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The Masks We Hide Behind

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“It’s for your own good,” Frigga murmurs, resting a hand on Loki’s shoulder. She gives Loki a tender look, despite all that he has down. Despite all the crimes he has committed, the lives he has taken. Despite the pain he must have caused her. “The Allfather has his reasons for his every action.”

 

 

The half-Jotun sneers, jerking away from her light touch as though her intent was to burn him, not offer some meager form of comfort. “The Allfather has his reasons!” Loki mimics in a ringing, mocking tone. “You know not of what he plans to do besides having me banished from this godforsaken realm. How long will you hide behind that excuse?” He gives Frigga a remorseless, rapid smile that really looks more like a smirk, and stalks off to the other side of his relatively small quarters.

 

 

Clothes are lying haphazardly in lumps, some just strewn like Loki originally wanted to take them but forgot in the process of finding something better. The room looks a mess, and it seems to resemble the chaotic, destructive path Loki’s mind is traversing down with gaining acceleration. Frigga frowns, but does not give Loki a halfhearted reprimand. She does not have the strength to fight with him. Not now. Not today. She goes and fusses through his collection of cloaks, trying desperately to remain a calm anchor for Loki while she tries to choose the best one for Loki to bring.

 

 

“Take care how you speak, child,” Frigga intones a moment later, for that is still how she sees Loki much of the time. He is still a child in her eyes, his adult self a product of what he feels was a vapid, neglectful childhood. She is largely unable to argue with him there. She and Odin were never meant to raise Loki, never meant to raise more than one child, never meant to raise a Frost Giant. But how could they leave him to die? She did the best she could with the most of her abilities. Odin did nothing, but that is a thought she keeps private, for it would be nothing less than treason, she thinks, to speak it aloud. “You must watch your silver tongue; you never know who may be deciding to heed your words.”

 

 

Loki doesn’t grant her a response, hands trembling with quiet, barely controlled ire as he accepts the few garments she hands to him. This is the only way, the last way, she feels she can support him. By helping him to pack for his departure, by giving him company when none else will. Frigga can only offer him words and nothing else, for she is not sure how much more Loki or she can handle. They are past the point of breaking, trying to navigate a shattered relationship. She watches as he continues to shove clothes into his knapsack, stopping only when it is full to grab his waterskin.  Silently, Loki murmurs a few words in Hebridian, and it fills with water. He is trying to bring whatever he thinks he will need; he has no idea where on Midgard Odin will send him to. He ties his bag shut, swings it over his shoulder once his cloak and shoes are on.

 

 

He doesn’t even stop to look over his shoulder, to look back at Frigga. She is wringing her hands unconsciously as she frets and walks around his room, silent worry rolling off her body honey slow. She is fussing and cleaning up though she has no reason; they have servants to do that. But Frigga needs to do something; she cannot sit still but there is no way she can protest what is happening, no way she can voice an outcry over Loki’s banishment.

 

 

She looks up as she hears his feather light footsteps approach his door. “Loki,” she begins.

 

 

He still does not look back. He does not plan to say goodbye; he will not make this harder than it needs to be. He will not drag it out like it is a dramatic scene in his life. He knows she knows this, and knows she will not say goodbye either. But still he can feel his control waning all too easily, like water tumbling through his fingers, splashing over his palms. Loki is sorely tempted to burst into a run, to block out her voice and refuse to hear what she has to say. He cannot listen  because if he does, he is not sure he can force himself to leave. He is still a child trapped in an adult’s body, alarmed and frightened by the fact that Frigga may hate him. Loki can bear everybody, anybody thinking him a criminal, deeming him an apathetic monster to hate and avoid. Everybody but Frigga. He cannot bear her thinking that.

 

 

But all she says is, “Be safe, Loki. Go not where trouble is. Cause no mischief. Find a way to use what common sense you must have and repent for what you have done. Promise me this much. I would like to see you once more back in Asgard.” She adds the last sentence softly, each word in the sentence a parent’s plead.

 

 

Odd, Loki thinks, that she is saying to both of them that she wishes for him to be forgiven so that he may come back to live in his not-home. “Promise is a big word,” he tells her, breaths stealing down his throat and curling like smoky tendrils in his lungs before he expels them out. He is trying for some semblance of control, because he wants nothing more than to stay here with her. And yet he cannot. He pauses, then adds, softly, “Worry not, mother. I will.”

 

 

Loki turns and walks out, one foot sedately going in front of the other, back rigid with masculine dominance. he walks to the throne room like he is going to die, though he will not.

 

 

How he wishes desperately at times that Frigga is his mother. That he could be Loki Odinson, not Loki Laufeyson. Would that have stopped him from letting go of rules he felt bound to for centuries, if he had a family he could call his own? Or is just in his “genetic makeup” to forever defer from a path of light?

Chapter Text

Loki can remember a lullaby he was sung when he was younger. He can’t remember what its original title is. He just knows that after the first five years of his life of Frigga singing it to him every night, sometimes repeatedly, she would call it ‘Loki’s Lullaby’. Loki hums it now, as he grinds fine desert sand into the lines of his fingers, into the crevices of his palms. He has no interest in getting up and finding shelter, despite the constant discharge of fiery heat from the desert floor.“Loki fiul meu, Voi forma credința ta, că în curând veți ști că tatăl tău este un hoț, si nu veți înțelege cauza durerea ta, Dar vă urmați întotdeauna voci sub. Fiul lui Odin, fiul lui Odin, fiul lui Odin . . .” Loki slows his singing until his voice comes to a stop, the desert air moving back to its distinctively slack movement. The poignant, elegiac tone and overlays of lukewarm, heartfelt words emitted from his voice are gone the next second. He springs to his feet barely a second later, head flung up to face the cerulean sky dead on. Loki has lost what little control he has and his emotions are raging through his body like they have broken through the dam he built to keep himself numb.

 

 

Loki would have screeched something up to the desert sky, if he had thought at all that Odin, his not-father would respond. Instead, he just let out an incoherent scream, because the damnable Allfather never would answer. And he never will.

 

 

Perhaps because Loki is so perfectly defective, addicted to insanity and a child of grief with a cracked foundation. What was once broken can never be fully whole again, not the way it was intended to be. Perhaps that is why the Allfather will waste no time with Loki. Odin knows and Loki knows that the latter is so flawed and faulty that there is no point in working with a damaged person. Not anymore, at least.

 

 

Loki knew that logically, not much time in Midgard had passed since his arrival; a few minutes at best since he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. But his heart tells him it has been years, centuries, a millennium since he has seen Thor or Frigga. It has been the lifetime of 100 Æsir since his fingers have skimmed and touched reverently over dried ink on parchment bound by leather (his precious books) like they are worth more than Asgard, more than his own life. Ragnarok has come in the time of his minutes-long absence, and there is no way Loki will make it back. He will never walk through the marble halls of his not-ancestors, will never whisper teasing comments to Thor over supper.

 

 

He knew he was being ridiculous, drowning in unspeakable anguish and misery.  But it felt like all he had left, the last things he could claim as his own because the Allfather still thought he was not enough even after all this time. Even as hard as Loki had tried his whole life to be deserving of attention, love. Something. Anything. He was falling so far from grace, picking at his pain like it was a scab until it turned into festering emotional wounds. Until it turned into a raging, immortal war in his head. And he didn’t know how to stop because it was the only thing he knew how to do anymore, the one thing he was still good at, could still do. Loki sank back down, body spasming occasionally as he tried to muffle the sobs marching up his throat. His hands were pressed so firmly and tightly against his mouth that it is uncomfortable; his lips ached at the force being exerted on them. But he could not stop the tears he had, so he had find something he could discontinue. Loki worked diligently to not shriek and weep in his crying fit; he could not afford to look like he was nothing but the inferior child Odin must have always seen him as.

 

 

And yet he was not quite successful, because he found himself dropping onto his side as though his legs have been swept out from under him. Loki found himself curling into a fetal position, body trembling from his silent crying fit. He misses Frigga, pines for his books and sorcery because they had been stitched into his identity from the second he could understand both. He yearned for the burnt orange sky at sunset and metallic silver stars, the white cotton clouds. But Loki wasn’t able to wish himself back to Asgard, away from this accursed heat that shook his body, made his flesh want to melt away and grind his bones to ashes. He slipped away mentally, dry lips counting seconds until he wasn’t not aware of anything anymore.

 

 

~*~*~*~

 

 

Thor does not hear about Loki’s banishment until it is too late to reverse what has happened. He is on an extended trip with Sif and the Warrior’s Three; they had journeyed to Nidavellir, home of the Dwarves. Thor was interested in meeting Grerr and Dvalin, two of the four dwarves responsible for making a gorgeous golden necklace given to the goddess Freya. Thor was interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of craftsmanship, and who better to learn from?

 

 

Sif had wanted desperately to visit Alfheim, home of the Light Elves, on their way home. She claimed it was a place with more glorious beauty than the sun, a gracious world unto itself of radiance and exquisite grandeur. She swore that the Elves who inhabited it were more illustriously distinguished than any Asgardian, that it was a realm where years could pass you by and you would never know.

 

 

(“How would you know any of this?” Volstagg had asked, amused at the almost lovelorn words being divulged from Sif’s mouth the first time she’d broached the subject.

 

A light blush had briefly coated Sif’s face. “How do you not?” she’d countered. “We’ve been all over the Nine Realms; surely you’ve stored some information about them in that thing you call a brain.”

 

 

Volstagg had given her a faux-offended look. Hogun mused, “You speak as though you have been there before. Surely it is not possible, for you hold the position of Captain of the Guard. There is little break time for those in power.”

 

 

“Those in power may find ways of fulfilling their own hidden desires by manipulating politics, if they are shrewd enough. And if they are not, then they do not deserve their authority,” Sif replied. She had then given them all a steely, cool expression that said the subject would not be revisited. None of the men commented on the conversation or brought up the subject again, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, going from excitement to defensive annoyance that lasted till the day was out.

 

 

They did not even comment, when they arrived, on the way some of the Elvish guards greet Sif; the Elves called to her, Fáilte, a nam cara! You have come as you promised, with your warrior comrades! Aife would see you gladly received in her dining hall at once.”

 

 

Thor and the Warrior’s Three later learned, from Sif, that “ Fáilte, a nam cara” translated to “Welcome, soul friend”. They were not sure they wanted to know how Sif was in such good graces with the Light Elves that they considered her practically one of their own; so much so she and they were given wonderful quarters and hospitality, courtesy of Aife, who ruled Alfheim in Freyr’s stead. Sif’s friends could only assume it was part of something she had been so careful to hide and never speak of, making them wonder all the more whether forming friendships with Light Elves was something she had done when her absences in Asgard had grown long.

 

 

Still, none of them pried. It wasn’t their place; Sif was reserved by nature. She would explain in her own time.)

 

 

None of them returned until two days had passed since Asgard’s trickster was forced away to Midgard. The moment the group is back, Sif’s expression of agitated patience was spun into one of weary gratitude to be back among her own kind. The Warrior’s Three relaxed, perhaps not even aware they had been riding with achingly stiff postures for the past day.

 

 

“It is good to be home, I think,” Fandral says with a yawn, mussing his hair. “I have missed the city pubs; perhaps we should visit Greenwich tonight.”

 

 

“Aye. I could do with a drink,” Volstagg agreed, eyes glinting at the thought of being allowed food and drink to his heart’s content.

 

 

Hogun rolled his eyes. “Why am I not surprised that the first thing you think of is drinking more than you need to commemorate such a fine trip?” But he consented to join Fandral and Volstagg all the same, if only for the future amusement of seeing them drink themselves into a silly stupor.

 

 

They look to Thor and Sif, the only ones who have not spoken a word on what they plan to do now that they are all back in Asgard. “I will not be attending the festivities tonight; I have other duties I must attend to,” Sif murmurs demurely, stifling a yawn. They can only guess how she wishes to spend her time.

 

 

Thor is not really aware of what his exact words are, just that he too will be drinking with the Warrior’s Three later on in the evening at Greenwich when the Moon has come out to play. He has caught sight of his mother, bathed in the Sun’s bright glow as she walks through Asgard’s main market, and it is all too easy for Thor to read the symptoms of tension radiating from his mother, the negative moods she is so careful to tuck away in public. He is only able to read her because he has grown up trailing after her, knows her so well. He does not know why she has sunk into a foul mood; he has done no wrong or committed any offense if memory serves.

 

 

Sif, who catches sight of Thor looking at Frigga with concern, volunteers, “If the whispers are true, our Queen is personally overseeing a large banquet to come in the next month. There are rumours of fire dancers and coal walkers, flame breathers and acrobats as entertainment. Even a lovely masquerade dance, if the gossip rings true. I expect that all of you gentleman will dance with me once,” she adds with a grin.

 

 

Thor does not recall asking Sif why Frigga has become so withdrawn and frantic with unused energy, but then, Sif is good at reading him. She claims he may be as graceful and agile with his weapons than even the most skilled dancer, but he is no good at hiding his emotions. His thoughts and worries are penned so clearly on every part of his face according to Sif.

 

 

As soon as his white mare is put away in her stall, Thor gravitates away from the chatter of his friends to the castle with nary a goodbye. They are discussing the things they must do before any fun can begin, ending the trip with promises of seeing each other soon, though they have all just spent weeks with no company but each other. Thor has no doubt he will see the Warrior’s Three at Greenwich in mere hours, as soon as he is done reporting to his father and bathing and changing clothes. He does not know about Sif. Thor decreed that they should all have the day off tomorrow, then training would begin the next day. If not tomorrow, he will see her in two days’ time.

 

 

He tries not to let feelings of confused forlorn affect his cheerful demeanor as he makes his way to the castle alone. By now Loki would have caught up with Thor, anxious to hear about his adventures away from home. It is unlike his brother to be away when Thor has returned, but he supposes he should not be surprised. It is not like Loki’s life revolves around his older brother, though Thor can remember when they were both young and Loki would idolize Thor, following after him like he was Thor’s shadow.

 

 

The Thunderer traipses through the halls of his home once he is inside, the crestfallen feelings all but forgotten as he slaps the backs of some guards in greeting and asking about their health (he really should not distract them from their duty, but how he has missed the rest of his race, the mighty Æsir). He makes his way to the throne room, where Odin will no doubt be pouring over politics with trusted advisors or going over maps, making sure that Asgard’s defenses will not grow weak and become prey to stronger, growing empires. Thor will talk with his father, catch him up first on the trip. He has no intention of interrupting Frigga, because once she is focused on something, she is not welcome to distractions. That is what he tells himself.

 

 

Truthfully, though he will never admit it, Thor simply aches at the thought of being stopped by her first. He loves his mother dearly, would do anything for her. But he is bouncing and gleaming with pride at the achievements he and his friends had accomplished, the feats they’d successfully completed. He wants nothing more than to tell his father and see Odin’s eyes brighten with delight at his son as he listened to Thor’s tales permeate the air. He will be so proud with how his firstborn has grown and what he has learned. Thor can’t help the curling smile that is coming onto his face, making him resemble what he recalled Jane said was a “Cheshire cat expression”, whatever that was.

 

 

Thor pushes open the doors, trying to contain himself. And he sees his father, pacing almost manically and quivering with frustration. The room is deprived of anyone else but them. “Father. I have returned,” Thor states, hesitantly, after a moment’s silence.

 

 

“I can see that, boy,” Odin replies. His voice is flat, devoid of cheer and curiosity at how Thor’s trip had gone. “Now is not a good time, Thor. Come back later; we will talk at supper. I have no patience now for another.”

 

 

“Father, tell me what is bothering you. I will not go until you have told me what ails your mind. I can offer my help.” He resents his father acting as though he is a child again, incapable of understanding what Odin is going through and not able to help.

 

 

Odin pauses; never once, not since Thor got banished, has Thor openly refused to do what his father has said. “Fine,” he says after beats of silence. “Come, but do not leave until you know all that has transpired. Do not judge until the end.”

 

 

Thor learns of Loki’s banishment then, learns that Odin and Frigga fought bitterly after Heimdall  sent Loki to Midgard, that his parents are not currently speaking because Frigga is overcome with anger. Loki’s punishment was made with her consent, but she is angry nonetheless that Loki might not come home. Odin did not tell her of the test he would put Loki through; that she had no warning of it until Odin decreed it so. Thor learns that his brother’s test and its outlines are simple:  Loki may reside on Midgard forever if he cannot learn to regret his crimes and show that he has changed permanently, for good. He must make three extraordinary acts of honor; only then can Loki come home.

 

 

“Father, you must bring Loki home,” Thor implores. He is reeling; he cannot imagine being here without Loki. Without seeing his brother. He cannot tolerate that Loki might never come back to where he belongs. Thor knows that banishment is a kinder fate than Loki deserves; he has been the worst criminal, has hit rock bottom, but he cannot spend forever on Midgard, away from those who care about him. And yet . . . a nasty part of him, one Thor didn’t want to spend time thinking about, felt gratified by this. Loki was finally getting what he deserved. He deserved the punishment. Maybe even deserved more than just banishment. Thor was uncomfortable with it. One was supposed to love family, but he didn’t have the all-en-composing love that his mother did.

 

 

“I will not. He must learn the hardest way that he has done wrong. I am not so sure he will change now; he’s gone down such a dark road . . . I’m not sure how much Jotuns really even learn . . . ” Odin trails off, mouth pressing into a line. He goes to sit on his throne, looking abruptly very weary. “But then, you changed.”

 

 

“Father, I do not think calling Loki names will help matters,” Thor remarks, though he thinks it odd that Odin has brought up the topic of the Frost Giants, albeit indirectly. He can remember how Loki killed King Laufey, just after Thor had gotten back to Asgard, how he had tried to commit genocide against the Jotuns. Thor had never thought it odd, afterwards, that Loki had developed an inexplicable hate against the Frost Giants in Thor’s absence. He once wondered, once or twice, why Loki had tried to kill Laufey and his people, but he chalked it up to extreme jealousy and hatred on Loki’s part. He’d assumed that Loki blamed the Jotuns for Thor’s banishment. Overcome with suicidal anger that he’d lost Thor, Loki had gotten twisted up in his own lies and deceit in his quest for the throne.

 

 

“It is not name calling, Thor. Loki is not your sibling; he is King Laufey’s son.” Odin slumps slightly, looking defeated. He begins to explain how he happened upon Loki, what he planned to do with Loki once he became an adult.

 

 

And it all clicks for Thor, why Loki was so razor sharp focused on getting a throne, on becoming King. He had to have been deprived of one when Odin found him, and would never be King in Asgard with Thor around. He would have been neglected in childhood; Odin’s dislike of Jotuns was infamous in the royal court. No wonder Loki hated Jotuns, why he was so self-deprecating and eager to kill the Jotuns when Thor came back. He saw himself as a monster. It all makes too much sense to Thor.

 

 

“I . . .” Thor does not know what to say. He is unable to believe it, but he has to. Why else would everybody here in Asgard seem so joyous? Why else would Frigga have looked the way she did before they talked? “But why didn’t you just tell Loki earlier, Father? You could have told us when we were children. He wouldn’t have become what he was if he’d just had time to accept everything.” It’s what Thor would like to believe. But, then, he’d still grown up prideful and arrogant.

 

 

Odin raises an eyebrow. “Would it have changed things for the better, my son, if I had told Loki what and who he really was during your childhoods? Say I had. Say I told Loki he was the prince to an army of Frost Giants, the heir to an icy tundra and one of Laufey’s sons. How do you think he would have taken it? Not very well, I imagine. You both grew up hearing about we Æsir conquered the Realms and brought about peace. You know how children talked about Frost Giants. They were the monsters under your beds. Do you think Loki would have grown up well-adjusted, knowing he was related to them?”

 

 

“He could have,” Thor insists. “With time. We could have helped him understand it’s not your heritage that determines your character.”

 

 

“It’s time we no longer have.” Odin sighs. “There is much, I suppose, I could have done differently. I could have done better. But it’s always so difficult to say what would have been best when it’s your children.”

 


Thor shakes his head, slow. “I should go find him. If Loki really is half-Jotun - what if he ends up in a desert? It could negatively affect him.”

 

 

Odin gives him a stern look. “Thor. This is a lesson Loki must learn and accomplish on his own. If you go, you do it without my consent and blessing.”

 

 


 

 

“Why do we have to babysit him? Erik and I have our jobs at S.H.I.E.L.D. Even Darcy’s not free; she’s interning at Harvard.” Jane’s voice is bordering on a whine. It is a testament to how much she does not want this responsibility that she is even objecting. Thor came back to Earth a day ago, his comatose brother in tow. Thor explained that his need was dire; Loki was half Jotun and found in the desert (presumably sent from Asgard); his body was not adept at handling the heat. Though his brother (was Loki ever really Thor’s brother, though? Jane wonders) had committed a number of crimes, Thor, ever the activist, insists that he must help Loki, and he needs Jane’s help to do so.

 

 

Jane lives in a furnished apartment on S.H.I.E.L.D. property, courtesy of the government agency, happy that her own knowledge and skills are constantly being put to use, that her brain is finally being challenged the way it was always meant to be. She’s getting paid to overcome challenges and pave the way for future astrophysicists. It is what she has always dreamed of, and more, now that it is finally happening.

 

 

But this is too much. This is one obstacle Jane knows she’s not qualified for in any capacity. She frowns at Thor, disliking what is happening more and more every minute.

 

 

“Loki is himself no longer,” Thor begins to explain again. “He has been banished from Asgard, much in the same way I was. He has not spoken of the reason, though it is not hard to surmise the cause. He has no doubt angered Father for his crimes in New York. Loki will remain here until Father deems it wise to allow him to return to Asgard.”

 

 

Jane snorts. “I don’t believe it. And it doesn’t make sense. Why send Loki back to the planet he tried to take over as punishment?” She runs a hand through her hair and paces in the living room again. She isn’t sure if it’s possible to Loki change now. It’s like asking Ted Bundy to not be so sociopathic after he killed the first three victims of his, and assuming you can actually change him, she thinks to herself. I don’t know how I’m going to tell Thor this just isn’t possible. Whatever good Loki has in him, it’s just too small.

 

 

Thor stares at her for a moment, his eyes raking over her expression as if he believes Jane to somehow be making a joke. When she is still standing with arms crossed, waiting for an explanation, he shifts his position, uncertain of how to proceed. “Loki has been stripped of his more magical powers. The way I once was. He is, for all intents and purposes, a Midgardian. Or a human, as your race likes to call yourself. It is his punishment from Odin. You can help him the way you helped me; if I thought he would listen to me for even a moment, I would never ask this of you.”

 

 

“He got himself banished, Thor. He knew damn well what he was doing when he created chaos a year ago. He’s not my responsibility; not mine to look after. He cannot, and will not, stay here with me.” Jane is firm on this; she’s not going to budge. She is not comfortable tending to Loki; he’s like a cornered scorpion right now and she’s scared of him already. Jane is not going to compromise her job to help a killer. She will not compromise her safety, either, though her heart aches for Thor’s desperate plight.

 

 

Thor sighs, realizing his reasons are now moot; he doesn’t think it respectful to force something on Jane. He walks to the window, looking contemplative, as Jane begins make eggs. It occurs to him in a heartbeat when he smells the Pop Tarts she put in the toaster pop out. “What about Darcy? She wouldn’t mind.”

 

 

“What wouldn’t she mind?” Jane is amused; she thinks something about a food competition involving her friend has crossed Thor’s mind, and secretly she’s glad the topic of Loki has been removed from Thor’s mind, if only for a while. “I mean, breakfast. Yeah, you’re right. She’d like us to bring breakfast to her at work.”

 

 

Her relief, however, is shot to ribbons when she hears his next sentence.

 

 

“No. Looking after Loki.”

 

 

Jane is almost certain Thor actually wants to give her a heart attack. She finally says, “Alright. But you have to be the one to suggest this to Darcy. I’m not going to.”

Chapter Text

Loki blinked himself awake. He looked around, utterly lost because he was not in the desert anymore and therefore no longer felt as though his flesh will burn off. Like his physical being would melt into the crevices of the cracked ground. He was unable to entertain rational thoughts just then; it was taking so much energy just to adjust mentally to his environment. He found he was able to loosen tense, sore muscles, stiff from the desert heat.

 

 

Stiff from his fall from Asgard.

 

 

It was to his relief. He’d felt as though he would be locked in a fetal position for days to come, somewhere in the back of his mind while his crying jag was underway. But mostly, it was the fact that it takes mere seconds to relax is what makes Loki’s foggy mind snap into hyper-charged focus. He should not feel so quickly rejuvenated. Things should not be seen so clearly in murky hues of midnight blue and dark slate gray, in tints of dusty charcoal and black asphalt, all shapes and objects seen through Barcelona red eyes.

 

 

Though he has worn the skin of an Æsir for centuries, Loki has never been entirely comfortable in it. He is an enormously talented “skin-shifter” (for that is the word that most closely states his main ability), so it is not because he incorrectly ‘shifted into an Æsir that he has always felt like he was stuck in a state of discomposure. But the Æsir body has always required warmth from the Sun’s rays and constant sustenance, physical conditioning and tranquil sleep. It has never been in Loki’s nature to desire warmth, constant exercise and food . . . it has always been what the body wanted, and he had never been able to do anything but comply. On good days it was merely taxing in every regard, and Loki could maintain his Æsir form until he felt like shedding it in exchange for his Jotun form. He could remember when he still lived in Asgard how he had spent a few happy, private hours learning to create things out of candy metallic silver ice and snow and hail.

 

He looked down, fully taking in what has happened. He was in . . . he was not sure what the proper term is, but the thick, hard rectangular bin he has been placed in makes him oddly nostalgic for Asgard’s bathing pools. The one Loki is half lying in now is filled with what must be freezing cold water, adorned with many ice cubes. He can almost see his breathes when he expels them, meaning the temperature is utterly low. Just how he likes it. But it means that the low temperature, combined with the water-filled bin, has trigger a ‘shift sometime in the last several hours . . . . most likely, Loki realizes, when he was unconscious. He is too meticulous now to allow it to happen when he is not fully in control.

 

Loki shifts, stretching and curling his body, oddly content and relaxed for what feels like the first time in forever. He feels far more in control when he is a Frost Giant in Jotunheim, but this does just as well, considering it is on Midgard.

 

Darcy is on her third cup of another Starbucks iced tea lemonade when she pokes her head into her bathroom to check on Loki. She’d been given strict instructions to place the temperature as low as was possible, and to put Loki in something freezing cold. He was too big for the freezer, so she’d figured her bathtub would do. “Glad to see you’re awake,” she chirps at him, smiling.

 

 

Darcy Lewis was diagnosed with impulse control disorder when she was much, much younger and pulling incredibly risky stunts and showing reckless behavior. She’d been given some very small pills to help cope with her disorder. Besides making her feel sleepy, the pills assisted her a great deal. She was able to just slow down and think, instead of acting first and thinking later (she had not realized, at sixteen, that it was a stupid idea to put a goat on her school’s rooftop until after it had happened). Darcy had gone off her meds in the last week, genuinely forgetting to take them while she was interning. In between experiencing withdrawal symptoms, Darcy had been getting her impulses back, and on a whim, had agreed to take Loki in and sort of just . . . rehabilitate him, as Thor had put it.

 

 

Loki sneers at Darcy’s question, deciding to ignore that he is painfully naked and defenseless in a strange woman’s home, that if she so chooses she could kick him out (he truly doesn’t understand why she went to the trouble to stabilize his internal temperature) and that he knows nothing of life on Midgard. “Of course I’m up, you insufferable insect.” He will not answer her question about his well-being; that is too private, too personal. He used to sometimes talk about his emotional state, mental well-being with Frigga. Would sometimes allude to one or the other if he could not articulate himself (that was rare, barely happened, but sometimes he just could not fathom his mind into words). If Loki cannot share his inner world with his not-mother, than he will not share it with anybody.

 

 

“Hey.” Darcy’s acrimonious tone slices through his reverie. She is standing in the small, peach and cream colored bathroom with him now, instead of just poking her head around the door. She is narrowing her eyes at him, mouth in a displeased line. “You can’t talk to me like that. It’s disrespectful. Don’t think for a second that it’ll fly in my house. Understand?” She raises an eyebrow.

 

Loki is startled into silence that she will voice her thoughts rapidly, that this little mortal is candid. He has known few women who will not allow some (or all) of their boundaries to be crossed or disrespected. That this woman is one of them is . . . curious. Loki can feel instantly that the power dynamic has shifted with his decision not to respond immediately with a snappy retort; now this woman is the authority figure, not him.

 

All he is able to say is, “Understood perfectly” through gritted teeth a minute later. Loki does not like a passive role; he has always been dominant. He can’t imagine lasting long here at all; he will surely go mad.

 

Darcy smiles, all distaste draining out of her face, to be replaced by a more calm, pleasant expression. “Your brother brought you here; no one else would take you in, and he doesn’t have a place of his own, or you’d be with him. ‘Sides, he wanted to spend time with Jane before going back to Asgard. He told me you were half-Jotun; I guess you can’t handle heat, so I put you in cold water. Thor also mentioned you have a fondness for fish, so I’m making some for lunch right now. Whenever you’re ready to come out, I left some clothes next to your towel, so just dry yourself and wear those.” She gives him another relatively kind look before going out and back to preparing the fish.

 

 

Loki’s gut is weaving cool anxiety around again and again. He is not ready for this; he is not ready to be as human as he will ever be. He is not prepared for his new life and he can’t admit he hit rock bottom because surely there is still a bit farther to fall? It is too much; this cannot be how things will play out for the duration of Loki’s life: him always depending on someone else’s charity, never able to go back to his not-home and his not-mother, his books and magic just out of his reach forever. He does not know how Thor managed for a few days; how did his not-brother clutch onto his sanity? Loki leans back against the cool, tiled wall. She didn’t even seem put off by his Jotun appearance; when she spoke to him it was as if he was just another person. Just someone else she happens to know. Like she didn’t even see his disgusting blue skin, ruby red eyes. He does not understand what to make of her nonexistent reaction.

 

 

Loki despises his Jotun form even as he revels in it. He is part of a corrupted savage race. All of them are inadequate, faulty brutes, antonyms of anything pertaining to light. He is nothing but an apathetic, unfeeling thing trying to make believe that he is not. “What am I going to do?” he whispers, badly wishing he had Frigga here. He misses her, feels the lack of her presence so acutely it is like missing an appendage. “I need you, Frigga, my mother,” he breathes out. Loki is ashamed he needs someone, but it is true. He is out of his depth here.

 

—-

 

As Darcy starts to finish her task in the kitchen, she expels a breath she didn’t know she was holding. This will not be easy. It will take a lot of patience and effort and responsibility.  It most likely won’t even work; she knows there is really no way she can change a personality and someone’s way of thinking that had been developed over centuries, maybe even a millennium. But Darcy could always make an attempt to just plant the desire to change in Loki. If they are both lucky, he will decide recovery is a worthwhile pursuit.

 

 

And if he does not? a small voice whispers in the back of her mind. She tries to ignore it; she really does. But the truth is that she could do everything right and nothing will change. Loki won’t start caring until he wants to care and nothing she does is worth a damn until then. Also: he was a serial killer. She had a serial killer in her home. She really had to start reevaluating whether she needed to sleep with a knife under her pillow, and whether she needed to start doing intensive therapy. What the fuck had she been thinking? Oh. Right. Not at all.

 

 

Darcy puts two light blue plates on a table, and tries to calm her trembling hands. She does not know what will happen to either of them if Loki refuses to give up whatever self-destructive path he’s started on. It’s not her fault he’s like this; she knows that. But she consented to take him in; she feels responsible now for whatever happens to him. Thor said he would never dream of holding anything against her if Loki does not lose his twisted perceptions, if he refuses to acknowledge that his crimes were heinous. Thor will not blame Darcy if Loki doesn’t make an effort to fully redeem himself and turn to good. But she can’t let him down. She is committed to his brother now, loath as she is to confess it. And she doesn’t know why. She really doesn’t.

 

 

Maybe because she still feels like it’s her job to fix things. Darcy isn’t Jane’s assistant anymore, but when it comes to Asgard and its inhabitants . . . she’s not sure how to put it into words.

 

 

“Loki, it’s ready!” she calls out as she carefully puts a piece of salmon on each of their plates, adds some broccoli and grapes. I am not a rehab center, she thinks furiously to herself. If he does anything, it’s his fault. He’s an adult. I just won’t enable him. She tries to not think about about what that’ll mean for her, if she tries to stop him.

 

 

Lo and behold, Loki is trotting down the stairs a few moments later, wearing the loose ivory silk shirt and black slacks she laid out. His inky black hair is drying, curling at the end. He smells much better, like fresh jasmine or cucumbers, and his piercing, dark green eyes are sweeping over the kitchen before focusing in on the plate of food she’s offering to him.

 

 

There is an awkward pause, where Loki slowly outstretches his arm and takes the plate from Darcy. He doesn’t say anything to her, just sits and starts to quietly eat it. She’s annoyed. She didn’t make the effort to prepare this for him just to receive silence in return.

 

 

“I didn’t have to do this, you know.” Darcy gestures at his food as she sits down opposite of him.  She again raises an eyebrow at him.

 

 

He pauses mid bite, thinking of all the things he could snap and snarl at her, all the insults he could throw. But instead he tells her, “Thank you.”

 

 


 

 

Loki has a feeling that Darcy’s kindness to him is not to be challenged or pressed; he can tell full well that she will not hesitate to throw him out if she gets tired of his behavior.

 

 




She grins, and it looks more genuine this time. Darcy looks like she is about to start speaking. He is expecting a barrage of judgmental questions, of disgusted looks; anything that will give him a sign that she is intolerant entirely of him, that she hates him. But instead, Darcy, after popping a bite of bread into her mouth, swallows and queries, “Ok, so someone says you’re going to be transformed into a building in five minutes. What building are you?”

 

 

Loki is confused by the randomness of her question, but doesn’t protest. “I don’t know.” He all but flicks a grape back onto his plate. “A skyscraper, I suppose.”

 

 

Darcy nods approval. “I want to be, like . . . a little hovel cottage in the woods. Like the kind of hovel that some scandalous, high society Victorian woman went to so she could whisper her secrets somewhere about how she’s the hoe in the Vatican everybody’s taking about.”

 

 

And that is how Loki gets an introduction to the most random conversation of his life. They bounce questions back and forth; whatever pops into their head. Darcy’s game succeeds in making Loki’s lips twitch into a quick smile now and then; he is amused at the very least, amused that every and any answer counts. He cannot think of a better way to waste time.

 

 


 

 

The Warrior’s Three and Sif were anticipating nothing less than death for Loki after his crimes, though they rarely spoke it aloud, desiring not to upset Thor. Sometimes they would whisper to each other what they thought would happen to Asgard’s trickster; other times they would murmur their thoughts on what they thought Loki’s final punishment would be. None had guessed banishment; they had agreed it would be either death or solitary confinement. Banishment was not what the Warrior’s Three or Sif would have given him; but they all knew the instant they heard of Odin’s final verdict on Loki’s punishment that Frigga must have convinced Odin that forcing Loki to leave would be the best thing for him.

 

 

What they did not expect was that Thor would go tearing after his brother, anxious to help. They’d had no idea, for the most part, that Thor would have felt so codependent on his relationship with Loki that he couldn’t function without the trickster. Which was why Fandral, Hogun, Volstagg, and Sif had agreed to meet in a private chamber-room. They had much to discuss regarding Thor, Loki, and what course of action they would take.

 

 

“What are we going to do?” Sif voices anxiously, looking at the Warrior’s Three. She is wringing her hands now and then, pacing just to hear the crisp click from the heels of her boots on cool marble floors. She needs to hear something familiar; anything that will distract her from what they have learned. “We could always go after Thor and see Midgard; we did it before when he got banished.”

 

 

“Yes, when Thor got banished,” Fandral responds testily. “I have no inclination to go and visit the trickster. Banishment and a strip of his powers are better than what he deserves. Besides, are we not underestimating our friend? Thor is capable of handling himself and Loki. ”

 

 

Volstagg shifts on the couch, fingers tugging and twisting at the soft material. “But Thor went after Loki. He believes there is still a chance that Loki is capable of change, of staring anew. Perhaps his emotions blind him.” He sighs, not wanting to finish his sentence. Volstagg reaches for his glass of watered down mead, unable to to deal with the sharpened edges of his uneasiness.

 

 

Hogun looks at all of them. “You heard as well as I what Loki did on Midgard. Killing eighty humans in two days, even more when his army came, bringing destruction to that city . . . It shouldn’t have happened. We all knew he hid the scary parts of himself, the urges he sometimes couldn’t control. Thor may feel forgiving, but I doubt it runs deep; he still possesses anger, and rightfully so.”

 

 

“But we’ve all seen this coming, or some form of it,”  Fandral agrees. “Thor was blinded long ago by his optimistic brotherly love to see what Loki truly is. Thor is forgiving. And that can easily get him into trouble.”

 

 

“Be careful how you speak,” Sif comments, echoing what Frigga intoned to Loki. “Heimdall sees all that passes in the Nine Realms; I would not like to see you under sort of suspicion for a remark that could be twisted and passed off as treason.” She exhales, turns and faces the three men. “We don’t have a choice; not when it comes down to it. We must aid Thor.”

 

 

“Sif, there’s no need,” Volstagg murmurs as he stands and walks to the fire. “He has Jane and her two little friends. Those three will be able to manage him just fine.” He exchanges unreadable glances with Hogun and Fandral.

 

 

Hogun absently twirls a fork between his fingers, humming to himself. “He can return this time; there is no need to fret. It is not unusual for him to desire to visit . . . I suppose he will want to spend time with her before she withers away and dies. Loki being banished to Midgard must have only reinforced her mortality to Thor. Besides, he will be back in a few days. We can return to business as usual then. He will see that no amount of reasoning can make Loki change.”

 

 

She gives him a hostile look, tired of not always being taken seriously when Thor is not present just because of her gender. She has proved herself to be just as worthy as they have; what place have they to doubt what she suggests? Sif hugs herself briefly, trying to summon inner strength. She is so tired of trying to weave webs with her words for them to fall into, of trapping them with a single verbal blow. She is anxious to see results, and see them soon. She will go to Midgard, even if she must do it alone. She picks up her belt, carelessly tossed onto the arm of a chair when she’d walked in. “That is where my point lies, my friends,” she almost snaps at them. “Jane and her friends are quite capable of opening their homes to Thor. I have no doubt they would even welcome it. But what about Loki? Is that not why we came here? Even without his alluring magic and illusions, he is still so very charming with words. He can even handle a blade.”

 

 

She turns to face Fandral as she secures her belt on, starts attaching her weapons to it. “Thor may have been blinded once by his optimistic brotherly love for Loki, but no more. He can handle Loki’s tricks and surprises, but the Midgardians cannot. You saw how they scrambled and pleaded for aid when he brought the Chitauri to Earth. I have no doubt that Loki will find a way to create some form of chaos. We need to help Thor; he will not be quick to admit that Loki is deceiving everybody around him into another deceptive design for control and power. Even if he is, he is only one, and he cannot protect all of Earth against his brother.”

 

 

Hogun sighs, shifts his weight to his other foot and crosses his arms. “I do not believe I have a choice, at the very least. If we stay here, we run the risk of assuming that Loki will use Thor’s weak spots to his own advantage at some point. And that will prove to be deadly and dangerous to those around the trickster.”

 

 

Volstagg and Fandral still look largely unconvinced, and Hogun aims his next point at them. “What have we learned on our many adventures with Thor? A cornered predator is the most dangerous of all, and Loki embodies that very phrase. He is trapped on Midgard with no way back to Asgard, unable to call on his dark allies.”

 

 

Sif nods her agreement as she reaches for her travelling cloak. “Thor may be able to best Loki in a physical fight, but we all know Loki is far superior in charming people. He will use his words to lay a subterfuge for Thor to descend into. No one will be able to see his end goal until it comes about. It will take them off guard. We cannot be lax as we were before, when Loki visited Midgard a year ago, and leave it to Thor and his little rag-tag team to defend the masses.”

 

 

Fandral exhales,  getting up from his chair and setting aside his book. “Come,” he beckons to Volstagg with a defeated look. “I suppose we cannot have it on our conscience if Loki sets a trap again. We run too many risks.”

 

 

Volstagg rolls his eyes, but nods his consent. “I think we will end up regretting going down to reside among the mortals for a spell. I am still unconvinced that our presence is necessary, but I would not abandon Thor, nor be left behind.”

 

 

Sif smiles. She is cheerful she is successful in her efforts to convince her friends to see her perspective, and to get them to agree to act.

 

 

Frigga feels oddly distraught, though she will not lightly admit it. She does not disagree that what Loki was wrong; she thought she had raised him to be above his selfish desires. She thought she taught him better. How does one raise a murderer and not realize? Where had she gone wrong and how much of what Loki had done was her responsibility? Had she done everything right?

 

 

But she supposes that she and Odin should have been more watchful, more aware of Loki’s struggles. They should have told him so much earlier that he was adopted. He might have coped better, might have adjusted to it more fluidly, instead of rockily tearing himself out of their lives and Odin’s good graces. She still loves Loki unconditionally, still wants him back. Frigga thinks so, anyway. Sometimes it’s hard to tell. She doesn’t know how to feel sometimes. It doesn’t feel right to feel so deeply angry at her son all the time. How can she feel so much love and so much rage?

 

 

Her husband does not appear to share those feelings, but it is hard to read Odin. He is most private.

 

 

She dresses for bed slowly, with care. She is not in a mood to uphold her wifely duties with Odin; she can tell he senses it as he wipes his face with water in front of the mirror, into a basin. “You should not concern yourself with Loki, my wife,” he says gruffly. “It was inevitable that Loki wold commit his crimes. He is a Jotun, after all; what more can any of us expect from that race?” He fusses with his beard briefly before coming back into their bedroom.

 

 

“I am not surprised; with your outright prejudice of them, it is no wonder Loki felt so inferior. That he picked up on your disdain for him all his life. Why else do you think he felt so driven to do what he did? Loki wanted your approval, your love. That is all he ever desired. It should not have been so hard for you to give him what he wanted desperately as a child.” There was a saying that a queen should have two sons: an heir and a spare. She wonders if they favored Thor heavily throughout the family’s life . . . even if it was implicit. And it’s wrong to snap at Odin this way, it isn’t just his fault.

 

 

Odin glares at her. “What is done is done. He will no doubt remain on Midgard for centuries. I have doubts about his ability to change.” He changes into his night things and joins Frigga in bed; he makes no move to be closer as she is more interested in her book.

 

 

“It is easier to build up a child than to repair an adult. You should have chosen your words with care when you had the chance,” she apprises Odin. If they had both been more careful with addressing Loki, would they even be in this position? Could she and Odin have changed Loki’s path? Or was this really inevitable? Frigga hates wondering ‘What-if?’

 

 

Odin does not respond for what feels like ages; she is sure he has fallen asleep. Frigga begins to doze, disregarding her book, and silence blankets itself onto them. The candles have all been blown out when he finally responds, voice feather light. “Perhaps I should have. But I cannot change my actions.”

 

Chapter Text

“We’re going to watch Stardust first,” Loki announces. He’s sitting in her living room, curled up on a sort of lumpy but comfortable nonetheless blue couch. He had taken a thick, crocheted blanket Darcy’s grandmother had given her in high school and draped it across most of his body while leaning against a pillow. He looked sleepy, though the prince insisted otherwise. “Then I want to watch Moulin Rouge.”

 

 

Darcy has not yet detected anything . . . well, strange. As far as she can tell, he’s been sincere and polite as shit all afternoon. After learning about American social etiquette (Darcy can attest that he is, in fact, a rapid learner), he dropped his Asgardian habits and behaved like a model gentleman all day. He helped clean up after every meal, continued with what he called her “humorous question game”. Loki didn’t even object to helping her furiously clean her apartment. He went and got the cleaning supplies she needed, then helped to clean the bathrooms, the stove, the floors. Loki even helped her fold her laundry. He has not yet raised one single complaint or attempted another snarky comment since the bathtub incident a day ago, nor has he tried to sneak out or endanger her safety and peace of mind. She’s impressed, to say the least.

 

 

She’s also very vigilant, almost to the point of being overly suspicious. Darcy thinks that Loki’s planning something. From what she understands, he got striped of his magic. Of his lengthy life. As if that wasn’t enough, he got banished. So now he’ll age like a human, now he’s more prone to sickness and disease and death at a far earlier age. He has no way to get back to Asgard; Heimdall won’t let him back (“Heimdall is the gate-keeper,” Jane had mentioned into the phone when she and Thor had been bringing Loki over).

 

 

Darcy understands that Loki is the sort of person that holds grudges. He might not show it, but he does. When he feels that he’s been wronged, he never forgives and he never forgets. Loki, she senses, focuses on negativity to the extreme; he is consumed by it. While she’s not a psychiatrist by any means, she thinks he has some sort of inferiority complex going on, based on Thor’s succinct narrative of what happened with Loki. There are obviously a lot of repressed feelings; he’s probably dealing with a lot more than what he’s letting on to anybody. Loki wouldn’t let her touch him; when she needed help to get up after slipping on a patch of laundry detergent that spilled, she reached toward him for aid, he flinched and turned away. The expression on his face-one of suppressed hostility, makes her think something must have happened to him. Something that involved a physical trauma. She might think he was autistic (Darcy remembers having autistic friends in college that just didn’t like physical contact and nothing happened to them), but he just doesn’t fit the autism bill. It’s like he has PTSD.

 

 

She’s going to take him in to a psychiatrist on Wednesday, whether he likes it or not. She’ll stand by Loki, if only for Thor’s sake, but she refuses to do this rehabilitation thing on her own.

 

“Darcy?” Loki breaks her out of her thoughts. She focuses back on him, notices him frowning at her. “Aren’t you going to sit down?”

 

 

“I . . . yeah, of course. Why don’t you pop in Stardust? I’m going to make some popcorn before coming in.”

 

 

He grins. “Excellent. I’ve always to try some.” Loki shakes off the blanket as he stands up, almost bouncing after her as she drifts back into the kitchen. Darcy can’t help but notice, When he isn’t so damn livid all the time, his smiles make his face kind of enjoyable to look at.

 

 

“How do you know what popcorn is?” Darcy asks while popping a bag into her microwave. “I thought there wasn’t any on Asgard. Figured you all were more healthy.”

 

 

“There isn’t any on Asgard,” he confirms. Leaning a bit closer, like he’s sharing a secret, “The Bifrost isn’t the only way to get to one of the Nine Realms. There are numerous concealed routes that lead out of Asgard. I would escape on them as soon as I could after my studies were finished when I was younger - ” The beeping of the microwave, alerting them to the fact that the popcorn was ready, interrupting him. Loki started, darting backwards a few paces in what looked like a submissive stance. But all the fluid obedience in his posture was gone just as quickly, and he leaned against a marble counter in subtle masculine dominance.

 

 

Darcy was yanked out of the almost mesmerizing allure that were his words, and she turned to take out one bag and put in another. “So, where you were going with this is that essentially snuck out of Asgard on a daily basis to observe Midgard. And when we became . . . advanced enough, you discovered we eat popcorn. I’m guessing you’ve had a desire to try junk food ever since you learned about it.”

 

 

He blinks. “How did you rightly guess what I was going to say?” Loki looks genuinely baffled, like he’s not used to people taking the words out of his mouth.

 

 

“It was obvious,” Darcy points out dryly. She tosses him a quick smile before adding, “I’ll be right back. Don’t try to eat the popcorn just yet; it’s still hot.”

 

 

She is up in her bedroom changing into her kitten pajamas when she hears a yelp and a word that sounds like a swear. “I told you not to open the bag,” she calls down, snickering.

 

“Shut up.” His voice, for a change, is sort of playfully teasing.

 

 

With a pang, she remembers how Emery, her once closest friend and confidant, sounded the exact same way when he was in a lively, impish mood. She does her best to shed the Emery-related thoughts as she pulls on her pajamas, knowing full well she’ll have to change again as soon as the movie is over.

 

 

She stumbles back downstairs, opening up her bag (Loki is already delicately picking at the contents of his) and pouring the popcorn into a bowl. She does the same with Loki’s, feeling goodnatured mirth at his expression. Darcy realizes now that people must not be in the habit of grabbing his food away from him. Just to placate him, she utters, “It’s easier to eat the popcorn in a bowl as opposed to the actual bag.”

 

 

He rolls his eyes, muttering, “You are all so particular about where you eat your food. I don’t understand how you remember all this.”

 

 

She snickers, throws her arms out dramatically. “Welcome to Earth, Loki. You’re in my wheelhouse now.”

 

 

He rolls his eyes, and, when she has picked up her snack, strolls into the living room with her.

 

 

“We’ll have to watch Moulin Rouge later; I told Jane that we’d meet her for dinner at seven thirty.” Darcy notifies him of this development with distraction as she puts the movie.

 

 

“Why?” Loki’s one word question is filled with annoyed disgust. “It’s not like I need to see her. Don’t you have something more exciting planned?” He is not in any mood to see her; he’s sick of Thor’s constant lovesick narration about the inconsequential mortal woman who could change him when Loki could not.

 

 

Darcy turns to frown at him. “Jane’s my friend, Loki. You might not have had very many friends growing up in Asgard, so maybe you don’t really get how friendships work.  When you have friends, you spend time with them.”

 

He sighs, frustrated. “So go have dinner with her, if it’s so important to you. I’ll just stay here. I don’t want to go. I don’t need to talk to humans.”

 

 

“Tough. You need to socialize more. You keep yourself so isolated, and it’s not healthy. Loki, you’re coming whether you like it or not. And you are going to be cordial the entire time we are at her apartment, even if you’re cussing me out mentally.” She goes to get the remote and turns on the TV, then switches over to the appropriate setting so they can watch the movie.

 

 

“You can’t tell me what to do. I’ve done everything you wanted without complaining at all.” His previous whine is rising in a slightly shrill tone; whether it’s due to outrage or an overly emotional crying fit, Darcy isn’t sure.

 

 

“Loki, I appreciate that you haven’t complained once, and I’m grateful that you have been extremely polite and cooperative in the time you’ve been here so far, especially in regards to the house chores I’ve had to do.” Darcy goes to one of the couches as she speaks. “I acknowledge that you’re going through a really arduous time right now, emotionally and mentally. I know that it is anything but easy to have gotten banished here. I get that you’re upset and you don’t want to be here. But Loki,” she says, pointing a finger at him, “you need to comprehend that you are here. So start adapting. Nothing’s going to change for you until you start to permanently change your harmful, damaging behavior, your negative thought process, and the cynical, offensive way you treat everybody around you. Going to have dinner with Jane will be good practice for you to step down from whatever pedestal you’ve put yourself on.”

 

 

She settles back against the couch, then adds thoughtfully, “If it’s any consolation, Thor will be there. So there’ll be one familiar face.”

 

 

For once, Loki is utterly silent, with nothing to say about her short monologue. He turns to face the TV and does not move for a long time.

 

 

When they are both settled onto one of the couches, each holding their own bowl of popcorn, Darcy presses ‘play’ and Stardust begins. She is not expecting that Loki becomes as enraptured as he does with the movie; on the contrary, she was expecting the opposite. She has built up the belief that there is far for magic in Asgard, that their reality is mixed with fantasy, with supernatural elements.

 

 

Darcy doesn’t really understand, as a result, why Stardust is so captivating for him. The only reason she can think of is that there are no movies on Asgard, that human technology is foreign to Asgardians. Perhaps it’s just that “moving pictures”, as Loki called movies, is what he actually finds fascinating.

 

 

“Darcy!” He pokes her while whispering her name for her attention. She turns, jolted for the second time that day.

 

 

“What?” She asks. She’s hoping he hasn’t got a question about the movie; it wasn’t like she was paying attention.

 

“Why aren’t you paying attention? Don’t you like it?” Loki has a placid expression on, but she suspects he’s analyzing everything she does and doesn’t do. She can tell from the occasional flicker of his glance, from the way he’s trying to ever so quietly and slowly change his position so he’s facing her.

 

 

Darcy makes another silent note of similarity as she observes the prince for a moment, how Emery had the exact same behavior as Loki does now for a very different reason. She does her best to focus on her house guest as she responds, tries not to focus on the fractured kaleidoscope pain. “Kind of. I’ve seen it before, you know,” she reminds him. “It’s not like Tristan and Yvaine traveling on a flying ship is something surprising.”

 

 

“I didn’t mean you weren’t watching the movie in that sense,” Loki remarks. “You looked like you were thinking hard about something else. You looked . . . pensive, Darcy.”

 

 

She smiles, gives him a jovial look. “Just thinking about a friend I used to have. Name was Emery. You act like he used to, especially with all the dry humor.”

 

 

“What happened to him?” Loki looks genuinely curious, and turns to face her fully, abandoning whatever pretense he was previously operating under.

 

 

She shrugs. “We met when we were about eight. It was right before school started. We kept up contact for twelve years; up until we were nineteen and in college. Life got . . . busy, and time consuming, so we lost contact. One of the best friends I ever had.” That’s one way of putting it, she thinks dryly. “Let’s finish the movie now, so we can get to dinner on time,” Darcy adamantly says, determined to not lose the relaxed mood they’re both in.

 

 

Loki presses ‘play’, and the expression on his face makes her think he was expecting that there would be actual drama connected with Darcy’s answer about how she and Emery lost contact, but also as though he lost interest the second he got an answer. Whatever it is, she is grateful he does not pry for more information.

 

 

Darcy knows that to some people, she was probably lying, or bending the truth, when answering Loki. She believes that she told the truth. She just never said why. She never explained why life got time consuming and busy in college; never elucidated as to why she and Emery lost contact. She might not have clarified, but it was the truth nonetheless to her, stripped down to its bare essentials.

 

 

In truth, things had just been a lot been different when the two of them were growing up. Emery had been Native American - what tribe he was part of specifically was something Darcy had long since forgotten. Or repressed. What Darcy did remember was that she and Emery could be doing the exact same thing in the same space, like walking through a convenience store, only he would side-eyed. They could both get in trouble and his wrists would get slapped harder than hers. There was the more subtle stuff, like how if they both submitted something to a school contest with their name attached, he would never be picked. It changed a little when he started going by his “white” name - Emery. She remembered that his family had been exceptionally poor and a lot of his female relatives had been teen mothers. He had been one of the first of his family to graduate high school and try to pursue an associate’s degree. Things had sucked in his home life and they sucked at school, and everything kept being terrible until Emery acted out to get attention, eventually stopping when he realized nobody believed him.

 

 

Darcy did, of course. She tried to help him when she could. She would let him stay with her, since they were the same age. Her parents often left her in the care of her grandmother or her aunt, periodically with a nanny when they would be away for weeks at a time. Darcy’s parents were not abusive towards her or her two siblings, Damon and Jessamine, but they were distant. Kind, caring, but distant and lax with rules, especially when they were home.

 

 

Emery stayed with her most of the time, since he never wanted to go home. He got into drugs when they started junior high. He blamed on the culture. It was just weed, at first. She figured that if he was going to get into illegal activities, at least he was just getting stoned now and then, and not doing something worse like shop-lifting or slipping girls a Roofie or two.

 

 

He would smoke more as they got into eight grade, but again, she told herself things were fine. Emery would still hang out with her and Damon (Jessamine had graduated high school the year before) often. He got enough to eat, had a place to stay. She and Damon could look after him. It didn’t matter if Emery stopped caring so much about his academic career; they were not in high school like Damon, then a junior, so it wasn’t like grades actually counted just yet.

 

 

But high school started in what felt like the passing of a quick year and a half. Emery got into more hard-core drinks. Into drinking. He would eventually try meth and acid. Emery learned how to “fix” drinks from his bartending cousin, who would show him how to mix liquor or alcohol into a normal looking bottle of orange juice. Emery got so good with mixing his drinks that Darcy, who was his taste-tester, could not tell the difference between a normal glass of orange juice (or whatever he’d put liquor in) and one that had alcohol/liquor in it. It scared the shit of Darcy. She begged him to stop, tried to take his stash of drugs and liquor so that he’d go cold turkey off them. Occasionally he’d stop for a couple days because she’d gotten every last stash he had, had taken away his money so he couldn’t buy a thing. She would pay off everybody in the drug business in a two mile radius not to sell him a thing. And Emery would shake and sweat and howl while “detoxing”, as one of them called it, like he was being exorcised. She would miss school and keep an eye on him. It never worked of course, but Darcy would try.

 

 

She tried to tell guidance counselors, a teacher, any adult at Brentwood High School. But nobody cared, nobody wanted to get involved with Emery. Nobody wanted to help beyond sometimes pulling him aside for a lunch period to talk to Mrs. Wesson, the guidance counselor. Darcy had never felt so helpless and alone, so desperate. She’d wondered if she was losing her sanity sometimes because if things were really that bad, people would say something. Wouldn’t they? Or was Damon’s addictive personality something she was making up? Darcy couldn’t talk to Damon or Jessamine; both were at college and they had never seemed so far away.

 

 

Most teachers, if she had to explain it now, treated Emery the way Bender was treated by the teacher in The Breakfast Club. Bender was so like Emery, and Emery so like Bender, she’d sometimes had a damn hard time as a teen telling them apart. Because behind that tough, sharp defense Emery hid behind, behind the thorns he grew to hide and protect his sadness, he was someone who cared, if only a bit, about how he was going to turn out.

 

 

Emery would go to hard-core parties when they were seniors in high school, would spend so much money on drugs and liquor that she forgot what he was like sober. What he was like when chemicals had not yet been stitched into the core of his being, into his identity, into every muscle movement and sinew and bone. He would run away and not come home for weeks, for days. She would stress-vomit because of fear that he had died high, been drunk driving and crashed. Once he stayed away for an entire month and a half. Did not even contact her. Not even once, and she was the last person on Earth who gave a damn about him and did anything nice for him.

 

 

Darcy got her acceptance letter to Stanford university (Oh my god, a full ride! Damon and Jessamine will be so proud, she’d thought gleefully) when he came back. He hadn’t gotten accepted anywhere (not that he’d applied; of course he didn’t). He handled her good news with no grace. She did not speak to him for two weeks. After their high school graduation, Emery followed her, of sorts, to Stanford. Freshmen had to live on campus in the dorms, so he rented an apartment nearby. She would visit often, would spend the night there in the two bedroom space whenever she could. Emery did not really seem to know who to be, where to go, without her. And in truth she was scared to let him out of her sight, scared that someday they would no longer be inseparable, and then what would happen to them? To him? She knows now how codependent and how unhealthy that friendship was, but it was intense and it was sort of fun in a dark, twisted way.

 

 

One night, around the end of her freshman year, they got into a loud screaming match. A full blown fight. She stayed away for a week. They didn’t contact each other at all. When Darcy finally caved, when she went to apologize (as usual) in person, she didn’t find him there. She learned from some tenants that the FBI had broken in to the apartment in the middle of the night, had arrested him for drug dealing.

 

 

Darcy could not imagine staying so close to where she’d lost her closest friend (because god, he was such a good friend when he wasn’t high or stoned or drunk. Emery had helped her study, had encouraged her when she felt she couldn’t go on. He had been her biggest fan and given wonderful advice). She transferred to Culver University that summer and switched her major, transferred what credits she could. She met Jane the first week of school, and they’ve been friends ever since.

 

 

Jane didn’t know about her life before college, didn’t know about Emery or the mess she’d been in surrounding him. Jane didn’t really seem to care, either, as she always gave the air, even now, of being more concerned by her work than Darcy. It was what Darcy wanted. 

 

 

Today, Jane and Erik seem content that she is willing to help them, and they don’t concern themselves with Darcy’s life prior to her meeting the two of them. It is what Darcy wants. She is content not to dwell on the first eighteen, nineteen years of her life, content to pretend they were a bad memory and nothing more.

 

 

But just looking at Loki brings it all back in an instant, like she is so abruptly her fearful, distressed fifteen year old self again, stuck in a place between despair and emotional purgatory. Darcy doesn’t like the reminders, but of course she’ll put up with it. She is used to this; this is familiar territory for her, being with Loki. It is like being with Emery, and every day choosing to stay with him.

 

 

She thinks that that’s the only mistake that ever came out of being best friends with a drug addict. It has caused her to give people chances, over and over and over again. Even if the chances are not earned, even if the person in question does not really deserve the chance. She gives out chances like it is food.

 

 


 

 

“I still don’t quite understand,” Thor mutters, frowning at the kitchen appliances. “How are you going to create food from all this . . . metal?” He gestures at the kitchen in general, and Jane can’t quite suppress a giggle.

 

 

She pulls him into the room, smiling. “It’s pretty easy, once you get the hang of it. Promise,” she adds, giving him a reassuring look. “So, I figured we could make something relatively fun. There’s this curry recipe I’ve been wanting to try; it’ll be time consuming but I think it’s going to taste really good when it’s done.”

 

 

“You ‘think’?” Thor doesn’t feel so confident anymore as he stares at the instructions. He’s never had to make a single meal in his life, besides the one meal of eggs he made Jane and her friends. There were professional cooks in Asgard who took care of the food preparation. He can remember sneaking down to the kitchen as a boy now and then, always eager for a snack before an actual meal. Frigga would often chastise him for eating so much, but it wasn’t like it mattered since he always ended up working it off. He could get the cooks to scare him up some cold chicken and a slice of pie during the summer months.

 

 

“I’ve never made anything quite like this,” Jane muses, chuckling a bit as she starts to take out the ingredients from her fridge and assemble them on the counter. She turns then, facing Thor, who is still standing hesitantly in the doorway. Jane goes to him, playfully pulls him, hips swaying slightly. “I missed you, when you went back to Asgard.” She bites her lip, like she is embarrassed to admit what is coming next but is going to regardlessly. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do something kind of domestic chore with you.”

 

 

Thor smiles at her phrasing. He is, honestly, sometimes bored by the action he faces as a result of the life he chooses to live. It feels like he is constantly running from one threat to another, or from one threat into safety, only to find new danger in a breath of peace. He doesn’t mind the loud chapters of his life, but the quiet moments, like this long afternoon he will spend with Jane, are what he privately craves. Thor presses his forehead to Jane’s, pressing a kiss against her lips, and then another because he cannot resist. “I want these sorts of quiet moments as well,” Thor tells her, and he hopes she understands what he is trying to say, what he cannot find the words for but tries to anyway. The look on her face, warm and open and relaxed, says she does.

 

 

“We should get started,” Jane voices, but it is soft and she snuggles into his hug, face pressed into the space between his neck and shoulder. For one moment, serenity floods through Thor’s body, the noise in his mind stilling. This is what he has always been waiting for, knowing he has so many years of bliss with someone he loves.

 

 

“We should get started,” he says finally, reluctantly. He gently pulls out of the hug and drifts over to the counter, pulling Jane with him. “I do not wish to see what Darcy is like when she is angry.”

 

 

“She can go a surprising amount of time without food,” Jane tells him earnestly, beginning to wash and cut carrots. She directs Thor on chopping red peppers and slicing onions. “I remember this one time in college, when we were studying for finals. We must have been going over material for four hours. I was dead tired and starving, but Darcy was still methodically and almost obsessively studying. Even after the intense three classes we had that day. She didn’t eat at all that day, or the next two. Wouldn’t eat until she’d finished her first three exams.”

 


“But she doesn’t seem to have a problem with food now,” Thor mutters, confused. He has noticed that while Darcy will eat according to social etiquette around others, she will eat like she is not getting another meal for a long time when she thinks no one is looking. He tells Jane as much, who is currently putting a large pan on the stove and pouring some olive oil into it.

 



“I’ve noticed. She said it was an acquired habit from a friend of hers and that she never really grew out of it.” Jane shrugs at Thor’s expression. “Sometimes Darcy is cryptic. You just kind of have to go with it.”

 



“Like Loki,” he blurts out before thinking about it. Jane frowns, looking at him. “I mean, not in that regard.” Thor is flustered; he had no intention of implying Darcy is a liar or a trickster like his brother. “I recall, in our childhood and adult years, Loki would often say things cryptically. Sometimes he would speak metaphorically or philosophically. Only much later, and after much digging around, would his words make full sense.” He tries to clarify, but he is not good with words. He is not sure if his analogy, his explanation, makes any sense.

 

 

They lapse into silence, the air only punctuated by food crackling and popping on the stove and knives taken to a board like they are bedding vegetables, one after another.

 

 

Jane is curious about how dinner with Loki will go.