Buffy shifted a bit uncomfortably in her uniform as she stood next to Steve on the plane en route to Germany. The thing was made of what Coulson said was like "stretchy Kevlar" and it clung to almost every inch of her body. It started out midway down her neck in a mock turtleneck and went down her arms in tight long sleeves and down her legs to her ankles. The whole thing was black with silver lines making up the seams. She was wearing two inch, thick heeled, knee high boots that looked like leather, but were actually a thicker version of her "stretchy Kevlar" suit. The attached breastplate, which looked weirdly enough like a corset, was made of the same thicker "stretchy Kevlar". Honestly, she felt like she was wearing a leather Catwoman costume. All she was missing were the ears.
On each forearm she had wrist launchers that, when activated, gave her six inches of a deadly blade that was made out of some kind of metal that didn't easily break. Strapped across her back was a specially made harness for her Slayer scythe. When she needed it, she just had to pull on it and the harness would release it easily into her grip. When she didn't need it, the harness automatically latched onto it and held it in place. Only she could take the scythe from its harness. It was coded to her DNA. On each hip was a line of four throwing knives attached to the wide belt. And hidden inside her left boot was Mr. Pointy. Just in case.
She caught Steve looking at her out of the corner of his eye. "I drew the line at the mask."
"It looks nice." Steve said.
"It looks ridiculous."
"Can you move in it?" Natasha asked from the pilot's seat.
"Then what's the problem?"
"I feel silly in this thing"
"That thing will help keep you from getting shot, stabbed, or seriously injured. And," Natasha turned her head to look at Buffy. "You look hot." Buffy's eyebrows shot up and she flushed bright pink. Steve didn't help by clearing his throat and looking everywhere but at Buffy. It just confirmed what Natasha had said. "You guys ready? We're almost at the drop point."
"Wait, we're jumping out?" Buffy asked incredulously.
"Don't worry, I'll get you in as close to the ground as possible."
The back of the plane opened and Steve pulled Buffy against him with his shield at her back, lifting her off the ground. "I've got you." He said.
"I feel like a rag doll." Buffy said.
"A well-armed rag doll."
"Go!" Natasha said.
Steve jumped out of the plane and Buffy clung to him as they dropped at least 60 feet. He landed with a thud in front of an older man, blocking the bolt of energy from Loki with his shield. He made sure Buffy was ok as they stood up and looked over at Loki. The bolt had ricocheted and hit Loki, knocking him to the ground.
Buffy turned to make sure the old man was ok as Steve said to Loki, "You know the last time I was in Germany and saw a man standing above everybody else, we ended up disagreeing."
"We gotta work on your punning." Buffy said to Steve.
Loki stood up with a smug look on his face. "The soldier." He looked at Buffy. "And the man out of time brought the famous Slayer with him."
"He's not the one out of time." Buffy said, joining Steve. She looked up at her partner. "Now that was a good pun."
"Duly noted." Steve said.
Above them, Natasha positioned the plane with weapons drawn and pointed at Loki. "Loki, drop the weapon and stand down." She ordered over the PA system. Loki shot a bolt of energy from his staff at the plane, but Natasha maneuvered away from it easily. Steve used the distraction to throw his shield, bouncing it off Loki. Buffy moved in, rolling under the shield, and popped up to kick Loki in the chin as he was righting himself. He stumbled back, looking shocked at her strength. She took the advantage, pulling her scythe off her back, and laid into him, easily blocking the staff with her scythe as he tried to hit her with it.
Steve stayed back, watching the petite blonde take on the alien god. He was stunned but impressed at her strength, speed, and stamina and at the skill with which she used her special weapon. He honestly hadn't believed that someone so tiny could be so deadly, but she was proving him more and more wrong by the second. Suddenly from the PA system above them, loud rock music began blaring. He, Buffy, and Loki all looked up in confusion. Loki took the distraction and hit Buffy upside the head with his staff. She rolled back, landing in a crouch on one knee, holding her scythe in one hand, and shaking her head.
Before he could hit her again, Iron Man himself flew in and shot Loki backwards a good distance. Iron Man, aka Tony Stark, held up his arms and tiny missiles appeared on his shoulders and forearms. "It's not nice to hit women, Reindeer Games." Steve helped Buffy to stand, making sure she was ok, and they walked over to stand with Tony. Loki glowed golden and his armor disappeared as he held up his hands in surrender. Tony lowered his arms.
"Mr. Stark." Steve said.
"Captain." Tony said. As the plane landed behind them, Tony looked over at Buffy. "And you…. It is a pleasure to meet you Miss Summers."
"Call me Buffy." She said, replacing the scythe back in its harness.
Loki was chained and sitting down on the plane while Buffy, Steve, and Tony stood guard. Natasha was flying the plane back to the Helicarrier. Fury was on the radio asking if Loki had talked yet. "Not a word." Natasha said.
"Just get him here. We're low on time." Fury said.
Steve turned his back on Loki. "I don't like it." He said.
"What? Rock of Ages giving up so easily?" Tony asked.
"He's right." Buffy said. "It's never that easy."
"Oh, I'm not so sure. I saw you kicking ass down there. You're a tough little thing. What's your secret? Pilates?"
Buffy shrugged. "Destiny."
"So nothing we could market and sell. Bummer."
"Fury didn't tell me he was calling you in." Steve said to Tony.
"Yeah, there's a lot of things Fury doesn't tell you."
Outside the plane, a storm began brewing. Natasha looked out at the lightening in confusion. "Where's this coming from?"
Steve noticed Loki looking a bit worried. "What's the matter? Are you scared of a little lightening?"
"I'm not overly fond of what follows." Loki said.
"Thank you, Mr. Cryptic." Buffy said. Something hit the top of the plane and everyone looked up. Tony put his Iron Man helmet back on and opened the rear hatch. "What are you doing?"
A tall, seriously built, blonde man with a hammer appeared on the hatch. Tony moved to shoot him, but the guy hit him with his hammer. Buffy dodged out of the way so the metal suit wouldn't take her out. The big blonde guy grabbed up Loki before anyone could get to him and dove out of the plane.
"And now there's that guy." Tony said, getting to his feet.
"Another Asgardian?" Natasha asked.
"That guy's a friendly?" Steve asked.
"Doesn't matter." Tony said. "If he frees Loki or kills him, the Tesseract's lost."
"Stark, we need a plan of attack!"
"I have a plan. Attack." Tony flew out of the back of the plane.
Buffy grabbed up a parachute and started strapping it on. Steve decided that was the best course of action and started to strap one on himself. "I'd sit this one out, guys." Natasha said.
"I don't see how we can." Steve said.
"These guys come from legend."
"Yeah? So do I." Buffy took a deep breath and jumped out of the plane. She was suddenly glad that Xander had convinced her to go skydiving with him that one time.
"They're basically gods."
"There's only one god, ma'am. And I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." Steve grabbed his shield.
"Besides, what kind of partner would I be if I left Buffy to fight on her own?" He ran and jumped out of the back of the plane.
On the way down, Buffy had time to realize who the big blonde guy was. He was Loki's brother Thor. She had learned about them in her mythology class back in college. They came from Asguard and were apparently very, very real. Sometimes her life took some seriously strange turns. As she came in for a landing, her parachute got stuck to some tree limbs. With a sigh, she dislodged herself from the chute and dropped down to the ground.
The sounds of a major fight came from directly ahead of her and she ran towards it. Thor and Iron Man were going at it pretty heavy. She came in low and tackled Thor away from Tony by his waist. They rolled and Buffy came out on top. Thor looked really confused for a second, but quickly recovered. He went to throw her off, but she was already flipping to her feet.
"Calm down, big guy." She said, holding her hands up. "I think we're on the same side."
"I've come here to put an end to Loki's schemes." Thor growled.
Steve appeared behind Thor, walking towards him. "Then prove it." He said. "Put that hammer down."
"Uh, yeah. No." Tony said, walking up to stop Steve. "Bad call. He loves his hammer."
Thor swung the hammer and Tony went flying back. Buffy had to dodge out of the way yet again and Thor turned to Steve. "You want me to put the hammer down?" Thor jumped, bringing the hammer in an arc. Buffy had just enough time to duck and cover before the hammer met Steve's shield. A shockwave emanated out, blowing down trees and throwing Thor backwards like an explosion.
Tony made it to his feet first and walked over to help Buffy up. "Are you all right?"
"Anyone else hear a really loud dentist drill in their ears?" Buffy asked, shaking her head.
Steve looked over at Thor. "Are we done here?"
Back on the Helicarrier, Buffy, Steve, Tony, Bruce, and Natasha all sat around the large round table in the bridge. Thor stood off to the side. On the table's screen, they were watching Fury interact with Loki down in the containment cell built for the Hulk.
"In case it's unclear," Fury said. "If you try to escape, if you so much as scratch that glass," He fiddled with a few buttons on his screen and a gaping hole opened up underneath the containment cell. It led straight down out of the Helicarrier. "It's 30,000 feet straight down in a steel trap. You get how that works?" Fury shut the gaping hole. "Ant. Boot."
Loki chuckled. "It's an impressive cage. Not built, I think, for me."
"Built for something a lot stronger than you."
"Oh, I've heard." Loki turned and looked directly at the camera. "A mindless beast. Makes play he's still a man. How desperate are you that you call on such lost creatures to defend you?"
"How desperate am I? You threaten my world with war. You steal a force you can't hope to control. You talk about peace, and you kill because it's fun. You have made me very desperate. You might not be glad that you did."
"Ooh…. It burns you to have come so close. To have the Tesseract. To have power…. Unlimited power. And for what? A warm light for all mankind to share. And then to be reminded of what real power is."
Fury turned and walked away. "Well, let me know if 'real power' wants a magazine or something."
"He really grows on you, doesn't he?" Bruce said.
"You realize that Loki will drag this out." Buffy said. "Thor, can you tell us what his game is?"
"He has an army called the Chitauri. They're not of Asgard, nor any world known. He means to lead them against your people. They will win him the Earth in return, I suspect, for the Tesseract."
"An army." Steve said incredulously. "From outer space."
"Trust me," Buffy said to him. "That's not the weirdest thing that could happen."
"So he's building another portal." Bruce said. "That's what he needs Eric Selvig for."
"Selvig?" Thor asked.
"He's an astrophysicist."
"He's a friend."
"Loki has him under some kind of spell." Natasha said. "Along with one of ours."
"I want to know why Loki let us take him." Steve said. "He's not leading an army from here."
"I don't think we should be focusing on Loki." Bruce said. "That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You could smell crazy on him."
"Have care how you speak." Thor said. "Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother."
"He killed 80 people in two days." Natasha said.
"I think it's about the mechanics." Bruce said. "Iridium…. What do they need the iridium for?"
"It's a stabilizing agent." Tony said, walking in with Coulson. They were apparently in the middle of a conversation. "I'm just saying, pick a weekend. I'll fly you to Portland. Keep love alive." Coulson nodded and walked off. "It means the portal won't collapse on itself like it did at S.H.I.E.L.D." Tony looked at Thor. "No hard feelings, Point Break. You've got a mean swing." He patted Thor on the arm and kept walking over to Fury's four screens. "Also, it means the portal can open as wide and stay open as long as Loki wants. Raise the mizzenmast. Jib the topsails." The workstation people looked up at him in confusion. "That man is playing Galaga!"
Steve looked around in confusion. "It's a game on the computer." Buffy explained to him.
"He thought we wouldn't notice, but we did." Tony put a hand over one of his eyes. "How does Fury even see these?"
"He turns." Agent Maria Hill said. She was Fury's second in command.
"Sounds exhausting." Tony started fiddling with the screens. "The rest of the raw materials, Agent Barton can get his hands on pretty easily. The only major component he still needs is a power source of high energy density. Something to kick start the cube."
"When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?"
"Last night. The packet, Selvig's notes, the extraction theory papers. Am I the only one who did the reading?"
"Does Loki need any particular kind of power source?" Steve asked.
"He would have to heat the cube to 120 million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier." Bruce said.
"Unless Selvig has figured out how to stabilize the quantum tunneling effect." Tony said. Buffy caught Riley's eyes and knew they were thinking the same thing. "What am I missing?" Tony asked, somehow not missing the exchange and looking between Buffy and Riley.
"Loki can't hear me, right?" Buffy asked.
"No." Agent Hill said. "Why?"
"My sister is the Key. Her blood unlocks portals to other worlds."
"I've heard of the Key." Thor said. "It was hidden away millennia ago by the monks of the Order of Dagon but it and the monks disappeared little more than a decade ago. The key wasn't human, though."
"Right. No. She used to be just a big blob of energy, but those monks turned her into a human using my blood and sent her to me to protect. They changed my memories, my friends' memories, everyone who had ever met us to believe that she was my little sister Dawn about 11 years ago. They'd done it to keep the Key away from Glory."
Thor moved a little closer to Buffy. "Glorificus?"
"The one and only."
"You faced her and lived?"
"Well…. I faced her, but I didn't exactly live. She had a henchman that made it to Dawn before I could. While I was fighting Glory, he was opening the portal with my sister's blood. When I finally put Glory down…. I sacrificed myself to save my sister. Her blood opened the portal, so it was only when her blood stopped that would close it. Since the monks used my blood… I jumped in the portal and stopped my blood."
"I'm confused." Tony said. "You're a zombie?"
Buffy chuckled slightly. "I look good for a corpse, huh?"
Tony nodded appreciatively. "I'm not disagreeing."
"My friend Willow is a witch. A powerful one at that. She brought me back from the dead." Buffy looked at Thor. "Loki knew who I was and if you know about the Key, then he has to know too. My sister…."
Thor placed a hand on Buffy's shoulder. "Do not fret. I believe your sister is safe. I did not know she was the Key, so I doubt that my brother could know about her powers."
"You didn't know he was alive until recently." Natasha said.
Agent Hill looked at Buffy. "We'll make sure she's safe until this is over."
"Thank you." Buffy said. "So, hoping that my sister isn't in this little equation, what about Selvig stabilizing the tunnel thingy?"
"Well, if he could do that," Bruce said. "He could achieve heavy ion fusion at any reactor on the planet."
"Finally! Someone who speaks English!" Tony said, gesturing to Bruce.
"Is that what just happened?" Steve asked Buffy. She just shrugged, not speaking science talk either.
Tony shook Bruce's hand. "It's good to meet you, Dr. Banner. "Your work on antielectron collisions is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of how you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."
"Tony!" Buffy scolded before she could stop herself.
"What?" Tony asked. "It was a compliment."
"Thanks." Bruce said.
Fury walked into the room. "Dr. Banner is only here to track the cube. I was hoping you might join him."
"I would start with that stick of his." Steve said. "It may be magical, but it works an awful lot like a HYDRA weapon."
"I don't know about that, but it is powered by the cube. And I would like to know how Loki used it to turn two of the sharpest men I know into his personal flying monkeys."
"Monkeys?" Thor asked. "I do not understand."
"I do!" Steve said excitedly. "I understood that reference." He looked around, but no one seemed impressed. Buffy smiled and patted him on the shoulder.
"Shall we play, Doctor?" Tony asked Bruce.
"This way, sir." Bruce said, leading Tony out of the room.
Fury turned to Buffy. "We've got a team on their way to keep an eye on your sister. She won't know they're there, but she's got eyes on her 24/7 until this is over."
"Thank you." Buffy said sincerely. "She's supposed to be leaving for Chicago today to visit our cousins."
"We'll keep her safe. You don't need to worry about that."
Buffy nodded. "Speaking of worrying…. I'm going to go make sure Tony doesn't cause any trouble. I get the sense that's his favorite pastime."
"I'll come with you." Steve said, joining her as she walked out the door.
"You just want to ask me about being dead."
"No I don't."
Buffy smiled. "It's ok. Everyone does when they find out."
"I was going to ask about your sister."
"How old is she?"
"She's 26 now. Going to school for a medical degree. Actually, I'm glad this job came along because now I can contribute to her medical school fund. At least one of us actually finished college. Mom would be proud."
"You went to college?"
"For a little while. When my mom died, I had to quit to take care of Dawn."
Steve looked at her. "Your mother died?"
"When I was 20. It was an aneurism from a brain tumor."
"I'm sorry. I know how that feels. My mother died when I was 19. Pneumonia."
Buffy looked back up at Steve with a slight smile. "I think Fury did his homework before he partnered us up."
Steve smiled back at her. "It's only been a couple of days, but I feel like we could be great friends. Don't die on me."
She shrugged. "I'll try not to, but lucky for you I never stay that way for long."
Up ahead, they heard Tony talking to Bruce in the lab. "Well, I promise a stress-free environment. No tension. No surprises." Steve and Buffy walked in just as Tony jabbed Bruce with a small electric shocker.
"Ow!" Bruce exclaimed.
"Hey!" Steve said, walking up to them.
"Nothing?" Tony asked, looking at Bruce closely.
"Are you nuts?"
"I'll say." Buffy said.
Tony kept looking at Bruce. "You really have got a lid on it, haven't you? What's your secret? Mellow jazz, bongo drums, huge bag of weed?"
"Does he look like Matthew McConaughey to you?" Buffy asked. "Leave him alone. I personally would not like to have to face his Jolly Green Giant in a flying death trap. No offense."
"It's all right." Bruce said with a chuckle. "I wouldn't have come aboard if I couldn't handle pointy things."
"You're tip-toeing, big man. You need to strut." Tony said, pointing at Bruce.
"And you need to focus on the problem, Mr. Stark." Steve snapped.
"Do you think I'm not? Why did Fury call us in? Why now? Why not before? What isn't he telling us? I can't do the equation unless I have all the variables."
"You think Fury's hiding something?"
"He's a spy. Captain, he's the spy. His secrets have secrets. It's bugging him too, isn't it?" Tony gestured at Bruce.
"Uh…." Bruce looked up from his work on Loki's staff. "I just want to finish my work here, and…"
"Doctor?" Steve asked.
Bruce sighed and took his glasses off. "'A warm light for all mankind.' Loki's jab at Fury about the cube…."
"I heard it."
Bruce pointed at Tony. "I think that was meant for you." Tony offered Bruce his bag of food he had been munching on. "Even if Barton didn't tell Loki about the Tower, it was still all over the news."
"Stark Tower?" Buffy asked. "That big, ugly building in New York?" Tony gave Buffy a snarky look and she just grinned back at him.
"It's powered by an arc reactor, a self-sustaining energy source." Bruce said. "That building will run itself for, what, a year?"
"It's just the prototype." Tony said. "I'm kind of the only name in clean energy right now. That's what he's getting at."
"So, why didn't S.H.I.E.L.D. bring him in on the Tesseract project?" Buffy asked. Tony rewarded her with one finger on his nose and another finger pointing at her.
"What are they doing in the energy business in the first place?" Bruce added.
"I should probably look into that once my decryption program finishes breaking into all of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s secure files." Tony said, holding up a small, see through tablet.
"I'm sorry, did you say…." Steve started.
"Jarvis has been running it since I hit the bridge. In a few hours, I'll know every dirty secret S.H.I.E.L.D. has ever tried to hide. Blueberry?" Tony offered the food pouch to Buffy.
"And you're confused about why they didn't want you around?" Buffy asked, accepting the pouch.
"An intelligence organization that fears intelligence? Historically, not awesome." Tony gave Buffy a hard look. "And Buffy, you of all people…. I'm surprised S.H.I.E.L.D. even wanted you in the mix."
"Why?" Steve asked, ready to defend his partner and new friend.
"Because this girl brought down a secret government agency called the Initiative after she discovered their dirty little secrets. Hey, how did you destroy Adam?"
"How do you even know about that?" Buffy asked. "It was all classified information. Especially that bit about Adam."
"I like to hack in my free time."
"You'd get along with Willow, then."
"Is she hot?"
"You're not her type."
"Well, I don't know about that. I'm a sexy tech-smart guy with fast fingers.""Key word that makes you not her type: guy."
Tony shrugged, getting the hint. "Well, we can't all be perfect." He winked at her.
"Just keep trying, Tony. Eventually you'll get to my level."
"I like you, Summers. You're spunky."
"I think Loki's trying to wind us up." Steve said, getting them back on track. "This is a man who means to start a war and if we don't stay focused, he'll succeed. We have orders. We should follow them."
"Following's not really my style."
"And you're all about style, aren't you?"
"Of the people in this room, which one of us is A, wearing a spangly outfit, and B, not of use?"
Buffy smacked Tony's shoulder, causing him to wince, and she turned to look up at Steve. "Steve, you honestly can't tell me that this doesn't seem fishy to you."
"Just find the cube." Steve turned and walked out.
"That's the guy that my dad couldn't stop talking about? I'm wondering if they should've kept him on ice."
"He's not wrong about Loki." Buffy said, turning and going after Steve. She caught up with him and fell into step beside him. He glanced down at her and gave a little sigh. "Hey, don't get all huffy with me, bub. I don't want Tony to be right about S.H.I.E.L.D. either. Riley is a good man and I don't want him mixed up with yet another bad government agency." She paused. "And I don't want to be mixed up with another one either. The last time that happened, they tried to kill me and my friends. More than once."
"Well, if S.H.I.E.L.D. is dirty, then I'm glad you're on my side. Obviously you won the last time." Steve paused. "Unless you didn't and you died."
Buffy laughed. "No. I won that battle. I've only died twice."
That stopped Steve in his tracks and he turned to look at her. "Twice?"
"Told you I don't stay dead."
"How do you keep coming back?"
"Well, the first time I drowned, but my friend Xander did CPR on me and brought me back. I was only dead for a minute. The second time…. Well, I told you about it."
Steve shook his head. "You are one interesting dame." Buffy lifted an eyebrow at him. "Woman." He amended. "Sorry."
She smiled at him. "Never been called a dame before."
"I didn't mean to. It was something we said back then…."
"No, I know. I wasn't offended, so there's no need to apologize." They smiled at each other and she shook her head. "Ok. So, where are we going?" Buffy realized that as they'd been walking, they'd encountered less and less people.
Steve leaned in close and lowered his voice so only Buffy could hear. "We're going to see if there's anything hiding down here." He turned and led the way down into the bowels of the Helicarrier.
They stopped at a large metal door labeled Secure Storage 10-C. There didn't seem to be a way in unless you had a code, so Steve reached out and started to force the door to open. Buffy joined in and their efforts caused a loud screeching as the metal bolts tore off and the door slid open. Silently, they walked into the storage area. A couple of people could be heard talking somewhere above them. Steve walked over and jumped up to the next level. He reached out his hand for Buffy, but she was already up beside him.
After going through every box they came to, finally they hit pay dirt about two hours after they'd started looking. Buffy held up an odd shaped metal tube. "What the hell is this?"
Steve held opened up a large metal box to reveal body armor and face masks with a strange symbol that looked like a creepy octopus on them. "That's the HYDRA symbol." He said, opening another metal box. This one held weapons similar to what Buffy was holding. "These are powered by the Tesseract."
"Why would S.H.I.E.L.D. need anything like this?"
"And why would they use HYDRA marked supplies?"
Buffy sighed. "I think there's at least one person on this ship who knows why."
"Let's go pay him a visit."