The computer’s clock claimed it was just after 6:30, but Darcy refused to believe that. Absolutely refused. Because if it really was 6:30, it meant that in six hours, she’d only managed to put in four job applications. Four job applications, and four ridiculous personality surveys that all automatically disqualified her from working some crappy job, standing behind some crappy register, in some crappy supermarket. It took every ounce of strength she had to not pick up her laptop and throw it across the room. It wasn’t fair. She was smart, she had skills. Why was she so undesirable that not even an online survey wanted anything to do with her?
Darcy knew she shouldn’t have quit her job with Loki. She shouldn’t have quit school to take the job with Loki. School sucked, and was awful and was the reason she had no soul at all, but if she’d just tried, she could have passed her classes and avoided the worst summer ever. Even worse than the summer they had that cockroach infestation and had to live in a tent pitched out in the back yard.
Trying not to cry, Darcy closed out of everything job search related and wandered over to Facebook instead. Between the politically-charged posts she didn’t have the energy to deal with and everyone talking about how awesome their lives were, she realised it had been a bad idea. Even worse was the not-so-random clicking that led her to Loki’s page. He still hadn’t updated it since leaving Iceland, which Darcy realised should have been another big fat red flag. Of course he hadn’t updated the page, because he was here illegally just so he could be a massive asshat until he got his skinny ass deported. Shouting at nothing, Darcy slammed the laptop shut and shoved it off to the side of the couch so she didn’t have to look at it anymore. She should have seen everything coming, but she didn’t. It all just happened around her, and she let it. She let her life get ruined and took Jane with her, all because of a stupid, childish dream. How she could have ever thought she’d be able to make her pointless hobby into her job, she had no idea. Of course it was never going to work. She wasn’t ruthless and selfish enough to make it happen. People only got successful when they brought everyone else down, and Darcy couldn’t do that.
She looked around the room, almost sick at the sight of all the money she’d wasted on props and books and trickets. Thousands of dollars over the years. Tens of thousands, maybe. And for what point? She figured she could maybe sell them, at least. Get enough money to give her an extra couple of months to sort her shit out. She might even be able to sell them to Brian at Denny & Lee without getting ripped off. She wouldn’t be the first person to give up after crashing and burning, that was sure.
Not wanting to sit in the apartment and look at it any longer, Darcy got up and grabbed her shoes and bag. She didn’t even care where she went, as long as it was away from job searches and magic tricks. She wanted nothing to do with any of it, and never wanted to even see it again. At first, she thought she might just go for an angry walk, but as soon as she stepped outside, she realised that was the last thing she wanted to be doing. It was way too hot, and she needed air conditioning if she was going to go anywhere. She got into her car, only to regret it and get right back out. It was at least 100 degrees outside, and probably double that inside the car. This time ready for the oven blast to the face, Darcy got back into the car and started it up, immediately turning on the air conditioner. For the first few seconds, it still spat out hot air at her, but quickly got itself in gear and actually did its job.
At first, Darcy just drove around, not really paying attention to the turns she made. She didn’t stray too far from home, and before long decided that what she really wanted was a BLT and a chocolate shake. She made a few quick turns and pulled into Johnny Rockets, realising it would be the first time since actually getting her job with Loki that she had a chance to even see any of her friends. It was enough to make her want to run away and hide in shame. On top of everything else falling apart, she was also apparently a shitty friend who ignored people as soon as things started getting good. Because of course she was.
But she was also hungry, and didn’t have much else going on for her, so the least she could do was apologise for being such a terrible friend. She walked in, finding Steven behind the counter. He almost jumped at seeing her, and before Darcy could even say anything, he went to the register and started putting in her order.
“Let me clock out for lunch,” he said, still punching buttons on the register.
Darcy nodded and sat down at one of the tables away from the counter. Steven was right behind her, sliding into the seat on the other side of the table.
“I heard things got kind of rough. How have you been?” he asked.
Darcy shrugged. “Well, you know. Busy, and then angry, and now kind of wondering what to do next,” she said.
“Everyone heard that you got the job, and now all of a sudden it’s auditioning again. What happened?” Steven looked at her from across the table, but there wasn’t anything in the way he looked at her to suggest he thought it had all somehow been her fault. It actually made Darcy feel a little better about the whole thing. Darcy wondered how much of it she should tell him. How much of it he needed to actually know.
“He is a gigantic asshole and impossible to work with. Like, not gonna lie, he almost made me cry a few times,” Darcy said. “It’s all shouting, and this sucks, and why can’t you be better? I just wasn’t cut out for it.”
She decided it wasn’t actually a lie if she only told half the story.
Steven hardly seemed surprised, which somehow surprised Darcy. “He did make Kayla cry. She auditioned a few days ago, and I guess he insulted her right there to her face, and then told her to leave. Doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you’d want to work for.”
“Oh my god. I feel like I should be warning people off auditioning for him now,” Darcy said. “Did anyone else go in?”
“A couple of the other girls from the club, yeah. Same story there, apparently.”
“Oh my god,” Darcy repeated. Though, hearing it from Steven, she wasn’t surprised at all. It sounded exactly like Loki, and even like the audition process she’d seen when she first went in.
“You should have seen it when I was there. He made half the people there leave before they even had the chance to audition. God, why didn’t I realise sooner that he was an asshole?” Leaving before she even went up on stage would have been the best thing she could have done, she realised.
“Because you had a chance to be awesome,” Steven said. “But you know, you made it. You’ve got your foot in the door at least.”
Darcy snorted. “Right before he blackballed me. He’s got so many lawyers calling me lately, I’ve had to just start keeping my phone turned off.”
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Steven said. “Why?”
“Because I quit on his ass after he invited me over to his place and then pretended to fire me.” It was a slightly bigger lie, but still not entirely inaccurate, Darcy decided. Especially since she did think she was being fired at the time.
“What a douche,” Steven said, actually laughing in disbelief.
Darcy laughed right along with him as one of the other waiters brought her order over to the table.
“There’s even more to it, but I don’t think I should get into it right now,” Darcy admitted as she poured ketchup all over her fries. “Really bad stuff.”
Steven took a second to respond to that. “He didn’t… Did he…?”
“No! No, god. Nothing like that,” Darcy said quickly. “But still probably illegal. At least some of it. But you know how tourists are. They think nothing’s illegal in Vegas.”
“Viva Las Vegas,” Steven agreed. “Are you gonna need a lawyer? You’re not gonna go down for anything, are you?”
Darcy took a big, messy bite of her sandwich and shook her head. “Nuh-uh.” She waited until she swallowed to keep going. “He can keep pushing this breach of contract thing all he wants, but if it goes to court, I’ve got so much crap on him they’ll deport his ass so fast, his head’ll spin.”
“Jesus Christ, Darce.” Steven took a few of her fries and shook his head. “Sounds like you got out of there just in time.”
“I kinda wish I hadn’t, to be honest,” Darcy admitted. “I dropped out of school to do this, and now I’ve got no job and nothing to fall back on. It all happened so quick, I didn’t even have time to plan.”
“I don’t think we’re hiring right now, but I can put a good word in for you if you want,” Steven offered.
Darcy nodded. “I have a few more things to look into, but I might take you up on that. Thanks,” she said.
“Something’ll come around for you. You should start coming back to the club,” Steven said.
“Maybe I will.” Darcy tried to smile at him, but she couldn’t quite make it work. Steven didn’t seem to notice.
“Oh my god, shut up, I don’t care!”
Darcy dug into her bag to pull out her ringing phone. Because of course it was ringing. She didn’t even look at the number on the screen before turning it off and shoving it violently back into her bag. When she looked up again, Jane was gaping incredulously at her.
“Still?” she asked.
“Ugh,” was all Darcy could manage to say. She sat quietly after that, staring at the computer monitor in front of her and wondering what she was even doing there. “You don’t have any classes today, do you?” she asked finally.
Jane sighed almost angrily. “No. I do not have any classes today.”
“Do you wanna blow this popsicle stand and go get some drinks or something?” asked Darcy, knowing she was able to leave if she wanted anyway.
“I can’t,” said Jane. “I have other plans.”
“Plans you’re angry about?” Because it sure sounded like she was angry about them.
“Not angry, no.” Jane stacked up some papers and stapled them together with a little more force than necessary. “I’m… just not sure why I agreed to them in the first place.”
Darcy watched her for a long moment, wondering if Jane was going to give up the details on her own. But Jane remained silent, forcing Darcy to go fishing.
“What plans?” she asked.
Jane looked up smiled ruefully. “I may have let myself get talked into helping What’s His Name find an apartment.”
Darcy had to stop herself from laughing. “Oh my god, why?” she asked.
“Because he’s been staying in a hotel downtown, and he asked me to go with him when he gets off his shift today,” Jane told her, definitely regretting this decision. Darcy wasn’t sure if she should keep laughing, or shout about how stupid agreeing to go had been. “He was staying with You Know Who, but apparently that lasted like two days, and ended with a trip to Urgent Care.”
“Well, you know, that’s how it all started with me,” Darcy said. “First comes cars, then comes apartments, then comes catastrophic emotional trauma.”
Jane didn’t seem to find that funny at all, even though Darcy thought it was hilarious in that painful, sad kind of way.
“Well, is he at least acting like he’s even a little bit sorry?” Darcy asked. “Because I can tell you who isn’t.”
Jane rolled her eyes. “Yeah, well. We have been talking, and he’s explained some things. And I’ve explained that I still haven’t forgiven him, but…”
“But you’re not ready to break up with his penis,” Darcy filled in.
“That… That has nothing to do with it,” Jane said quickly as she turned around in her seat to suddenly look at the printer.
“Oh, come on. Admit it,” Darcy said.
“And what about you? Are you making any stupid decisions lately?” asked Jane as she turned back around.
“Of course I am. I have an appointment with my old advisor on Monday to see how much ass I have to kiss to get them to let me back in,” Darcy said. Monday wasn’t going to come slowly enough, either. Even though it was her last option, she still didn’t want to do it. Even before she even heard of Loki, she’d already been considering dropping out anyway. And now she was stuck taking his fake-ass guilt trippy advice to finish her degree.
“No luck on the job hunt then?” asked Jane.
Darcy laughed bitterly. “Just a whole bunch of applications that take two hours, and then tell me to fuck off right after I finally finish them.”
“Something will come along,” Jane assured.
“Everyone keeps saying that,” Darcy pointed out. She sighed again and went back to not having anything to do while she waited to go home.
Even after Jane left to go help her own terminally stupid Icelander get his shit together, Darcy still stayed in the office, bouncing back and forth between clicking cookies and reading the news. Eventually, she gave up on both and went home to the job that wasn’t going to finish itself. Her living room was full of half-empty boxes and stacks of newspapers, and seeing it just made her want to hide under the bed and ignore everything. But the longer she put it off, the longer she’d just want to hide under the bed, so she put her bag down and got to work. The bookshelf was still full, because moving boxes of books was the absolute worst. And she had a lot of books. Especially the big, fat, hardcover books from the Miracle Factory, that had every single detail about every single magic trick and magician anyone ever wanted to know. She stacked them up carefully into the smaller boxes, trying to make sure they stayed in some sort of order. But all of them had to go; Al Baker, Chung Ling Soo, Robert-Houdin. Even the two volume set on David Abbott that she’d gone out to the Rio to buy and have signed. She put it all into boxes, moving blandly until she got to the next shelf, with the multi-coloured Tarbell series. The series her grandmother had given her, starting all of this. Everything else, she’d bought on her own, with her own money, but not Tarbell. She picked up volume one and flipped through it, managing half a smile at the diagrams showing how to palm a silver dollar and how to use a thumb tip.
Sighing, she put the book back and moved on. Tarbell stayed, she decided. But everything else had to go.
The props, she wrapped up in newspaper before packing away. Even the linking rings, but only because of the ungodly racket those things made if you even looked at them too hard. By the time she was done, all her shelves were almost completely empty, and she had a huge stack of boxes taking up her front room. She knew she could at least get two months worth of bills and rent out of it all, and wondered if her notes in the margins would hurt or help the price. She figured the ones that she had autographed by the authors should at least bring in the original sticker price, if not more. If she was lucky, she might even be able to pay rent off of the David Abbott books alone.
With that done and finally out of the way, Darcy wasn’t sure what else to do with herself. Even if everything was in boxes, it was still all right there, taking up her entire living room. She didn’t have much choice other than to look at it. Deciding that she deserved it, Darcy took one of the chairs from the table and moved it into the bathroom next to the tub. It was awkward, and a little too high and very in the way, but it was the best she had. She got the bath running, and while it filled up, she gathered up her laptop and one of the cheap bottles of wine from the cupboard and poured herself a very warm glass to drink in the bath while watching whatever she could find on Netflix.
The office was unnaturally tidy. That was the first thing Darcy had noticed when she walked in, and it bothered her. Whose working space was possibly so tidy, they didn’t even have a single sticky note stuck to anything? Even the giant paper desk calendar was blank.
Darcy was absolutely convinced, sitting in that office, that academic advisors didn’t actually do a single shred of work ever. And when they did work, it was entirely unhelpful to anybody.
“So, what does that mean?” she asked cautiously. She hadn’t exactly been told she was on Double Secret Probation, but the way the guy was talking, she might as well have been.
“It means you can keep your grants and enroll in the fall, but you have to pass all of your courses with at least a C. If you can’t manage that, you lose your grants,” the smug-ass bastard behind the desk said.
“Great.” Darcy sighed and pulled her phone out of her bag to see how many harassing phone calls she’d already missed. “And even if I do somehow, miraculously manage to pass everything and graduate, then what?”
“Well, your grants only cover you as long as you’re in school.”
“Not that,” Darcy said, struggling not to tack ‘moron’ to the end. “Does the school help me find a job in this idiotic field I’ve chosen to waste my time on?”
The advisor nodded in a way that looked like it meant no. “There are internship postings, but they fill up pretty quickly. Usually within a few days.”
Darcy glanced down at her phone again. “Internships? So, I have to bust my ass to get a terrible job that gives me experience in buying coffee and doesn’t even pay me for my twelve hours of work each day? No thanks.”
“Darcy,” said the advisor as he leaned over his desk. “I think you need to think about why you’re really here. If you’re going to sign up for a class and not show up, that’s an empty seat that could have gone to someone else who wants to be there. We want to help you, but only if you want to be helped.”
“No, you’re right,” Darcy said suddenly, standing and locking her phone. “I’ve already wasted too much time here when there are so many other things I could be doing. Why put myself into debt just to get a job I’ll hate?”
She felt childish for it, but she wasn’t sorry about any of it. She walked right out of the room, knowing exactly what she should have done from the start. And she knew it would work because no-one else in the entire valley wanted anything to do with him. She knew she should probably stay away as well, but the reasons to go back were far outweighing the reasons to keep trying to get a job at Wal-mart.
Rather than going through the casino, Darcy parked in the east lot and let herself into the greenroom. She intended to just stomp right through until she found Loki, but instead she found Clint sprawled out on the sofa and avoiding doing his job.
“Hey, I’m supposed to get your key back,” he said, sitting up.
Darcy wanted to argue, but she knew there was no point. She just tried to look very bored as she worked it off her keyring.
“Kay, but I’m going to want it back in like, ten minutes,” she said as she tossed it across the room. She left Clint to figure out what that was supposed to mean and made her way to the stage, banking on Loki to be out there if Clint was hanging around backstage. Sure enough, she found Loki angrily packing up his cheap audition props.
“Are you really that much of a dickhead that you seriously can’t fill a position that people would literally fight over to get?” Darcy asked. “That is seriously one hell of a skill.”
Loki turned to glare at her. “Get out. And give your key back to…” He waved his hand in the general direction of backstage and went back to packing up his stuff.
“No, because you’re going to give me my job back, and you’re not going to argue about it,” Darcy said.
Loki laughed, which Darcy had kind of expected. “Absolutely not.”
“Fine.” Darcy turned around on her heel and started to walk backstage again. Behind her, she could hear Loki swearing and kicking at the ground.
“No, stop. Get back here,” he said.
Darcy stopped and turned round, but didn’t step any closer to him. “Why?” she asked.
She could practically see the heat rising in his face as he tried to get out of admitting he needed her back.
“I might be able to take you back on, but Fischer might not go for it,” Loki said.
Darcy gaped incredulously at him, not able to believe how he thought he could work that lie. “I’m pretty sure he’ll jump right on that, given the eight hundred times a day he keeps having his goons call me to threaten me with a lawsuit if I don’t come back to work.”
“Fuck,” Loki hissed, turning away quickly.
“Try again,” Darcy told him. “I know you’re desperate, and I know you’re going to lose this gig if you don’t find someone soon, so we’re going to do this my way.”
Loki glared at her, but Darcy steeled herself and ignored the murderous look about him. He wasn’t going to make this easy, but she hadn’t expected him to, and had practised what she was going to say during the short drive to the casino.
“My contract with the casino put you in charge of my employment, while Fischer retained control of the payroll. I was paid nothing in advance, so I owe him nothing, and he knows it. He’s threatening me because your show is tanking, and the last thing a brand new casino needs is a flop in the only evening show they offer. And if you lose this show, something tells me that shiny new green card of yours is going to disappear, and you know it. So, my first condition is to call Fischer off. I don’t care if you have to blow him. I don’t want another call from him or anyone who works for him ever again.”
Loki grit his teeth and looked away. “Fine,” he said.
“Second, you were going to take full control of my contract anyway. I don’t come back until that happens.”
“I can have it drawn up tomorrow,” Loki said stiffly.
“And I am not going to sign any contract unless I get the same amount of money you get.” Loki balked and started to walk away, but Darcy didn’t let that stop her. “If I’m going to be your assistant and your manager, I’m doing the same amount of work as you. And managing your diva ass isn’t easy, so you’re lucky I’m not asking for more.”
“Whatever,” Loki said.
“It happens, or I walk,” Darcy said.
Loki glared at her even harder, but Darcy refused to back down. “Fine,” he said finally.
“And last, fifty percent of the company’s net earnings if you ever suddenly leave the country. Say, like, if your slimy ass gets deported for being a massive fraud.” She needed an insurance policy, because she wasn’t about to be left high and dry if he got caught doing whatever it was he thought he was doing.
Loki laughed humorously and stepped away. “And I suppose you want billing as well?”
Darcy hadn’t even considered billing. She shrugged. “If you’re offering, sure,” she said.
“I am not changing the name of my show,” Loki shouted.
Darcy didn’t really care either way, but having Loki in a position where she could make him squirm was incredibly satisfying. Shrugging helplessly, she turned to leave again, but only got a few steps away before Loki called her back.
“Wait. I’ll think really hard about it,” he said.
It made Darcy wonder what else he was willing to give up, but she didn’t want to press her luck. Not when she’d managed to get him to agree to all of the important things.
“And I want to make it very clear to you that this relationship is going to be strictly professional,” Darcy said, trying to make sure he understood this was the most important part, even if it wouldn’t be included in the contract. “You are not allowed in my dressing room. You are not allowed to touch me offstage. You are only allowed to call me for work-related reasons. And you do not come to my house for any reason ever.”
Loki laughed again. “Fine by me,” he said.
“Good. I’ll come back tomorrow to sign the paperwork.”
Darcy turned to leave again, barely getting to the wings before Loki’s, “Wait.”
She turned around, waiting for him to weasel out of everything.
“Are we still going snowboarding in the winter?” he asked.
It was such a startling question, Darcy almost didn’t realise what he’d said at first. When she finally did process the question, she laughed. “That offer is so far off the table, it’s not even in the same building,” she said.
“Can it be put back on the table?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Can you go six months without being a raging douchebag?” Darcy asked.
Before Loki could derail her further, she walked backstage and out to her car.
Darcy stood out in the hall, surrounded by more people than usual. Most people who saw the show never said more than a few words, and might occasionally ask for an autograph or to have their picture taken with her, so having a dozen people vying for her attention was a little overwhelming. Even if those dozen people were all her friends. Half the club had come to see the show, all of them pointedly making a show of being there for Darcy, and ignoring Loki on the other side of the swag table. As she chatted about nothing in particular, she could feel Loki glaring at her when he thought no-one else was looking. Like her friends, she ignored him.
“It’s been so long since you’ve been to the club. There are a couple of new people coming now. Pretty decent,” Ashton said.
“Yeah, well, I’m kinda busy,” Darcy pointed out. “We’re dark Wednesday and every forth Monday. We’re still fighting to get Christmas off.”
She’d been surprised when Loki took that battle up upon himself. He’d seemed fairly neutral on whether or not they’d be working on Christmas, but Darcy hated the idea of it. And then, all of a sudden, so had Loki, like it was his own personal crusade to wear Fischer down on the matter.
“I’m pretty sure I saw tickets on sale for Christmas when I bought ours,” Steven said with a cringe.
“Goddamnit,” Darcy hissed. “I hate this casino so much. I can’t wait til we can go somewhere else.”
Even getting stuck in Fremont purgatory would be better than working for Fischer.
Darcy stayed out in the hall until everyone else had gone, and the kid who ran the swag table started packing everything away. Back in her dressing room, she slowly changed and cleaned the sludge off her face that passed for makeup. After the show, she wasn’t exactly tired, but she didn’t really have any energy either. She was surprised at how quickly the post-show buzz had begun to fade, until she stopped feeling it all together. Until the show was just any other job with strange hours.
She was rubbing mascara out of her eye when someone knocked on her door.
“What?” she called out.
The door opened, and when Darcy looked up from furiously scrubbing out her eye, she wasn’t exactly surprised to see Loki hovering there.
“This is a No You zone,” Darcy reminded him.
Out of the corner of her working eye, she could see him make a show of not actually being in her dressing room. It was a technicality she had no idea how to overturn.
“I wasn’t able to get Christmas off,” Loki said.
“I heard. From someone else.” Darcy was starting to get the feeling that her eye was only going to get worse the more she rubbed it, so she forced herself to put down the tissue.
“I didn’t want to tell you before the show and risk you going out there pissed off,” Loki said.
Darcy snorted, because that was always it with him. “Okay,” she said, putting her contacts away and going for her glasses. She still kind of hated that he’d got his way in that argument too.
Loki sighed, still in the door. “We do have New Year’s Eve off, though.”
That, Darcy hadn’t expected. “No way,” she said. She hadn’t even considered trying to make plans, having assumed she’d be too tired to do anything other than stare at the television when midnight rolled around.
“And the first two weeks of January,” Loki finished.
Darcy had sort of expected to have some time off during the winter, but not two solid weeks. For the first time ever, she even had the money to be able to go on a vacation during her vacation time. Now she just had to figure out what she wanted to do.
“Wow, okay,” she said. “How’d you manage that?”
“It was either take the two weeks in January, or Christmas. Sorry.” For his part, Loki actually did look kind of sorry.
Darcy really had wanted Christmas off, but actual vacation time seemed like a fair trade. She sighed like it wasn’t.
“Are you hungry?” Loki asked suddenly, and Darcy realised his ulterior motive for coming to her dressing room. Because he had an ulterior motive for everything.
“What?” she asked.
“Would you like to get some dinner?” Loki asked.
Darcy almost laughed. Dinner with Loki had never once gone well. And now he was expecting her to try that mess again.
“Dinner? With you? In a place where we’ll have to wait to be seated?” she asked. The annoying part was that she was pretty hungry, actually. “Is this one of those things to keep me from quitting, or one of those things you’re going to pretend my job depends on?”
For a moment, Loki actually looked confused. It was oddly reassuring. “It’s an invitation to dinner,” he said.
Darcy sighed and looked down at her old t-shirt and faded jeans. “I don’t want to have to get dressed again, so nowhere with a dress code,” she said as she got up, picking up her bag and her coat. She even agreed to let Loki drive.