Chapter 12: Eye of the Storm
Bella tugged at the collar of her suit. It was similar to what she’d seen Natasha wear a time or two; a form fitting blend of a breathable leather that afforded ease of movement and a small amount of protection against tearing should she encounter a knife or two. While she could see the practicality of the bodysuit, she wasn’t quite used to her every curve being on display and continued to shift awkwardly in her seat on the jet as they neared their destination.
“It’s not that much more revealing than the yoga pants and tank-top you wear in the gym,” Natasha had told her as she helped her suit up. “It covers more skin even.”
Bella had nodded in grudging agreement. “Still feels like I’m on display.”
“That’s because you are,” Natasha said, helping Bella attach the two thigh holsters for her guns. “I know you’ve been practicing with Clint,” she said, politely ignoring Bella’s flinch at the name. “But I know you haven’t forgotten what I told you. In battle, you have to use every asset you have if you want to win.”
She’d tapped her on the ass as she said the word asset suggestively.
Despite herself, Bella had rolled her eyes with a self-deprecating snicker. “It’s not that much of an asset.”
“Hm-m,” Natasha hummed. “I think you’d be surprised,” she said before abruptly changing the topic. “Tony sent this over a little while ago for your vampire problem.”
She held out what looked like a handgun on steroids. “He said to make sure you double tap,” Natasha smirked, raising her brow.
Bella snorted and took the proffered gun and held it aloft gingerly, testing the weight. It was surprisingly light and well balanced. In their talks, she’d mentioned to Tony in passing about being half-way decent with a handgun which had sparked a discussion on how to take incendiary ammunition and beef it up to take on a Cold One.
“I suspect it’s their venom that makes them flammable,” he’d hypothesized with her over the phone. “So we gotta crack the shell before lighting ’em up. There’s armor piercing incendiary ammunition but that wouldn’t be enough. It’s a place to start though.” He cut off abruptly and said, “Hey, all this talk about setting things on fire makes me feel like having a barbecue. Let’s have a cook out when you get back. Steaks, ribs and potato salad – the American way. No Captains allowed though.”
An image had filled her head and she couldn’t help but to snicker at their hodge-podge group flipping burgers and talking sports – Tony manning the grill while wearing one of those cheesy Kiss the Chef aprons. He’d probably expect the men to pucker up too.
“Whatever you say, Tony,” she’d giggled, shaking the picture away though she secretly hoped it came to fruition. After securing a promise from her to go laser shooting and showcase her ‘mad skills’ they’d ended the conversation but not before Tony shared another one of his cheesy knock-knock jokes for her to bug Clint with. She also promised to sneak a pic of her brother’s annoyed face to text him later…
Sitting in the jet and trying not to freak out as they made to land, Bella made a mental note to send the pic to him after they were done there. She’d never had a chance to before Loki’s appearance and making plans for post-mission helped bolster her confidence and settle her nerves. When she made it out, not if…
“Alright,” Natasha’s collected voice over the headset broke her thoughts as the jet touched down on the rooftop of a nearby building. “While our stealth capabilities for landing would be sufficient for the average mission, we’re not going to chance it here. You’ll need to book it, Bella. Two miles north once you exit the building.”
“Fifteen minutes, Bella,” Steve reminded her. “I’ll cover the perimeter on foot, Natasha will take to the air. If Clint is here, we’ll try to find him while you distract Loki, but after your fifteen minutes are up – I’m coming in.”
Bella swallowed, her heart thumping faster and louder than even an eighties punk garage band could play. “Fifteen minutes from when I find him,” she had the presence of mind to clarify. Eying Steve who frowned at her catch, she figured she was right to assume he’d have started timing her the second she disembarked.
While she’d made sure to keep up her exercises, she wasn’t sure she could cover two miles in under fifteen and still have time to find Loki. Watching Steve’s jaw clench, she bet he’d been banking on that.
She shot him a small, sly smile and his lips twitched upwards grudgingly. “From when you find him,” he agreed, still not looking too happy about it.
Her smile widened into something more soft than playful. Steve had a lot of heart, she knew and he was kind of a big softy. In between teaching him how to text on his new cell phone so they could keep in touch when she left with Clint, he’d told her of his old life, both pre and post experiment. She knew him to have a staggering amount of courage and a solid moral compass, therefore she was not surprised in the least that he was so concerned about her going in on her own. It wasn’t a commentary on her, but more that he was appalled the idea of anyone (other than him, likely) placing themselves in the middle of a dangerous situation with little to no training.
But in this instance, she was the only one who would do and deep down, Steve knew that too.
“Use your earpiece. Keep in constant contact, Bella,” Natasha cut in. “We’ll be able to hear everything and if you need backup early, say the word.”
“Shouldn’t we have like, I dunno, some sort of code word?” she joked, though she was curious.
Natasha snorted. “You mean a safe word?” she drew out suggestively.
Blushing, Bella’s cheeks ached with trying not to smile. “’Tasha!”
Natasha rose one of her sleek brows at the nickname, to which Bella just shrugged. Giving her a small, but infinitely encouraging smile, Natasha just said, “No need to over think it, Bella. Just say ‘help’ and we’ll be there faster than you can blink.”
Taking a deep breath, Bella undid her safety harness and moved to the door. “I don’t doubt it,” she said over her shoulder, her shaky hands taking inventory of her gear one last time.
“You can do this,” Natasha soothed. “Pay attention and don’t let your guard down. While I agree with you that Loki doesn’t mean you permanent harm, we still don’t know his true intentions. When you talk with him, less is more. Half-answers and vague sentences… He strikes me as a talker so pay attention to keywords. Trust your instincts.”
“Right,” Bella chirped. “You mean my instincts that had me running with vampires?”
“You’re not the same kid anymore, Isabella,” Natasha chided, her tone nonsense and firm. “You’re not a kid at all, in fact. Keep your thoughts in the present, not the past.”
Accepting the rebuke, Bella took another deep breath and nodded.
Fingers clenched into fists at her side, knuckles shining white with her determination, she said, “I won’t let you guys down,” and then hopped out of the jet, jogging to the emergency access door to exit the roof.
“I know you won’t,” Natasha’s voice came in with shocking clearness in her ear. Despite knowing she’d be in constant contact with them with that ear piece, Bella still did a double-take.
“Holy frick!” she gasped, almost missing a step as she kept up a brisk jog down the stairs. “That sounded like you were right behind me!”
Natasha sniffed and Bella swore she could hear her smile.
They maintained radio silence, though she made a mental note when Steve made his jump out of the jet a little closer to the museum.
Once she made it street level, Bella barely paused to catch her breath before turning north and breaking away into a steady run. The physical activity was a pleasant distraction to what she was running to face and the slow burn of the chill night air filling her lungs kept her in sharp focus.
Find Loki… Stall him… Give them time to find Clint… Loki… Stall… Clint… Loki… Clint… Loki… Loki… Loki…
Her breathing increased with every step, her mantra running on loop until it was only Loki’s name cluttering her head; his face etched onto the back of her eyelids.
As her feet thudded, though, a scene popped into her head, giving her a brief reprieve…
She and Clint huddled next to Charlie on his threadbare couch watching the old sci-fi movie Logan’s Run. It’d been a favorite of Charlie’s, though she and Clint loved pulling a Mystery Science Theater act and made fun of it the whole time. Years later when she’d moved back in with Charlie and Clint had been dead to those who didn’t know better, she’d caught Charlie one night in his recliner. He’d a six pack of beer already broken in and Logan’s Run was playing lowly on the TV.
The low hum of the movie only slightly muffled his dry, quiet sobs as he mourned for Clint.
“Dad,” she’d whispered, unable to resist reaching out to him in such a raw, honest moment. She and Clint took after him… On the surface, they were always calm and collected, but they ran deeper than any river. There was no doubting that Charlie loved his children; that he loved Clint and felt the weight of his absence like an anvil to the chest.
He’d try to cover himself with dry coughs. “Bells,” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t mind your old man – you go on up to bed.”
But she couldn’t leave him. It was true that she and Clint had fostered a strong bond which allowed her to get caught up in secrets she kept for her brother; it’d been easy to forget there were others who loved him too. That she wasn’t the only one who missed him but she certainly was the only one left with any hope.
Decided, she’d gone over to Charlie who wouldn’t meet her eyes. Kneeling down, she sat at the foot of his recliner and leaned sideways into his legs, her head resting against his knee in a show of silent support. The Swans weren’t talkers. They preferred to let their actions speak for them and she wanted her dad to know he wasn’t alone.
A heavy hand came down to her shoulder and squeezed a silent thank you. From that night on, he and Bella made it a point to watch the movie together about once a week. They never spoke during it, not like she and Clint had whenever they’d watched the movie together with him, but the silence and memories were like a band-aid over the raw wound left by Clint’s absence. It didn’t heal it, nothing would, but it helped some.
Shaking off the memory and focusing on her current mission, Bella picked up her pace, the dim lights of the museum serving as a beacon of light representing her finish line.
A stitch started aching in her neck and Bella consciously remembered to keep her arms loose as she moved them. While the ache in her neck eased, it was the pain centered on her chest she was really focused on. With every passing step, a stone was lifted from her heart and the tugging eased. If there’d been any doubt about Loki being present, that would’ve erased it.
So close, she thought as the constant tug to her chest eased to a dull, numbing ache. It suddenly occurred to her that if their pull was mutual as she suspected, then Loki was well aware she was nearby and drawing closer. There’d be no element of surprise.
“He’ll know we’re here,” she breathed into her mic. She didn’t want to worry them about her chest pains, but she knew better than to withhold vital information during a mission. “The ache in my chest is easing the closer I get. He’d feel it too.”
A beat of silence before Natasha acknowledged, “Noted. Hang in there, Bella. You’re making good time.”
Bella huffed. True, she was making decent time but she had no doubt Natasha would’ve been there and back again had she been on the ground.
A sledgehammer slammed into her and Bella gasped in pain as she was caught, repelled backwards into an alley and pinned to a wall.
“Bella?” Natasha asked sharply, hearing the girl groan in pain.
Blinking her watery eyes, Bella gasped heaping breaths as she fought past her pain and confusion to focus.
She looked up and the color drained from her face.
“Laurent,” she gasped hoarsely.
Not a sledgehammer then, she noted.
“Shit,” Natasha muttered, recognizing the name. “Steve?” she prompted sharply.
“On it,” he answered, breathless as he took off running to try and find her.
“Little Isabella,” Laurent said in that vaguely French accent of his. He leaned forward and took an unashamed inhale of her scent. “Just as delicious as I remember.”
He said it like a compliment. Bella shuddered.
“What are you doing here?” she stalled for time, easing her hand down inconspicuously to her thigh where Tony’s gun was strapped.
“I’m afraid to be the bearer of bad news, young one. There’s a price on your head – many will come to collect. It is my good fortune to have found you first.”
“A price? Like a hit?” she said, her shock pushing her fear to the back-burner.
Laurent nodded. “Victoria was never one to let go of a grudge, you see. She has gone to the Volturi who have declared you must either die or be brought before them along with the Cullens for trial. I’m afraid you won’t enjoy the latter. It is a kindness that I am willing to kill you now – quickly, too, as I suspect she has followed me here.”
His hand formed a claw that he drew back, preparing to swipe a fatal blow. Her fingers closed around the gun and she withdrew it sharply, pressing the barrel under Laurent’s chin.
He grinned. “You know that won’t do you any good, little Isabella,” he murmured, entirely amused.
That’s what she’d been banking on. Vampires as old as Laurent would hardly feel threatened by human weapons. They’d grown complacent in their immortality. “How did you find me?” she decided to ignore him and get to the heart of an important matter. She had to find out how he’d find her as there was no conceivable way for him to have known she’d be in Germany, of all the places in the world.
They had to know what they were now working against.
Laurent cocked his head at her and decided to humor her. “There is a tracker amongst the guard ranks. He owed me a favor and was able to lead me here with a few strands of your hair… I made sure to retrieve some after I watched Victoria play with your father.”
Red swept through her vision and without a second thought, she pulled the trigger twice in rapid succession.
Two loud pops had her ears ringing, but as she saw the tell-tale sparks of Tony’s version of incendiary ammunition igniting through the new hole in Laurent’s chin, Bella maintained enough presence of mind to kick him away from her. Dark satisfaction filled her as she watch the fire catch, using Laurent’s venom as fuel and catching him on fire faster than lighter fluid.
Steve appeared at the end of the alley, halting in shock at the sight before him.
“That was for my father, asshole. Hope you burn in hell,” she muttered, ignoring Laurent’s quickly fading screams as he dissolved into nothing more than purple smoke and ashes.
“I was not expecting that,” Steve muttered, looking at her with something close to awe.
“Nor was I,” she admitted passed gritted teeth.
Natasha’s cool voice said, “I was. I knew you could do it, kid.”
“There may be more – he said he thought Victoria followed him,” Bella stated, a warm glow filling her at Natasha’s praise.
There was a moment’s pause before the Captain took charge. “Natasha, keep to the air but follow a shorter flight radius. If Loki knows we’re here anyway, there’s no point in hiding and we need a closer set of eyes to look out for vampires. If what this guy said is true, doesn’t matter where we go, they’ll have a way to find you Bella. I’ll be on the hunt for the tracker he mentioned. Odds are likely he’s still nearby and if we can take him out, we’ll have a better chance containing this new development.”
“But Clint,” Bella interjected.
“Would want us to keep you safe, above all else,” he cut her off sharply. “We’ll still look for him while you distract Loki, but the new plan is to take out the tracker and Victoria if she followed. We can’t afford any loose ends, Isabella. If there’s some sort of vampire hit on you, we can’t leave them a means to find you. Simple as that.”
“This is kind of what they mean by that FUBAR saying, right?” she sighed, rubbing her forehead after holstering her gun. As much as she wanted to find Clint above everything, this tracker and Victoria posed a real threat that they really couldn’t afford to let linger. With the revelation that she was a wanted woman in the vampire world, they had to strike hard and fast if they wanted to get a leg up.
She had a feeling S.H.I.E.L.D. would be making that trip to Volterra now after all…
“Things don’t always go according to plan when on a mission,” Steve smiled softly, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. “We have to adapt to situations while still trying to achieve our objective. This is the best plan we’ve got.”
“Seems like I screw everything up lately,” she muttered.
His hand tightened on her shoulder. “Head up, soldier,” he chided. “You’re not the only one with a past capable of complicating things. You think you’re ready for field missions? Then prove it.”
Steeling herself, she gave a cheeky, “Yes sir.”
Steve snorted. “Be careful, Bella,” he said sincerely.
“I will, Steve – you be careful too.”
He smiled, turning to exit the alley. Coming to the main street, he stopped as though struck by a sudden idea and looked back to her. “And Swan,” he said, catching her eye. “That was some nice shooting.”
She grinned. “Thanks.”
“Alright you two – time to get back in the game,” Natasha interjected. “Our time is even more valuable now since we have more to accomplish.”
With that, they took off again, the Captain splitting off at the next light as Bella honed in once again on the museum.
Shouts and panicked screams split the night, people running in the opposite direction and Bella knew exactly what was causing them to run.
“I said KNEEL!” Loki’s voice split the night, the fervor of screams muting to a distant hum.
Bella stopped running. Her hand rubbed at her chest as she tried to weave discreetly between the nervous people fleeing the god she had come for.
Only, there were several of him. Loki after Loki – eight, that she could see – blocking the people from their escape.
The copies were uncanny, but Bella knew where the real Loki stood without even looking. The tug in her chest – in her heart, if she was honest – pulled her to the Loki at the base of the museum steps. For days she’d suffered the sharp, persistent pull but now it softened into a caress, like the gentle touch of a lover tilting her chin to look up at him…
Her eyes opened. Ice blue eyes met brown and clashed, neither willing to look away.
“The siren,” he said in a whispering scoff.
Bella cocked her head. Siren. It wasn’t the first time he’d called her that and she wasn’t entirely sure what he meant, though she doubted it was complimentary.
Slow, measured thuds of his footsteps echoed in the pavilion. Bystanders shuddered away from him as he passed and she saw an older woman whose face was tired and weathered cross her self in his wake, her lips moving in silent prayer.
“Loki,” Bella greeted. “Fancy seeing you here.”
One half of his mouth lifted in a smirk. “Took you longer to arrive than I expected,” he said, stopping maybe about six feet away from her. The air between them hummed with tension.
Well, that settled that then. The connection between them was definitely both ways. She hadn’t doubted it, but something about the verbal confirmation soothed her. In a way, it was a relief not to be the only one tethered.
“Why are you here?” she asked, point blank.
“I thought we’d been over that. I’ve come to free humanity,” he said.
“By enslaving us?” she asked incredulously.
“By giving you direction – uniting you under one cause, one ruler,” he insisted. “It is the unspoken truth of humanity that you crave subjugation.”* He paused, moving away from her as he circled some of the kneeling citizens. “The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power. For identity. You were made to be ruled.”*
Coming to a stop behind a huddled old couple, Loki paused in his soliloquy and cut his eyes to Bella. “In the end, you will always kneel.”*
“No,” Bella muttered, spine stiffening before she said louder, stronger, “No. Not today, not ever. And certainly not to you – the wannabe king.”
His fingers tightened around his scepter.
“Look at you,” she hissed, sensing a weakness. It was her turn to move now, idly circling him like a lioness closing in on her prey.
All the days and the weeks of pain since Charlie’s death along with Renee and Phil… To losing Clint just as she got him back… The memories blended together as she looked at Loki who stood calmly like the eye of her emotional storm.
“You’re nothing but a child throwing a tantrum,” she said. “You look at us – at humans – and see us as weak. You think you can rule because you are strong enough to take it, but in that, you fail to understand what it means to truly be a king.”
Loki cocked his head. He looked calm and unruffled at her words, yet she’d spent days in either his head or her own with him for company. There was no way he was unaffected by her words.
“Enlighten me then,” he beckoned her.
“Service,” she stated. “A lifetime of service to your people. It is not they who serve you – you serve them.”
“Now you sound like the All-Father – like my fool of a brother,” he spat, whipping away from her.
“So you take my brother as punishment,” she spat.
“Ah yes,” he stopped, then turned to look at her from over his shoulder. “The hawk. He’s been,” he paused for another smirk, “most helpful.”
“Give him back,” she demanded, fingers curling into fists.
“No, I don’t believe I will,” Loki taunted.
As he walked away from her all Bella could focus on was her anger, her abject fear of losing Clint. She had half a mind to try out Tony’s gun on Loki, but after seeing bullets roll off him like little drops of water, she doubted even that would work.
She had a good five minutes left – she had to stall him.
Before she could come up with something, two icy arms circled her from behind, one around her waist and pinning her arms to her side while the other fisted her hair and pulling her head back.
“You two fight like an old married couple,” her captor said, her baby bell-like voice grating on Bella’s ears.
Her eyes flicked to the side to study the redhead, the woman who’d murdered her family. Dimly, she realized Loki had halted, turning back to focus on them.
“Don’t worry about your Captain friend,” Victoria purred into Bella’s ear, her nose sweeping the span of her exposed neck. “I made a few friends along the way here to keep him busy. Still, given the new company you keep I doubt I’ll get my chance again, so let’s cut right to the chase, shall we?”
Victoria tugged her head to the side and the tangled scream caught in Bella’s throat was echoed over the radio line by Natasha and Steve, both of them shouting they were coming…
But their cries were distant and muffled, barely a blip on her radar. What Bella really focused on in that moment was Loki. His brow puckered in confusion as he studied the newcomer. Then his eyes widened in what seemed like recognition but he was too late.
A strangled cry clawed at his throat the same instant Victoria’s teeth sank into Bella’s jugular with the ease of a hot spoon melting ice cream.
She drank – one, two, three pulls before there was a blast of blue light and her body was flung away from Bella. Without Victoria’s arms holding her up, Bella collapsed instantly, her hands reaching to the gaping wound at her neck to staunch the flow of blood.
But then the fire started. Victoria’s venom burned at her wound and seeped through her veins, a deadly forest fire that ravaged her body.
Bella’s head snapped back against the cement, her mouth falling open as her pained scream rent the night.
A shadow fell over her. Squinting her eyes, Bella reigned in her pain long enough to see Loki looking down at her. Their eyes caught like magnets and before she knew what was happening, he fell, kneeling beside her.
His face hovered over her own, his lips ghosting over her cheek as he brought one of his cold but surprisingly gentle hands up to cover her own where they rested over her wound.
“I have not given you leave to die yet, my siren,” he breathed.
Then there was a blue light again. The fire ravaging her body froze, the licking flames set on pause before they snuffed out altogether. Gone was the searing heat and in its wake was ice. Cold, familiar ice chasing away the fire and freezing the venom in its tracks…
I know this cold, she thought dimly. “Loki,” she gasped in recognition, bringing a bloody hand up to his face.
She thought she felt him move into her palm, accepting her touch, but then her eyes rolled and she gave into the beckoning darkness and knew no more.
(A/N): Thanks so much for reading! I’m curious as to how many of you saw that coming and what your thoughts are… Please do share if you have the time!
*Lines taken straight from the movie (really, they were my fave ones so I couldn’t pass them up).
I took some liberties with Demetri’s power… I know it’s widely believed he can track anyone once he gets a ‘taste’ of their mind, but I wanted a new spin 🙂
All-Father: another name for Odin