First time I've publicly posted a fan fic. This started out as a bit of drabble, driven by my annoyance with the not-very-authentic New Mexican town of Puente Antiguo. (Seriously. It doesn't look like any NM town I've ever seen.) I played around, adding "local" flavor. And then it started to acquire a plot and turned into a murder mystery.
Though frequently light in tone, the story touches on the issues of mental illness and sexual assault (character history/backstory, not depicted in storyline).
On a typical August day in the New Mexican desert, when the sun scalded the earth with a merciless heat that reflected back off every surface, making it feel all the more like hell, Darcy Lewis was swathed in a thick sweater, and still shivering.
It was the day before the first frozen dead guy showed up on the front porch and things got really weird, as opposed to the big slice of comic-book that her life had become over the past year.
She pulled the sweater down over her hands and shot an angry glance at the thermostat on the wall, which was currently set to 95, and yet the room's vents continued to emit a flood of icy refrigerated air. Needing a live target for her ire, she glared daggers at the man across the room, who stood with Jane before a white board, the two fiddling with a long equation. The borked thermostat was probably his fault. He wasn't supposed to do magic, but she wouldn't put it past the bastard.
Darcy and her three companions were in a laboratory in SHIELD's newest facility, located in sunny New Mexico, just a few miles outside of Puente Antiguo, the perfect out-of-the-way location, because nobody really cared what happened in New Mexico. After all, when a giant robot marched through the dusty little town like a shiny metallic Godzilla, the incident hadn't merited more than fifteen seconds on the local news' broadcasts, and a short article in the Albuquerque Journal, titled, "Puente Antiguo Residents Battle Insurance Companies Following Meteor Shower."
SHIELD had soaked several million tax dollars into the new complex - state-of-the-art everything, security, electronics - but they still couldn't find a competent HVAC technician. "If this keeps up, we'll be able to keep penguins in here," she said, expecting no response from anyone else in the room and getting none.
Darcy leaned back in her chair, which was new and extra comfy, and removed her glasses, rubbing her eyes. On the upside, her job as research assistant had grown up and gone beyond glorified gopher and procurer of coffee. Recently, she'd developed some wicked database "skilz." Though a big part of her duties included mindless data entry, she'd started doing data retrieval and was getting good, better than Jane, at constructing complex queries. Hello, job satisfaction.
The downside was being stuck in a freezing laboratory for several hours a day with her boss's superhero boyfriend and his crazier than a deer-at-a-hunters'-convention brother. "This place must be violating all kinds of federal workplace regulations," she muttered, casting another load of stink eye at the Jane's partner in "sciencey" stuff.
Although, at the moment, the sane brother was the one bringing on the irritating. As she proved herself more useful with actual research-related matters, Thor picked up the menial chores once given to Darcy. It wasn't like he had much else to do.
Every two weeks or so, he'd go off on a short assignment for SHIELD. The need to haul Loki everywhere he went, however, put a damper on quality time with the Avengers, whose super powers didn't include super forgiveness. Darcy put her glasses back on and smirked, imagining Loki in a room with the Avengers. Oh, to be a fly on that wall.
Fresh out of copy jobs, and with a new pot of coffee brewing on the counter a few feet away, Thor happily whiled away the time playing Angry Birds on Jane's iPad. With the volume turned up as high as possible. Triumphant cheers erupted from the birds, echoed by Thor's, as he finished another round. "Three stars!" he said.
Jane, Darcy and Loki stared at an oblivious Thor. "Is there a reason for your incessant attraction to that irritating mortal toy?" asked Loki.
Thor grinned. "The birds, brother! They are angry and must be avenged!"
Jane smiled indulgently at her guy, and Darcy thought, "Counting down to 'You're not my brother' in five, four, three, two-"
"You're not my brother," said Loki through a clenched jaw, turning back to the white board and erasing a line of equations with an angry swipe.
Darcy open her email and sent a quick message. Getting a response a minute later, she scooped her purse from under the desk and stood. "I'm going to the break room. Anyone want anything? Snacks? The missing cards in your deck?" The last comment was directed at Loki, but as usual he ignored her. If ignoring people was an Olympic sport, he'd be covered in medals.
The door to the Fish Bowl-her name for the mostly glass-walled lab-chimed as she opened it and Max Padilla, the guard stationed on the hallway, lifted his chin at the sound. "Hey, Max," she said, heading toward him and the nearby lift.
Max was outfitted in SHIELD's black body armor, a Desert Eagle pistol, his only apparent weapon, at his hip. Like all the guards, he had all manner of ways to bring the pain secreted in his uniform and could do a fair amount of damage with his fists alone. When he saw Darcy, he smiled, good humor shining in his dark brown eyes.
"How's life in the Fish Bowl?" he asked as she waited for the lift.
"Our water needs changing, and somebody should harpoon the shark."
Max tapped the firearm at his side. "As soon as I get the order, sweetheart, one bullet in the brain." Like many SHIELD employees, he'd lost friends to Loki's genocidal hijinks, and only a strict sense of duty kept him from disobeying orders and attempting bloody revenge on the God of Mischief.
She humored Max with a smile. While she admired the sentiment, even now in a slightly domesticated state, Loki wasn't the kind of monster you put down with a gun. The lift took her to the top floor, though "top" was a misnomer, since it was still a couple hundred feet underground. On the surface, the property was a feedlot, with real cattle, and all that entailed including manure and piss and flies.
Floor One was where everything that didn't require guns and/or laboratories lived: the administration offices, medical clinic and break room. Though the facility was built to accommodate about 200 employees, at the present it operated with about 50, many of whom were often off-site. The break room was really a small cafeteria, but with the current skeleton crew, the kitchen wasn't in operation, so food came via several vending machines.
Sean was already there, sitting at a table; his office in accounting was just down the hall. He smiled a quiet close-mouthed smile when he saw her and she felt a spark that shot up her back and bounced down to her toes. Together they went to the vending machines, where Sean bought a turkey sandwich and Darcy got three Snicker's bars.
Only three other people were in the room, a guard sitting alone, and two women. Darcy couldn't remember the guard's name, but the women were lab assistants from Floor Four. Nine months ago, when she, Jane and Erik moved into the Fish Bowl, Sarah and Cammie had been friendly. In fact, Darcy and Jane had spent off-work time with the two women; had gone to the movies; even driven down to Santa Fe for a couple of shopping trips.
Then Thor popped back to Earth, his wayward, city-destroying brother in tow, begging SHIELD for a kind of asylum. SHIELD took him in because no way were they going to let go of a prize like Thor, or for that matter Loki, not when other secretive branches of the government, or other countries' covert ops, would be equally happy to possess a couple of Norse gods.
And now Sarah and Cammie, along with every other SHIELD employee behaved as though Jane and Darcy had rolled in a pile of cow shit up in the stockyard. Sean at least, was still her friend, even though he would no longer visit her in the Fish Bowl.
"Three candy bars? That bad, huh?" said Sean.
Darcy grinned. "No, it really isn't. I mean, no worse than usual. The other two are for Jane and Thor." Maybe she should have gotten two for Thor. Chocolate might distract him from Angry Birds. Of course a god on a sugar high could be an even bigger problem.
Sean smiled absently, his attention on unwrapping his sandwich. He was a man of few words, which suited Darcy just fine. She didn't hang around Sean for his scintillating conversation. Sean O'Malley was the prettiest man she'd ever seen, and, hey, she lived with two gods.
Individually, his features weren't attractive. His face had a rawboned quality with prominent cheekbones, and an almost too-strong jaw line. He wore his brown hair in a shaggy disheveled cut. His lips were full and sensual, and with his lanky boyish frame, he had a vaguely androgynous cast. But his most striking features were his big blue eyes-cornflower blue, as Jane called them. Darcy had never seen a cornflower, but figured it must be breathtaking if Sean's eyes were any indication. Collectively, all his features added up to someone who should be strutting down a fashion runway.
Most of the women in the building, and some of the men, were in love with Sean, but Darcy was the only person to get anywhere with him, although "anywhere" wasn't far. They'd had dinner twice in the Puente Antiguo's crappy little diner, and once, dinner and a movie in Santa Fe. He'd held her hand a few times, but so far, hadn't even tried for a kiss. He wasn't giving her a gay vibe and she had pretty good Gaydar; never mentioned religion, so probably wasn't saving it for marriage; so that left super-shy virgin. Darcy grinned to herself. The idea of deflowering a beautiful man definitely had its appeal.
"You seem pretty chipper," observed Sean. "Did you get good news, like...your roommates are moving out?"
"Naw, honestly? I think I'm getting used to them."
His eyes widened. "Really? You're getting used to living with a mass murderer?"
She shrugged. "He's mostly harmless, now."
"Harmless?" he said in an incredulous tone, his blue eyes blazing with a strange ferocity.
Darcy flushed. "Okay. Not harmless." She peeled back the candy wrapper and took a small bite, chewed and swallowed. "More like 'housebroken,'" she said, hoping to placate him. The filter between her brain and mouth rarely worked, and normally she was impervious to other people's reactions, but Sean was one of her few remaining friends at work.
Sean nodded, the intensity dropping from his gaze, returning to his usual mild demeanor. They ate their lunch, the conversation unmemorable, largely because Darcy's brain was occupied with images of herself tangled in his long, lanky limbs.
On the way out of the cafeteria, she broke down and bought another Snickers bar for Thor.
Since the arrival of the boys from Asgard, leaving work had become a minor ordeal requiring armed guards and a security escort to and from the trailer in the desert that they called home. Actually, even something as simple as going to the ladies' room or the cafeteria was supposed to involve a guard, but in Darcy's case, that complication was regularly disregarded. There were perks to being the least respected member of Team Astrophysics.
Frankly, Darcy was just glad that the powers that be, i.e., Nick Fury, had let them continue living in the trailer, rather than moving them to quarters at the facility. If she had to live underground, day-in, day-out, she'd probably go as crazy as Loki and start contemplating world domination alongside him.
To make the trip out of the Fish Bowl and up the lift, they were accompanied by four assault rifle-toting guards. Again, given Loki's track record, Darcy wondered how much good the rifles would do. Her Taser-which wasn't allowed on the facility-at least had been proven effective against one out of two Norse gods. (Unfortunately, though she was dying to try it on Thor's not-brother, the jerk had thus far been disappointingly benign.)
The lift opened to a receiving room in an ugly, two story ranch house. The room, once the living room and kitchen, had been modified and looked like the screening area at an airport. They passed through the multiple scanners-Darcy wondered if all this zapping was giving her cancer-and left through a side door to the parking lot. Thor and Jane led the way, followed by Loki and then Darcy.
Loki, however, stopped in the doorway, head canted skyward, and she almost crashed into his leather clad back. Thor was back to dressing like a Midgard lumberjack, plaid shirt, jeans and work boots, but Loki refused to blend. Instead of his villainous green, black and gold, he wore an outfit of black leather, with a few metal flourishes, and no helm. Rather than the straight-from-a-comic book shoulder length mane, his ebony hair was cut just an inch below his ears. Though more subdued, he still looked like a cosplayer in search of a con.
Darcy put a hand on his back and pushed. "Move it, Mad Science."
"Don't touch me," he said, though without his usual venom.
"I'm making dinner tonight. Be nice or I'll spit in your food." She shoved with both hands and he moved.
As she stepped outside, her gaze rose to the sky. It had rained while they'd been underground-recently, by the smell of wet sagebrush-the remaining clouds brushed across clear blue sky like smears of damp white paint. A rainbow arched across the sky, its translucent double just below it. The sun, dropping to the western horizon, edged the clouds with gold. It was still hot as hell, now with the unusual complication of humidity, so she peeled off the bulky sweater, revealing a seasonally appropriate short sleeve red top.
They climbed into Jane's newish SUV-paid for by SHIELD-Jane driving with Thor riding shotgun, Darcy and Loki in the backseat. Once, Thor had sat with Loki, but lately Darcy had ceded her position, letting the two lovebirds ride together. Besides, she found she enjoyed goading Loki into verbal skirmishes.
For the most part, Darcy was the only person that the belligerently taciturn god would acknowledge. Though coldly pleasant to Jane when discussing matters of physics and magic, which Darcy now knew were essentially one and the same, he otherwise confined his communication to icy glares and angry grunts.
Darcy had a gift for bringing him out of his stony silence, though their conversations were light years from civil. At first Jane and Thor had tried to mediate. Thor would plead, "Brother, she is our hostess, please show her the respect due." (Loki, naturally, would growl his mantra: "You're not my brother.")
Jane would frown worriedly and chide Darcy, "Please don't antagonize him." As of late, however, the couple seemed to have given up.
After one particularly vociferous snipe fest, ignored by Jane and Thor, Darcy had turned to Loki and said, "Mom and Dad don't care if we kill each other anymore."
With a suggestion of dark amusement, Loki had responded, "Perhaps they hope we will."
Today, she didn't feel up to sparring with her partner in carpool hell, so she stared out the window at the gorgeous New Mexico sky as the SUV left the lot, past corrals filled with sad-eyed cattle on the next-to-last leg of the journey to becoming steaks and burgers. It had been six months since Thor and Loki moved in with Jane and Darcy (Erik moving out almost immediately-who could blame him?).
As Darcy understood it-and she understood so little-following Loki's latest misadventure, Odin was having a merry old time reeducating his prodigal not-son. Odin's "reeducation" involved no textbooks, but loads of sharp toys, blood and Loki screaming like a girl. Justice, old-school Norse-style sounded like a wonderful idea to Darcy and probably everyone in the known universe except for Thor.
One night Thor took it upon himself to liberate Loki from prison, a task that was suspiciously easy. It turned out Odin had foreseen his heir's betrayal and cast a spell on Loki. Anyone who took the God of Mischief from the prison would be bound magically to him. Thor had to remain within a hundred feet of Loki; if he moved beyond that distance, Loki would suffer excruciating convulsions, and eventually die in slow agony. (Darcy, of course, had repeatedly begged Thor for a demonstration of this but so far Thor-the killjoy-had refused.)
Thor had thrown himself and his brother on SHIELD's mercy, explaining that Odin would make no attempt to retrieve his sons if a Midgard entity took them under its protection. Somewhere along the line, Fury decided that the best place to dump the two would be in Nowheresville, New Mexico, with Thor's mortal love interest. SHIELD had recently set Jane up with a brand new, three bedroom, two bath, house trailer; she had plenty of room, right?
No one bothered to consult her other two roommates. Darcy had considered following Erik to New York, but he begged her to stay and keep an eye on Jane. So here she was, sitting next to the guy who had single-handedly revitalized the construction industry in New York City with just a few hours of homicidal mayhem.
Her stomach growled, reminding her of the extra candy bar in her purse. She had bought it with the good intention of giving it to Thor, but changed her mind. He had superpowers; she didn't and she had to sit in the back with Loki. She deserved chocolate.
The wrapper would not open and she shot Loki a hard look. "Stop it!"
He smirked and wiggled a finger and wrapper tore abruptly, the candy almost falling from her hands. "You lose, Mad Science, I never drop chocolate." She started to take a bite and then, on a bizarre impulse, broke off a third, and handed it to him. He dropped his emerald gaze to her hand, expressionless. "I slept too late this morning. Didn't get to ride my bike. I don't need the calories," she explained.
She expected he'd sneer and turn away, but he surprised her and plucked the chocolate from her grasp, nimbly avoid contact with her fingers.
In the front seat, Thor and Jane were discussing Chihuahua dogs and other toy breeds. "Truly? They are descended from wolves?" asked Thor, incredulous.
Darcy eyed Loki warily for a moment, but all he did was eat the candy. She followed suit, because, well...chocolate, though there was a risk when dealing with anything Loki tampered with. Like the time all her whites came out of the laundry a vile shade of green. Or the enchanted hair conditioner that turned her hair purple. That prank had been a failure on his part. The shade looked divine on Darcy and as an added bonus, she now knew for certain that Thor sometimes used her conditioner.
After a few moments, she asked, "So why the fascination with the clouds back there?"
He ignored her, lifted a finger to his mouth and licked away a spot of chocolate. She turned to look out the window, glancing back to see the ubiquitous shiny black SUV that followed them everywhere.
"The sky reminds me of Asgard," he said, startling her out of her thoughts.
"You mean because it's beautiful?"
"Yes." His frigid mask had fallen away, and he suddenly looked terribly young. Darcy gulped, unsettled. His demeanor was so out of character, her first impulse was to say, "Who are you and what did you do with Loki?" But nothing came from her mouth. Then, just as quickly, it passed and he retreated behind the familiar sullen wall.
"So do they run in packs, these miniaturized wolves?" Thor asked Jane.
In the rearview mirror, Darcy could see Jane's eyes sparkle with wry mirth. "Yes," said Jane, "huge packs of a hundred or more. Because they're so tiny." Thor stared at her in amazement before realizing she was joking and then roaring with laughter.
Loki's shoulders rose in a sigh and Darcy giggled and said under her breath, "Yeah, you're right. There's no way you two are brothers." His gaze met hers for an instant, fey humor in his green eyes, before he quickly turned away.
Unnerved by the odd bits of humanity that Loki had let escape, Darcy sat in silence, thinking. Then she licked her lips, lifted her hand, index finger pointed toward him and pressed her fingertip against his shoulder where small plates of metal gave way to leather.
"Don't touch me," he snarled, lip curled in disgust, shrinking from contact.
"There's the Loki we know and hate," said Darcy with a grin.
"Loki, enough," grumbled Thor; "Darcy, leave him alone," said Jane.
Darcy laughed. "And Mom and Dad love us after all."
Jane turned the SUV onto Don Tenorio Road and Darcy leaned against the door, watching the black SUV follow and thinking, This is what it's like to be president of the United States, followed everywhere by an armed detail.
Except the president's detail was there to protect him or her. This one pulled double duty, protecting Jane, Darcy, and the guys from angry civilians, but also protecting the civilians from Loki. Not that he'd been all that interesting, lately. Darcy had to admit, a perverse part of her found this sullen and broken-to-the-point-of-harmless-yes, "harmless"-Loki downright disappointing.
Jane's new trailer was situated on the outskirts of town, where the lots were big - two to five acres - and the housing a crazy mix of McMansion and trailer home. Theirs was the kind of neighborhood that would give an upscale homeowner's association fits of apoplexy.
The vehicle passed Rafaela Tapia's place first. Mrs. Tapia, a seventy-year-old widow, lived in an ancient single-wide trailer home, a long white metal rectangle with a rusty metal trailer hitch on the north end. If the SUV's windows were down, Darcy would have been able to hear the combined noise from a few dozen wind chimes that hung from Mrs. Tapia's porch. Plastic and silk flowers, woven into the sagging chain link fence that surrounded the property, fluttered in the light breeze.
The Richards's place was surrounded by a tall adobe wall. The house, a sprawling Mediterranean with red tile roofs and brown stucco, took up most of the two-acre lot. The grounds were meticulously landscaped, New Mexico style, with ten tons of tan gravel mulch, a few struggling yucca plants and a couple of stray tumbleweeds. Two fat white pitbulls slept in the shade by the front gate.
Carlos Martinez-Yazzie's home was a marvel of redneck architecture: three single-wide trailers stitched together to form one U-shaped super trailer. A short wall of tires ran the length of the road and landscaping consisted of a collection of dead appliances that sprouted from the barren ground like giant tombstones.
"Next up," muttered Darcy, "The Tony Stark junkyard."
An unfortunate side effect of being a super genius who could cobble together an arc reactor in a cave from spare missile parts was that Stark saw the potential for great things in just about everything. Especially stuff that he could find cheap on eBay or Craig's List. If Tony were just an ordinary schmuck, he'd be living in a two-bedroom apartment stuffed to the rafters in broken, and largely useless mechanical detritus. In short, Iron Man was a hoarder.
Pepper wouldn't tolerate his junkyard aesthetic at any of his million dollar plus houses, so he'd asked Jane if he could store a few spare parts on the property. "Come on, you've got three acres, who will it bother, the coyotes?" he had said. Jane - unfailingly nice, Jane - had agreed. What began with a few small engine parts, stored in a metal shed, now spilled all over the property.
Jane parked the SUV next to Darcy's little blue Honda, and everyone got out and made for the house. "Oh, look," said Darcy, "we've got new junk." Something that was either the front end of a missile or the world's largest sex toy sat next to Jane's old travel trailer.
Jane pushed her fingers through her long brown hair. "Is there anything he won't buy?"
"A functioning toaster?" offered Darcy, but Jane just sighed and marched ahead, clomping up the wooden stairs to the trailer's small porch. Darcy paused, letting everyone else go on ahead. The sun had started to set, painting the clouds in shades of purple, pink and orange. The trailer, white siding with dark gray trim and faux shutters, picked up the sky's vivid hues. The celestial tableau was mirrored in the shiny stainless steel grill that sat on the porch. Thor's grill, because all men, even gods of thunder, loved cooking dead animals over an open fire.
At the sound of tires crunching on gravel, Darcy turned to see the black SUV backing up and onto the road. With Loki in the house, already hiding in the room he and Thor shared, only to emerge for dinner, their escort would return to base. The trailer probably had as many electronic bugs as the six-legged variety, and throughout the night a security team would drive by making sure nothing was amiss.
She waved, getting an answering wave from the driver, but none from his partner. No doubt, a casualty of her decision to sit in the back with Loki. There'd always been an assumption among many that if Thor had Jane, then Loki had Darcy. Sharing a seat with him only confirmed the rumor. Even though she was in closer proximity before, when she sat in the front, just a few feet before him. Darcy pushed the thought aside, burying it with every other thing that could eat her alive from the inside. "Live in the moment" was her mantra. No wallowing in the past, live in the now with an eye to future.
Above her head a set of wind chimes, a gift from Mrs. Tapia, sang a cheerful melody in the hot afternoon breeze. The door to the trailer squeaked open and Thor poked his head out. "What are we having for dinner, Darcy?"
"Red beans and rice." A big super-sized version purchased at Costco, because when you live with two gods, shopping at warehouse stores is a necessity. "With sausage. Fire up the grill, big guy." Thor beamed a million watt smile and hurried over to the grill.
Darcy grinned, feeling a peculiar sense of peace. Yeah, she was trapped in this weird job (skilz or no skilz, it wasn't like SHIELD was letting her go, knowing what she knew), with bizarro roommates but lately she'd found a surprising sense of contentment. Casting one last look at the pretty sunset, she went into the house to make dinner for her strange family.
And...FF ate my "em-dashes." Oh, the humanity. Anyhoo, thanks for reading!