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The Waking of Titans

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This story is No. 3 in the series "The Heart of the Dragon". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: As heroes across the world rise and take their place, so to do the villains. And the world will never be the same for their conflict. Sequel to Way of the Warrior.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Marvel Universe > Marvel Knights
Television > Sons of Anarchy
neoolongFR18555,901124611,74723 Nov 0917 Feb 10No

Chapter One: Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebo

Chapter One: Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail

“I have school on Monday,” Xander said, sitting down on an old steel chair. The pleather seat and back were cracked and the round wooden table that he was sitting behind looked to be stained with any number of fluids, most he knew that he wouldn’t want to know the origin of. He looked across the cinder block and wood paneled room, at the shiny brass stripper pole that was in front of an old piano. Fun times had by all no doubt.

It was almost amusing.

He remembered his uncle from his childhood, not many memories from not spending too much time with him, but he remembered that he had been rather rambunctious. In addition to telling fantastical stories, some of which he suspected were probably true now. Not the one about Velcro, but some of the others. There were large sections left out though, hidden behind what must be a mask of nonsense and embarrassing humor, most likely for his benefit. But, there were now things he remembered that his uncle had never talked about, things that were more apparent through his eyes now than through the eyes of his childhood. He didn’t know if what was going on was tied to the estrangement between his father and his uncle, but he imagined that it was a possibility.

“Unser will get things cleared up, get the paperwork pushed through.” Jax was sitting across the table, taking the lead. He was taking the cue from the president of the club, who most likely thought that it’d be better coming from somebody closer in age. Though, somebody that was more put together than their rather thick-headed intelligence officer who was more comfortable with guns and computers than people, or their new prospect, the now one-testicled young man somewhat lovingly referred to as Half-Sack. “You might be able to leave today, or maybe tomorrow at the latest.”

“Thanks,” Xander said, looking back at Jax. A few others were in the clubhouse as well, though some had gone their separate way. Most to the garage that was in the same lot as the clubhouse, some of the others to try to find out what had happened and what it all meant. The man in the corner, behind the bar, had been glancing over at them a couple of times. He was slightly antsy, some of which had to do with what had gone down most likely, but part of it was likely to be natural. From what he had been told, the man had been a marine, and from the look in his eye, he probably served a similar function in the gang that was the Sons of Anarchy. “So what happened?”

Jax shrugged, deflecting. “Charming’s got a lot of blue collar folk, that’s always been a strong market for drugs, sex, anything that can turn a profit. We try to keep that out of Charming, keep the violence out, sometimes the pushers don’t like that so much.”

Xander just smiled a little. He wasn’t sure if he was supposed to buy that. “You have to have been pushing pretty hard to get them to come after you all like that. Must have been pretty desperate to get at you.”

“Yeah, well, we’ve had to be less than polite at times,” Jax remarked, looking altogether too clean to be the hardcore biker that he was, scruffiness notwithstanding. That was one of the other reasons why Clay had had him figure out what to do with the kid. “Law can’t do anything until after they move in. They gotta catch them in the act. And we don’t want it to come to that. Charming’s home. We take care of business.”

“I bet,” Xander looked over his shoulder at a section of wall that had been plastered with black and white photos of club members. He recognized a good number of them from the party. A number of the photos used were booking shots from the local police department, including one of Jax. “What are you really into?”

“What are you talking about,” Jax challenged, looking at the teenager a little more closely. There were a number of things to be suspicious of. It wasn’t that he was some undercover cop or anything, he was the nephew of one of their own after all, but the way he had acted during the attack, it wasn’t his first time being under fire.

“The Mayans. They had a thing going with the Nords,” Xander stated flatly, keeping as little emotion in his voice as possible. He turned back around and examined Jax more closely, though he also kept Tig in his view as well. Both men were a little more cautious now. He leaned in closer, making sure that the Sergeant-at-Arms couldn’t hear them. “I have a friend in Phoenix. There was an attack on a meth lab there a while back. Nords and another biker gang got hit pretty hard. Got worse for the Nords when they messed with the Hellions. He filled me in on all sorts of things. The months during the summer had some gang war going on. Mayans were a part of that. Whole mess of violence.”

“Nords ain’t a club, technically,” Jax corrected, wondering how much Xander knew about SAMCRO and their connection to what had sparked it all off. The news had reported most of the details of the gang war, but that had mostly been localized to where the skirmishes had taken place. The gang, on the other hand, knew about what had happened for other reasons and through other means. “We started pushing hard on the Mayans to keep them away from Charming after they started their beef with what was left with the Nords. They got desperate after that.”

Xander said nothing, looking over at the club’s logo on the back wall of the bar. “Yeah, I bet they did. Your man Tig, he’s your trigger puller?”

Jax just shrugged, noncommittal. “We do what we have to, the law doesn’t always help, like I said. Your friend tell you that it was a vigilante that started that shit in Phoenix? We all do what we gotta to protect our homes.”

“Yeah, something like that,” Xander said, turning back to the biker. It was ironic he supposed, since he had been one of the vigilantes in Phoenix. He was partly to blame for the whole mess he supposed, though at some point, it was based on what people decided to do, not just what they were pushed to do. “Why do I get the feeling that if the ATF were to run checks on the guns you used, they wouldn’t exactly check out to any carry permits you may or may not have.”

“Carry permits are under the jurisdiction of the local chief actually. And I’m sure that he’s glad that things worked out how they did. Could have been a hell of a lot worse.” Though Jax knew that Xander wasn’t likely to be squeaky clean under the eyes of the law either. He was entirely too familiar with a gun to just be some civilian. And his ability to coldly shoot a man lying in front of him was altogether too hard for someone that’s never done it before. “And you’re not going to do that.”

It wasn’t even that Xander had something over the club. It was that he could get the eyes of the law to start asking the wrong, or rather the right, questions.

Xander sniffed once. He supposed he could understand Jax’s point. Of course, there were a number of people that were beyond caring. “Cause you say so?”

Jax just stared at him. Neither the Men of Mayhem nor the VP patch on his cut were there for nothing. And he’d do anything to protect the club.

xxx

“What do you know about the Excello Soap Company,” Director Fury said, settling down on the chair in the dining room of Tony Stark’s mansion. There was an extraordinary view of the coast in front of him, but he ignored it. There was a file folder on the table as well, but it didn’t have much in it. He’d give it to Tony to review, but it wasn’t like the businessman would be able to do much with it personally.

“Besides the fact that they make soap?” Tony asked, a grin on his face. He wasn’t surprised that Nick didn’t respond in kind. Iron Man, despite how helpful it was for Nick’s program, not to mention the ancillary support that Stark Industries was providing, was also causing a lot of issues for the agency director. “They sponsor an Internet quiz show every year. A lot of publicity for them, I suppose. That’s about it.”

“Brain Fight,” Nick confirmed. “Anyway, that’s pretty much all we have too. And a little more.”

“Why, what’s your interest?” Tony asked, slightly perplexed. “I don’t exactly follow online IQ contests. Don’t see the point myself.”

Arrogance, thy name was Tony Stark. Even now, but Nick figured that that was one of the reasons why Tony was so successful. The genius engineer couldn’t imagine himself not succeeding. “A few weeks ago the home of the latest winner was attacked. It was blown up, taking the lives of his parents and sister in the blast. It got flagged by us because of a molecular fingerprint on the explosives, and an agent started to do some digging.”

“What did he find?” Tony said, turning serious, or at least as serious as he could become.

“We started backtracking through the winners for the last ten years,” Nick explained, flipping open the file folder and taking out a list. He turned it around and passed it over to Tony. “Then longer. Every winner of Brain Fight has either been killed or disappeared.”

Tony frowned as he read through the list. He vaguely recognized a few of the names. Stark Industries did its share of publicity work, and given their high tech bent, they had offered a number of scholarships and sponsored events aimed at promoting science and the value of education. “Why?”

Nick just shook his head. “We don’t know yet. And we have SHIELD agents combing through Excello’s back history. But, it’s been slow going and they look clean. And trying to link that to dozens of deaths is slow going.”

“You think it’s them?” Tony asked, looking back up at the director.

“We don’t know that either,” Nick replied, frustrated, though he didn’t show it. That it had apparently been going on so long also ate at him. But, the causes of death and the disappearances had been varied enough to not have caused anyone to suspect a connection until now. “It could be linked to Excello, or whomever is behind it could be using the quiz results to target his prey.”

“What do you want me to do?” Tony asked, looking back over the list. It was disturbingly long; the last name was a Korean boy, all of fifteen years old. He could have been taken, though it was suspected that he had somehow escaped the attack and was currently on the run.

“Run the list through JARVIS, see if it can find any links between the victims that we haven’t found,” the director stated. “I’ve been authorized to allow JARVIS to access governmental databases to speed the search.”

Tony’s eyes widened a little in shock. That type of governmental access was unheard of for a private company. It was also a massive invasion of privacy, and could potentially establish a dangerous precedent. “That’s a little drastic.”

“For the last thirty years there has been a systematic and targeted attack on certain individuals in the United States,” Director Fury explained. Combing through years of history on multiple databases through the local, state, and federal databases was difficult and slow. And that was only running searches; actual analysis would take SHIELD agents much too long. It wasn’t what he would have preferred, but he understood the need for it. “That’s more than your garden variety murder. That’s terrorism aimed at depriving this country of its best and brightest minds. We need to know why this is happening and who’s behind it. And we need to figure it out now. So yeah, it is drastic, but it’s also warranted and I can supply you with the authorization if you’re squeamish about it. It’s a one-time deal. I assure you.”

“Alright,” Tony said, nodding. Although he still had significant reservations about the policy decision. He couldn’t let the boy die though. “Let’s get to work.”

xxx

“So homecoming’s coming up,” Willow said, smiling a little as she watched Kendra working out with Giles. The upcoming dance was making her a little giddy. She didn’t have much experience with dating, and having a popular, or at least respected, boyfriend made her feel more like a part of the school community. It made her feel at least a little normal. She looked over to Buffy, who was sitting next to her and was wiping herself off with a towel. “Are you excited?”

Buffy said nothing, instead staring at a poster that was pinned to a bulletin board on the wall. It proclaimed Cordelia as the choice to vote for for Homecoming Queen. The lead cheerleader was starting early in her campaigning. Back in Hemery, that would have been her.

“Buffy?” Willow asked again.

Shaking herself out of it, the Slayer looked at her friend. She smiled a little. “Sorry, Scott’s taking me. He’s going all out, it’ll be fun. We should go together.”

“Cordelia’s going to win,” Willow said, knowing what Buffy was thinking. “But, if there was a slaying portion to the vote, you’d totally win that.”

“Thanks, Will,” Buffy said, a little saddened. Her life was what it was, with all the bad that came with it. Of course, that didn’t mean there wasn’t any good. “But, she can have it. I’m happy with the slaying, and the boyfriend and the new shoes I’m going to have to buy for the dance.”

Willow smiled, at least Buffy was keeping things into perspective. And wasn’t at all complaining about being at school on a Saturday.

“Speaking of dances,” Buffy said, looking over at the other redhead at the table who was quietly doing her homework. “Are you going to go to the dance?”

Vi looked up, setting down her pencil. “Yeah, Xander’s taking me. And Kendra actually, but just as friends.”

“Oh,” Buffy asked, staring innocently at the potential. “What does his girlfriend think about that?”

Vi just met her stare, not buying it for a minute. She knew that Buffy and Willow were still trying to figure it out. Curiosity on their part was becoming an itch that they couldn’t scratch, and the fact that she knew, but they didn’t, was probably driving them a little crazy. Xander had noted that it was something normal in their lives, gossiping about relationships, and so they had clung to it a little harder than normal. She could sympathize with that. “I’m sure she’s fine with it.”

“So how come you get to know, but we don’t?” Willow asked, turning her attention to Vi. She had been hurt that Xander would have let Vi know, but wouldn’t have told her.

Vi could see that Willow was still on that point. She felt for the other girl, but it wasn’t that Xander had told her about it. And though she felt that Xander should have told his friends something more, she also understood why he didn’t. “It wasn’t like that. We sort of found out, so it isn’t that Xander trusts us more or likes us more or anything. It’s just something that worked out that way.”

“Fine,” Buffy said, still a little unhappy about the situation. Although, if she had to be honest with herself, she was getting a little carried away in the hunt. But, it was that high school stuff that she liked so much to provide a counterpoint to her slaying. She certainly couldn’t blame it on Vi though. “We’ll find out when Xander’s ready I guess.”

xxx

“You protect this town,” Xander said, looking Jax in the eye. There had been a picture on the wall near the bar when he had walked in, his uncle in a leather vest standing next to a motorcycle and looking remarkably younger. And happier. He had been with a couple of the others that he had seen, along with six other people. The First 9 according to the black marker used on the picture. Nomad bikers that had found a home, one that they weren’t likely to want to give up without a fight.

Jax nodded, still serious. “Yeah, and I get the feeling you understand what that means.”

“I suppose I do,” Xander said, looking away for a moment. More than that actually; he had crossed some lines himself. Both in Sunnydale and in K’un-L’un. He wasn’t exactly one to judge, especially considering that there was a whole side to his uncle he was barely beginning to get. There was just too much he didn’t know. And Charming wasn’t his home. “So where’s that leave us?”

“This whole thing is going to go away,” Jax replied, shrugging his shoulders. “Most of the Mayans that hit us are dead, the rest aren’t going anywhere for a while. And you killed the head of the MC. And we got his son, so yeah, they aren’t going to come back on us or you. Neither are any of the other gangs. And you’re just going to walk away. Forget what happened. There’s really no reason why you need to get involved anymore.”

“That woman,” Xander said, looking Jax in the eye. “Donna, her kid could have been killed because of what happened. Because the Mayans decided to come at you here and now. You keep them out, and you push back on them. But, they come here, because of something you guys started with them. And you’re protecting this town. I don’t know. You so sure of that?”

Jax didn’t say anything. He had to admit that what Xander was circling around was something that he had been thinking about. Ever since his ex-wife had gotten pregnant he had had some doubts about the direction of the club. The gunrunning and other businesses that Clay had brought the club into wasn’t what he remembered it being as a kid.

“We do what we have to,” Jax said bluntly, his brows furrowed. “Have you ever loved something so much you’d do anything to protect it? No matter how much damage it did to you.”

“Yes,” Xander answered, with no hesitation. “I’ve…done my own share of damage. To protect things, people; it was necessary. I get your point, but I try not to go looking for a fight. Way I’ve found it, there’s more than enough fight that comes looking for any of us.”

Xander sighed, wondering just what the Sons of Anarchy were into. They were generally decent folk as far as he could tell, but there were always sides. And even the friendliest people could have their darker halves. “You protect this town. I respect that. Hell, with what I’ve seen, they come at you and I want to pick up a gun and be right there with you. Cops weren’t exactly helpful, and I know that tune. They try, but like you said, they gotta see it to do anything. And that’s when they want to. Still, innocent people got in the way, and too many of them died because of it. Do what you have to, but I wouldn’t want to go looking for a fight. Whatever you do, I don’t know, is it worth it? Is it worth it for the heat you bring onto this town?”

Jax nodded hesitantly. He knew that Xander wouldn’t say anything about what happened. Still, there was something to what the boy had said that struck him. He wondered if his father, also one of the First 9, had wanted it this way.

xxx

The teenager ran through the bushes in a panic. Night had fallen hours ago, but the moon was large and bright, so he didn’t trip on any exposed roots. It didn’t tell him much about where he was going though. All he knew was that he had to keep running.

He had to keep himself from looking over his shoulder as it chased him, as he heard the growling and heavy breath of what could only be described as a monster. It had been some time since he had first been attacked, and his cheek stung from the clawing that had ripped it open. He could hear it coming closer and urged his aching and burning body forward.

The boy had no idea why it was happening, cursing himself for stopping at the coffee shop during nightfall and choosing to walk home. He was in the woods, and knew that it was near the park where the school was near, but he had lost his bearings. All the better for the beast.

Just as he was about to turn, his foot caught a loose patch of leaves and dirt and he stumbled, falling to the ground. He broke his fall and tried to get back to his feet quickly, but it was too late. He could see the figure approach him, the gnarled skin and bright teeth evident in the moonlight. He tried to back away, pushing himself away with his feet, but it wasn’t enough.

The beast was upon him, and all that he could do was scream. And then he couldn’t even do that.

xxx

The Mandarin sniffed the air lightly, displeased at the odors of ozone and bio-metallic fluids that wafted through the air. He walked quietly through the room, noting that his scientists all turned from their work to pay their respects as they noticed his presence. They were stationed at computer screens and microscopes and other assorted instruments. Some of them were working on miscellaneous projects for his corporation, while others were working on projects for his true goals.

He walked further, into the personal lab that had been set up for Dr. Sterns. The air was heavier there, with the smell of lubricants and blood mixed into the other omnipresent odors. He walked closer to the project that was currently lying on a thick metal table. Blood and other liquids stained its surface, and the creature on it looked to be some twisted amalgamation of flesh and metal. It hardly looked human with its overly large head and cybernetic limbs.

“How is the project coming,” the Mandarin said, as the green-skinned scientist turned around. He continued to look at the creature, noting the thickness of its muscles and the strength that was implied by its servos. The mechanics were not fully installed and only parts had been added, but what the finished project would be would most surely be a powerful weapon.

“Ah yes, your eminence,” Dr. Sterns said, bowing a little sarcastically. He looked over at his current work, the melding of years of his own research as well as the development of work done by a number of others. He had advanced it all in a number of months, his gamma-enhanced intellect working to produce the perfect killer. That was its only purpose. A mobile organism designed only for killing. “It has gone very well. The government files your men have acquired regarding bonding cybernetics to biological matter, though still in development stages, have proven to be quite fruitful. And I hope that their enhancements have proven to be quite worth the expense.”

The Mandarin said nothing for a while. He had allowed Dr. Sterns to experiment on the private security force of one of his subsidiary companies. Roxxon’s private military contractor division, Blackguard, had been combed through and a team had been assembled into Strikeforce X. Rudimentary cybernetics and limited gamma enhancements had gifted the twelve man team with superior strength, the keenest senses, the fastest reflexes, and healing factors that were almost on par with that of the Hulk. That they had been the sole survivors of a procedure that had claimed eighty of their original number meant that the process still had to be refined. Still, it was a good first step, and the demon’s blood that had recently been obtained would only strengthen the next generation.

“How long until the project is online,” the Mandarin asked, hearing footsteps behind him. He halfway turned, acknowledging the presence of Klein, the head of Strikeforce X, and signaled him to wait.

Dr. Sterns half-smiled, looking at one of his most successful projects. The bald man was heavily tanned and was well-muscled, a perfect specimen of humanity. An ancestor of M.O.D.O.K., they served their purpose well. The scientist looked back over at his employer. “Because I started from scratch, with cloned tissue, I have had to construct a brain. To program that will take some time, and even I don’t dare to rush the process. You want a fully controlled gamma-enhanced warrior. I can’t just stick a demon brain in the thing. Not if you want total control. It will take time before the imprinting is complete. At least six months, and no amount of complaining will change that.”

The Mandarin nodded, ignoring the tone. Dr. Sterns was allowed his impudence given his importance to the work at hand, for now at least. While he did not like having other intellects destroyed, he had had no choice. Only a few that had been tested had the mental mettle as well as the potential disposition to be useful in his plans. And he had not wanted anybody else to be able to mold those minds and use them against him. A sacrifice, but a necessary one. “See that you keep me apprised of the situation, Sterns. We will need an army of these M.O.D.O.K.s before long.”

“Very well,” Dr. Sterns said, frowning as he watched the Mandarin leave with his super soldier.

xxx

Buffy frowned as Ms. Calendar filled them in on the news. Jeff Orkin’s body had just been discovered in the woods, mauled pretty badly. From what the computer teacher could glean from the police files, it had been attributed to an animal attack. A particularly large and ferocious animal that had attacked him the night before, under the light of a near full moon.

“Well, it couldn’t have been Oz,” Willow stated after the computer teacher had finished bringing them up to speed. She looked over at her boyfriend, who was looking blank about it. She could tell that he was concerned though, it was something in the eyes. “I mean, I was with him the whole night. He didn’t get out of his cage.”

“So der might be another werewolf in Sunnydale,” Kendra said, crossing her arms over her chest. She was still a little concerned over the Oz situation, but since he did take precautions and secluded himself during his transformations, in order to keep himself from attacking others, he did not have to be slain. It was still risky though.

“That may be the case,” Giles commented, though he was also examining the photos that Ms. Calendar had managed to acquire, mentally reviewing what could have done such damage. “The photos do not necessarily confirm or disprove that hypothesis. We need to examine the body and check it for evidence to determine what manner of beast was responsible.”

The Watcher looked up at the gathered group. If he had to be honest to himself, and despite the fact that Xander was not there, it had proven to be quite useful to have so many people of talent there. And whatever issues he may have had with some of them, and their independent streaks, it certainly made up for it in cases like this. “Buffy, I need you and Amy to break into the morgue. Examine the body and see if there was anything that could indicate what it was. Hair samples, or scales, or anything like that. They would keep samples there as well, so don’t just check the body.”

The Watcher looked over at the other Slayer. “Kendra, I want you to patrol the woods tonight near where the body was found. Work your way out. Make sure to bring silver with you, just in case. But, be careful, we don’t know what it actually is. I don’t want you to get surprised.”

“What about us?” Faith asked, looking at Giles in almost a challenge. She felt like she was in the kid’s section.

Giles just shook his head. “No, not for this one. We have no idea what this beast is, and so it’s not worth the risk.”

Faith was about to rebuke that notion rather rudely when Vi spoke up.

“You should bring Yong,” Vi inserted, all eyes turning towards her. “If you want to track this thing down, Yong could be helpful. He’s a dog and all that.”

“Good idea,” Giles stated, turning towards Willow. “I may not be able to watch Oz the whole night depending on how Kendra’s patrol and Buffy’s investigation turn out, so you would need be able to watch him again tonight in case I have to leave.”

Willow nodded, reaching out and squeezing Oz’s hand in reassurance.

“What about Xander?” Amy wondered aloud. She knew that he had gone to his uncle’s party, and that he had stayed an extra night, but he was supposed to get back that day, since they had school the next day.

Giles shook his head. “I don’t know when he is supposed to return today. I will call him after we finish and see if he can get back in time to support Kendra’s search.”

xxx

“The previous team killed the rest of his family, but failed to successfully terminate the boy,” the Mandarin said, taking a seat in his chair. The man across from him was standing, arms held behind his back. He had been made to wait another few hours, but did not show any irritation. The man was a professional after all, and he served his leader without questioning. “The boy has since disappeared, but the current search efforts indicate that he is still in the country. Presumably still in the general location. It is believed that he is likely trying to find out who it was that tried to kill him.”

“You should have sent my team and I, sir.” The genetically enhanced warrior did not move, staring his employer in the eye. He was displeased at the failure, and was certain that the previous team had been recalled and dealt with. Likely as food or sport for some of the scientists’ more lively projects.

“You were needed elsewhere, Klein,” the Mandarin said, waving a hand in dismissal of the idea. It didn’t matter at this point. What had happened happened and could not be changed. What did matter was what was learned from the experience and how the situation could be salvaged. Of course it had not been a mistake, it had simply been the truth of scarcity of resources. Klein and his men had been needed elsewhere. “However, you are now assigned to the task. Find Amadeus Cho, and terminate him. Make sure that nobody discovers who you are or why you are targeting him. Your flight will leave in one hour.”

The Mandarin pushed a memory stick across his desk. Klein stepped forward and picked it up, putting it into one of the pouches that were strapped to his black and grey body armor. The Mandarin only nodded, the professionalism of the man in front of him had been well-noted, if only he had more of his kind. Unfortunately, they couldn’t be cloned. That was what Dr. Sterns’ latest work was about. “You’re dismissed.”

“Yes, sir,” Klein said, turning around and walking away. He would have to prep his team and their equipment as well as brief them. There could be no mistakes made in the execution of their duty. His honor would not allow it.

xxx

Xander looked at the photograph that was on the wall. It was his uncle in uniform along with a number of other soldiers from his old division. The 25th Infantry, paratroopers, and they had gotten into all sorts of action over there. His uncle had never really talked about though.

He had noticed it the night before, but hadn’t had much time to look at it before crashing on his Uncle’s couch. He had the time now though, his aunt was preparing lunch at the present moment.

“You okay,” a voice called out from behind him.

Xander turned around, looking at his uncle. It was probably just a trick of the light or something, but his uncle looked a lot less goofy than he remembered from the past. “Yeah.”

Rory stepped closer, glancing at the photo that Xander had been examining. Of the men pictured, only half were still alive. A few had never made it back from Vietnam, and even some of the ones that had, had never truly left. It had been hard going, especially in light of the reception that many of them had received upon arriving home. It had been the impetus for the creation of the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original. It was freedom and rebellion against a society that had taken from them without appreciation for their sacrifice.

Frowning a little, Rory addressed Xander again, “let me look at you, boy.”

He looked his nephew up and down and then drew him into an embrace. Xander was surprised for a moment, but hugged him back.

“I’m okay, Uncle Rory,” Xander said, a little muffled as he tried to extricate himself from the hug. “Really, I’m fine.”

Rory let go and examined him again, smiling softly a little. “Yeah, I guess you are. You did good.”

“Yeah,” Xander said, looking away for an instant. “I guess so.”

Rory let it hang in the air for a moment. “We never got a parade.”

“What?” Xander asked, focusing on his uncle once again.

“We never got a parade,” Rory said again, as he looked once more at the photo. He had the rest of his assorted souvenirs and equipment locked away in a trunk in the attic. His old dress uniform was there, along with the medals that he had earned, and his old sidearm. “We did all sorts of shit in Vietnam, Laos…it got real bad in the A Shau Valley. We come home, and the people that we thought were behind us were there, protesting, calling us all sorts of crap. And the government sure as hell didn’t want to remember how badly things had gotten, so we got ignored. We were angry…we were angry and we just wanted to not be under the lash of a government that didn’t give a shit about what we had given. So we hit the road, started a club. Just drifting. Redwood Original, because we didn’t have a home. We found Charming later, it was in pretty bad shape at the time, but we built it up from what it had been. Law and government didn’t really play into it. It’s there now, as much as that matters. Still, it’s ours, and we protect it.”

He stopped speaking and glanced over at his nephew. “I get the feeling that you get what I mean.”

Xander nodded slowly. He could relate in a number of ways. His vigilante actions were illegal, and in that, he couldn’t exactly blame the Sons. Life was imperfect, and people could find themselves doing all sorts of things that they wouldn’t have thought they were willing to do, given the right reasons. “Yeah, I suppose I do.”

“Clay’s worried. He didn’t want it to go down like that. But, he’s glad that you were there.” Rory shrugged, running a hand through his white hair. “It’s a rough life. And there’s always somebody out there that wants a piece of whatever you’ve built up.”

“I already talked to Jax,” Xander said, somewhat mollified that at least they were pushing in a relatively diplomatic fashion. They were hardcore bikers and all, but they weren’t simple thugs. Would have been easier if they had been he supposed. “I ain’t saying nothing. I won’t cause a fuss, so you don’t need to worry. But, I also don’t want to hear about something happening because of whatever it is that you also do with that club of yours.”

“This is our home,” Rory said, in mild rebuke. “You think we want this shit to happen on our streets? We take care of our own, no matter what it takes.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Xander said, not knowing what else he could really say. Jax had made the same point the day before.

“Jax is a good kid,” Rory continued. “But, I don’t know if he truly gets it. Me, Piney, Clay, Jax’s father John, we built this place to what it is now. To have put that much sweat and blood into it, we’d die before we lost it. This place is as much us as anything.”

He could tell that the words were at least beginning to sink into his nephew. He looked Xander in the eye and smiled a little. Wasn’t a happy one though. “How many times you kill before?”

Xander tried to keep his gaze, but had to look away. It wasn’t exactly something that he should answer, but it was family. “As many times as necessary. More than I’d like.”

“Sunnydale?” Rory asked, knowing what kind of things one could get into in that town. And knowing his character, he could only imagine that Xander would involve himself in that, if he had found out the truth.

“Dangerous place,” Xander said, not exactly giving much detail. “Cops were basically useless, and now, it just seems like…”

“You have to protect it? No matter what it takes?” Rory asked, not needing to take the greatest leap in insight.

Xander shrugged, it was that and more. Like he had answered to Jax. “Close enough I guess.”

His uncle was right. He had no great love for authority. In a general sense it was good that there was a fairly fair system in place, in that civics class sort of way. But, in Sunnydale, it basically meant nothing at all. The cops didn’t know, didn’t care, or didn’t want to involve themselves in what was really going on. Which left it to people like Buffy and him and the rest to make things right in the town. And when that happened, things got all grey.

“How old are you,” Rory asked quietly.

“Seventeen,” Xander replied, not offended that his uncle didn’t know his age. He knew that that wasn’t exactly what he was asking either.

“Almost a man,” Rory said, nodding his head in acknowledgment. “And men take care of business.”

Xander nodded back, he hadn’t been a kid for quite a while. “Yeah, I guess we do.”

A moment passed between them, in some ways they were closer than Xander was with his own father. Such was the way of things; family was as much a matter of interaction as it was blood.

“We sell guns,” Rory said after a little while, holding Xander’s eye. “We sell guns to…well, it doesn’t really matter who. I don’t like it, hell I don’t even know how we got to this point, but it’s what we do. It’s what we have to do. We sell to one side, to use against the other side. Let them wipe themselves out. Do what we can to make sure it doesn’t spill over onto civilians. And make damn sure that it doesn’t come back here.”

“Why…why are you telling me that,” Xander asked, a little shocked at the admittance. Nothing the Sons had done had seemed completely legitimate. The pressure from Jax and the lack of it from the chief of police was some indication that something was up. It was damning, and he hadn’t suspected it was that far over the line. But, in his heart of hearts, he could understand why it went down like that.

Jesse had disappeared over a year and a half ago, and the police didn’t do a damn thing. He knew what had happened, but either the cops suspected or didn’t care, and in either case, barely went through the motions of trying to find out what happened. One of his oldest friends had been a write-off, a statistic in the ledger that was law and order in Sunnydale, and his parents were never going to get closure. It was enough to make him want to do anything and everything to keep from anybody else having to go through the same in his home.

“Because I think you understand,” Rory said, looking away. John’s death had hit him hard, and whatever the beginnings of the club, they had moved to something completely different under Clay’s leadership. The success spoke for itself, but he had always wondered if this is what John Teller would have wanted for the MC. He would have wanted to protect Charming, protect their home, but the rest of it was another question.

“Yeah, I guess I do,” Xander said, not liking that he did, but also knowing that he couldn’t exactly change things at the moment. He wondered how conflicted Jax really was about how the club was run. “But, I don’t know…some little kid in some other town gets caught in the crossfire because of something you sold…it would have just been like that Mayan attack. Some girl ends up with a bullet in the head. It’s all the same.”

“You’re right,” Rory admitted, almost immediately. Shame didn’t really come into it, nor did guilt. It just was. “You absolutely are right. But, it also doesn’t change a damn thing. There’s no one else.”

“I know,” Xander said, wanting to scream at the injustice of it all. But, he had to deal with the here and now, and not the hypotheticals of what could be. The ends didn’t justify the means, but it wasn’t like he could think of a better solution as an outsider. He wasn’t in the MC, and he sure as hell didn’t want to be. It just was.

He thought about the girl he had saved, and her mother. There really wasn’t a choice; he was leaving enough people in the potential crossfire. “Whatever’s left of the Mayans. The Nords, hell I don’t know what else is out there. You need to, you call me.”

Rory nodded, glad that his nephew had at least learned that lesson. “I am proud of you, boy. I want you to know that.”

Xander said nothing, but smiled grimly at the compliment.

xxx

“Our target is Amadeus Cho,” Klein said, looking out at his men seated in rows in front of him. He used a laser pointer to indicate a picture of the teenager in question. It was a little grainy, taken and blown up from a file photo on the database of the school that the boy had gone to. Still, it was good enough for identification purposes. “He may only be fifteen, but he’s already escaped from one attempt to kill him. He’s also the seventh smartest person in the world, which means that he’s smarter than you lot put together.”

The eleven men seated in front of their commander just listened to the presentation without comment. They stared at the photo, despite the fact that they had been given a hard copy of the file already, burning it into their memories.

“Our orders are to find him, hunt him down, and terminate him.” Klein paced back and forth a little as he talked, pointing out a few other key details that were pertinent to the operation. “Based on his test results, the eggheads believe that he has a hypermind. What that actually means is in the file. Furthermore, we believe that he is most likely in a semi-populated to populated area. Unfortunately, this means that not only can he can blend in, but we have to refrain from drawing attention to ourselves.”

Klein stopped and looked at each man in turn. “Pack what you need, but make sure that you bring light battle armor and sidearms. Discretion will be the key.”

He checked his watch, his men still saying nothing, though they took some notes on the mission parameters that had been laid out for them. “Wheels up in twenty minutes. You’re dismissed.”

The eleven men rose nearly as one, heading out the door of the briefing room without saying goodbye.

xxx

“You are very quiet,” Kendra noted, watching as Yong sniffed the ground earnestly. They had been following the dog for some time now, the animal having caught an odd scent at the area that the boy’s body had been found. Xander had not said much throughout their search, which was rather unlike him.

Xander shrugged, scanning the area around him. He had a flashlight with him, but the light of the moon was enough to keep them from needing it for the moment. They were almost out of the woods at any rate, and he could see a few streetlights through the gaps in the trees. “It’s been a long day.”

“Is something wrong?” Kendra asked, as she crossed through into the park that was behind the high school. She could make out a few of the buildings, but there was nothing suspicious that she could notice. She was scanning the area as well, utilizing her senses to detect anything out of the ordinary. So far there was nothing, not even a vampire was stalking the present area.

Xander looked back at her, smiling a little in denial. “It’s nothing that I can’t handle.”

They walked a little further in silence, and Xander could tell that the Slayer was throwing concerned looks at his back every so often. He forced himself to ignore them. It wasn’t long before they stopped, Yong pacing back and forth, sniffing the ground intently.

They were in the middle of the quad of the school now, and there was nobody there. Security lights were on in the corridors and hallways, and bathed the central area in a chemical yellow glow.

“This is where it ends?” Xander asked, looking down at the dog.

Yong whimpered a little and then nodded.

Xander knelt down and scratched the canine a couple of times on the head. There was nothing more that the dog could give them. “It’s alright, you did good.”

“What does this mean?” Kendra asked, looking around the grassy area at essentially nothing.

Xander stood and turned towards her. “There’s so many people coming through this place, he might not be able to pick up the trail. Which means that it blends in with the other scents here.”

“It’s one of de students?” Kendra asked, her heart sinking a little. If that was the case, though there would be less potential possibilities to sort through, it meant that finding out which one it was would be very difficult.

Xander shrugged in basic agreement. “Or a teacher, or the janitor. Or the principal. Too many people come and go through here to know who it could be. Yong could probably sort it all out, but we can’t exactly bring him to school.”

“We should check in with Giles, see if de have had better luck,” Kendra said after a few moments. She was disappointed, but there was nothing that could be done.

Xander nodded, yawning a little. It had been a long day, and he wanted to get to sleep. School would not be so pleasant in the morning. “Yeah, there’s not much else we can do here.”

xxx

“It could be anybody,” Xander said, looking out over the quad from the second story of the school. It was their lunch break and the majority of students were out there, in the sun. It wasn’t particularly cold, so they wanted to enjoy the warmth while it lasted. “Not a vampire, not a werewolf. But, he, she, it’s here. Somewhere.”

“Yeah,” Oz said in concise agreement. He supposed that he was glad that it wasn’t another werewolf, one that would likely not have known what he was doing. He had been lucky in that regard, he had not taken any lives during the times that he had transformed.

Xander rested his hands on the railing, leaning on them as he looked down. Buffy had to meet with the guidance counselor, a couple of her tardies having caught up to her. The principal had delighted in chewing her out, before sending her to see Mr. Platt. Willow was still reviewing what little they had found at the morgue, trying to match it up to anything that they could find in Giles’ texts. He doubted that they’d find anything conclusive, given the lack of strong evidence towards anything in particular. A broken off fang in a wound would have been nice at this point. “I’m not seeing a thing.”

Oz said nothing; it wasn’t likely that the killer would be noticeable. They didn’t even have a why yet, but he knew that when it came to the forces of evil and general badness, why didn’t always come into it. He sniffed once and then looked over to his right, pulling his bag off of shoulder and unzipping it to pull a folder out of it. “Debbie.”

Turning, Xander saw one of their classmates, a pretty blonde girl that was in his year. He didn’t say anything, but noticed Oz approach and talk to her, class notes in hand.

“You okay?” Oz asked, noticing the not very faded black eye on his blonde classmate that had only been partially hidden by makeup. He handed her the notes to the class that she had missed, wondering exactly why it was she had been absent that day. Illness suddenly seemed like it might not have been the truth.

“What? Oh yeah,” Debbie said, laughing it off. She took the notes, steadying her hands. “I’m such a klutz. I, um…”

“Fell down?” Oz offered, looking concerned. He didn’t exactly buy it, but if that was what Debbie would offer, then there was little that he could do at the moment. “Hit your…eye?”

Xander said nothing, turning back around and looking out over the quad. He noticed Pete, Debbie’s boyfriend, look up at them, or more specifically at Oz and his girlfriend. He didn’t look particularly pleased, and it wasn’t long before Pete’s gaze shifted to him. They locked eyes for a moment, and then Pete turned on his heel and walked away.

“Hmm,” Xander muttered to himself, glancing back over at the classmates next to him.

“Thanks,” Debbie said, zipping up her backpack after she had deposited the notes inside. She put it back on her shoulders, backing away a few steps.

Oz reached out with a hand, stopping her. “Hey um, if you wanna talk…”

The girl shook her head. “Thanks again for the notes.”

She walked off after that, Oz watching her leave, slightly bewildered at what had just happened. He shook his head a little in disappointment. “Yeah…”

Xander stepped next to him, glancing over at the boy that was a year older than him. It didn’t mean all that much at the moment. “We should probably get to class.”

“Yeah. I’ll see you,” Oz said, turning around and heading off to his next period.

Xander didn’t say anything, watching Debbie round the corner on the corridor. He wasn’t moving towards his own classroom. “Yeah.”

He started walking forward, increasing his pace a little to catch up to his fellow classmate. He passed by a few other students, whiling away the time until the bell rang. “Debbie.”

The girl turned around, looking at him questioningly. “Hey, Xander.”

Xander looked around a little, observing that they were alone in the hall for the moment. He looked at the bruise that marred her face, and noticed the forced smile. “Dad or boyfriend?”

“What?” Debbie asked in confusion, the forced smile turned even more awkward. She moved her hand up self-consciously, brushing some more of her near shoulder-length hair over her face.

“Dad or boyfriend,” Xander asked again, equally seriously. “You going to tell me you walked into a door? Or tripped down a flight of stairs? Door knob?”

“I…” Debbie began, eyes widening a little in fear and shame. She looked over his shoulder and noticed Buffy come up hurriedly.

“Xander,” Buffy said loudly, rushing over towards her friend. She spared the other blonde girl a quick smile. Pulling him to the side, she spoke quietly to Xander, making sure that she wouldn’t be overheard. “Mr. Platt was attacked.”

“What?” Xander asked, glancing over at Debbie to make sure that she didn’t bolt.

Buffy whispered again, this time a little faster, “I was on my way to meet him; he was in pretty bad shape when I found him. I think it was the same thing that killed Jeff.”

“How’s Mr. Platt?” Xander asked, glancing at Debbie again. He spoke a little louder. “Attacked? How’s Mr. Platt?”

“I must have surprised whoever it was,” Buffy explained, a little angry at herself for not being able to find out who had done it. “There was nobody in his office when I got there, but the window was open. Mr. Platt says that he was hit from behind, and then it was just flashes.”

“How’s he doing,” Xander asked idly, looking Debbie in the eye. He noted her expression at his previous purposefully said statement.

“The nurse is taking care of him, and an ambulance is on the way,” Buffy answered, frowning a little. There had been so much blood, she had thought that he would have been dead. “We need to-“

Xander wasn’t listening at that point, instead turning to face Debbie. “Son of a bitch.”

“No, he-“ Debbie tried to make out, struggling a little.

Xander just shook his head and turned towards Buffy. “Take her to Giles. Make sure that she stays in the library. And stay with her.”

“Xander, what?” Buffy asked, turning as Xander started moving towards the stairs. “But, class.”

He didn’t bother looking back to answer. “Please, just do it. I’ll tell you later.”

xxx

Klein stared at the computer screen in front of him. He and his team were in Phoenix, having taken a few rooms at a cheap motel on the outskirts of the city. It wasn’t where Amadeus had fled to, but it made an effective base of operations for their hunt. The Mandarin had facilities that they could tap into in the city, and it was in the same rough vicinity of where the boy had last been seen. It was a logical place to hide in.

Tapping a few keys, Klein scanned the security dump, noting that though the intrusion had not been traced back to a specific source, the hacker that had compromised the computer system of the Excello Soap Company had done some systematic searching. He had to give the boy credit, Amadeus Cho was remarkably efficient and capable of covering his tracks. There would be little there to tie the company back to his employer of course, and little for Amadeus to work off of, but it did tell him some things.

Klein turned around and stood up. “Alright, listen up. We have something. Kid’s been looking into the contest, tapping into some of the bait we left behind. He’s going to be headed to Utah. We just need to get there first. So pack your bags.”

The others all looked at him and then nodded. They stood up to gather their things. They did it quietly and efficiently. All of the men were professional after all. All were former military, mostly American, but a few from other countries. They had all signed up for the procedure for different reasons. Some wanted the money, others were in it for the killing.

Moving to gather and pack up his own equipment, Klein turned away from the men. The money wasn’t a particular concern for him, and he could get enough killing in the direct action unit that he had been a part of when he had been in the CIA’s Special Activities Division.

He was in it to be the best.

xxx

“Pete,” Xander said, looking to his right as the teenager rounded the corner. It hadn’t been difficult to get the drop on the other student. He just had to be at the right place first.

The teenager stopped up short, his fists clenched. He stared at the boy that was leaning against the corridor wall. The sun was behind the other student, masking the figure in shadow. “Xan…Xander?”

Xander pushed off and moved towards the center of the hallway, standing in front of Pete. He took a few steps forward, the absence of shadow revealing his face. “Platt’s alive.”

“What are you talking about?” Pete asked, his jaw set. He stared at Xander, wondering what he should do. A good part of him just wanted to ignore the other boy and move forward. Another part wanted him to just go through him.

Xander ignored the question. “You’re probably wondering how I knew you’d be here.”

Pete just sniffed, frowning a little. “This doesn’t concern you. Get out of here.”

“Can’t do that,” Xander said, shaking his head. “Wasn’t hard. You were going to go after Oz, I just had to be here first. Jeff’s dead, and Platt’s alive, no thanks to you. And you’re coming with me.”

“Go to class,” Pete nearly snarled. “This doesn’t concern you.”

Xander smiled a little and chuckled darkly. “You know, surprisingly I’d actually rather be in class. But, some things are more important. So you’re coming with me. One way or another. You ain’t touching Oz.”

Of course, Oz didn’t exactly need protection. At least, not in another few hours. But, Pete couldn’t have known that.

“You don’t understand,” Pete growled, pacing back and forth in the hallway with barely concealed tension. He was almost at his boiling point; his face twisted and set in anger. “He shouldn’t have been talking to her. He shouldn’t have been putting the moves on her!”

Xander shook his head, still calm. “Oz isn’t that man. And you need to calm down, right now. Or one of us is going to the hospital. And between you and me, I’m thinking it’s going to be you.”

“Wrong decision.” Pete smiled malevolently, his muscles straining as if he was trying to force something to the surface. It didn’t take long, and his skin turned mottled and thickened, veins popping out as his strength increased. It had gotten easier every time, and he didn’t even need the formula anymore. And it felt better and better.

He leapt, more quickly than would have seemed humanly possible.

Xander ducked it, putting a foot up and falling back, thrusting Pete over his head and kicking off. He heard the now mutated teen slam against a wall while he got back to his feet and turned. “What the hell did you do?”

Pete just grinned, darkness lying beneath as he scrambled back up. “I’ve always been good at chemistry. Honors student, you know.”

“So you turn yourself into Mr. Hyde,” Xander spat out. He had to end this fast, before somebody got wind of it and got caught up in what was becoming an actual fight. He stepped forward, raising his arms. “Someone’s already dead, and somebody’s gone to the hospital. It’s gone too far.”

Pete leaped again, trying to hit the other boy. He hit nothing but air as Xander dodged to his left. He felt a quick, almost impossibly fast, blow explode into his solar plexus. It hurt, but he was beyond pain, rage and anger all that was driving him now.

Xander watched as Pete merely took the blow, grabbing onto his arm. Twisting, he broke the grab, and kicked out with his right leg, snapping out and hitting Pete in the chest. Rather amazingly, Pete flipped around, using the momentum to kick out as well, pushing Xander back into the wall of the hallway.

Pete landed lightly on his feet and moved forward again, arms outraised. He punched, feeling his hand strike against the rough surface of the wall, as Xander’s head moved out of the way.

Xander could feel the vibrations as Pete’s hand broke through the outer layer of the wall. Leaning back, he drove forward with his chi, not letting the short distance hinder the power behind the blow. A one inch punch, but Pete was thrown against the other wall, slamming hard.

It took Peter a moment to regain his feet after that hit, noticing or not feeling what most surely were cracked ribs. He shook it off though, and moved forward as best he could.

Xander strode forward as well, blocking a few more of Pete’s wild blows, utilizing his superior skill to deflect the other student’s brute force attacks. Punching from all angles, Xander laid precision strikes to the Pete’s face and body. Like things unto iron, the hammer blows did their damage, ripping open skin and loosening teeth, blood trailing from the open wounds.

Seeing an opportunity, Xander grabbed onto Pete, running forward and slamming him up against the wall. He reached back, feeling his chi pull and focus into his clenched fist, his teeth equally clenched. It was almost enough to make it start to glow, and the power of the strike would send his fist clear through the boy’s skull if he wanted. But, he stopped, remembering. “It’s over. You’re through.”

Pete just coughed, blood spraying out onto Xander’s shirt. He laughed though it did hurt to do so. “Look at you. You don’t have a scratch on you. The cops are going to think it was you that did it. You got nothing on me. You stupid fuck.”

Xander stared at the boy, wanting nothing more than to drive his fist into the wall, going through Pete’s head in the process. He deserved it, it was righteous. Righteous anger. Righteous rage. But, he could almost see himself in those near black eyes of Pete’s. “Look at you. Look at what you did to yourself.”

“I had to,” Pete growled, trying to twist his way free, but Xander was too strong. “She would have left me.”

“And screw whoever gets in the way,” Xander stated in disgust. “She’s going to leave you. She has left you. One way or another. Look at you. You poisoned yourself.”

“And what are you going to do?” Pete asked, laughing it off once again. “Call the police? You think jail can hold me?”

Xander merely nodded. “You poisoned yourself. With whatever chemical cocktail you invented, and with whatever thinking you’ve got that this was the way. That this is what she deserved.”

Jabbing a hand forward, Xander slapped an open palm onto Pete’s chest, sending his chi forth. But instead of a destructive kinetic blast, it circled around, pulling back into Xander’s hand.

Pete gasped as he felt a tightening, feeling like something was being ripped from his body. He could felt himself being pulled forward, and weakening. His skin thinned out and smoothed. The power that he had artificially given himself pulled from his body. He could only grunt in the agony. “No!”

Xander snapped his hand back, a flash of green light exploding outward in a mist as the poison that Pete had saturated his body with was expelled. Dropping him, Xander looked down at the now normal looking boy at his feet. The Iron Fist had expelled the chemicals, but it couldn’t remove all the poison in the other student’s heart.

“What did you do?” Pete screamed, trying to draw upon his anger and strength again. It would not come, and he just felt empty inside. It wasn’t there anymore.

“Welcome to the human race you son of a bitch.” Xander knelt down close, looking at Pete’s bloody face. For someone that had stared in the face of demonic evil, it was rather pathetic. “You don’t get any excuses anymore.”

Xander held up his hand, pulling his chi to it once more, the iron fist glowing into life. He shifted his fingers, the digits shaping into an arcane symbol. “You, are going away, for a very long time.”

xxx

“So it was Pete the whole time?” Willow asked, looking down at her hands. It was hard to imagine, despite what her fellow student had done to himself, she hadn’t expected that it had been entirely mundane. Scientific in nature, even.

There was no demon, but that which lay in the heart of man. Of course, the reality of the situation as never so poetic.

“Yeah,” Xander said, looking at the others in the room. He was leaning against one of the bookcases on the bottom floor, the rest of the gang gathered haphazardly at the central table.

“You figured it out very quickly,” Giles noted, looking at the young man. “Before anybody else was injured or killed. Good work.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t that hard to figure out once I saw Debbie,” Xander said, watching as Jenny looked at him. He had explained the situation, theories really, but supported by what Debbie had said and implied to Buffy. He met her eye, but turned away quickly, but not fast enough to miss the computer teacher’s grim expression. “It was written all over her face.”

“What’s going to happen to her?” Vi asked, noticing the restrained look on Xander’s face, as if he was trying to keep something in.

Xander looked at her and smiled. “I called the hospital. Talked to Mr. Platt. He’s going to talk to Debbie and her parents.”

“Are you going to try to explain what happened to her? With Pete?” Buffy asked. From what she had gathered from Debbie’s defensive statements, he had freaked out on her before, seeing him in what Xander had called his Mr. Hyde face.

Xander hesitated before shaking his head as he looked at his friend. “I think it’s probably best if somebody else did that. Right now, I’m just the guy that beat the crap out of her boyfriend and got him locked up.”

“So what, this guy’s seventeen. He just gets sent to juvie or something?” Faith asked, from her place at the table. She frowned, thinking that it was too good for the teenage boy, after knocking his girlfriend around, killing somebody, and almost maiming another. “How’s that supposed to work?

Xander shrugged. He didn’t know exactly how it was going to work, but he had an idea that it would be more than that. “Well, he’s going to confess. And, actua-”

“How’d you pull that off?” Amy broke in, though as her brain caught up, she figured it out.

Xander turned to the witch briefly, and smiled a little sadly. “I can be real persuasive.”

“Juvie hall’s too good for him,” Faith stated, slumping in her seat.

Xander looked back to the potential, knowing a little of what she was likely feeling. “Well, he’s a minor, but, murder, even crime of passion wise, which it wasn’t, well, it’s a big deal.”

He had at picked up a few things from Lilah, mainly criticisms of what could happen to him if he ever got caught in his vigilantism. Having a lawyer on retainer did have its benefits, as well as its share of depressing moments. And disapprovals.

Faith scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Still too good for him. Too easy.”

Xander didn’t say anything for a moment, looking down at the carpet. “He’ll probably be charged as an adult. Whatever Debbie might say, Pete’s got a murder to his name, and a pretty vicious attack on the guidance counselor. He’s going to a gladiator academy.”

Punishment and rehabilitation. That was the purpose of jail, but if Xander had to be honest to himself, Pete probably wouldn’t get out in a better condition than he would be going in. Whatever rage and anger he had, it’d probably just be amplified by whatever sentence he got.

He could have killed Pete. Punched through Pete’s head, or snapped the neck, it wouldn’t have been that difficult. It’d be like putting down a rabid dog, if he had to justify it to himself. And easy enough to justify to the authorities, as much as Sunnydale’s finest ever cared. But, that wasn’t what he was supposed to do. That wasn’t what he was there for. But, for the life of him, he couldn’t tell if things were better this way for those involved.

Xander turned back to Faith, speaking softly. “Nobody got out of this easy.”

xxx

Chief Unser ignored his head, the pain a constant fact of his life now. Cancer had been part of his life for over a year now, and it was only getting worse. He stayed on for the term, planning on retiring when he could. Didn’t make it much easier now though. He had cleaned up the necessary paperwork for the Mayan situation, though it had been rather light. Just notating that the weapons that the Sons had on them had all been legal. Hell, his conscience was actually fairly clean on this one, since it had actually been a righteous shoot. Clear self defense, even if that kid had been the one that had done so much of the killing.

That still pulled at him, but he set it aside, for his own benefit. The kid was family to the Sons, indirectly though it may be. Nephew to a founder, which carried a hell of a lot of weight. If there was any poking around in who exactly that kid was, it wouldn’t be by him.

“Chief Unser,” a pleasant female voice said, pulling him from his thoughts.

The short and balding police chief looked up, taking in the rather attractive woman in the severe business suit in front of him. Her intense red hair was tied in a conservative ponytail, and she exuded business. “Yes?”

“I’m Maria Hill, from the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division,” Natasha said, displaying a fake agency badge to the police chief. She sat down in the chair across from the man, crossing her legs as she put the badge back into her pocket. She pulled out a piece of paper from the padfolio she was carrying, sliding it across the chief’s desk. “I have authorization for a copy of the police report from the shooting that just took place a few days ago.”

Chief Unser read through the authorization form, noting that it was all in place. He didn’t begin to imagine why the federal government was worried about that particular shoot, but it likely had to do with some ATF gun thing, as it usually did. That the request, or rather order, wasn’t coming directly from the ATF was a little surprising. But, as long as the right papers were there and signed, his hands were tied.

He looked up at the agent after he had finished reviewing it. “You didn’t have to come all the way up here, Agent Hill. We could have just e-mailed it to you.”

The faux-SHIELD agent just shrugged. There was a reason for that, but not one that she wanted to reveal to the only governmental official in the room. “I wanted to see the scene myself. It’s more convenient this way. For both of us.”

“Okay,” Unser stated, setting the piece of paper onto his desk. “I’ll have my deputy, Hale, pull the file together. There’s not that much yet, we don’t work that fast, but we’ll give you what we have so far.”

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Natasha said, smiling friendlily at the police chief. It always paid to be polite.

xxx

Xander stared at the phone in his hand, sighing a little as he opened it up. He had gone back and forth on it, but figured that he should. He dialed the number, having to check it against the piece of paper that it had been written down on.

As he did so, he heard a car pull up into the driveway. Moving towards the window as he pushed the button to dial, Xander leaned forward, surprised that he recognized the car. As he put the phone to his ear, he saw Jenny, or rather Ms. Calendar, get out of the driver’s seat. He frowned and was about to close the phone when he heard a voice on the other line.

“Hello?” the voice said, young and gruff. There was a hint of suspicion, likely due to the unknown phone number that had just shown up.

“Jax? It’s Xander,” Xander said, turning away from the window. He hesitated a little, but it was too late now. “You okay to talk?”

“Xander, hey,” Jax said, a little surprised to hear from the boy so soon. He looked at the guys that were working on the engine of the car that they were putting back together, and walked towards the back of the garage. “Yeah. What’s up?”

“Just wanted to make sure we were clear on that thing that happened,” Xander said, making some small talk.

“Yeah,” Jax replied, knowing that that wasn’t all that Xander was calling about. “We’re clear.”

“Good, good. Uh,” Xander said, moving towards the closed door of his room, he could hear the sound of voices coming from downstairs, but couldn’t make out what was said. “My uncle told me some stuff. About the club, the First 9, kinda why they formed it. Stuff like that.”

Jax shook his head to himself. He wondered exactly how open Rory had been with his nephew. Clay wouldn’t like it, especially if too much was given away too soon. Family knew about how things were ran, his mother, for instance. But, it wasn’t something freely told. “Yeah? What did he say?”

“What they wanted. How they felt that they were betrayed,” Xander replied, trying to find the words. As well as making sure he wasn’t too blatant, it was an open air phone call after all. “And he told me some other stuff too. I’ve been thinking about it for the last couple of days. I don’t know, it’s just, between the stuff that he said about their vision for the club, and what it is now…I’m not one of you. And I have no place in saying what you are, but is it what it’s supposed to be? I mean, from what Uncle Rory said, it was social rebellion. Freedom. A Harley commune. It’s just…has the Sons of Anarchy lost its way?”

Normally that would have deserved an insult delivered with a beat down, but Jax merely stared at the wall in front of him. He leaned a hand against it, flipping through a few of the pages of the calendar that had been tacked to it. He remembered that it was only a few months until his son was supposed to be born. He remembered his father, and how he had been around him and how he had changed when his younger brother died.

“Jax?” Xander asked, wondering if he had crossed a line.

Jax swallowed, letting the pages of the calendar fall one after the other. “I don’t know.”

xxx

Ms. Calendar wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing there. She wasn’t there to see Xander, that would just be ridiculous. But, a teacher making house calls wasn’t exactly the way things were anymore. Too many kids crammed in one room and too many cutbacks. But, she couldn’t just let it go.

The door opened slowly, creaking a little as it revealed a man in his forties with thinning tan hair that was going a little white. He looked at the woman at his door quizzically, but the expression changed quickly. “Can I help you with something?”

She could feel herself being ogled, Xander’s father not exactly making it subtle. “I’m Jenny Calendar from Sunnydale High School, you must be Tony Harris.”

Tony nodded. “Yeah.”

“I was one of your son Xander’s teachers last year,” Jenny continued, frowning a little at the rather bland response. “And I was in the neighborhood, so I decided to stop by.”

It sounded lame, and she had to keep herself from cringing.

“Yeah, what’s he done?” Tony said with a sigh, shaking his head.

Jenny could detect the odor of cheap scotch, though ignored it. “Nothing, or rather, he was one of my best and most improved students last year. And we’ve been talking about his future. What he wants to do with his life.”

“Is that right,” Tony said, nodding a little sarcastically. “And what would that be?”

“Well, he’s keeping his options open, but he wants to go college,” Jenny replied, feeling antagonistic towards his rather blasé response to his son’s future. She swallowed it though, knowing that it would do no good. She also noted that she hadn’t been invited in, a sign of how unwanted she was, or how uncaring Xander’s father was.

Tony shrugged dismissively. “We’ll see.”

“Anyway,” Jenny started again, shifting in place a little. It could hardly be any more awkward. “I just wanted to stop by and let you know that he was a pleasure to have in class. He’s a good…kid. And he tries, very hard. He’s actually quite bright.”

“Alright, thanks,” Tony said flatly.

Jenny stood on the stoop, not knowing exactly what else to say. She spoke again, a little more firmly this time, “I just want you to know that Xander’s a good kid. And he’s maturing into a fine young man.”

“Thanks,” Tony said again, glancing behind him. “I have things I have to get back to, so…”

Jenny smiled a little, forced though it was. “Of course. Thank you for your time.”

The door was shut, firmly, though not slammed.

xxx

Xander shook off the stray thoughts about what Jenny was doing at his house. He’d ask her later, or his father would no doubt bring it up. “Jax, I just…I like her.”

Sighing, Xander bit his lip trying again. “Donna was nice, and her kids were just great.”

“Yeah,” Jax said in agreement. “They’re good people.”

“I just want you to know, I don’t want anything to happen to them,” Xander stated, a little more forcefully this time. “Anything does, and I get involved. I am involved.”

“Yeah, I hear ya,” Jax said, turning around to see the other guys looking at him with quizzical expressions. He waved them off, indicating that they should get back to work.

Jax wasn’t exactly sure what to make of the teenager, if his brother had lived, the two would have been around the same age. And this certainly wasn’t what he had been expecting, even from the nephew of one of SAMCRO’s founders. Toughness could run in the family he guessed, though he knew that Rory was estranged from his younger brother, who hadn’t been club material.

The biker touched his chest, over his heart. Of course, other things ran in the family too.

“And Jax,” Xander said, knowing that he didn’t have much more to say.

“Yeah?” Jax asked, dropping his other hand.

Xander sighed, knowing that he was just adding to the burden he already had. But, he couldn’t exactly do otherwise. “If you do…something, I got your back.”

Jax had to smile a little. It was ridiculous to hear a seventeen year old say that he would back up the VP of SAMCRO, but he had to remember that this was a seventeen year old that had shot the president of the Mayans off of his bike and had walked up and shot him in the head. “Yeah. I guess you would.”

“I got to go,” Xander said, glad that he was at least doing something about the situation. The idea that he could just walk away from a bunch of gang members selling guns didn’t sit well with him, even if one was blood. This was something at least. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Jax said, shaking his head. It was a hell of a thing, to have come to this. But, with everything that had gone on, the Sons had come to a crossroads. Less enemies out there, meant that they had more options. And a part of him knew that it very well could be better for the club. And he would do anything to protect the club. “Bye.”

xxx

“You wished to speak with me?” Richard Wilkins III asked politely, looking at himself in the mirror. His image was reflected back at him, staring into him as well. It looked foolish, but he knew that it was anything but.

“Your progress has been less than it should be,” the image in the mirror said, looking and sounding exactly like the immortal mayor of Sunnydale. It smirked a little evilly though, in a manner different from that of the actual mayor. “I am displeased. Punishment may be needed.”

“My attempts to acquire the necessary talent have proven fruitless so far,” the mayor said, ignoring the image’s sinister gaze. “However, I assure you that I will be back on schedule very soon. Our plans will come to fruition on time.”

The image laughed a little, and then burst into flames, the background fading away, and the mirror image of Wilkins twisting and shaping itself into that of an armored and robed figure. It could never be mistaken for a human as its head was a black skull surrounded by fire. The flames burst up as the figure laughed aloud. “It seems that I will have to guide your hand more closely, Wilkins, if you are to receive the full power of the Dark Dimension. I will find you the “talent” that you need.”

The mayor bowed, lowering his eyes before the demon in the mirror. “Thank you, Lord Dormammu. I will not fail you.”

The lord of the Netherworlds simply scoffed at the statement. “See that you don’t.”

Without a goodbye, the mirror reverted back to a vision of the mayor, as if nothing supernatural had occurred at all.

The mayor simply looked at himself for a moment, before reaching down and picking up his toothbrush. He unscrewed the cap of a tube of toothpaste and squeezed out a healthy portion onto the bristles of the brush.

Hygiene was always important.
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