Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 23 of 33

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide

Darcy flings her projection towards her sleeping body. She gets a glimpse only of her self - blankets and sheets pushed back from the right side of the bed, though she cannot remember doing that before slipping on the ring, her tattooed hand outflung against the sheets, caught in a shadow - before she thuds back into it.

There is an instant of darkness in which all she can see is Loki, the way he had looked as she dashed from his rooms without explanation. The way he had closed up, locked himself away behind that cold mask. What is he thinking? That he's been abandoned again?

Everything feels instantly slow and heavy. Her skin is entirely numb, her joints locked in place, muscles frozen hard as concrete. Her heart beats frantically in her ears, the sound as deafening as thunder. Even her eyes are wrong, too dry to focus. She blinks as much as her muscles allow, trying to work up enough tears to clear her vision. She feels as exhausted as though she's had the flu for months.

Slowly her hearing adjusts, the sound of her heartbeat fading into the background, external sounds swimming in one by one. J.A.R.V.I.S. calls her name once more, then falls silent. From across the apartment, someone bangs at the steel-lined door, yelling something incoherent. Darcy can hear enough to know that they sound pissed.

The access chute in the kitchen rattles, and the sound of a bot wheeling through the apartment comes to her. Darcy's neck has loosened enough for her to be able to turn her head enough to see it enter the room, move next to the bed. It is a different bot to the other ones she has seen in Stark Tower. Taller, more angular. More threatening.

It also holds a fat syringe gripped in a pincer arm.

The door swings open fully with a creak. Air hisses out of the apartment, as though the rooms are exhaling. The sound of heavy footsteps, and Darcy remembers the ring just in time. She removes it with her thumb and slides it into the pocket of her sweatpants, thankful that her muscles have loosened up enough for the movement. Remembering the security cameras and watching bot, she makes a show of scratching at her thigh beneath the blankets.

That small movement is enough to set her heart racing, her breath heaving in and out of her chest. It feels as though she's run a marathon. What the hell is wrong with her? Is it just the effects of the magic ring?

She lets her head fall back to the pillow. Her neck muscles twitch, and her head shifts to the side in an involuntary movement, bringing her other hand into her field of vision.

She blinks, trying to make sense of the shadow that surrounds her hand.

It takes a long moment to realise that it isn't a shadow. It's a bloodstain. A black bloodstain.

Her stomach does a slow flip. When she'd last set eyes upon the tattoo, there had been perhaps a few millimetres that had reverted to black. Now, more than a centimetre of the curlicued design is black and raised. More, the parts of the claw marks from Hel that the newly-black tattoo surrounds have opened up again. Black blood has oozed out - is still oozing out, thick as oil - and formed a wide puddle on the bed beneath her. Now she's aware of it, she can feel it too, sticky and cold against the skin of her arm and back.

Three people enter the room. All are dressed in yellow biohazard suits, what she assumes are tubes for their air trailing behind them and out of the door.

"Last time I checked, we weren't in Outbreak?" Darcy asks. Her voice is weak, half a whisper. "Which, by the way, was a supremely stupid movie. Making a vaccine in a day? I don't think so."

The biohazard suits don't say anything, the only sound the hissing of their breathing. Their face plates are mirrored on the outside, so she can't see who's inside the suits.

The one standing closest to her - though not actually close enough that she could touch the suit - turns to the others, says something. She presumes they have some kind of intercoms between the suits, because she can't hear anything but a muffled muttering. The person behind them muttered back.

Darcy lets her head fall back onto the pillow, stares at the ceiling. She can feel the blood seeping out of her now, drop by thick drop. It turns her stomach, and she finds herself rubbing her scarred left finger, where Loki had removed the poison. Was it rising in her again?

A hiss as the closest suited figure activates the external speaker on its suit. "We have a biohazard situation," it says. The voice is male, flat and without accent. "I am Doctor Glenn. We need to take some samples."

The second figure touches a gloves hand to its belt. A small clear pouch hangs there, tubes and needles in slots and pockets.

"Samples? From what? From me?" Darcy lifts herself up as much as she is able, her muscles trembling. "Wait, I'm the biohazard?"

"There are…events happening in the city," Dr Glenn says. "We believe they may be connected to this." He waves a hand at Darcy's hand.

"You think it's a plague?" Darcy manages to heave herself up into a seated position. She presses a corner of the ruined sheet against her hand, unable to stand feeling the dripping blood any longer. "Have any of you noticed a really creepy tree growing in the middle of Central Park? I don't think a biohazard can cause that."

She knows that Dr Glenn is smiling a practiced I've-consoled-crazier-patients-than-you smile when he answers. "We have our orders, Ms Lewis. Now, we need to take some precautions. It shouldn't hurt."

Too late she remembers the bot on the other side of the bed. It jabs the syringe into the side of her thigh, just below where the ring is stashed. The thick needle penetrates the cloth of her sweatpants as well as her skin. She swears she even feels it scrape bone. Then the drug is coursing through her veins. There's a moment where she just feels sleepy, and then, abruptly, she loses all feeling and muscle control beneath her neck. She collapses hard on the bed, the breath going out of her. Panic rises as she tries to get her breath again.

"Just calm down, Ms Lewis," Dr Glen says. "If you remain calm, you will be able to breathe. The drug is perfectly calibrated to paralyse muscles except those needed for your heart and lungs."

Darcy can do nothing, just lies there staring at the ceiling as the second figure does its work. It says nothing to her, but mutters to Dr Glen occasionally as it moves around the bed. Darcy feels nothing, just catches the occasional flash of glass or metal, sees the suited figure raise a vial of black blood. She only realises that feeling is beginning to return to her skin when she feels a bandage being wrapped around her hand.

Dr Glen returns to the side of the bed. "The effects of the drug will wear off within a half hour or so. I suggest you clean up first - we've supplied you with some gloves to wear over the bandages in the shower. Bots will be sent in to take care of the sheets and bed for you. Change the bandages as often as you need to. There are supplies, and a biohazard bin and instructions in the bathroom also."

He and the second figure move out of Darcy's field of view. For a moment, she thinks they have all gone, and then the third figure moves close. Closer to the bed than the others, gloved hand lightly touching Darcy's fingers.


It takes Darcy a moment to recognise Jane's voice, distorted by the speaker.

"I had to beg for them to let me come in here," Jane says. "When J.A.R.V.I.S. reported your condition, I thought…" Jane's voice trails off into static. "They've evacuated this floor, and the ones above and below, turned them into a sealed biohazard zone." Again, static rises. "I'm sorry, Darcy. I was scared. I was angry. I was so close to getting Thor back, and then all of this happened. I still don't know why they sent Loki here, not when Thor should have…"

Jane's fingers curl around Darcy's, squeeze lightly. She hesitates, then raises her other hand to her belt, presses a button on a small device clipped there. A sibilant hissing rises, undulating softly around the room. "I only have a few minutes before the surveillance going out registers as more than just a dysfunction. Things are bad, Darce. I don't even know what's happening. We're on lockdown, mostly confined to our apartments or labs, and no one's communicating well. There's a girl from the city who keeps coming here, asking the guards to talk to you. The first few times, she had a baby with her. I only saw her by accident, and she had the baby wrapped up in that ugly green sweater of yours. You know, the one with the tassels? I managed to get one of the guards to take a message from her. She said that things are falling apart at Utopia. That Vinh was badly ill."

The hissing rises in tone, then fades out. Jane immediately stands back, her hand slipping from Darcy's.

"You have to comply with everything they ask, Darcy," she says, her voice crisp and professional. "We need to figure this out, we need to contain this infection, and figure out what's blocking the wormhole. They'll come for samples and tests every morning after breakfast. If you comply, they won't use the paralytic or restraints again."

Darcy only half hears what Jane is saying now. Tears well in her eyes at the thought of what could be happening out in the city. Beth and Ravi, everyone at Utopia. Vinh. The tears keep welling, spilling down the sides of her face, and she cannot stop them, cannot blink them away.


As promised by Dr Glenn, the paralytic wears off completely within the hour. Darcy rises shakily from the bed, flakes of dried black blood falling like corrupted snow from her skin. The bandage the doctor wrapped around her wrist is already soaking through.

As soon as her feet are on the floor, bots are spilling into the room. One begins to remove the stained bedding, while another one follows her, wiping up the flaking blood from the floor.

Her bathroom looks more like a lab now. A fat yellow biohazard bin sits in one corner, with instructions for its use taped on the wall above. Most of the cosmetics and toiletries have been removed, replaced by rows of sanitizer, bandages, saline and ointments. More instructions on the care of her wound have been hastily penned and pasted onto the wall below.

Darcy turns on the shower, doesn't wait for the water to heat before she sinks down onto the shower floor, letting the water cascade over her. As it wets her hair, the scent of mint rises from the strands. The time spent with Loki feels like a dream now, nothing real. She slides her hand into the pocket of her sweatpants, rolls the ring between her fingers. If not for that, she would think it to have been a dream.

The water grows warmer, and she stands up. She feels weak, but her legs hold her well enough. The shampoo and soap in the shower have been replaced by chemical-scented versions laced with antivirals and antifungals and anti-God knows what. She strips off her sodden clothes, carefully placing the ring on the floor near them, and washes away the blood.

She towels off, disposes of her clothing and the bandage in the biohazard bin, bagging everything individually as per the instructions. Rebandages her wrist, wraps herself in a towel. Ring curled against her palm, she goes in search of fresh clothing.

The bots have already finished their work. The bed and mattress are gone, replaced by a hospital bed covered with a rubber protector, slick white sheets and blankets. An I.V. pole stands empty next to the bed, monitoring equipment pushed up against the nearby wall. Darcy looks at the setup for a moment, then turns to the wardrobe.

All of the clothing that was there has been removed, replaced by white scrubs and a row of white flannel robes and slippers.

"Well, I guess I'm not going to be attending any parties from now on, then?" Darcy asks the security camera. "No royal galas for me in my slippers."

She dresses, pulls on a robe over the scrubs. The robes, thankfully, have pockets, and she slides the ring deep into one.

Bots are at work in the bathroom as she passes, scrubbing and disinfecting. She ignored them and goes through into the kitchen, where her breakfast and lunch trays both wait. The thought of eating the rations turns her stomach, even as it contracts with hunger. She eats, and tastes nothing.

As she finishes, a bot rattles out of the access chute with her dinner tray. Darcy laughs as the bot sets it on the counter before her. At least it means that there's only a handful of hours before night falls. She leaves the tray, goes into the living room and turns on the television, picking a channel at random.

She stares at the screen, aware the whole time of the glowing tree in her peripheral vision on one side, the blank wall where the door to Loki's rooms is hidden on the other side.


When the curtains finally draw closed, Darcy is still sitting on the couch, still staring at the television. She can't tell if it's the same movie she's watching or a different one. They both feature cute blonde girls, brooding unattainable men and scenes of crying in airports.

When she stands up, the room spins around her, forcing her to lean on the couch trying to catch her breath. She wonders if they should have given her another blood transfusion. She wonders if she has any actual blood in her, or just the black ooze. The bandage is beginning to soak through, and she can smell the black blood now, fetid and rotting.

She makes her way to the bathroom, leaning heavily on the wall the whole way, stopping to rest twice. She spends some time reading through all the instructions she's been given, as much as for the chance to rest as to actually know the procedures. The rest is automatic: wash her face, comb her hair, brush her teeth. Remove the sodden bandage, bag it up and deposit in the biohazard bin. Clean the wound with saline. The parts of the claw marks that have opened up show no sign of healing, remaining open wounds, the skin around them white and numb. The thick, black blood continues to leak; it makes a cold sound as it falls into the porcelain sink, stains the white. Darcy applies antiseptic cream, wraps her wrist thickly with gauze and adds a stretchy bandage on top.

There's no need to change her clothing for bed, at least. She just kicks off her slippers, takes off her glasses. Climbs into bed, robe and all. The rubber mattress liner crinkles beneath her. Everything smells like antiseptic.

When she closes her eyes, she could almost imagine that she is eight years old again, in hospital to get her tonsils out. The nurses had worn bright yellow scrubs, then, and they had brought her ice cream, red jelly. In a rare show of maternal love, Darcy's mother had even let her pick out a teddy bear from the gift shop. She'd only been able to keep it for a week before she was made to donate it to the church for children who needed it more.

She turns onto her side, arranging her bandaged hand so that if it bleeds through the bandage, it'll do so only onto the sheets. She says a silent thank you to Jane for letting her know that her night, at least, would be uninterrupted. Darcy figures that the amount of time it takes to get into those biohazard suits, people would be wanting to come here as few times as possible.

She stares at the wall, apprehension twisting in her stomach. How has Loki spent his day? Will she be walking in on the madman, the murderer, the lover? There's no way to know but to slip the ring on and find out.

The lightness that comes from slipping out of her body is heady. She fairly skips back down the hallway to where the upside-down doorway waits.

It opens as she approaches, revealing the upside-down Asgardian library beyond. A pair of chairs have been added to the room, both of them upholstered in dark gold velvet. They're arranged apart, but turned in to each other, a small table set between them. The whole tableau is inviting; Darcy could easily imagine curling up in one of those chairs, a cup of coffee on the table, just reading in silence with someone else.

With Loki.

She looks past the chairs. The opposite door is also open. Silhouetted against the window containing the illusion of Asgard is Loki.

Darcy's heart clenches painfully at the sight of him. His tall, slender frame is already familiar to her, and she finds herself filled with the longing to reach out and slide her hands around his waist. To press her lips to his, to taste his skin. To listen to his heartbeat.

There's more than one Loki in that skin. You don't know which one is waiting there.

She steps over the threshold. The spinning of gravity makes her stumble, and she lands painfully, thudding to the ground. She makes more than enough noise for Loki to have heard her, but he doesn't react, doesn't turn.

Darcy pulls herself to her feet. She's still wearing her scrubs and robe, her feet bare. She wishes that it could be like it was when she spoke with Frigga, when she could change her clothing just by wishing it. Right now, she wishes she was wearing that emerald gown again. Maybe the mask, too.

As she enters the antechamber, her breath catches in her throat, her heart thudding. When she had left Loki he had been naked. Now he was garbed in his Asgardian armour, sans helmet, his hair slicked back.

"At first, I thought that perhaps I was back in Asgard for true." Loki speaks without turning from the window. His hands are folded in front of him, so she cannot see if he is holding anything. "I even foolishly entertained the notion that I had been…" He trails off. His shoulders tense, then release. "This is simply a new prison, is it not? And what new torments does it have for the prisoner this night? Thor, perhaps, granting me his everlasting forgiveness? Perhaps, Odin calling me his son?"

Darcy wants so much to reach out to him, to embrace him. But she sees that tension in his shoulders, in the long line of his back. Knows that he is poised and ready. To attack, to defend, to fight. She wishes that she'd had time to ask Frigga more about the rings and how they worked. If, for example, she was killed in projection, would her flesh body die?

She takes a step back into the library. Swallows hard. "Loki, it's me. It's Darcy."

He turns then. His hands are empty, folded at his waist. Cold green eyes sweep over her. "If you think to attempt to seduce me, I suggest finding yourself some alternative garments." He presses his lips together, just a flicker of something in his eyes before they freeze over again. "Darcy Lewis is dead. You are not real."

Darcy fights back tears. Tells herself that at least he doesn't have a weapon. That he's talking, and hasn't retreated back into his frozen body in the cell. "This isn't a prison, Loki. And I'm not dead."

"Oh, so this is freedom, is it? An illusion of a place where I do not belong, have never belonged? The realm that cast me out again and again?"

"It's all that Frigga could-"

Loki swallows convulsively, his hands tensing. "Oh, I know that this is her doing. This place is dripping with her magic. Odin has long had the talent of bending others to his will. I have no doubt that my - that Frigga would bend to him. Over and over again."

"I don't think your father even knows this place exists. As far as he knows, if I guess right, you're still in the cell beneath Stark Tower."

"Odin is not my father," Loki says.

"Frigga still considers herself your mother. It took her a great deal of effort to create this place, to create these rings." Darcy holds up her hand to display her ring. "She loves you, Loki. As her son."

Loki's lips tighten. "I am no one's son. Not any more. Not ever, perhaps." He turns back to the window, hands behind his back.

"I'm sorry that I couldn't explain anything last night," Darcy says. "I shouldn't have fallen asleep here. I lost track of time. I can only come here safely when my body is sleeping. When they think I'm sleeping, anyway." Darcy's wrist is itching beneath the bandage and elastic; she rubs it as gently as she can, but it only makes the itching worse. It feels like something is crawling beneath her skin. Like tiny serpents winding a labyrinth through her dermis. "They're watching me all the time. If I hadn't gone back when I did, I don't know what would have happened."

Loki says nothing, just continues to look out of the window. She wonders if he's even listening.

"Dammit, Loki, I'm going through all of this just to protect you! If they think that you've compromised me, I don't know what they'll do to you. Everything relies on them thinking that you're locked away, that you can't do anything." Still he says nothing. "I'm playing fucking Patient Zero in quarantine and watching goddamn romantic comedies just to save your stupid ass! They're not even giving me coffee, for God's sake. And who knows where my iPod is?" She can hear the rough edge of hysteria rising in her voice, but she can't seem to stop the flow of words. Her wrist is itching more and more, and she rubs the bandage harder, slides her nails under the edge of the gauze. "You want to call this a prison? Then fine, it's a prison. You should see how people are living in the world that you destroyed. I don't even know what's happening outside Stark Tower. Beth and Ravi might be dead. Vinh, too. None of them did anything to deserve this. All I wanted to do was help them, to try to make a difference somehow, even if just for one person. I tried to help you, too, but maybe I shouldn't have bothered."

The dark scent of rotting rises. She looks down, sees that she's torn the bandage half away in her scratching. The gauze is sodden black, drops of black blood falling to the floor. They hit the ground with a sound like ice falling into fire.

"I don't know if I can do this any more," Darcy says. The anger is gone from her suddenly, and she feels suddenly small, a child confronting a world too large and dark and unknown. "I can't even save myself. I make these stupid decisions, just to save myself a bit of pain, and look what happens. Why did I think I could save anyone else?"

She walks slowly back through the library. Her legs shake with every step, as though her anger has burned away what remains of her energy. She's exhausted, and she wants to just sleep. She leans against the shelves as she moves, her eyes on the doorway leading back into her Stark apartment. Suddenly even the hospital bed is a welcome thought.

She is just about to step through the doorway when she hears Loki's voice behind her.

"Don't go," he says, so softly that she always misses it. "Please, Darcy, don't go."

She stops. As soon as she ceases walking, her legs shake even more, crumple beneath her. She starts to fall, but Loki is there, his arms coming around her, lifting her. His armour has vanished, replaced by a dark green linen shirt and black trousers. His hair is loose again, curling around his face.

"No fair, how come you get to change your clothes with magic, and I'm stuck in scrubs?" Darcy asks, her voice slightly slurred.

The corner of Loki's mouth twitches as he carries her through into the bathroom. The bath is empty now, and appears much smaller than it has the previous night. Loki lays her down on the side of the bath. The marble is blessedly cool beneath her.

Loki kneels beside her, his fingers gentle as he peels back the layers of bandage. When he sees the tattoo, the oozing wound, an expression Darcy cannot recognise passes over his face. Fear? Anger?

"They told me you were dead," he says.

"Not quite."

Darcy watches him as he folds the sodden bandage, sets it aside. He opens hidden compartments, removes a length of pale linen, which he wraps the bandage in. Another length he hands to Darcy, who takes it and holds it against the claw marks. He produces oils and unguents from other compartments, dabs a bit of one against the edge of the blackened tattoo, wipes it off, dabs another.

"Can't you just magic the black away?" Darcy asks. "Like you did last time?"

"I only have access to part of my power here." Loki lifts up his hand. Some black remains on the edge of his palm; around the dark liquid, his skin shimmers blue. He wipes the black away, but the blue remains. "Even if I was at my full power, this is stronger than I am." He concentrates, and the blue fades slowly.

Sickness twists in Darcy's stomach. "So I just get to slowly bleed to death? Or will the poison get me first?"

"It's not a poison, not as you think of it. It is concentrated magic. Destructive magic."

"And how long before it destroys me?"

He pauses. "It is difficult to know. This kind of magic, it is chaotic, unpredictable. It could be days only."

"So I get to become chaotic evil, then?"

Loki looks up at her. "What?"

"Midgardian joke. Ha ha, joke's on you Darcy, because you're gonna die." Darcy presses the cloth hard to her wrist. Loki's creams have calmed down the itching, at least, but she still has the unnerving sensation that something is crawling beneath her skin.

Loki sits back, cross-legged, hands palm-up in his lap. He stares down at them as though they belong to someone else.

"Maybe Stark and Banner will find something," Darcy says. "Or Jane. They're treating it as a plague. And hey, we've killed off a few plagues in our time. Midgardians aren't as stupid as you think we are." She presses the cloth harder against her wrist. Her hand is growing numb. Better than the crawling beneath her skin sensation, by a mile.

Loki slowly gathers up all the bottles and jars he opened, returns them to their compartments. He finds another length of cloth, this one dark green, holds it between his palms. Green light flares from his fingers, and the scent of something almost metallic rises.

"This should slow the bleeding, at least while you're here," he says, holding it out.

Darcy takes the other cloth away from her wrist. She doesn't want to look at the black, but she can't seem to look away from it. It's so utterly without light, as though an abyss has been carved into her flesh.

"Can you…will you do it?" she asks. "Bit hard with one hand."

Loki's hands tremble slightly as he wraps and fixes the bandage around her wrist. The cloth is cool, and numbness creeps over her skin where it touches. The crawling sensation even fades. Darcy breathes out a sigh of relief.

"I need…I want to apologise," Loki says, his eyes on his hands again. "When you came to me, I thought you dead. A dream. A torment."

"Not dead," Darcy says. "There's a whole lot of medical data that'll back that one up, too."

"I was not apologising for that," Loki says. He twists his fingers together, untwists them again. Runs his thumb over the hem of his shirt. "I would not have…if I have known…"

"Oh." Tears prick at the corners of Darcy's eyes; she blinks them away before Loki can see. "You wouldn't have soiled yourself with me, you mean?"

Loki looks up sharply. "I would not have taken advantage of you and your weakened state."

"Taken advantage of me?" Darcy stands, ignoring the dizziness that washes over her. "For the record, I don't think there was any taking advantage. I was a willing participant, though right now I have no idea why. God, I am so sick of being the last person anyone thinks about, and the person nobody actually wants. Maybe my father was right-" She bites off that sentence, shaking her head. "Even my father was loved by my mother. Enough that she covered everything up. He was innocent, don't you know. And her daughter, what a liar. Slut who went around with every boy she could find, and has the audacity to blame her pure, innocent father." She curls her fingers into the hair at her temples, pulls hard. The pain feels good. "My brothers loved my mother enough to let her hold a shotgun to their heads, give them what she thought was mercy in a world going to hell. Making sure that her beloved boys got to join her in heaven, and that daughter can just stay burning in hell." Darcy loosens her hands from her hair. That crawling beneath the skin sensation is back now, moving all over her. She wants to tear her skin away, flay her flesh from her bones. She digs her nails into the soft flesh of her inner arm above the bandage. It feels even better than pulling her hair. "Even you, Loki. You try to destroy everything, you try to destroy a whole world, and your mother builds you a nice little palace so you can be safe and happy. When your family thought you were dead, they mourned. I don't think anyone would even notice if I vanished right now."

Loki has been watching her as she rants, his forehead creased. He stands now, approaches her slowly, hands held out. He keeps his eyes on hers as he grasps her hand, draws it away from her arm. She's dug deep enough to reveal muscle, unhealthily pale. As soon as her nails have been removed, the crescent-shaped gouges fill with thick black blood. Around each of the wounds, black curlicues like the designs in the tattoo spiral out, sliding through her flesh like lines of infection. All of them wind upwards to her heart.

"This kind of dark magic can affect emotions," Loki says. He draws out another length of fabric, spells it between his palms, his eyes on her the whole time. He winds the spelled cloth around the new injuries, takes another damp cloth and cleanses the black blood from her nails. "It can be…difficult to control its effects, even for one skilled in magic."

He rolls up his sleeves, exposing the pale skin of his forearms. Takes her hand, places it on the tender skin on the inner side of his arm, presses her nails against his flesh.

"If you need to hurt something, hurt me," he says. "Believe me, I am used to pain."

Darcy looks down at her nails pressed against his skin. Suddenly, her legs give way, and she's falling. Loki's arms come around her, and he lifts her, carries her to the bedroom. He lays her down on the bed, then vanishes into the main room.

Darcy curls onto her side. He's been lying on the pillows here recently, and she can smell him on the fabric beneath her cheek. The anger has drained from her now, and in its place comes sorrow, welling thick within her chest until she fears that it's going to choke her. She curls herself even tighter, wraps her arms around her knees, lets the sobs come.

When the sorrow, at last, has drained away, Loki is there, lying curled behind her, holding her. She feels utterly wrung out, empty of all feelings. Loki says nothing, does nothing, just lies next to her, one hand entwined with hers.

She almost wants to start crying again. Because, for once, there is someone here with her.

On the table next to the bed is a mug, steam rising from its rim. Darcy's eyes narrow, then, because it smells suspiciously like coffee.

"It is an elixir," Loki says.

Darcy props herself up on an arm, peering into the mug. It certainly looks like coffee. "If it really is coffee, it's the damn elixir of life."

"It should help slow the effects of the dark magic," Loki says. "Give you some time."

She drinks. The coffee even seems to have the amount of creamer and sugar she prefers, though she has no idea how Loki knows that. Though, she supposes that he's been in her dreams as much as she was in his. He knows everything about her. Shame rises in her, hot and smothering, and she has difficulty keeping the last swallow of her coffee down.

"What your father did was not of your choosing," Loki says, taking the mug from her and setting it on the table. "You cannot make it not happen. All you can do is choose what you do with your life now."

"I think you could do with listening to your own advice."

Loki looks away. "Did Frigga - did my mother really build this place as a refuge for me?"

Loki is sitting cross-legged again, his hands in that deceptively relaxed position, palm-up. Darcy pulls her knees up to her chest, though she holds her legs more loosely. "Behind Odin's back, which I'm guessing is not something anyone does lightly. She really loves you." She glances over at Loki, sees tears on his cheeks. "Who else would have left enough of your magic to conceal your Frost Giant nature?"

Loki's features soften, and just for a moment, when he looks at her, she sees the younger version of him. The one who had entered into Yrsa's bedroom, the one who had still hoped. It is clear that the notion had not occurred to him previously.

"And you have Thor," Darcy continues. "A brother who loves you through everything, and would do anything to keep you safe. As you would for him, would you only admit it."

"There, I am afraid, you have me very, very wrong," Loki says. "I tried to kill Thor. I wanted to kill Thor."

"You were being controlled-"

"No. There was a degree of…coercion, but I was doing what I wanted. I wanted to be the king my father always said I was born to be. Both Thor and I, born to be kings."

"That's what he told you?" Darcy lets her knees fall into a cross-legged position, mirroring Loki's posture. "Kind of stupid, telling both of your sons that they're going to be king when there's only one throne."

"Ah, but there was Jotunheim. Ripe for a puppet king."

Darcy can't help the laugh that bursts from her lips. "I think you're about as far from a puppet as anyone can get. Did Odin even know you?"

Loki slides her a sideways glance.

"Seriously, though, what did Odin expect? You vanquish a realm, rescue an orphan, then raise it with lies about who it is. And teach it to hate what it is. And then expect it to be what - a tool for you? What did Odin think was going to happen?"

"Odin expects that what will happen will be what he wishes. As always."

"That speech you made, in Stuttgart. It was kind of scary and I-want-to-conquer-you and all, but some of the things you said. You were actually trying to help us, weren't you? In a messed up way, mind."

"I'm not certain any longer of anything," Loki says. "Least of all myself. The monster that I am."

"Well, I'm certain of one thing. Odin may have created a monster, but that doesn't make you evil. You're not useless if you've helped just one person."

"And whom have I saved?"

"Well, for one thing, there's something that bugs me. You had the sceptre of making people do whatever you want. You made Hawkeye take down the Helicarrier, for God's sake. Then how come Erik had enough self awareness to build a back door to close the portal? The only way that could have happened was because you wanted it to. You wanted the Chitauri to be defeated. To save us. To show Odin that you could do it as well as Thor. To be Thor's equal."

Darcy reaches out, laces her fingers with Loki's. His fingers are cool against hers.

"And, more recently, you saved me," she adds.

Loki looks down at their linked hands. "I cannot turn away from the things I have done, the mistakes I made. I cannot turn away from who I am, monster or otherwise," he says. "There is a price to be paid."

"And like everyone who's made choices in their life, you get to pay for it every day for the rest of your life." Darcy holds up her bandaged arm. "Like I'm going to have to deal with basically summoning the goddess of death for the rest of my life. All however-many days of it."

Loki winces, as though his words have caused her physical pain. "You said once that you blamed me for destroying your world."

"And I do," she says, and he winces again. "But I also forgive you for it."

He stares at her. "You…forgive me?"

"Yeah, I know, you're a God, blah blah blah, and Gods probably don't need to be forgiven by mortals. But whatever else you are, you are also the man I see before me. And I, Darcy Lewis, forgive you."

Tears spill over onto his cheeks, trace silver tracks down his cheeks.

Darcy reaches up, kisses the tears on one cheek, then the next. Tastes salt on her lips.

"The question right now is this, Loki. Your mother has given you a chance. Or, as she said, she's given you doorways. What are you going to do with that chance? What are you going to choose to do?"

He looks away for a moment, presenting her with his profile. Again, she is struck by him, and again she can easily see how people could kneel to him. If Odin had chosen to raise his younger son in a different fashion, Loki could indeed have become something great.

When he turns back to her, that wicked smile is blooming on his face. "Oh, I have a few ideas."

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 23 of 33

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