Darcy felt a tap against her wards and then a moment later felt it again. Someone knocking, then. She sighed and urged the little vine she was working with to twine back to its trellis. She went to the door, wiping her hands on her apron as she went, and pulled it open.
Standing on her doorstep was the Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver.
Darcy wavered between slamming the door, swooning, or throwing up, but managed to square her shoulders and say, “Greetings, Madam Witch.”
“Witch Lewis,” the Scarlet Witch said, nodding her head.
The Scarlet Witch knew her name—Darcy might really faint now.
“We are in need of assistance, and I remembered that Thor had spoken highly of you,” the Scarlet Witch said.
Thor had talked to the Scarlet Witch about her, Darcy thought dazedly.
“What kind of assistance were you looking for?” she asked. Even now, she could feel the warm coils of the Scarlet Witch’s magic curling around her stoop and probing at her wards. The idea that the woman could need any help from her was laughable.
The Scarlet Witch glanced over her shoulder and said, “Perhaps we could discuss this inside.”
“Oh! Of course,” said Darcy.
She invited them in and showed them to her little parlor where the three of them stood awkwardly.
“How did you think I could help you?” Darcy said.
“We need you to hide us,” the Scarlet Witch said bluntly.
Darcy’s jaw dropped without her permission.
The Scarlet Witch was one of the most powerful magic users in the Eastern States and she was part of the Avengers, a team of some of the most high-powered magic users on the continent.
“The rest of the Avengers have been taken captive by Hydra, and they are looking for us. Tonight, Hydra’s power will be waning and we will be at full strength. We just need to stay out of their grasp until then,” the Scarlet Witch said.
“But I’m just a hedge witch,” Darcy said.
“Exactly,” the Scarlet Witch said. “Your magic can cover our tracks and cleanse the area.” Darcy could see her magic now: wisps of red that curled over her dress and jacket, twisting eagerly as the woman spoke.
“I can’t—well…” Darcy trailed off as an idea began to form in her head.
“It would take a lot of energy,” she said.
“I can help replenish your reserves,” the Scarlet Witch said.
She could, too. The magic of transmutation and transferal was her trade. Darcy could feel the heat and spice of the witch’s magic from where she stood, and it was clearly powerful.
“All right, Madam Witch, I’ll do it,” Darcy said.
“Please, call me Wanda, Miss Lewis. We owe you, after all,” the Scarlet Witch said.
“Call me Darcy,” Darcy said faintly.
“Darcy,” Wanda said, smiling at her. Darcy stared back.
Quicksilver shuffled in place, and Darcy coughed, realizing she had been staring too long.
“I'm sorry, can I get you anything before I get started?” she asked.
“Just some food for my brother if you can spare it,” Wanda said.
“For both of us,” Quicksilver said.
“Pietro,” Wanda murmured, but Darcy cut her off.
“Of course. I should have enough for both of you. Why don’t you step through to the conservatory and I’ll bring it.”
“Thank you, Darcy,” Wanda said politely. She took her brother by the arm and towed him toward the door that Darcy had indicated.
When Darcy brought a tray back to them, Quicksilver was tapping his foot impatiently while his sister spoke quietly.
“Is this where you plan to hide us, Witch? In a room made of glass?” Quicksilver said when he caught sight of Darcy.
“This is the seat of my power,” Darcy said calmly, reigning in the desire to slap him. She set down the tray on a bare table. “Once my magic is active, that’ll be all that anyone sees through the windows.”
He looked unconvinced.
“It is a very nice conservatory, Darcy,” Wanda said. “You have a wide variety for a such a compact space.”
“Thank you,” said Darcy, blushing a little. She knew her conservatory was tiny, but she took a lot of pride in it. All the plants here had stories, and many had been gifts. She was sure the Scarlet Witch must have seen better ones in her time, but it was nice to hear her compliment it anyway.
She gestured to the tray. “I’ve got some leftover sheppard’s pie and some lavender rosehip tea. Sorry it’s not more, but I’ve really got to get started if this is going to work.”
“It’s perfect. Thank you for your hospitality, Darcy,” said Wanda. “Is there anything we can do to help?”
Darcy shook her head. “Just stay in here,” she said. “The magic will be strongest here, so it’s the best place to hide.”
“We will. And thank you again, Darcy,” Wanda said.
“Yep, well, I’d better get to work,” Darcy said awkwardly.
She ducked out of the room and went back to the kitchen where she tied a scarf around her hair. Then she looked around at her supplies.
“All right. Time to get started.”
Darcy sat back in a kitchen chair, drawing a tired breath. She was waiting for her tea to finish steeping. In the middle of the table a fresh braid of bread was cooling in preparation to be cut open. Outside, the night was starting to close in.
Darcy had opened up all her magic and sent it out in a way she had never attempted before. The acres of land around her house were now carpeted in short new grass and small ferns unfurling. A spring refresh was nothing new to her, but Darcy had never attempted it on such a scale before. Most of her supplies were depleted, but the all the plants in the house were waving happily, and the ground outside was prepared for spring now.
Wanda had been right though. The traces of Wanda’s magic that Darcy had felt when she sent her own magic out had fizzled out like embers in the rain. They had been easily consumed by the strength of the earth magic, and now Darcy could only sense the oak leaf and moss scent of her own magic.
Darcy dipped her finger in her tea and decided it had brewed long enough. She pulled it close and took a long inhale of the steam before sipping at the tea. She sighed as the warm liquid filled her stomach.
Outside the noisy flock of sparrows that had settled in front of the house startled and took off as one. A moment later Darcy felt another tapping against her wards. Someone else had come knocking.
Darcy opened the heavy oak door to a man with a wolf’s grin.
“Excuse me, good witch. Have you had any travelers passing through?” the man asked. His magic was poised around him, ready to spread out with a moment’s notice.
“Travelers?” she said.
“A brother and sister. Magic users both of them. The sister’s power is in transmutation—very risky in the wrong hands,” he said.
“Are they dangerous?” Darcy asked, keeping her eyes wide.
“They are, miss. Not the sort of people civilized folk like yourself should mix with,” he said. He looked around. “It looks like there’s been a lot of magic going on here.”
“Spring cleaning,” Darcy said. “Ground’s finally ready for it.”
“Seems like a bit much for that, miss,” the man said, leaning in closer.
Darcy narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms. “Everybody’s quick to dismiss hedge witches, but you’d miss us when July came around and you had no food on your plates. It’s been a rough spring with too many false starts. Now the ground’s a little more protected and everything can start growing right.”
“Apologies, miss, didn’t mean to offend,” the man said, ducking his head. “Still, would it be all right if I look around?”
“Check the land all you want, I need my dinner,” Darcy said with a shrug. She put a hand on the door to close it.
“Excuse me, miss,” the man started, but Darcy interrupted.
“Goodnight, sir,” she said, declining to invite him in and shutting the door in his face.
She stood there catching her breath as she felt his magic spill over her doorstep. Where Wanda’s had been warm tendrils and coils that unfurled as they explored, this man’s magic was cool and slick. It ventured out along her wards like a ferret searching out every nook and cranny as it went.
“He’s still here,” came Quicksilver’s voice behind her.
“Yes,” Darcy said absentmindedly as she turned. She startled at the sight of him about to step out into the hall. “What are you doing you idiot? Stay in the conservatory.”
She pushed him back into the room and stepped in after. The residue of her magic was still strong in here. She could hear the plants singing cheerfully to one another even though they should have been winding down for the night.
Despite the peaceful atmosphere, Darcy was surprised to see Wanda sitting still in a chair, her head bowed down to her chest.
“Is she okay?” Darcy asked, suddenly worried that something had gone wrong.
“She’s fine. She’s just drawn into herself to make sure her magic doesn’t give us away,” Quicksilver said.
“Okay,” said Darcy. She’d heard of people going into a trance or a meditative state to withdraw their magic, but she’d never seen it done. The complete stillness in Wanda’s body was unnerving, but she would trust Quicksilver’s judgment.
A shadow moved outside the window as the man circled around her house. Quicksilver tensed beside her.
“Hush,” she said, reaching out to him. “It should be fine. He won’t be able to see us through the magic, and the trail you left should have sunk into the earth by now.”
“Should?” he said in that hoity-toity tone he favored.
“I am just a hedge witch,” Darcy said. “I said I would help, but I’ve done as much as I can.”
“Let’s hope it’s enough,” Quicksilver said darkly.
They watched the man circle the room. He made three more passes around the house before moving off into the trees.
“I’m going to the kitchen where I can keep an eye on him. Stay here,” Darcy said.
She went to the kitchen without bothering to see if he listened. Once there she went over to the plant that grew on both sides of the window and twined her fingers in its vines. She shut her eyes to listen.
It felt like a long time before the man was out of reach of her magic. It was fully dark outside when she opened her eyes and tilted her head to fight the crick in her neck.
The floorboards creaked behind her and she turned to see Wanda.
“I think he’s gone now,” Darcy said.
Wanda nodded. “I felt him go,” she said. “My brother is preparing to leave. The time is almost right to free our friends. Thank you again for your help.”
“I’m just glad it was enough,” Darcy said. “I’ve never done that much magic at once before. I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
“You should make sure you rest enough after this,” Wanda said, stepping forward with a concerned look. She held out her hands. “I can help restore some of your magic if you’d like.”
Darcy had never received magic from another user before but she knew it was something that could be done, especially with gifts like Wanda’s.
“Okay,” she said.
Wanda peeled off her gloves and held up her hands palms out. Darcy stepped up to her and pressed her hands flat to Wanda’s.
Wanda’s magic tickled against her palms at first and then swept into her. Against her wards, Wanda’s magic had been an inquisitive warmth; now it was a scorching heat that rushed through her. Wanda’s magic reached out through her to coax the earth magic around them back to Darcy and fill her reserves back up. Darcy felt it to her toes. She shuddered as she felt her magic restored in a few minutes when it would have taken a week on its own. Her body was warmed as well, as if Wanda had been pressed against every part of it instead of just her hands.
Wanda’s magic ebbed and then receded completely. Darcy opened her eyes, not realizing she had closed them. She was standing on tiptoe, staring at Wanda. Wanda was looking right back. Both of them were breathing hard.
“Does it always feel like that?” Darcy asked.
“No,” said Wanda.
The taste of spice was still heavy in Darcy’s mouth, and she wet her lip with her tongue. Wanda’s eyes traced the movement with an unerring intensity.
“Thank you,” Darcy said.
The words seemed to shake Wanda from her stare.
“You’re welcome,” Wanda said. She pulled her hands back and Darcy missed them even as she lowered her own. “You still should rest well. And make sure you eat something.”
“Sure,” Darcy said.
Wanda turned toward the hallway where her brother came up behind them.
“We should go,” he said.
Wanda nodded and looked at Darcy. “Is it all right if we travel from here? I would rather not leave any traces outside.”
“Of course,” said Darcy. “Tell Thor hi when you see him.”
“I will,” Wanda said. “And I shall be telling him thank you.”
Red tendrils of magic flickered at her fingertips and Wanda drew a circle in the air that quickly solidified into a portal.
“Be safe. Kick ass,” Darcy said.
“We will,” the siblings said together with matching feral grins.
Wanda pulled her brother toward the portal. She looked over her shoulder at Darcy one last time and then they were gone.
Darcy slept heavily for the rest of the week. Her magic was as strong as ever and it just took her body a few days to get on the same page.
Thor sent her a message two days after Wanda and Quicksilver had left, letting her know that all was well. He commended her for helping his friends, and added that the Scarlet Witch seemed to be very impressed with her skills. Darcy had wondered at that, running her fingers along her lips. The spice had long since faded, but Darcy found herself wishing she could still taste even a hint of it.
Two weeks after the night she hid two Avengers in her conservatory, Darcy took delivery of a package. When she asked who had sent it, the courier simply shrugged. Darcy carried it to her kitchen to open.
Inside the box was a plant with strong stems reaching up more than a foot from its pot. There were several flower buds and they were all still tightly closed. A note was attached to the base of the pot.
Dear Darcy, it read,
I hope you will accept this addition to your collection. It is an evening lily and blooms only at night. While other plants sleep, this one is it at its most beautiful.
Thank you again for your kindness towards my brother and me. I hope I get the chance to thank you again in person one day.
Darcy carried the lily through to the conservatory. She looked around for the best place to put it and after a little bit of shuffling she gave it a home on a prominent shelf.
That night when she wandered into the conservatory with a cup of tea, she saw the flowerhead on the lily had tilted toward the sky. The buds had opened into blossoms of deep blue. Darcy had to stretch onto her tiptoes to catch the delicate scent. She stroked the soft petals and wondered when she might be able to thank Wanda for such a beautiful gift. Plus the note… The note had left her wondering.
Maybe it was time to write to Thor about a visit.