First good idea this place has ever come up with, Loki thought, as he strapped on his protective vest, along with the rest of his colleagues at Rosenbridge & Associates.
Year-end team building has always been some arse-numbingly dull affair, usually something the all of six ladies would be able to participate in and enjoy. To the chief’s astonishment, it was one of them who suggested war games this year.
The Paintball Park was essentially a forest; all you saw for miles were trees, forest debris and sand – the two ‘army bases’ being the only two man-made structures on the vast property.
Due to the nature of the excursion, Capture the Flag was the game decided on (as opposed to Seek and Destroy, which might have been disastrous for the small oestrogen element in the group). After splitting the girls evenly between the two groups, checking that everyone was suitably protected and armed, and a lengthy extol of the safety rules, they were off.
Both teams started off tentatively, struggling to move through loose sand. Loki was a natural though – lean, fast and quiet, and in the space of fifteen minutes, he’d managed to take out eight of the opposition. When he reached the enemy base, he spotted two guards inside.
Probably the girls, he thought, as that was the tactic his own team had used. He fired two shots in rapid succession, hitting them both on the thigh. He sprinted into their base, snatched their flag and stealthily made his way back to home base.
The forest was eerily quiet, except for the rat-tat of paintball rifles, the soft crunch of the leaves beneath his boots and the occasional laugh or “I’m hit!” by the players.
Loki slowed down as his base came into view, carefully scanning the area for potential ambush. Satisfied that the coast was clear, he crept towards the entrance. He looked up, only to find that their guards were down and their flag was missing.
The thwack and sting on his abdomen made him fall to his knees, dropping his weapon and the enemy flag in surprise. Before he could recover his wits, his assailant scattered them once more, his eye falling on a small Converse sneaker as they scooped up the flag and uttered a remorseful (but somewhat musical) “Sorry,” before silently sprinting in the opposite direction.
“Shit,” Loki cursed as he got up. “That was a girl.”
A couple of minutes later, a loud, moaning honk broke the silence, signalling the end of the game. Loud cheers and laughter accompanied the walk back to the safety zone, everyone chattering and comparing welts.
“Better luck next time, Odinson,” Darcy Lewis gloated, coming up beside him as they hung up their weapons. “Maybe next year you should join my team.”
“Is that so, darling? So you won’t have a problem assuming your rightful place under me?”
Darcy snorted and punched him as she walked off.
Everyone made their way towards a gazebo, which had been transformed into a make-shift restaurant, making a beeline for the bar nestled in one corner of the room. Above all the talking, Loki heard clanging and feint cheers coming from just outside the tent. Clutching his drink, he made his way to see what the fuss was about.
The clanging was the sound of pellets hitting metal plates. Twenty feet away, almost leading into the leafage, stood a simple wooden pedestal and bench. Behind it, alongside the field marshal, stood Jane, one of the firm’s paralegals, holding a sizeable rifle. Not that the weapon itself was unusually big – Loki would have hoisted it easily – but it looked monster being cradled by such a small frame. The weapon was not what captured Loki’s interest though.
The person holding the rifle was a far cry from the drab, timid creature he worked with. She was great at her job, this Loki knew – she was one of their best (even though she hardly spoke). He didn’t know whether it was the fluorescent lighting in the office, her dark hair or grey and black office attire, but she always looked ghostly. Today, fitted army pants and a white t-shirt replaced the suits, a waist length mahogany braid replaced the austere bun she always wore, and the day’s activity resulted in flushed, sun-kissed cheeks. Legs and shoulders braced, she radiated a quiet kind of danger, cradling the rifle as though she was born with it in her arms.
Loki stood, transfixed, as she loaded and fired, never missing her mark.
“She’s good with that,” Darcy said proudly, coming to stand next to him. “Not what you might expect from office Jane.”
Loki’s gaze travelled down her length, and came to rest at her feet. A smile of recognition dawned on his face, as his eyes rested on her sneakers. A slow ache spread across his belly, and he was certain it wasn’t solely because of the bruise.
Definitely unexpected, Loki thought, not trusting his ability to keep the astonishment (and awe) out of his voice at that moment.
An embarrassed look stole over Jane’s features at the deafening cheer that arose as she hit the final target, two hundred feet away. She handed the weapon back to the marshal and made her way towards the tent.
“That was some show, Foster!” Darcy whooped.
“Jeez Darc, could you be any louder,” she scolded, coming to stand by them and flashing an apologetic look Loki’s way.
“I could. We’re outside,” Darcy sassed.
“Where it echoes.” Loki had finally recovered enough composure to speak.
Darcy flashed him a smirk and walked off towards the bar again.
He looked at Jane and lifted his t-shirt. “I think I know who gave me this,” he drawled, pointing to a spot below his navel.
Jane reddened at the welt she saw there.
“Oh God, I’m really sorry about that!”
Loki laughed. “My ego hurts much worse than that, darlin’.”
“Well, tissue oil will help with the physical bruise. I don’t know about the ego-bruise,” she answered, still flushed with embarrassment and contrition.
Loki regarded her, his eyes darkening with growing desire to unravel the enigma in front of him. “Well, I’ll just have to make sure you’re on my team next time…”