Whoa! 22 reviews? My mind is blown. That must be a record. I've never gotten so many reviews for one chapter. You guys are incredible! Thank you so much! I'm so happy to have you as readers cuz then these looong pseudo-philosophical paragraphs aren't all in vain :)

Before I start writing replies, I'd like to say that since I wrote the last chapter, the legendary Donna Summer, a favourite of mine, has passed away and that's an immense loss for all of us. I included a song of hers in this chapter, because, well, it worked with the awkward comedy in that scene, but also because I wanted to pay her an homage of some sorts. Don't worry, though, it's not because I felt compelled to do it, I didn't force it.

Speaking of which, yes, this chapter includes some weird brand of humour. You might like it, you might not. Let me know.

Now on to the reviews:

Blinded-Kit: Thank you, good to know you still like it, hope this chapter won't change that.

Alerie Sand: yey, that's the reaction that I want, if it made you think I'm a happy writer:)

XxJellyxX: thank you, I hope the writing stays as good :)

The Hot Mage Aeris: updated! redundant, I know :)

i'm not ulysses: All right, all right, you get to be the fangirl in this relationship :)) That might change soon, though :) Thanks so much again for such a consistent and lovely review, yours always make me all giddy :D Leaving that aside though, I'm really happy you appreciated the whole Darcy-in-the-real-world chapter, we might get more of those later on. I really hope her relationship with Loki doesn't turn into this superficial girl meets god sort of thing, even though it's really hard to keep it up to standard and make it believable too. Eh, hope I've done an okay job with this chapter. Also, fanart! Squee! I couldn't ever produce something worthwhile that could be called fanart so I really admire those who can. Thanks again for being awesome :)

miss keith: Thanks so much for the compliments! Hopefully neither Loki nor Darcy will stray too far from their characters in the course of this fanfic. Also, this one's gonna be a slow-burn. So no way is Loki already in love with her, not even close, so that should make you happy :))

Yi xuan: Awww, I feel so flattered! Man, I hope I can keep it up. Because it's a bit daunting to try to capture Loki's thought-process. And fret not, Loki is faaar from loving her. He's still very much himself. But thanks so much, I hope I don't disappoint :)

Dance Elle Dance: thank you! much appreciated :)

Girl-chama: Cruel, you say? Never thought of it that way, but it is a bit of a naturalistic process so you're kind of right :) I'm happy it's entertaining, thank you:) And I myself can't really explain Loki's interest in Darcy, because that was the goal, for it to be so convoluted and absurd that you can't even really express it in words, but it's just there. And he's definitely conflicted, you put it really well, there is a lot of grief deep down. Thanks again for the kind words :)

Leviathan of the Skies: Not stopping:D and thank you :)

Lady Bec of Imagineland: I'm happy to see this story has inspired some ideas for writing, maybe you'll write your own :)

ice bitten: Oh yey Loki seems like he has an "old soul", mission accomplished :)) But really now, delighted that you love this story and I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint.

SecretAgent99: Awww, squeal, gasp AND giggle? Excellent :)) Thanks so much for the kind words and don't worry, these two will get their act together at one point in the future :)

Jewel Song: Hey, glad to see you liked the SHIELD stuff, we're getting a bit more of that this chapter, also Darcy will forever question her place there so it will be a recurring theme :) And yey, bathroom stuff worked! I thought it would be too cheesy.

jnotjane: I'm so honoured this is your favourite Loki story, that's a lot of pressure:) In a way, it is like a 2-character play. It's funny cuz somewhere in this chapter I mentioned them being on an empty stage. And don't worry, I'm trying to stay as far away as possible from romanticizing Loki.

Patpat: Well, I'm sad to say you'll have to wait to find out what SHIELD want from Loki, it'll take a couple of chapters :) In happier news, Loki is back:)

CreedsGalBirdy: You don't know how happy you made me by saying that! This is what I strive to do; make it as real and believable as possible, not coat it in several layers of rainbows and butterflies, as you put it. Thank you :)

that one reviewer: exactly, the pacing is supposed to be quite slow, because it will be some time before they develop actual feelings. And yes, Darcy is more likely to do that first, but she's still in the stage of a kind of superficial crush. You expressed it very well, Loki is still in his 'holier than thou' state of mind and it will last for a while:)

BeckyFriend: so glad you got "tied up into it", hope you don't get out too soon (as in keep reading) :)

Jaded117: Oh, the ease is only an illusion:)) There's a lot of sweat and tears my friend :)) But the important thing is to give the illusion of ease, so I'm happy :)

Mizra: On the contrary, 12:40AM is the perfect time to read this, my best writing happens at that hour, so you'd be nsync :)) I hope I can keep up the intellectually-stimulating chapters:)

Lauramarydonovan: continued!:)

One last thing before you get to the actual chapter: this story will eventually merge with the Avengers. So I hope you stick around to see that happen.

As always, make sure you tell me what you think :)


Darcy knew SHIELD was a hostile environment and the green house was no exception. Despite the exuberant greenery edging out at every corner, there was no real life in anything around her. The trees had no sap, the plants withered from within and the flowers grew dank and stilted. You wouldn't notice these things from above. From above, all you'd see was a masterful decay, an array of bright shades of greyish green, mustard-yellow and orange-red seeping through the glass ceiling. As void and complete as an El Greco.

That must have been his view.

Down here, where the senses were clogged and the colours dimmed and blurry, you had to feast your eyes on crumbling canopies that looked like plasters, tumbling down into puddles of dust.

She saw the guards posted at every gateway across the wide expanse of this decrepit labyrinth. It made her shudder in disgust at the sight of their grim-lined faces and the delicate metal arches reclining over their heads, like the blades of a guillotine.

SHIELD's chosen locations were always eccentric, but the interior designs were even more unbearable. She had never visited any of their other offices across the country but this current subdivision in particular, had gone out of its way to make the place a cluster of contrasts and clashing architecture. The feeling had always been there, but only now as she sat in the laboriously crafted green house did she realize that one of the main reasons she had never felt comfortable there was because everywhere she went there was always something new and ghastly to become accustomed to.

The idea was to be constantly shaken out of ease, cornered into a state of mental imbalance and chronic awareness, though not enough to scramble your brains or damage any important nerve function, but just enough to harvest anxiety and uncertainty where they needed harvesting. The end result was that she, like everyone else there, was kept in a fervent state of tension and vigilance, with the cruel addition of not knowing the object of said tension and vigilance. And that was the genius of it. No one knew why they felt this way. No one could pinpoint it. It escaped any kind of rhyme or reason. People need to know the opposing force, or at least have an opposing force. You couldn't just invent your tormentor, he had to be invented for you, because if you did go ahead and invent him, your mind would simply come up with the most atrocious monstrosity it could find and you would end up in a battle with your own worst self. Insanity would ensue. And an insane person could not come out and say SHIELD was purposely playing psychological warfare on them, because it was their word against a practically unassailable institution. They would only be running in circles, trying to prove that an organization that needed its members in top shape (both mentally and physically) would purposely harm their psyches in order to subdue them when there are crucial matters of world-class terrorism at hand. And that was insane.

Darcy was simply falling prey to the same vicious circle. It started when you tried to analyze your sensations. As long as you kept at it without notice, you were miserable, but only slightly so. You only felt small things, like a hissing in your ear, the prick of an insect on your skin, the discomfort of your desk chair, the dizziness in the sterile air; little mental inconveniences. Nothing more. Sensitive people, though, they pried. They pried into these discomforts and ended up twice as inconvenienced.

Even when she had just been the poor replica of a running lapdog, providing her colleagues with pastry and warm beverages or sorting out the unkempt desks and archives, she had not lost of the sense that she was slowly disintegrating.

But maybe only the common people felt it; maybe only weak characters let themselves be attacked so easily. Maybe up there, at the centre, no one was in the least bit disturbed.

So maybe the view from above truly was beautiful. In fact, she was certain it was.

Loki could not tear himself away from it, because it was something different.

She didn't have to wait long. His outing was over and he would be taken back to his wing. She stood quietly at the giant doors, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to come up with something smart and unassuming to say to him as greeting, something that would show she was not at all dwelling on why she was there, that she didn't believe or need to believe that Loki had had a hand in it.

You know, not like all those stupid girls who needed reassurance.

He was suddenly in her eye view and they were bringing him closer and closer, walking at a torturously slow pace, while she tried to rehearse her lines without showing that she was rehearsing any lines, all the while feeling warm sweat trickling down her shirt, her head swimming with all the questions that she could not ask when –

"Miss Lewis? Miss Darcy Lewis? Is that you? What on Earth are you doing down here?"

She recognized the voice before she could place the face. Both were as smarmy and condescending.

Thomas Rhode, SHIELD agent, level 5, assistant administrator to the Alien Technology Control branch. And the worst human being you would probably ever meet.

"Tickler," she muttered under her breath.

No one ever spoke of him as Thomas, or Rhode, or Tom. He was known to everyone as the Tickler, because he had this funny way of walking and holding himself, almost as if he were constantly trying to balance a pole between his legs which gave the impression that he was being tickled. There was a double pun in there somewhere.

He was the only one who, presumably, had no idea of the jokes made at his expense. If he had, he made no show of it, because he believed himself far too important to worry about what people thought of his legs.

Tickler was all clipped politeness and professionalism, but behind his faux mannerisms, she knew he had never accepted her being there to begin with. He was a born and bred pedant and he refused to swallow the fact that someone as incompetent and low-profile as Darcy could have any kind of influence over people like Erik Selvig and Jane Foster. Her presence there had been someone's absurd whim. He'd been quite pleased with her departure and immediate removal from Loki's presence.

Deep down, he was jealous of her, because he was a naturally unpleasant, self-involved, mean-spirited man whom everyone found contemptible, despite his intellectual prowess and strong work ethics and he was, for this reason, neglected and left aside, only to be acknowledged for his efficiency when protocol required it, whereas this simple girl with too much time on her hands and no proper degree of any kind was greeted kindly everywhere she went just because she cracked a few jokes and brought in a bag of bagels every morning.

It was abysmally unfair.

"Hello to you too, Tic-Rhode. You sound surprised to see me," she said in a casual voice, trying not to seem bothered by the fact that he was blocking her way.

"I am, Miss Lewis. I didn't think I would see you around here anymore. Are you visiting?" Rhode asked indifferently, hoping he wouldn't have to be the one to escort her out. "I'm afraid Miss Foster is out of town."

"I'm not here to see Jane, although she's a terrific lady. I'm here for your main attraction," she replied, eyeing the figures approaching behind him.

Rhode refrained from frowning. He had never found her humour endearing or particularly funny.

"So you are visiting, then?" he concluded, trying to smile. "Visiting Loki? Is that even allowed?"

"No, no...and no," she answered, counting off his questions on her fingers. "I'm here to work."

Rhode's 'I-beg-your-pardon' face was priceless. She enjoyed it quite a bit.

"Come again?" he blurted out.

"I guess they couldn't do without me anymore. It happens all the time. My entire pop-sociology class went haywire in my absence."

Rhode couldn't help the frowning any more. She had such an irritating way of beating around the bush before she made her point.

"I'm afraid you were severely misinformed, Miss Lewis. I am the one in charge of Laufeyson now. And unless you have managed to attain the necessary skills and qualifications over night-"

"You are in charge of Loki now?" she interrupted him amused. "You mean he's changed two different guys in three weeks? You must've really pissed him off."

Rhode, who was growing increasingly impatient, turned away from her in order not to give her the satisfaction of having gotten to him.

It was at this moment that the guards stopped in front of him. They were holding Loki by the arms even though the human-god was handcuffed with a particularly painful looking device. One of the guards coughed awkwardly.

Rhode was evidently pleased upon seeing what Darcy called 'the main attraction'. It reassured him that the girl was only making up stories to account for the fact that she was there, but that he still had authority over her.

"Oh, right. I'd nearly forgotten. Was the walk satisfactory then?" he asked the human-god, smiling stupidly, doing his best to ignore Darcy completely.

Loki raised an eyebrow and grimaced in contempt. He never deigned to speak with this man unless there was an emergency and he wouldn't start now.

"Good then, I think we should return promptly. Shall we?" he asked, not waiting for the answer that would not come.

Darcy meanwhile had stopped taking notice of Rhode and was staring at Loki intently. She wanted to take this chance and inspect him thoroughly, to see what had changed and what had not and make the necessary mental observations on what she was supposed to say.

His hair had grown a bit longer, he was more tautly built and his usual pallor was tainted with a soft pink hue and two large blue veins bulging out of his forehead. His mutation had been accelerated due to the forced intravenous feeding. He certainly looked healthier and the black circles under his eyes were smaller, but there was still that soft tremor in his limbs and the feebleness of a man who was ill and whose body was fighting its cure. An element of stubbornness had remained written plainly across his face, but unlike the kind she had witnessed two months ago, this obstinacy was harbouring a different sort of conflict; he seemed to have acknowledged the fact that he was now considerably human, but he needed to give himself the illusion that he could still oppose it somehow, that at one point the tables would turn and someone from above would restore him. As if this were as transitory and meaningless a stage as Thor's when he had been stripped of his powers. And since he believed himself to be far more capable than his brother, magic-wise, he also believed that he would regain control of himself soon. His way of reasoning was something along the lines: Yes, I might be human now, but not for long. I will be god again soon and this state will be remembered only as another strange experiment in the string of many I have survived in the past.

When Loki's electrical eye turned towards hers as if to attest her thoughts, she quickly looked away, worried that he might see how insecure and unready she was in that moment. She was not being shy or awkward, she rarely exhibited such emotions, even in the company of strangers, but she felt that by looking him in the eye now she would, in a way, confirm the new-found power she had over him. He was indirectly indebted to her for having come and the fact that the ball was in her court terrified her. What had seemed easy a few minutes ago when they had first seen each other in the green house from afar was now rendered impossible face to face.

Mistaking her reluctance for something completely different Loki lowered his forehead and his expression turned in on itself, as if he'd just swallowed his own humiliation and it tasted bitter.

Rhode had taken notice of this small uneasy exchange, or rather non-exchange, between the two and he was staring at them in disconcertment. Part of him felt pleasure in knowing that, unlike everyone else there, Loki did not look kindly on Darcy, nor was he endeared by her dysfunctional behaviour. The human-god would surely not talk to her either, he comforted himself.

But at the same time, he was startled by this spurious communication that was taking place between them, expressed only through looks. He hadn't seen these emotions on Loki's face before; shame, humiliation, hurt pride, insecurity. Or at least he thought he hadn't.

In reality, Loki was constantly tormented by these feelings, particularly shame. But they only managed to come out when someone incited them to an externalization. It didn't have to be Darcy, but circumstances had made it that she, among few, could enable certain associations in his mind, relating to this new and overbearing humanity.

Darcy herself felt the sudden urge to get away or shrink into herself. Confronted with this reality head-on, she had the impulse to retreat. She didn't want to fight Rhode, after all. He was right. She didn't have any skills or qualifications. What did they even hope to achieve by letting her stay? But she had thought of this before. It would be redundant to go over the arguments again. Erik had made it clear she would have to catch up in a big way. He'd also made it clear that it hadn't been his call or SHIELD's. But then, it was back to square one; Loki had made the call and he was going to resent her for it and she could do nothing to prevent it.

Ironically, it was Rhode who solved their predicament.

His loud and unexpected expletive made them both start.

"Goddamn it! I have to find this out in a text message? Will no one have the decency to tell me before they go ahead and change everything? Of course, Rhode is always the last to know! They take me for an idiot!" he burst out in vexation staring down at his cell phone.

Darcy almost jumped out of her skin. The Tickler had a nasty temper.

"What happened?" she asked, trying to play dumb which only annoyed him more.

"Oh, you can save it, Lewis! Why didn't you tell me outright?"

"I was going to, but I didn't mean to –"

"You were going to, were you? Before or after I'd already humiliated myself?" he shrieked, unhinged.

"I'm so-"

"Here!" he snapped, pushing the files he'd been carrying into her arms. "Knock yourself out. Clearly, this branch is headed for disaster and I have better things to do."

With that, he threw one more disdainful look her way and walked out of the green house with a pronounced strut, the same strut that had originated his humorous appellative.

Darcy couldn't believe he had just left her like that and taken off.

"Tickler's off his meds again," she blurted out without thinking. One of the guards started snickering.

Darcy chuckled uneasily and forced herself to look up from the files she was currently flipping through nervously. She was perusing them in vain; she couldn't even read the titles.

"I – we (staring at Loki's forehead) – we should just go, unless you would like to spend some more time here," she said clumsily. "In the green house."

Loki shook his head.

"Good choice!" she exclaimed, more cheerily than intended, "this place bums me out. Let's just take you to your room."

The guards followed her obediently down the corridor while she fished through her bag for the entrance badges she had stuffed inside. They were a comical sight seen from afar; a pair of stiff men in dark suits, carrying a tall, black-haired, straight-faced prisoner, being led by a scrawny, dishevelled-looking young girl with a blue iPod sticking out of her left pocket and vintage sunglasses perched on top of her head.

"It's really counter-productive when they give you five keys for every quarter," she commented to no one in particular. "I tend to misplace them."

She could feel Loki's stare on her back. Everyone was being so silent. There was only the dull sound of footsteps and the occasional zipper.

"So when do you guys get off?" she asked casually, giving two of the badges to hold to one of the guards.

They stared at her nonplussed. Then they shared a look.

Darcy put one of the badges around her neck and shoved another one in her back pocket.

"It must be the best part of your day."

When they just kept staring in confusion, she realized she hadn't quite clarified her previous statement.

"Work, when you get off work, that's what I meant," she quickly stated, taking the badges from their hands, blushing furiously.

"We can't answer that," one of them told her after a pause.

"Okay, I was just curious – but you enjoy working here?" she pressed on, fighting the silence that was threatening to submerge them again.

"Not really relevant," the same man answered.

"It must be at least a little bit relevant to you, though. Did you sign up or were you transferred from somewhere? Or was it a promotion?"

This time no one answered. She still refused to look in Loki's direction and it was becoming obvious.

"I'm thinking it was a transfer. It's the likeliest. You're probably some of the best in your field. I hear they don't bother with the rest – well, except me, I'm the special case. But there has to be at least one weak link in every powerful system, it's a universal law..." she trailed off, feeling stupid.

Thankfully, they had reached Loki's cell and she wouldn't have to resort to any more small talk.

The doors slid shut behind her and it gave her the impression that a curtain had been drawn on the world. They were perched up high on an empty stage, surrounded by darkness. Once again alone in another impersonal cell room, almost as stark as the one he had occupied before.

She darted towards the table where she dumped her messenger bag with a thump and started unloading all of her objects on the table, almost as if she were trying to find something to do to delay the inevitable confrontation.

She took out notebooks and pencils and ballpoint pens and an agenda, two cell phones, one given by SHIELD, another, her own, that had no reception down there and a small packet of gum.

The notebooks she placed in a neat pile, after which she started sorting the ballpoint pens after colour and length. Then she added the pencils on top of them. She straightened them until the writing utensils were perfectly parallel. Then she moved on to her agenda.

During this transparent attempt at procrastination, she built an entire fort around her seat, without noticing that Loki was watching her with the foulest glare he could muster.

It wasn't enough that she had humiliated him but minutes ago, she had to create the illusion that she was occupied just so she could avoid him. He could not stand this brand of false humility. Was she pretending to be nervous or did she really just want to run out of that room?

Maybe she did want to leave.

Because maybe in the hours spent alone she had realized how miserable she had really been. How she had never been able to match him. How she had embarrassed herself pointlessly by admitting to made-up feelings. Maybe she had come to terms with the fact that she had only said she cared to detach herself from the others who mistreated him.

Still, he knew she was as unaware as the next person. She probably believed she cared very much, she probably reasoned with herself all the time that her behaviour was valid, that she was being honest with herself. In fact, he was certain she had those views. You build your personal demagogy and you stick with it until it becomes a reality.

He had been struck with her confession at the time, not because it was uncommon to him, but because it came up so irrationally and inconsequently.

He knew the pattern; in most cases, people cared about others because they cared about themselves. There was only a small part that ever cared even though it was not to their advantage.

He had been momentarily at a loss because he had not known for a certainty in which category to place her. Because the entire issue had been about him and he had always been ill-equipped in matters of his own person. And this uncertainty had brought on a stream of thoughts that he could not comprehend and make clear, regarding this second category, the one that managed to steer clear of his logic.

He was still dangling Darcy in the air somewhere between the first and the second category and the only reason he wasn't placing her in the first was because the people in the second category were most definitely insane and Darcy herself was not particularly well.

She was not quite insane yet, but she would get there. Insanity to him was not the impossibility to be rational, but rather, the refusal to be rational. The reasons for this refusal were varied; pride, pleasure, illusion, delusion, romanticism, idealism, narcissism. The list went on. He surmised Darcy would probably refuse rationality out of pleasure. It tickled her fancy to be abused, she was partial to being shamed and taken advantage of. She was attracted to people she shouldn't be attracted to. That sort of thing.

But, on the other hand, a lot of people, especially those in their youth, reacted this way for an undetermined period of time. And then they stopped once they were confronted with their natural interest. They would at length control their own behaviour when they realized that it was not really helping them, that this self-inflicted flagellation was not bringing them that personal satisfaction or acknowledgement they were seeking. Eventually, they grew tired of it. Eventually, they stopped believing their own lies, because it was counter-effective. Eventually, they admitted the truth. But they did not think much about it. They moved on. Eventually, she would admit the truth. Eventually, she would move on. That would place her in the first category.

And yet, she had come. And she seemed nervous and unhappy. She did not want to be there. But there was also a twisted sort of anticipation. He had seen it in her eyes when he had looked down at her from above. There had been an unmistakable glint of something new.

So then, was she lying to herself or was she verging on masochism?

He sighed to himself. This is what he had been reduced to. Analyzing some twenty-something-year old. He could just coax it out of her instead, couldn't he?

But what then? He'd chase her away again only to call her back?

He was certain she had no idea why he had called her back. She probably thought it was some weakness of his, some indefinable affinity he had for her. It probably scared and pleased her at the same time, he thought, rolling his eyes. It must be some thrill for her to imagine that he would want something from her.

But then she was acting so shy and nervous, as if someone would come and ask her to leave any moment, as if she couldn't wait to burst out that door herself. And there was worry etched on her face, the kind that kept people up at night, tormenting them with some meaningless earthly dilemma they could not surpass. There was something eating away at her core.

He sighed once more. Darcy Lewis was still midair, condemned to remain somewhere in between until she stopped whatever fantasy she was playing and fell into place. (first or second category?)

Darcy meanwhile, was writing aimlessly in her agenda.

How to approach him. How to approach him. How to approach him.

This is so stupid. It's nothing. It's only been three weeks. You're stupid.

Stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid stupid.

You'll never get a real job. Forget adulthood.

You're sad. Really sad. Just tell him already. Just tell him you know he knows. Tell him it's not what he thinks. Tell him you know the reasons. Tell him. Tell him. Come oooon! Lift your head. Come on.

Darcy, stop writing. Dude, stop writing. Stop it. Stop. Raise your head.

She threw the agenda aside and lunged for one of the cell phones, but in her haste it slipped off the table and landed on the floor with a click.

"Ouch," she muttered to herself, keeping her eyes on the white tiles even though she felt another pair glued to her figure.

She scrambled down to get the phone.

And then she stopped.

She stopped moving and waited there, crouched under the table.

Sure, it was the most idiotic thing she had done in her life. And she was being nothing short of a complete moron. But as a kid, hiding under the table had been a solid plan. And she was still that kid.

She didn't care who saw her. Or judged her. She had the right to...get away.

The cameras couldn't see the look on her face, at least.

Okay, I will sit here for another minute and they will fire me.

Loki, at first, assumed she had hurt herself or had become ill and he was almost going to rise from his bed to check, but he then noticed she was moving. But she was not getting up. She was just standing there.

He stared in disbelief.

Was she seriously hiding under the table? There was no way a human being could do something so ridiculous, so absurd, so plain stupid.

They might have been the inferior race, but they would have to be the most spineless creatures in the universe to resort to such behaviour.

There was no doubt about it; there was not a shred of pride or dignity left in her.

Loki was at a loss for words.

He tried in vain to come up with something to say.

There was nothing in this world or the other that could explain or excuse this...girl.

Maybe she really was insane.

The phone that Darcy was currently holding under the table started ringing. She almost jumped. It was her personal phone. She was so surprised to see that it could get incoming calls that she dropped it and it slipped on the floor further away from her.

She would have to leave her hideout to retrieve it.

She wasn't quite sure about that, though.

Unfortunately, the ringtone she had forgotten to change burst out of the tiny phone.

Sittin' here eatin' my heart out waitin'
Waitin' for some lover to call

Oh, no.

Dialed about a thousand numbers lately
Almost rang the phone off the wall

No, no, no, no, no.

Lookin' for some hot stuff baby this evenin'
I need some hot stuff baby tonight
I want some hot stuff baby this evenin'
Gotta have some hot stuff
Gotta have some lovin' tonight

Darcy shut her eyes in mortification. Donna Summer's disco beats had never been less welcome.

Loki opened his mouth in shock. He had never heard this kind of music before. It was not a very smooth introduction to disco.

And when he heard the lyrics he wasn't quite sure what to think anymore. Was this a love song? No. It was too brash and no one spoke in innuendos about love. Was humans singing about intercourse the norm? Was this considered art? And did women belt out their desires in song as if it were the most natural thing to do?

It was so strange. But that beat was...oddly invigorating. It had an eerily alluring cadence.

Then it dawned on him that he was listening to this absurdity while Darcy was hiding under the table, unable to reach the phone that was making these noises, and he was being held captive in one of Earth's most state-of-the-art facilities.

Loki reckoned that not even Nifleheim could conjure such a monstrously ridiculous punishment.

And then something peculiar happened. There was a gurgling in his stomach. It travelled to his throat.

Unawares, he started chuckling softly, until it turned into actual laughter.

It was short-lived and quiet, but it was genuine.

Loki had laughed.

Darcy thought at first that she was hearing things. But when his laughter became audible, she was not only taken aback, but partially relieved to know he was not as angry and malcontent as she had suspected.

That gave her the courage to move forward and grab her phone.

She quickly put an end to Hot Stuff and came out of her hiding.

"How in the world –" he started when he saw her shamefully immerge from underneath.

"No!" she interrupted him, lifting a finger. "No, I need to tell you some things before you start judging me. I need to tell you why I came."

But as she saw Loki's face, on which the remnants of laughter were still visible, she burst into laughter herself.

It started with a snigger. She placed a hand over her mouth to stop it, but it came out of her just as it had come out of Loki.

They were both laughing (she almost hysterically) at the madness, the sheer madness of putting them, two people so utterly different, in the same room.

What deranged mind had concocted such a possibility, that she and he should ever be placed in each other's proximity?

Loki had stopped laughing a long time ago, but Darcy was still going at it, slightly unhinged.

She sat down and buried her face in her hands.

He could see her shoulders shaking from laughter from time to time. She settled down, eventually.

"Erik told me I have to read up on you until my head drops," she muttered, keeping her face hidden.

"I guess they're thinking I'll catch up in no time. SHIELD's super-standards will rub off on me somehow," she continued, resting her chin in her hand.

Loki was once again in a situation where he had no actual response.

"Do you resent me?" she asked, finally braving his eyes. She didn't wait for him to answer.

"I know. I know you think I think you called me here because you prefer my company. But I know that's bullshit. I mean I know it's mostly habit, I would never delude myself into thinking otherwise. Not that delusion implies that I, erm, that I'd like it to be a personal preference. And I know you only asked for me because those other guys were giving you a hard time, what with being assholes and such. I mean Tickler's bad mood is contagious. He's the worst. But maybe I'm the worst too. Hell, I'm no better than him. But I know I'm still more bearable, so I can see why you'd rather put up with me. So I want you to know you shouldn't resent me, because there is no possible universe where I would have the upperhand...well, except maybe in the Doctor Who one, because I would most definitely be River Song. But in any other circumstances, I don't have any sort of leverage. I get that you would rather I sat here and talked random crap rather than have the world's smuggest bastards talk sense into you. Or trying to, anyway, cuz I bet they got nowhere."

She exhaled loudly.

That had been quite the monologue. But at least she had gotten it out.

For one, she knew Loki hadn't expected her to guess his thinking pattern, because she saw the fleeting look of surprise that crossed his face. Then again, he might have just been confused about the name River Song.

Loki had indeed been wrong in his assumption that she would romanticize the entire ordeal, but he had been right at the same time, even though he did not know it.

Deep down, there was a part of Darcy that was hoping against her will, her judgement, her dignity, her intellect and everything that came with, that he would at least find a way to partially contradict her. To let her know he did prefer her company.

She knew that part of her had to stay buried, if not entirely entombed.

Loki cast his eyes downward, wondering if she really meant what she had said. What if she still expected something of him? What if she didn't really believe that was the only reason?

She had been right; he had only asked for her because everyone else was (seemed) worse. The agents he had had to listen to were two uncomplicated drones that had mastered a very weak strategy of handling a "prisoner", saying only what they were supposed to say and nothing else, trying to inspire an air of mystery and knowledge that they did not possess, giving the illusion that they were aiming towards a higher purpose, a purpose that Loki would not be able to understand as he was only one man in the larger-than-life web of SHIELD's oeuvre.

Just as Darcy had predicted, they had tried to school him into the ways of Earth as well as extract information about Asgard and his magic, the former being their arrogant way of assuming he was an uncivilized neanderthal and the latter, their concession that his knowledge could be a benefit to SHIELD. Their own obedient demigod. It had a ring to it.

Not only were they boring and uninteresting, but they were also bent on "figuring him out". That is what drove them the most. Trying to prove that the so-called puzzle that was the former God of Mischief was nothing more than an above-average intelligence, a psychological construct that could be made to collapse at any moment. And that they could easily assert their power over him.


At least Darcy wanted to "solve" him for herself and herself only. She might have been selfish, but she was far more well-intentioned; even if she wanted to be the one to untangle the thread of the dark, mysterious, brooding human-god, she was far more innocent than those barbarians who were delving into his mind only to please SHIELD's ego.

He did not worry about Darcy becoming like them; she was as inefficient and as unpredictable as a child.

Even so, what if she was bluffing? What if she had said these things only to make sure he wouldn't suspect that she actually thought there was more to it?

He frowned. Why did he even care if she did think more of it? What was this pressing concern about? That she might think he had asked for her because...? Why would he worry about that? He should not be bothered if she had made up her own scenario.

It was her own undoing, not his. Hadn't he for centuries watched people trying to emulate the gods, creating realities, forcing them into their minds, trapping themselves into unsustainable dreams? Many times, his job was done for him. Humans did not need tricking. You just had to watch them do it themselves.

They could not bear not being tricked.

And reason? Reason was just another trick. Far more subtle, but just as effective. The true and pure reasoning lay with the gods.

So maybe the second category was right to refuse it. Maybe Darcy was right.

If she really wanted to believe nonsense, why not let her?

"Oh yeah and I'm not just saying that," she added as an after-thought. "I really mean it. Really. I don't want you to think that deep down I'm secretly jumping up and down giddily because I've got a human-god under my thumb. That...was a stupid image, but you get the picture. I don't want you to think that I'm just telling you what you want to hear. You know that's not my forté."

And I'm not one of those girls, she told herself. I'm not. I...

Loki rubbed his face tiredly. How had she read his mind again? Was he becoming so transparent? So easy to read?

Well, no, it was a normal reaction, wasn't it? To doubt someone's intentions. She knew how suspicious he was.

But then, if she was telling him that she was not romanticizing it, that she was aware of the conditions inherent to their situation, then did she belong in the first category after all?

Was she really trying to detach herself or was she actually telling him what he wanted to hear?

What he wanted to hear was that...What he wanted to hear...

What he wanted...

He had no idea.

He was stupefied, but he had no idea. He had no idea what he wanted her to feel, or how he wanted her to react.

The idea hadn't occurred to him.

No, he told himself, I don't want anything from her. She may believe whatever makes her sleep at night.

But how could Darcy, this Darcy, ever really be detached?

He shook his head. Of course she was lying. Of course she was romanticizing.

"So... what were you going to say?" she asked nervously, snapping him from his trance.

"What?" Loki asked, slightly dazed.

"Before. You started asking me something..."

"Oh, that. I was going to ask you how in the world you could listen to that," he replied, staring at her cell phone.

Darcy blinked.

"Oh. You meant – oh, you were talking about the song," she mumbled, feeling stupid.

"Yes. It was not exactly subtle."

"That's Donna Summer for you. She's a lovely lady though."

"She sings...that?"

"Yeah, pretty much. I occasionally dance on it when I'm alone. And no one can see me. Do you...do you like-"

"No," he interrupted quickly.

There was a heavy pause.

"Okay, this is pretty awkward. Maybe I shouldn't have said all of that. Maybe now you'll resent me for real."

Loki rolled his eyes.

"I imagined you would start off with apologies and excuses. You've got no backbone. You cannot even handle the idea of having power. I shouldn't have expected anything else from someone who thinks I still resent her," he replied, emphasizing on the word "resent" as if it was childish of her to think that of him. He was lying, of course, but that meant he was becoming more relaxed since he had established dominance over her again.

"Well, I kinda thought you might hold it against me, since...hang on, you would actually want me to have power over you? Like in a dominant/submissive type of thing? That's...that's pretty creepy, dude. Like totally messed up."

Loki rolled his eyes in disdain.

"Who would ever submit to the likes of you?" Loki asked, bemused, clearly not understanding the concept of a dominant/submissive relationship. "Hypotheses need to have some grounds in reality. And since you would never be able to have or exert that power, there is no point discussing it."

"Wait a minute, that doesn't make sense –"

"Are you just going to have an argument with yourself or are you going to make yourself useful?" he asked, growing tired of the subject.

"Neither. I'm having an argument with you. You can't just ignore the fact that you said you want –"

"First of all, I said nothing of the like, you just put words in my mouth -"

"I was reading between the lines," Darcy argued innocently.

"And that is what you came up with? Remind me never to try any more complex ideas with you in the future. You might surpass yourself and arrive at even greater idiocy."

"Deflect all you want, but I know what you said."

"Oh, good, we're back to that. It's like you were never gone."

Darcy tilted her head back pensively.

"Well, who knows? Maybe they put you to sleep a really long time and you just dreamt that I had left," she told him in what was meant to be a conspiratory voice.

"Fascinating. Can I take my word back and send you out of here?"

She almost smiled.

"They've already wasted five badges on my face, so unlikely."

"I wonder if there's something you can't make a joke about," Loki muttered to himself.

"Abortion and suicide. And...maybe Pee-Wee Herman. He was my hero growing up," Darcy replied promptly.

Loki grimaced. "Do I even want to know?"

Darcy smiled fully this time.

"No. It's probably best that you don't."