Victor Creed always felt amused at how his prospective employers tried to cast a pall of forbidding doom over their meetings with him, stalking in the shadows, speaking in soft whispers. As if they could disguise themselves from him, Sabretooth, to whom smells were as descriptive as brilliant neon colors, and the shadows were exactly where he wanted to hunt. Lithe, supple, powerfull limbs relaxed over his new adamantium skeleton, ready to react if this particular fool was perhaps a member of SHIELD looking to score a big arrest. But Creed hadn't survived across a century or two without learning how to spot a trap. Predatory eyes scanned.
“Welcome, Sabretooth. Or do you prefer to be called Creed?”
“What’s the job?”
In the shadows, the figure smiled. “The job is quite simple. You will eliminate Iron Man for me.”
“Iron Man, eh?”
The head nodded under his mane of shaggy hair. “Due to his recent injuries, and the fact that he has been test flying a new design of armor over Seattle, you shall have the advantage. Especially with your newly installed adamantium.”
“Nothin’ gets by you, eh, Thinker?”
The man smiled. “It took you exactly 15.7 seconds to mention my name in this conversation, as I predicted. Though, you’ve known for the past 12.3.”
“13 seconds, chief,” Sabretooth said. “I recognized the smell of the Dragon Man’s components on you.”
The Thinker laughed. Creed knew the man's reputation. He had an uncanny knack for guessing the odds, angles and outcomes of anyone's reactions, or how one thing could affect another. His observations were often unnerving to the point that people believed that he could tell the future. This, plus his mastery of technology and science, and his Android slaves, had made him a daunting enemy of the Avengers and the Fantastic Four.
“Impressive. I have also made several calculations that point out that you will have an intervention from three other heroes as you attack Iron Man. Wolverine and Rogue are currently on your trail, and Ms. Marvel,currently going by the name of Warbird. Wolverine and Warbird have proven an effective team in the past, however, due to recent erratic activities...”
“I c’n handle ‘em. Why do you need me to take down Iron Man?”
“You are an unknown quantity to the Golden Avenger… and I have need of something very special. You will return to me as soon as you haveengaged the three others…”
It was a big turnout for the Seattle Mariner's Kid's Care Fund, and on this particular night, in this particular banquet hall, quietly mixing in with sports figures, politicians, actors and directors attempting to turn Seattle into a TV and film industry town similar to Toronto, members of the alternative music scene, were two newcomers to Seattle, but no minor celebrity in their own right. One was a stunning blonde, who had some fame as a best selling novellist and editor of a New York magazine. The other was not only one of the wealthiest men in the world at various times, but also one of its most highly talented inventors.
Carol Danvers looked at the glass of champagne before her, feeling a pang of guilt as she looked across to Tony Stark, remembering not only the incident which split her from the Avengers, but also what had cost Tony one of his companies. “You sure you don’t mind me drinking in front of you?”
Blue eyes stared out from under Tony’s recent suntan. After spending a couple weeks at a clinic controlled by the Controller, he truly was rested, if only that his body was still hurt, and rolling along in a wheelchair was the only way to keep his lower back and legs from screaming at his central nervous system.
“Carol, I’m more concerned for you. Moderation, alright?”
Carol ran her fingers along the rim of the champagne glass. “Know thy limits.”
Tony managed a smile. “You got it.”
She swept a lock of her blonde hair from her face and looked across at him. “The one thing I don’t get...”
“What’s that?” Tony asked.
“You’re a normal human. I’m...” she lowered her voice below the burble of the banquet hall’s conversations and waiters and waitresses darting from table to table like hummingbirds in black and red. “I’m part alien for crying out loud. How can I be as susceptible to alcohol as a normal person?”
“Being as strong as ten elephants perhaps doesn’t give you the immunity of ten elephants. I mean... look, you’re less than 150 pounds,” Tony said. “Alcohol starts being debilitating to a normal person at .08% blood saturation. As it is... I’m not a physician, and I don’t want to run tests to discover how high you can handle alcohol, since Bonn Scott of AC/DC died with something less than 1% Blood Alcohol Poisoning.”
“Never figured you for an AC/DC fan, Tony,” Carol said.
Tony smirked. “In between my various jobs, I’ve read up on the effects of alcohol. Just to remind myself of the chasm I nearly fell into.”
“So no heavy metal for you, eh?” Carol asked, taking a small sip.
Tony laughed. “I already have a black suit for Iron Man. But, what do you think?”
“I’d say...” Carol started, but the hairs on the back of her neck rose, a black shape rising rapidly towards the tall windows of the banquet hall.
Carol lunged across the table, pulling Stark to the floor as a huge gold and brown leonine form came shattering through the window, demolishing a table as his bulk landed on it. She knew the figure even from a short glance, her old enemy Sabretooth.
Her skin tingled, when a strong hand grabbed her wrist. “Tony...”
“Tony nuttin’ babe,” a voice growled, tugging Carol forcefully down to her knees. “Hold back.”
Carol spun, recognizing Logan’s voice. “I’m still sober... just one glass...”
The stocky mutant was dressed in a leather jacket and jeans, but his god-awful silly yellow uniform top poked through under the jacket.
“Sabretooth’s our problem, babe. Ours and Iron Man... wasn’t that Stark who was just here?”
She glanced towards Tony, who was already moving, Sabretooth jumping in leaps and bounds towards the racing industrialist. Adrenaline almost reached the breaking point in her veins when a bolt of green intercepted the mutant psychopath, both bodies slamming through wallboard and wooden trim out of the crowded banquet hall.
“You brought her?” Carol asked, the crowd moving so fast that they didn’t even notice that one amongst them flashed a brilliant glow and transformed into a beautiful angel in a black and gold bodysuit.
“Warbird!” Logan called behind her.
But it was too late. Warbird was already heading towards two of her greatest foes at top speed.
Rogue wanted… needed to come to Seattle. Sure, she was going to be the extra muscle needed to help Logan against the new and improved Sabretooth, but the crawlings of old guilt wanted by some happenstance to meet the blonde Avenger who had recently joined Iron Man in this city.
All these years, after Rogue had absorbed every ounce that was Carol’s being in a super-powered duel, with her memories haunting her mind as her strength and flight were gifting her ability to fight alongside her new family, the X-Men. She wanted to get some kind of closure.
Now, the southern X-Man was wishing she had more help on her side, like Colossus, or perhaps Iron Man himself. A red armored fist smacking across Sabretooth’s jaw would be welcomed by now, as his claws had torn through her sleeves and shoulders, leaving trails of blood from eight scratches.
Instead, a black bolt of a fist slammed into Creed’s head, sending him tumbling through the brick front of the banquet hall, sending bushes and ornamental marble flying everywhere. Rogue blinked, her green eyes blurred for a moment, then focusing on Carol Danvers, a lump filling her throat.
“Howdy... Warbird...” she spoke, remembering at the last moment her new name.
“Seattle has its own protectors, Rogue. We don’t need your help,” Warbird said, the venom dripping from her voice as Sabretooth rose from the street, his claws glinting.
“Sabretooth is an X-Men problem, sugah,” Rogue answered. “Besides, he’s got Adamantium now. Just like Wolvie used to.”
Warbird was still focused on Rogue as she raised her hand and unleashed a solar burst that slammed into the advancing Sabretooth, knocking him for a loop. “Your concern for me is heartwarming.”
A flash of blue and yellow zipped between the pair of warrior women. “We ain’t got all flamin’ night, ladies.”
As usual, Wolverine was right on target. Rogue watched Warbird glance back at Tony Stark, and shrug a silent question to him.
“Iron Man can’t make it,” Stark called.
Rogue smirked. Figures. Iron Man and Tony Stark both knew Carol’s other identity from her time as an Avenger, and employed her as a temporary bodyguard while Iron Man was upgrading or otherwise indisposed. “Don’t worry Stark, the X-Men won’t let Sabretooth stick around long enough to face your boy.”
Warbird glanced back, and plunged at Sabretooth, fists flying.
It seemed like everyone liked shoving his personal tagline down his throat, Logan thought as Sabretooth rammed his head hard into the concrete, feeling a few bones crunch as his shoulder absorbed most of the impact.
“Wolverine, the best at what you do. And what you do ain’t pretty...” Sabretooth laughed. “Being my punching bag sure ain’t pretty.”
Wolverine growled savagely, and slammed a hard punch into Sabretooth’s gut, swiftly unleashing his foot long bone claws, then retracting them back into his forearm. He wasn’t about to let Creed leave him with only stumps as weapons.
Sabretooth backed up, the wounds horribly deep in his stomach, but probably already closing. Wolverine cut loose with a snapping right fist that caught his foe right in the voicebox, a punch which would have killed any three lesser men combined.
But did Sabretooth go down?
No such flamin’ luck.
An open clawed swat sent him hurtling across the street, his body slamming into the side of a Cadillac, sheet steel crumpling around him as his shoulder completely shattered to splinters, his scapula fractured like a dinner plate at a Greek wedding. But there was Carol and Rogue, Carol slightly in the lead, both women dive bombing Sabretooth, one at a time.
“I was supposed to take down Iron Man! Where the hell is he?” Sabretooth snarled, lashing out in blind rage. One swiping claw tore at Rogue’s stomach, baring her midriff, while a second swipe severred Warbird’s sash and also returned her to her old bare midriff look.
Warbird responded with a powerfull kenpo karate short kick which landed in Sabretooth’s breadbasket, the force of the blow literally making the psychopathic mutant’s body wrap around her leg. Carol always had been a top martial artist back when they worked intelligence. Combining power moves like that with her powers, however... Wolverine felt a pang of sorrow for the kind of shock and pain Creed was feeling.
Rogue watched on as well as Sabretooth flew off of Warbird’s kick and left a visible dent in the front of a bus that had screeched to a halt and been evacuated the moment the super-battle tumbled into the street.
“Remind me not t’ get y’awl ticked at me.”
Warbird’s head whipped around, her hair splaying like a halo of flame. Logan couldn’t see the look on Carol’s face, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t a glance of affection.
“Don’t patronize me, you southern...”
Rogue screamed, cutting Warbird off.
Sabretooth smiled as he faded from consciousness, his bare flesh touching Rogue’s.
Tony Stark looked up as Rogue burst from Sabretooth’s grasp, and soared at Warbird, the two women meeting in mid-air with a clap of thunder.
He’d been wearing his Iron Man armor when he watched Rogue, long ago at the beginning of her career, absorb the strengths and skills of his fellow Avengers from skin-to-skin contact, and proceeded to beat everyone,including himself nearly senseless.
Though Rogue had since become a heroine, a soldier on the same side, Stark still felt a little apprehension at how easily one frail seeming girl had taken on the Avengers and nearly won. Now, with the fury of Sabretooth having taken over her mind, and possessing all the power and strength that Carol Danvers once possessed, he felt almost completely helpless.
Tony knelt beside Wolverine, trying to help him to his feet, but the scrappy little mutant shook his head. “I’m ok, Stark.”
“We can’t stop Rogue from here, even if you were healthy, you can’t fly and my armor... armored bodyguard’s back at my island,” Tony spoke.
“It’s not Warbird I’m worried about,” Wolverine said, sitting up, his face stitched with pain from injuries which had reduced his arm to a pulp...but was slowly healing back.
“Yes, Carol might kill Rogue with this kind of provocation,” Tony murmured.
“I’ll bet you a trailer of beer that she holds back,” Wolverine said.
“You don’t know how glad losing that bet would make me, Wolverine,” Tony said softly, watching Carol finally strike her first blow.
Rogue’s strength and invulnerability, boosted by Sabretooth’s own natural strength and his savagery, turned the red-haired southern belle into a rampaging fireball in front of Carol. Her belly still tender from the long scratches that Sabretooth had inflicted on her nearly invulnerable skin, she was glad that Rogue’s own nails were sheathed in her gloves, and of less hardness than the adamantium talons of the other mutant.
Still, those punches landed hard. One connected well enough to leave a bruise, and each shot wasn’t much, but adding up, nickle-and-diming her strength down. She bit her lip as an uppercut slammed into her jaw, her head reeling. Blood trickled down Warbird’s chin, and her head swam.
Inside, mentally, she wasn’t doing much better. Every ounce of her said that her opportunity was right here. The scrawny little redneck witch who stole her memories, her powers, her life, was floating in front ofher, a perfect target. She could kill the mutant in battle, and claim it was an accident. They were so evenly matched. She would be able to put everything behind her.
Another blow landed, snapping her head to the left.
She couldn’t kill Rogue.
Warbird reached down and pulled out a haymaker which caught Rogue under her jaw where it was right under her ear. Her martial arts training had told her that a major juncture of nerves was there... the perfect spot to put a knockout blow. As her elbow snapped straight, she hit Rogue cleanly.
The mutant tumbled from the sky, landing on a rooftop, Carol pushing herself in pursuit, feeling half run over by Rogue’s assault. As she got within twenty feet of the girl, Rogue launched herself in flight, snarling, still possessed by Sabretooth’s fury and rage. Creed’s mutant healing ability was to blame for that knockout punch not working. Her nervous system shook off the effects faster than either Carol or Rogue normally would have.
The flying furies exchanged more blows, Warbird allowed herself to strike back, instilling punches and kicks here and there with her frustration. The punches directed by her discipline, experience and training landed. The angry punches simply slashed at empty air.
Rogue began missing more and more. Her swats and strikes less animalistic. The rage in her face lessened, and Carol knew that Sabretooth’s influence was fading from her mind. Lunging outwards, she grabbed the mutant girl’s wrists, holding on tight, gripping her. Some semblance of the beast still thrashed within her, her long red hair with its white streak flailing about her head, knees ramming Carol’s hips, leaving what would soon be more bruises. Rogue screeched, more cat than woman now, then finally, her tensed muscles, muscles which could rend five inch thick steel, relaxed, and she slumped against Carol, her cheek resting, thankfully in the hollow of Carol’s throat, which was covered in her uniform.
“Not again...” Rogue murmured, whimpering, tears running down red and bruised cheeks.
Warbird wrapped her arms around Rogue, squeezing her gently, feeling a pang inside her chest. “It’s okay, Rogue.”
The young mutant woman looked up at her, green eyes meeting blue. “We bot’ been through hell... and it’s all my fault.”
Carol looked into those infinitely sad green eyes, and knew that the roads they both traveled, while not sharing the same potholes and cracks, were still parallel, and still tightly wound. “Hey, you were protecting your mother, don’t forget...”
There came more crashes and a loud ruckus from the streets below.
The twin fighting furies broke off the embrace and hurried back. Sabretooth was still on the prowl, hurt or not.
Creed felt like six miles of bad road. Between Wolverine, Rogue and Warbird, he was pretty damn glad that Iron Man hadn’t shown up.
Adamantium or no, being outnumbered, with two thirds of the force possessing superhuman strength, was rough on a mean old beast like himself. Claws covered in blood and tissue, however, he had a strong suspicion what the Mad Thinker wanted.
But still, that last kick, combining the brutal placement and speed of a Shotokan karate kick with Ms. Marvel, or Warbird, or whatever Carol’s name was nowadays... with her strength, his stomach still felt like a bag of pudding.
He was glad to have slipped away from the Seattle police while Wolverine and Stark were in no condition to do anything about him. Just get away before those girls came back.
“You’ve returned five minutes early, Sabretooth,” came the voice as he entered the abandoned warehouse.
“You figured my fight with Iron Man would last five minutes?” Sabretooth asked.
“That, plus the fact your injuries would have slowed you further. Your adamantium and healing factor are most impressive,” Thinker answered, stepping forth with sample bags.
“Tell that to my spleen which is thinking of swimming south for the winter,” Creed growled. “What keeps me from gutting you right here?”
“Only the fact that I have my Awesome Android programmed to hunt you down should I not return,” the Mad Thinker responded. “That, and there is no profit or challenge in spilling my intestines across the floor.”
The Thinker took a swab to each of Creed’s claws.
“You’re looking for genetic material, aintcha?” Sabretooth asked.
The Thinker smiled. “Given Wolverine’s tracking abilities, we have not much time. Where was Iron Man?”
“I heard Stark yell something he was back at his island mansion,” Sabretooth answered as the Thinker finished his sample collecting.
“And Iron Man did not respond even yet,” the criminal genius answered. “Perhaps Iron Man also suffered terrible injuries which precluded his donning an alternate, more primitive suit of armor as he has done in the past.”
“Whatever,” Sabretooth said. “I smell ‘em.”
“Smell them?” Thinker asked. “Oh… indeed, they are on time as I predicted.”
“So what now?”
The Thinker took a syringe. “This sera will boost your metabolism. It will enable you to ignore your previous injuries and continue to battle your way through the enemy cordon.”
The ground began to rupture beneath the two villains, a gray mallet fist punching upwards. “My android. Thank you for your con...”
A sizzling pair of energy bolts slashed through the wall of the warehouse, caving in chunks of it. Outside, waited the Seattle Police Department SWAT Team, Tony Stark holding a STARK sonic laser which his old company once supplied to major police departments, and the combined force of Wolverine, Rogue and Warbird, Rogue fitted with a SWAT jumpsuit to protect others from skin contact.
“Sabretooth! And whoever you’re working with, come out NOW!” Stark called through his bullhorn. Startled realization on Stark’s face amused Sabretooth.
“You creeps back for more?” Creed growled.
“Ferget it, punk,” Wolverine snarled back. “You’re in no condition...”
“Android... deal with these gnats,” the Thinker said.
The massive gray creature stumbled out of the warehouse with an unholy vitality, moving like a creature from a Ray Harryhausen movie than an actual living creature, making it all the more disconcerting and frightening, until its flesh burst into flame, burning bright as a torch.
“Stay back!” Stark called. “That android has dozens of tricks up its sleeves!”
“So do we,” Warbird and Rogue spoke in unison, their lithe forms swimming through the sky and accelerating. The Awesome Android turned, trying to keep track as the wake of their flight sent winds buffeting against it, the flames being battered down.
With a shrug, it tried to lunge out of the circle, but Warbird and Rogue decelerated to both hit it at the same time. Their bodies slammed it between the shoulder blades and lifting it up, sent it crashing through the back end of the warehouse, bringing tons of debris crashing down atop it.
“Keep alert,” Warbird said. She wished she could feel as professional as she sounded. The whole evening had been a harrowing slugfest so far, with time out for hot pursuit and emotional breakthroughs.
“There, I see the Android moving,” Rogue called, unfurling a length of nylon rope. “I didn’t realize we’d be running into this kind of opposition.”
“We’ll still lasso Creed,” Warbird answered. “Hopefully he’ll do some work for us.”
Rogue looked at her for a moment, then looked back to Wolverine, smiling.
“Lasso me?” Sabretooth cackled as he lunged towards the cops. “Right, you dumb...”
One loop of nylon suddenly lashed around his neck as another snagged his waist, the two flying women accelerating as they hooked him. Spinning around, they whirled the murderous mutant around in dizzying circles, the loop around his throat strangling him until he began to black out, the world slashing past his vision in a wild vision from a nightmare. Suddenly he was released, the pressure on his throat gone, his mind clearing in an instant as he realized he was flying towards something big and human.
Instinct took over, adamantium claws snapping out, and he lunged, his claws slicing through the figure before him, and he realized, the Awesome Android was being bowled over and carved like a turkey. A fastball special; except he was used in Wolverine’s place.
Carol and Rogue circled as the Android reacted to protect itself, Creed’s claws going to work on the otherwise unstoppable, malleable android.
“Think it’s time to separate them?” Warbird asked.
“Nah, let old Vic take a couple more body blows,” Rogue answered.
“But he brought us so close together…” Carol quipped.
Rogue grinned, holding an I-beam and nodded. She hurled her missile as Warbird cut loose with her energy blast, the pair of them striking the duelling duo beneath them, the combined impact flattening both creatures, leaving them stunned.
Rogue picked up her I-Beam and slammed it down around the Awesome Android, but the flailing sub-being grabbed her around her waist.
Carol, who had planned to take Sabretooth, spun and raced to Rogue’s aid as the leonine mutant slipped into the rubble and escaped.
“I never anticipated Warbird and Rogue to coordinate so well,” Thinker said. “That dreaded X-factor... that human individuality which somehow manages to elude my careful planning...”
“Yeah, bub, I know, we all heard the speech before,” a voice growled in the darkness.
The Mad Thinker spun, and was immediately slammed in the chest by a ham-sized fist.
“So, Mr. Stark, you wanna relieve him of his ill gotten gains?” Wolverine asked.
“Ill-gotten gains?” Stark replied, stepping up.
“This guy has packets of our tissue samples on him. You want him to combine mutant and Kree genetics with one of his androids?” Wolverine asked, extracting a single bone claw which pressed to the Thinker’s throat.
Stark stepped forwards and retrieved the tissue samples, smiling.
“And no doubt when Sabretooth damaged Iron Man’s armor, he’d get samples of my micromotor and nanotechnology.”
“You are quite intelligent for a corporate stooge, Stark. Why do you waste your time doing charity work when you could back men like me and help conquer the world?” the Thinker asked.
Tony Stark looked down at the Thinker and nearly laughed in his face. “If you only knew...”
Wolverine glanced at the so-called playboy. “I think it might be the same reason he lets his bodyguard be a member of the Avengers. ‘Cuz it’s the right thing to do.”
Tony eyed Logan carefully, then let a smile creep onto his face.
The Thinker could only grumble. “Bah!”
Warbird and Rogue were panting as they walked away from the flattened Android.
“You know what, Rogue?”
“Next time you come to town to apologize to me…”
“Bring the rest of the X-Men too. It’s too tiring fighting the Android with only two people...”
Rogue laughed, her face smeared and caked with perspiration and dust.
“We also would have enough people to have caught up with Sabretooth.”
Carol looked around, and sighed. “Hey, you see ‘Tooth pass you?”
“No, thank God!” called back the SWAT commander. “He must be swimming halfway across Puget Sound by now.”
Rogue looked to Carol. “Go after him?”
“I’d say Puget Sound puts him in Namor’s jurisdiction. Let Namor handle him,” Warbird groaned.
Rogue managed a laugh. “I agree with you there.”
“Just so you know, this doesn’t mean we start taking long walks in the park together, hand-in-hand,” Carol said with some sternness.
“Or drinking out of the same ice cream soda with two straws.”
“Something like that,” Carol replied with a nod.
“I figured you two would be out here. We go t’ all the trouble o’ snaggin’ this dangerous criminal genius,” Wolverine spoke up. “And here you are gossipin’.”
“Women, can’t live with them, can’t relegate them to sidekick roles anymore,” Tony said.
Carol narrowed her eyes, feeling her cheeks prickle, but knew Tony’s remark was a joke aimed right at her. “That bod. That ‘stache. Those eyes. Those brains... and not a lick of common sense in him.”
Rogue nodded. “Most men ain’t worth touchin’ t’ me either, sugah.”
Carol blinked, then grinned at Rogue, extending her hand to the young mutant. “I hope you someday get control of your powers.”
“’N’ I hope we c’n get all your memories and feelin’s back to you,” Rogue answered.
“My life has a full enough plate with a new city, and maybe getting back to being an Avenger… another West Coast Avenger, maybe?” Carol asked.
Tony rolled his eyes. “I’m not giving the team the island if I do...”
And with that, we leave our heroes and heroines.
Logan awoke with a start and went to the door of his room, seeing Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler there.
“Ach, it is the most amazing thing,” Kurt spoke, his dark blue-furred face showing surprise.
The long-time buddies headed down to the lobby of their headquarters and looked on in awe. It was a beer truck, and Peter Rasputin, Colossus, was signing for it, then scratching his head. The rig was unhooked from the trailer, and drove off down the road.
“Logan, Tovarish, what is this?”
“It’s a trailer fulla brewskies, guys,” Logan spoke up. He opened the back and looked, seeing it stacked to the ceiling with not only beer but other alcohol. He climbed in and saw a note.
“Vat does the note read, Logan?” Kurt asked.
“Dear Wolverine, since you won the bet that I wouldn’t kill poor Rogue, Tony had no choice but to come clean on it. So, every ounce of non-cooking alcohol in the Avenger’s Mansion has been respectfully donated to the X-Men. And remember... moderation in all things, including moderation.
Love to all you guys (even Rogue), Carol.”