"Darcy," Loki began for the hundredth time.
"Loki," she replied belligerently, grinning as she held her fingers out over her head as if guiding something on an invisible set of strings.
"I thought I was teaching you to change the size of things."
"So why are you making shadow puppets with my hair?"
She shrugged. The wolf-shadow on the wall shrugged. "Because it's funny."
Loki gave her a look of thinly veiled skepticism, crossing his arms. "Darcy, when you think something is funny, you start giggling like a maniac."
Darcy sighed, and Loki's hair fell back against his head once more, albeit in disarray. "Okay, I'm having trouble changing things," she admitted. She scowled. "Maybe I'd have an easier time making the stupid apple smaller if you'd stop distracting me."
"How am I distracting you?" Loki protested, frowning. "I'm just standing here, giving you instructions on how to perform the spells properly."
"Exactly. You're in the same room as me. You're speaking." Darcy gestured agitatedly at him, as if telling him to take a look at himself. "Distraction," she said lamely.
"Oh, I see," Loki said, his face breaking into a smile. "Would it be easier if I looked different?" He shifted into his frost giant shape, the impish grin never fading from his lips. Darcy put her hands on her hips impatiently. "No?" He shifted back into himself. "Well," he said quietly, raising an eyebrow as he stepped closer to her. "What if," he murmured in a low voice, staring into her eyes with mesmerizing intensity, "I spoke a little differently?" Darcy gazed back at him, leaning in towards his face, closing her eyes…
She pushed him away, shaking her head. "You are such a cheater," she laughed.
"I cheated? You pretended like you were going to kiss me and then pulled away. Besides," he said, "when did shamelessly flirting become a game?"
"When I started keeping score," Darcy said absently, turning her attention to the apple once again. She squinted ferociously at it and furrowed her brow, as if by making her facial features as tiny as possible she might enhance her magical abilities. Loki noticed with some amusement that the tip of her tongue poked out slightly at the corner of her mouth.
"And where exactly does that stand at the moment?" he asked, leaning casually against the table Darcy was staring at.
"Loki: 7," she muttered. "Darcy: 1."
Loki frowned. "Odd. I thought you mortals counted the same way we do. Because I can think of at least three times that you've—"
"Oh." Loki raised his eyebrows, surprised. "Seven? Am I really that bad?"
"Worse," she said. She groaned and let her shoulders go limp. She rubbed her temples blearily. "This isn't working. I can't do magic."
"Yes, you can," he said firmly. "I've seen you do it. And I know that you did quite a bit of magic during the battle. Animation spells are no small feat. I couldn't get the hang of them until I was ten."
"Thanks. That's comforting," Darcy said with a glare.
"It should be, actually," he said mildly, pushing himself off the table gracefully to stand beside her. "Most mortals can't do magic at all, Midgardians in particular. A handful of demigods or descendants of gods have had extraordinary talent that likely stems from their ancestry—Shakespeare, Napoleon, Einstein, Fitzgerald, Hendrix, Williams, Rowling—but the last half-decent human sorcerer from your realm was Merlin, centuries ago. The fact that you can do any magic at all is quite extraordinary." He hesitated. "Now that I consider the matter, it's really quite a coincidence that my brother happened to land so close to you, that I should happen to encounter a mortal with so much magical potential."
Darcy sighed. "Or there could be a lot of humans with that kind of power, and they just haven't exercised it because nobody believes in magic."
"Perhaps," Loki murmured, but he wasn't paying attention to her anymore. He was too busy spinning ideas. Perhaps the Bifrost was attracted towards her because of her magic, as if it sought out that sort of energy in order to act as a bridge between two magical points…or maybe she's not completely mortal after all. She could be descended from a demigod. His thoughts were interrupted by a loud crunching sound. He spun around, half-expecting Darcy to have broken her leg or somehow injured herself.
She had taken a bite out of the apple. Loki uncrossed his arms exasperatedly as she took another bite from the fruit, her feet dangling from the edge of the table and swinging playfully. "I figured out a way to make the apple smaller," she said unnecessarily.
"Very clever," Loki said, rolling his eyes. Actually, it was clever. He had never specifically said that she had to use magic to make the apple smaller, or that it had to maintain its original shape. He sighed. "Well, that rather puts a damper on the rest of the lesson," he said resignedly, "seeing as regenerative magic is much more complex, and uses up more energy than you can safely afford as a mortal."
"It's past sunset," Darcy pointed out. "Why don't we take a break for dinner? You can try to teach me something simple once we're finished."
Loki frowned. "More practice? You've been working on magic all day. For that matter…" He peered at her. "What have you done this week besides magic?"
"Uh…" Darcy bit her lip. "Eat?" she said weakly. "And sleep?"
He shook his head. "I thought so. Take a break, Darcy. That might be why you're having so much trouble with this particular spell: you're over-thinking it, because you're so focused on not making mistakes." He leaned on the table so that Darcy sat between his arms. "Why do you want to learn so much magic so quickly?" he asked. "You have all the time in the world."
"There's not much else to do here. It's been dull for months since the battle."
"Then why not go back to Midgard?" Loki pressed on. Darcy looked down, refusing to meet his eyes. "What about your family? Your friends? Your work?"
"I don't miss them," she said so quietly that Loki could barely hear her.
He placed his hand on her cheek. His thumb traced the contour of her cheekbone lightly. "It makes you sad to think about them," he said. "But you don't miss them." It wasn't a question. It was a statement.
"No. I don't," Darcy muttered. "I love them, but…" She scowled, suddenly agitated. "I'm a terrible person." She pushed through Loki's arms easily; he offered no resistance.
"Darcy, you're talking to a man who tried to kill an entire race. I think any crimes of yours are somewhat miniscule by comparison."
"I should miss them," Darcy said, her voice higher than usual. "I should want to go back to them, to my work, but I don't. I don't miss any of it. I didn't fit in there. My parents hated me because I was a crazy, treacherous liberal who had been brainwashed by the Commies. At school, I was always the freaky activist chick who hung out with the theater kids and newspaper staff because they wouldn't make fun of me for being a weirdo or a lesbian." She hesitated. "I'm…I'm not, by the way," she added awkwardly. "They just said that because I was all scary feminist and whatever. Just in case you thought—"
"Men don't like women who reject them so they write them off as Sapphic," Loki said flatly. "I think Sif beat up a total of eight men before that particular rumor died out. Continue."
"I took Political Science because I wanted to be a lawyer someday," she said wistfully. "I wanted my job to be interesting and exciting enough to make up for the fact that I'm a hyperactive loser with zero social skills." She sighed. "I should want to go back. I'm being a total housewife by giving it all up for a man. I used to puke at girls who did that." She closed her eyes. "But sometimes I really think that I don't give a damn, because I'm happy here. I like being with you, I like being with Jane, I like having friends. But I can't just hang around her forever and do nothing. I've got to do something. So I figure…I might as well learn some magic."
Loki raised an eyebrow and smiled slightly. "You want to stay in Asgard with your friends and family-like figures, because you didn't like your life on Earth, and you're learning magic because you want to do something useful here…and that makes you a terrible person?"
Darcy smiled in spite of herself. "Well, that," she said sarcastically, "plus I like to drown sacks of puppies and eat babies in my spare time." Loki wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed the top of her head. Darcy leaned back into his chest, laughing. "I'm sorry, I don't know why I got all emo all of a sudden."
"Misplaced guilt," he suggested, swaying her side to side absently. "You're not used to being happy. You're wondering what you did to deserve something good. If you did anything at all."
"Why am I getting the feeling you're not talking about me anymore?"
Loki didn't answer that. He grasped Darcy's hand and spun her around smoothly, almost as if they were dancing. He noticed that her hair was mussed by the turn and tucked one of the loose strands behind her ear. "No more magic today," he said. "It's no use wearing yourself out trying to do magic. You'll only make it harder each passing day you don't rest."
Darcy nodded. "I'll see if Sif or one of the Warriors wants to go out riding for a bit after dinner," she said, visibly making an effort to cheer up.
Loki forced his smile to remain plastered on his face to mask the thoughts that were flitting through his mind as he watched Darcy leave. He had other ideas about what they could do after dinner. But he silenced them sharply, feeling slightly angry with himself for thinking such things when Darcy was so clearly conflicted about what she should choose to do with the rest of her life. He suppressed a heavy sigh. Maybe he would join Darcy and the Warriors for a horseback ride. Or maybe he would just take a very long walk to sort out his muddied thoughts.