Disclaimer: I own neither Marvel nor Naruto.
AN/ Yeah, yeah. I know it's been a while. I've actually been sitting on this chapter longer than I should have. It reached 4k words a little while ago, but I wanted to do this as one chapter. As for why I've been absent. Work. The mind is willing, the body is weak and falls asleep. And I've been doing a lot of fic reading instead. BUT I'M STILL ALIVE AND KICKING!
Chapter 3: If You Only Knew Who You Were Dealing With
"I've gotten used to you being difficult to get a hold of, Sarah, but…God, Sarah. It's been years! Years without a word, and you just pop up at my front door?" Not anger, frustration, for the most part.
It'd been going on like this for the last thirty or forty minutes now. Debbie just ranted at Sarah, while Naruto and Laura stood on the sidelines waiting for the storm to blow over.
"Just…God," Debbie added in coda, furiously rubbing at her brow. There was a migraine coming, she could feel it from a mile off. Shaking off the unholy frustration, she looked over to her sister's tagalongs. She had been distracted from the start just seeing Sarah's face again, but now that she had the time to cool down… Dear God, she looked so much like her.
Taking stock of her sister's silent staring, Sarah stepped over to the two teens. "Debbie, this is Laura…my daughter."
Now that shook the woman to the veritable core. She remembered, back before Sarah had disappeared from the face of the earth, being shown a picture of a young girl. Sarah telling her that she'd had a daughter had rocked her like nothing else, but no more than the affection in her often indifferent sister's voice.
Hand coming to her chest from the shock, she took in all of her niece…her niece… In a matter of years, she'd begun to mature and had taken a strong resemblance to her mother. That sharp look in her eyes reminded her of a Sarah long past. She had to fight the urge to take the young girl's face in her hands and just stare at her as one would a mirror into the past.
"And this is Naruto," Sarah continued, laying a hand on the blonde teen's shoulder. "He's-"
"I'm a friend of Laura's from school," Naruto interjected cheerily, grinning like he used to. "Mrs. Kinney and Laura said they were heading to San Fran and I begged them to let me come along."
"Oh, um, nice to meet you," Debbie answered back, dazedly shaking his offered hand, caught off guard by the energetic teen. This was all just so very overwhelming.
"I just have some work in town," Sarah explained. "We'll only be here for a day or two, and I was hoping to see you again."
"Deb, honey, you downstairs?"
Debbie looked just the smallest bit irritated. Was it too much to ask for that she sort things out with her sister before having to introduce her to the family? "In here," she called over her shoulder, toward the kitchen doorway.
Stepping around the corner was a man that it took all of Sarah's willpower not to maul with the nearby stainless steel pepper grinder. Much like his picture, he was fairly attractive. Not that it countered the deep revulsion Sarah felt for him. He looked to have just gotten up. Much like Debbie, he was in a robe, thrown over a t-shirt and pajama bottoms. Hair a bit disheveled, his eyes were clear so while he had been up long enough to wake fully, he obviously hadn't the time for a shower yet. "We have visitors, honey. Desmond, this is my sister, Sarah."
Blinking in surprise, first at the trio of guests in their kitchen, then at the introduction, "Sarah? Wow, I almost didn't think we'd ever meet," he offered back jovially.
""Honey"?" Sarah asked pensively, eyes narrowing a hair.
"Sarah, this is Desmond. My husband." The wedded couple assumed the twinge in her jaw was from surprise, when in fact it was from Sarah trying not to snarl at the bastard who'd involved himself in her sister's life for the sole purpose of playing the spy.
Naruto had been very firm in making certain she was disarmed for this meeting, and had repeated ad nauseam that they needed to continue the plan to the end.
"It's…a pleasure," Sarah greeted tightly, shaking the extended hand hesitantly. "This is my daughter, Laura, and her friend from school, Naruto." The pair of teens laid on thick the casual, everyday greetings.
Naruto would applaud the scumbag. On the outside, he masked his surprise well, passing off shock at seeing his target as that of merely being caught off guard by family.
Conversation shifted attitudes once Desmond joined in. There was less open indignation from Debbie to Sarah as she tried to maintain a level of decorum.
Debbie was happy to see Sarah again, no matter her grumblings. Overjoyed, even. Her wrath lay solely on rather petty reasons, the worry she'd felt for her disappearance.
"I've got this aunt way over in Michigan," Naruto rattled off, flipping the pancakes. "Every time she'd come to town she'd make these absolutely fantastic blueberry and oatmeal pancakes. I'm not quite at her level…" He threw in a reminiscent smirk. "But I hope you like them," and brought the loaded plate to the table for everyone present.
Okay, so it was all a lie. Sue him.
"The best part is, you don't even need syrup. You can roll them up and just munch on them. Though she did always say you could just sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top."
"They're delicious," Debbie praised, bringing another slice of pancake to her lips. Even without syrup or sugar, the blueberries added significant contrast to make them delicious.
He grinned back at the thanks. "Yeah, she was real big on the health foods, my aunt. The only way she could get me to eat them was by making them not taste like sawdust. That took longer than I would've liked," laughing. He actually got a small smile from the woman as she held back a laugh of her own.
"Mom? What's going on?" Heads turned. Body leaning around the corner was a girl of roughly Laura's age with gel-spiked blonde hair, her attire very much gothic in base from the heavy eye shadow, dark lipstick, ankh earrings and cross necklaces. It was just so…teenage rebellion. She looked a little sleepy still even though it was about seven-ten-ish. But, hey, some people could shake off the lingering sleepiness in minutes while others needed considerably longer.
"Oh, morning, sweetie," Debbie greeted with a warm, motherly smile. "Megan, there are some people here I want you to meet," urging her into the kitchen. Shrugging, she shuffled in and stood behind her seated mother. "Megan…this is your aunt, Sarah, and your cousin, Laura." The teen blinked, more than a little surprised. She'd heard her mother once or twice talk about her sister, her aunt, but it wasn't anything regular. Apparently, they didn't talk much. Growing up, she couldn't really remember ever seeing her, hearing from her, or anything, really.
That she was here, now, in their kitchen, was a surprise bordering on the ludicrous.
"And I'm just a friend of the family." The shocks continued as she'd all but forgotten the strange guy at the stove when her mother had dropped the bomb. "I'm Naruto. Me and Laura are best buds back on the east coast."
Things didn't really get any less awkward from there. At his forced congeniality, he washed the dishes himself, cleaning up whatever mess he'd left behind. Desmond had dismissed himself shortly after breakfast, taking a travel cup of coffee along with him.
He may've left the premises, but the charade still had to move on.
If not for all the "games" he might've just broken his neck, gathered the girls, and skipped town.
Finishing up the last dish, he grabbed the towel and dried his hands before tossing it back on the countertop. This was so very…civilian… He might've enjoyed it any other time. "Dishes are done, er, Mrs. Alexander." The two looked so much alike, he'd almost called her Kinney out of reflex.
Sitting on the couch, across from her sister, the other Kinney regarded him with a thankful smile. "Thank you." Still smiling, "Though guests aren't supposed to do the cooking and cleaning."
He grinned. "Just chalk it up to my OCD."
"Laura's going with Debbie to school," Sarah reminded him, yawning, not so much acting sleepy. "You could go, too?"
He grinned, holding up both hands. Shaking his head, "Thanks, but no thanks," he countered quickly before looking thoughtful. "I was actually thinking about a tour of Alcatraz. I heard that's what all the tourists do."
Heads jerked as Megan came screaming down the stairs. Face bordering panic, she burst right upon her mother, Laura dragged behind her by the arm. "Tell her!" she repeated again, this time with less panic and more pleading. "Tell her what you said!"
Laura looked at her like she hadn't the foggiest idea of what she was talking about. "What are you talking about?"
Naruto didn't know either. The idea was to play off that they were on vacation from normal lives, while putting on the act that the pair were still socially awkward and all three were on the run. Whatever Laura had said, it had set Megan aflame.
Megan had her hands out in a gesture of pleading helplessness, but frowning at Laura's denial of what she'd said only moments ago. "Tell her you killed him! Tell her he was real."
Okay, now he was starting to get an idea. He knew of the unofficial mission where Sarah had brought Laura out of the Facility to help rescue her kidnapped niece. Some way or another, it must've come up.
Giving her sister an apologetic glance, Debbie stepped over to her daughter, her face knit up into a mixture of emotions all boiled down to motherly concern. "Megan…Sweetie…You have to calm down." But Megan paid her no mind. Here, now, was proof, actual proof, that all these years of nightmares weren't simply that.
"Please…You have to tell her…You have to tell her I'm not crazy…Please."
"Megan, let's just…Let's just go upstairs," her mother urged, taking her by the shoulders, "Everything will be al-" only to have her gentle grip thrown off.
"NO!" she bit back, storming out the door.
From there, an awkward silence fell on the remaining four people. He and Sarah kept their emotions in check, her barely at seeing the pain her sister and niece were going through. Debbie, though embarrassed at the state of affairs of her small family, was just thankful that Desmond had left earlier, and that they wouldn't see his take on Megan's…state. "I'm…I'm sorry about that," her voice cracking, averting her gaze a little when she thought she felt tears forming.
Laura smiled, putting a good effort into making it look awkward and sincere. "It's okay, I'll try to catch up to her," heading back upstairs.
Feeling very out of place, not just for show either, Naruto looked between the two sisters. "Well, uh, I'm gonna leave you two to hash it out. Family stuff, and all that," he jested, forcing a smile. "Um, Mrs. Kinney, I'll be looking around town. My cell's on so I won't get kidnapped or anything." Adding a small grumble as a good embellishment on the average teenager act.
He was met exiting the door by Laura, dressed rather daringly with wares from Megan's closet. It actually gave him pause, seeing her like that. A fancy looking burgundy leather corset over her bra as the top with a fur lined jacket, a wrap-around leather skirt of similar color that hardly looked functional, black stockings, and belted-up knee-high boots. And a choker-style necklace to finish it.
All in all…Naruto was left in awe. His imagination would have never come up with anything like that for the quiet, former assassin turned retiree.
It worked for her, but, just…huh.
Fortunately, he could compartmentalize. Pushing aside distracting thoughts, he shared a look with her. "Um, looking good," he choked out weakly. Thankfully, he could see no sign that she considered it his honest reaction, passing it off as playing the part.
"I'm gonna look around," he supplied briefly. "You gonna go see Megan?" She nodded.
"Okay, we have to assume that at any time we are being watched," he reminded. "Even when it's just us, we have to maintain the act. No breaking cover until we're in the wind."
"The house won't be bugged," Laura added. "They could never expect exactly when or if we might show up. Leaving active bugs in place for prolonged time pose exposure risks."
Tracking Megan was easy. With how she "saw" things, figuratively speaking, the way scents lingered, for her it was as easy as following a smoke trail. She followed the trail for two miles through the waking streets of San Francisco all the way to the waterfront. The smell of saltwater was strong, but it didn't quite overpower the fresh scent the young girl had left, not that it made any difference at that point. Scanning the area, eyes roaming, she locked on to the familiar form sitting on the edge of a boat dock.
Even with her training, light as her footfalls were, the boards of the dock still creaked under the slightest pressure, her borrowed boots still echoing lightly every time she took a step.
Craning her neck around, she looked up at Laura, and only one thing came to mind under the circumstances. The only question that mattered to her. "Why didn't you tell them?" she asked weakly, her face reflecting sorrow.
Silently taking the question, she knelt down and sat on the edge alongside Megan, legs dangling over the edge. Finally though, "When I saw your pictures, I had thought that you remembered what happened," she explained, truthfully. "If I'd known the truth, I wouldn't have told you either." Better that she not know and think it all a nightmare. Eventually, she might accept it as such and move on.
"It's much safer for you, not knowing," she stated simply.
Megan shook her head, trying to make sense of all that she'd heard and thought about over the last hour. "But you said he was dead. You said you-"
Laura cut her to the quick, "I killed him," she confirmed. "He isn't the danger. The ones who made me, they-"
"Whoa, wait, wait… The ones who made you?!" she asked, wondering if she'd misheard or misunderstood somewhere along the line. "What are you talking abou-What are you doing?" Broken from her diatribe by Laura's hand coming up to her face, she watched the limp approach before jerking back as, making a fist, twin blades erupted from between her fingers.
It was astonishment kept her from screaming in shock, instead reducing her to sucking wind.
She had certain amount of latitude. It had been agreed upon that there was no keeping secrets by the end of the mission. And, so long as nothing endangered the objective, small truths could be revealed to further things along. "My mother, myself, and Naruto, we are in hiding from them." Thus, telling her how deeply involved their group was. "The people who made me… If they knew we were here, they would kill you and your mother to get to me." Cold hard truth, that. Pushing back from the dock with her arms, she stood up. "We should go to school, we are already late."
Megan was more than a little lost, trying to absorb all this. "Um…okay?"
They didn't get to her school until just before ten. Even if the school wasn't that far, just a few miles, the morning's distractions had eaten up a lot of time. Such as it was though, Megan had managed to wring out a pass for her lateness from the office secretary on account of family visiting.
Not that the day went smoothly from there. Falling back to how she was in her early days post-Facility, Laura had left an impression on the academic community. Sent to the principal's office, twice, in less than two hours.
Megan would've found it highly amusing if she wasn't involved.
"We'll take them in the house," Kimura informed, her lips curled into a dark smirk. "The…agent…let's call him "Mr. Disposable", should be getting the package soon enough. Once X goes nuts and starts her killing spree, we take her down."
"And what about my target?"
Kimura looked to the man who'd been contracted for this little jaunt. "If he's with her, we'll take him down and you can still cash your check. If he's not there, well, then you have to earn your keep, bone-face."
Arms crossed over his chest, the specialist shrugged, not really minding the blasé sadism of his temporary partner. He'd worked with weirder, after all. His outfit was skintight, muted blue and grey, over which was draped a grey, hooded cloak. His face was hidden by a well-crafted, skull-faced mask.
For the most part, he did exactly what he said he would; he toured San Francisco. He had actually gone on the Alcatraz tour. What no-one else knew was that his attention was split. He had clones, a half-dozen of them, henged to look like average passersby, scattered across the city. Hidden in various places, they acted as relay stations letting him know where the lifeforces of all the relevant people were.
Desmond had just left his office.
Sarah and Debbie were at the house. They had been all day, but, then, he guessed that they had a lot to talk about.
Laura and Megan had left school…before the known end of the school day. But their movements were casual and of little concern.
The next twenty-four hours were key. In that span, the trap…their trap… would be tripped.
The whole point of the ruse was to get them out, but while exposing himself as little as possible. It would be all too easy to blow in and get them out, but he didn't yet want anyone knowing he had that kind of power waiting in the wings. That was why he'd been flying under the radar for so long. And so he was playing this little mission with delicacy.
The sun…and numerous clocks around the area…telling him that it was already four in the afternoon, he'd decided on a small snack. Crossing the street to the corner café, he passed the outside tables and headed inside. It was one of those hole in the wall style places, designed to look…quaint, but classy.
Ordering a triple espresso, with about as much sugar as he could get away with, and a cinnamon bun, he paid for his order and left. Opening the door, the relatively warm air was like a hot blast from an oven in comparison. Taking a bite of his high-calorie snack, he picked the easiest direction from where he was…choosing to continue on down the sidewalk than cross the street for his previous unknown direction. Stopping at the crosswalk, he took a long sip of his coffee, washing down the dessert; he almost took a step when it hit him.
Looking around discretely, he scanned the crowd.
Now was really not the time for this.
For the life of him…he felt a little worried.
It was a short list, the people who could make him nervous. He'd felt that "ping", the feeling of someone reaching out to "feel" his presence. Even for him, it had occurred so fast that he hadn't had a chance to really narrow its location down before disappearing.
Now was really not the time.
Gulping, he shook it off. The edgy feeling lingered, but he had other things needed doing.
She watched him arrive, watched him order his coffee, and then she'd watched him leave.
(The Café, Minutes Prior)
Chocolate caramel latte, grande sized. The average espresso portion was one serving; she'd requested seven times that. Twenty-three fluid ounces of sugary goodness, guaranteed to leave the average hominid as a twitching mess, where only the foolishness of youth dared tread.
The woman taking her order had asked twice, wondering if she'd misheard, but to no avail.
Again, to the average hominid.
She was neither, and the energy provided by this order was hardly enough to even register, but, hunger aside, it had its winning moments. Many species, powerful or not, advanced or not, were of rather low opinions of the human race, but, though she was not among that grouping, she would give the human race this: when it came to food, they knew their stuff. The many assortments of flavors and textures…
Her stomach rumbled in dejected aggravation at her imagination teasing it.
A minute later and the same waitress returned with the tall, bubbling order.
The steaming beverage paused in its ascent to her lips, her eyes unfocusing. There was that anomalous energy spike again, closer than before. Much closer. It had been popping up for the last year-and-a-half now, in random places, before vanishing off the grid, as it were.
Not expecting much difference this time around than any of her past attempts to trace the intriguing signature, even if they had been halfhearted, resuming her infinitesimally small repast, she switched from passive to active scanning…
…And nearly sprayed the sweet ambrosia across the table, surprising herself by choking…just a little. Not like breathing was so much of a necessity to her. It had simply been a surprise, that's all.
Said surprise being that the energy anomaly's designated location was right on top of her, figuratively speaking as the locals liked to say. He definitely grabbed her attention as he passed her table, entering the coffee shop.
It was only in the freak serendipity of this close encounter that she understood why she had been unable to isolate and track the energy's source. It was enormous in scale, but, curiously, was being actively suppressed, and could not be grasped as such except in close proximity.
Her lips quirked in amusement and fascination. This one was clever, able to hide himself.
And with her, erm, "accessories" active, she saw more. Now that she knew what she was looking at, it made it infinitely easier to divine and extrapolate just what it was she was seeing. There was a transfinite energy bursting from within, growing, slowly in its idle state, but all the same it came off him in excess, even with his mostly successful efforts to conceal himself.
It left her wondering. If he exuded this much energy in hiding, then what could he put out naturally, or even at his highest level?
Drool slipped passed her lower lip, and she just barely managed to catch it with a napkin.
His biology was almost inseparable from the natives, specifically the mutants. Though his dna proved a tad more exotic. What entranced her though was his physiology. Regenerative capabilities aside, it was his energy production that drew her attention. His digestion wasn't just breaking down complex molecules. According to her scans, his metabolic processes seemed to use an as of yet unrecognizable form of conversion, akin somewhat to fission, to release energy from molecules broken down to their simplest states.
Widening her focus…
He wasn't bad looking as far as the native species went. Guessing wasn't so much of an option for her. Even without her equipment and the omniscience of the Power-Cosmic, it was child's play, as humans would remark, for her to map his stats. Fifteen, rounded down by a month, five-foot-eleven. An impossibly even tan and unblemished complexion. Decent musculature, at the optimum level of appeal without appearing excessive. The oddest hair she'd seen by far, blonde, practically iridescent, that spiked outward in unruly, sporadic clumping spikes.
Just out of curiosity, she tapped into the Power-Cosmic. An infinitesimally small amount, on such a level that humans would be unable to detect it...
And she got the answer to her unspoken question.
It was small. In time, it was all in a few milliseconds. Ages for her. But it was there. In that moment, she saw him tense. And, by her scanners, summarily shutting her probing action down before it could be tracked back to her, the energy he masked…spiked. So he had awareness, too.
Smiling to herself, her interest currently blocked out her hunger pangs.
She would have to observe this…individual…before considering making contact.
No doubt about it, someone had pinged him just then.
It had been a small, testing sort of poke, but he'd felt some power behind it. The troubling thing was that there were few…few…people alive that could probably sense him out, by his best guess. He couldn't backtrack it, but it was well within city limits.
He hadn't felt anything malevolent, only curiosity…but that didn't mean he wanted to stick around any longer than the mission required.
There were reasons why he'd been keeping under the radar.
Regardless, he made swift retreat, his own senses on high alert.
It was a few hours down the line, roughly seven o'clock from what he'd seen on a business sign's clock, that he'd gotten word from one of the clones watching Desmond. It had dispelled, and that would only happen if it were killed…unlikely…or if there was something he needed to see through its memories.
Coming in flashes, he sifted through the most recent memory. Desmond was in his car, parked on a street corner just under the Golden Gate Bridge a few miles out from where he worked. The streets were lit by lamps, but most everyone were either inside or somewhere else, leaving the sidewalks almost empty. Almost being the key term. A lone man, dressed shabbily in a bomber jacket over a hoodie, and ragged jeans, shuffled by the car. Hands in his jacket pockets, the left slipped out for a second to send something flitting into the open window of Desmond's silver sedan in transit.
"She's expecting your call," the clone had made out over the distance, clinging to the shadowed underside of the bridge. The man continued on, never stopping. Desmond, though, contented himself with opening the manila envelope, pulling out a phone and putting its earbud in before dialing.
He couldn't make out what Kimura was saying over the line, but he could guess, and he could hear Desmond at least.
And though he couldn't make out anything else about it, all he had to do was see a vial leave the envelope to know exactly what it was. Instinctively, the clone's hackles rose, mirrored immediately by the master copy in understanding.
(One Day Later)
Naruto had watched everyone like a hawk for the last seventeen hours.
Times like these, he was heartily reminded of just why he hated the quiet, patient missions. Waiting in those moments before things went to shit, particularly when going said shit was part of the plan, was a total pain. Not even time had changed that outlook, it was too deeply in his nature to get up and go, do…something.
Fortunately, Kimura's people would make their move soon enough.
It was when he felt a signature following him for several hours that he knew the plan was on. If someone was tailing him, alone, then that meant they intended to face him, and, that in mind, they'd be going after the Kinney's too, and soon. The trigger was given to Desmond. His only viable target of opportunity and timing would be the Kinneys themselves, so until Laura and Megan returned for the day, the girls were safe. Within reason.
Meaning he could take a little time with his opponent.
That said, he wouldn't be treating this like a leisurely spar.
The words "over before it even began" sprang to mind at an ironically swift speed. It wasn't an uncommon turn of phrase, though usually grossly exaggerated when it was used. In this moment though…never before had he known such a literal case. It was unnerving, really, even for him; a knife tight across his jugular and another digging tip-ended into the base of his skull, both biting into flesh with just enough force to get the point across: don't move.
As always whenever he came to realize that he'd bitten off more than he'd been paid to chew, he remembered his truer nature. Survival and a certain modicum of wealth and comfort beat villain bragging rights. He was a businessman, and so long as he kept that in mind he knew when to say no to a deal.
Take care of one kid.
Trained by the Facility fucks to be a weapon. Sure, he'd approach that job warily, but he'd still do it.
Pulling it off though…
"You know what I'll do if you move anything."
Grumbling beneath his bony mask, "Yeah, kid. Loud and clear." Times like this, he recognized that he'd missed hearing that little voice in the back of his head warning him away from the job. It was that instinct that'd kept him alive and well-off. He wasn't a flunky. He trained flunkies. That was as far as he usually got involved. That was why he'd even been on-site; The Facility'd paid him well enough to train their people for a month. That was his way of doing business, acting as a middle-manager. He got paid, and kept his tenders out of the superhero line of fire.
It was just unfortunate that that survival instinct hadn't come to play this time around. The files on the kiddies had been detailed, containing everything they'd ever been taught. Sure, he had read them through before agreeing to take the job, but that wasn't the issue. The issue was that his target, Alpha, was nothing as described. Which lead to his current position: on his knees, the point of a blade pressed dangerously into the back of his neck, and, to keep him from making any moves, another across his jugular, angled to either slice him from ear to ear or dig into the space twixt left clavicle and shoulder blade.
It wasn't exactly a situation he felt confident about.
That damn file never said anything about some teleporting or super-speed ability, nor the fact that a punch from him was like getting a sledgehammer to the gut.
And where the Hell in his file did it say he could make copies of himself?!
Either they'd decided to off him to avoid paying him…unlikely…or they had no idea.
"Shit. You're…guh…not exactly how the Facility described you," he rasped against the blade edge.
"Too bad for you." Well, that kinda tone was true to form for what he'd expected of one of the Facility's brats. Cold and unforgiving. He wasn't a quitter, he was a survivor…but he'd be damned if he had anything as far as a way of escape. The kid had already warned him off once for twitching, the knife breaking the skin where his skull and neck met, but not delving too deeply. A warning.
Surprisingly, the blade across his throat vanished and the stinging sensation of a blade in the skin disappeared from the back of neck. Turning his head enough to get a periphery view of his would-be executioner, he saw that the teenager had put a few feet between them, and was idly wiping his knife…a kunai…off on his jeans.
"If you haven't figured it out yet, your backup's not coming."
Climbing back to his feet, weight resting warily on his feet should running be an option, "I figured."
"They've been taken care of, and, from the start, your communications have been jammed."
That certainly explained a thing or two.
"But all that is just so we can have ourselves a little chat."
Things just got weirder and weirder. "You're one weird kid." He knew it wasn't good policy to poke something that spared your life once, particularly when you want to continue living, but there was something distinctly off here. "Didn't they teach you to kill your target before they get a chance to kill you back?"
The blonde regarded him lazily. "I've fought people like you before. Copycats. I learned how to handle that particular pain in the ass…as you've seen." Well, he couldn't begrudge the kid that point. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead. Here are your options, Taskmaster. You can take the chance that I can't repeat myself, gutting you this time, or…"
Anyone else and he might've tried something, but this kid had had him dead cold just moments earlier. He could still feel the steel at his neck. He didn't doubt that he would kill him either. Being informed of his history with the Facility just encouraging that instinct. Taskmaster knew when to fight…and when to cut bait and run. "Yeah, I get ya. Alright, kid, I'll bite. Whatta ya want?"
The blonde idly tossed his knife up and down, catching it by the tip several times as he thought it out. "I'm giving you your life, Taskmaster. In exchange, you'll owe me one."
"A blank check favor, then?" the assassin slash thug-trainer questioned. "I don't like going into deals blind." Case and point being all this.
"You'll be paid," the blonde amended. "The favor is just a means of ensuring you'll take whatever job it is I'll have for you."
Okay, so…not the worst basis of a job proposal he'd ever heard.
"That was the carrot. As for the stick…" the teen leveled him with a piercing gaze. "For your own sake, you won't tell The Facility of what you've witnessed. You've already lost, so you get nothing by telling them. Regardless, because you've lost, they'll higher someone higher up the food chain to come for me. Claim whatever you will, either way I'm certain your contract metes out payment regardless of a win or loss, and the failure of this particular mission will likely not hinder your future endeavors." That was all true enough. "Because, if you do speak of this, you'll be cutting yourself off from a potentially well-paying client."
He was a young man again. At times, he could forget the century and a half of life. You might even say he was an old man wearing the skin of his younger self. But those years' lessons remained with him nonetheless. He wasn't a Nara, but time had made him patient, experienced, and shrewd. Killing Taskmaster, besides being another mark in his book, was pointless. Better to keep him in his books for later.
Crap, but all this thinking really made him feel old.
"Big talk, kid. How do I know you can deliver?"
The blonde mimicked his posture, arms across his chest. "You've been working for the Facility for a little while now. You haven't heard the rumors of branches going dark?"
Taskmaster nodded. "If I have?"
"I've been raiding their labs and research facilities around the globe. Do you actually think I'd leave their money behind?"
Eyes widened thoughtfully behind the skull mask. That made a lot of horse sense, and, if that were the case, he was talking major dinero, as The Facility had funding up the ass.
"I'll guarantee a minimum of six to seven figures for whatever job I have for you."
Okay, no gut feeling telling him to walk away, though his sense of survival told him that walking away would be a lethal bad choice. All in all, this was a pretty good deal.
"Kid…I think we got a deal."
This was the kind of strategic thinking that one had to spend a lifetime attaining. His body may've been that of a teen, but in his mind…he was still that same old man…and he wasn't about to make the mistakes he might've otherwise. "Good. Now, what was Kimura's retrieval plan?"
He had warned her.
He had told her that Trigger Scent had been brought into play. All the same, that knowledge and sense of readiness did nothing to quench the mindless bloodlust coursing through her.
Irony was rich as the first person she gutted was Desmond, screaming out in terror at her assault.
Grabbing Megan by the collar, Sarah jerked her to the stairs, away from the bloody carnage her daughter was ripping out of Desmond's corpse. She knew of only two ways to survive Laura when she was like this: running away, and Naruto. He, at least, had it in him to overpower her. "Run! Get to your mother!" shoving the girl up the stairs, right behind her.
Naruto said that he watched over them. "Sensing" them, he'd put it. She could only pray that he was still doing that, and would break Laura out of her massacre. For now, that meant putting distance between them and her.
"MOM! MOMMMM!" Megan screamed, tearing up the stairs ahead of Sarah. Remembering Laura's explanation of the Facility and how they had conditioned her, her blood ran cold. Laura had just gone off on Desmond like a thing possessed. Just like how she'd described… Desmond had freaked out…over the tea…
Debbie, having heard Desmond's terrified screaming, moments later accompanied by Megan's calls, had jumped from her bed and burst out of the bedroom. Nearly colliding at the top of the stairs, panicking, Megan let out a stifled shriek of surprise.
"Megan, are you okay?!"
"DID YOU DRINK THE TEA?"
"DID YOU DRINK THE TEA?!" Sarah echoed forcefully, understanding, grabbing her sister by the shoulder in a vice-like grip.
"No, I spilled it. What's-" But before she could get any more words out, Sarah had her by the arm and hauled her swiftly into the bathroom down the hall. Time. This had to be quick if they were to live. Laura was already at the base of the stairs, stalking them.
"Sarah?! What the Hell's go-"
"NOT NOW! GET IN THE SHOWER!" the wayward sister ordered, shoving her into the tub and turning the shower on as high as it would go, pulling Megan along with herself into the water stream. The water was freezing, but no-one was really paying it any mind at this point. It would be close, but maybe…
Laura tore through the wooden door with all the finesse of a rabid dog.
Not the best metaphor for her daughter, but apt.
Bearing down on them, screams of terror filled the bathroom as they clung to one another under the cold rain.
Midstrike…Laura froze, the red leaving her eyes. Blinking, the blood-mist faded from her gaze, and her mind returned to her. Instead of looking relieved though, her expression turned pensive. Looking away at nothing in particular, "She's here." Just like with the Trigger, she'd expected Kimura, but just like with that, there was no planning for how she would feel at facing Kimura again.
She couldn't cut her. She couldn't kill her. She'd never beaten her before. That was the whole point behind The Facility's augments. Confidence in her ability to win wavered just a little.
However… That wouldn't stop her from trying, as many times as it took.
Thoroughly believing that her daughter was back in control of herself, Sarah climbed out of the tub, resting a hand on her shoulder. "Naruto?"
Looking to her mother, Laura's gaze was unflinching in belief, "He'll come."
"WOULD SOMEBODY PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THE HELL'S GOING ON?!"
"We're saving your life, Debbie," Sarah snapped, more than a little irked at the inquisition when the shit was just about to hit the fan.
Flying down the stairs, "Desmond said something about aborting the mission," Megan recalled, piecing out something Desmond had been screaming after being doused in the tea. "What's happening? Are they after you?!"
Water from the shower still pouring off of her, Debbie had to grip the rail down the stairs especially hard to prevent herself from losing her grip. Catching what her daughter was saying, and wondering where he was, Debbie launched her own worried questions. "What about Desmond? Where is he? Megan, where's-" And then she saw him. Halfway down the stairs, she was far enough down to see around them. The fright and sorrow clung deep within her throat at the sight of her bloody husband.
"Dead," Sarah stated conclusively. Reaching the bottom of the stairs behind her sister, she gripped her by the arm and wrenched her around. "He's the one behind this Debbie," she growled.
"ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING-"
"Holy shit! Aunt Sarah!"
Sarah took no joy in laying her sister out, but it had been necessary.
"The basement," Laura commanded, leading the way, claws out. Megan and Sarah each took an arm and dragged the unconscious Debbie along. None of which happened a moment too soon as windows started to shatter inward, broken by gas grenades.
Coughing, eyes watering to the point of blindness, Megan and Sarah staggered down the wooden stairs of the basement. "Oh, God! Is that anthrax?!"
"Tear gas," Laura informed curtly, quickly reassessing the basement. It irritated her as well, but she'd trained against far stronger substances and could tolerate it well enough.
"Why'd we come down here?!" Megan asked, her heart racing in her chest. "There's no way out!"
Looking up, seeing her target, Laura shed her jacket. Unsheathing her claws once more, she sprang upward and slashed the steel piping that hung from the ceiling. A small section of pipe fell away, freezing water spraying down over them all.
"GAH! COLD!" Megan choked, shaking.
"Listen to me, Megan," Laura stated, turning around as she started back up the stairs. "No matter what you hear, you have to stay down here. Don't move. Don't make a sound. Do you understand?"
"Y-y-yes," the blonde chattered. "It's-s-s jussst so c-cold…"
"It'll keep you alive," Laura stated coolly, before continuing upward.
"Laura." Her hand stopped at the doorknob. "Please, stay alive."
What would be heard above for the next few minutes would be the sounds of grown men crying out in fear of a ninety-something-pound girl raining down death. One after another, she eliminated the black-clad field operatives, using the terrain of the Kinney house to her advantage where she could, abandoning guerilla tactics though as numbers started to swell.
"KILL HER!" Firing a staccato of rounds, sweeping the room in a hail of bullets, a pair of Facility men traced her path across the room.
"Kimura, we're engaging X23!" the second clipped into the receiver in his helmet.
Bullets flying, Laura ignored the many numerous impacts in her side from shots that had been lucky. They were firing wildly so there was no consideration for accuracy, just luck. Crossing the living room in three agile bounds, she dove through the window in the wall that divided it from the kitchen.
-Good luck with that- their mission leader snarked back over the line.
"Subject is hit! Subject is-"
Kimura's reply had not been reassuring. Though it had little negative effect as the pair were almost immediately cut down by cutlery flung from the kitchen. One took an 8 inch chopping knife between the eyes while the other had the right half of his face bisected by a cleaver. They stood there motionless for all of a second before their offset weight forced their legs to wobble and give out beneath them, falling like stringless marionettes.
Unlike Megan who was shaking fearfully, staring upward at the horrendous sounds from above, Sarah was glad of every second of it. The sounds meant Laura was fighting.
It was only when the noises suddenly ceased that worry claimed her heart.
It had been a melee. After the kitchen fiasco, the remaining forces had converged on her as one. Her, a flurry of claw laden punches and kicks, laying out eight men. Breathing roughly, she swiveled around, eyes darting around for any more enemies.
Adrenaline flooding her system, she'd not noticed the owner of the speedy arm that came around her throat…
And broke her neck.
Grinning gleefully, sickly down at the limp teen, Kimura held her off the floor like a ragdoll. "Hiya, X. Miss me?"
"Hi, Doc!" Kimura greeted cheerily, eyes reflecting sinister intent towards Sarah who'd taken position ahead of her sister and niece. "Oh, and is this Megan? All grown up." In one hand, she held her favored weapon, a self-cocking crossbow pistol, and, attached to her other arm by cuffs was Laura.
As much as Sarah feared for Laura, incapacitated as she was, even if only until she healed, she couldn't suppress the swell of anger, hatred, that she'd cultivated over years of seeing Kimura's…handiwork.
Naruto would not arrive for another two minutes.
Two minutes where, recovering, Laura would throw herself against Kimura at every opportunity to step in the way of her attempts at bringing harm against her charges, even reducing herself to pleading for their safety in exchange for her own.
Kimura had always hurt her. Where she could help it, she wouldn't harm anyone else.
And it was that resolve that forced her hand.
Forced her to cut it off, actually.
Kimura buried her surprise at Laura's right arm suddenly missing its hand. "Clever girl," she chortled amusedly, moving toward her before a sudden jerking held her back.
It was like a magician's trick, cutting off the limb at the wrist while Kimura was distracted and quietly, quickly moving the adamantium handcuff somewhere else.
"You little bitch!" Kimura snarled, pulling at the cuffs as they held strong against the thick steel water pipe.
"Laura." Eyes all-round traveled to the concerned features of Naruto who'd suddenly appeared at the top of the stairs. Features hard, he strode quickly downward, assessing as he went. Picking up her hand, the teen pressed it against the stub where it had been attached. Fortunately, the wound hadn't scabbed over yet. The bleeding had slowed, but the wound was still open and would reattach the limb where it belonged. Neither said anything, each reading the other well enough to understand. The raven-haired teen met his gaze, drawn by the somber, dead tone. "Take Sarah, Debbie, and Megan, grab the necessities and leave the house. You have three minutes. Go."
Hesitating, glancing back at the struggling, fuming Facility agent, "Kimura-"
"Well, shit," the anchored murderess huffed. "I should've guessed bonehead wouldn't have the balls to stop you, Alpha," her tone petulant, but curbed with something else…
"Oh, wait, I did," throwing a punch his way. He caught her punch easily, but was mildly surprised at the small crinkling feeling in his palm. He didn't have to release his grip to know what had happened.
The smell was all he needed to go by.
He should've guessed that they might try something like this.
Somewhere in or on her gloved hand had been a hidden vial of Trigger Scent…and he'd just been marked.
All that within miliseconds.
"Call it a gift, dipshit."
There were no screams this time. Only looks of horror at the blonde before immediately looking to the ravenette former assassin. Her fists balled, claws slid from between her knuckles.
Red-hazed, green eyes bore into hard blue, and she stalked towards him until only inches separated them. Her arm raised, claws out, but he made no move to stop her, only staring down at her with that same intense, unflinching gaze.
What only he was keenly aware of was the power he put in the stare down. He wasn't activating the Rinnegan, just reinforcing his own presence and power. "Laura," his voice tight, controlled.
Finally, shakily, the claws retracted.
What could anyone say at this point?
"I'll handle this," he sighed, grateful of her returning self-control. "Go. You have two minutes." Frowning, she nodded. Even if he had somehow drawn her free of the trigger, that much she suspected, she was eager to leave the scent behind. Dragging the others up the stairs and out of the basement, the door closed behind them. Seconds ticking by like hours, he could hear their frantic movements, feel their lifeforces moving through the house above, grabbing what they could.
"Sigh," actually voicing it as a word, "…Alone at last," Kimura drawled sarcastically. "What now, Alpha? Gonna bury me under a house this time?"
His blue-eyed visage was hard, reminiscent of older days. "I gave you an out, Kimura," he started. "I knew you wouldn't change, but I wasn't about to stain my hands with your blood."
"Ooh, noble. Stupid, but noble." Most anyone else, cuffed, might've been a bit more tactful towards their captor.
"I believe in second chances," he explained, rhetorically, given just who it was he was talking to. "But, you've used yours up."
The sass died on her lips at the unexplained cold that slipped down her spine at his choice of words and the tone in which they were spoken.
Sensing the four women exit the structure above, head inclining out of instinct, following them, blue eyes…glowing…looked back at Kimura, for the last time. It was nothing spectacular. There was no grand death. He simply dropped his restraints and flexed his presence. A presence that, up close and personal, focused mercilessly, was too much for the killer. Dark eyes dilated, hyperventilating, and, seconds later, her brain simply shut down from the strain of it all. "Goodbye, Kimura."
Even with the years he'd had, he'd never liked killing. He felt that if he had to resort to ending a life, then he'd failed somehow. Conversely, there were a select few, the unrepentantly dark souls, whom he put down with merciful viciousness. Like Kimura. With her invulnerable skin, exerting his presence was the quickest, cleanest manner of death for her.
Looking around, he spotted the gas line.
Fire and rescue would arrive at the scene minutes later to put out the blazing, somewhat blown apart home. Wherein they found the bodies of dozens of individuals, burnt and unrecognizable. Two of whom would be identified by dental records as the mother and daughter that lived there.
Courtesy of some creative interception and doctoring of the records.
What they wouldn't find was the body of an impervious-skinned woman.
Just as no-one would know that said body was rolled into an active volcano by a pair of identical blondes.
"Think that'll do it?"
"Boss seemed pretty sure. Eventually, anyway," the second stated. "I was in favor of chucking her boney ass into space."
The first clone patted him consolingly on the back. "Maybe next psychopath."
AN/ A cookie to anyone who can guess the name of our mystery guest. A sadly unappreciated Marvel character. Currently working on other stories when I can.