† Broken Vincent † (_thenothing_) wrote in otherearth626,
† Broken Vincent †
_thenothing_
otherearth626

“It shouldn’t have ended up like this!”

Written by: Nathan & Noelle Pico
Beta readers: Nathan & Noelle Pico




Los Angeles, California
7:44pm


Jamie slammed his fists on the table, the force backing the blow barely an expression of what he was really feeling inside. “We’re supposed to be finding out the reason behind all these disappearances, Rahne,” he dropped into his chair and stared up at the ceiling in utter frustration. “Not vanishing alongside the rest of LA’s populace.”

She watched him lay his head down on the table’s surface, eyes all but glazed over as if he were elsewhere instead of here and now. The red-haired Scot felt a stab of hurt go through her as she watched him berate himself inwardly over their most pressing crisis. “Jamie—” she started in a soft whisper, one hand reaching out to her longtime friend and teammate, only to be cut off as he let out another thunderous outburst:

“It shouldn’t have ended up like this!” The head of X-Factor Investigations stood up abruptly, violently upending his chair out of the way. “Things shouldn’t have turned out like this!” He walked back and forth, pacing here and there, around his table and back again, meandering as aimlessly as the anxieties at the back of his head. “I shouldn’t have let Guido check that place out alone,” He muttered audibly, focused on nothing else save that they were one man short, and that they had no idea how it had happened.

Three days ago, Guido “Strong Guy” Carosella, had gone out to check up on a lead that he, Jamie and Rahne had been following regarding the numerous disappearances that had been plaguing the city of Los Angeles.

He’d gone off. He hadn’t come back.

And while they could call in a missing person’s report, that idea had fallen out unfavorably. They were the people other people hired to find the missing. It just wouldn’t do for word to get out that even they were falling victim.

At the core of it all, the question was, who was pulling the strings to the disappearances – and why were they pulling the strings in the first place.

Rahne kept quiet as Jamie stopped to pick up his coffee. She studied him carefully as he sipped once, only to place the cup down again as the coffee in it had already gotten cold. He hadn’t slept since the incident, and the caffeine was admittedly, the only thing keeping him and his dupes going. “Now Alex and Lorna are on their way to clean up my mess at my request…” The rest of the sentence had teetered off into an inaudible string.

Expelling a soft sigh, the part-time wolf-girl crossed her arms, still saying nothing. They were both tired, and they both knew it. Jamie had already tried convincing her that she needed to catch up on sleep, and she had been out like a light the whole morning yesterday, waking up sometime near dawn, refreshed, ready to pick up on tracking down Guido’s trail – which, she regretted to say, came through with no success at all. But when she had welcomed the offer, it was only with Jamie’s promise that he would go and get some rest himself.

From the looks of the bags under his eyes though, the addle-brained fool hadn’t held up his end of the bargain.

“Am I ever going to get out from under everyone else’s shadows!? I am such an idiot!” With that one last outburst, the X-Man aptly named Multiple Man punched the wall hard with the equivalent of all his insecurities. He stood there, and she stood there, both of them silent until Jamie pulled back his hand, cradling his fingers to his stomach as a faint trickle of red caught on his shirt.

The click of Rahne’s heels throbbed to the beat of the pulse where the nerve endings were sore, and before he knew it a hand slapped him soundly at the back of the head adding obvious insult to apparent injury.

“I’m alrigh’ with ye losing sleep o’er Guido and all,” she started, blatantly ignoring his expression of thunderstruck surprise, “and ah respect ye doin’ away with yer pride and callin’ for help even when ye’ve been wantin’ t’prove tha’ ye can do a good job wi’out the others’ help,” she took his injured hand in her own and pressed down on the small wound, eliciting a wince from her supposed superior, “but if yer gonna start hurtin’ yerself o’er it, ye got another thing comin’, Madrox.” He looked away, feeling ashamed at how she had just made him feel like an eight-year-old with a temper tantrum.

The sound of a drawer opening let him know that she was reaching for the box of band-aids that they stored in there for when the occasion arose, but when he caught sight of the frown on her face, he knew in that instant that they weren’t there. “I think we’re out.” He murmured and the round of ripping cloth caught on his ears. When he looked, he noted that she’d torn hem of her white shirt so that she could have something to wrap the cut with. The gesture was a little extreme (given that they probably had an extra stash of band-aids somewhere in the upper bathroom’s medicine cabinet) that he couldn’t help but smile.

“There, yer mama fixed the booboo, alrigh’, laddie?”

“Oh shut up.” He retorted as she smirked back.

“Then maybe ah shouldn’t have rip’d me shirt for ye?”

He raised his eyebrows with a sly smile and an even slyer remark, “I didn’t ask you to, sweetheart, but the view’s great now.”

He got soundly rapped on the head for it, to say the least.

“Don’ make me wanna cuff ye, Jamie.” Rahne laughed, punching him lightly on the arm. “Go to sleep, boyo. I’ll wait up for Alex and Lorna.” He opened his mouth to argue but the look in her eyes told him that she wouldn’t entertain any more protests from his ends.

“Fine, fine,” He sighed in defeat and gestured wanly to a sheet of paper that sat quietly on his desk. “Could you just call up those numbers?” He sighed. “I looked up a couple more leads concerning the disappearances. They might help us find Guido.”

“No problem, ‘boss’.” She said the title with friendly sarcasm as she caressed his cheek. “Now go and git some rest, James. I’m no’ lookin’ forward t’another one o’ Lorna’s lectures of no’ keepin’ ye healthy.” And with that, she gave him a warm hug before shooing him out of the office. She followed him all the way to the door, and leaned idly against the doorframe as she watched him drag himself to the rooms upstairs.

Three days. She thought, her gaze falling somberly to the floor that needed a sweep of the industrial polisher they kept in the coat closet. Three days had passed since the third member of their little team had seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth – or at least, from the general area of the Californian State.

Three days of very little or no sleep at all, and tired as they both were, Jamie Madrox and Rahne Sinclair did not – could not – notice the figures peering in through their windows from the shadows outside their old-hotel headquarters.


***


EARLIER
Paris, France
3:15am


Rooftops zoomed by below like lights in the sky reflected in water. The night was dark so much that up and down didn’t seem to have distinctions, and left and right were of no real concern. Clouds and the sky equated to freedom and a moment of peace.

“You alright, Betsy?” Warren murmured softly to the woman he held close in his arms, his wings cutting into the night with the steady rhythm of a heartbeat. Silence replaced the sound as he swooped down, riding the wind current like a surfer on a wave. He’d never experienced surfing himself; it was one of those pastimes that he knew would appeal more to Bobby, but he figured the analogy was apt enough given that water and air were not so different in manner and sometimes, form.

She didn’t respond – not vocally, as the tightening of her loose embrace around his torso was enough. It was Friday, and back in New York, the Mansion would be filled with students and teachers, friends and family. By all rights they should be there, joining in the weekly festivities of catching up with peers and musing on the young ones, but he and Betsy had both agreed that time away, a moment of being alone – together and somewhere else – would do their relationship so much more good than watching each other from across a crowded room.

“Do you think they’ll hold it against us?” He heard her voice murmur against his ear and he smiled to himself, his grip on her tightening in that manner of unspoken reassurances and force of habit. Nevertheless, he answered her as he shifted them both into an upright position, without any effort or discomfort on his part, their destination not eight feet below them.

“Charles understands.” He looked at her face, one free hand cupping her cheek. One arm was enough to keep her steady against him, one of the many advantages of being essentially half-bird. “I’m more worried about what Jubilee will be up to in the kitchen.” When she gave him a questioning look, he chuckled softly and lifted her lips to his. “I bought ice cream yesterday,” he murmured. “I was planning to put it to good use with you, but then you said you wanted to get away and since we didn’t get to pass by the…”

“Shut up,” she cut him off and her right hand cupped the back of his neck, allowing him only a quick “Yes ma’am,” before they both fell into the kiss.

When their lips touched, Betsy Braddock, known to her peers as Psylocke, closed her eyes with absolute faith that the man who held her close would think twice before he considered dropping her from over a hundred feet off the ground. Twining her fingers through his pale locks, she felt a surge of emotion run down her spine like electricity and attempted to brush it off as the cold.

One of the downsides of being an X-Man, a hero of the world, a mutant – was that personal relationships of the intimate sort were so hard to come by. Which is why, she supposed, she was grateful for Warren Worthington III. No one was more stubborn, more persistent, more immovable on the stand of saving their relationship as he was – especially when they finally gave each other reason to work things out.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered, her lips gently brushing his ear. She wound her arms around his neck and buried her face on his shoulder; he smelled like warm, clean skin and crisp shampoo, and she was only too happy that nobody else knew that.

“Shhh…” he murmured, fingers stroking the hair that streamed down over the curve of her back. “Hey, look.” He held them a little bit apart with utter ease and tilted his head, hinting for her to look down. “Pretty cool, hunh?” She could hear the grin in his voice.

“Several feet above the Eiffel Tower, Warren?” She shrugged, “not bad if you want to be terribly cheesy—” she gasped then, as if the floor had given way beneath them – which was not exactly too far from the mark, considering that there was no floor beneath them. She clung to him, the updraft of wind threading through her hair and clothes. It reminded her of a rollercoaster drop, and her heart, not knowing any better, registered it as such.

“Aw c’mon, can’t have Tom Cruise have all the fun.” Feet touched solid matter and when she looked around there they were, on the viewing deck with the rest of France spread wide as far as the eye could see. It should have been breathtaking – and it was – but the kiss he snuck behind her ear as his arms snaked around her waist distracted her just in time to render it second to his company.

If anything, she had to hand it to the rich-boy, he knew how to keep a girl’s attention and admiration, especially since visitors, tourists and even locals were never allowed here at this time of night.

“I feel like we’re breaking and entering.” She murmured softly as she turned to face him, one hand coming to rest over his heart. “We shouldn’t be here,” she would have said more, except his mouth captured hers once more.

“Quoting Hank quoting Nietzche: live dangerously, Betts.” He cupped her face and nipped lightly her lower lip. “Just you and me tonight.”

If they only knew.


***


EARLIER STILL
Above the Manhattan Skyline, New York City
8:03pm


Among all his friends, he was one of the wordiest, often supplying appropriate terms when they were at a loss. But now, as he fulfilled a childhood wish, something that he’d dreamt repeatedly of on several occasions, the gravity of his fantasy being realized left him utterly speechless. The wind blowing through his hair, the cold of the night sky caressing his cheeks, the lights below like the stars above, millions of diamonds laid down on black velvet; no words could describe it, and he didn’t bother to look for any. He was just happy to be here, soaring through the heavens, unshackled from all earthly bonds, feeling totally and absolutely free.

It was just so beautiful.

She was just so beautiful.

The hand that clasped his held firm, but he tightened his grip further, not wanting to allow even the possibility of letting go.

She must have felt the added pressure he’d applied, because she turned to look at him then, and for a moment he felt his heart falter, and was afraid that he’d faint and fall. Her smile, her gaze – they were just breathtaking.

She reached out for his other hand and, as she caught it, spun him and herself around, small tufts of clouds twirling around them. “How does it feel, sugah?” She smiled and cocked her head, flicking strands of stray hair away from her face.

His loss for words persisted until the last moment, “It’s… it’s just…” and even as he groped for that perfect thing that would express and capture the incredible feeling he had inside, it eluded him and he conceded to a sigh and a smile, while tipping his head down, worried that he might stare for far too long.

“What?” She lowered her head, moving it close enough for her to get a better look at his expression, at what she knew were the effects of a little southern charm. This boy had her from hello, but she wouldn’t let him know that. She couldn’t let him have all the fun.

Realizing that he couldn’t escape her gaze, he looked up, looked her in the eye and lost himself in the depths of their hue. He felt his jaw hang slightly open, and it took him several seconds before he finally shook his head and got control back, letting out a quiet, sheepish laugh. “It’s amazing.”

She just smiled and waited for him to continue, obviously sensing that he had more to say than just that.

“It’s wonderful.” His eyes glanced away and back, to her face and then to the lights below and the sky around them, his mind racing for things to say. “It’s incredible… it’s… it’s just…” he paused, thought, and when it finally hit him, he inwardly berated himself for being so silly. The simplest words, the first words that come to mind, are almost always the best. “It’s beautiful.”

A pause fell between them, the kind of momentary breath that speaks volumes more than anything else in the world. A pause; a simple, beautiful thing. A moment.

She smiled again then, but with a twinkle in her eyes that told him that was just what she had been waiting for. “It is, ain’t it?” He watched her briefly glimpse the skyline below, and he took advantage of the moment to study the curves of her face. Her skin seemed so soft, as if they’d never ever been touched; and when she looked back, instead of turning away, he found that he just couldn’t stop looking.

Exhilarating yet calming, exciting yet tranquil, frightening yet oh so captivating; she was everything flying was,… and so much more.

“I feel like Peter Pan,” He chuckled, amused at what to him seemed a poor choice of words, but what his heart felt was the perfect thing to say.

“Do ya now?” She tilted her head to the side. “So what does that make me?” she laughed, “Wendy Darlin’?”

He all but beamed at her: “Would you be my Wendy?” and leaned in closer, holding her hands tight in his, more to reassure himself than anything else, because he was very much unsure of what he wanted to do next. She was one of his heroes, and he knew she could never be touched.

But the urge was just too strong. He was tired of feeling her warmth from behind the cloth of her gloves, and for some reason, he just didn’t care what the consequences might be.

She tensed, watching as he moved in closer, the angle shifting as he tilted his face to the side, his lips getting nearer. Her instincts cried out inside for her to stop him—to remember why this was so wrong, to think of Cody and everyone else who’d been hurt—but her body didn’t want to move, and she knew the reason why.

A tear formed at the edge of one eye.

She was being selfish.

Just this once. She thought. Just this once.

But as his lips were about to touch hers, as the tear in her eye rolled down her cheek, his head jerked back and his eyes glazed over. Blood slowly trickled down from the hole in the middle of his forehead, and the grip he had on each of her hands loosened. His body went limp and slowly fell from her grasp.

And as the last fingers that held them together slipped away, the world seemed to stop, and there was only him, falling so slowly, plummeting to the ground below.



Rogue recovered from her shock and dove down to chase after the boy who now seemed to be falling too quickly for her to catch up. Ah need t’get close. Hold on, darlin’, hold on. Ah’m on my way. But her peripheral vision caught a brief glimpse of something – a shadow, jumping from light to light, quickly making its way toward her, its presence revealed only by the bright city below.

It came upon her too quickly for her to respond, to react, and the last thing she saw was pale flesh revealing itself from underneath black leather before the hand fell on her face, sending her whole world on fire.



Max’s vision had sharpened, making everything around him seem clearer than ever. He couldn’t feel – he couldn’t sense anything, not even his fingers, but the sight of his surroundings defined themselves with such clarity that they bordered on surreal. The world may have been spinning around, increasing in pace with every turn, yet even in this kaleidoscope of colors, he could make out everything.

Buildings that had moments ago seemed like toys grew in size as the ground below drew threateningly nearer. Still even in this moment of death where he should have been afraid for himself, the last thing he felt was fear. In his heart, he knew that she was in trouble, and something inside him was trying to find a way to fight his way back to her side, to be near her: to protect her. It reached out in all directions for anything that might help him, but it seemed hopeless as he watched the ground fly toward him, and his vision faded to black.


***


AROUND THE SAME TIME
Nowhere, Manhattan, New York City


“Steve?” Logan blinked the blur out of his eyes as he took the outstretched arm given him. As he fought to regain his balance, he watched Sabretooth do the same. But where his nemesis failed, his body crashing to the floor as he gripped his head in obvious pain, Logan succeeded, though only with the help of another steadying him.

“I didn’t need your help.” He grunted, but he didn’t push the arm around him away.

The tall, blonde man let out a chuckle. “You could’ve fooled me, old friend.”

There was a comfortable pause between the two, the new arrival waiting till the other had his balance back, Logan fighting to get the stars out of his eyes.

When he was no longer swaying and his world had stopped spinning, Logan felt the arm let go. He looked the man who had aided him straight in his blue eyes, his usual disapproving expression painted on his face for a moment before it gave way to a smile. He held his arm out and the two shook hands firmly. “Thanks for the save, Captain America.”

“Any time, Wolverine, any time.” The two turned their attention back to the figure who had finally managed to get himself off the floor. The daze had been shaken off, and feral frustration was evident on his features.

“I know you usually have trouble with him,” Steve Rogers went into a ready stance, “but when I got here you looked pretty in over your head.”

“Shut up.” Logan grunted as he shot his claws out. “Something’s different with Creed, and its bad news for us.”

All three individuals seemed reluctant to make the first move; Captain America still feeling the waters of the situation, Wolverine still very much surprised with the initial skirmish, and Sabretooth either really anxious that he was facing odds of two-to-one, or really, really excited about it.

“Jimmy unloaded an entire shotgun into his chest—” Logan began but Sabretooth tackled him to the ground. Just as his back hit the floor, the X-Man drove his knees between himself and his opponent and with the momentum of the tackle, a slight roll backwards, and a strong kick with both feet, sent his opponent flying into the wall across the room.

Logan kicked himself back to his feet and seeing his Avenger partner running toward him, cupped his hands together, catching his friend’s foot and vaulting him over his head to where Sabretooth had just crashed.

Captain America flipped through the air and aimed to land a flying sidekick but was caught by the ankle a split-second before he landed it. Next thing he knew, he was whirling around violently in mid-air before being released toward the bar counter.

Logan reacted quickly, jumping to catch his friend, but the force of Sabretooth’s throw was so strong that his effort did little to break the momentum. Both men crashed onto and over the counter, shattering glass and kissing the floor.

“I don’t recall you or any of the X-Men ever telling me that he was this tough.” Steve seethed behind clenched teeth as he pulled the broken blade of a knife out of his leg.

“Like I said—” Logan covered his head as a chair was hurled over the counter, crashing into the wall and smashing into several little pieces that battered down on them. Victor Creed always was an animal, but he was an animal trained in military tactics and strategy. He wasn’t about to give two men hidden behind a counter the opportunity to jump him if they were playing possum, “—something’s different about him. Besides healing twice as fast as he ever used to, he seems…”

“Seems what?” The blonde soldier went into a crouched position and signaled with his hands what he had planned.

“I can’t put my finger on it,” Logan signaled back his affirmation, “just that he’s a lot more… driven.” he finished his sentence and the two leapt over the counter, charging at their larger opponent, taking him down swiftly.

Logan drove his claws into Sabretooth’s stomach repeatedly while Steve placed him in an armbar. Creed howled in pain and lashed out violently with his free arm, knocking Wolverine away, but the leader of the World’s Mightiest Heroes had his attack locked in, and he was dead set on doing some serious damage.

With a mighty effort, the man called Captain America quickly applied pressure against Sabretooth’s incredible strength, overpowering the more powerful mutant. With the sound and feeling of cracking bone, he knew he had succeeded.

He rolled backward and back onto his feet, watching how his handiwork had forced Sabretooth’s arm into an awkward L-shape.

Logan patted his friend on the back and was about to tell him “good work,” when the howling Sabretooth grabbed his dislocated limb and forced it back into place.

“What in blazes!?” Captain America muttered as both he and Wolverine watched as the mutant psychopath breathed heavily, his arm limp at his side for a moment, before he stretched out his arm as if it had never been broken in the first place.

“You punks can’t take me down.” He growled in his raspy voice, sucking in deep breaths and exhaling hard.

Steve Rogers looked to his friend, his surprise hidden behind a façade of composure. “Apparently, the direct approach doesn’t work.” He muttered grimly, “Any other ideas?”

“In my opinion,” Logan calmed his breathing and eyed his rival from a ready stance, “it’s doing alright.” He nudged his head at Sabretooth.

It only took Captain America a few moments to see what Wolverine was pointing out: Sabretooth was tiring.

True, his arm healing that quickly was very, very impressive, but the attack had hurt him, and the fracture didn’t heal as fast as his puncture wounds had. While he had stretched it out to help it get back in place, the reason why he hadn’t attacked immediately after was because it still hadn’t fully repaired itself.

“So we break his limbs and impale him on the ground so he can’t move. His healing factor won’t do him much when he can’t heal properly.” Captain America offered as he kicked up pieces of broken wood on the floor, tossing one of the makeshift stakes to his mutant friend.

“He isn’t a vampire, but those were my thoughts exactly.” Logan sneered and twirled the piece of wood in his hands. “There are times even you surprise me, Cap.”

“What do you mean?” Steve cocked an eyebrow while watching Sabretooth in his peripheral vision.

Logan grinned broadly. “I didn’t think you could be this brutal.”

“Only when the situation calls for it, old friend.”

With that, the two rushed the feral psychopath for a third time. Their plan would have been a success, if Sabretooth had been any other two-bit villain.

With surprising speed, Victor Creed caught both men by their throats, lifting them several feet in the air. “Like I told Logan here, soldier boy, you guys are just second rate—”

“You talk too much.” Captain America managed to grunt out before he stabbed his stake through Sabretooth’s elbow joint, wedging itself through his bones, right through muscle and sinew. Wolverine followed suit with the same move, and both men were able to get free of their enemy’s grip.

They both performed turning sidekicks and Sabretooth was sent crashing to the landing of the pool hall’s entrance, howling in pain as he thrashed about. And thrash about was all he could do, the splinters of wood having served their purpose, sapping away the strength in the mutant’s arms, effectively keeping him from pulling either of the stakes out.

Creed’s eyes went blood red and he fought to get up, gnashing his teeth with ill intent. A beast may at some point be unable to use its claws, but it still has its teeth to sink into its opponents’ flesh.

“What’s it going to take to bring this monster down!?” Captain America let out in frustration, jumping again into a ready stance as Wolverine popped his claws.

“Me.” Logan seethed and was about to pounce again when jagged lines of bright blue light came pouring down from the stairs and into Sabretooth’s body. The scent of burning flesh crept into the air as Victor Creed roared, flailing as he was bombarded with what seemed to be electricity.

Steve Rogers and Logan stood and watched for what seemed minutes on end, unsure of what to do next, until the blue crackling light faded away, leaving Sabretooth’s charred body twitching erratically on the floor. Whatever it was, it had finished their job for them.

“Was Blake in the area?” Logan queried as he studied the burnt body of his nemesis. “That definitely looked like his handiwork.”

“And yet the air is silent and lacking any of his booming introductions.” Steve stifled a chuckle, raising his finger to his face to shush his friend.

The sound of light and wary footsteps reached Logan’s ears before the scent of this new arrival could cut through the strong odor of burnt flesh and hair permeating in the air. Right now he wished he didn’t have superhuman smelling capabilities, because burnt Sabretooth was definitely not his definition of appealing.

Humor aside, whoever was coming down the stairs was definitely not Thor, nor was it Donald Blake. Not loud enough to be the first, and if it was the latter then they would be hearing the sound of uneven footsteps and a cane tapping on the hardwood staircase.

As the figure slowly made its way down the steps, a pale young face came into the light. It had dark hair, the most captivating green eyes which seemed all so intimately familiar, with handsome yet slender shaped facial features that seemed sculpted like an ivory statue, exuding a distinct and commanding aura that his gut didn’t seem to like.

“Sirs, are you alright?” The boy said in a wary tone as he came into full view just several steps away from Sabretooth’s burnt body. Logan recognized him now. It was the kid from Old Man George’s bookstore across the street. And now that he stood before him, he looked even more familiar.

Lost in thought and trying to remember where he’d seen this young man before, Logan was unable to react in time to Sabretooth’s body as it got up from the floor and pounced on the young man.

The boy’s face would have been clawed off had it not been for one of the bar’s circular, metal serving tray’s smashing into Creed’s raised hand.

What followed next wasn’t surprising; after all he’d seen through the years, rare were the things that did, but it was damn impressive in his opinion.

The dark-haired youth’s eyes flashed white and both his hands began to glow with a bright blue glare. From them shot out the blue-white tendrils of what looked like the lightning that had taken the feral mutant down several moments ago.

Logan’s rival roared in pain as the air once again filled with the pungent odor of burnt idiot. However, Sabretooth was slowly pushing back against the force of the young man’s powers, slowly inching his way forward with sheer brute strength and, in Wolverine’s opinion, stubborn stupidity as the wooden stakes impaled in his arms burnt to ash and crumbled. He wanted to pounce on Creed and give him yet another severe thrashing, but the fact that metal conducts electricity deterred him. That and the fact that he had an adamantium skeleton.

Still Logan made an inward decision: if the psycho got one more step forward, he’d throw all logic out the window and charge the creep into the wall, charbroiled or no. No kid was going to be added to Creed’s scoreboard on his watch.

But just as he was about to lunge, Sabretooth pounced over the boy, running out and up the stairs of Nowhere, away from the blue-white lightning still aimed after him. He could have given chase but a firm grip held him back by the arm. He didn’t need any further explanation as he watched Captain America, already barking orders into his wallet, run to the downed young man’s side. The boy was exhausted and slight panic still reflected in his facial expression as he gulped in deep breaths.

The X-Man retracted his claws reluctantly; any other time and he would have chased down that murderer half-way across the continent. But this night had already seen enough action. Even Sabretooth was smart enough to know when to give up. All that electricity had been enough to make him run away, and a reaction like that could only mean that even that monster had reached his concentration threshold. He’d find somewhere to hide, seethe over his defeat, lick his wounds till his strength had built back up. And when that happened, when that shadow of his past reared its ugly head again, Wolverine would be on the streets to get business done and over with.

Right now, he just wanted to know who this lightning-shooting kid was, and of course, finally get that cold beer he’d ordered at what now felt like a good hour ago.

“You alright, son?” Steve Rogers held the young man by the arm, gripping tightly to assure the boy that he was okay, and waiting for him to settle down and stop shaking.

The dark-haired youth mumbled out an almost inaudible “yeah,” as he fought to get his breathing back in check. Beads of sweat had formed across his brow and trickled down all over his face.

“You’re a tough one, kid.” Logan spoke up from behind as he flipped open his Zippo lighter, lighting a cigarette and setting the stick between his teeth. “I don’t know many people who could’ve stared Sabretooth down like that.” He plopped down on the floor beside the boy and rubbed the young man’s shoulder. “Easy now. You did good, kid.”

Steve Roger’s flipped open his black, leather wallet, and pulled out a dark blue card with a stylized gold A etched on it. He pressed down on a small button on the side and it let out a beep. “To all Avengers on this frequency: dangerous mutant on the run in the downtown Manhattan area. Individual has been ID-ed as Victor Creed, Sabretooth. Approach with extreme caution as the potency of his healing factor does not reflect with his file. Primary directive: keep the citizenry safe. Secondary directive:” he paused and looked at Logan who was just waiting for the order, “track target mutant. Do not engage. I repeat: do not engage.”

Wolverine shut his eyes and rolled his head back in exasperation. He took a long deep puff on his cigarette, exhaling the smoke before tipping it out to talk, “I wish you were more consistent.”

“I am consistent.” Captain America cocked an eyebrow at him as he slid the card back into his wallet, before stuffing both into his back pocket. “If I wasn’t, you’d have already dashed out of here to try to take Sabretooth out on your own again.”

“Point taken.” Logan let out a chuckle and turned his attention back to the boy. His breathing had steadied and he’d already wiped the sweat off his face, yet he still looked exhausted. At this certain angle, watching the curves of his face, and how he slowly exhaled his breaths, Wolverine remembered where else he’d seen the boy. “You’re Wanda’s friend, right?”

The boy looked to the Avenger, momentarily stunned as if the question had come out from nowhere, and let out a faint and slightly sheepish smile. “Uh, yeah.”


***


JUST MOMENTS LATER
Community Park, Manhattan, New York City


He opened his eyes and looked up at patch of clear night sky that revealed itself between the arching branches overhead. He would be late, most likely, and he knew that; he often was when he vacillated. Not that indecision was common on his part. His actions, his commitments – he always made good to see each of these to the letter. But it seemed that each time he made decisions about her – decisions like dinner out or otherwise – it seemed as though holding back and playing safe, giving into the easy escape, was far better than facing her and fumbling things.

Donald Blake sighed heavily, leaning back against the community park bench that he’d been sitting on for the last ten to fifteen minutes. He had a date to get to – one of many awkward ones that he’d weathered through over the years. And yet he was sitting here, doing what?

Thinking. That’s what. On what to say – whether to compliment her shoes and earrings and everything so as to make sure that there were no pauses in their conversation, or to just keep it simple and let her take the lead.

It was funny, in a sad kind of way, that he could be, at any given time, an Avenger, one of the world’s mightiest, who upheld justice in the world, at a tap of his cane. But when simply a man – simply Doctor Donald Blake, chief of surgery – confronted with the woman he absolutely adored, he was about as clueless as a sixteen year old boy who had never mustered the courage to get past that very first “Hello,”; and that’s even worse than a ten-year-old facing the reality of his very first crush.

Sometimes it just seemed so much easier saving the world from certain destruction, from wayward meteor showers, from political bigotry, from your run-in-the-mill monster from only-the-heavens-know-where. Since when compared to having to face the simple things in the world, as just another simple person, trying simply to get by, things seemed so much more difficult and complicated than bashing heads and flying around.

With these and many more thoughts running through his head, his job of procrastinating came to him quite easy, and in exasperation he tossed out to his sides his clenched hands, accidentally letting go of his cane which rolled to the other end of the bench, teetering dangerously on the edge before it fell to the pavement with a soft thud.

He ran his hand through his blonde hair as he muttered under his breath and slowly, with the irritating trouble that came with being a cripple, sidled himself to where his aid had fallen.

But then a prickly feeling shot up through the back of his neck as his ears twitched excitedly. His head and gaze shot up to locate what his senses were warning him of, and was surprised to see a young man plummeting head-first from the heavens at a frightening pace. From the angle he was coming from, the blonde doctor already knew that the boy would land a good number of feet from where he sat now – in the opposite direction of where his cane was.

There was no time to think, he had to jump into action. But would he be able to reach the boy without the help of his cane, and hammer, and his god-given strength? It seemed that if he spared a moment to reach for his cane, he wouldn’t be able to lunge back in time to save the young man. So Donald Blake did what he knew he had to do.

With a surge of adrenaline, he jumped up onto his feet, a pang of searing pain shooting through his right leg. He took off at a stagger, taking one excruciating step at a time, only to stumble a few feet before where the boy would crash, and with a mighty effort worthy of his other’s praise, he lunged forward and reached his hands out to catch the boy.

Please.

He prayed.

Reach.

Tags: earth 626, official release
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