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Loki was still sitting on the roof that evening as the sun sank into the horizon, painting the sky an almost absurdly beautiful assortment of colors. The mortals who lived here most certainly did not appreciate the beauty of their world enough, though he supposed the same could be said of those in Asgard. When you see the same things all your life, no matter how miraculous, you tend to think of them as normal rather than extraordinary. It was a pity to find such a similiarity between the races.

Focusing his senses down into the building, he caught the emotions of those inside and decided that staying away from everyone was definitely better for all involved. There was a lightness to their psyches when they could momentarily forget his presence. Including Thor. Right now, his brother was laughing at something Jane had said, feeling profound peace at the touch of her hand and joy in the blush upon her cheeks. Apparently all was well between them, and despite feeling left out and a bit jealous of his brother's happiness, Loki was honestly glad everything had worked out.

"Just like it always does." Loki wasn't sure where the thought had come from, or why he'd said it out loud, but it didn't stop him from noticing her this time. Darcy was opening the door to the roof just as he spoke, and she looked over at him, confusion wiping a bit of the fear off her face. He looked down at his boots, to put her at ease and, truthfully, to hide his embarrassment at getting caught talking to himself. On Asgard people knew it to be a habit of his and thought nothing of it, only to beware in case he was casting a spell. Here though, he knew that people who talked to themselves were often considered mad, and he didn't really want to be reinforcing that particular perception, however true it might be.

Darcy walked over to him, her steps fumbled and cautious as drew near, her fear coming to the forefront again upon closing the distance between them. She stopped a few feet from him, closer than he thought she'd get. He didn't look up at her, just waited for her to speak, though why she was here again he couldn't fathom. It was obvious she was scared of him, so why come to him again?

"I brought you some dinner." Her words were rushed as though she'd had to force them past her teeth, but they were enough to bring his head up, shocked to see the steaming plate she held. She had brought him dinner? Was this more of her gratitude? It seemed a kindness he did not warrent, especially from her.

He made no move to take the plate from her, wary of her jumpiness and not really wanting hot food thrown in his face if he startled her. He tried to affect a gentle disposition and opened his hands, moving slowly, then sat still. He watched her watch him and took no offense to the suspicion in her eyes, even though he didn't like it. He couldn't figure out why he wanted this simple mortal girl to like him, but he did. Well. Not like him, really, just be comfortable around him. Like she was around Thor. Since meeting her, Loki had combed his memories of Thor's banishment, and though he hadn't been paying any particular attention to Darcy, he remembered her being very open and friendly with his brother, making jokes and asking him questions almost incessantly. It had annoyed him at the time, to think that Thor had made friends so quickly and easily, that he'd found people to take him in and help him during his banishment. It had fed his jealousy then, and still did. He couldn't stop himself from envying his brother's way with people and how at odds it seemed with Thor's war-loving nature. He could piss off the mightiest of enemies when he wanted to fight, and could still make friends when he was feeling jovial. And not just casual friends, but friends who were loyal to the death. Thor could even inspire that same loyalty in Loki, had always been able to. He'd almost succeeded in talking Loki down in New York, just by asking him to fight at his side. Loki had been sorely tempted and it had taken every bit of his insanity to keep him from it.

Finally, Darcy inched closer and stretched her arm as far as it would go, leaning her face and body back from him, as though she expected him to attack her and she was only willing to risk one arm. He deserved it, he knew, but couldn't stop the tired sigh that escaped. Slowly reaching out, he took the plate from her, almost spilling it because she let go and snapped her hand back so quickly. He settled in to eat when she spoke.

"Damn, I forgot to bring you a fork." He manifested one in his hand and started eating, the strange Midgardian food surprisingly delicious and satisfying. Though he expected her to leave, Darcy stayed and watched him all the while. Something about the experience must have reassured her, because he was only half finished when she started speaking again.

"You have really nice table manners." Gratitude and a compliment? How surprising, although considering this girl had surprised him more than once in their short acquaintence, he supposed he should be getting used to it. "Of course, you're not really at a table, but then again I guess that makes it even more impressive. Having table manners without a table."

Loki spared her a glance at her outburst and noticed that she had come even closer, tilting her head to the side and studying him. The fear had been overtaken again, although this time by genuine curiosity. He found he rather liked it on her face.

"Would you care to sit down?" He didn't look at her when he said it, as though her answer was of no consequence one way or the other, and he told himself that it wasn't, even as his heart lifted in hope. Darcy seemed taken back, and he cursed himself a fool for pushing. Then she surprised him again. She sat down next to him, not touching but certainly close enough to, and he wondered if she wasn't the one who was mad, leaving herself this vulnerable next to him. But this was what he wanted, her to feel comfortable, to be with him. Well. Not be with him, he corrected himself again, but be around him. His body wanted to shift uncomfortably at the thought, but he stopped himself. He didn't want to scare her.

"So why have you been up here all day? And why were you talking to yourself?" Apparently sitting next to him opened up the door to asking questions. "Why are you guys back here anyway? Shouldn't you be back on Asgard?"

Loki wondered which question she wanted answered first, or if she even remembered all the ones she'd asked. "Thor and I are here to help defend the Earth from another probable attack. Odin sent us."

"Oh. So why are you up here?"

Looks like she did remember. "It seems as though everyone is more comfortable that way." He noticed she didn't argue.

"And you were talking to yourself because?"

"I should think that would be obvious." Darcy's face was extremely expressive and he saw the exact moment his words hit home.

There was no one else to talk to.

Her face crumpled into what could be called grudging sympathy and he had to look away. He didn't want her to pity him, and the flare of anger at her was hard to beat down. He breathed deeply for a moment then set his plate down and stood, walking away from her. He braced his hands on the concrete lip of the building, bending at the waist a bit to manage it but the anger had hit him so quick and so hard, he needed to hold onto something to keep it at bay. There was a blinding fury in his eyes and a deafening roar in his ears as he wrestled with his emotions, desperately trying to get them back under his control. By the time he'd calmed down, he assumed Darcy had left, her fear returned and multiplied. But yet again, she surprised him. She had stayed, watching him battle himself, and was now standing at his side, cautiously reaching out a hand and placing it on his arm. Loki remained still, head hanging off his slumped shoulders, that glimmer of hope flaring again in his chest. He looked down at her hand, her delicate feminine hand with oddly colored fingernails, resting lightly on his leather vambrace. Steeling himself, he met her eyes. She looked back at him with a sorrow so deep it took his breath away, and yet there was no pity, only an understanding that he couldn't begin to guess at.

"Why are you here?" Loki felt a need to know this woman, this mortal whose gaze was suddenly ancient and fathomless as Yggdrasil itself.

"It seems as though everyone is more comfortable that way." She quoted his answer from before. Why was she an outcast? Weren't these people her friends? The questions were on his face and he knew that she saw them by her deep sigh and a tightening of her fingers on his arm.

"When you found me last night. I was upset. Yeah, really, upset." Her words were stunted and he watched her emotions play out on her face. Embarrassment, hurt, anger, sorrow, hopelessness. It was all there for him to witness and she made no attempt to hide it from him.

Then again, he'd already seen it, hadn't he.

"Just before you guys got here, Jane got a call from SHIELD telling her that you, well, that Thor, was coming and that she, Erik, and Thor were going to be moved back to New York to be with the Avengers. They didn't mention you, actually, so maybe they didn't know you were coming, or maybe they did and they didn't want to deal with the drama. I don't know. But when Jane got off the phone, she was so excited to see Thor again and Erik was happy because it was Agent Coulson who called, yeah he's not dead. Fury just let the Avengers think he was so that they'd fight you instead of each other. And they call YOU the God of Lies. Geez, that guy puts you to shame, no offense."

Loki shook his head at her babbling, though he was pleasantly surprised to hear that he hadn't killed Agent Coulson. The man had been brave to face him and Loki had come to regret his death more than any other single act during his madness. And he had to admit, Fury was a man after his own heart to concoct a plan to make a martyr out of Coulson. It had been the solidarity the heroes had needed to turn the tide against the his army.

"So anyway, Jane's excited and Erik's happy and I'm all like, cool back to the States and Stark Tower with its awesomely stocked refridgerators. Cuz Tony Stark, love him or hate him, keeps all the best goodies in his fridges. Then all of a sudden, Jane and Erik are quiet and staring at me like I'd grown another head. And Jane says..."

Darcy trailed off, her voice cracking. "Jane says that I'm not coming with them. That I'm going back to New Mexico to walk the line at graduation and get a real job. As though I don't bust my ass for her and Erik. Like I'm just disposable." Her voice cracked again, and she let out a sob. She slapped a hand over her mouth and squeezed her eyes shut, fighting against her emotions as he had done. Without thinking, Loki covered the hand still on his arm with own. At that, Darcy threw herself against him again, holding tight to his waist, sobbing against his chest, just as before. This time, Loki wrapped his arms around her shaking shoulders, running his hands in soothing circles across her back, hugging her to him. This time, he understood exactly where she was coming from, and he knew that this was a pain that wouldn't go away for a long time.

She clung to him, just as she had before, then raised her head and grabbed the front of his coat with both hands, crushing the leather in tight, white-knuckled fists. "Do you even know what happened after Thor left the first time? After Jane was convinced he wasn't coming back, because something had gone wrong? She became obsessed with finding a way to him. I'm talking, obsessed. Like, crazy obsessed. Then when he did come back to fight you, he didn't even call her or anything, and Erik was hypnotized by your glowing stick thingie and then you and Thor left again. Do you even know what happened?"

Darcy was breathing hard, practically shrieking at him, and he wanted to say something, to apologize for the wrongs he'd done, the harm he'd caused. Honestly, he hadn't cared or even given thought to the collatoral damage of his actions. He wanted to tell her that he'd been crazed, tortured. But he kept his silence because he knew there was nothing he could say to make up for what he'd done, and because he had the strange feeling that her anger wasn't really aimed at him.

"Jane took obsession to a new level." Darcy's voice was quiet now, but no less intense as she continued her story. "She worked day and night, didn't sleep, didn't eat. She said it didn't matter whether Thor loved her or not, she was going to find a way to Asgard for herself, for her research. She lost a lot of weight, and I mean, you've seen her, it's not like she had it to lose. She was even hospitalized once, for exhaustion and dehydration. And Erik. He started to drink, like all the time. Whatever you did to him, he couldn't get it out of his head. He would have these nightmares, wake up screaming and wimpering, covered in sweat and piss. He felt responsible for helping you, said that the dead spoke to him, blamed him for everything."

Darcy paused again, and Loki felt sick to his stomach. He knew those nightmares. He'd had them while he healed from his punishment on Asgard. There was a good reason he avoided sleep now. And though he didn't particularly like Erik Selvig, he did regret giving the man those dreams. It was a wonder the man hadn't been driven completely mad.

"I made Jane eat." Darcy was whispering now, forehead against his chest, knowing somehow that he could hear her. "I made her drink water, I called the ambulance when I found her passed out in the floor with her heart barely beating. I tried to organize her work, her notes, so that she'd be able to make some sense out of it. I made her take showers and I washed her clothes." She took a shuddering breath. "I went to bars in the middle of the night to pick up Erik. I made him eat and shower too. I cleaned up his puke and I changed his sheets and I called the ambulance for him too, when he tried to hang himself from the doorknob, although not because he'd actually hurt himself. He was too drunk to tie a knot so the sheet just slipped off his neck but I saw what he tried to do and I ..."

Darcy was sobbing again now, and Loki held her, his own face wet with tears for her. He was sorry for what had happened to Jane and Erik, for the pain he'd caused them. But mostly, he was sorry for everything that had happened to Darcy. For disrupting her life, for putting her in danger, for the things she'd had to do for her friends because of him. And his heart broke again, for her this time. He didn't know anyone who would be so strong in the face of what she'd been through, not even Sif. And now, on top of the proof of her strength, her friends that she had sacrificed so much for were abandoning her. He felt her betrayal as deeply as he felt his own and he just wanted to take her away from all this pain. But he couldn't, could he. For no matter where you went, he knew, your pain followed close behind. There was no getting away from it. You had to get through it, if you wanted to move on. And Loki knew that Darcy would get through it. She would survive and go on with her life and be happy, eventually. And standing here, with her in his arms, Loki knew that he would spend the rest of his days watching over her, protecting her. For the world should not lose a blessing such as she and he shuddered when he thought of how easily she could have been killed in New Mexico, his breath catching in his throat at how he could have, would have, killed her.

Darcy must have felt him tremble because she pressed herself even closer to him and mimicked his earlier movements, smoothing her hands up and down his back, reaching through her own misery to comfort him. And suddenly he went from protector to protected, clinging to her and burying his face in her hair and weeping for them both and babbling apologies over and over. His legs gave way and they slowly sank down to their knees and then her hands were on his face, wiping his tears, soothing him. He swept his thumbs across her cheeks, gathering her tears as he wished he could gather her pain and take it away. She kissed his brow, his closed eyelids, the tip of his nose, his mouth, soothing not sexual, and Loki returned the gesture, kissing her brow, her eyelids, her nose and her mouth. He leaned his forehead against hers and when she smiled, the hope that flickered in his chest, the hope for her life and his redemption, the hope for friendship and acceptance, finally burst into a flame that would never be extinguished.

Far above Loki and Darcy, beyond the clouds and stars and moon and planets, past the broken remains of the rainbow bridge, Frigga smiled at her husband when he brushed a tear from her face. Odin, the Allfather, King of Asgard, saw his son kneeling on Midgard, and had never been so proud.

The End