The guard presses a button, and the heavy steel gate slides open.
He glances up briefly, eyes moving over her ID tag, then turns back to the iPad propped on his desk. Darcy slides a look at the screen as she passes him. Some kind of nature documentary featuring a spider, its carapace gleaming with green iridescence. The sound is turned up high, and she hears the clicking of the spider’s legs as it moves across its web, wrapping an insect in silk. There’s so much of the silk that it’s impossible to tell what the insect is. She looks away before the spider can sink its fangs.
The gate closes behind her with a hollow, final sound. There’s a whisper of cool air against the back of her neck as the ventilation kicks in. Everything is sealed here, nothing can get out.
She pauses, leaning against the gate, the air cooling the sweat on the back of her neck. The tray she holds is shaking, silver cutlery rattling against white porcelain. There’s some kind of stew there, with vegetables and lentils. White bread. A dish of fresh blueberries.
The last makes her want to throw the tray against the wall. No one in New York has blueberries now. No one in the country, probably. For months there has been very little fresh fruit or vegetables available to anyone, bread almost as hard to get hold of. She’s been living on her stash of Pop-Tarts, canned beans, Spaghetti-Os. And she’s been thankful for that, knowing that there are many who have much, much less.
And here she is with fucking blueberries, and she’s about to hand them to the monster who was responsible for this broken world.
She considers just setting the tray down, eating the berries herself. She considers spitting in them.
The ventilation sighs again, and in that sound she hears, unbidden, her mother’s voice: When you commit to something, you do it properly, girl.
She wants to tell her mother that she didn’t commit to this, that she wasn’t even given a choice.
She says nothing, just takes a deep breath and moves forward, her shoulders squared.
The cell is located in the deepest basement of the tower, three of its walls solid concrete. Darcy remembers someone saying that the walls were five feet thick, the ceiling and floor ten, all reinforced with some of Stark’s tech. She’d zoned out after that. The technology Stark used might as well be magic, for all that anyone but Stark understood it. All that matters is that the walls, floor and ceiling are unbreakable.
The last wall, the one that faces the short corridor, is something that looks like perspex. Something from Asgard. The almost-perspex nullifies his magic, is unbreakable and soundproof.
He is trapped, caged, silenced, and still her hands shake as she draws up to the cell, to where she can see him.
The cell holds a cot, a table and chairs, one corner hidden behind a translucent screen, bathroom behind. Despite the availability of seating, he’s sitting on the floor. He’s dressed in black: slim-fitting trousers, a long-sleeved shirt. His hair is long, straggling down past his shoulders. One leg is bent, an arm resting on his knee. His other hand is pressed against the floor, long fingers splayed against the concrete. His eyes are closed.
He looks like he’s sleeping. He looks like he’s dead.
Darcy glances up at the cameras covering the hall. More cameras are hidden in the cell, she knows. It is impossible for him to do anything without being watched.
There is a slot set into the almost-perspex near her. Above it is the button that toggles the speaker system. The small opening of the delivery slot is supposed to be safe, somehow, but she doesn’t trust it.
She doesn’t want to do this. She doesn’t want to be here.
She begins to turn away, but her mother’s face rises before her, forehead creased in that same old look. The one that says that Darcy’s failed again, that she expected it from the beginning.
Darcy swallows, her throat dry, and opens the delivery slot.
The air that comes from inside the cell is warmer than the air in the hallway, tinged faintly with the scent of leather, of something like ice. It takes her a moment to realise that she’s feeling air warmed by his body heat. She swallows again, her stomach twisting, and sets the tray into the slot, pushes it into the cell. Closes the slot again with a rush of relief.
He hasn’t moved, hasn’t given the slightest indication that he knows that she’s there. That, more than anything that he’s done, brings anger rising in her. She slams her fist on the speaker button.
“Hey, fucker,” she says, banging on the almost-perspex. “Hey!” She hears her own voice echoing in his cell.
He doesn’t move, the only indication that he’s even alive the slow rise and fall of his chest.
She pounds on the wall again, hard enough that she’ll have bruises on her hand. She doesn’t care. It feels good, the pain. It feels like something, at least, like being alive.
He doesn’t react at all.
Later, when she is sent down to collect the tray, he’s still sitting there in exactly the same position. The tray is in the slot, waiting to be collected. The dishes are empty, the cutlery lined up neatly next to the stacked bowls.
This time, she doesn’t say anything. She holds her breath when she opens the slot, then turns away.
Darcy walks home from the subway. Once, what felt like a long time ago, she would never have walked alone through this neighbourhood. Too dangerous, even with her taser. There had been a complicated system with other students to make sure that no female walked alone to or from classes. Even then, sometimes girls had been attacked.
Now she’s the only person on the street. Most of the buildings she passes are empty, their windows shattered. Occasionally she catches a glimpse of movement out of the corner of her eye, but she doesn’t turn to see.
After the attack, people began moving out of the cities. The rich areas emptied first, people moving out to places they owned deeper in the country. After a while, people began moving into the emptied apartments. At first, the police forced them out again, but after a while, there were too many for them to deal with. After a while, the police stopped doing anything at all. The guy who had lived below Darcy moved appropriated an apartment overlooking Central Park, dressing his girlfriend up in furs abandoned by the previous owner. Darcy had gone to visit him, found the place empty, all that remained a bloodstained fur and a pile of burned pieces of wood.
She shivers as a breeze winds down the street, wraps her coat around herself. It would be winter soon, and she hopes that the heat will remain on. For now, she had heat, she had water and electricity. But for how long?
“They’ll come back,” she says to the empty street. “This is New York. It’ll all come back.”
The street gave her no answer.
Her apartment building is small, the facade bearing a wide scorch mark. She doesn’t know if that happened during the attack, or if someone else had decided to try to burn the building down. It doesn’t matter now, anyway.
She pauses on the stoop, looking back towards where she can see Stark Tower. The sign hasn’t been fixed yet, the remaining A burning bright against the sky. She thought of him, safe and warm in his cell. Wonders if he had more blueberries for dinner. At least that meal delivery was some other person’s job, not hers.
Her door is still locked, thankfully, and she lets herself in, relocks the half dozen locks she added to the door. Inside it is cold enough that she keeps her coat on.
She slips her iPod into portable speakers, plays a song at random. She makes certain that the volume is low. No need to advertise her presence to anyone who might be passing.
She opens a tin of baked beans for dinner, eats them sitting in the window staring at Stark Tower.
It’s only when she’s changing into old sweats for bed that the tears start to come. There’s a photograph on her bedside table: a teenage girl smiling uncomfortably, flanked by two younger boys on one side, a white-haired couple on the other.
She barely recognises her younger self these days. She wishes she didn’t recognise the rest of her family. Ghosts now, all of them. Like most of New York.