Were Loki a better sort of beast, he might have taken the time to set himself to rights before returning to Darcy's apartment.

But, really, where was the gain in that? It made so much more sense, from a strategic viewpoint, to return to the woman wearing each ache and wound as a testament to the lengths he would go through to return to her side.

...and if he had to suppress his natural healing abilities to do so... Well, just because he was playing a long-game did not mean that he wouldn't take progress where the opportunity presented itself. It hadn't helped that the idiot archer had chosen such an importune time to let lose his revenge. Loki would have gladly taken the arrow to his gut, if only it had come some time later.

Even now, a handful of hours later, he had perfect recall of how she'd sat perched on her kitchen bench watching him. Oh, she'd tried to play coy, to shift and angle so that he wouldn't see the way that she'd pressed her knees together, the way her chest and neck flushed... and all the while it had been her command, her desire that had set him to playing with himself like a green lad.

His chest swelled at the thought. At least now he had some indication that she was not unaffected and with that in the back of his mind he shifted his weight so that his body took on an ungainly lean, reached up to rough up his hair and knocked on Darcy's front door.

The blow came so quickly that even he could be forgiven for missing it. He was yanked into her apartment, her little nails biting into his wrist, his cheek still stinging from the slap as she hauled him in through her bedroom and into a minuscule ensuite. She shoved him toward a crooked cabinet and he quelled his natural instinct to resist. She was stunning in her ire as she jabbed her glasses back into a more secure position on her nose, kicked the bathroom door shut and whirled to face him. She was breathing hard, her hair tousled and begging for his hands, she wore only an oversized threadbare shirt that hit mid-thigh and he ached to skim his hands up her thighs to her hips, just to learn what modern marvel of seduction she wore beneath it. Hopefully not the ones with the Patriotic Ponce on them.

"- the fuck, Loki?!"


"- put Hawk into hospital? Made the late news? Levelled the nearest Starbucks? And let me tell you, that's no little sin. I had a thing going with the dude who took orders there, he never charged me for anything bigger than a Tall."

Darcy leaned forward, her unfettered breasts pressing against his chest and he knew a moment of genuine sorrow when he considered all the layers of his suit that stood between them. He lifted a hand to cup her-

With far more force than was strictly necessary, Darcy yanked open her medicine cabinet and smacked him in the back of the head. Loki lifted his hands in appeasement. "Am I to take, by the shortening of the name, that you have some familiarity with this Hawkeye?"

"That's the part you listen to?" Darcy huffed as she stood on tip toe to retrieve a small kit from the cabinet. Her shirt rode up on her hips revealing a single hot pink strip of lace. Loki let his head fall back against the cabinet with a groan.

"For what it's worth, I not only put the knave into hospital, I also escorted him there."

"After you stabbed him with his own arrow."

"Merely returning it after he so kindly interrupted our-"

Darcy snorted, grabbed his chin roughly and yanked his face to the side so that she could begin dabbing soaked gauze at the most obvious of his wounds. "The way Tony tells it, Hawk has some pretty legitimate grievances with you."

"Stark does like to tattle. Legitimate or not, I will not abide any weapon to be loosed upon you, Darcy."

"Not me. Hawkeye never misses," Darcy muttered as she dabbed a pungent and irritating solution against his skin.

"Indeed. And he is now well aware that any attack against you, against your home, is a strike against me. A man would be wiser to strike his own heart, as that is the only inevitable outcome."

She frowned at that, her spare hand unconsciously stroked at his jaw as she worked and he was reluctant to interrupt the moment.

"Loki," her voice was soft, "people could have been hurt."

"None were, I swear it. I am not so ignorant that I do not see that death pains you. The archer has been schooled, further grievances will be put to me alone."

"And you?" She shifted uncomfortably her eyes falling to the tiles as she continued, "They've beaten you before. You could have been hurt."

He hesitated, didn't trust himself to speak. It was no sweeping declaration, but it was a mild concern that he was unaccustomed to. Loki liked it more than he should have.

Long fingers ghosted up the side of her thigh, seeking out that thing strip of pink lace... "I am a hard man to discourage."

"No shit," she muttered as she swatted his hand away. He shifted his efforts to stroking the smooth skin of her wrist as she continued to minister to his wounds.

"I am truly sorry about your... Starbucks? If you are in financial difficulty I can..."

With a frustrated cry she tossed a bloody swab into the sink, then flopped herself down on the closed lid of her toilet. Shaky fingers wove into her tousled hair as she puffed out a few fortifying breaths. "You just don't... I don't know... get it? You don't get it. You are a bona fide, card-carrying, ruiner of lives! And you can't even see the damage you do. You are right about this world! We are all simple, little creatures of habit. We crave the norm, we fucking adore our status quo and you... you just can't leave shit alone!"

Loki didn't dare approach her, something was amiss beyond his reckoning. He remained perched against her tiny sink, all injury forgotten. Darcy did not dissemble as other women did, but if she was reluctant to share the full extent of her displeasure then he would simply have to discover the source of her frustration through alternate means.

"Tell me the full measure of my sins, love, so that I might atone. Tell me what I can do..."

"Go away?" She sounded so weary, as though she had not merely reached the end of her tether, but slipped it completely and fallen to a place where he could not follow.

"Forever?" He gripped the basin so tightly he feared he would turn the ageing porcelain to dust.

"Just... for now."

Nobody dug getting visitors in the small hours of the morning, Darcy knew that. But that didn't change the fact that she was wracked with a chronic case of verbal diarrhoea and some pretty limited outlets.

So, with limited options, Darcy found herself swiping her way into the private elevator of Stark Tower armed with a pack of saltwater taffy Pop-tarts and a bottle of Pop-tart flavoured vodka. The early hour and vague breakfast-like classification of the items made them, by Darcy's reckoning, perfect accompaniments for her call. The elevator stopped just a handful of levels short of Stark's penthouse and while Tony was privy to the messy emoti-bomb she was about to drop, the mere thought of further emotional engagement with him had Darcy muttering 'Oh, Hell-fucking-no' to herself.

She shuffled into Jane's foyer (well, Thor's foyer as well), she wasn't exactly dressed for calling on friends. She'd pulled in a pair of running tights (not that she could ever remember using them for that) and a ridiculously oversized Culver U sweater that had found it's way into her laundry three years ago and never left.

Across the foyer there was a flurry of movement as the door to the apartment was reefed open and 6'3 of bare-arse-naked bronzed Norse god came bounding toward her with all the enthusiasm of a concerned Labrador.

"Darcy! What is amiss?! Where is Loki? You should have summoned me with the medallion!"

The medallion she'd blu-tacked to the corner of her laptop at work? His voice carried through the foyer with a volume that should be illegal for that time of morning. If she needed proof that Loki had done a number on her, she had it. Thor stood before her in all his bulging (and, in parts, swinging) glory and while she still felt the need to treat Jane to a heartfelt high-five, she felt relatively unmoved in the lady-garden region. Pity.

"Okay, Thor, honey," Darcy smiled thinly as she juggled the vodka and Pop-tarts, "We've discussed this: company means pants."

"Ah," he said with a warm smile as he seemed to mentally downgrade the emergency, "But you are our Darcy. Not mere company."

The statement was warming and Darcy felt her smile grow a little more genuine as she watched Jane shamble into the foyer, do a double-take of Thor, sigh and greet Darcy with a little wave. At least Jane had bothered with pyjamas. "Are those Thor jammies?" Darcy asked.

Thor smiled broadly, "Indeed, I have a box! Would you like some?"

Jesus,they'd given him his own merch. Still, she could think of nothing more likely to put Loki off than seeing her in Thor PJs. "Two pairs if you can spare them."

Their tiny group fell into an odd silence (well, odd for the girls, Thor simply stood - and dangled - merrily). Darcy figured it had to be weird for Jane, they'd both grown so used to a world in which Darcy was the one who'd wrangled and managed Jane in the wee hours. Yet here she was, feeling every inch the loser but desperately needing someone to just listen while she offloaded the weight of the past few weeks.

"We have six hours to get white-girl wasted, hurl our guts up, shower and make it to work like responsible mammals," Darcy jiggled the vodka, "Oh, plus: Pop-tarts." She was trying too hard, it was obvious. Thor, not entirely oblivious, seemed torn between the gravity of her unusual appearance and joy at the unexpected windfall of Pop-tarts.

"Absolutely," Jane - bless her - didn't hesitate, "There's an indoor garden upstairs?"

"Done," Darcy gave a firm nod and spared a second to liberate two Pop-tarts for Thor.

"Am I to assume your woman's meeting does not require my presence?" Thor made a gallant attempt at not seeming wholly consumed by the Pop-tarts in his hand.

Jane waved him off. When they reached the garden Darcy gave a low whistle, the humid garden had to be the size of a basketball court and was populated with with a stunning array of tropical plants. There was something heartening about being in the garden, almost as if it was a reminder that she hadn't left all beauty and wonder behind on Asgard.

A quick sweep of the garden revealed a clearing with a wide wooden bench. There was every possibility that this was Tony's sex garden, a little oasis where he put the moves on Pepper, but for the next few hours it was going to be the secluded little arbor where Darcy spilled her guts.

"Yo, JARVIS," Darcy called as she set the vodka down on the bench, "Eine kliene Nachtmusik?"

Haim started to filter through the garden. "Excellent choice, dude." She never wanted to know the extent of the snooping that JARVIS indulged in during silent hours, she was just happy that he never seemed to be lacking when it came to her favourite tunes.

As with all important emotional scenes, they got the important stuff out of the way first. The Pop-tarts didn't last long and the bottle of vodka was at low tide when Darcy began rolling around in a waxy fern doing her best Bear Grylls impersonation. The last threads of Jane's laughter were still wearing through the undergrowth when Darcy leopard crawled back to the bench, rested her head against Jane's knee and huffed out a pained little sigh. "I got knocked up, man."

Jane blinked. Looked to the vodka. Blinked again then slowly began to pluck bits of fern out of Darcy's hair. "I don't want to alarm you, but there's a thing I need to tell you about a horse."

Darcy snorted and made a grab for the vodka, only to have her hand smacked aside by Jane. "The baby?"

She made a more forceful grab for the bottle, "I said I 'got' knocked up, not I 'am' knocked up."

"Well. Shit."

"Yup," a little vodka dribbled out the side of Darcy's mouth and onto her shirt.

"So you...? I mean that's fine. That's your call." Jane had finished deforesting Darcy's hair and started petting it clumsily.

"I wish it had been my call, I lost it." Darcy hated saying that. It wasn't like she'd misplaced her unborn child. More like something in her had been wrong, or broken, and she'd failed to keep it alive. There was guilt, if she was honest, not because of the relief - that was to be expected - but that she'd put off the official tests or visiting anything remotely like a health professional until that awful night had rolled around. Maybe a vitamin, or a scan, or less coffee or anything might have set her up for a different outcome.

It wasn't the first time she'd covered that ground, but that night in the garden was the first time that she'd voiced it. At first it was just stuttered and hiccuped softly, but eventually she sobbed every single doubt and hurt and grievance against Jane's tear-soaked pyjamas.

Funnily enough, even though she'd never acknowledged that her miscarriage had a single damn thing to do with Loki, she noticed that his name kept cropping up. His presence in her mind might have seem important if she weren't so drunk, but as it was his name just casually mingled with her tears and curses like some awful sort of bloodletting.

Thor had always prided himself on his integrity and honesty. He was not one to dwell in shadows and garner information through devious means. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had approached the garden only to deliver further libation in the form of Jell-O shots that he had spent a good deal of time (and perhaps even a small measure of sorcery learned from his brother) creating.

Upon spying Darcy sobbing softly to Jane he should have made a hasty retreat, and he might have had he not heard his brother's name tumbling from Darcy's lips on a shuddery cry. Something of Loki's fiendish spirit must have been in him at that moment and he chose to tarry, perhaps to glean some small nugget of advantage that he might pass on to his brother to ease his suit.

Thor did not understand the whole of what he heard. Truthfully, he understood perhaps a fraction of what Darcy said at any given time and tears did not clarify her speech, yet he knew enough to garner the horrible truth of what she said.

A babe sired by his brother, but never for this world had passed some time ago, the ordeal borne in silence and pain by tiny Darcy. Darcy, who seemed so small. He supposed she could be like a scorpion at times, more wily and troublesome than others because of her small frame, and he both admired and lamented the strength of the sweet woman who had carried within her his blood (for he could never view Loki's issue as less).

The shots were quickly dismissed, drink would not ease her pain, and Thor crept back to his lodgings with the sensation of a heavy, dark weight behind his ribs. He felt as if a thick mass or tar was welling in his throat, the horrible compulsion to make known a miserable truth to his brother.

He waited in bed, torn and anxious, until Jane summoned him to come gather Darcy and tuck her into their bed. Darcy mewled and cuddled up to the empty bottle as her sleeping form wriggled and sought out the warmth of his side of the bed. The bed dipped as Jane crawled in behind her, flipping the bedding up to cover them both, then promptly falling asleep.

It was Thor's cue to safely separate Darcy from her bottle and make a quiet exit from the apartment.

Frankly, it was a freakin' miracle that Darcy made it to work at all, much less only a mere two hours late. Jane had protested pretty loudly when she'd woken at eight, taken a second to dash to the bathroom, then flounced out of the bedroom in search of shoes.

"You can't be serious."

"I have a normal-person job, Jane. That means nine to five."

"You work for Stark, nothing is normal about that." Jane sat up, picked up Darcy's shoes from beside the bed and threw them toward her. "Tell him we're in bed together. He'll give you the day off."

"In exchange for footage." Darcy hopped around as she tugged in her sneakers. She jiggled the front of her sweater to check for all the vitals like phone, cash and keys, then darted into the walk-in-robe to steal a ball cap. Shameless? Yes. Hangover hair in downtown NYC? No.

"Want to talk about it some more?" Jane asked from the bed.

"Drunken conversations work better when you're still drunk. Besides, you already helped."

And it had helped, hangover aside, she felt clearer. A little more grown up and, just maybe, a little more able to tackle some of the other issues she'd left to fester. Like Loki.

"Call me later?" Jane's voice was muffled as she snuggled back into the covers.

"Will do, Boss Lady."

If she hadn't needed to stop by her place for a shower and to devour a couple of aspirin she probably wouldn't have been late at all, but then she also would have missed the twelve cups of Starbucks coffee, all different varieties, all Ventis, sitting at her door. She'd been in the process of stuffing her wet hair into a nifty purple knitted cap when she'd yanked open her door and damn-near sent the trays of coffee flying. Instead, she executed a weird hop-skip-jump-abort thing and then sank down in the hall to stare at the coffees.

It was almost as if she was afraid to touch them. She did though, because coffee.

Something in the vicinity of her heart throbbed as she picked one of the still-warm drinks and toed the remaining coffees into her apartment. It didn't matter which variety she got, it was all coffee. It didn't even need to be good coffee and it occurred to her that this basically trumped any bunch of convenience store bought flowers that she'd ever been given.

Here was a guy who regarded himself as a god and he'd still managed to listen to her bitch about coffee shops. And sure, the bit where he was a murderous dick kind of sucked. But there'd been a marked decline in the people suffering as a result of his whims and he had shown some pretty remarkable restraint with Hawkeye.

The night before when he'd simply disappeared out her goddamn window had been far more discomforting than she would openly admit. Hours had passed and at first she'd gone for cool, calm and collected while watching reruns of Antiques Roadshow, but the time had kept ticking by and she'd begun to worry. Worst of all, she couldn't pinpoint who she was more worried for. What she did know was that her concern seemed to all circle back onto Loki. If Hawkeye was seriously hurt, things weren't going to look great. If Loki was hurt... well, that bit was obvious. And, really, Hawkeye had been hurt, but Darcy figured that a simple stabbing probably didn't register on the Avenger's 'injuries of note' list. She hoped.

Didn't mean that she wasn't a little nervous to find Tony kicking back at her desk, casually biting into the summoning medallion Thor had left her.

"I wouldn't," she advised as she swung her bag onto the desk and sank her empty cup into a trashcan, "I haven't totally worked out what that thing does, but it's Asgardian, so my bet is nothing good."

Tony dropped it with some reluctance. "Interesting night last night."

"I wouldn't know."

"You lie about as well as I do. Bad night, Miss Satana?"

Darcy jumped up onto her desk and gave Tony's feet a shove.

"Coitus Interruptus makes you mean."

"There was no coiting," Darcy crossed her legs and scowled.

"Not what I hear," Tony propped his feet in her lap, "Not that I'm one to bandy about confidential information like superhero secret identities, the agendas of secret squirrel meetings or, say, the defence posture of an organisation like SHIELD. But if I were..."

Darcy rolled her eyes and waited.

"...I'd say a certain crack shot is on a few shit lists for engaging a villainous mutual acquaintance of ours not thirty minutes after a briefing in which Deputy Director Hill advised that the official posture toward all visiting alien shit heads - that's your boyfriend in case I was being too subtle there - was to observe and avoid." God, he seemed please with himself. Tony was perhaps the biggest gossip whore Darcy had met. It was part of why they got along so well.

"You said Barton had a legitimate gripe." And Darcy got that. She'd seen what his douchebag disco stick had done to Erik, she couldn't imagine the damage it would do to someone as strong-willed as Barton.

"And he does. Told me to pass on that if you're that hard up for a lay, he thinks he might be free on Thursday."

"Charming," Darcy propped her elbows on his boots. "You came here to pimp out your bro?"

"Worth a shot. But, no. I'm more interested in the footage JARVIS sent my way this morning. Some sort of kinky threesome at Jane's place?"

Darcy snorted, "Jane will stop coming to science-y play dates if you spy on her."

"JARVIS is programmed to pick up any images that have a certain percentage of colours that fall in the flesh-coloured spectrum. Lot of Norse man-flesh in the clip. And you have a documented type."

Sometimes, she sort of just wanted to tase him. Probably someone would give her a medal. "FYI, there's a vaguely unstable Norse god kicking around who probably wouldn't be chill with you putting that little gem around the vines."

"Speaking of unstable. While you were rolling around in and laying waste to a rare Shenzhen Nongke Orchid in the gardens, your beau was levelling a city block."

Something rolled in Darcy's stomach, but the nausea was quelled before it ever really took hold. She just knew that Tony had it wrong. She didn't waste time in making sure he knew that too. "Absolutely not. He wouldn't, not now. Not when -"

"He's still trying his darnedest to get into your Star-Spangled Spanx?"

That was unfair. She almost never wore her Cap underwear anymore and Spanx were reserved for only the most formal occasions (and, presumably, the inner circle of Hell).

Tony shook her legs with his feet, "Calm down, I was being literal. Turned out that plans to rebuild a library there were on hold because there were issues with clearing the debris of the old one. Everyone wakes up this morning and, what d'you know, the block was cleared and primed. I'm not saying that he isn't the reason the place needed rebuilding in the first instance. But it makes you think..."

Really, she wasn't actually sure what to think, so she just pointed toward the door and suggested that Tony do his thinking elsewhere.

"You're aware that I own the building?" he asked as he backed out of the office.

"Absolutely. I just want you to own it from the outside."

With Tony out of the office and only the intern, Greg, over in the corner cajoling the photocopier, Darcy felt a little better as she slipped from her desk into her chair.

Well, shit. Did Loki throwing his skills behind a good cause make him less evil? It didn't make him good, even she knew that. But there was a chance it made him slightly less awful. It wasn't exactly like he'd advertised it either. He wasn't nipping at her heels, expecting some reward for services rendered and for some reason she felt like that had to count in his favour.

Of course, she could always just come out and ask Loki where he was sitting on the evil scale these days.

Darcy tipped over her bag and sorted through the debris until she found her phone. It seemed a little backwards to be asking Loki out on a date after all that had gone down (ha) between them. She wasn't even totally sure how to contact him, but she figured Thor would be a good place to start. It took her a couple of minutes to get the wording right, but eventually she fired off a 'Yo, where's your bro at? I'm warm for his form' (roughly paraphrased) type message and braced herself for one of Thor's customary, all caps, retina-searing reply.

Thor felt his phone stir in his pocket, he glanced at the message guiltily before stuffing it back down, unanswered. He'd spent the morning watching the sunrise from the expansive lawns of the park, hours had passed as his resolve to speak with his brother had hardened and now he only had to wait for Loki to attend him.

His brother fell into step beside him, just the hint of a swagger in his step.

"Brother, you seem pleased with yourself."

"Of course, it is a constant source of joy to live my lot. I am a prisoner on a leash, I've a reluctant lady love and you continue to sully my good name by calling me 'brother'." There was no heat in his words, but Thor could tell that circumstance continued to weary Loki. He did not relish the thought of compounding his brother's grief, but if Loki were to make any progress with Darcy he needed to understand that the path ahead was fraught with complexity and emotion that few men would rush to navigate.

If Thor didn't truly believe that Loki adored Darcy and her plucky ways he might have held his tongue. As it stood he felt destined to be a traitor, be it to the confidences of two women he held in the highest esteem or his own brother.

"Not that I'm not thrilled to be summoned to this fraternal council, but I do have some business to tend to, perhaps you can put your agenda to me with some haste?"

Thor cast his eyes around the park, then guided them down a less populated path. "I am burdened with ill-tidings."

Loki gave a rathe Gallic shrug. "And I am burdened with - to adopt a phrase from Darcy - 'zero fucks'."

A sharp bolt of electric anger struck Thor, how could Loki persist in maintaining such an insouciant front? Even without the child Loki had to see how the woman he claimed to love and adore was torn. Even without knowing the source of her sorrow, Thor had seen that. But now...

He seized Loki by the throat and thrust him up against a tree. "Look not only to yourself, brother. Your actions burden others. Your thoughtless rutting has burdened the only one you purport to love." He fixed Loki with a pointed stare, "Even now Darcy pays the price for your unchecked appetites! Did you give no thought to her protection? To her desires?!"

It was a rare sight to watch Loki so struggle with a concept. Realisation dawned slowly and brilliantly in his expressive eyes and too late Thor realised his mistake. Loki's joy had been a rare public spectacle at the coming of each of his children, it seemed the passing of time had not diminished his delight at the thought of a babe once more in his arms. Even with Thor's unforgiving grip around his neck, Loki's lips kicked up with the birth of a true smile. "A child?"

"No, brother, there is more-"

But Thor's rush of words were directed at only bark. The space where he had pinned Loki to the tree was empty.

A/N: I'm not even going to mention the stupid amount of time that's passed since the last chapter of this. I'm just going to say 'sorry' and move along. My intense thanks go out to all those who continue to read and encourage me through feedback and messages. Your comments are always read and adored.