Phil put down the speaking stone, considering the conversation he’d just had.
Crystal had called him Dad.
She’d called Clint Daddy.
Everything suddenly felt very real.
He was going to be adopting another little girl, at the same time entering into what could most likely be a long-term relationship with the man he’d long ago fallen in love with but had thought he hadn’t deserved.
Phil had to wonder when he’d actually deserved to be this happy.
Although, it was a happiness tinged with just the smallest amount of sadness, something that he really didn’t want to think about. Because he was going to outlive them all, as well as Daisy, and he didn’t want to do that.
He sighed. He couldn’t dwell on that, there was nothing he could do to change it. He should take the happiness he’d been given and enjoy it while it lasted.
Standing, Phil left his study to find Melinda and Andrew hauling several packages down the hallway and toward the stairs. “The first of the new things for Crystal have arrived,” his Steward reported. “These look like clothes and other essentials.”
“I just finished speaking with Daisy, and they were at a toy store.” He knew he hadn’t quite given her enough money for everything, but figured that Marcus had chipped in. After all, his old friend did love to play the doting uncle.
Melinda rolled her eyes fondly. “You may need to move her to a larger room.”
“Do we have anything larger?” He thought about that spell on Ianto’s scroll tube, wondering if it could be adapted to entire rooms, but dismissed the notion. He might have coveted that spell, but at the same time he wasn’t entirely sure it was such a good idea to make one room larger, and not any others. While he was pretty sure Daisy wouldn’t mind, it still didn’t seem fair.
She considered. “Not on that floor. The room she’s in now is next to Daisy’s, which is actually the largest besides yours. We could make something into a playroom for all the toys that I’m sure Daisy will encourage her to buy.”
Now, that was an idea. “If it comes down to it, I can always magic some sort of door between rooms, although I’d prefer not to do that. If all the toys are in a different room, that means we won’t catch her playing after bedtime.”
He still remembered finding Daisy still up when she should have been long to bed, reading. She’d been quite the avid reader as a child, and Phil could just see her trying to foster that in her new sister. They were going to have to see what her reading and writing levels were and possibly finding her a tutor to get her caught up.
And perhaps Phil himself could teach her about her magic…which reminded him, he needed to arrange to speak with Wanda about becoming his Novice. He’d want to make certain that it would be fine with her for Crystal to sit in on some of their lessons, and he didn’t really think Wanda would mind, once she knew about the newest addition to the household. Crystal wouldn’t be able to perform any sort of magic on that level for a long time, but Phil wanted her to get used to the fact that her magic wasn’t evil, or bad. That it was completely natural. And he thought seeing him and Wanda working together would go a long way toward normalizing that sort of thing for her. Still, he needed to clear it, and make certain that Wanda wouldn’t feel like his attention was being taken away from teaching her.
“Go ahead and see what we have that will make a decent playroom.” Phil grinned. “Crystal said something about a dollhouse.”
“Of course she did.” Melinda hoisted the bundles a little higher then headed toward the stairs, where Andrew had already headed up, not being inclined to hang around and chat.
Phil shook his head. He had to wonder when his life had got so wonderfully weird.
Lola laughed at him, no doubt reading the intention behind his emotions.
He looked down at the dragon. “Come on, you. I want a muffin and you obviously want a chicken leg.” Breakfast had been a couple of hours ago, and he was still a little peckish from all the magic he’d used last night.
She agreed with him.
“I thought as much.” He scrubbed his knuckles across her crest, which had her arching into the gesture. He’d been so incredibly blessed the day this dragon had showed up in his room at his parent’s house and crawled into bed with him. She’d been one of his many saving graces.
He found the blueberry muffins easily enough. Andrew had made a batch a day ago, so they weren’t exactly fresh, but they were just fine slathered with butter. Lola gnawed on her chicken leg, her contentment leaking into his mind.
Phil was just thinking about a second muffin when his wards alerted him to someone suddenly appearing in the Keep. Which should have been impossible, since Shield Keep was unPlotable, and this wasn’t the signature of any Teleport artifact he’d ever magicked with the coordinates.
As he left the kitchens he heard Melinda shouting for him, so he used his magic to propel him upward to the level his friend was on…the girls’ rooms.
His heart pounding, Phil’s feet hit the landing and was heading toward Crystal’s room, where Melinda had last been. Wand out, he practically threw himself into the room…
To find Melinda cradling a sobbing Crystal, Lockjaw standing guard on the end of the bed, his own distress obvious from the little mewling sounds he was making.
The moment she saw him, she shrieked, “Dad!” and was in his arms. Phil wrapped himself around her, wanting to ask how she’d got there, and where Daisy and the others were. He stroked her hair, over that odd black streak, trying to get her to calm down.
“She and her dragon just appeared,” Andrew reported. He was standing by the wardrobe, where he must have been putting clothes away. “I think…it was Lockjaw. It could be his dragon secondary ability.”
Just like Master John Smith’s dragon, Tardis. It also explained how she and Lockjaw had survived on their own as long as they had, most likely by stealing food when they could by teleporting into homes.
“Crystal,” he soothed her. “It’s fine, sweetheart.”
“No, it’s not!” she wailed. “Something happened to Daisy! She was holding my hand, and then I was alone and she was gone, and I couldn’t find Daddy or Auntie Nat and I felt magic like ours but I didn’t like it and there wasn’t anything I could do – “
Phil’s heart clenched. “Crystal, look at me please.” He didn’t know what had caused this, but he was suddenly so very afraid for his daughter and lover and his friend. He needed to get there as soon as he could, to make sure nothing horrible had occurred.
She turned her tear-streaked face toward his, her eyes trusting.
“Can Lockjaw take me back to where you were?”
Crystal nodded. She rubbed her hand across her nose, sniffling roughly.
“Alright, I need you to stay here with Melinda and Andrew, and I’m going to go and fetch them all home, okay?”
She nodded again, and he was once again in awe of the trust she was showing him. Usually, Wizards didn’t trust people with their dragons, but there was Crystal, giving over Lockjaw into his care.
The smaller dragon was in his arms in seconds. He growled, but Phil knew it wasn’t aimed at him. “I’m ready whenever you are,” he told Lockjaw.
Lola stepped up beside them both.
And suddenly, they were in a busy street.
It didn’t feel like any sort of Teleport spell Phil had ever used. It felt more of a weird, sideways motion, but he didn’t question or stop to consider how it worked. He set Lockjaw down, turning on his heel to get his bearings.
He was on the main market road of Triskelia Town, the people passing by giving him funny looks as they dodged around him, moving onto their destinations and pretty much disregarding his existence. In front of him was an alley between two buildings, and he was feeling a definite Void presence within, as well as a Cardinal one that was as familiar to him as his own aura. Setting Lockjaw down next to Lola, he scanned the area before deciding that the alley was where he needed to be.
Phil was about to step into that alley when he heard Clint call his name.
Both Clint and Natasha were pushing through the pedestrians. Clint had his bow out and, while Natasha wasn’t visibly armed, she didn’t have to be. Trusting that they had his back, he turned back to the alley and strode inside, magic rising to his call.
Not that far in, he saw exactly what had happened to his eldest daughter.
John Garrett was hefting her to her feet. Daisy was completely helpless, sagging in Garrett’s arms, and Phil realized his must have used a spell to make her unable to fight back. Skye was on the ground next to her, flopping around as if she’d suddenly lost all coordination, so the dragon must have been struck by the spell as well.
“Let’s get you out of here, shall we?” Garrett was saying as he lifted her.
That simply wasn’t going to happen.
A preternatural calm settled over Phil. He wasn’t about to let this bastard hurt his daughter.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” he said, his tone flat.
Without actually seeing them, Phil knew that Clint and Natasha had taken up positions on either side of him, ready to cover him if needed. The Wizard wasn’t going to need it, but he appreciated it all the same.
Daisy’s head flopped toward the sound of his voice. While her body wasn’t functioning, it seemed that she had all her faculties; she looked completely pissed, and then glad to see him standing there. The same look of trust that Crystal had given him was there as well, and he had to swallow down the emotions that threatened to choke him.
Garrett, however, didn’t look at all glad to see him. Phil sarcastically wondered why, not wanting to laugh in his face. He needed to retain his calm, because he couldn’t discount John Garrett even a little.
The last time he’d done that, he’d been stabbed in the back by a mad Asgardian Wizard.
Daisy laughed. Or, at least Phil assumed it was a laugh. It sounded more like she was gargling on her own saliva.
“How did you get here so fast?” Garrett shouted. “I didn’t sense you anywhere close by!”
Phil raised an eyebrow at him. “Do you think you can take me, John? Would you like to try?” He gave one of his Dark One smiles, the one that warned anyone going up against him that this was to the death, and there would be no quarter given.
Garrett seemed to rally, because his utterly shocked expression morphed into a sly smile. “Phil! Fancy meeting you here. As I said, I didn’t sense you anywhere in the area.”
“That’s because I wasn’t.” It didn’t hurt to tell the man the truth, although he wasn’t about to mention just how he’d arrived there. “I got wind of your little kidnapping attempt and came immediately. So…why don’t you put my daughter down, and I won’t kill you where you stand and take her back over your rotting corpse.”
Uncertainty flashed through Garrett’s dark eyes and instead of putting Daisy down, he clutched her closer, positioning her so that her limp body covered most of his own. “I don’t think you’ll do anything while I hold your precious Daisy.”
“I have the shot,” Clint whispered, so close that his breath tickled his ear.
Phil didn’t even twitch, although knowing that his lover was that nearby made him want to shiver. He couldn’t risk Daisy’s life by giving into his attraction to Clint. “Stand down,” he ordered. “He’s mine.”
The unique sound of the release of pressure of a drawn string on the arms of a bow sounded, and he didn’t even have to look to know that Clint had loosened his draw. “He’s all yours.”
Phil stalked toward Garrett slowly, taking the man’s measure. He could already sense that the other Wizard wasn’t nearly as strong as Phil, himself, was, but that didn’t mean he was any less wily. He had his experience with Loki to fall back on, but this time he had two trusted people watching his back, and also he’d lost so much of the arrogance that had ruled his common sense back then.
“I wouldn’t come any closer if I were you,” Garrett warned. He had one arm around Daisy’s waist, supporting her weight, while his free hand had roughly grasped her chin, holding her head upright. “I can snap her neck like a twig if I wanted to.”
“If you think you’re leaving with her, you’re wrong.” With a single flex of his magic, Phil broke every single Teleport artifact in the vicinity…including the one that Garrett had somewhere on his person. “You’re going to have to go through me to get out of here, and you won’t be able to do that.”
He could tell the moment Garrett noticed that whatever he’d been using to teleport wasn’t working. “I still have dear Daisy, Phil. And I can still kill her before you can even move.”
“Who says I have to move to kill you?” He stopped several steps away, simply staring the man down. Garrett was once again looking very uncertain, but he wasn’t letting Daisy loose.
Oh, the urge to murder Garrett was so strong, Phil couldn’t really keep it in check. This bastard had his daughter, and he’d also trained the Novice who’d taken Daisy in the first place. There really was no way he was getting out of that alley, not with Daisy…and not with his life.
Phil called the Void to him…and out of John Garrett.
The Void was a part of all Void Wizards. It ran through their veins and bone and sinew. Removing it completely would mean the death of the Wizard.
And so, that was exactly what Phil did.
The Void had chosen him to be its Champion. Not that anyone had actually said that sort of thing, but the Wizard could feel that was his purpose, now that he was passing judgement on John Garrett for what he’d done, what he’d been a part of. Hydra had tried to warp the Void for its own ends, poisoning it so badly that Phil had had to close a Void Point so it could heal.
This was something the Void would not stand for.
Garrett’s eyes flew open. “What…” he swallowed, hard. “What are you doing?”
“You have been found guilty of crimes against your Order, and against the Void,” Phil answered grimly. “As Grand Master of Void Order, it is my duty to pass judgment.”
Garrett gasped, as if he was having trouble drawing breath. Even though Phil couldn’t hear it, he knew that the other man’s heart was laboring under the removal of Void from the Wizard’s body. Garrett was beginning to tremble, his grip on Daisy weakening.
“Natasha,” Phil requested, “will you please go and get my daughter before Garrett drops her?”
He didn’t see the smirk to know it was there as Natasha did as he asked, scooping up Skye as well. She carried them out of the alley.
Garrett attempted to bring his magic to bear, but it would not come to his call. The Void had spoken, and it was abandoning him, letting Phil draw it away as easily as he would draw air into his lungs.
“If you kill me,” Garrett growled, “you’ll never find the others.”
“It’s too late to bargain, John. You had your chance to escape your fate, and you decided to threaten my child instead.”
He could see the Void twisting and curling away from Garrett’s body as Garrett dropped to his knees, his dragon crawling to him, mewling pitifully.
Phil could hear Clint making almost silent distressed sounds, and Phil knew it was because of Buddy. That killing Garrett would kill his dragon as well. He sent a request to Lola that she help Lucky look after Clint, because this was going to be painful to the Elf who never would want to see a dragon suffer.
Neither did Phil, but this was justice and it needed to be meted out.
The Void had made him its Champion.
Of that he was now certain.
Hydra had hurt the Void. They no longer had any right to its power and support.
Thrusting his hands out toward the dying man, Phil made the final call to the Void within Garrett. It came at his summoning, curling around his arms, twisting through his fingers, warm yet cold but familiar to him as his own blood. It leaked out of John Garrett like sweat, like tears, the very essence of a Void Wizard coming because Phil had passed the Void’s sentence…
“Phil,” Clint gasped, his voice horribly broken.
“I am the Void’s Champion,” he said aloud for the first time, implacably, acknowledging the fact now that he knew it to be true. “This is the Void’s judgment, and it’s my job to carry it out.” He just wished it wasn’t hurting Clint so badly to see a dragon in pain.
“Idris told me that dragons had their own destinies,” his lover said, clearing his throat so that the words were a little less pained. “And sometimes those destinies are dark ones. Buddy was given to Garrett by the Queen of Air and Fire, but chose to accept that decision, and it wasn’t the dragon’s fault that his Wizard is a bastard. However,” he took a deep breath, and Phil wished he could divert his attention from Garrett just long enough to glance in his lover’s direction, “a very intelligent man also told me that dragons choose to follow their Wizards, and aren’t afraid to tell them off when they think the Wizard is doing something stupid. Between those two people, I understand that it’s fine to mourn a lost dragon, but there’s really nothing I can do to save them if they don’t choose to save themselves.”
“But you don’t have to like it.”
“No. I don’t have to like it.”
Phil prayed to every God there was that Clint never change. Because, the day he did, he wouldn’t be Clint Barton anymore.
As he watched, the last of the Void trickled out of John Garrett, and he collapsed into a limp pile in the dirt of the alley, Buddy lying on top of him, neither of the breathing. Phil dropped his arms, the Void still tangled about him, slowly fading back into its home beyond the veil between dimensions.
John Garrett was dead.
Phil should have been happy.
But he wasn’t.
However, it had needed to be done.
He didn’t have to like it, though. Even as much as he wanted to.