A/N: Thanks to katichresis for beta reading this chapter.
Chapter 5: Party like an Avenger
"Are you sure about this?" Peter asked.
Olivia glanced at the syringe she had in hand. She'd stopped being sure of anything a bunch of Hulks ago. Even so, she said, "Yeah. It's gonna be fun."
Peter let out a subdued chuckle. "Tell that to Mantis over there," he said, jerking his head to the side, where Agent Francis was sitting down on the floor behind a shelf.
"I'm fine," Francis said, voice even more hoarse than usual. He'd taken a nasty blow from the previous creature they'd fought on the seventh floor. The way he'd been holding his side afterwards, he had probably cracked a rib or two. "You really think it'll work?"
The last Hulk—finally—was across the archive/study room they were currently in. It had been hit by Agent Ballerman, who'd sniped it from the building across the street, but it hadn't been a fatal shot. After that, the creature had built a siege behind a jumble of knocked over tables, chairs, and shelves. Olivia had a feeling the monster was just scared out of its mind.
"I think the last ones weren't trying to kill us," Olivia said. She shifted her weight from one foot to another. The team had been crouched down for the last five minutes, assessing the situation. "You would've been dead otherwise."
Francis grimaced at the thought, but he didn't deny it.
When Olivia had regrouped with the rest of the team, the people responsible had been arrested, and the Hulking process had stopped, but they still had to fight off a few creatures.
"What if it doesn't work?" Lincoln said.
"What if it does?"
Peter looked away at Olivia's words, back at the Hulk's hiding place, before nodding. "Okay. Let's do this."
Olivia left from the right, getting around the shelf to get to the alley along the wall. She made her approach, slowly, as quietly as possible in the gloom of the room. Going from shelf to shelf, she was careful not to needle herself, or it would be over before it started. Used to carry her gun one handed, it wasn't a problem, but on the move so low to the floor, if she had to shoot, the recoil was likely to unbalance her. Thankfully, her wristcuffs covered all but the end of her fingers.
When she made it to her spot, Olivia signaled to Peter that she was ready.
Peter rose to his feet, his weapon at the ready. "Hey, Hulk," he called, and started to walk slowly on the opposite side from Olivia.
She strained her ears, but didn't hear anything.
"Hulk," Peter said again, drawing out the word to tempt the creature.
There was a careful motion behind the heap of furniture. Nothing as bestial as the early Hulks they had faced. It only reinforced Olivia in her belief. She'd made her plan on the assumption that Dr. Clarkson and his associates' manipulations had been partly succeeding. The creatures had gained in intelligence and agility with every new iteration. They weren't just monsters anymore.
Peter pushed on an archive box next to him, making it fall to the floor, and kept walking. Olivia felt herself tense with every step he took. They'd hope the Hulk would rush to him at some point, but it didn't seem like it wanted to, and Peter was lingering dangerously close now.
So close, he barely had time to duck when a chair flew his way. The Hulk jumped over its fort, screaming an even more human-like roar than any of the creatures before it. Olivia didn't dwell on the thought as she watched the Hulk advance on Peter, now turning its back to her. If the Hulk had known where she was, it didn't show, and she didn't waste time coming out of hiding. Peter straightened up on time to try and throw a punch. He cried out when his fist reached the Hulk's face. The monster pushed him violently, forcing Peter to step backwards in order to regain his balance. That had been enough time for Olivia.
From behind, she circled her right arm tightly around the Hulk's neck, and jabbed the syringe at his collar with her other hand, injecting the creature with the drug concoction that Walter had instructed her to prepare earlier.
The Hulk howled. It shook Olivia off its back, as though she was child-sized. Peter slung another fist when she hit the floor, pratfall, and then another. From her peripheral vision, she saw Lincoln and Francis approaching carefully to cover them. And as Olivia thought that the Hulk was going to throw Peter across the room in a way that would make a hawk jealous of his flight, its movements slowed down. The creature's arms stopped in front of it, hanging in the air for the longest of second, before giving out on its side.
"It's working," Peter said, taking a step back.
Olivia scrambled to her feet. She walked sideways, her gun drawn on the Hulk, circling back to Peter's position. They needn't worry. The creature wobbled, and its eyes rolled out in its head, before it just fainted, collapsing on itself with a thump.
"You okay?" Peter asked, shaking his hand in the air.
He grimaced as he clenched and unclenched his fist several times. "Nothing broken."
Lincoln and Francis joined them next to the unconscious creature. "Do you really think Walter can save him?" Lincoln asked.
"He'll try," Olivia said, and that was enough for her tonight.
Walter jumped from his seat when Peter and Olivia re-entered the conference room, making his Iron Man costume swoosh. They'd made a stop by the hospital before coming back to the party. Olivia had been right: Agent Francis had cracked a rib. Lincoln's forehead would be sporting a bump for a few days, just like Olivia's neck would be bruised. And Peter's hand was bandaged. But they were okay. Olivia thanked Walter for his concern, reassuring him that she was fine, and left father and son to catch up while she went over to join Astrid and Agent Broyles. She frowned as she saw that they were watching the news on the conference screen.
"Superheroes?" an elderly man said on the video. "In New York? Give me a break!"
"What's this?" Olivia asked.
"Some passers-by seem to have reported seeing superheroes fighting on the streets," Broyles said. "A few journalists have been all over it, but we're covering it up."
"Prank?" Olivia guessed.
Her boss nodded.
"What about the people we arrested?" Olivia asked.
Astrid changed the video feed. It switched to a holding cell. Inside, a man looking identical to Dr. Clarkson was restrained. He wasn't wearing the same Loki costume, and his hair was shorter. Something told Olivia that the twin Peter had mentioned earlier had neither been a she, nor a spy. It'd been his double, from the alternate universe.
"There were three young men," Astrid said, and the pictures appeared in one corner, "who we identified as college students."
"Clarkson's volunteers," Olivia said.
"Yes. And him," Astrid said, with a nod at the prisoner on screen.
"Captain Lee's Division is on its way to extract him," Broyles said.
"Are we sure it's their Dr. Clarkson?"
"We found his show-me."
"Has he said anything, yet?" Olivia asked.
"Not much," Broyles said. "Except that he doesn't know where his double's gone."
Olivia sighted, studying the man. "Any word from Chicago PD?"
"I talked to the detective who works with Dresden," Broyles said.
"Sergeant Murphy?" Olivia asked, remembering the woman they'd deal with in Chicago. The case had been given to one of Chicago PD's department, called Special Investigations. Whatever that meant.
"Yes. She vouched for him, but she couldn't explain his presence, or his friend's. I've opened an investigation. We already found out that the man claims to be a wizard."
"A…" Olivia glanced at Astrid, who shrugged her shoulders. "A wizard?"
"Yes. He's even in the book. He's a PI apparently using magic to solve his cases. I want you to call back Sergeant Murphy tomorrow, find out what this is about, and if he's involved."
Olivia would have found it completely insane. Peter and Walter, science men as they were, probably wouldn't appreciate hearing about wizardry. But Harry Dresden and his friend had magically disappeared. It didn't have to be magic, it was likely just how they'd decided to cover things up—though, wizard? That wasn't exactly discreet. Either way, Olivia would have to find out what had been going on.
Agent Valley showed up at the door as Broyles finished, apparently waiting for something. "You can go Agent Farnsworth," Broyles said. "You're all done for the night. You too, Agent Dunham."
Olivia nodded and her boss left, taking his phone in hand as he passed Agent Valley, still waiting at the door.
Astrid glanced her way. "We thought we should celebrate," she said, as though justifying herself.
It made Olivia smile. "You should," she said. "You stopped the whole thing."
Astrid and Agent Valley had been the ones at the origin of the closure of the breach and the ones who stopped the Hulking process. Since on the field, the breach location had been impeded, and agents had been fighting their way up the building, Astrid and Valley had coordinated with the alternate universe to reach the breach from the other side. Captain Lee and Agent Dunham had in fact simply launched gas grenades through the breach, putting to sleep the people who they hadn't known at the time to be Clarkson's double and the rest of the volunteers, therefore stopping their actions.
That was what had stopped the multiplication of Hulks.
Once they had finally made it to the location and arrested the people that had been gassed, the team had finished dealing with the preexisting Hulks, all now dead except for the one Walter's drugs had immobilized.
Astrid smiled at the compliment, before brushing it away.
"What about the man we drugged," Olivia asked, as they walked to the Bishops.
"He had to be put in a coma," Astrid said. "He's been transported to Massive Dynamic."
"I have hope that I can find an antidote," Walter said. "But if I fail to do so, Massive Dynamic might be able to make his life easier."
Olivia inwardly winced at the thought. Massive Dynamic had helped other people with that kind of conditions before—sometimes creating them—but the Hulkian man would be a lab rat for the rest of his days if he couldn't be changed back.
"And we'll start working on it tomorrow," Peter said, grabbing Olivia's hand, "but for now, why don't we go see if there's any birthday cake left, huh?"
"What a fantastic idea, Peter," Walter said. "I'm starving!"
"Son of Clark!" Nina said, concluding their discussion of tonight's events, and making Peter laughed.
Lincoln looked up, as though someone was calling him. Peter's laugh only grew warmer. Their partner had put on a suit over the top of his rather disheveled Superman costume, and with his glasses back on, he definitely sold the Clark Kent look.
Olivia had wanted to just change, but Peter had insisted, and after showering, she'd put on the leather jumpsuit once again with a fresh t-shirt underneath. Peter had done the same, and contrarily to Olivia who'd gotten rid of her wristcuffs and other gadgets, he wouldn't leave his crossbow anymore. She was beginning to worry he'd sleep next to it.
"I'm gonna go grab a drink," Olivia told the group, excusing herself.
She walked to the bar, and caught sight of a beverage fountain, perplexed.
"Stop the presses! Who is that?" someone said next to her, supposedly trying to be discreet, but failing miserably. "Vicky Vale."
Olivia followed the two men's gaze.
"What?" his buddy said. "No, it's obviously Ms. Marvel."
The woman was indeed wearing a Ms. Marvel costume; she was also Sarah Walker.
"Oh, right. I think it's that Aussie actress from the serial killer show," Olivia last heard of the conversation, but before she could correct them—Come on! Who didn't know the former CAT Squad singer?—Agent Dunham joined her.
"Nice!" the redhead said, serving herself a glass at the fountain. She and Captain Lee had just come back to the party. "Dr. Pepper's the birthday girl's favorite. Want one?"
"Sure," Olivia said. "So we know whose birthday it is?"
"Only rumors," Agent Dunham replied, filling up another glass, "but we missed her too. Bummer to miss the CAT Squad singing earlier."
"They sung?" Olivia said.
Freaking Hulks, Olivia thought. She would have loved to see the trio on stage again.
"I think they announced that they were working together again too," Agent Dunham said.
Olivia only nodded, but judging by the amused look that Agent Dunham gave her, the redhead could tell that Olivia wasn't hiding her excitement over the news very well.
"Someone told me Joseph Gordon-Levitt was there as well. Rumor has it that she didn't want to disturb his current shooting over on our side, big movie or something, so she asked for your Joseph Gordon-Levitt to be there instead."
Both agents looked at the person calling their name.
"Hey, Sarah," Agent Dunham said.
"Hi! I thought you guys might be here," Sarah said. "You should come have a drink with us. Did you enjoy the show?"
"We had a bit of a situation, unfortunately," Agent Dunham said. "We missed part of the evening."
"Everything all right?"
"Yeah, we got the bad guys," Agent Dunham said. "Your bad guys actually, you now can rest easy. There won't be any more Hulks running around."
"Well that's a relief," Sarah said. "More reason to celebrate! Actually, Rick and Kate are here as well, we could catch up."
"Sounds like fun," Olivia said.
"So who was your Loki?" Carina Miller asked.
"Um," Peter said, "that's kind of a long story, but he left."
"Shame, I do a mean Loki," Carina said.
"She does," Zondra Rizzo, her co-singer, agreed. "Loki in a skirt."
Something told Olivia there were more to that story, but she didn't dare ask. She'd found out rapidly that the life of a pop star was rather colorful.
The party was coming to an end now, but after meeting up with Sarah, Carina, and Zondra from the CAT Squad, along with Chuck Bartowski, Sarah's boyfriend, and Richard Castle and Kate Beckett, two of the people they had met on the third Hulk case last month, the team had been having a blast.
Astrid and Agent Valley had volunteered to bring Walter back to their hotel, so Olivia and Peter were now enjoying their night off, even though Olivia felt like she hadn't slept for at least two days.
"What about Scar Man over there?" Olivia heard Carina asked, and she realized she'd zoned out.
"Taken," Peter said. "Clark Kent's single."
Carina seemed to be considering it for a few seconds, studying Lincoln with a frightening intensity.
"Who?" Zondra asked, beside her. She followed Carina's look to where Agent Francis and Lincoln were chatting. "Who did you see?"
"Clark Kent," Carina said. "His buddy's taken."
Zondra's eyes took on a frightening studying intensity of their own. "He's cute."
"He wears the costume well," Carina agreed.
They departed before Olivia could be sure what the two pop stars had actually been discussing. She glanced at Peter, whose eyebrows were up to his hairline.
"Oh, boy," Chuck said.
"They're not that bad," Sarah said. "Mostly."
"At least he's in for a treat, am I right?" Castle said. His laughter sobered at Kate's disapproving look. "Or not."
Chuck shook his head. "No, he definitely is."
"Anyway," Kate said, "what about New Year's Eve?"
"Oh, yes!" Castle said. "Come on, it'll be fun."
Richard Castle, famous writer and all around celeb-New Yorker, was throwing a New Year's Eve party, and had insisted that it would be an honor to have them all. "Sarah and Chuck have already said they'd come," he added when Peter glanced to Olivia. A few lights turned off at the back of the room. "Looks like the party's closing up. How about we discuss this with a drink back at my place?"
"Oh, you have to show me that game we talked about!" Chuck said.
Judging by how Peter's eyes lit up at the mention of the game, he wanted to see it too.
"We're going to have to make sure that everybody gets back home safely," Olivia said. They'd have to escort every remaining guest from the other universe back to The Bridge. "But we're staying in the city for the weekend, so why not?"
"I guess we won't see the birthday girl, after all," Sarah said, when they started to move.
"Yeah," Olivia said. Their host had been nowhere in sight, though they had finally learned her identity. "I just hope this Frea at least knows I don't dress up as Black Widow just for anybody."
A/N: Thank you all for reading and letting me know what you thought of the story. Thank you also to JoeltotheD, katichresis, LinShoe85, and mxpw for their beta work and support. If you're familiar with The Dresden Files, you can follow Dr. Clarkson's adventures in my story: A Jolly, Rocky, Molly Night. Either way, I hope you'll have a great time on New Year's Eve. Happy holidays, everyone! See you in 2013. And again:
Happy birthday, Frea!