I was going to wait a few days to post this one, but I thought what the hell? ‘Tis the giving season, right?
I love the reaction this story’s getting so far, so consider this chapter a thank you gift. It’ll probably be a few days before I get the next chapter out, though. I’ve actually written quite a bit of this story already, but I skipped over the movie scenes that won’t change because Bella isn’t in them, so I have to go back and fill those scenes in. Unfortunately, the next chapter includes one of those scenes.
I know. It’s so unfair.
Here’s a small hint… the next chapter will have Loki in it… dun dun dun…
*Side note: If you’re rereading this, I thought I should warn you that I went through and changed a sentence or two, but I haven’t changed anything drastically.
Disclaimer: I do not own Twilight or any of the amazing superhero world that is the Avengers. Stephanie Meyers and Marvel’s own it all. I just think Hawkeye’s super too.
“Coulson,” Clint called out, simultaneously knocking on his open door. There was a hint of excitement in his voice that Clint couldn’t suppress even if he wanted to. He needed to share what he found with Phil and he needed to do it immediately.
Setting aside the file on his desk, a folder containing the latest progress report on the Tesseract, Agent Phil Coulson looked up at Clint expectantly. Clint grinned at Phil and shut the door before dropping a new folder on top of the messy stack already gathered in front of him.
“What’s this, Barton?” Phil asked, eyeing the folder curiously as Clint dropped into the chair in front of his desk and propped his feet up on the corner of it. Phil frowned and shoved his feet off before looking at Clint again.
Still wearing the same mischievous grin, Clint relaxed back into the chair and began, “You won’t believe who I met at lunch today…” Clint trailed off and his eyes glazed over slightly as his mind drifted back to Bella. He knew instinctively that Bella would bring trouble, but something kept telling him she was worth it. That same something told him he would love every damn minute of it.
Phil eyed him skeptically, “On your burrito run?” Clint nodded absently, his eyes still unfocused, and Phil just barely refrained from rolling his eyes. He had a feeling he knew what the odd look on Clint’s face meant. “Let me guess, a woman?”
Clint refocused on Agent Coulson, who was technically his superior. As Fury’s right hand, Phil Coulson held seniority over him, but Clint had worked alongside him on so many cases that they had grown to be good friends. When it was just the two of them present, they had a much more informal relationship, one that wasn’t typically found among those of different ranks. Basically, Clint got away with bloody murder… as long as nobody else was around to see it.
“Not just any woman, Coulson,” Clint corrected and motioned towards the file impatiently. “I got the sense she was running from something, so I ran a background check when I got back to base. After what I found, it genuinely amazes me that she told me her real name,” Clint explained.
Idly, Clint wondered if she told him on accident, if she slipped up like he did, or if she told him on purpose. He couldn’t decide which thought he liked more, that he flustered her so much that she accidentally let her name slip or that she actually trusted him enough to give him her real name.
Curiosity officially piqued, Phil opened the folder and studied the contents. The first page was a missing persons report filed eleven months prior. Surprised, Phil read out, “Isabella Marie Swan, age 21, student at the University of Washington.”
He studied the picture attached to it, silently admitting he could see why she would catch Clint’s attention. She was certainly beautiful, with wide brown eyes, long brown hair, and a charming smile. Phil stared at her for a second longer, bothered by something he couldn’t quite pinpoint. In a moment of clarity, he realized there was something off about the way she smiled. It looked slightly strained, forced. He had an odd instinct that it was fake and thought it was a shame that something had stolen away her ability to smile.
“Goes by Bella. She went missing two days after she found her roommate dead in their dorm room,” Clint summarized, his voice taking on a much graver tone. “A Jacob Black reported her missing, but her father, Charlie Swan, the Chief of Police in Forks, Washington, swore up and down that Bella just needed a break. Chief Swan put a stop to the FBI investigation looking into her disappearance, but the Seattle P.D. are still looking for her. They haven’t been able to close her roommate’s case and wanted to pull her in again for questioning. Problem is, Bella completely disappeared. The officer that drove her back to campus was the last person that remembered seeing her. Since then, she’s kept off the grid.”
“Is she a suspect?” Phil asked while flipping through the crime scene photos. Just as he came to the photo taken of the threat left on the wall, Clint shook his head.
“Airtight alibi. Campus cameras place her in the library.” Clint leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and stated, “Actually, they now think she was the original target.”
Phil looked up, finally beginning to understand where this was going. Clint liked the girl and wanted to help her. He wanted to step in and protect her.
Phil sighed and asked, “And how is this a S.H.I.E.L.D. case?”
Clint’s responding dark smile actually made Phil nervous, which was a difficult feat. The agent eyed Clint warily, suddenly on high alert. The last time Clint smiled like that, Phil ended up in a five day coma.
“Check out the cause of death.”
So he did. Phil read it, reread it, and then read it a third time just to be sure. Bella’s roommate was brutally drained. Her killer then used what little blood remained to leave the threat on the wall. Not a single trace of DNA or fingerprint evidence was left at the scene besides what belonged to Bella and the victim. The autopsy photos revealed the imprints of teeth in the girl’s neck, but no saliva was found in the surrounding tissue. There had been a sample taken of an unknown substance found in the wound, but it had burned through the swab by the time the lab technician got around to testing it. The body had been cleaned by that time and the evidence was lost.
It was an odd death, the type of death that warranted the attention of S.H.I.E.L.D. Odd cases like that one often led to even odder explanations. S.H.I.E.L.D. often found those cases to be the most worthwhile.
“There’s more, Coulson,” Clint added. “The police traced Bella’s cell to a bus that ended up in Maine, but later found records of Bella at the airport in Seattle, buying plane tickets to three major airports. Cameras show she actually walked up to all three gates, but ended up taking a flight to Salt Lake City. That was where the trail ran cold.”
Phil nodded slowly in understanding, “She wanted to throw someone off her tracks.” He frowned and asked, “But why walk to each gate?”
It was then that Clint pulled out a USB. He handed it to Phil with an intensely serious expression on his face, saying, “I have a theory, but it won’t make sense unless you watch this. I pulled it from the Seattle P.D.’s database. They were baffled by it and figured it had to be a hoax of some kind.”
Standing up while he quickly loaded the data, Phil pulled the files up on the modified and enhanced, three dimensional Smartboard installed on the office wall. Clint walked up to the screen and played a video file while explaining, “Once the P.D. realized Bella boarded a plane, they pulled up video from the parking lot. The day Bella disappeared, she parked her truck in the economy lot.”
They both watched silently as Bella climbed out of her rusty old Chevy and grabbed a bag from the back. The girl looked absolutely defeated. Her shoulders were hunched over, like a great burden now rested on them, her eyes were puffy and red from crying, and the occasional silent tear spilled down her cheek. What struck a painful chord in both men, however, was the way she wrapped her arms around herself, clutching tightly at her sides like she was desperately trying to literally hold herself together. It didn’t matter how tight her grip was, she was still falling apart before their very eyes.
It was hard for Clint to see her that way. The young woman he met earlier barely resembled the mess of a girl that climbed out of that truck. The Bella at lunch was harder somehow, in a way he couldn’t really explain, and gave him the impression that a spine of steel lay hidden beneath her gentle exterior. The last eleven months must’ve instilled the fortitude within her that he so admired, because the Bella from nearly a year ago was painfully vulnerable. Her face was the very definition of desperation and heartbreak and her body language was that of a girl about to crumble.
Watching how utterly broken she looked just threw his protective instincts into overdrive. He knew he’d need to spend some serious time in the training room later, beating the shit out of a punching bag in order to relieve some of his fury. Maybe he’d even ask one of the other higher level agents to spar with him later.
He just really needed to punch something.
Bella suddenly dropped her bag and wiped the tears from her face. Clint smirked as her features twisted into a furious expression. He’d watched this a few times already, so he knew what was coming. As vulnerable as she looked back then, there was still a spark within her that reminded him of the strength he sensed in the Bella he met today. He had a feeling that spark had ignited a fire at some point and the woman he knew was forged in that flame. Honestly, it was kind of a turn on watching Bella in all her fury and he rewound it more than once just to watch her in action.
Phil tilted his head curiously as she disappeared back into the truck, wondering what Bella was up to. She reappeared with a can of black spray paint in hand and attacked her windshield with it. The agent’s jaw dropped and he stared at the screen with wide, rounded eyes when Bella stepped back to admire her handiwork, allowing him to finally read the message she left. Clint couldn’t hold back his laughter if he tried, he was beyond amused by Phil’s stunned expression. It was a Kodak moment and Clint found himself regretting not bringing a camera with him. Phil obviously hadn’t expected to see such fire from a girl who looked ready to crumble. Not much could shock Phil Coulson and Clint wished he could’ve captured the disbelieving look on his face on film.
“Well,” Phil said, clearing his throat, “she’s definitely got spirit. She’s resilient, refusing to let this defeat her.”
Clint nodded in agreement and began fastforwarding the video while he commented, “She’s a tough little thing. Bella comes off as gentle and sweet in person, but there’s just something about her that screams strength. She’s perceptive too and extremely clever.”
Clint slowed the video down after two days had passed. Turning towards Phil, he warned, “Watch carefully. I’ve never seen anything like what I’m about to show you.”
Phil nodded seriously, taking Clint’s warning to heart. Clint dealt with Captain America, Thor, and Ironman on occasion, which were all extremely odd and bizarre cases. Sometimes his job was just to check in with them, but other times he worked with them on high level missions, which meant he saw some pretty bizarre things up close. If Clint felt the need to warn him, then Phil knew he was about to see something both shocking and extraordinary.
Two blurs suddenly shot across the screen, coming to a stop in front of the truck. They moved too quickly for Phil to make out at first, but once they came to a stop, he realized he was looking at a man and a woman, both of which were eerily beautiful. The male looked no older than 20 or so while the woman looked just slightly older. Her most striking feature was her wild red hair.
“Bella knew someone would see that message, Coulson,” Clint pointed out. “She knew they would find her truck.”
Phil stepped closer to the screen while the redhead read the message Bella left for her on the windshield. The male began circling the truck in a predatory manner, lazily pacing around it like a lion circling its next meal. His movements were so unnaturally fluid and graceful that it unnerved Phil. The woman, on the other hand, behaved differently. She froze in place, stilling so completely that she resembled a marble statue. The hairs on the back of his neck started to rise when he realized she wasn’t even breathing. Before he could point this out to Clint, the redhead finally reacted. The message Bella left for her must’ve struck a nerve, because she started to literally shake with fury. There was no audio available, but it looked like she was screaming something before she then literally began tearing into the truck with her bare hands, destroying it as if it were nothing more than a tin can.
“They have enhanced abilities,” Phil murmured and Clint nodded in agreement. Not only were they capable of moving at amazing speeds, they were also incredibly strong.
After the truck was no more than a heap of scrap metal, the male attempted to calm the redhead down. A small fight broke out between the two before they left, moving just as fast as they did when they arrived.
Clint rewound the video and froze it before magnifying the male’s face. Phil studied the image for a second and asked, “Do they both have red eyes?”
Clint nodded and pulled up a missing persons report. He placed it next to the magnified image and explained, “This is Riley Biers. He’s from Bella’s hometown and went missing from the same college Bella attended about three months after she started school there. I wasn’t able to find a match for the redhead. It’s like she doesn’t exist.”
“Look at how he’s changed,” Phil said, his voice reflecting his amazement. “It’s like all of his features have been perfected and enhanced. He’s also lost his tan. They’re both extremely pale.” He turned towards Clint and asked, “You said you had a theory?”
Clint nodded, crossing his arms over his chest, “You saw them. Enhanced speed, enhanced strength… even their looks are enhanced. What if everything about them is enhanced? All of their senses?”
“Like their sense of smell,” Phil said slowly, catching on, and turned back to the screen. “And Bella obviously knew it. That’s why she walked to all three gates. She was laying a false scent trail so they couldn’t tell which flight she took if they tracked her by scent. She has inside information and she used it against them.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, Clint couldn’t quite keep the smile off his face. Phil looked at him oddly and Clint shrugged, saying, “What? I’m just a little impressed. These two have every advantage over her physically, but it’s been eleven months and she’s still alive. Somehow, she’s keeping one step ahead of them.” He threw a pointed look at the screen and asked, “I mean, how’s she doing it? How has she kept off the grid for so long?”
Phil paused a second, giving it some serious consideration. Clint made an excellent point. At the time she fled, Bella was only 20 years old. She was from a small town. Where did she learn the skills necessary to survive on the run?
“You said her father was Chief of Police and that he called off the Feds,” Phil said eventually. “He knows something about it all. She’s keeping in touch somehow. He gave her pointers.”
“You really think her dad would let her run on her own?” Clint asked incredulously.
Phil shook his head, “No. This was Bella’s decision, but she got in contact at some point. He probably tried getting her to come home, but if he knows what she’s running from and she refused to return, he’d help her anyway he can.”
“If that’s true, she’s being sneaky about it. They both are. Seattle P.D. kept an eye on Chief Swan for the first six months after Bella disappeared and they didn’t find any indication that they’ve kept in contact,” Clint said thoughtfully. He shrugged again, his smile returning, “Still impressed. Eleven months of looking over your shoulder is a long time, especially with enhanced people hunting you.”
Phil’s expression became pensive. He could understand now why Clint wanted to step in. Eleven months was an incredible amount of time for anyone to spend on the run, especially someone who just turned old enough to legally drink.
“How much longer can she keep it up?” he wondered quietly.
“Exactly,” Clint gruffly replied. Bella had to be getting weary. Eventually she’d slip up. He couldn’t let that happen, his chest ached at the very thought of the two creatures on the screen in front of them catching up to her.
Phil rubbed his chin in thought. Obviously, this case was bigger than one girl on the run. There were people running around with enhanced abilities, ones they had no knowledge of until today. The two they now knew of were obviously violent. They killed one girl already and were hunting another. S.H.I.E.L.D. knew nothing about them, where they came from, what abilities they had, or how they gained those abilities. In fact, the only person who seemed to know anything at all was Bella Swan.
Phil sighed, realizing Fury would want her brought in. He turned to Clint and asked, “Any chance you know where Miss Swan is?”
An odd combination of relief and anxiety swept through Clint at that moment. For Bella’s sake, he was relieved Phil wanted to get involved. At the same time, he felt a pang of anxiety because he knew there was a very big chance she was already in the wind. He had no guarantee Bella would do as she promised and meet him for lunch tomorrow. He had hope, though. He hoped that he made as big an impression on her as she did on him.
“I won’t lie, Coulson. She could be in the wind by now,” Clint admitted and Phil gave him a worried look, “but there’s a small chance she’ll meet me again for lunch tomorrow.”
Phil almost snickered, but managed to catch it in time. Unfortunately, a small smile still escaped him. If he didn’t know better, he’d say Clint was nervous. The idea alone entertained the hell out of him.
“You like her,” he said with a knowing gleam.
“Well, she is kind of awesome,” Clint deadpanned, fighting the urge to grin.
Phil smiled, “I’ll take your word for it, Barton.” He glanced back at the screen and sighed, “I’ll send this to Fury. I’m sure he’ll want to talk to you when he gets here.”
Surprised, Clint threw him a questioning look and probed, “Fury’s on his way here?”
Phil nodded and picked up the file he was reading when Clint first entered the room. He handed it to him while explaining, “Dr. Selvig noticed an odd reading. The Tesseract is… acting up. If the readings continue, we’ll have to evacuate. How are things on your end?”
Clint flipped through the file, scanning the data, and replied, “The same. No texts, calls, IMs… No communication of any kind. The level’s on lockdown. Nothing to cause this.” He looked up and added, “I have Agent Thompson stationed down there at the moment.”
“Who’s beyond reproach,” Phil murmured.
Clint nodded in agreement and handed the file back to Phil, “And I always review the surveillance footage when I come back from lunch. I’ve already reviewed it. I was gone longer today, but nothing happened in that time frame. There’s no sign of tampering on our end.”
Phil dropped the file on his desk with a sigh, looking thoughtful, and advised, “You’d better get down there and keep an eye on things. Something’s happening, I just don’t know what. Be ready.”
“Yes, sir,” Clint soberly replied. Opening the door, he paused and looked back, “Coulson, about the Swan case? Thank you.”
Phil gave Clint a grim smile and warned, “Don’t thank me yet, Barton. Depending on what she knows… Well, Bella Swan might hate you when everything’s said and done for getting S.H.I.E.L.D. involved.”
Clint knew he was right. Bella would likely be extremely pissed at him after lunchtime tomorrow, provided she actually showed up. Fury would obviously order Phil to bring her in, which meant the next conversation he had with Bella wasn’t going to be nearly as enjoyable as the one they had today. She’d been extremely careful to avoid being caught on camera over the last eleven months, so Clint knew she wouldn’t be thrilled with him when she realized he worked for S.H.I.E.L.D.
Returning Phil’s grim smile with one of his own, Clint said, “That’s okay, Coulson, because she’ll be alive to hate me. That’s what matters.”
With a final nod in Clint’s direction, Phil pulled out his phone and called Fury. He turned to the screen on the wall and sent everything Clint saved on the USB to Fury’s S.H.I.E.L.D. inbox while waiting for the call to connect. A copy of everything Clint printed out for him had been saved to the USB, which made Phil smile. It was much simpler to keep everything electronic, but Clint knew Phil liked to keep things more traditional. Phil preferred keeping things straight up old school, which was the only reason Clint bothered printing anything at all.
“Agent Coulson,” Fury greeted, “do you have new information for me already? Was there another spike?”
Phil glanced at the door, making sure Clint closed it when he left, before responding, “Actually, sir, I thought you might like some reading material for your flight. I’m sending you everything Agent Barton just gave me on a young woman named Isabella Swan. It seems Barton stumbled onto a situation that would pique your interest, Director.”
“An unrelated case?”
“Yes, sir,” Phil replied.
The line fell silent while Fury went through the material Phil sent him. Phil waited patiently, giving him a few moments to absorb what he was seeing. When he was done, Fury sighed heavily and asked, “How in the hell did Barton stumble onto this? The girl is from Washington, Coulson. That’s across the country.”
Phil chuckled and explained, “She may be from Washington, but she’s here now, sir. Barton ran into her at lunch.”
“On his burrito run?” Fury asked skeptically, a hint of incredulity in his tone. Of all the places for Barton to run into such a potentially huge case, that seemed to take the cake for the most random.
Phil laughed a little harder. Clint’s eating habits were a bit of a running joke among the senior agents. To say Clint was a fan of Mexican food was an understatement. Still chuckling, Phil admitted, “Yes, sir. It seems Bella enjoys them too.”
Fury sighed again, “Well, you know what I’m going to say. I want her brought in. In fact, I’ll speak with her personally.”
Phil nodded to himself, expecting that. When it came to new threats, Fury usually liked to be involved in some way. People with enhanced abilities S.H.I.E.L.D. knew nothing about, ones who had violent tendencies, were a big threat. It was right up his alley.
“That may be a problem, Director,” Phil reluctantly revealed. “Bella’s been on the run for eleven months. She’s highly intelligent and cautious. Barton doesn’t know where she’s staying and there’s a chance she’s already in the wind.”
“Then why I am sensing there’s a but, Agent Coulson?” Fury challenged.
Phil smiled, “But we may have a small window of opportunity tomorrow. If she stuck around, Barton said she might meet him again for lunch.”
Fury fell silent, putting two and two together. Barton obviously liked the girl. He made a lunch date with her before he got back to base and ran a background check. That actually surprised Fury. Barton usually showed no interest in dating, convinced he wouldn’t find a girl who would willingly date a S.H.I.E.L.D. operative. Barton’s interest in her told him Isabella Swan was unique.
“So what you’re telling me,” Fury began, “is that Agent Barton needs to stay in the area even if we have to evacuate.”
After his meeting with Coulson, Clint stopped at his locker and grabbed his side arm. He strapped the gun holster to his thigh and checked to make sure his gun was loaded before sliding it in. Before lunch, Clint had traded the gun for his bow. One of the weapon techs had been working on a new type of arrow for him, one that delivered an electrical charge. Clint spent the hour before lunch testing out the new arrow, getting a feel for its weight and limitations, which was the only reason he had it with him today at lunch. He was glad he had it on him, though. Things might’ve been different if he hadn’t taken it with him.
Clint removed the bow and started to collapse the frame, but paused at the last second. He knew it was foolish, but the bow now reminded him of Bella. Every time he looked at it, he saw her gingerly stroking the metal frame and pictured her mirth filled eyes as she confessed her botched attempt at learning archery. It was by far the best memory he had in regards to that weapon and it made him hesitate when it came to stashing the bow in his locker. There was absolutely no reason for him to bring it down to the basement, yet Clint still found himself reluctant to put it away. If the base had to be evacuated later, Clint wouldn’t get the chance to return for it.
Rolling his eyes at himself for being so sentimental, he unstrapped the quiver from his back and slid his jacket on before strapping the quiver over it. He then slung the bow over his head and shoulder, wearing it diagonally across his chest. He didn’t plan on using it, but he couldn’t leave it behind either. Somehow, it had become his lucky bow.
Clint glanced at the contents of the locker one more time, making sure he wasn’t leaving behind anything important. Satisfied, he slammed it shut and turned his earpiece on. He then made his way down to the basement and over to Agent Thompson.
“Agent Barton,” Thompson greeted and handed a S.H.I.E.L.D. issued tablet to him. The tablet, like every piece of S.H.I.E.L.D. technology, was top of the line and modified. To the casually observing eye, it actually looked like it was just a framed pane of glass when it was turned off. When it was on, the translucent glass was filled with anything that could be found on a laptop.
“Agent Thompson,” Clint greeted in return. He glanced at the tablet and scrolled through the video footage of the last twenty minutes. “Any calls? Texts, emails… any communication to the outside world at all?”
“No, sir,” Thompson replied. He glanced at the locked drawer of the desk reserved for security, where they locked up the staff’s phones during the work day, and added, “Everything’s still locked up.”
Clint nodded and asked, “Besides the abnormal readings, anything else I should know about?”
Clint looked around thoughtfully, noticing how Dr. Selvig and his assistants were practically buzzing with excitement, and decided, “I’d like you to stay here today. We may have to evacuate at some point and it might be helpful to have another set of eyes, just in case.”
“Yes, sir,” Thompson agreed.
Clint handed the tablet back to him, instructing, “Keep an eye out for any signs of communication with the outside world. I don’t think you’ll find any, though.” He looked up at the concrete balcony on the second floor, overlooking the basement, and added, “I’ll be up there, in my perch. Make sure your earpiece is tuned into channel two.”
Thompson nodded in agreement and tucked the tablet away in one of the drawers of the security desk before resuming his post in front of it, his sharp eyes following the frenzied movements of the scientists around him. Clint walked over to Dr. Selvig and checked in with him before scaling the ladder leading up to the balcony. Settling into a familiar crouch, he loosely rested his arms over the lower bar of the yellow railing and studied the room below him.
Clint knew Fury probably hoped he’d take a more involved approach when it came to watching over the Tesseract, but he could honestly get a better idea of what was going on when he took a step back and watched from a distance. From this position, he could literally see everything that was happening in the room beneath him.
It was this same position that also clued him in on something extremely important, something he doubted Fury had thought about. With the way Dr. Selvig’s equipment was set up, it almost looked like there was a runway in front of the Tesseract. That one random thought led him to another about how the Tesseract was considered a door. Doorways could be opened from both sides, right? So if Dr. Selvig hadn’t opened that door from this side and the Tesseract was still acting up, then Clint had a feeling someone might be trying to open that door from the other side. Clint intended to be ready for the moment that door burst open.
While he ran his eyes over the busy figures below him, his thoughts once again drifted to Bella. If he were honest with himself, though, that wasn’t quite true. In reality, his thoughts had never left her. A part of his mind was constantly centered on her, despite his best efforts to fill his thoughts with something else. He was worried about her. In fact, he was more worried about Bella than the weirdly behaving Tesseract in the room below him.
It was obvious to him now that she was being hunted, though it was still unclear what, exactly, it was doing the hunting. Bella knew, of that he had no doubt. Knowing what was hunting her was the only reason she’d been able to keep herself alive.
He had to admit he was impressed with her ability to keep one step ahead of the threats moving against her. Buying tickets to three major airports was a clever move. Even if they hacked into the system and found out which flight she took, they wouldn’t be able to figure out where she went after she landed in Salt Lake City. She could’ve taken one of the thousands of connecting flights available to her, hopped a bus, or a million other possibilities. Despite their enhancements, Bella still would’ve disappeared without a trace.
She was resourceful and Clint admired that. He had no idea just how capable she was when he first laid eyes on her. Yes, he figured out quickly that she was on the run, but the fact that she was still alive after eleven months of running impressed the hell out of him.
The first thing Clint did after returning to the base was run a background check on her. He couldn’t seem to shake the uneasiness he felt from when he first realized she was in danger, so he checked into her past to put his fears to rest. Clint kept telling himself to let it go, to trust that Bella would call him if she ever did run into serious danger, but then he remembered why she wouldn’t confide in him in the first place, her urge to protect him.
His uneasiness grew into full blown worry as realization dawned on him. Bella was being one hundred percent honest when she warned him she would never call. Whatever trouble she’d gotten caught up in was a life or death situation, because the only thing that could have made her so confident that she wouldn’t use that number was the knowledge that calling him for help would mean his death.
With that in mind, he nearly let out a triumphant shout when he actually found something on her. The more he read, though, the more concerned he became. She hadn’t surfaced once in the last eleven months and he quickly realized the Seattle P.D. were right, Bella Swan was the original target. Eventually, he got to the video footage of the airport parking lot and then it was all over. He already wanted to protect her, but that video pushed him into immediate action. As resourceful as she’d been, it would only take one mistake, one slip, for her life to end violently. That realization made his decision for him and he quickly printed out the information he’d gathered on her, saved the files to a USB, and taken it up to Coulson. He couldn’t describe how relieved he was that Coulson had decided her case was worth looking into.
Clint’s thoughts once again drifted to the video footage he witnessed. He played that video at least three times before what he was seeing truly sank in. He’d never seen anyone move that quickly, not once in his entire life. And the way that redhead tore into Bella’s truck? Clint had to suppress a shiver. At first, a thrill of excitement and a shot of adrenaline raced through his veins, but then he realized the two… creatures, for lack of a better word, in that video were after Bella. She obviously knew it, too, or she wouldn’t have left that message on her window. The idea of Bella being involved with those two unsettled him in a way that he couldn’t properly define. It was an emotion that was completely foreign to him and his chest felt oddly tight. That tightness didn’t ease until Coulson decided Bella’s case was something he wanted to bring to Fury’s attention.
Clint had no idea what he would find when he first started going through the police report he found on her, but that sure as hell wasn’t it. Bella was involved in something bigger and more dangerous than he could possibly imagine and it worried him. It also made him incredibly impatient. Time was passing too slowly for him and he was anxious for tomorrow to come. He knew Fury would want her brought in for questioning and he intended to be there for that. He didn’t just want his questions answered, though, he desperately wanted to help her.
Eleven months was an incredibly long time to spend looking over her shoulder and the thought of Bella being forced to run for that long made his chest ache. Clint knew what it was like to be hunted. He’d had to make a quick getaway more than once in the past, when his cover had been jeopardized. The longest he’d ever spent running, though, was about three weeks. Even then, he knew where he could find safe harbor. Getting to S.H.I.E.L.D. had always been his goal. Bella, on the other hand, didn’t have a safe place to run to. She’d spent nearly a year running without an end in sight, just waiting for the day her past caught up with her. She had to be getting tired of running and Clint planned to be there to help her when she finally stopped.
Clint never wondered why Bella hadn’t gone to S.H.I.E.L.D. for help in the first place. If he had, he might’ve realized why she didn’t want help, why she was so determined to do things on her own. He might’ve understood that he wasn’t the only person Bella wanted to protect. He might’ve realized that she never would’ve answered their questions, even if S.H.I.E.L.D. had actually gotten the chance to pull her in and interrogate her. He might’ve even figured out there was a whole other world that lived in the shadows, one depending on Bella not to bring their secrets into the light.
If he’d thought about it, Clint might’ve seen how desperately Bella was fighting to protect her supernatural friends, but he didn’t. All he saw was a girl being forced to live a shadow of a life, one that he wanted to help.
How could he have known what he would find once he shined a spotlight into the dark shadows surrounding Bella Swan? How could he have possibly known that the Swan case was only the tip of the iceberg?