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Tag: series: tarbell course in magic (Page 1 of 2)

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #16: Little Yellow Ones

Coming back to the show with a brand new set list was a high Loki had been chasing for entirely too long.  The problem with spending most of his vacation hammering out the new set list was that when he finally got a real day off, he didn’t know what to do with it.  Staying at home sounded just as awful and dreary as it always did, but he had few other options.  Darcy was no doubt sick of looking at his face, and would want to spend her day off in solitude, and the only other person who ever put up with him was Thor, who was the last person in the world Loki wanted to see.

So Loki did what he always did when he had a day off and nothing planned to fill the time.  He got into his car, picked a random direction, and drove.  At first, he drove aimlessly, winding through neighbourhoods and getting himself utterly lost.  And then he found himself on Sahara heading west, and it was too late.  He was desperate to find someone to put up with his company for a few hours, and found himself in a part of town he really should not have been in.  And then, he found himself in a neighbourhood he definitely should not have been in.  And then he found himself at an apartment building he absolutely should not have been at.  Taking a chance, he tried the gate code he’d been given and found it still worked, so he let himself in.  He didn’t see the little red hatchback parked at the end of the lot, but sometimes Fandral parked elsewhere.  Hoping Fandral was home, Loki found a place to park and walked up the stairs to the apartment Fandral still shared with too many people, and knocked on the door.

He was utterly unsurprised when Fandral’s enormous ginger friend opened the door.

“He’s not in,” he said.

“Where is he?” Loki asked.

“None of your business.” 

He shut the door in Loki’s face, and that was that.  With nothing else to do, Loki turned around and decided to just head home.  All the endless driving around was only letting him get trapped inside his own head, and if he was going to do that, he could do it at home with a bottle of wine.  He got back into his car and took the straightest path back to Henderson, trying not to continually tell himself that it was his own fault nobody wanted to talk to him.  Even if it was true, he didn’t want to dwell on it.

At least it was a drive he knew well, and didn’t need his GPS for.  Without having to pay attention to that, he could turn on his music a little too loudly and drown everything else out. 

He got home, and kicked his shoes off as soon as he was through the front door.  Turning to the kitchen to see what he had available, Loki stopped in front of the sink to look out the window at the clouds that were starting to burn off for the day.  He thought briefly about trying to go find something else to do, even if it was as simple as doing the shopping, but he never got that far.  A sharp, burning pain in his foot made him leap backwards with a yelp.  Expecting to find that he’d somehow accidentally dropped a fork or something, he instead found an enormous yellow scorpion on the floor.  After a long, tense moment, Loki realised it had stung him, and suddenly he felt as though the pain had increased tenfold.  Unsure what else to do, he grabbed the broom and smashed the tiny creature into the floor, but that didn’t solve the rest of his problem.

He had been stung, and he had no idea if he should ignore it, or if it was going to kill him.  He pulled his phone from his pocket, hands shaking violently as he tried to figure out what he should do.  He could drive himself to the emergency room, but what if he went into shock on the road?  He wondered if he should call an ambulance, and then thought about the $4000 bill being for nothing because he panicked and there was nothing to worry about.

Thor would know.  Thor was a doctor, or very soon would be.  At the moment, it didn’t make much of a difference at all.  Loki called him, listening in horror as the line rang out to voicemail.

“Why do you never answer your fucking phone?” he shouted before hanging up.

He realised then that Darcy might know.  He called her, half expecting to get sent to voicemail again.  Instead, she surprised him by answering.

“Yeah, what’s going on?” she asked.

“There’s a fucking thing, and it bit me, and I don’t know if I should call an ambulance—”

“Oh my fucking god,” Darcy said.  He could hear her hold the phone away from her, muffling her next words into the distance.  “I have to go.  Apparently there’s a ‘thing’ biting my boss.”

Loki could hear someone else laugh, and then Darcy came back.

“Okay, what’s going on?  Slowly,” she said.

He could hear her step out near traffic, and realised she could have been anywhere in the valley.  He could be dead by the time she was any help. 

“I got bit, and it’s yellow.  And you said the yellow ones are dangerous,” Loki said.

“You got bit, and it’s yellow?  By a bee?” Darcy asked.

“No,” Loki said, running words through his head until he found the right one.  “By a scorpion.”

“Oh my god,” Darcy said.  “Put some ice on it.  You’re probably fine, but I’ll be right over.”

“Hurry please,” Loki said.

“Yeah, hang tight.  See you in a few minutes,” Darcy said.

She hung up, leaving him to his own panic.  But he did as she said, and put some ice into a plastic bag, and took it over to the sofa.  He managed to get his sock off, finding the spot where he had been stung already red and swollen.  The ice didn’t seem to help much at all, but he didn’t feel like he was dying either.  While he waited for Darcy, Loki looked up what to do on his phone, and found all of the answers entirely unhelpful, telling him it would either be a very minor irritation, or warning him that he might stop breathing at any moment.  It was as though the entire internet were conspiring to work him into the biggest panic possible.

After what felt like a year, Loki’s phone finally rang.  He answered again, finding Darcy shouting through the speaker outside.  He pressed the button to let her in, and tried to figure out if he was having trouble breathing yet.  A few moments later, she let herself in, since he hadn’t locked the door on his own way in, and walked into the living room to look at him.

“All right.  Where’s the beast?” she asked.

Loki pointed toward the kitchen, and Darcy disappeared to investigate.

“Oh, you’re fine!” she shouted.  “It’s probably been hiding in your cupboards for months.”

“You said the yellow ones are dangerous!” Loki shouted, wondering how she was able to be so calm.

“It’s not that yellow,” Darcy said.

“It looks pretty fucking yellow to me,” Loki said.

Darcy laughed and returned to the living room.  “You’re fine,” she said, a little more calmly.  “It’ll hurt for a bit and then itch like hell, and you’ll forget it ever happened.”

Loki didn’t believe that.  He’d been stung, and she’d laughed, and he was going to die.

“You don’t know that,” Loki said.  “What if I’m allergic?”

“Then you’d probably already be dead,” Darcy said.  “So now you know you’re not allergic.”

If it was meant to be assuring, it didn’t work.  All it did was make Loki even more nervous.

“Look, you gonna be okay?  Can I go?” Darcy asked.

“No,” Loki said, knowing that the last thing he needed now was to be left alone.  “Please stay.  I’m very not okay,”

He looked up at her, expecting her to turn and leave anyway.  Instead she took off her coat.

“You’ve really done it up nice in here,” she said as she moved over to the chair in the corner. 

“Thanks,” he said.  He fussed with his ice, trying to find a way to avoid freezing his toes.

They sat in silence for a long moment.  All the while, Loki tried to figure out what he should say to make things less awkward between them.  He sat with his back toward her, sideways on the sofa, but couldn’t even bring himself to turn around to face her.  The longer he sat without suffering any severe consequences of being stung, the more he felt like a fool for calling her at all.

“You haven’t been okay for a while, have you?” Darcy asked suddenly.

Loki was shocked by the brazenness of it, but couldn’t exactly deny what was probably plain as day.

“No, not really,” he said. 

“Have you looked into getting help?” Darcy asked.

Loki actually laughed.  She didn’t know.  How could she?

“I’ve tried that before.  It didn’t work,” he said.  “Eventually they get so fed up when nothing works, they try the ‘shotgun method.’  Which is the worst fucking name for a treatment when that is precisely what you want to shove down your own throat.”

An awkward silence hung between them, and again Loki regretted saying anything.  He had exactly two modes: he either kept everything to himself for far too long, or said entirely too much all at once.

“What is it?” Darcy asked finally.

This was not the conversation Loki wanted to be having, but he’d asked her to stay, and now he was stuck with it.

“They throw every drug in the pharmacy at you and hope one of them works,” Loki said.  “Kind of like shotgun pellets, I guess.”

“Yeah, that’s a pretty fucked up name,” Darcy said.  “What happened after that?”

“I learned if you’re going to take a bunch of sleeping pills, you need to take more than six,” Loki said.  Somehow, he found it easier to say out loud with his back to her.

“Jesus,” Darcy said.

Loki shrugged.  He had nothing else to say.

“What have you been doing lately?” Darcy asked.

“Surviving,” Loki said.  “One day at a time.”  He fussed with his ice a bit more, because it was something to occupy his hands.  “I know I’m not easy to love.  Or even like.  I do a lot of really fucked up things, and I hurt people, because it’s easier than letting myself get hurt first.”

He took a moment to breathe while all his awkwardness hung in the air.  And since he’d started, he figured he might as well finish.

“I didn’t know who you were when I hired you.  And I am sorry for what I did after I found out,” Loki said.  “I was sorry as soon as I did it, and I was hoping I could find a way out before you learned what was going on.”

He shrugged again.  Words he had wanted to say for months all came pouring out at once, and like so many other things there was no taking it back.  All he could do was sit with his back to her and pretend that he didn’t feel like his entire foot was on fire.

“Yeah, I guess we’re doing this finally, huh?” Darcy said after a long moment. 

He could hear her taking a deep breath, but still couldn’t bear to turn around and face her.  He felt like he could feel her staring at the back of his head, but that seemed easier than having to look at her staring  at him directly.

“Look, sometimes you’re really fun to be around, and I like you” Darcy said.  “But I can’t trust anything you say.  Ever.  I don’t know if this right now is genuine, or if you’ve been rehearsing it since July.  I want it to be genuine.  And I hope it is.  But I second guess so much of what you say that I have no idea.”

“You aren’t alone there,” Loki said.  It sounded flippant even to his own ears, but he knew it was true all the same.

“Like…”  Darcy sighed, and Loki actually felt guilty because of it.  “I work with this guy.  He’s funny.  Smart.  Dorky as hell sometimes.  Even kind of sweet, when he wants to be.  I like him.  We have fun.”

Loki bit back on saying anything sarcastic, knowing that if he did, she’d probably get up and walk away.

“But then there’s other guy who hangs around as soon as I get off work,” Darcy said, sounding more and more frustrated with each word.  “And he’s just an asshole.  He’s mean, and selfish, and rude.  The kind of guy who doesn’t need to be violent to hurt you.  I can’t stand to be in the same room as him.”

Loki stared straight ahead at his feet, afraid of what would happen if he turned to face her.  If his back weren’t already turned toward her, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to survive this.  Even with his back turned toward her, he felt like he should crawl into a hole and never come out.

“And then, lately.  I’ve known for a while that you haven’t been okay,” Darcy said.  “And I’ve tried to be respectful of that, and to make sure I didn’t do anything that might make it worse.  But I can’t be responsible for your well-being either.  Your problems are not my problems.”

Loki wondered how long she’d seen right through him, and for some reason only felt guilty over having let her. 

“I don’t want them to be,” he said.

“Good,” said Darcy.  “I hope that’s true.  Again.  I don’t know.  It’s hard to tell, and you’re kind of a manipulative, gaslighting bastard sometimes, you know that?”

Loki snorted.  It wasn’t even the first time he’d heard that.  “Yeah, I know,” he said.  “I’m also aware I have the world’s shortest temper and no patience.”

It was Darcy’s turn to snort.  “I appreciate the apology,” she said.  “I know I haven’t wanted to hear it until now, because I was afraid that you’d apologise, and I’d believe it, and we’d both fall right back into the same routine again.  And I don’t want that.”

“What about a friend?” Loki asked.  “Do you want that?”

It was another long moment before Darcy responded. 

“I think I’d be okay with that,” she said.  “But only if we both agree that friends don’t stick their tongues down each other’s throats.”

Loki laughed, despite everything.  He felt like he was burning up from the inside.  If he could hide away forever and never be seen again, he’d be better for it. 

“I think we can agree on that, yes,” he said.

Darcy laughed as well. “Good.  How’s your foot?”

Loki looked down at it, and frowned at the growing red spot above his toes.  “Going to fall off,” he said.

“Well, you sit there and keep an eye on it,” Darcy said, getting up.  “Where are your menus?”

Loki pointed back toward the kitchen.  “Shoe box on the fridge,” he said.

 

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #15: Gunpowder and Plot

Darcy was ready to be done with rehearsal for the rest of her life.  It was the exact same horrible crunch from before, running the show two or three times a day before going home exhausted and miserable.  Abstractly, she knew this job wasn’t going to be all fun and games; that the glitz and glamour of being on stage in a real show was at best only a façade.  Even the show itself was stress, whether or not it went well.  Some nights were just more stress than others.  And occasionally, for no specific or fixable reason, the show went so poorly nobody wanted to speak to one another by the end of the night.

She knew this was part of having a show.  She had enough friends who had shows or small runs that she’d heard all the horror stories.  She knew not to go into this with wild expectations.  But still, she hadn’t anticipated just how soul-draining hours and hours of rehearsal could be.  Not even college had prepared her for the amount of time she’d spend feeling like she was only spinning her wheels on the same thing and going nowhere.

And then they got a delivery days before they went back to live performances, and Darcy’s entire attitude changed in an instant.  Darcy let herself into the green room to see Loki carefully unpacking the box, and immediately walked over to see for herself.  She knew what it was before she even saw it laid out on the table, because there was only one thing it could have been. 

“Oh my god, that was fast,” she said.

“I paid for rush, so you better love me,” Loki said, setting bits and pieces into neat little stacks.

He had a gun that was much larger than Darcy had expected it to be laid out on the counter, along with various small boxes.  Darcy picked up one of the boxes and opened it, eager to see how it worked with her own eyes.  She had an idea from what she’d read on the internet, but things were always a little bit different in person; details were left out or slightly changed to preserve the secret, or wild guesses that had no basis in reality at all.  Even the magazine ads never told the full story.

She pulled one of the bullets out of the box and turned it around in her fingers.  It looked perfectly real, as much as she knew what a real bullet looked like.  She had no real experience with guns, but nothing about the bullet seemed off.  She knew it had two casings, but pulling them apart with just her fingers didn’t seem like it would be an easy task, and even as she used her fingernails to try to pry it apart, she couldn’t find any purchase on it.  Giving up, she slid the bullet back into its spot in the box.

“These must be the flash caps,” Loki said, pulling out another box.

“How much did you order?” Darcy asked, putting the bullets down.

“The caps came in boxes of a thousand, so we shouldn’t run out any time soon,” he said.  “And two hundred rounds to start.”

Nodding, Darcy finally picked up the gun.  It was a shiny revolver with a black plastic casing on the grip, and it weighed a ton.  The way people waved guns around in the movies, she expected it to be a little easier to hold.  But it was an enormous chunk of metal, and it definitely felt like it in her hand.  She was careful to point it away from both of them as she inspected it, trying to figure out how to open the cylinder.

“Have you ever fired a real one?” Loki asked.

Darcy shook her head and almost laughed.  “No,” she said.

“Then we may want to head to one of the ranges,” Loki said, still fussing with the rest of the package.

The .45 Magnum might have been overly ambitious.  Darcy thought it would look best on stage, but with it in her hand, it suddenly felt too big.

“Are you sure you’re gonna be okay with this?” she asked, trying to figure out how she was meant to aim the thing.

“Don’t tell me you’re getting cold feet now,” Loki said.

Darcy laughed.  “No, but you know.  Seeing it in person is a little different than thinking about it.”

Loki reached out for the gun, and she handed it over, half expecting him to show her how it was done.  Instead, he fussed and fiddled, and checked the small instructional booklet that came with it before he figured out how to open the cylinder.  Watching him struggle, she wasn’t sure why she even thought he’d know what he was doing, beyond the fact that he was a man.  Eventually, he got it with a sudden click that startled both of them, but after some careful testing, nothing seemed broken.

“Well,” he said, looking back up at her.  “It’s your bit.  What’s the script?”

Darcy was so surprised she almost took a step back.

“Me?” she asked.  “Seriously?”

“I’m not the one who wanted to do this fucking thing,” Loki said.  He closed the cylinder again and put the gun down on the table.  “Get planning.”

Darcy nodded.  She picked up the gun again to really get to know it.  Suddenly being in charge had put her on the spot, and all she could think about was the way everyone else had always done it.

“Well, I’m definitely shooting you,” she said.  “Let’s be real, trick or not, it’s not a good look if you shoot me.  Johnathan never lived that down, and it was an accident.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that,” Loki said.

Darcy looked up at him, and then the clock.  “Let’s give everyone a break, and do one run today,” she said.  “And then we can come back and figure this thing out.”

Loki nodded.  “Deal.”

She let Loki package everything back up, safely sealing it away where it wouldn’t accidentally be found, or stolen.  Even though it was gaffed, it still looked very real, and neither of them had any idea what would have happened if a real bullet were loaded into it.

They ran the show from top to bottom, for the first time able to go the entire run without stopping.  Even the raven behaved when they brought it out for its routine.  After sending everyone home for a much-deserved break, Loki and Darcy returned to the green room to work out their new routine.  Darcy knew it had to be perfect.  Not only was it going to be her first writing credit, but it was going to replace Metamorphosis on the set list.  And Loki was never going to allow that unless it was perfect.

She took everything to the sofa and sat down, spending a long moment just getting to know how it all worked.  The bullets looked real enough, though she wasn’t entirely sure what a fake bullet would look like.  The flash caps seemed easy to get wrong, and there was still the fact that for all intents and purposes, the gun seemed as real as it could get.  But she supposed that’s how the trick was able to get past the audience volunteer.  If they happened to pick someone who knew their way around a handgun, and they were the sort of person to make a scene, they’d have to deal with the entire act being completely derailed.

“So.  This goes… here,” Darcy said, trying to fit the flash cap into place over the false barrel. 

Finally, it stuck where it was meant to, and she carefully closed the cylinder.  Whether it was something anyone would notice or not, she had no idea.  While Loki watched from her side, she aimed the gun toward the opposite wall, and tried to get the nerve to pull the trigger.

“It’s just a giant, shiny cap gun,” she told herself.

She pulled the trigger, and the gun exploded.  The sound was louder than she had ever expected, and the air smelled of gun powder.  If there was a flash, Darcy didn’t see it because she had closed her eyes without realising it.  But when she opened them again, everything was in one piece.  The wall on the other side of the room was in one piece.  And smoke was trailing from the “real” barrel.

“That was terrifying,” Darcy said.

Loki laughed at her.  “You were the biggest pain in the ass about this.  You’d better get used to it.”

“Yeah, I know.”  Darcy opened the cylinder, and had to pry the flash cap out of its place.  “I’ve never shot a gun before.  I didn’t think it would be this scary.”

Next, she picked up one of the bullets from the box to inspect it.  The instructions told her that it should come apart, but she couldn’t seem to get a decent enough grip on it it pry it apart with her fingers.  Even as she slid the bullet into place, she didn’t feel anything that felt like it was unusual with it.  She clicked the cylinder into place, aimed, and promptly lost her nerve.

“Oh, what if it goes wrong?” she said, tensing up with her entire body and shaking her head.  “I’m scared.”

Loki took the gun from her and stood up, turning toward one of the big chairs in the room.  He aimed at it, pulled the trigger, and the gun clicked. 

“Huh,” Loki said, as though he had expected something more.

Then, he opened the cylinder again and peered down the barrel.

“Oh, that’s clever.” 

He walked back over to the box it had all come with, and picked up a rod that Darcy had originally thought was meant for cleaning.  Instead, Loki poked it down the barrel, and when he pulled it out it was with the bullet attached to the end.

“Walk me through it?” Darcy asked.

She got up and stood next to Loki as he fitted a cap into place. 

“There’s a pin on this bit here,” Loki said, pointing at the cylinder.  “It gets activated by the trigger, and fires the flash bang.”

Darcy nodded along.  “Kay,” she said.

Loki loaded another bullet into the cylinder.  “The bullet is magnetic.  Who’s going to think to check for that?”  He clicked everything into place and raised the gun up toward the chair again.  “Pulling the trigger fires the flash bang, and also breaks the bullet.  You can feel it move.”

Instead of pulling the trigger, he handed the gun over to Darcy.  A little more confident this time, she tried not to turn away as she aimed at the chair and pulled the trigger.  Again, there was the explosion and the puff of smoke, but Loki was right.  She could feel the very subtle shift in weight as the bullet slid forward toward the barrel. Tipping the gun down allowed it to slide all the way into place, and when she opened the cylinder again, all that was left was a casing that smelled slightly of gunpowder.

“Okay,” Darcy said.

She already felt a little more comfortable with it.  Knowing how it worked took away most of her what-if scenarios that were bouncing around her brain.  She reset the gun herself, aimed it at the chair again, and fired once more.  It had no recoil at all, so she’d have to learn how to fake that, making Loki’s suggestion of visiting a shooting range seem all the more practical.  But it had the smoke, and even a little bit of a flash, and that was ultimately all it needed.  The rest was acting, and she knew how to do that much.

“We should definitely have them sign it,” she said.  “It came with ‘fired’ bullets, right?”

Loki turned back to the table and started shuffling through all the stuff they had laid out.  “Yes,” he said after a moment.

“Okay,” Darcy said.  She looked down at the gun to inspect it once more, feeling the seeds of an idea begin to take sprout.  “I think it should look like your trick,” she said.

“You want me to do the patter?” Loki asked.

Darcy nodded.  “Yeah.  You do all the patter, take the lead.  Act all full of yourself while doing it, you know?  Shouldn’t be too hard.  Make it look like they get a choice when they sign it.  Both the bullet and the casing.  But it’s just the same thing we do with my mind reading bit.”

Loki nodded.  “All right.  I see where you’re going.  How do I get the copy?”

Darcy thought about it for a moment.  “You should wear a bullet proof vest.  Really make it look like you’re taking this seriously.  Sam hides the copy in the vest, you load it when you’re putting it on.  It should be small enough to hide, shouldn’t it?”

“Shouldn’t have a problem, no,” he said.  “And then what?  You shoot me, and that’s it?”

Darcy took a deep breath.  “Well when you say it like that, it’s really anti-climatic, isn’t it?”

They both looked at one another, each working through the problem at hand.  Doing a trick everyone had done a variation on, while doing it completely unlike anyone had ever done wasn’t as easy as Darcy had thought it would be.  Without knowing how the prop worked, all she’d been able to do was day dream.  If the insurance company had allowed them to use paraffin, she could have thought of a dozen ways to do it.  Breakaway fake bullets somehow threw a kink into the works.

“Penn and Teller both shot each other, didn’t they?” Loki asked.

“Yeah,” Darcy said.  “Through panes of glass, and then caught it in their mouth.  Surprisingly non-violent for them.”

Loki nodded slowly, mulling something over.  “What if you shot me early?” he asked.

“What?” Darcy asked. 

“Why not?” Loki said.  “Everyone’s seen theirs.  It ended well.  And everyone secretly wanted to see it go wrong.”

Darcy suddenly understood.  “So we act like it went wrong,” she said.

The entire show was shaping up to be one mishap after the next, so ending with Loki getting deliberately shot in the face seemed all too appropriate now that he’d floated it as an option.

“Or that you’ve finally had enough and decided to get rid of me,” Loki said.

Darcy laughed, not entirely sure about the optics, but still into the idea.  “You sure you want to do it that way?” she asked.  “Pretending to be unlucky thirteen every night?”

“Is it that much different that pretending I can beat God at his own game?” Loki asked.

Darcy supposed not.  “All right,” she said.  “Want to go play around and see what we can make with it?”  She nodded back toward the stage.

Loki looked over his shoulder toward the door.  “Yeah, all right,” he said.

It took less than an hour to figure out the basics between the two of them.  Without a stand in for the audience member, they couldn’t run anything properly, but they didn’t have enough of a script or the other props they’d need to run anyway.  But they had something they could work with.  Something that could build up to become one hell of a show stopper.

But first, they had to get their hands on a bullet proof vest.

 

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Waiting

Waiting (300 words) by LokiOfSassgaard

Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Thor (Movies)
Rating: General Audiences
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Characters: Loki (Marvel), Thor (Marvel)

Summary: Nebulously connected to Tarbell Course in Magic. Just Loki waiting on Thor’s slow ass to show up like he said he would.

Continue reading

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #14: Rehearsal

Loki stood on the stage, watching as everything was set up for many hours of rehearsal.  He was ready to get started, except for the very considerable sticking point that were the six stitches in the back of his scalp.  He kept his hair tied up in a loose bun to hide the damage, but he still wasn’t supposed to get it wet, and yet they desperately needed to hammer out the fish tank routine before they returned to live shows.

He looked up at the crew as they busied about, getting everything ready to go, and had an idea.  He wasn’t even sure it would work, or that the season would allow it, but it was his last option before they had to take a very literal approach to doing a dry run.  Leaving everyone behind to set up, Loki rushed out of the theatre and down the hall to the hotel’s gift shop.  It was the same gift shop as every other hotel in the city, full of cheap tat and last-minute essentials.  With the pool closed, Loki was not surprised to find the rack where the swim trunks and bathing suits lived to have been reduced to an area the size of a magazine, but he checked through it all the same.  He got lucky, and found exactly two swim caps in the little clearance rack, and just to be safe he grabbed them both.

As he brought them up to the counter, the kid behind the register looked at both caps, and then up at Loki.

“You know the pool’s closed?” he said.

“Yes, I’m aware,” Loki said.  “But my assistant is going to be drowning me in a few minutes and I don’t want to get my hair wet.”

“What?”  The kid looked at Loki a little more closely, but didn’t quite seem to understand exactly who he was looking at. 

Loki responded by not responding at all, and holding himself as serious as possible while the kid tried to figure out what exactly he was being subjected to.  When the kid still failed to cotton onto what was going on, Loki nodded to the postcard display behind him, but it only seemed to confuse matters.

“Should I, like… call someone?” the asked.

“Just ring it up,” Loki said, already bored.

The kid started moving, carefully and deliberately scanning both caps while someone down an aisle started laughing.

“Oh my fucking god, dude.  Turn around,” she said, from where she was still crouched on the floor, stocking shelves.  “That’s the magician, you dumbfuck.”

The kid stopped what he was doing to turn around, taking a painfully long time to notice the post card display on the counter behind him, and even longer to notice the cards promoting the show.

“You want me to like, call security, or something?” the kid asked.

While the girl stocking shelves dissolved into peals of laughter, Loki shook his head and pulled his wallet from his pocket. 

“What’s the total?” he asked.

He paid for the caps and left the poor idiot to the mercies of his co-worker and her scathing insults.  As he made it back to the theatre, he found everything set up and waiting for him.  He checked over everything for himself, making sure that nothing was missing or in the wrong place.  And then he checked it over again, because he didn’t trust the first time, and wasn’t in the mood to actually drown. 

“Everyone on stage!” he shouted.  He turned to see who was nearby, and pointed to Sam.  “Find everyone.  Get them here,” he said.

With a nod, Sam rushed off toward the green room, where most of the crew were likely waiting until they were needed.  A few minutes later, Loki stood in the middle of the stage while his entire backstage crew and security team were gathered round.

“We’re going to run the milk can until we get it flawless,” Loki said to everyone.  “As many times as it takes.  This should be as safe as these things ever get, but we’re not taking chances.  Drowning is not on my to-do list right now.  But we are doing everything live.  Water, locks, fire.  All of it.”  He held his hand up, index and pinky fingers extended like horns, and turned round slowly so everyone could see.

“If I make this signal, something has gone wrong.  The bit ends immediately,” he said, speaking slowly and as clearly as he was able, keeping his hand raised as he spoke so the image would be burned into everyone’s memory.  “I don’t care if the house is full, completely sold out.  This ends the bit.  There is an emergency valve at the bottom of the tank that I will use if I have to, but I’d like to not have to get to that point.”

He nodded, and most of the crew nodded back.  Finally he dropped his hand to his side and swept his gaze across the crowd.

“This bit is all hands on deck.  Everyone is involved.  If you’re not moving props, you are watching me,” Loki said.  “Watching for my signal.”

Confident that he wouldn’t be killed by his own crew, Loki nodded again.  “Full dress.  Everyone ready in five.”

He walked off stage, with Darcy following shortly behind him.  “I wasn’t nervous until right now,” she said.

“We’ll be fine,” Loki said, trying to believe it himself.  “Mind your timing and stay on your marks.”

He left her to go change, entirely too wound up.  Putting a routine on the stage itself always changed the timing.  No matter how much they rehearsed and practised in their other space, or how accurately they copied the dimensions, it was always a little bit off.  Curtains to be navigated around, or the larger backstage area, or just simply not feeling right in the new setting.  They were all problems that needed to be addressed with every routine.

But most routines weren’t deadly if they went wrong.

Loki changed quickly, feeling like something wasn’t quite right already.  As he put on his pants, he realised he had always rehearsed in swim trunks.  Never in a full suit, because he didn’t have any jackets he was willing to ruin.

In theory, he could have one suit he wore just for the bit.  Have it cleaned and pressed each night, to be used again for the next show.  But it seemed like extra time and expense he didn’t want to spend.

He looked at himself in the mirror, long black hair falling over his shoulders, and tattoos peeking out beneath the sleeves of his t-shirt.  He pulled his shirt off and looked at himself again, hands held on his hips as he wondered if he should go as close to Houdini’s routine as a Vegas stage show would allow.  He had a pair of swim trunks stashed away, for clandestine trips out to the pool after all the tourists had gone to bed.  Rather than going through the hassle of ruining a good suit, swim trunks could be thrown into the laundry and be ready for him the next day.  He quickly stripped down and put them on under his trousers, finding the fit a little tight, but it wouldn’t need to last for long when they ran the whole show. 

Once he was dressed, he nearly pulled his hair back into a tail before remembering at the last second how much it had hurt the last time he’d tried that.  Cramming everything into a swim cap wasn’t going to feel great either, but it was better than getting an infection in the back of his skull because he decided to spend all day in a fish tank.

As ready as he was going to get, he returned to the wings to try to force all of his hair into a cap.  He quickly realised he had an audience when he heard Darcy laughing.

“Are you having trouble?” she asked.

“Shut all the way up,” Loki said, struggling to figure out how to get the damn thing on without causing more pain.

Eventually he figured it out and held his arms out in a display of triumph.

“Not a good look on you,” Darcy said.

“What the hell else am I supposed to do?” Loki asked.

Darcy laughed as she walked off to take her mark.  Loki took his, and waited for everyone else to signal that they were ready.  With Clint standing in as their audience volunteer, they ran the routine from top to bottom.  The change, with Loki doing the bit in swim trunks threw off the rhythm a bit, but it was a rhythm he regained by the third go.  By the fifth, they had the lighting cues ironed out.  They made it to eight before he was too tired to feel safe doing it again.  As he was let out of his perspex coffin for the final time, Loki sat down right on the floor, and took a moment to just breathe.

“I’m done,” he said. 

While Sam and Buck dragged the tank away to be drained, Loki took a moment to just drip on the dusty floor before getting up to let everyone know they could go home.  He took off his swim cap, not realising how much it had been squeezing his brain until he got it off.  But his hair was mostly dry, and he didn’t feel like he’d caused himself any permanent damage.

Once he let everyone know to be back the next day for a full run, he retreated back to his dressing room to dry off and change.  They’d need to fix the costumes, and come up with something to deal with his tattoos, but that was a problem for future Loki.  Eight runs without a single calamity was just about what it took for him to finally feel confident in putting the bit on stage, but it was also enough to knock him on his ass.  He wasn’t just tired, but starving.  With the rehearsal going as well as it did, Loki felt confident enough to try to take another risk.  Hoping she was still in, Loki knocked on Darcy’s door, and wondered what he was doing.

“Yeah,” she called.

Loki opened the door, careful to stay in the hall like he always did.  This was a mistake, but it was too late to turn back now.

“Since we didn’t get to go the other day, would you like to join me for dinner?” he asked.

He watched the tension across her body and knew he shouldn’t have asked.  She had made an offer, but he probably was not meant to take her up on it so soon.

And then she smiled.  “You know what, sure,” she said.  “I wanted to talk to you anyway.”

Loki nodded and pointed toward the green room.  “I’ll be out there,” said.

He didn’t ask what she wanted to talk to him about.  He already knew.  And it would be a conversation held in public so he could be wrangled into not arguing back.

He wasn’t sure how he had managed to get someone to break up with him twice, but he knew that’s what was coming.  She was going to revoke her offer, and go back to not speaking to him outside of the theatre.  And he supposed he deserved it.  He hadn’t exactly kept his end of their original bargain, to stay out of her space.

When she walked into the green room a few minutes later, Loki walked not toward the parking lot door, but the one that led to the hall.  He could see Darcy’s confusion as she watched him, but he kept on his path.

“It still counts as work if we don’t leave the building, yes?” he said.

Darcy nodded, and even smiled a bit as a little more of that tension seemed to melt away.  “Yeah,” she said.

He didn’t want it to be work.  He wanted to go somewhere private, where he could apologise and beg to be allowed to start over.  But she wasn’t going to allow that.  So he’d pretend it was work and take what little scraps he could get.

As they got settled in the same little restaurant with the obnoxious tropical theme, Loki tried to think of anything to say that might have distracted her from what she wanted to say, but he wasn’t quick enough. 

“So.  Real talk,” she said.  “I fucking hate the Metamorphosis routine.”

Her declaration was so direct and so unexpected, Loki felt like he’d been slapped in the face.

“Okay?” he asked.

“And you said if I could find a way to do the bullet catch that insurance would like, you’d agree to do it as the closer,” Darcy said.

Loki had agreed to it, because he didn’t think she’d find anything.  But their entire relationship was built on bargains and wagers, and he couldn’t go back.

“You found something?” he asked.

She pulled a few pages of folded paper from her purse and handed them over.  Unfolding them, Loki saw they were pages torn out of a magazine, advertising a gaffed gun for bullet catch routines.

“There’s no projectile at all,” Darcy said.  “The bullets aren’t even blanks.  The gun fires an ignition cap and makes a big noise and some smoke.”

Loki listened to all of this while he looked at the price.  It was a lot of zeroes.

“It’s fucking expensive,” he said.

He looked up at her, and she was so goddamn hopeful.  He’d made a promise, and backing down on it wouldn’t do him any good.

“You’re certain it can be insured?” he asked.

Darcy nodded.  “I doubt Genii would advertise it if it couldn’t be,” she said.  “And I was asking around on some forums, and most people agree that this is at least close to what Penn & Teller were using, and they were insured.”

“Penn & Teller build their own props,” Loki said, still looking over the pages.  “They don’t order out of catalogues.”

“Penn & Teller have also been doing this shit for forty years,” Darcy said.  “You haven’t; you’re nobody.  Nobodies buy out of catalogues until they can make enough money to hire people who know how to make things for them.”

Loki nodded and folded the pages back up.  “All right,” he said, slipping them into his pocket.  “I’ll place the order.”

Darcy grinned as brightly as Loki thought he had ever seen, and he thought just for a moment maybe things would be okay between them.  Maybe he could still fix things. 

And then the waitress had to get in the way.  As she dropped off menus and took drink orders, Loki wished he had taken Darcy somewhere else.  Anywhere else.  He looked out over the casino through the open wall, and wondered how many more times he’d have to do this before she’d let him take her somewhere a little more quiet.

And then he spotted Thor walking across the casino floor, and wished he’d stayed home another day.  He looked away, hoping Thor might not spot him, but it was too late.  Thor changed his direction and walked straight toward Loki, veering off course only to go through the entrance like a normal person.

“That face means nothing good.  What did I do now?” Loki asked, unable to ignore the heavy glower Thor wore on his face.

Thor looked down at Darcy and then nodded toward the entrance.  “We should discuss this somewhere else,” he said.

Loki looked around, wondering if it was better to have whatever conversation Thor wanted to have in public, with witnesses.

“Like hell.  I’ve just ordered dinner,” Loki said.

Thor looked at Loki, then at Darcy, and sighed.  He sat down, crowding their small table with his bulk.  Several times, he tried to speak, only to stop himself before making a single sound.

“Dad means to have you taken home,” he said finally.

The mix of terror and rage that filled Loki was almost enough to make him choke.

“I was told to keep it to myself,” Thor said.  “But I thought you’d appreciate the warning.”

Loki tried to find words, but all he could do was shake his head. 

“No,” he said finally.  Anything else he might have said would have only come out in an incoherent string of rage.

“I know,” Thor said.  “Mum told me—” He looked over at Darcy, and then shook his head.  “I know it’s the last place you want to be.”

“What fucking right does he have?” Loki asked, very aware to keep his voice low and avoid making a scene.

“I don’t know,” Thor said.  “But he says if you go home, he’ll forgive the theft, and pretend nothing happened.”

“Wait.  What theft?” Darcy asked suddenly.

Loki shook his head and took a deep breath.  Life itself seemed intent on stressing him out and making him miserable.

“I may have stolen some things to pay for my trip out here,” he said.  He shook his head and shrugged wildly.  “But what the hell does he think he can do about it?  Is he pressing charges?”

Thor only shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I don’t think so.  I think he’s trying to keep you out of the news as much as possible.”

Loki laughed, much more loudly than he’d meant to.  “Is kidnapping me going to accomplish that?  I’d think a headlining act suddenly disappearing is much more likely to cause a stir, don’t you?”

“Look I know you’re happier here,” Thor said.  “I tried to tell them—”

Loki laughed again, entirely without mirth.  “I haven’t been happy for years, but I appreciate the effort,”  he said.

As though saying it out loud made it true, Loki suddenly felt completely drained.  He buried his face in his hands and tried to pretend that just for a moment, nothing was trying to vex him.

“He’s sending someone, apparently,” Thor said, clearly not noticing that Loki was done.  “I don’t know who.  I don’t think they can force you to go anywhere.  You are here legally, right?”

Loki wanted to melt into the floor.  “Yes, I’m here legally,” he said.

For how much longer was another question.  But for the moment, he was fine.

“I wanted to let you know,” Thor said.  He awkwardly patted Loki on the shoulder before getting up.  “So you can find a way to weasel your way out of whatever this is.”

“Yeah, fine.  Thanks.  Great,” Loki said.

After another long moment, Thor walked away, leaving Loki and Darcy alone.  Then, Darcy’s hand was on his arm.  He looked up at her, seeing her concern and worry, and he had once again drowned her in his problems.

“Hey,” she said quietly.  “What do you want to do?  Want to just go home?”

Loki considered it.  With a deep sigh, he considered it.

“No,” he said finally.  “I want to sit right here, and eat an entire pizza, and then go home and drink until I pass out.”

Darcy nodded like she didn’t entirely agree or approve.

“Well.  I’ll join you for the pizza, but not for the rest,” she said.

Loki nodded.  He could live with that.

 

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #13: Boundaries

As Loki and Thor left her apartment, Darcy locked up behind them before turning to face the empty room.  She didn’t know why she felt awful, or why she felt like she’d kicked him out.

And yet, she was glad that he was gone.  And she felt awful about that too. 

She knew, in theory, he could have come to her apartment at any point.  Her new address was on file, in case the company ever needed to mail her something.  It would be as simple as opening the filing cabinet and grabbing the form it was written on for Loki to find where she lived.  But they’d had an agreement.  He was not allowed in her space.  That meant her dressing room, and her apartment.

But something wasn’t right.  He didn’t just dislike hospitals.  Even if he was confused and not thinking straight, she’d seen him with her own eyes.  The second he thought he’d have to stay, suddenly he had all the energy in the world.  It was genuine fear he wasn’t clear-headed enough to hide.

And without even trying, he had got under her skin.  She felt bad for him and brought him home, and that was exactly what had happened the first time.  She was stuck in a horrible loop that always came back to Loki.

It wasn’t quite dark out yet, but she figured she’d wait until morning before taking Loki’s car back to the theatre.  She half expected to get a call before then, informing her that Loki was back in the ER.  She didn’t know what was a worsening symptom, and what was just a symptom, and Loki wasn’t the cheeriest person on the planet at the best of times.  But his brother was almost a doctor, and would know what to look for.  Loki would be better off with him anyway.

She moved back to the sofa, suddenly feeling lonely.  She didn’t want to feel lonely.  But she couldn’t deny that she had enjoyed having someone over.  Even if it was Loki.  She’d been so tied up with the show that friends had all fallen to the wayside.  She didn’t even remember the last time she’d gone to see a movie.  But movies were something she did with friends, and she didn’t have time for friends.

“Goddamnit,” she said to herself. 

Deciding she needed to get out of the house, she made quick tracks back to her bedroom to change into something a little more substantial than pyjamas.  She had one pair boots for occasional trips up the mountain, and they were the only pair of shoes she owned that were appropriate for snow and wet weather, so she put those on and got ready to brave the roads.

Before she put her coat on, Darcy stopped to check the forecast on her phone, and briefly reconsidered her plan.  The Weather Channel thought it might snow again that evening, so she’d just have to beat the weather home.  It wasn’t like the hotel was that far away.

Grabbing her coat and her purse and Loki’s keys, she dashed out the door and got into Loki’s car.  As she started the car, she again wondered what she was doing.  Not just driving out into weather she had no idea how to drive in, but the entire situation that led to her driving Loki’s car to the hotel in the first place.

Without him beside her, she was able to concentrate a little better on the drive.  More drivers were braving the roads, and even though it didn’t seem to slick, seeing snow still piled everywhere was enough to make her nervous.  The roads were still wet, and she knew all it would take was driving through someone’s oil puddle before she wound up backwards up on the sidewalk.

She was just about starting to think she’d be okay when the snow started falling again, just as she reached the Boulevard.  It wasn’t a lot, and she only had a few more blocks to go. She could make it.  Around her, drivers began to deal with the situation by trying to speed through it to get wherever they were going as quickly as possible, while others decided that going as slowly as possible was the better alternative.  It wasn’t enough to completely grind traffic to a halt, but it was a only a matter of time before everyone decided to slow down to nothing.

Darcy focused on just breathing and getting off the road as quickly as possible.  She crossed the Boulevard and got away from the worst of the traffic, and then took twice as long to get to the casino as it should have.  Once she pulled into the parking lot, the snow had really started coming down, and now she was getting angry about it.  She pulled into Loki’s spot, and decided without hesitation that she would take her own advice, and walked toward the building.  As she pulled her keys out of her pocket to unlock the green room door, her foot slid out from under her, and the next thing she knew, she was flat on her ass.

“Oh, fuck you,” she said, not sure if she was talking to the snow, the ice, or Loki himself.

Carefully, she pulled herself back to her feet, and found nothing to lean against that would hold her weight.  Rather than dealing with trying to unlock the door while standing on a sheet of ice, she turned around to find one of the public entrances.  Not wasting any time, she went straight for the check-in counter, wanting to get a room before everyone else noticed what was going on outside.  Darcy didn’t know any of the staff outside of the theatre, but she smiled all the same at the young man who greeted her.

“What are our staff rates?” she asked, for the first time since getting the job annoyed that they didn’t get a suite comped.

“Do you have your ID?” the guy asked.

Darcy wasn’t sure if she should be upset that he didn’t recognise her, but she pulled her wallet out all the same. 

“Yeah, right here,” she said, pulling her security badge out.  “It’s snowing like crazy again, so get ready to get slammed.”

It was the first time she had ever needed to show her security badge to anyone, because it was the first time she had ever needed to be somewhere that needed it.  The guy took it from her and looked at it, realising very suddenly who she was.

“Oh, shit.  Sorry!” he said, looking up at her.  He laughed and shook his head as he fussed with the computer.  “I guess I’ve only ever seen you wearing that green thing.”

Darcy laughed too, because he wasn’t exactly wrong.  The hotel had loads of promotional material for the show, but in every single photograph, her hair was curled and she wasn’t hiding behind chunky plastic glasses.

“Jeez, you’d think if anyone got comped, it would be you guys,” he said. 

“I know, right,” Darcy said.  “But that’s how they keep their money, I guess.  Did you know the Wynn doesn’t even give out free pens?”

“What?” the guy asked.  “That’s just stupid.”

He tapped away at his keyboard for a moment longer before handing her back her badge.

“Twenty-five,” he said.  “I’ll make sure your room service gets comped, but promise not to go overboard.”

“Thanks,” Darcy said, handing over her credit card.

He ran her card and passed it back to her with a key card for her room. 

“Is it really bad out there?” he asked.

“I just busted my ass on ice out in the parking lot,” Darcy said as she slid her card back into her wallet.  “So glad we’re not doing a show tonight.”

He grimaced at her.  “Yikes.  I don’t get off for another four hours.”

“Good luck,” Darcy said.  “Let’s hope a guest doesn’t fall and sue us.”

The guy laughed as Darcy turned to find her room.  The casino wasn’t exactly dead, but it wasn’t anywhere near as full as it had been the week before.  She made her way up to her room, finding it not at all like the large suite Loki had been put in when he was staying at the hotel.  Her room was small, laid out a bit more like a bedroom than a hotel room.  The only window was right above the bed, with the tiniest little nook that was trying to be a kitchenette.

“God, what a cheapskate,” Darcy said as she let the door close behind her.

She thought about texting or calling to check in on Loki, but couldn’t quite bring herself to do it.  She wished she’d brought more than her phone, but she hadn’t been planning on getting stranded.  Instead, she walked over to the tiny little window and leaned over the bed to peer out at the street beyond.  The snow wasn’t coming quite as hard as it had been when she arrived, but already traffic on Flamingo was starting to back up as people all tried to beat one another home.

Regretting her decision to leave at all, she sat down on the bed and pulled out her phone.  Entirely against her better judgement, she sent a text to Loki.

I just busted my ass on your ice.  Throwing the fish water out the door is officially banned.

She waited for a response, but when it didn’t come right away, she started poking around Twitter instead.  As she scrolled through the random crap her friends and a few celebrities posted, she wondered if Loki had ever set up an account. 

She searched for him, still not knowing how to spell his name, but not coming up with much either way.  For a brief moment, she considered trying to set up an account for the show as a whole, but decided that was best left for a time they could both be in the same room.  Instead, she focused on fixing up her own account, wondering how she was supposed to get verified.  She didn’t really expect anyone to pretend to be her, but the little blue check mark seemed worth having all the same.

By the time she was done adding as much to her profile as she could think to, Loki still hadn’t responded.  Now, she was getting nervous.  She thought Loki would at least have something sarcastic to say.  While part of her thought he’d probably just gone back to bed, another part worried that maybe he had been getting worse, and she just wasn’t good at knowing what to look for.  He’d seemed fine, sitting in her front room, playing her video games.  But now she wasn’t so sure.

Letting her worry win out, she texted Thor instead, hoping for an update.  Once her text sent, she watched the screen, impatiently waiting for a response.  Twice, she had to tap it to keep it from going dark before Thor finally responded.

He’s fine.  He’s bitching at me for making him eat

That sounded normal enough, though now she wondered why he hadn’t responded to her earlier.  And then she wondered why she cared.  They weren’t supposed to have anything to do with one another outside of the show, but somehow that had turned into road trips, and dinners, and him sleeping on her sofa.  If she started texting him casually, and he started responding, she knew they’d both be right back where they started, having regrettable sex and public arguments.  This was exactly why she needed that separation.  It wasn’t just because Loki was bad at boundaries.  It wasn’t just because he’d hurt her.  It was also because she knew that she’d fall right back into the same old habits all over again.  That no matter how bad Loki was, she’d let him back in.

She told herself she was only thinking about him because she was worried.  Worried about things he’d said, and worried about him falling on the ice.  But then he’d smile, or laugh at her horrible jokes.  Or even worse, tell one of his own.  And every time, she fell for it just a little bit more.

Maybe it was a good thing she’d accidentally kicked him out of her apartment.  It wasn’t that she didn’t trust him, or even that she didn’t trust herself.

She just didn’t trust that they’d both be able to behave the next time they had to be in the same room together.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #12: Ice

Loki barely remembered anything that had happened the night before.  When he woke up in a strange room, on a strange sofa, he thought for a moment he was still at the hotel he’d kipped up in overnight.  But it wasn’t a hotel.  It was someone else’s apartment.

It wasn’t Fandral’s.  It was too heavily decorated.  And clean.  And quiet.

Through the haze, he became acutely aware of a pain in his head; sharp and throbbing all at the same time.  He reached back to feel, and immediately wished he hadn’t when his fingers found a sticky mess of stitches and tangled hair.  A moment later, he realised he was without his shoes, and that his coat was draped over a chair across the room.

Something had gone very wrong, and he didn’t know what.  He remembered leaving the hotel in North Vegas, and getting back to the Key Largo to take care of the animals.  Had they even performed?  They must have, but he couldn’t remember ever going on stage.

“Where in the fuck am I?” he asked anyone who was close enough to hear.

A few moments later, he heard a door open, followed by footsteps down the hall.  When Darcy stepped into view, wearing as far as he could tell only an over-sized t-shirt and nothing else, he again wracked his brain to remember what in the hell he had done the night before.

“How you feeling?” Darcy asked.

Loki looked around, and realised that the décor was largely magic books and props. 

“This isn’t where you live,” he said.

“I moved.  Like four months ago, remember?” Darcy asked.

Loki didn’t remember.  And that was alarming.

“You hit your head last night,” Darcy said.  “Real bad.  Doctor said you might be confused for a while.”

“Why am I here?” he asked.

Darcy visibly mulled something over.  “Because when the doctor wanted to keep you overnight, you kinda threw a fit and tried to leave.”

She did not sound happy about it.  But that, at least, he understood.  He was not supposed to be at her apartment.  And yet, he found himself having spent the night on her sofa.

“Yeah,” he said slowly.  He didn’t remember throwing a fit in a hospital, but he wasn’t at all surprised to hear that he had.  “That makes sense.”

Darcy nodded.  “How are you feeling?” she asked again.

“Like hell,” Loki answered. 

“Are you on the side of feeling like hell that means you’re going to be awake for a while?” Darcy asked.

Loki didn’t know what that question meant, but he could tell she was not happy.  “I think so,” he said.

“Good.  I’m exhausted from being up all night, so I’m going back to bed,” she said.  She pointed toward the kitchen.  “Help yourself to the fridge.  Keep the TV low.  I’ve got games and Netflix.  Do not leave.”

Loki nodded.  “Sorry,” he said as she turned to head back toward her bedroom.

At least he understood why she seemed so pissed off.  He waited until he heard her door close before he dared to get up, having to breathe through a wave of nausea that hit him like a brick.  In the kitchen, he found a stack of paper from the hospital, and glancing over the highlighted sections, he understood a little more.  He did not remember being woken up every two hours, but Darcy’s apparent level of pissed off was enough to tell him that was precisely what had happened.

Opening the fridge, he realised he didn’t want anything at all.  He pulled out a can of Sprite hoping it might at least settle his stomach.  As he went back to go flip through the same boring channels he had at home, he spotted a game case on the coffee table, and remembered Darcy talking about playing it.  Deciding that killing dragons would be far more entertaining than watching daytime crap on TV, he turned everything on and started making a new character.

It was late into the afternoon by the time Darcy made her way back out to the living room, fully-clothed and considerably less frightening.  She stopped by the edge of the sofa, watching as Loki fell off a mountain for the sixth time.

“Having fun?” Darcy asked.

“I probably could have walked around this mountain twice by now,” Loki said, trying once more to scale it instead.

She sat down next to him and tilted his head to see the damage.  Pausing his game, Loki let her, if only because she’d be able to tell him if it looked like it needed to be dealt with.

“That’s not as bad as I thought it’d be,” she said, finally letting him go.

“What happened?” Loki asked as he resumed his futile attempt to climb a virtual mountain.

To his surprise, Darcy laughed. 

“The same person who’s been insisting Las Vegas doesn’t get cold slipped on ice that he caused, by throwing fish water out the door to the parking lot,” she said.

Loki stopped his climb just long enough to fall again.  “Well, that’s embarrassing,” he said.

Darcy hissed.  “Yeah,” she said.  “How’s your stomach?”

“Starving, but I feel like shit,” Loki said.

“Yeah, you had like, two bites of pizza last night and almost puked,” Darcy said.

Loki did not remember that either.  “I’m sorry,” he said. 

Darcy moved away, putting a more comfortable distance between them.  “So, tell me to fuck off if you want,” she said slowly.  “But why did you freak out when they wanted to keep you overnight?”

Loki did want to tell her to fuck off.  He shook his head instead.  “I don’t like hospitals,” he said. 

He expected her to pry, but she nodded instead.  “Again, tell me to fuck off.  But what’s with the two last names?”

Loki looked over at her, letting himself fall off the mountain once again.  He had no idea how she would even know that, but she’d surprised him with these things before.

“I’m adopted,” he said.

“Oh,” Darcy said quickly.  “I’m… sorry?”

Loki laughed.  “No, it’s not a big deal,” he said.  “I use my birth mother’s name professionally so I’m not just getting by on my father’s name.  Using your mother’s name is uncommon enough that it sticks out for its own reasons.”

“Oh,” Darcy said again.  She nodded, like she didn’t understand at all, but didn’t want to keep asking.  “You still know your mom, then?”

“Never met her,” he said.  “I was given a name and some information when I was eighteen.  I liked the way it sounded.”

Darcy actually laughed now.  “How are you so well-adjusted about this, and so messed up about everything else?”

“Rude,” Loki said, laughing anyway.

“You are though,” Darcy said.

She got up and walked into the kitchen, coming back a moment later with the white pizza box from the fridge, apparently content to eat it cold.

“So,” she said, sitting back down and offering Loki a slice.

He thought about it for a brief moment before shaking his head.

“Before everything went catastrophically wrong, I was thinking about making you a deal,” Darcy said.

Loki glanced over at her, determined to find a way over the mountain.  “Oh?”

“As long as you’re nice to me,” Darcy said, speaking slowly to put weight on whatever this condition was for.  “No shouting at me or rude names.  As long as you can do that, we can go out for dinner a few times a month.”

Loki nodded, feeling like it somehow seemed familiar.  “Were we supposed to go out last night?” he asked.

“We were,” Darcy said.  “And then you bled all over the parking lot and cussed out a nurse in two languages.”

“You know, maybe it’s best I don’t remember it,” Loki said.  “It makes it a little more difficult to be embarrassed over.”

Darcy laughed quietly.  “Yeah, well.”  She took a bite of her cold pizza and watched Loki fail at his task once again.  “But I know you’ve been wanting to get out a little more, and don’t have a lot of people to do it with.  And I don’t want it to seem like a reward for being nice.  But.  I’m not going if you’re mean to me.”

“That’s fair,” Loki said, wondering what had truly sparked this decision.

Then he fell off the mountain again.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.  Go around already,” Darcy said suddenly.

Loki laughed, and stubbornly tried again.  “It’s not like I’m going up any real mountains any time soon.  I might as well get my fun where I can,” he said.

“Yeah, sorry,” Darcy said.  “You are definitely not going snowboarding now.  You’d fucking die.”

He hadn’t got what he wanted on anything else lately, so Loki wasn’t exactly surprised that Fate had decided to completely eliminate any chance of doing something familiar over his vacation. 

The two of them fell into a close silence as he gave up and decided to start playing the game properly.  Even as Darcy watched him while she ate her cold pizza, Loki couldn’t help the creeping feeling of guilt over having invaded her space.  He found a place to stop and saved his game, even though he knew he’d never be back to pick it up again.

“I should go.  I’ve taken up enough of your time,” he said.

“Are you sure?” Darcy asked, looking up at him with more than a little concern.  “Are you okay to drive?”

“It’s fifteen minutes from the hotel,” he said.  “I’ll be fine.”

“Yeah, but your car’s outside, and it’s a lot longer than fifteen minutes to Henderson,” Darcy said.

Loki looked toward the window, which did not look over the parking lot.  It looked out onto the road, and all the snow-covered buildings beyond.

“What?” he asked. 

He was quite certain he wouldn’t have driven himself all the way out to her place on his own.

“Because you have snow tyres, and I don’t,” Darcy said.  “We took your car.”

Loki tried to force the memory back into his head, but it refused to materialise.  He remembered talking about getting work done on his sleeves, and then waking up on her sofa.

“Just hang out until tomorrow.  It’s fine,” Darcy said, and for a moment, Loki almost believed she wanted him to.  “They weren’t super thrilled about the idea of you leaving last night.  You went down hard.”

He was a fool to think she was asking him to stay because she wanted him to.  That she worried, he already knew.  But he knew people could worry about him and still not want him around.  It was a fact he’d known for years.

“I’ll call Thor,” he said, searching his pockets and finding them empty.

When Darcy didn’t argue, he knew that she didn’t want him to stay another day.  Getting back up to fetch his jacket, Loki found his phone mercifully still holding a charge.  Glancing up at Darcy, he stepped into the kitchen to put a little bit of distance between them.

As he called Thor, he wondered if he was making a mistake.  Thor seemed to be rapidly losing his patience with him again, which wasn’t a surprise either.  He listened to the phone ring out on the other end, and felt his heart drop when the voicemail picked up, playing the canned message the phone company provided.

“Call me back,” Loki said.

He hung up and stared out the kitchen window.  Able to look at it without it being a source of frustration, snow blanketing a desert was a very surreal experience.  Palm trees drooped heavily under the chill and the weight, and brown landscape took on an almost blue hue under the overcast sky.  And more surprising than the snow in the first place was that it was sticking around.  After the insistence that it did, in fact, snow in the desert, and finding it true Loki quietly re-evaluated everything else that had previously sounded like hyperbole and hysterics.  The floods and the quicksand and the storms.  He’d thought that he’d found himself in a barren wasteland, with only sand and rocks for miles and miles, bleached by endless sun.  Instead, he’d found himself in a barren wasteland that liked to throw curve balls.

Standing was beginning to bring back the sour feeling in his stomach, but as he turned to go sit back down, his phone rang.  Checking to see that it was Thor already returning his call, Loki answered and moved as close to the corner as he could.

“Are you screening my calls?” he asked when he answered.

“I’m busy,” Thor answered in English.  “What do you want?”

Loki already regretted calling.  It was a mistake. 

“I need to stay at your place tonight,” he said, trying to speak quietly so Darcy didn’t have to hear his begging inevitably descent into an argument.

And unsurprisingly, Thor sighed.  “Why do you need to stay at my place?  What’s wrong with yours?”

“Nothing,” Loki said.  “I wound up in the hospital last night, and now I’m not allowed to go home.”

“Loki, what did you do?” Thor asked, suddenly very urgent.

It was stupid.  He was a grown man.  He should have just taken his keys and left.  Instead he was standing in Darcy’s kitchen, arguing with Thor and trying to be quiet about it.

“I fell,” Loki said, trying very hard to resist just hanging up.

“You fell?” Thor asked.  “On what?”

“My own stupidity.” 

The sour feeling in his stomach was being met by a headache, and as stupid as he still thought everything was, he was starting to think that maybe driving home wasn’t the best idea.

Thor sighed down the line, and Loki could hear him starting to scrabble about.  “Where are you?”

“I’m at Darcy’s,” Loki said. 

“Okay.  Good,” Thor said, ceasing in his mad scrabble.  “Stay there.  I’ll come get you after my shift.”

“When’s that?” Loki asked.  He hoped it would be a very long wait.

“A few hours,” Thor said.  “Text me the address.”

“Fine.”  Loki hung up on him, regretting everything. 

All he wanted to do suddenly was go to bed, but he was in Darcy’s way, and creeping ever closer to pissing her off again.  He didn’t know Darcy’s address, so as he returned to the front room where she was very politely pretending not to have heard any of it, Loki handed her his phone.

“Could you send my brother your address?” he asked.

She took the phone and looked up at him, frowning.  “Yeah,” she said.  “How you feeling?”

Loki shrugged, trying to ignore the headache that only seemed to be getting worse by the minute.

“Go take a nap,” Darcy said, nodding back toward her bedroom.  “I’ll wake you up when he gets here.”

Loki wanted to argue.  He wanted to insist that he didn’t want to impose.  Instead, he nodded and headed back.  Her bedroom was big and open, entirely unlike the literal closet she slept in when he’d first met her.  The bed was much bigger as well, which struck him as vaguely ironic.  Feeling oddly hurt by it, Loki sat down on the edge of her bed and wondered what he was doing.  He shouldn’t have been in her apartment, even if he hadn’t been the one to put himself there.  He was there because he’d put her into another impossible situation, without giving her a choice.

But there was nothing he could do about it now.  Nothing that could change anything that had already been done.  He climbed into bed, getting comfortable on her obscenely fluffy pillows, and buried himself beneath her blankets.  Now that he was aware that he was sleeping in his clothes, he considered at least taking off his jeans.  Somehow, sleeping in his underwear in his ex-girlfriend’s bed seemed less than proper, so his jeans stayed on.

Being in his ex-girlfriend’s bed at all was bad enough.

He barely had time to think about anything else before he fell asleep, and barely felt like he’d slept at all when he was woken again.  He rolled over to see Darcy shaking him at the shoulder, and wondered briefly what reality he’d found himself in.

“Hey, your brother’s here,” she said.

Loki tried to blink himself awake, and slowly remembered that Thor was supposed to come pick him up.  At least this time, he woke up with the memory of what had happened before he went to sleep. 

“Right,” he said, yawning.

“Take your time.”  Darcy smiled weakly at him and got up, leaving him alone.

Loki didn’t get up right away.  His headache had not quit even as he slept, and the sour feeling in his stomach seemed to get even worse.  It occurred to him that it might have been made worse by not eating at all since the day before, but the thought of food made him want to gag.

“So what’s going on?” Thor asked from the other side of the door, his voice carrying through the house like thunder.

Loki realised Darcy hadn’t shut the door all the way, and that they could probably hear him too.

“He’s got six stitches in the back of his head, and throws up every time he tries to eat,” Darcy said.

“He really fell?” Thor asked.

A hot wave of resentment washed over Loki as Thor so openly admitted to not believing him.

“Yeah, slipped on ice in the parking lot,” Darcy said.

Sick of being talked about, Loki pulled himself from bed, and immediately wished he hadn’t.  Between his stomach roiling and his head pounding, he wanted to roll over and go right back to sleep.  He hadn’t realised he’d been so audible about it until the bedroom door opened again, and Thor stepped inside.  In the span of just a few seconds, Thor shifted from irritated older brother to concerned doctor.  He stepped close and crouched down onto the floor in front of Loki, meeting his gaze.

“Do I need to take you back in?” Thor asked.

Loki shook his head, trying not to make anything worse.  “No,” he said.  “I just want to be in bed.”

Thor nodded and stood, offering a hand to help Loki up.  After a moment, Loki took it, and tried not to feel like he was going to die as he was hauled to his feet.  Once he was up, it was marginally easier to move around, and he made it out to the front room again under his own power.  As he put his coat back on, he slipped his hands into his pockets to find his wallet, phone, and keys had all been placed back for him.  Pausing as he contemplated his keys, he pulled them out again and handed them over to Darcy.

“Leave it at the theatre.  I’ll fetch it later,” he said.

Darcy nodded.  “Kay.  You sure you’re okay?”

“No,” Loki said, realising a bit too late that he was being a bit too honest.

“I already let everyone know that we’re not rehearsing for a few days,” Darcy said.  “So.  They’re probably glad to for the time off.”

“Good for them,” Loki said as he forced his feet into his shoes.

He felt worse than he had before he’d taken his nap, and now all he wanted to do was go back to sleep.  As put together as he was going to get, he looked up at Thor and gestured toward the door.

“We’ll get out of your hair,” Thor said, opening the door.  “Thank you for taking care of this.”

“Yeah.  Feel better,” Darcy said.

Loki grumbled, entirely out of energy to be polite, and headed toward the stairs even as Thor said his goodbyes.  He was surprised, as he reached the landing, to feel Thor’s hand on his back, and another on his arm.

“Go slow,” he said.  “You damn fool.  How’d you fall on ice?”

Loki carefully navigated the stairs, aware of what awaited him if he misstepped.  “Normally when I throw fish water out the door, it dries in minutes.”

Thor had the audacity to laugh.  “Yes, that truly is your own stupidity,” he said.

He helped Loki up into his stupid American truck, and got him settled before walking around to get behind the wheel.  For a brief moment, Loki thought he’d get a silent ride, but Thor was only waiting until he cleared the gate to start talking at him.

“You’re not getting back together with her, are you?” he asked suddenly.

Loki wanted to glare at him, but it hurt too much.  “God no,” he said instead.  “She’d probably kill me before she allowed that to happen.”

Thor hummed, like he didn’t accept Loki’s answer.

“Well, the next time you decide to get into one of your doomed relationships, make sure it’s not with one of my friends,” Thor said.

Loki truly wanted to hit him.  “Shut the fuck up,” he said.

They rode in silence for a long moment, giving Loki hope once more that it might stay that way.  Once again, Thor ruined it.

“When was the last time you ate?” he asked.

“I think I had half a sandwich yesterday,” Loki said.

“Well, let’s get you another one and see if you can keep it down,” Thor said.

Loki prayed he was able to, because he knew Thor would take him right back to the ER if he couldn’t.

 

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #11: Desert Springs

More snow fell over the valley than anyone had anticipated, and for days the snow hung around.  Even with the blanket on the ground, it didn’t seem to impact their ticket numbers much.  Apparently the tourists who still lingered had a better grasp of how to handle a few inches of slush than the locals, and with half the stores and attractions in the area closing down in the name of public safety, the tourists were left desperate for entertainment.

Darcy wasn’t super thrilled about driving in, but the roads weren’t completely awful by the time she had to make it to the theatre.  She wasn’t even sure if the show would be cancelled, since it was their last one before their vacation anyway, but she couldn’t get Loki to answer his phone.  Not wanting to flake out over a miscommunication, she drove in anyway, careful to take her time getting to the casino.  As she pulled into her spot, she was momentarily surprised to see Loki’s BMW already parked, and then realised she should not have been surprised at all.  She’d seen the way Don, or Thor, or whatever, had driven through the previous storm a few years earlier, and suddenly understood a lot in hindsight.

She let herself into the green room, finding Loki up on a step ladder without his shirt, up to his elbows in the fish tank.  They had people to take care of the birds, but he always insisted on seeing to the fish himself.

“When’d you get back?” she asked, standing aside to watch him use a razor blade to scrub algae from the corners of the tank.

“About seven this morning,” he said.

With his hair tied up in a messy bun, it was the first time she had seen him in such a state of undress that did not involve crawling into a tank of cold water.  She found her gaze lingering, suddenly remembering why she’d let herself get mixed up with him in the first place.

“Why so early?  Check-out’s usually pretty late, isn’t it?” Darcy asked, trying not to stare, but not finding anything else of interest in the room.

Loki snorted.  “I foolishly thought I’d need to avoid traffic,” he said.

Darcy laughed.  “Yeah, no,” she said.  “It was still dead even when I was driving in.”

She watched him, letting herself stare just a little bit, and noticed that something was a little different with the twisted lines on his arms.

“Did you get some work done?” she asked.

Loki looked over at her, and then down at his arm.  “Yeah, I added some blue.”

Darcy had no idea.  She’d never got any tattoos before, but she imagined they’d be bothersome for a while.  Something that big would surely take more than their single day off a week to heal.

“When did you do that?” she asked.

“I don’t know.  A couple months ago,” Loki said.  “Where you been?”

She laughed, but she remembered what he’d said, so long ago it felt like a lifetime.  How he’d got a little addicted because it kept him from doing other things.  She knew that whatever trouble he was having, it wasn’t her fault.  But still, she couldn’t quite help worry that it was.

He stepped down off the ladder and picked up the giant bucket from the floor, straining to lift it and all the water it held.

“Door.  Please,” he said, already heading in that direction.

“Oh, right.” 

Darcy rushed ahead of him to hold the door open.  Loki tossed the fish water in the general direction of the bushes just outside the door, and then turned to go fill the bucket again.

As he turned away, Darcy noticed he’d had work done on both sides, and wondered if he’d done it all at once, or if it had been an on-going thing.  She also wondered how she hadn’t noticed, and what he planned on doing when he ran out of space.  She knew he hadn’t gone below his elbows so he could roll his sleeves up on stage and still look professional, and it didn’t really seem like he particularly cared whether he could see the work for himself.  If anything, it seemed like all he cared about was that it hurt.

Loki was quickly back with the bucket of water again.  He stopped only to pour a few chemicals into it before carefully dragging it up the stepladder with him.  Somehow he made it up without killing himself and dumped it all into the tank, and then closed the lid, making sure everything was settled.

“What time is it?” he asked, turning to see the clock on the wall.

“You got time,” Darcy said.

Nodding, Loki put everything away, stowing it in the cabinet beneath the shelf, and rushed off toward his dressing room.  While he cleaned up and got ready, Darcy took a more casual path, detouring to go check on the birds.  Howard quacked happily at her as she entered the room, while the ravens squawked and croaked like they wanted her to leave.  She was still a little too afraid to get close to the ravens, but she took Howard out of his little pen to hold him for a few moments.  She’d expected the duck to be mean when they finally got it in, because she’d seen the green ones in the canals fighting with one another over dead mice.  Howard, with bright white feathers and a bill that made him look like he was smiling, was mercifully friendly.  He liked being held and getting petted, and Darcy liked holding and petting him.

“You ready for your vacation, buddy?” she asked, scratching him on his head.  “You got a bath today too, didn’t you?”

Howard quacked at her, and then kicked his little webbed feet to let her know he was ready to be put down.  Granting his wish, Darcy locked him back up in his pen and headed to her own dressing room to get ready.

Everyone involved with the show seemed eager to get on with their vacation, giving the entire theatre a giddy atmosphere.  For some of the stage crew, they weren’t getting a real vacation, but a few hours of rehearsal each day somehow seemed less draining than doing a full show. 

The show ran without a hitch, and still managed to go long as bits got dragged out a little more.  By the end of it, Darcy fully agreed with Loki.  She could not do a two-hour show every night.  Something was going to have to go if the extensions were staying in.

As the curtain fell, and the two of them rushed back to change into real clothes, Darcy was suddenly overwhelmed by a very bad idea.

“Hey, do you want to go out for dinner?” she asked.

Loki stopped to look at her.  “What?” he asked.

“Somewhere cheap, without a line,” Darcy said.  She wasn’t sure why she was offering, but she had a feeling she needed to start doing it more often.

After a moment of awkward silence, Loki finally nodded.  “Yeah.  Sounds good.”

Without another word, he rushed over to his spot to be helped into his real clothes, while Darcy got the same treatment.  She could not wait to throw the act out of the set list.  It was fun to have it on her list of cool tricks she’d learned, but she’d rapidly come to hate performing it.

As soon as they were dressed, they rushed out to meet the crowd.  Not many people seemed to want to stop, all of them apparent eager to get back to their hotels before the roads worsened again.  On their way back to change into their street clothes, Darcy rushed to keep up with Loki.

“You know how to drive in weather, so why don’t we take your car,” she said.

He nodded.  “All right.  Does that mean I get to pick?” he asked.

Darcy nodded.  “Sure,” she said.

As she locked herself in her dressing room, Darcy wondered if it might be worth agreeing to go out maybe every week.  Or at least every other week.  Loki seemed desperate to avoid going home, and just spending a night in a hotel seemed to have helped with the perpetual rain cloud above his head.

She knew it could be dangerous, but she also knew he didn’t make friends easily, and their constant work schedule wasn’t helping.

Darcy changed quickly, finding herself eager to go out as well.  By the time she stepped back out into the green room, Loki was already waiting for her, wearing a black peacoat she’d never seen before.

“I thought it didn’t get cold here,” she said.

“It gets a little cold,” Loki said.  He turned, nodding toward the door.  “I’ll go start the car.  It doesn’t like running cold.”

“Okay.”  Darcy turned toward the sofa to sit down while she waited.

Before she even sat down, she heard Loki yelp, followed by the unmistakable sound of someone falling on their ass.  Darcy rushed over, expecting to find Loki with wounded pride.  What she found was worse.  Even in the dim light pouring out from the green room, she could see it was bad.  Loki held his head with both hands and groaned, keeping his eyes screwed shut.  As he tried to sit up, he made a sound that was at once a gag and a whine.

Then she noticed the blood.

“Holy shit.  Stay right there,” she said, turning around to go fetch a towel from inside.

She debated calling an ambulance, but Desert Springs wasn’t too far away.  She had made it all the way in from Spring Mountain, so she could make it a few more blocks to the hospital.

“Here,” she said, trying to step around him.

She nearly slipped as well, managing to catch herself on his shoulder.  As she put the towel against his head and held it there with his own hand, Darcy looked around the immediate area.

“Oh my god, it’s the fish water,” she said.

She debated again calling an ambulance.  If it had got cold enough to freeze fish water, it would have got cold enough to freeze the slush on the roads.

“Shit, I’m gonna call an ambulance,” she said, already reaching for her phone.  “I don’t have chains.”

Before she reached it, Loki grabbed her hand to stop her.  “I have… pins,” he said.

It took Darcy a moment to realise what he meant.  Of course he had winter tyres.  She looked back out toward the road, weighing the options in front of her.

“Where are your keys?” she asked finally.

Loki nodded toward his left.  “Coat.”

Darcy reached into his coat pocket and found his car keys.  Nodding, and entirely uncertain about what she was doing, she got back to her feet, careful to stand away from the ice.

“I’m gonna help you up,” she said, grabbing onto his arm.

Loki nodded, and as she pulled him up, he tried to get his feet beneath him.  As soon as he was up, he doubled over again and began retching.  Darcy let him get it over with before she led him over to the car, helping him into the passenger seat.  Once she was behind the wheel, Darcy took a long moment to breathe before starting the engine.  She had never driven with snow tyres in her life, and wasn’t sure what to expect.  She looked over at Loki, obviously miserable even in the dark, and weighed his caution about the car running cold, and the urgency of the situation.  With a sigh, she decided she did not care about his car, and pulled out of the spot.  Luckily, the roads were still pretty empty, and she was able to get to the hospital without crashing into anything or anyone.  She parked close to the ER, and helped Loki inside.  Something about her helping someone so much bigger than her stand must have tipped someone off, because they were met halfway with a wheelchair.

“He fell on some ice,” she said as the nurses helped get him settled.  “English isn’t his first language.  And I don’t know any of his details.”

One of the nurses nodded.  “We can get you some help with that once we get him in a bed.”

“Kay.”  Darcy nodded, and not sure what else to do, followed as Loki was taken down the hall.

The ER wasn’t as busy as Darcy had expected it to be, but she supposed it wouldn’t properly kick off until the next night.  She stood by, feeling awkward as the nurse helped get Loki settled.

“Does he speak any English?” the nurse asked.

“Yeah,” Darcy said.  “When he wants to.”

She watched Loki, expecting him to be his usual bitchy self, all indignant that she was speaking for him.  Mostly, he seemed to be struggling to breathe.

“I think he puked before we got in the car,” Darcy said.

“Okay,” the nurse said.  “Can you help me with his coat?”

Between the two of them, they were able to help Loki out of his coat without having to cut it off him, so the nurse could stick him with an IV.  He hardly seemed to notice any of what was going on around him, but he wasn’t so far gone that he wasn’t able to somewhat cooperate.  Once they got him settled, and a chair was brought over for Darcy, she was handed a clipboard with the intake forms.

“Yo, how the fuck do you spell your name?” she asked, tapping Loki on he arm.

She’d got as far as Loki on her own, and then got completely lost.  Loki said something that Darcy presumed were letters, but they weren’t any letters she’d ever heard of.

“I don’t know what you just said,” she said.

Loki grumbled and reached for the clipboard.  Not wanting to fight him on it, she handed it over and watched as he tried to write with the same arm the nurse had stuck him in, struggling to get around IV lines while trying not to smear the ink by writing with his left hand.  He had two names that he used, and she was sort of not at all surprised when he’d decided to use the one with letters that weren’t even in English.  Whether that was the real one, she had no idea.

She helped him navigate through insurance information and emergency contacts, which seemed to get him a little more focused.

“How is it,” Darcy said, “that the dude from Iceland, who’s always complaining about how not cold it is, is the asshole who slips on ice?”

Loki groaned.  “Fuck off.”

The nurse came back with a tray full of scary-looking things and got behind Loki.

“I’m gonna take this away,” she said, tugging on his towel.  “We’ll get you cleaned up so the doctor can come take a look and get you sewn up.”

Loki said something else that definitely wasn’t English.

“What was that?” the nurse asked.

Darcy laughed.  “I don’t know, but it sounded sarcastic as hell.”

She took the clipboard from Loki to finish filling out the papers for him, and deliberately did not watch the nurse mess around with whatever Loki had done to his head.  Eventually, she went away again, leaving Loki to hold something that wasn’t a nasty shop towel to his head.  It wasn’t long at all after that before the doctor showed up, getting cosy up in the small little curtained-off area with them.

“Fell on ice, huh?” he asked.

Loki nodded, and said something that almost sounded like ‘yes’.

“Is it that bad out there?” the doctor asked.

Darcy shook her head.  “Not really, actually.  I thought it would be worse.  But he cleaned out our fish tank earlier, and threw the water out the door.”

“Gotcha.”  Nodding, the doctor pulled something that looked like a pen from his pocket.  “Can you tell me what day it is?” he asked.

Loki said something that was either a mess of slurs, or pronounced exactly as it was meant to be, and Darcy could not tell which it was.

“English isn’t his first language,” she said.

“What’s he speak?” the doctor asked.

“Icelandic,” Darcy said.  “And English, but apparently not right now.”

The doctor nodded.  “Can you translate?” he asked.

Darcy almost laughed.  “No.”  She tapped Loki on the knee to get his attention.  “Hey.  What day is it?”

Loki started to say something, stopped, and then shook his head.  “I don’t fucking know,” he said.

The doctor wrote something down on his own clipboard.  “What kind of fish do you have?” he asked.

“Orange ones,” Loki said, at least sticking to the correct language.

“Orange ones?” the doctor asked.  “Cichlids?”

Darcy laughed.  “Goldfish,” she said.

Nodding again, the doctor clicked his pen, which wasn’t a pen at all.  It light up with a bright light, which he pointed at the floor.

“I need you to follow the light with your eyes,” he said.

As soon as he brought the light up, Loki closed his eyes again and jerked hard away.  The doctor turned his pen off and reached over for a cardboard pan, holding it over Loki’s lap.

“You okay?” he asked.

Loki shook his head, taking the pan.

“Catch your breath,” the doctor said, getting up.  “I’ll be right back, and then we’ll get you stitched up and find you a place to stay for the night.”

Loki looked up, making a confused noise that might have been a word.

Once the doctor was gone, Darcy dared to move a little closer.  Something had clearly spooked him, though she had no idea what.  He didn’t seem like he was in the mood to talk much after that, even when the nurse returned to fetch the clipboard from Darcy.

“That’s everything I could get out of him,” she said, handing it over.

The nurse nodded as she looked over the paperwork.  “That’s fine.”  She squinted down at something, which Darcy could only assume was his name.  “Does he have a driver’s license?”

“Yeah,” Darcy said, turning to Loki.  “Cough it up.”

Loki pulled his wallet from his jeans and handed he whole thing over for Darcy to dig through.  Ignoring how invasive it felt, she pulled out his license and looked down at it, before handing it over.

“Looks like the DMV spelled it differently,” she said.

After that, she mostly felt in the way.  Loki had run out of things to say, and when the doctor came back he didn’t seem to have many more questions to ask.  Darcy looked away again, not wanting to watch stitches happen, while Loki quietly zoned out.  Once the doctor was done, and had all his trash piled up on the tray, he moved back over where they could both see him.

“I want to hold him overnight to monitor him,” he said.

Before he could say anything else, Loki was suddenly wide awake.

“No,” he said, shaking his head.  “No.  I’m—no.”

Darcy looked up at him, getting a good idea of what had spooked him earlier.

“It’s just overnight,” she said.  “You smacked your head pretty hard.”

Loki shook his head.  “No.” 

He said something else as he moved like he wanted to get up.  Standing up, Darcy managed to trap him on the bed, and didn’t feel great for it.

“I can take him home.  If that’s okay,” she said, not wanting to take him home at all.

“Do you two live together?” the doctor asked.

Darcy shook her head.  “No, but I do have a sofa.”

“I’m not sleeping on your shitty sofa,” Loki said, in flawless English.  Darcy would unpack that later.

“I threw that fucking thing out.  You’ll be fine,” she said.  She looked back at the doctor, hoping he’d go along with it.  “Would that be okay?” she asked.

The doctor nodded, clearly understanding that something else was going on.  “Yeah.  Let’s get you some information.  Do you work tomorrow?”

Darcy laughed, realising exactly what she was getting herself into.  “No, actually.  He’s my boss, and tomorrow’s the first day of our vacation.”

“Good, because you’d want to call in sick tomorrow otherwise.”  The doctor turned toward the curtain, pulling it back just enough to slip through.  “I’ll be right back.”

While they were once again left alone, Darcy looked over at Loki.  She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to see, but he just looked tired.  She wanted to ask what his little panic was all about, but didn’t think that it would be the best idea at that moment.

The nurse came back a moment later to unhook Loki’s IV and give him his driving license back, and while she was doing all that, the doctor returned with way more information than Darcy was prepared to deal with.  As he explained how she’d have to wake him up every few hours and make sure he didn’t seem like he was getting worse, she understood exactly why he’d asked if she worked the next day.  Already exhausted, she prepared herself for a night of hell.

“Do you want to just order pizza or something?” Darcy asked as the nurse helped Loki back into a wheelchair so he could be helped out.

After a long moment, he closed his eyes and leaned back into his seat.  “Yeah,” he said.

Getting him into the car was easy enough, and then she had to drive all the way home in a car that wasn’t hers, with weird tyres that didn’t feel right, on roads that were a little bit slick in places.  Not able to pay attention to everything at once, Darcy let Loki nap during long stretches, and poked him awake at each light she stopped at.  Getting him up the stairs to her apartment was the next real challenge, but by then he seemed to have at least regained some control over his own legs, and didn’t need her help as much as she’d thought he would.  Once inside, she dumped him on the sofa, coat and all, and stood in the middle of the living room while she tried to figure out what in the hell she was supposed to do next.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #10: Cannery

Wednesday came cold and dreary, with the same overcast skies that had hung over the valley all week.  Loki could not deny that winter had well and truly descended upon the desert, but he still did not see the fuss everyone was making.

He had heard so many warnings about snow and ice and bad weather that the first week snow tyres were allowed on the road, he had taken his car in to get them fitted.  And for almost three months, he had been driving around with a ruined ride to his suspension, and more noise in the cabin than anyone with ears could handle.  And for what?  It had not dropped below freezing once in those three months.  At least not in the city.  Some of the lunatics in the area clearly lived where the snow was falling, because Loki had seen them on the road, pristine sheets of snow still on the tops of their cars, ready to fly straight into his windscreen at the first bump in the road.

Despite it all, his apartment was the last place he wanted to be.  Darcy would no be at the office to rehearse, because she insisted on having at least one full day off each week, and keeping her happy was integral to Loki’s sanity.  But it meant he had nothing to do besides watching garbage on TV all day.  Not wanting to watch garbage on TV all day, Loki grabbed his keys and his coat and decided to just drive.  It didn’t really help him learn the city’s layout all that well, but it was something to do that kept his mind busy.  He took random turns, heading vaguely northward, but away from the base.  He didn’t trust the area around Nellis, because it seemed too easy to wind up at a checkpoint he didn’t want to be at.  Instead, he wound up in an under-developed area, with strip malls and droopy palm trees breaking up large patches of open desert. 

Loki had no idea where he was, or even which direction he was heading in, because the cloud cover had completely obscured the sun.  Rather than reaching for his phone to figure it out, he kept driving down the divided road, hoping to find some sort of sign or marker for something.  Rather than a sign, he came to a casino sitting squat and low against a sea of nothing, advertising free parking and a theatre.  Not really caring about whatever pirates or superheroes would be playing, Loki pulled off anyway.  He’d been in town long enough to know that casinos also had restaurants, and restaurants had coffee.

He didn’t have to look far once he was out of the parking garage, finding a little café right near the casino’s entrance.  Loki found an out of the way table and settled in, watching the bustle around him.  Unlike the Strip casinos, full of glamour and allure, Loki had come to understand and even enjoy the contrary atmosphere of the locals establishments, where the casino floors catered to indebted addicts, and the attractions were aimed at families and wandering groups of Wal-Mart employees getting off their shifts.  There were no fake Mardi Gras festivals or shopping malls inexplicably dropped into the middle of the building.  These casinos housed cinemas and bowling alleys.  Their concert halls hosted touring headliners instead of resident performers, and prices were cheap. 

And the restaurants weren’t trying to impress anyone.  The little cafés and diners that lived inside the off-strip casinos had menus like any other diner, with burgers and salads.  No gimmicks, no fuss.  And yet, big enough and busy enough to be completely anonymous.  When the waitress came around, Loki ordered his coffee, and a plate of wings so he didn’t take up an entire table for nothing.  Someone had left a newspaper at the table next to him, so Loki picked it up to flip through, barely reading anything as he passed the time.  Even the forecast in the paper was hinting at snow, and for the first time, Loki thought there might actually be merit to it. 

He spent the better part of an hour at the café, casually flipping through the paper and picking at his lunch.  Other diners came and went in that time, and eventually Loki tossed a couple of $20 bills onto the table and got up to explore around the rest of the casino to see what it had to offer for entertainment.  He wandered aimlessly, taking his time in making a full circuit around the building.  But this particular casino didn’t seem to have much on offer.  He’d been half tempted to stop into an arcade, but didn’t even find one of those anywhere.  Not wanting to pick up another vice he knew he’d never be able to shake, Loki didn’t stop as he walked back across the casino floor toward the parking garage.  Even beneath the cover of several levels of concrete, Loki immediately felt a harsh chill in the air that hadn’t been present when he’d left his apartment.  Eager to get out of it, he buttoned up his coat and made quick tracks for his car.  The little BMW made the same protesting whine it always made when he tried to start it in the cold, but he got it going eventually, making a note to trade it for something a little more reliable.

As he made his way out of the garage, he noticed that both Darcy and the forecast in the paper had indeed been correct.  Snow was falling from the sky in a much greater quantity than Loki had expected to see in any desert, coming down in flakes too large to flutter.  Some had even accumulated, covering the road and rocks along the sides in a solid blanket that did not seem natural.

It could not have been more than half an inch, and still Loki was shocked at the state of the road he needed to get back onto.  Bumper to bumper traffic, at a complete stand still.  Suddenly ridden of the desire to wander any further, Loki pulled his phone from his pocket and told it to find home.  Instructed to turn right onto the road that had become a parking lot, Loki couldn’t help but feel a little glad that he had not been told to turn left.  He might be able to bully his way onto the road, at least.  After the twelve other people ahead of him did.

He watched in horror as a little Subaru did try to turn left, getting stuck in the turn lane as traffic stubbornly refused to let it through.  Meanwhile, the lane he needed to get into had completely stalled because someone else had not waited their turn, and traffic on the road was now fully blocked in both directions.  He was never going to get out.  He was never going to get home.  He was going to die in a casino parking lot, because Americans couldn’t handle the smallest dusting of snow.

Suddenly terrified about getting rear ended in this mess, Loki turned his radio off so he could at least hear the squealing tyres before he felt the impact.

The squealing tyres didn’t come from behind him though.  In fact, there was no squeal at all to herald the inevitable.  The trouble came from up ahead, and he could only sit and watch as an idiot trying to pull out of a parking space smashed into a car waiting to get out.  Loki didn’t know it was possible to even crash going five miles an hour, but there it was.  He’d seen it with his own eyes, and now he was fairly certain he’d seen everything.

Finding himself completely unable to cope, he grabbed his phone again and broke a rule he knew he’d catch hell for.

He called Darcy.

“Hello?” she asked.  Just by the tone of her voice, Loki could tell he’d caught her in the middle of something.

“What the hell is wrong with Americans?” he asked.

“Wow.  Okay,” Darcy said.  “You called me just to insult me.  That’s new.”

Loki shook his head and tried to start over.  “No, not.  These idiots,” he said.  “You get barely a centimetre of snow, and people crash trying to get out of the parking lot.”

As Darcy cackled down the line, he remembered her warning about tourists and snow-covered cactuses.

“Oh, damn.  Look at that,” Darcy said suddenly.  “Wow, that sure is snow.”

“I’m stuck in traffic and I’m not even on the road!” Loki said, trying very hard not to shout.  “Why?  Why is this allowed to happen?  It’s snow; not the apocalypse.”

“Where are you?” Darcy asked.  He could hear her moving around on the other end of the line, and assumed she was safe and cosy at home.

“I don’t know.  Some casino,” Loki said.  “I stopped for lunch.”

“Why don’t you just get a room and stay there for the night?” Darcy asked.

It was a perfectly reasonable suggestion.  Loki buried his face in his hands. 

“Because I’m already stuck, and the only place to turn has two morons shouting at one another over who wrecked into who.”

He thought he could cry.  He wanted to cry.

“You sure you want to try to make it home?” Darcy asked.

Loki groaned.  He didn’t know what he wanted anymore.

“Okay.  Okay,” Darcy said.  Something roared down the line.  “How are you getting home?  What’s your GPS say?”

“I’m up north somewhere.  It says to take Fifteen,” Loki says.

“No, the Fifteen’s gonna be a parking lot,” Darcy said.  “How far north?  What casino?”

Loki turned around in his seat, craning about to find the sign.  “Canary?  No, Cannery,” he said.

“Oh my god.  No, Loki.  The forecast says this is gonna keep going.  Try to turn around and just get a room,” Darcy said.

He fiddled with his phone to pull up the GPS again.  The drive wasn’t terribly long, but he had to adjust that time to a travelling speed of about three feet per hour.

“Fuck,” he hissed as something roared again.  “What are you doing?”

“Huh?  Me?” Darcy asked.  “I’m killing a dragon.”

“What?” Loki asked. 

He twisted around in his seat again and tried to find a way to turn around.  A few other people were already having the same idea, and he knew if he stalled any longer there wouldn’t be any rooms left.

“It’s my day off.  I’m playing Skyrim,” Darcy said.

“What?” Loki repeated.  “That’s out?”

“Yeah, like, last month.  Where you been?” Darcy asked.

“I don’t know,” Loki said, barely listening to her veiled insults as he tried to decide his best course of action.

Deciding his car was small enough, and there was enough room for it in the other lane, he slowly swung around.  He could feel his tyre catch the curb and cringed, waiting for the inevitable sound of exploding rubber.  It never came, and he managed to get pointed in the correct direction, but now he had an entirely different problem of having to get back to the garage, not trusting the outdoor parking in this mess.

“This is stupid,” he said, getting as far as the next intersection in the parking lot before everything was gridlock again.

“Why are you way out there anyway?” Darcy asked.

Loki was glad she hadn’t hung up on him yet, but she wasn’t exactly being helpful.

“I don’t know how I got here.  It just happened.”

“You got lost and wound up in North Vegas?  How?” Darcy asked.

“I don’t know,” Loki said again, once more feeling like he could cry.  Or scream.  Or both.  “I go for a drive, I get lost, I use my phone to get back.  And my phone told me to get on Fifteen, and you’re telling me not to, so I turned around and now I’m stuck the other way.”

“Okay, look,” Darcy said.  The roaring stopped, so Loki could only assume she paused her game.  “There’s not a lot I can do to help you.  Find a place to park, get inside, and stay there for the night.”

“I guess don’t bother going to the office tomorrow,” Loki said.

He decided the only way he was going to get where he needed was to bully his way through, so that’s what he did, slowly pulling into someone else’s way.

“Are you still in the parking lot?” Darcy asked.

“Yes, I’m almost parked,” Loki said, knowing that once he got to the garage he’d have a much easier time of it.

“Okay,” Darcy said.  “I’m gonna go.  You’ll be fine.  I promise.  Even if the roads aren’t clear by tomorrow, they’ll be empty.”

The situation just kept getting worse.  “Why wouldn’t they be clear?” he asked.

“Cuz Mt Charleston or some shit’s got our snow ploughs.  We only have like, two for the entire county,” Darcy said.

Loki was actually going to die.  “Oh my god,” he said in Icelandic.

“What?” Darcy asked.  It was her turn to be confused.  Good.

“I’m going to die,” Loki said.

“No you’re not.  Quit being a baby,” Darcy said.  “Look, I’m gonna let you go.  Call if the world ends.  But if it doesn’t, just enjoy your night.  Order room service and watch a movie.”

“Fine,” Loki said.

She hung up, leaving Loki to bully his way through traffic alone.  After what felt like a year, he finally got to the other side of the hold up and back into the garage.  At least after his adventures in wandering around the casino earlier, Loki knew where the desk was, and made a path straight there, where a line had already formed.  Praying that there would be vacancies, he tried not to let his impatience get the better of him.  He waited as calmly as he could while feeling like he was going to explode, until it was finally his turn.

“Please tell me you have empty rooms,” he said as soon as he approached the counter.

“We do,” the woman on the other side said, smiling like she expected to very quickly run out.

“Yes.  Please.  I don’t care which,” Loki said, pulling out his wallet to fish out his driving license and credit card.

He wasn’t paying attention as he handed everything over, watching the growing crowd around him instead.

“Uh, you’re going to have to help me out here, please,” the woman said.

Loki looked back at her, spotting the pink card in her hand. 

“Oh, hell,” he muttered, fishing through his wallet for the proper one.  “This is the current one,” he said, handing his Nevada license over instead.

She gave him the Icelandic one back while he grumbled to himself and wondered why he still had it.  The woman worked quickly, no doubt rushing to get him into the system before they ran out of rooms.  Loki appreciated the lack of small talk as she copied down his information and got everything going.

“It’s seventy-four, twenty-six per night.  How many nights?” she asked.

Loki shook his head.  “Hopefully just tonight.  I work tomorrow,” he said.

She nodded and tapped away at her computer some more.  “Check-out is eleven o’clock.  Room service is by the phone.  It’s probably not worth it to give you a delivery menu,” she said.

Loki made a noise that was trying very hard to be a laugh.  “I made it twenty feet out of the garage before coming back, so probably not,” he said.

She handed him a little plastic key card, along with his ID and credit card.  “You’re on the third floor.  Elevators are behind you and to your left.” 

She pointed over his shoulder, in the direction he needed to go.  Feeling like he could finally breathe, Loki nodded.

“Thank you,” he said.

He got out of the way for the next person and made his way to the elevators, eager to get away from people.  Finding the room that matched the number written on the paper envelope his key card came in was easier than he expected, and he let himself into a room that exactly what he expected.  It was a bit cramped, with a single bed and a desk under the far window.  Tossing the key card onto the desk, Loki stepped up to the window to peer outside.  He could see traffic on the main road in the distance, backed up for miles.  If it had moved since he was outside, he had no idea.  It might not have moved an inch, for all he knew.

But now he had a new problem.  He was stuck in exactly the situation he had hoped to avoid by getting out of his apartment.  Short of going back downstairs to gamble, there was absolutely nothing to do.  He only had his phone, with no charger, and a television that would surely play the same garbage he could watch at home.  Watching the snow continue to fall, Loki wondered if he would actually go insane.  He didn’t like being stuck, much less somewhere strange.  Leaving the window, Loki turned instead for the phone, and the room service information.  He found a small brochure advertising a closed pool, and an on-site gym that sounded like the least fun thing in the world.

There was also a gift shop.  A gift shop, he could work with.  He retrieved his key card from the desk and went off in search of another way to spend his money.  The casino floor was complete chaos by the time he found his way back downstairs, and he knew immediately he was not going to be the only person who got the idea to go shopping for something to do.

He found the small gift shop just as crowded as he expected, and tried to find his way to anything that might be useful.  First, a phone charger, because like hell was he going to be staying overnight somewhere without his phone.  Finding one with the correct type of cord, Loki sought out entertainment in the form of a small book rack.  Finding himself drawn to a book with a bright green cover, Loki snatched up the last copy and took his loot to the register. 

On his way, he had the foresight to grab a clean T-shirt, and the impulse to grab a bottle of wine while he was at it.

Ten minutes later, he was back up in his room with his phone charging at the desk.  Exhausted and wired all at once, Loki went immediately to the cramped little bathroom and began drawing a bath.  The tub was a bit smaller than the one in his apartment, but it was enough for Loki to be able to shut off from the world and pretend everything was fine

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #9: Fire

Darcy dreaded spending all day at the office, but she couldn’t exactly get out of it.  The new setlist was going live as soon as their half-assed vacation was over, and they still had yet to perfect any of the routines.  She desperately hoped this would be a one-time deal, and that going forward Loki would want to change the set gradually, or else give them more time to introduce a whole new show.

Somehow, she knew neither of those would happen.  He’d get some bug up his ass to change everything immediately, and she’d have no choice but to flounder along.

They’d reached the point in rehearsal where the stage crew were there helping them run it.  Bucky and Sam were already waiting around, while Loki fussed about setting up everything in the rear lot.  Watching him, Darcy had no idea how he was able to mess around with a garden hose wearing nothing but swim trunks in 40 degree weather, but there he was.  She watched as he moved around with a little too much energy, knowing exactly what it meant.  The tell was plain as day once she’d managed to spot it the first time, and she didn’t even have to ask how he was feeling as she walked up next to him to see what he was doing.

He was about to either crash and burn, or lose his mind entirely, and Darcy didn’t want to be around for either one.

“Are we doing the whole thing today?” she asked, having to almost shout over the noise he called music.  She wondered how their neighbours put up with them at all.

Loki looked up as she approached, and she could see just how tired he looked.  She had no idea how much caffeine it took to get him out of bed, much less running around without really doing much at all.

“Many times,” he said.  “I want to get the fire down by rote before Wednesday.”

Darcy nodded, and walked back inside to fetch her own gear.  She wouldn’t be anywhere near the water, and wouldn’t be getting wet, but she replaced her shoes and socks with the flip flops she kept around just in case, already hating how cold her toes were.  If her jeans got wet, she could change then, but she wasn’t in the mood to fuss around with anything that didn’t need to be fussed with.

Her gear for the routine was simple.  A pair of wands, a fancy lighter, a bottle of fuel, and a wine glass.  She wished she’d eaten something before heading down, but it was too late.  She’d just have to be very careful as she ran the routine, and try not to make herself too sick from swallowing lighter fluid.

The small warehouse they called their office was full of props and costumes that had all been perfectly placed so as to be found within moments of being needed, which hadn’t left them with much space to set up a mock area for rehearsal.  Instead, they took their rear lot and marked out with bright pink spray paint the exact dimensions of the stage.  Their “backstage” area was a little smaller than reality, but the few parking spaces and the loading bay gave them enough room to practise.

Once the tank was full, Loki took the hose back where it belonged and took his mark.  With Bucky standing in for their volunteer, they all took a moment to make sure everything was exactly as it was meant to be, nervous energy radiating off of all of them as they prepared to run the routine in its entirety for the first time.

Then, utterly without warning, Loki launched straight into the routine.

“Okay, maybe ropes are a little too complicated,” he said, walking back onto their stage area.  “Let’s try something else.”

Behind him, Sam rolled the tank into place, and Loki turned to pick up the shackles piled on top.  The shackles had four cuffs, with each set of two connected with a short chain between them, and the two sets joined by a longer one.

“Take a look at these for me.  There’s nothing funny about them, right?” he said, handing them off to Bucky.  “No secret release hidden anywhere?”

Bucky pretended to take a long look at them.  “They look good to me,” he said.

Before he could hand them back, Darcy pointed toward Loki’s ankles, and guided Bucky on how to arrange them so the chain wouldn’t tangle.  She helped him get Loki’s hands bound as well, leaving him standing almost unable to move.  At that moment, Sam came back with a small set of risers, and set them in front of the fish tank.

“A hand, if you will,” Loki said to Bucky.

Bucky helped him up into the tank, and settled in it.  Once he was in the water, Loki pointed toward the front of the tank, where a padlock hung open from the hasp in the front, with the key inside.

“Take that lock for me,” Loki said, pointing.  “Make sure there’s nothing wrong with it, and that it’s the correct key, if you will.”

Bucky played with the lock, pulling the key in and out a few times, before nodding.  “Yep,” he said.

“Great,” said Loki.  “Fantastic.  Now.  Not yet.  Don’t do anything yet.  When I count three, you’re going to drop that key in here, close the lid, and lock it.”

He made a show of taking several long, deep breaths before nodding.

“Ready?” Loki asked.  “One.  Two.  Three.”

He took a deep breath as Bucky threw the key into the water, and submerged himself as Bucky closed and locked the lid.  Darcy watched as he immediately began struggling with the shackles, and then turned out toward the imaginary house.

“We all saw that, right?” she said.  “This guy put him in there and locked the lid.  We all agree on that?  I had nothing to do with it.”

She watched Loki struggle for a moment longer before turning back to Bucky.

“Well, that’s gonna take a while,” she said, already bored.  “I’ve been learning how to eat fire.  Want to see?”

Bucky nodded, playing the role of the uncomfortable guest, stalling for time as he worked out what to say.  “Uh.  Sure,” he said.

Darcy walked to the wings and picked up her wine glass and wand.  As she returned to her mark, she handed Bucky the glass.

“Don’t drink that,” she said.

She dipped her wand into it and lit, it, playing up how much it intimidated her.  She backed away as it burst into flames, and laughed uneasily.

“Okay, here goes nothing,” she said.

Tilting her head back, she brought the wand into her mouth, immediately extinguishing the flame.  No matter what she did, she couldn’t escape the taste of lamp oil on her tongue.  Still, she kept going with her routine, extinguishing and re-lighting the wand with her mouth a few more times while Loki struggled loudly behind her.  She still acted like the fire scared her at times, and sat down on the corner of the tank as though she had completely blocked out everything around her.

While Loki pounded on the tank beneath her, Darcy advanced to two wands, moving the flame from one to the other, letting it dance on her tongue in between.  Lamp oil dripped everywhere, and what wound up on her tongue inevitably made its way down her throat by the end. 

She got up once she was done with her routine, and used her presence to force Bucky toward the left wings, picking up a new set of wands.

“Want to try?” she asked.

Bucky balked, keeping them close to the wings while on the other end of the stage, Sam pulled the water take full of drowned Loki to the wings, quickly unlocking him, and replacing the tank in its spot.  Darcy waited until it was where it belong before bringing Bucky back to centre to show him how to hold a wand and blow the flame out.

When she finally noticed the silence behind her, Darcy turned quickly and looked around as if in a panic.

“Uhm,” she said, looking up at Bucky.  “Did you see him throw the key back out?  We were supposed to be watching for that.”

During a long and awkward silence, Sam quickly rushed out to wheel the tank full of apparently dead Loki back off stage.  Darcy watched with an exaggerated grimace as the tank was wheeled off, and then turned back to Bucky.

“So, hey.  While I have you here,” she said.

Rather than rolling into the next routine on their list, she turned back to Loki to make sure he was all right.  He had got out of the shackles just fine, and was shaking the water out of his hair as he stood soaking wet in the cold. 

“Are we finally happy with it?” she asked.

Loki nodded.  “I think so.  That’s a good stall at the beginning.  Drag it out just a little longer, I think.”

Darcy nodded.  “Do you want to get changed and dry run it the rest of the day?”

Loki took a moment to consider it, before shaking his head.  “One more time,” he said.

They ran it twice more before Loki sent Bucky and Sam home, leaving them to work on just Darcy’s choreography.  Loki guided her on her form and suggested patter to draw the routine out a little longer, and with each new change, they rehearsed again.  It didn’t take much longer for Darcy to start to feel a little unwell, prompting her to call it quits for the day.  For any other routine, she might be able to weasel a little break out.  When they drilled the fire, done meant done.  It was the only routine she got to call quits on, and the only one Loki never once argued about when she did.

“I need to go get lunch before I die.  Do you want to come with?” she said as she poured her used oil into the jug that would eventually be disposed of.

“Sure.  Where?” Loki asked.

Part of her was glad he’d said yes.  As much as she didn’t want to be the keeper of his well-being, she could tell something had been more wrong than usual the night before.  Just because she didn’t want to go up to the mountain with him didn’t mean she couldn’t try to include him a little more.

“Wherever you want,” she said.

Loki shrugged.  “Let’s see what’s open,” he said.

“Okay.”  Darcy quickly put the rest of her things away and swapped back to her dry shoes while Loki locked up the back. 

“Who’s driving?” Darcy asked.

Loki looked over to her and shrugged, like he wasn’t expecting the question.  He had probably expected to be told to follow after her, she realised.

“You can,” he said.

Nodding, she headed out to her car, and waited in the parking lot for Loki to lock up the front.  Once they were settled, Darcy immediately knew where she wanted to go, and began winding her way through hidden surface streets to get there. 

“We’ve passed about eight places,” Loki said as she drove.  “Where are we going?”

“I want to go to Sonic,” Darcy said.  She looked over at him, suddenly unsure.  “Unless you want to go somewhere else.”

“I’ve never been there.  What do they do?” he asked, watching the city glide by.

“Little bit of everything,” Darcy said.  “They might even have some garbage you’d want to eat.”

“Rude,” Loki said.

Darcy laughed.  “All I ever see you eat is junk.  Don’t even try to pretend.”

“You’re always so mean to me,” Loki said.

“I thought you liked it.”  Darcy watched him from the corner of her vision while he slumped down into his seat to grump about it.

After a few moments, he seemed to forget about being offended and turned his attention back toward the city outside.  The high cloud cover had thrown everything into a dull, lifeless grey that mirrored the cold.  As they drove, Darcy spotted an electronic letter board as it flashed the temperature.

“Wow, it’s thirty-six.  Could snow,” she said, not terribly surprised.

“How is this the same place that boiled me alive?” Loki asked.

Darcy laughed.  “Oh, just wait until it floods.  Nothing about this place is average.”

He almost laughed, and Darcy realised she didn’t know the last time she’d seen him truly happy.  He’d been in a bad way for months, and only seemed to be getting worse as days wore on.  As much as she refused to let it be her fault, she still felt bad for not really being able to do much about it without putting herself back in the firing range.

She finally got across Flamingo and into the Sonic parking lot, finding a place to park.  Almost as soon as she had the engine stopped, Loki leaned in close to look at the menu, and she let him, if only because she didn’t think it was deliberate.  He was a big guy, and tended to take up a lot of room even when he wasn’t intending to.  Getting all up in her space was just a fact of life sometimes.  Shortly after they ordered through a carhop wheeled out on his skates and hung around just long enough to take the payment.  As soon as he was gone, Darcy rolled the window back up to keep as much cold air out as possible.

“Sometimes I think you live on junk because it’s the only way to get the taste of lamp oil out of your throat,” she said, deciding that what they really needed was the heater.

“Quit swallowing it,” Loki said.

“I can’t help it.”  She settled back into her seat and waited for their lunch to arrive.  “It gets down my throat all on its own.”

“Oh, is that how it is?” Loki asked.

“Shut up,” Darcy said.  “I heard it too.”

He laughed, open and honest, for the first time in way too long.  It was dangerous, sitting right next to him and watching him smile, because for the first time in a long time, Darcy remembered why she’d got involved with him in the first place.  When he wasn’t stuck inside his own head, or pissed off at everything that had a shadow, he was someone she had fun being around.

And he was also someone who knew how to weaponise that.  And she couldn’t let herself forget that.

“So you really broke up with that guy, huh?” she asked, scrambling for any change of subject.

Loki shrugged.  “I didn’t mean to, but Thor was pissing me off,” he said.

Darcy ran that through her head a few times.  “I’m sure that makes sense in your language, but what?”

“He was…” He shook his head and turned to look out the side window.  “He was just being his usual self.  Pushing buttons and then acting surprised when I snapped.”

Darcy nodded.  “And that ended in you breaking up with your boyfriend over text?” she asked.

“Yep.”  He continued to stare at something out the window.  “I suppose the invitation to his parents’ house at Lake Whatever is off the table.”

Darcy hadn’t realised it was that serious, especially since she hadn’t even heard of the guy until Loki complained about him on the way back from LA.

“You were gonna meet his parents?” she asked.

Loki shook his head.  “God, no.  They’re in Mexico or something right now.”  He laughed again, despite everything.  “He wanted to spend a few days away from those ridiculous house mates of his.”

Suddenly everything clicked in a way it hadn’t before.  “Wait,” Darcy said.  “He’s one of your brother’s old room mates?”

She’d met all of them briefly, and could not figure out which one Loki was talking about.

“I am an impulsive man, and I make bad choices,” Loki said, laughing more openly again.  “I thought Thor was going to break my nose when he found out.”

“I don’t think bad choices even covers that,” Darcy said.  “That’s so far beyond bad choices it’s in another area code.  How are you still alive?”

Loki shrugged, but before he could answer the carhop wheeled up to the side of the car, carrying a tray full of burgers and fries.  Darcy rolled down her window, and traded the tray for a five dollar bill from her pocket.

“Thank you,” she said, handing the tray over to Loki to deal with, since he had more room.

Once the carhop was off to take care of the next car, Darcy rolled the window back up against the cold wind.

“Jeez, it really might snow,” she said, reaching over to pick up her lemonade.

“Does it seriously snow here?” Loki asked.  “You keep saying that.”

“Yeah.  Not like, huge amounts but yeah it snows,” Darcy said.

Loki looked out the window again, this time peering up toward the sky.  “I don’t believe you,” he said.

Darcy laughed and picked up the burger that looked like hers from the tray.  “I don’t care.  Your belief is not required.”

“It should be,” Loki said, finally turning his attention to his food.  He picked through his fries like he was afraid they were going to bite him.

“Says you,” Darcy said.  “Just don’t come crying to me when you get rear ended by a tourist who’s too busy looking at a cactus with snow on it.”

Loki looked at her, his expression complete flat.  “You’re making that up.”

Darcy only shrugged.  What he did or didn’t believe was none of her concern.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #8: Christmas Dinner

They were halfway through their wine by the time Loki found them at the restaurant.  He’d lost them at the intersection, and then couldn’t figure out how to park at the Bellagio, and then wound up back on Flamingo before he found an entrance with valet.  Exhausted and more than a little embarrassed about it, Loki tried to pretend he didn’t notice how surprised the other two seemed to be that he’d showed up at all.

“Get lost?” Darcy asked.

Loki nodded, and then took a deep breath.  “As a matter of fact, I did.  Several times.”

While she laughed quietly at him, Loki looked up at Thor.  He shouldn’t have accepted the invitation, and still thought he had only been invited out of obligation.  He said nothing about it though, and settled in while he waited for one of the extremely frantic waiters to notice him. 

“I don’t remember swords last time,” Thor said awkwardly, opening his menu like he was trying to be as casual as possible.

“I just added them tonight,” Loki said.  He thought about stealing Darcy’s menu, but before he could, she picked hers up as well.  “I think I might keep it though.”

“It went over really well,” Darcy said, nodding.  “I think all the changes did.”

Hearing her praise the show, instead of picking it to pieces felt better than it probably should have, but Loki said nothing to that effect.  He pushed the feeling down, pretending like even the tiniest scrap of praise didn’t feel like an explosion in his chest.

Finally, he was rescued when a waiter finally came round with a menu, handing it down to him.

“Can I get you anything to drink?” she asked.

Loki looked around the table, and the wine Thor and Darcy were drinking.

“Whatever they’re having,” he said.

Nodding, the waiter went off again, likely to never be seen again in the chaos of Christmas diners.

He opened his menu to look over what was on offer, but nothing immediately popped out as being appetising for some reason.  He was starving, but even without having to deal with any of the work himself, it all felt like such a big, damn hassle.  Just picking from a list felt like a chore.

“What are you having?” he asked, eyeballing the veal and wondering if he was truly in the mood for it.

“I don’t know,” said Darcy.  “Maybe the New York strip.”

“I was thinking the same,” Thor said.

New York strip did not sound appealing either, which threw that plan out the window.  Not sure what else to do, Loki flipped to the back to find the drinks, even though he knew he had a glass of wine on the way.  But remembering his drive back to Henderson after the fact, and the embargo at sleeping at the casino, he closed the menu and put it down on the table.

In the end, he went with the veal, and then picked at the perfectly cut slices laid out on his plate.  He listened to Darcy and Thor talk, but mostly stayed out of the conversation lest he say something wrong and piss both of them off.  Loki didn’t get to see Darcy happy very often, but sitting in some overpriced restaurant, drinking a little too much wine and picking around the bell peppers on her plate, Darcy was clearly enjoying herself.  She and Thor joked and laughed, and Loki felt like an outsider.  And it was all he deserved.  Leaving Reykjavík wasn’t a mistake.  He didn’t regret that; not for a second.  But if he hadn’t so completely spiralled out of control, falling head first into spite, it might have just been him and Darcy sitting there, enjoying their Christmas.  They might have been enjoying it in private.  Thor would have been off with Jane, with the poor woman none the wiser.

Loki had convinced himself that he’d done the woman a favour by showing her what Thor truly was.  But even that only lasted so long, and soon even he saw through the lies he told himself. 

He was angry and spiteful, and now nobody was happy.  Except maybe Darcy, but she was a better actor than Loki was often willing to give her credit for.  She could smile and sit pretty and play the role without anyone knowing the difference.  Because like him, she was a theatre kid with an extremely niche interest.  And in a lot of ways, she was better than Loki would ever be.

“I think this summer, I may go home for a while,” Thor said, without any lead-in at all.

Loki looked up sharply, suddenly finding himself very interested in the conversation.

“Why?” he asked.

“Because I’ve been here for ten years and want to go home,” Thor said.  “Do you want to go too?”

Loki laughed before he could stop himself.  “No,” he said.  “I just got here.  Ask me in ten years.”

They’d already had this conversation.  He saw the offer for what it was, but even despite the obvious ploy to get him back under control, Loki had no desire to go back.  Maybe ever. 

“I…” Thor started, and then nodded.  “It’s a standing offer,” he said.

Loki glanced to Darcy, and couldn’t help the stab of guilt at seeing her so obviously lose that casual ease she’d held herself with just moments before.  She was visibly tense, looking between Thor and Loki like she was waiting for an explosion.

“No,” Loki repeated.

He’d barely touched anything on his plate, and still wasn’t hungry.  He regretted coming along.  He should have just gone straight home.

“Are you doing anything else for Christmas?” Thor asked, a little more cautiously this time.

Loki shook his head.  “We don’t have a day off until Wednesday,” he said.

“Why not?” asked Thor.  “It’s your show, isn’t it?”

Loki didn’t want to explain their agreement with Stark, and the holidays they had to perform in exchange for a real vacation.  Luckily, Darcy was actually capable of tact when she needed to be.

“The entertainment director sets our schedule,” she said.  “We don’t get a whole lot of say, because we don’t have enough weight to throw around like that.  I’m pretty sure you need a few NBC specials before you can start making demands.”

Thor actually laughed.  “So, what?  You get Wednesday, and that’s it?”

“We’re getting the first half of January off,” Loki said, poking at a carrot on his plate, and then forcing himself to eat it. 

Thor nodded.  “Oh, that makes sense,” he said.  “Good way for them to save money, I bet.”

Loki looked back up at him, having no idea how Thor would know anything about it.  “What do you mean?”

“Everyone will be at home,” Thor said.  He shrugged, as if his statement were self-evident.

Not sure exactly what it meant, Loki turned to Darcy for an explanation.

“Between New Year and Spring Break is the slow season,” Darcy said.  “It’s never quiet here, but it does slow down a good bit, especially when it gets cold.”

“It isn’t that cold,” Loki said.

Darcy shook her head.  “And how many times did you get sick before you learned to stay out of the sun?” she asked.  “You’ll be eating those words when you get stuck in the snow.”

Loki very pointedly looked down toward his plate.  “I know how to drive in the snow,” he said.

It had been hot when he’d first arrived in the valley, and it hadn’t even been summer yet.  And there were people who lived out in the heat all day, as if there was nothing wrong with it.  He couldn’t imagine ever getting so used to the summers that a bit of frost on the windshield each morning was enough of an excuse to avoid the cold.

Loki finished off his wine and wished he hadn’t.  Without it he had nothing to drink, and if he ordered another, he knew he’d never stop.

He realised, looking down at his half-eaten plate, that all he wanted to do was go home, open a bottle of wine, and drink until he passed out.  He thought about getting up and just leaving, but somehow knew it would not be taken well.  Loki forced himself to finish off his plate, listening to Thor and Darcy talk about their own lack of Christmas plans. 

“Honestly, having an excuse to not have to go out to Green Valley felt better than I thought it would,” Darcy said. 

“Well, I’m glad,” Thor said, laughing awkwardly.  “If you hadn’t come along, I’d have likely come here anyway.  But I don’t know if that would be more sad than sitting at home alone.”

“Right,” Darcy said, laughing sympathetically. 

She finished off her own plate, and looked over to Loki.  Even though she didn’t say anything, he knew there was a silent thread of blame directed at him.  Loki said nothing in return, even as the waiter wandered back over to their table.

“Are we all done here?” she asked, looking across the table.  “Can I interest anyone in dessert?”

Darcy and Thor both looked at one another, openly considering the question before Darcy reached for the dessert menu on the edge of the table.

“Oh, the key lime sounds real good,” she said, handing the menu over to Thor.

“Will that be with the Far Niente?” the waiter asked.

Darcy quickly shook her head.  “No, just the pie,” she said.

Thor nodded.  “I think I’ll have the same.” 

He looked over to Loki, offering the menu.  Without even considering it, Loki shook his head.

“None for me,” he said.

He saw the look of uncomfortable concern on both Thor and Darcy’s faces as the waiter took away their plates, and pretended he hadn’t noticed. 

“Loki, are you sure you don’t want anything?” Thor asked.

Loki shook his head.  “I’m fine.  Truly.”

The longer the evening dragged on, the more he just wanted to go home.  But he resisted the temptation to just get up and walk away, hoping that everything would soon be over.

When the desserts finally arrived, the other two at least seemed to have been eager to leave as well.  It was nearing midnight by the time the cheque arrived, and without thinking, Loki reached for his wallet.

“No, I’ve got it,” Thor said, reaching out to stop him.  “I invited you.  It’s my treat.”

Loki felt like he should at least insist on going Dutch, but settled back down into his seat instead. 

“Well, you’re going the other direction, so why don’t I ride back with Loki,” Darcy said as Thor slid his credit card into the little black folder.

“If you want,” Thor said.

Loki wasn’t sure it was a good idea, but he apparently didn’t get a say.  So he nodded along, and pretended he didn’t notice Darcy’s sickening concern.

“We probably should discuss the changes before tomorrow,” he said, pretending to have reason to go along with it.

Once everything was paid for and their plates cleared out, they began getting up to leave.  Darcy and Thor said their goodbyes, while Loki pretended he wasn’t glad to be getting out of there.  They walked as a trio back out to back out to the hall, but Loki pointedly didn’t follow after Thor.

“Where’s he going?” he asked.

“To the car,” Darcy said, looking back and forth.

Loki watched Thor walk away, and then turned toward the other direction.

“I parked over here somewhere,” he said.

Darcy laughed and followed him out toward valet.

“Oh, you really did get lost,” she said.

“I found it, didn’t I?” Loki asked.

By the time they made it outside the wind had picked up and brought with it a harsh bite.  Loki watched as Darcy huddled into her coat, and found himself wishing he’d brought something a little heavier than a suit jacket for himself.

“Okay, I admit.  It’s a bit cold out,” he said.

Darcy laughed quietly as they watched people waiting before them get in their car and drive away, leaving the two of them waiting for Loki’s car to be brought back.

“Are you doing okay?” Darcy asked.

Loki sighed, not at all surprised to hear the question.  “I hadn’t planned on going out tonight,” he said.  “But it seemed rude to say no.”

Darcy knocked her elbow into his arm.  “Well, thank you for coming,” she said.  “I think he appreciated it.”

Loki didn’t want Thor to appreciate it, but he held his tongue.  He was spared any more guilt by his car finally being brought round, taking his attention away from Darcy for a moment.  He tipped the man as another rushed over to open the passenger door for Darcy.  Then, with no more excuses to stall, he got into the car and tried not to feel trapped.  They sat in silence until he found his way back out onto Flamingo, finding it nearly empty compared to the chaos and madness it normally was.

“So, what about the changes?” Darcy asked suddenly.

Loki glanced over to her, not immediately catching up with her.  He’d forgotten all about making the excuse he had, and didn’t actually have anything to say about it.

“Should we keep them?” he asked, unsure how much he wanted to.

“They worked really well,” Darcy said.  “All of them, I think.”

Loki nodded.  “But the show runs long.”

“It’s only a few more days,” Darcy said.  “I don’t mind running long if you don’t.  We can pull it back in over the break.”

She sounded so damn genuine about it, Loki couldn’t help but believe her. 

“We’ll have to run it with the new setlist,” Loki said.  He looked around wildly as he made it across the intersection, not trusting any of the drunken tourists on the roads to obey a red light.  “I’m not doing a two-hour show every night.”

Darcy nodded.  “That’s fair,” she said.

Two hours didn’t seem like much on paper, but even with the show at ninety minutes before the new additions, it was a mental and physical drain.  Every day, the same thing, the same routine, the same words.  It was what Loki had come there to do, but he had struggled to get through four days a week before.  Six was going to kill him.

They rode in silence for a long moment, with another question hanging in the back of Loki’s mind.  A question he had resisted asking, because he knew he had not upheld his end of the bargain.  And still, he needed to know all the same.

“What’s the verdict on Mt Charleston?” he asked finally.

He already knew the answer, even before Darcy took a deep breath and looked toward the sky.

“I know you want to go,” she said.  “But you should find someone else to go with, because I can’t.  I’m sorry.  What about your boyfriend?  Go with him.”

Loki nodded.  He wanted to beg.  He wanted to tell her he didn’t have anyone else to go with; that he’d ruined anything he might have had with Fandral out of spite.  He didn’t want to go alone, because even with his phone giving him directions he didn’t trust himself to make it home alive.

“I miss you,” he said instead.

It was the wrong thing to say, and he knew it as soon as the words left his mouth.  Darcy shook her head and turned to look out the side window, putting her back toward him.

“Please don’t do this,” she said.  “Let’s just get through these next few days, and then spend our vacation working our butts off to get the show ready for next year.”

“I don’t have anyone else,” Loki said, dangerously close to begging.

“What about that guy you’re seeing?” Darcy asked.  “You must like something about him, right?”

Loki took a deep breath, regretting everything about the evening.  “I did exactly what you told me not to do, and now he’s pissed.”

“Oh my god.”

Darcy groaned quietly, and the two fell into an uncomfortable, pained silence for the rest of the ride to the hotel.  Without anything else to say that wouldn’t make the situation infinitely worse, Loki focused on the quick drive to the hotel.  As he pulled into his space in the back lot, he didn’t even bother cutting the engine as Darcy got out, leaving him without another word.  Loki watched and waited until she got into her own car and pulled out of her space before heading off in the opposite direction toward his apartment, somehow resisting the urge to punch the steering wheel.  He drove home in silence, not even bothering to fill it with the radio.  It was well past midnight by the time he made it out to Henderson, and as Loki pulled into his space, he realised he did not want to be home at all.  He didn’t want to be alone at all, but rather left alone.

As he walked to his door, he was halfway through pulling up the contact list in his phone before he realised what he was doing.  Fandral was not going to want anything to do with him, much less on Christmas, in the middle of the night.  Shoving his phone back into his pocket, Loki let himself into his apartment, making sure to lock up everything tightly behind him before he turned to the kitchen.  Barely thinking about what he was doing, Loki grabbed a bottle of wine from above the fridge, and a glass to go with it.  He could at least be civilised about drinking himself blind.  He took both out to the living room, flipping the lights on as he went, and collapsed onto the sofa.  Even with the absurd amount of channels American cable had, there was nothing worth watching.  He landed on the late night crap the BBC played, and opened his wine with the corkscrew that never seemed tog get put away while some horribly eccentric couple tore the carpeting out of a house that didn’t belong to them.

Twice, he had to stop himself from texting Fandral, and three times he had to stop himself from texting Darcy.  He even thought about calling Thor, knowing he would haul himself out of bed and come over if Loki asked.  Eventually, he lost the battle of willpower with himself and texted Fandral, simply wishing him a merry Christmas, and immediately regretted it as soon as he hit send.  Not sure if he was more afraid of being ignored or getting a response, he threw his phone down onto the table and ignored it, instead drowning himself in a bottle of cheap Cabernet until he could no longer sit up straight.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #7: Sold Out

She still hadn’t really met the birds, so Darcy showed up early to the theatre.  Loki wasn’t in yet, but Stark was, sprawled out in the same way Loki tended to do across the sofa, but taking up far less room.  Seeing him, Darcy stopped in the door and took a moment to just breathe.

“You know, I think I get it,” Stark said when he saw her.  “This contention between you two.  What the hell was that last night?”

Darcy shrugged and stepped all the way into the green room, letting the door close behind her.

“That’s just him,” she said, putting her bag down on her way to feed the fish.

“What’s this I hear he’s been sleeping here?” Stark asked.

“You’ll have to ask him.”

She didn’t want to talk to Stark, but Stark didn’t easily take hints.  He sat up and watched her feed the fish and make sure everything was well with them, saying nothing until she turned back around.

“I will,” he said.

She wondered how much of a hand he’d had in Loki’s visa suddenly fixing itself, and still wasn’t convinced a blowjob hadn’t been part of the process of Loki getting the job.  In fact, the more time she spent in Stark’s presence, the more convinced of it she became.

“Do you know what time he’s supposed to be here tonight?” Stark asked.

Darcy shook her head.  To his credit, Stark had pretended the whole snafu between them had never happened, but she still felt awkward and out of place around him.

“He’s usually here before me.  If he’s not here, I don’t know where he is,” she said. 

She looked toward the hall leading toward the backstage area, and thought she might be able to extend her own courtesy. 

“Have you met our birds yet?” she asked, hoping it might make things somewhat less awkward between them.

Stark actually seemed interested, which surprised her. 

“I have not,” he said, getting to his feet.

Darcy led him back to Howard’s little room, finding him fed with his area cleaned up.  The guy Loki paid to take care of the birds also seemed to have done the same for the ravens, which was good, because Darcy would have had no idea where to start.

“I don’t know their names.  Something Nordic,” she said, awkwardly gesturing toward them in their tall cage.

Stark stepped up close and watched them as they squawked and fluttered around. 

“He wants these things on stage?” Stark asked, standing close to their cage as though he wasn’t afraid they’d try to attack him through the bars.

Darcy nodded.  “I guess.”

“For what?”

“Dunno.  We haven’t worked that out yet,” Darcy said.  “They don’t speak English, so whatever routine he used them for needs to be rewritten, I guess.”

Stark stood close to the cage as he inspected them, almost leaning in toward the giant black birds.  After a long moment, he took a step back and turned toward Darcy.

“Well, I’ll let you get to it,” he said, looking around the otherwise empty room.  “Tell him to stick around after the show tonight.”

Darcy nodded, knowing exactly how well that was going to go over.  “Okay,” she said.

She watched Stark go, before turning to get a close look at the new birds for herself.  They were huge; much bigger than she’d expected.  She’d seen ravens around, but never up close.  Even the pictures on Loki’s Facebook page hadn’t quite given her the same sense of scale as being next to them. 

She was glad they’d gone with the duck in the end, because she did not want to have to chase one of these things out there.  Somehow, she thought chasing a raven would end up with her losing an eye.

As she watched the birds watch her back, Darcy heard a door close in the green room.  She assumed it was Stark leaving, and nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard footsteps behind her.  Turning sharply, she found Loki standing near the door, looking like he hadn’t slept since she found him in the green room the day they’d gone to LA.

“Jesus, you scared the hell out of me,” she said, trying to remember how to breathe.

“Can we talk?” Loki asked.

Darcy looked at him for a long moment, knowing talking was exactly what they needed to do, but not wanting to do it.

“Yeah,” she said finally, nodding.

Loki nodded in turn, taking a deep breath.  “I’m going to do this very slowly,” he said finally, looking not at Darcy, but at the birds behind her.  “I say the wrong thing a lot, and I don’t want to do that.  Please be patient.”

“Okay,” Darcy said. 

She knew he had more than just his own self-destructive tendencies working against him, and was having to make sure he got everything out in a foreign language on top of it.  The vast majority of the time, he was fluent enough that she’d sometimes forget English wasn’t his first language, and then he would get something almost comically wrong, or say something she didn’t understand, and they both had to deal with trying to figure out what he’d meant.  And as she stood there, watching him put his thoughts together, she knew he was running everything through his mind five or six times to make sure he said precisely what he wanted to say.

“I should not have shouted, first off,” he said, barely able to look at her.  “I know apologising doesn’t fix it, but I apologise all the same.”

Darcy nodded again, holding her tongue against telling him that she expected it to never happen again.  But he’d asked for patience, and interrupting him wasn’t going to help.

“That said.  Do not ever call my brother like that again,” Loki said.  He finally looked at her, clearly still angry about that.  “I understand you were concerned, but if this relationship between us is to remain professional, you cannot involve yourself in my private affairs.”

Again, Darcy held her tongue, resisting the urge to tell him that his private affairs stopped being private when they threatened her job.  Instead, she nodded, watching him struggle against whatever he had next.

“And you’re right,” he said finally.  “We need a better closer.  If you can find a way to do your act that we can insure, it’s in.”

“I have a few ideas,” Darcy said.  “My turn?”

Loki took a deep breath and nodded.

“Thank you for the apology,” Darcy said, wanting to run, and forcing herself to stand perfectly still.  “Though I’d prefer that it never happens again.  And Stark seemed pretty peeved about you sleeping here, so watch out for him.  He’s not happy about last night either.”

Loki cringed and nodded, making Darcy think he hadn’t even considered the Stark angle on that whole situation.  Knowing him, his thoughts had been entirely occupied by their own fight, and little else.

“And I’m sorry I called what’s his name,” she said.  “But the part of me that still likes you has been kind of scared lately.  This city breeds depression, and I know what it looks like.  I can’t promise I won’t do it again if I feel like I have to.”

“I don’t know if that’s acceptable,” Loki said, speaking quickly enough that his natural accent came out a bit.

“I don’t expect it to be,” Darcy said.  “But I hope I don’t have to call him again.  I don’t want to.  But I will if I think I need to.”

He nodded, biting his lip and looking away.  “All right,” he said.  A tense silence fell between them for a long moment, until he finally looked at her again.  “What did Tony want?”

Darcy hated this.  It was technically her job, as the person who also dealt with all of Loki’s crap, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“He was not happy about last night.  Someone probably complained,” she said.  “He said not to go anywhere after the show tonight.  We better fucking wow ’em out there to lessen the blow.”

Loki took a deep breath and frowned in the direction of the birds.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Damnit.”

He turned away, leaving in the direction of his dressing room.  Unsure what else to do, Darcy took his cue and made her way to her own room to get ready for the show.

Christmas came fast.  The excuse of having a show meant Darcy got to quickly end the argument about going out to Green Valley to get picked at for all her life’s choices, but that didn’t exactly lessen the stress.  Not when she made her way back stage, finding Clint doing his pre-show rounds.

As she walked passed him, he paused in his step and pulled her close.

“I just heard we sold out,” he said quietly against her ear, keeping his voice low so it didn’t travel out to the house.

Darcy barely managed to contain her own startled noise.  She turned to him, her shock apparently evident on her face by the way he laughed.

“Break a leg!” Clint said before carrying on with his rounds.

They hadn’t sold out since their first week.  It had been a constant source of stress for the entire show, with sales getting steadily lower by the week.  They hadn’t quite managed to hit the point of giving free seats away, but it was definitely getting close.

A full house might have actually been worth the trade of doing a show on Christmas.  But it was probably a calculated move on Stark’s part.  Offer them two weeks after New Year in exchange for capitalising on all the big headliners spending the holiday with their families. 

She took her mark and waited for everything to start as the final stragglers filtered into the house.  She couldn’t see anything from where she stood, but she’d learned what the procedure sounded like, and it sounded like the doors were still open.  As Loki took his mark beside her, his hand fell to her back for just a moment while he navigated the small, dark space in the wings.  Darcy looked up at him as he fussed with his tie.

“Did Clint tell you?” she asked.

Loki looked at her, but said nothing.  If he shook his head, she couldn’t tell, but she took his silence to mean the same thing.

“We sold out.  Full house,” she said.

Even in the dim light, she could see Loki’s own shock at the news.  He looked out toward the stage, and then back toward her, asking a question he couldn’t vocalise.  She nodded back, exaggerated so he could see her in turn.  Whatever plans Loki had missed out on were apparently forgiven as well, if the way he bounced slightly on his feet were any indication.  He’d seemed more than a little annoyed at working on the holiday as well, but now it hardly mattered at all.  400 seats was not a huge order to fill, and yet they’d struggled to hit it from the very beginning.  But before she could dwell on it any longer, the doors closed and the crowd began to settle.

The show was a little different for the holiday, ostensibly to make it special for the audience, but mostly to distract them from the fact they were working on Christmas.  Loki’s opening bit stretched to include swords and fire, and during the box jumper, he played up the opening gag, making dozens of foam balls appear like Tribbles, multiplying each time he opened and closed the door.  As he made more and more appear, he maintained the same trouble with making them disappear, stuffing them into his pockets and throwing them into the wings in an exaggerated panic.

The show ran longer as a result, but it worked.  Even without the hype from a sold out house, the extra gags made the whole thing seem a little more lively.  By the time she had to change back into her green dress to meet the audience, Darcy was wide awake and buzzing in a way she hadn’t felt in months.  For the first time in far too long, the show hadn’t been an exercise in frustration, but something she’d actually had fun doing.

Standing on her mark near the merch table, Darcy couldn’t help but scan over the crowd.  Some part of her had hoped her mother might show up, since she wouldn’t have had much else to do that evening, but it didn’t seem to be the case.  She didn’t even want her mother there, but for some reason her absense felt like an intentional snub all the same.  But before she could dwell on it for too long, she spotted another familiar face, and braced herself for the inevitable explosion.  Thor walked through the crowd, a wide grin that didn’t exactly seem genuine across his face.  Daring to cast a glance in Loki’s direction, Darcy could tell Thor’s presence was not expected, but tried to look pleased to see him all the same.

“How are you doing?” she asked as Thor approached.

Smiling even wider, Thor moved like he had intended to hug her, and then changed his mind at the last second.  She wasn’t quite at the hugging stage with him yet, but tried not to look relieved all the same.

“Very good,” Thor said.  “I heard you two were working tonight, and thought you might want to celebrate after.”

He seemed hopeful, and it was contagious.  Darcy looked over at Loki again, busy taking photos with members of the crowd and doing an amazing job at pretending he didn’t see Thor and Darcy chatting just feet away.

“You know what, sure,” she said.  Even if Loki didn’t go, whatever Thor had in mind would be better than going home alone, or worse, driving out to Green Valley.

Thor’s smile lit up, instantly genuine at hearing it.  “Great!” he said.  He pointed over his shoulder, in the vague direction of the Strip.  “I’ve made reservations, at the Bellagio.  I thought the show ended earlier though, so I might have to call to make sure they save our table.  Or just drive fast.”

A lot of places were going to be open late that night, but the show had still run much later than usual.  Darcy looked around the crowd, many of them eager to get out as well for the rest of their own Christmas plans.

“Oh, jeez, yeah,” she said.  “Let me get through this as quick as I can.  Have you talked to Loki yet?”

Thor shook his head.  “No.  Not out here,” he said, already stepping back to make room for the next person.

Darcy nodded, understanding exactly what he meant.  Trusting Loki to keep his cool, even in front of a crowd, had not exactly been a safe gamble in the past.

She got through her photos and her signings, and waved to Thor to stay where he was while she turned to head backstage again.  On her way, she passed by Clint where he stood by, making sure nobody was sneaking off where they did not belong.

“Hey, Loki’s brother is waiting around out here.  Big blond guy,” she said, pointing over her shoulder toward where Thor stood alone.  “Could you let him into the green room?”

Clint looked up at Thor and nodded.  “Not expecting any fights tonight?”

Darcy laughed, despite everything.  “I hope not,” she said.

She left the men behind and rushed back toward her dressing room to quickly change.  She hadn’t exactly dressed up for a night out, but she had learned early to keep a few nicer things stashed in her dressing room just in case.  The jeans she’d worn into the theatre were fine, but the hoodie she lived in during the winter was not.  Darcy swapped it instead for a black top and a coat she didn’t remember buying and rushed out, not even bothering to swap out her contacts.  She found Loki already in the green room, dressed in exactly what he’d worn before the show, with a black suit jacket over his t-shirt as if it hid the fact there was a giant skull on the front. 

“Are we all going together?” Darcy asked, looking between Thor and Loki.

Loki looked at her, and then back to Thor.  “Why don’t you two ride in together.  I’ll follow,” he said.

Darcy nodded, not sure that the three of them would have been able to fit into a single car, no matter whose car it was.  And if they did, she didn’t think they’d survive the quick drive to the Bellagio.

“Okay,” she said.  She looked to Thor and smiled, finding herself genuinely looking forward to it.

“We should hurry,” Thor said, already heading for the door.  “I’ve called, but they can only hold our table for an extra ten minutes.”

Darcy followed after him, not wanting to cost them any more time.  Together, they walked through the casino and out to the guest parking, where Thor’s enormous pickup took up too much space.  They rode to the Bellagio in silence, neither having much to say to the other until they reached the Strip.  Once they got stuck in traffic at the light, Thor’s calm veneer began to slip, and Darcy tried to ignore him drumming his hands on the steering wheel.

“What time was the table for?” she asked.

“Ten,” Thor said.

With the extension Thor had managed to get at the restaurant, they had fifteen minutes to get there.  Luckily, there weren’t any other lights between them and their next turn, though Christmas traffic on the Boulevard was, as ever, Christmas traffic.

As they waited for a light that refused to turn, Darcy checked the wing mirror, hoping to spot Loki’s BMW behind them, but all she saw was an endless row of headlights.  Everything behind them looked the same in the dark, and if Loki had indeed followed them, she couldn’t confirm it through the glare.

Finally, the light changed and they were into the worst of the traffic, heading toward the casino.  Rather than dealing with self-park, Thor pulled into the valet, handing the man who approached a $10 bill along with his keys.  He hung around just long enough to collect his ticket before he and Darcy ran inside toward the restaurant.  Like all casinos, the Bellagio was a maze of winding corridors and confusing directions, made all the more dazzling and confusing by the gaudy Christmas decorations everywhere.  They finally found the restaurant, and the line out front, but Thor didn’t waste any time in shoving his way to the podium, using his huge size to gently bully people out of the way.

“Sorry.  Hello,” he said, trying not to sound like they’d just run across the entire casino.  “Reservation for Blake.”

The host looked down at his notebook and nodded.  “Of course,” he said, stepping down off his little platform.  “This way, please.”

As they followed the man through the crowded restaurant, Darcy turned toward Thor, not entirely sure she’d heard him correctly.

“You’re still going by Blake?” she asked.

Thor sighed, and sounded almost pained about it.  “That’s the name on all my stuff.  Getting it all changed is gonna be hell.”

Darcy believed it, and even managed not to laugh as they reached their table.  She smiled up at the host as he pulled her chair out for her, and only noticed as he began to walk away that he’d only left them with two menus.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #6: Burnt Coffee

Darcy was already gone by the time Loki finally bothered to leave his dressing room.  How dare that woman lecture him about his own show?  If not for her contract, he would have fired her on the spot.  He still wanted to, contract be damned.  The city was full of women who could take her spot, and who would be too grateful for it to ever shout at him like that.  They sure as hell wouldn’t send his brother after him either.

But then he’d have to go dark, and deal with Stark and all the fallout that followed, and maybe it wasn’t worth it.  Not that inconvenience to his future self had ever stopped him from doing something stupid before.

Loki quickly checked on their birds and made sure the fish were turned off before leaving.  He didn’t know where he was going to go, but he didn’t want to go home.  He was too angry and antsy to go sit in front of the TV drinking himself blind until 2am.  Instead, he got into his car and just started driving.  He didn’t know where he was going to go.  He just wanted to drive.  He cruised along the streets, heading farther and farther away from the Strip with each minute.  Eventually, he found himself in an unfamiliar part of town, with large swathes of empty lots between developments.  Part of him wanted to just keep driving toward the mountains and never turn back.  He could find some side road that led off into the desert and just go until the car stopped.  The only thing that kept him from following through was knowing he wouldn’t get the satisfaction of telling Darcy he would not be renewing her contract.

When he found himself so turned around and lost in the nightmarish suburban sprawl, Loki pulled out his phone and told it to find home.  By the time he made it back onto Sunset, his anger had subsided to a low, but constant irritation that still left him with too much energy to want to go home.  He blew right past his turn and kept going until he reached the airport, turning to find one of the shitty little diners Americans liked to keep open all day and night.  He didn’t care which one he found first, as long as it wasn’t an IHOP.  They were all the same thing at the end of the day; greasy, cardboard food and burnt coffee, but every time he went to an IHOP it was with Darcy, and things between them always got worse when he went there.  What he found instead was a Denny’s, and that was good enough.  Loki pulled into the first empty space and walked into the disgusting grey and cream dining room, wondering what he was doing with his life.  Getting no answers from the unguarded register, Loki turned and strode through the empty restaurant, claiming the booth in the corner for himself.  Looking out over the empty parking lot, he realised he had come very close to doing something he had promised several people he would never do again. 

But he had never been very good at keeping promises either.

Still unsure what he was doing, Loki pulled out his phone and stared at it while a waitress wordlessly dropped off a menu and a cup of coffee at his table.  Loki ignored her, idly scrolling through his meagre contact list for any form of distraction.  He was not going to call Darcy.  There was a conversation between them that needed to be held, and he was not prepared for that conversation.  He still had not bothered to break up with Fandral, but somehow texting him at eleven o’clock at night felt like inviting disaster.

Sighing quietly to himself, he tapped on Thor’s name, thumb hovering over his keyboard as he tried to figure out what in the hell he was trying to do.  Finally, he tapped out a quick message and stabbed the send button before he could take it back.

I’m not ok

He stared at his phone, hoping Thor was asleep.  Hoping his text would be missed until morning, giving him time to figure out what to do.  Apparently, Darcy’s worry had spread, because Thor answered almost immediately.

Where?

Loki could still ignore him.  He could left Thor on read, and figure things out for himself.  But then Future Him would have to deal with it, and he already knew Future Him did not have that kind of patience.  Not with Thor, nor with his present self.

Dennys by the airport

He stared at his phone a while longer, but Thor didn’t respond again.  Regretting every choice he’d ever made, Loki picked up his menu and started looking for a reason to stick around.  Their menu was just as unappealing as it always was, but for some reason he kept coming back to these places.  Not particularly in the mood for powdered eggs or pancakes that came out of a box, he just ordered from the appetisers and waited for the inevitable.  By the time Thor arrived, Loki had gone through several cups of awful coffee and all of the garlic bread he’d been brought.  He looked up at Thor, ignoring the way he sighed as he sat down across the table.

“There are three Denny’s by the airport,” Thor said.

Loki shrugged, barely looking up at him.  “I didn’t know that,” he said.  He poked a mozzarella stick into a bowl of questionable sauce and ate it for something to do.

For a long moment, the two of them sat in silence while Loki tried to figure out why he had even texted Thor at all in the first place.  Loki picked at his appetiser plate and drank his coffee, while Thor sat across the table and watched him.  Whatever Thor might have been getting out of it, he wasn’t letting any of it show.

“What’s going on?” Thor asked suddenly.

Loki shrugged.  “I just need a vacation,” he said, knowing that wasn’t the problem at all.

“So take one,” Thor said.

Loki shrugged again, wishing Thor would just leave now that he’d seen him alive and well.  “I’ve got one scheduled after Christmas,” he said.

“Have you thought about going back home?” asked Thor.

“No,” Loki said, snorting. 

“Not for a vacation,” Thor said, looking across the table like he was afraid Loki was going to get up and run away.  “I mean for good.”

Loki almost wanted to laugh.  “I’ve got a year and a half left on my contract.  I’m sure if I tried to do anything to change that, I’d find my visa suddenly has problems and I’d never be allowed back.”

He looked up at Thor and wished he hadn’t.  The look on his brother’s face, sad and hurt and confused all at once, as if it was Loki’s fault for not being okay.

“Would that be such a bad thing?” Thor asked.

“I’m not going home,” Loki said.

To his surprise, Thor nodded slowly.

“When was the last time you talked to mum?” he asked.

Loki didn’t want to talk about Frigga.  He didn’t want to talk about anything having to do with home.

“A few weeks ago,” he said.  “Dad’s pissed, but fuck him.  He can die mad.”

“Loki,” Thor scolded.

Loki shrugged again, and Thor sighed again, and they both fell back into an uneasy silence.  When Thor reached across the table for one of Loki’s mozzarella sticks, Loki pulled the sauce away.  It was vile, but it was his.  Thor couldn’t have any.  Apparently not in the mood to fight it, Thor let him keep it.  He bit off half of the stodgy fried cheese stick and turned to look out at the intersection.  After a moment, he turned to look directly at Loki.

“Why are you screwing my friends again?” he asked suddenly.  “Darcy wasn’t enough?  You’re going to work through all of them?”

Despite everything, Loki couldn’t help but laugh.  He had not come to America with the express goal of seeking out Thor’s friends specifically, but that was exactly what had happened all the same.

“It’s just so easy to wind you up that way,” he said.

“Don’t date my friends,” Thor said.  “Don’t have sex with them.  Don’t even talk to them.  Stay away from my friends.”

“I thought he wasn’t your friend anymore,” Loki said, swishing around his nearly-empty coffee.  “By your own tantrum, he’s no longer off limits anyway.”

“That’s not the point,” Thor said.  “I hated it when you did this when we were kids.  I hate it now.”

Loki shrugged.  “Fine.  I can’t stand him and was going to break up with him anyway,” he said.  He look up at Thor, making sure to meet him in the eye as he picked up his phone from the table.  “I’ll do it now.”

“This is why I hate it,” Thor said, reaching over the table for the phone.

Loki held it under the table, away from Thor’s reach and found Fandral’s entry in his phone.  It was so stupid.  He didn’t know why he was even doing any of it, even as he tapped out a quick, heartless text.  It was terribly cruel, and even he knew sending it would be a step too far.  Still, he held it up, finger over the send button for Thor to see.  He expected Thor to snatch the phone away, but he sat back instead, frowning angrily.

“This is why people don’t like being around you,” Thor said.

Loki had not intended to send the text, but Thor’s words cut through any foolish playfulness he might have felt and brought back all of the anger and irritation from earlier in the night.  Glaring straight at Thor, no longer playing, Loki tapped his finger against the screen and sent the text.

“That was heartless, even for you,” Thor said.

Loki shrugged as he locked his phone.  He tossed it down onto the table, still looking straight at Thor.

“Nobody likes me anyway, so why bother?” he asked.

He finally broke eye contact to pick up the last mozzarella stick.  He wasn’t hungry, and he didn’t like them, but he ate it all the same.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Thor said.

“Sure you did.”  Loki didn’t look back up at Thor, but knew he was probably squirming in his seat all the same.  “You wouldn’t have said it if you hadn’t meant it.”

There was another tense silence between them while Loki tried to decide whether he should finally go home or find somewhere else to hide out.

“Maybe mum’s right,” Thor said.  “If you’re this bad, you should go home.”

Loki took a deep breath, because shouting in a Denny’s in the middle of the night was not a good look. 

“Absolutely not,” he said.

“Are you happy here?” Thor asked.

Loki snorted.  “No.”

“Then you should go home,” Thor said.

“I won’t be happy there either,” Loki said.

He’d left in the throes of a manic fit, and now the consequences of leaving would be entirely too great.  He knew he had a good thing going, even if he had to force himself to see it.  But he didn’t want to be out in the middle of the desert any more than he wanted to go back home.  He didn’t want to be anywhere, and he didn’t know what to do about it.

“I never intended to follow you,” he admitted, still unable to look back up at Thor.  “It just kind of happened.”

“Then what did you intend?” asked Thor.

“I don’t know,” Loki said.  “Cyberbully you until you got fed up enough to come back and take some attention off of me.”

“Loki, you need help,” Thor said.

Loki clenched his fist, barely able to stop himself from slamming it against the table.  “I need to be left alone,” he said.

He looked up at Thor, and that sad and disappointed look on his face.  He hated it.

“I don’t think I trust you to be alone right now,” Thor said.

“What the fuck do you care?” asked Loki, more bitter and resentful than he had expected.  “You left.  You got out.  If you cared, you wouldn’t have left me alone with them.”

He got up and pulled out his wallet, not wanting to wait for the bill to come.  But he’d more or less figured out the local currency, and threw a $20 down on the table to cover both the bill and the tip Americans insisted was required.

“Where are you going?” Thor asked, getting up as well.

Loki shrugged and slid his wallet back into his pocket.  Spotting his phone still on the table, Loki reached over to pick it up.

“If we were anywhere else I’d go find a bridge to jump off of, but I suppose I’ll have to find some other way to occupy my time,” he said, already heading toward the door.

“Loki!” Thor said.  He caught up with him and grabbed him hard by the arm.  “I don’t know if you’re joking, and I don’t care.”

“Get off me,” Loki said, shaking him off.  “I’m going home.  Leave me alone.”

Rather than grab him again, Thor stepped around him, blocking his path to the door.

“No.  You’re not,” Thor said, holding out an arm to keep Loki from stepping past.  “Not alone, anyway.”

The waitress was watching them from a few steps away, and not wanting to get banned from somewhere else, Loki sighed deeply. 

“Fine,” he said.  “But I’m not leaving my car here.”

“I’ll follow you,” Thor said.

Knowing Thor would do exactly that regardless, Loki nodded.  He held his arms out, waiting for Thor to step aside.  When he finally did, Loki walked past him, already fishing his keys out from his pocket.  Thor said nothing as they walked across the parking lot, Thor’s enormous truck parked next to Loki’s BMW.  Without so much as a glance toward Thor, Loki got into his car and started the engine, leaving before Thor was even settled into his truck.  With the roads empty, Thor quickly caught up, and any hopes of losing him evaporated.  Loki drove home, because that’s what he said he was going to do, hoping to get into the door and pass out quickly without having to deal with Thor hovering over him.

He was not anticipating the bright red Subaru waiting for him on the side of the road, just outside the complex’s gate.  This was his fault.  He’d done it to himself, and this was all he deserved.  Ignoring it for the moment, Loki keyed in the code for the gate and did nothing about the trail of tailgaters who followed him.  While he had his own dedicated spot, the other two had to go find somewhere, giving Loki time to get his key into the front door before the ambush came.

“So that’s it?” Fandral asked as he strode down the path toward Loki.

Loki took a deep breath as he opened the door.  “I didn’t mean to do it that way, but I meant what I said,” he said before stepping inside.

“Are you serious?” Fandral asked, not quite loud enough to be properly shouting.  He stood outside, watching as Thor followed Loki in, and threw his arms into the air.  “Did you know about this?”

Thor stopped to look at him.  “Not until it happened,” he said.

“Well, your stuff’s here, by the way!” Fandral said, waving his arm toward Loki’s apartment.  “He probably doesn’t want it any more than we did!”

Already bored with all of it, Loki pushed back toward Thor and leaned forward enough to make sure Fandral could not possibly misunderstand him.

“Leave before someone calls the cops,” he said.

He closed the door on Fandral’s gaping face, quickly locking it against any further intrusion.  Suddenly exhausted, he turned away from the door and to Thor standing in the kitchen.

“So this is your idea of doing okay?” Thor asked.

Loki took a very deep breath.  “Shut the fuck up,” he said, already walking toward his bedroom.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #5: What’s His Name

Something wasn’t right, and Darcy knew it.  She found her thoughts occupied entirely by Loki as she drove home, eager to make dinner and relax for the rest of the night.  He’d given her most of the next day off, but she wondered how much that was about them not really getting a day off that week, and how much was about Loki himself just not wanting to bother.  When they’d first met, he’d let slip a little bit about himself, and for a while after Darcy had believed it had been some subtle form of manipulation to get her to feel sorry for him, and excuse his shitty behaviour.

But then she’d caught him sleeping at the theatre, and wondered how often that was happening.  She’d left him behind again, assuming he’d make his way home.  But as she made her own way home, she wasn’t so sure.  He also had some mysterious new boyfriend she’d never heard about, and wondered what else was going on when they weren’t at work; what other dangerous and impulsive choices he was making.  Dangerous and impulsive choices that seemed entirely too familiar.

He was doing it again; blurring the lines between their professional and personal relationships, and as much as she wanted to be mad about it, this time she didn’t feel like it was intentional.  It felt different this time.  Like something worth worrying over.  Worse, it made her wonder how much had actually been intentional when she was at the centre of too many dangerous and impulsive decisions.  She’d rejected every one of his attempts to apologise, not wanting to be manipulated again, but now she found herself once again wondering if what she remembered happening was what had actually happened.

Either way, she felt bad for the other guy.

She regretted deleting Don’s—or Thor’s; whatever—number from her phone.  As far as Darcy knew, Loki’s brother was one of only three people in the entire valley he spoke to outside of the casino.  And that number had only grown to three a few hours earlier.  Loki never spoke of friends, or going out.  He was deeply private, and now Darcy wondered how much of that came from not wanting to tell people his business, or whether he just straight up didn’t have any business to talk about.

Loki occupied her brain her entire way home, as she thought herself in circles until she was dizzy.  More than once, she wondered if she’d actually been the bad guy in the end.  Even as she pulled into her parking space, Darcy couldn’t help but think that setting the boundaries she had might have done more harm than good.

As she let herself into her apartment, Darcy pulled her phone from her bag and checked the time.  It was still early enough for reasonable people to be awake, so she sent off a text, asking for what’s his name’s number.  A few minutes later, Jane sent it over, and Darcy broke up the monotony of cooking dinner by texting back and forth with her, complaining about spending almost twelve hours with Loki on her day off.  Once she had her chicken in the oven, and the rice cooker going, Darcy took a deep, calming breath and clicked on the number Jane had sent over.  The phone rang out, and for a moment Darcy thought she might be able to avoid an awkward conversation and just leave a message, until Thor finally picked up.

“Hello?” Thor asked, sounding more than a little confused.

“Hey, it’s me.  Darcy,” she said, heading out to the living room.

“Darcy!” Thor shouted down the line.  “Hello!  It’s been a while.  What’s going on?”

He sounded entirely too happy to hear from her.  It wasn’t a comfortable feeling.

“Your brother,” she said, hating to bring his mood down as well. 

She could hear Thor sigh down the line.  “What’s he done now?” he asked.

Darcy did not want to be having this conversation.  “I caught him sleeping at the theatre this morning.  I don’t know how often that’s been happening,” she said, hating everything.  “He’s let some things slip before, and I don’t know.  You might want to check up on him to make sure he’s okay.”

“Why aren’t you there with him now?” Thor asked.  Darcy hoped she was imagining it, but she thought he sounded annoyed that he was being asked.

“Because I just got home from driving him to LA to pick up his birds,” Darcy said, trying very hard not to sound annoyed back.  “Look.  I’m worried about him, okay?  But I cannot be the keeper of his wellbeing.  I’m not asking you to be either, but you know him better than I do.”

At least, she assumed he did, right up until she remembered his own little disappearing act.  Then, she regretted saying anything at all.

“I’m sorry.  You’re right,” Thor said.  He sighed again, and Darcy wondered if this had been the right choice, and began second guessing herself all over again.  “I’ll go over there soon and see that he’s well.”

Darcy nodded, trying to feel good about this.  “Thank you,” she said.  “Sorry that this is the reason I’ve finally called you.”

Thor laughed, utterly without humour.  “Perhaps next time it can be under better circumstances,” he said.

“Yeah,” Darcy agreed.  “I have to go.  Good luck.  Bye.”

She listened to Thor snort and hung up the phone, feeling like she had made the wrong choice.  Like she should have stuck around, or even brought Loki home with her.  But that would have been an even bigger disaster, and she knew it.  They’d spent all day together, ostensibly on work things, but it was still all day in a car avoiding conversation.

But maybe it was nothing.  Maybe he was just stressed out over the trip to LA, and the safety of his birds, and would start feeling better now that everything was taken care of and sorted.

Or maybe things were about to get a whole lot worse.

She didn’t hear back from Thor after their awkward conversation, and had forgotten all about by the time she showed up to the theatre the next evening.  She let herself in from the parking lot, finding the green room already lit up and the fish fed.  Curious to go see the new birds now that they’d settled in, Darcy made her way backstage, only to be cut off by Loki storming out of his dressing room.

“What the hell are you doing, sending my brother to my house last night?” Loki asked.

While she was glad Thor had checked up on him, she hadn’t expected it to happen immediately.

“I didn’t send him to your house,” she said, trying to keep her voice as even as possible.  “I asked him to check on you.  I thought he’d call or something.”

She tried to move around Loki to get to her own dressing room, but somehow his skinny ass managed to take up the entire doorway.

“What the hell possessed you to do it at all?” Loki asked, verging on shouting.

Darcy took a deep breath.  “I was worried about you,” she said, trying to remain calm.

“Don’t be.  I don’t need it,” Loki said.

“You’ve been sleeping here!  That’s kind of worrying,” Darcy said.

“Well, it’s none of your fucking concern!” Loki shouted, turning away.

He slammed the door to his dressing room, leaving Darcy standing alone in the narrow hall.  Behind the door, she could hear him continuing to shout, and even though he wasn’t speaking English, she knew Loki was shouting about her.  She breathed deeply, staying exactly where she was while she resisted the urge to turn around and walk out.  After a few long moments, she finally walked into her own dressing room, closing the door to make sure she didn’t have to put up with anyone else’s bullshit.  Once inside, she turned on the radio on the counter and turned up the volume to drown out the angry noises from next door.

She stayed in her dressing room until her call time, and even then took her time getting to her mark.  She was a bit late getting where she needed to be, and took her spot halfway through Loki’s juggling routine.  He’d taken his anger onto the stage with him, and she watched as he skipped jokes and nearly fumbled the part where the three green balls he started with changed colour.  His mood set the tone for the entire rest of the show, and she was already over it by the time they got to their box jumper.  It was the longest 90 minutes of her life.

By the time they finished, Darcy was furious with him.  Nothing had gone wrong, but if he’d paid any less attention to what he was doing, it would have.  They met the audience, shook hands and smiled, and as soon as they were back in the green room, Darcy let it all drop.

“Don’t you ever fucking take that energy out there again,” she said, pulling off her shoes so she could properly chase after him.

“It’s my show.  I’ll do what I want,” Loki said, outpacing her as he strode back to his dressing room.

“And if you get fired, I lose my job too!” Darcy said.

She didn’t care about boundaries anymore, and followed him right into his dressing room before he could close the door.

“Get out,” Loki said, trying to shove her back to the hall.

“No.  Not until you tell me what the hell your problem was tonight,” Darcy said, fighting back.

She braced herself against the door frame, holding her shoes in one hand as she glared up at him.

“My problem is you,” Loki said.  “You had no right!”

“Look, I’m sorry your brother showed up.  But I didn’t tell him to do that,” Darcy said.

“You called him!” Loki shouted.  “What the hell did you think he was going to do?”

Darcy shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Call you and make sure you got home okay?  I’m not fucking psychic!”

She wasn’t surprised calling Thor had been the wrong choice.  But she hadn’t expected it to be quite this wrong.

“It is none of your fucking business.  Don’t ever do it again,” Loki said.

He shoved her back into the hall and slammed the door between them.  Darcy wanted to scream at him through the door. She wanted to pick up her phone and scream at his stupid brother for whatever had happened the night before.  

She’d dared to think maybe whatever this uncomfortable relationship between the two of them was, it was starting to settle into something vaguely functional.  Apparently, she was wrong.  With nothing else to do, she retreated back to her own dressing room and changed as quickly as she could, not even bothering to take off her makeup.  She got out of there in just a few short minutes, and didn’t stick around to see what Loki was going to do.  If he wanted to sleep in the green room, that was fine.  She didn’t care anymore.

She went straight home, only then realising Loki had never told her what time he wanted her at the office the next morning. She wasn’t sure if she should call him to make sure he wanted her there at all, or just blow him off to make a point.  She wanted to be professional about it, but it was hard when he absolutely refused to be professional about anything.  Too angry and upset to cook anything for herself once she got home, Darcy pulled the shoebox full of menus from on top of her fridge and picked one out at random.  Italian sounded perfect, so she ordered too much and waited for it to arrive.  When the 19 year old delivery boy knocked on her door, Darcy traded her food for more cash than was strictly necessary and took it all back with her to the bathroom, intending to eat pasta in the bath while watching something on her laptop.  

In a lot of ways, her life hadn’t changed much with her decision to drop out of school.  She’d traded one constant source of stress for another, and spent much of her free time doing exactly what she’d always done, watching TV and occasionally playing video games.  Her Mondays had been the only significant change.  She only got the first one of each month off, and she was always so tired from the show that finding the energy to go out to Denny & Lee was impossible.  She understood now why everyone who ever got their foot in the door disappeared from their little group.  It wasn’t because they were too good for anything; they were too damn tired.  And if they were lucky, they didn’t work for a fucking maniac.

She regretting arguing with Loki like she had, but she didn’t know what else to do when he started shouting like that.  She knew Stark would hear about the show going south, and that was one more thing she didn’t want to deal with.  Patching things up with him was another thorn in Darcy’s side she didn’t know what to do with, but he always seemed more pissed off at Loki anyway, so she let it be.

With her bath water running and her laptop perched on the counter, Darcy got into the tub, content to just relax for a few long minutes before doing anything else.  

 

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #4: Quarantine

The green room was no longer the empty concrete box with a fish tank and an old sofa it had been when Loki was handed the keys.  He’d had the entire thing redone, with dark carpet, and green and charcoal chequered walls, upon which various vintage playbills and shelves full of unused props had been hung.  The thrift shop sofa had been replaced with one long enough for Loki to comfortably nap on, and came with two matching easy chairs, which had all been arranged neatly around a low table over in the far corner.  Without windows, the whole thing felt a bit like a cave, but it was nothing a few strategically placed LED strips along the edges of the ceiling didn’t fix.

Across the opposite wall from the sofa, Loki had brought in a small entertainment cabinet, housing a new flat screen TV and a decent little sound system, all hooked up to a PlayStation console.  It all sat quietly though, the only sound in the room coming from the hum of the fish tank that had got a makeover of its very own, decorated with pirate ships and a skull that blew bubbles from its eyes.  They had enough fish in the tank that each night used a different set, caught at random and kept in their bowl just long enough for their brief appearance on stage.  Stark had wanted the fish to be kept in the same concrete room Howard was kept in, fearing the safety of the new carpet, but Loki didn’t want to have to buy new fish each week because Howard’s concrete room lacked the outlets needed to maintain the water at safe levels.

Loki didn’t like Howard in the concrete room either, but had been told nothing could be done until spring.  So the duck sat in his concrete room, locked away until a better space could be made for him.

With Darcy gone, and the stage crew already closed down for the night, Loki was the only one left at the theatre.  Home was a fifteen minute drive away, but just the thought of getting up to make that drive was exhausting.  Even at ten o’clock at night, Loki couldn’t stand the traffic, and with people occasionally driving in from the mountains, snow still piled on top of their cars, Loki wanted to be on the roads as little as possible.  He had intended to wait around until just before midnight, when traffic from the Key Largo was out of the way, before heading back out to Henderson.  Instead, he was jerked violently awake by the sound of the green room door slamming shut.  He sat up, trying to twist around to see who had come in, surprised to find Darcy standing by the outer door wearing her university hoodie and holding onto a cup of coffee.

“Oh my god, did you sleep here?” she asked.

Loki blinked at her, and then turned to see the clock above the TV, reading ten minutes to eight.

“I didn’t mean to,” he said collapsing back into the sofa.

He dragged his hands over his face, growling and grumbling to himself as he struggled to wake up.

“Do you want to get some breakfast before we hit the road?” Darcy asked.

Loki responded with a low grumble, not even managing to form words.

“What?” Darcy asked.  “Words, please.”

“Breakfast,” Loki said.

He wasn’t really in the mood for breakfast, but he had a feeling there wouldn’t be anywhere else to stop before they hit LA.

“Okay.  Well, go get dressed.  Unless you want to go in that,” Darcy said, sitting down in one of the chairs to wait for him.

Eight o’clock was too early.  His entire ability to sleep properly was getting turned around, and he’d either want to sleep two hours a night, or twelve.  Forcing himself to get moving, Loki hauled himself to his feet and trudged back to his dressing room, which he had put zero effort at all into decorating.  He quickly changed, finding a clean pair of jeans and a T-shirt he kept around for various odd occasions, and pulled his hair back into a tail to get it out of his face.  He had forgotten to wash his face the night before, so he made quick work of scrubbing off the makeup he had accidentally slept in, and called it good enough.  

He grabbed his jacket on his way out and tossed his keys to Darcy as he made his way over to the small cabinet where his kept all of his important documents.

“Am I driving?” Darcy asked, looking down at them.

“You’re driving to breakfast,” Loki said, snatching out the folder he’d need.

Nodding, Darcy quickly turned off the fish so they could get some rest and followed Loki out to his car.  It was odd being a passenger in his own car, and he wasn’t sure how much he trusted Darcy not to drive them into the side of a bus, but he was too tired to want to get behind the wheel just yet.  He didn’t really care where they went, and didn’t pay much attention until Darcy turned off Flamingo, taking him somewhere she’d taken him before.  The IHOP around the corner from her old apartment would not have been Loki’s first choice, but he hadn’t given her any options, and it was better than the garbage they’d get from somewhere like McDonalds.

Sitting in the bland little restaurant with its bland food and bland coffee, Loki forced himself to eat something, despite not being terribly hungry.  Bacon and eggs and French toast made for a solid distraction, if nothing else, while he drank too much coffee and tried to wake up.  Neither said much as they sat in the small booth, Darcy seeming to be equally annoyed with the early hour as she picked at her pancakes.  Eventually, they ate their breakfast and drank their coffee, and Loki paid their bill, triple checking the amount he left behind for the tip.

“Why don’t you navigate,” Loki said, holding his hand out for his keys as they approached the car.  “And then I can sit in the back coming home.”

Darcy nodded and handed him his keys back.  “Sounds good.”

They got settled in the car, with Darcy’s infuriatingly vague navigation consistently solely of instructions to get onto the Fifteen and head south.  Loki had at least worked out the horrible mess of highways that tangled through Las Vegas, so it wasn’t the worst set of directions she’d ever given him, but it was close.  Following Darcy’s rules of the driver getting to pick the music, Loki put on the loudest playlist he had on his phone, hoping to wake up a bit more.

The drive itself was perhaps the worst Loki had ever taken.  Miles and endless miles of open, barren desert, occasionally broken up by the sort of mountains that seemed ancient, eroded by millions of years of harsh climate, brown and crumbling and nearly rotten beneath their snowy caps.  They drove over dry rivers and across ancient lake beds, travelling further and further into an endless desert.  Small towns passed by so quickly, Loki barely had a chance to notice them before they were gone again, and still they drove on.  When Darcy had said it would take them all day, Loki had expected much of that estimate to include getting through LA traffic, but he realised as he drove past an eternity of nothing that she might have meant the drive itself took that long.  It wasn’t the open, untamed nature of it that slowly got into Loki’s head as the landscape continued to stay the same.  It was the scale.  At points, he could see almost clear to the horizon without seeing a single peak in the distance; nothing but flat, empty, dead land.

“How old is this place?” he asked, beginning to worry that they might have missed an exist or gone the wrong direction.

“The towns?” Darcy asked.

“The land,” said Loki.

“Oh.”  Darcy shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Couple billion years, probably.  Old enough that it makes the Grand Canyon look new, and that’s millions of years old.”

Loki did not have the mental capacity to comprehend billions, but he believed her all the same.  He’d heard stories about people losing time and thinking they’d been abducted by aliens in this part of the world, and he understood it now that he was there.  He felt at once as if he’d been driving all day, and yet was surprised that two hours had already passed.

As they neared a small town called Barstow, Darcy suggested they pull off.  The place sounded familiar for reasons Loki couldn’t quite work out, conjuring only thoughts of bats and insanity.  According to Darcy, it was the halfway point to LA, and a good place to find a service station and stretch their legs.  Loki understood why Darcy had suggested breakfast before they left, because he suspected he would have been starving by the time they made it even this far.

While Darcy ran off to the bathroom, Loki topped off the tank and went inside to find snacks all the same.  He knew deep in his gut that they wouldn’t want to, nor have time to stop for a meal once they hit LA, and wouldn’t be able to stop at all on the way back.  When Darcy returned to the car, Loki handed her a bottle of Coke and a bag of Doritos.

“You’ve lived out here your entire life?” he asked.

Darcy nodded.  “Yeah,” she said.  “You get used to it.  Or go insane, I guess.  Maybe both.”

Feeling like that statement summed up his entire experience in the desert so far, Loki pulled out of the parking lot and let Darcy direct him back to the highway.  They travelled back into the endless expanse, passing through a few other small cities and towns, before coming to a low mountain range that seemed considerably newer than the terrain around it, still holding its sharp peaks and angled slopes.  The highway wound right through them, coming out the other side into an area that had been much more successfully settled.  That was when Darcy sighed, and Loki knew things were going to get difficult.

“Is this LA?” Loki asked.

“No, but kinda?” Darcy said.

That only meant they weren’t in LA yet.  They were nowhere near they needed to be, but it was as though they had found themselves in an entirely new world.  Just as the desert had gone on forever, so too did this new civilisation they had found.  

Loki had thought Las Vegas was huge.  Las Vegas was a tiny scratch on the map compared to the urban nightmare they had found themselves in.  Traffic picked up as they headed further west, slowing them down and eating into their time.  Loki had expected to get to the centre shortly after noon, but noon came and went, and Darcy was still directing him through a maze of junctions and highways.

“The carpool lane’s a trap.  Don’t use it,” Darcy said, holding her hand out toward him as Loki checked to see if it would be safe to merge.

“What?” he asked.

“It’s not worth it.  You get stuck, and then you get a ticket if you try to get out of it,” Darcy said.  “I’ve got like, three of them for that.”

Loki wasn’t sure what he hated more; the traffic they were stuck in, or the fact that she seemed so confident in the nonsense she was saying.  Choosing to trust her, Loki stayed where he was and continued to crawl through the dense afternoon traffic.

Somehow, despite everything, they found their way to the address Loki had been given.  It was a squat little tan building on a surprisingly quiet street, away from the hustle and bustle they had driven through to get there.  Darcy went in with him, standing back while he spoke to the woman at the desk, showing her his paperwork and everything else.  With everything squared away, Loki was led back through a door to a corridor that smelled like bleach and dog piss.  Somewhere in the distance, dogs yelped and whined, looking for attention that nobody was giving them.  Loki wasn’t there for the dogs though.  He was led to a different room, where a tall cage rattled and squawked with a sudden flurry of excitement.

“We get a lot of birds in here, but I’ve never seen ravens before,” the woman said, stepping aside to give Loki room to get close to his birds.

“Hey,” he said calmly, trying to get his attention.  “Hush.  None of that.”

He turned back to the woman, smirking at the look on her face.  “They don’t speak English.”

He spent a few more moments trying to get their attention through the bars, but the birds were too agitated to want to do anything other than scream their frustrations at him.  Loki could sympathise.

“They should have come with their own cage,” Loki said, turning back to the woman.

For a moment, she seemed confused.  Then she nodded and stepped back toward the door.  “Let me go check,” she said.

She left him alone with his birds, giving him a little extra time to calm them down.  He poked one of his knuckles through the bars, letting one of them nip at him with its beak, while the other continued to scream and squawk.  When the woman came back, it was with a cage that was not Loki’s, but he was growing too stressed to say anything about it.  With her help, he got both birds loaded into the cage, avoiding losing any fingers or eyes in the process.  Once they were all locked safely away, Loki picked up the cage and sighed.

“This is gonna suck,” he said, not even a little bit ready for what was coming next.

“How far are you going?” the woman asked, opening the door and stepping out of the way to let Loki through.

“We are driving to Las Vegas,” he said.

She at least looked genuine in her sympathy.  “Oh god.  I’m surprised you didn’t fly, but I guess it probably would have been just as much of a hassle,” she said.  “It’s cheaper to drive, at least.”

“That’s exactly what my assistant said,” Loki said.  Bitterly, he knew she was right.  Trying to get birds onto an hour-long flight would have been just as difficult as stuffing them into the back of the car.

He took his birds out to the the front desk, nodding toward the door when he saw Darcy.

“Thank you, again,” Loki said to the woman as he and Darcy made their way out.

Darcy held open doors and unlocked the car for Loki, standing aside to give him room to load the birds into his back seat. The cage fit, but it took a bit of doing to get it through the door.  Once inside, he got it settled on the seat, and secured it with the seat belt just to be sure.

“I’ve never seen one up close before.  They’re huge,” Darcy said, watching over his shoulder as he closed the door.

Loki took a moment to just breathe, not looking forward to repeating that drive all over again.  But with Darcy driving back, Loki thought he might at least be able to calm down a little bit.

“Let’s just hope they get along with Howard,” Loki said, walking around to the other side to get into the back with his birds. “They’re assholes, so they probably won’t.”

He could have ridden in the front, and everything would have probably been fine.  But he wanted to keep an eye on them during the long drive back through the desert.  They squawked and croaked and flapped around in their small space, trying to get comfortable around one another.  He wished he’d made it home the night before, and had been able to grab a blanket to put over their cage.  But they’d have to make do.  Instead, he pulled off his jacket and draped it over the top of the cage, at least blocking their view through the window.

As Darcy drove, putting on music that wasn’t quite as aggressive or loud as Loki’s had been, he settled back into his seat and watched the city around them.  Las Vegas had overwhelmed him when he’d first arrived to the Valley.  Los Angeles terrified him, and he never wanted to go back.

He was soon distracted by his phone chiming a text message, and for a moment was almost glad for it.  Pulling his phone from his pocket, he looked at the screen and felt himself die just a little more inside.

“Fuck,” he said as he tried to figure out how to respond to the next in what had been a string of needy requests.

“What’s that?” Darcy asked, glancing back at him through the mirror.  “Something bad?”

“No.  Yes,” Loki muttered, wondering if he could get away with ignoring the message for a while.  “It’s a guy I’ve been seeing.  I don’t like him.  I’m going to break up with him.”

Darcy made a surprised little noise.  “Over text?  Wow, harsh.”

Loki sighed and decided to ignore the text.  “No, I’ll do it in person.  I’m not that horrible.”

“I didn’t even know you were seeing anyone,” Darcy said.  She sure sounded surprised.  “When did that happen?”

Loki didn’t know.  He barely cared.  “About a month ago.  He was one of Thor’s friends, and he stopped by to drop off some things.”

Darcy made a noise like she was stumbling over her words.  “You’re dating one of your brother’s friends?” she asked.

“I am an impulsive man,” Loki said, burying his face in his hands.  “I make bad choices.  This is not new information.”

She laughed at him, and Loki couldn’t help but feel he deserved it.  It had been a terribly stupid choice and now he was being suffocated.

They eventually made it out of the oppressive urban sprawl, and over the mountains back into the desert.  By the time they reached Barstow, the sun was beginning to set, casting the highway into an eerie twilight that seemed to only make everything seem even bigger.

“If you see anything weird out the window, don’t look at it,” Darcy said they drove along an endless flat terrain.

“What?” Loki looked out the window, not sure what he wasn’t supposed to look at.

“Skinwalkers,” she said.  “Sometimes you’ll see them standing on the side of the road, or running alongside the car.  Don’t look at them.”

Loki could not tell if she was being serious or not.  “What?” he asked again.  “That’s not real.  Is that real?”

“I think they’re real,” Darcy said.

Loki found himself unable to tear his gaze from the window, watching the desert around them grow darker and darker by the minute.  Eventually, they were engulfed in darkness, with only their headlamps, and the headlamps of oncoming traffic to light the way.  If there were any skinwalkers outside, Loki didn’t see them, and he found himself oddly grateful for it.

“Oh, look.  You can see the Luxor from here,” Darcy said suddenly.

Loki leaned forward, trying to see between the front seats, but he saw nothing.  “Where?” he asked.

“You can’t see if it you look toward Vegas,” Darcy said.  “Look out that way, and you’ll see it out of the corner of your eye.”

She pointed over the front of the car toward the right fender, and for whatever reason Loki did as she said.  At first, he thought she was just pranking him again, but a moment later he could see the huge tower of light just out of the left corner of his light.  When Loki looked directly at it again, it was gone.

“How does that work?” he asked, looking away again.  Sure enough, the light popped back into view.

“I don’t know, but it’s neat,” Darcy said.

Loki hummed to himself and settled back in his seat.

Between traffic in LA, and traffic getting back in Las Vegas, it was nearly eight o’clock by the time they finally pulled into the parking lot outside the Key Largo.  While Loki carefully got his birds out of the back seat, Darcy rushed ahead to unlock everything and prop doors open so he wouldn’t have to fuss.  Getting the birds out, Loki took them back to their new home, ignoring their increasing protests at being left in the tiny cage together.

“Howard, I’m afraid you’ve got new roommates, and they’re mean,” Loki said, carrying the cage into Howard’s little concrete room.

The ravens had their own cage all set up and ready to go, floor to ceiling and taking up an entire wall.  It would give them plenty of room to move around until better arrangements could be made.

Making sure the door was closed behind him, Loki carefully moved the birds from their small cage into the big one, making sure they were settled before leaving them alone.  When he returned from what had rapidly become the bird room, he found Darcy feeding the fish.

“Are you going home?” Loki asked, resisting the urge to sit down.  If he sat, he might fall asleep, and wind up spending another night in the green room.

“Yeah, I’m gonna sleep well tonight,” Darcy said, nodding.

She paused, looking at him oddly as he stood in the middle of the room.  He was tired of being in cars, and that fifteen minute drive home seemed so daunting because of it.

“You gonna get home okay?” she asked.

Loki nodded.  “Yeah.  Go home.  Don’t go to the office tomorrow.  I won’t be there.”

Darcy nodded, and hesitated briefly before turning to let herself out, leaving Loki alone in the green room again.  He thought about calling Thor and trying to beg a ride home so he didn’t have to drive.  Instead, he returned the text he’d been ignoring ever since LA, replying with a lame but honest excuse about wanting an early night.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #3: Sonic

They finished their fussing around just after six that evening, which gave Darcy time to run home and shower before heading over to the hotel.  The first thing she had done, once her bank account could support it, was move out of that tiny little studio in Paradise, and out to somewhere that traded a lack of sirens at night for losing the park and neighbourhood picnics during the summers.  The drive out to Spring Valley was a bit out of the way, but her neighbours didn’t come knocking on her door at all hours of the night asking for cigarettes she didn’t have, and it was still a straight shot down Flamingo to the hotel.

Having to get a card for a different grocery store had been the one part of the move that did make her irrationally angry, though.

She made her way to her apartment, not having to wrestle for space with everyone else parked in their assigned spot. Up the stairs, finding a flyer for some pop-up car wash stuck to her doorknob, along with a menu she didn’t recognise.  Darcy snatched both up and tossing aside the car wash flyer as she unlocked the door and let herself in.  It was no warmer inside than it had been outside, but she didn’t bother turning on the heat if she was only going to be home for a short while.  The menu, she dropped into the basket on on the counter, along with all the others she’d already collected for the area, and briefly considered finding a drink.  Instead, she walked back to her bedroom, tossing her bag down onto the bed as she passed on her way to the en suite.  She showered quickly, and changed into something clean and comfortable, waiting to do her makeup until she arrived at the hotel.  She’d bought her own collection of Ben Nye to experiment with, but never seemed to feel like using it once she’d found the right look.

For a moment, she debated making something quick to eat, but decided it would be quicker instead to pick up something on the way back into town.  They had both lost track of time while working the new routine, and skipping both lunch and dinner before the show seemed like death.  Fetching up her purse again, Darcy headed back out into growing evening chill, already missing summer.  She didn’t know what she was going to get for a snack, so she just got into her car and started driving back down Flamingo until something caught her eye.  Something turned out to be Sonic, and a small box of mozzarella sticks and an iced tea.  It wasn’t much, but it would be enough to get her through the show, before she could go home and eat a real meal. 

Rather than trying to force her way back onto Flamingo, Darcy crept along through connected parking lots until she got to a road with a street light, and pulled out onto it.  As she re-entered traffic, her phone started ringing from her bag.  She fished it out and put it on speaker, not even looking at the screen.

“Hello?” Darcy said, stuffing a mozzarella stick into her mouth.

“You sound busy,” her mom said.  “What are you doing?”

“Driving to work,” Darcy said.

She heard her mother sigh down the line as the light turned green.  “When are you going back to school and getting a real job?”

“Hey, this guy is paying me a lot of money to not go back to school,” Darcy said, pulling back onto Flamingo.

“And you spend it just as fast as you make it,” her mom said.  “No wonder you’re always broke.”

“I am not always broke,” Darcy said, trying to avoid letting her mother get her angry enough to crash into the growing traffic as she neared the Strip.

“Well, maybe not,” her mom said.

“I have a nice apartment in a nice neighbourhood,” Darcy said.  “How the hell is that always broke?”

She was letting her mother get to her, but she couldn’t help it.  The woman always knew exactly what to say to piss her off.

“You could spend your money on better things,” her mom said.  “Or save it.”

“I don’t want to hear this,” Darcy said.  “Because it’s bullshit.”

“Darcy,” her mom scolded.

Darcy ignored her as she rolled up to the long line waiting at the light outside of Caesar’s.  Instead of responding, she looked around at the intersection, starting to light up as darkness fell over the valley.

“Why’d you call me?” Darcy asked finally.

“I just wanted to talk.  You never call me,” her mom said.

“Because every time I do, you get mean,” Darcy said.  She regretted it immediately.  Now her mom would know she’d got to her.

“I’m not mean,” her mom said.  “I’m worried.”

“About what?” Darcy asked.  “Everything’s fine.  It’s great.  We’re working on some new stuff, and I think I even convinced him to let me shoot him in the face.”

Her mom made an annoyed little noise.  Darcy ignored it and paid more attention to traffic as she finally got through the intersection.  She was glad that she had never told her mother the full extent of her relationship with Loki, and how it had gone so badly wrong.

“And anyway, when are you coming to the show?” Darcy asked.  “I can’t hold tickets forever.”

She could.  She knew she could.  But she knew her mother would never come anyway, and she was tired of offering.

“Is this what you really want to be doing for the rest of your life?” her mom asked after a moment.

Darcy took a big drink of her tea so she didn’t have to respond right away.

“What do you mean?” she asked flatly.

Her mom made another disgusted little noise.

“Don’t ‘ugh’ me.  What do you mean?” Darcy asked.

“What are you going to do when all this falls through?” her mom asked.

Darcy hated this game.  She didn’t want to play it. 

“What do you mean?” she asked again, trying to get her mother to come out and say whatever it was she was trying not to say.

Her mom sighed down the line again, as Darcy turned off the road and headed toward the back of the lot behind the hotel.

“This man you’re working for,” her mom said.  “Are you sure it’s a good idea?  How do you know this isn’t going to all end tomorrow?”

Darcy pulled into her space and got out of the car.

“Because I signed a two-year contract?” Darcy said.  “That’s a pretty good start.”

She let herself into the building, finding the green room empty except for their goldfish, which appeared to have already been fed. 

“Yes, but how do you know for sure?” her mom asked.

Darcy stood where she was, staring at the far wall and the chequered pattern painted on it. 

“What do you mean?” she repeated.  There was something her mom was definitely not saying.

“Well, he’s foreign, isn’t he?” her mom asked.  “Is he even supposed to be here?”

And there it was.

“He’s gonna hear you, and I have to go,” Darcy said.

She waited just long enough to hear her mother start to object before hanging up on her and putting her phone on Do Not Disturb.  After spending a long moment enjoying the silence, she headed back to her dressing room, trying to juggle her phone and her bag and her snacks all at the same time.  Before she made it to the hall, Loki walked out, half-dressed and looking confused.

“What was that?” he asked.

It was Darcy’s turn to sigh as she offered Loki one of her mozzarella sticks.  “My mom,” she said, watching him take one.

“Does this woman actually exist?” he asked.  “I’ve still not seen any real evidence for it.”

“Unfortunately,” said Darcy, looking up at Loki and wondering if he wanted anything other than her snacks.

After a moment, he stepped aside, clearing the way for her to head back to start getting ready.  He followed her back, stopping just outside her door and watching her as she settled everything on the counter. 

“Are you still going with me tomorrow?” he asked.

Darcy paused as she reached for her contacts.  She had completely forgotten Loki needed to go to LA and wanted her help.

“Yeah, I’ll go,” she said, picking up the box of dailies and fishing out a pair.  “What about your brother?  Still not talking to him?”

Loki snorted.  “No.  Fuck him.” 

He ran his fingers through his hair, awkwardly brushing against the new scar on his forehead that hadn’t been there when Darcy met him.

Darcy snorted back.  She had managed to forgive Thor more easily than she was able to forgive Loki, because at the end of the day Thor’s lies hadn’t intended to hurt anyone.  He was still a jerk, but not a completely malicious jerk.  Just a garden-variety jerk.

“What time do you need to be there?” she asked, carefully putting her contacts in.  They still bothered her a bit, but it turned out they weren’t actually as bad as she’d expected.

Loki shrugged.  “I don’t know.  But I’d like to get back early.”

Darcy laughed at the rude reminder of why he needed her to go with in the first place.  “It’s an eight hour round trip in the best conditions.  There’s no getting back early unless you want to leave at two in the morning.”

Loki frowned and walked away, leaving Darcy alone and bemused.  He came back a moment later, holding onto his phone.

“It opens at ten,” he said.

Darcy sighed, taking a long moment to consider her options. 

“I don’t really want to leave at six in the morning,” she said, knowing she wouldn’t get to sleep until one at the earliest.

“I don’t either,” Loki said, frowning down at his phone while he chewed on his thumbnail.

She watched him for a long moment, hoping he had a plan.  It became rapidly apparent that he did not.

“I can probably do eight,” Darcy said, knowing even that would be tough.  “We’d get back around five or six, so you’ll at least still have your evening.”

She watched Loki consider it as well.  He took a deep breath, and after holding it for a moment, nodded.  “Let’s shoot for eight,” he said.

Darcy nodded as well, already dreading what her singular day off that week was going to look like. 

“I don’t want to drive all the way out to Henderson, and you probably don’t want to drive all the way out to Spring Valley, so why don’t we meet here?” she said.  “And I assume we’re taking your car?”

“Why not yours?” Loki asked.

“Because it’s your trip,” Darcy said.  “And I don’t want to have to clean out my car afterwards.”

For a moment, Loki looked almost defeated.  “Fair enough,” he said, shrugging.

He lingered for a few moments before nodding to himself and stepping away, closing the door between them as he went.  He sometimes still struggled with her ground rules for how they behaved with one another, but he had at least consistently respected her boundary with her dressing room and her home.  He had yet to show up once at her door, and she was glad to keep it that way for as long as possible.  Part of her felt like this all-day road trip was another one of his sneaky ways of getting past her boundaries, but she knew he still hadn’t a single friend in the valley.  Going with his brother would probably end with both of them dead, and going alone would definitely end with him hopelessly lost and halfway to Oregon before he figured it out.  Against her better judgement, she had believed him when he’d said he didn’t want to ask her.

Darcy put herself together, not having anyone to help her with her hair or makeup.  That was reserved for only the very biggest headliners, which they very much were not.  Sitting two miles off-strip in an overlooked part of town, they hadn’t sold out since their first month, and Darcy knew they weren’t going to unless she could convince Loki to change the act.

Trying not to be worried about their contract being cancelled over poor ticket sales, Darcy curled her hair and dressed, wishing she at least had someone to talk to who wasn’t Loki or Clint.  But everyone else involved with the show had their own jobs to do, and none of them included hanging out in a dressing room to get ready.

Maybe she could get her own assistant, just for an excuse to have another girl around.

Once call time finally came around, Darcy was back stage and ready to go.  The giddiness she’d grappled with their first night had completely faded, though she was still acutely aware of all of the things in the show that could go wrong.  While the house filled up on the other side of the curtain, Darcy checked over all of her own props, making sure they were set properly.  Nothing they did would put them in any real danger, and it wasn’t like she risked having a card stapled to her eye if something was messed with, but it would still ruin the show if her poster boards magically disappeared from their spot.

Loki started the show with his juggling, setting the tone for how the night would go.  He hammed up his accent and tripped over the same words he did every night to keep his patter the correct length to fill the routine itself.  The entire routine had been previously performed in another language, and translating it all to English had seriously thrown off his vibe in their early days.  But now, the whole thing was down rote, timed perfectly to distract the audience at every key point.

“Stopping is the hardest!” he shouted as ten rubber balls, a rubber duck, and a Rubik’s cube dropped to the stage.  One of the stage hands rushed past Darcy to clean up the mess, while Loki stood smugly in the centre of the stage. 

“And I’ve made them all disappear!” he said, holding his arms out.

As the laugher died down, Loki introduced Darcy and they rolled right on to the chair bit, still forever doomed to not get a proper name in English.  Loki getting himself and their spectator volunteer tangled up together with a long length of nylon rope lead seamlessly into Darcy’s solo part of the act, telling the same volunteer everything about his own vacation while he wrote answers out for the audience to see.

Still untangling himself from the rope, Loki came back onto the stage to shoo the poor spectator back to his seat and led into their single box jumper for the evening.  Darcy stabbed him with swords and dragged him all over the stage while he shouted and wrestled back, only to appear in the audience next to a very shocked woman.

Throwing her hands into the air, Darcy left the stage, opening it up for the breakfast routine.  Even though she had nothing to do with the routine, it was still her favourite and she watched from backstage as Loki took some hipster’s hat and poured eggs and pancake batter into it, before lighting the whole mess on fire and immediately smothering it with the lid from a saucepan.  A moment later, the hipster got his hat back, as well as a paper plate with very cold breakfast, and was sent back to his seat.

While Loki led into the next routine, making bad jokes and pretending to stall for time while everything appeared to go wrong, Darcy quickly pulled off her shoes.  She watched as Howard was released onto the stage, quacking loudly at the audience.  Darcy followed immediately after him, holding her arms out so he ran across the stage, drawing everyone’s attention away from Loki while he made his switches.  As Darcy put her shoes back on and helped one of the stage hands get Howard back into his little box, the house erupted into laughter and applause as Loki’s routine concluded.

The rest of the show was Loki’s as he pulled real roses from crayon drawings and threw playing cards all over the stage, plucking a seemingly endless supply from nowhere to the confusion of the poor spectator who had been pulled up onto the stage with him.  The goldfish routine had changed from what it had initially been, which Darcy only learned after the fact was itself a massive change.  Now, it was apparently back to the way he had always done it, with a small toy fishing rod and plastic worms.  He hooked coin after coin from the bowl, tossing them aside as more and more came out of the water, first one at a time and then by the handful.  Coins clattered all over the stage as Loki grew more and more frustrated with his trick apparently not working as intended, until he finally reached into the water and made several dozen very confused goldfish appear out of nowhere.

Loki’s extended solo performance gave Darcy the time she needed to get changed for Metamorphosis.  The magnetic dress she wore matched the one she’d been wearing all night, except for the part where it tore away quickly.  Over the course of Loki’s solo routine, he’d shed his jacket and tie, making his own very rapid costume change in the wings that much easier.  He had two people helping him pull everything off while he changed into his own identical suit, all black except for his green tie and matching silk pocket square.

They didn’t do it like the Pendragons, putting Darcy on display as she rapidly cycled through costumes.  He had a magic table cloth that would change anything it covered, and the two fought and bickered over it.  Darcy’s changes were rapid, swapping quickly from long dresses, short skirts, and even an old 50s-style sequinned bikini before Darcy managed to wrestle the table cloth away.  The final change involved both of them, Darcy’s dress turning to a gold version of the same one she’d worn all night, while Loki’s black two-piece suit turned into a white three-piece suit with a gold tie and pocket square.

It did well, and the audience always responded positively to it, but then the show just ended.  All told, they filled just under 90 minutes, but Darcy still wasn’t satisfied.  The finale was a little too Old Vegas and didn’t work for modern audiences as well as something more shocking would have, she thought.  Still, they took their final bows, and both rushed backstage to change into real clothes that weren’t held together by magnets.  As put back together as they were going to get, they both rushed out to the hall outside the theatre, hitting their spots on either side of the swag table as the crowd began to filter out.  They shook hands and took pictures with the crowd, but Darcy was exhausted.  With the early morning she had to look forward to, all she wanted to do was order a pizza, go home, and try to get a decent amount of sleep before she had to be right back at the theatre to drive Loki to LA.

As soon as the crowd left, that’s exactly what Darcy turned to do.  Once in her dressing room, she picked up her phone and called Domino’s before she even started undressing.  With her order placed, she’d have about forty minutes to get dressed and get home before her pizza arrived.

While she made it out of her dressing room in record time, she found Loki stretched out on the sofa in the green room, having shed his jacket, shoes, and tie, but otherwise still in costume.

“I will be here at eight,” Darcy said, stopping to make sure he was awake and listening.

He grunted something that might have been words, but Darcy couldn’t tell.  Assuming it meant he’d at least heard her, she nodded and headed for the door.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #2: Milk Can

There was frost on the windshield, and Loki was wearing sunglasses.  He was wearing sunglasses, because he had not seen cloud cover of any significance in weeks, and the sun was just above the building, shining straight into his face as he idled in the parking space. Eventually, he’d start driving and heading west, and the sun would be behind him as he drove, and it wouldn’t be a problem any longer.  But first, he had to get the frost off the windshield.

He had told Darcy he’d wanted her in the office at ten, but he found himself unable to sleep in like he’d wanted to, and too bored to do anything around the apartment.  And now there was frost on his windshield, hard and stuck firm because the lack of cloud cover in the valley drove overnight temperatures into the freezer.  Even with the engine idling and the heater on, the frost didn’t seem to want to move.  Had he been back home, Loki would have been better prepared for this sort of setback.  He would have known to at least expect frost, and have thought to purchase a scraper when he noticed his car, peeling and abused from high desert weather, didn’t have one.  He would have paid the extra $20 a month to have a parking space under one of the covered carports.  But he’d spent months boiling alive in his own skin.  Loki lived in the desert now, and deserts were hot.  But then like a switch had been flipped, the weather changed.  After a few weeks of mild, comfortable temperatures and calm, pleasant winds, winter came like some dreadful prophesied storm in a paperback fantasy novel.  Only it didn’t even have the decency to behave like a storm at all.  Winter in Las Vegas was just plain cold, the same way the back of a freezer is cold.  And nobody had warned Loki, so now he sat behind the wheel of his weathered BMW waiting for the situation to take care of itself. 

No amount of fussing with settings or cranking up the heat as high as it would go was helping, so Loki finally gave up and shut down the engine.  There were more effective ways to handle the problem that didn’t rely on dodgy, second-hand technology.  He got out of the car and locked up, leaving it behind as he walked to the gate separating the property from the rest of the city.  He walked past it as he fished through his keys, finding the right one as he came to the pedestrian gate that led to the sidewalk.  It opened easily under his key, and he ducked through it on his way to the street, letting it swing shut with a spring-loaded clatter behind him.  With just a cursory check for traffic, Loki trotted across the quiet street to the 7-11 just on the other side.  At the early hour of the morning, the small convenience store and its parking lot were quiet.  As he walked inside, he was greeted with the chime of the electronic bell on the door, sounding over the bank of slot machines along the window, chiming and buzzing and clanking away in a constant reminder of their presence.  When Loki had first come to the valley, the slot machines were a garish oddity, crammed into any space that would fit them.  Now, walking past them toward the back of the shop, Loki barely noticed them at all.  The constant noise and flashing lights were no more obstructive than cigarette posters and pay day loan ads that covered the windows.  Just like the pornographic cards that littered sidewalks and clogged gutters, the slot machines were one more thing Loki had learned to ignore.

He picked up a window scraper from the shelf, and walked around the edge of the small shop to the concession counter.  He picked up a paper cup from the largest size available and reached for one of the coffee pots on the heater, pausing just before his fingers touched the handle.

“How fresh is this?” he asked, turning to the man standing behind the counter.

“Just put it on about twenty minutes ago,” he said.

Nodding, Loki poured himself a full cup and pressed a lid into place, along with a small stopper to keep it from spilling on his way back to his car.  Wanting nothing else but to get going, Loki brought both to the counter and reached for his wallet as the man rung him up.

“Is it bad out there?” he asked as he scanned the scraper.

“Roads seem fine,” Loki said.  

Granted, he’d only been on them long enough to literally run across the street, but he hadn’t fallen on his ass in doing so.  He paid the man and quickly pocketed his change before heading back out, immediately forgetting about the stopper he’d plugged his coffee with until he poked himself in the face.  Some part of Loki had hoped that maybe the frost would have cleared up by the time he got back, but he had no such luck.  The windows were still crusted over, which meant more work for him.  Sighing to himself, Loki unlocked the car to get it idling again and secure his coffee before he started the task of scraping his windshield clear.  Once he got to it, Loki made quick work of the task, making sure he could see out of as many windows as possible before getting back behind the wheel and finally backing out of the space.

Driving down to the office was almost a straight shot, minus a few turns to get to the other side of the freeway.  It was a route he knew well by this point, able to get there and back home without needing to consult the GPS on his phone.  But it wasn’t Las Vegas planning that had him worried as he drove west, with the sun in his mirrors.  It was the other drivers, squinting through still-frosted windshields and tiny patches scraped out at eye level.  Drivers in big, American pickup trucks and SUVs that couldn’t see his small, black BMW, and drove like they wouldn’t suffer the damage if they drifted into his lane.  

He made it across the freeway and down Dean Martin in one piece, finding the office cold, dark, and empty.  He had told Darcy to be in at ten, and then woken up three hours early, not for the first time.  But it gave him time to take care of other tasks that needed his attention.  A stack of deliveries had been left out back, which Loki immediately set to unpacking and sorting through as he drank his cheap, convenience store coffee.  Playing cards, cue cards, note cards, markers, crayons, rope; so many things the show went through on a nightly basis that needed to be constantly replaced.  And Darcy wanted to add to their overhead by putting the bullet catch into their routine.  

By the time Darcy arrived, Loki had sorted through and inventoried everything, and set a few weeks’ worth of supplies aside to take in with him to the theatre that evening.  As Darcy got herself settled in and ready to get working, Loki set himself an alarm, as a reminder to leave a little earlier.  There was a good chance another delivery had been made to the threatre as well, which he’d need to deal with before they got ready to go on.

“We are going to figure out this damn fish tank today if it kills us both,” he said as he set his phone aside, out of harm’s way.

On the surface, it was an easy escape routine, but it was its relative ease that had caused so many problems.  Nearly a century of tinkering and close calls had made the routine as safe as it was ever going to get, which left it with few places nobody had ever taken it before.

Loki walked over to the tank where it sat against the wall, and rolled it over to the cargo door at the back of the room.  Their office wasn’t an office at all, but a small warehouse with all the open space they needed to toy with new routines.  The cargo door opened with a switch, rolling up against the ceiling and giving access to the parking lot out back.  Any other routine, Loki would have gladly spared them the cold November weather and tinkered inside, but the risk of damage was far too high.  As he moved the tank out to the empty lot behind their space, Darcy followed behind him with the garden hose.  

The tank was long, built exactly like a 150 gallon fish tank, with sealed corners and black trim along the top and bottom.  Built of acrylic instead of glass, it would hold up better to the pressures being placed on it.  It also allowed for a modified bottom, concealed by the rolling stand the tank sat on, as well as a hinged lid with a padlock.  At its crux, none of its modifications gaffed the tank in any way, if only because Loki still had not figured out how it should be gaffed, or if it should be gaffed at all.

As Darcy filled up the tank, using the hose running from a utility sink inside, Loki went back to fetch the box of air canisters he still hadn’t worked out how to hide.  With the canned air, he had fifteen minutes in the tank, during which he had absolutely no act whatsoever.  The release valve on the bottom, when triggered, would empty the tank in just under a minute, and was the first thing they had tested and perfected before the lid was ever even closed.  At its heart, the trick was safe to perform, but that meant very little when he had no performance in the first place.  

Loki watched as it filled, removing his shoes and socks and anything else he didn’t want damaged or wet.  It was cold outside, even in the low sun, but the sink inside had hot water, making this much less of a task than it could have been.

“I still think you should do a straitjacket,” Darcy said, making sure the hose was settled before letting it go.

“It would hide the can,” Loki agreed.  “And be easier than messing around with the mask.”

He was fairly certain the tank was wide enough to accommodate an escape from a straitjacket as well, though still not entirely convinced he wanted to go in that direction.

“Do we have one?” Darcy asked.

Loki wasn’t sure.  So many boxes and crates of props had been sent over, and he’d barely had the time to go through all of them.  

“I think so,” he said, heading back inside to check.

He found one in a stack of boxes in a corner, sent over from Reykjavík and never properly inventoried.  Loki quickly checked it over, making sure it was the correct one before taking it back out.  The tank was still filling up as he stepped back out into the sun, giving him a little more time to fuss around.

“Is that one real?” Darcy asked.

“It is.  Have you ever done it before?” Loki asked.

Darcy shook her head.  “I am not coordinated enough for that,” she said.

“Do you know how?” Loki asked.

“Kinda,” Darcy said.  “I mean, I think?  I’ve never really looked into it.”

Loki nodded and slid his arms into the sleeves.  “It’s all a scam,” he said, making sure she saw the little bit of fabric he bunched up in his fingers.  “You just need to create enough room to move.”

He turned his back to her, inviting her to tighten the straps.

“Dominant hand on top, hands on your elbows, elbows up,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.  He held his arms up so they weren’t touching his chest, but not so far out to make it obvious.  “And deep breath.”

He breathed in slowly but deliberately, making himself as big as possible within the straitjacket, without appearing to do so.  As Darcy tightened straps behind his back, Loki fought against her, making it seem as though she couldn’t get it any tighter.  When it came to the strap between Loki’s legs, Darcy hesitated for just a moment before crouching down to grab it and secure it.

Once she was done, Loki let out his breath and relaxed his arms.  The sleeves fell loose enough for him to move around, which he demonstrated with sharp, deliberate moments.

“The rest is show,” he said.  “A bit of flexibility helps.”

He hunched and rolled his shoulders, taking little time at all to slide his left arm over his head.  From there, the right was easy to come loose, and both his hands were in front of him.

“Teeth,” he said, demonstrating how to unbuckle the straps at his hands.  “And back.”

He unbuckled the strap between his legs first, freeing him to lift the jacket higher over his shoulders to reach the trickier straps at his back.  He was out in just over a minute, having taken no time at all for the show.  Darcy nodded, though whether she was impressed or being sarcastic about it, Loki wasn’t sure.

“How fast can you do that underwater?” she asked.

Loki shrugged.  “Shall we time it?”

Darcy nodded again, looking down at the tank as it nearly reached its fill mark.  “Sure.”

She walked back inside to turn off the water while Loki stripped down to his underwear.  If the neighbours hadn’t complained about them yet, they weren’t going to.  As Darcy stepped back outside, she paused at the threshold and laughed.

“Where are your swim trunks?” she asked.

“In the wash.  Didn’t feel like digging them out,” Loki said with a shrug.

Still laughing, Darcy diverted her eyes and pulled the hose from the tank on her way over to strap Loki back into the straitjacket.  As he stepped into the tank, Darcy held it steady so he wouldn’t slip and fall.

“Lid open or shut?” she asked.

“Open,” Loki said.  “I don’t know how the water will change things.”

She stepped away as Loki leaned back into the tank, finding it even more tight and constrained than usual.  In the interest of making it look as real as possible, it was a little too short, but wide and deep enough to give him room to bend his knees.  With a deep breath, he submerged himself below the water and started working to escape.  

The water did change things.  The heavy canvas soaked it up and became extra grippy on itself, making Loki have to work harder to free his arm.  As soon as he’d managed it, he sat up to breathe, taking a few long moments.

“It’s harder,” he said.

“You want an air tank?” Darcy asked.

Loki shook his head.  “Not yet.”  

With another deep breath, he submerged again.  Each step needed another break for air, as even the warm water was beginning to sap his energy in the cold air.  With two buckles to go on his back, Loki gave up.  He sat forward to just breathe, and pointed for Darcy to get him out.  Free of the straitjacket, Loki took a long moment to regain his composure.

“I don’t know about this,” he said, shaking his head.  “I’d run a tank out in five minutes, and can’t get the valve until my hands are free.”

He breathed deeply, knowing they couldn’t go this route.  It had been a good idea—terribly visual and full of peril—but pulling it off would take completely rebuilding the tank from the ground up.  Not something they had the money to do.

“What if we subverted it?” Loki asked suddenly, looking around at the situation he’d found himself in.

“What do you mean?” Darcy asked.

“The escape as misdirection.  Make it as easy as possible to get out, while something else happens,” Loki said.

What that something else would be, he had no idea.

“What if you just drowned?” Darcy asked.  “Or would that be too much of a ripoff?”

“What if there’s no trick at all?” Loki said, struck by a sudden idea.  

Darcy shook her head.  “What?  You just drown on stage for no reason?” she asked.

“Yes,” Loki said.  He got out of the tank, stepping carefully onto the pavement.  “Optimal conditions, I have fifteen minutes before it gets dangerous.  With a black board, we can double it.  I’d say that’s long enough for some fire, wouldn’t you?”

He watched her light up as she got on his page.  “Seriously?  I still fuck it up like, all the time.”

“Even better,” Loki said, heading inside to find a towel.  They had a small stack of them near the sink, conveniently ready for whenever they were needed.  Wrapping it around his waist, he stepped back outside.  “You fail and bumblefuck your way through, and don’t notice that I’m having trouble inside.”

Darcy laughed, something sinister and foreboding.  “What if I sat on the lid?” she asked.  “You drown, black board, and then I sit down so it looks like nothing ever changed.”

She reached over to close the tank’s lid and tested her weight on the corner.  A bit precarious, she held her hands out as it supported her without any ominous creaking.  Loki laughed, watching the whole thing as he considered the proposal.  He offered his hand to help her to her feet, and then crouched to latch the lid shut.  Latched, the lid still had a bit of play, opening just the smallest amount to let a key pass through.

“I’m in here,” he said, pointing.  “Fuck the straitjacket.  That’s not happening in the water.  Handcuffs and shackles.”

He stood again, directing Darcy to move several feet away.

“You, do your thing.  I escape inside,” Loki said, pointing back to the tank.  “Two minutes, tops.  Find the key, which should be your cue to open the final lock.”

He moved Darcy again, sitting her on top of the tank.

“You’re distracted.  I panic.  Drown.”  He moved Darcy over to the other side of their marked space, judging the distance between her and the tank.  “Hard spot on you as you fetch your things.  Over here, we black board the tank.  Put a ringer inside, he plays dead.”

He moved Darcy back over to the tank and nodded as she sat back on the corner.

“You sit down, while I’m off stage drying off, and do your thing,” Loki said.

Darcy stood, standing tall and self-righteous like she did on stage.

“Then they roll the tank off, and you come out from the other side pissed off that I skipped your cue,” she said.

Loki grinned widely.  “Perfect,” he said, heading back inside to fetch their new set of props.  “Let’s run it.”

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience #1: Bullet Catch

There were only two restaurants in the casino, both small little things that mostly seemed to exist to feed casino staff on their lunch breaks.  But they were clean, and had decent menus, and most importantly, in the casino itself and still open past 10pm.  If Darcy was going to follow Loki to dinner, she would not be leaving the building to do so.  And if they were still in the casino, maybe it could be spun as work, and definitely not another uncomfortable attempt at social interaction.

She looked over the menu, themed mainly with seafood with a few token options for the fish-haters out there.  The choices of fish done one way or another, with colourful, fruity mixed drinks matched the faux-tropical atmosphere.  Fake ferns and small, potted palm trees haunted the corners, while on the walls hung sandy beaches and bright sunsets over open water.

Darcy still didn’t know if she loved or hated it.

 She found herself torn between the fish and chips, and a pizza.  Occasionally, she’d glance up at Loki, wondering what ulterior motive had driven his invitation this time.  There was always an ulterior motive.  But instead of acting on it, he sat hunched over tiredly, staring at the menu without giving any appearance of reading it.

Or maybe it was an act; part of the ulterior motive.  She hated him for giving her this brand new habit of second guessing everything about him.

“So,” Darcy said, filling the awkward silence.  She turned the menu over to see what fruity drinks and obscenely sweet desserts were available.  “Penn and Teller changed up their show, apparently.”

“Did they now?” Loki asked, not looking up.

“Top to bottom,” Darcy said.  She turned the menu back over and put it down on the table.  “Which means…” She leaned into it, hoping Loki would catch the gist.

She knew he had finally checked out all of the competition, big and small.  But if he caught her meaning at all, he didn’t show it.

“Nobody in town is doing the bullet catch right now,” she said.

Finally, Loki looked up, but not at her.  She could see the gears turning, but he still said nothing.

“Oh, come on.  Haven’t you ever wanted to do that one?  Have you ever done that one?” Darcy asked, almost disappointed at his lack of enthusiasm.  “I want to do it.”

Loki put his menu down and actually looked at her for the first time since they sat down, utter confusion plain on his face.

“Why?” he asked.

His single-word response hit Darcy with an almost physical response.  She had never been so surprised by a single word in her life. 

“Because it’s a four hundred year old classic?” she said.  “Why wouldn’t you want to?”

Loki shook his head and picked the menu back up. 

“You do know the last man who went on stage pretending to be someone he wasn’t was killed doing the bullet catch,” he said, his accent slipping into that middle ground between English and Icelandic; neither and both all at once, because he was too tired or distracted to remember who he was pretending to be at that moment.

Darcy shrugged all the same.  Of course she knew.  She had the six-pound tome about the man himself on her shelf at home. 

“Yeah, but that was a hundred years ago,” she said.  Nobody uses live rounds anymore.”

She watched Loki bite back words as he shook his head.  “I didn’t ask you to dinner to talk about the show,” he said.

There it was.  The ulterior motive Darcy knew had been coming.  Fantastic.  Before she could shut him down, a woman in a seafoam green polo stepped up to their table.

“How’s everyone doing today?  Are we ready to order?” she asked.

Darcy smiled and deferred to Loki, knowing he hadn’t actually read a single word on the laminated menu in his hands.  Sure enough, he quickly flipped it over and began scanning the whole thing.

“I’ll have the fish and chips,” Darcy said.  “Large.  Halibut.  With a Sprite.”

The waitress wrote it all down and then returned her attention to Loki.  He was still panicking, but gave up quickly with a flustered little shrug. 

“I’ll have the same,” he said.

With a friendly smile, the waitress grabbed up their menus and headed off to put their order in.  Once she was gone, Darcy looked up at Loki.  She didn’t know what she was expecting, or even if she was expecting anything.  But he was definitely planning something.  He was always planning something.  He started to speak, stopped, tried again, stopped again, and then took a deep breath.

“I feel like things between us ended very regrettably,” Loki said finally.

“Yeah.  They did,” Darcy said.  She wasn’t even going to pretend otherwise.  “There’s a lot I regret, and I’m still not ready to even think about forgiving you.”

She watched Loki struggle with words she knew she didn’t want to hear.  Darcy didn’t have a timeline for when she could forgive him, but it would start sometime around the point where he didn’t have to run everything he wanted to say through six filters before the words left his mouth.

“I’d like to try to make up for that,” he said finally.

Darcy shook her head.  He didn’t get it.  And she wasn’t surprised he didn’t get it.  He hadn’t got it the last four times either.

“I don’t trust you, and I don’t think I ever can,” she said, deliberately keeping her voice low and even. 

There were people in the restaurant who might have been at the show, or might have tickets for the next one for all she knew.  The last thing she and Loki needed to do was to cause a scene.

Loki looked vaguely insulted at her words, but kept his mouth shut.  He’d made the same agreement, that they would not fight in public.

“You lied to me,” Darcy said quietly, making sure everything was out on the table as plainly as possible.  “You manipulated me.  You used me as a weapon against my friends.  And I am so fucked up in the head over everything, I still don’t know if what I remember happening is even true.  So you’re going to have to find someone else to trick into climbing into your bed, because it’s not going to be me.”

Darcy glanced out over the restaurant, and the few seated tables scattered across the floor.  None of them would be able to hear them, but Darcy still knew they had to be careful.  The gossip was already bad enough, both within the industry and online.  She didn’t think she could handle more.

“So why are you still here?” Loki asked.

She turned back to him as he looked away, again refusing to make eye contact.  She hated this game.  She hated that she’d agreed to come to dinner.  But she put all that aside as the waitress returned, putting their drinks down by the edge of the table.  Darcy smiled sweetly at her, before turning her attention back to Loki.

“Because when you hired me, I dropped out of college to take this seriously,” Darcy said.  “And this is me.  Taking it seriously.” 

She gestured to herself, in her grey UNLV hoodie and smudged stage makeup.

And she was taking it seriously.  She was taking it very seriously.  Darcy made sure the bitchy, scorned woman she played on stage never showed her face in public.  She made sure of this by appearing with Loki in public as little as possible.  She made sure of this by banning him from calling her for anything other than work, and from going anywhere near her apartment for any reason at all.  Those few times when they were in public together, Darcy wasn’t the vindictive stage assistant who stabbed Loki with swords and shoved him off-stage.  She was his business partner and manager.  She was the cheery, friendly attitude he completely lacked.  She was smiles and please and thank you while Loki skulked in the shadows with sneers and derision and pretended not to speak English.

And now, he had taken her out to dinner, and she had let him, and they were moments away from picking an honest to god fight with one another.

While Loki tried to decide what he wanted to actually say, Darcy decided she was going to continue to take this seriously.

“Look, I think we need a different show stopper,” she said, shrugging.  She wasn’t sorry for saying it.  “We’re ending with something that’s flashy, yeah, but people can go see a Cirque show if they want flash.  We’re not competing with anyone right now.  Kids on the internet are doing the same trick in their bedrooms.  In four months, we haven’t even sold out once.”

“We seat four hundred, in a cramped off-Strip shithole,” Loki said.  “We’re not exactly in a league to compete with anyone.”

“We’re competing with every stage from Mandalay Bay to the Strat.  If there are butts in seats at eight, they’re our competition,” Darcy said.  She shook her head.  It should not have been a difficult concept.  “You had the energy to come all the way out here just to irritate people.  You should have the energy to be trying to sell out every night.  Four hundred seats should be a cake walk.”

Loki shook his head and looked away again.  “And your solution to that is the bullet catch?” he asked.

“It’s one possible direction,” Darcy said.  “We need a better show stopper.”

Before she could continue, the waitress returned with a large tray, containing both their plates. 

“Thank you,” Darcy said sweetly.

She picked up a fry from her plate and ate it while the waitress laid out a stack of napkins and a bottle of ketchup from her apron.

“Anything else you two need?” she asked.

Darcy shook her head.  “Nope, we’re all good here,” she said.

With a friendly smile, the waitress nodded and walked away.

“We’ve already got some new routines for next year,” Darcy said, as if she hadn’t been interrupted.  “And they’re all good, but none of them are ‘keep the audience talking on the ride back to their hotel’ good.  Right now we don’t have a very good climax.  If you spin it as being too dangerous for even those psychos at the Rio, people will go apeshit.”

She watched Loki poke at his plate.  “Do you even know how to do a bullet catch?” he asked, paying more attention to his fish than her.

“I know one way, yeah,” Darcy said.  “You think I don’t read all the stuff I’ve got on my shelves?”

Loki took a deep breath, and finally broke apart one of the fillets to start eating.  “Have you ever performed it?” he asked, speaking slowly.

“No,” Darcy said.  “Before this, I was doing open stage nights at Denny and Lee.  You know that.”

Loki shook his head.  “I don’t know,” he said.  “Insurance would be a nightmare.  And it’s already gone up from the fish tank.”

“The fish tank is so goddamn good,” Darcy insisted.  “We should be doing more routines like that.”  She loved the fish tank, even if they hadn’t really figured out what they were going to do with it.  But its potential was plain as day.

As Loki mulled it all over, Darcy ate.  She didn’t like to eat right before the show, which meant she always came out of it starving.  All that nervous energy and the hot lights built up the biggest appetite.

“Tell me how you’d do it,” Loki said finally.

Somehow, this surprised her.  Loki was good at that.  She wondered which part had convinced him to at least listen.

“Paraffin wax,” she said.  “It’s painted, and can even be signed, but evaporates from the charge.”

Loki frowned and sighed.  “Excuse me for not jumping in line to become unlucky number thirteen.”

Loki’s apprehension wasn’t exactly unfounded, and Darcy knew that.  But she had been hoping he’d be more excited to at least entertain a bit of infamy for a while.

“Can I at least look into it?” she asked.

He shrugged, seeming disinterested.  “I can’t exactly stop you, can I?” he asked.

Darcy looked at him from across the table.  She wondered if he was annoyed she’d shut his earlier conversation attempts down so quickly, or if he was just tired.  He hadn’t tied his hair back, and it hung loose and wild over his shoulders as he sat hunched over the table.  Somehow, he went into every show perfectly groomed, and came out looking like he’d stuck his finger in an electrical socket.  Not that Darcy was really one to speak.  As soon as her costume was off, she was done for the night.  But there was also something just off about him.  Part of her wondered if it was guilt.  Another part of her wondered if it was another act.  But she didn’t know who the real Loki was, after almost half a year of putting up with his different moods and personalities.  He was a different man in each situation, and each one seemed perfectly sculpted to achieve some end result.

And if she was the end result, Darcy thought she might just have to scream.

“Have you made up your mind about Mt Charleston yet?” Loki asked suddenly.

Darcy took a deep breath.  This was another conversation she wasn’t prepared to have with him, even though this one came with a deadline.

“I’m not trying to be mean,” she said.  “I promise.  I’m really not.  I know I told you we’d go, but I can’t do that if I can’t trust you.”

Loki looked up at her critically.  He was thinking something that he wouldn’t give voice to, but Darcy was sure she’d hear about it eventually.

“What you did here,” she gestured to the table at large, “asking me out to dinner, somewhere public.  And then trying to make me have a conversation I am not ready to have yet?  That makes it really hard to trust you.  Because I don’t know what you’re going to try to do when we’re not in public.”

Loki nodded and returned his attention to his plate.  “Of course,” he said.

Darcy hated that.  Had she truly upset him, or did he want her to think that she had?  She didn’t know.  And it was one more reason why she avoided being anywhere near him.

“If we go,” Darcy said slowly.  “We can go during our vacation.  But you have to show me by then that you can behave.  If I feel like you might pull some little stunt, we’re not going.”

“I won’t,” Loki said.

Darcy didn’t believe him for a second. 

“Prove it,” she said.  “Show me.  The slopes are probably open by now.  Why not just go on your own?”

Loki made a noise that was trying to be a laugh.  “I’d never find my way there.  If I did, I’d never find my way back,” he said.

That, Darcy believed.  He still got lost every time he had to go somewhere new.  And with that, she sympathised.  That, she knew wasn’t an act.  The same way she knew he wasn’t pretending to get constantly caught off guard by inconsistent autumn weather.  The same way she knew anything out of their ordinary work routine completely overwhelmed him sometimes, getting him flustered to the point of forgetting how to speak any language at all. 

“Just put it into Google.  The maps are pretty accurate,” she said.

Loki shook his head.  “It always takes me through that disaster on Fifteen any time I try to go somewhere.”

That, Darcy could sympathise with as well.  There wasn’t a person in the entire valley that didn’t hate the Spaghetti Bowl.

“Still not talking to your brother?” she asked.

Now, Loki just seemed annoyed.  “I try not to,” he said.

And with that, Darcy was completely out of options.  If Loki knew anyone else, she wasn’t aware of them.  Though if Loki knew anyone else, there was a good chance he’d found a way to piss them off as well.  Loki just had a certain way with people that tended to end poorly.  Which put Darcy in a position of being the only person in the entire valley forced to put up with him.  And she could leave.  She knew that.  She could stand up right then, quit, and walk out.  This time, she even had enough money in her savings account to coast through until she found another job.  But she didn’t do that, because she didn’t want to do that.  The man she worked for had a nasty reputation already, and had earned every ounce of it.  But he’d also built another reputation, slowly and carefully, which followed him all the way from Reykjavík.  He had a reputation for meticulously crafted routines that broke the rules and packed a punch.  In just a few short months, Darcy had learned so much that she could never get from books or practising in front of a mirror.  When she’d performed on a small stage in the back room of that tiny magic store, Darcy had thought she was pretty darn solid.  Now, she knew she hadn’t even been close.

She stayed, because she knew she still wasn’t anywhere close, and as long as they could get along on-stage and backstage, she’d found the best teacher she was likely to ever find.  Loki had that same punk rock attitude as the acts Darcy had grown up watching as a kid.  He swallowed swords and ate fire and juggled knives, and made himself look like an idiot on stage for a bigger payoff later.

If she could ride out his contract with him, Darcy knew she could get a job with anyone else she wanted.  So this was her, taking it seriously, and pretending he didn’t make her blood boil.

They finished their meal in relative silence, both having run out of things to say to the other.  Loki had crossed a line, and she had made sure he knew it, and did not care how awkward it made things.  Maybe if he had to sit awkwardly in a casino restaurant as the servers started to close down, he wouldn’t do it again.

As they finished, Loki got up and threw some cash down onto the table.  Darcy stood slowly, stretching her back and thinking very hard about her bed.  As she turned to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything, she spotted the cash on the table.

“You’re tipping like, two hundred percent.  I don’t know if you meant to do that,” she said.

Loki quickly turned to the small stack of bills he’d tossed down, quickly replacing a fifty dollar bill with a ten.

“Thank you,” he said quietly.

Darcy nodded and turned to leave.  Loki followed her, and together they walked back through the hotel to the green room.  Being late, and so far off-Strip, the casino was about as quiet as a casino ever got.  The occasional bells and chimes of the machines would ring out, but it wasn’t the constant cacophony that drowned out every thought.

“What time do you want me tomorrow?” Darcy asked as she unlocked the heavy, steel door to fetch her things.

Loki considered for a moment.  “Ten?” he said, not entirely sounding too committed himself.

“Ten it is.”  Darcy headed back to her dressing room to collect her bag and coffee cup.

If he wanted her in at ten, she wanted to get home and in bed as quickly as possible.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How To Please Your Audience

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 2: How to Please Your Audience (Word Count TBD) by LokiOfSassgaard

Chapters: Ongoing
Fandom: Thor (Movies)
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Darcy Lewis/Loki, Fandral/Loki (Marvel)
Characters: Loki (Marvel), Darcy Lewis, Thor (Marvel)

Summary: Darcy had thought she’d hit the jackpot; that the opportunity that fell into her lap would change her life forever.

It did, just not as she was expecting. While Darcy struggles to balance her personal and professional relationship with Loki, he struggles to adjust to life in a foreign country after alienating any support network he might have had.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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 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 trinkets.  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 into 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. 

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 asked.

He 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, throwing her arms into the air.  “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.”  Steven shrugged, like he wasn’t sure what else to say.

“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,” she said, shaking her head.  “He made pretty much everyone 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, and then act all surprised when they find out otherwise.”

“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, Darcy.”  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, which never seemed to stop 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 if she wanted to know more.

“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.”

She laughed quietly to herself and shook her head.  They were all four of them stuck in the same endless cycle of poor life choices, it seemed.

“So who went to Urgent Care?” she asked, letting the curiosity get the better of her.

Jane rolled her eyes.  “You know who,” she said.  “What’s his name apparently hit him with a beer bottle.”

“Oh my fucking god,” Darcy said, allowing herself to laugh openly at the thought of it.  “We both fucked crazy.”

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’d ever 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 could kill a man, and which 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 enrol 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,” Harris said from behind the desk.

“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?”

Harris 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 Harris 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 green room.  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 key ring.

“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 Stark 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 why don’t we do this the easy 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 Stark retained control of the payroll.  I was paid nothing in advance, so I owe him nothing, and he knows it,” Darcy said, wishing she’d had her contract on her to show him.

Loki looked at her, looking very tired as he shook his head, but apparently had nothing to say.

“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,” Darcy went on.  “And if you lose this show, something tells me that shiny new green card of yours is going to disappear, and you know that too.  So, my first condition is to call Stark off.  I don’t care if you have to blow him again, or whatever you did to get this job in the first place.  I don’t want another call from him or anyone who works for him ever again, for anything.  If you’re going to be in charge of my employment, I want you to be in charge.”

Loki grit his teeth and looked away.  “Fine,” he said.

“And you were going to take full control of my contract anyway.  I don’t come back until that happens,” Darcy said.

“I can have it drawn up tomorrow,” Loki said stiffly.

Darcy nodded, glad he hadn’t decided to fight her on every step along the way.

“And I am not going to sign any contract unless I get the same amount of money you get,” she said, knowing it was a gamble.

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,” she said.  “And managing your diva ass isn’t easy, so you’re lucky I’m not asking for more.”

“Whatever,” Loki said.

“Do you want me to come back or not?” Darcy asked.

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.  She didn’t even know what he was doing, but she knew it wasn’t good.

Loki laughed humorously and stepped away.  “And I suppose you want billing as well?”

Darcy hadn’t even considered billing.  She shrugged.  “This isn’t about that,” she said.  “On stage, this is your show.  I’m not here to take that from you.”

“Then what the fuck are you here for?” Loki shouted, turning away again.

Darcy had thought she’d laid it all out fairly plainly, but apparently he still hadn’t got the point.  Sighing helplessly, she turned to leave again, but only got a few steps away before Loki called her back.

“Wait.  I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t have yelled,” he said.

Darcy stopped and turned back to him, already knowing it was a mistake to come back.

“And don’t do it again,” Darcy said.  “I will not put up with being the outlet for your frustration.”

Loki nodded, looking away from her.

“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.  I don’t care if your hair is on fire and I’m the only one who can put it out.”

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.  She watched him as he stood awkwardly, obviously fishing for the right words to say.

“Are we still going snowboarding in the winter?” he asked finally.

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 Stark 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 till we can go somewhere else.”

Even getting stuck in Fremont purgatory would be better than working for Stark.

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 that passed for makeup off her face.  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, tossing her contacts into the trash 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.  But the casino was in the NYE Dead Zone, so she wondered if getting the date off was inevitable anyway.

“And the first two weeks of January,” Loki finished. 

Darcy had sort of expected to have some time off during the winter slow season, 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 just 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.  She was starting to realise 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 UNLV hoodie 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 pick where they went.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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.”

The woman looked around, stammering nervously.  “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 Clint 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 everyone east of the Strip?” he asked from where he lounged on the couch.

“Shut up,” Loki said 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 Thor 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 said, trying to fight his way out of Thor’s grip.

“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 in English, so everyone could hear.

“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 in return, 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?” Thor 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 said, gesturing widely.  “Find one.”

“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.  “You must have millions saved away after living off everyone else all your life.”

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, and would definitely fare better at being run over by a rental car.

“Tell me, right now, that you were never offered help,” Thor said.  “That you didn’t leave the second you were able.  That you weren’t the reason our mother would stay up all night sick with worry.  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 letter board 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 meddling, and yet you’re praised for it, no matter how badly you fail.  Where shall you go when being a nurse 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,” Thor said.

“I tried that.  It was awful.  At least when I want to play with knives, I can still feel something.”  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 to keep him from looking up.

“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.  She escaped your petty bullshit, and now you’re mad,” 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 a jackass.”

“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 pavement 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.”

“Well I’m not American, and not pretending to be one,” Loki said, tired of talking to Thor.  “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 sat up all the way and rubbed 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 on the edge of the casino parking lot.  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.  He 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 lie on his stomach, since that at least didn’t hurt to think about.  Thor was only gone about ten minutes before he returned with a bag from the 7-11 across the street.  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 medical procedure,” Loki said as Thor pulled out another thorn.  “I’m suing.”

“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 program, 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 here.”

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.  The suggestion he ‘get help.’ 

“Don’t say it.  I’m sick of hearing it,” Loki said.

“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,” Thor 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 Lorelei 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 Lorelei’s still angry with you too.”

“Lorelei’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 sleep.  He never did hear any sign of Thor leaving.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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, Jane 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,” Darcy said, trying to dry her face again.  She sniffled loudly, feeling hot and stuffed up all of a sudden.  “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.”

Darcy took a long moment to breathe, allowing herself to think about everything else.

“Oh god, I fucked him.  What the hell is wrong with me?” she asked.

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, silent, but a constant presence.  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.  Otherwise, we’re both at fault.”

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 from her laptop 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 she didn’t care about.

“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 you know who hired me.”  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 he 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.  The mentally unwell were a drain on resources and a burden to their families, while immigrants were a threat to the Icelandic way of life.  Somehow, in one fell swoop, Thor had managed to say every wrong thing possible.  Even with everything else, she couldn’t exactly fault Loki for being pissed off, even after so much time had passed.

“I can’t believe this is the same guy that liked to buy me lunch,” 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.  He’s never said anything like this before.”

“That you heard,” Darcy pointed out quietly.

Jane read silently for a few minutes longer before pushing herself away from the desk.  “Why couldn’t he have just told me the truth?” 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 long-term 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 Stark’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?” she said, holding it up for him to see.  “And you know what section C says?  It says that Tony can go eat a dick, because he only signed my paycheques.  It’s the other dickhead who had full control over my employment, becase as we all know, the other dickhead wasn’t here legally, and dickhead number one helped him fix that little issue.  So, unless you work for Loki, and he’s actually going to go to court and try to explain how I’m pretty sure he blew somebody to get his green card, 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,” she said calmly.  “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 that night, 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 the thrift shop, but she suddenly needed to go to the nearest bar and drink too much over-priced alcohol.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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.  If he actually did fall into that black pit again, he might never get out of it, and that was not an option.

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.  Loki 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.  Lorelei hadn’t anything new to say to him, so Loki decided to make a call he’d been putting off 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 angrier 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 always been their favourite.  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, Loki,” 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 wanted 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 the apartment so soon after so blatantly trying to force his way 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 several times more than 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 actually 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 dialling, 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 he’d been working on 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, remember?”

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 was 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 be able to get any of his old jobs back, and the thought of taking a day job in some shop only made him feel sick.  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 still quit?” asked Loki plainly.  “And would you go back now?”

“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. 

Loki had said too much, and he needed to think fast if he was going to salvage it.  It was easy for him to forget that Darcy had gone to school for politics and spin, which made her paranoid and always looking for what wasn’t being said.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Loki said.

“What, do you want me to go spy on Jane for you, too?” Darcy asked, clearly not believing him.  “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.”

“Tell me,” Darcy said with dark calm that was surely hiding something else.  “Tell me you didn’t lie to me.  Tell me you were just trying to get away, and didn’t come all the way out here just to fuck with your brother.”

Loki shook his head, forcing himself to stay calm.

“Please,” he said.  “Look.  All right.  I might have known he was in the area, but it wasn’t until you said—”

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: The History of Magic #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 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 quietly 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 Loki 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. But he was impressed, which made the audience impressed, and that was all that mattered. 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 Metamorphosis 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 good manners. “I thought someone else was coming as well?”

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.”

He barely even bothered undressing. Loki lifted Darcy onto the counter, taking barely enough time to unzip his pants and pull up her dress before taking her right there. He was quick and frantic, holding onto her hips as he pounded into her, Darcy having to hold onto his shoulders to keep from getting slammed into the wall. He came quickly, hardly even giving Darcy the time to find a rhythm in the franticness of everything. Loki’s reaction to nervous stage energy, she figured. She tried not to laugh as he pulled away, looking slightly embarrassed.

“I’m gonna go change,” Darcy said as she slid down off the counter.

“Yeah,” Loki said, looking at his jeans on the floor.

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 said deviously.

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?” Darcy 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. The accent he never managed to hide. The way he refused to ever talk about his life before moving to America. The way he apparently tried to get out of coming to see the show. Darcy 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 everyone he didn’t like and lock them away.” She laughed humourlessly and shook her head. “I knew you were too good to be true, but wow.”

“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 off period.

“It’s… It’s a really fucked up story,” Darcy said, holding out her arms like she wanted to either shrug or try to fly away. “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 horrible FOX News 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.”

She watched Jane struggle to slot everything together against whatever she knew, or thought she knew, about Don. Standing in tense silence as tourists walked past them, Darcy wished she hadn’t said anything.

“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. “Go on.”

“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 most awkward silence ever, Darcy turned on TV and kept the volume on low, not sure what else she could possibly do.

« || »

Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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.  She was gentle, and liked to drag her nails over his scalp in a way that was surprisingly relaxing, if a bit distracting.  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 Lorelei sent him a link to Facebook.  She’d only posted it ten minutes before, but by the time Loki clicked the link, it had two comments already.  Lorelei’s post about her friend finding Thor Odinson’s lookalike in Las Vegas was bound to go viral, at least as much as anything from Iceland ever did.  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, often becoming horrible and stringy shortly after.

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 Facebook post 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 Lorelei’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, barely getting over his luck.  “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. 

He followed behind Darcy, watching from behind as she started running the water.  He moved his hand down the curve of her ass and down her thigh as she bent over to test the temperature, smiling tiredly when she looked over her shoulder at him.

“You’re still dressed,” she noted.

“So are you,” Loki said.

He stepped away, quickly undressing as Darcy did the same and dropping his clothes right onto the floor where he stood.  She stepped into the water before him, sitting forward so he could sit behind her, legs splayed so she could lean back against his chest.  As the water filled up around them, Darcy closed her eyes and groaned contentedly, for a moment seeming like she was about to fall asleep.  Loki cupped his hand under the water and poured a small stream over her breasts, watching as it fell around their curves, pooling down in the valley between them.

“Having fun?” Darcy asked.

“Yes,” Loki said, pouring water over her again.  He shifted beneath her, pulling his half-hard cock free and letting it rest against Darcy’s back.

“Yeah, I guess so,” Darcy said with laughter on the edge of her voice.

As the water filled up around them, Darcy sat forward to shut off the tap.  Loki moved his hands to her breasts, lifting their weight and pinching her nipples between his fingers.  Darcy hissed sharply and arched her back, slowly falling back against his chest.  With her so close again, Loki leaned to put his mouth against her neck, biting hard enough to make her gasp.  He trailed one of his hands down her stomach, drawing heavy trails along the inside of her thigh and back up again to her cunt.  He slid his fingers along her opening, teasing with the promise of more.  Moaning quietly, Darcy leaned her head against his shoulder and looked up at him through fogged lenses. Loki took her glasses off and set them aside, distracting her momentarily while he slid his fingers inside her.  Darcy gasped and reached up to grab the back of his neck, as if to pull them even closer together. 

“There.  Right there,” she said breathlessly.

Loki pressed his thumb into her clit, rubbing slow, hard circles against it while his fingers explored her depths.  “I’m not going anywhere,” he said against her skin.

She writhed and stretched against him, her back on his chest, and her hands grasping at whatever bit of him she could find.  Listening to her moan and quietly beg for more, Loki’s other hand moved between them to his dick, hard between them.  While Darcy moved against his fingers, leveraging herself against him as much as she could, Loki stroked himself slowly.  He pressed his mouth against her neck, laying soft kisses everywhere he could reach.  Soon, her sounds were lost to heavy panting and choked whimpers as she arched and moved more frantically against him.  Loki’s hand on his cock matched pace, picking up speed as he stroked himself.  He got lost in the sounds coming from Darcy, every one of them fuelling his climax.  As Darcy cried out loudly, stiffening against him, Loki bit down on her shoulder and pounded his own breathless orgasm out, spilling into the small gaps between them.  They lay there together in the water like that for a few minutes longer, one of Loki’s hands between them, and the other between Darcy’s legs, while she held onto the back of his neck.  Finally, she untangled from him and sat forward to splash some water over her back.  Loki got out first, leaving Darcy to clean herself up, and slowly made his way to the bed.  He lay naked on top of the sheets, overheated from the bath and the sex and everything else.  When Darcy drained the bath and joined him in bed, still damp, she lay down only close enough to drape her arm over his chest.  Loki took her hand in his, bringing it up to brush kisses over her knuckles, before putting it back over his chest.

They stayed like that, barely entwined and avoiding one another’s heat until they both fell asleep.

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 best naïve foreigner face and heaviest 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 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 an idiotic 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 thumbnail, 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 Lorelei, not even trying to be subtle about hinting that Thor had probably been hiding more from her than extreme pig-headedness.  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.

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Tarbell Course in Magic, vol 1: The History of Magic #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 around 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 in front of her door 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, barely backing off when she swatted at him. “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, but she wasn’t about to complain.

“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?” she asked. 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, choosing to believe he hadn’t actually set out to be insulting. “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 looked over to Loki expectantly. “You’re getting how much a night?” she asked him.

“Two-seventy-five,” he answered.

Darcy gaped at him. She was only getting $150, before the raise for being his manager as well. 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. He may have liked to play it up, but he was actually from another country, and very new to America. It was an easy fact to forget with as good as his English was.

“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. “He’s new here, and doesn’t really understand how things work yet.”

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. Everything’s all squared away.”

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 brown 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 brown 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 brown one. You want those ones around, because they eat the yellow ones,” she explained. “The brown ones just hurt like a motherfucker if they sting you. The yellow ones can actually 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,” she said.

“Oh god,” said the leasing manager.

Loki blanched. “Camel spider? What the hell is that?” 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 or internet.”

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.

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