Please forgive me for the mistakes that I missed while attempting to edit this at midnight. I really do apologize.


There are worse jobs than this.

She dodged around one of the new employees, precariously balancing three small pastry plates to take to the front counter.

Worse jobs.

She took another order at the register and rushed off to go fill it. It was apparently break time for all of New York and half the city's rich, uppity residents had decided to spend it here.

Much, much worse.

Turning around, she made to walk towards the back, but took about two steps forward before slipping in a puddle of something (she didn't have time to register what, though it was probably both harmless and edible) and falling flat on her back with a yelp and a sickening thud.

I hate my job.

Darcy Lewis, broke college student and barista not-so-extraordinaire, picked herself up off the floor with as much dignity as she could muster and went back to what she was doing, cheeks flaming. The entire place was probably staring at her.

Most days her job was fine… most days. Some days were the days when the customers decided they knew everything, or when nothing could be done fast enough to satisfy, or when they were short-staffed because the flu had caught half of the employees and only by a combination of religious hand-washing and a sheer miracle had Darcy managed to evade it.

However, there was in reality only so much you could do (and only so much patience you could have) when you are a broke, uncoordinated college student working two jobs, and one of them just happens to be at what was probably the most expensive coffee shop in New York. Maybe the patrons liked it that way- the clientele was generally more of the upper class variety, most of them generally nice people with the occasional hoity-toity slime trickling in. It was alright. She didn't get any benefits, but she made decent pay, and between both her jobs she had enough for a semi-decent apartment and to pay the minimum on her student loans every month. Really, it was alright… it just wore her patience thin sometimes.

And, as she chanted to herself every day, it could be far, far worse.

"Are you ok?" Allison, the shift supervisor, whispered, discreetly enough that no one would notice if they weren't trying to lip read.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Darcy said, as sincerely as she could. Her head hurt like a bitch, but otherwise she thought she was ok.

"You sure? You were kinda out for a few seconds there."

"Yeah, I'll be-" Darcy winced involuntarily as tried to nod and a combination of dizziness and pain flared behind her eyelids. "Fine. I'm good."

"Maybe you should-"

"No!" It came out louder than she'd expected, and after glancing around to make sure nobody was actually paying attention Darcy went back to Allison. "I'm not going home, Allison." She knew that her supervisor had her best interests at heart, but frankly she didn't need to waste one of her sick days on this, not if she could tough it out for just a few more hours. "I'll call Jane tonight and tell her I can't make it to the lab."

More trouble for her there, but as long as it appeased Allison… for now. Who knows? She might go in anyways, depending on how things went.

"Take care of yourself, girl. I know you need the money, but your health comes first." And with that, Allison walked away. Darcy was as stubborn as a mule when she wanted to be, and everyone in the shop knew it. There was no point in arguing when she was determined.

And she was determined to at least make it past lunch.

She picked up a drink order and made her way out from behind the counter to deliver it, trying to hold her head high and act like nothing had happened, though all the customers in the shop had probably heard, if not seen, the fall.

Where is it, where is it… ah.

Over in the corner, two men sat talking in hushed voices. They both had slightly too long and too casual posture for the suits they wore, though that was where the similarities ended. The one on the right was broad, probably muscled under his layers of dress clothes, and blonde. The one on the left was thin with black hair, a cane with a strange head hanging over the back of his chair and a long green and gold scarf around his neck.

And to make things worse, they were good-looking to boot. Darcy wasn't one to stay calm around people she found attractive- she would get nervous and either freeze or talk their ears off.

Cold and clinical, Darcy. Cold and clinical…

Which was out of the question, really, because she was supposed to be the friendly, smiling woman serving coffee, not the embarrassed, awkward college student who simply needed a second job. Much to her humiliation, the blonde one immediately looked concerned when he saw her.

"Are you alright, Miss? Are you the one that fell?"

Darcy sat their coffee down quickly and nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine, thanks. There was just, um, a spill in the back that someone didn't clean up."

"Looked nasty," the second man said, taking a sip of his drink. "If I were you, I'd think about taking care of my head."

"Brother…" the blonde man said, taking on a warning tone. His friend shrugged, and Darcy turned, prepared to scuttle off unnoticed and positive her face was the same shade of red as the singing lobster on The Little Mermaid. The two guys were talking in whispers again, anyways, which probably meant their conversation wasn't meant for her ears.

As she walked away, she snuck a glance back at the men in the corner. The blonde man didn't seem to take much interest in her, but the other followed her with his eyes, and his gaze sent cold chills down her spine. She felt like he knew something she didn't, something she was supposed to know, but that was ridiculous, that was the stuff of fairy tales and fortune tellers.

But his eyes told an entirely different story.

Darcy couldn't shake the feeling of being watched, not even when she slipped out the back door and into a back alley that some of the employees used for a smoke break. She leaned against the wall, breathing hard, feeling like a thousand bugs were crawling across her skin.

Maybe she would try to stay behind the counter for a while…

~xXx~

After her shift at the coffee shop ended, Darcy thought about going home, she really did... so what if it was for all of two seconds? She thought about it.

Ok, so what if that was the lamest excuse in the history of lame excuses? No missing work. She couldn't afford to miss work, and there was nothing really wrong with her. There was definitely a bruise on her head where she fell, but there was also a nasty-looking, purple-green splotch on both her right hip and right shoulder blade. It would be fine. If her head gave her issues then she would go see the doctor, or better yet get Jane to check her out.

She'd be fine in a few hours.

Darcy had to take a bus to get from the inner-city area to the NYC outskirts where Jane's lab was (and her apartment complex). It was easier to take public transportation into the city every morning and walk the few blocks from the lab to her apartment at night, or sometimes catch a ride with Jane. It also wasn't unheard of to stay overnight in the lab- they had bunks set up in a small spare room in case they became too tired to continue and didn't feel safe going home alone for any number of reasons- but it didn't happen overly often.

The bus ride didn't give her too much time to think (she usually spent it completing whatever work she needed for her classes), but it was enough to come to the conclusion that it wouldn't hurt to go in at the lab tonight.

As usual, when Darcy walked in Jane was involved in something at the microscope, and Erik Selvig was looking over telescope readings and measurements of atmospheric changes. She didn't bother saying hello, because they were either too involved to notice or probably wouldn't respond. They knew she was here, and that was all that mattered.

Rubbing her head ruefully, Darcy sat back down to take care of the computer programming she'd been working on for the last week. Jane and Erik needed a program that could sift through massive amounts of telescopic and atmospheric data and look for correlations and matches. It was a pretty large task, actually, and a good excuse to keep away from all the science babble.

It wouldn't take much prodding for Darcy to admit that she wasn't a science student. Well, unless political science counted, but that was a long shot. Jane needed a lab assistant, and even though Darcy was the only applicant it was likely she still wouldn't have gotten the job if it weren't for her computer skills.

So Darcy wasn't a science genius- she was a computer geek, and programming language fascinated her. She hadn't had time for anything that could be remotely considered a social life since the eighth grade, but she did like technology, and she'd taken one or two programming courses in her day. In hindsight she probably should have majored in computer science, but she thought that in the long run political science might take her farther, on to journalism or teaching or even working for the government…

How wrong she was.

Still finishing up the last few credits she needed to graduate, Darcy worked two jobs and neither of them were even remotely in the field of her degree. Now it was mostly dragging through courses and trying to pay the bills.

The trio in the lab worked in silence, as per usual. Darcy turned on her iPod for a bit of background noise, but Jane and Erik liked silence. They didn't want to be disturbed while pouring over data, though Darcy was simply attempting to stay awake today.

Eventually the clock hands pointed to ten and twelve, and it was time for Jane and Darcy to go back to their apartment complex and Erik to drive home. Darcy gathered her things, said her goodbyes, and walked silently with Jane along the sidewalk to the car, taser clutched tightly in her right hand. She typically tried not to think too much about what might be waiting in the dark, but it was always better to be safe than sorry…

"So, Darcy…" Jane said , shaking Darcy from her thoughts.

"Ye-es?" She turned towards Jane, suspicious. That tone was never good news. Never ever in all of Never Never Land was that tone in any way good news, especially when she decided to bring things up randomly.

"I was wondering if you might possibly consider dating anyone anytime soon…"

Darcy stopped dead in her tracks.

"Tell me that wasn't what it sounded like, Jane."

"What?" Jane looked confused for a moment, but a moment later realization dawned. "Oh. NO! Nononono! Not me- I have a boyfriend."

"Well, that's what I thought," Darcy said with a shrug. They reached the car only a few footsteps later and clambered inside.

Jane did have a boyfriend- blonde, tall, muscular, and also a pretty nice guy. Of course… that was all going off of what Jane told her. Darcy had never actually seen the guy- apparently they met at a science convention of some kind.

"I just thought that maybe sometime… you might like to double date." Jane winced, obviously waiting for the full impact of her sentence to hit.

"Oh, no," Darcy waved a finger in warning. "You do remember how well this didn't work out the last time you tried to set me up, right?"

"I know, but I was just thinking that it might be fun… And he's not like the last guy. Really. I promise."

"How can you promise that?" Darcy sighed, sinking back into her seat.

"Because I know his family, and they're really good people-" Jane was on the verge of pleading.

"Oh, god."

"What?"

"It never works out well to set me up with someone, especially when you know their parents!" There was no way this was happening. No. Never. Not in a thousand years would she go on another blind date with-

"He's Thor's brother, alright?!" Jane huffed, exasperated. There was a moment of silence, and then Darcy burst into laughter.

"Seriously? You're trying to set me up with your boyfriend's brother? Gah, what's his name- Loki?" She continued to laugh, but stopped when Jane didn't join in. In fact, Jane looked incredibly serious. "Oh, god, his name's Loki, isn't it?"

"Maybe."

"Woo Norse mythology," Darcy deadpanned, waving an invisible pennant in the air. Seriously, she thought Thor's name was strange enough- why would anyone name both their children after Norse gods? "But seriously- the answer is no."

"Why?" Jane whined, pulling up to their apartments.

"Because I'm not letting you talk me into this again. Just accept it. Please?" Darcy shot Jane her best pitiful-overworked-lab-assistant look, hoping she would drop the situation and let everything go on as usual.

"Fine!" She threw up her hands, conceding defeat.

"Good."

However, she got the sneaking suspicion that this wasn't over.

~xXx~

Darcy was busy wiping down the counters at the coffee shop, generally cleaning up before the shop opened at 6:00, when the door opened with a clang of the bell attached to the top.

"Come back in fifteen minutes when we open!" Darcy called, not bothering to look up.

"Darcy."

She looked up suddenly, finding Jane waiting on her with an expectant smile on her face. Oh, no. Darcy knew that look- it was the look of trouble if she'd ever seen it.

"What's up?" she asked hesitantly, coming out from behind the counter. "And make it quick- if they see you in here I'm in deep water."

"So, I was supposed to go out with Thor tomorrow, but he had to cancel last minute, and I thought we might have a girl's night out?" She looked so hopeful that it was almost adorable.

And suspicious. Highly suspicious.

"Why did you come to tell me now?"

"Well, you're not set to come into the lab today and I didn't want to spring it on you at the very last minute," Jane said with a shrug. "Come on, please? We'll even make it a girl's night in if you want." Ok, less suspicious.

And, as a scientist without too much of a social life outside conventions, Jane didn't have very many friends. Actually, Darcy didn't have very many friends, either. Girls night in wasn't totally uncommon for them…

"You bring the popcorn and I'll bring the movies," Darcy sighed, shrugging. Jane practically jumped for joy.

"Thanks! Ok, um, I'll see you tomorrow, then!" And she was out the door before Darcy could get in another word edgewise.

"Jane again?" Allison called from the back. Darcy winced.

"Sorry, Allison." Footsteps rounded the corner as Darcy picked up her rag again and continued to clean off the counters.

"You really do need to get out more, you know." She sounded like a concerned mother.

"I don't have time to get out," Darcy said. "I work two jobs and I'm looking for a third, and I'm still technically trying to finish up my degree. I have no time for a social life."

"Maybe you need to make some…"

Darcy looked over to see Allison leaning against the counter, attempting to look casual and failing utterly. In a lot of ways her manager was more protective than Darcy's own mother, and she talked to her a lot more often. Not that Darcy's mother didn't love her, but she'd also seen her daughter grow up taking self-defense classes. There was a phase around the time she turned thirteen… it was still embarrassing to think about.

"I'm good. Really, I'm fine- just because I don't date doesn't mean I'm not fine."

"Honey, you need to have some fun. Real fun." Allison placed her hand over Darcy's, stopping her furious counter-wiping in its tracks. "It doesn't have to be on a date, but go out. Socialize. Make friends."

"I'm not in elementary school anymore," she laughed. "You don't have to worry about me making friends."

"Somehow I'm not convinced." Allison removed her hand with a sigh, allowing Darcy to continue working. The manager went back to whatever she'd been doing when Jane walked in, leaving Darcy alone with her thoughts.

She was fine. She didn't need to go out more- she had a life. Or… enough of a life.

Granted, most of her free time entirely went into lab work with Jane, or working extra hours at the coffee shop, but that was alright. It paid the bills. And sometimes she did have actual, real free time, and she'd do things she enjoyed.

Of course, most of the time that involved staying inside with a good book and a very large cup of very strong tea (after serving coffee all day it was difficult to drink it to relax), but that was alright. Not everyone had to be a social butterfly to have fun. Sometimes all you needed was time alone to relax. You didn't have to become disconnected from the world…

But, as Darcy realized with a start, she was quite a bit disconnected from the world.

Yes, she watched the news sometimes and tried to keep up with things that were going on, but you could be informed and still be disconnected. Jane was really her only friend, and Erik when he was in town. She talked to her mother every weekend and told her the same old story- working hard, no she didn't want to come home, and how were the siblings doing? Fine? Good? Ok, goodbye mother.

She lived her life in one of the liveliest places on earth, and she was watching it fly by from a tiny apartment outside the city, a cluttered lab, and the wrong side of a coffee shop counter. Every day she told herself it wouldn't last forever, she'd get her degree and then find a real job, a job that paid the bills without having to work two extra ones on top of it, and even have some potential for advancement if she played her cards right….

However, every day it looked less and less like any of that was going to happen.

The scary part was that Darcy was settling into this routine. She was settling into coffee and snotty customers, and lab work, and weird errands to run at two in the morning, and she could see herself doing this for the rest of her life… and that prospect terrified her.

She would be a tiny, shriveled old hermit in her tiny apartment, and there wouldn't be a thing in the world she could do about it when she finally realized what she had become.

Best fix it before it became a problem.

Maybe she should go out more.

~xXx~

"Ok, I brought Captain America, Stardust, and Pirates of the Caribbean." Darcy opened the door to Jane's apartment with her key and went inside as if she lived there, dressed in sweatpants and sock feet with DVD boxes in tow. She plopped down on the cough and tucked her knees up, waiting for Jane to come out from down the hall.

"Please tell me you got the movie theater butter this-"

Jane poked around the corner, and Darcy stopped cold.

She was wearing a calf-length red dress, strapless and flowing with a pattern of swirls in a slightly darker red, and her hair was done up in some kind of bun that only Jane could manage to do without someone to help her. She smiled apologetically.

"You liar!" Darcy jumped up, gesturing to Jane's ensemble. "You told me we were having a girl's night in!"

"I know, I know!" She waved her hands frantically as she spoke before grabbing Darcy and ushering her down the hallway. "But you can yell at me later if you want- go get changed now. There's a dress in my room. They'll be here in ten minutes!"

"Wait- they?" So she hadn't cancelled her date with Thor, but that meant… oh, no. "Shit, Jane, tell me you didn't."

No, no, not another one of her horrible double dates! She'd never trust another girl's night again after all this was over.

"Can't tell you that. Change. Date. Go."

Darcy was too shocked to argue as Jane shoved her towards the tiny bedroom. There was a department store bag on the bed, and Darcy's makeup case lay beside it. She seriously had to reconsider the fact that they both had keys to each other's apartments.

"You didn't," she hissed, but upon opening the bag… she did.

Inside was the black dress from their last shopping excursion, the one that Darcy had tried on but couldn't afford. It was knee length with a halter strap neckline just low enough to tease, and it hugged her waist and the tops of her hips, flaring out seamlessly into the skirt.

"Consider it your birthday present." Jane patted her shoulder lightly and walked from the room.

"My birthday isn't for two months!"

"Then I won't get you anything for it!" Jane called back. Darcy could hear the smugness just dripping off her words.

"What if I don't want to go?" Darcy asked. Jane was immediately back at the bedroom door, shrugging with perfect feigned innocence.

"Then I take the dress back." She was gone as quickly as she appeared, knowing that she'd won this round. The dress bluff always worked- both of them had pulled it at some point or another.

"You, my friend, are evil."

One date, Darcy. One. If you don't like him, you don't have to go out with him again. A few hours and it'll all be over, and you can go back and have your book and your tea and forget it.

One date… It couldn't be too painful, could it?

~xXx~

This was painful.

It started the moment that the doorbell rang, really…

Darcy had changed and applied some minimal makeup, tripping on the way to the door and cursing the fact that Jane had decided to bring over heels from her closet instead of flats. And what was on the other side of the door she hadn't been expecting at all.

The two guys.

From the back of the coffee shop.

The ones that saw her fall.

The really, really hot guys.

Shit.

Wait- they were brothers? They didn't even look alike!

And to make matters worse, it looked like the dark-haired one recognized her. The blonde guy was obviously Thor because Jane launched herself into his arms the minute the door was open wide enough, which meant that the other one was Loki… and now Darcy could positively feel her cheeks burning.

It was too late to chant a mantra of pleasedon'tbetheguysJanewasexpectingpleasepleasepl ease, so she tried to just shrink away as much as possible. Where was some of Alice's shrinking potion when she needed it?

"This is my friend, Darcy," Jane said. Darcy waved awkwardly, attempting to smile, but it she knew it came across in that socially polite way that screamed hello-nice-to-meet-you-now-get-me-out-of-here-plea se-thanks-bye. She shook hands with both brothers, and sure enough…

"Nice to meet you. I'm Thor, but you probably knew that. This is Loki."

Loki nodded politely, but didn't speak, and the four of them had piled into an obviously expensive car that Thor drove off to a restaurant Darcy definitely couldn't afford and couldn't pronounce half the items on the menu.

So, that was why she currently sat in silence, wishing that she was home with a book and her tea, listening to Thor talk in his rather loud, rather accented voice and Jane laugh her strained laugh. The only good thing was that Loki seemed to be as uncomfortable as she felt.

Well, if his silence was any indication.

"Darcy studies political science," Jane said, obviously attempting to start up a conversation.

"Biggest regret of my life," Darcy mumbled. Unfortunately true, though the other three at the table seemed to be surprised. Well, Loki was still impassive, but it was the surprised side of impassive. "I'll have my Master's at the end of this semester."

"A bit late, isn't it?" Loki asked. Great, the first time he speaks is to mention the fact that she was finishing late. Twenty-five years old and still finishing school wasn't uncommon, especially for a higher degree, but she knew it probably seemed strange to him.

"Yeah, well… when you're like me, paying the rent comes first." It came out just a hair more defensive than she'd intended, but that was alright by her.

Before the food even came Jane made an excuse to use the restroom, probably just to drag herself away from the tension at the table, and Thor followed her not two minutes later.

"They'll be gone a while," Loki mumbled. She couldn't tell if he meant it humorously or not.

"So…" Darcy began slowly. If they were stuck here together for the time being, she might as well make conversation. "What do you… do? I know Jane said she met Thor at a science convention, but-"

"Actually, she met me at a science convention. Thor was my plus one because I had no date and he wanted a vacation… Jane just happened to run into him." From the way it sounded, there was no 'happening' about it.

"Meaning you met Jane, saw an opportunity, and nudged them towards each other?" Darcy raised an eyebrow and Loki smirked.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Miss Lewis."

Ah, sarcasm, Darcy thought. Well, if I'm stuck with him for the night, at least he speaks my language.

"Are you an astrophysicist, too?"

"Of a sort," he said with a shrug. "It's difficult to explain."

"Yep, I seem to get lucky like that," she sighed. Loki was obviously confused by that statement. "Jane has issues explaining things to me, too. Funny, considering I really need to know them in order to do my job…"

"I thought you worked in the coffee shop?"

"Two jobs. Barista by day, lab assistant by night, college student with the rest." She dropped her eyes, fiddling with the skirt of her dress in lieu of anything else to do with her hands.

"When do you sleep?"

"Rarely," she sighed, but wound up laughing at the expression on his face. Disbelief was comical on anyone.

Unfortunately, Jane and Thor chose that moment to walk back in.

"So, getting to know each other?"

No, Jane. No.

The rest of dinner passed in a state of awkward tension and long silences. Jane directed the conversation because she seemed to be the only one who was willing to ignore the tension, and the rest of them responded as they were addressed. Thor tried to converse, but it was obvious that he was far more comfortable with just Jane around. Loki quickly fell back into his mask of calm and collected behavior, and Darcy went back to daydreaming about the ending to the novel she would rather be reading.

From the snippets of conversation she heard between eating and trying to seem invisible, Darcy gathered that Loki worked for some kind of government corporation that was looking to recruit Jane, and Thor couldn't follow the science babble between them. Their last name was apparently Odinson (a fact that nearly made Darcy choke on her potatoes- she did have a little knowledge of Norse mythology, after all), and Thor kept mentioning the "family business" while very blatantly glancing at Loki.

Oh, and they were rich. Did she mention they were rich? Jane certainly didn't.

It wasn't that she had anything against rich people (assuming they were nice to be around, and if they weren't you had bigger problems than worrying about their bank account), but it made things even more awkward than they already were. The coffee shop incident, which Thor thankfully didn't seem to remember or politely did not mention, was just the beginning of the distinct difference in social classes.

That, and the obvious fact that Darcy had no idea what to do with three forks.

The food came in overpriced small portions, and she felt self-conscious about eating. Seriously, her diet usually consisted of various noodles thrown together with some cheese and a few vegetables, and that was on a good night. Cooking for one was tricky to balance so it would come out better financially than just eating out, but Darcy had perfected the art over the past two years.

And this… this was not cooking for one.

Darcy was praying for relief by the time they finally made it back to their apartments, and Jane decided it would be a good idea to not-so-subtly suggest that Loki should walk Darcy back to her apartment, around the corner from Jane's.

Darcy hoped that the look she shot Jane screamed everything she was thinking, but she doubted that was even possible.

She hurried around the corner to her apartment, unlocked the door, and tried to think of something- anything- to say to Loki.

"Um… goodnight. Thanks." She rubbed her arms awkwardly, hoping she sounded sincere and not unkind. She really was grateful he didn't terrorize her- at the very least he hadn't tried to feel her up or pressure her into anything she didn't want, which was more than she could say for most of Jane's blind date catastrophes.

"Goodnight, Miss Lewis." Loki nodded once and turned to leave, but Darcy stopped him. If Jane planned on continuing to meddle in her love life, she might as well get things straight between them now, just so he knew that she didn't expect (or want) anything.

"Listen," Darcy sighed, steeling herself for an angry reaction, "I'm really sorry and I don't mean to offend you or anything, but Jane dragged me out tonight without warning, and you've actually been really great compared to a lot of other guys she's tried to set me up with, and I don't want to come off as cold but I really just don't have time for a relationship and-"

She stopped suddenly when she realized that Loki was laughing. Not loudly, of course, not like his brother when Jane made a stupid joke, but still just as amused.

"You're not… mad?" She bit her lip, still expecting the worst.

"I might be, if Thor hadn't done the exact same thing to me!"

"Seriously?" Darcy smiled, really smiled at that. It was a relief to know that there weren't any expectations she was supposed to live up to tonight- no backstories or flattery, just plain old-fashioned trickery. "You have no idea how much better that makes me feel."

"Same," Loki admitted, relieved. "I wish people would stop meddling in my love life- I'd honestly much rather stay at home and read."

"Me, too," Darcy agreed. "Most guys usually run when they figure out I'm having an illicit affair with Will Shakespeare on the weekends rather than going out." Loki took a moment to process her statement, looking at her like that was the most bizarre thing he'd ever heard. She was afraid the joke had gone a bit too far, but apparently not.

"You like Shakespeare?"

"Most of the time. I was never a big fan of King Lear, though- I tried to read it and found the subplot with the Gloucesters far more interesting than Cordelia's story, so I put it down."

"Didn't skip to the end?"

"It would spoil the story!" Darcy snapped playfully. "Not to mention that knowing Shakespeare I probably wouldn't have a clue what was happening when everything came together. And if I ever saw it on stage I'd love to be surprised- as much as I enjoy the Bard, I think he's really meant to be heard, not read."

"Would you like to see it preformed?"

"Yeah, someday," Darcy said with a shrug. It wasn't as if she really had the time to go out now, what with finishing up the last of her exams and both her jobs… Maybe when she finally earned her degree that third job would be possible until she found somewhere a bit more permanent…

"With me?" Loki asked. Darcy stared, surprised. He sounded almost… was that hope she heard? What happened to the sullen, sulking man she'd been hanging around with all evening? However, he mistook her silence for rejection. "It doesn't have to be a date, in fact I'd much rather just have casual company, it's just… I have two tickets, and I don't know of anyone else… never mind."

"No, no, I'd… really like that." She hoped her sincerity had conveyed as fully as she felt it, but that probably wasn't possible. A friend would be a welcome change. "If you're ok with being seen with the coffee shop girl, that is." Darcy said it like a joke, but it was true. Not everyone would be willing to go out with just anyone to just anywhere. She'd dated guys like that before. It happened.

"Anyone who can hold a decent conversation about Shakespeare is worth it.". "And Thor is always talking about how I need to be out of the house more…"

"And you're thinking this could work out well for the both of us?" Darcy leaned against the doorframe, smirking. She could see where this plan was going and she really, really liked it.

"Well, if I happen to make plans on the same night as you and two other people happen to assume it's a date, then we get some peace and quiet, they stop worrying, and all is well."

"I like how you think," Darcy said, nodding

"Friends?" Loki held out his hand, expectant.

"Friends." Darcy shook his hand firmly. Maybe this deal wouldn't turn out so badly after all.

~xXx~

Loki rode in the passenger seat on the way back from their double date.

In the end, Thor had managed to cajole him into going simply so he could get some peace. One night out would shut him up for several weeks at least, months if it happened to go very badly.

It hadn't, though.

It hadn't gone wonderfully, but overall it hadn't been terrible. Darcy, the girl that Jane knew, was alright. Most of the time when Thor decided to set him up a date, the woman was either preoccupied with his brother in some way, shape, or form and hoping to get closer to him though Loki, or completely… wrong.

There was one who had been just a little too... overzealous was putting it kindly. She was far too touchy-feely and not enough of a conversationalist.

There was one who had been so airheaded and talked so fast that he was positive half her words had gone out into space.

Then there was the one with too many cats.

And the one whose boyfriend happened to walk in on them... with another woman. Now that was an interesting evening.

And that was only the notable ones in a long string. Eventually he'd just come to hope that he would get of those nights alive.

Tonight had been… odd.

First of all, Darcy had seemed reluctant to speak. If she wanted to be here then why wouldn't she talk? Shy? She seemed nice enough, if a little… reserved, but he couldn't exactly blame her for that. He was reserved, himself. He thought it might be because she was embarrassed about what happened at the coffee shop (which Thor didn't remember- he asked on the way home), but hadn't drawn any final conclusions on that before they made it back to their apartments.

Jane obviously wanted some time alone with his brother, and as much as that made him mentally shudder, he'd gone around the corner with Darcy, who looked positively mortified as she explained how she'd been dragged out against her will.

Loki had absolutely lost it.

She took his reaction marvelously, considering everything, and really just seemed to be relieved. When he said that he'd rather be reading she didn't take offense, even making a Shakespeare joke!

Which was probably why he'd done something that in hindsight could be considered stupid.

He'd invited her out again.

After one not-quite-date it could be good or bad, but in truth Loki was desperate for friendship. He liked being alone, but he did not like being lonely, and other than his family he really had no one. Girlfriends were a flop because he was so caught up with his work, and it wasn't as if he could explain to them that he worked for a government agency that dealt with everything from aliens to the big, green results of too much gamma radiation…

But apparently Darcy was in a similar boat. No time for a relationship, she said, finishing up her degree and working two jobs. She was sensible, and maybe she was a little lonely too, in need of some friendship without the usual kind of benefits. Some company, a new face to talk to, no fuss, no strings attached… So he took a chance.

Now to make a bet on how long it would take to regret it.

~xXx~

"Why are you smiling?" Allison asked.

"Am I?" Making drinks was hardly something to smile about, but maybe she was just excited about her night off.

Two weeks after the disaster of a double date, Darcy had plans to head to the theater. She and Loki had exchanged phone numbers, doing their best to coordinate things via text. As of now she would get off work, take a bus back to the apartment, change, and wait for Loki to call.

It should be interesting, if anything. And from his texts, he really didn't sound like a bad guy- he just didn't like being pressured into unwanted dates any more than Darcy did. At best he was intelligent and witty, and at worst cold and snippy.

"Yes, you're smiling like a ninny, now spill." Allison took the finished drink from Darcy's hands and brought it over to the waiting customer- the only one in the shop. They were free to talk…

Or at least, Allison was free to interrogate.

"Who is it? Where are you going?" Her eyes lit up- for a married woman with a small child, she was far from domestic and loved to hear about the girls' romantic lives. "Or it is a new book release again?" Allison's eyes narrowed, obviously suspicious.

"Nope, the new book release is next week." Darcy laughed, leaning against the counter as she talked. "I'm going to see a show tonight, ok?"

"Musical or straight play?"

"You seriously think I can afford Broadway tickets and a cab into Manhattan? Because the answer to that is no." She rolled her eyes. "It's King Lear- off-Broadway production that a friend had complimentary tickets to because he's a big theatre patron."

"Ok, let me clarify. Is this a friend," Allison gestured to the left with both hands, "or a friend?" She gestured to the right, raising her eyebrows suggestively.

"Whichever one is the platonic one," Darcy said. She would have elaborated, but the door opened just then, bell jingling merrily.

Oh, no.

Loki.

Darcy froze, every muscle going stiff. Thankfully some kind of instinct born of working in a coffee shop for just over a year kicked in and she walked forward to take his order as if he was any other customer. Allison didn't seem to notice, going back to what she'd been doing and basically ignoring Darcy for the time being.

"Darcy- hello." Loki showed the smallest hint of a smile.

"Hey. What can I get you?" she asked. To her surprise, he immediately began fishing through his pockets, producing a piece of crumpled paper on it with scribbles in several different peoples' handwriting.

"Office coffee run- drew the short straw," he explained. "I'm afraid I don't understand what half this means…" Darcy took the paper from him and looked it over- obviously half these orders were from women who knew what they were doing and probably relished making their male coworker order for them. There were even a few suspicious-looking abbreviations. She glanced up with a smile.

"You work with a lot of women, don't you?"

"Several," he admitted, grimacing. "Does that order make any sense at all to you?"

"Don't worry, I've got you covered." Darcy laughed. The look of relief on his face was almost comical. It took a while for most people to get a handle on how to order the types of things that were on the paper he'd brought with him. Coffee was one thing, but this was beyond what most people ordered. He paid for the order and Darcy went to get hopping on the drinks.

"If you want to sit down I'll bring it out in a sec," she threw over her shoulder. Loki nodded and picked a small table by the windows.

"Who's that?" Allison asked, picking up to help with the large order. One of the other baristas chipped in to help- how many people did he work with?

"A guy ordering coffee?" Darcy offered.

"He's cute," Allison whispered. "I approve."

"I never-"

"You were so flirting, honey. Don't even try."

Darcy decided it would be best not to dispute this until Loki was out of an earshot- far, far out of an earshot. They were just friends, and she was just taking his coffee orders. Less than friends, actually, considering they'd only been on one catastrophic date-not-date so far.

Friends who had been having decent text message conversations over the last week, and were trying to pull off that they were dating to their overly concerned family and bosses… Maybe it wouldn't be a bad thing if Allison thought she was flirting?

A few minutes later Darcy walked out with two trays full of coffee, finding Loki buried in a small paperback book- small enough to easily fit in the pocket of his jacket.

"Fahrenheit 451?" She sat the trays down and Loki looked up with a start.

"Old favorite," he admitted. "I like some of the questions raised under the surface of the actual plot. It's fascinating."

"Ever read Something Wicked This Way Comes?" Darcy asked, happy to find that at least their common interests weren't too far off. Something Wicked was by far her favorite Bradbury book.

"I'm sorry to say I haven't." Loki closed the book and tucked it back in his jacket pocket. "Should I?"

"Definitely. I've got a copy if you want to borrow it." Why was she offering? She didn't usually offer books to just anyone, and she'd only known the guy two weeks…

"Yes, that… that would be great, actually." He stood, picked up the trays of coffee, and turned to leave. "See you at six, right?"

"Six," Darcy nodded, praying that Allison hadn't overheard her.

However, as soon as he left the shop was empty (the strange lull before heavy afternoon traffic came in when the whole city decided to go for a coffee break), and Darcy found out they had very much heard what he said. Several high-pitched squeals erupted from the staff.

"You've got a date?"

"That's the guy you're going out with?"

"Where on earth did you snag him?"

It was going to be a long, long shift.

~xXx~

Loki found the apartment complex again with relative ease.

Darcy was waiting on him when he arrived, dressed and ready to go.

"Hi," she bit her lip, apparently a nervous habit of hers. "How are you?"

"Considering the wool we're pulling over everyone's eyes, just fine." He smiled and waited for her to lock the door, and they walked down to where he had a cab waiting.

He tried to think of something to say, something to bring up, but Loki honestly wasn't much of a conversation starter. The weather was too mundane, and he wasn't about to ask her about her job because that run-in today had just been a bit embarrassing on both sides…

Granted, he didn't have to go that particular shop.

He just thought… well, he supposed he thought it might have been nice to see her. Possibly. Texting could only do so much, and he was really starting to wonder if there was a different person at the keypad than the silent, clumsy woman he thought had been present at the restaurant two weeks ago.

Not a chance.

"Oh!" Darcy suddenly reached into her handbag and pulled out something. "Before I forget, here's this." She held out a small book, and he took it from her hesitantly.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. She remembered.

"I'll get right on it." Loki tucked the book into his inside pocket, where it fit almost perfectly. "Anything I should be warned about before I begin?" Darcy seemed to think for a moment, worrying her lower lip with her teeth.

"Be prepared to discuss," she said decisively.

King Lear was, overall, a great success. Darcy was wonderful company- commented on both the performance and the play itself during intermission, laughed at all the right places, and didn't once ask for translation of the dialogue into something more modern (under normal circumstances and for someone who wasn't familiar with Shakespeare, once or even twice was acceptable for some of the more obscure expressions… but after that it slowly became intolerable).

He brought her home, they said goodnight and made plans to go out again the next weekend, and Loki left feeling surprisingly… light.

He'd actually enjoyed himself.

It wasn't pressured like a date might feel- no constant worry about expectations or impressing anyone- and it was wonderful to have someone else to talk to who would actually listen to what came out of his mouth instead of brushing it off that he was "moody" or "feeling introspective" or "waxing poetic."

Loki never waxed poetic. Ever.

Ridiculously, he hoped that Darcy felt the same way. She'd mentioned once how much pressure that it took off of her plate to know that there wasn't anything else expected of her. It had taken him a moment to process this statement after her brief explanation of horrible blind dates- it was bad enough being male and on unwilling double dates, what about her? It made him sick to think about what might have happened if she wasn't careful, and he had said as much.

Darcy had merely smiled wryly and said that while she appreciated his concern, she carried a taser everywhere she went.

Loki had made a mental note never to make her angry enough to use it.

~xXx~

"Finished."

Loki sat the book on the counter at the coffee shop, smiling at the brunette across from him. He'd quickly learned what times of the day to come by if he wanted to talk, and what times not to come by if he didn't want to be snapped at. Obviously the people Darcy worked with had picked up on their… relationship… quickly, and he couldn't come in without upturning the entire place (however subtle they tried to be about it, it never worked).

Relationship. Funny word for whatever it was they had. They would go out on the weekends and find something to do- see a show or see the city. One Saturday, completely on a whim, they had spent the entire day in Central Park just people-watching, making up stories about the passerby as they walked around. It was wonderful fun, even though they both wound up horrendously sunburnt.

The first few tender days out were awkward, almost like a new couple but not quite touching it, and that was alright with both of them. They slowly became more comfortable together- they understood that needing space was a part of everyday life, that being silent was most times more beautiful than filling a room with chatter, and that it was alright to be flawed or broken. That was what friends did- they filled in the cracks that other people left, and his strange association with Darcy Lewis, if not quite a friendship, was turning into a beautiful... something.

It wasn't quite a friendship, even though they were definitely friends. Companionship, maybe? But no, that usually implied romantic intent, and there wasn't any of that…

"What did you think?" Darcy asked, shaking him from his thoughts.

"I really enjoyed it," he said honestly. In truth he'd finished it a while ago and read through it a second time before returning it. Sooner or later he predicted he'd be buying his own copy…

"I've heard a lot of people say that the good and evil balance seems really simplistic, but I just don't agree," she said with a shrug. "I know nothing can ever be perfect to everyone, but-"

"No, I thought it was brilliant." Loki brushed off the concern. He knew how Darcy was with her opinions by now- most of then she wasn't afraid to voice loudly and without shame, but the ones that she immediately backed away from were the ones she held closest to her heart, the ones that she didn't want anyone to touch for fear of them breaking. Six weeks was time enough to figure that out. "It was interesting to see the dynamics between Charles, Jim, and Will. I loved having the definite evil on one side, and the reader obviously knows what is good and right even when it may not be as directly shown as the evil, but you constantly have this pushing and pulling between what's right and what the characters want."

"And Jim never quite knows what he wants," Darcy said, smiling, "so you blur the line with him because, I mean… he's just a kid, really. And you think of kids as so innocent, but in this case…"

"Not innocent at all." Loki shook his head. "Don't you think it's interesting that it's a carnival? Like a pleasant disguise for everything inside."

"And carnival masks, too. Pretty much all the characters in the book are the Freaks, so they don't need masks, but just the fact that some people at carnivals do wear them…" Darcy sighed deeply, as if wonderfully content. "I'm sorry- I could probably talk about this all day."

"You're not bothering me," he assured her.

"That's good," she said, glancing behind her, "but I should probably get back to work before I get too distracted." The only thing that made him feel less embarrassed was the fact that she clearly would rather talk to him that go back to her job. He loved the light on her eyes when she talked about something she loved- it was beautiful.

Beautiful?

No. No, no, no- not beautiful. Beautiful was sentimental, it was attachment. This was supposed to be something casual, something that they could do with ease for a few weeks at a time, without any tension or worries, just to get some weight off their shoulders for a while. It wasn't supposed to lead to anything!

Maybe it wasn't, though. He didn't feel anything for her, not... not like that. It was perfectly acceptable and platonic to find another person beautiful, wasn't it? Yes, definitely. Darcy was pretty and intelligent and good company, and that was a blessing in itself-

And he'd just completely missed whatever she'd said.

"Sorry, what?"

"Tomorrow? Still good?" she repeated.

"Oh." He nodded, still half-caught in the web of his tangled thoughts. "Yes."

"Good."

Damn.

~xXx~

Loki and Darcy stumbled into Darcy's apartment, dripping wet and laughing as thunder rumbled outside.

"I told you it was going to rain!" Darcy took a playful swat at him.

"Well, forgive me if I don't always believe our oh-so-reliable weather forecasters!" Loki rolled his eyes, and she couldn't help but notice how his had gaze wandered to places lower than her eyes ever since it started to rain, where her sopping dress stuck to her form.

"I'm going to go find some dry clothes- hang on a sec." She rummaged in her drawers before finding a pair of ex-boyfriend's-ex-jeans and a shirt that would probably fit him, tossing them out the door so he could change.

As soon as the door was closed, Darcy stripped off her dress and sank to the floor. She could still see him looking at her like… like… that. It sent a chill down her spine, and she loved it and hated it all at once.

Loki was a guy. He probably had some kind of natural tendency to just look like most men had. Not that he was like most men she'd been around, as the past month and a half had shown, but she had to believe… she couldn't let seeing things ruin this friendship. She wouldn't let anything ruin this friendship.

It had snowballed so quickly with him that it was almost scary. They had an easy way of making conversation that was beautiful in its own right, and a bond that made her feel like she wasn't so alone. She needed this- she needed someone besides Jane in her life, and she wasn't going to ruin it because hormones got in the way for one night.

Or maybe a little longer than one night.

Regardless, this was just… this! It was friends, it was platonic, and Darcy was going to walk back out there and not let this get to her. She hadn't let it get to her so far- not his kind words, or his rare smiles, or his insights, or the way he looked at her when she said something that surprised him, or…

Damn it all!

Jane was fooled- she asked after Loki on every occasion possible and hinted about things that made Darcy's cheeks flame (and that took a lot when it came to Jane, mind). According to Loki, so was Thor. Everyone else seemed to buy the story, too, even Darcy's own mother! And if everyone else in the world was successfully fooled, well, she couldn't help but wonder sometimes if the real joke was on her.

With a frustrated huff, Darcy pulled herself up off the floor, divested herself of her underwear and put on some dry clothes- soft shorts and a cotton t-shirt. She couldn't stay in here forever, and with the storm like this… Loki wasn't going anywhere, either, at least not for the time being.

"Loki?" Darcy called. "Did they-" Oh.

They most definitely fit.

Looking back, Darcy really couldn't remember ever seeing him in anything but dress clothes. Odd, but she hadn't really thought to question it. He sat on her sofa casually, leaning against the arm of the old furniture. He looked a little more… lanky in casual clothes, but Darcy found she liked it, and she definitely wasn't complaining about the way the shirt fit. Loki had more muscle than she thought.

Had he always looked like that?

She mentally chided herself. Probably had- she just hadn't taken the time to appreciate it.

Darcy was just about to say something to cover up her staring when she dragged her eyes upwards. Loki was staring back just as blatantly.

Why? No clue. Her hair was still damp even after toweling it off, hanging in stringy tendrils around her face. Her clothes were old and comfy, nothing special, and she probably looked a bit awkward in shorts that showed this much leg- she should probably have thought that one through before rushing out.

"So… night in?" she asked quickly, heading towards the kitchen to find the popcorn without waiting for his response. It probably wouldn't be good.

~xXx~

Loki shifted on the sofa, blinking.

What on earth had just happened?

Luckily, the clothes that Darcy gave him fit, but he hadn't been expecting her to come out of her room like… like… that.

Her hair was still damp, but as it dried it curled beautifully around her face. She'd taken off her makeup, and her pale skin absolutely glowed against her dark hair and rather fitted t-shirt. Those shorts were shorter than anything he'd ever seem on her, and it was quite difficult to keep his eyes away from her legs.

Most surprising of all, she was staring at him, too.

He forced himself not to think on it too much, to focus on calming the tightness in his chest and the beginnings of familiar, raw desire blooming somewhere inside him.

No, not Darcy.

She was beside him on the couch in minutes, a large bowl of popcorn in her hands.

"So… what do you want to watch?"

"No romantic comedies," Loki replied automatically, reaching for the popcorn just to give his hands something to do.

"Done," she quickly agreed. "Nothing that's going to make me cry."

"Fine."

They spent several minutes going in circles before Darcy made an executive decision and just picked something random from the cabinet to put in the DVD player. Neither of them were very picky, but they did take a very long time to decide on anything (they found this out shortly after the Central Park incident, and ever since decided on dining plans the day before they did anything involving food).

"Sweeney Todd?" Loki raised an eyebrow. Well, she did like the theatre.

"Who doesn't love a good cannibal serial killer singing barber?" Darcy said with a shrug. Loki burst out in a true laugh, unable to contain it this time.

It wasn't a bad movie. Loki had seen the stage production, but never the movie the entire way through. They paused it several times to comment on the actor's voices, the differences in the stage production, and once even to debate on the psychological state of Mr. Todd.

He found himself sneaking glances at Darcy during the whole movie, and once or twice noticed her glancing his way, but chose to ignore it for his sanity's sake.

The storm still raged outside during the whole movie, and they managed to snack their way through another two bowls of popcorn before it ended (granted, some of it wound up being thrown at each other, but that was beside the point). As the movie drew to a close, Loki noticed that Darcy was sitting much closer to him than she had been in the beginning. Her thigh was pressed next to his, and he could feel the heat of her skin through his clothes.

"I've always through this ending was sad," Darcy mused. "I don't know why- I don't really feel bad about what he did. You know how there are some characters you sort of… become attached to?"

"Yes."

"Yeah, I can't do that with this musical. They're all… they're all so twisted inside that I don't think I would ever be able to really get attached to them, not without… Ok, it sounds crazy, but not without actually knowing them. Make sense?" Loki nodded. It did. It really did, more than most things in his mind at this moment.

"Maybe it feels sad not because of what happened, but because of what could have happened," he suggested. "If the judge weren't around, or even been killed during the 'Pretty Women' scene, if he'd never seen Benjamin or his family, if Mrs. Lovett hadn't fallen in love with him, if Lucy hadn't been killed… There are so many ifs to this story." He turned to look at Darcy and found her staring up at him with her bright blue eyes.

"Funny how things never work out as planned, isn't it?" she asked softly. Her gaze flicked to his mouth, just for a moment, for a fraction of a moment, but it was long enough to make him bold.

"Funny."

Looking back at that night, neither of them was actually sure who made the first move. Not that it mattered- they would joke, in the future, about their "if," and the moment they decided to take it. They would joke about the times when they weren't sure what to do with the other, and about their first date versus the first real time that they considered a date.

And then it would all melt away into the memory of this night, whenever he kissed her and Darcy kissed back just as fiercely, and they woke the next morning to find that the storm had passed and they were still lying on Darcy's sofa.

It was good, really, this thing they had. They wouldn't label it for years to come, but that was alright. It was labeled well enough whenever they woke the next morning, when Darcy discovered with joy that Loki hadn't left her alone.

It was better than friendship. It wasn't love, not yet, probably wouldn't be for at least a little time to come, but it had the potential for love, and that was beautiful on its own.

"Well, Mr. Odinson, I think this is turning into a beautiful…um…" she paused. "What are we, exactly?"

Loki seemed to think on this for a moment before he shrugged.

"Don't care."

And he hauled her in for a kiss.