Darcy wakes up and doesn't know where she is.
She takes a shaky breath. Stay calm. Blink. Swallow. Look around. Think.
The pillow next to her is firm and full. The comforter on that side of the bed is neat and nearly unrumpled.
She slept alone.
…And that doesn't feel right somehow. She feels like there should be someone. But she doesn't remember who.
And the room, it isn't her room in New Mexico or at college, or her room at home with her parents.
She blinks again. The room is filled with morning light. The walls are painted a rich, inviting green. A window with white trim is open. A chill, refreshing breeze is gently lifting the curtains. It smells like...fall maybe?
The bed is so comfortable she almost doesn't want to move. But she does move. She's frightened but also a tiny bit curious.
Rolling over so as not to disturb the unmade portion of the bed, she gasps. On the wall opposite her are rows upon rows of photos in neat metal frames. She can't make them out from this distance so she lifts herself out of bed. As she sits up for the first time, she notices what she's wearing. Green silk pajamas, a matching set, and - she peeks down the front, a very nice bra. She slides her hand along the comforter and the sheets of the bed. Both are very soft, opulent even. How does she have such nice things and not remember?
She lifts her head and sees pictures. Again. Oh.
Standing, she walks towards them. As they come into focus, she notices that beneath them are little labels. There are pictures of two little boys to the far left. She gasps - her sons! What are their names? Franz and Max! She looks more carefully at one. Sure enough, it has a neatly typed label that reads: My son Franz. 5 years old.
Next to it are pictures of more little boys, each a little older - and then it dawns on her, no, the same boys, just a little older. It's a picture timeline. She swallows. And breathes too fast. Her memory. Something is wrong with her memory. These are notes to herself, she's sure.
Biting her lip she follows the timeline of Franz and Max with her eyes. Some of the scenes she remembers vaguely. And some she does not. A wedding. Franz standing next to a woman in a wedding gown. Darcy's eyes widen; the woman has pointed ears! She is...an elf! But elves don't exist, do they? She blinks. The woman is lovely. Maybe she just has pointed ears? How charming. She sees a picture of a little baby with pointed ears after the wedding portrait. The label underneath says, David, grandson age 9 months. Darcy smiles at the smiling baby whose skin seems to be lit from within. What a magical little man! Too magical; maybe she is dreaming?
She looks at other pictures on the wall. There are some of a handsome man with a determined face who looks Asian. Her brow furrows. She knows him...he has his own timeline too and Darcy follows it with her finger. Her husband. Oh, yes. She blinks. At the final picture it says, David died in a car crash, and gives a date. Darcy puts her hand to her mouth. Oh, no. She stands for a long time looking at the picture. She has a deep sensation of loss, though she can't quite remember David. Just feelings. Love, frustration, affection - and a sort of gaping hole that seems to be in the pit of her stomach, not in her mind.
Biting her lip she turns away. It's too much. There are other pictures on the walls. A golden haired man with a little too much brawn named Thor. A beautiful woman with brown hair and brown eyes named Jane. There is a picture of a man who is too handsome and a woman who is too beautiful with a baby between them. The label says, Nari, son of Loki, and Freyja with their daughter Anna. In a scribbly hand there is a handwritten comment beneath that. Anna short for Anarchy.
The names Nari, Freyja and Anna don't have any particular resonance with her. But the name Loki...
She looks to a picture farthest to the right. There is a picture of a beautiful man and he's blue. He has redglowing eyes, but they seem warm, not frightening, and he is smiling. She shakes her head. He's too lovely. Between this man and the baby with pointed ears, she must be dreaming this all up. She tilts her head. But what a nice dream, and what a nice smile on the blue man - a tad mischievous. Unlike the other portraits, this one is unframed and a bit rumpled. There is a label attached to it, and unlike the others this label is handwritten in pencil with a loopy feminine hand. It says Loki. And then next to that it says Housemate...but that description looks like it has been erased and revised a number of times. Like someone couldn't make up their mind how to describe him.
She takes the picture off the wall and cradles it in her hands. From somewhere outside the room comes the cheery sound of a teakettle whistling. Swallowing, Darcy clutches the picture closer and opens the door. She steps into a hallway. At one end she can see a kitchen, and she hears the clink of porcelain and someone moving about.
Gathering her courage, she moves down the hall as quietly as she can. The kitchen comes into focus: lots of bright chrome counters, a dark green tile floor, dark wood, light green walls. And, she blinks. A very handsome blue man with black hair. He's wearing a green shirt - she senses a bit of a theme, and dark brown trousers. He's pouring tea into a cup. As she moves into the kitchen he looks up and says, "Ah, good morning," and graces her with a charming smile.
"Good morning," says Darcy, clutching something to her chest. "Where am I?"
He smiles. "At the moment you're in your kitchen."
"Oh." Darcy blinks. "What are you doing in my kitchen?" Wait, he has been nothing but polite. There must be some misunderstanding. Catching herself she adds, "Not that you're not lovely..."
He lowers his eyes at that. "You know you tell me that every day..." He lifts his head. "You know I find that it never actually gets old."
For the first time she realizes his eyes are red. Something about them...Oh.
She lifts up the photo she's been holding. How did she forget? "You're Loki! My housemate!"
"Yes," he says with a smile. "Would you like some tea?"
"I think that would be good," Darcy says. He gestures to a table, and Darcy sees croissants laid out and porcelain plates. There is also a digital tablet. Walking over she sits down. The tablet is open to the New York Times. The headline of the day is "Russia's President Katerina Putin Exchanges AK47's With Dark Evils for Chernobyl Clean Up: Alfheim Furious. "
She blinks. Actually, she remembers something about Chernobyl and a nuclear accident.
She looks back at the tablet. There is a smaller article about rioting outside an apple orchard in Washington State. She is about to read it when Loki puts a mug of tea down next to her and sits downs. He slides the tablet over to him as he does.
Loki. She remembers something about that name. "The Norse God of Mischief and Lies," she blurts out.
He is just lifting his mug to his lips and he stops.
Blushing, Darcy looks down. "Something I just remembered. I'm sorry. My memory. Something is wrong...I'm sure you're not..."
He smirks. "I'm not offended, though I prefer Loki, Agent of Chaos Incarnate."
Tilting his head, he looks thoughtful. "Actually, it's been a long time since you've made that association."
Darcy doesn't know what that means, so she helps herself to a croissant. Taking a bite, she looks out the window. They seem to be someplace rural. There is a forest - no, an orchard, right outside their kitchen. She tilts her head. "Seems like a rather quiet place for an agent of chaos."
Chuckling, he says, "Oh, you have no idea."
And then they chat. It's a lovely chat, and Darcy succeeds in making him laugh a few more times. But after it's over, she can't remember what they've spoken of. It's disconcerting.
As they finish up their mugs of tea and polished off some croissants, he says, "We should get you ready to go out."
Darcy blinks. "Where are we going?"
Standing from his seat, he offers her his arm. "Apple picking."
As she takes her arm a middle aged woman in a white uniform appears out of nowhere. Seeing the direction of her gaze, Loki frowns. "That is Claudine, our maid."
Darcy smiles at the woman and says, "Good morning, Claudine."
She smiles back at Darcy warmly.
Next to her Loki stiffens. "You still snip at me when I make all the dirty dishes disappear." His shoulders drop and his eyes narrow. "As though it is as big a deal as when I painted a moustache on the statue of liberty when that senator said those dreadful things about Asgardian refugees, or turned Congress' roof into soft serve ice cream. You took me to task for all the tax dollars those spells cost ordinary Americans, too."
Darcy blinks. He seems put out. But he must be joking. So she laughs and says, "And I'd do it again...those would be expensive pranks. But funny."
Loki smiles a bit triumphantly at that, but doesn't respond. Claudine snorts.
x x x x
Loki opens the door to Darcy's closet. She stares at the neatly hung rows of pants and shirts. "Can I dress myself?" she asks aloud. "Or do I pick out horrible things that don't match?"
Loki smiles. "Actually, this is one thing you have always managed to do fine on your own. I think it has to do with all your years of being a photographer. You still have a keen sense of color."
He backs away. "You still take pictures," he says. "Later I'll show you."
Darcy tilts her head. A photographer? How interesting. If she could remember. Shaking her head, she picks out some clothes and then dresses herself, very slowly. It seems her fingers don't quite do what she wants them to do. When she leaves her room, Loki is waiting. He looks her up and down and then says, "Ah, your hair. Come, let me help."
He guides her back into her room and in front of a dresser with a mirror. Sure enough, her hair is a mess, but what strikes her more is how much older she is than Loki. She is in her mid fifties perhaps, and he looks...well, it is hard to say, but he looks young, and healthy and vital.
He picks up a hairbrush from the dresser before she's even realized it was there and begins gently brushing her hair.
"You're so young and handsome," Darcy declares. "You shouldn't be here with me. You should be chasing some young woman and making babies!"
He raises an eyebrow and smirks. "You know the last woman I asked to marry and make babies with me turned me down?"
Darcy doesn't know Loki well, but she already likes him. "Well, she was a dummy. You're very handsome and babies are a lot of trouble but the best thing in the world!"
"Hmmmm..." Loki says. "I will remember you said that."
Shoulders falling, Darcy tilts her head. "But I won't remember."
"Never fear," says Loki with a mischievous smile. "I will remind you."
x x x x
When they leave Darcy's bedroom, she can hear people in the house. "That will be your sons Max and Franz, Franz's wife Hisberna and their baby, David," Loki whispers.
"Okay," says Darcy, even though it isn't.
He holds out her arm and she takes it.
"You're very kind," she whispers.
He smiles tightly and threads his fingers with hers. "Not really. But I take care of my interests."
Darcy blinks at that. She's not sure how she can interest him, but he is kind, and she follows him down the hallway. There are young men in the kitchen, they call her Mom, and she thinks she might remember them. She smiles and plays along. A pretty woman with elf ears lets her hold an adorable little baby.
When the one who is Max says, "Well, it's time to pick the last apple, I guess," Darcy smiles and nods and pretends to know what they're talking about. It seems to make them happy, so she surmises it is the right thing to do.
When they walk outside for the first time she notices that the sky is filled with quiet little flitters. "What are those?" she asks.
"Drones," says Franz. "To help protect the apples."
That makes everyone go quiet. Darcy looks around. She sees men with guns between the trees, too. "Must be some tasty apples," she says.
Max chuckles a little, but it is very hollow sounding. "Something like that."
Darcy walks with them to a tree at the center of the orchard. The woman with the pretty ears plucks an apple and hands it to Darcy.
Darcy stares at it, and her mouth waters. "I've eaten one of these before, haven't I?" she says.
Loki squeezes her hand. Franz tilts his head. Max smiles a little, and so does Hisberna.
"You remember," says Max. "That's good."
"That's new," says Franz.
"It is working, as I said it would," says Hisberna.
"What's working?" Darcy asks, staring at the apple in her hand. The shadow of a flitter crosses over her and she shivers.
Everyone looks uncomfortable. Beside her Loki says, "Each apple is capable of restoring approximately 19 months of youth. Last year you ate two. This year you've eaten one -"
"More than two a year and the effects would be too fast," says Max. "It could be dangerous."
Darcy stares at the fruit, and then looks up at the flitters and sees the men with guns moving through the trees.
"Everyone wants these," she says.
"Yes," says Loki. "But there aren't enough. Not now anyway."
Darcy holds the fruit in her hand, afraid, or ashamed of taking a bite, she's not sure. Loki's arm tightens around her own.
"Eat it, Mom," says Franz.
"Eat it," says Max.
"There never is enough of anything new and good to start," Franz says. "Let one of the first to receive immortality be you."
They're all looking at her so earnestly, and Loki's arm in hers is practically vise like.
"All of us miss you, Mom," Franz says. "Please...eat it."
The apple shakes in her hand. "Other people are eating these, too," she says.
"Yes," says Loki, too quickly. "More people every year, don't fret."
"Who?" says Darcy.
"Barton, Tony, Rhodey, Pepper, Jane, Thor, Fandral, Doug..." Loki rolls his eyes. "My son Nari - and his beastly wife. She only married him for his share. The orchard in Asgard was almost completely destroyed by guerilla fighters a few years ago."
The last part goes over Darcy's head. She looks at Franz and Max. "You?" she says, instinctively holding the apple out to them.
"Not yet, Mom," says Max staring at the apple. "By choice. Right now we're foregoing our share so that we can sell them to the highest bidder."
"Security is expensive," says Franz.
"But they will have a share, of course," says Loki, squeezing her hand. "We're growing new trees all the time."
"Please, Mom, just eat it," says Franz.
Everyone is staring at her, waiting, imploring her with their eyes. Hesitantly, Darcy takes a little bite. The flesh is sweet and tart at once, and very crisp. As soon as she has one little taste she can't stop. She has to be careful lest she swallow it whole. It is as though every cell in her body is crying out for the next mouthful. She feels pleasantly warm, and everything around her seems exceptionally clear.
Max, Franz and the lady with the cute ears start to smile, and talk about this and that, little David, if Max is seeing anyone. But Loki's eyes don't leave her.
Darcy reaches the core of the apple, and finally she feels sated. Loki hands her a handkerchief. Wiping her chin, she looks up at him. She feels a flutter at the pit of her stomach. "We're not housemates," Darcy says.
The idle chatter stops. Loki raises an eyebrow.
Darcy closes her eyes. "I remember you - in a tower. You were hurt, and sick..." She looks back up at him. "I helped take care of you. I remember." Her brow furrows. "Is that why you're helping me now?"
Everyone is quiet, as though they are holding their breath. Loki smiles mischievously. "Something like that."
Darcy's eyes narrows. "There's more to it." Though she can't quite remember what.
Loki looks down. Darcy's arm has slipped from his but their hands are still joined, their fingers entwined. He squeezes his hand gently but says nothing. And for a minute she thinks maybe they were...but no, that idea is preposterous.
"You won't tell me though, will you?" She's not sure how she knows this.
He meets her eyes. "No. It's better if you remember yourself." He shrugs and looks so sad she doesn't press.
She looks down at the apple core in her hand. "How long before I can remember?"
"Another three years or so," says Loki.
Darcy scowls. "That's a long time to be stuck with me."
Loki smiles, a wise, wonderful, wicked, gleeful smile. She half expects him to bounce on his heels.
"No, Darcy," he says, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "That is no time at all."