The crimson was bright against her white cotton panties. She’d been late, just four days, but no more. The possibility existed no longer. She’d thought…she was going to tell him about the maybe inside her. What would’ve tied them together more than any ring or any vow. But it had never existed. Darcy sat there on top of the toilet and stared at her panties. The aching inside her uterus washed over her in waves, that familiar pain. This was what it was to be a woman.
She was relieved, actually. It wasn’t the right time (but it is never the right time, that is the way of the world; it happens and you make choices.) But it was in the space of loss that she realized she wanted it to be with him. One plus one right now wasn’t a perfect equation, but it was real, it was true, and it was what existed in the now.
“There was a boy,” her Nan said, working the pie dough over with a rolling pin, flour streaking her aged arms. She wasn’t as Darcy had seen her last, thinner and so much weaker from the ravages of cancer. “I was sixteen when he kissed me by the lake. Would it shock you if I told you I gave myself to him? That I thought he was going to be it forever?”
Darcy stirred the pot with her wooden spoon and smirked at her grandmother. “You know it’d only impress me, you wanton hussy!” The older woman laughed gaily at that, high-pitched chortles from the belly that descended into lower-pitched giggles.
These are the places you can never go again.
“Well, he was sweet, that was for sure. It was an awkward first love, but that’s the way it goes. Then he went away to fight, and I…I was convinced that I would lock myself up forever in bitterness.” She sighed and dropped the flattened dough into the pie tin.
“He died in the war. I moved on and met your grandpa. Loved him differently, but all the same. He said it was my hips that made him fall in love with me, the rascal. Pour in the cherries, sweetie.” Darcy upturned the bowl of cherries and watched them begin to boil in the sugar and water mixture, their sweetness and their bitterness bursting into the pot.
Darcy had seen the glint out of the corner of her eye; the sunlight reflecting off an object. She had realized what was happening before her brain did. She had taken a step backwards, then another, until she was in between the sound and Natasha. No conscious decision went into that choice. If she’d had the time, she might have decided that her friends’ lives were more important than hers in the grand scheme of things. Or that she just couldn’t not do anything. But there was no time for thoughts, she just did it.
The heat from the bullet burned its way into the flesh and sinew below her shoulder.
What is the mathematical equation for love? What is gained? What is lost? These are the places I can never go again.
Natasha’s hair was red-orange, it danced in the wind. She was staring down at Darcy, eyebrows furrowed. She looked scared; Darcy had never seen Natasha afraid before. She was saying something, but there was a ringing in Darcy’s ears that drowned the words out. She wanted to tell him something- oh what was it?
Not today. Please, not today.
The world was spinning in a riot of color and sound. Darcy focused on the crimson of Thor’s cape as the god of thunder wrapped it around her, so he could carry her away. She was glad, it was better than trying to look away from the red staining Natasha’s hands. Thunder rumbled in his chest as he shouted something. She was inside a building with white walls. There were more hands, frantic on her as they pulled away the cape. Oh, where did her air go?
One plus one-
“Eat up, dearie.” Her Nan set down a plate of cherry pie in front of her. The kitchen was sunny and warm. Darcy sat at the small formica table and watched her grandmother wipe down the counters of flour and leftover dough. The first bite of pie slid over her tongue, an explosion of tart cherry and sweetness from the juices seeping out from between the two crusts. She could taste the crimson on her tongue.
Doctor, she’s coughing up blood! Adams, suture that leak in her lung. Quick, she’s bradying down. We’re losing her.
“God, I had forgotten how much I loved your pies. It’s just not the same when I make them. The cherry was always my favourite. Whenever I don’t have access to an oven, I try to make do with those cherry tootsie rolls. Pale imitation.”
Her Nan smiled tenderly, brushing a wrinkled hand through Darcy’s hair. “Candy might be sweet, but it’s a traveling carnival blowing through town. Pie is home. Sooner or later, people always come home.”
These are the places you can never go again.
“But most of your things are gone, Nan. I kept your mom’s bed and that ugly seventies quilt you made that I love so much. But the other things are gone; someone else lives in your house. You’re not there anymore.”
What is the mathematical equation for love?
“You remember me like this, don’t you? And you think about me. There you go, sweetie. That’s how I’m still around.”
The light was even brighter now, and there was a buzzing in her ears. She was having a harder time focusing on the kitchen, on her grandmother. There was something she was supposed to tell someone, why did she keep forgetting?
“Nan, I’m scared. I want to tell someone I love them. Does that mean I lose myself? What I want is different from what I saw with Mom…and with you, even. Not that it was bad, just…different.”
Her grandmother looked at her seriously. But she always smiled even when she was serious. “One is the most magical number in the world, don’t you know? Everybody goes on about it being the loneliest number out there, but it’s not. Don’t you see, when you love somebody, and I mean really love them- they’re a part of you, sure as breathing. You’re still yourself, just more. One can mean two. It can mean three or four or even ten.”
One plus one…
Darcy opened her eyes.
“Oh, god. Darce.” Clint Barton’s haggard face appeared in her vision. He pressed his lips to her forehead, exhaling sharply as he did so. “Goddamn it, taking a bullet…” Darcy needed to tell him, she remembered needing to tell him. She tried to open her mouth and form the words, but she couldn’t. The intrusion was taped to her lips, her throat spasming around it. “Don’t try to talk, sweetheart. They had to intubate you, the bullet caused one lung to collapse.”
“Cap, tell the docs she’s awake!” Clint called out to someone behind him. There was a flurry of sound, a door opening and closing. She was here, not gone.
Darcy tugged at one of Clint’s arms, opening up his palm for her.
With a weak finger, she traced lines onto his palm. A line downwards, a cross, another line downwards, two parallel lines horizontally (now you understand it’s an equation, not ltl), and then a final line downward. The most important part of the equation. One plus one equals one—
I love you.