SOotS now has over 100 followers and favorites!
Share in my excitement, readers. Feel my happiness. Give me just one, little, itty bitty victory dance.
So, this chapter turned out to be so much longer than I thought it’d be, but I flat out refuse to let the car ride to the safe house take up more than one chapter. There just wasn’t a good place to cut it, so you’re all in luck. Apparently, TB Viking Addict’s having a two for one sale… well, you know, except for the sale part…
Okay, here’s what you need to know about this chapter: I am fully aware that Bella didn’t know much about the Volturi until after she met them, but I’m changing that. Bella still doesn’t know much about them, but Edward filled her in on a few more details in this fic back when she caught sight of that painting in their house. In my version, she knows that there’s a law about either killing or changing humans who know the secret. She also knows a few small details about the guard, Aro, and Marcus. Edward wanted to stress how dangerous they were, so he told her those basic details. For all you hardcore fans who get irritated when things don’t line up chronologically… Woops!
Yeah, pretty sure that’s it.
Disclaimer: The Avengers and the Twilight Saga belong to Marvel and Stephanie Meyers. I own nothing. I just think that though Bella might’ve made a cool vampire, she had all the potential to be one mother truckin’ badass human…
“Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” -Thomas Jefferson
Bella looked out the window at the passing scenery as an odd state of numbness settled over her, focusing her weary gaze on the endless miles of dark desert stretching out around them. Clint wasted no time in putting the sleepy town behind them, casting a concerned glance her way when they passed the town limits. He’d mercifully given her a minute to collect her thoughts, but he could’ve given her years and she still wouldn’t have been prepared to share this story. All the time in the world wouldn’t make this any easier. Nothing would.
Bella couldn’t quite believe everything had led to this, to revealing the secret she once kept with a passion. Years ago, keeping the Cullens’ secret meant more to her than her own life. She once believed she’d take that secret to the grave, that nothing else was more important.
She knew better now.
Making it through the last eleven months had not been easy. In fact, the path she’d chosen had been a grueling one and Bella understood so much more about the world and life in general after taking such a dark and lonely road.
There was a time when Bella once fantasized about becoming a vampire. Instead of seeing that fantasy become reality, she learned firsthand what it meant to be the prey. She once viewed the bloodthirsty vampire way of life with wide eyed wonder and an almost childlike delight, refusing to acknowledge the dark world simmering just beneath the surface, and fate had decided that just wouldn’t do.
The blinders on her eyes had been brutally stripped away from her and Bella was slapped with the cold, hard truth. The Cullens were genuinely good people with beautiful hearts, but she’d been willfully blind to their true nature. They were predators, a fact that she’d always ignored. Drawn in by the beauty of the Cullens and the lure of immortality, Bella never stopped to consider what it truly meant to be a predator. Worse yet, she refused to acknowledge that a predator was nothing without its prey.
When Bella lived in Forks, all she saw whenever she looked at the Cullens was the potential beauty that could be found in the life of the world’s most formidable predator. She spent the last eleven months experiencing the flipside of that coin, learning just how grim and ugly life could be as that predator’s prey. The Cullens were a peaceful coven, so Bella never realized just how violent and vicious the supernatural world actually was until long after she became so entangled with it that she would never break free.
Bella now understood what it meant to be hunted. She also now understood the true cost of keeping the secret. Bella had always known there was a cost to being in the know, but she naively thought that being forced to constantly lie to everyone she loved was the extent of it as long as she remained human. She thought the true cost would come with the change, when she would be forced to cut every tie she ever had.
She learned just how wrong she was over the last eleven months. The real price? It was paid in human blood.
Those blinders she wore were torn away from her the night she found Jenny’s lifeless body in her dorm room. She hadn’t really liked Jenny and found her incredibly shallow, but that didn’t mean Jenny deserved death, especially such a violent one. The brutal death of her roommate hadn’t just hit Bella hard, it delivered a crushing blow, forcing her to acknowledge the real cost of keeping the secret. Her silence had led to Jenny’s death and every day she kept quiet, more people were preyed upon and killed. In Bella’s eyes, the cost was too steep and she’d known it for a while. The price was something she could no longer afford, especially since unsuspecting, innocent people were the ones paying for her silence.
Bella had known this moment was coming, that it was inevitable once she decided to leave things up to fate. She just hadn’t expected it to happen so soon. She’d barely made the decision to let fate decide whether or not to reveal the vampire secret ten minutes before Laurent stepped out of the shadows. The vampires she knew were always so afraid of this moment, afraid of what would happen if their secret ever came to light, and Bella had developed that same fear. Now that the moment had actually come, though, she realized she wasn’t afraid anymore.
Fate had guided her here, to this point, and put her in a position to help others, to help all the faceless victims of vampire bloodlust. Bella was smart enough to realize that and she listened to what fate was telling her, that she wasn’t meant to keep the secret. In her heart, she was more relieved than upset. This secret had been slowly eating away at her ever since Jenny’s death, consuming her with guilt the longer she remained silent, and she could no longer justify her loyalty to the Cullens, not with the bloodshed of innocents at stake.
Clint noticed the distance in Bella’s voice as she began her story, starting with the day she moved to Forks. He didn’t like it, but he kept quiet anyway, recognizing it as a defensive technique. Emotionally distancing herself was the only way Bella was going to make it through her history without breaking down, so he listened in silence while she told him a story about a girl who fell in love with a vampire, setting into motion a heartbreaking string of events that put her on the lonely road here.
One part of his tactical mind was storing away everything she revealed about vampires, filing away the abilities they had, the terms she used, the names she mentioned, the significance of red and golden eyes, and every other detail that spilled from Bella’s lips. Another part of him, on the other hand, was silently marveling over everything she’d been through. Bella was a survivor, that was painfully clear, and it was never more obvious to Clint than it was at that moment.
As he learned just how much she’d been through over the last four years, Clint looked at her thoughtfully and realized she desperately needed this, a chance to get it all out. Her dad might’ve known something about vampires, but he highly doubted Bella told Charlie everything she was currently telling him. Finally getting the chance to unburden herself was probably both painful and a release for her. For years, she carried the weight of this burden alone, with no one to confide in, no one to discuss it with. Still, she loved the family she met. It was painful for her to betray their trust.
He definitely understood now why Bella had so adamantly denied being in danger at lunch, refusing to tell him who she was running from. She knew that Clint was well trained just by looking at him, but she hadn’t known he was a S.H.E.L.D. agent. She hadn’t known he was a part of the one organization that had the resources, tools, and training to take on a threat like vampires. Oblivious to that fact, Bella believed confiding in him would’ve just made him a target. She fled her hometown to protect it from Victoria’s wrath and felt that same need to protect Clint. He understood that now and appreciated it.
Foolishly, Clint had assumed at lunch that he could protect Bella from whatever she was running from. Bella, however, knew that even with whatever training he had, Clint wouldn’t have been able to protect her from the vampires hunting her, so she kept her troubles to herself in an effort to protect him. It was a blow to his pride, but he was forced to admit she’d been right at that point in time. Clint knew nothing about vampires and wouldn’t have known how to help her. He’d been amused when he first realized Bella thought she was protecting him; he’d somewhat arrogantly believed there was nothing out there he couldn’t handle. After their encounter with Laurent, though, he knew better now. He hadn’t known how to protect her in that moment, not until Bella gave him the rundown on the biology of vampires and revealed the only weakness they had, their flammable venom.
Clint also saw something he hadn’t seen earlier, that Bella hadn’t refused his offer to help her just for his sake. He wasn’t the only one she was trying to protect. She was also trying to keep the vampires she befriended safe by keeping their secret. Now she had no choice; she couldn’t keep quiet anymore. Laurent’s actions had forced her hand.
While Clint drove, Bella told him everything she knew about vampires and how she got involved with them. The only thing she didn’t tell him was what she knew about the pack. She fled Washington to save them, to protect them, so she kept that secret to herself. It was hard enough for Bella to tell him about the Cullens, let alone the wolves.
Even though, deep down, a part of Bella felt like she’d always known Clint, she’d actually only known him for less than a day. Conversely, she spent over a year trying to protect the wolves. It had been her drive for the last eleven months and knowing that they were safe was the one thing that kept her going. A large part of her argued with her over her decision to keep it from Clint, but she couldn’t let go of her need to protect them so easily. She’d been protecting the wolves for so long that it felt like it was literally ingrained in her to always put the pack first and, though she trusted Clint, she was guarded when it came to S.H.I.E.L.D. Like the rest of the pack, she was wary of any government agency and she was determined to protect her family at all costs.
In Bella’s mind, there was a huge, glaring difference between the secret of the wolves and the vampire secret. The wolves of La Push were guardians entrusted with the task of protecting humanity. Most vampires had little to no respect for human life, but the wolves? It was their purpose to protect everyone on their land from supernatural threats. It defined them and the wolves of La Push were proud to call themselves guardians. Vampires preyed on humans, but the wolves did the opposite. They kept their people and every human in Forks safe.
S.H.I.E.L.D. dealt with superhuman threats and the wolves might’ve been superhuman, but they were not a threat, so Bella saw no need to share their secret. If the pack decided one day to get involved with S.H.I.E.L.D., then that was their decision, but Bella wouldn’t make that decision for them.
With that in mind, Bella was very careful with how she phrased things when she revealed that Victoria was changing others, pitching it in a way that made it sound like Victoria was creating an army because the redhead knew that Bella would retreat to the safety of Cullen territory. It wasn’t technically a lie, but she left out the fact that Cullen territory was actually now considered wolf territory.
To Clint’s ears, it sounded like Victoria was creating an army to take on the coven on the off chance that the Cullens still lived there. She felt a sharp pang of guilt over the omission, but she refused to betray the wolves. They were her family. Literally. Seth and Leah were her step siblings. The letters she read earlier today just reinforced her resolve. If Clint still wanted to involve himself with her after everything was said and done, then she hoped he’d forgive her one day, after he met them himself.
Bella was also hesitant when it came to revealing the gifts the members of the Cullen coven had, but Clint didn’t push her on the subject. She told Clint three of them were gifted and she was going to have to explain the details of those gifts at some point, but Clint let it slide for now. He knew Bella was struggling enough as it was, so he decided not to press her for more until she was ready.
After spending years working for S.H.I.E.L.D., it was surprisingly easy for Clint to accept the existence of vampires. Other parts of her story, on the other hand, were actually hard for Clint to hear. When Edward decided to get involved in her life, he drew her into a violent, dangerous world, one that Bella was woefully unequipped to deal with. He struggled internally with his protective instincts throughout her entire story. She was only seventeen years old at the time the Cullens got involved with her and Clint found himself yearning to protect her from something that had already happened.
He was oddly conflicted when she talked about the Cullens. Bella didn’t go into much detail about her relationship with Edward, but what she did reveal was still hard for him to swallow. She loved him fiercely and that knowledge bothered Clint more than he thought it would.
It’d been a while since he showed an interest in a girl and he couldn’t remember the last time he felt jealous or insecure, but learning that she wanted to become a vampire, that she wanted to spend eternity with Edward… well, it definitely made an impact on him. He battled back a wave of jealousy and possessiveness. After he finally got a handle on it, he stared at the road ahead in shock, completely blindsided by just how possessive he felt. Clint wanted her from the second he first saw her, but something inside him had shifted over the course of the night. He no longer just wanted her, he felt Bella was his and it bothered him to think that someone else could lay claim to her heart.
Clint was fully aware that he was thinking like a caveman, but he couldn’t really bring himself to care. She was his, damn it. She just didn’t know it yet.
For the first time since she began her story, Clint interrupted. He hadn’t consciously decided to say anything, but the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them, “What about now?”
Bella finally tore her gaze from the window and looked at him, her brow puckered in confusion.
“Do you still want that?” Clint clarified. Meeting her gaze, he swallowed hard and asked in a low voice, “If they showed up tonight and offered to change you, would you…” He paused a second, wetting his painfully dry lips, and warily pressed, “Would you say yes?”
For a second, Bella’s expression finally showed a genuine emotion. Her eyes hardened and she vehemently shook her head, stressing, “They left me, Clint. I can’t hate them for it, but I really wish I could. I can’t because I understand why they left. I know what it’s like to leave someone behind in an effort to protect them, so I’d be a hypocrite if I judged them for it, but the Cullens left a mess behind that I wasn’t strong enough to clean up on my own.’
“Because of their actions, my roommate is dead, I had to walk away from everyone I love, and I’ve spent every day of the last eleven months wondering if that day would be my last. I can’t…” Bella looked away, her breath hitching, and the sound made his heart clench. Staring at the dashboard, Bella finished in a soft, definitive tone, “I can’t imagine being a vampire anymore. Not now. Not when I understand what it’s like to be their prey.”
A tension filled silence rose between them and Clint stared at her for a moment, sorely regretting that he asked her that question. He was suddenly getting a glimpse of the soul deep wound reflected in her pained eyes and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. Everything she’d been through, everything she’d suffered at a vampire’s hands, it hurt her deeply. The last three years of her life had left their mark on her and the naive girl who once looked upon vampire life with wonder and awe had died long ago. In her place stood a young woman with a spine of steel, one who was intimately familiar with the word sacrifice. She was undoubtedly a survivor and one of the strongest people he knew, but a small part of him mourned the innocence she lost on the road to get here.
Focusing his eyes on the road again, he said in a rough, quiet voice, “I’m glad they didn’t change you, Bella.”
A small, sad smile tugged at Bella’s lips and she whispered, “Me too, Clint.”
Still feeling unsettled after catching a glimpse of that soul deep wound, Clint realized he was angry with the Cullens. He was incredibly pissed at them for getting her involved in their world just to abandon her later, leaving her vulnerable, but he also understood that Bella loved them, even now. They saved her life on more than one occasion and he honestly didn’t view them as enemies. In fact, he respected both the Denali and Cullen covens for finding a way to coexist peacefully with humans and he planned to approach Fury about their protection when the time came. Fury was a fair man, he wouldn’t order the death of any vampire willing to feed from animals and might even consider allying with the ones who fed from rapists and murderers.
It was vampires like the Volturi who were in for a rude awakening. When Bella first mentioned them, Clint stopped her and grilled her for specifics.
“There’s a coven in Volterra?” he interrupted. A look of understanding washed over his face and he murmured, “That’s what’s happening to the tourists. They’re being lured in and drained.”
Bella threw a worried look his way and probed, “S.H.I.E.L.D.’s been looking into Volterra?”
Clint nodded, his jaw tense, and explained, “Hundreds of tourists go missing every year when they visit the city. Whole families, including children, just disappear. We’ve lost agents in Volterra, Bella. We send them into investigate and they never return.”
Bella’s heart broke with that knowledge and she struggled internally with a wave of guilt. She didn’t know the Volturi targeted families and hadn’t realized they fed on children. Fighting back tears, she released a shaky breath and warned, “The Volturi are the most powerful coven on earth. They rule over the others and enforce their laws. They’re extremely dangerous, Clint. I don’t know much about them, but I do know they’re ruled by three kings and one of them, Aro, is a collector of vampires with gifts.’
“Edward told me about two vampires in his guard called the witch twins. One has the ability to cause pain so intense it feels worse than the change and her brother can numb all the senses, including sight and sound. His gift works on crowds. They have a tracker too, one who can find you anywhere after meeting you only once. Edward said he was a hundred times more powerful than James.”
Clint nodded slowly, feeling undeniably sick. He couldn’t believe there were vampires in Volterra, right under their noses, and S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn’t figured it out by now. Not for the first time, he felt a rush of admiration for the girl sitting next to him. Bella managed to figure out vampires existed and she did it without even a fraction of the resources at S.H.I.E.L.D.’s disposal. She was the only human on earth to get close to vampires and live.
“I need to know everything,” he said with a weary sigh. “Names, gifts… tell me whatever you do know about the Volturi.”
Bella nodded and returned her gaze to the window while she finished filling him in. After she was done, she pressed her forehead to the cool glass and closed her eyes. She had so many regrets now, so much to atone for.
Clint eyed her worriedly and rubbed the back of his neck with a sigh. He had a feeling telling him what she did cost her more than he knew. Concerned, Clint gently spoke up, “I know you considered them family and this must feel like a betrayal to you, but you did the right thing, Bella.”
“I know,” Bella whispered. Even though she agreed with him, her voice sounded so painfully hollow that it made Clint’s heart ache.
Confused and a little frustrated, Clint asked, “Then what’s the problem?”
He sucked in a painful breath of air when Bella turned to look at him, her chocolate eyes full of tears. Shaking her head, she asked, “Don’t you realize what I’ve done, Clint? I’ve known about vampires for four years. How many people do you think died at a vampire’s hands during that time frame?! I should’ve done something about it years ago, but I didn’t because I’m selfish. I wanted to be a part of that family so badly that I ignored the victims. I let people die.”
Clint pulled off the road and put the car in park while she added in a voice laced with desperation, “How many people have died because of me, Clint? Even if I didn’t consider all the deaths caused by vampires out there hunting humans, how many did Victoria turn because of me? And what about the ones her vampires drank from? Every person drained by the vampires she created died because she was building an army to get to me!” The expression of utter despair on her face nearly destroyed him. She looked down at her trembling hands and whispered, “I protected the wrong people. The ones who needed me to step up and do the right thing? They’re dead now. I could’ve saved them by coming forward. Their blood is on my hands.”
Bella hadn’t meant to let the words escape her, but the guilt had overwhelmed her and she couldn’t hold it in anymore. Seeing Laurent tonight had shaken her more than she realized, but it wasn’t the fact that a vampire found her that bothered her, it was seeing his blood colored eyes and realizing he’d been hunting humans since the last time she saw him.
Bella had always known, in an abstract way, that most vampires fed from humans, but watching the effect her blood had on Laurent really drove it home. Taking a life meant absolutely nothing to him and Bella had inadvertently protected him for the last four years by keeping the secret. There were innocent people being hunted out there that she could’ve saved. The blood that was reflected in his eyes came from a real person, possibly a girl just like her, and that person would still be alive if she had come forward, if she had let S.H.I.E.L.D. in on the secret earlier.
At first, Bella felt bad about killing Laurent. He was a predator doing what came naturally to him, did he really deserve to die for that? But then his death really sank in. She actually killed a vampire, which meant she just saved countless lives because Laurent would no longer be around to sate his bloodlust.
On the heels of that thought came the revelation that if she could kill a vampire, then S.H.I.E.L.D. would’ve quickly found a way to deal with them too. How many could they have saved if she had just informed them sooner? How many lives did Bella let slip through the cracks by keeping her mouth shut? She’d already been feeling enormously guilty for keeping her silence over the last few months, but she had reasoned to herself that revealing the secret wouldn’t make a difference. She told herself that there was nothing anyone could do about vampires anyway, not with their gifts and abilities. The realization that it truly was possible for a human to kill a vampire made that guilt bubble over and stain her thoughts.
All Bella had ever wanted to do was protect the ones she loved. She never wanted this… this burden.
Knowing the secret once felt like a privilege, now it felt like a curse. How did a teenage girl from Forks get entrusted with such a monumental secret? Why did fate lay such a heavy burden on her shoulders? If Bella came forward, the entire vampire race would be hunted, but if she kept it to herself, innocent lives would be lost to vampire bloodlust. Bella had to weigh the safety of a supernatural race against the lives of countless innocent people and she found herself buckling under the pressure. No matter what she decided, people would die. She couldn’t make that decision and now she realized that her inability to decide had cost thousands of people their lives.
Bella realized now that the right thing to do would’ve been to protect the victims, not the predators. Laurent had shown her that vampires didn’t want or need her protection, but their victims did. Vampires just wanted her blood, but the victims? The victims needed her even if they didn’t know it. She failed them and that realization tore her up inside.
When Bella was just a little girl, she once asked Charlie why he became a cop. He answered her with a quote, one that would be forever burned into her mind, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”
Bella never imagined she would be the one to let evil triumph through her inability to act, but she had. She truly felt like a monster in that moment. She was a bigger monster than a vampire could ever be. Vampires killed to survive, it was in their nature, but Bella had no such excuse to explain her behavior. Thousands of people were drained over the last four years and Bella knew about it. She could’ve put a stop to it.
Instead, she did… nothing.
The sheer magnitude of the consequences of her decisions hit her full force in that moment. So many lives had been lost because of her failure to act. Trembling from head to toe, Bella’s tears finally spilled over and her breath caught in her throat.
What had she done?
Clint reached over and grabbed her by the waist, pulling her into his lap. A gut-wrenching sob escaped her and he let it run its course before shifting her closer, pulling her against him as he wrapped his arm securely around her waist. His free hand drifted up her arm, his electrifying touch sending shivers running through her as he lifted it to her chin and tipped it up, forcing her to meet his eyes, before letting his hand rest against her jawline. Her flushed cheeks were wet with a never ending stream of tears and there was so much damn guilt in her chocolate eyes that Clint swore he felt his heart breaking.
She was tearing herself apart inside for not coming forward sooner, for not stepping in years ago, and taking on the responsibility of what had to be thousands of deaths in the last four years. Clint thought she felt guilty about breaking the Cullens’ trust, but that wasn’t it at all. She felt guilty all right, but that guilt had nothing to do with the Cullens. Bella felt directly responsible for the victims of vampire bloodlust in the last four years and that was a weight much too heavy for her small shoulders to carry.
Idly, Clint wondered just how long those deaths had been haunting her. How long had she been feeling this poisonous guilt and tormenting herself with the cost of her silence? He could tell just by the bone-weary look in her pained eyes that it’d been plaguing her for a while. Today was not the first day Bella thought about it and he could see that in the sheer depth of the guilt she felt.
Clint hadn’t known Bella for more than a day, but from everything she just confided in him he’d gleaned something incredibly important about her, that she was a protector. The last year of Bella’s life had been all about protecting the people she loved and the idea that she hadn’t protected the ones who needed her most was devastating to her. She was internally berating herself for making the wrong decisions, for not acting sooner, and felt like she had let the lives of innocent people slip through her fingers.
And Clint knew exactly what she was going through. He’d been there.
His normally deep, husky voice came out in a low and tender tone, one he wasn’t sure he’d ever used before, “You can’t think that way, Bella. Trust me, every agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. has thought that way at some point, myself included, and it will destroy you if you let it. You begin to wonder how many more you could’ve saved if you’d only stepped in sooner, if you’d just reacted faster, or made a smarter decision… It starts to eat away at you and keeps you from being strong enough to help the ones you actually can save. It’s a vicious, destructive cycle and you need to end it right now, before it gets worse. You need to think about the facts, not the what ifs. The fact is, you are not a murderer. You didn’t kill anybody except for Laurent, and that was in self defense.’
“You are not responsible for the actions of every vampire in the world, Bella, nor are you responsible for Victoria’s actions. You have done nothing wrong. In fact, your actions have saved lives instead of ending them. By leaving Seattle when you learned Victoria was changing others, you drew her focus away from Forks and saved everyone in that town. You kept her from creating more by disappearing. Without a target, she had no reason to keep building her army. Stop thinking about the ones you couldn’t save and think about the ones you did. You did the right thing.”
“I didn’t, Clint-”
“Yes, you did,” Clint interrupted gently. He brushed a lock of hair behind her ear and pointed out, “Going to the authorities with a story about vampires would’ve gotten you institutionalized, Bella. You had no evidence. Even if you went to S.H.I.E.L.D., we wouldn’t have believed you without evidence.”
“But I had the evidence, Clint,” she protested, tears still streaming down her cheeks. She raised her arm and turned it so he could see the bite mark on her forearm. “When Edward sucked the venom out, it left a scar. The venom was pulled from my veins, but it still altered my skin. It’s cool and hard to the touch and it glitters in the sunlight.”
Clint gently wrapped his hand around her wrist and stroked his thumb over the cool scar. He locked eyes with her again and argued softly, “This wouldn’t have been enough. Nobody would’ve taken you seriously long enough to look at the scar, Bella.” He paused a second, letting her absorb that, before asking, “Your dad knows about them too, right? You survived under the radar for so long because he helped you. He told you how to keep hidden and got the FBI to drop the missing persons investigation.”
Bella wasn’t quite sure how Clint knew Charlie was in on the secret, but she didn’t deny it. She refused to explain how Charlie knew, letting him form his own assumptions, but she wouldn’t lie and claim her dad was ignorant. She was done lying to Clint.
When Bella nodded slowly, confirming Coulson’s suspicions, Clint pointed out, “He’s a cop, Bella. A high ranking one. If your dad couldn’t find a way to report it without sounding crazy, what makes you think you could’ve? You were just a teenager. A victimized teenager. Your dad wasn’t. Do you blame your dad for any of those deaths?”
“Of course not,” she replied instantly.
Clint smiled slowly when she stilled, realizing what she just said. He brushed his thumb over her cheek and softly ordered, “Then let it go. You aren’t any more at fault than your dad is. You’re both just victims of circumstance. You were let in on a secret not meant for mortal ears and did the best you could with the resources you had. Now that you can actually do something about it, you jumped at the opportunity to protect others. That’s all that matters. Let it go.”
Clint wasn’t even going touch the remark she made about being selfish, afraid that if he got started on the topic, he’d never stop. Bella was quite possibly the most selfless person he’d ever met. Everything she did was for others. She sacrificed her future and left behind everything and everyone she ever loved in an attempt to draw Victoria away from Forks. She constantly put everyone else first and herself last. There wasn’t a selfish bone in her body.
One final tear escaped her and Clint brushed it away. Feeling slightly awed by Clint in that moment, Bella searched his eyes for a second, wondering to herself what she could’ve possibly done to deserve someone like Clint crossing her path.
From the moment she’d met him, he’d been trying to help her. Whether it was from an unknown threat, Loki, vampires, or her own guilt, he was constantly trying to protect her and he did it in a way that encouraged her instead of limiting her. Edward was constantly trying to protect her too, but he made her feel so weak in the process, so fragile. He treated her like she was fashioned from spun glass, like she could fall and shatter at any given moment. Clint, on the other hand, made her feel strong.
He helped her when she faltered and offered her support when she needed it, but he also willingly took a step back when it was obvious she wanted to take the lead. Instead of holding her back because he was afraid she’d get hurt, he let her protect herself. Hell, he even slipped a gun in her hand when she wanted to shoot and he did it with a grin on his face. In fact, she had a sneaking suspicion that he liked it every time she proved she didn’t need his help. In a moment of clarity, Bella realized that while Edward tried to fight for her, Clint wanted to fight beside her.
Before she even consciously realized what she was doing, Bella was leaning in to kiss him. She paused a breath away from his lips, her gaze focused on his mouth, and savored the way the air between them instantly heated. That delectable heat was something completely new to Bella. Edward’s natural body temperature was so much colder than her own and his body often stole heat from her, but his cool skin never radiated it and it definitely never returned it. She’d kissed Jacob once or twice too, but his skin was so warm that the heat radiating off of him was uncomfortable, not tantalizing. That heat rising between them was a heady, intoxicating sensation and she was quickly becoming addicted to it.
Blushing furiously, Bella glanced up at Clint, peeking up at him through her lashes while she wondered if he felt that drugging, seductive heat too. Clint’s gaze was intently fixed on her lips and it sent a thrill running through her, flooding her veins with a delicious hit of adrenaline. Slowly, Bella leaned in, her hand drifting up to rest against the side of his neck as she closed the remaining distance between them, and pressed an achingly tender kiss to his lips.
Clint caught her by surprise earlier tonight when he stole a kiss on the overhang of her safe house. Bella had felt the way the air heated between them and the way his body brushed against hers set her own petite frame alight with desire, but she hadn’t expected him to actually stop and kiss her while they were trying to escape. She hadn’t been prepared for it, but she knew now that nothing could’ve ever fully prepared her for that moment. Kissing Clint was like grabbing hold of a lightning bolt. Pure electricity had surged through her veins, like her very being had been electrified by just his touch alone. Her body had practically hummed with electricity and it was like nothing she’d ever felt before.
Admittedly, Bella didn’t have much experience in the romance department. All she had to compare that electrifying kiss to was Edward’s chaste, painfully controlled pecks and a couple extremely awkward, fumbling kisses with Jacob. Still, Bella was positive a kiss like that was an incredibly rare experience. The sensations alone were beyond extraordinary, leaving her flushed and breathless. Clint already made her feel alive, but kissing him… the way it made her feel was in a fucking league of its own.
When Bella leaned in and pressed her lips to his, she was fully expecting to feel that same electrified charge, but what she felt instead was so much better. Instead of the passionate, electrifying kiss they shared earlier, this kiss was tender and achingly slow. That delectable heat she felt growing between them seemed to be building, but then she realized the heat she felt was no longer saturating the air around them. No, that heat came from inside her. It was a deliciously slow burn building in the pit of her stomach and the heat from that flame radiated throughout her body, washing over her in warm, decadent waves. Pure lust and desire unfurled in her chest and warmth swept through her body, making her melt against him.
She nearly lost herself completely in the sheer pleasure she felt from that sinful kiss and forced herself to gently taper it off, afraid she’d forget what she was doing entirely if she kissed him any longer. Pulling back slowly, she met his eyes and her heart skipped a beat at the heat in his gaze. Blushing prettily, she willed herself not to buckle under that intensity and look away. Somehow managing to keep her eyes trained on his, she tried to convey just how grateful she was to have him in her life and whispered, “Thank you.”
Clint nodded, sensing how much she meant it, but his mind was still focused just how tantalizing that kiss was. His right hand wandered to the nape of her neck and he pulled her right back to his mouth to kiss her again, savoring the feel of her soft lips against his. He could’ve easily gone on kissing her for hours, but the warm liquid trickling onto his left hand quickly refocused him. He broke away from her lips reluctantly, relishing the disappointed sigh that escaped her, and looked down at her arm.
Frowning, he paid closer attention to the bloody gash on her bicep, his fingertips tracing the edges of the wound, “That’s going to need stitches.” Thankfully, the gauze he gave her earlier was still tightly clutched in her left hand. Gently, he brought her hand up, uncurling her fingers, and pressed it over the cut. “Keep pressure on it. We’re only about ten minutes away, then I’ll sow it up.”
Clint glanced at her face, immediately noticing how pale she’d grown and the disturbing way she was staring at her arm, her expression undeniably faint. Amused, he chuckled and her gaze snapped up to his. Grinning wickedly, he taunted, “The girl with all the vamp intel gets freaked out by blood? Seriously?”
She gave him a dark look and reminded, “Laugh it up, Romeo, but this wound right here? That’s how I’ll always remember my first night out with Clint.”
His face fell and a beautiful laugh escaped Bella. Delighted to hear her laughing, even if it was at his expense, Clint rolled his eyes and asked, “Ready to go, Buffy?”
“You really don’t want to go there, Robin Hood,” she warned playfully and climbed her way back into her seat.
Clint tried his best not to pout, belatedly realizing just how much he enjoyed having her in his lap. He nearly rolled his eyes at himself for being an idiot, aware she only left his lap because of a comment he made. He did it to himself.
“Robin hood,” Clint muttered distractedly, still annoyed with himself, and pulled back onto the road, “I am so much cooler than Robin Hood.”
“I don’t know about that, Clint,” Bella said skeptically and Clint whipped his head in her direction to look at her. She shrugged, casually pointing out, “The legendary Hawkeye has yet to actually shoot that badass bow.” She cut him a challenging look and whispered, “Makes me wonder if you even can…”
His jaw dropped and Bella barely held in her laughter. Growling quietly, he turned his eyes back to the road and pointed out, “I could’ve taken out that vampire if you weren’t standing so close to him.”
“Your aim’s that far off, is it? You were worried you’d accidentally hit me when I was standing a good twenty feet away from him?” Bella taunted.
Clint laughed softly to himself, amazed at what he was hearing. He shook his head and retorted, “Not hardly, gorgeous. I just didn’t want you to get smacked by the heat.”
Bella gave him a baffled look and it suddenly dawned on him that Bella never got a look at his arrows. He’d only shown her the bow. Smirking, he quickly explained, “That arrow I aimed at Dead-Dreds back there? It had an explosive attached to it.”
This time, it was Bella’s jaw that dropped. She then gave him a thoughtful look, her eyes filled with curiosity, and asked, “Would that actually work?”
He returned her curious look with an equally curious one, “You tell me, you’re the vamp expert.”
Bella considered it seriously before shrugging, “It would if you shot him in the eye. Their skin is impenetrable, so I don’t really know what an open blaze would do to it, but… I’m guessing that if an open flame were enough, vampires wouldn’t literally tear each other apart before burning the pieces. The key is lighting up the venom.” She glanced down at her crescent shaped scar and suggested, “Maybe your experts at S.H.I.E.L.D. can take a sample of my scar and analyze it. You know, find out what’ll work and what won’t.”
“That’s a really good idea, actually,” Clint commented, looking at her thoughtfully. “Looks like you didn’t suffer the agony of that bite for nothing. Even if we could find a way to cut into their skin, we wouldn’t be able to take a sample from a vampire without leaving a permanent open wound. Which sounds a little cruel when you think about it.”
Bella nodded slowly and glanced down at the scar again, “Actually, I’m not sure, but I think they can close their wounds with their venom. I can’t remember what happened very clearly after Edward sucked the venom out, but I think he closed the wound from the bite.”
Clint stored that theory away while Bella stared at her scar for another moment, looking thoughtful. Hesitantly, she turned towards Clint and asked, “Do you believe in fate, Clint? The whole ‘everything happens for a reason’ deal?”
The concept of fate had been on Bella’s mind all night and, honestly, she had to admit this felt a lot like fate to her. She was the only human to ever be bitten by a vampire and live. Before now, she had always viewed the incident with James as a senseless act of violence. But now? Bella realized that surviving that attack had placed her on this broken road, leading her to Clint and S.H.I.E.L.D. Even her scar held a new importance. A part of her even felt like that scar was always meant to end up in S.H.I.E.L.D.’s hands. She was just the delivery girl.
“Before I started at S.H.I.E.L.D.?” Clint asked, glancing at her. “Not so much. Since then, though…” he paused, struggling with how to phrase it. “When you’re out on a mission, it’s kind of odd how one person on your team can be the key to solving a major crisis. Some people argue that we just work with what we have, that we force the pieces to fit together and solve the puzzle, but not me. Take today, for example. Loki had total control over me, Bella, but I led him to the one property you were randomly using as a safe house and you had the ability needed to cut the strings binding me to him,” he finished, looking at her pointedly.
Bella nodded slowly in understanding, picking up on what he was hinting at. Bella was quite possibly the only person in the world that could’ve helped Clint escape Loki’s control and Clint had unknowingly driven straight to her. Likewise, Clint was the connection she needed to stop running and actually do something about vampires and their bloodlust. She didn’t say it, but Clint seemed to guess at her thoughts anyway and looked over at her, a slow, boyish smile forming on his lips and a hint of knowing in his gaze. Her cheeks heated and she rolled her eyes, unsurprised when he chuckled at her.
Something then occurred to Bella and her brown eyes glinted with amusement. He tilted his head, intrigued by the beautiful spark of mirth in her eyes, and watched her curiously. Eyeing him playfully, she asked teasingly, “So, what, we’ve been drawn together by fate? Sounds like a line, Clint.”
Not about to let her pin the blame for that one on him, he laughingly held up one of his hands in surrender and pointed out, “You brought up fate, beautiful. Not me.”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m trying to get in your pants,” she deadpanned and looked down at her nails, feigning boredom.
Surprised, Clint laughed, shaking his head, and bantered, “The truth comes out.”
“Yes, fate works for me, not the other way around,” Bella stoically replied and Clint laughed again, surprised by how seriously she managed to pull that off.
His expression then sobered a bit, anxiety building in his chest, and he quietly remarked, “You’re taking the whole S.H.I.E.L.D. and Loki thing way too calmly, Bella.”
It bothered him, actually. He saw one brief flash of anger when she realized she wasn’t really being given a choice, but then she agreed to help him and dropped it. Clint was expecting a completely different reaction and, on top of that, she didn’t seem to be bothered in the slightest by his agent status. When he told her he ran a background check on her, he knew she’d figured out that he would’ve brought her in for questioning tomorrow at lunch, he’d seen it in her eyes. He thought for sure that she’d be angry with him for that, but she merely flashed him a rueful look and changed the subject.
Bella glanced at Clint and gently reminded him, “You mean like how calmly you’re taking the whole vampire thing?”
Her question made him pause, forcing him to consider things from her perspective. Clint was good with the weird because of everything he’d seen while working for S.H.I.E.L.D. Bella, on the other hand, was just as good with it because of her history with vampires. They both lived dangerous lives and the danger attached to the other’s situation was something easy for them to accept. Oddly enough, they were both more concerned with putting each other in danger than the new danger they themselves were now facing.
Clint nodded slowly, a hint of understanding in his expression, and conceded, “I guess that makes us even, then.”
“Guess it does,” Bella agreed, fighting an amused grin, and turned her attention back to the window.
Remembering just how calmly Bella had reacted to the dangerous situations they’d faced tonight, Clint once again found himself himself thinking about how well she’d probably do as an agent. He glanced at her nervously before focusing on the road and asked with a casualness he didn’t feel, “Have you ever thought about joining S.H.I.E.L.D.?”
Bella turned her head sharply to look at him, thrown by the question. He kept his eyes trained ahead while she studied him. Clint didn’t want her to see how desperately he wanted her to say yes, so he avoided her penetrating gaze. Bella was in danger, serious danger, and S.H.I.E.L.D. would train her to protect herself against threats with enhanced abilities. The guilt she felt a few minutes ago just made him even more convinced she’d do extremely well as an agent. She had a huge protective drive and that was something S.H.I.E.L.D. often looked for in potential recruits. That drive meant she’d probably find the work fulfilling and he couldn’t think of a better way to protect her.
“That was never an option before,” Bella quietly replied, unsure about where this was going.
Clint finally met her eyes, taking in the hint of confusion in her features. Studying her closely, he said softly, “It is now.”
Unable to take his scrutiny, Bella looked away and hesitantly asked, “You really think I’m S.H.I.E.L.D. material?”
“I do,” he said confidently and Bella brought her gaze back to his. “I thought about it at lunch earlier today, actually. I think you’d make an ideal recruit.”
Mouth dry, Bella swallowed roughly and whispered, “Why?”
Bella was struggling to understand. In her mind, she was worthless. She felt worthless. When Edward left her stranded in the woods and the Cullens fled without saying goodbye, they destroyed what was left of her fragile self esteem. She wasn’t worth sticking around for, wasn’t worth saying goodbye to, and she failed to see what Clint thought made her worthy enough to become an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The only thing she was good at was attracting danger. She constantly put everyone around her at risk, which was why she stayed far away from La Push and Jacksonville, where her family lived. If danger was attracted to her, then she could at least use that curse to her advantage and draw the danger away from the people she loved.
Bella knew it wasn’t rational, but it was how she felt. It gave her an odd sense of purpose, drawing the danger away. It made her feel like she could protect her loved ones, even if she couldn’t actually go near them.
“You’re incredibly perceptive, for starters,” Clint began. “That’s a handy trait to have. Ignoring the fact that you’re the only human alive to put together the existence of vampires, you asked me if there was a base nearby and cracked a joke about me being a secret agent, remember? You were right on both counts. You’re also hyperaware of your surroundings and you know how to keep yourself off the grid, which would help on covert missions. You’re a dead shot with a gun, a quick thinker, and you have great reflexes. Most importantly, you’re calm and rational under pressure, especially in the face of danger. That’s a rarity and a quality S.H.I.E.L.D. looks for.”
Bella shot him a disbelieving look and challenged, “You seriously think I’m calm under pressure? I just fell apart a few minutes ago! You had to calm me down, Clint.”
Clint smiled, tempted to laugh, and pointed out, “You waited until the danger passed to fall apart, though. That’s what’s important. Agents fall apart too, Bella. We’re still human, things still affect us. We just wait until the mission’s over before dealing with our baggage. Back at the house? You calmed yourself down after I attacked you and stayed focused. In the car, we were being shot at and you still remained calm. Most people would’ve freaked, Bella. You acted calm and rational instead. And when you were facing down that vampire? I think you were calmer than I was and that’s saying something.”
“And great reflexes?” she asked, still unconvinced. From what she remembered of her high school gym class days, her reflexes sucked.
Clint nodded and hinted, “What you did with the belt. That was all reflex, Bella.”
Clint gave her a moment to digest what he was saying, realizing she truly hadn’t given the idea of joining S.H.I.E.L.D. any thought before now, even though she had agreed to help them with Loki. Bella threw him a skeptical look and he nodded seriously, letting her see his confidence.
“So if I wanted to join…” she began and trailed off uncertainly.
Clint smiled again and picked up where she left off, “Then you have an in. You’ve come face to face with vampires, Bella, and you have insider information. You’re probably the only human to ever get close to vampires and live. That makes you an asset, which is your opening. You also have an ability that Director Fury will want to use. You can use that to your advantage. And you have me. I’m a high level operative and Fury will take me seriously if I put in a good word for you. If you want this, we can make it happen.”
Bella opened her mouth to say something and paused, the enormity of the situation finally hitting home. She truly had an opportunity to join S.H.I.E.L.D. if she wanted to. All she had to do was say the word.
Bella couldn’t quite believe this was happening. A mere day ago, she was living a shadow of a life, focused entirely on two things, survival and staying away from the people she loved. Now, she was being given the chance to step back into the light and reclaim her life. If she joined S.H.I.E.L.D., she’d never be a victim again. Instead of being the prey, they would turn her into the hunter. They would teach her to protect herself and others from threats with enhanced abilities. Clint was giving her the opportunity to stop surviving and start living.
The choice before her would change her life and Bella realized it. Instead of being the girl who constantly needed to be protected, she could be the protector. She could finally stop running and start fighting back. Most importantly, she was being offered a chance at redemption.
Even though she knew Clint was right, that she wasn’t responsible for the actions of every vampire in the world, a small part of her still felt incredibly guilty. Yes, she likely would’ve been institutionalized if she had tried to come forward, but that would’ve meant she at least tried to do the right thing.
She couldn’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if she had contacted S.H.I.E.L.D. earlier. With Charlie backing her up, she knew she could’ve made them listen long enough to look at her scar and she couldn’t help but feel a sense of responsibility for the lives that were lost in the last four years. She owed it to the victims to do better, to fight back. This was her chance to do something good and she recognized it. There were many times over the past year when she wondered if the world would’ve been better off if she’d never been born. Now was her chance to prove that thought wrong, that the world was better off with her in it. She wanted to be able to look back and say she left a positive mark on the world.
Jasper once told her that she was worth it. She hadn’t believed him then, but she’d wanted the words to be true. The way the Cullens abandoned her had torn down what little good those words had done, but realizing her presence alone would bring death to Forks and La Push was what truly destroyed her. Her mere presence would bring death and destruction to her loved ones and that knowledge was a bitter pill to swallow. There was nothing worse than realizing she couldn’t even protect herself, let alone the people she loved. She wanted to be able to protect them… Bella wanted to be someone who was actually worthy of Jasper’s conviction. She wanted to do more good than harm.
She wanted to prove she wasn’t worthless.
Bella licked her dry lips and swallowed hard. She looked down at her hands, a little surprised they weren’t shaking from all the adrenaline rushing through her system. Slowly, she looked up and met Clint’s steely, blue gaze. He studied her intently, a beautiful sense of hope taking root in his chest when he noticed the excitement in her eyes.
“Yes,” she said, her voice strong and sure, “yes, I want that. If that’s really an option, Clint, then I want it.”
Bella watched a spark of something ignite in Clint’s steel colored eyes, something she couldn’t quite define, but it sent a thrill through her. He nodded slowly and spoke in a low, husky voice, “Good. I’ll talk to Fury, Bella.” Changing the subject, he turned his attention back to the road and added, “The safe house is around the corner. As soon as we enter, Headquarters will call the house phone. It’s protocol. Since Fury thinks I’m compromised, it’ll be an interesting phone call.”
Bella glanced around, taking in the fact that they appeared to be in what looked like a warehouse district. Confused, she looked at Clint and prodded, “Where? And what city are we in?”
“Santa Fe. And it’s… right here,” Clint said with a grin and pulled up to a warehouse. He was getting a serious kick out of Bella’s confusion. Pulling right up to the warehouse door, he looked at Bella and hinted, “You need to get used to a whole different type of cloak and dagger now, Bella.”
Bella watched curiously as the large metal door began to part, splitting in two, before slowly sliding open, creating a space just wide enough for a large vehicle to fit through.
“Motion sensors?” she guessed, wondering how the doors were triggered.
“And a pressure plate,” he agreed with a hint of a smile, enjoying Bella’s thought process. She always reacted in the most surprising ways, which he found refreshing. Instead of grilling him about the odd location, she wanted to know how the doors operated.
Clint carefully guided the car through the doors. A floodlight came on and Clint pulled forward, guiding the Monterro to the opposite end of the warehouse. Once there, he put the car in park and reached down, unconnecting the wires to kill the engine. Bella put her hand on the door handle and was about to open the door when Clint warned, “Wait.”
Confused, she threw him a quizzical look. The car suddenly shook and Clint smirked, pointing out the window. Alarmed, Bella turned her head and realized the car was being moved. Clint had actually parked them on a platform, which was now rising. Wide eyed, Bella silently watched as the platform rose to the second floor. Taking in her new surroundings, Bella gathered they were now in a secret garage. There was enough room for two cars in the immediate area and Bella turned in her seat, glancing behind them. From what she could tell, there was a door on the second floor of the warehouse that looked suspiciously similar to the door of an apartment.
“Cloak and dagger,” Bella whispered, amazed, and Clint chuckled. “Hello, Mr. Bond.”
“Barton, Clint Barton,” Clint deadpanned in a deep voice and Bella giggled. He smiled at her, enjoying the sound of her laughter, and said, “Come on, let’s go get that arm cleaned up.”