Author's note: Written for the Asgard Winter Exchange for her-little-musings.

Prompt given: Loki is coerced by Thor to participate in a Secret Santa, and he winds up picking Darcy's name.

Pairing(s): Loki/Darcy, (slight mentions of) Thor/Jane and Clint/Natasha

Disclaimer: I don't own anything. All characters, settings, and proprietary language are owned by the author of the work from which this is derived.

Chapter 1

The more Darcy stared at her mentor, Jane Foster, the more she became convinced that the older woman was in fact, not human. Was it possible for anyone to become even more driven after 36 straight hours of work, with only coffee and a sub-par chicken sandwich as fuel? She wondered if Jane would be offended if she were to ask when the mother ship was due for landing. Was there any non-offensive way of asking if your boss was an alien? She didn't think so.

Of course, as Jane's research assistant, it was Darcy's job, no; more like moral obligation, to make sure that the scientist was well fed, well-rested and had some sort of organization to the chaos in her office. Seeing as how she was currently going two for three, she didn't think she was doing too badly.

"Darcy," Jane called out without even looking up from her data charts, pencil tucked behind one ear. "See that we have the newest data from Stanford for tomorrow's experiment."

"Sure, Miss Jane," Darcy responded, the honorific sliding uncomfortably with her tongue. She'd much prefer Miss Foster but the woman herself balked at the notion when she conducted Darcy's interview. "Miss Foster is my aunt who lives alone with 3 cats and a pet rock. Jane would do just fine." Yet, Darcy couldn't address Miss Foster by her first name. It felt too strange to her, addressing someone elder and with so much more experience in the field as an equal, and so they compromised. Darcy could call her Miss Jane if she promised not to bring her taser into work and give the security guards a hard time.

Darcy moved across the office that she shared with Jane; mindful that she didn't knock into any of the documents piles and went straight for the stack that contained the Stanford information Jane wanted. To the untrained eye, their office seemed as if a hurricane had just swept through it, but Darcy was used to the complaints by now. Like Jane, Darcy was able to see patterns in apparently random messes and given that she actually understood Jane's filing system, she was hired. Making sure she stuck a large enough post-it with a bright enough note saying "STANFORD – THIS IS WHAT YOU'RE LOOKING FOR", Darcy left the file closest to Jane's laptop – an almost improbable task given that her desk was overfilling with papers, news clippings, files and a strange blue cube performing paperweight duties – and went back to her own work.

Glancing at the clock near the door, Darcy sighed softly. There was still an hour before knocking off, and what awaited her was more research. Of course, this was to be expected given her job description – research assistant – but Darcy couldn't help but feel that there was more to life than this, whatever this was. It wasn't that she hated her job; far from it, she liked Jane who treated her kindly but there was just something missing in her life. How could she explain it to Jane, who was so practical and methodical? How could she explain that what Darcy does every day for a living was slowly stifling her, slowly draining whatever it was that made Darcy Darcy?

Darcy Lewis was a girl of creativity, someone who burst with life and craved for adventure. She was the kind of girl who, at eight, rode her bike to as far as her small, chubby legs could take her, proclaiming that she was off to find the moon, horrifying her parents who nearly called for a manhunt. Everything about her was supposed to be buzzing; the tiny spark of electricity that could kick-start everything. Darcy was supposed to be alive, but now, she wasn't.

Ever since her parents divorced and she went to live with her mother, she was pushed to do everything that was safe and conventional. She was forced to give up art and instead, had to take remedial classes in mathematics and science. She gave up adventure for a life of staring at blackboards filled with equations and other information that she didn't care to know. Even taking up this Stark job was her mother's idea. "It pays the rent, dear, unlike those 'art projects' of yours," her mother had scoffed.

Her job was slowly suffocating her, but whom could she blame when she herself was too much of a coward to go for what she really wanted? Years of living with her mother could do that to a person. Living with her mother was both liberating and stifling, between her mother relishing her newfound freedom and giving unwanted advice to Darcy whenever they saw each other. Life swung between feeling neglected and oppressed. No, safe and predictable were what protected her, and these were what brought success in a person's life. Rent paid, stable career, a good life, those were what her mother extolled. She supposed this unhappiness had always been around her, always surrounded her from the moment she went to live with her mother, and even though she kept it at bay most days, today was not one of those days. It was like a fog, thick and murky to the point that she could feel it upon her fingers, blanketing her until it was all-consuming.

Feeling utterly miserable now, Darcy couldn't bring herself to concentrate on her work and when a mailroom staff knocked on their office door, she felt a shove into the throes of melancholia, all blues clouding her vision. Jane, too absorbed in her work, failed to see their guest so Darcy, managing a weak smile, stood and went to receive the package he came to deliver, a small, brown non-descript box. Placing it on Jane's desk, right on top of everything else so that she would be sure to see it, Darcy stared wistfully at it. It was probably yet another gift from Jane's boyfriend, another scientist in Stark Enterprises, who had taken it upon himself to surprise Jane every day with baubles and trinkets for the festive season, something like a Secret Santa that wasn't secret at all. Darcy had seen them before, and while they were of little value, Darcy saw how Jane's face lighted up every time she opened her gifts. She saw the little curve of a smile on her face; heard how her voice lost that tired edge every time she spoke with Thor, and it made Darcy sad and a little envious. Where was her little piece of happiness? She wanted to be wanted too. It had been a few years since her last boyfriend and the ache was spreading larger, the longing to be with someone and to be someone for a person was turning to be an all-consuming burn.

The festive season was the one thing that could always cheer her up, no matter what, with the Christmas lights, the snow, hot cinnamon drinks. But now, it only reminded her that couples were having fun, reveling in their togetherness and she was not. Her own Secret Santa hadn't even sent her anything yet, even though the company drew and matched names two weeks ago, and Darcy couldn't help but feel that perhaps once again, she had been forgotten.

Trudging up the stairs to her flat on the fourth floor, Darcy grimaced at the sloshing sound of her boots making contact with the ground. Stupid, temperamental weather! Snow, she could handle, but a torrential downpour with no umbrella? It was no wonder she looked like something the proverbial cat would drag in. Despondent and shivering slightly, Darcy couldn't wait until she got home where she would just soak in her bathtub and maybe order some Chinese takeout. Having reached the landing, she paused to rummage through her bag for her keys and nearly dropped them when a voice startled her from behind.

"Hey, neighbor." A man, his lower body modestly clothed with a bath towel, was leaning against the doorframe, grinning like the Cheshire cat. Darcy turned to face him, and promptly kept her gaze fixated on his face, noticing that hey, he got highlights! It was not that she was a prude, but her next-door neighbor was famous, or rather infamous, for being very comfortable with his body and Darcy didn't feel right ogling at him. Though, she had to admit, one of the perks of living with such an exhibitionistic neighbor was that she got to occasionally look at his very well defined muscles.

"Hello," Darcy greeted, sure that her current look of hair stringy, makeup smeared, clothes dripping wet would unsettle him. They were not close by any means, but in an extremely odd and creepy way, Darcy felt like she knew him, judging from all of his nightly activities she was privy to. Their building was old, with terribly thin walls, and so, was it any wonder that she felt like she should now be on first-name basis with Clint and Natasha and that when it came to their rambunctious love-making, they didn't mind taking the Lord's name in vain?

"Rough day?" Clint asked, with slight concern in his voice as he took in her appearance. Instead, the pizza box in his hand distracted Darcy and her stomach rumbled at the thought of piping hot food. Her gaze lingered hungrily upon the box before she snapped out of it, jingling her keys in Clint's direction.

"You have no idea." Darcy mustered a weak laugh as she walked closer towards her door. "See you around," she offered as she inserted her key and unlocked her door.

"Yeah, see you!" Clint gave her a friendly wave and went inside, the walls ironically doing nothing to ensure his privacy. "Tasha, food!"

Stepping into the dark, cool apartment with shadows cast long and moody against her walls, Darcy simply let her bag drop onto the floor with a dull 'thud' as she stepped out of her sodden boots. "Please don't have sex tonight," she said to no one in particular as she longed for some peace and quiet. While she was glad that Clint and Natasha were having some fun in their new bed, she hoped that a good night's rest would help rid her of the doldrums. Shedding her clothes as she made her way to the bathroom, she saw the various projects that littered her apartment and finally saw them for what they really were. Half-done paintings, half-done sculptures, half-done knitting, god, did she ever finish a single thing in her life? What happened to her creativity? What happened to her spark, her iridescence as her father called it? Why couldn't she finish her projects anymore?

Tears streaming down her face, it took Darcy slightly longer to get the bath running and when she finally did, she slid in, face streaked with makeup and crying bitterly over something she didn't quite understand herself. Her hands went to cover her face, as if somehow, even in the privacy of her home, she was ashamed to face herself. The warm water was washing away her weariness, but now, a different kind of heaviness was settling over her. Shoulders heaving, big, ugly sobs pouring out straight from her chest, Darcy felt completely lost. Where could she go from here? How could she continue with this existence, knowing that there should be a life out there for her? Then, hearing the now-familiar creak of her neighbors' bed, she was reminded, once more, of how lonely she was too.