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A Ranma ½ / Avengers (the superhero group) fusion
by DB Sommer

Disclaimer: Ranma ½ owned by Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video. The Avengers are owned by Marvel Comics. Yes, the superheroes, not the British TV Series.

Any and all C+C is appreciated. You can contact me at [sommert@connecttime.net]

Act II, Scene 4: Backstabbing

Waves lapped against the sides of ships moored at the docks as they had since the mankind took to the seas. A briny scent filled the air, the ocean forcing its flavor anywhere it could touch. The full moon reflected off the water, providing enough illumination for a group of sailors working on the docks. The men were dressed in clothing that would have attracted the attention of anyone that saw them, had it not been near one a.m. Most were stripped to the waist, with a number of ostentatious tattoos decorating their bodies. All had at least a dagger strapped to their belts, and many of the others had a number of less bloody instruments, such as truncheons and blackjacks. All of them were implements of pain, and each man appeared strong and willing enough to have used the weapons on anyone who irritated them.

The men were busy as they urged a group of women toward a wooden sailing vessel tied to the docks, its sails unfurled as though it would leave at any moment. The women's hands were bound together and gags were forced in their mouths, preventing any noise from leaking out. Each was forced to wear a set of longer iron chains clamped to their ankles, allowing enough room to walk carefully but no more. Their gait held the weight of despair that hobbled them down more effectively than chains ever could.

The group of sailors was dominated by a huge man who watched them carefully from the side. He stood over six feet high and weighed at least two hundred and ninety pounds. His yellow shirt, faded from sun and water, had its sleeves torn off, displaying massive biceps. He wore a loose fitting pair of black pants and leather boots. His belt held a cutlass on one side and a flintlock pistol in the other. But his most bizarre characteristic was his lack of a left leg, which had been replaced with, of all things, a thick wooden peg.

The man growled, "Move quicker, you scurvy dogs. We weren't able to bribe all the watchmen to turn a blind eye to our cargo and we don't want troubles on this fine evening."

One of the sailors said, "Actually, Commander Kraken, calling us scurvy dogs is inappropriate since, thanks to the miracles of nutrition, we now eat a balanced diet with plenty of vitamin C to stave off the effects of that disease."

Commander Kraken turned to the man. The speaker couldn't help noticing his comrades suddenly backing away from him.

Kraken walked toward him, moving with fluidity despite the peg leg. "Oh, a comedian. You must be the new swabbie we hired in Thailand, is that right?"

The man gulped. "Yes, sir."

"There's something you should probably know about me before you can continue with yer employment here."


In a flash the cutlass was pulled free of Kraken's belt and swung, neatly decapitating the man. "I hate comedians!" As the body fell to the ground, gushing blood, Kraken turned to the rest of his crew. "Now then, you scurvy dogs, don't stand there gawking. Get that merchandise on board."

The men had started to move with renewed zeal when a voice descended from a large stack of crates. "Well, well, well, either this is a really off-Broadway production of 'The Pirates of Penzance', or I've stumbled on Commander Kraken and his amazingly outdated crew."

Kraken remained staring at his men as he said, "Now I wonder who the dead man that spoke to me in such a tone wa—" A billy-club slammed into Kraken's wrist, knocking the pistol he had drawn out of his hand.

Daredevil had to credit the commander. His voice had remained steady as the man drew the weapon when he got to the word 'spoke' and continued talking as though nothing had happened. Had Daredevil not been able to sense the sudden jump in the commander's heartbeat, even he probably would have been taken by surprise.

Kraken rubbed his sore wrist. "Oh, a meddling would-be hero, is it now? And just which one might you be?"

"Daredevil, the Man Without Fear," he said. "And you're Commander Kraken, a pirate who's been plaguing every country with a seacoast for the last twenty years, and is one of the most wanted men in the world. You were a supervillain ahead of your time."

Kraken shouted, "See here, now! I ain't no supervillain. I just be a humble pirate."

Daredevil was taken aback. "But your clothing, your archaic weapons, your crappy dialogue…."

One of the sailors said, "Commander Kraken's always talked like that. It's not a costume, that's his everyday clothing. And he doesn't have any super powers either."

"And Kraken be my God-given name. I started as Midshipman Kraken before being promoted to Commander when the former commander took a walk out an airlock without scuba gear. Nasty business, that was," Kraken explained. "In any case, this is no act. Pirating is no mere occupation; it's a way of life. So I'll be appreciating it if you didn't slander my good name."

"Good name? You've been smuggling drugs, arms, and slaves," Daredevil pointed to the captured women, "for years all around the world."

"I prefer to think of myself as a purveyor of rare and exclusive goods. Besides, you speak of the laws of other countries. The rules of mere landlubbers hold no dominion over Commander Kraken. My home is the ocean that covers three-quarters of the world, and there the law be survival of the fittest. I am a law unto myself, and I say, you be the dead one here. Get him, swabbies!"

The men rushed as a group toward Daredevil. He leapt in the air, a fishing net he had picked up thrown from the folds of his sleeves. The men quickly found themselves caught up in the net, which grew tighter as they struggled against it.

Satisfied at his handiwork, Daredevil turned his full attention to the only man standing before him. "Now it's your turn."

"I see it falls to me to take care of matters." Commander Kraken drew his cutlass and pointed the tip at Daredevil.

The masked adventurer reached out with his senses. Despite the five meters of distance between he and his foe, Kraken's heartbeat was excited, as though he was about to launch an attack regardless of the distance. An errant memory crossed Daredevil's mind, one of a time in China when Swordsman held exactly the same pose.

Daredevil narrowly ducked out of the way as a bolt of electricity flashed from the tip of the cutlass, arcing past where the hero had been a second before.

"Trying to blast someone with a sword that shoots electricity proves you're a supervillain!" Daredevil shouted.

"No, it proves I'm sneaky and underhanded, just like a proper pirate should be."

Daredevil threw several billy-clubs at Kraken, who batted them out of the way with his weapon, though with nowhere near the artful grace the Swordsman possessed. Several chains met the same fate. Daredevil closed the distance to his foe, feinting high with a blow, then coming in low as he tried to knock the peg leg out from under Commander Kraken. The kick hit, and Daredevil cried out in pain as his bone nearly broke from the impact.

The flat of the blade struck across Daredevil's chest, a discharge of electricity shocking him into immobility as he fell to the ground, landing on his back.

"I can anchor me peg leg to just about anything, sort of turning a debilitating injury into an advantage, don't you know," Commander Kraken offered in explanation as he took a couple of steps forward, intent on disemboweling his foe.

The pirate underestimated Daredevil's recuperative powers as the blind man raised his arms. From his sleeves spat out a huge white cloud, hitting Kraken in the face and driving him back.

"Gar, not the old 'fire extinguisher in the face' trick!" The pirate tried looking through the white mist surrounding him, but could see nothing.

A solid metal object struck him in the wrist, making him cry out in pain as he released his hold on the cutlass. Several other blows rained in with precision that should have been impossible in the white fog. Kraken found himself lying on his back as the mists cleared, Daredevil standing before him, the pirate's cutlass in his hands.

Daredevil hovered menacingly over the prone pirate, the yellow lenses of his mask seeming to bore holes through the man. "I have a few questions to ask, but first, whoever is behind those crates, come out!"

Using his radar sense, Daredevil felt the man, who had chosen to remain hidden for the duration of the fight, come out from his cover. The stranger had a slightly elevated heartbeat, but a powerful one, indicating he was in good shape. Daredevil could tell from the way the man moved and the smell of brine that seemed to come from his skin that this was a sailor, one wearing a body suit, which could only mean trouble.

The man came out with his hands halfway up, near his face. "Easy there, lad. I'm unarmed, as you can tell."

Actually Daredevil could tell, not only from the man's silhouette, but from the fact his heartbeat remained steady as he made his claim. "Who are you?"

"Captain Barracuda's the name." The man's hand moved to his face, making Daredevil tense up. However he only scratched at his eye, the sound of something leathery making contact with the finger. So he was wearing an eye patch. All he needed was a parrot on his shoulder and his own pirate image would be complete.

Daredevil's radar sense tipped him off to Kraken's heartbeat and adrenaline increasing, indicating he was about to attack. With a backhand swing, Daredevil cut off the peg leg that had just started to rise up off the ground. A laser flashed for a split second before the concealed weapon was rendered inoperable.

"You should be ashamed of yourself, attacking a disabled person like that." Captain Barracuda scratched his eye again. Only this time he raised the patch up and a beam of energy shot forth from the socket, striking Daredevil solidly and knocking him to the ground. This time he did not rise to his feet.

"Took ye long enough," Kraken complained. "Ye should have shot him before he lopped off me leg."

"Damn… pathological liar," Daredevil hissed out.

Barracuda kept his hand dangerously close to his patch. "As a matter of fact, I am. See if you can tell if I'm lying now. I'm going to kill you."

"No, you're not."

"Correct." Barracuda's hand started to lift the patch when an arrow hit it, the tip exploding and dousing half of his face with a sticky substance.

"What the hell is this?" Barracuda shouted as he found his hand and patch affixed solidly to his face.

"A glue arrow." Hawkeye emerged from behind a stack of crates. Towering above them came Giant Man, walking over them as though they were building blocks. Captain Japan followed by leaping from the top of one crate to the other.

Barracuda appeared as though he were about to run for it when he saw a tiny figure fly into his view. A beam of energy came from it, hitting him in the face and rendering him unconscious.

"That takes care of that. Another supervillain brought low by the combined might of half the Avengers," Wasp said cheerfully.

"I give up, too," Kraken added from his position on the ground.

Daredevil finally recovered enough to rise to his feet and turn his senses to his allies. "How did you know I was here?"

"We didn't," Hawkeye said. "I shook down a few snitches and they said that there was some kind of slave trade going down on the docks tonight with a Commander Kraken. I decided to call up some reinforcements to help out in case he proved a handful."

"Which he did," Captain Japan added. "You've really got to learn about this whole group of heroes thing. You can get a lot more accomplished working as a team, like those two losers did when they two-on-one'd you."

"Shut up!" Daredevil spat. "I didn't need your help."

"In what? Becoming a corpse?" Captain Japan shot back.

"This was personal. I need to talk to Kraken. He has some information I need."

"That be Commander Kraken to you, landlubber."

"Come here," Daredevil grabbed Kraken by his shirt and dragged him behind a few crates, out of sight of his fellow Avengers. He brandished Kraken's own cutlass before the pirate's face.

Kraken sneered at the unspoken threat. "Don't be stupid, you land bound twit. I know you superheroes don't go around torturing people for— Agh!"

The flat of the blade met Kraken's head, a discharge of electricity following.

Daredevil made a great production of regarding the hilt of the blade. "I see how it works. There's a pressure sensor on the grip. But what does this button do?" He pointed the tip of the blade at Kraken's face.

"I'll talk, laddie. No need to be torturin' me further," Kraken said. "Though you do do it well. Maybe you got a touch of pirate in ye after all."

Daredevil brought his face close. "In the last ten years have you ever come across a Chinese girl with purple hair?"

"Naturally purple?"


"No, can't say I have. And I'd remember a distinctive thing like that. An exotic color like that would triple her price."

"Are you certain?"

"Aye, laddie. I personally inspect all my merchandise, if you know what I mean." He winked at Daredevil.

"You scum!" Daredevil brought the hilt of the blade into the top of Kraken's skull. The pirate's eyes rolled into the back of his head and he slumped to the dock.

As the hero dragged Kraken back to the others, he silently cursed yet another dead end in his quest for Shampoo. He knew it had been a long shot, and a part of him prayed she hadn't ended up in the likes of Kraken's hands, but if it meant finding her again, it would be worth nearly any price. Almost.

If only Elektra hadn't died in China. She had known Shampoo. It had been the only lead he had to his love's identity in the last ten years. How ironic that it had come to him when he wasn't looking for it. And then it was lost as quickly as it had been found. It wasn't fair, though at least he knew she was still alive. Probably. He doubted Elektra's reaction to Shampoo's name would have been so fierce had it been in the distant past. He had to keep looking, no matter the cost. So he spent nearly all of his time trying to dig up leads with an obsessive vigor. His grades were suffering, and he had been skipping Avengers' summons for the last week as well. Finding Shampoo was what mattered.

It was the only thing that mattered.

Matsuo Tsurayaba stared over the long table at his fellow lieutenants in the Hand. For the most part they dressed in traditional kimono, though a few were contemporary, like Matsuo, and preferred Armani. Any casual observer would have no idea that between the ten of them, they had killed close to a thousand men.

It was the monthly meeting of the heads of the Hand, all the commanders of their various sects in their proper places. There had been no unexpected deaths or assassinations among the ranks of the commanders. Sometimes members of the Hand liked to test their skills against their own, usually with fatal results.

It wasn't the lieutenants that dominated the meeting or Matsuo's thoughts, though. What concerned him was the new head of the Hand. Head was an appropriate term since that was about all there was to the thing which rested on a cushion on the table at the head of the table, relaxing as though it owned the world.

It was most peculiar. The former leader of the Hand, known only as Hard Master, had been an assassin of unsurpassed skill and sound judgment. And while the Hand had not flourished as it had in times past, neither did it suffer. Matsuo had been making plans to have the old head eliminated in ten years time or so, when he was in proper position to take over the organization. Those plans came to an abrupt end three months ago when, instead of the Hard Master, a new being entered the room.

It was a beach ball shaped yellow thing with simple features that passed for a face, almost as though they were drawn on by a child with a magic marker. It came in flying on wings that flowed out of the substance of the ball, able to appear and disappear without sign of an actual aperture, much like the being's hands. It floated onto a padded cushion placed on the table in front of where the Hard Master had formerly sat, said its name was Onsokumaru, and announced it had become the new head of the Hand. Most of the other lieutenants, including Matsuo, assumed this was some sort of test, and placidly accepted the situation. However, this Onsokumaru thing ran things as though it were in charge, and there was no Hard Master to contradict its whimsical decisions.

Also of note were Onsokumaru's two bodyguards that stood at his side during any public appearances. The first was a sixteen-year old girl dressed in a pink and black kunoichi outfit. It was extremely small, hugging her chest tightly and showing a huge bust hidden underneath, with the lower edge of the uniform barely making it past her bottom. It was a good psychological edge against any male that allowed his hormones to distract him. The only odd thing about the uniform was the white headband with the smiley face on it, but even that was appropriate since the girl called Shinobu seemed perpetually happy. Curiously, Matsuo could sense no danger about her. Even the way she moved implied she only knew the basics of the art. Hardly the sort that should be a bodyguard to anyone.

The other bodyguard was the exact opposite in nearly every way. He was about the same age, had black hair as well, and that was where the similarities ended. He wore non-traditional garb. Brown pants and a blue jacket with a red and white ball shaped symbol on the back. He wore a metal forehead protector with an odd arrow symbol on it. Where Shinobu was perpetually happy, the taciturn Sasuke Uchiha was dour and radiated a healthy amount of anger, which in turn was dwarfed by his barely restrained sense of power.

For this meeting Matsuo had decided to test one of the bodyguards of his new 'master'. This Shinobu was an enigma, and it was time to see if solving her would lead to information about the others. Matsuo scratched his chin, a signal to the assassin hidden above one of the ceiling tiles directly above the meeting table. The already slightly misadjusted panel moved upward just a tiny bit, no more than a crack. Just enough to fire an arrow at the girl.

Matsuo could feel the assassin take aim when Shinobu suddenly sneezed. He swore he sensed something small cut through the air at the edge of his perception.

"Bless you," Onsokumaru said.

Shinobu rubbed her nose. "Sorry, I sneezed one of my throat spikes out. Did anyone see where it went?"

A body fell through the tile and landed on the middle of the table.

"Oh, there it is." Shinobu removed the poisoned throat dart from the body even as it began to smolder, giving off a greenish mist as it disintegrated. Within seconds all that remained was the empty outfit of the ninja, his soul traveling to one of the capture spheres hidden about the world. Once caught, it would eventually be consumed in a powerful spell. No one was allowed to leave the Hand, even in death.

There was the answer to that question, Matsuo noted silently to himself. Shinobu was so dangerous that not even one with his impressive abilities had sensed an attack coming. She was probably more dangerous than Sasuke, and Onsokumaru more powerful than either of them if they had sworn fealty to him.

Onsokumaru said, "Now that the obligatory assassination attempt is over, let's get down to business. How many new attractive babes have joined the Hand?"

One of the lieutenants shifted uncomfortably. "Female recruitment is only up ten percent, and most of them aren't… babes."

Onsokumaru slammed a hand (which appeared from his round surface) onto the table. "Didn't I order babe recruitment up two hundred percent?"

"It seems most babes want to be models, not assassins," the man explained.

"Damn bias against ninjas," Onsokumaru mumbled. "Hopefully our Ninja World Amusement Park will change the public's perception of us."

The lieutenants looked at one another. Matsuo said, "I thought you were joking about that."

"Why? It's a great idea. It'll do wonders for the image of ninjas everywhere."

"We're assassins. We kill people, not entertain them."

"I don't see why we can't do both at the same time."

"We can't afford to build an amusement park," one of the others said.

Onsokumaru huffed. "Do I have to think of everything? There's a European assassin called Arcade that uses murderous amusement rides. Kill him and we'll rebuild all of his 'Murderworlds' into 'Ninja Worlds'."

Matsuo considered that. Actually, that would work. The whole Ninja World thing was stupid, of course, but it was an economical way of doing it, as well as eliminating a rival assassin. Maybe they could even make the Ninja Worlds financially viable. Perhaps it was something to seriously consider.

Onsokumaru moved things along. "How about our success and mortality rates?"

Another lieutenant stood up, "One hundred and two successful assassinations, fifty-eight." He looked at the empty uniform on the table. "Fifty-nine deaths among our membership."

"Why so many fatalities this month?" Onsokumaru asked.

Matsuo answered, "It's Elektra, Sir. She's killing the men we keep sending to kill her."

Onsokumaru started weeping, "It's so unfair. She was a major babe. Why did she turn on us?"

"It hardly matters, Sir." But inside, Matsuo seethed in rage. She was to be his Assassin Prime and key enforcer in controlling the Hand, and now it was all for nothing. When Shan Pu had taken the Elektra name, he knew something had gone wrong with her training. He had failed to eradicate every aspect of her former mentality. But he had been convinced he had obtained her at an early enough age to train her without resorting to drugs for brainwashing. Now her open betrayal meant death, and a setback to Matsuo's long-term plans.

Onsokumaru said, "I want her captured, not killed. Then I can interrogate her myself." The eyes of the Hand's leader took on a distant gaze and drool slipped from his mouth.

That display disturbed even Matsuo, who had once eviscerated a half-dozen children to test himself and ensure he hadn't developed any ridiculous feelings of sentimentality. He hadn't. "She killed the Yamamoto Twins."

"WHAT?" Onsokumaru roared. "They were two of the hottest babes in the Hand! And twins! Do you know how hard it is to recruit hot twins? That is unacceptable. The needs of the many babes outweigh the needs of the one. Elektra will have to be dispatched."

Shinobu raised her hand and gleefully shouted, "I can kill her, Onsokumaru-sama!"

Onsokumaru considered that. "I wonder if we could lure her into a nude oil wrestling death trap."

It was at that moment the door to the chamber burst open, revealing several figures in the doorway. To the untrained eye, it would have appeared none of the men at the table reacted, but to Matsuo he could sense every man tense up and small movements indicated they were ready to unleash the weapons concealed on their persons. Any single individual that could arrive so close to Matsuo without him sensing them was skilled. For four of them to manage it at the same time meant it could only be… them.

Four young men strode into the room, all of various ages, though each was painfully bishonen. The oldest was also the tallest, a blond wearing a blue trench coat and white gloves. The second in age was also tall, with reddish hair, an affinity for black, and a sheathed katana strapped across his back. The third was shorter than the other two, wearing a brown leather jacket and jeans. The youngest and shortest by far wore a sweatshirt and pants, and had a hand crossbow hung at his side. There were intakes of breath around the table, though Matsuo resisted the urge. No one had expected Youji Kudou, Aya Fujimiya, Ken Hidaka, or Omi Tsukiono, the so-called 'Snakeroot' of the Hand, to show up at the meeting. They were unquestionably some of the greatest killers the Hand had ever seen.

"Hey, guys, we're back, and we brought this!" the blond, Youji, declared as he threw a human skeleton on top the table. It made a clunking noise, the weight of the skeleton chipping some of the table surface. "We couldn't remove the head. Did you know his entire skeleton is made of adamantium? Stuff's fused together, too."

"The claws could be made to slide out, though." Ken, the youth with the brown jacket pulled out a glove with three long blades attached to the back to extend over the knuckles.

The youngest, Omi, added, "That Yukio girl that was with him is dead, too. I found out she was my third cousin, twice removed. Another member of my family is dead. Soon there won't be any of them left." He sighed.

"She was definitely a hot lay," Youji said.

Omi turned on him in anger. "You slept with her? She was my cousin!"

"She was dead."

"So you think defiling her corpse makes me feel better?"

"You're the one that killed her."

"It was fated that she die, like all of my family! It's a tragedy that I have to bear." Omi radiated a healthy doze of angst.

Aya finally entered the conversation, talking to Youji. "Maybe you should try sleeping with, you know, a girl that's alive."

Youji scoffed. "Nah, I tried it. They start whining and bitching about size, tempo, and want to be held afterwards, like it's all about them. When I sleep with a girl, it's all about me and my pleasure, not them. Doing it when they're dead makes it easier for both of us.

Ken spat at the skeleton lying on the table. "And this asshole called me a queer. Fucking gaijin mutie."

"You sleep with guys," Aya pointed out.

"That doesn't make me gay!" Ken shouted.

"It doesn't?" Aya asked.

"No! It just means I like sleeping with guys! I don't even like fags."

Matsuo noted that not only were they expert killers, but they were also completely insane. Well, maybe not Aya. It was hard to say, since he was so quiet and hung out with the other trio, who were loud and crazy.

Onsokumaru stared at the skeleton on the table. "You actually managed to kill Logan?"

"Yes," Aya said.

Youji turned once again to the people lining the table. "I think congratulations are in order."

"Not really," Onsokumaru said. "We assumed you'd die like the two hundred and thirty-five other members of the Hand he's killed before you. We only sent you on that mission in the hopes that you'd meet the same fate as the others. You are insane, after all."

Matsuo felt his heart miss a beat. Actually what Onsokumaru said was true. It had been decided that the Snakeroot was too unstable to keep around. No matter how nicely you treated a rabid dog it would try to bite you. But to tell them that to their faces? Matsuo prepared for a fight. He had a squad of his most dangerous subordinates only a floor away on standby alert. If he could hold off the Snakeroot long enough, he could use his men's lives to buy time for him to escape.

"How did you kill him?" Onsokumaru asked, temporarily defusing the situation.

"It was easy," Ken said. "He was highly overrated."

Aya said, "He had just fought and killed two men, one called Creed and the other called Cyber. He was so weakened from the fight that not even his healing factor could overcome our attacks."

"Like I said, overrated," Ken said.

Onsokumaru stared at the skeleton for a few moments longer, then looked at the men. "I have another mission for you. We need you to kill Elektra."

The Snakeroot looked warily at one another. Youji said, "I'm not sure I want to go on any more missions if you're just sending us to die."

"I said we were hoping you would die, not that actually dying is part of the mission. If you don't want to die, then don't."

The Snakeroot silently stared at one another. It was at that moment Shinobu sneezed again. Ken's headband fell to the floor a moment later. All eyes turned to look at the throat needle that was embedded in the wall next to Ken's head.

Shinobu laughed embarrassedly.

Aya shrugged. "Why not?"

"She is seriously hot. If I could get her while she was still warm…." Now it was Youji's turn for his eyes to take on a distant glaze.

"I'm not so sure," Omi said.

"I'll get you the name of a third cousin of yours," Onsokumaru offered.


Ken continued staring at the dart embedded in the wall.

"It's settled, then. You go kill Elektra and have some fun," Onsokumaru said.

The four turned and left. Matsuo couldn't decide if it had been deft maneuvering on Onsokumaru's part or just plain luck. What he did know was that in any case, he'd bide his time and wait a bit longer for an opening to take control of the Hand.

Atsushi Morikawa sat at the bar, working on his third vodka martini, looking at his watch every five minutes. Soon that hottie, Hikari Kine, would show up, and they could have a few drinks before heading back to his place for some hot sex. And he wouldn't have to pay her afterwards, like he did most of the other girls he slept with. Life was finally taking an upswing for the information broker.

Atsushi had gone halfway through his drink when he felt a pair of arms wrap themselves around his neck and a set of impressive breasts mash themselves against his back. A light caress of breath touched his ear, turning him on. His date was even friskier than he could have hoped.

Then Atsushi felt the small blade press against his jugular.

"How's it going, Atsushi?" a woman's voice whispered in his ear.

"Elektra," he whispered. "Come on, don't do this. If the Hand catches me telling you anything, they're going to kill me."

"But they can only kill you later, while I can kill you now."

Atsushi detested how casual she sounded saying things like that. "There hasn't been any word out of them in the last five days. I mean nothing. It's weird, like they've given up on you or something. I'm being honest. I'm not holding out on you." But she wasn't going to believe him. She'd cut his throat and be out of the bar before anyone saw the blood pooling around him because she was that good. He went ahead and wet himself just to get it over with.

Instead of slitting his throat, Elektra said, "Damn. I was afraid of that. I'm going to need help. You did well." Her arms disappeared from his throat and the breasts removed themselves from his back. For the first few seconds he thought she was just lulling him into a false sense of relief so that the blade to the back was all the more surprising. But nothing happened.

And then a pair of arms wrapped themselves around his waist and a set of impressive breasts mashed themselves against his jacket. "How's it going, Atsushi?"

Hikari had finally shown up. He laughed softly.

Her hand went down to his groin, grasping it. Then the grasping stopped and the breasts weren't pressed against him so tightly. Atsushi's eyes nearly rolled into the back of his head. It was over.

"Ohhhh, you are well informed. How did you know I have a fetish for urine?" She grasped his groin even tighter.

Atsushi laughed. It appeared it was going to be a good night after all.

Bouncing atop her pool cue, Stick maneuvered her way into the private back room of Ohtana's Bar for her regular meeting with her protégé. Daredevil had been irksome lately, agitated beyond anything since his return from China and that sordid incident with the Mandarin. At first Stick thought it was from difficulty in dealing with a team, but of late, she was certain it was something else. Something had happened in China, something that had him trying to dig up information on Shampoo harder than ever.

Stick sensed him come in from the skylight above, silently descending on a cable from one of his billy clubs. Halfway down, he dropped the rest of the way, landing on the edge of the pool table.

"Want me to applaud?" Stick asked.

"Has there been any word for me?"

"Actually there is," Stick hopped off the cue and onto the floor. She hoisted the cue over her shoulder. "Word passed through the network that some girl named Elektra wants to meet you at the Halfway Scraper tomorrow at five past midnight. She also adds you're a lousy kisser."

Daredevil was so startled he nearly fell off the edge of the pool table.

Stick shook her head sadly. "Listen to me, boy, any relationship with someone named Elektra is bound to end in tragedy. It's fate. Keep your distance from her."

Daredevil spun in fury on his mentor. "Save it! She has information about Shampoo. Nothing can stop me from meeting her."

Stick shrugged. "Fine. Meet her and discover yet another dead end. Maybe you'll realize it's the last one, and you can get over this idiotic obsession and move forward with your life."

"I am moving forward with my life," he insisted.

Stick shook her head sadly. "No, you're stuck in the exact same pattern you've been in since I dragged your blind ass out of that shelter. You're afraid to move forward. That's why you keep ignoring as many of those Avengers meetings as you can. Acting like an actual member of the team, or worse, like their friend, would mean you're letting go of your dead past, which you can't bring yourself to do, coward."

"They aren't my friends," he retorted.

"Oh no, they just save your sorry behind because they have time to kill. Yes, I heard about your run in with the pirates at the docks. You'd have been dead without your friends, and yes, they do consider you as one, though God knows why. Keep pushing them away and eventually they'll stop coming back. You'd better get your act together before it's too late."

"I don't have to listen to this!"

Stick smirked, letting her pool cue go from one hand to the other. "Actually, with your super-sensitive hearing, you do, unless you think you can shut me up."

To her amusement, he didn't even try to offer a counter argument. He simply said, "I have a meeting to keep," and left the way he had arrived.

Stick shook her head sadly. "Kids. I forgot how much I hate raising them."

The 'Halfway Scraper' was a slang term for a partially completed skyscraper that stood in a low scale area of Tokyo. Plans had called for it to be the centerpiece of a new financial district that would restore the area, but funding for the building fell through when it was revealed they were being backed by an outfit called the Secret Empire, and that the building was intended to be a forward attack base capable of leveling Tokyo. So it stood alone, a framework with some flooring and almost no walls, slowly falling into ruin. A scarecrow of concrete and steel in a field of urban decay.

Upon arriving, Daredevil discovered the security guard for the grounds unconscious in his guardhouse. That meant Elektra had already arrived. He used his billy club to snare a girder and hoisted himself up to the fourth floor, one with much of the flooring complete. He walked through the building, his radar sense telling him about the structure in a way mere eyes never could. Except for what color it was, of course.

Daredevil stood silently for a full minute before calling out, "You can come down from your hiding spot against that girder one floor up and eight and a half meters to my right."

Removing herself from that very spot, Elektra ran forward, leaping through an incomplete section of the floor and down to Daredevil's level. She landed a handful of meters away from him, not out of his reach but far enough for her to react to any move he made.

"You're in rare form," Elektra congratulated. "I'm going to need those extra senses of yours."

"Tell me about Shampoo."

"After you do me a favor."

"No favors." Daredevil took a menacing step toward the girl.

"No favors, no info." Elektra laughed. "And save the threats of bodily harm you're going to use next. They might work on a street punk whose mutant power to shoot quills just developed, but they're wasted on a professional like me. I've been trained to resist torture from experts. I'd die before you exceeded my pain threshold, and if you anger me enough, I'm out of here. So do we deal or not?"

Daredevil wanted to argue, but she was right. For someone with no super-powers, she handled herself far too well. "What do you want?"

"Better. My former masters, the Hand, are sending their top assassins, the Snakeroot, to kill me for helping you against the Mandarin. I need you to help me kill them first."

"I don't kill people," Daredevil pointed out. Something was bothering him, but he couldn't quite place it.

Elektra made no effort to hide her disdain. "Spare me your useless morality. If it's any consolation to you these four are killers a hundred times over, and unlike me they're psychotics that enjoy it. Killing is as integral to them as eating and sleeping. They can't stop themselves, even if they wanted to. If you capture them, they'll eventually find a way to escape and kill again. The only thing that can stop them is death itself. It's the only practical way to deal with them."

The feeling of unease grew so badly, Daredevil fidgeted. "You're an expert killer yourself. Why do you need my help?"

Elektra said, "The Snakeroot possesses an exceptional talent that goes beyond what any in the Hand can master. They have the ability to blend into their environment. They—"

That was it! Daredevil ran forward and tackled Elektra, catching the girl off guard and driving her back a handful of meters. A crossbow bolt flew past where her head had been a moment before, embedding itself in the wooden floor.

Daredevil continued rolling along the floor with Elektra hugged tightly to his body. He finally stopped next to a partially completed wall, where he judged they would be safe from further bolts. Once he released her, Elektra remained crouched behind the wall, her sai drawn and at the ready.

"They are good." Daredevil hadn't truly sensed them. Somehow they were able to fade into the background, creating a dead zone which normal senses couldn't reach. That was how Daredevil had spotted them. The odd feeling he couldn't place had been the 'blind spots' they created when negating their presence in people's senses.

Now it was different. With the failure of the crossbow bolt, they were on the move, which seemed to negate their near supernatural camouflage abilities. Apparently they couldn't attack and maintain their hidden nature. Even now they were moving very quietly, trying to flank the pair.

"I wonder how they knew you'd be here," Daredevil mumbled quietly.

"They heard the same message you did. Why do you think I specified Elektra instead of something ambiguous, like 'the girl who saw you without your mask' or some other reference that only you would know?"

"Why did you do that?" Daredevil snapped.

"So you'd have no choice but to help me. Now it's kill or be killed. Besides, I'd rather know when and where they're going to try to kill me. It makes a confrontation easier."

"How did you know I'd shown up?"

"Your obsession with Shampoo. You would have come even if you had two broken legs."

Daredevil's frayed nerves snapped. "I'm tired of everyone saying I'm obsessed!"

"Then stop being obsessed."

Reigning in his temper, Daredevil asked, "What do we do now?"

Elektra began to crawl silently away from him. "You draw them out and I'll do what I do best; stab them in the back."

"Why me?"

"Because you can avoid their attacks and you need me alive to give you the information you crave." She moved away from him more quietly than a mouse. Daredevil had to admit she was one of the most silent people he had ever met.

He returned his attention to the trio of men moving about him. The one that had fired the crossbow moved above him, seeking a line of fire while maintaining his distance. Two others were on the same level he was, trying to flank him, one heavier than the other judging by the sound of their treads. He couldn't sense any of them pursuing their primary target, Elektra. Maybe they weren't as good at sensing things as they were at hiding.

It was a coordinated attack and Daredevil would have all three of them moving on him at the same time if he remained where he was. Taking the initiative, he lunged toward the larger of the ones on the ground, hoping to take him by surprise. If he could finish one off fast, the odds switched into Daredevil's favor. With his skills he was confident he could defeat two normal people, assassins or not. And if Elektra was moving into position to assist him, they would fall even more quickly.

A crossbow bolt just missed Daredevil as he sprang from cover and charged the largest of the assassins. With his radar senses he could perceive the katana the man had in his hand. Before he could close within reach of the blade, Daredevil loosed a volley of billy-clubs from his sleeves toward the swordsman.

Amazingly he dodged through the wave of weapons. Daredevil barely had enough time to pull a sword from his robes and deflect the assassin's attack. The blind adventurer had taken to keeping one on his person and stepping up practice with it since his confrontation with the Swordsman, though his lacked the in-built weaponry the boorish oaf had.

Within seconds Daredevil learned the difference between being skilled and being a master. Despite his foe being an assassin, the katana user had a large measure of talent in wielding his weapon. Daredevil was put on the defensive, barely able to use his agility to keep from being skewered or disarmed.

Daredevil was so intent on the man in front of him that he almost forgot about the other two wanting to take his head. He narrowly avoided a pair of crossbow bolts that came dangerously close to hitting the bowman's ally, though the katana-wielding man took no notice of it.

The bolts stopped coming only because the other assassin on the ground had arrived. Daredevil could sense a trio of blades extended from the hand. Immediately the claw man began slashing at Daredevil's back. The hero discarded the sword in favor of his shorter but more familiar billy-clubs, wielding one in each hand and buying time for Elektra to move into position. He tried defending himself as best as he could, parrying a flurry of attacks, but each man began to sneak blows in past his defense. A katana cut across his chest, parting his red robes. A trio of scratches ripped open his back. Another sword strike to the leg slowed him down. Escape was impossible now, and still Elektra hadn't appeared.

Then a telling blow. The man with the trio of blades caught Daredevil high in the shoulder with a straight thrust, two of the blades sank deeply and drove the hero back into a crate, pinning him to it. The billy clubs slipped from his hands and fell to the ground as he cried out in pain at the impalement. It didn't feel like the blade hit bone, but it hurt even worse than the time Elektra had driven a sai through his hip. He tried removing it and received a punch to his face. Between the pain and near concussion, he could barely concentrate and hovered on the edge of unconsciousness.

"Nice work, Ken," the sword-wielder said.

"Like I would do anything less, Aya," Ken responded.

"Hey, I kept him pinned down long enough for you to nail him," the crossbow user shouted down from his position on the upper floor.

"Like you were at any risk, Omi," Ken shot back. "Now to business." He returned his attention to Daredevil. "Where did Elektra run off to?"

The name helped Daredevil focus. Elektra, that bitch! She had set him up. He was certain of it. She had more than enough time to attack and keep him from dealing with three-on-one odds, to keep him from the agony he was in. That must have been her plan from the beginning, using him to buy time to escape. If he ever got his hands on the traitorous bitch, she was history.

Daredevil should have told them everything he knew about her, but he needed her alive. Betrayer or not, she was the only one who knew anything about Shampoo. She had been right. He needed her alive.

"Fuck you!" He spat in Ken's face.

Daredevil felt Ken's heartbeat triple, well beyond how excited he had been during the fight. "Did you just imply I'm a fag?" He pushed harder on the claws, making Daredevil cry out in pain.

"He was just swearing at you, not impugning your sexuality," Aya said wearily.

"That's not what it sounded like to me."

"To you everything anyone says sounds like they're implying you're gay. How about that newsstand guy you killed as we passed by him yesterday?"

"He accused me of being a fag!"

"He asked you if you wanted a paper."

"It was the way he said it."

As Ken talked, Daredevil sensed the clearly insane man was truly distracted. A plan came to him, but it would only work if he could summon enough strength to pull it off, and the others became distracted too.

From above, Omi shouted, "Wait, ask him if he's related to anyone named Omi Tsukiono."

"No way! You'll try and kill him, and he's mine to kill for calling me gay!"

"He didn't say you were gay," Aya repeated in a tired voice.

"At least take off his mask and see if he looks like me," Omi insisted.

Daredevil sensed what was about to happen a half second before it actually occurred. Omi took a deeper intake of breath, probably because he was about to say something else, when the squishing sound of metal parting flesh reached Daredevil's ears. It ended as the tip of the sai emerged from the Omi's chest right where his heart was located. The hero heard Omi's final heartbeat, as it pumped once around the metal through the heart, then stopped forever.

Elektra removed the blade, letting Omi's dead form slump to the ground where it began to smolder, giving off a green mist. "You aren't the only ones who can use shadows to your advantage."

"You've got that right," a voice said from above her as a wire dropped past her line of sight. Reflexively Elektra brought both her sai up to neck level, one on each side, barely keeping the wire from digging into her throat. However, it was no single wire, but a complex set, almost like a cat's cradle, which had looped around her. Her sai were stabbing weapons, lacking a sharp edge, and she was unable to cut through the wire. Instead she found all her strength used to keep the wire at bay. Her foe proved more powerful than her, and the noose tightened, forcing her sai closer to her neck. There wasn't enough room to move her head out of the way of the closing circle of death. She was trapped.

Aya stared up in anger at the wire user. "Youji, you asshole, why weren't you watching Omi's back?"

"I was," Youji said conversationally, as though he was fixing breakfast instead of strangling someone.

"Then why did you let him get killed?"

"It was the only way to draw Elektra out. If I had changed position, she would have sensed me and ran for it, and tracking her down again would have been a major pain in the ass. It was much more efficient this way."

"But Omi's dead."

Youji shrugged, tightening the noose so that now Elektra's blades were touching the sides of her throat. "We'll have the Hand resurrect him."

"Resurrecting people takes a lot of soul power. They only do that under extreme circumstances. They only did five in the last century."

"And didn't Onsokumaru say something about wanting us dead?" Ken pointed out.

Youji said, "If they bitch about the soul thing, we'll just have to kill enough guys in the Hand to make up the loss. That should solve everything. Ah, here it comes. I can't wait to get a piece of your ass."

The wire had finally pressed close enough to draw blood, and Elektra made a choking sound. A whistle through the air joined the sound, and suddenly Youji found his wire growing slack.

The lack of resistance threw him off balance for the briefest of seconds. That was enough time for Elektra to spin and throw a sai upward. Her aim was true as the sai buried itself to the hilt in Youji's chest, in the heart just like Omi's had been. A look of disbelief passed behind his sunglasses before he fell from the girder he was on, dead on impact with the floor.

At the same moment the wire snapped, a pool cue arced through the air like a missile toward Aya's back. Gracefully he pivoted on one foot, slashing through the cue and batting it aside. A coolness pass over him as he felt the blade contact the wood and the improvised weapon went flying to the side. Or more correctly, half of it, as he saw, to his horror, that someone had unscrewed the cue, making it two missiles. They had been thrown so closely together and perfectly in line Aya had mistaken them for only one.

That passed through his mind a split second before the other shaft struck his throat, crushing his windpipe. The katana slipped from his fingers as he fell to his knees, clutching at his throat as he gasped for air that would never reach his lungs.

That was the opening Daredevil had been waiting for. He grabbed Ken by the wrist in a grip of iron and kicked out. Despite his grip, kicking Ken shifted the blades slightly, loosening the wrist enough to slip out of the glove with the blade attached to it. Ken went flying backward to land on his bottom, trying to gather his wind after the kick.

"For Shampoo," Daredevil thought to himself as he pulled out the blades, biting on his lip fiercely enough to draw blood, but refusing to cry out in pain.

"Those are mine!" Ken shouted, pointing at the blades Daredevil now held in his hand. He pulled out another glove, this one for his left hand, and put it on.

Daredevil threw a bag of powder at Ken, who evaded it rather than trying to slash it aside, which was what the hero had hoped he'd do, since it would have blinded him.

Ken began slashing madly, taking no heed of what he was cutting. Daredevil backpedaled, going completely evasive as the blades came closer to him by the second. On one near miss, Daredevil ducked a slash that opened up a cut on his cheek. A second cut made sparks fly as Ken managed to cut through a support with the razor sharp adamantium blades. In a completed structure it would have meant nothing, but in the Halfway Scraper it was the sole means of support for that area of the floor. Daredevil heard the groan of weight from above and recognized it as the sound for a mortal blow to the ceiling. He barely had enough time to leap out of the way as several tons of building fell directly on top of Ken. Gravity took over as the weight also caused the floor to collapse, taking the debris with a few more tons with it. Daredevil heard the echo through the building as the pile fell through two more floors before coming to a stop.

Daredevil lay on his back, panting for breath.

"You might want to bind your wounds," Elektra suggested from above.

Wordlessly Daredevil did as she recommended, pulling a first aid kit out and wrapping the wound up. He'd need hospitalization, but the stopgap measure should keep him from bleeding to death.

As he wrapped it up, a voice cracking with the weight of age said, "Haven't you idiots learned to not go into battle without a plan? You're lucky I happened along or it would have been the end for both of you."

Daredevil sensed Elektra tense up. Barely noticeable, but it was there. "That's my ghoul of a mentor, Stick. She taught me everything I know about fighting and using my hyper-senses."

Elektra relaxed just a touch. She looked at Stick, who stood next to a different hole on the same floor she was on. "We were outnumbered by a more powerful force that was willing to succeed at their goal no matter the cost. The odds were against us from the beginning."

Daredevil injected some painkillers into his arm. He'd need to move shortly. "Why didn't you just ask me to contact the rest of the Avengers, then? Just one more of them, and we'd have been able to kick these guys asses."

"And they would have insisted I go to prison for what I've done in the past," Elektra explained. "I'd have been killed there within twenty-four hours. You're the only one who wouldn't do that. The whole idea behind this was that I get out alive, and I have." She began to walk away.

"Wait! I came through with my part of the bargain. Now tell me where Shampoo is!" he demanded.

Elektra stopped, turned around, and stared at him. "First I want you to answer a question. Why do you seek her out?"

"I have to protect her."

"And if she does not want or need your protection, what then?"

"I… I have to. I promised I would."

"I see. Then you aren't doing this for her. You're doing it for yourself."

"That's not true!" Daredevil shouted.

"Of course it is. Let me guess. You feel guilt over her capture after arriving in Japan when you were seven."

Daredevil stared at her in disbelief. Stick was the only person whom he had told. "You know about that?"

Elektra smirked. "There is nothing I didn't know about her. We might as well have been one with how close we were. Tell me something. Do you feel personal guilt when an earthquake hits, or a ship sinks, or how many people die from starving in Bangladesh?"

"Of course not."

"Because there is nothing you can do about them. Likewise there was nothing you could have done about her capture. You were seven. You were lucky to have survived your village being bombed. Even making it as far as Japan, for that matter. Her capture was as inevitable as the surf pounding on the shore, and there was nothing you could have done about it."

"I don't care about your stupid opinion!" Daredevil shouted. "Just tell me where she is."

Elektra shrugged. "Very well. I was trying to dissuade you, but I see it's pointless. She's gone. She passed away quietly and didn't suffer, which is the best one can hope for living in this ambivalent world."

"You're lying!"

Elektra sneered. "Oh, of course I must be. After all, it is so advantageous to me to lie to you about this. Remind me again of why I would bother. The reasoning escapes me."

With his hyper-senses, Daredevil could sense a person's heartbeat far more accurately than a lie detector. There was no tension whatsoever in Elektra as she spoke. Actually, she had become noticeably irritated at his contention that she was lying. And she made sense. She had no reason to lie. Not about this. Not to him. And he had a feeling that under these conditions, she'd keep her word.

Daredevil went from panic to fear to hopelessness. In the quietest moments of the eternal night he lay in, his mind had tortured him with the idea that Shampoo might be dead. That he had failed her and she had suffered because of his failure. It was his fault. All his fault. He didn't know how he could have saved her, found her before she died. But there had to have been a way. There had to have been.

Daredevil released a soul wrenching wail that filled the building. "I failed her! Oh god, when it mattered the most I failed her!"

A snort of derision cut through the air, and his agony turned to rage. He said nothing, turning toward Elektra, the rage hidden behind his mask but all too clear in his body language.

Elektra showed no concern. "How self-centered you are, blaming yourself for your perceived failure when it was Shampoo's own inadequacies that resulted in her fate."

"How dare you!"

"It is the truth!" Elektra shouted, and Daredevil could feel her own anger build. "A person's life is ultimately their responsibility, not another's. To assume such without even being asked insults them to no end."

"You wouldn't understand, you heartless bitch!"

"I should just leave you to a lifetime of wallowing in your self-inflicted wounds," Elektra snarled. "But since Shampoo meant something to me, and you meant something to her, I will share with you an item she gave to me: the truth."

Daredevil stopped, confused. "What are you talking about?"

"She never blamed you for what happened, fool. On the contrary, you were one of the only two people in the world she cared for, the other being her best friend. She had assumed you were dead after she was abducted. Her one wish above all others was that you had survived and been dealt a kinder fate than her. Despite your blindness, you have been. You have found a niche in life that suits you, and allies that obviously care for your well-being. You have the freedom to choose what you want in life. But instead you wander aimlessly about on a quixotic quest, wasting everything she had wished for you to have. And you say I'm heartless?

"So by all means, spit on the memory of one you contend you hold so dear. It means nothing to me. As far as I'm concerned you're just a pathetic loser who goes out of his way to make himself miserable. Despite her hardships, Shampoo remained alive, continued to evolve and became a person. She moved on, and she was the one that, according to you, suffered. You disgust me. You aren't worthy of a single thought she had. I will leave now. Try and stop me and you'll end up far worse than you already are." She turned to go, not even bothering to hide or move silently, daring him to come after her.

Instead, Daredevil remained where he was, trying to process everything she had said. Shampoo hadn't blamed him? Hadn't regarded him as a failure for not protecting her? It was something he had never considered. He had never thought of anything from her perspective. Elektra's words about his self-centeredness cut deep. He had never thought of Shampoo having been anything but the seven-year-old he had adored with all his heart. But that girl was gone, and he could never bring her back. Somehow, his mind had become fixated on that one idea, almost to the exclusion of all else. He had been intent on attaining something he could never have: a chance to pick up where he left off.

And perhaps even more importantly was the knowledge that Shampoo had not held his failure against him. Had in fact wished him well, putting Mousse before herself. Tears rushed to his eyes as he felt absolution for his sins visited on him in a way even God himself could not do.

Mousse removed his mask, allowing the night air to wash over his bare flesh as, for the first time since he was eight, he began to cry.

Elektra was almost out of the structure when she saw the aged figure, barely coming up waist high, waiting near the place she had chosen to exit the building. Reflexively she tensed up, though she sensed a power in the woman that would have put the late and unlamented Snakeroot to shame.

It was obvious Stick wanted to talk, so Elektra paused, content to wait for the moment.

"Thank you for helping my protégé," Stick said.

"I spoke only the truth," Elektra said blandly.

"I know, and he does too, or he wouldn't be in the process of moving on like he is back there. Now the question is what are you going to do? I know enough about the Hand that eliminating the Snakeroot won't stop them. Oh, it might make them back off for a while, but as long as they exist they'll never stop trying to kill you."

"Then perhaps I should cease to exist," Elektra said, and this time her tone was thoughtful.

"Like Shampoo did?" Stick asked.

The way the question was phrased made Elektra uneasy. It spoke of knowledge the crone could not possibly possess. Most likely it was a probe for information. "She is gone forever." And it was the truth. The truth was always easier to speak than a lie. It was one of the basic tenants of one who dealt in the latter.

"I already told you I believe you," Stick insisted. "So, you think if Elektra… dies, that will stop the Hand? Maybe it will. There are different kinds of deaths, after all."

Elektra nodded. The crone was good, and the assassin had the terrible feeling that under these conditions, she was outclassed even more badly than she had been against the Snakeroot. "Yes. Shampoo knew of a method that her tribe would sometimes use. They had a saying. 'When a life can no longer be lived, then it is time to cast it, and everything related to it, aside forever so that a new one can be chosen.' And they had an ancient place where the Gods would help them choose what life it is they should lead. I believe that ancient tradition will serve me well."

"Perhaps it will," Stick murmured mostly to herself. "In any case, good luck. May you find the type of death you seek."

"And you." Elektra felt an inexplicable kinship toward the woman. Almost a mother figure, which was something she never really had. Not that it mattered now, at the end of things.

Elektra turned away from Stick and resumed her journey, heading west to where her death, and future, lay.


To be continued.

Act 2, Scene 5
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