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The Path of the Paper Tiger

Greenville, North Carolina

"Connor? You here? Yo! Angry Midget!" called Crystal Salt, as she walked in through the rollup door opening of the gym.

"Crystal! I'll be right out!" came a voice from an office off to the side. This was followed by a hushed exchange, and then out came a short, muscular man with a thick goatee, close shaved head, blue shorts trimmed in orange, and a black "Autism Awareness" T-shirt. "Salt!" called Connor. "'Bout time you came around!" he said with a smile, giving her a hug. "Long time no see, agent! I see the Secret Service is keeping you well."

Nodding towards the office, she asked, "I catch you at a bad time?"

Before he could answer, a man of about six-two stepped out into the open, holding a sword. "As a matter of fact, you did," he said with menace.

"Connor?"

"Salt, meet Armand Dangerous, also known as--"

"--Paper Tiger. Yeah, I've read the file," she said as she took the man in with a practiced eye.

"A file?" said the man with a nod. "Files are always so..." he stopped, trying to think of the right word, then, "lifeless. Can I clear anything up for you?"

"Yeah- 'Dangerous?' Really? What is that? You an action movie junkie? Too many Van Damme flicks?"

"It's Danjeroos," the man said with contempt.

"Doesn't matter. I think 'Paper Tiger' is more accurate anyway," Crystal said with a dismissive wave.

The man raised an eyebrow.

Crystal just waved him forward. Pulling her gun out of her holster, she held it out to one side. "I'll toss this if you toss the sword."

Giving a slight nod, he obliged.

Tossing her gun, she held up a hand, and said, "Wait. You don't... like... turn into a dragon, or a tiger, or anything, do you?"

Cocking his head to one side, Armand said, "No. That's a very odd question, Miss Salt."

"Agent Salt. And that's my life now. I had to know." She got into a stance, and they began circling each other.

"Uh, Salt," said Connor. "I don't think you want to do this."

As they circled, she shook her head and smiled. "Hell yes, I do. I have had it up to my damned blonde roots being sidelined because of foes that turn into dragons, have electrified swords, or some other nonsense. I've been itching for a good old hand-to-hand for months. Armand here is an assassin and occasional arms dealer wanted by the Japanese, the Chinese, India, Interpol, Scotland Yard, Mossad, MI5, MI6, the Secret Service, and most of the other Alphabet Soups and foreign intelligence agencies."

"This guy's as dangerous as his name," warned Connor.

"Then make it even," offered Paper Tiger. "I'll fight you both."

"Whattaya say, Midget? You up for it?" asked Crystal.

Pulling off his shirt, Connor said, "He's not really offering a choice." Tossing the shirt, he said, "At least he's not using the sword." Joining in the circle, he waved the man forward with both hands, "Come on, brother. Bring it."

The man nodded, then smirked, and then they were all three a tangle of motion. Paper Tiger threw a powerful kick towards Connor's head which the man just managed to get an arm up to block. Crystal threw a sharp punch to Armand's jaw, but he rolled with it, then threw an elbow that connected with her chin. She connected a heel to his knee, and as he buckled, the Angry Midget ducked into his waistline, lifted, and then body slammed the assassin, immediately grappling with him on the floor, and landing a punch that bloodied his mouth. Crystal kicked at Armand's head, but connected with Connor's fist. The distraction gave Dangerous the chance to throw Connor off of him, and then he did a spin kick that knocked both opponents away, giving him time to get up. Both Connor and Salt rebounded quickly, but it was already over. Armand struck Crystal just short of the temple, knocking her out, and although he took punches to the gut and hip from Connor, he countered with one knee to the gut, the other knee to the face, and then a triple kick to the chest and face, knocking him not quite out, but down enough to not be getting up quickly.

Walking over to pick up his sword, he came back to Connor, put the tip to his chin, and said, "You're lucky, Connor. I was ready to kill you for interfering with my contract in Iraq. This was a good fight though." Picking up Connors' shirt with the end of his sword, he dropped it on the fighter's chest. "Tend to your more important fights though, if you know what's good for you."

Connor said nothing, but glared. Armand growled angrily, and kicked him in the jaw, laying him out cold. Then he walked out of the gym. "Now to find Mister Rand," he said to himself.

***

Manhattan - New York City, New York

Iron Fist stood in the middle of an ornate office that looked like it had been decorated by a wood chipper. He was just dropping Steel Serpent to the ground when a man in a pale brown costume with dark tiger stripes walked into the room, a sword unsheathed and resting on his shoulder. "Very good, Mister Rand. Just out of curiosity, how come you don't just kill him?" he asked, pointing his sword at the fallen Steel Serpent.

Fist just stared for a few seconds, then asked, "Who are you?"

"Most call me Paper Tiger. You might remember that from a recent trip you took to India. A man I was contracted to kill had fled there from Iraq, after another hero got in my way there. I have already caught up to the Angry Midget though, and squared accounts."

Iron Fist gasped. "Chris Connor? You--"

"--He's fine," assured Paper Tiger, holding up a hand to stop Fist from saying any more. "We fought. He was... challenging; even hampered by a pretty Secret Service agent. I could not let his interference go unanswered though. Or yours," he said with a shrug, pointing the sword at Fist. "Time to settle accounts, Mister Rand." With that, he drew the sword back, assuming a fighting stance.

"I don't have time for this," warned Iron Fist. "I will gladly face you at another time of your choosing, but I have to--"

"I don't care what you 'have to,' Mister Rand. You interfered with my business. Now, I'm interfering with yours. Besides," he said smiling, again pointing his sword at Steel Serpent, "he was working for me."

Danny Rand lowered into a fighting stance, and said, "Then you are my business." Stretching one hand forth, he beckoned Paper Tiger forward.

The assassin smirked, and then they threw themselves at each other. Armand slashed at Fist, and Rand smacked the flat of the blade with the back of his hand, knocking it off target. The assassin swung it back again, and Danny caught it between his palms and twisted, temporarily tying up his foe's arms as he refused to let go of the sword. It gave Danny time to spin his body upwards, kicking both feet across Paper Tiger's jaw, knocking him to the ground. The assassin did not let go of the sword though, and it cut into the heel of Danny's right hand.

Moving back quickly as Armand struggled to his feet, Danny's hand began to get warm. He looked at it as it began to glow, and the focused chi healed the cut. He sensed Paper Tiger start towards him. He heard the light swoosh of the blade through the air as he raised it to strike. His hand glowed brighter as he focused his chi, and became like unto a thing of iron.

Paper Tiger brought the sword down as Iron Fist threw his punch. Sword and fist met, and the blade shattered like glass on a wrecking ball. Armand's surprise allowed Danny the opening he needed to deliver the final blow, laying Paper Tiger out cold. He stood over the fallen assassin as the glow in his hand died down.

Suddenly, the room was swarmed by dozens of agents, and a feminine voice called out, "We'll take it from here, Mister Rand."

"Why do I wear this mask?" asked Iron Fist. Turning towards the source of the voice, he said, "Fine, Agent Salt. If not for your warning, I might not have been as ready for him anyway. How is it that you got here ahead of him?" he asked.

"We're the Secret Service, Fist. We're everywhere," she winked. Eyeing his chest, she groaned, "That symbol- you're not a dragon, are you?"

Iron Fist chuckled. "No, but I had to kill one to get my power."

Crystal looked kind of shocked, "You'll have to tell me how you did that."

Bowing slightly forward, he whispered, "He got better," and winked back.

"Hm," Crystal hummed as agents carried Paper Tiger and Steel Serpent past on stretchers. "Later, Mister Rand. Wrap it up, boys!" she ordered the men in the room, and almost as quickly as they had rushed in, they were gone, leaving Iron Fist alone in the war torn office.

Looking around the devastated room, he sighed. "It was time to redecorate anyway."

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