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Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Chapter Text

The Avengers were in Central Park, hanging out at the Sheep Meadow. They had a small designated area off to one side that was discretely fenced off; Stark paid for the maintenance of the entire Meadow in exchange. A permanent sunshade held several deck chairs and a picnic table. Currently Steve Rogers and Clint Barton were lounging in two of the chairs. Steve was reading. Clint was watching the one-step-off-full-contact Frisbee game going on amongst the rest of the team. Both Steve and Clint usually recused themselves from the game. Too easy for them.

"They're going throw Bucky off the field soon," Clint remarked, taking a long drink from his water bottle. Steve looked up, squinted at the game, then grinned at the archer.

"Who'd he hit?"

"Got Bruce right under the armpit and bounced it into Rhodey and then Thor on the rebound...and there we go."

Thor threw up his hands in a universal 'flag on the play' motion and a heated argument broke out between Bucky and well...everyone else. He appeared to appeal to Natasha, who mercilessly pointed at the deck chairs with the Frisbee in her hand. Bucky tossed his long hair out of his face and stomped over to the two blonds.

"Assholes," he muttered under his breath as he took a chair and bottle of juice from the cooler.

"Language," Steve said, not looking up.

"Welcome to the marksmen club," Clint laughed at him, then returned to idly watching the bare sweaty skin on display. All of the men were wearing board shorts of various lengths and shirtless in the warm humid New York summer. Nat was in a boy short bikini; Sharon in jean shorts and a sleeveless tshirt and Bobbi in an intricate strappy halter top and skin tight capris. "If you hadn't been showing off you'd still be playing."

"It was worth it," Bucky said, gulping the drink and fishing out another. He leaned back, shoving the recliner down and closed his eyes, grinning.

"I know what you me...." Clint stopped abruptly, craning his neck and then standing up to look south east. "Bucky. You see this?"

"See whaaaaaaa..." Bucky sat up and looked in the same direction as Clint, his voice fading out like it fell off a cliff.

Steve jerked to his feet, looking south east. "What?" he snapped, the mantle of Captain America dropping over him in a breath.

"That," said Clint, pointing.

Pointing at the very large tawny hunting cat currently bounding across the green grass of the Meadow straight for them. It was moving at a fearsome rate, scattering picnickers left and right. From that scale is was huge, almost hulk sized.

"Can't we just get one afternoon?" Clint said plaintively, even as all three men stood up and rushed forward. The moment they cleared into the sun they were noticed by the rest of the team. As one they whipped around to face in the same direction. Mjolnir flashed to Thor's hand; Iron Man and War Machine's armors booted up and lumbered forward. Sharon spun and ran past Steve and the marksmen, headed for the weapons case.

Bobbi shaded her eyes, stared at the oncoming predator and cursed loudly.

"Oh, hell no!" she yelled...and then sprinted on a collision course with the animal.

"Bobbi!" screamed Clint.

The huge cat -- the huge saber toothed tiger from the curved fangs hanging down over its jaw -- gathered itself and leapt into the air in a massive bound, mouth open in a shattering roar. It landed on the small form of Mockingbird, who'd vaulted the low fence into the open. Wrapping its forelimbs about her, the beast's mouth gaped open and latched over her face. They rolled together, ending up with the human woman on her back as the enormous cat...

…licked her face and arms like a kitten

"No, no, no!" Mockingbird protested, laughing wildly. "You'll skin me alive, Zabu!"

She pushed the wide muzzle and dagger like fangs away from her, then stood up and gripped the big animal by the ears, hands scratching hard. Her arms were reddened and a spot on her cheek was raw and beading blood from the cat's rough tongue.

A deep rumbling noise vibrated through the air.

The saber-toothed tiger was purring, nearly knocking Bobbi off her feet with thrusts of his head into her legs and torso like a housecat might.

The team advanced as one, all of them open mouthed and astonished. When they'd passed the fence line the big cat looked up, golden eyes narrowing and hissed, shoving Bobbi behind him and taking up a defensive stance. Bobbi smacked him lightly across the ears.

"Zabu. No. This is my team, my friends. Bad kitty." The cat flopped onto his back, waving his paws in the air and wriggling. Bobbi leaned over to caress the massive predator's tummy, looking up at the team. "Guys, this is Zabu, an old friend." She straightened up and brushed long tawny fur off her capris. "Ka-Zar, I know you're there. Get your aristocratic butt out here and apologize to Zabu for nearly getting him killed."

There was a deep chuckle from a nearby tree and a big blond man in a what looked like leather shorts hopped down lightly, followed by a bikini clad blond woman. Both were powerfully built and gorgeous. Bobbi eyed them both, smiling, then darted forward to hug the man tightly. He returned the embrace, turning to release her into the woman's arms for another embrace. The cat wove around them, that huge reverberating purr echoing.

"Bobbi," said Steve sternly. "What's going on here?"

"Oh, yeah, sorry." Bobbi disengaged from the group hug and stepped to one side. "Avengers, this is Lord Kevin Plunder and Lady Shanna Plunder, also known as Ka-Zar and the She-Devil. The saber tooth kitteh is Zabu."

From the back of the group Falcon said clearly: "Of COURSE she knows someone named 'Lord Plunder'."

Bobbi gesturned from one group to the other. “Ka-zar, Shanna, please meet the Avengers, my team mates."

Ka-zar stepped forward and held out his hand to Steve. "Even in the Savage Land, we know of the Avengers. It is my honor, Captain America." He greeted each Avenger with grave courtesy and in a slightly stilted formal way until he reached Thor. The two big blond men eyed each other, then Ka-Zar gave a slight bow, just from the shoulders. “Your majesty.”

“You were once of my lady Barton’s war-band?” Thor rumbled.

“I was her lover,” Ka-Zar stated dryly. Shanna, making her own way down the line of Avengers, stopped to laugh. Bobbi grinned ruefully, rubbing her face.

“OH REALLY?” Clint was looking directly at Bobbi when he said.

“I told you I wasn’t kidding about that,” Bobbi replied.

“Is every one of your ex-boyfriends going to be either startling or evil?” Natasha asked Bobbi.

“Probably,” was the bland response. “I’m running out though.”

Thor through his head back and laughed, sticking out his hand to Ka-Zar. “If you took our valkyrie to your bed I know you must be a man of great courage. I offer you the friendship of a Prince of Asgard!”

*****

They adjourned to the Tower, Bobbi fussing over her guests on the communal level while everyone else showered and changed. When they all returned to the main pool deck Zabu was snoozing contentedly in the sun with the entire duck clan either on his back or between his paws, also sleeping. Bobbi was sitting on the picnic table (which was covered in snacks and pitchers of cold drinks), listening with rapt attention to Shanna and Ka-Zar stood by the railing, gazing out over the city.

Clint joined the bigger man, alone. (Nat discreetly herded off anyone trying to join them.)

“So, Lord Plunder. Nice to meet you finally. I honestly thought you were a figment of my wife’s perverse sense of humour.” Clint turned around and leaned his back to the railing, looking back at the group gathered around the two big blond women.

Ka-Zar made a non-committal noise in his chest. “We do not spend a great deal of time in modern society, Shanna and Zabu and I. But when we have ventured out, we learned of the Avengers, and you — Hawkeye, master archer. We learned that you were mated to a woman I had once thought to take to wife, and still care much for.”

“That a problem, buddy?” Clint said in a tight, edgy voice.

“If it had been, one glance upon her now would be enough to dispel any concerns. In the time she spent with me I had thought she was vibrant, brave, powerful — she was but a pale shadow of who she is now. Any man who could cause that change in my Doctor Morse is a man worth knowing.” Ka-Zar turned to him and held out his hand again, as though he had not already greeted him earlier. “I would be friend to you, Clint Barton, husband of Bobbi.”

Clint looked at him a moment, then turned and yelled in the direction of the group at the picnic table. “I’m bonding with this one too, little bird. Suck it up.”

The response, as he turned to clasp Ka-Zar’s hand, was so foul Captain America slapped his hand over Bobbi’s mouth before she could finish the phrase.

*****

Eighteen Hours Earlier, Hell’s Kitchen, New York

Ashley literally threw the last drunk out of the Sea Change bar, not caring much if he landed in the gutter. He’d been handsy with the waitstaff all night and she was too tired to care about being politic. Third Saturday in a row two of her bouncers hadn’t even shown up to work, not even calling in. She was getting too old for this, that was why she’d moved to tending bar.

What staff had bothered to show were her best, at least, and the tills were cashed out, the bar cleaned and prepped, the floor swept, the garbage collected and ready to go. On a whim she sent them all home early — though she knew most would wind up at an after hours joint nearby. She’d probably join them, honestly. Her little studio was spare and cold at this time of night, all stark shadows and thin futon.

Her night porter, Rodrigo, showed up on time at least. He was a good man, kind, smart — he taught Spanish classes at the Thunder Dojo’s night school. She paid him in cash and never asked him to fill out paper work.

He smiled at her and just started hauling out trash bags as usual. She did an ‘idiot check’ of the banquettes, the bathrooms — in a good state, she was proud of her staff for keeping them clean like that…and realized it had gotten awful quiet.

She ventured out, cautiously heading for the bar and her shot gun. It wasn’t unknown for someone to trying a robbery at closing. She couldn’t hear Rodrigo anywhere…

A breeze hit her, the back door, just around a bend towards the kitchen, must be open. Shotgun in hand, Ashley head that way.

Rodrigo’s body was sprawled in the door way, blocking it from closing. He was draped over the bag of trash. She rushed to him, and found herself staring down at ribbons of flesh and a spreading pool of blood.

She gasped, copper and iron and salt blooming on her tongue.

She thought I am tasting his face.

There was a rush of motion in the alley outside and in the half-shadows she saw…claws and fangs.

The claws pierced her shoulders, holding her still.

The fangs closed over her throat.

She did not have time to scream.

She stopped breathing.

She died.