Woah… I was celebrating the 100 mark in the last post, right? It’s seriously been less than a week and SOotS has doubled in readership! Over 100 reviews and 200 followers, which is amazing. Holy crap and THANK YOU!
Okay, before I get started on this update, I’ve got a few shoutouts.
Thank you, KittyinAZ, for totally pimping out my story and reading all the random stuff I send you. You are amazing and I love you for it. Once again, shout out to the lovely 4padfoot for taking the reins on my WP (since we both know I’m hopeless). Shout out to Stars Library (aka TWCS) for helping me out and posting all my stories over there. And, finally, can I give a shout out to my one and only loyal follower in Vietnam?
I was looking at my story stats and at the very end it says I have one reader in Vietnam, but enough views from Vietnam to see that this story has a loyal fan.
I know I’ve shocked you, my loyal follower in Vietnam, but I’m grateful for you!
If you guys don’t already know, this story is now available on FFn, Stars Library, and WordPress. My WP site is tbvikingaddict. wordpress. com (no spaces). I always update on FFn first (it’s the only site I’ve managed to figure out), but everything gets reposted to those sites afterwards. The fantastic KittyinAZ created a new banner for this story and you can check it out on WP or Stars. She made me an image to post on FFn too, so check it out when you get the chance.
All right, here’s what you need to know about this chapter… From what I’ve seen in AoS, S.H.I.E.L.D. loves hiding things in plain sight, but I can’t remember what the whole deal was for accessing one of their nifty, secret hiding places, so I let my imagination take charge when it came to protocol. Also, Fury’s started using the term Enhanced to describe the unknown threat hunting Bella. Captain America used that term in the second Avengers movie, so that’s what Fury’s using to describe the vampires he saw in that video. I meant to say that a couple chapters ago, but it slipped my mind. They know Riley Biers wasn’t born with his abilities, so Enhanced seemed like a fitting term to Fury.
I’m pretty sure we’ll be on the helicarrier within the next two chaps, but we’re not quite there yet. This chapter’s necessary because it moves the plot along, but it isn’t very action packed. It’s still entertaining, but not like the last few chaps. The next chapter, though… well, let’s just say it involves a steamier type of action.
Last but not least, I’ve got a challenge for all of you wonderful readers who actually read my goofy notes… it sounds really weird, but I’m going to ask you all anyway… what do you think Clint smells like? I know, can you say awkward? Lol. I seriously had a really hard time coming up with his scent, though. I do have one, but I think it’s kinda boring. Any suggestions?
Disclaimer: Marvel and Stephanie Meyers own the Avengers and Twilight. I own nothing. I just like playing in the shadows.
Bella slowly opened the car door and climbed out before grabbing her duffle bag out of the back seat. Surreally, she realized she was about to pass the night in safety for the first time in months. Because they hadn’t gotten out of the car until it was already tucked away on the second floor, her scent hadn’t leaked into the air outside. She didn’t have to worry about vampires catching her scent while she was sleeping.
While Bella was still digesting that, Clint shut his door and met up with her on her side of the car. Gently taking the duffle bag from her, he slipped the strap over his shoulder and asked, “You okay?”
Bella smiled a little and explained, “I was just realizing that my scent can’t be tracked here.”
Clint nodded thoughtfully and they both started walking towards the door. The second floor of the warehouse was dimly lit and the sound of their footsteps echoed along the steel panels forming the floor. The vibrations the footsteps triggered felt odd beneath their feet. Clint knew for a fact that the safe house itself would be insulated and soundproofed, so they wouldn’t have to worry about those vibrations once they stepped inside. Not every S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house was built like the warehouse was, but the agency definitely had a knack for building them in the most creative places.
Clint glanced at Bella while they walked and speculated, “They’ll want me to prove I’m not being influenced anymore.”
Not quite sure how to go about doing that, he looked at Bella hopefully for suggestions. This situation was honestly a first for him. He’d never been compromised before, so he was at a loss when it came to coming up with ideas that would reassure the agency he was back in control.
Bella gave him a confused look and asked, “Aren’t I proof? A witness or alibi, whatever I am in this situation?”
Normally, she’d be right, but Loki’s ability made the situation more complicated. Sighing, Clint pointed out, “The fact that you were there means Loki could be influencing you too.”
“So… what happens if we can’t convince them?” Bella asked, anxiously nibbling on her bottom lip.
Clint’s gaze automatically dropped to her mouth and, distracted, he stared at it for a second before forcing himself to look away. Silently begging Bella to stop biting that lip, he said, “First, they’ll send agents to collect us. Then they’ll isolate us, put us under observation, and interrogate us, repeatedly. They’ll also run the whole gamut of medical tests on us… order brain scans, take our blood, send in psychologists to analyze us, and the like. We’ll waste a whole day as S.H.I.E.L.D. lab rats instead of helping them deal with Loki.”
“That does not sound fun,” Bella said with a weary sigh. She’d never been a fan of hospitals or doctors. In fact, Carlisle was the only doctor she even remotely liked. Clint glanced at her and chuckled in agreement.
They came to a stop next to the safe house door and Bella turned to face him, “That’s only if we can’t convince them that we’re not under his thrall?”
Clint nodded, adding, “If it were me dealing with a compromised agent, I’d assume this was a set up of some sort, a way to gain information. I’d think that agent wanted back in just to spy and report everything S.H.I.E.L.D. does back to Loki. If that agent had someone like you backing him… It would help, but I’d still be wary. I’d be worried that the agent coached you.”
He looked at Bella thoughtfully for a second and advised, “If whomever I talk to wants to speak with you and asks you questions, don’t give them one word answers. Volunteer extra information. Add details from your life. Even if those details seem unimportant, they prove you’re not some random girl off the street I bribed or threatened into backing me up. Tell them things only Bella Swan would know. You do that, and they’ll see I didn’t coach you.” Looking at the locked door, he said sullenly, “If they even let us get that far.”
Bella tilted her head in thought and contemplatively mused, “So you need a way to catch their attention, a way to jumpstart their curiosity. You need to say something that’ll make them doubt that you’re still linked to Loki.”
Clint smiled slowly and admitted, “That would help. They’d at least hear me out, then.”
She fell silent for a moment, mentally running through everything she knew about Loki. Remembering how respectfully everyone back at the house treated him, she suggested, “Insult Loki. Trash talk the hell out of him.”
When Clint gave her a quizzical look, Bella explained, “It’s the one thing he would never let any of his men do. You said he wanted to subjugate us. He wants to be worshipped as a god, treated like Thor and Odin are back on Asgard. He would never let anyone trash talk him, Clint. His ego’s too big and his pride’s already too wounded. That’s why he wants to claim Earth in the first place, right? His wounded pride?” Clint nodded slowly, following her train of thought, and she added, “He would never tolerate such blatant disrespect and he doesn’t from the men he controls. From what I saw, he literally won’t allow it. That’s your proof. Call him every name in the book and then ask your boss if Loki would’ve let you speak like that.”
Stunned, Clint threw Bella a look full of so much pure admiration that she had to look away, blushing furiously. Bella barely got a glimpse of Loki, but she somehow managed to piece together something key about his personality based on the limited knowledge Clint provided her with and what she noticed herself. Bella had, once again, impressed the hell out of him and he realized she hadn’t just given him a way to prove he was no longer under Loki’s control, she’d provided S.H.I.E.L.D. with a potential weak spot in Loki’s armor. She’d given them a place to exert a little pressure if they wanted him to snap and react irrationally.
She honestly had the potential to be a talented profiler, which Clint took note of and mentally filed away. Astonished, Clint realized this wasn’t even the first time Bella used what she noticed about someone’s personality to her advantage. Using what she already knew about Victoria, she’d accurately predicted she would start building an army and that the redhead expected her to retreat to Forks for help. She’d quickly linked Victoria to the people going missing in Seattle and that was something that Clint himself hadn’t even noticed.
He didn’t doubt that she also figured out something was off about him earlier based on what she already knew about him. If she hadn’t, Bella would’ve come downstairs when she first realized he was there. She knew something was off because she’d noticed a drastic change in his behavior and wisely kept herself hidden away instead. Being able to read people was a skill that would definitely come in handy in her future career as an agent and it was something that he planned to point out to Fury.
“You’re kind of amazing, you know that?” Clint asked, a slow grin working its way onto his face when she blushed even harder.
“I’m starting think you just want to see me blush, Clint,” she said accusingly.
Oh, he definitely liked seeing her blush, but that wasn’t why he said what he did. His smile grew and he shook his head at her, “Don’t blame me for those rosy cheeks, beautiful. Not my fault you can’t take a compliment.”
“You could just stop complimenting me. Problem solved,” Bella argued, incredibly annoyed with herself. She was so annoyed that she didn’t even care about how ridiculous that just sounded. Her cheeks were still flushed and it was actually starting to piss her off.
Clint raised his eyebrows at her, noticing how flustered she was getting. Finding her oddly adorable in that moment, he chuckled out, “Yeah, because that’s realistic.”
Her annoyance evaporated at the sound of his chuckles and the spark of mirth in his eyes made her chest warm. Suddenly fighting a grin, she changed the subject and asked, “Think that’ll work?”
“Only one way to find out,” Clint admitted and pulled out his badge. Turning to look at the door’s frame, he found the hidden panel he was looking for and pushed it to the side. Beneath it was a gel scanner and an alphanumeric key pad. He quickly typed in the password of the day and pressed his badge against the gel scanner. When it was done scanning, he heard the sound of the door being unlocked electronically. He pocketed his badge again and pushed the panel back into place before opening the door for Bella.
Getting into the safe house wasn’t a problem, all he needed was a S.H.I.E.L.D. badge and a password. Getting back out, though? That was a little trickier. The door would automatically lock as soon as he let it close and he wouldn’t be able to open it again until Headquarters cleared him. There was a secondary exit in one of the bedrooms, an escape hatch, but Clint wouldn’t be able to pull that one open either without clearance. Since there was a tech station of some sort inside that was connected to the S.H.I.E.L.D. server, the safe houses were all monitored and the exits were designed to automatically lock, trapping people inside if HQ never cleared them.
Flashing Clint a thankful smile, Bella stepped inside and scanned her surroundings. Unsurprised, she noted that it did actually look like a small apartment. There was a small common area to the right and a cramped kitchen to the left. On the opposite side of the room were two doors that led to bedrooms equipped with bathrooms.
The only thing that stood out as abnormal to her was the desk set up next to the door. A high tech looking computer sat on it with the S.H.I.E.L.D. logo on the screen. Above that, a flat screen was attached to the wall, streaming video of the area outside the warehouse from four different cameras. A fifth camera showed a view of the area just outside the door on the second floor. Bella had noticed that camera, of course, but she hadn’t bothered to avoid it this time. Even if that footage was transmitted back to S.H.I.E.L.D., it was highly unlike Victoria would ever see it, even if she did have a hacker working for her. With all the technology at their disposal, Bella had a feeling the S.H.I.E.L.D. network was one of the most secure in the world, so she simply didn’t see the point in hiding her face from that particular camera.
“That’s handy,” Bella murmured, her eyes trained on the screen. Having cameras outside her safe houses would’ve definitely made her feel more secure over the last eleven months.
Clint followed her into the room, the door closing on its own as soon as he let it go. He glanced at the wall and nodded, silently agreeing, before taking her bag to one of the bedrooms. It definitely was handy, but Clint couldn’t help thinking it would’ve been better if the cameras weren’t on a closed loop. None of the video footage recorded here was actually available at HQ. Safe houses were rarely used, so he understood why the tech department didn’t want all that pointless footage being fed to the server, but it would’ve been worth it in the long run for situations just like this one. Instead of verifying Bella was with Clint with his own eyes, Fury was going to have to interrogate her over the phone.
Clint knew he only had a minute or so before the phone next to the computer would start ringing, but that was a minute he planned to take advantage of. He set Bella’s bag down on the bed and started searching the room for the hidden escape hatch S.H.I.E.L.D. always built inside their safe houses.
“Bella,” he called, “come here for a sec.”
Bella followed Clint into the bedroom and found him crouching in front of the closet. When she stopped beside him, he gestured towards a panel built into the floor and explained, “This is an escape hatch. It’s locked right now, but it shouldn’t be after I talk to HQ. If anyone,” he glanced up at her, “tries forcing the front door open, they’ll set off a small explosion. If that happens, then we’ll use this. It should bring us back out to the street below. Got it?”
Bella nodded just as the phone began to ring. Clint got to his feet and started heading towards the front of the safe house. As he stepped past her, he asked, “You mind grabbing the first aid kit? It should be in the bathroom.”
Bella slipped into the bathroom and opened up the cabinet over the sink before checking the cupboard beneath it. She paused a second before grabbing the first aid kit, noticing the bathroom was fully stocked. From shampoo to tampons, everything she could ever need was underneath that sink. She found herself giggling like an idiot when she realized there was even a box of condoms, wondering who the hell would ever stock a safe house with something like that.
She was still internally cracking up when she brought the first aid kit back into the common room. Placing it on the kitchen counter, she gave an oddly quiet Clint a curious look and he covered the speaker of the phone he was holding with his free hand, explaining, “They passed me over to Agent Hill. She’s getting the boss, Director Fury.”
Fury had just finished his meeting with the World Security Council and was preparing a few files to take with him on his flight to New York when the unexpected happened. His lieutenant, Maria Hill, burst into the room with a S.H.I.E.L.D. issued phone in her hand. Surprised, he took in the slightly baffled look on her face and greeted her with a questioning tone, “Agent Hill?”
“Sir,” she began, coming to a stop in front of him, “our safe house in Santa Fe just went active. It’s Agent Barton.”
Stunned, Fury took the phone from her and asked, “Barton, what on earth are you doing in a S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house?”
“I thought that would be obvious, sir,” Barton chuckled.
Fury pulled the phone away from his ear and stared at it for a long second. If he didn’t know better, he’d swear Agent Barton sounded like he was back to normal. He didn’t see how that was possible, though, since no operatives had been sent in to rescue him. Hell, they couldn’t even find him. Confused, he brought the phone back to his ear and pressed, “You want to fill me in on what’s going on, Barton? I’m confused and I do not like being confused. Are you or are you not under Loki’s control?”
“I was, but I’m not anymore,” Clint replied, looking at Bella. “It seems I’ve got a guardian angel on my side.”
Bella predictably blushed and rolled her eyes. Clint grinned unrepentantly and winked at her.
“Uh huh,” Fury said skeptically. “So you’re telling me this isn’t one of Loki’s tricks. You’re really free.”
He might not have dealt with Loki before, but Fury had a feeling he was known as the god of chaos, mischief, and lies for a reason. It wouldn’t surprise him if Loki turned out to be just as tricky as all the myths claimed.
“Yes, sir,” Clint said, infusing his voice with as much honesty as he could.
“Prove it,” Fury challenged. He barely finished speaking before Clint started swearing a mile a minute, calling Loki every foul word he could think of. He even used a few words Fury had never heard before. Baffled, Fury asked, “What the hell was that, Barton?”
Bella giggled, incredibly amused, and Clint threw her a wicked grin. He was more than a little amused himself. This was probably the one and only time he’d get away with mouthing off in front of his boss.
“My proof,” Clint said seriously. “Think about it, sir. Loki believes he is a god. He told us he was ‘burdened with glorious purpose.’ He wants to be worshipped and obeyed. Do you really think he would ever let any of his men talk about him in such a disrespectful and degrading manner? Even if he was hoping to use me as a double agent, do you really think he’d ever allow me talk about him that way?”
Fury paused, weighing Loki’s personality against Clint’s words. Nodding reluctantly, he conceded, “All right, you have my attention, Barton.”
Fury made his way over to his desk, sensing this was a conversation he’d better be sitting down for. He didn’t know how Barton broke free from Loki’s mind control, but he had a feeling there was more than one shock coming his way.
“Sir, I’ll explain everything to you, but first, do you have any agents in Volterra?” Clint asked, meeting Bella’s worried gaze. He’d thought a lot about what, exactly, he needed to tell Fury on the drive over and the situation in Volterra took priority.
It would take Loki at least a day to gather the resources he needed and set up another portal, which gave them a little time. If there were agents in Volterra, on the other hand, they were out of it. A vampire could end them at any moment. It might even be too late to help them already.
Fury hesitated, reluctant to reveal anything to him without verifying he was free from Loki’s control in person. Realizing this, Clint quickly explained, “If you do, you need to pull them out right now. The forces they’re up against are unlike anything they have ever dealt with before. Pull them out.”
“Do you know something about Volterra that we don’t, Agent Barton?” Fury pressed.
“Yes, sir. The tourists are being lured in for their blood and drained. Did Agent Coulson get the chance to fill you in on all of the details of the Swan case? Like the cause of death?”
“Yes,” Fury replied, pulling up the Swan case on the interactive screen that formed the top of his desk, “I’ve also seen the video. What does this have to do with Volterra?”
“The woman in the video with enhanced abilities is a vampire, Fury,” Clint explained. He felt a little ridiculous even saying the word, but Fury needed to know and he needed to know now. “Volterra is the home to the largest and most dangerous coven of vampires in the world. Sending in any agent without extensive support is a death sentence, sir.”
Stunned, Fury nearly dropped the phone. If it were any other agent making a claim like that, Fury would be tempted to order that agent a psych eval. Barton, however, was different. He knew Barton on a personal level and he also knew that Clint Barton would never joke about a potential loss of lives, especially the lives of agents. Fury quickly remembered the details of the Swan case, recalling the abilities of the redhead on the video and how Bella’s roommate was found drained. There were even teeth impressions left in the wound on the girl’s neck. Flying to his feet, he practically barked, “How do you know this, Barton?”
“I’m with Bella Swan,” Clint patiently began, his voice calm. “She was using the same property I took Loki to after we fled the base as a safe house. Bella cornered me there and I attacked her. She used an ability she didn’t realize she had to break Loki’s hold over me. It protected me somehow and severed the connection I had to Loki. We escaped together and one of the vampires hunting her attacked while we were dumping her car. She told me everything she knows about vampires, sir.”
“The property you took Loki to?” Fury repeated.
“A foreclosed house on the edges of town,” Clint clarified and couldn’t help grinning a little. It wasn’t often someone outsmarted Fury.
Fury nodded to himself as the pieces fell into place. Barton knew he would close down the highways and post men at all the transportation depots and airports, so he stayed close to base. Fury expected him to get out of the area as quickly as possible, which was exactly why Barton lingered. He couldn’t argue with the agent’s logic. It’d obviously worked. A strategic move like that was something Fury expected from him, so he couldn’t claim to be all that surprised.
The information about Bella, on the other hand, threw him. He’d wondered to himself if Bella was staying away from city life and it now seemed that she was. The girl was using foreclosed houses on the edges of small towns to her advantage. He felt a brief flash of amusement when it dawned on him that she must’ve thought the same way Barton did when it came to hiding herself away, which meant the property she picked was remote with electricity and running water. It also wouldn’t have surprised him if she picked a place where she could either see or hear any incoming traffic, especially if she somehow managed to corner Barton there. Instead of taking her by surprise, she’d ambushed him.
“You’re a pain in the ass, Barton,” Fury muttered. He swore he could hear a smirk in Clint’s voice.
“I know, sir,” Clint acknowledged, his tone serious. He swallowed hard and added in low tone, “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry. I wasn’t in control. None of us were.”
Fury sighed, realizing just how difficult it had to be for Barton to say that, especially since he hadn’t been a willing accomplice of Loki’s. He knew Barton wasn’t just talking about helping Loki escape either. He was apologizing for everything he did from the second Loki took control, including shooting him.
He needed to confirm Barton’s story somehow before acting on anything he said, but if Barton was telling the truth then Fury needed to speak with Agent Coulson. Even though their priority was Loki, neither Fury nor Coulson had forgotten about Bella Swan. In fact, Coulson was supposed to bring her in tomorrow in Barton’s place.
“You said Miss Swan used an ability to break Loki’s control,” Fury said slowly, his brows furrowed, “what about the others, Barton? She couldn’t free any of them?”
“No, sir,” Clint replied. “She tried, but she’s never used it before tonight. She was under attack when it surfaced, so it likely only manifested because she was dying, like a survival instinct that kicks in when you run out of options.” His voice faltered and he swallowed roughly. It was a lot harder for him to talk about attacking Bella than he thought it’d be. When Bella was involved, he found he couldn’t be neutral. She meant too much to him. Clearing his throat, Clint changed the subject, “It’s like an energy field of some sort, a protective force. It snapped back into her after I regained control. I highly doubt she can be influenced at all. She can share that protective energy with others, but she doesn’t know how to control it yet.”
Even though Fury wished Bella had been able to free all of his men, he was still grateful for what she did do. She didn’t owe S.H.I.E.L.D. anything, yet she still put her life on the line to help Barton and tried to help the others under Loki’s thrall. The fact that she even tried impressed him and he thought back to the first conversation he had with Coulson about Bella Swan, when he realized Barton was interested in her on a personal level. At the time, he’d thought Bella Swan must’ve been unique if she caught Barton’s attention and he realized now that she absolutely was. Most civilians wouldn’t risk their lives for someone who was practically a stranger, let alone a civilian who was trying to keep herself off the grid.
Taking in a deep breath, he took a moment to digest everything Barton was telling him, including the fact Bella’s ability was one they could use against Loki. Finally, he remarked, “I want to believe you, Barton, but I can’t pull those agents without something more substantial. For all I know, Loki might need something in Volterra and you could be clearing the way for him.”
Clint nodded to himself and let out a frustrated sigh, expecting this. Honestly, he knew Bella’s earlier idea about Loki was the only reason Fury was even still talking to him. Without her input, Fury likely would’ve sent agents to retrieve Clint and held him under observation for a full day. Because of the point Bella made, Fury was giving him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, they were now out of ideas, so Clint asked, “What would you like me to do, sir?”
Fury paused thoughtfully and decided, “The car you dumped, tell me about it.”
“It was Bella’s, a dark green SUV she bought with cash in Salt Lake City. It suffered damage when we came under fire fleeing the property,” Clint began. He told Fury where he could find it and added, “She torched it, sir. She didn’t want the vampires after her to get a hold of my scent.”
Fury smiled slowly, beginning to feel a grudging respect for Bella Swan, “Put Bella on the phone. I’ll give her the chance to corroborate your story.”
Clint nearly let out a giant sigh of relief. If Fury thought Bella could corroborate his story, then Fury was inclined to believe she hadn’t been influenced by Loki. That was good news. The sooner they cleared this up, the sooner he could get back to work.
Clint threw Bella a questioning look and asked, “Bella, would you mind talking to Director Fury? He just wants to corroborate my story.”
Bella nodded and Clint placed the call on speaker phone. She glanced at Clint and he nodded encouragingly. Her voice came out more hesitant than she meant it to when she greeted him, “Director Fury? This is Bella Swan.”
A breath of relief escaped Fury. Passing the call off to her so quickly meant Barton probably didn’t have time to coach some random girl into impersonating Bella Swan. It seemed more and more likely that Agent Barton truly did escape Loki.
“Miss Swan,” Fury began, “if what Agent Barton tells me is true, then it seems S.H.I.E.L.D. owes you a thank you.”
Frowning, Bella shook her head and argued, “No, you don’t. The other agents are still under Loki’s control because of me. You don’t owe me anything.”
Clint desperately fought a smile, realizing his girl had a guilt complex. It really wasn’t funny and it was something he’d have to work with her on if she genuinely wanted to become an agent, but it cracked him up in that moment because he knew it would baffle Fury. He was pretty damned sure Fury had never met someone like Bella Swan before.
Sure enough, Bella’s response left Fury flabbergasted. Surprised, he asked, “Are you actually trying to claim responsibility for Loki’s actions? I wasn’t aware there were two of you trying to dominate the world.”
Bella’s face flushed and she glanced at Clint, who was shaking with silent laughter. Rolling her eyes at him, she ruefully replied, “Well, if you put it that way-”
“There’s no other way to put it,” Fury interrupted, cutting her off. He never thought he’d see the day when he had to actually convince someone that he was thankful. “Those men are still under Loki’s control solely because Loki wants them to be. That’s not your fault, Swan. Barton’s free because of you and I’m grateful for that. Accept it, damn it.”
Clint was nearly doubled over with laughter at that point. It cracked him up to hear Fury arguing with Bella over a thank you. He was pretty sure it was a first for either of them. Astonished, Bella looked up at him again, her eyes wide, and said softly, “Okay, Director. I accept it.”
“Good,” he practically barked. Realizing he’d gotten a little too heated, he cleared his throat and added in a calmer tone, “Now, I just need to ask you a few questions, ones that will verify you are who you say you are.”
“You’re hoping to prove I really am here with Clint, that this isn’t some elaborate plot to pull the agents from Volterra,” Bella clarified. “I understand, Director. Ask your questions.”
Smiling slightly, Fury mused, “Let’s start with something simple. Your birthday and what your father does for a living.”
“September 13th and my dad is the Chief of Police in Forks, Washington, the gloomiest place on earth,” she responded, her voice laced with humor.
“What type of car did you have?”
Bella smiled fondly and replied, “It was a truck, a beat up red Chevy from the ’50s. My best friend rebuilt the engine on it. A lot of hard work went into it.”
“What was your friend’s name?” Fury asked, figuring he could look it up. If she gave him the name of someone living in the Forks area, that would mean Bella Swan truly was with Barton. It would prove he was telling the truth, at least about meeting up with her. Finding a burnt out car shot up with bullet holes would prove the rest.
“Jacob Black, sir.”
“The one who filed a missing persons report on you,” Fury commented and gave Agent Hill a pointed look. She nodded quickly, pulled out her phone, and slipped outside to make a call. “He did the repair work on that truck?”
Bella smiled and answered, “Yes, sir. My dad bought it from the Blacks. I loved that truck. I was a little pissed when Clint told me Victoria tore it to pieces.”
“Victoria?” Fury repeated.
“The redheaded vampire on the video from the airport parking lot,” Bella explained.
Fury nodded, glad to finally have a name for the redhead. Stalling for more time to give Agent Hill a chance to verify the information Bella gave him, Fury pressed, “You left her a message. What did it say?”
Surprised, Bella looked up at a grinning Clint with wide eyes. She hadn’t thought about that message in months and she definitely hadn’t realized Clint knew about it. Hell, he probably even watched her leave it in the video footage he mentioned earlier. She eyed the phone warily, making Clint chuckle, and sheepishly confessed, “Game on, bitch. Come and get me.”
Fury smirked and asked something he’d been dying to know since he first watched that video, “Why did you leave that message, Miss Swan?”
Bella ran a hand through her hair and explained, “Part of it was anger. I wanted her to know I knew what game she was playing and that I wasn’t going to play by her rules. She was toying with me by leaving that threat on the wall and thought I would run back to Forks. All her plans were riding on that belief. I wanted her to know I wasn’t going down that easily and that I wasn’t going to do what she expected me to. I also wanted to draw her focus away from Forks. If she was livid with me, she’d throw all of her energy into tracking me down instead of taking her anger out on my town. That was my hope, anyway.”
In the simplest of terms, Bella was baiting her. Leaving that message on the window had been an impulsive decision on Bella’s part, but it still served a purpose. She wanted to make sure Victoria knew without a shadow of a doubt that she was nowhere near Forks, that she wasn’t with the wolves. She also wanted to make Victoria angry, hoping the redhead would be so focused on finding her, on winning the cat and mouse game they were playing, that she would put all of the vampires she created to work on tracking Bella down instead of leading them against the wolves.
The moment Bella realized Victoria was creating an army, Bella knew she only had three logical options. She could either go to the wolves for protection, turn herself over to Victoria, or flee Washington. Two of those options, though, were never real options. If she retreated to La Push, wolves would die… and if she turned herself over to Victoria? Like she did with James to protect her mother? Wolves would still die. A part of her had instinctively known that as much as she wanted to save the pack, trading her life for theirs would only destroy it.
The wolves were impulsive and emotional by nature. They often acted on pure instinct, which was the chief reason why the pack had such a hard time adjusting to their new natures during the year after they phased for the first time. Though she loved them dearly, Bella also knew Jacob and Paul were the most impulsive out of the pack. Jake was usually a sunny, upbeat kind of guy, but if you hurt someone he loved or put them in danger, he often reacted without thought. Paul, on the other hand, was the most emotional. The slightest things often pissed him off and that temper also made him the most erratic. Jacob and Paul were the two wolves she had the strongest bonds with and those two, at the very least, would’ve gone after Victoria immediately if Bella had let the vampire kill her.
As convinced as she was at the time that a part of her was dead inside, that she was hopelessly and irreparably broken, there were still a few glowing embers of warmth lingering within her heart. She once told Jake she wasn’t a car he could fix up, that she was never going to run right, and that’s how she felt at the time. No matter how much energy he put into her, that all of her friends and family put into her, her heart was constantly running on fumes… but whatever she did have left? Whatever flickers of genuine love remained for her to give? Bella had given it to Charlie and the pack.
It started with Jacob. She’d begun hanging out with him in a desperate attempt to borrow some of that warm sunshine that seemed to flow from his very pores, but it certainly hadn’t ended there. During the two and a half years she spent with the wolves, Bella had slowly but surely become a central fixture in the pack’s life.
After Jake first phased and cut his ties with her, Bella had known that it was only a matter of time before she faded into nothing. She hadn’t thought it was possible, that she’d lost her will to survive long before then, but something within her refused to submit to that fate. One of those survival instincts the Cullens never thought she had finally kicked in and she started seething with anger. Barely a week passed after Jake started avoiding her before she snapped.
She’d shown up right on his doorstep, feeling so much anger that it was a wonder she didn’t explode. Since Jacob had been ordered not to talk to her, he had no choice but to call Sam. The entire pack tagged along out of boredom and letting Paul come with them was one of Sam’s greatest mistakes. The boy couldn’t even control his own mouth, let alone his ability to phase. Livid, Bella slapped him and Paul exploded in a shower of sparks and fur. Even though Jake stepped in to protect her, there was no undoing that. Their secret had been exposed to her and Bella became a part of the inner circle afterwards.
Bella, by nature, was not an intrusive person. She didn’t immediately become an integrated part of their lives, but she did hang out on the fringes. She often sat back and just observed, using those perceptive eyes of hers to her advantage. The thing about Bella, though, was that she couldn’t stand watching others in pain. Whenever an issue came up that Bella noticed one of the wolves were struggling with, she couldn’t keep her silence. She reached out on instinct and helped smooth over a lot of personal issues the pack was dealing with.
The first time she got involved was when she helped Embry come up with an excuse that explained his erratic behavior to his mother. A couple months later, life as the only female in the pack started driving Leah crazy. Bella realized the poor girl was only hanging on by a thread and took Leah to Jacksonville for a week, giving her some much needed personal time to come to terms with everything she’d been through. Those memories of the times Bella stepped in were shared collectively with the others through the packmind. Before she knew it, the wolves started seeking her out for help and advice whenever they had a problem. Every single one of them asked her for help at some point and, somehow, she became important to them all. Sam was the only one who never really bonded with her.
Even Paul came to her for help one day, about a week after she graduated. He’d mouthed off one too many times and Emily, of all people, slapped him. Upset on his mate’s behalf, Sam ripped into him and ordered him to get a handle on it. Since Bella was the first of the many people who slapped him that year, she was the first person he thought of when it came to getting it under control. He started hanging out with her, well aware that she had no problem telling him when he was acting like an asshole. To their mutual surprise, they grew quickly on each other and became true friends. Bella taught him how to be more considerate and, in return, Paul taught her how to use her mouth as a weapon. The quips and barbs traded between the two often cracked the pack up.
Bella’s bonds to the pack slowly grew and they were incredibly strong by the time Victoria started building her army. She was considered a beloved friend to many of them, especially Jacob and Paul, which was why Bella instinctively knew turning herself over to Victoria was never an option. The idea never even entered her mind because she just knew it wasn’t a viable solution. Paul and Jacob, as sunny as Jake was, were the most volatile members of the pack. If Victoria killed Bella, they would’ve gone after Victoria immediately, thirsty for vengeance. Giving herself up to Victoria, like she did with James, would’ve led to a battle between the wolves and vampires just as surely as retreating to La Push would’ve.
With that in mind, Bella’s only real option was to run. Victoria had patiently waited until Bella moved to Seattle before attacking, so Bella knew that Victoria truly didn’t want to fight the wolves. She was only building an army because she thought she had no other choice. Using that knowledge to her advantage, Bella made sure Victoria knew she wasn’t with the wolves anymore and baited the redhead into coming after her.
Fury had to admit he was impressed by the strategic move. For a girl of twenty, that was quick thinking on her part. He had wrongly assumed Bella was running to escape a dangerous situation, but that wasn’t true. She had fled in hopes that the vampire would follow her, that she could draw Victoria away from the people she loved.
Most people would consider running from a fight a cowardly thing to do, but fleeing was actually a selfless act on Bella’s part. She knew innocent lives would be lost if she stayed in Washington, so she sacrificed her future to keep it from happening. She wasn’t trying to save herself, she was trying to save everyone else. On top of that, Fury liked the way Bella thought. Instead of playing the game Victoria wanted her to, she tore up the rule book and did what was least expected of her. He found himself admiring the girl for her quick thinking and looked forward to meeting her.
It also made him pause and wonder, what were Loki’s rules? If he could figure that out, then he, too, could tear up the rule book. Unfortunately, he had a sinking feeling that Loki had no rules, that he’d do anything and everything to get what he wanted.
While these thoughts ran through his mind, Fury paid close attention to the emotional tenor of Bella’s voice, listening for the slightest indication that her answers were rehearsed. She sounded genuine and Fury was becoming more and more convinced that Agent Barton was telling the truth.
“Sir,” Agent Hill interrupted, stepping back into the office while slipping her phone into her pocket, “the previous owner of the truck was a William Black. His son, Jacob, is a mechanic from La Push. A new shop opened up in the area a few months ago. It’s owned and operated by a Sam Uley, Paul Lahote, and Jacob Black. One of our agents also pulled a police report describing a car fire in the same lot Agent Barton mentioned. The car was a green SUV, riddled with bullet holes. We have a team assigned with the task of looking into it, but they’re still working with Search and Rescue at the moment.”
Satisfied, Fury refocused on Bella, saying, “Thank you, Miss Swan. I have what I need. Please give the phone back to Agent Barton.”
Clint picked up the phone again, taking it off speaker, “Barton, here, sir.”
Covering the phone, Fury turned to his lieutenant and ordered, “Call the team in Volterra, Agent Hill, and pull them out. Reassign them to Romanoff’s team. Have her jet stop in Italy and collect them on the way to Russia. She could use the support when she lands in Calcutta.”
“Yes, sir,” Agent Hill replied and immediately pulled her phone back out.
Fury turned his attention back to Clint, “The agents have been pulled, Barton. Now tell me about Loki and Bella Swan’s ability. We’ll deal with the fucking vampires later.”
Nodding to himself, Clint launched into a report of everything that happened after he escaped with Loki. Bella listened to the first half of the conversation, curious herself to hear about his escape from the base and the chase that ended with his arrival at the foreclosed house she was using. Once he started describing what came next, however, she lost interest. Clint kept an eye on her as she made her way into the kitchen and opened the first aid kit. She began cleaning her wounds, struggling a bit since her right arm was the one injured. Unfortunately, she wasn’t left handed.
A pregnant silence echoed across the line after Clint finished recounting the night’s events. Fury honestly didn’t know what to say at first. Bella Swan truly did seem like a guardian angel in that moment.
Clearing his throat, Fury decided to start with her, “Bella Swan. What’s your take on her?”
Clint smiled slightly, his eyes still trained on Bella, and admitted, “Resilient, clever, resourceful, and brave, sir. She’s selfless and a true survivor. She’s a protector through and through. She’s also good with a gun, remarkably calm under pressure, and probably the first human to ever kill a vampire.”
Thinking over what Barton told him of Bella’s actions throughout the night, Fury hummed in agreement and asked, “Is she willing to help us, Barton? I’m assuming you filled her in on the situation with Loki. Is she willing to use that ability of hers?”
“Yes, sir. She’s not quite sure how she did it, but she’s willing to try,” Clint replied. “Actually, I think she’d make an excellent recruit.”
“She’s interested then?” Fury probed, his mind already making plans on how best to use her.
Nodding, Fury came to a decision, “All right. I’m about to head to New York to speak with Captain Rogers. Fill Bella in on the Avenger Initiative. Treat your wounds and grab a few hours of shut-eye. Agent Hill will pick you up at the airfield outside of Santa Fe at 0900. Are we clear?”
“And Barton?” Fury added. “Glad to have you back.”
“Thank you, sir,” Clint said gratefully before hanging up.
Clint honestly hadn’t known how that call was going to go, but he didn’t think it could’ve gone any better than that. The agents in Volterra had been pulled, Fury now knew Loki had an army to back him up, and Clint had been ordered to brief Bella on the Avenger Initiative. That call could’ve gone a lot worse and Clint was nearly overwhelmed with relief now that it was over.
Fury ended the call and stared at the phone for a moment, his thoughts racing. Bella Swan was a wild card, one he hadn’t seen coming. She was a game changer and Fury found himself grinning at the thought. He knew Loki already knew about the Avenger Initiative. With so many high level operatives now under his control, that was a given. Bella Swan, however, was an asset that nobody knew about. His other assets could take Loki down, but they all would be vulnerable to his ability to control minds.
Losing Captain America or Ironman to Loki’s control was a nightmare scenario of epic proportions and Fury didn’t even want to think about what would happen if the Hulk was turned against them. If he threw Bella into the mix, though, then he wouldn’t have to worry about his best men being compromised and used against them. With her help, they might just have a genuine shot at containing this thing.
“Director?” Hill questioned, a little unnerved by the smile on his face. A smiling Fury was a worrying thing.
Turning to look at her, he handed the phone back to her and quickly explained, “Agent Hill, it seems you’ll be taking a quinjet to Santa Fe in the morning. Agent Barton and our new recruit will be waiting for you at the airfield outside of town at 0900.”
“New recruit, sir?” she prodded.
Fury nodded, “Bella Swan. She has an ability. She protected Barton’s mind, releasing him from Loki’s control, and she’s interested in joining S.H.I.E.L.D. I’d like to add her to the team.” He paused a second before adding, “Bella has intel on the Enhanced we saw in that footage on the way to the base earlier today. I’d like you to interview her on the flight back. Apparently, the footage Coulson sent me was…”
“Of vampires,” Agent Hill finished, still silently marveling over that fact. She hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but vampire was a word that grabbed one’s attention.
Still trying to digest that fact himself, Fury nodded, “Yes. Find out everything you can about vampires, Agent Hill. After we detain Loki and retrieve the Tesseract, we’ll focus on the new threat.”
Hill nodded in agreement, “Yes, sir.”
Fury quickly glanced at his watch, taking in the time, and asked, “Is Agent Coulson ready, Hill?”
Both Captain Rogers and Tony Stark were currently in New York, so Fury planned to share a quinjet with Agent Coulson. While Fury approached Captain Rogers, Coulson would be tackling the situation with Stark. In the meantime, Agent Hill would be focused on making sure their helicarrier was staffed and fully functional. Fury planned to take the quinjet to the carrier after speaking with the Captain before sending it back for Coulson. Coulson would remain behind in New York, waiting for Stark and Rogers.
Hill nodded, “Yes, sir. He’s waiting on deck, sir. He also has the briefings with him.”
“Well,” Fury sighed, collecting the files he wanted and transferred them onto a tablet, “looks like the board is set. It’s time to start moving some pieces.”
As he locked down the interactive screen forming the top of his desk, Fury’s thoughts drifted back to Clint and Bella. He got back one of his knights and couldn’t help but wonder what role Bella would take in this game. A part of him hoped she was more than just a pawn. He hoped she’d turn out to be a valuable piece. Maybe even the queen.
Grabbing his personal tablet, Fury created a new file as he walked out of the room and transferred the Swan case into it. He smiled to himself as he typed in the code name, Guardian. Something told him the name would fit her well.