Broke dick dog
My head slung low
Tail knocked in the dirt
Time and time of being told
Trash is all I’m worth
When I was just a young boy
Had to take a little grief
Now that I’m much older
Don’t put your shit on me
Primal scream and shout
Let that mother out
You just gotta say
Primal scream and shout
Oooh tear it out
You just gotta say
Meters are red
Blow a neurotic fuse Show a little
A little pain
Unlock a lotta truth
Hey man, get out of my face
I deal with my problems at my own pace
If you wanna live life on your own terms
You gotta be willing to crash and burn
~ Primal Scream (Mötley Crüe)
“Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…”
Tabitha Smith, known to the world as the mutant hero Meltdown, slid open her cell phone and hit one of the speed dial keys with a shaking finger.
She stood near the doors of the Anchorage Police Department on Elmore Road, freezing in Alaska’s October as snow began to fall again. Huddling in her coat as she leaned against the building, she listened as the phone rang her client’s private line. Her mark, the man she’d been hired to deliver to him, was now in the custody of the police. They’d even thanked her for her help in apprehending the dangerous murderer.
When the call was picked up and she heard his voice, Tabitha began attempting to explain, but he cut her off after a few rushed words.
“It’s over, Meltdown; I’ve already heard of your failure. I hope you enjoy Anchorage, as you won’t be returning to Seattle on my nickel.”
“Wait, Mr. Rothenberg! Maybe I could salvage the situation –”
“Salvage the situation and collect your fee, by killing the man.”
“He’s sitting in the middle of a police station!”
“Is that really an obstacle for a person of your talents?”
Her shocked voice lowered in anger. “I’m not a killer.”
“Then our business is concluded – by your abysmal failure. Not the best outcome for your first attempt at contract work, is it?”
“They’re going to lock him up for life. Isn’t that just as good? He’s still ‘neutralized’, isn’t he?”
“He is capable of speech, so he will eagerly tell the authorities anything he can to make a better deal. My business dealings will be a large part of what he has to offer them.”
“Give me another shot. I’ll go anywhere; don’t you have something you need blown up or stolen? I’m good at that.” He was silent a moment and Tabitha held her frozen breath. Don’t beg, can’t think, can’t feel my feet!
“Something stolen, is it?”
“Yeah?” She stomped her boots in the slush, one of them kicking the duffel bag that held all she owned.
“There is a man; he’s stolen something quite valuable from me. If you were to retrieve it, I would call our business concluded – satisfactorily.”
“Okay, I’m on it. Got the ‘who, what, where’?”
“Go back to the airport. I will have a man meet you there within the hour with all the information you will need. He will take you to Faro and from there, you will have to find your own way to reclaim my property.”
“Right, no problem. You won’t be sorry, Mr. Rothenberg.”
“This man is very powerful and quite … dangerous.”
“I eat danger for breakfast. How will I know who your guy is, at the airport?”
“He will know you. Goodbye, Meltdown. Happy hunting.”
“Wait, what about – I know I flubbed this here, with the cops, but … I have no money.”
“My man will have a small advance for you, for your retrieval mission, and I will pay you $100,000 for the return of my property. As for this job, you haven’t earned a cent.”
“$100,000…” She couldn’t form words as the number hung in her head.
“Consider it hazard pay.”
“Where is Faro?” She glared at the phone when she heard the click. “Asshole. Well, Tab, maybe it’s in Hawaii, but I kinda doubt it.” Man, that’s a lot of money. I could do … anything … with a paycheck like that. Of course, got to earn it first. Quit dreaming and get moving – it’s the old survival game; you know you never forgot how to play.
Sighing, she put her phone away and picked up her duffel, turned and entered the police department. Finding the young officer who had offered her a ride, she approached him with a smile.
“Can I change my mind? I need a lift to the airport.”
~ ~ ~
The Yukon … in Canada. This isn’t getting me any closer to home – not getting me any warmer, either. Damn it!
Shuddering in the passenger seat of the truck, Tabitha tried to ignore the anti-social pilot turned driver and slid the information he’d given her out of the manila envelope. Typed pages, a blurry photo, a grimy schematic of a monster of a house, and a joke amount of Canadian dollars spilled into her lap. Picking up the photo, she frowned at it. The man was big, but that was about all she could make out.
“Hey, Phil – do you know anything about this Richard Fisk? Can’t tell a thing from this crappy photo.”
The man glanced at her and then watched the road again. They’d flown in a plane the size of a pack of gum to a dinky airstrip that time forgot; then came the truck that time forgot. Throughout the trip, the man had said about seven words to her; the seventh had been his name.
“Murderer for hire, bloody rich one.”
Thirteen words. Go, Phil! “So he’s a bad guy, huh?” Smirking at his glowering look, she added, “Yeah, call me Captain Obvious. We there yet? Getting tired of snow.”
“Faro won’t amuse you, then. One more hour, in this weather.”
“Joy. About this ‘Goshana’ Fisk swiped, is she a daughter, niece, playmate, what?”
“Don’t know anything about it, or her. Boss wants her back.”
“Duh, I gathered – but if Fisk is a killer, what if she’s dead?” When he didn’t answer, she gave up. At least this has been upgraded to a rescue mission; I wasn’t wild about getting back to my thieving roots.
She tried to go over the information on the pages, but it was hard to concentrate on the words as they jumped around in the rattletrap truck. Finally shoving it all back into the envelope, she stared out at the gray and white world.
How the hell did I get here? Got sick of risking my butt with X-Force long before we ‘died’. Then those loser freaks tried to steal our team’s name after we went underground, but was it worth it to surface just to fight for it? X-Force disbanded; me and Sam disbanded, too. After rattling around in California at loose ends, Seattle sounded cool, until Rothenberg complicated my life. I needed the money, though – money I didn’t get. Bastard. I’m not killing jack for you. Still, Tab, you didn’t need to get mixed up with that mook. You could’ve taken care of yourself.
Leaning the envelope against her chest, she dragged her coat over her jeans and buried her gloved hands in the deep pockets again. The window beside her had a gap at the top that wouldn’t close and the frigid wind moved her short blonde curls, freezing her face and neck.
Trying to suppress another shudder, she thought bitterly about how she’d been taking care of herself in Seattle. The club hadn’t been sleazy and it was a far cry from the street corner she’d always feared she’d end up on, but swinging around a pole in a thong wasn’t the best way for a former hero to make a buck.
The last night she worked there, she had met Karl Rothenberg. When he called her Meltdown and made a shady business offer instead of asking for a lap dance, she hadn’t been able to hide her shock.
She had told him she wasn’t interested in being a hired thug and walked off to return to the dressing room. Right before she escaped, a cry of excitement from the girls by the door made her pause. A man in biker duds had walked in, a short but muscled fellow with crazy black hair. When she recognized Wolverine, she’d run into the bathroom in the back and nearly thrown up.
Staying quit being an option damn quick, but maybe I could have just gotten dressed and gone out to talk to him? Asked him to help me out? Her pride burned, rejecting the idea. Call me crazy, but Rothenberg’s offer was the lesser of evils in that choice.
Tabitha never knew it when she dropped off to sleep, mashed against the truck door. She woke with a start when the vehicle stopped and the driver’s door opened and slammed shut.
“Wow. If this is Faro, I’m not going to have a good day.”
She was staring though frosted glass at a long gray three-story building. A sign declared it was the Faro Studio Hotel.
Phil returned and opened her door, the wind blowing his brown coat around his skinny legs. “This is it, girl.”
“Great. Thanks for the stimulating company, dude.” Thirty-nine words. I bet that’s a new record for the Phil-ster.
Wrapping the winding red string to close the envelope, she tucked it under her arm. She grabbed her duffel from the floor at her feet, climbed out of the truck, and walked off to the hotel’s entrance without looking back. The truck started again and rumbled off a moment later.
She wanted a room, a real bed, a shower, and sleep. The hotel staff helped her achieve this goal with smiles of welcome and assured her that she’d love her stay in Faro.
Smiling back at them just because they’d been too nice to give any attitude to, she took her key and collapsed on the bed the minute after the door was locked.
~ ~ ~
According to the clock on the wall, it was after midnight by the time she woke up. Groaning when she realized she’d slept on top of the covers in her coat, she struggled up and started stripping down for a shower. The room had a private bathroom and a kitchenette, details she’d barely noticed that afternoon.
The shower was hot, with decent water pressure and she gratefully washed off the grime of the road, letting the water massage her back and neck before washing her hair a second time.
It had grown more since she’d cropped it close to her skull after adopting the name Meltdown. With the length came the curls, but she’d let it grow in spite of preferring the more severe look.
When she was almost scrubbed raw, she shut the water off and opened the narrow shower stall door, annoyed at the curls as they dripped water down her face.
“Strippers are supposed to be pretty, right?” she asked her wriggly reflection in the fogged mirror. “I don’t ever have to go back to that, though. Not a hero anymore, either, that’s for damn sure… So what am I?”
Leaving the bathroom, she walked by the pile of dirty clothes on the floor and unzipped her duffel. She didn’t have any pajamas, but a t-shirt would do. Smoothing the long green shirt over her slender body, she smiled when it reached to her knees. Sam had looked for it for days. It didn’t smell like him anymore, but it was his and that was enough.
Before going back to bed, she went to a window and looked out. It wasn’t snowing, but a thick blanket of it covered everything outside. From her third floor room, she could see around a bit, but it was eerily dark for a town.
“What did that woman say? Four hundred people in the whole place?”
Loneliness crowded in. She was used to having a lot of people around, a lot of noise. She opened the window for a minute and smirked when she heard a distant howl coming from the dark trees in the distance.
“Super. I’ve traded my ‘bright lights, big city’ for the set of The Wolfman.”
Shuddering instantly, she was about to close the window again when she stiffened. In the dark, a large shape had moved and a spooky feeling of being watched crept over her. She almost created a small time bomb in her palm, just in case, but then shook her head.
“Gone snow blind, Tab, it’s just a tree or a dumpster or something. Go to sleep and worry about everything else in your messed up life tomorrow.”
Shutting the window with a snap, she locked it and crawled into bed. Her dreams were filled with scenes of shame and defeat, moments of guilt and self-hatred, both in X-Force and out. Yet they were more merciful than the nightmares that waited beneath the flotsam of her recent days.
In the darkest hour before light would return to the sky, her sleeping mind turned darker. There was blood there, and a loss too deep for words. Striking across her sleep was a hand – a hand she had held once, to go walking through a strange world of holographic lies. It rose, the fingers spreading, the claws sliding out, sharp and cruel. When it struck, spraying her face with blood, she couldn’t scream.
Terrified, she looked down at the woman on the floor, the injury too horrible to look at, too horrible to look away from. When the body on the floor changed, the black hair shortening, curling, turning to gold, Tabitha opened her mouth and prayed – prayed that she’d be able to scream.
He was blind, the pain of the blades ripping through his senses. Everywhere, the fire consumed, withering flesh, until the shining metal bones gleamed. Victor roared, pushing through the pain, flashing metal claws reaching even as the hair, skin, and meat of the arms fell away.
The prey stepped back, out of reach, the stink of the flamethrower chemicals and the human’s fear receding as his face began to melt.
Then the prey screamed, falling forward into the hissing snow. It was the last sound he heard before he fell. Striking the melting slush, he used the last muscles he had to roll his body down the sloping side of the mountain. Blackness soared up to eat his consciousness long before what remained of him came to a stop in a snowdrift at the bottom.
~ ~ ~
He woke to pain. Something heavy was pressed against his side, the feel of it agony on his slowly knitting flesh. When he moved away from it, it growled. He’d have smiled, but his face wasn’t quite repaired enough for that yet.
So ya did it – followed an’ killed tha bastard fer me? Good kitty, he thought.
Settling into her solid muscle, ignoring the pain of her fur against his regenerating skin, Victor remained still and let his healing factor work to restore his body as it had his mind.
It was over an hour before he could struggle to sit up, breath panting as his mutant gift brought back enough muscle so that he could lift his hands and yank the short blades of the throwing stars out of his eyes. Blood flowed down the irregular planes of his face, the fresh pain making him growl.
His sense of smell returned next, telling him it was still night and that the prey was dead over his head, farther up the mountainside. He had rolled almost as far as the edge of the trees, nearly all the way into the Tintina Valley. Below him, the smells of the town of Faro were coming clearer.
Reaching out, his palm stroked over his companion’s fur. The tingling buzz of new skin there itched a little. He retracted the claws from his fingers to avoid cutting her skin under the thick coat.
Once they grew, he tried to open his eyelids, impatient for his sight to be restored.
“Aw, come on, damn it, heal!” When he could, he smiled at the soft chuffing sound beside him. “Gimme a minute, darlin’; takes a bit when they set my ass on fire.”
Leaning forward, he tried opening his eyes again and finally began to see the tips of his charred boots poking up out of the snow. Waiting until they stopped being blurry, he took a deep breath and turned his head.
The snow leopard was watching him as she lay close, lending him the warmth of her body. She was 120 pounds of muscle and eight feet long from nose to tail tip, with fangs and claws almost as impressive as his. Her coat was smoky gray with a white undercoat, covered with dark gray and black rosettes with small dark spots on her head, legs, and thick tail. Her silver-gray eyes were serene, the scent of human blood on her fangs a comforting perfume.
“How ‘bout givin’ a man a hand up?” When he tried to stand, she rose and let him put his hand on her back. “’Preciate it.” Stretching to his full height, he let a sigh slip from newly healed lips.
The clothes he’d worn were a total loss, most of them falling away from his body in scorched swatches of black cloth and leather. He kicked off the remains of the boots as well and reveled in the feel of the frozen wind as it blew through the blonde hair that had started to grow again on his head, face, and body. He didn’t feel the cold with any more discomfort than the cat did.
Turning his head, he glared at the town below him. Faro was mostly dark this late, but a few windows still gleamed with light. Snorting, he turned his back on it.
“Let’s go collect tha stinkin’ human offal an’ go home. Ya hungry? Grab somethin’ on tha way if ya want. I’d be tempted t’ have roasted jackass, but he’s probly stiff already.”
He started to trudge back up into the Anvil Range, the night landscape as clear to his sight as it was to his feline companion. She bounded up faster though, as if teasing him.
“Yeah, yeah – don’t rub it in; I’ll be up t’ snuff soon. Not like ya’d fair any better with yer tail crisped off.”
A wolf howled, not far away. Growling, not wanting to have to fight for their kill, Victor tried to pick up the pace.
Abruptly, a weirdly familiar scent on the wind stopped him cold. Facing the town again, his eyes and nose picked out a lighted window of the distant hotel, on the third floor. The slender silhouette there had opened the sliding glass, allowing her smell to find him.
Sorting through all that the scent told him, his lips stretched into a broad grin. She shouldn’t be there and why she would be was a stumper – but solving that mystery would have to wait.
Gotta mess t’ clean up, an’ need a bit o’ rest an’ a lot o’ protein before sniffin’ ‘round that. Still, could be profitable – an’ would be a helluva good time.
Chuckling at the feline gruff moaning sound of impatience above him, he started up the snow-glutted mountainside again. Reaching the corpse, he leaned down and hauled it up in one hand by its ammo belt. Snagging the business end of the flamethrower with a finger, he held it all up out of the snow and lugged it off with him.
The Kevlar body armor, helmet, and backpack-mounted fuel cylinders made it heavy, but as his strength continued to leak back into fresh muscle mass, the burden became lighter as he went.
It took longer than usual to make the trek back to the safe house, even after he felt strong enough to shoulder the corpse and run part of the way, but they reached it before sunrise. For the cat’s sake, he had used a section of the closed North Canol Road to avoid the MacMillan River.
Victor didn’t pause at the point where the motion sensors would have dealt with any intruder: they were coded to his voice. One verse of a Monty Python song was more than the system needed to identify him, but his mood had picked up considerably since being torched.
His furry guest slunk and padded at his knee, staying close. The system wouldn’t harm an animal, but he figured it wasn’t a bad habit for her to develop.
When the spiked iron gate appeared, she grew more nervous, preferring the woods and mountain peaks looming over it to the rambling mansion built into the side of the Selwyn Mountains.
The road, little more than a dirt track in summer, was covered with snow. Victor thought about going around and up into the mountains to re-enter his house from the same hidden rocky passage he’d emerged from before to go hunting, but the thought of hauling the corpse all that way wasn’t appealing.
“Sorry ‘bout this, but tha front door’s easier,” he told the cat.
Walking over to the keypad post, he draped the flamethrower nozzle over his shoulder, lifted the metal cover, and entered the code. With a squeal of metal that made both of them wince and snarl, the automatic gate split and began to open. He slipped inside, managing not to bump the helmet on the gate.
As soon as the snow leopard slunk in after him, he punched the code on the inside keypad and waited for the gate to close before turning and heading up to the house.
There was a lot of land inside his fences, enough to support a variety of game. Catching a scent, the big cat bounded away.
“Happy huntin’,” he told her.
Entering another code next to the wide double doors, Victor pushed them open with a foot. Dropping the armored body on the polished wood floor of the entrance hall, he shut and locked the doors behind him.
“Ah, you’re back, sir, I was just…”
Victor grinned at the shock on his servant’s face when he saw his boss return nude and carting a corpse.
The man was human, in his forties, and he looked and dressed like a lumberjack, a fact that always amused Victor. Brys Cuvier was a better chef than a woodsman and he talked like a cultured French waiter.
“I found tha vermin ya were worried ‘bout yesterday. He was still pokin’ ‘is nose ‘round Faro; fucker set me on fire.”
“Did you want … ah, that is…”
“He ain’t fer breakfast, Brys. I want tha weapons, clothes, an’ armor; toss tha rest in tha oubliette. Have Perrin do it, I need yer ass in tha kitchen. Somethin’ beef, venison, whatever, lots. Bring it up, I’m gonna crash.”
“Yes, sir. Perrin is upstairs now; if you send him down, I’ll get him on it.”
Without answering, Victor went to the broad grand staircase at the end of the hall and climbed up to the third floor master suite. The double doors were open and the second human in residence was just finishing straightening up the oversized four poster bed.
Perrin Marseau was the younger and prettier of the matched French Canadian set and by far the grittier of the two. Stripping a corpse and dragging it to a hole in the ground wouldn’t bother him a bit.
Victor popped his claws and clacked them on one of the doors to alert the boy. He looked up, saw the condition of his boss, and sighed.
“Another custom coat gone?”
“Burnt t’ cinders. Meat that did it’s downstairs; Brys knows what I want done.”
“Where is your furry shadow?”
“Huntin’. Open that window, tha one over tha rock ledge. She’ll find me when she wants.”
“You were burned?”
“Yup – way too damn much o’ me fer comfort. Brys’s bringin’ up food. Out with ya, after tha window.”
The slender but strong young man wore jeans, boots, and a thick sweater. He crossed the room to open the window and checked on the blaze in the massive fireplace before heading to the doors where Victor still stood.
“Did you need anything else, Mr. Creed?”
His head came up to his ribs. Brys actually reached Victor’s shoulder. Both men generally smelled like each other, since they shared a bed, but this one had been in his here and there as well.
Placing a hand on the back of his neck, Victor used it to steer him out through the doors, relatively gently.
“Out. I want sleep an’ food. If ya find any I.D. on tha dead fucker, take it t’ tha study.”
“Certainly. Sleep well, Mr. Creed.”
Victor didn’t wait to watch him close the doors. Collapsing on the bed, he rolled onto his stomach and passed out. At some point before his breakfast arrived, he woke just enough to register that the snow leopard had found her way in.
She leapt up onto the bed and curled up at his back, a deep and steady purr lodged in her throat. Smiling, he gave her a low purr of his own and drifted off to sleep again, far too deeply for even his most persistent nightmares to follow.
~ ~ ~
The cat’s hiss woke him, but the intruder was Brys with his food. Laying his palm on her shoulders to comfort her, he sat up with a groan. His skin hadn’t been ready for clothes yet, so he made the man deal with his nudity a bit longer.
Setting the tray on the bed beside him, the Frenchman backed away so that the leopard would relax again.
“Perrin found another tattoo on your, ah, vermin, sir. It’s the same symbol.”
Victor ignored the silver utensils and speared one of the venison steaks with his claws, biting off half of it and swallowing with a satisfied purr before answering. It had been scared a bit by a fire on both sides, just the way he liked it – when it wasn’t fresh off the hoof.
“Guess tha ol’ boy’s tryin’ again. Sendin’ one alone seems oddly stupid, though, even if he was armed t’ tha teeth.”
“Should we turn on all of the security devices within the perimeter, sir?”
“Naw, don’t bother. Our guest isn’t used t’ all o’ that, an’ I don’t want ‘er on a punji stick by mistake.” He finished the meat and speared another. “There’s a new toy in town, down in Faro; skirt’s a member o’ tha spandex union, or she was. I’d love t’ invite ‘er fer supper, but it’d probly take duct tape t’ keep ‘er in tha chair.”
“Will you be going out to fetch her?”
“Nope, not yet. This one’s got tha brass an’ tha means t’ torch me ‘erself, an’ once a week’s ‘nuff fer me. Just thinkin’ out loud’s all. Got that job comin’ up in Vancouver; smellin’ this frail got my wheels turnin’ somethin’ fierce.”
“After your meal, shall I send Perrin up?”
“No. Gonna sleep ‘til I’m done. Skin’s still repairin’, tha nerves’re makin’ me crazy, an’ some stuff inside’s a bit too sloshy yet fer my likin’.” Eyeing the man a moment, a slow smirk tugged at his lips. “Don’t bother ya, huh? Sharin’ yer boy?”
“It doesn’t bother me. He’s … very amorous afterward and I’ve found it quite … entertaining.”
Victor grunted. “What if I wanted ya on yer own belly?” Grinning broadly at the flutter of nervous stink that rose from the man’s plaid flannel shirt, he let him off the hook. “Don’t sweat it, Brys – yer not my type. ‘Sides, tha boy looks better in scars an’ he can’t cook worth a damn.”
Relief flooding his scent, the man backed away a step. “Will there be anything more, sir?”
“Not a thing.”
When the doors closed again, he settled into eating with gusto. He would have preferred to catch his meat just like his furry guest had and in fact they had often hunted together since he’d brought her here, but his body needed rest not the thrill of the chase.
For the same reason, he had decided to let the X-baby have her peace, at least for now.
Biting into another hunk of venison, his tongue lashed out to catch some of the juices before they could drip from his chin. He called up the memory of her scent, his low purr starting up again.
Whatever tha fuck yer doin’ here, Tabitha, yer in my territory now. He finished off another slab of meat, feeling his healing factor buzz inside his skin. Soon as I’m up t’ playin’ with ya, we’re gonna have us a chat an’ this time, frail, I’ll bring tha fuckin’ milk an’ watch while ya lap it up.
Author’s Note: For a timeline, this tale is taking place after my Wolverine and Doc Ock tales come to a close.
In this chapter, Tabitha is referring to events in and after X-Force Vol. 1 # 115. X-Force is believed to have died in an explosion during a mission, but they only went underground. Then an upstart batch of mutants tried to steal their team name and they resurfaced to claim it back. Afterward, X-Force disbanded and the members went their separate ways. Sam Guthrie, aka Cannonball of the X-Men, is her ex-boyfriend. They had parted, reunited, and then broke up again after the team disbanded. Her history with Sabretooth has been a heartbreaking and brutal one. More details can be found (as well as the milk references) in X-Force Vol. 1 # 44 thru 48 and Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 # 328. In the latter issue, Sabretooth taunts Tabitha into attacking him, which releases him from his restraints. In his escape, he eviscerated Psylocke and Tabitha witnessed it with the X-Man telepath’s blood on her face. Oh, and no, snow leopards aren’t native to the Yukon. I’ll explain later…
Thanks for reading. This tale will have a bit of on the sidelines Slash, but it will be primarily Hetero. (@MET_Fic) – AnonGrimm