Don’t Eat the Worm: The Secret
October 19, 2016
“This is crazy.”
“Yeah, obviously, or I wouldn’t be going along with this. We should stop.”
“You should stop.”
“That doesn’t even make sense, Darcy.”
“You’re a towel.”
From the corner of her eye, Darcy watched Jane throw up her hands in exasperation and just stare at the enormous mess they had made in the old showroom. The kitchen – where life-giving sustenance like eggs, pop-tarts, beer, and cereal lived – had been kept safe from the mayhem by taping sheets of painter’s plastic to the ceiling and floor. The fold-out couch that Erik slept on when he was in town was also covered in plastic, as was all of Jane’s equipment and the computers. The door to Jane and Thor’s room, also known as the Big Office of Long-Time Lovin’, was firmly closed with a towel shoved under the door. Darcy’s room, referred to – by those who didn’t enjoy being able to touch all four walls without moving their feet – as Satan’s Wardrobe, had received similar treatment. It was all part of Darcy’s plan to keep the demolition dust out of their food and off of surfaces where a person might conceivably have sex or do complex maths. Both were an actuality for Jane, but a concept for Darcy. She had no desire to do complex maths and sex was a sadly distant memory more dust-covered than the room itself.
The plan had not included any foresight on how they were going to get to their food now that it was cordoned off, nor what they were going to put over the floor after they had finished smashing and ripping out the hideous and suspiciously moldy tile from the bathroom to prevent shards of asbestos-adjacent décor from stabbing their feet. Although not specifically listed as part of the plan, it was understood that it was less about home remodeling and more about working out aggression from a shitty, shitty week. As Darcy swung the surprisingly heavy claw hammer against the wall again, sending another blast of probably toxic dust into the air to coat the showroom and the death rattle of her sex life, Jane covered her sixth shot with her hand.
“What are you doing?” Darcy huffed under the tea towel she had tied over her nose and mouth to keep the cancer particles away. Her eyes were covered with ‘protective’ knock-off Oakleys. With the exception of the sling supporting her left arm, she figured she was the most creatively stylish contractor in all of Puente Antigo. Jane had gone a different direction by putting on her welding mask.
“Uh, not destroying our only access to toilet and showering facilities?”
“With that.” She pointed a gloved hand – the gloves were striped winter knits, not exactly work wear, but Darcy was serious about remaining blister free – at Jane’s shot.
Jane passed it under her mask and threw it back. “I don’t know what you’re referring to.”
“What happened to my drink?”
“You drank it.”
“The one after that.”
“You drank it too.”
“I didn’t pour that one because the dust was getting bad and it would have contaminated the tequila.”
Darcy stared at Jane. Jane stared at Darcy. It lasted for a full minute. “What’s your IQ again? It’s tequila, Jane. It’s already contaminated with the poison called alcohol and the fumes of poor decisions.”
“Poor decisions like ripping up our only bathroom?”
“It was just…” Darcy turned and stared back at the havoc they had wrought. As far as coping mechanisms went, she maybe could have come up with something less destructive.
To be fair, Jane had agreed that they should do this. And she had been the first one to swing the hammer. And the bathroom was pretty awful. But maybe they should have stopped with the floor tile instead of moving on to the back splash. And then probably they shouldn’t have decided the shower tiles needed go to. And, yeah, even though the ceiling in the bathroom was ridiculously low compared to the rest of the building, and yeah, Thor – and even Erik – had to stoop to get their hair under the shower head, they definitely shouldn’t have pulled down the sheet rock. But there was no reason that they couldn’t stop now. No reason to make a bad thing worse. No matter how ugly the wallpaper was, they did not have to take down the walls. Even if it was really, really ugly. Even if Jane had been having a really, really bad day. And Erik was visiting the University, where Jane wouldn’t go anymore, so she couldn’t talk science with him. And Thor was in the desert communing with Heimdall, so no big muscles were around for hugs, or anything else. And Darcy knew Jane was so tired of secluding herself in the ghost town that Puente Antigo had become just because every time she got a little overwhelmed she exploded things. Or smashed things. Or accidentally teleported. Just a tiny bit.
Darcy’s most recent trip to California had been less than stellar. The only member of the thesis committee who had the security clearance to review her source material had been called to Washington for a consultation, so her defense would be delayed. Tony Stark had crashed the girls’ night she had planned with Pepper; the desserts that Pepper sent home with her as an apology were delicious and expensive, but not as good as watching a bad movie and complaining about trade tariffs. Her Little Sister was being removed from another foster home. And, oh yeah, she had been shot and nearly trapped in a burning building. Darcy refused to even contemplate the awkward and absolutely mortifying rescue-turned-brush-off that had been her first ever encounter with Captain America. Although he hadn’t been wearing the suit, so she supposed it was an encounter with Steve Rogers, which made the brush off even more embarrassing, since the dude was like a hundred years old and a wanted fugitive so –
And there she was thinking about it again. Dammit. Stupid brain. Stupid hormones. Stupid square jaws and big hands and conviction to the ideals that make up the foundation of an equitable working governance by the people for the – God Dammit!
The minute she had returned to the showroom, Darcy had taken one look at Jane and known her best friend/landlord/quasi-employer wasn’t doing well either. So, she had come up with the plan. One: Drink Tequila. B: Eat doggie bags of tiny cheesecakes from Pepper Potts. Three: There hadn’t actually been a three until the drinking had commenced and then the subsequent conversation about the disgustingness of the bathroom. Which was followed by the painter’s plastic. And so on. And so on. It had seemed logical at the time.
“Yeah,” Jane sighed. “It was just.”
Darcy’s arm was aching somewhere on the far side of her buzz, and she reminded herself to get out the saran wrap before she washed her hair because she couldn’t get the stitches wet. “Holy fuck,” Darcy blurted out. “Where the hell are we going to shower tomorrow?”
Jane started laughing. Once she started she couldn’t seem to stop and then Darcy joined in. “To hell with it,” the scientist wheezed. “Let’s go to the roof.”
“Sure,” Darcy snagged the bottle of tequila and her shot glass, hiccuping between giggles. “Sounds like a great place to really get our problem solving hats on.”
It took Jane three tries to get up the ladder. Darcy was a little better, even one-handed, but she gave up on getting the umbrella open and they both would have died of inevitable third degree sunburns if Jane hadn’t taken the initiative and set up life-saving shade over their two lawn chairs. Lunch came and went, with only the liquor, a shared bottle of water, and a still sealed package of stale goldfish crackers someone had left on the roof. By three o’clock Darcy was starving and wishing she could take her pain pills with alcohol.
“How come- I mean,” Darcy restarted, fumbling through her brain for grammar. “Why is it that you don’t know how to cook?”
Jane stopped idly spinning her telescope and leaned back in her chair. “Because I grew up with my mom who can order takeout like a boss and thinks kitchens are places where menus and wine are stored.”
“Eh. She’s not wrong.”
“Why can’t you cook?”
“Because Sheryl hired a personal chef as soon as she and my mom moved in together when I was like, five? And cause my dad is so seriously anal about his brand of whipping cream I wasn’t allowed to do grocery shopping at his house until – well, actually he still won’t let me.”
“There’s more than one kind of cool whip?”
“Not cool whip, my dude. Whipping cream. It’s like, the stuff cool whip would be made from, if it wasn’t actually all delicious preservatives and flavorings created in a lab.”
“I could really go for some cool whip.” Jane’s stomach rumbled. “Or some whipping cream.”
“No, don’t go there. It is not a good place. Some serious shit has to go down before whipping cream is ready for pie topping and ice cream sundae goodness. Trust me on this. Learn from my mistakes, young padawan.”
“I could really go for some pie.” The alcohol had been fun at first, but after a few hours Jane was starting to be less carefree buzzed and more melancholy drunk. “Do you think Thor would find us some pie? I mean, if he comes back today,” she mumbled the last part.
“Jane Foster, PhD,” Darcy admonished, “Thor will be back in like, the next twenty minutes. Hour tops. And when he gets back there will be delicious, over-processed foodstuffs, lots of water, painkillers, and mind-blowing sex. Sex for you, painkillers for me, just so we’re clear. No sex for my poor, neglected, dusty…libido.”
“No, I got it.” Jane’s eyes were closed but she began to smile.
“And after the painkillers and sex, we are going out into the desert to work on your projection and deflection skills. You are going to own that Aether shit. You will be a bad ass mother fucker, and then we are going to look at the stars and solve all the maths. So. No. More. Moping.” She punctuated each word by flinging a goldfish at Jane’s face.
“Okay, okay!” Jane laughed. “Just don’t-”
She was interrupted by the distant sound of a vehicle, and they both sat up. Since Loki had sent the Destroyer and a big part of the town had sustained structural damage, Puente Antigo was not the small, sleepy town it once was. It was smaller. Less sleepy and more catatonic. Point of fact, the only residents left were Jane, Darcy, Thor, sometimes Erik, and a dozen people too nuts or stubborn to leave even after the government – those jack-booted thugs – declared the area a security site and made it next to impossible to hire contractors or receive much needed insurance payouts. A vehicle coming into town was rare enough to make everyone notice. Darcy walked carefully over to the edge and shaded her eyes. Turning the corner of main street was Jane’s van; Thor was mashed in behind the wheel like a clown at the Shrine Bowl.
“See, your prince charming has returned. And-” Darcy squinted, trying to see through the dusty windshield, “I’m pretty sure he got groceries.”
“I think I’m in love.” Jane flopped onto her stomach with a silly grin.
“Great. Now get down the ladder and use your feminine wiles to get some scrambled eggs out of that man. And maybe pancakes. Or waffles. Oooo – do you think he bought sausage?”
It turned out Thor did have groceries, but he forgot both syrup and cool whip. Although neither Darcy nor Jane fessed up that it hadn’t actually been on the list. It also turned out that Jane could not get down the ladder after copious amounts of tequila, so it was determined they would have a late lunch/early supper on the roof. Darcy could get down the ladder, even with her bum arm – because she was practically a superhero, so she volunteered to walk down to the gas station and see if they had syrup. She figured walking was a lot safer than driving in her condition, and it gave Thor time to see Jane through the touchy-feely portion of her inebriation.
Out of sight of Jane and a deceptively insightful Asgardian hunk, Darcy popped in her earbuds and let her smile drop. She was nearly finished with her graduate program, which was great and all, Go Me, but there weren’t a lot of job opportunities out there for a Master of Dispute Resolution and Public Policy. There certainly wasn’t much call for one in Puente Antigo. But Jane was committed to staying there. It was close enough to New Mexico State University, where Erik was working, to keep an eye on him and it had great night sky views for her research. It was only a short cheap flight to UCLA and Stark Industries West, both of which had given Jane grants. Darcy had no problem flying out every two or three weeks to present Jane’s research and pick up equipment. Most importantly to Jane, it was far, far away from anything she could destroy.
After the Convergence, Jane had been ecstatically happy. Universities and think tanks were calling her left and right to jump on her theories. Offers for grant funding flowed like water. Thor had come back from Asgard after only a couple of days and promised he was on Earth to stay.
Then Jane and Darcy had been walking down to the pub to meet Erik and Thor when a mugger grabbed Darcy’s bag. She couldn’t get to her taser, so settled for kicking at his shins and cursing up a storm. During the struggle, the dude had pulled a knife and lunged for the women. There was a shriek. A scream. A spray of blood. Then Darcy was slumped on the ground, her cheek and neck wet, liquid dripping in her hair. Jane was shaking, bits of red mist clinging to her clothes and open palms. The mugger’s throat was slashed. His knife lay on the sidewalk, pristine and unused.
London police had questioned them for a long time, but none of the security cameras had caught anything more than a struggle and the flash of the man’s knife. Darcy was between Jane and the mugger, so they didn’t see how the scientist could have been responsible. Between Darcy’s light concussion and the lack of her fingerprints on the knife there was reasonable doubt in her favor. It helped that a sudden storm washed away a lot of the evidence, and several heavy-hitters in the British government were very happy they were not currently under Dark Elf rule. Within twenty-four hours Darcy was on her way back to the U.S., escorting Erik and all of Jane’s equipment, while Thor took Jane off-world for a check-up.
Much later, the nature of Infinity Stones were explained to Darcy, in very simple terms, by Thor. She understood that they were beyond powerful and had some seriously bad mojo. But Malikith had removed the Aether from Jane, and it was destroyed. Darcy was there. She saw Thor kick ass. Jane had looked fine afterwards. Exhausted, which, hell-Oh, who wasn’t, and a little more underweight than usual, but overall fine. None of them had expected that there would be side effects.
Which, Darcy thought as she kicked a stone down the sidewalk and rounded the block toward the gas station, was kind of stupid on their part. Jane had had a piece of the creation of the Universe inside her for days and everyone had been like, ‘eh, drink plenty of fluids’. As if the power to destroy all light and life was comparable to the stomach flu. After the mugger, the Allfather himself had examined Jane, and determined that while she was not the Aether, she was not not the Aether either. It had gotten into her blood, into her genes, and left her different than she was before.
Jane had not taken the news well. Upset and frightened, Jane had thrown several healers through a wall and then disappeared, only to reappear next to Heimdall on the bridge. The verdict had been that there was no curing Jane, she just needed to learn control. Thor vowed that he would not leave her until she felt safe with herself. In the three years since, he had never been gone for more than one night.
With the exception of Tony Stark’s egomaniacal robot child bent on human eradication.
The big guy got a weekend pass to take care of that snafu. But when Tony called about the Accords, Thor had told him in no uncertain terms that unless the world was ending, he was busy. And that if any government agents or news crews showed up in New Mexico looking for him, Tony would be meeting the business end of Mew-mew. He also said that Earth politics were not something that he would interfere with, as only the Allfather could impose law upon Thor Odinson. Darcy understood where he was coming from, on a macro-scale, but the dude still couldn’t get a legal ID. It made buying beer anywhere but Puente Antigo an exercise in hilarity. So he sort of was compelled to follow some Earth laws.
For three years they had been in New Mexico. Darcy had her school work and a kick-ass new friendship with the Pepper Potts, plus 24/7 access to green chili, so she was copacetic. She even signed up for the Big Sister/Big Brother program in LA and got a seriously cool little person to hang out with. Mostly she reinforced not to do drugs and to stay in school and then they ate yummy things. But there was also the occasional very, very harsh words with an unsympathetic school counselor and the liberal slinging of Pepper and Tony’s names once in the Child Protective Services Office when Maria had gotten a really, really bad foster family. But life for Darcy was good overall.
It was Jane she was worried about. She didn’t seem to be getting better. She had gained more control, and could do some things on demand with her power, but she also still woke up a couple of times a month in the middle of the desert. And once in her mom’s London flat; Thor had to fly her home to avoid customs issues. It was wearing the scientist down too. She loved Thor, obviously. And her work was still her motivation in life, but she was depressed. Darcy knew it wasn’t good for her friend to only speak to three other people – four if you counted her teleconferences with her SI lab monkey. What they had been doing wasn’t working, but Darcy wasn’t sure what else they could do. We could always try the power of positive thinking, she thought dryly as she pushed open the gas station door.
“Roberto, my man!” She called out over the music blasting into her ears. Roberto didn’t look up from his phone, so Darcy continued through the small store to the tiny grocery section. There were travel size bottles of ‘maple flavored’ syrup – she got one for her and one for Jane and six for Thor – and no cool whip. But Roberto did stock a couple of spray cans of ‘Crema Mullida’ which had a hip cow in sunglasses for a mascot, so Darcy took them both. She had to pound her fist on the counter to get his attention, and when he finally turned he pointed his thumb out the window.
“You see that black helicopter?”
Darcy glanced out into the growing twilight. They hadn’t got many flybys since SHIELD fell, but one could never be too careful. She texted Jane a heads up. “Yeah, man, I see it.”
“Fucking government,” Roberto muttered, then devolved into a tirade that was mostly in Spanish and aimed at the conspiracy between the FBI and Big Insurance. Darcy nodded in commiseration as she left.
The problem was, she decided, getting back on track as she walked outside and opened the first can of Crema Mullida, that they needed someone who had experience with alien substances. Or experience with genetic mutation. Or experience with uncontrollable emotional issues. Darcy sprayed her mouth full of fake Mexican cool whip and swished it around thoughtfully. She knew, or rather Thor knew, someone with some rage problems. Dr. Banner had genetic experimentation in his wheelhouse too. His cache of degrees and accolades – pre-Hulk – would also put Jane into nerdish, raptur-y science excitement, so that would have been a plus. But he was unavailable for the time being.
The Heavy came up on her playlist and she took it as sign that it was time to move on from New Mexico. Darcy swallowed with conviction. She went to spray another mouthful, only then noticing that her Mullida was six months expired. Worth the risk, she decided. Tongue coated with questionable sugary dairy-like product and head swirling with a lingering buzz and possible ways to get Jane back into the land of the living and herself into the realm of the gainfully employed, Darcy didn’t pay much attention to the sleek helicopter parked next to Jane’s van.