Chapter 2: With A Heavy Heart
Natasha frowned down at the slim girl under her arm. Not known as a warm person by nature, she’d always looked upon others with the cold glint of suspicion that held them at bay, never allowing them too close as she knew the danger closeness bred.
Clint had been different from the start. Unnaturally persistent, he’d taken her coldness as a challenge and at face value, always treating her like an actual person; a friend, not an agent or assassin. He’d been fearless with her, open and unassuming until her trust sparked and grew, consuming every facet of their relationship. She remembered every mission where he had covered her or she him; recalled every time he’d pushed her out of the way of a stray bullet or a flying fist. There wasn’t any part of herself that she didn’t trust to Clint Barton.
Which was why she continued to mechanically move her arm up and down the girl’s shoulder in a hollow act of comfort. She knew there was nothing she could do or say that would assuage the young woman’s pain. Still, she tried, knowing that by comforting Isabella she was comforting Clint by association.
Years of training had her steering them to the tree near the front of the house. It removed them from the immediate vicinity of the local police and brought them further away from the gathering crowd of pedestrians already gossiping and shooting Bella pitying glances. As she scanned the small crowd suspiciously, her eyes alighted on a small group of Native American boys, from the La Push reservation they’d flown into she imagined, all wearing cut off jeans and no shirts. She eyed them narrowly, disliking how their gaze never strayed from Bella.
She would keep watch and deal with them if necessary.
Silent tears made their way down Bella’s cheeks and the girl brought her arms around herself and shivered despite the unseasonal warmth there. Natasha recognized the signs of shock instantly, her criticizing eyes sharpening in on the tight hug the girl was giving herself as though holding her person together by sheer willpower alone. A stiff breeze would be enough to shatter the poor girl.
Studying her shaking form, Natasha noted her pallid skin, her hollow eyes and thinning cheeks – all physical signs of grief, yet it was too soon to see them in response to the untimely death of her parents. The girl had been mourning even before this tragedy and Natasha felt her stomach tighten in suspicion even as she tried to talk herself out of it. For Clint’s sake, she didn’t want to imagine that Bella had played any nefarious part in the demise of her parents.
Natasha tightened the arm around Bella as her mind scattered for something, anything she could say that would help her.
“Clint will find something, Bella,” she ended up saying, though the words were mechanic and wooden. “He’ll make it alright.”
Bella didn’t seem all that interested in her presence, but when Natasha spoke, she turned her broken gaze to her. “He won’t,” she rasped. “He won’t want anything to do with me as soon as he knows.”
Natasha’s entire body tightened as she read the guilt dripping from every word.
Please, she thought desperately. Please don’t make me have to take care of this girl. Not this girl.
She would, though, if necessary. To spare Clint the pain, Natasha would do what must be done if this girl turned out to be a danger to him. He would forever hate her for it, she had no doubt, but she’d protect Clint – even from himself.
“But he needs to know,” Bella muttered and it sounded like she was talking to herself. “It’s too late for me, but he’s kept himself so well hidden that she likely doesn’t know about him,” she cut herself off with a tiny sob before she continued, “He deserves the truth, just in case, and then I will leave. I will keep him safe.”
Abruptly, all of Natasha’s concerns evaporated. So alike, she thought. This girl and Clint were so very alike. She remembered the crippling guilt and fierce determination that had gripped Clint as they made their way up there and saw it echoed in Bella Swan.
This was not a girl with a nefarious plan. If anything, this was a girl who may have gotten in over her head and was now shouldering the burden of guilt all by herself in order to protect someone she cared for deeply. Bella Swan wasn’t a part of an evil conspiracy to get to Clint, she was just someone in trouble and instead of worrying about herself, all she was concerned with was keeping her brother safe.
Even at her own expense.
So, so alike, she thought again as Clint finally left the house. She saw him pause just outside the door to collect himself. Whatever it was he’d seen lingered around him – his shoulders tense, a slight green tint to his face. It was bad, she realized. Not much shook Clint anymore and to see him so visibly torn made long buried instincts of protection swell within her chest. Even discounting the fact that he’d just seen his father’s dead body and so was naturally upset, she could tell it ran deeper than that. She knew Clint Barton better than anyone, perhaps save the girl under her arm, and knew that whatever he had just seen wasn’t only tragic, but it had also been gruesome.
Which meant this was personal. They’d already suspected as such, of course, but the confirmation of it brought a cold awareness to Natasha.
Now, she only had to find out which one of these two siblings was being targeted, and given Isabella’s guilt-ridden grief, Natasha already knew which way that was leaning.
It was going to be a long night, she thought.
This is but a taste of what’s to come – and what a delicious taste he was. It may comfort you to know he died with your name on his lips.
Don’t bother calling mommy. I stopped there first.
Your next, little girl.
Uncomprehending, Clint stared at the note. Each word individually made sense, but lined up together and in the order that they were didn’t translate. It might as well have been written in Russian for all the sense this godawful situation was making.
Except Clint could read Russian, so there went that theory.
“Eyas?” he asked, looking from the bloodstained paper in his shaking hand to his little sister.
He saw her lip quiver again and was abruptly thrown back to when she’d been a little kid, seven years old, and had fallen off the monkey bars and broken her wrist. Their mother hadn’t noticed at first, but Clint always kept a close eye on Bella when they went to the park and had flown to her side instantly.
Her lip had quivered in much the same way it was now, and he’d swept away her tears with a smile as he’d told her, “Shush now. You’ll be okay. I’ve got you, little bird. Clint’s got you.”
Suddenly, Bella’s hunched shoulders straightened determinedly and she lifted her head to gaze at him intently. Fear clutched him and he dreaded whatever she was about to say as she faced him down like she was in front of a firing squad for execution.
“What I have to tell you, Clint, is dangerous. I’m sorry, so very sorry, more than I can ever say – and I won’t,” her voice cracked but she stubbornly continued, “I won’t expect you to forgive me, but I couldn’t not warn you. I love you too much to let you suffer in ignorance. You won’t have to see me ever again, but please let me explain.”
“What bullshit is this, Eyas?” he smiled sadly. “You know I would never, ever abandon you. Even when I had to let mom and dad think I was gone, Isabella… I couldn’t do that to you. I will always be here for you. Always,” he spoke with the heavy solemnity of a vow made in his own blood.
“You say that now,” she murmured tearfully. “But you’ll change your mind and leave me. Everyone’s always leaving me.”
For a brief second, Clint forgot all about the note and simply hugged his sister to him as she sobbed. It was so obvious that something had happened to his Eyas; someone had left a scar on her heart and stolen the tentative optimism she’d always had.
His sister was broken and it had nothing to do with their parents’ deaths.
Before he could do or say anything, someone intruded on their moment.
“Bella,” a voice whispered sadly, and Clint could detect a heavy note of pity that had both his and his sister’s backs stiffening.
“Jacob,” she greeted vacantly, looking at a large Native American boy who Clint decided must be on steroids he was so built. Then her gaze went to his left and she greeted another. “Billy.”
“You should come home with us, Bella. The police are going to be done with the clean up within the hour and they said you could leave with us after you’ve given an official statement.”
Clint’s hands tightened around her and he didn’t even bother to hide his defensiveness as he snapped, “She isn’t going anywhere with you.”
Beside them, Natasha drew up evenly to him in a silent show of agreement. As always, she was poised to spring, ready to attack and defend if necessary.
The one not in a wheelchair, Jacob, shook violently. “That’s not for you to say,” he hissed.
“Like hell it isn’t,” Clint snapped.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” the kid demanded.
“Jacob,” the one called Billy said reprovingly.
Realization slipped over him, chilling him like the first sip of ice water. “Billy? Billy Black?”
The man looked at him curiously, his head tilted to the side as he clearly tried to place him in his memory. Clint could tell the instant it hit him as he paled rather impressively for a man of his skin tone and looked as if he faced a ghost. “Clint? Little Clinton Swan?”
Barton – he wanted to correct him but didn’t. That was something he needed to explain to Bella before anyone else. “Hey there, Billy,” he said in confirmation.
“As I live and breathe,” Billy muttered in amazement. “You’re supposed to be dead, boy.”
Bella flinched and Clint could have smacked the guy for all his tactfulness. “Look,” he said uncharitably. “Isabella and I are talking about family matters. I know you guys mean well, but she’s not going anywhere with you, so if you’ll excuse us…”
The kid stepped forward. “I don’t know who you are, but –”
“No,” he cut him off, slowly moving Bella behind him as he faced the angry teen. “You wouldn’t remember me. You were still wetting the bed when I last saw you last, kid.”
“What the hell?” Jacob barked.
“Jake,” Bella cut in, moving to stand beside Clint while reaching down and holding his hand. “This is my brother Clint.”
“You don’t have a brother,” the kid shot back without really even registering his words.
Bella’s lip trembled and Clint wanted to deck the guy for being such a dick. Before he could do or say anything though, Bella said sharply, “I don’t have time for this. Thank you for the offer, Billy, but I’m staying with Clint and his girlfriend. We’ll take care of Charlie’s arrangements and notify you when everything is set. Now if you’ll excuse us?”
The boy tried to reach out to her, but Clint was quick to pull her into his side with a warning glare. “Bells,” Jake said. “It’s not safe here for you. You need to come to the Rez where I can look after you.”
Clint’s eyes narrowed on the boy suspiciously. He sounded like he knew something, but also implied a hidden threat. It was as if he knew that Charlie’s death was no accident, knew that someone out there was going to come after his sister next.
And if the kid did know that, then that made him a suspect, a danger to his sister.
Natasha clearly felt the same because he could see her hand drifting to rest over her gun, her fingers twitching to draw and shoot at any sign of aggression towards them.
“Don’t talk about things you can’t even hope to understand. This is a family affair. You need to leave now,” Bella told him coldly and Clint watched as each word landed on the kid like a verbal slap to the face.
The boy went to take a step forward and Clint tensed in preparation to spring.
“Jacob!” a new voice barked.
Another Native American boy jogged forward. He, too, wore jean shorts and lacked a shirt – don’t they have shirts in La Push, Clint thought snidely – but he carried himself as if he was wearing a power suit. He had an air of leader about him and Clint wasn’t all too surprised when Jake seemed to heed his call.
“We need to leave,” the newcomer said, practically ignoring them as he looked only to Jake.
“But Sam –”
“Now, Jacob!” the guy, Sam, barked.
With a heavy air of reluctance, Jake turned and stalked after Sam while Billy lingered. The poor man seemed unable to look away from Clint, as if he feared to do so would make him disappear again.
“I don’t understand,” Billy muttered. “You were declared dead, Clint. We mourned you – Charlie never stopped mourning for you.”
Clint swallowed thickly as he pictured his proud father grieving for him in his own quiet way. Charlie Swan had been a man of many emotions but had kept them in tight rein. Everything about his dad had been understated but so completely genuine. He remembered the camping trips of his youth spent fishing and hunting. His dad had bought him his first bow and taught him the value of a steady hand and keen eye. To people not close to Charlie Swan he may have seemed a stoic man, but Clint remembered the light of pride in his father’s eyes the first time his arrow had hit a bullseye. He remembered him awkwardly humoring his sister to a mock tea party when they’d visited him one summer. Charlie Swan may have appeared as calm and steady as a winter lake, but he ran deeper than any ocean.
Shaking off the memories, Clint rubbed Bella’s back reassuringly as he turned her away from Billy. “We can talk later, Billy. Right now I need to be with my sister.”
Billy nodded somewhat reluctantly. “If you need anything, Bella, anything at all, you know where I’m at.”
Not looking at him, she nodded distractedly and only relaxed in Clint’s arms when he’d gone.
“Something’s off with that boy,” Natasha remarked quietly.
Clint agreed. “Yeah, but we’ll figure it out later. Right now we need to get these people out of here and take of the arrangements for Charlie. Then we’ll have to see about things in Florida with Renee… maybe it was an empty threat and she’s fine?”
Bella sniffled in his arms. “It isn’t. She killed her for real this time, I’m sure of it.”
His eyes fell closed and he took a deep breath in an attempt to remain calm. “This time, Eyas? There’s been other times?”
She looked to the floor in a decided show of guilt. “I’ll explain it all, Clint, and then you can leave with your friend.”
He gripped her arms and bent down to catch her eyes. “You listen to me and listen well, little bird. I’m not leaving you and I don’t buy for one minute that this is your fault. Feel me?”
She shook her head as more tears fell.
“Now stop that, Isabella,” he said firmly. “Now is not the time for a pity party. We both owe each other some answers and once we see to that, I’ll take care of you. Don’t I always take care of you, Eyas?”
She sighed and brought her arms up around him. “Yes Clint, you always do. I’ve missed you so much, big brother.”
Resting his cheek against the top of her head, Clint squeezed her tightly to him. “And I’ve missed you, Bella. So much.”
“Incoming,” Natasha warned softly as one of the deputies made their way over.
The next thirty minutes or so were spent with Bella giving her official statement to the officer as the coroner finally arrived to clear out Charlie’s body. Clint listened to Bella’s words absently, noting her subtle tells that confirmed she was lying to the man writing down her every word. But he was also surprised to see she’d learned to lie so well. If he hadn’t known her as well as he did, he would have believed her every word.
As it was, her newfound lying ability brought him a sense of sadness even if he knew it’d come in handy in the future. Someone only became good at something with practice and Clint’s already racing mind pushed even faster as he wondered exactly how long his sister had been spinning lies in order to craft them so well.
The door to their house opened and Clint quickly moved to block Bella’s line of sight as the coroner finally wheeled out Charlie’s body. He himself couldn’t keep from staring at the black bag on the stretcher and knew it was an image that would forever linger in his memories of his father. He didn’t want the same for Bella. It was bad enough she’d been the one to find his body and was unable to unsee the gruesome murder scene, but there was a stark finality that came with that black body bag that made Clint’s heart ache. He couldn’t do anything to take away the memory of their father’s mutilated body from Bella’s mind, but he’d do whatever possible to keep from adding to the terrible images.
Finally, the police deemed the place clean and with fervent promises to keep her updated on the case, they left Bella alone, sending to good townsfolk of Forks back to their homes as well.
As cars and people slowly cleared out, Bella stood awkwardly in front of Clint and Natasha, unable to meet either of their eyes.
“So, Mark says we can go in now,” she muttered, looking to the house, then back to the floor.
She looked like she would rather eat asphalt than go into her once safe and welcoming home, but again, Clint was mildly impressed at his sister fortitude as she straightened her shoulders and resolutely walked towards the house.
Her courage was fleeting, however. No more than two steps into the home and Bella froze, her eyes darting to the living room and locking on the chair that had served as Charlie’s deathbed. It had been his favorite, Clint remembered, which made the visual all the more horrifying. Every memory of him in it, now tainted with the knowledge that it had been where he’d died.
It was Natasha who brought them both out of it.
“Let’s go to the kitchen,” she said, her tone soft but brooking no refusal.
Clint snapped to it and put his arm around Bella while steering her into said kitchen.
Bella cleared her throat. “I’m sorry – Um, I don’t mean this in a bad way, but please, who are you?”
Mentally, Clint slapped himself for not introducing them properly. Obviously introductions had been low on his to-do list of priorities, but he should have done it before now.
“Bella, this is Natasha. Natasha, this is my sister Bella. We work together, Eyas. She’s kind of like my partner.”
Her eyes darted between the two of them and a subtle twitch at the corner of her mouth let Clint know Bella saw far more between them than anyone else did. He shouldn’t have been surprised she would pick up on the dual meaning of the word ‘partner’… Bella had always known when Clint had been sweet on a girl.
“I’d say nice to meet you, but under the circumstances,” Natasha trailed off, looking a mite awkward. He felt bad that their first meeting would be forever shadowed by the circumstances that had brought them together but he also hoped that Bella would be able to see past Natasha’s brusque and cool exterior that served to hide an unexpectedly soft heart.
Bella gave a half-hearted, tired smile and nodded. “So I suppose I should just come out and say it, no more dancing around the issue, right?” She fiddled nervously with her fingers and bit her lip as she again refused to meet anyone’s eyes. “I don’t even know where to start,” she sighed.
“Just take your time and start at the beginning, Eyas,” Clint said comfortingly. “Natasha and I are here to help you.”
Suddenly he felt like he was a hostage negotiator in the process of talking someone down from the edge. Interrogations had never been his area of expertise – that’d always been Natasha’s bread and butter – and he had no desire to see his sister as someone that needed to be interrogated, but knew he’d have to think as such if he wanted to get the answers that would ultimately help him protect her.
“I don’t know if you’ll believe me,” she muttered, tucking a long strand of hair behind your ear. “It’s kind of… well, unbelievable, to be honest.”
Clint and Natasha locked eyes. He remembered the recent events in New Mexico where he’d witnessed a smack down of mythical proportions between two Gods. He thought about the file that S.H.I.E.L.D. had detailing the life of Bruce Banner and his angry alter-ego. Then Clint thought about the man known as Captain America who’d been frozen in ice for decades before being thawed out, living and surprisingly spry for an old geezer. And not to forget, as if he’d let someone forget about him, there was the man of iron himself, Tony Stark, who pretty much specialized in insane feats of nature.
“You’d be surprised what I’d believe, Eyas,” he finally said, giving her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
She looked doubtful, but started talking. “A lot has happened, Clint. I’m not even sure where the beginning is anymore… Guess I should start with them – the Cullens.”
The way she said the name, a small shudder wracking her slim body as she rubbed her chest like one massaged an aching bruise, made Clint stand at attention.
“Does this have anything to do with the Phoenix Incident?”
Bella frowned. “You know about that?”
She sounded partly impressed, but mostly horrified.
“Eyas,” he shook his head sadly. “Even though I couldn’t be there doesn’t mean I was never there. I’ve always kept tabs on you guys.”
Clint remembered learning about her running off to Phoenix, supposedly because of some boy – Edward Cullen, he’d learned the name was – and now that she’d brought up the name Cullen in such a pain-filled tremor, he was starting to make connections. He’d never thought it in character for her to run away because of a fight with a boy and when he’d learned of the Phoenix Incident, heard about her supposedly tripping down some stairs and falling through a window, a red flag of warning had instantly been raised. Isabella had always kept a clear and level head where her emotions were concerned, both she and Clint were very much like their father in that respect, and the whole story had sounded suspect to him from the beginning.
But she’d never called him. She’d had the phone for some time by then and if she’d needed to, she would have called him. Wouldn’t she have? He’d consoled himself with that thought at the time, but now he was not so sure. Isabella was incredibly self-sacrificing when it came to her loved ones and had always tried to protect them, even at her own expense. She and Clint were so much alike in that respect, and now Clint’s eyes were opened to a new, far more likely scenario when he contemplated the Phoenix Incident, as he’d dubbed it.
Isabella had been in real danger but hadn’t called him. In the only way she could, she’d protected him by keeping him away.
The realization gave him a tight sinking feeling in his gut like he’d swallowed a lump of lead. Not even twenty-four hours had passed since her calling him and Clint found his whole world twirling on end like some sick parody of a toy spinning top. He’d sacrificed his connection to his sister in order to save her and now he was finding out she’d likely been doing the same for him.
“I think it’s time we put all our cards out on the table,” Natasha said bluntly, but her tone was surprisingly conciliatory.
Of the two of them, Natasha was the expert in information gathering. She was the agent sent on impossible missions to gain facts and Clint was more the observer, the person they sent with her to keep an eye on the situation; the person who would just simply put an arrow through someone’s eye if they refused to cooperate with Natasha’s interrogation methods.
“You both are very alike,” Natasha noted, and he really shouldn’t have been surprised that she was obviously making the same connections he was. “Clint cut ties to keep you safe, you allowed them to stay cut for the same reason, yes?”
Bella looked from her to Clint, then back to Natasha again. Her one worded answer sat heavily on his heart. “Yes,” she whispered.
“Alright,” Natasha allowed, and Clint found himself entirely grateful that she’d appeared to have deemed it necessary to take over for them. Both he and Bella were understandably emotional and Clint’s training melted away under his sister’s suffering. He was incapable of asking the necessary questions; incapable of treating his sister like an interrogation suspect.
Natasha, however, was not. “The Cullens,” she stated, her eyes softening mildly when Bella flinched at the name. “They are the people responsible for your troubles?”
Clint’s mind went to every possible outcome, but focused on the few that revolved around criminals, gangs… mafia. Good lord, did his sister fall in love with someone with mafia connections? His mind replayed scenes from The Godfather and he felt the urge to vomit.
Isabella’s eyes shifted nervously before closing resolutely. “They – they aren’t exactly people,” her voice cracked. “They aren’t exactly… human.”
A deafening silence thundered.
“Tell us,” Natasha demanded. “You must tell us everything.”
And so Bella did. Each word fell onto Clint like the lash of a whip, scarring his heart for the pain he’d left his sister to suffer alone. She spoke of meeting Edward Cullen, how they fell in love – or so she’d thought – and how she’d uncovered their dark secret.
Then she spoke of being hunted by James, how she’d sacrificed herself in Phoenix when she’d thought he’d had their mother, only to find out she’d been tricked and had been lured to what was supposed to have been her death. She spoke of all the ways Edward Cullen had failed her – he’d kept pulling her closer only to push her away.
He’d toyed with her, Clint decided, fury shaking him to the core. This creature had done more than break his sister’s heart. He’d wounded her very soul.
And then he had abandoned her. Left her alone in a world where she knew too much and was unable to protect herself from the dangers she’d been exposed to. Edward Cullen had done more than merely break her – he’d obliterated her. He and his entire family had destroyed her just as surely as if they had killed Charlie themselves and not this Victoria character Bella told them about.
He watched as each word purged from her. He saw the shame darkening her eyes and the guilt settle heavily on her shoulders. It was so clear that she blamed herself for it all, though it made him happy to see she reserved a large amount of anger for this so-called family of vampires. But his sister carried the weight of their father and mother’s deaths on her heart as though it had been her hand that had snatched their lives. She held herself responsible and looked at Clint as if he was a ticking bomb about to explode and destroy her as well.
But that was ridiculously, he wanted to yell at her. How could she ever believe he’d condemn her and leave her to die tortuously at the hands of some sadistic monster?
“Eyas,” he muttered, her nickname filled with the sorrow in his heart.
“I’m sorry, Clint,” she needlessly apologized. “I’m so sorry I got our parents killed.”
She shattered before him like spun glass, sobs spilling from her lips as she collapsed to her knees as though she was about to beg him for forgiveness.
He was at her side instantly, his arms holding her to him as he rock her soothingly. “Shush now. You’ll be okay. I’ve got you, little bird. Clint’s got you,” he echoed the very words of their youth. He meant them now more than ever. “I won’t let you go. It’s not your fault, Eyas. It’s not your fault.”
It’s their fault, his mind hissed. And as he held his sister to him he vowed that after they sorted out this bitch Victoria, the Cullens would be next.
No body fucked with his sister and got away with it.
(A/N): So Clint knows, but he has much to explain to Bella now, doesn’t he? Up next, we meet S.H.I.E.L.D. and possibly an Avenger or two 😉 For those wondering, Loki is scheduled to appear in chapter 4, maybe 5 if I get verbose, so hang in there!
Please drop me a review and let me know what you think!