Chapter One: The Pebble that Creates the Avalanche
Xander continued to shove the rest of his stuff into his bags, half-listening to the television that was currently showing the news. It was the morning report, and while they didn’t need to check out until noon, it was generally agreed that they’d try to be out after breakfast. Of course, the main reason why he wanted to leave wasn’t one that could be vocalized.
“Police are still tight-lipped about what exactly went on early this morning, but their initial statements are calling the raid and subsequent explosion a potential attack by a rival gang,” a reporter described from the television screen. It wasn’t completely wrong, though it hardly got the exact details correct. “However, unsubstantiated talk amongst the local population is attributing the attack to a local vigilante known as American Eagle. Police deny the involvement of such a figure, and will not confirm that they believe that such an individual even exists. We’ll be following this story throughout the day as we learn more.”
The Iron Fist smiled to himself, knowing that nobody except him and his temporary partner knew exactly what had happened during the night. Of course, the important thing was that the latest shipment of meth wouldn’t be hitting the streets, and that the gang running the shop was out a number of people along with their supplies and equipment. There would be trickledown effects as well, like the missed shipment that wouldn’t be funding the coffers of the MC that was buying from them. As well as their missing men.
It wouldn’t do that much in the grand scheme of things. He wasn’t deluded enough to think that anything that significant had been done, war on drugs or not, but sometimes, even the little things were important.
He zipped up his bag and pulled it up onto the bed, turning around to check on the others. They were mostly done as well; though Vi had a curious look on her face. Xander had noticed that the younger girl had watched the news with some interest. He could almost see the wheels turning in her head.
“You guys done?” Xander asked, watching them all nod back to him. “Let’s get some breakfast. I’m thinking pancakes.”
Xander flipped through the hastily stapled together sheets of paper he had brought with him. Orson had had a lot of stuff in that safe; not all of it about Chi’Lin, or necessarily about the Iron Fist. He had kept other papers there too. A set of fake ID’s with his picture on them, likely to be given to him later, only Orson had never gotten the chance. There was an old personal journal there too, much of it on his life with the Confederates of the Curious. Some of it was on his father and mother too.
There were no entries on Orson in the Book of the Iron Fist. Xander wondered why that was. He had served at least some of his life in good standing with the city.
It was slightly morbid to read, and though he had initially been reluctant to look through it, Orson had prepared the safe for him. It was all meant for him to read, to understand where Orson had come from and why he did what he did.
The journal did fill in a number of things. He was still sort of a dick, but the reasons for it were much clearer. The life that Orson had led would have eaten anyone weaker alive.
“What’s that?” Vi asked, glancing over at what the boy next to her was looking at. They had taken off after breakfast, and they still had a number of hours to go before lunch. After that, Nancy had picked a spot to stop at that was supposed to be educational. Someplace historical, in the mystical sense. A real learning experience for her. She supposed that she valued that, even if it could be annoying at times.
Xander turned and looked at the redhead, flipping back to the first page. He had read through much of it already, but found himself drawn to reread sections. He still had other stuff he needed to do, but he felt compelled to work on his feelings in regards to Orson first. He still had a couple of postcards to send out, but he could do that the next time they passed through a town. He was mostly spinning his wheels at this point. “Orson had a safety deposit box in El Paso. We’ll probably hit that in a few days or so. Well, depending on how long Nancy wants to stay in Las Cruces. And, we’re going to be in Tucson for a bit too.”
“Do you know what’s in it?” the potential pressed, curious about the secrecy that Xander had laid over much of the aspects of the Iron Fist now.
Xander shook his head. “Not a clue, but way I see it; it’s probably related to something important to him. He left it for me to find.”
He leaned back, rubbing his eyes. There hadn’t been much sleep to be had. After the raid, he had headed back with Jason to an apartment he kept in town. They’d talked for a while after, the tale of what exactly gave the Native American powers was surprising. He’d shared as much of his origin as he dared, keeping things general. It wasn’t that he hadn’t begun to trust the older man, but it wasn’t his story to tell, not all of it anyway.
For all of Orson’s warnings and talk of threats, the old man hadn’t been careful enough. Or he hadn’t been.
“Late night?” Vi asked lightly, seeing the signs of fatigue on the older boy.
Xander chuckled lightly. While he needed less sleep, two hours or so was pushing it. And his powerful chi didn’t make up for all of what sleep provided. “Something like that.”
“That was you, wasn’t it?” Vi leaned in closer and whispered, making sure that the women up front couldn’t hear her.
Xander leaned in as well, keeping his tone low. “What are you talking about?”
Vi smirked, looking the boy in the eyes. “On the news this morning. A raid on a drug lab, the wild stories about guys throwing things about. Glowing fists and everything. Are you going to tell me that wasn’t you? Who was the other guy? The American Eagle?”
The Iron Fist grinned at her, shaking his head. “Yeah well, I got restless. Besides, sort of the reason I am what I am. If I’m not out there, then I do dishonor to my station.”
He ignored the other question. He may have figured out the local vigilante’s identity easily enough, but that wasn’t his secret to share.
“You’re not going to tell me are you?” Vi questioned, only slightly disappointed. She hadn’t had that much experience with mystical warriors and the wars being fought beneath the attention of the world at large, well at least outside of the whole supernatural thing, but it was incredibly intriguing. But, she understood that he had to keep some secrets. He wore a mask after all.
Xander shook his head, still smiling. “Nope. Sorry. So, why don’t you tell me why you wanted to come with?”
“I wanted to see more of things,” Vi explained. That line of questioning was over, for now. “I guess I just felt sheltered in Fremont, especially after seeing how things were in Sunnydale. And with you doing this road trip…I guess I bullied Nancy into asking you to let us come with you.”
That wasn’t the only reason why she wanted to come, but she couldn’t admit that to him. Especially since she hadn’t even told her Watcher.
“Yeah, well driving through the desert hasn’t been the most entertaining of experiences yet,” Xander said, looking out the window at the sand and rock formations whizzing by. He had to admit though, she did make things a lot lighter. With her around, it was a lot easier to get through the day without thinking back to what had happened.
“What’s that big yellow book?” Vi asked, after a moment. She wondered if he was lost in thought again.
Xander turned slightly, peering over at her. “Ah right, it’s…it’s history. Personal, to me. For us.”
He didn’t have to explain what that particular pronoun meant. And though he trusted the girl, and to a slightly lesser extent Nancy, they were still potential and Watcher. And that meant that he couldn’t trust them with everything. Not even Jenny knew completely what was in the book.
“And that’s all you’re going to give me?” the potential asked, slightly annoyed that Xander was being so secretive. He was extremely open about many things, even going so far as to teach her things that she knew that he wasn’t supposed to be teaching her. Which made the secrets hat he kept all the more infuriating, and therefore all the more irresistible.
“Police confirm that over $200,000 worth of drugs along with the equipment needed for manufacturing methamphetamines were destroyed in this morning’s violence.” The young reporter looked seriously into the camera, her image transported electronically throughout the local area and onto televisions in homes, businesses, and bars. “Twenty members of a local gang were captured in relation to the attack, as well as five members of the Nords, a biker gang whose territory extends into four states. A num-“
The television set exploded as a beer bottle was thrown into it. Sparks and broken glass fell to the ground behind the counter as the bartender crouched in fear.
“Damn it!” a demon roared slamming a fist onto the bar counter. He had been the one to toss the bottle through the television. He had been expecting the shipment of meth to arrive in a couple of days, which it now seemed like would be impossible. The raid in Phoenix could not have come at a worse time for them.
One-percenters often made their money through less than legal means. It was doubly hard for the demon riders since it wasn’t like they could show their faces much. He had had to resort to using front men, vampires actually, in order to even get the Nords to deal with them.
White supremacists were hardly the type that he wanted to deal with, for a number of reasons, but they had a reputation for getting the job done.
Razor, the president of the Hellions, grit his pointed and crooked teeth. He looked around, staring at the other Hellions and assorted clientele in the bar that they had temporarily overtaken. The expression on his tanned and tattooed face revealed that he would brook no comment.
The rest of the gang did nothing about their leader’s anger, staring back at their head. It took a moment before the vice president decided to approach Razor.
“What do we do now?” Mag said, walking to the bar and sitting next to the head of the gang. His pointed ears twitched a bit, knowing that Razor was likely to put a call out to do some violence. The president of the MC was not one to suffer disappointment lightly. And took deal-breakers very seriously.
Razor turned, staring at the other demon. Mag had come up through the gang with him; they were even the same species. A trusted and level-headed second, relatively speaking. Reliable when he needed someone to get the job down. Razor stroked his straggly beard, considering things. “Looks like we’ll have to pay a visit to the Nords. Make sure they still plan on delivering on time.”
Mag smiled, revealing yellowed fangs. He doubted that the Nords would be able to pull it off. Which meant that they’d get to mete out some retribution. “Just what I wanted to hear.”
“Unnnh,” Vi said, plopping down onto the large bed in the motel room. They had driven some of the day, Phoenix only being a couple of hours from Tucson, the rest of the time had been taken up by meals and sightseeing. Sightseeing that tended to involve large amounts of walking and hiking in the heat. While being a potential gave her some minor advantages in terms of stamina and strength, it didn’t meant that she wasn’t tired. The others had been tired out by it as well, for the most part. Xander’s supernaturally enhanced abilities providing for the sole exception. He was still going strong. It was kind of annoying actually.
Xander smiled as he placed his bags into the closet. He left one out in the room however. It wasn’t the one with his work clothes though, nothing had popped out at him about the town. He had picked up a newspaper when they had gassed up. As far as he could tell, Tucson was pretty quiet for the time being. Nothing that could be inferred to be supernatural that he could pick up, and no street crime that he could look into without more prep time than he had. Which meant that he had time for other things that night.
Which suited him just fine.
“Come now, Vi,” Nancy said, looking over at her charge. She suppressed a smile. The Watcher could fully appreciate that it was summer and the young girl would like some time to have fun, but she did have to keep current with her studies. And as much as Vi may not look happy about it at times, she knew that the girl did appreciate the learning experience and its purpose. “You still have a couple of hours of lessons to go over.”
Xander couldn’t help but grin, glad that he didn’t have to worry about that until fall. Though a small part of his mind reminded himself that that was only if he made it through the summer. That was still less than assured. But, he could resume training the next day. As much as he still needed to learn, he also couldn’t allow himself to burn out.
Jenny walked over and put her bags next to his in the closet, standing a little closer than was technically necessary for the action.
“We should give them some privacy,” Xander whispered in her ear as she bent down. “Put on a nice dress.”
She looked at him quizzically as he stood up and turned to face the other two women in the room.
“I guess we should give you some peace and quiet to study,” Xander said, nodding at Vi. He noticed the potential shake her head at him, in obvious disagreement. Probably along the lines of her not wanting to study and wanting to go out with him to do something fun. “We can hang out at a coffee shop or something for a couple of hours.”
Xander looked down at himself. “But, I should probably change out of this though.”
He picked up the bag he had left out and headed towards the bathroom.
“So why the dress?” Jenny asked as Xander walked with her down the street. She was rather curious, since it seemed like he actually knew where they were going. They’d just arrived in town, and yet here he was acting like he knew the city.
Xander shrugged, smiling at her. He turned, walking backwards so he could face her. “It’s a surprise. We’re almost there.”
It wasn’t a dangerous area of town, though a part of him now always kept an eye out for dangers in the night. Learning the truth about Sunnydale had made him a lot more careful about life, and the surprises that could pop up when the sun went down. Still, Tucson seemed to be pretty safe, even at this hour of the day.
She looked at him somewhat skeptically, though trusting that he at least thought he knew what he was doing. It wasn’t long before she could smell the scents of what was likely good food and hear the notes of what was likely good jazz. Jenny smiled warmly at him as they come up to the bar and restaurant that was on the corner. It had to be where he was taking her, him knowing her taste for jazz. “How’d you find this place?”
It didn’t look like much. The short white building had a simple sign above the door, and the few windows didn’t do much to advertise what was inside. Still, all of the people that he had asked said that it was one of the best jazz clubs in town. Good thing it looked like it would work out that way.
Xander took her hand and drew her close, something he wouldn’t have been able to do on the streets of Sunnydale. Even if it had looked seemingly empty as the street did at the moment. Couldn’t risk it back home. “Would you believe that I’m naturally this gifted?”
“No,” Jenny said, enjoying the feel of his hands around her waist.
“Fine, I asked around,” Xander remarked lightly. Though it hadn’t been that easy of a task to do it without being found out.
Jenny smirked, glad that he was still able to find some enjoyment in life. He hadn’t known Orson that long, her even shorter, but she did know that he had been hit hard by the man’s death. Strong male figures weren’t likely a part of his life, so the loss of Orson wouldn’t be something he’d get over easy. Still, she was glad that he was coping with it, instead of just ignoring it or letting it build. And that meant that he was able to get on with his life, which involved her. “Some special occasion?”
He shook his head. “I would have thought you would have them all memorized. But, no. We’ve been on the road for almost a week, and we’re going to be out here for quite a bit longer. I like Nancy and Vi and all, but I also want some alone time with my girlfriend.”
“Really,” Jenny said, drawing it out slightly in an almost purr. She liked it when he referred to her as his girlfriend. Even if he couldn’t actually do it very much, and in public. At least, when they were back at home. Annoying, though worth it for times like this.
“C’mon.” Xander leaned in and pecked her on the lips quickly. “Let’s go in.”
“Well, that was subtle,” the man said, taking a seat on the couch. He flicked on the television, noticing that it was still all over the news. Just another minor update to the story of the day; as if there was another concrete to add. Still it was in the public consciousness now. “You want to get famous or something?”
“Didn’t plan on it getting that big,” Jason said, handing his friend a beer. He sat down next to him, popping the top on his own. “Still, that’s one lab that isn’t going to be supplying anything to anyone for a while.”
“TV’s saying that there was two of you on that one,” the man said, nodding towards the television. He ran a dark hand over his short hair, taking a sip of the cold beer. “Another one of you?”
He put the beer down on the coffee table and turned to face the Native American. Putting his hands up, he wiggled two of the fingers on each in air quotes. “Minority?”
Jason looked askew at his friend, shaking his head at the joke. It was the black man’s reference to those that were not altogether human. Superhuman, or metahuman, or mutant, those in the know tossed around a variety of terms for it. Nothing official though.
Minority was true enough as any of them, if a particularly loaded term.
There were a few of them in Phoenix, though as far as he knew, he was the only local that actually did something with the abilities. That wasn’t counting the even fewer that were on the res. Those tended to stay and do the whole medicine man thing, if they used their abilities at all. The rest of them out there just kept their heads down, and tried to lead a normal life. He didn’t blame them for it though; doing what he did wasn’t a job for everyone. It was a calling, and even those with the ability, didn’t necessarily have the capability. He had more than just the superhuman powers he’d picked up, he’d trained himself to be able to use them effectively and as safely as possible. It was better for everyone that way. “Steve, it’s not exactly like that. But, yeah. Another minority.”
The other man grinned leaning down to pick up the can, taking another sip of beer. “You guys are popping up all over the place now. Like that thing in New York? Sooner or later, the Feds are going to get worried about all of you guys running around without any sort of supervision. Then they’re going to bring the hammer down on all of you. Make the country safe for whitey.”
American Eagle shook his head. It was less than fair, but the other man did have something of a point. Minorities of all types and colors were not exactly treated equitably in what was purported to be the greatest and most free country in the world. Especially so when it was minorities with power, literal in this case. “Actually, this one was white. Good guy too.”
“You don’t say,” Steve said, shrugging. He laughed aloud, finding the whole situation hilarious. He didn’t have any abilities himself, but he could relate to some of what they were likely to face if they ever hit the mainstream. “Ah well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.”
Jason just ignored his friend, concentrating on the television and his beer. The news was still playing, highlighting the damage that they had caused. There was some new information though, some statements filtered through the police about what the bikers and gang members claimed was responsible for instigating the attack.
Xander breathed in and out, taking in, but ignoring the sounds of the city and night life around him. He was standing on top of the tar paper roof of the motel, far enough to the center that he wouldn’t be visible by anybody looking upwards from the parking lot below.
He was stripped to the waist, and though it was cold, he barely felt it. The Iron Fist had his eyes closed, concentrating on feeling through his movements. Orson had taught him how to segment his body, feeling the tension flow through his individual muscles as his power travelled from his core to his outer extremities. He worked each of them in turn, feeling them strain and strengthen through his movements. The power flowing slowly so that he could understand how the movement was supposed to work.
There was a mixture of old attacks and movements in his flow that had been so ingrained in him as to have become second nature to him. But, he had taken to adding ones that he had learned from Lei Kung and the Book of the Iron Fist. Like the one he was trying now.
Xander extended his arms, mimicking what he had memorized from the book. His left arm was held out to the side, his palm extended out perpendicular to the rooftop. His right arm was bent, his palm turned to face the night sky.
Forcing his chi towards his hands, Xander twisted it, focusing it into tight braids of chi energy and then straightening it into strong cords of extreme power. He felt it burst out of his hands, momentarily causing flashes of yellow and orange light.
The Black-Black Poison Touch. One of a thousand ways to kill a man. It wasn’t about learning defense and offense anymore. Learning about the moves one could use to disable and perhaps maim an opponent. Not even to use force only when necessary.
He was under no illusions about the power of the moves that he had learnt. Their innate deadliness. But, what he was doing now was something different.
No, he was learning how to kill. He wanted to be prepared to avenge Orson’s death, and to ensure that he would be the one left standing if he had to face C’hi-L’in. To ensure that Davos would never take the life of anyone else that he cared about. To ensure that neither opponent would take the life of any other Iron Fists.
And yet, kung fu was not only about the physical. Lei Kung had taught him that. The mental and spiritual were just as important, if not more so. He had to walk the path of stone. To become the hard warrior that could kill without hesitation.
He had failed before. Desire to defeat the Steel Serpent on that rooftop so very far away had consumed him, but it had been overwhelmed by the failure of his body to act as he wanted it to. That could not happen again. He wouldn’t let it happen again.
Xander opened his eyes, breathing out evenly and calmly. He would not allow himself to be overwhelmed by bloodlust however. He had read Orson’s journals. He had seen the path of blood. To kill to preserve life and uphold justice, though a contradiction, was one thing. To do so in mere vengeance was something else entirely.
To kill without hesitation did not mean killing indiscriminately. He had chosen not to take the life of anyone in that warehouse, though it would have been so easy. Justice and vengeance, concepts that could be so easily twisted. And therefore impossible to determine one from the other.
He only hoped that he would not grow too blind to see the difference.
The man in the suit ignored the heat that was already rising, despite the still relatively early hour of the day. He knelt down, noticing that the footprints at his feet were a couple of yards away from the tenement building. They appeared to be the start of the trail. Odd that.
It seemed like somebody would have had to have jumped down to the spot, though there didn’t seem to be anywhere within range of it that would allow for such a feat. Except for up.
He frowned, getting up and looking over at the still cordoned off warehouse. The footprints became a trail that led into the building. His hypothesis now, backed up by some small evidence, was that somebody had leapt down, running at the warehouse. Such a thing without broken bones was extremely unlikely. Actually, almost impossible given the way that the person had landed.
Agent Coulson walked over to the crime scene, ducking under the yellow police tape. His hand was already in his pocket as one of the local police officers moved in to confront him. He only vaguely looked at the man, instead opening up his wallet and showing the officer his badge. “Agent Coulson. SHIELD. I’ll take it from here.”
“You can’t just-“ the deputy blustered out as he looked at the identification, only to be cut short.
Coulson looked at him seriously, snapping his attention on to the officer that was technically only doing his job. “SHIELD, you’re expecting me. So please let me do my job. Now, why don’t you get me copies of all the reports you have on this right now. The findings that make the case so…strange. That would let me get out of your hair the quickest.”
The police officer just nodded, knowing that they had been ordered to cooperate fully with the federal agents assigned to the case. Only, he had been expecting the CIA or FBI. He walked off, grumbling. He didn’t like it, but he had to put up with it. For now at least.
Phil walked closer to the building, scanning the wall that he was facing, and noticed some glare that shone in his eyes. It was from what looked to be a small jagged hole that had been made some ways up on the wall of the warehouse. He looked back over his shoulder, lining up the hole with the tenement, and noticed a metal pole on top of the building. It was in perfect alignment for a rope or something to be used to travel between the two.
Which would be one way down. But, that didn’t explain the footprints; except for the presence of more than one man. That was backed up by what he had already learned.
He walked inside, looking at the carnage that had been wrought. There were still blood stains everywhere, in addition to the damage to the equipment and structure itself that had been caused by the fight.
Ignoring the mundane damage, the SHIELD agent attempted to find the physical causes of what had happened. The initial witness and suspect statements had been less than clear on the matter. Only vague reports of superhuman activities, and even then, it was mostly super strength. Those claims were the most likely to be false positives in his experience. Still, they all had to be investigated. If not by them, then there would be some other agency that would more often than not be looking for assets than trying to get to the truth.
Coulson walked closer to one of the support pillars, noticing that it had been damaged. A large chunk of it was missing, and from the way that the metal was twisted, it looked like it had been broken off through sheer force. It wasn’t cut, nor did any of the explosions cause fire damage in that area. No, as far as he could tell, it was concussive damage. Frowning, the man put his hand up to the missing section, noticing that it was roughly fist sized. Curiouser and curiouser.
The SHIELD man turned in a circle and looked quickly at other areas in the warehouse. It didn’t take long, there was nothing more that he could do there. He walked out of the warehouse, the others could mop up in there. He would let the forensics teams go over the scene while he worked on his own part of the investigation. The suspects would likely have more information than they let on, and there was the matter of the local legend to consider. He had plenty to occupy his time on this investigation without stepping on anyone else’s toes.
Phil Coulson wasn’t one to go by his gut. He was a man of logic and reason, though this time, his intuition was telling him something. It wasn’t definite, but he knew that there was something here. Something exotic and therefore right up SHIELD’s alley. Now all he needed to do was find out what it was.
“The what?” Jason said, taking a sip of coffee. He leaned back in his seat, the vinyl creaking slightly at the shift in weight. The diner was old and the food was not particularly good, but the presence of both he and the man on the other side of the table would not attract undue attention. Something he didn’t want after recent events.
“Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division,” the other man said, drinking from his coffee cup as well. He reached into a pocket and pulled out a business card, tossing it onto the table. The assigned agent had left a stack at the precinct. “Agent by the name of Coulson is sniffing around. Threw us out of the warehouse; sent in his own forensics team.”
It was a little harsh, and Coulson had been better than pretty much all of the other federal agents he had ever had to work with. Still, the fed moving in on his jurisdiction did not make him particularly inclined to view the man favorably.
American Eagle pulled the card closer and picked it up, looking at it. It wasn’t one of the federal agencies that he was aware of, although they had a distressing ability to pop up and make themselves known and annoying when least expected. After a moment, Jason put the card down, looking at the detective across from him. Oliver Begay had grown up with him on the reservation, though they had taken separate paths to their current positions. Cop and vigilante. There was some amount of symmetry he supposed, but there was also tension. Neither man fully accepted that the legal system was there for their benefit, but they also valued justice just the same. “Saves you money.”
The police officer shrugged; there were other things for him to worry about than a cook shop that had been shut down. Like the ones that were still in business. “You could see it that way. But, the way I hear it, there were two of you. You guys teaming up? I let you run around because you don’t screw up. And it’s just you. I can sweep you under the rug when I need to, not to mention that I know that you can get the job done. You start organizing, and we’re going to have to rethink our relationship.”
Jason stared at his old friend. He was right, as he usually was. American Eagle already knew that he was pushing their friendship to the limit by continuing his actions. The media attention, and the federal attention that it had garnered, was not making it any easier. “Thanks for the heads up.”
The Native American stood up, stuffing the federal agent’s business card into a pocket and pulling out a few bucks with the same movement. He tossed the bills on the table.
“I’m serious, Jase,” Oliver said, looking up at the man. They had each known each other long enough to know how stubborn the other could be. Didn’t mean that they couldn’t reach each other though. “The Man’s coming down hard on this. Word is that people got killed in New York. These days, everybody’s looking over their shoulders. This gets out, and we’re all going to be in a world of shit. Not everybody’s got Tony Stark’s bank account.”
Jason said nothing, looking away for a moment. It wasn’t the detective’s fault. He had heard the accounts, though most of the time they were relegated to tabloids and other less than reputable newspapers. Some of it was wrong, but there was enough fact out there that if more people witnessed the types of people that were really out there, fear would make people stupid. He grimaced, turning back to his friend. “You have anything for me?”
Oliver looked about the small diner. The waitress was back behind the counter, and there was only one other patron at the far end of the place. “We’re looking into the buyers mainly. The main guys you busted aren’t exactly rocket scientists. Mostly local sources for all the ingredients; we can handle that. But, apparently, the Nords were supposed to do a big delivery that you busted up. So, there’s going to be some payback. It ain’t over yet.”
Jason nodded. It wasn’t unexpected. It was the way that supply chains worked. Take out a chunk of it, and somewhere down the line people don’t get their product on time, money doesn’t exchange hands, and somebody ends up pissed when they get stuck with the short end of the stick. Usually someone ends up dead too. “Blood on the streets.”
“Yeah well, just as long as they don’t cross into Phoenix,” the detective said, digging into his back pocket for his wallet. “It’s supposed to be another gang. Don’t know the name yet, but we’re looking at the usual suspects. We can handle it.”
“Right,” Jason said, still standing in front of the booth. He leaned down and picked up his motorcycle helmet. “Just like you always do.”
“Don’t make me come after you Jason,” Oliver said, standing up as well. As close as they were, he was till the cop and Strongbow was still the vigilante. “That’s one fight you’re not going to win.”
American Eagle turned and left, not saying anything more. There could be no response to the truth.
“So when is our shipment going to get here?” the biker said, sitting down at the picnic table. He looked at the Nord that was already at the table intently. The drone of sodium vapor lamps was the only sound in audible in the secluded park.
He was one of the few Hellions that could make the meet, appearing human. The Nords wouldn’t have dealt with Razor and Mag if they had seen what they really were. It meant that he actually got to know some of the bikers rather closely. None of them were particularly impressive, although they did deliver on time. Well, they used to.
“Not soon,” the other biker said, scratching at his neck. A hint of a tattooed swastika was visible on his skin. “Shit got burnt up. You probably saw it on TV. It’ll be a while. We’ll make good when we can. I can give you some of your money back, but we’ll need the rest of what we got to acquire more of it.”
“Not good enough,” the Hellion said, shaking his head sadly. That wasn’t what he was feeling on the inside though. He was coming hard, but the Nords should have rolled with it. Made their amends and offered up some sort of sacrifice that would give them what they needed when they needed. Not vague promises. But, he could tell that that wasn’t what the Nords would do with them. Evidently, the other gang didn’t much value their customers. A mark of disrespect that Razor would likely want to see addressed. Which fit his mindset just fine. “We already set you up with twenty percent to help make the shit. We’re out that, and we’re out payment if we can’t make our contracts either. So you’re going to have to make good. Now.”
“What do you think this?” Tom growled, not wanting to deal with the complaints of their customers. Finding out what had happened was their first priority. And despite something of a shared history, he wouldn’t truck with an attitude from the Hellion after he had calmly explained the situation.
He stood up, fists on the stone table. He bent down over the other man, staring at him fiercely. “There are no guarantees, Tone. You know that. This is the best I can do. I suggest you take it.”
“Yeah, Razor’s not going like that.” The Hellion was not intimidated in the least. He sniffed the air, easily picking up the mix of sweat, exhaust, and leather. More specifically, he could pick out exactly how many guys that Tom had brought to their peaceful little meeting. Which was too few. “You don’t deliver; we’re going to have to answer for it. As well as find short term suppliers that aren’t going to be giving us volume discounts nor get us our product in time. That just pisses everyone off. And you know what, that’s coming out of your ass.”
“What you’re going to make me?” Tom spat out, wanting to jump across the table.
Tone just smirked, and turned around. His eyesight easily picked up where a few members of his gang sat waiting. He got the nod, smiling wider as he turned around. The profit was lost, so they might as well go for some payback. “In the interests of business, continued hopefully, I can give you one last chance to make this right. You got two days to deliver the full load, or we have it out here. You don’t want that.”
Tom sat back down, taking a breath. He put a hand up, hearing as his backup stepped up. “You’re going to get your merchandise, but on our timeline. Go tell that to your boss.”
Tone shook his head, grinning. His smile turned ugly as fangs appeared, his forehead thickening and his eyes turning yellow. He was just glad that bikers were also so willing to meet at night. Made it much easier for him. “He heard you.”
“The fuck?” the Nord exclaimed, jumping to his feet and backing up. He had seen Tone’s face blur and shift into something out of a horror movie. He wasn’t on anything, so he knew that whatever he had just seen had actually happened. Even if he couldn’t explain it.
The vampire stood up and got up on the table. He hopped lightly to the other side, watching in amusement as Tom backed up and pulled out a gun. “You should have gone with the first option Tom. Now it’s just going to end badly for...well, just for you guys.”
He bolted forward, fangs to the other biker’s teeth before the Nord biker could even fire off a shot. The vampire drank deep and long, filling his mouth with warmth as the other Hellions made their moves. Tone ignored the sounds of battle; gunshots being fired in the air and in the general direction of the Hellions. The Nords were about to get a rude awakening in the types of beings that they should have directed their hatred to.
“Initial reports are that the damage dealt to the steel girder is consistent with class four strength,” Coulson reported into the phone. He pulled another paper to him. It was the metallurgical analysis that had been expedited for him. It had only taken another day to get the reports on the tests. Still somewhat raw, the data was good enough to extrapolate some things to his trained mind. “There is some evidence beyond witness reports that suggests that the other individual may also have superhuman abilities. Class two or three, borderline case.”
The SHIELD agent nodded as he listened to the director. “It’s still being worked on, but there was no indication of exotic radiation nor particle damage done to the pieces I sent in for testing. No gamma either. We’re having all of that double-checked though. If we are dealing with someone with energy projection capabilities, it may only be limited to concussive force only. Without any residuals.”
“Do we have descriptions of the attackers yet?” the man on the other end of the phone said. It was a few hours later where he was, but the time difference didn’t matter when they were on the clock. They were always on the clock.
Phil turned to another page of a different report, refreshing himself on the details. It was scant though, and he really needn’t have bothered. “Their faces were obscured and the clothing was farily generic. Jeans, leather jacket, green turtleneck, and cargo pants. No distinguishing characteristics that could be made out. The only things that might help are the statements of a yellow half-mask and some type of symbol on one of the man’s chest. Nobody got a good look at it however. The mask is more distinguishable though, and I have already put a tag to make sure we are informed if it is seen again.
“What’s your take on this, Phil?” Nick asked, somewhat wishing that he was doing the field investigation himself. Unfortunately, as director he had to take a much more hands-off approach to the day to day operations that they were involved in. Though it wasn’t like Agent Coulson was unqualified to perform that investigation himself. Only, he felt as if his hands were tied when he wasn’t able to put himself into the game.
“This American Eagle person. I believe that’s probably a local superhuman turned vigilante. This is likely the largest thing that he’s done, which is why it was more visible to us,” the SHIELD stated. It made sense considering that he had taken on a partner for it. Unfortunately that had not led anywhere. Nobody had really seen much of this supposed vigilante and the police officers he had interviewed claimed that he either didn’t exist, or that he should be protected, though the latter was just heavily implied. Still, there were those that said that if he did exist he should be arrested, but he didn’t think that they had any actual information on the subject. “The other one is a complete unknown. I put in the parameters and ran a search through our archives, but nothing so far. It could a be drifter or someone that the American Eagle knows. I think that might be a dead end if he’s already left town. There is something odd though. According to the statements, the secondary subject was wearing a holster. He was armed with guns, but never used them.”
“When is the American Eagle’s first rumored appearance?” Nick asked. The latest bit was somewhat intriguing. An odd decision to wear firearms without actually using them. Probably something that wouldn’t be answered until he met the man for himself. The factors weighing in the usefulness of going after either for recruitment were very conflicted. Of course, that implied that they would be able to find them.
Agent Coulson checked his write-up. “About sixteen years ago. Details are rather sketchy on that though. I doubt we would be able to find him here unless he makes himself known to us. He’s probably figured that out though, if he’s been able to stay hidden for that long.”
Which mean that the director couldn’t justify staking a man out in the city on the off-chance of finding the particular individual. Unfortunate that someone that appeared to be able to play the role of hero competently was too good for them to try to look for with their present resources. And the other one was probably out of town already, if the American Eagle wasn’t actively helping him. Making both men equally hard to find.
“Alright,” Director Fury said at last, leaning back in his office chair. “Finish your investigation. We may not be able to find these two right now, but I want to know what they can do.”
“Understood,” Phil said, hanging up the phone without a goodbye.
“Police report at least fifteen deaths at this gristly scene, the latest violence to strike Phoenix as a result of methamphetamine manufacturing and distribution,” the reporter reported over the television set. “Officials are unwilling to confirm whether this attack was related to the events of a couple of nights ago when a meth lab was destroyed by still unknown parties. The local administration seems unable to stem the damage done by this epidemic.”
Jason frowned, turning the TV off. The locals were always rather inflammatory with their reporting. He picked up his beer and drained the rest. It wasn’t completely unexpected news. After all, there were always repercussions to what he did. Especially when it involved hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of drugs. Blood on the streets indeed.
It was small consolation that only the wicked had been caught up in the crossfire.
It wouldn’t stop there though. The Nords had just lost a not insignificant number of members, which mean that they could be perceived as vulnerable. That would prompt turf wars for any MC looking at expansion, as well as those that might want to muscle in on the trade. That didn’t even touch upon the buyers, who were still an unknown quantity. That was the probable party responsible for the massacre. They would surely have their own pissed off buyers as well, meaning more violence could occur.
His thoughts were interrupted as his cell phone rang. Jason picked it up noticing that it was Oliver before answering it. “Yeah?”
“Tell me this wasn’t you,” the cop on the other side said hurriedly. He had left the scene some time ago, wanting to get to somewhere secure. “Tell me that you didn’t just waste a dozen bangers in a goddamned park.”
“You know it wasn’t me,” Jason said calmly. He couldn’t blame the cop. It was basically his and Xander’s fault that there were more bodies on the ground. Of course, it was also their fault that quite a few batches of meth would not reach their intended customers.
Oliver sighed, knowing that it hadn’t been a particularly intelligent accusation. There had been numerous bike tracks in the park, indicating that two parties with multiple members were there. More than two even. And the way that the Nords had been dispatched was nothing like what Jason did. American Eagle didn’t kill, and was content at broken bones at the most extreme. Even the other player hadn’t killed anybody yet. It made it hard to find the desire to go after them with everything else that goes on in the city. “Yeah, well you see what happens when you get involved?”
“Same thing would have happened if it was cops that raided that warehouse,” Jason retorted. It wasn’t a particularly new argument. And though it was true that the consequences were the result of his illegal actions, that didn’t mean that he should stop. “You going to tell me what you have on this other club now? Before there are more parks you need to hose down?”
The detective breathed out heavily through his nose, the sound audible over the phone. He was torn. The longer this played out the more deaths would occur. And the more likely that it would be the citizens that he was tasked to protect. American Eagle might be able to hurry the investigation along quicker than the cops could actually solve it. A sad truth, that was one of the few things protecting the man. “Gas station attendant says that a couple of bikers with a cut that he hadn’t seen before rolled into his place a little while ago. Patch said Hellions. It’s not in the database as far as I can tell, but if they’re working with a crew large enough to take on the Nords, then there should be something about them somewhere. Anyway, the timeline fits, so it’s what we’re going to be working on. Nothing so far though.”
He didn’t even know why he was telling Jason any of it. The only thing he was sure about though, was that he didn’t want to have to clean up more dead bodies. Even if it was of the guilty.
“Oliver,” American Eagle said after a moment, glad that his friend was willing to share information in order to get this cleaned up as soon as possible. “Thanks.”
“Don’t,” the detective shot back, he was still a cop after all. He shouldn’t be going outside. He shouldn’t have to. “Just…just do what you can.”
Xander took another drink from his coke bottle. It was something he had seen in a couple of the markets they had stopped at in Arizona. Mexican coke. Made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. It was better than the stuff that he usually had. And it even came in the old glass bottles, which was kind of neat in and of itself. Hecho en Mexico indeed.
“So,” Vi said, sipping from her iced mocha. She looked over at Xander, who was currently watching the sun set. The day had been busy, having had to deal with the sights that Nancy wanted them to check out, schoolwork, as well as exercise and training. She hadn’t really had the opportunity to talk to him alone, and had jumped at the chance to accompany him when he went to wander, letting the other two women have time to themselves. “What’s coming for you?”
“What?” Xander said, turning his attention from the lowering sun. He kept an eye out for any waiters at the café that they were out. Even though he was sitting outside, he wasn’t supposed to be drinking something he had got elsewhere.
“Something’s been bugging you ever since we left Sunnydale,” the potential continued. She had told herself that she wouldn’t allow herself to be brushed off by Xander’s evasiveness. She’d get to the bottom of it one way or another. “More than this Tournament. And even more than…well, Orson’s death.”
The last Iron Fist shrugged. “Yeah, well, there’s a lot going on.”
“But, a lot of it is focused on you, right?” Vi asked.
“People like us, sometimes we’re lucky. We get to find out exactly why we’re here. Doesn’t mean we’re prepared for it. Or that we asked for it, but we know,” Xander explained. He looked intently at the younger girl. He could see the determination on her face. She wouldn’t let this go. “You have the Watchers, and Buffy and Kendra. They can tell you about what the Slayers are here for, and can give you an example of what a Slayer could strive to be. I had Orson. He taught me about what it meant to have the power that I do. Only thing is, that it’s a lot more involved than I thought it’d be when I started.”
The potential didn’t exactly get what he was driving at, and had a feeling that neither did Xander. “What do you mean?”
“What do you know about the Slayers?” Xander asked her. He couldn’t tell her everything, but it was good to be able to get some stuff out in the open. “I’m not talking about Buffy or Kendra. Do you know who the others were?”
Vi thought about it, eyebrows furrowing. She had read some of the histories, and her Watcher had talked in length about the past Slayers, or at least a number of them. Still, a lot of it had been focused on what they had done; the battles that they had fought. “I know the general events that happened I suppose.”
“That’s not all that they were though. The opponents they fought. The lives they’ve saved.” Xander shook his head. As much as the Slayers were important in defeating evil, they were people too. They weren’t just weapons to be used and forgotten when they were killed. “As important as it was, that does not define them. That’s not the sum total of their lives. And, it shouldn’t be.”
“I don’t know much more about them. The histories didn’t have much about them except for what they did.” Vi had never really considered their lives. And when Nancy had gone over it, it was often only in terms of why they made the decisions they did in the fight. She didn’t think it was because her Watcher was trying to keep something from her, but that it was what was known about them. What had been deemed important by the Council to record.
“I’m not the first Iron Fist. And, I’m not going to be the last.” Xander paused to take a pull from his coke bottle. “You asked me what was in that book. I can’t tell you everything, but I can tell you this. What we are, and who we are is in there. I can’t tell you if I’ll be one of the better ones, or one of the worse, but I know this. I have a name. One that’s going to be around, and carried, a lot longer than I’ll be. And that everything that that name means, part of me is in there too. It’s the same thing for the Slayer. Or for a potential. No matter who carries the name, you’ll be a part of the story too. The future ones, they should know what that means. They should know you too.”
“I think you’ll be one of the better ones,” Vi said quietly. “And I hope you’ll be around for a long time.”
Xander just smiled at her, turning to look off into the distance. The sun was pretty much all down, only the barest bits of it shining down on the city. “Yeah, well, that’s the plan.”
“I don’t think I would want to be the Slayer,” the potential said after a moment. It wasn’t that she was scared though. Only, that the circumstances of any potentials activation had implications.
The Iron Fist just nodded at her. “I know. Circumstances of my power didn’t mean that Orson had to die, but the fact that I got it drew him out.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Vi said strongly.
Xander nodded. It was something he had heard before. “Not exactly the point. But, I know what you mean. Maybe, maybe even ideally, you won’t be the Slayer. But, you got it in you.”
“Thanks, but you avoided the question.” Vi wouldn’t let him get away so easy, even if his words were a comfort to her.
He smiled and chuckled a few times. “I guess I did. What’s bugging me? I guess, knowing that I play a role in things much larger than me. Not like being a Slayer and having to protect the world. Something that happens in secret for the most part, even if it means they don’t get thanked as much as they should be. But, I’m a symbol for a city I’ve never been to. And a people I really haven’t ever met. And, that’s okay. Thing is, I find myself hoping that I can live up to the responsibilities of my position. I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last. But, if the Iron Fist carries a part of me over to every other, then I guess I’m worried about being worthy of being in that chain. Despite whatever struggles that I will have to face, I want to be able to do Orson proud. I didn’t earn the name the way the others did, but I hope that I’ve earned it by now all the same.”
“You have,” Vi assured him seriously.
He drained the last of his drink as the redhead looked on. He smiled at her briefly; the fact that she was so sure of it touched him. “We should get back.”
Lilah read over the police reports and statements made by the people that were involved in the attack in Arizona. All sorts of laws and regulations had been broken to get those papers here, but she wasn’t concerned with that.
The details weren’t very specific, but there was enough in there to highlight a commonality that gave her pause. The supposed glowing fist of one of the mysterious vigilantes might not necessarily be a confirmation of anything, but it was similar to what Orson had demonstrated. And so, while that didn’t mean that it was the man that had confronted her in the parking garage, or that he had the same power that Orson had, it was too much of a coincidence to simply ignore.
It wasn’t much, but it was a hell of a lot more than she had had before. The Tournament was fast coming, and she still hadn’t been able to find a suitable alternative to Orson. Not that she had expected to find one on such short notice, given that the firm had spent centuries previous looking with more resources than she could pull together in weeks. She had had to try however; it was her life on the line.
But with this, well, there was some chance of actually finding another potential candidate. She just may be able to save her own life yet.
Xander answered his phone, yawning as he did so. The sun was rising, a pretty vista from his place on the roof of the motel. He had went up for some peace and quiet, leaving the girls to get ready for breakfast.
The time spent in Tucson had been enjoyable. Whether the learning that Nancy and Jenny had foisted on the two younger members of the group or the fun that they were able to have, it had been worthwhile. He had gotten practice time in, as well as been able to actually relax. It had been a good visit to the city.
“How’s it going, Jason?” the Iron Fist asked, wondering what the other superpowered individual wanted. He had been somewhat reluctant about giving out his number, but the reasons to do it outweighed the potential risks. He doubted that American Eagle would use it for nefarious reasons anyway.
“You been watching the news kid?” Jason asked. He had been toying with the decision of whether or not he should actually call the kid after what he had learned from his source in the Phoenix police department. It had been his show; he had called the shots and had picked the target. The fallout was on him. Not the kid that had tagged along for one operation only.
Xander frowned, knowing what the older man was likely referring to. “The gang that got hit in that park? Yeah, I saw that.”
“Same gang that was there when the lab was raided,” Jason continued. Ultimately, he had to tell Xander. While they had made sure to leave no evidence of their true identities, standard operating procedure for him, the general atmosphere had just gotten a whole lot nastier. Xander deserved the heads-up.
“What are you saying?” Xander asked, wondering exactly what had got kicked up when he had foolishly jumped into things.
“Word around here is that a gang war might be brewing.” Jason had no illusions that it wouldn’t blow up. He only hoped that the MC’s would keep it amongst themselves. Not an impossible hope, given what he knew, but stray bullets didn’t discriminate. “Nords got their nose bloodied; they’re probably going to go looking for who did it.”
“You have any idea who it was?” Xander knew that he shouldn’t put the costume on for a while. At least, not anywhere around gang territory. He was just glad they’d be leaving soon. And that he hadn’t found the need to when he was in Tucson. Nobody on the wrong side of things knew that the Iron Fist was in the city, something he was glad for as well.
“I hear the Hellions. Never heard of them before myself, but I’ve been checking around. Seeing if it’s something new, or just a really really competent gang that was somehow able to keep off of DEA and ATF radar.” Jason had to be careful not to draw too much attention to himself. Not necessarily about his other identity, but asking questions about motorcycle clubs was not a particularly good decision in genereal. Even if he didn’t have much choice in the matter. “Just wanted to give you a warning. You planning on leaving Arizona, you should plan on going sooner rather than latter. I figure it’ll be a couple of days before we see any retaliation, but you got people to watch out for. You can’t afford to get caught up in this now.”
Xander frowned. It was true to an extent, but he didn’t like running from a fight. “What about you? You think you can handle this yourself?”
He heard the older man chuckle over the phone.
“Kid, I’ve been taking care of myself long before you came around.” American Eagle still thought it was nice that the kid cared though. Admittedly, that carried its own dangers. Xander was young, and though he was obviously highly trained, he still carried some of the empathy of youth. Or at least, the empathy that should be there. “Watch your back.”
“You too,” Xander said, sighing. There wasn’t much more he could do at this point anyway. “Let me know if you need any help.”
“Kid, you got a good heart.” Jason shook his head, though he was pleased at Xander’s offer. “Just don’t let it make you do anything stupid.”
Xander smiled grimly. Maybe Vi had been right. He would get the whole champion thing down yet. “Yeah, I suppose that’s something I need to work on.”