Chapter Eleven: Quo Vadis
Xander said nothing, idly scratching Yong’s head as the people around him argued. The dog was apathetic to the situation and concentrated on enjoying the head scratching that he was getting rather than anything else. That and his next meal.
“I really don’t see what this has to do with me,” Xander cut in, the others breaking off their conversation and turning to face him. He leaned back on the couch, idly wondering why they had all elected to meet in the warehouse over the library or Giles’ apartment.
Giles turned to face him directly from his seat at the table, taking off his eyeglasses. “Amy wanted to wait until you returned before dealing with this situation.”
Xander returned the look, more an equal than a subordinate now. While he still hadn’t told them everything that had happened, it was evident that he had changed. Maybe more so than he had when he first received the power of the Iron Fist. If anything, he had worked through some of his anger issues. “Maybe Amy should be here then.”
“I’m concerned with her progress,” Giles continued. He had intentionally set up the meeting so that only the Watchers, Jenny, and Xander were there. He had not wanted the Slayers or potentials to cloud the issue. He hadn’t necessarily wanted Xander there either, but the boy had a significant influence over the developing witch.
“I’ve taught her discipline as much as anything,” Jenny said, slightly affronted at the criticism of her teaching method. “If she chose to keep the artifact until we returned then I believe that she had a good reason.”
Xander glanced over at her and nodded in agreement. “Amy talked to me about it. She researched it, set up the Living Fire-“
“Flame,” Jenny broke in, correcting him.
He smiled back at her. Leaning forward from the couch towards the table that the others were sitting around, he spoke, “Living Flame. And, she said that she told you that she’d be more careful. And less…independent. So, what’s this really about?”
“Alright.” Giles nodded, knowing that things had finally come to a head. It had not missed him that Xander tended to agree with the technopagan’s opinions. Whatever their influence on Amy was, it was clearly unified. “The Watchers’ Council has much more experience in these types of matters than you, Xander. And even you, Jenny. And I do not appreciate your interference in this. The protection of the Hellmouth and the world is the Slayer’s responsibility. Not yours.”
“That’s going a little far,” Nancy interjected, not liking how things were going. “We appreciate your help, Xander. But, Giles does have a point. The Council, despite your feelings, has much more experience in these matters. I don’t know all the details, but I think that the Council should have been consulted to a greater degree on this.”
“You should convince her to bring the Casket of Ancient Winters to us,” Diana said, frowning. She didn’t like where things were going either. While she tolerated Faith’s independent streak to a degree, she had been instilling a sense of duty and responsibility in the young girl. Even if it was taking longer than she would have liked. “It is the Council’s duty, and so it should remain.”
Xander nodded, knowing that Giles and the other Watchers did have something of a point. He didn’t like that Amy had dumped it all on Jenny and him, but knew that she didn’t have that much of a choice. For both reasons they had had to leave for a while, and though unfair, it had been necessary. Sometimes he had to remind himself that he, and the rest, were still so young. Then again, he had just helped overthrow a government, and set up a new one. “I’ll talk to her. But, you have to understand, I don’t know the Council. And as much as I respect you all, little of that has to do with your position as Watchers in the Council.”
He shifted to look Diana in the eyes. “And, while you don’t know everything that’s happened, know this. I’ve killed for this place. I’ve bled for this place. Without me…this is all of our fights. But, I’ll talk to her.”
Shaking his head, Xander found it hard to believe that things had come to this. While he knew that they had all changed beyond what they had started as, he wondered whether it was a change for better or worse. Making a decision, he looked over at Giles and nodded to himself in finality. “This isn’t working. You want to tell the Council the whole truth, that’s fine. ‘Bout me, I mean. But, the Council, isn’t in charge of me. And it isn’t in charge of Amy either I imagine.”
“British covens do not have authority over American practitioners,” Jenny inserted. While she hadn’t the power to be of concern under such systems, she knew that the Council had, in the past, taken it upon themselves to take actions against magic users that they deemed dangerous. Of course, as far as she knew, it was only in Europe that that had happened to any significant degree. And while mostly justified, she had always thought them to be a little heavy-handed in their carrying out of justice. “Amy is my student, and her instruction remains my responsibility. I’ll talk to her as well, but if I think her explanation is valid, then the Casket stays with us.”
Xander glanced at her, before turning back to the Watchers. “We don’t work for you, but that doesn’t mean we won’t work with you.”
He had to take a step back, in order to stay standing from Willow’s near leap and hug. Xander had to smile; some things didn’t change. “Good to see you too, Will.”
Buffy hugged him as well, before he sat down on the couch in Buffy’s living room.
“You have to tell us everything,” Buffy said, happy that her friend had come back.
Xander looked at the new guy that was also there. He recognized him as Scott Hope, one of their classmates, and according to Amy, Buffy’s new boyfriend. Evidently, he knew most everything of importance. It was like he had been replaced as the normal guy in the group. Although, he wasn’t really sad about having to give up the position. As much as he had lost, he’d gained quite a bit more. “You know most of it. In my postcards and letters. New York was crazy though. Fought a ninja. Well, kinda. That was pretty cool. After.”
“Really?” Willow said surprised. Which then turned to disapproval as her mind worked quickly. “I thought you were going to try to keep yourself out of trouble.”
Xander shrugged sheepishly. “I tried. It’s not my fault that these things keep following me around. Besides, New York City is a dangerous place. Crime-ridden as they say. I’m sure ninja attacks are more common than you think.”
Kendra just stared at him, not knowing what to say. She had worked through her feelings to some extent, through long talks with Buffy and Willow, and while she still had some feelings towards the boy, she believed that her inability to vocalize them was mainly due to her inexperience with such matters. Buffy had suggested that she still pursue him, but she knew that she had to take it slow.
“Okay,” Xander said, playing off her stare and interpreting it as the Slayer not believing him. “The Master Vampire in Boston was my fault. Well, his fault for making me come after him. And I met this awesome guy, immortal or something, and he had a comic book named after him. That was cool. Overthrew a empire, and Vi got a dog. His name is Yong. He likes dumplings. And…I think that’s pretty much it.”
It really wasn’t, but the other stuff they didn’t need to know about completely. They could get the rest form the Watchers or Vi or Faith.
“And the man who killed Orson,” Kendra asked quietly, remembering the reason that Xander had left in the first place.
He looked over at her and smiled encouragingly. “He’s been dealt with.”
“So you-“ Willow broke off, looking around at the increasingly crowded coffee shop.
Xander shook his head. “He’s been dealt with; we can leave it at that. Now, c’mon tell me about what’s been going on with you guys. I heard you all had your share of action.”
Buffy smiled. “Well, there were these guys that tried to rob my Mom’s art gallery. We got to beat up on Willy, and you know that’s always fun.”
Xander listened, glad to be home.
“I already said that I wouldn’t do it again,” Amy said, a little exasperated at being lectured again. While she could admit that she had been a little impetuous, she didn’t think that it merited the chewing out that she was getting. Giles’ words had been sermon enough.
“I understand,” Jenny said, attempting to calm the young girl down. At least she had had the experience of teaching; she still couldn’t fully understand how Giles had the patience to have to deal with Buffy on a continuous basis. “And I know that your intentions were noble. But, you should have involved Giles and the others more.”
“But, you said that the Council couldn’t be trusted,” Amy pointed out.
Jenny sighed, knowing that she was partly at fault. And that the stance on the Council was much more concrete than it should have been. “I know that. But, Giles is here, and we can trust him. And Nancy. And the Council still has noble goals. It’s their methods that we worry about, not what they would have planned on doing with the Casket.”
Amy crossed her arms over her chest and slumped on the couch.
“I think you did the right thing,” Jenny said, not wanting her apprentice to get discouraged. She was thinking for herself, and that was never a bad idea. “But, I don’t think you did it in the right way.”
“So what about the Casket?” Amy asked, calming herself down. She still didn’t think she was wrong, but she had to admit that her teacher was right that she could have gone about it in a better way. If there was anything that Ms. Calendar had taught her, it was that magic needed to be respected. “Xander said that we should hold onto it for now.”
“Yes,” Ms. Calendar stated. “I want to take a look at it, but it would likely be better to destroy it here. We’ll see about getting the Council involved if we need to.”
She yawned unexpectedly, the amount of travel she had done still catching up to her. “We’ll meet up with the others later this afternoon to discuss it. Where are you keeping it?”
“Tony, meet Clint Barton,” Director Fury said, waving a hand towards the newest member of the Avengers. As expected, Clint hadn’t needed long to sign up. And while there still were tests to be run, and injuries to be healed, it wasn’t too early to start letting the men get to know each other.
Besides, they might have to get used to it. While the surveillance was still ongoing, and a fuller background check was underway, Thorlief seemed liked a lock for the fourth member of the team. He still wasn’t sure if that was a good thing yet. Phil was being his usual diligent self.
“Pleasure,” Tony said, standing and shaking hands with the younger man. He looked fit enough, and while he had been briefed on Clint’s ability, he wasn’t sure how useful it would be.
“Yeah,” Clint replied, taking one of the seats in front of Nick’s desk as Tony did. “So, where’s the other guy?”
“Bruce? He’s in the lab. Working, like usual,” Tony explained, shrugging. “Boy needs to live a little. Have a little fun.”
“Isn’t that what causes…you know?” Clint asked, somewhat confused. He had been fully briefed on SHIELD and the threats they faced, but it was still hard to take in. And understand.
“Yeah,” Fury said, glaring at Tony. “He’s got it mostly under control, but we aren’t taking any chances. We don’t want another incident.”
“So, you’re the newest member of the team,” Tony said, still smiling. He knew that the team would eventually get bigger, after all he had been the one to recruit Bruce into the organization.
“More than that,” Nick inserted, wondering exactly how Tony would react. His psych files, while exhaustive, weren’t precognitive. “He’s the team leader.”
“What?” Tony asked, looking over at the SHIELD director. He smiled the one he did when trying to convince people, mainly women. “I thought we had an understanding. I mean we already have Coulson watching over us.”
“Agent Coulson performs oversight during your missions. I need a field commander,” Director Fury explained. “You’re not it.”
“We do fine by ourselves,” Tony said, trying to convince him. While he put up with having government say in what he did with the Iron Man armor, he was less sure about having military have direct control over operations, even if it was just in the field.
Nick shook his head. “Not your decision to make, Clint’s got experience. Once he’s up to speed, he’ll be in charge.”
“Him,” Tony said, pointing at the man who was now glaring at him.
Clint just shook his head, trying to dial back his anger. “Better me than someone who makes rash decisions?”
“Excuse me?” Tony shot back, raising his eyebrows.
“You’re the one that breaches military contracts right when we’re conducting ops that you helped cause,” Clint pointed out. “We don’t all have suits of armor that, oh yeah, you decide not to manufacture for our military use.”
“We went down that road once before,” Tony replied, turning serious. It was still a sore subject for him. “It’s better this way.”
“Moving on,” Director Fury said, not wanting to prolong the conflict. They’d have to sort through it on their own. Preferably before they had to go out into the field. “We’re still working on equipment for Clint. Precision rifle, lightweight battle armor. That sort of thing.”
“What’s his code name going be?” Tony asked, somewhat interested. Neither he nor Bruce had been able to choose theirs, but he had to admit, they weren’t bad. Being named after a Black Sabbath song wasn’t exactly the worst thing in the world.
“Hawkeye,” Fury said simply.
Tony smirked, turning in his chair to look at the marine. “Hawkeye? Surgery your secondary specialty is it?”
“Hey, it was a nickname from my guys,” Clint said, glaring at the man.
“I have work to do,” Fury said, waving a hand to dismiss the two men. They got up to leave, still somewhat wary of each other. Though it was more on Clint’s side than anywhere else. Tony had taken to the whole superhero thing, but he was still the same old Tony who just had to admit in public that he was Iron Man. Of course, he had wanted that to some degree. A rule breaker. Someone who wouldn’t always do as told, and did the right thing. “Tony, take him to the sub-basement. Show him the labs. Give him a tour of the facility.”
“Right, boss,” Tony said, flippantly tossing Nick a salute.
“They’re the Slayers?” Faith said, plopping herself down on the couch. She leaned backed, tilting her head forward to watch Xander as he tinkered with the car.
“Yeah,” Xander replied, emptying a quart of motor oil into the port on the SUV’s engine. He screwed the cap back on after he had finished, closing the hood of the vehicle and placing the empty plastic bottle on it.
“They’re, interesting,” the potential said, more diplomatically than usual. “Is Kendra always that stiff? I mean, man, I knew that not all the Watchers were the same, but how big a stick is up her ass?”
Xander laughed once and shook her head. “She’s dealing, but you have to cut her some slack. Not everyone gets the best Watcher out there.”
“I suppose.” Faith had to give him that. “Giles isn’t so bad. Especially if he has to put up with Buffy.”
“How’s the motel?” Xander said, ignoring the slight towards Buffy. The two, with their rather alpha dispositions, had some friction that would have to work itself out. Walking over to the sink near the couch, Xander disposed of the empty can of oil and washed up. He dried his hands on a towel and turned to face her.
Faith scowled. “Small and dirty. I’ve had worse, but c’mon, there wasn’t a better place?”
“It’ll only be for a little while,” Xander assured her. “Lilah’s looking for a place for you guys. According to her, there’s not exactly the highest demand, so finding something shouldn’t be so hard.”
“Yeah, how come we couldn’t stay here?” Faith asked, sitting up straighter.
Xander walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a couple of sodas, tossing one to the potential before popping the top on his. He moved over to the table and sat down in one of its chairs. “Not enough beds. Motels don’t usually take dogs.”
“Right,” Faith said, scowling as she turned to glare at the large dog that was currently sleeping on the walkway of the second floor. She turned away as he kicked a couple of times in his sleep, probably chasing dream rabbits or something.
“Where do you want to go?” Xander asked, sipping from his can of coke. “I mean, are you guys planning on staying here? Not exactly the safest place to be.”
Strategically, something that Orson had tried to instill in him, he knew that it wasn’t something that should be expanded very much. Not putting all of one’s eggs in the same basket made sense in cases such as this.
“Vi’s staying,” Faith stated, and then shrugged. “Diana’s talked to the Council. They want us to stay here for the time being.”
Xander didn’t know exactly how to take that. “Seems a little quick.”
“Well, we can’t exactly go back to Boston, now can we?” Faith retorted, annoyed that she couldn’t go home. Not for a long time anyway. There was sure to be some type of investigation into the attack on their apartment. At least she had been able to call Sensei Kanno and tell him that she was alright. “Sunnydale.”
“Don’t knock it,” Xander shot back lightly. “It’s home. And, it’s got its fair share of action. If that’s what you’re wondering about.”
“Like the Bronze?” Faith asked. She had snuck out the first night they had stayed in Sunnydale. There was nothing there that really compared to the stuff back home. Despite how responsible she had gotten, she still had a wild streak in her. One that didn’t look like she could indulge in, in such a small town.
“Not that far from LA, if you’re into that sort of thing.” Xander could tell that she would be a handful. And, she was right. Sunnydale was a small place, and Faith would get a great deal of attention. Especially amongst the guys at school. Which did his attempt to stay publicity adjacent no favors.
Faith had to admit that he was right. Of course, she didn’t think that Diana would let her go, and Xander was unlikely to let her borrow his car. Hitchhiking would just be stupid. “Why are you even here anymore? I know that you have a lot of money, right?”
“Yeah, but this place needs looking after. I’m not just going to desert my friends.” Xander wondered, not for the first time, what exactly happened to turn Faith so impulsive. Still she had made some effort to integrate herself into the group. And while Faith still liked to push Vi’s buttons, it was done in a much friendlier way now. “Besides, Jenny likes teaching here. Despite the principal.”
Faith just scoffed at that. She dreaded the coming school year, which Diana had already enrolled her in. And the others’ stories about schools didn’t make it any better.
Xander fidgeted, wishing that they could have been doing it somewhere else. While he wasn’t living there anymore, having to keep up the pretense of having to live with his parents, it was still important to him. Besides, Nancy and Vi were staying there. He just hoped that the spell would work.
They had talked about it during the afternoon. Ultimately, after some discussion, it had been determined that the best move would be to destroy the Casket. Although it was being done under strict supervision. With minimal people around in case things went wrong. Not to mention spending a few more days making sure that things would work as they thought it would.
“Exorere, Flamma Vitae. Prodi ex loco tuo elementorum, in hunc mundum vivorum,” Amy intoned, tossing some of the pre-mixed sand that she created into a large stone urn. Inside it a fire burned, flaring up as the mixture was ignited. It had taken on an odd greenish tint as the sand mystically combined with the flames. “Exorere, Flamma Vitae. Prodi ex loco tuo elementorum, in hunc mundum vivorum.”
The witch tossed in a handful of the red sand mixture, the fire flaring up in a bright reddish tint. She turned around, looking at her teacher.
“Good job,” Jenny said, smiling in appreciation of her apprentice’s good work; her teaching credential again coming in handy in more situations than she would have thought. “That should do it.”
Xander walked forward, carrying the Casket in his hands. He looked over his shoulder at the others in the room. “Giles, you guys better get back. Just in case this doesn’t go so well.”
“Just make sure that you drop it in, and don’t let the fire get too close,” Jenny cautioned, as she started to move back. “We don’t know what will happen if your chi and the ritual get to close. There could be an interaction. A bad one.”
“Yeah.” Xander channeled his energy into his arms, encasing them in a protective glow. He made sure that the others had moved back far enough, Yong watching with subdued interest from up above. “Wouldn’t want that to happen.”
He scrunched up his face, pre-flinching as he dropped the Casket of Ancient Winters into the fire, dropping back and down as a great gout of flame flared upward, mushrooming out in a flash of green and red light. Oddly enough, it felt cold, the Casket letting off its power as it was consumed by the flame.
“Yeah,” Xander said, staring up at the ceiling of the warehouse. He saw that there was now a burnt smudge above where they had set the urn. He stayed there, looking up as the others crowded around him. It was going to be a bitch to clean. “I love my job.”
“Are you hurt?” Jenny inquired, taking him by the arm and pulling him up. The silver ring around her neck slipped out as she bent down.
Xander stood up, keeping hold of her arm a little longer than needed. “I’m fine. Just, I’m going to need to get a couple of air fresheners in here.”
“Did something go wrong?” Amy asked, sure that she did the spell right. She had checked, rechecked, and triple-checked to make sure that she had done it correctly.
“No,” Giles stated authoritatively. He had checked as well. “The spell performed as expected. Sometimes magic can be less than exact. We don’t always know the way that differing magicks will interact.”
It was why experience was so important. Books and instructions only helped for so much, the rest had to be felt out based on prior experience.
“You know?” Xander said, looking up at the ceiling again before gazing down towards the others. “We should have used a crane or something. A remote control. That would have been better.”
Jenny just stared at him. Leave it to Xander to find a safer way, after he had just done it more dangerously. She was just glad it had worked out okay. “Well, we’ll keep that in mind for the next time. Still, good job.”
Amy was just glad that things had worked out. It was one thing for her to mess around with magic on her own, or in the controlled environment of her practice under Ms. Calendar. It was another when someone relied on her to perform exact rituals correctly the first time.
She smiled at her teacher in appreciation, glad that she had done it right. It probably wouldn’t have happened if she had been learning only on her own.
“He’s cute,” a voice said, Nick looking up to see a beautiful redheaded woman take a seat in front of him. She spoke in a light Russian accent, a playful smile on her face.
“Do I even want to know how you got in here?” Nick said, unsurprised that the woman had somehow breached security and entered into his office undetected. She had always been playfully rebellious. He was just glad that she was on their side. Or at least, had taken a liking to that country of his.
Even now Russo-American relations weren’t exactly the strongest. And defectors of any stripe were pretty much never trusted. That was the official government stance at any rate. They’d both had to sacrifice for each other to get to where they were, and such things tended to create a level of trust not easily destroyed.
He stubbed out the cigar he had been smoking in the ashtray that lay on his desk. “A little early aren’t you, Natalia? I thought you wanted to be a little more discreet?”
“It’s more fun this way, Nick,” the Soviet defector said, crossing her long legs. She had a mischievous glint in her green eyes. “New member of your little team?”
“Yeah,” Nick said, not bothering to ask how she knew about the team that was being put together. Natasha Romanov had a way of acquiring top secret information. Something that was often of use for him, but annoying when it was dropped like trivia. He had long stopped trying to find the security breaches. “A little young for you though I imagine.”
“Oh, that just means he’d have more stamina,” Natalia said jokingly, leaning in closer. “But, tell me, what is this job you want me on?”
Nick opened up a desk drawer and pulled out a file folder, sliding it across his desk towards the mercenary. He closed the drawer as she picked it up and flipped it open. “We’ve been picking up reports of superhuman power usage. My sources haven’t been able to track down the origin as of yet, but we have some leads. Theories.”
“And you want me to succeed where Agent Coulson has failed,” Natasha said, reading the file quickly. It was scant with exact information, but had good tracking data on times and locations for where the mysterious target had appeared.
“Our working theory is that he’s from California. Los Angeles is our guess on place. Large population and good transportation options. Somebody new or different would be able to blend in. Disappear. It’s LA. Everyone comes here.” Nick knew that it wasn’t all that much to go on, but it was all they had. And they couldn’t keep throwing resources at the same exact problem. His bosses would want answers that he couldn’t provide if he went through official channels. “Usual fee?”
Natalia pursed her lips, thinking about the young man that had caught her eye in the hallway leading toward Fury’s office. “Yes, but also tell me the name of your new soldier.”
“Marine,” Fury corrected. It wasn’t standard operating procedure, but sometimes one had to give to get. “You’re just playing coy, and I know that you and your photographic memory can pull it up sooner or later. Barton, Clinton. Sergeant, Force Recon. I’ll have to warn him about you.”
Natalia chuckled throatily, leaning back in her chair. “What’s his power? Genetic enhancements? Super soldier?”
“You know I can’t tell you that,” Nick said, chiding her lightly. He knew that she wouldn’t sell any of the information that she knew. Of course, she was complicated and trust only ran so deep. Her complete history was still partly a mystery to him, despite the fact that they had met and ended up working together during Vietnam. It was said that she was descended from the Romanov royal family and even related to Nicholas II. He had never been able to confirm how much of that was true, and she always played coy when he asked. “And, we would rather have the identity of said person sooner rather than later.”
“I’ll get right on it, Director.” Natalia got up and walked out of the room, holding the file folder.
Nick just watched her leave, shaking his head. Odd that he placed more trust in an ex-Soviet spy than he did his superiors in his own country.
“What’s happening to us?” Xander asked, looking out the window. It was dark already, and he knew that the Slayers and Amy were already on patrol, the potential probably with them. Things were still light, and he knew that they wouldn’t have much trouble. With magical backup, there was always an exit strategy if things got too hairy. It would have been helpful earlier on. Live and learn.
“What do you mean?” Giles asked, watching as the young man turned around and walked over to the couch, taking a seat.
“You gave me Faith’s address for a reason.” Xander leaned back, looking the Watcher in the eye. Despite the issues that had come up in the last week or so, at least to him, he still had to think that Giles had some sympathy towards his point of view. “You have your own issues about the Council. Same as us.”
“How much can I say in front of Diana?” Giles asked, taking a seat on the club chair that cornered the couch. “I have a feeling that you have your own concerns about her as well.”
“Yeah.” Xander smiled, caught. “I can do things you can’t. I can consider things that you can’t. Won’t. I’m thinking that you don’t think that’s such a bad thing to have in your pocket.”
Giles sighed, Xander’s perception could be remarkably on target. Annoyingly so much of the time, though it had, on occasion, proved useful. “I can’t say that everything that you’ve said is without merit. I do think you overstate the case, but I am forced to admit that you may have a point. I don’t have as much contact with the Council as I did, being assigned here in Sunnydale. And the majority of my close contacts in the Council are research personnel. Not so much in the leadership division amongst the Watchers.”
“So you don’t know that much about Diana,” Xander stated.
Giles nodded slowly. “If she’s been given a potential to train, I imagine that she is qualified.”
“But, we know that qualified isn’t always the most important thing,” Xander responded. His interactions with Diana led him to believe fully that she looked after her charge well. Faith’s best interests were always forefront in the woman’s mind. Of course, the best ways to look out for those interests weren’t necessarily what he would think would be best.
The Watcher nodded again. “Indeed.”
“You’re my friend, or librarian, whatever’s closest,” Xander said, knowing that he’d start having to make deals one way or another. Better to get on it early and be able to pick a side. “I really don’t care what you guys do. And, the potentials need training. I mean, if something were to happen, then it’s best that the next one in line have the biggest head start possible.”
“What are you saying?” the Watcher asked, not exactly understanding the thought process that Xander was going with. The boy could be singularly focused, obsessed even, but also erratic, jumping from thought to thought.
“I don’t mind how you run your little Rotary Club,” Xander continued. “Ms. Calendar’s main concern is the girls. So, my main concern is the girls. Make sure they’re treated right, and we don’t have a problem. I don’t want to have to go on any more field trips to check up on the situation. I will if I have to though. And, I might not be so covert in the future.”
“And Amy?” Giles asked.
Xander shrugged. “I’ve talked to her. She’ll be more of a team player. As will I, as much as I can. But, uh, we’re closer to things. And, I’ll take their advice on how to handle magical incidents. I mean, they’re here supporting us. And, the Watchers’ Council, no offense to your skills, hasn’t seen fit to bring someone into this to help. You’re already having Amy go out on patrol, right? I can’t believe that you’d have her out there if you didn’t think that she was ready for it.”
“You have a point,” Giles admitted. He furrowed his eyebrows, though he was glad that Xander was being less stubborn. There were other concerns that had him worried. “Diana’s been rather truthful in her reports back to the Council. I’ve managed to read some of what she’s written. Now that you’re back here, I’m sure that the Council will hear of your unique status.”
“Which means?” Xander asked, though he knew that it could be nothing good.
Giles looked at him carefully. “Her reports do not match my reports. She knows that you’ve helped the Slayers in the past, and the Council will undoubtedly have questions about why my reports have only tangentially referred to your presence here.”
“Did you say anything about my abilities?” Xander asked, honestly wondering what Giles had wrote in his reports back to his superiors.
“I had to put something down,” Giles admitted. “I said that you retained some experience from the spell that was cast over Halloween. I said that you retained some martial arts skill that was now being employed in our common struggle.”
“Just that?” Xander asked, somewhat surprised that it had been as restrained as it had been.
Giles nodded. “Contradictions will arise. Sooner rather than later I imagine.”
“What do you think they’re going to do?” Xander asked, wondering if the other should be included in the conversation. Whatever differences of opinion he had with the man, he didn’t doubt that Giles had had Buffy’s best interests in mind.
“I’m allowed a little discretion, but not that much. I imagine that if they don’t replace me outright, that they’ll bring in another Watcher.” Giles didn’t know which field Watcher was next in line for a Slayer, but he knew that if one was chosen, that he would likely be chosen for being compliant to the Council’s wishes as opposed to overall skill. “I managed to keep the situation with the Casket under wraps. As far as they’re concerned, I felt that it needed to be analyzed and potentially destroyed here and that it was too dangerous to transport.”
“And me?” Xander asked.
The Watcher shook his head. “I don’t know. They’re going to want to investigate. I imagine that someone will be sent here to examine the situation. And, I don’t know if they’re going to inform me about it either. It would have been helpful if you had filled me in at the start.”
It wasn’t something that Xander wanted to hear. While he hadn’t shied away from using his abilities in the town, nor had he done so under the gaze of the Watchers, it didn’t mean that he wanted to fully come out with what he could do. As the ambush on Orson and himself showed, there was danger in too much exposure. He wasn’t simply someone with power, and like the Slayer, his station gave him a reputation that was feared and respected.
“It’s a little too late for that. What do you suggest we do?” Xander inquired. “I don’t imagine they’ll be that happy that I have an ex-Wolfram and Hart lawyer on retainer.”
Giles shook his head; he did not have the answers this time. While he had the respect and support of the Council, he would not have been placed in charge of two Slayers otherwise, he did not know how long it would last once the uncomfortable questions that he couldn’t answer came into light. “Say as little as possible. With a little luck, they’ll be content with the help and allow me to stay in my current position.”
Xander smiled, scoffing at that thought. “Right. I’m sure that’ll happen.”
“We have little other choice,” Giles replied, knowing that he had himself to blame as much as Xander. “Despite what questionable decisions they may make at times, we all still have the same goals.”
“Okay. I’ll accept that.” Xander knew that he had little other choice. That they had little other choice. “We’ll play it your way. For now.”
Nodding, Xander stood up and headed towards the door. He looked back over his shoulder as he turned the doorknob. “Oh, and it’s good seeing you again, Giles.”
“So it seems that you are right, Lydia,” Quentin Travers said, taking a seat at the front of the conference table. The smooth wooden table was long, with ten Watchers seated, five on each side. He was looking at the young researcher that had first brought to light questions about how Sunnydale was being handled.
The head Watcher turned to face the other Watchers that were seated at the table. They were drawn from the different divisions, some from field operations, some from research, others from support. All could potentially be needed to right what had gone wrong. “The situation on the Hellmouth has become untenable. I do not know exactly what Rupert thinks he is doing, but we need to find out now. Two Slayers and two potentials have relocated to Sunnydale, and I believe that it is still the right thing to do. However, new leadership on the Hellmouth may be in order.”
“What are you proposing, Quentin?” one of the Watchers said from the left side of the table. He was there as a representative of one of the support divisions. Thoroughly knowledgeable in the magic and arcane fields, he was one of the more savvy members at the table.
“We need to reexamine the current Watcher situation in Sunnydale, Roger.” Quentin turned to face one of the most respected members of the Council. Like the Giles family, the Council ran through the other Watcher’s bloodline. Roger had a son in the Watchers’ Council, a few years removed from the Academy. He didn’t quite remember the boy’s specialty however. “To that end, I propose a cross-functional team be sent to Sunnydale to perform a full inspection and evaluation of matters there. The chief goals of which are to determine exactly what the true capabilities of the resident demon hunter that we know has been less than accurately described and whether Rupert needs to be replaced.”
“Whom do you suggest, Quentin?” Roger asked, wondering if he would be able to position his son as a candidate for one of the spots. Wesley’s weaknesses in the more technical aspects of Watcherdom meant that only a placement as a field Watcher would allow him to reach a prominent position in the Council.
“Well, that is the question.” Quentin scanned the faces that were all looking at him. “Lydia will be heading the contingent, but I will need you all to submit candidates that are capable of such an assignment and will be free from other duties and responsibilities for an extended length of time. Please have the names ready before the end of today.”
The head Watcher saw that they all understood the importance of the task that was at hand. “That will be all. Thank you.”
“How’d it go?” Vi asked, looking up as Xander walked into the warehouse. She was sitting on the floor, back against the base of the couch. She had gone out with the Slayers again the night before, having had the chance to kill more vampires. Faith had been there as well, so she had been able to gauge her fighting ability. She liked to think that Xander had trained her enough to surpass the other potential’s skill.
“Well enough,” Xander said, walking over and taking a seat by the center table. He watched as Vi bent down to rub her dog’s furry belly. He had to smile to himself; she really did love that dog. And Yong seemed to really love her, or just loved getting his belly rubbed. “He’s Giles after all. He’s gotten too close to Buffy in any case. It’s not about the Slayer anymore. It’s Buffy the vampire Slayer now.”
“Good,” Vi said, slipping up and sitting on the couch. Yong had gone out with them the night before, revealing that he was able to sniff out supernatural presences that got by even the Slayers’ enhanced senses. “So, we found a place to live.”
“Yeah,” Xander said, nodding. “Nancy told me about it. Two bedroom apartment. Lilah found it, that’s where Faith and her Watcher are going to be living too. Neighbors.”
“Right, fun,” Vi said, not at all convincingly.
“Well, they take dogs.” Xander smiled broadly. “Complex should have enough space for him to run around. And, there’s a park nearby.”
“Nancy wants me to go to public school.” Vi stood up and walked over to the table, taking a seat. Yong turned over, and lay on the ground, eyes closed. “When school starts again.”
“No more homeschooling. Is that what you want to do?” Xander asked. He could tell that Vi was somewhat apprehensive, although he knew that she would be able to handle it.
“I guess,” Vi said, wavering. She’d never done the whole public school thing after all. “I’d get to hang out with you guys more. So that’s cool.”
Xander shrugged. Barring Kendra, all of the Slayers and potentials would be going to Sunnydale High. Principal Snyder would have the most fun year of his career yet.
“Do you remember what you said? Before you went to fight that last time.” Vi looked at him seriously. It had been something that had been stewing in her head for some time, but the time to talk about it had never seemed right. “About wishing you had been a better teacher?”
Xander nodded. “Yeah, I remember.”
“You were wrong. You’re a great teacher.” Vi said confidently. She knew that as much as Xander had changed since she first met him, she had changed even more. “I wouldn’t be where I am without you. Thanks.”
He smiled at her, not knowing what to say.
“You wanted to see me?” Lilah said, looking up as Xander took a seat across the desk from her. It had taken a little time to set up, but she had converted one of the bedrooms in her apartment into a home office. A number of law books and historical texts filled the bookshelves that lined one of the walls of the room.
More than most lawyers, an attorney in her domain needed to know human as well as demonic law. Not to mention regulations that crossed dimensions.
Xander looked at her, noticing that she seemed more at home at that desk than he had ever seen her. “I wanted to see how you were doing. Make sure you were settling in alright.”
“I’m fine,” Lilah replied simply, keeping her face blank. She hadn’t had that much time to speak with her client/employer. Unlike the other members, she was not going to integrate herself into the group and join their little meetings. She had a specific function there, and she intended to do it to her full capability. Which didn’t mean she had to be friends with his friends.
“Right, I’m sure you are.” Xander knew that she had practiced that icy exterior quite a bit over the years. Undoubtedly it was of help when she was facing down prosecutors and DA’s in the courtroom. Probably helped explain her remarkably high acquittal rate, even taking into account magical shenanigans. Jenny had done the research, and Lilah knew here stuff. “The old company not bothering you? Because if you’re going to be working for me, I kinda don’t want to have you have to worry about them coming after you. Helps your focus.”
“No, I haven’t heard from them since I’ve been back. They know that you won’t bother them if they don’t bother you.” Lilah knew that Xander, despite his explanation, was also asking because he cared. She wasn’t sure if that was going to continue to be a big flaw in his character. “The Firm doesn’t have an ego.”
“Good,” Xander said, shifting in his seat nervously. He looked at her, calming himself down and masking his emotions. It was still a struggle, but he was getting better at it. “Tell me about Orson. ‘Cause I don’t think he was playing you. Not all the way.”
He looked at her carefully, trying to notice if she was letting out any micro-expressions or if it was just wishful thinking. “And, I don’t think that you were playing him all the way either.”
“So his parents died in a plane crash?” Faith asked, idly making conversation with Xander as she watched the two Slayers spar in the library. Summer school had ended for the term and the building was empty and therefore safe for them to practice in. “Scott’s parents died in a plane crash?”
It had been a few days, and the potentials had all but moved into their new homes. However, there were still a few boxes and furniture that was still in the warehouse that had to be moved into their respective apartments.
Xander glanced over the top of the book that he was reading, looking across the table at the girl sitting across from him. He wasn’t quite sure if she was just humoring him, or if she was actually wondering. “Not quite.”
Faith rolled her eyes. The convoluted nature of the thing was somewhat entertaining, and beat having to watch Buffy and Kendra go back and forth. Her Watcher, and Vi’s for that matter, were thoroughly engrossed, as was Giles, who was evaluating them. “Then what happened?”
“Well, he didn’t know it at the time, but his parents had been kidnapped by the Shi’ar to be slaves. His father would later become Corsair, a…uh, space pirate, that leads the Starjammers against the tyranny of the Shi’ar Empire.” Xander explained, boiling things down to as coherent a form as possible. It was also compressing the timeline as needed to happen with serialized comics. It also made it sound really really dumb.
“What happened to his mom?” Faith asked, not at all engrossed in the story.
Xander continued to look at her. “Uh, the ruler of the Shi’ar Empire decided to make her his concubine, and that didn’t go so well with Cyclops’ father. So, she was executed in front of him when he tried to stop it.”
“So, the chick dies in this?” Faith looked at him, clear annoyance in her eyes.
Xander met her glare, shrugging. “Yeah, it actually happens a lot. You know, it made sense when I was reading it the first time.”
“And Cyclops has a cool superpower, is ridiculously good looking, has a smoking hot wife, and is all angsty and whiny,” Faith continued.
Xander shrugged again. “You know, I can totally see why people hate him now.”
“Who’s your favorite character?” Faith asked, clearly humoring him now. Kendra and Buffy were still sparring, the sound of their blows contacting were the only other sounds in the room. She supposed that it would be her turn soon enough. While she had started to get into a routine with her fellow potential, Diana felt that it was important she gain some experience against actual Slayers.
“Thunderbird,” Xander said, just filling in the time. He wasn’t there to spar with anyone in particular, and was mainly there to just wile away the hours with his friends.
“Thunderbird?” Faith echoed.
Xander lifted his shoulders. “Yeah. Well, he’s got cool superpowers, and he’s Native American. Just like me.”
“You’re…you’re Native American?” Faith asked, eyebrows raised in clear disbelief.
“Well,” Xander wavered. “1/64th, on my mother’s side. Yeah, I’m waiting for that sweet sweet gambling money that should be coming in. That’s where I get my tenacity from.”
“I’m pretty sure that doesn’t count,” Faith said, laughing.
Xander was about to retort, when he noticed the library doors open, a number of well-dressed people coming inside. They did not look at all surprised at what was going on inside the library. That was his first tipoff that they were Watchers. Their raised noses and haughty expressions being the second.
“I have to wear this?” Clint said, looking down at the piece of equipment that he was flipping around in his hands. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. While it wasn’t as bad as power armor, it seemed to have some technological refinements in it.
“It’ll help to focus your abilities. The ballistic glasses have a micro-HUD built in, with tactical feed and multiple camera views,” Agent Coulson explained. He took the mask from the newest member of the team’s hands and flipped it around. “Built into an armored layer, with integrated com-link and a respirator unit. Besides, it protects your identity. Tony is the public face of the team, if it ever becomes public.”
“Secret identity.” Clint shook his head, taking the mask from the SHIELD agent. At least the rest of the uniform wasn’t so bad. It was essentially urban camo pattern, with web gear. Nothing particularly exotic, although it did have some next gen body armor. Not as resistant to weapons fire as Tony’s fully contained Iron Man armor nor Dr. Banner’s alternate form, it would protect him from a great deal of the stuff that would be thrown their way.
“It’s important,” Phil said, remember the threats they had to monitor because of Tony’s rather hasty and ill-advised public proclamation. That wasn’t to mention the additional threats that had come about because of where Tony was attempting to take Stark Industries. “The president has also agreed to give you an exemption on your service.”
“Meaning?” Clint asked, putting the mask down with the rest of his gear. He’d have to check over the weapons again, stripping down the rifle and modifying it to his exacting specifications. Despite his new abilities, the quality of the weapon was also important. As it was, it wasn’t full proof. Even if his mind was working more efficiently and he could place bullets where they were with greater precision, there was still going to be some lag time between pulling the trigger, and how a target was dodging. It wasn’t like shooting stationary targets.
“You’ll stay on as a sergeant, and the president has waived Posse Comitatus on an extended basis.” Agent Coulson explained. He didn’t bother to mention that it was pretty much only until the current president’s term ended. At least, if he didn’t win re-election.
“Okay, so how’s this supposed to work?” Clint said, still looking at the uniform that he was supposed to wear. He had decided fast, and it was all starting to catch up to him. At least his body had fully healed. “What’s it like? Leading them?”
“About what you’d expect,” Phil answered diplomatically. “Tony can be impetuous. He’s smart, a genius, so he tends to think that he’s always right. He doesn’t always think through his actions.”
“Yeah, I can believe that,” Clint said, shaking his head. “How about Dr. Banner? I read the files on the Hulk. How sure are you that he’s in control when he has to be?”
“As much as we can be. He’s been practicing his meditative techniques, and the tests we’ve been running indicate that he has much more higher brain function in his Hulk state now.” Phil had his own concerns about having the Hulk be an active member, given the variable nature of battle. Still, Bruce had proven that he could stay in control during the heat of battle. For now at least. “So far we’ve managed to keep our battles away from populated areas. That may not always be possible. And it still remains a risk. But, if we expect him to gain more control, then he needs to be tested.”
“And, I’m supposed to lead these guys,” Clint said, still trying to grasp the situation. It was much different than running a team of marines. The things that would work in terms of control would not work on someone like Tony Stark. Nor, presumably, the Hulk. That wasn’t to mention that he was coming in with less direct experience with the types of threats that the pair had faced in the past. Even in their simulations Tony did not respond to his commands as quickly as he felt was required.
It was only a matter of time before they had to strike against things that were more than just beasts. The intelligence reports that were coming in indicated that the Ten Rings had started to stockpile advanced weapons for a strike. They didn’t know what the target was yet, or even what the overall goal was, but chances were that it was something that they’d end up having to face. Preferably it wouldn’t be in a populated area, but that type of luck only held on for so long.
“Yes,” a voice came from behind them. “You are.”
Clint turned around, looking at the source of the voice. “I’ve read the psych profiles on these guys, you really think that they’re going to listen to me, sir?”
It was a lot more than he had had to do with his own guys back in his unit. Of course, it was a lot easier to understand an eighteen year old kid whose greatest ambition was to have sex with twins. That wasn’t to mention that he still wasn’t so sure about his own abilities. He trusted in the training, he trusted in his own strength. But, it was still the doctors’ opinion, guess, that the brain damage that he had received had resulted in his enhanced senses and cognitive function. That didn’t sound too good in his opinion.
“You can make them listen,” Director Fury stated. While he knew that Clint was displaying uncertainty, a feeling that the marine wouldn’t display to anybody under him, it was part of the process of getting to a place where he could do the job. He’d have been more worried if Clint did not have reservations. Of course, the man still took his responsibility, his oath, seriously. “C’mon, let’s talk. ‘Cause you’ve just got your first mission.”
“Yes, sir,” Clint said, falling in behind the SHIELD director.
Xander got the distinct impression that they were judging him. A number of who had turned out to be Watchers had cast disparaging looks upon the Uncanny X-Men graphic novel he had been reading. He knew that being back in town mean that Diana would have been able to file all of the reports that she had written during their travels. And the contradictions had proven worthy of questioning as they had predicted.
“Diana has reported that you are a warrior of considerable power and skill,” Lydia said, sitting down in front of someone that was remarkably younger than she would have imagined. Giles’ reports made little mention of his presence on the Hellmouth, although he was mentioned as an ally. It wasn’t so much that the Sunnydale Watcher’s reports were completely wrong, but that they did not accurately capture the situation.
The Iron Fist shrugged and sat ups straighter, looking at the Watchers that had come with his current questioner. Though a number of races were represented, they all spoke with English accents. They also all had the stiff bearing of what a proper Watcher should have he suspected. There were also a few that were more stoutly built and had said very little. He theorized that they served as the muscle of the group, protection from the evils of the Hellmouth, or maybe even the supposed corruption that had necessitated their arrival.
“Is that correct?” Lydia asked again, staring at the young man.
Xander just looked at her, not liking that the Slayers and potentials had been ushered out of the room. Evidently, it was grown-up time. Presumably, the Watcher was counting on support from the other Watchers. Or at least, peer pressure. “If you say so.”
“Excuse me?” the Watcher said, looking over the dark rims of her glasses.
“I have no idea what’s in those reports,” Xander continued, looking at her blandly. “Could say anything. I wouldn’t want to misrepresent myself.”
“So Giles’ reports are correct. Is that what you’re saying?” Lydia asked, her patience being thoroughly tested. She tried to keep it off of her face however.
A hint of a smile appeared on Xander’s lips, as if he was trying to help to the best of his abilities, but failing. “I haven’t read those either.”
“Very well.” Flipping open a file folder that she had set before her, Lydia read aloud a passage from one of Diana’s reports. After she had finished, she fixed the boy with a calculating gaze. “You fought in a Tournament against fighters of incredible power. The likes of which have rarely been seen on Earth. Is that correct?”
“Yeah, but I lost,” Xander answered simply. He didn’t bother to mention the coup and invasion that had gone on, leading to the cancellation of the Tournament before its resolution. “Maybe I can fight maybe I can’t, but I go out and I come back. I’m sure that all your Watchers try to record what’s proper in their reports, at least in their point of view. Giles never knew about it, by the way.”
“According to Violet’s Watcher, you are also training her in your techniques. If you are so unsure of your skills, what makes you think that you’re qualified to do that,” the Watcher challenged.
“I teach her what I know, and she’s gotten better. If that’s because of me or just because she’s had the chance to practice more, she’s still gotten better.” Xander said, picking his words unnaturally carefully. “I’m sure Nancy’s reports also mention that Vi’s gotten better. What do you know. So, it’s a win to you guys. Good job.”
“Perhaps you think so,” Lydia retorted, ever much trying to be the proper Watcher. The boy was becoming infuriating and most of what he was saying was pure gibberish or irrelevant. “But, if her judgment has been compromised, then she needs to be replaced as Violet’s Watcher.”
“That’s unacceptable.” Xander shook his head, wishing that he could turn around to know what the other Watchers were feeling. While Giles, Nancy, and Diana were in the library, they had been instructed to not speak, or at least it had been heavily implied that they should not do so.
“I don’t see how that’s your concern,” Lydia said, trying to control her temper. The fact that he seemed to be so calm just annoyed her even more.
Xander just stared back, letting out none of the anger that was boiling in his belly. It would do no one any good to let it out now, even if it hit particularly close to home. “Nancy is the closest thing that Vi has to a mother. You’re not taking that away from her.”
“And you would do what, fight to stop it?” Lydia said, not having to vocalize that such a battle would prove him an enemy to the Council.
Xander smiled a little wider. “She’s Vi’s legal guardian. Not something easily changed without cause. Do I need to sic my lawyer on you?”
“Lilah Morgan,” Lydai said with some distaste. Wolfram and Hart was not unknown to her, as it was one of the most prominent legal firms that dealt with the supernatural, from the defense side at least. “We have detailed files on her. How is it exactly that a lawyer from Wolfram and Hart is now in your employ? A firm where no one has successfully left in over a thousand years?”
“I offer a better dental plan.” Xander leaned forward in his seat, watching as a couple of the Watchers fidgeted. Not the three goons though. “And that’s hardly your concern.”
“Yes, it is,” Lydia said, emphasizing the words. “The protection of the Earth is our calling, and therefore we need to ensure that our people are not compromised.”
“And yet, I’m the one that’s trying to look out for one of your potentials, while you’re the one that’s threatening to replace her mother,” Xander retorted. “So who’s the one with the more noble interests here? Besides, it’s not exactly good on morale.”
Breathing in once and holding it, Lydia took a moment to calm herself down. She didn’t know if he was doing it intentionally, but he was leading the conversation further and further astray. As it was, even Diana’s reports indicated that the boy did not fully trust the lawyer. It was not one of the larger issues that she had been sent to Sunnydale to investigate.
“This is leading us nowhere,” Lydia said after she had regained her composure. “The issue is whether or not you have the capacity to stand with the Slayers in battle and to teach potentials. The varying reports have much to say on this topic, and we need to find out which is correct.”
“Okay, good luck with that.” Xander put his hands on the arms of his chair, preparing to rise.
“We are not finished,” Lydia said, fixing him with a librarian’s glare. The one that made people stop being disruptive. She waved a hand behind her, the three larger Watchers stepping forward. “In order to objectively test your skills in combat, you will be sparring with these men.”
Xander looked at them carefully. It was very likely that they had a good degree of fight training, but that wasn’t going to be so much of an issue. Not to mention that, as far as he could tell, the three men were human. At the state he was in now, it wasn’t much of a boast. “Uh, if you think that Diana’s reports are accurate, then that probably isn’t a very good idea. And if you end up believing Giles’, then it’s really not a good idea.”
He turned around to look at the Watchers that were seated behind him.
“I think we need to clear the room,” said one of the Watchers that was standing behind Lydia.
“Yes, Nigel,” Philip said, coming around the side of the table to help his fellow Watcher direct their Sunnydale brethren from the room.
Xander stood up and walked over prepared to protest, but stopped as Giles waved him off with a curt shake of his head. He could tell that the Watcher was not happy with arrangements, but felt that what needed to be, had to happen. He wasn’t sure exactly why, but didn’t want to go against Giles wishes. The field Watcher was probably in a precarious position as it was.
As it was, neither Nancy nor Diana looked particularly pleased with the situation.
Turning around, Xander walked over to the mats that Buffy and Kendra had practiced on earlier. “Fine. Who exactly do you want me to fight again?”
Lydia nodded towards the three men that approached, doffing their coats as they did so. The three were trained Council operatives. Not as educated in magic or history as Watchers went, their skills lay elsewhere. All pulled from some type of military service, the three, and others in their division, were responsible for operations too difficult or unsavory for Watchers to be responsible for. Or for the Slayers to conduct.
“At the same time then,” Xander said, as they surrounded him, two to his sides and one in front.
“You’re supposed to be the warrior here,” the leader of them said, rocking back and forth a little, his fists up and ready for defense. He had been briefed on the boy, and while he was careful, he hardly believed either of the contradictory accounts.
Xander just shook his head, looking over as Lydia looked on, her personal assistant Watcher watching the upcoming match with some interest. William or Wesley or something was the name, but that wasn’t particularly relevant at the current moment.
He shifted his attention downward slightly, checking his spacing. Xander could tell that the others were waiting for him to make the first move, and he decided not to disappoint them. Swinging his right hand in a lighting quick arc, he belted the man to his right and to the front hard in the faces.
They went down, as the remaining man moved in, somewhat out of place due to the shock of the boy’s fast movement. He tried to get his own attack in but was stopped by the rapidly moving elbow that smacked him hard in the nose, nearly breaking it.
Xander turned to face the last man as the Watcher reeled back, hands to his face. Taking the opening, the Iron Fist moved in and knelt, grabbing the man by the ankle and pushing him upwards. The momentum flipped the Watcher up and over onto his stomach. The audible exhalation signified the hard landing.
The others had managed to get to their feet by that time, and Xander turned again to face them. Kicking out, he caught the one to his right in the solar plexus, dropping the Watcher hard onto the mats, struggling for breath. The other one wouldn’t be caught as unawares.
The leader spit, blood and saliva spilling onto the blue mats. He looked at his fallen men, and the calm expression that was on the boy’s face. It was like nothing had happened at all. Gritting his teeth he reached behind his back and pulled out a knife, flicking it to extend the blade.
“Michael,” Lydia yelled out in shock, standing up from her chair. Partly out of surprise at the speed of Xander’s attack, but the majority at the fact that the Council operative had just taken out a presumably non-training weapon. That was not what she had instructed.
Michael ignored her though, flipping the knife around in a reverse grip and lunging at the boy in an overhead swing.
Xander moved to the side, catching the man’s wrist and directing it towards the Watcher’s now exposed thigh. He made sure that it went where he wanted; it wasn’t like he wanted to kill the man. Despite the fact that the knife made it distinctly less like training. The Iron Fist decided that his decision not to kill and opponent could be considered personal growth.
Roaring in pain, Michael felt the knife leave his leg as the boy pulled up on his wrist. His arm was bent, and the knife taken from his hand with little resistance. It was all that he could do to keep from falling, his leg wanting to buckle.
Twisting the man’s arm, Xander grasped Michael from behind. He placed the knife’s blade up to the Watcher’s throat, angling him towards the table that Lydia was standing behind. The knife dripped blood from the Council Operative’s thigh, staining his shirt, as well as spotting the exercise mats.
Keeping the knife blade tight against the man’s throat to keep him from struggling, Xander glared at Lydia who seemed to be a little lost as to what to do. “I could have cut his femoral. He’d have bled out real quick.”
Tossing the man to the side, Xander stalked over to the table and tossed the bloody knife onto its top. “So how much experience do you have killing things, Ms. Chalmers?”
Xander looked over his shoulder at the men that were attempting to get to their feet. None of them looked particularly pleased about the situation. Turning back to their ultimate leader, he spoke, “there’s a first aid kit in Giles’ office. Bottom shelf in his desk.”
“Wesley,” Lydia said, not turning from the boy. She heard her assistant hurry off into the librarian’s office in order to find it.
Xander turned back to Lydia; he could tell that she was visibly shaken by what had happened. He got the feeling that she didn’t do much fieldwork. Or at least see the sometimes messy results that could occur. “I don’t need to prove anything to you.”
He started for the door, walking out into the hallway. He wasn’t sure where he was going, but figured it was better than staying there.
“What is this stuff?” Clint said, scanning over the debris that had once been a computer and accompanying scientific equipment. A stray grenade had managed to land underneath the table that they had been resting on, blowing shrapnel up and in a circle around that had tagged a few of the guards that had tried to defend the facility.
Bruce finished shrugging into a lab coat that he had found, leaning down in his borrowed shoes to examine what their new team leader had found. He prodded it with a burnt pencil from the ground, dragging out a piece of metal about a half a foot long. “LI-COR. This was a DNA sequencer.”
He stood up, glad to be back in his own body. Looking around, he noticed some of the other equipment that he had missed during the fight. The Hulk wasn’t one to pick up on details like that. He got closer to a few that had been mostly untouched. “This is a BioSpec Cell Disrupter. And a GX-271 GPC.”
“What were they doing in here, Doc?” Clint asked, picking up one of the rifles that had been used in the fight. Its prior owner was nearby, slumped on the floor, a hole drilled in his forehead where Clint had shot him.
“Playing God, I’d imagine,” Tony said, looking up briefly from his own scans. His suit’s systems were picking up data on what had been spread around, categorizing and recording it for future analysis.
“Right, blame science when things go wrong. Because our hands are clean on that front,” Bruce muttered, standing up and looking around to see if there was an indication of where the data storage center or main server might be. “We need to see if there’s a hard drive we can recover. Most of this equipment is relatively generic.”
“Look at this,” Clint said, walking over to Tony. He held the rifle aloft in his gloved hand, showing it to the former weapons manufacturer.
“I know what that is,” Tony said quietly, his voice coming through the com-link. He only had to glance at the weapon to identify it. A number of years ago, Stark Industries had essentially purchased the company that made the rifle, sending in his own design team to re-engineer and develop its products to more exacting standards.
“HK G36 variant, out of Stark Labs. My boys see these all the times in Afghanistan now. A hell of lot more accurate than the decades old AK’s they used to run around with. And it packs a hell of a lot more punch.” Clint stripped and dropped the rifle onto the ground, hearing it clatter as it hit the ground. Nick would have a forensics team to comb through the wreckage. If the weapon still had a serial number, they might be able to find where it had come from.
While Stane had been in charge of much of the weapons dealing to the Ten Rings, it had largely had to go through intermediaries. There was still quite a bit of materiel out there that had yet to find its way to its final users. And not all of it would be sent to that particular terrorist organization.
“Fuck,” Clint muttered, walking over to the corner of the room. The battle had gone mostly as planned. Satellite intelligence had indicated a research facility in Oregon, a large heat bloom and heightened background radiation picked up where there shouldn’t have been any. Additional investigation had yielded purchases of equipment and material, both legally acquired and not, that indicated the presence of a genetics lab.
They’d been sent in after Dr. Banner had identified a number of components necessary for dealing with gamma radiation. It had turned out to still be in the research phase, but it was better to be cautious. He had seen the tapes of what had happened in Yellowstone after all. And despite the new ammunition that was in development, he doubted he’d have much luck stopping such creature.
“Was this Sterns?” Clint knelt down and rolled a corpse onto its back. The man was wearing a yellow hazmat or NBC suit, a large squarish helmet obscuring the face. While the air had tested clean, he was glad for his own mask.
“It’s too early to tell,” Bruce called from across the room. “It’s likely, but I don’t recognize who he would be working with. Ten Rings?”
“I doubt it,” Tony said, looking over at the doctor. “Raza was well-funded and well-equipped, but not with this type of equipment. I doubt that their current structure would be able to deal with the necessities of genetic engineering.”
Clint looked around; there were a number of people similarly clothed, as if the yellow suit was a uniform of some kind in addition to protection against the materials that they had been working with. “Which means that if it isn’t Sterns, then gamma technology has spread farther than we had thought.”
It didn’t require his genius intellect for Tony to know that that was a dig at him as well. While Clint kept it professional during battle, the Iron Man knew that the marine had animosity towards him. Well-deserved it would seem.
Men playing God indeed.
“Xander, wait.” Lydia jogged after the boy, who was moving quite quickly. She slowed as he stopped and turned around to face her.
“What?” Xander said, crossing his arms over his chest. He glared at the Watcher, though she looked a little less aloof and arrogant than she had previously. “If that was some sort of test, then I’d say I passed. Unless it was some mind game and the only way to win was not to play. Or you wanted to me kill them. Did you want me to do that, Ms. Chalmers?”
“No, but we had to test you,” Lydia said, still thinking that it had been necessary. She had to admit that her side had escalated things further then she wanted to go. “But I think that even you know how important this is.”
Xander relaxed his arms and shrugged. “Maybe. Then again, I don’t think that you do. You seem to be all too content at playing games. I mean really, one Slayer in the all the land. Backed up by one Watcher. That was how it worked?”
“Tradition dictates…” Lydia trailed off, not wanting to get dragged off on another tangent. “I think that it has become obvious that you can be a big help to them. And, I’m not inclined to look unfavorably upon that.”
“But,” Xander cut in, getting the feeling that no deal with the Watchers would ever be completely in his best interest.
Lydia looked at him carefully, trying to figure out exactly what to say. “The Watchers need to be able to lead the Slayers, lead them to their deaths if need be. That’s the responsibility of the Watcher assigned to oversee them. They can get too close, and their judgments can become compromised.”
“And you think Giles’ judgment has become compromised.” Despite his own feelings on the matter, Xander would rather not have any of the other Watchers that had shown up take over. He got the feeling that the Watchers weren’t all as noble-minded as Lydia implied. They were all human after all.
“There are discrepancies in Giles’ reports,” Lydia stated. “Most of them in regards to you.”
“Are there?” Xander asked. “Or is it a matter of perspective? Or maybe I, as a teenager, tend to exaggerate or keep things from him.”
“I have to report back to the Council,” Lydia shot back. “And you are not making it any easier. If you wish to help Rupert, then you should be more helpful.”
“That’s not exactly who I was most concerned about.” Xander shook his head, wondering more than ever what the Watchers back in England actually did.
“Very well,” Lydia admitted. “Then, if you want to help the Slayers and potentials…your friends, then you should be more helpful. If you really care for them, you should want to work with us. You have skills; skills that I think will help them. Training or otherwise. But, this attitude of yours will not be looked upon highly by my superiors in the Council.”
Xander just looked at her. “Was this an audition or something? Because I don’t recall needing your permission to train Vi. Nancy is okay with it, so what business is it of yours? Because you think you can do better? Because if your three stooges are supposed to be an indication of Watcher training, then I’m thinking not.”
The Watcher said nothing, angry with herself for not being able to refute that point. Of course, she also got the feeling that he was only willing to go so far with the training. Or at least, he would be selective in terms of whom he trained. “I still need to complete my investigation. But, I will consider what you have said. I suggest you do yourself and your friends a favor and think about what we can accomplish together.”
“Together, but not necessarily just for you.” Xander started to back up, heading towards the exit. “Remember, I’m the one that lives here. You’re all just tourists.”