Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 16 of 33

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide

Darcy walks along the empty, shadowed streets of the city, hands deep in her pockets, knitted cap pulled down low over her eyes. There's an edge to the air, the kind of blue chill that she always associated with the days before the first snow fall of the season back home.

She's never noticed that edge here in New York. The city has always been too warm, the heat of so many people, so many lives, burning the edges of winter, the changes in season too gradual to be noticed.

She's aware of the weight of Stark Tower behind her as she walks, feels it dragging against her like a force of gravity. It takes all of her will not to turn and look back - not to turn and walk back. Because it's the not the Tower she feels at all. It's Loki, his presence pulling at her. As though somehow he can still see her, even with dozens of buildings and streets between them.

She shivers, and it has nothing to do with the cold.

She hurries her steps, and by the time she reaches the bridge, she's running again.

What are you running from?

The voice in her head is new, not the familiar tones of her mother or anyone she remembers. The tattoo on her wrist tingles, and then burns, and vertigo washes over her. For a brief, panicked moment, she thinks that the bridge itself is twisting, and she runs even faster, a flat-out sprint that leaves her gasping for breath on the other side.

Everything is still. Everything is silent. The only twisting is within her.

Why keep running? Why not just stop? Surrender?

The tattoo is burning again, and she rubs her fingers hard against it, suddenly wishing she could slough it away from her bones.

"I don't know how to do anything other than run," she says to the empty street. "It's all I fucking know how to do."

The voice in her head laughs, amused, but says nothing else. A moment later, the burning of the tattoo ceases.

She walks more slowly back to her building. When she catches sight of it, she breathes a sigh of relief. Every window in it is lit from within, and a half dozen buildings surrounding it blaze also, the whole burning like a flame against the cold of the night.

Someone has salvaged neon signage from somewhere, arranged a collection of mismatched letters on the roof of her building, blue and red and orange spelling out the name Utopia. The coloured light spills onto the road, washing her in rainbows as she crosses the pavement to the building entrance.

The warmth of the foyer closes around her like an embrace. She rubs her hands together, fingertips tingling as blood begins to flow through her skin again.

Someone has been working in the foyer. The dusty potted palms and threadbare couch that no one ever used are gone. Instead, plush velvet seating lines the edges of the room, long banks of chairs that look to have been ripped from a theatre of some kind. The peeling paper has been removed from the walls, the plaster decorated with random splashes of brightly coloured paint. Speakers in the corners play soft music: something vaguely atonal, underscored by a deep, throbbing electronic bass.

It feels real here, the colours bright, the music highlighting just how much she has been surrounded by silence of late. Darcy smiles, standing there, just looking around the foyer. From the floors above come trickles of sound: someone singing what sounds like gospel, the strumming of an ill-tuned guitar, the thin cry of a child who cannot sleep. Everything feels alive in the way little has since the attack on New York, since Darcy's world began to crumble.

"Maybe I was never running away," Darcy says. "Maybe I just never knew what I was running to."

A clattering of heels comes from the stairwell, and a group of teenage girls burst into the foyer. They're dressed in black, wobbling on too-high heels. All three wear the same bright pink lipstick, and all have doused themselves in a musky perfume. They are all wearing layered black bracelets on their wrists, lengths of ribbon, beads and string woven together in a lace-like pattern. They pause when they see Darcy, their mascaraed eyes going to her wrist.

She looks down, sees that her coat cuff has ridden up to reveal the edge of the black tattoo.

One of the girls takes a step towards Darcy, but her friends pull her back. They whisper together for a moment, then turn and exit the foyer, a blast of cold air sweeping in as the doors close.

The tattoo on Darcy's wrist is warm again, a sensation like someone wrapping their fingers around her arm.

She climbs the stairs to her apartment. There, she finds Beth and Ravi asleep on the bed, a tangle of blankets and sweaters rucked around them to form a cosy nest. On the floor nearby two lanky youths are tangled together, pale arms and legs so entwined that it's impossible to tell where one ends and the next begins. Both have curlicued lines painted onto their wrists.

Darcy sets the bag full of items for Beth and Ravi close to the bed. One of the youths murmurs in his sleep, turns over, expertly negotiating the limbs wrapped around him. Something curls tight in Darcy, seeing the way the boys lie so easily in each other's arms. Anytime she's shared a bed with anyone, it's always been an awkward thing of numb limbs and accidental elbows in the ribs. She's never been comfortable with anyone.

The boy mutters again, his fingers closing convulsively around the wrist of his companion, smearing the lines inked there.

Suddenly Darcy feels like an intruder, standing here staring at the pair as they sleep. It feels like they, and Beth, and the ones who belong here, not her.

Well, she supposes, they probably do, more than her. They live here. She runs between here and Stark Tower. She lives nowhere.

"Always running, aren't you, sweetheart?"

The world stills at the sound of that voice. When she turns, she sees him standing there. Her father. Alive.

He looks exactly the same as he had on that last day. Flakes of white skin peeling from his sunburned cheeks, dirt engrained deep within his nails. His eyelids droop at the corners, his eyes the faded blue of the summer sky around pupils too wide, too dark.

Darcy stares at him. She closes her hand around the tattoo, thumb tracing the raised pattern. "You're dead," she says. "You died in front of me. We buried you."

His lips draw back from cracked, yellow teeth. "Dead twice over, darling. Gave me to the darkness, you did. All for that." He nods at the tattoo.

"It was just a memory. You're dead."

"Then maybe you should have buried me deeper, sweetheart."

He takes a step towards her, and the smell of him - tobacco and whiskey, dirt and unwashed skin - washes over her. Nausea twists hard in her belly, and she falls to her knees, rubbing hard at the tattoo. The distance, the freedom she had felt, it's all gone now, his presence filling the world, his shadow falling over her, smothering her, trapping her.

His calloused fingers cup her cheek. "Darlin' girl, don't you know that you can't ever run away from who you are? Not from me, sweetheart. Not from any of us."

The click of the shotgun being loaded echoes in the room. Darcy doesn't need to look to know that her mother is standing behind her, her brothers too.

"You're dead," she says. "You're all dead. This isn't real."

Her father's hand twists hard against her jaw, forces her chin up. When he smiles this time, his lips draw back from his teeth, exposing gums that are raw and bloodless.

"Death means nothing now." He reaches down with his free hand, wraps his fingers around her tattooed wrist. The lines of ink burn against her skin. "Thanks to you, daughterSupplicant."

Tendrils of darkness undulate around the figure of her father, and then his flesh begins to darken, shimmering like oil. Darcy watches, horrified, as his form melts, twists, becomes that of someone else entirely.

She - at least Darcy thinks it's a woman - stands over six foot in height. Her limbs are long and bone-thin, her skin ash grey. Her hair twists around her face, living darkness moving in a serpentine, almost hypnotic dance. The strands make a sound like bone scraping against bone as they move. Her fingers end in long, thin nails that are almost more like black claws, each one pressing into Darcy's skin, drawing beads of blood.

"Who…who are you?" Darcy asks.

The woman smiles that too-wide smile again. Her teeth are black, too, and sharp as knives. Her eyes are pools of pure black, gleaming like obsidian as she leans close. Darcy sees her own face reflected there, too pale.

The woman steps closer, her long black skirts parting as she moves. One thin leg slides clear of the fabric; the skin there is mottled rot-green. The hand around Darcy's wrist tightens, claws digging deeper. The scent of blood - Darcy's blood - rises, followed quickly by a stench like burning meat.

Pain, sharp and electric, claws into Darcy's arm, and she feels lines of heat curling across her skin.

"Oh, there is so much more here to be sacrificed," the woman says. Her tongue slides out between her lips, curls against the air as though she is tasting it. "And you are so willing. You're running from so much."

Darcy wants to close her eyes, wants to tun away, but all she can see is her own face reflected in the woman's eyes, all she can feel is everything bubbling up inside of her. All of the poison that she's choked down over the years: every snide comment, every sideways glance, every night she spent crying quietly into her pillow.

She looks into the woman's eyes, and she wants suddenly to offer it all up, to be rid of all of it once and for all.

But then in the darkness she sees a flash of emerald light.

And she remembers a dream of darkness, of shards of night pressing against her skin. Of emerald light, of emerald eyes. Of Loki, standing over her as she lay on the couch in the guard room. She hadn't recognised him then, and when she'd woken properly, she hadn't even remembered the dream.

And she remembers the other dreams - Loki standing behind her on the precipice of Stark Tower, Loki standing behind her while she dreamed of the house that had been her home. She remembers Yrsa, she remembers Bera, she remembers Loki falling through darkness, Loki burning.

And she pulls away from the dark woman, her claws digging deep furrows into Darcy's skin, slicing across the tattoo with a sensation like acid burning her skin. Darcy pushes the pain away, focuses on that emerald light, reaches for it.

"I have nothing else to sacrifice," she says. "I'm done with running."

The dark woman hisses, but Darcy is already gone, the world spinning around her, the city folding and unfolding until she is standing inside Loki's cell.

His breath comes hard, and his forehead is damp with sweat. He stares at her, his eyes wide. When she looks down, she sees that her hand is wrapped around his wrist. Blood is flowing freely from the wounds the dark woman made, and where it passes over the edges of the wounds, it hisses, turns black. Where the black blood touches Loki's skin, his flesh changes, becomes blue.

Darcy yanks her hand away, staring at the blue fades slowly from Loki's skin. Realises then, with a start, that she's actually standing inside Loki's cell.

He visibly arranges himself, his expression smoothing over, hands folding at his waist as he retreats as much as the small space allows.

"The cell is not designed to hold Midgardians," he says, his voice toneless. "You will find that you are able to walk back out."

Darcy can't stop herself backing out, even as she sees the almost-invisible crease of pain form between Loki's eyebrows. The barrier which she has thought of as perspex - but which clearly is nothing but - flows like warm water around her, and then she is in the corridor, the barrier between herself and Loki.

"Who…who is she?" Darcy's voice trembles, her words punctuated by the dripping of blood onto the floor.

"I believe you Midgardians have succeeded in raising yourself an actual goddess," Loki says. His words are calm, but Darcy sees how he scrubs his hands against the hem of his shirt, sees his his fingers are trembling. "I believe you know her as Death."

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 16 of 33

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