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Birds of Prey

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In retrospect, Angelica should have known something was wrong.

At the time, though, it was just a routine rescue, Peggy's voice in her ear, alight with her usual playful efficiency.

"Looks like a burglary. Raven?"

Eliza's voice came back unusually strained. "I can't. I need to keep an eye on this meeting. Seabury's up to something."

Privately, Angelica agreed with Eliza. The man was clearly an important part of the vast web that kept Saxe-Coburg-Gotha interests afloat in New York. No matter how many pawns the three of them knocked down, it never seemed to make enough of a dent. Seabury was the kind of mark that could really make a difference.

But right now, she had a burglary to stop. "I'll handle it, Starling. Send the location to my communicator."

"Done. Have fun."

"Will do. Hawk out."

It turned out to be in the same block she'd been patrolling, and she got there just in time to see a slight figure being dragged none too gently into a disused warehouse by a group of young men, struggling furiously all the while.

"Hawk to Starling. Do you have eyes on the warehouse?"

"Not yet. Someone killed the cameras on the street. I'm bringing up building schematics."

"Is there a back way in?"

"Hang on. Yes. Take a right at the streetlight and go for the first alleyway. Second door on your left."

The door was so nondescript she'd have missed it if not for Peggy's guidance. It was locked, but no-frills external locks hadn't been a problem for Angelica since she was thirteen, and she made short work of it.

The warehouse was filled with shipping containers. She crept along, sticking to the shadows, and climbed one to get a better vantage point, making sure to keep back from the corner where the light might give her away.

"Ow! I think he bit me!"

"Gag him."

"I don't get paid enough for this shit."

"Shut the fuck up and pass me the bat."

Three men. All big, strong and at least one - in a bandanna, and holding the bat - had had military training. Reasonable odds.

The victim was tied to a chair with heavy rope, blindfolded and still trying to speak through the cloth gag.

Normally, she'd have waited and maneuvered herself into a better position first, timing her entrance for maximum effect and minimum risk. But the man with the bat was advancing on the chair, and for a brief moment all three of them had their back to her.

She launched herself off the container and unfurled the mechanical wings attached to her suit. The shadow cast by the wings was distinctive; if these criminals were smart, they'd already know to fear them.

Not that this bunch had enough time to do any such thing.

Her momentum carried her feet into the back of the closest man and she heard bone snap as they both hit the ground. She spun with the landing and drove her armored fist into the solar plexus of the man on her left, ducking low to avoid the third man's swing of the bat and catching him square in the face with a flex of her wings.

In less than half a minute, it was over, and she turned to the man in the chair.

Her first impression had been correct - he was slight, and young. The close-cut herringbone suit only reinforced that impression. It was probably one of the most expensive things he owned, if the spilled contents of his bag were any indication.

A man who cared about what he wore and the image it portrayed, but didn't quite have the funds to back it up.

He made an inquiring noise, muffled through the gag.

She pitched her voice to be firm but gentle. "They're all down. You're safe now. Hang tight. I just have to go dispose of these guys, but I'll be right back, okay?"

With that, she got out her zip-ties and went to work.

All in all, clean-up took far longer than the actual fighting. She moved the three men to a secluded alley, after making sure they were all still very much unconscious and neatly tied up, and left the origami bird that was their calling card balanced on the forehead of the man in the bandanna.

"Starling?"

"Go."

"Call your NYPD contact. Got a pick up for her."

"Looks like she's occupied, but I'll leave a message. You all finished? That was quick."

"No. It was a kidnapping, not a burglary. I have to go take care of the poor man. Be with you soon."

He was right where she'd left him, head slightly bowed, an odd lack of tension in a frame that should have been rigid with it.

"It's just me. I'm going to take off the gag now, okay?"

She carefully untied the gag, unwinding the cloth where it had caught his short ponytail. The dark hair slid through her fingers like silk.

"Are you hurt?"

The man cleared his throat experimentally. "Only my dignity," he said in a clear, pleasant baritone.

"I'm going to take the blindfold off now. Keep your eyes closed and open them slowly."

"Yes, ma'am."

She fought to keep a smile off her face, if only because Eliza had told her the effect was intimidating as hell with the domino mask on. Then his eyes fluttered open and he looked up through thick lashes at her, with such intensity that she might've been the only thing in the world, and she promptly lost that battle.

"It's Hawk, isn't it? From the Daughters of Liberty. It's an honor to meet you. My name is Alexander Hamilton."

"How do you know me? We don't exactly advertise."

"Oh, I'm a long time admirer of your work, from Benedict Arnold onward."

Angelica hid a start. Not many people knew about their role in Arnold's downfall. It had, after all, been personal, since he'd been stealing tech from SchuylerCorp for SCG, and they couldn't afford to have their connection to the company examined too closely.

"You're well-informed."

He smiled sweetly. "I try to be."

There was something familiar about that particular combination of smug and solicitous, and it bugged her that she couldn't place it. In her experience, such mysteries were always dangerous.

Her communicator beeped, startling her out of the beginnings of what could have been an epic brood.

Focus, Angelica. Leave the problem for later.

She selected one of the throwing knives from her belt holster. "I'm going to cut the ropes now."

"Oh, must you? I was just getting comfortable."

Angelica stopped with the blade of her knife poised over the rope binding his arms to the chair. "I could leave you here."

She'd meant to sound stern, and she did, but it came out playful, too, responding to the mischief in his voice.

"Like this? Surely you wouldn't."

"I'd drop your phone just out of reach," Angelica said. Her gloved hands brushed his bare ones as she unwound the remains of the rope.

"You'd be a cruel mistress indeed to torment me so."

She circled back to face him just in time to catch the tail end of his not at all convincing look of wide-eyed innocence and had to bite her lip against a laugh.

"Do you ever stop?"

His eyes almost glowed in the dim light from the high windows. "I wouldn't get anywhere if I did."

 

*

 

Alexander Hamilton left Angelica with his profuse thanks and a business card she tucked into one of her belt punches without a single glance at it.

(She wouldn't want to give him hope, after all.)

That left her alone with the warehouse. The shipping containers were padlocked, which was as good as an invitation. Angelica opened the nearest one, half expecting to be ambushed, only to be greeted with rows upon rows of cardboard boxes of...tea.

What the fuck.

"Hawk to Starling. Who owns this warehouse?"

In other times, Peggy might've teased her about her clipped delivery, but something in her tone must have registered.

"Hang on. Obvious shell company, obvious shell company, oh for God's sake - bingo. Here we go. Buried under trusts and shell companies, but I'm 90% sure it's SCG."

"You better get Raven here. We've got paydirt."

"What is it?"

"It's the tea shipment André sworn didn't exist. This is what we need. We can nail Heron."

Her voice was shaking with excitement by the end.

"Wow. That's - that's amazing. I'll make sure the right people get on this. We've got him, guys. Finally."

Finally. Peggy sounded more relieved than happy. Heron was her pet project, and she'd almost lost hope they'd ever tie him to Arnold's ring.

"Oh, and run a background check on Alexander Hamilton."

"...Hawk?"

"Just do it. I have a hunch."

 

*

 

Angelica's hunches were almost always good ones. It only took ten minutes for Peggy to come back to her.

"You're not gonna believe this. Hawk, I need you to come in."

Their base was an underground complex concealed beneath a barely code-legal old pile of concrete owned, ten shell companies down, by a corporate trustee holding shares for the Rensselaer Trust.

Peggy called it her Batcave.

As the CEO of SchuylerCorp, she was the most public face of the three, and therefore the one whose secret identity was most fragile. It made sense for her to put in the least time on the streets.

And besides, no one could make code sing like their Peggy.

The double doors of the Batcave were already open as Angelica stepped out of the elevator. "You know, Peggy, it's kind of creepy when you do that."

"I only creep because I love," Peggy called back from her enormous super-villain chair in front of the main monitor.

"What have we got?"

"Here, watch this."

Peggy pushed play.

The footage was fairly clear and came with audio, which meant it had to be sourced from one of Peggy's own cameras. Angelica recognised the alleyway where she'd dumped the three would-be kidnappers.

Hovering over them, cutting zip-ties with suspicious efficiency, was Alexander Hamilton.

"Ow! That fucking hurt. You owe me big time for this," said the tall man in the bandanna.

"If you didn't want her to hurt you then you shouldn't have fought back."

"Had to make it convincing, didn't I?"

Hamilton paused. "Thanks, Mulligan."

"Hey. We all want Laurens back as much as you do. And we want you not to have to do anything that'll get you fucking deported."

"Don't you worry about me."

"Says the man with no self-preservation instincts."

Even through the grainy audio, Angelica could easily pick out the fond exasperation coloring Mulligan's voice.

She looked over at Peggy, who was patiently awaiting her reaction with raised eyebrows.

"It was a set up."

Peggy nodded. "They were smart enough to blank the cameras where they played out the snatch, but they didn't know about my backups in that alley."

Angelica couldn't help it. She laughed. "I did think the warehouse was suspiciously tidy."

Peggy tapped at her control panel, bringing up a head shot of a very young Hamilton with short-cropped hair.

 

ALEXANDER FAUCETTE HAMILTON

DOB: January 11, 19xx

POB: Charlestown, Saint Kitts and Nevis

Noted affiliation: the Hearts of Oak

 

The same sense of familiarity tugged at Angelica again. "Wait a minute. I know him. Did he go to Columbia?"

Peggy's fingers flew over the keyboard. "Looks like. Full Scholarship, straight from - huh. The Virgin Islands."

Angelica took out the business card. Washington Lee. Of course.

"We've met before. He's a litigator too."

'Arrogant, obnoxious, loud-mouthed punk' had been the description Burr gave. But also 'a great public speaker, smart as a whip, and the worst workaholic I'd ever met.'

"What? Did he recognise you?"

"No, no, our first meeting was five seconds long. I'd have remembered him otherwise."

Still, that was too close. And he was definitely smart enough to figure it out.

Peggy was grinning at her.

"What?"

"You'd have remembered him, huh? He is kind of cute. Smart mouth, too. I know you like that."

Angelica rolled her eyes. "Not enough to risk our identity. Eliza can go find out what he wants."

"Whatever you say, sister."

 

 

* * *

 

 

Eliza hadn't known what to expect. Peggy and Angelica had briefed her, of course, and she'd done her own research, but she still couldn't quite imagine the kind of person who would fake a kidnapping to get their attention.

One thing was for sure - he really was a workaholic. It was almost midnight, and the light was still on in his second floor office at Washington Lee.

She was an expert at infiltration and perfectly capable of sneaking up on trained professionals, but she could probably have brought a megaphone to this break-in and he'd still be hunched over his desk, typing furiously, only pausing every now and then to consult one of the many piles of papers surrounding him.

"Mr Hamilton," she said, and watched him almost jump out of his chair. "You have some explaining to do."

"I'd complain about breaking and entering, but we both know I wouldn't really mean it. Raven, yes?"

"At your service, apparently."

He swung around to face her, straddling the uncomfortable looking wooden chair and resting his folded arms on the back. His animated face seemed very young in the moonlight. "You figured it out! I was hoping you might."

"We don't appreciate people wasting our time," she said, in her best stern school teacher voice.

"We weren't trying to do that. I know your time is precious. I just had to know you were really willing to go up against SCG, since nobody else in this town has the balls. It wasn't my idea, by the way. I would've just made a sign, but I have this friend who thinks he's a tactical genius. Lovely accent, though. You'd like him."

He didn't stop to take a breath the whole time.

"Ask him how he got the location of the shipment off André," Peggy hissed in her ear, making Eliza start. She'd somehow forgotten about their audience.

"How did you find the warehouse?"

"John André told me."

Eliza raised an eyebrow. "Really? As far as I know, André didn't tell anyone a thing."

That just made him look even more smug. "I can be pretty persuasive."

"I bet he can," Peggy said, laughing.

Sometimes having both her sisters listening in at all times was a little - or a lot - inconvenient.  Eliza restrained herself from responding with a titanic effort.

Seriously, guys. We're working here.

"All right. Who's Laurens?"

"John Laurens. My best and closest friend. He practically kept me alive through law school. We've been on the SCG trail for a while, feeding off scraps, and then he just disappeared into thin air while following a lead." Hamilton almost seemed to curl in on himself. It was as if the sun had gone into eclipse.  "He's been missing for a week."

"Did you go to the police?"

Hamilton made a sound that might've been a laugh without the sharp, bitter edge. "You know it's not safe to do that when SCG are involved. Besides, Laurens' had some issues with local law enforcement. Don't get me wrong, he's not a criminal. Just an activist with an arrest record as long as your arm. The only reason I'm not spending quality time on conjugal visits is his father."

The amused twist of his mouth told her that he had not merely misspoken on "conjugal", which was so distracting that it took her a moment to zero in on the most important part of that ramble.

"Not Henry Laurens?"

"That's the one."

Only one of the most powerful men in the country. This was more complicated than she'd thought.

"Doesn't he want to find his son?"

Hamilton drew in a breath; let it out. "For once in my life I'm going to err on the side of discretion, because it's really not any of my business. Or yours."

"You've made it our business."

"So does that mean you'll look into it?" Hamilton said quickly.

"Raven, what are you doing?" Peggy hissed in her ear. "You can't trust this guy."

To her surprise, Angelica responded, "it's fine, Starling. He's all right. If Raven wants to impress a cute boy, who are we to stop her?"

Eliza started to retort before remembering herself. "I'll think about it," she said instead in her loftiest voice, looking down into Hamilton's open, hopeful face.

Both Peggy and Angelica snickered. Thanks, guys. Really helpful. From the widening grin curving his generous mouth and the glint in his eyes, Hamilton didn't buy it either.

Wonderful.

"I'd expect nothing less from someone so kind and warm-hearted."

"You know nothing about me."

"I know of you. I've lived in this neighbourhood for a long time, and I know what it was turning into before the three of you showed up with your paper birds. Your takedown of Monroe was inspired."

"We do what we can."

"That's far more than most. There's only so much people like me can do against the likes of Seabury when they've got backing from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha."

Eliza's heart started beating a little faster.

"You have proof that Seabury's working for SCG?"

"No, but it's obvious, isn't it? The man's like teflon. Nothing sticks to him. And believe me, I've tried."

"I saw. You write well, Mr Hamilton."

Judging from his blog, Hamilton wrote ferociously, at a volume and pace that was scarcely believable, especially since he also had a busy day job. He was far too verbose for the internet, saved only by the fluency of his prose and the frequency with which he started flame wars. The high rate of drama ensured that his inherently wonky writing about gentrification, tax loopholes and money laundering had a strangely loyal following.

Eliza might have spent far more time reading his posts than she strictly needed to for case work. Maybe. No one could prove a thing.

"Thank you. Please, call me Alexander."

He actually took her hand and kissed the back of it, and she fancied that his mouth left an impression of heat even through the fabric of her gloves.

Angelica and Peggy were never going to let her hear the end of this.