Part V - the aftermath...
See chapter 1 for disclaimers etc.
On AO3: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1995981/chapters/4324434
On TTH: http://www.tthfanfic.org/Story-30429/MarcusRowland+London+Calling.htm
Marcus L. Rowland
“Your friend’s lucky to be alive,” said the neurosurgeon. “We were going to start off with an MRI scan, then someone mentioned Hydra and Doctor Tompkins remembered some of the reports from America, so we put him into an electromagnetically-screened room and tested him with passive sensors first. Good thing too.”
Giles stared at the X-ray of Ethan’s skull, and the devices embedded in and around his eye. “They must have wanted to be sure he couldn’t disobey them.”
“I’ve already told the police, it’ll probably make a big difference to the charges brought against him, whatever they are, if he was acting under duress.”
“I’d imagine so,” said Giles, “It’ll be interesting to hear his side of the story.”
“The magnetic effects of an MRI scan would have probably detonated the power pack or ripped the entire mechanism out of his brain. It would have killed him either way.”
“Can you remove it?”
“Certainly. It’s tricky, but nothing like as bad as a deep brain tumour, though I’m afraid that he’ll probably have reduced vision in that eye, if we can save it at all. There may be some short term paralysis too. We’ll keep him under until we’ve operated, just to be on the safe side, but between the screening and the damage it must have taken from the lightning I doubt that it’s going to detonate.”
“What about the others, the men that attacked us?”
“No implants that we can find.”
“Willing agents, then.
“It looks that way.”
“Keep me posted, and if you need any resources that aren’t available through the Health Service let me know.”
Ian Boothby woke slowly and painfully, realised that he was in a much larger and softer bed than usual, and remembered the events of the day before. Once they were finished with the police Buffy, Dawn, and some other women who seemed to be ready for trouble had hustled them to Paddington Station, and made sure that nobody tried anything en route to Bath. At the station two mini-buses drove the whole group out of town to a sprawling mansion, where Dawn found everyone rooms and organised a massive pizza delivery. He’d crashed out early, aided by the pain-killers he’d taken for his leg.
There was a low moan from under the mound of blankets to his left, and he said “Morning, Darcy.”
“Morning,” Darcy said from his right. He twisted round and found her sitting up in bed, looking at something on the screen of an iPad.
“Err… if you’re there, who’s that?”
“How much did you drink last night? Dawn, of course!”
“We decided you’d been pretty brave,” said Darcy, “and… well, we wanted to take your mind off your leg.”
“I don’t remember it at all,” said Ian, “and I can’t believe I agreed to it. It’s you I love now, not Dawn.”
“You bastard,” Dawn said sleepily from under the covers, “that’s not what you said last night.”
“I was out of my head on painkillers last night.” He scrambled away from Dawn, awkwardly climbing past Darcy, and started to pull his clothes on. “I can’t believe you took advantage of me like this.”
Dawn began to giggle, and in a moment Darcy joined in.
“And now you’re giggling about it, I can’t believe it!”
“Nothing happened,” said Dawn, sitting up to reveal that she was wearing shorts and a T-shirt, “I’ve only been here about twenty minutes. We got to talking after you went to bed last night, compared a few notes.”
“And I wanted some payback for the bed thing,” said Darcy.
“And for calling me your psycho ex,” said Dawn.
“Really? Nothing happened?”
“Really,” said Darcy.
“Um… sorry, I suppose. I over-reacted.”
“Don’t do it again.”
“Not that I wasn’t flattered, of course,” said Ian, “and if you were to both ask me again when I wasn’t full of…oof!”
Simultaneously hit by two pillows, he grabbed his trousers and headed for the door, while Dawn and Darcy threw more pillows after him.
“I can’t believe he said that,” said Darcy.
“I can,” said Dawn, “he’s like all guys, he thinks with his dick.”
“He probably thinks we’ll be making out now he’s gone.”
Dawn looked at Darcy, and Darcy looked at Dawn, and both of them started laughing again.
“Men are assholes. Let’s get some breakfast.”
“You really need to talk to Willow if you want some scientific background for magic,” said Buffy, helping herself to more toast. “She starts talking about quantum foam and dimensionality and zero point energy and I kinda tune out. She should be back in a couple of weeks. I know she has a total fan-girl thing for your work, I’m really surprised she hasn’t already found a way to meet up with you, so I’ll make sure it happens.”
“That’d be great,” said Jane. “Do you know if she’s published?”
“Not academically,” said Dawn, “Not where you’d see it, anyway. Some of that stuff is really dangerous; you can kill someone or get yourself sucked into a demon dimension just by saying the wrong words or completing an equation. The Council has its own scholastic press but we have to be very careful about giving access. I think you’d qualify, but you wouldn’t be able to quote any of our sources in anything you write.”
“I can’t say I like that,” said Jane, “but I guess I can see the point.”
Darcy looked up from the Sunday papers and said “Apparently Thor and a group of plucky mutants helped to stop a Hydra terrorist attack yesterday. Plucky mutants?”
“People really don’t like to think about the supernatural,” said Buffy, “mutants are an explanation they sort of understand. I think the British papers generally give them more of a positive spin than we do.”
“Not surprising,” said Darcy, “Magneto’s never paid London a visit, they want it to stay that way.”
“I’ve gotta say you’re taking all this pretty well,” said Dawn, “I guess after all you’ve seen it takes a lot to weird you out.”
“Much of this is known on Asgard,” said Thor. “The creatures you call demons cannot venture there, there are powerful protections, but we have often encountered them on Midgard and occasionally on the other worlds.” He looked at his fork dubiously and added “What beast is this?”
“That’s vegetarian bacon,” said Buffy, “not meat at all, I think it’s made of tofu or mushrooms or something. The real bacon’s under the server to the left of it.”
“Excellent, this is… not to my taste.” He went to take another mound of food.
“Don’t tell Vi that,” said Dawn, “she practically lives on the stuff.”
“Why us?” asked Ian. “Why did Earth get demons and not… oh, the Dark Elves or the Frost Giants?”
“It is said that all other worlds are reflections of Asgard, increasingly distorted. Midgard is the most distant reflection.” At their expressions Thor hastily added “But of course that is probably just a myth.”
Buffy’s phone rang, and she listened for a minute or so then said “That was Giles. The cops traced the Hydra guys back to an old factory in some place called Chiswick. They raided it this morning. They found bugging equipment and tapes, they’ve been watching you guys for months. Jane’s apartment, the offices and labs you’ve been using at the university, even Ian’s boat. And all of your phones and computers were being tapped.”
“I guess we should have seen that coming,” said Darcy. “That’s how they knew we’d be there. Any idea why?”
“Then they might still be after us,” Ian said gloomily.
“That’s pretty much a given. Don’t worry, this house is pretty safe.”
Despite the attack, Sunday afternoon saw Little Venice nearly as busy as usual, most of the damage fixed overnight. Giles helped himself to a sample of mango and chilli flavoured sausage, chewed reflectively, and decided to add it to his order. His house usually had a few slayers and other visitors in residence, it was a good idea to keep well stocked up with food.
“If you like that you should try the Jalapeño too.”
“Too hot for me, I’m afraid, but I’m sure my girls would like some.” He lowered his voice and added “Good to see you again, Agent… no, Director… Coulson. I’m pleased that the reports of your demise… and those of your organisation… were somewhat exaggerated.”
“I get that a lot,” said Coulson.
“I’d imagine Nicholas does too.”
Coulson ignored that, and said “Our medical team will be assisting with your friend this evening. We’d like to have someone present when you question him, but I doubt we’ll learn anything really surprising.”
“I’m reasonably sure that he deliberately sabotaged their operation,” said Giles. “The spells that should have concealed the attack made it certain that we’d notice, and that just doesn’t happen accidentally, not for someone of Ethan’s calibre.”
“It’s plausible. But maybe you want it to be true?”
“That’s also plausible. Do you have any idea why they went after Doctor Foster?”
“It wasn’t just Foster,” said Coulson, “they tried for Doctor Selvig too, fortunately the Norwegian authorities were keeping an eye on him and prevented his abduction. As for the motive, DI-5 got it from one of their agents last night. During the Greenwich incident Foster and her friends used a teleportation device. It was allegedly only possible because of the Convergence that led to the invasion, but if that was not the case, Hydra wants the technology.”
“And proving that something isn’t possible is always very difficult.”
“Then we’d better keep an eye on all concerned, hadn’t we?”
“You’re offering Council resources?”
“The Council has a long institutional memory,” said Giles, “and Hydra has crossed our path before. Payback would be… satisfying. I’m sure that we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.” He looked around, and added “I find that these discussions tend to make me thirsty, and it looks like the beer tent is operational again. Shall we?”
“I think that might be a very good idea.”
“I got it!” shrieked Vi, and raised Mjolnir one-handed.
“Now that isn’t fair,” said Buffy, leaning forward in her deck-chair. “I couldn’t shift it an inch. Neither could Dawn, Rona, or any of the others.”
“Mayhap she has Asgardian blood,” said Thor. “My people have visited your world many times.” He raised his voice and added “Have a care!” then winced as the hammer flew across the lawn and smashed an old wooden bench. He raised his hand, and Mjolnir did a U-turn and flew back to him instead of Vi and smacked into his hand. He hung it on his belt.
“I think it’s simpler than that,” said Dawn, rubbing in some sun-block. “Vi really likes being a Slayer, and since she became one she’s totally been focussed on the whole warrior maiden stroke paladin thing; haven’t you seen the characters she plays in World of Warcraft, Buffy? And she’s a natural leader, we send most of the newbie Slayers in Britain out with her when we want to give them some experience. I guess in a past life she was Xena or Joan or something. Most Slayers have more doubts, even Buffy.”
“That makes sense,” said Buffy.
Vi ran over and said “Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry too much,” said Dawn, “the bench had woodworm.”
Vi turned to Thor and added “Can I try it again some time?”
“You may try it somewhere less breakable,” said Thor. “It is good to know that there are others who might wield Mjolnir if I fall, but you must be trained to do so safely.”
“You’re a Firefly fan?” Darcy said excitedly. “Awesome! And Dawn said you’re into World of Warcraft; Horde or Alliance?”
They walked off together chatting excitedly.
“That is possibly the most disturbing thing I’ve seen recently,” said Jane. “They’re so alike it’s scary.”
“So long as the scary is aimed at our enemies I don’t have a problem with that,” said Buffy.
“This is nice,” said Ian, “but we can’t stay here forever.”
“Giles has friends in high places,” said Dawn, “he’ll make sure that the immediate problem goes away. But I guess you’ll always be a target for Hydra and anyone else that doesn’t like the Avengers. We’re just gonna have to make sure that anyone who tries anything ends up regretting it.”
“You may be certain of that,” said Thor. “I will guard my Lady Jane with all my heart and strength.”
“Not just that,” said Buffy. “We’re going to make sure that Hydra rue the day they ever came near her.”
“Why?” Jane asked bluntly, “it isn’t your fight.”
“Payback,” said Buffy.
“Her name was Anni,” Dawn said flatly. “She was the Slayer in the late nineteen-thirties, back when there was only one. She was called at thirteen, in thirty-seven. They caught her helping Jews to escape from Germany in thirty-nine. She died in a Hydra lab in nineteen-forty.”
Buffy closed her eyes and said “I’ve dreamed of her death a couple of times now, so have most of the other Slayers. Now we know why; it was a warning that Hydra was still around. They weren’t just experimenting with weird science, they were into the occult; vampires, demonology, magic, you name it, they tried it.”
“They’ve been on our ‘to-do’ list since SHIELD fell,” said Dawn; “Pretty sure they just made it to the top.”
“Then we shall surely triumph!” said Thor.
“Yeah, but don’t jinx it…”
Ethan looked small and frail lying in the hospital bed, his head and eye bandaged. Although they were the same age he seemed much older than Giles.
“It happened about three months ago,” he said. “I fell asleep in my cell, woke up in a hospital bed with bandages around my head. The guards said I’d slipped, fractured my skull when I fell. I believed it at first, then I started to see messages.”
“What did they say?” asked Giles.
“That I’d be released and rewarded if I cooperated, or killed if I didn’t. They also showed me that they could cause pain… rather a lot of pain.”
“I think that they were going to change records and release me… meanwhile, they wanted me to write down everything I knew about magic.”
“And did you?”
“God, no,” said Ethan. “I gave them the basics, things you might find in The Golden Bough and the other standard texts, said that for anything more advanced I’d need my books and a source of power. So they had me write a shopping list.”
“Oh, nothing of any great use, I assure you. And I was very careful not to write down any of the ways texts are changed and coded to prevent the ignorant from using them.”
“This was before SHIELD was destroyed?” asked the anonymous observer Coulson had sent, an instantly-forgettable man in a dark suit.
“That’s right. It took a while for the news to reach the prison, they weren’t too concerned about little things like civil liberties or keeping us informed, but at that point I’d had the words ‘STAND BY’ in my eye for three fucking days so I knew something had gone pear-shaped. I was hoping my little efforts at sabotage were already bearing fruit, but no such luck. Eventually they started giving me orders again. And quizzing me about Asgard and teleportation, which let me start a few more wild goose chases. I knew that Hydra was in the driving seat…”
“They started ending every fucking message with ‘HAIL HYDRA’, of course. Arseholes.”
“If we could continue,” said Giles. “What did they tell you to do?”
“They said that I’d be released and deported, and that I was to begin preparations for a spell that would keep Thor distracted. Originally it was supposed to be at the zoo, some TV appearance, but I told them it would be a non-starter because of all the wards around the place.”
“Wards?” asked the observer.
“The Council installed them at the end of the nineteenth century,” Giles said impatiently, “The zoo was becoming an all-you-can-eat buffet for demons and vampires with exotic tastes. Not to mention all the thefts by wizards who needed animal parts for spells.”
“That’s right,” said Ethan, “that’s what I told the buggers. They told me to stock up to cast spells anyway, they’d give me a location later. I had to think of something so I went after Musgrave’s place, got a grab-bag of gods, and left an obvious trail so you’d know it was me. I knew there’d be something there I could use.”
“Use how?” asked Giles.
“Well cause a bit of trouble, make it look like I was doing what they wanted, and get myself struck by lightning.”
“Why the hell would you want to be struck by lightning?”
“Well, I obviously didn’t know, but I guessed that their equipment worked like a computer. Hit it with enough electricity and Bob’s your uncle. Since I had the Zeus statue I made a point of casting a protective spell on myself, of course, worded it very specifically to protect me but nothing else. All things considered it worked quite well.”
“When did they tell you the target would be the canal event?”
“Just after I’d robbed Musgrave. I told them they were cutting it bloody fine, but it really couldn’t have been better; it gave me an excuse to rush around all over the place casting spells and look like they’d get exactly what they wanted. I even did the concealment spells exactly by the book, except that I hadn’t told them the book didn’t always tell the truth. The hardest part was getting out to that island and casting some real concealment spells without any of the boat people noticing. After that I just had to wait for them to tell me to start casting the spell, and you know what happened then.”
“It’s fortunate that nobody was killed.”
“Not much I could do about that, apart from using a water god when there were plenty of escape routes on land. If they hadn’t used me for this it would have been a bomb in the crowd or something. And I imagine I’d be dead if I hadn’t made a show of cooperating, so forgive me if I don’t get too upset.” He coughed, drank some water, and said “I don’t suppose either of you buggers has some fags?”
Giles said “Sorry – and they won’t let you smoke in here anyway.”
The agent looked confused.
“Fags, lad, cigarettes. Got any?”
“That makes things a lot clearer,” said Giles. “Just a few more questions. First, I know you only saw text messages, but did you get any sort of feel for who was on the end of the line?”
“He used American spelling but I don’t think English was his first language, the grammar was sometimes too good. No contractions, that sort of thing.”
“Did you get the impression he was nearby? Why ‘he’, by the way?”
“I don’t think he was. A couple of times he had me look out the window, I’m pretty sure he was checking the weather or the time of day. And I’m not sure why I say ‘he,’ just a feeling.”
“Any time lag?” asked the agent. “Did it take much time to get a response if you wrote a message?”
“Not really. Maybe a few seconds occasionally.”
“Could be almost anywhere then, but probably a human operator, not a computer, that would be a lot slower.”
“Evidently not particularly skilled in magic,” said Giles, “so someone else was probably handling that side of things.”
“That seems about right,” said Ethan, “When that came up the delays were usually longer. Maybe whoever it was had to get someone’s advice. Anything else?”
“Just one thing. What happened to the statue of Diana?”
“Diana? Didn’t I use it for the ‘concealment spell?’” He mimed the quotes.
“No, it’s the only one that’s still missing. Also the most valuable, of course, and the one that has links to the Slayer.”
“I’m sorry,” said Ethan, “I was rushing around so much on Friday, maybe I’ve got a little confused. Now I’m really getting very tired, and I think I might need more painkillers.” He rang the bell by his bed.
“Very well,” said Giles. “But you might want to bear in mind that you now owe an Ano-Movic demon tribe approximately eighty thousand pounds, if we include the statue that was destroyed and damages for the robbery. They’re not usually a violent race, but they have been known to settle divorces by eating the ex-spouses brain; I really have no idea of their attitude to debt collection.”
“I’ll try to remember,” said Ethan, as the nurse arrived.
“Do you believe him?” asked the SHIELD agent.
“About the statue? Not a chance, he’s got it hidden away somewhere, if he hasn’t already fenced it. I think he was telling the truth about the rest.”
“I think you’re right. With what we found in the laboratories and their homes we have some interesting options, I think, if what you told the Director about magic is correct.”
“Trust me,” said Giles, “I’m well ahead of you.”
“Agent Ball, we have some new intelligence on Foster’s research. She’s shredded several pages of equations at the college, the scanner we installed in the department’s shredder captured most of it.”
“Two pages stuck together, we have a very faint image of the second underneath the first.”
“It’s a shame they found everything inside her office, but I suppose this is better than nothing. Forward the data to Technical Base eleven, and work on getting some microphones and cameras placed again. Hail Hydra!”
“This is very puzzling, doctor Schneider. It obviously means something, but I’m having trouble making sense of it.”
“Let me see… hmmm… I think this is a very precise description of a nine- dimensional spatial fold, but these symbols are… well, read it for yourself.”
“It’s meaningless. ‘Crv dr pff lr ploos pls. Vos strp umpt pls plsrts in uft frm pltz…’ Gibberish!”
There was a sudden roaring noise, and a vortex opened and began to suck in everyone and everything in the laboratory. After that it started on the rest of the building.
It had taken Ethan nearly a week to get what he wanted; a packet of cigarettes, some matches, and access to a guarded roof where he could sit outdoors for a while. He sat in his wheelchair, lit a cigarette, and, apparently casually, took the metal foil from the packet and began to twist it into a tiny horned head, murmuring “Master of chaos, your humble servant implores your aid.”
“I have suffered at the hands of the forces of order, I am their captive, yet I continue to serve you. I offer you this gift of fire;” he struck another match; “I offer you this gift of pain;” he touched the match to his arm, where once there had been a tattoo; “I offer the gift of hidden treasure; I am, always and forever, your humble and obedient servant.”
The tinfoil head opened its eyes, looked at him, and grinned. And suddenly Ethan and the wheelchair were gone.
Ethan stared around the gigantic throne room, and at the bearded one-eyed man who stood watching him, a raven on his shoulder. He murmured “Well… this isn’t what I was expecting.”
“Ethan Rayne… You attacked my son in the name of Chaos. Why should I not destroy you?”
“Your son can take it,” said Ethan, summoning the little dignity he could, “I am Chaos’s obedient servant, and I will not apologise for my nature.”
“Even if it means your life?”
“No. Do your worst.”
As Ethan gaped at him the bearded figure morphed and changed, became thinner and younger, clean-shaven, wearing green and a horned helmet.
“My Lord. I would kneel if I could, but for the moment I am confined to this chair.”
“I am sure that you will walk soon enough,” said Loki, “if you are to be of use to me. Now, you mentioned a gift?”
“A statuette of the goddess Diana, nearly two thousand years old. I had to hide it on Midgard, but I’m sure that it would be possible to retrieve it…”
Notes: Anni is described in the Tales of the Slayers graphic collection. Her arrest and death aren't described, but seem plausible. The story is entitled Sonnenblume (Sunflower) and that is given as her surname in the Buffy Wiki; I’m not sure if it is her surname or a nickname.
The words used to open the portal originally appeared in Angel Episode #41: "Belonging," where they opened the way to Pylea. I’m guessing that portals can be made to go to much worse places.
The ritual used by Ethan was in part inspired by Eight Days of Luke by Diana Wynne Jones.
Comments please before I post to archives.