Darcy adjusts the bodice - the very low bodice - of her dress, regards her reflection. The girl who looks out of the mirror looks nothing like her. Her eyes are heavily shadowed, her lips deep red. The dress is the same red, velvet hugging her torso and thrusting her breasts up and out. At her hips, the velvet flares out into layered panels of chiffon; if she spins, they flare out, revealing her almost the entirety of her thighs.

She makes a mental note not to do any spinning.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" she asks.

Natasha adjusts Darcy's zip, then steps back, assessing Darcy's reflection. Her own dress is simple black velvet, the knee-length skirt slightly flared. Where Darcy's hair is a mass of curls, Natasha's hair has been pulled back in a simple knot.

"The way you look can be a weapon," Natasha says, smoothing back an errant lock of hair. "If you want to be an effective agent, then you learn to use all the weapons you have."

Darcy turns away from the mirror. "But do my weapons have to be so much on…display?"

Natasha laughs. "You'll have to take that up with Fury. He's the one who engaged the dressmaker."

Darcy's brain immediately provides her with an image of Fury, all scowls and leather, wandering into a prissy dress shop. "I'm going to take up with the fact that he obviously has a Jessica Rabbit fetish," she says, pulling up her bodice again. "And the fact that I had to go and buy a new bra to wear under this."

"Send him the receipt," Natasha says. "They'll cover it."

"SHIELD covers underwear?" Darcy turns back to the mirror, mock pouts. "Well, that's something, at least."

She watches over her shoulder as Natasha does a weapons check, as usual producing knives and guns from places that Darcy doesn't want to think about. Darcy has a gun, too, this time, a tiny one stashed in her handbag.

"I'm still not happy about taking a gun in," Darcy says. "What if they find it?"

"We're there as decoration, remember?" Natasha says. "They'll frisk Clint, but not us." She gives Darcy a quick, unexpected hug. "You'll be fine. You're coming as a distraction so Clint and I can work. The gun is just insurance."

Distraction. That was why Darcy had agreed to this in the first place. It's been a week since the last incident with Loki - if he had been there at all, which she'd had cause to wonder about over the last handful of days. She doesn't put it past her brain to have produced such an elaborate hallucination. There's certainly been no sign of Loki in any of the SHIELD documentation that she's been able to access. It's as though he's fallen off the face of the world.

"I'm going to go and check on Clint," Natasha says. "Knowing him, he's sitting in his room cleaning his weapons and glaring at his suit, hoping that it will spontaneously combust so he doesn't have to wear it. We'll meet you at the car in five?"

After Natasha leaves, Darcy touches up her makeup, though it doesn't need it. Adjusts her dress again, wonders if Fury really will pay for her underwear. Wonders if she can convince him that she needs a massage, too. Or maybe a series of massages, and a few pedicures to boot.

Maybe this whole being a SHIELD agent wasn't going to be such a bad thing. Clint and Natasha were decent to be around, and professional when they were working. She'd get a new partner eventually, and she could move on. Pretend Loki never existed, that none of the incidents had ever happened.

She double checks her appearance, trying to ignore the thought that she wishes that Loki could see her now. It buzzes around her mind like an insect seeking food. She visualises pushing it away physically. Kicking it. Then, with a smile, she imagines the Hulk smashing it.

A car horn sounds outside, and she picks up her purse and hurries through the house, humming to herself. Maybe everything was going to be okay, after all.

#

The casino floor is crowded, and Darcy hesitates in the entrance. She feels exposed in her dress, more scantily cut than anything she usually wears. Clint doesn't hesitate at all, just sets off into the crowd, his eyes on one of the private rooms that open off the main floor.

Natasha curls an arm around Darcy's waist. "Remember, you can be anyone you want to be," she says. "All you have to do is occupy as many of the men as you can. Just flirt, drink a little if you want to, but try not to actually get drunk. I'll keep an eye on you as much as I can, okay?" She squeezes Darcy gently. "You can do this."

She and Darcy walk hand in hand across the casino. Few people look up from their gambling, but several men - and at least one woman Darcy sees - do, their eyes lingering on her. She's glad when they reach the private room. Clint holds the door open as they enter; when it closes again, the buzz of casino sound cuts off abruptly.

The room is large and warmly lit, and holds a long mahogany table surrounded by six chairs. A sideboard holds drinks and food, a waiter standing by. The chair are only half filled, all of the men in tuxedos, cards in their hands. Natasha is instantly smiling, falling into familiar conversation, her words sliding easily between English and what sounds to Darcy like at least three different languages, none of them Darcy recognises.

Within five minutes, both Natasha and Clint have been drawn into whatever card game it is that the men are playing. It kind of looks like poker, Darcy thinks, but she doesn't recognise it. She circles around to the sideboard, exchanges a nervous smile with the waiter. Picks up a glass of champagne, just for something to do with her hands.

She's just taking the first sip when a thick arm comes around her waist; one of the men, pulling her into his lap. "My lucky charm, I think!" he declares to the other men.

Natasha slides Darcy a look, and Darcy smiles. Takes a swallow of champagne. It makes it easier to melt into her role. She decides that she's an actress, one who works only when she has to, having inherited enough money from her parents in order to be comfortable.

The evening passes in a blur. Darcy is passed between the men several times, always coming back to the first man. He declares that he wins only when she's in his lap, and she giggles and pretends that she needs to shift her weight.

It's surprisingly easy to pretend to be more drunk than she is. Even easier to pretend to be someone else. She feels as though she's shucked off something that's been weighing her down. Maybe this is what she was meant to do with her life, after all.

She watches Natasha and Clint work, subtle signals passing between them from time to time, though both remain seemingly deep in conversation with the two men they are seated beside. Soon, the game folds, and the unoccupied men wander off, grumbling about the money that they've lost. Clint and the man he's been talking to vanish next, then Natasha and her partner. Finally, Darcy is left alone, the first man's arm still around her waist.

She slides off his lap, pretends to wobble on her heels. "I think I need to go visit the little girl's room," she says. "Powder my nose."

The man - whose name she still hasn't actually caught - waves a hand, as though he's dismissing her. She stumbles her way to the door, makes her way along the short corridor that leads to the bathroom. She'll visit it, and then she'll slip out and go back to the room, sleep.

She's actually feeling like she's done a good job just before something comes crashing down on her head.

After that, everything is dark.

#

Pain strobes before Darcy's eyes, a red light that fractures the darkness, pulsing in time with her heartbeat. She tries to narrow down the source of the pain, but it seems like every part of her body is hurting.

She can smell copper, and when she manages to move her hand, she feels a disturbingly deep pool of what she hopes isn't blood beneath her.

Brings her hand to her nose. It's blood. Her blood.

She tries to relax, tries to think. Her heartbeat is loud in her ears, and she focuses on her breath. Knows that she needs not to panic. Whatever has happened, Clint and Natasha will find her. They'll save her.

They'll save her.

#

When she comes to awareness next, she's cold. The blood beneath her is cooling, too. Her heart is beating slower, the drumbeat of it louder in her ears.

And she knows now that no one is coming. Whatever has happened to her, it's happened to Clint and Natasha, too. Maybe they're bleeding to death, too. Maybe they're already dead.

She's bleeding to death.

She's dying.

The worst part is that it doesn't seem to matter.

What difference does it really make to the world, if it loses Darcy Lewis? What difference does she really make?

She closes her eyes, listens to her heartbeat. Tries to count between beats to figure out if its slowing.

It's slowing.

She's bleeding to death.

She's dying.

The space between heartbeats lengthens, silence spinning out. She's not cold now, at least. She doesn't feel anything.

Except for one thing. She wishes that she wasn't alone.

And then a light flares in the darkness, a green light only a little brighter than a candle. Looking at it sends a fresh spike of pain through her, and she moans. Clearly she's still closer to life than death, if she can still feel pain. She closes her eyes, wills it away.

The light dies, and then she feels a hand on her forehead. A voice, which sounds far away, rising and falling like the waves of an unseen ocean.

She doesn't open her eyes again. She cannot. All she wants is to not be alone, and to drift away.

#

Waking feels like clawing her way out of a deep, dark pit. When she opens her eyes, it is to blinding white, the fluorescent lights bringing hot tears to her eyes. She forces herself to keep her eyes open, blinking frantically. Slowly, her eyes adjust, and she is able to see where she is.

Everything is white, and the air is thick with the scent of antiseptic. A hospital.

"So, not dead, after all?"

Darcy turns her head towards the voice, gritting her teeth against the stab of pain that the movement brings. Tony Stark sits in the chair next to her bed, his suit rumpled, his tie looped over the back of the chair.

"I feel happy," Darcy croaks. Tony laughs, clearly appreciating the Monty Python reference. She clears her throat, but her voice remains a rasp. "Natasha and Clint?"

"They're fine. You're the one they were after, looks like."

"Me? Why?"

"Your guess is as good as mine. Natasha thinks it's pure payback. She introduced you that night as her cousin. And to say that those guys have a vendetta against the Black Widow is to put it mildly."

Darcy turns her face back to the ceiling. The flickering lights remind her of a memory she can only half remember: a light in the darkness, a hand on her forehead. "How did he find me?"

A shuffling sound makes her turn her head. Tony is twisting his tie around his fingers, releasing it, twisting it again. "He said that you called him there."

Darcy looks around the room as much as her stiff muscles allow, half expecting him to emerge, grinning, from a corner. There's nothing but the medical equipment.

"He's not here, Darce," Tony says. "He said that he thought you wouldn't want him to be. Pepper, of all people, actually argued with him about that. But you know him. He does what he wants."

Darcy smiles weakly. "That he does."

Tony drags the tie through his fingers again. "I don't know what's going on between you two, but I worry about you, Darce. If you ever need a way out, an escape, well, they're kind of my speciality. You can always call me."

"What if I'm too lazy to go to the fridge and get a beer? Can I call you then?"

Tony laughs, stuffs his tie into his pocket. "Get some rest, Darce. We'll see you back at work when you're ready. Take as much time as you need, think about things. Figure out what you want."

He leaves Darcy, then. She stares at the lights, listens to the drip of fluids through her IV.

Figure out what I want. As if it's that easy.

#

In the end, it is a full two weeks before they let her out of the hospital. The doctors command her to take another two weeks resting at home, that order, she suspects, having originated with Tony. She doesn't hurt much any more, but she's so damn tired that she's happy to take the orders.

The first night at home, she sleeps for sixteen hours straight. She does not dream.

The second night, she lies wakeful. She'd napped on and off during the day, her exhaustion too great for her to do much more than move between the couch, bathroom and kitchen. The latter, she had found stocked generously with all of her comfort foods. Tony's hand, she suspects, or maybe Pepper's. She owes them, big time.

She turns over in bed, closes her eyes. Counts to a hundred forwards, then backwards. Counts sheep. Focuses on relaxing all of her muscles one by one. There's a dull aching in her joints that tells her that she needs to sleep, even if her mind doesn't want to.

She's actually beginning to drift off when she feels the mattress move, springs creaking as though they've taken someone's weight.

The faint scents of smoke and leather tell her who it is. She doesn't turn, just breathes slow and even, wondering what he'll do.

She doesn't know what she expects, really. Maybe that he'll just check on her, then vanish again.

She does know that she doesn't expect him to lie down behind her, curve his body against hers. He is warm, even through the layers of sheets and blankets that separate them. He doesn't try to touch her, doesn't do anything but lie there, his breathing matching hers.

"You should sleep, Darcy," he says softly. "It will heal you."

"But I-"

His fingers rest on her temple; warmth emanates from the touch, and she is sinking down swiftly into sleep, unable to finish what she was saying.

The last thing she is aware of before sleep claims her entirely is the gentle press of his lips against her shoulder, his arm coming around her waist.

#

For two weeks, Darcy rests.

During the day, she grows more and more bored watching daytime television. And every night, she lies awake until Loki arrives. After the first time, he does not say anything, just places his fingers against her temple, sends her into that deep, healing sleep. Every night, he kisses her shoulder, curves an arm around her waist.

Every morning, he is gone, only the lingering warmth and scent of smoke and leather evidence that he'd been there at all.

#

Finally, she returns to work. She is forbidden from field work, put to work instead transcribing field reports from other agents. She chafes at the assignment at first, but finds that she actually likes being in the office environment after a while.

She does not see Loki once, does not find anything about him in any of the reports. It is as though he's vanished like smoke from SHIELD. When she manages to corner Fury once to ask him, he just shakes his head and moves off. Whatever Loki is doing is classified, well above her level.

She wonders why they were ever partnered, if she was only ever intended for office work, and Loki for high level classified work. None of it makes any sense.

Nothing makes any sense, these days.

She begins to take sleeping pills at night, and if Loki visits her still not she is well, she does not know.

#

On a night no different from any other, Darcy sits on the side of her bed. She's wearing her usual oversized t-shirt as a nightgown, her glasses off and her hair loose. In one hand she holds a small blue pill. In the other, a bottle of water.

In the other room, the television is on. Another habit she has acquired, leaving it on all day and night. The Matrix is playing, the volume low, and she can hear scraps of dialogue floating through the rooms.

you take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe…

What does she believe? What does she actually want to know?

She sets the pill down on her bedside table. Pads through the apartment to turn off the television, returns to her bed, lies down and waits.

#

It is 3am when he finally appears. Darcy is drifting in and out of a light sleep, but she comes fully awake when she feels the mattress behind her shift as it takes his weight. He doesn't move towards her, doesn't say anything.

"Why do you keep coming here?" Darcy asks.

The mattress shifts again as he stands, and panic spears through her at the thought that he's simply teleported away. When she turns over, he's still there, though. He looks tired, and his black clothing hangs loose on his frame.

Darcy sits up in bed, the covers falling to her waist. "Why do you keep coming here? Why did you save me?"

He says nothing. His face is shadowed, and she cannot read his expression.

"I'm just some stupid little mortal, right?" she asks. "Made to be ruled? Are you just torturing me? What's the point of all of this? Whatever the hell this even is." Anger is cresting in her, and she grabs the first thing she can find - her water bottle - and flings it at him. He makes no move to dodge it, and the bottle smacks into his shoulder, falls to the floor with a sloshing sound. "I don't even know why you're working with SHIELD. Why you asked for me as a partner. I don't understand you at all."

He moves backwards a little, and the moonlight catches in his eye, silvering the green. "When you were a child, did you go to church?"

Darcy stares at him. "What? What the hell does that have to do with anything?"

"Did you?"

She flings out her hands. "My mother was Catholic. She dragged me along sometimes."

"But you never believed, did you? You never prayed to that God."

A sliver of cold lodges in Darcy's chest, and it is suddenly hard to breathe. She remembers a little girl kneeling down beside her bed, the floor cold beneath her bare knees. Eyes on the books stacked next to the bed, all borrowed from the library. Greek mythology, Norse mythology. "No," she whispers.

"No." Loki kneels down next to the bed, arranges his hands in prayer position. His eyes are fixed on Darcy. "You prayed to Loki. To the trickster god who could make everyone pay for what they'd done. Who could bring light into the darkness. Who could save you."

"But you're not a god. None of you are."

"Thoughts and prayers are power, Darcy, whether their target is a god form or not. Those prayers tied you to me. And I to you."

Darcy backs away, as much as the bed allows her to. "So you're saying that you're here because I prayed to you? It's an obligation?"

Loki shakes his head. He climbs up on the bed again. "I'm saying that your prayers opened a door. One I walked through willingly."

"Then why hide it? Why hide me?"

He blinks. "I have hidden nothing."

"Except in the fact that you're quite content to fuck me in private, and then when we're in public, basically pretend you don't know me?" Darcy is yelling now, her voice echoing off the walls. Right now she doesn't care who hears, she just needs to get this anger out. "I don't know about you, but that's not how I want to live. I've done plenty in my life that I could choose to be ashamed of, but you know what? I choose not to." Her fingers are hooked into claws. She's not certain if she wants to claw out Loki's eyes first, or aim lower. "Just because my body has some stupid attraction to you, it doesn't mean that I have to choose to act on it. Maybe those prayers were a door for me, too. One I can choose to close."

Loki's face is still, expressionless. "That is all any of this is to you? Lust?"

"What else is it? It's not like you'd actually care about a mortal, right? An ant beneath your boot? You saved me because you were obligated to, right?"

"No." Loki stands up, his body stiff. "Not right, Darcy Lewis."

"Then what is?" she asks in a whisper. She's aware of her heart hammering, loud as a drumbeat in her ears.

He crawls across the bed; silhouetted against the darkness, his body is long and lean, his movements reminding her of a stalking panther. He moves until he is so close that she can feel the heat coming off him. Cups a hand around her cheek.

"I saved you because you called to me, and because I chose to. I am here because I choose to be. What I do, otherwise, it is to protect you, Darcy."

His mouth comes down over hers, his lips surprisingly gentle. It brings tears to her eyes, that gentleness. It is not what she expects from Loki, and she finds herself kissing him back.

Loki's hands slide down Darcy's spine, tracing the curves and hollows of her body. His hands cup her behind, and he lifts her easily, pulling her towards him so that she is sitting in his lap. He places her so that there is an inch between them, then returns his hands to her waist, where they rest lightly.

He pulls back from the kiss, his eyes fixing on hers. "Would you lie with me, willingly and of your choice, if I ask?"

"Will you? With me, I mean. I'm sure you don't actually need permission from yourself." Darcy is aware that she's rambling, a blush heating her cheeks.

His eyes widen slightly. "No woman has ever asked me that before."

"If you need permission from yourself?" Darcy grins.

To her delight and surprise, Loki smiles back. "You are also the only woman I have known who combines laughter with love."

Love. It is, perhaps, the first time she has heard Loki utter that word. "What's the point in anything if you can't laugh about it? I mean, really? Sex is kind of one of the stupider things that humans - and Asgardians - do. It's downright ridiculous when you think about it."

Loki actually laughs. "You are unlike anyone else, Darcy Lewis."

"And proud of it. Besides, it's not like there are a thousand clones of you walking around. Unless you want there to be of course."

Darcy moves herself forward in Loki's lap, her lips pressed against his. Beneath her, he is hard, and she can't resist moving her hips just a little. His eyelids flutter slightly, and he catches his lip between his teeth. She grins, and does it again, and this time Loki's arms close around her, pulling her tight to him as his lips meet hers. He is less gentle this time, his tongue thrusting between her lips as he rocks his hips in a maddening and arousing rhythm.

It is Darcy who removes her nightgown, baring her breasts to him. Loki runs his hands down her arms, grasps her wrists behind her back, forcing her back to curve so she presents herself to him. He merely looks at her for a long time, his pupils dilating. Then he trails his fingers back up her arms, takes the weight of her breasts in his hands. Darcy bites back a moan as he passes his thumbs over her nipples. When he lowers his mouth to her breast, she has no hope of swallowing the noises she makes.

He licks a line from one breast to the other, his hands resting at her waist again. Darcy takes the opportunity to unbutton his shirt, slide it from his shoulders. His skin gleams like marble in the moonlight, and she runs her fingers down his chest. Smirks, then plunges her hand inside the waistband of his trousers. Discovers, not to much of a surprise, that he hasn't bothered with underwear. His moan is strangled as she drags her fingers over the length of him, and when she removes her hand, his hips jerk towards her.

Loki pulls back, and works at the buttons of his fly, sliding his trousers down and kicking them away. His shoes and socks have vanished somewhere already, Darcy notes, even as his fingers hook into her panties and pull them down, flinging them after his trousers.

Naked, they kneel on opposite sides of the bed. Loki has managed to move so the moonlight is at his back, and Darcy knows that she is utterly revealed to him in the pale light. She feels a surge of lust as his eyes roam over her.

"You know that I used to pray to the god Loki," she says. She splays a hand over her stomach, her thumb tracing small circles.

Loki's eyes go to her hand immediately. He nods.

She moves so that she is sitting at the head of the bed, her back supported by the wall. Loki moves also, kneeling before her, his cock jutting up against his stomach.

"When I was older, too old to pray, I read about women who revered Aphrodite as sacred whores," Darcy says. She begins to move her hand down, making those small circles still. Loki's eyes are fixed on her fingers, his lips parted. "And I wondered if any Norse women did the same. Or offered themselves up to the gods they worshipped. And I thought that, if any god was going to be worshipped in such a manner, it would have to be Loki. The others, they seemed to lack that kind of energy." She moves her hand between her thighs, strokes a finger along her folds. She is wet, and just from the look on Loki's face alone, she is close to coming. "I used to touch myself like this…and this…and this." She parts her thighs, runs her fingers along her folds again, thrusts them inside, then circles them on her clit, her hips jerking. She is so close. "And I used to close my eyes, and pretend that when I opened them, Loki would be there, and he would take me."

She closes her eyes, slides down so her back is against the mattress. Fingers circling on her clit, hips moving up against her hand. When she feels like she's just about to spill over the edge, she removes her fingers, rests her hands palm up on either side of her head. Her thighs are still parted, her hips still moving in a syncopated rhythm.

She counts: one, two, three.

Opens her eyes.

Looks directly into Loki's eyes, his hands closing over hers a moment before he thrusts inside her, burying himself to the hilt in a single motion. That is enough to make her come, and she rides the waves of orgasm with her eyes open. Loki holds still after that single thrust, his body trembling, looking down at her with something like wonder in his eyes.

It is only when she wraps her legs around his waist that he begins to move again. There is a surprising tenderness in this, their bodies moving together while they look into each other's eyes. It doesn't take long before Darcy is falling over the edge again, Loki following close behind, his seed spilling inside her.

He moves so they are both on their sides, holding her close as he softens, still inside her.

"Does this mean that you're staying?" Darcy asks sleepily from where she is curled against his shoulder.

His arms tighten around her. "I'm not going anywhere."

#

In the morning, she wakes, and he's still there.