Of Hel and Earth
Chapter 6: Of Chases
"Seriously, how long are we going to do this for?"
Natasha shot an annoyed glare at the rooftop Clint was currently perched on, across the road and several buildings away. The archer didn't even need to see her to know what her expression was - he had already asked the same question three times in the last fifteen minutes and gotten the same silent response.
"It's been almost three hours and we haven't found even a single clue. I'm not saying to give up, I just reckon we should regroup and figure out a better way to find this guy than just traipsing all over Manhattan."
The burst of static from Natasha 'accidentally' bumping her mic the wrong way made Clint wince.
"The Director gave us a job to do; we'll do it."
Clint sighed. "C'mon, Nat. We need a better plan. We should check in with ground base, see if they have any leads for us. We could at least call-"
"Natasha, Clint, you there?"
Both agents paused at the new voice on the comms.
"Bruce?" Natasha asked. "What's happening?"
"A couple of minutes ago there was an energy spike that set off our alarms. Tony's just running the analysis-"
"Got it!" Stark cut in, the sound of keys clicking in the background. "Aren't you glad you've got me to do all these neat sciency things for you?"
"Stark, if you don't start explaining in the next three seconds-"
"Your target's on the move."
"What?" Natasha straightened unconsciously, sharp eyes flickering even faster over the street. "Where?"
"A couple of blocks north-west of you, just on the edge of the search area. I'm sending a map to your phones now and I'll get Jarvis to send you updates every couple of minutes."
Natasha was already moving, weaving around the few other pedestrians as she pounded along the pavement. Idly she noted Clint ahead disappearing back to the stairwell that would bring him down to ground level.
"Tell Fury we're closing in."
"Be careful," Bruce added in the background. "We don't know what this guy can do, apart from possibly teleporting, but that much energy must be useful for something."
"Will do," Clint answered. "See you soon."
Harry enjoyed walking through the streets. It wasn't something he could do back home since he was far too recognisable - even in muggle areas, he still tended to run into muggleborns, squibs and muggle relatives of magicals with alarming frequency. Here though he was just another face in the crowd, and it was incredibly freeing.
The thought that eventually his new-found anonymity might become just another reminder of how far from home he was had crossed his mind but he had pushed it aside, determined to enjoy the situation while he could. Almost as deep was a memory of a lecture from when he had been training to be an Auror - when lost in unfamiliar territory and unable to escape, always keep your hopes up and emotions positive; giving in and becoming depressed wouldn't get you anywhere. Harry tried not to actively think about how pertinent that lecture now was, but he recognised the validity of the advice in his current situation.
Overlaying it all though, permanently at the edge of his thoughts ever since he arrived in this world, was Moody's mantra of 'constant vigilance'. Harry's instincts were on high alert, making him twitch every few metres when he caught something out the side of his eye. Harry would turn or glance in a nearby shop window and smile ruefully when it was only someone wearing a robe-like dress or coat, or holding something thin and pointy like a wand, then keep going.
This went on for almost an hour as Harry traversed the streets, trying to navigate himself in a loop around his camp so that he wouldn't get lost or go too far from safety in case something did happen. He had bought a sausage roll from a small bakery near the beginning and found a drink fountain some twenty minutes later that he had tried to memorise the position of for later reference. Now he was just walking, trying to learn his way around the city, figuring he should start heading back soon.
When a prickle ran across the back of his neck once again, Harry almost ignored it. But then it came again and a dark shape on top of a nearby building shifted out of sight as soon as he turned his head, and Harry felt his heart clench.
Just someone on their lunch break, smoking on the roof. Or even a repairman fixing something. It's nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Then another shape, reflected in the window next to him, of a woman dressed almost entirely in black caught his eye and Harry frowned at the sensation of deja vu. She looked almost familiar, like...
Like he had seen her in a window a couple of blocks back.
Harry had to consciously not speed up his pace. It could be a coincidence, just someone walking the same way as him but...
Then the wind flattening her coat against her stomach and outlining a handgun strapped to her hip, and Harry broke into a run.
"Shit, he saw us," Clint cursed across the comms. He took a second to calculate the target's most likely route then swore again. "And if he's smart he'll take the next corner - it's a main road, lots of people. I can't follow him from up here."
"Then get down," Nat snapped. She had started sprinting barely a second after the target took off but the guy was fast. She was gaining, but only just.
There was a slight mutter across the comms from Clint - something like, "Just got up here," - before he was suddenly jumping from the roof of the six-storey building. He twisted in the air after only a few metres of free-fall and fired a rappelling arrow into the wall, quickly abseiling down to join Natasha on the street level, across the road and slightly behind her.
Natasha didn't even have to say anything, just sent Clint a quick, pointed glance, before focussing once again on chasing their target. He was using the street to his advantage, even managing to push over a surprisingly large newspaper stand at one point to create minor chaos. Natasha was almost impressed.
"It was jump or the stairs," Clint muttered. "Shut up."
Natasha vaulted a post box to avoid a clump of businessmen, watching as the target turned the corner just as Clint had predicted. "You following?"
"About two hundred metres behind and gaining. Less people on this side."
For the next few minutes the comms were silent as both agents concentrated on their target. His lead had lessened slightly but it was still enough that he constantly disappeared from sight. It only took a few seconds to relocate him every time but it was annoying. Grudgingly, Natasha had to admit that this guy was rather good.
Then there was a crackle in the agents' ears followed by Tony's amused voice. "Guys, what the hell did you do?"
"We were spotted," Clint grumbled when Natasha failed to answer. "He spooked and ran."
Tony gave a startled laugh. "You were spotted?" He sounded incredulous. "SHIELD's two best agents?"
"Cap was right about the training," Natasha cut in, "though I'm starting to doubt it was military. He knows how to use the streets and the people and he keeps ducking behind things as if he's expecting us to shoot at him."
There was a moment of silence before Tony replied. "Well lucky for you there's an intersection with a set of lights coming up and no footpath going around the corner. He'll have to stop or risk the traffic and either will lose him time."
"And if the lights go green?" Clint bit out.
Tony scoffed. "Trust me, they won't."
Harry cursed as yet another person - a young mother with a pram - got in his way. He had already been yelled at for pushing past several other people and he was really hoping no one was going to get the bright idea of trying to accost him for it.
Running away when he had seen the gun had been partially his instincts screaming at him - getting caught in another dimension by muggles that might want to, oh, dissect him didn't sound pleasant - and partially tactics. He figured if he ran and the woman didn't react then it was most likely a safe assumption that she wasn't a threat. To him at least.
When she had immediately pursued him, Harry had groaned. Annoyance, disbelief, a bit of fear and resignation that he would never be able to live a normal life had filled his mind for a moment before he had pushed it away. And when he had seen the dark shadow on the rooftop fearlessly jump off and abseil down he had finally let his instincts and training take over completely. These people were professionals, that much was obvious, and that meant Harry was in a lot of trouble unless he could get away from them.
Soon, however, he had realised his folly in running. He had no idea where he was or where he could go. He had been near a side road when he had started sprinting but the only alley he had gone past since then had been a dead end. That had left the only options as continuing on that road or turning into the main street he had reached several hundred metres later. He had turned, hoping to get lost in the crowd but apparently the people following him were too good for that trick to work.
Harry knew he needed to find some kind of turn off or distraction soon. He was fast, yes, but most of his success in avoiding Dudley as a kid had been in using the maze-like streets to his advantage, confusing and eventually losing his cousin. He couldn't even resort to magic because the cameras he knew were on every corner, in most shops and in every person's pocket would definitely catch anything he did. Suddenly disappearing via apparition or the Cloak would be preferable to the light show that came with spells but even then he didn't want to risk it. He had cast an obscuring spell on his face and clothes in the hope it would help him blend in but anything more powerful like a Notice-Me-Not wouldn't work any better on people who were already focussed on him and likely well trained. He was just hoping there was an alley nearby that he could duck into to apparate away.
Unfortunately the road he was on seemed to be some kind of shopping mall, with wide footpaths and shop after shop after shop. There were no turn offs or alleys aside from the occasional dead-end delivery area. It was starting to get to the point where he was considering ducking into a shop and seeing if he could find a back door.
And then a gap appeared in the crowd and Harry spotted the lights of an intersection only a couple of hundred metres ahead. Harry put on a burst of speed, a small flicker of hope in his chest as he tried to plan. If the lights were green he could cross, hopefully causing trouble for his pursuers when they turned red again. And if not, lights meant side-streets; he could just turn the corner.
The intersection got closer and closer and Harry felt a smile begin to pull at his lips - this, running for his life but always staying one step ahead of the enemy, this was what he had missed most about being an Auror. He would never go back to it full time, no, but just every now and then it was nice. It was a thrill nothing else could compare to.
Only a hundred metres or so now and Harry was full-out grinning. It was crowded, with people milling around impatiently, which would make it easier to hide. Very crowded actually. Unusually crowded. What-
Harry's grin vanished, some of the thrill turning to dread. Surely there was- There had to be-
Fifty metres now and Harry felt his heart sink. He could see it; there was an intersection, yes, but only with cars going left and forward. There was no footpath turning right, for whatever bloody stupid reason-
A glance in a shop window showed him the two black-clad pursuers were gaining, though the woman more than the man.
The woman is probably best close-range, hence the speed. And the man is long-range. A perfect team, most likely. But how to escape them?
Twenty metres, right at the edge of the crowd, and Harry suddenly grinned again. The problem with humans was that they had weaknesses. And if you understood someone's strengths, you could often guess at least one exploitable weakness.
The lights were still red but Harry didn't care. He twisted and pushed, shoved and dodged, all the way through the crowd.
And then he ran.
"What the fuck is he doing!?"
Natasha's reply was scathing. "Crossing the road, obviously." In the background was the sound of indignant people as she pushed her way past them all.
"Diagonally?" Clint asked, incredulous, even as he put on a burst of speed. "Through moving traffic? Why?"
"Because you're slower," came Stark's voice through the comm system. Clint almost groaned. "And because it got him off the main street, I think."
"By the way, the lights will be green in three, two, one!"
Clint dove through the crowd, sprinting across the road ahead of everyone else and turning left on the footpath. He could see the bastard they were chasing up a head, lead slightly longer than it was before. "Stark, any idea where he's going?" He didn't bother thanking Stark for hacking the traffic lights. The genius didn't need the ego boost.
"Uh, no? But, Natasha, you might wanna turn right, go 'round the block."
"Why?" Nat bit out.
"Because when he gets to the end of this block he can only go right or straight ahead, and that way if he turns then you can head him off."
Natasha didn't respond but a glance in a window showed she wasn't following Clint anymore so he assumed she had taken the advice.
"Any obstacles to look out for?"
"No." Keys were clicking in the background and Tony sounded ridiculously happy. "I mean, there's an alley just ahead but it's dead-end so unless he has some trick up his- Oh."
Clint almost stumbled. "Stark-"
There was a muted shout across the comm then an unintelligible mutter before Tony came back. "Wonder boy usually only teleports from alleys on deserted streets. Not that we have much data to calculate a trend with but still. So, Barton?"
"Yes?" Clint bit out. He was pushing his legs to the limit, putting on as much speed as possible. He knew what Stark meant.
"I suggest you hurry."
It took only seconds for the target to reach the alley. Clint was hoping, praying, that he would keep going but the man slid, stopped, glanced back briefly then turned.
"Shit, shit, shit!" Clint was already pulling his bow forward, dialling up a specific arrowhead and bringing the arrow around to sit in its rest. If he couldn't catch the guy, hopefully he could at least slow him down a bit. It was instinct, anyway: when in doubt, shoot.
Clint skidded to a stop at the mouth of the alley, turning and slamming into the wall as he overcompensated the turn. The bow was drawn and swinging up to aim even as his eyes sought out the target.
The man was near the end of the alley, partially hidden in the building's shadow. He had something in his hand - long, thin, kinda like a stick - but it wasn't pointed at Clint. Not a weapon? A device?
Their eyes met and then Clint was releasing his arrow and the man was spinning on the spot and with a loud crack-
He was gone.
For a moment, Clint just stood there and stared at where the man had been. It hadn't been like when Loki teleported - fading almost instantaneously from sight then back again somewhere else. The guy had turned, as if he was- was almost throwing himself somewhere. Or, something. Tony and Bruce could work it out later.
But that noise! It was so much like a gun shot, his hand had tightened around his bow instinctively. In the small alleyway it had echoed, bouncing around, and even now his ears were ringing slightly.
"Barton?" Stark sounded almost sombre. "Did you-?"
"The target escaped." Clint finally sank back against the alley wall, hand relaxing around the bow as his body slumped and his lungs tried to recover all the oxygen they had been missing the last few minutes. "He teleported."
There was a muttering in the background again - Clint assumed it was Bruce.
"Damn. Well, at least we have new data to work with."
Clint didn't bother to respond. He had been so close. He had shot at him and everythi-
The archer blinked then, steps cautious, moved toward where the target had been. Scuff marks, old dirt and damage common to city alleys, but no arrow.
Clint felt a small, tired, wry grin pull at his lips.
"Do you think tranq darts work on whatever the hell Potter is?"