It wasn’t until she could see the lights of Puente Antiguo in the distance that Darcy realised the flaw in her plan. It was because of Loki that the town was crawling in feds, and here she was, thinking she could just drive right up to the hotel and lead him inside without anyone seeing. This whole thing was so stupid. She’d be thrown in jail forever if she got caught helping Loki out. So much for a promising career in politics.

“Hey. Hey, listen,” she said. She stole a glance sideways, not liking the way Loki was watching the road ahead with his jaw tightly clenched. She hesitantly reached over and tapped him on the elbow to get his attention. He looked over slowly, and he didn’t look scary or murderous or anything like it. He just looked sick and miserable.

“Can you understand anything I’m saying?” Darcy asked.

Loki didn’t respond at all, which was a response in itself.

“Great,” she said to herself.

Loki started to say something that sounded like ‘yes’ and some sort of noise in the back of his throat all at once, but whatever it was he never got to finish it. He launched into a heavy coughing fit, and Darcy really tried to ignore how it almost sounded he was trying not to cry as well. When the worst of it finally passed, Darcy looked over to see him looking down at his hand, which he wiped off on the front of his shirt. She had a pretty good idea why, even if she couldn’t really see it.

It was dark, and most of the roads were unlit anyway, even before Loki’s giant robot smashed up half the town—something Darcy tried very hard to ignore for the moment. With things as they were, Darcy was already in the habit of taking the long way round, leaving the 550 before it became Main Street for that mile-long stretch, and circling round the outskirts of the town to avoid the more troublesome roads. She didn’t see anyone out watching the town, but that didn’t mean anything. SHIELD had rolled right on in and no-one had even noticed until they started taking things away from people.

Darcy pulled into the parking space in front of her hotel room and peered around, trying to spot any hint of someone spying on her from rooftops. But all she saw was black and shadows.

“Just. Stay here for a minute, okay?” she asked, reaching out to tap Loki on the arm, but not quite making contact. She twisted round to grab her books and handbag from the back seat and opened her door. “I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere.”

Holding her hand out, as one might try to convince a dog or a particularly precarious stack of paperwork to stay in one place, she slipped out of the car and shut the door as quickly as she could. Leaving Loki alone in the dark probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but leaving him with the lights on seemed even worse. All the same, Darcy moved quickly to unlock her door and toss her things onto the bed before turning on the light. The room inside was just as cold as outside, but the heating could wait a few more minutes. She glanced around once more to make sure no-one was watching her before going back out to open Loki’s door to help him out. He was shaky on his feet, and for a moment Darcy thought he might fall over right there on the pavement. As she led him inside, she tried to think about anything other than how she had given a psychopath a ride, and was now inviting him into her hotel room.

She should have left him in the desert. She should have called Clint, or the cops, or something. Anything other than what she was doing. But what she should have done, and what she could have lived with doing were two completely different things. She just hoped she didn’t become a martyr to her conscience.

Loki paused just inside the door, warily looking round the small hotel room. But if he was expecting anything specific, he didn’t let on. Darcy moved him out of the way enough so she could shut the door, not really sure what to do now that they were inside.

“It’s not much,” she said as she locked the door. “Uhm. The shower’s back there. If you want it.”

She pointed, and Loki slowly turned to follow the line of her finger. But he didn’t really seem to see anything. Once again, he just looked confused.

“Do you need help? I mean, you know. You’re not from around here. Showers might be different where you’re from, I guess,” Darcy said. She had just locked herself inside with this guy, and was trying to think of anything other than that fact. And the way Loki looked at her, like he was trying to work out some sort of complex equation, only made it all the more apparent that unlike Thor, he had no idea what anything she said even meant.

If this really was Loki—the Loki Thor had spoken to—he should have been able to understand, though. Right? But what if it wasn’t? What if this guy just had the unfortunate luck to accidentally identify himself as an intergalactic terrorist? And now here he was, all fucked up because of it. Darcy fought back the urge to let forth a stream of obscenities as she looked at him, still with the coat wrapped round his shoulders, and what looked like scrubs with some sort of sword-shaped logo on the front. Her eyes slowly drifted back up to that missing patch of hair and the stream of blood down the side of his face.

No, he was exactly who she thought he was. Somehow, she just knew it.

“Jesus Christ, okay,” Darcy said, rubbing her face with both hands. She carefully made her way over to her dresser, avoiding any quick movements, and pulled out her biggest pair of pyjama bottoms and a Fall Out Boy t-shirt. At this point, she was starting to think that if Loki had actually wished her harm, he’d have done something about it already. She just hoped he hadn’t done anything because he was smart enough to realise she was trying to help, and not because he could barely remember how his own hands worked.

“Okay, come on.” She reached out to grab his fingers, tugging him toward the bathroom to get him moving.

He pulled his hand away from her, but followed to where she led him. As Darcy turned on the bathroom light, which also came with that annoying overhead fan, Loki peered into the room with with skeptical suspicion. In a way, Darcy was almost glad to see it. Even if he still didn’t really seem to understand anything he saw, there was at least some hope that he wasn’t completely lost inside his own head. Darcy put the clothes down on the tiny counter and walked over to the shower. She turned on the water, adjusting it to what she hoped would be a comfortable temperature for him, and put her hand under the stream.

“See, look. You can get clean.” She left the water on for him and stepped around him to leave the room. “I’ll just be right out here.” Darcy pointed toward the bed and stepped all the way out of the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. She shivered hard, not even sure if it was the cold in the room, or everything else. One thing was certain, though. It was freezing in there. Darcy walked over to the long heater/air conditioner combo that sat under the window and turned it to the hot setting (it only had two, the other option being to just blow ambient-temperature air around).

She tried not to think about all the ways in which it had been a bad, bad idea to let Loki into her room. At some point, Erik’s library book had made its way onto the little table in her room, and Darcy picked it up and started thumbing through it again. She found Loki’s page somewhere in the middle, and even though the book was aimed at kids, it did a pretty good job as painting Loki as a murderous psychopath. Darcy shut the book and tried not to think about that either. He could have been messing with her, trickster god that he apparently was, but to what ends? Even before Thor got hit by magic lightning or whatever the hell that was, he was still a pretty tough dude. Hell, Jane hit him with her car twice, and he was fine. Loki was probably the same way. Maybe all he needed was some magic lightning of his own, and then he’d be fine too.

Darcy sat down on her bed and powered up her laptop so she could check Facebook and not think about the maybe-god who was at war with the shower, by the sounds of things. Whatever he kept banging around in there, Darcy just hoped it wouldn’t be damaged permanently. As she scrolled through the day’s posts, an idea occurred to her. She pulled her phone from her bag, wondering if Loki would even let her do what she’d planned. But first, she’d have to wait for him to get out of the shower. She should have done this before letting him in there, but it was too late now. And if it were her, she’d probably stay in there until all the hot water in the state was gone, so she figured it was bound to be a bit of a wait. Probably enough time to order pizza, at least. It wasn’t a luxury she could really afford, but damnit, she deserved it after the evening she’d had.

There was only one place in town, and luckily it was still open and it delivered. There was a short menu left on the nightstand when she’d checked into the room, and it was still there, next to the phone she never used. Checking the amount of cash she had in her wallet, she decided to go for the cheapest option, and just ordered a medium cheese pizza.

Loki didn’t wander out of the bathroom until the pizza arrived and Darcy was paying for it, having just enough cash left over for a pathetic tip for the driver. With her pizza in hand, she turned round and tried not to laugh at Loki wearing pink panda bear pyjamas. The only thing that kept her from doing it was that Loki somehow looked worse than he had before the shower. He was clean, but now without the layer of grime, it was clear just how exhausted and messed up he was.

“I got food,” she said.

She put the pizza box down on the bed and opened it. Before she could even get to the mini-fridge for drinks, Loki snatched up the box and took it to the far side of the room.

“Nice,” Darcy said flatly. “I guess I’ll just have gum for dinner.”

She had a few cans of Pepsi in the fridge, and not a whole lot else. She took out two Pepsis and sat back down on the bed to finish checking her messages for the day, and maybe have a good, long think about her life choices. A few moments later, she was startled by the bed shifting under her, and she looked up to see Loki sitting on the other side, with what was left of the pizza in the middle of the bed.

“Thanks,” Darcy said, taking a slice. She cracked open one of the Pepsi cans and handed it over to Loki.

He sniffed at it and even tried to peer inside before he finally took a drink. He didn’t get very far, though. Almost immediately, it started him coughing again. Darcy tossed her pizza back into the box and reached out to grab the soda can from him so he could get through his coughing fit without spilling it. He held the back of his hand up against his mouth, and from where she sat, Darcy could definitely see him bringing up blood. Not much, but blood was blood in any amount.

“Okay, no Pepsi,” he said, setting it aside as she jumped back up to pull a bottled water from the fridge. She opened it and handed it to him on her way to grab a towel from the bathroom, so he didn’t use her t-shirt to clean himself up with.

She watched him clean up and down half the bottle of water, realising just how bad the situation truly was. Not only had she invited a psychopath into her single-bed room, but he was a psychopath who had probably had the ability to understand speech surgically removed from his brain. Somehow, she didn’t expect to get a whole lot of sleep that night.

“Hey, can I do something?” she asked, hoping that maybe just the sound of her voice would be enough to assure him a little bit. Even if he didn’t understand her, it at least held his attention when she talked to him.

Darcy walked back around to the other side of the bed and picked up her phone from the nightstand. “I just wanna take some pictures,” she said as she brought up the camera app. She sat down on the bed again, so she didn’t feel quite so much like she was looming over him. “Of where you’re hurt. Just in case, you know?”

It was plain on Loki’s face that he didn’t. But Darcy figured that if he objected, he’d let her know one way or another. She held the phone up and let the camera focus as well as it ever would before snapping the photo. At the flash, Loki jumped so hard, Darcy thought he was going to fall off the bed.

“No, it’s okay,” Darcy said, trying to keep her voice steady. “It’s supposed to do that. See?”

She turned the phone around to show Loki the photo of himself, close enough to show the detail of the cuts and bruises on his face, but far enough away to give a sense of scale Loki scowled and looked away from it. Fair enough, Darcy figured. She wouldn’t have wanted to see it either, if it were her.

Darcy took the phone back. “Sorry. Do you mind if I…?”

She motioned vaguely to him, trying to get across that she wanted to get a better picture of the left side of his face, as well as the cut on his scalp. Loki studied her for a long moment, making Darcy wish he’d look somewhere else. He might not have been able to understand her, but he wasn’t quite as lost inside his own head as she originally thought. His gaze was sharp and intense, almost like he was trying to look straight through her. Finally, he turned his head and pulled back his hair on the left side, showing the cut on his scalp. Now that she could see it clearly, a brain surgery cut was exactly what it looked like. It was long and almost careless, though; a slightly curved line about an inch above his ear. Darcy took a couple of pictures—one zoomed in, and one wide shot—and tried not to be sick. Part of her couldn’t help but wonder what they were looking for, though. She’d seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and this thing didn’t look like the ones McMurphy had at the end. This was something else entirely.

“Okay,” she said, nodding. She glanced down at her phone, trying to determine her next move. “Is there… anything else?”

She pointed at his chest area, almost afraid of what she might find if he agreed to this. Loki looked down to where she pointed, getting the gist of her intentions more quickly than she expected him to. He seemed to consider it for a moment before nodding and lifting his shirt. His sides were painted an ugly mosaic of bruises and deep cuts, one of which looked like it had recently been stitched over hastily. Another longer one down his side had more torn stitches than anything, but it was far more healed over than it should have been, considering he’d only shown up about a week before. Judging how quickly Thor seemed to get better from being hit by a car and tased and everything else, Darcy wondered how much she couldn’t see on Loki because it had already healed.

The thought did not escape her that it was precisely that which those Rosewell sickos were testing.

She decided she didn’t want to think about any of that either, and focused on taking the pictures as quickly as possible. Darcy didn’t know what she was going to do with them, but it seemed like something that needed to be done. If mutants had full protection against this sort of thing, guys from other planets shouldn’t be left out, even if they were complete fuckwits. None of it excused blowing up half the town, but Darcy half-wondered if Loki even remembered doing it.

Darcy put her phone away, watching as Loki pulled his shirt back down. Suddenly, all she could think about was War of the Worlds. Those cuts on Loki were healing over, but with the stitches still there he was at an even bigger risk of infection than if they’d just bandaged him up. Darcy didn’t want to accidentally sneeze on him and kill him with a cold she didn’t even realise she had.

“You know what, take that off again,” Darcy said, pointing at Loki. She left him looking confused and went back into the bathroom, fetching up the old metal Captain America lunchbox from the counter. She dug through it on the way back to the bed, finding her tweezers and the tiny scissors she kept in with the rest of her make-up. Setting the rest aside, she sat down next to Loki and pointed at him again, trying to get across by wiggling her finger that he needed to lift his shirt again.

“Let me help,” she said.

Loki gave her that confused look again, but it quickly passed and he lifted up his shirt, this time pulling it off completely. He hissed sharply as he raised his arms over his head, making Darcy wonder what there was that she couldn’t see.

“This might feel funny,” she said as she moved the shirt aside. “Please don’t hit me.”

She used the tweezers to pull out the torn stitches, starting from the top and working down. Loki squirmed and made faces as she pulled each stitch out, but it didn’t seem to be actually causing him any more pain than he was already in.

“Oh, don’t be such a baby,” Darcy chastised as she dropped another torn stitch onto the towel on the bed.

Maybe it was the tone in her voice, but Loki stopped squirming and fussing after that. With him sitting still, she was able to pull the stitches out more quickly, and she was surprised that he didn’t even flinch when she had to use the scissors to cut the ones that were still intact, or when they tugged because his skin had healed around them. While everything around the cut was red and kind of angry looking, he wasn’t actually bleeding, so the stitches probably needed to come out anyway.

When she finished, Darcy looked back up at the one over his ribs, which looked much more recent. She wasn’t sure if she should leave those in or not, until she looked up and saw Loki watching her expectantly.

“You want me to do that one too?” she asked, pointing at it.

Loki tried to say something, but again only wound up coughing violently. If he was going to do that every time he even tried to make a sound, it was no wonder he wanted the stitches on his chest out. It probably hurt like hell every time he coughed. Darcy waited for him to calm down again before she started cutting the stitches. She held onto the towel, ready to stem the inevitable bleeding, but the cut seemed to have already healed over enough that the stitches weren’t even necessary.

Loki watched her curiously as she cut the stitches and pulled them out, one by one. These ones were easier than those on the first cut, since he hadn’t really had the chance to heal around them just yet. She got them out quickly, making a mental note to sanitise both her tweezers and scissors in alcohol the first chance she got. When she was done, she put both down onto the towel and reached back into her lunch box for the packet of ELF cleansing cloths. She didn’t have many left, and wasn’t likely to be able to get more any time soon, but she figured this was a good cause.

“This might sting. I’m sorry,” she said as she pulled one from the little black packet. She carefully pressed the cloth against the cut on his chest, not even a little bit surprised when he hissed and squirmed away again.

“Ya big baby. I get this stuff in my eye all the time. Suck it up,” Darcy told him.

He sat still again, waiting patiently for her to finish cleaning the area without accidentally tearing everything open again. When she was done, Loki tilted his head toward the right and pulled his hair out of the way, making clear what he wanted her to do next. The cut on his head still looked very new, and Darcy wasn’t sure she should be doing anything with it just yet. But he clearly wanted the stitches out sooner rather than later. Probably, Darcy realised, because he knew that if they put it off until the morning, it might wind up being too difficult to remove them.

“Okay,” Darcy agreed. She nodded and got up, holding up her hand to tell Loki to stay put while she fetched a smaller hand towel from the bathroom. They were cheap Dollar Tree towels, but still. There weren’t even any Dollar Trees in Puente Antiguo to replace it if it got ruined. But it was the only thing she had that she was willing to ruin.

She stood by the bed, tapping Loki’s shoulder to get him to turn round so she could reach more easily. He sat quietly, still holding his hair out of the way for her, and she wasn’t really sure how to suggest that maybe they wait until morning, so she started cutting the stitches anyway. Just as she thought, the cut on his scalp was newer than the one on his chest, and it did start bleeding. Not as badly as it could have done, but she was glad she’d grabbed the hand towel.

“Other hand,” she said, reaching out for his free hand. She put the towel in his hand and pressed it where she needed it, leaving just enough room to still see what she was doing. To her relief, he stayed exactly where she put him through the whole thing, letting her pull out the stitches without having to worry about trying to hold his head together in the process.

When she finished, she moved his hand again to cover the whole cut with the towel, and tried to work out how to tell him to just hold it there for a while. Even if the cut did seem fairly recent, it wasn’t bleeding anywhere near as badly as she expected. With any luck, it would probably stop on its own before he fell asleep.

She wasn’t sure if it was the serious weirdness of playing doctor for an alien Space Viking, or just the heater, but she suddenly felt way too hot. The whole room was like a sauna, and she needed a little bit of space.

“Okay. All done, I guess,” she said as she stepped away. She reached into the bathroom to put the scissors and tweezers on the counter so she remembered to clean them later, and then quickly walked back to the heater to turn it off. While she tried to coax it into having a middle setting, Loki got back up from the bed and wandered into the bathroom again. Eventually, Darcy gave up on the heater and just turned it off completely. She found Loki inspecting the cut on his head in the mirror, and was content to leave him there for as long as he wanted. She was starving and more than a little freaked out, and still way behind on her homework. Not that she was going to get any reading done now, but she could at least hold one of the books in her hand and pretend to look at the pages.