Chapter Four: Weapon Plus
Chapter 4: Weapon Plus
“Don’t drip on the carpet,” a voice called from the doorway, sarcasm biting lightly. It was less than it normally would have been, but it was the middle of the night. A little annoyance was natural, though he was surprised by how little it actually was. She wasn’t exactly the sort of woman that anyone wanted to annoy.
Xander kept himself from twisting around, not wanting to tear the wounds back open, nor dislodge the gauze that he had just finished tying around himself. He had lost quite a bit of blood, and it would take some time before he had enough strength to do more than quicken the clotting and lightly seal the wounds. They still seeped though, and the patches that he had taped to himself would more than likely need to be replaced before the night was through.
The run over there had been a task in and of itself, between keeping away from the cops as well as trying to avoid leaving a blood trail. His ruined shirt had helped with that, the remains now deposited in the trashcan next to the toilet. But, it had also meant that he had had to avoid populated areas. One look at him, and it would have been obvious that things weren’t on the up and up. Couple that with the events of the last few days, and most people would be a little more observant than would have been good for him.
Adjusting the tape, Xander turned around, noticing that the woman looked as good as she always did, even though she had been woken from bed. She looked irate as well, which was probably something she had honed over her years as an attorney. It was a good thing that he wasn’t there just to chat. “Yeah, well you are on retainer. You can afford it.”
Lilah rolled her eyes, and walked further into the bathroom, sniffing a little at acrid scent of disinfectant. “Curse my luck for living closest.”
Xander smiled, walking over and taking the t-shirt that she was holding. He didn’t want to know exactly where it was from. “Thanks.”
“Are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Lilah said, stepping back to give Xander room to put the shirt on.
“Got jumped outside of a motel.” Xander grimaced a little as shots of pain went up his sides, at least the shirt fit though. He felt a few of the wounds open up a little more, seeping more blood into the gauze patches that he had placed over them. He still didn’t know what the men that had attacked him were, but given their metallic nature, he doubted that they were natural born killers. “Linked to that thing this afternoon. Speaking of which, you know something of magic, right?”
Lilah nodded, knowing that Xander had gotten himself into trouble again. “What of it?”
“You ever hear of someone jumping in magical power?” Xander asked, stepping back and leaning against the polished granite sink. He had managed to get a hold of the others, and Amy and Amadeus had made it to safety. Though the degree to which they were safe was still in question. “Like a lot?”
The lawyer considered the question. Arcane knowledge and the law mixed around in her head. She remembered everything, a necessary talent at Wolfram and Hart. “Isn’t that something that you should be asking your Watcher friend?”
Xander shrugged, regretting it as he did so. “I’ll get to that. I figure you might know stuff that the Watchers don’t.”
“I can check,” Lilah said, smiling a little, at least he was learning something. But, that could wait for later. “Tell me what happened.”
“Like I said, got jumped. Got pretty banged up, but you should see the other guys.” Xander explained. It could have been worse, but it didn’t do to dwell on that. “Got the kid out, so job well done all around. But…”
Lilah knew that it had likely been worse than he was letting on. She had heard the news, wondering whether she should chalk it up to normal Sunnydale hijinks or if it was something larger. It didn’t surprise her that Xander would have found himself involved, as infuriating as that could be. She had no illusions that his status helped protect her from Wolfram and Hart, contracts or no. Of course, his constant need for heroics did keep her busy. As it was, her legal eagle skills had not been extremely needed as of late, and she was loathe to open up her own shingle just to defend some penny-ante drug dealer or thief just to keep herself busy. “So you left a few liters of blood behind at the motel. Which is probably being combed over by forensics as we speak.”
Xander just looked at her, and then smiled. “Well, that’s what I have you for. Besides, I’ve watched CSI. They need something to match it to, don’t they? They don’t know who I am.”
The lawyer wasn’t amused or impressed by the boy’s knowledge of bad television dramas. “Unless that motel had a security camera. Or there were cameras anywhere on the street. Or someone got a good look at you as you were fighting it out in the middle of a parking lot.”
“Oh, right,” Xander replied, smile dropping.
Lilah sighed, running a hand through her only slightly mussed hair. “Idiot.”
“We could have used you earlier,” Clint said, taking a seat at the desk. He leaned back, watching as Natasha put a small handgun together, placing it behind her back. Multitasking, he was also admiring the view, though he was still a little irked at what had gone down.
Agent Coulson was still locking down the scene with the local PD, making sure that the things that they wanted kept secret were kept secret. It hadn’t taken much, given their affiliation, but as Coulson had told him, the locals usually needed a little nudging. As it was, he was just happy to be debriefing the rogue spy rather than handholding some fat police detective with a doughnut habit that didn’t want to be called out in the middle of the night.
Natasha smiled as she turned around, knowing that the SHIELD agent had been checking out her ass. She supposed that she had some feelings for him, though it might be more like those of her namesake to their mates. “I’m not here for the boy. Consider this a favor. Nick thinks that he’s important enough to make sure that nothing else goes off-plan. He sent me to make sure that you didn’t screw it up.”
“Yeah well, Amadeus is proving a little harder to handle than I thought. He’s got some smarts. And a hell of a lot guts. More so the latter I’d say.” Clint shook his head, smiling a little. He recognized the slightly humorous chiding tone in the woman’s voice. Of course, he had to give the boy credit, he had gotten pretty far on his own. Despite the problems that it had ended up causing all of them. Amadeus was plenty smart, but wisdom was something learned over time. And something that came hard to those that thought they knew what they were doing in the first place.
“So what now?” Natasha asked, grabbing a jacket from the bed and slipping it on. She was still technically on mission after all, and despite tracking Xander down to what could loosely be described as a safehouse, she was still supposed to make sure she knew what he was doing. For all they knew, he could be getting ready to bolt, or amping up for a major fight.
Clint shrugged. “We know where he is. The guys are en route, they’re ready if those super-soldiers try anything. I figure they’ll lay low though. Given what just happened.”
He leaned forward and smiled a little darkly. “Wouldn’t want to be them right now.”
Natasha didn’t know if that was the best way to handle it. Especially given the abilities that she had seen. America was considered to have the greatest defense technology in the world. If some foreign power had already developed working super-soldiers, it changed the playing field dramatically. “Is that the way you want to play it?”
“No.” Clint shook his head, drawn out of the small moment of joy. “Best plan we got right now though. We don’t know who’s in play right now. We’re still tracking down the Excello angle. Seeing if it’s real, or chasing rabbits. I don’t want to try to grab the kid either; best if he comes in on his own. If those two are as powerful as you say…”
Natasha still wondered the exact origins of the powers that she had seen. One was magical in nature obviously, the other was too hard to tell. In her time with the Soviets she had seen a number of potential project proposals, both authorized and less so. Some of them had even gone so far as to make it into the design stage, but the lack of money and resources at the time had limited what could be developed. Most, like Anton Vanko’s, were simply dropped despite their progress, their progenitors usually suffering the same fate. “They are.”
“Magic,” Clint said, still half-way thinking it was stupid. He even felt a little dumb saying it aloud. But, that’s what it was. “And the other one?”
“Too early to say,” Natasha replied simply, gauging his skills against her own. He definitely had training, and some sort of biological enhancements. The origin was a mystery. Magic, or technology, like her. Perhaps even another escaped project. Kindred. “Could be magic, but could be more. I know that there were attempts to meld magic and robotics in the past. Though cybernetics was something that you Americans were ultimately better with.”
“Or a natural ability,” Clint remarked, thinking about his own still as yet to be fully explained origins. Apparently such things weren’t as unknown as had previously been thought. The tabloid stories of psychics and other such aberrations of nature may not have been so far from the truth as most people thought. From what Nick had told him, some of the stories were actually plants to cover up the even more fantastical truth. “Natural born ass kicker.”
It’d have to wait until the blood test. Hopefully, like that strike team, the forensics would give them some indication on what the erstwhile power was.
“Are you asking me if I think that you could take him?” Natasha asked, a smirk playing at the edges of her mouth.
Clint just grinned back at her. “And if I was?”
“There’s more than one way to win a fight,” the Black Widow replied, her smile widening.
“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, you had to walk into mine,” Xander said, a little sarcastically as he walked into the library. He had laid low and had spent the night on Lilah’s couch, the beginning of naughty thoughts threatening to intrude as he drifted off.
“Xander,” Vi said with a mixture of gladness and worry. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Xander assured her, moving towards the central table. He noticed that a small puppy was playing underneath it, near Amadeus’ feet. Yong was there too, keeping a wary eye on the smaller canine. The larger dog looked for all the world like someone that was quite embarrassed and annoyed at what another member of his biological family was doing.
Scanning up, Xander looked across the table as he sat down, seeing the worry that was evident in Jenny’s eyes. Worry that was intentionally lessened on her face, as it had to be. He just looked back at her. It was all that he needed to do. All he could do.
“Alright,” Xander said, looking away and towards the Watchers at the table. He noticed that the other girls weren’t there. He did wonder at times where they went when they weren’t at the increasingly crowded meetings. He kind of wished that he could skip more of them himself, but this one was rather important. “I suppose you want to talk about what happened.”
“Yes,” Giles said, glad that the boy was okay. “The news coverage as been woefully lacking in details. I assume that the police do not know about your involvement?”
Xander nodded, keeping his worry off his expression. It wouldn’t help to worry them all until he had an idea of what might be coming. “I have Lilah looking into it. Seeing what evidence they’re coming up with. Hopefully there’s nothing there, but we can’t be sure yet.”
“It was sloppy,” Wesley commented, clearly irked at the situation. Not only had he been overruled, but the situation had spiraled out of control, threatening to have their existence thrust into the world. “And you very well could have exposed yourself. Do you have any idea what that means?”
Xander turned and stared the man in the eyes. “It means that there’s at least one person alive right now that may not be otherwise. And here I thought that that was the business we were in. Or were you only content to play protector to the world when it meant you didn’t have anything to lose? I don’t recall you volunteering much for the fisticuffs. Lead by example?”
“It’s not going to happen,” Vi inserted, wanting to diffuse the situation before it came to blows and Xander punched the Watcher’s head off, literally. She looked over at the boy sitting next to her. “Tell them.”
“Uh,” Amadeus said, looking between Vi and the rest of the group. He was still a little sheepish at what had happened, dragging them all into a situation that he had partly caused. He was beginning to realize just how big a mistake running off had been. In retrospect, he had made quite a few mistakes in doing the first thing that his big brain thought up. “It’s something that I found out while I was researching the town. The crime statistics here don’t match the response that an American city with your population and demographics would have given the amount of crime that you have. Especially the violent crime and missing persons numbers.”
“Meaning what?” Xander asked, taking the first real look that he had at the teenager. Amadeus was younger than he was, by a little bit at least. Still, it was clear that there was something going on upstairs; Amadeus had the look of someone that knew he was the smartest guy in the room.
“Someone’s covering up what goes on. Murders, the disappearances, it’s swept up and doesn’t even hit the local news channels,” Amadeus continued, looking around the room. He tried to get a sense of who exactly was in charge, but it was a little hard to tell at times. Xander had obvious authority, though the older man with glasses had power as well. “Someone’s pulling the strings.”
“Well, this incident certainly didn’t get covered up,” Wesley inserted with irritation, perhaps overplaying things a little. “It’s likely that the story’s going to be around for more than a single news cycle. I will contact the Council and advise them of the situation; they have influence with such matters. Until then, we’ll sit tight and make ourselves as invisible as possible. That includes you, Xander.”
“Yeah, well, I’ll try,” Xander didn’t know how much he meant it, but it was good advice. He continued to look at Amadeus and shrugged. Standing up, he spoke, “c’mon, let’s talk.”
He didn’t bother to ask for permission, or for Amadeus to acknowledge the request and comply. Instead, Xander just left the library, stepping out into the deserted hallway.
“What are your orders?” the man said calmly into the phone, suppressing the urge to scratch at the gauze patch over his left eye. Or rather what was left of his eye. He had managed to get taken out early in the battle, his eye blasted less than cleanly out of its socket. It was gone, and no amount of enhanced healing would bring it back. Though the wound had healed, it still hurt like a bitch.
He was angry, both at himself as well as the ones that had put him in that position. He was one of the few that were still left alive, the boy proving to be more difficult to handle than previously anticipated. And he had managed to meet up with even more people that had their own special set of abilities.
Calling it in to their leader was difficult, and he imagined that the Mandarin may want to take it out on the messenger. It was their fault, but they had been unprepared to deal with the help that the boy had managed to find. It was unlikely that they were working for SHIELD, giving the lack of backup that the two had. But, it was hard to completely blame themselves for something that they had had no intel about and therefore no reason to expect. Of course, it was still an excuse.
The Mandarin’s irritation was clear over the phone line, though also contained. “I want you back here as soon as possible. Make sure that you wipe all trace of your presence in Sunnydale, as well as all trace of Excello’s presence in that city. This cannot lead back to me. I will have arrangements made for your extraction by the time that you are ready to depart.”
The man briefly wondered if he was leaving the United States alive. It would be a moot point though, if the Mandarin truly wanted him dead. “Yes, sir. And the boy?”
The Mandarin leaned back in his office chair, looking out over the view of the city. “It would be pointless to throw more men at this. To jeopardize our secrecy over this one individual is foolhardy, and would be more waste than benefit. SHIELD is alerted to our presence more than enough. I see no need to chance further exposure. Just make sure to erase all evidence of your involvement in this matter. They win this round.”
“I understand, sir,” the man said grimly, frustration evident in his voice. He was itching to get a chance at that boy again. This time without him getting taken out early. But, orders were orders. And the Mandarin had to be obeyed.
“Good,” the Mandarin replied curtly, turning his chair around. This was only one of a myriad of operations and projects he had going on all over the world. “And Aaron, don’t fail me again.”
Putting the phone down without a response or goodbye, the Mandarin just stared out over his office, lost in thought. He would have to remember to keep an eye on the boy. He may not be able to risk making a move again at the present moment, but that did not mean that the risk in moving against the boy would always outweigh the benefit. He had time, and a long memory.
One thing was clear though, the strike team had been inadequate to deal with the threat in Sunnydale. Though they still had their purpose, it was clear that he needed more advanced soldiers to deal out the brute force that would undoubtedly be necessary in the future.
“So, what are we supposed to do with you?” Xander turned, facing the other teenager. The hallways echoed a little, making it feel a little strange, but he had been in those corridors by himself long enough to ignore it. The thrill of being in school illicitly had long since lost its appeal.
Amadeus looked around, his mind going back to his relatively carefree days back in high school. He missed it. Not just school itself, which he rather enjoyed, but the normalcy of it all. “You’re the leader, hunh?”
Xander shrugged, it probably wasn’t completely accurate, but it was more involved than he wanted to go into. Or think about for that matter. “Yeah well, the places that life takes us. I guess we all find ourselves in places we didn’t expect. You have somewhere to go?”
“Not really,” Amadeus said, not exactly lying.
Xander just looked at him, knowing that the teen was holding something back. “Vi almost took a bullet because of what happened here. I ain’t saying that’s your fault. But, I put one of mine in harm’s way to get you out. I took hits for you. Look, it’s part of the gig, but you need to be straight with me. You owe us that. You owe her that.”
Amadeus hesitated, turning as he heard the door to the library swing open. It was just Kirby nosing his way out, looking for him. He stepped over and scooped the puppy up, cradling him in his arms. He knew the feeling. The teenager looked up at Xander. “They killed my whole family. I can’t just drop this.”
“They know you’re here. They set you up to get you here. And you don’t even know who they are. However far you’ve gotten, they’re still a step ahead,” Xander said, knowing that Amadeus hadn’t exactly answered the question. “What do you think you’re going to do? What do you think you’ll be able to do?”
“I’ll think of something,” Amadeus replied, a hard expression on his face. He still had the data from the computer and SIM cards that might bear fruit. He wasn’t at a complete dead end.
“Not like this,” Xander said, voice softer in sympathy and at least a little understanding. “I know what it is to lose someone like that. And I’m not saying that you should let it go. But, this way, is not the way. You’re just going to end up getting yourself or others killed. That wouldn’t be what your family would want for you.”
“I know,” Amadeus said after a moment, his eyes narrowing as they started to water. “I just…I got nothing else.”
Xander sighed, shaking his head. He remembered the taste of vengeance, bitter yet sweet all at the same time. It could be addictive. “That’s not true. But, you need to figure out what it is exactly that you do have.”
Amadeus looked away, sniffing a little. “And what? I drop it and what? They still come after me. And I still end up dead.”
“Look, I know a place I can get you. Far away where I doubt even these guys could find you. But, you go there, and that’s it. You leave this behind. And you don’t come back. Ever.” Xander knew that it wasn’t exactly his offer to make, but it was one that would definitely keep him alive. He also knew that it probably wouldn’t be enough. “So you got to make a choice. You either get out, or you stay and look for whatever vengeance you can get before they get you. And I promise you, the only way that ends is bloody or sad. I ain’t seeing another option here. You’re the smart one, you have a door number three?”
Amadeus was tempted by the idea of running and staying gone. But, he knew that he couldn’t just drop it. And that Xander was right as well. He couldn’t be that selfish. Not anymore, not after almost getting these people killed. “After Utah, I was taken in by the Strategic Hazard Intervention, Espionage and Logistics Directorate. They said they’d help, but I didn’t…I don’t know, I guess I didn’t trust them. Thought I could do better on my own. So, I ran.”
“SHIELD,” Xander said, the hint of a smile on his lips. It was a little ironic he supposed. They certainly got around. “You don’t trust them?”
Amadeus shrugged, hedging his opinions. They probably don’t trust him anymore either. “The ones I met were okay. But, I don’t know if they wanted me there to help find the guys responsible, or if they wanted me to start thinking stuff up for them.”
“You got out,” Xander pointed out. The thought occurred to him that his mysterious savior may have been linked to SHIELD. Which had its plusses and its minuses. Still, he was alive, and that was all that counted for the moment. “Look, you being here doesn’t work. It puts us all in danger. I can’t tell you to leave, but SHIELD more than likely knows that you’re here already. You say they did you a solid, it might be the only place you can go right now.”
“I don’t know if I can trust them,” Amadeus replied stubbornly.
“You have to trust someone,” Xander noted, though he knew that Amadeus was already halfway to convincing himself. “Besides, you got out before.”
Amadeus reached into his pocket with a free hand, Kirby squirming and jumping down from his grip. He pulled out a worn and folded business card and looked at it. He had lifted it while he was making his escape. He didn’t know why he had kept the thing, but he had done it. Maybe subconsciously he knew that SHIELD was where he needed to go. It wasn’t like he could ever go home again. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Amadeus,” Xander said, waiting for the other boy to look at him. “I don’t know what to do here. I can barely keep everything together here as it is. I want to help, but there’s only so much I can do, and it’s not my choice. So you need to be the one to make this decision.”
Amadeus just nodded. “You’re pretty smart yourself.”
“Really not,” Xander replied flippantly.
“Boy’s coming in from the cold.” Agent Coulson said, putting his phone down on the desk. “Meeting in the park tomorrow. Three o’clock.”
“That feels anticlimactic,” Clint chuckled, shaking his head. He was getting antsy with the waiting and not being out there. “But, I’ll take it.”
“It’s a setup, I’m sure that whomever was helping him last night will be at the meet,” Coulson continued, glad that things were working out. Given the dangers that they routinely encountered, he considered himself lucky that the danger would soon be over. While he did not shirk his duty, only a fool looked for a fight.
He had managed to convince the local police to let SHIELD handle the investigation. Agents were going through the motions, but it was mostly cover to give them time to analyze the blood and other evidence of the two new players in the midst. While they still needed to find out who sent the strike team as well as who the members were, that was a more protracted concern.
“Dangerous town,” Clint remarked, wondering how exactly things were so unnoticed. The story had been covered up, and his latest ventures out revealed that the citizens of Sunnydale had quickly gotten over what had happened.
A gunfight in the middle of the day, and apparently another in the dead of night and nobody cared. It didn’t make any sense to him. He’d seen what such common occurrences could do to people firsthand. Central Asia, a few African countries, and even a few South American ones that he wasn’t supposed to talk about. Car bombs and assassinations in broad daylight and throats slashed in the middle of the night. There was usually a tenable fear or at least suspicion in the air. A tense feeling, which was sorely lacking in Sunnydale. It was like dealing with a pack of lemmings, or cows that couldn’t see the blades around the corner.
He idly wondered what the night would bring.
“Ye’re not selling anything are you?” the elderly man in his mid-sixties asked, looking suspiciously at the rather well-dressed man at the door. He narrowed his eyes a little, getting a bad vibe by the man. It was partly the man’s rather large smile, but there was something else as well.
“Not at all, Mr. O’Toole,” the man said, still smiling. He was alone, which wasn’t necessarily smart in Sunnydale, but he hardly needed to worry. Especially about the old man that had answered the door and that was now fidgeting a little too much for simple dislike for solicitors. He wondered if the minor power could even see into the beyond. “I’ve been sent-“
The elderly O’Toole said nothing, instead slamming the door and twisting around as fast as he could. He was no longer as spry as he once was, so he had hardly made it halfway to the foyer closet before the door was kicked in. He grasped the closet door’s doorknob, but before he could open it, he was picked up and forced against the wall of the connecting living room.
Nicholas Scratch ventured in carefully, his arm dropping as he let go of the spell that he had just cast. He moved toward the living room, feeling the bits of power that the necromancer had. It was almost pathetic, but he had his instructions. He twisted his head to his shoulder, but didn’t keep his eyes off of the wizard that was trying to get to his feet. The necromancer had been slammed hard and had fallen onto the couch, cushioning the fall, but only by a little. “Blackout, check it.”
The half-demon hybrid didn’t bother responding as he entered the house, though he did walk to the closet and open it up. He checked it from top to bottom, digging through winter coats, boxes of shoes, and various pieces of clutter. It didn’t take him long to find what he was looking for. Turning around, Blackout held an intricately carved piece of wood, the arcane and dark magic inherent in the object almost staining it black, for those that had the eyes to see. “Magic stick.”
Blackout strode forward towards Scratch, casually snapping the thick wood in two, glowing sparks of yellow and red bursting from both splintered ends as it broke. He tossed them aside contemptuously, the magic fading away from the enspelled wood. “Unmagic stick.”
“What do you want?” O’Toole managed to spit out, feeling the pain in his back. He grit his teeth as he moved, knowing that some bones were cracked, if not broken. He wouldn’t let it stop him though.
Scratch leaned over the injured man, turning his head slightly as he pondered the elderly man still try to get to his feet. He was a fighter, that one, though it would do him no good. “Spirited.”
“What do you want?” the necromancer asked again, glaring up at the wizard. He could feel the waves of power coming off the other man, this was the end. But, he had no plans at going out quietly.
Concentrating, the sorcerer raised his hands and weaved his spell, ignoring the questions. He whispered the words of power as he worked his dark magic. It did not take long for the incantation to be realized and corporealized, the necromancer bursting into brilliant red flames. It started to spread, the carpet burning as Scratch stepped away, back towards the foyer. The screaming was pleasant in its way, but he would have little chance to enjoy it. This one was all business. “It’s time to go.”
Blackout smiled as he watched the flames grow, his teeth glinting as the fire cast odd light onto his face. His nostrils flared a little as he smelled the burning flesh. The char smelled particularly delightful, though he knew that he would have no chance to partake. A pity.
The screams had stopped by now, the necromancer dead, but they had been the cause of some small amount of joy for the sadistic demon, and that would have to be enough. It was unfortunate that he did not have more time to revel in it, but he had a job to do, and his employer did not stand for failure.
The two men walked out the door, smoke billowing out after them. The fire would grow large and hot, and consume the house, but would die out, no evidence left for its creation. They caught up with a towering figure, in a tan trenchcoat and hat. It was laughable cover, but the magic weaved throughout the cloth allowed passersby to ignore the fact that the figure was really a large rock troll.
“Time to depart,” Scratch remarked, turning his head at the vision of Ulik pocketing what looked to be a jaw, flesh and tendons still hanging from where it had been ripped off of its previous owner’s head. He could delight in the pain and torture of others, but such grisly souvenirs were so unseemly. It was a wonder why Lord Dormammu tolerated such behavior. But, it was not his place to question their leader and employer. That was a sure way to get replaced.
“She looks calm,” Xander said, watching with some concern as Amy sat in a meditative pose. He recognized it himself, having used it a number of times. It had its uses, though he found his increasingly troubled of late. He glanced over his shoulder, leaning heavily on the metal railing. “What do you think?”
He turned back to watch the blonde teenager, still floating in the air, swaying slightly though without strain. Something that he knew that she had previously been unable to do. Levitation and then flight, or so he had heard. Both of which weren’t supposed to be particularly easy, especially for someone that wasn’t a natural-born witch. It concerned him, on top of everything that he had to worry about.
“She is freaking out,” a voice carried from the room the boy was standing in front of. “She may not be showing it now, but she is freaking out about what’s going on.”
“Any idea what is going on?” Xander asked, straightening up and walking into the makeshift bedroom. Jenny was sitting at the desk, going over a few books. As far as he knew, there was nothing in there that would explain it.
“I have a hypothesis,” the gypsy said, somewhat reluctantly. The lack of information was frustrating her, which more than likely increased her apprentice’s apprehension. “The Glove of Myhnegon. She blocked it.”
“Yeah,” Xander said, nodding as he moved forward and sat down on the bed. He sank in a little and sighed. “Took a bolt, full blast. Hell of a thing. You think it’s connected?”
“It’s possible,” Jenny answered, turning around. She looked at her boyfriend with concern. She was the teacher, in more significant ways than for Sunnydale High. And what was happening to Amy was her failure as a teacher. “The power of the glove created some sort of connection that allowed its magical energy to be transferred into her. It wasn’t deflected, or at least not all the way. It was absorbed.”
“Lilah’s had similar thoughts. But, she’s concerned,” Xander said. He checked his watch, knowing that it would soon be time to take Amadeus to his meet. And that was a whole other thing that he had to worry about. Not to mention Vi.
“Dark magic,” Jenny didn’t need him to say it. “She’s worried that it could corrupt.”
“Could it?” Xander asked, wondering when it had come to pass that he trusted Lilah more than asking members of the Council. Although it was less trust and more paranoia. At least with Lilah he knew where he stood. Which was to say in front, to avoid any potential daggers.
Jenny shook her head in uncertainty. “I don’t know. Normally, magic’s neither good nor bad. It’s the use or misuse of it that matters.”
Xander could sense an exception coming on. There seemed to be way too many of those in magic. “But?”
“But, it’s not that simple,” Jenny said, explaining as best as she could. “Magic can have…call it a flavor. The more negative emotions or dark acts that go into it, the spell or artifact or whatever takes on that flavor. A powerful enough witch could blunt that. But…”
“But, you don’t know if the anchovies on the Myhnegon magical pizza are going to give her heartburn.” Xander smiled through his teeth. He remembered how much of a pain Amy’s mother had been. Not to mention that the young witch had had her own brush with the dark side of the Force.
“It’s impossible to know. And even if we did, it doesn’t mean that Amy can’t overcome that influence,” Jenny continued. She knew that her student was strong and capable. However, she also knew that the young witch could be impetuous and reliant on her emotions. Looking at it with clear eyes, she knew that Amy could go either way. Another of her own failings.
Xander sighed silently and lay back on his bed, staring at the girders that crossed the ceiling. “I suggested we kill her once. When her mother had pulled a Freaky Friday. I said we should cut her head off.”
“Xander…” Jenny said, not knowing what to say.
Xander didn’t respond to his name, staring out into space. “I have these thoughts. Even before….Orson. I was willing…I was always willing. But, she’s one of us. And so we watch and we wait. And maybe in a month. Or a year. Or ten years, I have to kill a friend. I have to kill another friend.”
“It’s a burden, an unfair one,” Jenny remarked softly. “And I wish that you didn’t have to bear it, but you see people and events and sacrifice. You see everything.”
“I don’t see everything,” Xander rebuked, sitting up. He stood up and walked over to one of the shelves in the room. “If I did, there’d be less people dead.”
“But that’s not going to happen. No this time.” He turned and looked at her. “If I believe in anything I believe in you. You aren’t failing her.”
“How…?” Jenny asked.
“Well, maybe I do see some things.” Xander just smiled at her. “You’re a great teacher. You were for me, and you are for her. I’d be a hell of a lot more messed up right now if it wasn’t for you.”
His faced turned serious again as he turned back quickly, getting back to business. It was time to go. It was time to play in traffic.
“Xander, you know you’re not alone,” Jenny said, frowning, catching he change in mood that he had tried to hide. The melancholy could take him at times, make him much more dour than he normally was. Some of the time, she wasn’t quite sure if it was all his own feeling, or if there was still a little too much Orson in there.
She headed to the doorway, needing to continue her lessons with her student. “I’ll always be here for you.”
“My dad’s been…well, he’s been less of a dick than usual. Thanks for what you said to him,” Xander said, craning his head around and smiling at his girlfriend. “What’s happening with Amy…I know that you’ll be able to figure it out. And I’ll be here to help you, well, in whatever way that I can. And I…well, you know.”
“You’re welcome,” Jenny replied, knowing that it was a real smile this time. His words did have their impact as well. “And you did help me with my uncle.”
Xander turned back, pulling a gun and checking the magazine. He put the safety on and slipped it into his waistband behind his back. He grabbed a knife as well, making sure that it was hidden. He started to walk to the doorway, but stopped and turned around midway there, looking at a clear crystal pyramid that held some books in place on the middle shelf. It seemed to sparkle a little more intensely than it should, given the ambient light in the room. “What do you want from me?”
“How many SHIELD guys do you think are in this park?” Amadeus sat on the bench, jittering a little bit as he looked around. His eyes turned back to Kirby every now and again as the young pup eyed the squirrels that flitted around the trees with some desire.
“Four,” Xander said, looking around as well. His sunglasses and baseball cap would obscure his identity as well as possible. He didn’t think that it would do all that much, if Lilah’s suspicions were correct. Still, it didn’t hurt. “What do you think?”
“Five,” Amadeus said, pulling the earphones from his ears and pocketing them. The SHIELD agents were a chatty bunch, even if they were using an encrypted frequency. Radio was radio. “The driver.”
“Right,” Xander said, smiling a little as he focused on a couple of men that weren’t exactly dressed for the park. They approached down the path like a couple of cubicle monkeys taking a break from work, but for their attitudes. He narrowed his eyes a little as he swept his gaze past them. The forward man was in his forties, with short brown hair. His dark suit was a little too government issue, but Xander doubted that the man cared all that much.
He looked forward again watching the various teens and those older and younger that were enjoying a bright, though cold day, speaking without looking. “So. Smartest guy in the room. I bet you know exactly what I’m thinking.”
Amadeus turned his head a fraction, working the thought through. “Yeah.”
“And?” Xander said, not needing anything more than a word to convey the protectiveness.
Amadeus nodded. “Not going to happen.”
“Yeah, see that it doesn’t.” Xander took another sip from his coffee, still staring out ahead of him at the grass and trees. “It’s midnight, Cinderella. Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Amadeus said, getting up. He turned slowly and started to walk away, Kirby scurrying to catch up to him. He only stopped to pick the pup up and put him back into place in his jacket, zipping it up to secure the young canine.
The men stopped, and though they didn’t seem to be particularly glad to see him, Amadeus knew that they weren’t unhappy to see him either. “How’s it going?”
“Who’s your friend?” Clint asked, looking at the teenager sitting on the bench.
Amadeus kept himself from turning around. “Nobody. I guess we should get going.”
“Yeah,” Agent Coulson said, smiling a little in encouragement. “Time to go home.”
Xander watched as they left, looking up as a fluttering of wings caught his attention. He thought it a little odd that an owl of some sort was flying in the daylight, but then again it was Sunnydale. The unusual had a way of happening in Sunnydale.
“How is he?” Vi asked, trying to hide her worry, but failing to accomplish it.
Xander smiled in sympathy at the girl, though he had to admit a little amusement as well. He could sympathize with the feeling, he had felt it himself after all. “He’s fine. He’s on his way, and if a building full of top of the line G-men can’t keep him safe, nobody can.”
“Good,” Vi said, smiling in relief at the news. She knew from the look on Xander’s face that her feelings weren’t exactly hidden from her teacher. She knew that it was still kind of a crush on the Korean teen, but there was something there at least. She had kissed him on the cheek when they had said their goodbyes, the blush on Amadeus’s face clear enough to the both of them. Not to mention the slipped phone number.
“Ahem,” Wesley cleared his throat, breaking into the conversation and turning the room’s attention back onto the subject at hand. “I believe that we have identified the group responsible for the various demon attacks that we’ve had over the last couple of weeks.”
“That’s good,” Buffy said, turning her attention to the Watcher. She couldn’t say that he had grown on her, but she had to admit, the man knew his stuff. Even if it was wrapped around a core of condescension and stiff upper Britishness.
“They’re known as the Horsemen,” Giles inserted, getting into lecture mode. All eyes were on him, which was unsurprising, though he felt some annoyance emanating from Wesley at the interjection. “Three of the most fearsome and deadly warriors that ever were.”
“Three of them. Aren’t they missing a member?” Xander asked lightly, though he felt that it was a little forced. “Should we be checking stables?”
Giles ignored the quip. “Death. They need not a fourth member for death follows them wherever they go. They have a long history.”
“Who are dey?” Kendra asked, eyes glinting at the prospect of battle.
Wesley nodded, and spoke again authoritatively, “Ulik, a rock troll from the underground realm of Nornheim. He is known as Ulik the Unstoppable and Ulik the Unconquerable Troll. He is a giant of a troll, and as strong as a slayer. If not stronger.”
“There is also the insane demon known as Blackout,” Diana said, her voice clear in its appreciation of the danger of the group. “Rumored to be great grandson of Lilith, the mother of demons, he has the ability to call upon the darkness itself. He is also fast as lightning and bears sharp claws.”
Xander didn’t react, but could tell that some of the others were worried. It didn’t sound good, but then again, it rarely did. He didn’t exactly relish going up against someone with sharp claws again.
“The leader of the group is Nicholas Scratch,” Giles said, his own tone tense with feeling. “It is said that he is of the Harkness line; magic flows strongly through that family. Regardless, he is a supremely powerful and ruthless wizard. A true warlock and cruel in everything he does.”
“They might have something to do with the attack last night,” Willow said, remembering the report that she had read online. “The O’Tooles’ house burned down yesterday. The police said it looked like an accident, but apparently there are some witnesses who say that they heard suspicious noises.”
“Who are the O’Tooles?” Giles asked, not recalling that particular story on the news.
Xander shrugged, wondering if it actually was connected. They were the O’Tooles, and not all of them were on the up and up. “We go to school with Jack O’Toole, well, whenever he’s not suspended and decides to come to class. But, all I know about the family is that they’ve been around here for a long time. I don’t know if they have magic or anything.”
“If they do,” Buffy inserted, knowing that coincidences were more than rare. “It could explain the attack.”
“If all of the attacks are linked,” Giles said, thinking aloud and trying to piece it together. “Then it is likely that the O’Tooles, one or both, were killed to keep something quiet. Or at least, to ensure that they did not do anything to bring undue attention onto something that is going on.”
“I’ve checked the portents and prophecies, there is nothing said to be rising in Sunnydale in the near future.” Wesley stroked his chin, thinking about what could have drawn the three warriors to the Hellmouth. He doubted that it was the Hellmouth itself, given that the Horsemen had always been working for another party. Who that was, however, was still a mystery.
“Amadeus said that there was corruption in the government,” Vi spoke, looking up at the Watchers. “He said that it had to be someone powerful and high up.”
Giles nodded, it did make quite a bit of sense. The ignorance of the situation and lack of knowledge of the dangers that the town held in secret would be much more easily established and kept if there was someone directing it. And the most likely candidate would be someone at the top. “It gives us a place to start looking. In the meantime, I suggest you all take extra care on your patrols. They may not be out in force every night, and may only be attacking specific targets, but we can’t be too careful.”
Xander grit his teeth, but said nothing. The things that went bump in the night. It was a hell of a thing to have to think about.
“Senator, with all due respect, this is a mistake.” Director Fury had to make quite an effort to keep his tone civil. While he did have friends in the upper echelons of the government, he still had to play the political game. As many successes as he may have, he was still at the mercy of what the people in power wanted and desired. It was the ultimate in, what have you done for me lately. “I have thoroughly reviewed the proposal for the 314 project. You can’t sign off on this. It is absolutely the wrong way to go.”
The senator from California sighed, and stopped on the steps, rain beating down on the steps they were standing on just past the overhanging roof. The sky was grey and drab, the temperature cool enough to require his overcoat. But, the weather wasn’t enough to distract him from the agency director that had “ambushed” him. To think that they were both headquartered in the same state, and yet were meeting on the other side of the country. “Director Fury, the matter has been decided. There is nothing I can do. Even if I was inclined to do something about it. The project will go forward.”
“You think that you can control demons with computers and programming? These aren’t simple animals, they are thinking and feeling beings,” Nick declared, refraining from grabbing the man and shaking him until he stopped being an idiot. That would be near impossible. And would not help, even if it would make him feel slightly better. “And they are filled with hate and evil.”
“I have reviewed the same files, Director, and I can assure you, Dr. Walsh and Dr. Angleman’s theories are sound,” the senator assured. “The technology and behavioral modification have been tested, it will work.”
“Rats, the technology has been tested on rats,” Director Fury nearly spat out. He narrowed his eye as he gauged the other man. He knew that the computer industry was one of the biggest lobbyists in the senator’s state, and that more than a little of the money that past between the corporations and the senator was near the line between ethical and unethical. Still, he knew that the senator did have his state’s best interests at heart, even if it was mixed in with his own comfort.
It was too bad that this was one politician that Tony Stark did not have in his pocket.
“Director, Nick, these points have already been brought up,” the senator said, sighing, his head beginning to ache. The meetings that he had had over the long day were already adding up. He needed a strong drink and to not have someone arguing with him. “You are still lagging on your own attempts at recreating Starktech. Need I remind you that you have yet to convince Tony Stark to turn over the Iron Man suit to us? We do what we do, because we have to. Now, if you have something new to add…”
“Not something new, something old.” Fury looked around and then dragged the senator by the arm to the side of the steps, near one of the large columns that supported the roof. “Do I really need to remind you what happened the last time the government decided to play god with technology and mental manipulation?”
“What are you talking about?” the senator stated, looking around for prying eyes and listening ears. One could never be too careful.
“It was a disaster. Do I really need to remind you of the results?” Nick just shook his head, people forgot the lessons of the past and repeated the same mistakes. A gift and curse of his long life. The old soldier grit his teeth and exhaled sharply. “Fine. Creed. Went psychotic. Off the grid and thirty years later you still can’t find him. Kestrel. Paranoid schizophrenic. Went underground; murdered by Creed. Bradley, murdered by Creed. Wilson. Suffered a psychotic break as a result of his enhancements. He’s a mercenary now, and completely insane and delusional. Mastodon. Treatments didn’t take. He’s dead too; literally aged to death inside of three months. And Logan. Behavioral modification was a complete failure. He’s amnesiac and went feral. Not only do you not know where he is, but his goddamn files leaked out and we had to cover it up by spinning it into a fucking comic book. The only success was Nord. One out of seven, and you want to start the whole goddamn freakshow over again.”
“Weapon X was the past,” the senator declared, not liking having to be reminded of a past failure. “The technology and techniques have been refined. This will work. Weapon Plus will work. And if not, well, I hope that you get your team in order quickly then. Because if you’re right, then we’ll need them. Good day.”
The senator broke the grip and turned brusquely, heading down the stone steps to his waiting vehicle. He had enough things to worry about than to reminisce over the past. His work as a younger congressman to get the project funded did not make him responsible for the resulting disaster. Still, he would not let that happen again.
He hesitated a few steps down, turning around as the rain beat down on his head. “Nick, it’s not about what we want. It’s what is. Get your team in order.”
Nick Fury watched him turn and get into his car, slowing his breathing as his anger subsided. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Dialing without looking he put the cell up to his ear. “It’s me. I’m not waiting anymore. Get ready, we’re moving now.”
Xander closed the door behind him, locking it with easy practice. He was still feeling a little off about the revelation, though it made perfect sense. He didn’t know if it was the fact that it was the mayor, or if it was that it had been so easy to put the pieces together. The man had been photographed at different time periods looking exactly alike. It was all so surreal.
Didn’t mean that it was him though. That the mayor happened to be immortal and that there was dark magic at work at City hall didn’t necessarily mean that the Horsemen were working for Wilkins the Third. But, it fit too well to simply ignore at this point.
“Hmm,” Xander said, coming to a stop in the hallway. It didn’t feel like anybody was inside, or at least he knew that his parents weren’t supposed to bet there that afternoon. Still, he got a funny feeling, like maybe he wasn’t actually alone. “Must be getting paranoid.”
Shaking his head, he walked further down the hall and opened the door to the basement. It was dark, and he couldn’t hear anything or see anything down there, but he still went down. The musty air wafted up his nose, and it didn’t appear as if anything was disturbed. The flashes of natural light from the small windows near the top of the walls didn’t reveal anything.
It was when he actually got down into the room that he noticed him. Xander couldn’t imagine how he had missed the rather serious looking man in the dark trenchcoat. The one eye that was visible was bright and clear, making the man look like someone with all the answers in the world. The man stepped further out into a patch of light, an eyepatch evident over his left eye.
“Xander Harris,” the man said, looking him up and down. The file photos were pretty accurate, and Xander did look every bit the normal high school teenager. His bloodwork had come back as well. Clean, which was to say that there were no abnormalities that would explain his impressive abilities. “We need to talk.”
Xander said nothing for a moment, as another man came into view, this one white with short light brown hair. He laid a couple of files onto a stack of boxes in front of him, but didn’t open them. Xander noticed that the man’s suit coat was open, a shoulder holster apparent inside.
“Who are you people?” Xander asked, getting the feeling that they weren’t particularly concerned about having broken into someone’s house.
“Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD,” Nick said, stepping closer and flashing a badge. He waved a hand at the other man. “This is Agent Barton.”
Xander glanced down at the closed files. “I think you have the wrong house. The Harrises live two doors down.”
“Xander Harris,” Clint said, coming closer and smiling. He folded his arms over his chest. “Also known as the Iron Fist. Full on superhero, with the getup and everything. Heard about the thing at the motel. It was impressive work.”
Shaking his head and chuckling, Xander stepped closer as well. He recognized Barton as one of the SHIELD agents that picked Amadeus up, but he didn’t need to let that bit of information out. It did legitimize the group though. “Sorry, can’t help you.”
He started to turn around, but was stopped.
“Hey,” Clint said, reaching out and putting a hand on the boy’s shoulder. It was a mistake.
Like a flash, Xander grabbed Agent Barton’s right wrist with his left hand and yanked down, the SHIELD agent stumbling forward. Reaching into the man’s jacket, Xander pulled out a black handgun from the shoulder holster. While pulling his hand back, Xander swept out with his leg, knocking the man off his feet and onto a rolled up rug. By the time Clint hit the floor, the gun was already pointed at the other interloper.
Nick just clapped, calm as if completely oblivious to the weapon pointed at his head. “Like we said, impressive. Wouldn’t you say?”
Xander wondered if the man was crazy, but the thought was interrupted as he felt the tip of a gun barrel press against his temple. “How the he-“
“Drop the gun,” the woman’s voice came from the side.
Xander considered, and then did as he was told, willing to go with it for the moment. He tossed the gun to the side, away from Agent Barton who was now regaining his feet. Looking carefully to his right without moving his head, Xander tried to look at the person that had a gun to his head. The wavy red hair caught his attention first, aside from the gun that was still pointed at him.
“So, uh.” Xander smiled a little, turning his attention back on the director. “Were you guys planning on just waiting down here until I happened to decide to come down to the basement?”
The director ignored the question, moving forward and opening up the first file folder. “Like I said we need to talk.”
Xander folded his arms over his chest, taking a slow step to his left and turning to look at the woman next to him. She was striking, and pretty much amounted to exactly what he would think a super hot secret agent would look like. Pale skin, fair features, and she carried herself in a way that made it clear that she could handle herself. “I suppose you’re the one I have to thank.”
“Yes,” Natasha said, lowering the gun. Though she didn’t imagine that he was really that much of a threat, or had been all that worried about the gun that had been at his head.
“Iron Fist,” Fury interjected, flipping through the file. “We’ve been keeping tabs on you for a while. Tracking your movements. You’ve been busy.”
“My movements?” Xander repeated, furrowing his brow. He chuckled nervously. “How closely exactly have you been tracking me?”
“We know about the warehouse,” Natasha said, putting her weapon back in its holster. “The money. Arizona. Boston. Charming.”
“Let’s hold up on that,” Nick interrupted, raising a hand. That wasn’t what they were there for after all. “I'm here to talk to you about the Avenger Initiative. I’m putting a special team together, with special abilities. It’s important work. And, I want you on it.”
“Maybe I’m not a team player,” Xander said, looking down at the file the man was flipping through. He wondered what was in the other one.
“Your work with the Slayers. The potentials. Xander,” Nick chided lightly, looking at the boy. “You’re more of a team player than you think.”
“The military theft,” Natasha picked up where she had left off. It was a little amusing; he had a touch of the anarchist. She could relate. “The woman.”
Xander’s head snapped to the woman. “Hey, you leave her out of this.”
“She’s Latverian,” Nick said, not taking his eyes off the boy as Clint found his weapon and took up a position by his side again.
“She was born in the US,” Xander said, confused. “What are you talking about?”
“True, but her people, the Kalderash are from Latveria, and her passport shows that she has travelled there a number of times over the last few years,” Nick explained. He had seen it all too many times himself. “You so sure you can trust her?”
“A twenty-six year old woman. A seventeen year old boy,” Natasha went on, it was a familiar pattern. Something she had been involved with in her own past. It had brought down or turned more than one politician in the past. “I’m sure she has all kinds of influence.”
“What is this? James Bond?” Xander shook his head, chuckling ruefully. He looked at the agency director again. He was beginning to see what Amadeus had first thought about them. “You think she’s a spy? Just because she’s from some Eastern European country that has some ruler that you don’t particularly like at the present moment?”
“It’s been known to happen,” Nick replied, part of him wishing that Amadeus was the only teenager that he had to deal with. And while it was true that the particulars of America’s allies and enemies and attitudes towards rulers changed drastically and nonsensically at times, the attitude on von Doom wasn’t all politics. He deserved his reputation. “We’re trying to recruit you, others may be too.”
“And if I don’t play ball, she disappears? Or what, you threaten to make it public?” Xander asked, face setting hard as stone. “I take the bullet for her. She doesn’t take one for me. Is that all you got?”
“Xander,” Nick said, shaking his head. It was a noble gesture to be sure, but an utterly fruitless one. Of course, he wouldn’t be here if the boy didn’t have the strength and stupid bravery that he did. “I’m here to convince you, not coerce you. Look, this type of relationship, you have to look at it from our point of view. Do you really think that people are going to find it acceptable?”
Xander looked down for a moment. “No.”
“There are more threats out there, infinitely more powerful than that which the Council and its Slayer can handle,” Nick explained further. “That’s where we come in.”
“And who’s on this team?” Xander asked, wanting to change the subject.
“The disaster in New York a couple of years ago? One of them. Strong, proven himself to be a good man,” Nick replied, somewhat vaguely. “Iron Man, our local celebrity. And you already met Clint.”
“Tony Stark,” Xander repeated, a little more impressed than he probably should be. Not so much with Clint though. “But, I have responsibilities here.”
“Which is exactly where I need you,” Nick said, breaking into a smile. “So it works out for us both.”
“And if I say no?” Xander asked, heart sinking a little as he knew what the answer would be.
Nick just looked at him, knowing what the answer already was. “Then people are going to die. It’s up to you to decide if you can live with that.”