Chapter 6: A Dream Collision
Tiny beads of sweat puckered his brow as he gasped for air.
“You are not ready yet,” a sibilant voice spat in disgust.
Loki’s jaw clenched as he fought the urge to cry out in pain. “I am a god,” he spat viciously, masking his emotions with hate. Fury had his muscles aching as he fought the urge to thrust Odin’s spear satisfyingly through the creature’s gut.
Too soon, his magic hummed in confirmation and Loki’s fist, which had unconsciously tightened around the spear, unfurled as he took a steadying breath.
“You are but a speck,” the creature hissed. “Overshadowed by The Other’s might and power. You would do well to remember who the real master is.”
Isolent fool, Loki thought, but maintained his tongue. Whether he liked it or not, his plans required submitting to this creature and his hitherto unseen master. Through them, he would gain the power necessary to conquer Midgard as well as gain control of the Chitauri army.
“He will give you great power,” the creature hissed invitingly as though he could hear Loki’s train of thought. “He will make your Gungnir look like a whelp’s toy.”
Looking down at the spear in question, Loki admitted there was a certain appeal to defiling Odin’s precious spear, molding it into the instrument of Thor’s precious Midgard’s domination. The symbolism alone was priceless and just the thought of the horror on their faces made Loki grin.
“The tesseract has been found,” the creature continued to sway him. “Through it, The Other will grant you great power. With his assistance, you will truly become the God you profess to be and you will answer to no one; no one save the Titan.”
Well, that was something, Loki gave a mental nod of agreement, though he was still reluctant to hand the spear over only to become beholden to the one referred to only as either Master or The Other. Although the new addition of the moniker Titan had his mind spinning with possibilities.
More to the point, he was reluctant to acknowledge anyone as his Master.
But still, he felt the push of his magic to submit, if only temporarily, to this being known as The Other. It was a necessary evil to the correct path his magic was pushing him to traverse.
Like a persistent gnat buzzing, the image of the woman flashed in his mind once more; it was an unshakable picture, constantly haunting him when he least expected it. Her features remained indistinguishable, but left a vague impression of a fragile beauty that Loki grudgingly found extremely appealing. Each time her visage appeared it was just as quick to abandon him, leaving him with a hollow emptiness that sat heavy on his chest.
Refusing to acknowledge the ghostly image and the implications of his magic consistently pulling her to him, Loki made a snap decision.
“Bring me to your Master, creature.” Only when he met The Other and was assured of the power to be had with tempering Gungnir using the tesseract would he hand it over. Only then would he deign submit to The Other as his temporary master.
The creature grinned, exposing two rows of rotting teeth as he gave a mocking bow of acquiescence.
As Loki followed the creature his mind remained reluctant though his magic thrummed acceptance, approval even. For some reason, he pictured the uninvited woman and his hand tightened around the spear and he started walking taller. Without meaning to, her image filled him with new certainty and each step he took after the creature carried the resounding thud of fate… or the possible toll of a death knell.
The woman’s face lingered on the edges, a siren he suddenly found himself chasing.
“Are you alright?”
Bella started and turned to Natasha who was staring at her with her usual observant gaze.
“What?” Bella asked.
Tilting her head slightly, Natasha nodded towards Bella’s hand which was rubbing her chest directly above her heart. “You’ve been doing that off and on all night,” Natasha stated. “Are you alright?”
Frowning, Bella lowered her hand to her lap. Her chest twinged again, a hollow ache that somehow seemed deeper than it ever had before. “I hadn’t realized,” she said distractedly. “But I’m fine. Heartburn, I think.”
It was clear Natasha didn’t believe the white lie, but she allowed Bella the out by saying, “Well, we have consumed an unnatural amount of junk food.”
“You’re the one that also bought vodka,” Pepper pointed out and Bella smiled as she remembered Natasha patiently patting her back after her first shot of alcohol burned down her throat. She hadn’t imbibed much and the small buzz she’d acquired was already wearing off, but Bella had felt wildly adventurous even though she’d made both girls swear not to tell her brother about the drinking.
It was hard to tell with Clint sometimes. He’d either slap her on the back and congratulate her for finally acting like an average teenager by sneaking a drink, or he’d get overprotective and freak out because he wouldn’t have been there if something had gone wrong. As if Natasha and Pepper weren’t fully capable of handling any given situation that may arise, she mentally rolled her eyes at the thought.
Shrugging with a small smirk, Natasha said, “I don’t know much about having a girls’ night, but it seemed appropriate.”
“I thought it was kind of cool,” Bella said supportively.
And really, she rather suspected Natasha knew exactly what she’d been doing by bringing a bottle of vodka to their little slumber party. When she and Clint had talked over her life during his absence, focusing mainly around her relationship with Edward, it hadn’t exactly been a secret that she’d been smothered under his stifling sense of protection. She’d never noticed it at the time, but Bella had slowly given up little things that she enjoyed whenever Edward expressed a distaste to them.
Like her music. While Bella had always enjoyed the dulcet sounds of classical music, she’d also equally enjoyed the thumping bass and trilling guitars of rock music. Just thinking about it threw her mind back to her and Tony’s little rock opera in the elevator at Stark Tower and made her smile. Her life had once been peppered with little carefree moments like that, but had stopped entirely after she’d started dating Edward. It’d been all about his interests, his thoughts and beliefs.
One thing was now absolutely certain to her: with Edward, she’d been pigeonholed into one facet of her personality, unable to take chances or try new things because he’d already type-casted her character in relation to his. He’d never actively kept her from her other interests, but he’d been so overwhelming in his dazzling way that she’d simply let them fallen to neglect. She’d neglected herself in favor of supporting him.
The thought pricked her stubbornness and Bella reached for the forgotten bottle of vodka and took a deep, rebellious swig from it.
“Feel better?” Natasha asked while Bella started hacking, still unused to the bracing burn.
Wiping the small tears from her eyes, Bella nodded and gave a definitive, “Yes!”
“Hm,” Pepper gave Bella a studying look. “Perhaps the vodka was the right call.”
Smiling, Bella patted Pepper’s arm in consolidation and said, “But I also enjoyed the cookie dough.”
Pepper snorted a laugh and Natasha cracked a smile.
Feeling a new warmth unfurl in her stomach that had absolutely nothing to do with the vodka, Bella said in a quiet voice, “I’ve never done anything like this.”
“What, drink?” Pepper scoffed. “Yeah, we can tell.”
Bella gave a tiny grin, but said, “No – this whole girls’ night thing. I was never one for girl bonding, and I didn’t really have a lot of friends.”
That was another thing she now suspected was due to Edward. While she’d always felt secure in her own, or in limited company, she’d sacrificed her entire social life for Edward. He’d been quick to shoot down her meager smattering of friends in Forks, using his mind-reading to poison her against them. Sure, some of them weren’t deep thinkers and often thought selfishly, but who in the world didn’t think things they shouldn’t? After all, they were in the safety of their own mind and really couldn’t be held accountable for things they’d never said or done.
But Edward had played their judge, jury, and the executioner of the fledging friendships she’d had with them. Though his gift only allowed him to hear surface thoughts, he hadn’t let that stop him from convincing Bella that they were people unworthy of her time and friendship.
And like the young fool she’d been, she’d taken his comments to heart and had so easily drifted away from them, her entire time devoted only to Edward and his family.
“It wasn’t right,” she mumbled.
“What wasn’t right, dear?” Pepper asked with a frown.
Natasha was, again, suspiciously silent as her eyes bored into Bella.
“The way he treated me,” Bella whispered. “Maybe I was too close to the picture at the time, blinded by first love, but I didn’t realize how much I had become dependent on him or how much of myself I sacrificed in order to fulfill his perception of me.”
They both turned silent as Bella shook her hear softly at her own foolishness.
“Men, or in this case, boys, from Edward’s time period were often that way, Isabella,” Natasha pointed out kindly, but firmly. “Women were often expected to set aside their own interests in favor for that of their husband’s. Whether he did this on purpose or not hardly matters. He mistreated you and isn’t worthy of your love. Get over him.”
“Well don’t sugarcoat it,” Pepper murmured dryly.
Natasha lifted her head. “And why would I sugarcoat it for her? Isabella is not a child. She’s seen more in her eighteen years than most people could see in a hundred lifetimes. It’d be a disservice to lie to her.”
Pepper sat up and grabbed a bag of jellybeans. “Now no one said lie, Natasha. I’m just saying you can be nicer about it.”
“She doesn’t need nice,” Natasha insisted before turning back to look at Bella. Despite her words, her expression and tone was softened as she said, “You’d be a fool if you thought yourself the only one to ever fallen in love with the wrong person. Yes, your circumstances were, well, stranger than average, but that’s ultimately what it comes down to. You fell in love with a guy who turned out to be a dick. You’re not the only girl that’s ever happened to and you won’t be the last.”
“I wish,” Bella started and then cleared her throat of the tears clogging it and continued, “I wish I could go back and do it over again. I should’ve stayed away from him like he warned. Turns out, he really was a monster though not in the sense he meant.”
Pepper put a comforting arm around her. “There’s no sense in wishful thinking, Bella. You can’t change the past, only learn from it.”
Swiping at her tears, Bella nodded even as more fell.
“You need to forgive yourself,” Natasha said. There was a strong underlying sense of a command to the sentence.
“I don’t deserve forgiveness,” Bella muttered, bitterness turning the words ugly and guttural.
Pepper’s arm tightened around her and Natasha’s slightly softened expression immediately hardened into a glare that stated don’t-be-an-idiot. “Tell me,” Natasha began with a poised brow. “If the roles were reversed and Clint was sitting where you’re at… would you blame him? Would you think less of him for it?”
Bella’s eyes widened, and even though she knew exactly what point Natasha was trying to make, she still instantly proclaimed, “Absolutely not!”
Natasha’s look turned pointed. “We are always harder on ourselves than we should be,” she stated. “Your expectations and standards are too high. You made a mistake, yes, but you were a victim of circumstances. You didn’t kill your parents, Isabella. Place the blame where it truly belongs – the vampires that set you up to fail and the vampire that struck the killing blow. They’re the ones responsible and we will find a way to hold them accountable for their actions. It’s time to grow up now and if you’re upset about something in your life, stop crying and do something about it.”
A shocked laugh bubbled and Bella gave a strong sniff as she pushed her tears back. “So this is the tough love speech.”
Shrugging, Natasha said, “More of the speech you need to hear.”
“But you need to hear it while eating more cookie dough,” Pepper announced, shoving the tube of chocolate chip cookie dough into her hand. “Go on now,” she gestured with her hands. “Eat. It’ll take the sting out of Natasha’s tough love.”
Bella sighed and took an obliging bite as she shrugged Pepper’s words off. “She said nothing but the truth. To be honest, I hate wallowing and that’s all I’ve been doing since Edward left me in the woods. I’ve been very woe is me and completely lost sight of the truly important things in life and when I did start to remember it was only to come face to face with real tragedy. I thought I knew pain after Edward left me the way he did, but I was an idiot. That was nothing,” her voice trembled in both sorrow and fury as the memory took over. “Nothing to coming home and finding Charlie’s body with that note…”
Peppers hand squeezed her shoulder so hard Bella feared she’d bruise. But the grip was comforting, steadying in the face of her confession. “And it was nothing to the fury that it spawned. I’ve never hated anyone until I saw Charlie’s body and realized just what Edward and his family had really done when they abandoned me; betrayed and forsaken.”
Unconsciously, Bella’s hand rose to her chest once more and massaged the dull ache over her heart. The pain was both familiar and alien. It tasted entirely different to anything she’d ever felt before and instead of having the twang of self-awareness it felt like she was experiencing it second-hand; it was kind of like the sensation of feeling the vibrations running through a taut string when plucked, only she wasn’t the one doing the plucking.
“Hate can be good,” Natasha noted, un-phased by Bella’s uncharacteristic show of anger even as her keen eyes studied the way she rubbed at her chest almost compulsively. “It can be purging, a fire that rages but also clears a path for new life. Don’t let the emotion rule you, Bella, but you can let it motivate you.”
“What she means is,” Pepper fixed them both with a fierce glare. “Don’t lose who you truly are to your hate, otherwise this Victoria and even Edward Cullen win. Think in terms of justice, not revenge. As angry as you are, don’t let it suffocate you.”
“I think I’m more angry at myself than anyone,” Bella noted wryly.
Natasha gave a dismissive shrug. “Hindsight is 20-20.”
“You know what you need?” Pepper said, her voice bright and chirpy. “Earth Girls are Easy.”
Bella snorted a surprised laugh. “Say what now?”
Natasha even cracked a grin. “And here I thought you were going to say more cookie dough.”
Throwing a pillow at them, Pepper gave a small laugh. “I’m just saying we could use a little laughter after all of that heavy talk and who doesn’t love the idea of a perfect, handsome, horny alien man sweeping them off their feet?”
Groaning, Bella said, “I’d rather meet some nice, quiet boy. No fuss, no drama. Maybe an insurance salesman or something boring like that.”
“Sorry Bella,” Natasha shot her a mocking look of pity. “But given your past and the people you currently hang out with… normal just ain’t in the cards.”
“Normal’s overrated anyway,” Pepper said airily as she plopped back down on the couch after popping in the DVD.
“Alright then,” Bella said in exaggerated annoyance. “Bring me a hot alien man then. I see there’s no one on Earth fit for me!”
“Ha!” Pepper laughed. “Now that’s the spirit!”
After the first few scenes, Bella found herself grateful for such a lighthearted movie. It was almost surreal how cliché the three of them ended up being for the rest of the evening. They talked back to the TV, threw popcorn at each other (though Natasha’s aim was wicked and almost took out Pepper’s eye). They talked boys some, Bella delighting in Natasha’s barely concealed awkwardness about her genuine emotions for Clint while also pleased for Tony that he too had found a strong woman fully capable of keeping up with him.
The talk didn’t make her feel jealous as she might have thought it would. There was some vague sense of nostalgia and a hint of longing that were both greatly overshadowed by her genuine happiness for her new friends.
Friends. The label made her feel ridiculously sappy and she kept the sentiment to herself throughout the night, but it felt so wonderfully light to have friends. Real friends that she could talk to about anything, even vampires. Even in Edward hadn’t pushed away her meager group of buddies, she never would’ve been able to confide in them as completely as she was able to with Pepper and Natasha. Yes, they were both older than her, but Bella had always identified more with the more mature. She blamed Clint for that really, because even she knew their close relationship was rather odd given their age gap.
Pepper had mentioned it in passing, trying to be polite about it but so obviously curious about how and why she and Clint were so close.
“Clint took on a lot of responsibility when I was born. Our parents were never really happy together, but my arrival was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back. Renee received full custody of us and while she was a fun and loving mother, serious and responsible she was not. Clint was like my parent and brother rolled into one person. When I got scared in the middle of the night, he was the one who chased away my imaginary monsters. He fixed bandaids over my cuts, fixed me meals when Renee was off working or at some art class.”
Bella stared off in the distance as the memories assaulted her. There was a sharp twinge of grief when she pictured Renee’s face, but it was buoyed by the happiness of her moments with her brother.
“I guess it started off as typical, obliging love for a sibling, but then I remember feeling gratitude for all that he did for me. I kind of hero worshipped him. He did so much for me, more than any kid should really be expected to do, but he did so without hesitation, without resentment. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”
Pepper smiled at the sentiment and Natasha quietly confessed, “Me too.”
It was the most open, personal thing the woman had said all night so both Bella and Pepper did her the favor of merely nodding without shining a spotlight at the uncharacteristically vulnerable moment.
It was close to three in the morning when sleep started to pull Bella’s eyes closed even as whatever movie Pepper had popped in still played. She had the vague impression of some action scene playing right before she lost herself into a dream.
It was an odd sensation, being aware that you were dreaming even in the middle of a nightmare.
In her dream, or memory, Edward was leaving her again, his cruel words dropping like a wrecking ball through her self-esteem. The memory veered, though, after he ran off and instead of chasing him, she simply collapsed where she stood. For a dream, she felt oddly tired and listless. While the memory of Edward’s words still stung, the usual accompanying despair was absent.
Instead, all Bella felt was acceptance, not of any truth to his words but an acceptance of the fact that they had indeed been slung at her. How pathetic was it that she couldn’t even stand up for herself in a dream?
“Pathetic,” a cool voice echoed her very own thoughts.
Not even bothering to turn and face whatever being her subconscious had conjured up, Bella simply said, “Aren’t I?”
There was a dismissive snort. “Not you, though you are a sorry sight. The boy… he’s pathetic.”
Tilting her head, Bella looked off into the wooded area Edward had flown towards in his escape. “How so?”
“It’s clear he knows what he wants but he’s too weak to seize it.”
Shaking her head, Bella looked to the leaves crunched beneath her knees. “Seems like he wanted to leave and that’s exactly what he did.”
“Foolish girl,” the voice said unkindly and with a hint of superiority. “It’s so obvious that he was lying.”
“Lying?” she parroted with a frown.
“Yes,” the mystery man bit out. “He left though he wanted to stay. He is weak, unworthy.”
Turning her head, Bella saw the shadowed silhouette of a man. He was tall and broad shouldered, but there was a sleek litheness to him as well. She was unable to discern his features, but she did see the dim outline of shoulder length hair.
“I should’ve known,” he muttered when she turned towards him.
“Nothing,” he nearly snarled.
Bella sniffed. “There’s no need to get testy. You’re the one in my dream, after all. Why couldn’t I dream of a nice guy for once?”
“Nice is overrated,” he said, and though she was still unable to make out his features, she could hear the smirk backing up his words.
“I disagree,” she said. “Nice is rare. Comforting.”
“If you believe that then you are just as weak and naive as that fool who just left.”
That, she took extreme exception to. “I am nothing like that bastard,” she spat. “Whether he wanted to stay or not, he still left. It was his choice to leave me like I was nothing but a toy he’d outgrown; abandoning me to the monsters he brought into my life. He left me. I am forsaken.”
“Abandoned,” the man murmured softly and Bella felt an odd chill of pleasure at his voice. “Forsaken.”
“Yes,” Bella admitted in no small amount of shame. “Cast aside in favor of someone else. It sucks.”
There was a beat of silence.
“Yes, it does,” the man whispered so quietly she could have mistaken him for the leaves rustling in the wind.
There was a safety to be had dreams and Bella felt no qualms in admitting to her dream man, “And he’s left me so thoroughly that I can’t even find him and make him pay for what he’d done to me. To my family.”
“Vengeance,” the man said knowingly.
Bella shook her head. “Justice. I only want justice.”
“It’s all subjective,” he said easily and with such a complete lack of concern and morals that Bella couldn’t help but turn towards him again, trying to squint through the darkness shrouding his face.
“I don’t want him to suffer,” she said, though her anger surged in denial. “I only want him to pay for his crimes.”
“The two are one in the same.”
“To the untrained mind,” she allowed.
He snorted again, no small amount of anger and disgust coloring his next words. “What do you know, mortal? You, who collapses at the feet of her tormentor. You are weak. It is no wonder he left.”
The words stung like lemon juice in a paper cut. “I’m not weak,” she insisted, frustrated with herself as her words wavered. “You are.”
Good lord, she was getting into some sort of pissing match with a figment of her imagination.
“And I’ll thank you to mind your tone when you talk to me,” she smarted, figuring she might as well lay it all out there since she’d likely be waking up soon. “You’re the one gate crashing my dreams, least you could do is be polite while you’re in my head. Stupid subconscious.”
The man inhaled a sharp gasp of fury. “I’ve killed people for such insolence.”
Bella scoffed. “Then you’re the weak one. Really? You have to resort to killing someone instead of outwitting them?”
“Foolish chit – if you knew to whom you spoke – ”
“But I do know,” she cut him off. “You’re nothing but some being my mind came up with to teach me some sort of lesson, but truly, I have to wonder if I really hate myself that much if I created someone like you to talk with.”
“You better wake up now,” the man hissed, “or you may never wake up again.”
Bella’s eyes flew open, her heart thumping against her chest like a hummingbird’s wings.
She jumped and saw Natasha leaning against the arm of the couch. She’d clearly been up for a while, though Pepper was still curled up in an adjacent love seat, completely crashed.
“Um, yeah,” Bella said, one hand going to her hair while the other rubbed at her chest. The slight pain throbbed worse than ever before and Bella fought a wince.
“You know you talk in your sleep,” Natasha said. “Anything you want to tell me about?”
Her mind flew over the events of her dream, but Bella shrugged them off as some sort of weird unconscious hallucination brought on by an excessive amount of junk food.
“Not really,” Bella shook her head. “It was just a dream. A strange one, yes, but still just a dream.”
Natasha maintained her penetrating stare and looked like she was about to say something when a loud scuffling and a low murmuring of voices made their way to them.
“I told you not to…”
“But it was a dare!”
“A double-dog dare!” Bella recognized Clint’s amused tone.
“And if someone dared you to jump off a cliff would you do it?”
“Sure, why not. What’s life without a little risk?” That was definitely Tony talking.
The men round the corner and Bella’s conversation was immediately forgotten at the sight of them. Clint was covered in feathers and what looked like ink (at least she hoped that’s what it was). Tony was wearing an evening dress and heels, his face smeared in some god-awful combination of hooker red lipstick and neon blue eyeshadow.
Even Steve, who Bella had only just met but recognized as a bit of a goody-goody, was sporting some lipstick and wearing a skirt over his khakis.
“What in the world happened to you boys?” Natasha barked, admirably holding back laughter.
Bella was not as strong and lost herself completely, giggling and snorting until her sides ached.
“Tony?” Pepper said sleepily, almost sounding like if she was unsure whether or not she was awake. “Is that my dress for the benefit this weekend?”
Tony’s eyes widened. “I don’t know – is it?”
“Dammit Tony,” Pepper glared. “Now what am I going to wear? You’re stretching it out with your stupid thighs!”
“Are you calling me fat?” Tony huffed in indignant ire. “Because I’ll have you know…”
“No,” Pepper cut him off. “You will not turn this around on me. Go change out of that gown at once and for the love of God, all of you shower and try to be normal for at least five minutes please!”
“Normals boring,” Tony stated, but hopped to it when Pepper shot him another glare, Clint and Steve following closely behind him.
“Sooo… that just happened,” Natasha stated and instantly the trio lost themselves into a fit of laughter.
But not even the laughing ache in her sides diminished the growing ache of the small void in Bella’s chest.
(A/N): Just FYI because I’m not sure if it was explanatory or not or how much Avenger terminology y’all know:
Gungnir – the name of Odin’s spear
Midgard – Earth
The Other/Master/Titan – Leader the Chitauri creature serves. We never know his name in the movie, but any comic lover knows who he is and I’ll be introducing you to him soon 🙂
Thanks for reading an please review!