Darcy woke to an empty bed, and the pale, dirty light of early dawn filtering through her window. As much as she wanted to tell herself that it had all been a dream, she knew it wasn’t true. She knew everything that had happened the day before had transpired as she remembered. Slowly, carefully, she pulled herself out of bed and dared to creep out into the living room, finding Loki standing before one of the windows and watching whatever transpired outside. Ignoring him, she walked first to fetch her phone, finding it now utterly without service. She sat down and opened her laptop instead, and refreshed her email to find it too unable to establish a connection.

"Did you do this?" she asked tiredly, knowing Loki wouldn’t take well to accusation, but being too run down and pissed off to care.

"Do what?" he asked, not turning away from the window.

Darcy sighed and hauled herself back to her feet, shaking her head as she retreated to the kitchen. Unsure what else to do, she stopped in the middle of the floor and looked around. She was stressed out and starving, and her stomach tied in knots in a way she knew wouldn’t let her keep anything of substance down.

"Fuck it," she muttered to herself as she reached for the coffee pot. A single cup wouldn’t kill her.

As she filled the pot and dumped entirely too many grounds into the filter, Darcy ignored everything else. She ignored Loki walking towards her, and the oppressively silent atmosphere that hung like a void outside the windows that had never been closed the night before. That should have worried her. It should have terrified her. But she knew, on some horrible level, she was safer with Loki in the house than she would have been alone.

Once she had the coffee brewing, Loki was in her space, his hands on her body like he owned it. It was a sensation entirely too familiar, and Darcy knew exactly how to handle it, by doing absolutely nothing and letting it happen. He pressed himself against her as his arms wrapped tightly around her, in the narrow space that remained between her tits and her belly. Then his mouth was on her neck, pressing gentle kisses against her skin. With the smell of fresh coffee and early morning chill in the air, the whole thing felt unnervingly domestic. Darcy stayed still, breathing quietly as she waited for Loki to let go of her. But he didn’t let go. He stood behind her, holding onto her like a prize, and there was only so much of it she could take.

"Look," she said, trying to squirm away from him. "My tits hurt, my back hurts, and I really have to pee."

That did the trick, and Loki stepped back, dragging his hand along her ass as he put distance between them. Taking a deep breath and forcing herself to ignore it, Darcy left him alone while she walked to the bathroom. She took more time than she needed to, relishing what little space there was between them. She took the time to wash her face and brush her teeth, and then slipped back to her bedroom to change into something else. As she sat down on the edge of the bed to pull her pants off, her eyes fell to the boots Loki had left behind. He was still wearing the same thing he had the night before, and apparently didn’t see any reason to fuss with his armour either. She knew, staring at his knee-length boots, there was nobody outside watching the house. She dared to get up to peek out the window, and found the SUVs still parked in their spots, but something about them seemed wrong. Staring at them, Darcy knew they were empty. Whoever had been watching her from them was long gone, probably dead and fed to one of the terrifying cats that had been tearing through Manhattan.

Not that it mattered. Loki had laid out her choices with crystal clarity. She could go with him and hope she was right and that he had only become cruel out of fear, or she could stay behind and begin another frantic run for her life. She was less than a month away from due, and after everything that had happened, she knew she wouldn’t be safe. Whoever still remained of SHIELD or SWORD or whatever other organisations would come for her next, and either induce labour or take a scalpel to her belly.

She realised, suddenly and violently, that she was never going to go into labour naturally. Even if Loki hadn’t shown back up, there would have come a day when Darcy was shoved into the back of one of their SUVs and taken to one of their labs somewhere.

And if Loki hadn’t shown up, Darcy would have been completely unprepared for it.

Her knees suddenly gave out from beneath her as her body was wracked with a violent shudder. Barely catching herself on the nightstand, Darcy fell to the floor, managing to land on her knees. With her hand over her mouth, Darcy tried to stay quiet, and to stay calm, but she couldn’t quite manage it. She was moments away from all-out wailing when her door opened and Loki let himself in. He was immediately by her side, with his hands on her and pulling her close as he quietly shushed her. Darcy was suddenly and acutely aware that she was in her underwear and an oversized t-shirt, crying on the floor, which only made her want to cry more.

Loki immediately sought to remedy one of her problems on his own, and picked her up as though she weighed nothing. A moment later, they were back on the bed, with her half in his lap and her face buried against his chest. He held her, and caressed her, and she let herself take comfort in that close, intimate contact between them.

"I don’t want to be afraid anymore," Darcy said, grabbing his tunic in her fist and holding tight. Part of her wanted to hold onto him, but the rest of her couldn’t quite make it that far. "What’s going to happen to me?"

"We’ll leave this place, and you won’t have to be afraid any longer," Loki said.

Darcy nodded, praying he was right. She had no idea what she’d do if he wasn’t right. But there was no way they’d be chased to another planet, or realm, or whatever the hell he called it. She’d be safe there. They both would, without having to worry about what horrible things would be done to them by people who had questionable ideas about ethics and who counted as human.

Loki held onto her until she had managed to calm down again. By then, her back and her hips ached as though they were on fire, and she moved stiffly to sit up. As she stared at the pile of unwashed laundry by her door, Darcy realised she had already made up her mind the moment she’d seen him the day before. She just hadn’t been able to admit it to herself, because it had felt too much like losing. But he was right. Everything he said was true, and there was only so much Darcy would be able to do to protect herself if she stayed in New York.

If she stayed on Earth.

"Okay," she said, nodding to herself. "All right."

With a deep breath, Darcy carefully rose to her feet and fetched out one of the last pairs of yoga pants she had that didn’t feel like they might squeeze her in half. She ignored Loki’s hand on her back as she sat back down to pull her pants on. She debated her shirt as well, but having sweated in it all day and then slept in it, she didn’t want to spend another day wearing it. Loki had already seen anything anyway, so what would it matter if he saw her bra? She pulled off her shirt, quickly replacing it for another that was just as oversized and ridiculous, and felt slightly better for it. Turning back round, she found Loki still sitting on her bed, watching her with a gaze that felt almost possessive.

Unsure what else to do, Darcy flapped her hands in the air and turned back to the door. There was coffee in the kitchen, and she wasn’t going to make any life-changing decisions without one final cup. Loki followed her out, and watched her from the doorway while she fetched down a mug and filled it almost all the way, leaving room for hazelnut creamer and a bit of sugar. She focused just on mixing up her coffee, and once it was ready, Darcy leaned against the counter to drink it.

"Should I… pack anything?" she asked after a long moment.

"If you wish," Loki said.

Darcy wondered what she’d even take. Her phone and laptop would probably be pointless. Maybe some extra clothes, so she could at least wear something moderately comfortable until she worked up the nerve to go native. She hadn’t indulged in a single hobby since coming home, filling her copious spare time with TV and naps. Sighing quietly to herself, Darcy drank her coffee and stared at the floor.

"My parents," she said suddenly, shaking her head against the well of twisted emotion that boiled inside her. "I don’t even know if they’re okay."

Loki, to his credit, seemed to at least share some of her concern. "Where would they be?" he asked.

She wondered if he genuinely didn’t know, or if he was just pretending.

"Mom works in the Bronx. Dad on Staten Island," Darcy said.

Loki nodded, slowly and deliberately. "Shall I send a scout to find them?" he asked.

Darcy though about it. She thought real hard about what would happen if Loki did send someone, and if they were found.

"Just…" Darcy said, staring down into her coffee. "Just tell me whether they’re okay or not," she decided.

Loki nodded again, though he didn’t move from where he stood.

"Can you promise me," Darcy asked slowly, trying to piece her words together one at a time, "that everything will be okay?"

She looked up as Loki stepped close to her, putting his hands on her shoulders. He was so much taller than her, she had to crane to look up at him when he stood this close, and she couldn’t tell if it was terrifying or comforting.

"You’ll have everything you could ever want, and nothing at all to fret over," Loki said.

Darcy knew that wasn’t true, because what she still wanted, more than anything, was her life back. But she didn’t say it, because she knew that wasn’t possible. Instead she took a deep breath and nodded.

"Okay," she said.

She looked around the kitchen, and wondered if she should leave a note, having no idea what she would even say if she did. Would it be more cruel to leave a note saying she’d run away forever, or to just leave without a word? She didn’t know. And no matter what she did, she knew it would always feel like the wrong choice.

Darcy let herself lean against Loki, trying to just breathe. She didn’t know what would come next, but she knew what wouldn’t come next, and that’s what was important. She wouldn’t be hunted down and tortured. She wouldn’t be made culpable for someone else’s suffering. She wouldn’t be endlessly running for her life.

She knew everything Loki said could have just as easily been a lie, but even if it was, she still knew what wasn’t coming next. She could deal with the what ifs and maybes that came next, because they weren’t the same what ifs and maybes that had terrified her for months. And she knew, deep down, Loki would want her safe. He might get bored with her and cast her aside, but by then she’d have time to figure out what to do next.

For now, he was offering to once again take the reins; to take that burden of control and planning from her. All she had to do was say yes.

So she nodded and set what remained of her coffee aside.

"I’m scared," she said.

Loki pulled her into a tight hug, holding her so tight she nearly couldn’t breathe. "That’s how I know I can trust you," he said.