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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
neoolongFR18555,901124611,84023 Nov 0917 Feb 10No

Chapter Two: Homecoming

“I like crumpets,” Xander said, interrupting the new Watcher’s rather long and boring introduction. Everyone in the room looked at him as he flipped through his textbook. He didn’t need to look up to verify it, feeling the amusement and annoyance aimed at him.

Wesley just glared at the teenage boy that had interrupted. He had been briefed in depth, or at least as in depth as possible given the lack of information that Xander, or Giles for that matter, had stuck them with. Still, he would do his duty, that was why he was there after all. “As I was saying, training procedures have been updated quite a bit since your day. Much greater emphasis on field work. I have been well prepared for this assignment.”

“Okay, Thomas’ English muffins, but it’s pretty much the same thing,” Xander continued, speaking to nobody at all. Admittedly, he probably shouldn’t be acting like an ass, but Wesley had immediately gotten on his case. Apparently the new Watcher had been under the impression that the Iron Fist was under the command of the Watchers’ Council. Not to mention that Wesley had been droning on for the past twenty minutes.

Looking up, Xander merely smiled at the young and rather stuffy Englishman. He put down his book and pointed at the Watcher. “Hey, I’m on your side.”

Vi snickered, but covered her mouth to keep anybody from noticing. Faith on the other hand laughed aloud, not exactly worried about propriety. Wesley merely glared at them as well, feeling his loss of control over the situation. While he did not have much training in regards to leading groups of people, he had been trained to deal with leading one. And one of the most important lessons he had learned was to maintain respect and authority of the Slayer as well as control of the situation. The Watcher led, and the Slayer followed, as had been the tradition for hundreds of years.

“Enough,” Wesley stated loudly, in as confrontational a voice as possible. He pounded his fist on the table, a fraction of a second too late.

Xander just looked at the man and nodded. While he was willing to go with it a little longer, and did have to put up with the Watcher, Xander figured that he made his point. “Okay, sorry. You were saying?”

“Very well,” Wesley stated stiffly, standing up straight and adjusting his burgundy tie. His dull gray suit didn’t mesh all that well, but it made him the epitome of a proper English Watcher. “It’s not all books and theory nowadays, and I can assure you all that I am well prepared for the rather unique circumstances that you have found yourselves in. I have, in fact, faced two vampires myself. Under controlled circumstances, of course.”

Giles nearly rolled his eyes, but refrained. He uncrossed his arms instead. “Well, no danger finding those here.”

“Vampires?” Wesley asked in confusion.

Xander merely shook his head and smiled to himself as he saw Giles get snippy with the new Watcher. He hadn’t forgotten some of the issues he had had with Giles, but he had to admit that even Giles was better than the new Watcher that had just come into their lives. At the very least, at least Giles was man enough to know that he didn’t know everything.

He felt a nudge to his ribs and turned to Vi, who directed him towards Wesley. Paying attention again, it seemed that Wesley had finished talking about himself and was now talking about an actual threat to the Hellmouth, as opposed to a threat to not dying from boredom.

“This demon, Lagos seeks the Glove of Myhnegon,” Wesley said, actually gaining a bit of depth to his voice as he spoke. He looked around the room again, glad that he had everyone’s full attention. “While no record of this glove’s full power exists, we do know that it is highly dangerous and cannot be allowed to fall into Lagos’ hands.”

“Do you know where it is?” Buffy asked, glad that the Watcher had finally started to talk about something other than himself as well. She really didn’t need to hear about him being head boy when he had been around their age.

“Yes,” Wesley said with some smugness, looking over at the Slayer that was still technically under Giles charge. However, his orders from the Council had been quite clear that were Giles to shirk his duty, according to his expert judgment, he was authorized to take over Giles’ responsibilities as Watcher to Buffy and Kendra as well as the potentials. “The glove is buried in a tomb here in Sunnydale. Thus, Lagos will be headed for the cemetery.”

“Which one?” Amy asked, the name of the magical glove tickling at the back of her mind. It was familiar, but she had read so many books of late as part of her training that some of the details had started to blend together. The sheer number of magical weapons and artifacts that could spell the death for thousands of innocents was astounding. She honestly couldn’t comprehend why people made so many of them.

“Excuse me?” Wesley asked, slightly rattled.

Giles stifled any emotion, and made sure he kept an even tone. He could not make the other Watcher seem too much of a buffoon. Whatever his personal feelings, both towards the man, as well as what he represented, the position of Watcher needed to be respected. “There are twelve cemeteries within the city limits.”

“Oh,” Wesley said, deflating a little. He looked around the library at the eyes that were still upon him, and realized that it was an opportunity for leadership. “Very well then. Ms. Dormer, Ms. Mayfield, Mr. Giles, please assist me in researching the whereabouts of the glove. Hopefully we should have something by sundown, which will allow Buffy and Kendra to hunt Lagos down and kill him, as well as recover the globe. If not, we will have to systematically search through these cemeteries until we find both.”

Buffy just nodded blankly, not exactly relishing the thought of having to search through twelve cemeteries, even with their rather large group. Still, at least they didn’t have to do that now. “In that case, we have time for shopping. Homecoming’s coming up.”

Xander watched in amusement as Buffy gathered the other girls together to go dress shopping. His amusement increased as Oz and Scott were dragged along to accompany the group. Despite their super strength, it seemed like they needed the two teenage boys to carry stuff.

“Xander?” Faith asked, not planning on going shopping herself, but the boy seemed altogether too amused at the situation.

“No,” Xander sounded out, shaking his head. There was no way that even a gang of Slayers and potentials and one witch could drag him along. “I already got my suit. I’m set. But, you girls go have fun. I have other things I need to do.”

The girls gathered their things to leave, as the Watchers got down to looking through their books. Ms. Calendar was on the school computer, searching the Internet for information on the glove as well. Before they could all leave, Xander took a hold of Vi’s arm. He slipped his credit card into her hand as she looked at him in question. “Get yourself and Amy something nice. And make sure that Kendra’s okay. Have fun.”

Vi smiled at him. “Thanks, Xander.”

Xander watched them leave, and then gathered his own things. He had his own sources to check. While he was about to exit the library, he heard a British voice call after him.

“Where are you going?” Wesley asked, looking at the rather mysterious and annoying young warrior’s back.

Xander shrugged, looking over his shoulder. He hiked his shoulder bag higher onto his shoulder. “Have to talk to my lawyer.”

xxx

“Hmm,” Director Fury muttered to himself, looking at the alert that had just been sent to his computer. While JARVIS had not as of yet found anything else linking the list of victims that he had given Tony, the artificial intelligence had uncovered some rather intriguing information. Most importantly of which was a serious of anomalies and odd occurrences that seemed to be going in a specific direction. A direction that would end in an address from the Excello file. On top of that, JARVIS had picked up an odd series of flights from China that would have the final destination of Grand Junction, Colorado, which was only a few hours away from the same address. Hardly a common trip to make, and hardly a common coincidence.

Tapping the speakerphone on his desk phone, Nick dialed a memorized number with no hesitation. It wasn’t long before it was picked up. “Clint, get your kit together. I have a mission for you.”

“What’s up?” Clint asked from the other side of the line. He turned off the TV and stood up, heading into his bedroom.

“We have a hit on Cho. There’s a manufacturing facility outside Moab, Utah that’s linked to Excello. In the desert. Looks like that is where the boy is going,” Nick explained, as he skimmed over the rest of the information that was available.

“You want me to pick up the kid?” Clint asked, moving to his closet. He pulled a large bag out of it, moving over to a large safe that had been bolted to the floor. Twisting the dial, he unlocked the safe and started to pull out his personal weapons, laying them out on the bed.

Nick looked over at the phone. “Yes, but there might be somebody there to meet the both of you as well. We’ve had an anomalous flight coming out of China. Looks like it could be a twelve man team. Capture or kill. We’ve had some intel that Sterns might have taken refuge there, so they represent a real risk.”

“Hmm,” Clint said, stopping as he placed a handgun into his bag. “The rest of the team?”

“Tony is occupied, but Dr. Banner will meet you at the airport,” Nick said. He had hoped to have the man calling himself Thor on board by now, but his requests to have international aid doubled had so far not gained any traction. At least he was able to keep some channel of communication open with Golmen. And the man had been gracious enough to leave it as an open invitation, though it was more likely for the man’s own amusement than any serious attempt at joining up. Still, Nick supposed that for a god, time was relative. “I’m sending Agent Coulson and a backup team with you as well. You’ll be in overall command.”

Clint nodded to himself; there really wasn’t anything else to it. While Tony and his armor would have been extremely helpful in walking into an unknown situation, the Hulk was no slouch either. And Agent Coulson and the rest of the SHIELD operatives may be rather stiff, but they were all supremely qualified. “Alright. What’s the departure time?”

“You have one hour,” Nick replied, checking the digital clock on the phone’s display. “I’ll have a car pick you up.”

xxx

“Well, this is certainly unexpected,” Wilkins said as he got over the sudden appearance of the individuals that had appeared in his office with a flash and a burst of glowing sparkles. He had known that Dormammu would send help, however he had not anticipated that it would be sent in such a dramatic fashion. Of course, Wilkins assumed that it was also a message for how powerful the demon lord was, and how he should not do anything to displease the demon lord.

“I am Ulik,” a large and stout creature stated in a gravelly voice. He was built like an ape, with thick short legs and powerful arms. Sharp teeth filled a large mouth, and the creature stared at the man behind the desk with brown disdainful eyes. “He says that you have a problem with hunters in your village.”

“Something like that,” Wilkins noted lightly with some distaste. He recognized the creature as a rock troll, noting thick metal bands on his hands. As if a powerful troll needed the help of weapons to deal with its foes. The thick coarse hair covering the troll’s body and bare two-toed feet were no doubt contaminating his office. He would have to remember to have it cleaned. “There are two Slayers in town, and my sources indicate as many potentials. Not to mention an unknown warrior of great strength, of a supernatural persuasion. There may be others in town as well, this is the Hellmouth after all.”

“Good,” the troll growled, smiling malevolently, its fangs jutting out as it did so. It did love a good fight.

“And I,” another of the visitors said, nodding his head in deference, “am Nicholas Scratch. You may address me as Mr. Scratch.”

The mayor examined the man, noting the thick black beard and mustache that were streaked with white. He was dressed in a well-cut suit, and had the air of magic about him, as well as sophistication. The rings on his fingers were likely conduits or fetishes for his arcane work. “A sorcerer then?”

“If you like,” Scratch said, smiling coldly and nodding his head.

Mayor Wilkins looked to the last man in the group, frowning a little at the man’s stringy and unkempt grey hair. Wild pale eyes revealed a less than settled disposition. “And you would be?”

“You can call me Blackout,” the man said, smiling to reveal sharpened teeth. His eyes darted back and forth before settling on the mayor. The light overhead dimmed a little as the man examined the person he was now working for. The half demon hybrid sniffed a little, unimpressed by the mayor. “No wonder he sent us to help you.”

“Yes, well, we have much work to do,” Mayor Wilkins said, stomaching his distaste for the three that had been sent. Of course, they had come from Dormammu, and there could be no disrespect shown. After all, his attempts at hiring mercenaries to accomplish the tasks he needed had not yielded useable results. Even the dark mage that had wreaked havoc the previous year in his city had not been willing to return, no matter how much money had been offered. “First of all, the time has come near, and Dormammu has an enemy that he wishes to be disposed off.”

That wasn’t to mention that he had not liked having to pay tribute to another demon lord, and using the minions of one to off the other played into his hands quite effectively. But, neither Dormammu nor his henchmen needed to know anything about that.

“What do you need killed?” Ulik said distastefully. The modern and artificial office, not to mention the world, did not suit him. He still wore thick leather and metal armor, eschewing the modern garments that the others wore. He was a creature of violence and death and earth, and needed nothing of the comforts of humanity.

“Lurconis,” Mayor Wilkins answered, looking over at the troll. He would have to come up with a disguise for the brute. A six and a half foot troll was not very subtle, even in Sunnydale. “It dwells under this city. And will soon seek tribute from its followers.”

“Worm of a demon,” Ulik scoffed, flexing his large hands. Though he knew of Lurconis, and its status as a demon lord, the brute strength of the giant serpent did nothing to impress him. A scavenger of droppings from the human world was all it was. “We will take dispose of your monster.”

xxx

The air was still as the boy walked into the abandoned factory. Dust layered the floor unsettled, indicating that no one had been there in a very long time. Rusting machinery and conveyor belts were still there, evidence that it had once been used to produce and package bars of soap. From the looks of it, soap flakes were also a product that Excello had made. Only the quiet padding of paws indicated that anybody was in there now.

“Smell something, boy?” Amadeus said, looking down at his pup. He had searched through the connecting office building already, finding nothing. The facility had been shut down for some time, with no stray computers or paperwork left behind to give him some indication of what to do or where to go. It had only been luck that he had found an indication that the quiz he had taken was connected to what had happened. It made a certain amount of sense, but this was altogether too convenient.

Thoughts of his family threatened to intrude on his active mind as he tried to make sense of things, and he had to push them away. He walked further, scrapping his feet a little on the rough concrete floor. Hearing the slightest change in reverberation, he stopped and looked down. The floor looked different there, as if it had been altered after the concrete had previously been laid down.

“Hmm,” Amadeus noted, leaning down and touching the concrete. Looking around, he managed to pry off a length of pipe off one of the machines, one end rusted all the way through. Bracing himself, he slammed the strong end into the concrete, not altogether surprised that it chipped more easily than it should have. Hammering again and again, the Korean teen managed to hack away enough to reveal a metal hatch.

Amadeus tossed the pipe on the ground and knelt down. He brushed some dust and pieces of concrete away with his hand to more clearly reveal the locking mechanism. He smiled a little as he recognized it as an old keypad. Pulling a multitool from his pocket, he set to work on prying the cover off. It wasn’t long before he was able to expose the innards of the lock, and only slightly longer to unlock the thing. While it would have normally kept most people out, even those that could expose the inner workings, it was no challenge for his mind.

The hatch unlocked itself with an audible sound, and Amadeus pulled it up, revealing a ladder that led down to a tunnel. Frowning a little, the boy pulled out a flashlight out of his messenger bag and flicked it on, shining it down. He could see a flat grey floor, but little else. The faint smell off dust was evident, mixing in with the same from the warehouse. Ever cautious, Amadeus clipped the light to the strap of his bag, and pulled out a makeshift taser, shoving it into his belt. He picked up his puppy and placed him back into his jacket, zipping it up tight to make sure that the coyote was secure. Kneeling down, Amadeus made his way down the ladder.

xxx

“Wrong day,” Xander said, ducking under a quick rabbit punch. He analyzed the vampire’s fighting style, noting that it was a little more controlled than that of most vampires. His warrior’s awareness pointed out the flaws and openings, and he exploited them.

Blocking a strike with a forearm, Xander punched the vampire in the nose, hearing the crunch of it breaking under his fist. As the vampire reeled back, Xander followed it up with a quick kick to the chest. Snapping around, Xander kicked the demon in the head, slamming it against the wall of the crypt. “Well, wrong night.”

Charging up his hand, Xander punched into the vampire’s open chest, blowing its heart out and turning the vampire into dust. He shook his head and looked down at where the vampire had previously stood. “Bad luck.”

Looking up, he looked around, getting the feeling that he was being watched. He saw a shadow move, but it was likely just the wind moving the branches of the trees. Shaking his head, Xander moved on through the graveyard, looking for the right tomb. It wasn’t long before he found it, and the surprise that lay in front of it as well.

“This can’t be good,” Xander muttered to himself as he knelt down next to the body. The cause of death was pretty apparent, the crossbow bolt still stuck in the back of the demon’s head. An axe was strapped to its back, undrawn and indicating the demon had been taken unawares.

Pushing its head to the side, Xander frowned as he matched the mottled skin, bad teeth, and rounded horns to the description of Lagos. Standing up, he looked at the grass around the body. It was disturbed, but there was no way to indicate what had actually passed by, or at what time.

Looking around, Xander pulled his mask out of his pocket and put it on, pulling a handgun from his coat as well. He had taken to not wearing it, unless he was planning on using the Iron Fist. With Wesley in town, and Jason’s indications that SHIELD was still meddling, he wanted to keep a low profile. That may not be possible anymore.

Whatever had killed Lagos, it had killed the demon in front of the Von Hauptman family crypt. The very crypt that Giles had discovered that the Glove of Myhnegon was supposed to be resting in. Looking at the metal gate, Xander noticed that it had been broken, an old lock lying on the ground, broken as well. He briefly considered going back for the others, but with Wesley insisting on joining them for the search, he pushed on by himself.

He opened the gate slowly, and slipped inside, looking around carefully. There was nobody in the tomb, though it was clear that somebody had been there already. The sepulcher had been pulled apart, from the way that the body had fallen facing the crypt, it had not likely been Lagos. Xander stepped to each individual coffin, looking inside. The usual remains were there, but nothing else. If the glove had been kept in one of them, it was no longer there now.

Searching further, Xander looked for any other places or hidden storage areas that might hold the magical artifact. It didn’t take long to turn up nothing, the crypt not being all that large. He had his doubts that the perpetrator had found the glove though, given that all the coffins had been opened. It may have laid in the last, but it didn’t seem too likely. Still, they had to find the thing.

xxx

Klein made his way silently through the corridors. Two of his men flanked him on either side, the rest spread out to cover the perimeter to ensure that their target could not slip by them. He moved as quickly as he dared, already angry at the situation. Delays at the airport had prevented them from getting in place before their target had arrived. He would actually have to track the boy down now, and though he did not believe that it should be that much of a problem, he did not lower his guard.

Through his enhanced senses, the super soldier could hear as the boy worked on a computer terminal down the hall. Making his way towards the sound, Klein used hand signals to tell his men to spread out as well, covering him from the right and left to ensure that their target did not escape.

Moving into a larger area just off the main hall, Klein could see flicker of a computer screen off to his right in a side room.

Amadeus sighed in frustration as he stood in front of the terminal, not finding anything of use in the computer system that he had found. The cubicles in the outer room behind him had not yielded anything useful. The only thing that was working was an old computer system that had been obsolete over a decade ago; oddly enough it was connected to the phone line. While it was clear that this place was connected to what had happened to him, it did not give him the answers that he sought. Only more places to look.

Hearing a noise from behind him, Amadeus turned around as he shoved a piece of paper into his pocket.

Klein moved forward, sliding silently as he raised his submachine gun into firing position. He aimed it at his target and started to squeeze the trigger.

xxx

“Well, the good news is that the glove was never actually in the Von Hauptman family crypt,” Giles said, looking up from the text he had been reading. He adjusted his glasses as he looked around the library. The night before had been long, made even longer by the fact that the search had turned up more questions than answers. “According to this, Gustaf von Hauptman and a few others in his family had acquired a number of magical artifacts. Most were sold after the decline of the family, but some, the glove in particular, was sealed in a special vault. They did not believe that their own tomb would be enough protection. The only thing buried in that crypt were personal objects.”

Wesley frowned, unhappy at the news. They should have discovered this before they had moved, but there had not been time to do so. They had had to move as soon as they had a sign. “Then where is the glove now?”

“There’s a passage here that might give us an indication, but it’s in code,” Giles said, looking at the other Watcher. “It will take some time to decipher.”

“There’s someone that might help,” Xander spoke up, wondering more about who had killed Lagos than anything else. He had taken the bolt with him after disposing of the body, but it likely wouldn’t give them much information. It was a modern crossbow bolt, with a metal shaft and could have been purchased from any number of sporting goods stores. He supposed that it could have been purchased locally, but that would have to wait until daylight.

“Elsa,” Jenny said, glancing at Xander, confirming his thought. “Rupert, if you can give me a copy of the passage, I can e-mail it to her.”

“This Elsa would be?” Wesley asked, eyes narrowing a little as he looked at the computer teacher. Though there were useful members in the group, he was a little uncomfortable with the sheer size. The blonde Slayer’s mother even knew of her daughter’s position. It seemed liked everything that happened in Sunnydale went against Council tradition.

“A friend,” Xander broke in, his tone clear and final. “Let’s get that done. Hopefully we can find the glove before this other person does.”

xxx

Treading forward carefully, Clint stalked through the halls. He had had to leave the others behind, catching sight of the men that had taken up a perimeter around the facility. The target could have already been inside, but there was no way to be sure. More than that, he had no way of knowing how many people were inside, and he couldn’t risk alerting the guards to their presence. It meant that Coulson and the rest of his agents had to stay near the vehicles, taking up their own guard positions. It also meant that Bruce had to stay behind as well, that lack of backup the most worrying. Also, his destructive potential in the tunnels were more of a problem than a solution.

Still, he had a job to do. Hearing footsteps, the man known as Hawkeye slipped into a dark corner, holding his breath as he noticed a trio of armed and armored men walk through the hall. They turned a corner, and he stepped out to follow them. It didn’t take long to see what they were doing. He watched them break off as they moved to engage the target, and he hurried forward as well.

Watching as the bald one raised his weapon, Clint did the same, snapping up his silenced pistol and firing off a round. It hit the bald one in the head, the body hitting the floor with a louder sound than that of the gun that had just been fired. Snapping his arm to the left and then to the right, he fired twice more in rapid succession, hearing the bodies of the other two men hit the floor.

“Amadeus Cho,” Clint asked, his voice a little echoey through the mask he was wearing. He noticed with some fascination as the boy pulled out a taser, pointing it at him with no hesitation. The kid had some balls. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m with the government. I’m here to get you out.”

Amadeus just stared at the man, and then to the body on the floor. He didn’t trust anybody, but the man had just saved his life. He was willing to go on a little faith at this point. “Who are you?”

“My name’s Clint,” Hawkeye said in a calm tone, he lowered his pistol slowly to show that he wasn’t a threat. “We don’t have much time. There’s nine more men out there, and if this one was any indication, they mean to kill you.”

Amadeus said nothing, though his mind was working quickly. He felt his coyote fidget underneath his jacket, but ignored it. He lowered his weapon a fraction of an inch.

“Kid, I’m sorry about your family. But, you have to trust somebody right now,” Clint pleaded, taking a chance and pulling off his mask. He looked the boy in the eye and spoke again, “we don’t have much time, and we need to go now.”

Nodding, Amadeus stepped forward moving towards the government agent. There was nothing for him there anyway. Images of experimentation on his brain flashed through his mind, but he could deal with that potentiality after he was gone.

“Good.” Hawkeye replaced his mask, activating the micro-HUD again. He turned on the radio and spoke, “Hawkeye to team, I have the package, moving out now.”

He noticed something odd, and then looked down at the impossible. The man that he had just shot was getting up again and turning towards him.

“Nice try,” Klein growled as the bullet pushed out of his forehead and dropped to the floor. He didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed the man sneaking up on them, but it wouldn’t matter in a few seconds.

“Down the hall,” Clint ordered as he pulled his gun again. This time wasn’t as easy as the former corpse dodged. He could hear the other two men that he had shot get up again too. It was impossible, but that fact didn’t change the reality of the situation. It looked like Sterns had managed to accomplish all sorts of things during the last couple of years.

Pulling his submachine gun up from its tactical sling, he laid down suppressing fire as he followed after Amadeus. He knew that he hit them, but it didn’t matter. Whatever kept them alive, or their armor, kept them coming. Grunting, he felt two rounds hit him in the back, only the advanced body armor keeping the bullets from penetrating. He spoke through his radio again as he fired behind him, going for joint hits to keep them from coming too quickly. “Move in now. Advanced healing factor; they won’t drop for long. Pound them hard.”

Clint plucked a grenade from his belt and pulled the pin, tossing it behind him as he rounded a corner. It exploded seconds later, buying them time to escape. Reaching the boy as Amadeus started to climb the ladder to the surface, Clint grasped the rungs and started to climb up behind him. It didn’t take long to reach the top, and they heard the sounds of battle as Coulson’s men laid down fire on the odd strike team that was gunning for Amadeus. They were all in the factory now, the strike team having moved in when the gunfire started up. Rolling as he came up to avoid gun fire, Clint grasped his submachine gun again and fired back, hitting a few of their attackers. It didn’t do much though, as they stood up again quickly. Still, it was better than nothing.

“Fuck,” Clint grit through his teeth as he ducked behind some rusting equipment. Looking to his side, he noticed that Amadeus was there as well, fear in the boy’s eyes. Yet, there was clarity, and he was even more impressed with the kid.

Peeking up from behind the machine, Amadeus analyzed the fight and the environment around them. The government men were trying to push the others back, but that wouldn’t work for very long. However, there was a way out that wasn’t being noticed, or there would be one in 5.8 seconds. He glanced over at the man that had saved him. “There’s an opening. Let’s go.”

Clint wasn’t too sure, but he didn’t have many options at the moment. Getting up in a crouch, he looked over the boxing machine and watched as two more of the other side got hit. Amadeus moved forward, crouching as low as possible, and he followed. Bullets whizzed by, but nobody noticed as they made their way to one of the side exits.

“Toss a grenade over there,” Amadeus said, not breaking stride. He pointed at the corner to his left, at a pile of broken machinery.

Clint did as he was told, pulling a charge from his belt and banking it off of the wall and into the corner behind the machine parts. It exploded seconds later, and he saw bits of flesh and blood splatter against the wall. Some of the strike team and gathered there for a push forward. He ignored it though, and moved up behind the kid, taking up his firearm again.

“Crap,” Amadeus said, as he noticed the length of chain and lock on the door. He hadn’t been able to see it when he had analyzed the situation before. It was an unknown variable that would eat up too much time to deal with. He turned around, looking for another way out.

“Stay down,” Clint said, pushing the boy down as he moved up. Pulling a small explosive out of a pouch, he attached it to the door. Stepping to the side, and pulling the kid to him, he crouched over Amadeus as he detonated the charge, relying on his armor to deal with any shrapnel or debris. The door blew open, and Clint pushed Amadeus up and towards the exit. He could see the path towards the vehicles now. “Go. Follow the path.”

They had just made it out the door, and Clint was on his radio again. He heard the sound of gunfire, and hoped that none of his men had gone down. Bad intel, though it was something that could not have been anticipated. “Pull out now. We’re outside. Cover our retreat.”

They were almost to the extraction point, and he could see their vehicles in more detail when Clint was hit in the back. He fell to the desert floor, flipping around, and grappling with the man that had just blindsided him. Hawkeye managed to get his pistol up and shot his attacker point blank in the chest. It didn’t do enough, and the rounds did not even penetrate the armor. He felt as the weapon was batted from his hand, skidding to a stop in a puff of dust and sand.

Clint stared up at the other man’s tanned face, seeing nothing but a smile on his attacker’s face. It was the bald one from earlier, a stain of blood the only indication that he had been shot in the head, and he looked none too happy about what had happened. Reaching down, Hawkeye managed to pull a knife from his belt, and slashed it up at Baldie’s face.

Klein said nothing, ignoring the pain and grabbed the knife by the blade, feeling it sink into his padded glove. He ripped it out of the man’s hand and tossed it away, feeling his face heal as he did so.

Clint’s eyes widened behind his mask as he saw the wound he had just inflicted literally pull back together, healing itself within seconds.

The grin on the man’s face grew wider as he pulled his own hand forward, clenching it into a fist. A shudder seemed to go through it, and three wickedly sharp blades shot forward, coming out between the knuckle plates on the glove.

“The hell,” Clint exclaimed, pulling his feet in and trying to kick the man off. It wasn’t fast enough, but did knock the man’s aim off. Instead of going through his head, Clint felt the blades pierce his body armor as if it wasn’t there, taking him in the upper shoulder. Gritting his teeth, he kicked off again, managing to knock his attacker off this time.

Rolling to his right, Clint grabbed his gun and fired the rest of the magazine off, ignoring the stinging pain in his shoulder. Every bullet hit the bald man in the chest, but he got up and kept coming. Baldie was grinning as if it was all going according to plan.

“Shit,” Clint muttered, ejecting the magazine. His left arm wouldn’t move right, and so he had to place his gun under his armpit to allow him to grab another magazine from a pouch. He could see the other man just come at him, claws extending now from his other hand. “Oh shit.”

“Stay away from him!” a voice shouted, deep and booming in volume.

Clint just smiled in relief as he saw the bald man get a taste of his own medicine as he was hit from behind. The blow had taken them a fair distance away from him though. Baldie was good though, and managed to get to his feet, clawing his attacker about the chest and legs.

Dr. Banner just took it, feeling the pain and the blood flowing down his face as he fell to his knees. He looked up at the armored figure and grinned, his eyes turning green and starting to glow. Feeling himself let go, his clothes ripped and his muscles and skeletal structure expanded. The pain eventually stopped as he reached nine feet in height. He looked down at the man that had slashed him, the claws once again aimed at him.

“HULK SMASH!” the Hulk shouted, reaching back and punching out quicker than his size would have indicated. It got the man in the chest, sending him flying back into the dust. It wasn’t long before the man was back though, this time a little more careful, and actually limping a little. Still, Baldie was extremely quick.

The sharp blades could not do much against the Hulk’s thick skin, though the Hulk could not catch the other man either. He was simply too quick for the Hulk’s grabs.

Clint didn’t bother to watch the battle, instead concentrating on reloading his gun. He knew that he was losing blood quickly, and his head was feeling light. He felt himself stumble as he tried to regain his feet, and arms caught him. He turned to see Amadeus steadying him.

“You need to get out here,” Clint said, shaking his head to clear it.

“They’re leaving,” Amadeus said, pointing out towards the Hulk. He was amazed at the sight, but concentrated on the armored figure as he disengaged from the dark green titan and ran away. The sounds of gunfire also died down, as the other men from the strike team also made their exit.

“Hawkeye to Coulson,” Clint said into his radio, gritting his teeth as he got to his feet yet again. He was swaying a little, but found his balance quickly. “What’s your status? Over.”

“They’re leaving,” Coulson said over a few stray shots. His team had moved in to cover Clint’s retreat, but had soon got bogged down in their own firefight. Luckily, they had had no fatalities, but that had only been because they had just needed to keep the other side back. From what he had seen, the other team had been sporting super soldiers of unknown make. If they had been keen on attacking, rather than attempting to reacquire the boy, things would have been much worse.

“Good, exfil now, before they change their minds,” Clint said, moving towards his own car. He noticed that the Hulk was by his side now, watching for any attackers.

“What are you?” Amadeus said, staring up at the giant green man that was towering over him.

The Hulk just stared at the relatively small boy. He reached out and patted him on the head. “Good boy.”

“Power down, Hulk,” Clint ordered, watching as the rest of the team arrived. “We need to get out of here.”

xxx

“Over here,” Kendra said, waving the rest of the group over. She brushed some vines and dried leaves from the front of a large stone crypt. The falling vegetation revealed the rest of the name that had been carved onto the front of the tomb. Age had faded some of it, but it was still legible.

“Ah yes,” Wesley said, as he walked up next to the Slayer. He looked at the tomb, nodding at the name. “Harkness. Here we go.”

Ms. Calendar’s friend had been able to decipher the code in a day, though he did not know how. Wesley supposed that he should be glad that the computer teacher and apparent technopagan had access to such an ally, but he was suspicious given that she had not been willing to reveal exactly who that person was. Still, that was a matter to be attended to at another time.

Xander walked up to the vault as well, frowning as he saw the door to the tomb. It had been cracked already. “We’re too late.”

“What do you mean?” Wesley asked, turning to look at the teenager. He heard Buffy come upon them as well, accompanied by the witch, Amy. A motley group if ever there was one, though he put on a carefully constructed face. He could show neither weakness nor confusion in front of them, and had to present himself as if he knew exactly what he was doing.

Saying nothing, Xander just turned and looked around. They were in a small clearing in the graveyard, trees and tall bushes separating the vault from the rest of the graves. He could not see anything out of place, but got the feeling that they weren’t alone.

“The boy is right,” a voice called out, a figure stepping out from behind a dense collection of bushes. She was a woman in her mid-thirties with perfectly brushed light brown hair. She was attractive, though she would have been more so if not for the severely prim attitude she exuded.

Lifting her right hand, the group saw that it was encased in the Glove of Myhnegon. The metal claws that surrounded the bottom opening had dug into the woman’s skin, blood flowing down towards her shoulder. “Taou huogan maqachte milegaing!”

A bolt of lightning cracked through the sky as the woman continued to look up. “Tauo freim!”

“Ruh ror,” Xander said, as lightning descended to encase the glove in its power. He saw flickers of lightning play over the metallic plates that made up the gauntlet.

Wesley took a tentative step forward, not knowing what to do, but knowing that he had to do something. “Gwendolyn Post.”

The woman looked down, and then smiled as she recognized the man in front of her. It wasn’t a particularly friendly smile. “Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.”

“You know each other?” Buffy asked, looking between the two. She got the feeling she was supposed to slay something, but wasn’t sure exactly who. “She’s a Watcher?”

“Ex-Watcher,” Wesley said bitterly. He watched the woman carefully, blood draining from his face as he watched her flex the glove. “She was kicked out by the Council for misuses of dark power.”

“Oh Wesley,” Gwendolyn said, smirking in amusement. She had always viewed him as something of a stuck up prig. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

Smiling wider, the former Watcher held the glove up in front of her face, a bolt of lightning striking it again. The glove redirected the lightning forward towards the group. She seemed to glow as the power flowed through her and towards the Slayers and Watcher.

“Protect!” Amy shouted, raising her hands. A shimmering force field appeared around them, glowing under the onslaught of the lightning. She grunted out at the level of power she was protecting them against, knowing that she couldn’t hold it for long.

“Amy!” Buffy shouted, as she saw her friend cast the spell. She turned to face their attacker, but there was nothing that she could do, the short sword in her hand rather useless in the face of the lightning storm.

Reaching into his coat, Xander pulled out a handgun, gathering up his chi and sending it into his hand. He fired once, the bullet streaking out like a tracer towards the woman, moving through the unidirectional shield with no resistance. It hit the gauntlet in the palm, causing a small explosion as his chi mixed violently with the magic of the glove.

Gwendolyn grunted as her hand was blasted back, and she stumbled to her knees. The lightning dropped as a result. She tried to lift her hand again, but the damage caused too much pain.

“By the authority of the Council-” Wesley started to say, regaining his composure and stepping forward to confront the woman.

Xander moved forward and aimed again, firing a single shot, unpowered this time. He watched it hit the woman in between the eyes, and she fell to her side, dead before she hit the ground. As soon as he was sure she was dead, he turned and moved towards Amy.

“What did you do?” Wesley said, looking at Gwendolyn’s body to the teenager that had just killed her.

The Iron Fist said nothing, kneeling down at Amy’s fallen form. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Amy said, getting up with Buffy’s help. She winced a little as she stood on her feet. “It was…overwhelming.”

“How do you feel?” Xander asked, checking the witch over for injuries.

Amy just shook her head. “Odd, kinda tingly. There was so much power. I don’t know how I was able to hold the shield.”

“Good thing you did.” Xander smiled at her, and then glanced at the body cooling in the night. “Well, looks like that’s done.”

“Mr. Harris,” Wesley said firmly, walking up behind the gathered warriors. He readjusted his suit in annoyance. “What did you think you were doing?”

Xander turned around fully and stood up, looking the Watcher in the eye. He raised the gun, holding it at eye level, though he didn’t point it at anyone. “This? Saving our asses.”

“It is not your position to take the life of a human,” Wesley said, ignoring the firearm. Such tools were not used by the Slayers, as tradition dictated. They were too ineffective against the supernatural threats that the Slayers fought. “You will turn over your weapons immediately.”

“That cost me 50 cents,” Xander said, ignoring the command. He holstered the gun again beneath his coat.

“What?” Wesley said, thrown off by the comment.

Xander just looked at the man in complete seriousness. “Two bullets, and I’m not even adding in wear and tear for the gun. The bullets cost me a quarter a piece and I used two. Is there some form I need to fill out? Or are you just going to reimburse me out of pocket?”

“What?” Wesley asked again, not sure if he was understanding what was being said, or if the boy had gone mad.

“You should probably be glad that I’m a good shot. I could have emptied the mag into her,” Xander said lightly. His eyes were serious though. “I don’t work for you. I don’t have to do what you tell me to do. I thought I made that clear to Ms. Chalmers, but I guess I need to make it clear to you.”

“Be that as it may, but I am Watcher here,” Wesley said, showing strength that he didn’t know that he did. He looked the boy in the eye. “And I will fulfill my duty as one.”

Xander said nothing and merely adjusted his coat. Narrowing his eye a bit in concentration, he relented a little. He had been a little hard on the man after all, though it had been altogether too easy to do so. “Wesley, I don’t hate you. But, you’re a kind of dick.”

Still, he punched the Watcher lightly in the arm and smiled. “Homecoming’s tomorrow. See you there?”

xxx

“How are you feeling?” Amadeus asked, looking at the bulge that denoted a thick gauze patch on Clint’s upper chest. He sighed and leaned against the rail.

Clint just shrugged, feeling a little pulling and pain. He ignored it though, the stitches were holding together well. “I’ll be fine. How are you doing?”

Amadeus said nothing, looking out over the construction that was occurring in the underground facility. He knew that it was under the main SHIELD building that he had been brought to, but knowing where he was didn’t make him feel like any less of a prisoner. “When do I get to leave?”

“I told you, kid,” Clint said, leaning against the railing as well. “You’re safe here. We’re going to figure out what happened to your family.”

“And avenge them?” Amadeus asked, glancing up at the man. “That’s what you do right?”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Clint said softly. He looked down at the coyote pup that was sitting on the metal walkway, chewing at itself. Odd thing, but he’d seen odder. And done odder. “We’re avengers.”

Amadeus said nothing, instead turning to look out over the construction again. There was material and room set aside to build a shooting range, an armory, workshops and labs, and all manner of things. Which meant that he could also see exactly five ways of breaking out of the facility.

He put his hands in his pockets, one hand tightening on the piece of paper that he had kept from the incident in Utah.

xxx

Carefully holding the plastic cup, Xander filled it with the shockingly red punch. The homecoming committee had spared no expense at Costco to outfit the dance. Red and yellow balloons floated near the ceiling as the music pounded. It was nothing like the party in the Heart of Heaven, and the fact that he compared the two did make him think about what was going on in K’un-L’un. In a way, it was almost like home. “Hmm.”

Turning, Xander looked at the crowd on the dance floor, dancing to the beat. The hormones could almost be felt flying around, as the chaperones kept an eye on the couples, making sure they didn’t get to close to each other. He almost had to smile, watching as Faith made short work of some guy that clearly had no idea what he was getting into. Vi and Kendra were dancing with Buffy and Willow and their dates; the circle that is so common in high school. Amy was there as well, with some boy that he only tangentially knew. Michael Czajak, he believed.

He took a sip of the punch, and then looked at the cup wanting to spit the punch out. Someone had clearly not followed the printed instructions. Xander turned back around and placed the cup onto the table. “Having fun, Ms. Calendar?”

“Oh yes,” Jenny said, glancing over at him and smiling. She could see Principal Snyder lecture a couple of students that had been kissing. Personal displays of affection being forbidden and all by the school administrator. “It’s been very enlightening. What you kids are getting up to these days.”

She spoke a little more quietly, making sure that she couldn’t be heard by anyone else. “Why I do believe that some of these students might even be getting lucky tonight. After the dance.”

“Why, that might very well be.” Xander smiled to himself. He noticed his “dates” beckoning to him back to the dance floor. “Well, I better be off. Looks like duty calls.”

Jenny watched as Xander got back onto the dance floor, having fun with his friends. The music changed to a slow dance, and Xander held onto Vi as they swayed, Kendra dancing with Scott as Buffy took a break. She smiled sadly a little as she watched the potential dance with Xander.

“Uh, how are you this evening, Jenny?” Giles asked, stepping up to the table. He picked up an empty cup and filled it with punch. He looked over at the computer teacher as he took a drink. Frowning, he set it down quickly, swallowing what he had in his mouth with some struggle.

“Fine, Rupert,” Jenny answered, hiding her grin as she watched Giles taste the punch. She gained her composure after a moment. “How are you?”

“Good, good,” Giles said, a little distractedly. “Well, things are a bit easier and quieter now, with so many Watchers in town. I almost don’t know what to do with myself.”

“Ah,” Jenny said, smiling. “A man of leisure.”

“Quite,” Giles said, flustered at her smile. “I was thinking that, since I have more time now, we might go out for dinner sometime. Or catch one of those monster truck rallies you enjoy so much.”

“Oh Rupert,” Jenny said, eyes widening a little in surprise. She looked at him sympathetically. “I’m actually seeing someone right now. I am flattered though.”

“Oh it’s okay,” Giles said quickly, trying to recover. “It was…it was just a thought.”

xxx

Blackout growled as he slashed into the giant serpent’s back. The thick scaly hide of the beast parted easily under the attack, exposing red flesh. Lurconis tried to buck the demon off of its back, and managed to dislodge it after slamming against the wall of the sewer. The blow managed to impact against the wounds that had been ripped open, and the demon screamed grotesquely in pain.

From the front, Scratch charged up and pointed his hands outward, sending bolt after bolt of magic energy out towards their target. The glowing orbs slammed into the split-jawed head of the demon lord, sending it rearing up and thrashing about in pain. The wizard looked over at his partner and nodded, smiling darkly.

With a returned grin, Ulik leapt forward, pulling back a metal-banded fist and punching out with all its might. It slammed hard into Lurconis’ head, grasping onto its neck as they slammed into the side wall. The troll punched again and again into the beast’s head, feeling it open up under its strikes. He could hear more slashing and grunts as Blackout got into the fight once again, exposing more and more of its flesh.

“Enough,” Scratch shouted out, smiling as his eyes started to glow black. His hands glowed as well, and he raised them, fingers splayed in an arcane position as if he was throwing the goat.

The other two members of the group leapt off of the beast, Lurconis rising up and swaying in pain and confusion, one of its lower jaws broken, and patches of skin torn open on its belly and head.

The sorcerer concentrated and then let loose his spell, blue bolts of lightning streaking out of his fists and into the exposed flesh of the demon. The bits that struck its magic-resistant hide were deflected off, but there was enough exposed meat to hurt the beast. The extreme temperature caused the serpent to catch on fire, and it screamed in pain, writhing and thrashing about in the sewer tunnel. Scratch did not let up and poured on the magic, the glow lighting up his face, his eyes flickering in mad delight.

Finally, after what felt like hours, Scratch let the spell end. Lurconis dropped to the ground with a thud, twitching as it died. Its hide was blackened and small bits of fat was still burning and expelling acrid smoke.

Ulik walked up to the monster’s head, and smiled as he knelt. Reaching into its mouth it pulled out a long and wickedly tooth, one end covered in blood. “Victory.”

xxx

The woman frowned as she read her way through the file. It completed her investigation, and though the boy had tried to be careful to conceal his identity, it had been woefully inadequate when put up against her espionage and counter-espionage skills. However, the picture that was being painted was something that she had not anticipated, even considering the coupling that she had glimpsed the night before. While she made no judgments, considering the types of lives that those who operated in the shadows lived, it did add significant complications to the boy as well as his character.

Picking up her cell phone, Natasha dialed Fury’s phone. It did not take long to get through. “I have him. Xander Harris, Caucasian male, seventeen years of age.”

“Send me the file,” Nick said, sitting up straighter in his seat on the bench. It had been an investigation that had been ongoing for months, and the fact that Natasha had broken it did make him rather excited. Not that he showed it publically though.

He wasn’t at his desk, having been called to account for his actions in Washington. It was a tiresome exercise that happened more often than he would have liked, but it was a price he had to pay to have his own agency. Still, there was a large part of him that wished he was doing more field work. “And tell me about him.”

“He is as powerful as your man Coulson has found, although he may be even more powerful than that. He has control of his abilities, so we may not have seen his full power,” Natasha said over the phone, as she finished typing up her report. “He seems to be able to charge up material, as theorized, which gives it great kinetic energy upon impact. However, he can channel that energy into his bare hands as well. And he is skilled with firearms, with or without applying his gifts.”

“So it is an innate ability,” Nick said, nodding. It did fit with the theories that they had been developing on the mysterious warrior. The key question though was in the recruitment and fit for the team that he was putting together. The age wasn’t really all that important, the rest of it was though. “Is there anything else?”

“I know what you want him for, there are ways of gaining his cooperation I would think, however, he may have already been compromised,” Natasha replied. “He is the nephew of one of the founders of a biker gang. The Sons of Anarchy. They’ve been involved with gun running and a number of other crimes. He was involved in an incident in Charming, California. He killed and wounded a number of members of rival gang known as the Mayans. He is quite dangerous.”

“Damn,” Nick muttered, thinking that it did somewhat fit with why there was a hit on the motorcycle gangs in Arizona.

“Da. Still, it could have an alternate explanation. He was defending himself, and according to the police report, he saved a little girl during the attack.” Natasha didn’t know exactly how to view the young man. She wanted more data, but she had been asked to report what information she could find as soon as possible. “I have checked around, and his travels during the previous summer cover the incidents that you’ve tracked.”

“Good,” Nick said, not knowing exactly how he wanted things to play out. The lack of concrete information was annoying. “What else?”

“He’s involved with someone,” Natasha said delicately. She had seen the way that they had looked at each other, and not even to her practiced eye did it look fake, though it had been through high powered night-vision goggles. Still, looks could be deceiving, as she had employed herself in the past. “A woman, she was his teacher last year. From what I can tell, it’s pretty serious.”

“Damn,” Nick said, not liking the sheer amount of dirt on the prospect.

“That’s not the worst part however,” Natasha warned, the jacket she had been looking at still open in a window on her desktop.

Nick sighed, looking over at the assistant that was hailing him over. He stood up and picked up his briefcase. “What is it?”

“Her name is Jenny Calendar, however that was not her name from birth.” Natasha clicked over and pulled up the woman’s background again on her computer. “Legally changed, but her name was originally Janna Kalderash. She’s Latverian.”

Director Fury said nothing, able to spin the story himself. It wasn’t uncommon either, though more a product of the Cold War than something used now. Women, or men, or boys or girls, whatever the preferred flavor was, could often be used to turn assets. Men especially could be very vulnerable to sex, and for someone so young, an older woman would likely have significant influence. The so-called President for Life, Victor von Doom, had turned his country into the ninth richest country on Earth in nearly as few years, through sheer intellect and technology that was rival that of Tony Stark. It was rumored that Von Doom was expanding his military might into more genetic paths, which could easily explain why a Latverian had taken up with a teenager, or rather this specific teenager.

“Damn,” Nick said at last, walking slowly through the hallway towards the aide.

Natasha said nothing for a moment. “From what I can see, he is actually playing the part of hero. There is no indication that she is a Latverian agent. I have not been able to observe him for very long either, but my impression is that he could prove to be a valuable asset to you and your team.”

“Continue watching him,” Nick said, reaching the doorway to the assembly hall where he would be questioned. He valued Natasha’s judgment highly, and if she believed that there were unanswered questions and potential, then it did bear investigating further. “We need to know where he stands before we move.”

He closed his cell phone with that and put it into his pocket, walking through the doorway.

Natasha sat back in her chair thinking. She didn’t need to be told that that might mean assassination instead of recruitment.

xxx

“What is it?” Buffy asked, shining the flashlight onto Xander. The light played with Xander’s shadow as it was projected onto the wall of the sewer.

“Nothing,” Xander said as he knelt down, looking at the decaying serpent in front of him. He had been smiling before, though he dropped it now. His own flashlight highlighted burn damage and slash marks. The demon had not gone down easy.

“No really,” Buffy said, frowning as she smelled the demon. “What is it? The girl?”

Xander had to keep himself from smiling again. He was happy though, it had been a while since he had been able to steal a night away with his girlfriend. And they had certainly made the most of it. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“C’mon, Xander,” Buffy pouted, standing next to the demon corpse, her hands on her hips. Willy had made good with his information, but it was hardly such an urgent hunt. Somehow the bartender had learned of some type of demon battle in the sewers a couple of nights or so before. A few bills passed, and he had given them the location.

Xander smiled, and looked at the Slayer. “We had phone sex. Want to know the details?”

“Eww,” Buffy exclaimed, turning back to the demonic corpse. Anything but think about Xander talking about having sex over the telephone. “What’s with the giant worm?”

“I have no idea,” Xander said, sticking his flashlight into a coat pocket. He took out a camera and stepped back a few feet. Putting it to his eye, he snapped a few pictures, the flash blinding them a few times in the process. “I’m sure Giles will be able to figure it out though.”

xxx

“He escaped,” the Mandarin said through grit teeth. He wore his displeasure on his face, making it quite clear to Klein that the failure was unacceptable. That they had revealed themselves to what appeared to be agents of the government was also infuriating. A simple kill, and his prize team had done no better than the first one.

“Yes,” Klein said, staring the Mandarin in the face. There was no excuse; it was a failure and one that could not be repeated. It had taken some time to reach a safe location, and he was sure that he was not being tracked. At least, not by the United States government. The Mandarin was most displeased at the turn of events, as well as at how long it had taken to hear from him. “However, he did access the computer system, and I believe that he will be on his way to the secondary location.”

He had been the one to devise the planted information, just in case Amadeus managed to escape. The chance of that had been deemed unlikely, but it now seemed like it turned out to be a good play. And Sunnydale was the most ideal location for the next confrontation. Men operating with abilities such as theirs would be less notable on the Hellmouth.

“You will reacquire the target, and make sure that you leave him dead this time,” the Mandarin said, emphasizing his words. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself. And I will cut my losses. You know what that would entail, do you not?”

Klein nodded, frowning. “I understand. I will not fail you again, Master.”

The Mandarin did not respond, turning off the video conference window before leaning back in his seat. The appearance of the one known as the Hulk, this time working under the auspices of the government had not been expected. He could not totally blame his men, though ultimately they would have to take responsibility for their failure. Insanity may be repetition with the expectation of different results, but there were always unforeseen circumstances that could turn success to failure.

It was only in keeping with flawed methods that one was truly insane.

xxx

“He escaped,” Director Fury said, running his hand over his chin. He was almost incredulous, but had to admit, they had never really had to think about having to hold the seventh smartest person on the planet. It was not like they had actually tossed the boy into a cell either.

“Yes, sir,” Agent Coulson said, more than a little displeased at the security measures that had been put into place. They had failed obviously, which meant that he would have to go over the plans procedure by procedure and basically reinvent them from the ground up. “We’re reviewing the video now to determine how exactly he was able to pull it off.”

“Clint did say he was impressed by the kid,” Nick said, shaking his head. “We need to find him though. He’s still a target.”

“We have a potential location,” Coulson said, passing over a printed out screen capture from their security tape. It was a close-up of a note that Amadeus had. “Sunnydale. It could mean nothing, but we think it was based on something that was found in the Excello factory. Unfortunately, the computer system there erased itself after it was accessed by Cho. So we can’t be sure exactly what it means. It could be a clue as to where the person responsible for all of this is hiding.”

“It could be a trap as well,” Director Fury noted dispassionately. “A place to drive the boy in case they lost him in Utah. Do we have anything else on who attacked Clint and Bruce?”

Coulson shook his head. “We haven’t been able to track down exactly where they came from. However, they did leave some evidence behind. Shell casings indicate that they have access to American weapons and we are tracking down the source. However we did find something much more interesting.”

“Their augmentation?” Nick asked rhetorically.

Coulson nodded. “Dr. Banner examined the blood cells that were left. They’ve shown rather significant genetic enhancements. Enhanced strength and senses. Accelerated healing factor. From what Dr. Banner has said, it’s partly gamma research based, but the only gamma radiation used was to accelerate cellular growth from the gene therapy. There’s also evidence of drug saturation, bonded at the molecular level. There are some similarities to the ones used in Project: Rebirth. Bionics may be involved as well, based on Sergeant Barton’s account of the weapon that he was stabbed with.”

“Super soldiers,” Nick simplified, more calmly than he felt. “Somebody’s managed to make working super soldiers in number, and they’re operating freely on American soil.”

The war had just come home.

“We’ve managed to get some good video of their faces,” Coulson added, one small bright spot in the report. “With a little luck we should be able to find out who they are. That would give us some indication as to where they came from.”

“A potential China connection,” Nick speculated, though that was only country of direct origin. There could be a connection to the Ten Rings as well. The rumored Sterns location was something to be taken seriously, given the other circumstantial evidence now. He has always feared an actual government-backed attack utilizing advanced technological and genetic weapons. Still, the borders of the communist state were not as secure as the Chinese government might have believed and the terrorist organization could simply be hiding out there. Of course, searching the country for them would be impossible. “That doesn’t inspire me with much hope on what we’re going to find.”

“Yes, sir,” Phil said in agreement.

“Alright,” Director Fury said, nodding to himself. “Keep on it. We need to find out what’s going on. The strike team is our best bet for now. And, we need to locate Amadeus and bring him in. Again.”

“Sir, if Sunnydale was a plant, then that strike team is also going to head there too,” Agent Coulson said, knowing that his boss was rather tense about the situation, despite not showing it outwardly. “Regardless, if they know that Amadeus knows, that’s where they’re going to be.”

“I know,” Fury said, it looked like he might have to send his men into harm’s way once again. Hopefully, Tony could make it this time. It was unfortunate that the War Machine armor was still not yet up and running.

“The DRI is still getting their facility set up,” Coulson continued. “We may not be allowed to operate in Sunnydale.”

“I know,” the director said again, unhappy about the situation. He might not simply be able to order Clint and the rest into Sunnydale to recover the boy, officially at least.
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