Erik had originally only planned on being in New Mexico for three days, so of course he hadn’t made any arrangements at all. He’d brought his laptop, and like, one change of clothes, and that was it. He said he didn’t mind sleeping on the ratty old sofa that had migrated into the show room, but it was pretty clear from where Darcy was standing that he probably minded it a lot more than he let on. Up until Thor had showed up, Erik was the closest thing to a Viking Darcy had ever met. And the tiny little sofa really wasn’t meant to be slept on by huge Swedish guys.
The lab was almost scary quiet that early in the morning. Darcy tried to ignore Clint as he checked every nook and cranny with his fucking gun drawn, while he made Darcy stay in the kitchen. She sat at the table, watching out the window as other SHIELD agents crept around the street outside. And she knew exactly who they were looking for. She was so screwed. It wouldn’t take long for them to work their way down the road and find their intergalactic fugitive in her hotel room. Utterly, utterly screwed. She wondered if she should just tell Clint what was going on. Tell him that Loki had forced his way in. That she was too scared to try to fight him.
Her train of thought was swiftly and violently derailed when Erik started shouting. Darcy jumped up to see what was going on, for a terrifying moment thinking that maybe Loki had managed to follow her without being seen. But it wasn’t Loki at all. It was Clint.
“What are you doing? Put that away, before someone gets hurt,” Erik said, backing away from Clint. He spotted Darcy and quickly walked over, putting himself between her and Clint.
“The only person I plan on hurting is the son of a bitch that blew up my Ramones CDs,” Clint said. He did holster his gun, at least.
“Who still listens to CDs?” Darcy asked.
“I do,” Clint said. He kept walking around like he expected Loki to jump out from any corner or shadow in the building. “Last time, I put an arrow in his chest. Next one’s going in his eye.”
Darcy was prepared to make a joke about Clint’s age, but it died before it ever reached her tongue. Suddenly, her mouth felt dry, and she decided that maybe she should sit down again.
“An arrow? Like, with a bow? When?” As soon as she said it, she realised she knew exactly when Clint had shot him. Right around the time Loki was handed over to SWORD, no doubt.
Clint looked at her over his shoulder, like he was trying to decide what he could tell her. “After he landed here. We weren’t sure who he was until he started shouting about being king of Narnia, or whatever.”
“Asgard?” asked Erik, but when he said it, it came out more like Ossgard. Darcy wasn’t sure if that was a Swedish thing or an Erik thing. “No, he shouldn’t be king. Who let that happen?”
He and Darcy looked at one another nervously, and Darcy was starting to wonder just what Thor had gone home to take care of. And just what sort of crazy she had sleeping in her bed.
Clint hardly seemed to notice any of it, though. “Yeah, whatever. Point is, Coulson’s ordered an embargo on all star parties until we catch up with this creep again. Any trips into town will be escorted.”
“Wait, seriously?” Darcy demanded. “You guys can’t keep track of one person, so you put the rest of us on house arrest?”
So much for her plan of dropping Loki off in the desert when no-one was looking.
Again, Clint didn’t look amused at all. “Listen. Right now, my job is to keep you guys alive, and out of the hands of alien nutjobs. And I’m gonna do it. It’s my job, because I’m good at it. And if that means I have to tie your ass to a chair, then that’s what I’ll do.”
Darcy leaned closer to Erik. Apparently sanity was not something that existed in her life any more.
“Hey, now. Listen,” Erik said, taking a step toward Clint. “We have rights. You can’t do this. Just because you’ve been able to push people around before doesn’t mean you’ve got the right to do it.”
Clint looked at them both for a long moment before stepping aside and making a wide gesture out toward the street, visible in the rising sun outside. The street that was slowly being cleaned up, but which still had giant gouges in the pavement. The street that was lined with half-collapsed buildings and a few remaining crushed cars. He didn’t even have to say anything to get his point across. The only reason they hadn’t been rushed out of town was because SHIELD had suddenly decided Jane’s work was important. When the giant robot came, the whole town evacuated, and half of the people never came back. Looking at all of the destroyed businesses out there, Darcy couldn’t blame them.
At least most of the houses were on the edge of town. At least the giant robot stayed on Main Street.
“Okay,” Darcy said quietly. “But can you please at least keep the gun put away? You’re kinda freaking me out.”
Clint shook his head incredulously. “All secure,” he said, holding his finger up to his ear. He went quiet as he listened to whatever was being said through his secret spy equipment and nodded. “Yeah, you’ll be hearing from me if there is.”
Darcy didn’t want to ask. She had a feeling she already knew. Instead, she picked up her bag and went back out to what had slowly become her work station, finding very little work left for her to do. Jane had said the weather should start to cooperate by February, and without being able to make regular trips out to the desert, there wasn’t a whole lot they could do from the lab. Even Darcy knew that.
“Hey, if there’s nothing for me to do, can I just go back to my hotel room?” Darcy asked eagerly.
“No,” Clint said.
“Of course.” In the rush, Darcy hadn’t even thought to grab her books, so she couldn’t even do her reading. She checked Tumblr instead. She scrolled through her dash, in turns reblogging and and adding to her queue pictures of mostly-naked guys, fluffy kittens, and cupcake recipes. It wasn’t doing much to calm her nerves though. She still couldn’t shake the feeling of Clint watching her as he stalked around the lab, or Erik glaring at Clint as he pretended to do some work of his own on his laptop. Darcy was just about to give up in despair when one of those probably-fake Amber Alerts came up on her dash. She was half-way to checking out Snopes when an idea hit her. It was a terribly stupid idea, and she wouldn’t even try with Clint hovering around, watching their every move, but it would be insurance, if nothing else.
She pulled her phone from her bag and brought up the photo album. She didn’t want to look at the pictures on there any more than she had to, and dropped them all into an email to herself. As soon as she sent the email, she locked the screen on her phone and went back to pretending to be interested in Tumblr, and not at all silently freaking out over everything she was doing.
“So, seriously. What am I supposed to do all day, then?” she asked.
“Same thing you always do,” Clint told her. "Same thing you’re doing right now." He clearly wasn’t going to be any help. Darcy waited until his back was turned and stuck her tongue out at him and flipped him off.
“Darcy,” Erik scolded quietly. The grin he wasn’t quite managing to hide belied his tone.
“What? He barged in on me at like, seven in the morning. I didn’t get to grab my homework,” she said. She’d been so busy trying to teach her pet supervillain to stay, she hardly had time to think about anything else.
“Just. Just wait a little bit for things to calm down,” Erik said. He was just as on-edge as Darcy was, and she could tell. He watched Clint from over the top of his laptop screen like he was expecting a team of armed guards to storm in at any moment. Darcy wouldn’t have been surprised if they did.
Darcy ignored Clint as best she could, scrolling through her dash and checking to see when her lit assignment was due. She heard Erik muttering curses that didn’t sound English, and which were almost certainly directed at Clint, SHIELD, and the government in general. After about twenty minutes of the otherwise oppressive silence, with Darcy still not entirely certain she wasn’t going to be hauled off and arrested at any moment, she pulled her iPod from her handbag and tried to drown everything out with the Hush Sound. It almost worked, but not really.
Jane finally came in just before ten, her arrival heralded by a very loud one-sided argument.
“I don’t know what you think we’re doing here, but I can’t do field work from the lab. That’s the whole point of coming out here to do field work.”
She was escorted in by both Coulson and Sitwell, the former looking like he was only half-listening, and the latter looking like he wasn’t listening at all. Darcy wondered how many other scientists these guys had jerked around to have got so good at it.
“It’s for your own safety, Dr Foster,” Coulson said, his voice even and calm in that way that suggested he was about ten seconds from being done with the conversation.
“Hey, can you guys tell Rambo here to take a chill pill?” Darcy asked, jerking her thumb to Clint, who was still as pent up as ever.
Sitwell and Coulson both exchanged a glance that seemed to encompass an entire conversation in the span of about a second. They were clearly the guys SHIELD sent out specifically to jerk around scientists.
“Seriously, we’re fine,” Jane insisted, letting herself be led back to the kitchen by Coulson, while Sitwell moseyed on over to Darcy’s work station.
“So. Loki,” Darcy said, going for casual and missing by a mile.
“Yeah. You all right?” Sitwell asked. He was a little bit better at personable than Coulson was, Darcy thought. And that went a long way.
“Not gonna lie. I’m kinda freaked out,” Darcy admitted. She wound her headphones back round her iPod and shoved the whole thing back into her bag.
“You’re doing better than Dr Foster,” Sitwell said. He didn’t seem to take anything seriously, which Darcy really liked about him. Sitwell seemed to think everything was funny. Maybe in another life, they could have been friends.
“Yeah, well. I’ll be honest, I only took this gig because it was supposed to be a relaxing three months away from campus bullshit. So not living up to my expectations.” Darcy had heard of internships from hell. They were practically a staple of any degree. But this was turning into hell on top of Armageddon.
She leaned back in her seat, not even caring about the argument going on in the kitchen. It was the same thing she’d heard before, with Jane being pissed, and Coulson being stoic, and no-one getting anything done.
“At least you’re getting paid,” Sitwell said.
Darcy laughed, at first incredulously, and then almost hysterically. “No, I’m not,” she said, putting her head down on her desk. She wanted to cry. “I’m not even a month in, and I’m so sick of ramen and white rice. I just blew my last fifteen bucks on a pizza last night.” A pizza she didn’t even really get to enjoy, because the psychopath she’d invited into her room ate most of it.
She heard something tick against the desk by her ear, and when she looked up she found a plain blue credit card with her name on it.
“What’s this?” she asked, picking it up. “Are you guys paying me?” That would just be too good to be true. She was half-expecting Sitwell to take the card back.
“No,” he said. Of course. “Compensation. For the travel restrictions. The grocery store’s still open. And the pizza place. Anything else, you can get online like everyone else.”
“Fucking seriously?” Darcy still couldn’t believe it. She turned the card over in her fingers, looking at the fine print just to assure herself it was real.
“Three hundred dollars a month. It won’t let you go over, so don’t try.” Sitwell put a plain white envelope down on the desk next to her as well. When Darcy picked it up, she found a sheet of paper with all the relevant card information.
“Dude, you are my new favourite person ever.” She wasn’t even exaggerating. She didn’t have to. “Wait. You said ‘a month.’ Does that mean we’re stuck on house arrest for longer?”
Sitwell’s expression turned just the smallest bit more serious. “If it comes to that, yes. We’re hoping it doesn’t.”
There were so many things he wasn’t saying, and so many things he didn’t have to.
“You know, I like you, Sitwell,” Darcy said, bobbing her head. “You’re one of them, but you’re honest. I appreciate that. Especially right now.”
“You say that now,” Sitwell said. It tore at something in Darcy’s chest, that he had to ruin it like that. “But you should play poker with me. There’s good money in the tournaments.”
Darcy laughed. She couldn’t help it. She didn’t know if it was true or not, but she didn’t care. She needed to laugh, with everything else going on. Nothing about any of it was even remotely funny.
“Hey, can you do me a really big favour?” she asked, dropping her voice down so Clint the Prison Guard wouldn’t hear her. “I’m pretty useless here today, and I have got a mountain of homework to get through. Can you give me a ride back to the hotel?”
Sitwell looked up toward the kitchen, where even Erik and Clint had gravitated toward. Jane wasn’t on the verge of shouting anymore, but Erik sounded like he was. Darcy definitely wouldn’t be getting any work done anyway, at this rate.
“Yeah, let’s go before the plates start getting thrown,” Sitwell said.
Darcy quickly gathered her things and closed out the browser on the computer and followed Sitwell out to the giant black SUV parked just outside. It was such a waste of gas and healthy air to drive it three blocks, but Darcy was done arguing the point already. If SHIELD were going to pay her $300 to do mostly nothing, she could overlook pointless rides to and from the lab.
She got into the front seat, feeling strangely tall once she was settled. She looked around, surprised at some of the things she could see from where she was sitting.
“You could totally see into other peoples’ cars from here,” she observed as Sitwell climbed into the driver’s seat.
He flashed her an almost wicked grin. “Why do you think we like these so much?” he asked.
Darcy didn’t know if he was joking or not, and wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Oh my god, you are all such creeps,” she said.
Sitwell just laughed and started the engine. The drive three streets over was so quick, Darcy didn’t even have the chance to start a conversation. It was the most pointless ride ever, but Darcy couldn’t quite shake the feeling that Sitwell was going to see her to her door.
“You need anything else?” he asked as Darcy opened the car door to get out.
“Nope. I am good.” She wasn’t. Not even close, but she seemed to be faking it well enough that Sitwell didn’t notice. Everyone was probably freaked, and for a moment, Darcy wondered if the whole town was on lockdown, or just the Science Club.
Before she was able to get out of the car completely, Sitwell handed her a business card. “If you need to go somewhere. Call, and we’ll send an escort,” he explained.
“You make it sound so kinky,” Darcy said. She shimmied down onto the pavement, leaving Sitwell to laugh on his own. Darcy was exhausted, and being this close to her hotel only brought it all to the forefront. Maybe if she was lucky, she could lock herself in the bathroom and sneak a nap in.
She let herself into her room, opening the door slowly in case she was about to find something unpleasant waiting for her on the other side. The only thing she found was Loki passed out on the bed, with her box of cocoa puffs beside him, opened and probably empty. The DVD had gone back to the menu screen, but there was no telling when he’d fallen asleep.
As Darcy turned to lock the door, she noticed the curtains were wide open. A rush of panic shot up her spine as she rushed to snap them shut, tugging awkwardly and swearing at the way everything caught and didn’t quite close as smoothly as it could have done. It woke Loki, and he was on his feet in an instant, nay-naying at her again. He took the curtains from her and opened them, talking to her in his weird almost-Russian-but-not-really sounding gibberish again.
“Seow,” he said, pointing up toward the window.
Darcy looked to see where he was pointing, finding weird copper-coloured smudges all along the edge of the glass, on all four sides.
“What is that?” she asked. She looked at Loki and noticed the rag he had wrapped around his left hand. His hands had been perfectly fine when she’d left him.
“Oh my god, is that blood?” she asked. She covered her mouth, thinking she was going to be sick. “Oh, that is so gross. Why would you even?”
Loki frowned, like she’d insulted some great work of art he’d been hitherto proud of. He shook his head and started talking again, a bit more slowly this time. But it still didn’t sound like anything Darcy recognised. Loki turned and pointed out the window and then waved his hand. When nothing terrible happened, he shrugged, as if whatever he’d done should have been obvious.
Darcy shook her head. “I don’t get it,” she told him.
Loki frowned. He looked like he was trying to find words she might understand, but after a few moments of not finding them, he waved his hand in the clearest “fuck it” gestures Darcy had ever seen and returned to the bed. He looked defeated and pissed, which was a frankly scary look on him. Even in pyjamas. Darcy tried to ignore it and looked out the window again. And then she saw what Loki had been pointing at. They were well-hidden, but she caught one of them moving—a dark shadow on the roof across the street. SHIELD were spying on her. Of course they were.
And apparently seeing nothing. Darcy peered out the window, trying to focus on the spies as best she could. Then she looked back at Loki, who had been so confident he was safe that he fell asleep with the curtains wide open.
“How the hell did you do that?” Darcy asked.
Loki looked up at her, and then held up his rag-bandaged hand. Right.
“I don’t get it, but it’s gross,” Darcy said. “Please don’t do it to anything else.”
She picked up her laptop and powered it on as she made her way back to the bed. Again, Loki was watching her every move, but at this point, she felt like she was starting to get used to being someone’s closely-watched science experiment. Ignoring Loki was almost like ignoring Clint.
At least Loki didn’t have a goddamn gun on him.
Darcy pulled up her email and downloaded the photos she’d taken the night before. Loki scowled at them, but he didn’t look away. Shooting a glance over to him, Darcy noticed he actually looked a lot better than he had the night before. Most of the really nasty cuts and bruises around his face and neck were completely healed over. Darcy tried to remember if he’d looked like that when she left, but she’d been too busy freaking out to notice. But from where she was sitting now, the only real hint that anything was wrong at all was the patch of missing hair from the side of his head.
“Hey, can I…?”
She reached out, not really able to stop herself, and turned Loki’s head so she could pull his hair back on his left side. The deep gash that had been there the night before was little more than a long, thin cut. Like a deep cat scratch, more than anything.
“Wow,” she said. “That’s looking really good.”
Loki turned his head, making it clear that he was done letting her touch him. His expression had soured and he leaned back a bit, putting some more distance between them. Darcy wasn’t going to argue.
Instead, she pulled up Tumblr and put the pictures into a photo post, accompanying it with her account of events. She left out the part about the giant robot, but admitting that Loki was wanted by the police, and that the reason she wasn’t handing him in was because the damage done to him in the photos had been done by the police.
In the end, the post was about a mile long. It was exactly the sort of thing Tumblr would circulate like wildfire.
But rather than posting it right away, and tipping her hand, she dated it for five o’clock the next day. Either she’d be around to change the date forward by another day, or she wouldn’t and she’d give SHIELD something huge to try to sweep under the rug.
She wasn’t really sure which one scared her more.
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