Thor was on hand when Darcy was transferred from the jet, finally given to exhaustion and so thoroughly asleep that the jostling did not wake her, to a helicopter outside of the the city of New York, and finally back to the half-repaired tower where they had recently done battle against Loki. As it was his tower to which they were returning, Stark had insisted on traveling with them. The other members of the team dispersed in ground vehicles, their tasks in the venture accomplished.
It was worrisome that she did not wake at the machinations of her transfer. The time from the small airport out of the city back to the Tower took as little as it had for them to fully secure their restraints and begin travel. Tony had stopped watching her so conspicuously. Thor, however, felt nothing but relief for his comrade's concern. Whatever thoughts the Stark had on the matter were kept private, however, and were deflected altogether by his concern over the Tower as they approached for landing.
"It's a good thing the attack happened when it did, I think. I'd really been wanting to retrofit some buttresses without having to hire demolition contractors." He smiled a half-smile at Thor who winced, not given over to his manner of jest. He smiled on, undeterred.
It was only with vague details that they had discussed the manner and means of Darcy's care upon her return to her own nation, though it had been made clear to him that neither the city of New York nor its eponymous state were places she would designate as home. On the first leg of their return trip from the mountains, Steve Rogers had assured him that SHIELD would see to Darcy's needs for the foreseeable future, primarily as a security measure, but also because of the responsibility they indirectly bore for her kidnapping.
Thor, for his part, had assumed nothing less, and had been less than pleased that the responsibility might beg question. He said nothing. The matter was dealt with, and Darcy's care ensured. His anger and pride did not need gratification.
They touched down while the blades atop their craft continued whirling, and one by one they dismounted.
He lifted Darcy once more, having grown used to the unpleasant odor clinging to her body after the nature of her imprisonment. They moved over the rooftop toward the elevator that would take them into the building they had stood in only a few days before. In his periphery he could see the open balcony on the floor below them, its protruding catwalk ready to accommodate individual fliers such as the Man of Iron. Its destruction had been mostly cleared. From far distances it appeared so, rather, and Stark had made an offhand comment about the importance of such appearances during their approach. Thor understood the need for the semblance of strength.
The rooftop was not as well as the more aesthetically pleasing floor below. Stark unlocked the passageway's electronic mechanism then tugged at the heavy door. When it did not give way immediately, he frowned and gave it a more vigorous pull. Its top rail and hinge style screeched as they opened, still suffering damage weeks after the attack, and Darcy jerked awake in his arms. He could feel her chest expansion under the force of her silent breath and gave her a subtle squeeze as they entered the building.
They had eluded sunrise all of the way back to this side of the ocean. The sun was just coming up, and it was much brighter in the elevator than it had been outside. Darcy calmed in the light, able to see both men in her presence, but she did not speak. Neither he nor Tony attempted to engage her.
Thor tried to quell the worry in his heart. It was not Darcy's way to be so withdrawn. The implications were fearsome things.
After the lift stopped and opened its doors, Tony directed Thor forward, "Down that hall to the right is where you want to go. I'm gonna go get some shut eye." He was tired, and his fatigue was starting to show. The words rasped from his throat. He had spoken for many hours without break simply for Darcy's comfort. Apparently, it was enough to tire one even so indefatigable as himself.
Thor departed as instructed. Down the muted hallway he walked and was sure that he had been misdirected until Jane and Erik appeared around a corner. His lover was walking at a pace faster than her legs should have dictated and at the sight of them only sped faster. Erik matched her speed, while in their wake were numerous health stewards, men and women clothed in simply cut, utilitarian robing. Two of them were steering a narrow, wheeled bed and entirely keeping pace with the two scientists. His friends flanked him as he slipped Darcy onto the slimly padded surface.
"Jane," Darcy called, as her eyes met the familiar faces. "Erik?"
"We're here," Jane returned in a shaky voice. She slipped to the far side of the bed and carefully put her hand into Darcy's, meeting the young woman's eyes without hesitation. Her own face was a well of emotion and Thor pointedly did not look at her. His body was not physically spent, but his heart was wearied with the events that had transpired for the past week. If he were to look at either Erik's or Jane's haggard faces, he would see too well the emotion he himself had been trying to restrain for the past several hours.
"Where are we?" she asked in a surprisingly strong voice. It was soft but did not shake or stutter.
"We're in New York," Jane replied. They watched Darcy roll her head in a type of nod, then she fell silent again, eyes closing.
Together the trio followed the stewards back through the maze of hallways into an area of glass walls and beds only slightly stockier than what currently held Darcy. The attendants moved her to one of the glass rooms, a view of the metropolis on one side and glass-walled hallway on the other. As soon as she was on the bed, they began to attend to her.
"Are either of you family?" one of the stewards asked to Jane and Erik, ignoring Thor altogether. He did not take offense, but he did start when Jane drew up her petite height and gave the attendant what he had come to know as her 'stink eye.'
"You're kidding, right?" she demanded. "If you try to lock us out of this room, you're going to have problems."
"No, ma'am," the nurse replied, with all of the calm of a harassed SHIELD employee. "We're hoping one of you might have access to Miss Lewis' medical records." Jane deflated immediately.
"The university should have sent her immunization information, which will be start, at least," Erik interjected and dutifully broke away from them to assist the questioner, while Jane's embarrassment stagnated.
"Worry not," Thor absently assured her over the minute gaff, and they themselves relented to duty as the nurses began to swarm in greater numbers.
Some put hands on her legs and others began preparing her arms for services he knew not what. One even pulled her hair out of her face and fastened it to stay. There was no magic to their actions except the efficiency with which they and examined her and anticipated one another, speaking in codes that Thor did not understand but found fascinating. Jane's worried look did not abate as she turned her face to Thor, gave his hand a squeeze and then entered what had become by default Darcy's room. She stayed well out of the way of the attendants, but within Darcy's line of sight.
He could well imagine the thoughts in her head, the worries that had plagued her for over a week. In his own adventures with the Warriors Three, Sif, his brother, they had encountered many adversities. None had come so close to overcoming them as the last- Jotunheim, Midgard, Loki's encounter with the Chitauri. It was still Thor's strongly held belief that the aliens had done something to his brother- caused his mind to break in some way. It was a thought he could not escape, even now.
The ache that grasped his chest, for his brother, for the things that would never be the same in Asgard, it was one he felt that Jane might know, might be able to share presently as she watched her former assistant at the mercy of the staff.
Despite the business surrounding her form, the removal of her clothing, the attention to her injuries, and the general rush of bodies around her, Darcy once more succumbed to sleep.
By the time the trio re-entered the room together almost two hours later, the staff had slowed to a trickle and almost completely departed. In the end she had been fed a dual intravenous hydrating solution and liquid antibiotic. Wired to her wrist was a steadily beating heart monitor. Thor noticed a few finely woven bandages supporting her beneath the sheets. What work could be done for her body was. Much of the remainder was Darcy's burden to bear.
"This is not a burden she will bear alone," Thor assured the others, who nodded their agreement.
She was cleaner than she had been when the sky had still been purple and pink, but the renewal was a mixed blessing. Her clothes had been cut away, removed from sight and, in Thor's hope, never to be returned. Naked as she was, though, even the bed clothes could not hide how gaunt her once shapely figure had become. Now with the sky at a full blue, her pale skin had been returned to its milky state, but beneath the white overhead light bruises and injuries were more clearly demarcated than they had been in the hasty retreat.
"Her hair is probably a lost cause," Jane murmured as she stroked Darcy's forehead with restrained fingers.
"It will grow back," Erik added, just as tenderly. He was not as physically demonstrative as Jane, but Thor could see the concern in him, much the same way he saw it in the All-Father.
Darcy slept on.
She continued peacefully for hours, and the hours turned into days. The nurses came to monitor the read out from her machines every hour, adjusting and refilling her medicines. Twice they wheeled the entirety of her machinery from the room. Their aim was to conduct emarais and seetee scans. He did not bother to pretend to understand when Erik and Jane nodded and watched her roll away.
Thor watched Jane and Erik, alternating walks and resting periods between themselves. Neither left the room while the other was away. He had not heard them mention such an agreement, but at this point they knew one another well enough that perhaps it was not necessary.
When Jane slumped into the chair cornered next to Darcy's bed, Erik took the opportunity to walk from the room. He returned several minutes later with a steaming cup of tea. Jane took a sip and smiled her appreciation. Some time later, Erik was propped against the wall, reading the daily paper. Jane moved to stretch her legs and run for snacks. None of them were particularly hungry, but it did not deter her from securing crackers and even some beef jerky for Thor.
The next two days passed in similar fashion, each of the trio taking turns to support the unconscious young woman should she wake. They broke trend with extended walks in the hallways, though none of them strayed very far from her room. It was a time of strain and anxiety woven through with hope. He did not know where one slept when the other was absent, but he suspected it was in the lab several floors below.
It was a time that Thor learned a greater extent of SHIELD's preparation. Curiosity carried him from point to point on the yellow and green-painted floor. Nurses, as Erik and Jane continuously referred to them, were working in reduced numbers since their initial reception. It made sense, though, since the only patient on the floor was Darcy herself. It only took one walk through to determine that this, too, was a space purposed for the Avengers.
There were twelve rooms total, but only five were furnished with beds kin to the one they had lain Darcy in. He smiled, mostly ironically, realizing that they had included him in the count for the possibly injured. One of the twelve rooms was completely bare, but taller and wider than the rest. It was similar to the room Loki had tricked him into entering on the helicarrier. Only one person could be meant for that room.
On his return trip, he saw an unfamiliar man standing outside of Darcy's door. He was bald and bespectacled, possessing the same disciplined calm as the myriad other SHIELD agents Thor had interacted with. At his approach, the man turned and gave him a small smile. It reminded him of Phillip Coulson but lacked the enigmatic charm the warrior had possessed.
Still, Thor returned the gesture as the man introduced himself, "Agent Sitwell, Thor. Pleased to meet you."
"Well met, sir."
His speech was measured, fluid and quick, but not choppy. Coulson's replacement, perhaps?
"I've come to bring you up to speed on Miss Lewis's condition based on the initial reports."
Thor straightened his shoulders and nodded, glancing briefly to the closed door of Darcy's room. Jane glanced to him, catching Erik's attention with the motion, and he shook his head.
The agent Sitwell took a slow, deep breath as his eyes shifted, then he looked directly up at Thor and began to speak.
For twenty-two days she had been in the custody of Hydra agents, who had intentionally starved her from time to time. Not enough to kill her, as was evident, but to weaken her spirit and resolve. Her organs had been under increased stress, especially her heart, hence the MRI, though the damage was expected to heal with time. Thor nodded at the words, clasping his chin as his eyes shifted back to the woman in the bed. He turned back to Sitwell, who did not pause at his discomfort.
"There's an active case of pneumonia, as well-" Thor's brows turned down and Sitwell hesitated for a moment before, "It's an inflammation in the lungs caused by an active infection in the alveoli, brought on in this case specifically by…" He hesitated again and after a moment cleared his throat quietly, "…some other injuries. Because of this-"
"Agent Sitwell," Thor broke in, "You shall be completely candid with regards to this pneumonia."
Sitwell nodded, and to his esteem, did not falter and hid no more of the details. "The infection was brought on by a form of water torture. We're not sure if it was full submersion, but evidence indicates it was more of a bucket-dunking type. There are still traces of fluid in her lungs, some of it is from the infection and some is not."
The prince felt his eyes beginning to water. He cut his view away from the shorter gentleman, even as the agent continued speaking. His eyes fell on Darcy and Jane, the latter of whom was watching him with sharp eyes. Darcy was on a regimen of antibiotics to suppress the disease enough that her body could and would fight it off. In addition to the medicine, the liquids being siphoned into her arm would also help to nourish and support her body in a way that would enhance the medicine's capabilities. In this way, too, she was expected to completely recover.
"Besides the obvious, her health is not bad. Her immune system was not compromised, and she has not been infected with any particular diseases that we can tell, but we're going to keep monitoring her, anyway. Captain Rogers has informed us that we're to continue treating her as long as need dictates."
Thor nodded, still staring at the prone young woman. He had thought her shallow breathing at the time of rescue was nerves, fear and appreciation that needed no words. Perhaps that had been part of it, but he knew better now. That explained her breathing, and the starvation inflicted on her was apparent in her hips and knees, but that did not sufficiently explain the various bruises on the rest of her body.
"And of her other injuries?" he asked quietly.
Sitwell mimicked his tone and volume, "There are signs of torture, beatings. No broken bones, not even hairline fractures, which takes more control than it sounds like. There was just enough force to cause pain." He finished, and Thor inhaled slowly.
As he stared at his friends, the three people who had cared for him at the lowest point in his life, he had only two regrets. The first was that he had not rushed back sooner, made his request to Jane sooner, spared Darcy the misery of her current situation sooner. The second was that he had not spent more time in the compound, bringing justice to every hateful villain in the place.
"Thank you, Agent Sitwell," Thor said, inclining his head. Sitwell nodded, glanced around Thor's shoulder and then departed toward the elevator that had originally brought them. Thor turned back to Darcy's room, as yet unable to enter.
Despite the glass wall in front of him, he felt a moment's absence longer might do good to compose himself. This trial was among the greatest he had faced, starting from Loki's reappearance on earth when he had thought his brother dead for a year. He had mourned, as had the rest of the Aesir. Erik had been kidnapped and the rights to his freedom had been abused. He had thoughtlessly submitted to deeds he never would have willingly.
Then in the chaos, Darcy had been taken by unscrupulous profligates, beaten because she had for a brief period stood on the side of the righteous. And for what purpose was her beating? That much was still unknown, and perhaps lost to them forever, if she could not be asked to speak of it.
During her waking hours she had spoken inane, purposeless things. At her most lucid, she had spoken briefly with Tony, enough to eat. He remembered briefly standing in the trees of Austria, staring down at the exploding compound with a comfortable hold on Darcy, and hearing her chant of self-comfort.
"She wasn't saying 'I'm all right'," Natasha spoke from his side, breaking his concentration.
He glanced down to her, opposite from where the agent had stood, and realized for the first time that he had spoken aloud. Her eyes were focused on the hospital room ahead of them. Without her usual intensity, her face was smooth and youthful, but he would never again see her as a normal Midgardian. For a moment he wondered how she would have fared in Darcy's situation, or perhaps how Darcy would have rallied with a skill set such as Natasha's, but the assassin's words were still hanging between them.
"What do you mean?"
Natasha glanced up at him, her hands clasped in front of her, and answered, "In Austria. You thought she was speaking to herself, or perhaps you, but she wasn't saying, 'I'm all right.'" He blinked at her, glancing around from where she might have come from and to see if perhaps others had caught him speaking to himself. Natasha ignored his sudden disquiet and pushed on, "She was saying, 'I'm right,' not 'all right'. There's a difference, which may or may not be significant."
She stared up at him for a little big longer, not unsettled as Agent Sitwell had been, completely still and at ease with herself. When she turned back to the trio, she asked to him, "Do you need anything?"
Thor shook his head and followed her stare, "I will manage. Darcy, though. I am unsure."
Natasha nodded once, "Has she been through something like this before?"
Thor started, glancing down at his comrade, who did not move. Her face was harder now than it had been, something about the way her eyes focused even when her mouth did not move.
Her words were unexpected, and in his opinion, unwarranted. It was obvious, even to him, that Darcy had never experienced such a trial as this. Would a separate experience have made her stronger, better able to handle it?
His doubt colored his tone as he answered, "Of course not."
The glance Natasha pressed on him was purposeful and unsympathetic. "Not that I am aware," he corrected, feeling a desire to shuffle his feet. Natasha nodded again and began walking away.
"She'll need to be on suicide watch."
Thank you so much to my reviewers alexceasar, Suzy87, LaPlacesDemon, flamingmarsh, Jewel Song, bobbinbird, necowaffer, sezq, and those who wish to remain anonymous, as well. It does show me that people are invested in this story. Thank you.
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