“There’s no audio,” Yinsen, the strange little man in a suit, told Bella on the third day.
She looked up at the camera and felt a shiver run through her. Bella really didn’t like the idea that their captors were watching them. “The wonders of modern technology,” she sighed, turning her back on the camera and glancing over to Tony who was making—something. “Do you think they expect us to have sex since we’re married?”
Tony immediately stopped hammering and looked over at her, his face still covered with his welding mask.
She hadn’t said it all that seriously, but she did wonder what these people expected. They had kidnapped Tony and were holding him for ransom. In the meantime, they were forcing him to build them missiles of some kind. She didn’t really understand the ins and outs of it. Bella was brought in as some sort of reward and potential future leverage. Were they watching their relationship as much as they were watching Tony’s progress?
Tony lifted up his mask and looked at Bella speculatively for a long moment before turning to Yinsen.
The little man looked puzzled.
“You’re the expert on these people,” Tony said to him.
“I—” he started, before he swallowed nervously. “They might expect some proof within the first week.”
“Proof,” Tony deadpanned, his eyes never leaving Yinsen. “What, like a Victorian virgin?”
Bella sighed. “He means exactly like a Victorian virgin.” She placed her head in her hand and thought for several long moments. “If it comes down to it, that won’t be a problem.” She knew she was blushing scarlet, and when she blushed it ran from her cheeks down her neck and then past her collar bones.
When she glanced up, Tony was now looking at her speculatively. “We’ll fake it if necessary,” he told her firmly.
“It doesn’t need to be faked—” she tried to tell him.
“We’ll fake it,” he insisted, his eyes serious. “This is a cave in Afghanistan. The Ten Rings don’t get to dictate when we make love and when we don’t.” Tony tilted his chin upward. “For now they’ve got plenty of footage of us sleeping cuddled up together on the same mat. We’ll bloody it up in a night or so when it’s too dark for the camera to catch it.”
“Well,” Bella began, not entirely certain what to say. Her honor had been defended, but it seemed like she would remain a virgin for the rest of her life at this rate. Edward wouldn’t sleep with her, and Tony wouldn’t—at least not here. If they died here, she’d die a virgin.—and wasn’t that great?
Yinsen cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable with the current topic of conversation.
Tony looked at him and grinned, the somberness of the moment passing. “I know you were married, Yinsen,” he teased. “Didn’t you say you had sons?”
“Yes,” he agreed carefully, taking off his spectacles to clean them with the corner of his shirt. “I look forward to seeing them as soon as you get us out of here, Tony Stark.”
“Working on it,” he promised.
He looked quickly back over at Bella and winked. Then he pulled his welding mask back on and started hammering away again.
Bella watched the sheer strength in his arms, and realized that Edward had never appeared so raw or magnetic as Tony did in this moment.
“What is he making?” she asked Yinsen as she came over to their other roommate.
Yinsen blew on his spectacles but didn’t answer her.
“I know it’s not a missile.” She crossed her arms.
He didn’t look at her. “How do you know it’s not a missile?”
She laughed a little to herself. “I know basic physics,” Bella told him honestly. “That—” she pointed over to Tony, “is something quite different.”
Yinsen looked at her. “You are just his wife. You are not to know—”
She raised an eyebrow at him. What a load of complete nonsense. “I’m a silly little girl, is that it?” she asked Yinsen. “My brain can’t compute what you men can achieve with the barest of tools in a cave here in Afghanistan?” Bella didn’t bother to let him answer and instead went back over to her mat, wishing she had a book.—anything to keep her occupied other than watching Tony make—whatever he was making.
That night she ran her fingers through her hair, her cracked nails catching on tangles and she sighed. Tony came up behind her and presented her with a small metal comb with five tongs. She took it from him and turned it in her hands, admiring it. “Did you make this?” she asked him in wonder.
“It’s the little things in life, Mrs. Stark,” he replied as he took the comb back and began to comb out her hair. She sighed in pleasure at the feeling, having missed this simple pleasure.
“I—I didn’t notice.”
Tony was silent for a long moment. “It was a piece of scrap metal, and what’s an extra half hour of work when I could give my wife a wedding present?” His voice was light and unassuming, but Bella could hear the truth in it.
“Well,” she decided, “it’s the sweetest wedding present I could have hoped for, Tony Stark.” She knew she was blushing scarlet in the darkness of the cave, but he couldn’t see her. There was no one to witness it.
He continued to comb her hair and when he was finished, he handed the comb back to her. “We must remember to bring it with us.”
“When we’re ransomed,” she checked.
“Or we escape,” he told her seriously, his arms wrapping around her waist, his chin settling on her shoulder.
“I think,” Bella stated carefully, “escape from this—place—is quite impossible.”
He kissed her clothed shoulder carefully. “What little faith you have in me, Mrs. Stark.”
At first she thought he was teasing her, but then she turned toward him and gazed into his innocent looking face. She’d barely known Tony Stark for seventy-two hours, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t know he wasn’t the innocent type. “What are you planning?”
“We’re going to blast our way out,” he told her carefully. “I have a plan. I’m building—something.”
Bella took this all in for a long moment and then nodded. Not sure of her footing in the conversation, she leaned back a little bit to catch his gaze and asked, “Why don’t we just wait for the ransom?”
“I’ve been waiting,” he told her carefully. “I’m not sure it’s coming.” He looked at her with his dark, full eyes. “I don’t know who was sent the ransom video, but when I get out, I’m going to find who isn’t negotiating with terrorists and I’m going to have a word with him—or her.” His voice was dark and full of promise.
“Would you really want them to give money to these people?” Bella wondered.
Tony sighed and pulled her closer to him. “No. I do want to get out of here—with you.”
She nodded and leaned into him, her forehead resting against his. They stayed like that for several long moments until Tony ushered her under the covers of their mat. Bella carefully placed her comb under their threadbare pillow that they shared, a small smile on her face at her husband’s thoughtfulness.
The next night, Tony gave Bella another piece of metal, this one sharp. He arranged them so they were facing each other on the mat and pulled one of her legs up before cutting the bottom of her foot, smearing scarlet on the middle of the mat. She gasped at the pain, but he held her close, the piece of metal discarded and her foot stuffed into a double sock to stop the bleeding.
“Where’s home?” she asked Tony at breakfast, one sock on each foot now so as not to attract attention from their captors.
Tony looked up at her and smiled. “Malibu. You’ll love it. Plenty of sunshine and miles of private beach.”
She laughed in surprise. “We have a private beach.”
He leaned in closer and whispered in her ear, “Miles and miles of it, Mrs. Stark.”
Melting into him, Bella smiled at the thought of finally getting out of Forks. Forks represented her past—her past, specifically with Edward, who was now—her throat tightened at the thought.
“Mrs. Stark?” Yinsen asked solicitously.
She blinked several times and looked over at their roommate. “Sorry, Yinsen,” she apologized, “I was thinking I might never see home again—even if I don’t like Forks.”
Tony looked over her worriedly, and pushed her hair behind her ear in affection. “I still need to meet Chief Swan,” he teased her, “and get threatened with that shotgun of his.”
Trying to smile, Bella agreed, “He’ll probably get all of his friends to do it with him.”
Tony smiled at that, a laugh bubbling up from the back of his throat.
It turned out that Yinsen had been correct. On the eighth day Bella was a prisoner, the door to their cell opened, and men with assault weapons came in and one immediately went to the mat where Bella and Tony slept. Bella was sitting on it, and she froze in fear until Yinsen quickly came over to her and pulled her away. The man pushed his weapon under his arm so it was hanging on his back and he took the mat between his hands and examined it in the dim light.
Bella held her breath and glanced over at Tony who had gone still from where he was programming something on an outdated hunk of metal that was pretending to be a computer.
The man squeaked in delight and dropped the mat before starting to speak rapidly in—it wasn’t Russian.
“He is verifying,” Yinsen began to translate, “that the marriage has been consummated.”
Bella let out her breath though a wave of indignancy swept over her. So they actually came to check, did they? These—terrorists—were perverts as well as international criminals and kidnappers and ransomers?
“He is now saying,” Yinsen continued, “that the bride is now a woman and if she has a child in captivity then it can only aid their cause.”
A wave of sickness overcame Bella, but she kept her face still. The last thing she would allow would be a pregnancy—Tony was definitely right. This was a cave in Afghanistan. Bella could wait… and dying a virgin was a chance she would just have to take. Bearing a child in this hell would be nothing short of a catastrophe. She was never going to let that happen.
“No one gets to hold a child over my head,” Tony was murmuring now, clearly angry. “Or my wife’s.”
Bella looked over at him and saw the tension lining his face and completely understood his feelings as she completely shared them.
“It will never happen,” she told him carefully as the men started filing out. When they were finally gone—along with their horrible guns—she collapsed against the wall and didn’t realize that she was crying until Tony came over and wiped a thumb across her wet cheek. “Sorry,” she murmured, “it’s just such a terrifying thought.”
“We won’t let it happen,” he promised her, almost echoing her words exactly.
“No,” she agreed, allowing him to fold her into his arms. “No, we won’t.”
Her heart ached, but she let Tony soothe her.
Later, she made up their mat again as it had been quite destroyed in the examiner’s exuberance.
That night their meal was rather subdued and none of them spoke. The stew was the same disgusting mixture it always was, and Bella and Tony shared from the same bowl as they always did.
Exhausted, Bella climbed under the thin blanket on the mat and felt when Tony climbed in behind her. The press of the arc reactor was hard, cold, yet reassuring against her back. “Do you want children?” she murmured quietly, the thought heavy between them.
Tony was quiet for a long time—then, “yes. With you.”
“I didn’t know I wanted a child until it was threatened,” Bella told her husband as she snuggled deeper under the sheet. “I’m only eighteen though.”
Tony kissed her shoulder. “We have plenty of time.”
But how much time did they actually have? How long would they survive in this cave?
She sighed when she felt Tony’s fingers card through her hair and then lightly catch on her right earring. “Where did you get these?” he asked, voice soft. “They’re really quite stunning.”
Laughing, she shifted slightly. “What those?—Edward gave them to me for my birthday.”
Tony stilled but then his hands began to lightly caress her earlobe. “You said he was rich.”
“Yes,” she agreed, not really listening. “But they’re only cubit zirconium. I wouldn’t let him get anything nicer. I didn’t like him flashing his wealth around.”
She thought that was the end of the conversation and began to drift into sleep, Tony’s hand drafting down onto her shoulder. “Sweetheart,” he murmured sometime later. “They’re not cubit zirconium.”
“What?” she asked, half asleep.
“They’re twenty-four karat diamonds, by the looks of them,” Tony continued, and she turned slightly to look over her shoulder at him. “They’re really quite stunning.”
A sick feeling began to churn in Bella’s stomach and she whispered, half fearful of the answer: “He lied.”
That was just like him. He had snuck a diamond onto her charm bracelet, which she had lost somewhere between Italy and Afghanistan, and he had snuck 24k diamonds into her ears, playing her for the fool. All the girls at school probably knew and were whispering about it behind her back. She heard Jessica say once that Edward could buy anything and anyone—and Bella knew that Jessica had meant her. And once Edward hadn’t wanted her, he had thrown her away like yesterday’s garbage… and he was rich enough he had left actual diamonds behind even when he had taken back every other reminder of himself and the Cullens.
“Well,” she murmured, “I’ll take them out in the morning.—I don’t want them.”
Tony shifted beside her, his hand briefly going up to her earlobe again. “I could use these,” he told her quietly, “with what I’m making.”
“Take them,” she spat. “I don’t want anything of Edward’s—especially not diamonds I told him I never wanted.”
She felt Tony lean forward and kiss the back of her head. “My mother’s engagement ring is made out of diamonds,” he warned.
“That’s different,” she told him. “That’s family.”—and with that thought, she drifted off into sleep.