Darcy is slapping Jane’s hand away from the basket of king crab legs when almost everyone else in the restaurant disintegrates. Ashes swirl through the air and settle in a thick scum on the top of Darcy’s ramekin of melted better.
“What the fuck?” Jane says as they watch a basket of fried catfish hit the floor right where a waiter had been standing just a few seconds earlier.
Darcy can hear glass breaking and screaming and the crunch of metal folding in the distance. Jane looks at her with that wide-eyed scared rabbit look that means Darcy will always, always jump between her and danger, and then Jane puts on her determined face and whips out her phone. “Start calling people,” she says.
Tony doesn’t answer. Pepper doesn’t answer. Erik doesn’t answer. Nobody’s seen Bruce in forever, but Darcy calls him anyway. His phone’s been disconnected.
“Let’s go to Savannah, you said. Let’s have a vacation, you said. No science, you said.” Jane sounds like she’s on the verge of crying, and Darcy doesn’t blame her. Plumes of smoke are starting to rise on the other side of the river. The screaming hasn’t stopped. Whatever just happened is on the level of the Chitauri invasion, maybe even worse. Darcy feels panicked tears welling up in her own eyes, but she blinks them away.
“Come on,” Darcy says. “We’ve got to get back to the hotel.” Jane’s laptop is stashed at the bottom of her suitcase, and they’ve both got go bags packed in the trunk of the rental—hiking boots, first aid, weapons, nonperishable food. The world has almost ended too many times for Darcy not to be prepared for this shit.
They step out onto River Street, hand in hand, and Darcy is not prepared for this shit. A car has crashed into a light pole, the hood wadded around it like paper. A paddleboat on the river is listing toward the far shore; Darcy can see a handful of people on the deck jumping up and down and waving, their voices lost in the wind. Jane tightens her grip on Darcy’s hand.
Later, Darcy will not be able to quite remember how they got back to their hotel room. She will remember small moments with stunning clarity—a woman on her knees in front of a stroller sobbing, a guy running out of a jewelry store with hands full of glittering necklaces, a cop herding a group of shell-shocked kids into his squad car—but nothing she can piece together in a coherent way. The only constant of that horrible thirty minutes is the pressure of Jane’s fingers against her own.
Back in the hotel room, Jane digs out her computer and starts typing; the familiar staccato is comforting to Darcy which is something she dearly needs as CNN is reporting that an unknown but really fucking high number of people worldwide just crumbled into pieces and blew away.
Suddenly, Jane stops typing. “Oh, my god,” she says. “Look at this, Darcy.”
Darcy watches the Bifrost wink out on the laptop. It doesn’t look like much, just lines on a graph with numbers Darcy doesn’t understand running underneath, but Darcy has seen the Bifrost go boom enough times in Jane’s computer simulations to know that the Bifrost is gone again. “When did this happen?”
“A week ago, the day we got here.” Jane pulls up another screen and starts typing again, her hands trembling. “Whatever’s happening on Earth has to be connected.”
“Jane, baby, stop for a second. Stop.” Darcy sets the laptop aside and puts her arms around Jane. “Don’t go writing Thor off. Not yet. Not until we know more. He is a god after all.” Darcy is very proud of the way her voice doesn’t quaver or otherwise betray how much she’s worried about him, too.
Years ago, after the last Chitauri had fallen from the sky and Loki was in custody, when Thor finally showed up at the island where Darcy was recuperating from her date with alien technology, he’d already made his peace with Jane and Darcy being together. Turns out Heimdall had been watching Jane like a perving perv (although Darcy has to admit that if she had the power to spy on everyone in the universe, she would 100% abuse the privilege herself), and Thor was pretty much okay with Darcy stealing his girl by the time earth’s mightiest heroes assembled that first time. Darcy is glad; she loves Jane, but Thor’s friendship means a lot to her, too, and she would hate to lose it.
Jane wipes her eyes on her sleeve and exhales slowly. “Yeah. Okay. The Bifrost has shattered before. It can be repaired. It doesn’t mean anything by itself. It’s just one data point.” She rests her head on Darcy’s shoulder. Her breath is warm in the crook of Darcy’s neck. “What do we do now?”
Darcy runs her fingers through Jane’s ponytail and thinks. “We head to the Avengers compound. That’s where anyone who survived whatever this is would go.”
Darcy doesn’t mention that getting there will probably take forever, that the roads will be clogged full of crashed vehicles they’ll have to move if the streets of Savannah are any indication, that gas might start costing a million dollars a gallon in the next twenty minutes or even be impossible to pump at some gas stations if the grid goes dark. She has a sneaking suspicion that travelling from Georgia to upstate New York is going to be much closer to a Walking Dead reenactment than she’d like.
“You know this is going to suck ass, right?” Jane says. “And take forever. And possibly usher in a dystopic future in which our survival depends on learning to use a katana.”
And that’s when Darcy knows that no matter what happens next, they’re going to be okay. She’s alive. Jane’s alive—funny, beautiful, wicked smart Jane who is always on Darcy’s wavelength—they’re both alive. That’s enough for now. It’s got to be.
Two weeks later, they’re parked at a rest stop in Virginia eating power bars and drinking lukewarm Gatorade when a brown van pulls into the parking lot, horn blaring “La Cucaracha.” A guy Darcy’s never seen before sticks his head out of the window. “Are you Dr. Foster? Scott said we gotta find Dr. Foster, and he hacked into something cause he’s crazy wicked smart and figured out where you are, and we’re heading to the Avengers compound to save the world. Again.”
“What?” Darcy says as the van door slides open and a little girl bounces out followed by a guy who can only be her dad. Jane starts vibrating in her seat and smiling, and Darcy realizes she knows who these people are.
“Luis,” says the dad guy, “you’re telling it all wrong.”
Luis grins and says, “Okay. It’s like this.”
They sleep that night in a Quality Inn; the guy behind the desk seems a little tight around the eyes, but otherwise acts like it’s a normal Thursday night instead of the beginning of the third week of the apocalypse. Darcy would be more weirded out if she wasn’t so excited about taking a shower for several years and then sleeping in an actual bed.
“We really should have befriended more Avengers and the Avengers adjacent,” Darcy calls out to Jane from the shower, the water almost too hot for comfort. “We’ve only got numbers for Tony and Pepper, and Scott’s only got a number for Sam Wilson. I refuse to believe they’re all gone. They can’t be.”
Jane pulls back the curtain and cold air rushes in. “No hypothesizing. We won’t know anything until we get there. Now shut your mouth, and start scrubbing my back.”
Darcy commences to scrubbing Jane’s back with the very finest triple milled bar soap and tries not to think about finding the Avengers compound empty. Jane makes that very easy when she turns around, her soapy body sliding against Darcy’s in all sorts of interesting ways.
“Don’t you distract me, Jane Foster,” Darcy says. “We are getting clean in this shower, and that’s it. The last thing we need is for one of us to break a leg.”
Jane rolls her eyes. “Then quit hogging the spray.” She does not share Darcy’s deep seated conviction of the dangers of shower sex.
Darcy makes it up to her.
She pushes Jane back on the bed and kisses her everywhere—the back of her neck, the frets of her ribs, behind each knee. Jane trembles beneath Darcy’s mouth, her skin pink and damp, her breath catching as Darcy draws circles on her stomach with her tongue.
Darcy licks down between Jane’s legs, rubs her bottom lip over Jane’s clit—slowly, so slowly—until Jane is gasping and digs her heels into the mattress. Darcy brings her to the edge over and over again and then backs away, kissing Jane’s thighs, rolling a nipple between her thumb and forefinger. Finally, Darcy gives Jane what she wants, and Jane calls out Darcy’s name when she comes. Darcy never gets tired of hearing that.
Jane pulls Darcy up to her and kisses her, Darcy’s hair trailing over Jane’s breasts. Darcy is already wet, and Jane’s fingers slide into her, her thumb flicking over Darcy’s clit just the way Darcy likes it. She fucks Darcy hard and fast, Darcy’s bottom lip caught in Jane’s teeth, sharp and perfect and just short of pain. Darcy comes around Jane’s fingers, her vision whiting out and pleasure radiating to every part of her body.
After, they cuddle in a sweaty tangle. Jane is the little spoon like always.
“I know you said no hypothesizing, but I can’t help it,” Darcy says into Jane’s hair. “What if they’re all dusted? What if there’s no way to fix this mess? What if this is just the beginning of something even worse?”
Jane turns around and shakes Darcy. “Reality check. We have seen exactly zero gangs of murderous rapists on this trip. We have seen some intense expressions of grief and some looting, but what we’ve mostly seen is people working together and helping each other. We are not the walking dead. This is not the end of the world. It is the beginning of something, and that something sucks really hard in so many ways, but I am not giving up hope. It’s statistically unlikely that all the Avengers disintegrated. We are going to get to that compound, and we are going to figure out what needs to be done, and even if every single one of them is gone, I am a motherfucking genius and so is Scott, and we’re going to be okay.”
Outside, the sky splits open, and rain pours down in a wave of white noise. Darcy closes her eyes and imagines that rain washing away all her fear, all her doubt. “Okay,” she says. “Okay.”
That night in her dreams, she and Jane walk hand in hand through a warm drizzle, barefoot on green grass, the edges of the meadow lost in mist. Darcy smiles in her sleep.
Cassie rides with Darcy the next morning since Jane and Scott want to talk about his plan to save the day. Cassie is an awesome kid. Darcy is totally on board with Cassie’s sass and her gleeful willingness to tell every embarrassing story about her dad that she can remember. Darcy finds herself laughing for the first time in what feels like forever.
The highway is blocked with cars only a couple times, and clearing goes much faster when you’re with a guy who can turn gigantaur and sweep the road clean in just a few minutes. Now Darcy gets how Scott and Luis were able to travel across the country so quickly.
At one point, the median is on fire for miles. Darcy drives in the farthest lane from the blaze, but she can still feel the tremendous heat of the flames on her left forearm and the left side of her face.
“What do you think happened?” Cassie says.
Darcy shrugs. “No way to tell.”
“There was a fire on my street,” Cassie says. She’s looking out the window at the side of the road that isn’t burning, but Darcy can see her reflection in the glass. “I think Mrs. Wang’s stove must have been on when it, when it happened. Her house didn’t start burning until it was dark. By the morning, all the houses on that side of the street past the McIntosh’s were on fire.” The Cassie in the window closes her eyes.
Darcy doesn’t know what to say. There isn’t anything to say. “Sorry most of your neighbors died and their houses burned down and maybe yours, too, and no one is mentioning your mom at all which is a really bad sign,” doesn’t seem to cut it.
“You can ask me what happened,” Cassie says, her eyes still closed. “Dad and Luis keep trying to distract me every time I talk about that day, and it’s making me mad. I’m not a little kid anymore.”
“What happened?” Darcy says. “What did you do?”
“Mom and my step-dad Jim turned to dust. Dad didn’t answer his phone, but Luis did. He told me to stay put and wait, and he’d come get me. I packed a bunch of stuff in a backpack, and I waited. I watched all the houses burn through the front window, and I waited. It took him and Dad three days to get to me. They kept texting to make sure I was alright.”
“I’m so sorry,” Darcy says, her grip tight on the wheel, her stomach turned to lead again. The fire in the median blessedly ends, and the smell of smoke slowly starts dissipating.
Cassie says, “Me, too,” and turns up the radio. She knows every word to “Barracuda.”
After lunch, Jane and Cassie switch back.
“You look happy about something,” Darcy says, buckling herself into the passenger seat and readjusting all the air conditioner vents.
Jane smiles, and she’s so beautiful that Darcy’s breath catches. “I think Scott’s plan could actually work. There’s a chance we could bring everyone back. If we combine an Einstein-Rosen bridge—”
Darcy holds up a hand. “Don’t need to know the details. Probably wouldn’t understand them if you told me. The important thing is that you think there’s a chance.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jane says. “There’s a chance.” And then she leans over and kisses Darcy until Luis lays on the horn.
Later, when they finally pull into the Avenger’s compound, Darcy leaps out of the car almost before it comes to a stop. Jane isn’t far behind her. Standing outside the gate with a raccoon?—yep, totally a racoon—is Thor. Darcy and Jane rush him, all three of them crying, and he hugs them back for all he’s worth. Darcy knows she’ll have bruises tomorrow.
“I’m so sorry,” Thor says, voice breaking. “I’m so sorry I didn’t look for you. I’ve lost so much, and I couldn’t bear to lose any more. I wanted to imagine that you both survived, and I couldn’t take knowing for sure that you were gone because I failed.”
Jane punches him as hard as she can in his massive bicep, her face screwed up in determination. “That’s for leaving us to get here on our own wondering if you were dead.” Then she kisses him on the cheek. “And that’s for being alive, you great big asshole.”
Thor laughs, and Darcy laughs, and Jane laughs, and it’s a whole thing where they’re laughing hysterically and crying at the same time until the raccoon says, “This is precious, really it is, and not at all annoying. Want to come inside where the food is and introduce us to your friends, oh God of Thunder?” Which is how Darcy finds herself scarfing down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in a command center with the remaining Avengers and a few faces Darcy doesn’t recognize.
One of the newbies, Carol, sits down beside Scott. “You,” Carol says to Scott, tilting her head to the side. “Something’s different about you.”
Scott says, “I get that a lot.” Jane glares at him, and he says quickly, “I spent a couple days in the quantum realm where I got a few ideas about manipulating time and space that I think we can use to bring everyone back.” He turns to Jane. “We're going to need Dr. Foster’s expertise on Einstein-Rosen bridges, especially the Bifrost, and a whole heck of a lot of power to make our plan work.”
Flames briefly dance on Carol’s hands. “I think I got you covered on power.”
Darcy wolfs down the rest of her sandwich. “Well, what the hell are we waiting for?” she says. “Let’s get started.”