Don’t Eat the Worm: Voted Most Likely to Be Culpable in an Arson
October 19, 2016
Darcy chewed slowly. Not because she was savoring her pancake-wrapped sausage, and she was because – hot damn – Thor was as good at making breakfast as he was at letting his jeans slide down to show off those angle-divot parts that real people never had next to their hipbones. She was pretty sure they were just photo shopped onto actors. She chewed slowly because she really, seriously, needed the extra few seconds to think about what she had just heard. Tony Stark wanted her help. To get the band back together and figuratively shove the Accords up Secretary Ross’ ass. Maybe also literally. Although he probably didn’t need her help with that. If it was possible to spontaneously experience aural hallucinations without LSD, she figured she might be smack in the middle of one.
“Is it conceivable for you to stop masticating like a mentally challenged water buffalo and give me an answer? Yes would be preferable, in case you weren’t sure. Yes? Yes.” Tony Stark nodded decisively and straightened his already straight sunglasses. The damn things probably cost more than Jane’s van. “Excellent. If you have an overnight bag we can…” He glanced around the showroom. Thor had torn down the plastic over the kitchen in order to cook, and everything else was covered in a fine layer of off-white dust. “Never mind. Friday can have a card issued for you from my account by the time we hit New York. You can replace…everything. All the things.”
“Calm down.” Jane offered that directive as she licked syrup off of her fingers. It was an activity that Thor approved of highly, if the way he was avidly following her motions was anything to go by. Darcy was used to it. Envious, but inured. “You need to give her a minute,” Jane’s eyes narrowed, her hands less sticky and her expression serious. “While she is thinking over your suspiciously generous offer, you can explain to me how her thesis evolved into Darcy moving to New York.”
“Foster, come on, you’re a bright kid-“
“Call me kid again and you’ll be regretting it from another dimension.”
It was mostly bluff. Darcy had been with Jane every step of the way since they saw their first bifrost in action, and Jane did not have the technology to teleport anyone. Yet. It was possible, Darcy mused to give herself something not-Tony related to focus on, that Jane could accomplish the same thing with her Aether-ness. But she would have to be really worked up. Epically mad. Shooting lasers from her eyes and breathing the hard breaths of the incensed type of furious. She glanced at her friend.
Kind of like that, she thought.
Jane was about ten seconds from flipping the table and/or removing Tony forcibly from the building. It was probably only Thor’s huge hand rubbing soothing circles on her back that kept the small woman from doing any damage. Tony was rambling, attempting to look uninterested, but fingering something in his pocket that Darcy was sure could give Jane a run for her money. Or possibly destroy the few things still in decent condition in Puente Antigo. She mostly tuned them out. Thor would be able to play mediator, if it came to that, and Darcy was still processing.
“-perspective that I hadn’t considered. It is the simplicity of it that is so intriguing, of course.”
“No doubt you have demon pits full of lawyers who could-” Jane began.
“Not pits so much as expensive midtown real estate. Maybe they could have – they should have, certainly. But they didn’t. I have a problem that needs solved, so I want the best to deal with it. Usually that’s Pepper. Sometimes it is a team of publicists and attorneys that could suck the marrow from a kitten and convince you they were doing the cat a favor. Today it is a tipsy minion in a, what is that short stack?” He eyed her carefully, his mouth twisting as if he had bit into a lime sans tequila. “Ah, you’ve got to be kidding me. Okay. Today it is a tipsy minion in fake Oakleys and a Pym Tech t-shirt. That has to go, by the way. In an incinerator. ASAP.” The look of disgust on the billionaire’s face was priceless. He actually clutched her manuscript to his chest as if to armor himself against the offending garment.
“Why should she?”
Slowly, smoothly, with decades of practice at being an entitled douche, Tony used his index finger to lower his sunglasses. “Excuse me?”
“It’s your mess, Stark. You and Mr. American Pie are responsible, so why should anyone else clean up your shit?”
“Ah, because I saved the world? A bunch?”
“Three times, Stark. Quit milking it.”
“Four,” Thor corrected quietly.
“Five,” Tony insisted.
“Whatever. Darcy did my laundry once. Doesn’t mean I’m giving her a free pass on the bathroom demolition.” Darcy had actually forgotten about the bathroom. That was going to be a bitch to take care of. It definitely figured into her decision.
“A little bit bigger deal, but oh-kay,” Tony muttered.
“You can’t just take her away without her consent. And what if Darcy doesn’t like it there? Can she just break this employment contract at any time, and you’ll fly her home? Why does she have to work at your skyline erection, at all? Ever heard of telecommuting?”
“Fine, Foster. You win this round. I’ll move you as well so you can keep an eye on your gal pal.” He eyed Thor, and then Jane. Darcy could see it coming even if Jane didn’t. There was a reason Jane was no longer allowed to negotiate funding contracts. “And if you want to bring Point Break with, I suppose I can find room for him. But you’ll have to earn his food allowance, I’m not running a halfway house for wayward aliens! I’ll take payment in patentable technology.”
Tony and Jane continued to bicker, Tony working toward getting everything he wanted and layering it all with sarcasm and pointed comments regarding Thor’s hair. Jane seemed oblivious to his endgame and instead focused on her real concern: Darcy might leave.
Darcy got it. Jane had three people in the world she trusted herself to be around. Three people, and Darcy would never, not for all the tea in China or all the whipped cream in Older Mexico, leave Jane to figure things out by herself. Jane might have once been her boss, but it had been years since they had become best friends. There was no way Darcy was leaving Jane, so she ignored the argument all together.
Tony was correct. She would never, ever, ever tell him that, but it was true. The Avengers had saved the world, outright, more than once. And multiple times they had curtailed smaller issues that could have become something bigger. Darcy was also bright enough to know that for every incident she was aware of there were probably a dozen that had never become public knowledge. The world needed the Avengers. If Thor’s suspicions about the Infinity Stones were true, then all of the previous invasions and psychopaths and secret organizations hell-bent on ruling Earth were no more than a B-grade preview. The world needed the Avengers. As a team. Needed them to be able to act decisively and quickly. Needed their unwavering sense of right and good.
Tony’s sense of right and good. For all of the mistakes that he had made, they had never been done with anything less than a clear moral compass and a justifiable dose of fear. And, Darcy felt it was a pretty good guess, some serious psychological trauma. He just needed someone to reign him in occasionally, they all did. Oversight by a government or governments was a terrible idea. She had postulated and proved that fairly succinctly in the first sixty pages of her thesis. Pushing the Avengers to act individually, or even in small groups, in a vacuum was even worse. She had devoted an entire section to the social psychology that layered decision making within the Avengers pseudo-hierarchical structure. That was a work of organizational theory deserving of its own manuscript.
All of that aside. Even when Darcy managed to shove the wellspring of fear that threatened to bubble up out of her when she thought about Jane’s Aether and the power that was reaching through the universe towards them, she still thought the Accords needed to be dissolved. Not heavily amended, as Tony was suggesting she attempt, but dissolved. Voided. Nullified. Abolished. Reversed. Quashed. And a whole lot of other words she would think of later that all meant she wanted to find every copy on every hard drive and piece of paper in existence, pile them in front of Liberty Hall and light a fucking match.
The Accords were an affront to personal liberty and natural order in its highest developed form. The Avengers were the symbol of human achievement, an ideal to strive for and accomplish goals in that effort. They were strength, used not to force others to take a knee, but to pull them up. Of their own free will they had defended those too weak to do so themselves and asked nothing in return but to be allowed the freedom to live their lives and to act again if it became necessary. They were the expression of the right of defense in the face of injustice.
Of course, she would never say any of those things to Tony. He would probably snicker. Or barf. And Darcy would be incredibly embarrassed to go all Locke-nerd in front of him and Jane. Thor would get it. He had an impressive education in governance theory, which made sense. If he hadn’t given up the throne he would have been expected to rule for a few millennia.
“-what? Zubrin destroyed that line of reasoning!” Tony pulled out his phone. “We’ll call him right now and-”
“Oh, it’s all about the money and the networking with you, Stark. This is about the science!” Jane was vibrating with outrage and Darcy had completely lost track of the situation. It was like babysitting children. One minute they were arguing over the merits of honey versus jam and the next there were twenty-three peanut butter sandwiches on the floor.
“This is how we get ants,” she muttered. Both Tony and Jane turned to stare at her. Thor smiled and nodded encouragingly. “So. I will consider your offer.” She pointed at Stark and ignored his pleased grin. He immediately pressed a button on his phone and everyone could hear the helicopter warming up. “And I will not be leaving Jane and Thor, nor will they be living in your monstrous defilement of an iconic skyline with phallus worship. Also, we need to discuss my benefits package with Pepper, so we’re not going to New York just yet. Friday,” she said, hoping the AI would hear through Tony’s phone, “we are headed to Malibu.”
“Of course, Ms. Lewis.”
“Pepper doesn’t need to see your contract,” Tony said, a little too hastily. “She doesn’t work for me anymore, so she wouldn’t be interested. It’s a breach of ethics, or something equally moral sounding.”
“That’s why we’re going to talk to her.” Darcy stood and washed her hands before searching for her shoulder bag. It had her pain pills, backup phone battery, and her emergency travel essentials: a candy bar and clean underwear. “Pepper doesn’t work for you, but I will work for her, if she agrees.”
“What?” Jane half stood from her chair.
“I’m not sure you understand how the interview process works, Lewis.” Tony moved to lean back against the wall, remembered the dust, and thought better of it – aborting his attempt to instead awkwardly cross his arms.
“Nope. I got it down. Now that I am done considering you for the position of boss, I’m going to move up the food chain and speak to someone with real power. You can chauffeur me, and practice your apology speech to Captain Flight-Risk on the way.” Her mind was made up, and Darcy had always jumped in with both feet. She was also not above using the Stark helicopter as a getaway distraction.
“Apology! I never said-”
“Don’t worry Jane,” Darcy smiled over her shoulder while she herded Tony out the door. “I’ll be back tomorrow afternoon. The next day at the latest. Try the whipped cream!”
“What will it take, Lewis? Name your price.” Darcy continued to ignore Tony and opened the showroom door.
Thor was frowning at the Crema Mullida. His arm around Jane’s shoulders kept her in her seat. “Darcy, I do not believe this is a food product.”
“Go,” she yelled over the rotors at Tony. “Fly, you fool!” She pretended not to hear him over the noise outside, but it was more difficult to keep from wincing when Jane’s bellow hit her ears.
“Darcy! Where are we supposed to shower?”