Chapter 7: Knock, Knock…
Watching Bella over the next couple weeks was like watching a rose bloom in winter. For Clint, it was one of his greatest past times not only because of his parental sense of pride but because the small hole that had torn into his heart the day he left her slowly healed and filled with late night movies, cheesy jokes and general goofing off. He’d gone through the years thinking of her constantly, mourning the loss of her presence as one grieved a death, but he’d never realized just how much it had affected him until he had her back again.
The circumstances left much to be desired, but even so, they were together and it was like a balm to his aching soul. He’d done so much for his country; surrendered his family, friends, the chance of a normal life… even his morals had been offered up for sacrifice at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s alter for the greater good. There were many things he’d done that would appall the average person on the street – theft, questionable assassinations. Much blood stained his hands. Though he regretted nothing, even he was mildly appalled at some of his actions. But he was able to rationalize their necessity and accept them as his cross to bear so that people like his sister could live in blissful ignorance. Truly, it was an easy thing for him to do when he thought about it that way.
Except, his sister hadn’t been as blissfully ignorant like he’d assumed. While he was off kicking ass and taking names, she’d been left to fend on her own when a special kind of demon came to prey on her loving heart.
There were no words to describe the failure he felt at that. His unknowing failure to protect his sister was worse than being unsuccessful on one of his missions and cut deeper than any wound he’d ever received in the line of fire – and he’d his fair share on battle scars. He carried the weight of his defeat close to his heart and swore to himself that he’d never again fail her.
Not that Eyas saw it that way. Clint knew better than to make such a vow to her face. He could hear her now, soft smile not dulling the sharpness of her words as she told him in no uncertain terms that he was crazy for thinking such things. She blamed herself – it was right there for them all to see – and he carried her guilt with his own, as if he too was to be blamed for that. They really were quite the pair.
He watched her now as she sparred with Steve and her proud smile as she tripped him caused Clint’s thoughts to fade into the recesses of his mind and find his own smile. He’d let her trip him, of course. Steve was in no way using his full strength and speed, but he still fought with an average grace that Bella was able to hold her own against. There were times she started getting overwhelmed – she was still a novice, after all – but Clint was proud to see her improve each week. Natasha had worked wonders with his sister.
Speaking of, Natasha was currently on the sidelines of their sparring, calling out tips to Bella, pointing out weakness she could exploit as Steve worked at a slightly slower pace that bespoke a teacher’s patience.
“She’s getting better,” a voice said from behind him.
Clint turned slightly and gave a nod to Tony as he walked up. “She is,” he agreed, no small amount of pride tainting the word. “She’s more confident in her movements, but she’s still holding back.”
Tony snorted. “Afraid to hurt him, I take it?”
Giving him a wry smile, Clint said, “Bella is certainly motivated when it comes to protecting herself and others, but when it comes to hurting her friends – even if it’s for the sake of learning – she’ll always hesitate. It’s just not in her nature.”
“But put a vampire in front of her…” Tony trailed off.
Clint smirked. “And she’d give him hell.”
Tony snorted again. “Your sister is a class act, Barton, but methinks she would fair better in a lab or behind a computer… being the one to empower the people out in the field.”
Giving him an appraising look from the corner of his eye as he watched Steve land a light hit to Bella’s gut, Clint stated, “You really got her figured, haven’t you?”
Lifting his obnoxiously red sunglasses up his forehead, Tony gave Clint an uncharacteristically serious look. “People like your sister are a rare breed. To have seen and experienced all that she has and still put others before herself… She’s finally found her anger, but it’s not for her. It’s because those she cares about are being hurt and are being threatened. Selfless to the end, that one,” he gave a small nod to her direction and then added more quietly, the observation an ominous confession, “A dangerous trait.”
You’re telling me, Clint thought as he and Tony shared a look of unanimous agreement. They’d have to keep a close eye on her. His sister wasn’t stupid by any means, but she did have the not-so-brilliant trait of running off and trying to save the day at her own expense. It was a family trait, Clint recognized, but at least he had the training to back it up and always meant to come back alive from such missions. Bella didn’t care much one way or the other so long as in the end those she loved would remain safe.
The tension was broken when Bella managed a decently executed ankle swipe that had Steve falling to the mat.
“Whoop!” Tony called out with a grin. “Kick him while he’s down, Hells Bells!”
Bella looked over in their direction and grinned, but Steve used her distraction to trip her down beside him. She grunted as she fell, but Steve caught most of her weight and it was a sound of surprise and not pain.
“Never drop your guard even when you think your opponent’s down,” Natasha deadpanned. “Incidentally, loud mouth over there is right. You should have used his position to your advantage. Now get up and go again – this time focus on his right hip. That’s the side he landed on and, with any other opponent, it would now be a vulnerable spot.”
Taking the criticism with a good-natured nod, Bella accepted Steve’s hand up and they ran through the cycle again, Bella focusing on getting some decent hits to Steve’s right side.
“So what are you doing here, Stark?” Clint asked as Bella’s training went back underway.
Tony pouted. “No one comes over to my house to play anymore.”
Clint snickered. “You bored, that it?”
Tony shrugged unashamedly. “Hells Bells comes over for tutoring, but I wanted to see how her training’s coming along.”
Shooting him another appraising look, Clint said, “You care about her,” and if it had been about anyone else he would’ve meant it as a mild insult, but because it was his baby sister, the accusation held a ring of approval.
“Name one person in this godforsaken building that hasn’t fallen under her spell,” Tony shot back.
Clint had to concede to that. Bella had a way about her. She was so genuine and unassuming that people, sometimes even bad people, were just drawn to her like bees to a rare flower and were driven to befriend her. Even Fury started poking in more often to do status checks on her case and just the other day he caught her and Coulson laughing and joking together as they watched Serenity in one of the break rooms.
“You’ll have to be watchful of that,” Tony said, a heavy warning behind the low words.
Clint knew just what he meant. As he’d already noticed, people who tended to be more reserved or who kept to themselves more often than not were starting to pop out of nowhere and Bella had a small but warm smile for them all. It was like they couldn’t help themselves – even Natasha, one of the most notoriously hard ass agents, had been seen smiling with Bella as they teased each other with the joking air of sisterly affection. It had warmed Clint’s heart to see them getting on so well, but in the back of his mind he knew it was strange and out of character for Natasha to be so open with someone she’d essentially just met.
Hell, even Tony who only loved Pepper more than himself had fallen victim to his little sister’s sway. Bella had asked him, all timid and innocent like, if he’d be willing to get her caught up in her studies so she could test out of her final year and get her diploma. She hadn’t cared one way or another about graduating, but she’d confessed quietly that it would have mattered to her dad and Tony’s already softened heart towards her melted like butter on a hot skillet.
The two of them were thick as thieves after that and if Clint was a lesser man he’d have been rather jealous about that. But Bella was just – so Bella. She made time for everyone that came calling and at the end of the day, she always went to sit with Clint to shoot the shit. Sometimes they’d just sit in companionable silence and occasionally, Bella would shed silent tears as Clint held her, soothing her sadness away as he reassured both of them that all would be well. He would make it so.
In the far corners of his mind, Clint worried about who Bella would draw to her next. Hanging out with the Iron Man, the Captain and various S.H.I.E.L.D. agents meant that she was going to be exposed to criminals, some truly horrid people. What if one of them took the same shine to her?
“You bet your ass I will be,” Clint swore once he realized Tony was waiting for some sort of response.
Tony nodded even as he started clapping annoyingly loud as Bella got another hit in. But Bella always learned from her mistakes and other than a small twitch of her lips, her attention remained on Steve who was already coming back with a kick she just barely dodged.
“So rumor has it that Fury is giving you a super secret mission here soon,” Tony said as if commenting on the weather.
Clint shot him a glare and then sighed. “Why am I not even surprised you know that?”
“Because you know I’m not just the prettiest one here but also the smartest.”
“And also the most modest,” Clint said dryly.
“Modesty is overrated,” Tony said. “If you got it, flaunt it.”
“That must be your life motto.”
Tony shrugged. “It’s as good a motto as anything else. Now stop dancing around it – you taking our girl with you or what?”
Clint heaved a sigh. “It sounds like a cake mission. Fury just wants me there for surveillance so the plan is for Eyas to come with – she goes where I go until that fucking vampire is a pile of ashes.”
“And her new boyfriend? He tagging along too?” Tony gestured towards Steve.
Rolling his eyes, Clint said, “You caught that too?”
“Please,” Tony scoffed. “That boy is as subtle as a 2×4 to the head. He’s got himself a little crush.”
“Well,” Clint smirked. “Bella sure as hell don’t know it yet and even if she did… Well, not sure much would ever come of it. Don’t think he’s her type really.”
“Old fashioned,” Clint said. “Too much like that vampire that messed with her, though the Cap sure as hell ain’t that kind of dick. Still, too similar.”
“Maybe she needs herself a bad boy – be thankful I’m not single,” Tony wiggled his eyebrows with a smarmy grin.
Clint choked. “I think I just threw up a bit.”
“Hey now, it could happen. Look at me, what’s not to love? In another life, I could’ve been your brother-in-law.”
“To get back to your original question,” Clint said in an abrupt change of topic that had Tony snickering. “Steve’s gonna go vampire hunting. Haven’t seen much of the bitch and we figure it’s time to take a more active role in nailing the thunder-cunt down.”
“I’ve had Jarvis scanning public surveillance cameras, no luck yet… Maybe I’ll take the old suit out for a spin along with the Captain. Don’t want it getting rusty,” Tony said nonchalantly while brushing off one of his shoulders.
Clint smothered a grin. “You’re just a big ‘ole softy, Stark.”
Smirking, Tony said, “Well, for a pair of legs like that, can you blame me?”
Clint’s fist shot out and caught Tony on the shoulder, the action so quick it was more like a reflex.
Before Tony could retort they heard a loud male exclamation of pain followed by Bella’s shout of, “Oh shit!” and then a toppling of bodies smacking onto the floor.
Then there was a truly strange sound – one so rare it had Clint doing a double take even as he and Tony jogged over to them.
“Is Romanoff… giggling?” Tony asked in disbelief.
Over the sound of Natasha’s snorting laughter, they could hear Bella apologizing profusely. “Steve, I’m so sorry – I didn’t mean to! Are you okay? Do you need some ice? I think there’s frozen peas in one of the break rooms… I’m so, so, so sorry.”
“What happened?” Clint asked, but as he took in the tableau before him, he realized exactly what had happened and burst into laughter.
“You got him in the nuts, didn’t you Eyas?!”
Tony started laughing.
“Guys, please, it’s not funny,” Bella exclaimed, her cheeks getting red as she started getting even more flustered. “Go get him some ice or something, you idiots!”
“It’s okay, I’m fine, Bella,” Steve said, his voice tighter than usual.
“Yeah, he’s got super balls – they can take it,” Tony snarked.
Natasha let out a loud guffaw, opened her mouth to say something, and then started shaking her head as she started giggling and snorting again.
“Steve, I’m really sorry. It was an accident – I’d never hurt you on purpose.”
“It was a good reflex though,” Natasha pointed out as she finally managed to harness some of her amusement. “If it had been a real fight, it’d have been a perfect move.”
“But it wasn’t a real fight – it was an accident,” Bella shrilled, and Clint could tell she had hit her limit as tears began to gather in her eyes.
“Hey, hey now, Eyas,” Clint murmured, all amusement evaporating. “Steve is fine and no one thinks you’d kick him there on purpose. It was just an accident – no use crying over spilt milk.”
Bella shoved him away with an angry huff. “I thought you’d be more sympathetic, what with being a man and all, Clinton… and you too Tony. I feel terrible for hurting him like that. I’d never,” she trailed off as her breath hitched and her right hand went to her chest in obvious pain.
“She’s hyperventilating,” Natasha said, no trace of a smile left on her face.
Steve popped up despite his linger discomfort and gripped Bella’s arms. “Hey now, sh-h… I’m okay, Bella.”
She shook her head, her hand starting to claw at her chest. “It’s so cold,” she whispered before she turned sheet white and her eyes rolled.
Clint’s hands flashed out to catch her and were joined by three other sets.
“What the fuck just happened?” Clint asked no one in particular. Bella had always been a sensitive one, but that was an overreaction even for her. Something wasn’t right; the way she’d clawed at her chest…
“Panic attack?” Tony suggested, and it was a strange thing to see him looking so concerned with those god-awful sunglasses on his head.
Natasha looked grim as she said, “No. She’s been getting worse.”
Clint twitched in anger at the underlaying implication but quickly reigned his shit in knowing it wouldn’t help anyone if he let his anger control him. Even if it was now clear they’d been keeping something very important from him.
“Worse?” he asked, his tone clipped and demanding.
Giving him a vaguely apologetic look, Natasha said, “I don’t think it’s medically serious, but it’s strange.”
“Strange?” Tony prompted as he pressed his fingers to Bella’s wrist to check her blood pressure.
Shaking her head, Natasha said, “Just try to calm down… and listen.”
They managed to calm themselves and there was a beat of silence.
“All I hear is my hair turning grey from waiting,” Tony quipped.
Natasha hushed him. It looked like Tony was about to say something again and no doubt piss everyone off but he was stopped by Bella’s sigh of contentment and her sleepy voice murmuring, “It’s you.”
The two words had the effect of a sedative. The instant they passed her lips, her body seemed to sigh into itself, relief loosening her every limb as if she’d downed a muscle relaxer. Where her expression had been stiff and pained before, she now had a vague smile that crinkled her eyes.
She looks happy, Clint realized, happier than she’d been in months, maybe even years. It was such a small thing, just a playful squint to her eyes, but it saddened Clint to be faced with how despondent his sister had truly been if that small winking sign was enough to drive the message home.
“Cold,” Bella murmured, but it didn’t sound like a complaint. “You’re… so… cold…”
She shivered slightly and Clint subconsciously started rubbing his hands up and down her arms.
“She dreaming of the vampire?” Steve asked.
“No,” Natasha said, and there was a definitive ring to the word that left no doubt. “She absolutely hates that dick. I don’t know who she’s dreaming about, but she’s been dreaming of him for a while now, since the first girls’ night at least.”
“So she’s dreaming of some random popsicle stud – who cares? Let’s get her to the nurse’s office and get her checked over,” Tony grumbled.
“Such a mother hen,” Natasha teased, but Clint found it difficult to see anything funny about the situation.
“That thing with her chest,” he said as they made their way down the hall in one big procession, Bella cradled in his arms. “How long has that been going on?”
Sensing his lingering anger, Natasha said quietly, “That first night with Pepper… I noticed her rubbing her chest a lot, but dismissed it at first as heartburn because of the vodka.”
Clint’s eyes narrowed on the word vodka, torn between an approving brotherly grin and a disappointed fatherly frown. “But?” he prompted, knowing there was more.
“But,” she picked up her cue. “She kept doing it long after the vodka was gone. I think it hurts her, but it’s not like painful sensation. More of a pressure.”
“What makes you say that?” Steve asked.
“Her posture,” she said. “Every time she reaches for her chest, she either leans forward as if to ease some sort of tugging, or her shoulders slump, as if held up by some invisible string.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me any of this, Nat?” Clint hissed.
Natasha gave him a cool look. “I don’t think you’re in any position to cast stones about keeping secrets, Barton. She’s never had a reaction this bad and I wasn’t even sure it was anything other than stress at first, so I thought it best to wait and observe before worrying you.”
The explanation made good sense and went a long way in soothing him, but Clint still felt the stirrings of helplessness as he looked down at his sister hanging limply in his arms. Why did it feel like there were monsters lurking around every corner waiting to spring up and attack her?
“Lost,” Bella sighed into his shoulder. “Alone.”
“You’re not alone, Eyas. You’ve got me with you – you’ll always have me.”
“Find,” she said, the word trailing off like an echo through an empty cave. “Find me.”
Frowning down at her, Clint gave an absent nod to Tony as he opened the door to a small infirmary and proceeded to lie her out on a nearby cot, waving away the medical professional that started to hover.
“Why don’t you all head on out,” Clint suggested. He felt tired suddenly, wrung out and hung to dry in a locker shower room.
“You’ll let us know,” Steve trailed off, his hand reaching out towards Bella before falling back to his side.
“Yeah, sure will,” he said.
They filed out, Steve followed by Tony who gave Clint a you’ll-be-hearing-from-me-soon look, and then Natasha who paused at the door.
“She’ll be fine, Clint,” she assured him. “I’m not sure what exactly is going on, but we’ve seen some pretty strange stuff lately and your sister… well, she seems to be really good with strange.”
Clint nodded with a half-hearted smile, turning back to look at his sister once he heard the soft click of the door closing. His brow furrowed as he studied her, taking in her equally yearning and serene expression.
“Just what have you gotten yourself into now, Eyas,” he murmured, placing a hand to her head and smoothing some of her hair away from her face.
“Clint,” she breathed and he couldn’t stop a small grin from forming as her lips twitched upwards. “Love Clint.”
“I love you too, little bird,” he whispered, tucking a kiss to her head before settling into his chair to wait for her to wake up.
“Clint,” he heard his name from far away. “Clint!”
He jerked awake, his hand reaching for his weapon before his sleep riddled mind registered he had none on him and was in no danger.
“Easy there, rough rider,” Bella smiled brightly, shaking her head at him. “You just fell asleep is all. You got a little drool, just there,” she gestured to his lower lip with a teasing grin.
His hand lifted automatically before he realized she was teasing him. Scratching his head, he sifted through his thoughts as he fought for coherency.
“Hey there, you alright? You look kind of out of it,” she frowned in concern.
He shook his head as the events from a few hours earlier rose to the forefront. “I should be asking you that, Eyas. Are you alright?”
She tilted her head with a confused smile. “Me? I’m just fine, Clint. Why would you ask?”
“Don’t you remember?”
Clint’s heart thudded against his rib cage like a jackhammer trying to break through concrete. “We were in the gym,” he prompted, each word slow and pointed. “You were sparring with Steve.”
Bella lifted her hands to cover her face, her cheeks heating fiercely. “And I accidentally kicked him in the balls,” she groaned. “Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Clint said dismissively. “We’re all worried about you, Eyas.”
“Me?” she sputtered. “Why in the world would you be worried about me? I mean, it’s not like my foot took any damage for crying out loud.”
“You don’t remember,” each word fell from his lips like a weighted feather settling to the ground.
“Remember what?” she asked. Nervousness was starting to take her and she started fiddling with the blanket over her legs.
“Eyas,” he said softly. “You kind of freaked out on us. You felt real bad about hurting Steve and started having a panic attack or something. You kept grabbing at your chest…” he trailed off as she subconsciously lifted her hand to rub gentle circles over her heart.
“I was cold,” she said, but then shook her head. “But that was just a dream. It’s just gotta be the stress, Clint. I’m fine,” she said with an air of finality.
Stubborn woman, he thought with a tinge of fondness even through his irritation. She could be missing both her legs and insist she was right as rain in order not to worry him when in actuality he got even more concerned at her blatant white lies.
But he knew better than to call her out on it. The more he tried to force her to admit to it, the more she insist she was alright as though if she said it enough it would actually be true. Instead, Clint decided to take a different approach.
“I have a new assignment, Eyas,” he said. “Whattya say to a little get away from here? Fury is fine if you want to come since it’s mainly a surveillance gig and I know you’ve been geeking out with Tony lately, but Dr. Selvig is a brilliant physicist and can keep it nerdy for you. Wanna go with me?”
He wasn’t really asking and she had to have known that. He’d always been protective of her but with the recent events he’d well crossed into overprotectiveness and refused to have her out of his sight. There was a very real fear seeded in his heart that Victoria would come for her the instant he left her side. Irrational and unlikely, he knew, but he wasn’t about to take any chances, not when it was his sister’s life at stake.
Bella gave him a wry, knowing smile. “Could be fun,” she said. “What about the others?”
“Nat’s got an assignment in Russia and Tony and Steve, well, they’re gonna go vampire hunting.”
She gave him a grimace of worry and he responded, “Not to worry, Eyas. They’re big boys and can take care of themselves. If they find her, they’ll be able to handle it.”
Giving a reluctant nod, she asked, “So what are we supposed to be watching over?”
“I,” he gave her a sharp look. “Am to be watching over a very important device and keep an eye on the people near it.”
She cocked her head. “What sort of device?”
“You’ll see – we’ll leave in a day or two.”
Perhaps Natasha was right… maybe it was stress playing with his sister’s mind and she didn’t want to admit it for fear of stressing him out. Maybe a nice, cushy watchdog job was exactly what they both needed to calm down and get their heads back in the game.
Clint squeezed her hand and grinned.
Deep in the sliver of space he haunted, Loki curled his fingers around what had once been Odin’s spear but was now transformed into the instrument of his own might. Power surged through his hand and up his arm. The force of it had him staggering forward as though the improved spear was a divining rod leading him to water.
He brought a hand up to his chest as he felt the familiar, echoing pull there.
Yes, he thought, glorying in the magnificence of his new power, knowing that there was none that could even hope to be his equal. It was time to activate the tesseract – it was time to come calling to the gateway the silly humans foolishly left open, a door cracked and waiting from him to kick it in. It was time to assert his rule over Midgard.
(A/N): Again, so sorry for the delay, but hey… look what’s coming up next! Thanks for reading and please let me know what you think 🙂