Chapter Nine

"How do you know?"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Darcy realized her mistake. She should have deflected, feigned ignorance. Now she'd confirmed it and had no way of backtracking.

"I know," her mother replied through gritted teeth, "because a coworker just emailed me a link from a gossip website. What I want to know is why my daughter didn't bother to tell me herself."

Darcy had several answers for that one. That it was temporary; that she didn't want anyone to know; that she was a big enough disappointment anyway so why add this to the list? She also had a few questions of her own, mainly, why was it on a gossip site in the first place?

"Sorry," she replied in the smallest voice possible. She was relieved to see Loki retreating, giving her space for the call.

"Sorry? You're sorry? Well that makes it all better! I can stop feeling humiliated and hurt. You know what makes it even worse? You didn't even tell me you were dating anyone. I wasn't even aware you knew this guy! And that's the kicker—how could you choose someone like him? How is he even allowed to walk the streets?"

"SHIELD's fine with him being here—"

"He's not even human! He destroyed half of New York!"

She needed to calm her mom down before she completely blew a gasket, except she'd never figured out how to do that. "But then he fixed it, saved the world, and saved my life."

"You don't just marry a man because he saves your life. Otherwise I'd have married the fireman who cut me out of the car—honestly, what would your father say?"

Darcy had no idea; he'd died when she was seven and hadn't been around for her teenage years. The picture her mother always painted of him in situations like this, of a man who would be disappointed in Darcy's every decision, didn't mesh with her memories of him, but what did she know?

"I'll tell you what he'd think," her mother continued, "he'd be glad he wasn't around to deal with this."

"There's nothing to deal with. I'm handling this."

"And exactly how do you handle the fact that you forgot to invite your own mother to your wedding?"

"It wasn't a real wedding. I'm getting it sorted, okay? It'll all be undone within a month."

"Oh, fantastic! My daughter's going to be divorced before she turns 25."

"It's not divorce, it's an annulment—it doesn't count." There was no way for Darcy to win this.

"It does to me! What am I supposed to tell people?"

"That the website was wrong."

"So now you want me to lie for you. This is exactly why I didn't want you to moving to New York, or working with that scientist woman. Look at everything that's happened. You should have got a teaching degree, then you wouldn't be fraternizing with lunatics and monsters."

Darcy wanted to point out she'd be getting paid a lot less too, and bored out of her skull, but that was inviting a whole other lecture. "I've got great opportunities for career advancement here, Mom. I'm doing great. This was just a bad decision—I'm not denying that—but I like my life. When I get married for real, you will know, and you will be invited."

"And that's supposed to make me feel better, is it?"

Don't sigh. Don't sigh out loud. "It's all I can say to you."

"After all I've done for you, this is the thanks I get." The line clicked and the dial tone sounded in Darcy's ear.

"Great," she mumbled, dropping the phone onto the sofa.

Loki had the manners to make sure his footsteps were loud enough to hear as he returned to the living area.

"Parental problems?"

"Don't you gloat." She grabbed a cushion and curled up around it, squashing it tight.

"I am doing no such thing."

"I guess you heard all of that, huh?"

"Not all of it, no. Though I understand your mother does not find me a suitable match for your hand."

"Can you blame her?"

He chuckled and folded himself down onto the sofa beside her. Only then did he notice the tears on her cheek. "She upset you," he observed.

"We know how to push each other's buttons," she replied with a shrug, wiping at the tears.

"Still. I don't like to see it."

Darcy didn't know what to do with that information. She'd always assumed other people's emotions were below Loki's notice. "She had a point, you know. I should have told her, but I knew she wasn't going to react well."

"It is your life, and you owe her nothing."

"That's not true. My dad died when I was little, and she had to raise me on her own. There wasn't a lot of money and it wasn't what she'd expected her life to turn out like. She just wants better for me."

"And here I am."

She rolled her eyes at his ego, but couldn't help snorting out a chuckle too. "Look, I can talk all this through with Jane. You don't want to hear it."

"Then she is still on friendly terms with you?"

"She hasn't completely cut me off, no."

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Careful there. It almost sounds like you care."

"I'm not an automaton. I am capable of all emotions, even empathy, though I'd prefer it if we kept that as our little secret."

"Don't worry, I don't think anyone would believe me."

Loki's delighted grin was a touch worrying. "My ends are always my own but sometimes I do the right thing almost inadvertently."

"Is that what you've been doing? Is that what this whole thing is about—making sure Thor can't marry Jane for the good of Asgard?"

"By the Nine, no. Asgard would not thank me even if I did have their best interest at heart. There is, however, sport to be found in undoing the Allfather's schemes."

"A-ha!" This was brand new information. "You said Odin didn't want Thor to marry Jane, so you must be talking about some other scheme."

Loki shrugged. His slip hadn't been accidental. "You're no nearer to the answers you seek." With that, he rose. "We could make a wager. If you can divine which scheme I wish to thwart, I'll reward you."

"You get far too excited by wagers."

He grinned again. "It is my nature. Your ancestors once worshiped me as the god of gambling and fortune, after all. As I say, if you can impress me, you'll get a prize."

"Is it signed annulment papers?"

"Nothing in the Nine Realms could persuade me to sign those, bar my losing our previous wager. But name your prize, and I will provide it."

For a moment, she contemplated all the humiliation she could heap on him: forcing him to make a public apology for all the shit he'd pulled with the invasion, making him the office gopher for a week, or dressing him up as Thor's personal cheerleader. But if there was anyone who'd deliver her pretty much anything she wanted, it was him, so she really ought to treat herself.

"Which is the prettiest realm? The one with the best scenery?"

"Tempted as I am to say Asgard, my mother's home of Vanaheim surpasses it in raw beauty."

"Then if I win, I get a vacation in Vanaheim." If that didn't motivate her, nothing would. "Wait…what if I lose?"

"Then you'll never know."

"Yeowch," said Jane, pouring herself another margarita from the pitcher. "I'm glad I wasn't having that conversation."

"Every time I think I can't screw up more, I prove myself wrong," Darcy replied, downing the contents of her own glass.

She and Jane were in a Midtown bar for early dinner, at Darcy's suggestion and Loki's expense. She'd offloaded the story about her mom's call to put Jane at ease. Jane was looking less like something the cat had dragged in, and the alcohol was adding a flush to her cheeks.

"But you didn't mean to hurt her. You just need to do something big to make up for it. Like name one of your children after her."

Darcy screwed up her nose. "But I don't want a daughter called Barbara. Or a son, either."

For the first time in weeks, Jane actually laughed. "Maybe not." She signaled the server for another pitcher and ordered a tapas spread too. "I dread to think what Thor thinks acceptable kid's names are."

Fantastic. Darcy had been planning a fun evening, with minimal discussion of Loki and the whole trainwreck they were involved in. Now Jane had given her the perfect opening to the worst conversation she was ever going to have that didn't involve telling her mom she was carrying a baby which was actually a giant serpent.

Jane's tipsy, and we're out in the open. It isn't fair to have this conversation right here and now.


"Yeah, about that," she said, getting intensely interested in her cuticles. "Has Thor ever actually brought up the topic of children?"

"He talks about children a lot. Volstagg has a pretty big brood from the sounds of it. If you mean us having children, I know he wants them—he's a big kid so he has a ton of fun around them—and I want them too, so I guess we never really felt the need to sit down and talk about it."


"Hmm? What does hmm mean?"

Darcy gulped down the last of her margarita, a diversionary tactic that went wrong when she accidentally inhaled some and ended up choking. A crack on the back from Jane and half a glass of water later, and she was ready to answer. Physically, at least.

"Okay, Loki told me this thing, and that means it's probably complete bull, but you should totally talk to Thor about it anyway, just in case this is the one time this millenium where Loki is actually telling the truth. I mean, it's pretty unlikely that he is when you think about it, but I feel like I need to get it out there—"

"Darcy, spit it out already."

"Loki said you and Thor can't have children."

Jane blanched, the blood draining from her face as her mouth pressed into a thin line. She stared at her glass for a minute, taking deep breaths, and gradually the color returned, until she was flushed an angry red. "You're right, it's bullshit. Loki's stirring trouble again. I can't believe he'd put you in this position."

"Can't you?"

"Okay, yeah, I absolutely can. I'll double check with Thor when I get home and text you, but we know he's got it in for Thor and this is just another one of his petty little lies. The sooner we can get you free of him, the better."

"I'll drink to that."

Jane switched the conversation to petty office gossip, steadfastly pretending what they'd just talked about had never happened, and Darcy went back to feeling like the crappiest friend and daughter on Earth.

"Oh god," Darcy moaned. "Oh, Jesus…"

She was in the Vegas bed, on the tundra under a night sky. Even the northern lights overhead, ethereal streaks of citrine and electric blue, couldn't compete with the man between her legs.

Loki lifted his lips from her inner thigh, though his fingers remained in motion. "Wrong god." His smile indicated he knew exactly what he was doing to her. All she could do was pant in reply—and then he replaced his hand with his mouth—

Thud thud thud.

She paused mid-writhe to grip his head and pull it closer. "Was that you?"

He raised his eyebrows in question. "I. Do. Need. To. Breathe." He punctuated each word with a flick of his tongue.

Thud thud thud.

Darcy opened her eyes, alone in the dark of her room. The thuds continued, somewhere in the apartment, a sound she recognized but couldn't place in her sleep-addled state. She peered through the gloom at her phone on the nightstand, trying to figure out what hour of the morning it was and waiting for her heartbeat to slow. When the noise stopped, she'd have to quietly get herself off, because there was no was no way she was getting back to sleep without a little relief.

Thud thud thud.

Shit. The banging. Someone was at the door.

With a snarl, she pushed herself upright, grabbing her robe from the floor and heading out into the hallway.

Everything was dark and still inside, with no indication Loki had heard the knocking, if he was even around. Darcy stomped down to the front door, but gathered enough wits to peer through the spyhole, in case it was someone come to do her harm.

Jane stood on the other side, and even with the way the glass distorted her face, her red eyes and puffy cheeks were obvious.

"You shouldn't open that," Loki whispered from behind her, appearing out of nowhere.

She jumped and choked on her own squeal, whirling around to find him a few feet behind her, fully armored up and with a dagger out.

"What the hell?" she stage-whispered back. "Why would someone who came to attack you knock? It's Jane!"

"Ah." The dagger vanished and his armor faded away. Darcy's eyes widened—she'd never seen him use illusion like that outside of battle. Even without all the metal he wasn't in sleepwear, which begged the question of what he'd been doing at this hour. "I'll take my leave then."

"What?" But he was gone, stepping back into the shadows of the living room and when she scuttled after him, he was nowhere to be found. She growled and crossed back to the door, throwing it open while Jane was in mid-knock.

"Sorry it took a while to answer," Darcy mumbled. "I was asleep." She ushered Jane inside and shut the door.

"Oh god, I'm sorry, I didn't even realize what time it was. I've been talking to Thor for hours and I just needed to get away, so I got a cab over and I didn't think—I should go—"

"No, stay." She hadn't meant to make her feel guilty. "You look like you need tea."

"I don't know what I need," Jane admitted. They crossed the living room to the kitchen and Darcy filled the fancy kettle Loki had furnished it with.

"You talked to Thor, huh?"

Jane stared down at the counter, pressing her lips together to hide their wobble, and nodded.

"Loki wasn't lying?"

This time she shook her head, but the wobble gave way to a full sob.

"Shit." She shuffled over to Jane to offer a hug. "What did Thor say?"

It took Jane some attempts to get the words out through her tears, and when she did speak it was punctuated by heaved gasps. "That he didn't know it was so important to me—that he loved me and wanted to be with me whether we can have children or not—that it doesn't matter. But it does. I know it does. I could tell when he was saying it that it matters. And dammit, it matters to me too, and he never thought to tell me? Then I got mad at him for lying, and he told me he never really lied, he just didn't tell me everything, so I told him he was sounding a lot like Loki—it was horrible. It all came out, everything he's ever wanted to say, everything he resents, every little niggle, so I hit back. We were just screaming at each other in the end and I had to get out."

Darcy resorted to hand pats and shoulder rubs, and the tea was ready to drink by the time Jane had finished talking. "You can stay here as long as you need. There are, like, twelve spare rooms. Loki can probably magic you up a lab too."

"No, that's why I can't stay. Not with him. I need to find somewhere else."

"Not tonight. Come on, it's two in the morning. Stay here and I guarantee you won't even see him. I barely see him."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Look, the guest rooms are set up and ready, and in the morning your head will be clearer."

"That's if I can sleep at all. I just keep thinking about what he said—what I said."

"I can't help you with that, but the tea might."

When their mugs were empty, Darcy showed Jane to the room next to hers. By the time she flopped back into bed, she realized she might not get back to sleep either. She hadn't really believed that Loki was telling the truth, and now everything was a million times worse. Maybe it was just an argument, and maybe Thor and Jane could work through the no-children issue, but they were pretty big problems all the same. Their mutual trust was dented, which was going to take a lot of work to repair—and if they decided children was an issue they couldn't work around, would they even try?

Was this what Loki wanted? Perhaps this was his last attempt at revenge against Thor, despite the appearance of burying the hatchet, and Darcy had been a useful tool to aid the process.

She may have just facilitated the break-up of her best friend and her boyfriend.

Jane was sound asleep in the morning, so Darcy left a note and headed out to work. Today, in a fit of shitty timing, was the one day she absolutely had to go into Stark Tower, because the project team needed to get together and brainstorm the final stages. Darcy stopped at three Starbucks on the way and was still feeling severely undercaffeinated by the time she arrived.

The day dragged by like a snail on strike, and Darcy's focus was not in her work. She received a couple of texts from Jane, saying she'd left Loki's apartment and taken lodgings in Stark Tower itself. On Darcy's way out of the tower, she found her path blocked by Thor, who looked like he'd had as much sleep as she had.

"Do you know where Jane is?" His downcast expression reminded Darcy why she'd once invested so much in his and Jane's relationship. Not only because they'd functioned as her entertainment on boring days of Science, but because they'd fit so well together and their happiness spilled out onto everyone around them. Unluckily for her, Thor's heartbreak had the same effect. "She is refusing to speak with me."

"Then I can't tell you." Jane hadn't asked her not to, but this felt like one of those things she was supposed to treat as a confidence. "I think you need to give her some space and let her come to you. She's pretty cut up by what she found out." In the middle of the night Darcy would have torn a strip off of him for what he'd hidden from Jane, but right now he looked too pathetic to do that to.

"I never meant to—I always intended to tell her, before we were wed. If only Loki hadn't—"

"Hey, this one is all on you. I guess you didn't want to tell her and risk losing her, but you can't blame Loki—or me—for telling the truth. She had a right to know."

Thor nodded, shoulders dropping so dramatically he seemed to lose inches of height. "I fear I have lost her forever."

"She just needs time to process this and decide what she wants to do. You gotta give her that, okay?"

By the time Darcy got home, she was ready to transfer the energy she hadn't been able to unleash onto Thor at her 'husband' instead.

"Loki?" she yelled as she slammed the door behind her. "I've got a bone to pick with you."

He strolled out to meet her, hands raised in surrender, his expression solemn. "Then she knows the truth."

"I can't believe you'd put me in the middle like that!"

"Then you would rather your friend find out about their incompatibility later—on the eve of the wedding? At the altar? After a year or more of failure to conceive?"

"Thor was going to tell her!"

"I'm sure he intended to, but intention and action are not always the same. He has given up so much for your friend, and neither of us know how much he would do to keep her at his side."

"Well, I hope you're happy, because they're both in a world of pain now."

"Better they face it today, because not facing it all was never an option. If you think ill of me in using you to deliver the news, think how unkindly the Allfather would have borne it to your friend. And no, I am not happy. I have gained little from this except for your wrath."

Darcy took a deep sigh and rolled her eyes at the ceiling. It felt like she kept having the same argument with Loki and unfortunately for her, he was mostly right. Thor was in the wrong and although Loki was a scumbag for letting her break it to Jane, he was the lesser scumbag.

How can he possibly think I'm not going to demand he sign those papers if he keeps pulling this shit?

As if he'd been anticipating her bad mood—and he'd be an idiot if he hadn't—dinner was ready on the dining table. More takeout, but it meant she didn't have to cook so she couldn't complain. Not about that, at least.

"You realize that buying me food will not win me over."

"And yet, it is one of the most common Midgardian courtship techniques." Loki pulled out her chair and waited for her to sit down. "Instead, I hope the pleasure of my company will gradually change your mind."

"How gradual were you planning on that being, because you've only got three weeks left."

He smiled in answer, confident in his abilities, passing her a plate of pilau rice and ensuring their fingers brushed when she took it from him.

They ate in silence for a while, but eventually Darcy's wandering mind and curiosity made her forget to give Loki the silent treatment. "Do you have anything like curry on Asgard?"

"We have some spiced foods, but nothing like this. In truth, there is much more culinary variety to be found here on Midgard."

"I think that was almost an admission that we're good at something."

Loki gave a non-committal shrug. He ate his korma delicately.

"I guess frost giants have to avoid the really hot stuff."

She almost missed his scowl, since he covered it quickly with bland indifference. "My preference for milder tastes has nothing to do with my physiology."

It was true, since Thor couldn't handle heat either. She guessed it was because they weren't used to it. Darcy had grown up in New Mexico so if food wasn't hot enough to spontaneously combust, she considered it pretty mild. It didn't stop her wanting to rib Loki. "Sure, sure."

They lapsed back into silence, but now her train of thought was in Jotunheim. Loki had never mentioned it, but it had formed part of one of Thor's hushed primers about his brother before Loki arrived. The part about attempted destruction of the entire realm had been enlightening. It was the one thing Darcy pitied Loki for: he'd been raised to hate his own species, and she'd been pretty sure as Thor explained the situation that he just didn't understand how deep that cut. It was like someone finding out their birth parents were notorious serial killers.

"You ever considered going back to Jotunheim?" she asked, then froze, cursing her careless mouth.

To his credit, Loki didn't descend into frothing rage. He barely blinked. "The Allfather does not consider it a good idea. Not yet."

"Yeah, I guess not."

"Much diplomatic work has gone into repairing the relationship between Asgard and Jotunheim. Asgard is assisting in the rebuilding of the realm. With Laufey gone, there has been a change in attitude from their throne and a willingness to work together."

Darcy's unfinished Poli-Sci degree gave her enough grounding to figure out that Jotunheim was in no position to refuse any help and had to let Asgard play at fixing things, or risk another smackdown. She was also paying close attention to Loki's expression—the bitter twist of his lips and narrowed eyes, staring into the distance.

"At least you don't have to get involved in any of that, then."

He laughed, without humor, and pushed his plate away. "Such mercy, the Allfather shows me." He rose and stalked across the room. "My apologies, I have somewhere I need to be."

Between the time it took for his words to register and Darcy to turn around, he was gone. She guessed he was comfortable enough around her now to do the materializing thing, but it was still unnerving on her end. His abrupt exit had triggered another memory, though, of him appearing and disappearing in the middle of the night. Fully dressed.

Where had he been? What had he been doing? And how did she go about winning herself an all-expenses paid trip to Vanaheim?

A/N: Time kind of ran away with me and before I knew it, it'd been two months. Sorry about that. If it helps, I'm participating in Nanowrimo, but all my 50000 words are going on fic. WIP fic, not new fic. At least some of that has to be Vegas.

I'm ridiculously behind on comments and review replies and I may never catch up, but if I don't, know it's because I'm spending the time writing. Or Tumbling. Or at work, booo.

Thanks to my betas Jen, Lindsey, Twiggy and Rhi.