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The Mighty Avengers #282 "Solo Flight"

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  • Stingray
    [Previously, in Avengers: Several months ago, the fledgling hero group, the Hero Society, was wiped out in a massive strike by a random grouping of villains
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 2, 2008
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      [Previously, in Avengers:
      Several months ago, the fledgling hero group, the Hero Society, was
      wiped out in a massive strike by a random grouping of villains
      participating in the Assassin's Game. A few weeks ago, their
      counterpart team, the Hero Society South, was taken out in similar
      fashion. The second team, however, had two survivors -- Styra & the
      Ketchup Stalker -- who went to the Avengers for aid. In the battle
      that followed, the Ketchup Stalker sacrificed his life to save
      Darkhawk's, a sacrifice the former New Warrior swore to avenge, no
      matter how long it took.

      With the group of young heroes gathered by Tony Stark's A-1
      Protocol at their side, the Avengers confronted the disturbed energy
      manipulator, Anomaly in Greenland. After winning the hard fought
      battle, the new heroes -- now calling themselves Protocol -- went on
      their way, leaving the team to unwind. Darkhawk, though, has his
      thoughts focused on the promise he made that day....]

      [The rooftops of Manhattan]

      There were certain advantages to being a superhero in New York.
      Good media exposure, quickly formed alliances and an innumerable
      amount of colleagues, not to mention the plethora of high rooftops
      with which one could scout the surrounding areas. For some heroes,
      like Darkhawk, the words "underworld contacts" also came to mind when
      composing such a list of benefits.

      In his earliest days as Darkhawk, Christopher Powell found himself
      at odds with a mid-level crime lord named Enrique Bazin. (1) In those
      clashes with Bazin, Darkhawk found that there was no shortage of
      criminal figures that wouldn't feed a little information for the
      right amount of dead presidents. On more than one occasion, he found
      himself forking over a twenty, fifty, even a hundred on the rare
      instances he could afford it, in exchange for some choice tips or
      information on Bazin -- or someone else's -- latest projects.

      This morning, Darkhawk was perched on the steeply roofed abode of
      one Donnie the Grinder, a noted ex-leg breaker for Bazin and one of
      Darkhawk's old secret-feeders. He had been waiting all night, and
      when he saw the Grinder's car wheel sloppily into the drive -- its
      operator obviously drunk -- it was all he could do not to leave his
      perch. But he had learned long ago that patience paid in these
      matters, so he sat quietly, and waited.

      The Grinder looked horrible. His once-thinning hair had reached the
      Bad-Comb-Over stage of baldness. The stubble on his face had grown to
      a length where it wasn't quite a beard, but it was too thick to be
      stubble and resembled some sort of brown moss or dried mud. His
      clothes were haggard and dingy, an unbuttoned flannel sitting open
      and lopsided on his shoulders; pants held up by a threadbare,
      polyester belt with a mock-Indian tribal design on it. He was thin
      and bony, and looked nothing like anyone nicknamed "the Grinder"
      should. He looked more like Donnie the Ground.

      As he stumbled from his car, fumbling clumsily with his keys on his
      way to a front door that was probably sprouting a twin behind his rum-
      infected eyes, Darkhawk decided he had waited long enough. The claw-
      cable sprung from his right forearm quickly and without even a whiz
      of sound, grasping the back of the Grinder's shirt and yanking him
      off his feet. His keys spiraled out toward the street in a copper and
      silver flash, and landed with a clink before he even realized what
      had happened.

      "Hey, Donnie. How's tricks?"

      "Oh God, oh man, oh dude, oh Hell..." the Grinder babbled as the
      blood rushed through the alchohol and allowed his synapses to fire as
      they should. His eyes instantly cleared and while his stomach kept
      trying to tell him that whatever was in it wanted out, he held the
      reflex to vomit in check. "I don't know nothin', Hawk," he grunted,
      trying to refrain from gagging. "I gone straight, I don't do nothin'
      no more! I'm clean man, I swear it!"

      "Real clean," Darkhawk mocked, turning his head as Donnie belched
      and nearly threw up. He couldn't smell anything in his armored form --
      the price of having a helmet with no nose -- but Donnie did not know

      "Bazin found out, man! I coulda got killed!"

      "But you didn't," Darkhawk answered. "Bazin is the least of your
      worries, Donnie." He released the cable line quick, dropping Donnie
      about two feet before jerking him to a halt right before the
      Grinder's head hit the pavement. "I'm fishing for a bigger catch

      "What, man? What do you want?!"


      "The old man? He's gone, dude! Silvermane died or somethin'! He

      "Wrong one."

      "Wait. You...you ain't lookin' for Blackwing, man. Please tell me
      you ain't--"


      "No way, dude. Not gonna happen. Blackwing's out for blood now,
      man. He ain't like he used to be. Everything's personal with him
      now...it ain't business no more..."

      "Why do you think I'm looking?"


      Hawkeye, Thor, Masque, Le Peregrine, Darkhawk, Firebird, and the
      Beast. Seven diverse and gifted individuals. Seven daring heroes.
      Seven members of one of the world's most elite super teams. They are
      Earth's Mightiest Heroes, standing united against threats no singular
      hero may stand against. They are the Avengers!

      The Mighty Avengers #482
      "Solo Flight"
      Writer: Josh Greer
      Editor: JM
      Webmasters: Liam Gibbs, JM, Kenn Beck
      Head Cheese: Liam Gibbs


      [Avengers Mansion]

      "Doth something bother thee, fair Bonita?" Thor asked. He had just
      come from the kitchen and was carrying his mead. It was strange for
      Firebird to see someone like Thor enjoying the rare downtime their
      lives afforded them. It made him seem almost...normal.

      "Nothing important," she answered, flipping through her magazine.
      She couldn't even begin to explain how tired she was of hearing about
      Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, but it was better than the year that
      rumors were bandied about that she and her former Rangers teammate,
      the Texas Twister, were having an illicit affair.

      "If it affects thee enough to put such a sour look upon thine face,
      I believe thou underestimate its importance," Thor said thoughtfully,
      taking a seat in a fine, straight-backed chair. She glanced around as
      he did, realizing for the first time that the Avengers' trophies
      hadn't been limited to the Mansion's Trophy Room. There were little
      things everywhere, like the scrapbook of headlines that floated
      around the room. Each page depicting headlines and photographs that
      related to the team and its members.

      "There always seems to be something, doesn't there?"

      "Always," Thor nodded.

      "I mean, if it isn't enemies, it's someone's powers behaving
      differently, or someone getting married, or someone coming or someone
      going...it doesn't leave much time."

      "What wouldst though do with the time thou art missing?"

      "Missions work, I guess," Firebird answered after a moment of
      thought. Therein lay the rub. She hadn't wanted to discuss religion
      with her teammates. She knew how uncomfortable religious talk made
      some people. They all knew of her beliefs, and she made no effort to
      hide them, but she didn't throw them at people or flaunt them. If
      someone wanted to know something or talk about such things, she made
      a point of sending the message that her door was always open.

      Of course, out of all her teammates, the one she least wanted to
      have this talk with was Thor. It wasn't as though she did not like
      Thor, or didn't trust him. She did, very much so. She admired him for
      the things he had done to protect the world, and took great pride in
      the fact that -- even at a distance -- she could claim a similar post
      to him as an Avenger. That pride had swelled a bit recently, having
      had the opportunity to work side-by-side with him. But there was a
      simple, irrefutable fact that caused a deeply painful and intricate
      problem for Bonita Juarez.

      Thor believed he was a god. Firebird did not, and she wasn't sure
      she had ever been clear about that. She didn't know what Thor thought
      of her doubting his claim, and she wasn't sure she wanted to press
      the matter and find out. So instead, she had left it alone and hoped
      she wouldn't be confronted with it. Sadly, that confrontation -- of a
      sort -- had come at last.

      "Bonita?" Thor asked, and Firebird realized she had been silent a
      moment too long. "Wouldst thou like me to leave thou to thine

      "No, no...it's just...I'm not sure how to talk to you about what I
      need to talk about."

      "I have mine doubts that thou can offend me," Thor offered,
      surprised at his teammate's worry. While Firebird did not have the
      confidence that the Beast, or Hawkeye, or even Le Peregrine had on
      the battlefield, Thor saw within her an inner light that kept her
      going. A fire that he likened to the lust for valor his own Asgardian
      kin held so dear. The thought that she was worried about saying
      something that might bother him was, in no uncertain terms, a mystery
      to him.

      "I wouldn't be so certain," Bonita muttered, but Thor didn't hear
      her. "It's just...what do you know about my faith?"

      "Ah," Thor nodded knowingly, a slight smile on his face. It was a
      smile that told Bonita he had known this conversation was coming. A
      smile that said he understood her turmoil, and thought he knew how to
      fix it.

      Setting his stein down on the oak table before him, Thor fixed his
      blue eyes on Bonita and she saw in them just that; understanding,
      friendship, the desire to help. It was a softer side to the Thunder
      God than she had been privy to in the past. It warmed her heart and
      made her feel comfortable talking with him about any topic,
      especially one as important to her as this. When he spoke, his words
      conveyed a similar idea.

      "We are teammates and friends, Bonita. Not simply the two of us,
      but all who have the honor of calling themselves Avengers. Like any
      camaraderie, we are likely to find that we cannot agree on all
      things. That thine eyes and my own shalt see things differently from
      one time to the next. Do not wrestle overmuch with such things,
      though. To do so would be to drive a wedge between yourself and thine
      friends and allies, and such things are not worth losing those thou
      art close to."

      "But I am close to the one I call God as well, isn't that important

      "Verily," Thor nodded. "But when thou dost try to reconcile my
      being with thine God's, think on this; Would thine God frown upon the
      works I do, regardless of my mantle? Would not thine God be happy
      that His people have garnered such stalwart allies and protectors as
      mineself and noble Hercules or Leir or Horus? I do not speak against
      the teachings of your churches or announce that I've not met the one
      many mortals call God."

      "No...but you claim to be gods, Thor," Bonita said. She knew it
      wasn't Thor's intention, but his words seemed to have the side-effect
      of challenging her faith. "The Bible claims that there can be no
      other gods but the Lord, and any who claim it are liars. How can both
      of you be right?"

      "God means different things to different people," Thor answered
      simply. "Ask a child what God is to them, and they look to their
      parents. Ask a drunkard and they look to the vine. In the times when
      men first gave name to my people, they used the word god to describe
      our immortality and mastery of our domains. Why cannot thine God
      continue to be what thou believe Him to be, while I continue to be
      what I am? Neither must be wrong."

      As Bonita sat and considered this, Thor smiled once more. He rose
      to leave the room and rested a hand on her shoulder for a
      moment. "Thine young life has shown you a great many things that thou
      would not have believed once. Now those things doth test thine faith.
      Realize, though, that these things will continue to be whether your
      faith remains strong or weak, Bonita. Just because thine Bible has
      not explained something or how it came to be that way, does not mean
      it cannot be at all."

      Bonita realized his meaning clearly enough and nodded. She followed
      her faith, followed God's word, and she was happy with it. Thor's
      claims of godhood did not change that, and she decided then and there
      that if something needed to change, then God would show her just
      that. Until then, though, she would continue to live her life.


      [Upstate New York; The Edges of the Silvermane Manse Grounds]

      He glided down to the hedge-lined brick barrier with more grace
      than anyone who knew him in his civilian guise would have guessed
      possible. Of course, those that knew Chris Powell -- or even
      Darkhawk -- had rarely, if ever, seen him quite so focused and
      determined. The brick and ivy may have hidden the Silvermane Manse
      from gawkers and surveillance agents, but it did little to cover the
      trail of a hunting Avenger. He hadn't had to lay a finger on Donnie
      the Grinder to learn its location, but he would not have shied away
      from the option, had it presented itself.

      Now that he was there, Darkhawk gazed through the helmet's thin
      visor at the grounds, trying to figure the best route to the would-be
      crimelord within. There were guards everywhere, though, and it was
      only a matter of--

      "Hey..hey! We got compan--"

      The guard's voice was cut off quickly with a minimal level blast of
      Darkforce. His shields rose almost out of reflex as the first shots
      were fired, bending itself to ensure that the bullets were deflected
      back at those firing them. He was determined, but Darkhawk knew to be
      careful enough to prevent any civilian casualties.

      Five guards in all had spotted him and/or fired. Only one remained
      conscious a few minutes later. As Darkhawk peered downward at him, he
      quietly wished he had the good luck to share his colleagues' state of

      "Blackwing. Where is he, and who do I have to go through on the way
      to him."


      [Avengers Mansion: The Playroom]

      A year ago, he would have hated this. It would have seemed to him
      as an exercise in immaturity, an amateur's necessity, at best. Of
      course, Alaine Racine knew and understood the need for training, but
      the sort of games played in the Avengers' Playroom would have seemed
      beneath him. He was, after all, Le Peregrine, the proud and noble
      champion of France! He had no need for such parlor games in his

      Now, the purple-winged hero saw things a little different. Now he
      had grown accustomed to working in groups, on teams. After the events
      of the Assassin's Game (2) and his joining the Avengers, Le Peregrine
      understood how crucial it was to mix a little pleasure with his
      business. Everyone needed a moment to unwind, especially with a
      schedule like the one kept by the Avengers.

      Avenger. It was a title that he had never thought much of, really.
      True to the stereotype he had often heard of his people, Alaine was
      what some might call cocky or brash. He saw it as confidence, while
      others saw it as overconfidence. But working with the team these last
      few months had sobered him to the reality of things. He saw now that
      there was more to consider in the life of a costumed adventurer than
      what he had been seeing. Dangers on a greater scope, and a level of
      responsibility he hadn't fully understood before. Cyclone had helped
      him see that, (3) and taking Hawkeye's offer to join the team had
      sent that message home.

      As he ducked a photon blast and narrowly avoided an arrow from
      Hawkeye, Le Peregrine considered how quietly the change had come over
      him. He was always proud, but mostly of himself. Now he was proud of
      all of them. His teammates, his sense of loyalty to them, his feeling
      that he was really contributing something here. Not even his jobs
      with Silver Sable had given him such a sense of belonging. Now that
      it was there, he was surprised to find himself worried about losing

      That wasn't all that he considered, though. As he tagged the last
      sensor in the Playroom and brought the game to a close, his eyes
      followed Masque's partially bared legs as they stretched and pushed
      her through the obstacles. He wasn't quite as lecherous as French
      stereotypes would have him be, but that did not mean that Le
      Peregrine was above admiring the female form. With the game over,
      though, his admiration would have quickly passed to ogling, and that
      brought him slowly gliding to the floor.

      "Nice work there, wings," Hawkeye said, congratulating his
      teammate. The game had been a simple one. The first one to tag all
      the targets would win the game. It had been close between the archer
      and the Frenchman, but Le Peregrine had taken charge.

      "Thank you," Alaine replied with a nod.

      "It could have been closer," said Masque, stepping in and rubbing
      what was apparently a sore spot on her thigh. Alaine chanced another
      glance at her legs and wasn't upset at what he saw. "Charlie got me
      about five minutes in."


      "I think she means Charlie Horse," Hawkeye chuckled. "Masque.
      Joking. Next you'll tell me Thor's taken up pinball..." He turned
      away to hit the showers, but Alaine and Masque stayed behind. Alaine
      liked to make sure everything went as it was supposed to at the end
      of their Playroom sessions. The drones that cleaned things up were
      bound to malfunction sooner or later, and if they did, he wanted to
      have a chance to see if he could fix them.

      "So, like what you saw?" Masque asked, her bronze face flashing to
      a paler image for a moment, red in the cheeks, before turning back to
      its normal appearance.

      "It was a good workout," he nodded, but the sly smirk on Masque's
      face told him that she hadn't been asking about the workout.

      "I thought so," was all she said before grasping a towel and
      flinging it over her shoulder on the way to the ladies showers. Le
      Peregrine tried not to stare as she left the room.


      [Location: Unknown]

      Like a fire fueled by a newly added log, the small flicker in the
      cavern grew brighter and crackled to life suddenly. There was no
      cause, yet energy burst forth there all the same, and consciousness
      quickly followed.

      "The Avengers," she muttered, her voice echoing a hollow tone,
      despite the rage she felt. "They tried...tried to kill me..."

      With no other word, she was gone. A faint glow of energy was left
      in her wake, and the stone around her quivered with a modest anger
      for only a moment. Then they returned to normal as the magic wore
      off. Within ten minutes, it was as though the Spell had never been
      there at all.


      [A Very Discreet New York Dining Establishment]

      "You're certain that this is where you want to have this chat
      you've got planned?" Hank asked. With his unusual appearance -- not
      to mention the shedding -- the blue-furred Avenger had already noted
      a handful of admirers amidst the restaurant's cliental. In addition,
      there were another handful of unsavory types that, if his lip-reading
      abilities held true, were less that happy with the idea of a
      beautiful human female marrying someone of "his kind". Either hand
      provided troubles if the bouncing Beast and his blushing bride were
      to have any sort of a personal conversation.

      "You're an Avenger, a noted scientist, and a recognized figurehead
      in the mutant civil rights movement, Hank. If you can name me a more
      private place that serves good food, don't let me stop you."

      "The Mansion's kitchen does have it's fine points."

      "Right up until PLATO walks through the wall or a priority alarm

      "Either could happen here as well, my dear."

      "But neither are very likely, and you know it. What is it you're
      trying to avoid talking to me about, Hank?"

      She had him, and he knew it. His eyes flinched and looked away,
      hoping to catch the eyes of the waitress and push off the
      conversation for a few minutes more. That hope died when Trish
      realized just what he was trying to do and waved the young lady off.
      She wasn't going to let this go on another second if she could avoid

      "Henry McCoy," she whispered through her teeth. "I am your wife. I
      love you. I stuck by you when half the mutants in the world were
      trying to kill mankind and my own species would've had my head on a
      plate given the chance. I stuck by you as an X-Man, as a Defender,
      and now as an Avenger. During the Legacy Virus, during the Grim
      Reaper's trial, during every little thing that keeps coming up and
      holding us apart. There shouldn't be any secrets between us. There's
      something bothering you and I want to know, right now, what in God's
      name it is. Do you understand me?"

      "Can I take you folks' order, or do you need a little more time?"
      chimed Yvette, the waitress, oblivious to the tirade she had just

      "We'll both have the spaghetti," Trish said, trying to reign in her
      frustration. Yvette got the picture immediately and was gone in a

      Hank understood his wife's frustration. He even sympathized with
      it. But he could not confront it, not now. How could he possibly
      explain to her the vision the Spell had given him? The fear that his
      status as an Avenger, a scientist, and all the other things she had
      just mentioned him being would be the undoing of their marriage? How
      could he tell her that he was terrified that one of his enemies would
      take their vengeance by lashing out at her, rather than him?

      "Tell me, Hank," Trish insisted again. He looked into her eyes. All
      he saw there was worry, heartache...pain. His silence had caused her
      pain. That realization was enough.

      "The Spell," he began.

      "What about her?"

      "She made us see our worst fears. Things that we -- I -- refused to
      acknowledge even in my nightmares. Things we prayed we would forget.

      "What did you see?"

      "I saw you," Hank said, gulping down some of his iced tea. "I saw
      the Mansion under attack, and all of us -- not just the current
      roster, but every Avenger -- fending off the attack until someone
      slipped through. Then I saw you running out to me and....and..." he
      couldn't bear the thought any longer. It suffocated him, as though
      someone had placed a plastic bag over his head. The words were there,
      but they would not come out.

      "They killed me," Trish guessed, stunned by the revelation. She
      knew Hank worried. She had always known, in a way. But she had no
      idea just how much he worried, how badly it ate at him, until just
      now. Knowing that made her recall her own conversations with Jarvis,
      then PLATO.

      "Oh, Hank....we really do need to talk..."


      [Silvermane Manse]

      It had taken a little more restraint than he cared for, but
      Darkhawk was finally inside. He had promised himself that he would do
      this, that he would end this. Now, as he glided soundlessly into the
      study, the very room in which his quarry sat, Darkhawk had to
      mentally calm himself. He could not afford to fly off the handle now,
      when he was so close. He couldn't afford to have this go any other
      way than the way he planned.

      "Silvermane," he nearly growled, his boots touching the hardwood
      floor with a metallic click. The static that laced his voice was
      thicker in his anger, and he could almost feel the chill it sent down
      Blackwing's spine when he heard it.

      He had to give Silvermane credit, though. When the villain turned,
      there was no fear, no shock, no surprise in his eyes. He was calm,
      collected. He reacted like a man that had every base covered. Little
      did he know, Darkhawk had rounded those same bases, and scored the
      winning run. That was indicated plainly enough as Blackwing pressed a
      small red button and ran, the signal beep sounding from Darkhawk's
      own hand.

      "They're not available right now." he said, tossing the pager-like
      device at Blackwing. It struck him in the shoulder with such force
      that it nearly sent him sprawling, but Blackwing managed his balance
      and kept running, ducking through the secret passage that lead to his
      lair. Smiling to himself, Darkhawk gave chase.


      [Avengers Mansion]

      The ring at the door was insistent, but faded after a few moments.
      PLATO had been scanning news reels and international footage,
      scouting possible mission concepts for the team's next official
      meeting when the bell sounded, and it took him a moment to recognize
      it. He floated toward the door as quickly as he could manage, but by
      the time he arrived, the visitor had already let herself in.

      "Wanda," PLATO said, the pleasant tones of his voice clear. He
      smiled at her and moved in close before ushering her toward the
      library. "How lovely to see you."

      "You too," answered the Scarlet Witch as she took a seat in her
      favorite leather recliner at the corner of the room. In all her years
      working with him, that chair was the only thing she had ever argued
      with Captain America about. It was a favorite of his as well. "Is
      anyone home?"

      "Hawkeye, Thor, Le Peregrine, Firebird, and Masque are all in the
      Mansion at this time. Mr. and Mrs. McCoy are enjoying an evening out,
      and Darkhawk is out as well. I can contact them if you would like."

      "That won't be necessary," Wanda assured him. Seeing PLATO was a
      pleasant surprise, as she had forgotten about Jarvis' extended leave.
      (4) It reminded her of her time as a member and leader of Force
      Works. She remembered some of those times fondly, working with Agent
      and Julia and Century. Of course, there were low points there as
      well, but the bulk of her time was enjoyable all the same. "Do you
      still hear from any of them?"


      "Force Works."

      "Of course," PLATO said, as though there had been no doubt. "Iron
      Man keeps in touch through e-mails on occasion. Fisher was just here
      the other day, in uniform."


      "Oh, yes. Fisher has taken up the mantle of the new Two-Gun Kid."

      "You're kidding."

      "Not at all."

      "When? How?"

      "Well, you see..."


      [Silvermane Manse - Blackwing's Lair]

      "Tell me," said Blackwing, ducking and rolling under another blast
      of Darkforce. "Why exactly are you here?"

      "You killed them," Darkhawk snarled. He triggered his claw-cable,
      hoping to grasp Blackwing's ankle, but received a shot with some sort
      of bat-shaped weapon for his troubles. The blade glanced off his
      helmet, knocking him off balance enough for Blackwing to find cover
      in the shadows of the cave.

      "Whom? As I'm sure you're aware, many people attribute their deaths
      to me."

      "The Hero Society." Taking to the air, Darkhawk swooped this way
      and that, trying to find his prey. It had all gone so well up to this
      point. He had located the mansion, tracked down Blackwing himself,
      but Blackwing's sudden escape to the caverns beneath his home had
      thrown off Darkhawk's game plan. Now he was fighting on Blackwing's
      terms. And while Silvermane was no match for Darkhawk's power, he was
      still dangerous enough.

      "Ah, them," Blackwing said with contempt before swinging downward
      from the stalactites and leveling a kick at the armored Avenger. "A
      simple job, really. Champion paid us well enough for it, I suppose. I
      prefer more challenge in my plots, though."

      "Raaaaaaaaaaaah!" Darkhawk vented in fury, unleashing a Darkforce
      blast that would have shamed even one of Hawkeye's blast arrows.
      Blackwing was ready, though, and was already gone by the time
      Darkhawk had fired.

      "Temper, temper. Really, you should have been better prepared if
      you were going to come after me, Avenger. I would have thought better
      of one of herodom's supposed elite."

      Another kick. Then a series of jabs. Then some sort of throwing

      Blackwing was keeping Darkhawk on the move, not allowing the
      Avenger to get his bearings. Darkhawk knew it was a sound strategy
      and that he would have to do something about it, but what was he to
      do? Blackwing was utilizing the home court, taking advantage of the
      shadows. There had to be a way to beat him, though. He refused to
      come all this way, to work so hard, only to be turned back the moment
      he was about to avenge his fallen comrade's sacrifice.


      [Avengers Mansion - Assembly Room]

      "I know this isn't your cup o'tea, Goldilocks, but I appreciate the
      help," Clint said as he paused to sip his coffee. Membership files
      littered the enormous A at the assembly table's center, and while he
      took one end of the table, Thor sat at the other.

      "'Tis a pleasure to help thee in thine duties," Thor nodded,
      glancing over Hercules' file. "Yon Hercules could be of help with
      foes from the higher planes."

      "Gods and the like, you mean?"


      It was a painstaking job, really. One of those things most people
      don't even think about when the words "Avengers Chairman" come up in
      conversation. It was, however, a job both Thor and Hawkeye knew well,
      each having led a gathering of Earth's Mightiest at some time or
      another. They were trying to figure out just what to do with the
      inactive members. When they should call in whom; which members were
      best suited to what foes and environments; What members wouldn't be
      able to work with others and why. Painstaking, tedious, and downright
      redundant were the terms Hawkeye would have used to describe most of
      it. Half the members' status hadn't changed in years. Really, how
      many different criteria did the original Two-Gun Kid have? But,
      everything had to be updated, and as Thor and PLATO had both pointed
      out, it fell to Hawkeye's shoulders to do it.

      "What happened to PLATO, anyhow? He said he'd give us a hand with

      "Oh, he was busy greeting a visitor," said a third voice as its
      owner slipped into the room. Hawkeye looked up, slackjawed, and
      Thor's head whirled at the sound. Both got to their feet quickly,
      smiling warm and inviting smiles as they reached to embrace their old

      "Fairest Wanda, it hath been far too long since mine eyes have laid
      upon thee!" proclaimed Thor, hugging Wanda and squeezing her a bit
      too hard.

      "And that goes double for me," said Clint, pulling back the cowl
      and greeting Wanda himself. "So let me guess: you've finally decided
      to ditch Xavier and come back home, right?" (5)

      "Not quite," Wanda laughed. "I had some time off, though, so I
      thought I'd come and see who was around. I really wasn't expecting
      you all to be home, just Trish."

      "Yeah...if you'd have come yesterday--"

      "I heard. Fisher's really being Two-Gun?"

      "Aye. And a fine one, at that. Matthew wouldst be most proud,
      methinks." (6)

      "Let's hit the kitchen," Hawkeye suggested. "I think Bonita's up
      there, and I could use a sandwich. Give us a chance to catch up."

      "That sounds wonderful," Wanda agreed, taking Clint's offered arm.


      [Silvermane Manse - Blackwing's Lair]

      Things were not going well. Darkhawk could feel, rather than see,
      the welts Blackwing's stick and move tactics had raised. They weren't
      doing any serious damage, but they were making him very, very angry.
      Darkhawk had seen what anger could do to a combatant more than once.
      Night Thrasher was known to go into fits of blind rage. (7) He had
      read about times when Thor and Hercules had gotten too caught up in
      the heat of battle. Not to mention things that the Beast had told him
      about the X-Man Wolverine's anger issues.

      Darkhawk had not yet figured out how to flush Blackwing out, but he
      had learned to be patient and anticipate the enemy's attacks. Already
      he had succeeded in ducking the last two or three blows. Now he just
      had to find a way to--

      "Argh." Blackwing had crashed into him hard with some sort of
      shield. Or was that his cape? Either way, it had hurt, and he didn't
      want another charge with it coming at him from the darkness.

      Darkness. That was it. Blacking wanted to hide in the shadows, that
      was fine with him. He was Darkhawk, after all. A little darkness
      never bothered him. A lot, however, might cause Blackwing a problem
      or two.

      Concentrating very carefully, Darkhawk attempted something he had
      never done before. His amulet worked as a conduit of sorts. Not only
      for his transformation, but as a channeling point for Darkforce
      energies. He had used it to form shields, force blasts, and even to
      repel attacks from other users of Darkforce. Now, he was trying to
      use the energies in the Darkforce Dimension a different way; as a fog.

      Something Darkhawk had learned in his time with the New Warriors --
      particularly Darkling's takeover of Manhattan -- was that his visor
      could see through Darkforce. It wasn't even like night-vision, he
      could just see through it. Blackwing, barring some sort of high-tech
      goggles hidden in the cave somewhere, could not. So if he could draw
      enough Darkforce in, spread it around loosely, he could trap
      Blackwing in the shadows of his own cave and seek him out slowly.

      Looking around, Darkhawk could feel the Darkforce flowing out of
      him. It rolled across the cavern walls like the London Fog, slipping
      into every groove, every nook. As he glided this way and that,
      allowing the Darkforce to do its job, Darkhawk spotted his prey,
      confused and searching for a way out of the black. In the span of a
      heartbeat all his rage bubbled to the surface. He reclaimed the
      Darkforce he had let out, honing it into a single blast.

      The Darkforce hit Blackwing like a cannonball in the chest, sending
      him flailing, rag dollish, across the cave. Darkhawk was in hot
      pursuit, claw cable already extended and catching Blackwing before he
      became a bloody smear on the far wall. Drawing him close, Darkhawk
      raged directly at his enemy, fists clenched in madness and anger.

      "Oh no, don't pass out yet," Darkhawk hissed, his fury so great
      that screams no longer served it. "You have a lot of pain to pay for


      [Avengers Mansion - Main Dining Room -- Twenty Minutes Later]

      "Wow," whistled the Scarlet Witch as Thor, Bonita, Clint, Masque,
      and Alaine finished their versions and parts of the battle with
      Anomaly. "Protocol...it's a good name."

      "Indeed," Le Peregrine agreed. "Very catching."

      "And it's good to see you back," Wanda continued, looking toward
      Masque. "I never got to thank you, what with Jarvis' heart attack--"

      "Thank me?"

      "Yes. When you gave yourself up to Benedict. You saved my brother
      and my sister-in-law and I. Thank you."

      Masque's face altered for just the slightest of moments, but none
      present recognized the gracious beauty that replaced it. In another
      world, Wanda might have come to call her mother, but in this one
      Magda Lensherr was a woman the world had never truly known. She
      blushed at the Scarlet Witch's thanks and only nodded a response.
      Before she could speak, the door flew wide, and Darkhawk stalked in
      from the night. The bloodied form of a half-conscious, barely alive
      Blackwing was in his arms.

      "Darkhawk? What--Dear Lord!" cried Bonita, rushing toward Darkhawk.
      Alaine was already there, taking Blackwing from him and ordering
      PLATO to call CODE: Blue and an ambulance. "What happened?!"

      Darkhawk was silent, though, sidling into the next room and setting
      his eyes on the wide-brimmed hat that lay there. After a moment, he
      nodded, and turned to Hawkeye.

      "I have to leave for a while," he said, his voice barely a
      whisper. "I kept my promise..but what I did tonight..." A deep
      breath. "I just have to leave for a while."

      Hawkeye understood. In fact, all of them did. Sometimes their lives
      just get to be too much, and when a super-hero loses his temper, they
      often do things they regret. All of them had felt it at some time or
      another, and their hearts went out to Darkhawk now that he was
      feeling it.

      "We'll be here when you get back, DH," Hawkeye said, stepping
      forward and patting him on the shoulder. "You know where to find us
      if you need anything."

      "Thanks," he said, glancing at the others. His eyes focused on Thor
      for a moment, then he noticed Wanda. She nodded to him, and he
      returned the gesture. Then he opened the door, and left.

      [The End.]

      [Next Issue: A not-so-old enemy returns...and she ain't the only one!
      See you in thirty for "Counterspell"!]

      1. See the early issues of Darkhawk's RMU ongoing!
      2. Check out Alternate Marvel Presents #15-21 for the full details!
      3. See the AMP story: Le Peregrine - Unholy Alliances Tour for the
      Cyclone story!
      4. The result of a heart attack in issue 475! Don't worry though,
      he'll be back....
      5. Yessir, ol' Wanda's running around over in the pages of Uncanny X-
      6. Yes, continuity buffs, Thor & Two-Gun I met briefly during that
      old Collector/Michael storyline in RMU's Avengers vol 1! Go check it
      out if you can find 'em!
      7. Thrash & Darkhawk were teammates back in Hawk's New Warriors days.
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