Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 25 of 33

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide

Vinh is dead.

Darcy's body is shaking, the movement making something in the frame of the bed vibrate, resonating with a low humming sound. It sounds like the wind blowing through the cracks in the ceiling of a disintegrating house. It sounds like the world falling apart.

Vinh is dead.

When Darcy had moved to the city, she had spent the first few days holed up in her apartment, overwhelmed by everything. When the need for coffee had driven her out, Vinh's tiny store had seemed a haven. He had greeted her with a friendly nod, then sat behind the counter and let her browse for as long as she had needed. She had always intended on finding a larger store to do her grocery shopping at, but had always found herself coming back to Vinh. As time went on, he learned her favourite things and made certain he always had them in stock.

Darcy blinks away tears, remembering how Vinh had always kept supplies of the sweets the local children liked the best, had always managed to sneak some into their parent's shopping. There had always been a sadness in his eyes when the kids had come into the store, and she had never known why. Before the city fell, he had never spoken of his family, his lost children.

Vinh is dead.

After the city had fallen, Vinh had immediately retreated to his shelter, rationed the stocks he had. Made sure that everything was supplied as evenly and fairly as possible. Even if he went hungry himself.

Vinh, who had been sick the whole time, unknown to anyone.

Who had kept that box of food aside for Darcy. Waited for her to return.

And only Hel had come.

Darcy barely notices the doctor and his assistant come into the apartment. Doesn't feel the thermometer, the blood pressure cuff, the sting of the needle taking blood samples. She doesn't feel anything but that drowning blackness until Dr Glenn stabs the index finger of her left hand.

"Can you feel that?" the doctor asks over his speaker.

"Ow." Darcy holds up her hand. A bead of blood is welling from her finger, bright red. "That means yes."

"Interesting." The doctor makes notes on a clipboard held by his assistant.

Darcy rubs the blood from her finger. The wound the doctor made is already starting to heal. She looks at her other hand, and goes cold.

Her right arm is covered almost entirely by the black patterns of Hel's touch. Her fingers and nails are entirely black. The claw marks on her wrist have opened again, the black substance the wounds weep thick and black as tar. More black oozes from the tip of each finger and thumb, presumably where Dr Glenn has already pricked her.

She can feel none of it. Past numbness, it feels as though her arm has simply ceased to exist. She's able to move her arm, her hand, but it feels as though she's working a puppet, something belonging to someone else.

She squeezes her fist tight, and black oozes out onto the sheets, her scrubs. She remembers Beth, Ravi and Max, all of the other shadow people. Covered by Hel's blackness, they must feel as though they're not there at all.

Dr Glenn finishes his notes, turns back to Darcy. The instruments he's using is considerably larger than a pin. It looks something like a skewer, bright silver and cold. He pricks Darcy's left arm in a succession of quick stabs. "And this?"

"You didn't even-" Darcy breaks off mid-sentence. She was about to say that the doctor hadn't even touched her skin, but she can see that he did.

There are five spots of black blooming on her left arm, small as freckles but beginning to spiral out into the surrounding skin. Their pattern looks as though someone has grasped her arm and left inky fingerprints on her skin. All are oozing thick black.

Dr Glenn stabs again, this time aiming for an unmarked part of Darcy's skin. Bright pain flares, and red blood wells.

"Hm." The doctor makes more notes. "Wash and bandage both arms immediately. Bots will come to change the sheets. Daily, I think. We'll see you tomorrow morning."

They leave Darcy alone. Ignoring the doctor's instructions, she curls up on her side, slides her blackened arm beneath the blankets. At least if she can't see the black, can't feel her arm, she can pretend that it's not there. Even the thought that her arm had been lopped off at the shoulder is more welcome than the reality.

"Vinh is dead," she whispers into her pillow. "Beth, Ravi, Max and who knows how many others are as good as dead." She swallows hard. "I am dying."

The last thought stabs through her. When she glances down, she half expects to see a physical wound on her chest, but the skin there is clear. As yet clear, anyway. Given time, she's certain that it will blacken, that she will become ash, as Vinh did.

She worries at the stab wounds on her unmarked fingers until red blood flows again. The smell of copper rises, but it isn't enough to counter the thick rot of the black.

"I am dying." She says the words slowly, tasting their shape. "I'm dying. And it's all my fault. All of this is my fault."

A thin whine answers her.

She rolls over, sees a spindly bot waiting by the side of the bed. It holds a pallet of fresh blankets and sheets.

Darcy flops back onto her pillow. "It's okay for you. You don't bleed. You can't die."

"Well, technically-" the bot says.

Darcy bolts upright. "Did you just talk?" she asks the bot. "Or am I just going crazier than usual?"

The bot sets down its pallet of blankets and sheets, spins around. A small device has been taped to its back. It looks very much like the device that Jane wore to disrupt security, except this one has a small speaker attached.

"I'm not qualified to judge on the crazy," the voice coming out of the speaker says. "Or maybe I am, given who I work with."

It takes Darcy a moment to place the voice. "Pepper?" she asks. "Ms Potts. I mean."

"Pepper's fine." Darcy can almost hear the smile in Pepper's voice. "Remove the device from the back of the bot, and hide it in your pocket. It will scramble the audio feeds from your apartment, but not the visual, so keep it as hidden as you can. Go about your usual routine as much as you can. You can talk, but keep it short. Look as though you're just talking to yourself."

Darcy slides out of bed, kneels down to put on her slippers. Moving as quickly as she can, she untapes the device from the bot and puts it into her pocket. The bot whines again, and begins its work of stripping the bed. When Darcy stands again, her legs are trembling.

"Why not scramble everything, the way Jane did?" Darcy asks. A sudden, horrifying, thought occurs to her. "Is Jane okay?"

"Jane's fine," Pepper's voice says from her pocket. "She's confined to her lab. They discovered that she visited you, so they're watching her too closely for her to leave again. She's at work trying to find a way past the barrier over the city. Hoping to get word to Asgard." Pepper pauses. "I wanted to come and see you as well, but they confined me to my quarters as well."

"Who's they?" Darcy asks. She goes through into the wardrobe, selects a new robe and set of scrubs. She holds them carefully as she goes into the bathroom, trying not to get either red or black blood on them.

"I wish I knew," Pepper says. "As best as I can tell, someone has been working at infiltrating Stark Tower since the battle of New York. They've managed to keep us on automatic lockdown, with all of the regular staff confined to quarters. Even J.A.R.V.I.S. appears to being showing signs of being compromised now, so we can't even trust him."

Darcy turns on the shower, fiddles with the temperature. "Can't Stark figure it out?"

Pepper pauses for far too long before answering. "Tony went out a few days ago to investigate whatever the hell is happening out there. Natasha and Clint went with him. None of them returned, and we haven't been able to get in contact with them."

Pepper's words rattle through Darcy's bones. She moves automatically, shucking her clothing - transferring the device and Frigga's ring to the pocket of the new robe in the process of taking the dirty clothes to the hamper - and stepping into the shower.

It's all to easy to imagine Stark, Black Widow and Hawkeye dead. Or worse, infected by Hel's blackness, just three more shadow people arrayed around the tree in Central Park.

Pepper is silent again as Darcy scrubs her skin and hair. Darcy realises in that silence that she's been waiting, expecting the Avengers to just turn up and save the world all over again. They saved New York from the Chitauri attack, and even while the world was falling apart, they had still been fighting.

There was no one to save them now. And despite Jane's best work, Darcy knew also that Asgard was not coming, either. They are on their own.

Darcy turns off the shower, rubbing her skin hard to dry herself. The places Dr Glenn pricked on her unmarked skin have clotted already, but the black places are still slowly seeping black.

"What can I do?" Darcy asks as she disinfects the wounds, wraps them in gauze as best as she can. "What can any of us do, locked up in here?"

"Honestly, I don't know," Pepper says. Her voice sounds fainter now, as though the connection is dying. "I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone, Darcy. And I seriously regret what's been done to you. I tried to stop it, but there was nothing I could do." She pauses, static rising and falling. "Is there anything you know?"

It clicks together then. Loki. It all comes back to Loki. "I know that Loki has nothing to do with what's happening out there."

"Are you certain of that?"

"As certain as I am that I'm dying."

Another, longer pause. "Anything else?"

"I know who you could start looking at. Daniel Blackwood."

"Blackwood?" Pepper pauses again, presumably to look Blackwood up. "But he's…no one."

"Those are the ones you have to be wary of."

"It's a start, anyway. Thank you, Darcy." Static bursts across the speaker. "We're reaching the end of the window. I'll do what I can to help you, send another device if I can. Wrap up this one and toss it in with the biohazardous waste. It will go straight to the incinerator."

Another burst of static, and the connection dies. Darcy works quickly to wrap the device in gauze and toss it into the biohazardous waste. She hopes that Pepper's right, and that no one actually bothers to pick through the waste before it goes to the incinerator. Though, as she throws the package in, she doubts that anyone would want to deal with the smell of the used bandages.

"And now I've had that lovely thought, I'm guessing it's time for breakfast," she says to herself as she moves back through the apartment. "Which I'm guessing is more rations. Yum yum."

She's not hungry - and in realising that, she realises also that it's been a long time since she actually was hungry at all - but she makes herself eat. Halfway through the meal, her stomach twists, and she has to rush to the bathroom to bring back up the food that she ate. It hasn't digested at all, a fact which just makes her heave again. This time she brings up bile, and a mouthful of black, clotted blood.

Her heart lurches at that, and she flushes the toilet quickly. Had Hel marked her inside as well as out?

She can't face the rest of the food. And when a bot comes with her lunch and some painkillers, she only takes the pills, ignores the food. She doesn't have any overt pain, but she figures that maybe they'll do something.

She spends several hours of her afternoon in the charade of reading and watching television. Finds herself turning time and time again to the window, staring out at the world outside. The sky has not lightened, the sky remaining the flat grey of damp concrete. The tree lights everything with the pallid illumination of a complete solar eclipse. It makes everything feel like a dream, as though Darcy is only half awake.

She runs her hand down her blackened arm, still numb. She supposes that she is only half awake. Half alive. Half dead.


When the curtains finally close in the apartment, Darcy is sitting cross-legged on the floor, her back against the wall where the door opens onto Loki's rooms. She knows that there's no physical connection there, but it's comforting to sit there, all the same. The television is still flickering, though she hasn't even been pretending to watch it for the last few hours.

All she's been able to do is sit and stare out of the window. Stare at the tree.

Reaching back into the memories of the Norse mythology books she read after Thor, she's decided that she'll call the tree Yggdrasil. It seems to make a kind of sense. Hel's realm was just one of the places connected by Yggdrasil, after all.

When the curtains cut off her view of the outside world, she stands slowly. The room reels around her, forcing her to lean heavily against the wall until she regains her balance. She hasn't been able to keep any food or water down all day, and a part of her mind notes clinically that she's probably seriously dehydrated by now, with that and the continuing blood loss. Assuming the black stuff is actually affecting her blood volume. She can't find it in her to care right now.

She briefly considers just pulling the curtains aside so she can watch Yggdrasil more, but she remembers that she needs to be acting normal.

"Whatever normal is, anymore," she says.

She can still feel Yggdrasil, a weight in her mind the way Loki had been in his cell. Yggdrasil is heavier, reminding her of a diagram some hapless high school physics teacher had endeavoured to get his students - Darcy included - interested in. If she closes her eyes, she can see that diagram now as vividly as though the book was open before her. Space as a flat black sheet inscribed with pale green grid. In the centre, a bowling ball represented a black hole. The artist had depicted the ball in the act of tearing through the sheet of space, warping the grid around it.

"It's going to rip through everything," Darcy says absently as she walks down the hallway. She teeters from side to side as she walks, as though she's crossing the listing deck of a boat, crashing into one wall, then the other, over and over. "And everything's going to go dark. Midgard, Asgard, every realm will be hers."

She goes through her bedtime ablutions. The face that looks out at hers from behind the mirror is paper white, skin hanging loose on her bones. There's a darkness crawling up the side of her neck; she doesn't look closely enough to see if its a shadow or Hel's black curlicues.

The plastic-covered mattress of her hospital bed crinkles as she slides beneath the covers. She lies there, staring at the ceiling, lights flickering and flaring behind her eyes in spiralling patterns. Belatedly, she remembers the ring, slips her hand into her pocket and slides it on.

Pain, steel-bright and bone-deep, claws at her right arm. Five more points of agony stab into her left arm, shattering her lethargy.

Looking down, she sees the shadow of fingers clutching at her left arm, fingers exactly aligned on the black points. As the shadow fingers press harder, the curlicues spiral out into the surrounding flesh.

The fingers clutch hard, and they pull.

Darcy tumbles off the bed, staggers towards a direction that she recognises, in the midst of agony, as heading towards Yggdrasil. A kind of music rises in the darkness of her mind: spiralling, tumbling notes in a cacophony of something broken that had once, perhaps, been human voices.

She feels a hundred - no, a thousand - people turn towards her. They are arrayed in a vast spiral around the tree, all of them Hel-black. All of them waiting.

All of them waiting for Darcy.

She stumbles another half dozen steps towards the window.

Darcy. You must fight.

Loki's voice in her mind, breaking through the dark fug of Hel's influence. Just for a moment, before Hel grasps harder at Darcy's arm, pulls harder.

Darcy, please. To me.

Panic flares in Darcy, and she fights against Hel's grasp. She has a glimpse of her sleeping body, the black definitely creeping up her neck, curling up to her jawline now, and then she is running back down the hallway, Hel's fingers sliding against her skin, seeking fresh purchase.

The door leading to Loki's rooms is already open. It is the right way around now, Loki standing directly on the other side. When he sees her, his faze freezes, but not quickly enough for her to miss the fear there. Nor the bloodshot whites of his eyes, the chewed skin of his lips.

Darcy is two steps from the door when Hel gains purchase again. Digs in, seemingly down to Darcy's bones, her claws sliding into the soft marrow.

Hel pulls again, and Darcy stumbles back, halfway across the room.

Loki presses himself closer against the doorway. His eyes are dark, and his skin is flickering between his Asgardian and Jotun forms, as though he is trying to decide which form of magic to use.

She's not going to make it.

Hel laughs, a sound like the grate of stone against broken stone. Her fingers solidify against Darcy's skin, the rest of her form shimmering into view. She is grinning, revealing broken teeth. She knows that she has won.

"I'm sorry," Darcy says to Loki. "I'm sorry."

And then Loki steps out of the doorway.

"No," Darcy says. "No, go back! Just let her take me!"

Loki shakes his head, takes another step. Midway through the movement, he shifts his appearance. His linen shirt and trousers morph into his full Asgardian armour, complete with his horned helmet. Cold bleeds from him, and Darcy knows that he's ready to use his Jotun magic as well if needed.

Loki walks slowly across the room to where Hel holds Darcy. Hel's snarling now, lips drawn back from her teeth, and her fingers really are digging into Darcy's arm, nails breaking through muscle and sinew, scraping bone.

Hel is pulling Darcy faster and faster, but Loki doesn't increase his pace, just keeps walking that measured pace across the room.

Everything happens at once then.

Hel's fingers close, her nails shattering Darcy's humerus, pressing deep into the marrow. And she pulls Darcy towards the window, her other hand flinging out and shattering the supposedly shatter-proof glass.

And Darcy is falling, Hel's hand around her broken arm. And though she knows that objectively Loki was too far away to reach them, he is there suddenly, his hands closing gently around Darcy's shoulders.

Cold shimmers over Darcy's skin. She gasps at the chill, and when she exhales, she breathes out white mist. Hel's fingers loosen and fall away, and Loki lifts Darcy back into the apartment, his boots crunching over broken glass.

Somewhere sirens are wailing, but Darcy barely notices. Loki's hands are moving over her broken arm, cold shimmering out again. She screams, because it hurts as her bone and muscle knit back together. Loki is breathing heavily as he lifts her, gathers her into his chest.

The security cameras blink their red lights as he crosses the room, Darcy in his arms, and steps through the door into his rooms.

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 25 of 33

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