Mitch threw himself into the chair and grabbed at the counter as he rolled to the left. “Tell me you’ve got coffee.”
“We’re eyes and ears on the World’s Mightiest superheroes and you’re bored?”
“Not bored. Sleepy. Did I not show you all the baby pictures on my phone? Do you wanna see ‘em again?”
“Sucks to be you.” James slid a paper bag with a crinkled top on the sleek surface of the monitor station. “Good thing you got a better partner than you deserve.”
Mitch spread the bag open and inhaled the scent of the chocolate covered espresso beans within with a low moan. “Oh god, James, thank you. I take back half the nasty things I said about you last Tuesday.”
James flipped him off and keyed the mic on. “Avengers, mic check. Please affirm location by number.”
Agent Coulson’s beige voice sounded. “One, base truck, behind the Ferris wheel, north end of the Midway.”
“Two, Agriculture Building,” said the Black Widow. She sounded distracted.
In comparison, Rogers chirped like a kid at the zoo. Or more precisely, a kid at the fair. “Three. At the Grandstand.”
Stark drawled, “You guys in the booth recording all this? Because I may want to replay this scintillating afternoon spent in service to my country.”
Romanov said, “And Tony’s just demonstrated that he can’t count to four.”
Stark growled, “Four. Quatro. Cheteeree. Vier.
Rogers said, “You speak German?”
Barton cut him off and said, “Can I chime in yet? Five at Main gate.”
“I am six!”
After a pause long enough for James and Mitch to mime and hand wave, Coulson clicked in. “Yes you are, Thor. And where are you?”
“At the Fair of the New State of York.”
“Yes, thank you, Thor,” Coulson answered. “Williams, you’ve got Thor’s camera?”
“Yes sir,” Mitch answered. “He’s at the log cabin.”
“Thank you Agent.”
James clicked the mic. “Cap, please reseat your camera. It’s slipped sideways.”
The view of monitor three suddenly straightened and Rogers said, “Sorry guys, I was leaning over. I don’t think this is going to work. The handles are flipped backwards. Maybe I should have left it after all.”
James and Mike blinked at one another, while Fury growled, “Coulson, find a solution. The Captain needs his security blanket.”
James snickered as monitor three jiggled, then smoothed. “You think he’s making faces?”
“Yep. You think he cares we’re here?”
“Stark’s giving us a view of all the pretty girls, so no, actually, I don’t think any of them care at this point.”
Barton clicked into the general comm channel. “Hey Steve. I’ve got an idea. Meet you at the Midway.”
Monitors five and three showed quick movement, and monitor four showed one of the brochures, opened to the map. Mitch leaned into the small mic on the desk. “Four, this is Control. Can we help you find something?”
Stark said, “I’m just looking for beer.” James and Mitch stayed silent through the double click of an override and seven seconds of silence. Stark said, “I’m looking for a john. Not a purchaser of prostitution. A toilet. Little billionaire’s room.”
“Look up.” James activated the HUD and flashed the blue symbol on screen.
The camera spun and they were looking straight at Stark as he pulled off his sunglasses and spoke to them. “That’s cool. That’s also amazingly familiar. How many of my systems have been put into your toys, Coulson?”
“Most of them,” Coulson answered without a pause. “Have you improved the targeting system?”
“Yes, and I’m not sharing.”
“Tony,” Rogers broke in, with a disappointed voice. “You’d be helping all of us if you shared.”
Monitor three showed Barton and monitor five showed Rogers, an oversized duffle carried awkwardly high on his shoulder. Clint manhandled him, then brushed his ear. “Coulson, I need a games prize that’s at least 3 and a half foot across. Which game?”
The camera on four spun, then went grey. James peered at the monitor. “Stark put the glasses in his pocket.”
“You want to make him put them back on while he pees?”
“No, I really don’t. Give him forty seconds, then we’ll bitch.”
The too-similar views on neighboring monitors were disorienting, so James was watching mostly though Roger’s glasses as Barton destroyed the target, then pointed upward. He handed a huge stuffie to Rogers who was watching a small boy stare at the rack of broken glass, openmouthed.
“It’s a purple starfish,” Rogers said.
“Yup. You’re welcome.”
The starfish, with its embroidered smile and huge eyes, filled most of monitor three, while five showed a shifting parade of people, including, in the foreground, a pair of elderly women, beaming smiles at the camera and slightly to the left. “Oh, aren’t you boys cute. Congratulations, by the way.”
Rogers said absentmindedly, “Thank you ma’am,” as he tucked the starfish under one arm and the duffle under the other. They slipped around the landscaping and ducked into a corner of shrubbery. “Congratulations for what?” Rogers asked as Barton scooped handfuls of polypropylene fill out of the toy.
“New York State legalized gay marriage a couple of months back. I’m betting that’s what she was thinking of.” He pulled the shield handles through rough torn holes in the back of the toy. “ Try that.”
“Much better. Wait, we’re married?”
“Nah, just dating. I mean c’mon. I won you the big prize. That should get me second base, easy.”
“Second base is still shirts off, right? So that’s hand-to-hand on Wednesdays.”
Mitch glanced sideways at James, who had both hands over his mouth and his eyes closed. The side by side monitors showed near identical scenes as the two jogged back to public areas.
“What is Thor eating?” James asked.
“Walking taco. With … ice cream.”
“How many tickets did Coulson give him?”
Rogers said, “I think the Midway games may be compromised in some way.”
Stark’s monitor gave them a side-tipped view of a trio of giggling teens in short skirts. “We’re here looking for an terrorist threat, not rigged games, Cap. Besides all carny games are rigged. Ask your new boyfriend.”
Barton snapped, “Are we at the slinging insults part of the day? Because I call dibs on warmonger. Bruce beat me to it last time.”
Stark drawled, “Get it right Barton; it’s war profiteer. Profit being the key –“
“Both of you, enough,” Rogers said with such sharpness that James dropped the candy into the bag and straightened automatically, then shook his head, popped the chocolate in his mouth and smiled.
“Hunh, he’s so easygoing most of the time, you forget,” Mitch mused.
“That he’s a field commander?”
“That his men followed him into suicidal battles. Oh hey, Thor’s found the onion place.”
“I’m getting indigestion just watching the monitors.”
“What’s Rogers doing?”
“Other than walking aimlessly around the Midway while the precogs figure out what channel they were watching?”
“He’s not wandering.”
Mitch glanced at monitor two, but apparently the Widow was staring into the sky absent-mindedly. Or plotting world domination. Hard to tell. Four gave them a view of the exit near the butter carvings; Five was not quite close enough to the educational placard on the antique steam engine to read it without zooming. Monitor three showed the ring toss game, a bank of milk jugs and bags of sad goldfish on plates at each corner.
They watched, along with Rogers, as a teen passed over a strip of tickets in return for plastic rings, then threw them, pausing carefully between each. James mused, “You think he’s thinking about back in the day?”
“Fair’s run annually for more than a hundred years. So maybe. What kind of Midway games you think they had in the 40’s?”
They watched as Rogers waved a fiver, then the worker pointed to a sign that read four tickets for five rings. James pressed the mic key. “Captain, I don’t want to disturb you or anything, but do you really want to take on the responsibility of a pet?” He let go the mic, then muttered, “Other than Stark, of course.”
“At least he’s housetrained.”
“He causes his share of property damage; it’s just infrastructure rather than clawing the back door.”
“That’s right, Coulson had you processing insurance on the Santa Monica, didn’t he?”
“Four weeks of staring at a monitor, filling in numbers.”
“As opposed to what we’re doing now.”
“Watching Tony Stark eyeball the skirts, the God of Thunder eat his way through a deep fried grocery, the Widow … what do you think she’s doing?”
“I dunno, but Barton’s doing it too, look.” Both monitors paused on a structure, then shifted, then moved to the next.
“Sniper positions. See? She’s scanning for sniper positions.” Mitch pointed and James tapped the number in the corner of the monitor.
“That’s Barton’s camera.”
“That’s kind of creepy.” They sat in silence as the cameras shifted in two second beats, near synchronized.
“Right, Thor’s found the goats.”
“Tell me he’s not eating them.”
Mitch tapped the door and James buzzed him into the control room. “Still quiet?”
“Yeah, Rogers is checking in individually.”
“He knows we’ve got cameras on everyone.”
“I think he’s bored.”
“He’s at the State Fair!”
“And he’s not twelve, involved in 4H, or running for office.”
“You know they have concerts, too,” Mitch said, the hint of a sulk in his tone.
James dropped his face to his hands, looking up when Thor called over the mic to Rogers.
“Friend Steve! I have found food! Taste this!”
“Oh good… what the … What is that?”
“Fried butter.” Roger’s camera tilted and Thor’s grinning face slid to diagonal on the screen.
Mitch tapped the mic. “Cap, you okay?”
“Not really. Where’s Thor getting the food tickets?”
“Coulson, I think.”
“Yeah, you’ve uh, you’ve got powdered sugar and uh, mustard on…you know, it doesn’t matter. Everything quiet over here, buddy?”
“Quiet? Not at all! Wonderfully exciting. I can hear the calls from the mechanical rides and see the swings and watch a parade of people pass by! I have found many foods.”
Monitor six showed Rogers’ smile. “Yeah, you really can, can’t you? And it’s a beautiful day.” They stood, shoulder to shoulder, watching the crowd pass. Rogers shifted, and said, “I’m going to make the rounds. Keep sharp and check in if you see anything.”
James keyed the mic. “Captain, we can run a location check if you like.”
“No, no reason, just familiarizing myself with the site. But thanks for the offer.”
James leaned back into his chair and muttered. “He’s so bored.”
“Like you wouldn’t pull out the Sudoku if you thought you wouldn’t be caught,” Mitch said.
Widow was still scanning the upper edges of buildings and Thor had a clear view of the petting zoo. Barton was watching Rogers stroll casually toward him. They watched the kids file past the engine and play on the tracks. Barton said, quietly, “You’re a local, right? I guess it’s been a while seen you’ve been out here?”
“A couple years, yeah. We did Coney Island a few times, but Bucky’s church sent a group of us, the year before we could enlist.” Rogers huffed a soft laugh and added, “Well, plus the seventy on ice.”
“I guess there’s been a lot of change in seventy years.”
“Actually, there was a lot of change in the two before it, too.”
“Yeah.” The silence stretched, and Barton continued, “So, corn dog?”
“Thor found fried beer.”
“Better him than me.”
“He’s also found the funnel cake, I think.”
“Is he stationed near anything that samples? I can trade territory. I’ve memorized the train exhibit.”
“You want the sheep barn?” broke in Romanov.
“Never mind. Hey look! A train! How educational and also entertaining.”
Rogers chuckled and strolled away.
Fury came over the line. “We’ve got radar contact, one bogie, magical signature. Eyes up, people. Stark, break cover and suit up.”
They ignored Stark’s muttered, “Finally”. Monitor four showed a tree, from ground level. Monitor fifteen flickered as the suit came online.
“You’re on the roof?”
“Now I’m in the air. Fury, it’s radar proof. I can see it on visual, but not radar or thermal. No wait, I’m getting a ground bounce, so it’s real or at least three dimensional with mass. You sure it’s magic?”
“See if it turns into a top hat when you hit it,” Fury said.
“My pleasure.” Iron Man aimed himself like a living bullet at the thing, striking it with a resounding ringing noise. It spun erratically in the sky as he shot past.
Monitor two spun dizzyingly and James swallowed. The shades-cam came to a rest tilted at an angle where they could see most of the racetrack’s seating and converging contrails, all upside down. Mitch inverted the image in time to watch the Widow vault the concrete barrier into the stands.
“Falling! Thor, redirect it!” they heard Rogers shout, though monitor three showed concrete, very close up.
Barton said, “The stadium’s empty. Chunk it in there.”
“What is that?”
“UAV with a magical heat signature.”
“Can they do that?”
Fury barked, “Iron Man, can you take it out without damaging it?”
“Too late,” Stark answered. He tipped up the back end and aimed it vaguely toward the racetrack. Thor swung downward and drove it to the ground.
Barton’s monitor spun as he lept from rail to seats to rail to the grass in the middle of the racetrack. James and Mitch had a view of the Widow’s boots, then, abruptly, the broken machinery. “Back up! It’s leaking… rabbits. Pink rabbits.” Two more bright pink rabbits hopped out of the missile.
The crack in the object widened and burped out a yellow octopus. It waved at Iron Man. Stark took another step away. “I’m running every air filter I’ve got. Booth?”
James leaned toward the mic. “No, we’re seeing them over the cameras, so it’s not a hallucinogenic, it’s pink rabbits.”
Barton edged to the left and glanced at Romanov. “Should we be grateful none of them are wearing waistcoats?”
She nodded. “Or carrying pocket watches, yeah.”
“We need someone equipped to deal with magic.”
“I am a warrior, not a .. not a … um.”
Coulson said, dryly, “Not someone who actually deals with magic, without insinuating that anyone who does work with magic is in any way lesser.”
“Yes!” Thor boomed in agreement.
Barton, just loudly enough for the mic to catch, murmured, “The diversity briefings are working.”
Stark answered, “Crap, don’t encourage them.”
“Enough,” Rogers said. “Thor’s magic hammer aside, Tony shut up, he’s not who we need.”
“Why do I get a shut up?”
“Because every time Mjolnir is mentioned, you make a lewd joke.”
“So does Barton!”
“He keeps his to himself.”
“I’ve just figured out volume control,” Barton said very quietly.
Fury spoke over them, “Coulson? Mages?”
“Three possible candidates. We’ve approached all, but one may willing to work with us on a temporary basis.”
“Contain the site, keep civilians out, give us time. Try to catch anything that comes out.”
“I can’t catch it if I can’t touch it. They’re not real.” Barton shot at a rabbit bounding away from the missile and the arrow passed through, burying itself in the turf.
Coulson said, “Incoming friendly. Hold action.”
Fog billowed from the UAV, then retracted again, like a smoke machine filmed in reverse. A distinguished looking gentlemen in blue pajamas and a red cape stood where the missile had been. He had a perfectly ordinary brown rabbit in his arms and was stroking it between the ears. Rogers stepped forward, avoiding the deflated yellow balloon at his feet.
Mitch looked at James. “Do you have any idea on what just happened?”
“Not particularly. Three briefings full of riots and crowd panic and a precog in a coma and instead we get … bunnies.”
“You think we averted a catastrophe?”
“We? I think we sat on our asses while that…yeah, I don’t know what just happened here. There.”
Stark double clicked back to the all com channel “…fine. Cue the Rodgers and Hammerstein, I’m gone.”
Thor stepped close as Rogers found his sunglasses and put them back on. “Must we leave as well? There is a concert this evening.”
“Can’t miss that.”
“C’mon, Clint, you know you want to shut down every game on the midway.”
“Remarkably, no, I don’t.”
“Will you win me a stuffy?" she said. "You gave Steve one.”
“Will it get me to third?”
Coulson cleared his throat.
“Oh come on Coulson, we’re off duty.”
“Please don’t cut through the landscaping.”
“You never let us have any fun.”
“We leave in an hour. Rendezvous at the van.”
Rogers said, “Booth?”
James clicked the mic. “Yes, Captain.”
“Have you already sent a retrieval team for Tony’s clothes?”
“No sir, but could you grab the Widow’s camera? Edge of the curb, maybe fifteen foot away. Thank you. Stark was at the corner of the Creative Arts building.” He clicked off monitor two. Rogers took off at a fast pace, not quite a jog. Mitch glanced away. “Blair Witch Project.”
“Iron Man’s easier.”
“And Iron Man’s off line,” he said as monitor fifteen went grey. “Cap. Stark’s left his equipment under the concrete bench to your –“ he reversed mentally to compensate for the view. “To your ten, sir. Should be white shirt and gray slacks. The camera’s on top.” They had a quick close up of Rogers face, sideways, as he leaned to peer under the bench. “Thank you.”
“I’ll just go make sure Thor remembers he needs a ride while in civvies.”
“Barton and Romanov are offline.”
“Guess I’m not the only one he’s dating, eh? So much for dinner. I’ll hit up Thor for food tickets.”
“Little to the left, Cap, past the green booth.”
Mitch grabbed James arm. “Holy crap! Screen three! Thor’s deep throating a corn dog!”
“If Coulson busts us, I’m blaming you.” Mitch tapped the keyboard frantically, before the monitor swung downward as Rogers dropped his gaze.
“My friend Steve!”