"But it had to have come from Asgard." Jane said as she pulled the SUV onto the main road. Darcy's fingers tapped along to the drum beat of the song blaring through her ears from the one headphone she had in. She normally turned the volume right up to drown Jane out as they drove to work as the latter usually lamented the loss of her boyfriend, Thor or spoke of some new scientific breakthrough she'd thought of while pouring her cereal. Either way- yawn.
Today however she'd turned it down low enough so that she could tune in or out as she pleased. Her hand draped out of the open window as they drove through miles of New Mexico desert. It was eight thirty and already burning hot. The air con in the car was broken, again, so all of the windows were down to entice in the dry breeze though all it really did was create more noise that Jane felt the need to shout above.
"Puh-lease." Darcy told her, taking a sip of coffee from her travel mug. "You find one note-"
"In my shoe!" Jane interrupted. "Why would the note be in my shoe?"
The hand that had been tapping on the window moved to rub her temples. It was too early in the morning to handle Jane. It was times like these that Darcy missed Erik most. He'd always been able to handle most of Jane's obsessive fixations, the only exception being when Thor had visited. Darcy however had about 2% of the things she said registered by Jane and of those a further 2% were actually listened to.
"You're constantly making notes, Jane." Darcy sighed. "And they turn up everywhere. Remember the time you set the toaster on fire?"
Jane's face flushed slightly pink as she drove but she remained determined. "It wasn't my handwriting. I know that handwriting."
"What because he scribbled on your notebook? Jane, he was hardly writing essays while he crashed here." Darcy raised her eyebrow at her friend. As usual Jane remained oblivious to the hinted suggestion behind Darcy's words. She took another sip of coffee, silently lamenting the fact that no one seemed to share her dirty mind.
"I know that handwriting." Jane repeated.
"Jesus Jane, slow down." Darcy told her, having just seen the speedometer on the car. It was hard to tell on the long straight roads how fast they were going but she was certain Jane's old car hadn't driven this fast since...well ever.
"We have to get to SHIELD." She said, pressing her lips together in determination and accelerating.
"I am not going to die over some stupid note!" Darcy shouted back.
"You haven't even seen it!" Jane replied, reaching into the pocket of her jeans and pulling out a crumpled piece of parchment coloured paper.
"For fuck's sake," Darcy shrieked. "If you're going this fast at least keep both hands on the wheel!"
"Just take the note." Jane snapped. Darcy glared at her as she snatched the note from her hands, relief rushing through her as she saw Jane put her other hand back on the wheel.
Darcy examined it briefly. It was about the same size as a post-it note but three times as thick, like the kind of posh paper that ought only be reserved for cursive writing detailing a meeting with the Queen of England.
One word was printed on it in a bold hand. "AFTER" Darcy read. "Wow, yep definitely from Thor, definitely listing his imminent return yes let us run off to SHIELD whilst breaking as many traffic laws as we can."
Jane rolled her eyes. "Either way it's clearly not one of my notes."
Darcy shrugged. She agreed but wasn't going to tell Jane that.
"What does it mean though?" Jane continued. Darcy turned the volume up on her iPod. She was used to Jane using her presence as an excuse to talk to herself. "I mean 'after' what? Is something..."
At maximum volume, Darcy's iPod had finally succeeded in drowning Jane out. She finished the rest of her coffee and put the thermos in the cup holder, waiting for the caffeine buzz to set in. She was very much the antithesis of a morning person, her usual chirpy personality completely non-existent until at least eleven in the morning.
By the time the song finished Jane was pulling the car into the derelict multi-storey car park that served as one of the entrances to SHIELD's New Mexico base. The barrier rose for them and they followed the sloping base deeper into the compound. Inside the air was stale but just as hot.
Her ipod turned itself off as it always did when they entered, the only evidence Darcy had of the security measures in the car park. She'd always wondered what would happen if she tried entering in a different car but wasn't foolish enough to try.
"So you're just going to go marching into Fury's office and demand to see him over a note?" Darcy asked. They were a few floors down now. A wall of the empty concrete room sank into the floor to reveal the actual car park behind, in all of its metal and white concrete glory.
"Yep." Jane said resolutely.
Darcy grinned. "Can I watch?" She could only imagine the look on Fury's face if that happened.
Jane didn't reply as she parked the car at the other end of the car park in her designated space. She was, unfortunately, far from a high position in SHIELD. As her assistant, Darcy was worth even less. Heck she didn't even get her own space. Not that she had a car but she felt she should have a space on principle.
She slid out of the car and closed the door behind her, the sound of the door slamming echoing in the large room. It was more like how she imagined the aircraft holder would look, not that she'd ever been allowed access to that part of SHIELD. She tugged on the sleeves of her purple jumper so that they covered her hands. It was September and therefore boiling in New Mexico but SHIELD somehow always managed to overdo the air-conditioning. Perhaps they felt that keeping the place colder than the arctic would make it more space-agey.
"We can't just ignore it." Jane said as they walked back across the room to the entrance to the main building. Somehow Darcy doubted she was talking about the heating.
"It's a piece of paper that makes no sense." Darcy told her. "Maybe it's there from Saturday. You'd be surprised the sorts of things people give you instead of numbers. I once gave out the entire lyrics to Hakuna Matata in single letter notes."
She'd finally managed to drag Jane to Santa Fe for a night out. She'd gone practically insane for the first year of Thor's absence with trying to find him. SHIELD had given her a lab so that she didn't have to work out of her living room so she'd decided to move into the lab instead. It was two months before Darcy could convince her that showering in the bathroom sinks was not aiding her research. Getting her to a bar had been practically impossible.
"I didn't wear my trainers on Saturday." Jane said. The classier job had done nothing to her wardrobe, she still dressed in her usual trainers, jeans and flannel shirt ensemble. That was one of the good things about SHIELD. No dress code unless you were one of the agents or guards. Who cared if the scientists dressed like bums as long as they kept doing the work?
The doors to the corridor full of lifts which would take them down to the labs was the same colour as the walls. The only thing that marked it as a door was the rectangular outline which looked like a crack in the wall. More high tech stuff opened it. Darcy thought it was overkill but it did make the job seem a bit more exciting.
Only this time there was something else at the door.
"Ohmygod." Darcy said stopping. Jane, who had again been questioning the metaphorical resonances of the mysterious note, noticed Darcy stop and turned to look at what she was staring at.
Her eyes widened in shock and she ran towards it, Darcy being snapped back to her senses following just a few steps behind.
A body was lying in front of the doors. He wasn't one of the guards, he wasn't wearing the uniform, which begged the question of how he had got there. The two women crouched down by him. He was tall and swathed in black leather and dark green mesh with countless buckles and straps. His skin was so pale that Darcy felt sure he must be dead, though perhaps, she thought, it only seemed that way in comparison to the mane of inky black hair.
He was handsome, gorgeous, in fact with his strong jaw line, high cheekbones and otherwise carved looking features. However, his face and hands, the only parts of him not draped in leather, were covered in bruises and deep cuts that were still seeping blood. One hideous gash around his left eye made Darcy feel as though she would be sick.
Jane was still, staring at the body in shock. Summoning her courage, Darcy gingerly picked up his wrist and turned it over in her hand, unwilling to cause anymore damage to the injuries.
"He's still warm." She said. She pressed her fingers to a thin blue vein on his wrist and held her breath for what felt like an eternity before she felt a faint but discernible heart beat pulse through. "That's a pulse." She sighed in relief, although partly because it meant she hadn't stumbled upon a corpse.
This information seemed to spur Jane into action. She leant forwards to crouch next to Darcy, over the man.
"I need something to stem...this." She said, gesturing helplessly to the gash on his eye which was the only wound to still be bleeding heavily. "Then we can get help."
"I have some tissues in my bag." Darcy said, standing up and stepping away so that she could rummage properly for the pack of Kleenex. Her hand brushed against the plastic tissue packet and she pulled it out. Grappling for a tissue, she was halfway to handing it to Jane before she realised that it wasn't a tissue at all. It was a note similar to the one Jane had found, identical in shape, size and colour. All that was different was the word. She read it a few times.
This time she was positive she would be sick.
"Um Jane." She said weakly.
"What?" Jane snapped, looking at the man who Darcy didn't think she could look at without actually bringing up her breakfast.
"Look." Darcy said, holding the sheet out.
"No way." Jane said incredulously, jumping up and taking the sheet from Darcy. "You got one too?"
"Just read it."
Darcy watched as Jane's eyes widened in horror as she looked from the sheet to the man. "Loki?" She read.