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Wandering Lost

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Until Darcy was four years old, her parents left her in the care of a kindly, little old lady down the street, Ms. Samuels. She had a tight grey perm, bright eyes, and looked like everyone's idea of a Jewish grandmother. Ms. Samuels liked all children, she said. As long as the little ones would learn, they were welcome. They would flourish, if they would just fit in.

Darcy had always been a square peg in a round-hole world.

 

 

Sometimes when Darcy sleeps, she has dreams she doesn't understand. It's dark and the walls smell sharp, and there's nowhere to hide in the closeness.

Sometimes when Darcy sleeps someone carries her into the light.

 

 

Puente Antiguo, New Mexico

Iteration 00, January 3rd, 2010, 5:49pm

The knocking at the door interrupted her sleep. Filled with awkward, guilt-laden grief, the weird dreams had actually been a welcome respite.

There had been a lot about her roommate Darcy hadn't been super fond of, but there was tons about Sharon that she'd respected, even liked. They hadn't exactly been besties having sleep-overs with pillow fights, but for two people from totally different backgrounds they had managed to coexist peacefully.

Now that Sharon was gone, Darcy found that she missed her, because for all her girliness and random bouts of piousness, she was, had been straight-forward and honest, and unrelentingly herself. It might have sucked having a fucking Swear Jar, but Darcy respected the shit out of her for having convictions. Most of the time.

No one deserved what had happened to Sharon, who had by all accounts died horribly. Darcy hadn't really slept since she heard. The rumors were better than the facts, and the facts were grim.

Either way, her roommates purse and keys were missing, and the infamous They hadn't been able to reassign Darcy to a new room yet. The cops had been by three times, leaving a little less of the woman who had been Sharon behind when they left. Making her feel a little worse every time for declining to go to that stupid frat party. 

After checking the peep hole, and seeing a UPS delivery guy, her pulse pounded furiously. Her hand shook when she moved the chair she taken to bracing under the door knob. 

The chain was small comfort and pitifully cheap, but Darcy left it on. God, she hated this hiding, hated that she hated small spaces, but didn't want to leave her safe little cave, even though the walls were closing in.

It was a little awkward to make the UPS guy stick his electronic clipboard through the crack so she could sign her name, but he didn't seem phased at all by that or her request to just leave the package on the welcome mat.

The tightness in her chest was overwhelming her again, so she leaned against the door and let gravity do the rest of the work.

It was a long time later when she finally loosened the door chain and opened the door wide enough to get the package.

She cried, just straight up sobbed, when she saw her Mom's handwriting. The counselor said that it was healthy to cry, that it was okay to grieve, and that was just great, since she just kept freaking losing it.

The cookies almost have the waterworks going again, but instead Darcy just stuffs her face full of the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Pepperidge Farm's. Mom couldn't really bake for shit, but she did know her daughter's favorite varieties. She tipped the box upside down to get a good look at her cookie bounty.

Cookie crumbs sprayed everywhere when the taser fell out. First time in days Darcy laughed and, also, felt marginally safer.


Iteration 3, December 26th, 2009, 1:34am

Sender: darcysrokinsox@theemail.com

Recipient: darcysrokinsox@theemail.com

Dear Me,

Yes, this is you. No, this isn't weird spam. I can prove it.

You liked the Backstreet Boys when you were six and wanted nothing more than to marry Nick Carter and be his choreographer and songwriter. You still kinda do, but only when you're feeling nostalgic and look at their old videos on YouTube.

You got your first period in the middle of Mrs Carter's third grade math class, and everybody laughed at the giant blood stain on your ass. Grandpa Lewis picked you up from school and made you sit on a piece of cardboard in the backseat of his 1987 Chevy Caprice station wagon. You sometimes like the smell of stale cigar smoke because of that car.

If asked, you'll tell people you like the Beatles, but you really only like a few songs, and harbor a secret hatred for Paul McCartney. You think his face is stupid.

You sing A-Ha in the shower when no one is around, and The Distance when you ride Scooty Puff, Jr to the store at three AM for Funyuns and Pepsi.

Delete this email right now if you don't believe me. Or, ya know, YOU.

See? Can't stop reading, huh? I know my audience.

I digress.

Someone assures me that I need to tell you this, and

Yoko Ono, this is way harder than I thought. As it should be, really. 

There's no easy way to say this, so I'm just gonna say it.

In ten years, give or take, the world is going to end.

I know it seems like a no-brainer and nuh-duh and unreal and you're feeling smug like of course humanity self-destructed, so jokes are being made, but, just don't. It's not funny or fair or even fate. It's terrible beyond belief, and I would have said nothing, except I was asked to by... never mind.

I'm just gonna say is it's not the rapture, or a Water World scenario or even the alien invasion we all suspect is going to happen, and actually does.

Don't worry. We kick ass, take names and shove a nuke up their space hole. The ass-kicking like three times and the nuke thing once, but who's counting?

The point is that you gotta stay alert, you gotta learn to pay attention, but make it look like you're a box of rocks. You smoke too much green right now (maybe ease up just a little?) to trust your memory of events, so you're going to tweet and post stuff on tumblr and Facebook, and Instagram, which totally blows up in a few months. (Just sayin'. I'm not above trying to give you a bit of financial advice, but I know you're too poor to take advantage and that mom and dad are afraid of the stock market, so boo, I'm destined for destitution).

In the fifth grade you and Mark William Hill passed notes back and forth in class. You checked the Yes box when he slipped a piece of paper in your hand after Science class asking to be your boyfriend. He kissed you behind the shed the school stored the lawn mowers in, and the smell of the grass made your allergies go nuts and you sneezed so hard you head-butted him and made his nose bleed. His friend Jordan gave you a break up note from him later that day.

It's too bad, because he was really the nicest of all our boyfriends. Remember the mall and Cinnabon?

Anyway, the alien thing? That's just one of the pieces. You'll figure it out.

So right now, all you really need to know is to remember the name Jane Foster. And you'll need to remember to brush up on your social engineering, maybe pass a few donuts out to the ladies down at the DMV. Network some friends in useful places, or something. 

Oh, and buy a fucking taser and carry that bad boy everywhere from now on.

Mom put a copy of The Care and Keeping of You in our sock drawer when the girls started to come in...

Peace out, me.

PS.  No telling, or it's the looney bin for you. You never did like small, enclosed spaces. 

The sleep spell works a little too well, and getting Darcy into bed quietly is an effort he expects reciprocation for. When the time comes.


Iteration 1, January 2nd, 2010

Puente Antiguo Times

Section A, Pg 1

Police are baffled in the murder of two college students, Darcy Lewis and Sharon Harris. Witnesses place the victims at a new year party shortly before midnight, and police are requesting anyone who met the women that night to step forward.


Iteration 2, December 26th 2009, 11:23am

Darcy fucking loved coffee. If she had one true love, it was that magical brew. And since she morally objected to spending her hard earned money on Starbucks (her least favorite place of employment), she got her fix at a small shop near the college, located in a nearly abandoned strip mall. When she's feeling whimsical, she likes to call it the Land that Health Inspectors Forgot. 

The faded, purple fiberglass dinosaur in the parking lot was a remnant of a long-closed, Chuck-E-Cheese knock-off type restaurant, and it was her second-favorite thing about getting her coffee here. 

Her favorite thing was the coffee, duh. As long as you ignored the grime and urban decay outside, the mystery smell in the parking lot, and the customers from the strip club at the other end of the mall, Beans 'n Leaves was heaven.

Usually though, they didn't have her coffee already waiting for her on the little table next to her favorite chair. Her name was scrawled across the side in Josh's familiar hand, and it after dumping her jacket and scarf in the chair, she took a sip before heading to the counter to pay up and order food of some sort (a muffin, who was she kidding). It surprised her that the coffee was just what she'd planned on ordering, but it wasn't her usual.

Darcy went to the counter and Nina handed over a slightly warm lemon-blueberry muffin and a small dish of butter packets.

"Not that I don't appreciate the ESP going on here, but I didn't order this."

"Sure, Darcy, that wasn't you on the phone 10 minutes ago," the tall goth behind the counter scoffed.

"Uhm, no, pretty sure I'd remember that," she said, but maybe her roommate had mentioned it to Josh, who she was sort of flirting with, and he'd just gotten it ready for her. Strange. 

"So don't you want it?" Nina the goth barista said, obviously confused, hand moving across the counter towards the yummy smelling muffin. 

Darcy snatched up the plate before Nina could get further, cradling it protectively, "No, no, uh, how much do I owe?"

"7 bucks."

She put the plate down and dug through her purse until she found the crumpled and crinkled plastic grocery bad she'd emptied the contents of her Swear Jar in (she was one of the more deserving charities she knew, so she donated half of the money to herself and the other half to RAINN). She stuck her hand in and pulled out a handful of random, wrinkly bills. Change tinkled merrily in the depths of hell, er, her purse.

Darcy handed over ten singles, and laughed when Nina remarks that she should really lay off the pot, honey. She had been, before finals, but it's winter break, and who is she to turn down Kurt's Yule log (the massive blunt he shared after their last study group yesterday- originally called Mr Hanky the X-mas Poo).

After Darcy sank into her seat, she took her laptop out of her purse, opened the awful Culver email account that nothing good ever came from and cleared her spam. When she settled back to respond to anything important, she got a little caught up in an email from her advisor, a reminder that she's missing a hard-science credit. Darcy suppressed a shudder at the thought of squiggly bits covered in biological matter and incomprehensible rocket science equations and let her fingers fly over the keyboard.

She kept her response as colorless, as bland as she could manage, and although there at least one paragraph in particular that begs for a "that's what she said" at the end, she resisted.

Basically, Darcy's reply boiled down to "I'm gonna go ahead and procrastinate on that till the last possible second, but thanks for the heads up."

Still, some morbid, slightly masochistic part of herself clicked on the first link her advisor had provided listing the staff who accepted internships.

She lost track of time clicking through the weirdo professors, the ones that were obviously trying to be cool and the ones who had been around since Lincoln's assassination. Darcy reached down, feeling for her cup. The bottom must've been a little sticky, because the napkin comes along for a ride when she puts the cup to her lips. 

It tickled her chin, putting in mind the unpleasant sensation of a bug skittering across her skin. Started, Darcy flailed a little, saw the napkin and relaxed in immediate, slightly embarrassed relief. She lifted her knees to slide the laptop back into safer territory, and checked to make sure no one saw. 

There was something written on the napkin and Darcy had no interest in what it said, mostly because Marvin the Magician kept bribing Josh to give her napkins with his name and number on them.

But it wasn't his handwriting, it was her own, and all it said was Jane Foster and one of her elaborate curlicue, doodled question marks. This is officially weird, Darcy thought, because she hadn't even pulled out her pen. She shrugged off the unpleasant sensation of deja-vu, and went back to what she'd been doing.

She glanced at the boring hyperlink list she'd spent ten minutes clicking through and getting lost. There were about a dozen other students using the Wi-Fi, so service was intermittently slow, and the next entry spent a while loading. She didn't notice that she slammed almost a third of her highly calorific White Mocha Peppermint Triple-shot Latte in one long swallow.

The page had loaded when she next checked her screen. It was the corner of a huge picture, showing blue sky and the corner of a really dirty building, and a tuft of dirty looking, spiky, mostly grey, but definitely was at some point blond hair. Darcy automatically makes the same observation she has since she started at Culver; that a four year old could have coded a better and more user-friendly intranet interface. 

She scrolled past the massive .jpeg and glanced at the text, not sure anymore why she was bothering. Dr. Erik Selvig, Swedish, bla bla science and astrophysics. Basically stuff Darcy had only really started to understand when it was spoken in Morgan Freeman's dulcet tones with pretty graphics and dumbed down language.

Darcy tried to swipe her touchpad to select the address bar in her browser, ready to type io9 (she'd gotten a hankering for something science-y, and on io9 there a 50/50 chance it would be of the fiction variety), but her poor laptop was getting pretty old, and her touchpad was on its last legs, and she ended up just resizing the page instead. Darcy automatically coo'ed at her laptop, trying to convince it to function properly, and ends up getting a good look at that enormous picture.

It was a picture of a beat up, old RV in the middle of the desert and two people. One of them was the dude from the description, he had to be the Swede, because he had that old Viking stereotype down flat. Not that he was wearing a horned helmet and armor or anything, but he had that Nordic thing going on, with the blue eyes and light hair and tall build. Though maybe he only looked so tall because he was standing next to a really tiny chick. She was pretty, despite the bad plaid, worn out baseball cap and a smile that said "Oh my god, take the damn picture already".

There was something about the picture that made her increase the font size, and reread the short text describing the Astrophysics Department and staff.

She felt a shiver down her spine when she saw the words "...and his colleague Jane Foster."

Darcy does a great deal really well. Among her greatest talents is her ability to parse the strange shit and deja-vu that occasionally happens to her into small, easily digestible nuggets of explainable normality. But this, this was starting to freak her out a little.

She closed her laptop with a decisiveness she usually reserves for those political articles that give her rage-strokes, and packed it away. Today was obviously a day when she holed up in her bed and binge-watched Duck Tales (woo-oo), instead of dealing with anything remotely odd. A shame she wouldn't be able to savor the rest of her coffee properly, but she'd console herself with a large, extra bacon, extra cheese extravaganza of a pizza and pretend like none of this happened.

She wrapped the enormous scarf she knitted herself at fifteen around and around her neck until just her eyes could be seen. Funny, but not ha-ha funny, how much morons like herself from New Jersey expect the desert to be hot. Yeah, fucking hilarious that she had to practically beg her mom to send that box of winter clothes she'd stored in the garage before she went to college.

("But you told me to put it behind the Chanukah decorations, Mom, remember? How was I supposed to know it would be colder than fucking shit, it's the desert! Yes, Mother, sorry, I know, yes, sorry, yes, I know I have a better vocabulary, and can do better than that language. Fuck's sake, Mom, where d'ya think I got it from? Please, please just send it, alright?")

She'd spent a very uncomfortable week that first winter in New Mexico waiting for her winter gear, because her parents loved her, just not enough to spend $400 overnighting 80lbs of her crap to her.

("Just you wait till you need an organ transplant or something, Mom. Or, ooh, a nursing home. It's a joke, Ma. Yeah, I know the jokes on me since you're undoubtedly going to send it by rickshaw now. Love you, too, Mom. Thanks.")

Also a poor choice for the desert? A scooter. Yeah. Good job on the old life-choices there, Lewis, she thought for the eight millionth time, as she slung her purse strap over her head and tugged on her helmet and goggles. Yes, she was aware of how they looked (goggles, really?), but really, they were necessary. Two words, and they were both sand.

Her scooter had once been minty green, but decades of abuse had rendered it a study in mostly Bond-O and duct tape. Still, she could fill up the tank for a fiver and it would last her all week. Her student loan covered not much at all, and she supplemented her meager bank account with a variety of part-time jobs, but it didn't leave much in her budget for gas. So in that sense Scooty Puff, Jr was perfect. Just, she sometimes wanted doors and a roof to go with her method of transport.

Her dorm room was small, and overlooked exactly nothing picturesque. A grey concrete parking structure that was perpetually busy was definitely not the majestic desert beauty that had been in all the official reading material. 

She only had another two years to go, though, and she was determined to finish her degree regardless of car alarms and ugly-ass blackout curtains and temperatures that fluctuated between "I'm melting, melting!" and colder than a witches tit. She still wasn't exactly sure what she'd actually do with a political science degree when she finally gets that diploma, but she's put up with too much to give up now.


Iteration 2, December 31st, 2009, 11:59pm

At forty-seven minutes left in 2009, and Darcy hadn't yet started to regret the minute and seemingly benign chain of events that led to this moment.

A few days ago, after a few hours of the McDuck clan, Darcy had fallen asleep with a candle lit, and to teach Darcy a safety lesson her roommate Sharon had black-mailed her into going to this kegger. Sharon had heard about it from one of the many party-boys, and had been excited about the invite to a real fraternity party. Darcy wasn't exactly sure why.

She also wasn't sure why she'd let herself be talked into going, since most of her friends seemed to be at another party. Darcy wasn't especially impressed with the music she overheard as she and Sharon were led to a kitchen nook on the third floor, where the beer was. 

She thought she was smart for declining the Dixie cup of beer from the keg that someone thrust at her. She'd snagged a can of Miller Lite from the mound of them that was on ice in the sink, instead, and after slinging her coat and scarf on a couch nearby, she wandered around a bit.

That was four beers ago, and for a most of those four beers Darcy had put up with the company of Brian, a guy from her American History class. He had 'saved' her from the weirdly intense, clingy attentions of of a slightly disheveled, dark-haired dude. Dude had looked a little out of place and had a noticeable problem making his mouth form sounds into words that made sense.

If Darcy had to make a guess, she'd bet that he'd dropped enough acid to make Hunter S. Thompson proud. He'd been sort of cute, in an early '90's grunge sort of way, and he'd clearly been trying to communicate with her. Points over Brian there.

She totally could have handled him on her own, btw, but Brian had come over and explained that no one knew who Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds was and that he had to take a hike. Weirdly pleading eyes or not, he had sort of smelled, and Brian, for all his faults, hadn't.

But as the minutes ticked by, bringing the end of 2009 ever closer, Brian also got closer and she was reminded over and over how much she tried to avoid him. She was tipsy, or drunk possibly, but she wasn't impaired enough to overlook his startling stupidity, and really, she was so not looking for anything physical at the moment. 

Even if he hadn't spent the last fifteen minutes talking about all the stuff his dad had and had bought him, Darcy wouldn't have wanted much more to do with him, but now she wasn't even going to try to make a graceful exit.

When she tried to get up, she'd found she couldn't shake loose his heavy arm. He was too close, and his breath was a little on the "ugh, dude, eat a tic tac" side of things, and she wasn't sure how he did it, it had happened so fast, but he'd pressed her hand into his crotch, and she felt the hardness of him through his jeans, and he pawed at the front of her sweater, pinching nowhere near her nipple, but that was clearly what he'd been aiming for.

His mouth pressed awkwardly, painfully against hers, and Darcy knew she had done nothing to encourage him, she hadn't even laughed at his lame jokes. At all. She was shocked by this asshole who presumed to touch her. Her heart pounded and there was a ringing in her ears. 

She didn't really remember pushing him off, didn't recall using his crotch for leverage, but she must've, since he'd yelped and hissed at her as she stood over him shaking. She hadn't needed to hear him over the deafening roar of the crowd as the countdown began to get the gist of what he's said. A twist on the Wicked Witches classic: I'll get you, you fucking bitch, and your little friend, too.

She grabbed her coat, almost abandoned her scarf, but tugged it as hard as she could from under the shithead, and took off through the dense crowd. No way was she going straight home after this, and have some wack-job follow her home. The bathroom on the second floor had seen better days, but there was markedly less puke around and in the bathtub than there was in the one upstairs, and the only other unlocked doors had housed varying scenes of debauchery, so Darcy counted it the winner. 

Her hands were shaking, but she managed to unlock her phone and shoot a text to Sharon. "Stay away from Brian, crazy, possible rapist" sort of stuff and that she'd be heading home as soon as she heard from campus security. Darcy definitely breathed easier when she got a text back that Sharon was hanging with a bunch of super nice girls from the drama department.


Iteration 2, January 1st, 2010, 2:39am

If people were mad at her for commendeering a bathroom, Darcy invited them most sincerely to eat a bag of dicks and, also, to blame the guy with the unwanted advances and bad breath. She'd still be drinking crappy beer, silently judging how the other half lived quite happily if that douchebag hadn't decided to play Where's the Nipple and Heeeere's Johnny.

And because it was New Year's, campus security was slammed and wouldn't be by for hours. Fucking useless bastards. She texted a few friends, got mostly well-wishes of the particularly useless sort, and decided the likelihood of Octopus-Hands Brian still being hung up on her was low. Or maybe hoped.

She climbed on top of the toilet, opened the small window and shivered as she looked down. The chances of her escaping that way were obviously slim, not least because her chest didn't feel like it would fit through, oh and also; it was pretty far to the ground. Through the door she'd go.

Halfway down the stairs, there was a sound behind her, but between the dueling bass drops from the first and second floor, she figured she must be hearing things. As she wrapped her coat around herself, she glanced around. Lots of drunken and drugged college students, but no one was paying her the least bit of attention.

Outside, the cold took her breath away. She huddled into her scarf, pulled her beanie down over her ears and headed in the direction of her dorm.

It was a long walk in the dark, and the huge open spaces between the buildings echoed the sounds of the various revels going on. Uber creepy. Her boots tapped against the salted sidewalks, and she kept hearing something behind her. 

She spun around ready to scream and fight, half convinced she was a paranoid crazy person, while the other half was convinced she'd face the boogie man.

Ok, no one there.

She was nuts. Fine. She'd go home and repent... She just needed to get there safely.

Turning back, she never saw the blow coming. Darcy saw a blur, and her body shrunk back instinctively, but not enough to save her from being knocked over. Her butt landed against the slushy concrete with enough force for her teeth to clack together painfully. Cold water seeped in the back of her skinnies before she had a chance to figure out what had happened.

She scrambled to get up, heard feet pounding and some thumping and grunting. Darcy's knees were a little weak, and she was confused about why two guys were sort of rolling around in the slush on the ground. A glint of metal caught her eye and before she could make a sound, before she could react, she recognized Brian and he had slid a knife into a man, someone familiar.

Captain Acid McSpeech Impediment.

Just goes to show, things can always go further down hill.

"Oh, poor show, mortal. Bringing a knife to a God fight. I suppose I'll just have to teach you a lesson, now. Pay attention, please... Don't,-" he paused to grab a shocked Brian by the hair, "stab,-" and swung Brian's face into the pavement, "strange,-" planted his knee on Brian's cheek, "gods."

He pulled the switchblade out with a grunt and she heard an unsettling squelching sound. 

Darcy's stomach kinda heaved a little, and she had a second to reflect how cultured and English his voice was when he wasn't gibbering, but he wasn't through yet. 

In less time than it took her to blink after she had her little thought, the dark-haired man stabbed Brian through his hand.

And then he laughed.

Shit. Shit-shit-shit.

Trippy Crazypants looked rather, er, psychotic; what with his clothes covered in blood and all (mostly his, her brain helpfully supplied) kneeling victorious on his conquest. Who was screaming really, really loudly. 

"Oh, do be quiet, would you?" he said, and waved his free hand in some weird pattern over Brian, who just shut up. His mouth was still opening and closing and Darcy could see his throat working, but Brian only made a sort of pathetic wheezing. Darcy took a second to reflect that only the handle of the knife protruded from his hand.

Darcy was really good at weird. Strange, strange was a morning shift at fucking Starbucks. This, however, this was enough. She took off, stumbling off as fast as she could manage, fumbling in her pocket for her phone, intent on calling the cops, the real cops. Fuck campus security. People had been stabbed and shit.

"Buggering fuck. Well, that went poorly, thank you..." his voice was lost as she ran off.


Iteration 3, December 30th, 2009

Puente Antiguo Times

Section C, Local News, Pg 23

 

Police have yet to identify the assailant or assailants involved in the death of Missouri State Senator Norman Stern's son, Brian Stern. Anyone with information is urged to contact the PAPD.

Chapter Text

"Space"

When Loki was little, he liked to evade his tutors and hide behind a golden column in the throne room. He would keep to the shadows, concentrating very hard on not being noticed. He liked the low rumble of his father's voice, liked the smell in the hall, liked looking at all the people who came to kneel before Asgard's throne.

Father was very busy and very important, since he was king, so busy ruling and being wise and just that Loki hardly ever saw him, except sometimes at dinner.

Thor used to come with him, not so very long ago, but he wasn't at all like Loki. He wouldn't sit still, not for long, anyway, and he would always get them discovered. Loki hadn't really enjoyed the scoldings his father's retainers or their tutors would give, but he would stand beside his brother, catch sight of Thor's hidden smirk and know, instantly, that there was no place else he would rather be.

These days, though, Thor was too old to play with his little brother anymore, preferring the practice fields and the older boys. The problem with that, of course, was that Loki was too small to join in. And he didn't much care for getting that dirty, either.

He didn't know why he was so different from his brother- how Thor was so big and strong, and he was so slight and dark. Why he got sick all the time and Thor never did.

Mother told him all brothers were different, and that she was lucky to have them exactly as they were. She'd never be bored with her two perfectly opposite boys around, she laughed.

When she caught him sneaking out of the throne room one day, he didn't get the stern lecture he'd expected.

Instead, she'd taken him to her chambers and had him demonstrate exactly how he managed to stay so well-hidden. While she looked away to pour tea, Loki darted to a shadowy corner and thought very hard about being invisible.

"I say! Well done, Loki. You're a natural. Can you...?"

Mother had asked that over and over, can you do this, can you do that, and each time he could, she looked so pleased and proud.

When he'd exhausted his supply of tricks, Mother showed him new ones. He'd not had more fun since Thor had decided to play elsewhere.

After dinner that night, Mother had given him a book on magic. It was fascinating and challenging and wonderful. He didn't sleep at all that night, and looked for her the next day. She was busy with her duties, Loki was told, and he shouldn't be skipping his lessons. He got the same response day after day, until he no longer asked. 

 

 

Iteration 1, November 16th, 1563, 1:37am, Vanaheim

Loki waited. It wasn't a preferred pastime of his, but he seemed to spend much of his life doing it. He was practically an expert at this point, not that it made the slow passage of time any easier to endure.

He'd lost interest in drinking himself stupid centuries ago, one of the many reasons he was here, in a cramped room in a house belonging to one of the All-Father's toadying vassals, rather than still at the tavern with his brother and those absurd misfits whose company Thor kept.

Loki should stop going on these ludicrous quests with his slightly dim brother, knew better than to expect that his word as the erstwhile 'tactician' would be taken seriously by any of those fools. That it still caused him even a small measure of disappointment, even when history had so thoroughly proved that Thor gave fuck-all about Loki's opinions, was a major source of inner conflict for him.

He forced his attention back to the parchments, scrolls and books strewn on the table before him. He generally enjoyed using his wits to solve the problems and riddles he found himself facing. He should have been enjoying this one, too. He wasn't. A small scrap of paper was out of place, for while the mess might have appeared to be nothing but chaos, to Loki it was perfectly ordered. 

The note wasn't one he recalled writing, but it was done in his script. He's still your brother.

No great mystery who he was. Thor, of course. His whole bloody life, and now apparently his subconscious, too, revolved around bloody Thor. 

He swept the contents of the table to the floor. Fuck Thor. Loki was so sick of him. He dragged his cloak on. Time to reacquaint himself with the glories of alcohol.

The tavern was the only one in the tiny, flea-ridden, little village they were staying in, so there was little hope of avoiding his brother, but maybe, if Loki was lucky, he'd be able to drink the nuisance of his presence into oblivion. 

It was just an unfortunate happenstance that led Loki to overhear the earnest conversation his brother was having with his companions. 


Iteration 00, November 16th, 1563, 1:49am, Vanaheim

Thor was a pain in his backside, to be sure, but at least his quests always came with interesting puzzles to solve. Loki regarded the seemingly haphazard array of reading materials, and contemplated how to attack the problem at hand. There wasn't anything better to do.

Besides, Loki had no desire to witness his brother knee-deep in ale and wenches, yet again. If he was truly fortunate, Thor would find a lass who would take him home, rather than back to their accommodations. Loki had had his fill of listening to the wounded bilgesnipe roars that were Thor's mating calls. Perhaps he'd get a sleeping draught ready, just in case.


Iteration 00, March 2nd, 2010, Asgard

It should have been impossible, especially when one considers how very immense it was even when they were children, but somehow, year by year Thor's ego grew.

His feats were no more glorious now than they had been in centuries past, but incredibly, each new victory brought even more ridiculous exaggerations disguised as poetry, and Loki doesn't care that they rarely have any basis in reality or who had actually had done what.

Loki's the clever one, the one with a destiny. Thor knows nothing of what it means to rule, knows only silly war games and how to swing his hammer so his biceps look their best. Loki tells himself that Thor as king would be miserable. Odin might choose his brother, but Loki has contingencies in place. Who cares if Odin currently thinks Thor's ready to lead? Loki will show him otherwise soon enough.

The thing that Loki definitely doesn't care about is that distance between him and his brother, the one that started so long ago he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't just slightly resentful about being the spare.

In any case, thoughts about his brother were for another time, and place, specifically when they were not about to deliberately disobey one of the All-Father's edicts.

Loki had planted this idea in Thor's mostly empty head, and fed it and nurtured it until it burst forth from the void of his golden brothers imagination. If all went well, no more would he be the spare, the shadow at the feet of Thor's brilliance. If all went well, he'd be king.


Iteration 00, March 5th, 2010, Jotunheim

Blue.

His hands were blue.

That's not right, can't be right, he thought, and tried to will his skin back to its customary colour, but he had to look at his hands to do it and the shock of it hit him all over again.

Blue.

The frost giant in his arms squirmed, would get loose in a second, but Loki couldn't force his mind past the sigils carved into blue skin. Familiar blue. 

He felt sick.

The difference between him and his family, that unknowable, untraversable space that held him apart, was suddenly clear. 

Loki didn't need the words of a savage to guess his true nature, his true species, but the thought that he was Laufeyson was a bitter truth to swallow.


Iteration 1, April 2nd, 2011, 8:09pm, Asgard

It was no wonder the All-Father thought so little of Loki and his piddling accomplishments. 

He wasn't aesir, he wasn't an Odinsson. He wasn't even his mother's son. 

His legs dangled over the yawning abyss between worlds. His bro- Thor, with his golden hair and sky-blue eyes and all the luck, he was the one who held Loki's life in his callused and familiar hand.

Thor bellowed, as always, but Loki was used to it, used to ignoring it, so he didn't hear. He just looked down.

All his plans, all his plots, all nothing.

He was nobody.

He would leave nobody.

Loki pulled with all his might, and suddenly he was falling. Thor reached out, calling Mjolnir, but if his last act was to be betrayal, then he would do it right. He had one last dagger, and it slit Thor's throat easily.

He smiled at the rushing void.


Iteration 00, April 2nd, ,2011, 8:09pm, Asgard

Loki might not have really been aesir, might not have been an Odinsson. He was his mother's son, though. And he'd been king.

Thor, more golden and perfect than ever, was all that kept Loki from taking what looked to be a very long drop. But what was one more? He'd already fallen from grace, after all. Already missed the thrum of power from the spear.

He looked down and back at his brother. He'd be king soon. Loki couldn't bear the thought that he would have to witness it.

As Thor shifted to get a better grip on his arm, Loki knew he had found an opportunity too good to pass up. He let go.

He smiled at the shock on Thor's face.


Iteration 2, est. Late December, 2011, Unknown Space

In retrospect, falling hadn't been so bad. The endless, mindless thirst was something he could have done without, as was the disorientation, the constant vertigo, but the actual act of falling had been strangely peaceful.

If he remembered anything, he remembered missing the comforting near constant of having ground at his feet. That longing for solidity sometimes overtook the vast emptiness inside of him, the hunger that raged. He'd tried speaking into the rushing air once or twice, but his voice had been so loud it seemed to scrape against his brain, and he'd usually stopped after the first syllable.

Sometimes, when the blue haze recedes from his mind, Loki remembers instead the beauty of the galaxies he had passed, how cruel and bright the colours were, and how stark and crisp the empty spaces between were.

Loki did not know how he had landed on this dark, almost lifeless rock; if it was something that just happened, or if all of the refuse that fell through the cracks just ended up here. Like some sort of cosmic sewer.

The chittering beings that found him had not seemed surprised to see him, laying there in sizable crater, broken and bruised from the landing. If anything, they exhibited signs of annoyance that Loki had taken so long to arrive. As though they had expected him. It wasn't a thought he liked to dwell on; that his presence there was somehow by design.

He'd been so weak when they had found him, so powerless, that he'd almost been happy to see them. That initial flare of joy at no longer being alone had been like the pins-and-needles sensation of a limb waking up. Then the thirst had nearly overwhelmed him.

The ugly creatures had given him nothing, had done nothing but grab him by the scruff of his neck to drag him along behind their small company. Loki hadn't been able to do much at all to protest his treatment, just twitch and gargle nonsense words.

He wasn't under any illusion that their treatment of him would have changed had he been able to bellow his name and former station in life, but it might have made him feel better about being handled like a recalcitrant puppy had he been able to protest vehemently.

After a journey Loki elected to forget, he was dumped in front of a large hooded figure perched atop what could only be described as throne-shaped rock. The man spoke to the things that had brought him, ignoring Loki laying prone on the ground completely.

Loki had tried to stand, but his limbs were like soft butter and were completely unable to support his weight. He tried to create enough moisture in his mouth to speak and couldn't do that either.

It was a long, utterly humiliating time before the figure on the throne deigned to notice him. When Loki was in his right mind, he mostly wished that he had never noticed Loki at all.

In the space of a glance from him, Loki had been made anew, reshaped painfully into a willing vessel for something else. 

His words consumed Loki and spat him back out. The shape of him was different. There was hardly any room left for Loki inside himself after that, because almost everything was replaced with the knowledge that Thanos was all.

In the infrequent moments when he came back to himself, he saw clearly what would come. There was little he could see that would change the course that had been set, and less he could do, had he been so inclined. And he really wasn't. 

He sometimes thought of Frigga. Not-Mother, All-Mother. She would be sympathetic, would understand in a way not many could, what it was to glance into the future and see nothing but despair. How did she handle the inability to change the future, when she knew what would happen?

He missed her. She was all he still... Loki cut the thought off ruthlessly. In fact, he would think no more of her. Instead, he did what he did best. He planned.

If he was very good, or bad, depending on ones perspective, he might make it home in one piece, might delay the inevitable for a little longer. Might save the one person who still mattered beyond the influence of Thanos.


Midgard

Iteration 1, May 31st, 2012, 4:32pm, CNN.com

NEW YORK UNDER SIEGE

Hundreds of thousands feared dead after a blast rocked the island of Manhattan minutes ago. CNN has exclusive photos of the mushroom cloud that is still visible over the city. It has been visible for several minutes now after the initial reports of the explosion.

No one has claimed responsibility for this new act of terror. 

This comes after an apparent terrorist attack crippled New York earlier this afternoon. There were confirmed reports that Iron Man had engaged the unknown terrorists, but no additional information has been forthcoming. MORE...


Iteration 3, May 1st, 1006, Snaptun Beach, Denmark

Loki was still young enough to be amused by the displays of human worship he found on Midgard. Fewer and fewer towards him and his kin in lands to the south, but the Northmen held their beliefs of him and his family as close and dear as ever.

It's a singular and heady thing to be worshipped; to be loved and feared and wanted and hated all at once. To both feel and know, bone-deep, one's utter superiority. The sensation of prayers and curses is like a cat licking his skin when he's this close to the source. The sacrifices made in his honour are by turns disgusting and exhilarating; so much power in exchange for death. Loki loathed it, and in equal measure reveled in it. If mortals wished to spend the meager value of their small lives on him, who was he to deny them?

It was exactly what was needed after dealing with those fucking dwarves. What an enormous shit-show that "little errand" had turned out to be. He touched the skin around his lips, upset that they had managed so easily to scar him, infuriated that yet another of Thor's moronic reactions had inadvertently caused it. Had but Thor stuck to the plan, they all would have gotten out of there without the dwarves being any wiser. But no. Of course something as simple as that, follow the plan, Thor managed to cock up.

Loki pushed aside thoughts of revenge and homesickness.

The display that interested him that night was an astronomical one, one not seen unaided in Asgard. He supposed he could have commanded a great stage be built and heaped with furs, but he found in the quiet, in the distance from others, a measure of peace that eluded him elsewhere.

The sun set, fat and gold in the distance, as the sounds of the village miles to the south faded as the inhabitants migrated indoors to circle around the fire to eat and drink. After dark, for the weak mortals of this realm, safety was within walls, near light. Huddled together telling stories to make fear seem small.

Loki felt the first breath of summer in the warmth of the breeze coming off the water, felt a quiet hum of power from the earth. If he listened closely he could hear the crocus in the distant meadow furl in on themselves in the absence of light. 

If his calculations were correct, (and they always were,) the light should reach his viewpoint in five, four, three, two, one

Nothing happened. The view was impressive, to be sure, but among the countless specks of light in the navy sky a new, brighter one should have appeared. The jug of mead nestled in the soft sand next to him was from Asgard, redolent with crisp apples and warm with spice. As he waited for the belated flash of light, he drank deeply. He lost track of time as the stars made their slow trek across the sky.

The footsteps crunching slowly closer were unexpected. A single mortal, as light and sure in dark as if the destination was clear. No smell of smoke, no crackle of burn, yet the sounds of the human grew nearer. 

He lowered his gaze from the heavens.

Phosphorescent pinpricks, blue and fragile, trailed the beach as the waves sluggishly advanced and retreated along the strand. The cloaked figure made an uneven and lumescent path straight towards him. 

Loki was just drunk enough to be intrigued that a mortal had penetrated his wards. Who would be dumb enough to go out, in the dead of night, in the middle of nowhere, alone, he wondered.

She, it was definitely a she despite the shapeless drape of heavy wool, sat quite unconcerned right next to him. Curiouser and curiouser. Perhaps she'd seen him?

She drank a long swallow from something that made her gasp and wipe at her face under the hood of her cloak. She shifted and looked up. 

A long moment seemed suspended as she focused on the view he'd been admiring and cursing, and he focused on her faintly illuminated silhouette. He couldn't get a good enough look to even begin to imagine her features beyond a long nose and firm chin.

"I know you're there. I can hear you breathing."

He raised an eyebrow, fairly drunk and more sure than ever that she couldn't actually see him. She smelled strongly of familiar herbs, plants associated with communication and language. He inhaled deeply.

"It's verbena and lavender, with a hint of lotus root. Tastes like shit, but it gets the job done."

He couldn't resist, "What job is that?"

She shrugged inelegantly, apparently completely unperturbed by a disembodied voice on an abandoned beach in the middle of nowhere.

"This and that," the woman replied, voice husky and not the least surprised.

He let the last of his wards slip, and still no reaction from his unexpected guest. Loki looked down, and yes, there was his body. He cleared his throat, and tousled his hair just so. 

She turned and visibly recoiled, her hand flying to her mouth. He'd forgotten about that.

"Holy fuckballs."

Fuckballs?

"That must've hurt like a bitch. Are you Ok?"

"Ok?"

"Uhm, well? You know, fine? Unhurt?"

Loki had to fight the urge to touch the scars. In truth, they pained him not at all, but the marks bit his pride deeply. He had tried many remedies, but none had been permanent thus far. He didn't admit it to himself, but there was more than the viewing of a supernova to his extended stay on Midgard.

He nodded, and then realized that she wasn't even looking at him anymore.

"Quite fine, Lady. Might I inquire as to your identity, Madam? And how you knew to find me here?"

"Sure," she snorted.

Loki waited, but she said nothing.

"You think to play word-games with me?" He was incredulous. "Who are you? What are you doing here, tonight?"

The hooded lady made a strangled sound inside the wool, almost laughter. She lifted her left arm, shook her hand free from the voluminous sleeve and glanced at a small band around her wrist.

"No one important, not really. I just came to see that," she said and pointed into the sky. "Someone important told me that it's one of the most magical things a mortal could bear witness to. I'm not sure it's all that, but it's definitely memorable. And pretty."

His gaze followed her gesture up, and saw the new bright, white light there. Loki was about to remark that the explosion from a star light years away could hardly be simply pretty, but-

"You forgot to carry a 3," she said, derailing his train of thought.

Loki had a flash of a memory; of scribbling notes and numbers and symbols late, late at night. He knew precisely the calculation she referred to, knew that she was right. But how?

His head whipped back around, but she'd already stood and was busy arranging the folds of her cloak. He still hadn't found his voice when she turned to leave. She started walking away, but stopped and looked back. There was nothing but a black oval where her face should have been.

"Hey, would you do something for me?" 

Loki nodded, tried to answer with the sort of suave response a prince of Asgard would make, but he sort of croaked instead. He cleared his throat, and could sense her amusement from where he stood.

"One day, a long time from now, I need you to remember that it's the choices you make that are important, not whose blood runs in your veins. Oh, and tell them to make a right, not a left. You'll know what I mean. G'night, Loki."


Iteration 2, May 31st, 4:43pm, 2012, Stark Tower, New York

He smiled sheepishly at Earth's mortal heroes and his bro- Thor. The green abomination that had acquainted him so thoroughly with the floor, growled menacingly at him from behind a surprisingly comforting row of his 'enemies'. His special friend, the archer, looked particularly put out.

If his face had been in a position to cooperate, Loki would have winked at the man. As it was, the best he could manage was a grimace he hoped came across as a smirk as he leaned heavily on the hard stairs. 

"Don't suppose that offer for a drink still stands?"

 The Man of Iron, who disappointingly didn't get to learn, fatally, what concrete tastes like, was rather a poor sport about the whole window throwing incident/ planetary domination thing. He commandeered the drink instead.

And drank it right in front of Loki. 

He hated these insignificant, little insects; loathed that they literally held his life in their hands. His ill-luck was such that his choices were none, but to stay here, locked up and under guard by ridiculously overmatched mortals and one terrifying green thing. At least, until such time as the Tesseract could be located and it's power used to get Thor and him back to Asgard.

It was the height of ignominy that it was once again that golden haired half-wit who escorted Loki to his new prison. The iron box, deep under Stark Tower was not the worst place he'd recently spent time in, and he'd had the benefit of having been beaten until Thanos had been shaken loose. 

Having his mind mostly to himself again was both satisfying and awful in its quiet. Loki waited, and remembered. He dreaded going home. He longed for his proper place. He wondered and planned. 


Iteration 2, June 8th, 2012, 7:42pm, Stark Tower, New York

Thanos had driven him mad in an instant. These mortals were doing it better by making him wait. He thought, at first, that he'd goad whoever would be bringing the food, but they sent little mechanical creatures for that. 

So Loki waited instead for the inevitable visit from Thor. He would be emotional, disappointed, easily manipulated and managed. Except he still hadn't shown up. 

Loki sat for hours, trying to recall the mental discipline that had allowed him to pass weeks without breaking the surface of his consciousness, but the ability eluded him. He tried to call forth his double so he could at least talk to himself properly, but the iron had, of course, hindered him. 

In the end he was reduced to delving his memories for the paths he knew would take him from this planet. Some one had to come some time, and it mattered not who. Loki seemed to spend his life waiting, and if he but had an opportunity he would free himself.

Something inside perked up the instant he heard footsteps approaching. It didn't sound like Thor; the steps were too light. A slot in the middle of the door opened smoothly. 

"You've got one shot to contribute, Loki, and even though no one wants you to succeed, you're going to have to. The Tesseract's been taken by Hydra. We need to get in and out of their base completely undetected. Think you can help us with that?" the diminutive mortal who housed the hulking, green menace asked.

Loki started nodding before the mortal had even finished. This presented a glorious amount of opportunities, and he would be a fool to pass this up. 

"Good... but don't think we aren't going to be insisting on some pretty strict security measures. There will be some restraints on your dinner tray when it comes in a while. Please have them secured and your wrists placed through the slot when it opens later."


Iteration 2, June 15th, 2012, 1:15pm, Stark Tower, New York

"You're directly responsible for the death of thousands and thousands of my people, not to mention the destruction of my home, and I'm the one with the problem?" Thor's latest paramour was different from all the other women who had lived through that particular torment, but she was still a mortal. A shrill, small irritant. 

"Why is he still even here?" the horrid, little wench complained to the object of her affections.

Thor's tone was soothing, though he'd responded to that same query no less than 25 times in the last 72 hours, by Loki's estimation. 

"Can't you just kill me now, Thor, and save me the crushing tedium of this existence?" Loki drawled from his spot, a desk in the corner he was shackled to, quite literally.

He felt rather than saw the bow being drawn tighter behind the cover of the air vent in the corner opposite of him. He never went anywhere these days without someone or other ready to shoot him between the eyes. In the unlikely event that it didn't kill him outright, it would certainly be painful and possibly scarring. He rather liked his face just as it was.

"Brother,-" Thor started to say, but Loki cut him off with the swiftness of something that had already become a habit, "I've told you, Thor, I'm not your brother. I'm not your family. I'm nothing to you."

"I could tag him for you from here, easy, and finally shut his mouth for at least a little while," the archer called, a little too cheerfully, from his hidey-hole. 

"Stay your hand for now, friend. I'll return him to his cell presently."

Loki glared at the blond, imagining a thousand small indignities he'd force the lug to endure once he'd freed himself from this indentured servitude.

"We can always gag him," the ever-annoying Stark called from the display of his paltry planet in the center of the immense room Earths heroes practiced their pathetic science in. There were bits of metal bolted together in improbable shapes laying on odd surfaces, screens and floating images scattered throughout and a lingering smell of oil and burning. 

They were too free with such disrespect, but there was not much for it. They could decide his contributions were not worth the effort of his presence, and make good on any number of their threats. Loki might've chafed at their treatment, but it was likely better than the All-Father's tender mercies.

He put his head down and focused on the problem at hand. They wished to create a network that would do a better job of detecting anomalous spatial and dimensional rifts. They seemed to be under the impression that these could only occur above the atmosphere, and Loki was in no mood to disabuse them of this quaint notion.

The doors opened with a hiss; the instantly the familiar smells and sounds of work were disrupted by the far-too-good Captain and the Widow entering. A few seconds later the dumpy assistant to the whinging horror that was Thor's lady-love came barreling through the doors like a drunken, one-legged dwarf. They were all carrying the ubiquitous boxes and sacks that the swill that passed for food on this planet was packaged in. 

The vindictive, little brunette took great pleasure in finding the most disgusting sustenance available. There were large boxes emanating intriguing aromas for the fools and a white, greasy bag with orange script on the outside apparently for him. Upon closer inspection, the bag read "I'm lovin' it!"

Loki was quite certain that he would do no such thing.

His suspicion was confirmed when he was handed a box of strange, apparently fried, yellow discs and a plastic dish of poorly looking vegetables. He took note that she kept a red box of some sort of beige sticks for herself, and wondered at what she would want from a place she deemed worthy of him. 

The discs were unpleasant both in texture and taste. He fought the urge to scrub his tongue with a napkin, and tried one of the limp green leaves in the other container. Experience had taught him the futility of complaints and tantrums, but he was sorely tempted to fling the revolting mess to the floor in disgust. 

Loki sulked instead, ignoring the profoundly idiotic displays of comradery happening a few short yards away. For the most part, that was entirely mutual, as the group loudly talked over each other, as if Loki existed in an entirely separate dimension.

He picked at the unsavory meal, since the next was undoubtedly going to be just as bad, if not worse, however improbable that seemed.

Mealtime was over quickly, and true to his word, Thor unshackled Loki from the desk and escorted him to his iron box, with Loki shuffling and clinking the entire way.

"You're going to be in there for a few days, bro- Loki. I've obligations that must be attended to. You'll-", but Loki interrupted, taken aback by the thought that he would once again be relegated to a metal closet for an unknown amount of time. 

"You cannot mean to stick me in there again, whilst you traipse off to who knows where, for me to rot in my own filth for however long your so-called obligations keep you away. What of the project, how will I contribute from a dungeon in the cellar?" He sighed and held up a hand to forestall whatever nonsense the man he'd be raised with might have said. "No, Thor, it matters not, I suppose. It's only a matter of time before you drag me off to see dear pater, regardless of my meager contribution to this miserable planets safety."

There had been no denials from Thor, though he'd been unusually gentle when he'd released the bar between his wrists. Alone again, Loki did what he did so well. He waited. The perfect moment would come along.


Iteration 2, June 23rd, 2012, 8:36pm, Stark Tower, New York

Days pass in a slow, strange haze, the tedium broken only by cold tea, luke warm water and practically inedible food. It was midday, if he'd judged his meals right, when he heard steps instead of the tell-tale whir of Stark's metal servants. 

The disembodied voice of Jarvis, the computer familiar that haunted the tower, informed him snippily that it was in his best interests to be cooperative, if not polite. Loki laughed outright, and pointed to the ceiling, oh you, you're good, you.

"Of course, Jarvis the Artificial, I will, of course, endeavor to live up to your expectations. I shall be all that is a team-player. You have my word."

A pointed silence followed before the slot at the floor opened. He smelled, for the first time in days, something new. Something that wasn't horrifying food or greasy mechanical bits or himself. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed that. Loki inhaled like air would run out. 

It was her, of course it was her. He could easily give in and just hate her, but that seemed somehow like conceding defeat. He pointedly disregarded her very existence instead. She could try to get a rise out of him till her hair turned grey, but she would get no pleasure of a reaction from him.

She pushed one of those small, flat computational devices through the hole. It closed promptly and with the most sarcastic and decisive snick a machine of no real spirit could muster.

A second later the slot he usually put his arms through for binding opened. A pair of blue eyes squinted at him through unattractive glasses. Those eyes bulged slightly and he could see her wince at the smell. She took a generous step back and rather pointedly covered her mouth and nose with the sleeve of her enormous, ugly sweater before she finally spoke.

"Dude! What's up with that smell, man? Like, wow. That is some serious stink going on there. Fucking brutal..."

"Is there a point to this, or are you merely here to remark upon the obvious?" If there was anything else Loki could do in his current circumstances that brought him as much satisfaction as interrupting, he had yet to find it.

"Whatever, Sir Smells-A-Lot. I'm just a messenger. Save your bitch-fit for someone who could give half a fuck. Boss-Lady and Revenge of the Nerds are having a science-off upstairs- you know, Shangri-La with the running water and real bathrooms- and for some reason they want your input.

Anyway, the big button on the shiny side turns the StarkTab on. The little picture of the middle finger turns on your chat.

Once that's open, you'll see boxes with general conversations indexed by theme and subject. Tap on a box if you have anything relevant to contribute. If so, tapping the bottom of the screen will bring up a keyboard or use your finger like a pen. Uhm, swipe left to get back to the overview. Jarvis will help if absolutely necessary."

"What is it exactly I'm expected to do?"

He heard her clothes shift, and looked through the slot. She had leaned against the wall farthest from him and was studying her nails. 

"Science?"

"Oh, thanks so much for clarifying. Really insightful."

"I have no fucking idea what you are supposed to do, nor do I give a single, dried dog shit. I was voluntold to drop that off to you, get you started using it, and that's it. So turn that fucker on and say 'Hi' or something to the Nerds, and I can go home."

Partially because he enjoyed having even the smallest amount of power over her, and partially because the expressions she used in conjunction with the mortal technology were nonsensical, it took him about an hour to get comfortable swapping between programs and conversations.

The third time she'd answered "It's a Star Wars thing" in response to one of his questions about a strange remark she'd made, he finally gave in to his curiousity and asked her what she meant by a star war.

"It's a movie," she'd sighed from the other side of the door. She'd collapsed on the floor sometime during their first fifteen minutes together, and had periodically banged her head against it when he could frustrate her enough. Of course he asked her to explain, and when she rambled on and on, he waited for the perfect moment. 

"Sounds rather dull and trite," he interrupted when she seemed to come to a pivotal moment in the story, something about hand waving and "Not the droids you're looking for". He peaked at her through the hole.

"And on that note, fuck you very much and g'night, Loki."

She stuck up a familiar looking middle finger in his direction before leaving, and he guessed the gesture passed for something offensive in this realm.


Iteration 2, June 30th, 2012, 9:56pm, Stark Tower, New York

It was amazing how much one could get done with no other distractions. The theory of the Spatial Anomaly Detection Network was as sound as he could make it and still leave room for his own travels. Hopefully, they wouldn't plug those holes.

He'd not been allowed out since the arrival of the StarkTab, but he had gotten bigger buckets of water to wash with.

Loki was taken by surprise at the sound of her voice. He'd been distracted by a "Cat Video" Stark had shared to illustrate the futility of venturing down a certain mathematical path, and there she was.

The smell emanating from the floor-slot was, simply put, the best thing he had smelled in possibly years. 

There was sweet, fried dough, butter and some sort of... cured boar? Loki didn't really care in the slightest, especially when she pushed the heavenly smelling confection through the hole from which he usually received horrors.

It was sweet and salty, pillow-y and soft and everything he didn't even know he was dreaming of.

His limbs responded to external stimuli without his brain really engaging. Loki found himself sitting against the door, watching the StarkTab as yellow script scrolled across the screen and dramatic music swelled. He watched, reluctantly enthralled by the simple story, as she fed him salty, meaty sweets every so often.

He would never admit how fun it was to hear her imitate the characters, but he did find himself smiling involuntarily a few times.


Iteration 2, July 1st, 2012, 9:47am, Central Park, New York/

Iteration 00, June 1st, 2012, 9:47am, Central Park, New York

Loki finally got to wear that gag.

 

Chapter Text

Earth

Iteration 1, March 30th, 2011, 11:15pm, Puente Antiguo, New Mexico

Jane was questioning her sanity.

She actually did that a lot.

If she could just get clearer readings of the anomaly that could prove her theories, she was certain that she could figure out the weirdness that was going on out there in the desert. Finally, she might be able to let her little quest go. It would be great to prove she wasn't crazy, after all.

She shook her head to clear it, and returned to mentally running through three different equations in her head. While Jane could devote that kind of brain-power to math and still toast a mean Pop-Tart, she wasn't quite able to drive and math at the same time. She knew that, Erik knew that, heck, even her insurance company knew that. Jane still did it all the time, though. 

In this case, the math kept her from falling asleep at the wheel. Mostly. The man she ran over didn't know the difference either way. Jane felt pretty awful, especially before she got out of the car and found that he was still alive. Knocked unconscious, maybe, but breathing. Something else he was? Naked. Like all the way naked, and, hoo-mamma, he was quite the specimen. Jane felt her brain stop functioning almost entirely as she considered the smooth, golden skin stretched across the best ass she had ever seen. Ever.

She fluttered around him, trying to figure out what to do, how to help; she knew first aid, theoretically. How to apply that knowledge in this situation, though? He was, as she'd noticed, breathing, so that was good. Right? He had a few scrapes here and there, but otherwise seemed to be in a fine condition. How the heck did a giant, blond naked man end up in the middle of the desert a good fifty miles from anywhere, Jane wondered as she squatted down to put her fingers to his throat.

He reared, suddenly awake and shouting at the top of his lungs. Jane, startled, fell on her butt, and scrabbled back as quickly as she could.

"Sir, sir? I'm sorry, are you Ok? Sir?" Jane asked from what she hoped was a safe distance. 

It wasn't. The man went wild, and Jane actually kind of feared for her safety in more than just an esoteric way. He was screaming nonsense, ranting at the top of his lungs. 

When Erik came out of nowhere, Jane was pretty cool with the fact that he beaned the handsome stranger in the head with a piece of equipment and rendered him unconscious. 

By unspoken agreement, they loaded the once again unconscious blond into the truck and after a quick and stimulating discussion about ethics and the Geneva Convention, they tied him up with duct-tape and headed for the nearest hospital.


Iteration 00, March 31st, 2011, 11:20 pm, Puente Antiguo, New Mexico

"Dude's pretty cut for a homeless guy," Darcy considered this naked-ass stranger curiously, and gave him a thrice-over. Probably not so homeless, after all, but that begged the question: what the fuck was he doing in the middle of butt-fuck nowhere desert without his clothes?

She'd just tased him into a drooling lump, and since Jane had run him over moments before that, Darcy felt kinda-sorta bad.

In her defense, he'd been irrational and almost violent when he came to, so what else was she supposed to have done? Let him carjack them, or worse? No fucking way. Then again, he was probably concussed and disoriented, but just because someone looked ridiculously good naked didn't mean he had a free pass to be even remotely threatening. Especially to a friend, since that was what Jane really was, beyond the internship. A friend, against all odds and laws of nature and reason.

They should probably get him to a hospital.

It took all three of them to get the enormous stranger relatively safely tucked away in the back of the old van Jane had bought with her very first four checks. Darcy was capable enough to drive them, or so Jane thought- because really, her experience extended to driving her mom's Camry, her dad's Taurus and Scooty Puff, Jr. Boss-Lady hopped in the back to "keep an eye on him" during the drive. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink.

It was weird; she was worthless as far as the science was concerned, but she rocked out the data analysis and made some truly awesome spreadsheets and charts. Aside from that, Jane, and now Erik, needed her for basically everything normal; they routinely forgot food, drink and that sleep was occasionally a necessity.

Darcy knew full well that Jane had already decided to give her top marks, ensuring Darcy got her six credits, even though she pretty much had neither the comprehension nor the interest to learn the finer points of what Jane studied. Actually, most people were like that, and even the ones who did understand her theorems didn't believe them. In fact, most of the academic community thought she was something of a crackpot. Darcy really respected Jane for going to bat to prove her theories, but sometimes she'd rather be sleeping. Or smoking. Or anything else, basically.

It was just past dawn when they reconvened at the office. A horrible time of day Darcy had only experienced a few times before, and only under extreme duress. Since she had yet to go to sleep, the quick bowl she smoked in the parking lot wasn't technically a wake-n-bake; it was really to keep her from going into full bouncing-off-walls, caffeine overload.

Darcy's the one who noticed that one of the pictures of the Bridge-thing showed the silhouette of someone, those same pictures that so clearly showed those misaligned constellations.

Darcy banged away on her keyboard, while Jane ran to find some of her ex's clothes. Erik kept on talking at Jane, like he didn't know his words were no use. Jane continued on, responding on autopilot to Erik's objections. 

Donald was pretty tall, but his variety of bulk wasn't exactly muscle. Jane added a belt to the pile and hoped the two men would be close enough in size that the clothes would somewhat fit and he wouldn't stand out too much. As much as an enormous blond with biceps like uh and an ass like holy-sweet-Jesus could fit in anywhere. And for the record Jane's interest was totally scientific. Absolutely. Einstein-Rosenberg Bridge all the way.

He had caused a ruckus at the hospital, and the staff loaded him up with enough drugs to take down a baby elephant. Somehow, despite that, he managed to escape. Darcy sniggered at the obstinate, aggravated expression on Jane's face. 

They were pulling out of the parking lot when the van made a loud thud-clang. Darcy fucking cackled when she hopped out after Jane and saw what she had hit. Who she had hit. Priceless. Jane had hit Hottie No-Pants. With much grunting and some frustrated, but creative cursing they got him in the van, again. 

When Blondie came to, back at their office/repurposed gas-station, he dressed in the clothes that Jane handed him. Darcy had a stern talk with herself, but couldn't quite not sneak a peak. Her whole body flushed, because that man was Fine. Not that Jane's blushes and awkward giggling had escaped her, or the way the huge viking-looking lunatic looked back. It was sort of sweet. Doomed, anything that might happen between those two was so completely and utterly doomed, but in the meantime it was kind of adorable.


Iteration 2, April 1st, 2011, 3:25 pm, Puente Antiguo, New Mexico

She wasn't supposed to be here.

Darcy had gotten an awesome internship with a Marine Biologist out of LA, had "moved" there just about a month and a half ago, right after midterms. More specifically, she had gotten a spot on a friend's couch, and had spent all of five days there. The Doctor she was supposed to have been interning with had broken her spine in a tragic windsurfing accident, and that was that. No more awesome internship. Just when Darcy had been frantically scrambling trying to find a replacement, and a place to live, and a job, Sharon had unexpectedly offered a solution.

Sharon had decided to change her major, and was about to ditch an internship with a crazy astrologist, no, astronomist for a different professor the following year. Since she was looking at another 18 credits on top of what she already needed, she might as well wait, and get the credits for something that interested her.

Darcy silently cursed her, since she'd been perfectly happy in LA, and it felt like Sharon was sort of shoving Darcy's desire to finally finish up her degree in her face. Either way, Sharon had a spare room for rent, because her current roomie was definitely some sort of Satanist who left bloody tampons in the garbage can, in full view, and didn't believe in a Swear Jar, and would Darcy please just come home?

So Darcy had "come home", as it were, to Puente Antiguo. She should have known that there was a catch. Doctor-Lady was fucking Payday nutbar, almost tin-foil hats, bat-shit crazy. +$2.00, Swear Jar.

Darcy had refused a midnight trip to the desert on principle, and thank fuck for that. Jane had somehow managed to run over some LAARPing weirdo, and broken him out of the psych ward. There were not enough credits in the world to deal with this nonsense, but then again, Darcy had always been a sucker for Jerry Springer. She could get through this, and graduate, if she could just keep it together.

After some completely expected crazy talk; stars and bridges between realms- and, sure, dude's built like a god, but he's not one. He can't be actual Thor, that's insane, and not the product of logic.

Jane looked rather pensive and wistful as the super-hot "Thor" walked off into the bright New Mexico afternoon.

Darcy could read the signs as well as anyone. Thor was going to that thing out in the desert, and Jane was, too, even if she didn't know it, yet.

Imagine her surprise when she got back to their office, and, as Erik so eloquently put it, jack-booted thugs were stealing almost everything in sight. Thank fuck her laptop was back at the dorm.

Darcy had never seen anyone other than her mom lose their shit so hard before, never seen anybody succumb to bone-shaking anger like little Janie. That little five foot-nothin', 90lb waif somehow had some old-school PCP-strength, the kind they talked about in the original Terminator.

It took all of Darcy's strength to stop Jane from assaulting a rather bland and beige Man in Black, which probably would have been hilarious, but really just seemed like a very bad idea.

The loss of her science stuff was pretty devastating for Jane, understandably, and even though Darcy knew she should have done a better job convincing Jane not to take off after Thor, she figured her time might be better spent mitigating the coming disaster. She had nothing better going on in her life right then, she might as well have a completely bonkers adventure before she had to be a responsible grown-up.

Darcy considered the situation, and as sincerely as she was able, tried to imagine, and plan for, various situational outcomes. His Viking Hotness had no ID, and if Darcy was lucky she might be able to put something in place for him. She'd have to call in a few favors, maybe all of them, but she had a weird feeling about this. She learned not to discount those feelings the hard way.

Darcy had been chatting with this snippy English dude for over a year, and he had ways of making things happen, or maybe knowing when things would happen. He would have an idea how to get ahead of a shadowy government acronym agency. Or how to bail out a ID-less stranger and her boss when he inevitably got them picked up by said agency.


Iteration 2, April 2nd, 2011, 1:03am Puente Antiguo, New Mexico

Darcy had never seen Erik so drunk before, had never imagined that he even knew where the bar was, or what to do once there. But when he called her, tanked, and had hiccupped his way through explaining that he had no idea how to get him and Thor home, Darcy took pity on him and took Scooty Puff, Jr to the bar. 

Thankfully, Thor was markedly less likely to throw up, so she had him carry her boss's mentor to the van. She started to give him directions, but he just looked blankly at the steering wheel and made no move to stick the keys into the ignition. She huffed and pushed him into the passenger seat, before getting in. 

Thor, or whatever his name was, was silent, pensive on the drive over to Jane's cozy trailer out in the desert. She tried to engage him in inane chatter, but he remained stubbornly quiet, except when Darcy mentioned Jane. It took a considerable amount of self control not to press him for details about his very obvious crush, and besides, the drive wasn't that long, so Darcy just kept her mouth shut and hummed Queen until they arrived.

He looked sorta nervous when she stopped the van outside Jane's dingy trailer, and it was possibly the cutest thing Darcy had seen since the video of the kitten wiggling his ears. 

"Look, I gotta get some sleep, Big Guy, and judging by the lights inside Jane's still up, so she'll let you in. Just dump Erik off on the nearest flat surface and make your move. She'll be receptive."

"What move should I be making, Lady Darcy?"

 Did she really have to spell it out?

"You know, move."

He still looked adorably confused. Darcy sighed. "A move, you know, to, uh, further your relationship with Boss-Lady."

Still with the blank, uncomprehending stare. 

"Something that will lead to, uh, fun?"

Big blue eyes blinked at Darcy innocently. Blink-blink.

Oh, for fucks sake. Darcy made a circle out of her thumb and index finder on her left hand and stuck her right pointer finger through the hole a few times. Thor looked thoroughly scandalized by her gesture and meaning. 

"I would never presume to-," Darcy cut him off with a laugh and a wave of her hand. 

"Whatever floats your boat, Big Guy. I'm outtie. Tell Jane I'll be by with the van in the morning."


Iteration 3, April 3rd, 2011, Puente Antiguo Times, Front Page

Mysterious Gas Explosion Caused by Weather?

Despite the assurances of the CDC, NOAA and their Federal back-up, many of our townspeople continue to question the official story that a freak storm led to the gas-leak that caused the fiery explosion that decimated the downtown area. Sources from the scene report that hail the size of small cars crushed buildings, but that the majority of the ice seemed to have been shot from the ground.

Independent "Fire-Experts"  have determined, scientifically, that the pattern of some of the burn marks are indicative of the sort of directionalized, concentrated flames common in flame throwers, only on a much larger scale.

While our readership anxiously wait for answers from the promised independent investigators, we live with a sneaking suspicion that our own government is again keeping terrible secrets.


Iteration 2, May 31st, 2012, 7:05am, Tromso, Norway

Darcy had lived through a giant, fire-breathing robot taking out the majority of her little college town, but the pictures from New York were freaking Darcy right out. Sure she thought that being awake this early was sacrilege, but exceptions could be made for an alien invasion. Jane sat in front of her laptop and alternately geeked out about the science aspect and worried about her godly boyfriend.

New Jersey was right there and there were huge worm things floating around, disgorging smaller humanoid aliens who apparently really didn't find New York to their liking, and all of that was making Darcy reconsider exactly how awesome it was to be on a different continent, over 200 miles north of the Arctic Line. Thankfully, it was what passed for spring in that region so travel would be substantially easier. 

Darcy had already bought tickets home and packed their carry-ons by the time Jane tore herself away from the screen. It was a simple matter of getting Jane into her boots and jacket and into their miniature car. Darcy tried to think of reasons why her parents weren't answering, following the GPS almost blindly.

The airport was cordoned off by military and they were told no flights would be departing until the situation had been stabilized. Jane did a good job venting by banging on the dashboard and screaming obscenities, while Darcy called a number on her phone.

The IPod Thief wasn't answering, and Darcy was momentarily concerned, but then again Coulson seemed like he was nothing if not completely capable of fading into the background till he could strike. He was probably busy Man in Blacking, so Darcy dialled the American Embassy in Oslo, hundreds of miles away, hoping against hope that she would find someone sympathetic. 

She was being transferred to yet another extension, while the guys in uniform with the guns outside were looking less and less patient with them for not moving along. Without an actual plan, Darcy got on a highway she hoped took them south. She grunted after leaving her fourth message to some random Embassy employee. For all she knew, she'd been leaving the janitors messages.

Jane was curled in her seat, watching footage of her boyfriend and his friends kick alien ass, chewing on her lip. Darcy snapped her fingers in Jane's bleak face. "Boss-Lady, need directions here. Uhm, I think Trondheim is the next big city towards the south. We'll figure out something there."

They stopped for gas a few times, and weren't able to get a hold of anyone. After the last stop and still no word from Coulson the Beige, Jane and Darcy were actually starting to get worried for him; the battle had been over for hours now. When Darcy started nodding out, she pulled off the highway, found a cut by a small beach and pulled over. The warmer the weather got, the longer the days got, and even though it was after midnight it had only gotten dark a little while ago.

Darcy pulled Jane's jacket up to her boss's chin, and folded up her spare sweater to use as a pillow for herself. She just fallen asleep, or at least it felt that way when her phone dinged and vibrated off of the dashboard. 

Text Message Received, From: J-Man: 06/01/12, 2:05am

The Beige Man in Black is out of play. Luckily right now, I've more strings to pull. GPS indicates that you're on your way to Trondheim, please continue to the Municipal Harbour there, post haste. There'll be transport leaving from there in approximately 10 hours. Please acknowledge. 

Darcy rubbed the sleep from her eyes, bleary from lack of rest and her brain totally sluggish. She read the text message three times before she understood the implications. But how had J-Man known she was out of the country and needed to get back? How had he gotten her new phone number, and how the fuck did he enter himself in her contacts? She hadn't so much as seen him online since he manufactured that fake ID for Thor. That was over a year ago.

She hadn't realized how much she had missed him and his peculiar brand of humor. She should have reached out to him sooner, once she realized how stuck they were in this foreign country, but she'd sort of forgotten him in all the craziness. Still, she'd rag on him, just a little.

Reply:

J-Man who hasn't bothered to acknowledge my existence in over a year? And what do you mean Coulson's out of play? Is he Ok? I still haven't gotten my IPod back, he better be fucking Ok.

She'd barely pressed send before a response came through.

J-Man:

One and the same. Apologies for my absence, my employer has kept me inexcusably busy these last 14 months. However I long to catch up, you must get going if you and Ms. Foster are to arrive in time to see a certain someone. Slot 4, leaves at 10am, promptly. If you hurry, you can make it.

Darcy answered:

Can you check on my parents? I haven't been able to reach them. 

J-Man: 

I know they were evacuated promptly, and they should be safe. I'll update you, but it may take a while with communications so spotty. 

Shall I inform the crew of your arrival?

Reply:

We'll  be there. With bells on.


Iteration 1, May 27th, 2012, 10:45am, SHIELD Laboratory 32, 123 miles SouthWest of Phoenix, Arizona

It wasn't like Jane was in love with the delusional blond who had up and left her, but maybe she sort of was. What else could it be that made her think of him all the time? It wasn't like she had much experience with this sort of thing. Her relationship with Donald had been a convenient solution to a biological urge. It had been awful.

She wondered where Thor was. Why he wasn't there with her, when he'd kissed her like that. What he had meant when he said he'd be back. 

Jane tried to get a satellite orbit shifted so she could get a better reading on some strange readings she was getting out of ... here. Those readings were coming from inside the compound. Jane darted to entrance of the corridor to the theater. She waved one of gravimetric barometers in the face of the stupidly young agent who guarded the door, asking, then begging him to just get Dr Selvig. She tried shouting Erik's name when the building shuddered and the ground groaned. 

And that was when the shit hit the proverbial fan. 

Erik, eyes bluer than could be real was running after, or with, maybe, a man in a ridiculous helmet and armor? Jesus Christ, she had time to think before the man in the crazy outfit turned around and saw her. She tried to back away, to become invisible, a scream rising in her throat, as he smiled at her. He said something about luck and raised a spear, a golden spear with a glowing blue ball. She had an instant of heart stopping terror before he touched it to her chest and everything of herself fell away.

Erik nodded at her, and she was suddenly so focused and sure of her purpose that words weren't needed anymore. She fell into step with her master and hurried to leave with them. She recognized dimly that they were being shot at, that they were being chased, and couldn't understand why. Their mission would only benefit humanity. 

They would realize that soon enough.


Iteration 2, June 2nd, 2012, 3:54pm, Stark Tower, New York, New York

Darcy was tired and cranky. She was hungry and if Jane said one more fucking thing about whatever noises her thingymajiggy was making, Darcy wouldn't be responsible for her actions. The novelty of traveling by boat, plane, train and automobile had worn off about 9 hours ago.

She'd just drop Jane off at the door to this ridiculous display of phallic-related machismo and go home. Mom would burn pot roast and undercook the potatoes, Dad would joke about Mom getting into the Manischewitz, and Darcy would never leave their cozy little house in Jersey ever again. 

Except Jane just stood there, scuffing her boot into the sidewalk, looking down instead of up at the enormous building. It was surprising how much damage had been done, and how many people were still walking around, giving no fucks about the damage that had been done, despite the piles of rubble and glass, and the occasional mound of decomposing flesh.

It was one thing to see the pictures and videos, but it did something to Darcy's insides to see all the destruction in person, right up close.

Jane looked a little scared and apprehensive instead of excited about the possibility of seeing the guy she was totally in love with. Darcy handed over all of the money in her pocket to the cabbie, and joined Jane and her carry-on on the sidewalk. She clearly needed support.

She slung her arm around her boss's shoulders and, together they walked to the massive door. It slid open, and across the massive and strangely empty lobby an elevator door dinged as it, too, slid open. 

There was something slightly sinister and creepy about the whole deal, and it was with the greatest hesitation that she led Jane over and got in the elevator. Darcy was still trying to figure out where she knew that voice over the speakers announcing the penthouse as their destination, when the doors slid shut.

The feeling of her stomach dropping into her shoes was unpleasant to say the least, but Darcy still put on a smile for a strangely silent Jane and nudged her side. Darcy was just about to mention something about how excited Jane must be to see Thor again when the elevator stopped abruptly and the huge blond barreled into the elevator, practically shoved Darcy out of the way and wrapped Jane up in his massive arms. 


Iteration 2, June 23rd, 2012, 8:26pm, Stark Tower, New York, New York

Darcy had tried, really tried not to be the one chosen for this particular messenger duty, but the universe apparently hated her guts. With Thor gone off to who knew where, to do who knew what, when the Nerds, so firmly ensconced in their Ivory Science Tower, "requested" to have the input of the other Odinson, shit rolled down hill.

JARVIS (who, it turned out, wasn't a real boy at all, but a flipping building) refused help Bag of Cats for Brains beyond basic necessities, Captain Hot-Pants had moved to DC, and with the Widow and Hawkeye off doing whatever bonding exercise they were doing in the wake of her injury, Darcy was told in no uncertain terms to hie her ass down to the basement. Epic boo.

It had been weeks since she'd finished the collating the reports about the Hydra infiltration of Stark Tower that had happened during the New York incident. Sure, JARVIS could have done it better and more efficiently than her, but she'd needed to do something other than the usual scientist wrangling. Something about the reports was bugging her, though. It had been lingering in the back of her mind since she had saved the files for the last time. 

It finally came to her when she was walking the drab and dingy hallway in the basement that led from the the elevator to the old vault that had been deemed suitable as a cell. It was the almost hysterical laughter coming from behind the thick, iron door that triggered the memory of that fucked up New Year's party a few years ago.

Her mind practically whirred like an overclocked computer as she matched the face of the tripping lunatic who had stabbed her classmate through the hand to the God locked up in the cell. He looked different from then, enough that she never would have put the two together without something to jog her memory. Darcy wondered briefly if it could have been some sort of doppelganger, and decided that must be the case. Everyone agreed, verified through various means, that he hadn't been to Earth in decades, before the attack.

Up close, when the little slot opened, she was taken aback by how bad he smelled and how absolutely unhinged he looked there in his tiny cell. Jesus, they were better than this; better than treating a prisoner like an animal. She was determined to do something, anything, about it, even if he kind of deserved it, and even if she no longer had a job or college credits afterwards.

It was one thing to torture him with McDonald's, but something completely different, something horrible to deny him basic necessities.

Darcy tried to act natural as she handed over the StarkTab. She was almost certain she managed it, snark and all, as she gave instructions on how to use the latest in computational technology. It took for-freaking-ever, since the Asshole seemed positively determined to deliberately misunderstand every single thing she said. 

When he asked her about Star Wars, she started telling him about it just for something new to talk about. In classic Asshole fashion, he interrupted her right as she was getting to the first good part. 

Fuck this shit, she thought as she gave him double middle fingers, she'd officially had enough. If only she could Jedi mind-trick him like Obi-Wan; even temporary, another personality would be welcome.

Homeward bound!

She tried for enthusiastic giddiness as she left the basement, and failed. When Darcy pressed the button for the floor the lab was on instead of the lobby, JARVIS asked if all was well. She shrugged. When he asked if he should notify Sir that Handle Bars had stepped out of line, she almost lost it. Darcy had worked with JARVIS to come with as many hilarrible nicknames for him as possible, and it had been funny, but not right then.

Darcy got right up in Tony Stark's face, and read him the riot act about how he was allowing Loki to be treated. At first he'd done his smug, king-shit thing, but she got through that pretty quickly. Darcy stayed until he had one of the bots wheel down stuff for what amounted to a camp shower, and left shortly thereafter.


Iteration 2, June 30th, 2012, 9:45pm Stark Tower, New York

She'd been avoiding going down there again, but after Thor had arrived earlier, he'd mentioned that it was past time for the brothers to face their father, so they were leaving in the morning.

Thor and Jane holed up in her apartment, the one that shared a wall with hers. The sounds that came through the wall (oh god, the sounds!), and that followed her all the way to the shared living area, were almost enough to make her reassess her avoidance of the Asshole. She left the Tower, instead.

They were still going at it when Darcy came back after a three hour jaunt to find donuts. She checked the StarkChat, and saw that Tony, Bruce and Loki were also still going at it, just in their special science way. 

Darcy saw that at least four Star Wars references went right over Asshole's head, and since she couldn't fit another donut in her stomach, she decided to perform a mission of mercy. JARVIS loaded the original version of Episode 4 on her and Loki's StarkTabs, and she grabbed the last half a dozen donuts as she fled the Nerd-floor. Who knew Jane could reach that pitch?

It was strange how non-assholish he was after the application of refined sugar. Darcy was surprised how comfortable she felt around him after she gave him the first donut. He was almost friendly. He didn't even put up a fuss when she had him pass over his StarkTab so she could queue up Star Wars. Once he had settled in, it was kinda reminded her of watching Star Wars for the first time with her little cousin. 

Darcy unconsciously quoted along with the parts that she liked the best, not even realizing what she was doing until he snorted when she made the wookie warble. She passed him a donut to shut him up.

Darcy actually enjoyed his company, for once, and was almost sad to see him go.

Chapter Text

Midgard

Iteration 3, June 3rd, 2012, 2:35pm, Stark Tower, New York

There had been little opportunity or much ability since he'd fallen in with Thanos for contemplation of the kind where one examined ones motives deeply and objectively. Even before that point, he had no  desire to do anything resembling that, if he was being completely honest with himself. And that was precisely the point. Being honest with himself, even if he wasn't with anyone else. 

The truth of all his actions was lost in a morass; a tangle not entirely of his own making, but that was his responsibility nonetheless. The truth was he was chock-full of regret, apparently. At least he was fairly certain that was what he was feeling.

Feeling anything other than dread and mania hadn't been much of an issue when his mind had been nearly full of someone else's knowledge and desire. That problem seemed to have been temporarily solved now- though the means, ergo being beaten into a fine pulp by a green monster, left something to be said. And in the spirit of all this honestly, he would also admit that not being exactly capable of questioning his actions had been really wonderful compared to this- this almost obsessive recollecting.

A day or two in this mortal stink-hole had certainly made his thoughts full of all he wished to leave alone. It wasn't something he'd ever considered before he'd been tossed from Asgard that first time- regret. 

He brought to mind the people he'd considered his family. He deliberately thought of them by name, though he knew as well as any that names held their own power. That belief might have fallen out of fashion from truth into superstition, but it was still true enough. Names could draw someones attention without them ever knowing why. Outside family, he tended to use them sparingly. Were they even still family?

Frigga, the only mother he knew, who wasn't related to him at all. She had practically radiated disappointment and guilt, the last time he'd seen her, and he vacillated between wondering why he even cared what she thought and caring far too much.

Thor, his big, strong brother, who could have caught him when he'd fallen from the bridge had he been just a little faster, and changed the way of things.

Odin, who never intended to give Loki the throne at all, no matter what feats he accomplished, or what knowledge he could have brought to bear.

Loki had known well what Odin's aim had been when he'd bound his and Thor's powers to their weapons and chucked them all to Midgard. It might have seemed, to a casual observer, that Odin had done it in a fit of rage, but anything the All-Father did, he did with a purpose. In this case, it had been a lesson to his erstwhile sons in humility and both self-sufficiency and cooperation.

The real question was, had Odin guessed that Loki knew his true race when he had banished them? 

Either way, Loki had known that he should have played along, but he had been so off-kilter, so consumed by his father's betrayal, that he hadn't been able to think clearly.

He'd also been less than pleased to find that he'd landed right next to Thor, who, at the time, didn't know how to tuck himself into the wake of the spell, not dissimilar to when one used the bi-frost, and had burned most of his clothes clean off as a result. It had seemed impossibly cruel that Loki had been stuck dealing with a mostly naked Thor on top of everything else. It had seemed imperative that he get his powers back so that he return at once to Asgard; Loki had known how upset the frost-giants would be when they discovered that they were unable to breach Asgard, as he had promised he would aid them in doing.

It hadn't taken more than a few seconds after they had landed before he'd realized that they would likely come for him on Midgard instead. He'd started to plan, to plot for the best outcomes, but Thor had been typically obstinate and spectacularly unhelpful, bellowing alternately for Odin to bring them back and for his hammer. 

Everything that had happened thereafter was nothing even he could have planned for.

For instance: How could he have predicted that he would push Thor into the path of a mortal conveyance? How could he have guessed that what should have amounted to a momentary chance encounter would change everything? How could he have known that he would have met her? She'd proved how very unlike others she was the very moment she had shown up. 

Darcy Lewis.

Strange little mortal who had used her electrical device to fell Thor upon their first meeting, and pulled Loki neatly from the path of an ice boulder that had been hurled towards his head during their last. 

There was nothing particularly alluring about her, nothing that would have normally drawn his eye. She was more perceptive than truly brilliant, though she'd proven to be smart in her own right. She was stubborn and crude, ready with obscenities and sarcasm at even the most inappropriate times, and even Sif was more lady-like.

But she had saved him, that final day in her horrid little town, right after the frost-giants had shown up. Then she'd waved it off like she did that sort of thing daily, like huge blue things trying to kill everyone was normal. He'd tried to even score, as it were, but instead had incinerated a block of ice that would have squashed the mortal his brother held a tendre for. 

When Loki had finished dispatching the squadron of frost-giant assassins with Thor, he'd realized there were no further opportunities to clear the debt. In a rush to get back to Asgard, ready to deal in vengeance, Loki had figured saving her friend was close enough. Logically, he should have forgotten her almost instantly, mortals were nothing in the grand scheme of things, with lives like a flash in the pan. But she lingered, somewhere in the back of his mind, popping up in random thoughts here and there. Loki wasn't sure why or what it meant, but he definitely didn't like it.

Trying to think of something else led his thoughts down another path best left untraveled. He'd tried to freeze Jotunheim into nothing for the way they had tried to kill him. It hadn't been his finest moment, to be sure. And frankly, neither had this whole New York incident, but he had not been able to figure out a better way out.

He supposed that he had been a bit, well, unbalanced, not thinking clearly. Still was, really, though for mostly different reasons. Wallowing in power, and being the plaything of pure evil tended to do that to a person. While in the depth of the Other's thrall, he had not seen how foolish his plan was. That none of his wishes would be fulfilled, no matter what Thanos promised, no matter what he, himself, thought he deserved.

He had wanted things to be as they were before Odin had chosen Thor over him, before he'd known his true parentage. Even if it was impossible, he'd wanted to undo all the choices that led him to allow that madness to overwhelm him. 

Was it worse or better that he was in some control of his faculties when he planned the invasion of Midgard? Aesir were empirically better than mortals, but he wasn't even one, and he'd known it. He'd known on some level that what he was doing was wrong, but he liked to think that years of deeply ingrained prejudice against frost-giants and humans had influenced his thinking. Even so, it was a flimsy excuse, and his actions embarrassed him.

Perhaps that was one of the things that had kept Thanos out of that final, stubborn corner in his mind. Regret.

A muted scrape of metal outside the unfortunately sturdy iron cell door interrupted his contemplations.

This time, as a delightful change, the slot in the middle of the door opened, because it wasn't one of Stark's metal servants outside bringing him something disgusting, he could see that it was an actual person. Strange that he hadn't noticed that scraping until it was almost upon him.

What it was he recognized first he couldn't say, but it was definitely her. It was as if just thinking her name had summoned her, and he wasn't sure if he was pleased to have her particular brand of company or not. He remembered what all his tutors had told him at one point or another, that a manipulator of magic is always mindful of his thoughts, and Loki hadn't been, not at all, and not for a long time.

He tried for control of his thoughts and found them more slippery than he ever remembered.

She looked much the same as she had last they had seen each other. Loki found that he was unable to determine with any accuracy what measurement of time that had been. More than a few months, but less than several years, by the look of her. She was still wearing the same spectacles, and possibly the same awful hat. Hair mostly tucked away, so no way of telling if it was longer.

Darcy unfolded something that squealed like metal against metal and apparently sat so she was mostly on level with the slot. Then she stuck her face right up to the hole, "What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck were you thinking?"

He hadn't been thinking, that was the point. Of course, he'd been in the control of a deformed megalomaniac more powerful than she could conceive, but that was neither here nor there, since he couldn't actually talk about it. And it shamed him, just a little, that he'd been taken over, an unpleasant emotion. Moments of silence passed between them as they stared at each other.

Darcy squirmed uncomfortably in her metal seat, and looked away first. It was more gratifying than it should have been. "Listen, Thor kinda told us the thing," she said, voice noticeably softer, face still grim. It was a spectacularly vague thing to say, as it could have been any number of things, not many flattering. She looked back at him, gaze steady and faintly pitying, quite obviously expecting a response of some sort.

Loki wasn't inclined to share anything with her, least of all anything personal.

So he tried to ignore her. Loki turned to face the wall, debating whether to stick his fingers in his ears or not. He settled on not, on the basis of experience.

He really should have known it wouldn't work.

"Why are you even here?" Loki finally shouted, when she had reached 'Reason 24 Loki really sucks ass' in the little ditty she had started singing, poorly. Likely with the express purpose of him doing exactly what he was doing. Acknowledging her.

"I can't pretend to understand what it was like to find something like that out, have your dad kick you out, banish you from sight and your home. I can't even begin to imagine finding out that your people kind of want to kill you. And then to fall. Right? You fell through the universe, man, and just that would have been enough to trip anyone out and send them off the deep end. But you didn't have to do what you did, you didn't have to hurt Erik or Hawkeye or the other SHIELD guys or, I dunno man, try to take over the world. I mean, what the hell were you fucking thinking, Loki?"

"If that lack-wit Thor sent you down here to be a sympathetic ear I will spill my secrets to, I must say, you are quite missing the mark."

"Screw you, dude. I'm just here because your brother, and hello? That's right, he's still your brother, he still cares, still calls you brother. Anyway, your brother wanted to see my boss, the one I still have a borderline unhealthy codependent relationship with, so of course I had to tag along. I mean, it's great to be back in New York, but jet-lag is kicking my ass. So yeah, what has two thumbs and is too tired for an ulterior motive besides disappointed curiosity?"

He heard her take a deep breath.

"I just, I'm not stupid enough to think we were friends, but I thought, you know, since I saved your life, you could maybe give me some small hint as to why you did all this. Because I keep thinking that you must have had a really good reason for all of this, and I don't think I can handle it if you don't. You owe me, Loki. Tell me."

"I'm in no mood for your games, mortal, and I owe you nothing. Leave me in peace."

"I would have been perfectly happy leaving you alone, Loki, but I don't have anything better to do, and since I can't sleep through the very loud, live action porn being made right next to my room, going back upstairs isn't going to happen. You know your brother, I'm sure."

Loki almost snorted, as he knew exactly what she was talking about. Grunting and shouting, walls shuddering under the assault of the headboard, a mattress squeaking for mercy, to say nothing of the inevitable noises his partner brought to the symphony.

She sighed deeply and scrubbed her hands over her face, "Do you know what it's like to feel like something you did caused something terrible, and to feel guilt about it? I don't think I've really doubted that before, that you were capable of feeling. But I do now, Loki, and I need to know why you did all of this."

She didn't say it out loud, but she might as well have: Please tell me there was a good reason. Please tell me that all this isn't really your fault. 

What came out of his mouth when he finally opened it to speak, wasn't the placating nonsense he'd meant to say. 

"I was supposed to rule. It was supposed to be me."

It sounded petty and hollow, and he regretted it the instant he spoke it.

"Really?" She sounded so sad, so hurt, like she'd expected better. Well, she could get in line behind all the others he'd disappointed. "That's it?"

He winced a little. He'd never be able to tell her of Thanos. Actually, Loki never wanted her to have even the slightest inkling of him. In this case, he judged ignorance to be the closest thing to safety as he could offer. He nodded.

"Nice. Yeah, on that note, uh, bye."

She turned away, "Hey, Jarv, is there any place still open where a girl could get some doughnuts?...", and the slot closed her off from view immediately after, and the sound of voices dissolved into murmurs and then nothing. He was again alone.

Regret. 


Iteration 1, May 31st, 2012, 4:26pm, Stark Tower, New York

Loki surveyed the pathetic resistance Earth's mortal "heroes" were putting up. He'd thrown the Man of Iron out of his tower just a few moments ago, and was disappointed to see that he survived, against all expectations, but he supposed that having so little time available made a person scrappy.

He was standing on the top of the Tower overseeing the descent of the Mothership when the bomb hit. One moment upright, organising the chaos of the ground forces and the transport wyrms, the next falling away deaf and blind and burning. Down, down, down, the pain of landing nothing compared to the pain from the blast. There was a need to get up, something inside that wanted him to propel himself upright again.

The spirit willing, but the flesh too weak, Loki lifted his head, and promptly passed out.


Iteration 1, May 31st, 2012, 6pm, Unknown, New York

Loki wasn't dead. He might've wished he was, but the pain in his body heralded his incredible survival regardless. He laid there for a few minutes, eyes closed, trying to pass back into unconsciousness, but that wasn't to be. He reluctantly opened his eyes. He focused on himself first, taking stock of the damage done to his body; which included what felt like a broken shoulder and clavicle and burns along the side of his body. He feared for his face, and wasn't particularly looking forward to seeing what damage had been done to that. He felt around his head, feeling the absence of hair and the hot spots that signaled more burns.

Magic wasn't coming easily to him, so he crawled from under the debris that had fallen on top of him after shoving it off. It took much of his strength, and he was breathing heavily by the time he was free. 

The city was by no means quiet, but everything had a curiously muffled quality. Sirens and screams seemed to come from a great distance, but the flashing lights were coming from just down the street.

Loki propped himself against a broken concrete column and closed his eyes to better concentrate on the healing spell he'd taught himself as a youngster. It dulled the worst of the pain, but didn't do much for the broken bones. His hearing finally cleared and, that was when he heard it- the screeching, guttural sound that was the Chitauri language. Loki sighed before levering himself to his feet, ready (sort of) to take stock of the losses of his forces and whether the gateway was still open.

There was dust and ash in the air that made breathing somewhat difficult, and likewise seeing.  Visibility was down to virtually nothing, and Loki honestly had no idea where he was. The scent of burning buildings and other things he hesitated to identify, was disconcerting. A gust of wind from the ocean temporarily solved that issue and what he saw shocked him; the city was in ruins. The few building that had withstood the blast, were listing alarmingly and aflame. There were more people than he thought possible everywhere, moaning and reaching and trying to do what he'd done, crawl to freedom, but with much less success.

He'd thought he was the ruthless one. He'd thought that he was the inhumane one, but the mortals had just shown him exactly what they were willing to do. And it was frightening.


Iteration 3, June 5th, 2012, 1:32pm, Stark Tower, New York

She wouldn't meet his eye.

Loki knew that she was likely at least partially responsible for having him moved from the cell to a room that connected to Thor's. He was relatively certain that he was somewhat grateful she had intervened on his behalf. It felt like another favor owed, but she refused to allow him even the smallest opportunity to find out why she had done it.

Actually, for the most part, she refused to acknowledge he existed beyond clipped greetings and even shorter farewells. Even the ever-annoying Man of Iron had noticed the almost palpable awkwardness between him and Darcy. It had led to several increasingly hostile encounters that usually ended in explicit threats to various parts of his anatomy.

Loki had been trying to make some sort of contribution, extend his time on Midgard, because for all that he had previously desired to go home, he'd found that he almost preferred where he was, to a certain extent. It was arguably better than whatever punishment that waited in Asgard, and with Thanos most of the way across the heavens, without a way to get from there to here anytime soon, Midgard offered better opportunities for the time being.

It would be a simple matter to allow the mortals and Thor to begin to trust him. Just a little bit. They would grow lax sooner or later. But she was a different matter. 

He heard the sound of her door to the veranda opening and with Thor audibly busy with Jane, Loki took the opportunity to get some fresh air.

Storms were Thor's purview, and he'd not found them enjoyable in centuries. Darcy glanced over when she heard the door open, and rolled her eyes when she saw it was him. She, for once, wasn't wearing a hat, and the humidity made her hair more frizzy than curly.

She turned away, looking again at the heavy clouds closing in on the city. He heard the music she piped into her ears get louder. 

It would be a simple matter of shorting out the little music box, but he was wearing magic dampeners until they could figure out how to safely transport the Tesseract. Odin's little box wasn't doing such a good job of it, and had failed utterly in getting them home the first and only time they had attempted to use it for travel.

He tried to think about that, what an interesting little pickle the Tesseract was, tried to enjoy the novelty of the semblance of freedom, but Loki couldn't seem to follow a thought through to it's conclusion.

He wasn't sure why her lips fascinated him so much. She looked back over at him, and pursed her lips ever so slightly, before removing one of the music pills from her ear. He should be paying better attention to what she was saying, but the curve of her lower lip and the way the top on stretched over her teeth was what he focused on instead.

"... It's like, so psyched for you guys, but can't you give a rest for a night? Just one? Well, you know, you're pretty much right there, too. I think I wouldn't mind so much if I was getting some too, but wouldn't you know it? Being Jane's intern doesn't leave much time for dating. And I'm fine being single. I totally am. But goddamn if listening to those two fuck-bunnies doesn't make me just... frustrated. Why am I even talking to you about any of this?" 

Loki looked around the empty deck and shrugged, "There's really no other choices?"

"Point. Still think you're an an ass and you're hiding shit, but I'll call a truce for now, since we're both basically trapped out here. Has he always been like this?"

They ended up talking, or rather, she'd ended up talking at him until the apartment behind them was finally quiet, an hour later. She stretched as she rose from her seat, which highlighted the other two attributes he was fascinated by. He wasn't entirely successful in looking away.


Iteration 3, June 15th, 2012, 8:31pm, Stark Tower, New York

He'd been spending time with a mortal. Comparatively loads of time, in fact. Was it an indictment of his mental state that he mostly enjoyed it? 

For all that they had such a short time available, mortals took great joy in the pleasure of diversity. Food, drink, music all in wildly different forms, all available at the drop of a hat anytime of day.

They were in the sitting room of her little dwelling, something he enjoyed since she somehow managed to disable the sound trapping devices that allowed JARVIS to listen in. Loki was finishing the last little puddle remaining of an enormous serving of an elaborate soup. It was not something he'd never thought would be enjoyable, but somehow was. It was fragrant and spicy, with a pile of vegetables and a variety of sauces to add to his taste, it was unlike anything else he could compare it to on Asgard.

He slurped the broth, savoring the notes of clove and star anise and some fantastic herbaceous flavour, not the slightest bit embarrassed about how much he enjoyed it. She'd been the one to start with indecorous table manners in the first place. 

Darcy looked over her shoulder at him, rolling her eyes a little. She had finished slightly before him, and was stacking her rinsed bowl in the precarious pile of dishes in her sink. 

"So, are you ever going to tell me what it was that scared you so bad you had to go running back to Mommy and Daddy?"

She turned around, wiping her hands with a dish towel depicting Stark Tower, as if her question was about something inane like the weather. Darcy leaned against the counter and just looked straight at him with one eyebrow cocked up over her glasses. Her shirt was riding up just a bit, revealing the scantest hint of the pale skin of her belly.

With Darcy Lewis, it was never good to forget that she was perfectly capable of maintaining her own agenda. She might lure one in with food and drink and that almost vapid persona, but her mind was constantly working. 

He looked down, stirred the remains of the soup, and debated the merits of running away. Not that he would get very far, considering that his room was literally next door, and he wasn't allowed off this floor after 7pm. 

"I'm not stupid, Loki. Don't look at me like that, I'm not," she said, the space between her eyebrows wrinkling when his head whipped up and he gave her an incredulous look.

"You can't seriously tell me that you thought that extraordinarily stupid plan would actually succeed, right? You meant to fail. I know you did, and that was the easy part to figure out. What stumped me was the reason. Like, why? There are easier ways, but you did something that basically means you have to be shipped home for justice after getting your ass beat multiple times. And you would have been. Hauled back to Asgard in a muzzle, on a leash, if the Tesseract hadn't gone all wonky."

"I never, I don't, what I meant to say was... Listen," Loki said, speaking over the rest of her words, "I don't think for a moment that you are stupid, or I'd hardly be found in your company as much as I am. I find myself singularly unsuited to prolonged exposure to stupidity. Just so you are aware. And, frankly, this," he gestured around him, "my punishment, my eventual imprisonment, is none of your business. My reasons for my actions are my own, and just to reiterate, are no concern of yours. I should probably go," he said, rising from his chair.

"You were fucking terrified," she continued, as if he'd said nothing at all, like he hadn't gotten up from his chair and reached for his completely unnecessary coat, "And even though whatever it was is presumably on the other side of the galaxy, or universe or wherever, stuck like Chuck without the Magic Cube of Space Doors, you still don't feel like you're completely safe.

You can tell me I'm wrong, and even though your delivery of the lie would be perfect, because, duh, God of Lies, I would still know I'm right. So tell me what or who it is so I can try to get my planet ready to defend against it. Because one thing about you I will never underestimate is your capacity to piss people off to the point where they cross space and beat insurmountable odds for just a chance to kill your ass."

She'd turned to face him standing there, with his hand on the doorknob, practically daring him to leave. She crossed her arms under her chest, and he was torn. The right choice was obvious. Leave her to stew in her little theories, finish the Tesseract container as soon as he could, instead of dawdling like he had, and return to Asgard so he'd be in a better, safer position when his luck finally ran out. As much as he hated to admit it, she was right. He had been pretty much terrified, and sort of still was. 

He faced her head on, ready to convince her how very wrong she was, but he couldn't make the words come out. She was standing there, utterly fearless, going up against him on her own terms, without the slightest care for who he was or who his parents were. It was refreshing. It was annoying.

"Coward," she said, tilting her chin up, looking down her nose at him, despite the considerable advantage he had on her in height. It was a gesture he'd seen Frigga make a thousand times, and that, perhaps, made her impudence less offensive and more intriguing. Truthfully, he'd had people maimed for less, and he wondered that he hadn't the slightest urge to do so.

Loki had every intention of leaving, of slamming the door in her smug, know-it-all face, but he didn't. Three steps and he was inches from her, staring down into her eyes, knowing he was about to make a huge mistake, but powerless to change the course he was on.

Darcy had really soft skin, and though she smelled like the soup they'd shared, it wasn't unpleasant. They'd been in closer proximity before, watching TV squashed on a sofa with Jane and Thor a few times. It was still odd, though. Still made her take a step back, and then another one when he followed her. They ended up shuffling until her back hit the wall. Her hair was tied messily away from her face, and he tugged one of the loose bits absently, trying to memorize this moment.

She flailed an arm to get him to stop touching her. He just put his hand on the wall behind her and leaned in, instead. He'd left an opening for her to flee if she so desired, but she didn't seem to notice it, eyes wide behind her glasses as he ever so slowly moved in closer. She could get away, but she didn't so he kissed her.

Lightning didn't strike, the world didn't tilt and while neither seemed to tremble noticeably, it was nice. He pulled away and let his hand trail over her neck for a moment before straightening and taking a step or two back. She was completely silent for once, which was also nice. She lifted a hand to her mouth, the one he'd maybe been a bit too focused on in the last few weeks, and rubbed her fingers over her lips.

Darcy made a noise, a sort of growl, he'd never heard from her before and launched herself at him. She pulled his head down by tugging his hair rather ruthlessly and basically attached herself to his face.

He'd been with innumerable partners. Most of them he'd generally only known for a few hours before he bedded them. Most of them he could barely recall, much less feel anything for. If nothing else, this was fairly unique. Sure, she wanted something from him, but this, wasn't about that. She was kissing him with an enthusiasm that was entirely shameless. She made that growl-y sound again, tinged with impatience this time, and he kissed her back. Really kissed her, and this time it wasn't nice at all.

There was a knock at the door, because of course there was. Loki groaned and backed away from Darcy, who was already patting her hair and then straightening her shirt. She took a deep breath and pasted on a smile before opening the door. She hadn't looked at him once. 

Thor bounded in with all the enthusiasm of a puppy. He bellowed "Hello, Lady Darcy! Good! You're already leaving, brother. That's excellent. Jane needs you for something Loki, something about the Tesseract. Are those shrimp chips? May I?" He had already picked up the bag and started shoving hand fulls into his mouth. 

Loki looked at Darcy, who was watching the amount of food Thor managed to put away with something like awe. "Thor, sweetie, Jane was supposed to be eating, not science-ing."

When Thor shrugged like that, he just looked adorably boy-ish and completely innocent. It was a skill Loki rather admired. "Something about the rice set her off, I couldn't deter her once she'd become enthralled," and he sounded sincerely apologetic.

Darcy waved them out, telling Thor to just take the bag, when he mumbled around a mouthful of chips and gestured to it. Loki was going to say something witty in farewell, but she closed the door softly in his face before he could.

Loki was still staring at her door when Thor called from an open lift, "Coming, brother?"

It was a statement to how distracted he was that Loki didn't even bother to correct him.


Iteration 3, June 30th, 2012, 1:48am, Stark Tower, New York

Loki knocked on her door. He was fairly certain that she was awake, but he wasn't so sure that she would open the door for him. It wasn't that Darcy had behaved in a manner that was noticeably different towards him, but maybe he had expected that she would. That there would be some outward sign that something between them had changed.

"Just a minute," she said from behind the door.

She looked ridiculous when she finally answered the door. Her hair was in some sort of turban, her glasses were askew, to say nothing of the enormous clothes she was wearing.

"Was that ensemble made a for a giant?" he said by way of greeting.

Darcy looked up at him warily, not moving to the side to allow him entrance as she usually did, "Why are you here? Because it's late, and you're leaving in the morning, and we both have to get up early."

A perfectly reasonable question, all things considered, but not one he especially wanted to answer in a hallway, "I wanted the opportunity to clear the air. I don't want to leave with things so unresolved between us."

"There's nothing to resolve. You're a thousand year old space Viking, about to go home to what is probably going to be a life sentence in a dungeon. We're never going to see each other again." 

If he hadn't been really listening he never would have heard the slight catch in her throat when she said they'd never see each other again.

She blinked at him from behind the lenses that magnified her eyes and he saw how bloodshot and bright they were. Loki hadn't had the most physically affectionate childhood and the intricacies of when it was permissible to initiate physical contact generally escaped him. Mostly it just wasn't something that interested him.

This was one of those rare instances where he actually cared, and he wrapped her in his arms, fairly certain that it was the right thing to do. She allowed it for a few seconds; actually, he was pretty sure she smelled his chest, but then she pushed him away. She seemed resigned when she stepped back to let him in.

She curled up on the huge chair in the living room, leaving the sofa for him. "Just say what you gotta say, and go, dude. I'm exhausted."

He stood in front of the glass door to the veranda, instead, with his back to her. He'd thought that maybe not looking at her would make it easier for the words to come, but it didn't. They were not often silent around each other; Darcy tended to chatter on no matter what they were doing, even going so far as to talk with her mouth full on occasion.

He'd miss her, strange little mortal with a lifespan like the beat of a butterfly wing. He didn't know why he'd come or what to say. "I think I'll miss you." Strange to think he'd remember her longer than anyone on her planet would.

"Yeah, me too." She'd gotten up, unnoticed by him, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Me too."

Her turban was gone, revealing wet, fragrant hair. It hadn't been combed and curls tangled wetly over her shoulder. There was something undeniably vulnerable about someone freshly washed.

He'd only meant to kiss her forehead, had meant to leave directly after, but she looked up and he pressed his mouth to hers. A goodbye kiss, he rationalized, a proper one. When she pushed his coat off, and then started unbuttoning his shirt, he didn't stop kissing her, though the difference in their height was making it a bit awkward.

That was an easy enough problem to solve. He picked her up, which made her gasp into his mouth, and deposited her on the sofa. She looked at him with an expression on her face he'd never seen before. It was only for a moment and then she started to take off her clothes. When she stripped off that awful sweater-thing, he realized he'd seen her in that same type of sleeveless top before. Just not without undergarments.

It had been a long time since a pair of breasts had interested him as much. "Uhm, are we going to talk about this?" she finally asked, after he'd finished the job she'd started on his shirt. "We probably shouldn't, right?" She answered herself immediately.

She got off the couch and kissed him soundly before pulling him into her bedroom. It was almost identical to his in Thor's apartment. The same bed and nightstand/light combo and the same sheets and blankets. She had not made her bed, and seemed oblivious to the piles of clothes, but what he really noticed was how everything smelled like her.

She pushed him on the bed, and started digging through the top drawer in her nightstand. This perplexed him, even after she held up fist full of little foil packets. She must've seen the confusion on his face, because she said "Condoms," and then "Protection," to clarify matters.

Well, if they were really going to do this, he'd better get his trousers off. 

When he looked up from his task, she was gloriously naked. She left the light on, much to his satisfaction, and was eyeing him greedily. Very gratifying, that, Loki thought as he stretched out next to her. Darcy was flushed pink, and he wanted her. He had dithered long enough.

He started with her legs, by pulling them apart and settling his torso between them. He'd been told that he was quite good at this, and he was determined to leave her with the best of memories. She gave a half-strangled squeal and tightened her thighs around his head when he pressed his tongue to her labia the first time.

Her gasping was incredibly arousing. He enjoyed wringing sounds and words from her with the tip and flat and drag of his tongue, with his hands roaming her body and his fingers strumming a melody on her skin. Darcy was lovely when she came. He'd remember the way she said his name for the rest of his days.

When she was writhing under him and scrabbling at his hair, he allowed her to pull him up on top of her to kiss her mouth. She breathed the word "Condom," against his lips. He was relatively sure he remembered how to put a sheath on, but it had been a while. He sat up to pick one up, and looked at it curiously. Darcy snorted softly and took it from him before she pushed him over onto his back.

She ripped open the package and placed the tightly rolled, soft disk on the head of his cock. She rolled the tube down confidently and surveyed her work with a look of unmistakable glee. He chuckled a bit, and she smiled sweetly as she crawled on top of him.

One advantage to advanced age was stamina, or it was supposed to have been. He sped up his strokes when he realized he was about to come. She was riding him, and the view was wonderful and not at all conducive to helping him hold off his impending orgasm. He positioned his left hand so he could swipe at her clit, and she came almost immediately. And so did he, pulling her down so he could press his face into the curve of her neck.

Loki knew he was in trouble when he realized his first conscious thought was that he didn't want to leave.


Iteration 3, June 30th, 2012, 7:30am, Central Park, New York

Loki had iron shackles on his wrists and heavy chains ran between them and to the loop in Thor's hand. He didn't particularly enjoy this but he was too tired to protest much. He'd left Darcy sleeping deeply an hour ago, having lost count of the number of times and the many different ways they'd coupled. 

The Widow and Stark in his Man of Iron gear watched from a safe distance as the the Hulk in his mortal guise fiddled with the box containing the Tesseract. Thor looked at Jane steadily and said, "I'll be back."

Banner nodded and Thor shifted Loki's chain to grip the handles of the newly finished Box. Loki took a deep breath and readied himself for the sharp jolt of inter-realm travel. 

"Wait!"

Feet pounded closer, and he heard radios crackle to life, and Stark murmur, "It's Ok, let her through. Hang on a sec, Blondie."

Loki barely had time to brace himself as she hurtled through the wall of armed guards and threw her arms around his neck, seemingly oblivious to the stares this action garnered. "I couldn't let you go without saying goodbye," she whispered into his shirt.

"Goodbye, Loki," she said after he stroked her hair awkwardly, his movement hampered by the chains. "Fuck it," she said and jumped up, wrapped her legs around his waist and kissed the breath from his lungs. She stopped when Thor cleared his throat loudly. She let go of him, and turned around. She walked away, pushing her way through the crowd, and didn't look back. Thor twisted the handles and they weren't in Midgard any longer.


Iteration 1, June 30th, 2012, 10:15am, Central Park, New York

Loki had officially and successfully controlled the city and its surroundings for the last two weeks, though it was getting difficult to locate suitable supplies for his troops. 

He had, after considerable resource expenditure and detective work finally figured out what had happened to the Tesseract.

From the few eyewitnesses who survived long enough to be found and were still able to speak, he learned that the gateway had shifted with the Tesseract as Stark Tower collapsed in the explosion. A blast from a nearby gassing rupturing had sent the Tesseract tumbling through the air and then through the tumbling gateway. An implosion occurred, from the Tesseract and the gateway meeting, apparently. It took everything within 500 meters, buildings, asphalt and people gone in a rushing, terrifying instantly.

Loki was almost glad he'd been unconscious for it.

Either way, the Tesseract was who knew where, but it was unlikely that it was anywhere near Thanos, since he had been on the mothership and would have likely perished in the implosion of the Tesseract. He knew the mothership still lived because his troops were still alive. As luck would have it, he'd found the staff, and without that he doubted that madman would be able to locate the Tesseract anytime soon, and that pleased Loki immensely.

He looked forward to the future. He looked and saw the potential for almost limitless power.

Chapter Text

Earth

Iteration 2, December 18th, 2012, 2:13am, London, England

Tony Stark was the worst. That wasn't exactly an entirely extraordinary revelation, but it still bore repeating.

Tony Stark: The literal and absolute Worst.

He'd wanted space, wanted distance, and then had the audacity to blame people for not being there for him. They, the Avengers and the Sidekicks, had spent a goodly amount of time together before the band had broken up, so to speak, within days of Thor and Loki leaving. Despite how exasperated she must've been, Pepper had promised to stay in touch, and pass on likely leads for additional funding when she came across them. She was exactly how Darcy had imagined her, but more awesome and with better shoes.

Needless to say, Darcy liked Pepper. Jane liked Pepper. Despite their better judgment, Jane and Darcy, and even banana-balls crazy Erik liked Tony. It was both hard to like him and extremely easy; he was such an arrogant d-bag so much of the time, but he could charm a nun out of her habit, and he was definitely better with Pepper. There had even been moments where Darcy had even been able to see what Pepper saw in Tony beyond the billionaire, playboy philanthropist persona, could see the person beneath that made the bullshit worth it.

But then Tony went off the deep end, and picked a fight he knew couldn't possibly win on his own, and even though he knew he could call for back up, he didn't. His death broke Darcy's heart for a lot of reasons, not least because Pepper, she knew, would be heartbroken. Jane and her were planning on leaving as soon as they could to offer any support Pepper would accept.

When JARVIS texted Darcy that Pepper had gone missing, she started making phone calls. After those weeks ago in the tower, Darcy had numbers so important she actually memorized them. Natasha- and it still tripped Darcy out that she called the Black Widow that, just casually- Natasha was already following a trail of bread crumbs. 

The thing about Natasha was that she was extremely concise. She got to the point. In less than two minutes, she explained some barebones stuff about exploding soldiers and some nutjob who called himself the Mandarin, then topped it off with an encrypted email that made Darcy's laptop whir like the processors were going to take off like rockets when she decrypted it. 

Steve, and again, hah! She had fucking Captain America's number, and he was her next call, but it went straight to voicemail. Hopefully he was busy talking to Natasha, so she decided to shoot him a quick text before she dove into the very large amount of data that Natasha had sent. She already knew that Spangles was in DC, moping, (because that's what he did when he wasn't working out or hero-ing, moped, shame really) and when she finally reached him, he sounded frankly thrilled to have something to beat up on sooner rather than later. He promised to bug Clint for her.

Jane was already trying to track down Dr Banner, arguing with someone named Hill using words with no less than three syllables. The more elaborate her vocabulary, the more Jane was readying to eviscerate her victim with well-reasoned, completely logical and supremely aggravating arguments. If things weren't so freaking grim, Darcy wouldn't have been able to tear herself away; probably would have been microwaving popcorn to enjoy the show, but she started trawling the intarwebs for any and all mentions of the names and places she read about in The Email.

There wasn't much about Killian with the shark-smile online, but Darcy had phone numbers for more science-people than regular people now, so she started calling around. She didn't talk to the doctors and professors, she talked to their various and sundry support staff and sure as shit, after an hour and a half, she'd found three assistants whose bosses had turned down positions with a group called AIM, and one, John, who had left his assistant and taken their joint research. John wasn't too happy about that at all, and had been a treasure trove of information about his former boss. 

AIM's website was pathetic; a few stock photos and Latin filler text. There were links that seemed to go nowhere, but enough clicking and she found a Contact Us button hidden deep inside. That yielded an email address that didn't bounce back an error. A little creative process of deduction got her to their web-based email application, which struck her as just plain lazy. She was a stoner-intern, not a super-spy, but boy did she feel like a real contributing member of the team right then, especially since she had totally hacked into a near total strangers email. 

She copied and pasted and downloaded everything in sight, and forwarded it on to the team. Darcy was well aware that J-Man had probably already gotten to the information. It still felt like she was contributing, though, and helped pass the time while she waited for news.


Iteration 2, December 26th, 2012, 12:01am, Biscayne Bay, Florida

Tony was still the Worst, but at least he was still alive. And at least he'd been lucky enough to get into trouble somewhere with a subtropical climate. Darcy was enjoying, thoroughly, some excellent champagne, and temperatures that allowed her to forgo socks. She could totally get used to a little yacht-living.  

The view wasn't half-bad either. As long as you ignored the amorous, not mention ridiculous drunken displays of the various Nerds. Jane and Thor were practically dry-humping on a chaise lounge over on the poop deck (heh, Darcy was calling everything the poop deck, because that shit made her giggle), Clint and Natasha, while not actual nerds, were being handsy and drinking shots by the bar, and Tony and Pepper were swaying, closely, on the dance floor. It was enough to almost bring a tear to her eye, or vomit up her throat.

"It's a little nauseating, isn't it?" a smooth voice asked her, startling Darcy out of her pleasant reverie.

"Jealous, much?"

"Of them? Of course not, but you are."

"Don't you have anyone else to bother?" Darcy asked, completely ignoring the not-subtle jab at her singledom, then downed the last of her bubbly. Wondered if she could get away with flinging her lovely, crystal flute to the floor, Asgard-style, and demanding more.

Loki glanced around theatrically, "Well, my only other options are the half-naked Doctor having what appears to be a seizure on the dance floor, or the tea-drinking Hulk at the bar. So no, not really."

"Yay for me."

She decided to see if there was enough champagne available to make up for his presence. 


They'd ended up in the ostentatious living room, or whatever it was called on a boat, because it turned out Loki was actually kind of funny after Darcy drank most of two bottles of truly excellent champagne, and that he also had no desire to see, or hear, the climax to Thor and Jane's affection. The Empire Strikes Back was loud enough to drown out most anything, when played at the appropriate volume, so JARVIS queued that one up and the next one, too, on the epically massive tv, while Darcy settled back to roll a joint.

Tony, who apparently had the nose of a well-trained drug dog, found them after her first two puffs. 

"Hey, no smoking on my boat, kid. Or, you know, not without sharing," he grinned.

Darcy knew better than to hand Tony anything, instead left the smoldering joint in the ashtray. He picked it up and chiefed it a couple of times before blowing a perfect smoke ring.

"Nice trick, old man," Darcy said as she watched Tony blow another smoke ring through the first. 

"Who're you calling old? There's a thousand year old space-villain sitting right there."

"Ha. I wear my years better than you, mortal," Loki sneered.

"Tony?" Pepper called from somewhere down the hall.

"Sir? Ms. Potts wishes to inform you that she is ready," JARVIS's tone was bone dry.

Tony saluted and sauntered away with a distinct swagger. Fucker stole her joint, but she was willing to overlook it, what with the sweet digs and all. With nothing else to do or say, they sat for a while quietly. Darcy was enjoying the movie and almost Loki's company. Then he smacked his lips and swallowed audibly.

"My mouth is dry. Fetch me some refreshment, mortal."

"You know what, let me count all of the things that are wrong with that statement. First, I have a name- in fact, we all have names, and they're not 'mortal'. My name is Darcy, D A R C Y. Second, I'm not a servant and I don't fetch. You have legs, and holy shit, they're fully functional. Wow. Third, even if I was inclined to get you anything, I wouldn't without a please first."

He laughed, the pompous ass actually laughed at her, "This from you, who calls everyone 'dude', whatever that is, and 'bro', despite lack of familial relationships, is rather rich. Please tell me you realize the depth and breadth of your hypocrisy."

She loathed that he might've had a small point. Either way, she had to pee, and he was being annoying, "Go fuck yourself, Loki."

Darcy staggered up and and turned to leave. His hand was warm on her forearm, surprisingly so, because wasn't he supposed to be a frost-something? She wanted to say frost-giant, but he wasn't that tall. She squinted at him, at his hand on her arm, and frowned. "Don't touch me."

"What if I don't want to go fuck myself? What if I am tired of doing that? What if I want to touch you?"

Why do men like that always have those voices; dark and rich and hinting at all sorts of savage delights? Or was it the accent that did it? Either way, Darcy was glad for her padded bra.

She laughed, because it is always better to laugh than to seem disconcerted, and pulled on her arm, even though his words were soft and warm and worked their way through her skin with a tingly sensation that wasn't unpleasant. "You don't even know my name," she said, mostly to remind herself.

"I know your name. I just don't use it," his smile was a thousand sins, blinding and utterly smug. 

She blinked a few times, then mentally shook herself, "Like that's any better. Let me go."

Darcy started to try to pry his fingers loose, which proved to be an exercise in futility. He held fast quite easily, and just looked at her. It made her feel naked and wanting, and completely, dizzyingly wrong. She told herself that she was unsteady from all the booze and she plopped back down, nearly on top of him. Too close!

He was really unfairly good-looking, and smelled really nice. She was not super-human, she was regular-smart, and he was technically a God, so was it any wonder that she fell a little under his spell? This was such a bad idea that it was on an entirely different level from her usual bad choices. He was a war criminal. Sort of. He'd obviously been trying to fail, and definitely had been trying to get away from something, but it wasn't like he was a good person. Not really... 

She panicked when he kissed her, hysteria and desire and the knowledge that she's just so far out of her league, made her shake. She giggled against his mouth, because she'd gone nuts and was hallucinating. Obviously.

"What's so funny, mortal?" Loki asked, eyes bright green and hooded with stupid-long lashes. 

Darcy opened her mouth to speak, or something, but Thor had wandered in, and bellowed "Loki!" before she could decide what to do. His interruption was definitely for the best, because she managed to get to her feet again, this time for real, and left the brothers to bicker. She was pretty sure she'd made the right decision.


Iteration 00, April 23rd, 2013, 12:17pm, London, England

The good news was that Jane was wearing lady clothes again. Boss-Lady had showered and her hair was shiny, not from grease but from a fresh washing. She didn't smell like breakfast foods and BO. In short, she could pass for a fully functional member of society.

The bad news was that Darcy was about to ruin her day. Uhm, date. Either really. Then again, Jane looked like she was doing just fine ruining her own date with the cute IT guy all by herself. Sometimes Darcy wondered how exactly Jane had survived to the ripe old age of 32, but Boss-Lady was nothing if not the most driven, intelligent person she had ever known. Petty things like starvation and hygiene probably quailed in fear in front of Jane. Besides, it was the petty shit Jane had Darcy for.

Ooh, bread. Fantastic.

Darcy gleefully scraped a chair over and pulled out the device-thingy that was making the readings she remembered from New Mexico. It didn't take a rocket scientist to guess that things were about to get interesting again. Not that globetrotting and being an international person of mystery wasn't interesting, but hanging out with gods trumped data analysis any day.

So Darcy dropped the bomb, made some pointed references, and took off, confident that Jane would trail behind sooner rather than later.

Jane skidded to a stop in front of the absolutely rockin' Volvo, and Darcy had to stop herself from giving herself a self-high-five.

With Ian-the-Intern acting as navigator, Darcy practically flew to the abandoned warehouse the readings were coming from. Jane gave her the look, the exasperated/disapproving one, the second time they ended up skidding around a turn, which was so rich coming from her, of all people. How many times had Jane hit Thor with the truck?

They got to the warehouse safe and sound, and without being pulled over. Score. She stuck her tongue out at Jane; she had been telling the Thor's honest truth when she said she had London traffic down. Darcy threw the keyring at the Intern, (she liked calling him that, liked that she had her very own intern), and called Jane. The ringtone she'd changed on Jane's phone garnered the hoped-for reaction, and Darcy grinned.

They found some kids who showed them, reluctantly at first, the weird gravity wells that had been giving off the New Mexico readings. Then with increasing enthusiasm, as Jane infected them with her obvious enthrallment.

She wasn't sure how it happened; Jane had been standing right there, throwing random junk into a hole in reality, just like they all were. Darcy had just been telling Intern to give her his shoe, when Ian, that adorkable, enthusiastic, overgrown man-puppy threw the keys in. Darcy turned to elbow Jane in the side, ready to point and laugh (and also join in on the yelling), but she wasn't there.

At first, it was like no big deal, because it was such a totally Jane thing that Darcy wasn't even really super-worried. She disappeared all the time.

An hour later, Darcy was increasingly frantic. How could someone lose a human? 

It's all fun and games till someone got sucked into a wormhole. At least she thought that was what had happened to Jane. What she hoped had happened, because the only other thing Darcy could think of was that Jane had been kidnapped by human traffickers or possibly SHIELD, and she was really starting to freak herself out. Finally, with no other recourse, Darcy called the cops. 

It was four fucking horrible, terrible, no-good hours later when Jane finally showed up again. Darcy thanked all the deities she could think of, relief so palpable that her knees went weak. Jane, of course, reacted like only she would; pissed that her precious science was being overrun with cops.

It had started raining, which was just a cap on what had turned into an all around shitty day. When Thor showed up, Darcy wasn't even phased, not even in the slightest. He looked exactly like he had, muscle-y and blond and, disappointingly, wearing clothes. Boo

"How's space?"

Thor answered, polite as could be, but his focus was nowhere near Darcy, it was all on Jane. When he reached her, Jane looked like she'd seen God, but she hauled her hand back and slapped him across the face. Darcy would have to remember to high-five her for that later, because seriously, that was the only acceptable response after being ignored by someone you loved for almost two years.

The cops were a little upset, though, what with the trespassing and the missing person who suddenly wasn't so missing after all.

When Jane went boom and exploded red stuff and pushed everyone back, Darcy knew shit had gotten really real, possibly international diplomatic incident real. So not what she needed right then, which was a very large, very cold vodka and a freshly packed bowl. 

But one didn't argue with a god, or super hero, or space-dude or however Thor was characterized. He just snatched up a wilting Jane and took off for parts unknown. Darcy wondered what that would be like. Sort of. 


Iteration 2, April 23rd, 2013, 7:35am, London, England

Darcy woke up from a dream that she only remembered flashes from. Flashes of Loki's face, his voice, his condescending laugh.

How was it possible to be so hung up on someone who thought her species were ants, someone whose need for power overshadowed everything? He only did anything if it benefited him. She ran the list of everything she hated about him through her mind once more, and reminded herself that it had been one kiss. One. No tongue, and no wandering hands. Four months ago. What was wrong with her? He'd never even called her by her name, not even in her dreams. She was sick. 

She scrubbed her eyes with her hands and got up, not at all ready or willing to face the day, but someone had to feed and water Jane. Darcy had spent the better part of a week tending to Jane a few months ago, right after Tony had had his surgery. She'd had some sort of flu with a super-high fever, and had refused to be an adult about the situation and go to the doctor. Either way, she'd be goddamned if Jane got sick again from something as stupid as forgetting to eat.

After toasting the last precious American pop-tarts, Darcy made coffee and went to the workroom in the basement. Jane was sleeping at her desk again, even though Darcy knew for a fact that she'd put her to bed like a good scientist, she must have gotten back up in the middle of the night. It was making her a little concerned how much Jane was pushing herself, like she'd somehow caught Erik's mania. 

Darcy let her sleep until one of the thingy-do's, a toaster looking thing, started beeping. Jane was grumpy until she saw the readings, and then she was like a whirling dervish, washing and dressing herself faster than Darcy had ever seen her move. 


Iteration 00, April 25th, 2013, 12:05pm, London, England

So Erik had a problem with pants. Darcy totally sympathized, but that in no way, shape or form translated into a desire to see his old-man junk dangling. 

"Dude, put some pants on, please, for the love of all that's holy."

They'd finally compromised and he put on some tighty-whitey's, which were still trauma-inducing, but at least covered all the no-no spots. 

Ian and Erik got along like a house on fire once Ian stopped blubbering like he'd seen Freddy Mercury and Einstein reincarnated into one mostly naked old guy, and Erik was relatively decent. They used really long words in combinations that made no sense, but the end result was a bunch of science-sticks that would, fingers crossed, neutralize the anomalies. If they could place them right. And the receiver worked. And they'd calculated shit right. Fuck if she knew what all the variables were; all Darcy had done was wrap stuff in duct tape when directed.

Luckily, well sort of, she did have an applicable and useful skill to offer when the doo-hickies were done; the ability and willingness to take on London traffic. She hustled down the stairs with an arm load of unwieldy metal sticks and fumbled with the clicker on the keychain. When the hatch in the back finally popped open Darcy tossed the sticks in and got in the driver's seat. She was already revving the engine when Intern slammed the back shut. She looked over at Erik in the passenger seat, scratching his sack through the sweat pants she'd forced him to wear since they were going out in public. Best she could do, she decided.

"Gentlemen, strap yourselves in. I'm going to make the jump to light speed."

"Maybe not the time for jokes," Intern piped up from the backseat.

"Blasphemer," Darcy said as she gave him the finger and a saucy smile before putting the car in gear and booking it to Greenwich. Sending up a prayer, Darcy called Jane's cell, to the dismay of Erik and Intern. Maybe they had cell reception in space, and besides, they could kinda use some help of the godly kind.

When Jane actually answered, Darcy handed over her cell to Erik; she wouldn't have been able to hear over the screams of her wussy passengers, anyway.

Jane and Thor showed up, thankfully, and even though shit had already hit the fan, somehow their arrival brought more. The intergalactic guys that followed them were definitely not of the 'Let's braid our hair and eat chocolate and be friends' variety; nope, just more of the 'Imma take over the universe' type that, frankly, Darcy'd had quite enough of.

It was extremely satisfying, if somewhat messy, to taze one of those tall elf-looking bastards in the crotch and then push him and his buddy into the path of a closing  spatial anomaly, which cut them basically in half.

"Suck it!" she shouted and pumped her fist, probably more gleefully than she should have.

Darcy's underwear practically melted when Ian squashed an alien chasing her with a handy Mini. And that's how she, Darcy Lewis, ended up sexually harassing her intern by pulling him down into a classic Bogart kissing dip and shoving her tongue down his throat.


Iteration 1, April 25th, 2013, Dailymail.co.uk

Food shortages are being reported all across the America's, with new alien enclaves sprouting up up and down the East Coast. Efforts to contain and control the invasion have been mostly unsuccessful, in large part due to the supernatural efforts of their leader. As of today, travel to or from any part of the North or South Americas are restricted. 

Parliament announced today that Britain will continue to send aid, but that further refugees will not be accepted. Several countries in the European Union will likely follow suit shortly. More...


Iteration 2, April 28th, 2013, 7:30am, London, England

Darcy had taken the news very badly initially, but Jane had been too distracted by Thor's grief and subsequent departure to notice, which was probably for the best really. Their dynamic was Darcy took care of Jane, so Jane could science and that's what worked for them.

Loki was dead. How could Darcy have known that the last time she'd ever see him would have been that night on the boat? Would she have done things differently? Should she have done things differently?

She sat listlessly at the table in Liz's kitchen. Liz was Jane's crunchy-granola, hippie-professor mom, who lived in Greenwich. She'd taken them in after all the business, which was really nice of her. Really. It's just Darcy really wanted coffee and some sort of sugar-laden pastry, but Liz only stocked tea. Tea and no meat or cheese or processed foods or gluten or sugar. Organic, healthy stuff. No great mystery why Jane had such a deep and abiding love for junk food.

Once Darcy had a moment to collect herself, she told herself she'd get up and forage around the neighborhood for appropriate sustenance, but it had been hours since she'd gotten up, which was way before dawn, so who was she kidding? She probably wouldn't move for days, weeks, months, years. She'd be dusty and old sitting in Liz's kitchen, still nursing cold tea and eating gross toasted quinoa snacks in 20 years at the rate she was going.

These last two days had been relentlessly sucky; nothing but stress, loss, regret and horrible aliens. And tea. Jesus, Darcy would sell a kidney for a coffee, and her soul for a doughnut.

It felt like she was on the verge of crying and Darcy really couldn't figure out why. She and Loki hadn't been close. He was (or had been) sort of- no, definitely an ass. An unmitigated, unrepentant ass. A murderer and all around awful, self-absorbed butt-face. She tormented herself because he seemed to have changed, minimally, after New York and then Miami. But the proof seemed to be that he'd sacrificed himself for Jane to have a shot getting back home so she could use the red-stuff to stabilize the universe. So in a way, he'd fucking saved everyone. Asshole. How was she supposed to despise him now?

There hadn't been a chance to process what was going on while it happened, but now, days later it was pretty much all she could think about. Over and over. And just when she'd think she could finally get her thoughts on a different path, something would remind her and she'd be stuck in that thought spiral again. It was getting really old.

Darcy pushed up from the chair, tucked her hair into her beanie, and her feet into her worn in Nike's, and left the house. It was a nice day out. Too nice of a day. She didn't know where she was going, but she was out of the house, and she was walking on her own two feet. She'd been through worse, sort of, and she'd get through whatever this was too. 

She found a tiny store that was open, but alas, there was no coffee to be had. She grabbed a Pepsi something wrapped in plastic that looked like it might've been a cinnamon bun of some sort and painstakingly counted out the appropriate amount of change from the handful in her pocket.

Darcy walked and ate and drank. The Pepsi made her burp, and the glaze on the baked good made her hands and face sticky. She had no idea where she was or how to get back to Liz's. She stuck her hand in the front pouch on her hoodie, then patted her pants frantically. She'd left her damned phone on the fucking table. She lifted her face into the sun and shrieked. People stepped aside, avoiding her like the plague, as well they should. She knew what she looked like. After a couple of deep breaths, she composed herself, and sat down on a random bench. She was not going to cry, she was just going to pout for a while till she figured out what to do.

"Excuse me, miss," said a rather tall, blond, English-sounding and dorky looking guy wearing a parka and a backpack, "I couldn't help but notice, uhm, that is, are you quite alright?"

Darcy almost laughed, but her heart felt heavy and her head hurt, "No, I'm definitely not alright. I," and she stopped herself from launching into a spiel about how she'd spent the last few years, because dude was looking at her so sympathetically, and said instead, "I seem to have left my phone at my friends house, and I'm not sure how to get back there. I don't suppose you have a smart phone I could borrow?"

The cutie nodded before pulling out his Samsung and handing it over. She looked at the lock screen and then back at him. He blushed and was just shy of being adorable when he held his hand out for the phone. A few swipes of his finger and he gave the phone back to her. "I'm Ian, by the way."

The corners of Darcy's mouth tilted up of their own volition, "I'm Darcy."

She wasn't stupid, so she'd searched for the church she knew was around the corner from Liz's. The walk back with Ian was surprisingly nice. He was sort of awkward here and there, but all in all, he was an almost perfect blend of witty and dorky. Darcy had almost forgotten how much fun flirting with a normal person was. It was refreshing not to have to explain every single reference she made.

"I've seen that tag before," Darcy said, apropos nothing, when they got to the right intersection, and she noticed the elaborate design on the side of the church. She counted 12 blobby things, monkeys, maybe, and wondered if it had any sort of significance. And, of course, where she'd seen it. 

"What?" 

"Nothing, just talking to myself. So, thanks for the help and the company. It was nice to meet you." Darcy gave a half-wave and turned to go, worried that Jane was worried about her. Ah, normal-person stuff was pleasant while it lasted.

"Would you like to go for coffee sometime?" Ian asked as she started to walk away.


 

... Sam? Remind me again why we're doing this. I'm not joking, Sam. I'm freaking out in here. Like, a lot. 

Sam?

It's fine, Mortal, just breathe. Sam and I are here, we won't let anything happen to you.

Loki? Loki! Let me out, Sam. Why didn't you tell me he was back? Sam? 

SAM!

 

 

Chapter Text

Iteration 00, April 24th, 2013, 12:05pm, Asgard Palace Dungeons

After Thor had dragged him back to face his father's wrath, Loki had been faced with an eternity in a gilded cage.

It left entirely too much time for contemplation, something he was heartily sick of. While he loathed the pity and trinkets Frigga brought every time she visited, her almost-presence was the only thing that broke the monotony.

Sometimes he wished she wouldn't bother. He just wanted to be left alone, but even with her gone, with all the new guests inhabiting the dungeons, there was never a moments peace. Never a moment of real, true privacy. Though he still could manipulate his surroundings enough to give the illusion of whatever he wanted, the act wasn't without a price. As a result, he was in a near constant state of exhaustion. 

Loki had his double pace restlessly in front of the forcefield, while he read the latest book Frigga had brought. It was one he vaguely remembered from childhood, one Thor had hated since none of the stories had proper endings, and so had only been read from less than infrequently. With his nearly perfect recall, he'd be able to figure out how many times exactly, but it seemed like too much of an effort. He remembered instead how much he'd loved that the possibilities were endlessly varied and completely up to him, and how much Frigga had beamed with pride over that.

He wondered why she'd given it to him, since he doubted that there was a simple explanation for it, like nostalgia. She'd never been a simple woman.

A ruckus in one of the neighbouring cells drew his attention and he called back the double so he could personally satisfy his curiosity. 

There were far more prisoners in the dungeon than there had been for hundreds of years, and as a result the rest of the cells were filled to capacity. If Loki had one thing to be grateful for, it was that Odin hadn't decided to give him one, or many, cell mates. They all, to a person, looked like they smelled rank. No wonder fights kept breaking out.

He really shouldn't have been so interested, but it wasn't as if there was much else available in the way of entertainment. This looked like it might be different, though, with the guards running down the corridor and the fighting being particularly brutal. It seemed to be spreading, as well, to other cells, as if the aggression was contagious. While the guards were attempting to quell the fighting in the cells at one end of the corridor, and doing a very poor job of it, he might add, there was something different happening in the cell across from his that the guards either didn't notice or were ignoring.

The huge creature in the odd mask was glowing red around the edges, and growing brighter by the second. Before he had a chance to recognize the likely outcome of such an event, the thing blew up, tearing out the surrounding walls and golden force-fields. It was his poor luck, and Odin's paranoia, that his cell had been specially reinforced. The force-field shimmered briefly, but still worked perfectly, he noted with extreme disappointment when he had a chance to take stock of the situation.

"Don't suppose you'd let a chap out?" he asked the last of the escapees.

"No time," was the depressing response.

At least this did present an excellent opportunity for mischief, and Loki would give almost anything for a chance to stick it to Odin. 

"Up the stairs to the left. That will bring you to the private areas. Say hello to my father for me, would you?"


Iteration 2, April 24th, 2013, 12:05pm, Asgard Palace Dungeons

It could have been worse, he could be stuck in a cell for all eternity, he supposed. 

As it was, he had been trotted out of here several times, expected to perform tricks and stuck back inside like a cloak that had fallen out of fashion. He wasn't especially fond of this treatment, as if he were some artifact to be displayed at someone else's whim. That he'd been so close to freedom last time and wasted the opportunity was a tactical move. He had hoped to garner more trust, but it seemed that, with the exception of Frigga, he had been forgotten. The sheer volume of fellow inmates hinted at unrest, but Frigga hadn't seen fit to inform him of what was happening. 

Loki had neglected to leave behind the StarkTab the first time he'd been escorted home. He might've scoffed in their faces about mortal technology, but it was primitive enough to pass through scans and small enough to fit in a pocket in one of the voluminous folds of his leather coat.

It was a rather handy little device, capable of calculating several complex equations at the same time, while still allowing him to research several different libraries worth of information. The only problem seemed to be it's large, but finite storage capacity. He'd been working on the problem on the few occasions he felt comfortable with the modicum of privacy late nights after a feast afforded.

He occasionally contemplated what would have happened had he done things differently last time Thor had taken him to Midgard. Heimdal had seen Jane charging into danger, and Thor hadn't been able to help himself, he'd had to help her. What exactly had Thor offered Odin in return for the permission to drag Loki to Midgard, he often wondered. For Odin to have agreed it must've been something dear and precious; nothing else would do for that old sadist. Family or not, Odin always wanted, and got, his pound of flesh. 

Loki heard raised voices and the unmistakable sounds of physical altercations. He looked up from the book he'd been ostensibly reading, and saw the guards running to the end of the corridor. When something in the cell across from his blew up with an incredible force, he was truly shocked. It shouldn't have been possible to smuggle enough explosives to practically demolish the dungeon. There were safeguards in place. Of course, in his cell there were rather more than the rest, so his cell was unharmed, but every other cell... Gaping open. 

The guards appeared to have been overwhelmed by the prisoners, who were naturally taking this excellent opportunity to escape.

Loki banged on the force-field, till he finally gained the attention of one of the fleeing inmates. The creature declined to assist in his escape, but the chance to cause any sort of inconvenience to Odin, major or minor, was a temptation he didn't even try to resist. "Take the stairs and make a left, that should bring you to the private apartments. Should you see Odin, do give him my warmest regards, wouldn't you?"


Iteration 3, April 24th, 2013, 12:05pm, Asgard Palace Dungeons

Odin's voice still thundered in his head. The promise of an eternity in a cage, forgotten and alone.

He hated the confinement, this confinement, more than he'd ever thought possible, especially after those weeks of watered down freedom in Midgard. Being on display, sniggered about by lowly guards, dismissed and ridiculed by anyone who happened to recognize him, and at all hours, was doing something to his mind.

Loki cast about for the thing that could anchor his thoughts, but what had held before wasn't enough now. He wanted so much to be strong, but every passing moment was bringing something terrible closer to the surface. Something he never wanted to admit was inside, something that shamed him. Thanos' presence, which had been so quiet as to be gone or dormant, was rising, like a second heartbeat, reminding him that he had a debt to pay.

Loki tried to concentrate on the book in his hands, but he found himself unable to give any sort of focus to the words on the pages. They should have been familiar; it had been one of his favorite collections of stories as a child, but he couldn't bring himself to remember them. There was much he wished he could forget, and he feared that allowing some of his recollections to surface would lead to a flood of them breaking loose. His grip on his composure was already tenuous.

He would beg for his freedom sooner or later. Like as not, it would be on his knees. Loki didn't want to do that, but he would. The books Frigga brought, the little touches of his old life were not the balm she imagined them, but rather, small tortures he could hardly bear. He couldn't bring himself to ask her to stop. 

A huge explosion in the cell across from his took him by surprise. His ears rang and he was momentarily disoriented. He staggered to his feet. He didn't understand what he was looking at, at first. It shouldn't have been possible. The dungeon was in shambles, the cells wide open and inmates streaming out, towards freedom. 

Loki didn't need to touch the force-field to know that it was still working, but he did. Overwhelming rage filled him, and he felt himself starting to change. He looked at his arms, saw blue and roared. He would make that old man pay, make him pay for his lies, for making him believe, for locking him away.

He screamed again, and this time, the cell shook. The ceiling above him groaned and a spiderweb of cracks appeared, dust drifting into his eyes.

Control, he needed control. He focused on his skin first, his form. The way his hair fell, the clear green of his eyes. The lashes his mother and nurses had fussed over when he was young. His nails, trimmed and buffed, his hands smooth, but callused enough to hold a staff or sword for days. His height, slightly taller than his bro- Thor. Build: lean, but strong.

He fell to his knees breathing heavily, and loathed Odin more than he'd ever hated anything ever, even Thanos.

The last of the inmates escaping stopped outside of his cell, and gave him a pitying look. Loki couldn't hear him over the ringing in his ears, but he could read the things lips easily enough. I can't help you. 

Loki tried not to tremble, but he was largely unsuccessful. He opened his mouth to give directions to the All-Father's private rooms, and he remembered. He almost gagged from the force of the memory, but he found himself getting up, gingerly stepping over to the force-field in his tight, new skin.

Loki touched the buzzing, uncomfortable golden glow with his fingers, fought the urge, the compulsion to strike, and croaked, "Odin's quarters... Go left down the hall directly ouside, and bear right at the first intersection," instead of the correct way, up the stairs and to the left. The creature smiled at him and took off at a run. 

Loki stumbled back until he hit the wall and he sagged against it. He'd had the perfect opportunity to get back at Odin, probably the only chance he'd get in centuries, and he'd just wasted it. A conversation, or rather the few words he'd exchanged with a strange woman on a beach a millennia ago was hardly a rational reason to forgo the only vengeance he was likely to have.

He slid down the wall until he was sitting on the floor, his legs splayed out in front of him. For the first time in years, he saw no way out.


Iteration 2, April 25th, 2013, 9:23am, Asgard Palace Dungeons

Loki knew the instant it happened. All of the falsehoods he'd been fed aside, she was the only mother he'd known, and for better or worse, he'd loved her dearly. He had caused this terrible thing, and he couldn't avoid that, and didn't want to. 

Thor's arrival was hardly shocking. What he proposed, however, was. Through the grief and anger, he felt a tiny speck of hope. He might not deserve it, but he was being offered freedom, and possibly the chance to avenge his mother, and all that from the most unlikely of sources. He allowed the illusion of normality in his cell to slip, allowed himself to really look at the man he'd been raised with.

They didn't share blood, they didn't share the same philosophies, but they had shared a mother, and for a moment they were still brothers. Guilt rose, and there was nothing but that cloying, dreadful feeling. It was a burden he'd never be rid of. 

When Thor finally spoke, he explained about his mortal, who had somehow come to contain the Aether, the coming Convergence, and Loki finally understood the choice of the book Frigga had given him. Odin, in his infinite wisdom, was fine keeping her in Asgard against her will, though he knew such an action would likely doom them all sooner or later. What interested Loki the most was the news that the Aether wasn't gradually tearing her apart. Her body was somehow able to adapt to the increased power by means not quite natural. It was all very intriguing, but not really his problem as he was stuck in a cell. 

Then Thor got to the point. He was sure that Loki could get them out of Asgard without the use of the recently rebuilt Bi-Frost. He was absolutely correct, a deduction which, when one considered the source, was nothing short amazing. Loki admitted he could, but that there was no way for Thor to find the gateways on his own. He could practically hear the gears in Thor's head turning as the blond processed this information.

"It won't do any good to argue with the All-Father's wishes," Loki told him flatly.

"He would allow her death to go unpunished, Loki, he would imprison my," Thor seemed to stop himself and shook his head ruefully. "Jane. I cannot abide either. The fiends who killed Mother will face justice. And Jane must be freed and taken back to Midgard so she can stop the Convergence. Help me, Loki."

"Please," Thor added, after a moment.

And that was what did it for him. Loki nodded and while Thor started explaining the typically idiotic plan for his escape, Loki was plotting how to stay free, this time.


Iteration 3, April 25th, 2013, 9:45am, Asgard Palace Dungeons

It was getting more difficult to ignore Thanos' call. He tried harder, had almost been successful while in the process of the methodical destruction of all the things in his cell, but the unfortunate part was that there was nothing left to wreck. He projected an image of a calm, spotlessly clean cell, but he knew the truth behind the facade. Loki had tried to will himself invisible, like he used to, ages ago. It didn't work, so he sat, banging the back of his head ever harder into the wall. He didn't even notice Thor until he cleared his throat loudly.

Startled, more than he cared to admit, Loki felt his concentration slip yet again. He glared at the blond. Felt the familiar resentment.

"Brother," Thor said softly, in a tone of voice he'd not used with Loki in centuries. Had he not been so focused on his spell, he might've rejected Thors phrasing. He tried to dive deeper into his trance, instead.

"You have my gratitude, for keeping the whereabouts to the royal quarters to yourself. I've a feeling that the attack this morning could have ended much worse, had the invaders not somehow, miraculously been sent to the guards breakroom."

Loki grunted in acknowledgement, and allowed his vision to fall out of focus, preparing himself to become shadow once again. He neither wanted praise, nor did he need it. His reasons for previcating were his own and no one else's.

"I need your help. Yours alone will do, Loki."

Loki would have sneered had his focus been what it should.

"They're all going to die, whole realms will fall, Loki, and the All-Father is refusing to help, to send Jane back to end it all."

He was so close, he could feel the colors of his physical form bleeding out into reality, felt his molecules blinking and drifting.

"Lady Darcy will die, and you know her. She will fight and make it worse for herself." 

Loki remembered everything instantaneously, every curve of all of her different smiles, every breath she muttered his name under, every time he smelled her in passing. He snapped back to reality, whole and angry that Thor should do this to him. Her name thundered in his ears. 

"What would you have me do from here, Thor? From my impenetrable cell?" Loki asked sarcastically, his voice clipped and viscous.

Thor smiled sheepishly, raised his hammer, and said, "You might want to duck out of the way, actually."

"No, Thor the noise will bring half of Asgard to us, if it doesn't collapse,-" Loki tried to explain, though he knew the protest was futile, before he cut his words short and hurled himself to the floor.

The explosion earlier had seemed deafening, at the time, but the sound of Mjolnir battering through the wards Odin himself had laid, truly earned the term. And by some miracle there was enough support that the ceiling and walls still stood. Loki rolled to his back, opened his mouth wide and attempted to pop his ringing ears back into a semblance of usefulness after the dust had settled. It didn't work very well.

Thor was inside his cell, and his particular scent, ozone and the forest after rain, flooded the room. Loki almost wept. Even Frigga hadn't actually materialized fully, and so this was the first time in a long time that he'd smelled something other than food, books or himself.

Loki allowed himself to be lifted to his feet and the next thing he knew he was being pulled along behind Thor. He was practically tripping over his own feet as they ran through corridors that had long ago fallen into disuse, but Thor and Loki had spent long hours as children exploring these very paths, so there was little chance of them losing their way. They'd been so happy back then, so certain that they would always be brothers; the best and most loyal of friends. 

"Frigga is taking care of a distraction," Thor's voice faded into his hearing over the ringing, "and the Warriors should have Jane by the docks by now. Are you able to captain?"

Not bloody likely, but if it was a choice was between him, even being slightly impaired, or Thor, who piloted with as little finesse as he did anything else in life, and any of the laughably incapable Warriors Three, well. There really was no choice. He nodded absently. 

When was the last time he'd run this far, Loki thought, and, when had he last eaten? He struggled to break free of Thor's grip, to allow his feet to fall into a rhythm he could actually sustain, but then there would have been no way he would have been able to keep up. He kept his attempts at freedom feeble, knowing that they would reach the private, underground docks soon enough.

Maybe someone had thought to bring sustenance.


Iteration 2, April 25th, 2013, 10:10am, The End Sea, Asgard Borders

Thor's little mortal hadn't really improved in his absence. She was acerbic and unpleasant, but at very least she was consistent. She slapped his face, again surprising him with the force she mustered, whined about what he had done to her home world, whined a bit more about how unrepentant he seemed and then settled in for the journey. In a way, it was efficient; she simply vented her considerable spleen and left the two Asgardians to their business with no more fuss.

They were skimming over the waves in a speedy, little open craft, lower than most enjoyed, but the lack of altitude worked in their favor. The closer they were to the water, the faster they went. Fandral protested vigorously that it was Loki's hand on the tiller, but even he knew that Loki was the better captain. The Asgardian Naval fleet would be catching up with them soon enough, but he hadn't exactly been expecting these newcomers in their deceptively unwieldy-looking, saber-shaped ships. 

They were quickly overtaken by those unfamiliar ships, but the way Thor roared at Loki to bring them closer as he swung Mjolnir around in tight circles, was enough to clue him into their identity. Loki waved Fandral to the back of the boat while he accelerated and pushed the tiller down, raising the boat from the water. Fandral looked at him like he'd gone mad, but complied. Loki waited till he was close enough to take control of their exceedingly out-matched craft. 

"Hold on!" he, rather thoughtfully - in his humble opinion, shouted.

With a jerk of his hand, he abruptly changed their slow, steadily inclining course. Thor, intimately familiar with this particular maneuver had already braced himself, and trapped his little mortal against the hull with a thigh. His eyes were focused on their quarry as he steadily wound Mjolnir around and around. Heavy, dark clouds gathered menacingly. Lightning flashed and crackled against their other pursuers, doing an awesome amount of damage. Loki felt for his power, and was satisfied with the rate at which it was gathering.

No matter how many times he'd done this, his stomach still dropped to his feet and a thrill raced through him. The freefall lasted just a few mere well-timed seconds, then the sharp, bone-jarring jolt of impact. Instinctively, he pushed the tiller back down, and suddenly they were sailing, eye-wateringly fast towards what appeared to be a platform on the side of the enemy's ship.

Fandral screamed obscenities at an absurdly, but absolutely gratifyingly high pitch, and Loki smiled.


Iteration 2,  April 25th, 2013, 10:16am, Wrath of Darkness, Lead Ship of Elven Invasion Force

Thor blinked against the unfamiliar, unpleasant smell that pervaded the ship, just as Loki did.

Jane, who was apparently a better match for Thor than he'd ever considered possible, had had to be chucked bodily back into the rapidly descending hover-ship. Too reckless by half, that one. She'd screamed like a banshee as the little ship fell, sticking up her middle finger and practically throwing herself back out of the boat. She'd been determined to join them or curse them thoroughly out.

He recalled that Lady Jane's shambolic assistant had made the same gesture. He was curiously tickled that something so mundane could possibly be offensive.

Fandral had his uses, it appeared, since the moron somehow managed to keep one hand on the tiller while he wrapped an arm around a struggling Jane. She was still fighting as they fell out of view.

And now he and Thor were trapped in this ship, full of elves, of all bloody things. He'd been under the impression that Odin had exterminated them, but what was one more lie amongst all the others? And, bully for him, he'd actually done some studying on their particular version of spell-work. It didn't seem to matter that it had been centuries since he'd read the scrolls. His mind felt crystal clear and lightning fast. He finally understood why fire magic had always been so anathema to him. He didn't care in the slightest, though. It had taken untold decades, but he had mastered fire.

Loki smiled at the elves racing towards him, and popped his neck. 

He extended his arm almost nonchalantly, and a peculiar, red flame shot from his palm. Technically, he should have felt exhausted already, but rage was fueling him nicely. The flame raced across bulkheads, incinerating everything it touched, even leaving the metal red hot and buckling in places. He poured more into the flame; increasing the heat exponentially. The skin on his hand, then forearm, then his entire arm and finally his face burnt and blistered, and his wards healed them sluggishly. He barely acknowledged the stinging pain.

It wouldn't be enough - would never, ever be enough - to avenge Frigga, but he would ensure that it would be a good start.

Loki didn't even pretend that he didn't enjoy the screams of his quarry.

Thor seemed to take no notice of his savagery, he just snarled and shoved Loki's arm out of the way to charge down what appeared to be the main corridor. Loki paused to breathe, allowing his flesh to knit completely.

He'd not seen Thor in this mood, his beserker mode, in ages. The big blond roared at an advancing foe, one who wasn't smart enough to run screaming in other direction. Loki certainly would have had he been faced with what Thor had become. Thor swung Mjolnir in a lovely, graceful arc. The grooves in the metal that created the swirling pattern, flirted beautifully with the dim light.

Squish.

Thor was apparently taking the brute-force approach. For once, Loki approved.

Loki hardly noticed that the shrieks of the burning had ceased, and definitely didn't realize that his irises had a red tint to them. He just dashed along behind Thor, raining destruction along the way.

It was a shame. He couldn't remember when he'd last had this much fun.


Iteration 3, April 25th, 2013, 11:50am, The In-Between, Empty Moon

Loki had to admit, it appealed to his flair for the theatrical. And he'd kind of always wanted to fake his own death. The Elf-King lunged forward, and Loki knew Thor would be too slow. He also knew that if Jane used the Aether again, she might be too depleted to properly deploy the Power she carried at the necessary moment.

A heroes death, who'd have guessed? He rather fancied the notion, he thought as he threw himself into the path of the dagger. In his head, he was already chanting healing spells when the blade penetrated his flesh. None of them were designed to help the pain, unfortunately.

He allowed the blood to flow, wishing that he'd had a final meal before this venture, feeling his strength wane. He tugged Thor in close, and whispered the way to Midgard.

It was sort of like going invisible, merging with shadows. He created a shell, the most permanent, enduring double he'd ever conjured, while allowing the essence himself to drift. Some of his best work really, he reflected as Thor roared. Was he truly grieved that his troublesome, adopted brother was dead? A question to consider at a later date, perhaps.

Loki could have followed the guards back to Asgard, probably should have, could have fashioned himself an invisible force of change, but he didn't. He told himself that was because he was tired and needed to regain his strength, but he still knew the truth.

Loki rode the currents Thor and his mortal created, conserving his strength, while remaining ephemeral. He heard the sound of a familiar sounding variety of music, one specific to Midgard, though it was not a song he recognized. Loki trailed behind the mortal, and wasn't entirely surprised when Lady Jane picked up something he knew was a smart phone. Wasn't taken aback by the sound of her voice through the tiny speakers.

Darcy sounded distracted, and soon her voice was replaced with someone else he was intimately familiar with. The doctor, the one Loki had left, perhaps, more than just a little broken. 

He tried to decipher the precise words that were spoken, but he wasn't successful, he was too far away. He'd explained the importance of following his instructions, but he had little faith that Thor would stick to them. He'd wandered this particular path many times, and still knew only a fraction of the intersections. 

Loki was pleased that Thor had heeded his precise directions, and managed to steer them all in the correct current. He allowed himself to be swallowed by the small capillary root of Ygdrasil that grew through this cavern. It pulsed with untold power, connecting this realm to Midgard, and from Midgard to a planet in permanent night. Loki grew distracted by the possibilities, and he almost forgot to disembark with Thor. Hard to believe that a split-second distraction should cost so much.

He used every last reserve of strength rerouting his trajectory to get him out at the correct moment. 

Loki's shade tumbled out of the wash of the Tree more scattered than he could recall ever being. The cost on his energy just from that little lapse in concentration had been steep. He allowed his form to gravitate together, and slightly coalesced. Loki tried to remain with it, tried to gather his wits, but it burned, and he lost the battle and fell unconscious under a tree just sprouting the first, light green buds of the season.


Iteration 00, April 25th, 2013, 11:50am, The In-Between, Empty Moon

If Loki could have supped on the dramatics of the situation, he might've survived on nothing else for decades. Instead he allowed himself to wallow in his part, to heave for breath, to allow a thin trickle of metallic tasting blood to slip out of his mouth and down his chin.

His performance was flawless.

Thor bellowed and the sound resonated somewhere inside Loki. When Thor finally ran after his supposed death, and Loki could have sworn that the man had felt genuine grief at his 'passing'. No matter. It was the work of a moment to clad himself in the form of a nondescript, composite version of a guard, someone who seemed instantly familiar, but also impossible to describe.

The God of Mischief joined a regiment that had just finished cleaning up the last few enemies that hadn't fled to their ships and escaped via some sort of Bi-Frost type device. It should have been easy to follow them once the work had finished, but the Asgardian forces were headed home on the command of their king.

It wasn't, though, and he found himself glancing back, in the direction Thor had gone. If circumstances had been different, if his ambitions didn't carry so much weight, perhaps. 

Loki was fairly certain that Heimdal was distracted enough that his disguise should pass muster. He still felt all of his muscles clench and a veritable stream of sweat flowed down his spine as he lined up with the rest of the regiment to file out of the staging area inside of the Bi-Frost Observatory.

Heimdal didn't even glance his way.

He was fine the first part of the walk over. As long as he didn't look down, he was totally fine. Some perverse part of himself, naturally, couldn't resist. He didn't even lower his head, he just swung his now muddy brown eyes down, and that was it.

He wasn't sure how he didn't pitch off of the side of the Bi-Frost, but he somehow found himself in the spot he'd started from. He hadn't been thinking about this moment when he'd conjured this version of the uniform, the one that designated his (deliberately low) rank and specialty. In this case, he'd placed himself among the Defensive Battle Mages. Which meant that he was assigned to lay New wards in the dungeons.

He rounded a corner out of sight, and quickly let the features and clothing he wore morph. He glanced down and was quite satisfied with the crust of dirt and the scrapes and minor injuries that now showed. It should be enough to allow him the opportunity to seek medical attention and food. Given the chance, he'd annihilate a roasted goose. Planning coups had always sharpened his appetite.


Iteration 2, April 25th, 2023, 3 hours before dark, NNY Headquarters, Observation Room 3

The good Captains witty, fearless, be-winged special friend had a way of speaking that was almost frighteningly soothing. JARVIS swore he could match exactly the pitch and frequencies Wilson employed, but from experience, he knew that it was less than a poor imitation. Not that he'd ever say that to the disembodied voice that kept them all safe and, more importantly, well informed.

Loki had learned early on that JARVIS was what was called an artificial intelligence, but with the programs sharp tongue and perfectly unique sense of humor, it was still easy to forget he wasn't even really real. He was every bit as annoying as anyone else Loki interacted with on a regular basis.

Sometimes it was the way there was no inflection in his voice that was particularly infuriating. The way JARVIS was so completely disconnected from every experience was something that Loki very much envied.

He'd just returned, and his first stop should have been decontamination, but as he'd explained exhaustively, he cleaned himself much better with hardly a thought than water and soap ever could. Eventually he'd make his way over there, placate those sticklers for protocol, but that was definitely for later.

Now he wanted to see her. And since the best he could do was watch her through a night vision camera in the pod, hear her voice, through the speakers on the desk Wilson sat at, he was content to sit quietly. 

Loki hadn't heard her tell this story before. 

There was something extremely intimate about listening to them describe an event while they were in a trance. Like reading someone's diary. It was an uncomfortable experience, but he couldn't quite make himself leave.

She had been calmly reciting her version of the Battle of Greenwich when he entered. It was eerie how dispassionately she spoke, and how her body twitched in remembrance while her voice was so dead. He wondered if she minded that he was here, but the Flying Mortal hadn't kicked him out yet, so he remained and let the syllables wash over him without taking too much notice to the content.

Then, abruptly, she was Darcy again, her inflection rising and a distinct tremor in her words. She was describing finding out about his death. It was entirely likely that she'd want privacy for something this, but he couldn't seem to make himself budge.

He shot of his chair, when she called for Sam. Her distress was very apparent. Remind me again why we're doing this. Loki snatched the microphone out of Sam's hand, who in turn gave him what could only be described as a look of death. But Loki was already speaking so he could, to borrow a colloquium, suck it.

He modulated his voice to mimic the tone of voice Loki recalled Sam using when he'd been stuck in that miserable chamber for days.

"It's fine, Mortal." Loki shot Wilson a smug look, as he spoke pure silken awesomeness. "Just breathe. Sam and I are here, we won't let anything happen to you." That sounded like something Sam Wilson of the magic voice might say. Loki didn't stick his tongue out and blow him a raspberry. He considered it a minor victory. 

Loki? Loki! She started thrashing around in there, water splashing erratically, obscuring the camera. The flying mortal shoved him out of the way, darting to the door to the inner chamber faster than Loki would have guessed possible. He heard a dull thud, and another. Her hands would probably be bruised after this. Wilson gave him a venomous look as he fiddled with the controls to the Sensory Deprivation Pod. See? the impertinent mortal mouthed exaggeratedly.

Let me out, Sam. Why didn't you tell me he was back? Sam?

SAM!

Panic and confusion was evident in her voice, and he didn't much enjoy the idea that he had caused it.

When had he started to care this much? 

She fell out of the Pod in a wave of water that lapped at his feet, and glanced frantically around the sterile confines of the lab. He knew as well as any what was worn in those watery chambers. Her state of relative undress was somehow different in theory than reality.

They'd been friends, comparably close friends for years now. They'd hugged many times, generally against his will. If he wasn't mistaken, and frankly he never was, they had even kissed once. Many moons ago, of course, before all the craziness had really started, but... Now. 

Now, there was not a single thing about her kiss that was friendly.

Distantly, he heard Wilson clearing his throat vigorously. Darcy didn't seem to notice or care. Loki was delighted to find that he had no fucks to give, either.

Chapter Text

Earth. Welcome!

Iteration 3, June 30th, 2012, 7:40am, Central Park, New York

So that happened

Those were the first words she clearly remembered thinking after she'd walked away from Loki. The incoherent mess that was her memory of the time after, well, her sordid hours of passion wasn't very enlightening, but Director fucking Fury, who was probably even more imposing than Natasha when she had her War Face on, had made sure to fill in some of the gaps with helpful footage from the many, many SHIELD agents with built-in cameras, who had witnessed it. So kind of him.

What Fury's footage hadn't shown, was her waking up - at an ungodly hour, mind - and seeing the sheets smoothed over her naked body. There wasn't a record of her prompt freak out; where she'd pressed a pillow to her face and mouthed Oh My God fifteen times in a row.

She'd smelled coffee, and since she could still feel his warmth in the sheets, she'd wanted to show him how much she had appreciated his thoughtfulness. One minute she'd been brushing out her hair, almost drooling for a cup of coffee, strolling into the kitchen naked - all casual-like - and the next it was like she'd been possessed by the ghost of the craziest girlfriend ever.

How else could she explain how irrational she became when she'd finally realized Loki had left without saying goodbye? She couldn't, no matter how much Director Fury glared and yelled. For a guy in an eyepatch, he definitely had the frightening glower down pat.

For the love of Thor, she'd stepped out of her apartment wearing the circus-tent-like men's XXL Batman sweatshirt her Grandpa Lewis had pawned off to her as a twelfth birthday present. She hadn't even put on a bra, a decision she was regretting. That and the bunny slippers should have been proof enough that she'd been impaired at the time of the incident, but no.

Sick of her face, apparently, Fury handed her over to a stone-faced SHIELD agent who'd been mute as he had escorted her deeper into the bowels of the SHIELD offices. The tiny room with the two-way mirror he'd stuck her in, the one that came with the dark suited interrogators who'd questioned her for hours, was so straight out of any cop procedural, that it almost made her laugh, except nothing about the situation she found herself in was humorous.

Thing 1 and Thing 2, that pair of SHIELD's finest, subjected her to a barrage of questions that, in all honesty, left her wondering if her next stop in life wasn't Gitmo or an interview with Ken Starr. I did not have sexual relations with that alien. But she had, and she wasn't the smoothest of liars, so she just kept her mouth shut. 

Some people picked up skeevy strangers in bars to blow off steam. Darcy's version of questionable life choices took a similar turn, except that her one-night stand involved a guy/god who very much wanted to take over the world. 

Which, in hindsight, she should have bribed J-Man into keeping on the DL. But no, she'd completely humiliated herself in front of God and Country by attacking him with her mouth in front of every single superhero she was aware of, and dozens upon dozens of government agents. And now she was afraid that they were going to charge her as a traitor.

At the very moment when terror was starting to overcome her reluctance to speak, and her belief in the Fifth Amendment, a reprieve came in the form of a loud banging at the door. Darcy blinked rapidly, trying to clear her eyes and calm her breathing. If she could get a handle on her emotions she might not cry, and suddenly that seemed more important than anything else. She didn't even look up when the door opened with a hermetic hiss.

"I'll take it from here," Darcy heard, and wasn't sure if the sound of Natasha's voice was her salvation or doom.

She waited to look up from that intriguing divot in the otherwise pristine stainless steel table until after the argument that ensued was over. She wasn't even sure why anyone would want to have a dick-measuring contest with the Black Widow, but the SHIELD stooges left in a few moments, having apparently realized how out-matched they really were. Darcy glanced up.

Natasha looked like she'd just come back from a relaxing, tropical vacation, all tousled hair and sun-kissed skin. Her eyes twinkled, just a bit as she sat in the chair opposite Darcy. Trying not to shit bricks, she made an effort to uncross her arms and say in a totally normal voice, "What's up?"

It wasn't her best effort. Her voice was hoarse and it sounded like her words were covered in snot. "I'm not the greatest at enclosed spaces," she tried again after swallowing, and was pleased to note that this attempt had come out sounding much more like her usual self. She gave a smile a shot, and was shocked when the muscles in her face actually seemed to cooperate.

Natasha's lip curled up ever so slightly, and she said, as she tapped a perfectly manicured forefinger on a manila folder, "I've been aware of that, and besides, it's in your file. 'Subject displays classic signs of claustrophobia'. It really didn't take a genius to figure it out... you were always so tense when we took the elevator together, all tapping feet and picking the cuffs on your sleeves.

So, anyway, I'm here to ask you some questions, and I would've been here sooner, but there were some small leaks that needed plugging. This would've been easier if they'd heeded my recommendations, but we play the hand we're dealt, right?" 

Darcy found herself nodding for no particular reason. Recommendations?

The red head leaned forward, placed her forearms on the table and clasped her hands in front of her. It was both business-like and terrifying. As if she smelled Darcy's sudden fear, Natasha grinned fully at her, "No worries, Doper, I am not here to kill or maim you, geez. Relax."

Darcy felt her shoulders sag as she finally realized that the Black freaking Widow, hero of New York, was there as her ally, "Doper? Really? What, are you eighty?" and then she had a disturbing thought, "You're not. Right?"

Nat rolled her eyes, "No. This is what's going to happen. I'm, as mentioned, going to ask you a few questions, and don't worry this conversation will be restricted to Level 10 access. Answer the questions honestly, and we can go home."

It was such a relief to hear, that she wasn't going to be imprisoned for the rest of her life, she almost slid off her chair.


Iteration 3, May 30th, 2013, 7:30am, Greenwich, England

Before all of the stuff had happened, Darcy had been planning on leaving England; she'd go home, visit the folks, graduate, maybe see if a real world existed outside of the sphere of weirdness she'd been sucked into. She wasn't quitting Jane- she was just finishing something she'd been putting off. Jane had, well she hadn't begged, per se, but Darcy had been promised a raise and a new laptop, so she'd been planning on coming back to London in the fall- or meeting up with Jane wherever she happened to be. But all of those plans had been made before.

Before she'd helped save the universe. Before she'd killed. Before Loki had died. 

Now it was like she was in some sort of fugue. She did what she was supposed to. There were piles of data to collate, charts to create, general crap to organize and file. Jane still needed her for, well, everything, even though she was trying to be more self-sufficient. 

Darcy forgot about her departure for a while.

She was focused on the activities that encompassed each day, a routine that she followed. She never really slept for very long anymore, so she got up early, sometimes before dawn. She'd come to an agreement with Liz, after months of building trust, but it involved going down to the basement to get her fix. She could do it, no problem, when Jane or Erik were there, but the basement, alone, before day-break tended to freak her right out. Darcy had been even more uncomfortable with tight, enclosed spaces, ever since those hours in the SHIELD holding cell, but with coffee as a motivator, she sucked it up. 

There was a park, right next to the old church around the corner. She liked to go there, sometimes. It was quiet- at least as quiet as it ever really got in a city. 

She went there now, clutching her novelty Thor travel mug full of coffee, real sugar and whole cows milk.

The bench she always sat in was, as usual, empty, but something in the air was different. There was no other way to describe it. She looked around, but the only thing out of the ordinary was some graffiti on the church. Darcy remembered seeing a similar design in New York outside of the bakery with the incredible Maple Bacon donuts.

Just a bit of coincidence. Nothing to be alarmed by. Maybe it warranted a place in her "Weird Shit" folder, but then again, maybe it didn't. 

She took a quick picture on her phone and shot it off to JARVIS. She wasn't even sure why she did. And apparently he wasn't either, because his response was a simple ?.

Darcy tapped out a quick:

I dunno. I'm just a mere carbon unit, J-Man. Does it mean something?

 J-Man:

Much as I appreciate your dedication to communicating in movie quotes and pop culture references, you could occasionally provide better directions. Or any at all.

Darcy could almost hear his voice, and realized she missed him. She missed a computer program, the world's first artificial intelligence. There was nothing artificial about him, though. He was JARVIS, just as much a part of her life as Jane or Erik. Her life was uber strange.

The phone went into sleep mode as she looked at it. There was a temptation to let the message go unanswered, because it, that brief moment of recognition, was probably nothing.

Just let me know if, and where you've come across this image. Nothing important, just random curiosity, so take your time. Thanks, bro.

She was putting the phone back into her purse when someone sat on the bench, next to her. She resisted, barely, the urge to roll her eyes and huff at the audacity of this person to sit on her bench. An urge which made her smile against the rim of her travel mug, since the bench was very much in a public park, and it was time for her to get going, anyway.

Darcy got up, and was startled when she felt a hand on her arm as she was turning away. She had a taser, a pretty great one at that, but it was in her purse, along with about half of her life. She stuck her hand in the purse, panicked, rooted around in the detritus, as she whirled around to face the threat. 

Her breath caught in her throat. 

It wasn't possible. Her hand stilled in her purse and she pulled it out. Since he still had a hold on her other arm, she reached over with the one she'd just freed, to touch his face. It wasn't supposed to be, but it definitely turned into her poking his cheek. 

"Was that absolutely necessary? I mean rea-," and she interrupted him by smacking him across the face with as much force as she could muster.

Maybe she'd been spending too much time with Jane.

Loki dropped her arm like it was on fire, and looked shocked for the half second it took Darcy to launch herself at him. 

"I thought you were dead, you motherfucker. I'm so, so glad you're not. How are you not dead? Oh my god, Thor's gonna flip," she whispered into his ear, and her voice wasn't quite even.

For a second she remembered running her tongue around the very curve her lips were practically pressed against, but she fought against that recollection, against the weepy feeling that was tightening her throat.

Darcy let him out of her death grip, but she still stood too close. It took a concerted effort, but Darcy took a few steps back. As his face changed and morphed into something, someone unfamiliar and forgettable, she felt something like rage.

"Why would you do this to us? I mean, that's some seriously fucked up shit. You asshole."

Natasha had given her some pointers, over the years. Generally, it had consisted of Natasha swinging Darcy over her shoulder and attempting, mostly unsuccessfully, to show her how to do the same. And when Darcy was too bruised to move more than a foot or two, Natasha'd have her draw a taser from a bag over and over again and call it good practice, which in hindsight, maybe it was. She probably should have kept up with that.

Loki, and it was Loki, no matter that he had changed his face and hair, and looked at her with muddy brown eyes, that he wore a nondescript trench coat, instead of a bright green cape. The taser was in her grip before she had a second to think clearly. 

He still smelled the same, and like pieces of a puzzle falling into place, she realized something, "You've been following me around this whole time, haven't you? Stalker! What kinda twisted, repugnant bullsh-."

It is the oldest trick in the book for a reason. 

And it worked. She shut up and kissed him back, her hand snaking around his neck and up into unfamiliar short, brown hair.

For a few minutes, it worked, anyway. But by the time she got her metaphorical feet under her, he was gone.  

"Son of a motherless goat!"

She started a text to Jane, but it was like her fingers wouldn't cooperate. The fourth time she tried, and failed, she heaved the phone as far as she could and heard a distinct plop and then startled quacking. Probably not her best idea.

When Darcy got back to the house, she was simmering with impotent rage. Jane was tooling around the basement, checking her equipment, and getting in Darcy's way as she tried to locate her rain boots. 

"Anything wrong?" Jane asked, as if she couldn't tell.

"Dropped my mother-effing phone in the mother-effing lake," Darcy muttered, as she rooted around behind some boxes in the corner.

Jane stifled laughter, and was thankfully smart enough to know better than to ask how it had happened, because, honestly, Darcy really didn't even know. One minute she'd been drinking coffee, and then the next thing she knew, she'd tossed her phone away like it had Ebola.

So, Darcy ignored her and kept searching.

A few minutes later, with a triumphant "Eureka!" she raised the boots over her head. "I'll be back," she said in a vague German accent, and darted back up the squeaky stairs. A few seconds later, she stuck her head back through the doorway, "Eat something."

Jane waved a half-eaten Pop-Tart in Darcy's general direction while she examined the paper copies of the charts Darcy had just put away. Annoyed, but resigned to a new mess to put to rights later, she sighed.

"Something with an actual nutritional value. Some of that yogurt your mom makes. I want to see an empty bowl when I get back."

Darcy was pissed off, not evil, which was why she hadn't suggested that awful gluten-free bread Liz claimed to like. 

The lake wasn't deep, but she'd been hoping that it would have been even less so. Exactly 35 steps in, two things happened: The dark water lapped up over her boots and she remembered she was supposed to have borrowed Jane's phone so she could call hers and hopefully locate it. She stomped her foot; a mistake, as even more dank water slipped into her boots.

She struggled back to shore, muttering and cursing the entire way. Someone was standing next to her bag, and she was ready to go off on anyone who presumed to try to get one over on her. Except he just stood there. When she got a little closer, he spoke up, "Ahoy? Is everything alright?"

Ducks squawked as she disturbed their placid floating and finally stepped onto dry land. 

"I'm sorry to disturb you, but you seemed like you could use a little help out there," the blond said, his hands held out in front of him in the universal gesture of "I'm harmless."

He was British, of some sort, and blond. He was wearing a backpack, and he hooked his thumbs under the straps and fidgeted as he watched her step up to dry land. 

"I'm Ian, Ian Boothby. Not anyone weird, swear. Just, you know, someone who likes walking by the lake. Thought you, I dunno, needed some assistance?" 

His question ended on a quavery note, as she came to a stop directly in front of him. Yeah, be scared, she thought, "Can I borrow your phone?"


Iteration 2, May 31st, 2013, 8:30am, Greenwich, England

Darcy was doing what she always did first thing in the morning. She was making coffee. There was comfort in routine, and of course, coffee. She was doing better now, seeing a therapist a few times a week to talk about stuff. At first, she'd tried to find a non-SHIELD therapist, but with someone unconnected to the terminal events, well, that came with an entire 2 page list of stuff she couldn't talk about. Which was basically everything she was in therapy for.

So her shrink was a SHIELD agent. Darcy tried not to think about that too often. And, it helped. Talking about it, about all the different things she really wanted to forget, somehow made them less scary. She still wasn't sleeping great, but there were less nightmares to contend with.

She'd also been seeing Ian. 

It was sort of worked. He loved Jane, adored Erik, and spoke fluent Rocket Science, so in a way, he was perfect. The only problem was that he didn't seem to notice her at all when he was faced with gravimetric equations. 

Frankly, he hadn't even managed to touch her boob, even with all of her overt and shameless hints that he could totally give them a jiggle.

Darcy left him in the basement with Jane, and went up to the room Liz had given her all those months ago. Thanks to a repeater JARVIS had sent after she'd bitched once too often about signal strength and her inability to properly game, she had an excellent WiFi connection. 

It seemed like a shame that she was using it to check prices for tickets home. 

One thing about her therapy; it strongly recommended that tasks be completed. She'd been putting off graduating. It seemed like a thing she could complete, something that was totally within reach.

She'd just put in her credit card number when Ian knocked on her door. A few keystrokes and she had entered the expiration date and security code. The laptop was closed and tickets for the day after tomorrow purchased before she opened door.


Iteration 2, June 1st, 2013, 8:45am, Greenwich, London

Ian slept the sleep of the exhausted, and his soft snores were really quite adorable. What it really was, was an early warning system. Most of her crap fit in two suitcases, and all that was left was the stuff she'd have to put in her carry-on. 

After her last paperback had been nestled safely in her rolley-bag, she slipped back between the cheerful, ethically sourced, organic cotton sheets Liz provided.

For a skinny guy, Ian put off a lot of heat, and it wasn't long till she was lulled back to sleep. There was something comforting about the sound of another person's breath, scent, warmth. It dawned on her that maybe she'd been too focused on things that didn't really fulfill any of her dreams or goals. She fell asleep wondering if it was selfish to want more.

"Going somewhere?" and suddenly she was blinking to wakefulness. His voice wasn't like anything she'd ever heard from him before. Gravelly and sexy. She felt her lips turn up into a smile.

It was a few hours later, and the sun shone hot through the skinny window that had been painted shut generations ago. She'd ended up on the edge of the narrow mattress, trying to escape the furnace that Ian became when he slept. He looked at her from across the few inches between them.

The suitcases were right there. 

"Yeah, I've sort of been putting off some stuff, like graduating and seeing my family. I mean, I was right there in New York right after it happened, for like 3 months, and I didn't even venture over to Jersey."

He had a wonderfully expressive face, and she hoped they'd be able to play poker sometime. Right then, his face revealed that same sympathetic look she remembered from the first time they met, and she had the same urge to spill all of her beans. There were a whole slew of NDA's to consider, and she'd probably already said too much.

"We'll Skype," she said, instead of trying to explain further. "You know. If you want."

There was a hopeful note in her voice, and he took pity on her. His palm was warm against her cheek. But it was only there for a second before he sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the mattress. He sat with his back to her for a moment.

"If Jane's still here during the fall-," she started to say, but he was already speaking.

"Is there anything you want to do before you head off?" He got up, and searched for his clothes. "When is your flight, anyway?" Ian asked as he looked over his shoulder. He wiggled into his skinny jeans.

"Seems like we should party, properly, if you're leaving."


Iteration 3, June 1st, 2013, 7:35am, Greenwich, England

She didn't remember taking that picture.

JARVIS had given her every instance the graphic had appeared, and thankfully it wasn't an ancient symbol of something or other, because even though the only results came from the last five years, the list was still rather extensive.

Darcy looked at the church, at the graffiti, and knew she'd seen it before.

That bakery, the one in New York, with the donuts. She sat on her bench, and tried to figure out what had happened that day. She'd thrown her phone into the lake, so it shouldn't be that hard to figure out. But it was. Every time she tried to think about that morning, her mind would skitter off into different directions and it wasn't helpful in the slightest.

Darcy knew that she was living in a city of surveillance- and that her dear friend could absolutely gain access to that footage, without problem. Her StarkPhone, having been rescued from the depths of the lake, was exactly as water-proof as advertised, so it still worked perfectly. The case, however, had been a bedazzled leather-ish deal and hadn't faired nearly as well. The phone felt unfamiliar and new under fingers as she typed out the odd and illegal request to J-Man, and she found herself concentrating on the task more than it warranted.

Which was why she was so startled when she noticed a man suddenly sharing her bench. The newcomer was painfully nondescript, and with the sunglasses and the bland coat he wore, she had the odd thought that she'd never be able to accurately describe him. "Sorta creepy" wasn't something that a sketch artist would be able to draw, she imagined.

Despite that, there was something about this man that reminded her of someone specific, and the sensation wasn't dissimilar to having a word stuck on the tip of her tongue. He seemed engrossed in a newspaper, but why would he choose an occupied bench when there was at least six empty in eyesight?

He snapped the paper after turning the page, and she almost blushed at the interruption of her staring. He glanced up from behind his unflattering glasses and she saw his eyes. They were a shifting greenish-blue that reminded her of the the color of the ocean near beaches in the Caribbean; crystal clear until the light hit the water the right way. 

Darcy knew those eyes better than she would ever admit to anyone. They'd stared at her sullenly countless times, she'd peered at them over food and drink, and tried to decipher them over reports and coffee while they worked. It absolutely had nothing to do with the fact that he had asked her to look at him as they'd fucked. Because who did that? Who gazed into the eyes of a man so drenched in daddy issues that he'd nearly committed genocide, and had invaded what for all intents and purposes was her hometown? Those hours meant nothing, because there was no other choice. It had been a simple release of tension and hormones.

"How are you here?" she asked, sure even when his eyes were suddenly brown, that the stranger to the left was Loki. 

"Excuse me?"

Quickly, before she lost the bone-deep certainty, "Loki."

"It's quite inconvenient that you keep recognizing me, you know," he said nonchalantly, "And likely not great for your mind."

His hand was lightly touching hers, and she knew, instinctively, her time with him was short. There was so much to say, and she quite desperately wanted to ream him a new one. Darcy jerked her fingers out of his grasp. 

"I'm leaving tomorrow," was somehow what she said, instead of 'Hands off, dick-face', like she'd intended to.

His new face looked at the sky, and a shaft of light fell across it momentarily. For a second he was as she remembered: Black hair in an eighties hair band coiffure, pale skin and cheek bones that could cut glass. His smirk killed her. 

"I know."

"Can't you just take it all, this time?" she asked, and even to her ears, she sounded pathetic. She asked the question because she knew suddenly that she'd seen him before, that he had taken those memories like he would take these. "I don't -."

His palm on her cheek was warm, soothing, "I'm sorry."

"- want it anymore."

Her phone, which, by the way, she would never actually put up to her face ever again, was in her hand. She'd been texting JARVIS and spaced out, apparently, she thought as she looked at her sleeping phone. 

There was something about the way her heart was hammering that made her wake the phone back up and send another text JARVIS. The time stamp revealed that it had been 7 minutes since she'd sent the last text. A nice, tight, easily managed timeframe to review. It was probably nothing, but if it wasn't... What could account for that? 

Best not to borrow trouble.


Iteration 3, Text Message Received, From: J-Man: 06/03/13, 3:05am

Sorry to disappoint, but the cameras in that area have been intermittently shorting out since the recent events. It's been scheduled to be fixed, which isn't much help, at this point.

Any other international laws you need me to break on a whim, please do let me know. /s


Iteration 2, June 24th, 2013, 11:30pm, Somerdale, New Jersey

There was an unmistakable scent of burnt meat in the air, still, hours after the last family reunion dinner, and suddenly Darcy was home again. Sneaking out after her parents went to bed was really just part and parcel to an authentic experience. If mom really expected her at the breakfast table in the morning, she'd gone delusional in her old age.

Darcy suppressed the giggle and quietly, gently removed the keys to her mom's Camry from the hook by the garage door. Mom always parked outside the garage, mostly because dad had refused to buy or fix another garage door after she'd taken out the fourth one. In two years. 

The thrill wasn't gone, even though this time she had permission to take the car. She stuck the mix CD she'd made in Senior year into the CD player, and waited, just like she used to, till she got to the stop sign at the end of the block to turn the music up. 

Unfortunately, most of her old friends didn't live in the old neighborhood anymore, but it was nice going solo for a change, especially after the entire family had been visiting for the last week. She loved her aunts and uncle, her cousins, her grandparents. Just, maybe not all at once. 

It was always great getting back together, the first few days, but at a certain point Darcy would look across the dinner table at her cousin Hunter talking with his mouth full, remember all those times her grandparents had berated her table manners, and all she wanted to do start stabbing people.

So, she was finally free, ready to hit the open road for a few weeks and blow through all of her hard-earned money. The first thing that she wanted to do was go to the beach. At an hour and a half away, it was quite a trek, but it was something that she'd really missed in her years away from home. Cape May.

The beach was somewhat less than she remembered; of course she was seeing it in the middle of the night, but it was like the sand wasn't as fine as it had been in her childhood, like the rocks were sharper, like there was more garbage laying around and more seaweed rotting. The lights from encroaching civilization dimmed the stars she remembered seeing so clearly when she was still a kid.

No matter. The air was still briney and tangy with salt, the breeze off the water was still refreshing.

She shrugged out of her hoodie, laid it on the sand and sat on it, just like she used to those first months of having her drivers license. She wound her arms around her legs and pressed her chin against her knees. Waves crashed into the rocks a few yards away, coating her with salty spray every so often. It was a warm night, though, so it was nice. 

Puente Antiguo, Tromso, London, Miami and all the places in between had been fun, enlightening, had changed her perspective in so many different ways.

She missed Jane, even though they texted all the time and had talked on the phone several times a week. Now, though, in these few weeks since graduation, she wasn't sure where she was going. She had put so much effort into Political Science, and then taking care of Jane - learning more about the stars than the names of constellations, that somewhere along the line she'd lost some part of herself. 

Darcy watched the water, the endless retreat and advance, and wondered what would make her happy.

Maybe she'd make some calls tomorrow, get in touch with Pepper and see what else someone with her particular skill set could do. A corporate gig had never really appealed before, all those pant-suits and sensible heels were not really her idea of a good time, but surely there was something between that and caring for absent-minded geniuses that she was qualified for. Maybe even something her degree would be useful for.


Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 1:40am, Cape May, New Jersey

She missed the simple old days. When she could IM a few people and suddenly, there would be a bon-fire on the beach, and tunes, some obscure college radio shit that everyone would lose their minds over trying to decipher and interpret. These days, her old friends had graduated years ago, gotten married, had kids. Built a pleasant, instagram ready, perfectly filtered life with cars, houses and vacations.

Hanging out at the beach at the drop of a hat, in the middle of the night didn't really appeal or was even remotely feasible anymore for the kids who'd used to chug beer upside down or swear that they'd demolish the corporate slugs who sucked the world dry.

Darcy sat in the sand, and wondered where her life was going. She liked working for Jane, and after her little stint in detention, she had lost what little faith she had in government. When she'd started her academic path in college, she'd thought that Political Science would give her the platform she'd need to change the system from within. It sounded hilariously naive, looking back, but even considering all of that, she still believed in the power of history, which had been a particular focus of hers once upon a time.

Could she leave Jane? Was there any other profession that would allow her to sit on the internet for hours at a time, without repercussion? Would that make her "happy"?

There was an itchy feeling in the back of her neck, like someone was watching her, but as far as she could see, the beach was abandoned. Still, there was something that told her to get away, and so far her instincts hadn't led her astray.

Her hoodie was covered in damp sand, but the sense of urgency she felt negated the need to take care of it. She'd throw it in a bag, and then in the trunk and take care of it tomorrow. Her shoes slipped in the sand as she haphazardly rushed to the brightly lit parking lot just over the dunes. When had she last worked out?

She felt a distinct shortness of breath and burn in the muscles in her legs. Darcy really didn't want to die because she hated sweating and taking the stairs. If she was fit enough to walk for miles, a couple hundred yards at a quick clip should have been nothing, but sand, it seemed, required real effort. If she survived the night, she would definitely start going to the gym.

When she was finally, finally, safe and sound and out of breath in her mom's car, Darcy locked the doors, stabbed the key into the ignition and grabbed hold of the steering wheel. She let her head drop and accidentally made the horn bleet cheerfully. Sobbing a laugh, she unclenched her fingers and put the car in gear. And promptly almost hit a tree when a voice piped up from the backseat, "Can we stop for something to eat?"

When she stopped shrieking for long enough to snatch her taser out of her purse, she slammed the car into park, threw the door open and tumbled gracelessly from the vehicle. 

Oh, God, she was going to die, and her mom would be able to say 'I told you so' for the rest of all eternity. Rule 2 of Rhonda Lewis's Guide to Road Safety™ was always, ALWAYS check the backseat before entering a vehicle.

Darcy wished she'd come to the beach during the day, like a normal person, but no, she'd come after dark when no one else was around. She ran with no particular plan or destination in mind, hoping that she'd find somewhere safe to hide, but aware that she was totally screwed.

Her feet had just hit the sand, and she was wondering why she had chosen this direction, since it had already been made clear that she was woefully out of shape, when she started doing an excellent imitation of the roadrunner; legs pumping frantically, but going nowhere.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Mortal," a far too familiar voice said.

She felt the freedom to move return, and let her legs go weak. She knelt in the sand, head hanging low, and resisted the urge to wrap her arms around herself. Darcy reached trembling fingers under her glasses and pressed them painfully against her eyelids. This was not real, not real

His hand a heavy, solid weight on her shoulder, his feet in her field of view when she finally removed her hands from her face felt like something that was real. The touch of his skin against her neck, as he shifted his hand had to be deliberate, because suddenly she remembered knowing that he was alive. Several times.

"Stop. Fucking. Touching. Me," she hissed between clenched teeth, and writhed trying to get away from his fingers on her neck. 

"Oh, come now. Don't be like that."

"Don't be like what, you despicable jerk-wad, piss-breath, farting ass-munch... Aaaargh! Do you see what you do to me? Do you? I really hate you, oh my god, so much," and the pure, visceral rage was enough to get her past the aftermath of terror and back on her feet. Her hand flew out, but he caught it easily this time, more's the pity.

She was shaking, she was so angry. 

He still held her wrist, and looked so smug, she would have given anything to flatten him, to squash him like a bug. 

"Are you going to try to hit me again if I let you go?" 

"Duh!"

"Please don't. You have to know you'll only end up hurting yourself in the process. Besides, I, I am almost sorry. I mean, it's really very close-,"

She nearly smiled at him despite herself, because it dispelled any remote doubt that it wasn't really him. He gave her a very pointed look when she tugged her arm free.

"Why are you doing this to me? Scratch that. Why do you keep doing this to me?"

He didn't immediately respond. Darcy was still furious, but hurt was quickly overwhelming that, and she really didn't want to stick around for more of whatever game Loki was playing. She muttered, "My phone," as she bent to pick up the thing she'd dropped in the sand. 

With a move that would have made both Natasha and Reese Witherspoon proud, she snapped up, and somehow, improbably, nailed him right in his prominent five-head with the electrified projectiles. Normally, she'd yank them out, so she could reload, but this time, she flung the taser back in the sand.

Darcy suspected that there wasn't enough time for a victory fist-pump, much less a full-blown dance, but she did allow herself a triumphant "Ha!" as she darted away.

The Camry was pretty close, and thankfully she'd forgotten to close it, so the interior was lit, beckoning her forward as the car dinged manically. Actually, the motor was still running. Which, yay! What a happy coincidence that her previous panic might make her current getaway more expeditious.

She peeled out, the tires squealing as she took the ramp to the highway at 38 mph. The car bottomed out and she saw sparks when she reflexively checked the rearview mirror. Which was probably why she totally ran right over someone without even touching the brake pedal.

At least the windshield didn't crack.


Iteration 2, June 28th, 2013, 5:37pm, Newark International Airport

Darcy had been super excited to get the first message from Ian the day before yesterday, and sort of nervous when they had Skyped later. Turned out, he could get a cheap flight to Newark, and so, there she was. About to pick up the man she'd be vacationing with.

Sure, she had a job interview at the Stark offices in DC in a few days, but other than that, they could pretty much do what they liked. Personally, she was gleefully anticipating a trip to the Smithsonian. 

Ian waved enthusiastically once he exited the doors from Customs and spotted her standing there. He ran over and kissed her, deeply, before she had a moment to welcome him onto American soil.

"Hi. Er, hope that wasn't awkward," he greeted her sheepishly when they were no longer attached at the lips.

Darcy grinned and grabbed his hand, "No, not at all."


Iteration 00, June 25th, 2023, Dawn, NNY Headquarters, Observation Room 3

Darcy wasn't much of an exhibitionist, but even she conceded that the Pod was a much more pleasant experience in skivvies. It wasn't like Sam was even interested in her that way, in the first place. She completely understood, by the way, since he went home to the most prime of human specimens. 

It just - it sucked, because she was only ever this undressed anymore around the one person who wouldn't possibly care. Sam gave her a thumbs up from behind the glass, and she stepped into the Pod. The seat was already in her preferred position, but she took a few minutes to make sure the straps of the harness sat correctly. 

Sam knew her, and was absolutely the best of all of the Operators, so he let her futz around as much as she liked before he started the cool-down process. He talked her into a steady trance, guided her into living a certain day, and they were off. 

Today, she'd be remembering Saturday, December 26th, 2009. 

Chapter Text

Iteration 00, April 29th, 2013, Asgard Palace, Throne Room

Loki knelt before the All-Father, one of many, no one of note, and rejoiced at the tired droop of Odin's shoulders. The ancient monarch lifted himself from his throne, banged his staff into the floor, and declared them all heroes.

No mention that he had abandoned vengeance, left Frigga's spirit unfulfilled and wanting as she took her place at the table of her ancestors. He certainly didn't note that the presence of the troops on that dead moon had been mere happenstance. It was hardly shocking that the old bastard hoarded glory and the appearance of wisdom, but even to Loki, it felt cheap. He had taken a blade through the chest, after all.

His neck was exposed to his king, for now. But they would feast soon, and if he read the signs right, Odin would wilt like an orchid in the desert shortly thereafter. The cacophony of the celebration would be in his favour, with no effort at all on his behalf. He had faltered , briefly, but he had started to believe again that he was meant for the rule of Asgard. Why else had all the little pieces of the current events fallen so neatly, so perfectly in his favour?

He rose with the rest of the soldiers, as one great unit, and saluted. Loki couldn't begrudge the old man one final gesture of respect. 

Odin sat heavily down on the cushion Frigga had embroidered once upon a time. He swept his hand outward, toward the exit, and just like that, the company was dismissed.

The throne would be his with hardly any effort.


Iteration 1, June 25th, 2013, 3:00am, Central Park, New York

Over the past year, Loki had captured a number of poor, unfortunate souls; victims of wretched circumstance, and turned them to his cause. There were ministers. There was royalty. Judges, lawmakers, peacekeepers, politicians and men with titles he didn't even really understand, like 'Sanitation Overseer' and 'Power and Light Supervisor', but between them they managed to clean the streets and keep lights on. With the tireless efforts of the Chitauri the city rose from the ashes again. 

Through channels he learned about through his new diplomatic friends, he had assisted a country across the sea, a place called Great Britain, with an invasion force he'd thought were extinct. More lies from Odin, he shouldn't have been surprised. Nonetheless, between him and a battalion of his Chitauri, he had won the day, and new allies. 

Coupled with the fact that his behaviour was apparently benevolent, there were now governments that had started dealing with him in the open. 

Loki had publicly rejected the unspeakable brutality the mortals had shown towards his not-yet fair city, and had broadcast his mass healings. This bound the population further to his side. What a boon the savagery of the leaders of this planet had turned out to be. He couldn't have created a scenario that put him in such a favorable light of he plotted for years.

He showed the mortals that life under his rule was not that different from the norm, that, in fact, it could be better. It was going to get ever more difficult to keep the status quo, but his new vassals didn't need to know that. He'd come up with supplies and future suppliers if it was the last thing he did. 

There were libraries of information to consume and digest. It was obvious that he had something to understand about the native culture. His minions were excellent in that regard, including a group of what he gathered had been social misfits. They called themselves the Troll Brigade, and spread misinformation and chaos throughout the human information network.

It was on their recommendation that he even allowed the "internet"'s continued existence, and even he had to admit what an excellent tool it was turning out to be. He had more knowledge, more secrets at his fingertips than he knew what to do with. He had wanted to rule this world all at once, in one huge gulp, but he rather fancied taking his sweet time with it, nibbling until each little, willing enclave came to him now.

Many of his disciples had already been engaged in sowing chaos, and it was satisfying to turn them to a singular cause. His cause.

Thor's little bit of fun, a mortal scholar of the stars, had proven surprisingly useful, once he'd turned her back to him. Much like Thanos' influence waned after the tumble he took during the bombing, so too did her initial blind faith suffer after her experiences and retrieval. 

There was a spell, a forbidden one, magic he'd only known in theory, that brought her back to heel. Memories were soft amophorous things, solely the product of electrical impulses in the brain. Surprising what someone could believe with the right influence.

It was delicate work, especially on those recollections that had had time to find purchase and settle in the mind, but she was a good little test subject, and she still displayed high cognitive function, even after all of her alterations.

The only inconvenience was that she was somehow in love with him.


Iteration 3, May 15th, 2013, 7:00am, Greenwich, England

Humans hurried and scurried everywhere, back forth, hither and thither, and sometimes just watching them made him exhausted. For all their rushed activities, there was something deeply tedious and essentially pointless about it all. No progress was ever actually made.

As a result, he understood, absolutely the urge that mortals had to do whatever necessary to bliss out during their rest periods. He'd become briefly intrigued by the loud taverns that the young mortals frequented, the 'club scene' as he'd heard it referred to.

The music was loud enough to almost feel disorienting, and the smell of sweat and lust and chemical intoxicants was heady. He hadn't yet taken a physical form, but while watching bodies writhing in unison, bathed in brightly coloured light, he'd nearly been tempted.

Loki hadn't observed the Mortal going to any places of that nature, but then, she hadn't seemed like herself. She didn't play music anymore, wasn't always seen with her little noise pills in her ears or draped around her neck. Battle-weariness struck everyone differently, and perhaps she was still suffering from its effects.

There was definitely something off about her. He was aware of it every single time she sat next to him on this bench. He'd encouraged the growth here, much as Frigga had once shown him, so trees had lush foliage, flowers bloomed in riotous profusion and buzzing insects flitted in almost hapless confusion at the unexpected bounty.

She didn't notice any of it. 

He should have been tracking the Scepter, but it was difficult to get an idea of where it was when it seemed to bob in and out of reality. He rationalized his absence from its pursuit because it made no sense that he should travel all over creation on the off chance he might be there at the right moment to get to it. No, he'd wait till it was at its final destination before liberating it.

He'd found, completely by accident, that the absence of his physical body muted Thanos' influence until it was almost negated. If he'd gone to Asgard, he might've survived indefinitely as a shade, but it turned out things were different in this realm. Loki estimated he had a few more days before he faded. He looked at the Mortal, and wondered why he cared enough to stay in her vicinity.

Certain that she was worthless, meant nothing, he got up from the bench and floated to the shadows that lingered near the gates guarding this odd little splotch of nature. He concentrated briefly, but much harder than he should have, and was himself again.

Loki had almost forgotten how inconvenient a physical form was. Clothes were much more problematic than he remembered, itchy and pinching all sorts of places on his body.


Iteration 2, April 28th, 2013, 8:03pm, Asgard Palace, Royal Dining Room

He had eaten at a table far from the royal dais, close to the huge doors at the back of the hall. It was a novel experience looking up at the head table, and not least because only Odin and a few advisors were sitting there. The empty spaces at the left and right of Odin seemed to press in on the ruler, rendering him smaller than Loki ever remembered.

When he was still a boy, Odin had seemed a massive creature, huge enough to block out the sun and stars; a comforting, constant wall of strength that would keep them all safe. Seeing him diminished to a shadow of his former self was rather enjoyable, even if he still felt a well of rage when he looked at Frigga's empty seat.

No one else knew how much of a hand he had in that, and if he had his way, no one ever would. He really should have known that Odin would have been in the throne room and not his private apartments. Best not to get lost in that train of thought, he had a plan that needed his attention.

Odin ate little, attending to his goblet in a steady, focused way. Loki had never seen the one-eyed drink with purpose before. The moment he stood, the room stopped and did the same. Odin seemed to hesitate, and the silence stretched between the creaking of leather and flatulence. 

"You may sit and continue, with my blessings. I find I have other matters that require urgent attention. Please enjoy the rest of the festivities."

A ripple went through the crowd after they'd sat and Odin was gone. Her name or title was on everyone's lips, murmured respectfully, mournfully. He hadn't realized, and maybe he should have, how much her loss was felt by everyone. His intention had been to replace the old monarch, confident in his ability to do so, but perhaps eventually he could drop the disguise, but would they welcome him as Loki? He'd been a son of Asgard, a hero in his own right for longer than he'd not. 

With a muttered excuse, he stood from the table and exited through the door his back had practically been up against. No one cared to notice, much less follow. Darkness had fallen, and the palace was lit with torches that threw a warm, rich, golden light, and many lovely undulating shadows. The transition to join them was much easier now, and done in hardly any time at all. 

Had the Palace not still been on lock-down after the breach, it would have been nothing to sail on the breezes and currents of air through the hallways until he reached the royal wing, but there were an unknown number of booby traps between there and here, and Heimdal hadn't been at the feast. No distractions from that quarter.

Loki drifted off into the gardens. They were huge, labyrinthine and almost no one knew exactly where each path went or what was behind every blind. He had spent entire seasons exploring the grounds around the Palace, and the memories weighed heavily against his non-form. The laughter in his mind, ringing with lightness and joy, it wasn't real. Frigga had loved the gardens, and loved finding her boys there. 

The smell of night-blooming jasmine was almost overwhelming, and he hurried, as he had never felt a need to do while outside in the gardens, to the courtyard surrounding Odin and Frigga's most private sanctuary. Loki heard his voice dimly at first, but was unable to locate where it was coming from. He floated between branches laden with fruit and heavy with flowers until he finally saw Odin on a bench in the middle of his mother's hedge maze. The roses were in flower, practically drooping with the weight of their petals. 

"...my, love. I was only doing what I thought would change it. I thought he could forgive Thor if they had to work together, and I was certain Thor would let that mortal be if forced to give up Valhalla if he saw her again. I was trying to be merciful by letting our sons go back to Midgard during the last winter solstice.

The choice to put him back in a cell again seemed the only way for him to atone, but I never guessed that it would lead to the loss of both of you. I would give anything to change it. Frigga, you never needed to sacrifice an eye for wisdom, you were born with it. I should have listened better. 

I should have listened."

It was an exceptionally private moment, and Loki felt guilty for intruding. He didn't feel guilty for what he was planning on doing, though. He was struggling, however, to decide whether to allow the old man to beg his dead wife for forgiveness one last time, and listen in on any secrets he might spill, or to deny him that final solace. In the end, he decided that the knowledge that could be potentially gathered a better bargain than a petty bit of vengeance he'd gain nothing from.

Loki hung suspended in heady fragrance, waiting, patiently. The strength he would need to overpower Odin was a vast well inside, carefully hoarded since his arrival in Asgard. He was ready for the moment he would seize his destiny. 

Odin looked up at the moon, his eye shining, "You were the best part of my long life. I think about all the time that I unwittingly wasted away from you, from our family. I wish I would have heeded you when you said that forever cannot last without truth. I'm just beginning to understand that, and that I threw away our son, wife. He made those choices in rage. At me, and you, unfairly. I'm sorry."

There was nothing else Loki desired to hear, because it might have jeopardized the warm rush of pity he felt for the All-Father. He allowed himself to materialize fully, directly behind the weeping old man. His hands fell on the one-eyed's previously massive shoulders. 

"I may not forgive you, but I will honour your memory. Sleep well, Odin."

The jolt of magic closed his adoptive father's eye, and slackened the look of confused wonder that had come into his face into peaceful sleep. Almost tenderly Loki carried the aging monarch in his arms, a much lighter weight than he thought possible, and stepped silently inside the chamber the sarcophagus was in. Gently, carefully he laid Odin to his final, eternal sleep.

Loki layered a series of illusions and wards throughout the king and queens private quarters, but nowhere as thick as in the sarcophagus chamber. Even a thorough search would reveal nothing out of the ordinary, and he considered it some of his finest work. Donning Odin's form was easy by comparison.


Iteration 3, May 30th, 2013, 7:55 am, Greenwich, England

She was predictable, something that made it vastly easier on him, and also hadn't been a word he'd have ever used to describe her before. He wasn't sure if he was concerned about this apparent change in her disposition or not.

In his physical form Thanos tugged at his mind, and the only time it seemed to completely stop was when she was near. It was mystifying and Loki wished his other diversions worked half as well with so little effort. 

He'd spent all night in his penthouse at the Corinthia, hunched over tablets and laptops, trying and failing to access HYDRA's inventory database. It was frustrating; with the Scepter he could have just found someone to do it for him, but now, it was as if his magic and abilities were shrinking and shedding. It worried him that he should be left powerless, but for now, that appeared to be a ways off.

In the meantime, he'd learned so much more than he'd ever wanted about the creation, components and languages of human technology, however primitive he believed it was. The task of gaining the eventual location of the spear should have been simple to someone as advanced as he. When the sun rose, he'd left the hotel, and walked to the park. 

Loki generally stuck to the areas around her, not actually in her sight, but he felt tired right then. Why shouldn't he be able to sit next to her? He was swathed in the form of a bland Englishman, with a proper Burberry trench coat and a black umbrella to use when the clouds broke. The newspaper was hardly interesting to him, but it was a useful prop. 

She seemed annoyed at his presence, ready to leave, and something inside compelled him to stop her. Loki's hand reached out and his fingers wrapped around her wrist. He felt his disguise slip as she stuck her other hand in her bag and turned to face him, a fiercely determined look on her face. 

Her expression changed immediately and she tentatively stretched out her free hand to his face. She looked awed and uncertain, and poked her index finger under his cheekbone. 

Annoyed, he lowered his brows and tried to complain at the treatment, but she walloped him across the face. Surprised, he dropped her hand and tried to back away, but she threw herself at him and held him tight. He was still a man, no matter his race, so of course he enjoyed the feel of her body pressed against his. She was not unattractive with all the layers she insisted on wearing, but under all that was the luscious curves. She whispered in his ear, and her breath there almost made him tremble, but her words brought him back to reality.

This was going nothing like he had expected. Though he should have anticipated the feelings of loyalty she had towards Thor, who had, after all, proven himself through sacrifice and deed. All Loki had done was succeed in his plan to fail at helping Thanos take over everything. An action which couldn't never mean a thing to Darcy Lewis, because she must never even realize a being such as Thanos existed.

The transformation between her relief at his presence and her rage was almost instantaneous. The way she held herself and the tone of her voice changed noticeably, not to mention the way her eyes squinted furiously at him from behind her spectacles, gave him all sorts of clues that she was quite angry at him. She used all manner of profanity to voice her displeasure.

He hadn't considered that she still carried a weapon, but he supposed he should have. She suddenly held the device that produced the electric shock and looked willing, even eager, to use it. He had no desire to be shocked by that thing, and he didn't want to render her unconscious, either. 

With the finesse of a thousand years of experience, he pulled her close and laid his lips across hers. He was fairly good at this, and he reveled in her reaction to him; the way she softened and gripped his hair tight. It was everything he remembered, down to the flavor of coffee in her mouth. He could have lost himself, but he wrapped a hand around her neck, and concentrated on a spell he knew in theory.

Loki really hoped he hadn't damaged her.


Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 1:42am, Cape May, New Jersey

It had been his intention to stay away, to make do with the distractions and services that his conjured wealth supplied, while he plotted to liberate the Scepter, but something Thor had mentioned, something that he had mostly ignored and quickly forgotten was scratching at the back of his mind along with Thanos. It was distracting him and slowing from the progression of his plans.

He had to figure out how to dislodge Thanos permanently, and he couldn't seem to do that in his current state. The last thing he wanted to do was find the Doctor and have him beat him into a bloody pulp, but if Thanos' influence wasn't curbed, his carefully plotted failure might be for nothing. Loki was beginning to despair of other options, but he'd been weakened every day by the incessant pull. Something had to be done, and soon, or Thanos might take care of matters himself, rendering Loki highly and easily expendable.

It had taken more out of him than it should have to travel here from London. The urge for fuel, for sustenance was an ache in his stomach, of the like he hadn't felt in centuries. He tried to fix his thoughts elsewhere, but...

Watching her from a nearby sand dune, he wondered why, for the thousandth time, he found her presence such a calmative. She was crass and always humming, fidgeting, doing something, even in her subdued state. When Loki saw her get up and make her way back, he was struck by how out of sorts she seemed, nearly frightened. 

In a few moments he'd entered the back of her conveyance, his mind again on food, improbably. When she joined him, she was breathing heavily and out of sorts. He gave her a bit to compose herself.

"Can we stop for something to eat?"

He hadn't anticipated that she would be quite so terrified to see him, however. He probably should have, considering she didn't realize he was still alive. The Mortal fell out of the vehicle, and dashed off into the poorly lit parking lot. It was beginning to feel like this was going to be a very long night. 

Loki had just enough energy to hold her in place until he could make skin to skin contact. He definitely should have touched her first. This whole scenario illustrated perfectly why he needed to get his mind back in order. She was on her knees in front of him, and she was quite lovely there. He swept her hair from her back and shoulders to expose the vulnerable, delicate curve of her neck. He almost forgot to let her have her memories back, but when he did, she squirmed and hissed at him to stop touching her. 

She was angry again, and he'd always liked her anger. She was so free with it, hesitating not at all to call him whatever foul names she could think of, even when all she could come up with was ridiculous - but he wouldn't allow her to strike him again. He caught her wrist easily, holding it loosely in his grip while she struggled to get free. 

"If I let you go, are you going to try to hit me again?"

Fuming, she made a simple sound in the affirmative. It was impossible that she could actually harm him with the means at her disposal. He remarked that further attempts could only lead her being hurt, instead. With a warning look, he let her wrist go.

"Why do you keep doing this to me?" she asked, anguish clearly in her voice. That was really the question, wasn't it? What was it about this one, this almost ordinary mortal that drew him?

He was trying to think of a glib response while she bent to retrieve her phone. She stood, and suddenly he had a forehead full of 50,000 volts. By the time he'd yanked the barbs and wires from his face, and shaken off the aftereffects of her weapon, she was already in her vehicle. He ran for the road, absolutely certain that she would never actually run him down. 

Perhaps he'd misjudged her, he had an instant to think, before his attempt to leap over the conveyance failed miserably.


Iteration 00, June 26th, 2023, An hour before Sunrise, NNY Headquarters, Laboratory 1

Loki knew he was right, but that didn't mean much to these people. They all had things they wanted to change, but only a few of them weren't carrying the sickness. Even those who had survived it, would carry it and possibly become spontaneously, unwittingly contagious again without regular doses of the booster the Banner had come up with. It was a sneaky, almost sentient bug that could hibernate for months, years in organs or bones, waiting for the perfect opportunity to finally obliterate an already ravaged population. It had killed off entire planets. 

They couldn't risk infection. That was the bottom line, and he understood, perhaps better than most, why that was. What he didn't understand was why she had to go first. It should have been him, or even the Captain. They were the almost indestructible ones.

"She's soft and weak," he said, raising his voice above the din of the argument. 

The sudden silence was uncomfortable, chairs creaking and the soft rustle of their papery garments as the mortals surrounding him shifted. 

She shook off the grip of the woman Thor had loved, whispered, "Let me go, Jane. I got this, don't worry," and stood to stare at him from her place further down and opposite him at the table. 

"If by that you mean I'm human, then yeah, guilty as charged, puny god. I am the lowest ranking human, uninfected and with the training and clearance for this mission-," 

"What Lewis is trying to say-," Banner said at the same time as Foster interrupted, "Darcy's perfectly qualified, and she's the-,"

"Oh my god, guys. I got this. Fuck sakes," she rolled her eyes at them, before turning back to face him. "The reason you weren't even considered for the job, is your unique physiology. Yeah, Mr Special, you can't go because we don't know what will happen to the subject, to me. Not for sure. Puente Antiguo was chosen because it was small, out of the way, and people were nuts about UFO's and shit out there, so they'll assume any funky lights are aliens or whatever, and it just so happens I am very familiar with the area. I can't believe this has to be explained to someone with your big, ol' brain. I figured it out the second my name came up.

I'm perfect for this job. I'm alone, no family, so if it goes wonky-,"

A murmur of dissent went around the table, and Foster grabbed her hand. 

"No, guys, it's Ok. The thingy is gonna work, and I'll be back in time for supper," she tipped a wink to the Captain, who was huddled in a cage of his excellent biceps, "Having proven that you can, in fact, change history. Save me a slab of Smeat." 

She almost managed a smile, but not quite, as she slid her hand from her Foster's. The Mortal gave a little wave, as if she hadn't just given voice to any number of scenarios that the Team had been ignoring since her name first came up weeks ago. Seconds after she left the room, arguments erupted, and he took the opportunity to trail behind her and exit the room.

Loki knew where she was going, her favourite spot in the underground chambers they inhabited. The Lowline. A century ago, it had been some sort of storage space for the vehicles humans had once used to travel under the city, but it had been abandoned for almost as long. Sometime after his initial visit a decade ago, it had been reclaimed and turned into an subterranean park, where mirrors were cleverly used to bring day light down to these depths. 

He had to admit that it was fortunate that the work had been completed before human civilization had fallen. Having this small green space lit by the sun was a luxury many other colonies simply didn't have.

She sat under a tree, one of fifteen, and stared off into the distance. She didn't acknowledge him when he sat next to her.

"It wasn't personal," he said, when the quiet became oppressive.

"You call me weak and it's not personal?"

"You say you're alone and that's not personal?"

"Dude-,"

"Don't call me that," he said, for the millionth time. He was tired and his stomach churned at the thought that she wouldn't come back.

"Loki. You broke up with me. Months ago. I am alone. Single. Without a partner - not that you wanted that from me."

"It wasn't fair to make you wait for weeks or months without hearing from me, while I look for survivors, for..."

"Your brother, Thor, whatever, stop with that shit, man, that hesitation. It's been, like, over thirteen years already. Get over it, you're adopted, boo-fucking-hoo. And for the record, I never once complained about you being gone; I know what you do is important.

God, you're infuriating. Go away. I'm trying to find my center before I have to go," she flapped her hand at him in a shoo-ing gesture.

He shook his head, tempted to take the hint and get out of there, but, "I don't want you to leave when things are like this between us. We were friends, once."

She snorted, and looked at him like he was out of his mind. He actually sort of was, "I'm sorry for the way things ended."

"Sure you are. That's why you questioned my abilities in front of the people I work with," she nodded her head, and patted his shoulder in an exaggerated expression of understanding. 

"One has nothing to do with the other."

"That's so lame, I can't even believe you went there, because of course it does. You didn't respect me enough to believe that I would wait for you, and you don't respect me enough to keep your trap shut in front of our, my co-workers. Look, I won't do this right now. You wanna be friends, fine, we'll see how that goes when I'm back."

She stood, dusted herself off, and saluted. "See ya."

She was walking away. She was walking away, and she might never come back.

"Darcy. I miss you," he said.

Her footsteps faltered, but she kept moving. Loki resigned himself to breathing hasty wards, incantations slipping carelessly from his lips, hoping that some measure of protection could be gained. She stopped. 

"I'm going to regret this, but alright. This," she said, waving her arms to encompass the park, "isn't the right place for this," and she pointed between the two of them. "Meet me at my place in fifteen. Try to be discreet."

He waited a few minutes, before he went the circuitous way to her quarters, wondering what he was doing, what he was getting himself into. Again. When he knocked on her door, he almost wanted to get out of there before she opened it, but in a few seconds, that wasn't a choice anymore. She opened the door, looked him up and down, and moved to the side. 

"Get in here. Are you trying to make everyone suspicious?"

He stepped inside, wary. Her room hadn't changed. There were still books piled on the floor next to the narrow bunk bolted to the wall and floor. She still had scrubs overflowing the hamper. Three of the four lightbulbs had been unscrewed, so it was dim compared to the hallways. There was the huge poster she'd salvaged of the Great Wall that she said gave her an illusion of space where there was none. He turned to face her, feeling enormous and out of place.

She had her back pressed against the door, looking at him as he looked around. 

"Nothing's changed. Still messy," she shrugged, "but I cleaned off the bed. Uhm, if you want to sit."

She looked at her feet, sounded a little nervous. Like she'd changed her mind; like she, too, regretted his presence. He didn't take a seat, there was no need, since there was only one thing he wanted to ask.

"Will you accept my protections?" Loki asked, as he reached out, thoughtlessly, and tilted her chin so she looked up at him. 

"Can't you just be normal, just for once? Just sit on the bed and-," exasperated, she rolled her eyes. Darcy leaned forward, wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck and pulled him down to her height. "I invited you back to, to fuck you, genius. I mean, I'm probably gonna die-,"

He couldn't bear to hear her say that so matter of factly, "Don't say that."

Her lips brushed his, and her breath felt hot, "Why?"

"Because you'll be back before dinner."

She gave a strangled laugh, leaning back slightly, and he swept his hand over her face and down the back of her head. The power he left behind glowed briefly gold, before it sank into her skin.

"You really suck, Loki. But thanks." She hugged him close, and if he stayed any longer, he'd forget entirely about this whole noble thing he had been trying, so he lifted her up, and spun them around. When he opened the door, he had honestly never doubted himself quite so much as then. But he had as much to do with the machine as any of the others, and he had to have faith. She would be back. He looked at her. 

"Travel safely, Darcy Lewis. I'll await your return."

"Bye, Loki. I. Uhm. I'll be back."

Chapter Text

Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 1:55am, Onramp to Lighthouse Ave, New Jersey

The fact that she hadn't even thought about putting her seatbelt on in her race to get away from him was unfortunate. As soon as she felt the initial impact, she stomped on the brake.

And got a free demonstration of the laws of physics.

Darcy's forehead hit the steering wheel hard, and she saw stars.

When she realized what had happened, she touched her face and winced. No blood came away on her hand, so she was pretty happy about that. Her glasses hung askew on her face; one of the lenses had cracked, but they seemed to work well enough to see after she'd adjusted their position. It took a few minutes, but she eventually managed to get out of the car.

Once she was standing, dizziness overtook her, but she could see a crumpled form on the road. There was no way she was stopping. Using the car as support for a few steps, she pushed herself off and used the momentum to propel herself straight forward.

Did his blood look weird, or was it the lighting?

Darcy fell to her knees in front of him, which was a much more painful experience on asphalt than it had been in the sand, and pressed her fingers to his neck.

She felt a pulse - a good, strong, steady pulse - which was excellent, fantastic news. She moved those fingers up under his nose, and felt his breath, which also seemed to bode well. She didn't really want to move him, but who knew how deep that disguise went and what an x-ray or CT scan would reveal. She rolled him gently over, and felt really awful for the bleeding gashes and road rash on his face and shoulder, and, oof, his hip and thigh. 

Rule 1 of Rhonda Lewis's Guide to Road Safety™? Always keep a first aid kit in the trunk. She'd have to remember to do something awesome for her mom, at some point after this emergency was over. Assuming she made it through this a) alive and b) not incarcerated or c) incapacitated.

She was unsteady and slow and her head hurt fiercely, but she staggered over to the Camry, managed to lean into the open door, and somehow did not fall on her face as she pushed the button to pop open the trunk. She felt dizzy as she stumbled the few steps to the back of the car. The first aid kit shone like a beacon in its own little nook, and when she snatched it up, she also grabbed the beach bag her mother kept in there during the summer months.

He moaned as she tucked a rolled up towel under his neck and head. Thinking about the fact that she had done this to him only made her hands shake, and feeling terrible could wait till after she was certain she hadn't irreparably damaged him. Sure, Thor had pretty much shrugged off being hit by a car, but he hadn't been as beat up as, as... 

Loki. Not-dead Loki. 

Darcy pushed that thought away, as well. 

Her hands were almost perfectly steady as she ripped open five packages of disinfecting wipes at once. There weren't nearly enough bandages in the kit to cover, well, everything, so towels would have to do, for now.

A rudimentary plan formed. Grandpa Lewis always said anything could be conquered by a 6 step plan. It was the time to put that theory to the test.

Step 1 - Clean the wounds of, oh shit - do not throw up, Lewis, gravel and sand. The wipes were spectacularly useless on road-rash, in fact seemed to grind the dirt deeper into the cuts. Not good.

Amendment - use bottled water rinse out wounds.

So, back to the car, carry bottles in t-shirt and teeter over to the still unconscious Loki. He'd barely twitched when she'd touched him earlier. It had to have been painful, if not excruciating. The fact that he wasn't squirming and/or screaming in agony was starting to really alarm her, especially with the amount of blood seeping slowly into the asphalt.

Her hands started shaking again as she poured the lukewarm trunk water over the cuts on his face. She had to use a towel to keep water from going into his eyes or up his nostrils. Focus, Darcy. The plan. She wrapped a towel around his long-again hair, and gave him a tighter version of the after-shower turban.

She lost track of time rinsing and, shudder, picking. After that came the tearing towels, packing and wrapping. There was one last towel remnant for the deep scrapes down his thigh, and the was the last one to deal with. Finally done with Step 1, but it was far too soon to celebrate. She still had to get him off of the road. 

In theory, Step 2 seemed like it should have been relatively easy, provided she could get close enough to him with the Camry. And while she was getting that close, she absolutely did not want to run him over. Again. Shit, her extremities started shaking again. 

No use dilly-dallying. She rolled her neck and shoulders, and her vertebrae popped satisfyingly. Darcy sucked it up, tottered to a standing position, and after what felt like a five mile run condensed into a few yards worth of lurching, she finally got back into the car.

She left the door open and hung out the opening while backing up slowly, carefully. With way more luck than skill, the back door ended up no more than a few feet away from his scarily inert body. Loki groaned when she pulled him into a sitting position and propped him up on her legs. His eyes blinked open and Darcy finally realized that he was wearing his own face. 

"This is going to hurt. Worse. Uhm, sorry."

Darcy grunted and tugged and lifted, finally ended up scrabbling into the backseat and pulling him along after her. He was streaming sweat and she swore she could hear his teeth grinding together, her entire body clenched in sympathy. But when they were in there, it was tight. In a desperate bid for space, because like this, in the strangely shaped shadows of the backseat of her mom's Camry, pressed up against her, he was just far too close.

She tumbled right out when she pulled on the door handle behind her. It probably served her right that she ended up wrenching her shoulder when she landed. Still, she tugged at him until he was mostly inside.

After making sure that she wouldn't accidentally crush his skull closing the door, she slowly, painfully got the first aid kit repacked, threw it and the now empty beach bag back in the trunk. She had to use her left arm to shut the lid since she couldn't quite lift her right one. He curled his legs in when she asked him to, an action which sent a cascade of relief through her.

Sitting in the driver's seat, she felt like there was no way she'd ever get through this night. She had to keep moving, though. If she stopped, she'd never have enough momentum to get her through to Step 6. 

By some small, beautiful miracle, her purse was still laying on the passenger seat. Even better her phone had full signal and most of a charge. It took a few tries, but Darcy eventually managed to set the GPS to get them to what she hoped was the nearest 24 hour pharmacy. 

Every turn, every time she sped up or slowed down, she winced in sympathy. The good thing about progress was that in bigger cities there was a Walgreens or CVS on every third corner, but she wasn't in a city. There weren't many street lights, everything seemed deserted, and the car seemed strangely quiet without music blaring.

In the pharmacy's parking lot, she inspected her face in the sun-visor mirror. It seemed clean enough to not garner attention. The egg-shaped lump near her hairline was painful, but she pulled her bangs over it, and made her way into the store.

Just under a hundred dollars later, which by the by, was a good chunk of her road trip money, she flung the bags of bandages, wraps, butterfly clips, rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide in the passenger seat. The cashier had barely looked at her stash of supplies, and blinked stupidly when she asked if he knew anywhere nearby to stay. After a bit of prodding, he told her about a motel down the street, and that's where she drove them now.

With Step 3, gathering supplies, out of the way, she was feeling cautiously optimistic about her chances of completing Step 4, finding shelter. 

It started raining, hard, as she drove the few blocks to the motel. The windshield wipers swiped across the glass furiously, but it hardly made a difference in the downpour. She slowed the car to a crawl so she wouldn't miss the sign.

When she finally found the motel, and dashed inside, the clerk turned out to be a drunk who seemed more interested in her wet shirt, than in taking down her information. She chose to think of that as a good thing as she fished a couple of wet and crumpled twenties out of her pocket. With more self control than she'd thought she had left, she eventually got the keys without yelling or inflicting bodily injury on the scumbag.

Ok, she thought, the finish line is within reach.

Now for Step 5 - getting him out of the car and into the room. Loki was awake in the backseat, blinking at her from under the slowly unraveling towel. With a burst of strength that came from who knew where, somehow, she leveraged him out of the car and on his feet. He was heavy and not very helpful as she walked them through the rain and up the two steps to the walkway outside the door to their room.

It took a couple of tries, but she unlocked the door and stumbled across to the closest full-sized bed. He fell on top of it unceremoniously, bounced once, and groaned. She had totally meant to gently lower him, but he was heavier than he had any right to be. So oh well.

Thelights clicked on easily, once she'd found the switch using the red glare of the digital alarm clock.

Old, orange, shag carpet competed with the brightly colored, flowered comforter and the furniture was some sort of weird, shiny, white marble patterned mica. Darcy dripped onto the floor for a minute while she looked at the man on the bed.

The few steps in the rain had plastered the bloody, splotchy towel and his hair to his skull. It was anyone's guess what had darkened his coat. Eventually, she'd have to undress him. That was rather daunting to contemplate.

She was starting to shiver, but she had to finish her plan before she would let herself stop and get comfortable.

Fuck. The bags were still in the car, and so was her purse. Back into the driving rain, getting colder and colder each time she had to go outside. Just one more time. One more. She psyched herself up, and took a deep breath ran through the storm and through the puddles to the car.

The parking lot was almost empty; only 3 other cars in sight, and the lech in the office had assured her with a wink that the rooms around hers were vacant. She'd might have been grateful for his apparent thoughtfulness, if he hadn't been speaking to her chest at the time.

It felt like forever, but she was back inside the dingy room in no more than a minute.

Darcy removed the shades from the lamps, needing brighter light, and tried really hard not to think about how great a hot shower would feel after all this was done. Once the lampshades had been thrown on the dresser, the room was slightly brighter, but it also made her head pound like her eyeballs would pop out of her head.

She steeled herself and turned.

It was probably for the best that he'd passed out, but it did make getting his clothes off infinitely more difficult. When she'd finally pulled his last sock off, looking him over was a purely clinical affair, she told herself. Especially when the dark blood and livid bruising showed so starkly against the paper whiteness of his skin. 

Washing him down, cleaning his wounds made grit her teeth and swallow nausea, but soon enough she finished his head, then his shoulder, then his hip and lastly his thigh. The worst of the cuts had started to close and some of the shallower ones had already healed to pale pink lines. Darcy wasn't sure if thanking God was appropriate, but she did it anyway. 

The bed he was on was a smelly, wet, bloody mess. She couldn't leave him on it, so she flicked her fingers against his face, as gently as possible, till he snuffled to wakefulness. It was barely a step to the neighboring bed, but she'd used the last of her strength just getting to this point, and she couldn't get him there without his help.

She helped him sit up, slowly, and then he leaned against her like a tree trunk. It felt like Loki could crush her with his weight alone, and she wondered inanely if he ate rocks for breakfast. With a few muttered curses, she shifted her hips and shoulders, and then he was on the other bed.

She was breathing heavily by the time she twitched the sheets and comforter to cover him.

Darcy almost fainted when she realized she was finished with Step 6. She'd fucking done it.

Damnit, she was going to throw up. 

The advantages of a cheap motel room was that the bathroom was always really close by.


Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 6:55am, Motel 5, New Jersey

There was a heavy band across her chest, and she was still panicking from the bloody nightmare she'd just woken from. She could be excused from screaming and launching herself off the bed, to wedge herself between the two full beds in the darkened motel room.

Darcy heard a groan on the bed above her and recalled suddenly that last night, or a few hours ago, had been, literally, the worst night of her life.

She definitely wouldn't be able to rag on Jane about running over Thor anymore.

His head peaked over the edge of the bed, and even in the dim room, she could see the stark white of the bandages.

"Are you coming back to bed, or are you staying on the floor?" he drawled.

Loki had apparently improved enough with a few hours of sleep to regain some of his insufferability

Darcy's entire body ached - every single muscle and especially her head. She had a moment of sympathy for how Atlas must have felt after shouldering the world, as she levered herself up and started to slide back into bed. He had left no room, because he's an asshole, just naturally.

"Scootch over, come on, give me some room."

He obliged, though he huffed as he did so.

She stretched out next to him, completely tense and nearly board-like, willing her body to be as still as possible, to touch no part of him. In that state, one of constant vigilance, she was completely unable to fall back asleep. In contrast, his breath evened out, and what she could see of his face fell slack.

Loki's slumber allowed Darcy to relax incrementally, and, eventually, she found herself somewhere between sleep and consciousness. When he rolled over and snuggled close, she registered it dimly, but couldn't figure out how to move out of the way, and then realized she didn't care. It was nice.

She came to a few hours later, when a relentless a droning noise disturbed the silence in the room. She belatedly identified it as the sound of a running shower.

Darcy looked to her left. Sure enough, the bed was empty beside her.

Her brain went in full panic mode, and, finally, to make it stop, Darcy pulled a flattened pillow over her face and screamed into it as loudly as she could.

How had her life ended up at this intersection? This point?

What could she possibly have done differently to avoid it?

Letting him die in New Mexico was an obvious and uninspired answer, maybe if she'd left him to rot in that old vault in the basement of Stark Tower.

But all that was in the past, no use crying over spilled milk, or whatever.

Right now, the smart move was undoubtedly to get on her feet and into her probably still damp clothes. No way was there time to dig out fresh clothes. She needed to run to the car in a sheet toga and make a quick escape.

Instead, she pulled the pillow slowly off of her face and just laid there like a lump. All of that other stuff sounded like a huge freaking effort, and not only was she exhausted, frankly, the thought of putting on yesterday's dirty clothing or MacGyvering clothes from bedding made something inside revolt.

When the sound of the shower stopped, she closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep. The bathroom door squeaked open, and a there was a soft sussurus of his footsteps as he padded across the carpet. She felt a slight pressure on her foot, and her breath caught in her throat. 

"You needn't feign sleep, Mortal. I know you're awake."

Her eyelids flew open and she might've blushed just a little, but who could tell when the only light came from a single dim bulb shining weakly in the bathroom and the alarm clock?

He took his hand off her blanket covered foot and looked around. He'd removed most of the bandages, revealing wounds that were almost closed and bruises that were yellowed and nearly healed.

"Where are my clothes?" he asked, in a remarkably civil tone of voice. 

"Uhm, they were pretty destroyed after, well, last night. I tossed them in the garbage can over by the dresser."

"You threw away my clothes? What? Why?" Irritation laced his voice, and his eyes narrowed at her.

Darcy struggled to sit up straight, while keeping the sheet secure over her chest. Yes, he had seen her in less than the tank top that she was currently wearing, but something about the predatory way he moved, even while barely covered in a skimpy, practically worn out, tissue thin towel was intimidating, and also, hello muscles.

Sigh.

Darcy tried to rally, "I just said. They were shredded, rendered unusable, covered in blood and grossness. Look, I have a pair of sweat pants you can wear in the meantime. They're in the duffel bag by the door. Don't wrinkle your nose at me, just put them on," the sooner the better.

Oh god, his eyebrow lifted at that, along with the corner of his mouth, like he knew precisely what his state of undress was doing to her. He probably did. Bastard.

The towel gave up the ghost, and she was doomed. Slayed. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears, and her entire body felt warm. Very, super, duper, highly naked, freshly washed Loki, and he was looking at her.

She pushed her hair out of her eyes, because frankly, she wanted an unimpeded view, and just like that, his entire demeanor changed from that vaguely cocky teasing to seemingly concerned.

Oh, her goose-egg.

Did he have to get so close?

His touch was a barely perceptible brush of skin as he smoothed those long, pale fingers against her forehead. 

The burning pain was mercifully brief, but then it dawned on her that her head had stopped hurting. Darcy'd sort of gotten used to the ache, and the relief from it was nothing short of wondrous. His hand fell away.

Loki's breath on her face was warm. She didn't move when he leaned in closer. There were just a few inches between them, so she could see his features clearly, even without her glasses. 

"I'm sorry. For tasing you in the face, and you know, running you over."

"It's of no consequence," he said and waved his hand.

Darcy absolutely didn't notice how long and dexterous his fingers were. If she was going to stop where this was going, she needed to move right that instant. There was no way this could go anywhere, because he was Loki, and who could even begin to guess what he was plotting.

Why, oh why, did he have to look like that, though?

Darcy couldn't move, didn't breathe, half-sure that SHIELD would come busting through the doorway at any second. Paying cash only went so far, if they really cared. They didn't care, apparently, because the only thing that happened was that he kissed her.

She sighed into his mouth, felt the mattress dip when he knelt next to her. The sheet protecting her modesty was totally forgotten as she pushed her hands in his hair. With the style he apparently preferred, she would have thought that it would have been sticky with some sort of product, but it was soft and silky. 

It wasn't that she was surprised by how gently he ran his fingers over her clavicle, but she shuddered and gasped like it was unexpected, because she'd never thought, in a million years, that she would ever feel its like again. She choked back something like a sob, and his tongue delved between her lips when they parted. The part of her mind that was still capable of rational thought shut down completely. 

She held her breath as Loki stroked her chest, licked and nipped the column of her neck, and very slowly, trailed cool fingers across the swell of her left breast. His lips broke away from her skin, and at the thought that he would stop, her eyes flew open. She didn't remember closing them.

If he'd have been smirking at that moment, she might've been moved to violence, but he looked as confused as she felt.

Angry, she should really have been totally furious with him, but when he opened his mouth, and asked "Condoms?" in a ridiculously hopeful voice, that was it. There was no more pretending like the outcome was uncertain, like she didn't want this. As much as she loathed to admit it, Darcy wanted Loki, and even more, she wanted him to want her back.

"In my purse. No wait, you're still banged up, let me."

Her hands were shaking again when she climbed back onto the bed, because it struck her how much she was feeling about this. One encounter she could write off as a fluke, a mistake, a dream or fantasy to revisit when she was old and grey, but everything about this was real. It wasn't So long, and thanks for all the fish, Mortal.

She didn't even want to know what this was.

He took the shiny packets out of her fingers, and kissed her soundly on the mouth again. He touched her all over, and when his fingers finally found their way between her thighs, she almost cheered. Loki released her lips, so he could take one of her nipples into the wet, warm heat of his mouth. The suction was exquisite. She found her eyes slipping shut again.

How he managed to get the condom on without her noticing, all the while keeping his mouth on her, she didn't know, but he somehow did it. He only released his place at her breast to hook her legs over his shoulders.

Loki hesitated for a second, and she opened her eyes again to find him looking at her. It was the uncertainty she saw there that made her tilt her hips and lock her ankles behind his back. He pressed forward, encouraged by her fingers digging into the skin that stretched across his ribs as much as her actions.

Why did he keep looking at her like that?

Darcy wouldn't look away first, she wouldn't gasp, could not be the one to give in and make the first noise. She held his gaze, daring him to try to make her cry out. Finally his hips' forward momentum stopped, and his skin met hers. Suddenly he was fully seated.

Will not, cannot make a sound, and she felt a pulse deep inside. She wanted to drift off into the bliss of pure sensation, but she forced her eyes to stay open. But then his slipped shut, and he pressed his face against her throat and groaned. It sounded like he might have said her name, but she couldn't be sure. She felt a moment of strange victory as he started slowly retreating from her wet heat.

It took everything she had not to try to chase his movement - to keep him nestled as deep as he could go. When Loki advanced for the second time she gave up on thinking. Her nails clawed into his skin mercilessly, and she wailed when he let go and pistoned in and almost out of her. 

If she came first, or he did, well, it didn't really matter. One set the other off and they were both left heaving for breath, sweating profusely and clutching the other close. Why did it only feel like this with him?

Darcy's legs fell limply to the side, and Loki rolled off of her, after making sure to get a firm grip on the edge of the condom. He rested his left forearm over his eyes, and peeled the condom off, without even looking, using his right. He flung it into the corner, in the general direction of the garbage can with complete nonchalance.

Shit. She'd done it again. 


Iteration 2, July 2nd, 2013, 5:55pm, Newark International Airport

It wasn't that she didn't like Ian, because she did. They had great conversations, had similar tastes in movies and books, the same level of caffeine addiction. She'd definitely enjoyed the physical aspects of their relationship, and he was good natured about her teasing him for taking so long to respond to her overtures. She'd miss him.

Darcy was still glad he was headed back to England.

Jane had been understanding when she had told her about the job offer in DC, in fact, she'd been pretty ecstatic when she'd told her that Ian was looking to make a more formal arrangement with Jane. It stung a little that they seemed to be moving on so easily, so happily. Like she'd been replaced, in both of their cases, by a better model. She kinda hated herself for the petty thoughts, and hoped she'd get over it when her life was a bit more settled.

First, Darcy had to return the Camry to her mother and start going through the garage for her stuff. It would all have to be boxed and taken to DC. She had signed a real employment contract, and a lease for a little studio apartment not too far from her new job. It felt a little strange to be completely closing the college part of her life. By the weekend she'd be in the very first apartment she didn't have to share with a roommate. She needed to get good blinds, because she was totally looking forward to wandering around in her underwear.

She'd already passed a background check, but there was a more comprehensive entrance interview to sit through on her first official day on company time, complete with a lie detector, and Darcy had been instructed to bring in her various forms of identification for a more thorough scanning. Whatever that meant.

Anyway, she had to do something different. She had to grow up.


Iteration 2, July 8th, 2013, 7:56pm, Washington DC

Ok. Well, that went weird quick. She closed the door to her apartment, leaned against it for a moment or two, before she slid out of her not as comfortable as advertised heels.

Her first real-adult-employment day had started out exactly as promised, except that her interviewer kept getting interrupted by messages on his StarkTab. Finally, the man seemed to give up on even trying to ask her anything else and helped her remove the straps and electrodes of the device. 

Darcy followed the man down the main hallway to a bank of elevators, and he handed her a badge with an unfamiliar picture of her on it, and pointed to the elevator in the corner, the one with a slot instead of a call button. 

"That one is yours. It's the only one that stops on that floor. If you should lose your badge, you will not be able to gain access to this building, so please take good care of it, but if it does come up missing, don't hesitate to call this number. The building won't allow anyone access without your face to match the badge, but it should be remotely terminated immediately."

She opened her mouth to ask him where the bathrooms were, but he interrupted, and handed her a manila envelope, "The rest of your questions will be answered by your supervisor. Good bye, Ms. Lewis, and good luck."

After inspecting the contents of the envelope, and seeing her social security card, drivers license and passport, she stuck her spiffy new badge in the card-reader by her elevator.

The doors opened immediately and she stepped into the very standard metal box. There were no buttons, just a screen with a hand print. It didn't take a genius to get the point. She pressed her hand against the glass and the doors closed. A familiar sensation in her stomach as the elevator whisked her rapidly upward. She stumbled a bit when it stopped abruptly and, as a result, sort of fell out of the elevator. To be caught by a chipper Tony Stark. 

"Come on, kid," he said, taking her by the shoulders and righting her, "you know I hate having things handed to me."

"What the fuck? Stark?"

"Hey, that's Mr. Stark, super-boss to you, now that you're on the payroll."

"Please pay him no mind, Ms. Lewis," JARVIS's rich, cultured voice of came unexpectedly from hidden speakers, "Sir is not even in the company hierarchy anymore, so you will not be reporting to him."

"Yeah?" Darcy asked, wondering again what exactly her new job entailed.

"Yes, in fact-," but the other human in the room interrupted what JARVIS was going to say, "Oh, come on Jarv, let me have a little fun."

"Shut up, Stark," Darcy muttered, at the same time JARVIS said, "Do be quiet, Sir. You had plenty of fun testing the Mark 63 on the flight down here."

Tony Stark, in an AC/DC shirt, scratched his goatee in a theatrically thoughtful manner, "I don't know if this is such a good idea. You children are already ganging up on me."

"Tony, stop," Darcy heard.

She craned her neck around the always animated Tony Stark to see a giant floating display in a huge glassed-off room.

She walked down the hall, entered the room with a floating virtual display, an over-sized wooden table, a carved driftwood, arty looking thing, with equally cool chairs and knew the room was definitely a conference room. A sweet fucking conference room. Wow.

An enormously magnified Pepper waved cheerfully from the display. She still looked awesome, nearly pore-less with her makeup flawlessly applied. "It's lovely to see you again, Darcy. London obviously agreed with you."

Darcy stepped around Tony, and giant-Pepper said, "Come in, guys, Tony brought bagels and cream cheese from this great little deli near the Tower."

And thus began the strangest breakfast of her life. Considering how her last few years had ended up, this was no small feat.

Darcy laughed, and looked around her studio. Abnormally normal.

She took off her clothes and let them fall to the floor without a second thought as she wandered into her tiny bathroom. Normally the size of her home would have been an issue, but she had to make do, and compromises had to be made with her salary. Besides she was one person; how much room could she possibly need?

Her Mom had insisted she take all her old furniture, because she was looking forward to redoing Darcy's old room into a home office. It had been sad, packing up and saying goodbye to her posters, notes, the four walls and bits and pieces that was her childhood.

Her dresser still had stickers on it that she had applied in 5th grade. Her bed was the same white wood one she'd slept on for a decade, only without the canopy. So it wasn't like it was all gone, it was just different. 

The towels in the bathroom had been a graduation gift from her aunt Molly, mother of the odious Hunter, and when she'd gotten them, she'd almost scoffed. After moving into her new place, she was grateful. She'd already sent a thank you note, but Darcy was definitely going to send another one, a real one.

She flopped on the bed, and reached for her laptop. She didn't feel like cooking, or talking to anyone, so she ordered a pizza and settled back to watch some Netflix on her neighbors unsecured network.


Iteration 00, June 26th, 2023, Dead Noon, NNY, Laboratory 4

Darcy wasn't even sure what to expect. Everything up to this point was all theoretical. 

The good news was, if she managed to effect even the slightest amount of change, if JARVIS' systems upgrades remained similar to the Shifting State Drives, something Stark had been dreaming about since he heard about the Heisenberg Limit in the 80's, it would be picked up. Theoretically. If JARVIS was looking for it.

Granted, that was a stretch, but Darcy didn't just have to have faith. She was carrying a beefed up thumbdrive JARVIS had specially programmed. It acted much like a Trojan horse virus, searching out and storing information relating to certain keywords. All she had to do was get to a computer with an internet connection. The program was a tendril of 2023 JARVIS, but the AI portion of the program would only activate in the event that circumstances reached an event horizon that would jeopardize the mission.

Darcy told herself she wasn't one-rattlingly terrified, because if she admitted that, she might have run for her life; braving even the toxic environment of Above just to escape. But she couldn't. Because he couldn't be right.

Soft, maybe, but definitely not weak.

They'd scrounged for a coat, something that at an earlier point in her life, would have seemed very commonplace. Period appropriate garb, stuff with a fine weave and polyester, lycra or rayon and meant for more than one use, felt unfamiliar against her skin, even though she'd lived, for a long time, in clothes not so different from like these. The feel of fabric, real fabric, from head to toe, was disconcerting. 

She squirmed uncomfortably in the chair they strapped her to, not quite sure if she could do this. She remembered Nina, she remembered Sharon, she remembered wanting a Peppermint Mocha Latte. If they had them, she'd order a lemon blueberry muffin with butter on the side, too.

Sam's voice was comforting as he reminded her to breathe through the nausea. "Just breathe through every damned thing, Darce. You can do it," she heard distantly. 

The chair was gone. Actually, the whole room was gone. She tipped her face into the sun without a full hazmat suit for the first time in years.

It was lovely.