Continuing Tales

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 7 of 39

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Darcy woke in darkness, with the disoriented sense of being thrown out of time. Squinting, she made out the numbers 8:30 on the clock radio. When she switched on the lamp, a scary face stared at her from the dresser's mirror.

"Yikes!" Mascara, smeared by her crying jag, made a ghastly black mess under her eyes. "'Waterproof,' my shiny white ass." Rubbing the mess with her fingers just made it worse. Trying not to think about the fact that Loki had seen her looking like an extra from The Walking Dead,  she got up and limped to her door. She cracked the door open and peered out the opening. A light was on, probably in the kitchen, but she heard no voices.

In the bathroom, she scrubbed her face, and studied the result. Even with eyes still red from crying, and mussed hair, the girl who stared back was pretty enough. She wasn't given to conceit, but she knew luck had favored her in the looks department. Which made the dull knife of insecurity that sawed at her insides all the more irritating.

She couldn't just get a crush on some random human bad boy: a cute bank robber, or a jewel thief who'd bring her diamonds. No, Darcy Lewis had to fall for an ancient being, a god who'd probably divorced his conscience several hundred years ago, and had recently split up with his sanity as well. Giving herself two thumbs up in the mirror, she said, "Way to go, Darcy," before heading for the kitchen to face whoever was still up.

The kitchen table was covered in paper: graphs, drawings, hastily scrawled equations, and a couple of scientific journals. Jane sat at the table, scrolling through something on her iPad with her right hand, her left twirling the end of her ponytail.

"Stand back, she's making science," said Darcy.

Jane smiled wearily. "You feeling better?"

Grateful that Jane didn't mention the whole weeping and wailing thing, she nodded. "Much."

"We got pizzas from Marcello's and I managed to save a few slices from the eating machine," she said, meaning Thor. "They're in the fridge."

"Where are the Wonder Twins?"

"Loki's outside in his lair and Thor went to bed." She smiled fondly. "Too much excitement today."

Darcy pursed her lips, holding back the observation that Thor had probably strained brain muscles on the prolonged mental effort of putting together a fantasy football team. Unlike Loki, Darcy didn't think Thor was stupid, but his approach to life was straightforward: If you can't charm it with your smile and good looks, beat it into submission with a hammer or zap it with lightning.

After she heated the pizza in the microwave, Darcy sat at the table and ate, she and Jane enjoying the companionable silence. As she rose to leave for bed, her eye caught something in the pile of papers. With a grin, she bent and gave Jane a quick hug. "You're so cute," she said, pointing at a little doodled heart that surrounded a name, Thor.

Jane hid her face in her hands. "I'm twelve."

Smiling, Darcy limped toward her room. Behind her, the front door opened and closed. "Lock the door," she said, not glancing back.

Heavy footfalls followed her and she resisted the urge to turn around.

"Darcy," he said and she gave up and turned, one hand on the wall.

In the narrow hallway, he seemed even taller, a regal prince utterly out of place in a shabby house trailer. "Give me your hand," he said.

"If you used the word 'please,' would your head explode?"

"If you weren't insufferably impudent, would yours?" he countered. "Your. Hand."

"Why?" she asked warily.

"Because I have a lovely scorpion for you."

"I'd prefer one of those glowing snake things." But she held out her hand. Something cool and metallic touched her palm. His warm hand curled her fingers over it, and the rubbery length of earbuds fell from her hand.

"My iPod!" Just as quickly, she held her hand far from her body, studying the music player as though it really were a scorpion. "What'd you do to it?" Looking up, she saw his face and shook her head. "Oh-no, not the innocent expression. If I listen to music, it'll make me grown donkey ears, won't it?"

He shook his head. "It's not enchanted."

"It's not?" She lifted it toward her face, still leery. "But you tampered with it?"

He grinned. "Yes."

"Oh, shit. What did you do?"

Loki's answer was an angelic expression, and then he slipped inside his room and shut the door.

As the saying went, curiosity killed the cat, and probably Darcy, too. She sat on her bed and started tapping and swiping the iPod's interface. It claimed to hold 912 songs, which sounded about right. All her playlists were there, and when she opened one at random, the song list looked correct. Pulling up the first song on her Workout playlist, she put in her earbuds and listened. "Bad Romance," the Halestorm cover of a Lady Gaga song, played as normal. After a minute, she yanked the earbuds out and checked her ears. Still human.

Staring at the device, she racked her brain. What did he do? On a hunch, she checked the list of recently added songs. There were three new songs, the artist unknown, the titles, "Spring Dance," "Waltz," and "Fall Harvest."

"Don't do it, Darcy," she warned as she hit play and lifted the earbuds.

The song began with a mixture of voices, unintelligible, speaking in the background, the overall tone hollow, as though in a big room or hall. Then someone tapped out time, a three-four cadence if her few years of piano lessons held, and a fiddle began to play. The instrument had a interesting buzzy sound, as if each note was coming from multiple strings. It took a second, but the term Hardanger fiddle came to mind. The fiddle was joined by something that sounded like an oboe, then a flute and next another fiddle. A drum began, driving the cadence and another instrument, an accordion probably, added a rhythmic drone. From the background, there came a faint tapping in time to the music and Darcy realized it was the sound of feet on a dance floor.

The two fiddles chased each other around a jaunty melody, the oboe and flute rose and fell with their own counter melody, the accordion signaled key changes from major to minor, and the drum set a beat that she could feel in her heart. Her vision blurred and for an instant she saw a vast golden hall, like something out of the Lord of the Rings movies, but shinier, cleaner; beautiful people dancing while others stood by watching, gossiping, laughing.

"Whoa," she said, fumbling with the iPod, hitting stop. She glanced back at herself in the mirror, making sure she hadn't grown horns or extra appendages. "Asgard music."

Flopping back on her bed, eyes on the ceiling, she hit play, turned up the volume and gave herself to the gorgeous music.


Late Saturday morning found Darcy and Jane, in Darcy's car, driving into Puente Antiguo, destination, the local farmer's market.

It was the first time in months that Darcy had been able to coax Jane out of the house, without Thor and Loki. The cause of Jane's shut-in status was as much Jane as Loki.

Around Jane or Darcy, Loki had been slowly approaching human, but his sociability meter with the rest of humanity still had two settings: March across the planet, conquering the two-legged ants, or sulk in the New Mexico desert like Norse trailer trash, with him currently opting for the latter.

Loki's refusal to go anywhere except to and from the SHIELD facility had one bonus. No one in town got a really good look at him, and consequently few people, if anyone, connected Jane and Darcy's dark-haired roommate to the psycho who devastated one of America's biggest cities. And only the looniest of the conspiracy theory crowd made the connection between the huge robot that had marched through Puente Antiguo and Loki. Most of the town's people thought Thor and Loki were kept under close guard because they were foreign scientists brought in to work on a modern version of the Manhattan Project, a rumor advanced by SHIELD.

The downside of Loki's hermit lifestyle was that Jane feared leaving him and Thor home alone, thinking they might kill each other and flatten the house in the process. Darcy understood her concern, but didn't see any point in babysitting the two. If they were going to have a battle royale, it would happen with or without Jane. It wasn't like they could be grabbed by the scruff of their necks and pulled apart like a couple of small dogs.

"Loki only calls Thor a thick-headed oaf five or six times a day and sometime he forgets to act like a douche and has a civil conversation with Thor," said Darcy, earlier that morning. "Come with me, Jane, please. The kids will be fine."

Before she got in the car, Jane had stopped and stared wistfully back at the house.

"What's wrong?" asked Darcy.

"I just want to remember what it looked like before..."

Darcy rolled her eyes. "Get in, drama queen."

To get into town, she took the back way. Though most of the road was unpaved and Darcy's car scrambled and thudded on the rutted washboard surface, it only took them five minutes to make it into Puente Antiguo proper.

Loki's mischief, though noisy and spectacular, had only affected a few blocks in the newer section on the northwest edge of town. The majority of the town hunched along a two mile stretch of Route 8, extending out two or three blocks from the main road. Houses were small, constructed of wood frame or adobe, with flat or pitched tin roofs. Yards were smaller, most enclosed with post and wire or chain link, although a few had white picket fencing or adobe walls. For most, landscaping didn't go beyond a few straggly trees, a dead car on blocks or a shrine to the Virgin Mary. A few, however, had vegetable gardens and fruit trees, with hand-painted wooden signs advertising fruit or fresh eggs for sale. Darcy slowed and eased the car around a flock of guinea hens that milled along the side of the road.

Once a mining town, Puente Antiguo's economy now depended on a spotty tourist trade and the region's few remaining farms and ranches. SHIELD's new facility, though a source of paranoid grumbling from the locals, had injected a new shot of life into a community that was just one generation shy of ghost town.

"How's my magic detector coming, Boss Lady?" On Friday, Jane had spent all morning in a conference call with Japanese physicists who were studying some anomaly with cosmic rays. She and Loki spent the afternoon in super-geek mode, obsessed with the data from the Japanese scientists' instruments. Consequently, Darcy's brilliant idea had fallen off their radar.

Jane let out a sigh that was almost a gust. "I'm still not sure that's a good idea. Thor agrees."

"Loki will help me," Darcy said confidently. "He'll do it just to spite you and Thor. Plus, it's not like he gives a rat's hairy little butt if I'm in danger."

"I don't think that's true," Jane said slowly.

"It's all just mischief to him," replied Darcy.

Jane's face turned almost apologetic as she said, "I think he likes you."

"Me? I don't think so." She slowed the car, downshifting as they approached the center of town. Here the rustic little houses had been remodeled into art studios and quaint shops. In lieu of off street parking, the businesses' few customers, mostly tourists, parked along the street, narrowing the roadway. "You're the one, the only one, he's ever nice to."

At this Jane's jaw dropped. "Me? He sees me as the reason why he's not King of Asgard. I 'changed' Thor somehow, or so he thinks." She shook her head. "He's polite because he needs my knowledge to relearn what he's forgotten about magic. Otherwise, he acts like I don't exist. It's you he really likes."

Darcy pulled a face. "He has a funny way of showing it. He steals my stuff. He dyed my hair purple and my laundry green. He put glowy snakes in my closet. Loosened the top on the salt shaker. And there was the coyote-lizard thing in the shower."

Jane gave Darcy a smirk that Loki would envy. "He really likes you."

"What is he...ten?"

"Maybe, 'ten' is all he has," said Jane, with an odd touch of pity.

"Sympathy for the devil, Jane?"

"He's been a lot better lately," conceded Jane. "It's been a while since I've caught him looking at me like he's fantasizing about ripping my heart out with his bare hands."

"Really? He does that?"

"He used to." Jane's shoulders hunched and she rubbed her right hand over her upper left arm, as though chilled. "But he still gets snotty sometimes." Her pretty face turned haughty and she said in a deep voice with an English accent, "You forget your place, mortal."

Darcy snorted. "He said that to me once."

"And what did you say?"

"I told him my place was as Queen of 15 Don Tenorio Road and as long as he was a resident of Jane and Darcy's Home for Unemployed Villains, he better not forget it."

"What did he say?"

"Something rude in the language of Mordor, I think." She shrugged. "The next day, snakes in my closet."

Jane laughed. "I remember that. You pounding on his door and yelling, 'Mad Science, come get your pets before I call animal control!'"

Darcy grinned. "Mmmm. Good times." Her smile faded as they moved into the newer (where newer meant 1960s to 70s) part of town, the transition marked by the red brick post office. The apartment complex where Andy and Max had lived came next, although "complex" was an overstatement. Built in Territorial style, tan stucco with red brick trim along the edge of the flat roof, it consisted of two long sections, eight units each, that faced each other across a dirt parking lot.

Fingers clenched on the steering wheel, her heart still not ready to think of Andy and Max in past tense, Darcy concentrated on the road. At City Hall, a two storey, dark red brick building, the street grew broader, with sidewalks, streetlights, and even bus stops (although the only bus that ran through town had a greyhound on the side). It was all probably the work of some overeager city planner who thought transforming the place into Mayberry would revitalize the economy.

Just a couple blocks later they were at Izzy's Diner where Thor had once showed his appreciation for coffee by pulverizing a hapless mug. The car's turn signal went tick-tick-tick as Darcy waited at the intersection.

A block away, an old black Labrador tottered across the street, tail wagging lazily. Jane watched the dog, brown eyes going wide for a second, and Darcy knew what scene replayed in her mind. Thor, laying motionless on the street, for all intents and purposes dead, slain by his brother's hand.The brother I have a huge crush on.

An iota of resentment snuck out and she thought, Of course, if you hadn't moved Thor and his too-hot-to-be-such-a-psycho brother into our house, I wouldn't have tingling nethers for said loony.

Darcy swallowed hard and turned the car left, passing Al's Auto Repair and a video rental store that was out of business long before the Destroyer blew off the doors and most of the front windows, the hole partially covered in plywood and two-by-fours. Ultimately, many of the businesses were already marching toward extinction faster than a T-Rex, with or without Loki's explosive help. A few, however, like Marcello's Pizzeria, actually benefited, using insurance money to expand their facilities.

"What about the rose?" asked Jane.

A pickup truck, white with peeling paint, went by and the driver honked and waved. She and Jane waved back at Carlos, their next door neighbor.

"It was just a joke," Darcy replied, meaning the rose. "He was just being...uh, playful and kind of dorky." Ahead, a dirt lot filled with vehicles signaled their approach to Carlson Farms Market. A tan dust haze hung over the lot. Darcy pulled in and began looking for a spot to park.

"Funny," said Jane, "that sounds like the Loki that Thor talks about. Fondly."

"I think that Loki's been MIA for a looong time," said Darcy.

Carlson Farms Market was one long adobe building, with a tin roofed porch that ran the length of the front. Ristras, blood red bundles of chile peppers, hung from edge of the porch. At the left end of the building, under a smaller porch, a group of people waited in the shade for roasted chile.

"The smell of fall in New Mexico," said Jane as they started for the building. The sun fell hot on Darcy's skin and she smiled, glad to have company for once. The smell Jane referred to, the spicy char of green chiles roasting in rotating metal hoppers over open flames, made her stomach growl. Breakfast had been a couple of slices of toast and a coffee.

Several older Hispanic men hung by the door in a gossipy cluster, dressed in button-up short-sleeve shirts, jeans, straw cowboy hats and boots. They tipped their hats at Jane and Darcy as the women went by. Inside, the crowd consisted of locals of various ethnicities, Anglo, Hispanic and Native American, and tourists, mostly Anglo. The tourists were easily identified by their fascination with a table in the back of the room that featured New Mexico chachkes: faux Native American art featuring Kokopelli, roadrunners and coyotes howling at the moon. The smell of fresh vegetables and homemade pastries joined the aroma of roasted chile.

Darcy and Jane made for the tall tables in the center of the room where the produce was piled in wooden boxes. There they picked up yellow squash, green beans, vine-ripened tomatoes, and a small bag of green chile. From a table by the wall, they got a bottle of salsa and a dozenempanadas, little apple-filled turnovers.

"So will you do it?" asked Darcy. She and Jane stood in the shade, watching as their batch of chiles tumbled in a roaster, the bright green skins browning and crackling in the fire's heat.

"The magic detector?" Jane's expression was pained, but Darcy could see her weakening.

"Yeah, d'uh?" Putting her hands on Jane's shoulders, she gave her a friendly shake. "Come on, I'm doing this for you, for us, for our freak-show family. I'll just snoop around town, in public. It'll be totally safe. And if I find anything, incriminating, I'll take it to Fury. K?"

Jane forced a smile. "Aren't you scared?"

The man who ran the chile roaster switched off the motor that rotated the contraption and pulled a plastic bag from a nearby box. He flipped open a door on the end of the roaster, tilted it and the chiles slid into the bag. Tying the bag shut, he handed it to Darcy.

"Of course I'm scared," she admitted as they walked to the car. "I don't have a blond hunk with lightning power to snuggle up to at night." She shifted the bag, which was almost scalding hot, away from her body. "But Fury's obviously stumped and Loki is...brain damaged." Jane's eyes turned thoughtful and she opened her mouth, but Darcy kept talking to keep Jane from asking if she knew exactly what was wrong with Loki's broken brain. "I don't want any more people to die. Especially, not us. But not anybody."

"I wish we could all go," said Jane wistfully, as she got in the car. "It would be safer."

"The Scooby gang, with superpowers." Darcy pushed in the clutch and turned the key. "Don't worry." She smiled broadly at Jane with a confidence that now, in the bright light of day, she totally felt. "I'm on it."

To distract Jane before she could think too much and change her mind, Darcy motioned to the backseat. "Want to hear something cool? Get my iPod out of my purse..."

A Morbid Taste for Ice

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by sitehound

Part 7 of 39

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