Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 26 of 39

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"I'm awake," proclaimed Darcy, because after her brief midnight nap, she was abruptly wide awake, with the sinking feeling that this would be one of those nights where she didn't fall asleep until ten minutes before her alarm did its thing. "What did I miss?"

"You all snore like trolls," said Loki as he got out of the car. Thor yawned expansively and fumbled sleepily with the door handle. Jane was rubbing her neck, probably from sleeping with her head against the window.

"No one was awake?" Darcy frowned at Thor in particular. "Student driver at the wheel and we all fell asleep?"

Thor's eyes narrowed, a bit of his princely upbringing surfacing at being scolded by the lowly research assistant. Turning, he looked forward, out the windshield to where his brother stood by the car's front fender. "Were it just Jane and I in the vehicle, he might have merrily driven us off a cliff." When he met her eyes, she could see a strange maturity in his face, a reflection of his father, maybe. "But Loki would not needlessly risk harming you and if something had gone amiss, he still had some magic. Your worries are without merit, Darcy."

He left the car with surprising speed for a guy his size, and for a moment Darcy was left staring at his empty seat, only the banal scents of laundry detergent and Jane's shampoo left in his wake. Slightly chastened, she blew out a breath, thinking this was her evening to get admonished by the brothers Odinson.

When she got out of the car, Jane and Thor were already up the stairs, their footsteps falling in alternating light and heavy clomps on the wooden porch. Loki still waited by the front of the car, staring off into the dark eastern horizon.

Darcy walked up to him and he held out a hand, key ring dangling from his index finger, chrome glinting yellow in the porch light. She took the car key back and started toward the house, pausing briefly at the front of the car to surreptitiously check for damage, in particular, the remains of splattered pedestrians.

"I thought you trusted me," said Loki, just a step behind her.

"I trust you with me, not the rest of humanity," she responded.

She heard the light sound of his laugh. "Wise girl."

Bic was still sitting on the porch's railing, looking droopy. Darcy scooped the creature up and found her cool to the touch, chilled in the cooler night air. Pressing the reptile gently between her palms, Darcy watched as Loki started toward the old airplane cabin.

"You want to be alone." It was statement, really, since she knew the answer.

He paused mid-step, turning his head just enough to look at her out of the corner of his eye. After a beat, he said, "No," and continued on toward his lair.

Surprised, it took her brain a few seconds to recognize the invitation. She hurried after him. "How did Ruth King sneak up on us? I thought nobody could get the jump on you."

"She didn't," he said, dropping heavily into an aisle seat in the very first row, long legs sprawled to the ragged edge of the cabin's floor. "I knew she had come home." His shoulders rose in a wry shrug. "The shotgun, however, was unexpected."

"'Unexpected?'" She sat next to him, on his left side, Bic still in her hands. "Guests are 'unexpected.' Loaded shotguns are 'Good thing I brought a change of undies.'" He gave her a bemused look, mouth twisted wryly. "What?" she asked. "Too crass?"

"And crude," he said. "But very you."

Between her palms, Bic wriggled and Darcy lifted away her left hand, leaving the lizard sitting on her right. Loki held out his hand, palm up, his fingers inches from hers. "Give me the little beast." Bic, still dopey, leaned sideways away from his hand, mouth open, threatening flames.

"She remembers you trying to turn her into meat sauce, and dropping her face first on the floor," said Darcy.

"You're hers now," Loki said to the animal, indicating Darcy with a jerk of his chin. "Harm you and I risk her mortal wrath."

"Sarcasm noted, Mad Science." Nevertheless, Darcy tilted her hand, coaxing the reluctant reptile onto Loki's hand, which was difficult with a creature that could walk up walls and clung easily to her vertical palm. With some nudging, Bic sat on his hand, tail lashing. "She's pretty smart, you know. Thor and I taught her to toast a Pop-Tart."

"An invaluable skill," said Loki, dryly. He turned his hand, studying Bic in the pale blue light of the waning moon. "Remarkable," he said, a tiny smile on his lips that was echoed in his eyes.

"Yeah, she is," agreed Darcy in a quiet voice, although she suspected he meant something else.

"It is not all lost," he said, softly, his shoulders rising with deep breath. "This would seem an inconsequential trick. A Midgard reptile given the ability to spew fire, a dumb beast imbued with a spark of self-awareness, and pulled through the between to a laboratory below the earth." He gave Darcy a small, closed-mouthed, crooked smile. "I've conjured far greater, but, despite its size, this little beast is no small magic."

"You're remembering stuff," said Darcy.

His eyes closed, a tiny tremor running through his body as he reined in habitual hard acrimony. "Not quite." He opened his eyes, curling his fingers into an almost-fist, then straightening them. Bic cocked her head nervously at his fingertips and started to trek up his arm, away from the risk of getting crushed in his hand. "Knowledge still evades my conscious mind, but my hands," he lifted his right hand and moved his slim fingers gracefully, "my hands remember."

His words were still flavored with dark bitterness, but Darcy also saw a bright spark of something new in his eyes. Hope, maybe? Her own heart soared like a kite for him, and then just as quickly, a kite-eating tree -- the fact that recovering himself meant he'd be lost to her -- yanked her emotions downward.

"That's good news, right?" she said. "Just relax and let the magic happen."

With quick frown at Bic who was perched on his shoulder (and eyeing Darcy's boobs), he shook his head. "Except our adversary can affect similar magic, without any handicap."

Darcy set her hand on his shoulder and rubbed her thumb over Bic's back. "The fake Asgard rose was kind of like Bic, huh? Not an illusion, but actually changed?"

This earned her a very-Loki sneer. "I meant, his means of travel." He tilted his head at Bic. "Affecting true change on a living thing without killing it is difficult. A cut flower is a dying thing. Dead flesh is easily manipulated as it no longer has to carry on with the business of living. It can easily take any form, any modification that would break the living form."

"You know," she said, "the fact that you know that means there's more in that pretty head than crazy thoughts."

His sidelong look burned her with resentment and she wondered what set him off this time. He blinked and sighed, the exhalation apparently banishing whatever angered him, as his expression softened. With a tilt of his head, he batted his eyes at her. "Truly? You think I'm pretty?"

I think you're a psycho, and I lo-like you anyway. "No. Your face is too bony. You'd make an ugly chick."

His lashes fluttered with perfect effete charm. "You wound me."

"Freak." She rolled her eyes, wondering what had gotten into him and where she could buy it by the case. Beyond all logic, she liked embittered Loki, but the playful version was kindling a fire in her nethers.

Trying to think G-rated thoughts, she focused on the slight hollow under his left eye, just where the flesh began to curve up into his cheek. The shadows blurred his features, returning some of the youthful charm he'd used on Ruth. But his eyes didn't lie as they met her gaze, emanating the unimaginable weight of centuries of life.

He lifted his face skyward, to the dark sky busy with stars and her gaze roamed over his features. A shimmer of nerves ran up her spine as she slipped into a kind of in-between where a fragment of her mind gawped at the sharp beauty of his profile, thinking "That's Loki, the Norse god; I had sex with Loki!" and the rest shrugged, and thought, "Tomorrow morning, when he's in Loki-coma, I'm putting makeup on him."

She tried to follow his gaze to the sky, but as usual, set her eyes back on earth. "It doesn't look anything like the sky in Asgard, right?" she asked and Loki nodded. "Jane loves to sit out at night and look at the stars. I don't. It's too much of a mind-fuck."

With the obvious question in his eyes, he turned to her.

"The twinkle in those stars is a ba-gillion years old." Something flew across her line of vision, a nighthawk judging from the size. "Some of them are already dead, supernova-ed. Kablooey. All the fuzzy baby stars in nebulas are grow up now." A fierce weight of mortality and utter insignificance bore down on her. "All we see are ancient photographs and ghosts."

"By their estimations, I'm an infant," he agreed.

She nodded, a little grimly, at the idea of a two-thousand year old infant. "Thanks," she said, "for coming out tonight, for being...a little less Loki."

He arched an eyebrow at that. "You think I have no reason to find the killer?"

"Do you?"

"I do it for you, for the cause of your freedom." His expression was mocking but his left leg started twitching slightly. "It's been your habit to travel to Albuquerque on your own, to visit friends or hunt discounted footwear."

"Shoes aren't going to buy themselves," noted Darcy.

"And now you cannot go, it isn't safe, not until the killer apprehended."

She studied him, careful to avoid looking at his leg, his tell, in case he realized what he was doing. And just like that -- Snap -- she knew she was in the deep end with no idea how to dog paddle. She didn't know which was worst: the fear that he'd pick up and leave her forever, or comments like this that suggested that he might actually might care about her. Their eyes met and it was like looking over the edge of a deep, mist-shrouded canyon, knowing that jumping would be the end of her, and desperately wanting to leap anyway and fall forever through the clouded unknown.

"It's time I met Sean," he said.

Darcy snorted, that idea snapping her from her reverie. "That's so not happening. He's afraid of you. There's a better chance you'll send Odin a Father's Day gift."

"A tie with the words 'World Tree's Greatest Dad'?" he quipped.

Her jaw dropped at the joke and she scrutinized the man at her side. Raven black hair, butchered by Thor, the beauty school dropout? Check. Devastating good looks with sharp features that seemed to be draw with a ruler? Check. Definitely Loki.

Thrown by his humor, it took a second for her to follow his train of thought. "You think Sean is the killer's inside man."

"You don't?"

"N-no." The concept, instantly ridiculous, spoken out loud begin to make a touch of sense. "No!" she said emphatically. "Where's this coming from? Jealousy?"

"Of a foolish boy who caught the eye of Earth's loveliest maiden and couldn't manage more than a kiss? Unlikely." His voice was a warm sensual caress and his eyes shone with all the things that he had managed recently.

"Smooth," said Darcy, her voice cracking on the "oo" sound.

"What do you know about Sean?" Loki asked.

"He's an accountant, Assistant Comptroller at SHIELD. He's got great bone structure and dreamy blue eyes." She shrugged. "Okay, you got me. Not much."

"Sean O'Malley, son of Mary and Patrick O'Malley," recited Loki, no doubt from SHIELD's records. "Born 31 years ago in Chico, California. Four brothers, one sister. Attended California State University in San Francisco where he earn a Bachelor's degree in Business with a concentration in Accounting. He went on to attend Stanford where he completed a law degree."

"Stanford? He's a lawyer?" She could feel her eyes going wide as saucers. "He's 31? He looks younger." What's a Stanford-educated lawyer doing working for the government? Because she couldn't resist, she said, "I gave that up for an unemployed supervillain?"

"I prefer 'on sabbatical' to 'unemployed,'" Loki deadpanned. "After graduation, Sean O'Malley worked for the General Accounting Office, followed by the National Security Agency, before coming to SHIELD. He has passed all three agencies' security checks."

"Squeaky clean. You suspect him, why?"

"He's been privy to most of your plans including the adventure at Edwards's Repair Shop that nearly got you killed." Anger blazed in his eyes.

"Nearly got him killed, too," reminded Darcy.

"Perhaps he knew about the explosives?"

"No, they were a surprise to him."

"Or his master thinks him expendable." Darcy had no response to that and Loki continued, "Sean controls SHIELD's purse strings. He is trusted and well-liked. Smuggling the documents you found in the repair shop out of SHIELD's facility would be a simple task for him."

Sean's words regarding Loki came to her: "A lot of people at SHIELD say he hasn't paid for what he did here and elsewhere. Families missing their fathers, sons, brothers, daughters...they don't care what he's punished for, just so long as he's punished. He's a war criminal."

"He doesn't seem to like you. Or Thor," she admitted, hating the doubt that started to infest her head.

Loki's dark eyebrows lifted slightly at the second part of her comment. "The guards, Max and Andy, were both fond of you, despite your association with me. Sean would have known that. Perhaps he saw their sympathies as a betrayal."

"But when I told him you and I were friends, he took it well," protested Darcy, recalling another conversation.

"So do you hate me?"

" don't hate Loki? I don't know the person you know. I know what he's done, but I don't have a personal connection to the events here, in town, or in New York." A question started to burn in his eyes. "If you think he's changed..."

Rather than responding, Loki just watched her, mild sympathy on his face. "Peter Edwards and Mark King ran afoul of Sean on the night of your encounter with them in town. Sean saw Edwards and King's hatred of me, and their anger at SHIELD for their cancelled work contract, as an opportunity to cast suspicion elsewhere."

Biting her lower lip, Darcy slumped in her seat, depressed. "Actually, I gave Sean the idea. I'm the one who pointed out that Mark King also worked as the handyman at Max and Andy's apartment complex. I assumed King gave the killer access to their apartments."

"Knowing your plans to visit Edwards's shop," said Loki, "Sean left magical residue and the incriminating file folder where you would find it."

"I...don't..." Unable to formulate a denial, she asked, "What about Arnold King? Why kill him? He didn't do anything wrong except love his worthless brother."

"Arnold King sealed his fate when he wandered, drunk, into the diner, and showed the photos of you and Sean leaving Edwards's Repair shop. His actions drew too much attention to Sean, or perhaps his master too, and so he was killed."

Darcy shook her head. "Even if Sean is part of this, he isn't doing it willingly. You're right. Sean is popular and has a lot of influence in SHIELD. He's the perfect tool for someone who needs access to-- "

"--the recordings from SHIELD's electronic monitoring devices," said Loki, a little too smugly.

"Sean's been brainwashed," insisted Darcy, stubbornly. She favored Loki with a hard look. "In the same way you made Erik and Hawkeye your puppets."

Without a trace of shame, Loki nodded. "A possibility. The compulsion would explain his avoidance of any contact with me."

"Because you would detect it." Hope warmed her chest. "If you met face-to-face, you could take the spell off him right?" She stood, excited. "Let's go out to his house, now! He won't be expecting us." Grasping Loki's hand, she tugged ineffectually, feet braced against the base of the plane's seats. "Come on. Let's get Thor!"

The expression he pulled from his repertoire was one she'd never seen before. The best she could come up with to describe it was "bemused enchantment." With no effort, he yanked her down onto his lap. "You are so enthusiastic." His breath was warm against her ear. "It makes me feel...old, and yet, very much alive."

"Loki!" Exasperated, she struggled to get up, just as the low rumble of a vehicle's engine reached them. The cause, one of SHIELD's patrol SUVs, slowed in front of the house. It passed the turnoff and then stopped, backup lights gleaming, reversed and turned into the gravel drive.

Darcy squinted through the glare of the headlights -- the vehicle was pointed straight at Loki's lair -- and shivered with the fear that Nick Fury would emerge from the SUV bearing more bad news. A sigh left her lungs in a rush when two ordinary guards exited the vehicle. She watched them approach for too long, before realizing she was still sitting in Loki's lap.

Scrambling to her feet, she waved and said, "Hi." Loki rose and stood by her side.

"Miss Lewis," said the taller of the two guards. His absurdly thick eyebrows looked like they'd been drawn on with a black Sharpie marker. "Is there a problem?"

"Nope." She smiled and shrugged. "Couldn't sleep. Watching the stars."

The man and his partner, an African American man whose slightly misaligned eyes made him look like Forest Whitaker, both shot a glance at Loki. "You really shouldn't be out here alone, this late at night," said the guard.

Sweeping a look over Loki from head to toe, she replied. "Alone? Has he turned invisible or do I have an imaginary friend?"

The guard's bushy eyebrows came together like two mating caterpillars. "I see him, ma'am. I mean, you shouldn't be alone with him."

"I sleep across the hall from him every night. What's he going to do out here, that he can't do in there?" She could understand the guards' antipathy toward Loki, but it was a little late for SHIELD to start worrying about her safety around him.

Confused, Bushy Eyebrows glance at the trailer and back. Logic clearly wasn't his forte. The Forest Whitaker look-a-like spoke up: "Ma'am, to SHIELD, everyone in that house is an asset. And none of you should be outside, this late, not with a murderer still loose."

Darcy crossed her arms over her chest, in part because both men kept talking to her boobs. "Loki will pro--"

"--take Miss Lewis back in the house," interrupted Loki. He gave the guards a thin, icy smile.

Both men tensed as though expecting a trick, but Loki simply put his hands on Darcy's shoulders, and turned her in the right direction. With the guards following, they continued on toward the house. As they walked through the front doorway, she saw him give the guards a sardonic wave before he shut the door and flicked off the porch light with flick of his fingers. He made a second motion that she recognized as his spell to temporarily disable SHIELD's bugs.

"Loki? Darcy?" Thor marched out of the dark hallway. "I heard voices."

"The mortals have medications for that," said Loki, plucking Bic off his shoulder and dropping her -- slowly, with magic -- to the floor.

"SHIELD's patrol, doing the usual drive-by," said Darcy, sparing Thor more not-brotherly love. "So, are we going to Sean's place?"

"No," said Loki.

"Sean?" said Thor. "Darcy's friend? SHIELD's treasurer?"

Darcy reluctantly explained Loki's theory about Sean to Thor. Midway through the story, Thor sat on the couch. When she finished, he stared wearily up at his brother. "Loki, we should never have let her spend time with this boy."

"'Let?'" said Darcy.

"'We?'" said Loki, with even more incredulity.

"We have little enough to do," responded Thor, with a touch of bitterness, "the least we can do is keep our mortal friends from harm."

"I'm no mortal's nursemaid," Loki said nastily. "And in this particular part of Midgard, adult women take a dim view of being told whom they can or cannot see."

"Um, guys..." said Darcy.

"You are usually so clever, brother," Thor stared down at his hands, clenched in fists, "how could you not see--?"

"I'm not your brother and thanks to your precious All-Father, I can scarcely remember my own name," Loki snarled. "Darcy trusted the boy--"

"Darcy trusts you," said Thor pointedly, his biceps bulging with the effort to keep his voice down, probably to avoid waking Jane.

"Hey!" said Darcy, indignant.

Loki, on the other hand, smirked at Thor. "Good point," he agreed.

"No," said Darcy. "Bad point. And what you mean by 'No?'"

"He means we need not be hasty and blunder," Thor grinned up at Loki, "into a matter we do not understand."

Some of Loki's earlier cheer returned as he said to Darcy, "Listen to the blunderer," canting his head at Thor, who took the slight with good humor.

Face with two obstinate immortals, her shoulders sagged. Trying one more tack, she said, "You said Sean's master thinks he's disposable, so the quicker we get Sean free, the better. His life's in danger."

"I was merely thinking aloud," said Loki. "On closer examination, that theory is unlikely. Our adversary would be wont to part with an asset like Sean."

"But the killer sent Sean, along with me, into Edwards's shop, knowing we'd get blown up."

"I don't believe he was aware of Peter Edwards's explosive burglar deterrent. Hence, Sean's surprise in the matter. You were to go in, stumble on the false evidence, and leave." Loki's gaze brushed over her, his expression grim. "If I am his ultimate target, then you are no good to him dead, either. Not yet."

Thor nodded. "If Sean is of value, then the villain will take steps to safeguard the boy's home, will he not?"

Loki eyed Thor, one corner of his mouth lifted in a wry smile. "A diet of Pop-Tarts has improved your mental acuity."

"Lo-ki!" grumbled Darcy, although the big guy took his brother's ribbing with a good-natured frown.

"Sean's home may well be protected by powerful spells," said Loki. "The sort that might destroy the entire neighborhood and many of Thor's precious mortals."

Thor stood and approached Darcy. "If we rush to your friend's home, we may well be playing into the killer's hand."

She stared up at the two men. "So we do what? Nothing?"

"By now, the killer knows we have visited Ruth and Arnold's ranch and he has probably surmised that I know he's an elf," said Loki. "He has no reason to suspect that we've cast our suspicions on Sean." He turned to Thor. "Don't speak of this to Jane until we are in the vehicle tomorrow."

Thor nodded. "Can he still reach Darcy through her dreams?"

"No," replied Loki. "That avenue is now blocked. Darcy will meet Sean tomorrow at lunch--"

"Darcy should not go anywhere near this boy!" protested Thor. "He is dangerous--"

"So am I," observed Loki, "and she's managed me sufficiently. It would be suspicious if she suddenly suspended all friendly overtures. They will be within SHIELD's walls, around others. What better place to confront the boy?"

"You mean to use Darcy as bait?" Thor's voice rose in outrage.

"I mean to let Darcy do what she is going to do anyway," said Loki. "If the situation were reversed, do you think you could keep Jane out of the matter?"

"I might," said Thor, though without much conviction.

"Centuries of experience, and he still knows nothing of women," Loki said to Darcy.

She grinned up at him and silence fell on the three briefly. Because the daytime heat had dissipated, the swamp cooler wasn't running and the only sound in the house was the hum of the refrigerator. The two demi-gods stood side-by-side, and Darcy was reminded of the first time they had stood there, or at least Thor stood, strong arms holding up a bloodied and barely conscious Loki. A few dime-sized stains still marked the place where Loki had bled on the carpet.

Where the Thor and Loki of memory had worn Asgard clothing, both now were dressed in mortal clothes, but neither entirely lost the aura of something extraordinary. At the moment, Thor's face was a lot like it had been back then, hopeful and a little worried.

Her eyes met Loki's and she somehow knew he was caught up in the same memory. He confirmed it by saying, his voice barely audible, "No Jane."

"What?" said Thor.

"We will sort out the details in the morning," replied Loki, brusquely. He strode toward Darcy, his tall frame emanating single-minded purpose. He had her hand in a firm grip and had towed her halfway down the hall, before she had the presence of mind to turn and wave at Thor. "Night." Thor shot her knowing smirk and she was glad the darkness hid her blush.

The taste-feel of cinnamon bled through her skin as Loki magicked her bedroom door shut. At the bed, he released her hand and stepped backward, pale hands dancing in the moonlight. Pressure built in her ears. He had put up a sound barrier in the room. His eyes, filled with the flame of dangerous intent, moved down and up her body, before trapping her in their mesmerizing heat. The tiny spear of fear in her head was drowned out by her body's desperate, throbbing need for him.

"Whuh-what are you doing?" she said.

Those graceful hands moved again and her glasses were off her face. "A demonstration," he said, "of all the things I can do to you in here, that I can't do out there." He gestured vaguely in the direction of his lair.

"I, uh-" was all she could manage, which coincidentally, was the most coherent thing she said for some time after.

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 26 of 39

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