Finally, finally Cecil's voice came back on the radio, obnoxious tones of an Arby's ad drawing to an end.
“With that, dear listeners, it is become night." His voice rang deep, and rasping from all those hours of continuous broadcasting. "The worst of this awful Valentine’s Day is most likely over, but still do not leave your bunkers. The disaster is not over yet.”
“For the benefit of search and rescue,” he continued, “and for those listeners near and far waiting anxiously for news of their loved ones, here is a list of this hour’s confirmed dead: Joseph Carmichael. Linda Carmichael. Michael Carmichael. Betsabe Marquez. Lionela Palomo. Dan Su. Damien Su. Rachel No-Last-Name. Raafi Al-Dallal, and Abdul Jones.” A brief pause. “Dozens of others, trapped in the ruins of their bunkers, still await rescue. Some, still capable of thought, pray to the beams that they will be saved, hoping alone in the darkness where they sit, or splay, or kneel. Others simply sleep, consciousness having vanished, perhaps forever.”
The music, soothing in the background, flared a little.
“One last announcement,” came the dreaded words, “before I take you all to our next segment: Just now, I heard from my sources that truffles have begun to fall in a mile-long heart shape around number 18 Maple Street.”
Darcy’s head snapped to attention.
“To all those with loved ones within a half-mile radius of that house—I am very sorry.” She could hear the sudden grief in Cecil’s voice, the hitch in his breath. “I hope that your family has a very deep bunker indeed, and that it is well-supplied, because even if there is anyone left beneath that forty-foot-deep crater, search and rescue will have to wait until they can safely disarm the truffles before attempting any work there.”
She couldn’t breathe.
“To the inhabitants of 18 Maple Street,” Cecil rang, “Good riddance. Seriously, think of your community before engaging in romance.”
“And now,” came the words, so impossibly, illogically calm in the face of disaster, “In the hopes of getting something to drink, intern Rebecca, I take you all to the weather.”
She wanted to punch something.
She wanted to throw the radio receiver across the room.
“Darcy?” Coulson’s voice was mild, as if there was nothing, nothing wrong. “Are you okay?”
Damp heat rolled down her cheeks. They weren’t dead. They couldn’t be dead yet, or Cecil would have said something, they weren’t in the list—“They thought they would be safer. There.”
There was a sharp intake of breath from the couch opposite her. “Your family. I thought they lived in the Barista District, not Maple Street.”
Darcy licked her dry and cracking lips. Was she crying? Her entire body felt numb, now, like leather stretched over a hollow frame. She couldn’t tell. “They went to Cactus Jude’s for weekend,” she almost didn’t hear the words from her own mouth. “Only my mom has a bunker tough enough for something like this, but its door hasn’t been sealing properly. They couldn’t just stay there.”
With a whispering of clothing and a creak of shoes, Coulson stood. The next thing she knew, she had a cool weight next to her, a callused hand over her own. “Would you like a hug?” That soft voice asked.
Darcy managed a faint and trembling nod.
And gently, gently, two arms wrapped about her, a chin tucked itself over her shoulder. She tried to blink the water from her eyes—but gave it up as a lost cause, and clung instead to the man beside her, her face muffled by the fabric of his suit jacket. The familiar scent of dust, that combination of bitter and overwhelming sweet and just a hint of coppery blood surrounded her. It always seemed to go stronger, she thought, in times like these. The smell of home.
Quietly, Darcy choked out a sob.
“Hey, Darcy? Do you—"
That was not a voice she had been expecting.
Jane stood in the doorway. Her eyes were wide, her hand clenched on the frame, her mouth slightly agape. “I’m sorry, are you okay?” the doctor asked. “Did something happen?” Jane’s gaze went from Coulson, to Darcy, and back, and widened even more. “What are you two doing?”
Darcy extracted herself from the hug, her hands still shaking on Coulson’s jacket. Took a shuddering breath. “Sorry, Jane, I… It’s not what you think,” the words jumped from her throat. “Okay I don’t actually know where I’m going with that,” she sniffed. Her left hand picked at her sleeve until it came down far enough to wipe her eyes with. “I’ll be okay, though. I think. Nothing I can do from here, anyway.”
Coulson’s gaze was cool and professional.
“You… really don’t look okay,” Jane managed. “But I guess I can take your word for it? I was, uh, looking for the chocolates I hid in the van for Thor—"
Somehow, that got a reaction from both of them.
Coulson flinched, every inch of him tense as piano wire, while Darcy turned white as a sheet. Her hands balled themselves into fists. “You got what?! I—” she shook her head. “I can’t believe you, you—“ And then some realization seemed to dawn on her face. “…it doesn’t matter.” The anger was gone from her voice, replaced with a defeated tone that Jane found even more alarming. “It doesn’t matter, here, does it?” Darcy’s eyes were leaking again, her face red and puffy with tears. “Fuck.” She punched the couch cushion beneath her, and when her fist came up, it left a dent in the padding. “Fuck!”
That was Coulson, to Jane’s surprise, his voice as calm as ever, though with a note of something she couldn’t quite decipher. Pity, maybe? But Darcy ignored him, her fist landing on the couch again.
“Darcy, the weather’s over. Cecil might—”
“FUCK Cecil!” Darcy stopped hitting the couch and buried her head in her hands. A strange sort of moan issued from her throat. “Fuck Cecil,” she whispered, but her eyes were fixed on the radio.
Jane hadn’t noticed the radio before. It was an old one, from the eighties, a tough find here in Avengers Tower. It looked like it was on—but it had been playing nothing but soft static as long as she’d been standing here. All around it, at strategic intervals sat little polished stones, dark green with flecks of red, and there was some sort of reddish-brown mark on top, like a crescent. Was that… blood? “Look, Darcy—”
“Shhh!” Darcy and Coulson shushed her simultaneously, and with near-equal ferocity.
Jane rolled back on her heels.
Something, obviously, was going on here. And Darcy was plainly upset, and she couldn’t just let some government agent seduce her intern, if that was what was going on. She’d thought Darcy had better taste in men—okay really, she thought Darcy didn’t care for men at all—but… The two of them looked awfully cuddly. And Thor wouldn’t show up for a few more hours. So after a moment’s contemplation, Jane wandered over to the couch opposite her intern, plopped down on it, and pulled out a book.
It was close to an hour before anyone spoke.
Darcy had uncurled herself a little, looking somewhat calmer. Stretched. Glanced at Jane. “So… what are you still doing here?” she asked. “I didn’t think you could hear it.”
Jane blinked. With difficulty, she finally managed to extract herself from her book where the soft sound of static in the background had only made it easier to get sucked in. “Hear what?”
“Ah,” the agent sounded positively smug! “You can’t, can you? Why are you here?”
The answer took a moment to come to mind. “Darcy looked upset. I care about her, which is more than you can say.” Jane glared.
“Jane…” Darcy interrupted. “Please. Coulson’s cute, but he’s really not my type. He just…” her eyes flicked back to the radio, still buzzing out static. “He understands why I’m here. And he’s helped! He really has,” she rambled, “There’s a reason I’m glad I’m not alone, and even if the only person I know of who can understand the problem is a from a vague, yet menacing government agency, that’s still better than being alone.” She grimaced. “Especially this year.”
“What’s this year?”
“The worst Valentine’s Day in recent history!”
“Just because—” Coulson started.
“Not because my family got hit!” Darcy hissed, her voice tense as piano wire. “Coulson, there have already been eighty confirmed deaths. And it isn’t even close to midnight yet! This is the highest Valentine’s Day body count in, what, fifty years?”
The agent had no response. Finally, he spoke again, his voice stiff and impassive. “I’m sorry, Miss Lewis. That isn’t what I meant. I intended only to inform Dr. Foster, here, that just because I am required to keep my emotions in check while on the job does not mean I am incapable of caring for others.” He turned to face Jane more clearly. “As it happens, Miss Lewis and I share a number of similar experiences, experiences which are quite difficult to find out here. I, at least, do occasionally find myself needing to take comfort in someone else who understands the issue.”
“The issue.” Jane’s face went blank. “Darcy, what do you mean, your family got hit? Confirmed deaths?! What are you talking about?”
A breath. “Agent Coulson,” Darcy asked, “How much am I allowed to tell her? At least, you know, officially?”
Coulson pursed his lips, appearing to actually think about the question before answering. “I think you should be alright, so long as you do not discuss the causes of any… unlikely events, or speculate unduly on the matter. The precise location, such as it is, should remain secret as well. Any major collective actors in town are also informally classified, though I can take a walk if you would like.”
“Don’t bother,” the intern gave a relieved sigh. “My hometown…” She bit her lip. “Holidays are strange, there, and Valentine’s Day in particular. We get… bombs, ballistics, earthquakes, the whole shitload dropped on us, from one dawn to the next, every year. The whole town turns into a, a war zone, it’s just what happens and nobody knows how to stop it. I mean we can just not celebrate it, and that helps a lot, but there’s always some destruction either way. And normally most everybody’s alright,” she rushed, carefully not looking at Jane’s incredulous expression, “only maybe a dozen Valentine’s casualties a year, I mean we’re all prepared. We have bunkers, and that sort of thing, and hide out underground. But like I said—worst Valentine’s Day in years. No-one know why. There are a handful of new couples, but only two of them have set anything off so far, most of it’s just… the stuff that happens anyway, regardless of what we do.”
You can’t be serious, Jane bit back the words before she spoke them. Doubting Darcy would not help anything. “I… thought you were from New Mexico?” Out of all the questions swirling in her head, this somehow seemed both the most urgent and the safest to ask.
“I am.” Darcy blinked. “Night Vale is in New Mexico.”
“And it’s getting bombed every year.”
“And nobody says anything.”
Darcy opened her mouth. Closed it. Gracefully, Agent Coulson stepped into the conversation in her place. “Night Vale is a very small town, Dr. Foster, as well as a very unusual one. It has very little contact with the outside world, and the outside world has very little contact with it. SHIELD does what it can to aid in the reconstruction efforts, but… Well, Night Vale is remarkably difficult to get ahold of. It takes care of itself.”
Jane frowned. “Well it sounds like they need more help than that, if somebody keeps dropping bombs on the place.”
“It’s not—nobody’s dropping bombs, the bombs just show up.”
“And your family. Are they…”
“Alive, for now.” Darcy’s words were quiet. “Cecil would know if they died. That’s what we’re listening to, you know, is the town’s emergency broadcast. But it’ll be a while before search and rescue gets there, and the only one who managed to check in via astral projection is my brother.”
“Astral—” Jane took a breath. “Look. You know the way there, right? Even if you aren’t supposed to tell me the exact location?” At Darcy’s nod, she continued. “When you’re done listening to your emergency broadcast, or whatever the hell that is, what do you say we drive over there and dig your family out?”
Darcy straightened, and there was something unfamiliar shining in her eyes. “You’d do that? It’s a dangerous place, my hometown, you might get hurt.”
“Yeah, well.” Jane shrugged. “They need help, don’t they?”
Darcy’s grin was brilliant and teary. “Yes,” she whispered. “Yes, yes, thank you, yes!”
Coulson spread his hands, a gesture of faintly benevolent non-interference. “I can’t join you, but I won’t stop you from trying,” he said. “I wish you both the best of luck—and Dr. Foster, when you get there, if you manage it? Make sure you get in touch with Dr. Carlos Ramirez, he would absolutely love to meet you.” At some inaudible cue, Darcy and Coulson’s eyes snapped back to the radio.
“It sounds like the weather’s winding down,” Darcy commented. “Jane, I know you have your date with Thor, but there is a radio in your car…”
A shrug. “Thor can catch up.”
“Trust me,” she said. “You won’t regret this.”