Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 12 of 39

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At ten-thirty that morning, Darcy slumped back in her chair, took her glasses off and blew a hard breath at a few stray hairs that fell over her eyes. Except for the low murmur of Jane's voice as she talked on the phone, the Fish Bowl was deathly, boringly quiet.

There were no voicemails on either SHIELD's landline or her cell (because there was no coverage in the bowels of the earth). She logged onto Facebook, but found that all her friends' posts had reached a critical level of dull. Most reposting the same round of cute cat pictures or the ultimate demand for attention, "I'm sick." It was an Internet axiom: even the most pathetic troll, ignored and reviled by all, could post those two words and the online community would mobilize a goodwill effort on par with saving Ferris Bueller.

Hands poised over the keyboard, she almost typed, "I have fatal monkey pox, please send chocolate," but instead logged off.

She twirled a pen between her fingers, but lacking Loki's dexterity, dropped it on the desk. Scooping the pen up, she doodled a line of waves on a pad of sticky notes. Mind elsewhere, she sketched out heart. Realizing what she'd done, she stopped just before the pen's tip started the down stroke on an "L." I'm as bad as Jane. She darted a nervous glance at Loki, who had his back to her, fiddling around the computer.

Glasses back on, she took a closer look. He had swiped a pair of earbuds from someone, probably Thor, and was watching a movie trailer on YouTube. A comedy by the looks of it, fortunately not anything violent or explosive because the last thing the God of Mischief needed was inspiration. Thor, meanwhile, sat at the table, head on his arms. Either he'd swallowed a small growling animal or he was snoring. Jane, the only one doing work, was on the phone with the Japanese scientists again.

When Nick Fury swept into the Fish Bowl, black jacket flapping like a huge, leathery bird of prey, Darcy wondered if he'd been summoned by the overpowering slacker vibes. As usual he looked as through ass-kicking was his addiction, and his fix, Loki's blood. The target of his ire, however, spun around lazily in the chair and met the SHIELD director's stare with an expression of bored innocence.

Fury didn't bother niceties like "Good morning," instead stating bluntly, "At approximately one-thirty AM, last night, all our monitoring devices on the house went dead."

Seeing Fury, Jane muttered hasty goodbye to the Japanese scientists. Thor lifted his head from the table and blinked sleepily.

Loki leaned back in the chair, long legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles. "And you came here expecting what?" he said to Fury. "That we'd mourn the passing of your electronic pets?"

"I came to find out why." He stood, hands clasped behind his back, single eye and eye patch blazing at Loki. "The how, is obvious. You're doing magic."

"I've been doing magic since the days when you mortals believed it rained because Odin was taking a piss," said Loki, with a snarly flash of teeth. He flicked his index and middle finger and a lizard, an ordinary gray desert lizard, appeared on his thigh, pale against black leather. It scrambled over his leg and leaped to the floor, disappearing under the printer stand. "The habit of magic is not so easily broken."

"Wait," said Jane to Loki. "You killed the bugs?" Loki nodded, eyes still on Fury. Jane smiled. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but, 'Yay, Loki!'" Fury shot her a withering glare, but to her credit, she kept smiling.

"What were you two," Fury included Darcy in his death stare, "trying to hide?"

Thor answered for them, sleep gone from his eyes, replaced with irritation. "Darcy awoke from a terrible nightmare. Loki thought her troubles no concern of yours."

Fury smirked, the expression way worse than Loki's version, especially given what he said next. "Did you two swap spit again, or did you," he looked meaningfully at Darcy, "let that asshole get to home base last night?"

Loki, of course, canted his head slightly to the side, expression mildly perplexed, giving nothing away. Unfortunately, he was right about Darcy. She was a terrible liar. At Fury's comment, her face burned and she shrank back in her chair.

Thor's face scrunched with confusion as he tried to work out Fury's Midgard idioms. Jane's jaw, however, dropped and she spluttered. "Y-you two...k-kissed?"

"Like hillbilly cousins, I bet." Fury was obviously please with himself. "A couple nights ago, Ms. Lewis asked Loki to kiss her and it sounded like he obliged."

"What are we," snapped Darcy, "your ear porn?" She took off her glasses, and pretended to clean the lenses, because it was easier to deal with an out-of-focus Fury. Or for that matter, Jane and Thor. Even mortified as she was, a hot spike of defiance lanced through her.

She put her glasses back on and glowered at Fury. "Yeah, I kissed him. So what? You're not the lip police of me." Because she'd already dug herself in this deep, she added, "And it was an awesome kiss. Mad Science has some wicked kissing skills." At this point, a small city could have been powered by the heat coming off her face.

The only sounds in the room were the hum of the air conditioning (still functioning properly), and fans in the computers. Jane and Fury stared at her speechless. Thor, however, studied his brother. Loki had temporarily lost his cool, and was staring blankly across the room, expression somewhere between deer-in-headlights and completely, hopelessly confused.

The quiet was broken by the squeak of Jane's chair as she stood. "Is that why you came down here?" she asked. "To complain that Loki cooked your electronic spies? Because, y-you can't expect us to give a crap." Her hands clenched into white-knuckled fists and Darcy knew she was wondering if she was losing her funding as she spoke. Nevertheless, grim resolve shone from her brown eyes. "Darcy's right. She's a grown woman. She can kiss whoever she likes."

"Uh-huh." Fury took in the room, assessing each of them in turn. "The question is, what else are these two hiding? If you're withholding information regarding the investigation into Sandoval and Padilla's deaths--"

"It was a dream, nothing more," growled Loki, regaining his usual icy composure.

"It was a nightmare," said Thor, forcefully, "brought on by Darcy's over-involvement in the matter." He and Fury locked eyes. "Perhaps if you expended more effort on finding the killer, then Darcy wouldn't be taking matters into her own hands."

"You mean her playing Nancy Drew?"

Thor blinked, the reference zipping over his head. His eyes caught Darcy's and she gave him a cue, a nod. "Yes," he said uncertainly. "She shouldn't be meddling in this business, it could be dangerous." He threw a frown in Loki's direction.

"So, stop her," snapped Fury.

"Stop her?" Loki barked a bitter laugh. "Have you ever actually met Darcy?" Despite his worried demeanor, Thor chuckled, the sentiment echoed by Jane.

Fury blinked, a little nonplussed by the united front he faced from the four. "Maybe, if you weren't having convenient memory lapses, Ms. Thing here, wouldn't be getting herself into trouble," he countered.

"You're coming to me for help?" responded Loki. "With all the resources that you command through SHIELD?" He smirked. "How far the mighty have fallen."

"You should talk," said the SHIELD director.

Oh, crap, here we go again, thought Darcy, seeing a venomous glitter in Loki's green eyes. But the air didn't grow thick with magic. Instead Loki smiled winningly at Fury. White teeth and round cheeks, his mien seemed outrageously friendly until she noticed his eyes, which shone with the promise of pain and dismemberment. Yikes. She shuddered, glad he'd never turned that smile on her.

Fury obviously didn't know what to do with that. "Your brother's still crazier than a shit house rat," he said to Thor.

Thor, who seemed torn between concern and amusement, covered his mouth and shrugged as if to say, "What can you do?"

Fury nodded curtly and turned to leave, stopping to address Darcy. "You're too smart to get involved with the likes of him."

Don't bet on it, she thought at his back as he stormed out of the lab. As soon as Fury left the room, the little lizard popped out from under the printer stand and skittered across the gray industrial carpet to stop before its creator. It bobbed up and down on its little legs, staring up at Loki expectantly.

"Wow! Eleven o'clock already?" Darcy pointed at the white clock on the far wall. She picked up her purse. "Gotta go. Sean and I are going Taser shopping."

Thor and Jane, who both eyed Loki as if he were a kid who'd splashed red paint all over a white couch, nodded absently at Darcy. As she left the Fish Bowl, Loki shot her a dark look, the meaning clear: Sure, run off; leave me with these two.


Despite being the girl who did the lip lock with Loki, so far, Darcy continued to enjoy the benefits of relatively lax security where she was concerned. When she and Sean passed through the security gates and scanners in the old ranch house, no one questioned where they were going.

It helped to have Sean along. His actual job title was Assistant Comptroller, a high-level management position in accounting, and he had a much higher security clearance than she, or for that matter, Jane did.

They took Sean's truck, a silver Ford Ranger. After buckling her seat belt, she rolled down the window and waved out a couple of flies that were trapped in the cab. The insects zipped off toward the nearest herd of cattle in the feedlot and a juicy pile of cow dung. Sean did the same, making a face. "Life on the farm," he observed.

The only grocery store in Puente Antiguo was three short rows of canned goods and wilted produce, and one row devoted to potato chips, cookies and everything high calorie and zero nutrition. It didn't amount to much before Loki blew the roof and walls off the place and it didn't improve after it had been rebuilt. The local gun store, on the other hand, carried everything anyone might want to make things dead, or at least wish they were dead.

Ruckley's Guns and Ammo was just two buildings away from City Hall, well out of the way of the destruction done by the Destroyer. Not only had it not suffered any damage, but the ensuing rush of paranoia brought on by the attack, had been great for gun sales. Recently, Ruckley's had expanded into the space formerly occupied by an antique store, adding a shooting range.

Sean and Darcy waited while the store's owner, Sharon Ruckley, sold several boxes of ammo and a new gun sight to a stocky man with buzz cut brown hair and the name "T. Lopez" tattooed on the back of his head.

"Bet you know a lot about guns, being a hunter, right?" she said to Sean, whose attention was on the various rifles displayed on the wall behind the counter.

"Nothing beyond a 0.22 rifle. I was a bow hunter."

"Bows are right over there," said Sharon, pointing at a large selection of composite bows and accessories on the wall behind them. Her red hair was short, spiky and tipped with pink. Her T-shirt, tight, black and with a scoop-neck collar, said "Girls with guns have more fun!"

"How'd that Taser work out for you?" she asked Darcy.

Darcy exchanged a grin with Sean. "Better than lightning."

"That baby has sizzle." She leaned across the counter, flashing a deep cavern of cleavage, her green eyes tracking from Darcy to Sean. "What can I get you today?" Sean's focus dipped briefly south, but otherwise stayed on her face.

"Another Taser, please," said Darcy. She also asked if there were any shirts that said, "Girls with Tasers have more fun," but unfortunately, Sharon said no.

Next stop was home, because the Taser was considered a weapon, and Darcy wasn't authorized to bring one into a SHIELD facility.

Sean laughed at this. "But they let you bring two Asgard princes with penchant for violence to work," he said dryly. "That makes sense."

This was the first time Sean had been out to the house. As soon as they entered the living room, Sean cast a wary look around the room, blue eyes lingering on the hallway.

"They're still at work. Trust me," assured Darcy.

Sean flashed a brief smile. "I hope so. Otherwise, you'll get to hear me scream like a little girl."

Darcy laughed. Sean didn't bother with false bravado when it came to Loki, freely admitting that he found him scary. There was something appealing about a guy who knew when he was outmatched, particularly now that she knew he was normally pretty brave.

"Wanna see my room?" asked Darcy, feeling more like a little kid showing off than an adult.

She paused at the first door in the hallway. "That's Jane's room." She thought about it and added, "Jane and Thor's room, now."

"It's like a room turned inside out," observed Sean.

"And then put in a blender."

The bed was unmade. Clothes were strewn everywhere. Some were folded, but hadn't made it into the closet or dresser. The dresser top was covered in an assortment of items ranging from the usual brushes, makeup, lotion and girly stuff, to chargers for a cell phone and iPad, a Rubik's cube, a large geode, mail, a foot-long claw that Thor said had come from a Bilchsteim, and a stuffed cat wearing a sombrero. The bookcase was full, and more books, scientific journals, and notebooks were piled nearby. A stack of sports magazines, probably Thor's, were by the bed. In a corner, there was a pile of something that might have been Thor's armor. It was fortunate that Mjölnir came when called, since Thor would never find the hammer in this mess. From the doorway, the master bathroom was out of sight. A good thing because it probably hosted an accidental experiment in toxic mold.

"And Loki's." She opened his door, feeling a twinge of guilt at letting a stranger invade his privacy. Besides the addition of the second bed, the room hadn't changed much since Erik left. The only thing on the wall was a framed map of the London Underground, left by Erik. Besides the two beds, the only furniture in the room was a plain pine dresser and a short bookcase. Like Jane's, the bookcase was full, but the excess books were neatly piled on top and there was some kind of order to it all, with rough groupings of fiction, non-fiction and tomes that looked like they'd come from an ancient library. The top of the dresser was covered in mechanical and electronic bits and pieces. Loki had been filching stuff from Tony Stark's junk pile for months.

Two of Darcy's belongings were in plain sight: her laptop, on the bed, and a watch, on the dresser. She didn't bother to reclaim the watch, since it had probably fallen victim to one of his experiments. In a bizarre turn, Loki had actually asked to use the laptop. She'd said yes, hoping she wasn't aiding and abetting him in new crimes.

As far as Darcy knew, the only permanent marks Loki had made on the room were faint bloodstains on the floor by his bed. Immortal blood was impossible to get out of cheap carpet. Otherwise the room looked almost unoccupied. Keeping a room clean was easy when you could use magic.

Sean shot a quick look at Thor and Jane's room and then back at Loki's. "You can sort of see why he'd want to kill Thor. If I had to live with that mess..." He arched his eyebrows, leaving the statement unfinished. Darcy smiled. Sean was kind of neat freak.

"The powder room." She waved vaguely at the second bath. Sean did a double take at the mirror--currently showing an ultramodern bath, white and black with glass and bamboo trim. The door at the end of the hall led to the laundry and utility room and wasn't worth mentioning.

"And Darcy's pad." She led the way into her room, glad that she'd run the vacuum around recently, and that all her dirty clothes had made it into the hamper.

"Cute, but I don't see you as the flower type."

"You sound like Loki," she said, setting the new Taser on her desk.

During one of their first real conversations, Loki had stopped in her doorway and asked who had decorated the room. He'd looked surprised when she had said, "Me."

"I'd have never attributed you with such bucolic sensibilities," he had noted, taking in the flower prints and patterns.

Sean smiled distantly, surprisingly unbothered by the comparison to Loki. But in the truck, as they drove back to work, he asked, "Why do you care if he gets framed for the murders? He is a killer, after all."

"It's not fair," she answered, just as Sean turned the truck left at Izzy's Diner. The old dog that she and Jane had seen days before sat in front of a title loans shop, lazily scratching its ear with a hind paw. The shop was open again, because usury never went out of business, but most of the front facade was still bare wood sheathing, the final layer of brick absent.

"Fair?" said Sean, giving the title loan shop and other businesses in various states of repair a long look.

"He did this," agreed Darcy. "He didn't kill Max and Andy."

"A lot of people at SHIELD say he hasn't paid for what he did here and elsewhere. Families missing their fathers, sons, brothers, daughters...they don't care what he's punished for, just so long as he's punished. He's a war criminal." Sean's tone was curiously flat.

He's my friend. "I think he was punished...on Asgard."

Sean cocked his head, taking his eyes briefly off the road to look at Darcy. "Pam says you wouldn't know it, to look at him now. He's unscathed."

"On the outside," she said, "But on the inside, he's a train wreck. Odin gave him an Asgard lobotomy." She didn't add that he'd lost most of his magic and in the process, most of himself.

"Some people might argue that he shouldn't be alive while their loved ones are dead." He slowed the truck and stopped at the four-way intersection just outside town. On the opposite side of the road, a big truck carrying a towering load of hay waited.

The memory of her dream, Loki's dead eyes, flashed before her. "Killing Loki won't bring back the dead." She'd never been against the death penalty, but she'd also never been in the strange place she found herself now, trying to resolve the person she knew with the murderer everyone else knew.

Looking up, she found Sean studying her, his expression somewhat thoughtful and a bit perplexed. The big truck passed them, temporarily blocking the sunlight. When the light returned, it broke his distinctive bone structure into bright and dark planes. She had the impression he was teetering on the edge of an uncomfortable truth. "Yeah, but," he began uncertainly, "it will give them closure."

"Will it?"

As he turned away, she could see his dark lashes sweep up and down as confusion took over his face. "I-maybe." Behind them, a car horn sounded impatiently and they both jumped. He flipped the turn signal on and turned right, back to the SHIELD facility.

To fill the hollow space between them, Darcy said, after a few minutes, "If he takes the fall, the murderer goes free. Where's the justice in that?"

They were nearing the facility. A semi-truck hauling a grubby silver trailer filled with cattle was pulling out into the road. Darcy eyed the truck, feeling a touch of guilt and pity for the animals headed for what was undoubtedly a final destination. There were days when it was enough to make her consider becoming a vegetarian.

Sean parked the truck next to one of the familiar black SUVs and they got out. Just before they reached the building he stopped, shoving his hands into his pants pockets and smiling awkwardly. A light breeze moved over them, tousling his brown hair, and Darcy thought, Even Mother Nature likes this guy.

"Okay, counselor," he said, "You've made your case. I'll go with you tonight."

A little wave of anticipation rushed through her and she decided this must be how Sherlock Holmes felt when Watson came on board.

Of course, there was the little matter of her having a crush on Moriarty.

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 12 of 39

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