Author's Note – Read-thru and proofread by indynerdgirl…but all errors are mine!
Hints and Foreshadowing
Darcy opened her eyes to find herself within a dome of gold facing Asgard's main guardian. "Well," she said with a bright smile, "this is different."
"Lady Darcy," Heimdall stepped forward with an amused and affectionate humor to give her a stately nod. "Welcome to my observatory."
"Nice place," she replied. She looked around the golden walls with their stylized designs. Her eyes narrowed. "Hey, what's this?" She walked forward, touching one portion of the picture. It reminded her of New York. "Is this…?"
"Indeed," he acknowledged. "It is representative of the city you call 'New York'. That entire panel is dedicated to your world and those Thor considers allied to the realm of Asgard."
She blinked and then started examining the panel. Laughter bubbled out of her throat as she started picking out the various designs. "You totally stole these ideas from Steve!"
"We saw no reason to dispute the designations given by the leader of the Midgardian heroes. Surely he would know better than we how they might be pictured," Heimdall replied calmly. "Our time was better spent in the creation of the panel itself."
"Sure," she grinned. "Whatever you say." She glanced back up at him. "So, not that I'm complaining or anything, but I usually start out in the garden and then come to the outer edge of the bridge so we can talk and look at the stars. What's up?"
"Lady Frigga granted my request to speak with you first," he replied, stepping towards the outer door. "If you would please accompany me for a moment? I believe it is time for you to see something new."
"Okay," she shrugged. Darcy followed him out to the Rainbow bridge. She had seen it many times before, but always the outward edge, the end that waited to be connected to some other world. He never led her this way before.
He glanced back over his shoulder. "Come, Lady Darcy, and see."
She stepped up beside him. Her eyes went wide in awe. "Oh, wow," she breathed softly. The realm of Asgard lay before her in all its golden glory. She had never seen it like this before. Usually she closed her eyes in the garden, felt a rush of air, and opened them on the bridge. Glimpses were all she had managed before, and while they hinted at wonders, they could not have prepared her for the grandeur now spread before her eyes.
Sunlight glinted from every building, flashing back in shades of gold, silver, copper, bronze…she could not name all of the colors she could see. Bright splashes of color moved with the breeze, giving a hint of large banners. Sharp edges and rounded surfaces blended into fabulous designs to feast the eyes while the mind staggered as it tried to take in the sheer immensity of everything. Statues as tall as, if not taller than, the Statue of Liberty stood proud; many of them scattered throughout various parts of the city. Avenues as wide as the Hudson River teemed with people moving to and fro. Above everything towered a gleaming golden…pyramid was the closest Darcy could come to an adequate description. It took her breath away, beautiful and completely alien.
And yet something within her…clicked. She recognized it in some way. This city pulled at her in a way she could not explain. Darcy trembled. It felt like she stood upon a precipice that could change her life yet again. Whispers teased her mind as a light grew within her, coming closer and closer.
Heimdall's voice shook her out of her reverie. Her eyes shot to meet his understanding ones. She blinked, still trying to find her center. He reached out and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Let it go for the moment, Lady Darcy. Let it rest in your mind until you are truly ready for it to awaken."
"These brief hints occasionally suck," she replied, giving herself a shake. "Do I close my eyes now?"
"In a moment," he acknowledged quietly. His solemn gaze never faltered. "We do not give you these hints to frustrate you."
"I know," she sighed. "Lady Frigga told me it was to help me take in everything because too much at once would frazzle my brain."
He chuckled, gold eyes flashing appreciatively. "Your Midgardian speech is always amusing."
"Yeah, that's what Clint tells me," she gave him a smile, small, but real. "I get it. I get why everything has to be so piecemeal, I really do." She huffed out a breath. "It just gets a bit aggravating. I'm good though." She wrinkled her nose. "I think."
"Ah, Lady, you have much to learn." His deep chuckle rumbled out again. "Now, take one last look and close your eyes. I will send you to the garden."
"Tell Sif hello for me," she told him before she turned back to look once more at the vision laid out before her. Tears gathered within her eyes as she tried to imprint everything to memory. She did not know, could not know what it meant to her, but every beat of her heart told her this place held a piece of her she had never known was missing. She closed her eyes before the feelings could overwhelm her once more.
She felt the brief rush of air and then caught a floral scent winding around her. She opened her eyes. The mighty Yggsdrasil stood before her and she did not stop to think about her reaction. She walked up to the trunk and rested against it...her. Suddenly Darcy could feel it, sense it – the great tree exuded a maternal concern, letting it flow over her. Darcy let out a long, slow breath. "Do I even want to know what has happened to me?"
A feeling of amusement crept over her. She stepped back, looking up with a crooked grin. "Everybody's laughing at me today. A girl could get a complex." One of the lights flared slightly and her eyes focused on it. "Huh," she huffed. "You're brighter than before." She stared at the light, letting her mind drift as she had learned over her many visits. The sphere burned deep gold with flecks of blue. Once in a while a clear red would flicker over the surface like…She blinked and began giggling. "It's lightning." A blanket seemed to settle around her shoulders as she contemplated the light, protecting and warming her. "Thor!"
Now she felt a sense of pride, like a child might receive from a loving parent. Her heart lifted. "Oh!" Her laughter spilled over, bright and sparkling as morning dew. "I can hear you!" Now the pride flared up. She reached out to touch the trunk once more and a deep affection mingled with the pride. Tears pricked her eyes. "Hi," she whispered.
A breeze drifted through the branches and their movements drew her eyes upwards once more. Most of her lights grew stronger each time she visited. One of them remained low and steady while three still held only the dimmest of lights. The other eight burned brightly though, their auras often blending into each other. She glanced around, but there was no sign of Lady Frigga, so she stepped back and lay down on the ground to meditate on her twelve points of light.
She looked at Clint's light first as it glowed bright gold with a deep purple thread. A soft smile graced her lips as she took in its clear surface and bright colors. It reached out to her with feelings of safety and passion underlined by a deep strength. Her eyes moved over to Jane's shimmering sphere of bright silver tinged with pink. The effervescent, bubbly feeling spilled over and she giggled. Thor's light seemed particularly close to Jane's appropriately enough. She could feel the warmth and protection of his light wrap around her once more.
Her eyes sparkled in the light. "I feel giddy."
Yggsdrasil responded with a parentally amused patience. Darcy laughed again before she felt the slight nudge. "Okay, next light," she agreed.
She looked at the light closest to Clint's. The main color glowed deep yellow with purple and red flecks glittering throughout...actually, now that she thought about it, it looked like it was trying to match Clint's gold. The two auras remained linked no matter how each light flared separately. The gold almost seemed to bleed into the yellow, slowly staining it. She was pretty sure she already knew who this was as well, but she tried to wait, letting the emotions surround her. Darcy felt a fierce affection tempered by a deep remorse all glazed over with a grim determination. A tear seeped out of the corner of her eye.
"Tasha," she said quietly.
Sorrow flowed from Yggsdrasil, but it was a sorrow tinged with hope.
"She's healing, isn't she?" Darcy asked.
Darcy sat up abruptly, turning her head so quickly her neck cracked. "Ow!" She rubbed her neck as she looked up to meet Lady Frigga's calm gaze. She started to scramble up, but was waved back down. Lady Frigga stepped forward and sank gracefully to the ground beside her.
"You have learned much in so short a time," Lady Frigga noted quietly. "It is rare for such a young initiate to hear her so soon."
"It…it just happened," Darcy stammered out.
"Yes," Lady Frigga smiled. "When you are ready, you hear her. It is the space of time from being chosen to being ready which seems to last so long." She looked up to the great branches spreading over them. "Some initiations have lasted centuries before the chosen could hear her voice."
"Oh," Darcy murmured weakly. She could not fathom centuries of waiting.
"Do not fear, child," Lady Frigga soothed. "Some of those chosen dedicated their lives to service despite their natures pulling them in a different direction. They must learn to quiet themselves before they can hear the voice of the Great Tree speaking to their hearts." She reached up and tucked a lock of hair back behind Darcy's ear. "Your nature lends itself to service. You want to help people, so your heart already aligns with hers. Your struggle will be quite different."
Darcy drew her legs up until she sat cross-legged. "How so?"
"Those who have to quiet themselves to hear her learn the discipline necessary to follow her path early," Lady Frigga explained. "Her path is one of discernment. Not only to know the truth, but when and how to act upon it. It is easy to learn her revelations and react to them, but every action sets off unexpected reactions. In some cases the chain of events you start will lead to something far more dire than the original event you sought to prevent."
"I'm not really seeing events," Darcy pointed out.
"Not yet," Lady Frigga agreed. "You can hear her now, and your teaching will progress much more quickly. There are few of us now who can speak with her so clearly."
Darcy frowned. "What happened to the others?"
"It has been many years since Asgard has been to war," Lady Frigga began. "It has been almost two millennia on Midgard." Darcy blinked, stunned by the sheer passage of time. Lady Frigga simply smiled. "Yes, a long time indeed. We involved ourselves on Midgard only to prevent powerful, otherworldly beings from affecting your people. In some ways we were successful; in others we were not. Despite our knowledge and our power, we are not the gods the people of Midgard made us out to be. We have the ability, should we choose, to remain immortal, but we are not invulnerable. Many of our number were killed in our various wars, including many of those of who would have been part of our company, perhaps even mentors for you on your journey." She sighed, sorrow etched in her face. Darcy remained silent, letting her remember in peace. Several moments passed in silence before Lady Frigga spoke once more. "In the years since, many have faltered and fallen away, losing sight of the teachings Yggsdrasil has for us. We are not infallible. They lost any ability to hear her."
"What happened to them?" Darcy asked. She found it hard to believe anyone could turn away from the wonder of the Great Tree. The sense of loss and anguish pooling within the small clearing made it clear Yggsdrasil felt every loss keenly, whether by choice or by death.
"Their desire to serve withered and faded," Lady Frigga sighed. "They grew tired, unsure in the long years. In a realm such as Asgard there has been little need of our gifts."
Darcy bit her lip. "How many are left?"
"Of all who can hear her, only a mere handful remain. Of our company, of those chosen by her to serve…" Lady Frigga's voice trailed off. She bent her head, closing her eyes in pain. "I have been alone many years. She and I have waited, wondering if any of the promised ones would come." She lifted her head to smile at Darcy. "You are the first to be chosen and to accept in all this time."
"Oh." Shock rippled through her and she took refuge in humor. "No pressure there."
"Be unafraid, young one," Lady Frigga assured her. "There is no pressure, no hurry."
Darcy looked up at the branches rather than display her insecurity. She did not know about Lady Frigga, but she knew her life had a pretty finite timeframe, especially in comparison. Why would Yggsdrasil chose her?
A sudden outpouring of warmth wrapped her in a cocoon of reassurance. She had to smile.
"When I entered the garden, you looked upon one light in particular," Lady Frigga noted in a delicate change of subject.
"Tasha's," Darcy replied, her eyes tracking immediately to the yellow light. "It's almost like Clint is healing her."
Lady Frigga focused on the light for a moment. "Hmm, I shall find it most intriguing to meet these warriors one day," she mused. "I do not see faces so much as spirits, and I have an image in my mind which is quite likely incorrect. It shall be interesting to see how close I have come to their true faces." She shook her head. "It is of no matter at this moment. I see her in the form of a snowy owl, one who suffered a vile enslavement for much of her life." Darcy nodded and she continued. "The one you call Clint – he is a red-tailed hawk in my sight – he was the first to give her a choice in her own life, the one who has fought to protect her choices. He is healing her in his own way; he is teaching her freedom as his own was so sorely won and recently tested."
Darcy blinked up at the lights in wonder. Now that it had been pointed out, she could almost see the stylized designs of the owl and the hawk. Other forms misted around the various lights and she concentrated, trying to remember the pictures to think on later. Everything began to grow hazy even as she fixed them in her mind.
Yggsdrasil bid her farewell even as Lady Frigga rose. "You must awaken now, my young raven. We will speak again soon."
Her lights gathered, spun, and rushed past her like a river of color and she barely made out a new voice, a male voice. "And how does the young Kari?"
She snapped awake. Her quick intake of breath brought Clint to his feet, eyes scanning the room. Darcy slumped back. "I hate falling!" Several chuckles drew her attention to the room. Clint sat down beside her, but she realized Tasha and Thor were present as well. "Hey, how long did we sleep?"
"Around five hours or so," Tasha replied.
"I didn't think I was that worn out," Darcy admitted. She folded herself into a ball before standing up to stretch to her fullest. "I must have really needed a nap."
"Me, too," Clint grinned. "I saw Thor come in and then went out until just a few minutes ago."
She smiled and leaned down to plant a kiss on his temple. "Told you, Hotshot."
"Yeah, yeah," he grumbled half-heartedly. "You're a genius."
Darcy walked over to the bedside. She sighed as she looked down at Coulson. "He still sleeping comfortably?"
"The warrior rests easily, Lady Darcy," Thor replied, his voice a comforting rumble.
"You can just call me Darcy, you know," she told him.
He gave a short bow. "Thank you, Darcy." A humorous glint entered his gaze. "My mother would have despaired of my manners had I dared use such an informal address without your permission."
"Lady Frigga's not that much of a stickler." She poked him in the side. Tasha straightened and Darcy gave a small grimace. "Ah, oops?" She held up both hands with a flustered expression.
Tasha raised a brow. "Stark mentioned a 'Heimdall'?"
Darcy smothered a giggle. "Suddenly I'm glad Tony's been distracted!" Her face fell as she realized what had caused the distraction. "Oh, God, I'm-"
"No, baby," Clint interrupted her. He came up and took her shoulders in his hands to turn her towards him. One of his hands slid up to her chin and pulled her gaze up to his. "It's been a crazy few days. You don't get to blame yourself for an off-hand remark."
"No," he said forcefully, both hands framing her face. "Maybe Phil is what's had Tony distracted. Look at it from the other side – at least now we know he's alive. Tony wouldn't be distracted if JARVIS hadn't found him alive. That's a good thing from where I'm standing."
"I agree," Tasha put in quietly.
Darcy gave a shaky smile and moved forward to lean against Clint's chest. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders. She listened to the steady beat of the heart beneath her ear and almost missed the sudden silence of the room. A quick glance revealed Tasha repressing a smile as she watched the two men trade odd looks.
"Okay, what's going on?" Darcy demanded, leaning back to better see both of them.
Thor folded his arms over his chest and leaned against the wall. "Do not fret, little sister. The warrior and I shall settle the issue."
She stared at him before turning to Clint. He shook his head. "It's just something Thor and I need to work out."
Now her eyes began to narrow. Tasha broke in before she could speak. "Let the boys play, mladshaya sestra. It is my turn to rest and you promised me a 'teddy bear'?"
"Sure," Darcy agreed after giving both men a dark look. "Got someone particular in mind?"
Tasha gave a light laugh and linked her arm through Darcy's. "For the moment I will be happy with some Chopin and we can discuss it."
"Isn't it breaking some kind of cultural taboo for a Russian to drink Polish vodka?" Darcy asked as they left the room. She cast one final look over her shoulder to catch a staring contest beginning between the men.
"Probably," Tasha agreed, pulling her along. "We shall share some then and I shall claim I was simply being polite."
Darcy giggled at her friend's silliness. "You do know you're not distracting me from them, right?"
"That would probably be impossible," Tasha agreed. "However they need to have this discussion and the sooner the better."
Tasha strolled into the media room and over to the bar. "Thor is stepping in as your elder brother to ascertain Clint's intentions."
"What!" Darcy started to turn around.
Tasha's quiet voice pulled her to a stop. "Let them talk."
She let out a huge sigh. "Oh, alright," she grumbled. "I don't know what Thor's thinking though. Do you know I had to keep Tony from playing 'Dad'?" Darcy shivered. "I'm not sure what's worse: the fact that Tony of all people wanted to have 'The Talk' with Clint or what he might actually say!"
"I'm sure JARVIS would record it for you," Tasha noted.
Darcy groaned as she hopped up on a stool. "That is not the point I'm making here, Tash."
"I know." Tasha sipped her vodka as she made up a martini. "Here, try this."
"It's a vodka martini," Tasha assured her, "not gin. I think you will like this one."
Darcy tasted it. "This is fantastic!" She took a deeper drink. "What is it?"
"It has a blend of pear and pomegranate vodka with a little Sprite."
"I like this one," Darcy agreed. "This one can stay."
"Save that blend please, JARVIS," Tasha smiled.
"Of course, Agent Romanoff," JARVIS answered immediately.
The two women sat quietly together, enjoying the drinks, the company, and the moment. Finally Tasha stretched and admitted. "I am more tired than I thought."
"I know, go figure," Darcy smiled. "So now go get some rest."
Tasha finished her vodka. "I'm going."
"Do you need a teddy bear?"
"No, little sister," Tasha laughed. "I shall be fine. Go rescue Clint, but be prepared for questions tomorrow." Darcy frowned and Tasha lifted an eyebrow. "Heimdall? Lady Frigga?"
"Ah," Darcy blushed. "Right."
Tasha kissed her cheek. "Tomorrow."
Darcy shook her head as she watched her red-headed friend stroll out of the room. "How is this my life again?"
"Miss Lewis?" JARVIS asked delicately.
"Sorry, J," Darcy said as she hopped off the stool and headed for the door. "Rhetorical question."
"Yes, Miss Lewis, I gathered," replied the prim voice. "However, Agent Barton is about to walk into the room. I believe he is grumbling about 'overprotective male busibodies'?"
A smile stretched across her face as she looked up to see Clint's disgruntled expression. He frowned at her, but his eyes glowed with an exasperated affection. "Thor is damn intimidating when he wants to be."
"Let me think – god of thunder, terrifying? You think?" She laughed, long and hard, as he stood there waiting.
"You about done?" he asked as she began to pull herself back together.
"I think…I think so," she spluttered around giggles.
"Good," he said as he moved towards her. "Because I have plans."
She backed up slowly. "Plans?"
"Yep," he replied, matching her step for step. She tried to fake to the left before darting to the right. He outmaneuvered her and his grin turned wicked. He slowed his movements, turning each step into a stalking motion. "Where are you going, baby?"
Her eyes sparkled even as a slow warm heat curled through her. "I thought I might check in on Jane."
"Doc's fine," he remarked absently as he cut off another attempt to get past him.
"Are you-" Her voice cut off as she suddenly found herself backed into the bar.
"Oh, yeah," he answered, "I'm sure." He put his hands on the bar, his arms bracketing her, trapping her. "I just spent twenty minutes listening to a very intimidating, practically invulnerable alien tell me exactly what kind of pain he would put me through if I didn't take care of you."
She tilted her head up. "Thor's a sweetheart."
"Thor is a lot of things," Clint said dryly. "And he may be a big, stuffed full of fluff person for you, but on this side of the equation? He's intimidating as hell."
"Poor baby," she mocked gently. "Do I have to protect you from the big, bad Asgardian?"
A soft growl reverberated between them. His eyes turned intense as he leaned down and captured her lips. She stretched up into the kiss, increasing the pressure. Her eyes fell closed as his arms banded around her and the kiss burned hotter. She ran her hands over his shoulders before clutching them as his tongue slipped through her lips, delving deeply into her mouth. One of his hands moved up to tangle in her hair.
She moaned as he pulled his mouth away from hers, but he gave her bottom lip a sharp nip before soothing it with a quick kiss. He pulled her head back to give him access as he trailed a line of kisses and tiny bites down her jawline to her pulse point. His mouth settled there to tease and taunt her with lips and tongue before he finally bit down. Her body trembled, only his strength keeping her fully upright.
He followed the same line back up to her mouth and dove back in for another deep, breathtaking kiss. She blinked up at him, eyes hazy, as he pulled back. "Time to find a little more privacy."
Clint stepped back, letting her go, but she stumbled on unsteady legs. His smile managed to blend passionate intent with cocky self-satisfaction as he stepped forward and swept her up into his arms. "Just hang on. I'll get you there."
Darcy giggled. "Oh, I'll just bet you will."
"Be careful, baby," he warned as his voice turned husky. "It's not a good idea to go poking the bear."
"Who wants a bear?" she answered, tracing her lips along his jaw and flicking her tongue across his earlobe. He shuddered. "They're nice enough, but so earth-bound." She leaned in and nuzzled behind his ear. "I'd rather fly."
He chuckled as he stole a quick kiss. "Then let's go flying."