throne room, the rest of Loki’s family was already gathered, including Jane. The other human was the first to greet them, hugging Darcy silently and putting her hand on Loki’s arm, smiling sadly up at him. Loki nodded solicitously back at her.
Frigga was sitting in a corner, staring blankly out the window. She was not dressed in mourning for her brother. Darcy figured she probably wasn’t allowed, since Freyr had committed treason. She hesitated for a long moment, and then slowly walked over to the queen.
“Frigga?” she asked softly. The Aesir woman looked up, startled, and her expression cleared when she saw Darcy.
“Ah. Good morning, my dear,” Frigga said, sounding as weary as Darcy felt. Darcy offered Frigga her hand, which Frigga took and held tightly.
“I’m sorry about your brother,” Darcy said, her throat closing up.
“Oh, Darcy,” Frigga said, clearly fighting back tears. “Please do not blame yourself. Freyr… Freyr made his choice.”
“He was still your brother,” Darcy replied.
Frigga nodded, and pressed Darcy’s hand briefly to her cheek. “You and Loki are leaving, are you not?”
Darcy nodded. “We’re gonna stay with my parents on earth for a while.”
“Good,” Frigga said, her eyes unfocusing again. “I am glad. Hopefully it will do the both of you some good.”
“Absolutely not,” Odin said behind Darcy, and she turned around, pulling her hand free from Frigga’s. The Allfather was glaring at Loki with his one eye, and Loki scowled back behind his sunglasses. “You cannot leave now. It is out of the question.”
Darcy’s first instinct was to dive into the conversation, to tell Odin that it was her idea to go to earth, and he could back the fuck off. But something, some part of her made her stop and bite her tongue. No. She needed to let Loki handle this. If she wanted him to let her fight her own battles, she needed to give him the same courtesy.
Loki pushed his sunglasses up his nose and stared through them at his father. “And why is that?” he asked pointedly.
“What would the people think?” Odin snapped. “You leaving, so soon after--”
“After you once more accused me of treason, solely on the grounds that I am the monster that lives in your palace?” Loki said archly.
Thor stepped in, holding his hand out to Loki. “Brother, you know it was nothing--”
“Do I?” Loki interrupted. “Let me tell you what I know , brother. I was imprisoned without trial, again , for defending my spouse against ones who would harm her, without recourse, without a chance to explain myself, because I am Loki, the Jotun, the hostage that the Allfather plucked from battle to raise like some twisted mockery of a war trophy! So that he could look at me and say ‘Yes, I defeated the Frost Giants! See this stunted misbirth of theirs I keep as a pet .’”
Again, Darcy wanted to jump in, to contradict him, to prove him wrong, but still she held her tongue, watching, listening. Frigga pushed to her feet beside Darcy and crossed over to him, putting a hand soothingly on his arm.
“We do not see you that way, my son,” she told him softly. “But you must see this is not easy for us.”
Loki looked down at his mother in disbelief. “Easy for you ?” he echoed. “ You were not the ones imprisoned in your own mind for nearly half your life, or forced to try to kill your own kin, or to slaughter hundreds of innocents in a senseless bid for power. What does it matter if it has been easy for you ?”
He shook his mother’s hand from his arm and stepped backwards away from his parents. “I am leaving, by your will or no. I know not when I shall return, if I shall at all. Do not seek me out. Do not send me messengers. For once in your lives, just leave me in peace.”
He held his hand out to Darcy, who silently crossed over and took it in hers. Loki turned toward the door, and she followed him.
“Loki!” Thor called after them.
Loki stopped, but he didn’t look back. “No, brother,” he said, just loud enough for Thor to hear him. “Not this time.”
With that, they left.
Darcy didn’t say anything until they were alone, halfway back to Loki’s chambers to retrieve their belongings. “Are you sure that was a good idea?” she asked, looking up at him.
He didn’t look back at her. “What, precisely, do you mean?” he asked tightly.
“Kinda burning your bridges there, babe,” Darcy pointed out. “Odin can be a dick, but he’s your dad , and you were kinda harsh on your mom and Thor.”
“They deserve far harsher,” Loki bit out.
“Loki,” Darcy tried to begin, but he cut her off by dropping her hand and whirling on her.
“I remember it, Darcy,” he snarled. “All of it, during . I remember being cast into the dungeons without so much as a lipservice of a trial, and every moment I was confined there. And now they did the exact same thing, when I was equally unable to speak for myself.”
Darcy forced herself not to step away from him, assured herself that his anger was not directed at her, but she could feel the air temperature drop as his anger coalesced around him. “Loki,” she said again, and again he cut her off.
“They act like it is different, that they understand, but it is still the same! They still treat me as a traitor!” He clenched his fists and turned away from her, the lines in his back tense with restrained anger. “They will never see me as anything but their pet monster.”
“ I don’t think you’re a monster,” Darcy said sharply. He hunched his shoulders and ducked his head, hands still clenched. Darcy cautiously walked up behind him and put her hand on his back. He flinched, but didn’t pull away. “Hey. It’s okay to be mad, I get it,” she said softly. “I would be, too. But you can’t just cut them out of your life because they need time adjusting.”
“I do not owe them time,” Loki snapped, but without any heat. “I do not owe them anything.”
“ Loki ,” Darcy said a third time, a warning in her voice.
He held himself tense for a long moment, and then abruptly relaxed with a deep sigh. Darcy rubbed his back a couple of times. “It’s okay,” she said again. He turned around and caught her hand, bringing it to his lips.
“I am sorry,” he said softly. “You did not deserve that.”
“I know,” she replied, nodding. “But I also know that there’s a lot you’re going through, and you need to blow off steam sometimes. I did take Psych 101 in college. I know what PTSD is.”
He held her hand to his chest and stared pensively down at her. “And what about you?”
Darcy shrugged. “What about me?”
“Everything you have suffered,” Loki pointed out. “Who bears your burdens?”
“I do,” Darcy said firmly. “I’m a norn. I’ve lived for literally ever. I deal with my own shit.”
Loki’s expression, even hidden behind the sunglasses, was sad. He lifted her hand again and kissed her knuckles. “You do not have to,” he told her.
Darcy smiled somewhat wearily. “It’s okay. Let’s handle one person’s baggage at a time.”
Víl the raven was waiting for them when they got back to Loki’s rooms, perched on the railing of the terrace. Darcy made a beeline for him as soon as she caught sight of him. “Aw, poor thing,” she cooed. “Did you think we were going to leave without you?”
“Harken,” the bird replied, bobbing his head up and down.
Darcy cooed again and offered him her arm. Víl hopped up, causing her arm to sink under his weight, and side-walked up to her shoulder, where he settled down with a satisfied fluffing of his feathers. Darcy turned around to see Loki watching her, and he shook his head in fond exasperation.
Most of Darcy’s things were already stored in her pocket dimension. All she did was retrieve her coat and the ribbon-strung emblem of her rank. Loki moved through his room with a purpose, retrieving things from boxes, books, several of his journals, and all of his tools, storing each away in his pocket dimension.
When he was finished, he crossed to her side, hesitated, and then held out her dagger to her. “Did you want this back?” he asked.
Darcy stared at the blade and swallowed thickly. It all came rushing back, the sight of Freyr’s ruined eye, the horrible squelching sound, the smell of blood and stomach bile. She took an involuntary step back. “Can--can you keep it for me?” she asked softly. “Just… just until I’m ready.”
Loki quickly made the dagger disappear. “Of course,” he assured her. “Whenever you are ready.”
Darcy bit her lip and nodded. “Okay.”
Víl suddenly jumped from Darcy’s shoulder to Loki’s, shuffled his wings together, and ran his beak through Loki’s hair a couple of times, causing Loki’s shoulder to hitch upwards slightly. Darcy smiled faintly and rocked back on her heels.
“Guess we’re all set, then,” she said.
Loki shot Víl an annoyed look with no bite. “Yes, I believe we are.”
In retrospect, Darcy realized she really should have called her parents beforehand. Unfortunately, it didn’t occur to her until they were standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the Philadelphia suburbs, staring at the front door of her parent’s house.
Loki stood beside her, waiting silently, Víl still on one shoulder. He was dressed completely in black, from his tunic, to the leather vest over it, down to his knee-high boots. That, along with his anemic complexion and his ink-black hair, really should have made him look like a death metal band groupie, except for the fact he was 6’3”, ridiculously attractive, and had miles of self-confidence.
Although the raven was just a tad far.
Darcy heaved a deep sigh, shifting her weight back and forth. She jumped, startled, when Loki put his hand on her shoulder. He squeezed her shoulder wordlessly, just letting her know she was not alone. Really, it shouldn’t be this difficult to just walk up and ring the doorbell…
With one last sigh, Darcy started walking towards the front door, Loki dropping his hand and falling into step behind her. She only hesitated a fraction of a second before knocking. She took a deep breath, bracing herself to face whichever of her parents answered the door.
It was neither. The door was abruptly yanked open by a young man with a shock of curly, dark blonde hair and a tiger-striped t-shirt. He was two inches taller than Loki, with the same milk-pale skin and lanky build, but his eyes were pale, sky blue.
“Darce?” he asked in disbelief, looking down at her.
“Coop?” Darcy replied, stunned. “When did you get here?”
“Yesterday,” the young man said. “Mom didn’t tell me you were coming.”
“It was kinda last minute,” Darcy said, still staring up at him.
“Awesome!” he replied, and swooped down to hug her tightly. “Dude, have you lost weight?”
Darcy pulled free from his embrace and smacked his chest. “Seriously? That’s gotta be a record. Two seconds!”
“Hey, at least you lost it,” the young man retorted. “So you’re going in the right direction.”
“Ass,” Darcy muttered, and turned to look at Loki, who was watching the proceedings with interest, head tilted to the side. “Uh, this is my youngest older brother, Cooper. Coop, this is…” Darcy trailed off. “Uh, Loki. This is Loki.”
“Did you kidnap him from the Ren Fair?” Cooper quipped. He thrust out his hand. “Are you dating my baby sister?”
Loki didn’t extend his own hand, but he bowed regally, causing Víl to shift his balance. “No, I am not,” he replied honestly. “A pleasure to meet you, Cooper Lewis.”
“Ooh, nice accent,” Cooper said, dropping his hand. “A raven, though? Really?”
“It’s a long story,” Darcy interjected. “And I’m not your baby sister. You’re eighteen months older than me.”
“You’re the baby, and you’re my sister,” Cooper retorted. “Ergo…”
Darcy pushed Cooper out of the way and stepped into the house. “You don’t even know what that word means.”
“Hey, I read!” Cooper protested, waiting for Loki to enter before closing and locking the door. “Ma! Darcy’s here!”
There was a crash and the shatter of glass, and then Joanna Lewis appeared from the kitchen, her face bloodless and a dish towel clutched in her hands. “Darcy?” she asked in a shaky voice.
The sight of her mother brought a rush of emotions Darcy was not prepared for. Her throat closed up and her eyes watered. “Hey, Mom,” she said, her voice breaking.
Joanna lunged forward and caught Darcy up in a rib-cracking hug. “Oh, baby,” Joanna whispered breathlessly. She abruptly pulled away and took Darcy’s face in her hands. “Are you okay? Is everything okay? What is--” She caught sight of Loki standing next to Cooper and froze, eyes widening.
Loki bowed again, clasping his hands behind his back. “Hello, Madam Lewis,” he said politely. “I believe I owe you an apology for our first meeting.”
Joanna stared at him for a moment. “Darcy, sweetie, didn’t you say he was… dead?” she asked, her voice pitched an octave too high.
“Uh-huh,” Darcy said.
Joanna blinked. “Okay.” She dropped her hands from Darcy’s face. “Okay,” she said again.
Cooper looked between the three of them with a baffled expression. “Is there something I’m missing?” he asked slowly.
Darcy looked at her mother. “You didn’t tell them?”
Joanna stared wide-eyed back. “How would they believe me?” she demanded.
Darcy slapped a hand over her face. “Oy,” she groaned. “I did not get enough sleep for this.” She pulled her hand from her face. “What time is it even? I have no idea what the time difference is.”
“Five thirty,” Joanna replied. “Do you-- Do you want a cup of coffee?”
“Yes,” Darcy said firmly, and started for the kitchen.
“Tell me what?” she heard Cooper ask behind her.
“It’s a long story,” Joanna replied.
“Why do people keep saying that?” Cooper complained.
There were porcelain shards scattered across the kitchen floor, and the sink was half-full of dirty dishes. Darcy stopped at the sight of the mess and sighed before heading to the pantry for the broom.
“Darcy,” Loki said behind her, and she turned to find Loki holding her mother’s favorite casserole dish in his hands. The floor was now completely clear.
“Oh,” Darcy said.
Cooper and Joanna stood in the doorway to the kitchen, Cooper’s mouth hanging open. He pointed at Loki. “Did you see that?” he gasped.
Loki put the casserole dish onto the kitchen table and wiped his hands on his thighs. He looked self-conscious and uncomfortable, which was kind of endearing, in its own way. Darcy snorted and crossed her arms over her chest.
“Hey, Coop,” she said. “You heard about Thor?”
Cooper blinked. “Thor? You mean the alien? The one who was with the Avengers in New York?”
“Yup,” Darcy said. She hooked her thumb in Loki’s direction. “This is his younger brother.”
“Adopted,” Loki blurted. He cleared his throat. “Adopted brother,” he said again.
Cooper’s eyes widened. “You… you’re an alien ?”
Loki’s nose wrinkled. “That is a relative term,” he complained. “I am no more alien than you are. I am merely from a different Realm.”
Cooper turned to stare at Darcy. “You brought home an alien ?”
Loki sighed heavily and turned to survey the kitchen. He caught sight of the coffee machine and wandered over, opening cabinets until he found the ground coffee.
“He doesn’t like being called that,” Darcy told Cooper.
“How the hell did you meet an alien?” he demanded.
“I used to work for Jane Foster,” Darcy said with a sigh of her own. “The scientist who was Thor’s first point of contact when he came to earth. We worked for SHIELD for a couple of years, and then we were in Greenwich. You know, giant space ship, creepy white elves, red tornado of doom?”
“I think I need to sit down,” Cooper said weakly.
“I can’t believe you didn’t tell the boys,” Darcy told her mother, slightly accusatory.
Joanna threw up her hands. “It’s not like I had any proof, Darcy,” she retorted. “They’re not going to believe it coming from me!”
Cooper pulled out a chair from the table and sat down, big hands braced against his knees. He stared at Loki, who was busy brewing a pot of coffee, Víl still riding on his shoulder. “How long?” he suddenly asked.
“Two years,” Darcy replied. “Since I met Thor. Just over a year since I met Loki.”
Cooper nodded numbly. “Why… Why is he here? I mean, why’d you bring him here?”
Darcy rubbed the back of her neck. “Um…” She trailed off and looked at Loki, who looked back at her and shrugged unhelpfully. “To be honest, we really just needed a place to crash that’s not Loki’s place or SHIELD,” she said. “Things with Loki’s family are kinda weird right now, and SHIELD sorta hates Loki’s guts, so…” She gave a shrug of her own.
Joanna twisted the towel in her hands. “How did Loki survive?” she asked softly. “You said, you know, when it happened, that he had died.”
“Magic,” Darcy said flatly, leaning back against the counter. “The universe wanted him to survive. Literally. It figured it owed me a favor for saving it, or something.”
Cooper blinked a few more times. “You saved the universe?” he asked.
“Twice,” Darcy replied, more perkily than she felt. “Well, I guess I only helped the first time.”
Cooper put his head in his hands. “My head hurts.”
Joanna reached over and patted his back. “That’s not even half of it, honey,” she said sympathetically.
Loki walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out the carton of milk before going on a brief hunt for the sugar bowl, which he found after only a few seconds. Darcy watched him make himself comfortable in her mother’s kitchen with a small smirk.
“So, you were on Asgard, since you left?” Joanna asked, still rubbing Cooper’s back.
“Just for the last few days,” Darcy said, her mood souring again. “Before that we were on Muspell.”
Cooper raised his head. “Wait. Were you on another planet ?”
“Dear god , Cooper!” Darcy burst out. “It’s the twenty-first century! We’ve answered the question of ‘Are we alone in the universe’! Yes , I was on another planet.”
“Language,” Joanna warned, flicking her towel in Darcy’s direction. Darcy stuck her tongue out at her mother. “You are enjoying this too much,” Joanna accused.
“A little,” Darcy admitted. “I wanna see how long it takes Coop’s head to explode.”
Loki walked over to her and handed her a mug of coffee. He’d picked out a mug with bright yellow sunflowers for her. She took it with a brief smile of thanks and took her first sip. For being a novice, Loki was damn good at making coffee.
Cooper shook his head and leaned back in his chair. “Let me get this straight,” he said. “You’ve known about aliens for two years , you’ve met two of them, and you’ve gone to a different planet , and you never said anything?”
“Well, until recently I’d signed several non-disclosure forms,” Darcy said. “But then I realized SHIELD can kiss my ass, so I don’t care anymore.” She took another sip of coffee. “This is good. Thanks, babe.”
Loki frowned at her. “I thought I asked you not to call me that.”
She waved her finger at him. “Nuh-uh. Tiny, naked blue butt. I think I’ve earned the right.”
Loki raised an eyebrow challengingly at her. Cooper frowned at the two of them.
“I thought you said you weren’t dating,” he said plaintively.
“We’re married,” Darcy said at the same time Loki said, “We are not.” He shot her an inquisitive look.
“What?” Darcy asked. “ You were already using ‘spouse,’ so…”
Cooper continued to stare at the two of them. “You’re… married,” he said flatly. His face screwed up. “Darcy, you jerk, you didn’t even invite me!”
“Considering the ceremony was self-officiated in the living room of Jane’s mom’s apartment in London after we’d broken Loki out of prison, there wasn’t much of a guest list,” Darcy said sarcastically.
Cooper shook his head. “I can’t… I just can’t do this. No. I need to…” He got up. “I’m gonna go lie down for a while. When I come back I want the whole story, from the beginning. Okay?”
Darcy toasted him with her coffee cup. He left the kitchen, shaking his head as he went. Joanna gave Darcy an annoyed look. “ Really , dear,” she said.
“What?” Darcy asked defensively. “Oh, come on , Mom. That was funny!”
Joanna rolled her eyes and sat in Cooper’s vacated chair. “Okay. Let me have it. What’ve you been up to the last month?”
Darcy didn’t mince words. She knew her mother was capable of handling pretty much anything she threw at her by now, having introduced her mother to the norn in the harshest way possible. Joanna paled when Darcy told her she now had a life expectancy in the thousands, but didn’t say anything until Darcy was finished. Darcy did, however, leave out the whole part where she killed someone.
“I… see,” she said shakily. “Okay. Well, I’m sure this makes it easier for the two of you.”
“Huh?” Darcy asked, blinking nonplussed at her mother.
“Well, you have similar life expectancies now,” Joanna pointed out. “I mean, before, you would have aged normally, right? He would have outlived you by a lot. But not anymore.”
Darcy blinked, her mouth slack. “Uh… yeah. I guess.” She hadn’t thought of that, not even once. She’d taken Loki as her lagsmaðr, thinking as the norn, that she was an eternal being. It had never occurred to her that she would have aged and died as a mortal had she not become Mother of the Ways.
“Holy shit,” she suddenly blurted, and set her mug on the counter hard. She launched herself at Loki, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his chest. He caught her easily enough, without spilling his own coffee, and looped his free arm around her shoulders.
“I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice muffled by his tunic. “I didn’t even think about what that would have done to you. God, I’m so sorry.”
He bent his head to press a kiss against her hair. “It does not matter anymore, dear heart,” he told her softly, in the First Tongue. “What’s done is done.”
Darcy clung to him for a few more seconds, wrestling down her suddenly rebellious emotions while he rubbed circles into her back. She took a deep breath, inhaling his scent of balsam and fresh-fallen snow, and leaned back without stepping away.
“I’m a selfish idiot, aren’t I?” she asked ruefully.
“No more than any of us,” he replied, switching back to Allspeak.
The door to the garage opened and George Lewis walked in. He stopped dead at the sight of his youngest child still in the embrace of the would-be conqueror of New York. He blinked a couple of times, and then lowered his briefcase to the ground.
“So, Darcy,” he said in an even voice. “When did you get back?”