"You want to open a wormhole?"
"But how do we know that it'll open where we want it to?"
"I just do. We'll use the tesseract."
"Are you sure the tesseract can do that on its own?"
"Of course I am!"
"I didn't think we had the thing! Didn't your space boyfriend take it back with him?"
"Yep, but we've received some long-range messages over the past few days."
"Well… we don't actually know yet, but we think we're going to have some visitors."
Darcy groaned. The last thing she needed right now was space travel to a different world to puzzle out. She could barely keep up with Jane's science babble on a good day, usually just sticking to the computer programming involved with whatever her discoveries happened to be.
However, new messages meant decoding new messages, and it also meant that was Darcy's project for the day. She was starting to think that she should have majored in linguistics, or biology, or physics, or chemistry, or… basically anything but political science.
It would probably come in handy right now.
It wasn't as if she'd planned to become highly involved with a secret government agency that happened to specialize in all the things that ordinary people weren't supposed to know. A big blonde guy in weird clothes just dropped out of the sky, and well… things escalated. Yes, if anyone was to blame, it was probably Thor. Not that she could actually bring herself to blame him- he was far too nice for that- but anytime she had a complaint about her job she would mentally give the guy a salute.
Not that this was a bad job, really. It came with an apartment (shared with Jane, but large enough that it wasn't cramped), a decent salary, and a lot of amusing and chaotic challenges.
Yes, there were definitely worse things than working for SHIELD.
"Where are we going, again?" Jane asked. Director Fury had called then not ten minutes ago, warning them to pack a bag and be ready to go as soon as they could.
For Fury, that meant however long it took him to get to their lab. Fifteen minutes was the record, assuming he wasn't in transit at the time of the call, so Darcy and Jane were used to the rush. After their return from a rather sudden and suspiciously well-paid consulting trip hallway around the world, they thought it might be back to work as usual… and then they found out about New York.
It was obvious that there was something otherworldly about the destruction- come on, there were flying things and alien soldiers. SHIELD had to have a hand in somewhere, and probably more than just a hand judging by what little footage and reports they'd been able to scrounge up on the internet.
"Who knows?" Darcy shrugged, tossing the last few items in her duffel just as their doorbell buzzed. She opened the door hesitantly, leaving the chain on.
Because, yes, Darcy, a measly little chain is going to do so much against government agents trained to kill…
Standing at the door to their apartment was a woman with fiery red hair, and a man clad entirely in black with what looked like… was that a quiver on his back?
"Agent Natasha Romanov," the woman said, presumably by way of introduction, "and that's Agent Barton. Director Fury sent us."
"How do I know?"
She'd seen the footage. She knew exactly who they were, but Darcy was habitually overcautious ever since the incident with Thor. The man rolled his eyes and flashed credentials in her face. She slammed the door closed, unlatched the chain, and reopened it quickly. As much as she was still suspicious, it was probably a really bad idea to mess with two master assassins.
"Hello," she said, fumbling, "Um, can I get you some coffee or…? Jane's just, um, finishing up." The two agents followed Darcy inside and stood in the small kitchen, looking incredibly out of place in their full gear.
"We're not going to hurt you, you know." Natasha leaned against the kitchen counter, studying her carefully. "Your body language gives you away."
"Sorry," Dacry mumbled. "Being around people that I know could snap my neck with a flick of their wrist doesn't exactly make me feel safe."
"It should." Clint looked up from where he was fiddling with an arrow before tucking it back into his quiver. Jane cane bounding down the hall only a moment later, duffel in hand.
"Ok, ready when you-" She stopped abruptly at the sight of Clint and Natasha.
"Did Fury seriously send you guys out just to escort us?" Darcy asked, hoping to break the tension. It didn't work, but it was a valiant effort if she said so herself. Plus, she was actually really curious. Why send out the top assassins in the business just for a bodyguard job?
"Yep," Natasha replied, walking towards the door, "and we'd better get going. Plane's waiting."
"But why?" Darcy wasn't about to let this go. Natasha shrugged, her face unreadable.
"He must think you guys are worth it."
It took another six hours to reach the SHIELD base.
The entire facility was underground- literally. Way underground. As in, there was an elevator that went downwards for longer than Darcy was completely comfortable with, and the security was top notch. Her bag needed to be checked three times, and she wasn't very comfortable with exactly how thorough the search was.
Clint and Natasha left them at the second round of bag checks, and black clad security guards escorted them to their rooms. The place was pretty well-lit for being underground, and was basically a giant combination of floors, ramps, walkways, and a corridor system so complicated it would probably take a GPS to navigate properly.
Either that, or possibly use Theseus' ball of string trick…
The guard left her at the doorway to her room, which actually resembled a metal prison cell disguised as comfortable living quarters. The room was small, floor covered with carpet and metal walls painted over in a dull cream color. There was a twin size bed, a small metal table, a metal chair, and a metal door to a tiny bathroom on the left. This facility was clearly built for security, not for comfort.
The women were left alone for a grand total of about thirty seconds (long enough for Darcy to throw her bag on the floor and take in the room) before another agent came to escort her down to the "Tesseract Room," whatever that was. According to the agent walking her down, there would be some kind of briefing in about twenty minutes.
The Tesseract Room was the lowest point in the entire base, so far down the Darcy didn't even want to imagine it, because she would probably overestimate and visualize magma outside the walls. Apparently it was to keep whatever happened to reside down here safe, but in Darcy's mind it just put it in more danger- what happened if the base collapsed downward? Crush.
Darcy arrived before Jane (apparently someone else had the job of taking her down here), and was amazed at what she saw. Though the walls were still metal and made her feel like she was inside a glorified tin can, the area was cavernous, sloping upward in a strange kind of dome shape, but dark enough at the top that Darcy couldn't make out where it ended. There was a device that looked like something off of Stargate, and a blue, pulsating box hooked up to it with wires. Several people frantically monitored an impossible amount of computer screens.
As predicted, Director Fury was waiting on them when they arrived.
As no-so-predicted, so was Thor.
"Lady Darcy!" Thor smiled and lifted her into a bone-crushing hug that brought her feet off the ground. Fury was probably amused, but Darcy couldn't say for sure because it looked a lot more like a grimace. "Did you receive my messages?"
"Hey, big guy!" Darcy's greeting sounded strangled, and she gasped for breath as soon as she was safely back on the ground. "Yeah, we got 'em. I just hadn't gotten around to completely decoding them yet. Apparently things don't really translate across…uh… realms."
Now, where was that astrophysicist friend of hers? Darcy glanced around the room, but didn't see her… She had to be around somewhere. Ah! Jane's voice wafted towards her from around the corner. Eh, screw it, she thought, and called out to the general direction that she'd entered from.
"Jane- I think you have a visitor!"
Jane's head of blonde hair poked around the corner cautiously, and then came towards them at a full-out run when she took in the sight of Thor. Darcy backed out of the way as quickly as she could manage, smirking. At least she wouldn't have to hear Jane mope any more.
However, her attention was drawn to the man who came through with Thor. A man wearing green and black, chained and muzzled like a particularly dangerous wild animal. His gaze swept the room, his very being full of utter contempt. Darcy locked eyes with him for a brief moment, and she felt as though he saw through every inch of her, his eyes like ice and fire at once.
It was terrifying.
"That's Loki," Directory Fury said from beside her, noticing the direction of Darcy's gaze. Darcy jumped at the sound of his voice, but collected herself quickly. "In other words, the guy who nearly destroyed the world as we know it."
"That's Thor's brother?" Darcy breathed, almost too softly to hear, like a child afraid their parents might listen in on their conversation.
She got the feeling Loki would be able to hear what she said no matter where she was.
"Yes," Fury seemed surprised. "You've met him?"
"Nope, but he did almost decimate Puente Antiguo with a giant robot." It was amazing what things would come out of her mouth in a completely casual manner these days. "What's he doing here?"
Fury seemed to consider this a moment, casting a glance at the still-embracing Thor and Jane before turning back to Darcy.
"You'll find out."
Fury led them to a conference room somewhere on the same floor that they'd met Thor, and Darcy soon found herself face to face with five incredibly pissed off Avengers, one embarrassed-looking guy in a cape, and one still-muzzled, sulking Asgardian.
Hint: the sulking Asgardian wasn't Thor.
Fury ushered Darcy and Jane through the doors quickly, but they hadn't even shut before people were asking question.
"Is this the chick that caught lightning boy when he fell from the sky?" A voice cut through the silent room that could only belong to Tony Stark. Sure enough, the man himself stood from the table, gesturing to Jane.
"I wouldn't say caught…" Darcy mumbled. Jane elbowed her hard and Thor chuckled.
"Nice to meet you." Jane said, smiling as genuinely as she could.
Loki hummed from his chair, easily conveying impatience even though a muzzle. His hands (and feet, probably, though Darcy wouldn't see for sure) were chained to the arms of the chair and chained together. It didn't look like he was going anywhere.
Thor glanced at Fury, who nodded, and proceeded to remove Loki's muzzle.
"This is Jane Foster," Fury said quickly, covering Thor's actions. "She works for us in one of our more discreet locations, and she's the best authority we have on space travel."
"Who's she?" Bruce Banner, aka the Hulk, was looking directly at her. Darcy's throat went dry.
"The lab assistant who knows too much," she squeaked, but it was too quiet to hear.
Loki, however, seemed to hold back a laugh.
"She's my assistant, Darcy Lewis," Jane said confidently. "She was there when we, um…"
"Ran Thor over with a van?" Darcy suggested, rolling her eyes.
Dr. Banner couldn't hold back a laugh at that one. The rest of the room turned to look at him.
"Sorry," he said, directing his sentence at Thor, "Been there, done that. Worse than a van, though."
"As fascinating as that is, we're off topic," Fury sat at the head of the table and gestured for Jane and Darcy to take the empty seats across the table from Loki and Thor. They sat as quickly as possible, and Fury continued his explanation. "This meeting is to discuss Asgard's verdict determining the punishment of Loki for his crimes against Earth and Asgard. According to Thor, he has been entirely stripped of his powers and banished from Asgard until further notice."
"Ok, so if he can't be on Asgard then why is he here?" Clint asked.
"For the time being he's working for us."
The room erupted into noise.
There were shouts, whispers, screams of frustration, questions all over the place, and altogether a surprising amount of rage for only ten people. Well, actually six. Thor wasn't really shouting, Fury was attempting to contend with the shouting, Loki was watching the spectacle, and Darcy simply didn't know what to do.
But everyone else was certainly doing their part of shouting.
"QUIET!" Thor's voice cut through the clamor in a deafening roar, leaving silence in its wake. "Loki is my charge. He is to live as a mortal and repair the damage he has caused, and then he will return to Asgard for final judgment. If he passes, he will be freed."
"So that's it?" Clint asked. "That's his slap on the wrist? No powers and fix what you did? Do you know how many people lost their lives-"
"I am very well aware, Barton. I was there. My brother's punishment is lenient for now, but it will be… severe… if he fails at this task." Thor seemed mildly concerned about the exact severity of what might happen to his brother, adopted though he was. Even un-muzzled, Loki did not bother to comment, staring at the tabletop, so still that he might have been a statue.
"How severe?" Natasha leaned forward slightly as she spoke, elbows resting on the table. Thor licked his lips, as if thinking of exactly how to put it, but Darcy spoke before he could.
"Let me guess- something to do with being tied to a rock by his son's entrails while a venomous snake drips poison in his face, and he stays there till Ragnarok. Am I right?" She sank back in her chair, shrugging at the strange glances from around the table. Even Loki was looking at her curiously.
"What?" Darcy asked, slightly defensive. "If a guy who can control lightning falls out of the sky right in front of you and claims to be a Norse god, wouldn't you brush up on your reading?"
"Looks like you know your mythology, Miss Lewis." Dr. Banner said with an approving nod.
"She knows her history," Loki corrected, the slightest trace of a smile playing around the edges of his mouth. "Every myth-"
"Is taken from fact," Darcy finished. "I'm a college student; I've heard that phrase before." Thor cleared his throat, dispelling the strange kind of tension-non-tension building in the room.
"Regardless, Lady Darcy is correct in her assumption."
"So we've got to baby sit the psycho killer while he reforms, is that it?" Tony asked, obviously still annoyed.
"In a word, yes," Fury snapped. "And since you all fought him, you'll all be taking turns on guard duty, so you will all have a chance to speak for him or against him when it comes time for his judgment on Asgard."
"Including me and Jane?" Darcy asked, surprised.
"Yes, including you and Jane. In fact, Loki's first job is going to be helping you two work out the instabilities in the transport system so that we can get him safely home."
"The tesseract?" Loki asked. "You want me to help you build a transport based on the powers of the tesseract?"
"You brought it with you, right?" Fury didn't seem phased.
"Yes," Thor nodded. "One of your agents wired it to the machine in the lower chambers as soon as we arrived safely."
"And if I choose not to cooperate?" Loki's face was a mask, entirely unreadable. In mythology he was called Silvertongue, and Darcy was only just beginning to understand why.
Loki played a manipulation game. He used his words against people, made you fall into traps that you never intended to fall into and broke you down until he could mold you into something else with the same words that broke you.
"You'd best cooperate, brother," Thor warned.
This was going to be a long project. Darcy could feel it in her bones.
The next several days consisted of groans, sighs, complaints, and a slightly more than healthy dose of pure, unadulterated snark.
Jane and Darcy were provided a new lab adjacent to the area where the tesseract was hooked up to whatever wormhole transport system SHIELD had managed to MacGyver around the cube's energy, and Darcy spent her days pouring over numbers.
The more the days passed, the less needed Darcy felt. Everyone else she closely associated with was absolutely, without a question, completely indispensable. Tony, as annoying as he could get sometimes, was a weapons genius without any of Iron Man factored in, and his girlfriend was basically the brains behind his whole company. Natasha and Clint were probably more dangerous unarmed and completely naked than 90% of the world's population would be with a machine gun in their hands. Thor was Thor, and Jane was his genius girlfriend. Bruce and Steve… well, the big green science genius and the super soldier. 'Nuff said.
Anyone could decode numbers. Jane had a freaking legion of scientists at her beck and call if she really needed them, but the one thing that kept Darcy here? She knew too much. She knew too much, and she wasn't dangerous enough to kill, and just enough this side of competent to employ. Plus, Jane probably wouldn't be super willing to cooperate if they killed off her friend.
Or at least… she hoped Jane wouldn't be cooperative.
Darcy generally chose not to think about that.
According to what she heard from the others (namely from Bruce and Steve directly and from one loud, open complaint from Tony before Pepper could silence him), Loki refused to cooperate. He currently resided in a glass-walled cell somewhere inside the base, and each of the people who were meant to be escorting him around were now taking turns doing guard duty.
There were regular security guard shifts, of course, but every now and then someone else would sit in, presumably to converse or try to persuade him to cooperate… However, it really just seemed like Loki managed to press on the last nerve of every single person who had done their time- to the point that it was a general consensus that Bruce wouldn't even be going down there.
She couldn't understand what was so hard about cooperating- she understood why he wouldn't want to, but he seriously needed to. Darcy hadn't known him long, and she knew that Loki was nothing if not intelligent. He should be able to tell that the only way to evade certain… well, if not death, certain doom… was to cooperate with what SHIELD wanted, and if he could do it without pissing off the people who were likely going to decide his sentence when the time came, it was probably a good idea.
Her second week on the job Darcy started searching through the SHIELD database. Decoding the messages from Thor could only entertain her for so long, and the whole process was going nowhere fast as far as progress went. She needed a break… and possibly some snooping time. Most of the database was under heavy encryption, but there was some of it she was able to access without much trouble.
Loki's files were easy to access, not only providing information on Asgard and what little about him they knew, but detailing the damage to New York City and which SHIELD operatives had been compromised. Clint Barton topped the list, and right under it was a name she never expected to see.
Darcy checked over her shoulder out of sheer habit. There was no one watching- the lab was empty except for Jane, and she was buried in her work, oblivious. Scanning through the page quickly, Darcy was able to gather that Erik had been subjected to some sort of mind control by the tesseract. By Loki.
According to the files, Erik was in recovery at a classified location, and expected to be released at some point in the near future. He was doing well physically… but not dealing with the fact that he built the machine to open the wormhole that let those things through into New York.
She could see why he wouldn't be. Erik was always one to blame himself for things.
A spark of anger bloomed in Darcy's chest. Before now she could deal with Loki passively, under the circumstances that even though he was dangerous, he had yet to earn any kind of personal score marker with her.
These files changed the game entirely.
Sometime in the near future Fury was going to lose his other eye, she was certain of it.
After talking to the Director earlier that day about Erik's status and the files on the SHIELD database, Darcy had been assigned guard duty for Loki on the next shift. Unfortunately, the next shift was the one that started at 3AM and continued into the hours of the day when the sun would actually be up if they were above ground to see it.
Ah, well. She supposed she would have to do it sometime, just like the rest of them, which was why she was sitting in an isolated section of the base at a desk at 4AM, staring at a glass cell with a single occupant who hadn't even deigned to move in the last hour she'd been there. He just sat on the floor, facing the back wall, still as stone.
Stone. Cold. Emotionless. A good fit, Darcy thought wryly.
Darcy sat in the chair at the security guard's desk, swinging her legs back and forth, while Loki continued to stare at the wall with his back to her. He knew she was there- she was sure of it- but he made no move to acknowledge her. With a sigh, she cranked up the volume on her iPod, hoping desperately that she wouldn't fall asleep anytime in the next four hours.
How did the regular security guards do this?
How did Loki do this?
And couldn't he just get out anytime he wanted? Even mortal, he probably had some tricks up his sleeve. What was the point in even having a security guard? To keep him company?
"I feel you staring, mortal."
Darcy nearly jumped out of her skin, removing her headphones and immediately glancing away. Loki chuckled softly.
"Interesting, that they would leave a helpless girl on guard…" Loki paused briefly, still facing away from her. "What do they think you can do against me?"
"Probably nothing," Darcy muttered before she could think better of it, rolling her eyes. It was probably best not to engage him in conversation…
And then Loki did something she wasn't expecting. He stood, turned around, and looked at her, eyebrows raised in surprise.
"What?" she asked, shrugging. "Didn't you already break out of this place once? You're supposed to be the god of mischief. I don't think you'd still be here the second you had a plan."
"Look, Mr. Silvertongue," Darcy sighed, "I may not be super scientist Jane, and I may not be a badass fighter like Natasha, and I definitely don't have the organizational skills of Pepper, but I'm not stupid."
"So you think you know who I am, do you?" He stood, walking towards her slowly, sizing her up like a predator preparing to pounce. A cold chill ran down her spine, and she fought to form coherent words.
"Not really… I know what somebody thought you were." If there's one thing she learned about history, it was that the winners make the records. Loki's opinion of himself was probably entirely different than any of the mythology books.
"And what would you say to that? Tell me I've been bad, that I need to be punished for my crimes like the rest of your world? Please. It's getting old."
"No," she shook her head slowly, sadly. "I'd tell you that whatever you were you aren't anymore. You're mortal, at least… according to Thor you're mortal. "
Loki laughed outright, harsh and loud, but it sounded forced. It was unnatural, the type of learned laugh that covers a sting or comes into being after living too long without a smile.
"Oh, that's where you're wrong. My body may be mortal, but I am so much more than human, and I know more about you than you would ever want me to see." He made it sound like human was equivalent to a disgusting disease.
"My father took me when I was a child from the world of our enemies; he raised me as his son. I was the less favored of his children… by everyone. Thor was always stronger, faster, the better warrior, the people's man… Most of them never turned my way, not with more than fright or contempt. Even Thor's friends never could stand me. Know your place, they said. You are not king." He paced back and forth in his cell as he talked, brooding.
"Small potatoes, huh?"
"Potatoes?" Loki's brow furrowed in confusion.
"Uh… local expression. Thing. It basically means not feeling good enough." She settled back into her chair, dropping her eyes and trying to look casual. Loki huffed in an almost amused fashion.
"What would you know about that?"
"More than you think," she muttered.
"Do tell," Loki stopped pacing, waiting expectantly.
"Mmmmm… nope. I'd really rather not." Darcy smiled innocently, enjoying the shocked expression on his face. She wasn't going to buy into his talk-to-me game, not until she got some information from him first.
"You're sure about that?"
Loki began pacing again for a few minutes, looking oddly like he was meditating. Darcy was about to go back to the comfort of her iPod for the next few hours until her replacement came, but she stopped when he spoke.
"Hmmm… Darcy Lewis, twenty-one years old, grew up with your mother, father, grandmother, and three sisters all living in one house. And a cat. Went to the University of New Mexico, still lacking a semester in your degree, worked three jobs the past few months before SHIELD signed you on." Loki waited, as if expecting her to react.
"Ok." Darcy blinked, unimpressed.
"It doesn't frighten you at all?"
"You could probably find out all of that from my facebook page," she said with a shrug. She was pretty sure people she knew less than Loki had seen that page. "Or possibly a particularly good fortune teller. They're just numbers and timelines- it's nothing."
"Then what is something?" He had yet to lean against the wall or even shift his weight. He just stood, talking. It was a bit eerie, to tell the truth.
"Why should I tell you?"
"You don't often have the chance to talk to a god." Loki shrugged, as if that was reason enough.
It was 4AM.
Darcy was tired.
She didn't want to be here, especially after what she found out about Erik and the mind control (and who knows how many other people who were under the same influence), and she was pretty sure Loki wanted her here even less. Over the past few days she had seen uncontrollable amounts of sass, snark, and utter disrespect towards everyone in the entire facility, and they would generally just sit there and take it because they knew Fury would jump on them for "harming the prisoner." And Loki knew it, too. Some of it was funny, but most of it… most of it had piled and piled to beyond the point of tolerance for Darcy.
Someone needed to teach the guy a lesson about what was actually happening around here, and they needed to do it soon, before he lost his head (or life) or anyone else lost their minds.
And he was in a cell, and she was out here.
And he was listening to her now.
"Oh, don't even try that!" Darcy nearly yawned, but caught herself at the last second. She stood, marching towards the glass cell. "Don't think you can trick me into your mind games with your pretty words. You might have been a god to some people at some point, but not to me. I don't believe in gods, and even if I did… well, you've been stripped of your power."
She could practically feel Loki's tension, his blue eyes sharp and cold. It was likely a very, very bad idea to piss him off, but just now she wasn't worried about that. She was sick and tired of him acting like a princess when they were doing something for him.
"You listen, and you listen well, because if I'm going to be around you for the forseeable future, I'm not going to take your shit." Darcy took a deep breath, willing her anger into a coherent speech pattern. "I've felt like small potatoes before… hell, I still feel like small potatoes. I come to work every day surrounded by people who are crazy smart and strong and frankly a lot more useful than I am. I know some computer programming and I have some common sense, but it's nothing they don't already have covered here. Don't tell me I don't get small potatoes. Ilive small potatoes."
"Just because you've been mistreated, or wronged, or whatever, doesn't give you the right to go and seek revenge on everything and everyone in your path just because you can. Do you know what that makes you, Loki? It doesn't make you strong, or powerful, or even right. It makes you just like them."
"Do you have any idea what SHIELD is doing for you- what your brother is doing for you? Any idea at all? Because I can guarantee that most of the people in this building don't want to give you a second chance at all."
"He's not my brother!" Loki snapped, façade finally falling. "He never was! He never saw me as a brother, as an equal!"
"He's the only reason they haven't shot you yet," she said frankly, coldly. And it was true- he had to know that, somewhere deep down. He had to realize that Thor was the only thing keeping his smug little ass alive. Loki set his jaw, still staring.
"Do you really want to know the reason why you're in this cell?" Darcy asked, voice low and menacing. "Because it isn't to keep the rest of the base safe. It's to keep Clint, or Natasha, or Tony, or any one of the hundreds of other people you've pissed off just inside this building from putting a bullet through your fragile little mortal heart while you sleep." Darcy's nose was mere inches from the glass, so close that under normal circumstances he would have been able to feel her breath.
Loki didn't speak. He didn't move. If she didn't know better she'd say he wasn't breathing, either, but that just wasn't possible. Just like a statue, blue eyes cold and unfeeling.
"Tell me what you did to Erik."
"Oh, is that all?" Loki almost smiled. "You want to know what happened to your friend?"
"Is that a crime?"
"Depends," he shrugged, "but if you really want to know, I'll freely admit that I never harmed him. The knowledge from the tesseract is a gift. It shows you a higher plan, a higher purpose… it just so happened that I was the master of it at the time." There was no telling if she should believe him or not at this point.
"Is it permanent?" Darcy asked, crossing her arms.
"No, stupid girl." He rolled his eyes. "But I'm sure he remembers what happened. The tesseract has some effect on everything it touches- even me… even you."
"I've never-" Darcy began, but Loki held up a hand.
"You work within mere feet of it every day. Sooner or later you will start to see its effects…" He eyed her curiously, as if sizing her up. Darcy fought not to squirm under the scrutiny. "I pity the day when that happens. You will likely not enjoy it."
Her heart was pounding so hard and fast that it seemed to shake her entire body.
"Enjoy your stay, Loki. At the rate you're going, it won't be long."
She turned away from the glass, planted herself in the guard's chair, and didn't move until the next guard came to switch the shift.
Darcy left several hours later- he wasn't sure when, but they hadn't spoken since she sat back down in the guard's chair.
No one else had responded to his taunts in the same way she had. They had either played into his game, like Rodgers, or refused to respond, like Barton, or exchanged meaningless barbs back and forth until one of the agents watching the video feed had come to the conclusion that one of them was probably going to break the glass and strangle the other at some point. Stark was always an interesting one, but Darcy…
Insolence. Absolutely appalling! He had (or used to have) more power in his little finger than she had in her entire body, and there she was trying to tell him that she knew things he did not. It was impossible- he had the knowledge of ages!
And yet he constantly questioned what may have happened to his mind in more recent times. The taunting, the teasing that followed him his whole life, always second to Thor, second to everyone… the revelation of his true heritage, the fall off the bifrost…
He hated it. He hated hearing someone else use their tongue like a well-sharpened knife to slice away at the very heart of another until there was nothing else left to see or cut away. He knew that trick well, and Loki was not one to share his secrets. He hated that she wouldn't respond to his tricks, and he hated that she knew enough of the tales of old to be wary of his every move in ways that even the Avengers couldn't know about.
He hated that she exposed him, called him out on his façade and his behavior inside the base.
But most of all, he hated that every word she said had been true, because it made him hate himself. He still doubted his brother's true feelings towards him after everything that had passed between them, but he didn't doubt that Thor was truly the only reason he was still alive.
He could see the truth of her story in her eyes- the use of that strange expression about potatoes did nothing to dampen the fire in her words- and remembered the words of the agent who first found him when he broke out of his glass prison the last time.
You lack conviction.
Darcy Lewis most definitely did not lack conviction.
She believed every word she said and didn't mind telling even someone who would potentially have the power to end her.
They rang over and over in his mind, those words.
Put a bullet through your fragile little mortal heart while you sleep…
I live small potatoes…
It makes you just like them…
He cringed at the memory of the last. Partly because it hurt to think about the people who had done this to him- had teased him and knocked him down, had slowly turned him into the monster of Asgard… but mostly because he knew, somewhere, that it had to be true.
Loki thought of himself as intelligent. He wasn't completely devoid of logic, and he liked the thought that he understood how the mind worked- the games it played, the paths it took.
Darcy had taken the resolve he had left and effectively put a hammer to it, dampening if not destroying it, and she had done it without a thought for her own safety, in defense of the others… and ultimately in defense of Loki. She didn't want to see him dead, she said so herself, but she wasn't about to put up with him if she didn't have to, either.
Interesting, that she would do that.
And, much to his dismay, he liked it.
Well, perhaps like was too strong a word. Intrigued, maybe. Curious.
A mortal with fire. And not the kind of hidden fire that flared in Agents Barton or Romanov, or the open, charismatic flame that flickered around Stark and his kind. This was pure, raw, untamed emotion, and it was as addicting as a drug to him. His goals had become twisted over time, still retaining integrity in his eyes but not, apparently, in the eyes of others.
Oh, yes, he liked Darcy- if only for the time being, if only for her spunk and bravery and complete irrationality... but he liked her.
If only a tiny bit.
Darcy was fuming when she came to the lab the next morning, a cup of strong coffee and translation notebook in hand. She hadn't found time for a nap, and cranky Darcy was never good for anyone.
"How was guard duty?" Jane asked, still staring at her computer screen. When she finally looked up a few seconds later, Darcy was glaring. "That good, huh?"
"Swell," she snapped, plopping down with her notebook and praying the caffeine would do something to combat the exhaustion.
"Darcy, why don't you take the day off?" Jane suggested, turning to look at her. She seemed genuinely concerned. "You look pretty rough."
"I'll be fine," Darcy waved her off as nonchalantly as she could. "College student, remember? I've pulled all-nighters before."
"It might be good to just take a day to res, though. Maybe just-"
Jane tensed, cutting off as the door opened. Thor stepped inside, bright smile on his face, and for a moment Darcy was incredibly confused… until she saw who was in tow behind him.
"Oh, no," she groaned, rubbing her eyes. "Tell me I'm dreaming. Tell me I fell asleep and this is my nightmare."
"Nope," Jane squeaked.
"Loki has decided to cooperate. He starts today," Thor explained. Loki said nothing, taking a seat on one of the stools around the lab. His hands were in cuffs, but not chained, and the cuffs had blinking lights on the side (she later learned that they were for tracking, and worked a bit like a shock collar if Loki tried to leave the base).
"Don't worry, mortal," Loki sighed, "The cameras are on me every second. I'm not going to kill you while you sleep." Darcy felt an involuntary bust of fear and rage hearing him use her words.
"You know, if you weren't constantly using the word 'moral' like it's an unholy disease I might actually believe you." She waited, staring, daring him to break eye contact first. The tension in the air was palpable, and Darcy could see Thor becoming twitchy out of the corner of her eye. Loki tilted his head slightly, as if considering.
"Darcy," he said, still not breaking eye contact.
It was soft, the first non-threatening sound she thought she'd ever heard from him. He wasn't playing her this time, wasn't teasing, wasn't working on a game. At least, she didn't think he was.
Darcy nodded once and turned back to her notebook.
As soon as Darcy effectively left their conversation Thor let out an audible sigh of relief, and Jane began babbling about the progress she'd made and the problems they still had. She asked questions about what the bifrost was, how it worked, and how long it had been in existence, and Loki told her only small amounts of information at a time. The process of slowly relaying information and calculations to Jane lasted several days- she worked like a woman possessed, taking on a strange kind of drive that he had yet to see in any normal human being.
Then again, he was inside SHIELD. Normal was relative here.
Day after day, "new" information about the bifrost (new to them, at least, as much of it was commonly known on Asgard), the tesseract, and the general act of transportation across realms would occupy Jane, and Darcy still worked at her numbers, occasionally listening in when she didn't think he noticed.
He always noticed.
Loki knew quite a bit about the bifrost, truthfully. He'd been fascinated with it as a child- it was how he was able to figure out the basic elements of how to open the portal over New York.
The rest of it had been given to him by the tesseract.
The more he thought, the more he wondered what the tesseract truly did to those it gave intelligence and purpose to. Knowledge from the tesseract had long been considered a gift in every culture he knew, but sometimes, on rare occasions, someone would go mad from the pressure of their newfound gift.
Loki occasionally wondered if going mad would have been a relief. At least then he would be able to claim he had no responsibility for his actions, perhaps get off a little easier.
He couldn't say that, though. He knew exactly what he was doing the entire time, he knew what his goals were, and in reaching for his goals he allowed nothing to stand in his way. Looking back, though… it was disturbing. In his mind's eye, Loki could see the versions of Darcy, Jane, and Erik that had met Thor when he first fell from the sky.
Jane was nearly unchanged. A little thinner, perhaps, a little more tired, and quite a bit more in love, but those changes were nearly imperceptible under a cursory glance.
He had only seen Erik once since the tesseract had loosened its grasp on him, just after the Avengers took him into captivity. The scientist had looked at him with cold, angry eyes, unwilling to forget or forgive.
Darcy… she had changed completely.
Loki could remember thinking her a frivolous creature, but he could have been wrong. In only a brief time in the lab with her and occasionally seeing her at meals, he had quickly come to a different conclusion.
She sat quietly in the lab, preferring to work alone with "headphones" in her ears (according to Jane she was "drowning out the world," and Thor clarified that she was listening to music). She was a calming voice when things became too out-of-hand between Stark and Rodgers, once very pointedly telling them to go find another play spot or she would put them both into time out, which Stark's girlfriend found incredibly amusing. She made strange references to different aspects of Midgardian culture that most of the others seemed to find funny, and she was the only person in the whole base that could convince Jane to stop working long enough to eat a proper meal or even sleep.
Everyone at this base had blood on their hands in some way or another. Liars and killers, the lot of them, all of them carrying secrets and stories that no one else should know, and maybe that was what made Darcy and Jane seem to out of place.
They weren't the same as the rest of them- they had their own lives, their own stories, but they weren't riddled with blood and tragedy in the same way that the rest of them were. They didn't carry themselves in the same way as the others, an invisible weight dragging them down with every step, far too tired for their age. They hid in their corners, away from the rest- Jane in her work, Darcy inside herself, in her verbal barbs and jokes that kept the rest of her shielded.
In a way, he understood what his brother saw in Jane. She was pretty, certainly, and brilliant, a good conversationalist, but time and time again she failed to show the kind of depth Loki expected of her. She liked to learn things, and question, but her mind was solely on science and the stars… and Thor, which was just a bit too strange for him to ever consider making a friend of her.
Sometimes it seemed like Darcy hated him, probably because of what he did to her other scientist friend, the one who had worked with the tesseract. Other times her guard would slip- she would laugh at one of his quips, or let her guard down for just a moment, and it was like she'd forgotten who he was and what he'd done. She was a puzzle, a jumble of conflicted emotions, and it was entirely too fascinating to watch.
Loki almost wished he had more time to watch her, but he wasn't here to become involved in the lives of Midgardians. He was here to take his punishment, and when the time came he would return to Asgard and forget these petty people.
Especially the mouthy lab assistant.
Loki was there some days, and other days he was nowhere to be found. On those days, she could only assume that it was another Avenger's job to babysit for a time.
However, where Loki was, so was Thor, and that meant that most days Loki was at the lab because Thor was at the lab because Jane was at the lab. And Darcy just sat in the corner and did her numbers and tried to come up with a reliable system for decoding the messages that Thor had originally sent.
She usually tried to ignore Loki's presence, but it was never impossible to entirely forget he was there. He had the unusual quality that made you feel his stares, and it creeped her out to a point where she moved into the least visible corner of the room to do work that didn't involve a computer.
The more Loki looked, the more Darcy felt that it was her right to look back. And oh, he looked. Not in a perverted way, but like he was… interested in her, somehow. Curious. Like she was an anomaly and he was dying to find out why. She never understood what was so intriguing to him. As far as Darcy was concerned she was the most normal person on the base.
And as Darcy looked back at him, the more confused she was about what she saw.
Loki had an air of arrogance around other people that was hard to take, but sometimes, when she saw him alone, she saw how his posture changed, saw the tired look in his eyes. She saw the slight little glances he cast the others when they talked in groups, and the clear jealousy when he saw Thor with Jane.
Darcy wondered for a while if Loki had a thing for Jane- he seemed to have mostly gotten over his direct, open jealousy over his brother, and it made sense. Everyone had a thing for Jane at some point or another; she was just that kind of person. However, when Loki and Jane worked together without Thor (not often, but it happened whenever Thor's presence just became too…erm… distracting for Jane) he seemed his usual cold and distant self.
So maybe it wasn't that he had a thing for Jane- it was that he wanted what his brother had with her.
It was sad, really. That's all it was, just sad.
Darcy, for her part, could never forget what he'd done. She'd seen the city when they arrived- it was in shambles, and there were people hurt, sick, and dying. Lives were torn apart, and no one would ever be the same again… and it was all Loki's fault.
And it made her sick to think about because she knew that, somewhere deep inside her, she had started to try and look past that.
Assuming, of course, that it was even possible to do so.
It was hot.
It was hot, and Darcy couldn't sleep if her life depended on it. The sheets stuck to her back and neck, and she couldn't find a comfortable position among the pillows and blankets.
Even the metal walls were room temperature, which was saying something, because on a normal day they would feel like ice against her skin. She'd tried everything she could think of before deciding that sleep was useless, and decided instead to slip on some old sweatpants and take a walk. Fury had said they had free reign of the building, and she intended to use it.
Darcy had a pretty good handle on how the corridors lined the base by now, but she thought that the safest route to take would probably be the one that wound around by the tesseract room (or tesseract cavern, as she'd mentally nicknamed it). It was so familiar that she could walk it without much thought.
The air outside her room was blessedly cool (apparently SHIELD had no use for things like thermostats), creating goosebumps on her overheated skin. She walked along the paths on the upper floor towards the cavern, so high up that it was darker than most of the lower floors simply because hardly anyone ever came up this high, feeling better and more awake with every step. For the first time in a long time, her mind felt clear.
It was wonderful.
And it lasted about six and a half minutes.
"What on earth are you doing prowling the base in the middle of the night?" Darcy stopped dead at the sound of Loki's voice. She would normally have run away or tased him, but she didn't have her taser and he'd be able to catch her in a second, so… there wasn't much of a point. Plus, there were guards all over the place. Sooner or later one of them would come along.
"I could ask you the same thing." Darcy looked around to try to find him, squinting through the darkness. Eventually she saw a tall form standing on the walkway that stretched above the area where the tesseract was like a catwalk in a theater. Gotcha.
He was staring out into the space past the railway, looking like he was somewhere far, far away, caught up in his own thoughts. Darcy walked over to him slowly as he finally spoke.
"I cannot sleep. I dislike being unable to see the sky." Loki continued to stare into the darkness that spread out from the walkway.
"Me too," Darcy admitted, leaning against the railing beside where he stood. For a moment, she thought she saw surprise on his face, but it was gone in a flash, back to the cool mask of impassivity he always wore. "The sky, I mean. Living in New Mexico… you don't exactly stay underground much. Especially working with an astrophysicist for a living. Sometimes I still think about it before I sleep- name off the constellations."
"I suppose you have your own legends here."
"About the stars?" Darcy looked out into the blackness beyond the railing, where the room was too large to be completely filled with light, imagining familiar patters in the constellations. "Some of them, yeah…"
"I've seen some of you friend's star charts. You name them differently than your ancestors, as well."
"Really?" Darcy had been told star stories all her life. She wasn't brilliant at astronomy, but she knew the basics. "Like what?"
"The one your people call Hyades- it was known before as Ulf's Keptr."
"Translation?" Darcy raised an eyebrow, confused. Hyades- the face of Taurus, the bull, but she had no idea what on earth "Ulf's Keptr" meant. Loki laughed softly, the tiniest of smiles appearing and disappearing before she could completely register it.
"It means Mouth of the Wolf."
"Like the wolves that chased the sun and the moon?" Darcy asked absentmindedly. He didn't respond for a moment, thinking or stunned or possibly something else entirely, but she could feel his eyes on her, waiting for her to continue or move, or maybe just taking her in.
"You know more than you let others see."
Darcy shrugged. She liked knowing things… it was just that the things she liked knowing didn't usually fall in line with her field of work. Science wasn't her forte, at least not the kind of science that Jane worked with, but she liked stories. A good story was the heart of all humanity, right? The whole world is made up of stories, and the more you listen to them, the more you know.
"Maybe I don't want people to see."
"You should talk," Darcy said pointedly. Loki slumped slightly, seeming to concede to her point.
"We have an expression in Asgard: 'Every problem has nine sides and infinite solutions.'"
"Why nine?" She raised her eyebrows in question.
"Nine realms, nine branches of the Yggdrasil," he explained, but then seemed to reconsider. "Some say it's because of the number of people in the first ruling family on Asgard, but my research indicates that there were six of them… Unless there are three cats somewhere that I never knew about."
Darcy laughed, surprised at the joke, and was happy to find that Loki was smiling as well. God, he looked so… normal when he smiled. Handsome, even, though she had to allow that it was pretty dark right now.
"I really don't want to like you," Darcy mumbled before she could stop herself. She cursed under her breath as soon as she realized what had happened. He looked like he'd been slapped. "Oh, god, that sounded awful, didn't it? It's just I expected you to be awful, and you're really not all that bad when you're not out for blood and watching as New York crumbles around you…"
"Nine sides," he said, all the humor gone.
"What was your side?"
"Maybe someday I'll tell you."
Darcy could see why he might have come here, wishing for the sky. This was the only place in the entire base that ever had any real darkness- the rest of it was always lit, expect for the small rooms… but even they felt small. This was huge, open space, where your voice bounced off the walls if you talked just a bit too loud, and if you stared long enough, and your imagination as good enough, you could just imagine that you might be outside. You could just imagine that this was night, and it was the sky, and if you looked hard enough or imagined well enough, you just might see the stars.
"Why can't you be like this all the time?" she asked softly.
"This!" she gestured vaguely, waving her hands in the air. "Without the smoke and mirrors and words to hide behind. You're, like, the complete opposite of what you are now when you're around other people."
"I give them what they expect to see." He shrugged, like it was completely normal.
Hell, he was a prince on Asgard, right? Giving people what they expected to see was probably just life for him, as natural as breathing.
"How am I supposed to know which one to believe?" She shuffled her weight a little, shifting against the railing, hoping she hadn't gone just a step too far.
"Which one do you want to believe?"
Darcy thought for a long time- probably too long, in hindsight. She wanted to believe that Loki was a better person. She wanted to believe the best in him, but he insisted on proving her wrong every day. Ever glare, every sharp word, every hasty action taken in anger… it made her resolve to find the best in him crumble. At times like this, though, she thought she saw a spark of something- something… human, as ill-fitting as the word probably was. Something… not quite good, but not quite bad. Morality, perhaps, a sense of self, of who he was before all of this.
She wanted to believe in that morality very, very badly… but that could be a dangerous thing for all involved.
"Whichever one is the real one."
"Interesting," he mused, turning back to the darkness.
"You constantly think about the best in other people, and yet you don't say you want to believe the best in me."
"You're twisting my words, Silvertongue." Darcy swatted his arm lightly, playfully. The mood lightened, but only for an instant. "I want to know who you are- good or bad. That's all." She turned her head slightly to look up at him, finding that he was staring at her.
"That's more than you think." His voice was soft, almost… small. It sounded strange to her ears to hear Loki seem small, but the change was nice. More of him, and a tiny bit less of what people expected him to be.
"I'm ok with that. For now." She stood up straight again, biting her lip. "Look, whether we like it or not, we have to work together. And I know we're not on the best of terms- actually, we're not on the worst of terms, either. What are we even doing-"
"Darcy," Loki said quickly, cutting her off. She was glad it was dark- babbling generally meant blushing, and she wasn't about to be caught blushing around Loki, of all people.
"Right. The point is… truce?" She held out her hand gingerly.
"Truce," Loki said after a short moment, shaking her hand. His grip was strong and his skin felt like fire against her hand it was so warm. "You're cold."
Darcy let go of his hand immediately, wrapping her arms around herself.
"Yeah, it's kind of a constant thing," she said with a shrug. "You know what they say- cold hands, warm heart. Um… 'night Loki."
The phrase had tumbled out of her mouth before she had a chance to stop it. One of the things her mother used to say… Darcy scuttled off towards her room as quickly as she could, a strange sort of knot taking root in her chest.
This couldn't be a good thing.
Notes: At this point I have no idea if I'm going to continue this or not. It honestly depends on reader response- I probably could continue without much trouble from the muse, but it's not BURNING to continue, you know?