The offer looked super legit on paper, but they both knew it wasn’t. Being the kind of astrophysicist who raced around the desert in a trailer trying to track down Einstein-Rosen Bridges was the sort of thing that got you a reputation for being a bit of a crackpot, no matter how well received your papers were, and that kind of reputation didn’t generally lead to offers of prestigious temporary consulting jobs in freaking Norway.
There had been another looks-good-on-paper, too-good-to-be-true offer about a month after Thor had left, a government grant that Jane couldn’t remember applying for. More to the point, Darcy couldn’t remember Jane applying for it, and that was the kind of detail she kept track of when Jane’s brain inevitably went off to lala science! land. Jane had talked to Erik and had taken the grant, because at that point her desire to find a way back to Thor had trumped her desire not to be in the government’s pocket, and any scientific venture, even one as MacGyvered and cobbled together as theirs, needed money to keep on trucking.
Darcy hadn’t objected. The money meant that Jane could afford to keep her on as a paid intern after graduation, and if the suits were going to keep her iPod, the least they could do was make up for it with massive amounts of anonymous money.
“So,” Darcy said around a mouthful of poptart, “any idea why the Men in Black want to ship you off to Norway?”
Jane was in the process of poking her own poptart to death with the pointed end of a Bic pen, which was a horrible thing to do to a perfectly edible cinnamon poptart, and Darcy might have rescued it for herself once it became evident that Jane was going to continue to abuse the poor, beleaguered toaster pastry, but she didn’t think cheap ink would much improve the flavor. “I don’t know. They seemed perfectly all right with me continuing my research after Thor left, but—.”
“Maybe they’re planning to have you killed.”
“You know too much.”
“Really, I think they could accomplish that without arranging for a job offer from the Tromsø Geophysical Observatory.”
“Maybe they’re planning to have me killed. You’re still useful to them. They want you out of the way so they can,” she sliced a finger across her own throat and made a few weak gagging noises.
“Also probably doable without the plane ticket to Norway.”
That was... possibly creepy-true. Some of those guys helping to rebuild Puente Antiguo were sure as hell not your average builders and relief workers. They were good enough not to wear standard issue black around town, but they moved a little too stiffly and Darcy knew that one of the dudes helping to put in new windows at the convenience store had been there when the suits had come to steal their equipment.
“Maybe it’s a real offer?”
“It’s real enough,” Jane said, and gave her poptart another vicious stab. Seriously, Darcy heard the pen clink against the plate beneath, and that just couldn’t be a healthy way to work out aggression. “I called to check. That doesn’t mean SHIELD didn’t arrange it.” Another stab. “Six journals have refused to publish my most recent findings. Said they wouldn’t make it through peer review. Six.”
“Okay,” Darcy said, and reached out cautiously to retrieve the pen from Jane’s hand. They didn’t have many plates. They couldn’t sacrifice one to Jane’s eerily restrained, doesn’t-involve-a-taser temper. She was only a little worried about ending up with the pen through her hand, but thankfully Jane showed no inclination to get vicious toward a living target. “I’m pretty sure that SHIELD put a chokehold on at least one of those journal editors. Maybe even two or three.”
“They wouldn’t have to,” Jane grumbled. “It’s one thing for people to write about hypothetical bridges through space-time, but apparently a paper about an actual Einstein-Rosen Bridge that connects universes is a little too crazy for them.” She had taken to pulling the poptart apart with her fingers. Darcy wasn’t sure that her pen retrieval could be considered a victory, given that level of determination.
“Damn that scientific process,” Darcy said. “You could still come over to the social sciences. We don’t worry about that sort of thing at all. It’s not too late.” She could practically hear them revoking her shiny new Poli Sci degree, but it got Jane to smile, so it was worth it for the approximately five seconds it took before her boss went back to brooding at her decimated dinner.
“So do it,” Darcy said with a shrug.
Jane paused. “What?”
“Do it. Go to Thron-sa—.”
“—be brilliant, talk smart to the other science-y people, prove that you aren’t foaming at the mouth with the pure and undiluted power of your cray-cray, and get your reputation back.” She perked up a little bit. “Maybe that’s why the feds arranged this. They knew that if they ruined your good name, your studly Norse god boyfriend would totally beat them up when he got back.”
“It’ll still be here when you get back,” Darcy said. “I think the big guy can wait a couple months. Besides, he sort of went out of his way to save your research and your career and everything. I doubt he’d want you to give up a chance to save it because you’re sitting around moping over him.”
“I don’t mope,” Jane said.
Darcy was silent. She had seen what had happened to the ill-fated poptart. She didn’t want to be the next target. She waited until Jane had stood and cleared the table, then crossed the room to dump the plates into the sink, before muttering, “You totally mope.”
Jane left the next morning.
Darcy blasted her music and put on the TV, changed back into her pajamas after driving Jane to the airport, and took the time to revel in what was essentially paid time off. Ice cream for breakfast was really the only thing that would do when it came to celebrating her newfound freedom, so she raided Jane’s freezer for a half-empty carton of Chunky Monkey (always stocked since Thor’s departure from Earth), poured chocolate sauce and mini marshmallows in until the carton was entirely full, and settled her butt into a chair for a good, long laze.
The TV had been on a local station when she’d turned it on. They were reporting on some huge earthquake somewhere in the Chihuahuan Desert. Weird. Darcy couldn’t remember there being anything bigger than a two-point-something since she had moved here.
Whatever. She flipped through the channels until she found an old Scooby Doo rerun, and attacked her ice cream with vigor.
This? This was the life.
The life turned out to be a little boring. Darcy was actually glad when Jane didn’t make it a week in Trom-so-what before calling, even though she knew that the boss lady was probably just wanting to check in on her machine babies and making sure that Darcy was doing something resembling actual work. Which, not so much, unless working it around the station to her tunes counted, but it wasn’t like there was a whole lot she could do other than collate Jane’s files to within an inch of their life and make sure the place didn’t burn to the ground or something.
“Miss me already?” she asked. “I know it’s hard, but I’m confident that you’ll soldier on in my absence.”
“Turn on the news.”
Darcy almost shot off another quip, but Jane’s voice pulled her up short. “Local or national?”
She flipped on the TV.
They sat there for hours and watched the world crumble. The video coming out of New York wasn’t very good, patchy and filled with static, interrupted now and again by the stiff commentary of a news anchor miles away from the warzone that the city had become. The woman’s hair was as stiff as her voice, and after a while Darcy muted the TV rather than deal with both. The only sound then was the quiet rasp of Jane’s breathing over the phone. Darcy didn’t mention what the call from Norway was probably doing to her cellphone minutes, although she thought it and felt instantly guilty. Neither of them mentioned the familiar flash of a red cloak that one of the cameras picked up about an hour in; this was bigger and more frightening than Jane’s demigod boyfriend being back in town and forgetting to call. Both of them were silent, and Darcy was reminded viscerally of high school, stepping out of her freshman comp class to find teachers and students gathered around whatever TVs the AV Club could provide, each and every one of them silent and stunned. She wondered what the atmosphere was like at Puente Antiguo’s little one building K-12 school, whether they had gathered in the auditorium to watch or sent the students home, or if they were keeping it quiet, nervous teachers not wanting to spread the panic to their students.
They watched until it was over.
“I’m coming home,” Jane said.
“No, don’t,” Darcy replied without really thinking about it, except that New York had inexplicably turned into a freaking sci fi movie and she was starting to maybe see why SHIELD had sent Jane out of the country. She might’ve been indignant about the fact that she apparently didn’t rank high enough on their list of priorities to be deported from the blast radius, but she also kind of knew why. No one was going to be using Mew-Mew to smash heads if she ended up in the crossfire.
After what she had spent the day watching, she didn’t doubt that New Mexico was close enough for crossfire. She was starting to wonder whether Norway was far enough away.
“Seriously, boss lady, what’s the point?” Darcy asked, aiming for a normal tone of voice and mostly managing to hit it. “Nothing you can do here, and when your long cool drink of godly water stops by, I’ll be around to point him in the right direction. He’ll probably like Norway. Everyone is, like, as enormous and blond and hot as him, right? He’ll blend in great.”
Getting Jane to agree was something that Darcy would have liked to attribute to her truly awesome powers of persuasion, but she thought it probably had something more to do with Norway being where the Science! lived.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter, because by the next day Jane was on a plane home anyway. SHIELD had called her back in, in the form of a somewhat shaken Erik Selvig (and Darcy was torn on that one, vacillating back and forth between “that sneaky bastard,” because apparently Erik had been working directly for SHIELD for months and that was why he had up and left their project, and “oh thank God,” because apparently Erik had been in New York when everything had gone down and was somehow not dead).
Of course, Jane didn’t tell Darcy any of that at first. What she said was, “Pack in the lab. We’re moving it to New York.”
Darcy momentarily considered revising her response to something more intelligent and, well, coherent, but no, that pretty adequately conveyed her opinion on her boss’ most recent bout of reality disconnect. She quite liked ‘nyuh.’ It was like the strange lovechild of ‘uh?’ and ‘nu-uh.’
“I need you to pack up the lab. And my stuff. I’m flying directly to New York.”
Distantly, Darcy considered telling Jane that ‘nyuh’ in no way translated as ‘I didn’t catch that, could you please rephrase while offering the exact same completely terrible information?’
“Why are we moving to New York?”
“SHIELD offered me a position there. There’s this—I don’t want to explain over the phone, and I don’t know what you’re cleared to know anyway, but they want me there and I want you there.” Jane hesitated, and she sounded a little uncertain and very un-Jane-like when she spoke next. “You will come, won’t you? I mean, I know it’s a little sudden.”
“Yes,” Darcy said, without even having to stop to think about it. She had long ago accepted that where Jane went, so went her nation. This sad truth was less because of her fondness for Jane (although she was fond of Jane) and more because of resignation to the fact that, having ended up knee deep in the insanity that was Norse gods, wormholes, and secret government organizations, there was no climbing back out again. Darcy wasn’t sure the aforementioned gods and organizations would let her go, even had she wanted to leave. She was pretty sure that the wormholes were ambivalent to her continued presence; that was encouraging, at least. “We work for SHIELD now? We like SHIELD now? When did this happen? Why wasn’t I informed? I think I missed the memo.”
Of course, knowing Jane, the memo had been used to doodle equations on at three in the morning and then left at the bottom of a hole somewhere. That was the peril of working for Doctor Jane Foster: there were no memos when things were about to go strange. Also, she never remembered to refill the coffee pot. Darcy had yet to decide which one of those things she resented more.
“Darcy,” Jane said, in her patented Darcy-you-are-being-ridiculous voice, which was a little ridiculous in and of itself, being as Darcy wasn’t the one who forgot to eat because science, “we’ve worked for them since I accepted that grant money, and you know it. We’re just making it official.”
“Oh, fine,” Darcy muttered, and yeah, she had kind of known that, but the thought of working for a bunch of iPod thieves kind of rankled. Besides, she was going to miss those nights when she and Jane would break out a box of wine and spend an hour or two bitching about how SHIELD was a bunch of doo-doo heads, since calling a group of covert government operatives mean names while within earshot was probably a really horrifically bad idea. “What about your research?” Darcy asked, which was basically her version of a Hail Mary pass, because while it was true that Jane could not resist the siren call of research (and in this case, the siren call of Getting Laid Someday Soon), it was also true that once Jane had made up her mind about something, she stuck to it.
“It’s taken care of. Sort of. I’ll explain when you get here.”
“Okay. Yeah. I’m on board. You’ve definitely got some explaining to do, though.”
“Thank you,” Jane breathed. “Be careful with the equipment. Stark says he his stuff is better, but I’m not going to trust it over something I built myself just because his is shinier and has his name plastered all over it.”
“Cool,” Darcy said, before most of what Jane had said really sank in, and goddamnit all to hell, she knew better than to agree with anything Jane said without thinking first. “Wait. Jane. Stark? Like, Tony Stark? You were actually serious about packing up the equipment? Jane!”
Jane... had hung up on her.
That was so not cool.
Darcy looked around the inside of their converted gas station, packed to full with a cubic shit ton of machinery, much of it delicate and all of it completely irreplaceable in Jane’s eyes.
“Fuck my life.”