Sabretooth: Cutting Edge – Chapter 1 – Icebound

I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will
Cause I shoot to thrill and I’m ready to kill
I can’t get enough and I can’t get my fill
Shoot to thrill, play to kill
Pull the trigger, pull it
Pull it, pull it, pull the trigger
Shoot to thrill, play to kill

~ Shoot to Thrill (AC/DC)

*****************************************************************

Driven off-course, Tony Stark struggled to remain in the air as he was swallowed up by the polar twilight over a world gone murky white and dark blue. The suit had taken damage, maybe too much of it, and the modified F-22 in pursuit wasn’t giving up.

He had quit paying attention to the blinking displays and warning sounds several desperate minutes ago, too busy with trying to reach land – any land that wasn’t ice – and find a place to dodge and ditch.

“Hey, I just saw a polar bear; maybe we could double back and ask him for directions?”

“Power is at 28%.”

“Do we have anything left to hit them with?”

“Munitions are offline, repulsor power low. All remaining power has been diverted to flight, sir. Incoming.”

“Got it.” Tony tried to dodge and almost spun into the ice. The jet’s electromagnetic pulse weapon hit again and he gasped, watching the power display plummet just to avoid looking at the heart monitor. “Why can’t we dodge this thing? Why are we even still flying? Damn it, I designed this suit to laugh at EMP weapons!”

“Power is at 19%.”

“Stop telling me that, okay? Not helping.”

“Sir, I’m detecting a significant and mobile unidentified heat signature on the ice ahead.”

“Another polar bear, right? I need coordinates, JARVIS. The polar bears tell me where we are. Where can we get to, away from this ice field?”

“Incoming ground attack.” Sensors screamed and displays flashed.

“What the –!”

He dodged and dipped low at the same second that another EMP blast smashed him into a jagged hole in the ice. He picked his head up and watched in shock through the helmet display as a missile struck the F-22 in a burst of fire. Metal screamed and the explosion tore a wing off of the jet as it fell out of the sky. It hit far too close to him, the ice cracking and grinding under it.

“JARVIS, power?”

“Power is at 7% and falling, sir.”

“What hit them? Where did it come from? It pasted the cockpit.”

“Igla-S missile with HEFRAG warhead, 9K338 anti-aircraft missile system, from –” The displays began to flicker.

“Stay with me, JARVIS, come on…”

“Sir, power is –” The suit went dead.

“JARVIS? Oh, not good, bad…”

Nothing was moving in the fireball where the cockpit of the F-22 had been, but something behind him was moving.

That’s no polar bear.

Heavy footsteps crunched through the snowy ice until whoever – or whatever – it was passed him by like he wasn’t there.

No way a red and gold suit of armor doesn’t show up on ice like a beacon, even in this miserable dark…

The figure was huge, with a tell-tale Russian SA-24 Grinch slung at his back: the 9K338. It had to be a man going by the size and build, but he was wrapped head to toe in thick white arctic clothing and gear – topped, oddly enough, by a white fur coat the size of a bedspread. The gloved hands held an ugly black HK-416 assault rifle, but the weapon was pointing at the crash – so far.

A horrible feeling of helplessness filled Tony as the figure turned and some sort of glowing vision-enhancing goggles stared down at him. The man approached and the toe of one of the huge wickedly cleated boots nudged his metal shoulder. Tony kept still, at a loss for what to do.

Swinging the rifle down by its shoulder strap, a gloved hand moved to the face and a finger pulled down the mask at the corner of a mouth. “Ya alive in there, flyboy?”

The voice, the nickname – they made his head spin. He lifted the helmet higher as his vision started to go black. Hoping he’d get to wake up, he passed out.

~ ~ ~

The first thing Tony saw when he opened his eyes was a furry blonde armpit. It made no sense, so he closed his eyes again and opened them once more. Nope, still a furry armpit. Okay…

He could barely move, but he was warmer than he’d been when he passed out. Slowly glancing around, all he could see was dark until he spotted the outline of the armor in some slightly-less-dark.

It looked like it was lying in a snow tunnel – the same one he was buried even deeper in. The shock of seeing the suit intact, seemingly with barely more than a few scratches and dings, momentarily stopped the questions he should have been asking himself.

If that was an EMP weapon capable of damaging it, why isn’t it mangled? Half-melted? Or me, for that matter? Why am I outside of it – that might be important. His body was wrapped and covered by something heavy and when he pushed at it, it moved and growled. I wish I was drunk…

“Quit wrigglin’, Stark,” the mound attached to the armpit ordered. “Tryin’ t’ catch some shut-eye, here.”

“Creed? Um… What the hell?”

“Saved ya, that’s what – even lugged yer bloody fuckin’ tin can along. Ya can show yer heartfelt gratitude later. I’m beat.”

“Okay… Can you at least tell me where we are? What on earth you’re doing out here? Maybe clue me in on why you’ve made me your teddy bear…?”

The massive body that seemed to be the only source of heat for miles sighed and growled again. “Artic Circle, modified seal tunnel. T’ keep ya warm. Ya done?”

“No. Why are you here?”

“That’d be my own biz, hero. Short answer’s ‘here fer a job’.”

“So you just happened to blow up the jet that was trying to kill me and then dragged me off to warm me up?”

“Blowin’ up tha jet was tha job. Yer just a pretty trinket I found on tha walk out there.”

“You saved me because…?”

“Call it a whim.”

“Uh, thanks. Listen, as much as I appreciate not waking up with my feet frozen into the ceiling of your den, unable to reach my lightsaber, can we stop cuddling now?”

“Nope.”

“What did you wind me up in?”

“Most o’ my clothes. What’re ya doin’ up here, anyhow?”

“I got chased here – started out in Greenland, but my plan for a leisurely flight got ambushed. I nearly had a heart attack; that EMP weapon, or whatever it was, wasn’t fun. Do you know who was flying that thing?”

“Specifically, no.”

“So this … whim… Why did you really save me?”

“Cuz tha ice was trashed an’ ya mighta ended up under it. Loads easier t’ snag ya up prior than after. Voice o’ experience, by tha by.”

“Agreed, not exactly what I meant, thanks again, but … we don’t like each other.”

“Yer fond o’ makin’ it clear ya don’t like me none. I never said I didn’t like ya back.” Creed moved and Tony was shocked when a large pink and sandpaper-rough tongue appeared out of the dark and licked up the side of his face.

“Ugh! Okay, I’m warm – appreciate the help, got to go…”

Creed chuckled and Tony was abruptly staring into slightly glowing mutant amber eyes – the source of the light. Claws slid out, tearing through the fingers of his glove. They settled on the clothes Tony was wrapped up in.

“Gonna be no fit place fer a snack like ya out there, draggin’ yer can along without tha benefit o’ my warm threads. Snag a nap. We can figure out tha rest after.”

Tony was grabbed and pulled closer, one huge arm draping over his body and effectively pinning him. He knew the mutant had closed his strange eyes when the dark crowded back in around him.

At a loss, Tony muttered, “I’m hungry.” That disturbing growl thrummed through the huge body and prompted him to add, “If you are, don’t eat me, deal?”

“I’ll hunt when I wake up. Now shut up or I’ll make ya shut up.”

“Shutting up.”

He wanted to start planning his daring escape, he really did, but the enormous evil cat-man was warm.

Exhaustion crawled into his bones as he lay still and though sleep was going to get him, he was afraid to let it. The horrible fear that the strange EMP hits could’ve damaged him more than he knew led him into the nightmares of the cave again.

*****************************************************************

Victor woke planning to cuss out his companion for fidgeting and muttering, and then he realized that Stark was still asleep. Turning to face him and curling up closer again, he ducked his head to scent at the man’s throat.

Fancy cologne, two diff’rent women a few days ago, booze, lotta fear stink…

Curious about the strange smells coming from his chest, even though he knew what it was, he worked a gloved hand into the swaddling around him to expose it. The arc reactor glowed dully through the AC/DC t-shirt. He ran his fingers over it as the man woke with a start and then froze in fear.

“Relax. Cats get curious, ya know. Never saw this thing up close.” Victor met his worried gaze. “Ya look a bit pale, flyboy. Not feelin’ up t’ snuff?”

“This is my second wake up in a snow hole in the middle of nowhere with a feral cannibalistic assassin cuddling me and now … sniffing and pawing me… I’d pinch me if I could move that much.”

“That ain’t yer only prob; ya gotta nasty case o’ heart arrhythmia goin’ on, an’ more metal t’ worry ‘bout than this thing.” He tapped the front of the reactor.

“Wow, big word. How do you know that?”

“Tha word, or yer condition?”

“Condition.”

“Cuz I can hear it limpin’ along in there an’ I can smell tha rest.”

“That isn’t a mystery to me. Why that weapon didn’t parboil me in the suit, is. Exactly how did you get me out of it, by the way?”

“I seen ya shed that rig a few times. With tha power dead an’ all tha defenses outta commission, figured out how t’ pop yer locks pretty quick. Good fer ya I did, ya woulda frozen solid in that fuckin’ thing.”

“I’ve heard more about you than I’ve actually known of you, besides Chicago and our few whistleblower phone chats –”

“Spared ya lotsa grief tellin’ ya ‘bout yer wayward toys fallin’ int’ enemy hands, I bet. Not t’ mention fixin’ all yer probs in tha Windy City.”

“Yes, for a price.”

“Ain’t nothin’ in this world that don’t gotta price.”

“So … how have you managed to see me remove the suit ‘a few times’?”

“It’s called stalkin’. Watchin’ ya is never dull – if I’m in tha same hemisphere an’ happen t’ be bored when ya cross my path. Saw ya fuck a Maxim cover girl once; that was a treat.”

“Oh. Which month?”

“April.”

Stark smiled. “Oh, yeah. Um, nearby apartment, stargazing telescope?”

Victor smirked. “Nearby roof, sniper rifle scope.” Chuckling, Victor ducked his head again to sniff at the man more. “I was impressed.”

“With that backbend thing she did?”

“Nope – with yer anatomy. It’s a very good scope.”

“That whole Maxim thing was in the papers … maybe you just read about it.”

“Was tha part where ya whacked ‘er with tha scotch bottle between round one an’ two when ya nearly fell outta tha bed in tha papers? Or ‘er attempt t’ stuff it up ‘er twat?”

“No… This is a creepy strange chat, especially with the being sniffed…?”

“Ya ain’t on tha menu. Speakin’ o’ which, scootch down deeper int’ tha tunnel a bit.”

“Why?”

“Cuz breakfast is ‘bout t’ be delivered an’ if ya ain’t outta tha way, ya could get nibbled on or clawed, that’s why.” He rose on hands and knees, his back brushing the snow roof, and began to stalk up the tunnel over the metal suit.

“Don’t think I’m not grateful you’re wearing pants, but do you want your other clothes? At least the boots with the scary cleats? It’s probably below zero.”

“I’ll live. Stay wrapped up.”

The wind had increased as they slept, carrying more snow, but it was still again as he crouched a foot inside the tunnel. The metal boots of the suit were between his feet. He could hear and smell his prey just as easily as it had sensed them. He spotted it lumbering closer through the dark blue polar twilight – a lone older male.

“What are you doing?”

The idiot was right behind him, breath rasping because he was half out of the warm clothes.

“Get tha fuck back down an’ outta my way. Now.”

“Um, is that a polar bear? Or a furry tank?”

“That’s breakfast.”

He leaped out of the tunnel and pounced on the huge animal, silent and lethal. It outweighed him by a thousand pounds easily, but as long as he could keep it away from the tunnel and not shred the thing too much, he could have a little fun with it.

Victor heard the fool yelp in the tunnel mouth when he saw the bear rake him along the thigh. The ugly gouge healed almost before his blood could hit the snow. Digging in with claws, his teeth wounding the paw that tried to swipe at him again, he yanked his weight over and managed to make it topple when the injured paw buckled.

The moment it fell, he lunged over its shoulder and dropped his jaw, his mouth opening wide. Grasping the throat, his fangs snapped into it, the bite force pressure he exerted slashing through the carotid, jugular, and trachea, ending the fight fast.

Working quickly, he used his claws to cut the hide off. Laying it flat with the fur against the snow, he began to carve off large hunks of meat and pile them on the hide.

Fangs helped him to quarter larger sections, but he avoided the organs he would normally take from other prey. The only one he did snag was the liver. Digging into the snow to get to the ice, his claws cut two rough pieces of it and stuck the organ between them before wrapping the bundle up. Leaving the rest where it was, a short distance from the tunnel, he grabbed the furry sack and carted it back.

Victor found Stark lying on the armor wrapped only in the t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes he’d worn inside the suit, and Victor’s heavy fur coat. The horrified stare spoke volumes, but the man said nothing as Victor drove him down deeper ahead of him.

He dug out a larder in the wall of the tunnel and stuffed the meat in it, careful to keep the organ away from the rest. The dug out snow served as a way to get some of the blood rubbed off of his skin, but the white pants were probably stained and torn for good.

“Look out, time t’ redecorate,” he announced, and then spread the hide out fur-side up.

Once he was leaning against it where it curled up the back wall of the tunnel, it was almost a furry artic couch.

“Didn’t know ya could be struck mute; wanted t’ see if there was a string in yer back, before.”

“Aren’t you hurt? It tore your thigh out.”

“Pants are toast. Thigh’s fine. Said ya were hungry. Get over here an’ bring tha pile o’ warm stuff with ya.”

“I guess I never really thought much about the whole healing thing. Does it hurt?”

“Hurts when tha damage happens; tha knittin’ flesh can hurt when nerves regrow. After that, it’s mostly an annoyin’ buzzin’ feelin’, like a foot gone t’ sleep an’ wakin’ up all prickly.” Victor watched him as he started to shake. “Gonna freeze t’ death or come sit by tha heater?”

“Only if you promise not to snuggle me.”

“Feels like I should lay some cash on this – heart attack or frostbite? Place yer bets.”

The man glared at him but he did grab the pile of clothes and move to sit beside him. “Do you have any water?”

“Canteen’s propped by yer elbow. It’s full an’ I got more, so knock yerself out.”

Fishing for it and drinking, Stark sighed in relief as he capped it and set it down. “You mixed in a bit of salt, to keep it from freezing – clever.”

“Not as dumb as I look, science boy.” Victor picked up two hunks of meat. “Flank or shoulder?”

“Raw bear, so tasty. This is eat or die, I guess, because it would have to be.”

“Yup.” Victor handed him the flank section. “Here, might be less tough fer ya.”

“My kingdom for a fork.” Tony made no move to take it. “I don’t … like to be handed things, especially bloody things…”

With a sneer, Victor set the meat on the snow and let him pick it up himself.

Holding meat in one hand, Victor turned his head to get at it with his carnassial teeth behind the fangs and sheered off hunks small enough to swallow. He was surprised when he got to eat in peace, and then he noticed Stark was gingerly trying to bite the hunk of flank and getting nowhere.

“Gimme that – useless blunt li’l teeth.” He snatched it. “Hold out yer hands, an’ don’t gimme no lip ‘bout handin’ ya shit, neither.” Victor used his claws and diced the bloody meat into small pieces. Stark tried not to wince each time a gobbet smacked wetly into his cupped palms. “Lemme know if ya need me t’ chaw on it first – feed ya like a baby bird.”

Ignoring him, the man made a face. “Pretend it’s sushi,” he mumbled. “Hell of a way to start a Paleo diet.”

He didn’t manage to eat it all, but he got enough down to survive on. Victor speared the last of it with claws, without pricking the shaking palm and finished it up.

Holding his bloody hands out, Stark asked, “Did the bear bring napkins?” You probably don’t want me to wipe off on your coat and I really don’t want a snow rub-down.”

Without hesitation, Victor grasped both of his wrists, somewhat gently, and licked his hands clean. Keeping the wrists pinned, he moved up to the face and cleaned the blood from his mouth and sculpted facial hair. He’d have turned it into a kiss, but the lips and teeth were clamped tight, the whole body trembling.

“Now ya can wipe my spit off on tha coat, princess.”

Stark did so immediately, scrubbing his face on one corner of it. “That was … okay, I got nothing.” He shuddered and moved closer, grabbing the other clothes and wrapping or tucking them around him. Looking up at Victor, he remarked, “Speaking of princesses, love the jewelry, and nice up-do; the chopsticks to hold the bun are fetching.”

With a grin, Victor reached up, unclicked one, and drew the long steel needle blade from one of the sheaths holding his hair up. When Stark deflated, he clicked it back in.

Grumbling, the man muttered, “You must be a party at airport security.” After a few minutes of silence, he crammed himself against Victor just short of sitting on him.

“An’ here I thought ya were shy. Any closer, flyboy, an’ I’m gonna hafta owe ya fer tha lap dance.”

“I’m trying not to freeze to death. I’d really prefer it if raw endangered species wasn’t my last meal.”

Victor chuckled and pulled him up onto his lap. Stark tried to fuss about it and ended up straddling Victor’s hips, facing him.

“What … are you doing?”

“Ya need t’ get warmer faster an’ I’m bored.” His hand moved to the man’s back and pushed until his body fell forward onto his chest. He smelled good. As he began to nuzzle the neck, scenting it, a purr started up.

“You’re purring in my ear. Plus, you’re purring, did you know that? I’d want someone to tell me, if I started doing that.”

Ignoring him, Victor set lips to flesh, his tongue moving to suckle it between the long shafts of his lower fangs.

“Getting weird…”

“Yer int’ weird. Ya said so in Playboy.”

“You read the articles. Look, it’s not that I don’t go for blondes, but – hey! I bruise easy. Hang on…” His hands pressed against Victor’s collarbones, the touch strengthening the purr. “This is either dessert, or a very awkward first date and I don’t even know if I like you – that way – so maybe we have a last dance and then call it ‘just friends’ – what do you say?”

Victor’s soft growl vibrated against the pulse thudding through the flesh in his lips. His hand fished under the coat, found the waistband of the jeans, and stuffed three fingers down the back to stroke the smooth ass.

“I say we should fuck.”

“Holy shit, that’s a dick lifting my ass up. Okay, one of us isn’t having fun here.”

The heart was hammering in the wounded chest and Victor’s growl modulated from lust to irritation. “Gonna die on me?”

“Maybe? Too much stress, right? Being shot down, crashing, dragged back here by my hair, polar bear death rodeo, bear sushi, wet nap from Hell, attempted rape – all very tough on the old ticker…” Stark took a deep breath. “Does that growl mean, ‘screw it, I’ll eat him’? Or ‘okay, I’ll wait for enthusiastic consent’, because it’s really hard to tell.”

“Ain’t gotta hospital in my pocket.”

“From where I’m sitting, it’s at least a city clinic. Can I get down now? I’m afraid of heights.”

With a snarl, Victor picked him up and sat him down beside him again. “Bundle up tight an’ sleep, then. Stay pressed close. We’re gonna hafta clear outta here before long, but ya gotta be able t’ travel. I can’t carry ya an’ yer damn robot all tha way back. Gotta ‘nother payload t’ pick up.”

“Back? Back to where? Greenland?”

“Alert, in Nunavut. Canada. Ya don’t get t’ vote.”

When the man leaned away from him, his fear scent still strong, Victor pulled him close again and held him there. He turned and lowered his head so he could sleep smelling that soft dark brunette hair. After that, all he had to do was ignore the torture of thwarted heat as it pulsed in his groin.

“Is there another polar bear I could bunk with?”

Victor stifled his growl. “Go t’ sleep, Stark.”

*****************************************************************

When Tony woke again, he was moving – possibly being dragged. His body was immobile, but not freezing. In the disturbing dark blue twilight, he could see the polar bear fur all around his limited field of vision. Most of his face was covered – not only by fur, but he seemed to be wearing the mutant’s arctic insulated ski mask, too. Next to his shoulder, a bit of red metal was sticking up outside of the fur.

Over his head, a heavy crunching noise of boots in snow continued, while beneath him, a scraping sound was muted by the thick fur. Looking down, he saw a slightly weaving twin-line trail going off into the distance over the ice field.

I’m in a sled of some sort. I can’t move because the armor is disassembled and packed around me, with the fur over the works, and some sort of ties around that. Creed is pulling me – not the fastest way to travel. Glancing at the piece of armor he could see, he sighed. JARVIS … damn it… That’s it – I have to implant you into my brain.

He swallowed a yelp when the sled stopped and the end that his head was on tilted to the ice. Creed appeared, wrapped in the rest of his arctic clothing and fur coat again with both weapons hanging at his back and goggles in place. Now he knew the strange amber glow was just the mutant’s eyes.

“Why did we stop? Feel free to keep hauling me to Detroit – I’ll take you to a Lions game, buy you a hot dog – the least I could do.”

Looking up from the thick legs to the rest of him, Tony was surprised to see silver duct tape holding the shredded and blood-stained pant leg together.

“Gotta check over tha wreckage; at least tha thing didn’t drop int’ tha ocean. Babysittin’ ya has put a serious crimp in my schedule, ya know. Don’t move; tha ice may not be stable. I won’t be long.”

“Time flies when the blood rushes to your head. Also, since you tied me in, ‘don’t move’ isn’t funny at all. If you fall in, I die out here, so how about I come look? Pretend I’m curious about what was trying to kill me?”

“Wasn’t a mission t’ target ya.”

“How do you know that?”

“Cuz I did my homework. This was a test run, in a place they thought nobody would spot ‘em. Ya spotted ‘em, didn’t ya?”

“A rogue F-22 Raptor with insanely non-military-spec weaponry is hard to miss. What was your job, anyway, just to destroy it – or to recover the pulse weapon?”

“Destroy tha jet either way, recover tha weapon if possible. Gotta look at a stolen schematic my first week out here, so I knew it’d be fuckin’ huge. Obvs, I was right.”

“This would be obvious, if I wasn’t tilted brains-down.”

“Def can’t lug that an’ yer shit, not out here; ice ain’t that thick. Care t’ guess which hunk o’ metal I’m gonna kick t’ tha curb?”

“I can solve your problem a lot easier. Let me help. I can figure it out.”

“Ya’d just freeze, or seize up. All kiddin’ aside, yer chest sounded like shit when I lashed ya t’ tha sled.”

“I’ll wrap up in the fur. I’ll let you hold me over the engine. I need to know what that thing is.”

“Maybe my client don’t want tha likes o’ ya knowin’ what that is.”

“You said you were heading to Canada, even though Greenland has to be closer, going by the last coordinates I saw. I bet that’s a ‘need to get it on our soil’ sort of urgency. If the Canadian government thinks this is American because it’s mounted on an F-22, they’re wrong. Somebody stole that jet, because we haven’t got any weapons that do what that one did to me. Besides, America and Canada are buddies.”

“It’s cute how ya think I work fer tha Canuck G-men straight off. Swing an’ a miss, hero.”

“What, Hydra?”

“I wouldn’t piss on Hydra if it was on fire.”

Tony studied Creed as the mutant looked over the wreck while ignoring the frozen light wind that was blowing some of his long hair in his face. One of his thick fingers was buried in the warm clothes at his throat and it occurred to Tony that it was toying with the odd white choker he wore. He really had no idea how stupid or smart the assassin was, but his hesitation told Tony a lot. He hadn’t seen Creed hesitate one bit until this moment.

“How many PhDs in engineering are you hiding under that growl? I can help. You scratched my back, let me scratch yours.”

“Helpin’ me could be helpin’ yer enemy, ya know.”

“If that’s true, then you’ve already helped your enemy by saving my life. I need two things here – to arrive back in civilization in one breathing piece, that’s a biggie. I also need to know what that weapon is. An EMP pulse can’t affect me in the armor, but that thing did. It didn’t damage the suit, or the arc reactor, either – it drained their power.”

“Ya might not feel like yer on death’s door –”

“I know, trust me. The arc reactor in my chest powers the suit, but it also runs the electromagnet that keeps shrapnel out of my heart. If it goes dead, the shrapnel will kill me somewhere between hours or days. I hate to insist, really, but you need my help and I want to live. Also, taking a leak wouldn’t be an awful idea.”

Creed growled louder, but then finally set his weapons on the snow and bent down to cut what turned out to be more duct tape. He picked Tony bodily out of the cocoon of the sled and set him on his feet with the fur draped around him.

“No more’n five feet away fer yer leak. Keep my mask on; ya need all tha warm ya can get.”

“You forgot to pack my orange jumpsuit.”

“Yer edible t’ most things out here; stickin’ close means I kill ‘em before they kill ya, got it?”

“Got it.” Tony turned his back on him and crunched a few feet away. “First I need to find it to let it – wow, cold fingers!”

“Need help with that?”

“No, I’ve been managing solo a while now, thanks.” Shuddering and grateful to bundle up again, he turned back.

“We gotta do this fast, whatever tha fuck yer plannin’. I can’t get too close t’ those big cracks in tha ice, neither. Might only be nine t’ thirteen feet thick here an’ I’m luggin’ ‘bout 380 pounds.”

“Wow, you need to cut back on those polar bears. At least the fire didn’t get far beyond the cockpit. Ugh, smells like a Fourth of July cookout gone wrong.”

“Barbequed long pig. Whattaya need?”

Tony studied it where it had settled mostly on its fuselage, tilted down onto the stub of the broken wing. The missing wing and the ballast tank that had been bolted under it had landed a distance away. Mounted modularly under the intact wing on the inner wing pylon, the evil twin to an EMP pulse weapon was suspended over solid ice.

“Very precise shot for recovery – over my reach, though.”

Tony started to move again on feet that felt frozen solid in his tennis shoes, took about six steps, and slipped. Creed just caught him, picked him up and sat him on his shoulders. Trying to take it in stride, Tony tucked his shoes at the man’s back for balance and ignored how one big hand curled high up around his thigh.

“Okay, that works. From what I could see while it was shooting at me, what we want is in the back half of that cylinder. To avoid damaging the ice under us, we should leave the cylinder attached to the wing, cut the end off, and then slide the device free. I don’t suppose you brought tools, or a cutting torch? Really big scissors?”

Creed moved forward, let go of his thigh and popped a gleaming metal claw through his glove. “I brought tools.”

“Well, that works, too. Open her up.” Tony sucked in his breath as he watched the claw slice metal like butter. Reading about it and seeing it were shockingly different. The end of the cylinder fell and the base of the device was laid bare.

“None o’ this shit matters?” Creed tapped the cylinder with the claw.

“The rest of it is nothing but a glorified gun barrel to aim and focus the pulse,” he explained around chattering teeth. “What you want is this thing, see here? Everything attached to this base. They’ve contained it like a torpedo in a submarine’s launch tube, but instead of being fired once like a torpedo, or missile, this baby can fire a pulse that is focused and contained for small targets … like me.” Tony poked the base and its wiring connections with shaking fingers. The cold was making his whole body hurt. “I need to study the entire device.”

“Study later, flyboy,” Creed ordered. “Tell me how t’ get at tha damn thing. Where do I cut t’ yank it outta there?”

“Uh, well, don’t yank, for starters. Put the claw away and grasp the base. Pull it out a little bit – the track it’s on should extend – slowly … and just hold it there so I can see what’s what.” Creed retracted the claw and pulled. “That black flat box thing at the bottom – put a hand under it, beneath the track, and bring it out more. If any wires pull tight, stop.”

“If this thing zaps me, ain’t gonna be amused.”

“Don’t put your hands anywhere except where I say and it’ll be fine. In fact, that’s a great piece of advice for life in general.”

Creed snorted. “Track thingy’s attached t’ tha cylinder.”

“It should detach, but don’t lift it yet. I have no idea how or why it sucked power from me instead of frying all of my electronics. EMP weapons don’t typically do that. They also don’t work on me, as I said, and I don’t make mistakes about things like that. Take a step closer, I need to reach those wires.” Careful and slow, he began to disconnect them from the jet’s electronics. “Now, pull more – gently.”

“I think yer missin’ tha concept o’ tha need fer speed, Stark.”

Eyes sweeping over it eagerly as the track beneath it extended, Tony whistled. He put a hand on Creed’s head and ignored the grunt and growl as he leaned in. “This is the Scyllac type 1.3 Microfarad 100,000 volt energy storage capacitor, the holy grail of high energy fast discharge capacitors. 60,000 amp discharge capability … ultra low inductance… Oh, baby,” he crooned to it. “Can I buy you a drink?”

“Gonna make me jealous. How heavy is this bitch without tha shell?”

“220 pounds for just the capacitor – we also have the antenna, triggered switch, parabolic reflector…”

“Speak English.”

“The parabolic reflector collects most of the pulse; this design is set with the emitter at the focus deep in the reflector –”

“That ain’t English. Focus on not freezin’ t’ death now, bust yer nerdgasm later!”

“Yes, fine, almost done,” Tony reached in and around, pulling more of the wires with trembling hands. “All right, those that are left lead inside the jet. I’ve pulled them as far as they’ll go and I want the slack. So cut those long, up inside the cylinder. It’s pretty dim out here; can you see where I mean?”

“Better than ya can, yeah.”

“Cut those wires and it should come free off of the track once you lift it; fair warning, the whole thing might be a bit heavier than you.”

“Nice o’ ya t’ finally answer that question. Can ya climb down? Stand outta tha way.”

“I suppose, but –” Tony would have preferred to watch up close, but Creed growled at him. “Climbing.” He almost slipped again when he got down onto the ice, and then found some snow to stand on out of the way.

“Move an’ I’ll deck ya.”

“Not moving.” Watching him lift the device off of the track and balance it on one hand, Tony played armchair quarterback. “Slightly backwards in step order, but ‘This moment is yours’, as Herb Brooks preached it. Cut the back wires first, and then slice forward; remember to leave them long.”

“Shut yer yap an’ bundle up.” When it was pulled free and he turned, the ice made a hideous cracking noise. Creed visibly flinched and growled.

“It’s breaking worse under the crushed fuselage of the jet, not under you,” Tony reassured him. “We may want to hurry back, though. Just in case. I don’t have cleats like yours, of course…”

“Hold on t’ my belt an’ stay under my arm. Don’t trip me up.”

Tony held his breath until they reached the sled. Finding more snow, he stepped away from the mutant. “Yay, we made it! Go, team! High-five?”

“Shut up.” Creed walked off carrying the device.

“That isn’t too heavy? Coming back for me, right?”

“Grab my weapons an’ get settled in. Don’t sit on tha missile, only got one left.”

“I like this plan … and uh, not sitting on missiles is a personal goal of mine.”

The ice cracked worse under the F-22 as Tony leaned over to pick up the rifle and the Grinch. He climbed into the sled and hugged them, stamping his feet. For the first time, he noticed that the sled was metal – some sort of modified gear hauler. The mutant had wrapped the last missile for the Grinch in a piece of tarp and tucked it disturbingly close to his suit.

“Hurrying is still excellent advice!”

Staring at the jet, he didn’t even hear Creed behind him until the sled rose, leveled out, and moved. He hunkered down and hugged the weapons tighter. The sled stopped and tilted again beside the device.

“Ya gotta bullshit prob with handin’ stuff t’ other folks?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Progress. Gimme tha Russian boomstick.”

Tony frowned, but handed him the Grinch. With a sigh, he watched him pick up the missile and load it – like a trained soldier, even if his idea of how to store the thing had been insane.

“Do you have to?”

“Yup.” Creed hoisted it to his shoulder. He didn’t bother with the integrated optics, guidance, or anything of the sort. Aiming by sight, he pulled the trigger.

The missile went off with a whoosh and what was left of the F-22 exploded. The ice around it went up, and then the whole flaming metal heap fell into the ocean with a roar and hiss. Pieces of pack ice floated in the hole, but no trace of the jet was left.

“Can I have that?” Tony asked, as Creed was about to discard the weapon on the snow. “Waste not, want not.”

With a growl, Creed groused at him, “Only if ya quit bein’ an infant ‘bout me handin’ ya stuff.”

“It’s a deal.”

Creed grunted, but then gave the weapon to him. Surprised when he didn’t reclaim the assault rifle, Tony held onto both of them. “How are we going to do this?”

“We? Get up outta there. Tha tech’s gotta ticket t’ ride.”

“I can’t abandon my suit.”

“Don’t hafta – yer piggybackin’ like before cuz that’s where tha warm is an’ I’m gonna pull tha sled.”

“All the way to Canada?”

Creed tugged at the edge of the ski mask that Tony was swimming in to straighten it on his face and gave him a grin packed with sharp teeth. “Just t’ base camp.”

“Those are two beautiful words: ‘base camp’.” Tony fished out one of the canteens and drank, handing it to the other man after. When he handed it back, Tony gave him a saucy wink and took it, tucking it away. “I can help pick up the pulse device, or…”

“Stand there, smile pretty an’ hold what I pass t’ ya.”

“I’m sensing an implied ‘shut up’ in there.”

“Good. So do it.”

He held several pieces of his armor and the weapons while Creed manhandled the device. As soon as he had his hands free, and ignoring the mutant’s impatient growl, Tony retrieved the long wires and wrapped them securely around the top of the thing.

Once they had it all packed in, Creed started manhandling him again, wrapping the polar bear fur around his torso tightly. He stripped off his huge fur coat and put Tony in that, fastening it around the other fur until he looked like a Neiman Marcus burrito.

When Creed turned around and went down on one knee in the snow, his gloved hands held up, Tony sighed and clambered onto his back to sit on his insanely broad shoulders again. The padded arctic clothing was soft and when he realized the man’s freakish body heat was coming through it, he snuggled his legs up tight around him without a qualm.

“Nothing like riding the heater – I didn’t notice that before.”

“I’m thinkin’ ya don’t notice much once ya gotta bit o’ somethin’ shiny with wires in front o’ ya – damn magpie. If yer legs start t’ fall off, tell me. We can make stops if it ain’t fer too long.”

“What if I have to tinkle again?”

“Hold it.”

“I’m kidding, I don’t have to. I think my bladder froze solid.” Tony fidgeted to get a good seat, hindered some by the furs.

“Quit wrigglin’ – yer squirmier than a fish on claws.” Creed grunted and rose. When he picked up the sled, Tony dug his hands into the sleeves of the coat and leaned his forearms on the blonde hair again.

“That ain’t an armrest.”

He lifted his arms reluctantly. “So while we were playing snow bunnies, where did you have the sled and weapons hiding?”

“Buried in another seal tunnel.”

“Why do you bother with the sub-zero gear if you can handle the cold half-naked?”

“No point in taxin’ tha healin’ factor needlessly, plus anonymity on tha mission. We playin’ twenty questions? Cuz I ain’t in tha mood.”

“It’s either that or an intensely challenging round of ‘I Spy’.”

“Lessee how well ya play ‘shut yer pie hole’. Yer skinny ass may be tha lightest thing I’m haulin’, but so far, yer also tha most annoyin’.”

“Are you cranky because I didn’t want a hickey?”

“Shoulda been back yesterday. Savin’ yer worthless life held me up. Time is money, flyboy.”

“Since you’ve already got my digits and you’ve licked my face, you could call me Tony.”

Creed ignored him. Hanging onto the massive torso with his legs and using his arms to hug his dimly glowing chest, Tony tried not to think about his aching limbs, the soul-sucking cold, or the dicey state of his health.

On the plus side, my life now depends on the goodwill of a surly violent mutant mercenary with a reputation for gutting and eating people. Lucky for me, he has a sense of humor – related to forcing his way into my pants, or torturing me with raw meat. Tony sighed. At least he’s warm.

*****************************************************************

Victor kept his head down and thought about feeling sorry way after the fact for the plow horses he’d seen in his youth. The device from the jet was easily 500 pounds. In comparison, hauling Stark and his armor was negligible. Even though he could lift far more weight, it was still a wretched business dragging it all as fast as he could for miles over snowy pack ice – especially with the worry of thinner ice breaking under them.

He had managed to stop in time to catch the man before he fell from his shoulders. Rearranging sections of armor to act like a retaining wall as well as windbreak, he had nestled the bundled unconscious man between them and the device. Pulling the fur right over his head, he had picked up the sled again and trudged on.

It was hard to tell if it was day or night in the extended polar twilight and he knew the longer it took to return to base camp the darker it would get. He could see in the dark, but that was only the start of the challenge.

If those idiots at camp start t’ think I ain’t comin’ back, they might pull up stakes, commandeer my stuff, an’ bug out – just in time fer months o’ night t’ set in. If Stark’s gonna get any chance in hell o’ survivin’ this, I hafta reach my tent, get tha man warm, an’ figure out how tha fuck t’ help ‘im. Or maybe he can figure that part out – if he lives long ‘nuff. Still a risk o’ tha enemy spottin’ us, too. Knew I shoulda brought more fuckin’ missiles; they’re like potato chips, always gonna want more.

Hearing Stark start to groan and feeling his movement, he aimed for a snowy mound where he could set the front bar down without tilting the sled and went back to check on him.

“What is it?” Lifting the fur to see his face and giving him a sniff, Victor growled low. “Tha jouncin’ probly ain’t doin’ ya no good.”

“Hi… Uh, no, not really. Also, I’m hungry. How long have we been at it? I can’t tell in this messed up wasteland. I guess I fainted…”

“Most o’ tha day int’ early evenin’ is my guess an’ yup, ya did. Shoulda just packed ya back in here t’ begin with.”

“No harm, no foul – still breathing. It was hard to hold on, but to be honest, I wish I could; it was warmer wrapped around you.”

“Always tha flirt. Tha cooler by yer head is our meat stash, if ya wanna dig in there later. Don’t touch tha bit between tha ice hunks.”

“Why, is that your choice tasty morsel? I’ll try to restrain myself.”

“Just don’t touch it.” Victor fished out a small hunk of meat the man could probably handle. “Stay down, tha wind picked up. Eat.” The claws cut it small and he held it out piece by piece.

“Aren’t you going to make cute airplane noises to help me eat this?” He partly chewed but mostly just choked it down.

“Here, drink water.” He tucked the canteen beside him so he wouldn’t fuss about being handed the damn thing.

Stark shifted up on an elbow, drank, and actually handed it back. “Why do you care about helping me?”

Finishing off the canteen, Victor settled on a plausible excuse. “Let’s say I really like my Memory Image Inducer ya made me. ‘Sides, ya still owe me two favors fer cleanin’ up yer li’l mess in tha Windy City.”

“So this is about wanting more tech toys, or are you working a little harder to achieve that enthusiastic consent?”

Victor smirked. “Yer lucky ya got shitty health, or I’d already have carnal knowledge o’ yer ass.”

“Yeah, that’s just how I feel – lucky.”

“Yer Lite-Brite doo-dad’s still workin’, I can hear it. We gotta keep movin’.” He put the empty canteen next to the cooler.

“Sooner or later, I want to hear it.”

“What?”

“The real reason you’re helping me.”

“Keep still an’ try t’ sleep.”

“Creed – thank you.”

Victor didn’t answer. He picked up the front bar of the sled and heaved to get it moving again.

~ ~ ~

The little cluster of three white rectangular insulated tents finally came into view and gave Victor something to aim at with a fresh burst of vigor.

Stark ain’t gonna be a popular addition t’ our li’l crew. Better let ‘em think he’s a captive. If they back off an’ mind their own biz, fine. If not, there’s always plan B.

 

*****************************************************************

Author’s Note: Herb Brooks is a famous hockey player and coach. The full quote that Tony is cribbing from is: “You were born to be a player. You were meant to be here. This moment is yours.” Tony’s joke about hanging from the ceiling unable to reach his lightsaber is of course a reference to Star Wars: the Empire Strikes Back when the Wampa in the cave plans to eat Luke Skywalker.

I don’t plan to get too deep into the science or weapons/tech information and I’m taking what I do include from online research. Mostly, I want Tony to sound like a genius, but I don’t have a PhD in engineering, so it’s ‘fake it’ time. References to Chicago are from the story that precedes this, Blood Song. Thanks for reading.  –  AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)

*****************************************************************

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