Chapter 5: Connections
“I really don’t like that guy…” Steve Rogers muttered as the elevator doors started to close.
“I get the feeling it’s mutual,” Clint said in dry amusement, faintly smiling as Tony smirked at them from behind Bella. He might as well have given them the one finger salute while he was at it.
“Is it wise for him to be bringing her out in public when there’s some sort of creature after her?” Steve asked.
Pepper spoke up. “Tony won’t let anything harm Bella. If that vampire,” she stuttered over the word as if still in disbelief over their existence, “finds them, he’ll have the suit on in a heartbeat and get her to safety.”
Steve turned to Pepper. “I don’t believe we’ve met…”
Smiling, Pepper offered him her hand. “I’m Pepper Potts, Tony’s… keeper.”
Natasha’s snort made Clint smile slightly. “She’s the only one that can keep that man in line,” Natasha informed Steve. “You need Tony Stark to do something, Pepper’s your gal.”
“Seems like Bella might be able to corral Tony some on her own. He likes her,” Pepper interjected.
“He’s known her all of five minutes,” Natasha objected.
Pepper shook her head. “He had her life story within five minutes after Fury contacted him about her and her situation. Besides, Tony’s more astute and sensitive than what most people give him credit for. She reminds him of himself, after Obadiah. That kind of betrayal from someone who is supposed to care for you, but has actually been lying to you the entire time while hurting your loved ones in the process… Not many people can relate to that. Trust me, he’ll look after her.”
Clint nodded. If he’d thought even for a moment he wouldn’t, he’d have been flying after them by now. As overprotective as he usually was, that feeling had increased tenfold after Eyas had confided the events of her life over the past few months…
I never should have left her alone, he berated himself silently. It was a constant mantra that had him on edge when he was around her, ready to protect and defend where he had failed to before. He didn’t think he’d ever forgive himself for leaving his sister to fend off vampires, of all things.
So as much as he wanted to chase after them, he stayed to help sort out things with the Captain. He knew she’d be safe with Tony and honestly, Isabella could use the distraction. As much as he loved being with her, he knew she was still keeping a brave front for him. Maybe Tony could get her to relax more and let go of some of that guilt she carried. No matter what he told her, she’d always write him off as biased and keep blaming herself until no one could convince her otherwise.
Clint was not just invested in her physical safety, but also her emotional and mental healing as well. As much as he wanted to wave his hands and make everything better, he knew it was going to be a process and it wouldn’t always be him helping her. Natasha had already jumped in, and it looked like Tony was going to become invested as well. And with Tony, came Pepper, who maybe could lend a softer touch than any of them could.
“So I’ve read Fury’s file,” Steve began, breaking Clint’s thoughts. “But I’d like to hear it from you, Barton. Sounds like your sister was dealt a bad hand and needs some help.”
Another vague smile curled Clint’s lips. Noble Steve Rogers would only be too willing to save the damsel in distress. He wondered if his sister had even a vague inkling of the power at her fingertips. Knowing her, she didn’t, but the look Natasha was giving him confirmed her thoughts were well in line with his own. Should she choose, Isabella could have great power at her disposal, to be used however she saw fit.
Lord save us if she ever meets the big green guy or the man with a hammer… Clint thought dryly.
As far as he know, the Avenger Initiative was still in a holding pattern, but it was a guarantee that if he and Natasha were thinking it, so was Fury, and Clint wouldn’t be surprised if the man used his sister to glue that unstable project together. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. The brother in him wanted her no where near trouble, which is where she’d be if she unknowingly became a part of the Initiative.
But the tactician in him saw the value. If one person could tie several powerful but vastly different individuals together and unite them under a common mission, then that person would be invaluable and it would be well worth the risk to their person. He wondered if that’s why Fury had been so dismissive of his and Natasha’s actions. They’d broken orders and several set protocols in their rush to get to Isabella, but the normally staunch Director swept aways their transgressions as easily as he swatted at a fly. Already, and without even knowing it, Isabella had at her disposal two powerful S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents willing to break all the rules to protect her. From there, it was a small stretch to the other Avenger candidates.
Of course, Clint knew a part of Fury had been genuinely supportive of Clint protecting his sister, the only family he had left. He wouldn’t have approved, and even participated in his original plan, otherwise. But he’d be a fool not to be tempted by the potential Bella presented. Clint would have to keep an eye on the situation. As useful as it could prove to be, he wouldn’t risk his sister, not even for the safety of millions of people.
That resolution firmly in mind, Clint turned to the Captain and said, “She’s always been a bit of a danger magnet, but this time, we’re all a bit in over our heads.”
“Vampires,” Pepper murmured, shaking her head as she fended off disbelief.
“Apparently,” Steve said lightly, accepting in easy stride the existence of the mythical beings.
“Not like in the movies, though,” Natasha said. “Impossibly fast, incredibly hard – like marble, and able to go out into the sun, though not inconspicuously.”
Steve raised a prompting brow and Clint took great pleasure in being able to sneer, “Apparently they sparkle.”
The Captain blinked slowly and deadpanned, “Sparkle?”
With a wide grin, Clint nodded and said, “Worse than any diamond. What a waste.”
“Maybe,” Natasha said lowly, ignoring Clint’s joking. “Maybe that’s why they’re so hard and have that effect… maybe they’re skin is close to diamond-like.”
Pepper nodded thoughtfully. “It could explain both characteristics. I’ll make a note to have Tony focus his testing around the ability to destroy anything with the hardness level of a diamond or higher.”
“Already noted, Miss Potts,” the disembodied voice of Jarvis chimed.
“That’s all well and good,” Steve said. “But what if this vampire arrives before Tony can create an effective weapon to fend her off?”
“Well that’s where you come in, Captain,” Clint chirped in false cheerfulness.
Natasha rolled her eyes. “What he means to say is, while Tony may be able to fend off an attack, to a certain extent, in his Iron Man suit, you are the closest thing we have that can compete on the physical level. At least according to Bella’s descriptions.”
“So what?” Steve raise his brows. “Do I go track this vampire down or play bodyguard?”
“I doubt you could find her,” Clint said, all jest gone from his voice. “And I don’t appreciate your tone, Captain. Isabella may only be one person, but that doesn’t mean she’s not worthy of Captain America as her body guard.”
Steve frowned. “I meant no offense, Agent Barton. It’s just – when I woke up, Fury was telling me about having a second chance to be able to protect my country and all the good I can still do for Americans everywhere. Protecting a single young woman wasn’t really what I’d envisioned. Truthfully, it’s preferable. Fighting the world’s evils is futile and tiring. History has already proven there will always be something to take their place once you take one whack job down. But helping people like this, small though it may seem, this makes a difference even if only to that one person. I’d be proud to protect your sister, Barton.”
Now he knew why Tony called the Captain a boy scout, Clint thought, fighting the urge to roll his eyes again. Cheesy though he’d sounded, there was no doubt about his sincerity and again, Clint’s mind wandered to what Fury was really trying to accomplish with her sister. It seemed like an awful lot of Avenger candidates were being thrown her way…
Time would tell, but he hoped that if she did end up becoming associated, in any form, with the Avenger Initiative, that’d she be able to handle it and herself. One thing was for sure, though; a long line of powerful individuals willing to protect her was rapidly forming.
Clint vowed he would always be at the front of that line.
Tony watched her while shoveling a fork-full of scrambled eggs into his mouth.
Abandoned was the first word that came to mind as he noted her haunched shoulders as she picked at her food, followed rapidly by exhausted. This was a girl who’d been pushed to the limits, and while she’d not broken, he could clearly see the echoes of the bruises each rotten hand had left behind.
Dark circles underscoring her gaze, eyes glued to the floor, elbows and knees sticking out because of malnutrition… She looked remarkably like he had after being held for ransom in the Middle East, the dagger point of his life that had forced him to change, to wake up to the world around him. Then he too became abandoned, exhausted from fighting the demons he’d been blinded to in his own foolishness.
But she was stronger than he had been, he could see it clearly every time she was around that brother of hers. Already she was taking steps to strengthen herself, steps to face her own demons, impossible though they appeared to be to her. Still, she prepared.
A new word popped into his head as he studied her unabashedly. Survivor. Not necessarily a fighter at heart, but when it came down to the line, she was a survivor. The sparkly scar on her wrist told him that much.
“I wanna run some tests on you,” Tony blurted, spearing a sausage link with his fork and taking a bite.
Bella jerked in surprise, before a frown appeared as she registered his words. “Tests? On me? Whatever for?”
“That little mark on your wrist…?” he pointed to it with his sausage link. “It’s more than just a badge of honor. Could tell me more about Icky Vicky.”
Her hand covered the scar in a show of self-consciousness. “Badge of honor,” she grumbled sarcastically.
“Yes,” Tony insisted firmly, pausing long enough for her to look up and catch his eyes. “How many people can say that they were bitten by a vampire and lived, hm-m?”
Shrugging, Bella said, “Statistically speaking, I doubt I’m the only one.”
Smiling, Tony agreed. “Yes, but you’re one of a rare few. More than that, you are the only one with a genius, brilliant, heart-throb scientist at the ready. Your scar – it’s different from the rest of your skin and different than normal scar tissue. If you look closely enough, you can see it glimmers in the sun and I imagine it slightly cooler than the rest of your skin?” he prompted.
Biting her lip, Bella grudgingly nodded and Tony gave her another smile. “See? You may not have turned into a sparkly vampire, but you weren’t unaffected either. I bet that scar can tell me more about their physical makeup than you can imagine, which means we’ll be better prepared to handle Icky Vicky.”
“So,” she said with a vague smile. “You’re gonna turn me into your lab rat?”
Tony smirked. “Now you’re getting it! I can even name you too! Hem or Haw? You look more like a Hem to me…”
Bella rolled her eyes and said, a small, sarcastic grin twisting her lips, “And you look like the one who moved the cheese.”
Definitely not broken, he reaffirmed his thoughts with a grin. She may think and feel it, but Isabella Swan had fire in her yet.
And Tony was determined to stoke that flame until she burned bright again.
“You come here often, don’t you?” she asked, changing the subject and breaking into his thoughts.
“Why little Bella, are you coming on to me? That is the mother of all pick-up lines and I would know,” he teased, followed by a cheeky wink. He delighted inwardly when the tell-tale tide of red swept across her face.
There was another suspicion confirmed, he thought smugly, but also strangely touched by the fact. He was no stranger to lovestruck girls giggling and cooing after him, but Bella was one of the rare breed of women who saw him as a person first, billionaire, philanthropist, playboy second.
Honest, another flew to the front of his mind. Everything about the young woman in front of him was entirely genuine and honest. There were no false airs, no twittering and flirting because she wanted something from him. There was just a small, good-natured crush that she didn’t let get in the way of interacting and joking with him.
Deciding to take pity on her, he let her off the hook from responding and asked, “What makes you say that?”
Taking a moment to allow her blush to subside, Bella finally responded, “No one’s bugging you. The staff gives you space even while being polite, friendly and familiar. Our waitress hardly even blinked when you ordered, so I reckon you always order the same thing.”
This time, the new word slipped out. “Observant,” he noted. “And correct. I like this Ihop. Quiet, out of the way, and Cheryl – our waitress – has the cutest granddaughter that joins me for tea sometimes. And her grandson thinks Iron Man is just wicked cool.”
Bella smiled and looked like he rather suspected he himself did when an adjective slipped into his brain describing her. He wondered what word it could possibly be, but then she spoke again.
“Clint says I’m observant,” she smiled, a small hint of pride shinning through.
“Ah yes, the Hawk. He’s equally observant, even if in a slightly different arena. It must run in your family.”
“It does,” she smiled, but then it froze and melted away right before his eyes. “It did,” she correct sadly and the moment of levity washed away as though it had never been.
“Will,” he said firmly.
“What?” she frowned at him.
Quirking his head, Tony confided knowingly, “Tenses are the hardest part. I always found that it helps to not think in the past or present tense, but in the future. Being observant will continue to run in your family.”
Bid ‘ole tears filled her wide brown eyes and Tony felt the stirrings of a strange, foreign emotion in his gut, far to strong to be merely indigestion. It was too strong, too familiar to be be sympathy and he realized right away what it was. Empathy. Tony could completely identify and empathize with this little girl from some pissant town in Washington.
Strange, a word arose unbidden again. Something about Isabella was strange, but not necessarily in a bad way. She had a siren like ability to call people to her, people who would normally not give someone like her the time of day. The Hawk was obvious, being her brother and all. Anyone could see he was completely doting of her, their bond uniquely strong for siblings with such an age gap.
But Natasha had been surprising. Of course, where the Hawk went, Natasha would follow and vice versa, but Tony had been mildly caught off guard by the honest affection glimmering in Black Widow’s eyes when she’d look to Bella. It was more than an obligation to get along with her because of her relationship with the Hawk, something about Bella had impressed the cool-hearted agent and had won her over, an incredibly impressive feat.
And naturally, the Captain would all but fall in love with her once they spent some time together. A shy, quiet girl such as herself, but who still carried an impressive inner strength… yes, the Captain would come to admire her as well.
Wheels whirled along in Tony’s head as he thought about the possibilities and a new word, one he would’ve never thought to associate with the petite, gentle girl before him, slammed into his mind, a visceral warning he instantly chose to ignore: dangerous. Isabella Swan could prove to be quite dangerous if they weren’t careful. She seemed to draw danger while simultaneously inspiring people to rise up and fight against it. A dangerous combination, indeed.
Still, the previous adjectives in his mental list of words describing Isabella Swan had him confident she would never presume to use her friends, or her apparent superpower, for evil. She was a good egg all the way down to her core and maybe to her own fault.
But the list of people drawn to her was impressive nonetheless: several vampires, a former assassin, former KGB spy, the man out of time… and Tony himself, a brilliant though admittedly egotistical, superhero.
He could only imagine who would be drawn to her next and prayed, for her sake, it would be some boring accountant.
Doubtful, he thought wryly as she finally finished her meal, looking happy and proud of herself as though she’d completed a 5K marathon instead of simply ate breakfast. No, the next person drawn to her was unlikely to be simple or boring.
But what was life without a little danger, he thought eagerly.
Without the distraction of her food, Bella appeared to get lost in her thoughts and that broken, haunted look took over her features once again.
“Dine and dash,” he said abruptly.
As he’d known it would, the non sequitur wrenched her away from her gloomy thoughts and had her looking at him in confusion.
“Dine and dash… you ever do it?” he grinned.
“Never,” she gasped, affronted at the idea. “And we shouldn’t,” she ended firmly, already knowing where his mind was off to.
Tony smiled. “You’re right. Terrible thing to do, not to mention illegal… We really shouldn’t.”
“Alright, twist my arm, you talked me into it,” Tony said, grabbing her hand and pulling her out of the booth, running at a brisk jog to the front door.
“Tony!” she gasped, but he could hear the hint of a smile in his name.
Smirking, Tony looked back and winked at their waitress Cheryl, knowing she’d find the hundred dollar bill tucked under his empty coffee cup where he always placed it for her.
“Quick Hells Bells,” he said laughingly. “We don’t want the cops to come!”
He chuckled under his breath as she tripped over her own feet as she tried to run faster, laughing as Tony used his grip around her hand to haul her back up.
“It’s not like they couldn’t just tell them it was you if they do call the cops,” she pointed out.
“Well there you have it,” Tony said as they came up to his car and climbed in. “It’s a life on the run for us now, Hells Bells.”
Rolling her eyes, she smiled, her cheeks flushed and a light in her eyes. Tony felt a surge of pride for having put it there.
“Come Jeeves, back to the tower,” Bella said airily, followed by a pompous, “Chop chop!”
Laughing, Tony threw the car in gear and turned up the stereo as ACDC’s Hells Bells came on. He’d cued it up right before they went into the restaurant. Bella snorted, giggling as he started to sing obnoxiously loud and terribly off tune.
A rising swell of victory flooded him, however, when she joined in at the end, equally loud and obnoxious.
Clint broke off mid-sentence as the elevator began to ding as it approached their floor.
“Finally,” he muttered, pulling away from the table he’d been leaning over as they talked strategy for the upcoming weeks.
The elevator gave on last ding and stopped but before the doors open, Clint and the others could hear terrible, ear splitting singing.
“Has he lost his mind?
Can he see or is he blind?
Can he walk at all,
Or if he moves will he fall?
Is he alive or dead?
Has he thoughts within his head?
We’ll just pass him there
why should we even care?”
The doors sliding open might have well been curtains rising at the theater for the show they found themselves privileged to.
Tony was rocking the air guitar with impressive enthusiasm that made Clint tired just watching. Eyas was wearing Tony’s sunglasses while swaying her long, brown locks in an easy head-bang as she sang into her fist, Tony singing along with her.
“Well hi there,” Natasha broke the tableau, but only after Pepper pocketed her phone after recording the scene.
Eyas instantly froze, her cheeks turning an impressive red as she snatched the sunglasses off her face and hid them behind her back. Tony, however, merely nodded in greeting and carried on, completely unconcerned as he walked into the lab.
“Don’t stop on our account, Eyas,” Clint teased, exceptionally pleased to see the light finally back in her eyes.
He shot the still dancing Tony and thankful glance which the man returned with a deceptively dismissive shrug. Still, Clint saw the genuine affection in the man’s eyes as he threw Isabella another wink.
“Did I hear someone say encore?” he teased.
“No,” Pepper laughed. “Please don’t.”
“This is a very strange workplace,” Steve noted. He turned to the still blushing Bella and held a polite hand. “We didn’t get the chance to meet properly earlier,” he shot an accusing glare to Tony. “I’m Steve and I hear you’ve got a vampire problem…?”
Biting her lip, Bella nodded and accepted his hand. “Um, yes, if by problem you mean one is hunting me and my loved ones down in some sort of elaborate revenge plot.”
Steve smiled slightly and leaned forward to say conspiratorially, “Well, we’ll just have to stop her then, won’t we?”
Smiling, Bella nodded, dropping his hand to move to stand by Clint, leaning her head against him and hugging his arm. Clint watched the way the Captain’s eyes followed her with a curious gleam.
Another one bites the dust, he thought as he and Natasha shared a telling look.
“Thank you big brother,” Bella whispered to him.
Smiling slightly, he leaned down to ask her quietly, “For what?”
“Letting me go off with Tony,” she said, looking up at him. “I know a part of you didn’t want me to, but it was fun. He’s fun.”
Clint smiled and kissed the top of her head. “I’m glad you had fun, Eyas. You deserve it.”
She gave a small shrug in silent disagreement, but knew better than to say as much aloud.
“No! What is this crap?” Tony called out. “Who told Jarvis this nonsense about diamonds?”
“I told him to note it,” Pepper said firmly with a challenging glare.
Tony beamed. “Well thank you, Pepper. So thoughtful of you. Ten points to Ravenclaw for science-y thinking, even though you’re wrong.”
“Are we?” Natasha raised a brow.
“Absolutely,” Tony said without hesitation. “I believe we were working with marble, isn’t it? Not shiny rocks.”
“We just figured, what with the sparkling,” Steve began, but Tony cut him off with a loud, “EHHH! Wrong!”
Steve sighed and crossed his arms. “Enlighten us then.”
“Hells Bells,” Tony called, holding out his hand for her.
Bella pulled away from Clint and went over to him. Tony gently took her hand, turning it over and lightly traced her scar.
With a quiet smile, he said, “Hold it here and keep it steady.”
She nodded and held still as Tony turned on some sort of device that scanned her arm, honing in on the scar as it projected a holographic, 3D map with numbers and compositions flickering and calculating.
“Analyzation complete, sir. Probability dictates eighty-nine percent likelihood of a marble composition,” Jarvis intoned.
“See?” Tony grinned, pulling Bella’s arm away from the device with a patronizing pat to her wrist. “Marble, not diamond.”
“So basically, we’re fighting sparkly monsters made of stone?” Steve said.
“Listen up, class,” Tony said. “Marble, and granite for that matter, is made up of what?”
“Um… rock?” Clint said, but Bella quietly corrected with the more specific answer of, “Crystals.”
Tony gave her a pleased smile. “Exactly. Interlaid, interwoven tiny bits of crystal… You were told their skin was like marble, which would also explain the sparkle effect,” he smirked.
“But,” Bella interjected with a tiny smirk of her own. “A diamond is higher on the Mohs scale of hardness, so it wasn’t necessarily a bad note of them to make. They go above and beyond where you just do the minimum.”
Ignoring the slight, Tony shot her an appraising and vaguely suspicious look. “Someone knows her science.”
Bella smiled. “It was one of my best subjects, though not my favorite.”
“So you could tell all that by scanning her wrist?” Steve asked, clearly confused.
“From her scar,” Tony added. “Though some blood tests wouldn’t be amiss as well. We could see if there’s any trace of that venom lingering.”
Bella turned a bit green at the idea and Clint snickered.
“From what I’ve read about in the file it seems like an impossible scar to have,” Steve said gently.
“Not impossible. He clearly just didn’t want me, is all” Bella muttered, her spine stiffening. Her reaction instantly had Clint wanting to deck the Captain for his observation, no matter how well meaning.
Before he could, however, Pepper went over to Bella, throwing a comforting arm around her. “You know what you need?”
Frowning, Bella joked half-heartedly, “A new life?”
Pepper shook her head smiling. “Nope. You need some cookie dough.”
“Cookie dough?” Bella said woodenly.
“Yep,” Pepper chirped. “And 80s romantic comedies. Girls night.”
“Like… a slumber party?”
“Exactly, and I won’t take no for an answer.” Pepper turned to the rest of them and fixed Tony with a pointed glare. “Don’t you come home tonight. Girls only.”
“But what if I wanted my hair braided?”
“Ask Clint,” Pepper smarted, then turned pointedly to Natasha. “You too. You’re coming.”
Clint snickered as Natasha looked wide-eyed and stuttered, “I am?”
“Well you’re a girl, aren’t you?”
“Good. You go get some ice cream and other goodies – I’m talking the whole nine yards here, Romanoff. Meet us back at Tony’s place after.”
Pepper pulled Bella back towards the elevator and Natasha trailed after them after receiving a sharp look from her.
“Um. Bye, I guess,” Bella said as she was tugged into the elevator.
Natasha shook her head, but didn’t look truly upset about the new development. Pepper obviously couldn’t care less about how her plan was being accepted and merely gave them a distracted wave from behind her shoulder, not even dignifying them with a glance goodbye.
A small ding and the elevators closed once again.
“Why does everyone keep stealing my sister?” Clint grumbled.
“And how are we supposed to protect her if we’re not allowed to even be with her?” Steve asked.
Tony shook his head. “You may be the Captain, but that there is a General and I’m smart enough not to go against her orders.”
“What are we supposed to do now?” Steve mumbled, looking for all the world a put out school boy.
Tony looked from him to Clint. “Anyone up for Chinese tonight?”
(A/N): So the bonds are forming! Hope you enjoyed reading… Next chapter will have some more Loki and then we’re getting to the start of the Avenger movie plot, which means Loki and Bella will meet! As always, love hearing from you if you have the time to review!