Sabretooth: Unstoppable – Chapter 1 – Cockeyed Optimist

I can be nice but don’t test me
I can get wicked
I get wicked, wicked, I get wicked
There’s no escaping it
Wicked
You wanna kick it
watch me get wicked
step up and get it
‘cause I get wicked

I’m a beast came to rip this spot up
Stick to chords cause the devil wears prada
We want peace but we can make this rowdy, stop
We don’t want to hurt nobody
You can’t hate me ‘cause my nature’s nice
And my heart’s for the people of the world tonight
If you got a problem with it take it up with life
‘cause if you try to push me it ain’t gonna be nice

I am not afraid of this mountain in my way
You can push me to my knees I believe
and I am now awake
uncontrolled and not ashamed
When it washes over me I feel free

These cats can’t see us they checking the wrong mirrors
Cavaliers, don’t mistake kindness for weakness
They never wanted to hear us
My faith is my life it’s rolling the dice
If you try to push me it ain’t gonna be nice

I can be nice but don’t test me
I can get wicked
I get wicked, wicked, I get wicked
There’s no escaping it
Wicked
You wanna kick it
watch me get wicked
step up and get it
‘cause I get wicked

I get wicked when you come against me
So quit it, stop trying to push me around
Let’s kick it if you really want to touch fire
Come get it step up I’ll bring you down
Step up and get it because I get wicked

~ I Get Wicked (Thousand Foot Krutch, edited)

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

Victor grinned as he sliced another nasty wound into his captive’s chest.

The sweating and bleeding young man gasped and glared up at him – once the screaming stopped. Begging to be allowed to live had started, while defiance was mostly overwith. He wondered if he could push it all the way into begging to be killed and still get the information he needed.

“Please, I told you everything I know about the boat… Don’t…” he begged in Spanish.

“Yeah ya did,” Victor responded in kind, “but I ain’t got time t’ search tha whole fuckin’ Pacific fer it, an’ it’s gonna be dawn soon. Last known coordinates gets ya a ride t’ Hawaii.” When the dark eyes went huge, he knew his plan would work. Idiot lackey thug like this won’t know coordinates, no way he can even read a chart. Ask fer somethin’ he can’t give, maybe he compromises t’ save ‘is hide an’ gives me a basic headin’ – that’s all I need.

“You’ll just kill me, and if you don’t, they will.”

“Trust me, pendejo, yer gonna wanna make me happy – survivin’ long ‘nuff fer ‘em t’ kill ya is a much better end … less messy.”

“You grin like the freak you are,” he spat back. “Killing a man makes you happy. I want to live.” His Spanish almost sounded like Italian, a common quirk for Argentinians.

“Not t’ take away from tha enjoyment yer providin’, but tha grin’s cuz flyin’ over tha South Pacific Ocean, hopin’ yer gonna break’s got that song rollin’ ‘round in my head: sweet Nellie, Mizzi Gaynor t’ ya, singin’ Cockeyed Optimist – that’s me. I’d sing it fer ya, but I sing like a toad an’ tha claws’re probly torture ‘nuff already.”

“You are insane.”

“So they tell me.”

On a whim, he began a game of Tic Tac Toe on the man’s torso, the grid a bit shaky as he writhed and screeched. Cutting an O into the center square, he called out to his pilot in a cleaner Spanish dialect.

“Yer X, Zane, where ya want it?”

“Upper left, Boss.”

By the time he won the game, the board sagged and sobbed out the destination: Buenos Aires, Argentina. As suspected, it didn’t match up with his original intel, that they would head for Peru.

“Most logical place t’ sell off captive Chinese fishermen is tha slave labor trade in the Lima District, Peru. What ‘bout tha ones ya stole tha boat from – any o’ ‘em still aboard an’ breathin’?”

Barely able to speak, he flinched weakly and found his tongue when Victor raised a bloody dripping claw.

“The others killed them,” he whispered, “soon after we took it.”

“They killed ‘em, huh? Yer just tha mascot, ain’t done a damn thing wrong? Pirates in tha weapons an’ slave trade killin’ able-bodied prisoners – I guess we’ll see.”

Zane chimed in, switching to English. “Either way, maybe it’s a time-saver? Argentina’s got a slave trade, too. Stark contraband is rare enough – they might want to give their home turf first dibs.”

“Maybe. Time fer a boat hunt in tha opposite direction.”

“Got it, changing course.”

The tarp covering the open space behind the seats crackled under his weight as he rose from sitting on the man’s fractured knees. The smell of the blood was driving him to distraction.

Victor fetched the first aid kit and another huge black towel from his small sleeping cabin and stared down at the traumatized criminal. He had tied the man’s wrists to his neck, and every time he struggled he had nearly strangled himself. The legs were free, but the will to kick had been carved out of him.

“Fair’s fair, gonna doctor tha worst o’ yer wounds – don’t need ya bleedin’ on one o’ my seats fer tha rest o’ tha trip.” He decided to take the shock over not being killed on his captive’s face as a compliment. They’re always too stupid t’ realize I ain’t done yet. Once we find tha boat – maybe then I’ll be done.

Sitting next to him but off the tarp to avoid getting his black jeans even bloodier, he opened the kit and started bandaging the deepest cuts. Just to be a dick, quite sure the idiot understood English perfectly well, he let his humming break into the song in his head. It sounded considerably less sweet and chipper as it was mangled by his off-key baritone.

“When tha sky’s a bright canary yellow
I forget ev’ry cloud I’ve ever seen
so they call me a cockeyed optimist
immature an’ incurably green

I’ve heard people rant an’ rave an’ bellow
that we’re done an’ we might as well be dead
but I’m only a cockeyed optimist
an’ I can’t get it int’ my head…”

One claw cut the thin black silk ropes to free the wrists from the abraded neck. He half expected the fool to try to strike him, but as usual, the body was going into shock and the ability to fight was gone. With a sigh, he went back to destroying the song.

“I hear tha human race
is fallin’ on its face
an’ hasn’t very far t’ go
but ev’ry whippoorwill
is sellin’ me a bill
an’ tellin’ me it just ain’t so

I could say life’s just a bowl o’ Jello
an’ ‘ppear more intelligent an’ smart
but I’m stuck like a dope
with a thing called hope
an’ I can’t get it out o’ my heart!
Not this heart…”

“Yikes, Boss.”

Victor grinned. “South Pacific is a great flick. It ain’t my fault ya got stunted taste in tunes. A man can’t live on hard rock alone.”

“I think you left the tune miles back.”

Chuckling at the teasing, he closed the kit and ignored the whimpers and yelps as he wiped most of the blood away from red and trembling caramel skin. To be polite, he switched back to Spanish.

“Here we go, Lautaro, I’m a man o’ my word. Gonna get ya a seat but keep tha towel ‘round ya. Mess up my jet an’ I’ll start doodlin’ on tha rest o’ ya.”

He picked the naked and limp thing up wrapped in the towel and winced with pointed ears pinning down as the prey screeched over being moved. Once he had him in a seat, he belted him in with arms secured in the towel and under the tight seatbelt.

Lautaro Quiroga had passed out in the alley behind the bar he’d been thrown out of in the Chilean port city of Valparaíso, and the boat full of his fellow pirates and its cache of Stark weapons had sailed without him. His luck had gone downhill from there when Victor had found him on his hunt to track a rumor of a group that specialized in finding the best contraband money and murder could buy.

Staring down at him, Victor cocked his head to one side. “If’n ya were washed down an’ clipped, ya might could be worth a fuck. Can be a long trip t’ Hawaii from here an’ I hate bein’ bored – whattaya say?”

Glaring, the man tried to spit at him, but he didn’t have much spit left. A bad hangover on top of being tortured had to be a party.

“You’re a faggot, too? I’m a man. A man fucks bitches. Dirty mutie cunt.”

From the cockpit, Zane whistled in awe and stretched one of the most versatile words of the English language into a dramatic drawl. “Duuude.”

Victor’s grin didn’t even twitch. “Now, now, he’s got ‘is reasons fer bein’ a shithead.”

Ignoring the pirate, he went to sit at his favorite window on a matching towel spread over his chair. He watched the world fill with light as he waited. It was always beautiful to see the sun rise over water or snow, but on this morning, the vast emptiness of the ocean tugged at the empty dark hole inside him until that beauty slowly turned gray.

Somewhere, a boat was moving in that water, full of things that belonged to Tony Stark. Chasing it wasn’t what he should be doing, but the opportunity it dangled in front of him was too sweet to ignore.

This catch oughta make Tony’s day – maybe I can use it t’ get ‘im t’ make mine.

Falling into his favorite distraction, he let memories of Tony soothe him: the scent of the man, the sound of his breathing as he slept by his side – trusting him to do that – and seeing the curious fascination in those beautiful brown eyes when he looked at him, unafraid … or excited in heat.

Heavy-lidded, he saw the tops of swelling waves begin to sparkle as the sunlight touched them, turning the insidious gray into deep and ever-changing hues of green and blue.

~ ~ ~

“Chinese fishing vessel FV Tian Yu 8 spotted,” Zane called back to him.

With a twitch, he snapped alert again, surprised that he had nearly dosed off. “How’s she look?”

“Not a bad size for a rat trap, white with crappy blue trim near the waterline, BZSJ6 painted in black on the side. Typical fishing trawler, though I assume it was in better shape before they stole it from the fishermen.”

Victor smirked at the feverish stare of his captive before rising to take a gander at the target with one hand resting on the back of Zane’s chair.

“Thar she blows,” he quipped with a grin. “Bristlin’ with heavily-armed rats, too – I spy with my li’l eye an AK-47, M-16, QBZ-95… They’re totin’ tha whole alphabet down there.”

He reached for his phone in his back pocket and hit the speed dial for the Tin Man. When he answered, Victor pursed his lips and managed a good shrill whistle between his fangs, grinning at Tony’s protest.

“Wake up, flyboy! I got me a boat in my sights full o’ yer weapons. ‘Sposed t’ be explosives, too – bombs, ya name it, bein’ transported fer sale t’ persons o’ low moral intentions.”

“This is the group you’ve been tracking from Argentina that Stane was selling to?”

“Yup, but my intel says they’ve also been stealin’ more from other illicit clients. Ya want it recovered? Gonna cost ya in toys.”

The bright fast voice sounded distracted by work and Victor could almost imagine the dismissive hand gesture he made as he replied.

“Light it up for me? I bet it’d look great on the bottom of the ocean – start a new reef, give the fish something to do.”

“Yer call.”

“Don’t acquire it for personal use, huh?”

“Perish tha thought.”

“Just seek and destroy, preferably from a distance? Any explosives in the mix that aren’t mine being sold by idiots with no clue how to store or transport them could be dicey.”

“Didn’t know ya cared, but if’n yer worried, ya could come out here an’ hold my hand.”

“Bye, Victor – have fun.” The call clicked off.

Burying the wistful spector of wishing he was in Malibu, perhaps licking up the back of Tony’s neck, Victor growled and slapped the top of the pilot’s chair. “Can’t say I was in tha mood t’ pick lead outta my navel, so why don’t we just light ‘em up with tha Grinch. This is gonna be a hoot.”

As he turned to get the 9K38 Igla, the surface-to-air missile and laucher known as SA-24 Grinch to its friends, he caught the smug smile and intent glassy dark eyes of the pirate. One sniff brought the growl back up.

“Go high an’ circle, huh?” he asked the pilot. “I’m smellin’ a rat right here.”

He pushed up the long sleeves of his black t-shirt to the elbows and stalked back over as his captive winced and paled, the scent crashing from aggression back to terror in seconds. Without hesitation, he stabbed a claw into the throat, barely missing the vital stuff, and left it sunk in.

“What’s tha story, Wishbone? Why ya lookin’ so pleased with yerself ‘bout me blowin’ yer pals an’ yer cut o’ tha cash t’ Hell?”

“Go ahead, freak,” he answered in clipped English. “You will only anger the Iron Man once the truth is known.”

“Okay, I’ll bite. Tell ya what, I’m gonna turn yer neck int’ a sieve an’ maybe ya give up yer truth before ya lose too much blood?”

He only got four stabs in before the idiot broke. It was a new record.

“The cargo isn’t just weapons,” he gasped out in Spanish. “It’s the fishermen, and … girls, caught or bought. A few are for the others, with more to sell. Some are pure – it fetches a higher price.”

Growling, Victor glared down at him. “Girls. They ain’t that tall, I bet – hardly a pubic hair among tha lot?” His hand darted down to grip around the neck, the other one undoing the seatbelt. “Did ya take a turn?” He sniffed, but all he smelled from before the torture was stale booze and sweat. “Nope, that’s good.”

“You should destroy the boat. If you try to get them, they’ll be shot. By now, they might just thank you for a quick death. A lot can happen on a long trip – while keeping them intact.”

Zane cursed. “Can that sack of shit die now?”

“Patience is a fuckin’ virtue. Usual bullshit moron too, ain’t he – a hymen ain’t somethin’ ya break.”

“Let’s discuss his bloody end instead – before you both make me throw up.”

“Tha bastard’s just tryin’ t’ rile us.” Victor moved his hand to cover the whimpering fool’s mouth and whipped out his phone again. He interrupted Tony mid-curse. “Listen up, hero – this business just got dirty an’ tricky. Gonna send ya coordinates. Slip int’ somethin’ more lethal an’ get yer tin ass out here.”

“I will not, just handle it – I’m in the middle of –”

“Part o’ their payload is kids, Tony, li’l girls – fer use an’ fer sale.”

Silence reigned for a few heartbeats. “Send the coordinates.”

Victor let go of the pirate and clicked over to texts to send their location. He tossed the phone on the next seat and glared down at the bleeding mess.

“Tony don’t like tha idea o’ me as a torturer, my normally unruffled pilot’s gotta daughter, an’ I never did like snivelin’ cowards, so it looks like yer time’s up, boy. ‘Sides, I’m probly gonna be a lead magnet before this shit is over, an’ toppin’ off tha fuel tank is always smart. Remember when I told ya that survivin’ long ‘nuff so’s yer buddies are tha ones who kill ya would be less messy?”

Raising his voice over the abrupt stream of frantic Spanish cursing, Victor snatched him up, towel and all, and threw him over the row of seats and back onto the bloody tarp with a hard thud.

Following him down, he tore the towel away and tossed it in a heap to the side. Snagging an ankle as the feet tried to kick, he dropped his jaw and bit the foot, severing it at the halfway mark with a crunch of little bones. Spitting it out to the tarp, he fell over him and dug in – cutting, opening, and eating while the prey was still alive. The act made him achingly hard as the screams split the air again, this time almost drowning out the engine noise.

With blood coating his throat inside and out, his facial fur dripping with it, he watched the life end as he swallowed hunks of the body. Tony was fast; he knew he didn’t have the luxury of savoring the meal. He consumed as much as he could while leaving time to clean up a bit and dispose of it all.

Just in case, should do my tidyin’ up first. He left the corpse in mostly large pieces and went into his small cabin’s bathroom. Tony can’t smell any better’n most other folks, so gettin’ blood outta sight’s all that matters. He had kept the mess off the jet’s interior and most of his clothes; the clothes and towels were black for this exact reason.

They were probably close to being out of time, but the rest was even easier – he was practiced at wrapping human remains in a tarp – and Zane was already flying out farther from the boat and lowering down to skim over the choppy surface of the water.

“Could of waited until the clean up and dump was done to call in the righteous flying tank, right?”

“Where’s yer spirit o’ adventure? Tha dial goes t’ eleven fer a reason.”

“Not sure I’d play the Russian roulette version of ‘I’ve got a secret’ with that guy, but hey – it’s your bullet.”

Hoisting the bundle over one shoulder and catching Zane’s nod, Victor opened the door with the curved stairs molded into it and dumped the tarp into the water. The lead scuba weights sewn into its lining dragged it down and out of sight in seconds.

“Gotta blip incoming, Boss – it’s probably him. He’ll have visual right … now.”

“We’re all set.”

Victor grinned as the wind whacked around him, ratting the braided bun at the nape of his neck. In no time, Iron Man flew alongside, the flat glow of the rectangle eyes gleaming in at him.

“Nice trick,” he said, the mechanized voice low and cold. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Preparin’ t’ board tha boat. Use yer targetin’ trick an’ find those girls, an’ tha fishermen, too. My jet’ll circle wide with this door open. Ya get ‘em out safe an’ get ‘em in here.”

“While you distract the pirates with your pointy bits, I presume?”

“Ya got it in one. Do we hafta pretend we ain’t workin’ t’gether?”

“Why bother? None of these idiots are going to survive to tell the tale.”

Victor whistled, but the wind swallowed it up. “I love it when ya talk dirty.”

“Play it by ear is my MO, remember? The captives are the priority – the rest all goes down with the ship.”

“If’n they spot us early, they might could start killin’ ‘em. Let’s get ‘em safe up here fast as we can an’ then fig out tha rest.”

“Fine, but anything marked Stark on board is going in the drink.”

“‘Sides yerself?” Victor chuckled. He leaned down to yank off his boots and socks. The claws escaped the moment they could. “Showtime. Happy huntin’, flyboy.”

“Yeah,” Iron Man said, sounding wary, “you too, killer.”

When he peeled away, Victor turned his head to meet Zane’s smirk.

“Take me higher, I wanna drop on ‘em like feral ordinance. Then circle an’ be ready t’ take on pint-sized damsels an’ fishermen.”

“I’m on it. Have fun.”

The jet swooped in over the boat in Iron Man’s wake. Victor tossed a Cheshire grin at his pilot and jumped out, all claws blazing. His roar of challenge rang out, splitting the morning air as he fell.

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

Any upright human holding a weapon was targeted in red on the HUD as Tony soared in. He was a bit surprised when every one of them whirled away from him to look at the bow, but once he heard Victor’s roar and spotted the insane feral leaping from the passing jet, he didn’t blame them.

“Wow – that is a furry bioweapon, and I’m glad he’s on our side.”

“Technically, sir,” JARVIS interjected, “Creed is nowhere near our side. Multiple heat signatures are present in the engine room.”

“Taking advantage of the distraction, got it – let’s move. You’ve got to admit, though – I do, as a former connoisseur of weapons of mass destruction – he qualifies as one.”

Firing carefully aimed repulsors at the few pirates that weren’t engaged with Victor, he avoided heavier artillery. He cleared a path to the engine room fast while JARVIS brought up schematics of the boat as a 3D map around him.

The moment he breached the narrow space, he targeted and put bullets into any man using someone else as a human shield. The one he didn’t kill, an older man with a scraggly beard, gripped his bleeding belly in his arms as he fell to his knees. Terrified kids screamed, some of them holding each other or even running to the shocked fishermen.

Tony advanced on the last one alive who had threatened them. The man tried to speak, babbling in Spanish. He barely caught a name and some garbled threats as blood dripped down the furry chin.

“Okay, Black Beard, listen up,” he ordered in Spanish. “One: I don’t care. Two: you aren’t going to be alive long enough for me to listen, if I did care. The only reason you didn’t get one in the skull is so you can tell me who and where your buyer is. A plausible answer gets you a faster end than an ugly belly wound.”

Glaring up at him, the pirate stopped trying to protect his abdomen. Inexplicably, he shoved fingers into the hole and yanked it wider.

“Shit! I hate these fanatic types!” Another well-placed bullet made sure he was dead. He lowered his hands and switched to Mandarin. “My friend and I are taking these guys down. You’re going to be safe, but we need your help with the kids, okay? I have to get them onto a plane. You can all get out the same way.”

They all began to talk at once, but it was hard to untangle it all. He let JARVIS handle a quick headcount. The HUD displayed it: seventeen male adults, eight female minors.

“Sir, hostiles are approaching.”

“Other than Victor, right?”

“Correct, sir.”

Swinging a glance over at the crates piled around, a swift scan and analysis made his blood run cold. He popped the faceplate up for a moment to show the kids his face, trying not to let the smile waver.

“Okay, we need to be topside, now,” he continued in Mandarin, cutting off their frantic voices. Teamwork, right? Get that trawling net and the ropes! Tie the girls together, legs through the net to walk – the less flailing, the safer they’ll be. I can lift them all out at once. Let’s move!” Switching back to Spanish, he hoped that one of them speaking it meant they would all understand it. “We’re going to get you out of here, take you somewhere safe. I have to fly you up to a plane. Understand?”

The two oldest girls stared at him as they nodded, but when the fishermen approached with the net and ropes, they began to help with the younger kids.

Dropping the faceplate, he frowned as JARVIS confirmed the unstable status and contents of a trio of crates: the only ones not bearing his name. If they go off, they’ll take my creations with them and probably tear this boat into pieces as easily as tissue paper.

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

From the moment Victor’s claws hit the deck and gouged cuts into it, he was taking bullets and killing people. He moved with jumps, sometimes landing on top of his prey. Everytime he connected, they lost a limb or died in a single slash of Adamantium claws.

Iron Man had disappeared belowdecks, but he couldn’t distract himself with worry over him. He can handle ‘isself, do yer bit.

Fresh blood burst from new wounds as one of the few pirates left in one piece on the deck opened up on him with an AK-47. He leaped through the automatic fire and forced the idiot to retreat. Landing on top of the wheelhouse, he growled when the prey zagged and escaped down the port side and into the interior of the boat. Killing anything breathing while he gave chase, he loped after the living meat.

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

“Keep holding onto each other, okay?” Tony told the girls in Spanish, trying not to think about the fact that the oldest was maybe eleven, carrying the youngest who was about four. They were struggling to walk in the net. “Stay behind me.”

The fishermen were helping the girls and carrying the coils of excess rope attached to the net. As they came to the engine room stairs, he called it practice for the plane and had them hug each other tight as he took the ropes and lifted them up to the interior section of the main deck. Handing the ropes back to the men so he could defend them all, Tony began to retrace his route.

“Tracking our hostiles, JARVIS, what’s the best way out?”

“I detect three left – not counting Creed. The only viable route at the moment is straight ahead.”

“Three? He’s been busy.”

“Sir, they’re on the move, and we are –” JARVIS was interrupted by gunfire as the door in front of them burst open.

Tony was ready, but even as he fired, a roar rang in his helmet when Victor jumped on the pirate from behind. An AK-47 skated to his feet, but he ignored it to watch the feral dodge the repulsor hit.

“Oh geez, don’t look!” he yelled out to his charges, turning his head too late to miss it.

The mutant’s jaw had dropped, fangs biting the join of neck and shoulder – exactly where his own scars were. They didn’t stop at an inch, and in a frantic heartbeat, the entire arm was severed and spit out.

Another pirate appeared from a port side door and filled Victor’s back with lead. A few bullets struck his skull and ricocheted away with a clang to hit the walls. The narrow passageway was filled with screams from captives and captors alike.

Victor swung his head up to meet Tony’s gaze only to let out an animal shriek of rage as a Molotov cocktail was tossed at him. It shattered into a fireball that consumed him almost instantly.

“That’s it! Screw this!” Tony saw Victor pitch forward to roll and he took the opening and blew the man back with one repulsor strike. He wasn’t getting up. Tony tried to help Victor, but he got swatted at, backing up fast to avoid the claws.

Snarling at him, the feral shouted, “Get ‘em out, now! I’ll be right behind ya!”

Horrified to leave him on fire as smoke filled the passage, he surged forward. “Come on!”

They gained the deck and the men picked up the kids as they all ran after him. Halfway across toward the bow, he spotted the jet coming in. His fishermen dropped down, protecting the girls as gunfire opened up behind them, but if he stopped to fight he’d miss the pass of the jet.

“Take them!” The words in Mandarin filled his head as ropes were held up to him.

He acted in a flash, grabbed the ropes, and launched into the air. Two fishermen were killed as they used their bodies to shield the girls’ escape.

Lifting them, screaming, like a wriggling net full of fish, he aimed for the open door of the jet. Flying over it, he let his momentum swing the net inside the opening. To his surprise, the pilot tilted the craft in a brilliant move at the exact right moment to bring the open door up, giving Tony the chance the slip them inside without tossing them at the back wall.

They tumbled in as the jet surged forward, righting itself, and Tony fired on the dangling ropes to prevent them from hindering the aircraft. He could hear the pilot telling them in Spanish to move to the back of the jet before it tore away from him.

He whirled in the air, ready to give covering fire to the fishermen as he swooped back down. They were huddled against the peak of the bow, pressing against the white metal railings. Tony had almost reached them when the harrying gunfire was abruptly torn upward, away from all of them. Looking up at the wheelhouse, he froze after his boots hit the deck.

Victor had lurched out of the open door they had escaped through, still on fire, and jumped up onto the shooter who had emerged from the wheelhouse. Claws had ripped across the back of the man’s knees to bring him down.

The boat was still underway and had begun a tilting turn. He tore his gaze away from Victor and faced the fishermen.

“Who can drive this tub?” he called out in Mandarin. A few of them began to move out of their huddle and Tony grabbed up the first one he could reach who was nodding to him and flew up to the wheelhouse with him. “We can’t jostle the crates in the engine room,” he told the man as he stumbled inside to grip the wheel. “Head farther out from the coast and keep that heading.”

He barely got back out to help Victor in time to watch him savage the last pirate into mismatched parts.

The fishermen were on the move and he turned away to work with them. They had to put the fire out in the passageway.

His last glance at Victor was hard to look at, and likely going to haunt his nightmares. Scorched and smoking flesh trailed a wide path up his back all the way up. Bits of long hair were burning, the mass of it charred away, and in a few places the gleam of Adamantium could be seen on the roasted skull and torso. The blackened flesh of the back was splitting and bleeding as he tore at the corpse beneath him.

Tony swallowed bile and rushed to fight the fire with the others.

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

Pain flashed until an alarming number of nerves were burned away. The fire wasn’t out – on him or in the passageway. Overhead, he heard gunfire.

Missed one.

Pulling himself up with a strangled scream locked in his throat behind clenched teeth, he stumbled forward to the open door Tony had gone through with the prisoners. Clinging to the metal doorframe in shock, he watched as Iron Man shot into the air, dangling a trawler net full of screaming kids.

That’s somethin’ ya don’t see everyday.

His head swung to find the fishermen, pinned against the bow railing. The shooter was laying down harrying fire to keep them there, probably still hoping to salvage some of the goods.

Gotta admire tha bastard’s pluck – most fuckers faced with Sabretooth on one side an’ Iron Man on tha other woulda jumped overboard by now.

Glancing up, he stared as Iron Man played a rather fucked up version of basketball, tossing netted kids into the opening of the expertly rolled jet as it turned upright again and shot past him.

The deck tilted a hair under his clawed feet and he looked up at the wheelhouse. Well, that ain’t good. Move, ya shithead, not done by a longshot. Yer gonna win, ya always do – so suck it up an’ get back t’ work.

Victor pushed away from the door frame, ignored the flames that still licked at his back, and leaped up to get the shooter. His aim was off a tick, but he managed to land on the prey anyhow, slashing claws across the backs of the knees to cripple it.

The M-16 tilted upward as the prey’s back arched, and bullets rained down on them by the time he had him pressed flat on the blood-spattered deck. Every bullet that entered his burning back pushed him deeper into the sparking red of rage madness.

With prey under his claws and pain fueling predatory rage, he felt his grasp on civilized thoughts slipping. The beast within was far better at coping with fire damage, and the overtaxed healing factor knew it. He batted the weapon out of reach and scanned the area carefully before conscious reason faded. The others with Tony were belowdecks fighting the fire, and the inner kitty wouldn’t hurt his mate. The helmsman couldn’t see him here. Bleeding meat that he needed to heal was at hand … warm and waiting.

By the time his fangs tore into the prey, only the beast was left.

~ ~ ~

From a short distance, a sound grew louder. He growled at the scent of his mate. He would share his kill, but his hunger drove him to survive, to eat, as much and as quickly as he could before scavengers gathered and had to be driven away.

When his mate abruptly jumped into the air, he snarled at the strange behavior. He couldn’t understand the thing that had surrounded his body. Did it threaten?

“Oh God, you’re out to lunch both ways, and I can’t let the others see that. Victor, stop. You need to … hide that.”

Fear scent – his mate reeked of it. The strange substance was hurting him. Snarling in rage, he began to rise to a crouch. He wanted to jump, shred the thing that confined his mate.

“Victor? Victor, please … stop.”

The odd sounds made him pause. Something scratched at the back of his awareness. The fierce creature that slept was waking – the sounds were meant for the sleeper.

“Victor, you need the protein, I know. It’s instinct…”

Shaking his head, he growled at the feeling of being pushed back without moving. The other one knew his mate was not in danger. The meat, the kill, the hunger drove him. He ate. His mate made the sound again; it was … disgust – his scent full of fear.

“Please stop. They’re coming back. We’ll figure something out. I’ll help you – I won’t let you die.”

His mate reached to touch him and he shied from it. Ears pinned, he bent to eat again.

 

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Author’s Note: The fishing boat description, name, and numbers in this story are from a real Chinese boat that was captured by Somali pirates. My pirates are from Argentina, but I wanted to borrow the boat. The Grinch missile launcher Victor almost uses is the same one from my story Cutting Edge that he used to shoot down the Hydra-modified stolen F-22 before it could either kill or capture Tony Stark in the Artic Circle. “Tin Man” is yet another Wizard of Oz reference. “Pendejo” is Spanish for “a stupid or contemptible person”.

“What’s the story, Wishbone?” refers to a children’s TV show from the late 1990s named Wishbone, where the title star, a Jack Russell Terrier, wore costumes to portray characters in classic literature as he told the stories to viewers. It struck me that the silliness combined with decently faithful tellings of Shakespeare and other classics would likely amuse Victor if he came across it while bored in front of a TV. “The dial goes to eleven” is a reference to a guitar amplifier joke in the spoof rock and roll comedy film Spinal Tap. Victor’s enjoyment of goofy entertainment and old movies like South Pacific continues to amuse me.

Zane is a canon character, Victor’s jet pilot from the limited series comics Mary Shelley Overdrive. Marvel never bothered to name him, so I did. The stunt they pull off flying low and opening the stairs over an ocean is a trick they pulled in that story. I have no idea how plausible that is, but I’m borrowing it from Marvel, so if it’s not possible, it’s their fault.

I enjoy portraying the man Victor and the inner beast of his feral side as almost two separate creatures, which are aware of each other. I love the concept that in the feral beast’s view, the man is the brutal one, and he’s not wrong. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)

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