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Wandering Lost

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Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 1:55am, Onramp to Lighthouse Ave, New Jersey

The fact that she hadn't even thought about putting her seatbelt on in her race to get away from him was unfortunate. As soon as she felt the initial impact, she stomped on the brake.

And got a free demonstration of the laws of physics.

Darcy's forehead hit the steering wheel hard, and she saw stars.

When she realized what had happened, she touched her face and winced. No blood came away on her hand, so she was pretty happy about that. Her glasses hung askew on her face; one of the lenses had cracked, but they seemed to work well enough to see after she'd adjusted their position. It took a few minutes, but she eventually managed to get out of the car.

Once she was standing, dizziness overtook her, but she could see a crumpled form on the road. There was no way she was stopping. Using the car as support for a few steps, she pushed herself off and used the momentum to propel herself straight forward.

Did his blood look weird, or was it the lighting?

Darcy fell to her knees in front of him, which was a much more painful experience on asphalt than it had been in the sand, and pressed her fingers to his neck.

She felt a pulse - a good, strong, steady pulse - which was excellent, fantastic news. She moved those fingers up under his nose, and felt his breath, which also seemed to bode well. She didn't really want to move him, but who knew how deep that disguise went and what an x-ray or CT scan would reveal. She rolled him gently over, and felt really awful for the bleeding gashes and road rash on his face and shoulder, and, oof, his hip and thigh. 

Rule 1 of Rhonda Lewis's Guide to Road Safety™? Always keep a first aid kit in the trunk. She'd have to remember to do something awesome for her mom, at some point after this emergency was over. Assuming she made it through this a) alive and b) not incarcerated or c) incapacitated.

She was unsteady and slow and her head hurt fiercely, but she staggered over to the Camry, managed to lean into the open door, and somehow did not fall on her face as she pushed the button to pop open the trunk. She felt dizzy as she stumbled the few steps to the back of the car. The first aid kit shone like a beacon in its own little nook, and when she snatched it up, she also grabbed the beach bag her mother kept in there during the summer months.

He moaned as she tucked a rolled up towel under his neck and head. Thinking about the fact that she had done this to him only made her hands shake, and feeling terrible could wait till after she was certain she hadn't irreparably damaged him. Sure, Thor had pretty much shrugged off being hit by a car, but he hadn't been as beat up as, as... 

Loki. Not-dead Loki. 

Darcy pushed that thought away, as well. 

Her hands were almost perfectly steady as she ripped open five packages of disinfecting wipes at once. There weren't nearly enough bandages in the kit to cover, well, everything, so towels would have to do, for now.

A rudimentary plan formed. Grandpa Lewis always said anything could be conquered by a 6 step plan. It was the time to put that theory to the test.

Step 1 - Clean the wounds of, oh shit - do not throw up, Lewis, gravel and sand. The wipes were spectacularly useless on road-rash, in fact seemed to grind the dirt deeper into the cuts. Not good.

Amendment - use bottled water rinse out wounds.

So, back to the car, carry bottles in t-shirt and teeter over to the still unconscious Loki. He'd barely twitched when she'd touched him earlier. It had to have been painful, if not excruciating. The fact that he wasn't squirming and/or screaming in agony was starting to really alarm her, especially with the amount of blood seeping slowly into the asphalt.

Her hands started shaking again as she poured the lukewarm trunk water over the cuts on his face. She had to use a towel to keep water from going into his eyes or up his nostrils. Focus, Darcy. The plan. She wrapped a towel around his long-again hair, and gave him a tighter version of the after-shower turban.

She lost track of time rinsing and, shudder, picking. After that came the tearing towels, packing and wrapping. There was one last towel remnant for the deep scrapes down his thigh, and the was the last one to deal with. Finally done with Step 1, but it was far too soon to celebrate. She still had to get him off of the road. 

In theory, Step 2 seemed like it should have been relatively easy, provided she could get close enough to him with the Camry. And while she was getting that close, she absolutely did not want to run him over. Again. Shit, her extremities started shaking again. 

No use dilly-dallying. She rolled her neck and shoulders, and her vertebrae popped satisfyingly. Darcy sucked it up, tottered to a standing position, and after what felt like a five mile run condensed into a few yards worth of lurching, she finally got back into the car.

She left the door open and hung out the opening while backing up slowly, carefully. With way more luck than skill, the back door ended up no more than a few feet away from his scarily inert body. Loki groaned when she pulled him into a sitting position and propped him up on her legs. His eyes blinked open and Darcy finally realized that he was wearing his own face. 

"This is going to hurt. Worse. Uhm, sorry."

Darcy grunted and tugged and lifted, finally ended up scrabbling into the backseat and pulling him along after her. He was streaming sweat and she swore she could hear his teeth grinding together, her entire body clenched in sympathy. But when they were in there, it was tight. In a desperate bid for space, because like this, in the strangely shaped shadows of the backseat of her mom's Camry, pressed up against her, he was just far too close.

She tumbled right out when she pulled on the door handle behind her. It probably served her right that she ended up wrenching her shoulder when she landed. Still, she tugged at him until he was mostly inside.

After making sure that she wouldn't accidentally crush his skull closing the door, she slowly, painfully got the first aid kit repacked, threw it and the now empty beach bag back in the trunk. She had to use her left arm to shut the lid since she couldn't quite lift her right one. He curled his legs in when she asked him to, an action which sent a cascade of relief through her.

Sitting in the driver's seat, she felt like there was no way she'd ever get through this night. She had to keep moving, though. If she stopped, she'd never have enough momentum to get her through to Step 6. 

By some small, beautiful miracle, her purse was still laying on the passenger seat. Even better her phone had full signal and most of a charge. It took a few tries, but Darcy eventually managed to set the GPS to get them to what she hoped was the nearest 24 hour pharmacy. 

Every turn, every time she sped up or slowed down, she winced in sympathy. The good thing about progress was that in bigger cities there was a Walgreens or CVS on every third corner, but she wasn't in a city. There weren't many street lights, everything seemed deserted, and the car seemed strangely quiet without music blaring.

In the pharmacy's parking lot, she inspected her face in the sun-visor mirror. It seemed clean enough to not garner attention. The egg-shaped lump near her hairline was painful, but she pulled her bangs over it, and made her way into the store.

Just under a hundred dollars later, which by the by, was a good chunk of her road trip money, she flung the bags of bandages, wraps, butterfly clips, rubbing alcohol and hydrogen peroxide in the passenger seat. The cashier had barely looked at her stash of supplies, and blinked stupidly when she asked if he knew anywhere nearby to stay. After a bit of prodding, he told her about a motel down the street, and that's where she drove them now.

With Step 3, gathering supplies, out of the way, she was feeling cautiously optimistic about her chances of completing Step 4, finding shelter. 

It started raining, hard, as she drove the few blocks to the motel. The windshield wipers swiped across the glass furiously, but it hardly made a difference in the downpour. She slowed the car to a crawl so she wouldn't miss the sign.

When she finally found the motel, and dashed inside, the clerk turned out to be a drunk who seemed more interested in her wet shirt, than in taking down her information. She chose to think of that as a good thing as she fished a couple of wet and crumpled twenties out of her pocket. With more self control than she'd thought she had left, she eventually got the keys without yelling or inflicting bodily injury on the scumbag.

Ok, she thought, the finish line is within reach.

Now for Step 5 - getting him out of the car and into the room. Loki was awake in the backseat, blinking at her from under the slowly unraveling towel. With a burst of strength that came from who knew where, somehow, she leveraged him out of the car and on his feet. He was heavy and not very helpful as she walked them through the rain and up the two steps to the walkway outside the door to their room.

It took a couple of tries, but she unlocked the door and stumbled across to the closest full-sized bed. He fell on top of it unceremoniously, bounced once, and groaned. She had totally meant to gently lower him, but he was heavier than he had any right to be. So oh well.

Thelights clicked on easily, once she'd found the switch using the red glare of the digital alarm clock.

Old, orange, shag carpet competed with the brightly colored, flowered comforter and the furniture was some sort of weird, shiny, white marble patterned mica. Darcy dripped onto the floor for a minute while she looked at the man on the bed.

The few steps in the rain had plastered the bloody, splotchy towel and his hair to his skull. It was anyone's guess what had darkened his coat. Eventually, she'd have to undress him. That was rather daunting to contemplate.

She was starting to shiver, but she had to finish her plan before she would let herself stop and get comfortable.

Fuck. The bags were still in the car, and so was her purse. Back into the driving rain, getting colder and colder each time she had to go outside. Just one more time. One more. She psyched herself up, and took a deep breath ran through the storm and through the puddles to the car.

The parking lot was almost empty; only 3 other cars in sight, and the lech in the office had assured her with a wink that the rooms around hers were vacant. She'd might have been grateful for his apparent thoughtfulness, if he hadn't been speaking to her chest at the time.

It felt like forever, but she was back inside the dingy room in no more than a minute.

Darcy removed the shades from the lamps, needing brighter light, and tried really hard not to think about how great a hot shower would feel after all this was done. Once the lampshades had been thrown on the dresser, the room was slightly brighter, but it also made her head pound like her eyeballs would pop out of her head.

She steeled herself and turned.

It was probably for the best that he'd passed out, but it did make getting his clothes off infinitely more difficult. When she'd finally pulled his last sock off, looking him over was a purely clinical affair, she told herself. Especially when the dark blood and livid bruising showed so starkly against the paper whiteness of his skin. 

Washing him down, cleaning his wounds made grit her teeth and swallow nausea, but soon enough she finished his head, then his shoulder, then his hip and lastly his thigh. The worst of the cuts had started to close and some of the shallower ones had already healed to pale pink lines. Darcy wasn't sure if thanking God was appropriate, but she did it anyway. 

The bed he was on was a smelly, wet, bloody mess. She couldn't leave him on it, so she flicked her fingers against his face, as gently as possible, till he snuffled to wakefulness. It was barely a step to the neighboring bed, but she'd used the last of her strength just getting to this point, and she couldn't get him there without his help.

She helped him sit up, slowly, and then he leaned against her like a tree trunk. It felt like Loki could crush her with his weight alone, and she wondered inanely if he ate rocks for breakfast. With a few muttered curses, she shifted her hips and shoulders, and then he was on the other bed.

She was breathing heavily by the time she twitched the sheets and comforter to cover him.

Darcy almost fainted when she realized she was finished with Step 6. She'd fucking done it.

Damnit, she was going to throw up. 

The advantages of a cheap motel room was that the bathroom was always really close by.


Iteration 3, June 25th, 2013, 6:55am, Motel 5, New Jersey

There was a heavy band across her chest, and she was still panicking from the bloody nightmare she'd just woken from. She could be excused from screaming and launching herself off the bed, to wedge herself between the two full beds in the darkened motel room.

Darcy heard a groan on the bed above her and recalled suddenly that last night, or a few hours ago, had been, literally, the worst night of her life.

She definitely wouldn't be able to rag on Jane about running over Thor anymore.

His head peaked over the edge of the bed, and even in the dim room, she could see the stark white of the bandages.

"Are you coming back to bed, or are you staying on the floor?" he drawled.

Loki had apparently improved enough with a few hours of sleep to regain some of his insufferability

Darcy's entire body ached - every single muscle and especially her head. She had a moment of sympathy for how Atlas must have felt after shouldering the world, as she levered herself up and started to slide back into bed. He had left no room, because he's an asshole, just naturally.

"Scootch over, come on, give me some room."

He obliged, though he huffed as he did so.

She stretched out next to him, completely tense and nearly board-like, willing her body to be as still as possible, to touch no part of him. In that state, one of constant vigilance, she was completely unable to fall back asleep. In contrast, his breath evened out, and what she could see of his face fell slack.

Loki's slumber allowed Darcy to relax incrementally, and, eventually, she found herself somewhere between sleep and consciousness. When he rolled over and snuggled close, she registered it dimly, but couldn't figure out how to move out of the way, and then realized she didn't care. It was nice.

She came to a few hours later, when a relentless a droning noise disturbed the silence in the room. She belatedly identified it as the sound of a running shower.

Darcy looked to her left. Sure enough, the bed was empty beside her.

Her brain went in full panic mode, and, finally, to make it stop, Darcy pulled a flattened pillow over her face and screamed into it as loudly as she could.

How had her life ended up at this intersection? This point?

What could she possibly have done differently to avoid it?

Letting him die in New Mexico was an obvious and uninspired answer, maybe if she'd left him to rot in that old vault in the basement of Stark Tower.

But all that was in the past, no use crying over spilled milk, or whatever.

Right now, the smart move was undoubtedly to get on her feet and into her probably still damp clothes. No way was there time to dig out fresh clothes. She needed to run to the car in a sheet toga and make a quick escape.

Instead, she pulled the pillow slowly off of her face and just laid there like a lump. All of that other stuff sounded like a huge freaking effort, and not only was she exhausted, frankly, the thought of putting on yesterday's dirty clothing or MacGyvering clothes from bedding made something inside revolt.

When the sound of the shower stopped, she closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep. The bathroom door squeaked open, and a there was a soft sussurus of his footsteps as he padded across the carpet. She felt a slight pressure on her foot, and her breath caught in her throat. 

"You needn't feign sleep, Mortal. I know you're awake."

Her eyelids flew open and she might've blushed just a little, but who could tell when the only light came from a single dim bulb shining weakly in the bathroom and the alarm clock?

He took his hand off her blanket covered foot and looked around. He'd removed most of the bandages, revealing wounds that were almost closed and bruises that were yellowed and nearly healed.

"Where are my clothes?" he asked, in a remarkably civil tone of voice. 

"Uhm, they were pretty destroyed after, well, last night. I tossed them in the garbage can over by the dresser."

"You threw away my clothes? What? Why?" Irritation laced his voice, and his eyes narrowed at her.

Darcy struggled to sit up straight, while keeping the sheet secure over her chest. Yes, he had seen her in less than the tank top that she was currently wearing, but something about the predatory way he moved, even while barely covered in a skimpy, practically worn out, tissue thin towel was intimidating, and also, hello muscles.

Sigh.

Darcy tried to rally, "I just said. They were shredded, rendered unusable, covered in blood and grossness. Look, I have a pair of sweat pants you can wear in the meantime. They're in the duffel bag by the door. Don't wrinkle your nose at me, just put them on," the sooner the better.

Oh god, his eyebrow lifted at that, along with the corner of his mouth, like he knew precisely what his state of undress was doing to her. He probably did. Bastard.

The towel gave up the ghost, and she was doomed. Slayed. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears, and her entire body felt warm. Very, super, duper, highly naked, freshly washed Loki, and he was looking at her.

She pushed her hair out of her eyes, because frankly, she wanted an unimpeded view, and just like that, his entire demeanor changed from that vaguely cocky teasing to seemingly concerned.

Oh, her goose-egg.

Did he have to get so close?

His touch was a barely perceptible brush of skin as he smoothed those long, pale fingers against her forehead. 

The burning pain was mercifully brief, but then it dawned on her that her head had stopped hurting. Darcy'd sort of gotten used to the ache, and the relief from it was nothing short of wondrous. His hand fell away.

Loki's breath on her face was warm. She didn't move when he leaned in closer. There were just a few inches between them, so she could see his features clearly, even without her glasses. 

"I'm sorry. For tasing you in the face, and you know, running you over."

"It's of no consequence," he said and waved his hand.

Darcy absolutely didn't notice how long and dexterous his fingers were. If she was going to stop where this was going, she needed to move right that instant. There was no way this could go anywhere, because he was Loki, and who could even begin to guess what he was plotting.

Why, oh why, did he have to look like that, though?

Darcy couldn't move, didn't breathe, half-sure that SHIELD would come busting through the doorway at any second. Paying cash only went so far, if they really cared. They didn't care, apparently, because the only thing that happened was that he kissed her.

She sighed into his mouth, felt the mattress dip when he knelt next to her. The sheet protecting her modesty was totally forgotten as she pushed her hands in his hair. With the style he apparently preferred, she would have thought that it would have been sticky with some sort of product, but it was soft and silky. 

It wasn't that she was surprised by how gently he ran his fingers over her clavicle, but she shuddered and gasped like it was unexpected, because she'd never thought, in a million years, that she would ever feel its like again. She choked back something like a sob, and his tongue delved between her lips when they parted. The part of her mind that was still capable of rational thought shut down completely. 

She held her breath as Loki stroked her chest, licked and nipped the column of her neck, and very slowly, trailed cool fingers across the swell of her left breast. His lips broke away from her skin, and at the thought that he would stop, her eyes flew open. She didn't remember closing them.

If he'd have been smirking at that moment, she might've been moved to violence, but he looked as confused as she felt.

Angry, she should really have been totally furious with him, but when he opened his mouth, and asked "Condoms?" in a ridiculously hopeful voice, that was it. There was no more pretending like the outcome was uncertain, like she didn't want this. As much as she loathed to admit it, Darcy wanted Loki, and even more, she wanted him to want her back.

"In my purse. No wait, you're still banged up, let me."

Her hands were shaking again when she climbed back onto the bed, because it struck her how much she was feeling about this. One encounter she could write off as a fluke, a mistake, a dream or fantasy to revisit when she was old and grey, but everything about this was real. It wasn't So long, and thanks for all the fish, Mortal.

She didn't even want to know what this was.

He took the shiny packets out of her fingers, and kissed her soundly on the mouth again. He touched her all over, and when his fingers finally found their way between her thighs, she almost cheered. Loki released her lips, so he could take one of her nipples into the wet, warm heat of his mouth. The suction was exquisite. She found her eyes slipping shut again.

How he managed to get the condom on without her noticing, all the while keeping his mouth on her, she didn't know, but he somehow did it. He only released his place at her breast to hook her legs over his shoulders.

Loki hesitated for a second, and she opened her eyes again to find him looking at her. It was the uncertainty she saw there that made her tilt her hips and lock her ankles behind his back. He pressed forward, encouraged by her fingers digging into the skin that stretched across his ribs as much as her actions.

Why did he keep looking at her like that?

Darcy wouldn't look away first, she wouldn't gasp, could not be the one to give in and make the first noise. She held his gaze, daring him to try to make her cry out. Finally his hips' forward momentum stopped, and his skin met hers. Suddenly he was fully seated.

Will not, cannot make a sound, and she felt a pulse deep inside. She wanted to drift off into the bliss of pure sensation, but she forced her eyes to stay open. But then his slipped shut, and he pressed his face against her throat and groaned. It sounded like he might have said her name, but she couldn't be sure. She felt a moment of strange victory as he started slowly retreating from her wet heat.

It took everything she had not to try to chase his movement - to keep him nestled as deep as he could go. When Loki advanced for the second time she gave up on thinking. Her nails clawed into his skin mercilessly, and she wailed when he let go and pistoned in and almost out of her. 

If she came first, or he did, well, it didn't really matter. One set the other off and they were both left heaving for breath, sweating profusely and clutching the other close. Why did it only feel like this with him?

Darcy's legs fell limply to the side, and Loki rolled off of her, after making sure to get a firm grip on the edge of the condom. He rested his left forearm over his eyes, and peeled the condom off, without even looking, using his right. He flung it into the corner, in the general direction of the garbage can with complete nonchalance.

Shit. She'd done it again. 


Iteration 2, July 2nd, 2013, 5:55pm, Newark International Airport

It wasn't that she didn't like Ian, because she did. They had great conversations, had similar tastes in movies and books, the same level of caffeine addiction. She'd definitely enjoyed the physical aspects of their relationship, and he was good natured about her teasing him for taking so long to respond to her overtures. She'd miss him.

Darcy was still glad he was headed back to England.

Jane had been understanding when she had told her about the job offer in DC, in fact, she'd been pretty ecstatic when she'd told her that Ian was looking to make a more formal arrangement with Jane. It stung a little that they seemed to be moving on so easily, so happily. Like she'd been replaced, in both of their cases, by a better model. She kinda hated herself for the petty thoughts, and hoped she'd get over it when her life was a bit more settled.

First, Darcy had to return the Camry to her mother and start going through the garage for her stuff. It would all have to be boxed and taken to DC. She had signed a real employment contract, and a lease for a little studio apartment not too far from her new job. It felt a little strange to be completely closing the college part of her life. By the weekend she'd be in the very first apartment she didn't have to share with a roommate. She needed to get good blinds, because she was totally looking forward to wandering around in her underwear.

She'd already passed a background check, but there was a more comprehensive entrance interview to sit through on her first official day on company time, complete with a lie detector, and Darcy had been instructed to bring in her various forms of identification for a more thorough scanning. Whatever that meant.

Anyway, she had to do something different. She had to grow up.


Iteration 2, July 8th, 2013, 7:56pm, Washington DC

Ok. Well, that went weird quick. She closed the door to her apartment, leaned against it for a moment or two, before she slid out of her not as comfortable as advertised heels.

Her first real-adult-employment day had started out exactly as promised, except that her interviewer kept getting interrupted by messages on his StarkTab. Finally, the man seemed to give up on even trying to ask her anything else and helped her remove the straps and electrodes of the device. 

Darcy followed the man down the main hallway to a bank of elevators, and he handed her a badge with an unfamiliar picture of her on it, and pointed to the elevator in the corner, the one with a slot instead of a call button. 

"That one is yours. It's the only one that stops on that floor. If you should lose your badge, you will not be able to gain access to this building, so please take good care of it, but if it does come up missing, don't hesitate to call this number. The building won't allow anyone access without your face to match the badge, but it should be remotely terminated immediately."

She opened her mouth to ask him where the bathrooms were, but he interrupted, and handed her a manila envelope, "The rest of your questions will be answered by your supervisor. Good bye, Ms. Lewis, and good luck."

After inspecting the contents of the envelope, and seeing her social security card, drivers license and passport, she stuck her spiffy new badge in the card-reader by her elevator.

The doors opened immediately and she stepped into the very standard metal box. There were no buttons, just a screen with a hand print. It didn't take a genius to get the point. She pressed her hand against the glass and the doors closed. A familiar sensation in her stomach as the elevator whisked her rapidly upward. She stumbled a bit when it stopped abruptly and, as a result, sort of fell out of the elevator. To be caught by a chipper Tony Stark. 

"Come on, kid," he said, taking her by the shoulders and righting her, "you know I hate having things handed to me."

"What the fuck? Stark?"

"Hey, that's Mr. Stark, super-boss to you, now that you're on the payroll."

"Please pay him no mind, Ms. Lewis," JARVIS's rich, cultured voice of came unexpectedly from hidden speakers, "Sir is not even in the company hierarchy anymore, so you will not be reporting to him."

"Yeah?" Darcy asked, wondering again what exactly her new job entailed.

"Yes, in fact-," but the other human in the room interrupted what JARVIS was going to say, "Oh, come on Jarv, let me have a little fun."

"Shut up, Stark," Darcy muttered, at the same time JARVIS said, "Do be quiet, Sir. You had plenty of fun testing the Mark 63 on the flight down here."

Tony Stark, in an AC/DC shirt, scratched his goatee in a theatrically thoughtful manner, "I don't know if this is such a good idea. You children are already ganging up on me."

"Tony, stop," Darcy heard.

She craned her neck around the always animated Tony Stark to see a giant floating display in a huge glassed-off room.

She walked down the hall, entered the room with a floating virtual display, an over-sized wooden table, a carved driftwood, arty looking thing, with equally cool chairs and knew the room was definitely a conference room. A sweet fucking conference room. Wow.

An enormously magnified Pepper waved cheerfully from the display. She still looked awesome, nearly pore-less with her makeup flawlessly applied. "It's lovely to see you again, Darcy. London obviously agreed with you."

Darcy stepped around Tony, and giant-Pepper said, "Come in, guys, Tony brought bagels and cream cheese from this great little deli near the Tower."

And thus began the strangest breakfast of her life. Considering how her last few years had ended up, this was no small feat.

Darcy laughed, and looked around her studio. Abnormally normal.

She took off her clothes and let them fall to the floor without a second thought as she wandered into her tiny bathroom. Normally the size of her home would have been an issue, but she had to make do, and compromises had to be made with her salary. Besides she was one person; how much room could she possibly need?

Her Mom had insisted she take all her old furniture, because she was looking forward to redoing Darcy's old room into a home office. It had been sad, packing up and saying goodbye to her posters, notes, the four walls and bits and pieces that was her childhood.

Her dresser still had stickers on it that she had applied in 5th grade. Her bed was the same white wood one she'd slept on for a decade, only without the canopy. So it wasn't like it was all gone, it was just different. 

The towels in the bathroom had been a graduation gift from her aunt Molly, mother of the odious Hunter, and when she'd gotten them, she'd almost scoffed. After moving into her new place, she was grateful. She'd already sent a thank you note, but Darcy was definitely going to send another one, a real one.

She flopped on the bed, and reached for her laptop. She didn't feel like cooking, or talking to anyone, so she ordered a pizza and settled back to watch some Netflix on her neighbors unsecured network.


Iteration 00, June 26th, 2023, Dead Noon, NNY, Laboratory 4

Darcy wasn't even sure what to expect. Everything up to this point was all theoretical. 

The good news was, if she managed to effect even the slightest amount of change, if JARVIS' systems upgrades remained similar to the Shifting State Drives, something Stark had been dreaming about since he heard about the Heisenberg Limit in the 80's, it would be picked up. Theoretically. If JARVIS was looking for it.

Granted, that was a stretch, but Darcy didn't just have to have faith. She was carrying a beefed up thumbdrive JARVIS had specially programmed. It acted much like a Trojan horse virus, searching out and storing information relating to certain keywords. All she had to do was get to a computer with an internet connection. The program was a tendril of 2023 JARVIS, but the AI portion of the program would only activate in the event that circumstances reached an event horizon that would jeopardize the mission.

Darcy told herself she wasn't one-rattlingly terrified, because if she admitted that, she might have run for her life; braving even the toxic environment of Above just to escape. But she couldn't. Because he couldn't be right.

Soft, maybe, but definitely not weak.

They'd scrounged for a coat, something that at an earlier point in her life, would have seemed very commonplace. Period appropriate garb, stuff with a fine weave and polyester, lycra or rayon and meant for more than one use, felt unfamiliar against her skin, even though she'd lived, for a long time, in clothes not so different from like these. The feel of fabric, real fabric, from head to toe, was disconcerting. 

She squirmed uncomfortably in the chair they strapped her to, not quite sure if she could do this. She remembered Nina, she remembered Sharon, she remembered wanting a Peppermint Mocha Latte. If they had them, she'd order a lemon blueberry muffin with butter on the side, too.

Sam's voice was comforting as he reminded her to breathe through the nausea. "Just breathe through every damned thing, Darce. You can do it," she heard distantly. 

The chair was gone. Actually, the whole room was gone. She tipped her face into the sun without a full hazmat suit for the first time in years.

It was lovely.