And now it's time for a visit from everyone's favorite Agent of SHIELD. And an Asgardian. And some valkyries. And a Vanaþegn sorceress. Oh, and an Avenger, his partner, and their understudy. All kinds of interesting people showing up in this chapter, most of them for the first time. Just keep in mind here that I'm introducing some elements of non-MCU Marvel along with bits of classical Norse mythology. So when you see things that don't quite add up, it's likely not an actual error. Just bear with me; I'll be fleshing out the differences between canon and my version as time goes on.
December 6, 2011
McSorley's Old Ale House
New York, New York
"What have we got, Agent?"
"Another round of Agent Lewis's unconventional information gathering gone awry, sir. She's in there with three Asgardians drinking up a storm, and while they're paying for what they drink, they're making the other customers a bit nervous. Not to mention that the bartenders don't look too happy with how much shattered glass is piling up near their table. I decided it was a good idea to call for backup before things got any more out of hand."
Agent Phil Coulson nodded in approval as he straightened his tie a bit before smoothing his hands down the front of his jacket. With how much driving - and flying - they tended to do, he mused, SHIELD really needed to look into an alternative fabric option for its agents' suits. "Wonderful. Who have we got?" The young woman handed over her cell phone, and Coulson raised an eyebrow as he flicked through the images before stopping on one. "Considering you've been helping compile their dossiers, Agent Wise, you of all people should know not to call this one an Asgardian."
Leaning in, Agent Claire Wise let out a hum of agreement. "I'm not dumb enough to call Amora an Asgardian to her face, sir. I'm just used to dealing with people who don't care what the difference between Asgardians and Vanaþegnar are." She flicked her way back through several images before stopping on one of a non-Amora blonde. Who had evidently taken possession of Wise's phone at some point to take selfies. "This one's new, at least to me. Is Kára new to SHIELD too, or part of something above my clearance level?"
"Kára Hálfdanardóttir. Not the best at speaking softly, but she does carry a big stick." Coulson thought for a moment before deciding that given woman's mandate - and the risk of her hearing it straight from the source - that a bit of sharing might be worthwhile. "I did a bit of light reading after the incident in New Mexico; there's some anecdotal evidence of her visiting Earth during World War II scattered through the SSR's files. Since this isn't my project… if you want, I can leave a few incredibly blatant hints to guide you to the right files when we get back to base?" Wise nodded gratefully. "Other than that? Officially speaking, this is the first time anyone from SHIELD will be meeting her."
Unofficially? Coulson was actually looking forward to seeing Kára again. They'd first met - if one could call it that - in Puente Antiguo, when he'd noticed her standing over the body of one of his fallen comrades. At the time, he'd been too busy trying to muster a counterattack against the Destroyer to approach her and she'd been gone by the time they recovered the automaton's body. Ten months later had come the Battle of New York… and Loki… and then Coulson had spent several days in Kára's company, getting to know her and many of her sisters before being so rudely yanked out of Valhalla. Which reminded him, maybe Kára could suggest a suitable way to repay Göndul Vagndóttir for the spell that had allowed him to keep his true memories through his stay at the Guest House. He also made a mental note to broach that particular topic with Directory Fury at some point. As well-intentioned as the man may have been, it was still an incredible violation on a number of levels.
The sound of shattering glass followed by boisterous laughter and several overlapping voices calling out 'another' drew Coulson from his thoughts. Sighing, Coulson gestured for Wise to accompany him as he entered the alehouse, letting his eyes sweep over the dim and dingy interior. He'd done some quick Internet searching on McSorley's Old Ale House while being driven over, and most of the sites had agreed that if you were going to visit the place, you wanted to get there earlier because it filled up fast. Tonight, a good quarter of McSorley's was empty… in the form of a rough semicircle around one table tucked into a back corner. Carefully avoiding the biggest chunks in the field of glass shards, he approached the table and ran his eyes over the quartet sitting there. "Ladies. And I think you've had enough for one evening, Agent Lewis."
Agent Darcy Lewis - and why the director had thought it appropriate to bring her aboard, Coulson had no idea - opened her mouth to respond, only to let out a monstrous belch before tipping sideways and falling out of her seat. Amora's eyes widened as she leaned over, only to snicker softly as loud snores began emerging from the prostrate woman. "I believe Darcy agrees with you, Agent Coulson." She nodded to the table in front of her, where an iPhone was sitting in between several fresh glasses of beer and what appeared to be the remains of a cheese plate. "I made sure she recorded everything so she'd have something to show for her efforts. We were discussing the Asgardian legal system tonight, particularly their use of hólmgöngur to settle disputes." His lack of comprehension must have shown, because Amora saw fit to elaborate. "Ritual dueling. To the victor goes the favorable decision. Lord Thor, for instance, could rape half the women of Asgard and if anyone complained? As long as he could beat the complainant in combat, he would be considered innocent and a victim of slander. Horribly uncivilized, isn't it?"
Horrifically so, yes. It did explain Thor's behavior on the night before the Battle of New York, though. If he was used to being allowed to bludgeon his way into being in the right… that was definitely something that would need to be added to his file and disseminated to all of SHIELD - and the other members of the Avengers Initiative - as quickly as possible. Coulson snapped his fingers to get Wise's attention before pointing down at Lewis's insensate form. She got the message and moved to hoist the taller brunette to her feet, dragging more than guiding Lewis toward the exit. Normally he would have offered to help, but… well, Wise could consider this punishment for not exercising the good judgement of cutting Lewis off at some point earlier in the evening.
With that problem taken care of, Coulson let his eyes slide to the right, taking in Amora's other two companions. One, he was familiar with solely from the dossiers that Wise and Lewis were compiling. Mæja Mæjannujardóttir. Native of Vanaheim, current resident of Asgard. One of the few seiðr-capable valkyries, and therefore a regular minder of Amora's on Earth. Formidable both physically and magically. Originally marked as having 'possible' ties to Wanda Lehnsherr due to her choice of attire, recently upgraded to 'probable' after a picture of Mæja with mother and daughter Lehnsherr had been found during a sweep of Instagram. The other, he knew far better. "Kára."
"Hello, Phil." Kára offered him a wide smile, tilting her head to one side as she looked him up and down slowly. "I managed to ask Darcy about you before she got too distracted by Amora and her ale. She mentioned that you'd just returned from an extended medical leave. How was… Tahiti, was it?"
"It was a magical place."
"As magical as Valhalla?"
"Not quite. The company didn't measure up either." With a chair now free at the table, Coulson took a seat beside Amora, only to blink as she snapped her fingers and teleported both herself and Kára simultaneously, swapping their positions. Well, that was… courteous of her. At least now they wouldn't need to talk across the others. Then again, he needed to talk to all of them. "Speaking of the company, though… ladies. I've been to Valhalla and feasted with the einherjar. I know the Hollywood stereotypes about them are just that: stereotypes. And yet here I am, sitting at a table surrounded by glass. Would someone like to explain to me what that is?"
The two valkyries exchanged sheepish looks but remained silent, leaving Amora to field that one. "Evidently Lord Thor managed to make a horrible first impression on Darcy, at least when it comes to Asgardian etiquette. She thought his abysmal table manners were normal for us and… well, none of us had the heart to tell her the truth. So we played along." Amora raised a hand and waved it negligently, releasing a shower of yellowish-green motes of light. Watching as they floated out past the table, Coulson's eyes widened as the broken shards floated up off the floor and began reshaping themselves into glasses. One by one, they came in for a landing on the table, forming neat rows of empty glassware. "No harm, no foul?"
Rather than answer, Coulson turned to look at the barkeep, offering the man first a thumbs up and then a thumbs down. When the bartender returned a thumbs up, Coulson nodded and turned back to the women. "No harm, no foul." That being said, he opted to fish out his wallet and peel off a trio of hundred dollar bills to tuck into one of the glasses as compensation for the trouble the women had caused. Perhaps he was being overly generous with the money SHIELD gave him for 'discretionary spending', but if they were fine with Lewis spending it on everything from extensive shopping trips with Amora to a veritable mountain of ale? They probably wouldn't raise an eyebrow at that. "So, where do we go from here? Apart from us hauling Agent Lewis back to base so she can wake up with a terrible hangover, that is."
"Did you know that while the valkyries and I can both pass between the realms without the help of the Bifröst, we do so in completely different ways?" Picking up Lewis's trusty iPhone, Amora tapped in the four digit passcode to gain access to the device, opening up the Photos app and surfing through… what appeared to be pictures of herself, as best Coulson could tell from his vantage point. Evidently Kára wasn't the only one who had gone on a selfie spree that evening. Also, they would need to further restrict Lewis's ability to remotely access SHIELD files if she was being this lax with information security. "While they each carry an item enchanted by the Allfather that allows them to pass between Asgard and Midgard on his authority to conduct their duties, I - like Loki - take advantage of a series of pathways that wind between the realms. The secondary roots of Yggdrasill, so to speak, while the primary roots are the ones that connect the Nine Realms to the World Tree." Pausing, she turned to phone to face Coulson. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to recommend this as a new dossier photo for me? The one SHIELD uses now is terrible."
Coulson glanced down at the iPhone before shaking his head. "Not likely. We use our dossier photos as the initial source of data for our facial recognition software. Smartphone cameras don't have the proper focal length for…" He trailed off as Amora blinked slowly at him. "We need a decent picture from a decent camera for your dossier. This isn't good enough." The blonde let out a noise of comprehension before pouting. "That being said, in the interest of relations? It might be possible to find a camera to send out with Wise or Lewis for one of your future information sharing sessions." That seemed to cheer Amora up, and so Coulson tried to redirect her back to the original conversation that she herself had started. "You were saying something about moving between worlds?"
After a moment of thought, Amora nodded and continued. "Very few remain between this realm and Asgard, and they're quite difficult to access. So I tend to take less direct routes. Asgard to Svartálfaheim to Midard… or occasionally Asgard to Helheim to Midgard when a friend wishes me to check in on their daughter. Which brings us to the point of this conversation." Leaning forward as best she could with Lewis still resting against her chest, Amora grinned widely. "Ever since your… trip to Tahiti… Helreginn Lokidóttir has been asking us a lot of questions about you, Agent Coulson. Kára in particular, for obvious reasons. It would seem that she's quite taken with you. Why, just this morning I arrived in time to hear her tell a new arrival that he was there because he 'lacked conviction'."
"…taken with me?"
"She rules over the dead not worthy of Valhalla, her siblings are quite literally animals, and her father wasn't entirely well-regarded before being convicted of treason. Is it any small wonder that Hel is a queen who still lacks a king to rule by her side?"
Oh. Oh dear.
December 9, 2011
"Hi! You must be Joyce. Do you mind if I call you Joyce? Buffy's told me so much about you that I feel like I already know you."
Frowning, Buffy peeked her head around the corner and peered down the stairs at where her mother was standing in front of the open door, shaking hands with a brunette girl who looked as unfamiliar as she sounded. While the girl could have been one of her classmates… Buffy was pretty sure she wasn't. Or at least not one she'd talked to, well, ever. So who was she, why was she here, how much did she know, and-
"So, between the awkward silence and confused look, I'm guessing Buffy didn't tell you about our date tonight?"
Stunned into silence, Buffy watched as her mom shook her head before stepping back, gesturing for the girl to enter the house. And as the brunette stepped into better light, Buffy became very, very sure that the girl was someone she'd never seen before in her life. Not just at school, either. Anywhere. Ever. Because in her experience, most people her age had wardrobes that stuck to a single overarching theme… and if this girl was showing up for a date in dark purple leather pants, a matching sleeveless top with an arrow-like design in a lighter shade of purple on the front, and combat boots? The rest of her clothes were probably just as eye-catching, and not the sort of thing Buffy would forget seeing around somewhere.
Suddenly, Buffy felt a spike of fear. While her mother hadn't verbally invited the girl in, the Slayer was pretty sure that rule didn't apply when it came to demons or human scum like Willy who associated with her slayees of their own free will. Just because their guest looked like a girl in her late teens didn't mean she wasn't a trained killer, or an immortal demon, or- "No. No she didn't, Miss..?"
"Bishop. Kate Bishop." Kate grinned widely as Joyce gasped, making Buffy wonder what she was missing. "Yes, that Kate Bishop. I have to be in San Francisco tomorrow to represent my family at some dinner being held at the Palace Hotel, and decided to stop in and see what Chula Vista offered for facilities. Sung-Hyun gave me a run for my money in Beijing; I need to step up my game if I'm going to repeat in London next summer, you know? Decided to hire a car to drive me up the coast instead of flying from San Diego to San Fran. Started regretting that bright idea about two hours in when we got stuck in traffic on the 101… but I wouldn't have been able to drop by if I'd flown." Head turning back and forth, Kate scanned the living room several times before letting her eyes slowly run up the stairs to land on Buffy, offering the blonde a wink before turning her attention back to Joyce. "So, is she almost ready? I mean, I make my own schedule because the livery company doesn't care as long as they get paid, but it's nearly six hours from here to my hotel and so I probably shouldn't be here all night…"
Now Buffy was really confused. Kate was famous? Or at least famous enough that her mom recognized Kate's name? Although that didn't necessarily make her actually famous; after all, how famous could she possibly be if Buffy had never heard of her? Still, did that mean Kate was a famous demon? Or a famous person who liked demons? Or… Buffy thought back to her recent Facebook posts. She hadn't insulted Kate or something, had she? Wait. She had no idea who Kate was. She didn't know any Kates period, come to think of it. And what kind of celebrity would freak out over something a random person posted online and show up at their door? Then maybe… random celebrity stalker? Weren't normal people supposed to stalk celebrities, though, and not the other way around?
And she should probably go downstairs before her mom came upstairs looking for her. Maybe she could actually get some answers to her questions that way, too. Clearing her throat to announce her presence, Buffy pasted on a smile as she slowly descended the stairs. So, this weird Kate girl wanted to put her on the spot by spinning a web of lies? Hah! Buffy had been lying to almost everyone in her life on a daily basis since she'd been Called. Two could play at that game. "Kate! You're here! A week early, I think. I thought that dinner you were telling me about was next Saturday?"
"That'll happen when you don't actually pay attention to what I'm telling you, sweetie." Holding her hand up to her mouth, Kate leaned in towards Joyce as she stage whispered to the older blonde. "If you think this is bad, you should see what I have to go through to actually get her on Skype. I gave up and switched to planning everything in Pacific time months ago, and she's still late half the time."
Okay, not cool. For someone supposedly here for a date, this Kate girl seemed to have a thing for wanting to make her look bad. Buffy grit her teeth and, probably misinterpreting the tension between the two, Joyce let out a nervous chuckle. "Your first date since that Owen boy back in March! How exciting! I'm going to go get the camera. And… I think I took the memory card out the other day to see what was on it. Oh, and it probably needs some fresh batteries, too. Be right back."
As Joyce hurried off toward the kitchen, Buffy thundered down the last few stairs, watching and waiting for the door to close behind her mother before rounding on Kate. But before she could get a word out, the brunette was reaching out and grabbing her, pulling her into a tight hug. Buffy's first instinct was to fight Kate off, still not sure who - or what - the girl was but the words whispered into her ear caused her to abruptly still. "I'm not here to hurt you, Buffy, but it does have to do with your night job. Since you can't be honest with your mom, we have to do this the hard way. Either smile and play along, or my next words to Joyce are 'into every generation, there is a chosen one'. Your choice."
Buffy blanched. That was the absolute last thing she needed. The first time she'd told her mom, it had ended up destroying her parents' marriage and she'd spent close to a month of her life in an institution. Granted she'd slain Rakagore and saved some girls while there, but still. A month of her life. Gone. There was no telling how her mother might react if the subject came up again. And so while she found Kate's plan distasteful - not that there was anything wrong with being like that, but she wasn't - it was the lesser of two evils.
Besides, it was the only way she was going to get answers. Well, short of throwing down with the girl right here in the entryway, which would end about as well as telling her mom she was the Slayer again. Which was to say not at all well. Damn it. Scowling, Buffy brought her hands up and pushed against Kate's shoulders. "Fine. But no tongue. That's not the kind of thing my mom needs to see, and-"
"Did you leave the bleach in too long or something? What part of 'cover story' are you not getting? This is a means to an end, nothing more. And these means do not require me to kiss you tonight. At all." Kate let out a snort as she pulled away, keeping one arm around Buffy's waist and her eyes trained on the kitchen door as they waited for Joyce to return. "Trust me, if I wasn't being ordered to do this? I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole. I may go both ways, but you're at least ten IQ points and a Big Mac or three away from being the type of girl I'm into. Not to mention the whole vampire kissing thing. Seriously, Buffy, what the hell is wrong with you?"
…she really needed to learn to keep her mouth closed, Buffy decided. Because she wasn't even into girls and she was getting shot down by them on a semi-regular basis.
December 9, 2011
Approaching Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery
She still didn't have any answers, Buffy mused as she zipped up the front of the vest she'd been given, but she had a whole new reason to be creeped out by Kate and her entourage. And not just because they'd made her change in the back of the SUV as they'd driven her somewhere, although that was pretty creepsome considering the driver was a guy who was probably twice her age. But the fact that they could show up with a black leather vest and matching pants that fit her like a glove… Buffy could think of a handful of ways that they could have tailored something so precisely without bringing her in for a fitting, and there wasn't a single one of them that didn't wig her the hell out.
And then there was the girl riding in the backseat with her. "For someone who wouldn't touch me with a ten-foot pole, you sure seem to enjoy looking at me a lot."
Kate snorted, leaning over and tapping her finger against the glass next to Buffy's head before pulling away. "Don't flatter yourself, Buffy. I'm looking past you. Out the window. At the cemetery. Which I find more interesting than your body."
"Uh huh." Buffy ran her hands over the front of her new vest, frowning as they rubbed over her chest. Something was definitely Not Right, but she couldn't figure out exactly what it was and she sure as hell wasn't going to ask any of these complete strangers to stare at her chest for her. Especially given Kate's wandering eyes. "Remind me again why I had to strip down and change next to you? Instead of, I don't know, sneaking back into my house and doing it? Or changing into the outfit I got from Emma Frost before I left?"
The answer came not from her left, as Buffy expected, but from in front of her. "Reasons." Before she could respond to that, the Acura MDX swerved to the right abruptly before slamming to a stop in front of the gates of Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. Home sweet home away from home. Looking back over his shoulder at her, the man who had been introduced to her only as 'Hawkeye' nodded toward her door. "Get out."
Right then. Buffy sighed as she climbed out of the SUV, bumping the door shut with her hip. She still had no answers, she had some random guy bossing her around, and now she was back where she spent every other night of the week. Swell. There was a soft click followed by movement in the corner of her eye, and Buffy glanced over in time to see the liftgate swing up. The final member of the team, a blonde who was older than Buffy and Kate but younger than Hawkeye and answered to 'Mockingbird', gestured for Buffy to follow her as she walked toward the rear of the vehicle. Lacking anything better to do, Buffy shrugged and did so. What she found surprised her.
Weapons. And not guns, either, which would have made sense given that she was pretty sure the others belonged to some sort of military group. Between the their outfits, Hawkeye's no-nonsense demeanor, and Kate knowing more than she should, it had seemed like a pretty good guess. Now she wasn't so sure. Even if Kate was a gold medal Olympic archer - the disbelieving brunette had explained exactly why Joyce had recognized her name on the ride over - they lived in the twenty-first century. What sort of morons would send their people out into the field armed with bows?
…well, other than the Council.
Buffy was jerked from her thoughts by someone calling her name, looking to her left to find Hawkeye staring at her disapprovingly and Kate… holding out a bow? After a few seconds, the brunette sighed. "You do know how to work one of these, right? Because if you can't, I'm going to look really stupid for suggesting we let you use my spare instead of a civilian model."
Rolling her eyes, Buffy snatched the bow out of Kate's hand and looked it over. It looked… like a bow. Recurve, rather than compound, which was good because that was what she was familiar with. The Council did like their weapons as old school as humanly possible, after all. They'd attached some sort of sight to it for her; Buffy knew she'd never use it, but it was a nice touch. And… she ran her fingers over a strange knob just below the grip. It had a bit of give to it, so it wasn't some sort of strange, molded design piece. "What's this?"
"Something I don't think you're ready for. The ladies disagree, though, and so I was outvoted." Hawkeye reached up and tapped something on the inside of the liftgate, turning the rack the bows had been resting on into one shelf on a Ferris wheel of deadliness. The next shelf to swing around into place held three cylindrical quivers; two were purple and Hawkeye grabbed one and inspected it before tossing it to Buffy. "Current setting is normal arrows. Twist it all the way clockwise and the quiver will give you explosive ones. Try not to confuse the two, especially if you're firing arrows at targets near one of us."
Buffy caught the quiver by a protruding piece of metal and went to swing it onto her back… only to come up short as she realized there was no strap on it. "Okay, I know how to use a bow. A strapless quiver? Not so much. And I've gotta say, I'm kinda disappointed. I don't get any boxing glove arrows?"
Groaning at the question, Hawkeye tilted his head back and silently mouthed something Buffy couldn't make out, leaving Kate to answer the question. "It's part of why you had to change in the car, and change into the outfit we brought. The vest has some protection built into it… and hardpoints on the back that the quiver latches onto. Makes it a lot harder for you to lose it in a battle."
"Oh. Well, that makes sense. Also? Cool." Buffy handed the quiver over and turned away, allowing Kate to attach it to her back. "And the boxing glove arrows?"
Kate snickered. "I've actually been experimenting with that. If I can make it work, Warner Brothers says they'll buy them off me for their new series Arrow
." While Buffy had been joking… being able to punch vampires in the face from across the graveyard did sound like fun. There were two soft clicks and then Kate patted her on the shoulder. "Got it. All right, now for the rest of our gear."
More gear? The bow with two kinds of arrows wasn't enough? Then again, she didn't have anything that would be useful vampires at close range. And… well, she'd thought maybe Mockingbird was a mutant who was her own weapon, but another round of gear still to come would explain why the blonde was still unarmed. The shelves in the back of the SUV rotated again, bringing forward… "Battle staves. They can extend to double or even triple this length to give you some extra reach. You can even connect them to create a quarterstaff if you want." Reaching in, Mockingbird removed two and a black leather holster before kneeling down and fastening the holster to Buffy's right thigh. "Try not to be too good with both these and the bow. Then you might end up with Kate as a trainer."
"Wait, what? I thought we were going out hunting?" Buffy looked back and forth uncertainly, watching as Kate and Mockingbird strapped on their own battle staves. "You know, now would be a great time to tell me what's going on. Something. Preferably everything, but I'll settle for something."
Hawkeye and Mockingbird exchanged looks, each gesturing to the other several times, and then Hawkeye sighed. "To make a long story as short as possible? SHIELD needs eyes on the ground here in Sunnydale and your name is at the top of a short list put together by our boss. The other Slayer - yes, we've already found Kendra's replacement - can be moved here, but we'd prefer to be as discreet as possible. We'd want you to do two things: wear an AXON camera and controller on patrol and download the footage each night, and help protect any boots we put down for missions. In return, since you dying again would be counterproductive, SHIELD will issue you better weapons and train you in how to use them."
While she'd already proven that YOLO didn't apply in her case, Buffy was in no hurry to push her luck. Accordingly, she was a big fan of anything that would keep her from dying again. Wait, again? How did these people… mehh, they knew everything. Why was she surprised they knew about that? "Okay, so, this is… what? You assuming that I'm going to say yes and seeing what weapons you might want to send me?"
"Pretty much. And what you're good with will affect who SHIELD sends to teach you. Hawkingbird here…" Mockingbird reached up, grinning as Kate groaned and patting the brunette on the shoulder. "…works with me and Hawkeye most of the time because she's best with bows and battle staves. Hence the nickname. If those turn out to be your best weapons, we might send her to teach you what she knows before coming back ourselves to teach you more advanced techniques. Or you might end up with just me, or just Hawkeye, or… other instructors." With that, she cycled the rotating racks in the back of the SUV one more time and Buffy's eyes widened.
Guns. Along with a pair of gloves attached to odd bracelets made up of a dozen or so connected cylinders, but Buffy's attention was firmly on the guns. Which were completely worthless because… "Giles says guns don't kill vampires."
Kate snorted before reaching in and grabbing one of the massive black handguns. Walking over the fence, she took a two-handed grip on the gun and pulled the trigger, creating a sizable crater in the side of a nearby mausoleum. "Think a vampire can survive having that done to their chest? Or their head?"
"Then I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Giles is wrong."