Chapter 10: A Call to Arms
Natasha’s head snapped back from another blow. Flexing her hands against the ropes that bound her to the chair, she mentally shook the hit off and turned back to her abuser. She tongued the small cut at the right corner of her mouth and raised a suggestive brow to the man.
“Is that any way to treat a lady?” she asked coolly, enjoying the way the man’s jaw clenched at her obvious lack of pain or concern for him.
They were a bunch of amateurs and giving away everything she needed to know, thinking her bound and helpless.
It was a game she’d played often – allowing herself to get caught and interrogated by those she’d been sent to coerce information out of. Lulling her captors into a false sense of security was always easy. So many of them only saw a pretty face and never looked beyond her curls and curves to see the bigger picture and by the time they did see it, it was always too late.
They didn’t call her the Black Widow for nothing.
Her head snapped back again as the man – some Russian grunt official who served as muscle for the real man in charge who was standing in the corner, watching them with a sneer – clocked her one again.
“Why do men always go for the face?” she asked herself, more to annoy the man than anything else. She knew ignoring him would get under his skin far deeper than any other retort she could make.
“So this is the famous Black Widow,” the man in charge interrupted what would’ve been another belt to her left cheek. He was heavy set and decorated in the Russian garb of a military General. His accent was thick as he spoke, his tone half derisive and half disappointed. “I confess myself unamused. I thought for sure you’d be a more triumphant prize. Instead, you turn out to be nothing but a pretty face.”
Natasha gave him a small smile with a flirtatious tilt of her head. “You really think I’m pretty?” she asked, seemingly unconcerned as the General reached out to a pair of rusty pliers.
“You’re information is dated and gives you away,” the General announced. “I know who you work for and I want you to give him a message… though, I’m afraid you’ll have to write it down.”
He snapped the pliers in front of her face suggestively and the grunt muscle laughed, tilting her chair back over the edge of the warehouse balcony they were perched on.
Rolling her eyes, Natasha played the scared victim and was able to get a name of an arms dealer they’d been using. Really, the fools made it all too easy for her and she siphoned the information she needed out of them as easily as she tied a shoe. People were so easy to manipulate when they believed in their own superiority. It also didn’t hurt that her reputation was so notorious that men – and a good few women – craved for the bragging rights that would come with bringing her down. They wanted it so badly they blinded themselves to the obvious.
That was often how these things played out. Natasha would ply her victims with weak information designed to show her ineptitude and they’d be reassured of their standing, giving away little nuggets of information like one casually tossing bits of bread to birds in a pond.
The analogy made her think of Clint and by extension, Isabella. Clint was often not far from her thoughts, though she never let on to him about that, but she was still surprised by how much Bella had grown on her. Natasha had no illusions about her own personality. She lied for a living which made it damn near impossible for people to trust her. She was brusque, aloof more often than not, and she had neither the patience nor the inclination to coddle people. To others, she appeared cold, indifferent – a bitch in the truest sense of the word. Not friendly, to say the least, and certainly not trustworthy.
Clint and a handful of other agents were the exceptions to that perception of her, but she’d been almost shocked stupid by how easily Bella had welcomed her into her life, trusted her at her word. A lot of that had to do with her brother’s implicit trust in her, Natasha knew, but still. It was surprising that the girl cared so much for her, enough to text her to be careful or that she was thinking of her while she was away on a mission.
No one had ever expressed such honest simple concern for her when she’d leave on task – not even Clint, as they were both jaded and confident in their professions. When they had dangerous missions taking them to separate parts of the world, they often parted ways with a simple nod as if they were passing each other by the office water cooler.
It’d been a strange thing when she’d received Bella’s first text, a simple, Be careful, thinking of you :-). A foreign feeling of warmth had spread throughout her and she’d started typing back without even thinking, assuring the girl that she was always careful, adding – much to her horror – a winky face after the text.
They’d exchanged a few texts throughout the day after that and Natasha found it pleasantly nice to have someone so clearly waiting to see her again, someone whom she felt the need to play it safe for in order to come back home to. Clint had always been her port of call, but there was just something about Isabella…
She drew them all to her like moths to the flame, only her flame was a reassuring warmth that washed over them. Instead of drawing them to their doom, she offered a reassuring comfort to bask in.
A siren, Tony had jokingly called her, but she’d seen the slight glint in his eye as he studied Bella from afar. Benign as Bella Swan was – a peacekeeper more than a fighter tough she was not afraid to fight if necessary – she still proved formidable in her appeal to those around her. It was like she was unknowingly drawing an army to her but did not seek to command it.
When Fury was around, he often fixed the girl with an appraising gaze. While at one time she would’ve been in the same bandwagon when faced with Isabella’s potential, she now felt a strange surge of protectiveness when she thought about Nick using her for his own gain. Sentiment was a dangerous thing and Natasha knew she’d have to somehow navigate a balance between wanting to protect Bella and enabling the girl to protect herself.
Though she did not regret Isabella’s presence in her life, she did not care for the confusing blend of emotions the girl inspired.
Another slap to her face brought her at of her thoughts and Natasha raised a brow at the grunt muscle. “No, please stop – it tickles,” she deadpanned.
The scene escalated and right as the General was about to let slip the location where they had several ‘off the books’ warheads, a phone rang.
Jesus, how unprofessional, she sneered at the grunt muscle who brought her chair back to all four legs so he could answer his cell.
She heard him speaking in Russian until he pulled away and looked at the phone as if it had bit him.
“It’s – for her,” he frowned, the words thick with confusion.
The General snorted and yanked the phone to him. “Now you listen here – ”
He cut off as presumably the person on the other line took control of the conversation. The General pulled the phone back with an identical expression of confusion, making him and the grunt muscle look eerily alike for a moment. Tentatively, he moved to her, wedging the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Yes, what is it?” she snapped, entirely unconcerned with the change of events.
“Natasha,” Phil Coulson spoke. Natasha frowned. He sounded more subdued than his usual bland self. “You need to come in.”
“What?” she hissed. “You can’t pull me out now – I’m in the middle of an interrogation and these morons are giving away everything.”
The General pulled an affronted look. “I no give her everything,” he mumbled and she pinned him with a dubious ‘oh really‘ look. He gave it up easier than a hooker working the streets.
“Natasha,” Phil said again, and this time, there was something about the way he said her name. It sank into her and an unknown weight settled in her chest; a sensation others would associate with fear.
“It’s Agent Barton. He’s been compromised.”
Like someone had cracked an egg over her head, an acute sense of clarity slipped over her. Pulling all of her emotions into a tiny ball, she stuffed them aside to sort through later and forced logic to prevail.
“Let me put you on hold,” she said calmly, nodding to the grunt muscle to take the phone.
The moment the idiot bent down to her, she head butted him, her body working on muscle memory alone to take him down. It was an easy thing to use his momentum against him, cracking the back of her chair in the skirmish and breaking free of her restraints.
The General started reaching for a gun, but Natasha was already working with deadly precision, the words, It’s Agent Barton… he’s been compromised, running in loop in her mind. She broke his wrist and wrapped a chain around his ankle, throwing him over the balcony lift. Let him hang there a while, she thought. Maybe it would teach him how to treat a lady better.
Barely winded, Natasha moved to where the cell had skidded across the floor. Bending down, she picked it and her shoes up.
“What’s the plan?” she asked, every part of her being now focusing on her new mission: get Barton back alive and then kick his ass for getting caught in the first place.
“We’re calling in the reinforcements,” Coulson said and Natasha immediately knew this meant that the Avenger Initiative had been activated. “There’s been… a development… which makes this case unusual at best. We’re facing a war, Agent Romanoff, one that we’re outgunned in.”
“How’s Isabella?” she asked, knowing that Clint would want her to see to his sister above all else, even finding him.
A heavy sigh answered her, doing nothing to assuage her concern. “Isabella,” Coulson began and Natasha was not surprised to hear him say her name with a vague sense of paternal affection. The two of them had grown close. “Isabella blames herself. That development I mentioned; well, she’s right in the thick of it. I’m afraid she’s in even more danger than she already was.”
Natasha gritted her teeth. “What are my orders?”
“I need you to bring the big guy in,” Coulson stated. No need to dance around the bush.
Despite the situation, Natasha smirked. “Coulson… you know Stark doesn’t trust me. You’d be better off sending Isabella after him.”
“Oh no,” he said, sounding a bit too chipper given the circumstances. “I’ve got Stark. You get the Big Guy.”
Comprehension dawned on her, flashes flickering in her mind of a giant green beast who could throw a temper tantrum the likes of which had never been seen…
“Bozhe moi,” she muttered, feeling a bit sick even as she steeled herself. The things she did for Clint Barton…
Oh my God, indeed.
“Sir, Agent Coulson is on the line again.”
Tony rolled his eyes as he landed on Stark Tower’s platform, his machines rotating and whirling as they pulled off his Iron Man suit.
“I’m actually out, Jarvis,” Tony said. “I’m out all week, even.”
That should solve that, he decided, hitting a button to block the Agent’s persistent calls from further interrupting his evening. He had plans, important plans, to celebrate his new green energy achievement…
Plans that revolved around the lovely Pepper Potts – maybe a bear-skinned rug in front of a cozy fire, champagne…
Speaking of Pepper, she met him at the glass doors as he made his way in, handing him said glass of champagne.
“You really are quite amazing, you know that?” she complimented.
“Oh no, please go on,” he teased, his lips twitching as she rolled her eyes up at him.
“Seriously, Tony,” she began, but he cut her off with a playful groan, saying, “Ugh. My two least favorite words.”
He mock pouted as she pinched his side, forcing down a chuckle as she fixed him with her patented ‘I mean it now‘ glare.
“We ought to do some press. This is big, Tony. Really quite the accomplishment.”
Feeling a tad sentimental, he said, “I couldn’t have done it without you.”
She snorted, lifting a dubious brow. “I doubt that.”
“Come on now, Pepper,” he said, setting down his glass and looping his arms around her waist. “Give yourself some kudos – this is your baby, after all. You deserve… twelve percent of the credit.”
As he knew she would, she reeled back and gave him another glare. “Twelve percent? Twelve percent of my baby?” she deadpanned.
Suppressing a smirk, he backpedaled, “An argument could be made for fifteen. I’m open to negotiation, Pep. Think of it as a starting offer.”
Before she could reply, Jarvis interrupted, “Sir, I’m afraid our phone lines are being scrambled and Agent Coulson is overriding your call block…”
“Mr. Stark,” Coulson’s voice sounded.
Picking up his cell, Tony held it in front of him and said, “You have reached the life sized decoy of Tony Stark… Please leave a message ofter the beep,” he coughed, then drew out, “Beeeeep.”
Then he hung up again.
“Jarvis, shut down the phone lines. Miss Potts and I were having a moment.”
“I was having twelve percent of a moment,” she muttered with a smirk of her own.
Tony grinned. No one could keep up with him like Pepper Potts.
Placing his arms back around her, he playfully tugged on a strand of her hair before pushing it back behind her ear. Leaning down, he whispered seductively, his lips grazing her earlobe, “Now don’t be so glum, grumpy bear. Disappointment doesn’t suit you. I’m sure I can find away to put the pep back in your step.”
Pepper grinned, turning her head to his and planting a sweet kiss to his cheek. “Shouldn’t that be my line?” Her arms came up around his neck as she nestled closer to him.
Deciding the time for games was over, Tony gave her a sound kiss, loving the way she melted against him and returned his kiss with equal fervor. Tony found the taste of Pepper sweet, rich and almost sinful, like a marshmallow melting in a cup of hot chocolate. He loved hot chocolate – especially with marshmallows.
“Sir, our security protocols are being overridden,” Jarvis killed the mood.
The announcement was followed by the ding of the elevator landing on their floor and the smooth swoosh of the doors opening.
Coulson stepped out, looking even more somber than usual and carrying a thick manilla folder.
“Forgive the intrusion, but I must insist on a moment of your time,” he said mildly, welcoming himself into the room.
“Security breach!” Tony called out. Looking around the room, he said, “Anyone?”
“Phil!” Pepper smiled warmly, ignoring him with both grace and amusement. “You’re always welcome – how can we help?”
“Um, his first name is Agent,” Tony remarked.
Coulson ignored him as well. “I’m afraid this is not a social call, Miss Potts. There’s been an incident and Colonel Fury is enacting an initiative, one that requires Mr. Stark’s immediate attention.”
“The Avengers Initiative?” she asked, and then Tony smothered a laugh as she quickly pulled an ‘oh shit‘ face. “…Of which I know nothing about,” she hedged.
“I thought I wasn’t invited to play? Not cool enough to sit at the popular table,” Tony asked, raising a pointed brow. “Too narcissistic, egotistical – doesn’t play well with others,” he quoted from his own file at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s headquarters.
“Oddly enough, all of that I did know,” Pepper said, reaching for her glass of champagne and taking a fortifying sip.
Tony balked slightly as Coulson held out the file to him. “I actually don’t like being handed things…”
“Well, that’s no problem, because I love being handed things. So here, you take this,” she shoved her glass to Tony, not giving him a chance to refuse it. “And I’ll take this,” she accepted the file from Coulson, then promptly snatched her glass back from Tony’s hold, replacing it with the file. “And there we are.”
“But we were having a moment,” Tony pouted, half-heartedly flipping through the file without looking at the pages. “I don’t wanna play with the other kids, Pepper – they keep picking on me.”
Pepper opened her mouth for what Tony was sure would’ve been a quip to slap him back in line, but before she could voice it, Coulson managed to reel him in with one statement.
“Isabella is involved and she’s in a considerable amount of danger.”
Tony froze, the file turning to lead in his hands.
Stamping down a confusing blend of emotions, Tony was oddly grateful when Pepper placed a steadying hand on his forearm. “Hells Bells?” he asked, all playfulness evaporated.
Phil’s lips pressed together. “Yes. There’s been a development with those dreams of hers. Her brother has been compromised and we have reason to believe that the man responsible means Isabella harm.”
Without a word, Tony turned from them and walked to his desk, tossing the file aside on his way.
“Tony?” Pepper asked, her tone achingly cautious and concerned.
Tony shook his head, letting her know he was thinking and in no state to talk. Hitting several buttons and keying in a few high level passwords, Tony hacked into S.H.I.E.L.D.’s main computer system. His eyes roved over the titles on several top secret files until finding what he need. With a casual flick of his hands, the file Coulson had given him opened up onto his holographic computer screen; only this time, it was unabridged and contained everything about the situation in its entirety.
There were pictures and several videos, many of other Avenger candidates. He recognized Dr. Bruce Banner in both his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personas. Steve Rogers was depicted on ice and then thawed out. Several field agents were mentioned… and then there was a picture and a short video of some Fabio looking dude wearing a red cape.
Finally, his eyes snagged onto the familiar visage of Isabella Swan. The photo was recent and he could tell she was unaware of it being taken. Barton was across from her and he must’ve said something funny because Bella was laughing. He could tell it was genuine too, because when she was just humoring someone with a smile, she never showed her teeth and her eyes held a tightness to them even if they remained kind. Polite to a fault, that kid.
He remembered when he met the girl. At first, he’d made a casual acquaintance with her on paper. Having set up Jarvis to continuously scan reports at S.H.I.E.L.D., flagging for his name, he’d read her case when he’d been mentioned in passing as a possible consult to her little vampire problem. There’d been a picture of her there, too, much different from the one he found himself staring at.
His first glance of her had been what’d had him crashing Fury’s little pow-wow. His attention to detail went beyond her waif-like appearance, the insecure hunched set to her shoulders. While many people often claimed eyes to be the window of the soul – and indeed, her eyes had held a telling grief that had called to him – Tony had actually been riveted to her hands.
They’d been clasped in front of her, gripping her opposite forearms just beneath the elbow, in a gesture meant to instill self-comfort and strength in the face of tragedy. Her fingers were white-knuckled in her hold, though her hands seemed to cradle rather than strangle. A hug, Tony had thought. She’d been hugging herself and damned if that hadn’t tugged at his black ‘ole heart and make it skip a pitter-patter for her.
So curiosity piqued, he went to meet the girl and found something he never thought to look for – a kindred spirit, someone worth fighting for.
She’d been timid as a mouse, though amused by his usual antics. There’d been a telling blush when he kissed her knuckles but instead of commenting on it, for once he politely ignored the signs of a girly crush and carried on with his shenanigans. She’d won him over despite her shyness, though.
Isabella had quickly proven to be one of the rare souls who looked deeper at a person, ignoring outside influences while treating them like actual humans no matter what the world proclaimed to know otherwise. She’d clearly known of him, but never presumed to actually know him. She listened and heard what he was saying even when he wasn’t speaking.
Siren, he thought as he stared at her picture. The fact that she was entirely unaware made her song all the more potent. She drew people into her light, maybe to their doom, and they all flocked willingly.
Just as he was about to do.
His eyes flicked away from her picture and focused on a blue, glowing cube. Tesseract, the file said. There was something to be had there, he suspected.
“I’m sorry, Pepper, but I’m going to have to cut our date short,” he finally stated, his eyes not leaving the file in front of him.
He sensed her sidling up alongside him. “You’re going to help her, right? Keep her safe?”
His eyes flicked down to her and he smiled for an instant. Even Pepper was not unaffected after spending some time with Bella. While not an overly sentimental person, Pepper’s dormant maternal instincts had awoken when it came to Hells Bells and he knew that just as he’d been texting and exchanging cheesy jokes with the girl, Pepper had also been calling once a day to touch base and see how she was holding on.
“Of course I am, Pep,” he said, a decidedly lack of joking to the words. “She’ll learn the hard way that even though her brother is indisposed, she’s not alone.”
Pepper smiled and rewarded him with a kiss. “I’m going to take the jet back to L.A. to prep for that meeting on Monday. You have a lot of homework.”
“I hate homework,” he grumbled, even as he started to get to work on sorting the massive amount of information in front of him.
“Of course you do,” she said brightly, turning away and addressing Phil, “Any chance you’re headed by LaGuardia?”
“Sure, I can drop you,” he said. And they made idle chit-chat with each other until the elevator dinged again and Tony was folded into silence.
His mind was working a mile a minute, compiling lists and prioritizing data. A thought struck him and he pulled out his cell phone, opening the on-going conversation he had with Bella.
His thumbs poised over the keyboard, he hesitated for only a moment before he typed out, ‘Turn that frown upside down… Uncle Tony’s on the case.‘
Hitting send, he nodded decisively and went back to work.
Not ten minutes later, his phone vibrated with the tolling of bells from ACDC, his notification for when Bella texted him.
Feeling mildly nervous, he yanked the phone out and opened her message.
‘Thank you. Always and for everything.’
Simple and to the point. Classic Hells Bells, though he could detect the melancholy in her sentiment. Putting the phone away, he told Dummy to start a fresh pot of coffee. He was gonna hit the books harder than Mike Tyson hit Holyfield… He’d take a bite outta S.H.I.E.L.D. too if they thought to use his Hells Bells for some ulterior motive.
He didn’t care to see her name amongst the list of potential Avengers and doubted her brother wouldn’t be too keen on it too once he found out. Since Barton was currently indisposed, well, Tony figured it fell to him to keep an eye on their Siren.
Loki gritted his teeth as he concentrated, projecting his mind through the vast emptiness of space until a mental likeness of himself appeared before the Creature.
Even as he listened to vague threats, his mind remained preoccupied with the vision of his Siren collapsed on the floor, brown eyes wide with tears and holding a vague hint of accusation as she looked up at him.
As though summoned by the memory, her likeness appeared behind the creature, the same thinly veiled accusation ablaze in her gaze, searing him across the chest. He did not give way to the flinch that her eyes provoked, but he met her stare with a cool aloofness he was angered took much effort to perfect.
“You will not fail him,” the Chitauri creature hissed, moving to turn behind him and face where Loki stared.
A strange sense of fear gripped him, unknowing if the creature would see her as he did. Before he realized what he was doing, he was spouting off some nonsense, inciting the Creature’s wrath but effectively keeping it from being able to see his Siren.
“You think you know pain,” the Creature wheezed. “By the time He is done with you, you will long for something so sweet.” His hand palmed the side of Loki’s head and even as a fire erupted in his mind at the touch, his eyes held Isabella’s… a small part of him deeming the pain worth it least the Creature happen upon her existence.
Loki felt the echo of pain from the Creature’s touch as he snapped back into in his body, the astral-projection broken.
His Siren was also gone and Loki gritted his teeth together sharply, conflicted and angry for being so.
“You there,” he called out, gesturing to the one known as Clint Barton.
“Yes sir,” Clint said, falling obediently in line before Loki.
Smirking, Loki said, “I want you to tell me about your sister.”
Clint’s blue-tinted eyes cleared for a moment, before clouding again with the power of Loki’s scepter. “What do you want to know?” he asked, the brief moment of clarity swallowed by the haze of Loki’s mind control.
What, indeed, Loki wondered, studying the man before him. There was great affection between the two siblings, Loki knew, not only from his late night visits to Isabella’s dreams, but also from the fierce way the young man had fought to defend her. Even now, he was fighting, constantly trying to pull free of the mind spell, though he lacked the fortitude that came so naturally to his sister.
He found the man’s attempts both admirable and amusing.
“Everything,” he finally decided. “Tell me everything about her.”
Then he settled in as the man began to talk, spilling his sister’s secrets like water out of a watering can. Loki eagerly drank every last drop.
(A/N): Obviously, a lot of set up in this chapter… Wheels are in motion and some big things about to happen. Next chapter… anyone wanna meet my friend Bruce? 🙂
Some dialogue was pulled from the Avenger movie (I’m sure it’s fairly obvious where at) but for the most part it’s paraphrasing while adding my own spin to it. Still, it’s there and obviously I don’t own it 🙂
Let me know what you thought!