Origin Story

This Might Sting a Little

This Might Sting A Little

XxxxxxX

"Desperation is the raw material of drastic change." – William S. Burroughs

XxxxxxX

Once Tony Stark knew that Sue Richards had been present to extract the Starr girl and her companions from the hospital, it had been easy enough to track down their most probably hiding spot. It had certainly been clever of Sue to think of it, because truth be told, the existence of this house had slipped Tony's mind. Once upon a time, it had belonged to Hawkeye and Mockingbird. The archer had willed it to the Avenger's Trust for possible conversion into a headquarters should the Avengers decide to start up another West Coast team. Unfortunately, the house lacked certain necessities that made using it in such a way feasible, and the house had sat empty for years. Everyone had forgotten it except the office drones who ran the Trust on behalf of Stark International and the Avengers; they kept the power on, and regularly hired maintenance people to keep the house in working order, and trimmed the trees and mowed the lawns. But no one in close association with the Avengers had even remembered it was here.

Until now. Once Tony Stark started looking for a spot Sue Richards could tuck a trio of fugitives away, the house had stuck out like a sore thumb. And now, the house was being encircled by a small army of SHIELD agents, armored Guardsmen soldiers, and the Avengers. All to arrest one girl. Oh certainly, her companions would be arrested and charged too, but it was the girl. The thought of having such a powerful individual under his control was giving Henry Peter Gyrich multiple orgasms. Stark instantly regretted that thought. Associating the word 'orgasms' with the name 'Henry Peter Gyrich' was enough to cause him to throw up in his mouth a little bit.

The rain was cold and miserable, but they'd deal with it. Every now and again, the sky was lit up by distant flares of lightning, quickly followed by thunder. And the wind had picked up to thunderstorm levels. It was making deployment of the fliers difficult.

"Guardsman Flight is almost in position." The voice on the radio belonged to Captain Meecham, the commander of the Guardsman platoon Stark had detailed to this operation. The US Army's corps of powered-armor soldiers was only six hundred strong, and right now, thirty of them were following Stark's orders.

"Acknowledged." Tony Stark was trying something new tonight. He had a suit of armor on site, and was operating it remotely through a telepresence. The enforced inactivity caused by his injuries was beginning to drive him stir crazy. The telepresence was, so far, his best solution to the problem. Even if he wasn't actually there, he could still keep his hand in.

He kept his eyes on the thermal image being streamed to him from Keyhole-4. The satellite, put into orbit in support of the war on terror, was doing its job perfectly, despite the weirdness of the image. The fact that they could only see the infrared signature of two people instead of four wasn't the weird part. Between the time that Sue Richards – and it had to be Sue Richards, given all the circumstantial evidence – had arrived at this house with the three young women who'd been at the hospital and now, it was entirely possible that two of them had left and gone elsewhere. Stark was hoping that one of the people still in the house was Karen Starr, but there was no real way to tell that by looking at a thermal image provided by a satellite.

No, what was weird was that the thermal image of the two people didn't look right. One of them was blazing with heat, as humans are wont to do what with their being mammals. That person appeared on the thermal image as a blaze of red, yellow, and orange. The other… wasn't. The other person, instead of being red, yellow, and orange, was two different shades of blue and a shade of purple. It implied that the second person was actually just a hair over room temperature. Even stranger, they were surrounded by a thin corona of orange.

And that was weird, no matter how you sliced it. It was almost as if the second person was acting as some form of singularity, sucking in all the infrared radiation that struck them. Hurr… now there's a thought. Stark mentally filed the idea away for later investigation. There wasn't time right now to get into it.

"Janet, how is the deployment coming?" Technically, he was still the chairman of the Avengers, but since he was in overall tactical command of this operation, he couldn't directly lead that team. He had the Guardsmen, the SHIELD troops, the Avengers, and of course Project Ragnarok to coordinate and couldn't afford to concentrate on just one segment of the forces at his command. The Wasp was a capable field commander for the team. The only thing that worried him was the ad hoc additions to the main Avengers team that had been made at the last minute.

"The team's in position and ready to go, Tony, but…" Janet Van Dyne's voice was quiet over the command circuit.

"But?"

"But we've got some hotheads out here who are champing at the bit, if you know what I mean."

Stark sighed. "Noted. Try and keep them in line."

Feeling the need for extra firepower, the surviving, mission-capable members of the Thunderbolts had been folded into the Avengers team. In addition, he'd reactivated as many of the former Avengers and 'reservists' as he could reach who weren't already imprisoned in the Gulag for resisting Registration. This had led to some unforeseen problems. Several of the veteran Avengers hadn't actually been in the field as part of the team in many years. The new Moonstone that Gyrich foisted off on him was a snot-nosed kid who looked like he graduated high school the previous Tuesday. Project Ragnarok was one blown circuit away from being a friendly fire report. And both Sentry and Carol Danvers looks in their eyes that told Tony Stark that they were both here to inflict some serious payback on the Starr girl.

Going in looking for vengeance was a great way to generate collateral damage and hospital time.

XxxxxxX

Alex blinked, twice, suddenly awake. Something had woken her up. Some sound. She glanced at the clock. A little after 2 am.

She was lying on her left side, one arm draped over Louise, who was spooned neatly against Alex's chest. Alex's other arm was under Louise's neck, serving as a supplement to the other girl's pillow. Alex listened to Louise breath for a moment, unconsciously matching her own breathing patterns with the other woman's. Thoughts of Louise made her smile.

Alex's body still felt the throbbing tingle that comes from floating through multiple orgasms. She could still taste Louise on her tongue, and the faint aroma of Louise's juices still hung around her mouth and nose. Alex could similarly detect her own scent on Louise. It was surprisingly arousing, which brought a smile to Alex's face. Fleetingly, Alex thought to herself, Can't catch unicorns anymore. She listened to Louise breath for a bit, smiling the entire time. They say your first time pretty much always sucks. If that's suckage I can't wait to get better at it. Definitely going to have to try that again. It had been educational, and Louise had been an enthusiastic teacher.

Alex's head abruptly snapped up from the pillow. What was that? Alex was sure she'd heard something that time. But the sounds of Louise's breathing wasn't it.

Alex gently pulled away from Louise, who whimpered a little at the loss of warmth but did not awaken. Alex sat up in bed and concentrated. The very low-range buzz she heard from the ground floor of the house had to be Ben Grimm; the idea that the 'ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing' snored caused her to grin.

That wasn't it either.

She continued to concentrate. She eliminated the patter-patter-patter of the rain on the house's windows, and the distant crashing of thunder. Concentrated. The susurrus of the tide vanished from her hearing, then the creaking caused by the storm-driven wind pushing on the house itself and the garage and the tree branches outside. She found and began ignoring the occasional sound of a vehicle passing less than a mile away on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Not that.

Her ears picked up some odd noises. Metal scraping on metal. Sticks and twigs snapping quietly under a heavy weight. And voices. Somewhere close to the house, someone was whispering. She concentrated further, trying to catch what was being said. And then she found it.

"… Charlie Two in position. Awaiting orders."

Alex gently and carefully climbed from the bed and stood in the middle of the room. She dropped her visual range below the normal color spectrum and suddenly could see the heat signatures of dozens of people surrounding the house. All sides of the house, even the parts of it hanging over the Pacific Ocean, were surrounded; there were several fliers in the air, most of whom had hot-points around their feet, ankles, and palms.

Alex dipped into both Power Girl and Xander's memories to figure out the situation. The fliers were apparently a mix of superheroes and guys in some sort of Iron Man-like armor. The folks on the ground were apparently a mix between normal guys with guns and more superheroes.

"Louise. Louise! I need you to wake up now. Come on, baby, wake up."

"Muh? Whuh? 'lex? Whassiamengan?" Louise rolled over and tried to cover herself with her pillow.

"Louise, get your ass up right now, sweetie!" Alex struggled to keep her voice quiet.

Louise jerked awake and was pissed off about it, from the look on her face. "What the fuck, Alex? What's –" Alex held a hand up, still staring through the walls.

"Don't bother getting dressed. Just grab your clothes and go downstairs. Wake Mr. Grimm up and let him know we have company. He'll protect you. Go on. And don't be too scared, baby. I'll be fine. Okay? Go on, now."

Trying to be casual about it, Alex wandered toward the suite's bathroom, kicking Louise's discarded clothing into a rough line. Louise snatched each garment off the floor as she left. She paused at the door and gave Alex a quick worried look. "Rule One, Alex. Promise?"

Alex nodded. "It'll be okay. Go on." Louise left, and Alex turned back to the bathroom.

Follow the rules. Right. Alex had explained the Scooby Gang's patented Rules for Slaying, generated by Xander and Willow during a particularly boring research session. It was all part of explaining Alex's true origins to Louise. Rule One: Don't Die. Rule Two: Only violate rule one if that's the only way to avert an apocalypse. Rule Three: Buffy isn't short. She's the perfect height for her size. Rule Four: Save at least one jelly-filled donut for Buffy. Rule Five: Never verbally invite anyone into your home, especially at night. Rule Six: There is no Rule Six. And the last rule, Rule Seven: Don't die. Seriously, do what you have to, but stay alive. Don't die. Just don't die.

Alex kicked her own clothing in the direction of the bathroom and once there put them on as quickly as she could without destroying them. Alex ran some water and splashed her face. She looked herself in the eye in the mirror and grinned. It was one of the patented Xander grins; the grin that Xander wore whenever he was drawing the attention of Larry and Percy and Dale and Cordelia and Aura and Harmony away from Willow Rosenberg and onto himself. It was the grin that said Yeah, this is going to hurt, but damn if it every second of pain isn't going to be utterly worth it.

She turned her attention back to the people arrayed around the house. As far as personal risk went, she wasn't all that worried. But attacking the house like this meant they were putting Louise, and to a much lesser extent, Ben Grimm, at risk. Alex flipped on her x-ray vision and began scanning for the real threats.

An involuntary groan escaped her when she spotted the guy who could only be that Sentry jack-off, floating in the air next to a surprisingly empty suit of Iron Man's armor. For a moment, Alex wondered what the hell was going on with the empty armor, but she shrugged it off. Then she saw Sentry's image flare as he dove toward the house.

The heat spike from directly above the house caught her attention. Someone big was rocketing toward the house from above. From their trajectory, they were going to drop straight through the roof and into the bedroom. They looked… weird… compared to everyone else. Compared to the regular people. Denser bones, denser muscles. And they were holding an object that was bouncing Alex's x-ray vision completely. It took Alex a moment to make out the object's shape.

It was a hammer. An old-style war hammer, the kind Rupert Giles always called a mattock.

A hammer. Alex's eyes grew wide. For the first time in a long time, she felt honest-to-God fear.

"Oh fuck me sideways."

XxxxxxX

Stark called up the house's floor plan. "We've got activity in the master bedroom. Is everyone in position?" There was a round of confirmation, briefly interrupted by static when a bolt of lightning hit far too close for comfort. His eyes widened; onscreen, the person with the truly odd thermal signature sat up from where it – she, he supposed – had begun moving. They – she, he supposed – had climbed out of bed, and was shortly followed by the other one.

The smaller thermal signature gathered something up from the floor and left the room, leaving the larger in the house's master bathroom. He watched their movements for a moment before it came to them. They were dressing. There was only one good reason to get dressed at 2 am.

"We're blown. They're trying to bug out. Go! Breach now!"

XxxxxxX

The roof of the house crashed open in a wide ring-shaped hole at the same instant that a glowing man in gold broke through the sliding glass door that led from the bedroom to the patio. Alex rushed forward. She grabbed Sentry by one arm and used his own momentum to spin, adding her own strength to his rush. Her aim was spot-on; the gold-clad Avenger hit Thor like a bullet. The two Avengers were knocked clear through the bedroom wall and into the house's front yard.

Alex took a quick look around. Close-quarters fighting was a bad thing. She leapt through the door and into the air over the patio. If she was airborne, especially if she were in the air over a cliff, the guys on the ground were less-able to get to her. Of course, that did leave the house vulnerable to people on the ground.

Almost from the second Alex reached the clear airspace over the cliff, she was under fire. She dodged several repulsor blasts from a bunch of guys in what looked like cheap knock-offs of Iron Man's armor; they still had repulsors even if their armor was a bad shade of green. Several of the SHIELD agents were firing at her with their sidearms. Wasp and Yellowjacket suddenly popped up out of nowhere and hit Alex in the eyes with their stinger blasts. Alex blinked, more from surprise than honestly being hurt. And then Alex felt herself hit by God's own baseball bat.

Alex slammed into the cliff's edge and bounced once, landing in a heap in the house's side yard. She clamored up on her hands and knees and started to her feet when a blue-clad fist caught her right across the jaw, dropping her to the ground again. It was Ms. Marvel, and she looked pissed. "I'm ready for you this time, bitch!" Carol Danvers kicked Alex in the side. Alex was propelled through the air and toward the drop-off.

Before Alex could go over the side, she was knocked to the ground by someone new. A man in a gold and white uniform and a helmet. The man was putting a lot of force behind his blows, but wasn't doing more than knocking Alex around, so it gave her time to recognize him: he had the glowy stone Moonstone got her powers from in the middle of his chest.

Alex leapt to her feet, but before she could do anything more she was abruptly hit by a bolt of lightning. She'd seen lightning in the distance and had heard thunder, but the close-up experience was utterly different. The bolt was huge and burned. Alex's muscles locked up and she felt the coppery taste of blood as she involuntarily bit her tongue. When everything cleared, she was on her hands and knees again.

XxxxxxX

"Mister Grimm!" Louise banged on the door to the downstairs bedroom. "Mister Grimm! Something's happening!"

There was a deafening noise from behind her, somewhere in the living room, and a flare of light that almost burned her shadow into the door. Even in the downstairs hallway, shielded from the worst of the grenade's effects by a load-bearing wall, Louise collapsed in a heap in front of the Thing's bedroom door. Her ears were ringing too badly to hear when he spoke to her.

"C'mon kid, get inside! Quick!" The bedroom was shielded from the living room by a wall and a fireplace, but the people crashing in through the front door were going to be here any minute. No time to slow-coach it.

Louise was crying like she had been hit with pepper spray. She was having trouble standing and was breathing in gasps. "Al-lex – sh – said - pro – gah." She tried to get an intelligible sentence out, but couldn't. Her muscles weren't working, and her brain seemed to hare off in random directions. Her ears were ringing too loudly to hear anything, and all she could see were bright spots.

The Thing led her to a short bookcase and held her up in one hand while he pressed a hidden catch. The bookcase, and the wall behind it, spun as if on a gimbal, revealing a metal door. He pushed that open too, and said, "Climb inside, kid. Don't worry, it's a panic room. Built right into the ground. You'll be safe, don't worry. Don't open this door for anyone. Someone will come and get you."

She couldn't tell what was going on at all, but allowed the Thing to guide her. She was surprised at how gentle his hands were, given the rocky nature of his skin.

XxxxxxX

Alex spit out a mouthful of blood out on to the grass, most of which was now blackened if not on fire. She looked up at the Avengers, who were now circled around her outside of what she was sure they thought of as easy attack range. It wasn't all of them, just the power-houses. And they'd brought friends. In addition to the new guy wearing the moonstone, there was She-Hulk, the second Iron Man – War Machine, her Xander memories supplied – a gigantically tall, immensely fat woman in a pink leotard, and Mister Fantastic. The latter was even carrying this huge sci-fi gun, of all things. Surprisingly, it was the empty Iron Man suit that stepped forward. "Stay down, Karen. Surrender and no one else will get hurt. We promise, you'll get a fair trial."

She spit out another mouthful of blood. Her tongue really hurt and was bleeding badly. "Yeah, that's what I was told the first time, shithead."

"You're right. It wasn't fair, what happened to you. But you have to go along with the law. That's how the system works." The empty suit raised both hands, the repulsors visibly charged. "Now, let us put some restraints on you. It's over."

"Fuck you, Tony." It was almost a growl. Alex started to stand, only to suddenly have Thor standing over her, hammer raised. She caught his wrist on the down stroke, preventing the blow, but concentrating on stopping Thor's hit left her open. Sentry had rushed forward and punched her in the gut, putting all his power behind it. Alex felt a rib on her left side snap.

Losing her grip on Thor allowed him to backhand her in the face with the hammer, and suddenly Alex was over the cliff and falling toward the Pacific. The Iron Men and the guys in the green armor followed her down, continually blasting her with repulsors and rotary cannon fire. SHIELD agents on the cliff's edge were shooting at Alex with handguns and assault rifles. Wonder Man, She-Hulk, Ares, and the unknown fat woman leapt from the cliff top toward the beach, while Thor, Sentry, Wasp, Yellowjacket, and Ms. Marvel took to the air after her.

XxxxxxX

Ben Grimm could hear the SHIELD agents enter the house. Naturally they kicked the front door; this sort of situation required a dramatic entrance worthy of an action movie, after all. He sighed at the stupidity of the entire exercise and took off his pajamas. They had been a gift from Alicia Masters, and he didn't want them to get damaged in case some hot-head jamook decided to open up on him with his pistol.

Once his pj's were out of harm's way, he dug around in the dresser until he found his credentials, then knelt in the middle of the room. He held his ID in one hand, tapping it against the palm of the other hand. He could hear the SHIELD agents slamming doors open and throwing things around. They'd be here, the only bedroom on the house's ground floor, any second. He sighed again, then put his hands on top of his head.

In moments, two SHIELD agents stepped through the bedroom door. "Get your hands on your head! Now! Do it!" Grimm complied. He couldn't help but grin slightly. He knew through experience that those so-called Hulk-buster pistols couldn't penetrate his rocky hide, but he saw no harm in following instructions. Or letting these yutzes that their pretty popguns weren't up to the task.

One agent kept Grimm covered while the other checked the room's attached bathroom, the closet, and under the bed. When the search was over, the agent turned back to him. "Benjamin Grimm, you are under arrest for aiding and abetting a wanted fugitive, aiding a known terrorist, and refusal to comply with the Superhuman Registration Act!"

Grimm almost thanked him. "Yeah, about that, kid. Youse might want to look at this before you take this any farther." The Thing didn't lower his hands, but he did wave the leather folder. "It's okay, I'm not going to bite."

The SHIELD agent nodded to his partner, who stepped forward, always careful not to enter the other man's line of fire, and took the folder and the tablet. He flipped the leather folder open to reveal some sort of ID card. "Um… Agent Cantelton, we, uh, we should probably show this to one of the Agents-In-Charge. Um… and maybe Mr. Stark. This is a diplomatic ID. Says he's some sort of ambassador plenipotentiary for France. I, uh… I mean he, uh… I think he might have diplomatic immunity."

"Bullshit." The officer gestured toward the Thing to stand up. "Zip tie this traitorous son-of-a-bitch and get him out of here."

"Your funeral, kid." The Thing put his hands behind his back and turned around, allowing himself to be arrested. He'd be released by noon, and a jail cell was as good as any other place to take a nap while he waited.

Grimm's eyes never went within five feet of looking at the bookcase.

XxxxxxX

Alex could feel her face around her right eye begin to swell from the force of Thor's hammer. Within moments, her eye might as well have been sewn shut for all that she could see through it.

Alex spun in the air and moved toward Iron Man faster than Stark could react. Sitting in his office in New York City, there was a one second delay on his telepresence signal, and one second was enough time for Alex to reach the red metal suit and barrel through it as hard as she could. It fell into its component pieces on the sand.

The Wasp and Yellowjacket buzzed her face, obviously trying to blindside her again. Alex snatched Janet van Dyne out of the air with one hand. She put pressure on the shrunken body, preventing the Wasp from breathing. Alex held the pressure for a count of 20, then dropped the Wasp's limp body.

Yellowjacket went berserk on her. He was suddenly no longer four inches tall, but rather was sixty feet tall. Pym slapped Alex against the cliff's face, an act that actually drove the breath out of her lungs. When he hauled his massive hand back to repeat the attack, Alex rushed him. She slammed into the center of his chest feet first, knocking him off balance, then came up under his chin like an arrow. The gigantic Yellowjacket crumpled like a ragdoll.

XxxxxxX

"Shit!" Tony Stark swore and his view went dark. He tore the virtual presence helmet off of his head. He turned to the SHIELD staffers who were handling the broadcast's technical end. "What's the situation?"

The lead tech just shrugged. "Sir, as far as we can tell the, uh, the suit's just not there anymore. We're not getting any response at all from any of the sensor components that were giving us the live feed."

"Perfect. Just perfect." Stark waved to the big monitors on the wall above them. "Someone put the satellite feed up on these things. I need to talk to whoever is on site and in charge, now. Um… Janet! Get me Janet van Dyne, right now!"

"Trying, sir. No response."

XxxxxxX

Alex was punched sideways by more rotary cannon fire coming from War Machine, but she ignored it. She had bigger problems.

Wonder Man had used his rocket boost to tackle her, attempting to drive her into the side of the cliff. Alex twisted in his grasp. He'd just begun to say, "Damn it, girl, we can resc –" when she punched him in the face, with as much force as she could muster given the limitations of leverage. Then she did it again. And a third time.

Oddly enough, as she felt Wonder Man go limp, a strange if not completely out of place thought entered Alex's mind. No one is quipping. Nobody's making sarcastic remarks.

The War Machine swooped around for another pass with the rotary cannon. Alex ignored the impact, willing herself to remain stable while in flight. She punched Wonder Man twice more, and threw him bodily toward War Machine. The armored man veered out of the way of Wonder Man's unconscious form, but concentrating on not getting hit gave Alex the necessary cover to close with the armored man. She was abruptly too close to bring the shoulder-mounted weaponry to bear, though it was just as well. Alex closed her hand around the long, thin barrels of the rotary cannon and crushed them together before tearing them loose from their mounting.

War Machine punched at her ineffectively, then let loose a repulsor blast directly to her chest. Alex grabbed at one of his wrists as a weight landed on her back. Alex ignored the weight as she squeezed the armor tight enough around the armored man's wrist to cut off blood flow. The fingers of the other hand found the seam between the armor's chest plate and the central repulsor assembly. Alex wrapped her fingers around it and pulled it away almost casually; the back plate, no longer supported by the rest of the armor, fell away as well. The armor locked into position with the man inside the armor – Alex couldn't remember his name, but thought it started with an R, or maybe a K - exposed to the air from neck to waist.

Alex dropped War Machine and turned her attention to the weight on her back. She couldn't tell who it was, but the person had one arm wrapped around her neck while the other was busy ineffectively punching her in the side of the head. She spun in mid-air, reaching back to grab at whoever it was, but couldn't get there before two of the green armors grabbed her by an arm each. They pulled out on her arms, trying to immobilize her. Alex snorted and brought the two armored soldiers together. Their armor cracked at the impact, and she dropped them to the beach.

Suddenly Sentry was in front of her, punching toward Alex's face. She slid sideways in the air just in time to bring the person on her back into the arc of Sentry's fist. Alex turned back to the gold-clad Avenger, noting out of the corner of her eye that the weight on her back had been Ms. Marvel, who was now bouncing – BOUNCING – across the beach. Behind Sentry, Alex could see the new moonstone guy swooping up and around in some sort of flanking attack. The green guys were circling, waiting for an opening as well. Alex had lost sight of the fat girl and Ares.

As she ducked under Sentry's follow-up punch, the new moonstone guy pasted Alex with some sort of light beam, and Alex felt a surge in her strength. She almost thanked him. Sentry led with another jab and Alex caught the man's hand in his own and kicked the man in the chest, dead-center. Once again, Moonstone hit her with a light blast, and once again Alex felt herself become stronger. Then a third time. It didn't matter. Alex channeled the new power into hitting Sentry as hard as she could.

She kept up with him as he flew backward, punching him the entire time. Sentry hit the cliff face just as she caught him by the throat. She pulled back with her other arm, telegraphic the oncoming punch to the point that there was no one who couldn't see it coming. Time slowed for Alex. There was a loud explosive sound as her fist broke the sound barrier on its way to Sentry's face. The impact caused shockwaves cracked the stone of the cliff and broke windows in the house.

Alex left Sentry imbedded in the rock wall, unconscious. She turned her attention to Moonstone. He was dipping and dodging and continually feeding Alex's power by firing the bursts of light at her. Alex twisted in mid-air and rose toward him, but she never made it. Instead, a large, meaty hand wrapped around Alex's right ankle and pulled her toward the ground.

It was the fat woman. Still grasping Alex's ankle, the fat woman swung Alex overhand, slamming her into the beach, then again into the cliff wall, and then again into the beach. She finally swung Alex outward. Spinning quickly, Alex had only a moment to realize that she was being tossed toward someone else.

That was when She-Hulk hit her with the uprooted tree. Alex skipped across the surface of the water like a human stone. Several of the green armored men followed Alex's course, sniping at her with repulsor blasts. Alex hit the water one last time and sank.

The sudden immersion after being slammed around confused Alex. She couldn't tell up from down right away, and one of her opponents took advantage of it. Ms. Marvel followed Alex into the water, grabbing at the thrashing Kryptonian from behind. The Avenger flew out of the surf, carrying Alex along. When they were clear of the water, Marvel tossed Alex upward into the sky. Alex had just enough time to straighten herself when she was hit by another lightning bolt. She dropped from the sky into the shallow water, stunned again. She hurt everywhere. She was certain that Sentry had broken one of her ribs, and the lightning wasn't helping.

Alex knew that she couldn't keep it up indefinitely. Sure, she was powerful, but there was an army here, and she was getting tired. She stood up in the waist-deep surf and immediately ducked. Marvel was back. Alex snagged the other woman by the leg as the Avenger passed over her position. With her other hand she pulled the woman into easy reach, wrapped her arms around Ms. Marvel's chest, and squeezed, hard. She could feel the crackling pop from Marvel's body as the woman's ribs gave way. Adding a final punch to the back of the head that rendered her opponent unconscious.

Alex turned toward the beach and stopped, abruptly. Thor stood on the beach, staring at her. The god of thunder was flanked by She-Hulk, the fat lady, and Ares. All of them were just staring. Clearly, they were angry. Above the water, the green armored men were circling. Occasionally, they'd fire their weapons at Alex, but she was continuing to simply shrug their weapons fire off. Alex quick-snapped her heat vision at each of the armored men in the sky and they all fell, yelling out in pain as their suit overheated into malfunction. Then she turned back to the Avengers on the beach.

Something slammed into her from behind and the other Avengers surged forward. The impact caused her to drop Ms. Marvel into the water. Thor lead with his hammer, and it struck a glancing blow off of Alex's side. She felt another rib break. The impact of the hammer spun her, allowing her to see the person who had attacked from behind. It was the new Moonstone. The man couldn't have been more than 25, but was wading in with enthusiasm. Alex blocked a punch, then another, turning the fight so as to block the oncoming Avengers with Moonstone's own body.

It didn't quite work as Alex planned. She managed to block a third punch before She-Hulk and the fat-lady reached her. She-Hulk slammed Alex across the jaw and Alex stumbled, giving the other woman an opening to punch her from the other side. Moonstone – who Alex was beginning to label 'the little shit' in her mind – then did her the great favor of letting loose with a full-strength blast of light. Alex felt her broken ribs begin to heal themselves.

Determined, Alex ignored the fat woman and Moonstone and turned her attention solely on She-Hulk. She grabbed the green Avenger by the shoulders, and had just lifted She-Hulk into the air, when Thor's hammer once again hit her.

Alex spun from the impact, but not as badly as she had the last time. She saw Thor hanging back while Ares advanced on her. "All right, Greenie. Sorry about this." She shifted her grip to She-Hulk's right arm and spun like a figure skater. Centrifugal force caused She-Hulk to fly outward, and Alex used her like a club. The fat woman was batted away with ease, while Moonstone managed to dive out of range. Her immediate vicinity clear except for Ares, who was still just out of arm's reach, Alex threw She-Hulk at Thor, as hard and as fast as she could. The god of thunder hadn't been expecting that tactic, and the two Avengers went down in a heap.

"I must congratulate you on taking down most of your foes." Ares said as he strode forward. "I won't be brought low so easily."

Alex smiled at him. "I know. Sorry to disappoint you." She leapt into the air and was at the top of the cliff in an instant. The SHIELD agents opened up on her with their guns again, but she ignored them. Alex looked around, jacking her eyes up into the x-ray spectrum to check on Louise. To her relief, she was still well-hidden inside what looked like a bank vault of all things.

Alex was suddenly swamped. A group of the SHIELD agents threw themselves on top of her. The move was so unexpected that for a moment the attackers managed to drive her to one knee. They had little further effect, and within moments she was tossing them around like they were playground toys.

Just as she freed herself from the last of the SHIELD agents, there was a flare of blue light to her right. Alex found herself crashing into the side of the house. Her clothes were on fire and she felt sunburned all over her right side. Blinking, Alex saw Reed Richards doing… something… to the enormous futuristic ray-gun in his hands while the SHIELD agents continued to shoot at her with their guns.

Richards pointed the gun in Alex's direction but before he could fire again, Moonstone dropped onto Alex hard. He punched her twice, and when he hauled his fist back for a third try, she throat-punched him. He fell back away from her, clawing at his throat as he gasped for air. "I am so very tired of you." Alex was wheezing. She grabbed the man's costume in a bunch, her fingers wrapping themselves around the large glowing stone that sat in the middle of his chest. She pulled her other arm back to hit him when she sensed movement to her right. The bright blue bolt of energy struck, and she shifted just in time to put Moonstone in its path.

The new hero was knocked violently away from her by the force of the strike. The moonstone Alex had been holding him by was torn from his chest in a spray of blood. The man landed in a heap a few yards away, and Alex could hear him fight to keep breathing.

More SHIELD agents targeted her, and a handful of bullets ricocheted from her skin. Alex ignored them again. She turned and pitched the moonstone at Richards overhand. The gemstone bounced off of the man's rubberized skull with enough force to shift his aim as he fired his weapon again. The blue-white bolt of energy careened through one corner of the house's eaves, disintegrating wood and shingle as it went. Where the bolt of energy touched, the house caught fire.

Alex dove at Richards, but was intercepted again by Thor's hammer. It struck her right above her hip on her left side. The blow knocked her out of the air. She bounced twice before coming to a stop at the lip of the house's driveway. Before she could climb to her feet she was dogpiled by SHIELD agents again.

"You people never learn! What are you, stupid?" She tossed the last of them away and turned. Unfortunately, she turned toward her blind side and did not see who was approaching until it was far too late. She-Hulk had made it to the top of the cliff as well, and she looked angry. The green giantess punched her twice more, obviously putting her all into it. The impact knocked Alex back on her heels. From her other side, Ares had moved in close and began striking Alex with powerful blows to her body.

Alex growled. She slapped Ares with a backhand; he slammed into the ground and rolled, but popped back onto his feat almost instantly. Alex caught She-Hulk's incoming fist by the wrist. She crouched suddenly, pulling the larger woman's arm straight down with her, pulling She-Hulk's entire body into an off-balance lean, and followed the maneuver with a kick to her now-exposed elbow. The join snapped. She-Hulk screamed in pain, her eyes wide at the sight of her own right arm bending in a way it absolutely was not supposed to bend. Alex jumped into the air – levitated would be the more accurate word – and kicked the green woman under the chin. She-Hulk flew backward, unconscious before she hit the ground.

Alex blinked, then ducked with barely enough time to avoid getting hit again by Thor's hammer. The god of thunder flew at her. Alex side-stepped and grabbed Thor by the cape as he passed. She tugged on the fabric, expecting to be able to use it as a whipcord against him, but the cloth tore easily. Thor wasn't even slowed down. With one hand, he caught the hammer on the return and with the other he backhanded her in the face again.

As Alex stumbled back away from Thor, Ares tackled her, trying to bring her to the ground. She rolled with his weight, turning his takedown into a tumble. While entangled with him, she rabbit-punched him in the kidneys, pushing him away enough for her to regain her feet. Thor was there, bringing down his hammer on her head with both hands. She caught the weapon on the heel of her palm and the shockwave made her numb from wrist to shoulder. Thor looked honestly surprised that Alex was able to accomplish this, and she took advantage of it. She kicked Thor in the crotch, twice. His surprised expression suddenly become an extremely pained one and he released the hammer right into Alex's waiting hands. Thor bent forward, still in pain. For a long second, the fact that she was actually lifting Mjolnir caused Alex to pause. Not looking a gift horse in the mouth, she swung wide, slamming Thor across the face with his own weapon. The god flew as if propelled by rockets, over the cliff and out of sight.

Before she could do anything else, Ares struck. He had moved in close while she was concentrating on Thor, and before she could take advantage of the weapon in her hand the god of war had used… something… some kind of fancy disarm maneuver. Thor's hammer spun away into the shadows. But it gave Alex an opportunity to dive away from Ares's follow-up strike.

Alex rolled to her feet and turned to face Ares. He was bouncing toward her on the balls of his feet like a boxer. "Okay, big guy; let's see what you got." The Greek god almost grinned at her as he approached, his hands up in a guard position. She wasn't grinning, but met him halfway. She made no effort to defend herself, and Ares took advantage of it. He lashed out with one massive fist, catching Alex square in the face. She barely budged, but instead returned his grin with a feral baring of teeth that would have only been considered a grin if it was on the face of a serial killer. She raised her own fist and hit him back. Ares didn't go down, but judging by the grunt he was unable to hold back, that punch had hurt. For a second the two just looked at each other. Despite her height and physical statute, Ares was nearly twice Alex's body mass, and he hadn't expected her to do that much damage with a single blow.

Then suddenly both of them were in motion. Blows fell quicker than the eye could see: punches, kicks, and various martial arts moves from the god, rough and undisciplined street-fighting brawl-punches from the girl.

Out of the corner of her eye, Alex could see Reed Richards and half a dozen SHIELD agents watching their fight. All of them were pretty obviously looking for an opportunity to shoot at the combatants without doing Ares any harm. The expressions on their faces told the story: they knew how strong the gods of mythology were, knew how hard it was to hurt one of these mythic beings, knew that they could heal injuries almost as quickly as they could be inflicted. But this was something different. Alex was faster than Ares, and she was using her speed to avoid getting hit. The few times Ares was able to get through her guard, she seemed to simply shrug it off and hit him back twice as hard.

Ares was by far the more skilled fighter, but his skill didn't matter. She was too strong, too hard to hurt, and too fast. Her own fighting technique was graceless and awkward; she was a brawler, not a martial artist. The god's martial skill was enough to prevent him from being crushed by his opponent immediately, but it was clear to everyone watching that it was only a matter of time. Alex was simply too much for him. Within a minute, she'd found his cadence and was working through his defensive skills. It was brute force, nothing more. For every strike she landed, Ares blocked four, but in blocking was taking terrible damage to his own arms.

Once it was clear that Ares was reaching his limits, he suddenly unleased a desperate all-or-nothing series of blows which managed to get past Alex's defenses. He hit her five, six, seven times, opening up cuts on her lip and above her already closed eye. Ares was finally able to get a hand on one of her arms. The god of war tried to use his superior mass and knowledge of martial arts against her. Unfortunately, she was far too strong, and despite the vast difference in size, Alex simply grabbed the arm holding hers and twisted it aside. Ares resisted with every fiber of his being.

The loud snapping of the bones in his arm could be heard over the noise of the thunderstorm raging around the two fighters. Ares went down, exhausted and covered in sweat, visibly shaking from the pain of not only a broken arm but the bone-deep bruises the girl had covered him with. He knelt in front of her, helpless. Ares didn't cry out, didn't beg for mercy. He simply met her gaze and held it, unable to even rise back to his feet.

Alex wiped blood out of her eyes. "Stay down. Just… stay down." She waved a tired hand at him, begging him to comply. She turned in a random circle, looking for the next attack. A fusillade of bullets struck her from the assembled SHIELD agents, but compared to getting hit by Thor's hammer or by one of Sentry's punches, they were barely recognizable as impacts.

Alex realized that, with Ares effectively out of the game, it was just her and Reed Richards, that gun of his, and the few remaining SHIELD agents still standing. She could ignore the SHIELD agents. Richards, on the other hand, was adjusting something on the gun, while simultaneously trying to keep track of her. Alex rolled her eyes.

"Dr. Richards, if you try to point that thing at me I'm going to make you eat it, swear to fucking Christ." She turned her glare to the SHIELD agents. "And you assholes… you don't make a move. Pretend you're fucking statues!"

The SHIELD agents froze. Their fear was palpable; she could almost smell the stink of it coming off of them. Richards was still adjusting it as she approached him. She got within arm's length and he stopped. Just stopped. With a sigh he put the gun on the ground.

"So what are you going to do now?" he asked.

"Well, first I'm going to do this." Alex inhaled sharply, then put extra force into exhaling. She coated Richards in a half-inch of frost. "Not that I don't trust you, but I don't trust you." She eyeballed the SHIELD agents again. One of them even jammed his hands in the air.

"Hmm… interesting." Richards's teeth were chattering. "In cold temperatures ductile material becomes brittle. You just nullified my powers while doing minimal harm to me. I take it this will melt before it does permanent damage?" She could see his lips were beginning to turn blue.

Alex shrugged. "Don't know, really. Don't care."

XxxxxxX

"Someone find out what's going on! I don't care if you have to rig together two tin cans and a fuck-ton of string, I need intel and I need it right now!" Tony Stark watched the satellite feed. The thunderstorm was making everything murky. Real time cameras couldn't get through the cloud cover, and the thermographic imaging was being thrown off by the drop in temperatures caused by the rain.

"Uh… Mister Stark?"

"What? What is it?" Stark whirled. It was what's-her-name. Pepper's temporary replacement while Pepper was in the hospital getting her appendix out. Kerry? Karen? No… Carla!"

The girl shrunk back, almost as if expecting Stark to hit her. "Sorry, Mister Stark, sorry. But there's someone on the phone for you. Says it's 'most urgent' and cannot wait."

"Get their name and number and tell them I'll return the call when I have time. Would someone find out what the hell is going on out there?" The girl and the phone call were promptly forgotten.

"We're trying sir. I'm getting no answer on any of the command channels." The lead tech shook his head. "It's like they all decided to turn off their radios at once."

"Uh, Mister Stark?"

Tony Stark whirled on Carla, who was still holding the phone out for him. "Take a damned message! Can't you see –"

"But Mister Stark! He says he's the French Foreign Minister. He needs to talk to you right now he says, about some diplomatic incident you're provoking that could, um… here!"

Stark stared at her. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down, counted to twenty four in Base 12, and took the phone.

"Minister Douste-Blazy, how nice to speak to you again. Now is not a truly convenient time, can I ask that you…" Stark stopped talking, as the man on the other end of the phone interrupted.

"…"

"I wouldn't know. I haven't received any word…"

"…"

"I see."

"…"

"Yes, that does make sense. I agree."

"-"

"Well, we wouldn't want that. France is the oldest, not to mention one of the closest, allies the United States has. We…"

"…"

Stark sighed. "Certainly. I will see to it personally. Thank you, Philippe. Yes. Thank you. I appreciate the call. It will be expedited. Au revoir."

Stark handed the girl back the receiver. He lifted a hand to his forehead and rubbed at it for a moment before slapping the heel of his hand into the side of his head three times in quick succession. "And now we have to tell the President that SHIELD just caused a problem with one of our biggest allies by arresting one of their ambassadors. Great. Just great."

XxxxxxX

"Uh… I can't just let you wander around like this. You're under arrest. I mean, we have a warrant for your arrest and everything." The commanding SHIELD agent and two of his flunkies had followed Alex into the house. He'd been surprised when it turned out that out of the eighteen agents left conscious, he was the highest ranking. In the original team's hierarchy, he was eleventh in line.

"Yeah, well, uh… what's your name?"

"Um... Koch. Ryan Koch."

"Okay, Ryan. Here's the deal. I'm going to rescue my girlfriend, and then we're going to hit the road. If you try to stop me, I'm going to hurt you. If you try to hurt my girlfriend, I may just have to kill you. Now, I don't want to do either, and I know you don't want me to do either. So just stand back and stay out of the way. That way, you don't get hurt and I don't hurt you."

"Uh…" The agent looked to his comrades. The other two men shrugged.

Alex led the group to the downstairs bedroom. She didn't even bother with the catch, just pulled the bookcase away from the door. She did the same with the inner door. There lay Louise, curled up into a ball and sleeping. There were bruises around one side of her face, and snot had dried under her nose, but she seemed otherwise unharmed.

"Louise, come on. We're leaving." Alex gently shook Louise's leg. The other girl awoke with a start, but calmed instantly. Louise climbed out of the panic room, then allowed Alex to pick her up and carry her.

"Oh God! Alexandra! What did they do to you?" Louise held a hand up to Alex's face, gently. Alex couldn't help put pull her face away. Her eye was still swollen closed, and she was still bleeding, if only a little. She could also feel her ribs grinding at her with every step. She ignored it.

"Nothing that some bed rest and a truckload of Tylenol won't cure, baby. I'll be fine."

"You sure?"

Alex nodded. The nod was returned, and Louise kissed her gently on her unbruised cheek.

"Uh… why is she calling you Alex? I thought your name was Karen something?" Alex stared at the SHIELD agent stupid enough to ask that question for a moment. He stared back.

Worse, the three of them were blocking the door. "Do you mind?" Alex stood there, not saying anything more. Eventually, and quite sheepishly, moved out of her way.

She carried Louise out of the shattered front door. In the house's driveway were a line of SUVs and step vans leading back to the gate. She picked one at random and approached it.

Off to one side, behind one of the vans, Alex could see Ben Grimm on his knees in the grass, guarded by two agents. His hands were zip-tied behind him. If she had the man figured right, he could pop that little plastic strip just by shrugging his shoulders. Alex wondered why he hadn't. Didn't matter in the long run. She opened the back seat of the SUV she had chosen and laid Louise down on it, gently.

"Don't forget to buckle up, sweetie. Might get bumpy."

Alex closed the door and turned to face the agents, only to find that the fat woman was back. The woman's face was badly bruised. The two stared at one another, and Alex could see a modicum of fear in the fat woman's eyes.

"I just can't let you leave," the woman said.

"Look – crap, I don't even know who you are." Alex shook her head.

"Bertha. Big Bertha."

"Big Bertha? Really? Wow." Alex snorted. "Okay, Bertha. Look. You and I both know you don't have a chance against me. Not a damned chance in the world. I just cold-cocked Thor and beat Ares into the ground. I could throw you into San Francisco Bay from here if I really wanted. So how about we finish the random threats, skip the fight, assume you'd have gone down faster than a submarine with screen doors, and I'll take my friend and go, okay? I'm tired and hurt, and you're tired and hurt, and I don't feel like putting you in the hospital if I don't have to."

Bertha gritted her teeth and swung. Alex caught her fist in his hand, then caught the other one as well when Bertha tried again. She sighed and rose in to the air. The fat woman – Big Bertha – dangling from her hands like a balloon that was losing air.

"Look, I'm serious. This is me barely trying. So quit it, okay?"

She dropped the fat woman in the house's small swimming pool and returned to the SUV. Louise was asleep, curled up as best she could on the back seat. Alex nodded at the sight. She knew exactly how Louise felt.

Alex lifted the SUV, careful not to jostle its sole passenger any more than she had to. The effort hurt her ribs and caused an open cut on her shoulder to start bleeding, but again, she ignored it. With the weight of it balanced along the length of her own body, she vanished into the air, heading for Los Angeles. She knew the perfect place to hide.

XxxxxxX

Author's Note the First: I don't own anything but the idea for this story and some of the incidental minor characters. The big stuff is owned by Mutant Enemy, Warner Brothers, and Marvel (who are themselves owned by Disney.)

Author's Note the Second: The house in question is real. It is owned by my good friend Eddie. Eddie's an actor and a minor celebrity who, while not being a leading man, is just famous enough as a character actor to land on people's "Hey It's That Guy" List. I will not give his last name, but I will tell you that he's been in some pretty big movies with some pretty big names. He's shared the screen with John Travolta, Hal Holbrook, Matthew Broderick, and many, many more. And he's a down-to-earth nice guy on top of it all, and funny!

Author's Note the Third: Philippe Douste Blazy au Quai d'Orsay is also a real person. He was an elected member of the National Assembly of France, and held several cabinet positions in the French government. From 2005 to 2007, he served as the French Foreign Minister. He has since retired from politics and returned to his pre-election life as a civil attorney.

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