Loughlin City, Northern Alberta
There he was again.
Kid with the sharp blue eyes. Been following me around with ‘em all night. Couldn’t help but notice how he held his spine up, buck straight. Military, maybe. American, definitely. Well dressed, looks… what’s the word… cultured? Yeah that’s it. That and clean.
No wonder he stood out like a shiny beacon. He’d been lurking about this seedy downtown joint for two hours now, ordered a bottle of water, placed no bets and as of three minutes ago, refused to join three guys and four hotties for a drink. What’d he come for anyway?
“Whatever you do, don’t hit him in the balls.”
“He’ll take it personally.”
I snorted as I overheard the new guy getting initiated, then tuned them out. Tourist location this town ain’t. So he was here to watch the fights? Probably not. Nothing too exciting here anyway, competition’s too slow… fuckin’ lazy if you ask me. Not like I cared, so long as I got the cash to keep me in cigars and beer and grub and gas. In that order. Knew I had to skip town tonight, folk was startin’ to get suspicious.
And I was getting more and more suspicious about him… he who didn’t shy away from eye contact either, that was good. Very… very good. Looked like he was waiting for something, a right moment, or some sorta confirmation before he made his move. Hey. I wouldn’t mind a quick fuck myself. He sure was something to look at. On the slimmer side yeah, but didn’t seem to be in any danger of collapsing on me in the middle of a long hard…
Already? Aw crap. I wasn’t done smoking or leering at the kid who was right beside my corner of the cage now.
What you searchin’ for kid? And why don’t you come close have a better look?
The new man in the cage was built like an ox. Wished it could have helped him, no I truly did. But it won’t. He put up a good fight, seemed to be the crowd’s favorite tonight. Pity. I let him get in a few good punches, relishing the feeling of pain roll over me for a whole minute before it vanished completely… fading out in fast forward leaving no traces behind for me to cling to. Damn.
Better not drag it out. I spun around, slammed my knuckles first into his fist ascending at me, then into the guy’s ribs and heard them crack… and then it was over pretty soon. The ox went down with a ground-shaking thud. I kicked the body on the floor once and walked back to the corner of my cage to lick my wounds… picked up my cigar. Ignored the glares, some stunned, some angry… others scared shitless. Who cares? I turned discretely to look at the kid and sure enough, he was looking at me too. But there was no judgment, no emotion on his face. Nothing but… curiosity? No, that neither.
“Ladies and gentlemen, tonight’s winner and still the king of the cage… The Wolverine.”
Yep. That’s me.
People shuffled out slowly, grumbling and cussing… until just a handful were left. I looked around and sure enough, the kid stayed. That’s it. I had to figure this one out before I took off. Collected my money and lit up another cigar, wiped the spatters of blood off myself and walked over to his table. I didn’t ask for his permission ‘cause I could see it in his eyes already, not like I’d need it. Never do.
Plonked myself in a chair right opposite and gave him one of my rare pickup smiles.
“You want something from me.”
It wasn’t a question and he knew it. He smiled back. No actually, he smirked. Kid’s got balls. I’ve been told that I’m a large, ugly, hairy, hugely intimidating sonofabitch but he wasn’t impressed one bit. Looked younger than I thought him to be from the distance.
This close, I could also smell the drugs in him… heavy doses. Kid that sick got no business being out in a cold place like this. None of my business I know, wasn’t gonna say anything, but I sure was having second thoughts about the fucking. He might drop dead on me after all.
“Thought you’d never leave the cage. Enjoy yourself in there?”
Just my damn luck. The small-talk type.
I tilted my head and checked him out. Now that the sound of his voice registered, I noticed his flawless, private school educated accent that could be from anywhere in upper-class America. Clean-cut, classical looks that people don’t find so attractive anymore. Scruff and stubble and careless is more in these days. What? Okay so I stay away from civilization most times but newspapers tell you more about any society in any given decade than you think.
“I have a proposition for you.”
I smirked at that. And the boy actually, for a moment… looked abashed.
“A business proposition.”
I grinned wider. “You can have me for free kid.”
There was a sudden sharpness in his glare now. Dark deep blue eyes. Beautiful.
“You’re one of us.”
Wha?? That’s not what I expected to hear, or even wanted to hear. I didn’t reply.
Oh-kay. Big turn-off. Not my favorite topic for first date (or any date really) conversation. I exhaled a cloud of smoke into his face, he hated it… my cigar, but tried hard not to flinch.
“Move along kid. Nothing but trouble here.”
And I started to get up.
“You sure that’s wise? Leaving without hearing what I have for you?”
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. But I didn’t much care for his condescending manner of speaking. Besides I was already half way up and I’d look like a chump sitting back down again.
And I turned, and started to walk away. Whatever his business proposition was, he could shove it up his preppy little ass.
Damn. Nobody here knew that name.
I turned around, more than miffed, ready to rip… *something* apart. He stood up immediately, extended his hand as if we were meeting at a presidential dinner for the first time.
“I’m Scott Summers.”
I ignored the hand, but he waited, a quick flash of disappointment crossed his face then disappeared. Dropped the hand to his side.
“I’m a teacher at the Xavier’s Institute for the Gifted. New York. It’s… really just a fancy name for a school for mutants. Just like you and… me.”
I frowned, took a step closer. “Yeah?”
I smelled him, heard his pulse quicken. He was lying. About… something.
“What’s your mutation?”
He hesitated. Yep, lying alright. Or maybe just hiding something. Same difference. “That’s not relevant right now.”
“How did you find me?”
“Professor Xavier, my mentor is also a mutant. He’s a very powerful telepath. He sensed you in… his mind.”
There it was again. *Lying*. Hiding. I took another step closer, so close his first instinct was to back off but he curbed it. Brave boy.
“Very powerful telepath, eh?”
“He is. I’ve been sent by him to… offer you a position with the institute.”
I blinked at him. Not sure I heard him right. “A… position?”
“Yes, at the institute. We’d very much like you to join us and…”
I snorted too hard for him to continue at this point. “You want me to *teach*? A bunch of kids?”
He didn’t respond to what I guessed was a shamefully obvious rhetoric.
“Teach what? How to crack open skulls with their bare hands? And rip intestines out with their teeth?”
Kid had the balls to grin. “Something like that yeah. I’d term it self-defense instruction if you don’t mind.”
I studied his beautiful face again. He truly believed I was going to fall for this. “What’s the catch?”
He smiled (his eyes didn’t) and whispered. “Yeah, there’s always a catch.”
I blew up a new cloud of smoke as he continued. “We… the teachers at the institute have another job on the side. We… um, we offer protection to mutants in trouble. And we try to mediate in human-mutant conflicts whenever possible. A… a mutant vigilante kinda thing if you will.”
I just stared at him. Only thing worse than a blatant lie is a lie so well interspersed with the truth you can’t figure which is which. On the other hand, a proposition as… as unbelievable as this couldn’t possibly fly as cover for any fucking thing. Something this… *preposterous* has a good possibility to be true. I settled for another snort, blew some more smoke.
He fumbled a bit. Damn kid sure was something to look at when nervous. I imagined how he’d look when he’d be taking it up his sweet, tight…
“It’s fighting for a good cause. It’s… yeah we’ve done a lot of good work. I guess you could call it noble.”
Was this guy for real?
“So… you’re here to recruit me.”
“You won’t be disappointed.”
Sure. I sneered. Nobility my ass.
He wanted me to fight for him, on his side, plain and simple. That’s why he’d been studying me and my fighting skills all night. He knew my name, somehow. Telepath’s doing if that was possible. Probably checked out my history and that’s how he must know about my stint as a mercenary for… someone… haven’t figured that out yet. But yeah, used to do that… once upon a time. Not sure when or how long, or why I quit, goddamn memory loss and shit. Things do come back to me in flashes now and again… of dead bodies and severed limbs and fresh blood coating my… bone white… claws.
Nope. I was *so* not about to go back to that anytime soon no matter what this guy thought he could offer me.
“Remuneration would not be a problem. Whatever you want, you’ll have it.”
“Answer’s still no kid.”
“You don’t *have* to teach you know. That’s not intended to be your primary responsibility.”
I would have laughed if I weren’t suddenly pissed off. Kid’s naïve, I thought. Either that or he was desperate. Not my problem. But damn it the last thing I needed was telepaths sitting hundreds of miles away keeping tabs on my whereabouts. That was just too disturbing to think about right now.
I don’t do speech well, so just glared instead. He’s three inches shorter but held his head high, matching my glare with one of his own. Only, his eyes sparkled with a degree of hope that mine had no intention to fulfill.
“Doesn’t matter, I know what you want from me and I’m not doin’ it.”
“I have some information brochures here about the school and what we’re doing there in case you’d like to take a look. If you don’t believe me…”
“You and your fancy school can go to hell far as I’m concerned, Mr. Summers.”
“What about the second job then? Granted it’s nowhere close to the highly *glamorous* and lucrative league of cage-fighting…”
“What can I say, I love my fans.”
The kid stood still as stone, probably realized he’d started to lose his temper and wisely shut up. I turned around and walked. Now I badly needed a drink.
“Anything I can offer to help change your mind?”
I didn’t stop. “Doubt it.”
“At least tell me you’ll think about it?”
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