Fire in the hole!
This here ain’t no serenade
More like a hand grenade
My flag will wave and never fade
I’m comin’ down like an air raid
Fire! Fire in the hole
Fire! Fire in the hole
I’m about to explode
Yeah I’m out of control
I’m the rock and the roll
I’m the fire in the hole
Its got me trapped in a haze
Burnin’ in flames
Goin’ up in a blaze
Fire in the hole
Fire in the hole
I’m about to pull the pin
5 count then the end
Hell to pay and all is lost
‘Cause I’m about to set it off
Fire! Fire in the hole
Fire! Fire in the hole
I’m about to explode, I’m out of control
Its got me trapped in a haze, burnin’ in flames
I’m about to explode
Yeah I’m out of control
I’m the rock and the roll
I’m the fire in the hole
Its got me trapped in a haze
Burnin’ in flames
Goin’ up in a blaze
Fire in the hole
Fire in the hole
Fire in the hole
~ Fire in the Hole (Texas Hippie Coalition)
“Sir, that person is wanted by–”
“Nearly every national or international agency with a shiny acronym – I know. He’s an ally for now, and he saved my life. Eyes on the prize, JARVIS; there’s a Hydra base out here, and we need to find it.”
Relying heavily on JARVIS to scan for the base, Tony tried to keep his thoughts on the mission instead of on Victor. As if bedding him nearly all night wasn’t enough of a distraction, the mutant’s hatred of Hydra was a stumper. Anyone taking a peek at Victor’s INTERPOL file would assume he was a prime target for Hydra to recruit, especially with their habit of letting particularly useful persons climb the ranks for more power.
“Huh,” he muttered, “that’s an unpleasant thought…”
“What can you find on a man named Catalyst – he’s supposed to be one of Hydra’s torturers, a scientist, possibly deceased? It could be old news, by now. All of that stolen ‘top secret’ data from them that Dad got, and the stuff we’ve been collecting – any hits?”
One of the displays flashed and the question was put on hold.
“It appears we have found the base, sir.”
Tony kept low in case they had radar. “It looks like Christmas Eve at Santa’s workshop down there.”
Two different entrances were lit and open in what appeared to be a small mountain in the middle of the frozen ocean. Transports and trucks mounted with various weapons were driving in and out. Machine gun turrets were mounted on the concealed base itself. Flying around it at a distance, it was clear that the structure was not large.
“It’s small enough to hide out here for months, as long as they have a working supply line and the ice doesn’t melt under them – but they aren’t trying very hard to hide. It’s probably a safe bet that Victor stomped the anthill when he shot down the F-22. Grab some surveillance photos, huh? Then we’ll go locate our … ally.”
As he turned to head back, JARVIS returned to his earlier request.
“Catalyst: a high-ranking Hydra agent, a scientist, and often employed as a torture expert. He was identified as a mutant, with the ability to manipulate the elemental content of any object near him.”
“Ouch. When was he operating and does the data agree he’s deceased? Also, can you find any record of him tangling with Victor Creed?”
“Data is incomplete, but Catalyst was active through most of the 1960s, listed as deceased at a Hydra base on the outskirts of Jerusalem – the first time.”
“A bad penny,” Tony muttered.
“Hydra data contains sessions recorded by Catalyst in Israel with a captured CIA agent named Victor Creed. The sessions were listed as tests but the data suggests it was torture. Do you want the details, sir? The footage is limited.”
“Footage? Yikes. Ah, not now – it’s too soon after breakfast to deal with Victor getting his elemental content manipulated. Any notes from the Hydra creep himself?”
“Agent Creed is described as the finest specimen available to him in his career. He was tested for nearly a week and there is evidence recorded in the data of psychological trauma sustained by the subject, who was referred to as a genetic oddity.”
Tony suppressed a shudder. “Funny thing for one mutant to call another – kettle, pot. No mention of Adamantium on bones?”
“Why was Agent Creed there?”
“He was on an extraction mission, sent to help a Mossad agent named Amichai Benvenisti. Both men and their extraction target were captured, but they escaped. Catalyst was reported dead by Hydra, killed in one of his torture mechanisms – some sort of chemical vat; it is unclear if the agents caused his death.”
Scanning the area for the heat signature of Victor and the rig, he located the vehicle soon enough – but wasn’t ready yet to return.
“Let’s just shadow him for a bit. How about the next time Catalyst died – and where Victor Creed was supposed to be at the time?”
“Catalyst was again listed as deceased in a facility on an island off of Newfoundland, during the time that Creed was serving as a conscripted member of the U.S. government’s mutant team, X-Factor. Creed and another member, codenamed Mystique, were reported KIA in a shuttlecraft crash. They both later returned to their team.”
“Handy trick. What was Catalyst doing in Newfoundland?”
“Information from a captured AIM agent stated that Catalyst, a Hydra scientist, was working on a program called Access in the facility where he was killed. AIM was attacking the facility to acquire the program.”
“Access – that was the thing that could tap into and decode secure transmissions, pretty much anywhere, from anyone. I read that report. Access was used to fake an otherwise very real U.S. nuclear strike on Russia. My stolen light reading from SHIELD files said it was stopped when the Access system was destroyed – before it inspired Russia to fire back at us. SHIELD didn’t discover who or what destroyed it – or who killed Catalyst, right?”
“Correct, sir. Hydra records in your or SHIELD’s possession state that Catalyst is still listed as deceased.”
“KIA in a shuttlecraft crash, huh? After the facility gets trashed and Catalyst is killed, again – these dead X-Factor agents come home. Creed claims he wanted to kill the man, but someone else did – maybe that Mossad agent the first time, and this Mystique person the next. AIM is mostly useless. Does SHIELD have any photos of the damaged Access system?”
JARVIS put a few images up, and Tony whistled at the mess but fell silent when a closeup plainly showed slash patterns in the wreckage.
“Creed’s claws, sans Adamantium – his files say they can cut some metals and even stone. Does any metal or composite in that wreckage consist of a substance he couldn’t cut, with or without enhanced claws?”
“None – and comparing the slash marks to some of Creed’s victims, it could be a match.”
“Holy shit. Victor prevented a thermonuclear World War III. X-Factor had him working for them as a way to pay for his crimes – they used a control collar to force him to obey them. SHIELD data proved he hated X-Factor; he wouldn’t have done that hit for them, especially while AWOL. So, why?”
“Perhaps a destroyed world is a challenge for the assassin business.”
“Yeah, and people who long to live the Mad Max dream comprise a pretty short list. Well, whatever his motives were, the evidence suggests that he hates Hydra pretty damn bad – so I probably don’t need to worry that he’s secretly working for them. Okay … it’s time to report on our reconnaissance flight.”
Swooping down, he shot past the driver’s door of the rig to alert Victor and then landed close when he stopped it. The mutant left it running, but opened the door and turned on the seat to face him with one cleatless boot propped on the top of the tire.
Tony lifted the faceplate, gasping at the cold, but failing to notice the fanged smirk until after he’d been caught checking out his tent roommate.
I could swear off twinks for that – especially if bossing him around is tossed in as an extra. “Hi honey, long time no see.”
“Ya find tha fuckers?”
“All business, no play?” Tony returned the smirk. “Found the little anthill you stirred up – it’s within our range by size and weaponry. Whoever designed it likes the Wizard of Oz way too much.”
“Bet it was all research an’ supply equipment – maybe a few ground-pounder troops fer a security detail?”
“From what I saw, yes – although not seeing aerial support doesn’t mean they don’t have any.”
“Sure it does – if they had toys like that, they’d be usin’ ‘em t’ find yer souvenir up there.” He jabbed a thumb toward the roof over his head. “Hydra assholes are arrogant fucks, always were – at least since tha 1940s when I first ran int’ ‘em.” He scratched at his scruffy chin. “They’re so cocksure nothin’ can best ‘em, they probly got zip fer a plan B after their experiment got shot down. Hopefully, they think it got sunk – if we use it on ‘em before they know it was salvaged, that’s a tidy li’l advantage fer us.”
“Agreed, but if we get blindsided by flying monkeys, I reserve the right to say I told you so. Research and Development types could have a few other experimental weapons hidden up in the old castle. They’re stirred up and scattered a bit right now, however – no time like the present?”
Victor nodded and started talking tactics and strategy with impressive skill and obvious experience – it was pretty sexy, really. Tony frowned at the thought of that crazy scientist freak experimenting on him.
“Do you think Catalyst could be alive – and out here with them?”
Victor didn’t miss a beat. “If he turns up, he’s mine – third time’s tha charm. Did ya hear a word I just said?”
“I did, actually – not your first rodeo. I like the bits about watching out for armed scouts, hitting them hard and fast, zapping their power – end game: mass destruction.”
“Mass kills.” Victor watched him intently. “Ain’t never gonna catch me not killin’ any warm body wearin’ those colors, hero.”
Sighing, Tony nodded. “Hydra allegiance is pretty much on my list, too.”
“I wish we had a way to keep in contact during the fight. I could patch JARVIS into your phone?”
“Yeah, I see that happenin’. Ain’t likely t’ answer in tha middle o’ a scrap, anyhow, an’ need both hands free t’ kill these asswipes. Ya wanna talk t’ me, fly over an’ talk – just stay outta tha way if tha sharp bits are flailin’ ‘round. Watch how close ya get comin’ up behind me, too – it can turn int’ way too close in an awful hurry before I know it’s ya.”
“Don’t enter the base alone without letting me know you’re going in there – when it comes to turning it into a scrap heap, I’d like both of us topside. I tend to think lobbing ordinance from a distance is a better plan.”
“I’ll aim fer that. Never know how this shit’ll go down once it starts.” Victor cocked his head at him, one eyebrow arching. “Considerin’ how much ya like yer new toy, ain’t ya even a li’l tempted t’ go shoppin’ in there first?”
“Are we going hunting for old grudge matches and treasure, or are we just going to sink the whole mess in a power-zapped fireball? I know which option gets us on our way faster.”
“What if they got prisoners?”
“Why would they?”
“Test subjects. Not too far-fetched they could have tha pilot they stole tha F-22 out from under.”
“Are you trying to pretend that would matter to you? If you want to go in just to sniff out that freak, say so. We can’t operate like a team if you have a secret agenda.”
Victor glared at him. “If he survived again – I need t’ make sure he won’t this time.”
“If Catalyst survived, he could be anywhere. Also … wouldn’t he be ancient?”
“A guy who can manipulate elements in a body could make sure he never ages, I’m bettin’ – wouldn’t explain why he’d choose t’ stay so fuckin’ ugly, but still. Know what I just noticed? Yer not askin’ me a dozen questions ‘bout tha man. Had yer robot go diggin’, huh? Checkin’ my backstory before ya pop down a rabbit hole?”
“I needed to know. Now I do. I know he… I know what he did to you. I understand why you need to be sure.”
Victor stared down at the snowy ice between them. Whether or not it was possible physically, he looked tired – or tired of.
“Maybe he ain’t in this base, but if I hunt others down an’ knock ‘em all over, might could find tha bastard eventually. What else am I gonna spend fuckin’ eternity doin’?”
“Well, no one can say you don’t have a strong work ethic. Okay, let’s postpone all of that sexy ‘burn it flat’ strategy you had me sold on and talk infiltration and rescue prior.”
Victor glanced up to turn that alien glowing stare on him. “Are ya tryin’ t’ pretend makin’ a plan an’ stickin’ t’ it matters t’ ya? Yer tha ‘wing it’ type an’ ya know it.”
Frowning, Tony gave in and nodded once. “You win – I am. I just don’t want to put this base on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean with you under it.”
“Plenty o’ folks would thank ya fer that.”
Tony’s frown didn’t waver. “I’m going to ignore you now.”
“New plan. We blow up tha artillery an’ zap its power t’ zero, then I go in an’ mop up. Ya search fer prisoners an’ if there ain’t none, shop ‘round. When we’re out, we’ll burn it down an’ sink it.”
“Solid plan. If I do find any prisoners, I’ll probably have to call SHIELD to pick them up – just to be safe. You shouldn’t be here when they arrive, since you have to deliver my souvenir. I definitely don’t want them to get their mits on it.”
Victor nodded. “I avoid SHIELD mooks on principle. We goin’ in tha direction ya came from?”
“Yes. Your crow was spot-on.” He watched as Victor glanced in that direction. He’s so … huge … he’s on the cusp of looking, well, ‘wrong’, but… This is like bunking and teaming up with a biological weapon. All that strength and ferocity, the power and confidence – all the things he must know just from living and fighting for so long. I really should have a drink or ten with him and get him to tell me things: tactics, battle stories – or even what it was like to live before gasoline-powered automobiles and indoor plumbing. He smiled as he studied the mutant’s powerful body. I’d need to be worn ragged in bed first, though, or I’d be too distracted to listen to a word he said.
Tony moved closer to touch him but Victor flinched at the rising metal hand coming close to his face.
“I was going to say that you aren’t afraid of anything – why does the suit make you nervous?”
“Never scrapped with ya before, dunno how bad that thing could pound me – it puts tha inner kitty’s back up.”
He took another step into his space and let him flinch again as he brought his hand in and touched the blonde fur over the cheekbone. The expressive lips lifted for a beat to snarl, but then stopped.
“I’m not going to do anything – to you. Okay? Trench buddies, right? This is our foxhole.”
The alien amber cat eyes had looked the most human they ever had until Tony had approached and the blue light from the reactor made the pupils contract to black slits again. When he shifted on the seat and leaned in, Tony let him kiss him. It was soft, a mere light press of lips.
“I ain’t fearless, ya know – pretty worried ‘bout ya gettin’ whacked.”
“I’m really good at this sort of thing. Trust me.”
The lips finally stretched into a smirk. “I’ll aim fer that,” he repeated.
“Excellent. Off we go then, to battle evil – for America, freedom, and apple pie!”
“Speak fer yerself, Yankee Doodle. Though – I could be motivated fer pie.”
“So why are you doing this?”
“Told ya – Hydra are a stack o’ assholes.”
“That works for me, too, actually.”
“An’ I ain’t doin’ shit fer a pile o’ Yanks – I’m a proud Canuck.”
“I’ll make a note of that. No more USA-only patriotic exclamations – I got excited.”
“Got everythin’ we need? Plus our half-baked sorta agreed t’ plan?”
“We’re short a scarecrow and a wide-eyed girl from Kansas, but sure – let’s mess up some flying monkeys.”
Victor snorted at him and turned away, one hand on the door handle. “Can we attack now?”
Tony grinned and closed the faceplate. “Yes, let’s.” He launched into the air and flew ahead of the truck to lead Victor to the base.
~ ~ ~
“Got it – looks like we’ve been spotted.”
Tony dodged the shots from the machine gun, just barely, but the enemy had a lot of them, mounted on small turrets all over the base and on the vehicles that were still milling around it. The way the base turrets moved bothered him.
“What is that? Check it – is it one of mine?”
“Self Defense Remotely Operated Weapon turret, small calibre arm, with a target-range of 600 meters – fitted with an experimental automatic targeting system made by Stark Industries.”
“Damn it! That’s the one I scrapped after coming up with better for the Jericho!”
He got ready to dodge again when the Ugly Pumpkin leaped into the fray. The truck was still moving, but Victor was standing in the back aiming his anti-tank gun. Before the turret could fire again, it was blown to scrap.
Tony laughed. “He’s got that damn ugly thing on some sort of remote?” Looking down at the roof of the cab, he saw a black box mounted there that he hadn’t bothered to notice before. “That’s what he was fiddling with when he stood up in the cab. I’m not his only toymaker, then – should I be jealous? Scan that thing.”
“It is a device connected to the vehicle’s engine – similar to a remote control for a toy car scaled up in size and rudimentary at best.”
The scan popped up on his screen and made Tony chuckle. “The cover opens and he has switches and buttons with a joystick design – if he made that himself I’m going to be very impressed – rudimentary or not. I thought he’d have to park to work those guns.”
They made the polar night look like a fireworks show, destroying turrets on the base and on the vehicles that had begun to swarm toward the orange truck. Tony swung around to fly up on Victor’s left, keeping a safe distance just in case.
“Those SD-ROW turrets have one of my automatic targeting systems onboard. Feel free to blow a whistle. When were you going to tell me you could drive and shoot from back there?”
Victor glanced up but then went back to shooting turrets and vehicles. “Figured ya recognized tha box,” he shouted overhead. “Here they come – ya gonna get back on tha stick, or what?”
“You aren’t using the pulse weapon?”
“Savin’ it in case some o’ yer flyin’ monkeys show up – once it goes off, tha cat’ll be outta tha bag!”
Tony didn’t have time to respond. He hit some of the vehicles in the forefront of the attack with repulsors and then flew high again to shoot missiles at the stationary turrets. Below him, vehicles and people were being turned into parts all over the ice.
Turning another machine gun into a smoking curl of metal, he saw a strange hole open below it. An ugly long barbed metal tip appeared.
“What the hell?”
He maneuvered out of the way and lifted a hand to shoot it when it launched like a harpoon. Two others almost hit him as he realized there was one under each of the turrets. Flying higher, he scanned the field of battle.
“Some of those things hit their own people!”
The anti-tank gun went off with another boom and he heard Victor roar. Turning that way, Tony stopped in the air in shock. One of the metal harpoon shafts had broken through the exo-cage and hit the mutant. As he watched, the weight and force of it drove the man to his knees in the bed of the truck. Tony couldn’t look away, even as strange noises began to echo near the ridge top behind him.
“Victor…” he whispered.
“Sir, the base is opening.”
“Screw the base. He’s hurt.”
Without a second thought, Tony flew down to get to his companion.
The bed of the truck was splashed with blood, and a thick metal pole was sticking in the mutant’s torso below the sternum. Most of it was on the other side – bursting out of his back below the ribcage. The whole shaft was eight feet long, its wicked curved barbs buried in the truck as the monsterous thing propped him up on his knees with his arms hanging down.
Covered in blood, some of it coming out of his mouth, the mutant stared up at him and for a sickening moment, he thought he was already dead.
The huge body twitched as he snarled. “Tony … flyin’ monkeys – ten o’clock…”
“I have to get that out of you!”
“Don’t freak out over me gettin’ run through,” he groused, as more blood burst from his mouth over his chin, “yer too smart fer that bullshit.”
“Too smart–!” Tony sputtered.
JARVIS broke through his panic. “Incoming, sir – Hydra agents in some kind of unknown jet packs. The base has opened and a dirigible airship is preparing to depart.”
“Fuckin’ retro freak motherfuckers…” Victor muttered, coughing blood. “Shoot it with tha pulse weapon.”
“You could die!”
Growling, Victor reached behind him and slashed his claws through the harpoon shaft near the buried barbs.
He fought to his feet, taking the harpoon with him.
“Oh god,” Tony whispered.
A shot hit the side of the truck and he snapped back into his senses. Anger rippled and the repulsors began to fire. Jet pack flying Hydra agents and more attacking vehicles were obliterated. He would protect Victor – and they were all going to die for what they’d done.
Victor struggled up to reach the controls for the pulse weapon.
Fuck! This bloody pole hurts! No time t’ cut or pull it out – a transport like that’s probly carryin’ every-damn-thing an’ warm body worth salvagin’ from this shit show. Can’t … allow it t’ leave…
Almost invisible in the polar night, the black bladder was filling with helium as it unfurled in the open air over the base. Narrowing his eyes in the lights from the gondola, his enhanced mutant vision spotted the mechanism that was both filling it and preparing to release it.
Gripping the controls to aim the pipe muzzle, he hissed at the pain of the harpoon moving through his torso. Tony was killing the enemy all around them, keeping them off.
He hadn’t seen a working airship more impressive than Goodyear since the 1940s zeppelins, and the sight of it combined with the pain of his injury threatened to pull him into a bad flashback. Shaking his head violently, he aimed beneath the front of the gondola where the mechanism was chugging away and worked the firing sequence.
Victor stumbled, trying not to fall. “Fuck ya t’ hell,” he mumbled at the airship, grinning fiercely at the sight of the deflating bladder covering and tangling up the structure it had tried to rise from. A splash of red – the Hydra emblem – fluttered and sank in the mess of black material.
Shouts and motors got louder in his ears. Looking around, he saw the unnaturally tall figure of Iron Man beating back the enemy just before many of them broke ranks and sped off for the open entrances to the base.
“Cocksuckers,” Victor cursed with a hiss. “Runnin’ like roaches when ya turn on a switch.” He growled and spit blood at his feet. “Ass-lickin’ cowards…”
“Enough,” Iron Man announced, turning to him. The faceplate went up and Tony huffed in anger before he gripped Victor’s shoulders and glared at him. “Okay, sit down … and shut up. I’m going to help you, and I have a couple of very important things to say to you.”
Victor fell on one hip before he could be helped to sit and snarled at the lurching pain. “Make it quick, flyboy.”
“You’re still shutting up. One, telling me to not freak out over someone shoving a pole through you is … insane. Two…”
Tony’s tirade and attempt to grip the harpoon stopped as Victor batted his hands away. He cut the pole shorter on both sides with claws and pulled it out slow, hand over hand, as the back section clanged onto the truck bed behind him. He tossed the other end out over the side onto the ice and sagged where he sat as his body healed in front of Tony’s eyes, in less than three minutes.
Victor arched an eyebrow at him. “Are ya plannin’ t’ cough up a ‘two’ soon, or should I go ask fuckin’ Hydra if they mind givin’ us a longer time out while ya tinker it t’gether?”
Grunting in surprise when the metal fingers reached through the hole in his clothing to touch his unbroken skin, Victor froze and watched him.
“I may never get used to that…”
“Cop a feel later.” Victor twitched away from his touch and then leaned back and got his hands under him, struggling to rise. “We still gotta fight t’ win. Ya game?” He settled on his feet and looked at the base.
The faceplate shut with a snap behind him and the mechanical voice spoke, sounding even more flat and cold than before.
“Hit the structure with the pulse weapon in a few strategic spots, and then drive the truck off out of the way. I’m going to fetch some of that balloon material to cover it with. Then I’m going in there to look for your proposed prisoners. Don’t creep up on me – you’re not the only one who can get trigger-happy.”
Glaring back at him, Victor stepped up to the weapon again. “Ya see a li’l greasy smear o’ a freak that looks like a mutated toad on a hotplate – big glasses – mits off. Catalyst’s mine.”
The blank metal face and glowing eyes stared at him. “No problem.” Iron Man rose and flew off to the top of the base.
Growling, Victor worked the controls and methodically swung the long barrel in the turret slot the inventor had cut into the exo-cage. Avoiding the red and gold armored figure, he gritted his teeth as he fired the weapon.
~ ~ ~
Victor stalked through the bowels of the place, targeting any area supported by emergency generators that had been activated after he’d used the pulse weapon to turn the power grid into empty scrap.
Over and over again, he thought he had discovered secrets worth finding in different rooms of the base, but every one of them was a false hope. The equipment was wrong, the layout of the place was not the same, and none of the machines were familiar.
A multitude of scents were laced and layered over all of it, but none of them were the one he wanted to hunt.
No scent or sign o’ Catalyst – could search ‘til I die an’ never find tha bastard.
Growling, he continued to search and scent. Any human or mutant in Hydra colors he came across, he killed. Before they died, they were all asked the same questions.
In a lab with precious little equipment, one man carrying a black leather satchel nearly ran into him at full speed. He dropped his satchel, and a lot of papers and what looked like records and plans began to spill out.
Victor stepped on the leather and snatched the man by the throat. “Scientist an’ torturer named Catalyst, high rank – is he alive? If not here, where?”
“Please – I don’t know him –”
Snarling, Victor shoved his clawed hand into the man’s abdomen and made a mess. He watched the creature die and then threw the corpse out of his way.
Many of them had said no, some had said yes, but they were lying. The more he wearied of the game, the more brutally they died.
Looking down at the bloodspattered papers and leather, he bent and scooped it all back inside the satchel. Taking off the blood-smeared belt of the corpse, he looped it through the handles of the satchel a few times and then fastened it around his own belt to hang it behind him.
Stark might want it – gotta be somethin’ here worth all this bullshit.
Before he moved on, he went to the crumpled remains. Staring down at the dead man as the fixed stare looked back up at him, Victor lifted his boot and set it over the face. In one swift powerful drive, he shoved the heavy treads through the skull. A twist to get his boot free nearly tore the jagged pulp from the rest of the corpse.
Wastin’ my time with this shit – he … ain’t here. So now they’re just gonna die – every last fuckin’ one o’ tha fascist pinheads.
He turned to leave the room and when he reached the next set of stairs, the generators died before the echo of an explosion far above him could finish ringing in his ears. Shouts sounded along the stairs and winding corridors overhead – the bleating and squealing of his prey.
~ ~ ~
The next piece of shit Hydra fool gurgled as it slid off of claws and crumpled at his feet in the dark. They were helpless and panicking inside or outside of the base in the pitch black solely because they couldn’t see.
Since he’d drained the power of the place so thoroughly and Stark had killed the generators, Victor was as blind as they were – his mutant eyes unable to glean even a little light to see by. Not that it mattered. If he couldn’t see, his nose and ears took up the slack.
In the distance ahead and still above him on another level, he could hear Stark firing his repulsors. There were screams there, too – the man was as good as his word.
Victor’s thoughts turned away from his battle partner at the sound of the next human heading his way, groping in the dark. They were pathetic, but they were still prey.
The hate burned in him for every breathing soul wearing that foul red curling skull sigil. The smoke of it ran through his veins, filling his thoughts until killing them was all he had left.
As he moved to take the next, the blood of the rest stretched out behind his boots – a dark trickling stream that no eye could see. The scent and the hate drove him on.
Tony felt sick. There were so many of them, and they had kept coming, but it was far from a fair fight. Victor had been right; they were ground troops defending a handful of scientists – no special weapons, no elite fighting force. What was left of them had grouped together in front of the men in dark green scrubs and black arctic gear – the timid guarding the terrified.
On his screen, the Hydra soldiers were targeted one by one – ten left. None of them had lowered their weapons, including the one bureaucrat type.
Behind the scientists, the airship’s gondola was hanging from the supports inside the top tower of the base. Its roof was still open.
When he had entered the wide circular chamber, the troops had been helping the others climb down from the useless transport. They had come to attention at the sight of him as their charges huddled together.
“Should I try saying ‘put down your weapons’ in French? German? No? Really tired of shooting you people. Okay, new plan – you’re going to be my prisoners. So put the guns down and let’s discuss how this is going to go. For starters, has anybody heard of a guy named Catalyst? You in the back – that name ring a bell?”
Hideous scraping noises behind him made them all look, but Tony managed to remember Rhodey’s advice and didn’t take his full attention off of them. Besides, he had a good idea that he knew what – or who – it was.
When Victor came into few, he was running his claws up the wall of the staircase as he glared at the prisoners with baleful malice. Reaching behind his back, the mutant cut something and tossed a dark thick object near Tony’s boots. A quick scan showed him it was a satchel full of enticing records.
“But I didn’t get you anything.”
“I’ll take those snivelin’ jokes…”
Tony looked Victor over but quickly regretted it. The mutant was covered with blood, brain matter, and bone fragments. Tony swallowed as the lights from his suit made the scarlet smears on Victor’s once-white arctic gear glisten as it dripped.
“We can take them in, question them. One or two might know your target.”
“I plan t’ question ‘em right here.”
“Victor – killing the enemy when they’re trying to kill us is one thing, but I’m not going to stand here and watch you torture them.” He took a step to intercept him, one metal hand raised.
“Back off, Stark – this ain’t ‘bout ya.”
“They’re still armed, by the way.”
“Yeah – cuz that’s gonna scare me off.”
Tony frowned but raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. “Fine. Get shot into meat again.”
When gunfire exploded in the room, Tony twitched and brought up a machine gun only to stare in horror as the bureaucrat completed his sweep of his own people with an M-10. The .45 ACP ammo had ripped them all to shreds at a firing rate of 1090 rounds per minute.
Victor let out an ear-splitting screech and jumped on the man from an insane distance, knocking the machine pistol from his hands.
“Your rage is impotent, beast,” the man spoke into the snarling and dripping teeth of the monster that pinned him down. “They will give you nothing now – and neither shall I. Hail Hydra…” He bit down and began to convulse as froth poured from his rictus mouth.
Tony began to step closer, but froze in shock when the mutant roared and started to tear the body to pieces. He staggered as he was sprayed with it and retreated. A battered black leather satchel appeared between his boots, splattered with gore. Stopping, he stared down at it, unwilling to watch the sick utter destruction of another human being mere feet away.
~ ~ ~
Tony flew back and forth between the suspended airship gondola and the small pile he was making of salvageable data and other equipment and trinkets below it. With a little effort, he could ignore the hulk of the mutant where he sat slumped by the wet desecrated remains of his last victim.
Once, glancing his way, he saw those glowing amber eyes watching him. The mutant’s face was a mask of blood, and Tony was surprised to see long thick ropes of bloody saliva still dripping from those scarlet fangs.
As he stared, Victor brought his arm up and wiped the strands away, but the blood on the sleeve just smeared over his face, making the mess there worse.
Turning away with his guts clenching, Tony got back to work. The next time he flew down, he was surprised to see that the mutant had slipped away without a sound.
Fisting his gloved hands, he forced himself to look at the bodies – the older scientist, shot to death, who had reacted to the name Catalyst, the others cut down en masse with him, and the insane fascist who had done it. That particular corpse was nothing but a gory shell of skin holding a haphazard jumble of meat and pieces of bones in a wide red pool of blood and shredded viscera.
The odds are good that this was a dead end to a very old hunt. “JARVIS…?”
“Show me that footage Catalyst made of Agent Victor Creed being … tested. I need to see it.”
The screams were awful to hear as the grainy clips played out on his screen, but the closeup views of the scientist’s fingers brushing over Victor’s abdomen were worse. The hideous damage left in their wake was quickly healed – to be disrupted, melted, and … polluted … again, the skin erupting in sickening wounds that resembled tumors.
With successive sessions of the same torture, the healing factor had begun to slow down. As his alien invisible power worked, corrupting the flesh, the sadistic sounds of the monster’s enjoyment came through the scratchy audio like an undertone to his victim’s pain. It turned his stomach.
Again and again, the terrible cries of the naked and chained victim sounded, slowly turning into the gibbering mad howls and roars of a raging terrified animal suffering incomprehensible agony.
“Enough… My God…”
Before JARVIS could stop the playback, the final clip ended – with the twisted face of an insane beast staring up at him. Tony stared back at it in shock and then saw the eyes. They weren’t amber pits of slitted malice – they were human, a crystal ocean blue – slowly clouding with confusion and pain … and a fear so deep it could scar both mind and soul.
Stalking through the dark, he retraced his gory trail back down. Thoughts in a tangled mess, he retreated and simply tried not to think.
Somewhere below him, he heard the soft sounds of a human attempting to move with stealth. It didn’t smell like metal, or barely enough to matter – certainly not a gun or rifle.
Don’t matter none. Just kill it an’ be done.
He dropped into a hunting gait and followed the scent and sounds. It was male and wounded, and reeked of fear – yet the movements had purpose as the prey kept heading downward. It wouldn’t take long to overtake and end it.
When he reached the next set of stairs and sensed the prey at the bottom, he leaped and grabbed, rolling it under him and pinning it. The shout was loud in his ears and they flattened as he snarled at it.
Reaching to hold it down by the shoulder so he could gut it, his palm touched an embroidered patch it wore – twin rectangular bars – captain’s bars. Claws retracting from the other hand, he reached out to touch the long metal zipper of a flight suit. With a hiss, he moved off of the man.
“What … are you?”
“I’m tha guy that ain’t gonna eat ya. Yer a pilot, right? Flew tha F-22 these fuckers stole?”
“Y-yes… Are you – Hydra?”
“I kill Hydra.” Victor crouched and sighed. “Can ya still walk?” It took a moment to realize the man had passed out. With a grunt, he muttered, “Guess not.”
~ ~ ~
He ignored the fleeting bite of the arctic wind, feeling the dull buzz of the healing factor at work to repair the environment’s efforts to damage his skin and organs as he rubbed snow over his face, neck, torso, and arms.
Getting the vast black material off of his rig had taken some effort in the freezing wind. He’d rolled it around the bloody arctic pants and jacket he’d been wearing that were now protecting the pilot in the heating cab. When he was finished and had done all he could for the man, he leaned against the rig in his jeans and boots and crossed his arms over his chest as sleet settled over the fur there. He couldn’t do much about the bloodstains on his braid or boots.
A light flashed in the dark world and he glanced up to see Iron Man flying toward him. He carried another bundle of the black material – presumably the things he’d been piling from the gondola.
Victor hadn’t known if he would return or just leave. Now, he didn’t know what to say to the man. His head drooped.
“Daring hypothermia to get you?” the strange robot voice asked as he set the bundle down in the snow.
“Lent my gear – somebody else needed it more.”
“You captured a prisoner? I thought they were all dead.”
Victor lifted his chin from his chest and stared back at the metal man. “I rescued tha pilot. Don’t open up tha cab, he needs tha heat.”
“The pilot… Who is it?”
Glaring up at him, Victor frowned. “How tha fuck should I know? Wearin’ captain’s bars on a flight suit that’s seen better days. He can’t fly in this shit weather with ya, so I guess he’s gotta ticket t’ ride with me, an’ yer travelin’ solo.”
“Victor – this is amazing. How did you find him?”
“Thought he was ‘nother Hydra goon creepin’ in tha dark an’ nearly gutted ‘im. Noticed in time an’ didn’t – end o’ tha story.”
“Where will you take him? I can still call in SHIELD.”
Victor snarled. “Ya wanna do that, go ahead – I’ll dump ‘im in yer lap an’ head out.”
“Where can you take him without all of that?”
“Alert, where I was gonna take ya. My ride’s there.”
“Do you have enough fuel to get there fast? I could try carrying him, bundled up.”
“I can get there, non-stop, an’ warm tha whole way.”
“Okay, I’ll follow you there. I can call my friend Rhodey and have him meet me with a proper evac transport.”
“Fine by me.”
“Will you still deliver the pulse device to me?”
“If ya make arrangements ‘round my schedule, yeah.” Victor eyed the bulky bundle. “Want me t’ pack that shit, too?”
“That would make flying easier, yes.”
“We sinkin’ this bitch, or what?”
“I can. You should start driving – he’ll need medical attention. Unless … you need to … help destroy it.”
Victor stood straight and headed for the driver’s door. “Nothin’ there I give a shit ‘bout, long as it’s wrecked but good.”
“I want to talk to you before you leave Alert.”
Victor nodded once curtly and entered the cab fast, slamming the door shut. He watched in the mirrors as Iron Man secured the bundle on the sled. When he flew up over it, Victor put the rig in drive and headed out. His passenger was far quieter than the last one.
Before long, the rig rattled and vibrated as an explosion in the distance lit up the polar night. The grinding din of it pinned his ears, but he didn’t slow down or look back.
~ ~ ~
Captain Andrew Tanner was taken out from the Alert airport by the American Air Force and accompanied by Stark’s number three: Colonel James Rhodes. Victor watched the exchange from the ramp of his DC-10-30CF as his people loaded the Ugly Pumpkin. Stark’s breath was white as he greeted his friend in the -8.3 degrees temperature.
Not far beyond the colonel’s plane, a massive jet had landed with the Stark Industries logo on it. It looked like it was probably decked out inside – a very rich man’s flying play palace. Stark had gone in earlier wearing the armor and came out dressed in black, followed by no less than five other people. The facial hair was even freshly re-sculpted.
So much fer makin’ time t’ talk t’ me – man’s gotta entourage t’ keep ‘im comp’ny now, since ‘is pet colonel is leavin’.
Frowning, Victor turned away to speak to Zane. His pilot and crew would be ready for takeoff soon, but Zane assured him he had some time if he wanted it. When the military aircraft taxied away, Victor climbed up the ramp and started helping the crew secure the rig in the vast cargo hold out of pure nervous energy and frustration.
“This is a bit of overkill for one 2.2 ton truck.”
Victor straightened and turned to see Stark standing at the bottom of the ramp bundled in warm gear that actually fit him. The black was only marred by the white Stark Industries logo on the left side of the padded jacket. The cap with ear flaps looked utterly silly.
“Says tha man with tha flyin’ Palace o’ Versailles that totes just yer ass ‘round tha globe.”
“Touché. Will you talk with me? Maybe give me the tour of this warehouse with wings?”
“If ya wanna take yer stuff with ya now, guess ya can. My crew wrapped up tha device an’ other shit an’ crated it when they took tha anti-tank gun down. It’s lashed in over there.” He gestured vaguely in front of the rig.
“I’d rather wait and let you deliver it – leaves me with less to explain.”
“Suit yerself. Gotta leave soon.”
With a little frown appearing on his face, Stark sighed and began to walk up the ramp. He passed Victor and some of his abruptly very busy crewmen and kept going.
“Is there a passenger cabin in this frozen metal tube? Maybe even coffee? You must have some creature comforts, since you managed to clean up and change clothes.”
Growling softly, Victor followed and then overtook him, leading the way through the passenger area and farther forward to his private cabin. He let Stark in first, and then leaned against the closed door. The other man settled in the wide armchair across from the bed and studied him.
“So talk,” Victor prompted, stifling the growl. “Ya already know what I look like.”
“I won’t pretend watching you tear that man into strips was something I wanted to experience.”
“Bastard sank t’ brutal levels first – when in Rome.”
“You sank to his level so fast, I got splashed by the ripples.”
“If this is gonna be a lecture, stow it, Stark. I ain’t tha type t’ bow an’ scrape like those sycophants ya surround yerself with.”
One hand in a leather glove reached up to brush over his forehead as he slumped a little lower in the chair. When those pretty brown eyes met his gaze again, Victor could see how exhausted he was.
“I don’t want to lecture you. I wanted to say … that I understand. After what Catalyst did to you, of course I understand. Your second round finding him, you destroyed the Access system Hydra had and AIM tried to take – that never came to light much, but if no one ever said ‘thank you’ before, I want to. I appreciate that I didn’t have to grow up in a post-nuclear smoking mess of a world.”
“Bit creepy how much diggin’ ya can do with that bloody robot o’ yers.”
Stark smiled a little. “It’s not a robot, it’s a suit of armor with an AI system built in. I have robots at home, and apparently you haven’t had much practice in taking compliments, so moving on… Can I ask how Catalyst died the second time, if you know?”
“Got dropped in Hydra’s ridiculous retro piranha moat – I didn’t get tha honors.”
“Ouch. So why do you think he could still be alive?”
“I survived fallin’ in there earlier, so why not ‘im?”
“You survived… Is there anything that can kill you?”
“That’s tha million dollar question, ain’t it? I can drown, but ya gotta fig out how t’ keep me down there – good luck with that. Can’t asphyxiate me t’ death with yer dick in my throat … if ya were wonderin’. It’d get messy.”
Stark remained infuriatingly calm. “It was more of a rhetorical question.”
“So ya just wanted t’ say thanks fer some computer bank shit I went all Animal House on probly before ya were outta diapers, or before dear ol’ dad taught ya how t’ ride a bike?”
“I didn’t have much ‘dear ol’ dad’ time.”
“Do tell.” He didn’t intend for the shit-eating cruel sneer to stretch his lips, but there it was.
“Victor, where is all of this hostility coming from?”
Before he could say anything to that, Stark held up a hand to stop him. He pulled off his black fur-lined arctic cap and dropped it into his lap with a huff of breath.
“No, just listen to me, please. You found Captain Tanner, needle in a haystack, and had him bundled up and cared for the best you knew how before I was even aware that he was there. You could have killed him – what is he to you? You saved him. I made damn sure he knew it too, and asked him to not tell anyone about your involvement. Our cover story is that I flew him in and he found the bloody Hydra gear. That means I have a lie between me and Rhodey, and that isn’t something I do. I knew you wouldn’t want the United States Air Force or SHIELD to know about anything you do, so officially – you aren’t even here.”
He moved to sit straight on the edge of the chair. Victor shifted on his boots, watching him.
“I was going to wait to call Rhodey until you left, but Captain Tanner needed better help faster than that. If you hadn’t bandaged him up and started getting him warm as fast as you did, he’d be dead. You saved his life – with no motive to do it that I can figure out. Why did you do that?”
Victor shrugged. “Got no beef with most soldiers, whether they march, fly, or float – long as they ain’t comin’ after me. Served with lots o’ ‘em, Yanks too. It’s tha big brass ya gotta watch out fer. If they leave me be an’ they ain’t Hydra, we’re gonna be five by five.”
Stark’s smile widened. “I think between the two of us, you’ve done more hanging out with the military.” He stood up, left the hat in the chair, and began tugging off his gloves and stuffing them in the jacket pockets.
Scenting the air between them, Victor was surprised to catch his growing heat. It sparked in him instantly, but he remained still and waited, not having any idea what the man would do.
“Thank you for saving him – and me, too.” Those gifted hands began to unbutton Victor’s double-breasted navy bespoke pea coat as soon as he stepped up to him.
“It pleased ya?” he asked, trying to gauge the man’s intent by his expression and scent.
Reaching his black sweater, Stark slipped his chilled hands under it to stroke the fur of Victor’s lower belly. “It warmed the cockles of my heart; not sure what the cockles of my heart are, but darn it, they’re warmed.”
“Can’t read ya fer shit, ya know that? It’s disturbin’ as hell.”
“All that covert sniffing was for naught?”
“Scent says what ya want, don’t say nothin’ ‘bout how. ‘Sides, ya spent a lotta time recently shootin’ me disgusted looks.”
“Most people don’t want to see anyone get shot, let alone watch you at work. I’m planning to just shelve all of that for now – it’s worked for me so far.” One hand fit snuggly against the curve of his aching dick in the black jeans without actually touching it. “You have to miss out on official military gratitude – it seems a shame.”
He let out a short snarl of frustration. “What tha fuck do ya want, Stark?” He grunted when his dick was grabbed and squeezed. The scent of the man’s heat came on stronger and abruptly Victor knew.
“I want you to strip, get on your knees, and put your chest down on that bed. Then I want you to shut up unless you start calling me Tony again.”
Victor remained where he was as his belt and jeans were opened. Stark gripped his cock and pumped it once. He looked up to meet Victor’s intent gaze and winked at him.
“Looks like you’re ready – or you would be,” he added, letting it go and stepping away, “if you were assuming the position I asked for.”
The growl turned low and hungry as he moved off of the door and began to strip, dropping his coat and clothes. He was pushed by guiding hands on his back to get down on the bed before he could tear his boots off. He fell to his knees hard, legs still tangled in jeans as they pooled on the floor. Stark’s zipper sounded loud in his ears and he sucked in a breath when he felt that pretty cock at his hole. It would be a quick dirty grind, and the man had merely freed his dick without stripping at all.
“Oh, honey… Ready?”
Victor growled, needing it so bad, it was hard to talk.
“What was that?”
Swallowing hard, his claws popped and sank into the bed. “Yes, Tony,” he whispered on a desperate exhale.
The cock shoved, stabbing inside his body, and he let out a groan chased by a hiss as it started to thrust, fast and rough. The expensive arctic clothing rubbed at the backs of his thighs and ass as those amazing hands stroked his back.
Lips touched his rippling muscles, the tongue worming into the fur to lick his spine. “Do you want to come?”
“Wanna do what ya tell me t’ do…”
“Good answer – but you may be here a while.” His hands gripped Victor’s hips as his beautiful strong legs pushed against the floor to pound into him harder. “You aren’t allowed to come yet – if you were wondering.” The lips returned to kiss his back gently as his hackles rose in response to the near-brutal mating. “So who owns your time until he gets tired of playing with you?”
Victor swallowed hard and coughed once to stop a growl in its tracks. His body was on fire with need, sparking a desire to obey that might have choked him.
Author’s Note: The history Victor has with the Hydra torturer Catalyst was part of the limited edition four-issue series Sabretooth and Mystique, written by Jorge Gonzales between December 1996 and March 1997. In that story (Tony’s data sources are unaware of this) the Mossad agent Amichai Benvenisti was Mystique in disguise and their extraction target was her on-again-off-again lover, Destiny. “Mad Max” is the main character in the Mad Max and Road Warrior post-apocalyptic movie franchise of 1979, 1981, and 1985 and portrayed by Mel Gibson. As this story is set in the fall of 2003, Tony wouldn’t know about the remake of 2015.
I named the pilot after the Powers Boothe character from the 1984 film Red Dawn, just because I love that movie. The rank needed to change, though, to have him be more low profile than a Lt. Colonel. Animal House is the infamous college comedy of frat boys wrecking stuff. The “cockles of my heart” joke was something I came across in a comment somewhere online, and then forgot where it came from, so I can’t credit it. It was simply too good to pass up.
I know I’m evil to stop this chapter right there, but I have to leave something for the last chapter, which will be almost solid smut. So… If I missed any typos, I’ll fix them as I find them. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)
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