Frohike had taken a bullet in the shoulder, precariously close to his heart as far as Neil could tell.
“Natasha doesn’t miss,” the man with the bow told him. “If she’d been aiming for the heart, she’d have hit the heart.”
It didn’t do much to reassure Neil, even as he watched the SWAT team load Frohike and Scully into an SUV, Langly climbing in beside them.
Neil was loaded into a different SUV - the one in the front of the line - and stuffed into the backseat, surrounded by armed men. He wasn’t very reassured by that either.
In the aftermath, Neil had waited for someone to open the hatch and pull Byers back out again, but no one had. All it had taken was the briefest flick of Langly’s eyes to tell Neil everything he needed to know - no one had seen Byers drop down into the tunnel, no one knew he was down there, and as far as Neil was concerned, no one ever would.
It wasn’t safe in the city, but it couldn’t be safe with these people either. They had shot Frohike, no matter their insistence that they had good medical help waiting for him. They had injured a federal agent, no matter their insistence that it was only temporary.
They’d come in with guns and explosives and they couldn’t be trusted.
If he was lucky, Byers could get to the underground bunker, stay safe there. Or maybe hook-up with Agent Scully’s partner and get the information they had about the alien meteors to someone who could do something with it.
For now, Neil figured Byers was a hell of a lot safer than the rest of them.
“I’m driving,” the bow-man said then and the woman, Natasha, rolled her eyes. “Why do you always get to drive, Clint? You’re one of those guys that thinks women can’t drive, aren’t you?”
“Are we seriously going to have this fight right now?” Clint asked. Then they stared each other down for the briefest of seconds, but Neil figured he had the information he needed from that exchange - she could have taken Clint, but she chose to give him his dignity.
The line of SUVs pulled out onto the D.C. street. Neil looked behind them and saw a wave of people, near a hundred, running in their direction; screaming, dragging their luggage and dogs and children behind them. A group of motorcycles sped past the SUVs - the motorcycle in the front held a man with an infant strapped to his chest. The baby was crying.
“Alright, Professor?” Clint asked from the driver’s seat, craning his head back to meet Neil’s eyes.
Neil instantly disliked the nickname.
“How’s that?” he asked, because being kidnapped in the middle of an alien apocalypse seemed pretty far from all right.
“Don’t worry,” the SWAT man next to him - Adam, the same large man who had pulled the arrow from Scully’s leg - said. “We’re taking you to a secure area.”
Neil looked back one more time and saw an alien ship rising above the crowd of people and firing, disintegrating and burning the city as it went.
“Great,” Neil told him. “But what about everyone else?”
The line of SUVs sped along the road, weaved its way through the jam of cars, skidding up along the sidewalk at times. The alien ship was a ways back, but never out of sight. Clint kept them moving, but up ahead they could see a problem was coming their way.
A horde of people, far more than a hundred this time, descended towards them - people without vehicles, holding their children aloft and screaming for mercy.
“Don’t stop, Clint,” Natasha told him. “Just don’t fucking stop.”
“We aren’t going to help them?” Neil asked from the backseat.
“We are helping them,” Natasha said. “We’re saving you.”
Neil’s mind said, ‘Save the astro-physicist, save the world,’ and he barked out an abrupt laugh.
Clint sped up the SUV and barreled towards the oncoming crowd.
There were too many of them. They came from the sides and crowded in from behind and eventually, they pushed their way in front of them, forcing Clint to slow down.
“I’m not running them over,” Clint told Natasha, even though she had been silent, hand on her gun, the whole time.
“Then we’re screwed,” Natasha said plainly.
A man slammed against the side of the SUV, face pressed to the window.
A teenage boy pushed his way to the front, a young toddler on his shoulders, screaming at them, “Take my sister! Please!”
An older man in a trucker hat pushed up against the SUV from behind, yelling, “You government folks did this! You brought this on us. You and the feminists!”
Someone slammed a crowbar against the front passenger side window. The window shattered and hands reached in, tugged at Natasha.
She pulled her gun and fired, but the crowd didn’t disperse. In fact, Neil heard an answering gunshot from the masses and then another and then people were screaming and a woman was trying to crawl inside the SUV, right into Natasha’s lap. Someone had the red-headed agent’s arm and they were pulling her out the window.
“Nat!” Clint screamed and reached for her, his fingers missing her by less than an inch.
She disappeared into the crowd.
People were shattering the rest of the SUV’s windows and Adam pushed Neil to the floor of the vehicle and then the SWAT team all began shooting into the crowd.
“We’re abandoning the cars,” Clint shouted back at them.
“Yes, sir!” the SWAT unit answered as one.
Adam was now gripping Neil’s arm tight, yanking him in close. “Get down and stay low,” he said to Neil and then they pushed the SUV doors open and laid down cover fire. Neil slid out in the crowd, surrounded on all sides. He could feel another SWAT man’s hand on his back, holding fast and tight to Neil’s sweater, trying not to lose him.
They began to push through the crowd. Neil looked back long enough to see the mass of people overtaking all the SUVs, clamoring over one another in their panic, trampling each other to death as they went.
“Keep moving,” someone said into his ear and Neil looked over to see Clint reaching for him, pushing him through the onslaught.
Adam let go of him and moved out in front, gun raised against the flood of people.
Neil looked back at the panicked mob one last time and then cried out, “Wait!” He pointed towards their SUV, which was rocking under the pressure of the crowd. There, on top of the vehicle, was Natasha.
“Nat!” Clint said into his earpiece. “On your two.”
Natasha turned her head in their direction, then nodded at them.
Then she took a running start and stepped off the roof of the SUV.
Neil gasped and then stilled, watched in amazement as she literally ran over the heads of the people below. It was as if she were crowd surfing at a rock concert, all the while remaining vertical. She made a hand motion and Clint pushed Neil behind himself and then crouched down, arms out.
Natasha leapt, somersaulted through the air, and landed square in Clint’s arms.
They both went down under the crowd and then Neil saw her - Natasha never stopped somersaulting, just continued in another roll until she was springing to her feet, one hand wrapped around Clint’s bicep and yanking him up as she came.
“Run!” she hollered at Neil and pushed out in front of him to lead the way.
They broke through the crowd on the other side, down an alleyway, and Natasha kept running. There was a fence blocking their exit - probably the only reason this escape was accessible. Natasha pulled a knife from her boot and started cutting through the chain link.
Neil paused at last, gasping for breath, and looked around. He had made sure to count the SWAT members before, back in the Lone Gunmen’s place, and there had been seventeen then. Now there were only eleven. Towards the back of the group, he could see Langly with an arm under Scully, helping her stand with her still weakened body from the extreme taser shot.
Frohike was nowhere to be seen.
Neil pushed his way to the back, aware the whole time of Clint’s eyes on him.
“Frohike?” he asked and Langly shook his head.
This was their fault, Neil knew it. These people who had shown up and put a bullet into the man who had come to rescue Neil, into the friend of Sam’s that Neil had dragged into this whole mess. They shot him and left him behind and now they expected Neil to just keep following them like the world wasn’t ending.
Maybe they were taking him to a place that was safe from the aliens, but that didn’t mean it was safe.
Neil looked at Langly, holding Scully up, dragging her along with them and knew he would never leave her. No matter where these people were taking them, it was safer than dragging the injured federal agent back into the crowd. But that didn’t mean that Neil couldn’t escape, couldn’t run now. They’d threatened him with a gun before, but Neil was sure now that they desperately wanted him alive for something. He could run, find a place to hole up or maybe even make it back to the Gunmen’s, into their underground bunker.
Neil met Langly’s eyes, could see the other man was thinking it too. Langly nodded his head and Neil knew it was permission for him to go.
“Here,” Adam said then, coming up behind Neil and reaching out his arms towards Scully. “Let me carry her.” Langly looked reluctant but Scully was barely conscious against his side and at last Langly let the man scoop her up into his arms.
“Hey, Professor!” Clint hollered from back by the fence.
Neil turned to look at him and saw Clint holding the cut opening in the fence aside. “You gonna come save the world or what?”
Neil took a deep breath, made his decision, and climbed through to the other side.
“Where are we going?” Neil asked Natasha, as the woman continued to lead them along back alleyways at a brisk pace, Clint covering her around every corner.
“We have a pick-up point set up, if we were to get separated from our vehicles,” she told him, but didn’t elaborate further.
“Where is this pick-up point?”
“There,” Clint said and pointed.
Neil looked around the corner, followed his line of sight to the tallest building on the horizon. It was close enough and yet completely inaccessible.
There was a wall of fire between them.
“I’m just a novice here,” Neil said dryly, “but I think your transport is going to have to collect us some place else.”
“There is no place else,” Clint said and pushed on towards the blazing heat.
The fire was high and solid, like a gas line was under the pavement, stretching the blaze out far on its sides. Neil could see now that the only way through was under or over. He looked for a sewer access but if there was one, they had passed it already. They would have to backtrack, head towards the main section of town again, where the crowds could be heard screaming and the smoke was billowing outwards.
“Any bright ideas there, Professor?” Clint asked.
“Change the location of your pick-up,” Neil told him without preamble. “It’s our only option.”
“It’s not an option,” Clint said. “I have a very important package I have to retrieve at the office.”
Langly raised an eyebrow. “Seriously? You want to swing by the office and pick something up real quick? You know, I’m pretty sure you won’t have to go into work tomorrow, so I think it’ll be okay to skip it.”
“No,” Clint said and his eyes flared with something that could only be described as determined anger. “It won’t be okay. We’re going to the office. Are we clear?”
Langly nodded and Neil followed suit.
“Besides,” Clint said then, “it’s the only building around here with a landing pad. Our chopper is good, but it’s not good enough to load us all while still airborne. So, new options?”
“How about we get above the fire?” Langly asked and they all followed his eye-line to an abandoned fire truck, its ladder extended high up over the flames.
“That’s great,” Clint told him sarcastically. “We’ll get over it, we just won’t get back down again.”
“Hang on there,” Langly said with a wry smile. He tugged his backpack off and rooted around inside, pulling out a large rope. “What about a bit of rope?”
Neil smiled at the man. “And you didn’t even have to get an elven queen to give it to you,” he said.
“You two are big giant nerds, aren’t you?” Adam asked and shifted Scully slightly in his arms.
“Well, is it long enough?” Langly asked Clint.
“It’ll have to be,” Natasha told them and strode off in the direction of the fire truck, without looking back.
They followed after her.
“Anybody ever driven one of these things?” Clint asked, as he checked the cab of the truck for survivors. It looked like the firefighters that went with it were long gone.
“I have,” Adam told him.
Clint just raised an eyebrow.
“What?” the large SWAT man asked with a chuckle. “You thought Coulson just plucked me from the cabbage patch?”
“We need to reposition it,” Natasha told him and Adam nodded.
“Someone needs to take Agent Scully.”
“I can stand,” she said, lowering her arms from the grip around his neck.
“Just let someone take you for a minute,” Adam said softly.
“It’s okay,” Scully told him, though she still sounded weak and shaky. “I’m okay.”
Neil couldn’t see her face from here but he had no doubt she was giving Adam her most stubborn expression because he gave in and set her slowly down on her feet. She stumbled then, reached out to right herself against his side and suddenly Langly was there, slipping an arm around her waist and letting her lean on him.
“You got her?’ Adam asked and Langly just nodded at him.
Clint moved as near to the fire as he could and Adam climbed in the truck and started backing it up, realigning it so the ladder was as close as he could get to the wall of flames.
“You have to go farther out,” Neil shouted at him. “You’re too close. The ladder’s in the fire.”
“He’s right,” Clint said. “Pull out, so the highest point is over the blaze and we won’t have to climb through it. The rest of you, move back, away from the line.”
They readjusted one more time and then Clint took the rope from Langly and hauled himself up onto the truck.
“I’m going up and I’ll tie off the rope at the end. I want three guys to follow me and then the professor and then three more guys covering him from behind. He’s our asset, let’s not forget our job.”
Clint slipped on a pair of gloves then and started climbing.
“What do you even need me for so badly?” Neil asked Natasha, as they both watched Clint make his way up.
“You’ve been through a lot in the past few days,” Natasha said calmly.
“I think the people getting killed back there have been through more,” Neil told her, though the image of Dr. Linden crumpling to the ground came unbidden into his mind.
“I understand that,” Natasha told him. “But you’ve been through something no one else has. We believe you have something that will help us in this battle.”
“I don’t,” Neil protested. “I don’t. The only real asset I have is the bit of rock in my sweater pocket.” He pulled back then, because he honestly hadn’t meant to say that to her.
“You have a piece of it?” Natasha asked, without losing her composure. “Hmmm, someone failed to mention that to us when we were deployed.”
She held up a hand then, her focus on Clint now as he moved up the ladder and over the flickering flames, less than three feet from his body. The heat was searing, even from back in the safe area where Neil was standing, and the look on Clint’s face showed clearly that it was not a pleasant climb. He kept the rope clear of the fire, climbed to the last rung and began tying it off.
“Go,” Natasha ordered and three of the SWAT members swung up onto the truck.
Clint made some hand-motion and Natasha nodded at him. Clint nodded back, grasped the rope in both hands and started his climb down.
“Oh, that’s not going to be fun,” Langly said to no one in particular.
Adam moved back against Scully’s side and nodded over at the other man. “It’s just like in gym class, son.”
“Do I look like I ever went to gym class?” Langly asked him, incredulous, and Adam just grinned at him.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let you fall, sweetheart,” he said and then pointed a finger at Scully and added, “You either, darling.”
“It’s agent, not darling, thank you very much,” Scully told him, but let Adam slip a supporting arm around her anyway.
Clint was on the ground now and the SWAT team started moving, one at a time up the ladder to the rope. The smoke was getting stronger now, the flame rising higher and Neil covered his mouth with his arm. He watched the last of the three men on the truck slip on his own gloves and start the climb.
Neil would be the next to go.
He had an idea then and removed his sweater, took the bit of rock and secured it away in his pants pocket - this seemed a lot to go through for something that was small enough to fit in his pocket - and then ripped his sweater in half.
“What are you doing?” Scully asked, slightly alarmed.
Neil ripped it again until the sweater was in three pieces and handed a bit to Langly and another to Scully. “Everyone else seems to have gloves. I don’t relish tearing the skin off my hands, do you?”
“She doesn’t need it,” Adam said and snatched the piece of sweater from Scully’s hand.
“Excuse me?” Scully asked and pushed herself off his side to glare up at him.
“I’m gonna hoist you on my back.”
“I am a federal agent. I don’t need a piggyback ride,” she told him, indignant.
“Really?” Adam asked and then stepped away from where she was cushioned between himself and Langly.
Scully lost her balance and her legs gave out. Adam grabbed her before she hit the ground.
“You can’t even stand and you want to climb that shit on your own?” he said. “You got hit with 100,000 volts of electricity. I’m gonna carry you down, and you’re going to try saying the words thank you.”
Langly and Neil just looked at each other, neither one willing to get in the middle of this argument. Neil nodded at Langly and then moved closer to Natasha.
“I think the fire is rising. We’re running out of time,” he told her.
She didn’t look at him, but the slightest twitch of her jaw and Neil knew her answer.
“Go,” she said and Neil didn’t hesitate.
He swung up on the truck and started his climb. The heat was searing. He could feel it, his whole body going flushed with it and he was sweating instantly. The ladder was blazing hot to the touch and he wrapped his sweater around his hands and kept climbing, the smoke billowing up into his face, making his eyes burn.
There was no going back now, not with Clint already on the other side and the alien ship behind them.
At the top, Neil hesitated, looked back to see the three SWAT men who were ordered to follow him already pulling themselves up onto the fire truck.
“Go!” one of them shouted at him and Neil cleared his mind of hesitation, swung himself over the top of the ladder and grabbed the rope.
His sweater did little to stop his hands from tearing and the flames were close enough to Neil’s face in this position that he had to close his eyes and feel his way down, arm muscles straining under the pull.
He wasn’t going to make it.
The smoke was coming at him from all sides now and Neil could feel his own heart thudding inside his head, in his arms, everywhere.
“Drop!” a voice shouted at him.
Neil couldn’t open his eyes to see how close he was to the ground and his grip was starting to fail, but he couldn’t will himself to let go.
“Trust me,” and Neil could tell now that it was Clint, shouting up at him. “Let go!”
Neil swallowed his fear…and let go of the rope.
He felt like he was free-falling, nothing under him or around him. He tucked his legs up and then he was slamming into the ground, into someone, and rolling across the pavement, his whole body screaming in protest at him.
“Get up!” Clint said and Neil opened his eyes to see the man standing over him, one of the SWAT unit laying beneath Neil where he had caught him. “Get up,” Clint said again and pulled Neil to his feet. “Get out of the way.”
Neil scrambled backwards just as the next SWAT member hit the ground at the bottom of the rope. They came faster then, but it wasn’t enough.
Neil could see the rope was starting to fray. The flames were too close, the heat was eating its way through the rope. Not everyone was going to make it.
Neil was gasping for breath and Clint pushed him down into a crouching position, breathed in and out next to him, urging Neil to do the same. He tried to focus on his breathing but his heart was hammering too loudly as he watched Langly sway on the rope, legs flailing around like a baby bird trying to get its wings.
“He’s going to fall,” Clint said.
“You’re right,” Neil responded and without hesitation, he moved in closer, grabbed the rope by the tail end and held it steady. The fire was literally lapping at his shoes and Neil could feel the heat scorching his toes. He wondered how many seconds they had until he couldn’t get any more breath into his lungs.
With the rope steady, Langly’s flailing ceased and he made a steady climb down, Clint coming up to snag him around the waist and pull Langly against his chest.
“Scully, Scully,” Langly was gasping as Clint pulled him back, away from the flames.
Scully and Adam were already at the top of the ladder. Neil stepped back and watched as Scully wrapped her arms around the man from behind and Adam swung them over and onto the rope. The ladder held steady but the rope was fraying even worse now and Neil could see where little pieces of it were actually breaking off and drifting down into the flames beneath.
Neil wiped soot from his face and his eyes were still burning from the smoke, but he never stopped watching.
He was watching when the rope caught fire.
“Scully!” Langly shouted next to Neil. “Drop!”
“The fire’s too close,” Clint said. “They won’t make it out.”
Neil could see Scully shaking her head ‘no’ and screaming something in Adam’s ear and then the man was swinging them and pushing at Scully.
“Sonofabitch, he’s trying to shake her off to save himself,” Neil shouted.
And then the rope snapped.
Adam swung himself out at the last second and with one arm, grabbed a hold of Scully from behind and threw her.
Scully went flying out towards them and Clint ran, skidded on his knees with his arms outstretched and caught the falling agent.
Adam fell straight down, into the flames.
They could hear him screaming before he even hit the ground, the fire eating him alive as he went.
Scully landed on Clint and the man kept skidding along the ground and then they came to a full stop. Two of the SWAT team went running over and pulled Scully up and then reached for Clint. One of the men hoisted him to his feet and the archer screamed out in pain.
The knees on his jeans were shredded and blood was pouring down his legs. The SWAT men made to drag them both out of the way of the fire, but Clint pushed them aside.
Adam was screaming in the fire and burning alive and Neil felt bile rise up in his throat. The man had sacrificed himself to save Agent Scully and now he was dying an unimaginable death.
Clint drew his bow and pointed it into the flames, but even Neil could see that visibility was zero and Clint would be shooting blind.
That’s when Natasha appeared at the top of the ladder.
“Nat, what are you doing?” Clint asked into his comm. “There’s not enough rope left.”
The SWAT man who had pulled Clint to his feet went running over, just as Natasha posed herself at the top of the ladder…and dove. She somersaulted through the air, pulled her body up into a ball, head tucked down for protection. Two other SWAT members joined the first and they formed a circled under her.
Natasha slammed into them at an alarming rate.
The group hit the ground and Natasha rolled to a stop against them. One of the men cried out in pain and Neil could see his arm was twisted behind his back, broken now.
Natasha jumped to her feet, spun and drew her gun.
It seemed to Neil like hours had passed since he had watched Adam and Scully hanging off the precarious rope, but his logical mind said it had only been a matter of seconds. Adam’s scream were still echoing out at them.
Natasha pointed her gun into the flames and fired four consecutive shots.
Adam stopped screaming after the fourth one.
“What are you doing?” Langly shouted at her.
“Saving my man the only way I have left,” Natasha told him and walked away.
They were all covered in soot, faces black, breathing shallow and Neil found his own hands were torn, bleeding where the sweater had failed to protect him.
“Langly, give me your shirt,” Scully ordered.
“What?” Langly started. “This is vintage Zeppelin. From the ‘77 tour.”
Clint winced in pain where Scully was pressing her palms against the biggest cut on his leg.
They were secure in an alley, only a hundred yards or so from the building they were trying to get to, but Clint was losing blood and Scully had insisted they stop. She made Clint sit and despite his protests, he had found himself outmatched by both the redheads and sat down with his back against a dumpster. Scully ripped open his pant legs to reveal multiple wounds and one giant chunk of his flesh missing just below his right knee.
“There’s too much gravel in your wounds to pick it all out now,” Scully told him, as she removed the largest of the offending pieces.
“Just stop the bleeding so we can get out of here,” Clint grunted at her and even though he was trying to hide it, Neil could see the man was in pain.
“Langly!” she snapped again and the Lone Gunmen sighed and pulled his shirt off over his head.
“It’s not that I’m not grateful, you know,” Langly told Clint a little sheepishly, as he held out the shirt for Scully. “For saving my life and everything.”
“I get it,” Clint said, hissing again as Scully started tying the shirt around the open wound. “77, last time they toured the States, man,” and he looked up at Langly with the start of a smile, only it turned contorted as Scully pulled the shirt tight, like a tourniquet.
Clint screamed in pain.
“Get up,” Scully ordered, but then softened her demeanor and helped him stand. “Dammit, we lost too many good men today and we’re not losing anymore,” she said with venom.
Neil thought about Frohike and the SWAT members that were lost back at the SUVs, Adam who had fallen into the wall of fire to save Agent Scully, and the rest of the SWAT unit who were left behind with the firetruck, unable to get through the blaze, who were probably going to be incinerated by the alien ship at any moment.
She was right. They had lost too many today.
“Everybody here now, makes it out. Is that clear?” Scully was spitting it out and Neil found himself answering, “Yes, ma’am,” along with the rest of them, though most of the SWAT team looked sheepishly at Natasha after they did so.
“Well, you heard the lady,” Natasha told them, “Let’s move.” Then she reached into her boot and produced a gun, handing it off to Agent Scully. “I think this belongs to you,” she said.
Scully nodded her appreciation and moved out in front of the group. “I’ll cover the front, you take the rear?” she asked Natasha.
“Fine by me. As long as the doc gets flanked on all sides.”
Scully pointed her gun out in front of herself, took a deep breath and step out into the street.
That’s when they heard it. The whizzing sound of an engine, coming from behind.
Neil looked back to see the alien spaceship hovering over the pavement. It was headed their way.
“We gotta move,” Clint shouted and the SWAT team pulled into a circle around Neil.
“Go,” one of them said to him and then they were off, running across the street, the spacecraft zooming towards them.
Neil looked back to see Clint following them. He was limping and in obvious pain and Neil shoved at one of the SWAT men.
“Help him,” Neil said.
“You’re our asset,” the man told him. “Are we clear?”
“Yeah?” Neil bit at him. “Well, your asset is going back into the line of fire to help him, if you don’t. Is that clear enough?”
A woman came tearing out of a building then, back behind the alley they had just been in, screaming in Spanish for help. The alien ship, bright and shining silver in the afternoon light, vaporized her on sight.
“Keep moving,” the SWAT man ordered Neil and then turned, ran back to support Clint with one arm.
Natasha opened fire on the ship.
“That doesn’t work!” Langly shouted at her and tugged on her arm. “Just run!”
Natasha shot again and the bullets bounced off the metal of the spacecraft and broke a nearby window.
Neil was at the intended building then, next to Scully who was banging on the door. “It has a security lock!” she hollered back at them. “What’s the damn code?”
Clint was dragging his leg and even with help he hadn’t quite made it there, but he shouted back at them. “0, 5, 1, 9, 6, 3.”
Scully punched the number in and the door clicked, but refused to open. Neil put his shoulder into it, but it wouldn’t give.
Clint pushed his way through the team of men surrounding Neil and fell against the door.
“Barton, Clint. Codename, Hawkeye,” he said in to what appeared to be the door handle and then pressed one finger carefully against what appeared to be the glass window of the door.
The door made a mechanical whirring noise and then popped open.
“Go up!” Clint shouted and pushed Neil inside, towards a staircase.
Neil looked back to see Langly and Natasha running towards them at full speed.
“Down!” Natasha shouted suddenly and slammed into Langly, rolling them out of the way just as a blast from the spacecraft vaporized the pavement where they had just been.
“How’d you know that was going to happen?” Langly asked, as she pulled him to his feet and shoved him towards the door.
Neil was herded towards the stairs then and Clint was still yelling at them all, “Up! Go up! Top floor!” and Neil found himself up an entire flight of stairs before he registered he had even started climbing.
The ground beneath them shook with the first shot of the spacecraft into the building.
The door they had come through was instantly turned to dust by a blast of the alien gun. The whole building was shaking now and Neil paused in the fourth floor stairwell to look out.
The spacecraft was hovering just outside, tilted slightly towards the building, but it had ceased fire. Yet the building still felt like it was suffering the aftershocks of an earthquake.
Neil grabbed Langly as the blonde brought up the rear of their traveling group. Langly had dried bits of blood on his bare chest where the pavement had torn at him when Natasha had thrown them out of the way of that blast.
“They’re not shooting,” Neil told him and gestured out the window. “And yet, the building is still shaking.”
“Magnetics?” Langly suggested. “We know the material the ship is made out of is affected by magnets. Maybe they are putting out a force of some kind.”
“Maybe,” Neil said. “It seems like all the metal objects in the building would be flying out the window though, if that were the case.”
“It almost seems like the way the moon affects the tide,” Langly said, just as Natasha came back down the stairs and grabbed Neil by the arm.
“Get away from the windows,” she hissed at them. “And Dr. Tyson, what part of ‘stay flanked’ did you not understand?”
“The part where my life is more valuable than everyone else’s,” he told her, but moved up the stairs anyway, Langly following him.
They filed in to the top floor, one after the other, with Scully at the lead, gun ready.
“Down the hall, last door by the roof exit,” Clint told her.
The hallway was eerily dark, the fluorescent lights of a typical office building turned off and the expected buzz and whir of a workday missing from the offices they passed.
They reached the last door in the hallway and Scully cocked her gun.
“It’s open,” she said. “Everybody on alert.”
Neil tried to peer around her, but one of the SWAT men pushed him back. He still managed to catch a glimpse of the bold lettering etched on the door’s nameplate.
S. Lee - Attorney At Law.
Neil wasn’t even remotely stupid enough to think that two people like Natasha and Clint worked for a lawyer, no matter how shady the lawyer’s associations may be.
Scully pushed the door open with her foot. It creaked as it swung and she rounded the corner, SWAT men following her in quick succession.
Langly was shoved up next to Neil and he looked behind himself to see Natasha standing there, covering their rear.
“Protecting my assets,” she told Neil and for a moment he thought she might be about to smile at him.
They were just outside the office now and Neil could see clearly into the room. There was a simple desk with a computer, lamp and few stacks of papers. Along one wall there were two bookcases lined with books and on the other wall was a giant painting of the New York skyline. Other than that, the office was empty.
“Nat,” Clint said and Neil looked at the man for the first time since the alley. He looked paler now than he had then. “Get the items in the safe.”
“Clint,” she said and her voice sounded soft almost.
“Just…” but Clint stopped and instead shook his head. “Just do it. We have to move.”
Suddenly there was a small squeaking noise and both Scully and Natasha pulled their weapons and pointed them at the desk. It was the only place they hadn’t checked.
“Someone’s under there,” Scully whispered and cocked her gun.
“Wait!” Clint yelled at her and pushed her weapon away. “Don’t!”
A woman’s head appeared around the corner of the desk then. “Hello?” she said.
“Darcy,” Clint answered her and took one unsteady step towards her. “Shit, Darcy.”
“Clint!” the woman shouted and then she came tearing out from behind her shelter and running towards him at full tilt.
“Steady, steady!” Natasha shouted at her.
The woman, Darcy, slowed her steps and Neil could see she was young; early to mid twenties, with long dark hair and glasses.
“What happened?” the girl asked, looking from Clint to Natasha and back again.
“Business as usual,” Clint told her dryly, but his eyes never left her face. “You scared the shit out of me,” he said and grabbed her by the shoulder, half steadying himself and half pulling her against him.
She went willingly against his side.
“You scared the shit out of me,” she told him. “I’d hit you, but I think you’d fall over.”
Clint laughed and pulled back, one hand coming up to cup her cheek. “Hey, what did I tell you?”
“That Coulson doesn’t pay me enough to let me die in the office,” she said and Clint just cocked his head at her. Darcy blushed and added, “That I’d never get left behind.”
“When you’re in this shit, you’re in it all the way,” he told her. “Besides, I know at least one surfer-god who’d literally kill me if I didn’t bring you in with us.”
“Dude,” Langly whispered, up against Neil’s side in the doorway, “The package he had to pick up was a chick.”
“I think you just effectively ruined the moment,” Neil told him, but he had to smile nonetheless. They had finally saved someone.
Natasha cleared her throat rather loudly then and when Darcy looked over, she simply said, “Ms. Lewis. It’s nice to see you made it. Would you mind emptying the safe, please?” Natasha let her gaze fall on the office’s one lone window before adding, “I believe it’s time to go.”
Part Four can be found here.