Chapter 3: Meetings
The building was… Shiny. And big. Not obnoxiously so like Stark Tower which they had driven by on the way there, but the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters Clint and Natasha brought her to was obviously well funded and expanse even though it was remarkably nondescript on the outside. Oddly, it’d looked like a post office and she’d initially been surprised when they’d pulled in.
Bella bit her lip and walked a little closer to Clint when a man in a sharp black suit gave her a penetrating look.
“Ignore him, Eyas. You tend to get a little paranoid in this business.”
She didn’t doubt that. Spies, assassins… Her mind was still whirling from all that Clint had shared with her over the past few days. She’d always suspected something like it, but to actually have confirmation that her big brother was a key member in a special faction of the military only a select few were aware of – Well, it had been a daunting discovery.
At first, they’d focused on keeping on eye out for Victoria as they prepared Charlie’s funeral. It hadn’t taken long for authorities to contact them about Phil and Renee’s deaths as well. An accident, the officer had told them over the phone, likely caused by Phil swerving to miss an animal in the road.
Though she had been expecting it, the confirmation had hit Bella like a sledgehammer to her chest. She’d hyperventilated to the point of passing out and when she awoke again, Clint had settled nearly all the arrangements for their burials and he’d insisted on her relaxing, of all things.
On a cold Sunday morning, Charlie Swan was laid to rest in a simple ceremony that nearly the whole town turned out for, including a good many from the Quileute Reservation. Bella had been uncomfortably aware of Jacob staring at her the whole time while he’d been sitting beside his father. After she and Clint had said their quiet goodbyes to the simple but beautiful marble tombstone – only his name and the years of his birth and death with the words Beloved Father engraved underneath – and had made their way to the car, Jacob had intercepted them in another attempt to get her to live on the reservation, spouting off nonsense about protection and things he really didn’t understand.
Clint had put him in his place, giving him a verbal lashing that almost had Bella feeling sorry for the boy who had once been her friend, but then she remembered all his talk of not abandoning her when in the end that was exactly what he’d done. He may not have been as cruel about it as Edward had, but Jacob Black had so easily cut her out of his life weeks ago despite her attempts to reach out to him.
In the end, she decided to follow his lead and closed off the small part of her heart he’d once held. The loss of his friendship had been salt in the wounds Edward had created, but now, after Charlie and Renee, Bella simply didn’t have the patience for his youthfulness. It felt like she’d aged years within the span of hours and while at one time she could see herself welcoming Jake back into her life, now all she saw was a boy playing at being a man.
So ignorant, she recalled thinking as he’d tried to strong arm her into coming home with him. So naïve. She hadn’t meant it negatively, but had settled on the thought wistfully, knowing that saying goodbye to Jacob was like saying goodbye to her own naivety. She almost envied him for it, but resolved to make herself stronger now that her rose-colored glasses were shattered.
Clint would help with that, she knew. With the loss of her parents, Bella had lost herself and was unsure of who she was anymore. Too much heartache in a short amount of time had destroyed her. She walked around almost like a blank canvas waiting to be colored and with time, she’d know what to draw.
With Charlie seen to and Bella’s roots to Forks thoroughly severed, they’d packed up all of the sentimental items and simply sold everything else while making their way to Florida.
In some ways, settling Renee’s affairs had been easier. Phil’s parents had seen to most of the arrangements before they’d even arrived and Renee had never had the foresight to make any lasting investments or ties that would require their attention.
Natasha had stayed with Bella as Clint used his connections to get the police report of the accident. Bella figured she already knew what had happened, though. Victoria, or a friend of hers, had likely run head first into their car. The denting and tire marks were consistent with the theory that they’d swerved to miss an animal, but had likely hit it and lost control of the vehicle. Bella reckoned it was true, only that the animal had really been a monster.
There was a deep finality the resounded within her as they’d left Florida and made their way to New York. Of course, often times with death came that sense – a sense of definitiveness, of a resolute ending. Some likened it to a peacefulness settling in, an acceptance of circumstances unchangeable.
Bella felt no such acceptance or peace. Instead, she felt the bitter finality of her childhood ending, the definitive hole in her heart that would always be reserved for her parents. Also, she felt a rage that burned her hollow. An anger so deep aimed not only at herself, but also at every last one of the Cullens – at Edward – who all should’ve known better. They’d called her daughter, sister, friend and love alike, but had abandoned her to the ravages of a deranged mate. Whether they knew about the risk or not, if they really had cared, they would’ve taken care of Victoria just in case.
It was what Bella would’ve done – it was what Clint did do by leaving her the cell phone. Family never leaves a member completely behind, not if they truly cared. Clint hadn’t been able to be there for her, but he’d made sure he would be able to help her should she need it.
She knew her rage was mirrored in Clint. He’d not directed an ounce of blame at her and instead reserved all of his hate and anger for Victoria and the Cullens. She’d been lightheaded with relief even as she still blamed herself, especially since she knew his life was dangerous enough as it was. The last thing she wanted was to add more to his plate, but he’d been adamant that he, and by extension S.H.I.E.L.D., could help her.
Bella doubted it. No matter their resources and money, in her mind, nothing could beat a vampire, especially one as vindictive as Victoria.
When she’d said as such, Natasha had smiled grimly and said a mysterious, “You’d be surprised about our own connections to super beings.”
That was another thing that had caught her off guard. Natasha Romanoff wasn’t nice exactly, but she spoke with a directness that Bella admired and carried herself with an air of danger that Bella flat out envied. She could see the small tell-tale signs of caring within her, mostly when she and Clint would talk quietly together, and occasionally when she’d awkwardly comfort Bella. But Natasha was remarkably calm even when Bella could tell she was upset.
Clearly, she was a woman who could handle herself even when faced with vampires and Bella was rather jealous of that.
Glancing at her from the corner of her eye as they made their way to a debriefing room, Bella thought that maybe she could ask her to teach her self-defense. Not just physically, but mentally as well. Bella was smart enough to know that it wasn’t physical strength alone that made Natasha a deadly competent. Sometimes the best defense came in simply containing thoughts and emotions while making others lose theirs. She suspected that was where Natasha truly excelled.
But she was still too intimidated by her to ask for such a favor. Sure, she’d likely say yes even if only because she was Clint’s sister, but a forced agreement like that only bred resentment. Bella surprised herself by how much she wanted Natasha to like her; not just because she admired her as a strong woman, but because she so obviously loved Clint with a passion doused in ice and secured deep within herself.
And Clint damn near worshipped the ground Natasha walked on, so there was that.
She was happy that her brother seemed to have found someone who made him happy despite his dangerous life. She didn’t imagine espionage and assassinations left a lot of time for dating, so she was pleased that he hadn’t been alone all these years. While Charlie and Renee had thought him dead, they’d still had Bella and hadn’t been left alone. Clint, however, had been the odd man out. Often times, when Bella would think of him she’d worry about whatever it was that had made him take such drastic measures to protect her and their parents. She’d worried about him trying to take on the world alone but seeing him with Natasha and knowing she’d been at his side for the majority of it, Bella’s relief was absolute. She knew she owed the woman a great debt that could never truly be repaid. It seemed odd to ask her for another favor on top of it.
“Who are we meeting again?” He’d told her before, but her mind had been uncharacteristically spacey. It was all she could do to steer her thoughts away from the dark images of Charlie’s body that haunted her constantly.
Clint gave her a worried look, but answered, “Phil Coulson. He’s kind of the go-to guy around here.”
She frowned, looking away as another agent glared at her. “Is he like your handler or something?”
Natasha snorted. “Or something.”
“Actually,” Clint smiled vaguely. “That’s not a bad comparison. He has his hand in pretty much everything around here. He’s Fury’s number two.”
That name she remembered. Colonel Fury had been the one that came to them in Phoenix, a folded up flag under his arm as he spewed condolences. She’d known it for a lie though he’d appeared genuinely sorry and sympathetic. Still, she remembered being irrationally angry at the man come to tear her family apart even if for a good cause. She wasn’t exactly excited to meet him again, even if she knew that was unfair of her.
When they finally came to the room, Bella thought it looked vaguely like a conference room from an insurance office or something, only done up with stainless steel tables and chairs. It was a little intimidating.
“Agent Barton, Agent Romanoff,” a voice greeted as the door opened and a man walked in, presumably Agent Coulson.
She studied the man quietly and was shocked at the rather nondescript appeal of him. He looked like an FBI desk jockey, or maybe an insurance salesman. Nothing about his appearance said dangerous agent but she new his mild appearance could be deceiving.
“Hey Phil,” Clint grinned.
Phil, as she’d correctly assumed, gave him an unamused look. “Fury’s not too happy with you, Barton, so I’m not sure why you’re smiling.”
Clint had taken the time to explain the name-thing to her, but it was unnerving to hear her brother referred to by a fake name, no matter if he wore it more surely than he ever had Swan.
“I’m not sorry,” Clint said baldly. “What would you have done?”
Phil softened some and finally looked at her. She noticed the same suspicious glint in his eyes as she’d seen in others, but his was tempered by kindness. He looked almost apologetic for being skeptical of her.
“Hello,” he said calmly. “I’m Agent Phil Coulson,” and then he offered his hand to her.
Bella stood up straighter and accepted the handshake. His grip was strong and searching. Bella remembered Charlie telling her how a man could tell a lot about a person by their handshake, so despite her fear and uncertainty, Bella squeezed his hand with equal direct firmness and said, “Bella Swan.”
Phil’s lips lifted some and Bella felt as though she’d passed some sort of test.
“It’s nice to meet you, Bella Swan, though I regret the circumstances. Your brother tells us you have a bit of a situation we may be able to help you with. Tell me about it please.”
Uncertain, Bella looked to Clint who gave her a reassuring nod and obediently, Bella told her story of vampires, all the while secretly worried that Agent Coulson, whose face remained perfectly blank, was ready to reserve a room for her at the nearest looney bin.
But as she fell silent, she was surprised when he addressed Clint and Natasha passively, saying, “We’re not unaware of their existence. We’ve yet to make contact with them, but there’s a large group within Volterra, Italy that have been on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s radar for some time now.”
“You mean the Volturi,” Bella interrupted, her mind going blank with shock as she remembered Carlisle telling her about them as he stitched up her arm.
Agent Coulson turned to her and gave her another searching look. “You know them?”
“No, but I know of them. They’re kind of like vampire royalty. The coven is ruled by three brothers and they’re the self-appointed rulers of the vampire world. They make sure that other vampires remain inconspicuous and that no humans can find out their secret. They’re very powerful and very dangerous.”
“Hm,” Phil said, looking entirely unconcerned about having been spying on the ruling coven of vampires. “I suppose we should let them think they’re still undetected then.”
“Yeah, they probably wouldn’t take too kindly in knowing there’s a group of humans aware of them and capable of wiping them out,” Clint said dryly.
“But are you?” Bella snapped, mildly annoyed at her brother’s levity. “You haven’t seen what they’re capable of, Clint. As if their speed and strength alone weren’t enough, some of them are gifted and are capable of killing you without even touching you.”
“You mean they’ll kill you with their brain,” Clint interjected with an exaggerated shocked voice, his lips twitching as he fought a smile.
Bella’s rant was effectively shut down at the reference to their favorite television show. She and Clint had watched Firefly religiously and had even stayed up late one night after it’d been cancelled penning strongly worded letters of protest. Bella had been a little more polite and subtle than Clint had been; he’d simply hocked a loogie into a blank piece of paper, folding it up smartly and sending to the address for FOX Studios they’d found via google.
Unable to help herself, Bella erupted into a fit of giggles at the memory. Clint was laughing too and it she could feel the tension and years that had separated them melt away as if they’d never been. No matter how terrible the present circumstances were, she could always count on Clint to make her feel better, even if it was just a silly reference to their favorite show.
As their laughter trailed off, Agent Coulson cleared his throat and placidly said, “I also enjoy that show.”
Bella and Clint lost it again. A good five minutes went past with them slowly controlling their laughter only to look at each other and start again. Phil watched them with a small almost-smile and Natasha tried to appear disapproving but even she couldn’t hide the humoring light in her eyes as she stared at them.
By the time they were able to control themselves, Bella’s gut ached and dried tears stained her cheeks. “I haven’t laughed like that since…” the trailing thought sobered her even more and turned her smile sad. “Since before you left, big brother.”
Regretting it the instant the thought was vocalized, there was a stab of sorrow to her heart when Clint winced. “I didn’t mean it that way, Clint,” she apologized.
“It’s okay, Eyas. I know how you meant it.” He gave her a reassuring smile that looked more like a grimace.
“Right,” Natasha cut through the awkward moment. “So about that demented vampire after Isabella…”
“Well,” Phil said. “We certainly have the technology to wipe out vampires on a global level, but one on one is a little more tricky.”
Bella frowned and Natasha clarified, “We can’t very well nuke a single vampire, but I doubt that coven in Italy would survive such an attack.”
“Well shit,” she said. The idea had never occurred to her that with the scientific advancements in modern technology a vampire’s marble skin was, well, outdated.
“But to harness that type of an attack on a singular level is far more complicated,” Clint said.
“We could always ask the Captain if he’s ready to come out of retirement,” Natasha proposed.
Phil shook his head. “It wouldn’t hurt but doesn’t exactly solve the problem of protecting Isabella and even the organization from within. This Victoria may be able to breach the building and it’s a security risk if the agents won’t be able to defend themselves properly.”
“What about the tess – “
“That’s not something you should be talking about, Agent Barton,” a new person interjected sharply, and though she hadn’t heard it in years, she recognized the voice of Colonel Fury instantly.
Bella turned and saw his gaze was fixed unerringly on her, his expression blank but vaguely intimidating.
“Isabella Swan,” he said, and in her mind, Bella heard the follow-up words, as I live and breathe.
Swallowing down the lump in her throat, she greeted him coolly, “Colonel Fury.”
“Somehow,” he shook his head but uncrossed his arms and looked slightly more welcoming. “I always knew I’d see you again.”
She didn’t know what to say to that so remained quiet, looking at Clint from the corner of her eye for support.
“Colonel Fury, I can explain,” Clint began, but Fury cut him off.
“Explain? Explain what, exactly? How your sister called you on a phone she was never meant to have? How she delivered some news that had you and Agent Romanoff abandoning your posts, commandeering a harrier jet and abusing other S.H.I.E.L.D. resources to satisfy your personal agenda…?”
Bella stood up straighter, poised to defend her brother and his friend, but Fury held a stalling hand up and continued, “No explanation needed, Barton. What else is family for?” he dismissed, his glare softening and the flat line of his mouth easing.
Nearly collapsing in relief, Bella sighed, her defensive posture dropping her shoulders into a tired slope.
“So what’s this I hear about a vampire with a vendetta?”
Clint snorted. “That kind of sounds like a bad romance novel title… Vampire with a Vendetta…”
Bella pressed her lips together, but couldn’t prevent her snort of amusement. It would have been naïve of her to think Clint was completely unchanged after five years, but it was reassuring to see that some things were the same.
“Well as I’m not in the business of penning trashy romances, I think it’s about time you get to the point, Agent,” Fury said, his head tilting to the side pointedly.
Clint stood straighter and cleared his throat. “Right away, sir.”
He then proceeded to tell Fury everything Bella had told him, even though she was mildly certain the man had read it all in a file somewhere already.
“Hm,” was all Fury said when Clint fell silent.
“Orders, Director Fury?” asked Coulson.
Seeming to come to some sort of decision, Fury turned to Phil and said, “Alert the Captain. He’s our best bet against her unless the man with the hammer finds his way back down here again. Stark was notified yesterday about a possible consultation. The suit may be equipped with weapons strong enough to penetrate a vampire’s skin. It’ll require testing but he may be able to develop something on a smaller scale for us to use as well.”
“Tony Stark,” Natasha stated slowly. “You sure that’s the best idea, Director?”
Bella would have to have been living under a rock to not know who they were talking about. Though it sometimes felt that way in Forks, Bella had, indeed, not been living with her head in the sand and had followed the story of Tony Stark and his Iron Man almost religiously. She actually thought he was rather brilliant… and extremely good looking.
And cocky, arrogant… but she took those traits at face value, viewing them as an extension of the armor he’d built to save first his life, then others.
She’d followed his story on the news diligently, her curiosity getting the best of her, and while she’d never been a typical teenage girl crushing on boy bands or actors, there’d just been something about Tony Stark. Handsome, charismatic, but even in the interviews she’d seen on TV, she could tell there were hidden depths to him.
So Bella’s first celebrity crush was born, a secret she had guarded close to her heart. She realized the futility of it but it’d been harmless and surprisingly freeing to act like a teenager for once. There was nothing wrong, she’d told herself, with admiring a witty, good looking man who saved lives in his spare time.
“You know of another weapons expert capable of creating something seemingly impossible?” Fury asked.
“With all do respect, Director Fury, Tony Stark is – “
“Sexy, brilliant, incredibly good in bed… I can go on…”
Bella’s heart skipped a beat and a blush tinted her cheeks. Though he sounded slightly different in person than on TV, there was no mistaking the voice of the person who had just swaggered in.
Natasha lifted a brow. “I was going to say arrogant, impulsive…”
Tony walked further into the room and Bella could make out his profile and a sharp gray suit that no doubt cost more than everything she’d ever worn in her entire life put together.
“You see, you say arrogant and impulsive, but I hear confident and good instincts.”
“That is your prerogative,” Natasha coolly allowed.
“Now why do you wound me so, Agent Romanoff? I’m here to help save the day, rescue the damsel in distress – speaking of,” he turned to Bella and offered his hand, “Hello there, Damsel. I’m Tony, your knight in shinning armor, I’m sure.”
Her cheeks grew hotter and she finally turned to face him, biting her lip as she accepted his hand. It was firmer than she thought it would be, roughened with calluses that spoke of strength and hard work. Instead of shaking it, he turned her hand over and planted a polite kiss on her knuckles, smiling in good humor as her mouth fell open and her blush spread further.
“Really, Eyas?” Clint glared at her knowingly, but still amused.
She shrugged and tugged her hand back, crossing her arms defensively over her chest. “What? He’s funny… and nice.”
“And the answer to your vampire problems. Come on now, sweetheart, tell Uncle Tony all about Icky Vicky and I’ll cook you up something to take care of her.”
Smiling, Bella once again repeated her story though she was equally sure that, just like Fury, he’d read it already in a secret file. She wondered why everyone seemed intent on hearing it from her, but gathered it was their way of confirming her tale, looking for inconsistencies. Or maybe they were hoping that each recounting of it would force her to look harder and deeper into her memories and possibly allow her to recall something that could be of use.
She doubted it. The only way to truly kill a vampire – that she was aware of, at least – was to rip them apart and burn the pieces. She told them as such, too.
“Sounds messy,” Tony stated. “And smelly.”
Unconsciously, Bella’s hand drifted to the scar on her wrist. She remembered, even through the searing pain raging throughout her body, the smell of smoke and the sickeningly sweet scent that had burned her nose as James had been destroyed.
“It is,” she said quietly.
Tony stared at her. She was worried she’d see something like pity in his eyes. It’d been one of her fears in telling so many people her story. Clint, she knew, would never pity her even if he adamantly wished she’d never experienced all that she had. Natasha just wasn’t the pitying type, so Bella needn’t worry there. Fury and Coulson had been coolly factual and vaguely polite with her. She had a feeling they saw her more as a case than a person, but thought that might change as they got to know each other.
But there was nothing pitying in the look Tony gave her. It was commiserating, if anything, not exactly sympathetic but empathetic. She’d been right about Tony Stark, her first and only celebrity crush, all along, Bella realized. Despite his sarcastic flair, he had a surprisingly soft heart.
“Well, Hells Bells,” he said, breaking his stare and giving everyone else in the room a pointed stare. “Sounds like we’ve got work to do.”
“You really think you can create something that can stop her? Even if only a little bit and this Captain person can finish the rest?”
Tony snorted. “We don’t need grandpa – you’ve got me,” he smiled at her and she smiled back. “You said their skin is like marble, right? Well, marble isn’t indestructible. Give me a few hours, a day at most, and I’ll have something we can start testing in my lab tomorrow. You know where it’s at, right, sweetheart?”
She snorted. “Kind of hard to miss that eyesore.”
Tony grinned. “That’d be the point.” He looked over to Clint and said, “Bring her by around nine and we’ll start testing. In the meantime, I’d recommend whipping her into shape if she’s gonna be hanging around you troublemakers.”
“You’re one to talk,” Clint said dryly. “But yes, some training would probably do you well, Eyas. I can train you starting tonight.”
“No,” Natasha said. “You’ll be too soft. I’ll do it.”
Bella looked to her and smiled shyly. “If you don’t mind. I don’t want to be a bother.”
Natasha’s hard gaze softened slightly. “It’s no trouble, Bella. Besides, it’s best if you learn from another woman as there are certain… methods you can use to your advantage that your brother probably wouldn’t be too happy about.”
“And that’d be my exit cue,” Tony said.
“Don’t think it’s escaped my notice that you broke into a secret meeting, Stark,” Fury spoke up. “It won’t be happening again.”
Tony gave him a mock salute. “Aye, aye, Captain!” Then he turned to Phil, “Pepper said to thank you for that casserole recipe. Turned out great.”
Phil nodded with a small smile. Bella already knew it was probably the man’s equivalent to a grin. “My pleasure.”
“Agent Romanoff,” Tony turned to Natasha. “Always a pleasure.”
“I’m sure,” she allowed with a smirk.
Tony rolled his eyes. “Robin Hood,” he nodded to Clint then turned to Bella. “See you tomorrow, Hells Bells. Stay shiny.”
Bella blushed even as her mind stuttered.
How had he known they’d been talking about Firefly…
Natasha rolled. “He’s bugged the office. Again.”
While sadness and guilt still weighed heavily on her heart, Bella felt a small part of her bitterness chip away as she lost herself in a fit of giggles.
Tony Stark was everything she imagined him to be and then some. She was looking forward to tomorrow.
(A/N): Hope you think Tony was as fun as I thought he was… also hoped you enjoyed the Firefly references too. One of my all time fave shows – and I get to meet Nathan Fillion in June!
Please review and let me know what you think… Next chapter: time with Tony and S.H.I.E.L.D. Also, a little glimpse of our favorite trickster 🙂