Chapter 15: Blizzard
Bruce wasn’t exactly sure what had happened on the mission but as Nick Fury jogged passed the lab barking out orders to agents in a heightened version of his no-bullshit tone, he knew it was safe to say it’d gone belly up.
Hand hovering over the computer screen, he hesitated. Curiosity was a dangerous thing though and Bruce shook his head to clear it.
“Not your problem – just do your job and get out, Banner,” he mumbled, plugging in some numbers.
While the equations he was using to track the gamma radiation thrown off from the tesseract were long and tedious, he found his hand moving in rote distraction. The majority of his mind was focused around the perplexing Isabella Swan and the mystery surrounding her. Seemed to him she was at the root of this entire predicament though the others appeared to dance around that fact. Her file – he wondered if she knew S.H.I.E.L.D. had a rather extensive file on her that was growing by the minute – mentioned she’d dreamt of the terrorist Loki before his arrival; Bella herself had confessed as much in her guilt laden plea for help.
Bruce couldn’t help but to wonder if it hadn’t been the tesseract calling Loki to Earth after all… Perhaps it’d been Bella Swan drawing yet another powerful being into her fold. Even Bruce himself had fallen, much to his combined amusement and dismay. Just a warm and honest smile flashed at him and he suspected even the Other Guy would be inclined to follow the girl around like a stray puppy.
Sighing, he swiped his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. While his thoughts didn’t sound entirely complimentary, he didn’t mean them rudely. Much to his horror, he’d fallen under her spell less than five minutes after meeting her. Were he a younger man, that quick finish would have him blushing.
But still, what an honest and refreshing five minutes they were… There’d been no condemnation from her, no suspicion or fear; only a healthy amount of respect for his dual nature combined with genuine gratitude for his help, unwilling though it’d been. He was unwilling no more, however, though the part of him conditioned for suspicion was already planning his exit strategy should it become necessary to abandon ship. He was well used to a life on the run and it struck odd not to be running now. He’d be prepared, though, should it become necessary.
Only more time would prove whether she was worth the risk all of them carried for her but Bruce already suspected the answer to that. A soul as welcoming and vulnerable as hers even after all she had suffered was worth protecting.
His musings were interrupted by Phil Coulson. The usually unflappable man had a frenzied air around him, eyes wider than normal and his usually impeccable tie loosened about an inch. As if in response to the observations, Coulson’s hand raised to smooth down his neck tie and Bruce frowned, noting how there was a barely perceptible quiver in the movement.
“You’re needed in the medical wing. Now,” his tone brooked no refusal and he didn’t even stop for Bruce to acknowledge him.
Scrambling, Bruce jogged and caught up with the harried man.
“What is it? Don’t you already have doctors on hand – I’m nearly finished with my calculations,” Bruce said, merely a token protest. Mentally, he noted how the frantic air around the man permeated and effected everyone they passed.
“Not any with your insight,” Coulson said distractedly, pushing aside a door and herding Bruce into what was clearly an infirmary.
It was void of people save two doctors prepping a table and random machines.
“Well?” Bruce asked Coulson, feeling rather impatient. He wanted to finish his calculations and start working on Bella’s mysterious affliction. His promise to help the girl was sincere and he wanted to start cataloguing the results from the various tests he’d run on the small sample of blood he’d managed to snag before she’d left on her mission.
“Um, I don’t really like needles,” she’d bitten her lip while eying him nervously as he approached her with aforementioned needle.
Despite himself, Bruce had smiled in a combination of reassurance and amusement. “Just a pinch, Bella. You can trust me, I’m a doctor.”
She’d snorted, giving a casual glance around to make sure no one had followed him in before sighing and holding out her arm in silent offering.
Sympathizing with her fear, Bruce had worked quickly and efficiently. “There now,” he said, securing the sample as he place a band-aid on her arm. “Sorry I don’t have a sticker or lollipop to offer you.”
She’d beamed up at him. “Thanks again, Dr. Banner – for your help,” she said, then added, “and your discretion.”
Bruce had nearly preened under her smile. “Not another word on it, Bella – and please, call me Bruce.”
Nodding, she turned to go back to getting ready to leave.
“Bella,” he called out before he’d made the thought to. She’d turned in askance and Bruce gave her a small, awkward closed mouth smile. “Try to stay safe out there.”
Her answering smile had been so warm and comforting. “I’ll do my best, Bruce.”
Then she’d marched off. If ever there was a picture of sheer determination, she would’ve been it. There could be no mistaking it, even nervous as she was – Bella Swan was on a mission and aimed to see it through.
Now the memory struck him as heavy, laden with a foreshadowing. A tingle of unease danced down his spine and Bruce took a deep, steadying breath. No use borrowing trouble by getting emotional.
He could hear voices coming down the hall and moments later the door was slamming open with authority, a team of agents spilling into the room and lining the walls with their weapons drawn and at the ready.
The sense of being trapped sparked, suspicion igniting that his assistance being ‘needed’ had been but a ruse to corner him. Before he could give in to the mounting panic, Fury entered the room and behind him was a most unusual scene.
He recognized Tony Stark instantly leading the way, his infamous suit still on though the helmet removed. Bruce knew he’d been active if not present on the team and he wondered when he’d arrived. The good Captain was behind him and appeared to be talking to him though his gaze was fixed behind him.
Frowning, Bruce followed his gaze and shocked hit him like lightning as he instantly recognized the terrorist known as Loki. Distantly, he was aware that they’d picked up another stray – a man of impressive stature with long blonde hair and a cape – Romanoff was hovering just behind him and they both boxed Loki in, preventing escape.
Loki himself appeared entirely too at ease. Taller than he expected, Bruce studied the man responsible for much chaos. He towered over just about everyone but was a bit shorter and more slender than the blonde guy in the cape. Still, there was an impressive air of strength around him that was totally unexpected. More to that, while he appeared completely at ease, Bruce picked up how Loki’s gaze took in his surroundings calculatingly. Whatever conclusion he’d reached by studying their tableau appeared to anger him, his eyes tightening ever so slightly as his arms shifted.
The movement caught Bruce’s attention and he belatedly realized Loki was holding something cradled to his chest with a careful protectiveness so at odds with the rest of his demeanor. As Bruce’s eyes fell to the bundle, he inhaled sharply. A strong wave of anger hit him, his vision tinting green for a terrifying moment as his heart thudded in his ears, a rapid staccato that sounded like a ticking bomb.
Even through the faint green tinge, Bella looked pale and small gathered up in Loki’s arms, his jacket pulled over her so as to block her from unnecessary eyes. Despite the rather sickly tone to her, she actually seemed to be resting well, her hands curled around the lapel of Loki’s jacket as though to anchor him to her. Her blue tinted lips were teased upwards ever so slightly.
It was that hint of a smile that allowed him to tame the anger that had swelled so unexpectedly at the sight of her helpless in the arms of such a dangerous being. Bruce inhaled once more and slowly exhaled, uncurling his fingers that had folded into fists unbeknownst to him. His heart rate slowed and shoulders slumped. From the corner of his eye, he saw Fury lowering his firearm.
Despite the situation, he couldn’t help but inwardly scoff at the man.
Yeah, as if his little toy gun would’ve helped… Would’ve just pissed the Other Guy off even more.
Apparently his small lapse of control had caught Loki’s attention as well. The man’s hands pulled Bella even closer to him but Bruce was confused by the glint of anticipation in his eyes and the faint smirk that had crossed his lips as if he knew something they all did not.
Wouldn’t surprised Bruce one bit if that was true.
Shaking himself out of it, Bruce finally cottoned on to the fact that Bella had somehow been injured and that they had called him to treat her.
Mind racing, he also came to the conclusion that had they been capable of separating Bella from Loki, that would’ve been the first thing they’d done. Fury had likely planned to toss Loki into some fancy cell and throw away the key until he would cooperate. The fact that they’d turned the medical wing into some sort of firing squad prison was telling and Bruce’s thoughts automatically jumped to what Bella had told him after his initial debriefing.
“The others don’t know?” he clarified, pulling her shirt closed for her.
“They know about the pull,” she said. “Fury wants to use me as a Loki compass but with the distance between us being so far there’s no way of discerning where the pull is directing me to. It just hurts – all the time. There’s no relief, not even in sleep. And the blue tint? It’s spreading. It started as a small point over my heart, then it bled out.”
Bruce remembered his promise to her and the, “Thank you,” that had fallen from her lips like a stray feather floating home. Small and airy, but also strangely beautiful.
With that promise in mind, Bruce locked down his anger at seeing his young friend in the arms of such a dangerous being and resolved to get the answers she, and they, all needed.
Gesturing to the table that the other doctors had been prepping behind him, Bruce invited, “To the table, if you please. Do not break contact with her.”
Lifting a vaguely taunting brow, Loki was silent as he moved towards the table in question. He appeared amused as the agents compensated for his movement, shifting about to keep him surrounded. If Bruce had to put a guess to the condescending thoughts running through Loki’s mind at their actions, he’d have to say he thought them cute.
“How did you know that he can’t release her?” Fury demanded, not bothering to hide his suspicion.
Bruce snorted. “As if you would’ve allowed him traipsing through the halls carrying her otherwise?”
Tony grinned, moving forward to volunteer his assistance whether they wanted it or not. “Another smarty pants! And he’s quite right – don’t insult the man’s intelligence now. Wouldn’t want to make him angry.”
Despite himself, Bruce was amused. “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry,” he smarted.
“Oh I dunno, big guy. Seems like the angry monkey on your back could be fun – he’d be an awesome drinking buddy at the least. Bet he could hold his liquor.”
“I care not of this talk of drunken merriment,” the tall blonde man interjected. “There are more important things requiring our attention.”
“Ease up there, Fabio,” Tony said, not glancing away from the computer screen he’d commandeered. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
“Those are not my names, metal man.”
“Really?” Tony lifted a brow in mock surprise. “Let’s see if we can guess it… definitely something out of a romance novel. Something whimsical to match that cape. Gerard? Georgio?”
“My name is Thor and you’d do well to remember it,” the man, Thor god of lightning, apparently, snapped.
“Enough,” Fury interjected as Tony opened his mouth to his retort. “Agent Romanoff – report!”
Natasha snapped to attention and woodenly relayed the details of the entire mission, albeit with some editing considering their perceived enemy was sitting amongst them.
Bruce listened intently even as he putted around Bella. Loki had laid her down on the table and then leaned back against it, his hand running distractedly through her hair as his keen eyes followed them all, drinking in the scene they made.
“Bitten?” Bruce cut in. “But then why isn’t she…?” he trailed off, uncomfortable with trying to find a polite way of phrasing ‘screaming bloody murder.’
“He did something with that staff of his,” Romanoff narrowed her eyes at Loki. “Instead of burning, she appears to be freezing. She’s extremely cold to the touch and shivers constantly.”
Sighing, Bruce gave Loki a weary look and half-heartedly asked, “Don’t suppose you’d care to make my job easy and let us know what it is you did?”
Loki lifted a brow. Saying nothing, he turned away from him and fixed his attention back to Bella.
“Well if that wasn’t the proverbial fuck you…” Tony trailed off dryly.
Another sigh from Bruce. “Right then,” he said, moving to Bella while actively trying to ignore the intimidating man hovering over her. Though he refused to look at Loki, he could feel the man’s eyes following his every move.
First things first, Bruce decided, tilting Bella’s head aside to examine the bite wound.
Except there was no wound.
Frowning, Bruce traced over the already healed scar at her neck, his fingers tingling with cold as though he’d just caressed an ice cube. There was a faint sparkle to the mark, reminiscent of what he’d read in her file as being attributed to the vampires, but it was more of a subtle sheen than a glitter. Beyond the shimmer, Bruce was more intrigued and concerned by the blue lines tracing over the wound like a delicate spiderweb spun over it.
His eyes connected with Loki’s and very carefully, suddenly very wary of what the man would do to him, Bruce went to Bella’s top. Making sure to block the others, save Tony who was hovering about like a concerned mother hen, from viewing, Bruce carefully pulled back the material and glanced at the lines on her chest.
They were still there but different. Instead of the angry, vivid lines she’d shown him before, now the blue tracings held the same shimmer as the bite on her wound. They looked calmer, too, less noticeable and oddly delicate and graceful looking. Bruce suspected that whatever Loki had done combined with the venom that had entered her system had simultaneously healed and solidified whatever connection there was between the two of them.
He looked at Loki once more. “I presume you have a matching set?”
Of course, the god said nothing but there was a barely perceptible flicker in his eyes that gave Bruce his answer.
“Right,” he mumbled.
Deciding that the blood sample currently being tested in the lab was probably moot now, he opted to start at square one. Reaching for a syringe, he quickly prepped Bella’s arm to take another sample and pressed the tip of the needle to her arm.
Bruce blinked and started at the broken needle for a long moment, uncomprehending.
Across from him, Tony gave a low whistle through his teeth. “Well doesn’t that spice things up a bit?” he joked, but there was no missing the frown of concern.
Thinking of the ramifications, Bruce slowly turned to the large group. “I think it’d be best if the majority of you leave soon.”
“No body’s leaving,” Fury countered, moving closer to the table. “In case you’ve forgotten, Dr. Banner, there’s a very serious threat present in this room.”
Gritting his teeth, Bruce ground out, “I’ve forgotten nothing, Colonel, but pretty soon the threat is going to be a very hungry newborn vampire wanting to rip out all of our throats.”
Fury blinked, his eyes flicking down to Bella. “So she is turning…?”
“Based on the temperature and texture of her skin, I’d say it’s a logical bet that she is,” Bruce admitted. “In three days time, we’ll have a nearly indestructible version of Bella on our hands and I fear she won’t play nice.”
There was a long moment of silence amongst them all as Bruce’s words sank in.
“No one leaves,” Fury reiterated finally.
“Well,” Tony broke in, clapping his hands in front of him. “You bring in a doctor for his educated opinion on how to proceed and then ignore him – fantastic,” he drew out sarcastically.
“We can’t risk Loki unguarded,” Fury pointed out, ignoring Tony. “And we can’t risk leaving her unguarded.”
“So clear out all but a few,” Bruce suggested.
Fury appeared lost in thought, his eye roving over Bella’s still form until a sigh passed through his lips almost unwillingly. His shoulders slumped ever so slightly as he blinked, long and heavy. When he opened his eye again, Bruce was disturbed by the grim determination he saw gleaming as he continued to stare at Bella.
Without hesitation, Fury unholstered Bella’s gun from her side – the one she’d used to kill Laurent – and gritted his teeth as he slowly aimed it at her.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Tony stood at attention, every ounce of his playful sarcasm gone as the words fell into the room, quiet and most assuredly deadly.
Not looking at him, Fury said, “If she’s turning, she’s a threat to each and every one of us here. We’ve no way to contain or handle her…”
“Put the gun down,” Steve said, easing further into the room and clutching his shield at his side, ready to throw it if necessary.
“She’s not a lame horse to be put down,” Bruce said, horrified at the turn of events.
“She’s a liability,” Fury retorted. “And if you all were thinking logically and not emotionally, you’d all admit that.”
“Sir,” Natasha interjected, swallowing as she stared wide-eyed at the scene. “With all do respect… We don’t know for sure she’s changing – Loki did something with the staff and – ”
“And that sounds like wishful thinking,” Fury cut in. “You know, all of you know, this is what she would want.”
“Of course it is,” Tony said, still in that deceptively calm tone. “The girl is entirely too self-sacrificing but you’re jumping the gun. There’s no way to tell what is happening with her.”
They then began to talk over each other, their voices increasing with each word as they argued back and forth. Even Thor marked his distaste saying, “You humans – so quick to give up and betray each other.” To which there was more heated words exchanged, the tension building until Bruce closed his eyes, head pounding as he fought for calm when all he wanted was to give in to anger.
“You’d do well,” a new voice interjected, silencing the entire room. “To lower your weapon.”
Eyes still closed, Bruce knew who had spoken.
“And what are you going to do to make me?” Fury shot back.
Bruce blinked his eyes open and felt a shiver of unease as Loki merely smirked at the Colonel.
Thor sidled up to Loki’s side, remarking, “You’d do well not to underestimate my brother.”
“Finally learned something, have we?” Loki taunted, his eyes still fixed unerringly onto Fury. He looked calm but Bruce saw the glint in his eyes. He was like a coiled cobra, prepared to strike.
“Listen,” Tony broke in. “Save the family drama for Jerry Springer and let’s get back to business. Bella’s not turning into a vampire so put the damn gun down before I make you – and something tells me it’d be harder to get by on one hand when you’re already missing an eye.”
“And just how do you know that, Stark,” Fury asked, ignoring the threat.
“Because I won’t let her,” he said simply. “We’ve got three days, right? Plenty of time to find a cure.”
“A cure,” Fury said, the heavy amount of disbelief hanging on the words damn near insulting. Not that Bruce could blame him.
“Did I stutter?” Tony raised a brow.
“You’re going to find a cure for vampirism in three days?” Bruce asked, eyes bugging out.
“Correction,” Tony stated, “We are going to find a cure for vampirism in three days.”
“We are?” Bruce deadpanned.
“Yup,” Tony said, then turned to Fury. “So put that gun down, get these assholes out of our workspace and let us work in peace.”
Fury took a heavy breath. “Three days,” he stated, finally lowering the firearm. “You have less than seventy-two hours to either find a cure or confirm she’s not changing. After that,” he sighed again. “I don’t want to pull the trigger but I will.”
“Roger that,” Tony said. “Now vamoose, kiddos; daddy’s got to work.”
“Romanoff, Rogers – you’re to stay and guard Loki,” Fury ordered, turning on his heel and marching to the door. “As soon as he can be removed from Bella’s side he is to be escorted to containment and then interrogation. No exceptions.”
“I will remain as well,” Thor stated, not giving Fury a chance to dispute before he plunked his hammer down with a thud and crossed his arms over his chest.
Fury gave him a sardonic look before piercing Natasha with a demanding glare. “Find out what you can and then report to me.”
Natasha nodded, taking up position by the door as Fury exited, a stream of agents trailing after him.
Coulson lingered. He looked around at each of them, mouth opening as if to say something, before he glanced at Bella once more and closed it. He nodded to himself and then turned and exited.
“Well,” Tony said. “That was awkward. Shall we get to work?”
Bruce nodded, determination filling his entire being. He’d not break his promise to Isabella. He wouldn’t let her down.
Across from him, Loki’s eyes gleamed as his long pale fingers began to dance through Bella’s hair once more.
Huddled against him for warmth, Bella’s teeth chattered.
“Are you going to explain to me what’s happening?” she shivered, burrowing into him further.
Loki’s arms tightened around her. “Worried, are you?”
She snorted. “I was bit by a vampire and I’m now caught in some snowy dream world with you – yes, color me worried.”
“Hm,” he said, nothing more.
“You’re such a bastard, you know that?” she groused, unable to add real heat to the words when she felt frozen to the bone.
“So they tell me,” he said dryly. Then abruptly, he commented, “Strange friends you keep – ones willing to kill you at little notice.”
“What?” she frowned.
“Even now as you lay all but asleep, they make plans to kill you.”
An unnamed combination of emotions swirled in her gut and she stopped shivering. “How do you know this?”
Loki dropped his head down by hers, his cheek grazing her as he said, “I am often in more than one place at a time, little siren.”
“Am I turning into a vampire?” she asked point blank. If what he said was true – and knowing Loki it was a big IF – then that was the only reason she could see for such preparations against her. Honestly, it was what she’d want them to do. The thought of not only becoming a monster but of facing the wide span of eternity with nothing but herself as company, alone as those she loved fell victim to time… It was horrifying.
Loki was silent before he answered tersely, “No.”
“Then what is happening to me?” she demanded, fear starting to get the better of her. “Why am I locked away in the cold – and why are you suddenly so warm? What is going on?”
“I am not warm,” Loki stated, otherwise ignoring her outburst.
“But you are,” she insisted. “In this place you are warmth where once your touch was freezing.”
“I am not warm,” he repeated and before she could interject again, he added, “You are now merely the same temperature as me.”
Her mind reeled at the implications, the scenes leading up to her ending up in the frozen dreamscape playing through her mind. Loki kneeling over her as she burned before he touched her and then ice… Ice flowing through her veins and freezing the fire.
“What have you done to me?” she whispered.
Loki stiffened, pulling back away from her though he did not break his hold.
“As always, I’ve done what I must,” he murmured.
The wind howled around them and in her fear and confusion, Bella’s eyes closed once more as she clung tighter to Loki – a safe harbor in a storm of ice.
(A/N): Lots of questions, right? Some answers soon, not to worry… As ever, thanks for reading and if you want to review I’d love to hear from you!
Also don’t forget to check-out the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Superhero Fest going on right now! Already some amazing stories submitted and I can’t wait to share them with you all 🙂