"Darcy! Darcy, wake up!"
"Hrmph mmu phhle?"
"Get up, Darcy, it's him!"
"Ghrmmhuh. Him, who?"
"He's back! Thor!"
Darcy's eyes shot open.
To be honest, Darcy had been considering sending Jane to a mental hospital over the last two months. Okay, more than considering. She had gone so far as looking up local psych wards and rehab centers in the Yellow Pages.
Jane was obsessed. If she had been a slight workaholic before the incident, she was an absolute fanatic after the fact. She lived, breathed, slept with his shadow always over her shoulder. She was practically worshipping him.
Darcy assumed—if history did indeed repeat itself—that raping and pillaging and horned hats could ensue from the worship of a Norse god. But she never had to act in opposition to her friend's cultish obsession. Fate intervened.
Agony. Absolute, blinding agony. He couldn't think of another word for it. His ears rang with the echo of every painfully slow heartbeat. He felt as if he were melting—as if every cell, every atom in him were in the heart of a bonfire.
No, he could think of another word for it now. It was the only word.
"Hurry up, Jane. We have to get there before someone else does."
"I know, I know, I'll be out in a minute."
Darcy sighed. Not ten minutes ago, Jane had been nagging her to move faster. They had been ready to go until Jane had caught a glimpse of herself in the trailer-door mirror.
"Aw, for cryin' out loud," Darcy grumbled five minutes later. "It's not like he's going to care whether you're wearing 'Dusky Rose' or 'Scarlet Sunrise' lipstick once he's sucking it off."
"I'm just saying. You'd get to the face-sucking a lot faster if you'd just get in the car like you planned."
Darcy looked up as the bathroom door slammed open, revealing a flushed, slightly shaky Jane.
She forced a smile as she yanked on her sweater.
"This is it. Everything will be fine," she said faintly. She shook her head, a giggle threatening to spill out. "I can't believe he's back."
Darcy gave a less-than-enthusiastic eyebrow waggle. "Let the tonsil hockey commence."
Damn it. For a few precious moments, he'd been unconscious.
He let a shuddering breath out through his teeth, willing his nerves to shut down. He begged for relief. A cold breeze, an icy touch, anything to stave off the fire keeping him hostage.
He began to wish for death.
"The impact should be about a half mile north of here." Erik glanced at Darcy over the top of the GPS. "We'll have to go off-road."
"You mean we were on roads in the first place?"
Jane let out a smile at that, a tiny crack in her mask of composure. Darcy knew she was trying to hold it together. She kind of preferred it that way. She had never seen Jane truly ecstatic, but it would almost definitely involve gleeful shrieking, skipping, and/or frolicking, all of which were activities better suited to flowery meadows and babbling brooks than deserts at 3 am.
"How fast is this thing coming up? I'm thinking we should try to avoid roadkill-Thor this time around."
"He may have moved from the crater site. Let me find the heat sensor mode on this camera."
Darcy maintained her course as Erik fiddled with a series of knobs and buttons in the back seat.
He let out a triumphant noise. "Got it." He rolled down the window and leaned his head into the gusts of the night. He cast his eyes and camera about the car in all directions. His brow furrowed.
"Jane, did Thor have a normal body temperature?"
She turned around, glancing at him cautiously. "Yeah, I think so. He certainly gave off what seemed like normal body heat."
Darcy snorted at the blush, visible even in the dark, spreading over Jane's cheeks. Her grin quickly vanished as the mood in the car turned serious.
Erik shook the camera. "There's nothing with a humanoid heat signature in our radius. Unless he walked out of our range in the time it took us to…" He stopped abruptly.
Jane's eyes went wide. "What? What is it? What's wrong?"
Erik shook his head and rubbed the camera lens frantically with the edge of a handkerchief.
"This can't be correct. The camera must be color-coding backwards or something." He squinted into the darkness. "Right in the center of the carter, there is a humanoid form. But according to this reading…it would have to be an ice sculpture."
"Frost giant?" Jane asked anxiously.
Erik shook his head. "If it is, it's somewhat a misnomer. It's smaller than Thor."
"Frostbite?" Darcy offered.
Erik pursed his lips. "Maybe. The signature's not right—with frostbite, I'd expect the extremities should be colder than the body core, not the other way around—but if he's been out long enough..." The GPS twittered shrilly. Erik tightened his grip on the camera. "We're coming up on him. Only a few hundred feet off."
Darcy turned her gaze back to the desert ahead. She could see the crater growing in the distance. One hundred feet…seventy…
"Let me out."
Darcy slammed on the brakes. Jane was unbuckled and flying out the door before the tires were finished squealing their protest. Erik and Darcy tumbled after her, abandoning keys and equipment in their frenzy.
Darcy fell behind as her taller companions bounded towards the ridges in the desert floor. She swallowed dust as Jane and Erik stopped abruptly at the edge of the innermost crater rim, peering down at the ground.
She staggered over, short of breath, as the others stared at the crater in disbelief. She crouched down, squinting into the shadows to see.
"That's not Thor."
"No," Jane said hollowly. "Three guesses who it is."
Darcy looked at the man in the middle of the impact intently, trying to read his features…black hair, pale skin, gaunt with dark circles under his eyes…something in his scowl deeper than mere pain from the impact…
Erik's voice broke the silence grimly. "Loki."