Darcy didn’t know how long she’d sat in the living room, glued to the TV while the world ended around her. Not just Manhattan and DC, and the chaos that spilled everywhere around the cities. But her world. She knew that no matter what came next, her world was over. She’d known for months, the same existential dread that had hung over her ever since Loki had held her down in a dark bedroom, making threats in her ear while she cried and begged for him to stop. The dread that came with knowing that nothing would ever be normal again, because no matter what happened next, it would be nothing but pain and sorrow.

As the hours ticked by and information coalesced the broadcast became less and less about portals of light and the creatures that came through them, and more about what was happening on the ground. All bridges and tunnels, not just from Manhattan but to and from every borough and island, were closed down. People were trapped on islands that lacked the resources to deal with the crisis, while first responders and New York’s Finest centred their attentions on the parts of Manhattan that were being overrun. People had been taken down to the subways for shelter, but all that had done was put a lot of people into one space, making them easier targets. Manhattan was burning, and nothing would end it. It was a war of attrition, and the elves and wizards seemed to have an endless supply of reinforcements.

She kept checking her email and phone, hoping for another response from her parents, but even Spectrum was being overloaded and nothing was getting through. All she could do was pray they were still somewhere safe, and that the flying cats and wizards hadn’t left Manhattan in droves.

A heavy clunk behind her was all the warning Darcy had to not being alone. She jumped sharply, turning as much as she could to see who had snuck in behind her. She had expected one of the SHIELD agents, but they apparently weren’t watching her very closely. Instead, Loki stood behind the sofa, taller than he’d ever seemed before, wearing heavy armour and a long, leather topcoat. On the table beside the sofa, he’d put an enormous horned helmet, which was tall enough that it had no doubt nearly scraped the ceiling when he let himself in.

She couldn’t even find a shred of terror to hold onto. Mostly, she was just pissed off. Pissed off at him being there, pissed off at what he’d done. Pissed off at the way he got away with everything. If he were a regular, garden-variety son of a bitch, she’d be able to file a restraining order and pretend to have some amount of control over him. Getting up as gracefully as she could at her size, Darcy stepped toward the TV, putting as much distance between them as the room would allow.

"What the hell are you doing here?" she demanded, able to hear the uneven tone of her own voice.

"I’ve come to collect what belongs to me," Loki said.

He stepped around the sofa, revealing the whole of himself. On his hip, he was actually wearing a fucking sword. Because of course he was, if she showed up with elves and wizards and unicorns. Darcy took a deep breath, trying to calm herself against her ever instinct and nerve exploding at her, screaming to run.

"You shouldn’t be here. SHIELD will see you any second now," she said.

"Oh, yes. The dutiful soldiers outside keeping watch."

He spoke with a calm, even timbre that betrayed nothing of what was still being played out on the television. As Darcy backed as far against the wall as she could, he approached even closer until he was standing right in front of her, towering over her like the monster he was. She wasn’t sure what she expected him to do, and just stared up at him, waiting for the next thing to happen. Then, his hand was on her belly, drawing across the round swell that he had caused. The lightest touch of a smirk played across the edges of his mouth as he leaned in just a little more closely.

"And what a fine job they’ve done, keeping watch over you," he said.

Darcy tried to flinch away from him as her anger gave way to fear, but there was nowhere left to go. Nowhere left for her to escape to. He had her pressed against the wall, all armour and brute force, and all Darcy could do was stand there and let it happen. A thousand times, she’d thought about what she would do if he ever came back, and a thousand times she swore she’d kick and scream and fight to get away. But standing so close to her, he had her too frightened for any of it. Too frightened of what he’d already done, and what he might do again. And when he bent closer to pull her into a kiss, she let that happen as well, closing her eyes and trying to imagine she was anywhere else as he forced his way into her mouth with a firmness that was paradoxically gentle. There was no acrid taste of sulphur this time, or harsh grip that held her there. It was just the two of them, Loki giving her all the tender affection she had convinced herself she’d never know again.

When he finally pulled away, she dared to look up at him. He seemed almost like he was expecting something from her, but he said nothing for a long moment, before finally stepping away just enough to let her breathe.

"This—I—you need to go," Darcy said, struggling to put her thoughts into order. "You can’t be here. SHIELD…"

She didn’t know what SHIELD was going to do, even as she looked toward the front door, expecting at any second for it to be broken down. But it never happened. Nobody keeping watch had noticed, if they were even keeping watch at all.

"SHIELD are no longer a threat," Loki said, stepping back toward the sofa. "After all they’ve done, you should be glad to see them gone."

Darcy took a deep breath, wanting so badly to scream. She didn’t know what she wanted, because she knew on some twisted level, Loki was right. SHIELD were a threat. SWORD were a threat, and he’d seemingly eliminated them as well. She watched silently as Loki picked up the remote from where it lay on the sofa and turned off the TV. He tossed the remote casually aside again, and then carefully closed her laptop to move it out of the way. She didn’t know what he was preparing to do, but she steeled herself against what she thought he might do.

"They would have cut you open just as they did me," Loki said. He gestured widely toward the windows, and even though it was the wrong direction, Darcy still knew what he meant. "I did this for you. For both of us."

She let out a shaky breath, not wanting to think about anything that might imply.

"I don’t want this," she said, falling back on a line that hadn’t worked before, but there was a first time for everything.

Loki looked at her, and for a moment she thought he almost looked sad. Disappointed, even. As though he had expected this to be some grand, romantic gesture. Instead, he took off his sword from his hip, keeping it in its scabbard even as he held it. A flash of green and a moment later, and his armour was gone, leaving him in a green embroidered tunic and the same leather pants and boots he’d been wearing, with metal scale armour sewn into the legs. He still held onto the sword even as he approached her again, holding Darcy’s attention with it.

"After everything they’ve done, you’d still rather stay here?" he asked. With his fingers against her jaw, Loki redirected her attention back up to his face. "These creatures are like weeds. Cut them off at the surface, and even more will spring up in their place. If you stay here with them, what will happen in a year? In two? Do you believe you will truly ever be safe here?"

She hated him. She hated that he was right. She hated the fact that she would never be safe, because of what he had done to her. And before she could resist it, she felt tears escape from her eyes, rolling hot trails down her cheeks. Loki put his sword down, leaning it against the TV stand, and pulled her into a tight hug. She let him do it. Even worse, she accepted it. He offered comfort, and she took it, because she didn’t know if she’d find someone willing to offer it again. She had been so thoroughly broken that she didn’t think she’d ever be able to let another person get close to her, but when Loki held her, letting her cry quietly against his chest, she almost felt like maybe everything would be all right. Maybe she wouldn’t have to be so afraid anymore.

After a long moment, Loki stepped backwards. His hands fell to hers, taking them in a light hold as he continued to back away, guiding her across the room with him. Suddenly afraid of being alone Darcy followed him, allowing her to be guided to the sofa. She sat beside him and let herself be pulled close against his side, and the familiar weight of his body against hers. He was solid, and real, and she remembered it vividly. Not just the way he used his weight against her, but the way he was always right there beside her, protecting her from everything and everyone that presented a danger. He held her close, and she let him, because not only did she not know what else to do, but because she needed it. The world was upside down and ending, and he’d come back. She had spent months wondering what would have happened if she’d kept up, but her thoughts rarely drifted back to what might have happened if he returned for her. He had left her behind, and she had expected that to be that.

"We’ll leave this place," he said as he pulled her even closer against his body. "I have no want of anything else here. I’ve done what I came to do, and now I’ll take you home."

Darcy knew she should have refused. She should have got up and ran out of the house for help. But who would have helped her? And what could they do? The people she would have run to were the same people who were waiting for the right moment to swoop in and claim their prize. If Loki had come back, it could have only meant that he had intended to keep her safe. He wanted to take her away where she wouldn’t be mistreated or tortured for someone’s science experiment.

"I can’t," she said, shaking her head. "I can’t just leave."

"What would you rather do?" Loki asked, still keeping his voice low and soft. "Stay here? You know what will happen if you do, and I won’t be able to protect you."

She had thought he’d abandoned her once, and now he was already threatening to do it again. But wasn’t that what she wanted, for him to go away and never come back? Yet the thought of him leaving her behind again hurt just as much as the thought of leaving with him, and she did not know why.

"I want only what’s best," Loki said.

He moved away, shifting to face her better as he brought his hand to the side of her face, thumb wiping away the tears that had fallen from her eye.

"I have dispatched those that hurt us before, but your realm has other villains," Loki said, looking so goddamn earnest as he spoke. "Your realm is very large, and I could not rally enough forces to see all those who would wish us harm vanquished. Others will rally in turn, and when that happens, you will be their first target."

She knew he was right. She’d known it before he ever even returned. It wouldn’t be long at all before she gave birth, and every shady organisation on the planet wanted a piece for themselves. She still did not want the child; on that she had not changed her mind. But she could not just hand it over either. She’d be no better than the sick fucks who wanted to take it from her.

"And if I go with you, then what?" she asked. "I don’t want…"

She didn’t know what she didn’t want. It was too big of a concept to even verbalise. She wanted none of it, and had no way to articulate that.

"We’ll return to Alfheim," Loki said. "I have a modest parcel of land, and servants who will see to your needs."

His hand fell back to her belly, caressing her with a certain amount of possessiveness that was unmistakable. When he said he’d come back for what was his, he didn’t mean her, and Darcy knew it.

"I don’t want you to hurt me," she said, choking on the words as they fell from her mouth.

What Darcy didn’t expect was for Loki to actually look sad. "I don’t want to," he said. "Things happened that I think we both regret. But I don’t think they’ll happen again, will they?"

A hard edge returned to his voice as he spoke the last few words, and Darcy knew exactly what he’d meant. He thought she had given him away, and had led SHIELD straight for them. He’d been gruff and difficult before that, but he hadn’t become truly cruel until he’d thought she’d turned on him.

She shook her head, wanting to insist she hadn’t meant to piss him off the first time. "No," she said.

Loki smiled, something almost victorious and smug, before he kissed her again. She let him have his way, not kissing back, but not resisting either, simply steeling herself against whatever came next. But he didn’t push further, and even pulled away again after a few moments.

"In time, you’ll come to see that I’m right," he said. "And then you’ll thank me for all I’ve done."

She doubted that. She very much doubted that. But as she looked around her living room, growing dim in the creeping approach of evening, Darcy was soured to realise nowhere was safe. Even her own home now would carry his reminders, and nothing she could do would ever allow her to be free of him. He would always be right there, lurking in the shadows of her memories no matter what she did or where she went. And yet, on a twisted level, what he promised was exactly what she hoped for and needed; safety, security, comfort. To go somewhere far away where SHIELD or SWORD or anyone else would never be able to find her. And Loki had that, and was offering it freely. Offering it even after he thought she had betrayed him. Offering it even after he had left her behind once before. She could take it, and be safe from what ifs. Loki was a danger she knew, and one she thought she could learn to control. He hadn’t got mean until he stopped trusting her. As long as she never gave him a reason to stop again, she might be fine. Alone and isolated in a different way, but without the constant suspense of not knowing what was coming next.

Because with Loki, she already knew.

But she knew what he liked, and as long as she kept him happy, she might be able to steal a little happiness too.

And she sure as hell wasn’t happy, terrified of her own shadow and hearing an ambush in every little noise.

She looked down at his hand on her belly and tried not to let any of her emotions show more than they already had. She hated how easily she’d broken down in front of him, letting him once again see all of that pain and hurt. But this was the other Loki. The one he’d shown her first, who was soft touch and gentle voice, who could be charming and a touch wicked when he wanted to be. This was the Loki she almost thought she could live with. She let her hand fall to his, and looked at them together as her breath hitched high in her chest.

"Come," Loki said, getting up. "There’s still time yet before we have to leave."

He pulled her to her feet and guided her to her bedroom, apparently determined to take away her very last sanctuary. Still, she let it happen, too scared of what he might do if she fought back. He led her to the bed, making sure she sat before he did the same.

"You’re exhausted. It’s been a very trying day, especially in your condition," he said.

Darcy nodded, because he was right. He was always right. She watched numbly as he took off his boots, setting them carefully aside. His every motion was deliberate and calculated, and she watched as though she had been hypnotised. And then he leaned back onto the bed, settling against the headboard and tugging her toward him. With a deep breath, Darcy obeyed, trying to move carefully without getting in her own way as she settled down beside him. She wasn’t sure what she expected, but it hadn’t been to lay beside him, head resting on his shoulder while his fingers played idly with her hair. It was a tenderness that almost broke her heart, because she thought she’d never experience it again, and the person to show it to her was now Loki. Drawing in a shaky breath, Darcy tried to pretend they were anywhere other than her bedroom.

"Get some rest," Loki said, moving his free hand to tangle his fingers with hers, where her hand rested on his chest. "You’ll feel better once you do."

The angle was awkward, with her stomach in the way of being able to lie comfortably. She hadn’t been comfortable in months, and had almost forgotten what it felt like. Determined to take some of the pressure off her back, Darcy shifted and moved, finding a spot on her side that forced a bit of distance between her and Loki, and for a moment she thought he might object. But it seemed even he understood that there were some things that couldn’t be controlled.

"It’s a boy, by the way," Darcy said, saying out out loud for the first time ever. "Just like you wanted."

She stared at the wall, ignoring the little hitch in Loki’s chest as he made a noise that sounded almost like a laugh.

"Of course it is. What else would it be?" he asked.

He moved to kiss her on the forehead as Darcy tried to convince herself everything would be better this way. That she wouldn’t have to start running again, or being wary of every shadow. She so desperately wanted it to be true, and as Loki moved his hand from her hair to gently caress her back, she almost started to believe it.