Welcome to TB Viking Addict’s fantastical and mythical tales…
WP READERS: I’m having a few problems with the links on the Story content page and some of my buttons. They’ll be fixed later. There is a PROLOGUE to this story and you can get to it by using the drop down menu. You may have to use the menu to get to chapter 2, too.
I’ve only got two things to say before you sink your teeth into this chapter. I actually wrote this first and then went back and added the prologue, so if parts seem a little repetitive? Yeah, that’s why. The second thing? I am following the plot of the movie, but Bella meets Clint earlier that day.
I think it’s awesome, but that’s just me.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Avengers or Twilight. Marvel’s and Stephanie Meyers own it all. I just think Hawkeye deserves a chance to shine.
Eleven months later…
Bella glanced over her shoulder, her gaze fanning over the faces of the few people out and about. Logically, she knew the blazing hot, New Mexican sun meant any vampires in the area would be keeping indoors, but scanning her surroundings had literally become second nature to her at this point. After what happened back in Seattle, she’d trained herself to always keep a constant eye on the world around her. She was only human, she couldn’t risk being cornered by Victoria.
It dawned on Bella that, in a way, she was actually incredibly lucky. Being forced to run for her life didn’t make Bella sound very lucky, but she truly was. If she had been home the night Victoria broke into her dorm room, it would’ve been her buried six feet under instead of her nauseatingly vain roommate, which meant she honestly had a bit of genuine luck on her side. Of course, Bella was wracked with guilt over Jenny’s death, but she also realized just how close she’d come to pushing up daisies. Honestly, moving randomly from town to town at the drop of a dime didn’t sound nearly as unappealing as a violent death did, so Bella counted her blessings.
She was still alive and the wolves were safe. That was all that mattered.
When Bella first discovered her roommate had been brutally murdered, she had been so incredibly tempted to run home to Forks and retreat to La Push, where the pack could guard her, but that thought was fleeting. There was a reason why Bella was on her own now, why she kept constantly moving. There was a reason why she was living this shadow of a life. That reason was the message sprawled across her dorm room wall in her roommate’s blood.
We’re coming for you next.
Bella wasn’t sure if it was left intentionally or just a slip of the tongue, so to speak, but the first word made the blood freeze in her veins and a chill slide down her spine. We’re. Plural. At the time, she desperately hoped the “we” meant Victoria and Laurent, but the sudden spike in the amount of people reported missing during the next two days hit her hard.
After she called the police, Bella spent the following day and most of the following night at the local police station. Thankfully, she had an airtight alibi for the time of Jenny’s death, but the police still spent hour after hour drilling her for information. They asked her whatever they could think of, from Jenny’s daily routine to whether she had any enemies. The entire time she was there, Bella was keenly aware of all the missing persons reports being called in. At the same time, a breaking news story about mass abductions across the city was playing on one of the station’s monitors. That’s when it all came crashing down on her like a ton of bricks.
Victoria was really doing it. She was changing others.
Bella graduated at the top of her class, earning her a full ride to the University of Washington. She was incredibly smart and had always been perceptive, maybe too perceptive, so she put things together quickly. Obviously, the death of her roommate was a mistake. Victoria meant to kill Bella that night, but Bella had gone to the library to study for a test the next day. Since she wasn’t there, Victoria lashed out and killed Jenny instead.
The redhead didn’t know Bella was merely studying in the library that night. All she knew was that Bella broke routine for the first time in months and she did it on the day Victoria finally came for her. Obviously, Victoria doubted it was just a coincidence and she was too furious to stick around to find out.
Victoria’s rash act of anger left her with a dilemma on her hands. She knew the death of Bella’s roommate would send the girl running back to Forks, back to the wolves, which was a problem for her. The first year after the Cullens killed her mate, Bella spent nearly every waking moment with the coven, making it virtually impossible for Victoria to get to Bella unless she wanted to meet the same fate. Then the unexpected happened, the Cullens left Bella behind. Victoria finally had the window she wanted. She could take Bella anytime… or so she thought. Bella quickly proved her wrong when she befriended the local pack of wolves. Anytime the redhead tried to attack, a wolf was there to stop her.
So Victoria waited, biding her time until Bella finally left the town limits, and the day eventually came when Bella left for college. She studied Bella’s routine and finally made her move, only to discover Bella wasn’t there. Out of anger, Victoria drained Bella’s roommate and, now, she realized Bella would retreat to La Push, leaving Victoria with only one choice. Thirsty for revenge and tired of waiting, she started building her army.
What Victoria didn’t count on was how perceptive Bella could be. Bella knew Victoria would only get to her if she attacked with numbers. It wasn’t a huge leap for Bella to understand Victoria was creating an army.
Bella loved the wolves. She couldn’t imagine all the pain, heartache, and grief that an attack like that would cause. The pack had eight wolves. They couldn’t survive an attack by twenty newborn vampires and Bella refused to watch them die for her. She knew instantly that the pack would do anything to protect her, but Bella wasn’t willing to trade her life for one of theirs. They’d argue if they ever heard her say this, but she wasn’t worth it. She wasn’t worth that kind of loss. Honestly, she might’ve been once upon a time, before the Cullens abandoned her and a piece of her died inside. Now, though? She was well aware that she wasn’t really living anymore, she was merely existing, and that made their lives worth so much more than hers. She wouldn’t let them risk those lives on someone like her. It was not an option. She couldn’t let something like that happen, so she made a choice. She decided to run.
What Bella didn’t realize was that fate was a fickle bitch. By choosing a different path, Bella exchanged one war for another. One she couldn’t run from.
After the police finally released her, she quickly retreated to her dorm room and packed a bag. She swept up everything she deemed essential, snuck past the squad car posted outside for her safety, and ducked into her beloved truck. Teary-eyed, she emptied her bank account at a series of ATMs and then drove to the airport. She left the truck in the parking lot with a message written on the front window, aware Victoria would soon realize she hadn’t gone to La Push and would find it when she inevitably tracked her to the lot.
Game on, bitch. Come and get me.
Luckily, Bella had spent a year off working and saving up money before enrolling, so she wasn’t exactly low on funds. Combined with her college fund, she had enough to survive on for a while if she spent her money wisely. Using those funds, she bought three tickets, each to a major airport, just to fuck with Victoria’s head; Phoenix, Salt Lake City, and New York. It was the second one she flew to. Once there, she used cash to buy a secondhand SUV and steadily made her way through the sunniest states in the U.S., which was how she eventually ended up in New Mexico.
Just in case, Bella sent an email to Charlie explaining what happened and asked him to warn the pack about Victoria’s plans. After sending it, she removed the memory card and stuck the phone on a bus heading to the east coast. She bought throwaways after that and called once a month to check in with him. Charlie had moved in with the Clearwaters the year before and, as a member of the tribe through his marriage to Sue, was informed about the pack. If nothing else, Bella knew Seth and Leah would keep him safe.
Charlie begged her to come home at first, certain she was overreacting, until the number of people disappearing in Seattle abruptly fell. It was then that he realized the threat of a vampire army was very real. Her father was an officer of the law, bound to protect and serve, and wanted to protect La Push just as much as Bella did. It hurt him dearly to do it, but he grudgingly agreed that both she and La Push would be safer if she stayed away until they sorted out the situation with Victoria somehow. Though Bella was skeptical, Charlie refused to believe her exile from Washington was anything other than temporary.
A huge part of him was tempted to find a way to disappear and join her, to personally ensure his daughter was safe and protected. If she needed to run, then Charlie wanted to run with her. He would’ve done it in a heartbeat, too, if Bella was the only one who depended on him, but she wasn’t. The Swan family had just gained three members and, even though she was always his main priority, he also had to look out for Sue, Leah, and Seth. It killed him to know his daughter was out there, facing the threat alone, but he understood how important it was for her to keep moving, not only for their safety but for her own.
Unable to be there to protect her personally, he gave her a rundown on what she needed to do to keep herself off the grid and brainstormed with her on ways to protect herself. Charlie even kept an eye on missing persons reports and let her know if there was ever a spike in the area she was in. Just in case Victoria had someone listening in on their phone calls, she never revealed her location by phone, which was actually Charlie’s idea. Instead, she told him covertly, sending it via email from an account she created under a false name.
He never once let her location slip, not even to his wife, and nobody knew he actually kept in contact with her. Neither of them were willing to risk that information getting out. Just to be on the safe side, Bella only sent those emails to his confidential work account, something Charlie only checked when he was at the station, and never used her name. Taking Bella’s paranoia a step further, Charlie took the added precaution of erasing her emails immediately after reading them.
Originally, Bella had refused to tell him anything at all, afraid Victoria would somehow find out he knew something. She didn’t want to take the risk, worried the redhead would try to torture information out of him, but Charlie put his foot down. He stubbornly told her if she didn’t keep in contact and tell him something, he’d leave the safety of La Push and track her down himself. This was their compromise.
With thoughts of her dad still plaguing her mind, Bella sighed and wiped a bead of sweat from her forehead. She’d been in town for about a week now and knew she should probably pack up and move on again in the morning. She was already pressing her luck by staying as long as she had.
The evening Bella first rolled into town, she came across a small, hole-in-the-wall taco stand that made the most delicious Mexican dishes, where she was currently headed. Since she hadn’t been able to satisfy her craving for Mexican food even once after she moved to Forks, she quickly found herself addicted to anything and everything the stand sold. Mexican food was something she dearly missed when she moved to her father’s rainy town and was just one of the many things she hated about Forks. She’d grown to love many of the people there, but she still considered it one of the dreariest places on earth.
With a small shake of her head, Bella forced her thoughts away from her rainy hometown. She found herself, instead, eyeing a muscular, blonde man pulling into the town square on a motorcycle. Curiosity got the better of her and she watched him intently as he parked the bike and headed towards the stand at a brisk walk, just barely beating her there.
He was definitely a looker, just shy of 6 feet with well-defined muscles, a nice golden tan, and a strong jaw. What threw her, though, while simultaneously piquing her interest, was the bow slung over his shoulder and quiver of arrows strapped to his back. He was also wearing what looked like a military outfit, from the teflon vest beneath his shirt all the way down to the black cargo pants and combat boots. She could tell instantly that he had more than one weapon stashed away and he wasn’t even hiding the knife strapped to his ankle. He even carried himself like a soldier and she idly wondered if there was a base nearby.
Bella was in some no name, one-horse town and she was honestly surprised by his presence. She was close enough by then to hear him when he ordered his lunch and silently cursed when that low, husky voice made an involuntary shiver roll down her spine. Stilling mid-step, Bella openly stared at the stranger in front of her, genuinely shocked by her own reaction. Her body hadn’t responded to someone like that since the last time she saw Edward.
Bella had long ago given up on love, believing her broken heart to be incapable of it. If she were able to fall in love again, surely it would’ve happened with Jacob, right? No matter how desperately Bella wished she could’ve felt that way about Jacob, though, it hadn’t happened and Bella honestly thought Edward had destroyed the part of her capable of feeling that beautiful emotion.
Something about the man in front of her, though, forced Bella to pause and reconsider that thought. Slowly, she began to wonder if her heart was truly destroyed or if maybe, just maybe, it was only numb. She focused on the sound of his deep voice again and, to her amazement, Bella felt something in her chest kick to life, setting her entire body alight with desire. His voice alone made her heart thump quicker and her veins hum with anticipation.
I didn’t even get a good look at his face, she mentally scolded herself, equally amazed and appalled by her body’s involuntary response. In fact, she was so astonished by it that she didn’t even notice he’d turned around until her gaze locked with his. Ruefully, Bella realized she never stood a chance. Those steely blue eyes of his were more than enough on their own to hypnotize her, it didn’t even seem fair that he could have such rugged features on top of it.
Running her eyes over him, amusement filled Bella when it occurred to her that he was everything Edward wasn’t. Her tastes had changed over the last three years, matured. Edward was a boy, a beautiful boy, but the soldier in front of her? He was definitely a man, a man in every way.
Bella soaked in every line of his handsome face, memorizing everything about him without even being consciously aware of it. She was so focused on absorbing every detail that she didn’t even register how intently he was studying her in return.
Clint honestly hadn’t noticed her when he first approached, but he was definitely taking notice of her now. He was just about to bite into his burrito when he turned around and nearly walked right into her.
The young woman before him was a truly stunning creature and he found himself stilling completely in surprise. He gave her a thorough once over, taking in her deliciously toned body, before meeting her gaze again and promptly lost himself in wide, chocolate colored eyes. She had a petite, heart-shaped face, ivory colored skin, and beautifully long, brunette locks. She tilted her head slightly, making those silken locks shimmer like a rippling waterfall. The sunlight hit her at a new angle, revealing red undertones that he swore somehow made her even more enticing. He swallowed hard when his gaze dropped down to her soft, pouty lips and surprised himself when he felt the sudden tempting urge to kiss her.
“Damn, you’re beautiful,” he murmured. A tantalizing blush stole across her cheeks and his eyes widened when he realized what he just said out loud. He was pretty damned sure his ears were now burning with his own tattletale blush and nearly groaned in embarrassment.
Trying to play it off casually, he cleared his throat awkwardly, lowering his burrito, and held out his right hand, “I’m Clint. Clint Barton.”
Why the fuck did I just tell her my real name? he mentally berated himself. Clint was on assignment and it was definitely against protocol to tell her that, but it felt like he had no control over his mouth today.
“Bella Swan. Nice to meet you,” she replied and shook his hand. Bella then flashed him one of the sweetest damn smiles he’d ever seen. That smile alone had him completely smitten.
She was tempting, that’s what she was. Bella was a combination of dangerous curves, a hint of innocence, and fuck, he wanted her already. A breeze suddenly kicked up and her scent drifted over to him, teasing him with a combination of strawberries and freesias. He swore his mouth actually watered and he swallowed hard, once again tempted to kiss her. Just talking to her was a special brand of torture.
Bella, huh? Could she have a more fitting name? Clint wondered.
He smiled back and surprised himself again by asking, “Are you from around here?”
Because her hand was still in his, he felt it when her pulse jumped and his eyes narrowed when she threw a nervous glance over her shoulder. Hesitantly, she let go of his hand and softly said, “Just passing through.”
He gave her a searching look before scanning the surrounding area for an unseen threat. Clint knew the signs and he felt his chest tighten inexplicably at the idea of her being in danger. Sensing no foreign eyes on them, he brought his gaze back to her and quietly asked, “Who are you running from, Bella?”
Her face paled a shade, which was all the confirmation he needed. She was in danger. She felt threatened.
“Nobody,” she lied, not fooling him for a second. She brushed past him while pulling out her wallet and added, “Just getting lunch.”
Bella took her time ordering and made it painfully clear she was in no hurry, hoping he’d drop it if he saw she wasn’t anxious to run off. Clint recognized the tactic for what it was, a way to shift his focus. He had to admit she was cleverer than most. She was handling the situation like an agent would, trying to make him doubt the instinct telling him she was in danger.
Most people running without any real training took off in a panic when they realized there was a risk of exposure. Bella, conversely, was acting as though nothing were wrong and he was simply mistaken in his first impression. If he hadn’t been trained to react in the exact same way, it would’ve worked. Honestly, she was displaying the ideal type of behavior S.H.I.E.L.D. looked for when recruiting. She was cool under pressure.
Wondering how long she could maintain that calm façade, Clint decided to play along. He leaned himself against the wall of the stand and lazily took a bite of his burrito. It didn’t escape his attention that she paid with cash and he quickly put two and two together. She wasn’t in immediate danger, but she was in danger. Bella was clearly running from something and he wondered what it could possibly be. A girl like her didn’t strike him as the type to get in trouble with the law or involve herself with low lives. She didn’t shy away from male attention either and kept eye contact with him when he spoke, traits that told him she wasn’t running from an abusive ex.
What are you involved in, sweetheart? he silently pondered. What’s got you scared enough to run?
Clint couldn’t quite understand why he was so concerned for a girl he just met, but something about her intrigued him. Bella was by far one of the most beautiful women he’d ever laid eyes on, yet it wasn’t her beauty that piqued his interest. Maybe it was the way she handled herself around him, how calmly she acted after Clint asked her a question that clearly bothered her, or maybe it was something else entirely that caught his attention. He couldn’t quite shake the pull he felt towards her, the growing need to know more about her, and he honestly wasn’t sure if he really wanted to.
Something about Bella called to him, something he couldn’t quite pinpoint, and he wanted to understand it, to understand her. She had a sweet and gentle air about her, one that hinted at an inviting and warm character. At the same time, he sensed she was anything but weak. In fact, watching her somehow left him with the impression Bella was a woman full of bravery and fortitude. She had a smile that was sweeter than honey and a disposition to match it, yet the agent had a feeling that she was so much tougher than she looked. Her beautiful, wide brown eyes reminded him of those of a doe, giving her a look of innocence that didn’t quite match the shadows reflected there.
She was a walking contradiction.
Once he took a harder look, pushing past that deceptively innocent appearance, he realized Bella had the eyes of a person who had seen things she wished to forget. There was a slightly pained quality to them, one that hinted at a soul deep wound, and it made his heart ache for her. Still, whatever she’d been through hadn’t hardened her or turned her bitter, which meant she was resilient and had a hidden well of inner-strength. The more he noticed about her, the stronger the urge to protect her grew.
Deciding to lighten the mood, Clint took another bite of his burrito and moaned theatrically. She gave him an odd glance, a hint of smile tugging at her lips, and he bragged, “This is delicious.” She nodded as she collected her own burrito and he jokingly reached for hers, “Maybe I’ll eat yours too.”
To his delight, she playfully slapped his hand away and leveled him with a mock warning glare, “Try it again and I’ll have to kill you.”
He gave her an incredulous look and pointedly glanced at the knife strapped to his ankle and bow slung over his shoulder. She immediately understood her mistake and a beautiful laugh escaped her, making his chest warm. He was glad he could make her laugh when she seemed so skittish a second ago.
“What’s up with that anyway? Is there a base nearby or,” she gave him a look of mischief and lowered her voice, asking in a playful stage whisper, “are you a secret agent?”
Clint nearly choked on his burrito and pounded on his chest. He wasn’t expecting that. Normally, if someone noticed his gear, they immediately focused on his bow and asked him if there were an archery range nearby. If they happened to truly take in his apparel, they assumed he was part of a tactical unit in the police force like SWAT. The fact that he wasn’t wearing the typical combat fatigues of a soldier meant no one had ever assumed he’d be found anywhere near a base of any kind. Rarely did anyone ask him if he was an agent and the fact that she wondered about both completely threw him.
There was, indeed, a secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility not far from here, one he was currently stationed at to guard the Tesseract. She was two for two and now he realized he’d have to think more carefully about what he wore when he slipped off base. He wasn’t quite sure how she made that leap, but she did and now he was in trouble. He tried dodging the question by commenting, “You’re a perceptive little thing, aren’t you?”
“And you’re avoiding the question,” she said with a teasing grin and he sighed heavily. She surprised him again though by adding, “It’s okay, you don’t have to answer that.” She unwrapped her burrito while commenting offhandedly, “Sometimes we can’t tell people things for their own protection.”
Clint was amazed she wasn’t pressing him for more details, yet something about her tone bothered him. It almost sounded like she was speaking from experience. Understanding dawned on him a second later when he realized she was speaking from experience. Bella wouldn’t tell him who she was running from because she thought she was protecting him. He stifled a laugh over the irony. Clint was the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, yet she was trying to protect him.
The agent in him wanted to interrogate her, but he knew it wouldn’t get him anywhere with her, not if she truly thought she was protecting him. Clint liked her, though. He really liked her, so he decided to try to build some trust between them. He turned to the window and ordered two horchatas and a couple of churros before asking Bella, “Have you ever tried an horchata, Bella?”
“No,” she said slowly and eyed him dubiously.
He flashed her what he hoped was a charming smile and handed her a glass, “It’s really good. It’s some type of rice, milk, and cinnamon drink. Try it.”
“What are you doing?” she asked in a baffled tone, taking the drink from him in confusion, and Clint bit back a laugh.
“I thought,” he began, a playful edge to his voice, “I was having lunch with a beautiful girl, but if you don’t want to eat with me…” He reached for the cup and she pulled it away from him on instinct, just as he hoped she would.
“That is the worst invitation I have ever heard,” she smarted as he scooped up the churros and his own drink with a grin on his face.
Clint shrugged, leading her over to the picnic table set up in front of the stand, and quipped, “Worked, didn’t it?”
He caught the reluctant smile on her face as he sat down across from her and cocked an eyebrow at her. She rolled her eyes, crushed a napkin into a ball, and chucked it at him, “Yeah, yeah. Guess it did.”
“Don’t sound so excited about it,” he deadpanned, catching the balled up napkin with lightning quick reflexes. “Seriously, the girly squealing is making me nervous.”
Bella laughed and Clint smiled, feeling oddly triumphant for some weird reason. He was truly enamored with the sound of her laughter. It was such a beautiful, carefree sound that he found himself savoring each and every giggle that fell from her lips. The way her eyes lit up and sparkled had him damn near hypnotized and he silently vowed to make her laugh as often as possible just for a chance to see it again.
“Okay,” Bella sighed, a smile still on her face.
It’d been nearly a year since Bella had a true conversation with someone. For the first six months she spent on the run, she’d been beyond paranoid about who she spoke to and was seen with, terrified anyone she even looked twice at would end up drained. She shut down in that time, cutting herself off from the simple pleasure of human contact.
Eventually, Bella began to realize she was overthinking things. If Victoria caught up with her, the redhead wasn’t going to kill the people she had one conversation with. No, Victoria would go straight for Bella. The chase had gone on for too long and Bella knew the need for revenge was eating away at Victoria, slowly driving her mad. She wouldn’t waste anymore time if she caught up with Bella. The vengeful vampire would snatch her the second she found the opportunity. By the time Bella realized this, though, it had been so long since she’d had an actual conversation that she suddenly realized she didn’t know how to ease into one anymore. Her pathetic attempts to hold the simplest of conversations were always stilted and painfully awkward. So awkward, in fact, that she’d simply given up on trying.
To Bella’s surprise, talking to Clint was easier than breathing. There was just something about him that relaxed her and, for the first time in nearly a year, she felt safe. She found herself bantering with him effortlessly and laughing, actually laughing, while they talked. It’d been eleven months since she’d genuinely laughed, since she was forced to flee, and she was a little startled to hear the sound of it after so long. For that alone, Bella was extremely grateful for the man in front of her. He made her feel alive again and she relished that feeling.
Bella took a sip of the drink Clint bought her, her eyes widening in surprise as the flavor exploded on her tongue. She stared at it for a second before meeting Clint’s amused gaze. Smiling, she ruefully confessed, “Okay, that’s really, really good.”
“See? I swear,” he pouted, “nobody ever believes me. I know my Mexican food.”
Bella giggled, incredibly amused to see a grown man decked out in military gear pouting. She took a couple bites of her burrito while eyeing him thoughtfully, even more curious about him than before. He noticed the way she was watching him and looked down, half expecting to find refried beans on his shirt. Realizing he was bean free, he brought his gaze back to her and prodded, “What?”
“Can I ask you something, Clint?” He nodded automatically, unable to deny her anything, and she phrased her question carefully, “I’m not asking what you do or where you work, but why did you come to a taco stand armed to the teeth?” She looked around pointedly, emphasizing the fact that the entire square was practically empty.
“Are you kidding? We’re in a war zone,” he deadpanned.
She looked around cautiously, delighting him by playing along, and her eyes twinkled with mirth when she whispered, “You’re right. I’m pretty sure that lady feeding the pigeons across the street is packing an assault rifle… and the cook behind the grill? I’ve seen him on wanted posters. He’s the head of a drug cartel.”
He scoffed and shook his head, “And you wanted to know why I was armed… You’re lucky I’m here to protect you.”
Clint looked so deadly serious when he said it that it set Bella off. Laughter exploded out of her and she couldn’t believe he’d actually managed to get the words out with a straight face. Her laughter triggered his and it took a minute for them both to catch their breath.
Clint shook his head a little, trying to shake off the disbelief he’d been feeling since the moment they sat down. She was so incredibly fun to talk to and he was finding it a little hard to believe she was still sitting there. Dressed the way he was, she shouldn’t feel so comfortable around him, yet she clearly did. Not once did she look uneasy or freaked out by the weapons he was carrying and he was beginning to wonder if she was truly real or just a figment of his imagination.
Clint had become a firm believer he would never find a girl who would knowingly date a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, but Bella… Bella made him doubt that belief. She didn’t seem to be bothered in the slightest by the fact that she was eating lunch with someone who was obviously dangerous. He knew she was smart enough to realize he was trained to kill with the weapons he wore. Even so, she stuck around.
Deciding to answer her honestly, he admitted, “It’s my lunch break. Normally, I buy my food and take it back with me. I’m in and out in under five minutes, so I didn’t really see a point in changing when I knew I’d end up putting it all back on ten minutes later. I wasn’t expecting that to change…” He watched the understanding dawn on her and threw her a playful grin. “Today I got… distracted.”
Bella blushed in realization and Clint watched the way her cheeks reddened with a predatory thrill. He wanted her, desperately so, and seeing her face flush when she realized she was the sole reason he stuck around today made his blood spike with adrenaline. He winked at her, filled to the brim with pleasure when she blushed even harder.
“Attention span of a toddler, huh? Got distracted by something shiny?” she bantered, ignoring the urge to place a cool hand on her overheated cheeks.
Clint nodded solemnly and deadpanned, “Makes holding down a job a real bitch.”
“I bet,” she teased and took a deep drink of her horchata, avoiding the temptation to lick her lips. Her mouth had run painfully dry when she realized she was Clint’s distraction, the thing that made a military man deviate from routine. Despite the fact that he called her beautiful earlier, Bella hadn’t realized she affected Clint that way. She couldn’t deny the rush she felt from that knowledge, though. It was a shame she’d have to skip town soon. For the first time in eleven months, there was someone she actually wanted to stick around for.
Bella finished off her burrito and Clint placed one of the churros in front of her with a grin. She took a bite out of it while her gaze settled on the bow slung over his shoulder. She was extremely curious about it and her fingers twitched with the strange urge to touch it.
Clint noticed, of course. He was acutely aware of her gaze, so when it shifted from him to the bow, he sensed it.
“It’s my weapon of choice,” Clint explained, his voice a little deeper than normal and slightly strained. He really didn’t want to scare her off, so he found himself battling back nerves when her attention was drawn to his favorite weapon. He had hoped that simple answer would be enough to satisfy her, but he should’ve known better.
Bella’s perceptive gaze honed in on it, sensing instinctively that his bow was very much a part of him, an extension of him. Clint hadn’t known Bella long enough to realize she was a bit of an adrenaline junky. She wasn’t scared off by dangerous things, like normal people were. Instead, she was intrigued by it. Getting a glimpse into the more dangerous side of Clint didn’t frighten her, it flooded her with a delicious hit of adrenaline.
“Can I see it?” Bella asked curiously.
Clint unstrapped the bow from his shoulder and set it on the table between them. He knew he really shouldn’t be showing this to her. There was always that odd chance she could be a foreign agent of some type, one who could analyze it for potential weaknesses and figure out a way to disarm him… but his instincts urged him to do it. Clint always trusted his instincts, which was what made him one of Fury’s top agents. There was something about Bella that told him to trust her and he decided to listen to that urge.
Clint studied her intently as she gingerly ran her fingers over the metal frame, wondering what she was thinking. He half expected her to flinch away from it. His bow was a weapon and he used it to kill. Instead, she smiled and teased, “This is the most high tech bow I’ve ever seen.”
Clint’s anxiety faded in an instant, a tension he wasn’t even aware of eased, and every muscle in his body slowly relaxed. It was like something shifted inside of him with her easygoing response, clicking into place. He wasn’t quite sure why her acceptance had such a powerful effect on him, but he didn’t really care at the moment and decided to just enjoy the way she made him feel. Grinning like a fool, he asked, “Yeah? Seen many bows, Bella?”
“Tons,” she replied, her tone sarcastic. Meeting his gaze, she unconsciously ran her fingers over the bow again and said seriously, “Just one actually.” Her lips twitched and humor filled her eyes before she explained, “I tried my hand at archery once.”
“Really?” he asked with a smile, sensing he was going to laugh his ass off in a minute.
She nodded, “When I was seven. Somehow, I talked my dad into letting me try it one summer.” Her expression turned sheepish and she leaned forward, quietly confessing, “The first time I used it, I accidentally shot him in the leg. My hand slipped while I was notching the arrow and it ended up in his hamstring.”
“You shot your dad?” he asked incredulously, his whole body shaking with the effort it took not to laugh.
She nodded emphatically, her eyes wide. He shook his head, still silently laughing, while she quipped, “My archery career lasted thirty seconds.”
“Did you get in trouble after?” he prodded.
“No,” Bella replied, her shoulders dropping in defeat, “he blamed himself. He said he should’ve known better, that I accidentally wound people all the time and he really shouldn’t have put a weapon in my hand.”
“You’re screwing with me,” he said with a mock look of skepticism and laughter in his voice.
“I’m serious!” she argued. She laughed with him for a second before adding, “What makes it so much worse is that my best friend was there. He lived on the reservation and told me afterwards that that was why I never got to be the Indian when we played Cowboys and Indians. Apparently his heritage had nothing to do with it.”
That was the last straw for Clint. He literally broke down in laughter, his face reddening from the force of it. Bella’s childhood confession was the last thing he ever expected to hear from her when he first set the bow down. She had him cracking up over the weapon he used on all of his toughest missions. When he finally settled down, he admitted, “I don’t think I’ll ever look at a bow the same way again.”
Bella blushed and gave him a chagrinned look. He strapped the bow back in place while assuring her, “That’s a good thing.”
Bella eyed him doubtfully, though a part of her was secretly pleased. She could sense how hesitant he was to show her the weapon and was glad she eased that discomfort.
“You really shot your dad, huh?” Clint teased.
Bella scoffed, “That’s the least of what I’ve done to him.” Clint raised his eyebrows at her and she admitted, “If I wasn’t injuring myself growing up, I was injuring him. He has more scars from his time with me than he does from his time on the force.”
He shook his head in disbelief, somehow not the slightest bit surprised she was the daughter of a cop. Bella steered the conversation away from her father, though, entertaining him instead with stories about her klutziness growing up. Before he knew it, a half hour had passed and he had to return to the base.
Clint couldn’t quite believe time had passed so quickly and found himself a little irritated. When he first sat down with her, he had hoped to earn her trust and gently persuade her into telling him what she was running from. Instead, she had so easily distracted him from the situation and now he was out of time.
“I have to head back,” Clint stated apologetically and started clearing off the table.
Bella nodded soberly and stood up, gathering her trash. Clint took it from her and ran it over to the trash can. On his way back, he stopped at the window and grabbed a napkin. Knowing there was nothing else he could do, Clint quickly wrote down his number on it and walked back over to Bella.
“Here, take this,” he said, handing her the napkin. He pinned her with a serious look and added in a low voice, “I don’t know what you’re running from, Bella, but if you ever need help, you call that number. Day or night, call it. I can help you.”
That was a promise Clint intended to keep. Even if he was on a mission on the other side of the world, he would take that call. If he couldn’t get back to her in time to help her himself, he had more than one friend within S.H.I.E.L.D. he could count on to do him a favor and even more who already owed him one.
Even though Bella wanted to argue, she reluctantly took the napkin anyway, knowing instinctively he wouldn’t leave until she did. Sticking it in her pocket, Bella gave him a sad smile and softly warned, “Don’t expect that call, Clint. I’m not running from anything.”
After spending lunch with him, Bella knew with absolute certainty she would never call him for help. Her heart warmed over the gesture and her throat tightened with emotion, but she stoically pushed through it so Clint wouldn’t catch just how much his desire to protect her meant to Bella. That desire was exactly why she couldn’t call him. If she ever found herself cornered, calling Clint would mean his death. She didn’t doubt that he would come running if she called and then they both would meet a violent end. She would never do that to him. As much as Clint wanted to protect her, Bella’s determination to protect him from the vampires hunting her outweighed it.
After nearly a year on the run, Bella usually had an excellent poker face. He’d caught her unprepared earlier, but her instinctive reactions were firmly locked down now and even Clint’s well trained eyes couldn’t pick up on any tells. He honestly couldn’t tell if she was lying or not, but he trusted his instincts. Deciding to call her bluff, Clint eyed her skeptically and challenged, “If that’s true, then you’ll be here tomorrow. Same time.”
Bella hesitated, aware she needed to move on. She’d already been in town for a week, which was four days longer than she was used to. Normally, Bella wouldn’t risk spending so much time in one place, but she was waiting for something. Charlie had set up a P.O. box for her in town and was sending her some funds. She hadn’t checked it yet today, but if the package had arrived, she had planned to move on with the sunrise.
Clint cocked an eyebrow at her, picking up on her hesitation, and took it as confirmation that she was, in fact, on the run. Bella gave him a bittersweet smile, unaware of her slip, and nodded reluctantly, impulsively deciding one more day couldn’t hurt. Besides, she hadn’t received that package yet.
“You promise?” Clint tested, not quite believing her.
Bella nodded, honesty shining in her eyes, “I promise. I’ll be here.”
Clint smiled slowly and started walking backwards, heading towards his bike, “Good. See you tomorrow, beautiful.”
Clint had hoped Bella would start walking towards her car so he could catch the license plate number, but Bella was too clever for that. With a blush tinging her cheeks, she merely waved, waiting until he was out of sight before she risked heading towards her car.
With no more time to spare, Clint realized he couldn’t linger any longer and headed back to the base. Time had worked against him today, but he still had two things working in his favor, a promise and a name. Determined, he silently vowed this wasn’t over. He’d find out what she was running from and, more importantly, he’d find a way to protect her.