Continuing Tales

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 4 of 33

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The Blood-Dimmed Tide

Darcy's footsteps echo loudly in the empty streets.

She looks up at the apartment buildings she passes, eyes moving from window to window. Movement follows her pace: a curtain twitching here, a blind there. Are there more people hiding there now? It's impossible to say, since she has never looked, not since the city fell.

The church on the corner is little more than a pile of charred rubble. She remembers all too well that night the church burned. On a single night, all around the country, places of worship were put to the flame. She heard stories of priests being crucified, rabbis disembowelled. It must have taken a massive effort to synchronise the attacks, but no one had ever claimed responsibility. Soon after, religions had started to crumble one by one, no one left to rebuild.

She pauses outside the ruins of the church. On the sidewalk, words had been painted, worn at the edges, the red paint faded to a sickly pink. If these gods were real, they would have saved the world. Those same words had been left at each of the fires. Darcy found it hard to argue them now, just as she did now. How could anyone claim belief in humanity's paper gods when real gods came from the sky, when real gods broke the world?

Around her neck she wears a thin gold chain, the tiny crucifix buried beneath her clothes, as always. She stopped believing many years before Thor, or Loki, or any of them, but she still wears the necklace. It is the only thing she has left that belonged to her mother.

Something stirs in the rubble, and she keeps moving, not wanting to find out what or who it was. She walks with her head down now, only raising her eyes from the pavement when she is standing outside the corner deli.

There had been a neon sign above the entrance once, the red letters spelling out Vinh's. Someone clawed away the neon during the riots, though the shadows of the letters are still faintly visible. The windows are boarded over, the boards covered with graffiti that creeps over the wood like vines. The message from outside the church is here as well, along with other slogans: We put our faith in magic and machines, and look where we are now. Stark sux. Where was Iron Man while my sons were dying on the front? The blood-dimmed tide is loosed…

At the last, she pauses. It sounds familiar, but she cannot place it. She turns away from the window, stands before the door. The glass has been replaced by boards here, too, apart from a small panel set with a scratched plastic mirror. Low on the boards, there is a dark splash that she knows is blood. She always tries not to look at that, and always fails.

She knocks on the boards, her knuckles rapping out a staccato pattern. Waits. She counts her heartbeats, gets to thirty-six before the door opens, just wide enough for her to slip into the darkness inside.

The door closes behind her and she blinks, waiting for her eyes to adjust. When they do, she sees the heavy military crates filling most of the space in a seemingly random pattern. Most of them are cracked, revealing that they are empty inside. The interior, like the exterior, looks abandoned.

Vinh stands to the side of the door, his hands folded as he waits for her to indicate that her eyes have adjusted. She does so with a nod, and he turns and winds through the crates. Darcy follows him with some difficulty, the spaces just barely wide enough for her to pass through. Vinh's tiny frame moves through the labyrinth with space to spare.

At the rear of the store, Vinh stops. He slides a crate aside, the ropy muscles in his arm tightening, joints creaking. Darcy knows from experience not to offer to help him.

Beneath the crate is a worn rug; rolled up, this reveals the trap door beneath. Vinh opens this, his thin chest heaving from the effort. Beneath is a set of stairs vanishing into darkness. The air that flows out of the opening is damp, smells of metal.

Vinh stands aside again, allowing her to go first. She does so, and he follows, pulling the door closed behind him. It locks with a hollow click.

Darcy has descended these stairs many times now, but it never feels any more comfortable. It is pitch black, and though every step is edged with a raised bar of textured metal and the wooden slats of the walls hollowed to form a hand rail, she always feels as though every step is going to pitch her forward into an abyss.

Something brushes at her waist, and she freezes, thinking that Vinh has asked her to stop. A moment later, his slight frame collides with hers; he had been at least five steps behind her. She shivers, murmurs apologies and descends the rest of the stairs. At the bottom is a short corridor, a steel door at the end. Vinh unlocks it, stands aside so she can enter first. Locks the door behind them, fingers dancing over the electronic panel.

This place, far below street level, was once a bomb shelter, Vinh has told her. When he purchased the store and apartment above, he knew nothing of the shelter's existence. He discovered it by accident, found the shelter, with its storage room beyond, empty. Before, he used it to store excess stock. Now it is his home.

"I don't know how you can stand it down here all the time," Darcy says, sitting in the threadbare chair he sets aside for customers. The main shelter is perhaps long enough one one side for her to lie down head to heel with Vinh, the storage room twice that. An electric bulb burns on the ceiling, white battery-operated LED lights set on either side of the entrance.

Vinh grins, revealing a gap-toothed smile, sits down in the matching chair. He's lost another tooth since she last saw him, the empty socket purple and inflamed. "Safest place in the city."

A train rumbles through the nearby subway, and the ceiling light flickers. Darcy wonders, as she always does, who built this place, how they got permission. She supposes that you don't need permission if you have enough money. Whoever they were and whatever war they were hiding from, they were gone now. Lucky bastard.

"How are you doing, Vinh?" Darcy asks when the train has passed.

He reaches into the filing cabinet between them, removes his ledger book. In it are records of his stock and sales. No actual money passes hands now, but he notes it all down faithfully, trusting his customers to make good when the economy recovers, as he is certain that it will.

"I am alive, so I am good," Vinh says, opening the book. He removes a pencil from his pocket, licks the lead.

It is what he always says when Darcy asks him. Behind him on the wall there are two photographs. One, a smiling couple: a younger Vinh, his hair black and thick, a woman in his arms. The other shows two children, their faces round, well fed. No one looks like that now. Not even those children. Vinh's wife and children had been in Vietnam, waiting to emigrate after he had his business well established. All three perished in the war.

"Now, Miss Darcy, are you looking for anything in particular today?" Vinh asks, his tone indicating that he possesses anything that she might need.

"Well, some chocolate cake would be good. Coffee, fresh bread. Maybe some butter and milk, too?" Darcy grins, and Vinh mirrors her expression. Another of his teeth is loose; it will be gone when she sees him next. "I do have a mouse problem. Little guys ate all of my Pop-tarts."

Vinh laughs, his chest rattling. "This is why, Miss Darcy, I keep some, just for you." He goes into the storage room, rummages. "My other customers, they ask and ask, but I say no, there are none left." He emerges with two blessedly colourful boxes. Strawberry and frosted chocolate, the edges of the boxes frayed, as though someone had stroked them over and over. He sets them down atop the filing cabinet, makes notes. "As for the mice…" He vanishes into the storage room.

From where Darcy sits, she can see one side of the shelving. Once, those shelves had been full to groaning. Now there are only a few scattered boxes.

Vinh returns holding a small box. He withdraws items from it one by one, making a small flourish as he does. "Mouse bait. Some of that soup you like, beans, ravioli." He pauses at the last can. The label is torn away, revealing dented steel. "And…peaches."

Darcy stares at the can. "Peaches?"

"I set aside some, when I move down here," Vinh says. "For special customers."

Darcy wants to take the can, but she makes her hands stay in her lap. "You should keep it, Vinh."

"No." He sets the can with the other items, makes notes in his ledger. "I will order the chocolate cake for you, Miss Darcy." He grins, flourishes his hands again. He cannot hide the wince as his joints lock.

Darcy forces herself to smile. "Don't forget the coffee. And milk."

Vinh presses his hands together. "I have a good feeling, Miss Darcy. I am thinking that the deliveries will begin again soon. Things will get better."

She gathers her goods, stowing the cans in the pockets of her coat, a familiar ritual.

"It will get better," Vinh says again as he unlocks the shelter door. "Your Mr Stark, he will make things better. The Avengers, they defended this city once. Without them, we would all be slaves or atoms."

She pauses on the threshold. "But it's not just this city now, is it? The last paper I saw, months ago now, they'd declared it another World War. Too many fronts, they said, the wars all blending into each other. And the Avengers are only a few people."

"But what people they are," Vinh says. "And we have gods on our side now."

Darcy thinks then of Loki, locked beneath Stark Tower. No one has said why he had been sent to Earth. She suspected that the Asgardians had problems of their own to deal with.

Vinh steps closer. There is something black on his breath. He touches a finger to where Darcy's crucifix is hidden.

"You pray, Miss Darcy. To that God, to any other. To all of them, perhaps. Things will get better."

She cannot smile this time, just turns and lets him lead her back up to the street.


After Vinh locks the door, Darcy sags against the boarded-over windows, taking deep breaths. There is smoke on the air, though, for once, the sky above looks clear.

She walks quickly back to her apartment, stashing the food and scattering the mouse bait through the cupboards. Her mother had never baited mice, had always trapped them - often catching them in her hands - and walking into the woods to set them free.

"Sorry, Mum," Darcy says as she closes the cupboards. "No woods here. And it's either the mice or me."

After spending time in Vinh's home, she always feels as though she is suffocating. Checking that her taser is in her pocket, she goes back out again. There is no sound from the neighbouring apartment where she'd heard murmurs earlier. Still, the building doesn't feel as empty as it had. She shivers, quickening her pace to the stairwell, feeling as though there were people standing behind each peephole, watching her pass.

In the short time she's been inside, the weather has turned. Grey clouds hang low to the buildings, and a thin drizzle is falling. Darcy pulls a woollen hat over her hair, turns up her hood. Her coat is threadbare, and will not last the season. She feels as though she has a lot in common with it.

She walks without thought, just needing to be outside, to be breathing air that hasn't been cycled through a ventilation system. She doesn't know how Vinh stands being down there day and night, doesn't think she could deal with even a full hour down there.

The rhythm of her feet becomes a regular beat, and the city slides away from her, memory rising instead. In the memory, she is perhaps five or six years old, running on bare feet through the house as she searches for a place to hide from one of her brothers. She doesn't remember which brother she was playing the game with - maybe all of them. She runs through rooms, choosing and discarding hiding places, until she finds the closet in the spare room.

That room is kept aside for someone, though she cannot remember who. There is dried lavender in a vase on the windowsill, a wooden crucifix nailed to the wall. The closet stands against the far wall, an old thing of a wood she could not name then, but now knows is mahogany. The air inside smells like lavender, like mothballs. She crams herself inside, pulls the door closed hard.

There is a click.

She waits. After a while, she tries to remember if there was a click when she opened the door. When no one comes looking, she tries to open it. Fails.

The present day Darcy shudders, a light sweat breaking out on her skin as she walks and remembers. Her stomach twists, as it had then.

It had felt like days, locked in the dark. Later, her mother would tell her that it had been less than an hour. When she had found Darcy, forced the door open, the light in the house had been the thick, slanting light of sunset. In her memory, the hide and seek game had begun at dawn. Even now, she doesn't know whether to trust memory or her mother.

A sound draws her from the memory. She freezes, pulling the taser from her pocket without thought.

She is standing on the corner of two streets she cannot recognise, the buildings too damaged and signposts long gone. Where the intersection had been, there is now a large crater, serrated at the edges, as though it is a mouth waiting to devour. In the deep bottom of the hole, something dark and viscid seeps. It makes a low, bubbling sound, not the sharp one that had drawn her from the memory.

She grows cold when it dawns on her that, lost in memory, she would have walked straight into that hole.

And then she sees him.

He stands on the other side of the crater, leaning against the remains of a post box. He is dressed in black, though something like dark mist hangs around him, the green of malachite shot through with glimmers of gold.


The panic comes slowly, and she claws for her phone. In the time it takes for her to remember that there is no signal, he is gone.


The guard station outside the cell is filled with the sound of screaming.

Darcy freezes, her fingers clenching hard on her ID card, her heart hammering and cold sweat slicking her skin. It takes her a moment to realise that the screaming is coming from the tinny speaker of the guard's iPad.

He glances up from the screen, smiles apologetically when he sees her. He switches off the iPad and the sound breaks off mid-scream.

"Sorry about that, Ms Lewis," he says, setting the iPad aside. "It gets boring on watch here, you know." He smiles again. "You come to start your shift?"

"Shift?" She blinks, remembers Daniel Blackwood. "No, no. I just need…can you let me in? Just for a minute?"

The guard frowns, but presses the button to open the gate. It seems to take an excruciatingly long time for it to slide open wide enough for her to step inside.

Loki sits on the floor, one leg bent, one arm pressed against the floor, eyes closed. He appears to be in the same position he was when she last saw him.

"Hey!" She bangs on the perspex, hard enough that she half expects it to crack. "Hey, asshole!"

There is no response, no matter how hard she bangs, no matter how much she yells. Finally, she turns, gestures for the guard to open the gate again.

"Is something wrong, Ms Lewis?" he asks. He is standing just inside the gate, had been watching her, she guesses.

"I thought I saw…" She scrapes damp hair back from her face. "Has he moved?"

The guard looks down in what looks like a reflex. She follows his gaze, notes for the first time that his shirt pocket is bulging, the cotton stained purple blue. This close, she can smell the sweetness of the berries there.

She takes a step around his station, sees the half empty tray beneath the desk. "You've been taking his food."

The guard slumps. "He's not going to eat it. What are they doing, giving him fresh fruit while the rest of the city is starving? I've got a family, Ms Lewis. A little girl. She's got vitamin deficiencies, her bones so soft they bend. They're just gonna throw it all in the trash, anyway."

Darcy slumps against the desk, thinking. "You've been taking his food, all this time?"

The guard nods. His whole body is taut, every muscle and joint strained.

"He hasn't moved?"

The guard says nothing.

"I'm not going to tell anyone about the food," she says. "I know what it's like to go hungry."

He relaxes visibly. "Oh, thank you, Ms Lewis. I don't need to take it all, not if you-" He bites off the word.

"It's really okay," she says. "We can sort it out. But Loki. He hasn't moved, the whole time he's been here?"

The guard indicates the panels on his desk. Three LCD displays, full colour images of the hallway, and two angles on the cell. There are controls beneath each display, she assumes to pan the cameras. One of the cameras, she suspects, could be panned far enough to look into the curtained off bathroom area, if you chose.

"Does anyone know that he hasn't moved?"

The guard points at a stack of paper. "I write reports, send them upstairs. They know." He pauses. "So, are you going to start your shift?" He indicates some more papers; she recognises them as the ones that Daniel Blackwood tried to force on her. "My little girl, she'll be hungry, and my shift was over an hour ago."

Darcy can't argue with that. Has no where else to go. "Go," she says. "And make sure she gets those blueberries while they're fresh."

He breaks into a smile of utter relief. "Thank you, Ms Lewis."

"What's her name? What's yours?"

"Jennie. I'm Max."

"Max." She smiles, and for the first time since the attack, it feels like a genuine smile. "It's nice to meet you, Max."

Max grins, pats his pocket. "Thank you, Ms Lewis. You have no idea how much this means."

She thinks of bloodstained curtains, the empty streets. "Every little girl counts in this world. Who knows, maybe she'll grow up to be an Avenger or SHIELD agent?"

Max's eyes slide to the steel gate, and his smile falters. "I'll be back to relieve you in twelve hours."

He is almost out of the door when she stops him. "Do you know why I got assigned this? I just brought him lunch once, when the usual guy was busy."

Max doesn't smile now, and there's something in his eyes that she can't place. "The usual guy only ever leaves the tray in here. I guess you're the first person who's actually gone in there. I haven't even dared walk through that gate."

He leaves her there with something like a salute.

Darcy fingers the pile of papers, stares at the monitors for a moment. Had Loki been there? Had he saved her?

When she moves through the gate, she is aware of the smell in the room. Like rain just about to fall, the sky electric with lightning yet to be born.

She presses on the intercom, hears the hiss of static for a moment as the channel connects. Images flood her mind, as though a dam has been breached. Everything she'd seen since the attack, everything she'd felt. Her fingers moved to her pocket, curled around her taser.

"You broke our world, do you know that?"

His eyes open. Just enough for her to see a sliver of green. And when he speaks, his voice is less than a whisper: "I know."

The Blood-Dimmed Tide

A Marvel Movieverse Story
by ofravenwings

Part 4 of 33

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