Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 23 of 39

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Monday morning announced itself with the blat of trumpets and wheeze of an accordion, as Darcy's clock radio, set to a mariachi station, made the regularly scheduled racket. Awoken from a dream that seemed strikingly like a version of the nightmare, Darcy blinked at the ceiling while the singer wailed about losing his woman, his dog and his truck. (Darcy had taken three years of Spanish in high school, but her grasp of the language didn't extend beyond a mastery of expletives. She knew, however, that mariachi music was pretty much country music set to a polka beat and sung in Spanish.)

With a groan, she sat up and swatted the off button on the radio. Loki, impervious to noise, including south-of-the-border heartbreak, snoozed on. She yawned, eyes on the mechanical stick insect sitting on the lampshade and tried to piece together the fragments of the dream before they faded in the morning sun.

The trailer house lay before her, black and white in the darkness. She was returning from a date, or shopping, or a date. She didn't know which because she was someone else watching her return, seeing herself from another consciousness, and this made perfect sense because it was a dream.

Through this other mind, she saw herself approach the steps and then stop as a body appeared on the porch. Prince Loki of Asgard, regal in death, dressed in various shades of green leather trimmed in gold, formal attire save for the absence of his helm.

This other self watched dispassionately as she stumbled up the stairs, blood on her knees, and pulled Loki's head into her lap, weeping. Then she wasn't Darcy, but instead a young woman with dusky skin and hair the color of pale sunlight. She cradled the head of a man whose face was ruined, and Darcy-not-Darcy's attention fell on the sword at his side and the distinctive black sigil carved into the center of weapon's guard. It was a fine weapon, dwarven made, a gift from her-his father.

The woman lifted her face skyward, her eyes black in the night, but in the daylight, they were blue, the same as Darcy's. The expression on her face was beyond grief, beyond all emotion, abject desolation. It tore at Darcy and the other person's soul because she understood this loss, and because she was the cause.

Seamlessly, in the manner of a dream, the woman on the porch now wore glasses and her long brown hair fell in waves toward the sharp-edged features of Loki. And then it was the fair-haired woman and dead warrior with the burned face.

And each time the faces changed, the watcher shook his head, guilt and grief clenching sharp-nailed fingers into his heart, because he knew what came next, the trek up the hill, the tree, the rope. It never changed, but the watcher and Darcy by default, tried to call out, but in dreams you can never really yell.

"Not dead," they protested, "Not dead. Not dead."

Writing the dream down would have been more effective than committing it to memory, but that would have required either finding a pad and paper, or maybe firing up her laptop. At this hour of the morning the only thing worth that much effort was sex. Given her partner's current vegetative state - she poked his eyeball, getting no more than a feeble wince in response - that left only one other option. A quick bike ride to keep her best features, thighs, looking great.

She left the house through the side door in the utility room because there was no space on that short flight of steps for a dead body, frozen or otherwise. The sky was postcard blue and the desert vegetation, even the dried out, brown tumbleweeds, cast in gold tones by the sunlight. Bic followed her out, but climbed atop the stairs' handrail to warm in the morning sun.

"Watch out for roadrunners," she warned, although any bird stupid enough to tangle with the reptile would end up cooked, extra crispy. At the entrance to Loki's lair, she paused, squinting into the dark interior, before heading in to get her bike. Despite the similarity to the nightmare, this last dream had been less scary and more depressing.

She was in fact, grateful for the sun on her face and the cheerful blue sky because a strong shot of daylight was the only thing that could cure the sadness left by the dream. Stopping at the Richards's front gate, she gave Rocket and Meteor distracted neck scratches, her thoughts too caught up in the mystery of her subconscious.

Had that been another psychic message from the killer or something concocted by her own brain? She had won the trifecta of nightmare repellent: mischief-making immortal in her bed, metal stick insect on the lampshade, and Loki's total house protection mojo barrier plugged into the wall socket. During the week Loki was out of town, the insect alone had been enough to keep away the horribly dream.

Darcy squinted into the sun, remembering with depressing ease the misery of her dream alter ego as he - it was a he - watched her and the mystery woman mourn the death of their men. Enveloped in this other person's consciousness, Darcy had experience the foreign taste of someone else's pain, and it had felt utterly real.

But maybe it was just her subconscious's way of dealing with the fear that her favorite supervillain would leave Puente Antiguo for someplace with a better class of breakable infrastructure. Closing her fingers on the brake levers to pause at an intersection, Darcy reminded herself that she had spent the first two decades of life doing quite well without Loki. Before that fateful night in the desert when Thor dropped out of the sky, to Darcy, Norse gods had been on par with the tooth fairy, imaginary and the kind of thing cooked up by hallucinating Vikings who'd drunk too much seawater. She stood up on the bicycle pedals, accelerating through the cross street, and briefly pondered the possibility that the tooth fairy might be real. If so, she was a cheap-ass kind of fairy. A quarter per tooth? Rip-off.

By the time she made it home, the decision had been made. The dream was just an embarrassing admission of Darcy's insecurities, and nothing that she needed to share with Loki.


A while later, Darcy sat at the table eating cereal. She beamed at Thor when he strolled into the kitchen. It was so good to be back in the regular routine.

"Hey, big guy. I'll give you ten bucks if you wake up your brother."

Without hesitation, Thor responded, "Not for all the gold in the nine realms."

"Coward," she teased, wondering immediately if she'd made a mistake when he paused, a box of Pop-Tarts in hand, angry indignation flickering in his blue eyes.

That quickly gave way to amusement. "Also, 'craven,' and 'chicken-hearted,'" he agreed. "He is yours now, Lady Darcy. Many happy morns to you."

Taking a page from her mom's favorite movie, Say Anything, she stood by her bed, clock radio held like a boom box over her head, and switched it on full blast. Only instead of Peter Gabriel, a mariachi band's oompas reverberated in the small room. Loki's eyelids fluttered and he made a vague hand gesture in her direction. The fire alarms squeaked and then went off. Jane's and Thor's unhappy protest of "Loki!" followed. He sighed and opened his eyes. With a second wave of his hand the alarms and radio were silenced.

Darcy set the radio on the nightstand and perched on the edge of the bed, just far enough away to avoid touching him. "Mortals shouldn't drink and drive and Loki shouldn't make magic in the morning."

"Once I could manage such a rudimentary spell in my sleep." The words were bitter, but his tone and demeanor vaguely amused. "Given a choice, by the way, I prefer suffocation," he said, referring to her previous method of waking him. "It embodies so much more of the personal touch."

"Get up." Trying to think unsexy thoughts, she grabbed his hand and pulled. "You've got scientific frontiers to cross and we've got a mystery to solve." Her hand slipped a little in his, scuffing the burn on her hand.

Seeing her wince, he sat up and examined her hand. "The little beast did this."

"Defending me from you," she reminded.

He wrapped his other hand around her wrist, his eyes growing distant. She cocked her head questioningly as he lapsed into silence. "What...? Ow!" The burn started to sting like someone had rubbed it with alcohol. Instinctively, she tried to pull away, but was trapped in his strong grip. "Let go."

He did and she jerked backward, eyes on her finger. "Wow." She poked a finger at the remaining bits of blistered skin and the pink, tender but healed skin beneath.

"I would not dare do that with anything other than a minor wound," he said.

"Why not?"

"Because mortal flesh responds poorly to accelerated healing. All healing requires energy, and with a more significant injury, the human body responds to magical attempts to hasten healing by taking energy from surrounding flesh. The result is often more lethal than the initial wound. I don't know how to circumvent the problem." He met her eyes. "I never put much thought into the matter...before."

He looked away and changed the subject, abruptly. "There were traces of magic on the file you found in Edwards's shop, correct?" She nodded and he smiled slyly and said, "You have a gift for getting what you want from SHIELD, including from the indomitable director."


Darcy waited until nine o'clock before she made the call, assuming Fury might be more amenable to her request if he'd had time for a cup of coffee and a jelly doughnut or whatever directors of super secret security agencies had for breakfast. Picking up the phone, she hit the pound key and the number two (number one being Sean's number). It rang four times before Cora Chen, Nick Fury's secretary, picked up.

"Hi, Cora!" Darcy said cheerfully.

"Ms. Lewis."

"How're you doing?" The small talk was pointless, but then, so was asking for Fury. Darcy already knew the answer she'd get to that request.

"Very well, thank you. And yourself?" said Cora, also knowing what was coming next, but following their usual script.

"Better than an Oreo and a big glass of cold milk. Is the Director in? I need to ask him for a solid."

"Director Fury is out of state on urgent business."

"He's always out of town when it's me on the phone," observed Darcy. "Thanks to me, he's racking up some serious frequent flyer miles."

"Would you like to leave a message?"

"Tell him that Loki and I want to see the rose from the Max's apartment and the file that Sean and I found at Edwards's shop."

"Director Fury isn't going to agree to that," said Cora. Darcy had a suspicion that she was on speaker phone and Fury was standing before Cora's desk, mouthing responses to his secretary.

"Why not?"

"The Director is a busy man-"

"Busy? Doing what? Is there a big sale on eye patches going on somewhere? Maybe he should get a brown one, that like, matches his skin tone and paint an eyeball on it."

There was a long pause and Darcy was sure she could feel Fury's ferocious mono-glare through the phone. "I will have to get authorization, but I may be able to arrange something," Cora said crisply.

"I knew you'd come through, Cora. Girl power, right?"

Cora's sigh seemed to be echoed by another.


A three-man security detail arrived around three o'clock, announced by a chime as the Fish Bowl's door opened. Darcy didn't recognize two of the guards, both male, but one was the young hotshot who subbed for Pam on Floor One and who delighted in hassling Darcy for several forms of ID. "We're hear to escort you," he said to her, "and him," he gestured at Loki with his eyes, "to view some secured evidence."

Thor, who was making another attempt at "useful" by organizing graphs on the table, rose to accompany them. "Not you," said the guard rudely, "just those two."

"You don't get one without the other," said Darcy.

Thor strode toward the door, irritation evident, but at that point an unlikely ally stepped forward. Deloris, their floor's guard, had followed the men to the door. "Let it go, Reynolds," she said. "You know the two can't be separated."

"I have orders to-"

"To let Ms. Lewis and Loki examine evidence connected to the murders of Sandoval and Valenzuela." She scowled coldly at Loki. "After everything he's done, the least he can do is find the person who killed Max and Andy. He can't do that unless Thor goes along."

Reynolds tried to stare down Deloris, but she had a few inches on him and, as a woman in a male-dominated profession, possibly years of experience deflecting bullshit from better men than him.

As Darcy, Loki, Thor and Jane took the lift to Floor Three, Darcy made a note to bring Deloris extra chocolate from the break room.


They marched down the long hallway in their usual configuration, Jane and Thor, with Jane just slightly ahead, then Loki a few paces back and Darcy behind him like a shadow.

Her mind went back several months to the reason why she always followed at his heels. It was the first day that Thor and Loki had accompanied her and Jane to work. The four had all just gotten out of Jane's SUV, where they were met by the overeager guards who would escort them into the building.

Now, months later, SHIELD's security detail remained devout Loki haters - with admittedly good reason - but most, worn down by his sullen indifference, had lost their jumped-up angry edge in his presence. But on that first day, the guards, probably harboring some heroic fantasy of being the one to put-down Asgard's very bad dog, were giddy with trigger-happy energy.

Loki, no doubt accustomed to suspicion even before his recent destructive shenanigans, was unbothered. His brother, however, wasn't amused. Squealing, panty-throwing, Asgardian fangirls probably mobbed Thor everywhere he went back home, and he obviously had grown tired of the un-welcome wagon here on Midgard. He glowered at the guards, who glared back. Darcy took a cautious breath, certain she was about to suffocate on all the testosterone in the air.

Jane had led the way inside with Thor positioning himself at her side, but just a shade behind, his stance protective, no doubt in response to the guards' unfriendly body language. Darcy had started to follow, but her shoe scuffed the weirdly uneven ground. She stopped, glanced at the smooth concrete, and dropped a sardonic bow at Loki who was behind her, his position anything but protective. Gesturing ahead, she said, "After you, your royal heinous."

At home, Darcy had already gotten used to the ground moving, literally, when Loki was around. His mischief had been subtle, changing the surface of the carpet just enough to make her shuffle like she hadn't mastered walking, not enough to send her sprawling, but she wouldn't put it past him to make her do a face-plant on the hard concrete.

He walked past her, seeming unaware of her presence, and keeping several paces behind Thor, which, at the time, Darcy assumed was his way of maintaining as much distance between himself and his brother as possible.

Today, she eyed his back, thinking that in retrospect, his pace had always matched hers, with him just a couple steps ahead, even when she was carrying a stack of books or heavy equipment and moving painfully slow. Of course, he never offered to help or acknowledged her presence, but he had always managed to be in her vicinity. Had he liked her a little even then, back when their communication was limited to snark and green laundry? I'm reading too much into it, she thought just as he stopped and looked at her.

He had halted because Darcy, unable to think and walk at the same time, had come to a dead stop in the hallway. "The connection between my brain and feet broke," she explained.

He considered her for a couple of heartbeats, and then lifted his arm, made a deliberate fist and bonked her lightly atop her head, as if she were a broken television. "Better?" he asked, smirking. "Or should we employ Mjölnir?"

She took a step and then another. "No hammer of the gods, I'm cool." He shifted to the side, and put a hand on her back, pushing her ahead of him. A few steps later, the industrial linoleum under her feet rippled. She threw him an annoyed glance and kept walking, trusting that he wouldn't actually trip her and if he did, he'd catch her before she fell.


They were escorted to a room that was clearly used for interrogations. The top half of one wall was made of very dark, one-way glass, with Darcy and friends being on blind side. Darcy waved at the glass wall and whoever was on the other side. A simple, gray, metal table centered the room. On its surface lay the rose in plastic and the file folder. Two matching chairs sat on opposite sides of the table. The four arranged themselves around the table in pairs, Darcy and Loki on one side, Thor and Jane on the other.

Darcy stared down at the evidence on the table and then at the window. "So we're supposed to interrogate the rose and the file?" She elbowed Loki. "I'll be the good cop, you're the bad."

"Too obvious," said Loki, playing along. "I'll be the good cop."

Thor brightened and then scowled dramatically at the evidence on the table. "They are not talking," he said. "Perhaps they need stronger persuasion." He gave Darcy a sly smile, clearly pleased to have understood a Midgard cultural reference. All those nights watching crime shows with Jane had paid off. Darcy caught Loki darting an amused glance at his brother.

Jane crossed her arms over her chest. "My clients have nothing to say until I speak with them alone, alone," she said, going into plucky public defender mode. "And did you clowns even bother to read them their Miranda rights?"

Darcy grinned at the window again. If Fury was back there, a little plume of steam was probably emanating from his shiny brown scalp.

The plastic on the rose crackled as Loki picked it up. Darcy watched him, a little sidetracked by the way his elegant hand held the stem, her skin remembering the touch of his fingertips. She swallowed hard and glanced down at the file folder, hoping her face hadn't revealed too much to the unseen watcher. Setting the rose down, he picked up the folder and flipped through its contents, stopping on the architectural drawing where the Fish Bowl had been circled.

With a flick of his wrist, he shut the file and set it back on the table. He considered the rose, expressionless, and then stepped back, putting his hands on Darcy's shoulders and moving her slightly before him. "Pick up the rose," he said.

Her eyes flicked to the window, at Loki and hers murky reflection, him towering behind her, the pale oval of her face against his dark clothing. She did what he asked and he leaned forward, reaching to wrap his hand around her wrist. The edges of leather pressed through the back of her shirt along with a sudden powerful self consciousness. Had he ever stood this close to her in the building? Could Fury or whoever watched tell that rumor was now truth, that she and Loki were lovers? Did she care? Did he? She glanced back and up at Loki, whose cold expression gave nothing away.

Focus. She rubbed her fingers on the plastic, using the noise to push away the awkward awareness of Loki's hand on her wrist, his body touching hers. The combination of his magic and the stranger's tingled in her fingertips and up her arm. She took hold of the stem with her other hand so she could explore the rose with the other. The flower practically sang with magic. After she'd examined the rose, she picked up the folder. As before, the drawings and documents within meant little to her. Running her fingers over the page with the Fish Bowl, she encountered no hint of magic. The only electrical vibration of power she felt was on the outside of the folder.

After she set the file back down, he let her wrist go and shifted to stand at her side, facing her. "What did you feel?" he asked.

Across the table, Jane and Thor watched her and Darcy was struck by the similarity in Thor and Loki's body language. Of course, the two were as different as night and day. Thor, blond and broad shouldered, his blocky frame softened incongruously by the curves of powerful muscle; Loki, lanky, all sharp edges and somehow still graceful. But "brother" was a hard habit to quit and both men studied her, heads cocked at the same angle, eyebrows lifted to the same degree, mouths drawing an identical line on their faces.

Loki sat on the table by the rose, his attention still on Darcy, like a professor waiting for the right answer. A suggestion of insecurity burned in her stomach, and then she remembered that she always felt this way, felt the obligation to be the pretty, ditzy airhead, right before the correct response arrived on her lips.

"That's not one of your mother's roses," she stated, her words directed at Thor, knowing that even the m-word might make Loki snarl a denial about family relations. "It's not even from Asgard. The killer probably bought it from the local florist." Her fingers touched the end of the stem. "The magic started here, and moved up," she ran her index finger over the smooth, thorn-free surface under plastic, her mind looking for the right analogy, "like a fire, changing. On the flower, it burned really hot, making the rose look like one of Frigga's."

"Is this true?" Thor looked at Loki for confirmation. Loki ignored him and said to Darcy, "And the documents?"

"The magic there is cold." Tapping her finger on the rose, she added, "If the magic on the rose is like a fire, then the stuff on the file folder is just a smudge of charcoal." She met his eyes, realization setting in. "Somebody, the killer, I guess, planted magic on the file."

Loki gave the window a supercilious look. He stood and started for the door, clearly indicating that whatever else could be said, wasn't going to be uttered under the watchful eye of SHIELD. Darcy frowned at his back because, first, it was a smarter impulse than ogling his ass, and second, because she was mildly annoyed. It was totally cool to be right about the magic on the evidence - he would have contradicted her if she were wrong. But he could have just as easily stated the same conclusion without having Darcy put on a show for Fury or whoever was behind the window. So what was the point of all that?

One thing was clear to Darcy. Someone had known that Sean and Darcy would be going out to poke around Edwards's shop that night. That person had probably seen to it that the door would be unlocked. The killer must have also known about Edwards's lethal booby trap and probably expected Sean and Darcy to exit the building in tiny, charred pieces, scattered to the wind with smoke.

Sean was currently down in Albuquerque at a conference for federal accountants and comptrollers, which, in his words was "a bunch of bureaucrats whining hypocritically about the bureaucracy that made their jobs possible." Earlier that morning she'd asked if he could dig up any background info on Arnold King. He must have taken time between the whining to find something, since a short stack of papers was waiting on her desk when she returned to the Fish Bowl.

She showed it to Loki, who wrote, "Later, in the vehicle," on a corner of the top sheet. The message was clear. The killer was using SHIELD's surveillance to watch them.


The security screeners took an oddly low-tech approach to policing what sort of data and information left the building. They let Jane come and go with an iPad and laptop, but checked every scrap of paperwork. Probably because SHIELD had other ways to monitor data on electronic devices. Knowing this, Darcy had given Arnold King's background report to Loki assuming that even SHIELD's best scanning technology wasn't a match for the sneaky immortal's ability to hide stuff in his clothing.

A half mile away from the facility, Loki disabled any listening devices in the SUV and handed Darcy the background check papers. She summarized what they contained.

"Arnold King grew up on a cattle ranch outside of Tucumcari, New Mexico. Looks like he tried to follow the family tradition by going to New Mexico State University to study Animal Husbandry. He bailed on that after a year and transferred to UNM where he majored in business administration. That must be where he met his wife, Ruth Espinosa. I guess he wasn't the school type, because he quit UNM after a semester and worked various sales jobs for a few years.

"Besides a speeding ticket and one citation for fishing without a license, he's a law abiding citizen. He and Ruth have two daughters, Janet, who's sixteen, and Taylor, fourteen. They bought the ranch in Puente Antiguo five years ago. The ranch doesn't bring in much money, but they're not bankrupt or anything. Ruth brings home the bacon. She works as a benefits administrator for Los Alamos National Labs and her official address is listed as an apartment in Los Alamos.

"SHIELD's in-house report says there's no evidence of marital problems. Ruth lives in Los Alamos most of the week to avoid the commute from hell and so the girls can attend Los Alamos High School. She was on vacation last week, otherwise, Arnold's corpse might not have been found until the weekend."

"Perhaps she won't be home tonight," observed Loki.

"Her husband just died. She probably won't go into work this week." Darcy pondered this for a moment. "Of course, she might stay in Los Alamos instead of sticking around the place where her husband died."

"Can you use magic to hide us?" Jane asked Loki.

"What?" said Thor. "Sneak about? Like thieves in the night? That would be..."

Don't say dishonorable, don't say dishonorable, thought Darcy, glancing at Loki.

Fortunately, Thor's brain sprinted and caught up with his mouth. "Brilliant!" he said. "And fun!"

Loki's expression indicated he knew what Thor almost said, but he refrained from any comment on that matter. "No. I say we go out to King's home and knock on the door. If no one is home, we investigated the grounds. If someone is there, we speak with them and then investigate the grounds."

"What if," Darcy glanced down at the papers to refresh her memory, "Ruth is home and she knows who I am?"

"Have you ever met the woman?" asked Loki.


"Then, if she's ever seen you at all, it was around town, possibly at a distance. In a different context, at night with your hair pulled back, no glasses, and in the company of Thor, Jane and I, she isn't likely to make the connection."

"This will be a fine adventure," said Thor confidently.


Inkblot was nowhere in sight when they go home, which was probably why a fat green grasshopper sat undisturbed on the top step of the porch. Spotting the insect, Bic sped over and attacked even though the bug was nearly as big as she was. With a rasping, clicking protest, the grasshopper flew awkwardly to a nearby sagebrush, lizard in hot pursuit. The bug landed high in the bush and Bic circled in the sand below.

Thor laughed at the lizard's antics and stomped up the stairs with Jane. Darcy slowed down. "Hang on," she said, tugging at Loki's sleeve. Thor glanced back at them and then continued into the house, the door latch clicking shut behind him.

Darcy answered Loki's quizzical look with silence. He shrugged and sat on the middle stair, grinned impishly up at her. "Is this the point where I ask what is wrong and you say, 'Nothing'?"

"Nope." She shook her head. "I'll tell you exactly what's wrong. Back in the interrogation room, me performing like your trained monkey. What the fuck?"

He leaned his elbows on his knees and smirked. "The vision in my left eye is nearly restored, but I still don't see the problem."

"Right. Odin may have scrambled your brain like yesterday's breakfast, but you're still too smart to play dumb."

The mention of Odin hardened his features, ire burning in his eyes, but if there was one thing she knew by now, it was that she could get away with that kind of statement. "So too are you," he retorted.


"It's time you stopped hiding behind your lovely face," he raked his eyes down her body, "and other assets."

"I don't--" She considered her words. "Maybe I do. So what? There's power in being underestimated."

A slight smile toyed with his mouth and then fled. "True. But SHIELD and others aren't merely underestimating your intelligence, they are denying its existence entirely."

She shrugged. "My smarts are like Bigfoot."

"If I recall correctly, Bigfoot does exist." He dismissed her question with an arrogant shake of his head. "You could wield more influence if you are seen as more than my associate."

"Not associate, sidekick."

"Associate. Sidekicks too often meet an unpleasant end in the interest of generating a sense of danger in the plot."

"Or to give the hero a reason to get off his ass and get his revenge on." She grinned and joked, "Will you avenge me, Loki?"

He stared up at her, green eyes ablaze with undecipherable emotion; even seated, his bearing emanated so much inhuman power that she took a step back. For the most part, she had lost the ability to fear him, but in that moment she had the chilling sense that she had done something very wrong. Oddly, the force she felt lacked real menace, which made it all the more frightening, because it left her without the smart impulse to run like hell. Instead she felt like a kite in March gale, desperate to escape to the freedom of the sky, but bound by a string made from things unspoken in his intense stare.

The muscles in his neck tensed as he pulled his gaze away from her. "I am not a hero. I am Loki and if you are to be my partner in crime, you can't keep playing the fool."

Still unbalance by what just happened, she fumbled around her emotions and found her earlier irritation. "So this is about you? You're ashamed of me? I thought you didn't give a fuck what people thought?"

"I don't-" A dark grin took over his face, his mood doing another capricious shift. "Some of my recent adventures may have been driven in part by a need to manipulate others' perceptions of me," he conceded.

"Next time, hire a PR agent," she said, annoyed by his flippancy. "It'll be cheaper and lot less lethal to us mortals."

He held a hand out toward her. A hint of his previous intensity still smoldered under humor in his eyes and she hesitated. Against her better judgment, she took his hand. Eyes never leaving hers, he kissed her hand, a self-satisfied smile on his lips.

She sighed. Loki could tell when she was lying, but for some reason, he didn't seem to read her as well as he did other people. But right then, with him looking up at her like a fairy tale prince, he owned her and he knew it. Suddenly uneasy, she gave his hand a squeeze, freed hers from his, and joined him on the step.

An SUV drove along the road, red, not black and covered in political bumper stickers, many from elections long past. They watched until it moved out of sight and then Loki spoke. "The opinions of mortals are of no import to me. I need neither their esteem nor approval." Darcy decided not point out that she was mortal. "For months, I have listened to what Fury's lackeys had said about you. At the onset, their mutterings were inconsequential, random bits of information about the place where I find myself trapped.

"Then it became evident that the image conjured by gossip did not match the woman who ran this household, manipulated Fury, and who would become my friend." Under the sagebrush, Bic made a wild leap at the grasshopper and missed. A tiny flame flashed and the gray-green leaves in a branch above the lizard began to blacken. Loki waved his hand and the fire died. "I will not have those fools speaking of you in such a manner."

Darcy didn't like the sound of that. "The only joy some of those bed wetters have is making up porn-y stories about the research assistant and the god. Take that away and they'll realize the only thing warming their bed is their own pee."

"This does not bother you." The sentence wasn't quite a question or a statement.

"If I let it bother me, I'd be giving them control over me." He looked at her, mild admiration on his face, which made her stupidly happy. And reckless. So much that the next question blurted from her mouth. "It doesn't bother you at all? Knowing people died, people like me, in New York and elsewhere because of you?"

A maelstrom of emotion raged in his eyes, fueled mostly by anger and scorn. The inhuman aspect of his face returned, giving the hard perfection of his face a terrible beauty. She could tell he was about to do the equivalent of a Loki flounce, exit stage right in a swirl of magic.

Heated by the late afternoon sun, the leather under her fingers was warm when she touched his arm. "How about you don't disappear in a green plume of smoke like a genie looking for his bottle, and talk to me." The expected you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do glower was leveled her way. She met his glower and raised with an unflinching stare.

He folded, literally, and slumped forward, face in his hands. "You are so infuriating."

"Is that better or worse than unnerving?"

He sat up. "Better, I think. I find anger...comforting."

"Comfort? Maybe instead of anger you just need a stuffed animal." His eyes traveled over her body and she shrugged. "Dude, if it'll keep you from unleashing aliens of mass destruction on unsuspecting cities, I'll totally be your teddy bear."

"It might," he said, looking at his hands. Because they were one of his best assets, she studied them too, waiting. "You expect me to tell you that I feel guilt for the deaths I've caused, that the weight of responsibility bears heavy on my shoulders."

Because she love the shape, the way slim hand fanned out to clever fingers, she took his hand in hers. "I know you really do see mortals as insects." She moved his index finger, bending it at the knuckle, imagining blue skin underneath. "Thor's not much better." Loki looked at her, surprised. "He cares about Jane, and the Avengers are his substitute Warriors Three and Sif. But I believe he thinks the rest of us are like an endangered species he's obligated to protect, like pandas."

"Pandas that breed like rabbits," said Loki.

She elbowed him in the ribs, hard. "He doesn't want to squish us, but his concern is kind of patronizing, individually we aren't worth that much to him."

"He's the crown prince of Asgard. In truth, he holds himself above even the majority of his own people. Like Odin, he speaks of obligation and honor to the realm, but the people are an abstraction." Darcy nodded, suspecting that Loki, also a prince, felt the same way. "That is the way of all elite in any of the realms. Even here on Midgard, the wealthy view themselves as far more than the rabble."

Darcy turned his hand over and traced the lines, wondering what a carnival palm reader would make of them. "Thor's commanded armies," she said. "I guess emotional distancing goes with the territory when you're sending soldiers off to be fried by dragons." Such a beautiful hand, so deceptively human.

"Is that it?," she asked. "The people who died because of you, they were just...abstractions?"

"Yes." His admission was horrible, but the look on his face stopped her from saying so. His eyes took her in, his implacable mask fallen away and the person beneath terribly young and confused. "Everything, since that moment when I saw my true nature, laid bare by a cold hand," a muscle in his cheek twitched with anger, but his expression remained lost, "has been framed in abstraction.

"Millennia of memories scattered, but my recent history lies exposed like bleached bones on the sands of my mind. The events of New York are the most vivid. I have never felt so much and been so empty." Darcy froze, as if her stillness might keep him talking. "Every detail, the smallest moments are recorded in my mind's eye, the sounds, smells, the taste of pain and smoke," his eyelids lowered and he licked his lips, "the glory of a city crushed beneath my army and the sweet ecstasy of magic toiling in my blood, all are rendered in exquisite clarity in my memory. And yet every perfectly preserved remembrance feels as though it is not mine and simultaneously can belong to no one else. The experience plays itself again and again with the illogical sense of a dream. A nightmare."

"The nightmares you have when you sleep alone?" she asked.

As she watched, the cold mask returned to his face. "Yes," he said, a trace of the resentment from the previous night on his face. "The nightmares that you inexplicably banish." He looked away. "They are mine and I have no right to escape them."

"Probably not," she said, "but maybe I have a right to sleep next to the guy I like a lot."

"Silly girl," he said, emotions warring on his face. "Silly, smart, infuriating girl, I cannot tell you what you want to hear, that I feel genuine shame for what I've done.

"What I feel," he wrenched his hand from her, leaning over his knees again, "isn't quite conscience, it is indescribable." Bic, bored with the grasshopper, slithered up to the porch and looked up at her creator. Loki turned to Darcy. "I have seen space in a manner that Jane's formulas cannot began to describe, been witness to fate's infinite possibilities and the alternate histories therein." He touched her chin and pulled away as if burned. "And I know that in some permutations, you are in New York or too close to Thor when I strike him down in Puente Antiguo, and I am the end of you before we ever meet.

"I cannot tell you what you want to hear," he said, voice thick with emotion, "but I can say that you are not an abstraction." Bic, perhaps sensing the dark mood, started to do her spinney little dance, tail scribing circles in the sand at the foot of the stairs.

He watched the little animal's performance, the rest of his emotionless mask closing off his face like a stage curtain. Everything about him now was like the Loki she'd first met, walled off from everyone, not a hint of vulnerability coming from his haughty exterior.

Moving her gaze from him, she looked around the rustic little neighborhood, where the many abstractions went about their lives. At her side, she felt Loki shift his weight, preparing to rise and without looking she grasped his arm firmly. She knew what he was thinking. That she would reject him now. And, honestly, the thought crossed her mind.

That thought was joined by the ugly truth that most of the planet's human beings were abstractions to Darcy, too. She wasn't intentionally callous. She knew that every minute of the day, horrible things were happening to people somewhere. The news media only depicted a fraction of the misery in the world. But if she let herself think too much about it, she would be devoured by an overwhelming sense of helplessness and grief in the face of so much pain.

She didn't even want to think about the guilt she'd feel if she actually killed someone. Thor and Loki, however, had been going from one violent adventure to another long before the events in Puente Antiguo and New York, long before there even was a New York. Thor's stories of battle were shiny, clean, sanitized, but Darcy knew enough about her own planet's history to know that war was blood, shit and collateral damage.

It didn't excuse anything Loki had done, but she could see why the immortal could completely detach himself from the death and destruction caused by his glorious purposes. To Loki, that mindset was probably an old habit, and frankly, given his mental instability, the only way he hung onto his remaining sanity.

She let go of his arm, wrapped her own around his back and snuggled tight to his side. As teddy bears went, she wasn't that cuddly, probably more like Mark Wahlberg's raunchy pal in the movie Ted.

"You're really going to do this?" she said, changing the subject. "Come with me out to the Kings' house?"

"Of course." He smirked. "Mrs. King has just lost her spouse. Someone must to keep you from blowing up the unfortunate woman's home."

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 23 of 39

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