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A Dose of Reality

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     The intern—Ian, Darcy reminded herself—No wonder this isn’t working out—shuffled his feet, clutching her carry on like he meant to hold it hostage. They were standing outside of the security check point at the London City Airport, and this was fast becoming one of the most awkward breakups she’d ever had to dish out. She pushed her glasses further up on her nose and gave a tight smile, hoping he would get the idea and hand her luggage over. He hugged it to his chest instead and sighed, glancing at a passing couple before looking at her again with hurt eyes.

“You’re sure you won’t stay?” He asked again, for probably the tenth time since they’d left Jane’s mom’s apartment, the place she’d been staying at since her London adventure first began.

“Aw, you know I would if I could buddy,” was it okay to still call him buddy after sex or was that weird, she wondered. “I was only staying this long for the post portal-craziness-cleanup. You know that. I can’t stay here forever.”

“I could come visit?” He offered the suggestion tentatively, and Darcy really wished she hadn’t kissed him in the heat of adrenaline, twice; or had sex with him later; then kissed him again; and well the sex went on for the few weeks she’d had left, but seriously, Darcy figured she deserved a little Southside TLC after almost dying a second time.

   She dared anybody to argue, especially since Jane was sure as hell getting her some good old fashioned God lovin’. Darcy at least deserved something as a consolation prize for surviving another possible apocalypsedidn't she?

“Well yeah, maybe.” She didn’t want to be a bitch about it, but at the same time she didn’t want to get his hopes up either.

     By some miracle the conversation was interrupted when the loudspeaker announced her flight would be boarding soon. Maybe somebody up there was looking out for her after all.

“Look Ian, I’ve really got to go," she blurted. "I’ll e-mail you or something, okay?”

     She reached out for her bag and he gave it over reluctantly, a pout still marring his cute little intern-features. He hadn’t been a bad lay, but if she'd known then how clingy he would be, she would have cut it off after the first night. It had only been a few weeks and he was following her around like a lost puppy. A modern woman needed her space, and a big ocean between the two of them seemed like just enough of it. Her ticket out of the country couldn’t have come any sooner, especially considering the fact that it was a little weird staying with Jane’s mother without Jane actually being there.

     Darcy felt sorry for the intern, but he’d get over it. They always did. He was young and cute, and he'd find himself a nice uni-girl to fill in the void she was leaving soon enough. Darcy gave him a beaming smile as she shouldered her bag.

“Take care of Erik will you?” He gave a nod and she leaned in for a quick hug, slipping away before he could tighten his hold and try to kiss her.  “See ya!”

     She waved as she turned away from the boy, then carefully threaded her way through a crowd of people before hitting the security line. Now that the deed was done and over with, New York deep dish here I come, she mused, her stomach grumbling in agreement at the thought of lava-hot cheese and few animals worth of meat layered on top. Vegetarian, she was not.

   Waiting for the line to inch forward and trying her hardest not to turn and see if the intern was still watching her, Darcy let her mind wander in thought. After the whole alien attacking the world and darkness devouring it all thingy—she still wasn’t sure what it was all about, only that Jane had been pretty freaking vague on the details of what had happened during her time on Asgard—Jane and Thor had gone back to New York while Erik and her stayed behind to make sure there were no more anomalies. Things had gotten back to normal pretty fast, whatever that even was these days, and Darcy was happy to be heading back to the old U.S. of A. She enjoyed London, but there was just something missing. It was definitely time to head home, or rather in this case, on to New York to join Jane and Thor and something about a tower and energy particulates.

     Soon enough she was on the plane, and as Darcy stared out the window of her flight she contemplated how strange things had become in her life. Ever since the heavy metal-man in New Mexico tried to kill everyone it seemed like nothing was simple anymore. She’d only been assisting Jane for school, but somehow that had gotten extended into getting shipped off to Norway and then to London, and somehow she still hadn’t qualified for those lousy six credits.

     What the hell, right?

     She got the feeling the mystery men in black—cough-SHIELD-cough—who’d stolen all their stuff had something to do with it all, but nobody at Culver University was talking. Those asshats couldn’t even tell her how much longer the internship had left before she qualified for graduation. They were holding her degree captive and for what, just having seen an alien, tasering him a little, and almost getting blown up? B.F.D., guys, come on. Darcy leaned her forehead against the dirty window, her beanie protecting skin from greasy grossness. She let out a heavy sigh. Maybe she should have just gone with a Liberal Arts degree. Useless sure, but at least she'd have a normal, boring life.

     When her flight landed, Darcy turned her phone back on only to be bombarded with a slew of text messages and several voicemails. Ninety-five percent of them were from Jane, the other five a mixture of Ian, her dad, and one of her old classmates asking about some psych final, as if she’d actually been on campus in the last year. Seven missed calls from Jane. That was never good. She wasn’t even getting paid for this level of harassment. Darcy listened to the first message while she waited in her seat for the plane to empty out.

“Darcy hey, it’s Jane. Great news...!” There was a long stream of scientific babble after that, the kind that made Darcy want to cross her eyes and give up this foolish notion of graduation. There was always McDonald’s. “...So after I sorted out the algorithms it all just came together. I think we’re going to have a breakthrough really soon! Call me when you land!”

     She deleted the message and closed her eyes as the second one started.

“Darcy hey, it’s Jane.  It turns out I forget to account for possible loop quantum gravity. Disregard the last message and...”


     Next message.

“Darcy hey, it’s Jane…” She went through four more messages about project progress and failures until at last one of the messages made her sit up and shake her head.

“Darcy hey, it’s Jane. I was looking through some of the printouts here and noticed some of equations didn’t match up with the radial levels. I was...” blah blah, blah; scientific garble “...and Erik confirmed. He needs you back, stat. He's refusing to leave his apartment, and Ian isn’t answering his phone, so I need you to check out some of the locations and see if these are really anomalies or just false data readouts. I’ve already got you a ticket. Call me when you land!”

“What! No!” Darcy groaned.

     Her ass was already numb from the flight, and the idea of turning around and doing it all over again was too much to bear. In fact it was down right deplorable—oh yeah, 19 points in Words with Friends, take that Lynn.

     She dialed Jane.

“Hey!” her boss answered, and Darcy could hear the woman tapping away at a keyboard. “Did you get my message? I e-mailed you the flight information already and I can—”

“Jane I literally just landed!” Darcy whined. “Like, literally, literally, not just figuratively. You can’t really expect me to just hop on another plane right back to Her Majesty’s island, that's insane!”

“Of course not.” Jane answered, but then she said nothing more, the typing continuing now at a furious pace.

     Darcy waited a full minute before clearing her throat and talking again.

“Jane, hello? Of course not; so I don’t have to go, right?”

“Oh. No. I mean wait, yes. You do. There’s a three hour layover till the flight out. Plenty of time for a snack and land based bathroom break. I’ve already had the equipment you need shipped back priority so it should be there a day or two after you get in. It’s going to Erik’s this time. Oh, and Thor says hello! Call me when you get there so I can forward you the coordinates! Bye!”

     Jane hung up the phone before Darcy could get another word in.

“What has my life become?” She asked the empty seat next her to.

     Darcy was beginning to feel like a jet-setter, only without the jets or the money or the glamour. Okay, so maybe not a jet-setter at all then, but what else could she call somebody who was about to spend a consecutive—or damn near it anyway—twenty four hours with her butt jammed into economy seating sized chairs? Maybe she'd pay for a massage with Jane's Visa.

     Hours later, bleary eyed and cranky, Darcy banged her fist against Erik’s front door. Her shoulders were hunched under the weight of lugging her carry on through miles of terminal, and her lower back felt like somebody had replaced her spine with a wooden board full of nails. She did manage to get in an hour’s worth of sleep on the trip back to London, but then some snot-faced kid two seats ahead decided that screaming his head off was a better idea than watching Dora the Explorer quietly on his mother’s laptop. She could still hear his screeches ringing in her hears, a great reminder that motherhood was a no go for the immediate—and likely extended—future, unless of course somebody invented an infant ball-gag that wasn’t ten shades of illegal.

     She banged again when nobody answered.

“Erik come on!” She shouted, hoping he was still home and not out getting arrested for public indecency again. “Let me in, will you; it’s Darcy!”

     He opened the door a few moments later wearing nothing but a white t-shirt covered in in gravy stains and a pair of matching tighty-whities, the lower half thankfully sans any blotches because she’d have called the whole thing off right there and then. Assistant she could be, hospice should could not.

     The next day their equipment arrived as promised, and as Darcy nibbled on a pop tart she put it together with Erik’s help. Whether Ian knew she was back in town or not was a mystery, but she counted herself lucky that he hadn’t tried to call her again. That was the last thing she needed on top of the headache running more tests on supposed anomalies would give her, anomalies that she'd already spent the last three weeks looking for and writing off as a finished event. She would have bet a Starbucks gift card that they’d find nothing, making this entire trip pointless and exhausting, and she wasn’t even getting any freaking Skymiles out of the deal.

     Once it was all ready to go Erik shoved the handheld scientific-device-thingy at her. Jane called it a phase meter, but the name was so lackluster that she forgot it all the time. He waved her to the door then.

“Jane has already sent over the coordinates she wants you to check out. I’ll keep an eye on the readings from here as well.”

     Darcy smiled at the man as she slipped into her jacket.

“One of these days you’ll have to learn to think while wearing pants again you know, I can’t just fly back here every time you need field work done.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Erik said, turning away from her to adjust some dials on the machine they’d just assembled. “Of course you can. The university is covering all the costs.”

     But are they? Darcy couldn’t help but wonder about that. Private schools never seemed all that generous in the past, but then again that really wasn't her problem. Rolling her eyes, she slipped the device into her pocket.

“Right well, whatever. That was so not what I meant homeslice. I just meant you seriously have got to get out more. You’re starting to look like Casper, only with more legs and less ectoplasm.”

“Just hurry back,” the older man urged before getting absorbed with the string of numbers flying across the monitor.

    Darcy input the coordinates into her phase meter—it seriously needs a new name though. Maybe anoma-spectrometer; yeah that has a nice rhymey ring to it—then she hailed a cab and started giving them directions. She ended up at the Greenwich Maritime Museum first, the damage from the final fight with Malek-whatever-his-name-was still keeping most of the area cordoned off. It was a shame really. She hadn't been given any time to do sightseeing before, what with dodging death and keeping Ian’s sheets warm and all, so maybe she could find someplace else to go total tourist on before heading home again. Her blog was looking mighty sparse ever since New Mexico, and for some reason—SHIELD, the reason was SHIELD and she knew it—every photo she did try to upload promptly went missing. What the hell did they have against pictures with building debris though, and why was it okay for other people to post crap online but not her?

     Bundling her jacket up and pulling her hat down a little further to fight off the wind, Darcy strolled around the area with her anoma-spectrometer in hand. The readings were steady-as-she-goes, which was A-Okay in her book. Almost dying once a year was more than enough adventure, thank you very much. For thirty minutes she grinned at the few people giving her odd stares as she shuffled through the broken courtyard, her head bowed to watch the data flow, but she soon escaped their scrutiny after ducking under some yellow tape blocking her way. In and out, easy peasey, she recited as she slipped into one of the buildings.

     Broken glass crunched underfoot as she walked past a row of damaged desks and bookshelves. It was crazy to think that just a month ago this place had been full of people instead of rubble. Just goes to show you what crazy aliens bring to the table. Why couldn’t they just stick to eating cats or drinking through their fingers like normal TV E.T.s? After making a complete circuit of the building, Darcy was on her way out when the squiggly lines on her anoma-spectrometer started to spike, and the circular thingamajig just below that swelled in size. That probably wasn't good. It reminded her of the initial readings that had brought them to London in the first place.

“You could always just ignore it Darce,” she told herself, even as she turned back around and started to edge closer to whatever was making the readings go crazy. “Just tell ‘em you saw nothing. Erik’s probably schlepping around the kitchen by now getting his ravioli on, so really, who could say otherwise?”

     Despite her suggestion to turn away and head home, Darcy continued to follow the signal, the spikes getting higher with every step. A few feet later her phone rang.

“Sup?” She answered, still inching onward.

“Darcy, I’m getting high gravimetric levels in your area." Erik sounded a little too excited. "Are you seeing this too? Is there anything there?”

“Yeah my little lines are doing a dance right now. Looks about the same as when Thor fell—” Did it hurt falling from Asgard? Is Asgard even above us?  “—but I’m not seeing anything.”

     She circled around one of the bookshelves.

“Maybe it’s just a—” but she didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence because the bottom of her world dropped out from under her feet, blue sky replacing the roof as the walls around her blinked out of existence. “—shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

     Darcy screamed as her arms pinwheeled in the air. She was definitely not in the maritime museum anymore. In fact she was definitely, probably not even on earth anymore if the glimmering city of gold in the distance was any indication. She didn’t get too much longer to check out the surroundings. She was dropping fast. Her phone slipped right out of her fingers, but oddly enough she kept a good grip on the anoma-spectrometer, even as her body went rigid with shock when she crashed down into a roiling body of freezing water.

     She slipped beneath the surface, gasping in a good mouthful of water that brought an instant burn to her lungs and filled her with sudden panic. Darcy flailed, struggling for the surface, her limbs heavy from the biting chill of water and hard to move with her sweater, jacket, gloves and scarf tangling around her body. She broke above the water just long enough to get a single breath in before the waves pulled her down once more. Thoughts were scant as Darcy fought against the current, but somewhere in her mind she noted that Jane would be pissed about water getting on the equipment and that her lost phone was uninsured. Spitting out a mouthful of sea as she resurfaced and was blinded by water laden hat falling over her eyes, Darcy only hoped she survived long enough to hear Jane yell at her again.