Alright, here it is: the last chapter! I should hopefully be posting the sequel up within the next week. I've gotta say, this is the most fun I've ever had writing before. As always, thank you all so very much for reading and taking time to review or send me messages: I love all of you guys!
They sat together in the park
As the evening sky grew dark
She looked at him and he felt a spark tingle to his bones
Twas then he felt alone and wished that he'd gone straight
And watched out for a simple twist of fate
''Agent Romanov,'' Andrews said very nervously, pausing in the doorway. ''You have a visitor.''
Natasha walked out into the hallway where a beautiful and otherwordly woman stood waiting. Andrews departed in a hurry, stealing a quick glance behind him before he turned the corner. The assassin bowed her head respectfully. ''That's not necessary, my dear,'' Frigga told her with a smile.
''So it's over now?'' the Black Widow asked.
''Nothing is ever over, but this particular darkness has passed, yes.''
''Are they alright?'' The assassin couldn't hide the hopeful tremor in her voice.
Frigga nodded. ''They're both fine, and shall be returning soon. They do seem to favor this realm.''
''It's not so bad,'' admitted Natasha. The two women regarded each other quietly. ''Thank you,'' the Black Widow said after a moment.
The Queen of Asgard shook her head. ''No. Thank you. For your cooperation.''
Project Infinitum was officially ended, though this was supposed to have happened a long time ago, and technically the project never even existed at all. The wolf was satisfied with its final feast, and the stones that marked the Network no longer hummed or sang, they went dead and dark as stones should be. At least for the moment, everything was quiet.
Darcy, Loki, and Thor returned to Midgard with the blessing of Frigga and the Allfather, though Thor of course would only be there temporarily to spend some time with Jane and sort things with SHIELD. The god of Thunder had his work cut out for him: he would be bouncing back and forth between the realms on a pretty continuous basis, which was a hell of a commute, in Darcy's opinion, but as the sworn protector of Earth as well as the future King of Asgard, he had certain distinct responsibilities. And these seemed to suit him well.
Before they went anywhere else, Darcy decided that the very first place she needed to stop after arriving back in New York was the Starbucks a few blocks from her apartment, which she hadn't entered since the storm. Thor was particularly delighted by this idea. Inside the coffee shop, when the three of them approached the counter, Marla let out a little shriek. ''Darcy! You're alive! Where have you been, girl? I was worried, after that freak storm and the weird 'encephalitis' outbreak.'' The barista's eyes widened distinctively as she took note of Thor and Loki and she abruptly shifted gears. ''And what can I get for you gentleman today?''
As Darcy stood by the hand-off a few minutes later waiting for their drinks, Marla shot another glance over at the Asgardians, who were talking quietly a few feet away. ''Seriously, I hate you,'' she whispered. ''Which one's yours? Or is it both of them?'' Darcy opened her mouth to reply.
''Nevermind, I hate you either way.'' The barista smiled. ''But it is good to see you again.''
''It's hello and goodbye, actually,'' Darcy admitted. ''Me and the dark-haired one are leaving soon.''
Marla let out a low whistle. ''I see how it is. Where are you going?''
''Paris, I think, at least at first. But we'll probably travel around a bit.''
''Again, hate you. He looks kinda familiar, though'' Marla noted, squinting at Loki.
''He's an artist,'' replied Darcy smoothly. ''European, very avant-garde. Been profiled in a lot of magazines, big deal in the art community.''
''That must be it. Oh well. I wish you all the best, and I mean that. You were always one of my favourites. Most of my regulars are assholes or perverts.''
Darcy gratefully accepted the drinks. ''I'll come back and visit.''
''Yeah, sure you will, Ms. Paris.'' The barista rolled her eyes, still grinning. ''Bon voyage, get the hell outta here.''
As they were walking out the door, Darcy heard her call out, ''Can the blond one stay, though?''
The sun was shining, which seemed strange. The sky was cold and bright and blue, and the city was busy around them. Any crisis, it seemed, was forgotten and everyone continued busily on with their lives as they had always done. ''If you two are going to leave,'' came a familiar voice, ''it would be better if you left now. I've found that to be the easiest way in situations like these.'' Natasha smiled, walking towards them now, dressed in street clothes. ''Though I have to say that this particular situation is most definitely unique.''
She narrowed her eyes at the cups in their hands. ''You guys got coffee without me?'' The Black Widow clucked her tongue disapprovingly, then continued, ''As per Fury's agreement with you, Loki—which he intends to honor completely—you and Darcy both are free to go wherever you would like. I'm sure that you know how to...create any necessary documents that you may need to travel. However, as the Director told you before, nobody ever really leaves SHIELD.''
The god nodded, albeit grudgingly. ''I understand.''
''How is everyone?'' Darcy asked. Her fingers tightened around the cup.
''Dr. Martinsson is dead, her body has been sent back to Norway. Tony and Bruce are fine; Jane Foster is clamouring to get back to work, as usual. Fury, Barton, and Steve Rodgers have all also recovered.'' The assassin smiled at this, and then continued, ''Erik Selvig was temporarily moved to a maximum security wing and put under 24/7 observation after he suffered an acute and severe psychotic episode and became violent. It has since inexplicably lifted, and he's gone back to normal—as normal as he'll ever be again, anyway. He actually seems to be doing a good deal better, his lucid periods are lasting for longer now than they have before. The nurses say that he's been doing a lot of reading. The two comatose patients at the hospital, the ones you asked about, Darcy—they died quietly in the early morning a few days ago, after Erik abruptly came out of his psychosis. Sudden, unexplained cardiac arrest. At the same time. Naturally, the hospital is launching an investigation.'' She shrugged. ''Not that they'll find anything.''
''I guess maybe it's better that way,'' Darcy said sadly, though her heart panged for the dreamwalkers, whose bodies had finally followed their spirits out of the world. ''At least they're free now.''
''I know that you probably wanted to say goodbye to everyone, but under the circumstances, as I said it's probably better if the two of you disappear. I'm sure Thor will agree with me.''
The aforementioned deity nodded. ''For the time being, yes. Don't worry, Natasha and I will tell everyone what you did, and that you are safe.''
Darcy had wanted to see Jane again, to say goodbye. And Tony, and Bruce. But that did seem now so much more difficult. She had changed, been through something so life-altering that she was scarcely sure how to process it. Not yet. And though she loved those people, and the city, if they stayed she would only be asked question after question that she couldn't possibly imagine how to answer. Her life needed to take a deep breath.
As if able to read Darcy's mind, Natasha softly said, ''In this case, it's ok to be a little selfish.''
They did go back to the apartment to pick up a few things. Stark wouldn't be listing it or even subletting it, Darcy had been told. The space was still in her name in case she'd ever need a place to stay in the city. It felt so strange to open the door and walk inside; it felt as if she'd barely lived there, which was actually rather true. It never really had time to start feeling like it was hers, and it certainly didn't feel like home; just a strange little stop along the way, like an extended-stay hotel suite. She laughed a little when she realized that many of her belongings were still in boxes, having never even been unpacked after moving in. That same bottle of white wine she'd gotten as a moving-day present was probably still in the fridge, slowly turning into vinegar.
''Is there anything that you want to take?'' Loki asked her. He had a soft, almost far-away expression on his face as he looked around, especially as his eyes were drawn over to the window. There were still no curtains. ''Yeah,'' she replied with a nod. Darcy gathered up a few outfits, her laptop, iPod, favourite DVDs and books, and the infamous green lingerie. All in all, it was a small amount. Everything else remained.
Their flight was delayed but that was fine. It gave them time to play a game. One of the best things about being in love with the god of mischief was that he was always up for a little fun, and he had a very interesting imagination. Darcy adjusted the black dress that she was wearing as she walked into the airport bar and approached a handsome, dark-haired man seated there. Clearing her throat, she gestured to the empty chair beside him. ''Do you mind if I sit here?''
He turned to her, glittering green eyes roaming up and down her body. A smile crossed his face. ''No, please,'' he motioned for her to join him. Darcy tossed her hair, twirled a strand in her finger. The bartender came over and she ordered a glass of white wine then asked the man sitting next to her, ''So...where are you headed?''
''Paris,'' he replied, sipping at a glass of Scotch. She raised her eyebrows, feigning surprise. ''What a coincidence. Me too.'' Darcy held out her hand. ''Annabelle Delacambre.'' He accepted it. ''Logan St. Laurence.''
''Very nice to meet you,'' She offered him a sultry smile. ''So, what do you do, Logan?''
He ran his fingers along the edge of the glass in front of him. ''I'm an artist.''
''I could tell by your hands. What's your medium?''
''I draw, mostly. Sometimes I paint.''
''Anything I'd recognize?'' She leaned forward a little, emphasizing the rather low neckline of her dress.
''Perhaps,'' Loki answered smoothly, clearly enjoying the view. ''What do you do, Ms. Delacambre?''
Darcy took a sip of wine as she continued to play along. ''I'm actually between jobs right now. I'm taking this opportunity to explore my options, figure some things out.''
''I see. I'm sure that you'll find what you're looking for.''
''I'm sure that I will.''
Once they were finally seated on the plane, she dropped the act and burst out laughing. ''Could we have picked more pretentious sounding names?''
''Mine is fine,'' he sniffed.
''It makes you sound like some polo-playing, old money brat. The scarf doesn't help.'' Darcy reached over and tugged playfully at the fabric wound around his neck.
''I'll have you know that I went to Eton and Cambridge.''
''Pre-ten-tious,'' she sing-songed.
''Annabelle Delacambre seemed to like me just fine,'' Loki shot back.
''That's cause she's a gold-digger,'' Darcy whispered conspiratorially.
He sighed. ''Really? That's disappointing. Especially since I've recently given up my inheritance. I wanted to get to know her a little better.''
''Plot twist. I'm actually her identical twin sister. I've assumed Annabelle's identity and stashed her somewhere. It's all part of my diabolical plan. You can call me Darcy.''
''I like it. It suits you.'' Loki studied her for a moment, pretended that he was seeing her for the first time. ''You have a very interesting face, you know.''
''Thank you,'' Darcy said politely to the flight attendent, who brought her a drink. To Loki, she said, ''Interesting? Hmmm...'' She frowned.
''By interesting, I mean lovely. That dress looks fantastic on you, by the way.''
''I was trying for a sorta slutty Holly Golightly,'' she admitted. ''I hope Audrey forgives me.''
''I think she would. She was a nice person.''
''You know, for someone who used to look down on Midgardians so much, you certainly know a lot about our culture. Let's see,'' Darcy began to count on her fingers, ''You hung around the London punk scene, you drank with Edgar Allen Poe, you 'allegedly' had a threesome with Anais Nin, and you know about Audrey Hepburn. I'm pretty sure that like, at least half of those stories either aren't true or seriously embellished but either way, you must have at least appreciated humans enough to even know that much about us. So what gives. Why did you decide that we all needed to be...'' she took a large sip of her drink and waved her hand through the air, trying to find a word. She found it, snatched it down. ''...squashed?''
Darcy looked at Loki imploringly, he sighed deeply and then answered. ''I didn't hate any of you. I never did. Most of my true hatred was reserved for those in other realms. I thought that...maybe that you were weak. Like a...like a sickly child that could scarcely be trusted to breathe on its own. You were too fragile for what you had created. Maybe it was a very strange kind of love and respect...but also a kind of rage because...because you all just break. Maybe I wanted you to love me. Maybe I wanted a place where everyone would believe that I was strong.''
The flight attendant reappeared, all white toothed smile and pretty blonde hair. ''Would you like another drink, Miss?''
Darcy handed her the glass now full of melting ice. ''Yes, please.''
''Anything for you, sir?''
''No, thank you.''
The cart moved away down the aisle. They were both quiet for a moment. ''If you think I have an interesting face,'' Darcy said slowly, ''you should see the rest of me.''
Loki raised his eyebrows. ''Is that an offer? As an artist, I'm always looking for new subjects.''
''Awww, are you tired of drawing French girls?'' she laughed. ''Ok, since I am between jobs at the moment, and seeing as how we're both going to Paris, that might just work.''
''Yes, it might.''
As fun as it was, somewhere in the air she had to allow herself to realize that they weren't playing a game, this was something very real and it wasn't going to end anytime soon. No matter how many games as they decided to play, how many fake names and identities they chose and phony back stories they concocted, these would only be weak illusions at best. Their true selves would always fall through, any disguise would be burned through as easily as paper. But it was ever so nice to pretend for awhile. This was just the first few hours in their new story, the opening chapter. Darcy took another sip of her vodka. The ice crashed against her teeth.
''That was some crazy Indiana Jones shit that happened back there,'' she admitted, referring to their strange victory over the Norns. ''People just aren't supposed to live through things like that.''
''We're not people,'' Loki told her. ''Not human, not exactly gods—we're something else entirely, you and I.'' He smiled.
''Myth and legend?'' she supplied.
''Yes, I suppose you could say that. But the truth will always be stranger than any myth that can grow out of it.''
''Well, we're a damn good story, if I do say so myself,'' Darcy said proudly.
Paris, eleven days later
They rented a large apartment in an old building with very beautiful architecture that Darcy swore was haunted by ghost of a woman who had committed suicide after being abandoned by her lover. However, she was, for the most part, a nice ghost who didn't mind them being there. The street below was always busy, there was a cafe very close by that had an excellent wine selection. Darcy liked to read there sometimes. She'd sit with a French newspaper or the copy of Le Petit Prince that she'd gotten the day they'd arrived and try to read it. She didn't really know any French, but she liked to look at the pictures and Darcy couldn't help but think that maybe, just maybe, if she looked at the words long enough she'd just suddenly know how to read them. No matter what, it was nice to look out the window every morning and hear birds and smell a different part of the world.
The apartment had a fireplace in almost every room, and wooden bookshelves all along the walls. It was very well-lit thanks to the large windows. The smallest window was in the bedroom. Fading sunlight slipped in now, through the sheer curtain that Darcy had hung as soon as they moved in, crawling across the floor and reaching over to where she and Loki sat on the bed. He was shirtless, holding a paintbrush. On the night stand beside them sat a palette covered in various splotches of color.
'Lift up your hair,'' Loki said, swirling the brush through a shade of green and blue. Darcy obliged, pinning it securely at the top of her head, giving him access to her bare back. She was naked except for a sheet wrapped around her lower body.
''When you said that you wanted to paint me,'' she murmured with a soft smile. ''I didn't know that this was what you meant.''
''I just think that this color looks good on you,'' he replied. ''I can't help it. Now, turn.''
Darcy angled her body sideways so that he could now see the front of her. The brush traced a line of color along her collar bone.
Light caught in her hair, bringing out different shades of mahogany. ''You know...I was thinking,'' she began, watching the shape of the shadows begin to change, ''About something that we were talking about on the plane. After all this...I wouldn't say that we're made to be ruled. Humans, I mean. But I will say that we're definitely terrified of our own potential . Our potential for good and evil both. It's hard to envision those extremes, what they would create in us, how they might change us. We're afraid of where our decisions will lead, so it's easier to believe that our destinies are already written. Maybe it's more peaceful that way. But is it, really?'' The paintbrush moved over her skin, and Darcy fell silent. It had been more of a rhetorical question, anyway.
''And Helen said something to me the other day...''
Loki groaned a little at this. ''You haven't been talking to that ghost again, have you? Don't encourage her, she only wants attention.''
''Yeah, being dead and alone for like almost 80 years will do that to you,'' Darcy retorted. ''Anyway, she said 'falling in love is such a dangerous and volatile journey. It's definitely the wanting. That burning and inexplicable feeling. Like breaking. It does break you. But it rebuilds you too, if you're lucky.' ''
''That's lovely. I'm glad the afterlife has made her so insightful.'' Loki sighed. He seemed to be thinking about something. ''There is one thing that I do have to tell you,'' he said. ''Back on Asgard, when we were strengthening the connection between our minds, I took one of your memories from you, because the threat of leaving it there was too great. But it is yours, and you deserve to know.''
Darcy looked at him curiously. ''Your arm,'' Loki continued, brushing a line of dark blue paint down from her elbow to her wrist, slowly, as he spoke, ''It was broken once, when you were a child. It was your father. He wasn't a very good man. And he hurt you. I couldn't risk the Norns using those memories against you.''
''I know that I should be mad,'' she said with a shrug of her shoulders, after letting his confession sink in. ''I'm not, though. Because whatever memory that you took, somehow I know that I'm better off without it. Thank you for telling me. But I don't think it matters anymore. So long as you fill in the empty spaces.''
''With you. So that I can feel you all through me, in my blood.''
The sun had gone. Night came down like a curtain. She didn't wash off the paint, not yet. Evenings were very lazy for the two of them, seemed to last for days. They drifted from room to room like spirits, listening to music. Then Darcy went back into the bedroom and sprawled out on the bed, not caring that she was getting wide blotches of colour all over the white sheets. Loki joined her after a moment, wrapping an arm around her and sliding his hand down.
''Well, well, you are in a state, aren't you?'' he asked, a pleased smile weaving across his lips as his fingers found the soft, drenched warmth of her sex, wanting to moan aloud at the feel of her, always. She did moan, her hips canted upwards welcomingly in response as she urged those wicked, taunting long fingers to do whatever they wanted. Darcy let her head loll back softly against the pillow, her eyelids fluttering half-closed but open enough to take dreamy note of the patterns that the shadows made along the ceiling as he continued to stroke her, explore her. This was always the preamble to a slow, searching lovemaking that would often go on for hours, new discoveries still being made each time, always something new—the press of lips here, the twist of fingers this way or that, creating symphonies against nerve endings, writing new music on familiar instruments, endless variants and combinations of notes available, always a new tremor running through her legs, always a different nuance to her gasps and moans. These times, there was no grand pinnacle, no one inevitable shattering climax. They didn't believe in endings anymore, they had decided—there was only a continuum of ascending pleasure, with lots of dips and ebb-and-flow, waves receding and then rushing back—this was how their bodies could work and once they set to this exploration and slow worship of each other, the great illusion of time faded utterly from what little importance it held for them, the curtains were drawn and everything else was ignored.