It was nine hundred degrees outside and Darcy was barely even exaggerating.
“Tell me again why we’re back in Butthole, New Mexico,” she panted, lifting another cardboard box of Jane’s equipment from the back of the Jeep and hauling it into the lab.
“Well,” Jane gave a little grunt as she pulled the last of the boxes from the vehicle, “the clear skies are the best conditions for studying atmospheric anomalies, and all this wide open space means that we can test the Einstein-Rosen Bridge without attracting any unwanted attention.”
Darcy frowned and looked at the flat, dusty expanse of desert surrounding them. “It’s definitely isolated. There’ll be no one to hear us scream when we get eaten by dingoes.”
“I’m pretty sure there are no dingoes in New Mexico, Darcy.” Jane set her box down with a relieved sigh and headed for the small ice chest sitting on the counter. She pulled out two water bottles and tossed one to Darcy.
Darcy immediately twisted off the cap and took a greedy drink. The cool water felt amazing on her dry throat but it did little to relieve her crankiness. “At least tell me we aren’t sharing a trailer.”
“Nope!” Jane replied brightly. “I’ve got a real house rented and get this: there’s central air.”
“You’re shitting me,” Darcy swept the hair off the back of her neck and fanned herself with her hand in a weak attempt to cool off.
The air in the lab was thick with humidity, stale and unmoving despite the fact that they’d left the door open in the hopes that a breeze would blow through. Yeah right. Darcy suspected that the words ‘breeze’ and ‘New Mexico summers’ had never been used in the same sentence.
“It’s no joke,” Jane confirmed, “we can pick up the keys at two this afternoon.”
Darcy chugged the rest of her water and wiped the back of her hand over her sweaty forehead. “Thank God for small miracles,” she murmured.
The house was nice. Way nicer than Darcy had expected it to be. It was modest, with only two bedrooms and one bath, but it was clean and far more spacious than Jane’s old trailer, which was really all that Darcy could ask for.
The living room and kitchen were one large open concept area, decorated in a fairly typical desert theme of reds and oranges, and the cold terracotta tiles lining the floors felt incredible on Darcy’s overheated skin as she slipped off her sandals and padded through the house barefoot, tugging her suitcase behind her.
Darcy’s bedroom (she got her own room!) was painted a cheerful pale yellow. There was even a small desk next to the bed so she could set up her laptop and stream Netflix in the evenings. Sweet.
“Jane!” Darcy called, setting her suitcase down on the bed before poking her head out of the room and into the hallway. “What’s the status on that central air? I’m dying over here.”
Darcy frowned. When Jane hesitated, it was never good.
She fished around in her suitcase for a package of hair ties and scraped her curls back into a messy bun, reveling in the feeling of finally having her neck bare. Abandoning her unpacking for the moment, she wandered down the hall until she found Jane fiddling with the thermostat on the living room wall.
“Please don’t tell me it’s broken.” Darcy cringed, preparing for the worst.
“Definitely broken,” Jane confirmed grimly. “I’ll have a look at the main unit outside. Maybe it just needs a new part.”
“Astrophysicist by day and A/C repairwoman by night?” Darcy questioned, raising an eyebrow.
Jane laughed and gave a casual shrug. “Mechanics are mechanics. If I can build my own equipment from scratch, I’m sure I can figure out an air conditioner.”
“Okay but if you can’t fix it in twenty minutes, come back inside,” Darcy ordered, “today already sucks bad enough, I don’t need to be playing nurse to your heat-sickness on top of everything else.”
“Deal,” Jane agreed, crossing the room and sliding open the patio door that lead out into the small backyard.
When the door shut behind her, Darcy blew out a breath and headed for the kitchen. Thank God they had already done a grocery run. Darcy desperately needed a popsicle if she was going to tackle the rest of her unpacking.
She was just licking the last of the cherry-flavoured treat off the stick when she heard an odd, muffled noise coming from the front door.
Darcy tossed the stick in the trash and warily approached the entrance way. It was probably just a stray dog looking to come in. There were a lot of them loose in this area. Or maybe...oh hell, what if there really were dingoes here? What if they wanted to eat her face off?
She had thoroughly freaked herself out now. Reaching for the only weapon-like item she could find close by (a tripod for one of Jane’s telescopes), Darcy put her hand on the door knob and took a steadying breath. Okay. On three. One...two...
She pulled open the door and instantly her hands went slack. The tripod landed with a clatter on the tile floor and Darcy suspected that her jaw was probably taking up space on the floor right now as well. Totally shocked, she could do nothing but stare up at the sight in front of her, and when she finally regained her voice, she did the only thing she could think of: call for backup.
“I don’t have heat stroke, Darcy. I’m fine!” Jane yelled from the backyard.
“Um, it’s not that. You might want to come in here for a minute!” Darcy called out with a note of hysteria creeping into her voice.
She heard the sliding door open and shut as Jane came back into the house, wiping her dirty hands on her jeans. “What’s so important that....oh.”
“Yeeeeahhhh,” Darcy said as the pair stood side by side, blinking up at their foreign visitors.
Standing on their doorstep was a dirty, battle-weary Thor and in his arms he held the battered, unconscious form of his younger brother.
Apparently there was still room for Darcy’s day to suck even more. Wasn’t that just great.
“Thor! Oh my God, what happened? Come inside. Darcy – clear off the couch!” Jane went into a frenzy, pushing unpacked boxes out of the way and making a vain attempt to tidy the mess that was their living room.
“But he’s gonna get the furniture all bloody,” Darcy complained as she gathered up the various throw blankets and magazines littering the couch. “We’ll lose our security deposit!”
“That’s not important right now.” Jane directed Thor into the living room, keeping her hand glued to his arm the entire time.
Of course it wasn’t important. Darcy sighed and stepped back, giving Thor some space while he gently laid his brother down on the couch cushions. It was that damned soulmate bond. Honestly, Thor could give Jane a severed foot and Jane would display it in a crystal vase like some kind of priceless gift.
The bond always seemed to turn smart people stupid; made them blinded by love and screwed with their character in the oddest of ways. It made Darcy really damn glad that she hadn’t found her soulmate yet. With luck, maybe she never would. She valued her independence too much. The thought of being so completely attached to someone made her feel a little queasy.
Speaking of queasy, the half-dead Norse God on her couch was starting to make her stomach churn. There was a sickly grey pallor to his skin and a jagged wound in his side had dripped a trail of blood all the way from the front door to the living room.
“What the hell happened to him?” Darcy blurted out, watching with a mixture of disgust and fascination as Thor worked on carefully removing Loki’s jacket and shirt. It was like a car crash, awful but she couldn’t look away.
“Broad axe,” Thor answered gravely. “He was fortunate enough to dodge the worst of the blow.”
“Right,” Darcy said sarcastically, “that’s only a scratch. Slap a band-aid on and it’ll be just dandy.”
When Thor pulled away the rest of the bloody fabric, leaving Loki naked from the waist up, the full extent of his injuries were pretty horrifying. Darcy sucked in a sharp breath when she saw just how deep the gash in his side truly was.
On shaking legs she made her way into the kitchen and parked her butt in a chair. Yep, that was definitely all the blood and guts she could handle for one day.
“It’s going to need stitches,” Jane observed, leaning in to look at the wound. Her nose crinkled up in disgust but otherwise she showed no real reaction to the gore.
“Can you help him?” Thor asked, his hand landing on Jane’s shoulder and squeezing gently.
“Of course.” Jane’s eyes instantly softened and Darcy held back a gag. She wasn’t sure what was worse – all the blood or the two love-struck idiots in front of her.
Jane looked after the stitches, mainly because Thor’s hands were too large for the delicate work and Darcy still felt like she was a minute away from developing a case of the dry heaves.
Once the gash was cleaned and stitched, Darcy deemed it safe to return to the living room. She perched on the edge of the coffee table since Loki took up the entire couch and both Thor and Jane were occupying the room’s only other chair.
“So uh, it’s not that we don’t appreciate the visit, but why did you come here?” Darcy asked Thor curiously. “Why not take him to one of your doctors on Asgard?”
Thor grimaced and shifted in his seat, the question obviously making him uncomfortable. “I thought it best to avoid Odin,” he replied. “Loki sustained his injuries quite foolishly and I gather our father is not pleased by this news.”
“What happened?” Jane reached for his hand, giving it an encouraging squeeze.
Thor sighed, using his free hand to rub his palm over his face. “Loki travelled to Jotunheim and began an unnecessary war. Our father, and his father before him, worked tirelessly for centuries to build relations between Asgard and Jotunheim, and now Loki’s actions have caused the truce to collapse.”
“Really?” Darcy shot a glance over her shoulder at the unconscious God sprawled out on her couch. “You’re telling me that one guy ruined centuries of peace between your realms. Just like that.” She snapped her fingers.
“Just like that,” Thor confirmed with a serious nod. “The truce had always been a rather tentative agreement. Loki simply tipped the scales of what was already a delicate balance.”
“But why would Loki want to start a war with the Frost Giants?” Jane questioned.
“He is one.”
Thor’s reply was met by a moment of shocked silence.
“He’s what?” Jane said at the same time that Darcy piped up with a very eloquent exclamation of, “the fuck?”
“It is a long tale,” Thor explained, “but I suppose we have the time.”
Darcy leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees as Thor told her and Jane about Loki’s true heritage and Odin’s lies.
“Loki was angry, not thinking clearly,” Thor finished, “so he sought out the Frost Giants with the intention of wiping out the entire race.”
“One versus a whole species,” Darcy commented, “he’s damn lucky he’s still alive after that.”
Thor nodded. “I was very fortunate to find him when I did. He would have surely died had I arrived but a moment later...” he trailed off as his voice grew gruff with emotion.
Jane leaned into his side and placed a comforting kiss on his temple. “Don’t worry. He’s going to be fine. We’ll keep him here until he heals, right Darce?”
“Woah, what?” Darcy sat up a little straighter. “Harbor a murdery lunatic? Are you nuts?”
“He’s not dangerous,” Jane argued, “he only wanted to kill the Frost Giants.”
“Yeah and the KKK only wanted to kill black dudes. Is that supposed to make it any better? Murder is murder, Jane!” Darcy exclaimed.
“This is that stupid soulmate bond talking, isn’t it?” Darcy interrupted, narrowing her eyes. “Are you even hearing yourself? The old you would never agree to this!”
“It’s the right thing to do,” Jane insisted.
“Darcy,” Thor interjected, “if I may ease your worries, I assure you that my brother holds no ill will towards Midgard but if his presence here truly bothers you, I will see to moving him as soon as possible.”
“It does bother me,” Darcy admitted, “but where else would you take him?”
“I may have an idea,” Jane said slowly. “Remember Agent Coulson? I kept his card. I don’t know if I fully trust him since he did steal my research – and your iPod,” she added when Darcy opened her mouth to interrupt, “but he might be the only one who can help us.”
“No harm in looking into it, I guess,” Darcy agreed, “and can you tell him that I want to be reimbursed – oh, woah! We’ve got a live one!” She jumped up from the coffee table when Loki began to stir behind her, letting out a long, broken groan.
“Brother!” Thor was instantly out of his chair and kneeling in front of the couch, his face full of concern as he leaned over Loki’s prone form. “How fare you?”
Loki opened his mouth to respond but immediately began to cough, lapsing into a fit of loud, dry hacking noises that sounded like a dying seal to Darcy’s ears.
“I’ll get water,” she murmured, heading for the kitchen. She filled a glass from the tap, idly hoping that with all his fancy magic and near immortality, the sick God would be off her couch in a day, tops. Darcy wasn’t sure how much of this she could handle.
She returned with the glass and held it out towards Loki, who was lying with his head propped up on the arm of the couch. He seemed to be a little more alert, though he still looked like death warmed over.
Their hands were shaking in almost equal amounts as Darcy passed him the drink; hers with nerves and his with fatigue.
When Loki accepted the glass, their fingers brushed. It was just the lightest of touches, barely even perceptible, but Darcy felt it right down to her bones.
In that one instant, everything changed.
A jolt ran through her, electricity dancing its way across her skin. Everything seemed to subtly shift into focus, like a missing puzzle piece had finally been put into place. The room grew clearer to her eyes as though a fog had been lifted, and each of Loki’s raw, ragged breaths were suddenly loud in her ears.
Darcy jerked back, automatically letting go of the glass and spilling the contents onto Loki’s bare stomach. He didn’t even seem to notice though; he was too busy staring at her with the same shocked expression that Darcy wore.
“Oh God, no,” she breathed, scrambling away from the couch.
“Your name,” it took Loki two tries to get the words out after he was interrupted by the return of that nasty, hacking cough, “tell me your name.”
Darcy shook her head, backing away even further until she bumped into Jane.
“Darce, what on Earth is going on with you?” Jane took one look at Darcy’s face and her eyes went wide. “Did you just...?”
“Yeah,” Darcy croaked, closing her eyes. Maybe if she wished hard enough, it would all be a dream. Sadly, when she re-opened her eyes, she was still in the middle of the living room, facing her supposed soulmate.
“It’s okay. It’s really not that bad,” Jane tried to console her.
“Truly, this is wonderful news,” Thor smiled encouragingly, “I have always wanted a sister.”
“Tell me your name,” Loki demanded again from the couch.
“Everybody just shut up!” Darcy exclaimed, feeling panic set in. Her hands were shaking and she felt sick; a shiver passing through her body that felt both too hot and too cold. There had to be some kind of mistake. There was no way that Loki could possibly be her soulmate.
“Look, we’ll work through this, okay?” Jane squeezed Darcy’s shoulder. “You don’t really have any other choice,” she said gently, “you know what happens if you try to deny it.”
The reminder made Darcy’s stomach drop. She had read plenty of news articles about people who tried to ignore their soulmate bonds. The bond was a genetic thing; built into a person’s DNA, so denying it always ended in one of two miserable ways: suicide or admittance into a mental ward.
“This can’t be happening,” Darcy dropped her head into her hands, “there are how many billion people on this planet and my soulmate had to be him?”
“Technically,” Loki wheezed from the couch, “I am not of this planet.”
“Not helping!” Darcy cried.
“Tell me your name,” Loki repeated again.
“She is Darcy Lewis of Midgard,” Thor informed him while Darcy was busy having her meltdown.
“No,” Loki said stubbornly, grimacing in pain as he curled his arms protectively around the gash in his side, “I want to hear her say it.”
“Oh, you want me to say it?” Darcy turned to Loki, shooting him a deadly glare as her voice grew louder and angrier by the second. “I’m fucking Betty White. There. You happy now?”
“Darcy-” Thor began, but she cut him off.
“Nope! I’m done with this. I’ll be in my room. Don’t come in unless you want to leave without your balls,” she threatened, storming down the hall to her bedroom and slamming the door behind her, leaving an awkward silence to settle over the room’s remaining occupants.
“Just give her some time to cool off. She’ll be fine,” Jane spoke, wincing when she heard the distinctive sound of a lamp being thrown against a wall, “....I hope.”