Prologue: Welcome to America
Disclaimer: All copyrighted properties are copyrighted to their respective owners. New crosses with Sons of Anarchy and Law and Order.
16th Century. China.
As the junks burned in the water, waves lapping at their wooden hulls, the man on the dock ignored the ruckus. He concentrated on his fishing. He knew what was happening out on the water, but it didn’t concern him. Boat after boat was set ablaze by flaming arrows and a woman that unleashed glowing death through her very hands. It didn’t concern him.
His belly was empty, and fish did not catch themselves. The fisherman pulled up his line, preparing to cast it out again as he noticed a small wooden boat pull closer to the dock that he was sitting on. The battle had ended, and all that was left was the burning wreckage. Looking up, he noticed the beautiful woman dressed in green that stood at the small craft’s prow.
“Ahoy there,” the woman said, tossing a thick rope at the man. “Tie me off?”
The fisherman grasped the line in his hands and placed it over one of the pillars that anchored the dock to the bottom of the bay. He dropped his pole as he did so. The fisherman fastened it tightly as the boat drew itself closer in. “Of course, my love.”
“My love?” the woman repeated, allowing herself to be helped up onto the wooden deck by the man she had once been intimate with. “So you forgive me my transgression?”
“Of course. I realized that you could just as soon stop fighting as I could stop plucking fish from the sea.” The man looked at the Iron Fist that had just saved the small village that rested on the shores of Pinghai Bay. She was much different than she had been when they had first met. Of course, so was he.
She had long black hair, bound in a braid that fell to her waist. And, he was the one without hair now. But one thing was the same. Her inner strength. Her inner fire.
“And what truth did this realization bring you?” Wu Ao-Shi said, looking into the fisherman’s eyes. She remembered the first thing that he had given her.
The man turned and bent down, pulling up a line he had attached to the side of the dock. It was heavy, weighted down with the day’s catch. He smiled up at her as he straightened up; he remembered as well. “We are hungry almost every single day. And if we are to be hungry, we should at least be happy.”
She smiled back at him.
Wu Ao-Shi, the Pirate Queen of Pinghai Bay. And her husband, the fisherman. Four children, and a safe home that she ruled with benevolence. The Iron Fist kept the town safe from tyranny and oppression for as long as she called it home.
And so the two lovers were reunited, separated from their early days in K’un-L’un in both time and location. They were finally at peace. Happy for the rest of their days.
Of course, sadly they were not long.
Now. Somewhere on the 10.
Xander looked up from the large book he was reading as a loud motorcycle roared up next to the car on the other side of the pair of gas pumps. The girls were inside, getting a drink and using the facilities. He was gassing up the SUV, perusing the Book of the Iron Fist as he did so.
There was still a lot of material in it that he hadn’t covered. It wasn’t all techniques and the many uses of the golden chi of Shou-Lao. There was just as much to learn from the lives of the previous Iron Fists. He wondered if the documents and journals kept about the past Slayers would be equally useful for them. With the weight of lifetimes on their side, the past Iron Fists told him many things. Not just about what it meant to be the Iron Fist. And not even what it meant for the world to be the one that held back the night. No, the lesson he was learning now was that no matter how hard they tried, no matter how dutiful they were to their sacrifice, and no matter how high they could climb, that sometimes, perhaps even inevitably, they could fall.
And with that knowledge came the lesson of how to pick oneself up after.
Noticing the man get off the bike, Xander placed the book back inside the Land Rover Discovery that was now his own. They hadn’t run into any trouble the couple of days that they’ve been on the road, but he didn’t want to get complacent. The Tournament could come at any time, and there were other enemies out there to be worried about.
The Iron Fist stepped to his right, checking the man out. The biker was rather muscled, though not overly bulky. Tall too. And maybe fifteen years older than him, the dark skinned man moved like he could handle himself. With shoulder length black hair, and sharp features, the Native American man looked like a fighter. Maybe not a stereotypical Indian brave of movies and dime novels, but from the faint tracings of scars on the man’s hands, Xander could tell that he had seen his share of conflict. He could relate.
“Hey,” Xander said in greeting, smiling lightly. It was mostly an affectation. Hard to find things to smile about lately. “Been on the road long?”
The Native American looked at the young white boy that was watching him in earnest. He patted his jeans and black leather jacket down, dust billowing off of them in clouds. “You could say that.”
The man walked over to the pump and worked the machine, unscrewing the gas cap on the tank in order to insert the nozzle. He squeezed the handle as the boy continued to talk.
Xander shrugged. “Me too, just been doing the summer road trip thing. You from around here?”
“Yeah,” the other man responded shortly. He looked at the large SUV that the boy was driving. Not a typical vehicle that someone saw around there, even if it was capable of off-road travel. Especially on the reservation, such things couldn’t be afforded by most. And those that could were best left alone. Land Rovers were expensive, he knew that much. Mostly driven by rich white people, two things that were mostly synonyms at this point.
The younger man wouldn’t be deterred. He wasn’t getting any bad vibes from the biker, but Xander wanted to know where he stood. As well as what there was to do around there. It had just been dust and desert for the last five hours. Nothing particularly exciting.
He still planned to make it to New York in a week or so, which meant that there was time to have some fun just exploring the highways of the country. It kept his mind off of what had happened at any rate. The women had been good company, and he found himself able to smile much more often now. Real ones sometimes even. The nagging guilt of having failed Orson being suppressed.
Didn’t mean that it went away though.
“So, that’s an interesting helmet,” Xander said after a moment to fill the space. He nodded towards the brushed steel looking helmet that rested on the motorcycle’s seat. It was shaped oddly, the metal coming down towards the nose in a sort of widow’s peak. The plastic faceshield came down to the chin in a point, rather like a beak when viewed from the side to catch the curve.
“Custom,” the man said, replacing the nozzle back onto the pump. He turned back to his bike, tightening the gas cap.
Xander frowned, still not sure what to make of the man. He was about to speak when he noticed another Native American walk towards the minimarket some odd yards away from the gas pumps. The trench coat seemed an unusual garment to wear in the hot sun, the man’s strange gait equally odd. Like he was hiding something underneath.
The Iron Fist narrowed his eyes, walking forward and making sure he didn’t draw any undue attention. He didn’t like how things were going.
The biker watched as the boy followed the man into the mini market. He frowned, not liking the situation either. He moved to follow.
Xander had to blink a moment to adjust to the dimmer light inside the market. He scanned it, noticing that Nancy and Jenny were off to the side, drinking some sodas. Vi was probably in the restroom. The man in the trench coat was perusing the chips. That was all of the customers; the place didn’t get much business it would seem. Better for him that way. The only other person inside was the clerk, an old man that seemed to be bored of life.
He made his way down the candy aisle, one removed from chip aisle, placing himself between the trenchcoated man and the two women that were visible inside the main area of the store. He stopped in front of the gum, looking at the different types that were available.
From up close, he could see how jittery the man was, alternately picking up and putting back different bags of chips. After about ten seconds, the shaky Amerindian strode up to the clerk, his hands going to the front of his coat.
Xander shadowed him, making sure that his footfalls were silent on the stained linoleum. He approached from the right, watching as the man pulled a sawed off shotgun from underneath his coat. He moved to act as soon as he reached the right distance.
“Give me you-“ the man was cut off as the boy that had entered the store snatched his shotgun and kicked the back of his legs. He fell back hard onto the floor, dazed and unable to keep hold of his weapon.
Xander flipped the gun around, pointing it at the man’s face. He looked down at the man he had just kicked, curious at what he was going to do. It would have been easy to take care of things like had had back in Sunnydale. Cleaning up the streets there usually meant a trail of corpses and dust.
He stared at the man, hearing the women come up, surprised by the sound and movement. Vi was with them at this point. The old man behind the counter had been stirred into activity at this point as well. Nobody said anything though.
The spell was broken as the door opened again, Xander looking up to see the biker walk in. He didn’t look particularly perturbed by the situation, instead walking over and looking at the other Native American that was still on the floor of the minimart.
“Call the police,” Xander said, looking over at the man at the counter. He waited until the gas station owner picked up the phone before acknowledging the presence of the newest man inside.
“You do this often?” the man said, still looking down. He knew the man currently on the floor. A local from the reservation, but nobody of any particular importance. A mugger that fell on even more desperate times than usual. The gun was a surprise though.
He had seen the action through the front window. The boy may have been privileged, but he knew what he was doing.
Xander shrugged, still holding onto the shotgun. “You walk into harm’s way often?”
“Just making sure that things don’t get out of hand.” The man crossed his arms over his broad chest. “Give me the gun, I’ll keep things covered here and you and your family can leave.”
Xander looked the man in the eyes, gauging how much he should trust him. Maybe it was the chi, or maybe he was just trusting his gut, but he handed the shotgun to the older man as he moved over. “Thanks.”
The man nodded, grasping the gun and making sure that the man on the floor knew not to move. He glanced up to watch as the boy paid up and started to leave. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Xander,” the Iron Fist said, stopping at the door as he let the women out first. He could have used an alias, but it wasn’t like the name would mean much to anyone around here. He turned around. “What’s yours?”
“Jason. Jason Strongbow,” the man said. He knew that the boy could have done a lot more damage than he had. A minimum of force had been used. And at least nobody had died, especially nobody that he had come in with. For that, he was somewhat grateful. He didn’t need any more white boys laying down the law around here. Nor the badges running around starting trouble if the women showed up dead on the six o’clock news. A touch of a smile appeared on his lips. “Welcome to Arizona.”
Lilah looked through the database, searching for any assets that she could call on. At this point, she was basically grasping at straws. She had little doubt that Orson Randall was dead. At least, even if he was alive, it didn’t make much difference. None of the psychics and other supernaturally endowed people she had called upon had been able to find him.
Which meant finding the man that had accosted her in the parking garage. Something that was proving quite a challenge considering that he had not left any mundane clues that would lead to his identity. So she had to move into more esoteric territory. Hopefully someone there would keep her head off the quite literal chopping block.
The lawyer continued to search, ignoring the time of night. She couldn’t afford to let anything distract her.
Xander ignored the music as it droned on; his choice of stations overruled three to one. It was one of the downsides of his present company. As he glanced over to the passenger next to him, he couldn’t say it was all bad though.
His thoughts went back to what had happened earlier in the day. Jason Strongbow. He’d have to look him up if he ever came back around. There couldn’t be that many Jason Strongbows around. And he hadn’t missed that small pistol crossbow thing the man had had at the small of his back when he had walked into the market.
It was the first real action he’d seen since that last fight in Sunnydale. It wasn’t as if he had lost it. As if he was somehow lacking. He was as strong as he ever was, stronger now with the new techniques that he had picked up from the book. That was the problem. Davos had beaten him, not because the Iron Fist had been deficient in some way, but because the Steel Serpent had just been better. The chi that he had absorbed from the odd women had something to do with that, but still. He had been outclassed in pure fighting ability.
Xander knew that Jenny was worried, once he had explained what was going on. She hadn’t really pressed him too hard on the details, but he knew that she was worried. As much as he hated to see her upset about anything, it was kind of comforting to know that someone cared about him.
He glanced again at the passengers, reaching over to switch off the radio as he noticed that they were asleep. They had braved the heat and the crowds and had gone out to Hole-in-the-Rock. It had been pretty, if one was into desert vistas and such things. A good time, but the drive back had taken longer than expected.
Pulling into the parking lot of the motel that they were staying at, Xander drove slowly through the parking lot until he reached an empty space close to their room. They were home, temporary though it may be.
Xander stood at the window, peeking through the crack between the curtains. The women were sleeping, Vi and Nancy taking one of the beds. He shared the other with Jenny. Presumably the others didn’t know the exact situation, but with all of them in the room, it didn’t exactly provide them much privacy to show any physical affection. A few stolen kisses and embraces that lasted far too short was all he had managed so far. And he didn’t imagine that a sock on the doorknob would be a particularly good idea.
He glanced back, smiling softly as he looked at the slumbering group. Jason hadn’t exactly been right back at the gas station. Not biologically at any rate. Still, they were his family now.
Looking back through the window, he made his decision. Walking over to one of his bags, he pulled out a pair of cargo pants and a green turtleneck. A little more rooting around produced his mask. He moved over to the bathroom to change, only turning on the light after he had closed the door.
It wasn’t long before he was out, the mask shoved into a pocket. He dropped a note off on the small wooden desk that took up way too much space in their small motel room. He would have sprung for a bigger one at a better place, but Vi had wanted to do the whole family vacation thing. And Nancy had insisted that she share in the cost.
He opened the door and slipped out quietly, closing it shut behind him, and making sure that it locked. He looked out from the second floor of the motel, looking out into the night. The city of Phoenix lay before him, lights still shining despite the hour.
The Iron Fist leapt over the railing, landing lightly on the concrete below.
“Hey,” Xander whispered, landing lightly on top of the abandoned tenement building. It was a short squat building, but tall enough to give enough of a view of the warehouse across the way. That building, on the other hand, was not abandoned.
The man, still dressed in jeans, a white t-shirt, and a leather jacket and gloves turned around. He hadn’t even noticed the interloper approach. His enhanced senses had not been able to detect him. That rattled him more than he would have liked to admit.
“Xander,” the man said, the yellow mask doing nothing to obscure anything as soon as he was able to turn his attention on to the boy that had crouched down next to him. He turned back to face the warehouse. He had scoped it for the last couple of weeks. They moved like clockwork, moving their product out every week on the same day in the early morning. That was what he was waiting for now. The right time to strike.
He idly wondered how Xander had been able to find him. Although, he supposed it was logical. Follow the sirens, and look for the bad areas of town. That was where people like him could usually be found. The angry and the insane.
The Iron Fist narrowed his eyes; he was beginning to dislike the mask even more. More and more people kept finding out what he was. It was getting ridiculous. He couldn’t imagine what Orson had been thinking in insisting that he use it. Still, it was a badge of his office and so he would honor it. Even if he didn’t fully understand it.
“Jason,” Xander replied in greeting, noting that the man still had the motorcycle helmet on, though it was slightly different. The face shield had been tinted to obscure the man’s features, and instead of a steel colored helmet, it was black.
Jason’s jacket had been zipped up as well, only a small triangle of white showing the shirt underneath.
“What’s with the costume?” Jason asked, watching as a black van pulled up to the now opening doors of the warehouse. The boy was wearing an odd mix of cargo pants, a green turtleneck with some type of design, the mask, and a double holster.
He would have said something about the last, but considering the events earlier in the day, Xander had shown that he understood restraint.
The Iron Fist shrugged, unable to come up with anything in particular. It was too complicated to explain there, and likely wouldn’t be believed. “Superhero. You?”
“Same,” Jason replied, concentrating on the men that were loading boxes. It was the best that he could come up with at the moment. He didn’t imagine that most people had a radiation induced mutation that gave them super strength and speed, amongst other abilities. “What do they call you?”
“Iron Fist,” Xander said lightly. The big city was certainly different. At home, he only had the Slayers to deal with, in addition to a mixture of werewolves, and magic users of different sorts. Okay, maybe it wasn’t so different. “You have any powers?”
Please don’t let him be like Batman, Xander thought and hoped. That was cool in a comic book, and even unpowered fighters were useful against vampires and the like he supposed, given the relative skill levels involved, but it was never so easy as they showed in the books. Little collateral damage to be had. And, nobody ever died, or at least, not forever.
“Super strength. Super speed. Heightened senses.” Jason said, reaching to his side and pulling up a crossbow that had been strapped to his right thigh. He assembled it easily, not even having to look. A bolt attached to a braided fiberglass cord was inserted into it.
It was an odd question for the kid to ask. Unless the boy had them himself. The few fights he had had against others with powers had demonstrated their existence, and proven that he wasn’t that unique of a case. Along with some rather mystical beings that his parents and grandparents had told him stories about in his youth. That wasn’t even mentioning the thing in New York, though he only saw that on television. He glanced over at the boy. “You?”
The Iron Fist shrugged, glad that the man hadn’t thought him crazy for asking. “Super strength. I can make an energy field that makes my punches and kicks really hard too.”
“Really?” Jason said, not having heard of such a thing before.
“Oh yeah, like a thing unto iron,” Xander said, smiling for a brief moment. “What’s down there?”
“Meth lab,” Jason said, frowning. It was a big problem not only in Phoenix, but in all of Arizona. Most violent crime could be traced back to it. Even a majority of child abuse cases had it as a contributing factor. And as much as the police may attempt to do something about it, they could only do so much. Limited manpower. Limited resources. Limited time. It was left to the rest of them to cope, and dish out a little justice when they could. “The guys in the van are the Nords.”
“Nords?” Xander asked, looking at the gang of rough looking men load up the van. He saw black leather coats and vests with large patches on the back.
“Nordics,” Strongbow explained. “White supremacist biker gang. They’re originally chartered out of NorCal, but they got guys running through New Mexico, Arizona, and on up to Oregon. They mostly run their own cook shops, but they contract out too.”
“I guess we should stop it then,” Xander said, looking at the warehouse and the illicit business that was run out of it. Though he hadn’t believed that such things didn’t exist, he had always been more concerned with other issues. But, saving the world and protecting the innocent wasn’t always about beating the literal demons it would seem. He watched as the man next to him stood up, cutting an impressive profile in the night air. “What should I call you? Down there.”
“American Eagle.” Jason aimed, firing the bolt at the side of the warehouse. It was nearly silent, the barbed tip imbedding itself into a support beam. He tested the line, making sure it was secure. After tying it down on his side of things on a steel pole that was set into the rooftop, he loaded the crossbow again with a blunt-headed bolt and placed it back into its holster. He attached a carbiner with handholds to the line, getting ready to slide down.
“Really?” Xander asked, recognizing the name. “You…you ever worry about getting sued?”
Jason smiled beneath his helmet, knowing that the boy wouldn’t be able to see it. He may have been the strong and short of words warrior type, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t have a sense of humor. “Let’s go.”
He turned and slid down the line, the Iron Fist keeping pace by running to the edge of the building and leaping off.
Welcome to Arizona indeed.