I have no idea what I'm doing

Tag: fic: Tarbell Course in Magic (Page 1 of 2)

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #26: Viva Las Vegas

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.

« ||

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #25: Tumbleweeds

Loki slunk further and further into his seat as he watched the young woman on stage clumsily try to turn a balloon into a live bird. He wasn’t sure how much of it he could watch before he fell into an inescapable despair.

“Stop,” he said, not even caring if she was done or not.

“Oh. Uh. Okay,” the woman onstage said.

Loki took a deep breath and prepared himself for the inevitable. “Do you do anything else? You have twenty minutes to fill without me, and we’ve got enough livestock in this show as it is. I don’t want your bird. I’m not Lance Burton.”

He rolled his eyes as she stammered uncertainly. “I, uh–”

“Out,” Loki said, getting up and walking onstage to shoo her away. “We’re done. Don’t expect a call, because you’re not getting one.”

The woman sneered at him and gathered her things. “Asshole,” she muttered as she left.

Loki ignored her and walked backstage to see if there was anybody left in the green room, but the only person he found was the security guard who never seemed to go home. He’d long begun to suspect that he was there more to make sure Loki didn’t cause problems, rather than making sure people didn’t cause problems for Loki.

“So, are you planning on auditioning the entire city, or just everything east of the Strip?” he asked from where he lounged on the couch.

“Shut up,” Loki spat at him as he walked past and out the door to the hall. He’d spent his entire day off watching clumsy attempts to impress him, and none of them had even come close. Worse, it was time wasted. Time that could have been spent doing something useful.

He supposed he still could be doing something, but it was late, and his show was dark, and he was tired and too annoyed to think clearly anyway. Instead of trying to decide the next step in his ruined plans, he stopped by the bar in the middle of the casino and took over the seat in the farthest corner. Not even wanting to think of what his running tab might have been if not for his drinks being comped, Loki nodded at the rum and coke that was automatically handed to him. He hadn’t got much done at all in the previous few weeks, with his time being divided between hastily re-writing the show, trying to find a new assistant, and spending far too much time at the bar. The way things were going, he wasn’t likely to get anything done for a while yet.

After nursing his drink for almost an hour, and not getting even a buzz off it, he moved onto shots. He didn’t even care what he was given, and downed each of them without question. As he put the fourth glass back on the counter, something to his left caught his eye. He looked up, and rolled his eyes so hard he nearly fell out of his seat.

“No. What the fuck are you doing here? Go away,” he said to Thor, speaking in Icelandic to keep everyone else out of their inevitable argument.

Thor stood several long paces away, and didn’t step forward. “I didn’t know where else I might find you,” he said.

Loki stood clumsily and held his arms wide. “Well, you’ve found me. Now leave.” He picked up his fifth shot and drank it. He meant to slam the glass onto the counter, but missed and dropped it to the floor. Loki looked down at it, not quite sure how it wound up where it was.

“Loki, what are you doing here?” asked Thor, still keeping his distance.

“I’m getting smeared. What does it look like?” Loki grumbled, signalling for another round of shots as he fell back into his seat. Before the bartender could respond, Thor grabbed Loki by the arm and pulled him back to his feet.

“You’ve had enough,” Thor said, holding his arm so high that it was the only reason Loki even still managed to keep his footing.

Loki swung around, throwing his fist without even taking the time to see where it would land. Hitting Thor’s face felt like it probably hurt Thor less than it did Loki, but it was enough to get him to let go. It was also, unfortunately, enough to get him to swing back. He backhanded Loki across the face and started to walk away, but suddenly Loki didn’t want him to go anywhere. Finding nothing else within reach to grab, he picked up one of his empty shot glasses and stomped after Thor, ignoring the shocked and scandalised shouting around him. Before he could do anything with the shot glass, Thor wrestled it out of his hands and grabbed both his wrists, holding them high above their heads.

“You’re hurting me!” Loki protested.

“You’re being an asshole,” Thor said back, as if it was a reasonable excuse.

Loki tried to pull away, but Thor held on with a vise-like grip. “And you’re hurting me.”

“You were going to hurt me!” Thor kicked the shot glass out of the way and pulled Loki’s arms up even higher.

“And you’re still hurting me!”

Loki started to kick as he twisted and pulled, half-tempted to spit in Thor’s eye and startle him into letting go. Before he could, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Loki turned to see two of the casino’s biggest security guards behind him, looking very mean.

“Mr Odinson, I think it’s time you and your friend leave the premises,” the bigger of the two said.

Loki finally managed to pull away and stepped back away from Thor. “Do you hear that? You need to leave,” he said.

“Both of you need to leave,” said the security guard. “You don’t need to walk through the casino to do your job, Mr Odinson. We can ban you if you don’t leave now, and do it peacefully.”

Loki gaped at the security guards, and then at Thor, before turning toward the first exit he could find. “Fine. Whatever. See if I care,” he said as he stomped through the casino and out to the parking lot.

He wound up on the wrong side of the building, but he didn’t particularly care. Even though the sun was almost completely set, it was still about eight million degrees, and everything smelled like sewage and melted tar. He just kept walking through the parking lot and out to the sidewalk, not even having to look back to know Thor was following him. He stopped just on the edge of the property, standing in front of what was technically the neighbouring condo’s lot. As soon as Thor caught back up with him, Loki turned and punched him again. This time when Thor hit him, he didn’t hold back. Loki felt his jaw explode as he stumbled backwards and landed in the dust.

“Why?” he shouted, holding both hands over his chin to make sure it stayed in one piece.

“I could ask you the same thing!” Thor shouted back.

Sprawled out on the ground with Thor standing over him, Loki suddenly felt very, very small. Loki didn’t meet many people who were bigger than he was, but Thor had always been one of those few. And now he seemed about twenty feet tall, standing there and glaring down at him, so Loki kicked him in the knee, hoping he might fall over. All it did was make Thor kick him back, right in the hip.

“Stop this,” Thor demanded.

“You stop it,” said Loki, trying to decide which part of him hurt worse. He sat up awkwardly, tempted to throw another kick, but not wanting to be kicked again in turn. “I hate you. Go home.”

Thor laughed, but Loki wasn’t sure what was so funny. Although, after a few seconds, he realised that Thor didn’t exactly sound like he found it funny either.

“Go home?” he asked. “Where? To the apartment I’ve been kicked out of, or to the girlfriend I don’t have anymore?”

This, Loki did find funny. “Well, there are plenty of hotels in this city,” he pointed out.

“You think I don’t know that?” Thor demanded. For a moment, Loki thought he might get kicked again, but Thor stepped away instead.

“I’m sure you’ll have no problem paying for it. Do you pay for anything on your own?” asked Loki.

He shifted on the ground, sitting up a bit better so he could at least pretend to be comfortable. He was fairly certain he’d landed on a tumbleweed when he’d fallen, and didn’t even want to think about the thorns he’d be picking out of his back for the next week.

Thor sighed and turned back around to face him. “What is your problem, Loki?” he asked.

Loki finally stood, wishing he’d stayed on the ground before he was even halfway up. “What is my problem?” he asked. “My problem is you running away to fucking Fjarskanistan and still having everything handed to you. While I was stuck with them, having to justify every little thing because it was never good enough.”

“And that was your decision,” Thor said.

“How?” Loki demanded, stomping toward him.

Thor stayed unmoved on the sidewalk. “You know how.”

Loki very nearly did hit him again. Flamingo traffic was almost at its peak that time of evening, tempting Loki to try to hurl Thor into it. The only thing stopping him was the knowledge that Thor would manage to take Loki with him.

“Tell me, right now, that you were never offered help,” Thor said. “That you didn’t leave the second you were able. That you didn’t disappear without a word for two years, only to finally call home when you needed to be picked up from jail.” He punctuated the last four words by jabbing his finger into Loki’s chest, each time harder than the next.

Loki slapped his hand away. “I never wanted their money or their help!” He shouted back. He pointed to the letterboard in front of the casino with his name on it. “I did that on my own, without help from any of you, and it still isn’t good enough! Everything you do is on someone else’s money, and yet you’re praised for it, no matter how badly you fail. Where shall you go when being a doctor doesn’t work for you? What will you do next? I hear lawyers make good money.”

Thor sighed deeply, but instead of responding with words, he hit Loki again, once more dropping him to the ground, and on top of the same tumbleweed.

“I hate you,” Loki said flatly, fairly certain his nose was actually broken this time.

“You’re an idiot.” Thor sat down on the ground next to him and pulled him so he was sitting up and not choking on his own blood. “If you hate me so much, why go through all this? What was the point?”

Loki shrugged and used the hem of his t-shirt to try to wipe the blood from his lip. “There wasn’t one,” he admitted, tilting his head back toward the sky. Thor immediately pushed Loki so he was looking at the ground instead.

“You need help,” he said.

“I tried that. It was awful.” Loki could somehow tell that Thor was shaking his head. “What I need is an assistant.”

“Well, you chased yours away. Good job,” Thor said, keeping his hand on the back of Loki’s head.

“I could sue her,” Loki said, halfway wondering if it would actually be worth it. “The owner’s trying to already, I think.”

“Don’t you dare,” Thor warned. “And call off your dogs.”

Loki tried to look up, but Thor kept pushing his head down again each time he tried. “Are you here to be her knight in shining armour?” Loki asked.

“No, apparently I’m here to be your common sense, seeing as you have none.” He tightened his hold on Loki, grabbing a handful of his hair when Loki tried to look up again. “Stop that, or you’ll swallow your own blood and get sick. Can you breathe?”

“I’m sitting here, aren’t I?” asked Loki. “Having a lovely conversation with you.”

“Loki,” Thor warned.

Loki shrugged. “Yes, I can breathe. Congratulations, you’ve only maimed me. You won’t have to write home about how you murdered me on the street.”

Thor sighed, but said nothing. They sat in a heavy silence on the side of the road as darkness fell over the valley. Cars sped past them on the road, occasionally honking their horns or shouting out the windows. Eventually, Thor let go of Loki, letting him look up and stretch the kink out of his neck. Whether it was whatever he had drank at the bar, or the aftermath of whatever had just happened with Thor, Loki began to feel rather uneasy. He rolled over onto his side and lay there in the dust, not sure if he wanted to pass out or be sick. Beside him, Thor sighed again.

“Come on, get up. I’ll take you home,” he said. “Where do you live?”

“Henderson,” Loki answered, remembering too late that he was still angry with Thor. And then he remembered the shots he’d had, and all the poisonous and disgusting bugs that lived in the desert, and pulled his phone from his pocket and handed it up to Thor.

“Oh,” said Thor. “Hang on.”

“What?” asked Loki.

“It’s not in English.”

He sat up just enough to look at Thor. “Of course it’s not in English. Why would it be in English?” he asked.

Thor shrugged. “Because you’re in America now.”

“Just find my address in the map thing. The cabs have all blacklisted me and I don’t want to spend the night here,” he said, sitting up all the way and rubbing the sand off his face.

“Hang on,” Thor repeated, sounding like he wanted to laugh. “There are about twelve cab companies here. How did you piss all of them off?”

“I’m just that good,” Loki said flatly.

Thor kept laughing as he searched through the phone’s map history. Finally, he handed the phone back and hauled Loki up off the ground and guided him toward his big, stupid white truck. It wasn’t the sort of car Loki ever wanted to be seen in, but he figured it was a choice between waking up hungover in his own bed, or waking up hungover on the green room sofa. He knew which option seemed less terrible, so he climbed into the truck and pretended he was somewhere else. They drove out to Henderson in silence, with the radio quietly playing the same eight rock songs they always played.

When they got to Loki’s apartment, he expected to just be let out in the parking lot, but instead found himself being followed inside. Not having the energy to argue, Loki let Thor in with him. Loki ignored Thor’s attempts to snoop around and collapsed onto the sofa, immediately wishing he hadn’t. The tumbleweed he’d fallen on was very much still in his back, and making its presence very known. Shouting just about every swear he knew, in every language he knew, Loki sat back up and pulled his shirt off, only to realise that it was a stupid idea as the fabric dragged over the thorns and only made everything worse.

“What did you do?” Thor asked, suddenly in the room with him.

Loki twisted around to try to look at his back. “Even the plants in this place want to kill you,” he said, unable to turn his head far enough to see anything more than his shoulder.

“Do you have any tweezers?” asked Thor.

Loki wasn’t sure if Thor was being serious or not. “No, I don’t have any tweezers. Why the hell would I have tweezers?”

Thor nodded. “Don’t touch anything,” he said. Before Loki could ask what he was doing, Thor walked out the front door.

Still tired and sick, Loki rolled over to lay on his stomach, since that at least didn’t hurt to think about. Thor was only gone about ten minute before he returned with a bag from the 7-11 on the corner. Loki wanted to protest, but he also just wanted to sleep, so he decided to just let Thor do whatever it was he wanted to do. Except what he wanted to do was apparently home acupuncture. Loki was suddenly wide awake when Thor pulled the first thorn from his back, which put up a bit of a fight and had to be pulled twice before it came out. Loki shouted and slapped at him, but Thor only wrestled him back down.

“Don’t make me sit on you,” he threatened.

Somehow, Loki suspected that Thor might actually make good on that threat, so he kept to just shouting each time Thor pulled one of the thorns from his skin.

“I don’t consent to this treatment,” Loki said as Thor pulled out another thorn.

“Don’t be such a baby,” Thor said, laughing. He pulled out one more and then held his hand out in front of Loki’s face. “There, all better,” he said, showing the five thorns he’d pulled out.

“There were at least a hundred. I felt them,” Loki said.

“There were five. Now sit up.” As Loki grudgingly did, Thor dropped the thorns onto the coffee table and moved to be able to face Loki directly. He tilted Loki’s head back so he could look at the mess he’d made of Loki’s nose.

“This is your fault,” Loki told him.

“I know. Which is why you’re not in Urgent Care right now,” Thor said.

While he poked and prodded, Loki wondered how that made any sense, considering there hadn’t been anyone else around to repeatedly try to punch his lights out.

“Why did you stay here all this time?” he asked suddenly.

Thor paused briefly. “Because I’d started going to school to see if it was something I might be able to do seriously. I spent the first few years changing my focus, but when I found the medical programme, I realised I could actually help people. Do something useful, which I would have never been able to do as Minister of Dull Tedium. I wasn’t helping anybody at home, so I stayed.”

Loki tried to laugh, but he just wound up coughing instead. The answer was so typically Thor, he could barely stand it.

“Why did you come here?” Thor asked.

There were a dozen answers Loki could have given. He didn’t like any of them. “I don’t even know anymore,” he said. He could see the look on Thor’s face, and didn’t even want to go there. “Don’t say it. I’m sick of hearing it.”

“Well, think about it anyway. If I’m not the first to say it, maybe you should listen to it,” Thor said.

“No.”

Thor suddenly looked incredibly sad, but he said nothing more and busied himself with cleaning Loki’s face and making sure his nose wasn’t actually broken. Considering Thor did nothing to crunch it back into place, Loki could only assume that he was fine, if a bit bloodied and bruised.

“I still don’t forgive you,” he said suddenly.

Loki shrugged. “Good. I still hate you.”

When Thor was done, Loki got up and started to make his way back to his bedroom, pausing just before the door.

“Did you really get kicked out of your apartment?” he asked.

“Well, on top of my stalker trying to break in, and someone calling my roommate’s phone at all hours of the night, they all got really angry when someone told them I was living under a false name and had forged everything on the lease,” Thor said.

Loki tried to put everything together, and realised Laufey was even better at this than he’d realised. “I only did the first one,” he said, suddenly afraid of what she might do to him down the line. “This may not be over. I think Laufey’s still angry with you too.”

“Laufey’s angry with everyone,” Thor muttered.

Loki shrugged, knowing that to probably be true. “I have a sofa. If you want it. Though I can’t promise I won’t strangle you in the night.”

“Loki, don’t joke,” Thor warned.

Turning to walk into his bedroom, Loki shrugged. “I’m not,” he said before shutting the door.

He got into bed and powered up his laptop, since it was still far too early to actually go to bed. He never did hear any sign of Thor leaving.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #24: Contract Breach

Darcy wasn’t sure where she wanted to be, but she knew where she didn’t want to be. As soon as she woke up in her small bed, inside the closet that pretended to be her bedroom, she knew she had to leave. Just being in her own bed reminded her of everything that had happened over the last week, and she had to get away. She dressed quickly, and barely even bothered to tame her hair before grabbing her bag and walking out of the apartment. She walked down the road, opposite the park while cursing Starbucks for pulling their kiosk out of the supermarket. Barnes & Noble wasn’t too far away, so Darcy walked there, feeling only a little guilty for going into the shop just for coffee. But she felt like she deserved the biggest, most caffeinated beverage they had, because it was probably going to be the last time for a while she’d be able to afford it. She’d saved up everything from her few paycheques and had only vaguely thought about moving into a bigger apartment, and now she was glad she hadn’t. Her place was small and horrible, but it was also affordable. If she played everything right, she’d even be able to get a new job before she ran out of money in the bank. If not, there was always her mother’s house in Green Valley.

Without realising where she was going until she turned off the sidewalk, Darcy found herself making her way to Jane’s office. She had no idea what Jane’s summer schedule was, but knowing her, she’d be avoiding her own place every bit as much as Darcy was avoiding hers. Any time there was something she didn’t want to deal with, she hid from it by writing up lesson plans or reading journals and studies. So somehow, it wasn’t surprising to find Jane’s office lights on and the door unlocked. Darcy let herself in, feeling her resolve crumbling as soon as she saw Jane at her desk, staring bleary-eyed at the monitor. She looked up at the sound of the door shutting, seeming to take a few seconds to process what she saw.

“Darcy?” she asked, getting up. “What’s up?”

Everything seemed to fall out from beneath her feet, and suddenly all the anger and disappointment came flooding forth. Not able to stop it, she covered her mouth with her free hand and tried not to just start wailing right there in Jane’s office. Jane was up and beside her in a hurry, trying to guide her to the nearest chair.

“What happened? What’s wrong?” Jane asked.

Darcy held her hand over her mouth for a while longer, feeling stupid about going to Jane when she had enough of her own problems.

“God, it’s all my fault. I’m so sorry,” she said, just barely holding herself together.

“What? No, Darcy. What do you mean?” asked Jane. She reached over for the half-empty box of tissues and put it in front of Darcy. In her bag, Darcy’s phone started to ring, but she ignored it.

“He–I didn’t mean to be. He set the whole thing up. Practically admitted it last night,” Darcy said, talking right over the ring tone. She put her coffee down and pulled a big handful of tissues from the box and tried to dry her face.

Jane just shook her head, confused. “Admitted what?”

Darcy finally lost control, and started sobbing into her hands. “He’s such an ass,” she sputtered out.

Jane said nothing as she cried. She crouched down beside the chair and rested her hands on Darcy’s knees. It felt like a year before Darcy could even manage to speak again.

“I should have seen it. I was too busy being amazed that he’d hired me to even pay attention,” Darcy said. She wiped her face again, and then pulled out a fresh wad of tissues.

“What happened?” Jane asked again.

Darcy went through everything she said, and everything she thought she’d said, and started over. “Loki. The whole reason he’s here is because of his stupid grudge with his stupid brother, and he had me spying on you guys the whole time. The only reason he hired me was because I know you.”

“What?” Jane almost shouted. “No. Darcy, no. None of that’s your fault, but what? Seriously? He said that?”

Darcy nodded and dried her face again, but it never seemed to keep. “Pretty much. He started being really weird last night. Like, kept asking if I’d go back to school, and guilting me into finishing my degree. It was really weird, even for him. I thought he was firing me, and then it just all kind of clicked. Like, he’s been really out of it and strange all week, and then all of a sudden, he was being super friendly and talking about me going back to school. He was trying to get me to come back to spy on you some more. I mean, he gave in so quick on getting you guys tickets, and agreeing to go out for drinks with you. I thought maybe he was just happy about the show and trying to play nice for a change or something.”

She hugged herself around her chest and buried her mouth in the crook of her arm. She wondered how long everything might have dragged on if she hadn’t caught on. Part of her wondered if she was just seeing things that weren’t there, and that maybe Loki was just being his normal awkward self. And then she remembered how he just sat there, not even angry when she stormed out. Like he knew he’d deserved it.

“I quit my job,” she said timidly. “The best job I was ever going to get, and I walked out on it because Loki’s the biggest fucking asshole on the planet.”

“Oh, Darcy,” Jane said. “No, none of that’s your fault. I… I don’t know what to say. Honestly. Should we be calling the cops, or…?”

Darcy shrugged. “I don’t think it’s a crime yet to be a manipulative creep. Half the city would be in jail, then.”

“Yeah,” said Jane distantly.

They sat quietly for a long time after, the silence only broken by Darcy’s runny nose. Jane stayed on the floor beside her. She wasn’t offering much in the way of reassurance, but Darcy hadn’t exactly been a shining ray of hope the week before either, when everything had gone to hell for her.

“So,” Jane said eventually, looking back up at Darcy with a strange determination about her. “You didn’t exactly give proper notice when you quit, but since I haven’t filled the position yet, I’d be willing to overlook that. If you want it.”

Darcy inhaled deeply. She didn’t think she wanted to even try to go back to school, and especially not for a PoliSci degree, but she didn’t think she had much of a choice. Before she could answer, her phone started to ring again. This time, she reached for it in her bag and hit the lock button to shut it up. When she looked back up again, she could see the knowing look on Jane’s face. Darcy didn’t exactly want to correct her assumption on who was hounding her phone so hard.

“Just for the summer?” she asked hopefully. “Give me a chance to find a nine-to-five, at least?”

Jane nodded. “As long as you need.”

Darcy wiped her face with the tissues and nodded back. “Kay. Thanks. And I’m still sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Jane as she stood up and moved back to her own seat. “It’s not your fault you got involved with an asshole. It’s his.”

Darcy smiled weakly, trying to believe that.

Summer work was pretty boring work, but it wasn’t the first summer Darcy had spent in Jane’s office. She only taught one class, but the rest of her time was spent catching up on new advancements, readying and updating coursework, and working out her budget and permits for the next year. Darcy’s job was primarily to make sure everything was filed and organised so that when the time came, Jane could put everything together or send it off to where it needed to be.

While Jane printed off page after page so she could highlight and circle wantonly, Darcy found herself bitterly clicking through news articles.

“Oh, look. He’s still holding auditions,” she said, clicking out of the tab with a bit more force on the mouse button than necessary. “I hope he crashes and burns and takes everything with him.”

“Have you tried going out for any more?” asked Jane distantly.

“No. He’s probably already blackballed me. Turned me into the bitch who couldn’t even make it past opening week,” Darcy grumbled. She clicked around some more, eventually wandering over to Amazing Johnathan’s Twitter, only to click away again when his feed was nothing but retweets about some podcast.

“Has what’s his name said anything to you lately?” Darcy asked curiously.

Jane sighed tiredly. “He wants to talk. I told him there’s nothing to talk about.”

Darcy considered that, and found herself feeling almost embarrassingly guilty. “Maybe you should talk to him,” she said. “I mean. If nothing else, just see where the lies actually start and end.”

Jane hummed like she disagreed. Darcy replied with a sigh.

“Is it bad that I wish I didn’t quit?” she asked.

Instead of answering right away, Jane organised a stack of papers and set them aside on one of the filing cabinets. “I know how much that job meant to you, but I’m not sure I’d want to work for someone like that,” she said finally.

“Yeah, that’s pretty much… yeah,” Darcy agreed. She found her way over to CNN’s site, but instead of checking the headlines, ran a search instead. “Hey, did I ever show you this?” she asked when she found the article. Without even waiting for Jane to reply, she dropped the link into an email and sent it to her.

“What is it?” asked Jane as she looked over to her laptop.

“Something I found about what’s his name, just after I got hired.” Out of curiosity, she went to the BBC’s news site and ran the same search to see what she’d find there. “The story Loki told me was too weird to be true, and I didn’t really believe him at first.”

The BBC had a few more articles than CNN had, so Darcy clicked through them all and skimmed over them quickly. There was a little more detail about Thor Odinson’s disappearance, with speculation that he may have been targeted and possibly killed by one of the many people he’d pissed off. As she read, her phone rang inside her bag, making her want to just hurl the entire thing across the room. “Shut up,” she commanded as she finally just turned it off.

Jane looked up, trying not to gape. “Is he still calling you?” she asked.

Darcy snorted. “No. He never even tried. I haven’t even heard a single lame-ass excuse from him all week.”

Jane didn’t seem convinced, but Darcy didn’t care. She just went back to scrolling through the BBC’s site, wondering if the quote was different from the one she’d read on CNN’s, or if she was just getting muddled from everything. They had probably just used different translations, but it was basically all the same thing.

“I can’t believe this is the same guy,” Darcy said, sending Jane this article as well.

“It was ten years ago,” Jane reasoned, reading over the first article Darcy had sent her. “I mean, people can change, right? Don. Thor. Whatever. He has a temper sometimes, but this is like being in the Twilight Zone.”

Jane read silently for a few minutes longer before pushing herself away from the desk. “Why couldn’t he have just told me?” she asked. “Would that have really been so hard?”

“Would you have believed him?” asked Darcy. The withering glare from Jane made it clear that she wasn’t even sure herself.

“Maybe he’s in like, witness protection,” Darcy went on facetiously, but even as she said the words, it occurred to her that maybe that might have been more true than they’d realised. The article she had opened had even mentioned death threats made to his family after he’d gone off the grid. “I mean, he pissed a lot of people off. If his own brother tracked him down to do whatever the hell he’s doing, think of who else might have been looking for him. Maybe people still are.”

Jane groaned quietly. “God, I have to talk to him, don’t I?” she asked.

“No,” Darcy said. “Unless you want to know why he lied, I guess.”

Jane sighed and groaned again, turning away from Darcy to fiddle with something that had already been printed off and stapled together. “Men suck,” she complained.

“Yep,” Darcy agreed.

She stuck around until the end of the hour, before beginning to make her way back home. Despite the heat, Darcy went around the long way, taking Maryland down, instead of cutting through the campus. She stopped in the comic shop she only went to once every six months, but only stuck around long enough to look at the T-shirts and the collection of games and toys. The thrift shop a few doors down took a bit more time to wander through, even though Darcy had a hard time justifying buying even the cheapest pair of jeans, in case she didn’t find a job by the end of the summer. Leaving empty-handed, Darcy wandered over to Target, and from there Barnes & Noble, and then Best Buy, and finally Vons before she ran out of places to loiter on her way home. She’d managed to kill a few hours, but she still had to go home eventually. Even as she walked across the parking lot, she could see someone standing up on the walkway outside her door, waiting in the sun for her to return home.

“Fuck,” she said, hoping the bastard enjoyed having heatstroke.

Knowing she couldn’t put the conversation off any longer, she walked up the stairs and to her apartment, not even looking at Fischer’s skeevy lawyer as she fished her keys from her bag.

“Go away. Now,” she said.

Before she could get to the door, Mr Gross Lawyer stepped in her way. “Miss Lewis, I’m afraid you’ve been avoiding my calls all week. This will be much easier if you cooperate.”

Darcy gave him the most patronising smile she could manage and pushed past him. “Nope,” she said, trying to shut the door before he could get his foot in, but she wasn’t quick enough. Resisting the urge to hit him with a chair, Darcy took a deep breath and stepped back. “I have nothing to say to you.”

“Miss Lewis, this is a serious matter of contract breach. One which could very easily go to–”

“No, actually. It can’t,” Darcy said, cutting him off. She reached for the stack of papers on the table and opened it up to the section she had highlighted the night she first started getting the calls. The night after she told Loki she quit. “You know you’re supposed to read these things before you sign them? Funny, right? I mean, who does that? And you know what section C says? It says that Jeff can go eat a dick, because he only signed my paycheques. It’s the other dickhead who had control over my employment. So, unless you work for him, and he’s actually going to go to court and try to explain how I’m pretty sure he’s still not even in this country legally, you need to get the fuck out of my house before I call the cops.”

She saw movement out on the walkway, and craned to see her neighbour standing nearby, watching nervously.

“Or before my neighbour decides you’re trespassing and sets his dogs on you. Your choice.”

“I’ll be calling you,” the lawyer said, finally backing away enough to get out of her apartment.

“Whatever.” She watched him walk away, looking a little less confident than he’d seemed when she first found him skulking about like a phantom outside her door.

“Is everything all right?” Singh asked. “Who was that?”

Darcy shrugged. “No-one. Crazy stalker. How’s your puppy?”

Singh shrugged and nodded, taking a moment to answer. “Still house training. It’s going very slowly.”

Even though she felt kind of bad for him, Darcy still had to try to keep from laughing. “Good luck.”

As she turned to go back into her apartment, she realised there was somewhere she could be, but she didn’t think she was brave enough to even show her face at the open stage after so spectacularly failing to last in the very stage show most of her friends had auditioned for. And now that Loki was holding auditions again, Darcy was pretty sure that those who had missed his first round had gone back for the second. She thought of any of the other girls trying to put up with or ignore his behaviour and shuddered at the thought. There were a few she could see actually crying at the way he drilled the metamorphosis routine. Darcy had even wanted to cry a few times, and that was after she’d thought they were dating and that he cared about her.

Standing in her tiny front room, Darcy looked around at all the props and books on her shelf and hated all of them. She couldn’t believe she’d failed, and all because she was apparently the world’s worst judge of character. She wanted to take everything off the shelves and throw it all to the ground and just stomp it into a million little pieces.

But she knew she’d regret that if she did it, so instead she turned around and walked right back out of her apartment. She couldn’t afford it any more than she could afford the jeans from Buffalo Exchange, but she suddenly needed to go to the nearest bar and drink too much over-priced alcohol.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #23: Tipping the Gaff

Loki moved stiffly as he changed back into his street clothes. He knew Darcy was watching him, but pretended not to see her while he spent way too much time trying to buckle his belt. He needed to get away from her. He needed some space to breathe without her hovering over his shoulder at every turn. All this pretending to be depressed was actually starting to make him depressed, and he needed her gone.

He hadn’t expected her to pick up on it so quickly. Loki wanted to draw out the scene and see what he could push Thor into doing, but he never got that chance. Darcy, true to form, just blurted out the first thing in her head and almost ruined everything.

Well, maybe not ruined. If she made the connection that quickly, she must have already suspected Thor of hiding something. And even with Darcy going completely against what Loki had expected, it was worth it for the look on Thor’s idiotic face when the women both left. That alone had been worth allowing the meeting to happen when it did, instead of how he had originally planned. In a few ways, showing his hand in public had been even better. But he couldn’t even gloat about it, even to himself, because Darcy wouldn’t even give him five minutes alone. All he could do was silently work out the best way to get to Thor now, since Darcy had even gone as far as deleting his number from her phone. He had expected her to try to be neutral in this mess, but she picked her sides almost immediately. It was the worst possible thing she could have done.

For now, he ignored it while he pretended to be too sad to think about anything more complicated than putting his shirt on.

“Do you want to pick up dinner before we go home?” Darcy asked.

Loki wondered at what point her cramped little apartment had become their home. Her apartment was the last place he even wanted to be, after being convinced to go there every night for the last week.

“No,” he said with a sigh. “I’m going to go to my place tonight. I just need some space,” he said.

“Are you sure? I mean–”

“I’m sure,” Loki said snappishly, sick of this debate. “Stop suffocating me. I’m going home. My home.” He turned off his dressing room lights and walked out.

“Want me to come with?” Darcy asked.

“No. You go to your home. I’m going to my home,” Loki said, not even stopping on his way out the door. His car hadn’t moved from its spot since opening night, but it had definitely been noticed by the thousands of disgusting pigeons in the area. Loki made a note to find the nearest full-service car wash first thing in the morning as he got in, pulling out of his parking spot just as Darcy made her way out the door.

The first thing he did when he walked in his front door was pull out his phone and check for any new messages. Neither Laufey nor Sif had anything new to say to him, so he decided to make a call instead.

“What?” Thor demanded down the line. Loki was surprised he’d even picked up at all.

“It’s been a few days since we last spoke. I only wanted to know how my dear brother was holding up,” Loki said smugly as he sat down in front of the television. He considered turning it on, but ultimately tossed the remote back down only seconds after picking it up.

“Loki,” Thor warned.

“The girls are both very upset with you. Lying to them, Thor? That’s low even for you.” He imagined the look on Thor’s face and tried not to laugh.

“And you’re doing what, exactly? Telling them how you set this whole thing up? This is your doing, Loki. Not mine.” He sounded even more angry than he had that day at the apartment building.

“No?” asked Loki. “And if I hadn’t allowed that woman to see who you truly are, what then? Would you have married her? Spent your entire life living in someone else’s skin and letting her believe the lie?” He sat back, letting himself sprawl out in a way he could never achieve on Darcy’s puny, brick-like sofa.

“I would have told her myself,” Thor insisted.

Loki laughed. “And you think she would have agreed to marry you after that? Does the truth negate the lie if it comes from the liar?”

“Why are you doing this, Loki?” Thor demanded. “What is the point to this?”

Loki shrugged. For a second, he considered weaving some lie of his own; saying that he’d only done it for the laugh. But that wasn’t right.

“Even in exile, you’ve been the favoured son. I only wanted you to see how the rest of us live, without having everything given to them,” Loki said. There was nothing he could do about whatever money their father was funnelling Thor’s way, but with enough time, he could systematically dismantle the rest single-handedly.

“Well, I hope you’re happy, brother,” Thor practically spat before the line went dead.

Loki tossed his phone to the side and leaned back to look up at the ceiling. He had been wanting to do that all week, and now that he had, he wasn’t sure what to do next. Thor would surely stop answering his calls after that, and he didn’t dare go back to his apartment so soon after so blatantly trying to break in the last time. Loki was surprised he hadn’t been served with a restraining order after that. Or after what had happened in the casino.

Although, for Thor to issue a restraining order, he’d have to admit that his name was Thor Odinson, and not Donald Blake. Loki wondered who had settled on that name. It wasn’t even a very good one. He wondered if he could get all of Thor’s assets frozen for fraud, but he reminded himself that he was just as foreign as Thor was to the country, and getting caught up in a legal mess might expose his own corruption in getting his visa. Perhaps that would be something to wait on. Something to do later, when he was ready to go back home anyway.

Loki turned to look out the window, at the row of palm trees under a yellow street lamp. Las Vegas was miserable in every possible way, but he was making almost double what he’d made back home performing in bars and clubs. Just for throwing some cards at people and making goldfish appear out of nowhere. It wasn’t something he was too willing to give up, now that he had it. And it wasn’t just the money; it was the validation. That he didn’t have to do something serious with his life. He didn’t have to grow up if he didn’t want to. Las Vegas wasn’t home, but he could almost see himself living there like he meant it. He could even learn to like having long nights during the summer, and was almost looking forward to experiencing long days in the winter. That was always something the rest of the world had, and now he would actually get to see it.

Loki got up and made his way to the fridge, hoping that something might have materialised in it during his absence. Instead, he found the same take-away containers that were now well past healthy, and some milk that had surely gone off. Sighing, he swung the door shut and went to go find his phone again so he could order a pizza from the place that was always open. Which was something else he had already grown used to, and wouldn’t be quite so keen to give up when the time came. With few exceptions, the supermarkets all seemed to be open day and night. He could get any variety of delivery well past midnight. If he wanted to go out, there were restaurants that never closed. If he needed something at three in the morning, more often than not it could easily be purchased without waiting until the sun came up.

He paused before dialing, holding the pizza menu in his hand. He already had a shoebox with a small collection of varied menus for places that delivered to his building, and it dawned on him then that he was actually living in the sort of city he’d always seen in the movies, but never thought truly existed. He looked out the window again and sighed as he dropped the menu back into the shoebox. He was sick of pizza and Chinese noodles, he decided. The supermarket was just down the road, and for the first time since landing in Las Vegas, Loki felt a sudden desire to actually cook for himself. He wasn’t sure what he wanted, but with his keys in hand he walked out of the apartment and back out to his car to see what he might be able to find.

What he found was a $300 grocery bill, and less space in his freezer than he thought he had. He put everything away, leaving a large halibut fillet out on the counter. Having had time to think while roaming the aisles of Smith’s, Loki realised he’d been thinking about everything all wrong. Once everything was in a suitable place, he checked the time to make sure it wasn’t absurdly late, before sending a text message off to Darcy. With the show being dark the next day, Loki wasn’t particularly surprised when she accepted his offer of dinner.

At that time of night, off-strip traffic was light, and Darcy was at Loki’s door before he was even done rinsing out his brand new baking dish so he could cook dinner. She knocked and let herself in, stopping at the threshold to the kitchen.

“You’re actually cooking. I thought we were going out,” she said, watching him put everything together. “Do you need help with anything?”

Loki carefully poured the sauce over the fish, trying to make sure as much of it as possible stayed on the fillets. “You can uncork that bottle of sherry,” he suggested.

Darcy picked up the bottle and looked at it dubiously. “Are we seriously drinking sherry tonight?” she asked.

“No, we’re drinking the Riesling. Sherry is for cooking,” Loki told her as he put the saucepan in the sink and reached for some of the new spices he’d purchased. He took the bottle as it was handed to him and drizzled a liberal amount over the fish before putting it in the oven.

Darcy watched him from the other side of the kitchen while he started a box of rice. “So, this is how you Vikings cook?” she asked. “With Rice-a-Roni? I thought you’d just start a fire in the middle of the kitchen and spit-roast a boar.”

Loki tried very hard not to roll his eyes as he tossed the box into the trash.

“Kidding,” Darcy said sweetly. “Do you even have boar in Iceland?”

Loki ignored her question. “If you want salad, I’m afraid it’s going to come out of a plastic bag,” he told her dryly.

“Mmm, bag salad.”

She walked through the still-empty dining room to the living room and looked around. Loki hadn’t had much opportunity to furnish the apartment over the previous week, but he did at least have a coffee table they could put their drinks on.

“Do you want to go up to Target tomorrow?” Darcy asked as she sat down on the sofa. “At least get you a few things to put on your walls?”

Loki sighed and sat down next to her. “I need to consult my credit card bill first. I’m still playing off everything else,” he said. “I had not exactly thought everything all the way through when I decided to move to America.”

Darcy laughed quietly and leaned against him. “You’re doing all right. You’re doing what pretty much everyone does when they come here. At least you’re not trying to do it while selling timeshares.”

“I’d die,” Loki stated, without exaggeration. He wouldn’t last a day standing out in the sun like that.

“This winter, I should take you up to Mount Charleston. Just to make sure you don’t explode from lack of snow or something,” Darcy said.

“I think I’d explode if I saw snow again at this point.” Loki sighed, even then considering turning on the air conditioner. If not for the fact that he was on the ground floor, he might have kept the windows open, but he wasn’t quite stupid enough to trust the general population of the city to not take such a blatant invitation and crawl into his bedroom.

“A bit of fairy dust on the ground doesn’t exactly count, though,” Loki amended after a long silence.

“If you say so, but there’s some pretty good snowboarding up on the mountain,” Darcy said.

Loki barely managed to stop himself laughing. “And how many days does it take to get there?”

Darcy did laugh. “Like, an hour. Seriously, it’s just straight up the 95. Bam. Mount Charleston.”

“Seriously?” Loki hadn’t been terribly inclined to believe her at first, nor did he think she was joking either. “I’ll have to have my board sent over, if it hasn’t already been sold,” he said.

“Yeah?” asked Darcy. “I always just rent one, and then slide down it on my ass. I mean, I was mostly kidding, but if you actually want to, we can go up there when it opens.”

“I’d like that,” Loki said honestly. He hadn’t thought to ever see a ski run again, but it one more surprise Las Vegas had hidden away, it seemed.

Loki wondered when he’d decided he was going to stay in America indefinitely, and then wondered what he expected to do with himself if he did go back home. He’d burnt too many bridges to get any of his old jobs back, and the thought of taking a day job in some shop only depressed him. In a way, he supposed he had never planned on going home, and just running away like Thor had, for once actually giving them something in common.

After a few more minutes of heavy silence, Loki got back up to putter about in the kitchen, checking to make sure nothing was burning. Everything looked fairly close to done, so he uncorked the Riesling and opened the fridge for the bag of iceberg lettuce and carrot shavings.

“Did you want salad?” he asked, looking at the bag and regarding it like a lower life form.

“What kind?” asked Darcy from the living room.

Loki tilted the bag to better read it. “Dole,” he said. He was pretty sure he heard Darcy sigh in that resigned way she always did around him.

“Sure,” she said.

Not saying anything for fear of actually raising Darcy’s ire, Loki cut open the bag and got down two plates. He dished them both up quickly and brought the wine out. To maintain a semblance of some sort of formal atmosphere, he sat down on the floor on the other side of the table, so they could at least face one another while they ate.

“Next time, I should have a proper table,” he said as he poured the wine.

He watched as Darcy hesitantly poked at her fish a few times with her fork before finally pulling a small piece off and trying it.

“Wow. This is really good,” she said, already going in for a second bite.

“You’re surprised?” he asked.

“Yeah, kinda. You live off junk food, as far as I can tell.”

Loki shrugged easily. He despised sharing his space with anyone, so his choices had always been to order out, or make it for himself. Ordering out was simply easier, if ultimately more expensive.

“About earlier. After the show,” he started, timing his words to sound uncertain.

“No, it’s fine,” said Darcy. “I get it. It’s been a crazy week, and you probably needed some time to think. I shouldn’t have been so clingy. You seem like you’re in a better mood, though.”

“Yeah,” said Loki thoughtfully. “I think I had to stop thinking, actually. I was thinking too much, and had to get out and do something.”

He looked up to see Darcy smiling wryly. “Like finally go to the store?” she asked.

“Something like that.” He picked at his rice, feigning disinterest. “Do you ever feel like you should have done something differently?”

“Like what?” asked Darcy. She seemed oddly quiet to Loki, like she had when she took him out to Boulder City, and he shared his sob story with her. Like for once, she was actually listening, rather than just speaking the first thing to come to her head.

Loki shrugged and continued to pick at his rice. “I don’t know. I mean. You quit school to take this job.”

“I was failing out anyway,” Darcy said derisively.

“But what if you weren’t?” asked Loki, looking back up at her. “Don’t you think you should have at least finished your degree?”

“I don’t know. Why?” she asked. She was looking across at him, confusion plain on her face.

“Had I not offered you the job, would you have quit?” asked Loki plainly. “And would you go back?”

“I don’t know,” Darcy repeated. “No. Maybe if I had nothing else–” She stopped and looked away, shaking her head angrily. “Right. That’s why you shouted at me and then immediately invited me over for dinner. Just say it. I’m fired, aren’t I?”

“No, I. What? No,” Loki said. “Why would you say that?”

Darcy shrugged. “Why are you so interested in my stupid degree all of a sudden?” she asked. “I was probably going to drop out anyway. I was even talking about it to your fucking brother before I even — Oh my god. You fucking bastard.”

“What are you talking about now?” asked Loki, realising he had only a very brief window during which to deflect and distract her. “I was only asking if you regretted not finishing your degree. I take from your over-reaction, your answer is no.”

“Tell me you had nothing to do with any of it,” Darcy said. “What, do you want me to go spy on Jane for you, too? I guess it would be too weird for you to suddenly get close enough to do it yourself. It’s real convenient, isn’t it?”

“You’re being absurd,” Loki said. “I had no idea you knew him when I hired you. If I had–”

Before he could finish, Darcy flung her plate at him as she stormed out past him.

“Fuck you, buddy. Don’t ever call me again. I quit,” she said before slamming his door so hard, it rattled the few dishes he had in the cabinets.

Loki stayed on the floor, stiffly trying to wipe the cheese sauce from his face, and being glad that it had at least had a chance to cool before Darcy had decided he should be wearing it.

Dinner had not gone well. Not even beginning to know how he might salvage that disaster, Loki finished cleaning himself off as best he could and ate in silence on the floor.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #22: Opening Night

Darcy stood backstage, holding her fists clenched at her sides to keep from trembling so badly. The press preview had been exciting, but this was terrifying. Somehow, she wasn’t expecting any of the publicity to actually work. But whoever was on promotions had done a stellar fucking job at it, and had managed to pack the house on opening night. A sold-out crowd was definitely not what she was expecting, and was surprisingly terrifying after performing for about twenty reporters.

She knew not to peek. She’d been told so many times not to peek. The noise from the house was almost terrifyingly loud, and if she didn’t peek, she thought she might explode. Trying to find a line of sight that would let her see the audience from the wings, she stepped back and craned her neck, but the curtains did a pretty good job at keeping everything hidden.

“I told you, no looking,” Loki said suddenly from behind her.

Darcy jumped up and yelped, realising too late that she’d let out the high-pitched squeal that would surely carry to the house. She slapped her hand over her mouth and looked up at Loki, half expecting him to get angry and start doing his quiet shouty thing. Instead, he just laughed and shook his head. “Five minutes,” he said before walking around to his mark at stage right.

Taking a deep breath to steel herself, she thought about Jane and Don in the audience. She hadn’t been able to see them before the show, but Jane had sent her a few texts, mostly about Don trying to dick out at the last second. For some reason, it had struck Darcy as hilarious at the time, but now that superstitious theatre kid inside her thought that maybe it was a bad omen. Maybe Don subconsciously knew something. Maybe he knew something horrible would happen, and didn’t want to be there to see it. She tried not to think about all the thousands of ways the show could bomb, and breathed instead. The show would be fine. She would be fine. Loki would be fine. And afterward, they could go out for drinks with Jane and Don, who would also be fine. Everything was going to be fine.

And then the house lights faded, and suddenly Darcy was almost sick. She carefully stepped between the black curtains that obscured the wings from the house and waited for her queue, wondering how the hell Loki managed to sound exactly like he had during every rehearsal. It didn’t sound like anything bothered him at all, the way he was going. Everything was definitely going to be fine.

She watched him open up with his juggling routine; something simple, but still impressive. Learning that Loki could juggle had probably been the biggest surprise since she took the job, and she still couldn’t quite take him for the type.

The routine itself happened so quickly, Darcy could barely even keep up. He started with three bright green balls, and by the end had ten balls of all different colours, a rubber duck, and a small Rubik’s cube.

“Stopping is the hardest!” he called out, right before he dropped everything, sending rubber balls and ducks bouncing everywhere. Loki just stood there on the stage watching it all, like he expected it to fix itself. One of the stagehands quickly ran out to gather them all up, and disappeared backstage.

“And I’ve made them all disappear,” Loki announced, met with a trickle of laughter from the audience.

He introduced her shortly after, for the chair bit that still didn’t have a name in English. None of the routines actually had names in English, but Darcy had managed to come up names for most of them. The chair bit just seemed doomed to forever be the chair bit.

As Darcy walked onstage, she had just enough time to glance over to where she knew Jane and Don were sitting. Jane was grinning like a lunatic, but Don looked seriously uncomfortable. Darcy had just enough time to wonder if he was too big for the seats before she took her mark and tried to look bored, rather than looking how she felt. Which was that she was about to burst and fly right through the ceiling all at once.

She sat down on the wheeled office chair when Loki told her to, repeating the process in her head again and again. The routine was set up to make it seem like she was going to get tied to the chair by a spectator, and then Loki would work his magic and free her. Two minutes into it, both the spectator and Loki were tied to the chair, and Darcy was standing beside them pretending to have a headache. After Loki only made things worse by getting his shoelace stuck in the mess, Darcy stepped in to pull the spectator away, freeing him just by moving him to the other side of the chair.

“Now you sit down here,” Darcy told Loki, while the spectator still stood by, confused.

Loki sat on the chair, and rather than freeing him, Darcy gave him a good shove and sent the chair rolling into the wings. With him backstage getting ready for his next routine, Darcy stayed onstage and kept the same spectator up with her while she told him the kind of rental car he drove and where he was staying. She didn’t like doing hot readings, because it felt like cheating, but at least telling him something he already knew didn’t make her feel like a complete charlatan. And after that, she did get to do some full-audience cold reading, which was always more fun.

By the time she had to chase the damned duck across the stage to give Loki a chance to make all his switches, all of Darcy’s nervous energy seemed to have faded. By the time they finished the quick change at the end, she was both exhausted and so keyed up she thought she’d never be able to sleep again, even if she did just fall over where she was standing.

She had less than 45 seconds to change out of her gold, magnetic gown and into the green one that couldn’t be torn away by looking at it too hard before she had to be out in the hall to greet the audience. Of course, it was one of the things Loki had drilled her on mercilessly, so she’d had plenty of experience.

Jane and Don both held back, waiting until the majority of the crowd had gone. Several times when Darcy looked for them, she only saw Jane. Wherever Don had wandered off to, she hoped it was nearby because she hadn’t seen him since she dropped out, and she kind of missed him.

But Jane was there, and seemed happy to be there, so it was good enough for Darcy for the time being.

“Oh, my god,” Jane said as she finally walked over to them. “Darcy, that was amazing.”

They hugged quickly before Darcy stepped away, suddenly nervous all over again. “It was terrifying!” she said.

She buried her face in her hands, and then shook herself out to try to make herself not feel quite so tense. “Oh! God. Ex-boss, new boss,” she said, pointing to Jane and Loki respectively.

Jane smiled and shook his hand. “You were also amazing,” she said.

Darcy expected him to say something smug, but he was getting good at surprising her. “Thank you,” he said, all smiles and English accent. “I thought someone else was coming as well?”

“Oh,” Jane said, flinching a bit. “You sound different.”

Loki shrugged. “I don’t even know which one’s the real one anymore,” he said.

Jane laughed and shrugged. “But yeah, I don’t know where he went. He was all looking forward to coming to one of your shows, until I told him we had free tickets. Then he got weird about it.”

Darcy frowned. “Should we find him? Are we gonna go somewhere else, or should we just go out to the bar here? It’s a pretty nice one, for an off-strip casino bar.”

“Yeah, I can find Don and we’ll meet you out there,” Jane said.

Darcy looked up at Loki, and the leer aimed at her that he wasn’t even trying to hide. “Yeah. We’re just gonna go get changed first, I think.”

Without offering much of a goodbye, Loki already started to nudge her back toward the green room, keeping his hand more on her ass than on her back. Rolling her eyes and just going with it, Darcy turned round to make sure Jane wasn’t offended. She was met a double thumbs-up from Jane as she mouthed, “Oh my god.”

Darcy didn’t have any time to respond before she was pulled around the corner. “What was that all about?” she asked.

“I want to get you undressed,” Loki said as he guided her into his dressing room.

“Oh my god. My clothes are in my room,” Darcy said, letting herself be led all the same.

He pushed her up against the counter, making her wonder just how long he’d been hiding his boner.

“Excited much?” Darcy asked, leaning back and letting him rake his teeth over her neck.

“Always,” he said.

She laughed quietly, but didn’t stop him. “We don’t have much time,” she pointed out.

“Then I’ll hurry.”

By the time they were cleaned up and dressed, Jane would have almost certainly found Don. Darcy held onto Loki’s hand as she led the path down to the casino bar, half expecting him to disappear as well. Instead, he followed after her, and even seemed like he was actually prepared to be nice for at least the first ten minutes. Fifteen if they were lucky.

She let him go when she saw Jane and rushed over, eager to get some alcohol in her after the stress of going onstage.

“That was a long time to get dressed,” Jane pointed out.

Darcy shushed her and looked for the bartender. There were three of them, and they were all busy down on the other end, so Darcy sat down and got ready for a long wait.

“Hey, Loki. What do you want?” She looked over at him, finding him standing right where she’d left him. And it wasn’t the bored, pretending to sulk, just gonna hunch over here in the corner way he liked to stand when he was annoyed. It was like he’d had a complete system crash or something, the way he just stood there, staring blankly ahead.

“Loki?” Darcy asked.

She looked over at Jane, and noticed Don beside her, glaring straight at Loki. He always had that kind of look like he could be dangerous if he wanted to be, but the look on his face was actually scary.

“Uh, guys?” she asked.

“What are you doing here?” Loki asked quietly.

Don stood up, suddenly looking twice as big as he ever had. “You know damn well what I’m doing here.”

Darcy looked between the two of them, the realisation of what she was seeing hitting her like a truck. She covered her mouth with both hands and tried not to gape. “Oh my god,” she said.

“Don, what’s going on?” Jane asked, casting a nervous glance over to Loki. “Do you know him?”

“You’re him,” Darcy said breathlessly. “You’re… You’re him. The guy. Sven or whatever.”

“Thor,” Loki said, still standing in the middle of the walkway.

“Don,” Jane corrected. When she received no confirmation, she looked up at him. “Right?”

Don, or Thor, or whatever he was actually called just kept glaring.

“Don’t listen to him. He’s a talented liar,” he said.

Jane looked back and forth between them again, and took a small step away. “How would you know?” she asked.

“You’re the guy,” Darcy said. “The one who wanted to round up all the foreigners and kick them out of the country.” She laughed humorlessly and shook her head. “I knew you were too good to be true.”

“What?” Jane asked. She stood in the middle of everything, looking around at the other three for any sort of clue.

Darcy finally realised that she should be doing something, and walked back over to Loki. Standing close to him, she was pretty sure he was on the verge of crying right there in front of everybody, which she was pretty sure was the last thing he wanted to do.

“Do you want to go somewhere?” she asked him quietly, tugging on his hand to make sure she had his attention. “Home, or my place, or…?”

Loki nodded slowly. “Your place. Yeah,” he said.

Jane gaped up at Don or whatever. “You obviously know him, so why don’t you just tell me what’s going on?” she demanded. “Or you know what? Don, or Thor, or whatever the fuck your name really is. Don’t even bother.”

She snatched up her handbag and started to storm across the casino floor. Not sure what else to do, Darcy turned to Loki and handed him her bag. “Go wait in my car. I’ll be right there,” she said.

Loki nodded, but didn’t move. Trusting he’d either still be standing there, or would eventually find his way to the car, Darcy rushed after Jane, catching up with her outside the casino’s main doors.

“What the fuck just happened in there?” Jane asked. For a second, Darcy was worried that Jane was pissed off at her, but she realised that Jane was probably just pissed.

“It’s… It’s a really fucked up story,” Darcy said. “I’ve only managed to get bits and pieces from him, because as soon as he realises he’s brought it up, he shuts the conversation down again. But he’s got an older brother who fucked off years ago, because he said a bunch of racist shit on TV. And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they’re both here. I think Loki was probably trying to find him, but didn’t expect to meet him in a fucking casino bar.”

“No, but that’s…” Jane pointed toward the casino, but didn’t seem to have an end to that thought. “That can’t be him. That–Can it?”

Darcy shrugged. “I’ve never seen him act like that before.” Suddenly, Darcy realised that it wasn’t completely true. “Well, not like this, but he did actually mention something about someone maybe knowing where his brother was. Just about a week ago. And he got all weird then too.”

Jane covered her mouth with her hands, and Darcy realised just as it started to happen that Jane was starting to cry. Darcy pulled her close, not sure what to even say in this situation.

“How can you be with someone for three years and not even tell them your real name?” she sobbed.

Darcy frowned, kind of wanting to cry as well.

“Yeah, it’s pretty shitty,” she agreed. She waited with Jane until the worst of it passed, constantly worried about Loki as well. She hated the thought of him freaking out by himself, because Darcy couldn’t be in two places at once.

“Are you okay to drive? Or should I call a cab?” she asked once Jane had calmed down.

Jane sniffled wetly and shrugged. “Yeah, I think I’m good,” she said. “I don’t have that far to go anyway.”

Darcy nodded. “Kay? Are you good, though?” she asked. “I mean. Well, you’re obviously not, but you know.” She looked over her shoulder back at the casino and frowned. “I really need to go make sure he didn’t do something stupid.”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Jane as she dried her eyes with her hands.

“Kay. Call me if you need anything. I’ll probably wind up being up all night now.” Darcy waited just a little longer to make sure Jane really was all right, and then rushed back into the casino. She couldn’t find Loki or Don-Thor-Whatever, so she went back to the green room and out the door to the east parking lot. Loki was sitting in the front seat of her car, looking more angry than sad now.

Not quite ready to brave that storm, but not having much of a choice, Darcy walked up to the car and got behind the wheel.

“I’m sorry. I had to make sure she was all right after finding out her boyfriend was a lying asshole,” she said. She watched Loki’s unchanging profile and took his hand in hers. “Sorry, that’s your brother. I didn’t mean–Hey. It’s gonna be okay. I promise.”

Something inside Loki seemed to have finally snapped, and before Darcy knew it, he was grabbing onto her and sobbing quietly into her shoulder. Darcy hadn’t expected it from him, but she wasn’t surprised in the least. She just petted his back and let him wear himself out without trying to feel too awkward. Finally, he started calming down enough to be able to sit up again, and looked away as if nothing had even happened. He moved as far away from Darcy as possible, and Darcy let him have his space. She knew he was a very private person, and breaking down like that in front of her was probably enough to make him angry if she even mentioned it happening.

Instead, she reached for her keys from her bag and started the car, glad that she only lived a few blocks away. Getting upstairs and inside took only a few minutes, and as soon as the front door was open, Loki went straight for the couch and curled up on it, putting his back to the room. He took up the whole thing, and Darcy wasn’t even going to try to fight him on it, so she sat down on the floor close enough to be able to reach him, but far enough away that she wouldn’t crowd him. After about twenty minutes of the silence ever, Darcy turned on TV and kept the volume on low, not sure what else she could possibly do.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #21: Boxer Shorts

Loki sat on the floor while Darcy brushed out his hair, sitting up on the sofa with her knees on either side of him. After maxing out his credit card in the nearest IKEA, he almost had a suitable beginning to his apartment, even if it was still a bit Spartan. He’d managed to get the basics, though. A bed and a few places to sit, and a television to connect to the basic cable provided by the apartment building. Darcy had put it on some channel Loki didn’t care about, with the volume at least kept low.

He didn’t know why Darcy liked to play with his hair, since she had more than enough of her own, but it distracted her well enough. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant from his end, either. Every few minutes, his phone would announce another text message, which he’d take his time responding to. The conversation was far from urgent, and hardly even engaging until Laufey sent him a link to Reddit. She’d only posted it ten minutes before, but by the time Loki clicked the link, it had two comments already. Laufey’s post about her friend finding Thor Odinson’s lookalike in Las Vegas was bound to go viral. Loki doubted anyone outside of Iceland would care, but perhaps with enough steam, word would reach the right people in America.

Loki closed out of the phone’s browser before Darcy had the chance to see what he was doing, and leaned his head against her knees. He could feel her braiding his hair, but she wasn’t even daunted by a deliberate attempt to get her to stop. He’d just have to put up with it and wait until she wasn’t looking to pull it all out before it made an even bigger mess of his hair.

“Would you stop?” he complained instead, not looking forward to whatever mess he’d find his hair in. He tried to slap her hands away and sat up again, quickly starting to untangle his hair.

“Why? What’s wrong?” Darcy asked.

Loki grabbed a handful of his hair and held it up for demonstration. “It’s bad enough as it is. Don’t make it worse,” he said. He quickly combed everything out with his fingers, wondering if he should just have it chemically straightened again. He thought it was a good look, but his hair disagreed with the process.

When Darcy reached for his hair again, he got ready to slap her hands away once more, but she only combed her fingers through it. He let her, only because his phone chimed to announce another text. Loki went to answer it, but Darcy tried to wave his hand away from his phone, probably just to be annoying.

“What is so important?” Darcy asked. “It’s almost midnight. Who are you talking to?”

Loki considered spilling everything at once; just show her a Reddit thread she wouldn’t be able to read. But then he wouldn’t be able to properly enjoy the result. He wanted to be there for it personally. Instead, he sighed heavily.

“It’s a friend from back home,” he said, opening up the text conversations to show her something else she couldn’t hope to read. After he gave Darcy enough time to realise that everything was being said in Icelandic, he looked at the latest text and swallowed his laughter at Laufey’s response.

“There are rumours that someone knows where my brother is,” he continued after a pause, trying to sound as subdued as possible.

Darcy’s fingers stopped in his hair. “What, seriously? The guy you haven’t seen in years? Someone knows where he is?”

Loki shrugged tiredly. “Maybe. I’m trying not to get my hopes up.”

He locked his phone and tossed it aside as Darcy leaned against his back and wrapped her arms loosely around his chest. “Wow, that’s. That’s good though, right?” she asked.

Loki shrugged again and reached up to take her hands in his. “I don’t want to talk about it,” he said.

Darcy nodded against him. “Okay.”

She stayed quiet for a few minutes after, even when Loki’s phone chimed a few more times. From where Loki sat on the floor, it was beginning to get uncomfortable. His back was hunched awkwardly under her weight, and he’d already been stiff and tired by the time he’d sat down. He was just about to push Darcy off of him when she sat back up on her own.

“Something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about, though,” she said, in a tone that suggested a very serious conversation Loki was never going to have.

“What?” he asked dubiously.

He turned round to look at her properly, hoping to maybe scare her off broaching whatever subject she was trying to bring up.

“I kinda promised someone tickets to the show. My ex-boss Jane, and her boyfriend. For being so awesome about me quitting without really giving notice,” Darcy said.

It was not what Loki had expected at all, and for a few seconds, he’d forgotten how to respond. “Yeah, sure,” he said. “You talk about them so much, I feel like I should probably meet them anyway.”

He might even be able to make a public scene of it, Loki realised. Humiliate Thor in front of a crowd. It almost sounded fun.

Darcy laughed nervously. “Good. Thanks. I thought you’d say no or something.”

“You mean you’re not paying for them yourself?” asked Loki innocently.

Darcy gaped at him. “No, you ass. You know that’s not what I meant.” She laughed and swatted at him as she looked off toward the bathroom. “You know what else?” she asked.

“What?” asked Loki again, ready for a shower and bed, and for question time to be over.

“You’ve got that great big bath tub, and it’s just begging to be used.” She bit her lip and raised her eyebrows, making her point perfectly clear.

A bath was not a shower, but a bath with a naked woman in it was even better than a shower. Loki didn’t even have to think about it.

“Okay,” he said, already getting up.

Loki quietly got out of bed, trying not to wake Darcy as he left, but he barely had both feet on the ground when she rolled over and tried to pull him back.

“Where are you going?” she mumbled.

“I have to take care of some things,” Loki told her, pulling away. “If I’m not back by one, meet me at the theatre.”

Darcy scrunched up her face and grumbled. “Rehearsal doesn’t start until six,” she complained.

“I know. But I want you there at one.” Loki pulled away from her and walked over to the closet where he’d hung all his clothes. A dresser was next on his list of useful things to have, but for now anything that couldn’t be hung up still lived in his suitcase on the floor.

He dressed quickly, sparing only a moment to kiss Darcy before he left. Now that he knew where he was going, getting to the other side of the city wasn’t an exercise in extreme navigation. Loki managed to tailgate someone else as they entered the complex, getting in past the gate without incident. Thor’s ridiculous American truck was gone, so Loki took his spot. It didn’t even matter that Thor wasn’t there; Loki wasn’t even necessarily there to see Thor. He just wanted to see the apartment, and was prepared to break in if he had to.

But it didn’t seem like he’d have to. When he knocked on the door, one of Thor’s pointless housemates answered, wearing just his boxers and a t-shirt. Loki was surprised he wasn’t also holding a beer.

“Can I help you?” he asked uncertainly.

“I am looking for Don. Is he in?” Loki asked, putting on his Icelandic accent.

Boxer Shorts didn’t seem convinced. “And you are?” he asked.

Loki smiled innocently. “His brother. This is the address I was given. I was supposed to meet him here. Is this the right place?”

The man guarding the door seemed even less convinced. “Yeah, uh. Time to leave, friend. I was warned about you.” He leaned past Loki and looked out toward the parking lot. “And how’d you get in here? That gate’s supposed to be locked.”

Loki tried to edge in past him to get inside, but was quickly blocked. “No, it’s fine,” he said. “I’m supposed to meet him here,” he said.

“Uh-huh. Time to go.”

Loki considered leaving for a few moments, but thought better of it. Instead, he pulled out his phone, and before he could be stopped, he snapped a picture of the man guarding the door.

“Hey, what the hell?” he demanded.

“What is going on out there?” someone else inside shouted. As Loki put his phone away, one of the other housemates joined them at the door. Unlike the man in his underwear, the new one was actually somewhat intimidating, with the build of a retired rugby player.

He took one look at Loki before his attention was quickly diverted. “Why aren’t you wearing any pants?” he demanded of his housemate.

Boxer Shorts pointed at Loki and then shrugged. “I have a girl over,” he said.

“Who?”

“A…manda?” Boxer Shorts tried. Cringing, he turned and left, probably to make sure he actually knew who he had in his bed.

Loki watched him go, and even tried once more to step inside, but his way was once again blocked.

“You need to leave. Now,” Thor’s almost scary housemate said. It wasn’t a request.

“I was–”

“Just leaving.” The man grabbed Loki by both arms and turned him around before shoving him hard. Loki stumbled to recover his steps, and by the the time he turned around again, the door was already shut.

For a brief minute, he considered trying to break in anyway, but he’d have to do serious casing if he hoped to get in without finding any of Thor’s horrible housemates inside. The horrible housemates who were probably already phoning the police. Loki got into his car and left quickly, not sure what to do with the rest of his morning. Not ready to go back to work or face Darcy quite yet, he pulled into the first parking lot he found and pulled his phone out again. The photo he’d snapped of Thor’s housemate had been a completely suicidal impulse, but looking at it he realised what he could do with it. He scrolled through his contacts, not even sure if the number he had was still good. But even if the text went to the wrong person, it could still have an effect.

Still, he debated on it. He looked down at the screen and chewed his lip, not sure if this plan was likely to backfire and blow up in his face.

Ultimately, he decided that even if it did, he had a buffer zone of thousands of miles to keep him from the worst of it. He knew he’d only look petty and childish, but he didn’t even care. He sent the picture to Sif, not even trying to be subtle about hinting that Thor had probably been hiding more from her than extreme xenophobia. He didn’t expect her to respond, and didn’t bother waiting around to see if she would. Tossing his phone over to the passenger seat, Loki pulled back onto the road and decided to look for breakfast before heading to the theatre.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #20: Section Eight

Darcy hated her door. She hated it because someone was always knocking on it. Not a single day went by when someone didn’t knock on her door to bother her for no good reason. And she hated it especially when someone knocked on it while she was just getting out of the shower. Worried it might be management, and they’d just let themselves in anyway, Darcy grabbed a towel from the rack and quickly wrapped it round herself as she walked the few quick steps to the front door. She pulled the curtain back to see who was outside, surprised to see Loki standing outside again. Darcy hid behind the door as she opened it, waving him inside.

“Come in. Quick, I’m naked,” she said.

Loki wasted no time in stepping inside. He turned to look behind the door to leer at her. “Is this how you greet all your guests?” he asked.

Darcy quickly shut the door. “Only when they come over while I’m in the shower,” she said.

Leaving Loki out in the front room, Darcy rushed back to get dressed.

“What are you doing here?” she asked loudly. He was always showing up at the weirdest times, and for the weirdest reasons. She didn’t expect he was there for a friendly breakfast chat before work.

“I told you. I’m looking for apartments today,” Loki said. He stepped up behind her as she pulled on a pair of panties.

“You did?” she asked. She didn’t remember him saying that at all. Nor could she figure out what that had to do with her question.

“Yes,” said Loki. He handed her a slip of paper, which turned out to be a $600 cheque, post-dated for the first of July. “Get dressed. Properly. No pyjamas.”

Darcy stood there in just her panties, not sure what was going on anymore.

“What’s this for?” she asked.

“A raise. For your new job. Now get dressed.” Loki stayed to stare for a few seconds more before retreating to the sofa on the other side of the wall.

Darcy dressed quickly, assuming she was meant to help him to not alienate his potential landlords. Why it was worth $600, she had no idea. Not that she was complaining.

“So, what’s my new job?” she asked, wishing just once, she could have a conversation with Loki where they were both on even footing.

“Taking care of everything I don’t want to do myself,” Loki said. Suddenly Darcy remembered what he’d said the night before, after the press showing.

“So, I’m your assistant and your manager?” That didn’t sound confusing at all. She found a good shirt to go with her black jeans and stepped out to the front room to finish dressing. “That’s kind of weird.”

“Is it?” asked Loki.

Darcy wasn’t sure if he was being serious or sarcastic. But for an extra six hundred bucks a month, she wasn’t going to turn him down.

“Okay, so where are we going?” she asked. She stepped into the kitchen and stuck the cheque onto the fridge with a magnet, so she’d be able to find it when July came around.

Loki pulled his little notebook from his pocket and handed it to her. He’d written down about a dozen apartment names and addresses, a few of which Darcy was already wanting to scratch off.

“Did you write down any more information on any of these?” she asked.

Loki shook his head. “No. Why?”

Darcy looked at the list. “Because I’m pretty sure half of these are Section Eight.”

Loki looked at her blankly. “What’s that?” he asked.

Darcy got up to get her phone from the bedroom. “Income-restricted. Subsidised, so poor families have decent places to live.”

Loki watched her blankly as she sat down with her phone in hand. “Oh. Is that what this place is?”

Darcy grinned smugly. “Nope, I just got lucky.”

Darcy called the first number on the page and waited for someone to answer.

“Yeah, hi. I’m calling about your income requirements for a single occupant. One bedroom,” she asked, watching Loki while she spoke.

“For a single resident, we require the annual income to be no more than thirteen thousand, six hundred dollars. If you make more than that, we can’t accept your application,” the woman on the other end said.

“Okay, thank you,” Darcy said. She hung up her phone and. “You’re getting how much a night?” she asked Loki.

“Two-seventy five,” he answered.

Darcy gaped at him. She was only getting $150. Which was still a lot more than she’d ever made in a single day’s work, but still.

“No way are you ever getting into Section Eight,” she said. She reached for her laptop and turned it on. After she powered it up and pulled up Craigslist, she passed it over to Loki so he could do some real searching while she called the rest of the numbers on his list.

“Two-seventy five,” she grumbled while she waited for the next person to answer.

Two hours later, they were standing in an empty living room of a ground-floor unit, while an older woman in a black skirt talked about brand new carpeting.

“Okay, you’re making like, six and a half grand a month. Why were you looking at all the cheap ratholes?” Darcy asked as she wandered into the bathroom to check it out.

“Is that a lot?” Loki asked in return.

Most of the time, Darcy got the feeling that Loki played up his dumb foreign guy act for sympathy, but this was one of the rare times she felt like he genuinely had no idea.

“Most people are lucky if they make two,” she told him. “It’s. Yeah, it’s a lot.”

“Oh,” said Loki. He pulled out his phone and started tapping at it. Suddenly, he started making a noise that wasn’t quite coughing, and saying words Darcy couldn’t understand.

“What?” Darcy asked, looking over at him.

“Yes, that’s a lot,” he agreed.

Something about his reaction was almost pleasing, and Darcy couldn’t help but laugh. And then she saw the shower stall with no bath. She frowned at it and turned out the light before going to check out the bedroom next to it.

“Is this going to be for the two of you?” the leasing manager asked, following behind Darcy. Loki stayed out in the living room and scowled at the carpet.

“No, just him. I’m just helping,” Darcy said.

The master bedroom had a huge attached bathroom with two sinks and a properly big bath. Even though she wouldn’t be living with Loki, Darcy knew she’d probably be spending a lot of time with him. A bathtub was a must.

“He just moved here from Iceland. He still doesn’t really know how American money works. He gets ripped off sometimes, which is why he brought me,” Darcy went on. The bedroom was almost as big as her entire apartment, which started to give her second thoughts about keeping hers.

“Can he prove residency?” the leasing manager asked, sounding suddenly unsure.

Darcy looked over at her and nodded. “Oh yeah. He’s totally allowed to be here.”

Before anything else on the matter could be said, Loki shouted something Darcy couldn’t understand from the other bedroom and stomped on the ground. The women both rushed over to see what Loki was freaking out about, and found him trying to at once avoid and step on a big black and yellow scorpion.

“Oh, shit,” Darcy hissed when she saw it.

Loki noticed her and jerked a quick look back at her, apparently too afraid to let the scorpion out of his sight for very long.

“Oh, how did that get in here?” the leasing manager asked. At least she sounded genuinely surprised.

Darcy’s eyes caught up with her shock, finally letting her get a good look at the scorpion. She reached out and tried to pull Loki away, afraid he might hurt himself trying to kill the nasty bug.

“No, it’s a black one. It’s fine. Leave it alone,” she said.

Loki looked at her incredulously. “It’s a creature from hell, and it is not fine,” he said.

Darcy looked for something to scoop it up with, but empty apartments didn’t tend to have anything in them. “Hey, can I borrow that?” Darcy asked the leasing manager. She took her clipboard and crouched down to try to scoop the scorpion up. It took a few tries, but she finally got it by forcing it up against the wall.

“Get the door quick,” she said.

Loki rushed over to the front door and held it open for Darcy to fling the scorpion out to the grass.

“You should have killed it,” Loki said.

Darcy shook off the clipboard and handed it back. “No, it’s a black one. You want those ones around, because they eat the yellow ones,” she explained. “The black ones just hurt if they sting you. The yellow ones can kill you.”

Loki threw his hands into the air. “Why does anyone live here?” he asked. “You have scorpions, and quicksand, and it floods, and apparently it’s not even hot yet and I’ve still had heatstroke twice.”

The leasing manager stood silent, like she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to say, while Darcy laughed wildly at Loki’s outburst. “Oh my god, don’t be such a baby. I found a camel spider in my bath last week, and I’m still here.”

“Oh god,” said the leasing manager.

Loki blanched. “Camel spider?” he asked. He didn’t even wait for an answer before turning to walk out of the apartment.

“Watch out for the scorpion!” Darcy shouted after him, laughing again when he jumped and tried not to run away.

She looked over at the woman next to her, feeling a little bad for making her think she’d gone through the showing for nothing.

“He’ll take it,” Darcy assured her. “He’s just a big drama queen. In about two minutes, he’ll remember he’s living in a hotel with no TV.”

The leasing manager didn’t seem so certain, but Darcy was too busy trying not to start laughing all over again to say anything else.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #19: Review Journal

Loki stood onstage, waiting for the technical director to get his head out of his ass and hit his light cue. The reporters in the audience started to titter amongst themselves, either thinking Loki’s stalling was part of the act, or just enjoying the sight of death.

“Hey! Jackass!” Darcy shouted suddenly from behind him, making Loki jump. He turned just in time to see her throw something up at the booth, hitting the window with incredible aim.

As the Fresnels faded and the spot fell on Loki, Darcy smiled smugly over her shoulder and walked back offstage, to the laughter of the audience. Loki hated her, them, and the moron in the booth as he got on with his routine, already eager to be done with this nightmare of a pre-show. Surprisingly, nothing at all went wrong with the routine, and following it, the only person wearing a hat in the audience was willing to give it to Loki so he could break eggs into it.

By the time they got through Metamorphosis, with only one very small slip, Loki was afraid his heart might just give out before the end of the curtain call. But he survived, and the useless technical director hit his final cue, and before the lights had even faded completely, Loki rushed off stage to get away from everything before the feeding frenzy began. Not even bothering to go back to his dressing room, in case some of the reporters had managed to weasel their way back there somehow, Loki started changing back into his proper clothes right there in the wings.

“What did you throw?” he asked when he noticed Darcy watching him. Or possibly just waiting for him.

“One of your juggling balls,” she said.

Loki tried to gape and shout at her to go find it, but managed to do neither. “Why?” he finally demanded as he pulled on his trousers.

Darcy shrugged. “It was that or an egg. I figured you wouldn’t want to deal with an egg,” she said.

He would have been furious if she’d thrown an egg, but he didn’t tell her that. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction. Darcy laughed at him and tugged at his sleeve as he buttoned his shirt.

“Come on. You still have the interview with What’s On, and I think the Review Journal’s here,” she said.

Loki thought he should probably dress all the way, but let himself be led back to the green room anyway. “I need a manager,” he said, already able to hear the clamour of reporters sent to cover an act they didn’t care about. “I don’t want to do this all anymore.”

At the green room door, Darcy toed off her shoes and stepped into the fray like it was the most natural thing in the world. She flashed a friendly smile at the security guard with the almost-obscene name and then addressed the crowd like it was her job.

“Who’s here for the promo material, and who’s here for an interview?” she asked.

Loki stood by the door with the security guard and watched as a vast majority of the reporters spoke up for the promotional packet. Darcy gathered up the packets from the table against the wall and passed them out, telling each person individually who to call if they had any further questions. When the shambling horde finally retreated, there were only two people left.

“You, I already know,” Darcy said, pointing to Phil. She looked at the smartly-dressed woman next to him and smiled politely. “And you, I don’t. Hi.”

“Natalie Rushman, with the Review Journal,” she said, offering her hand. Darcy shook it and gestured over to Loki.

“Well, here’s the man of the hour. Were either of you wanting exclusivity, or can we sit with both of you together and save everyone some time?” Darcy asked.

Natalie and Phil both glanced over to one another and nodded, exchanging something wordlessly between themselves. “Yeah, I think that would be all right,” Natalie said.

Darcy smiled at them and turned to Loki. As Loki made his way over to the couch, Darcy kept going toward the dressing rooms. Loki caught her by the arm and leaned down close to her. “Stay,” he said quietly. She’d become infuriatingly and intriguingly useful in the most unexpected way, and he wanted her close for this disaster.

“Okay,” Darcy said, letting herself be led back to the couch. “English isn’t his first language,” she explained. “He wants me here for this, but I really need to get out of this dress before I flash everybody, so I’ll be right back.”

Loki glanced back at her as she rushed to the dressing room, not sure if she was playing along or mocking him. While Darcy changed, Natalie and Phil both set up their phones to record and pulled out matching iPads from their bags. Darcy returned quickly, having traded the gold finale gown for the yoga pants and T-shirt she’d worn to the theatre that morning. Her hair was still neatly curled, but she was wearing her glasses again, making Loki feel rather out of place with half his suit on, while she actually looked comfortable.

Darcy settled in, keeping a distance between herself and Loki, and despite being in what basically amounted to pyjamas, behaving the most professionally Loki had ever seen.

Natalie and Phil both started the interview with the same boring questions Loki had heard since the day he’d stepped off the plane. He was sick of answering questions about where he was from and how he liked the weather, and how Las Vegas differed from home. He stayed in character throughout, and just to keep from getting too bored, he started pretending to forget words and making Darcy help him.

And still Darcy just rolled with it, and even played along. Loki wondered where this side of her had been before, and where it had suddenly come from.

And then Phil asked about influences, and Loki’s first experience with magic, and the interview became interesting.

“I was very young. I might have only been five or six, and I was playing inside with the television on,” Loki said, trying to remember exactly what had happened. “We don’t have a lot of channels like you do here, and it was even less then, before everyone had satellites and cable hooked up. And what we do have, half the time it’s stuff that comes from here or England with subtitles. And I was there, not really paying attention to the television, until I looked up and saw Penn and Teller making all these bees just come out of nowhere. Thousands of bees. I have an older brother, and as I was watching these two madmen make bees appear, I remember thinking that I wanted to learn how to do that to my brother’s bed. I never managed to get the bees in there, but I have very clear memories of being in trouble for setting it up so that when he found a cup upside down on his dresser, he found a spider underneath.”

Darcy laughed beside him, also hearing the story for the first time. “Just one?” she asked.

Loki shrugged. “It was all I could find. The scariest thing you find in Iceland is a strange cat that hisses at you. I’ve heard we sometimes get a wandering polar bear, but I’ve never seen it.” He shook his head and shrugged, dismissing it as rumour and tall tales.

He went on to talk about Al Baker, and how several of the routines in the show were reworkings of Baker’s old tricks, and how he took particular pleasure in getting some hipster to take off his grandfather’s hat for the breakfast bit.

After about an hour, Phil and Natalie wrapped up their questions and left. With the green room finally empty, both Loki and Darcy sighed deeply and slumped back into the couch. Darcy stretched out, putting her feet in Loki’s lap, with his hand automatically going to rest on the bare skin of her calve.

“Where did that come from?” he asked.

“What?” asked Darcy.

“That.” Loki waved his hand at her. “With your little act, pretending to be nice. You’re never nice.”

Darcy smiled at him. “Six credits away from that PoliSci degree, and that was the only useful thing I learned in four years,” she said.

“You got a degree in being nice?” asked Loki.

“I almost got a degree for a career in politics,” Darcy corrected him.

“Thor should have got your degree,” Loki grumbled.

Darcy said nothing after that, quietly watching him and looking sorry. Loki hadn’t even meant to say anything aloud, and Darcy’s unexpected reaction only called further attention to what he’d said.

“I don’t want to talk about Thor. I want to talk about what happened on stage,” Loki declared.

Darcy grumbled and leaned looked like she was trying to melt into the sofa. “Oh god, here we go.”

“You’re still sloppy,” he said, not caring whether or not she wanted to hear it. “You told me you could learn this routine. We open next Friday.”

Darcy gaped indignantly at him. “I have learned it!”

“Not well enough,” Loki said.

“Okay, come on. We still have ten days. I got this. I promise,” Darcy said.

“Eight,” Loki said. “Day ten is opening, and I’m still looking for an apartment, which I plan on doing tomorrow.” He ran his hand down the smooth curve of her leg, considering his options while she rattled about him being unfair.

Her contract with Fischer ran out at the end of July, at which point Loki had the option of either taking on her contract himself, or getting rid of her. With her sudden burst of usefulness offstage, the decision had unexpectedly become something that had to be made, when he thought he’d made up his mind about it already.

But he had to admit that she knew how to handle people, and she knew the city, and she was so damn well-liked by anyone she wanted to be, which had to be a superpower. Loki just wondered why she wanted to be such an unbearable pain in the ass where he was involved.

“And now the next thing you’re going to tell me is to go get dressed again so we can run the whole thing twenty more times,” Darcy went on, still angry.

“Okay, wait, stop,” Loki cut in. “I have been up since five. I said we have eight days. And that does not count today, because the only thing I am doing tonight is taking a shower and going to bed.”

Darcy still looked annoyed, but she’d stopped being so loud. Loki kept rubbing her skin, reaching up past her knee and going back down to her ankle in long, slow strokes.

“Kay,” Darcy said, nodding. “Are you coming over tonight?”

Loki considered it, but shook his head. “I need some space. And actual sleep for a change.”

Darcy snorted. “Yeah, all right.” She settled down into the couch a bit more, looking like she was about to fall asleep right there. “Hey, what about the other thing? The guy with the lights. What are we going to do about him?”

Loki sighed and wondered if it was too late to find a replacement. “I don’t know. But you’re finding that ball before you go home.”

Darcy grumbled some more. “Fine,” she said, making no effort to get up.

“I’m going upstairs,” Loki said.

“Kay.” Darcy made no movement to pick her feet up from his lap, and Loki made no movement to try to get up. Just the thought of activity made him realise how tired he was.

He sat back in silence for the next ten minutes, certain Darcy had actually fallen asleep.

“Right now. Getting up,” Loki said. He tried to convince himself that he needed to get up, but it wasn’t working. What did finally work was Darcy shifting, definitely asleep, and planting her heel straight into Loki’s crotch. He quickly pushed her off him and sat forward to put as much pressure on the area. Eventually certain it wasn’t going to kill him, Loki finally got up and turned off the light above the fish tank. He quickly counted them, making sure the ones that had been used for the show had been put back, and turned back to Darcy.

“Lock up when you leave,” he said.

Darcy grumbled at him.

“And find that ball you threw.”

Darcy grumbled again, which Loki took to mean she’d heard him and planned on listening to him, and left for his room. As soon as he was upstairs, he began undressing from his show clothes and found a clean-ish pair of pyjamas from the floor. While he started the shower, he sent off a quick text back home. He expected Laufey to be asleep, but her almost immediate response surprised him. Grinning at her reply, Loki sent off a reply of his own before stepping into the shower. He never had liked that woman, but he knew someone she hated even more than she hated Loki. And that made her useful.

 

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #18: Cigarettes Guy

It wasn’t the constant inner questioning or self-doubt, as bad as they both were, that were making Darcy want to climb the walls. It was the uncertainty about what Loki expected from her now. The uncertainty that suggested Loki might have just been after his own version of a hangover cure, and didn’t actually care. The uncertainty that she wouldn’t have a job at a the end of the week.

She could ask herself why she’d fucked her boss and whether it was the dumbest thing she’d done yet until the cows came home, but it wouldn’t be nearly as bad as not knowing what was going to happen when she went back to work the next day. She could probably live with the shame of being That Woman who sleeps with her boss, but losing the most completely perfect job ever would eat her alive for decades.

Darcy tried to distract herself with television and the internet, but all she could think about was waking up in Loki’s bed. And wondering where the hell one of her socks went. She couldn’t find the damn thing anywhere, and she’d looked for almost fifteen minutes.

She almost jumped out of her skin as she scrolled through CNN’s front page, when someone knocked on the door like they were trying to break it down. Swearing loudly, Darcy fumbled her way to her feet and peeked out the curtain to see who was at her door.

“Oh, balls,” she muttered. She was not even in the mood to deal with any of her annoying neighbours, and now that she’d looked out the window at him, she couldn’t even pretend to be gone.

Wishing she could just hide under the bed, Darcy unlocked the door and opened it for Cigarettes Guy.

“Hi,” she said, not even trying to sound polite.

“Do you have any cigarettes I can buy off you?” he asked.

Darcy shook her head. “Nope. Still don’t smoke,” she said.

“You sure?” Cigarettes guy asked.

Darcy spotted Old Retired Guy walking up the path, and felt a little bad about throwing him under the bus, but didn’t know what else to do. Especially after being asked if she was sure she didn’t smoke.

“I don’t smoke, but I think he does,” she said, pointing.

Cigarettes Guy turned his head to see who she was pointing at and nodded.

“All right. Thanks.”

Darcy shut and locked the door before he even started to leave, and hoped he’d stay gone. She hated every one of her neighbours, except for Uses Her Internet Couple, but she refused to move out and give up her cheap rent with all utilities included just because a few assholes didn’t understand appropriate visiting hours or reasons. There had been a few times when she started to think about moving out to a bigger place, since she could actually afford it, but now she was right back in save-every-penny mode. And she actually had more than the minimum balance in her savings account for the first time since she set it up, which meant she was almost a real adult.

A real adult who made terrible decisions. But at least she could survive the impending unemployment like a real adult.

Satisfied her neighbour wouldn’t be back, Darcy returned to her laptop and her perusal of the day’s headlines. After a while, she gave up and declared everything awful, and started browsing Imgur instead. And when that failed to hold her attention, she shut off her laptop and took a nap.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d been asleep, but she knew she was about to gouge someone’s eyes out for knocking on her door again. She didn’t have any cigarettes, she didn’t want to buy any weed, and she hadn’t seen the most recent episode of anything.

When she pulled back the curtain to see who she had to deal with this time, two things surprised her. It was starting to get dark, and Loki was standing outside her door wearing all black with a gold tie. It was almost worse than the prospect of being talked to about a bunch of Alaskan truck drivers. Still, she opened the door and took a small step back, not sure if she should invite him in, or if she was about to be fired.

“Hi?” she said.

“You seemed upset about something earlier. When I sent you home,” Loki said.

“No. Just kind of confused, really. What are you doing here?” Darcy asked. Loki still hadn’t made a move to come in, and dressed like he was without being onstage, it gave the sort of vibe that he thought he was better than everyone around him. Kind of like how Darcy thought someone might dress when they fired their assistant.

“I wanted to make sure I hadn’t upset you. More than usual,” said Loki. He pointed into her apartment. “And you have a television that works.”

Darcy laughed to herself and opened the door all the way. “Oh my god. I seriously thought I was about to lose my job.” She let Loki inside and shut the door behind him, still eyeing what he was wearing. It wasn’t exactly a casual look. “I’m not, right?”

Loki gave her a confused look, but caught on quickly. “What? Oh, no. This? I had a meeting with some television people.”

“Oh.” Darcy knew that was happening at one point, but she wasn’t involved with it, so she’d kind of let it fall out of her head. She flapped her arms at the sofa, and wandered vaguely toward the small kitchen. “Are you hungry? Should I… Get something?”

Loki seemed so at ease and comfortable as he took off his tie and jacket before sitting down. Like it wasn’t awkward for him at all, the bastard.

“If you’re cooking, no thanks,” he said.

“Oh my god, rude,” Darcy muttered. She grabbed a couple of Cokes from the fridge and took them back to the sofa, offering one to Loki.

Loki started flipping through the channels, wrinkling his nose and grumbling. “Why do you need so many channels if they all play the same thing?” he asked.

Darcy wasn’t sure how close to sit to him, but she didn’t want to sit all the way on the other side of the sofa either. “There’s some good stuff,” she argued, glad for the distraction, even if it was in the form of Loki continuing to hate everything. That at least hadn’t changed.

“There isn’t. This is all the same garbage you send to us,” he said.

Darcy rolled her eyes and took the remote away from him. “Not all of it.” She flipped over to BBC America, expecting to find Ramsay or Doctor Who, or something. Instead, she found Star Trek.

“What, come on. I pay extra to get England’s imported crap, and they’re showing me Star Trek?” she complained.

“I’ve seen this one,” Loki said, not sounding even remotely interested. Darcy couldn’t blame him. She wasn’t interested either.

She gave up and turned on her Xbox and navigated to Netflix. Once everything connected and signed in, she handed the remote back to Loki. Almost immediately, she realised it might have been a mistake. He went straight toward the foreign language movies, which Darcy could understand him wanting to browse through, but she was not in the mood for subtitles.

“I don’t wanna read,” she said, squishing herself against the back of the sofa.

Loki shot one of his unreadable looks at her and backed out of the section he was in to find something else. He finally settled on something seemingly at random, and when the movie started playing, he tossed the remote off to the side and leaned back into the corner of the sofa. Darcy could see him struggling not to say something insulting, so she took pity on him.

“Here,” she said, getting up. She nudged at him so he sat up and ratcheted the arm-rest around so it leaned toward the wall, instead of standing all the way up. While Loki looked at it in confusion, Darcy stepped back into her bedroom and grabbed one of her pillows to make the horrible arm-rest feel less like a concrete slab covered in upholstery fabric.

“Better,” Loki said after shifting around to get comfortable.

“Yeah, it’s a piece of crap,” Darcy said, agreeing with what he’d said that morning.

Before she could sit down, Loki tugged her so she sat between his knees, with her back to his chest. The suddenness of it startled and surprised Darcy, but she also felt a sudden wave of relief wash over her. In that one simple action, he’d managed to answer the questions that had been running through her head all afternoon.

She leaned back against him, unable to get completely comfortable on the tiny sofa. Loki, freakishly tall as he was, wasn’t even all the way on the sofa, and had to sit at a weird angle so one foot was hanging off the other arm-rest, and the other was on the ground. Darcy sat up again and quickly ratcheted the other arm-rest so it lay flat, giving them an extra 14 inches to stretch their legs.

Loki took full advantage and stretched both his legs out so they rested against Darcy’s.

“So that’s why it’s just in the middle of the wall like this,” he observed.

“Yeah, I felt kind of bad when you fell asleep last night, but I didn’t want to get my hand bitten off for trying to move everything around.” She leaned back against Loki, letting herself relax for the first time all day. Loki’s hand moved to her thigh, not quite high enough to be obscene, but not low enough to be innocent either. Darcy decided to ignore it temporarily, and for the first time since the movie started, she looked up at it, just in time to see two grotesquely-animated people having grotesquely-animated sex. For a terrifying second, she thought Loki had found terrible porn on Netflix, until a third grotesquely-animated person barged in on the couple and started shouting.

“What the hell did you put on?” she asked.

Loki took a moment to respond. “I don’t know,” he said.

Darcy watched in horrified confusion, not sure if she wanted to turn it off or look it up on IMDB. It was something about drug dealers and animal rights activists, and some kind of shady Russian circus. It was confusing and kind of revolting, and Darcy vaguely caught something about an elephant before Loki distracted her completely with his tongue in her mouth.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #17: Metamorphosis

Loki woke with more hair than he was used to covering his face. He spat it out of his mouth and brushed it away as quietly as he could before sitting up to lean on his elbows. Darcy slept quietly beside him, mercifully keeping to her own side of the bed and not crowding him. He was inclined to blame that on the summer heat, and the fact that neither of them had the presence of mind to turn on the air conditioner before they fell into bed together.

Loki watched her without really seeing her as he considered the likely outcomes when she woke. Darcy getting angry and quitting was high on the list, but somehow he didn’t think she would. More likely, he thought, she might actually assume some sort of sickeningly domestic relationship had sprung up out of the desert between them, hopefully making it easier to get her to play the double agent without realising it. He hadn’t even realised it might have been possible to get her into bed until waking up hungover in hers, and was almost surprised at how easy it had been.

Or maybe everything he’d heard about Americans had been true.

Darcy’s phone dinging in her bag on the floor made Loki realise suddenly that no matter how poorly she might react to the decision she would surely try to blame on the litres of alcohol they’d consumed, Loki could still force a win in his favour. He slowly extricated himself from the bed and reached for his trousers, finding his own phone in his pocket. As he pulled up the near-empty contact list, he carefully slid Darcy’s phone from her bag. He kept one eye over his shoulder, watching for her to wake up and start shouting while he poked at her phone for her contact list. Once he found it, he scrolled through and copied one of the numbers to his own phone, saving it for later.

With Darcy still asleep and none the wiser, he put both phones back where he’d found them and strongly considered crawling back into bed and sleeping for the rest of the day. But he knew that if he did that, he’d never adjust to the timezone, and he’d just be fucked forever. Instead, he found something clean to wear and took a very long shower in an attempt to wash away the last bits of hangover fog still making his head feel heavy. When he’d almost exhausted the hot water, he dressed and quietly slipped out of the room and made his way down to Darcy’s dressing room. Hers was the bigger of the two, a decision Loki had made entirely because she had more changes than he did, and he had the green room to do with as he pleased anyway. The green room which was slowly coming along, but still needed a lot of work before it was comfortable.

Loki picked up the green dress from the rack, checking quickly to be sure it was the one held together with magnet strips, and took it back upstairs.

Darcy was still asleep, sprawled out across the bed and oblivious to Loki’s absence and her complete exposure to the room. Loki took a few seconds to admire the view and then draped her dress over the chair by the window and leaned down next to her, gently nudging her awake.

“What?” Darcy asked.

“Time to get to work,” Loki told her. As much as he would have loved the extra day off himself, he knew they couldn’t afford it.

“What? No,” said Darcy, trying to turn away.

“Yep. Take a shower if you want. I’ll be downstairs.” He laid a gentle kiss on her forehead and left her alone again, trusting her to eventually get up and come to work.

When she finally did over half an hour later, she was wearing the same thing she was wearing that morning.

“No. Go change,” Loki told her, pointing back toward the dressing rooms.

“I can’t. I’m too tired to work on that one,” she complained, flopping down into one of the front row seats in the house.

Loki stood up on the stage with his hands on his hips. “If this is how you are, I’m going to have to ban drinking before show nights,” he said, completely serious.

“God, seriously? What is wrong with you?” Darcy asked.

“What’s wrong with you?” Loki asked before he could stop himself. He was supposed to be pretending to like her, but she wasn’t making it easy.

“Well, at least nothing’s changed,” she muttered.

“Including you. Go. Now,” Loki said.

Darcy growled loudly and hauled herself out of her chair. As she left, Loki scrolled through the saved numbers on his phone, trying to decide if he wanted questionable Chinese for lunch, or expensive sandwiches. The Chinese was cheaper, but the sandwiches didn’t make him feel like he had flu by the end of the night. It didn’t take long for him to settle on the deli, not wanting to risk a trip to the hospital when he already felt like baked roadkill.

By the time Darcy finally came back out of the dressing room, Loki had fallen asleep in one of the house seats, waking up when he heard Darcy squawking about how something was unfair.

“What?” he asked, sitting up quickly.

“How come you get to go back to sleep, but I don’t?” Darcy asked from the stage.

Loki looked at the time on his phone. “How long were you in there?” he asked. He got up and stepped up onto the stage, walking straight to Darcy.

The dress had been designed to put itself together, and still she somehow managed to get it bunched up weirdly and misaligned. Sick of trying to explain how magnets worked, Loki reached out to adjust them himself, only realising it might not be well-received when Darcy tensed up. But instead of slapping him away, she twisted to give him better access. Loki pulled the seam apart and let it go so it clicked into place and sat perfectly along her side. He did the same to the other side, making the dress look like the tailored work of art it was, and not an ugly green sack.

“Don’t put it together. It puts itself together,” he said.

“How the hell did you do that?” Darcy asked, looking down at herself.

Loki smoothed his hand over the seam to flatten out the fabric and stepped away. “Have you even seen my pain in the ass change?” he asked.

“Like, not on a hanger? No,” Darcy said.

Loki walked back to his dressing room and grabbed the white change suit. Darcy had a long series of changes, from one gown to another, but Loki had many layers all at once. He brought the suit out and handed it to Darcy, standing aside while she got a good look at the three-piece suit, with shirt and tie, that had been designed to be put on in under four seconds.

“Jesus Christ,” she said, trying to get between the waistcoat and the shirt.

“And the black one is just like it, only without the waistcoat,” he said.

Darcy gaped for a few long moments before handing it back. “Okay, but I’m always worried something will get stuck on the wrong part, or something. How do I keep it from doing that?”

Loki sighed. “By being quick. Tear it off. It will survive.”

Darcy seemed less than convinced.

“This is the finale. You need to have it perfect,” Loki told her.

“Okay, Mister Perfect. I’ve never seen you do it. Show me how it’s done,” Darcy said.

Loki was certain it was just petulance talking, but he was growing weary of the whole thing. Without thinking much of it, he kicked off his shoes and undressed down to his underwear right there on the stage.

“Oh my God, are you serious?” Darcy said in a strange, high-pitched voice.

Loki looked at her pointedly as he pulled the suit off the hanger and stepped behind the opaque curtain behind him. Without having to pull off the first costume, he managed to dress even more quickly than he would on stage, pulling the top half on like a jacket, and snapping the trousers on immediately after. He stepped back into view again only seconds later and shrugged.

“Okay, this is actual witchcraft. Screw you and the Pendragons and everyone else,” Darcy complained.

Before Loki could say anything damaging in return, his phone started ringing. He scrambled to find it, checking first the trousers he was wearing, then the ones on the floor, before remembering he’d left it where he was sitting in the house. He managed to snatch it up before it went to voicemail, finding an annoyed delivery boy on the other end of the line.

Loki gave up on rehearsal about an hour after they finished lunch. Neither of them were in the mood for any of it, and would have wound up killing one another if Darcy stayed much longer.

Of course, once he told her she could go, she became oddly reluctant to leave.

“So, like,” she said, standing awkwardly near the outside door. “Are you… Are you staying here, or…?”

It took Loki a moment to realise what she was dancing around. “No,” he said, shaking his head. “I have some things I should take care of, while I can. You’re welcome to stay here until I return, but they haven’t had the cable or WiFi hooked up yet. All you get is snow.”

Darcy looked both relieved and disappointed at once. “Yeah, okay,” she said. “I guess I’ll, uh. See you later, then.”

Loki watched her go, wondering if he’d made the wrong choice. He waited until he heard her car start before setting the alarm on his phone and collapsing onto the sofa.

He woke three hours later with a head full of bees and hate. Bees, because the alarm on his phone always made him feel like he had them, and hate because of the bees. He sat up and turned off the terrible noise, trying to kick start himself into getting up and getting going. It took a few minutes, but he finally managed to haul himself up. For a brief moment, he considered just getting in his car and leaving, but it wouldn’t do. Not as he was, in a wrinkled shirt and his hair a complete rat’s nest. He went back upstairs to clean up, and decided to even put on one of his jackets, despite the heat. As he stood in front of the mirror, trying to tame his hair, he realised that what he really needed was to dress to humiliate. He changed into one of his black shirts and found one of his gold ties, putting it on quickly.

When he was finally satisfied, he dug through his map history on his phone and found the address on Hualapai. Hoping it was late enough in the day, Loki pulled up the directions to the address and walked out to his car. He regretted its paint job as he got settled, but not everything could be perfect. Maybe it would go unnoticed.

The address wound up being only a few blocks north of Flamingo, in an apartment complex behind a stone wall and heavy gate. Loki examined the keypad at the gate, quickly finding that it also served as a directory of sorts, listing each apartment number. Loki selected the one just before Thor’s and waited for something to happen.

“Hello?” a confused voice on the intercom answered.

“Hi, I’m looking for Don Blake,” Loki said, trying to sound as Icelandic and foreign as possible. “Are you his housemate?”

“Oh, no. He’s next door. I can let you in though. Hang on.”

Something beeped through the intercom and the gate slowly started to open. Loki called out his thanks and drove through the gate, wondering how many break-ins had been reported in the area. He found a space near Thor’s apartment and parked, not caring if it belonged to someone else. He couldn’t see anything going on in the apartment from where he was, but it was still the early hours of dusk, before lights started coming on. He did, however, see the white truck he knew to be Thor’s, so he hadn’t made the drive for nothing.

Loki tapped his fingers on his phone for a few moments before deciding on exactly what to do. He pulled up the number he’d stolen from Darcy’s phone and sent off a text with two simple words in English: “come outside.”

It took only seconds for Thor to respond, asking who was texting him. Grinning to himself, Loki dialled the number and was surprised when Thor actually answered.

“I think you should come outside,” he said in Icelandic.

On the other end of the line, he heard something bang loudly over top Thor swearing, just before it went dead. Loki locked his phone and stepped out of the car, leaning casually against the bonnet as Thor stomped down the stairs and into view.

“What are you doing here, Loki?” Thor demanded in Icelandic that sounded even worse than Loki’s. It was almost funny, if it hadn’t been painful to listen to.

“What is this accent?” Loki asked with a sneer.

“You’re one to talk,” said Thor. He crossed his arms over his chest, like he was trying to look threatening. It might have worked on the other gym rats, but Loki wasn’t impressed.

“Isn’t this what you wanted? ‘Round them all up and throw them out’?” Loki asked. “‘Save the resources for the people who belong here’? But really, what is this accent? Is this your idea of Norwegian?”

Thor glowered darkly at him. “Not you,” he said. “I never meant you.”

Loki laughed. He wasn’t sure what he expected to find in Thor after so long, but somehow, he wasn’t living up to the expectation. “But you. You couldn’t get it your way, so you went to be a drain on someone else’s country. Don’t you think that’s just a little ironic?”

Thor took a step closer to Loki, looking almost murderous. For some reason, Loki found it hilarious.

“What are you doing here, Loki?” Thor repeated stiffly.

Loki grinned and held out his hands. “I live here. I have a headlining act not too far off-Strip. I even have a, well. She’d be lovely if she kept her mouth shut, but a capable assistant. She won’t last long, though.”

He tried not to laugh as Thor’s expression darkened further. “You,” he said. “You’re the reason she dropped out. Have you fucked her yet? I hear you fuck all your assistants and then fire them.”

Loki shrugged. He couldn’t exactly argue. He had even technically fired Katrín. “Oh, let me guess. If I hurt her, you’ll punch me through a wall.” Loki rolled his eyes, certain Thor wouldn’t even try.

Thor snorted. “If you hurt her, there won’t be anything left for me to punch by the time she’s done with you.”

Loki leaned back and laughed. Thor actually thought he had some power in this situation. “Your girlfriend. You’ve been with her for two years, now?”

“Three,” said Thor darkly. “We’re waiting until I finish school to get a house together.”

“And how sweet. Does she know what you are?”

Thor didn’t answer. He stood, glaring hatred at Loki. Loki wondered if his face would actually start turning red if he frowned any harder.

“She doesn’t,” he inferred. “You’ve been with this woman for three years, and she doesn’t know the monster she takes to her bed. Doesn’t that frighten you?”

Loki laughed and shook his head. Thor must have been missing something not to realise that he played a dangerous game.

“Does it frighten you, knowing what Dad will do to you when he gets his hands on you?” asked Thor, trying to turn the conversation back to Loki. But all it did was give Loki another nerve to poke at.

“They still celebrate your birthday, you know. Every year,” he said.

Thor’s anger was replaced with something that Loki almost mistook for guilt, but that wasn’t right. Regret, maybe.

“I know,” said Thor.

It wasn’t the response Loki expected, making him mentally stumble over what to say next. “You know? How the–”

He realised the answer to his question before he even asked it, and became angry all over again. Of course Thor knew. Of course he could afford to go to medical school in America, and live in a $1500 a month apartment.

“That son of a bitch. That’s how you did it. That’s how you disappeared and changed your name, and that’s why it took me so long to find you. He set this all up for you.” Loki stood up straight, meeting Thor in the eye and finding him a little shorter than he remembered. “How much money did he throw at you to bury your mistakes, while I rented out someone’s disgusting basement because I couldn’t afford anything with carpeting?”

Thor took a step back and shrugged. “That’s the path you chose, Loki.”

“Yes. And I worked for everything I have now. I deserve it. You don’t deserve anything you have. It was all handed to you. You don’t know what work is.” Loki still hadn’t been sure what he was going to do in the long term, but now he knew. He knew exactly what he was going to do, and he was going to enjoy every minute of it.

He walked back around the car and opened the door.

“Enjoy what you have while you can, brother,” Loki said. “It won’t last.”

He got into the car and backed out of the space, leaving Thor up on the sidewalk looking like he’d just discovered his car had been keyed. It was a good look on him, Loki thought. He couldn’t wait to see it again.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #16: Spring Mountain Ranch

It was a last minute decision. Darcy wasn’t even sure if it was going to work, but she hadn’t had a day off since she took Loki to Boulder City, and she needed one. Loki may have been a robot, but Darcy needed dark days, even if it meant she had to show up at his door and demand one.

She let herself in through the green room and followed the corridor around to the guest elevators. She only vaguely remembered which room Loki was in, finding it only because he’d actually hung a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door handle. Darcy listened through the door for a few seconds, able to hear him moving around on the other side. Taking that to mean he was already awake, she knocked on the door and put on her happy face. It was not a face matched by Loki when he answered.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

Darcy kept grinning. “It’s been two weeks since we had a day off. We’re taking one,” she declared.

Loki glared at her. “Like hell we are. Your quick changes are still sloppy.”

“Because I’m tired from working twelve hours a day without any rest at all,” Darcy argued. She pointed into Loki’s room and waved around vaguely. “Get your shoes. I have a surprise for you.”

Loki stared at her, unbudging.

“Come on. You’ll like it. Unless you actually have no soul.” She waved back into the room, trying to make Loki move faster. Or at all.

She eventually won the staring contest, with Loki forfeiting by grabbing his shoes from beside the bed. He put them on like it was the most difficult task in the world, and finally followed her out to the hall.

“You might want a camera,” Darcy said.

Loki didn’t seem like he believed her.

“I have my phone,” he said.

Darcy laughed, having a suspicion that she’d have to show him how to use it, and started walking back down to the elevator.

“How long will this take?” Loki asked as he followed after her.

Darcy called the elevator, which hadn’t gone anywhere since she’d got off it. “Until I see you smile,” she said.

Loki followed her inside with the blankest blank expression on his face that Darcy had ever seen.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“The happiest place in the whole valley,” Darcy said. She wasn’t going to tell him any more than that, because she was pretty sure he’d refuse to go if he knew any more than that.

Still, Loki followed her back down to the green room, pausing only to feed the fish before going outside with Darcy. She unlocked the car for him and laughed to herself when he was stalled from getting in by the bag of carrots on his seat.

“What’s this?” he asked, holding the cheap plastic bag up dubiously.

Darcy grinned at him. “Munchies,” she answered.

Loki gave her an uncertain look as he slid into the seat, which was probably permanently broken from how far back he kept trying to slide it. Darcy waited for him to buckle up and get settled before handing him her phone, ignoring him once again trying to push the seat back farther than it could possibly go.

“Here. You can even pick the music,” she said. She had a fresh install of Spotify opened on her phone, with paid time bought just to give Loki one less thing to complain about.

He found the cord sticking out from the stereo and plugged it into the phone, apparently knowing a little more about personal electronics than he let on. While he poked around for something to listen to, Darcy started up the car and pulled back out onto Flamingo. By the he found something that sounded like the Swedish Chef had taken up a new career, they were under the airport, and killing the 3G signal. Loki frowned down at the phone and tapped the screen again.

“I’m putting this in offline mode,” he said.

Darcy glanced over, wondering what the hell he was doing to her phone. “How does that work with internet radio?” she asked.

“It doesn’t. I found one of my playlists on the public lists.” He put the phone down in the cup holder and turned up the volume as they came out of the tunnel and merged onto the beltway.

Darcy scoffed and shook her head. “I am so sick of men pretending to be stupid. You know what you’re doing. You just want everyone to do everything for you.”

“That’s not true,” argued Loki. “I just hate touch screens.”

He tensed up again as they got off the beltway and onto the Fifteen. Darcy laughed, staying in the far right lane and not even having to fight traffic to get off at the very next exit. Once they were off the freeway, Loki relaxed again and looked out the window at the passing city. Pretty soon, the Swedish Chef was replaced by screaming and heavy drums, and what sounded like some kind of flute. For a second, Darcy thought it was a mistake until she looked over at Loki, with his long black hair and plain black T-shirt.

“Oh my god,” she said laughing loudly. “You’re a closet metalhead.”

Loki looked over at her with a dissatisfied frown. “There’s nothing closeted about me,” he said.

Darcy laughed at the mental image of him all covered in black leather and metal spikes, until her mind caught up with what he’d said. “Wait? Really?” she asked.

He arched an eyebrow at her and shrugged.

“Oh,” said Darcy quietly.

Shops became neighbourhoods broken up by big patches of sand, and then big patches of sand broken up by neighbourhoods.

“Where are we going?” Loki asked as they left civilisation behind and travelled further into the desert. He looked out at the mountains and sagebrush, moving around in his seat like he wasn’t sure where to look.

“Just a little bit farther,” Darcy said. “We’re gonna do the whole tourist thing today. Because you have to. It’s the law.”

“It is not,” Loki said, still looking out at the desert. He rolled down his window and pulled his hair away from his face as he leaned into the wind.

“Is so. You have to, or the Vegas Police will arrest you,” Darcy told him.

“No they won’t,” Loki argued. He glanced back over at her suspiciously. “Are there vultures out here?” he asked. He looked up at the sky, almost nervously.

“Oh yeah. But you’d probably get killed by a scorpion before the vultures come after you. So don’t get lost,” Darcy said.

Loki lifted his feet and checked the footwell, as if he’d find one down there with him. Darcy laughed as she spotted a turnoff up ahead and slowed down.

“Oh, is this us? I think it is,” she said. She drove under the big, wooden sign that bridged the road and slowed down to barely a crawl.

“It’s a ranch,” Loki said, turning around in his seat to see the sign. “Why are we at a ranch?”

“You’ll see,” said Darcy.

As they drove closer to the painted mountains behind the ranch, Loki’s attention again became transfixed on the landscape, but Darcy’s attention was on the sides of the road.

“Come on. This is where I was told to go,” Darcy muttered as she looked around for any signs of life. She pulled off the main road and into a big, gravel parking lot where a small cluster of cars had gathered under a row of trees.

“Aha!” she shouted as she found a place in the shade.

Loki was too busy watching her and being confused to notice what was going on outside his window.

“What is this? Redneck Lover’s Lane? What did you bring me to?” he asked.

Darcy pointed over his shoulder as a large, brown burro shoved its head in through Loki’s window. Loki shouted and tried to jump away from the sudden intrusion, but his seatbelt kept him firmly in place.

“Horse–thing,” he shouted, trying to back away from it.

Darcy started cackling at the sight of his lanky ass failing to get away. “It’s a burro.”

Loki didn’t seem to care.

“Grab the munchies. He’s hungry,” Darcy told him.

Loki didn’t grab the carrots, so Darcy did. She pulled one out from the bag and wiggled it in front of the burro’s nose to get its attention. The burro reached out and grabbed it with its lips, dropping slobbery pieces of carrot into Loki’s lap.

Loki groaned loudly and grimaced.

“Oh, it’s just donkey spit. You’ll be fine,” Darcy said. “Here. Give me your hand.”

She grabbed Loki’s hand and held it out flat, dropping pieces of carrot into it. “Hold your hand up. He’ll eat right off it,” she said. She tried to nudge Loki’s hand toward the window, but he resisted.

“No,” he said.

“Wow, you actually have no soul,” Darcy said.

Loki grumbled and held his hand up for the burro, cringing away as it ate the carrot pieces off of his hand. “Disgusting.”

Darcy stopped paying attention to his unwillingness to have fun and opened her door. “A baby! Look at him!” she cooed. She grabbed another carrot from the bag and took it over to the fuzzy little baby burro that wandered nearby.

“Should we be touching them? They’re wild animals,” Loki called from the car.

“They’re on a ranch. How wild can they be?” asked Darcy. She held out the carrot so the baby could nibble on it, and scratched it between the ears. She didn’t even care if Loki was going to be a grump about it; there was a baby burro, and she was determined to pet it. She reached for her phone, forgetting that it was hooked up to her stereo and not in her pocket.

“Bring me my phone,” she said. “Please?”

She was surprised when the music from the car quit, and Loki brought her phone out to her. Still petting the baby, she traded off the carrot for her phone. She crouched down in front of the burro, trying to get a good shot of its face while it curiously explored her.

“You’re going to get bit,” Loki said. “Or kicked. Or stepped on.”

“And it’ll be worth it,” Darcy said.

She snapped off a few pictures and stood back up before any biting or kicking or stepping happened. Loki stood nearby, watching the burros with a wary eye. Eventually, he apparently decided that the baby didn’t pose a serious threat, and tried to feed it the rest of the carrot. He leaned away as the baby started munching away, but didn’t actually run away or start shouting again.

“You gotta pet him,” Darcy said.

Loki leaned over, craning his neck weirdly. “It’s a she,” he said, standing back up again.

“Really?” asked Darcy.

Loki checked again. “Yep.”

“Okay. Well, you still have to pet her,” Darcy said, rubbing the burro’s neck.

Loki rolled his eyes and reached out to touch the burro’s neck as well. “It’s softer than I thought it would be,” he said, running his hand along the baby’s grey hair.

“She still has some of her baby fluff. You should see the really little ones. Fuzzballs with legs,” Darcy said.

They stuck around long enough to feed the rest of the carrots to the animals. As they got back into the car, Darcy plugged her phone back in and checked the time. “Oh, we’ve still got lots of time,” she said. She handed the phone over to Loki so he could put his music back on, and started the car.

“Time for what?” asked Loki.

Darcy pulled back out onto the road, still driving slowly so she didn’t hit a burro and smash up her car. “I grabbed tickets to the one o’clock Mac King show. I mean, it’s probably a good idea to scope out the competition, right?”

Loki shrugged and nodded. After a few moments of silence between them, he looked over at her. “What do you want?” He asked.

Darcy wasn’t sure if she should be offended or not. “What do you mean? I don’t want anything.”

“You’re being nice to me,” Loki stated flatly. “You’re never this nice to me. And since when do you pay for anything?” He was watching her suspiciously, making Darcy wonder if making him take a day off had been the wrong thing to do.

“I already got what I wanted. A day off before we hit serious cram time,” Darcy said. “I wanted to go out, see a show, and maybe get a little wasted. I thought you might want to come with.”

Loki sat back in his seat, apparently accepting her answer, but it was hard to tell. They rode in silence again as they came up to Red Rock Canyon, the basin spreading out alongside the road like a shallow, prickly bowl.

“What’s this?” Loki asked, watching a car turn off to the scenic loop.

“Red Rock,” Darcy answered. “Valley of Fire’s better, but if you want to blow off the show, we can go check this out instead.”

Loki looked out at the mountains and shook his head. “You’ve already paid for it,” he said.

Darcy took the long way back to her apartment, going back on the surface streets, and taking Loki through downtown and Old Vegas. After leaving her car at her building, she led Loki back up to Flamingo to catch the bus to the Strip.

After the show, Darcy led Loki up and down the Strip, insisting on going into every casino along the way. She took him through every mall and stopped at every bar they came across, getting a new drink for Loki to try. Even though he refused to get a margarita in a green, plastic guitar, she did somehow manage to talk him into getting onto the roller coaster at New York. Which, in hindsight, Darcy realised had been a poor choice, and they were probably both lucky neither of them threw up at the corkscrew.

By the time they stumbled out of Bally’s, having got completely lost in that maze, the sun had gone down and the Strip was lit up like a tacky neon Christmas tree.

“I should probably get you home,” Darcy said, looking out at the massive crowd. “Let’s find the bus stop.”

Loki didn’t say anything, and just let himself be led out to the road while Darcy looked for the sort of crowd that signalled a bus top on the Strip. She found one just as the bus pulled up, letting out roughly half the population of China before letting the same amount of people back on. Darcy showed Loki how to use the ticket he’d been given when they got on, and managed to find two empty seats upstairs, toward the back.

“I’m onto you,” Loki muttered.

Darcy looked over, not sure if he was talking to her. He looked kind of droopy, in that early hangover kind of way that suggested they probably should have stopped drinking about three hours earlier.

“What?” she asked.

“You wanted two days off, so you put me in the sun all day and fed me nothing but alcohol and bad nachos,” Loki grumbled.

Darcy laughed. “Those nachos were awesome,” she said. “And please don’t puke on the bus. They’ll kick us off.”

She hadn’t even considered the hangovers, though. Then again, she never did. It was always the fatal flaw in her plans of getting wasted.

“I hate you,” Loki grumbled.

Darcy laughed again as the bus started moving with a sharp lurch and a strange squeal. Loki leaned against the window, looking like he was about to start drooling on everything. Which, at almost ten at night on the Flamingo bus, there were probably four other people doing exactly that somewhere in the crowded mess.

Darcy watched the screen that called out the stops, waiting for Claymont to come up. It wasn’t until the bus pulled away from Paradise that Darcy realised she’d completely forgotten where they were going.

“Shit, that was your stop,” she said, craning around Loki to look out the window.

Loki sat up and tried to look back, frowning. “Why didn’t you tell me to get off?” he asked.

“I’m used to getting off later,” Darcy argued.

Loki covered his face with one hand and started laughing.

“Oh my god no, shut up,” Darcy said.

Loki leaned into the window again and kept laughing, even as Darcy tried to shove him into stopping.

“It wasn’t that funny. And you started it,” she said.

“Yes it was,” said Loki.

It only just occurred to Darcy that Loki was actually laughing. He hadn’t even really laughed at the Mac King show, but apparently crude sex jokes were what got him going. Of course they were.

He quieted down just in time for Darcy to reach forward and press the button to call their stop. Darcy had to almost drag him out of his seat to get him going, and made him go down the stairs first so he didn’t fall and crush her.

As they got off the bus, Darcy tried to decide the best thing to do. For a brief moment, she considered pointing him in the direction of the hotel and hoping he made it there alive, because she didn’t want to walk with him all the way there and back track. As she thought, the westbound bus sped through the intersection, making the idea of waiting for the next one more than a little unappealing. Not sure what else to do, Darcy reached out and slapped the crosswalk signal so she could call him a cab from her place.

She led him across the street and down Cambridge, not expecting him to stop on the bridge. He stepped up onto the lower rung of the rail and leaned over to look at the muck below.

“What are these things?” he asked.

Darcy stopped, not sure if trying to pull him back would just make him fall. “Storm drains,” she said. “It floods really bad in the winter sometimes. It was so bad a few years ago, the wall on the other side of the road burst and took out a water main.”

Loki stepped back off the rail. “It’s a desert. How does it flood?” he asked.

“It floods because it’s a desert. The ground’s nothing but hard clay. There’s nowhere for the water to go,” Darcy explained.

She tugged on the hem of Loki’s shirt to get him moving again. “I thought the whole point of a desert is that it doesn’t rain,” Loki said.

“No, it rains. And when it does, it fucks everything up. The snow fucks everything up, the wind fucks everything up. Weather fucks everything up,” Darcy lamented. A thought occurred to her, and she slapped the back of her hand against Loki’s side to make sure she had his attention. “Which, hey, by the way. You really need to stop wandering off like you do. Especially when it rains.”

Loki shrugged. “I’d be less likely to die from heatstroke when it’s raining, wouldn’t I?” he asked.

“Yeah, and way more likely to drown in quicksand. So don’t do it,” Darcy told him.

“You are making stuff up now,” Loki insisted.

“Am not.” Darcy argued. She cut across the parking lot to her building, making sure Loki followed and didn’t fall down the stairs or anything. Once in her apartment, she shooed Loki out of the way so she could lock the door and turn on the air conditioner.

Despite the small space of the studio, Loki still managed to wander off.

“Get out of my bedroom,” Darcy called out at the sound of the curtain being pulled back.

“You’ve put your bed in the cupboard,” Loki said. He put the curtain back and went into the bathroom instead.

Darcy really hoped he knew how to aim, because she was not looking forward to cleaning up his piss if he didn’t. She tried to ignore the thought and grabbed a pot from the cupboard and filled it with water and put it on the stove. Assuming Loki was probably just as starving as she was, Darcy dumped the entire box of spaghetti noodles into the water and pulled a jar of sauce from the shelf.

“Hey, do you like mushrooms?” she called out.

“No!” Loki shouted back.

Darcy frowned at the sauce in her hand and checked the cupboard for anything else, but all she had was two other jars of tomato sauce with mushrooms.

“You’ll have to pick them out. Sorry,” she said.

Somewhere else in the apartment, Loki grumbled. While the noodles heated up and started to boil, Darcy pulled two of her biggest glasses down from the cupboard and filled them from the water pitcher in the fridge. Loki had wandered back into the main room, and was once again touching stuff Darcy didn’t want touched, so she distracted him by handing him the glass of water.

“Drink that,” she said. She went back to the kitchen and pulled the jar of hangover aspirin from the drawer, and shook out a few tablets. She gave two of them to Loki, and took the other two herself.

“What’s this for?” Loki said, eyeing the tablets dubiously.

“Preemptive hangover strike,” Darcy said. She finished off her water and went back to poke at dinner while Loki tried to decide if he trusted the aspirin, or whatever. The way he was stalling, that’s what it seemed like he was doing.

Darcy poked at the noodles with a fork, stirring them up whenever it seemed like they were going to start boiling over. When they seemed done enough, she drained the pot and poured the jar of sauce in and stirred it all together before piling heaps of messy pasta into bowls.

“Enjoy,” she chirped as she handed Loki his.

He looked down at it and frowned again. If Darcy hadn’t been so hungry, she might have taken offense, but Loki hated everything. Even baby burros. Ignoring him, Darcy sat down on the sofa and turned on the TV to see if there was anything worth watching on. She eventually stopped on Adult Swim and grinned at the Venture Brothers repeat.

“Oh, I love this one,” she said.

Loki eyed the other end of the small sofa before sitting down. “What is it?” he asked. He poked at his pasta with his fork, like he was expecting something to crawl out of it.

“Hank has to get a job, so he opens a store and sells all his dad’s stuff,” Darcy told him halfway through a too-big bite.

“No, what is the show?” asked Loki. He finally dared to take a bite, which didn’t poison him or bite back.

“Oh. It’s kind of making fun of all those old sixties and seventies cartoons, but with love. Johnny Quest and Scooby Doo and all those. It’s pretty good.” She slurped up more noodles and watched her show over the rim of her bowl, while Loki still treated everything with caution.

“I don’t like mushrooms,” he said.

“Sorry. It’s all I had. Just pick them out,” Darcy said.

It had been a mistake, because almost immediately, Loki started picking the tiny little mushroom pieces from his bowl and dropping them into Darcy’s.

“Have you called a cab yet?” Darcy asked.

Loki piled a few more mushrooms into her bowl and shook his head. “They don’t answer my calls. Henderson or Desert. Or Ace.”

Darcy laughed, somehow not surprised to hear that. “Is there anyone you haven’t pissed off already?”

“I still have a job,” Loki reasoned. He piled one more heap of mushrooms into Darcy’s bowl and finally started eating.

Darcy looked down at all the mushrooms Loki dumped onto her pasta and sighed. Mixing it all in, Darcy turned her attention back to her show. They ate mostly in silence as they both slowly started to fall asleep right there as they ate. Darcy finished her dinner as quickly as she could and got up to put everything away before she fell asleep awkwardly. She was going to call a cab for Loki when she was done, but by the time she finished in the kitchen, he had fallen asleep awkwardly on the couch. Darcy tried to wake him, but he just grumbled and swatted at her. Deciding he could stay there since he wasn’t hurting anything, Darcy managed to push him over onto his side and turned off the TV and all the lights, and put the air conditioner on the lowest setting.

Looking over at Loki on the sofa, Darcy tried to figure out what to do next. She tended to sleep in just her underwear, if she wore anything at all to bed, but she still wasn’t sure how much she trusted Loki. And now, she was letting him sleep on her couch.

She turned on the light above her bed and searched around in her crates for the flannel pyjamas she knew she had somewhere. She eventually found them, suddenly remembering just how pink they were, and grabbed a T-shirt from one of the hangers. She quickly changed in the bathroom, coming back out to find Loki still asleep where she’d left him. Assuming that meant he was actually asleep, Darcy turned out the light and crawled into bed.

When she woke the next morning, she was surprised to find she wasn’t alone. Loki was pressed up against the wall with his back toward her, and they were both still clothed, but she had definitely not invited him to her bed.

“What are you doing here?” she demanded, poking him in the side.

Loki mumbled something she couldn’t understand.

“What?”

Loki repeated himself, following it this time with, “your couch sucks.”

Darcy wanted to be annoyed, but she knew he was right. The sofa was fucking terrible, both as a sofa and as a bed. It had looked amazing on Target’s website, but it was the last time Darcy ever bought furniture online. There wasn’t a single spot on it that didn’t have a hard bar just under the cushions.

Darcy started shaking Loki by the shoulder to wake him up. The clock next to the bed claimed the time was just after ten in the morning, but it was clearly lying. Darcy was way too tired for 10am.

“Come on, Drill Sergeant McNasty. Time to go,” she said.

Loki grumbled at her some more, but eventually sat up. Darcy could actually see his headache, and sort of felt a little bad for him. He probably had the same headache she had.

“Are you hungry?” Darcy asked.

Loki flopped back down onto the bed. “No, I’m dying. Leave me alone.”

Darcy left him to his death and got up. She found some clean clothes and jumped into a quick shower before dressing and brushing her teeth. Feeling clean and getting the still-kind-of-drunk taste out of her mouth, Darcy went back to try to get Loki out of bed.

“There’s good hangover breakfast across the street,” Darcy said, yanking on Loki’s ankle. “Then we can go to the theatre and you can yell at me for not being fast enough during the changes some more. You like that.”

Loki finally sat up again and glared at his knees. “You’re going to kill me,” he said as he shuffled down toward the foot of the bed so he could stand.

His hair was a big, almost-curly mess that threatened to swallow anything that came near it, but Loki didn’t seem to notice.

“Here.” Darcy reached into the bathroom and grabbed her brush. She handed it to Loki, watching him as he tried to figure out why she gave it to him. He finally seemed to get it and quickly brushed out his hair, either not noticing or not caring about all the snapping and pulling that was happening. When he was done, he tossed the brush onto the bed and shrugged.

“Now where are you taking me?” he asked.

Darcy grabbed up her keys and her bag. “Breakfast, because I want breakfast. And then the hotel,” she said as she made sure she had everything. Not noticing anything missing, she opened the door and waited for Loki to go outside.

IHOP was not, strictly speaking, across the street. It was across the street and up on the next corner. And then across that street, but Loki didn’t comment on this as they drove the short distance to the diner.

Darcy ordered Loki the same thing she always got, and was a little surprised when he started right in, using the bacon to mash his eggs up in the hash browns. Maybe it was just her cooking he didn’t trust.

Loki seemed to drift in and out as they ate, and at first, Darcy thought he was falling asleep again. But when he refilled his coffee for the third time, and started to look generally more awake, Darcy began to wonder if something was distracting him.

“Something up?” she asked, catching him looking out the window at the traffic.

Loki snapped his attention back to Darcy. “What? No. It’s fine.”

“What’s fine?” asked Darcy. She broke off a piece of her perfectly-burnt toast and smashed it into the egg on her plate.

“It,” said Loki.

Darcy didn’t know what that meant, and it was too early for riddles, so she ignored it.

When they were done, Loki surprised her again by paying. He even seemed almost sober enough to go through rehearsal. Darcy couldn’t decide if that was a good thing or not. At the casino, parked in her usual spot by the green room door and looked over at Loki so she could take her cue off him. He sat next to her in silence, looking off into the distance.

“So… Are we working today, or are you taking a hangover day?” she asked.

Loki looked over at her, looking like he was still trying to decide. When he finally unfastened his seatbelt, Darcy assumed that Loki’s lack of response meant that he was taking a hangover day, but he surprised her instead by leaning over the centre console and kissing her. It happened so suddenly that Darcy didn’t even know how to react. Even after Loki leaned away again, still looking a little confused, Darcy still didn’t know what to do.

“Uh. What?” she asked.

“I’ve wanted to do that since last night,” Loki said.

Darcy wondered why he hadn’t done it last night, then. Especially since they were both drunk and statistically more likely to do something regrettable.

“Okay,” Darcy said. What else could she say?

Before she could come up with anything else, Loki leaned over and kissed her again. A million things ran through Darcy’s head at once. Loki was her boss, and a massive prick almost all of the time. But Darcy also hadn’t had any kind of sex with another human being since fall term, and maybe she was still a little drunk, because after the initial shock wore off, she leaned as far over as her seatbelt would let her and kissed him back. Between her seatbelt and the centre console being in the way, it was an awkward, messy kiss, and it ended quickly.

Darcy took advantage of the break and unbuckled her seatbelt. “Wait a minute,” she said, suddenly remembering what Loki had told her the day before. “I thought you said you were gay.”

Loki reacted like he’d been slapped. “I never said that,” he said.

“Yeah you did. When we were at Bonnie Springs,” Darcy said. She remembered it clearly.

Loki got that smug, irritated look he wore when he thought someone was being an idiot. “I said I’m not in the closet about anything. Any logical fallacy after that is your own doing.”

Darcy thought back, trying to remember exactly what was said, but she couldn’t actually remember the conversation as clearly as she thought.

“Oh,” she said.

She figured whatever mood had stuck them was probably long gone, so she got out of the car and tried not to feel super awkward about what had just happened. A big part of her wanted to call off and go hide for the rest of the day, but Loki hadn’t actually given her the day off yet.

Loki lingered behind while Darcy unlocked the green room door and let herself in. While she waited for Loki to decide what he wanted to do, she turned on the lights and fed the fish. After that, she had no idea what to do, so she sat down on the sofa just as Loki came in. He sat down on the other side, looking thoughtful again. Darcy wanted to tell him that he might hurt himself from all that thinking, but she kept her mouth shut for once. The male ego was already so fragile, and downright dangerous when damaged. Darcy wasn’t exactly afraid of Loki, but he had the potential to be very frightening.

Darcy expected some sort of stupid guilt trip, or an ultimatum involving the security of her job, but she got neither. Without much warning at all, Loki reached out for her and pulled her close, managing to shift so that she wound up on top of him, while he halfway laid down on the sofa.

“Er. Hi?” Darcy said.

Loki rested one arm over the top of the sofa and leaned back more comfortably. With his other hand, he reached out and moved Darcy’s hair away from her face, before reaching for her glasses.

“I hate these things,” he said as he slid them off her face.

Darcy shifted to free her hands and reached out to stop him. “I like them.”

“They get in the way,” Loki said.

“Of what?” asked Darcy.

Loki answered without words. He started kissing her again, but not on the mouth. He trailed hard, lingering kisses along her jaw and neck, sharp beard stubble scratching against her skin. Darcy shifted on top of him, not sure if she wanted to get away or let him keep going. As she lifted her weight, Loki moved beneath her, putting himself in a better position to be straddled. Darcy slid her knees apart just enough to get comfortable, the new position making Loki’s growing hard-on evident.

Suddenly, having someone beneath her in a completely sexual way was exactly what she wanted. After almost a year of exclusive vibrator action, Darcy forgot all about her reservations in favour of an actual man beneath her. She stopped reacting and started responding to Loki’s efforts, leaning her head back to expose her neck while she moved against him. For a moment, everything was perfect, until Loki stopped suddenly and tensed up.

“Not here,” he said, looking toward the door that opened to the hall. It was locked, but enough people had the key that the lock was basically useless.

Darcy looked down at him, taking a few moments to realise his intent. There was a question in his eyes, and Darcy answered by getting up and grabbing her bag so she could follow Loki up to his room.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #15: What’s On

Loki had slept all he could possibly sleep, and was wide awake by 3am. He’d been getting pretty good at adjusting to the new time zone, but now he knew he was right back to where he’d started, backwards from everybody else.

He opened up the heavy curtain to the balcony and took a step back from the solid sheet of rain that fell from the sky. A streak of lightning lit up the sky with a clap of thunder so loud, the entire building rattled. Loki jumped back away from the window in case anything broke or exploded, but everything held firm. Keeping his distance all the same, he watched while lightning lit up the city like a strobe light, one bolt after the next. Then, almost like someone had turned off a tap, the rain all but stopped, and the sky calmed and darkened. Curious, and maybe a little bit stupid, Loki slid open the door to the balcony and stepped outside. Everything smelled of wet dirt and leaves, in complete incongruity to everything he thought he knew about Las Vegas. Somewhere nearby, a flock of ducks were quacking and squabbling in the aftermath of the storm, because apparently there were ducks out in the desert that weren’t already on a stage or in a Chinese restaurant somewhere.

Loki watched the city from his balcony for a long while, as rain water dripped off the trees and into the pool. His room faced the Strip, and from where he stood, he could see the low clouds blazing in neon colours as they crawled across the tops of the towering casinos several miles away. Every colour of the Boulevard reflected off the clouds, making everything seem even brighter than usual. On the road somewhere to his right, Loki could hear a truck rumbling down the otherwise quiet road, kicking up spray under its tyres. Apparently even Las Vegas slept at three in the morning, because everything else was quiet. Even the criminals had all apparently gone inside, because there weren’t even any distant sirens.

But it gave Loki an idea. He stepped back inside and closed the balcony door, just in case it rained again, and quickly changed into a clean shirt. Making sure he had everything, he left the room and went back out to the peeling BMW he’d bought the day before. It cost more than he wanted to spend, but he needed it. He couldn’t walk everywhere, and the buses were confusing and apparently took some card he didn’t know how to get and didn’t care enough about to research.

In the driver’s seat, Loki pulled out his phone and tried to find the GPS Darcy had insulted him over. He hated his phone, and everything it did. He hated that every aspect of life revolved around a person’s phone, and actively resisted learning how to use the damn thing properly just out of spite. But he’d lived in Reykjavík all his life, and had never needed GPS to get around. Now, it was admit he had one and needed it, or die. Possibly literally.

The GPS turned out to be Google Maps, which Loki wasn’t so sure about. Gritting his teeth and pretending the task was more difficult than it truly was, Loki got his phone to lock into his current location, and set it as his home. With the address stored, he locked his phone, started the car, and headed out east on Flamingo.

He didn’t know where he was going, which was the entire point. With so few people on the roads, he was able to drive a bit more slowly so he could see street signs as he came to them. He took random turns, sometimes finding himself in quiet suburban neighbourhoods, only to be driving past a casino several minutes later. He was surprised at one point to come across signs advertising a zoo, and couldn’t imagine the poor polar bears and penguins out in this abysmal heat all the time. Even in the dead of night, it was still warm and sticky, though finally cool enough that having the windows rolled down didn’t blast a constant wall of hot air in his face.

Loki explored the city as the sun slowly rose, and with it the traffic gradually increased. At 6am, he stopped off at a petrol station with a green dinosaur on the sign and filled up his tank, while getting his phone to pull up directions to get him back to the casino. Before they left Boulder City, Darcy had told him where to go to get the car registered to his name, with the explicit instructions to get there no later than 7am. Except she had only told him how to get there from the casino, and he didn’t know the address or the name the Americans gave it.

The singularly nice thing about America so far had been how the roads were almost all in a perfect grid. Even though he’d managed to wander to the other side of town, he only had to make two turns before he was back on Flamingo, heading to the casino. Instead of stopping when he got to it, he kept going, past the Boulevard and to the west side of town, where he eventually found whatever the Americans called their version of the Register of Vehicles. Even before he found a parking spot, he could see a queue forming by the door. It was only about ten people, but he saw what Darcy had meant about being stuck there all day if he didn’t get in early enough. He parked, and with all of his documents in-hand, he went to go stand in the queue before anyone else got there. Suddenly, small though it was, he dearly missed his celebrity status back home.

It was almost midday by the time he finally got out of there with everything registered and signed off as it should have been. What should have been a simple process had turned into a nightmare, and now he was very late, though he had at least managed not to strangle or shove anyone through the entire ordeal. He tried to speed down Flamingo without actually speeding, swearing and shouting at every other motorist and red light on the road. When he finally pulled into the Key Largo’s car park, there were several other cars there already, confirming that Loki was very late indeed. He rushed into the green room, finding it full of photography equipment and people he didn’t know.

“There you are,” Darcy said, trying to turn away while a young man with bottle blond hair did her make up.

“Did you know you can’t register a car without a Nevada driving license?” asked Loki as he ran back to the dressing room.

As the door swung shut, he could hear Darcy laughing and calling him names, but he ignored it and got dressed as quickly as he could. He pulled his hair back into a tail, but as soon as he stepped back into the green room, one of the men there with the photographer sat him down in a chair and pulled his hair back out.

“What? It was fine,” he said.

“Not really,” the stylist said. He smeared something thick in Loki’s hair and brushed it all back out again. “Your hair is a mess.”

Loki snorted. “I didn’t expect to be waiting in a queue for almost six hours. I thought I’d at least have time to shower before coming to do this.”

Darcy laughed again. “Why did you do it today?” she asked.

Loki closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying not to shout at everyone in the room. “You told me to do it as soon as possible,” he said with a forced calm.

“I also said you’d be there all day. You knew we were doing this. It could have waited another day,” Darcy said.

“Stop talking,” Loki told her.

“I thought your visa was all fucked up anyway,” Darcy said. She looked over at him almost suspiciously. “How’d you even get through the DMV? I thought they arrest and deport on sight.”

Loki shook his head, upsetting the man who was trying to fix his hair. “No, I got it fixed. I’m allowed to be here.” He reached for his wallet so he could wave his cheap, temporary driving license in her face, but he’d left it in his other trousers when he’d changed.

He settled down and sat still while too much makeup was smeared on his face, making him feel like he was going to suffocate.

“Wow, you’ve actually got some colour in your cheeks. Fake color, but still,” Darcy said while the stylist did everything in his power to make it look like Loki had had a chance to shave.

“I told you to stop talking,” he said.

The stylist finally finished, muttering something about airbrushes as he walked away. Loki stood up and looked over at Darcy, wondering how women managed to wear makeup without looking like clowns. As her makeup artist finished, Darcy slid her ugly plastic glasses back onto her face and stood up carefully, brushing her hair back over her shoulders.

“Take them off,” Loki said, annoyed at having to tell her at all.

Darcy looked down at her shoes — the same ones she’d worn to her initial fitting — and started to argue.

“The glasses,” Loki said before she got the first full word out. “I told you, you need to get contacts.”

“And go blind from eyeball-eating bacteria? Gross, no,” Darcy said.

She took off her glasses anyway and set them down on the table next to the sofa. In her ridiculously tall shoes, she looked like she was about to fall over at the slightest gust of wind, but Loki knew he didn’t have time to pick any more fights. Especially since he’d already told her she could wear them.

“Where are we set up?” he asked.

“On the stage,” Darcy said. She started to walk out of the green room with surprising grace, despite the fuss she’d put up about the three seconds of running she had to do, but stopped suddenly and turned back round to face Loki.

“Hey, do you know if Clint’s in today? I have something for him in my car,” she said.

Loki wasn’t sure if he was the one being addressed. “Clint?” he asked.

Darcy’s eyes grew wide and her jaw dropped. “Seriously?” she asked. “The guy you’re always bossing around to find things at the last fucking minute, even though it’s way not his job?”

Loki wracked his brain, trying to figure out who Darcy was talking about. “The security guard?” he asked. He was always hovering around, making himself convenient.

Darcy laughed quietly. “Oh my god. Yes,” she said.

“Clint? Really?” asked Loki. “What a terrible name. It almost sounds like–”

“And I’m sure he’s heard it from better assholes than you,” Darcy said. She shook her head and started walking out toward the stage. “Is he here today?” she asked as she left.

“How should I know?” Loki shouted back. He turned back to get a bottle of water from the fridge and almost ran into a man with his phone in his hand. “Who are you, now?” Loki asked.

The little man in blue jeans and a brown suit jacket smiled wanly. “Phil, from What’s On. We were supposed to meet at ten this morning,” he said.

Loki cringed as he grabbed his water and made long strides toward the stage. “Yes, sorry. I was stuck in a line all morning,” he said.

“I heard,” said Phil, following close behind. “That DMV can be a real nightmare. What was the problem with your visa?”

Loki looked back at the phone in Phil’s hand, knowing that he was being recorded.

“Nothing. Bureaucracy. It’s fixed now,” he insisted. He mentioned nothing of the fact that he hadn’t even applied until after he got to the country. He was just lucky that Fischer was willing to throw money at it to make the problem go away.

The stage had been lit up with about a dozen portable lights, while someone hung a slate-coloured backdrop from the fly system. Loki walked along the edge of the stage and stepped down into the house to get out of everyone’s way, annoyed that Phil was still following him.

“Why Las Vegas?” Phil asked, still holding his phone up.

Loki shrugged. He wasn’t in the mood to give an interview after the morning he’d had, but it was time to drop into character all the same. “There’s only so far you can go performing in bars four nights a week. I saw an opportunity here and decided to take it,” he said.

“And you’re from Iceland, correct?” Phil asked.

Loki sat down to get comfortable while he waited, and gestured for Phil to do the same.

“Reykjavík, yes,” he said. “And for the purposes of my act, I sound like it.” He knew what the reporter was about to ask next, and was ready to call the whole interview off.

But to his surprise, Phil nodded and changed directions. “Tell me about your act.”

Loki started to answer, but before he could, Darcy started shouting at him. “Hey, they want to get started. You kinda need to be here for it!”

Loki looked over at Phil and got to his feet. “Sorry. We’re having a press show on the twenty-fifth.”

Phil nodded. “I’ll be there,” he said.

“Good. We’ll sit down and talk properly then,” said Loki. He left Phil behind and jogged up to the stage where Darcy was already waiting with the photographer and her crew.

“Have you ever done a photo shoot like this before?” the photographer asked.

Loki and Darcy both shook their heads. “No,” said Loki.

The photographer nodded. “Okay, here’s how it goes. We’ll take some shots that can go to print, and some that our effects artists will manipulate. I don’t know which ones the article will use in the end, but they tend to use a mix of both.”

Loki was still stuck on the first part. “Manipulate?” he asked. He looked over to Darcy, but she didn’t seem to have any answers.

“Yeah,” said the photographer. “It’s as much a promotional spread as it is an interview. We want to advertise that it’s a magic show to the people who don’t have time to read the article, and to do that, we have to create the illusions on the page.”

Loki frowned. “I don’t use any kind of camera tricks in my act. I don’t have any cameras at all in my act,” he argued. Using Photoshop to cheat the effects felt almost dirty, and he wasn’t sure he wanted any part in it. Dirty in a way that made deceiving entire crowds feel innocent.

“No, Loki,” Darcy said quickly. “You really need to do the tourist thing. That’s how all the acts advertise. Most of the people just pick up the magazine and look at the pictures while they’re waiting for their table at a restaurant. Just let these people do the jobs they’ve been doing for years, because they’re the ones selling the show.”

Loki frowned, but decided against arguing. They still had to get through rehearsal for the day, to make up for the lost time from the day before, so he threw his hands up in defeat and stepped up onto the stage.

The photographer had a solid idea of what she wanted before they even started, and directed Loki and Darcy with the authority of a woman who wasn’t going to be argued with. Loki was starting to get sick of being bossed around by women, but he managed to hold his tongue all through being told where to stand and how to sit. But every time he looked over at Darcy, she seemed to be loving the whole thing. She took every order with grace, grinning almost stupidly the entire time.

“Why don’t you listen to me like this when I ask you to do something?” Loki asked as he was handed a top hat that would never make it into his show in a million years.

Darcy didn’t let her smile fade for a second. “Because you don’t ask. You demand. And I only say no when your demands become dangerous anyway.”

She was handed a small, white rabbit while one of the photographer’s assistants set up a small table full of random props from backstage, which had nothing at all to do with a rabbit pull.

“What’s his name?” Darcy asked as she petted the rabbit.

“Wilbur. We use him in all the magic spreads,” said the assistant.

“So we don’t even get a unique set of faked photographs?” asked Loki.

“Sure you do,” said the assistant. “Just not a unique rabbit.”

Loki cursed the day as he was directed on how to stand while reaching through a top hat that had no top. He stayed in character for as long as it took to snap the photos, but as soon as the flash bulbs stopped, he fell right back into his sour mood.

“What’s the weight limit on the rigging?” the photographer asked while all the props were set aside again.

Loki looked up at the fly system, having a good idea of what they wanted to do. “I have no idea,” he lied.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #14: Monta

Darcy was glad Loki was following behind her on the drive back into Las Vegas. She needed time to think, away from him. When Loki had said that he wanted them to get to know one another, she was pretty sure he hadn’t meant like that. That was getting to know a little too much. It was such a weird conversation, Darcy wasn’t even sure if she wanted to believe everything he’d said.

When she first got the job with him, she tried to Google him, but wasn’t able to find much more than a few YouTube videos. Everything else had been pages for some Icelandic cafe, and some Icelandic volcano, or else pages and pages of ancient mythology.

It would have probably been easier if she’d known his last name, but he never gave it out, and she’d never asked.

She checked her mirror every few miles, making sure Loki was still behind her. After she got off the freeway, she couldn’t find him behind her at all, but assumed he’d probably fallen behind under the airport. Assuming he’d be able to find his way back, she drove to the hotel and waited in the parking lot for him to catch up. Instead of any catching up happening, her phone rang after about ten minutes.

“Where are you?” she asked.

There was an awkward pause. “I don’t know,” Loki said. “Why did you leave me again?”

“I got off at the airport. Where are you?” Darcy asked. She sat up and looked out the windows, scanning the cars going by for any peeling black BMWs.

“I don’t know. I’m still on the motorway,” Loki said.

Darcy shook her head. “Take the next exit and tell me what it is,” she said.

Loki went silent for a few minutes. “Sahara,” he announced finally.

“Oh my god,” Darcy muttered. How the hell did he get so far away? “Okay, take a right and head east down Saraha. And now tell me the first light to come to,” she said. She sat back in her seat and tried not to laugh.

“Don’t laugh at me,” Loki said. “I’m lost and I’m not from this country and your intersections are all a mile apart—wait, what was that?”

Darcy laughed out loud. “I don’t fucking know. What was it?”

“I don’t know!” Loki snapped.

“Calm down, cranky pants,” Darcy said, trying not to so obviously laugh at him. “Just get in the right lane and slow down.”

There was another pause. “Emergency signal,” Loki said.

“What?” asked Darcy.

“That’s what the traffic light said. Emergency signal,” Loki told her.

Darcy shook her head. “Ignore it. You want an actual intersection.”

“Oh, here’s one. Uh. Town Center Drive?” Loki asked.

Darcy had never heard of it. “No idea if that goes through. Keep going,” she told him.

Loki went quiet again, and Darcy pictured him scrunched up against the steering wheel, trying to look at street signs while he drove ten miles an hour. She laughed again, but clamped down on it quickly.

“Intersection, but it doesn’t have a light,” Loki announced.

“Skip it,” Darcy told him. “You want something that goes all the way through, so you don’t get even more lost.”

Loki hummed irritably. “Okay, here’s that devil word one. Hoo-whatever.”

“Take a right,” Darcy told him quickly, before he passed it.

“This is not how I pictured Las Vegas,” Loki said after a few moments. “It’s so… green.”

Darcy laughed again. “Okay, now just keep going until you hit Flamingo, and take a left. If you get lost again, buy a GPS.”

She hung up as he shouted at her down the line. With the radio and AC on, she leaned back in her seat with Angry Birds on her iPhone and waited for Loki. Twenty minutes later, Loki pulled up beside her and screeched to a halt. He got out of the car, holding his arms up in exasperation. “Why are you such a bitch?” he demanded.

Darcy rolled her window down. “Why are you calling me a bitch, jackass?” she asked.

Loki walked over to her window, all full of the same indignant rage from the night before. “You left me. Again,” he said.

“You’re the one who can’t follow someone on the freeway. And your phone has turn by turn directions. They all do. Learn to use it,” Darcy said.

“I’ve never needed to use it before,” Loki said, as if it mattered.

“Okay, uh.” Darcy turned down her radio and locked her phone. “You just called me because you were lost. You would have wound up in fucking New Mexico on your own. You need it.” She turned the radio back up and adjusted her seat to be more comfortable for driving.

“Where are you going?” asked Loki.

Darcy looked up at him, wondering how he ever survived on his own. “You still owe me lunch, and I am collecting. Get in, unless you want to drive.”

Loki gaped at her and shook his head. She kind of liked seeing him confused like that, and decided immediately that it needed to happen more often. And then she felt a little bad about it, but not bad enough to stop enjoying his confusion. Before he could say anything else, she reached over and opened the passenger side door.

“Get in, come on,” she said.

Loki finally walked around to the other side of the car and got into the passenger seat. Darcy watched him struggle to keep his calm as he fastened his seatbelt. “Where are we going?” he asked.

Darcy shrugged. “Dunno. Do you still want to look for an apartment?” she asked.

“After we get paid,” Loki decided. He leaned against the door as Darcy pulled back out onto Flamingo, heading out toward Maryland. “I still need to have more stuff shipped over before next month.”

“Okay.” She turned left on Maryland, knowing exactly where she wanted to go for lunch. With their detour to Boulder City, and then Loki’s detour to Summerlin, it was late enough in the day for Monta to be open. They rode in silence down to Twain, Loki being more preoccupied by what went by his window than anything else.

“I had no idea this was actually a city,” he said. “What else are the Americans hiding?”

Darcy laughed. “Most Americans don’t even realise that Las Vegas is a city,” she said.

The bewildered look on his face as they drove back toward the Strip was almost comical. Worse, it made the bastard a little more human than Darcy really wanted him to be.

“So, why did you come here if you didn’t know anything about this place?” she asked.

Loki looked back over to her and shrugged. “I’d wanted to get out of Reykjavík for a while. I heard about the audition here and thought it seemed like a good opportunity,” he said.

It sounded like a huge gamble to Darcy.

“What was your back up plan?” she asked.

Loki laughed, high-pitched and without mirth. “Beg my father to pay for a return ticket so I could go home,” he said. He looked back out the window again and started to look a little worried. “I’m still waiting for him to find out I left.”

Something about the way he said it made Darcy laugh. “He doesn’t know?”

“I don’t know,” said Loki. “I’m assuming not, because he hasn’t sent anyone after me.”

“Oh my god,” Darcy laughed. “How old are you, anyway?”

Loki looked away from the tall buildings that lined what had now become Spring Mountain, as they got closer to the Strip. “Why?” he asked.

Darcy shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m curious? We’re supposed to be getting to know one another, remember?”

Loki scowled at her and looked away again, suddenly finding the mirror in the sun visor and finding it interesting. “Twenty-eight. How old are you?” he asked.

“Twenty-two.” She looked over at him, not sure how much she believed his answer. “I thought you’d be older,” she said.

“Now what’s that supposed to mean?” Loki asked, scandalised.

Darcy shrugged again. “I don’t know. You seem older than that to me.” She remembered everything else he’d said, on their drive out to Boulder City. “So you were eighteen when your brother took off?” she asked.

Loki didn’t answer, which was answer enough. It was no wonder he was so messed up, Darcy realised. Part of her wondered if that’s what she could expect from herself in six years. The rest of her pointed out how stupid that was, because even though she and her mother didn’t get along, the circumstances were nothing similar.

And a tiny but insistent part of her suggested that Loki’s story was just bullshit, because it was just a little too insane to be true. Darcy did her best to ignore that part until she could do some serious Googling in the privacy of her own home.

“So,” said Loki suddenly. “How did you get into magic?”

His question made Darcy smile. “My Grandma took me to see Siegfried and Roy when I was like, five. Way before Roy got eaten. And it was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen, you know? Like, I was five years old, and I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” she said.

“You got to see Siegfried and Roy?” Loki asked jealously.

“Yeah, I know right?” Even though she barely remembered the show, and never got the chance to see them again before Roy’s accident, she was still very pleased with the fact that she’d got to see them live. “I cried when that happened, though. Like, I thought the world was gonna end. It messed me up for a while. I remember coming home from school the day after and turning on the TV, and the local news was talking about it.”

“Where was I?” Loki wondered aloud. “I think I was skipping school, because I was hungover.”

The image of a seventeen-year-old Loki trying to avoid getting into trouble for being drunk was just a little too much for Darcy to handle. “I bet you’re cute when you’re hungover,” she said.

“No,” said Loki.

Darcy pulled into the parking lot for a small strip mall, having to park in front of the little printing shop, because the restaurant was busy as hell, like always.

“What is this place?” Loki asked as they got out of the car. He looked up at the line outside the front door and glared at it.

“Ramen,” said Darcy. She locked up the car and went to go secure their place in line before another giant family arrived for lunch.

Loki seemed less than pleased. “The stuff you make in the microwave?” he asked.

“No. Real Japanese ramen, made by real Japanese people. It’s fucking delicious,” Darcy said. She only went there a few times a year though, because after eating the kind of ramen you make in the microwave on a regular basis, she got kind of sick of any ramen before too long.

“There’s a line,” Loki said, not stepping anywhere near it.

“I see that,” said Darcy. “It’s this or Domino’s. Take your pick.”

Loki scowled even more. “I hate Domino’s. I am not eating Domino’s.”

“How do you know?” asked Darcy.

Loki gave her a flat, unimpressed look. “We have Domino’s in Iceland. And it’s disgusting.”

It wasn’t the answer Darcy had expected, but she wasn’t sure why. “Seriously?” she asked.

“Yes. We get your terrible food and your terrible music,” Loki said. He finally stepped up onto the sidewalk to join the rest of the line, but probably only because there was shade there. “How long is the wait going to be?”

Darcy looked up the length of the line. “I don’t know. Half hour, maybe?” she guessed.

Loki sighed and rolled his eyes. “Why do you have to wait for everything here?” he asked.

“Only the good stuff,” Darcy told him.

The older couple in front of them both turned back to look at them. Darcy smiled and shrugged. She and Loki were the only white people in the entire line, and now they were also the centre of attention.

“He’s cranky if he doesn’t get his lunch early enough,” Darcy told the couple in front of her.

“Does he ever get his lunch early enough?” the woman asked.

Darcy laughed. “No,” she said.

Loki rolled his eyes again and turned away. By the time it was their turn to be seated, Loki had wandered away completely, leaving Darcy alone. By then, she was starving and had no idea where Loki had gone, or why he had gone, but she figured he’d probably either find his own way back or call her in a panic again. She felt bad about taking a table for one, and ate quickly to make up for it. When she got back out to her car, she found Loki sitting outside on one of the benches with a McDonald’s bag next to him.

“Seriously?” she asked. “You couldn’t fucking wait in a line, so you walked to McDonald’s?”

Loki looked up at her, looking more than a little sick. “I regret it,” he said.

“Yeah, I bet you do,” Darcy said. She tried not to laugh as she unlocked the car to let him in. “Oh my god, what is wrong with you?”

Loki practically melted into the seat, leaning back against it and looking up at the ceiling. Darcy turned on the AC to as high as it would go and let Loki cool down before she started driving and made him carsick on top of everything else.

“I want to go home,” Loki grumbled.

“Home home, or hotel home?” asked Darcy, not sure if it was a legitimate request, or empty whining.

“Hotel home,” Loki said.

“Okay.” Darcy pulled back out onto Spring Mountain and pulled into the far right lane as she cut across traffic. “You really can’t just wander off like that out here. It’s not even hot yet, and you can get really sick from walking around outside for too long.”

“It’s hot. It’s very hot. What are you talking about?” Loki asked.

Darcy shook her head. “Just wait until you experience a hundred and ten,” she said.

Loki groaned again and covered his face with his hands. “I hate it here.”

The rest of the ride back to the casino was quiet. Darcy had planned on just dropping Loki off in the parking lot and going home, but when she stopped by the stage door, he hardly seemed to notice.

“Are you all right?” she asked as she killed the engine.

“No,” Loki said.

Every AC vent in the car was pointed straight at his face, and he still looked like he was going to throw up. His fast food lunch probably wasn’t helping either.

“Okay, come on,” she said. She got out of the car and walked around to open Loki’s door.

It was a few long moments before he noticed at all. When he finally did, he looked up at her tiredly and hauled himself to his feet. “I need to lie down,” he said.

“Yeah, you do,” Darcy agreed. She unlocked the stage door and walked with Loki inside, in case he passed out and fell over. There was a couch in the green room, but it didn’t seem like the best place to leave him, so she led him out to the hall. “Where’s your room?” she asked.

Loki looked around like he didn’t quite recognise anything. Finally, he nodded down the hall to the left, and led the way to what Darcy hoped were the rooms. Luckily, the Key Largo wasn’t a sprawling Strip casino, and had hallways that all led to somewhere logical.

Loki’s room was up on the third and highest floor of the hotel, overlooking the pool. Darcy helped him in and let him collapse on the bed while she looked around the suite. It was bigger than she expected it to be, but still on the small side, as far as suites went. One bed, a separate kitchenette with a microwave and a binder full of laminated menus, and a surprisingly large bathroom, but that was about it. There was a small balcony out the sliding glass doors that faced the pool. Darcy was tempted to go stand outside to see the view, but she pulled the blackout curtains shut instead and turned on the air conditioner under the window.

“You okay?” she asked.

Loki was lying face down on the bed, and grumbled into his pillow. That probably meant he was fine.

Darcy started to make her way over to him to make sure he wasn’t going to choke on his own hair or something, when she saw a stack of papers on the dresser by the door. She looked over at it, but went to Loki instead.

“I’m gonna go, okay. Call me if you feel like you’re getting worse,” she said.

Loki grumbled into his pillow again. He might have been telling Darcy to go away, so she figured she’d listen to him. On her way out the door, she stopped just long enough to steal a glance down at the contract Loki had signed with the hotel. His full name was right there on top, and Darcy silently repeated his last name to keep from forgetting it. She finally had a name to Google. Loki Odinson.

She drove home and quickly ran up to her apartment, repeating his name over and over to herself. As soon as she was inside, she powered up her laptop and waited for it to take it’s sweet time to get going. As soon as Chrome came up, she put Loki’s name into the search bar, and immediately got a page of relevant results, instead of a bunch of random junk. She clicked on his Facebook page, which was impossible to read, but seemed to be maintained primarily to promote his show back in Iceland. She assumed that what was written on the posts was Icelandic, and not just a bunch of keymashes with funny symbols, even though funny symbol keymashes was what it seriously looked like.

Darcy clicked into the photo albums, going through all of the pictures one at a time. A lot of them were backstage sorts of pictures, with Loki posing with fans and getting drunk after shows. He was with a tall blonde woman in a lot of them — his former assistant, Darcy assumed. The pictures that were from the actual shows were all presented without any context, making Darcy wonder if his arm was supposed to be on fire and if the angry raven was part of the show or if it had actually escaped. There was a video as well, and for the first few seconds, Darcy was surprised that it was in English. But he had said that he’d based his entire show off of being English, so that at least had not been a lie.

The video was a two-minute clip of Loki messing around with a sword. He pulled someone up from the audience in the small club and gave the guy the sword, telling him to make sure it was a real sword. The guy didn’t seem to know what to do with it, and started swinging it around a little drunkenly, so Loki took it away again. He told the guy that he’d been wrong about the sword, and that it wasn’t a sword at all. The video quality was too poor to see exactly what Loki had done, but with a twist and a flourish, the sword became two.

They weren’t the same swords Darcy was using for their box jumper. Darcy wasn’t sure what their deal was until Loki stacked them together, and without any warning, easily swallowed them both at once. Just watching it made Darcy’s gag reflex flare up in sympathy. When Loki pulled both swords out of his mouth again, holding one in each hand, he took a deep bow and then turned to the man he’d brought up from the audience. He tried to give the guy one of the swords as a souvenir, but the guy shook his head and backed off warily.

Part of Darcy hoped that routine would make it into their show, just so she could use it as an excuse to learn how to swallow swords. Especially since Loki had already promised to teach her how to eat fire once everything was settled in with the show.

Darcy went back to Google and scrolled through the results, trying to remember the name Loki gave for his brother, but all she could remember was Sven. On a whim, she searched Loki’s name again, telling Google to only query CNN’s site. She got two whole results from the search, and when she clicked on the first link, it was an archived page with no images. It was a short article about Iceland’s political upset after the son of the President of Iceland appeared drunk on television and made a massive jackass of himself.

Surprisingly, Loki was mentioned down toward the bottom, as if the President thought that he could avoid being called a xenophobic lunatic as well if he made sure everyone knew he had a younger son who was adopted from immigrant parents.

Most surprisingly was that everything Loki had told her in the car was true, according to CNN. Looking at the page on her browser, Darcy started to feel bad about not trusting him in the first place. Just with the way the article was structured, she could even see how he might have been given the impression that he wasn’t as important as his brother. Add in a completely unprofessional sort of career choice on top of it all, when everyone else in his family had gone into politics, and it was no wonder Loki hated everything around him.

Darcy closed out of the browser so she didn’t have to look at the article any longer and picked up her phone. She felt like she should call him or something, but she had no idea what she’d say. And he was sick in bed and probably wanting to die.

Instead of phoning Loki, she dialled the only other person she thought could help. She expected to get his voicemail, but when Fischer actually answered, Darcy was almost startled into dropping her phone.

“Hey, uh. I didn’t know who else to call. I just took Loki back to his room, but you might want to send someone up there to make sure he isn’t dying or something. I don’t think he has heatstroke, but he was pretty sick,” Darcy said.

“Oh, jeez. Okay, yeah. Thanks for letting me know,” Fischer said, shuffling something around as he spoke.

“Yeah, no problem,” Darcy said. She hung up and looked down at her phone, not sure what she was supposed to do next.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #13: Car Shopping

Loki stood backstage, looking up at the curtains. They were finally right after days of fighting with the crew about them, but now it hardly mattered. He’d managed to chase off his assistant less than two hours after finding out she could probably help him with his real reason for coming to America. And from what he’d already seen, the chances of finding a replacement who actually knew how to do magic were surprisingly slim. And without a replacement, his show was dead in the water.

And without the show, he wouldn’t have the money to stay in Las Vegas for very long, which wouldn’t give him the chance to track down Thor. It was a domino effect of bad karma and endless grief.

Not sure what else to do, Loki gave up and walked back to the green room to feed his fish and write up another audition announcement. While he was trying to figure out the legality of auditioning “female magicians only; pole dancers need not apply,” the door to the parking lot opened suddenly, startling him in his seat. Even more surprising than the door opening was Darcy walking through it. Loki dropped his notebook to the floor and sighed loudly.

“Oh, thank god. I thought you quit,” he said.

“Nope,” said Darcy tersely. “I said I’d be here, and here I am.”

She dropped her handbag onto the sofa and started to walk right past Loki to the stage.

“Barefoot,” Loki said before she could get too far.

Darcy turned. “What?” she asked, looking down at her feet, and then at Loki’s.

“I was thinking, and it might be funnier if you ran barefoot, holding your shoes,” Loki said calmly. “You can even wear the ones you wanted to wear originally. The tall ones.”

Darcy closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. “Why do I need to be running at all?” she asked.

A question, Loki realised, he should have probably answered the night before. “Misdirection. I need to make three switches, so the misdirection needs to be big.” He stood finally, but didn’t step any closer to her.

“How did you do it before?” Darcy asked.

Loki smirked. “Katrín chased our raven out. I couldn’t bring him with me because the time he’d have to spend in quarantine would have probably killed him.” Which was a shame, because despite the bird’s moodiness, he was wonderfully trained. And not a boring old dove.

“Oh.” Darcy started to make her way to the stage again, apparently determined to suffer the world’s most uncomfortable work day.

“I was also thinking about what you said last night,” Loki said, stopping her again.

“All that thinking. Did you hurt yourself?” she asked, turning back to face him.

Loki clamped down on his reaction and made sure he was calm before he replied. “You’re a very rude woman,” he said, apparently not as calm as he thought.

“And you’re a massive prick. I guess we’re even,” said Darcy.

Loki closed his eyes and ignored that jab, taking a few more moments to say what he needed to say.

“I think perhaps I have been working you too hard the last few weeks,” he said. He didn’t actually believe that, and judging by the unimpressed look on Darcy’s face, she’d picked up on that lie as well. “The show is coming up soon, but you’re fairly solid on most of it, and I think you deserve a day off. We also don’t know one another very well, and I think that’s making it difficult to work with one another. I would like to also apologise for insulting your home last night. It was not my intent, but I still did it, and I’m sorry.”

Darcy stared at him dubiously, not taking the bait. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned her weight back on one foot. “Should I be filing a sexual harassment complaint right now? What are you suggesting?” she asked.

She was an infuriating woman, and there was a very big part of Loki that was annoyed she came back after their row. The part of him that didn’t care that she was useful beyond measure. He clamped down on all his irritation and kept going as calmly as he could manage.

“I was going to ask if you might like to help me do some apartment hunting today. A day off where we can get to know one another, and I can hopefully stop living in a hotel,” he explained. “You live here, so I hoped you might be able to help me out, because you’d know better than I would if I’m getting ripped off. Or you can go home and come back tomorrow and we can try to start over from there.”

It took Darcy a long time to respond, making Loki brace for the worst. Finally, she sighed and nodded. “Okay. But you’re paying for gas. And I want lunch, where you don’t shout at someone working their shitty minimum wage job,” she said. “And don’t touch my radio. My car, my music.”

She turned back to the door, picking up her handbag on her way back outside. Standing alone in the green room, Loki buried his face in his hands and breathed in very deeply, trying to keep calm. This woman was going to be his death, one way or another. Either he’d give himself a stroke trying to keep her happy, or she’d snap and slit his throat backstage.

Not wanting to keep her waiting too long, Loki shut off all the lights and locked up before following her out to her car. As soon as he sat down, he buckled his seatbelt in case she decided to try to play chicken with a bus again.

“Where are we going?” Darcy asked as she started the car.

Loki pulled a piece of notebook paper from his pocket and unfolded it. “I’ve found a few places. Where’s Centennial?” he asked.

“Too far away,” Darcy said, looking over at him. “Unless we’re going car shopping today as well.”

Loki frowned. “What about…” he frowned even more at the street he’d written down that had nothing to do with his apartment search. “Hoo-ala-pay?” Somehow, he knew that wasn’t even close to right.

“What?” Darcy tilted the page so she could see it. “Walla-pie,” she said. “And you don’t want to live out there either. It’s all new, so rent’s like, a million dollars, and it’s way out on the edge of town.

Loki barely heard any of it. He was still too busy trying to work out how ‘Hualapai’ sounded like Walla-pie. “I hate English. Since when does H make that sound?”

“Ten points from Slytherin,” said Darcy. “It’s not English. It’s Native American.”

“Don’t they speak English?” asked Loki.

“Twenty points from Slytherin.” Darcy took his sheet of paper and looked over it. “Yeah, you don’t want to live in any of these places until you get a car.” She frowned at it and handed it back. “My friend Don lives out on Hualapai, somewhere. With like, three other guys. It’s nuts.”

She finally pulled out of the parking lot and took a right onto Flamingo, turning back off again at a petrol station just up the road. Leaving the car running and in park, she jumped out and ran up to the stacks of newspapers and magazines up against the side of the shop. She grabbed one and quickly came back, tossing the little magazine at Loki as she closed her door.

“What’s your budget?” Darcy asked.

Loki flipped through the Apartment Hunter magazine and shrugged. “I don’t know? What’s reasonable?”

“Okay. One bedroom, seven or eight hundred at the very top, but you can find them for a lot less. Look in, oh. Paradise, Winchester. Maybe Spring Valley. You’re not getting any place within a mile of me, though. And you’ll need to get a car, unless you want to be the only professional magician in the city to take the bus to work.”

Loki kept flipping through the magazine, seeing page after page of palm trees and brown stucco. “Should we do that first? Maybe look for an apartment after?” The advance he got from Fischer was supposed to be for getting all of his stuff over from Reykjavík, but he hadn’t shipped all of it over yet, and still had about half of the advance left.

Darcy looked like she was about to say something, but she stopped and pulled out her phone. After tapping at the screen for a little bit, she handed it over to Loki. He looked down at the endless Craigslist page full of cars for sale, not sure if it was a good idea. He scrolled through it, tapping on a few that were under the $4000 he still had left.

“Should I phone them?” he asked, looking at a black BMW on the tiny screen.

Darcy killed the engine and nodded. “Yeah, I’ve got unlimited minutes,” she said, not sounding as okay with it as her words made it seem.

Twenty minutes later, they were on their way out to someplace called Boulder City, which Loki doubted would be a city at all. They left Las Vegas behind, and were driving toward a low mountain range in the distance, the only feature on the flat, brown landscape.

“Okay, so. I’ll bite,” said Darcy, sounding almost conversational for the first time all day. “What’s with the accent? I want to know.”

Loki smirked as he watched the little blue dot travel across the map on Darcy’s phone.

“It was a joke. At first. There was a big scandal about ten years ago,” he explained. “One of our MPs went on television and said that Iceland would be better off if all all the foreigners were rounded up and sent back to where they belonged. There were riots.”

“I heard about that, I think!” Darcy said.

Loki blinked, not expecting that reaction at all. “Really?” he asked. He didn’t think news ever traveled out of Iceland. And if it did, certainly not to America.

“Yeah. I wasn’t really paying attention, because it was in a class that I hated. He had this serious Viking kind of name,” Darcy said. She pounded her hands against the steering wheel. “Oh, what was it. Sven or some shit, I don’t know.”

“Thor,” Loki said, laughing. He watched her for a moment, but she had no idea at all. Unless through some cosmic coincidence, her friend happened to be living an identical life to Thor, she was completely blind to who he really was.

“Yeah, I was nowhere close,” Darcy said.

Loki shook his head. “Miles off.”

“So, what’s that have to do with you?” Darcy asked.

“I was born to English parents, but lived in Reykjavík my whole life,” Loki explained. “I was just getting my act started when all this happened, and decided it would be funny to be English while on stage. And now, ten years later, I have the worst accent imaginable when I speak Icelandic. I have to force it. It’s terrible.”

They passed by a casino, sitting right up against the low, and surprisingly small mountain range. Outside the casino, there was an electronic letter board that announced the temperature at 90°, making Loki immensely thankful for air conditioning. At least he was getting used to Fahrenheit, instead of thinking the world was ending every time he saw the temperature being announced on the side of the road.

“So what happened to him? The guy?” Darcy asked.

Loki shrugged. “Nobody knows. He disappeared after that. A lot of people think he was probably murdered,” he said.

“Oh my god,” said Darcy.

“What class was this, that you had to read about this?” Loki asked.

Darcy rolled her eyes. “This lame-ass politics in media class. I thought I might want to go into politics, and the class sounded fun on paper, but it wound up just being an entire semester of stupid racist idiots saying stupid racist things on television. If I wanted that, I could just turn on FOX News.” She looked over at him and shrugged. “Like, sometimes we’d get to watch the interviews and press conferences, but the teacher wanted to be all worldly and shit, and kept giving us examples from other countries, so we just got the translated-on-paper cliffs notes versions. Maybe if we actually got to watch the stuff, it might have been more fun, but it was just crap.”

Loki laughed at her outburst, and immediately tried to stop before she directed all that pent-up anger at him. Instead, she surprised him and laughed as well.

“Seriously, it was so fucking dumb,” she said.

“Are you returning to university after the summer?” asked Loki, not sure what he wanted the answer to be. If she knew Thor through school, she would make a convenient spy, but the summer holidays had only just started.

“Why, are you firing me?” Darcy asked quickly.

“No,” said Loki.

Darcy shrugged. “I don’t know. Probably not. I kind of flunked out. I can enrol next year, but I’ll be on academic probation, and I’d have to pay more because I lost one of my grants.”

“Do you want to go back?” asked Loki.

It was a few moments before Darcy answered. “No,” she said calmly. “I really don’t. I was only going to college because my mom said it’s what I should be doing, and I hated every minute of it. And she was so pissed off when I told her I flunked out, but she couldn’t even drive into town from fucking Green Valley to yell at me face to face, so whatever.” Darcy looked over to Loki and shook her head. “Sorry. I don’t know why I’m telling you all this.”

Loki almost resisted the temptation to take advantage of the situation, but it was far too easy to take the invitation Darcy didn’t even realise she was offering.

“Because you’re angry,” he said with a shrug. “You spent so much time and money trying to please someone who was more concerned about how you’d make the family look than how you felt about everything.” He looked down at the phone, watching the travelling blue dot creep across the map. “And now you’re doing what you want to do, and probably wondering if it’s the right thing, or if she was right all along, and trying to tell yourself that you might not be as happy as you really are.”

There was a long silence in the car as they both concentrated far too much on their tasks. Loki wanted to look up to see if what he’d said had had any effect on Darcy, but he kept his eyes down until she finally spoke.

“So what’s your deal, then?” she asked.

“There was a big scandal, about ten years ago,” Loki said. “My brother went on television and said some things he shouldn’t have and almost cost our father the re-election. Even after he left, our father still favoured him, because the idea of me performing in a bar four nights a week was too embarrassing for him to acknowledge.”

“Oh,” said Darcy quietly. She looked over at him again a few seconds later, confused. “I thought you said you’re English.”

“I am. Technically. I was born in Reykjavík, so really I’m both. But I was adopted when I was three,” Loki said. “Which is probably why Thor was always the favourite.” It came out more bitterly than he’d meant it to.

“Sorry,” Darcy said.

Loki shrugged and looked out the window at the landscape that had become flat and boring again. “I didn’t find out suddenly, or anything like that. I’ve always known I was adopted. I remember being taken out of my home and given to a new family. My birth father was, well. He was a cunt, and that’s all I do remember about him. I think I was just so worried my new family would start smacking me around as well that I didn’t realise until after Thor left that I was always getting second-best treatment.”

“That’s really terrible,” Darcy said.

Loki shrugged again. “That’s why I finally left,” he said, watching her reaction carefully.

“You came all the way out here to start over?” she asked.

“Something like that.” Up ahead, he could see the early signs of civilisation. “Is this us?” he asked.

Darcy jumped on the change of subject. “Yeah, I think so. Where do I turn?”

“Uh.” Loki tried to zoom out on the map without closing or breaking anything. He hated touch screen phones, and would have preferred to carry around a big, bulky laptop if it meant being able to always click on what he actually wanted to click on.

He managed to guide her through the small town, keeping the little blue dot on the little blue line that tracked their path. They finally found the house on the corner of California and Wyoming, which was one of the more confusing set of directions Loki had ever had to give in his life. The front yard wasn’t a yard at all, but instead a small lot full of little brown rocks and some tall cacti. In front of the house sat the black BMW, looking a little more weather-damaged than it had appeared in the picture on Craigslist. Or maybe that was just because a three-inch-screen was a terrible size to be looking at anything on.

“Okay,” Darcy said, parking on the side of the road and stopping the engine. “Let’s go get you a car so you can stop spending all your money on cabs.”

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #12: Duck

“Where can I get a duck?” asked Loki.

Darcy was so tired from running rehearsal for twelve hours a day, seven days straight, she wasn’t even sure she’d heard him right.

“What? Why do you want a duck?” she asked, hoping that’s what he’d actually said. She looked down at the tangled rope in her hand, realising she had completely forgotten what she was supposed to be doing with it. Luckily, Loki wasn’t even watching. He’d wandered off to think about ducks, apparently.

“For the same reason you need to get some better shoes,” Loki said.

Darcy pulled her phone from her pocket and looked at the time. Normally, 9pm didn’t seem very late at all, but it might as well have said 3am for as worn down as she felt. She sighed and tossed the rope over to Loki.

“Fine. Let’s go buy some shoes, then. I’ll even let you pick them out if it means we can be done today.” For a second, she thought Loki was going to throw the rope back at her and tell her to learn how to tie the damn knots, but he surprised her and dropped the rope to the ground.

“And a duck,” he said as he wandered backstage to the fuse box.

Darcy followed after him so she didn’t get stuck out on the dark stage again. “I don’t think you can just go out and buy a duck here. Unless you want to go to Chang’s, and get a cooked duck. You should talk to Lance Burton, if you want a big white one. I know he loaned one to Penn and Teller a few years ago,” she told him as he flipped the switches with a loud clang. “Or you might be able to get one from Wayne Newton if you want one of those little green ducks.”

With the stage a nice, dark safety hazard, they walked back out to the green room. Over the last week, it had gone from looking like someone had used it to store a bunch of random chairs and a couch to looking like an under-paid college student’s dorm room. Loki had managed to find a few chairs that didn’t fold up or stack, and a small refrigerator for storing the questionable delivery they’d practically lived off during rehearsals. Looking at the generic white pizza boxes stacked up on top of the fridge, Darcy wondered if she might be able to get lucky and talk her way into a real dinner while they were out shoe shopping.

“So, why do you want a duck?” Darcy asked as she picked up her bag and dug her keys out.

“I need a very big misdirection during one of the card tricks,” Loki said. He held open the door to the parking lot, waiting for Darcy to get out so he could lock up.

She took the hint and walked outside, basking in the early-summer warmth that still hung around long after the sun set. The breeze coming from the lake was warm but pleasant, just strong enough to make the palm trees sway, but not strong enough to kick up sand and grit. “So, why a duck?” she asked, facing into the wind to let it blow her hair back off her neck.

Loki shrugged as he shut off the green room lights and locked the door. “So you have something to chase across the stage,” he said.

Darcy could have sworn her heart stopped. “You what?” she asked slowly. “You’re buying a duck so I can chase it?”

Loki grinned the most insincere grin ever. “Yes. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?”

“No!” Darcy said as she walked over to her car. “I don’t want to chase a duck. Ducks are fucking mean. Sure, they look all cute and cuddly, but they’ll fuck you up.”

As soon as Darcy unlocked the doors, Loki let himself into the passenger seat. “All the more reason for you to chase it, instead of me.”

Darcy would have kicked him out of her car if he wasn’t twice her size and metaphorically signing her paycheques. “Oh my god. I don’t want these new shoes,” she said as she started the car. “Not if it means you’re going to make me chase a duck.”

Darcy pulled out onto Flamingo and got into the far right lane as quickly as possible, cutting off a double-decker bus. She laughed at Loki as he braced himself against the dash with both hands. As soon as they were out of the bus’ path, he reached over his shoulder and quickly buckled his seatbelt.

“Buckle up,” Darcy chirped at him.

“What the hell are you doing?” he demanded.

“Driving,” Darcy told him.

Loki slid his seat all the way back, making the locking mechanism crunch ominously. Trying to ignore it, Darcy turned on the radio. After about two seconds of some new Foo Fighters song, Loki switched the station.
“Hey! My car, my music,” Darcy told him, switching the radio back to X107.5.

“I hate the Foo Fighters,” Loki said grumpily.

They weren’t Darcy’s favourite either, but somehow letting the song keep going felt like payback for having to chase ducks and get stuck with pins. She turned the volume up.

“It’ll be over in like, two minutes. Then they’ll probably play Mumford and Sons or something.”

Loki actually growled. “I can’t believe your stations actually play the same shitty music you send to us,” he said.

Darcy laughed. “Hey, we send it because it’s popular. No guarantee on quality,” she said.

The back-up at the boulevard reached as far back as Koval. The bus Darcy had cut off earlier was now right behind her, and stopped so close to her car that if she backed up at all, she’d back right into it.

“Where are we going?” Loki asked.

Darcy looked out at the sea of stopped cars. “Forum. Fashion Show’ll probably be closed by the time we get there,” she said.

Loki looked like he was going to question her further, but then the Foo Fighters were replaced by Mumford and Sons, and Loki actually screamed and covered his ears. Darcy wasn’t sure if it was scary or funny, but she laughed anyway.

“Oh my god. Fine. Change it,” she said.

Loki started flipping through the stations, apparently not finding anything he liked. “Where are we going?” he asked again.

“Caesar’s Palace,” Darcy told him, going for the simpler answer this time.

“Isn’t that a casino?” asked Loki, pausing on a Spanish station for a few moments, before he started flipping through again.

“It has a mall,” Darcy said. She glanced over at him as traffic started moving again. “Haven’t you done the tourist thing yet?”

Loki shook his head and put the radio back on the Spanish station. “I tried, but it was too hot.”

That was something Darcy had heard about a million times before. “You sound like my friend Don,” she said.

Loki cracked a wry smile. “Your friend Don sounds intelligent,” he said. Darcy couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not.

Darcy laughed anyway. “No. Well, yeah. I mean, I assume he is. But he’s just from… Actually, I don’t know where he’s from. He’s never said. He sounds kind of like you when you do your stage voice, but it’s different. I can’t really explain it.”

“What brought him to this hell hole?” Loki asked, actually sounding like he was interested in hearing her answer.

“He’s studying to be a doctor,” she said. “I think that came after his decision to come here, though. I think like everyone else, he just kind of settled here by accident.”

“Then what brought you here?” Loki asked, almost sounding like he was trying to flirt.

“Me? Nothing. Two million people in this city, and I’m like, the only one who was born here.” It was a slight exaggeration, but not by much.

“Seriously?” Loki asked.

“Well. No. Not really. A lot of the kids I went to school with were born here too,” Darcy said.

“Two million?”

It wasn’t exactly a huge number, Darcy didn’t think. “Yeah,” she said slowly. “Something like that. It’s mostly a transient population, though, and it doesn’t count all the millions and millions of tourists here.”

Loki looked out the window at the Flamingo Hotel, like he’d never seen such a thing before. And then Darcy realised that he probably hadn’t. He’d grown up on some little patch of ice that probably only had about 200 people on it. Two million probably seemed like an impossible number to him.

“Do you want to get something to eat?” Darcy asked, hastily trying to change the subject. “Something that doesn’t come in a Styrofoam box.”

Loki looked back over at her. “What’s good?” he asked.

Darcy shrugged and turned onto the Boulevard. “At Caesar’s? Just about everything.”

Traffic on the Boulevard was moving just as slowly as it had been on Flamingo, and with everyone trying to change lanes — Darcy included — it was also a loud, blaring headache waiting to happen. She managed to sneak into the turn that took her to Caesar’s valet and gladly handed off her keys to a man in a black waistcoat.

“How much is this going to cost me?” Loki grumbled as he got out of the car and stepped onto the marble-smooth pavement.

Darcy smiled up at him, waving her valet ticket in his face. “Nothing. Why would it cost you anything?”

Loki batted the ticket out of his face. “Because it’s valet,” he said.

He started making his way inside, getting almost immediately lost. Rolling her eyes, Darcy followed after him and herded him up the escalator. It took them to a wide corridor, putting them on a path straight into the casino. Darcy turned around and went the other way, leading Loki back toward the mall. She’d almost wanted to make Loki take her to Trevi, but the mile-long line to be seated changed her mind in a huge hurry.

“There’s a Cheesecake Factory in here somewhere. Let’s find it,” she said, turning left at the fountain and heading down the path.

Loki grumbled, but followed her. “I don’t want cheesecake,” he said.

“They have real food. Why are you always so negative?” Darcy asked him. She looked at the shops as they passed, secretly wondering which one was the best place to get shoes. Probably not the Apple Store.

As they came to the end of the corridor, music and a booming electronic voice carried over the crowd. His curiosity obviously getting the better of him, Loki stood up straight to look over everyone else to see what the big deal was. The big deal being a bunch of moving statues that were all kind of broken and sad and didn’t really move anymore because they were about a million years old.

“Come on. If we’re lucky, there won’t be much of a wait,” she said, tugging on Loki’s sleeve and dragging him around the fountain to the restaurant.

The girl at the front trying to seat everyone seemed like she’d been ready to go home two hours ago. She moved with the kind of forced hurry of someone trying to speed up time as she went back and forth from the podium to one of the counters inside the restaurant. Even with only three groups in front of them, Loki sighed and rolled his eyes again. Darcy could see he was about to do something, but by the time she realised it, he’d already started.

“How long is this going to take?” Loki asked tiredly.

The girl looked up at him and put on a fake smile. “About twenty minutes, sir,” she said.

Loki looked over and pointed at an empty table. “That one’s empty.”

Darcy clouted him with her elbow, and he elbowed her right back.

“That one’s reserved,” the girl said, losing her smile.

Loki checked his watch. “Well, they’re late. Give it to someone else.”

“Oh my god, fine. We’ll eat somewhere else,” Darcy said, turning to leave. “What kind of spoilt brat can’t wait in a line?”

“It was your idea to go there,” Loki said, following after her. “It’s not my fault they can’t seat their customers.”

Darcy made a mental amendment. This guy was nothing like Don. Don was at least polite. “No. It’s not. It’s your fault you’re such a dick. Just buy me my shoes so I can chase your fucking duck, and don’t you ever start, I heard it.”

She kept walking until she found Gucci. Like all the other stores in the mall, it was bright and open, with the sort of minimal inventory that just screamed expensive price tags. Darcy almost felt bad about it, but there was a really big part of her that thought Loki deserved to lose some money. Besides, he could just write it off anyway. The seven-foot-tall security guard by the door watched them as they walked in, looking like he was just waiting for someone to try to steal something so he could rip their arms off.

Darcy sat down on a bench against the wall and waved her arm at the shoes. “Go on. And be nice, or I’m wearing my mules and not running at all.”

Loki sneered at her and walked over to the shoe rack. “What size do you wear?” he asked.

“Eight,” said Darcy.

“Eight?” Loki parroted, turning back to her. “Stop being difficult. What size do you wear?”

Darcy took off one of her shoes and threw it at him. He clumsily caught it out of the air and looked inside, frowning at what he saw. “Eight.”

She expected him to throw the shoe back, but he kept it as he looked over the selection of assorted black dressy shoes. He stared ahead and chewed on his thumbnail, putting an almost creepy amount of thought into the task.

“This would be easier if we had your dress here with us,” he said.

“I’m not going back to get it. Give me my shoe,” Darcy said.

Loki looked down at the shoe in his hand. “No, it’s mine now,” he decided. After a few more minutes of looking like a serious creep, he picked up a pair of black kitten heels with three small straps over the toes, and an even smaller ankle strap.

“Can you run in these?” he asked, holding them up.

Darcy knew she couldn’t run in anything with a heel. “Define run,” she said. “Am I sprinting?”

“You’re chasing a duck,” Loki said, like that was an answer to her question.

Not sure what else to do, Darcy sighed and got up. “I don’t know. Let’s try,” she said. She waved down the lone clerk behind the counter and pointed at the shoe in Loki’s hand.

“Can we get this in an eight?” she asked.

The clerk walked over and looked at what he was being sent to go fetch. “Yeah, let me go get that for you real quick.”

He ducked through a door behind the register as the security guard turned his attention inward to the store. Darcy started looking at some nearby shirts, wishing she could just drop $120 on a single item like that. The sales clerk quickly came back with a shoebox in his hands and gave it to Darcy. She leaned against Loki for balance while she put the shoes on, feeling like she was going to break the tiny little buckle as soon as she touched it.

“Can you run?” asked Loki.

Darcy was tempted to hit him, but she didn’t. Instead, she stood up and moved as quickly as she could across the floor. By the second step, she knew it was going to be a disaster, and when her heel decided it didn’t want to support her weight, almost making her fall over gracelessly, she wasn’t surprised at all. She managed to catch herself on the table full of shirts and glared back at Loki.

“You run in them,” she said, trying to wrench the shoes off her feet without breaking the straps.

Loki turned back to the clerk. “I’ll take them,” he said.

Darcy looked up sharply. “No, we won’t,” she said.

Loki nodded. “I’ll take them,” he repeated.

Darcy growled at Loki as he handed the shoes back to the clerk to be boxed up. While Loki was occupied with asking about their return policy and trying to figure out what $80 converted to in money he understood, Darcy picked up her shoe and turned and walked out of the store, letting Loki keep the other shoe. She didn’t even care. She didn’t get dinner, she looked like an idiot in the middle of a mall, and she felt so vindicated in making very swift tracks back down to valet so she could leave Loki at the mall. When she got her car back, she tipped the valet her last five dollar bill and slammed the door so hard it echoed through the entire garage.

She wanted to drive angry, and peel out like some kind of madwoman, but Strip traffic pretty much killed that urge as soon as it arose. By the time she got back onto Flamingo, she decided that all she really wanted was to eat. She passed right by her apartment and swung around to Taco Bell to get a loaded griller she knew she was going to regret. There was even a line at the drive-through there, but Darcy waited it out with a forced calm, just to prove that she could. With a few orders of churros as well, she drove back around the park to her apartment building, ready for dinner and a no-pants zone.

Upstairs, her apartment greeted her with a wall of hot, stagnant air. Flipping the air conditioner on as she shut and locked the door, Darcy went straight to the sofa and fell face-down on it. It was only the fact that she had dinner literally in her hand that made her sit up. Ready for some personal time, she turned on the TV, pulled off her one shoe, and started in on her churros. She finished off the first bag fairly quickly, and was halfway through the griller when a knock at the door made her just a little bit glad that she hadn’t got round to getting undressed yet. She was tempted to just ignore it, and pretend she wasn’t home, but whoever was on the other side of the door knocked again. Sighing tiredly, Darcy got up and peeked out the window to see who was bothering her, and was a little disappointed that it wasn’t her obnoxious neighbour asking if she had any cigarettes.

“Go away,” she shouted through the window at Loki.

He held his hands up in a dramatic shrug, made even more ridiculous by the Gucci bag in one hand and a ratty old sneaker in the other. Shaking her head, Darcy turned back to the sofa to finish her dinner, but Loki apparently wasn’t done. He banged on the door like he was trying to break it down before Darcy could even get across the tiny room. She knew she should have ignored him, because he was probably insane, but he was also pissing her off. And she wanted her shoe back. Gritting her teeth, she spun back round and stomped over to the door. She quickly unlocked it and flung it open, barely able to step out of the way quickly enough.

“What?” she demanded, snatching her shoe from Loki’s hand.

“You left me there,” Loki said incredulously, trying to step into the apartment. Darcy put herself directly in his way.

“Yeah. Because you were being an ass. Fuck off,” she said, trying to push him back out to the path without actually touching him, but he was a lot bigger than her, and wasn’t really moving at all.

“So what? You’re quitting?” asked Loki.

Darcy almost said yes out of spite, but she managed to stop herself before she did anything stupid. “No. I’ll be there bright and early tomorrow morning, but you are not allowed to come to my house and make me be the person who gets into a fight with their front door wide open,” she said.

She tried to muscle Loki away again, but it still wasn’t working.

“What do you want?” she demanded.

“I want to know why you thought it was funny to leave me behind,” Loki said. Either he really was an idiot, or he wanted to try to win by making her the more pissed off of the two of them. And if that was his plan, it was working.

Darcy threw her hands into the air and resisted the urge to walk away. “I left because you were being an asshole. I left because I didn’t want to be seen with you anymore. I left because I don’t want to chase a duck, I don’t want to run in heels, and I don’t want to be the person having a fight out on the path!”

They both stood awkwardly after that, Darcy hoping none of her neighbours had reached the call-the-cops point of irritation yet. And with Loki still not leaving, it was probably going to get to that point very soon. Darcy sighed in irritation and finally stepped back to open the way inside.

“Fine. Whatever. I don’t even care anymore,” she said, wondering what would happen to her job if she called the cops on her boss. It would probably disappear in a puff of smoke when Loki the illegal immigrant got his pasty ass deported.

Loki stepped inside, but not far enough to be able to close the door. He looked around the apartment at the shelves of books and props Darcy barely had room to store.

“This is where you live?” he asked.

Darcy laughed. “That’s rich, coming from the guy who lives in a hotel.”

Finally, Loki stepped all the way inside and shut the door. “It’s better than the last one I was staying in. I’m pretty sure it had bed bugs.”

“Do not sit down on anything,” Darcy said, stepping away from him and throwing her shoe over to where she’d dropped the other one. “Seriously, I just got rid of those fuckers, and I am not doing it again.”

Loki raised his hands in surrender and put the Gucci bag down on the coffee table. Instead of sitting down, he turned his attention to the shelf beside the television and reached straight for the small comic book next to the cups and balls set.

“What’s this?” he asked.

Darcy flapped her arms. “That’s Blackstone, and that’s not for touching!” she said, trying to figure out how to wrench the book from Loki’s fingers without hurting it.

She didn’t have to. Loki obediently put it back down and cringed. “Blackstone had comic books?” he asked.

“Yes. And they’re very old. Don’t touch my stuff,” Darcy scolded.

Loki’s attention drifted to the shelf by the sofa, eventually settling on the multi-coloured set of books on the middle shelf. Despite being told not seconds earlier to keep his hands to himself, he reached out and plucked the first volume off the shelf.

“Tarbell,” he mused as he opened the book and flipped through the pages. “Most people stop after volume one.”

Darcy sighed, trying to stay calm. “Yeah, my grandma got them for me. A new volume every year for my birthday, starting when I was six. The first one came with a full kit, but the other seven were just the books.”

“I had to buy all of mine myself,” Loki said. He slid the book back into its place, making sure it was aligned evenly with the rest of its family. “Before the internet. And then I had to have them shipped to Iceland. I never had any pocket money.”

He obviously wasn’t going to get to the point any time soon. Darcy snorted and crossed her arms over her chest. “Sucks to be you,” she said.

Loki cast an annoyed glance in her direction, and then looked back up at the chrome zombie ball on the top shelf.

“You obviously know what you’re doing. So why won’t you do the bit?” he asked.

Darcy tried not to laugh. “Because I like my ankles unbroken,” she said.

Loki bit his lip and inhaled deeply. Darcy recognised the look on his face as the same one he wore when one of the stage crew couldn’t get something right, and Loki was seconds away from losing it and shouting at everyone.

“Its three seconds of chasing a duck across the stage,” he said with a forced calm.

Darcy crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. “I’m not chasing the duck,” she said firmly.

She wondered how hard it was for Loki to not start shouting, since it looked like that was what he wanted to do most in the world right then. He rubbed his face with his hand, taking extra long to respond.

“If not a duck, then what will you chase?” he asked slowly.

Darcy shook her head. “No. You’re not getting this. It’s not the duck. It’s the running in heels. I can’t do it. I’m not going to do it. And that’s it.” She spoke very slowly to make sure Loki caught every word of what she had to say. Between being a man, an idiot, and not a native English speaker, he clearly needed all the help he could get.

“The heels aren’t that big,” Loki said, pointing at the Gucci bag as if it meant anything.

“I almost smashed head first into a table, in front of an entire mall, because you can’t take no for an answer,” Darcy said. “I don’t care how small the heels are. I am not running in them.”

She walked over to the door and opened it, showing Loki the parking lot below.

“I don’t know how you got here, but you need to leave,” she said.

Loki didn’t move. “I took a cab,” he said.

“Good. Take another one. Get out of my house,” Darcy told him. She waited silently, watching him as he finally picked up his Gucci bag and walked out to the path without another word. She slammed the door behind him, locking it with more force than necessary, just to be sure he stayed out.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #11: Box Jumper

There had been about two minutes when Loki thought the bigger stage would improve the quality of his act. Two minutes, before it came time to teach Darcy the sole box jumper in the entire show. The box wasn’t built with a trick floor, because they jammed and didn’t line up properly and were generally more hassle than they were worth, but now Loki was beginning to wish it had been. Loki looked at the black and chrome box on centre stage, standing tall and lonely with nothing else even close enough to it to make it work. It was on wheels, so Loki pushed it back against the backdrop and stepped away. Even from up on stage, it looked gaffed. Too much open space in front of it gave the distinct impression that its back panel was more of a door. He looked out over the house and sighed, wishing he had his tiny little pub stage again.

“Darcy, close the curtain,” he said, pointing off in the general direction of the rope. While she went backstage to do that, Loki pulled the box back up to the proscenium again. With the curtain closed, the area was far more suitable for the routine, but it still made it look like something was going to happen with the curtain.

“No, I don’t like that either,” Loki said.

“Want me to open it again?” Darcy asked.

Loki looked at what he had to work with and sighed. “Yeah,” he said. As the curtains slid open again, Loki looked back into the wings and frowned. They offered little help, so Loki looked up at the fly system. It was rudimentary at best, with just a few bars running across from either side, and just as useless as anything else backstage.

“Darcy,” Loki said suddenly, giving the box a light push forward. “Can you move this?”

“The box?” Darcy stepped out onto the stage and stopped next to Loki. She reached out and gave the box a little nudge, moving it easily over the floor. “Yeah,” she said.

Loki pulled open the door and stepped inside. “Now?” he asked.

Darcy pushed against it again, and even with Loki’s added weight, moved it about a foot before stopping. “Yeah,” she said with a shrug.

Loki scratched his head and stepped out of the box. “I need a stagehand,” he said. He looked around, hoping to find someone to conscript, but the theatre was empty of random people. Unless he wanted to wait until later to work everything out and teach the routine to Darcy, they’d have to do without.

“No, actually. I need a stopwatch,” Loki decided. He pulled his phone from his pocket and poked at the screen, but didn’t know where to even start to look to find one.

“Uh. Here,” said Darcy as she grabbed her own phone. She seemed to know what he was doing with it, and quickly handed it over, all ready to go. Loki hated iPhones even more than he hated his Samsung, but it too would have to do.

Loki tapped the start button and ran backstage. Darcy was shouting something at him, but he ignored it as he pushed through the heavy doors and continued out to the hall. He ran around the theatre, turning down the corridor that led to the house. As soon as he was back in, he stopped the phone and nodded at it.

“Forty five seconds,” he announced.

Darcy spun round to face him.

“What the hell was that?” she asked, throwing her hands into the air.

Loki walked back up to the stage and handed her phone back. “The amount of time you have to stall,” he said.

He walked back to the prop room to grab his golf bag full of swords and wheeled it to centre stage. He brought the box over next to it, fiddling with the placement of both until they were exactly where he wanted them. Satisfied with the way it looked, he waved Darcy over.

“There are numbers here. On the side.” He pointed to one of the thin slits in the side of the box, with “1” written beneath it in black Sharpie. “Fifteen. Do them in order. They’re all angled to make sure the blades go where they need to.”

Darcy turned to look at the swords next to her. “Are the swords numbered?” she asked.

Loki shook his head. “No, but they are real. I don’t keep them sharp, but I still don’t want to be stabbed.” He handed her one of the swords and held his hand out toward the box. “Get used it it a few times without me in it. Then we’ll go through the patter.”

“Kay.” Darcy took the sword and fed it through the first slot, visibly struggling to keep it balanced.

“Don’t fight it,” Loki said. He reached over and pulled the sword back out before Darcy bent it. “If it doesn’t want to go in straight, don’t try to force it.”

“Kay,” Darcy repeated. She lined the sword up and tried again, more fluidly slotting it into place this time. Once it was in all the way, Loki handed her another.

Darcy spent several long seconds looking for the second slot before finding it and feeding the sword in.

“You’ll need to have this memorised,” Loki told her.

“I will. This is my first time seeing it. Give me a break.” She took the third sword from him, found the appropriate slot, and slid the sword in.

Once she finished, Loki started pulling the swords out and putting them back in the golf bag.

“Can you swallow swords?” Darcy asked.

“Yes, but these aren’t for swallowing,” said Loki as he pulled one out from the box. He looked down at it and pulled out two more. “They’re for this.”

He took two long steps backwards, and after checking his distance from everything, started juggling them. They weren’t actually for juggling either, and were far too long to spin, so he had to try to keep them with the blades pointing upward. It only took a few seconds before he lost that balance and one started to tumble. Loki quickly stepped back, letting all three of the swords fall with a clatter.

“They’re not for that,” he admitted as he picked them back up.

“You just wanted to show off,” Darcy said, wide-eyed.

Loki shrugged and put the swords back into the bag. “Perhaps,” he admitted.

“You should do that in the show,” said Darcy, stepping close again.

Loki looked out over the stage again. It was definitely big enough. “Maybe. I’ll have to practise.” He finished putting all of the swords back and stepped away. “All right. Do it again.”

Loki stood by while Darcy ran through the sequence three more times. She didn’t get any faster in finding the proper slots, but she did get the swords through much more smoothly than she had done the first time. Relatively confident that he wouldn’t be skewered, Loki stepped forward again to decide how the rest of the routine should go.

“This stage is not doing us any favours, so you need to play this one up,” he said. He opened the box and stepped inside.

“I will get in here, at centre stage,” he said. Then he stepped out again and pushed it back to stage right. “You need to get it right here before sword six. By the end, I want it over on stage left, and then down centre again.”

Darcy turned and nodded. “What, like? Do you want me to just push it around and show it off, or am I pretending I don’t want to be all over the place?” she asked.

“Make it seem accidental,” Loki said.

Darcy grinned widely and laughed. “Do I get to be your psychic Tanya?” she asked.

It was not an option Loki had even considered. Katrín had always played the proverbial straight man in their act, and most of their routines were framed around her refusal to make a fool of herself onstage.

“I don’t know if the stage could handle that much stupid,” Loki said, pushing the box back to centre stage once more.

“Oh, are you an idiot, too?” Darcy asked eagerly.

Loki grinned at her, exaggerated and toothy. “Such an idiot,” he said. “That was what Katrín played off, when we were in Reykjavík. She was always pissed off at me for being useless.”

Darcy pulled one of the swords from the golf bag and looked at the polished blade. “So, what? I should be like, stabbing you because I’m pissed, and you’re in a convenient stabby box?” she asked.

“Very apt,” said Loki. He pointed back offstage. “You. Back left. Take those with you. Let’s run this.”

Darcy put the sword back into the golf bag and wheeled it back offstage to go wait in the wings. Loki watched her go, and nodded when he was ready.

“We start with this being brought out. I’m usually still picking up cards at this point. Let the audience get a good look at it, and then it starts.” He straightened up his posture as he fell into character, and gave the box a startled look. “Oh, yes. This. This is the wrong accent,” he realised irritably. After ten years, it might wind up proving a difficult habit to break, which was not a factor he had previously considered. Clearing his throat, Loki started again with a conscious effort to remember to sound like a proper Icelander.

“Oh, yes,” he said again, getting it right this time. “This is a very special item from back home. They’re very old. I found this one in a collection on the street, next to some bins. But, you know. It smells fine.”

“Oh my god,” Darcy said from offstage.

Loki dutifully ignored her and opened the door. “But it still works. Anything you place inside vanishes. Anything. Like this.”

He pulled a large golden-yellow foam ball from his pocket and put it on the floor of the box.

“You put the ball in there, close the door,” Loki closed the door and turned back to the house, “and when you look in once more, it is gone!”

He opened the door widely and bowed, only looking back into the box when he was standing again. “No. No. Wait,” he said, shutting the door quickly. “One more time. You put the ball in, give the box a spin,” as he spun the box around, he very obviously opened the door and threw the ball into the wings. He slammed the door shut again just as he completed the circle, “and the ball is gone!”

This time when he threw open the door, the ball was indeed gone, and the box empty. Offstage, Darcy was laughing like she couldn’t quite believe what she’d just witnessed.

“Such an idiot,” she said.

Still, Loki ignored her and continued as if he hadn’t said anything.

“But it’s much more interesting with something bigger. Something like a person,” Loki said. He stepped inside the box and closed the door, only to open it back up immediately. “Okay, good. You’re all still here.”

He dropped character and peered out at Darcy. “When I close the door, you step out, see me in the convenient stabby box, and go back for the swords. I count down from five, and on one, the first sword goes through,” he said.

“Awesome. Stabbing time,” Darcy said.

Loki threw her an uncertain look. “If I hit the side three times, you stop,” Loki said. “That means you’ve stabbed me and lost your job.”

“No actual stabbing. Got it,” Darcy said, nodding.

Loki still wasn’t sure if this was going to wind up being a mistake, but he closed the door anyway. “I am going to count down from five. On zero, the door will magically open, and I will be gone,” he continued. He pressed himself up against the back wall of the box and began counting down, appearing to become more and more uncertain with each number. “Three. Uhm, uh. Er. Two? Uhmmm. Uhhhh. One,” he said slowly. Right on cue, Darcy pushed the first sword through the box, missing Loki entirely. He reached over it and leaned as far out of the box as he could.

“I start shouting and swearing now. Slam the door on my face and keep going,” Loki instructed.

“And get you to stage right by number six,” Darcy confirmed.

“Yes,” Loki said.

Nodding, Darcy slammed the door shut and picked up the second sword. She drove it into the slot, trying to give the box a good shove at the same time, rather leaving Loki with the fear that the whole thing would topple over.

“Do you want me to spin it?” she asked.

Loki arched again to avoid the third sword. “Just make sure the front is facing the house when we’re in position,” he said.

The box lurched and rocked as Darcy threw everything into fighting against the box. When Loki counted the sixth sword, he reached behind him and unlatched the back door, slipping easily out of the box.

“We’ll have to mark it, but I need it as close to the wings as possible,” he said. “If we use a black board, I can sneak out. When you get to left, twist it around to show the back.” He shut the door again, making it seem like there was never a door at all.

“While you do that, I run around the halls and come find a seat at the back of the house,” Loki finished. Rather than running around, he stepped down off the stage and wandered down the near aisle. He picked a seat at random and sat to watch Darcy finish her part of the routine. When she had all fifteen swords in place, and the box more or less at centre stage, she looked back out at Loki.

“You open the door now, and just walk back offstage,” he said.

Darcy did with an abundance of spite and petulance, showing the empty house the empty box.

“Spotlight out here on me,” Loki said, standing again and walking back up to the stage. “‘Oh, how did I get here?’ Trick is done. Back to your place, because we’re running it at least ten times today.”

Darcy hesitated a few moments before going backstage, leaving Loki to reset the trick.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #10: Paid Heckler

Darcy held her phone to her ear with her shoulder as she dug around the space by her bed. She still wasn’t sure she hadn’t dreamt the whole thing up, and when Jane finally answered, she still wasn’t sure exactly what she was going to say.

“Hey. Jane,” she started before getting distracted by half a dozen unmatched shoes she hadn’t even remembered ever buying.

“Darcy?” asked Jane, sounding surprised to be hearing from her. “What are you doing?”

Darcy found a match to the black pump in her left hand, but she wasn’t sure if those were her best shoes, so she kept looking.

“I’m trying to find some shoes,” she said, quietly hating that her closet was just big enough to be a way-too-small bedroom. “Because I won’t be coming in today. Or at all. Ever. Sorry.”

“Oh,” said Jane. “Are you all right? What’s going on?”

“Yep,” said Darcy with as much breath as she could manage with the edge of her bed pressing into her stomach. She tried to wiggle under the bed, but there wasn’t enough room between it and the wall to even get down onto the ground properly. She gave up and sat up straight, surprised at how easily she was suddenly able to breathe.

“So, that thing you told me to do,” said Darcy. She looked down at the pumps in her hand and decided they wouldn’t work at all. “I went this morning. To the audition, you know? And kinda. Got the job.”

“Oh my god!” shouted Jane so loudly that Darcy had to pull the phone away from her ear.

“Yeah, I know right?” Darcy said.

“That’s amazing. It sucks for my grade books, but wow,” Jane said.

Darcy laughed. Jane must have been in her office, because Darcy could hear the shuffling of papers underneath everything.

“I mean, it was crazy. He kicked everyone out–”

“What?” asked Jane incredulously.

“I know!” Darcy said, still not able to believe it. “Like, I thought it was going to be another showgirl audition, along with frickin everybody else there, so I showed up in this skirt that hasn’t actually fit me since the eighth grade. Along with frickin everybody else there. So then he got pissed off and told everyone to just get the fuck out unless they could do magic. And fucking everyone left. I was the only one still there!”

“No,” said Jane.

Darcy threw her arms I to the air, forgetting about her shoes and hitting them against the wall. “I know! He told me to come back at four, so now I’m looking for shoes.”

“Why are you looking for shoes? What’s wrong with whatever you wore today?” Jane asked.

Darcy shook her head and tossed the pumps toward her pillow. “He told me to bring my best pair,” she said.

“Oh, the black mules. Definitely,” said Jane with authority.

“Those are exactly the ones I’m looking for,” Darcy said. She looked over the bed at the mess against the wall and sighed. “So, I’m gonna go back to that. Sorry for bailing on you forever.”

“You can make it up by getting me and Don tickets to your show,” Jane said.

“Done,” agreed Darcy. “Kay, gonna go. See you… Sometime.”

Jane laughed. “Okay. Congrats. Maybe you’ll start to feel better.”

“Yeah, maybe. Good luck finding someone else willing to tackle your mess. Bye.” Darcy hung up while Jane protested her mess being called a mess. And it was a mess. A terrible, awful mess that consumed the entire office. But it was a mess that had given Darcy a little extra money for groceries, so she couldn’t hate on it too much.

Tossing her phone aside, Darcy leaned back over the side of her bed and started looking through the mess of shoes and dropped shirts and that bra she thought she’d lost six months before. With the top of her head resting against the floor, she managed to reach under the bed and fish around, finally coming up with the shoes she’d been hoping to find. Looking at them, she was almost tempted to bring her running shoes as well. Just in case her new boss’ idea of ‘best shoes’ was slightly more utilitarian than a pair of shoes whose sole purpose was to look sexy as hell.

Actually, she had no idea what the hell he had planned, and Darcy had less than twenty minutes to work it out. Worse, she didn’t even have a number she could have phoned to find out.

Looking down at the shoes in her hands one more time, she decided to assume she was supposed to dress a bit fancy. She found a better skirt — one that went down to her knees and didn’t show off everything at the slightest movement — and a top that her boobs didn’t constantly try to escape from, and changed quickly. She had just enough time after to check her hair and makeup before rushing back out of her apartment. The Key Largo was only a few blocks away, straight down Flamingo, but she wanted to be a few minutes early. But at the rate she was going, she’d barely be on time.

At least it was far enough off the strip that the constant traffic backup didn’t manage to slow her down. She parked close to the green room door, knowing where it was this time, finding it propped open with a chair. Darcy wasn’t sure if she was supposed to actually go in, so she poked her head into the building to scope it out first. Loki was sitting on the long sofa against the wall, talking with a man in a suit. They both seemed to notice her at the same time and waved her in.

“Yes, come in. Come in. Shut the door,” Loki said.

Darcy stepped through the door and moved the chair out of the way so it could close. There was a hint of air conditioning about the room, but with the door having been propped open, it was only a very small hint.

Suddenly, Loki stopped talking about wanting to repaint the walls and zeroed his attention straight to Darcy’s feet.

“What are those?” he asked.

“What?” asked Darcy, looking down quickly. She wasn’t sure what she expected to see, but everything looked fine.

“Your shoes. Can you run in those?” Loki asked.

Darcy laughed. “No,” she said.

Loki shook his head, looking extremely unimpressed. “Get rid of them,” he said flatly.

“What?” Darcy asked again. She wasn’t sure she heard him right. Maybe it was just his accent getting in the way.

“They’re not going to work. You don’t have to throw them away, but you can’t wear those unless you learn to run in them.”

Darcy seriously regretted not bringing her trainers. “Uhhh. Okay? Should I go back home and get something else?”

Loki looked like he was about to say yes, but then quickly shook his head and waved the issue off. “Do you have contact lenses?” he asked instead.

Because apparently, even though he wasn’t looking for showgirls, he still had requirements for her appearance. Darcy was beginning to feel put on the spot, especially with someone else watching her get told how to look.

“Nope,” she said, trying not to sound completely defiant.

“I would prefer them,” Loki said.

Darcy was starting to wonder if she was being pranked, and then she realised that she should have expected this sort of thing to begin with. Just because this Loki guy didn’t want showgirls didn’t mean he was exempt from being a massive creep.

“Anything else?” she asked, letting her irritation get the better of her.

Loki narrowed his eyes, almost like he was actually studying her for something to complain about now. “You can’t wear that nail varnish either. Not on stage,” he said.

Darcy shot a look down at her hands, wondering what was so bad about burgundy nail polish. “Seriously?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Loki simply.

Darcy wondered if it was too late to just turn around and walk out. She wondered how much she’d regret it if she did. Before she was able to decide if she was going to turn around and throw out the best opportunity of her life, the door out to the hallway opened, and a woman dragged the biggest Tupperware container Darcy had ever seen into the room.

“Who was that man at the door? He almost didn’t let me in” she asked, not even trying to hide her irritation. She let the giant-ass container fall to the ground with a loud thud and sighed deeply.

“Ramon is way too into his job. Sorry about him,” said the man in the suit.

Loki looked up at him, like he’d just remembered the man was there. “Oh, yes. Darcy. This is Jeff. He owns this casino. When you’re done here, you’ll go sign all your papers with him. Ordinarily, you’d sign with me, but,” he cringed way too dramatically to be genuine, “there’s a problem with my visa. We’re getting it sorted, but it means your contract is going to be with the casino. Not with me. At least for now.”

“Okay,” Darcy said slowly. She wasn’t sure if that made her feel better or not. Worse, she still had no idea what she was even supposed to be doing there, other than get torn apart for just about everything.

Jeff stood and nodded down to Loki. “I’ll leave you guys and ladies to it, then.” He left the room, leaving behind an awkward silence. Was Darcy supposed to do some kind of little song and dance? What the hell did Loki want from her?

Luckily, the grumpy woman with the Tupperware seemed to know what she was doing. She pulled off the lid to it and looked up at Loki and Darcy. “Who’s going first?” she asked.

Loki gestured to Darcy. “I was just refitted about four months ago. She needs a brand new everything. Fifteen, plus the main.”

Darcy looked between them, Loki lounging lazily on the sofa, and the woman already digging through the Tupperware.

The woman laughed and shook her head. “Nathan only wanted three. Trying to show him up, are you?”

“Nathan?” asked Loki.

Suddenly, Darcy realised why she was there, and why she’d been told to wear her best shoes.

“Nathan Burton,” she said, assuming the other woman was Georgia Daniels. Most of the big acts in town had in-house costuming, but the small up-and-comers needed to get professional costumes made too. And Georgia was the woman you went to.

“I thought it was Lance Burton,” Loki said.

“Yeah, there’s him too, but his show’s a total snoozefest. If Tomsoni’s opening for him, that’s the only reason to go. Otherwise its two hours of box jumping and a duck,” Darcy said.

“No, that’s not all he does,” Georgia corrected as she pulled swathes of bright fabric from her Tupperware bucket. “He has the doves and the paid heckler, too.”

Darcy rolled her eyes. “We can’t forget his heckler,” she agreed. Sick of standing up like she was on display, Darcy sat down in one of the folding chairs that littered the room.

“What other acts are there?” Loki asked, sounding genuinely curious.

“Have you seen any of them yet?” Darcy asked.

Loki shook his head.

“Oh. Well, there’s Hammer. He’s all right. Nathan Burton. Nothing to really rave about, but they’re both good for an evening show. And Believe, which is just another Cirque show. The best evening show, now that Johnathan’s called it quits is Penn and Teller. You also have to see Mac King. He’s afternoon, but he really could be evening. I’m not actually sure why he’s not. Too short, maybe? I don’t know.”

“Oh, it’s too bad about Johnathan,” Georgia said sadly.

“I know,” Darcy agreed. “I wish I’d seen him a few more times.”

“What happened?” asked Loki, looking back and forth from Darcy and Georgia. “Something go wrong on stage?”

Darcy frowned. “No, he’s dying. Actually, when his trick went wrong, it only made him more popular.” The confused look on Loki’s face prompted her on. “He stapled a card to his assistant’s eye. For real,” she said, miming the action of a staple gun.

“The Amazing Johnathan!” Loki said excitedly. “That Johnathan, yes. I had heard of that. And the woman still worked with him after.” He threw his hands up into the air with disbelief.

Darcy snorted. “You staple anything to me, and I’m bailing,” she said.

“I’d at least expect you to finish the show,” Loki said. Darcy couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not, so she just snorted again.

“Which, by the way. Are you an afternoon or an evening show?” she asked, not sure which she’d even prefer.

Loki shook his head. “We haven’t set showtimes yet,” he said.

“No, no. Are these tricks you can put into a book for kids, or are you going to be bleeding all over the stage?” Darcy asked.

“Ah. Somewhere in between, I think,” Loki said with a nod. “I can’t afford to replace my shirt each night, but I do have swords and fire.”

“Oh, I get to be stabbed with swords?” Darcy asked. It almost sounded fun, actually.

Loki grinned and shook his head. “No, you get to stab me. Unless you truly want to be the one getting stabbed.”

“No, I like yours better,” Darcy said. She had no idea what the routine actually was, but she already liked the sound of it.

Loki grinned, all smug and self-satisfied, while Georgia brought over a bright red evening dress. “We’ll start with the main, and then go from there. Let’s try this on and see where it takes us.”

Loki suddenly looked very irritated. “It needs to be green,” he said.

Georgia nodded. “It will be. We’re just getting ideas now.”

Loki settled back in his seat, apparently satisfied with that answer. With the dress in hand, Darcy looked around and wondered if she was expected to just strip right there in front of everybody.

“Uh. Where should I change?” she asked.

Loki pointed in the direction of the stage. “Dressing rooms are on the left,” he said.

Darcy hesitated a long moment before going off to find them. When she did, they were remarkably similar to the ones she remembered from high school. Lots of mirrors and lights and a long shelf, but surprisingly little room to hold anything useful like costumes. Also like the dressing rooms from high school, the door didn’t lock. Hoping her creepy new boss didn’t turn out to be a seriously massive creep, Darcy quickly undressed and changed into the red dress Georgia had given her. It was long and flowing, with a deep v-cut down the front, and crisscrossed straps in the back. And as soon as she got it on, there was a problem. Not only was it way too long, it had clearly been designed for someone with no boobs at all. Popping out wasn’t just a danger; it was an eventuality. With one hand holding up the hem and the other covering her chest, Darcy cautiously left the dressing room and peeked back into the green room.

“Yeah, this one doesn’t work,” she said.

Loki crooked his fingers anyway, and already having too much invested to throw it all out, Darcy stepped out from the hall. Loki stood and frowned immediately. “Are you still wearing those damned shoes?” he asked, looking down at her feet.

“Yeah,” said Darcy.

“Take them off,” Loki said.

While she slipped out of her shoes, Loki picked at the skirt and chewed his thumbnail. “I don’t like the waist,” he said. “It’s too…” He frowned and reached out and pulled the fabric around Darcy’s waist just a bit tighter.

Startled by the sudden and very unexpected contact, Darcy took a quick step back.

“Woah. In this country, we ask first,” she said. “Just because you’re British doesn’t mean you get a free pass.”

“I’m not British,” Loki said.

“English. Whatever,” Darcy corrected.

“Icelandic,” Loki said.

It was enough of a curve ball that Darcy forgot to be angry with him. “Seriously?” she asked. “You sound British.”

“And that’s rather the point,” said Loki. He let himself be waved off by Georgia as she stepped over to mess with hemlines and waistlines and do terrifying things with pins.

“What about a waistband?” she asked. Without waiting for anyone to respond, she went back over to her huge bin and dug out a long piece of fabric in the same colour as the dress. Folding it over a few times, she measured it against Darcy’s waist, and then wrapped it tightly round.

Loki stood back and watched, still chewing on his thumbnail. While Georgia pinned everything in place, somehow managing not to stick Darcy even once, Loki nodded. “Yes, I think that’s much better,” he said.

“What about you, dear? You’re the one who’ll be wearing it every night,” said Georgia.

Darcy looked down, trying to get a look without moving her arm and giving everyone else a completely different sort of look.

“Big problem in the upstairs department,” she pointed out.

“Oh, yes there is,” agreed Georgia. She managed to get everything secured without letting anything fall out and scribbled a bunch of stuff into a notebook.

“So, how does a bra work with this thing?” Darcy asked, looking over at the very visible blue strap on her shoulder.

“Backless,” said Georgia. “Or go without.”

Darcy groaned. “I better be getting paid so much for this,” she said.

“An extra fifty dollars a night, I’d say,” Georgia said. She handed Darcy another dress. “Let’s try this one now,” she said. “Careful of the pins.”

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #9: Showgirls

Loki had hoped to find Thor sooner, but like all of his plans, this too had been overly-ambitious. Loki barely had the time to breathe since landing in America. Even if he had managed to find more than a few hours a day to himself, when he wasn’t struggling to find work, or telling builders how he needed the stage, or arguing over the phone with his landlord back in Reykjavík, he had no idea where to actually start looking for Thor. When he landed in Las Vegas, he expected to find a row of casinos and a few side streets, with Hualapai being one of them. Thinking back on it, it was a stupid assumption to have made. He knew Thor was a year away from finishing a medical degree at the university, and universities didn’t tend to exist in the middle of nowhere. Universities attracted people, and those people needed a place to live. What Loki definitely had not expected, and still couldn’t quite get his head around, was a city that seemed to go on forever.

Even with the address pinned on Google Maps, Loki still didn’t have time to go spy in the hedges. Which was something else he hadn’t expected Las Vegas to have. But even if he had the time to explore the desert flora up close and personally, he hadn’t exactly planned out his actions any further than that.

It was all a moot point, really. If Loki wanted to be able to stay in the country to track down his brother, he had to keep working. And as long as he was working, he didn’t have the time to do anything else. He checked his watch as he dressed in the small hotel suite (which at least had a proper bed with proper pillows, making it infinitely better than the rathole he’d been rescued from) and almost jumped at the time. Loki swore and buttoned up his shirt. He barely stepped into his shoes before grabbing a notebook from the dresser and rushing out the door. His hair was still damp and snarled, hanging loose over his shoulders and making his shirt wet, but he’d slept later than he’d meant to and didn’t have the time to brush everything out.

His suite was on the same side of the casino as the theatre, in the part of the building that had been mostly finished, needing only the interior decorator to come along and put more palm trees in pots and paintings of palm trees everywhere. Loki wound through the back halls to the green room where people were already waiting, and cut through it to get backstage. The theatre wasn’t even close to ready for a performance yet, but at least the prop room was more than big enough to accommodate what he’d managed to have sent over so far, and still have room to spare.

Loki found a table in the wings and brought it out to the stage as one of the security guards wandered in from the green room.

“We’ve got about six people out here waiting to be let in,” he said, pointing his thumb over his shoulder.

Loki looked down at the table, and then back toward the prop room. “Five minutes, and then bring them in here,” he said, waving his hand toward the house. He didn’t wait for a response before rushing back to the prop room to gather up anything that could be easily carried. Most of what he brought out were simple props which he hadn’t even used in a routine in years, but any beginner should have been able to work most of them.

Finally, he found a chair and a small magic table and sat both on the stage a few feet from the prop table, just as the security guard led in a small group of women. They were all wearing tiny skirts and shirts that were too small, which somehow Loki doubted was because of the heat. He checked his watch, debating whether he should start early and just let people in as they came, but he decided he’d stall for just a few minutes longer.

“Can you find me some eggs?” he asked the security guard suddenly. “About a half dozen. And a rubber band.” He pulled his hair off his shoulders and frowned at the mess left on his shoulders.

“Oh, here,” said one of the women from the house. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a big, weirdly fluffy hair tie and tossed it up at him. Loki caught it out of the air and frowned at it.

“So, just the eggs then?” asked the security guard, obviously trying not to laugh.

Loki shrugged to himself and used the ridiculous item to pull his hair off of his neck and shoulders.

“Yes. Just the eggs,” Loki said. He fiddled with the props on the table, spreading them out evenly, despite knowing that by the end of the day, it would all be a big, jumbled mess.

Two more young women wandered out from the green room, wearing short shorts and crop tops. Loki watched them sit down next to one another, having doubts about this entire audition. Looking over everyone, he was fairly certain they had all shown up to audition as showgirls, ready to be stuffed into boxes and turned into tigers.

“How many girls are you looking for?” one of the women in the house asked.

Loki looked up properly. “Just one. And she has to be very good.”

“I’m incredibly good,” the woman said. Loki rolled his eyes and went back to pretending to check over all of the props.

A few more women wandered in, along with the security guard. He brought the carton of eggs over and set it down on the table where Loki pointed.

“Need anything else?” he asked.

Loki looked around, first at the table of props, and then at the growing group of hopefuls in the house. “No, this should be all. I’ll call if something arises.”

The security guard nodded and waved out to the house. “Good luck, ladies,” he said before disappearing again.

Deciding that if anyone else showed up, they could just sit down with the rest, Loki took his seat on the stage and looked out at the group of hopefuls.

“Who’s first?” he asked.

There was a brief moment of hesitation before someone finally stood up and climbed the steps back up to the stage. She stood a few feet away, looking like she wasn’t sure if she should start dancing or not.

“What’s your name?” Loki asked.

“Candy,” she said.

Loki raised an eyebrow as he wrote that down, not believing for a minute that it was her real name. “Do you have a telephone number, Candy?” he asked.

She gave it to him slowly, giving him plenty of time to write it down.

“All right,” said Loki, dropping the notebook to his lap and folding his hands over it. “Show me a magic trick.”

Candy gave him a confused look, and then turned the confused look to the table full of props. She quickly zeroed in on the set of polished aluminium cups and picked one up, along with one of the red cork balls beside it. She put the ball onto the magic table and put the cup over it, and then lifted the cup again quickly, glaring at the ball as if she had expected it to vanish on its own accord. She tried again, and again, but still the ball remained right where she’d put it.

“I don’t get it,” she said.

Loki smiled at her. “Thank you. Next,” he said, scratching her name off the page.

Candy looked at him indignantly. “That’s it?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Loki, nodding. “You can go home now.”

Candy scoffed and stomped off the stage while others in the house all murmured amongst one another. Two of the women got up and followed Candy out, while a third hesitantly made her way up to the stage.

“Name,” Loki said.

“Denise,” the young woman said, lacking confidence.

“And your telephone number?” Loki asked.

She gave hers and then looked over to the table. “You want me to…?” she asked.

Loki nodded, and watched as she picked through the props. For some reason unknown to man or science, she pulled out an egg and tried to juggle it from hand to hand, only to drop it on her feet, splattering raw egg everywhere. Loki covered his face with his hand, taking a good, long moment before looking back up again. There was still egg everywhere, so he got up and walked back to the wings to find some shop towels.

“Thank you very much,” he said insincerely as he tossed a shop towel at her. “Go. Leave. Now.” He waved her away and bent to clean up the mess before it ruined the stage and stank up the entire theatre.

Denise stomped off much the same way Candy had, passing another small group of women as they wandered in.

“Don’t even bother,” she told them as she went.

Throwing the towel back to the wings for one of the builders to take care of later, Loki decided that Denise rather had the right idea.

“If you’re only here to shake your arse, just get out. You’re wasting my time,” he said as he sat back down. He scribbled over Denise’s name as most of the women in the house got up and angrily left, leaving only three behind.

“Do you know any magic at all?” Loki asked those who remained.

The telling silence was enough to make Loki want to get up and walk out. He started to stand when someone finally said, “I do.”

Loki sat back in his seat and waved her up to the stage. He looked out at the two remaining women still in the house.

“What about you?” he asked.

After an awkward moment, they both got up and left as well. Loki did his very best to ignore it, and focused instead on the young woman before him. She looked strangely familiar, and it took Loki a few moments to realise why.

“You were at the first audition,” he said.

“Yep,” she said awkwardly.

“I was watching you. That was impressive,” he said honestly.

The young woman shrugged. “It’s his trick. I’d only just learned it that day.”

“That’s what was impressive,” Loki told her. He picked his notebook back up and tapped the pen against it. “What’s your name?”

“Darcy,” she answered.

Loki started to write it down, but gave up halfway through. “Impress me,” he said.

Darcy looked over at the prop table, taking her time in deciding which one to pick. She grabbed the two remaining cups and dropped one into the other, letting it seem like it had passed clean through and fallen onto the table. It was a simple light trick that any child could do, and yet still the only thing he’d seen so far that had shown even the slightest amount of skill. Darcy put the cups down again, and went for the embroidered silk egg bag with a thoughtful look on her face.

“Should I fetch another towel?” Loki asked.

Darcy gave him a withering look as she folded the bag into quarters. “Rude,” she said. She plucked out another egg from the carton and tossed it into the air, catching it effortlessly in the folded bag. She shook the bag out, showing it empty, and then twisted it up and smacked it against her hand. Proving the bag well and truly empty, she stretched it out again, and held it by the corners and giving it one more shake. Tossing the bag aside, she picked up one of the cups and put it down on the table, lifting it again to show the egg unharmed underneath.

“You flashed the egg on the load,” Loki told her plainly.

“Did I? Fuck,” Darcy said.

“No,” Loki said. “I just wanted to see how you’d react.”

“Rude,” Darcy repeated. She looked like she wanted to throw something at him. Which is probably what Loki would have done in the same situation, so he couldn’t exactly fault her for it.

“Show me some cards,” he said, pointing to the deck of greenbacks on the table.

“Why green?” she asked, cutting the deck and flipping half of it around and running her fingers across the sides to check for a shave.

“Because it’s visible on stage, but not red,” Loki said. “And anything else just looks gaffed.”

Darcy laughed and fanned out the deck with one hand. “I know a guy who uses a Ghost, and then gets annoyed when people accuse him of using a gaff.” She offered him the fan.

Loki shook his head. “They’re pretty, but not for performances,” he agreed. He picked out a card from the middle of the fan and looked at it. Darcy cut the deck and held it out. Holding his card between two fingers, Loki set it obediently on the top of the cut.

Darcy shuffled the deck and snapped her fingers against the top card. She picked it up, showing it as Loki’s chosen card. Again, she slid it back into the deck and shuffled, this time making the card spring straight up into the air. She caught it, showed him, and shuffled it again, once again pulling his card off the top.

“Yes, good. You’re hired,” Loki decided aloud.

“Seriously?” asked Darcy, jumping in place. “Just like that?”

Loki looked out at the empty house, raising an eyebrow to the distinct lack of competition. “Do you know metamorphosis?” he asked.

“I’ve never had the chance to try,” Darcy said. She put the cards back on the table and stepped away.

“Mentalism?” asked Loki.

“Yes, but I won’t do anything that involves talking to ghosts,” Darcy said bluntly. “It’s mean.”

Loki shrugged. He didn’t talk to ghosts anyway, so there was no problem there. He stood and pulled out his phone, looking for the number he’d stored away the day before.

“Come back at four. Bring your best shoes,” he said. He found the number and waved Darcy out so he could make a few calls and clean up the stage.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #8: Politics in Media

Darcy sat in the windowless room, completely unable to concentrate on her essay. She had ninety minutes to write three pages, and she’d barely got two sentences out. She just didn’t care about the reasons for having a pre-scripted approach to television interviews, and how to avoid being led away from the prepared topic. The entire term had been nothing but idiot politicians saying stupid things on television, and she just didn’t have it in her to care. She probably shouldn’t have even written her smart-ass response, but now that she’d already put down, ‘you look like an idiot either way, so clearly the best solution is to avoid all television interviews over the course of your political career,’ she couldn’t think of a single other thing to say.

In the end, she managed two whole paragraphs. She was going to fail, and she knew it, and… And well, she did care. She cared a lot, because she was already on the verge of academic probation, on top of struggling to make it through the term without just quitting all together. But she didn’t know why she cared. Aside from the crippling debt she’d accrued for no reason, to pursue a degree she wasn’t even sure she wanted. She cared about the waste of time and money if she failed.

She trudged to Jane’s office, not even caring about rushing to get there on time. She’d just bombed her final and was probably going to lose all her loans and grants anyway, so it wasn’t like she’d be able to keep her job after the term was over.

Jane was in, working on grading the final exams for her own classes. She had the same dead-eyed, vacant stare as everyone else on campus, and was probably going to go insane from reading the same thing over and over again.

“Hey,” Jane said without looking up.

Darcy slouched down in front of the computer and signed in. “Hey,” she said flatly.

Now, Jane did look up. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Darcy shrugged. “No, not really. I’m pretty sure I just failed my politics in media course. Later on, I need to check if I failed algebra too.”

Jane gaped, but recovered quickly. “I’m sure you did better than you think. It’s just stress,” she said.

Darcy picked up the grade sheet next to the keyboard and started poking the scores into the system. “We had to write a three page essay. I wrote two paragraphs of BS and gave up,” she said.

Jane’s eyebrows rose dramatically, like they were trying to escape into her hair. “That’s… pretty bad,” she admitted.

“My mom’s gonna kill me,” Darcy said. She poked a few more grades in and shrugged.

“Don was saying you were talking about maybe dropping out,” Jane said, making it sound more like a question.

“Yeah. I might not have to now, though.” Darcy wrinkled her nose at the thought of getting kicked out of college. She’d never find a job now. She was going to be unemployed forever, with student loan debt collectors on her ass until the day she died.

“Well, I’m sorry, but that’s just not an option,” Jane said with a sudden air of authority. Darcy looked up at her, not really sure what Jane meant. “If you drop out, then I lose my assistant. And I absolutely need my assistant.”

Darcy snorted. “If you tried to do everything, you’d explode,” she said.

“It’s true,” Jane agreed. “Which is why I need my assistant.”

Darcy smiled despite herself. “I mean. I don’t even know what I want to do. The farther into my degree I get, the less I care about what I’m doing. I think I just wanted a grown-up job that I know will pay the bills, because I’ll never be able to do what I want to do.” She shrugged again and went back to entering grades into the computer.

“Well, you went to that audition,” said Jane hopefully. “I’m… I’m sure there must be tons of those around here.”

“Only as a stand-in for someone else. And he didn’t even get the job. I don’t know who it went to,” said Darcy. Even if Steven had got the job, it wouldn’t have really helped Darcy anyway. The whole thing had been a waste of time and hope.

“That’s what you should do this summer,” said Jane, thumping her hand against the table. “Find every audition in every casino in town, and go to all of them. If you’re actually going to quit school, it should be because you’re doing what you want to do. Not because you don’t know what you should be doing.”

It wasn’t what Darcy had expected to hear. “Really?” she asked. She stared up at Jane, wondering if she’d hallucinated it, or if she was just being pranked. “You’re not gonna tell me that it’s a boy’s hobby, or that it’s not stable enough to do for real?”

“Nope,” said Jane.

Darcy smiled a little more genuinely. Outside of the Denny & Lee group, every single person in Darcy’s life seemed to think her hobby was stupid, and that the only way she’d ever make it would be to dress up in sequins and feathers and be used as a breathing prop.

“Thanks,” she said. “I’ll think about it. Maybe I need to just take a leaf out of Don’s book and change my major or something.”

Jane rolled her eyes. Apparently she’d heard about that, too. “You’ve got all summer to figure it out. I’m sure you’ll work something out.”

Darcy shrugged, and the two of them went back to their work, Jane grading term papers and Darcy entering term grades into the system. Going through the grades made her feel a little better about her own situation. At least she wasn’t like the person who apparently never even showed up for the final in Jane’s statistical physics course.

“Is this for a masters?” Darcy asked, holding up the grade sheet. “Seven thirty-one?”

Jane glanced up. “That’s doctorate level,” she said.

“Oh my god. And you have two of these?” Darcy asked. She didn’t even know course numbers got as high as the 700s until she took the job as Jane’s TA.

Jane inhaled through her teeth. “It wasn’t easy,” she admitted.

“Yeah, I bet not. Holy cow.” The guy who got a big old zero was probably wishing he was dead. Darcy knew she would have been. At least she wasn’t in his place. Maybe it was just good old schadenfreude, but her mood lightened after that. She put the rest of the grades into the system, laughing every time Jane growled in frustration. She must have been grading papers for one of her 120 classes, because she only ever made those sounds when the answers given were first-year stupid.

When she finished with the grades, and double- and triple-checked them to make sure she’d entered everything in correctly, Darcy pulled her phone from her bag and turned it on. She’d forgotten all about it after she’d left class, but it wasn’t like anyone ever called her for anything.

They did, however, text her. Apparently. She opened the text and read it, finding the information it contained unbelievably tempting.

“So, what you were saying earlier,” Darcy said slowly. She bit her lip and shifted in her seat as she read the text again. “Apparently, the guy who got the job — the one my friend Steven auditioned for. He’s having auditions of his own. For an assistant.”

Jane looked up, wide-eyed and surprisingly hopeful. “Are you going?” she asked.

“Do you really think I should?” asked Darcy.

“Yes,” said Jane. “Unless you don’t want to. But I know you do.”

Darcy tried not to grin. “Yeah, kinda. But it sounds like it’s a showgirl audition, which… yuck.” She wrinkled her nose and read the text again, definitely getting a showgirl audition vibe from it.

“Would it really be so bad?” asked Jane.

Yes. Yes it would. Standing up on stage in a sequinned bikini every night, getting shoved into a box and turned into a dove.

“I don’t know. I mean. Georgie was a showgirl when she started, and now she’s eating fire and wearing real clothes when she goes up there,” Darcy reasoned.

“Well see,” said Jane. “There you go. It’s your foot in the door. The crappy fast food job you take before you apply for all the good jobs.”

“Yeah, maybe,” Darcy agreed. “Maybe I can get him to teach me how to eat fire and then quit with all his trade secrets.”

Jane thumped her hand against the desk again. “Exactly. But don’t get sued if you steal his stuff. That’s the opposite of what you want.”

Darcy laughed again. “Yeah, that would suck.” She sent off a quick reply, thanking Steven for the heads up on the audition, and slipped her phone back into her handbag. Now she had a whole new problem. She had absolutely no idea what to wear.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #7: Henderson Taxi

Loki stood in the middle of the only room of his so-called apartment, examining the fishbowl on the short dresser while he picked through a carton of cold lo mein. He’d managed to make it last two days, which really only meant he’d spent the last two days pretending he wasn’t hungry, and now he was pretending it wasn’t cold, since he didn’t have a microwave. He knew he should not have bought the fish bowl, but there it was. A 40,000kr investment that represented every poor decision he’d ever made. If he bombed his callback, he’d have just enough money to make it back to Reykjavík, and not a króna more.

He sat down on the itchy sofa and ignored the fact that he hadn’t thought any of this through. He needed a miracle at this point. Maybe if he didn’t get the job, he could just wander out to the desert and feed the vultures. It would probably be less painful than going back home to face his father.

With a sigh, he looked down at the remains of his dinner. It was mostly carrots and cabbage at this point. Loki hated cabbage. He didn’t trust it. It remained far too green, even after being cooked to rubber. He quickly ate it anyway, trying to get it down without tasting it in the name of not wasting the money. Dropping the Styrofoam container to the ground by the window, Loki leaned over and tried to lie down on the sofa. It wasn’t very easy though, being it was only about four feet long and lacked arm rests, and he was six feet and change. The sofa pulled out in a mockery of sofa beds, making it a completely useless oversized Ottoman at its full size, but Loki hadn’t even bothered.

Maybe bombing the audition would almost be worth it. Then he’d at least have an excuse to go back home and sleep in a real bed. With an annoyed huff, he threw the pillow he had to purchase from the drugstore out from under him and rolled onto the floor after it. The neighbours below probably weren’t too happy with the ceiling sounding like it was going to collapse on them, but knowing he’d probably made them that much more miserable almost lightened his mood. Reaching up the wall with one long arm, he managed to flip off the light and plunge the room into partial darkness; the bright lamp right above his window outside made sure it was never actually dark enough to get any real sleep, and it was in cahoots with the constant stream of police sirens that blared down the street after 10pm.

Loki wasn’t sure when he managed to finally fall asleep, but he woke bright and early to an obnoxious, piercing sound coming from his phone. Grumbling angrily at it, he pulled himself up off the floor and fished about the sofa for his phone. Finally finding it, he jabbed the home button to turn off the alarm and slunk off to the absurdly big closet to find his suit. An hour later, he was showered and dressed, with his hair pulled back into a neat tail and his pockets stuffed full of coins, cards, and silk scarves. He once again loaded his footlocker into the back of the taxi, this time also bringing a second smaller one into the back seat with him. With the drive to the casino being so short, he didn’t think there would be too great a danger of spilling fish water everywhere, but just in case, he didn’t want the poor creatures in the boot. If they died before he got to the casino, he’d really be screwed.

He directed the taxi to the entrance near the theatre, and even managed to get help bringing his gear inside. There were only three other hopefuls there, once again all dressed in their street clothes and ugly trainers. Loki studied the competition as he set up in the green room, recognising one of the young men from before. This time, he had a new assistant, rather than the girl he’d been hastily teaching the routine to. She seemed disinterested in the audition, poking at her phone like she was waiting for a dental appointment.

He poured several jugs of water into the fishbowl, made sure none of his fish had died during the trip, and waited to be called.

As it happened, the bowl wasn’t exactly like the one he already had; a fault he hadn’t discovered until after he’d purchased it and got it back to his apartment. It was close enough that most of his routine could go unchanged, but different enough that a good chunk of it had to go, which severely affected his patter. At the point where he ordinarily turned coins into fish, he found himself stalling, momentarily forgetting the changes to the routine.

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t fit an assistant into my luggage, and it’s making me confused,” he said to the judging panel — the same four people as last time.

A few of them chuckled as he regained his rhythm. He tipped the bowl over the second tank he’d brought out, pouring the water and fish out. The fish swam around the new tank in a disorientated, orange spiral while the coins stayed in the bowl, hidden only by the distortion of the glass and the way Loki held his hand to support the bowl’s weight. The panel audibly gasped at the effect, but Loki held back his reaction to it. He tipped the bowl just enough to make it seem as if there was nothing left to tip out, moving slowly to keep the coins from scraping against the sides too loudly. He could hear the clink of metal against glass, and just hoped that it wasn’t loud enough to be heard in the audience. After carefully putting the bowl back onto its stand, Loki bowed to his audience.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Thank you,” Fischer said. “Uh, before you go, quick question. Who was it I spoke to on the phone? Was that your manager? The English guy.”

Loki smiled as. “No, that was me,” he said, switching accents effortlessly and going back to his more comfortable English voice. “I’ve spent so much time pretending to be English that I find I have to force myself to sound like an Icelander.”

Fischer and his colleagues all laughed again. “All right,” said Fischer. “Thank you, again. We’ll call you to let you know.”

Loki nodded and gathered up his smaller props, while the security guard came out to help move the fish tank off. Loki knew what ‘we’ll call you’ meant. It meant they were going with someone else, and that he was broke, and stuck in a foreign country with terrible weather. Resigning himself to a future of ridicule and disapproval, Loki started packing up his gear, making sure nothing spilled on the floor.

“Do you want some fish?” he asked the security guard.

The security guard laughed. “No, sorry. Take them to the pet shop?”

Loki looked down at all the goldfish swimming dejectedly in the tank. “They don’t take returns,” he said.

There was a storm channel that ran under the car park outside his apartment. Maybe he could hop the fence and pour the fish in there. Right before he took a cab down to the recommended magic shop and attempted to sell the fish bowl at a loss, and then used the money to buy a plane ticket the hell out of Las Vegas.

“Want help getting this out to your car?” the security guard asked.

Loki looked at the two footlockers and all the stuff he still had to cram into them. “I have to call the cab, and it’s all fragile,” he said.

The security guard nodded. “All right. Good luck. Hope you get the job.”

Loki nodded back. “Thanks,” he said, already fairly certain it was going to go to the boy with the boxless box jumper routine. Hopefully, the boy would manage to find some proper trousers when he actually went on stage before an audience. He hated magicians that made the rest of them look ridiculous. It was a ridiculous career choice to begin with, and Loki knew it, and the ones who went out of their way to prove to the world they were all a bunch of massive dorks weren’t making it any easier.

With everything carefully put away, Loki phoned for a taxi and sat down to wait. The helpful woman on the phone told him that it could be about a twenty minute wait, so he took one of the chairs and propped up the door to the car park, so he would wait inside but still see anyone pulling up for him.

Forty-five minutes later, he phoned the company again.

“I’m sorry, sir. It may be another twenty minutes before we can get someone out to you.”

Loki glowered at the wall in front of him. “Is there nothing you can do?” he asked, not really sure how to bribe someone over the phone.

“I’m sorry sir. We’re very busy,” the not-so-helpful woman said.

“Fine.” Loki jammed his thumb against the screen, which wasn’t nearly as satisfying as slamming a phone down, or even snapping an old flip-phone shut. He stared out at the dusty car park, watching sickly-looking palm trees sway in the hot breeze. A small team of people were working on the landscaping, planting small little gardens around the lamp posts in the car park, while someone else was spraying down the tarmac in the far corner before finishing painting the lines. Loki was fairly certain that one of the landscapers was actually painting the grass green, which had to be just about the worst thing he’d ever witnessed.

Loki watched them work, wondering what past-life sins they were atoning for to have wound up working in the hot sun all day. Perhaps the same sins he was atoning for by getting stranded in some godforsaken sandbox. Loki checked his phone again, wondering if he should try to find another cab company. Surely in a city as big as Las Vegas, there were bound to be a great many unreliable cab companies to choose from. As he tapped at the screen and tried to make sense of the browser, he heard footsteps and voices coming his way.

“Green room lights are still on,” Fischer said, presumably to his colleagues.

Loki rolled his eyes, prepared to get kicked out. Sure enough, Fischer walked into the green room and stopped in his steps when he saw Loki slouched in one of the chairs.

“Oh,” Fischer said, obviously startled. “You, uh…”

Loki shook his head and shrugged. “Do you know any taxi services besides Henderson? I think I’ve pissed them off already,” Loki said.

Fischer shrugged and seemed to think on that. “You could try Desert. I’ve never used them, though.”

Loki nodded and started punching the name of the new company into his phone. “I suppose you probably want me to wait outside so you can lock up,” he said. He started to get up, not looking forward to stinking up his his foot locker with baking goldfish. He looked at them in their little tank, not sure if they were already starting to look a bit deathy, or if he was imagining it.

Fischer’s eyes were on the tank as well. He gave it a quizzical look and shook his head.

“You know, why don’t you come back with me, instead. Save us the phone call.” Fischer nodded back toward the door to the corridor.

Not entirely sure what to expect, Loki pulled the chair out from the door to the car park and followed after Fischer. Construction progress was going quickly, with new carpets laid in the corridor; a garish green and blue Art Deco palm frond pattern. Loki hated it. The wallpapering was similarly pseudo-tropical in design, though fortunately in far more subdued colours. Loki still hated it.

“So you came out here all the way from Iceland?” Fischer asked.

“I did,” said Loki, not bothering to put on any accent for Fischer. He wondered where this conversation was going, and if he was going to yet again be asked his opinion of the weather.

“I found some of your videos on YouTube. The fish act seemed different online. Longer, I think,” said Fischer. He led Loki into an office that had thrown out all tropical aesthetics, making it feel several hundred times more comfortable.

Loki sat down in the seat offered to him in front of a large black desk, looking round at all the pictures of what he assumed were local landmarks and celebrities.

“I didn’t have the right props for it today,” Loki said, smiling wanly. “I expected it to be much worse than it was.”

Fischer chuckled and flipped through the leather planner on his desk. “Yeah, but you’re funny about it. You could have cussed it out when it didn’t work.”

“Would you prefer if I’d done that?” Loki asked. He didn’t mention that he hadn’t sworn at his props primarily because he’d got it all out of his system the night before.

“God, no. I hated that little fucker, and couldn’t get him out of here quick enough,” Fischer said. He found what he was looking for and grabbed a pen from the cup by his computer. “Well. We’re looking at a July fourth opening. That’s about six weeks from now. Think you can get what you need over here by then?”

Loki couldn’t entirely believe what he’d heard. He was half expecting to have to get on his knees and blow someone to be able to get any work, and was completely prepared to try it with Fischer.

“Uh.” He blinked and shook his head a bit, still trying to recover from the shock. “I may have to sell a kidney to afford it. I barely have enough to stay where I’m at for much longer.” It pained him having to admit it and risk losing the job, but he knew he couldn’t afford to keep his apartment and fly everything over from Reykjavík. He shrugged, trying not to seem as hopeless and desperate as he knew he was.

Fischer, on the other hand, barely seemed fazed by it. “Where are you staying?” He asked.

Loki pointed his thumb over his shoulder. “Just around the corner. At, what is it? Harbour Island, or something.”

Fischer actually flinched. “Oh god. Why?” he asked.

Loki shrugged again. “They’re cheap. Ish. And they’d rent to me even with foreign ID,” he said.

“No, you have to get out of there before you get a disease,” said Fischer, making Loki wonder what he hadn’t been told about the place.

Fischer flipped back through his planner again and nodded to himself.

“Well. Why don’t you come back tomorrow around ten? Sign all the paperwork and go through everything you need from us.” said Fischer. “I’ll send someone by to pick you up so you don’t have to deal with the cabs.”

“All right,” Loki said agreeably. He was almost afraid to point out that he still couldn’t afford to move his props over from Iceland, in case Fischer decided to go with someone else at the last minute.

“And pack your bags and get ready to check out,” Fischer said. He wrote a note on an oversized sticky note and slid it into his pocket. “Our hotel is finished. It’s not inspected, but it’s still safer than where you’re at now. We’ll put you in one of the suites until you find somewhere better.”

Loki nodded, wondering where the punchline came in.

“That sounds good. Thank you,” he said.

He stood and shook Fischer’s hand over the desk.

“And go ahead and leave your things here,” Fischer said as Loki started to walk out of the office. “It’ll be locked up, and we’ll get your fish fed for you.”

Loki nodded. “Thank you. Again,” he said.

Fisher nodded back. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”

Loki left the office and eventually found his way back outside. There was still no sign of a cab anywhere in sight, but Loki decided he was feeling good enough to walk back, even despite the heat.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #6: Sweatbox

Darcy loved summer, and couldn’t wait for it to start getting properly hot. Or rather, like most Las Vegans, hated the bitterly cold winters and was glad to see the end of it. Summers in Vegas were matched in intensity only by the winters. Most were mild, with only a snow flurry and some minor flooding here and there, but the ones that weren’t mild always crippled the entire valley. Two whole snow plows for the whole of Clark County clearly wasn’t cutting it, and yet they still never learned because every few years, fwoom! bigass snow storm would come along and turn the five minute drive home from UNLV into a two-hour adventure.

Of course, when the heat finally came, Darcy was lamenting it along with everyone else. But where she was lamenting it, Don was cursing it, Las Vegas, the Mojave, and the entire Southwest.

Which was exactly what he was doing in Jane’s office, with the AC set firmly to subarctic.

“You know, you can get really sick from coming in from the heat to a freezing room,” Darcy said as she let herself into the office. She turned the temperature up to a more comfortable 70.

Don lifted his head off the desk at looked at her pleadingly. “I have been in this country for nine years, and still cannot bear this torment,” he said. He dropped his head back down onto the desk so hard, the lamp rattled. “How do you stand it?”

Darcy snorted in laughter and took her spot at the computer. “You could have gone to Alaska,” she said. “Or Minnesota. Maybe North Dakota.”

Don looked back up and gave her the same pained look he always gave when she made that suggestion. The one that said he wished he’d thought of that, but was too stubborn to admit it.

“Jane would never agree to it,” he said. He put his head back down on the desk and sighed. “She says the sky is better out here.”

Darcy pulled the sticky note with the day’s instructions off the monitor and logged into the computer. “What does that mean?” she asked.

Don shrugged. “I have no idea,” he said.

They both laughed, neither of them ever able to understand half the things Jane said when she got going. But the feeling went mutually, in all three directions. Don was seriously on his way to becoming a medical genius, and Darcy knew neither of them cared about David Abbott or Al Baker, but that didn’t stop her blathering from time to time.

“So, what? You’re just gonna stay down here in the sweatbox forever? Get your own place out at the Lakes, behind a twelve-foot wall so you don’t keep flashing the neighbours.” Darcy asked.

Don pointed vaguely in her direction. “I put up curtains,” he said.

Darcy laughed, but she still felt sorry for the big guy. Wherever he was from, it had to be somewhere cold. Not that there were many places on the planet that were more miserable than Las Vegas.

Don sat up properly and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about changing my focus, so I suppose I have a few more years to consider my options,” he said more seriously. It didn’t sound like a spur of the moment decision; this was something he’d clearly been thinking about.

“What? Seriously? I thought you were almost done,” Darcy said. Why the hell would he want to quit now?

Don nodded, almost mournfully. “I am,” he said. And then he shrugged. “But I think I may enjoy surgery more.”

He’d certainly like the money more, but Darcy kept that to herself. Then he really could afford to live out at the Lakes.

“Can you do both?” she asked.

Don scrunched up his face in thought. “I don’t know,” he said. He looked like he thought it was a hell of a good idea, though. “Do you think I should ask?”

Darcy wondered if he would actually go through with it if they let him. It sounded insane. It sounded exactly like the sort of thing he’d do, just because he could. “Who’s your advisor?” she asked.

“Harris,” said Don. “Useless man is never where he’s meant to be.”

Darcy knew the pain. Harris had been her advisor until she demanded to be re-assigned. Not that her new one was much better, but at least she returned emails without waiting a week to do it.

“Eep. Start emailing now if you want an answer by graduation,” she said.

Don rolled his eyes. He definitely knew the pain and agony that was Harris. It was a wonder the man had a job at all, with how much effort he seemed to put into avoiding doing it.

“So, you’re going to be, like, a million dollars in debt the time you finish,” Darcy said. She was so not even thinking about all the student debt she’d racked up over her few years in college. Don had been going at his degree for almost the entire time he’d been in the country. He had to have been living off of ramen and white rice to afford it. That and steroids, because he definitely did not have the body of someone who lived on ramen and white rice.

Except he looked weirdly sheepish at Darcy’s question. “No, I’m, uh. Onascholarship.” He said the last part into the back of his hand as he looked away, but Darcy understood every word of it.

“Oh, I hate you,” she said with a dramatic glower. “You asshole. I’m gonna be bankrupt before I even get my first real job, and you’re over here with—if it’s a full ride, I never want to see you again.”

Don cringed and shrugged. “Sorry,” he said. He didn’t sound like he was sorry at all.

Darcy picked up the stack of sticky pads and threw them at Don. He laughed and tossed them back at her.

“Shall I make it up to you?” He asked, rising to his feet. “Make the perilous trek up to Jason’s as recompense?”

“Yes,” Darcy said. She didn’t like to think she was so easily bought, but Jason’s was expensive and delicious, and she was constantly broke. “The mushroom artichoke thing. I want that. And a cherry soda. And a fruit salad with yoghurt.”

Don bowed like he was a knight about to embark on a deadly quest. “Then you shall have it.”

As he left the office, Darcy called out her thanks and started getting to work.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #5: The Strat

Loki stood at the front of a growing queue, looking up at the lighted menu in abject confusion. Three dollars for a pretzel. Three. Surely, it was missing a few zeros. The conversion rate between the króna and the dollar grew more and more confusing by the day, and it was the cab ride all over again. Was he getting a spectacular deal, or was he getting spectacularly ripped off?

“Hey, buddy. You gonna order or what?” the man behind him asked.

Loki turned to face him, ready to play the role of confused foreigner. He faltered, forgetting what he was going to say when he saw an American with tattoos on his neck and a shaved head. He even had those huge holes in his ears, so big you could probably hang a potted plant off them.

Loki was about to be stabbed in a mall, and no-one would care.

“I—Yeah.” He turned back round and quickly ordered the most basic soft pretzel, which was at least warm and ready to be taken away in a hurry.

He dodged around the corner, eager to get away from the tattooed American. There were restaurants every few spaces in the mall, but he wasn’t sure if he was ready for that sort of adventure. A quick snack from a pretzel stand seemed safest, and that had almost got him killed.

The mall itself was certainly strange. The Planet Hollywood was the closest Strip casino to his tiny hotel-apartment, and walking through its corridors, Loki became fairly certain it had once been something else entirely. The first few hundred feet of the mall were done up in brushed steel and polished tile, but as soon as he rounded the corner, the older Middle-Eastern motif began to show. The ceiling had been painted up like a desert sky, the floor turned to uneven cobble, and the walls and shop facades looked like old sandstone buildings.

Then, with his mouth half-full of salty pretzel, he came to something he was surprised he hadn’t seen yet: a magic shop, stuck in next to a sports bar. It bore the name of Harry Houdini, though Loki doubted the man had anything to do with the shop, whether in person or in whatever remained of his estate and descendants. All the same, his curiosity got the better of him, and he stepped inside, walking past the man on the podium making a card twirl around in the air.

“Hi. Can I show you anything?” the young girl behind the counter asked. The uniform for the shop seemed to be a white shirt with a black waistcoat, though hers were entirely too small on her.

“Just looking,” Loki said.

Most of the tricks on the shelves were cheap Tenyo, but there were a few more interesting items in the glass counter, and in the shelf behind it. Some were even proper stage props, priced in the hundreds. They almost seemed like a terribly good deal, until Loki remembered his three-dollar pretzel.

“Actually, yes. Do you know how to add an app to a, um.” He pulled out his phone, which he hardly ever used, and looked at the back of it. “A Samsung whatever?”

He handed it out to the girl behind the counter, and she took it nervously. By now, the man at the front had turned to watch them, presumably to kick him out.

“What kind of app?” she asked.

“Something to tell me what these prices mean in krónur,” Loki said, pointing at a fishbowl at the top of shelf.

The girl looked up at the fishbowl, and immediately seemed to relax. “Oh! Uh. All right. Let’s see.”

While she fiddled about with his phone, Loki examined what he could see of the fishbowl and quickly finished off his pretzel. He already had a giant glass fish bowl, but it wasn’t in the right country, and he didn’t expect it to ever survive being shipped over. Which had been a terrible shame, because it was a routine he would have loved to use in his call-back on Friday. If this was the sort of bowl he’d left behind in Reykjavík, he could fill up a good part of his half-hour with it.

“Do you want to see it?” asked the man with the flying card.

Loki considered it for a moment before nodding. “Yes. Please.”

The man put his card away and ducked back to the curtained-off cupboard, returning quickly with a stepladder. By the time he got it down, the girl behind the counter finished with his phone and handed it back, with the currency set to Swedish krona. Loki quickly fixed it and looked up at the price tag on the bowl as it was being brought down.

“Damnit,” he hissed to himself at the sight of over 31,000kr on the conversion. It was quite a lot more than he wanted to spend, but now that the fishbowl was down, he was eager to see it up close. Even without water in it, he could tell that the bowl was exactly what he needed. He placed his hand inside and watched it distort and bend the image.

“Any chance I could see it with water?” he asked hopefully.

“We don’t have a sink,” said the man, cringing apologetically.

Loki chewed on his thumbnail while he considered the purchase. And it would be a huge purchase. And yet, likely still cheaper than trying to fly his out to Las Vegas by Friday.

“What is the likelihood that it will still be here tomorrow?” Loki asked.

“Pretty strong, but we can’t hold any items.”

Loki clicked his tongue a few times. If he got the bowl, he would also have to get the fish. And the coins. All told, he could wind up spending over 40,000kr on this audition. He had enough money saved up to get by for a few more weeks, but if he spent the money and didn’t land the audition, he’d have to go back home.

“It’s a lot of money. I need to think about it,” Loki said. But he didn’t walk away just yet. He knew that walking away was exactly what he should have done, but his first audition hadn’t felt very strong. He was surprised to have been called back at all, and now he needed a solid routine that really showed what his show was like.

“Okay,” he said quickly. “I have an audition on Friday. That’s what I want this for. Would you rent it to me, or else buy it back if I don’t get the job and have to go back home?” Loki asked, finally looking up at the sales-magician properly.

The look the man gave him didn’t look promising, but Loki didn’t consider it a lost cause just yet.

“Where’s home?” he asked.

“Iceland,” Loki told him. “Reykjavík.”

The sales-magician laughed sympathetically. “Oh, man. How you liking this heat?”

Loki rolled his eyes.

Now even the girl was laughing.

“Here’s the thing,” the sales-magician said. “We don’t take returns, and we can’t buy items. I’d lose my job if I did. But Denny & Lee, down on Dean Martin will. You’ll probably be at a loss, but they’ll buy it. Do you know where that is?”

“No, but I’m sure the taxi drivers do,” said Loki. He clicked his tongue again while he considered everything. “Okay. I’m going to come back tomorrow morning. If it’s still here, I’ll take it. You’re not on commiseration— no. Something else.”

“Commission?” asked the sales-magician, and Loki nodded and snapped his fingers. “No, we’re straight hourly. But I’ll be here tomorrow anyway.”

Loki nodded. “I’ll be back.”

He reluctantly turned to leave, knowing that if he didn’t, he was going to wind up making a very poor financial decision. As he walked away, he could hear the sales-magician muttering to his younger co-worker, and though he couldn’t hear what it was, he knew it was about him. Ignoring it, Loki turned in the direction he’d originally been going, curious to see what else was in the mall. Aside from the magic shop, and a few random art galleries, it was like any other mall he’d been in. Random shops selling useless toys or trinkets, and kiosks selling cheap jewellery. One of the shops sold nothing but alpaca-wool socks and sweaters, making Loki wondered what the demand for alpaca-wool was in Las Vegas.

After what he was pretty sure was an actual mile, he came back to the entrance on Las Vegas Boulevard. It was barely noon, and already the heat was starting to get unbearable, but Loki was curious to see Las Vegas in person. He set his eyes on a giant, towering spire that looked to be a few streets away, and decided he’d walk there, and take a taxi back to his hotel-apartment.

By the time he made it to Flamingo Road, he was starting to wonder if he might have been a bit too ambitious. The hotels were all big enough to give him a sickening feeling of vertigo, which was made even more unpleasant by the claustrophobic feeling caused by all the hundreds of people walking down the same sidewalk. And even though he was outdoors, the air felt thick and used, no thanks to the traffic on the road that hardly seemed to go anywhere.

Still, he figured once he got to the big spire building, he could probably sit somewhere cool before getting a cab.

After over an hour, he’d only crossed three proper intersections, and he still wasn’t to the towering spire. He’d crossed over the Boulevard at one point, when roadworks had closed the sidewalk on the east side, and never did manage to make it back across. The Strip had been left behind, with most of the buildings along the Boulevard at this point being one- or two-storey little shops, and only the occasional hotel. Across the street from where he stood was a massive, sprawling gift shop, with signs claiming it was the biggest in the world. This far down the road, the traffic had at least picked up, but all that meant was it was loud in an entirely different way.

Loki looked up at the giant spire, which he now realised was even taller than he’d thought when standing outside the Planet Hollywood, and that his estimate of the distance had been severely short. He considered trying to see if the giant gift shop might have any water, but suddenly, he couldn’t quite figure out how to move away from the lamp post he’d been leaning against.

“Hey, buddy. You all right?” someone next to him asked.

Loki looked over, finding the man beside him strangely familiar, but he couldn’t figure out why.

“Wha?” he asked.

“Are you all right?” the man asked again.

Loki tried to lie and nod, but shook his head instead. “I—No,” he said honestly.

The man next to him looked around, and steered him toward the crosswalk that would take him back to the other side of the Boulevard. Loki didn’t even have it in him to resist as he was led into the casino across the street and sat down on the first bench they came across. At some point, he had a bottle of water shoved into his hand, and had to be reminded to actually drink it. It was warm, and tasted of plastic, but he drank it anyway.

“Where you staying, pal?” his rescuer asked.

Loki looked up at him, still trying to work out why he looked so familiar.

“You have a neck tattoo,” Loki mused aloud. “I bet you punch people all the time.”

Mr Neck Tattoo laughed. “Only when they deserve it. You should probably get back to your hotel. Where’re you staying?”

“Uhm.” Loki thought about it, but he couldn’t remember. “I don’t know. Some…pisshole behind that one place. What is it? With the guitar?”

The man with the neck tattoo didn’t seem like he understood any of that, and for a moment, Loki wondered if he was even speaking the right language. He decided he didn’t care, because Mr Neck Tattoo went away after that. And then after that, he came back with someone from the casino’s staff. Loki ignored them both and drank his water while they talked back and forth, trying to determine who he was and where they should send him. Something about that seemed terribly funny, and Loki would have laughed at it if he’d had the energy. He didn’t, so he just sat and wondered why it seemed so funny.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #4: Call-Backs

Darcy was so nervous, she couldn’t even concentrate on her lecture. She knew call-backs were going to be announced sometime over the course of the day, and even though she was only a stand-in, she couldn’t think about anything other than being called back to perform again.

She kept checking her phone to see if Steven had left her any messages, but her phone remained irritatingly silent.

“Miss Lewis. Do you have somewhere more important to be?” the professor asked suddenly.

Darcy crammed her phone back into her handbag and looked up to the front of the class. “No. Sorry. This is where I need to be.”

But not where she wanted to be, and Professor Caine obviously knew it. Darcy swore quietly to herself and slouched in her seat, ready to endure the rest of the hour. She took notes as time dragged by, filling up the page with random words and phrases plucked from the lecture that had been nearly identical to every other lecture, and eventually pointless doodles. By the time the class was finished, Darcy felt like she could crawl out of her skin. She checked her phone before she was even out of the room, but it remained free of any messages from anyone at all. Growling in frustration, Darcy shook her phone about, as if to shake loose any information from it, before cramming it back into her bag.

She had to know. She just had to. And if Steven wasn’t going to tell her, she’d go to him and find out. She tried to rush out to her car without actually running, dodging around everyone else trying to get around the parking lot and trying not to get run over by any of them. Once safe in her car, she tossed her bag onto the passenger seat and carefully made her way back out onto Harmon. But rather than going home, she pulled into the Johnny Rockets across from the campus. Because she was totally hungry, yep. It had nothing to do with Steven working there in the evenings.

Inside, she took an empty seat at the counter and drummed her fingers on the surface while she looked nervously around for Steven. He normally worked the counter, but now when she really needed to talk to him, he wasn’t there. Typical.

She flagged down one of the waiters as he walked past.

“Hey, is Steven in today?” she asked.

She had no idea who the waiter was, but he didn’t look thrilled to be answering her question.

“Yeah, he’s on break. But if you’re gonna be here, you have to order something,” he said.

Darcy shrugged. “No-one’s given me a menu, yet,” she said.

Sulky waiter man very obviously tried not to roll his eyes as he turned back round to fetch a menu from the other side of the counter.

“Thanks,” said Darcy, with extra cheer.

The waiter left her to look over the menu, even though she was probably just going to get the same thing she always got when she went there. She was just about to give up on Steven and leave anyway when he finally came in through the kitchen. When he saw her, his face lit up with a wide grin and he bounced up and down in a way that made him seem like he was trying not to bounce up and down.

“Oh my god, really?” Darcy asked, not even having to ask the obvious question.

“Yes!” Steven said, still grinning. “They want me back on Friday!”

Darcy almost squealed right there in the middle of the restaurant, but she managed to cover her mouth in time. “That’s so great!” she said when she was finally able to contain herself. “Do you want me there, or…?”

She already knew the answer before Steven even answered. She was pretty sure of the answer before she even asked. “It’s enough notice that Hannah thinks she can get the day off. If she can’t, I’ll let you know. You were great, and I wouldn’t have even got this far without you, but, you know.”

“No, no. That’s—I totally understand,” Darcy said. Hannah was not only Steven’s assistant when he performed, but also his sister. Steven wasn’t even going to fire her. Darcy knew going in that she was just a stand-in, because Hannah couldn’t get the time off work on such short notice. “But, man. You got called back! That’s great!” This time, she did squeal just a little bit.

The grumpy house waiter seemed to have heard her, because he cleared his throat entirely too loudly. Darcy looked around at the completely empty restaurant and shook her head in dismay.

“I better order something to appease the restaurant fascist,” she said.

“BLT and chocolate shake, coming right up,” Steven said, turning toward the register to put in the order.

Darcy bounced in her seat, not sure how she was ever going to contain herself. It wore off quickly though, and by the time Steven brought her the sandwich and shake, Darcy was starting to regret having more or less blown off her lecture. She picked up a small piece of bacon from the plate and ate it while she tried to remember what the lecture had been about.

Professor Caine had been talking about a man. She knew that much. Which wasn’t helpful, since about 98% of his lectures were about men. Something about a drunk man? That didn’t help either, and Darcy wasn’t even sure if she was remembering the actual lecture, or if her brain was just plucking common elements from the class and presenting them as memories of her class that day.

The only thing she did know was that finals were rapidly approaching, and she was not looking forward to academic probation. She flagged down Steven suddenly, deciding she might as well be useful, and not blow off everything important for the day.

“Hey, can I get a box?” she asked.

While Steven fetched a small Styrofoam box from behind the counter, Darcy pulled some cash from her handbag and put it onto the counter. She quickly packed up her meal, waved at Steven to keep the change, and rushed back out to her car so she could be only late to her student job in Jane’s office, and not miss it completely.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #3: Flourish

When Loki told the cab driver where he needed to be, the man gave him a look that suggested his time was being wasted. Loki was well aware that his destination was two streets away, but he was not going to walk it. Even if it hadn’t been half a million degrees out, he had too much stuff to carry. And even if he hadn’t had so much to carry, he was in America, and would probably get stabbed by someone with tattoos on their neck.

“Just open the boot,” he said as he stepped back into the tiny room that called itself an apartment, but which was clearly an over-priced hotel room. While the cab driver rolled his eyes and opened the trunk, Loki fetched up the small black footlocker from the corner of the only room in the apartment. The apartment door locked automatically behind him, being controlled by a strange electronic key that looked like someone had tried to murder an SD card, and failed.

The footlocker wasn’t heavy, but Loki pretended it was, just to get the cab driver to stop behaving as if he had better things to be doing. As he settled it into the trunk of car, he pressed his foot onto the bumper and stood up on it to make the entire cab lurch. With his precious cargo situated, Loki deliberately slammed the trunk and slid into the back seat. He didn’t say anything as he settled in, focusing instead on trying to adjust his shirt collar so he didn’t feel like he was choking. Maybe the necktie was too much. He didn’t know how anyone could survive in this heat, because it was certainly going to kill him. And it was only May. It was going to get even worse. Somehow, it would get even hotter than it already was, and he would die because no human being was ever meant to be in a place that got as hot as Las Vegas did.

He resisted the temptation to take off his necktie, if only because showing up moments from heatstroke was marginally better than showing up moments from heatstroke and looking sloppy.

It took less than five minutes to drive around the block from his strange apartment-hotel to the actual hotel. He still hadn’t worked out the exchange rate in this country, but he’d been in Las Vegas long enough to know that seven dollars was a cheap cab ride, as far as cab rides went in Las Vegas. Getting to his disgusting apartment-hotel had cost him almost fifty dollars, which he was certain had been a massive rip-off. He paid the cab driver without tipping him and pulled his footlocker from the trunk. As soon as he shut the trunk lid, the cab squealed off, leaving him in the empty parking lot.

The hotel wasn’t exactly what he’d pictured Las Vegas hotels and casinos to look like. It wasn’t a towering behemoth, taking up a solid square mile of land. It was small and squarish, standing only three storeys at the tallest. He could see the Strip from where he stood, but when he was told the casino was off-strip, he didn’t realise exactly what that had meant until he landed in the surprisingly sprawling metro area. Las Vegas was supposed to be a two-mile stretch of road with a few side streets and miles and miles of dirt and sand in all directions. Not suburbia with a gambling problem.

It was all too much for him to even deal with, and far too hot to even try to deal with, so Loki quickly walked to the front doors. Which were on the side of the building, because the front sat so close to the road, there was barely room for a sidewalk. A man stood at the door, glaring at Loki like he was ready to throw him into traffic just for being there.

“We’re not open,” the security guard said.

“I was invited,” Loki told him smugly.

The security guard glared at him a few moments longer before looking down at the clipboard in his hand. “Auditions are through the back entrance.”

Loki looked down the side of the building, seeing no sign of any kind of back entrance anywhere.

“It’s on the other side,” the security guard told him helpfully, pointing through the casino.

“It’s hot,” Loki said, trying not to pout, and not doing a good job at it. “I’m wearing black. I’m carrying a very heavy parcel, and I’ve been in this city for two days. Just let me go through.”

The security guard rolled his eyes and reached for his radio.

“Can I get someone to escort Harry Houdini here to the theatre? West Entrance.”

Loki bowed his head graciously. “Thank you,” he said, trying not to sound insincere and sarcastic.

It wasn’t long before someone opened the door to let him in. While the outside of the casino had been cleaned up and given fresh paint and a new paving job in the parking lot, the inside was still very much under construction. The main casino floor was mostly empty, with bare concrete flooring and half-finished walls. Someone was playing a radio, but Loki couldn’t hear much of it through the sounds of whirring drills and pounding hammers.

He was led away from the casino, toward the back of the building. Out large, floor-to-ceiling windows, he could see an empty pool, which was also in the process of being cleaned up and trimmed down to resemble what he thought a Florida lagoon might look like. The theatre, when they finally came to it, was in a similar state of development. It was the sort of space that had obviously been something else earlier in life, but which was in the process of being converted. There was a small proscenium stage built, but little else. The house was completely empty, not even having any seats installed yet. Someone had set up a large table, with a few office chairs, though whoever that someone was, they weren’t around at the moment.

There was, however, another security guard. Loki felt like he was being traded off between the lot of them, as his escort turned to leave as the new security guard walked up to them.

“Which one are you?” he asked, consulting a clip board of his own.

“Loki.”

“Loki who?” asked the guard.

How many Lokis could have possibly been there? It hadn’t even been a popular name back home.

“Just Loki,” he said.

He wondered briefly if he shouldn’t just stay in confused foreigner mode permanently. They might ask him fewer questions if he dropped the English accent he’d trained himself to use, and went back to his natural accent which no longer felt natural at all. Who knew an elaborate practical joke could ever come back to bite him on the ass?

“Just Loki,” said the security guard as he consulted his list. “Okay. You guys have until six-thirty to set up anything you need to set up. For your safety, we need you to stay in this area, unless you go through the backstage door to the east lot.”

Loki looked around, feeling so disorientated he wasn’t sure he could point to east with a compass.

“Right,” he said instead. “So where do I go?”

“Back here.”

He led Loki backstage, and to the green room, which was at least set up to host those auditioning for the headlining act. It was a surprisingly decent size, and if it hadn’t been full of people setting up their props, might have been quite comfortable.

Loki found an empty place to sit along the wall, and pretended to get his own props set up while checking out his competition. Most of them were young, dressed casually as if they were waiting to get their driving license photos taken. Even the few other performers out of their twenties were in jeans and sports jackets. Loki felt overdressed in comparison, in his black suit and emerald green necktie. Performing in anything else just felt wrong, though. He’d kept the same look ever since he started pretending to be English, and had become very comfortable with it. He knew exactly where all of the pockets were, and didn’t have to fish about for anything, because whatever he needed was always right where it was supposed to be.

Even wearing a different jacket felt wrong.

Even though everything was already prepared, Loki pulled it out of the footlocker to save him that much later on. He checked to make sure none of the bottles inside his comically large picnic basket were leaking, as they sometimes did if he didn’t seal them right. Nothing seemed out of order, but just to be safe, he checked the seal on the box of supermarket doughnuts as well.

Nothing seemed out of place with that routine’s set-up, so he pulled out the small easel and drawing pad and checked that over. Again, everything was perfectly set up, all as it should have been, but knowing made him feel that much better.

They were each to perform two routines, and it had taken Loki the better part of a fortnight to decide which routines he would do. He still wasn’t sure about his decision to lead with a performance piece, but half of his act was performance. They might as well know what to expect from him.

With nothing left to do but wait for his name to be called, Loki sat back and watched the others in the room as they prepared and practised. One of the young men there was teaching his assistant the routine they were supposed to perform. Loki pitied him, but at least he had an assistant. Sooner or later, Loki was going to have to start looking for one as well, to replace the one he’d left in Reykjavík. Now that he was actually in Las Vegas, he was having a hard time faulting Katrín for staying behind. Part of him wished he’d stayed behind as well.

He watched the new assistant learn her role, which was a surprisingly large one to be springing on someone last minute. It was box jumping routine without the box. Rather than shoving the poor girl into a plywood coffin, he used large paper cards, strategically-placed, to twist and contort the shape of his assistant. Even with the girl not knowing the routine completely, it was still impressive.

At precisely 6:30, the friendly security guard came back to the green room and called the first act. Almost immediately, the energy in the room changed from eager anticipation to nervous anxiety, and it was infectious. Some of the hopefuls in the green room with him were clearly out of their element, but from what Loki had already seen, most of them were serious competition. He knew magic was popular in Las Vegas, but he’d seriously under-estimated just how popular it was, and now he wasn’t quite the shoo-in he’d expected to be.

After the acts were called, they never returned to the green room. Presumably because they left immediately after, but it was still enough to start to make Loki antsy. The numbers dwindled, and by the time his name was called, there were only three others in the room with him. Even the young magician with the brand new assistant had gone before him.

At his name, Loki gathered his props back into his foot locker and carried them back out to the wings.

“Can you set the second one for me?” he asked the security guard playing the role of stage manager.

“When and where?” he asked.

Loki set up the easel exactly how it needed to be set up, and prayed the guard wouldn’t mess with anything.

“As soon as I’m done with the first trick, put this right in the middle of the stage,” he said.

The guard nodded. “No problem.”

Loki nodded back and exhaled nervously. It had been a long time since he was this nervous, but it had also been a long time since he needed a job so badly.

“We’re ready when you are,” someone called from the house.

Loki nodded again, straightened his tie, and picked up his picnic basket and checked blanket. With his naïve foreigner face on, he strode out to the stage and smiled a bit too widely. There were four people sitting at the table in the house, all looking up at him like they were getting bored and wanted to go home. Just what Loki needed.

“What have you got for us, uh, Loki?” one of the men asked, looking down at the stack of papers in front of him.

Loki held up his picnic basket. “I thought perhaps we might have a picnic,” he said, using his Icelandic accent. Hearing himself speaking English with it was almost jarring, but he managed to ignore it. “I have enough for three more, if you would care to join me?”

While his judges decided amongst one another who would be the marks this time, Loki spread out his blanket on the stage and put the basket down.

“I don’t bite. I promise,” he said, trying to encourage them to join him. He knew doing a performance piece had been a stupid idea, and already regretted it.

Finally, two of the men and one of the women stepped up onto the stage with him and grudgingly sat down on the blanket. Loki sat as well, unbuttoning his jacket so he could sit a bit more comfortably.

“When was the last time you actually had a picnic?” he asked them.

His judges looked back and forth at one another and shook their heads.

“Never,” the woman said.

The two men both agreed with that.

“Oh, but they can be such fun. Why don’t we have one and get to know one another? What do you all do?” he asked, hoping they would play along, rather than admit to being completely bored with watching several hours’ worth of nervous magic already.

“I own a casino,” said one of the men. He must have been Fischer, then. Loki had spoken with him over the phone a few times already.

“And I run it,” said the woman beside him. The wife, then. Loki hadn’t spoken with her, but he’d heard her mentioned during one of the calls.

“And I am the entertainment manager of a casino,” said the second man. Loki had no idea who he was, other than someone to impress.

“All different casinos?” Loki asked.

At least they laughed. So they weren’t completely bored.

“Well,” said Loki. He reached into the inner pocket of his jacket and pulled out his deck of green-backs. “I happen to be a magician. Would you like to see a card trick?”

The trio nodded and played along. Good. Loki pulled the deck from the box and tried to give them a good shuffle, but instead sprayed them everywhere. He glared down at the cards nearest to him, as if it was their fault for misbehaving so badly.

“That was…” he cringed. “Help me pick them up, please.”

He started to pick up the ones near him, prompting the others to help. They looked far less than amused or impressed, but that was fine.

“That one there,” he said, pointing at a face-down card near Mr Fischer. “The eight of hearts.”

Mr Fischer picked up what did indeed turn out to be the eight of hearts.

“And that one. Queen of spades. And seven of diamonds next to it,” he said, pointing at two more.

Mrs Fischer picked them up, finding them both to also be exactly what Loki said they’d be. He continued like this, pointing out all of the face-down cards and calling them out as his captive trio picked them up. By the time he had the entire deck back in hand, they all seemed to rightfully accept that Loki had quite deliberately sprayed the cards everywhere.

“Let’s try that again,” Loki said. He shuffled the cards properly this time and fanned them out. “Everyone pick a card.”

He held the fan out to each of them, giving them their choice of cards to pick from the deck.

“Look at them. Remember them. Put them somewhere I cannot possibly get to them,” he said as he put the remainder of the deck back into the box, and slid the box back into his pocket.

Everyone hid their cards into their own pockets and settled back in again to wait for the payoff. Instead of delivering it, Loki opened his picnic basket.

“Back home, we used to always go out for picnics on Midsummer. We would take all of our favourite treats out to the woods and enjoy them with nature and a good saga.”

He pulled a beaten-up collection of Vinland sagas from the basket and sat it down on the middle of the blanket.

“Have you ever read the sags?” he asked.

Again, the trio all shook their heads.

“Then I will have to read you some,” said Loki. “But first, let’s eat.”

He pulled out the doughnut box and placed it right in the middle of the blanket next to the book, followed by a plate of cheese sandwiches, and four bottles of the darkest-coloured Snapple he could find in the supermarket. He handed the sandwiches to Mr Fischer and pointed to everyone else. “Pass those around, could you?” he asked.

Then he handed the doughnut box to the entertainment manager and asked him to do the same, before handing out the drinks to each of them.

“Go ahead. Let’s eat!” said Loki excitedly.

While Mr Fischer began to pass the sandwiches around, Loki picked up his own sandwich and bit into it, having to resist the urge to gag on stale bread and almost certainly rancid cheese. That would teach him to ever shop at a place called Terrible’s again.

“Hey, what’s this?” asked the entertainment manager as he opened the box of doughnuts. He peered into it, and after a brief moment’s hesitation, reached in to pull the green-backed card from the bottom of the box. “Oh, look at that,” he said as he pulled his chosen card back from his pocket, and showed it as the same one he’d found in the sealed box of doughnuts.

Mrs Fischer, meanwhile, had noticed something inside her drink bottle. Frowning nervously, she broke the seal on the lid and reached in with her fingers to pull out her own soggy card, which also matched the one she’d chosen.

“Oh, how did that get in there?” asked Loki.

Mrs Fischer shook off her fingers and sat both her drink and the card aside, while her husband took apart his sandwich, only to find it a perfectly ordinary and possibly toxic cheese sandwich.

“I thought mine might be in there,” said.

“Why would you find a playing card in your sandwich?” Loki asked, as if a box of doughnuts and a bottle of iced tea were perfectly logical places to find playing cards. He shook his head at the silliness of it and pointed to the book of sagas.

“Mr Fischer, could you pick out a saga for us to read?” he asked.

Mr Fisher picked up the book and opened it to a spot in the middle. As soon as he did, a card fell from the pages and landed in front of him. Loki backed up, holding his hands up and away from the card.

“There. There, pick it up,” he said, pointing to the card that lay face-down on the blanket.

Mr Fischer picked it up and laughed when he found it a match to his own card.

“Is that your card?” Loki asked.

“Yes. Yes, it is,” said Mr Fischer.

Loki stood back up, inclining his head to his three volunteers. “Thank you very much. You may take your picnic lunches back to your seats, if you like. But probably don’t eat the sandwiches. I bought them at a petrol station, and they’re not very good,” he said. As the other three returned to their seats, Loki nodded back to the security guard waiting in the wings, and quickly struck the first set of props while the second was brought out. He quickly checked it to make sure nothing had been fiddled with, and he was almost surprised to see everything seemed in order.

He picked up the small art box from the bottom tray of the easel and opened it, pulling out the red coloured pencil.

“Do you ever watch those painting shows on television? Where the man will paint something amazing in just an hour, and you wonder how he did it?” Loki asked his audience.

“Bob Ross,” one of them said.

Loki hadn’t a clue who that was, but he was willing to guess.

“Does he do those paintings?” he asked.

He got several positive responses from the group.

“I always want to try that, but I’m not as good. And paint makes such a terrible mess.” He adjusted his cuffs and got a quiet chuckle from someone. “Let’s see what I can do, shall we? What should I try to draw? A rose, I think.”

Ordinarily, he’d let the audience call out suggestions, and pick a rose at ‘random’. But the odds of having one of the four call out the right thing were far too slim. He started sketching out the shape of the rose with his red pencil, carefully working out the proportions. The rose was just about the only thing he could draw, but after years of practise, he had become quite good at it.

“Do you draw?” he asked the group, not really listening to their vague responses.

He worked quickly, switching to the green pencil to do the stem, and then back and forth through a few others for the finer details, murmuring to himself all the while. When he finished, he stepped away from it and frowned.

“Not the best. What do you think?” he asked the group. “Not really something you feel like you can just pick right off the page, I think.”

They nodded like they were expecting the payoff by now. Loki pretended to look pleased with himself and nodded right along.

“You didn’t get to join our picnic, so you should get something,” he said to the second woman on the panel. Loki plucked the sharp little artist’s knife from his art box and turned back to the sketch pad.

“Here, let’s cut this out for you.” He started cutting along the outlines of the rose with his left hand, careful not to slip with the knife. He steadied the easel with his right, loading a freshly-cut rose from the back of it. When he had cut along the entire edge of the drawn rose, he grabbed the drawing delicately with his right hand, the actual rose held in a very precarious back-palm, and quickly pulled it up off the page.

“There we go,” he said, looking at it as it dangled pathetically in his fingers. “Let’s shake it out to get rid of the wrinkles.”

With his hand in plain view, he shook his hand a few times and switched the drawing with the real rose.

“That is for you,” he said, handing it to the fourth judge.

“Thank you,” she said, turning it over in her fingers to inspect it.

Loki bowed deeply.

“Thank you for your time,” he said graciously. While the panel were already starting to discuss his act quietly, he carried his easel back to the wings. As soon as he was out of view, he dropped his false cheer and yanked his tie off. His jacket came off immediately after, followed by the top two buttons of his shirt. He had already been overheated and miserable before the audition, and being under even the small amount of lighting that had been installed, and nervous and desperate for the job, he was certain he was going to melt right there into the floor.

Fuck this heat,” he swore in Icelandic, careful to keep quiet even though he was fairly certain no-one around could understand him.

After taking a few deep, calming breaths, Loki gathered his things back up into the footlocker and started searching for the exit so he could go back to his tiny little hotel-apartment and try to find another audition to lose.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1 | #2: Denny & Lee

The classroom had no windows. It wasn’t unusual, but it still bothered her. No windows at all, discounting the single, pathetic little safety glass window in the door. She took notes as the lecture droned on, carefully checking the clock every two or three minutes. The class would never end. It would just go on and on forever, and she’d never see the sun again. There were only ten minutes left, but those ten minutes would stretch on for an eternity. It should have been an interesting class, but so far, it had turned out to be nothing but common sense that only an idiot wouldn’t already know. It should have been titled “how not to say stupid shit in public 101.”

But it wasn’t. Calling it politics in media was stupidly misleading, and Darcy wondered if she could get her money back.

When the class finally finished, Darcy had to get to the complete opposite end of the campus in about 30 seconds, which meant she was always about ten minutes late. At least it was just for her TA job, and not another class. And Jane was pretty understanding about it, too. She seemed to be the only professor on campus who understood that UNLV was almost a solid square mile of complication and misery. By the time Darcy got to Jane’s office, she was ready for a cold bath and a nap. Possibly at the same time. Jane was buzzing around in a rush, gathering up pages and folders without really looking at what she was picking up. There was a certain method for filing, which after a year, Darcy still didn’t understand. Jane’s idea of filing was to have a place for everything, which meant keeping the grade reports on top of the coffee maker, and the weather print-outs taped to the desk lamp. It worked for Jane, so Darcy did the best she could to abide by it.

“Going out to the Valley tonight?” Darcy asked as she settled in behind Jane’s desk.

“Yeah. Last star party of the semester. Don was going to pick me up, but tell him to just meet me there because Erik needs me out there early,” Jane said as she stuffed everything into a large box.

Darcy waggled her eyebrows. “Oh, is this going to be a sexy star party?” she asked.

“All star parties are sexy,” said Jane, barely pausing. “But not like that. Gotta go.”

She took her box of charts and rushed out of the room, leaving the door wide open behind her. Darcy watched her rush down the hall before pulling up Pandora and starting up her Fallout Boy station. Her job as a TA was about as low-key as jobs got, leaving her free to work on her coursework most of the time. Jane used Windows’ little virtual sticky notes to lay out Darcy’s tasks for the day, not trusting email or One Note to behave like they should. Darcy checked the desktop, smirking at the new wallpaper Jane had set (something spacey, which Jane probably knew the name of, but to Darcy it just looked like a glowy blue cloud) and closed out the note that told her to enter the grades for two different classes. After quickly changing the wallpaper to the first half-naked male model she found on Google, Darcy found the folders full of half-ass reports and logged into the grade book.

Entering grades only took a few minutes, but the way Jane was always trying to do eight things at once, it was no wonder she needed a TA. Darcy tapped out the grades, bobbing her head and humming along with Pandora. When she was finished, she still had another hour in Jane’s office, so she did what she always did when Jane was away, and pulled out her coursework for the world’s most idiotic class.

It should have been fun. It should have been about spin and damage control, but it wasn’t. It was all about training yourself to keep your more unsavoury opinions to yourself. It would have been much more fun if the reading told you how to voice your stupid, racist opinions in a way that made your stupid, racist constituents unafraid to agree with you.

Maybe that was the next course, and this was just the pre-requisite.

Somehow, Darcy doubted it. A career in politics was turning less and less into something she wanted to pursue. The only way it would be worth it at this rate was if she could get some sort of job working for Mayor Goodman, and then she could say that she worked for someone who sassed Obama. And maybe after Goodman’s term was up, the city would re-elect her husband, and then Darcy could say she worked for the guy who threatened to break people’s thumbs. That was a political statement made to the press. Kind of. And it hadn’t backfired horribly. It just made people like him more.

As Darcy struggled to read the required chapter, she was startled by a knock at the door. She looked up sharply to find Jane’s ridiculously-cut med school boyfriend grinning in the doorway. With Don’s long, blond hair and trimmed beard, he always looked to Darcy like someone who should have been in Game of Thrones. His hair was pulled back into a ponytail, which meant he’d probably broken a few speed limits trying to get to UNLV from the medical centre. If he was doing his residency rounds, it would probably explain why Jane hadn’t been able to get hold of him, and why relaying the message had fallen to Darcy.

“She already left,” Darcy told him apologetically. “Erik needed her out there early. She said to just meet her out there.”

“Oh,” said Don. He stepped into the office and cringed. “I don’t know how to get there.” He spoke with an accent that always sounded like he was trying to cover up another accent, but Darcy could never tell where he might have been from originally. The few times Darcy had dared ask where he was from, he always found a way to change the subject. It didn’t take long for Darcy to stop asking.

“Just take the Fifteen north to the Valley of Fire exit. There are big signs for it. You can’t really miss it,” Darcy said.

Don frowned and dug his phone from his pocket, and then frowned again when he noticed it was still off.

“She texted me,” he said dumbly as he scrolled through his messages. “Four times.”

Darcy laughed. “Gotta check that stuff more often, dude.”

“They don’t like us to have our phones on when we do our rotation,” Don said as he put the phone away.

“That just means don’t get caught.” Just like how phones were supposed to be off during class. Nobody ever listened to that, either.

Don shrugged, like he wasn’t sure if Darcy was serious or not. “Are you going tonight. Do you want to ride with me?”

Darcy almost felt bad for him. It was kind of a long drive out to the Valley, but it was also an amazing place for the department’s star parties. Darcy even liked to go when she didn’t have anything else planned.

“Open stage tonight. I’m going there instead,” she told him. As soon as she said it, she realised it wasn’t actually any cooler to hang go hang out with a bunch of magic nerds. But at least the magic nerds would sometimes go drinking after, since unlike the science nerds, they didn’t have an hour-long drive back to Vegas after they were done being nerds.

Don nodded. Darcy was pretty sure he had no interest in the star parties at all, and only went because Jane was there. “Very well. Have fun at your, uh. Show. Thing.”

“Yeah. Drive safe,” Darcy said, laughing as Don turned to leave, looking dismayed as ever. He always seemed to look slightly dismayed or concerned with whatever went on around him, but Darcy suspected it was secretly all an elaborate act to make people like him. He was nice enough, but there was just something about him that never quite sat right with her. Like, how could a man in his final year of medical school not understand how cell phones worked?

He was hiding something, and not just his accent. But Jane was head over heels for him, so Darcy made it none of her business. Just like the rest of Las Vegas made Oscar Goodman’s dubious side-dealings and mafia connections none of theirs. She may not have been born for politics, but she was definitely from Las Vegas, and that was kind of the same thing.

She finished up her reading, and with nothing else to do, decided to just leave early. Denny & Lee wouldn’t open their doors for the open stage for another couple of hours, so she’d at least have plenty of time to change into something that didn’t look like she only put on because it was clean. She only lived off Flamingo, and the May heat wasn’t entirely deadly yet, so she’d walked to class. Walking back home at about six in the afternoon was almost pleasant, if she stayed out of the sun. She cut through the campus to Flamingo, cutting an almost mile-long walk in half. The busy street stank to high heavens as usual, but without the familiar tangy undercurrent of melting tar that came later in the summer. Come June, waiting to cross at the light would be unbearable.

Once she was across Flamingo and closer to the park, the smell of the busy street died away, replaced with the smell of the drying-out flood channel. Some ducks were swimming around in the shallow water down there, dunking their heads in the water and quacking happily. A few more were perched up on the rotting mattress that had been down there for the last three years. Probably because someone got so fed up with bed bugs, they’d just bunged their bed right over the fence. Kind of like the time Darcy got her neighbour to help her throw her sofa off the third-storey corridor and into the dry courtyard behind her apartment building.

The building itself hadn’t started off life as apartments. Once upon a time, it had been a cheap little hotel on the outskirts of town. Because once upon a time, two miles off-strip had been the outskirts. Now it was college town, and all the hotels were now cheap housing, with Best Westerns scattered around for anyone who needed an actual hotel.

On her way to her apartment, she stopped by the mailbox to see if she had anything more interesting than bills, though she kind of doubted she would, since she’d got her copy of Genii the week before. But she got even less than bills, so she threw the Vons coupons into the trash on her way to the stairs. There was a lift, but she was leery of it. It was rickety and it squeaked and shook, and she’d once got stuck in it for three hours when it had stalled during a rolling blackout the previous summer. The stairs were crumbling concrete, and still kind of scary, but at least she wouldn’t suffocate if they broke. She’d just break her neck.

At least it would be a quick death. She’d take a quick death over slow, stifling suffocation.

Her apartment was west-facing, with a large, square window looking toward the strip — and the bright orange setting sun framed perfectly against the Wynn. The front of her door was hot to the touch, and inside was like a tiny, personal oven. Time to hang the blackout curtains back up. She had two sets of them, because just hanging one didn’t actually help at all.

For now, she turned on the air conditioner and swung her door open and shut to try to move some air around. It kind of helped, but not really.

The apartment was a small studio, with a fantastically huge walk-in closet. She kept her bed and all her clothes back there, and managed to have a proper living room as a result. The kitchen was pathetic, but the hotel bath tub and constant hot water made up for it. Not to mention free cable and wifi. Once her apartment was cool enough, she shut the door and locked it, and immediately declared a no-pants zone. She still had about two hours before she had to leave, so she flopped down on her bright blue sofa bed thing that didn’t really work as either a sofa or a bed, and turned on the television. The news was on, with its usual parade of death and destruction, interspersed with stories about new hotels opening and closing. They were still excited about the Key Largo reopening, but Darcy was bored with it already. It had sat closed since she was in middle school, so it was kind of cool that it was coming back, but not so cool that she needed to hear about it every day for a month.

Eventually, she found something else to zone out to until it was time to leave. When it was finally time to get ready, Darcy took a very quick shower and put on something that would look good next to a rum and coke in a casino bar. It was a quick drive to the other side of the strip, but too far to walk, and not something she could even think about taking the bus to. For one, buses didn’t go down Dean Martin. And it was kind of a shady area, right up against the freeway, and with very little in the way of street lights. The parking lot outside of Denny & Lee was already getting full by the time she got there, with about ten people milling about outside the shop while they waited for Brian to unlock the doors.

Darcy parked in an empty space and got out to catch up with the others who were already there. Most of the people who came to the open stages were guys, but not all of them. A lot of the guys would bring their girlfriends, but there were a few women who came on their own, and some even performed.

“Miss Darcy,” Ashton greeted. “Are you performing tonight?”

Ashton was a pickpocket, and a very good one. His act was one of Darcy’s favourites.

“Not tonight. I don’t have anything new, and you can only cut your own head off so many times before it gets boring,” Darcy said.

She had a few ideas for new routines, but none of them really seemed interesting enough, which meant they wouldn’t be interesting at all. She’d come up with her beheading routine to see if she could do it without the paper bag Mac King used. The answer was no, not really. So she used a burlap sack, and got a much more grotesque result than would be suitable for an early-afternoon family show.

She stood around and talked nonsense with everyone else until Brian finally showed up from wherever he went between closing the shop and coming back again for the open stage. Denny & Lee wasn’t a Strip magic shop, with faux-antique shelves, and cheap, mass-produced tricks lining the walls. There was a small counter with a few expensive props behind glass, but mostly they sold books. Expensive, and often antique books, with an entire shelf devoted to the Miracle Factory. But the majority of the space was taken up by the stage and seating area in the back. There was no charge to attend, whether as a spectator or a performer. It was like some kind of magician’s fight club, where everyone would sit in old folding chairs in a room with poor lighting, and have the pleasure of seeing new routines performed in public for the first time. Darcy found a seat in the middle and got comfortable while the shop slowly filled.

“I heard D’s back in town. He should be here tonight,” Ashton said as he sat next to her.

Darcy gasped. “Oh, I miss him! Where’s he been?”

“California, I think,” said Ashton.

In the entire time Darcy had known him, D had never had a fixed address. He lived primarily on the road, taking his singularly strange act anywhere he could perform on the street without a permit.

He strode in about five minutes later, heralded by a raucous clatter at the door. Darcy couldn’t help but grin, knowing that whatever he’d brought with him was something big and ridiculous.

“D, where have you been?” she called out when he stepped into view.

D grinned widely. “Miss Darcy, always a pleasure.” He walked over, and Darcy rose for one of his bear hugs. When he hugged her, he picked her clean off the ground for a few seconds, before putting her back down. Darcy tried to peer around the wall that separated the stage from the shop, but all she could see was the shelf that held all the Miracle Factory books. “So, what’d you bring?” she asked.

“No peeking,” he admonished. He sat down across the aisle from her, rocking uncertainly in his uneven chair.

Darcy pretended to be affronted, but it wasn’t a very good act. Even she laughed. Before she could say anything else, Brian climbed up onto the low stage, silencing the room without a word.

“We have a few new faces this week,” he said, looking out over the small crowd. “We may have to start charging.”

Almost everyone responded by shouting ‘No’ at him.

“Or not,” said Brian. “I do have a quick announcement before we get started. Listen up, it’s a good one. The Key Largo is reopening, which isn’t news to anyone.”

“The Key Largo’s reopening?” asked D.

“Isn’t news to anyone except D,” Brian amended. “The exciting part is that I have been told a secret. So I’m sharing it with you guys. They’re holding auditions tomorrow at six PM for a magic act. I don’t know what kind of magic they’re looking for, or if it’s for an afternoon show or an evening show. They didn’t say in their release. I think all of you could do an evening show, so let’s hope it’s that. They haven’t publicised it, but they’ll let you in if you tell them you came from here. I have the release printed out on the counter, so please take one on your way out.”

Darcy was tempted, but she didn’t think she had enough material to carry ninety minutes. She figured maybe instead of going and making an ass of herself, she’d just go as moral support for anyone else who decided to audition.

When Brian finished with his announcements, he introduced Kayla to the stage. She went up empty-handed, and started by pulling a balloon from one of her pockets. Her act was a simple one, but effective and cute. She asked the audience to tell her what animal she should make from the balloon, and came ‘randomly’ to chicken. The balloon chicken she made wasn’t very chicken-like, and almost seemed to be intentionally terrible. Her act largely played on a perfectly-maintained ‘dumb blonde’ appearance, and she hammed it up especially for the stage nights. When she decided that the balloon chicken was a big fat failure and burst it with her manicured fingernails, she made a switch so flawlessly quick, Darcy didn’t even see when the balloon chicken became a live baby chick. Kayla cooed happily at the confused little creature and patted it on the head before dropping character and bowing properly.

“What are you gonna do with the chick when it becomes a chicken?” someone asked with an insinuating tone.

Kayla scoffed, as if the answer were obvious. “Give him to Lance Burton.”

Darcy wasn’t even sure why it was funny, but she laughed anyway. Something about Lance Burton always struck her as unintentionally hilarious, and she wasn’t the only one. Half the audience were laughing right along with her.

Acts went one after the next, most of them requiring little or no preparation. Ashton picked on one of the newcomers by stealing his watch, his wallet, and one of his shoes so quickly, the poor guy had no idea what had happened until the end of the routine. When D’s turn came round, Brian brought his prop out for him. It was a four-foot step-ladder, and Darcy couldn’t see what was so special about it. Until D invited her up onto the stage with him.

He had her sit on top of the ladder, and that was when she knew exactly what was so special about it.

“Oh, no. No, no, no,” she said, gripping the sides tightly.

D looked up at the cheap rigging above the stage and nodded before picking up the ladder with both hands, Darcy perched atop it and clinging to it for dear life.

“Ohmygodno,” Darcy squeaked as she felt herself leave the ground. She closed her eyes as he lifted her even higher, knowing exactly what was happening beneath her.

The ladder lurched one more time, and Darcy went very still as the movement below her started to even out. She was shaking so hard, she worried D might lose the precarious balance he had with his mouth. She didn’t dare open her eyes, but she could hear the audience’s impressed reaction at seeing a very large man balance Darcy on a step ladder with his chin.

“I’m going to die,” Darcy said nervously.

Everyone else laughed, and she didn’t know why. Finally, everything shifted again, and she was very carefully lowered to the ground. As she found her feet again, her legs were like Jello, and she worried she might fall down completely. Brian helped her down the stairs and back to her seat before announcing the next performer.

 

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