Bella heard Pepper coming before she saw her.
"Tony Stark!" yelled a female voice.
Bella flinched slightly as Pepper entered the room, glaring at Tony, who was lying on a hospital bed, eating the shawarma they'd ordered.
"Hi, Pepper," said Tony. "Shawarma?"
His intended peace offering was ignored. "Tony, why is there a video on youtube of you flying a nuclear missile through that portal in New York?"
"Um…probably because I did?"
Pepper took a deep breath. Then another. And then another. "Do you have any idea what I went through watching you fall to your death?"
Bella smiled to herself, watching them. She had already forgiven Tony. Like she'd told him the night he'd destroyed his house, she wasn't very good at staying angry, and she'd been so relieved after he survived that she didn't care. Well, she might have been a little mad at him after they'd left the shawarma restaurant, but she was fine now.
"No, I don't," said Tony. "Do you know I went through falling to my death?"
Pepper looked torn between pity and rage. She turned her attention to Bella. "Why didn't you try to stop him?"
Bella swallowed. She didn't see a point in making Pepper angrier by telling her Tony had frozen the suit. "It had to be done, Pepper. Otherwise, who knows what the Chitauri would have done?"
"Why?" repeated Pepper. "And where was Phil in all this? He told me he'd keep you out of trouble."
Bella and Tony exchanged glances.
Bella spoke up first. "He… he's dead. Loki stabbed him," she continued, the words tumbling out. She didn't know how a person went about telling someone news like that, but decided to do it quickly, like pulling off a band aid. Bella couldn't meet Pepper's eyes. "He was trying to help me. Loki had me trapped, Agent Coulson tried to stop him."
Pepper sank down into the chair next to Bella's.
There was silence in the room for a moment. Had that been the best way? Should she have done it differently? What did she do now? "I'll leave you two alone," she said, standing up, picking up her suitcase, and leaving the room.
The moment she stepped outside of the door and into the hall, she was cornered by two reporters.
"Miss Stark, your father nearly died flying that portal!" said a woman. "What were you thinking while that was going on?"
Bella swallowed hard. "I…"
"Miss Stark, what do you know about the group known as the Avengers who helped you and Iron Man save the city?" said the other.
How did they even find out what it was called? "Um, I'm not sure if –"
"Hey!" said a male voice, belonging to Tony's bodyguard. "You're not supposed to be allowed up here."
Behind him was Agent Barton, glaring at them. The two reporters very wisely backed off.
"Thank you," said Bella.
"No problem," said Happy, walking away, probably to figure out how the reporters had gotten to them, leaving her with Agent Barton, who was helping him out. Reporters were unusually desperate to talk to Tony that day, so Barton had volunteered to help.
There was silence for a moment.
"What's going to happen to Loki?" asked Bella.
"He'll be facing Asgardian justice. Much as I'd like to see it happen here, he'll get a fair trial there." He sighed. "I keep remembering things I did. Attacking you… I'm sorry. I should have tried harder –"
Bella cut him off. "Did you do any of this of your own accord? Or was it all forced by Loki?"
"Of course it was all forced!" he snapped.
"There you are, then," said Bella. "I don't blame you, no one else does. And besides, when you got into the Tower? If you attacked me right now, with no armor on, it wouldn't be much of a fight, you'd win. But you found it more difficult, didn't you?"
Barton said nothing.
"This incident doesn't say anything about you, just about Loki. It's every inch Loki. I've done my share of things I regret, but had no control over. I don't blame myself for them any more." She was still in the process of forgiving herself, but believed that would come, eventually. "You shouldn't blame yourself when there was nothing you could do about it."
"Miss Stark –"
"And please, Agent Barton, call me Bella, you've known me for long enough."
"Miss… Bella," he said. "I killed people."
"In the first six years of my life - at least, the ones I can remember - I probably killed more people than you ever will. People die either way. There is no difference, only that you pulled the trigger yourself instead of having someone do it for you. I've done things far worse than you. But I had no choice. It was forced. Could you have done anything differently, Agent Barton?"
He thought for a moment. "No."
"Exactly. Cou – " she almost mentioned Coulson, then quickly stopped herself. "Someone told me you attacked Loki – you were just doing your job, and it went wrong. You're not to blame. The only person to blame for all of this is Loki. I still have yet to completely forgive myself – I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for it, in one way or another. But it ultimately wasn't my fault. It was my employers'."
There was a short silence. "I can't believe I had that discussion with a fifteen year old."
"Actually my birthday's in a few months."
"Have you picked out a superhero name yet?"
"Yes, actually. After the battle." She hesitated. She hadn't told anyone except Tony. "It's Silver Shield. After my, um, little move that I came up with. The one I used on the Chitauri. You should see how often they've been showing it on TV. And besides, basically, superheroes are shields, aren't they?"
"I suppose so," said Barton.
Bella walked back to the door and peeked back in.
Tony was sliding something onto Pepper's hand. Pepper's face glowed.
"Excuse me," she said to Barton, and stepped back inside the room.
A diamond glittered on Pepper's hand.
"I, uh, made a quick stop in Germany," said Tony. "When we went to stop Loki."
Bella released a squeal.
The idea of perfection was, as she knew, a theory, an ideal. Not something realistically attainable.
Still, it did seem as if life had gotten as close as possible.
And so, we reach the end!
Does everyone think Bella's superhero name is okay? I've made you wait a long time for it… was it worth it? Did you all enjoy this story? I'm open to advice.
Iron Man 3 comes out on Saturday (I think)! YAY! It may take some time until I can find a time to go… hopefully no more than a week or two, considering the fact that everyone will probably want to talk about it and I will be avoiding all that in order to avoid spoilers. After that, I'll start the sequel to this and to We Don't Belong Here. You may have to wait a bit, as I prefer to finish stories before I start posting them… I'll try not to take too long. And that story may or may not dig into Bella's back story a little more. Nothing for sure yet, though I've got some ideas bouncing around in my head.
And so, farewell. For now.