“Do you have a mission upcoming?” Steve asked Clint.
Clint knew that the Captain was simply being nice. Hawkeye was still on a tight leash since being brainwashed by Loki. He was assigned to the hellicarrier and going a little stir-crazy. “What do you have in mind?”
"Richard... Castle,” Steve tacked on awkwardly, “got his way with the book release and signing and wants to go ahead and do a book tour for my biography. Threats have been made against him, as a worthwhile hostage. People have suspected that they can get to me through him. SHIELD isn’t sure the threat is credible. His family in New York is staying with Stark but Richard is basically alone in different indefensible and unprepared stores in various cities. I’m going incognito as his bodyguard but I’d like someone watching on the outside. It’s not an official mission, but I’d compensate…”
Clint interrupted Captain America. “It’ll get me off the ‘carrier, get me someplace high with my bow?” he confirmed. Clint knew standard procedures and knew that Steve was taking responsibility for Clint in his current state of mind. That trust and opportunity was worth more than any money Steve could offer him. Clint would not be allowed on a real mission for a while yet.
“Then I’m in.” If he proved his stability, it’d get him into the field that much quicker.
Steve grinned and looked relieved as if Clint was doing him a huge favor instead of the other way around. “Can you be ready tomorrow, 0700 hours?”
“I’ll meet you at the ferry then.”
The next morning, he had to track down Steve early. Luckily, everyone knew about where to find Captain America, especially Coulson. Steve had appropriated one of the offices that had belonged to an agent out on disability. Steve was probably planning to give it back when Gibbens returned but Gibbens had used her occupied office as yet another reason to work from home. She was a talented analyst, so as long as the information was protected in route, there would be no disadvantage to the new arrangements.
“I’m not allowed in the armory,” Clint confessed without any preamble.
Steve didn’t stop reading whatever was on his tablet and pointed to a steel case set to the side. Clint stepped closer and spied the ‘SI’ label on the handle. The fact that it wasn’t in hot rod red and yellow meant that the classy case was Pepper’s doing. Clint needed his thumbprint to open the case and wasn’t terribly surprised to see the most advanced bow and quiver on the planet. “Tony’s asking you to… beta-test? his invention.” Steve seemed unsure, like he wasn’t sure what Tony wanted but was repeating his words.
“Sure, no problem,” as if he didn’t know that Steve hadn’t been able to weasel Clint’s normal equipment out of SHIELD and instead, had asked Iron Man for a replacement. “I’ll need a range.”
“There’s one less than a mile from where we’re staying tonight. Tony said that he sent the specs to your tablet.”
Clint hadn’t packed his Starkpad and would have to add it to his bag. “Departing on schedule?”
“Looks like it.” Steve was career military and knew that the mission never started until all members were in route and the mission ended when all returned. Some missions never ended.
Clint made the quick trip from his quarters back to Steve’s side. As they walked onto the ferry, each with a duffle bag and a second bag containing (hiding) their weapons, Clint felt like he belonged.
The feeling didn’t go away when he met Castle and his family. Castle’s mother hit on him (much to Steve’s abject horror and everyone else’s amusement) and Castle’s daughter quizzed him on the physics of archery. Castle, himself, started asking about doing a biography on him.
“Steve’s is done, of course,” Castel explained. “And I’m working on Stark’s. The hard part is getting everything in there without making it into a text book… or gossip rag. My new goal is to write a biography on every Avenger in the next ten years.”
Steve’s carefully bland face indicated that he had feelings on the subject but he was keeping them to himself.
“The vast majority of my life is classified and will probably continue to be so until long after I’m dead,” Clint told the author. “And ‘Tash is not going to let you climb into her head.”
Castle just grinned like it was a challenge. “The one I really want to interview is the Hulk.”
“Banner?” Clint was confused.
“No. Yes. Him too. I want to interview Banner and the Hulk and split the book between their perspectives. I bet I could change public opinion on him with one book.”
Richard Castle was a little crazy.
Clint could see why Steve liked the guy.
God had given her a newspaper and told her that she might find some gift ideas within. Joan Winchester saw the news blurb about Richard Castle coming to Chicago for a book signing and smiled. Dean had done more than supernatural research on Captain America and Sam liked reading the Nikki Heat books as ‘fluff.’ She could get both Dean and Sam’s Christmas gift in one stop.
The first couple stops of the book tour were interesting objectively but boring during. Castle’s die head fans were amusing. They would do anything for his attention, none of it truly dangerous with Steve at Castle’s shoulder. Steve ‘incognito’ was amusing. He was dressed in his Dodgers cap and a t-shirt that might have been filched from Tony’s closet. Even more amusing were the number of people whose eyes glanced right over the ‘bodyguard’ and yet would argue with Castle over whether or not Steve was really Captain America.
Clint’s new weapon was better than the last. He trained with it every night and wiped away the stress of waiting, waiting, waiting while nothing happened. His mind cleared and organized itself, placing blame and guilt on the appropriate parties. It was better than therapy.
In each city, Steve had ordered one room for the two of them with two beds. Clint didn’t mind. He and Steve shared the same military mindset and one of them would always be awake and on guard. Castle’s room was right next door and the author was cheerful and friendly and generous and very curious about Clint. He continued to treat Steve like a close friend or family, Clint like a prospective friend and, from the phone calls that Clint had observed, Tony Stark like the fun, alcoholic uncle. With Richard and Steve on the road, Clint knew that Tony had invited Richard’s mother and daughter to Stark Tower. Richard didn’t want his girls associating with Stark more than necessary, but Pepper Potts and Steve were being persuasive.
“Everything is continuing as planned. We’ll kidnap Richard Castle in the flashiest way possible and Captain America will come running. He’s a White Hat that way. Then we’ll be able to draw out the magic contained in his body. It’ll be enough to boost all of us.”
“Hmmm?” They had just switched the watch and Clint was minutes from sleep. He knew to sleep when the opportunity presented itself because he could never depend on it being routine.
“Martha Rogers is my daughter. Mine and Peggy Carter’s.” Martha Rogers. Martha Rogers was Castle’s mother.
Clint sat up in bed, wide awake. He stared at Steve for a moment and then shook his head. “Don’t go saying shit like that in an unsecured location.”
Steve pointed at a shiny steel sphere. “Tony promised that that would prevent any eavesdroppers. I just wanted to tell you the truth. I owed you the truth.”
“No, you didn’t. That kind of thing needs to stay a secret and the only way that it’ll stay a secret is if you don’t tell anyone.”
Steve waited. He was almost as good as a sniper at waiting.
“Tony knows?” Clint confirmed.
“I needed someone who could get me an introduction without SHIELD realizing why.”
Tony was a good choice for that. Clint wondered if anyone at SHIELD had an inkling. He wondered if Natasha was suspicious. Clint wondered if it colored Castle’s book. He was going to have to read it in secret. He hated reading and all of SHIELD knew it. Clint wouldn’t draw attention to the relationship between Steve and Castle.
“You know,” Clint mused. “I’ve always been hit on by my friend’s daughters, I just wasn’t expecting yours to be among them.”
Steve rolled his eyes and Clint considered that a win.
“We throw enough magic around and it will take out all of their phones, cameras, security devices and leave them blind and stupid, so don’t be stingy.”
There was something about Chicago that made Clint nervous. Something about the biting wind that made all of the hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. Castle was oblivious, but Steve seemed to feel the same apprehension. The first couple of hours were merely a continuation of the last three cities; old men (probably veterans), argumentative political students of all ages and die-hard female fans of all shapes and sizes lined up to talk to Richard Castle.
At first Clint thought the roll of cold was from a weather front moving through. Clint glanced at his phone for a weather report and saw that it was dead. Clint was instantly alert, bow at the ready. He needed to warn Steve.
A man in a black robe just appeared in the front of the line. A line of flames spilled out of his hands unto the waiting fans. Clint put an arrow through his throat. If Steve had managed to miss the fire, he couldn’t miss the dead enemy falling through the store door. Four more black robes and seven brown robes appeared and started causing havoc and killing Castle’s fans.
After the first bull’s-eye, something started reflecting a good portion of Clint’s bolts and Steve’s bullets. Both of the soldiers scored a couple of hits –all on the brown robed terrorists. Once all of the brown robes were down, Clint started laying down smoke to provide cover between the black robes and the fans. The fans now escaped but the black robes managed to carry away Castle and some woman.
Clint followed, trying to direct their route by using explosions and fire. He was only partially successful. With two of the black robes occupied by their loads, the other two fired back at Clint and Steve. Clint ran and jumped from building roof to building roof. He was gaining on them despite the close calls with fire. The enemy turned into a dead-end ally, but when he rounded the corner they were gone.
They had vanished.
And they took Steve’s grandson with them.
“Open a door to the Nevernever.”
“Is dead. The arrow prevented even a death curse. Open the door before you’re next.”
Clint couldn’t find any clues of the terrorists’ egress and he knew every sleight of hand secret for leaving enemies in the dust. He secured the site until he could flag down a local cop to protect it. The scientists were going to climbing all over the alley within the hour. The cops arrived shortly and it only took a little convincing for them to lock down the alley. Steve had already prowled the length of the brick walls and found nothing. Both his and Clint’s phones were DOA, so he had wandered off looking for a landline he could use to call in back up. Clint needed to find his team leader now and regroup.
The bookstore was chaos. Ambulances were leaving with the wounded. Black bags covered the dead and police officers were putting up caution tape. The roof of the store was sagging in spots. Clint entered the trashed store to see Captain America trashing it even more. He was in uniform now and Clint wondered where he had found the telephone booth or the time. It made sense. He would get better cooperation from the locals in uniform.
“Cap?” He was surprised that he wasn’t back down the street where they thought that the kidnappers most likely had escaped. (Where Steve’s grandson had vanished, a tiny voice in Clint’s head murmured.) The ease with which they had disappeared prompted Steve to call Tony Stark requesting his immediate presence. The enemy had stealth superior to anything SHIELD possessed.
“The woman,” Steve responded. “The second kidnap victim. She had a toddler, a boy, with her when she was talking to Richard.”
Clint had been perched high enough to know that the toddler had not been kidnapped and had not left the store. With the mother abducted, no one else was looking for the child or even knew he was missing. “All the noise you’re making…” Clint started but didn’t have to finish. Steve knew that the racket was probably scaring the forcibly abandoned child further. The table he had been in the midst of flipping was now being set down gently. “I’ll help,” he assured the super soldier.
“I have a son. Please, please, let me go.”
“Hey, don’t hit her,” Richard surged forward, only to fall back at some invisible force.
“Both of you shut up.” He pointed at the female fan. “You are only good to us dead.” And then he pointed at Richard, “You are only good to us as long as Captain America wants you back.”
Clint spotted new-ish but filthy, tiny tennis shoes poking out from behind some electronics on the third shelf of the office in the corner. He spared a moment to be impressed with the child’s chosen hiding place. The boy had stuffed himself high, behind a computer where few would look. Clint followed the shoes and when he craned his head at a different angle, he saw the little boy with silent tears streaming down his face. His arms were wrapped around his knees and his hands were curled into tight fists. He was scared but ready to fight. When Clint approached, he shrunk back.
So Clint didn’t crowd him. He held out his hand and waited. First he watched the hands uncurl and the tension ease from the shoulders. Then boy slowly approached Clint, scooting forward on his butt. The archer didn’t move. He wasn’t impatient. He simply waited with one hand stretched out. He could wait for hours. It took ten minutes for the boy move forward the two feet to Clint and another three minutes for the boy to decide whether or not he wanted to touch Clint’s hand. It took two aborted moves before the boy touched Clint. The archer was fully expecting another five minutes to coax the boy into his arms, but the toddler surprised him. The boy launched himself at Clint’s body, wrapped his tiny arms around Clint’s neck and tucked his head under Clint’s chin. He squeezed and burrowed against Clint’s uniform as if he was trying to get under Clint’s skin.
Clint could feel the moisture of the boy’s tears on his neck. He carried the child to Steve and to his immense surprise, the boy refused to be transferred to Captain America. Clint didn’t know of any other child that would prefer a nobody assassin to a real life American hero. The boy wasn’t interested in any of the police men or women who continued to arrive at the scene and offered to transfer the boy to Social Services. Clint flatly refused to talk to the social worker that arrived. He would rather keep the child and stay out of the action than to put him in foster care. His experiences with the system colored his actions, but he didn’t care and surprisingly enough, no one kicked up too much of a fuss.
They were finally alone, locked into this dim room. There were tears streaming down his co-kidnappee’s face but her eyes were free of fear and her hands were not shaking.
“Were you just acting how they were expecting?”
She smiled. It was shaking but a smile. “My family and friends are going to stop them.”
“Nah-uh,” Richard argued. “My friends and family are going to get here and kick ass.”
“Want to bet?”
Richard was never one to turn down a bet and this discussion? Was totally calming his fears as well. “If my friends get here first, I’m so writing you into my next book.”
The dismayed look that graced her face was priceless. “And when my family gets here first, none of us are ever mentioned again.”
They shook on it.
Richard could never stand silence long and this damp improvised prison could only hold part of his attention. He had already mentally chosen his words to describe it. “What’s your name, by the way? You got one book signed to your brother in law and the other to your husband and I never got your name.”
“I’m Joan. My name is Joan.”
Anyone that could escape with two hostages while under attack from both Clint and Steve Rogers was someone that took priority for SHIELD, so Clint wasn’t surprised when Coulson arrived on scene, thirty minutes after the event, with two van loads of agents and Natasha. Clint knew Coulson’s style and expected that thirty other agents were spread all over Chicago, searching probable suspects. Stark never arrived. He was involved in his own deadly drama, but Coulson promised to forward all intelligence to the genius for review at his earliest opportunity.
Seeing how well executed the raid was, it was obvious that the initial leak had been intentional. They wanted Captain America close by. Clint wondered if SHIELD had already gotten the ransom demand, trading Castle and the woman for Steve Rogers. Clint was ninety-percent sure that was the kidnappers’ goal and one-hundred percent sure that SHIELD was not going to tell Steve when the demand was made. Clint wondered how many body doubles were on the payroll, all willing to die so that Captain America could continue saving the world.
For once, Clint was on the peripheral of the chaos instead of high above with a direct line to the boss. The child show no inclination to release Clint in favor of… well, anyone. He was sobbing softly into Clint’s neck. Clint found a quiet office in the back of the bookstore and the boy quieted quickly. He huffed and gulped and rubbed his snotty nose against Clint’s shirt. Annoying, yes, but benign compared to the majority of the bodily fluids that had been cleaned off his uniform.
The boy was far enough from his fears that he was curious of his surroundings. His eyes swiveled around the room and settled on the adult holding him. He leaned back to studied Clint. Then the boy twisted and pointed to the knife in Clint’s boot. Damnit. There was a reason no one else trusted him with children. He hadn’t even thought about stripping himself of weapons. Clint took the knife and put it out of reach.
“Ouchie,” the boy said.
“Yes,” Clint answered slowly. “That will hurt you and have you sayin’ ouch.”
“Ouchie,” he repeated. “No touch.”
Clint put the knife back into the boy’s reach and repeated, “No touch. Ouchie.”
The boy nodded in agreement. He pointed to every bladed weapon on Clint’s body and identified it as ‘ouchie.’ The boy was better than some probationary SHIELD agents at spotting concealed weapons. Then he stood on Clint’s lap and looked over his shoulder at his bow and quiver. “Ouchie?” and this time it was a question.
“Ouchie,” Clint told him. “No touch.” He couldn’t help but to be impressed at the childrearing. Once the weapons had been deemed ‘No Touch,’ the boy ignored them. It was a rule that he didn’t try to break. Clint returned the first knife to the sheath in his boot. The boy started searching Clint’s pockets. The archer didn’t know if he was bored or hungry.
Suddenly, the boy flung himself against Clint and started crying again. “Hey, hey. You’re safe,” Clint murmured. “We’ll find your mommy.”
“And Daddy?” the boy asked.
“And Uncle De?”
“Uncle De?” Clint repeated. Could this child lead them to his family?
An agent entered the office with sacks of food. “I stayed away from any common allergens but you’ll have to watch closely and let him eat his preferences.” The first thing she pulled out was bananas.
“B’nana,” the boy squealed. He was reaching for the fruit to such an extent that he nearly fell off of Clint’s lap.
“That answers that question,” the child care agent murmured. But when she tried to use the banana to tempt the toddler off Clint’s lap, he balked. He turned his head away from her and twisted his hands into the pockets of Clint’s uniform. He was not going anywhere without a fight. She tried the bribe of toy cars or a stuffed animal, but the boy wouldn’t budge.
She set aside two of Castle’s books and a large bag. “They belong to the boy’s mother,” she answered Clint’s quizzical look. “The Captain wanted the books to go with the boy.”
Another agent would have checked the inscription for clues, but Clint still opened the Captain America book to the first page. ‘To Dean, Carry on my Wayward Son, Richard Castle.’ Clint bet that the kid’s ‘Uncle De’ was really ‘Uncle Dean.’ The Nikki Heat book was in scribed ‘To Sam, Enjoy your guilty pleasure, Richard Castle.’
“Could the mother’s name be Samantha?” Clint asked.
The agent shook her head. “The Captain said, ‘no, Sam was her husband.’ She never said her own name.”
“Did she say the kid’s?”
“It’s Billy, he thinks.”
“Billy?” Clint asked the boy. The toddler looked at him but Clint couldn’t tell if it was in recognition of his name. Clint pointed to himself. “I’m Clint. Clint. Can you say Clint?”
“’Lint,” Billy mumbled into the archer’s chest.
The other agent raised an eyebrow. “Not bad enunciation for the age. He might be on the small side. I’ll increase the search parameters to include three year olds. Is he wearing a diaper?”
“No.” There was no extra padding between the boy and Clint’s leg.
“There’re both diapers and underwear in the diaper bag, so he is in the middle of being potty trained, but with the stress of missing his mother, I’d expect an accident. I’d highly advise putting him in a diaper immediately. How are you at changing diapers?”
Clint shrugged. He wasn’t as bad as say… Natasha. There was that mission five years ago that he might have learned a bit about child care.
“Well, we’ve passed this guy’s mother’s picture out to the local police, but no hits yet.”
The Chicago detective walked around the corner and far away from all of the SHIELD agents. She dialed her consultant’s office and then his house. He didn’t answer. She swore and called the Carpenter house.
“Good morning,” one of the children chirped.
“This is Detective Murphy. I need to talk to Molly or your mom.”
“MOLLY!” the adult yanked her head away from the sudden yell. “Oh, no, she’s outside, ’bout to leave.” The phone on the other end clattered to the counter and then silence. Murphy hoped that she had caught the wizards in time.
The phone clattered again but Molly was the one that said, “Detective Murphy?”
“What do you know about the events on the South Side?”
“Harry said that five master wizards lit up the ley lines. We were heading that way to investigate.”
“Put Harry on the phone, please.”
She wished for the days when Molly would obey first and question second. “Those masters kidnapped an author and a fan that looks a lot like Joan Winchester. Are the Winchesters still in town?”
Molly caught her breath. “Yeah, they are.”
Coulson was watching all of the footage the SHIELD agents had collected simultaneously. They actually had some initial feed of the assailants’ staging area as well as the interior of the bookstore pieced together from fans’ camera phones. Coulson worked best with the whole picture. He noticed the toddler that now clung to his archer like a monkey curiously walking around the signing table as his mother chatted. The boy had wandered slightly away from his mother just before the attack. On one monitor, an assailant grinned in true evil pleasure and in the other, the toddler burst into tears. The boy’s mother was instantly attentive and he calmed. The outdoor security feed blipped to static due to the EM pulse that had taken out all the phones near them and the boy’s mother turned her head in alarm, checked for safe exits and found none. She sent the boy into hiding just as the first assailants burst through the bookstore doors and they set off another EM burst that rendered all of the cameras useless.
He’d watch it again to observe the enemy but for now he’d keep his suspicions and knowledge to himself about the boy in Barton’s care. He would make sure that there was a security camera on the two at all times… if for no other reason than blackmail purposes. Though, he would be interested in confirmation that the boy and probably his mother were sensitives. The enemy valued that kind of energy, so she was a convenient grab. Also, that would be the reason why the boy latched onto Barton; he too was a sensitive.
“Dean. Where’s your brother?”
“Do you know where Joan is?”
“She and Billy are out shopping. Why? You need back-up?”
“Sam said that the Winchesters would only be my back-up in an apocalyptic scenario.”
“Yeah,” Dean’s voice was fond. “My baby brother holds a grudge.”
“How’re your wounds?”
“Got a clean bill of health from the doc today. Why?”
“It’s Joan. I’m pretty sure she’s been kidnapped.”
“Let me get my guns. Damnit. She’s not answering her phone. Neither is Sam. I’m coming with you to rescue her. Oh, and Dresden?”
“I’m not your Red Shirt.”
Dean sighed. “Go ask Molly. Charity is a secret Trekkie. She’ll get it.”
“I’m more of a Star Wars fan, myself.”
“That’s why you two will never get along.”
Find a perch. A safe perch that the boy can walk around and play.
Those had been Coulson’s orders. The boy slept in Clint’s arms for about an hour. Then he started exploring. Billy was really good at staying within the boundaries Clint set. Again, Clint had to commend his parents. His new environment explored, Billy picked up the toy vehicles and crawled on his hands and knees rumbling ‘vroom, vroom.’
Suddenly, in the middle of playing, Billy abandoned his rocks and cars and ran to Clint. He grabbed Clint’s belt and tried to climb him. In self-defense, the archer put the bow to the side and lifted the boy close. Clint ran a free hand up and down the child’s back in an effort to calm him. After a moment, the boy calmed but stiffened.
“So situation unchanged,” said the one person who could catch him unawares.
“He knew you were coming, Tasha.” He used his foot to indicate the piles of rocks. “He was there two minutes ago.”
The Black Widow was still as night and Clint knew she was thinking.
“The dislike of crowds, knowing that I was approaching. Is it possible that he’s an empath?”
Billy tightened his grip on Clint’s neck. Clint had seen too many things to dismiss Natasha’s question as fantasy. For the other spy to even suggest it, meant that she had seen the signs before. “Wouldn’t an empath choose Cap over me?”
“What do you think Cap’s feeling now?”
Worry. He would be self-flagellant and probably anger. Billy was very young, too young to parse out the intended target of the feelings. “But an empath would…”
Billy tightened his arms around Clint’s neck enough to restrict breathing. “Nau’ty word,” the boy whispered in his ear.
Natasha was waiting and Clint was impressed that Billy’s parents had taught him to whisper better than some adults. The spy hadn’t caught the words. “Empath’s a naughty word?” he asked, loud enough for Tasha to hear.
Billy nodded once.
Clint and Natasha’s eyes exchanged several realizations: one, Billy was an empath. Two, Billy’s parents knew exactly what he was and were hiding him. Three, whoever his ‘daddy’ and other ‘aunts’ and ‘uncles’ were, they wouldn’t be reporting Billy missing to the police and especially not to SHIELD. They would be looking for him off the grid. Four, from his behavior in the store before the kidnapping, his mother easily (subconsciously? purposefully?) shielded him from the buffet of emotions.
And five, neither of them was going to report this to SHIELD.
Tasha’s eyes widened with surprise and Clint knew what else she had realized: Coulson suspected. Why else would he have sent Clint to the top of a building with a toddler and supplies? They could count on Coulson keeping the intelligence to himself.
“Does anyone know where Billy is?”
“He wasn’t handed over to social services,” Murphy told Dean. “I haven’t seen him around the main SHIELD agents, none of the bodies belonged to a child that young, he wasn’t reported as kidnapped and he wasn’t taken to the hospital injured either and all people are cleared out of the bookstore. I think SHIELD has him someplace.”
“I could snoop around,” Molly offered.
Dean wished that Sam was answering his phone, they would be able to divide the problems. “Please?”
Coulson made a sign for Clint to get his ass on the ground ASAP, so he picked up Billy securely and reached for his prepared zipline. The pair had their feet on the ground in seconds. Billy had spent the first two seconds with really wide eyes and then he had started laughing. As soon as they stopped flying, Billy twisted in his arms and said, “Again, Again!”
“Never again,” Coulson ordered. “Never where anyone can see and video you and not unless danger is imminent. SHIELD does not need a reputation for child endangerment.”
Clint was confused –Talia, the trapeze artist of his childhood circus had strapped on her baby and climbed to the nest high in the Big Top days after giving birth. The only way down from there was by rope. He didn’t argue with those kinds of orders from Coulson though. (He did wonder if he could find the same type of child carrying device as Talia. That would be useful if Billy didn’t complain too much.)
“We found Billy’s family. His father is somewhere on the University of Chicago campus. His uncle is MIA.”
Coulson showed him two mug shots, paper not a computer tablet. Coulson was betting that the EM pulse would be repeated. “Sam and Dean Winchester. They’ve been arrested for petty things, but have some rather unique connections.”
Billy leaned forward in Clint’s arms and patted Sam Winchester’s face. “Daddy.” He patted the other face and said, “Uncl’ De.”
Coulson pulled the photos away. “Keep on the communication channel and let us know if you spot them.”
Clint turned on his earbud but the static made him turn it off immediately. Coulson handed him an old-style walkie-talkie. “I’ll keep an eye out.”
Dean answered the phone on the first ring, even though it was an unfamiliar number. The wizards would be contacting him via the nearest payphone.
“It’s Molly,” the woman offered quickly. “I found Billy. He’s safe with an agent away from crowds. He’s pretty happy with his care-taker.”
Dean breathed a sigh of relief. “I could kiss you.”
“Sometime soon,” Molly purred. “Do you want me to take Billy to my parents or leave him for later? They guy is armed and he’s acting like a bodyguard. It might be a challenge. They have pictures of you and Sam, so they might just hand him over to a family member, but I’m not related.”
Dean considered the time involved. “We found where they’re holding Joan and the author. We could use your help getting them out safely and then send Joan to get Billy.”
“Where do you need me?”
“On the East Docks, Pier 13.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I flag down a cab.”
“Can you leave some sort of note for Captain America? Five minute time delay? It’d be good to have back up on the way.”
“I’ve got an idea.”
The note appeared in the middle of the briefing, floating in the air where everyone could see.
Steve grabbed it before anyone could tell him otherwise.
‘East Docks, Pier 13.’
Steve threw the note at Coulson and start ordering the troops into motion. It could be a trap, so he would be ready for that as well. He was going to get his grandson back.
The explosion rocked the building and hostages fell to their hands and knees. “That’d be my friends,” Joan said.
“Nah-uh,” Richard argued.
“Joanie?” they heard a man yell.
Joan spared her new friend a smirk before yelling. “In here!”
“Joan?” he asked again, nearer.
“Polo!” she answered.
“Marco!” he called from outside the door.
“I’m here. I’m here,” she was crying with relief. They could hear the sounds of a battle engaging. “Hurry, please.”
It was probably only thirty seconds later, but it seemed like an eternity before the door opened and the handsome young man stood in the doorway, putting away lock picks. “Let’s go, while everyone’s distracted.”
No one needed to tell Richard Castle twice.
Clint had been receiving reports of the explosion that had exposed the odd terrorists. He knew that the hostages had been released even though the fighting was on going, so he wasn’t terribly surprised when Billy paused in his play and twisted toward the stairwell with a smile on his face. “Mama?” he asked hopefully. He took two hesitant steps in that direction. When the young woman with a bruised cheek came into view, Billy exclaimed, “Mama!” and ran toward her. Clint didn’t need any more identity confirmation to put aside his bow.
She was crying and smiling and reaching for her son all at once. The competent but filthy young man at her shoulder wasn’t a SHIELD agent and that was a surprise. How had the Winchesters managed to get around security? Clint was about to mumble a warning to SHIELD but his earbud went wonky and the walkie-talkie screeched.
Billy, meanwhile, was reaching for the young man with a “Uncl’ De!” That hug given, he looked passed his family into the shadows of the stairwell and asked, “Aunt Mols?” A young stacked blonde appeared in the doorway. “Hey, Billy, we need to go bye-bye.”
Billy’s mother faced Clint. “Thank you, so very, very much. I don’t have the words.”
“He’s a good kid,” Clint brushed off the gratitude. “Very well behaved. You’ve done good with him.”
The mother’s smile trembled. The man turned Billy toward Clint and told him to say goodbye. “Bye-bye,” Billy waved.
“These belong to you,” Clint offered the books and the diaper bag to the woman. She shook her head and motioned to Dean to turn around.
He shook his head petulantly. “Hell, no. I am not taking my eyes off of you until you are safe away from everyone.”
“But they’re presents.”
Clint could understand Dean’s point of view. Steve was going to be exactly the same with Castle. Clint tossed the books into the diaper bag and stepped back. She picked up the bag with no hesitation.
“Thank you, again. And bye.”
“Bye-bye,” Billy waved. He was waiting for a response to Clint waved back.
Coulson considered the background information on the Winchesters. Both Joan and Dean had performed well in a stressful situation. He would have hired them for SHIELD’s occult division, but the pair had gone out of their way to avoid the government agency. Coulson would allow them their privacy for now. Anyone connected to the occult needed a very special background check and recruitment speech and pushing such people often created huge difficulties.
He would wait until he found the perfect approach.