That night, Darcy took a deep breath as she lay in bed waiting for sleep. She was exhausted, but not sure if she was ready to face what might come next. Knowing her dreams weren't just dreams, that they could somehow be responsible for putting everyone she loved in danger… it was no wonder Loki was so dark. The stress was starting to get to her.
And she couldn't stop wondering what the truth was behind it all that he'd kept secret from her.
This whole "not knowing" thing was just about driving her crazy. Three times she'd pulled her phone out and thought about calling Jane then decided against it. She didn't know what she'd tell her and she'd told herself she would wait.
Besides, she'd promised Loki. She would hold off for now, until things changed or she felt that she had to tell Jane. But it was frightening.
She'd always been on the sidelines, far away from anything the Avengers ever dealt with. She wasn't sure what to think of this new development. With no abilities or strengths to speak of, she felt like a sitting duck. Far too easy a target.
And could she actually do what he'd asked, blank her mind? If whoever it was really was that powerful, did she have any chance at all?
Loki frustrated her, but she had to believe he was on her side. And thinking that made it ever so slightly better.
She only hoped she could get through the night without harm.
Darcy didn't come back that night, and it was an effort to keep her from his mind as Loki drifted into slumber. The more she knew, the more she was in danger but she'd looked so lost, he'd almost wanted to tell her.
Yet he knew better.
He was running out of time and they needed a more permanent solution. Even if she could keep Thanos from her mind, which would be almost impossible, that would not stop him for long.
So he'd wracked his brain, desperate for a solution other than turning to his current captors. Even if he revealed all, there was very little they could do against a darkness as powerful as Thanos. What other options did he have?
He tried to tell himself his newfound desperation was simply caused by the fact that as a weak human, Darcy would make it even easier for Thanos to find him. But that wasn't the whole truth. Much as he hated to admit it, when he'd seen her injury he'd felt it in his gut. It had felt wrong. She was a human. One he'd never look back on once he left this place.
Yet she still stole into his thoughts far too often.
From the first day she'd been blunt and open, and he'd found himself paying attention to her. She didn't wear a mask or play games, didn't come in to insult him as the Avengers did, to mock him or try to reason with him and win him over to their side.
She was simply herself; vivacious and curious. Unashamed about what she was. And that was the crux of it.
In Asgard, he'd never felt proud to be himself. Oh, he'd fought and tried to earn his place, to get respect, and to be admired, but it was a constant battle. And the minute he showed any weakness, he lost it all. After everything he'd learned about himself and everything he'd done, there was no way he could earn it back.
Yet Darcy treated him like a person.
A part of himself that he fought to ignore was actually jealous of her. Jealous of Darcy, a little human with no powers to speak of, completely defenseless in the face of Thanos or any of the other threats in the world. Threats she couldn't even conceive of.
Her strength and courage were different to Thor's. Unlike his foolish brother, she didn't blindly believe she would always triumph from sheer will. She had the sense to be cautious, and she knew exactly where she stood.
It was maddening. She was drawing him out of his darkest thoughts, yet making things even worse with the risk she represented. Her nightmares were putting not just herself but him and all of her coworkers and friends in danger. Thanos would be drawn to her vulnerability and trust like a moth to flame, and once she gave him the keys to her human world, he would step in and take it all for himself—wiping out everyone in his path.
The Avengers had faced him once, though they hadn't been aware of it. But they hadn't seen him at full strength. He'd merely been pulling strings, forcing Loki to do his dirty work. Could they stand any chance against him?
Did he have any other options?
As Loki curled on the padded flooring, his mind poured over the few options he had as he tried and failed to figure a way to escape him. It was hopeless from the start, but Darcy had somehow made him hope. It made his dire situation now all the worse for it.
Closing his eyes, he cursed her as he fell asleep, cursed her for giving him a reason to hope when there was none.
And all too soon, he was back in the desert.
The dream world around him had blurred edges, and the more he tried to focus on them, the more they blurred. The rough, cracked dirt beneath his knees felt solid enough, but it was all a figment of his imagination. Or was it a world Thanos had created? It was impossible to tell.
The chains felt cold on his wrists. He knew better than to struggle; he could shred his wrists down to bone and he still would not escape—he'd learned that lesson multiple times over the torturous nights he'd spent in his prison.
So instead he stood still. When the first wave of pain tore him apart, he fought to keep his mouth closed, not letting a sound pass his lips.
He might not be able to escape, but there were other ways he could fight. Thanos was nowhere to be seen as another painful blast tore across his chest. He bit down on his lower lip until he tasted blood, refusing to show any of the struggle on his face.
As the wave passed, he hunched over to let himself take a deep, shuddering breath. It was all in his mind, he simply needed to focus on that. He repeated it like a mantra inside his head.
Thanos' minions appeared in the field, monstrous creatures of varying shapes and sizes, some with fangs, others with scales and claws, all moving closer to him. Relishing the thought of tearing him apart.
Before they could touch him, the shadow appeared. Thanos did not take shape—perhaps somehow he couldn't. For if he could, surely he would have appeared and destroyed him by now. The creatures vanished as the shadow moved closer to him, swarming around him and turning his vision black. He could feel it in his lungs, struggling to breathe through the poison.
With all the willpower inside of him he fought, shouting, roaring, doing everything he could think of to push the shadow away. And just when he'd been about to give up, his vision fading as he neared collapse, it vanished.
The shock nearly had him choking on his next breath. The desert was empty. He felt no presence. The pain was gone.
Looking down at his wrists, he saw trickles of blood where he'd pulled at his chains. Testing them as he'd done countless times, he pulled. They remained firmly embedded, and caused a wince as the ache traveled up his spine.
He hadn't lost feeling. Yet the torturous pain was gone.
It didn't make sense.
When he lifted his head up, he started as he heard a feminine gasp.
"Loki…. Oh my god, I'm back."
Darcy stood several feet away from him, searching the desert with fear in her eyes. A different sort of ache started in his chest when he saw that look in those dark eyes. In dreams, worn and drained, he couldn't deny his concern for her.
A few scraps of attention from a pathetic human and he'd begun to grow attached. What did that say about him?
The shadow could come back at any moment, and if it took hold of her… unlike him her wounds would be real. She could be killed.
"Darcy, clear your mind. You can't be here, you need to think of something else, anything else. Anything but here."
"What happened to your lip?"
She bent over, brushing what he knew was blood trickling down his chin. "How is this happening? I don't understand."
"Remember what I told you about wiping your thoughts. I need you to do that right now Darcy. No questions."
She huffed and gazed down at him in concern, but didn't comment. Instead, she took a step back and closed her eyes. Her dark brows furrowed as she fought to concentrate.
It wouldn't be enough.
"This isn't working."
She took a deep breath and tried again; the world stilling around her as she struggled to concentrate. Again she shook her hands in frustration.
"Are these real for you?" She motioned to his lip and his wrists, bending down beside him to examine his aching wrists. The pain felt real enough, but he'd never woken with any scars.
He couldn't understand, and it unnerved him. He needed to be in control, needed to maintain his sanity by understanding what was happening.
"Not so far."
When she leaned in closer to examine his bindings, her hair fell over her shoulder. The scent of vanilla hit him. Everything felt so real. Was this somehow another trick?
"Since I'm here might as well try."
She leaned closer as she pulled on his chains, trying ever so carefully not to jostle his wrists in the process.
She was so weak, and she had to know how dangerous this was for her. Even without knowing all the details. Yet she stayed and fought to free him.
"Why are you doing this?"
Her face was so close to his he could feel her warmth. And up close, he saw the varied hues in her blue eyes. Lost at sea. Once again, he drew on his darkest emotions, needing to remain in control. Needing the distance.
"What do you think you are accomplishing by trying to free me? You are only putting both of us in more danger."
"Well I don't see anything else helping. And excuse me for trying to free you. If you're the bondage type then fine, I'll leave you alone."
She stood, taking her warmth with her as she paced away with her arms crossed.
"Just so you know, if I could leave right now, I so totally would."
She paced across from him, eyes closing as she struggled to wish herself away. Yet she remained firmly planted on the ground in front of him.
"Ugh!" She stormed back over towards him, her anger flushing her cheeks. Stepping around behind him, she bent down and yanked on his chains as hard as she could, nearly stumbling backwards.
"Whatever kinks you're into, you're my best shot in this messed up place so I'm getting you free."
She tried again and again, exhausting herself with her efforts. He felt the slightest nudge as the chains buried deep in the earth shifted ever so slightly, but not nearly enough to free him.
"Stop. Darcy, you must leave."
"And go where?" She motioned to the endless desert surrounding them on all sides. "This is my only option. Why does it look like this anyways? You a fan of the heat?"
"Quite the contrary." His mind conjured images of the Jotun homeworld, and then Asgard, with its long hallways of cold marble and stone. Gold and precious metals, all cold to the touch.
"Woah. OK then." Darcy's voice made him open his eyes. He glanced around in shock.
They were no longer in a desert. The ground all around them was covered in snow, large fluffy snowflakes falling from the grey sky above them.
It was almost as if… he hardly dared think it.
Was there a weakness in his prison? Was he slowly somehow regaining his powers?
"How did you do that?"
Darcy stepped around him, leaving a trail of footsteps in the snow. She lifted her hands, catching snow in her palms. For a moment, the fear slipped away as a smile crept up onto her face. The flakes fell in her hair and melted in her hands. Her warmth melted the cold around her.
He was beginning to understand the feeling.
Closing his eyes again, he pictured a forest, lush and green like the ones he'd played in with Thor as a boy, fighting to summon it with his absent powers. Darcy's gasp answered his unspoken question.
He'd conjured the image. He'd manipulated their shared dream.
He'd used his magic.
"What is this place? And how are you doing this?"
"I am not certain." The hesitance in his voice was all too truthful. Darcy turned, meeting his eyes with a skeptical expression. When she saw the sincerity in his, she seemed to relax.
"You really don't know?"
"I don't see how it is possible."
"Well, I guess anything goes in dreams. Or something like that." Darcy walked around him, exploring. Oblivious.
It didn't make sense. They'd warded his cage so heavily, when he'd first stepped in he'd felt suffocated. It took him a moment to realize he could still breathe, but he couldn't sense his magic. They'd blocked it from his reach. And yet he felt it now, faintly, as he'd conjured up the images in his mind.
Needing to test his limits, he focused on his chains. He thought of the metal rusting away, the locks cracking open and setting him free, but they wouldn't budge.
If he focused just hard enough, he felt the faintest hint of something there, the power in his subconscious nearly locked away, but not entirely. What more could he do? Could he fight Thanos in his dreams? Lock him out of his thoughts and keep him at bay?
Hope flooded into him in a dizzy rush as he considered the possibilities. His heart was racing, thoughts and ideas forming and connecting as he worked on a plan.
But why had he felt it now, and never before? Were the barriers weakening? How much power could he regain?
"Is there no way you could maybe wish off these cuffs while you're at it?"
Darcy was standing behind him again, studying the metal chains locked in the earth. Again, he smelled vanilla.
Turning around, he glanced at her with sarcasm.
"Of course. Impossible."
Walking out from behind him, she sat beside him on the dewy grass and studied their surroundings.
As he looked around, he saw the long grasses from the dark marshes of his land, and the tall, spiky trees from the forest beyond the river. His old home, one he hadn't appreciated before he'd lost it. And the time he'd spent with Thor as a child.
He hadn't always hated it. When they'd snuck off together, stealing into the wilds of their homeland, he'd felt free. Happy.
A feeling he wouldn't have the luxury of indulging in any longer.
"Is this what Asgard looks like?"
Darcy's voice was full of wonder. He hadn't considered how foreign it would look to her. Compared to Asgard her world's trees were softer and friendlier.
Her presence could ruin his only chance.
"You need to go."
She rolled her eyes as she looked over at him. Aware he was pushing her away? Or upset that he hadn't answered her question?
He didn't care which.
Focusing on her, he closed his eyes a final time as he grasped the faintest bit of magic he could sense deep within his mind. Pushing her away for both their sakes.
When he opened his eyes she was gone.
He was left with silence, chained in the forest of his childhood. And still, he felt no shadows and no pain.
He told himself it was only relief he felt at her absence. If she understood what had happened, she could stop him from his only chance at freedom. But the life he'd felt in the world around him had somehow vanished, leaving him with nothing.
Nothing but a growing sense of loneliness and cold. And the scarcest bit of hope.