Dangerous Women

She hears the fight going on in the alleyway – she's been in enough of them to know the meaning of the grunts and thumps of fists against flesh.

Maria knows not to get involved – this is New York and she's no goddamned hero – but she can't stand aside, can't pretend she's not hearing what she's hearing. Someone's getting their ass handed to them on a platter.

But when she turns the corner, she doesn't expect to see one woman fighting four men – and somehow holding her own with a swiftness and a skill that might even rival Natasha's – although less graceful and rather more brutal.

Still, outnumbered odds are outnumbered odds and Maria was never fond of an unfair fight.

"Hey!" She yells and two of the men turn, their eyes gleaming oddly in the dim light as they see her and start towards her, and there's something weird about their faces—their teeth—

Her gun is in her hand without conscious thought. "Back the hell away," she orders, but they don't listen – they never do.

Then she sees the ivory points of their teeth—What the fuck—? Her finger squeezes the trigger without conscious thought, two shots point-blank into the first one's chest. The momentum of the bullets drives him back but his companion sidesteps him and keeps coming.

Fine. Deathwish it is. Maria fires at the second one, hits him in the heart – at this range, she can't miss – but he keeps coming. The second shot rips through his throat and he staggers, but he's still coming. She aims for the head and she sees the dark hole it makes in his head but he's still coming.

She pistol-whips him across the cheek, kicking him in the legs with her boot. He's pretty solid, but she's fought bigger guys and laid them out. It's all in the timing and the leverage.

But the timing's off, here – like her shooting, like his inability to stay down. He moves like a cat and before she knows it, Maria's on the back foot, no longer thinking about the woman she came in to rescue, trying to understand why a man with deathwounds is still fighting.

Is he even a man? Sharp teeth and strange eyes and an inability to stay dead all fall under a certain category. And Maria's seen aliens and heart-washing, defrosted super-soldiers, and devices of unimaginable power in the last two months – are vampires really that impossible after everything else?

Whatever he is, he's fast. Too fast for her to follow in close quarters, and before she knows it, the gun is ripped from her fingers and a hand is at her throat, shoving her back against the alley wall. She kicks him in the balls and he howls and drops her. Before she can find her feet the other one is on her and her cheek scrapes against rough brick as he pushes her face to the side, baring her throat…

Dust explodes, the sifting particles skimming her skin as the grip holding her down fades. A dark shadow steps aside and crouches and a moment later the other vampire is drifting dust, too.

Maria steps away from the drifting remnants of the vampire, and turns to face the woman who's dispatched them.

"Nice try with the gun," the woman says casually. "Stupid, though. Bullets don't work on them."

"You're welcome," Maria snaps, nettled at being dismissed.

"For giving me someone to rescue?"

"For the distraction."

"I've dealt with more." The accent is Boston street, the clothing dark and tight. She's maybe a few years younger than Maria, but her life's been hard. It's there in her eyes – dark and flat and wary. "You'd better get off these streets. There's a nest of them out back and they've been getting restless."

"And you're just going to face them by yourself?"

"They need to be cleaned out, and I'm the cleaner."

Maria lifts an eyebrow, amused by the droll commentary. "The vampire cleaner?"

"If only it paid the bills." The woman dusts off her jacket. "Anyway, you'd better go. Things have gotten messy since that hellmouth opened in the sky."

Maria eyes the other woman with a grim feeling in her belly – as though she not already short of hours in a day. "It's gotten worse since the Chitauri invasion?"

"Is that the name for it? Yeah, it's gotten worse. The vamps love mayhem and chaos – and there's been plenty of that. Scared people are easy to target and, apparently, tast. I'm doing double time and so's every other Slayer out there. As well as trying to pay the bills."

It's the edge of a whole new layer to the world – as big as the paradigm shift Maria made the day she did the SHIELD induction and realised that it was more than just a spy agency – that there was a layer to the universe that most people never saw and would hopefully never have to see.

She knows what she wants to do. She wants to turn around and go home the way she originally planned; get a straight eight – or, more likely, a straight four and a half since there are reports to be signed off and new mayhem by Stark to deal with – and wake up tomorrow morning forgetting that she was ever attacked by vampires.

But she needs to see this, because vampires are new and so far as she knows, SHIELD doesn't have records on them. Which might sound crazy because if vampires have been around then SHIELD would know about them, right?

However, assorted physicists and scientists have been discussing the effects of the doorways that the Tesseract opened on Earth. Someone tossed out a theory about converging universes to explain some odd sightings and reports from around the world – things that have clearly been going on for some time, but which have never been recorded, never mentioned,and which have never come to SHIELD's notice.

This might very well be one of those things.


Maria pushes herself off the wall. "Do you want assistance?" At the disbelieving look, she adds, "I couldn't handle those guys before because I didn't know what they were. Now that I do…" She's given a once over, a thoughtful, assessing look. "I know how to handle myself."

"I'm sure you do," the other woman says with a dark-lipped smile that Maria's pretty sure has nothing to do with the assessment of her professional training. "But bullets don't stop them."

Maria shrugs as she puts the gun away. "I bet they still hurt like hell."

"Probably." The smile is brief and dangerous. "Okay. But I can't baby you."

"Do I look like I need babying? Maria Hill."

"Faith Lehane."

"A pleasure."

Faith grins as she looks Maria over again. "I'm sure it will be."