“He’s a pillar of American patriotism what’s not to like about him?” asked Dawn as Xander set her on her feet. She took notice of the aforementioned man and gave him a saucy wink before throwing her arms around Clint and saying, “You’re a fucking idiot.”
Clint hugged her back while asking, “What’d I do?”
“You can’t fly, moron,” answered Dawn her voice got quieter as she continued, “I really don’t appreciate it when my family members act like half suicidal idiots. It makes me worry and upsets me and then I cry and I hate crying.”
“Sorry darling,” apologized Clint letting his Midwest drawl shine through more than he normally did.
“Where’s Director Summers?” asked Natasha.
Xander stepped in and fielded the question. “She has other things to focus on while we find out what’s going on with Agent Coulson.”
Clint and Natasha turned upraised eyebrows at him. Clint offered, “That’s a pretty vague and diplomatic answer so I take it that she somehow isn’t aware of the situation.”
Xander just shrugged and said, “There is a reason I get sent on the peace negotiation missions more often than anyone else.”
“Boytoy has a talented tongue and is one of the less threatening members of the high council,” added Faith.
Xander blew a kiss at Faith and said, “Thanks Faith but you forgot to mention my other job skills of making wonderful bait and an awesome hostage.”
“Being a hostage comes up enough that it counts as a job skill?” asked Bruce mildly.
“Yep, Xander’s hostage count is second highest in the council but back to the topic of Phil. What the hell happened?” asked Dawn.
“Loki stabbed Agent through the chest with his staff. Those of us left on board and not unconscious watched the video footage after Fury told us he died,” answered Tony. His voice was calm and even but his eyes were blazing.
Phil hadn’t taken any of his shit and that won him more respect than he had ever even thought of giving ‘I’m a fucking lying liar with no depth perception Fury’. Tony was an ass and he knew it. His list of trusted friends was small and consisted of Pepper, Rhodey and Happy but aside from them Phil was about as close to a friend as he had. That Fury had used Phil’s ‘death’ and still hadn’t bothered to tell them the truth even now half a day after the fighting was over was making him angrier at Fury than he’d been at Obadiah for first attempting to kill him with terrorist, then ripping his arc reactor out and then attempting to kill him yet again with his own damn technology.
Steve was torn between being relieved that another good man hadn’t died and pissed that Fury had used emotional warfare on them. Pissed was winning because at this moment he knew that all of them would have fought just as hard as they had without it. Barton had fought just as hard without knowing. When Natasha had broken the news to Barton after the Chitauri dropped and stayed down, the look on his face had been the same look that Steve himself had seen in the mirror after losing Bucky. He’d also seen it on Stark’s face and he’d even caught a glimpse of it on Natasha’s face before her mask had slammed back into place. Agent Coulson might have been a bit of an over enthusiastic fan but he was also a good friend to most of the people that he had spent an afternoon saving the world with. Even Thor had expressed grief at the loss of the man he’d known for barely a hand full of days.
Natasha hadn’t told Clint until after the fighting was over so he had still been in that state of total denial concerning Phil’s death when Dawn had announced that he wasn’t dead. Phil’s wife was going to kill Fury, well at least maim him more than he already was, and he hoped he got to be present when it went down. Phil had been the one to recruit him. He was the one that vouched for Natasha on nothing more than Clint’s gut instinct. He’d been his hander for fifteen years and Natasha’s for ten at this point and they were friends not merely handler and assets. Hell, he’d been Phil’s best man and Natasha had been standing up there with them because the bride’s family could care less about stupid ‘sexist’ traditions. Phil’s family had been so utterly pleased he was finally getting married that no one made a peep about the female groomsman or any of the more colorful members of the bride’s family.
Bruce hadn’t in fact said more than five words to Agent Coulson but he was relieved that the Agent wasn’t actually dead. He was sorta friends with Stark or more truthfully the Other Guy liked him. Stark, the only human on the planet that actually made an effort of provoking him on purpose had absolutely no fear of the other guy, actually did like Agent Coulson so the Other Guy was a bit grumbly that his friend was upset even if he was content to stay inside his head for the time being. The Captain didn’t fear him either but he was a whole hell of a lot more cautious than Stark. Thor had no fear but he wasn’t human and the Other Guy really liked punching him so it wasn’t the same at all. Stark was human and entirely breakable outside of his suit and still didn’t fear him so he was all for following Stark’s lead at the moment.
“We’ll have to have a few words with Director Fury now, won’t we?” asked Dawn with a malicious smile.
Her voice was cold enough that shivers ran down Steve’s spine. Bruce and Thor were frowning, Tony, Clint and Xander on the other hand were grinning like starved wolves while Natasha and Faith had matching blood thirsty smirks. Steve was pretty sure his own expression at least matched Dawn’s for fear inducing-ness even if it didn’t quite reach Natasha and Faith’s standard of ‘piss yourself senseless at first sight’ or ‘back away quickly and hope to every non-evil entity that they don’t notice me’ expression that Clint, Xander and Tony were wearing. None of which boded well for Fury.
On the bridge of the Helicarrier, Fury frowned and suppressed a shiver before announcing, “Hill you’re in charge. Make sure you inform the Avengers of Coulson’s current status and location,” before heading to a waiting helicopter. It was the feeling he got every time the NSWC had decided to break his agents. The feeling he had when he’d finally sent in Coulson. It was the feeling he got when Barton had decided to bring in the target instead of taking her out. It was the feeling he had when shit was about to hit the fan. It was the feeling he got when any of the NSWC members decided to visit. It was the feeling he had right before losing his eye. It didn’t necessarily mean something horrible was about to happen but it usually did. It wouldn’t due to be unprepared. He wondered if he could blame the whole thing on Phil. It had been his idea anyways.
Hill actually sent a death glare at the back of Fury’s head as he pretty much ran away. That mother fucker was going to pay for making her be the one to explain.
By the time the Avengers and guest got back to the Helicarrier, Fury was safely ensconced in his heavily fortified and magic proofed safe house.
Hill met the Avengers and co. on the flight deck and ordered them to follow her before they could even attempt to question her. She led them to a secure conference room and waited for them to sit down.
Hill raised a mental eyebrow at Barton and Romanoff’s familiarity with the three NSWC agents but wasn’t really surprised. She knew that Barton, Romanoff, Sitwell and herself were the only members of Shield besides Phil that the NSWC senor agents actually liked. They tolerated Fury because as much as he lied he was a known quantity and according to them semi-trust worthy. These three NSWC agents in particular took open pleasure in terrifying other Shield agents.
Hill took a moment to review what she knew about the three NSWC agents and the newly christened Avengers while everyone got comfortable.
Dawn Summers was the younger sister of the co-head of the NSWC and a Senor Agent in her own right even if she was only twenty five. She had graduated from Oxford with a PhD in Classical Languages and Linguistics. She spoke more languages than Agent Romanoff did and was one of the best in the field of ancient languages. Shield had borrowed her as a translator a few times in the past even if she was technically the Head of the Translation and Research Department of the NSWC. Dr. Summers wasn’t as well trained as Romanoff or Maria herself but she could and had beaten field agents on the training mats. She was proficient with a crossbow but swords were her weapon of choice. She did well enough on the shooting range with standard issue handguns that she was cleared to work in the field even if she didn’t like them.
Faith Lehane was dangerous. She was crude, vulgar and a lot smarter than most gave her credit for. She played the part of bad girl well enough that almost everyone ignored the fact that she did in fact go back to school after the NSWC stabilized and her record was cleared. She was currently working on a PhD in her spare time. Unlike Dr. Summers, Ms. Lehane’s status as a slayer precluded her involvement with Shield ops ninety percent of the time so they had in fact only met half a dozen times before today.
Alexander Harris was a bit of an enigma. His actual job title was Fixer of Broken Things which correlated with most of the tasks he routinely preformed while in Cleveland. He was generally in charge of fixing the damage cause by either the slayers or the rampaging demon of the week but sometimes he got sent out of country. Those times were much harder to account for because ninety five percent of the time he was so far off the grid they couldn’t even track him. There had been rumors that couldn’t be confirmed of the things that went on while he was off the grid and two separate names came up every time he disappeared; The White Knight and The One Who Sees. When Shield asked about either name various things were said but none of them would confirm or deny either of them as Harris’s call sign. The man himself seemed to hate both names but wouldn’t talk of either. He never actually worked with Shield in any official capacity during ops but he had been called in twice when Dr. Summers had been taken hostage. Ms. Lehane had called him in during a mission after laughing at the plan of action Shield had laid out. They then spent ten minutes speaking, in what Dr. Summers had once called Scooby speak, and out lined a plan that went off much better than the original had any hope of being.
Tony Stark was well known within Shield. Romanoff had been very thorough with her evaluation of the man. Everything in that file had been written for Stark’s eyes though. Phil had written the one that sat in Fury’s private collection which had only been read by Fury and herself. It was even more detailed because Phil missed nothing. Phil’s report was the reason Romanoff’s was worded the way it was. Stark’s relationship with Ms. Potts was the reason he’d been assigned as a consultant instead of an actual asset. Turning Stark into an asset would have broken him as well as Ms. Potts and Phil had led the fight against that.
Steve Rogers was Captain America enough said.
Dr. Bruce Banner had been watched by Shield even before the incident. He was a volatile asset but Phil had been the one to choose him for the team even if the humble Doctor was never to know that tidbit. Phil had also been the reason the man had had as much freedom as he had the last few years. He’d been right that giving the Doctor time and relative freedom would let him learn some control.
Thor was an alien/god of thunder, in love with an astrophysist. She really hated his brother but Phil liked him so she wasn’t going to judge the man/alien/god.
Natasha Romanoff was a product of brutal training that worked out amazingly well for Shield. She wouldn’t pity the Russian but she wouldn’t trade lives with her either. Barton may have been the one to bring her in but it had been Phil that fought for her.
Last but not least was Clint Barton. By all accounts she should be unsettled by the presence of the man that had shot at her and led the assault on the Helicarrier but she wasn’t. The main reason being that he’d shot at her and missed. Hawkeye didn’t miss. He always hit his target so the fact that she wasn’t dead meant he’d hit exactly what he aimed at and that wasn’t her. He’d shot Fury straight in the chest knowing full well that the man was wearing a bulletproof vest. He could have gone for a head shot but just like Selvig had built in a fail-safe for the portal device leaving Fury and her alive had been his fail-safe.
“Where’s Phil?” asked Dawn after everyone but Hill was seated.
“He’s in medical. He hasn’t woken up yet but his vitals have been improving every hour since he got out of surgery,” answered Maria.
“Good,” stated Dawn.
“Where the hell is Fury?” asked Tony.
“He’s not on the Helicarrier anymore. I don’t know where he is and I have no way to contact him,” answered Hill her tone not quite as even as she meant it to be but she was pissed. It was his fucking plan that she was having to explain.
“We’re going to debrief than I’ll take you to him,” explained Hill her tone brokering no arguments as she finally took a seat.
Three hours later the debriefing was finished.
Faith and Xander shared a speaking look that got a raised eyebrow from Natasha and widened eyes from Clint.
“I don’t know what you’re planning but I want in,” announced Clint.
“It’s a great idea. We’re going to fix Phil before Buffy finds out that her husband almost got himself killed going up against a god alone. She doesn’t have any room to talk because, hello, the last time she took on a god she died but we really don’t need to upset the prego any more than those slimy centipede monsters from yesterday did,” babbled Dawn.
“How do you plan to fix him?” asked Steve.
“Out of everything she just said that’s what you focus on?” asked Tony in disbelief. Steve shrugged he was tired and his brain was ignoring everything after the fix Phil part.
“You do realize she going to kill you for calling her that?” asked Xander.
“Exactly why I said it from three states away,” answered Dawn.
“That won’t stop her from knowing,” countered Faith.
“Slimy centipede monsters?” asked Bruce.
“They were only slimy after they blew up and seeing as I was only allowed to blow up three of them there wasn’t even that much slime,” answered Xander.
“Xander your definition of not that much is screwy. They were fifteen feet long and about five feet around so that made for a hell of a lot more than not that much,” complained Dawn.
“Not nearly as much as the Sna’t’moo’kus clan last year so I’m agreeing with Boytoy on it wasn’t that much,” added Faith.
“You’re both crazy,” announced Dawn shaking her head before sobering up. “You guys all want to come with while we fix Phil?”
“How exactly are you planning on fixing him?” asked Steve once more.
“You’ll have to see it because I doubt you’ll believe it unless you see it and even then I don’t think you’ll really believe it,” answered Dawn.
“Maria if you would lead the way?” asked Xander as he stood.
The rest followed suit and Maria led the group to Phil’s room.
Hill left them alone in Phil’s room utterly sure she didn’t want to know exactly what it was that the three NSWC agents planned on doing to ‘fix’ Phil. Phil’s bed was located in the center of the room. Various monitors and shelving lined the far wall while the other three walls were clear. There was plenty of room for all nine of them to stand around Phil’s bed even if there weren’t any chairs.
Xander took a minute to really look at the Avengers before announcing, “I’m going to need help so who’s volunteering besides Thor and Stark?”
“Why not me?” asked Tony.
“It might short-circuit that wicked cool thingamajig that keeps you from being dead. Personally I don’t think it would but I’d rather not be hunted down by the scariest woman on the planet,” answered Xander.
Tony looked from Xander to Natasha with a look of disbelief.
“Aww, it’s kinda adorable that you think the infamous Ms. Potts isn’t the scariest woman on the planet,” explained Xander.
“I think I should be offended but I’m strangely not,” added Natasha.
Xander nodded and added, “She’s the most terrifying force on the planet when she wants to be. I’m pretty sure if they had let her look for Stark she would have found him in less than a week and all the terrorists would have been begging for forgiveness and imprisonment just to get her away from them.”
“Am I even in the top five?” asked Natasha amusedly.
Xander looked thoughtful before answering, “No but you’re definitely in the top ten.”
“Really? I have her as number five on my list,” added Faith.
“Me too,” added Dawn.
“Did you guys happen to put yourselves on the list?” asked Xander. “Because my list goes Pepper, Willow, Buffy, Faith, Cordelia, Dawn, Natasha, Fred, Maria and Darcy.”
“Okay I’m pretty sure I understand most of your reasoning but how did Darcy and Fred make it in the top ten?” asked Faith.
“Darcy’s on there for when she teams up with Jane or Dawn or you or Cordelia or Fred. Fred’s on there because I’m pretty sure she could kill me with her brain if she wanted too,” answered Xander. “Back to fixing Phil, who’s volunteering? I need two guys and two gals. It won’t hurt or harm anyone but it might knock you temporarily unconscious.”
“I’m in,” offered Clint with a shrug. He trusted Xander.
Dawn and Faith nodded when Xander looked at them.
“I’m in,” offered Steve.
“Cool. Faith and Dawn got the right side Captain and Clint get the left side. Thor, I need you to stand behind Faith and Dawn to catch them if they pass out please. Dr. Banner and Stark same for the Captain and Clint,” ordered Xander as he stood at the head of Phil’s bed. Natasha had already moved behind him so he smiled at her before continuing, “Please hold all questions until after we’re done and for Phil’s sake don’t fucking distract me.”
Strangely enough no one hesitated in following his orders; even Tony complied without so much as a sarcastic remark. Faith, Dawn and Xander were the only ones that knew what they were doing but Steve and Clint followed their lead. The rest stayed silent and unobtrusive in the background as Xander began chanting in an unknown language.
About five minutes after he started chanting thin vines of different colored light started to emerge from the four volunteers at center mass, deep crimson from Faith, electric green from Dawn, amber from Clint and deep blue from Steve. The vines stretched from them to just above Xander’s out stretched hands which were above Phil’s heart. The four threads combined with a blinding flash to form a golden sphere with the four threads tethering it. When the sphere was the size of a softball Xander broke the connecting threads.
Dawn, Faith and Steve slumped into Thor and Tony respectively but retained consciousness. Clint blacked out for about twenty seconds and was acutely relieved that Banner was the only one that was paying attention to him. Stark would never let him live it down. Clint was back to lucidity in time to see Xander lower the golden sphere onto Phil’s chest. Xander let the sphere rest on Phil’s chest for a moment before his chanting picked up speed as well as an otherworldly quality. The sphere sank slowly into Phil’s chest but the effects were instantaneous. His face gained a healthy complexion. He might have still been attached to the respirator but they could all tell that it was no longer needed. The heart monitor that had been beeping inconsistently was now beeping strong and steady.
Xander started backing away before he finished chanting and as soon as the last word was out of his mouth he dropped like a stone. Natasha was lucky that Faith and Steve had already gotten their bearing back because it took all three of them to keep Xander upright at the moment.
“Just put him on the floor in the corner out of the way so the doctors can check Phil over without tripping over him,” offered Dawn.
“That seems a bit uncomfortable and kind of rude,” remarked Steve.
“Trust me twenty minutes on a linoleum floor won’t even faze him. He once took a nap in a coroner’s drawer,” countered Dawn with a slap happy giggle.
“Scared the shit out of the M.E’s assistant,” added Faith with a grin.
“I had a pillow and a blanket,” mumbled Xander making it known that he wasn’t as out of it as he looked though he was making no effort to help the three holding him upright or even opening his eyes.
“Do I want to know why?” asked Natasha. Faith snorted and shook her head.
“I want to know how he knows Pepper?” questioned Tony.
“They’re cousins,” announced a new voice from the doorway causing everyone to jerk towards the doorway.
There were two women standing in the doorway. One was a slim red head the other was a petite blonde with a visible baby bump. Phil’s doctors edged in around them and went to check over Phil.
“Hey Red, B, what’s up?” greeted Faith calmly still helping to hold Xander upright.
“One of you needs to start explaining before I start making assumptions,” announced Buffy.
“Don’t assume it just makes an ass out of u and me,” greeted Xander.
“We found Captain America!” announced Dawn with a giggle, “And Iron Man and Thor and Dr. Banner,” continued Dawn as she bound over to Buffy with a bubbly smile.
Buffy smiled at Dawn’s enthusiasm while Willow waved to Dr. Banner. Bruce returned the wave with a small smile. Turning away from Bruce, Willow headed towards Xander with a disapproving expression on her face. Xander for his part grinned unrepentantly even though he was as pale as Phil had been earlier.
“Xaaander,” drawled Willow.
“Willow,” returned Xander still grinning.
“Bad Xander,” stated Willow shaking a finger at him causing him to pout.
“Uh-huh, you should have woken us up. We could have helped,” argued Willow.
“No you couldn’t have. Buffy’s pregnant and I know you’d want to help but there’s too much darkness in your past for that spell,” returned Xander gently.
“I’m not useless just because I’m pregnant,” announced Buffy with a pout.
“I didn’t say you were. It’s just that the spell uses energy that should be going to the baby so it’s not exactly pregnancy friendly,” explained Xander.
“That was magic? Where the hell did you learn it? Can you do other spells? Are you human?” questioned Tony at the NSWC agents.
“Yes, around, no and mostly,” answered Xander with a smirk.
“Yeah, didn’t learn any, no and pretty much,” answered Faith.
“Yes, around, yes and pretty sure I am,” answered Willow with a smile.
“Yes, around, yeah and mostly,” answered Buffy.
“Yes, around, yes, mostly and Xander’s lying,” added Dawn so as not to be left out.
“Am not,” pouted Xander.
“You can do that fire spell too,” argued Dawn.
“Reading out loud from a book and accidentally setting it on fire once doesn’t mean I can reliably do a fire spell,” countered Xander.
“You do the fire spell all the time,” refuted Dawn.
“Nu-uh,” argued Xander.
“Ya do when Andrew breaks out the Corellian whiskey and starts reminiscing,” added Faith.
Xander frowned and asked, “Really?”
“Yep, your aim has gotten a lot better,” added Willow.
“Why don’t I remember this?” queried Xander.
“Probably because me and you end up drinking the rest of the whiskey after Andy runs away,” answered Faith.
“If it happens every time why does he keep doing it?” asked Xander.
“He’s an idiot,” answered Buffy.
“Don’t be mean, Buffy, Andrew’s not an idiot. Annoying yes but he’s not stupid. It’s just that he doesn’t have any self-preservation instincts,” rebuked Willow.
“His self-preservation instincts work fine. He only monologues around Faith and Xander because they let him. Neither of them ever actually hurts him and they do spend the most time with him out of all of us. He knows exactly how far he can push them before they’ll actually snap at him,” announced Dawn before pouting and saying, “My happy buzz is gone.”
“Mine’s not,” teased Faith.
Phil had woken up while the NSWC agents ping ponged off each other and the docs had removed the respirator before scurrying out of the room again. Shield didn’t pay them enough to deal with NSWC agents.