Chapter 8: Who’s There?
“Knock, knock,” Bella said fairly vibrating in anticipation as she came up behind the hunched form of her brother.
Clint’s shoulders rose in an annoyed huff and he remained silent.
Unfazed, Bella’s grin widened. “Knock, knock,” she insisted in a sing-song voice.
His body weight shifted into a decidedly off-putting pose, turning further away from her as he ignored her still.
But of course, his stubbornness only spurred her own and with the persistent patience only a younger sibling knew when it came to annoying their elder, Bella walked closer to him. Really, he was just making this all the more fun.
Balling up her fist, she rapped on his shoulder with another, “Knock, knock.”
Clint jerked and finally looked at her, his annoyance written across his face in his furrowed brows and glaring eyes. “Who’s there?” he bit out in the tone of someone who’d asked the question several times before.
Her grin was one of victory as she innocently said, “Doctor.”
Rolling his eyes, Clint asked, “Doctor Who?”
He looked at her as she remained silent, her grin wide as she nudged him with her elbow in the classic ‘get it?‘ gesture.
When it clicked, his eyes went rolling again. “Really Eyas?”
She giggled. “You know you love it.”
“Don’t you have someone else you can go annoy?”
“Awe, and leave you all alone? I’d never, big brother!”
He huffed again, but Bella saw his lips twitching. “And where are you learning these god awful jokes anyway? I don’t remember your sense of humor being so cheesy.”
As if on cue her phone beeped signaling a text message notification. The phone had been a gift from Tony. It was black and sleek, some high-tech gadget that could probably make her breakfast if she told it to, but all she ever used it for was calling and texting.
It’d been a surprisingly sweet gesture from him on the eve of their departure. They’d gathered for a low-key pizza night at Tony’s and towards the end of it, he’d pulled her aside and handed her the phone.
“You know, just in case your brother is busy and you need to order a pizza or something,” he’d told her, his stance shifting and awkward at the sentiment behind his action.
A strong impulse rose within her and before she knew it, Bella had thrown her arms around him in a giant hug as she whispered a quiet, “Thank you,” in his ear.
Tony had awkwardly pat her back. “Sure, Hells, but you know… I think Pepper’s starting to get jealous.”
Laughing, she’d pulled away and listened as he’d rambled off all of the tech features. She’d gotten lost pretty quick as he kept on, but a small lump formed in her throat as he showed her how he’d already programmed everyone’s number in it.
Not long ago she’d felt completely alone, isolated from the world in a very genuine way as she prepared to go on the run from a homicidal vampire. She’d been expecting Clint to leave her, to rightfully cut all ties with her when he’d learned the truth – a foolish thought she knew even at the time – and had been ready. Ready to face a solitary existence until the day Victoria found her and finished her off. She’d suspected it would be like a favor at that point, especially after losing Clint. It made her feel terrible to think it, but losing him would’ve been far worse than the loss of Charlie and Renee. Through no fault of their own, they hadn’t always filled that parental role with her life. It’d been Clint who remembered to pack her lunch for school; Clint cleaning up her cuts and scrapes as he taught her to ride a bike.
It had always been Clint there for her.
And to her amazement, Clint had rallied around her after her black confession. He’d consistently reassured and comforted her as they both grieved the loss of their parents. It was actually very fitting that he often called her ‘little bird’ because that was exactly what was – a little bird fallen from her nest, lost, alone and so very scared. Then in his typical patience, Clint had found her, cared for her while setting her broken wing and encouraging her to soar.
She didn’t think it was possible to love her brother any more than she already had, but he’d proved her wrong.
Not only that, but with him came a whole slew of people in her corner. Extraordinary people encouraging her, befriending her and making sure she knew she’d never be alone. These people went out of their way to include her, protect her and while she regretted the circumstances that had brought them into her life, she was also so very thankful for each and every one of them.
To her shame, her eyes had welled up as she stared at all of the names for a good few minutes but though Tony had noticed, he tactfully ignored her pathetic display. Instead, he took the phone back from her, swiping a finger across the screen decisively before showing her the app for Angry Birds.
“Pretty fitting, eh chickadee?” he’d teased, successfully bringing back her smile.
Glancing at the screen of the phone now, she smirked at the picture of Iron Man giving her a thumbs up.
She found herself texting the whole lot of her new friends frequently throughout the day. Pepper would always send her a good morning text and Natasha always responded to Bella’s short and sweet greetings even though she was away on a mission. Bella’d been worried about texting her in particular, but had wanted her to know that she thought of her. Natasha had been subtly grateful for the messages and Bella knew it was because she didn’t have anyone who ever thought about her while she was away, Clint notwithstanding.
Even Steve had managed to figure out how to text her. In between lightly teasing him for always being a victim of auto-correct, Bella had often requested he touch in with her when he could so she’d know he was alright. It made her feel better to hear that he was as well as could be while he continued his search for Victoria.
Hell, even Phil had texted her when a Firefly marathon had been on TV which had prompted a daily exchange of show and movie quotes. He often cited Simon though he was surprisingly versed in Jayne-isms as well.
Clicking on Tony’s text, she gave it a quick scan, snorting as she suppressed a laugh.
“Hey Clint,” she said through her smothered giggles.
Eyeing her warily, he said, “Yeah?”
Unable to hold her grin back, she said, “Knock, knock.”
Other than his long groan, he didn’t kick up a fuss this time as he asked, “Who’s there?”
“You know who?”
Her smile stretched so wide it hurt as she responded, “Yes, but you can call me Lord Voldemort.”
“It’s Tony, isn’t it?” he deadpanned as she lost herself in a giggle fit. “I always knew that man was such a geek, but damn…”
“Oh come on, they’re funny!”
“Only you, Eyas,” he said with a humoring smile. “Now fly away, little bird – Fury wants me to check something out. Why don’t you go bug the good doctor.”
Her giggling calming into a gentle smile, Bella said, “Love you, Clint. I’m kind of glad we got away for a bit. I think I needed it.”
Any remaining annoyance on his part evaporated as he enveloped her into a tight hug. “Me too, Eyas,” he agreed, pressing a kiss to her head before he went over to a thick black rope hanging from one of the metal bars. Shooting her a smug smirk, he grabbed onto it and repelled down from the rafters at an impressive speed.
“Show off,” she called down to him, smiling at his shrinking form while carefully leaning over a bar.
The bark of his laugh caressed her ears as he shouted back, “You know you’re jealous!”
And she kind of was.
Taking careful steps to the ladder she’d used to climb up to pester her brother, Bella couldn’t help but reflect on the truth of her words to Clint. She was happy they’d snuck off for a bit. As much as she adored her new friends, Bella was used to being introverted if not an actual loner. Before Edward had isolated her from the small group of friends she’d made, Bella had enjoyed being a part of a circle of friends. She’d had a handful of them in Phoenix, though no one she was particularly close to.
What it really came down to was that although she enjoyed the company, Bella had grown used to being alone, conditioned to it almost. And time to herself was scarce to find at the S.H.I.E.L.D. headquarters that had become her new home. Between Natasha’s early morning workouts, Tony’s random popping up – usually when something important was about to be discussed, just to mess with Fury and Coulson – and Pepper’s well meaning, but unrelenting need for coffee dates and shopping… Well, it was like they were all going above and beyond to distract her from something and it was getting kind of annoying.
The wound inflicted from the loss of her parents was still fresh and raw. No matter how well-meaning their attempted to bandage it with distractions was, they were at best a temporary fix.
She didn’t even know what they’d do if she told them about the dreams…
It’d been easy to keep a cool head when Clint had told her about her fainting spell after a panic attack, mumbling while unconscious about some truly strange things. It was doubtful that he believed her reassurances as he knew her well enough to spot the bald-faced lie, but she hadn’t wanted to make a big deal out of some silly dreams.
Her foot finally hitting the last rung on the ladder, Bella scanned around and once satisfied no one was paying her any mind, she rubbed her chest right above her heart. The sensation had been increasing, not necessarily painful, but there was the feeling of a large weight pressing upon her heart like someone had sat an elephant there for safekeeping. Every so often there’d be a tug at the spot the weight sat on. Before she’d even realize it, her feet would be moving towards the direction of the pull, drawing her unerringly closer and closer to the glowing cube – something she had learned was called a tesseract.
Clint had told her they were experimenting on it to try to harness its power for green energy, but in her quiet moments, Bella frequently found herself staring at the tesseract and in her mind she saw the silhouette of a man on the other side of it. Somehow knew it was the man from her dreams. There was a constant sense of familiarity and a pinch of longing when she caught his shape from the corner of her eye. It was easy to shake off, but he often lingered on the peripherals of her vision. Always in sight; always out of reach.
Thinking of him had her subconsciously rubbing her chest again, far too lost in thought to look around beforehand to avoid any unnecessarily concerning Clint or anyone else he had keeping an eye on her. So strange to yearn for the company of a man she’d only dreamt up – especially as he was unfailingly rude and arrogant. But though her mind failed to give definition to his features, there was no lack of his personality.
Cold was the word that consistently popped up. Cold and wounded. Through their ramblings, it’d been easy for Bella to determine that the cold ice around him was a form of armor fashioned to protect an already hurting heart. Hard to escape that fact when her own heart suffered a similar wound.
Maybe that was why she found herself starting to go to bed sooner and trying to sleep later, always eager for Morpheus’s embrace to whisk her away to dreamland where the man waited for her every night, without fail. Through many passionate talks and heated arguments she’d learned that their methods of coping and outlooks on life were vastly different; however, there was something strangely compelling about his company and something to be said for finding a kindred spirit.
Even though she was ninety-nine percent sure she’d made him up.
No need to worry Clint that my grief has finally made me go insane, Bella thought. She could keep a lid on her crazy for the time being. Her brother had already done so much for her and the last thing she wanted was to pile it on. She’d just have to deal with it on her own, kind of like when Luke Skywalker went into the cave to face his fears only to find out he was facing himself in Empire Strikes Back… She was the one dreaming the dude up, after all. Maybe she was her own worst enemy.
Shelving those metaphysical thoughts for later perusal, Bella headed to where she saw Dr. Erik Selvig working. He was haunched over a nearby desk, his hand scribbling across a pad of paper with such gusto he looked like an orchestra conductor, the imagery tugging her lips upwards in a slight smile.
Dr. Selvig – or Erik as he’d requested she call him – had been another person that had joined her growing group of friends. The man was downright brilliant and his passion of physics and just general understanding of the unknown had been contagious. When Clint had to go make his reports or was too caught up on the surveillance gig, Bella found herself at Erik’s side working as a sort of student apprentice.
Science had always been an interesting subject for Bella though not her favorite. She and Tony had spent more time on physics than any of her other school studies. It was the only one they shared a common interest in and the interest had carried over with Erik.
Mostly, Bella was glad she could pitch in and help out. While she understood the necessity of remaining sequestered away for her own safety, it was still nice feeling productive.
“What’s the gist, physicist?” she said coming up from behind him.
“Isabella!” he crowed, a beaming smile splitting across his face.
Erik Selvig was a brilliant man. Clint had introduced her to the lead scientist straight off and his vaguely eccentric eagerness had been something Bella had quickly grown fond of, even admired. She’d casually inquired about his current experiment and Clint’s fib about ‘green energy’ was soon unraveled as Bella proved to have an above average grasp in physics.
She’d not held the white-lie against her brother; instead, she’d rolled up her sleeves and offered to do the grunt work for Erik in order to keep herself busy. More often than not, Bella was teasing out long, tedious calculations that were so rote she completed them by muscle memory alone. Still, her assistance freed Erik up to work on the more important issues and Bella was therefore happy to help.
It didn’t hurt that she enjoyed the man’s company. He was honestly passionate about his work and had so many interesting stories to share. Bella was particularly fond of his stories involving Jane and Darcy, two girls he very obviously held such a paternal pride for. Often, Erik told her of their more recent adventure involving the Norse God Thor – something that Clint confirmed for her later on one evening when she’d inquired about the validity of the story.
Vampires, Iron Men, genetically engineered super soldiers… Gods of mythology were a small leap for her to make and she accepted their existence with the same understated amazement she’d had when learning about Edward’s nature. She wondered if she’d ever meet Thor or any of the other Asgardians, Erik said they were called. If she continued to hang around her brother and S.H.I.E.L.D. she imagined it would only be a matter of time.
“It’s the most fascinating thing, Isabella. The tesseract started showing minor spikes in her energy core last night, no one in the room, nothing provoking it. I’m talking tenths of a percentage, but the frequency and power is increasing.”
Biting her lip, Bella accepted the clipboard he held out, her eyes roaming over the new numbers. “But, this is all without stimulation?” she half-asked. “What’s causing the change?”
“I have no idea,” Erik beamed with an enthusiastic grin. “She’s never misbehaved in all of the months I’ve spent working on her.”
Smiling despite her vague worry, Bella lowered the chart and glanced at the tesseract. As usual, she saw the vague impression of her dream man hovering on the other side of it, but this time he looked different. There was a sharpness to his figure as if someone had fiddled with the camera she looked at him through, trying to bring him into focus. While his features where still undecipherable, his form stood out in sharp relief through the blue hue of the tesseract and the field containing it.
In her shock, Bella instantly took a step to him only for the blue hue to flair around the tesseract in another energy spike.
Erik yanked her back. “That had to have been the strongest yet – someone get me those numbers,” he called back to the team of scientists scurrying around behind them.
Bella only half-heard them, her eyes locked on the figure she could clearly see observing the scene they presented, his head cocking to the side. Though they still remained obscured, she imagined his lips curled into a mocking sneer as he observed the tableau, his head tilted back in a combination of arrogance and amusement.
I’ve gone crazy, Bella thought, unable to look away from what she was sure was nothing but a figment of her imagination. Poor Clint – as if having a danger magnet sister isn’t enough, now he’s the guy with the sister gone cray-cray, as Tony would call it…
Summoning up all of her courage, Bella moved towards the tesseract again.
Another spike in energy occurred.
“Isabella?” Erik asked, his attention drawn back when the cube had sent out its flash of light. He still sounded excited, but a new concern was present at the development.
One more step forwards, not too close, and then another spike.
She watched in morbid fascination as the figure tilted his head to her and as if she could feel the weight of his invisible gaze upon her, the pressure on her chest increased along with a sharp pull forwards, making her fold in half with a sharp gasp. Her feet skid across the floor as an invisible forced yanked her towards the tesseract… to him…
Clint appeared out of nowhere, his arms wrapping around her waist and halting her movement. His arms strained against the force, but he persevered, arms shaking with effort as he held her back and took precious steps backwards.
“It’s reacting to her,” Erik announced in amazement, joining Clint’s efforts in pulling her back. “How in the world – ?”
“Coulson’s already arrived and Fury’s en route,” Clint grunted. “We need to get her out of here and to safety. They’ve declared an evacuation. Everyone not necessary in trying to regain control of the tesseract is to leave immediately.”
Though she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the figure, Bella could tell Clint’s teeth were gritted with the effort of holding her back.
“It’s him,” she whispered.
“Eyas?” Clint prompted, managing another shaky step back.
“There’s someone there, Clint… I swear, I can see him,” she confessed and despite her fear, her arms stretched out in longing askance, the gesture occurring unbeknownst to her.
“Keep her grounded, but she’s not to leave,” a new voice ordered and though a part of her wanted to turn and greet Agent Coulson, Bella stared riveted to the mystery being.
“But,” Clint started.
“So far she’s the only thing the tesseract is visibly reacting to. She stays, Barton,” the sharp order was softened by an apologetic smile he shot to Bella. “Hello Isabella. Looks like you’re aiming to misbehave.”
“Yes sir, Captain Tightpants,” she half-smiled, gripping Clint’s arms as another sharp tug had her gasping. “You know me. I’m always up to no good.”
“Hang in there, Bella,” Phil said lowly. “We’ll get this sorted and we won’t let anything happen to you.”
Bella smiled at the often stoic but ever sincere man. “I know you won’t, Phil. I’ll just hang around with Clint while you and the big boys sort this out. No big deal.”
He politely ignored the tremor of fear on her last words, giving her another rare smile before leaving to intercept Director Fury and Agent Maria Hill – who Bella had heard of but never met – and brief them on the situation.
“So why don’t you tell me about these dreams of yours, Isabella,” Clint asked.
His deceptively light tone didn’t fool her, especially when paired with her full name. Her brother was pissed at her, but knowing it was largely owing to the current predicament she found herself, Bella took a deep calming breath before answering. “For a while now I’ve been having dreams about a man,” she offered, her voice holding the timidness of a skittish colt.
“How long?” he prompt, his arms flexing when she lurched forward.
“Um,” she gasped. “Since our parents…” she trailed off suggestively.
“Hm,” he said and again, Bella wasn’t fooled by his apparent calm. “Tell us about this man, Isabella.”
Swallowing, Bella’s eyes nervously flicked to the stoic figure apparently only she could see. His head was cocked and if she didn’t know better, she’d guess his gaze to be lingering around Clint’s arms around her. “Well,” she shook off the idea. “His kind of arrogant and a lot rude, but it’s because he’s hurting and doesn’t want to admit it. Honestly Clint, I doubt he’s real. I thought he was just an extension of me, because of everything that’s happened recently…”
Another disinterested ‘hm‘ came from Clint before he said, “Something very real is happening now though, Eyas – and you are at the center of it, so why don’t you humor me. Tell me about this man.”
Knowing he was right, Bella dutifully recounted as much as she could, her eyes focused on the man from her dreams as she began to wonder, what if he really did exist? What if they’d simply found each other by accident on some metaphysical plane and for whatever reason he was now appearing? Coming to her… coming for her?
Fury stormed in, breaking her thoughts as everyone who remained yielded to his authority. She listened as Erik explained the logistic of what was happening – how the tesseract had ‘woken up’ and started misbehaving, even more so with Bella’s proximity.
Frowning at her, Fury turned to Clint, his eye sweeping over the increasingly firm hold over her. “Agent Barton, report,” he barked.
“No one’s come and gone; no one’s tampered with it at all. If there’s any tampering being done, it’s not from our end.”
Bella looked away from her mystery man and gave Fury a pointed look. “It’s a doorway to the other end of space, right? Doorways work from both sides.”
Fury pinned her with a hard stare and a vague part of Bella was rather impressed that his gaze could hold so much weight – what with only having the one eye. “And what is your part in this, Miss Swan? What has drawn you to the tesseract?”
“I wouldn’t say I’m drawn at all, sir,” she said before confessing lowly, “More that something is drawing me.”
“She sees a man on the other side,” Clint said. Despite the situation, Bella almost smiled. He sounded like he was tattling on her. “A man she’s been dreaming about for weeks now.”
“And we’re just now learning about this?” Fury asked, heavy censure to the question.
Rolling her eyes, Bella couldn’t help but snap, “I wasn’t aware I had to report the details of my dreams to S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Fury. I’ll get right on that dream journal for you.”
Clint snorted a reluctant laugh. “You’ve been hanging around Stark too much.”
Bella gasped again as the sharpest tug yet yanked them both a few feet forward. “Or maybe not enough,” she huffed. “I think he’d be useful right about now.”
Before he could respond, the tesseract really started humming to life, blue flames flaring out like solar flares before the streams combined. It shot across the room and at the other end a wormhole like portal appeared. The whole thing took seconds, but Bella felt as though minutes had passed as she stared at the portal, stars dotting a background clouded in a nebulous haze that eventually receded into nothing, leaving a lone figure crouching in its wake.
The tugging stopped just as abruptly and she went limp in Clint’s hold. Breathless, Bella felt a new sensation dancing across her skin. Not quite electric but more like cold tendrils danced over her as if someone started dragging an ice cube over her bare skin. It was surprisingly pleasant and she found herself relaxing into the feeling, sighing softly in both pleasure and relief.
It only increased as the crouching figure lifted his head, a freezing malicious smile teasing his lips as he took in the room. He faltered slightly when his gaze rested on her and that icy cold sensation increased tenfold. He was across the room, but to Bella it felt as if he was inches away bearing over her, breathing his frosty breath over her heated, flushing skin.
Just as quickly as the shark-like smile faltered, it reappeared, his eyes never leaving her.
Her shiver in response had very little to do with fear.
(A/N): Boom baby! Now who’s ready for some action, huh? Leave a review and let me know what you thought 🙂
Side note – I only plan to paraphrase from the movie. Obviously Bella’s presence will have the movie plot veering significantly in some ways, not as much in others. We’re gonna have one wild ride folks where anything can happen, so hold on tight!
Also, I shamelessly stole “What’s the gist, Physicist?” from Big Bang Theory…