Abigail Brand stood beneath a tall maple, whispering a prayer over her sister's grave. A gust of wind shook loose a torrent of autumn leaves; Abigail's concentration did not break. Her knuckles turned white, fingernails digging into the backs of her hands as she prayed for forgiveness- not from God, but from her sister.

Breathing an "Amen," she knelt and brushed the carpet of leaves from the modest headstone.



She didn't need to read the date of death. She knew that all too well. As the days wore on, she regretted not ending Loki's life on Asgard when she'd had the chance. And now, he ruled an entire /planet/, and SHIELD had taken him in as a full ally and member of the Avengers. Maria hadn't yet removed her as head of SWORD, but she knew she was toeing a fine line; every member of her original team had been killed in action, and she herself had taken action against the Avengers. /The only reason I'm giving you a second chance is because you believed that Loki was still an enemy, and had taken control of the Avengers,/ Maria had said. /We'll have a close eye on you, so don't fuck up./

"I failed you, Anna," she whispered.

She shut her eyes, and it came on instantaneously- a full-on flashback. She could feel the harsh snap of her sister's neck in her hands, could see the vacant, confused look that had been Anna's last expression, the sight of her lying on the tar, dead. The realization, when she woke up from Loki's thrall, that she had killed her own sister. She flew to her feet, a scream tearing from her lips, two torrents of fire exploding from her palms, scorching the green grass of the cemetery, turning the autumn trees to ash.

As she stood, gazing at her open palms, she heard footsteps crunching through the leaves behind her. Automatically, she turned, drawing her gun.

The man approaching her held up both hands. "I'm unarmed," he said, "and I'm a friend."

"Who the hell are you?" she demanded, gun still trained on his head.

He smiled. "My name is Dr. Aldrich Killian. I believe you and I have a common enemy."