Sometimes, she remembered him first. She would know the sound of his laughter where it echoed with a thousand voices, and she would know the color of his eyes where they held the depths of a thousand souls. The turn of his head, the beat of his heart, he spoke to her in a way that no other person ever could, and she craved his touch just as she did his smile.
Other times, it was him who knew her, him who found her by the way the heavens trembled with her singing, he who knew her by the rhythm of her hands and her hips and the way that her body moved with a fluid, timeless grace. The curve of her lips, the touch of her hand, he burned for her in a way that spoke in equal measures of familiarity and of desperation.
There were instances still, more than he cared for and more than she wanted to talk about, where they wouldn't know each other till the end. A stranger in a crowd until someone opened gunfire, her blood seeping out from between his fingers as he tried to staunch the flow and her eyes glazing over, lovely face going pale. A wrongly accused meant for the gallows that she recognized just as the rope drew suffocatingly taunt about his throat, his feet twitching and his eyes rolling while she started to wail, tried to claw her way past those who had gathered to watch.
It had been that way since the very first time, since their hands had touched and their hearts had met and something had shifted in the cosmos that housed them. A blessing, a curse, a questionable in-between that fell into the area of gray where they weren't sure it if was right or if it was wrong, only that they laughed and they cried and that it hurt with the same empty hollow every time. They had never not known each other, never not seen the other at least in the passing moment that stood as a prelude to an ever inescapable death even if they didn’t always get to touch.
Fate would smile upon them from time to time, even if it wasn’t ever often enough to be considered fair. They would have years together, they would know one another from when they were small and feel hale and whole for just long enough to feel comfortable, to let down their guard and try to simply enjoy.
And then he would go to war with their chief and never return.
And then her body wouldn’t be able to handle the strain of childbirth.
And then he would be killed in a gun fight.
And then she would drown by falling through the crackled surface of an icy lake.
A Sumerian slave and a Viking war maiden, a desperado and a Serbian princess, their lives were limitless, their histories convoluted and at times difficult to remember, but the pattern never faltered, they were cursed to feel hollow until they met, and destined to die once they had. The chain never ended, the cycle never seemed to cease, a repetition of life after life after life that strung them up and left them raw and bleeding only to begin again each and every time.
They were doing well though, with her blond hair often pulled back by his loving fingers into her tight knots or braids, his own a few shades darker but still golden in hue. Her dresses didn’t require many patches, her slender fingers adorned with gloves usually free of holes, and his best shoes were always shined, waistcoat appropriately pressed and fitted. They wanted for little, never went hungry in the sense of feeling particularly empty, and the roof of their home had nary a leak, even though they didn’t have a single servant to speak of.
Arthur and Rosalie Vance were comfortable enough, hopelessly in love in a way that spoke of pure devotion, of unabashed passion and possession. They had been a scandal, a short courtship of less than a season, two strangers who had become so enraptured with one another that they couldn’t seem to be bothered by the talk in their south London neighborhood. Their neighbors knew no better, and their families had given up the pretense of speaking on the matter, for the two had failed to see reason as far as they were concerned, but seemed happy enough. His work at the stable kept them fed, and her skill with hand crafting artificial flowers helped line their pockets, and the quiet murmuring of the possibility of children began from their families.
And then the complications began.
A curdle in her belly, a swell of pressure-pain in her abdomen that ebbed and flowed but never seemed to fade. A pallor to her skin, a blistering heat, and her smiles became strained, her fingers trembled too much for her to form the delicate fabrics of her flowers. Just a little ache, she told him, my monthly isn’t being kind to me, she swore.
And then he woke to the blood.
A puddle of it in their bed, staining the cloth to ruin where it had soaked in and dripped off the edges onto the floor. A spill of it there too, her footprints smeared through it where she had stumbled down the hall, and Arthur flew from their bed, eyes wild and her name a cry on his lips. Silence and a trail of blood were the only things to greet him, and he followed the latter on unsteady feet even though he didn’t have to go far. The end of the hall near the landing for the stairs, a smear of blood on the handrail and a growing pool of it on the wood where it spread from her prone body. It clung to her sunlight hair, the soft cream of her nightgown, and she was nearly cool to the touch where he fell to his knees in her blood, where he pulled her into his arms.
His screaming drew the attention of the neighbors, the constable kicked their door in, and she had long since gone cold and limp, doe eyes glazed. His sobbing made him inconsolable, Rosalie’s body was taken from him with no small touch of hysterics on his part, but they didn’t understand. They would never know the full extent of his rage, the deep pull of his grief. This was more than just a bleeding, this was more than just the loss of a good woman, this was a single, simple death in a series that they could never seem to escape, another in an experience so familiar that he wished he could lose count.
Womb of blood the coroner called it, a term that he knew would lose fashion in a decade at least, just as he knew that his name had been Felipe and hers Julianna before this, how he had died of fever under the reign of King Amadeo in Cádiz. His mother, this mother, Alyssa Vance, called it an act of God, did her best to tell him that all was well and that this was the will of their Lord. He had laughed at her, a hollow, gutted sound, for her God meant little to him when his voice held the rattle of a thousand instances of mourning.
A bullet clicked into the chamber, her body barely settled in her grave, Ylenia Barnes became pregnant with her first born, and the cycle began again.
Darcy Lewis was born in a bright, sterile room in Mercy Hospital, just off of State Street in Portland Maine. Her screaming could be heard through the entire maternity ward, her pale skin blotchy with afterbirth and blood, and the marvel of another little girl to add to their family was swiftly lost under a veil of panic that fell quickly over the room. Their infant daughter was swept from the room by one nurse, Mark Lewis ushered into the hall by another, and the last he saw of his wife's face in that moment was the image of her eyes tipping back into her skull and her full mouth falling slack, a vicious spill of blood coming from between her limp thighs.
The funeral took place the following Thursday, with Mark and the four elder Lewis children shrouded in black and in attendance for the solemn occasion. A single girl and three boys, the children were quiet, trembling with tears beside their father, and Mark wept openly for all to see. At his side, Amelia held his hand, strong where her father couldn’t be and quiet where her younger brothers weren’t, her eyes dry and her mouth firm.
Life went on after the funeral, after Anna Lewis was lowered into the ground, quiet and cold, and a surprisingly complaint newborn Darcy was collected from her paternal grandparents home. Mark took care of the little girl as best he could, aided by his parents and his children, and with little time to dwell in his grief, the young girl turned one, then three, then five, and the Lewis household learned how to live again.
She was serious for a small child, with a wide mouth and tired eyes, though she was quick to smile at the things her siblings said, quick to giggle at her father’s tickling fingers. She tugged at his shirts when he seemed sad, little arms lifted as she demanded to be held, and she toddled after Amelia with a gaping mouth more often than not. Still, for all her giggles and her babble, there was a strange grace to her small bones, little feet twirling across the floors of their home and her knees rarely scraped.
Tired, heavy eyes that watched the world around her, and she was her most attentive at her grandmother’s side, gaze just a touch too knowing and her demeanor just a bit too patient.
Nana Lewis called her an old soul, and while Mark simply gave a wistful, quiet laugh, Darcy watched her with luminous eyes that were far too haunted to belong to a child.
She was a bundle of energy though, desperate to be unleashed in one way or another, and a lazy Sunday afternoon dancing with Papa Lewis on the sun porch gave way to a talent, a hobby. Ballroom was easy enough after a time, turns on the toes of her scuffed flats and her little fingers clasped in her grandfather’s hands as he lead her through the steps. She danced around the kitchen, laughingly tried to draw her elder brothers into the steps with her for someone else to practice with between lessons, bare feet spinning in the grass of their lawn with the summer sun overhead.
Ten years old gave her a body that did it's best to form a figure, with widening hips and a heavy chest, a soft face and delicate hands. She had to learn to dance all over again, had to compensate for the new dimensions of her body and the sway to her hips, but she took to it readily enough.
And then the household woke to her sobbing, a petrified, belly deep wailing one cold, wet night. Her thighs were coated with blood, her sleep shorts and bed sheets stained, and her chest heaved with the panicked labor of her breathing, face stricken pale and her eyes wide. The incident had been expected, though her vehement reaction hadn't been anticipated, and it took far longer for Mark to calm her than he had planned, to get his little girl to stop insisting that she was going to die, she didn’t want to die.
And then she was fifteen, full mouthed and tired eyed, with soft hips and a heavy chest. She danced with her grandfather, excelled in the classes they had found for her in Portland, and kept her head down at school. No boyfriend ever to speak of, no matter how much her brothers teased her and her sister worried, and instead, Darcy would simply shrug, would go back to her studies and her dancing even though her heart ached and her body felt hollow.
He was missing, he wasn't there, and she was every bit the old soul that her Nana had called her, watching the world as it passed by with a shrewd, jaded eye.
And then college was upon her, twenty-two and on an internship she hadn’t really qualified for with a woman who didn’t care that she didn’t know the right kind of science because she was competent enough, because she was quick fingered and cared about what the big-brained scientist had to say. Darcy made a friend where her life had previously felt empty, and Jane soothed enough of that throbbing ache that Darcy clung .
And then Thor came, and her world tilted on its axis.
Parts of Puente Antiguo had been leveled by the Destroyer, rubble left in the wake of houses and thin, wisping pillars of smoke still rising up into the night. There was a chill to the air, a bite to it that sent a sting across her skin, but there was a silence that did its best to settle something rattled and aching inside of her. The sky was heavy and dark overhead, stars shimmering and bright, and though the world around her was far from what she was used to, she would take what she could get.
She missed her father, her sister and her brothers, she wanted the sharp tang of Atlantic sea salt and the soft crush of ocean-misted grass beneath her body. A fat bellied mug of tea clasped between her hands, a stiff woven blanket wrapped around her shoulders, there was an ache in her chest that had yet to fade, a yearning that had only strengthened its roots at the sight of Jane curling into Thor’s body.
A sip of her tea, a quiet sigh, and there was a song on her breath that she couldn’t ever seem to remember the words for.
“You are alone?”
Tipping back until she could see him, Darcy offered a soft smile to where he stood.
It was strange to see him in a flannel once more after witnessing the glittering glamour of his armour, but there was a want there, a need. He was larger than life, foreign and strange and familiar all the same, and she wanted to see him laugh as much as she wanted to give a blot sacrifice to him. There were no goats to be found for slaughter though, no blood to paint across her cheeks and chest, and instead, Darcy was left to have nothing more to offer than a corner of her blanket.
“It happens. Shouldn’t you be down enjoying your feast?”
His smile was kind, but there was something tired to his gaze, there was a weight upon his shoulders that hadn't been there previously. He took her offer though, sitting close so that their sides touched and their warmth was shared. A mountain of a man, and there was a shiver across her skin just from the notion of him, but she smiled all the same.
“I did, but a dear friend had wandered on her own, and the revelry felt hollow in her absence.”
A snort and she took another small drink, leaned against him for the comfort he provided that soothed something torn and frayed deep within.
“You're a sap.”
“And you are sad. Your thought are heavy, my sister, will you share with me your troubles?”
Mouth pressing into a thin line, she turned her head enough so she didn't have to see him while he stared. His voice was a quiet rumble, his tone encouraging and gentle, and she wasn't necessarily prepared for such concern from him. The most comprehensible of their God's, the God of the people, but he wasn't a God and she wasn't that girl, and everything had changed, hadn't it? He was just a man, he lived and he hurt and he cried, and someday he would die.
“I prayed to you.”
He was a lie. A waste of her prayers and a waste of a good goat, breath she would never get back and time that hadn't felt like it was hers to begin with. How much else had she been wrong about, what else had she followed just for the comfort of some semblance of faith?
“Roskva Magnusdottir, wife of Airikr Jokullson of Kungahälla.”
His body was warm next to hers, and Darcy clacked her nails against the thick ceramic before taking another small sip. It was tepid on her tongue and she grimaced at the taste, curling her fingers around the mug until her knuckles turned white. With large fingers and a soft tug he took it from her, set it on his other side where it could sit out of reach. He went further then, wrapping one of his arms around her beneath the blanket, and the bitter tang of tears burned in the back of her throat.
“I prayed to you to keep him safe, to bring him back to me. I slaughtered our best goat, I gave you the finest cut, I-I did everything I was supposed to and I drowned .”
His hold on her shifted, tightened, and her voice was a wet crackle where he pulled her as close as he could. She was safe within his arms, held close against the broad of his chest and he tucked her head beneath his chin, sheltered her from the world as he curled the blanket tight around them. His throat grew wet with her tears, her voice rang with betrayal, but Thor held her all the same.
“I am sorry that I failed you, Magnusdottir.”
“Darcy, it-I’m Darcy now, they named me Darcy. I'm Darcy, and I was Rosalie, and-and Julianna, Eloise, Fiedlimid and Speranza, it just, it never ends.”
His mouth pressed against her hair, a solemn, sympathetic kiss given to her temple.
“Tell me everything.”
So she did.
She told him about the way the Sumerian sun felt on her skin, about the ethereal quiet of Russian winters and the color of fall in Romania, about leaving her shoes outside her door in Mexico City and cliff diving in what was now Washington state with laughter on her breath and the promise of roasted deer in the air. Her favorite dress from England, her favorite time of day in Italy and the old woman who had made the best sweet breads in northern Germany. Gaul, Normandy, Prussia, Byzantine and Troy, the streets she remembered and the names that still escaped her, languages that she knew the sound of but could no longer get her lips to form and homes that had been forever lost to time.
Lives come and gone and the only constant she had ever known, the curl of his lips and the honeyed warmth of his touch, how she had recognized him despite the face that he wore and how he had found her every single time. She spoke of him until she cried and then she spoke of him still, until her throat turned dry and her voice warbled, until the way that she had latched to him was less of a clinging and more of a comfort and he listened to every word.
“We will find him.”
His expression was fierce, as if such a thing mattered to him, and he held her face in his hand, tipped her head until she had to look at him. Conviction in his voice, a promise on his lips, and she felt small in the wake of him.
“We will find him, for he is your heart, and I will not leave my sister to want for anything. I have failed you once, however unknowing, and I will not make the same mistake again. You will never be alone Darcy, for I know you in this life, and I will find you in all the ones that follow. You will forever be welcome in Asgard and never a stranger in her halls.”
Another bubble of tears in her throat, a sob on her breath, and her eyes shut tight while he pressed his mouth to her forehead with gentle care.
He would leave in the morning, he would take Sif and the Warriors Three with him, and she would go home. She would go home, Jane would go to defend her research, and she would spend the summer with her feet in the Atlantic ocean with this same, empty feeling in her chest.
“I will never be far, Darcy, and I will be here if ever you call.”