Darcy was not a morning person. HYDRA, however, really didn’t care. At six fifteen in the morning, about six hours before anyone should have to be awake, the shrill blaring of her communicator jerked Darcy from her sleep. In the pitch black of her room, she fumbled the stupid thing open with fingers fat with sleep and slurred, “Agent Lewis here,” in what she hoped was a borderline respectable tone.
“Wake up ,” Lieutenant Shriver snapped. So apparently Darcy had not succeeded. “And get your ass down to the Common Room. You’ve got a mess to clean up.”
“But—” But I haven’t been in the Common Room for at least a week so, not my fault, Darcy almost said before the smart part of her brain shut her the hell up. “Right away, ma’am. On my way, ma’am.” HYDRA superior officers liked their sirs and ma’ams. You couldn’t go wrong throwing a few extra in there, especially considering how much Shriver made it clear that she despised the newest junior agent under her command. Apparently the genuflecting was enough to placate Shriver because the line clicked off without so much as a grunted goodbye, and Darcy was left crouching in the darkness by her bed. She ran a hand through her bed head and, groaning, pushed herself to her feet. Maybe if she dealt with this quickly enough she could go back to bed.
When she got to the Common Room, it became clear pretty quickly that she was not going to get to go back to bed. “What the hell?” she said before she could stop herself, surveying the scene in amazement.
Shriver’s look made Darcy’s stomach clench. “That,” she said dryly, “is my question too.”
Bears. Teddy bears, to be more specific, though there were so many of them that Darcy wouldn’t be surprised if a real one was hidden somewhere in the mess. Tiny teddy bears, large teddy bears, brown and black and pink and green teddy bears, all spilling off the couches and onto the floor, dumped on top of the TV, perched on the window sill. Just bears, everywhere.
“What the hell?” Darcy said again. And then, remembering where exactly she was and who she was with, “Ma’am.”
“Indeed.” Shriver held out a small square card. “This was attached to the largest one.” Darcy took it.
My sources tell me that sending a bear pelt would not have been as kindly taken as it would be meant. Please accept this compromise.
Underneath was something that Darcy supposed must have been a name. It looked more like the person holding the pen had suddenly spasmed.
“Ma’am, how do you know they’re for me?” Darcy asked, running her thumb over the words. The paper didn’t feel like any she’d ever held before. “Dan and Rose broke up again. The last time that happened, ma’am, he drowned the whole bunker in flowers.”
Wordlessly, Shriver grabbed the card and flipped it over. The name scrawled on the back was legible. Great. “They’re for you. Therefore, the only question that remains—who sent them.”
Darcy shook her head slowly. “Ma’am, I have no idea. They must be another agent.”
“And why do you say that?” Shriver’s voice was frighteningly cool, and Darcy’s answer was prompt and prescribed.
“Because I would never reveal the location of a HYDRA bunker to an outsider, nor would an outsider be able to get past our diligent security, ma’am.”
Darcy tried to look as much like a model agent as possible as Shriver’s eyes racked over her. If she thought that Darcy had leaked information to an outsider, if she thought Darcy had let someone into a classified base—Darcy tensed until the urge to shudder passed. Darcy had no desire for retraining. She’d helped retrain a few people herself, and that was why she was very sure that she wanted to avoid that fate.
Shriver finally blinked. “Clean this up,” she said, turned on her heel, and left. Darcy waited a moment to make sure that she was gone before she collapsed into one of the armchairs, squashing three white bears underneath her as she dropped her head into her heads.
Life had been better before New Mexico, Darcy thought not for the first time as she shoveled the bears into trash bags. She’d still be undercover back then, the harmless grad student going after her degree in Political Science which meant that ninety percent of the time, her life was identical to that of an actual harmless grad student going after her degree in Political Science. She went to classes, she lived with normal people, she had friends, or at least people she was friendly with, and the remaining ten percent of the time? Well, ninety percent of her life was pretty chill, and that was a better ratio than most people got.
Then she had gotten The Assignment.
When her old boss, Lieutenant Freya Hardy who’d been the handler of her handlers since she’d personally recruited Darcy nine years ago, handed over her assignment, Darcy swallowed her first responses, all variations on the hell are you thinking with this, and asked as respectfully as she could “Ma’am, the hell are you thinking with this?” Darcy didn’t need to be quite so respectful those days.
And Hardy had just chuckled. “It’s quite simple,” she said, her hands steepled underneath her chin. “You will get close to Dr. Foster and report on her findings. Depending on the orders we issue, you will either help or hinder her research, with authorization up to kill protocol.”
Darcy’d never worked a case with kill protocol authorization before. She got hot with pride before reality snapped its fingers in her face. “But on a day to day basis—”
“You’ll be an intern. And you’ll do whatever Dr. Foster asks of her intern, and I mean whatever.”
“Like in a weird and sexy way?”
Hardy made a vague gesture. “If you think it would help. Use your best judgment.”
Which obviously meant, yes, do it if that was what it would took. Darcy rolled her eyes (upper management was always sending out memos reminding its agents about the advantages of manipulative sex, they had a fixation, Darcy swore) and read the description of Foster’s work again. And again. And again. She read it for the twentieth time since she got it, and for the twentieth time, she had no idea what the hell it meant. Something about space, maybe, and time, possibly. Darcy’s last science class had been freshman year of undergrad, and she’d only passed because the professor was a HYDRA plant. And he still only gave her a C plus, thus ruining what would have otherwise been a perfect GPA, not that she was bitter or anything. “I don’t know the first thing about this kind of stuff. Why would she keep me on as her intern?”
Hardy smiled wryly. “I imagine the fact that she will get no other applicants will encourage her to keep you around. And to answer the question you aren’t asking—why the hell are we sending you to take care of this—” She fixed her with a look that made Darcy try to sit up even more impossibly straight. “I have high hopes for you, kid. You pull this job off, we can talk about getting you a higher position, a more exciting post. Maybe even start moving you towards Washington when you graduate, get you into politics a bit quicker than we were thinking. Who knows? You could be dripping poison in the ears of some powerful people this time next year. Metaphorically speaking. Or literally, if Senator Hardwick’s still too good for bribes.” Hardy leaned back in a way that made it clear that Darcy was dismissed. As she stood, Hardy gave her another warm smile. “Don’t let us down, Lewis. We’ve got big plans for you.”
Considering that not only did Foster and Selvig join SHIELD, which was literally the opposite of what Darcy was supposed to accomplish, the two Asgardian princes that had fallen into her lap escaped their mind control, and HYDRA’s resident sorceress who’d cast to mind control was now languishing in an Asgardian prison cell, it was pretty safe to say that Darcy had let them down. And the only plans they had for her nowadays, well, Darcy was trying her best to avoid those.
She used to love her job. She had to get her hands dirtier, sure, but anyone who thought that world was gonna change with hugs and puppies wasn’t paying much attention to the world. She’d been needed. She’d had a future. She’d been working towards her higher aim, even if it was as vague as yo, the world kinda sucks, let’s mess it up a bit. But you couldn’t dedicate yourself to studying the power structures of the world without wanting to blow them all up, and HYDRA used to be her chance to do that. Now?
Darcy sighed. She kept shoveling bears.
After she dropped the furry soldiers of the stuffed invasion off in the base’s daycare, Darcy strapped on her uniform and headed down to the chimera labs for the morning shift of internal patrol. Patrol wasn’t her favorite job, but it was a fairly safe one which was pretty much Darcy’s number one priority these days. When her cover had been blown in New Mexico and SHIELD pinged her as a HYDRA agent, that immediately killed any hopes Darcy had of a career in undercover work. Suddenly, Darcy was an unskilled worker, and since those had a life expectancy of about ten minutes at HYDRA, once she was back on base, Darcy immediately signed up for any internal job that she could. Security, secretary, lab aide, janitor—she went after all of them before management could scoop her up and toss her back out into the field. When Shriver scooped her up for her patrol group, Darcy thought that was her lucky break. Shriver had to be nice, after all. Her nickname was Boo which was clearly, to Darcy at least, the kind of name you give someone adorable and fluffy and maybe overly perky and fond of Taylor Swift.
“What?” Agent Washington said when Darcy told her that. “Hell no. We call her Boo because she’s terrifying.” Thankfully, Agent Washington never told anyone about Darcy’s stupid mistake, mostly because she was eaten in a chimera outbreak not two hours later. Now and then, things worked out for Darcy.
Normally Darcy spent her patrols mooching along, one hand on her gun, the other on her cell phone. She used the second one a hell of a lot more than she used the first. Today, however, her superior officer was suspicious that Darcy was involved in some illicit teddy bear smuggling prank, and while that sentence was the most ridiculous thing Darcy had thought lately, it’d be a lot less funny if Shriver decided to act on her suspicions. HYDRA was not famously lenient towards employees it thought had in any way betrayed them, and Shriver had decided quickly that Darcy was redundant personal. So today, fine, Darcy would be on her very best behavior, follow every little line of protocol, check in every corner, investigate every strange noise. And she was doing that, she was, with just the occasional tumblr and Facebook break, which made it all the more surprising that she didn’t notice the tall, pale man until she turned around and bumped into him.
Her mind registered the lack of uniform instantly, and she jerked back, pulling out her gun in one fluid move and pointing it at his chest. Then she saw his face and froze. “You!” Darcy hissed, almost dropping the pistol in surprise.
Loki, the actual fact Norse god and one half of the reason that Darcy’s career was now skulking around labs, held out his arms. “Me. Hello, Ms. Lewis.”
“What the hell are you doing here?” She could call for help. She should shoot him dead. She should turn tail and run. She’d been there in New Mexico. She knew what he could do. Maybe that was what kept her planted to the ground, still as a statue that could still shout hysterically. “I thought you and your brother went back to—to Oz or Mars or wherever the hell you weirdos come from.”
“Asgard,” Loki supplied.
She shook the gun at him. “Whatever! Why are you here? State your business!” She tacked on that last bit to sound like a proper agent of HYDRA, instead of a girl about one harsh word away from wetting herself and fainting.
“My brother returned to Asgard. I—” he gestured vaguely at himself, “am here. Have you not seen me on your news mediums? They cast me the mythic hero figure. Accurately, if I say so myself.”
Yes, right, dub, of course she knew that now that she calmed down, but Darcy couldn’t help but roll her eyes at the last bit. “I’m pretty sure heroes aren’t supposed to brag about it.”
“And you would know about being a hero, Agent Lewis of HYDRA.” When she scowled at him, he gave her a wicked grin. “I trust the bears were satisfactory.”
“Bears—that was you? What the hell? Why? How? Why?”
“In order—yes, I don’t know how to answer that, to woo you, magic, and because, as I said in the note, Captain Rogers informed me that the usual tribute of a fierce bear’s pelt would have been perhaps misinterpreted.”
Darcy stared blankly at him for a moment. “What?”
“It’s an Asgardian custom,” he said like that explained anything about what was happening right now. He shifted, his hands still in the air, as Darcy kept gawping at him. “Perhaps I should start again. Agent Lewis—Darcy. May I call you Darcy?”
“We shall work up to that. Agent Lewis, I would like to take you on a fig.”
At some point she would need to stop gawping. This was not that point. “A what?”
He looked almost embarrassingly hopeful. “A romantic fig.”
The gears whirring in Darcy’s head clunked into place. “A…date?”
“Ah. Yes. That would probably be the word.” Loki tapped one finger against his head. “The All-Speak does struggle with colloquialisms. It’s a bit like Google Translate in that respect.”
And the gawping continued. “You go into battle with a spear and a horned helmet, and you know what Google Translate is?”
“No, actually, I don’t know what I just said. But since Tony Stark made that remark and then laughed very hard at it, I assumed it was a clever joke. I should have just considered that Stark finds himself inordinately humorous. May I put my hands down, or do you intend to waste bullets on me?”
Darcy wavered for a moment before she lowered her pistol. After everything she’d seen him do in New Mexico, a few shots to the chest would probably only piss him off, and right now the only advantage that she had was his good mood. He was faster than her, stronger than her, older than her, generally more than her in all the things that would influence a fight, but he didn’t seem to be planning anything like that. When she’d lowered the gun, he’d even smiled at her like he was genuinely pleased. Which was weird. This was weird. “A date.”
“A romantic date,” he said, like she’d somehow managed to forget that first part. “To thank you for your invaluable help during the battle with Amora and afterwards.”
Since that was the only sentence in the world that would make her superiors view her performance in New Mexico even less charitably, Darcy hoped to God that nobody heard that. “I didn’t help you,” she said, low and urgently. “Don’t you say that. We were in New Mexico at the same time, and somehow you broke free of Amora’s mojo, and that doesn’t have anything to do with me. If you wanna thank me, then pretend to the people that I work with that you tried to kill me.”
Loki’s face was unreadable as he considered her. Then he smiled brightly. “Yes, now I remember, I did try to kill you. And I intend to make up for that.” His green eyes glinted like the two of them were sharing a joke, like Darcy’s already stretched nerves weren’t ready to snap.
“You’re nuts,” she said when she heard the tramp of boots rushing towards them. Darcy glanced up at the blinking red light of one of the ten security cameras currently pointed their way. “And you better run.”
He followed her gaze. “As if the rank and file of a Midgardian group could pose a threat to me. You, however—” He raised his eyebrow at her. “I recommend you raise your gun and fire.”
Darcy scrunched her brow for a second before she got it. So that it looked like she’d actually been doing her job instead of chatting with one of HYDRA’s top enemies who’d appeared right at the heart of their base. Just for a heartbeat, Darcy felt weirdly grateful to Loki. Most guys did understand her life well enough to get why she had to stage the occasional attempted murder.
Of course, he still hadn’t understood well enough to not send those stupid bears.
Darcy raised her gun and shot him six times in the chest. It did precisely nothing to his body, but his shirt was ruined so that was nice. “This doesn’t mean I’m saying yes to the date,” she said as Loki batted aside the gun and grabbed her gently by the throat.
“Astonishingly, I didn’t interpret you shooting me as acquiescence,” he said, pulling her close enough that he could whisper it in her ear. It must have looked very threatening from an outside perspective. Threatened was, unfortunately, not the best word for what Darcy was feeling right now. His fingers tugged at the utility belt strapped around her hips.
“I’ll shoot you again,” she said, and he grinned, and then she was flying through the air and smashing—gently, impossibly gently, magically gently—into the wall just in time for the security squad to burst onto the scene. In a flash, Loki was down the hallway, fifteen guns on his tail, firing after him. One agent knelt by Darcy’s side.
“You okay?” he asked brusquely. Darcy remembered to groan pitifully. Then she thought about the conversation she’d just had, and she groaned for real.
For the second time in less than five hours, Darcy found herself on the other side of Shriver’s displeasure. “I was trying to gain his trust, ma’am,” Darcy said for the twentieth time in the debriefing section. “I knew my gun wouldn’t stop him so I thought it would be more valuable to see if I could get him to share any information that HYDRA might find useful. Our records are very clear that Loki has a big mouth, ma’am. I was trying to gain his trust until our oncoming security team raised his defenses.”
It was actually a pretty good excuse as to why the Darcy on the security cams appeared to be chatting with one of HYDRA’s top enemies. HYDRA policy re: superhumans was a bit fuzzy at the moment anyway. The usual method of “shoot until everyone is dead, then keep shooting just in case” didn’t do much against people impervious to bullets.
“And yet you seem unharmed,” Shriver said.
“Just lucky, ma’am,” Darcy said and smiled in a way that she hoped was disarming and submissive and self-effacing and innocent. It might have been a bit much to ask from her mouth because Shriver’s face was unchanged. She looked at Darcy like she knew Darcy was lying.
“Strange how a demigod from another realm would waste time talking to a little human girl of no tactical value.”
Darcy’s mouth tightened into what may have been another smile. “Very strange, ma’am.”
“Yes. Unexplainable even.” Her voice was dangerously calm. Darcy said nothing. “And what did you say that he said?”
“That his business was none of mine, ma’am. He was very closed mouth, ma’am.”
“I see,” Shriver said. “And what was on the note he slipped you when he thought we couldn’t see?”
Darcy’s heart did something that she was pretty sure legally killed her for a second there. “Ma’am?”
“The note tucked into your belt.”
Without taking her eyes of Shriver, Darcy’s hand went to her belt, where Loki’s hand had pressed against her. “Oh,” she said as her fingers touched the corner of a little piece of paper that she hadn’t known was there until this moment. “That note. Ma’am.”
Shriver held out her hand wordlessly, and wordlessly Darcy handed the little square over. The paper felt thick and rich, but that was all that Darcy could tell you about it before Shriver snatched it out of her hand. Shriver glanced down and read it. Then she did something that Darcy hadn’t known that Shriver could do—she started. She started like she had been surprised, and she read the note again. She read it for a solid minute, and it really seemed like it should take less time to read a piece of paper that was three square inches.
“‘I’ve been told,’” Shriver read like she was still processing the words, “‘that Chez Harry comes highly recommended. It would be my great pleasure if you would join me at eight.’” There was a long moment of silence where Darcy tried to rearrange her face into whatever expression would help her most now. She really wasn’t sure which one that was. “He broke into one of the most fortified, secret locations in the world,” Shriver said, “to ask you on a date.”
Darcy felt like she ought to say something. “That’s how it appears, ma’am.”
“At date. At Chez Harry.”
Darcy didn’t know what the flat tone of Shriver’s voice meant, but she didn’t like it. “Apparently, ma’am. I swear,” she hurriedly added, “I didn’t do—do anything that would make him do this.”
“I don’t doubt that,” Shriver said which, okay, screw you too, Darcy thought. Shriver tapped the note against her leg as she looked Darcy up and down. “That’s so romantic,” she said at last.
Darcy tried to keep the surprise off her face. That had not been the reaction she’d been expecting. “I guess,” Darcy said as respectfully as she could, “but he’s crazy, ma’am. This is crazy, ma’am.”
Shriver’s smile was like the slash of a knife wound. “But Chez Harry.” Darcy had never seen Shriver so excited before. She was practically bouncing with joy. “You’re not useful, Agent Lewis. You know that, and I know it. You were useful, once upon a time, before Hardy gave you a job out of your league. Through your failure to manage the situation, you lost HYDRA Dr. Foster, Dr. Selvig, Thor, Amora, and—relevantly enough—Loki. Management was going to ice you until Hardy begged me to give you a job.”
Darcy’s patience was thoroughly eroded away, and there was only so many insults a girl could sit through, so before she could stop herself, she interrupted. “With all due respect, ma’am, my job was a bit harder with the freaking Norse gods that dropped out of the sky. There wasn’t exactly a HYDRA protocol on that when everything was going down.”
Shriver’s look could have dropped a man at ten paces. It certainly made Darcy shut the hell up. When the silence had stretched so long that Darcy thought she’d snap, Shriver finally spoke. “My point,” she said, soft as silk wrapped around your throat, “was that you are so utterly inessential to the running of HYDRA that no enemy would ever seduce you for information.” Shriver shook her head incredulously. “He must just like you, as mysterious as that is. So you don’t think the New Mexico disaster was your fault? Fine. Here’s your chance to prove to everyone what an exemplary agent you are.”
Darcy balled her fists in her lap. “What do you mean? Ma’am.”
Shriver waved the little note in front of Darcy’s face. “You usually have to wait months to get in,” Shriver said cheerfully. “Try to dress nicely. No, rather than trust your wardrobe, I’ll authorize you to use Undercover’s. They’ll find something for you to wear that’ll turn a god’s head. Because you’re going to take our Loki up on his offer. You’re going to make the lie you told me at the beginning of these meeting come true. You’re going to encourage his strange little crush on you. You’re going to get whatever information you can. You’re going to appraise if you can bring him to our side, and if not, you are going to stab an iron blade right through his lovesick heart, and we’ll send the body down to the labs to see what we can learn. And if you fail to accomplish either of those tasks, I will turn you into the most educational cautionary tale of the last decade.”
Shriver leaned forward conspiratorially, like they were two girlfriends gossiping, and it took all of Darcy’s strength not to punch her in the face and keep punching. “But don’t worry. You don’t have to do it all tonight, of course. We’re going to play a long game, Agent Lewis, so I hope you are very good at getting people to love you. Tonight, you have a nice meal at the swankiest restaurant in town. And then you come back and tell me all about it. Do you think you can handle that?”
Murder was technically an accepted way of advancing in rank at HYDRA. On the other hand, Shriver was four ranks above her which was usually a bit much for upper management. Getting killed by your next in line? Time honored tradition. Getting killed by a henchman? Dangerous, dangerous precedent. So Darcy only thought about grabbing that letter opener off Shriver’s desk and seeing what damage she could do, and instead she saluted the way a proper little agent should. “I won’t let you down, ma’am.”
“For your sake,” Shriver said while Darcy fantasized about stabbing her in the throat, “I hope not.”
At 7:58 precisely, Darcy stepped out of the HYDRA town car. “Have fun!” the nameless driver said.
“I hate you all,” Darcy muttered as he drove away. She tugged the wispy scarf tighter around her. Wardrobe had given her a dress that hugged every curve like an overfriendly drunk guy. She’d worn tight and skimpy and sexy things before, obviously, but this dress—this was something different. Elegant. Classy. Understated and refined but with a gentle murmur of sensuality. At least according to the overeager agent in charge of undercover costuming that had picked it out for her. It was very much not a Darcy Lewis dress, and wearing it made her wish she was wearing anything else. Also that she was not here. Also that eight years ago, she’d maybe have tried a different career path. That or actually murdered Shriver, she was on the fence about which of those she regretted more.
Chez Harry looked like money, all rich reds and rich woods and rich people. She hated it and everyone inside it on principle. The hostess, who was included in that hate circle, wore a long red dress that almost looked like Darcy’s, except the hostess looked like she didn’t want to rip it off her body and run for the hills. Darcy hated her even more.
“Here on a date,” Darcy said tersely, in no mood to be polite. “Tall guy, black hair, bit of a jerk.”
The hostess arched one perfectly plucked eyebrow. “Do you know this gentleman’s name?”
“She’s with me,” came from behind Darcy. She looked back, and Loki gave her a dry look. Her stomach flopped. She wished it was because of a crush. “Reservation under Odinson.”
Their table was a small booth in the back that was almost indecently comfortable. Her knees bumped against Loki’s as they slid into their seats, and she jerked away.
“I’m glad you came—” Loki started.
“Garcon!” Darcy waved down a waiter who looked like he was considering spitting in whatever drink she ordered. “Cosmopolitan. Light on the cranberry, heavy on everything else. Wait, no, just bring me vodka. I don’t care what vodka. Just bring vodka. A lot of vodka.” Thank God that Shriver had decided against bugging Darcy. She knew Loki’s magic would detect anything like that so at least there weren’t any HYDRA agents in a van outside the restaurant snickering at her. There were almost certainly HYDRA agents inside the store, also possibly snickering at her, but—actually that wasn’t an upside at all. Well, it did make one part of her plan easier. “Bring so much vodka, please.”
The waiter seemed to regard her with a sense of dread that was probably warranted. “And sir?”
Loki was still staring at Darcy. “Er,” he said. “Cosmopolitan as well. You can leave the everything else in.”
“Very good.” The waiter was gone in a second. She envied him.
The silence that followed and lingered quietly turned awkward.
“Upon reflection,” Loki said at last, “I think that my manner of courtship has made things difficult for you.”
Since Darcy was almost certainly being monitored and so was still technically supposed to be trying to seduce and/or kill him, she bit back pretty much everything that first came to mind. “Nah,” she squeezed out eventually. “It’s all cool.”
“Truly?” Loki looked a little shocked by that. And a little hopefully. Which was weirder than Darcy had thought that it would be.
Darcy wished the vodka was here. “Yup.”
The awkward silence stretched lazily between them again like a fat cat on the only decent part of the sofa, with no intention of moving or being moved. Underneath the table, Darcy gently tore her napkin to shreds. It was a cloth napkin. It was one of those nights.
Seduction, she thought. Time to seduce.
“Your eyes,” she said. “Well done on those. Are they green, are they blue, we can’t tell. You’re a maverick. Do you wanna make out?”
Loki waved his hand, and the air shimmered. When it was done shimmering, it seemed just a bit thicker than had been before. “What is going on?” he asked, leaning towards her.
“What? A girl can’t compliment a millennium old guy on his nice facial arrangements? What about you? What did you just do?”
“Diversion spell,” Loki said crisply. “Makes us utterly unremarkable, even to people looking at us. Like, perhaps, your colleagues.”
“And our waiter,” she said. Indeed, their waiter was looking around the dining area with a tray in hand like he wasn’t sure if he’d gotten the drinks for anyone but himself. The air shimmered again, and suddenly the waiter was walking their way.
“And are you ready to order?” he said as he placed the drinks. Darcy got the impression that he wanted to rush them out of there before Darcy became a belligerent drunk. Well, the joke’s on him, she though as she sipped her drink. Darcy became a belligerent drunk very quickly.
“Yep,” she said. “I’ll have the most expensive entrée on the menu and the three most expensive dessert items. Loki?”
“Same entrée, no desserts,” he said.
“You’re not having mine,” Darcy said as the waiter hurried away and the air shimmer back to semi-opacity.
“I take it my note was intercepted,” Loki said. He sipped his own drink and grimaced. And Darcy, she wavered for a moment. “I promise you,” he said, pushing his cosmo away and reaching for his water, “no one can overhear what we are saying right now.”
Darcy bit her lip. “How do I know that’s true?”
Loki shrugged a shoulder. “Test it.”
“Fine.” She tossed the napkin onto the table and scooted up on her knees. So far, still no one looking. She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Balls!” Darcy shouted. It bounced off the walls and echoed through the dining area, drowning out the gentle murmur of respectable voices and the clinking of silverware. No one turned their heads. No one even twitched. “Huh.”
“The entirety of every human language was available to you,” Loki said as she sat back down, “and that was what you opted for.”
“Sorry, not all of us were bros with Shakespeare or whatever. What else are you supposed to shout in a place that is straight up the dining equivalent of the one percent?”
Loki was quiet a moment. “Well, now nothing else comes to mind.”
“Well, you’re dumb, but you’re smart, man,” Darcy said. “I had a whole plan with hand signals and foot playing to get you to help me lose my tail, and you got it like two minutes in.” She put her elbow on the table and leaned her head in her hand. “I want you to know that I’m good at undercover stuff. I swear to god, I totally am. Like when I was with Jane? We were tight, man. We were science bffs for reals. I was gonna go to her sister’s wedding with her.”
“And murder her if she refused HYDRA’s generous offer,” Loki said.
Darcy shrugged. “Well, yeah, but like she was going to say no. We’d fund her out the butt. There’s no way she’d say no to that. And anyway, my point is I’m not trying to get you to switch teams with the magic of my sexuality, but if it was, whoa, buddy, you’d be pretty darn seduced right now.”
“Trust me, I’m barely containing myself right now,” Loki said. It didn’t sound like he was all the way joking. “What exactly were your instructions?”
“The usual honey trap affair,” Darcy said. “Lure you to the dark side or help you join the Force. Kill you,” she added because they probably didn’t get Star Wars in Oz.
“Very honest of you. One might question the effectiveness of such honesty, but an admirable trait nonetheless.” His voice was gently mocking, and Darcy was down with that. She could roll with gentle mockery a hell of a lot more than she could with romance.
“Dude, I wouldn’t tell you all that if I was planning on doing either one. I’m not an idiot, no matter what my boss thinks.”
“So you could not bear to deceive me?” Loki asked.
“Don’t you smirk at me,” Darcy said. “And please, dude, we’ve spoken like twice. This doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
“Only twice true,” Loki said blithely, “but the two times previous to this that we have spoken have been fraught with emotion.”
“The first time I tasered you and the second time I shot you. So much romance in the air.”
“You shocked me free of Amora’s mind control so that I could free my brother, saving us from lives as HYDRA’s attack dogs,” Loki said. “And afterwards you helped patch up my wounds in the first aid kit. I’d say that first encounter alone would warrant a connection.”
“I was still undercover,” Darcy said. “I had to help you.”
Loki regarded her a moment, those shifting eyes contemplative as they roamed over her face. “You were kind,” he said, his mockery gone. “I had been exiled for smuggling Jotuns into the palace for petty malice. My brother, exiled alongside me for succumbing to my mechanisms and in those days still too proud, blamed me for his fall. I had given up on simple kindness when you tended my wounds.”
Darcy looked away. “It was just a giant Band-Aid. And I only did it ‘cause of the tasering.”
“I know that, Agent Lewis. But it affected me greatly nonetheless.” Loki ran his fingers up and down the stem of his water glass, and it was more hypnotic than it should have been. “I am trapped on Midgard until the Bifrost is repaired from its destruction during my brother’s battle with Amora, just as my brother remains trapped in Asgard, and I confess, I am…enjoying my exile far more than I thought possible. But still—I thought it would be a pleasant thing to see your face again. You have some inexplicable draw.”
“People need to not describe my appeal as ‘inexplicable’ and ‘unexplainable,’ okay?” Darcy said. There were too many feelings right now. She didn’t like feelings. They were squishy, inside and out. Darcy fidgeted with her scarf before she just yanked it off and tossed it on the table. The stupid thing was choking her. The gauzy fabric billowed onto Loki’s hands, and he rubbed it between his fingers. “The way I see it, we’ve got three options,” Darcy said, not looking at his long fingers twisting in her scarf. “You join HYDRA—”
“No, thank you,” Loki said. “I maimed quite a few members of your security force this afternoon. Combine that with their attempted mind control of me, and I sense it would be a hostile work environment.”
“Option two, I kill you.”
Loki snorted. “You could try.”
“Rein your ego in, buddy, I think I could do alright. And option three, we stage an elaborate and fake courtship where we maintain enough of a relationship that it keep my bosses off my back, but it’s troubled enough that no one expects me to have made more progress on you than I have. This plan seems promising, definitely. We’ve do fake dates, fake fights, fake reconciliations, at some point I would get fake kidnapped and you could fake rescue me, and we’d live in the woods for awhile so that everyone could be impressed with our fake love.”
“That is a very specific plan,” Loki said.
“Yeah, I had a lot of time to think while I got my makeup done,” Darcy said. “But then I thought, wait, no, that’s way too much work. And I don’t wanna do it. I don’t wanna do things like that for HYDRA anymore. I did once, I know that, and it’s not like I’m some big hero now. If my boss was less crappy, I probably would still wanna do all that stuff. But she is crappy, and I’m a bit older than I was eight years ago, and I want to set the corrupt power structures on fire, but I’m starting to think that maybe we should evacuate people from the area before we lit it up. You know? It’s cool, I don’t either. But I guess I’ve got good news, Oz boy, because you can explore our inexplicable draw when we’re coworkers because I’m officially defecting right now, to you, wow, so cool. How long do you think it’ll take for the food to be ready?”
“We can steal someone else’s food if you are hungry,” Loki replied automatically. And then, “Defecting?”
The Band-Aid ripped off, Darcy nodded with relief.
Darcy nodded again. “I figure that’s the only place where I’m gonna be safe from retaliation. And I know you’re going to say something stupid like, ‘does SHIELD even want you?’ which, okay, they might not yet, but again,” she said and pointed to herself, “not an idiot. A bit of a thief, but not an idiot.” And she over turned her tiny, stupid, borderline useless clutch on the table. Five flashdrives fell out. “I don’t actually know what’s on them,” she said as she lined them up, “but I know they came from Beatrice Shriver’s desk, and that they really look all black and secret. That’s gotta earn me at least a little amnesty.”
In one hand, Loki had lazily twined Darcy’s scarf around his hand, his pale skin still visible through the sheer fabric. She didn’t notice this, of course, anymore than she paid particular attention to his long fingers as they turned a flashdrive over and over like that would tell him anything. And she especially didn’t notice the slightest curve of his mouth as his eyes darted up to meet hers, the fingers of each of his hands curling around what she had given him.
“I don’t actually know first aid,” she babbled as she wrapped his chest, his blood seeping through his armor, over her fingers and into the thirsty sand of the desert.
He coughed or laughed. “Do not fear. I am hard to kill.” But his voice sounded bitter, too bitter for her to stand because twenty minutes ago, Amora’s army of sand warriors had been advancing on the town and now they were all dead. Amora was on Darcy’s side, technically, but her plot would have killed Darcy just as easily as it would have killed a good person.
So the only reason Darcy was alive was that Loki had killed them all, as his brother fought the sorceress herself in Asgard, and so she pressed her hand against one of his few uninjured patches of skin, the one on his shoulder, and said, “Good. I’m so glad you’re alive. You’re pretty much my hero. You are. You’re straight up the most heroic person I’ve ever met.”
He looked at her like he didn’t understand at first, but then he smiled, much wider and brighter than she’d thought him capable of, much wider and brighter than she thought her words alone warranted, and it was like seeing the platonic ideal of a smile, and all others were just pale copies. “You too,” he said nonsensically. “You helped me fight.”
“I tasered you,” she said sheepishly, as if she hadn’t known that electricity would help break the spell. HYDRA’s plans for Loki were a lot less important than Darcy’s plans to not die.
“You are still one of today’s heroes,” he replied. And it was weird, it really was, because Darcy knew who she was (not a hero) and what she did (not heroic things), she still believed him. Just for a second there. And damn, if that did not feel just a bit brighter and lighter than her workplace ever told her that it would.
Loki tossed the flashdrive up in the arm and caught it again. “I am not qualified to say this myself,” he said, “but I shall do it anyway. Welcome to SHIELD, Agent Lewis.” That ghost of that old smile she’d once drawn out was still on his face. Darcy returned it and drained the last of her vodka.
“You’re still a jerk,” she said, pointing at him with the hand that clutched her glass. “And I’m not saying yes to the next date or anything, and you shouldn’t interpret this to be weird and romantic, and you should definitely never buy me gifts again, but. Well. You can call me Darcy.”
He smiled truer than he had all evening. “Then welcome to SHIELD, Darcy,” he said and those weren’t words she’d expected to hear, but they didn’t sound bad in her ear. Not bad at all.
“Good,” she said, toasting him with her empty glass. “Glad to do business. Also, do you need me to kill my former boss to prove my loyalty? Because I can kill my former boss to prove my loyalty.”
Loki snorted. “SHIELD frowns on that, I think.”
“And what about you, bub?” she asked, leaning forward on the table. And just for a second, just so he could see how easily she could have wound his heart around her little finger, she cocked her head and smiled at him the way that the HYDRA memos told her she should. Loki looked very ungodlike as he swallowed. “Do you frown on it? Or do you want to earn the favor of your lady?”
Loki met Darcy’s eyes, and the beautiful, wicked little glint there didn’t seem like it belonged at SHIELD. And Darcy thought, well, at least she had one new coworker who might be worth knowing just a little bit more.