Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 24 of 33

<< Previous     Home     Next >>
The Blood-Dimmed Tide

"First, we need some ground rules," Darcy says.

Loki's smile fades. "Rules?"

Darcy fights the urge to roll her eyes at the look on his face, the lines on his forehead that indicate that he's already beginning to try to figure out ways to bend or break the rules, even before they've been set.

"To keep us safe," she adds. "I can't lose track of time here, not like last time. They're going to come to do tests in the morning, and if they can't wake me, I don't know what will happen. I do know that they will likely blame you, and I know that Daniel Blackwood is probably itching for a chance to play with his new toys."

Loki's whole body tenses at the mention of Blackwood's name. He flicks a finger, and a very familiar clock appears on the wall. It is ornate, carved from wood and accented with gilt. The dial holds thirteen numbers. The hour hand currently sits at four o'clock.

Darcy smiles despite herself. "Thirteen o'clock, time to go home? That'll work."

Some of the tension fades from Loki, and he stretches out his legs, running his knuckles up and down the long muscles of his legs in an incredibly distracting fashion. "This tale, this Labyrinth, it was important to you. What, exactly, is the appeal of it?"

"Apart from David Bowie in tights?" Darcy's cheeks grow warm at the memory of the dream she had shared with Loki. "It's a fairytale, isn't it? You're an ordinary girl, sad and frustrated with your life, and this all-powerful, drop-dead gorgeous guy wants to make you his queen. He sees you, in a way that no one else does. You know he could just take you, bewitch you, but instead he gives you all these choices. You can find your own power, find out who you really are, what you're capable of." Darcy pushes her hair back from her face. "I always liked to think that Jareth waited for her to grow up, that when she was older, she went willingly into the labyrinth, that she found Jareth and he got the queen he needed to balance him."

Loki's hands have stilled. He still has his hands curled into fists, but he's just resting them on his thighs now, listening.

"I used to lie in bed at night when I was a kid, chanting all of the words from the movie over and over. Trying to get the goblins to come. Looking for owls. I wanted someone to see me the way Jareth saw Sarah. The only person who ever saw me was my father, and it wasn't ever really me he was seeing. I don't know what it was, but it wasn't me."

Loki swings his legs over the edge of the bed, and Darcy freezes, thinking that he's going to walk away. And, after all, why wouldn't he? No one liked to hear about these kinds of things. She'd learned that one far too many times in her life. When things get too hard, people walk away.

But Loki doesn't leave. He circles around the bed, comes around to stand in front of her. He holds out a hand. She reaches out with her unbandaged hand, and he draws her to her feet.

And then Loki kneels before her.

"I see you, Darcy Lewis," he says, looking up at her. His voice trembles slightly, as do his fingers. "I see you."

His eyes are so intense that she has to look away. And is promptly faced by the horrible white scrubs she's still wearing. And the fact that she probably reeks of disinfectant and God knows what else.

"I don't think anyone should be unlucky enough to see me right now," she says with a weak laugh, plucking at the hem of her shirt. She means for it to be a light comment, but it comes out as anything but.

"That much, at least, is easily fixed here," Loki says. "Close your eyes."

Darcy does so. His hand remains in hers for a heartbeat longer, than falls away. Darcy feels the loss of his touch as an almost physical ache.

A wave of cold prickles over her skin.

"You can open your eyes now," Loki says.

The white scrubs are gone, replaced by the emerald velvet dress she'd worn in the ballroom dream. Her hair is curled and hangs loose down her back, and she can feel the soft bite of combs that hold her hair back from her face, knows they are the replicas of Frigga's combs.

Loki is standing back from her, something of wariness in his eyes. "Better?"

Darcy shifts her weight slightly, then frowns. She's pretty sure that there's no underwear beneath the gown, which is strapless, and - she bounces up and down on her toes - without boning or other means of support. And yet when she moves, her breasts stay supported.

"What are you doing?" Loki asks, the corner of his mouth quirking upwards.

"It's magic, isn't it?" she asks, bouncing again. Noting that his eyes go straight to her chest when she moves, she does it again. "Neat trick by the Asgardian ladies, there." She pauses, eyeing him. "And you know this trick because?"

"Ah. I have, on occasion, found the female form to be a useful one."

"Um." Darcy looks him up and down, trying to imagine what kind of female form he would choose.

"Stop that."

Darcy arranges her face into her best innocent expression. "Stop what?"

"Whatever it is that you're thinking now."

"You want me to stop thinking?" Darcy makes her eyes wider. Bounces on her toes again. Loki's lips twitch, and she grins. "Maybe you should find a way to make me."

Loki raises an eyebrow. She's not entirely certain what she expects - from Loki, practically anything seems possible - but it isn't for him to draw himself up into a formal stance, then fall into a neat, graceful bow.

He rises, one hand held out. "Would you dance with me, Lady Darcy?"

Darcy feels herself flush. "There's no music."

A small movement of Loki's fingers, and music begins to play. It emanates from everywhere, and sounds something like the Moonlight Sonata, though Darcy cannot recognise the instruments it's being played on, and there is a dark sensuality underscoring the lighter melody.

Two steps are all that separates Darcy from Loki.

Only two steps, and yet she knows that in making the decision to cross that gap, she is making another, greater decision. To accept Loki, to let him accept her. To see him and to let herself be seen, darkness and light.

Loki watches her. He does not move, and his expression does not change, but she can see that softer, younger version of himself behind his eyes. The uncertainty that he hides there, the young boy who stands ever prepared for rejection.

Darcy takes the steps.

She takes his hand.

His fingers are trembling as she curls her hand in his. And Loki smiles. Not the manipulative smile he's so fond of, not the sarcastic little smirk, but a real, genuine smile of happiness.

Darcy's heart breaks a little, seeing that smile. Remembering him reflexively falling into a defensive stance when she offered massage, remembering him falling, burning, rejected, overlooked.

She tightens her hand on his, places her other hand on his shoulder. His other hand comes around her waist, pulls her close enough that she can feel the heat of his body, but not close enough that they are touching.

And they dance.

After the first few steps, she doesn't listen to the music, doesn't think just loses herself in the rhythm of their bodies. Loki's eyes never move from hers as he guides her effortlessly through the steps. Darcy has never considered herself to be a good dancer, but with Loki, it is easy to fall into the graceful arcs of his movements, to just let everything flow.

The music finishes, and then they are standing there next to the bed. Both of them are breathing rapidly, though they have not physically exerted themselves overmuch in the dance.

"You are alive," Loki says, his voice a rough whisper. "You are here. Willingly?"

Darcy nods, her mouth dry.

"Say it," Loki says, and there is something of desperation in his voice.

She meets his gaze as directly as he looks at her, does not look away. "I am alive. I am here. Willingly, with you."

"This is not a dream."

"Not a dream."

"I see you, Darcy, and I-" Loki swallows hard. "I want you."

And everything fades. There is only Loki, his eyes on her, his hands on her. "I see you. And I want you, Loki."

His breath catches in his throat. "Say it again."

"Loki. I am here, and I see you, and I choose to be here with you. And I want you more than anything, more than anyone I have ever known."

His lips come down hard on hers. There is no finesse in this kiss, just pure hunger, the heat of his lips and tongue sliding against hers. Darcy melts into his arms, presses the length of her body against his. He lowers her to the bed, and it feels as though they are stationary, the world rotating around them.

Loki pulls back slightly, holding his weight on his arms. There is something like wonder in his eyes as he looks down at her with that intense gaze. It feels as though he's looking deep into her, seeing all of the places she has always hidden from everyone. She is filled by a sudden urge to cover herself, for all that she's still fully clothes.

"It's not easy for you, is it?" Loki asks. "Intimacy."

"And it's a piece of cake for you, right?" she retorts, wincing at the defensive tone on her voice. Loki immediately starts to pull away, but she grabs his arm, stalling the movement. "I'm sorry. It's just…no, it's never been easy for me. I mean, it's easy to be with someone physically, but you're not really there, you know. It's hard to be with anyone properly when every time they touch you, you're thinking of how your father touched you there once. It's like it all gets carved into your brain, and you're a record player that just plays the same tune over and over. And you want to smash it to pieces, and you don't know how. Not without smashing everything."

Loki is silent, just letting her speak.

"In high school, all of my friends were excited about losing their virginity to their boyfriends. Talking about where they'd been touched, how he'd kissed here there and wasn't that just daring of them. I had a boyfriend, too, and I tried to be like them, but I just couldn't. Later on, in college, I found that alcohol made it easier. Sometimes, I'd just pretend I was somewhere else, just shut down. Not exactly the kindest thing to do to the person you're with, but it hurts them less than pushing them away all the time."

"What about you? Didn't it hurt you? Lying all the time?"

"No one ever complained. Hell, no one even noticed. Everyone always commented on how happy and easygoing I always was."

"You wear a mask often enough, and you start to become the mask."

Darcy nods. "And it's not like you count, anyway. You do all this for other people, but after a while you start to wonder if anyone would do the same for you."

Loki smiles, and there is sadness in his eyes. "Exactly."

Darcy reaches up, cups his cheek. "Right now, there are no masks. Just us."

"Just us," he echoes. He leans in, kisses her softly. "Do the memories worry you now?"

She shakes her head. "After I…" She trails off, glancing at her bandaged arm. "The memories are still there, but it's like they belong to someone else. They still come up, but I don't feel them."

He does that intense stare thing again, and again she has to look away.

"But you feel something," Loki says. "Something that makes you look away."

"I guess…I guess I'm not used to anyone actually trying to see me." Darcy thinks. "I guess I feel guilty?"

He stiffens. "Because of being with me?"

"No." She pulls him over so he's above her again. Wraps her arms around his shoulders, hooks her legs around the back of his thighs. He hesitates, then slowly lowers himself to her, still holding most of his weight on his arms. "No. I feel guilty because of me. I feel like I'm stealing this from someone. It feels like I cheated. It feels like I don't deserve this."


"You. Anything good."

It is his turn to look away this time. "It has been a long time since anyone called me good."

Darcy smiles, turns his face back so his eyes meet hers again. "You can pretend all you want, Trickster, but I can see the good guy in there."

"Oh really?" He is practically purring as he reaches down, finds the slit in her skirt. Trails his fingers lightly up her thigh to her hip. He moves up the outer curve of her hip slowly, his thumb sweeping over the place where her hip dips down to her stomach. That wicked smile is back on his face again as he circles his thumb again and again.

"Um. What?" Darcy asks. "I forget what we were talking about."

He laughs, and claims her mouth again. His hands move around to cup her behind as he presses his body down against hers. Darcy makes a small involuntary noise of pleasure as he slides his body against hers, pulls her thighs up around his waist. Through the layers of fabric that separate them, she can feel his hardness pressing against her.

Darcy's lips almost feel bruised when Loki begins to kiss his way along her jawline, moves down to her throat. His tongue presses, hot, against her pulse, and he nips her skin lightly with his teeth, drawing a strangled gasp from her. She feels him smile against her skin.

She reaches out, grabs his shirt, wanting to feel his skin beneath her hands, but he pauses, lifts away from her. Grabs her wrists and presses them down against the bed above her head.

"I want you to feel this," he says. "Really feel this, really be here. I also want you to keep your hands here. I can use magic to bind them if you think you can't…control yourself." That smile of his blooms, but she can also see that uncertainty warring behind his eyes. The need to be trusted.

"I'll keep them there," Darcy says, curling her fingers together.

Loki's pupils dilate, and then his smile widens. He moves a hand, and her gown is gone, Darcy naked beneath him. She moves reflexively to cover herself, the fact that he's still fully dressed making her feel even more exposed, but he raises an eyebrow. Her heart thudding, she returns her arms to above her head.

Loki kneels back, spends a long time just looking at her, his hands pressed against his thighs. Darcy would almost think him aloof, untouched, but as she looks at him, she sees the subtle signs of his arousal. The way his breath catches in his throat, the tension in the muscles of his thighs, his pupils growing ever darker and wider.

When he finally touches her, her eyelids drift closed. She can almost see his touches in the darkness there, everything feels so vivid.

He spends a long time tracing the lines of her: the curve of her collarbones, the subtle jut of her ribs and hips, the lengths of her arms and legs. He even traces the spaces between her fingers and toes, the latter bringing giggles from her and an amused chuckle from him.

He follows his fingers with his mouth, tracing the same lines he has already taken, as though he wants to delineate the boundary of her body. In the darkness, Darcy sees herself sketched by his touches: shining and new, bright as pearl.

By the time he finishes his second traverse, she is breathing fast, her hips shifting restlessly against the bed. He drops a kiss against the soft swell of her belly, and she bites her lip to smother a moan.

And then he is gone, his weight lifted from the bed.

Darcy opens her eyes. Everything is dark. She blinks. Blinks again. Everything remains black.

"Loki?" she asks. She lifts her head, tries to squint through the darkness. Something cold snakes through her. "Loki? Are you there?" Her voice trembles, and she recognises fear in her words. "Loki!"

A pale light flares in the darkness. She blinks against it, realises that it's something like a sphere of light held in Loki's hand. He's standing next to the bed, watching her. As soon as he sees her face, he sits down next to her, gathers her into his arms. Darcy realises that she's shaking.

"I'm sorry," he says. "Are you okay? Did I…did I do something wrong?"

Darcy presses her face into his shoulder. "It wasn't you. It was just the darkness. The last time things were that dark…" She inclines her head to her bandaged arm.

"Oh." Loki pulls her into his lap. The sphere of light floats up above the bed, illuminating them. "I didn't even think…"

Darcy breathes in slowly, releases the breath. The fear is already fading, Loki's arms around her making her feel that nothing could touch her. She kisses his collarbone, moves up to his throat. Nips the skin above his pulse in the same way he'd done to her earlier.

"I didn't move my hands, though, did I?" she asks.

Loki moves swiftly, and then she is on her back on the bed again, hands above her head, Loki's fully-clothed body pressed against her naked skin. He kisses her deeply, his hips rocking against hers in a maddening rhythm.

Loki pulls back, looks down at her. His pupils are blown wide. "No, you did not."

He kisses his way down her throat and across her collarbones, licks lightly at the hollow at the base of her throat. Moves lower, places a kiss on one nipple, then the other. Darcy arches her back, hoping that he will linger there, but he continues moving downwards. Each time he kisses lower, he moves his body against hers; the feeling of him fully clothed against her nakedness is incredibly intoxicating.

By the time he is kneeling between her thighs, she is shifting restlessly against the bed again, her eyes drifting closed. The sphere of light Loki conjured is bright enough for her to see the pattern her blood makes as it moves through the thin skin of her eyelids, the rush of her blood made art.

"Look at me," Loki says softly.

Darcy opens her eyes. He is sitting back on his heels, naked now, and aroused. The light shimmers against his skin, catches at the myriad of scars engraved on his flesh. In this light, he looks like he is carved from marble. Darcy is abruptly aware of her own less-than-perfect skin, the folds and flaws of her humanity.

"You are beautiful, Darcy," Loki says. "You have no idea." He places his hands on her knees, those long fingers brushing against the inside of her thighs. "I have something I would like to try. It will require darkness, but I will not leave you. You need only say the word and the light will be back."

An echo of that cold fear winds through Darcy, but Loki's touch makes it easier to bear. She flexes her fingers, and Loki's eyes flick to where her hands are still held above her head; he smiles slightly.

"I trust you," Darcy says.

There is a flash of light reflected in his eyes that might be tears, and then the light winks out.

For a long time the only thing she feels are Loki's hands on her knees, his fingers moving in that rhythm that is part soothing, part arousing. Then one of his hands lifts away, and the other moves in slow circles up her inner thigh. Up and up, almost maddeningly slow, until he almost reaches her centre. A light chuckle, and he skips his fingertips over to the inside of her other thigh, moves back up to her knee.

Darcy growls in frustration, and he laughs again, pure pleasure in that sound.

He performs the same movement with his fingertips in reverse, again skipping over the place where she wants him to touch her the most.

Then he lifts away from her. Panic rises in Darcy, but she pushes it down, focusing on the fact that she knows he is still there. That he will not let anything happen to her. That she is safe.

And then, the lightest touch of his lips against the inside of her left knee. His mouth follows the path his fingers took, nipping at her skin here, licking there. He pauses sometimes, and just breathes against her skin, his breath coming warm and then cool. It is a strange sensation, and one that sets her heart beating even faster, her fingers clutching hard at each other.

He moves back and forth, lips and teeth and tongue and hands sliding and caressing up and down her inner thighs, fingers circling up over her stomach, but always, always moving over the place she needs him.

He lifts away again. This time there is no fear, just the pure need.

And then, finally, he touches her, a single finger sliding inside her, slipping out, sliding in again. Darcy's hips are moving in a primal rhythm as he adds another finger, another, thrusting deeper each time, curling his fingers back until he just finds the place she wants him, and-

-and he pulls away again.

Darcy growls again. "You are a tease," she grinds out. She wants to reach out to him, to grab his shoulders and wrestle him so he's beneath her and he cannot get away, but she keeps her hands above her head, her fingers clenches so tightly together that they're going numb.

She feels the bed shift as Loki moves, though she cannot tell where he is in the absolute darkness.

Her heartbeat drums in her ears as she waits. One breath, two.

And then, his voice, close by her ear, his breath whispering across the sensitised skin of her throat: "Come."

And she does. His voice alone is enough to tip her body over into orgasm, pleasure so intense that she whites out for a moment.

When it subsides, she gazes, heavy-lidded, up into the darkness. Releases a shuddering breath.

Loki touches her clenched hands lightly. "You can move your hands now."

Pins and needles prickle along her hands, her arms, her shoulders, and her fingers are half numb, but she reaches out, unerringly, and finds the broad sweep of Loki's shoulders, pulls him down to her. His skin is heated, almost feverish, against hers, and his heart is racing almost as fast as her own. He is hard against her thigh, his hips making small, involuntary movements against her. And that is more than enough to arouse her again.

Darcy tangles a hand in his hair, pulls his mouth down to hers. Her other hand slides down his body, curves around his hip, slides over him. She thumbs the head of him, and he makes a strangled noise deep in his throat. She wraps her fingers around his shaft, lines him up with her.

"Next time," she says against his lips. "I get to tease you."

He smiles, and she swears she can see his eyes twinkle, even in the darkness. "I will be your humble servant."

She pulls him inside her, thrusts her hips up at the same time, wraps her legs around his hips. She presses her hands against his behind, holds him still, just feeling him inside of her. He is large, larger than anyone she's been with before, and he just feels so right inside her.

She slides her hands up, skimming the muscles of his back, curls her fingers into his hair again. When she pulls lightly, he makes a sound caught between a growl and a purr, and he thrusts hard into her.

"Humble servant?" Darcy asks, pulling just slightly harder.

He makes that noise again, arching his head back. The sphere he conjured earlier flickers, allowing Darcy to see him. His eyes are closed, his mouth open, his neck a long, pale arch. She licks a long stripe up along where his pulse beats, bites lightly, and he shudders, thrusts hard again.

Oh, next time is going to be interesting indeed.

Darcy releases her hold on Loki's hair. His eyes are unfocused as he twines his fingers with hers and begins to move in earnest. There is no more teasing, nothing but the rhythm of their bodies moving together. Darcy climaxes again quickly, expects him to follow soon after. He manages to hold out until she shudders again, and then, finally, spills inside her with a series of quick, hard thrusts, his body shuddering.

When they are both still, Loki rolls over onto his back, settling Darcy so she rests beside him, her head pillowed on his shoulder.

Darcy, for once, can think of nothing to say. She just lies there, completely relaxed against him, listens to the slowing of his heartbeat, feels his skin cooling beneath her cheek.

She's not sure if she sleeps or not, but the next thing she's aware of is the clock striking thirteen o'clock. As the last chime sounds, the room lightens, filling with a golden light.

Darcy whines, snuggles down into the pillows. She allows herself a moment only of that bliss before she pulls her head up. Loki is lying on his side, head propped up on an elbow, watching her.

"Um." Darcy pushes her tangled hair back from her face. She doesn't want to think how she looks right now. "Hi."

Loki,infuriatingly, looks practically perfect. Even the mussed locks of his hair looks like a deliberate choice. "Good morning."

"Did I fall asleep?" Darcy stretches, her joints popping and cracking. "You should have woken me up."

Loki's eyes skim across her body, his lips curving in a smile. "Your physical body needs rest. I suspect that it only truly rests when you sleep here."

"Boring." Darcy's arm is itching again beneath the bandages; she scratches as lightly as she can around the edges. She stretches again, deliberately arching her back. "I can think of a few less boring things to do."

Loki's eyes are on her arm. "You need to return to your body, Darcy."

Darcy eyes the clock balefully, slumps back. "I know. Dammit."


He leans over and kisses her softly. When he pulls back, Darcy finds that she's dressed in her scrubs again. Loki is back in his tunic and trousers.

"Boring," Darcy says again. But she sighs and sits up, swings her legs out of the bed. Begins walking across the rooms to the door leading back to her apartment. Loki follows her.

"I will continue working on countering the dark magic," Loki says.

Darcy rubs at the bandages. That crawling feeling beneath her skin is back again. She tries not to think of Loki talking about the chaotic dark magic. Days, he had said. She might only have days.

"There will be something, right?" Darcy asks. "You'll find something."

Loki looks away, just briefly, before he smiles. "I will find something."

They enter the library. The door leading to Darcy's apartment is open. The curtains are still closed, though light is leaking around their edges, and she knows that they will open any moment. Knows that she should step through, give herself a margin of safety.

She doesn't step through. She turns to Loki, wraps her arms around him, presses her face into his chest. Inhales the smoke-and-leather scent of him, tries to memorise it. His arms come around her, and he holds her as tightly as she holds him.

"I'm going to go and be a model patient. Who knows, maybe the doctors will find something, too."

She can practically hear Loki roll his eyes.

Darcy rises up on her toes to kiss Loki. "Okay, you get to work, magician. And I expect a whole vat of that magic coffee to be waiting for me tonight, okay?"

Loki presses a kiss to her forehead, then her lips. Then, finally, he steps back, falls into a formal bow and kisses her knuckles. Flicks his eyes up at her, then turns her hand, presses another kiss to her palm. She feels the heat of his tongue against her skin, and then he stands again.

"Until tonight, Lady Darcy."

Darcy grins, knowing that she probably looks like a fool, and not caring in the least. Steps through the door, waits for the tumble and twist of gravity shifting.

It doesn't come.

She hangs over the threshold, weightless, caught between one step and the next. The itching beneath her skin deepens, until she feels as though there are serpents crawling beneath the skin all over her body.

Everything is frozen. To one side, the empty apartment, the curtains caught just as they are beginning to open. To the other, Loki, a half-born smile on his face.

And then everything goes black.

It is a complete and utter darkness, a viscid thing deeper than anything she has ever known. She can feel it pressing against her skin, against her ears and mouth, against the surface of her eyes.


The sound of that voice turns Darcy's blood to ice.

Hel steps forward out of the darkness. She seems formed of shadows herself: her skin the dark grey of rotting wood beneath a half-full moon, her hair the black of the nighttime ocean in between wave crests. Her eyes are abysses, pools of black that go down and down forever.

The goddess of death reaches out a hand. Instead of fingernails, she has tough, curved claws, thick as horn and stained black. She trails her claws down the bandages wrapping Darcy's right arm. Green light shimmers as the strands separate and fall away. Hel drags her claws across the tattoo around Darcy's wrist, slides them higher to the newer marks. Digs into the crescent-shaped wounds Darcy made with her nails, then drags her claws across the original gouges in Darcy's wrist. Black blood wells again, flows into the surrounding darkness.

Hel lifts a claw to her lips. Her tongue - dark grey and forked - flickers over the blood clinging there. Green light sparks and dies between her lips.

Hel's eyes widen slightly. "Asgardian magics?" Her tongue flickers over the blood again. "And yet…not."

She waves a hand, and the doorway appears again. Loki stands frozen behind it, still caught in the act of smiling. His pupils dilate, then contract, and Darcy knows that, even though Hel allows him no other movement, he can still see.

Hel points a clawed finger at Darcy. "Who is he?"

Darcy presses her lips together, but Hel curls her finger in the air, makes a pulling motion, and the words spill out. "Loki. Raised as a prince of Asgard, but born to Jotunheim."

"Jotunheim?" Hel stalks around Darcy. Her tattered skirts part as she walks, revealing rotting flesh beneath, the gleam of bare bone. "You know not what you spar with, little prince. You pretend to be gods, pretend to be immortal. Look upon the face of that which truly lives forever, and fear me."

Hel raises a fist, and the darkness lifts. She curls her fingers, and Darcy moves as Hel does, pulled like a marionette. When Hel lets her still, she is facing away from Loki, though she can feel his presence at her back, a solid weight in the world.

The world twists, and then they are in what used to be Central Park. They sky above is deep grey, the flat light emanating from it like that of a total eclipse. All of the green living things that had once filled the park are gone, replaces by blackened trees bereft of life. The once-fertile soil is covered by a thick layer of what looks like ash.

Everything is dead.

Everything, apart from the great tree that springs from the centre of the park.

It is even larger than Darcy had thought, its highest branches taller than any mountain Darcy has seen. Every branch and twig glows with an eerie light, like static drained of movement.

In the ash surrounding the tree, there are dozens of shadows. At first, Darcy takes them for scorch marks, but then one moves, and she realises that they are people.

Hel walks through the ash, her feet leaving not a mark in the soft grey. As soon as she enters the circle of people, all of them rise, turning as one to fix their eyes on her.

And Darcy's heart skips, because the closest faces are ones she recognises. Beth and Ravi. Max. More than she knows by sight, but knows no name for.

Hel crooks a finger, and Max stands. He shuffles towards them, clouds of ash rising in his wake. He comes to a halt an arms length from hell, his eyes downcast.

He is naked, the black markings covering almost the entirely of his body. The tattoos look as though they have scrawled on top of one another, over and over; the skin of his arms and legs is solid black, and only small patches of white skin show through on his torso. Even the whites of his eyes have been marked with curlicues.

Darcy finds that she is able to move her eyes, now, too. She looks around the gathered shadow people. Beth has two clear patches on the back of her shoulder blades, like wings yet to be shaded in by an artist. Ravi's entire left foot is untouched, though his eyes are both solid black. Neither of them, nor Max, react to Darcy's presence. There seems to be no life behind their changed arms at all.

Hel runs a claw down Max's chest, digs into the slender space between two ribs. His only reaction is a light shudder as thick black blood begins to flow.

"Choose one, supplicant," Hel says to Darcy. "Choose one to become shadow entire."

Darcy wants to turn away. Wants to run. Can do neither.

Hel has given her no control over her muscles apart from her eyes, and so, all she can do is think her reply: No.

A smile splits Hel's face, revealing too many teeth in her jaws, all of them rotting. "I was hoping you would say that."

Hel raises her fist, and the darkness descends. When it lifts, they are standing in another place familiar to Darcy. The storage room in Vinh's bunker.

The long shelves are almost completely empty, just one single box tucked away in the corner. The door is closed, and the only light comes from a hand-cranked camping lantern, its bulb glowing dim orange. Hel touches a finger to the side of the lantern, and it flares into full life.

Vinh's photographs have been moved to the wall in here, his family smiling out from paper worn and creased from much handling. A pile of crumpled blankets rest in one corner. And even though Darcy is frozen, not even breathing, she is aware of the sick-sweet stench of death here.

"This one proved…stubborn," Hel says.

The goddess of death moves around the small room. Flicks the edge of a photograph with a claw, drags another claw down the edge of a shelf, drawing a sound like a scream from the metal. Picks up the box on the shelf, slices it open. Inside is a can of peaches, a can of cream, a tube of coffee and milk concentrate. Hel tosses the box aside, and Darcy sees her own name written on the side in Vinh's careful handwriting.

If Darcy was able to cry right now, she would be sobbing.

Hel squats down next to the pile of blankets. Pulls out a vial of pills, rattles it and tosses it away. Draws a corner of the blankets aside.

Vinh lies beneath.

He is desperately thin, his skin yellow and waxen, drawn tight over his bones. He is barely breathing.

"I thought that this one would be the easiest," Hel says. She speaks in an impassive tone; she might as well have been commenting on the weather. She drags her nails through what remains of Vinh's hair in a twisted mockery of a maternal gesture. "Rotting from within even before the world fell. Others in the same situation welcomed me with open arms, desperate to end their pain."

Rotting? Darcy asks in her mind.

A broken grin blooms on Hel's face. "Oh, little supplicant, did he hide it from you?" She pulls the blankets away completely. Vinh wears only a pair of tattered, stained shorts. His bones press out against his skin, and black bruises mark his shoulders, hips and knees. Hel presses a claw into Vinh's stomach, drawing bright red blood. "Such a tiny organ, the pancreas. Just a few cells drawn towards chaos. He had faith in your healers, in the poisons they gave him. Even after the world fell, he had faith. Would not come to me." Hel licks the blood from her finger. "Not like you, little supplicant. Your desperation to be rid of your pain, it was exquisite indeed."

Vinh waits to see his family again in heaven.

"Heaven?" Hel stands, her skirts flying around her like broken wings. "Heaven does not exist. It is a myth, a story. There is only the darkness."

Vinh stirs, moaning thinly. Hel's lips twist, and then darkness crawls over her. In its wake, she changes, becomes a mirror image of Darcy. Hel kneels down next to Vinh, draws his head into her lap, strokes her fingers through his hair.

"Shhhh," she says, her voice an exact imitation of Darcy's. "It's okay, Vinh. I'm here."

Vinh's eyes flutter open. The whites are yellow. "Miss Darcy," he says. "I have waited…I have…"

"Shhhh," Hel intones again. "You don't need to say anything, Vinh. It's all okay now."

Vinh blinks; Darcy can hear his eyelids scraping over the dry surface of his eyes. "I kept…box…for you…"

"I know. I know. Thank you." Hel's eyes flick up to Darcy, and she smiles quickly. "You've done so much for everyone else. It's time to let someone do something for you."


"I have medicine. It will help." Hel smiles a horribly reassuring smile with Darcy's lips. "Just a quick injection, and all the pain will be gone."

Sweat breaks out on Vinh's face as he strains to smile. "And I will see them?"

Hel's eyes move up to the photographs. She licks her lips. "You will see them. Just one quick injection."

Vinh closes his eyes, nods. "Thank you…Miss Darcy. You…good…"

Hel looks directly at Darcy as she pieces Vinh's carotid with her nail. As the black curlicues move over his body, she shifts back to her true form, drops a kiss onto his forehead. The black spreads quickly, flowing over Vinh's skin like a wave of solid ink. Soon he is completely covered, completely black.

The lantern fades, and the room fills with that flat static-like light.

There is a sound like a sigh, and Vinh's body falls to ash. The same thick, grey ash that had coated the grounds of central park. Hel inhales deeply, and her skin glows.

For a moment, Hel is still, head back, eyes closed and lips parted.

Then her eyes open to slits. She holds out a clawed hand. "You can step into the darkness right now, little supplicant, if you wish. No more struggle, no more pain. No more tests, no more friends who don't trust you. Just the deep, cool dark."


Hel laughs, low and grating. "You will come to me, and willingly. In time."

Hel points a finger. Things crawl beneath Darcy's skin. In her peripheral vision, she can see the black marks crawling over her arm, covering it as completely as a glove and sleeve.

"You will come, Darcy. And you will beg for me to end the pain."


At first, Darcy thinks the protest is her own. Then she realises that it's Loki, his own voice and power pressing out against Hel's bonds on them both.

Hel makes a dismissive noise, flicks her fingers. Darcy senses that she uses only the smallest fraction of her power, but it is enough to shatter everything.

The world breaks, then jolts, and Darcy wakes up in her body, in the hospital bed in her Stark apartment, the curtains opening to let the thin grey light of the morning into the room.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 24 of 33

<< Previous     Home     Next >>