Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 17 of 39

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Darcy liked Santa Fe even if it was trying too hard to be a quaint, 1800s-era, adobe village. Recent architectural standards had mandated that buildings be under a certain height and conform to a pueblo-style aesthetic. Which meant that strip malls, McDonalds and other businesses were still ugly, but in a uniform, tan, stuccoed kind of way. Santa Fe had two sides: the archetypal bits that tourists saw (the Plaza and Canyon Road with its kitschy galleries) and the rest, which aside from the southwestern architecture, was pretty much like any other sprawling western U.S. city. Even more so, at night when they arrived in the city in Jane's SUV.

Their destination was Ft. Marcy Park, but Darcy directed Jane to another park to the southwest where parking was free and traffic less of a problem. The gates for Zozobra had been open for a couple of hours, and a good-sized crowd already gathered in Ft. Marcy Park, a sense of impatience growing as the darkness deepened.

According to her friend Kelly, a native Santa Fean, the crowds had grown a little smaller as ticket prices rose over the years. Probably a good thing, since Loki's gaze scanned the milling masses, a mix of wariness and predatory interest in his eyes. Less ants for him to fantasize about squishing, she thought, hanging close at his side. The five settled into a spot toward the rear of the park to wait. Natasha and Jane were discussing travel in Europe - with Jane wishing she'd done more - but Darcy could tell that the agent was keeping a sharp eye on Loki.

The star of the attraction, Old Man Gloom himself, loomed above the grassy field on a low embankment. Supported by a wooden marionette frame, Zozobra was a gawky, tall paper construction, dressed in a dapper white suit, with black bow tie and sleeve cuffs, and curly-crazy purple hair. The puppet's lips were garish red and his lower jaw jutted from his face. Lit with spotlights, the giant puppet gleamed in white contrast to the black sky.

At long last, the event's master of ceremonies came out and the spectacle began. The burning of Zozobra was always preceded by the drama of little white glooms, played by children, who danced before Zozobra. A Spirit of Fire, dressed in brilliant red, emerged and did its best to chase the glooms away. This year, there were dancers, too, with flaming torches that whirled and spun, making bright arcs against the darkness. Throughout the prelude, the master of ceremonies cued the crowd and they responded with "Viva Las Fiestas," and eventually, "Burn him, burn him, burn him!" The crowd's tension vibrated through Darcy and she joined enthusiastically in the chant.

The crowd finally got their wish as fire sparked high in the puppet's shoulders, a dazzling spray of light that then started to coalesce into several hot conflagrations in Zozobra's papery form. The sky lit up behind the skinny epitome of misery as fireworks burst in the background, adding brilliant color to the almost black and white scene. Zozobra, being a disagreeable sort, didn't take his immolation quietly, instead flailing his skinny arms, wriggling in agony, lantern jaw opening and closing, anguished moans filling the warm night air.

"It is marvelous!" enthused Thor, reflected light from the fire picking out gold and copper highlights in his hair and making him look all the more godlike. Jane beamed at him; Darcy fought the urge to roll her eyes and lost the battle.

"It's ludicrous, a stupid superstition," grumbled Loki. Standing a pace behind Thor, he was shadowed by his brother, only an orange pinprick of light reflecting in his eyes.

Darcy snorted. "So says the God of Mischief."

As they watched, the flames rose around Zozobra, the pale puppet began to seem less like a puppet and more like an ethereal, undulating ghost, writhing in the flames, arms waving, moaning the loss of his corporeal form. Chunks of his body crumpled in a shimmering sprays of sparks and the flames blazed in fiery glory. Jane and Thor wrapped their arms around each other and were molded together by the fey light. Natasha stood apart from them, her focus on the giant burning puppet, red hair aflame in the light of the conflagration, looking like a goddess herself.

And for an odd moment, Darcy felt herself start to soar, made weightless by the feral energy of the crowd. Gasping for air, she fumbled and found Loki's hand. He made an attempt to pull away, but she held tight. After a moment, he relented, his hand tightening on hers. Grounded by his touch, she closed her eyes and let the fire's light dance behind her eyelids, and felt the boom of fireworks thunder in her bones.

She didn't know if she moved or if it had been him, but when she opened her eyes, Loki was right at her side, his tall frame against hers, their hands still bound together. Zozobra moaned one last anguished time, and then collapsed into hot, ashy oblivion, and for a moment she was sure anything was possible. Even Darcy and Loki.


Darcy had made reservations at a Mexican restaurant a block away from the Santa Fe Plaza. To make it easier for pedestrians to reach the Plaza, the city had closed off several of the roads leading there to vehicle traffic, so the trip was an easy, five minute stroll. La Entrada Azul Restaurant was located in a rambling adobe building that had once been a home. The floors were red brick, the ceilings rather low with exposed round wood beams. There were stout kiva fireplaces in most of the rooms. The ambiance was rustic but the food always incredible. Darcy gave her name to the maitre' d and joined her friends in the corner of the restaurant's lobby.

Several other parties waited for a table in the restaurant's lobby. Three men stood nearby, laughing in that too-loud way that suggested they'd already done some warm-up drinking. Their voices had a distinct twang that said Texas. They looked like they were in their mid- to late-thirties and were dressed good-old-boy style, with Wrangler jeans, oversized belt buckles, cowboy boots and button up shirts. The shiny state of their boots indicated that they wouldn't know the back end of a horse from the front until it kicked them in the nuts.

Jane peeled away from Thor's side. "An Alibi," she said, happily heading for a short table that held a stack of papers. The Alibi was a free, weekly publication that had an eclectic mixture of news and editorials, focused largely on New Mexico. Jane's interest was the crossword puzzle in the back of the publication.

As she bent to pick up a copy, one of the faux-cowboys nudged his buddies. "Oh, yeah," he said, eyes on Jane's butt, "There's a pretty sight." Jane's head turned slightly in their direction, indicating she'd heard the comment, but she otherwise ignored the man and headed back to Thor.

Thor, however, wasn't amused. He strode over to the men, powerful frame emanating anger. Darcy cringed and cocked her head, half expecting to hear the rumble of thunder.

"Thor, no," Jane said, unhappily.

The three men stared belligerently at Thor, proving that alcohol really does cloud judgment. "You owe the lady an apology," said Thor.

Tex, as Darcy immediately dubbed him, was shorter than Thor. He had the build of a former football player, muscle converted to fat by inactivity and too many cheeseburgers. A little spark of nervousness flickered in his eyes, but surrounded by his friends, he couldn't do the smart thing and apologize. "You gonna make me?" he said stupidly. His pals flanked him like moronic bookends.

Darcy had a sinking feeling that this was going to turn into a cliché scene from an action movie, where every testosterone-poisoned idiot in the restaurant threw himself at Thor, even though the big man was obviously invincible, with a growing pile of bodies at his feet.

"And I thought he'd be the problem," said Natasha tonelessly, with a glance at Loki. Before things could get out of hand, she strode over and positioned herself between Thor and the idiots. She reached into her purse and pulled out a badge that she flashed at the men.

"Homeland Security," she explained, lowering the badge. She smiled and it wasn't a friendly expression. "You remind me of a Ukrainian terrorist who's on our watch list."

"Uke-what?" Tex laughed nervously and glanced at his buddies.

"Nikolai Pavlovich," she said. "Wanted for eight counts of terrorism, last seen in Arizona. He's highly adaptable, known for his flawless Texas accent."

"Yeah, well, I'm not him."

"Maybe. I'd assume he'd be smart enough not to pick a fight and make a scene in public. But maybe that's part of his, your game."

"I'm an American citizen-"

"Are you?" she said. "The more you keep talking, the less I believe you. With one call, I can have you detained, indefinitely, until I'm absolutely sure you aren't Pavlovich."

"I know my rights-"

"Thanks to the Patriot Act," she said, "you don't have any if you're a suspected foreign terrorist." The bully glared at Natasha, nodding his head in a twitchy angry way, but without anything to say. Against another male, even one like Thor, his macho impulse was to start a fight. Facing down a gorgeous redheaded woman whose calm gaze said, "Just give me a reason to make you bleed," probably short-circuited his brain.

"Let's go, Odinson," Natasha said, nodding her head back toward Darcy, Loki and Jane. Without waiting to see if he'd follow, she sauntered back.

"See," said Darcy to Natasha, "you are awesome."

The maitre' d called the name Adams, and Tex and his small posse slunk off toward the dining room. Five minutes later, Darcy and company were seated. Their table was in a room toward the back. "Ah, and there are Thor's new friends," observed Loki. Tex and his pals were seated in a booth, separated from a still disgruntled Thor by another table, where a family of four were digging into their dinner.

The waitress was a willowy blond with disproportionately large breasts. She introduced herself as Cheryl, explained the night's specials, and took their drink orders, her attention wandering frequently to Loki. When she returned with the drinks - two pitchers of beer, ordered by Thor, water for everyone and iced tea for Jane - she made a point of bending so that her cleavage was a few inches from Loki's face. He gave her a charming smile and she beamed.

Once she left, Darcy picked up the menu. "Funny," she said, "I don't see boobs on the menu."

"Alas, this clearly isn't a quality establishment," said Loki, pouring himself a beer.

Cheryl continued flirting with Loki when she took everyone's dinner orders and he, irritatingly, didn't seem to mind. When she asked what he wanted for dinner, he asked, smoothly, what she suggested. "The beef fajitas," Cheryl said, a little too breathlessly.

"Right," interrupted Darcy. "We'll have that, the fajitas for two." She tried to smile sweetly, hoping it distracted from the smoke that was probably coming out of her ears.

"Mine are real, by the way," grumbled Darcy under her breath, as soon as Cheryl left. Natasha was chatting with Jane, but Darcy knew the woman was aware of everything going on around her. "There's more silicon in Cheryl's chest than a computer chip plant." She downed most of her beer in a few gulps.

"Silicon?" Loki said, innocently.

"You know what I mean."

"You are jealous." He looked too pleased with himself.

"D'uh." No point in denying it. She reached for a tortilla chip and dipped it in the salsa. Beer on an empty stomach was making her head spin.

Cheryl may have gotten the hint, because she was a little more subdued when she arrived with the meals, though she still gave Loki sideways glances. Thor had a combo plate; Natasha, chile rellenos, northern New Mexico style, stuffed with pork, not cheese. Jane had green chile enchiladas, because that was all she ever ordered at Mexican restaurants. Loki, of course, sniffed suspiciously at the fajitas, even though the steak strips were steaming, giving off a delicious smoky aroma.

Darcy watched as he picked through the meat and the accompanying vegetables with a fork. "It's a good thing you're hotter than those fajitas, because you're like the lovechild of Sheldon Cooper and Raistlin Majere." She scooted the tortilla warmer closer, extracted a warm tortilla and loaded it with fajitas and grilled veggies. After a few bites, she said, "See. I'm alive. No poison. Eat." Still wary, Loki followed her lead.

"Is that cigarette smoke?" said Jane, lifting her head and sniffing.

"Thor's new best friend," said Natasha, pointing with her eyes at Tex and his companions. Tex leaned back in his seat and exhaled a cloud of smoke, a lit cigarette in his hand.

Alerted either by the smell or the complaints of other restaurant patrons, Cheryl approached the man's table, carrying a tray full of drinks. She gave the man a polite smile. Darcy couldn't hear the conversation, but she obviously told the guy to put out the cigarette. He waved his beefy hand, dismissing her, but to her credit, she stood her ground. His voice got louder as he started ranting about "freedom" and "nanny state" and "no tip." Cheryl didn't budge and finally, the jerk stubbed out the cigarette on the drink tray.

"What a prick," Darcy said loudly. "She should drop the drinks in his lap."

"I thought you were less than fond of the woman," said Loki.

"Less than fond of her tits in your face." The woman may have been an insufferable flirt, but she didn't deserve the crap the man was shoveling. "The guy's an asshole. I was a waitress, uh, briefly, in college. I can relate." With her mouth, she didn't last long in the profession.

Loki looked at her slyly, then put his hand on her thigh. His touch burned through the beer in her bloodstream and she struggled to keep her cool. She glanced down and saw the little striped gray lab lizard sitting on his hand. With quick glance up at her, the reptile hopped off his hand and climbed down her leg and to the floor.

"What's it doing?" she whispered to Loki.

"Fulfilling the man's wish." He flipped open the tortilla warmer, extracted another tortilla, and began piling it with meat and vegetables.

"It's a genie lizard?" Darcy reached and did the same. A minute passed and the boorish man laughed and said something to his buddy, but didn't look like someone who'd rubbed any magic lamps. Something tickled her leg and she yelped.

"What's wrong?" asked Jane.

Darcy snatched up the lizard, which was back on her thigh and ogling her chest, and dropped it on the table. "Loki brought a pet."

Jane gasped. "You can't bring that into a restaurant."

"Midgard has an abundance of silly rules," observed Thor, grinning at the beast as it wandered across the table, investigating everyone's meals. "What can it hurt?"

"We're going to get kicked out," said Jane, sadly, staring at her plate. "And these are really great enchiladas."

"That would suck," said Darcy, cheerfully. "On the upside, maybe we won't have to pay the bill." Further commentary on the reptile was cut off by a startled yell from the nearby table.

Tex was doing a crazy chicken dance, making "Aaaaa!" sounds and flailing at the bottom of his right pants leg, then switching and swatting at the left. A plume of smoke rose from his jeans.

Darcy took a breath, smelling burned denim. "It's a fire lizard? Cool." The tiny striped dragon shot her a look that was quite smug. Thor, Jane and Natasha all turned their attention from the flaming tourist to the reptile on the table.

Thor, being Thor, smiled at his brother and turned back to watch the scene, a laugh booming from his mouth. Jane covered her eyes, mortified. No one else in the restaurant made a move to help the man, including Natasha, who gave him a disdainful glance and went back to her chile rellenos. Obviously, Avenger heroism was confined to saving the world, not entitled jackasses who didn't understand the words "No Smoking."

By now Tex's dance had gotten more frantic, his yelling a higher pitched, "Aaaiiiieee!" Darcy didn't see what he was screeching about since there were no visible flames. The waitress and a bus boy hurried over, the bus boy carrying a fire extinguisher. The young man fumbled with the extinguisher and a spray of white foam hit Tex square in the face. Thor's laughter grew louder. Jane ate her enchiladas faster, no doubt anticipating a rude exit from the restaurant at any moment.

The bus boy sorted out his aim and dosed Tex's legs, extinguishing the tiny conflagration. Thor turned around and grinned fondly at Loki. "Good work, brother."

"Are you just going to let him do that?" said Jane to Natasha, meaning Loki.

Natasha shrugged. "You have to admit, he's done worse." She lifted a forkful of relleno to her mouth. "And this is really great food."


Tex and his buddies left the restaurant in a huff immediately after the incident. Even though it sat in plain sight on the table, no one else, including the waitress, noticed the lab lizard and Jane got to finish her enchiladas. When Darcy paid the bill, she left a generous tip to make up for whatever Cheryl lost at Tex's table. After all, the meal was on SHIELD's dime anyway.

After dinner the five wandered briefly through the Plaza on the way back to the vehicle. There were booths selling food scattered through the Plaza, the smells pleasant but not enticing since Darcy was quite full and a little drunk. The crowds had thinned, but she could still see tension in Loki's posture.

Darcy had her hand in Loki's again. Natasha hadn't failed to notice the handholding at Zozobra nor the fact that Darcy didn't relinquish his hand until they reached the restaurant. But Darcy decided she didn't care; half of SHIELD already thought she and Loki were lovers six months ago. Why not make rumors true?

They were in the shadow of a building's long porch, about to leave the Plaza when Darcy braced her feet, pulling him to a stop. "Wait! You aren't leaving the lab lizard here?" Jane, Thor and Natasha halted as well.

Loki looked down at her. "I'm not?"

"No." The Fish Bowl's unofficial mascot had wandered off sometime during dinner and not been seen since.

"It's a magical construct," he said, with a dismissive shrug

"It's your magical construct and all it knows is the Fish Bowl. You can't leave it in the Plaza, lost and alone. That's just mean."

Natasha crossed her arms over her chest. "Darcy has a point. You can't dump your Asgard pet here. It could fall into the wrong hands."

"Yeah," said Jane with a snort, "Another supervillain might use it as a cigarette lighter."

Even Natasha laughed at that.

"It's a mindless construct," insisted Loki.

"No, it's not. Call it back," said Darcy. Because she didn't want to prolong the argument, she added, obsequiously, "Your royal princelyness. Bow, scrape, bow, grovel."

"Your attitude improves, slowly," he said, dryly. He moved back to the wall of the adobe building, pulling Darcy with him. Positioning her directly in front of him, he inclined his head as if they were just two lovers snatching a moment away from the press of the crowd. She watched his elegant hands move, the motion highlighted by a faint green glow, and noted that he conveniently managed to brush against her breasts a few times.

"Now what?" she asked when he finished.

"We wait." The little creature must not have been far away, because a minute later movement caught her eye and there it was, halfway up the wall. Loki held out his arm and it hopped onto his hand.

He started to say something and then his eyes narrowed, slight humor melting away revealing fearsome intensity. Moving with startling speed, he pushed her back toward the wall and stood in front of her, attention hard on the Plaza and crowd beyond.

"What?" Natasha was suddenly just a few feet from him. Loki's back was to Darcy, but she could see him incline his head forward and then she smelled magic. The night was still warm, but a chill moved over her. The lizard, still on his arm, scrambled higher and leaped onto her arm. Its little claws prickled as it scurried up her shoulder to perch at the base of her neck.

"Loki?" Darcy said, "It's the killer. You sense him. Right?"

"Where?" said Natasha, her gaze now on the Plaza, demeanor cool as a cucumber, but eyes taking in everything. Thor's stance mirrored his brother's as he stood protectively in front of Jane.

Adrenaline spiked in her blood, lifting some of the drunken haze, exposing fear. Even with Loki so close, she felt vulnerable. Needing contact, she reached out and wrapped her hands around his arm.

Like in the lab, several days ago, power rushed into her, but she hung on grimly, determined not to let go and fall over. Startled by the surge of energy, the lizard clenched its tiny feet, claws biting through her shirt. Images flashed through her head like an old film, unsteady and crackling. She saw herself and her friends from several angles in the Plaza, groups of people moving around them, felt something reaching out from herself, feeling, searching. A hard shock of electrical energy bit her questing, evanescent fingers and then it was gone.

"Fuck," she said. "Was that him, her, it?" He didn't answer, but she knew she was right.

"Gone?" said Natasha. Loki finally acknowledged her with a terse nod.

"It was close?" said Thor.

"Not too close," replied Loki, "but it may have been shadowing us most of the evening. For an instant, it ventured too near, to the point where its shielding magic failed. Realizing it had been detected, it fled."

"It's getting bolder," said Natasha. She gave Loki a long look. "I wonder why?"

Hands still in a death grip on his arm, Darcy edged up to his side and saw him meet Natasha's stare. "A game?" he said. "Or perhaps it has decided that revenge isn't a dish best served cold, perhaps it's grown impatient."

"You all should be getting home," said Natasha, calmly. Darcy studied her, thinking, Be like Natasha. Cool, calm, in control. Her knees, however, didn't get the message and she hung onto Loki's arm all the way back to the car.


They made it to Jane's SUV without any further incidents and were soon back on the highway, headed for home. After about thirty minutes, the adrenaline left her body, and her head, helped along with one too many glasses of beer, started to get swimmy. Her iPod, playing through the stereo, had hit a stretch of mellow songs and Darcy wondered if she should switch it to a livelier playlist for Jane's sake. The lab lizard had stationed itself on top of the headrest behind Thor's head, and for once, wasn't staring at her breasts.

Jane and Thor were trading stories of parties from days gone by, and Darcy realized that drunk people, immortal or mortal, on Asgard or in grad school in unmagical Midgard, all pretty much did the same thing. Drink, throw up, fall down, in any order.

Thor's current story involved Fandral, Hogun, and a drinking game requiring a frog. Despite the promising premise, it wasn't any more interesting than Jane's previous story about a professor, an optical spectrometer and a bottle of Jose Cuervo. And besides, there hadn't been any mention of Loki.

Before she remembered that they had company - Natasha - Darcy sighed, loosened her seatbelt and flopped sideways onto Loki, her head on his shoulder. Just as she wiggled herself into comfortable snuggle against him, she realized her mistake. Staring at the back of front seat, she could feel Natasha's eyes on her. She closed her eyes, resigned. If all the hand holding hadn't indicted her, what would?

It seemed like a moot point, since he moved under her weight, pushing her aside with his opposite arm, and working the one nearest free. The sting of rejection started to burn in her chest, compounded by the fact that Natasha was witness, when his arm settled heavy on her shoulders and he pulled her against him. Inhaling, she smelled the cottony smell of new shirt, smoky fajitas and him.

In the landscape beyond, the rolling hills north of Santa Fe were dotted with the dark, lumpy shapes of piñon pines and juniper bushes. The only light came from other vehicles' head and tail lights and the almost full moon.

"Hey," she said, her voice low and she hoped, inaudible over Jane and Thor's patter, the rush of air over the SUV, and the radio. He bent his head to her. "Is the reason you won't have sex with me because I'm not a virgin, not pure?" Now that, she knew, was the booze talking. Shut up, booze!

His expression turned derisive, though without the usual cruelty. "Don't be ridiculous. There is no correlation between sexual experience and purity of heart. Some of the vilest beings in the nine realms have never ever known a lover's touch."

"So, uh, sex is good for the soul?" He smirked. "Then why not make me yours, and save me from myself...or something?" Wow. She was drunk.

"Perhaps," he said, "I'm trying to save you from myself."

"Oh, Loki," she said sadly. "That's-" He cut her off with a kiss. It was a comfortable, almost chaste kiss, like between two old lovers or a couple of teens who are just getting the hang of lip-on-lip action. And it went on too long considering their audience. But Darcy didn't care, her brain still muzzy with beer and body too happy in Loki's proximity. As he pulled away, she saw his attention move past her and across the seat. His eyes narrowed and he turned toward the window. She shut her eyes and set her cheek on his chest. Natasha would have plenty to report to Director Fury.

She woke up with a crick in her neck and to the sound of seatbelts being unsnapped. Looking up, she saw a black streak zip across the front porch: Inkblot fleeing as he sensed Thor's approach. She sat up, eyes Loki's shirt and hoping she hadn't done anything gross like drool in her sleep.

He gave her a polite nod and she watched him fondly as he exited the car, knowing he may have ruptured a vessel in his head putting up with so many people for that long. Once she climbed unsteadily out of the car, she went over to say bye and thank Natasha.

Thor was already ushering a weary Jane into the house, with Loki at their heels like an impatient dog. Natasha's attention, however, was on the home's grounds. Darcy had the impression she expected to find the killer hiding behind a sagebrush.

"Come on, admit it," she said to the agent. "You had fun."

Natasha nodded. "Can I have a word with you?" She nodded her toward the red RAV4.

"O-kay," said Darcy, unenthusiastically. She sniffed another lecture coming and it definitely didn't smell like chocolate. When they reached the little SUV, Darcy leaned against the front fender and crossed her arms over her chest. "This is where you warn me that Loki's dangerous and he's going to kill me."

Natasha positioned herself a couple of feet before Darcy. "No," she replied. "I don't think he will."

Darcy tilted her head and twisted her mouth wryly. "You don't think he will?"

Natasha focused on Darcy, her eyes filled with the kind of directness rare in most women or men for that matter. "I have no doubt he would kill Jane, or Thor,, or any of the Avengers, with a shit-eating grin on his face, and then come home and get a good night's sleep."

"Your logic. I think it's broken."

"I strongly objected to the idea of moving Thor and Loki in with you two," said Natasha. "I, obviously, had met Loki and based on what I'd seen, thought it was a breathtakingly stupid idea to leave him here, with no controls, with two defenseless civilians. But Fury thought it was the last place anyone would look for those two, and he was convinced that Thor could control Loki.

"Loki hadn't been here five minutes before your mouth started shooting insults his way."

Darcy nodded. "My mouth is stuck in auto-fire mode."

"This time, it looked like it would get you into more trouble than you could handle," said Natasha. "I told Fury we should get Loki out of here before he tore you to pieces and there wasn't enough left of you to fill a shoebox."

Darcy gulped, suddenly sober.

"Except it didn't go that way, did it?" She smirked grimly. "You kept mouthing off, calling him names and what did he do?" She didn't wait for an answer. "He took it like your personal whipping boy. Still does."

"He threatened to turn me into a bug."

"He threatened Jane with much worse than that. And he meant it."

"Jane? She never said..." Darcy shut her mouth, remembering Jane's comment about Loki looking at her like he wanted to kill her.

"He didn't threaten Jane directly. He did share his twisted snuff fantasies with Thor." A nondescript white car cruised by and Natasha paused to watch it, expression disinterested, but eyes filled with the predatory intelligence of a lioness. "You do realize that Thor didn't threaten Loki to protect you. He didn't have to. And he knew it. Thor's not as stupid as Loki thinks. Thor knew the truth all along, too."


"For some reason, Loki's always been soft on you. Maybe you remind him of an old girlfriend. Or his mother."

"Eeew!" said Darcy. She considered Natasha's words. "If you're trying to warn me away from Loki, this doesn't seem like the right approach."

"I won't lie. I think he's evil and you could do much better. Given the opportunity, I would kill him."

Darcy pulled a section of her hair forward and turned it in the porch light, looking for the iridescent lowlights. "Your point isn't very pointy, because I'm not feeling it."

"You had planned on going to law school, correct?"

Darcy nodded. "Yeah, but then SHIELD went all Don Corleone and made me an offer I couldn't refuse."

"Because you met Thor of Asgard-"

"Met. Hit with a car. Tasered..."

"-and four of his friends, also from Asgard. With your history of speak first, think later, SHIELD couldn't have you running around, unsupervised."

"'Unsupervised?' What am I, three? What's next? Covers on the electrical outlets, so I don't electrocute myself?"

"Knowing what you know turned you into a liability to be managed."

Darcy huffed a sad laugh. "I've got a poli-sci degree. What I know about Asgard or astrophysics would fit on the head of a pin, with lots of room left over for dancing angels."

"Maybe, but to unfriendly governments or other enemies, you could still be seen as an asset." She turned her head and looked at the house. "Your relationship with Loki makes you both a liability and an asset."

Darcy gave her a "huh?" look and Natasha elaborated. "As Loki's girlfriend, you're leverage, a means of controlling him."

"Whoa. You're a hundred miles ahead of yourself with the 'girlfriend' word. It was just a few kisses-"

"A few? Including the one in the vehicle, just now?" Natasha's eyebrows rose.

"We're really just friends. That's all." He thinks I'm unnerving.

"Loki doesn't have many friends. Friend or lover, it doesn't matter. Whoever controls you, controls Loki."

"You make it sound like he has feelings for me, or something." As she spoke, Darcy knew she was fishing, trying to get Natasha's take on Loki's behavior.

Natasha, unfortunately, didn't take the bait. "What goes on in his head doesn't matter. What matters is what others believe is going on between you two. People will think they can get to Loki through you."

"People, as in bad people?" Darcy could see where this was going, and admittedly, it was a kind of scary place.

"The good guys, too. SHIELD." Natasha's gaze moved upward and Darcy's followed, settling on the firefly-like flash of an aircraft flying low and to the south through the black sky. "If you ever hope to untangle yourself from SHIELD, hooking up with Loki isn't a smart plan."

The hair in the section magicked by Loki shimmered in the porch light, the colors, deep blue and green, washed out in the weak light. "That's good advice," admitted Darcy, "but..."

"It's too late?"

"It was too late on the day Loki and Thor walked through the door months ago." Darcy let go of her hair, and lifted her gaze to the sky where a bright streak flashed across the heavens and disappeared. Make a wish. For what? She looked at the SHIELD agent; smart, totally together Natasha. "You'd never fall for the wrong person, would you?"

Natasha's eyes sparkled and a sad smile turned up her mouth. She put a hand to her mouth, fingers touching her lips and shook her head. "No one is too smart for that mistake." If there was a story in that comment, Darcy wasn't getting it, because Natasha moved over to her car door, and slid the key into the lock. Darcy moved away from the vehicle.

"Just think about what I said, all right?" said Natasha, as she pulled open the little SUV's door.


Darcy's plan was to do anything but think about it. She entered the house and marched toward the kitchen to distract herself by filling the coffee maker and setting the timer for tomorrow. Best prep the hangover treatment now.

Unfortunately, the tall, skinny reminder of what she wasn't going to think about stood by the kitchen counter, rinsing something out in the sink - the coffee filter.

When she realized what he was doing, she fished her cell phone out of her purse. "Loki doing something helpful in the kitchen. Must. Preserve. For. Posterity." Pointing the phone at him, she snapped a couple of photos.

He did the ignore thing and replaced the filter in the coffee maker. She sat at the kitchen table and watched as he measured out the coffee grounds and added them to the machine. He poked his index finger at the timer controls, resetting the start time to weekend mode. Since they couldn't possibly get back home from Zozobra before midnight, Darcy had convinced Jane to take Friday off.

Once he was done, he took an empty glass from the cabinet, filled it with tap water and sat across from her at the table. He set the glass before her.

"Do I look thirsty?"

"You look as though you've had one too many beers. If you wish to forestall excessive misery in the morning, re-hydrate now."

She took a few sips to appease him. "What about you? Drunk?"

"No." He answered her unspoken question. "Yes, I can get drunk. But it takes more than a few glasses of watered-down Midgard swill to do it."

Because he was right, she grudgingly gulped down the rest of the water. "Who says I'm drunk? Maybe I'm just balance impaired."

"Sober Darcy would never pursue the illogical line of reasoning that you expressed in the vehicle."

"Shit." She couldn't hide the blush burning her face. "As far as I know, you're no eunuch, and I'm not...hideous. A girl's gotta wonder." The one good thing about her stupid question was that she could rule out one problem. She wasn't ashamed of her sexual history, but if he had a fetish for virginal princess types, she was officially out of the running.

"Agent Romanoff is wise to warn you off me."

"Nope. You got it wrong." Darcy smirked, drunkenly. "She wasn't worried about me. The problem is I might break you and then you'll be no good to SHIELD and the supervillain army they're building."

His lip twitched with amused condescension, and he seemed prepared to say something snotty. His gaze took her in, and his demeanor changed, stare intensifying as if he was seeing her for the first time. Something moved in his expression, a dark and malevolent current flowing in his green eyes. Shifting in her seat, she faced him awkwardly, wondering if this was the same murderous expression he had leveled at Jane.

And then, as abruptly as it came, the dangerous mien was gone. His shoulders slumped, he sighed, and looked away, the only expression on his face now faint frustration.

Her sigh echoed his. "Night." She rose and headed for bed, dull and out-of-character misery suddenly sawing at her heart. The problem wasn't Loki's mood swings, but rather her conversation with Natasha, which refused to stay buried.

She had to hand it to Natasha. Her warning had been ten times more effective than the expected "He's evil incarnate, blah-blah-blah" speech. Darcy's own joking comment to Loki about a supervillain army unintentionally echoed Natasha's statement.

On reflection, Darcy realized that SHIELD no doubt suspected (or knew) that there were worse things in the universe than one petulant magical being with Daddy issues. And when some bigger bad showed up, it would be best to have all of Asgard, including the adopted son with mental health issues, on their side.

Admittedly, she liked the idea of seeing him in a more heroic light, but she didn't want him forced into the role. Because, barring acts of genocide, fratricide, patricide and other atrocities (like dyeing her laundry green), she thought Loki should be Loki. Besides, if SHIELD thought they could craft a tractable and predictable God of Mischief, they'd soon find their plans going up in mushroom cloud of green smoke.

But most importantly, if she was the leverage that SHIELD plied against him, he would come to resent, maybe hate her, and she couldn't bear that.

He joined her not long after she'd settled into bed. Snug against his side, her usual sexy thoughts were supplanted by the new, unpleasant reality. She had never thought too deeply about the consequences of involving herself with him, assuming the only issue would be other peoples' perceptions, which she could brush off easily enough. Darker complications, that she could be a tool used against him, had never occurred to her.

He had to know, didn't he? A cunning mind like his had to recognize that any relationships, platonic of otherwise, could be exploited by his enemies. With the weight of his arm on her, his presence surrounding her, she felt so safe, but what if it was all part of an elaborate game? What if he was giving SHIELD an advantage, through her, to distract them from some other devious plan?

Her mind raced with a paranoia and insecurity that she hadn't felt in years and she cursed Natasha, all the while wondering if the agent hadn't given her the gift of truth.

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 17 of 39

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