Years ago, Fury had given him a number to call in case he dropped off the face of the Earth so completely, there was a very likely probability he was dead or on his way to. Phil had kept the scrap of paper preciously, even more so than his Captain America vintage card collection, but he now had it in his hands, the ink only a little faded, and he was seriously considering dialing the mysterious phone number.
Fury had disappeared for six days now, had missed a meeting with him and couldn't be located or contacted in any of the usual ways. Natasha couldn't find him and that was most worrying of all. Even Agent Hill was worried.
So no, Phil decided he was not overreacting. It was time to call. He had tried to trace the number first, of course, but it only came to dead ends or nonsense. Whoever was behind this number was good at hiding their tracks.
So he called. It rang, and rang, then went to voicemail, which was a disappointment. The message was a standard automated voicemail too, leaving him no clue as to who it belonged to. So he waited for the strident beep and left his contact info, only mentioning he needed help for a common friend. He was not expecting much from this lead despite Fury's trust in it.
When he wasn't contacted within the hour, he put it in the back of his mind. When he hadn't heard back by evening, he didn't hold up much hope. Phil was grabbing something to eat from the cafeteria when his phone rang. Masked number.
Phil was stunned, and a bit angry to be honest.
But then, whoever was at the other end of the line was not the director because he laughed, a deep booming laugh that was completely alien and so very unlike Fury.
“Im sorry, no. My name is Kingsley Shacklebolt. What trouble did my idiot cousin get into this time?”
Phil had always thought the expression ‘too stunned for words’ was an exaggeration, but he was currently struck speechlessness.
He cleared his throat.
“Yes. I… never heard someone call the director an idiot and live to tell the tale, that is all. Nick Fury has disappeared without a trace for six days and my best agents have come back empty handed. He gave me this number years ago in case of such an emergency...”
He let the sentence hang because he had no idea what this mysterious cousin was supposed to do that his agents couldn't.
“Without a trace… do you mean that literally?”
“I do. We don't even know where to start. It's as if he vanished into thin air.”
“I will be there as soon as possible. Where shall I meet you?”
Phil gave him the address of a SHIELD office downtown that was easy to find and access. Given Shacklebolt's accent, he'd been worried for a moment he was located in England but he had promised to be there in an hour. Phil contacted Natasha and Clint to meet him there, while Agent Hill continued to do the routine search with the rest of SHIELD. His watch was running a bit fast so he refrained from looking impatient, but he was on high-alert, so when a man suddenly appeared in their midst, his gun was drawn and aimed at the back of his head. So were Natasha's knives and Clint's bow, he was happy to note.
The man raised his hands and slowly turned around to face them. It was a challenge not to gape at him: tall, dark, bold with a don't-fuck-with-me face. He could have been Fury's twin, except for a few details. Two functional eyes, a golden loop in one ear which was both weird and hilarious to look at, and he obviously preferred cotton to leather. Phil glanced at his agents. Natasha seemed as collected as ever, but Clint was openly staring at their visitor.
“Kingsley Shacklebolt, it's a pleasure to meet you,” Phil said, holstering his gun and holding out his hand.
Shacklebolt shook it with a firm grip.
“I see Nick still surrounds himself with interesting people.”
Even the voice was similar, accent apart. It was eery. If Shacklebolt didn't have two eyes, he would have thought Fury was trying to pull a prank on him.
“I'm Agent Coulson. This is Agent Romanov and Agent Barton.”
Shacklebolt actually had the balls to bow over the Black Widow's hand to kiss it. Worse was that she seemed flustered over the gesture. Barton was still gaping as he shook his hand.
“You look like his twin,” he blurted out.
Phil did his best not to facepalm.
“Thank you for stating the obvious, agent. When you asked if the director had really disappeared without a trace, it had something to do with the way you arrived, I assume.”
“He might have been targeted because of me. Or it might just be a coincidence, and he got in the way of my kind.”
“The less said…” Shacklebolt said with a wink. “I'll need one of you to assist me so I can access information and locations? One who isn't prone to motion sickness preferably.”
All three of them filled those criteria but his agents were both better fighters in the field, and he didn't want Fury's cousin to get hurt. Agent Romanoff was, in that aspect, by far the best and most experienced in protection detail up close and personal.
She nodded and took a step towards Shacklebolt, standing at attention.
“I will find Nick and get him back to you,” Shacklebolt promised before questioning Romanov and offering her his arm. After an imperceptible hesitation, she slipped her arm through his, letting her hand rest on his forearm. The next instant, a loud crack echoed around the room and they were gone.
“I hate Fury sometimes,” Barton muttered as he collapsed his bow. “Just when you think you know all his secrets, WHAM! He's got a secret twin teleporting all over the place.”
Phil nodded. They were going to have words when he reappeared. A little warning would have been appreciated.
The only reason Natasha was not going to sick up on her own boots was because Coulson had trusted her not too. So she held her breath an extra second and blinked maybe a beat too long, but she was good to go.
Shacklebolt gave her a sideways look she pretended not to notice and she gestured towards the corner building.
“We've retrieved his car from this parking spot and we know he was the one driving it here. He had a two minute walk to cover to his building's porch but he never made it. We have found nothing. No footage, no forensics, no witnesses and we haven't been contacted for ransom of any sort.”
Shacklebolt nodded, his earring glinting every time it caught the light. Strange how two men so alike physically gave off such different vibes. Fury had always put her on edge, even now that he trusted her, but his cousin had the complete opposite effect, putting her at ease when she didn't even know him. She had never been at ease with anyone save Clint, who had earned it after a few years, and Steve, because he was Steve and wouldn't hurt a butterfly if he could help it.
Even when Shacklebolt produced a wand from the depths of his sleeve, revealing himself to be a Vedmak, she did not feel threatened. And she had met quite a few warlocks in her time in Russia who had deserved to be at the business end of her daggers. Shacklebolt waved his wand around, muttering incantations in latin and producing either sparks or tendrils of light. When he was finished, the wand returned to the confines of his sleeve and he glanced at her.
“You're singularly unimpressed, Miss Romanoff.”
“I have met Vedmak before. Warlocks?”
“In some countries. We prefer wizards, generally. It sounds less… ominous.”
“Misleading though. You seem to always be at war.”
“I can't contradict you on that one,” he said and offered her his arm once more.
They didn't teleport again, however. They seemed, for all intents and purposes, to be taking a leisurely stroll.
“But so do non-magical people,” he added. “From what I know, anyway. We don't mix often with the going-ons outside our community.”
“Except when family members get misplaced?”
“Indeed,” he stopped and did more magic. “I'm afraid Nick was taken by wizards or witches from this very spot. They didn't bother to hide their trail, so either they didn't expect their kind to come looking…”
“Or it's a trap. You're important in your community?”
“Somewhat,” he said with a wry smile that meant he was very important. “It's not so much the position itself than what I am doing with it. I've made quite a few enemies.”
“Everywhere. I'm trying to bring my people into the future, make them a part of this world and the more traditionalist wizards and witches rather resent my efforts. It is a necessity however. At this point, it's either getting discovered as freaks of nature or presenting ourselves to the world on our own terms. We're walking the razor's edge as it is.”
Natasha nodded. It all seemed to fit.
“Why did they keep Fury so long instead of using him against you.”
“I've been thinking about that. I imagine they wanted to use him against me in a more direct way. Mind-control, what we call the imperius, but he's too strong willed for it to work on him; or maybe they wanted to use his blood to cross my wards; polyjuice is a possibility too, but since he's as bold as I am, maybe they're waiting for his hair to grow out…”
Natasha didn't get all of that, but it seemed there could be a dozen reasons she could not have guessed at, because of magic.
“So we go?” Natasha asked, getting impatient.
“I am, but you don't have to.”
“I owe him.”
Shacklebolt stared down at her, as if he could see into her very soul, and maybe he could since she knew so little about Vedmaks, but she stood her ground. The Director had a much more impressive stare and she had withered it more than once.
“In that case…” Shacklebolt rapped the top of her head with his wand and a cool sensation seemed to slowly trickle down from that point until she realized she was invisible, as was her escort.
“Please call me Kingsley,” he purred in her ear as his large hand found hers. “Follow me, and stay close.”
Her heart was pounding like that time in Budapest. Kingsley was flirting with her, no doubt about it, and she found it rather titillating, whether it was because he looked so much like Fury was a question she wasn't sure she wanted the answer to. They made their way easily into an old dilapidated building that was actually in much better state inside, suspiciously so. By Kingsley's muttered spells and occasional flashes of light, she knew he was magicking their way through the large place, making a beeline for his cousin. She knew they were close when they came upon their first wizards standing guard in a narrow corridor. The two dropped to the floor before she could do anything. Not used to being useless, especially during an infiltration mission, she nonetheless followed the wizard's lead without complaint since this was his turf, and he knew what he was doing. They progressed smoothly without raising an alarm, and she had to wonder if Fury had been captured by the most idiotic, inept wizards around or if Kingsley was just that good. She didn't drop her guard down, however, which is how she noticed a slight shift in the air when they rounded another corner. Despite not seeing anyone, her widow's bite struck true and they heard the dull thud of a body hitting the carpeted floor. Kingsley whispered a spell and a man's body appeared before them.
“Nice,” Kingsley said, sounding like he really meant it.
Soon after, they disposed of two more guards standing at a door and her heart raced because Fury would obviously be behind it since they had been guarding a door and not patrolling the corridors like the others. She hoped the Director would be in good shape. God only knew what they might have done to him. She didn't bother looking for keys on the guards since they seemed to use magic to lock doors, and instead waited for Kingsley to squeeze her hand in signal to storm the next room.
However, once it was open, she lost her grip on him as he was pulled away and she saw him… no, Fury, rolling around on the floor, choking an invisible mass.
“Fury! SIR! That's your cousin!”
“Romanov?” Fury growled, but he stopped strangling Kingsley even if his grip relaxed only minutely.
“Yes, sir. Agent Coulson called your cousin for assistance.”
“It's me, you big oaf,” Kingsley muttered.
Fury let go and stood.
“About time. I was on my way out, anyway.”
Natasha looked around and sure enough, cut ropes and two more unconscious bodies lay on the floor. If anyone could have escaped wizards, it would be Fury. Her invisibility stopped, as did Kingsley's and she stared openly at the two almost identical men before her. The slight differences were easier to spot with both of them standing so close while they insulted each other fondly. Weird family, to be sure.
“Should we go?” Natasha asked. “In case more come.”
“I'll inform the American Ministry to take care of these morons, but first, let's get you back home.”
He offered his arm to arm, which she took without hesitation, then to Fury, who grumbled about hating that mode of transportation, and they twisted away, reappearing in front of a startled Coulson who had his gun pointed at them before holstering it with a sigh.
“I'll never get used to that. Sir, it's good to see you again.”
“You had to call him?” Fury grumbled as he pointed a thumb at Kingsley.
“You were gone for a week, sir.”
“I'll never hear the end of it now. Christmas is going to be unbearable.”
Coulson shared an incredulous look with her. They simply couldn't picture Fury at a family dinner, bickering with his cousin and who knew what other family he had, like any other normal person.
Kingsley held her back while Coulson caught Fury up to speed.
“How about a late dinner once I've cleared matters with the magical authorities here?”
Natasha took in his confident smile and heated gaze that made a shiver run down her back. She couldn't find a single reason to refuse, and if she played her cards right, she might just be able to see the fabled family dinner with the Director with her very own eyes.