Whhheeeee this has SPOILERS for anyone who's never heard of the existence of Agents of SHIELD. That is, spoilers for episode one…
Part One: Great Expectations
Chapter Twenty-One: Pick-up or Delivery?
It was a well-established fact of Phil Coulson's life that he really didn't get paid enough for this.
Or rather, he got paid well (extremely well), but never managed to get the time off to enjoy it. Surely, even after his recuperation in Tahiti, he deserved a break. But no, it was all wham-bam-thank-you-ma'm-now-off-on-an-aircraft-full-of-SHIELD-agents-you-go with SHIELD- never mind the fact that he probably would have gone mad if he hadn't jumped back into the game. So here he was; playing mama duck with two troublesome agents, a hacktivist who still had her training wheels on and two scientists who were debatably just as bad. And sure, he loved it- really did- but he'd died. And sometimes, in the dark of the night, alone, Coulson feels like he should have had more time off; maybe actually spend some of that money currently languishing in his bank account.
Even if Fury had more or less given him a plane as compensation.
Case in point, times like now, at three fifty-four in the morning when Fury was calling non-stop in an effort to rouse him and get his attention.
Sometimes, Coulson really hates his boss.
He'd not bothered to answer it the first two rings in the hope the caller would realise it was a god-awful time of the morning (they'd only wrapped up Bangkok four hours ago). He lets it ring a third time just to spite them, and eventually picks it up just as it's about to end on the fourth.
"Coulson speaking." Years of working for SHIELD have eliminated his sleep-addled voice, Phil's found. He's thankful for it; it made the other agents suspect he was a robot, which was just too much fun to play on.
"Nice to see you'd pick up eventually." Fury grumbles, borderline irate. Phil takes no small amusement and satisfaction from it. It is three in the morning, after all.
"We only got back to the Bus at twelve sir."
"I'm aware of that Coulson, but something's come up."
Phil sits up, "Sir?"
Fury sighs heavily, "Tell me, what do you know about Byron Bay?"
He frowns, "Never heard of it," he answers truthfully, hands already moving to grab his tablet to search the name, "Where is it?"
"Australia." That stops him up short. Nothing ever happens in Australia. It was the proverbial backwater of interesting occurrences (besides the occasional shark attack).
"Australia?" Byron Bay; seaside town on the east coast of Australia. Popular tourist destination. A generally unexciting place for anything but the beach… and a music festival.
"Are you familiar with the Falling Man case?"
"Subjects 33678 and 33679?" So sue him; he'd done his readings. His clearance allowed him to read the files, and it was certainly interesting; two alleged wizards, both reportedly benign and now inter-dimensional refugees in Stark's tower. And one was apparently the doppelgänger of some well-known British football player- if he were fifteen years younger.
"Well we've got another one." Fury sighs again, "Landed five minutes ago at Byron- not far from the shoreline. Unlikely to be the same scenario as Potter's. I've got Brisbane agents heading down there now, ETA nine-thirty, but I want you and your team responsible for pickup."
He's already heading for the cockpit, knocking loudly on May's door as he passes, 'Orders?"
"Retrieval and debriefing. Find out if they're a hostile- if not, collect them. If so, collect them all the same, but make damn sure they're out of it. You don't want one of those guys screwing around with your electronics." He frowns; it's not exactly a comforting thought when they were flying through the air in a glorified box of wires with wings.
"Any special measures?"
He can imagine Fury shaking his head, "A shot of FitzSimmons' tranq pistol should do it. Be warned; their biology seems to run hotter, so be prepared to shoot them every few hours."
"There's an airbase about half an hour from Byron; Agents Corvey and Stone will meet you there. You've already been cleared for take-off- I want you on site as soon as possible. Fuck knows what kind of havoc they could reap."
"Yes sir. Anything else I should know?"
A pause, "Yeah, Potter and Granger can have an attitude to rival Stark's when they want it to. Look forward to it. Wizards apparently aren't taught manners… And the files are being sent through now. Read up, Coulson."
Coulson chooses to say nothing about the irony of Fury's statement as the Director hangs up on him. He turns to face to expectant gaze of May, eyes slightly puffy from sleep but otherwise wide awake.
"We've got a new assignment. We've been cleared for take-off already."
She nods and passes him silently, slipping into the cockpit gracefully. The doors to their hangar are already opening, and Phil can see the refuelling truck heading towards them already, "Where are we going?"
If May is surprised, she does a good job of not showing it.
The full information in regards to subject 33680 comes in forty minutes later. It's more detailed than Phil had originally anticipated.
Subject 33680: most likely identity- one Draco Malfoy. Allegedly known for his participation in the Second Wizarding War in the late nineties, and his pureblood supremacy sentiments. In the last decade he'd been labelled a recluse- though there had apparently been rumourings of his support of the Death Eater resurgence. Ms Granger had called him a wild card and was unsure if he could be an ally or an enemy; though according to Agent Hill's documentation of her debriefing, there was a fair amount of bad blood between them.
In the report, Potter called him 'blonde and pointy'; Granger said he 'was an utter twat with his head stuck so far up his arse it was no wonder he was so pale', which on paper was particularly imaginative and pugnacious. Phil suspects that particular description was probably saturated with indignation and contempt.
Stark probably loved it.
Nonetheless, Granger's account- later to be (somewhat) verified by Potter (though, how one could call his vague guesses at who had picked him up from the floor in their own universe a verification was anyone's guess)- named Malfoy the man who'd retrieved them from the Death Eater's custody. He'd also been the one to forcefully throw them through the Veil, which Granger claimed had never been confirmed as an actual inter-dimensional portal. Not that this had apparently stopped Malfoy, who'd been more than happy to throw them in when cornered.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, as his father would have said.
33680's identity had been surmised by Granger, who had put two and two together easily enough when notified of the portal activation. His proximity to the Veil made it likely that he'd be the next one to pass through- especially given the time delay between portal activations on this side. Ms Granger claimed that she'd been under the impression that Malfoy had not intended to use the Veil himself, and was surprised that anyone had used it after she'd been thrown in.
Phil briefly wonders if going through the Veil had been Malfoy's plan all along.
If it hadn't; well, wasn't that karma for you.
Their landing on Australian soil eight and a half hours later was largely uneventful- well, except for that one part where Phil had to remind Skye that it was in fact winter in the southern hemisphere, so shorts and a singlet weren't actually the best idea. The look of devastation on her face was enough to put a light skip in his step as he strolled out the cargo bay (not forgetting to give Lola a loving pat for luck) to greet their associates.
Agents Corvey and Stone are lounging against their battered van, sunning themselves like lizards in the still considerably bright sunlight. In fact, with the sky so wide and clear, it would be easy to imagine that it was summer- were it not for the bitter wind blowing through his jacket. Steve's Tilers are emblazoned across the white van in garish red block lettering. They stand up, languid and relaxed, as he draws closer.
"Agent Coulson?" The woman (thirty-three, no children; originally from Perth according to her file) asks, extending her hand first. Her skin is smooth and browned and her grasp is firm. He smiles and nods, and a slow smirk spreads across her face in reply.
Odd. Her accent is nowhere near as strong as he'd expect, though it still has that slightly nasal undertones characteristic of the country. He turns to her companion.
"Agent Stone." The man rumbles before Phil can say anything. In complete contrast to his skinny partner, Agent Stone is tall and broad, with a grim face and the hints of gang tattoos creeping past the collar of his t-shirt. The black leather jacket and long hair tied back into a ponytail completes the thug look- not his own, apparently. Stone had been placed undercover in one of the bikie gangs growing in the Brisbane region. SHIELD had heard rumours of a possible mutant orchestrating the growing tensions between the Bandidos and other outlawed clubs along the east coast and wanted someone to monitor it.
Phil's own agents gather behind him. Skye sends them a jaunty wave, not fazed at all by Stone's size. Ward is watching the pair of them with poorly disguised suspicion (at least to him it seems like poorly-disguised suspicion, anyway). FitzSimmons look awed and May's unaffected, eyes scanning the airfield carefully.
"So what's the status on 33680?" he'd like to get to work as soon as possible. The idea of leaving a wizard of unknown leanings alone with civilians sets him on edge.
Corvey nods and looks over the information on her phone, "Male, white- probably in his mid-twenties. Blonde hair. Cctv footage of one of the carparks on Tallow Beach picked him up not far from his original coordinates. He was with another man when they drove away from the beach- the car's rego is for David Pribbernow; he's a small-time accountant in Lismore. No criminal convictions. He took 33680 into town and dropped him off at the Motor Lodge Motel on Butler Street."
Well, Granger was right, apparently.
"Do you think it was planned?" Ward asks. Couslon feels guilty at the valid question. He'd like to tell them that Malfoy was from a different universe entirely, but that was past their clearance. As were his specific abilities... somewhat. All they knew was that their target was a mutant that SHIELD needed back in America; a fugitive of unknown origins that had come under their radar for some suspicious activities.
Stone snorts, "Unlikely. We'll speak with Pribbernow after you've picked up blondie, but chances are low. We suspect it was a coincidence they met at all."
Corvey moves back to their van and slides the door open. The inside is empty. "You'd be better off coming with us. The standard cars are too conspicuous around here- and I don't think the general populace would be too pleased to know that an American based organisation is spying on them." Her eyes flick over to the Bus, "Superheroes or not."
Phil shrugs at the pointed comment- it wasn't like they were doing it for no reason- as situations like today were keen to point out. And either way, SHIELD offered countries the option of dealing with things they either couldn't handle- or didn't want to… or weren't allowed to. May gives him a weighted look that tells him they'll be talking about this later. She knows something's going on; something more than just a rogue mutant.
Phil's not really worried by that. Chances were, Malfoy would blow any mutant theories out the window the moment they had the chance to speak with them. He had just been thrown into a completely new universe and it was more than likely that the moment he was labelled a mutant he'd probably flip out and give the game away anyway.
And in the end, if the Director had wanted to keep any of the travellers a secret, he wouldn't have sent a group of agents determined to ignore the vast majority of SHIELD protocols to pick one of them up.
He glances back to the Bus. Lola wasn't the only vehicle in there after all, "Thanks, but we've got our own incognito too." He motions to Skye's van.
His agents send him varying levels of disbelief and bewilderment, "Phil-" Skye starts, sending glances up to her home away from home, "-we're not all going to fit in that."
"I know," he replies cheerfully, "That's why FitzSimmons are going with Agents Corvey and Stone. Agent Ward and I will follow."
She frowns, "But what about me and May?"
"You'll be staying with the Bus." May sends him a levelled look, delicate eyebrow quirked in an unimpressed expression and he shrugs, "I want the Bus to be ready to go as soon as possible."
He turns back to the Australian agents; Simmons has already sidled over to them, the small smile on her face giving off her usual benign innocence and naivety, but Fitz seems intimidated by Stone's brawn (and possibly his tattoos), "Fitz, I need you to link our ear-comms."
Fitz nods, pulling his tablet from his satchel. Phil turns to Corvey and Stone, "How far to Byron?"
Corvey shrugs as she hands her comm over to Fitz, "The satnav says it's about half an hour."
"Then you've got half an hour Fitz." Like he wouldn't get it finished in thirty seconds, "We'll follow you; Ward and I will deal with him. I'd prefer it if the both of you were just back-up- we don't want your cover's blown. If you are brought into it, shoot to incapacitate only."
Stone stares at him grimly, "This Blondie," he rumbles, "he's valuable, isn't he? They would have just left it to us or the Sydney team if he was just a rebel mutant."
Phil grimaces, because yeah, he can just imagine the starting bid from organisations more than eager to get their hands on Malfoy and his ilk, "More than you'd like to know," he accedes. He ends the conversation there and moves over to their van, which Ward has already reversed down the ramp.
"We'll trail behind you," he calls out to the Australian agents. Stone nods and Corvey smirks at him.
"Don't forget, Agent Coulson. You lot drive on the wrong side of the road."
He can hear Ward roll his eyes at the comment.
It takes fifteen minutes into their drive for an irate Skye to finally call him. Phil's more surprised that it's taken her this long, than by the fact that she'd hacked into secure SHIELD files several steps above her clearance. Because really; fifteen minutes. She was getting slack.
"Phil." Comes the terse address the moment he answers his phone.
"A wizard. Seriously? Like, pull a rabbit out of a hat, wizard?"
"I think you'll find that's magicians, but I wouldn't put it past them."
"… And from another universe?" she sounds like she almost hopes they're not.
"So they claim." He acknowledges, "The data surrounding their appearances seems to support it though." Another pause as Skye presumably reviews the data and retrieves absolutely nothing from it.
"Right." She drawls a moment later, "Is it… is it natural?"
"As far as we can tell, it's an innate talent based on their genetic structure. They're born with it."
He can hear muffled speech in the background, "May wants to know about the other two. They're listed as benign."
He sighs, glancing at Ward who is staring intently at the road- a sure fire guarantee that he's listening in, "As far as we know, they are. They've not given us any true reason to suspect malign origins."
"…Are these guys for real?"
"Wizards… and a witch…"
"As we have no classification for their kind, that's what we're calling them."
"Why are they popping up all over the place?" A pause as something occurs to her, "And why now?"
Phil wishes he could actually answer that question properly. Not knowing things makes him uneasy, "We don't know. Theories are still in development."
Skye sighs over the phone line, "This guy- Malfoy. He saved the first two?"
"So they claim, but apparently there's bad blood between them."
"And he still helped them?" she sounds doubtful. Phil doesn't blame her- it's a confusing scenario.
"To the extent that he threw them through an inter-dimensional portal, yes." Because he does think that's a valid point. It's a bit of a spiteful move- if you asked him- saving someone by erasing their presence from their world without their permission.
He sighs, glancing at Ward again. His not-listening face has grown even more intense, "I have to go. We're getting close." He hangs up before the hacktivist can answer.
Ward's head turns slowly to face him, his path on the road unwavering. There's a slightly crazed look in his eye that tells him he's absolutely confused by the current events.
"What. The hell." Is all he offers.
Phil smiles at him, "Our target's name is Draco Malfoy. He's a wizard." Grant turns back to the road, the muscles beneath his jaw twitching as he dwells on the information.
"Okaay." He draws out eventually. He frowns, "Gandalf kind of wizard?"
He huffs a laugh- trust Grant, "His skills are more dynamic. Though they like the robes, apparently."
Ward nods slowly, "And the other two…?"
"Arrived a few weeks ago. There's some kind of time lapse though on their portal entry. There's been a week between each of their arrivals though they swear they'd gone through within seconds of each other."
He sends him a sidelong glance, "That's weird."
"Mm. He'll probably have a stick- known as a wand. Be wary of it; it's his magical focus. If he turns hostile, getting rid of the wand is the best way to make him harmless." Or at least, that was according to the information Granger and Potter had disclosed to them.
"Is that likely?"
Phil purses his lips. The information on Malfoy was sketchy at best, and wild cards were always so damn difficult to pin down, 'Possibly."
"The night-night pistol. Or break his wand- though that's probably not the best idea, really. Best to stick to the gun."
Ward's fingers grip at the wheel tighter.
"Great." He drawls.
The little motel their target ended up in is disappointingly unmemorable. It's neither very impressive nor dingy. In fact, it's decidedly average, with its only notable feature being its proximity to the water. Malfoy was in room twelve, which Skye had kindly found out for them after a call with the owner. Apparently he'd turned up in quite a state- covered in sand, barefoot and wearing ill-fitting clothes and a scowl that could melt flesh off bone if it tried.
They pull up in the park adjacent to twelve. The plan was to get inside- preferably without force- and attempt to reason with Malfoy and ultimately take him back to New York City. If Malfoy didn't stick to their plan… well, he'd be coming with them all the same.
He peers through the gap in the blinds. There's not much to see and the room is dark. Possibly asleep.
There's no reply for a good thirty seconds. He shares a look with Ward, who'd looked ready to break in there after the first ten seconds. He knocks again.
This time, he hears what might be a pained groan from inside and a muffled "What?"
He sounds irritated and Phil's lip twitches at the thought.
"Room service," he answers smoothly.
"Room service?" comes the confused reply, growing louder as the room's occupant draws closer to the door, "I didn't order any room service." The door opens and an attractive young man with mussed blonde hair glares out at the outside world blearily.
Phil grin and Ward shuffles his feet uncomfortably.
"We know. Hello Draco Malfoy."
The wizard stiffens immediately at the address, hand rising in a disarming gesture to flatten his hair. His eyes flicker over him, cautious and assessing before passing onto Agent Ward behind him, whom Phil knows for a fact has a fairly obvious imprint of a weapon on his right shin.
In the next instant, his hand is moving to his back pocket, as if to pull out his own weapon.
"I'd rather you didn't do that Mister Malfoy." He says in warning. The hand pauses, but doesn't withdraw, "We're not here to hurt you. I am Agent Coulson- this is Agent Ward. We're operatives for the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division. We're responsible for any supernatural threats that make themselves known." There's no reaction from Malfoy. Phil takes it as encouragement, "Your companions; Hermione Granger and Harry Potter are safe in one of our secure facilities."
"They're not my companions."
Phil gives the man a weighted stare, "Really." He replies flatly, "Because we were under the impression that it was you who liberated them from their imprisonment."
A muscle in the wizard's neck twitches and his eyebrows draw together minutely, "You are a muggle, aren't you?"
Muggle; Mundane. A term for those without magic and more than likely ludicrously politically incorrect. He shrugs.
"According to your definition, yes." Malfoy stares at him some more. Phil supposes it's meant as an intimidation tactic. Cute.
"How did you find me?"
"The signature of your… arrival is quite distinct. It wasn't difficult to track you down afterwards."
The wizard gives him a proper frown this time, "Signature?" his eyes widen in realisation, "You know of the Veil?" Phil's borderline amused by his incredulous tone.
"We do." He accedes and glances to his side, where the other van waits patiently for them at the other end of the motel, "May we come in?"
Malfoy's smart enough to realise that it isn't really a question. He moves away to lean against the empty desk. Grant closes the door behind them as the blonde man watches them with suspicious eyes.
"Potter and Granger are in America?"
"Yes." His eyes narrow.
"We've only been here for a few hours. How'd you manage to get them to America already?'
"They landed there," he replies with a shrug, "Well, Miss Granger ended up in Canada, but the case still stands."
Malfoy's mouth moves silently for a moment, perplexed, "We landed in separate continents?"
Phil watches him for a second before he drops the second bombshell, "And dates. Mister Potter and Miss Granger arrived in this universe a fortnight and a week ago, respectively."
Malfoy remains silent for a long time; his eyes have taken on the look of a wild animal and his jaw clenches imperceptibly.
"What's the date?" comes his strangled voice eventually.
"August 15, 2013." Some tension leaves his shoulders. He stands up and begins to pace the room.
"How long have you known about the Veil?" Phil's aware that he's fishing for more information than his words appear to be asking. He so badly wants to be an ass and tell him 'it's classified', but he knew that for the benefit of their future relations it would be advantageous to be as forthcoming as necessary.
"A fortnight." Malfoy pauses, eyes turning intense and Phil averts his eyes in retaliation. The blonde huffs.
"So what do you want from me?"
Phil tilts his head, as though considering his words, "You have a choice. Allow us to reunite you with your companions." The man grimaces at the suggestion, "Or, we take you to another of our facilities where you can be assessed."
An elegant finger taps against his thigh, "They're not one and the same?"
"No. Miss Granger and Mister Potter were relocated to a residence where their… talents might be more appreciated four days ago."
The wizard smirks, "They've got you lot wrapped around their little finger already I see."
He frowns slightly at the comment and Grant shifts uncomfortably, "I think you've misunderstood."
The smirk grows, taking in Ward's unsettled movements, "Did I?"
Phil chooses to ignore the comment.
"So what's your choice?"
Malfoy turns back to study him down his aristocratic nose. Phil gets the 'thin and pointy' reference now, "Were I to choose the latter, would there even be the chance of release?" He sounds doubtful.
"Of course," he replies with a guileless blink of his eyes, knowing full well that it will do nothing to assuage his scepticism.
His face turns aloof, "Then neither, I think." His hand strays to his back pocket again.
"I would advise against that Mister Malfoy. SHIELD is an ally I'd suggest on keeping."
The hand stops, sensing the threat behind the words but the cocky look spreading across his face tells him he's not taking it seriously.
"I'm sure you'd like to think that."
"I don't you're aware of the status quo of this world Mister Malfoy." Of course he wasn't aware; the man had been here for less than twelve hours.
"Don't I? For an agency that only discovered the Veil two weeks ago, something tells me it's you who doesn't understand the status quo."
Phil smirks but doesn't answer. He knows that it's enough to put the man on edge and second guess his certainty. It's a technique that worked on far greater men than Malfoy. The slight shift of the wizard's feet belies his growing unsurety. Inwardly he smirks in satisfaction.
"The chances of finding your colleagues is low without our aid." He's pushing it, he knows. He'd like to get out of here sooner rather than later; out of the corner he can see Grant slowly growing ever more twitchy; a sure-fire sign that he was ready to leave.
Malfoy snorts, haughty and disdainful, "Who says I want to find them?"
Phil just stares at him, head slightly tilted. The man was lying though his teeth. He needed to find the other two- if only to work out where they were and how it was possible to get back. Or to possibly dispose of them. His true motivations for throwing them through the Veil were largely unknown, something which Phil knew very well made Director Fury unhappy.
The smirk on Malfoy's face grows wider, "Now, if you don't mind, I think you've overstayed your welcome." His hand moves backwards, the look in his eyes clearly telling them that he was no longer choosing to humour them.
The tell-tale crack of Ward's suppressed gun resonates through the room in the same moment.
Malfoy's arm flies up to clutch at his right shoulder, staggering back at the force of the point-blank shot. The shock is written across his face as plain as day.
"You just fucking shot me!" he gasps as a small amount of blood seeps through his business shirt. The wizard stumbles backwards, eyes wide and accusing, as his limbs rapidly shut down before collapsing in an undignified heap on the thin commercial carpet.
"You ff…" he slurs, voice cutting off halfway through his delivery. Unfocussed grey eyes stare at Ward balefully. Another second and the man's gone.
Phil huffs a sigh into the silence and sends Grant a look from over his shoulder.
In a typical display of brevity, the agent shrugs. "He was annoying me."
"Shooting him was supposed to be a last resort. This will do nothing for our future diplomatic relations."
"If it makes you feel better, I'm pretty sure he was actually going for his weapon that time."
Funnily enough, it doesn't.
Bleep. Gratuitous insertion of Coulson who probably won't ever be mentioned again! (so don't ask :P)
May have taken a few liberties with the Agents of SHIELD canon here, but whoooo caarres! Terribly much, that is.
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