Nowhere. That's where this was going- nowhere, and fast.

These translation papers were probably among the top contenders for "Most Convoluted Pile of Scribbled Mess in the Known Universe," and she was so tired of them. Jane really just didn't have much for her to do, and it wasn't like it was Jane's fault, not really. She had Loki to help her with the tesseract-based transport system and Thor to hang around with the rest of the time.

In short, these translations were starting to take over her life in a way she didn't like.

And frankly… Darcy was kind of lonely.

It wasn't that people weren't friendly to her, or that she didn't have anything to do. She'd combed the SHIELD database for all it was worth, looking for information that people might not have felt comfortable telling her (to the point where Darcy was even beginning to debate cracking the encryption on the higher security level files… but she quickly decided that would be a very bad idea). Some days she ran errands for Bruce in his lab, when he needed someone he knew wouldn't botch the job and she was fed up with translations. Some days she talked to Steve, or had massively fun snark battles with Tony (which usually ended in either 'touché' or Pepper breaking them up), and Natasha was even teaching her a few self-defense tactics…

But even though she wasn't alone, she still felt kind of lonely.

Darcy had never had a lot of friends because she'd never had time for a lot of friends. Between school and trying to pay her rent, she was lucky to have enough time to think before Thor came…

And then after Thor came she'd had a decent salary, a nice place to stay, and time for friends. The only problem was how to go back to a normal life with normal people doing normal things after that one weekend. There were other things out there, and she couldn't really talk about them to anyone but Jane and Erik. On the bright side, she and Jane had grown closer very fast. On the downside, if people thought Darcy was weird before, they certainly avoided her now- just knowing that she was close to that incident made people cringe, even without comments about the six foot tall Norse thunder god that her roommate was dating.

So now she was here, in an underground bunker chock full of people that she could talk to about any of that- people who thought things like this were normal- and she still felt like a freak. Maybe she was just too stuck in the middle? There was stone cold practical, and there was worldly and frivolous. Darcy liked to think she was somewhere in between, and somewhere in between that was SHIELD and the rest of the world. She balanced on a weird kind of invisible tightrope, teetering just enough to stay the strange one at either extreme, and it was starting to gnaw at her.

The only thing worse was that a few nights ago with Loki was the first time she didn't feel so strange.

It was good to be able to talk and not feel like an idiot for not knowing things, and he didn't know enough about Earth to judge anything that she said like other people might have. Sure, he was a smart-assed bastard most of the time, but… honestly, she was kind of warming up to him.

There was even a horrible feeling that she might be getting attached to him.

He sat beside Jane, talking numbers and calculations, while Darcy stole glances at him from her desk, trying to think of a way to get his story out. Loki was like a puzzle a million miles wide, and the pieces falling into place were as small as her fingernail. It was intriguing, and in a way she hated herself for giving in.

Loki is evil. Evil, Darcy. That had been her mantra for the past several days… weeks, even. He killed people, ruined lives, destroyed so much and for what reason? Anger? Revenge? No one really knew, it seemed… and she could never forgive him for what he did, regardless of the reasons behind it.

But sometimes she would catch herself wondering.

At his best, he was incredibly intelligent, collected, witty, and could even occasionally seem charming. At his worst, he was bitter and cold, given to horrible bursts of a bad temper and isolating himself completely. It was sort of… intriguing, in a weird way? She caught glimpses of someone almost human underneath the mask of cold reason and revenge that Loki kept close to him at all times, and all it did was make her wonder what had happened to change him into this- this being of ice and bitterness.

She didn't think that the former god of mischief, who found the occasional pranks she and Tony pulled amusing, who liked to read and liked the stars, and who seemed just as unsure of himself as Darcy was of herself, could have always been like this. When he smiled (rarely), he smiled as though the expression was unfamiliar; as if it had been so long that he wasn't sure how to smile any more.

No making friends with the bad guy, Darcy.

But isn't he supposed to be reforming?

And… what if he wants someone else to talk to as badly as I do?

Distraught and altogether not ready to handle the flood of emotions, Darcy put her head down on the desk, locking her fingers at the base of her neck. There was a clattering sound from the jostled jars of pencils and paperclips.

"What are you doing?" Loki called. She could almost hear the ghost of a laugh in his voice.

Darcy mumbled a few curses under her breath before she raised her head.

"Nothing," she muttered, shaking her head.

"You ok?" Jane asked, blinking. True, Darcy was usually the easygoing, slightly apathetic member of the group- she was the one who de-stressed everyone, not the one who pulled her hair out over things!

"Fine," Darcy said, nodding. "I'm fine." She was simply trying to convince everyone that she would be perfectly ok after the migraine incident of two days ago. Most of them had started to believe her… she thought.

"Well… Thor and I were going to go get some lunch- do you want anything?" She sounded unconvinced, but that was just Jane. She almost never believed anything but what she saw with her own eyes, and Darcy was positive she didn't make a convincing case.

"Um… could you just get me some coffee?" Darcy rubbed her eyes. Maybe some caffeine intake would be a good thing for her.

"Sure," Jane nodded, obviously still concerned, and walked out the door, stealing a glance back over her shoulder as she left. As soon as the door was closed, Loki stood and walked over to her.

"Why did you lie?" The question was blunt, and Darcy was both surprised and grateful. She wasn't up for any of his mind games right now.

"I didn't-"

"I'm the god of lies, Darcy. Or, I was," he amended. "Don't try to fool me."

Smart, Darcy. Real smart. Lie to the liar so big the Vikings made him the god of it.

"I just… I don't want her to worry. I do actually care about her, and Jane just worries about everything. I'm a big girl. I can take care of myself."

"You're sure of that?" Without warning, Loki seized her chin, holding her face so she was forced to look up at him, the other hand grabbing for her right wrist. He looked her over with the scrutiny of a doctor, and Darcy realized he was checking her pulse with the hand on her wrist.

Oh. That makes sense now.

"You haven't been sleeping well, have you?"

"Not for a long time," Darcy said softly. No need to worry about her sleeping habits- they had never been good. She gently worked her arm free of his grasp and he let his other hand drop. "It's just been a little hot in my room lately, so I've been sleeping even worse than usual."

"I've heard a few of the others complaining as well," Loki said thoughtfully.

"You haven't noticed?" Funny- did it only affect part of the base?

"My… heritage typically renders me immune to temperature extremes." He winced, as if mentioning his background was like dancing on pins and needles.

"Are all Asgardians like that?" she asked, curious. Loki paused, shaking his head.

"I am not of Asgard."

"I thought you were Thor's brother-" she began, but he quickly cut her off.

"I am adopted."

Adopted? Adopted from where? Asgard was far out enough- were there other places even freakier than the home world of half the legends she'd ever read?

"The prince of Asgard was adopted? Sounds like a story." She toyed with a pen, waiting for a response. He knew what she was talking about- his side of the story- there was no way he couldn't know. Even on the verge of an aspirin high and feeling like Thor had pounded his hammer into her head, she'd be interested to hear it.

"I will tell you when you tell me why it is you want to know."

"Because I'm interested in why you haven't bothered to even make a case for yourself yet," Darcy said frankly.

"I was not born of Asgard. Odin raised me as his son, but I was born on Jotunheim…"

Loki proceeded to tell her about Asgard's war with Jotunheim, how his father found him in a temple and brought him back to raise as his own. Somehow he managed to come off as a third part, like someone witnessing it all through a window or on a TV screen with no actual attachment to the story. Only the bare minimum of details… The only conclusion that Darcy could draw from this was that Loki had been seriously affected by his history and was using his disconnected manner as a shield. It didn't sound like an altogether terrible situation… until she picked up on the fact that he hadn't been told about his birth parents until too late.

"My dad's adopted," she blurted. Loki raised an eyebrow, obviously wondering where this was going. "His whole life they just sort of… told him. It was never any secret. He said… he said he didn't care who had birthed him. The people who raised him were his real family." She paused, waiting to see if Loki would respond to her sentiment. He simply stared.

"How did you find out?" she asked. Loki huffed, pushing up his left shirt sleeve so that she could see his lower arm.

It slowly turned blue to the elbow.

Blue.

"Jotuns look like this," he said softly. Darcy looked up for a moment- he was avoiding her eyes. He looked strange, softer somehow. Vulnerable. Yes, that was it. Loki, one of the two most powerful being she'd ever met, looked vulnerable, and it was unsettling. She reached out and held his hand with both of her own before she could talk herself out of it. Loki jumped at the contact, eyes darting back up to her face.

"Magic?" she asked, unable to say anything else that might be coherent.

"Changing appearance is so natural to me that it is a fact of my biology. No magic involved. Now… feel free to run as the others would," he said bitterly. His hand slowly faded back to his usual skin color, though Darcy didn't let go.

"Why would I run?" she asked.

"I am a Frost Giant-" Loki said, as if it was obvious, but she cut him off.

"And I've never heard of that until today," Darcy snapped. "If I planned on running, I would have been long gone as soon as they mentioned you're the guy who almost destroyed New York and tried to take over the world. That carries a lot more weight with me than your skin turning blue."

Loki didn't move, didn't make a sound. He stared at her with his bright blue eyes, confused or wary or entirely unsure what to do. She didn't know what else to say that could make what she felt more clear- blue was nothing. Murder? Now that carried weight.

"It all seems kind of… I don't know… racist," she said, thinking out loud more than anything. It really did, though. It was like trying to tell someone who had lived in the US for 40 years that they weren't an American just because the happened to be born somewhere else.

"How so?" Loki asked. When she looked up from his hand he was staring at her. She wondered briefly how familiar with the concept of "racist" Asgardians were, or if he'd even heard the term before.

"Well, you were raised on Asgard, right?" Darcy asked. He nodded in confirmation. "And you act Asgardian, and for most of your life you acted in the best interest of Asgard. You know what they say- if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…" She shrugged.

"What?" Loki shook his head, incredulous. His reaction to different expressions was usually comical- Darcy used them habitually and without thinking that he might not be familiar.

"Never mind," she said, sighing. "The point is… why would you think people would judge you for anything other than what you proved yourself to be?"

"A… duck?"

"Or a Frost Giant." She looked down at their hands once more. Strange, that his skin was always warmer than hers… "Cold hands, warm heart, remember?"

As much as the phrase really didn't seem to fit the person who tried to take over the world, it seemed to offer him a little comfort. His expression shifted slightly, blank and disbelieving.

"I do not think the others would agree," he said, gently moving his hand away.

"You really want to live?" Darcy asked, making direct eye contact. He didn't need to answer- she had no doubt that chained until Ragnarok was not a pleasant option for him. "Prove them wrong."

He looked as if he was about to respond, but just then the door to the lab opened.

Jane and Thor were back from lunch, bearing three sandwiches, sodas, and one large mocha for Darcy. Loki went back to his work and proceeded to ignore her.

She'd continue this interrogation another day.

The next few days she wasn't in Jane's lab very often, mostly assisting Tony and Bruce with some direct studies of the tesseract in relation to Loki's scepter. She ran errands all over the place, looking for this component or that, and easily reprogrammed one of the SHIELD computers to run a specific diagnostic on the scepter.

Not that Tony or Bruce couldn't have done either of those, but this way she had something to do that didn't irritate her to death and they didn't have to leave their lab for fear the job would be done incompetently. Even Tony had been impressed when she reprogrammed the system- didn't know you had it in you, he'd said. A lot of people found him kind of annoying, but Darcy thought Stark was a pretty nice guy when you were around him long enough to see it.

Maybe that applies to other people…

No. No.

Loki is not a teddy bear or a wounded puppy. He has murdered people, he tried to take over earth, and no matter how docile he seems to be, he's still dangerous. Even without his powers, completely mortal, he was still dangerous, and she wouldn't allow herself to forget that. She couldn't allow herself to forget that.

Her head was absolutely killing her- it had only been getting worse with time- so she clocked out early and decided to go back to her room to see if she had any painkillers with her. If not, she'd go check at the medical bay and ask for some good, old-fashioned ibuprofen. If that failed, she'd just try to sleep it off.

Darcy was just thinking that she should probably be more careful where she figuratively stepped when she walked around the corner and crashed straight into the person she didn't want to meet.

"Whoa!" Darcy cried out, nearly falling, but Loki's firm grip on her waist held her steady. "Sorry," she mumbled, attempting to hurry around him, but he hadn't moved his hands.

"Darcy, you seem… unwell." His brow furrowed in… if she didn't know better and her vision wasn't starting to blur, she'd say concern. God, what's wrong with me? I don't usually get migraines… In fact, she'd only ever had one in her life.

"Yeah, my head's killing me," she said, rubbing her eyes. "I'll be fine, though." However, that statement was utterly contradicted by the shaking step she took away from him, nearly losing her balance. Thankfully, Loki hadn't entirely stepped away yet, and slipped his arm around her to help keep her balanced.

Yep, migraine.

"Perhaps you should-"

"Could you just-" Darcy breathed deeply, trying to keep tears from spilling out her eyes. "Help me back… to my room… please?"

Loki didn't respond, but he didn't let go of her, either. In fact, he didn't let go until Darcy had safely, slowly, made her way into her room and collapsed onto her bed, the lights completely off. She should probably be really worried about the fact that she was alone in a darkened room with a dangerous man, but she was too tired to care.

He rested a hand on her forehead, as if checking to see if she had a fever, and oh, his skin was wonderfully cool.

"You're too warm," Loki muttered. He traced his fingers over her skin, down the side of her cheek, along her jaw. Everywhere he touched seemed to instantly cool. It was an odd sort of soothing sensation, like a mother lulling her child to sleep with a lullaby.

It was probably her imagination, but she even thought she heard him humming before she drifted into a blissful, migraine-numbing sleep.

X

"I found her in the hallway. She said her head hurt and she could barely walk, so I brought her back to her room." Loki leaned against the wall just outside Darcy's room, talking to Fury, Jane, and Thor. "Her body temperature was too high, so I brought it down."

Not a minute after he had managed to settle Darcy to sleep, Nick Fury had opened the door from outside. Loki had quickly shushed him and walked into the hallway, hoping the commotion wouldn't wake her, finding that Thor and Jane were also waiting. Fury had seen him away from his typical haunts by the tracking mechanism in the cuffs he always wore, and the director met Jane and Thor on the way, who were looking for Darcy. All four of them now stood in the hallway, talking in hushed voices.

"How did you do that?" Fury asked. If it was possible to sound suspicious, worried, and impressed all at once, Nick Fury was the only man in this realm who could accomplish it. "I thought you had no magic."

"It's not magic, it's my species." Loki said. "It's a fact of my biology- I can change the temperature of my skin and the temperature of whatever I touch, should I need to."

"When were you planning on telling us that?" The director did not sound happy.

"When it became relevant," Loki snapped.

"I'd like to point out that he hasn't hurt anyone," Jane said suddenly. "So is there really any point in worrying about what could have happened when it didn't?"

"Fair point," Thor agreed, nodding.

"So you're saying she was running a fever? Is she sick?" Jane was immediately back to the point, worrying about her friend.

"I do not know," Loki said, shaking his head. "She is sleeping. I could not do anything for the pain, but-"

"You did well, brother," Thor said softly. If Loki didn't know better, he'd say his brother looked almost soft. Surprised, definitely. Jane nodded in agreement.

"I'm glad you found her." She still seemed distrusting, but no one could blame her for that. Fury, for his part, was done with idle chatter.

"Check on her tomorrow morning," the director said to Jane, and then walked away.

It was going to take a lot more than one good deed to make anyone trust him again.

X

Loki was worried.

It was like a pinching inside his chest that wouldn't go away no matter how hard he tried, and just when he thought he was rid of it then it would snatch him again. It would go away soon. Probably. For the time being, though, it was simply unsettling.

He didn't worry- not about people. He hadn't worried for anyone in a long time, and he didn't particularly like that the feeling had started to creep back up on him now. However, worrying wasn't something you could control as easily as twiddling your fingers or walking into a certain room. It was impulsive, and it was consuming.

It wasn't like him.

It was frightening.

Darcy seemed very tired lately- and the headache was just the beginning. She was normally bouncy and active, sassing the Agents good-naturedly and constantly moving around. Constantly. The woman couldn't stay still- she fidgeted in her chair after twenty seconds, walked around in a sort of half-dancing state, and if he had to bet he'd say she probably tossed around in her sleep, too. It wasn't like her to nearly fall asleep at her desk or at the supper table.

He couldn't put his finger on why she was so fatigued, and that bothered him to no end. Even without his magic, Loki had always been intuitive. It shouldn't be much trouble to discern what the problem was.

Perhaps what bothered him so much was why it even bothered him. Darcy was a mortal- her life would be shorter than a tenth of what his had already been, and Loki was young for an Asgardi- a Jotun. Young for a Jotun, he reminded himself bitterly. Either way, her existence would have been of little consequence to him only a few short weeks ago, and now he was worried for her.

Why? What made her different than the rest of them…?

She talked to him. She didn't flinch away from him when he asked her something, and she didn't automatically reach for her weapon when he entered the room. She was wary, but not paranoid, and she listened when he talked. She even asked him about his side of the New York incident… but why? Why would she do that? He killed people, and she hadn't forgotten- he knew that for a fact from the night in the cell…

Darcy was strange to him, like a walking paradox. She was fiery and passionate, but not obsessive like Stark or Jane could be. She loved to laugh, but she knew when jokes were entirely uncalled for. She could be rash and unthinking… but she was also the only one who had ever thought there might be more to him than the man who destroyed Manhattan.

And that, he realized, was part of why he liked her. Not only was she an intriguing combination of hot and cold, a flood of emotions just waiting to explode, but she knew what he'd done- what he was- and still didn't treat him like the creature from children's nightmares.

Mortal children had likely never heard of Jotunheim, but Loki was certain there was some kind of nightmarish equivalent for the kind of person who would thoughtlessly murder hundreds of people… The thought wore at him more and more every day.

Thanos had wanted the Earth. Loki never wanted it- oh, the war Loki had wanted, and it shamed him to think of it now. All those times that he thought the warriors of Asgard ridiculous with their lust for battle and blood… all of them discredited in their entirety.

Most of all Loki had wanted Asgard, and the throne, and he had wanted to show them the truth that the tesseract had shown him: that he would be a far better ruler than Thor, regardless of his (nonexistent) intentions for the throne at the time he was spurned. However, the more he thought, the more he saw the tesseract as a poison to his mind. He hadn't wanted the throne, had he?

No. No, he never had.

He'd wanted equality. He'd wanted to be seen as more than the second son, the less favored and liked of Asgard's princes. The revelation of his true heritage had been the final blow. Perhaps if it had come at another time, another place…

Perhaps if he hadn't been told all his life he was a monster.

There wasn't any time for "perhaps" now. What was done had been done, and there was no way to take it back. He acted rashly, harshly, against everything he'd ever been taught, and he acted in blind anger, blind because somewhere inside he truly thought what he was doing was best for Asgard… at first.

Darcy had shattered that notion with only a few words. She brought him back to reality, down off his pedestal and very much awake to the fact that if he wasn't careful he would spend the rest of eternity chained in a pit far under the earth. Granted, he had no son whose entrails could bind him, and no wife to catch the poison from the snake (oddly loyal, that woman in the story), but chained he would be, and it would not be pleasant. As much as he hated to admit it… she was right. He'd hurt and killed, taken his revenge where he could simply because he had the power, and if the tesseract had taken over a part of his mind, well, he'd welcomed it.

He'd welcomed the destruction. He'd welcomed the insanity.

And he'd barely managed to make it out alive.

There was nothing that could ever change that. Slowly but surely, he'd twisted himself into something that never should have been, and he had enjoyed every minute of it. The pain, the destruction, the blood- it all meant nothing to him. He felt nothing but anger, wanted nothing but a perverse version of justice that went by his rules and his laws, and he didn't care who stood in his way, because they would be cut down like weeds in his path, insignificant and weak.

Loki knew what he was- a liar, chiefly, but he had always been that; a thief, fighting for an item that nearly destroyed him; a murderer of thousands, indiscriminately killing and leaving destruction in his wake wherever he went, taking as if he were truly a god and not merely a being with just a little higher form of mortality. He took as if he had the power to create, like no man should have the right to take.

Not only that, but he had unleashed the wrath of Thanos and his army onto Asgard.

Loki had shaken the last of the tesseract's influence on that night in the cell, and it burned him in an awful way to say that he owed his regained clarity to an enraged mortal… but it was so.

"Loki? Lo-ki?" Jane snapped her fingers in front of his face, shaking him out of his thoughts.

"Yes?"

"I was wondering if you'd thought about the possibility…" Jane prattled on about the tesseract's energy interacting with Midgardian technology, and Loki did his best to pay attention to her… and not to the woman across the room who was nearly falling over in her chair from exhaustion. He did need Jane's help if he ever wanted to return to Asgard, after all.

Did he want to return?

A question for another day, Loki decided.

When Jane was distracted with a set of calculations, he stood and walked over to Darcy's work space. She was writing slowly on a sheet of paper, looking back and forth between it and a sheet of printed symbols.

"What are you working on?" he asked softly. Darcy jumped.

"Oh, um… just some messages that came through via satellite from Asgard. I can't figure out what language they're in, though, so I'm decoding it." She shrugged, like she did similar things every day. On second thought, she probably did.

"I see…" Loki leaned in to take a closer look, almost brushing her shoulder.

The symbols were old. Ancient, even for him, and that was saying something. If Thor sent the messages then they would be in a language he knew Jane could understand (most Asgardians knew many languages from many worlds because of their sheer age and travel experience), but this was something that was definitely not of this world.

This was the language of the creators of the tesseract. The oldest language. It was older than Odin himself and no one quite knew where it came from, or what any of it actually meant.

And Darcy was translating it.

It shouldn't be possible. The language didn't translate into anything- the brightest Asgardian scholars had been working on it for years, but every time that they thought there was a breakthrough, something turned out to be completely and totally wrong. The very thought of translation seemed to make the words uneasy, like they shifted around the potential for being understood and slipped from your fingers…

But she was translating it- bits and pieces at a time, but there it was in plain sight, written in perfectly normal English.

The only way she should- would be able to do something like that was if the tesseract…

No.

No matter who or what you were, the tesseract always had an effect on whoever it touched. Touching it directly wasn't necessary- working in close proximity would be enough to promote attachment. Since it was created by Asgardians, Thor wouldn't be as susceptible to the chaotic tendencies of the cube as the others would, and Loki with his Jotun heritage would be right behind him. Granted, prolonged exposure to the thing had likely done something to his head over the time between falling off the bifrost and attempting to take over Earth, but it hadn't done near what it would do to a mortal in half- in a tenth of the time.

It was what made mortals so easily susceptible to the tesseract's mind control- they were simply not built to be around that kind of force, especially not every day.

Especially not translating something that came from it.

"Darcy," Loki said softly, placing a hand on her shoulder, "I think you should stop."

"Huh?" She turned to look at him, confused. "Why? What's wrong?"

He gestured to the paper she'd been writing on, and Darcy looked down.

And then she looked again, blinking.

"I didn't write that," she said, looking at the pencil in her hand as if it was a ticking bomb. "I didn't- that wasn't there two seconds ago. I just barely figured out what one of those things meant yesterday-" Loki cut her off with a finger to her lips.

"Please," he hissed, checking to see if Thor and Jane were watching. They weren't. "I promise you, I will explain everything, but later. Please listen to me now." The hand on her shoulder gripped just a bit tighter, and she seemed to grasp that he was at least very serious.

"What's happening to me?"

"I don't know," he lied. "I have an idea, but I want to be sure, and I don't want to alarm anyone." He also didn't want to alert the entire SHIELD facility to the fact that the object he once controlled may have taken possession of a woman, because he knew exactly who they would come running after.

"Ok." Darcy nodded, hesitantly at first, and then with more confidence. She scribbled a note on a scrap of paper, tucked the rest of the papers inside her notebook, and shut it. The scrap she handed to Loki before announcing that she was going to go get some "real" food and then head back to her room and take a nap.

Jane agreed that it was probably a good idea for her to get some sleep, barely looking up from her work. She didn't even seem to notice Loki's absence from her work table.

He counted to ten after Darcy left the room, just so he wouldn't be tempted to run after her, before he carefully unfolded the paper in his hand.

Meet me on the walkway at 1:30 tonight. You owe me answers.

X

"It's a bit difficult to explain…"

"Please tell me what's happening to me," Darcy begged. It felt like her mind wasn't her own any longer. She wasn't ever one to work with an obsessive tendency on anything- she wasn't one to lose track of time or herself in this type of field. It wasn't like her, and it was verging on scary.

"The tesseract," Loki said, as if that was all the explanation she needed.

"What about it?"

"That is the reason you've been unwell."

"Because I'm working near it?" she asked, confused. "Everyone in the base is working near it. Why me?"

Loki licked his lips, apparently thinking about how exactly to put whatever he was about to say. Darcy noted with dismay that she had to drag her eyes away from his mouth, hoping that he hadn't seen her staring.

Hey, Earth to Darcy. Now is not a good time for the bad boy kink to kick in, ok? Do you read me?

"You were working on translations, correct?" Loki's voice brought her back down to reality, and in reality she was scared and shaking.

"Yes."

"Do you have any idea what you were actually translating?"

"Um…" Darcy bit her lip, unsure. Had she completely missed something again? "A message from Asgard?"

"Wrong," Loki said immediately. "A message from the tesseract."

What.

"The language that you have been working with is ancient- so ancient that no one knows how to translate it. The only way that you would be able to is if the tesseract… told you how." He winced, as if he thought she'd be angry.

"So you're saying the tesseract is, like, inside my head?" Darcy waved her hands around, gesturing to nothing in particular.

"Not exactly, but yes. The concept is far too complex-"

"What do I do, Loki?" Darcy cut him off before he could start prattling. Right now she wasn't concerned with technicalities- all she wanted was whatever happened to be making her tired and sick to go away, especially if it was some kind of presence inside her mind!

"You wait. You don't work on the translations any more, you don't give it a way into your mind, and-" Loki reached down, cupping her face in his hands. "You get away from here."

Darcy stared. Loki's eyes were wide, a beautiful crystal blue. For just a moment he was close enough that she could feel his breath, and she thought that she just might drown in his eyes.

Too much.

Too close.

"Why are you helping me?" she whispered. Loki dropped his hands, taking a step away from her.

"Do you still want to know my side of the story?" He was avoiding her question, but Darcy decided to humor him for the moment.

"Yes."

"Then let's say that I owe you a debt, and leave it there." The sound of approaching footsteps echoed in the hallway, and they both jumped.

"Tomorrow you leave," Loki whispered. "Go back to the desert, and don't come back."

And then he turned and disappeared into the shadows.

X

Loki walked towards the lab the next day, hoping that Darcy would announce her intention to leave and be gone by the afternoon. As much as he didn't want the only person who could look at him without making him feel like they were constantly judging his every move to leave, she needed to go. It would be far more dangerous if the tesseract had a hold on her. Well, dangerous to Darcy- every case that interacted with the tesseract was different, but he didn't want to risk the possibility of it killing her.

She was already losing control of her own mind.

He met Jane and Thor walking down the hall, suspiciously late and rumpled-looking, but that wasn't a mental picture he needed, so Loki let it go and didn't say anything.

"Have you seen the Lady Darcy?" Thor asked. "She was not at breakfast today."

"I have not." Loki chose not to say any more, hoping she'd already left or spent her meal time packing.

Why did he care so much? Loki scowled at the thought.

Sentiment. Disgusting. I owe her a debt for…

But what could he call it but Darcy's kindness? And wasn't kindness the oldest form of sentiment? Oldest but for one, and the oldest was far from his reach. He couldn't afford to show sentiment- that was what caused all the trouble in the first place. Emotions were crippling things, fit for mortals and overly kind brothers… not for him. All the sentiment he once had was drained and beaten from him long, long ago. In fact, the only reason that Darcy was still alive at this point was probably because he hadn't had the chance to retaliate immediately when she snapped at him in the cell. There were hours between then and the morning that he had spent thinking, turning her words over and over in his mind…

He might have dwelled on this thought longer, but at that moment Jane opened the door to their lab space, and the sight was not at all what they expected.

There were translation papers all over the room, in piles, taped on walls, a complete account of the tesseract's language as it translated into English. It was astounding, that one person could do what a thousand others never could have… and it was frightening.

Loki ran forward immediately, sweeping the room with his eyes. She had to be in there somewhere- if she wasn't, they were in more trouble than he thought.

"Darcy?" Jane called. "Darcy, are you in here?"

Yes, he found out two steps later, she was. Darcy was lying on the floor, unconscious.

Perhaps they were in more trouble than he thought.

Loki immediately crouched down, checking for breath and a pulse. She was alive, breathing steady, but that could change at any time. He'd read the books on Asgard- they needed to move quickly. He picked up Darcy gently, cradling her body with her head against his chest.

"Are there doctors here?" he asked. Jane was pale, but she nodded. "Take me to them."

"What's wrong?" She asked even as they walked out the doorway.

"I'll explain later."

"No, you tell me now," Jane said firmly, still walking. Loki grunted in frustration- there was no way to explain things slowly.

"She's been working too close to the tesseract, and it's started to affect her mind."

"Started to?!"

"As of now, there is still time." Stay calm, follow Jane.

"Time for what?"

"To save her life." That statement alone seemed to spur Jane onwards.

The pair practically ran through the hallways to get to the medical bay, earning more than a few strange looks on the way and a small crowd of people rushing after them. As soon as Jane opened the doors Loki was barking orders out.

Unfortunately, no one seemed to understand what he was trying to tell them.

"Her mind is in a comatose state right now, but if we don't act fast her entire body is going to shut down from the neural overload at any moment!" The doctor looked at him like he was insane, but thankfully Jane was there to drive his point home.

"Life support," she translated, frantic, "I think he means her heart isn't prepared to take this."

The doctor nodded, seemingly relieved to hear something familiar. Within minutes Darcy was hooked up to every kind of monitor imaginable, and, true to Loki's word… her heart rate dropped drastically. Five or six member of the medical staff spent the next few minutes in a frenzy of shouting, beeping, and connecting machines, (Loki had no idea what was happening for the most part- he knew bits and pieces, but most Midgardian medical technology was beyond him) until the room gradually quieted.

Jane hadn't moved from his side, watching the chaos and gradually growing paler. Finally, one of the doctors walked over with news. The woman removed her gloves as she spoke, clearly still skeptical about what exactly had just happened.

"She's stable, for now, and her heart is beating on its own," she said, and then turned to Loki. "Want to tell me what's going on?"

"No," Loki shook his head and walked quickly out of the room.

X

Within an hour there was a conference organized with Fury, the Avengers, and a few of the SHIELD medical staff members. Loki was doing his best to remain calm and patient, considering that none of them had ever encountered anything like this before. However, it was working out very well.

"Her brain waves almost look like she's dreaming, but we can't wake her up. It's like nothing I've ever seen." Bruce plopped down in a chair, removing his glasses. He'd gone into the medical bay to check on Darcy and could provide absolutely no new information about her state.

"Of course you can't wake her up," Loki snapped, annoyed.

"What do you mean, brother?" Thor asked, taking a step forward.

"It's the tesseract. It's taken control." He remained detached, even cold, as he spoke. It was the only way to keep himself on the rational side of things.

"What do you mean it's taken control?" Rodgers asked, clearly not following.

"I mean exactly what I said."

"Well, can't you do anything about it? You controlled it before-"

"I've been stripped of my magic," Loki interrupted, not willing to listen to a lecture about why he should take action. "I can do nothing at the present-"

A flurry of questions and comments suddenly filled the room, making it impossible for anyone to distinguish what was being said. Fury was on his phone in a minute, telling everyone to lock down the teseract room, while

"Enough!" Loki screamed, quieting the bunch in a hurry. "If you had listened to me before, then you might not have wasted so much time!" His shout echoed in the small room. Steve visibly jumped at the sudden outburst.

"Wasted it on what?" Natasha asked, ever the voice of reason.

"What's wrong with Darcy?" Jane spoke up from the corner of the room, looking absolutely terrified. Touching, almost, to see her so concerned for her friend.

"I've told you; the tesseract has her." He remained outwardly calm as he spoke, giving himself over to his cool, composed façade. It was easier this way, easier not to panic, easier to pretend that he didn't care if she lived or she died…

When in reality, his only friend in the world could die at an moment.

"Overexposure to the radiation can cause… varying effects. Gradual infiltration of the mind is not unheard of, especially among mortals."

"Mind control with no one controlling?" Barton chimed in. Of course he would be interested after what happened to him.

"Yes and no. The tesseract shows you a… a purpose. Its range of influence is powerful to say the least, but it's difficult to say exactly what happened-"

"Why her?" Fury asked suddenly, cutting Loki off mid-sentence. "Selvig studied that thing for months on end, and nothing like that ever happened to him, and we've all been around it for weeks now."

"He studied it, but he never had a part of it," Loki explained, starting to pace. "The language of the tesseract is ancient and dangerous, and Darcy has been meddling with it for far too long- letting it… play around in her mind. She had an opening into her subconscious that no one else had, and the tesseract took it."

"So you're saying the cube is alive?" Bruce asked slowly.

"No- yes- well, no, not in the fashion that you might consider alive. The tesseract is knowledge, and it wants to share that knowledge, but it typically does it a bit…"

"Malignantly?" Stark suggested. Loki nodded in agreement, stopping his pacing for the moment.

"And obsessively." He rubbed his eyes, trying to think. "Mortals are incredible susceptible to the tesseract's energy. It shows you… truth. It gives you a purpose, and you take to it because you know it's your purpose."

"Ok, so, assuming Darcy's 'purpose' was to translate that language," Bruce began, gesturing as he talked, "then why did she collapse?" Loki couldn't keep the tiniest of smiles off his face at that.

"She's fighting it."

"I thought you couldn't fight it," Clint said, obviously still hostile. This was going to take some explaining…

"Not when under direct, immediate influence, but the tesseract has been slowly trying to invade Darcy's mind… I'd guess ever since she arrived. She's had time for her subconscious to realize something isn't right, and it's trying to shove out the tesseract."

"So basically the tesseract is like an organ transplant for Darcy's brain, and she's rejecting it big time," Natasha offered. Loki didn't quite understand the reference, but he'd read a few Midgardian medical books and thought he got the gist.

"Yes," he nodded. "I believe so."

"So what do we do?" Jane asked. She had a death grip on Thor's hand, obviously panicking. "We can't jet let her-"

"No, we can't." Loki said calmly. "And we won't."

"Why do you care what happens to her?" Rodgers asked, defensive. Loki turned to him, stunned. "It's a fair question. What reason do you have to care about anything that happens to her, and why should we believe that you do?"

Loki could feel the heat boiling in his chest, feel the rage coming on, but he forced himself to remain physically still even as he spoke through gritted teeth.

"I care because I owe this to her. Darcy is the only person on this base who has asked me anything about myself, anything about what I wanted or felt. The rest of you have ignored me when it was your turn to manage the prisoner, and when you did talk you talked at me, not to me-" Loki cut himself off before he got too carried away. "And you should believe me because if you don't, she will die."

Loki squeezed his eyes shut, slamming a hand against the wall in frustration. Darcy had been the first person to show him any humanity- Jane would talk to him sometimes because they worked together, but Darcy listened. She helped him purge the last of the tesseract's influence from his mind, even while he was in such close proximity to it, and the least he owed her was the same favor.

No one spoke for several seconds, or possibly several hours. It was hard to tell which when time was of the essence. It was Jane who finally broke the silence.

"What do we need to do?"

Loki turned around immediately, staring directly at Jane.

"We need to get her out of here. She needs to be away from the tesseract- several miles at least would be best."

"And where do you propose we take her?" Fury asked. "It isn't like we can just move her anywhere we want-" Tony cleared his throat suggestively, raising his hand.

"Yes?" Loki asked, irked.

"Construction on Stark Tower is almost finished. It's not too far, so you could still keep in touch with the base, but it's far enough to satisfy magic man over there." Tony gestured to Loki, who had to fight not to scowl. "And, if you're worried about a prison break, the security is top-notch."

"Oh, he's not coming," Rodgers said, shaking his head.

"Oh, but he is." Tony took a few steps towards him. For a small man her was really quite intimidating when he wanted to be. "Listen, bub, I don't like you any more than the rest of them do, but I do like Darcy, and I think we need you to help her. But mark my words: the second you double-cross us, you have all of SHIELD out for your hide. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal."

X

Over the next few days, Loki spent time with Dr. Banner, Tony Stark, and Jane as they monitored Darcy's brain waves and vital signs. The Avengers and Fury were relocated to rooms in Stark tower, along with Darcy, Loki, and Jane. Darcy was under constant monitoring from both the traditional equipment and JARVIS.

"So, she's dreaming?" Tony asked. "And we can't wake her up. Has anyone tried kissing her yet?"

There was a general chorus of groans, even though Loki wasn't quite sure he understood the reference. Maybe Jane would explain it to him later… or maybe he'd just resolve to forget it, or find out for himself. No, asking Jane was probably not the greatest idea.

"Explain to me again what the tesseract is doing," Bruce said, speaking to Loki.

"It's infecting her mind. The tesseract wants to expand, but Darcy is fighting against it, so they're at a sort of… stalemate." It was difficult to describe what was happening in familiar Midgardian terms.

"A stalemate in a chess game to see who controls her brain?" Bruce raised an eyebrow.

"More or less." Loki shrugged.

"And you can't do anything about this?" Tony asked, possibly for the thousandth time that morning.

"As I've mentioned, I've been stripped of my magic. I can physically do no more than you." His mortal form was still strong, if wiry, but other than that he retained nothing from before Odin banished him to this realm.

"So… how do we get the tesseract out?" Jane fiddled with her pen absently as she spoke.

"Darcy has to do it herself," Loki said, sighing.

"What?" She seemed nothing short of exasperated at this point, even a little panicked. Loki had been trying to calm Jane down ever since the morning they found Darcy in the lab, be the voice of reason, but it didn't seem like anything would help. "She's dreaming, she's not even conscious! How can you expect-"

"If she were on Asgard, she would have died by now. We have the means to keep a heart beating, but not to diagnose what is wrong so quickly as you Midgardians do. This is the first time a case so far progressed has ever been given a chance." Medical studies were slightly superfluous on Asgard, as almost no one ever became sick. There were basic cures from old times, and a sound knowledge of anatomy, but nothing as technologically advanced as Midgard. It was one of the few redeeming features of this realm. "She's away from the tesseract, so its hold isn't as strong, but we can't do anything for her."

He leaned against a table, trying to think of any other possible solution. This was a delicate situation, and to proceed without caution could be Darcy's end…

"Maybe we can," Stark said suddenly, looking up.

"What are you thinking, Tony?" Bruce half-smiled, as if this was a normal routine.

"Ever hear someone talking in their sleep?" he asked, beginning to pace around the room. "My dad used to- he would call out for a screwdriver or a wire or something, and he wouldn't shut up until someone said 'here you go,' or something like that. Pepper says I do it, too."

"What do your sleeping habits have to do with Darcy?" Jane asked.

"No, no, no-" Bruce said, waving his hand. "I see where you're going."

"I don't," Loki said frankly.

"In his dream he reacted to someone's real time influence- specifically, their voice." Bruce tapped the table with his pencil, waiting for his point to sink in.

"Ah," Loki breathed, nodding. If Banner was correct, this might just have a chance at working.

"Nope, still not following." Jane sat back in her chair, waiting for an explanation.

"She can hear us. Probably," Loki muttered. Her eyes went wide with understanding or shock, or maybe both.

"Don't all great chess players have a coach?" Stark asked, obviously pleased with himself. "If we can talk to her, is there any way we could talk her through what to do?" All eyes in the room turned towards Loki.

"How would I know?" He asked, half-chuckling nervously.

"You're the only one who's had any direct interaction with the tesseract," Bruce pointed out.

"She barely knows me. She won't respond-"

"That's where you're wrong, space boy," Stark interrupted, clapping his hands together. "It doesn't really matter who hands you the wrench. What matters is how they hand it to you."

"Speak clearly, Stark," Loki groaned.

"Hearing probably isn't exclusive to people she knows well, is it?" Tony asked. No one responded, knowing he wound answer it himself. "Probably not. So it's not necessarily who's talking that matters, it's what they say."

"We've been talking for days and she hasn't responded," Jane pointed out. She wasn't necessarily skeptical so much as she liked knowing that things would definitely work before trying them on living, breathing subjects.

"We haven't been talking to her," Loki said. "If she hears anything right now, it's passive listening. It's a good idea, in theory. A… long shot, as you Midgardians say, but there is a possibility it could work." Tony looked surprised that Loki actually agreed with his plan.

"So how do we get her out of passive listening state?" Bruce asked.

"Why don't we just call her name?" Jane said with a shrug. Bruce blinked, unconvinced. "I had this professor in college once, and he used to just casually insert his students' names into his lecture. Like, randomly. He wasn't calling on us or anything, but people react to the sound of their own names like a reflex, and it keeps you alert."

"Sounds good to me." Bruce said with a shrug.

"Ok! We have a plan." Tony spun around theatrically. "Who's taking first watch with Sleeping Beauty?"

X

Darcy had no idea where she was.

The last thing she remembered was walking towards the lab to pick up a few of her things before telling Fury that she was leaving the base (she hadn't quite figured out her explanation for that, but she planned on winging it), and then everything went black.

She woke up in a thick fog, lying on hard, dusty ground. Standing, she found the fog covered the ground up to her knees, almost like dry ice. It didn't seem to end, whichever way she looked. There was fog and a sky so dark blue that it was almost black, and the fog and the sky went on forever until she couldn't quite tell which was which. Every few minutes a streak of ice-blue lightning blazed through the sky with a deafening crack, even though there was no rain or other thunder. The wind whipped around her, blowing the fog into strange, swirling patters. The air rushing by did not sound like air- it sounded like the whispers of a million voices, bits and pieces of a million memories.

Darcy was alone, and she was very afraid.

At first she tried calling out, but there was no response, and her voice sounded tiny no matter how loudly she tried to yell.

She tried running, but every direction looked the same.

She tried pinching herself, but apparently she wasn't dreaming.

So she sat, and she watched the lightning for seconds, or minutes, or hours, or days. Truthfully, Darcy wasn't sure how much time had passed before she stood and started walking.

Step.

Step.

Step.

One foot in front of the other, going nowhere and not really caring. She wasn't tired, not really, and walking kept her alert for the most part. It made her think, it made her move. It told her she was still alive, no matter what this strange place made of fog and blue lightning happened to be.

After a long time, she allowed herself to think.

She thought a little, and she thought a little more, and she thought about what on earth could have put her in this place. Loki had said something about the tesseract, hadn't he? Everything was so fuzzy- her memories were fading fast.

What was her name? How did she come to be here? Why was she here? What was she supposed to do? There were too many questions and not enough of her left to answer them. She felt like an empty husk, swept away by the wind… And the blue lightning flashed again.

The tesseract… the tesseract was blue, wasn't it?

Yes, a blue cube. Blue like the lightning, the exact same blue.

Blue like his eyes.

Get out, they said, get out of here.

She didn't know how. She didn't know what to do, and she felt lost in the memory of the blue eyes and the cube, the flashes of lightning, and suddenly she was falling, falling deeper and deeper, and if she feel far enough-

"Darcy…"

She looked up, stunned. She was lying on the ground, staring up at the sky. That was a voice, wasn't it? A voice calling to her… to Darcy. Darcy was her name. She could remember now.

"Darcy, can you hear me?"

Yes, yes!

"Darcy?"

She pulled herself up off the ground with no little effort, looking around for the source of the sound. It seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

"Darcy, I… I do not know if you can hear me, but if you can, I need you to listen."

I'm here, she tried to scream. I'm here- I can hear everything! But no matter how hard she tried she couldn't make a sound.

"You can pull yourself out of this- you're strong enough to do it. Just…" A pause. "Follow my voice."

How?

X

Jane, Thor, Bruce, Tony, and Loki took turns talking to Darcy at her bedside- it took only a short time to register a change in her brain activity, but two weeks later there was still no verbal response, and she was still deeply asleep in a secluded room in Stark Tower.

Mostly they tried talking to her directly, but sometimes one of them would read from a book or tell jokes, something to break up the monotony and still hopefully grab her attention.

In truth, Loki was near the point of giving up. They all were.

The only real things that kept them going were Dr. Banner's continued observations of Darcy's brain activity and the steady beeping of the heart monitor. She was still alive, and somewhere she was still conscious. Under normal circumstances, Loki would have given it up already, but he knew that if Darcy died then he would be blamed, and he didn't need any more blood on his hands while he was under scrutiny.

He wasn't sure he wanted any more blood on his hands.

In the past he hadn't minded, not really. Death, especially the deaths of others, was a means to an end. It was a way to achieve what he wanted; a simple, effective way that left no witnesses to deal with later on.

Now it was different.

Now all he could see was the same dark-haired woman that lay unconscious in the next room over yelling at him through the glass of his temporary prison. He could hear her accusations, hear her scream about the lives he ruined and the people he hurt, all while maintaining that he never had the right.

It was only seeing the city that made him understand her words, though.

The trip from the underground SHIELD facility haunted him in ways that he didn't think was possible. There were buildings crippled and crumbling, still under repair even months after the ordeal. There were families torn apart- missing person posters decorated the alley walls- and people living on the streets. New York was always one to carry on, Stark had said bitterly, but Loki knew that what he saw couldn't be even half of the real aftermath.

It was an unfamiliar feeling, to hurt for other people.

It had been so long since he'd felt anything for anyone but himself, and after stepping back from the tesseract, back from everything he'd done and everything he could have done without being captured… the thought actually made him feel sick to his stomach. What had happened to him? What had he turned into?

The answer was obvious, really.

He was the monster that everyone said he was.

Driven by revenge, mad for power, determined to make people see him as something other than a Frost Giant or the second son, more than the too-skinny child who turned to magic rather than swords, Loki had molded himself into the very last thing he had ever wanted to become. And it stung to know that- it burned like acid against his very heart, and it burned even more that there was nothing he could do to change it.

Talking to Darcy while she was in her sleeping state (what the others had started to refer to as a "tesseract coma") was more than a little strange. He knew that, on some level, she could hear and perceive what they were saying- it might even be the reason she was still fighting against the tesseract's hold- but there was no way to tell how much she actually understood.

If you didn't know any better, Darcy almost looked… peaceful. Her dark hair fanned out across the white sheets, lips slightly parted, breathing rhythmic and even. She was pale, perhaps from lack of nutrition besides the IV drip in her right arm.

"Darcy…" Loki began, speaking softly and hoping that no one could hear him. Of course, that was probably pointless considering the ridiculous amount of microphones and security cameras around Stark Tower, but he could always hope and pretend for the time being.

"I…" He didn't know what to say. The past few days he'd babbled about thing happening around Stark Tower, and probably would have resorted to reading a novel aloud by now if there were any that he found remotely interesting.

However, Loki also thought that reading aloud was probably not the best option if they wanted Darcy to pick up on them talking to her subconsciously. She would probably just interpret it as background noise. He couldn't think of anything interesting to talk about, though. There was nothing that would grab her attention, nothing that might jerk her out of her subconscious.

As someone who had been under even a tiny bit of the tesseract's influence, Loki knew that it took a shock to wake someone up from it. A physical shock would do… sometimes. The beating from the Hulk hadn't done anything for him, but a hard blow to the head ad been enough to release the Hawk and Selvig from their mind-controlled state.

So what could he shock her with? What could grab her attention, make her listen?

It was a thought, a good one. It might work if the shock were enough- the tesseract had been watching, monitoring, holding her mind in its grasp for longer than just these few days. It thought it knew how Darcy's mind worked, just like it thought it knew how Loki's mind worked. That was the great beauty and the great downfall of the tesseract- truth- because truth hidden away is the same as a lie to be used against you.

The tesseract couldn't know what it hadn't seen because Darcy didn't know what it hadn't seen… so this would have to be something new.

Jane had tried different things several times, talking about her life and their memories- Loki heard bits and pieces from through the door- but nothing was strong enough. It had to be something truthful, something she was completely unprepared to hear…

And Loki had no idea at all what that might be.

Frustrated, he took hold of Darcy's limp hand, clasping it tightly between both of his own. He huffed, hanging his head, black hair falling in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

The words came out before he could stop them, sincere but puzzling. What was he sorry for? There were far too many things to narrow down to just one regret, but he knew that he was sorry for something. That was the ache in his chest, the shame and guilt that he'd pushed aside in favor of insanity and selfishness, of revenge that would never come to pass. All the sorrow and anger had built up around his walls, and as they slowly crumbled it fell over the side in waves.

He was doing his best to keep as many of the walls up as he could, even as the pain washed over the sides and into his heart, fresh as the day he first felt it.

Nearly lost in his thoughts, Loki almost didn't notice the slight movement against his hand…

And the next slight movement.

He jumped involuntarily, looking down to make sure he hadn't imagined it. Darcy's fingers had shifted slightly to barely grasp his own, though they now lay still. It was a start- a very good start. A breakthrough, really…

"Darcy, can you hear me?" Loki asked, working on a hunch. No response.

"Darcy, I… I do not know if you can hear me, but if you can, I need you to listen. You can pull yourself out of this- you're strong enough to do it. Just…" What could he tell her? This could be the only chance to give her something to hold on to…

"Follow my voice."

The order came out with more confidence that Loki actually had.

X

"What do you mean she responded?" Jane asked.

"I talked to her, and she- she moved her hand," Loki said. Banner nodded slowly, though Loki seriously doubted that any of them would actually believe him.

"I can see the change in readings here…" Bruce pointed to the numbers and diagrams on the computer screen, motioning towards the time close to when Darcy had first started to react to him several hours ago.

He hadn't wanted to break off the contact, so Loki had kept talking to her until Jane came in to take her shift, and that was when he broke the news. He talked about everything- about the weather, about Thor, about Asgard, about anything he could possibly think of…

About regret.

Thankfully, Jane did not hear any of the latter part. She did call in Stark and Banner to talk, though, and the four now stood around Darcy, discussing what to do next.

"So that means-"

But they never did find out what Jane was going to say, because suddenly Darcy's heart rate went wild.

"What the hell is that?!" Stark asked. The monitor beeped out a steady rhythm, far faster than it should have been and too sudden to be natural. The only difference was that this time Loki knew exactly what was happening… or at least, he thought he might.

"I- I don't know!" Banner said, gesturing wildly. "It looks like she's still dreaming-"

"She's not- she's having a nightmare," he said quietly. "The tesseract is fighting back."

Stark and Banner jabbered for a moment more before Jane decided to take the matter into her own hands, leaning over to talk to her unconscious friend.

"Darcy? Darcy, it's Jane. I know you're scared, but if you hear me then you have to calm down, alright?" she whispered, sounding uncannily like a mother soothing a child. "We're going to get you out of this. Breathe, ok? In and out."

Jane continued to talk softly while the scientists argued and Loki stood, mesmerized by this strange display of sisterly affection. Though the two women were close, Jane was never nearly as open with her emotions as Darcy, and it was fascinating to see her in such a raw, open state. Perhaps a new respect for the astrophysics would come out of this… Miraculously, and maddeningly slowly, Darcy's heart rate dropped. Loki silently let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.

"We're running out of time," he said, shaking his head. "She needs to fight her way out of the mental hold or she'll die within days-"

"Well, how did you get her to respond to you the last time?" Banner asked, frantically looking over readings.

"I- I tried to say something that would shock her," Loki said, fumbling. There was no point in telling them exactly what had been said, was there? "She seemed to respond to things that would normally elicit a severe reaction. I believe it caused a sort of disturbance in the tesseract's hold on her. It didn't know what to expect, so it couldn't keep control during her reaction-"

"I've got it!" Tony said, snapping his fingers. "Well, actually, it's just a hunch-"

"Tony!" Jane snapped, motioning for him to get on with it.

"Any of you guys ever seen Doctor Who?" Tony asked, eyebrows raised.

"I don't really think now's the time-" Jane began, but Bruce but her off.

"Yeah, a couple episodes. Why?" He seemed to think that it was best to just humor Tony's whims and need to explain things- it made the whole process go faster in the long run.

"There's one where the Doctor asks for a shock to help him with a detox , and the shock…" Tony paused, glancing sideways at Bruce and Loki. "Do you guys still believe in fairy tales?"

Loki had no idea what the man was talking about, but apparently Banner understood.

"No! Absolutely not!" He shook his head fiercely. Jane seemed to agree.

"You seriously think that's going to work, Tony?"

"Well, she's still at least minimally aware and she needs a shock, right? And I really don't think pumping adrenaline into her IV is going to do the trick-"

"Well, why can't you do it?" Banner asked. Loki stood silently, still trying to pinpoint exactly what Stark wanted someone to do.

"Because Pepper is downstairs and I will never hear the end of it," Stark said matter-of-factly. "Thor's spoken for, and Barton- actually, if I were Barton I wouldn't dare with Agent Romanoff within a hundred miles of the area, or maybe even on the planet… Anyways, you know the Cap'n won't, so that leaves you and him."

"No," Banner said firmly.

"Maybe I wasn't talking to you," Stark said pointedly. Loki suddenly felt very alone, put on the spot with no idea of what to say.

What's the matter? Silver tongue turn to lead?

He inwardly winced at the memory, but pushed it aside quickly.

"What?" Loki asked, blinking.

"It would definitely be a shock," Stark offered. Apparently everyone in the room knew some kind of secret Midgardian reference that he didn't understand. Jane tilted her head slightly, studying him.

"They don't tell the Sleeping Beauty story in Asgard, do they?" she asked.

No, no they did not.

Banner, Stark, and Jane spent the next twenty minutes relating the rather unfortunate (and simplistic, though they assured him the story was meant for children) tale of Sleeping Beauty, and Stark made another reference to Doctor What or whatever it was, all to try to explain why someone should kiss Darcy. At the end of the babble he finally understood the reference to the tale, but he most definitely did not agree.

"That sounds like a very, very bad idea," Loki said flatly. Stark barely deflated.

"Why's that?"

"The tesseract is inside her mind, feeding off her emotions and thoughts, off anything it can possibly use to control that one little piece of Darcy that's still fighting against its influence," he explained. "I know how that feels. It's… overwhelming. With any kind of close interaction it is possible for the tesseract to see into the person who happens to be close by-"

"But you touched her earlier," Jane said. Loki had to fight to school his expression.

"The tesseract has already seen me," he said calmly. It had seen every inch, every single particle of his soul over the brief time that Loki had let the blue cube dictate his every action. There was nothing left that it hadn't seen already, nothing that it didn't already know…

"Then what are you worried about?" Banner asked.

"It's also possible for Darcy to see through the tesseract," he said. No one even flinched. Loki sighed, exasperated, though he realized that he probably shouldn't be. "Intimate physical contact could cause a kind of projection into her mind that could possibly overwhelm her senses before she even wakes."

"A projection of what?" Jane asked. "Of… us?"

"More or less," Loki shrugged, but under his cool composure he was shaking. Darcy would be able to see everything the tesseract could see- she likely could see some of it already just from touching her a few days ago. Or, she might be able to. "The fact that the tesseract has already been inside my mind makes it… less likely to harm her. Any kind of emotional connection would simply amplify what might already be projected-"

"Which is why you need to do it," Tony said with a shrug. Loki stared.

"Didn't you hear the word 'overwhelm,' Tony?" Jane rubbed her eyes, clearly at wit's end.

"No, no, no- listen. If the tesseract already knows him, maybe it won't use Darcy as a conduit to get every last drop of information about us out. It already knows everything about Loki- why waste Darcy's brain on finding out what it already knows?"

"And then she'd still get the shock, and it might not send her into sensory overload…" Bruce mumbled, nodding.

"I am not-"

"Do you want her to live?!" Tony asked angrily, cutting Loki off mid-sentence. "Because this might be our only shot. You said yourself that you owe it to her, she definitely wouldn't be expecting you to do it, and you don't have an 'emotional attachment,' right?"

Loki rubbed his eyes, torn. Yes, he wanted to help Darcy, but… he knew what would happen.

It was true, the tesseract would likely use Darcy as a conduit for anyone it wanted to glean information from- it looked into your very soul and found out all that you were. Actually, it was likely the tesseract had been slowly gathering information through Darcy for a while now, but any kind of… intimate contact… would increase what the tesseract could do.

And as much as he hated to admit it… Stark was right. He was the best candidate for the job- the tesseract had the least information to glean from him, so it posed the least danger to Darcy, and the kiss plan really wasn't a bad idea.

In reality, it wasn't the kiss itself. He might not be Thor, but he was a prince, and he'd known more than kisses from women for many reasons. Mostly they were memories he preferred not to dwell on, but after those times, kissing in itself was not something he despised the idea of.

It was the emotional connection bit that worried him.

Somewhere in the back of his mind it nagged at him, mocked him. Stark seemed incredibly suggestive about the whole thing, but Loki chose not to pay him any mind. It was probably just stark up to his usual routine of teasing everyone in sight mercilessly. He owed Darcy a debt- that was all. She helped him shake the tesseract, and he would return the favor.

I've got red in my ledger. I'd like to wipe it out.

Against his will the Black Widow's voice rang out in his mind.

And he thought her ledger was red.

Loki had a thousand lives tainting his.

"Alright," he sighed. Stark smirked, pleased. "But if you'll at least give me the illusion of privacy, I'd be pleased," Loki snapped. There were cameras everywhere, but just being alone would be better than having the three of them staring over his shoulder.

Jane immediately walked out, dragging Tony by the collar and followed by a chucking Bruce.

What was that Midgardian expression? Ah.

Here goes nothing.


Well, this plot took a turn I wasn't expecting...

Hello all! I just wanted to say thank you so much for the absolutely incredible support. As of today (Friday) I'll be at band camp until next Sunday, so I don't know when the next update will be since the chapters are pretty darn long, but I hope that this is enough to hold you over for a while.

Thanks again! If anyone reviews I will try to get back to them bit by bit over the course of the week, between when band camp eats my life... OH, and there's sort of a potential that the rating for this might go up. Maybe.