I bet you guys thought I’d forgotten to update today, huh?
Nah, I was just having some technical difficulties. It didn’t want to upload from my phone for some weird reason. It left me a little befuddled to be honest. Anyway, moving on.
You guys are gonna be so proud of me. No clinthanger- I mean cliffhanger, lol, at the end of this chapter! I won’t lie, I almost added a little foreshadowing and melodrama at the end, but I thought you guys could use a break from it. You all have been sitting on the edge of your seats for, what, the last four chapters? Well, you can finally scoot back and relax, because the ending of this one is a little calmer.
…It’s the beginning of the next one that’ll have you freaking out…
Okay, so I feel I should warn you guys, I don’t normally update like this. Usually, I try to update once a week or so. Since I started posting this after Xmas, I got a little caught up in the whole holiday season/giving spirit thing and posted the last 6 chaps (including the prologue), which is fine, but now I have a small dilemma…
I’ve spoiled you all! Lol. That’s my way of saying that my posts will slow down after this one. Why, you ask? Because most of the first seven chapters were already written. I just had to finish them. After the next chapter, though, I need to go back to writing for a bit and pump out the next set of chapters.
I know, it totally sucks, but that’s life.
I love how you guys are trying to figure out the mystery behind Bella’s ability. I’m actually really enjoying reading your theories, but please remember to put it in a PM if you want to take a stab in the dark about why Bella can use her ability (without being a vampire), not a review. Personally, I don’t really mind, but there are people out there who hate spoilers, so please be considerate. I discovered too late that I can only delete guest reviews, so if you do figure it out and you put in your review, you might ruin it for someone else.
That said, I did drop a hint in the review section, but I’ll repeat it here for those of you who didn’t catch it. What is it, you ask?
Bella is not a mutant and she is not from Asgard.
That’s right. Bella is not a mutant. I considered the mutant gene idea, but I ultimately decided not to bring the mutant storyline into this fanfic. None of the Avengers have mutant genes and I decided to stick with that theme. Mutants do not exist in this crossover. And, finally, the poor girl was born on Earth like the rest of us, so she is not a Nordic goddess. What a shame! Lol.
That’s all I’m going to say about it.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Avengers or the Twilight Saga. They belong to Marvel and Stephanie Meyers, respectively. I’m just a crossover addict with a little too much time on her hands…
When Bella had only about three feet left of her climb to go, Clint gently grabbed her by the waist and pulled her away from the wall. Bella let go of the belt with her left hand, pulling it free with her right, and Clint set her down on the grass. She turned around to face him and he gave her a quick nod before stepping back to glance around the corner once more.
Satisfied they hadn’t yet noticed his absence, he gently took Bella’s free hand, lacing his fingers with hers, and started stealthily heading towards the storage shed built near the back end of the house. Despite the urgency they both felt to get to the car, they moved carefully, trying their hardest not to make any loud noises, and hugged the wall as they walked.
It was only a matter of time before Loki would notice Clint’s absence and figure out he’d somehow broken free of his control. Neither one of them wanted to be around when that happened, well aware that Loki was going to flip his lid. They both were tempted to make a break for the car, but attracting the attention of the agents posted outside would be a fatal mistake, so they took their time and quietly made their way towards the back end of the house.
Clint paused when they got to a window on the first floor and held up his free hand, silently telling Bella to stop. He quickly peeked into the window, doing another quick head count, before turning back to Bella.
Tugging her closer to him, Clint let go of her hand and settled his own on her waist. Leaning in, he whispered in her ear, “Can you do it again? Whatever you did upstairs to free my mind, can you do that to the others here?”
If she could, Clint might be able to use the distraction caused by their confusion to retrieve the Tesseract. He could put a stop to Loki’s campaign before it had a true chance to begin.
When he pulled back to look at her, Bella’s eyes were closed and there was a look of intense concentration on her face. After witnessing the way Loki’s clothing had changed, she had easily done the math and made the connection between his magic and Clint’s altered state. It wasn’t hard to figure out that the predatory man in green was the one who robbed Clint of control, but Bella hadn’t realized everyone else inside was also under Loki’s thrall, that Clint wasn’t the only one, and a flicker of guilt ran through her for not piecing it together sooner.
Bella wanted to both help the men inside and help Clint with whatever he needed, so she tried. She was still in a minor state of shock over what she’d done upstairs and she honestly wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen it for herself, but Bella wasn’t afraid of it. Instead of fighting against this sudden change, she embraced it. Discovering she had some kind of unknown ability would freak the normal person out, but all Bella felt was gratitude. She was still alive because of that ability and Clint was free, so she found herself more excited and grateful than afraid.
Hoping she could use her ability again to free the others under Loki’s control, she focused on how much she wanted to shield Clint earlier and tried to repeat the process. To her sheer frustration, nothing happened. The men inside desperately needed her help, though they didn’t know it, yet Bella was at a loss on how to go about doing that very thing.
Bella was strangely confident that it wasn’t a fluke, that she could use that protective energy again, but she couldn’t seem to harness it and use it at will. If she couldn’t control it, then she couldn’t help them, no matter how fiercely she wanted to, and that knowledge tore at her. The guilt inside of her grew, her inability to protect the people inside fanning the spark of guilt she felt earlier into a full fledged flame. She knew that illusive energy was still there, but Bella couldn’t seem to grab hold of it. She couldn’t control it.
Opening her eyes, she gave Clint a look of genuine remorse and mouthed, “I don’t know how.”
Unsurprised, Clint nodded. Asking her to use her ability had honestly been a long shot anyway. From her reaction upstairs, he could tell Bella had never used that ability before tonight, so he knew she likely hadn’t figured out how it worked yet.
The guilt in her eyes sent a pang running through him and he leaned in again, about to tell her that it was okay and not to blame herself, when a roar of fury came from inside the house. Clint reacted on instinct, slinging an arm around Bella’s waist, and flattened them both against the wall. Listening intently, the two heard it clearly when Loki shouted, “Find Barton. Now!”
A violent crashing sound shook the wall they were pressed against and Bella looked up, her alarmed brown eyes locking with his own. Clint paused, his focus shifting from the sounds coming from inside the house to the girl standing a breath away from him, pinned between him and the wall. He felt irrationally exposed in that moment, like those beautiful chocolate orbs were somehow going to draw out every secret he ever kept, which would be quite the feat given all the secrets he kept for S.H.I.E.L.D. There was something magnetic about those eyes of hers and Clint didn’t dare look away and break the hold she had on him.
Part of him wondered if this was the moment, the moment Bella realized danger like this followed Clint everywhere. He wondered if this was the moment that the magnitude of that danger truly sank in and Bella decided Clint wasn’t worth the risk to her life. Clint didn’t realize the alarm in Bella’s eyes had nothing to do with the element of danger surrounding them and everything to do with the unhinged fury in Loki’s voice and how that toxic emotional cocktail was aimed at Clint. Bella didn’t handle threats to her loved ones well and Loki reminded her of a certain psychotic redhead.
Bella swallowed hard as the sounds of struggling inside grew even louder and tensed, her nerves getting the better of her. If someone looked out the window… Clint pressed himself flush against her and laid a hand on her cheek, silently reminding her that she was safe, she was with him. He made her a silent vow in that moment, promising her that if she stayed with him, she’d find being wrapped in his arms the safest place she’d ever be.
With Clint so close to her, Bella swallowed back her nerves, focusing on the heat of Clint’s body instead of the violent man intent on controlling him. Clint had done more than remind her she was safe, he reminded her that he could take care of himself. He obviously dealt with danger on a daily basis. Now that he was no longer being controlled, she didn’t need to protect him. Clint was more than capable of protecting himself. Bella nodded slowly, silently telling him she was okay, just in time to hear Loki shout, “Bring him to me!”
Clint reluctantly looked away, breaking the connection between them, and muttered, “That’s our cue to leave.”
He stepped back and unholstered his gun with one hand while snatching up Bella’s hand with the other. They ducked as they passed beneath the window and took off at a sprint towards Bella’s SUV. Aware that every second mattered, he let go of Bella’s hand and jumped, sliding across the hood of the car. Landing on his feet on the other side, he winked at a silently gaping Bella and hurriedly unlocked the doors.
Bella quickly opened the door and was about to climb in when a large hand clamped down on her shoulder. She didn’t think, she just reacted, spinning around while whipping the belt through the air. The buckle of the belt collided hard with the man’s head and a sickening crack echoed around the yard as he collapsed. Adrenaline pumping through her veins, she cautiously backed up. Half expecting the man to pop up and come at her again, she kept her eyes warily trained on him as she climbed into the seat before quietly shutting the door.
How Bella managed to hit that guy in the one spot that could knock him out was a mystery to her, one that left her baffled, but she decided not to question it and chalked it up to her talent for accidentally injuring others. When she finally tore her gaze away from the unconscious man outside her door and looked at Clint, she was met with a dumbfounded expression. A gun shot went off, likely fired by the partner of the operative Bella knocked out, and the noise violently snapped Clint out of his shock. He quickly turned the car on and floored it, making the tires squeal as he peeled away from the shed.
The agents stationed in front of the house reacted swiftly, pulling out their guns and showering the SUV in a hail of rapid gunfire. The windows on Bella’s side of the car shattered and they both ducked on instinct. The broken glass ripped across Bella’s skin and she pulled her stinging arm inward, cradling it against her chest. She started to sit up again and Clint placed a hand on the back of her head, pushing her further down.
“Stay down!” he shouted and made a sharp turn, cutting through the front lawn in an attempt to escape the gunfire.
Uncomfortable, Bella quickly slid out of her seat and turned so she was facing it, curling her body up in the space in front of it. Clint glanced at her, taken aback by her quick thinking, and murmured, “That works too.”
With twitching lips, Bella glanced down at her burning arm. Her almost smile quickly turned into a nauseated grimace as she took in the cuts from the window glass. She brushed away what she could and focused on the jagged piece of glass sticking out of her bicep. Bracing herself, she exhaled slowly and yanked it out before chucking it into the backseat. Determined not to pass out in the middle of their great escape, Bella kept her eyes away from the cut and started breathing through her mouth to keep herself from inhaling the scent of blood. Clint watched her from the corner of his eye and had to admit he was impressed. It was like the pain didn’t even faze her.
Headlights in the rearview mirror quickly caught Clint’s attention and he cursed, “Shit!” Bella gave him a questioning look and he explained, “We’ve got a tail. Stay down, they’re gonna pull up on your side.”
Bella tipped her head up to peek out the broken window. Sure enough, they were being tailed by a modified hummer, the same one Clint used to escape the base. She gritted her teeth in frustration, well aware her crappy SUV would fall apart if the hummer rammed them off the road. She looked at Clint, her eyes drawn to the gun he had out earlier, and held out her hand, “Give me your gun.”
Clint stilled and turned to look at her, taking in her serious demeanor. She raised her eyebrows at him and shook her hand impatiently, urging him into action. He unholstered the weapon and handed it to her while asking, “Do you know how to use it?”
Bella quickly checked the safety and chambered a round before looking at the hummer, “I guess you’re about to find out. I need a view of those tires, Clint.”
Clint grinned, a shot of pure adrenaline and excitement coursing through his veins. Bella had even more secrets than he thought. After the story she told him during lunch, learning Bella knew how to fire a gun was the last thing he expected. Honestly, the very idea of Bella firing a weapon turned him on. She was equipping him with enough fantasies to last him a week.
Glancing at the rearview mirror, Clint said, “Get ready. They’re gaining on us, so you’ll get your chance.”
Bella nodded and got on her knees, preparing herself to shoot. She looked at the hummer thoughtfully and commented, “You’re gonna want to slow down. Once I take out that tire, that hummer will sideswipe us. You’ll need to speed up to avoid it and you can’t do that if you’re already flooring it.”
Clint nodded, still grinning like a fool, and subtly slowed down. He shifted into a slower speed so gradually that the driver behind them didn’t even notice. The hummer pulled even with them and Bella took aim, quickly firing two bullets. Clint gunned it as the hummer started swerving towards them and Bella fired again, taking out the second front tire.
The agent in the passenger side fired back and Bella quickly ducked back down. Clint made another sharp turn to evade the flying bullets and they finally started gaining some ground. Satisfied the hummer wouldn’t be returning, Bella brushed the glass off the seat and climbed back into it. She looked down at the gun thoughtfully before handing it back to Clint.
Clint made no attempt to hide the stare he was shooting her way as he holstered the gun. Honestly, he was prepared to flip the car around and shoot out the tires with his left hand while driving in reverse. He’d done it a few times before, but it was difficult and it was so much easier just to let Bella take care of it. Besides, she had him curious. He wanted to know if she really could shoot or if she was acting on impulse. Now he knew.
Clint was a little baffled, to be honest. Bella didn’t just know how to shoot, she also had a good eye. She only took three shots and all three bullets hit their targets. On top of that, she also thought ahead, anticipating the reaction of the driver and what direction the hummer would spin if she took out the front left tire. He had no idea she had it in her, but he had to admit he was damned impressed.
Bella could feel Clint’s gaze on her. She avoided looking at him for a moment, ignoring the eyes boring a hole in the side of her head in favor of slipping her belt back on. She knew how handy that belt could be now and preferred to keep it on her. With nothing left to distract her, Bella gave him a rueful look and he deadpanned, “Who are you?”
Bella knew her actions over the course of the night probably painted her in the wrong light. She had an exit strategy already in place, she somehow took down an operative in the backyard, and she shot out the tires on a modified hummer trying to ram them off the road. Things didn’t look good for her, but, thankfully, she could see the teasing light in Clint’s eyes when he questioned her. In all honesty, Bella could tell Clint was the real professional in this situation and it should’ve been her asking him that question.
She rolled her eyes at him and answered simply, “A small town girl with a cop for a daddy.”
Clint’s lips twitched and he teased, “I thought your dad knew better than to put a weapon in your hand.”
Bella unsuccessfully tried to stifle a smile and explained, “The summer before I turned thirteen, my dad had a rough case. There was a man in Forks raping teenage girls and he was having a hard time catching him. At that point, I guess he decided teaching me to shoot was worth the risk of getting shot.” She flashed him a quick smile and ruefully added, “He did learn from his mistake, though. He started me out on a paintball gun and then moved me up to a BB gun before letting me get into the live ammo.” Her voice got even quieter and she looked away before commenting offhandedly, “It was a smart move.”
A startled laugh escaped him when he realized what she meant. Bella accidentally shot her dad with either a paintball or a BB pellet, both of which would sting like a bitch but cause no permanent damage. Bella blushed and shrugged her shoulders helplessly, a sheepish expression on her face. He shook his head slowly, still chuckling to himself, and Bella looked at him pointedly, “I think the real question is, who are you?” She swallowed hard, a little afraid of the answer, and asked, “What happened back there? What are you involved in, Clint?”
Clint focused back on the road, suddenly nervous, and reached into his jacket pocket to pull out his badge. He knew everything was about to change, but whether that change was for the better remained to be seen. Bella spent the last eleven months avoiding government officials and agencies like the one he worked for. She wasn’t running from the law, but she kept away from anything and anyone who could put her on the grid. Clint didn’t want to lose her because of this. All he wanted to do from the second he laid eyes on her was protect her.
And kiss her, of course. Clint really wanted to kiss her.
Bracing himself for her reaction, he held out the badge. She took it from him with tentative fingers and flipped open the leather sleeve. Relief swept through her as she looked at it. At any other time, seeing that badge would’ve alarmed her, especially since she was trying to keep a low profile, but in this situation? That badge was an enormous relief.
After everything that just happened, she’d been more than a little afraid that he might be a mercenary. A S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, though? She could handle that. She actually had a very healthy level of respect for the members of that particular agency. S.H.I.E.L.D. often dealt with superhuman threats and their ability to handle those type of cases was something that she envied. It was also something that she lacked.
“You’re a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent,” she murmured and ran her fingers gently, almost tenderly, over the badge. She looked up at Clint, taking in how tense he looked. The tension in his body made her suspicious and she skeptically asked, “Is Clint your real name?”
Brows furrowed, Clint nodded, “Yeah, it is. I also go by Hawkeye.”
“Hawkeye?” Bella repeated curiously, glancing at his bow. She had a feeling he likely earned that name because he was a trick shot.
“It’s what they call me at S.H.I.E.L.D.,” he explained. Clint wasn’t sure why he wanted her to know his code name, but he had to admit that telling her felt right. He glanced at her and asked, “You’ve actually heard of us? Usually, I have to explain what it is we do.”
Bella giggled and Clint started to relax. She ran her fingers over the badge again and gently reminded him, “Cop for a daddy, Clint. I know about S.H.I.E.L.D. Charlie made sure I knew, especially after Captain America and Ironman got plastered all over the front page.”
Bella didn’t say it, but Charlie actually told her about S.H.I.E.L.D. in case she ever ran out of options. Charlie knew Bella couldn’t run forever, even if his daughter had yet to acknowledge that fact, and he honestly thought S.H.I.E.L.D. was the one organization that might actually be able to handle vampires. There were risks involved if she went to S.H.I.E.L.D., though. If Bella ever made it onto their radar, then she, and everyone connected to her, would be thrown under a spotlight, bringing unwanted attention to the wolves. Bella hadn’t been willing to risk it. She’d rather run than be the downfall of the pack and Charlie understood that.
Unfortunately, Bella realized she was now in the spotlight and it was too late to do anything about it. The only thing she could do was try to keep that probing light from drifting away from her and falling onto the pack. Bella hadn’t known she was attracting the attention of a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent when she had lunch with Clint, but she reluctantly admitted to herself that she didn’t regret it. In fact, she’d do it all over again, given the choice.
Clint kept his gaze focused on the road ahead of them, which would take them back into the heart of town, and smiled a little, reminding himself to thank Chief Swan when he met him. Her dad was someone he had a feeling he’d get on well with. It sounded like Charlie Swan had gone out of his way to train Bella how to survive in the most dangerous of circumstances. He not only taught her how to shoot, he made sure Bella knew all about S.H.I.E.L.D., which was a secretive agency that few people understood. If Coulson was right, Chief Swan had also given her pointers on how to stay off the grid. Bella was likely still alive today because of what her father taught her, so Clint had a lot to thank the man for.
Clint wasn’t thinking in hypotheticals, he genuinely planned on meeting him. He knew he had to deal with Loki and the two enhanced unknowns hunting Bella first, but he had every intention of pursuing a relationship with the brown eyed beauty when everything was said and done. To say that he liked her would be a stupidly massive understatement.
Bella handed the badge back to him and gently prodded, “And back there? Who was that?”
Clint slipped the badge back into his pocket and studied Bella for a moment, eyeing her thoughtfully. Coming to a decision, Clint switched his gaze back to the road and began, “A few months back, there was an attack on a small town here, in New Mexico. Did you happen to catch that story?”
S.H.I.E.L.D. was able to cover up most of what happened and why Thor was on Earth, but the attack on that town wasn’t something they could fully contain. People had witnessed Thor’s willingness to sacrifice himself for them and wanted the world to know about it. Instead of reasoning with those witnesses, who thought they had one upped a government agency by discreetly posting video on the web, S.H.I.E.L.D. used the story to their advantage. They labeled the Asgardians as allies, which stopped the masses from panicking about an unknown alien race. Thor’s heroic act eased the public’s fears and simultaneously earned S.H.I.E.L.D. triple their normal funding.
Nodding, Bella replied, “You’re talking about Thor, right? The article I read said Thor was involved. That was a big story. It meant we weren’t alone in the universe.”
“That’s right,” Clint agreed. “The guy in green back there, the one who took control of my mind,” Clint shuddered, feeling slightly sick, “his name is Loki and he’s Thor’s brother. He didn’t trust any of us with the full story, but I got the gist. From what I understand, Odin plans to give the Asgardian throne to Thor and Loki’s pissed. Loki feels a throne is owed to him, so he’s planning to stake his claim on Earth. He wants to rule it, to subjugate it, and he has an army to back him up.’
“S.H.I.E.L.D. found something buried in the ocean called the Tesseract. I was here to guard it, that was my assignment. Loki used the Tesseract to open a portal and came through it earlier tonight. He’s going to use it again to open a portal for his army.”
Bella blinked a couple of times, absorbing that. Clint glanced at her to make sure she was okay, but kept quiet. It was a lot to digest and he was honestly expecting her to freak out on him at any second. He desperately wanted to know what she was thinking, but didn’t dare ask. Bella wouldn’t have given him a straightforward answer anyway, because all she could think about were vampires, werewolves, and Viking gods.
Are all myths based on truth? she idly wondered. She shook her head a little, internally scoffing, And here I thought I’d never meet a Nordic god.
When Bella finally responded, her tone was grave, “So not all of the Asgardians are allies.”
Clint glanced at her, surprised she had detected something wrong with the story S.H.I.E.L.D. fed the media outlets. Bella had sharp instincts, she knew something was off, but she wasn’t quite right in her assessment. They did lie to the media, but not about the Asgardians. S.H.I.E.L.D. covered up something far more important and it was now coming back to bite them in the ass. Fury had buried the name of the person responsible for sending the Destroyer to Earth and the true mission it was tasked with, ending Thor.
People viewed Thor as a hero. It didn’t seem right for him to lose that because his brother was a psycho. Thor hadn’t known his brother’s resentment would follow him when he was banished to Earth and he had done everything within his power to make it right, including offering up his own life. Besides, they used Thor as a shining example reflecting all of the golden attributes of his people. If people knew Loki only sent that Destroyer to Earth because Thor was here, he would lose the support of the people and the masses would panic, doubting the trustworthiness of the Asgardians. Basically, people would jump to the same conclusion Bella did, assuming some of the Asgardians weren’t allies. If Loki was Asgardian and sent that Destroyer, surely other Asgardians thought like he did, with a casual disregard for human life.
Thor was the future leader of his people, they supported him. Fury thought that likely wouldn’t matter to the human race, though, that a good portion of them would fail to grasp that Loki was the exception to the rule. He didn’t represent anyone on Asgard, not a single one of them.
Clint shook his head and clarified, “Loki is acting alone. As far as we know, the rest of Asgard supports Thor. Loki… Loki was the one who sent that Destroyer to New Mexico, Bella. He sent it here to kill his brother. Director Fury calls that attack ‘an Asgardian grudge match.’ That Destroyer was hands down the most powerful assassin our world had ever seen and Loki sent it to a town full of civilians. He made himself an enemy of Earth on day one and he’s made it painfully clear he doesn’t care about the fallout, the lives lost because of his actions.”
Letting out a weary sigh, Clint added, “I brought up Thor to Loki, labeling him as a potential threat to his cause, and Loki told me the bifrost, which allows Asgardians to travel openly between realms, has been destroyed. Now that Thor is trapped back on Asgard, Loki wants to do more than send one assassin, he wants to lead an army through the gates.”
Clint glanced at Bella, making sure he hadn’t lost her or worse, that she didn’t truly believe him. Bella was watching him with a sympathetic eye, somberly taking in every single word. Her expression was open and calm, telling him she accepted everything Clint had revealed so far. He nervously ran a hand through his hair and spoke in a low voice, hoping Bella understood the gravity of what he was about to say, “When he sent that Destroyer, he saw for himself that we don’t have the technology needed to battle back his forces. He believes it will be an easy win, that it will be a massacre instead of a true battle.”
Bella swallowed hard, her thoughts racing, and looked down at her hands. Clint was being surprisingly upfront about everything and that actually worried her a little. S.H.I.E.L.D. operated in the shadows and if Clint was freely giving this information to her, then she wasn’t seeing everything. She took a minute to digest it all, her mind furiously analyzing everything she knew about Loki.
It wasn’t long before something else started to occur to her, something that had to do solely with Loki, and every muscle in Bella’s body tensed. She slowly turned to look at Clint and he raised his eyebrows at her in question. Studying his face, Bella cautiously stated, “And anyone who gets close to him could end up like you, end up having their minds controlled.”
Clint locked eyes with her and said quietly, “Except you.”
An explosion of curse words went off in Bella’s mind and she looked around anxiously, asking, “Where are you taking me, Clint?”
When he didn’t answer her right away, she turned back to face him, clearly alarmed. Clint sighed and looked away, avoiding her gaze, “We need your help, Bella. You’re the only shot we have at a mental defense against him.”
“Look,” he interrupted, “if we don’t stop Loki, it doesn’t matter where I take you because the whole world will be his domain. The entire planet will be under his rule. There will be no place left for you to run. Nowhere to hide.”
Clint turned towards her again, looking at her intently, and stressed, “The way he takes control… It’s like being unmade, Bella, like he hollows you out, emptying you of everything you are, and fills you with something else. Any person he comes into contact with is at risk, but you… You protected me back there, you freed my mind. You may be the only person on earth who can’t be influenced and you have the ability to share that gift with others. The whole planet is on the brink of war and you can help us stop him. You can make sure our best men aren’t turned into his best soldiers and used against us. Help us, Bella.” Looking straight into her dark eyes, he whispered, “Please.”
Conflicted, Bella turned her head and looked at the road, effectively tearing her gaze away from the steel colored eyes she loved so much. Clint didn’t really understand what he was asking her. Though he didn’t know it, Clint was asking her to choose between protecting the world and protecting the secret of the vampire race, because if she stayed with him? A vampire would eventually catch up with her somewhere down the road and Bella didn’t know how long she’d be able to keep the secret if that happened.
In that moment, Bella waged an internal war, the part of her still loyal to the Cullens battling with the part of her that resented vampires because of what Victoria had put her through. She felt like she was internally being torn in half and it physically hurt.
Bella ran a trembling hand through her hair and exhaled slowly, futilely trying to center herself. Gritting her teeth, she violently punched the dashboard twice and rolled her eyes. What good was keeping the secret if Loki took control and the fate of the world fell into his vindictive hands? They’d all become slaves then, humans and vampires alike, which meant Bella didn’t really have a choice.
There weren’t enough words to describe just how much that pissed her off. This entire situation made her livid. She spent eleven months trying to evade a vampire army only to end up on the front lines of a war with an alien one. It made her furious.
When everything was said and done, though, protecting the wolves was more important to her than protecting the secret of the vampire race. She’d been hunted too long to feel too upset about the idea of S.H.I.E.L.D. discovering vampires existed and a small part of her was even secretly rooting for them, hoping they actually figured it out. The longer Bella spent on the run, the more she understood what it felt like to be prey, and it was not a pleasant feeling. She decided then and there that she wouldn’t tell S.H.I.E.L.D. about vampires, but she also wouldn’t deny it if someone in the agency figured it out.
She’d leave it up to fate.
Bella glanced at Clint, who had the guiltiest look she’d ever seen on his face, and nearly laughed at his expression. Clint was right though and she realized it. She also realized that if she didn’t help him, if she disappeared at the first opportunity and never looked back, then there was a small chance Loki might catch up with him again, later down the line, and Bella wouldn’t be around to stop him from retaking control. The energy around her mind pulsed at the mere thought and her heart spasmed painfully.
The ache in Bella’s chest made her pause. She swore her world once again shifted as it dawned on her that even though she might resent being forced into this situation, her heart wanted her to be there with Clint when he walked back into danger. Not a single part of her was okay with Clint facing Loki again without her protection. Knowing her heart had already made whatever farce of a choice she’d been given, Bella wearily closed her eyes and sighed, “Fine.”
“Fine?” Clint repeated, not quite believing his ears.
As quickly as it came, her fury vanished and she slumped back into her seat. Staring out the broken window, Bella nodded and said in a low tone, “Fine. I’ll help you.”
Surprised, he threw her a grateful look. She was angry, yes, but he really hadn’t expected her to accept the situation so quickly. He’d been prepared for one hell of a fight.
“Thank y-” Clint was cut off when Bella’s airbag exploded out of the dashboard. Stunned, he stared at it for a second, belatedly realizing just how hard she must’ve punched it. He hadn’t known she was that angry and he swallowed hard, feeling even guiltier than before. She had to have been beyond furious in order for a petite little thing like her to do that kind of damage. An apology was on the tip of his tongue, but then Clint heard the most amazing sound, beautiful peals of laughter. Hidden from view by the airbag, Bella was laughing.
Chuckling, Clint reached down and grabbed his knife. He twirled it in his hand once before stabbing the airbag, watching as it deflated and Bella’s laughing face came into view. Her laughter was downright hypnotic and he found himself memorizing everything about her in that moment, hoping to remember the sight of her laughing for years to come. While he watched her, Clint couldn’t help thinking it was worth it. To see Bella laughing so hard? It was worth everything he’d been through tonight and then some.
Sobering up a little, to Clint’s utter dismay, Bella sighed and changed the topic, asking, “So what were you doing at that house?”
Tucking his knife back into the sheath strapped to his ankle, Clint explained, “The portal that Loki came through collapsed, taking the entire S.H.I.E.L.D. base with it. Staying in the area, close to the scene, would’ve been the last thing S.H.I.E.L.D expected. The plan was to stay there until Thompson, one of the other agents under Loki’s control, could commandeer one of the quinjets being used by Search and Rescue to fly out survivors. Then we would’ve moved on, going wherever Loki sent us.”
Thompson had likely stolen that quinjet by now, but Clint didn’t know if Loki would move out immediately or stick around to hunt him down. Loki was unpredictable, so Clint wasn’t taking any chances. He was getting them out of the area as quickly as possible.
Bella’s interference had thrown a serious wrench into Loki’s plans. Loki had chosen Clint to stand in as his second in command and now the Asgardian would have to rethink a few things. Out of the handful of agents Loki was controlling, Clint was the highest ranked. Losing control over him meant Loki had just lost the most valuable chess piece he’d gained since his arrival. Clint wasn’t sure how Loki would take that loss and didn’t plan on sticking around to find out.
Grimly, Clint also realized Loki wasn’t the only threat he had to keep an eye out for. S.H.I.E.L.D. currently thought he was working with the enemy, that Loki still controlled him. Sadly, they were still in the process of evacuating when Loki used that portal. A lot of lives were lost when the base collapsed and Clint helped the man responsible escape. He was sure there was more than one operative out there who would love to take a shot at him, given the chance. Giving them a little time to cool off and let clearer heads prevail couldn’t hurt.
A part of him was tempted to try it anyway, to drive straight back to the base and turn himself over to the agents focused on search and rescue, but he couldn’t take the risk that they would shoot him on sight, especially since Bella was with him. Alone, it was a risk he was comfortable with taking. Hell, he’d done riskier things than that just last week. With Bella at his side, though, the very idea seemed needlessly reckless. Clint could find a smarter way back into the fold, one that didn’t put her life on the line. Bella’s safety was his number one priority.
What he really needed was a place to regroup, a place to hide out while he got things cleared away. He also needed access to a secure line to call Fury from. The phone he usually carried had been dropped out the window of a speeding hummer an hour earlier. If he could get a hold of Fury, he could explain what happened after the base collapsed. Fury would give him his marching orders and tell him what to do next. He had a feeling Fury would be temporarily moving Headquarters to the helicarrier and the only way they were getting on board that ship was with Fury’s permission.
Clint winced a little, remembering what happened after Loki took control of his mind in the basement. He wouldn’t be surprised if Fury was pissed when he eventually made that call. To get the Tesseract for Loki, Clint had actually pulled out his gun and shot Fury. That memory made him pause, though, and consider something he hadn’t thought about before now. Clint slowly started to wonder if it was possible that he was fighting against Loki’s control on a subconscious level.
If Clint had truly wanted to kill Fury, he would’ve aimed his gun at Fury’s head. Instead, Clint had fired at Fury’s heart. Fully under Loki’s control, Clint hadn’t thought about the fact that Fury always wore a bulletproof vest at the time, just like Clint did, and he had to wonder if he shot him in the chest because he subconsciously realized Fury would be okay. He’d definitely be sore, but otherwise uninjured.
Likewise, Clint could’ve easily killed Bella by snapping her neck, but he tried to strangle her instead. He still felt nauseated about trying to kill her at all, but he had to wonder why he tried strangling her that way when he could’ve killed her instantly with one swift move.
Was it possible that his subconscious was trying to give Bella a fighting chance, hoping she’d find a way to turn the tables on him?
“But why that house, specifically?” Bella clarified, forcing Clint to put his scattered thoughts on hold.
Clint glanced at her, taking in her intrigued expression, and explained, “I make sure I have a bolthole anywhere I go, Bella. That house was the most recent foreclosure, which meant the bank probably hadn’t had the opportunity to shut off the water or electricity yet. It was also remote.”
Bella gave him a dumbfounded look and he prodded, “Why were you there?”
Shifting uncomfortably, Bella quietly admitted, “The same reason. The whole remote, foreclosure thing.”
Clint raised his eyebrows at her in surprise. It was surreal, realizing Bella thought the same way he did. She was good at running, almost like she’d been trained. If he hadn’t already looked into her background, he’d give serious thought to the possibility that she was a foreign operative.
Seeing a pretty decent sized parking lot up ahead, Clint turned into it while commenting, “We need to talk about whatever you’re running from, Bella.”
Bella opened her mouth to protest and Clint quickly cut her off, “I’m a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Bella. I know when someone is running.” He pinned her with a serious look and stressed, “Whatever trouble you’re running from, I now have to keep an eye out for. It’s now a threat to me too.”
Let me in, he added silently. Let me protect you.
Bella stubbornly looked away, training her gaze on the shards of glass littering the floor. Clint was tempted to bring up the redhead in the airport video, positive it would make her react and force her to open up. He chose not to, though. He wanted Bella to trust him and confide in him because she wanted to, not because he forced her to.
Clint shook his head and bargained, “I told you about the danger nipping at my heels…” Clint paused a second and said in a soft, genuine tone, “You can trust me, Bella. I deal with threats of all kinds for a living and I promise you I can handle the danger nipping at your heels too.” He pulled into an empty spot and added, “Just think about it, okay? I gotta know what we’re up against.”
“Okay,” Bella murmured, “I’ll think about it.”
Honestly, Bella wanted to tell him. She was tired of running, tired of constantly looking over her shoulder, but she was worried telling Clint about vampires would lead to the exposure of the wolves. They were her number one priority, though not her only one.
Bella hated to admit it, but she knew a small part of her was also still loyal to the Cullens. They’d left her vulnerable with Victoria on the loose, but anytime she started to resent them for it, she remembered how the Cullens saved her from James and how Edward saved her from both the van and the drunks in Port Angeles. Yes, they abandoned her, but she felt like she owed them anyway. Her silence was her way of repaying them.
Unfortunately, Bella knew it was only a matter of time before she’d have to break that silence. The longer she stayed with Clint, the greater the odds were that a vampire would catch up with them. It wouldn’t be long until she had no choice but to tell him and that was exactly why she was so conflicted about helping him take down Loki. She was keenly aware that she couldn’t do both, not if a vampire caught up with them before Loki was taken care of. She planned to disappear again as soon as he was no longer a threat, but if something happened before then? It was out of her hands. Bella couldn’t control fate and she was stupid enough to try.
As Clint parked the SUV, Bella focused on their surroundings, automatically scanning it for unseen threats. Finished, she let her eyes wander out of pure curiosity and asked, “What are we doing here?”
“Dumping this car,” Clint replied. “With all the damage, it’s just going to attract unwanted attention. That and Loki’s men will be on the lookout for it.”
Understanding dawned on her and she rolled her eyes, “You’re going to steal a car.”
“Exactly,” Clint agreed and gave her an amused look, “glad we’re on the same page.”
Shaking her head, Bella giggled and opened her door. After getting out, she turned and gave the dark green SUV an appraising look. For the last eleven months, that SUV had been her only constant. More than once, she had even slept in it, too afraid to open the door if she pulled into town after the sun had already dipped beneath the horizon. She often curled up in the stuffy backseat instead, refusing to let her scent escape into the cool night air. Sadly, the car was now riddled with so many bullet holes that it would be impossible to trap her scent inside it. She gingerly ran her fingers over one, silently digesting just how close she’d once again come to death.
Clint watched her curiously out of the corner of his eye while snapping off her radio antenna, which he planned to use to break into one of the nearby cars. Honestly, he was a little unnerved by how calm she was. All in the span of thirty minutes, he’d tried to kill her, they scaled the wall of a house, led a car chase under gunfire, and he’d recruited her into helping S.H.I.E.L.D. stop an alien invasion, the last of which he himself was still having a hard time believing. Bella had yet to freak out on him and it made him uneasy. He didn’t understand why she wasn’t fazed by any of the danger they’d faced. Clint was used to dangerous missions, he was trained to calmly stare down the wrong end of a gun, but Bella wasn’t. She was too at ease and it bothered him. It made him wonder what kind of life Bella had been living for her to react this way.
Sighing, Clint tore his gaze away from the petite brunette and focused on finding a dependable, nondescript car. Catching sight of a potential prospect, he made his way a few cars down, heading towards the south end of the lot.
It’d been a long night and Clint was more than ready to put this town in his rearview mirror. Glancing over at Bella again, he couldn’t help but smile. He wasn’t leaving town under the best of circumstances, but he was okay with that. Clint would gladly leave this town behind and never look back, because he was undoubtedly taking the best part about it with him.