The bathroom faucet hissed as water spluttered out and then ran smoothly into the beer glass. When it was half full, Darcy swirled it around, emptied and refilled it. She slid the rose's stem back into the water and held it up to the mirror. The flower and Darcy looked normal, but the reflection also showed an arched picture window, surrounded by pinkish-tan tile, below it a large jetted tub. In reality, the only thing behind her was a white wall and a couple of towel racks. Unfazed, she switched off the light and headed for her room. The illusion was another one of Loki's experiments with optics, harmonic something or others, and science-magic stuff.
Living with Loki meant stumbling over outcomes of his various experiments. Some were more successful than others. The coffee maker, for example, now made a delicious, frothy, chocolate coffee, no matter the blend. Unfortunately, the microwave sometimes turned food into fake food, the kind of stuff used on stage or to sell dining rooms sets in furniture stores. Not one to admit defeat, when asked about the prop-making microwave, Loki would sniff and say, "I meant to do that."
In her room, she set the flower on the nightstand and opened the window a few inches to let in the cool night air.
In a few months, it would be too cold to leave the window open at all. New Mexico winters were mild, but colder than what she'd grown up with in Tempe. By December, the SUV's windows would be rimed with frost every morning and she and Jane would complain about the lack of a garage or carport. Jane would start worrying that Inkblot might freeze to death one cold night, and put out extra food. Darcy would go back to running because the bike moved too fast through the icy air, giving her face freeze.
She slid under the covers, facing the rose, and fell asleep wondering what the holidays would be like with Thor and Loki.
The nightmare came at her sideways, in the middle of a pleasant dream. It obliterated any memory of the nice dream and this time, struck at her with an almost sentient malice, making sure she remembered every detail.
The trailer house lay before her, black and white in the darkness. She was returning from a date, or shopping, or a date. Those details were slippery and amorphous, like any other dream. The body wasn't there and then it was, stretched out, rigid, on the porch at the top of the steps, just as she remembered it a week before.
Electric fear running up her spine, her heart racing, she stopped at the bottom stair. Somewhere in the distance came the cries of men, angry and anguished, and the metallic clash of steel on steel. When she listened, though, all she heard was silence.
She stared at the body, Andy's corpse. Despite being dead and frozen, he turned his head and met her stare. "They think it's him. They're wrong," said Andy, but his mouth didn't move. Darcy opened hers but nothing came out.
Then it wasn't Andy but Max and he said, "They are blind to his faults."
"Whose faults?" she asked, but Max was gone, leaving Loki. Loki in that armor, black and gold and green, the sweeping overcoat and gold bracers. Unbloodied, unmarred, like his familiar profile. The golden helm with the horns was missing, but his black hair was long again. Eyes closed, arms crossed across his chest, he resembled the likeness of a dead knight, carved on top of a casket.
The sounds of fighting, swords on swords, rang out, then the higher pitched screams of women and children. A shudder ran the length of Loki's body and his eyes opened. His back arched and face wrenched in agonized pain. With a cry, he rolled onto his side, facing her, knees bent toward his belly. He coughed and blood spilled from his mouth.
Panting in pain, his emerald eyes were bright, manic and staring at somewhere Darcy could never see. Between clenched teeth, he said, "Blind to his crimes." His sightless eyes suddenly looked startled and then the light fled his eyes.
Darcy hurried up the stairs, except in dreams you can never really hurry. Three steps behaved like twenty and by the time she reached the top, and touched his face, the warmth had fled his skin.
"Loki, no." She pulled his head into her lap. His hair was short again, ragged and needing a decent cut. "No, Loki, no." Staring at the front door, she tried to cry for help, "Thor!" but it came out a whisper because it's also impossible to scream in dreams.
A night bird called out above her and she looked at a sky that was both familiar and alien. Around her the tall trees were broken, flattened and burning. The dead man wasn't Loki, but she had loved him well and she sobbed and pushed her fingers through his hair. His face was a ruin of burned skin and white bone, but she knew him by his clothes and the sword at his side. Looking toward the north, to the mountains, she called a name, summoning the missing, but her voice was small and broken.
Strong hands closed on her shoulders and pulled her up and away from the body. Numb, she let herself be led away, a thick wall hastily built between her mind and everything beyond. At the same time, she tried to shrug off the hands, snapping, "I said, no. Are you fucking deaf?"
Her mental barrier was imperfect because she could feel the small stones and bits of forest litter under the cloak he'd thrown on the ground. His kiss was sloppy and uncomfortable and their weight made the dorm room bed squeak angrily.
"...would you submit and bear the unbearable or would you fight?"
Walled away, she watched, detached, as he pealed away clothing in a manner that was probably meant to be alluring; she listened, deaf to whispered words of endearment in a language she didn't understand, anyway.
She fought, punching and kicking. When his hand, which stank of sweat and cheap beer, went over her mouth, she chomped down on its palm like it was a thick steak.
In the end, it didn't matter. She fell back in time to the day she was betrothed; he hit her so hard that she bit her tongue and lost track of time.
The stars still glittered in the blue blackness of the familiar-unfamiliar sky, but morning's dim glow lit the far horizon. She trudged up the hill, the length of rope in her hand. Standing below the lowest limb of the old tree, she tied the noose, bending and pulling rough rope through coils as her beloved had taught her, though not for this purpose.
She shook her head, more afraid than she'd ever been, heart thundering in her ears. No, stop! It wasn't worth this. This was defeat.
But she threw the other end of rope over the limb anyway.
"No!" But her protest was in vain. The coarse material bit into her neck...
And Darcy awoke, tearing at the sheet and pillow around her head. In a dumb animal panic, she lunged out of bed and across the room. Hitting the light switch, she pressed her back to the wall, blinking through the sudden glare at the familiar confines of her room. Her eyes settled on the crimson rose and remained there, an anchor to which she affixed a frantic "It was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream, just..." The choking weight of the dream lifted, but an overpowering, mindless dread remained.
She turned, opened the door and slipped into the hallway, heart still racing, spectral fingers on her shoulders, a rope tightening around her neck.
Loki's door was rimmed in faint yellow light.
"Loki. Are you up?" She knocked on his door and stood there shifting from one foot to another as seconds became long minutes. She glanced at Jane's door, knowing she was desperate enough for company to wake sleeping beauty and her prince. Just as she was about to move toward Jane's, Loki's door opened.
"I had a dream. A nightmare." If she hadn't been so completely doped up by terror, it would have occurred to her that Loki, who had probably caused enough horrific dreams himself, wasn't exactly the go-to-guy for comfort.
Which was probably why he looked so utterly perplexed, a thick leather bound book still in his hand. She took a step toward him and his expression changed. He cocked his head to the side, face suddenly calculating, almost wary. With a flick of his wrist, the book disappeared. He looked up and down the hallway as if he expected to find someone else there.
"Good, do that," Darcy muttered, unhappily, "Because I'm not freaked out enough."
He moved forward, and brushed past her and she noted he was wearing the black pajamas. "Come," he said, starting toward the living room.
Staring into the pitch black darkness of the rest of the house, she remained rooted to the floor.
"Please," he tried, irritably. When she still didn't move, he closed the distance between them, took her hand and then hissed something in a strange language. Taking her other hand, he said, "Your hands are like ice."
She shivered, finding that the rest of her was as well. "Yours are hot, scalding."
He let go and went into her room, moving from one end to the other in a few long strides. She watched as he surveyed the room, hands sometimes moving over the furniture, steely gaze sweeping over everything, an angry black-clothed wraith cataloging all. Her teeth chattered and she wondered if she shouldn't have gotten Jane and Thor, after all.
Returning, he stopped, one hand on the doorframe. "Did you see anything? When you woke?"
"No. What's going on?"
Rather than an answer, he lifted a hand, fingers wide, palm upward. His hand closed into a quick fist, and the sound of many tiny things popping echoed throughout the house. "Fury's electronic ears."
"You fried them all? Why haven't you done that before?"
He smirked. "I thought it prudent to leave him his allusion of control." Taking her hand again, he led her to the living room, turning on the ceiling light and lamp with wave of a hand.
"You can do that magic easy enough," she noted.
He gestured at the couch and she sat. "I could do that sort of magic when I was a child," he replied, sitting next to her, turned slightly, his knee touching hers. Taking both her hands, he rubbed his thumbs over her cold flesh. "What did you see in the dream?"
Darcy stared at his hands around hers and wondered if he had been an adorable kid. Probably not, actually. Really cute children grew up to be weird looking adults. She told him about the nightmare, as best she could.
"I think I know where the second part came from," she said at the end. "Thor's stories of battles. I mean, dreams are just the brain collecting crap from waking life and throwing it on the screen to see what sticks, right?"
"You reek of magic," he said, bluntly.
"I what? No shit."
"Yes...shit. I suspect I'm the cause." He appraised her coolly, eyes halting on her chest.
"I'm cold. It makes the ladies perky," she said pointedly and he flashed her a wicked grin that made the matter worse. It was probably time to invest in something besides threadbare T-shirts for pajamas. Or, maybe not, she thought as his eyes tracked toward her breasts again.
"My nightmares are another one of your tricks? Can we go back to coyote-lizards in the shower, because these dreams, are like...hurting me."
He shook his head. "I didn't send you the nightmare. But when I allowed you to feel the killer's magic, I must have awakened a latent sensitivity."
"I can do magic?" she said, "Bitchin'."
"I wouldn't apply for Hogwarts, just yet," he said dryly. "By sensitivity, I mean you are like weak radio receiver, picking up only the strongest signals, with no ability to broadcast."
"The nightmare was someone's psycho magic podcast?" She suddenly knew what the term "cold sweat" felt like as the memory of the dream - Loki's death, the noose around her neck - made her teeth start chattering again, even as damp beads of perspiration built up on her skin.
"That's an apt description. It may have carried aspects of the killer's dream." Releasing her hands, he leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Other than a dim scar where his right thumb joined his hand, neither hand showed any sign of the horrific damage from months before. His hair was mussed, probably where it had been smooshed against a pillow. He flinched when she reached out and tried to smooth it against his head, but tolerated her fiddling in silence.
Thinking better, she changed her mind and ruffled her fingers through the silky, ink-black strands, making it worse. "If so, he or she is dreaming of your death."
"Who isn't?" He turned, grinning over his shoulder, looking like a messy-haired dark angel.
"Me, at least, not intentionally" she replied, through teeth that still were determined to chatter. "And Jane's hunky bed warmer, the one who keeps calling you his brother."
The grin faded and his green eyes turned ice cold. He turned away, and beneath her hand, now on his shoulder, muscles tensed. She could sense his nasty retort's impending arrival and she couldn't handle that just now. Before he could speak, she asked, "The part with you...gone, that couldn't be true. Because you can't really die, right?"
He said nothing for a minute and then his leg started to twitch. "Everything dies, Darcy."
Across the room, she caught sight of their murky reflections on the television's dark screen, both their faces pale and luminescent. "Odin's spell, the one that velcros you and Thor together like a couple of mismatched socks? It can really kill you?"
"Socks," he muttered, shooting her a quick glance, mild humor in his eyes. "Yes. It's a masterwork, a vast network of threads connected to my magic, which, when triggered, causes a chain reaction, turning my magic on itself." His tone had a measure of admiration in it.
"How do you know it even works? Maybe you could stroll out the door right now and make yourself supreme overlord of New Mexico."
She saw the shadow of his grin in the reflection. "I prefer king. It's far more elegant." Bending forward, he set his forehead against the heel of both hands. "Fury demanded a test."
"Poor Thor," said Darcy, knowing it must have just about killed him to test the spell on his brother.
"Poor Thor?" Loki said, giving her a look of utter disbelief.
"Well, poor you, too," she said, actually feeling mildly chagrined.
Sitting up straight, he glowered down at her. "And how many times have you begged Thor for a demonstration of the spell's effectiveness?"
"Never, because that would be cruel?" She tilted her head and blinked in wide-eyed innocence.
"As I've said before, leave the lies to me."
Trying another approach, she smiled at him and said, "I'm a scientist, right? I'm all about the experiments."
"You have your charms. Scientific aptitude isn't one of them."
"Huh. Says you. I'm queen of the lab." She shivered again and wrapped her arms around herself.
"You're still cold." He considered her for moment, then looked away, expression pained, as if twisted by an internal debate. Either that or he'd sat on a tack.
With a small exasperated sigh, he put an arm around her shoulder and gathered her against his side. Their eyes met, then they looked away, vaguely embarrassed.
"The words were," he said, "'They think it's him. They're wrong.' And, 'They are blind to his faults,' then 'Blind to his crimes." Correct?"
Snug against the warm crook of his shoulder, she nodded. "What does it mean? Is 'him,' you?"
"I'm not sure. After all, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who is blind to my faults or crimes."
"Thor, maybe, but that would be a 'he,' not 'they.'"
"You didn't include yourself that time," he observed.
"You have your charms," she said, eyes on their reflection, "but crimeless and faultless aren't any of them." He twitched with a mild laugh and she pressed closer to him, drinking in his heat. "Could the killer be a woman? The last part of the dream, where the ra-..." she could feel his eyes on hers in the reflection, "in the forest, that was a woman's memory." Nightmare.
In the reflection, she saw him turn and look at her. Don't ask. I don't want to talk about it. What possessed her to tell him everything about the dream?
"Perhaps, although the dream narrative would suggest that the woman is dead."
"Ugh! Tell me I'm don't have a head full of dead person dreams, because there's not enough brain bleach for that."
"I can't tell you what you want to hear," he said, rubbing her shoulder absently, "because I don't know." Even in the fuzzy reflection she could see the bitterness on his face.
"Can you make it stop?" She closed her eyes and leaned her head against his shoulder, listening to the thump of his heartbeat. "Turn down my mojo receiver? I can't take another one of those dreams."
When he didn't answer, she opened her eyes and lifted her face to look at him. He was watching her, expressionless, but his eyes swept her face, stopping on her mouth. For a second, she thought he might kiss her again, which would have been awesome, since at least, this time she didn't ask. Instead he said, "There are things I could do...but I'm reluctant to tamper with you. Your mind, specifically."
"If this goes on, I'm going to have to rob a bank to pay for all the therapy I'll need. Do whatever you need to."
"No," he said, flatly. "I won't risk it. My magic is too unreliable."
"My rose worked; you got the Asgard music on my iPod. And the jinxed coffee maker? You could rule the world with an army of chocolate coffee makers."
"Ah, had I only known..." A smile broke through his grim visage and he pressed his forehead against hers, eyes closed. Darcy decided he could rule her with just that damned smile.
With a sigh, he pulled away and frowned down at her. "There's a reason you call me Mad Science."
"I know," she said, her voice pleading, "But I don't want to go there again, I can't remember-"
"I understand that, but-" he snapped. His eyes closed and she could see him struggling to control his anger. Letting him deal with his temper, she leaned her head against him again, closing her eyes. His chest rose and fell with slower breaths and his fingers traced warm circles on her upper arm.
"I might be able to manage something," he said, after a few minutes. "On the order of the magic detector, except it would send out a frequency that could block magical resonance."
"Mmmm," she said, sleepily, "There's the Mad Science I know and love." Tucked tightly to his side, the cold was banished along with most of the dream's terror. Sleep beckoned. Knowing it was a few steps beyond "friends," but currently beset with a case of don't-give-a-shit, she twisted sideways, burrowing against his chest, one hand grabbing a handful of shirt near his opposite shoulder. A sideways glance at their reflection told her that he was staring at her, but she couldn't make out his expression. He heaved an overdramatic sigh, but suffered her presence without comment.
"The nightmare, like the murders, are a message to me," he said.
"Message? As in, 'Howdy, I hate you?'" she tried to say, most of the comment muffled by her face snuggled in his shirt.
"Or, 'I know who you are.'" He shrugged. "Or perhaps, 'I admire your work.'"
"Goody. Crazed fan."
He moved so fast, her brain didn't realize what had happened. She was suddenly sitting upright, unsteadily, held by his hands on her upper arms. "If you insist on playing detective, don't go alone." His penetrating gaze pinned her eyes to his. "Take the boy with you, if you must. And procure another weapon."
"Boy?" Her groggy mind lurched blindly and stumbled on a name. "Oh, Sean, right. The other vertex of the triangle."
He took her hand and stood. "It hardly seems possible, but you're make less sense than usual. Back to bed."
She leered at him sleepily, and he set his attention on the floor and hauled her to her feet.
"What if the dream comes back tonight?" she said, coming to a hard stop in her doorway, pulling back against his hand.
He swept the room with a long look, posture weary. Releasing her hand, he gestured at her bed. "Go."
Here in her room, usually her safe place, the fear began to grow in the pit of her stomach, along with a cold that numbed her fingers. In two long strides, Loki was at the window, which he shut the mundane way with muscle, not magic.
He regarded her, expressionless mask in place. "I'll stay with you." She arched an eyebrow at him and he added, "On the floor. I'm sleeping on the floor."
She studied him for a beat, and then shuffled to her bed. As much as her mouth wanted to note that floors weren't for sleep, while beds were perfectly designed for sex which led to even better sleep, her body reminded her that she was going to be a sleep-deprived zombie tomorrow morning. Before she settled in, she handed him a couple of pillows, and watched as he stretched out on his side, back to her, a few feet away. "That can't be comfortable."
"I've slept on far worse," he said. With a wave of his hand, the door swung shut and the light turned to dark.
The third time the clock radio went off, tuned to a station that belted out mariachi music, Darcy hit "off" instead of "snooze." Loki's rose glittered happily in the weak morning light. Its conjurer, however, was sprawled on his back, looking dead to the world, one arm over his abdomen, the other stretched from his side. His face was turned in her direction, black hair in disarray. Staring at his eerily young face, stripped by sleep of the usual cynicism or anger, she felt a fondness that took her breath away.
Stepping over him, she got a pair of pants from the closet, intentionally rattling the door loudly. No reaction. Opening and closing her dresser drawers noisily didn't wake him either.
In the shower, she noted that the bruises on her hip had faded to dull brownish purple. Maybe tomorrow, she'd try riding her bike again.
Loki was still in the same position when she returned. She nudged his ribs with a toe. His eyelids fluttered. Reassured that he was still among the living, she made for the kitchen, lured by the smell of chocolate-y coffee.
Several minutes later, as she munched on cereal and sipped coffee, a door opened, then another. "Loki?" said a deep male voice. "Loki!" The voice's owner appeared a minute later. "Darcy, have you seen Loki?"
"Try the floor in my room," she said cheerfully.
Thor stared at her, the obvious question bright in his blue eyes. He probably would have asked, since the alternative was dealing with his brother. Compared to Loki-in-the-morning, Loki, destroyer of cities and brother killer, was positively cuddly.
But he was distracted by Jane, who called from her room, "Did you find him?"
"I believe so," said Thor. With one last confused look at Darcy, he turned for her room. She picked up the remote control from the table and switched on the TV. The local weatherman was predicting rain, which meant blue skies all day. Turning up the volume, she went back to breakfast. In the bedroom, Thor grumbled and Loki made noises that sounded like a combination of Nazgul and rabid wolf.
On the television, the perky morning news anchor went through the usual litany of bank robberies, crooked politicians, and petty larcenies.
Jane was the next to arrive in the kitchen. She poured a cup of coffee and got a breakfast bar from a cabinet above the sink. "Okay," she said, sitting across from Darcy, "Why was Loki sleeping on the floor in your room?"
"Because the bed was too small?" replied Darcy with wink.
Jane's brown eyes widened and Darcy laughed. "If you ever lose your mind, Jane, just look in the gutter." After a sip of coffee, she explained, "I had a bad dream, a magical nightmare. Loki stayed in my room to chase off the boogie man."
"A dream about what?"
"Andy and Max's killer." She told Jane about the dream, leaving off one detail, though.
"The killer is sending Darcy nightmares," Jane said to Thor as he strolled into the kitchen.
"So Loki tells me," he said, pouring himself a coffee and then popping a couple of Pop-Tarts in the toaster. "This seems all the more reason not to go running about town on your own, Darcy."
"If we don't figure this out, your bro could be sleeping on my floor forever."
"He's slept in far worse places, Darcy." Thor's eyes twinkled with humor and a sly smile played on his mouth. "If he didn't wish to be at your side, he wouldn't bother. This is, after all, Loki, we're talking about."
She shrugged. "Maybe I want my privacy." Liar, liar. "I'll talk to Sean today. If he'll agree to come with me, we'll go into town tonight. See if we can pick up anything interesting."
"I'd like to know if that thing Loki and I rigged up works," said Jane with a guilty grin.
Darcy chased the remaining cereal bits around the milk with a spoon. "If you could convince your brother to stop dressing like a refugee from Comic Con, you two could come with me."
Thor's smile turned sad. "Though, of late, he's taken to speaking to me in full sentences, I'm not such an 'oaf' as to mistake that for genuine affection." He rubbed a hand over the back of his head. "If anyone could convince him, it would be you."
Could she? She'd never really tried, having spent most of the past six months clinging to the idea that she hated him.
On the television, the chirpy news anchor was doing a segment on what to do in New Mexico this week. A huge white puppet loomed on the screen, wreathed in flames, twisting as it burned. Darcy licked her lips, an idea blossoming in her head.
"You ever been to Zozobra, Jane?"
Jane, already scrolling through research stuff on her iPod, replied, absently, "No."
Zozobra, or Old Man Gloom, was the name of a huge marionette that was burned every year at the start of the Fiestas de Santa Fe. The embodiment of gloom and the year's past worries, Zozobra's fiery end symbolized the release of old miseries. It was a big event, with tens of thousands of people gathering in a park in Santa Fe to watch the 50-foot tall marionette go up in flames.
Darcy studied Thor, wondering what Loki would look like in Midgard clothing. In blue jeans and a plaid shirt, Thor was still totally crushable, but he passed as ordinary human.
As usual, Loki wandered into the kitchen last, black hair still damp from the shower. He got a cup of coffee and then pawed through the vegetable bin in the fridge, coming out with a couple of oranges and an apple.
Sitting next to Darcy, he said, grumpily, "You could have woken me."
"Nuh-uh. I like all my fingers and toes." Her cereal was all milk now and no cereal. She picked up the box and dumped more in the bowl. "Why do you have to be such drama princess in the morning?"
Loki removed the skin from an orange, the rind peeling away in neat strips, aided by magic. "What would you do if awakened by that hairy visage every morning?" He gestured with his eyes at his brother.
Thor stood backlit by the kitchen window, a mug of coffee in one hand, Pop-Tart in the other. Darcy eyes slid over his muscular arms and she managed, just barely, not to drool. Turning to Loki, she said, "You do know I'm straight, right?"
Confusion lengthened his angular face, followed by comprehension. His shoulders slumped as he rolled his eyes and turned his focus on the other orange, which he flayed completely with an angry twist of a hand. The rind ripped and parted from the fruit with a sickening wet squish.
"Ouch," said Darcy in sympathy, to the orange.
Thor, who had been watching them with an indecipherable expression on his face, said, "Darcy's dream would suggest the murderer isn't human. Those men, Edwards and King, aren't likely culprits, then?"
"It's not that simple," replied Loki. "They could be agents for the murderer. Or they might not even be human themselves." He slid a section of orange into his mouth, chewed and swallowed. "Or it could be someone else entirely."
"Exactly," agreed Darcy, snagging a section of orange and popping it into her mouth. "Sean and I will check out Edward's repair shop. If we don't find any trace of magic-"
"You'll cease this game of detective?" said Thor, a little too hopefully.
"-we can assume that Edwards and King are just random Loki haters."
"You're just going to wander around on the outside of the building, right?" asked Jane. "You won't try to get inside?"
"That would be breaking and entering, and really wrong," replied Darcy with overcooked sincerity. Thor and Jane nodded, placated. But out of the corner of her eye, she saw Loki smirk knowingly. She kicked his foot but the smirk just got broader.
As Jane's SUV carried them to work, she cast Loki sideways looks, trying to form a picture of what he'd look like in regular street clothes. Like Thor, he'd still be eye candy, but if he could keep his mouth shut and not blather on about glorious purposes and insignificant mortals, no one would recognize him.
Today was Monday. Zozobra happened on Thursday night. Which meant she had four days to try and convince Loki to get out and mingle with the human race absent subjugation and alien armies. She had a better chance of training a cat to play fetch.
She smiled anyway. Just a while ago, she had thought magic didn't exist, and now she had seen, felt and even tasted it. Nothing was impossible and Darcy was up to a challenge.
Thanks a million for the reviews and follows/faves! I remain absolutely amazed that anyone is reading this thing. :)
In the next chapter, Darcy tells Loki, "Things were done. Mistakes made. Stuff blew up."