(A/N): Welcome to When Blood Calls for Blood, the sequel to our recent collaborative work, In the End, You Always Kneel. ITEYAK was the result of Nickenny's vision for a Marvel/Hunger Games mashup in the style of a 24 authors/24 tributes work, and it was an honor to work with so many talented writers to make that story come to life.
Flash forward a few months after the end of the epilogue of that story, which revealed the inclusion of DC characters into the universe, and we're ready to post the sequel. We're sorry it's taken this long; getting a new batch of writers, putting together the new story, etc. was all the work of Nickenny, who then passed off the story to robbiepoo2341 and Canucklehead Cowgirl, two of the writers from the previous story, at the end of May to focus on his personal life. He's done wonderfully to get us started and organized, and we're excited to run with the story that he built.
This is a direct sequel to ITEYAK and picks up where the epilogue left off. However, with the inclusion of DC characters, we are aware that there is a different fandom involved that may not have read our original work. We encourage you to check it out (it's very good, and we're so amazed by the work that the writers put forward) but since we know that not everyone is up to reading over 100 chapters just to read this story, we've included a short summary of ITEYAK at the end of this chapter.
You can, of course, skip the summary if you want to read ITEYAK unspoiled ;) We'd HIGHLY recommend reading it, because we get to work with some VERY talented writers, and of course, since we'll be publishing every Tuesday and Friday, that means you have something to read on the Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays that you're waiting for us!
So, without further ado, we'd like to introduce you to...
Following the Call
Secret Facility Within SHIELD
Written by the combined forces of Nickenny, robbiepoo2341, and Canucklehead Cowgirl
"The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
― Albert Einstein
The flight to Eleven was a long one, comparatively. Coulson was used to these kinds of flights, but ever since the end of the last Games, things had felt … well. Different.
Moments like this ― alone on a plane with nothing to do but kill time ― were often just opportunities for his mind to wander. He knew that he was missing something desperately important. And he was bound and determined to find out whatever it was that had gotten him killed ― and sent through TAHITI.
"Five minutes until we touch down," Agent May called out from the cockpit as she started the approach. "Thought you should know.
Coulson tipped his chin her way and shook the loose thoughts from his head. She'd been keeping close watch on him ― giving him a heads up like that where she never had before. And in truth, he was grateful for it. Most of the time. But right now, as they headed in to investigate yet another mysterious murder, he found himself more focused on the task at hand than on his own personal concerns.
When the hatch on the plane finally opened, Coulson and his team exited quickly, their gear in hand. All of them were ready to go over the fine work that Eleven's Sentinels had surely already finished. It was just too bad that they were going to have to carry the heat while Coulson's team whisked off all that good work to be analyzed in a more advanced laboratory setting.
The ride from the air strip to the mayor's office was fairly short, but even in that short trip, it was clear that Eleven was in a state of upheaval.
People lined the streets, angry and outraged expressions on their faces as the black SUV's navigated the tangled city. The crowd outside of the mayor's house was thick ― though the Sentinels there had done a fine job keeping back both mourners and protesters alike even with the SHIELD team making their way past the yellow and black tape that marked the line between 'them' and 'us'.
He was reasonably sure he hadn't seen this many District Eleven Sentinels in one place in a very long time. The helmeted figures parted like the Red Sea as Coulson and his crew approached, and when the last of them finally stepped out of the way to reveal the still and white-sheet covered body of the mayor, Coulson finally came to a stop and let out all his breath in a single word.
"Coulson," Sentinel Tork said as he turned, walking over to the shorter man and shaking his hand warmly. "As I live and breathe. It's been too long."
"What was it last time?" the SHIELD agent asked, relieved despite himself at the familiar face. "Mining sabotage?"
"No, it was the Brell arrest, right? The Sentinel?"
"The gunrunner," Coulson agreed with a tight, professional smile, nodding. "Yeah, wow, that must have been nearly five years ago. Been back once or twice since, never had time to check in."
"The job comes first," Tork replied, understandingly.
Coulson nodded again, and turned to the tall younger man standing guard with Tork. "You must be Sentinel Cole," he said politely. "I've heard a lot about you from the reports sent in. You've been doing good work."
"That's me," Kasper Cole replied weakly, caught off-guard.
"I'm Special Agent Phil Coulson, with SHIELD, and this is my colleague, Agent Alphonse Mackenzie," Coulson continued, with a nod towards his partner before he nodded to the other two behind them. "Part of our team.".
"Just call me Mack," the taller man interrupted, looking pained.
"Damn, 'Alphonse', really?" Tork asked with a laugh, picking up on the agent's discomfort. "Makes 'Kasper' sound less dumb."
"Hey!" Kasper exclaimed in disbelief. "Not funny."
"Oh, I'm sure it means something special to your parents," Tork allowed. "No one would be that cruel without a good reason."
"You know damn well it's a nickname, Tork," Kasper replied, shaking his head at his elder's sudden juvenile outburst.
"I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse, Kasper," Tork replied, before snapping his fingers in a sudden flash of recollection, and turned back to Coulson. "Speaking of cruel, didn't I hear that you got shot recently?"
"Which time?" Coulson asked, smiling sheepishly.
"Well, I actually heard you were dead," Tork added, "but that seems a little bit unlikely with you standing in front of me, doesn't it?"
"Wow. Word travels fast. It's not entirely false, though. Technically, I was dead," Coulson admitted. "For about three minutes ― before the medics were able to resuscitate me."
Kasper whistled in appreciation. "You get the guy who did it?"
"Apparently, I shot him after he got me. He was dead by the time backup arrived."
"'Apparently'?" Tork asked, catching Coulson's inflection.
Coulson shrugged. "Doc says that's not unusual in cases like this."
"He's had cases like that before?"
Coulson shrugged. "What can I say? He's a strange guy, in more ways than one."
"Damn, Coulson…" Tork said, after a moment's consideration. "I guess that's as good an endorsement for the Capitol's technology as any. 'They brought me back from the dead'."
"Well, it's a wonderful place," Coulson replied, with a wry grin, and Tork snorted.
"Send me a postcard sometime," he said dryly. "My next leave isn't for another sixteen months, and that's if they don't postpone it again."
"Tell you what, how about I send something else in its place?" Coulson offered insidiously, a spark of trouble in the words. "A bottle of Forty Creek out of District Seven maybe?"
"You know it's an offense to bribe a Sentinel, Coulson. However, if you are gonna do it, going for a high-quality whiskey seems like a smart move."
"Who said anything about a bribe?" Coulson asked, playing innocent.
"Oh, I'm just waiting for the inevitable. You SHIELD guys live on favors."
"I resent the implication, but we should probably get to work," Coulson said, nodding towards the corpse, and Tork stepped aside, waving the SHIELD agent through.
"So you guys got sucked into this shit-show too, eh?" Tork asked. "You don't see SHIELD making the trek down to Eleven all that often."
"He was a popular guy," Coulson murmured, as a slight brunette woman knelt to start examining the mayor's body.
"Not everyone felt that way," Tork replied darkly.
"I think that's pretty apparent," Coulson replied dryly.
Tork let out a sigh. "Been a lot of trouble lately," he explained. "Rabble-rousing by M'Baku and his cronies. Trying to stir up unrest, spouting his hate speech to anyone who'll listen. It's the white community that he's latched onto, though. They've been much more… receptive."
"Why? M'Baku's never gone that way before," Coulson replied with a frown. "He's got his own supporters."
"He's gaining popularity. He tells them what they want to hear. T'Chaka always went with what they needed to hear, and people don't always appreciate that. Personally, though, I think anyone who thinks M'Baku gives a rat's ass about them needs a reality check. He just wants power ― T'Chaka, for all his faults, actually cared about this district."
"So we have motive, then," Coulson said. "M'Baku and those who support him had plenty of reason to want T'Chaka dead."
"And the Capitol didn't?" Kasper asked, and Tork frowned disapprovingly at him as the SHIELD agents in attendance all paused.
Coulson glanced over at Kasper, frowning. "Excuse me?"
"His son died in the last Games," Kasper said. "His other son had a pretty public falling out with him soon after. A man who's suffered losses like that… well, it'd call his loyalty into question, wouldn't it?"
"And you're under the impression that SHIELD had something to do with this? Or are you heading toward the treason charge just for laughs?"
"I'm just keeping all avenues of investigation open, sir," Kasper replied, spreading his palms out. "But I'd really like to believe that. There's been enough instability out here lately, and this sure as hell isn't going to help."
"No, it's not," Coulson agreed. "I can tell you for sure: the last thing the Capitol wants is unrest in the districts. The last Civil War tapped our resources to the bone; they can't afford another one."
"Someone's gotta stand to gain if they're knocking off mayors, Coulson," Tork said, jumping in.
Coulson frowned and glared down at the body while his team collected evidence, unwilling to give them a reaction. "They think they do, anyhow."
"You know something…" Tork murmured, understanding dawning. The two SHIELD agents glanced at one another, and Tork clenched his fists, seething with anger. "Goddammit, Coulson, spit it out. What do you know that we don't?
"This is a SHIELD matter that's not to leave this room, do you understand?" Coulson said, fire in his gaze as he glared between them. Tork and Kasper both nodded, albeit a tad begrudgingly. "I'm telling you this as a personal courtesy. Not a professional one," he added, still with that same steel and knowing that if it had been any Sentinel but Tork... "We're here because there have been a few high-profile cases in other districts over the last few months. Shooter always has the same MO, and the descriptions we've been able to gather match your shooter. Caucasian male, late teens, metal arm. It's a fairly small demographic."
"High-profile cases?" Tork asked, perturbed. "Who exactly has this guy taken out?"
Coulson's mouth tightened to a line, then he glanced over to his partner, who simply held his gaze for a moment. "Howard Stark, for one. He was one of the wealthiest men in District Three."
"Wait, Stark as in Tony Stark? The guy who got reaped from Three last year?"
"His father," Coulson confirmed, and Tork whistled in appreciation.
"So this guy's been travelling through districts. He's gotta have help within SHIELD, then – I thought you said they didn't have anything to do with this?"
"SHIELD didn't do this," Coulson insisted. "Whoever's helping this kid's been doing it off their own initiative."
"So, it's political, then," Tork summarised before sighing. "Great, I love it when things get political."
"You think you'd be used to it out here," Coulson said, his eyes narrowed. "Eleven is always about the politics."
"What connects the victims?" Kasper asked, trying to keep them on track. "This wasn't a spur-of-the-moment killing; it was an expertly staged assassination. They had to know exactly where and when the mayor was going to be where he was ― and secure the site while avoiding Sentinel patrols. This isn't District Twelve; we take things seriously out here."
"Are they going after the parents of last year's tributes?" Tork asked in disbelief.
"At this time, we believe that connection to be coincidental, but it's not impossible."
"So you're not telling us everything," Kasper noted sourly.
Coulson smiled. "Of course not. We're SHIELD; we don't answer to Sentinels. You can just assume that we'll tell you what you need to know and take it from there." He turned to his old friend with a disbelieving look. "How green is this guy, Tork?"
Tork grunted, unamused. "I'm easing him in."
"So. Kid gloves. Must be nice," Coulson said dryly.
"And I'm still waiting for some answers," Kasper growled, irritated by Coulson's patronising tone.
"I've already told you more than you're cleared for," Coulson replied evenly. "That's all you're going get. If you're smart, you'll learn to be happy to get what you get."
"Yeah, well, but see, I think you do have more to tell," Kasper replied, feeling the familiar anger bubbling away in his chest. "We're the guys on out on the streets, here. We don't just swan in after things have gotten rough and then leave before things get sorted out. You may have your fancy suits and shields, but if you think you can just take over our cases and leave us out of the loop, you've got another thing coming." He stared defiantly at the pair of SHIELD agents, his chest heaving as he regained his breath.
Coulson gave him a once over with an almost amused smirk on his face. "You didn't pass the section on hierarchy, did you?"
"Take a walk, kid," Tork murmured, and it took Kasper a moment to register his words. When he finally did, he turned to his friend and mentor, confused.
"This is the way things work. SHIELD calls all the shots, and if you can't keep your head around them, you need to get out of their way," he explained, grimly. "Take. A. Walk."
Kasper glanced from his fellow Sentinel to the inscrutable features of the SHIELD agents, took a deep breath, released it, and grudgingly nodded. Without saying a word, he left the room, slamming the door behind him on the way out.
"Seems like a nice kid," Coulson commented, when Kasper was safely out of earshot.
"He is, actually," Tork replied, still staring at the door Kasper had left through. "Just a little idealistic. Got a wife with a kid on the way. At that point, a man takes a look at the world and decides he needs to change it. He'll learn."
"Maybe he won't have to."
"Ha, maybe he won't," Tork replied, laughing, clearly not believing a word of it. "Still, I'm sorry about all that. Don't want you to think we're anything less than professional down here in Eleven."
"Wait, you've been going for 'professional' this whole time?" Coulson asked with his trademark smirk. "Huh."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Tork replied, rolling his eyes. "You're a funny guy, Coulson."
Coulson smiled to himself, as the team concluded the examination of the corpse. The brunette stood up and met his gaze, shaking her head lightly.
"Alright. Thank you for your cooperation," Coulson said suddenly, glancing over at Tork. "My team will prep him for transportation to the Capitol. The guys upstairs will want his autopsy carried out in the Triskelion, all things considered."
"I'm not so sure that's a good idea," Tork replied uneasily. "That crowd outside won't like that one bit. Can't you leave it to us?"
"He's not wrong ― about the crowd," Mack agreed, speaking up. "All that's needed to turn that group outside into a mob is the match that sparks the flame. Gotta be something we can do."
"That's simplifying things a bit. But the last thing we'd want is to escalate the situation any further," Coulson agreed.
"You've been pretty quiet this whole thing, big guy," Tork noted, looking at Mack, who shrugged.
"I try to keep my opinions to myself," he replied.
Coulson started, awkwardly patting his pockets for a moment before coughing into a closed fist, catching the Sentinel's attention. "So… about that favour…"
Tork sighed. "Here we go."
"Give us the room?" Coulson said as he gestured around them. "That's 'SHIELD' us, not 'you and I' us."
Tork shifted uncomfortably. "There's always supposed to be at least one Sentinel present, Coulson. You know that."
"Listen, Tork, how long have we known each other? What do you think I'm going to do ― run off with the corpse?"
"Wouldn't be the first time someone's done it," Tork replied grimly.
Coulson paused, running that through his head. "Not the argument I expected to hear."
"Yeah, that was pretty much our reaction too. But Mister Morbius the Living Vampire didn't think it was a problem."
"'The Living Vampire'?" Mack asked weakly.
"We don't talk about it," Tork replied, frowning. "It was a whole… thing."
"Come on, Tork," Coulson said, turning away from the body. "I'll have that whiskey down to you by tonight. Keep in mind I don't have to offer you anything if I don't want to."
Tork paused, weighing up his options, and sighed. "Fine. Just don't take too long, and this better not get back to Cassidy. The last thing I need is him getting on my ass."
"As a rule, I try to avoid the Head Sentinels. That's not going to change any time soon."
"Just don't make me regret this," Tork warned, as he went for the door and left the room, leaving the small SHIELD team alone.
"I thought he'd never leave," Coulson stage-whispered, and Mack smiled, shaking his head slowly.
"So, why did you need him to leave?" he asked, nodding towards the door.
"I just didn't want the extra body looking over my shoulder, and I didn't want to have to worry about censoring what I said," Coulson explained. "Too bad we couldn't get here any earlier, but at least their forensic team's report seems to check out with ours. And they locked the scene down promptly. You never know what'll happen out here in the districts."
"So you didn't find anything interesting?" Mack asked, looking over to Jemma Simmons as she brushed her hands off.
"Nothing the Sentinels haven't already deduced. It's definitely our suspect's handiwork. Single shot to the heart, through an open window" she replied. "They've already found the location the shots originated from. And the whole scene has been wiped down ― no fingerprints, no bullet casings, nothing." She was smiling as she gestured around the room on her way out. "It's quite tidy, actually."
"Just like the other cases. So our boy's smart," Mack said, frowning before he turned back to Coulson. "Come on, what aren't you saying? What didn't you want the Sentinels around for?"
Coulson paused before he shook his head. "Edison Po."
"A guy we were looking into last year. Before you joined the team. Ex-Sentinel. We were never able to figure out how he was moving from district to district. It's not like it's all that easy to do."
"You catch him?"
"Well, I caught up with him. Had him dead to rights, before one of the people he was working with killed him. Then I just had him dead."
Mack whistled. "What about the guy who killed him?"
"Caught up with him too. He's the one who shot me ― did Hartley not catch you up on this?"
"Hey, you're only making the connection now," Mack protested. "We mainly prepped on the cases at hand ― when we were told we'd be tagging up with your team, all she said was that you had been shot and were coming back from leave." He paused and shook his head at the whole situation. "So the guy who shot you is dead too, huh? Doesn't leave us with a lot to work with."
"Tell me about it," Couslon agreed, frowning deeper. "But the guy who shot me ― Leland Owlsley Jr. ― he wasn't working alone. He had at least one other person backing him up. Maybe that's our assassin."
"You have any leads?"
Coulson shook his head lightly. "No," he admitted. "We went through all of Owlsley's acquaintances,. We couldn't find anything that stood out. It was a pretty short list, too ― guy had mental issues, kept to himself mostly. Seems like someone took advantage of him, used him to clean up their messes."
"Just his father. Leland Senior. Trust me, we gave the guy a long, hard look."
"The Owl of the Capitol?" Mack said, nodding thoughtfully. "Heard about him. Made his fortune in stocks, right?"
"He was once a premier financier and financial investor," Coulson replied. "Owns a good chunk of the Southwestern Quarter, and what he doesn't own, his friends do. We checked him off pretty quickly ― he had airtight alibis for every crime we were investigating, no priors, no evidence of wrongdoing at all. He even helped us find his son, when we came looking for him. I'm sure not all of his money came through strictly legal methods, but he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who'd run this kind of conspiracy."
Coulson gestured down to T'Chaka. "What else would you call it? Somehow, people are getting around the travelling restrictions between districts and knocking people off left and right, while we chase our own tails in the background. The kind of organization, wealth and tactical planning that'd be required to do that… Leland Owlsley's an old man who's spent his life buying and selling stocks. The pieces just don't fit."
"You investigate his acquaintances?" Mack asked, and Coulson laughed before realizing the other agent was serious.
"That's pretty much everyone of influence in the Capitol, Mack," he explained. "I mean, the President and Director Fury would both be on that list. The guy moves in powerful circles. There's no way I'd get the authorization to look too far into any of them. You know how things work. There's the kind of people who struggle between the right thing and the lawful thing, and there's those that use the law to do right by themselves and themselves only."
"You ever think the law might be the problem?"
Coulson took a deep breath and shook his head slowly. "You're lucky I sent Tork away. That guy is one of the few exceptions to my 'two types of people' theory, dancing along the line between the two." He paused, and glanced over at T'Chaka's body, and his gaze hardened.
"But yeah. Sometimes I do, Mack," he said quietly. "Sometimes."
A moment of silence passed between the two agents, before Coulson stirred again. "That stays between us, got it?"
"Understood, Cheese," Mack replied, smiling.
Coulson grimaced. "You gotta stop calling me that. Between you and Skye … ugh."
"I'm your superior officer, you know?"
"No, Hartley is my superior officer," Mack reminded him. "According to the books, we're not even in District Eleven at the moment, much less helping your team investigate the assassination of Eleven's mayor."
"Direct chain of command or not, you still answer to Level Eight," Coulson replied, though he didn't press. A few moments passed before Coulson spoke again. "About Edison Po… I'd like you to keep that between the two us as well."
Mack frowned. "You mean keep it from my team? That's pertinent information to the case, Coulson. What's the problem?" he asked, and then his expression cleared as Coulson held his gaze. "You don't trust Hartley," he said quietly.
"No, it's not that ― I'd trust Hartley with my life," he protested. "It's just that she and Hand are… well, close."
"So you're saying that you don't trust Hartley to keep her work a secret from her girlfriend, and you don't trust Hand full stop?"
"Victoria Hand and I don't see eye to eye, and there has been more than one occasion that she's let slip information back to me that I know for a fact she never had access to if not for Hartley," Coulson said by way of explanation. "Besides. I'm more the kind to play it close to my vest until there's something solid to go by."
"I don't know… This isn't the way we do things in Task Force IV."
"It's not the way my team likes to do things either. We prefer a more open and honest dialogue. But in this matter, my hand is forced," Coulson replied. "But I don't want you to talk with my team about this any more than I want Hartley to hear about it."
Mack's brow wrinkled in confusion. "What? Why?"
Coulson froze, the only indication that the normally stoic and relaxed agent was bothered. "I've been running things through my head, about Po, about Owlsley. The whole time, it seemed like we were missing something. Like they were always one step ahead. We even caught one of the guys working with them ― Ian Quinn ― only for him to be killed in his holding cell later that day."
"So someone in SHIELD was working with them?"
"It's gotta be the only option at this point. I'm starting to wonder if they might have a mole on my team," he confessed, looking troubled.
Mack snorted. "Coulson, I hate to say it, but you're starting to sound a little paranoid. Didn't you handpick this team yourself? How could there possibly be a mole?"
"That's what I've been asking myself," Coulson admitted. "But it's the only thing that makes sense. There were just too many things that went wrong, too many times that they got the jump on us. And my shootout with Owlsley… I just wish I could remember it, because it doesn't feel right."
He trailed off, caught sight of Mack's incredulous look, and sighed. "For now, just keep this to yourself."
Mack crossed his arms and nodded slowly. "Okay, fine. But what makes you think you can trust me?"
"You weren't with us when we were chasing Po and Owlsley, so you can't be the mole," Coulson reasoned. "And I need someone to share my obsessive paranoia with," he added, this time with a little smirk. "Hartley was already ruled out, and Hunter was never an option. Why do you think I asked you to come with me on this?"
"Oh…" Mack replied, nodding in understanding. "You know, I figured it was because I'm black and you thought that'd help with the locals."
"I didn't say that," Coulson said, eyebrows raised as he turned Mack's way before he had to admit, "But it doesn't hurt either."
They headed for the door, and Mack glanced over at the lead agent. "So, I've gotta ask… What's with the suits and sunglasses? This didn't seem like the kind of meeting to require a dress-code. I didn't even have a suit with me, and getting one out here in my size… well, it took some doing."
Coulson smirked. "You need to keep up appearances out here, Mack. These guys… if you don't look the part, they won't treat you right. We're SHIELD agents. This is about respect."
"So it's not just because you like wearing suits and thought it'd look weird if I was wearing jeans?"
"Well, maybe a little bit of that too."
"You're an odd guy, Cheese."
Deep Within the Capitol
Ra's al Ghul
Of the many names that he had gone by in his lifetime, his favorite by far was the Demon's Head.
It was a name that inspired fear. It inspired loyalty.
Specifically, it inspired the kind of loyalty and power that had allowed him to win … well... what he had with the most powerful figures in Marvel could not be called 'loyalty' by any stretch of the imagination. But it could be called a partnership.
At one time, each man or woman there had their own names and organizations. They were still whispered about in the districts. The Red Room. The Hand. Names that could be used strategically to strike fear, or in other instances, to cause misdirection.
Their true name was one adopted from the history of Marvel itself. Hydra. It had once been the scourge of the country. Now, it was a name used only in the historical reminders of the Civil War like the video before the Readings every year.
And, of course, it was spoken here, in a rare instance in which the whole cabal could come together.
It was difficult enough to get the two victors, Johann Schmidt and Ophelia Sarkissian, to their meetings because of the infernal spotlight of their positions, both as Games victors and as heads of the original Hydra, the organization that had survived in the shadows despite losing the war.
Not that either of them minded. There was something to be said for the power of a name. Ra's would be a fool to say otherwise. And a hypocrite.
The rest of their cabal could be considered the richest, most influential names in Marvel.
Lex Luthor, whose business acumen was second only to his ambition for power. Another man whose name called down fear for their enemies and strength for their allies.
Victor Von Doom, whose empire extended so far throughout Marvel that his manor was jokingly referred to by the surrounding residents of the Capitol as its own country. The Doom name at times seemed to Ra's to be overly dramatic, but it was powerful all the same.
Sebastian Shaw, whose strength was as much physical as it was political. His lieutenants shook at his fury, and his enemies were crushed, left with nothing but his name like a curse. With him, Selene Gallio, who was feared by even victors for her enterprises. Her enemies were often drained financially to the bone by the time she was through with them, not to mention the rumors of other, less savory methods of dealing with those that stood in her way.
Vandal Savage, whose family name predated the history of Marvel, or the United States it was before that. His petty need for recognition was an annoyance and clashed with Schmidt often enough that it had derailed entire meetings before, though he was influential enough and had such a brilliant mind they would be a fool not to include him. He and Schmidt seemed to be getting along well enough now, but if it continued, Ra's would remove one or both of them himself.
Lorelai, who went by only the single name and needed no other. She, like her cousin, Zazzala, the Queen Bee, could get almost any man to do anything. Her focus, however, was to build her own power, while her cousin simply enjoyed the thrill of working right under Amanda Waller's nose without being caught.
And then there were those who operated in the shadows. Shishido, whose Hand organization was an excellent distraction for that annoyingly intrepid Coulson and his team. The scientists, headed by Nathaniel Essex. The man was deeply involved in the so-called Tahiti process, along with Hugo Strange, Arnim Zola, and Abraham Cornelius. Between them, it was already decided: Hydra would have the ability to conquer death itself, bring its soldiers back like Lazarus of the Bible. The only obstacle to conquering this last and greatest of enemies was access to the technology itself.
That was where their last member came into play.
Alexander Pierce, who had such power even Nicholas J. Fury answered to him. Who had the answers to SHIELD's most pressing secrets.
It was Pierce who arrived last of all, his lips curled into a smile that meant only good news.
"Shooting Coulson was the best decision we could have made," he said, and Ra's frowned at the implication that he had anything to do with it.
"That I made," he corrected, his voice soft but insistent.
Pierce tipped his head toward Ra's but did not acknowledge the correction. "The point is," he said, "Fury jumped. He couldn't let his friend hang. We now know everything we need to know to overtake the Tahiti Project the moment we are ready to reveal ourselves."
Essex leaned forward, his eyes a perpetual red from overwork as well as cosmetic enhancements. He was a vain man but a brilliant geneticist whose insights were invaluable into conquering death. He would be rewarded with test subjects aplenty under Hydra's rule, and in return, he and the others involved would work tirelessly through the upcoming, inevitable war to make Hydra, quite simply, unkillable. Invincible. Powerful.
"I trust this overthrow will not be entrusted to your usual lackeys. The equipment is delicate, you understand," Essex said, slowly, as if he were speaking to a child.
Pierce glared his way. "Of course."
Essex smirked as he leaned back. In SHIELD, he might have answered to Strange and the rest of the research division, but in the cabal, every voice was equal.
"If you require a more delicate touch…" Zazzala trailed off, laughing quietly to herself at Pierce's expression.
"And what of the revived tributes?" Shaw asked.
"They are spread throughout SHIELD. The largest team is only five members strong. Many are individually assigned," Pierce said.
"It sounds like a lot of hollow excuses to me," Luthor drawled lazily. "Some of us do follow through on our promises without grovelling for help. The victors are the more difficult and delicate-to-handle game, and yet for those of us playing, we already have powerful friends ― and those who aren't friends owe us favors."
"We also manage to do so fully immersed in the public's eye," Selene said with a wave of her hand. "It's never been an issue for you before. Are you concerned you've lost your touch?"
Lorelai laughed and then sneered Pierce's way. "All you have to do is kidnap already enslaved children, and there you stand making excuses."
"I am just stating the facts," Pierce argued. "I need the manpower to go after scattered assets."
"Always asking for more," Savage murmured with a smirk.
"And always doing more than you can manage," Pierce pointed out with a dry look.
"You will have your men," Ra's said before the clash of egos could continue. It was like working with children at times, really.
Pierce nodded once, sharply, and then leaned back in his seat. "Fury intends to make his move after these Games," he said.
"Then we will use that time to do the same," Ra's said with a little triumphant smile.
The meeting proceeded with little else of note, at least to Ra's. Savage and Schmidt again squabbled over who would sit on the throne, and the others were content to let them. The power was not in the throne, after all. That was symbolic. History would remember the name of the king but it was his advisors and his noblemen who shaped the reality of his kingdom.
At last, the members of the cabal left, evenly spaced so as not to draw attention. Because this time it had been staged at Ra's' own building, he was last to leave, with his bodyguard, Shiva, all but melting out of the shadows to meet him and follow him out.
"Mr Duquesne," the doorman murmured, respectfully tipping the brim of his hat as Ra's walked past him but didn't spare the man a second look. He, like so many others, would no doubt burn with the city – a necessary evil for a greater good. And Ra's was not in the habit of spending time on dead men.
Waiting for him, however, was a man who looked like he had already died and come back, and it took Ra's a moment to recognise Leland Owlsley. The man had aged terribly since his son's death, falling in on himself as grief gnawed away at him from the inside like a cancer.
"You!" the man exclaimed as he caught sight of Ra's, the anger evident in his voice even as his shrunken frame trembled in the attempt to suppress it.
Shiva was already moving forward when Ra's signalled for her to stand down with a twitch of his hand.
"Leland," Ra's said, sounding surprised. "I didn't realise we had a meeting scheduled."
"I'm not going to schedule a meeting with you, Jacques," Leland, glaring, his voice clearly expressing his distaste for the notion. "After the amount of money I've invested in your organization, I think sparing the odd moment to speak with me wouldn't be too much to ask."
"And I'd schedule a meeting with you if I had an issue I wanted to raise privately with you," Ra's explained patiently. "This isn't a matter of respect."
"Everything is a matter of respect," Leland hissed. "For months now, I've come to you with the same request, and each time, you make vague assurances and do nothing. In all the time you've known me, Jacques, I've only ever asked this one thing of you."
"Is this really the time or place, Leland?" Ra's asked, seeing where the older man was heading.
"Apparently so, because otherwise, you just ignore me or brush me aside. He killed my son, Ra's," Leland said, his voice cracking. "Gunned him down like a dog. I want him dead."
Ra's reached out a hand and clasped the other man's shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. "Now is not the time to take the law into our own hands, Leland. Your son knew the risks."
"My son's mind was addled. Always has been, ever since his mother passed. He did what he was asked to do, but don't lie to my face and pretend he was some sort of martyr for your cause. The least you owe him is to make sure his death is avenged."
"We'll make sure that Agent Coulson is dealt with, when the time comes."
"'Dealt with?' I don't want him 'dealt with', Duquesne. I don't want him brushed away quietly in the night. He killed Lee. I want vengeance. I want blood."
Ra's stepped forward and took Owlsley's hands in his own. "Trust me, my old friend, you'll get it. I just need you to be patient ― we're not ready to make our move yet. But when we are, Coulson and the rest of SHIELD will never see us coming."
"More banalities," Owlsley complained. "Words are wind, Duquesne, and I'm tired of them. I want action. If you won't do what needs to be done, then maybe I should look to invest elsewhere. And if that doesn't make you take me seriously, maybe you should think about how interested the president would be in the work you've been doing here," Owlsley spat, the threat clear.
Ra's reached out a hand and caught Shiva's wrist as it moved towards the hilt of her sword.
"That won't be necessary," he said calmly, though it wasn't clear to whom he was addressing. "Agent Coulson will get what's coming to him, Leland. As will the rest of the SHIELD."
The big talk around town was that the training facilities were under SHIELD investigation. The bigger talk around town was that it was because of what had happened with last Games' tributes, with how a criminal had upstaged the rightful tribute and how the other had been horribly disfigured.
Vic had heard all the rumors and didn't believe any of them. He knew the truth; it was what made him one of the more effective Sentinels in One, though his colleagues rarely believed him until he waltzed into the precinct with a criminal in handcuffs and the evidence in his back pocket.
The truth was that the facilities were under SHIELD investigation, but not for the reasons everyone thought. Not because they were abusive to the children in their care, such as Mr. Wilson. No, no, if that were the case, why would SHIELD care? This was the same organization with a branch dedicated entirely to creating an arena in which children would slaughter each other.
But Vic was a Sentinel, and he had grown up in District Two before he was assigned to One. Even back then, he'd had his ear to the ground, sniffing out what was going on behind the scenes. Fight clubs like SAFE, illicit training like the Red Room….
And it was the Red Room that, Vic was sure, had brought SHIELD to District One. It was no secret that not a single one of the girls they had put forward had won the Games, but it had long been rumored that they thought they might have better luck in District One.
Vic knew they didn't have that hold, but he didn't blame SHIELD for being suspicious.
The truth was far more insidious ― that there was an underground network of influence that spanned several districts and that could trace its roots back to the Capitol itself. But, again, no one believed Vic when he mentioned it.
So instead, he kept his notes to himself, stacks upon stacks of yellow-lined notebooks of evidence, two walls covered in photographs, sticky notes, red string connecting the lines as he worked it out for himself.
But that was all at home. He had a photographic memory and could call upon his wall at any moment, but the blonde SHIELD agent in front of him didn't have a place on his wall.
The agent, who identified himself as Clay Quartermain, had hardly spoken two words since that basic exchange of names to Vic, though that was usual. Vic had simply been asked to show the SHIELD agent to the training facility, and that was what he did. Government types didn't like to be told there was anything else.
They arrived at the training center, and Vic paused as he opened the door for Quartermain. "You know, of course, that the listening devices in the Sentinel armor can be shorted out with the fluoride in toothpaste," he said, unprompted, just to see what the SHIELD agent's reaction would be. An unfiltered reaction was the best litmus test for his theories, after all.
Quartermain turned to look at Vic more squarely, and it wasn't the usual nervous laugh ― which meant it was true ― or goggling eyes ― which meant it was not ― but something like a smirk. "I'll take that under consideration," Quartermain said, and Vic couldn't help but chuckle.
At least someone knew how to play the game.
The two of them walked down the halls in what could now be called companionable silence before they reached what was apparently Quartermain's stop at the office of the newest trainer at the academy, Matt Murdock.
Vic raised one eyebrow, not bothering to hide his reaction as again, he tried out one of his theories ― or, in this case, one of the more popular theories that others in the district were putting forward, just to prove that it was wrong. "Murdock doesn't have any ties to the Red Room," he said, adding his own theory when that one didn't get a reaction: "He's too busy with his ties to the Hand."
That was the first thing he had said to get a real response out of Quartermain as the tall agent spun toward Vic. "The what now?" he asked, and the honest surprise in his voice was enough to tell Vic that he was either onto something or completely off-base. And since the Hand was one of the few theories he had actually seen with his own two eyes, he knew it was the former.
"The Hand," he said calmly. "I'm sure you've heard of them, unless SHIELD doesn't consider interdistrict criminal enterprises to be their concern."
Quartermain frowned Vic's way, though he had recovered more of his poise by then. "We're aware of their existence."
"Then you'd know Murdock has had his hands full with their interference in the school ― not enough time to be bought out by the Red Room, I'd think," Vic said, clearly smug now. "Of course, other trainers…"
Quartermain seized hold of Vic's arm, and for just a moment, Vic tensed for a fight. Instead, he found himself pulled into the room with Quartermain.
Matt Murdock had become a trainer at the academy straight out of his own graduation, so he had the smallest office and no tenure. He picked his head up when the two men entered and tipped his head to the side.
"You are not students," he said, a smirk playing with the corners of his mouth.
"No," Quartermain agreed. "I'm Special Agent Clay Quartermain, of SHIELD. And this is Victor Sage, a Sentinel."
Murdock's lips twitched again. "Right. And what are a Sentinel and a SHIELD doing in my office?"
"As of right now, this is no longer your office," Quartermain said, and Vic leaned forward, his eyebrows high on his head. He licked his lips in excitement. This was SHIELD interference up close and personal, nothing like seeing it from snapshots and printed readouts.
"Whose office is it?" Murdock asked. His expression had hardly changed, and Vic thought he looked almost amused.
"Whoever they choose to replace you," Quartermain said. "You're being reassigned. SHIELD has seen the good work you do. Your talents are wasted training these children. We have a more exciting group of students for you."
Murdock raised an eyebrow, but Vic could see that he was tense as he asked, "And who, exactly, did you have in mind?"
"That's classified," Quartermain said, and Vic almost laughed in delight. It was almost too much. Too by the books. Too dramatic.
He loved it when he was right.
Murdock considered the two of them, listening hard. "And Mr. Sage?"
"I'm just here because I know too much, isn't that right, Agent Quartermain?" Vic leaned back easily with his hands in his pockets.
"Sentinel Sage has also been reassigned to the Capitol," Quartermain said, and all at once, Vic turned his way with a newfound understanding.
He had clout, this SHIELD agent.
"And suppose I like my assignment," Vic said, testing the waters, hands in his pockets, his heart hammering in his chest. He had never seen interference on a personal level. He was part of the conspiracy now.
"That depends on how things go," Quartermain said. "Play nice and you can come back."
Vic laughed. "Did you bother to think through that answer, or is it rote at this point?"
"If it works, I try not to mess with the classics," Quartermain replied with a little smile.
Vic studied the man for a moment, the way he could tell Murdock was paying attention to him and the agent with him. On the one hand, there was every chance he could end up like so many of the faces on his wall at home, missing and forgotten.
On the other… he could see the belly of the beast, the heart of SHIELD.
He grinned at Quartermain as he leaned forward. "When do we leave?"
It was never a good idea to arrive to meet the president as distracted as he was, but Nick Fury had far more important things to distract him than placating the insane president.
His army of former tributes, for example. His victors for another. And his team…
He trusted that Amanda would get the job done with her own team, but full control was only effective to an extent. His secret team was one that allowed for the kind of imaginative and innovative approach that her team could never reach.
Not to mention it was one he thought he could trust.
Well. Half of them. North and Wraith had worked with him long enough… and spoke highly of their third member's rapid progress. The fourth he knew he couldn't trust but, well, Amanda hadn't learned Machiavellian strategy out of nowhere.
His thoughts turned from his teams to the task at hand when the Other emerged from the room adjacent to the president's office and nodded his direction. "He will see you now."
Fury swept past the man, who seemed to exist in a state approaching a bow at all times ― likely why Thanos kept him around ― and into the office draped in purples to come to a stop just feet from the ornately decorated throne.
He waited until the president addressed him, though Thanos seemed to be in a contemplative mood and took some time before he even looked Fury's way.
"This time between the Games lends itself only to melancholy," Thanos said, and Fury nodded, not about to contradict him. "These dismal winter months… death now is only slow and cold." He frowned and turned at last to face Fury. "And it is even worse when the last Games were not as bloodthirsty as I was promised."
"Every indication we had was that our tributes would be fighters. No one expected how deeply some of their ties to each other would run."
"I despise having to find new Head Gamemakers, Fury," Thanos said with a glint to his gaze that Fury had seen before the man ordered his most tortuous executions.
"That's exactly why we intend to try something different this year," Fury said calmly. "We're coming up on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Games. A quarter century. My men are already calling it a Quarter Quell."
The only indication that Fury had Thanos' attention was the fact that the president leaned forward, hands clasped.
"We would change the rules of these Games, make the statement stronger, remind the districts just who is in charge," Fury continued.
Thanos nodded. "Show them the price…" he said, trailing off into something unintelligible.
"Of course, with the change, it would be best if you announced yourself―"
"Yes, yes," Thanos said almost irritably as he waved his hand at Fury. "As you said, we must remind them who they answer to…" He muttered something again and then sat back with what passed for a smile on his face. "It will be arranged."
When Thanos said nothing further but instead rested his chin on his folded hands, Fury made a slight bow. "It will be taken care of," he agreed, and when once more he was met with silence, he took his leave.
Thanos was growing more unstable by the day. But this Quarter Quell, this new, shining, ultimate distraction was exactly what he needed to keep the president's gaze anywhere but on his preparations. He had even gained a few new Gamemakers like Edward Nygma, extra hands to manage the load of both the distraction and the work of the revolution itself.
There would be a revolution, make no mistake. And if the Games were good this year, if they kept the president's attention… Thanos would never see it coming.
Summary of "In the End You Always Kneel"
We'll freely admit that the summary is a little biased, as we mostly wrote it in order to give the information you would need to know in order to follow Logan (Wolverine) and his story, since Logan was the victor of the 24th Avenger Games and therefore will have POV chapters to show what the mentors/victors are up to after they win their Games.
This story was written in a 24 authors, 24 tributes style, with ultimately Logan (Wolverine) coming out as the winner. Logan was the tribute from District 7, with stylist Jubilation Lee and mentor as Victor Creed (yeah, you can imagine how well that went) and escort Moira McTaggert. Groot is the other mentor from District 7.
In the course of Logan's Games, he started out at the bloodbath being attacked by Natasha Romanoff (District 2, mentor Bobbi Morse), who had identified him as a threat and wanted to take him out early. He beat her after taking just a glancing knife wound to the ribs, though after she was unconscious, he left her behind, especially after her district partner, Clint Barton (District 2, mentor Tony Masters) spotted him and raised his bow at him, so... skedaddle, Logan.
Then, Logan killed Raven Darkholme (District 10, mentor Charles Xavier) with claws he had fashioned from rebar in the ruins of NYC, which made up the arena. She had imitated Kurt Wagner's (District 9, mentor Erik Lensherr, stylist Warren Worthington) voice in an attempt to get closer to him, but he stabbed her instead.
In the meantime, Kurt had managed to find a sword during the bloodbath and wondered around until he met up with Kate Bishop (District 12, mentor Black Bolt, stylist Noh-Varr). During the bloodbath, Kate had tried to get to the bow that Clint currently wields but was attacked by Sinthea Schmidtt (District 6, mentor Johann Schmidtt, stylist Allison Blaire) and saved by Clint, who shot an arrow through Sinthea's shoulder after killing Anna Marie Adler (District 8, mentor Jessica Drew). Kurt gave Kate a knife he had salvaged from the bloodbath so she could defend herself.
Kate and Kurt then found Logan and allied with him, patching up his wounds as Kate dubbed the alliance "Team Awesome." The three of them fought giant spiders together and saved Peter Parker (District 8, mentor Norman Osborn, stylist and crew Honey Lemon and Big Hero 6 crew) from being eaten by said spider-mutts, thus completing Team Awesome. Throughout the early Games, Kate and Kurt grew steadily closer, and it was clear that under any other circumstances, this would be a blossoming romance.
The alliance didn't last for long, though, as the group spotted Cletus Kasady (District 10, mentor Hank McCoy) in a storm, and Logan went after him, with Kate close behind. They were separated in the storm, with Kurt and Peter; Kate; and Logan all going separate ways in the confusion. Logan met up with a large group consisting of Tony Stark (District 3, mentor Obadiah Stane), Steve Rogers (District 5, mentor Peter Quill), Bruce Banner (District 6, mentor Johann Schmidtt, stylist Jarella Kai), and Brunhilde (District 4, mentor Otto Octavius, niece to Odin, the first victor of the Games). The little group took down Ultron, a mutt created by the Gamemakers (with Fury as head Gamemaker and the cast of Agents of SHIELD involved in the behind-the-scenes such as mutt creation and tribute selection; it's definitely not random), before Brunhilde left the group.
Bruce had been traveling on his own until then, while Steve had been looking for Ororo Munroe, who he had allied with. Steve, along with his district partner, Carol Danvers, had been allied with her before meeting up with the Career Pack. Carol was killed buying the others time to get away. Later, Ororo had run away from him, determined to get revenge for his district partner, T'Challa's, death at the hands of Thor. She met up with Thor in a thunderstorm and electrocuted him.
The next morning, Kate reunited with Clint. Clint and Brunhilde had been on their own (separately) after the dissolution of the Career Pack, which is described below. Natasha had betrayed the Career Pack and burned their supplies after falling apart following her loss to Logan, since the Red Room, where she had trained to become a Games volunteer, had not prepared her for failure. While the rest of the Career pack was being betrayed by Loki and split up, Clint went after Natasha to try and talk sense into her before a rockslide hit that fatally injured Natasha. He declared his love for her before killing her and was still shaken up about it when Kate found him. The two Hawkeyes allied and tried to cheer each other up with bird puns while they looked for Kate's 'boys" (her alliance). However, they met up with a group of ape-like mutts who killed Clint, though Clint was able to get Kate to safety first, and Kate heard his death from the other side of a door, which left her badly shaken.
District One: Wade Wilson (stylist Shiklah and mentor Reed Richards) and Elektra Natchios (mentor Johnny Storm)
District Two: Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff
District Four: Thor Odinson (mentor Odin) and Brunhilde, with Loki (Thor's adopted brother, Reaped from his birthplace in District 12)
Meanwhile, Logan's new group, after fighting Ultron, worked together to rescue Tony, who had taken shrapnel to the chest in the attack. Bruce is able to cobble together a crude version of the arc reactor. Shortly after this, Steve finds a gruesome sight: Cletus has killed Ororo Munroe (District 11, mentor Sam Wilson), with whom Steve had once allied in a pact with District Eleven to protect the smallest tribute, and left one of her eyes for Steve to find. Steve takes Logan to hunt down Cletus, leaving Tony and Bruce behind while Tony is still recovering. On the way, they reunite with Kurt and Peter and then kill Cletus, with Peter striking the final blow. Shortly afterward, the four boys are attacked by tracker jackers, and while hallucinating vividly, Logan stabs and kills Kurt.
Now, each of the remaining tributes received video messages from the Capitol designed to break them down or make them fight. Some of them were outright lies, but three in particular had lasting consequences for the Games.
Bruce Banner received video of Tony's earlier time in the Games, in which he had briefly allied with Sin. Sin had allied herself with Pepper Potts (District 3, mentor James Rhodes) in the Capitol and had agreed to work with her. Since Tony was also Pepper's ally, the two worked together, though Tony didn't realize Pepper had conspired to send him to the Games in order to get revenge on him for causing the accident that killed his parents. While he and Sin were there, he helped Sin with the arrow to her shoulder and killed Wanda Maximoff (District 9, mentor Drax the Desroyer) when she surprised them in their hideout in the sewers. (Sin was later killed by Ultron prior to Steve's group meeting the robot mutt.) The video Bruce was sent was edited to make it look like Tony was torturing Sin, and as her shirt was off for the arrow wound, it was also edited to imply much worse. Bruce attacked Tony and left in a rage, stumbling into a radiated area and getting radiation poisoning in the process. He later met and attacked Loki in a fit of rage but leaves the boy alive, just for Elektra to kill him.
Logan's video contained a message from Victor Creed in which he admitted to having tortured and raped Silver Fox, who was both Logan's girlfriend and the tribute for Seven from the previous year. He then threatened to do the same to Kate, knowing that Logan wouldn't have it in him to kill her otherwise. From this point on, Logan started to kill more readily, determined to be the one to win so the victor wouldn't have to deal with Creed, especially if it was Kate.
Kate, meanwhile, had received video footage of Kurt's death, but the tracker jackers were edited out so that it looked like Logan had turned on his friend and ally. Kate swore revenge and went on the warpath, killing Elektra when the girl stumbled into a trap she'd set for Logan.
Peter Parker met up with Tony and Steve, where they ran into a mutt version of Cletus, which killed Peter as he tried to protect his new allies.
Hurtling toward the final conflict, Logan killed Tony, who had built himself some makeshift armor, and then Bruce, who had a sort of mental break before the end. Steve had his first kill when he reluctant beat a determined and desperate Kate to death, leaving her screaming for Logan at the end. When Logan saw her bloody handprints on Steve's shield, he killed him for it, thus becoming the victor of the Avenger Games.