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pie at thirty places

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"Trudging through the snow
On a stupid-ass cold day
Through the park we go
Freezing all the way..."

Maria turned to Jane for answers. "What's her problem?"

Jane spared a glance at her erstwhile intern, then returned her concentration to the icy path before them. "Darcy doesn't like the cold."

Darcy was layered up so much she resembled the unholy lovechild of the Michelin Man and an animate pile of scarves. If Maria squinted, she could see a telltale gleam that must be Darcy's eyes, but it was at best an educated guess.

From somewhere deep within the lumbering mound of knitwear Darcy's voice issued forth. "Doesn't like the cold. Yeah, that's one way to put it. Why do you think I signed up for an internship in New Mexico? Nice and warm down there, chilly nights maybe but never this awful, awful stuff —" Darcy kicked the snow for emphasis and a gust of wind caught the airborne chunks, picking them up and flinging them back over her. She wiped the worst of it from her front with great dignity, then continued with her rant. "And next thing I know I'm in freaking Norway for no good reason," Darcy held up a mittened hand to cut Jane off, "yeah yeah alien invasion, whatever, it was summer here."

Maria wisely refrained from commenting that it had also been summer in Norway at the time (for a given value of "summer"). She suspected it was the principle of the thing, and besides, at this point Darcy was practically steam-powered.

"...And then London, at least it sticks to nice miserable rain there, and now here," Darcy spat the word into a nearby snowbank, "and everything is terrible. Why did we ever go outside?"

Natasha skipped up beside the women just then, and Darcy subsided into inarticulate grumbling, probably for her own safety. Natasha was unfairly graceful. She put Maria in mind of Legolas from Lord of the Rings, dancing lightly over the snow while her companions flailed. Jane slipped and slid, concentrating closely on the rutted, icy path, and Maria was grateful for the traction and waterproofing her combat boots afforded (well, blood-proofing, but same difference). Darcy trudged steadily onward, heedless, but Maria was fairly certain if anything happened she'd just bounce. And then there was Natasha, a shock of scarlet hair and a sleek black jacket, ranging silent and smooth alongside.

Natasha angled a look at Darcy. "Very important. Holiday tradition."

Darcy muttered "wow" under her breath. Natasha graciously pretended she hadn't heard.

"This is the first holiday season we've spent together," Maria pointed out, only partly to be irritating.

Whatever scathing rejoinder Natasha might have had was cut off when Jane stopped dead in the middle of the path and Maria ran right into her. They grabbed each other as they scrabbled for balance on the ice, and Jane held on, even after she was stable. Distracted, she stared heavenward. "Did you hear that?"

That was thunder, out of a clear, brilliantly blue winter sky. Maria frowned, and checked her cellphone for alerts. Natasha reached for a hidden weapon and checked their perimeter. Darcy swore and patted her pockets for her taser.

"I don't understand," Jane said. "Thor's already at the —"

With a tremendous crack and a blinding haze of gold light, the bifrost crashed to earth not fifty feet from them. Great plumes of steam rose as Heimdall's magic scorched the snow. The four women squinted, ready to take action if need be, but all seemed peaceful. When the glare faded, Maria could see a lone figure crouched at the center of a melting pattern. The Asgardian stood, surveyed the grounds, then turned toward them.

"Sif!" Jane cried, and hurried carefully forward to meet her. Natasha relaxed, and Darcy stopped searching her pockets. Maria's stomach did a slow flip, and her palms started to sweat for no reason at all. She tugged at her gloves and watched as Sif embraced her tiny physicist friend.

When they reached the path, Maria nodded in greeting. "Lady Sif." Her throat must have dried up in the cold winter air. She coughed to clear it. "This is an unexpected honor."

Sif laughed. "The Warriors Three wished to pay a visit to Thor, but Heimdall saw you ladies walking abroad, and thought I might like to join you." That last part was directed specifically at Maria, and Maria felt the tips of her ears grow warm despite the cold. At a loss, she tried a small smile in reply. Sif beamed back at her.

Darcy trundled up and bumped gently into Sif's shoulder. "Good choice. It'll be all quaffing and carousing and smashing stuff up at the Tower. We, on the other hand, have braved this horrible weather" — Sif glanced around in confusion at the brilliant sunlight and sparkling snow — "on a very important quest. You can join us!"

Sif's smile broadened, and she rested a hand on the hilt of her sword. She was, Maria noted, fully armed and armored. Seemingly her only concession to the weather was a quilted tunic, and thick woolen leggings under her skirt. She looked amazing. "I would be honored to aid you. What is your quest?"

Natasha inclined her head, and set off along the path once more, the others following. "Pie," she said darkly. "Pie at Thirty Places."

Maria took her customary moment to thank any relevant deities Natasha was on their side. Even after all these years, she still couldn't decide if Natasha was deeply sinister, or trolling everyone.

Sif frowned. "Is this some kind of duel? In my realm a "pie" is a kind of pastry. Is it not so here? What manner of weapon is it?"

A snorting sound came from somewhere under Darcy's scarves. "You throw them. At people's faces. Or you eat them." The pile of winterwear heaved up and down in a shruglike manner. "Either one."

""Pie at Thirty Places" is a restaurant that serves pastry," Maria clarified. "They have a lot of different varieties, hence the name."

"No dueling, then?" Sif seemed a little disappointed.

Natasha smirked. "Dueling is optional."

"Romanoff." Maria threw a little steel into her voice, the old Deputy Director tone. It didn't do a lot of good; Natasha's grin only grew more wicked.

"There's a dueling area marked out the back," she insisted. "You can even choose your weapons: custard, banana creme, chocolate, or decimal places."

Maria scoffed. "Now I know you're making that up."

"Decimal places?" Sif inquired.

"Pi is also a number," Jane explained. "The circumference of a circle divided by its diameter. It's an irrational number, and people like to see how much of it they can memorize."

"Most decimal places wins," agreed Natasha.

"Ah," said Sif. "That seems an... odd pastime."

"Right there with you," muttered Maria, which won her a smile from Sif. Maria's ears heated up again. Hastily, she turned to Jane. "How many digits of pi do you know?"

"Just thirty-nine," Jane replied, offhand. There was a pause, and Jane looked up to find the others staring at her. "That's how many you need to work out the volume of the universe." She kept walking.

Darcy shrugged again and waddled after Jane. "Whatever. I'm going to eat all thirty kinds of pie. That's my quest." Natasha moved up to join her, and they began to discuss logistics, her shining hair bent close to Darcy's woolen swathes.

Sif turned to Maria, dark hair swirling in the gentle breeze. Her cheeks were rosy in the cold, and her smile was radiant. "A feast sounds like an excellent idea. If I may?" Sif held out her hand, as if asking Maria to dance.

Maria hesitated for a long moment before slipping off her glove and taking the offered hand in hers. Her eyes went wide. "Your hand is freezing!" Forgetting ceremony, Maria reached for Sif's other hand and chafed them both briskly.

"You had better warm me up, then," Sif said. Her face was grave, but hazel eyes sparkled. Gently she extracted her hands until she could lace their fingers together, and tucked her free hand under Maria's arm so they were snugged together from shoulder to hip. "I shall depend on you, Maria."

Across snowy wastes, the Abominable Darcy howled. "Piiiiiiieeeeeee!"

Maria found she was smiling. "A feast awaits."

Sif's answering grin was bright with anticipation. "I brought an appetite."

Arm in arm, they set off down the path.