Chapter 4: An Awakening

Hello again, my darling readers!

I know you’re all anxious to see what’s happening in Clint and Bella’s world, but I hope you all take a second to stop and read this first, because today deserves an acknowledgement. This is my first attempt at a crossover and I just learned “Stepping Out of the Shadows” just hit its first major milestone, gaining 100 followers!

Yeah, baby!

So this? This right here is me saying a big freaking thank you to all of you, my amazing followers. THANK YOU! You’re all incredible.

Okay, here we go… before I forget, for the sake of this story, Bella knows newly created vampires are called newborns. She also knows they’re stronger and faster than older vamps, but she learned that through the pack, not Jasper. I’m giving you all a huge, gigantic warning about this chapter right now- Clint is not in it. I backtrack a bit in this chapter and bring us all back to Bella’s side of things. This chapter is going to fill you all in on what Bella spent her day doing after Clint left her and really gives us a peek into what kind of life Bella’s been living in the last eleven months. It’s a little more emotional and also shows us what kind of effect her lunch with Clint had on her.

I think it’s actually really important to take a step back and realize Bella has been living an incredibly lonely life over the last year. The next chapter will have Clint and Bella both, so if you’re wondering when they’ll be reunited… well, wonder no longer because I kinda just told you, lol.

Honestly, I think this chapter is a bit slower paced than normal, but that’ll change next chapter. The pace is gonna pick up big time and the next few chapters? Let’s just say they’re really, really good.

I do think you’re all probably going to hate me for the way this chapter ends, though, and I sorta feel bad for you all, because I just realized today that I keep ending my chapters on cliffhangers… Clinthangers? You know what I mean.

Anyway, I also realized that terrible, mean, and cruel trend is not going to end anytime soon. I know, that’s awful, but I’m giving you fair warning now, so please be kind in your reviews. Just a reminder, I love, love, love reading your reviews, but I write to entertain myself. I actually only started this story because I got hooked on crossovers and realized there is not nearly enough Clint/Bella stories out there. I’m just sharing it with you all because I realized I’m not the only one craving a little Bint action. Wait, Clella? Bent? Clintella? *awkwardly clearing throat*

Those names all suck. This is what happens when I’m sleep deprived. No joke. Someone come up with something better! Pwease?

Disclaimer: Marvel and Stephanie Meyers own all things Avengers and Twilight. Those lucky bastards. I just wanted to see what would happen if Bella popped up on Clint’s burrito run…

In a foreclosed house on the furthest edges of town, Bella Swan had given herself over to slumber’s sweet embrace. Tucked inside a sleeping bag in the corner of a bedroom on the second floor, Bella slept peacefully, blissfully unaware of the utter chaos sweeping over the secret S.H.I.E.L.D. facility to the north. She had fallen into a deep and relaxed dream, resting more soundly than she had in years. Even so, Bella was easily pulled from that deep, welcoming slumber when the entire house began to shake.

The portal Loki had opened collapsed in on itself, triggering a violent explosion that buried the base. The surrounding land violently pitched and rolled in response. Consequently, every structure within a hundred miles shook with tremors and Bella drowsily noted it when the abandoned house she was squatting in started to tremble. The tremors faded quickly and, idly wondering if it might’ve been a minor earthquake, Bella’s sleepy mind dismissed it entirely. Turning onto her side, she readjusted her pillow and her weary eyes fell closed once more.

Unbeknownst to her, that tremor was just the start. Her entire life was once again about to change and her world was about to expand in a way she couldn’t have possibly imagined. The house might’ve been the one to tremble, but it was Bella Swan who was about to be shaken to her core.

After Clint and Bella parted ways earlier in the day, Bella didn’t linger long in the town square. She felt incredibly conflicted as she watched Clint drive off, the part of her that wanted to protect him battling with the part of her that wanted to see him again, and it frustrated her that she couldn’t do both. If anyone looked into her eyes at that second, they would’ve easily seen the battle brewing inside her and shuddered at the sheer intensity of the conflict rising in those chocolate orbs. Staying at all put him in jeopardy, especially since she’d already spent too long here as it was, but she truly wanted to keep her promise and meet him for lunch tomorrow.

As soon as that dangerously handsome devil and his motorcycle disappeared, she let out a pained sigh and headed towards her car. Until she knew if that package had finally arrived, there was simply no point in debating whether or not she should risk staying another day. If it wasn’t here yet, she’d have to stay anyway and having lunch with Clint again wouldn’t be a bad way to spend her free time while waiting for the mail to come. Deciding not to dilly dally, she climbed into her dark green SUV and drove to the post office to check the P.O. box Charlie had set up for her.

Parking across the street, she fished a dark blue baseball cap out of her messenger bag and stuck it on, pulling the front of it downward to hide her face from any cameras set up inside. Bella hadn’t needed the hat at lunch. She knew for a fact that the taco stand didn’t have any surveillance cameras. The post office, on the other hand, was a government building, which meant cameras were a guarantee.

Bella hadn’t chosen to visit this town randomly. It was the one small town that she visited on purpose. After Bella sent Charlie an email with her location last week, as she often did, he noticed she wasn’t far from a town he recognized and told her to make a stop there, promising he could send her some badly needed funds if she drifted in that direction. Apparently, Charlie had a good friend who lived somewhere nearby, one he emailed and asked for help in order to set up a P.O. box. His friend left the key in an envelope with her first name on it at the cash register and Bella picked it up the first day she rolled into town. Since it was such a small town, the people who worked inside genuinely didn’t mind holding onto it for her.

She didn’t doubt that Charlie had taken all sorts of precautions when he put the package he was sending her in the mail. Her dad could be extremely resourceful when he wanted to be and he wouldn’t have shipped her anything at all if he thought there was even the slightest risk that a vampire would follow that package straight to her. After everything she’d been through in the last eleven months, she was confident her dad found a way to get it to her secretly. It wouldn’t have surprised her if he even asked one of the wolves to ship it off for him, aware they would sense it if a vampire was nearby watching. She had no idea just how sneaky her father could be until after she fled Washington.

Bella often wondered how Charlie came up with half the things he did. Her own personal theory was that her dad had all the makings of a criminal mastermind and the potential to be extremely good at it if he ever decided to venture down such a dark career path. She had a very strong feeling that his mind wandered whenever he arrested people, thinking about how they could’ve gotten away with the various crimes they committed if only they’d done something slightly different. The idea that he kept those things in mind and passed those tips onto Bella when she disappeared actually made her smile.

It was either that or her dad was some type of former secret agent, because the things he’d come up with over the last eleven months? Let’s just say the CIA could’ve benefited from Charlie Swan’s ingenuity.

Bella was in and out in under a minute, trying not to think too hard about how disappointed she felt when she caught sight of the thick manila envelope inside. She knew it was stupid, but she was hoping that package wouldn’t come until tomorrow. If she had to wait another day for the mail to arrive, then she had an excuse not to leave the area at dawn. The envelope couldn’t have weighed more than a pound or two, if even that, and yet Bella’s bag felt so much heavier now with that envelope resting inside it.

She was keenly aware of that weight the entire drive back to the house she was squatting in. Bella felt pressured to move on now that she had it, to pack up her things and put this town in her review mirror. The thing was, every fiber of her being violently protested at the thought. She didn’t want to leave yet, she wasn’t ready to move on, and the mere idea tore her up inside. It actually hurt to breathe and she rubbed at her aching chest as she turned onto the road that led to the outer edges of town.

For the last three years, Bella had been painfully aware something inside of her was broken. After the Cullens left, a part of Bella had died inside and it was easier to let herself slip into numbness than to deal with that pain. Refusing to let her drown in that numbed and hollow abyss, Jake had revived a small part of her, painstakingly taping what remained of the shattered pieces of her broken heart back together. Bella was beyond thankful for his efforts. He’d restored a small piece of her that she once thought was lost forever, but now… now, it was different. She no longer felt like a piece of her had died inside or like she was broken beyond repair.

Bella felt like she was finally waking up, like she’d unknowingly spent the last three years in a hazy stupor and now her thoughts were finally starting to clear. It was like trading a foggy lens for one with a crystal clarity, one that finally allowed her to see the blindingly beautiful world around her. She felt… well, that was the thing, she actually felt.

With one simple conversation, Clint had mended the fractured part of her soul and Bella reveled in how utterly alive she felt. It was electrifying and the idea of walking away from him? When Clint made her feel so incredibly alive? It hurt in an agonizingly painful way.

Bella’s grip tightened on the steering wheel and she took in a deep, fortifying breath, trying her best to bury her new, conflicted emotions. She didn’t understand why Clint had such a powerful effect on her and she had mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, she felt whole for the first time in years, like she wasn’t as damaged as she once believed herself to be. She reveled in that knowledge, grateful for once again feeling complete. On the other hand, feeling again meant she also felt pain. And, oddly enough, it was the idea of never seeing Clint again that crippled her the most.

Get it together, Bella, she told herself. If you stick around, he dies. Can you live with that?

It felt like her soul spasmed in response. Pain ripped through her uncontrollably and her breath caught at the shockingly vicious intensity of it all. Bella steeled herself, more determined than ever to protect Clint from the vampires hunting her, and the pain slowly started to ease. Baffled, Bella shook her head. She honestly didn’t know if all of the emotions suddenly sweeping through her were really as intense as they felt or if they only seemed that way because she had been numb for so long. Before now, she had only felt barest whispers of emotion. Now it was like the volume of those emotions had been cranked all the way up and they were furiously shouting in her ear.

Still, even the painful emotions were something she was grateful for. They were a reminder that she was more than just an empty shell, a zombie. It was an amazing and incredibly freeing thing, to finally feel alive again.

Unprepared to deal with it all, Bella did what she always did whenever she encountered pain and battled it back, futilely trying to bury it down deep. Shoving all thoughts Clint related to the back of her mind, Bella focused solely on the drive. Recognizing her turn up ahead, she sped up a little and guided the car onto the dirt road that would take her up to the house.

For the first month or so, Bella usually stayed in small motels. Paying for a bed every night, however, was more costly than she anticipated, despite the fact that she often stayed in the cheapest motels she could find. Not only did the cost start to take a toll on her, she also realized that not every small town she stayed in actually had a motel. So, Bella had to adapt. Charlie dropped her a hint about foreclosures in the area and, posing as a potential buyer who made her money flipping houses, Bella quickly discovered that she could get a list of the area’s most recent ones from the local bank.

She didn’t always stay in small towns, but she did try to avoid big cities as much as possible. Big cities meant there was a greater possibility she might run into a vampire. It was easier for vampires and their hunting activities to go unnoticed in a city, which was why she tried to avoid them. Bella knew her blood was more tempting than most, though she really didn’t understand why it was so appealing, and she decided it was best not to press her luck.

When she had no choice but to spend a couple of nights in a city, she always stayed at a motel, where she knew it would be difficult for a vampire attacking her to go unnoticed. It was only in the smaller towns that Bella looked for foreclosures to squat in.

There was actually a plus side to breaking into foreclosed houses. The most recent ones were often cases of repossession, meaning the bank evicted the owners and, many times, those owners came home to find padlocks on the doors. Unable to get back in, their possessions were often still inside. Bella quickly figured out that if she managed to find a foreclosed house like that, the banks that owned those houses usually didn’t shut the water and electricity off right away.

The first few times she did it, Bella literally had to break in. Feeling guilty about the damage she inflicted on those houses, she went to a local pawn shop and found the same type of padlock most of the small town banks used. Finding a lock picking kit, however, was a little more difficult.

Eventually, she bought a visa gift card from a local grocery store and then used it to order a kit from amazon on her phone, overnighting it to the place she was staying. It took her a good three weeks to do it, but Bella eventually taught herself how to pick the lock. Grudgingly, she had to admit she probably wouldn’t have figured it out at all if weren’t for a certain YouTube video, but she was still incredibly proud of herself for figuring out.

Amused, Bella shook her head and chuckled. That was definitely something she’d never thought she’d say, that she was proud of herself for figuring out how to pick a lot.

Finding a place to lay her head became so much easier after that. Just to be on the safe side, she only chose the most recent, remote foreclosures, and stayed far away from anything that resembled a suburb. Isolated properties were the best because she could move around without catching a wary neighbor’s attention. She bought a pillow and sleeping bag early on and often set them up on a couch or the floor, avoiding the beds in the houses she stayed in.

The idea of sleeping in someone else’s bed was something that actually freaked her out and Bella just couldn’t bring herself to do it, so her sleeping bag ended up being her smartest investment. It wasn’t always comfortable, but she had a roof over her head, somewhere warm to sleep, and running water, so she didn’t complain.

The current property Bella was using was on the outskirts of town, a good ten miles away from any neighbors. It was a two story house with yellow siding and a spacious front porch. There was a slight overhang on the right side of the house, which meant Bella could slip out the second story window and onto the roof if she ever needed to. There was a long, winding dirt road that led to the driveway and Bella could easily pick up on the sounds of any cars that turned onto the road from inside the house. All in all, it was one of the better places that she’d stayed at, tactically speaking.

What Bella didn’t know was just how close that house was to a certain secret base. From the backyard, one could literally see the mountains where S.H.I.E.L.D. had chosen to build the base that Clint was stationed at. In total, it was only about a fifteen minute drive away.

Bella parked her SUV out back, hiding it behind the storage shed near the back of the house, and entered through the backdoor. Just to be on the cautious side, she never used front doors and always locked the backdoors up again with the padlock anytime she left the houses she stayed in.

Pulling her kit out of her bag, Bella unlocked the padlock and pushed the door open. She listened closely for a second, making sure the coast was clear. It actually wasn’t noise that she was listening for, but rather the absence of it. It wasn’t hard for Bella to train her ears to pick up on the slightest sounds and she never stepped inside a house that sounded unnaturally quiet. After what she discovered in her darkened dorm room that fateful night in Seattle, she quickly realized that a place that sounded unnaturally quiet was a place she needed to avoid.

Picking up on the sound of a fan, assuring her all was well, Bella nodded to herself and stepped inside. She slipped into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water before trudging her way up the stairs. Whenever possible, Bella stayed on the second floor, picking a room that had a view of the front door and a window she could climb out of if someone ever caught her by surprise.

She wasn’t sure if it would work, but she figured she could slip out the window and onto the roof if she ever heard the door opening. Depending on how closely a vampire was listening, she assumed the insulated wall would be just enough to muffle her heartbeat and the sound of her breathing. Bella knew it was likely just a pipe dream, but she hoped she could fool any vampire that showed up into thinking they just missed her. If necessary, she could even climb down the side of the house and sprint to her car. Hopefully, she’d never find herself in a position like that, but she felt more secure just knowing she had an exit route in place. With vampires like Victoria hunting her, she couldn’t be too careful.

Glancing around, Bella took off her messenger bag and set it down on the floor next to the sleeping bag she’d laid out in the corner of the room. She kicked off her shoes and sat down on the bag, wearily running a hand through her hair as she got comfortable. Grimacing slightly, she shifted again and pulled out the gun she kept stashed in the back of her jeans, setting the weapon down on the floor next to her. With a sigh, she leaned back against the wall and fished the envelope out of her bag. Smiling sadly, she tore it open and pulled out the thick letter inside it, setting aside the money her father sent her until she was done reading.

Bella had been looking forward to this for months. She knew Charlie would take advantage of the fact that she needed money at some point and send a letter with it, catching her up on everything she’d missed out on back home. Even though they kept in touch via email, neither Swan risked sending too many personal details in those messages and anything wolf related was something they tried to avoid. Surprisingly, the letter was easily a dozen pages long and a shocked gasp of air escaped her when she realized why. It was actually a collection of letters. Everyone in the pack had sent her a short message.

Bella laughed to herself as she read her father’s explanation. Apparently her friends were talking about her one night at one of their bonfires on the beach, fantasizing about what she was up to now and wondering if she’d changed at all. Charlie told them all to write her a letter about what was going on in their lives, promising to hold onto them for her until the day she finally came home. They thought Charlie still had them when, in reality, he’d actually sent them to her.

He really is a sneaky bastard, she thought with a fond smile, her eyes brimming with tears.

Excited and more than a little hopeful, she pressed the letter from her dad to her face for a second, delighted when she caught a faint scent, a hint of her dad’s familiar cologne. Smiling, she lowered it back down and picked up from where she left off.

They all picture you happy, kid. They know what you’ve done for them and that you probably hate the life you’re living now,” Charlie wrote, “but that’s not how they picture you. They picture you smiling. Really smiling, not like that fake one you wore the last time I saw you. No, more like the smile you wear every time you jump off that idiotic cliff.

Bella laughed softly and a tear spilled down her cheek. She wiped it away and flipped the page over to see what else he wrote, “I still don’t understand why you kids love pulling that stupid stunt, but I let you maniacs get away with it because of that beautiful smile, Bells. I hope they’re right. I hope you smiled that way earlier today and that you do it again tomorrow. Seth even hopes you settled down somewhere and fell in love. I didn’t have the heart to tell him you ‘probably’ haven’t. Leah thinks you’ve gotta be happier wherever you are now than when you were here, without the memories of that ‘family’ holding you back. I hope she’s right. I wish you could come home, Bells. La Push isn’t the same without you, kid…”

Pressing her fingers to her lips, Bella’s thoughts drifted to the lunch she had with Clint. A warm smile crept across her face and she murmured, “I did, Dad. I smiled today.”

That warm smile stayed firmly planted on her face as she finished reading all of the letters the pack sent her. Her chocolate eyes overflowed with tears of joy as she gleefully dug into them. Her heart felt near to bursting with love and she stopped more than once to wipe away her happy tears.

The first thing she read was a letter from Sam, which was unexpectedly long and caught her by surprise. The way he summarized the pack’s progress and what she missed was something she never expected. He wrote it up like a soldier sending a report to his commanding officer and it made her wonder why he suddenly felt the need to treat her like his alpha.

It was definitely odd and left her feeling more than a little bewildered, but she was also unbelievably thankful for it. He put one of her worries to rest, assuring her they all took turns accompanying Charlie anytime he left the Res and promised not to stop anytime soon. He also informed her that they hadn’t caught Victoria’s scent in the last few months, though they did occasionally run into a vampire she created.

Bella expected Sam to stop after that, but he didn’t. He filled her in on anything and everything that had changed within the pack. She reminded herself to thank Sam if she ever saw him again. It was good to know that Paul had finally reined in his temper and that Leah had stopped phasing. Normally, learning the pack was down by one would bother her, especially with Victoria still on the loose, but then he also told her that Collin and Brady started phasing about a month ago. He shared his concerns with her over their young ages and her heart clenched when he finished with, “The pack keeps your memory alive, Bella. Collin and Brady feel like they already know you and wish you’d come home. We all want you to come home.”

After that, she found a much shorter, but more personal letter from Sam, one that tugged on her heart strings and explained why his views on her had changed so drastically. Before now, Bella had always gotten the impression that she was a bit of a nuisance to Sam, one he reluctantly tolerated only because the other members of his pack clearly loved her. Everything changed, though, when Charlie told him about Victoria and the army she was building in Seattle.

When Sam realized Bella had sacrificed her future to keep an army of newborns away from Forks and La Push, he finally understood just how much Bella truly cared about them all. In his letter, he thanked Bella for her sacrifice and told her they’d made her an honorary member of the pack.

“You took on the role of pack protector, Bella, and put the welfare of the entire pack ahead of your own, which is something only the best alphas do. Giving your future to the pack means you’re one of us. You’re willing to give your life for us, Bella, and I’m sorry I didn’t realize that until after you disappeared. We’ve all made sacrifices, but you… you’ve made the biggest. If you could phase, I’d be your beta,” he wrote. “Do me a favor, Bella, and survive this. Survive this and come home so I get the chance to tell you that one day. I hope I actually get the chance to embrace you as the sister you’ve become to me. Maybe, if that day ever comes, I can also introduce you to your goddaughter. We named her after you and my mother. Her name is Allison Isabella Uley.”

Stunned, Bella’s eyes fluttered closed and she clutched that letter to her chest, holding it over her heart. It didn’t happen very often, but there were times over the last few months when Bella doubted herself, questioning the decisions she made eleven months ago. Her life had been so empty over the last year, so unbelievably hollow, and there were a few dark moments when she questioned whether or not she made the right decision. That one letter told her everything she needed to know. Baby Allison made it all worth it and Bella knew now, with every fiber of her being, that if she had to do it all over again, she’d do it in a heartbeat.

Still clutching that letter to her chest, Bella wiped her tears away and pulled out the next one, a message from Emily telling her all about her beautiful little goddaughter. A picture of the little angel was included with it and Bella pressed a kiss to it before sticking it in her wallet.

After that, she read what else the pack was up to. Sometimes she laughed and sometimes she cried, but Bella was unbelievably happy throughout it all. She felt thankful, fulfilled, and a sense of peace that she couldn’t recall ever feeling before.

If Bella had returned to La Push, Victoria would’ve brought her army to Forks and they all would’ve suffered. The pack wouldn’t have been ready to face a force of that size and Bella knew the damage to the pack and her town would’ve been devastating.

The wolves didn’t fight one on one. They attacked as a pack and Jake once told her it took at least two wolves to end a vampire. Over fifteen people had gone missing in Seattle by the time Bella boarded a plane to Salt Lake City. That meant the vampires Victoria created would’ve outnumbered the pack two to one and with those odds? Victoria’s forces would’ve left Forks and La Push completely ravaged. At least one of the wolves, if not all of them, would’ve died in that battle. Her decision to flee meant they all lived and discovering that they’d spent the last eleven months living life to the fullest bolstered her in a way she couldn’t describe. It fortified her, nourishing her lonely soul and strengthening her in a way she never thought possible.

With a breathtakingly beautiful smile still on her face, Bella soaked in every detail the pack shared with her. Embry told her all about a road trip that he and Quil took up to a reservation in Alaska, where they discovered another shapeshifting tribe existed. Quil wrote her a letter about Claire, the darling little girl he imprinted on after they got back. Jared talked about his imprint, Kim, who just graduated with a nursing degree. Leah filled her in on her decision to stop phasing and the college classes she registered for in Seattle. Seth cracked her up by telling her about his plans to do the complete opposite of Leah, deciding to never stop phasing, and practically crowed about how he would live forever and didn’t need to drink a drop of blood to do it.

She’d actually bonded with Paul the year before she left for college, so she wasn’t surprised that his letter was the longest. He wrote her an extremely lengthy one about his imprint, Rachel Black (who just so happened to be Jake’s older sister), and the auto shop he, Sam, and Jake opened last month. She collapsed in a fit of hysterical giggles when he proudly told her they decided to call it the “Fur and Feathers Auto Shop,” which made absolutely no sense to anyone except her and Charlie.

That giggling fit transformed into riotous laughter when she finally got to Jake’s letter and read how he felt about Paul imprinting on his sister, “Bells, it’s so awkward. I can hear Paul’s thoughts and see his memories. And that dude has such a vivid imagination… Seriously, Bells, I can see everything they do and I’m telling you right now- brothers are not supposed to know that shit. I swear I would bleach my mind if I could.”

Bella was still laughing as she put her shoes back on, gathering the letters up, and walked out the backdoor. She grabbed a small trash can from the downstairs bathroom on her way outside and set it up in the backyard. As much as she wanted to keep each and every one of those letters, the only one she could actually keep was Charlie’s. Everyone else had mentioned the wolves in some way and Bella couldn’t risk those letters falling into the wrong hands. She was painfully aware Victoria would probably find her one day and Bella couldn’t have those letters on her when that day came.

Still smiling warmly, Bella pocketed the letter from her dad and tore the rest of them up before tossing them into the trash can. Using a piece of Jake’s, she pulled a zippo lighter out of her pocket and lit it on fire before tossing the burning scrap into the bin. While the letters burned, she thought about Jake, wondering how he was.

Bella had honestly tried with Jake. She really did, but dating him felt so wrong to her. Kissing him felt like kissing her brother and she only went on two dates with him before calling it quits. Jake was extremely upset at first, pressuring Bella for more, but Paul stepped in. Smacking the back of his head, he scolded, “It’s like dating Leah, Jake. Would you seriously enjoy that?”

Since Jake considered Leah a sister, he grudgingly decided it was okay if they were just friends from there on out. And it was a good thing, too, because Angela came home from college the summer before Bella started classes at the University of Washington. Though Jake had gotten a glimpse of her on the beach the night he told Bella the tribal story about Cold Ones, he never had the chance to truly meet her. Bella brought Angela with her to a bonfire that summer and it only took Jake one look to realize he had finally imprinted.

They both struggled with the drawbacks of a long distance relationship that fall and Angela transferred over to the University of Washington at the start of Bella’s second semester. Unfortunately (or fortunately, now that she really thought about it) Bella already had a roommate and Angela ended up in a dorm across campus.

At first, Bella thought Jake would lose interest in her entirely after he imprinted, but she couldn’t have been more wrong. He no longer looked at her as a love interest, but their friendship remained strong. She and Jake had formed an unbreakable bond and Angela just made hanging out with him even more enjoyable.

Bella often spent her weekends with the two of them, alternating between Seattle and La Push, and her heart warmed as the memories of those rainy, adrenaline filled days ran through her mind. Paul often joined them, getting a constant kick out of Bella’s thirst for excitement. Angela, surprisingly, was a bit of a rebel and wholeheartedly joined in on many of their stupid stunts. She was a reserved, gentle, and soft spoken girl, but she more than made up for it with her willingness to try anything at least once, especially if it was considered risky. Angela seemed particularly delighted by anything that would make her father frown.

Jake, Paul, and Bella found it all hilarious since Angela’s dad was a reverend. They had well and truly corrupted her, turning her into a fellow adrenaline junky. To her father’s dismay, the girl now even proudly owned her very own motorcycle, courtesy of Jake and Bella. After discovering the bikes Bella had talked Jake into fixing up with her, Angela demanded they fix one up for her too.

Thanks to Charlie, Bella knew Jake had been a mess when he learned her roommate had been drained and Bella had vanished. Angry with Charlie and Bella both, he was determined to find Bella and bring her home. Jake defiantly reported her missing, hoping the FBI could track her down. It pissed him off even more when Charlie stepped in and put a stop to the investigation. Charlie told her in an email that Jake refused to talk to him for weeks after that.

Bella felt guilty about causing her best friend so much grief, but she couldn’t go back. If she did, Jake himself might end up dead and Bella wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she let that happen. He was her lifeline after the Cullens left and, frankly, she couldn’t imagine a world without him in it. Though she loved him like a brother, Bella still thought of him as her sun and the idea that Victoria could snuff out that radiant light was a thought that chilled her to the bone. She missed Jake terribly and, though she knew it wasn’t likely, she hoped that she would get the chance to see him again someday.

After the letters were reduced to ashes, Bella cleaned out the bin and headed back up to her room. Realizing she couldn’t put it off any longer, she finally came to a decision. Sighing, Bella started gathering up her things and packed them in her worn duffle bag. If she was brutally honest with herself, she’d already made her decision hours ago. She made it the second Clint asked her for her promise. After what she went through with the Cullens, Bella took promises very seriously and she never made a promise she didn’t intend to keep.

Besides, she wanted the chance to say goodbye. Goodbyes were sacred to Bella, especially since she left behind everyone she ever cared about without one. The Cullens, her parents, the pack… she never said goodbye to any of them. Bella had that chance with Clint and she intended to take it. He was worth it, of that she had no doubt. Because of Clint, Bella had spent the day reveling in a whole new range of emotions, ones that she hadn’t thought she would ever feel again. That made him worth the risk she was taking and he was definitely worth a goodbye.

She didn’t know that fate made other plans.

Bella pulled out the shirt she planned to wear the next day and slipped it into her messenger bag before taking her duffle out to her car. Even though she intended to meet Clint for lunch, that didn’t change the fact that she was leaving tomorrow, so she stuck the bag in her backseat. Ever cautious, Bella always stuck her bag in her car at night, though this time it was also packed with the things she often left in whatever room she was using. If, God forbid, something happened and she had to leave in a hurry, she refused to take the risk of leaving that bag behind. Everything she owned was inside it. Her sleeping bag and pillow could be easily replaced, but the things in that bag? Not so much.

That done, Bella locked her car and eyed the horizon, taking in the darkening sky. She inhaled deeply, preparing herself to face another night alone, and headed back up to the bedroom she had claimed as her own. Picking up the funds Charlie sent her, she quickly counted it, said a silent thank you to her father, and tucked it in her messenger bag. When she was done, she slipped her shoes off again and laid down, fully intending to sleep in her clothes. It definitely wasn’t comfortable, but she felt she didn’t really have a choice. She decided early on that she couldn’t risk being caught unprepared, so comfy PJs were a thing of the past.

The afternoon was starting to fade into twilight, which was a time of day that Bella avoided like the plague. She remembered how much Edward loved it, when the failing light allowed vampires to move about unnoticed, and Bella often tried to sleep right through it. Honestly, she preferred sleeping through the first half of the night and often woke up in the early morning hours. Nighttime made her overly wary and her nerves were often shot by the time dawn rolled around if she didn’t sleep through the first half of it. If it was time for her to pack up and move on, then she usually used the the few remaining hours of dark to shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, and pack up the remainder of her things. As soon as the sun rose on those days, she left.

With nothing else to do, Bella slipped inside her sleeping bag. As twilight settled on the property, she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep, firmly believing she would see Clint at lunch the next day. She had every intention of meeting up with him, if only so she’d have a chance to say goodbye.

Bella foolishly thought that one more day couldn’t hurt, never realizing just how much could change in the span of a day. In fact, one hour was all it took for her plans to go up in smoke and, worse yet, Bella wasn’t even aware of it. The chaos Loki had unleashed on S.H.I.E.L.D. was spreading faster than the deadliest of viruses and Bella wasn’t even awake to realize she was about to be infected.

She might’ve caught a glimpse of the peril heading her way if she’d gotten up to investigate when the ground rumbled and the house shook, but how could she have possibly known there was more to that tremor than that? Like everyone else in town, she just assumed it was a small quake and closed her eyes again. Completely oblivious to the car chase happening at that very moment, Bella let sleep pull her back under.

It was ironic, actually. After meeting Clint, Bella felt like she was finally waking up, like she was shaking off the last clinging tendrils of a deep and lasting slumber. It was almost fitting that Clint would be the one responsible for waking her a second time. Only this time around, Bella would finally open her eyes just to find herself trapped in a living nightmare.

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