Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 25 of 39

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Darcy stared, mesmerized by the dark tunnel of the gun barrel, her mind going to the Taser in her backpack and then realizing the futility of bringing a Taser to a gunfight. These thoughts went through her head in the span of less than a second before her view of the shotgun was blocked by Loki's back.

"We mean no harm," said Thor, who had moved to shield Jane. He held one hand up, the other surreptitiously holding Mjölnir out of sight. Jane, however, rendered his chivalry pointless by surprising everyone and taking the initiative, probably because she was afraid of what Loki might do.

"Hi, Mrs. King." She slipped out behind Thor, holding up her SHIELD ID. "My name's Jane Foster and I work for SHIELD. I think you may have spoken with some of our agents a few days ago?"

The ID didn't exactly resemble a badge, but it had bar codes on the bottom, a watermark behind Jane's information and photo, and gave the impression of being the kind of thing that belonged to people who were doing something official for the government. Darcy, peeking out from behind Loki, could see that Jane's hand was shaking slightly, a reasonable reaction to being one twitchy trigger-finger from a face full of buckshot.

"Maybe," said Ruth, squinting at the ID, eyes darting back toward Thor and Loki. Darcy considered showing her ID, and then decided it would be best not to call attention to herself. Besides, she knew Jane had just -- Snap! -- broken a huge rule by admitting that SHIELD existed. Jane, whose big brain could deliver a way to build sparkly rainbow bridge in SHIELD's backyard, probably wouldn't get more than stern lecture for the infraction. But if Darcy -- already an annoying thorn in Nick Fury's side -- also started throwing around the S-word, she'd probably end up in a jail cell with no chance of conjugal visits from her favorite supervillain.

"We, um," Jane glanced back pointedly at the stacked hay, "got a call that there had been a strange energy reading at your property. When we got here, we found this." Jane stepped out of way, letting the woman see the damage. Ruth eyed the four warily. She stood about Darcy's height; her black hair, speckled with gray, was pulled back in a single French braid. According to the background check, Ruth was forty-eight, but she looked fit and trim in jeans and a blue blouse. Sidling past Jane, she walked deeper into the barn.

"What the hell?" Confronted with the destroyed hay bales, Ruth's aim wavered from the four, much to Darcy's relief. She had no doubt that Loki would protect her, but the matter of "how," was a little worrisome.

"Several of the hay bales have exploded. Have you ever seen anything like this before, Mrs. King?" said Jane, who was starting to sound more secure in her role as secret agent.

"No." The woman sounded tired and defeated, and guilt gnawed at Darcy for making her life more complicated. Mrs. King shifted the shotgun so that its barrel rested against her shoulder, dangerous end threatening the roof. "You're with that outfit south of here, out in the desert, Puente Antiguo's own Area 51."

Right down to the aliens, thought Darcy, moving to stand next to her personal close encounter. Jane nodded and said, "Yes. I understand you must be tired of questions, but we were hoping you could answer just a few more."

Ruth's dark brown eyes narrowed. "I told your people everything I know, which is really jack shit, because," she blinked rapidly, voice breaking, "what the hell do they expect me to know about something like this?"

Jane's shoulders slumped, as she struggled with what to say next to the grieving woman. Loki took a step forward. "Nothing, Mrs. King," he said, soothingly. "We don't expect you to know anything about the manner of your husband's death."

Ruth looked up at Loki, as if noticing him for the first time. In the flickering light of the fluorescent bulbs, his thin handsome face had an unearthly cast, made paler by the contrast from his ink black hair, but that was offset by his disturbingly mild expression. Darcy swayed, dizzied by the sudden arrival of this un-Loki - earnest, young, without a trace of the emotional wear and tear of centuries of life. She turned away, staring at the random splatter of greenish-yellow hay on the concrete floor, deciding that she preferred the honesty of embittered, grumpy Loki.

"The problem is, SHIELD knows very little about the murderer's methods, either." A hint of derision shaded Loki's pronunciation of "SHIELD" but Darcy doubted Ruth noticed. Loki glanced right and left and then leaned slightly toward her. "The truth is, there have been two similar murders, the first two victims were guards at the facility. I and my colleagues," he indicated the other three, "believe the perpetrator is one of ours."

Ruth's fingers absently tapped the gun's wooden stock, an idea coming to light in her eyes. "The two people Arne saw leaving Pete's shop. Arne thought they were employed by your people, but the agents who interviewed me said they weren't." She frowned. "That was a lie, wasn't it? Those two did shoot Mark."

Darcy felt her face burning and she lowered her head, studying the floor, hoping Ruth hadn't seen the photos on Arne's phone.

"They did lie to you," said Loki. Darcy shot him a startled look, noting that he clearly enjoyed casting aspersions on SHIELD's credibility. "The two people your husband saw are SHIELD employees, but," his face was almost beatific in its sincerity, "neither was the cause of Mark King's death."

"Yeah? So what were they doing there?"

"They were friends of the deceased guards and had found a connection between Peter Edwards and the murders. Both are civilian employees with no training in explosives or weapons. Theirs was merely a misguided attempt to solve a murder."

"If it wasn't them, then who? And why," Ruth's voice broke, "is my Arne dead?"

Her stare returning to the floor, Darcy gulped, the woman's pain eating at her belly and stealing her breath.

"We don't know, Mrs. King. There appears to be a link between Peter Edwards and the murderer. If we can establish this connection, we might find your husband's killer." Loki's voice was resonant with velvety comfort, even compassion. Darcy shivered, thinking, This, this is the proof that Loki wasn't in his right mind when he attacked New York. He had to know the effect that he had on mortals, didn't he?

Lifting her gaze to scene before her, she imagined the same scenario playing out thousands of years ago: Thor and Loki standing before grubby, awestruck mortals in a Bronze Age village. Back then, when life expectancies didn't go beyond 40, the princes' charisma would have been magnified by their perfect skin, hair, teeth, and absurd height. Darcy's attention moved to Jane -- Jane, who tolerated Loki mostly because he was the snotty price for playing naked twister with the God of Thunder -- Jane, who was currently staring at Loki in astonished wonder.

For Loki, who'd been charming the IQ points out of humans since the time they'd first stood upright, using an army to conquer Earth was like doing home repair with Mjölnir. She pushed her glasses up her face, noting that Loki's suave persona didn't do much for her and wondering if sexy time with him gave her some kind of immunity to his charisma.

Ruth King, who lacked Jane's antagonism as a buffer against Loki's charming and truthful mendacity, blinked slowly and then nodded. "I have to feed the horses," she said, glancing down at the dogs who had arrayed themselves in a panting heap at her feet. "Then we can go in the house and talk."


Thor, probably recognizing that he wasn't going to be much use as a pretend secret agent, contributed to the mission by helping Ruth feed the horses, carrying a bale of hay and a large coffee can full of grain to a metal feeder in the corral. Mjölnir hung at his waist, but Ruth didn't seem to notice. Instead she watched as the blond prince moved with confident ease around the pushy, thousand pound animals, and observed, "You've worked with horses some, I'd say." Thor nodded politely at the understatement.

While Thor played over-muscled stablehand, Darcy wandered back into the barn and collected the magic detector from where she'd dropped it. Shoving it back in her backpack, she emerged from the barn and followed everyone into the Kings' house.

The Kings' front door opened to a short entryway where coats hung on a rack, waiting for winter. The living room beyond was large, with orange saltillo tiles on the floor. Two scuffed, tan leather sofas made a "V" in front of the television. A small desk with a computer took up a small nook in a corner of the room. An Amado Peña print of two Native American women, depicted with the artist's signature flat profiles, hung on one wall, but the rest of the wall space was taken up by photos, some obviously old, the newer ones being shots of the Kings' two daughters. The girls, Ruth had explained, were still in Los Alamos, but someone had to come home and feed the animals.

"These four need their dinner. Have a seat," Ruth said as she continued toward the kitchen, the dogs following eagerly at her heels. The shotgun was still in her hands, but not threatening anything living. Still feeling a little glum from her failed attempt to show Jane magic, Darcy sank into a couch's leather and pulled her hair back in a ponytail, hoping Loki was right and that Ruth wouldn't recognize her. Lifting a hand to her face, she stopped. Ruth had already seen her with glasses; there was no point in going blind now.

Jane sat next to her, but the men remained standing; Loki wandering around the room snooping and Thor watching him as if he expected his brother to make off with the Kings' silverware. Loki held a framed photo in his hand when Ruth returned. Unabashed, he turned the photo toward Ruth. "Arnold?" he asked.

Glad for her glasses, Darcy could see that the photo showed a man with short, dirty blond hair, dressed in hunting camouflage, hands gripping the antlers of a deer that was now frolicking in the happy no-hunting grounds. He may have resembled the man who had attacked Darcy and Sean in town, but frankly, he also looked like every other generic white male in Field & Stream magazine.

"Yes," said Ruth softly. Turning, she set the gun down against the wall. "That's about four years old. Hunting trip in the Sangre de Cristos." Darcy could see weariness hanging heavy on the woman as she crossed the room and sat on the opposite couch.

Loki set the photo back on the computer desk and then sat on the couch near Jane. Thor remained standing, probably because Loki hadn't left him much room to sit.

Loki leaned forward, elbows on his thighs, posture relaxed and non-threatening. "In the past couple of months, had your husband made any new friends, associates? Anyone unusual or from out of the area?"

Ruth shook her head. "No. No one."

"But you are gone, in Los Alamos, most of the week," observed Loki. "Is it possible--?"

"Yes," she said, snappishly, but Loki didn't react with his usual arrogant indignation, his mien still radiating harmless charm. "Anything is possible. He could have been dating a supermodel behind my back."

Darcy glanced at Arnold's photo and thought, Only in his wet dreams, and then felt bad about thinking snarky thoughts about the dead.

"What was your husband doing at Edwards's shop, the night of the explosion?"

"He was trying to find Mark." Her shoulders rose and fell with a sigh, a long, unspoken backstory in her eyes.

"Mark was missing?" blurted Darcy, forgetting that she should keep a low profile.

"Mark was a drunk," replied Ruth bitterly. "And a selfish asshole, but Arne loved him." She rubbed her eyes. "I guess I'm a real bitch for talking about Mark that way, now that he's dead, but it's true. Arne and the rest of the family tried to get Mark help. Over and over. But you can't help someone who doesn't want help. I told Arne this: 'Mark's trying to destroy himself.'" She reached behind her head and fiddled with her braid. "Arne's latest plan was to keep Mark busy, too busy to drink. So he'd been calling him out here to help with the ranch.

"Mark didn't answer his latest call and Arne figured he was hiding out at Pete's shop, drinking."

"Why didn't he notify the authorities when he saw the young woman and man enter the shop?" asked Loki.

At that, Ruth grimaced. "Because he was starting to buy into some of Pete and Mark's conspiracy theory bullshit. Pete had this theory that you people had some kind of alien technology that controlled the weather and that's why we're having this terrible drought."

Darcy and Jane, neither destined to be great Poker players, darted a quick glance at the thunder god in the living room.

"The ranch is bringing in less and less every year," continued Ruth. "We have to buy more feed. There's no grass on the range. Arne was getting so frustrated, scared that we'd have to sell and move to Albuquerque. He isn't, wasn't, gullible, but a man can only take so much." She was interrupted briefly by the DachsoLab, who wandered into the room and leaned against her legs, tail wagging.

"You know, it's funny," continued Ruth, her hand absently toying with the dog's floppy ears, "but Arne used to make fun of Pete's stupid theories. Then, right after that explosion in town, not at Edwards's place, but the one they say was caused by a gas leak..." Her voice trailed off, eyes filled with the realization of what she'd said. "Hell. We've had a lot of those lately, haven't we?"

Darcy nodded, making a point not to look at Loki because seeing him in all-out-liar mode was making her uncomfortable.

"Anyway," said Ruth, "right after that explosion, Arne started to buy into Pete's crackpot theories."

"Was Arne in town the day of the first explosion?" asked Loki.

Ruth nodded. "He was over at Ruckley's Guns and Ammo when most of it went down. I doubt he saw much, but the authorities kept him there, asking questions, until the next morning."

At this Darcy did look at Loki, pieces trying to fall into place in her mind. Loki said nothing, his silence prodding Ruth to continue speaking.

"The night Pete's shop was destroyed, Arne recognized the guy -- I think his name is Sean -- knew he worked for you people. He decided to do some investigating of his own, hung out about a block away, snapped some photos with his phone."

"And after the explosion?" said Jane. "Why did he go to Izzy's and show the photos there instead of taking them to the cops?"

Pain and frustration made hard lines on Ruth's face and she closed her eyes. When she opened them, she swept a desolate look at them all, her gaze stopping on Loki. "Because he loved his brother, so much. Too much. When he heard Mark was dead, he got drunk, stupid drunk." A suggestion of pleading touched her face. "You've got to understand. He wasn't a drinker, nothing like Mark. But he was heartbroken, devastated. He thought he failed Mark. He always though Mark was his responsibility."

Ruth's eyes grew dim with misery and a hint of bitterness. "Nobody, least of all me, could convince him otherwise."

Like twins, both Darcy and Jane looked at Thor. The big guy was watching the woman, his expression unreadable. Loki, however, nodded and said, "Thank you for your time, Mrs. King. You have been very helpful." He stood and Darcy followed quickly, probably a little too quickly. The combination of the woman's grief, Loki's effortless duplicity, and Darcy's own concern that she'd be recognized was starting to make her head hurt.

Fortunately, Darcy's concerns that Ruth might take a look at her and know she was one of the two people Arnold accused of killing his brother seemed to be put to rest by Thor and Loki. Ruth's attention kept flicking over to the two men, mostly Thor. The woman had just lost her husband. She wasn't crushing on either guy, but what flesh and blood, hetero woman could resist staring at the two unnaturally good looking men in her living room?

Or at least, so Darcy thought. They were outside in the dark, headed for the car, when Ruth called out, "Wait!" When Darcy turned, she found Ruth moving quickly toward them, staring straight at her. "You're her. The woman who broke into Pete's shop."

Darcy's hands tightened on her car key, metal biting into her skin. Behind her, she heard light footfalls, Loki approaching. "I didn't break in," she said, too stressed-out to bother with denial. "The, uh, door was unlocked." Ruth stopped a couple steps away, her dark eyes locked hard on Darcy's. Unnerved, Darcy took a step back, colliding with Loki. His hands settled on her shoulders.

"Who are you people, really?" said Ruth.

"Sh-she's Jane Foster, just like she said," answered Darcy, gesturing to where Jane stood by the car's passenger side door. "We do work for SHIELD. We're just not agents, exactly. Jane's a physicist." What the hell was Thor? Loki? As Sean had noted, neither was on payroll. One, however, was a hero, the other, the reason the world needed heroes. Neither man, like Darcy, had given Ruth his name.

"She and her friend thought Peter Edwards's grudge against SHIELD justified a bit of poking around," said Loki in his soothing tone. "They meant no harm."

"The murdered guards were my friends," explained Darcy.

Ruth's studied her in a wearied way that indicated she was suffering from information overload. "So did you and your boyfriend find anything at Pete's place?"

"Sean's not my boyfriend. He is." She pointed her thumb back at Loki before she realized what she was doing. Boyfriend? Shut up, Darcy. "We found evidence connecting Edwards to the murders, but now it looks like it was planted by someone else," she admitted.

Ruth King scrutinized her, obviously deliberating what to do next. Somewhere out in the desert, a coyote yipped and another answered. Behind her, Darcy heard Thor shuffle his feet. Then Ruth's shoulders slumped, and she looked away, shaking her head. "Christ. You're just a kid. Not much older than my girls." The woman's eyes panned up to Loki and then Thor beyond and Darcy could almost see some part of her subconscious recognizing that they weren't human.

"I'm so sorry about your husband," said Darcy. Because "sorry" always felt totally insufficient, she reached out and touched Ruth lightly on the arm. "We'll find the person who killed him. I promise."


"SHIELD fiddled with Arnold King's memories and screwed up his brain," Darcy said, breaking the leaden silence that fell on the four as she drove along the bumpy dirt road. "That's why he started believing Peter Edwards's stories." Shooting a look over her shoulder, she caught Loki's slight nod. How much, she wondered, had Arnold "Arne" King seen that day? Had he come running over from Ruckley's and seen the giant, psycho robot blast Thor? How much rewiring had it taken for SHIELD to erase that memory from his mind?

"I still do not understand why the killer slew that woman's husband," said Thor.

"Me neither," said Jane. "Especially since it looks like both Peter Edwards and Mark King were innocent. The murderer was trying to set them up for Max and Andy's murders."

"I doubt 'innocent' is a moniker appropriate to either man," said Loki, familiar cynicism back in his voice. "Both, it appears, were convenient pawns in our adversary's game."

A hulking shape moved by the side of the road, and Darcy, nerves on edge, tapped the brakes before the car's headlights revealed a cow and her calf. The animals' eyes glowed in the light as they watched the vehicle approach and pass. "Who killed Mark King?" asked Darcy. "A gun isn't our killer's style." Our killer, yuck.

"No, it isn't," said Loki. "Mark King's murder may merely be an odd coincidence."

"In your snooping," said Darcy to Loki, "did you find anything about his murder in SHIELD's records?"

"The bullet was from an M1911 automatic handgun and the wound wasn't self-inflicted," said Loki. Darcy met his eyes in the rearview mirror and he winked.

"So definitely murder," she said, slowing the car as it approached Route 8, "But not with ice." In the distance, to the east, she could see the faint red tail lights of another vehicle headed toward town, but there was no one else on the road at this hour.

"Arnold King," began Jane, lifting her hand and counting off on her fingers, "Max Sandoval and Andy Valenzuela. The three of them must have something in common, right?"

Recalling conversations with Max and Andy, Darcy replied, absently, "They were all hunters. But the killer probably isn't a pissed-off deer."

"Their commonality is their connection to the killer." Loki's voice was soft, his head turned watch the dark landscape, expression contemplative. "Whatever that may be."

Out of habit, Darcy flicked on the right turn signal, although it was pointless, since the only things around were cows. She turned the car onto Route 8 and began to accelerate, shifting to second, third, fourth, and finally fifth. Settling the vehicle into highway speed, she asked Loki, "Do you really think the killer works for SHIELD?"

He shrugged, attention still out the window. "That was a ploy, to give Mrs. King the impression she was being made a party to a deep, dark secret." Another shrug. "At the very least, he has an ally within SHIELD." He flicked a glance at her in the rearview mirror, and Darcy saw something furtive in his eyes.

She started to push him for more information, but Jane spoke first, "About the portals back on the Kings' ranch...? How do they work, exactly?"

Loki took his attention from the window long enough to burn a resentful glare at the back of Jane's seat and Darcy realized his faulty brain hadn't quite worked out the portals' operation. She was torn between wanting to smack him for glowering at poor Jane, and a powerful need to wrap her arms around his skinny body and assure him that he'd get his brain back, eventually.

"The entry point beyond the livestock enclosures wasn't so much a portal, but a tiny scar in reality. His method of travel is crude, but effective. He constructs a physical entry portal which serves as locus for holding and releasing the necessary energy to slip into the spaces between. You might liken it to a magical catapult that propels him between places in reality. The farther the travel distance, the more energy is required and the more substantial the portal and the greater the rift when he emerges."

"The entry point at the ranch was small. That's why you think he didn't come from very far," stated Jane.

"Yes. Likely from town. His use of the barn's structure suggests that he relies on existing structures and adds the necessary magic and tithes to contain power."

"Ah," said Thor, as though suddenly understanding something.

"Tithe?" said Darcy. "Like a church thing? Money?" Not that she had any firsthand experience with religion, but shady televangelists loved the word.

"A tithe is a price, usually paid in pain, for increased magical power. It is characteristic of elf magic."

"Oh," said Jane and Darcy, echoing Thor's earlier understanding.

"Do I even want to know more about the pain part?" said Jane worriedly. Darcy grimaced, her imagination too helpfully pulling up images of sharp cutting tools.

"Iron," said Loki. "The bane of elf-kind, the anathema to their magic. But enfolded into a magical construct, the agony of iron or steel opens the elf up to channeling more power." He sniffed. "Tis a trick of an inferior sorcerer."

The little green numbers on the dashboard clock read 12:08 and Darcy yawned. "Nails and screws are made of steel, right?" she said, amazed that her brain could work at all.

"Those in the barn's structure, yes," said Loki. "The rest is fashioned of wood, which absorbs elf magic like a sponge. Likewise, the hay."

"What you said about the killer having an ally in SHIELD," said Jane, rubbing her eyes tiredly. "That must be true, since the facility is made of tons of steel. No elf could stand it, right?"

"Doubtful," said Loki, the furtive look returning along with a hint of confusion.

"What are you thinking?" said Darcy, suspecting that he wouldn't tell her.

"That you should pull over to the side of the road," he said, some of his early charm returning. When she started to ask why, he looked pained and muttered, "Please."

"Need to free Willy?" she said, as she slowed the car. "Water the landscaping?" Jane snickered and Thor, of course, looked confused.

When the car stopped, Loki got out, marched over to the driver's side, and opened the door. "Out," he said.

"Uh, no," Darcy replied, because she didn't like orders. "Did reality stop taking your calls again?"

"We're on the best of terms," he said. "Which is why I know Thor and I will survive the wreck when you fall asleep and drive off the road. You, however, won't." He bent and unsnapped her seatbelt. Though his hands were gentle, there was no resisting his strength and she was hauled out of the vehicle.

"You do know cars don't drive themselves, right?" she said, as they stood by the side of the road. She had her hands on his chest, because she'd take any excuse to touch him.

"With the correct application of magic, they might." Bitterness shadowed his face briefly. "But this one won't. I'll drive."

"Dude. You don't drive.'s a stick."

"Five-speed manual transmission. I know." He grinned. "Who else? Jane's as tired as you."

The rear door opened with a light creak and Thor emerged. "I could," he said.

Loki sneered at his brother. "The Jeep?" was all he said, referring to Thor's attempt to operate a vehicle on a recent Avengers adventure.

Thor opened his mouth and then nodded, grinning sadly. "That did not go as planned, did it?" Thor had been driving a Jeep off-road when it skidded in mud. He had overcorrected, and wrenched the Jeep's steering wheel so hard, it tore off the shaft.

Darcy stared up at Loki and sighed.

"I've seen it done enough and..." he flashed an impish grin, "I'm Loki."

"That's not reassuring," she protested as he maneuvered her, opened the door opposite Thor and pushed her into the seat.

A few seconds later, Jane eyed Loki as he adjusted the driver's seat. She turned to Darcy. "You know, if he crashes your car, your insurance probably won't cover the damage."

Darcy nodded. "Because they'll claim it was an 'act of god.'" A god with a history of extreme property damage. But now, out of the driver's seat, her body was already giving up, her eyelids falling like heavy stones. The car jerked a few times as Loki made the usual noobie mistakes with the clutch, but soon after they were zipping down the road toward town.

Her intention was stay awake at least long enough to make sure he didn't go all Carmageddon in town, but her intentions only paved the road to the land of forty winks. She awoke to the crunch of gravel under tires, and the front porch's light in her bleary eyes.

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 25 of 39

<< Previous     Home     Next >>