Seven Different Coloured Kinds of Shit
Duchess of the Dark
Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Marvel Comics and Fox. I own not, you sue my regrettably pear-shaped English arse not. Helena Draven is mine.
Archive: Yes, but ask me first, please.
Notes: This is set just before the events in 'Fugue: X-Men'. When I say before, I mean literally a day or so before Rogue turns up in Loughlin City.
Text in italics indicates thought.
Text in aphostrophed 'italics' indicates telepathic communication.
The heavy, corrugated metal door swung open, bringing with it an icy blast of frigid winter air and two snow-powdered forms. Stamping her feet to rid her boots of snow, the smaller kicked the door shut. Glancing up from his newspaper, the silver-haired barkeeper grunted a minimal greeting and promptly turned the page to the sports section, swearing as he saw his hockey team had lost their last game. Helena Draven glanced around the huge converted silage barn serving as pub, town hall and fight venue, her nose wrinkling. Intermixed odours of engine oil, tangy sweat, rancid beer, old vomit and older silage beseiged her nostrils. The floor was bare, scuffed boards stained with spills, mud and grey filigreed damp. Sections of chainlink and steel girders formed rough partitions, haphazardly dotted with miscellaneous chairs, stools, benches and the odd sofa. A large, purpose built cage dominated the centre of the floor, complete with a microphone and makeshift seating stands.
"Y'know something," she observed to Logan. "I usually judge how much of a dive a place is by the relative stickiness of the carpet. . . but this place doesn't even have a carpet. On a scale of one to ten, this hole is an eleven point five. I think they keep cattle in here, judging by the smell. And why the bloody hell they call this dump Loughlin City? It's three barns and truck station!"
Wolverine shrugged disinterestedly and stumped to the bar, ordering two Canadian Gold beers followed by whisky chasers. Glancing at her battered oversized wristwatch, the Englishwoman saw it was a little before seven p.m. and too early for the fights to start. There were two dozen or so fight fans and regular drinkers, interspersed with bent-nosed, simian-muscled men who fought for a living. Two truckers wearing greasy baseball caps dozed peacefully on a couch near to a fire in an old oil drum, empty bottles cluttered at their feet.
Sliding onto a barstool, Helena picked up her beer and blew the foam bubbles off the neck, idly watching the television mounted on the wall above the bar. The hourly news bulletin showed silent pictures of the impending Ellis Island UN convention, the sound turned off. Folding his newspaper, the barkeeper reached up and thumbed the volume button.
". . . with the Ellis Island convention mere days away, many commentators feel the top issue should be the mutant phenomenon and its impact on the world community... And on to other news, Senator Robert Kelly today appealed to Congress-"
"Damn muties," the barman barked, slapping his open hand down. "I know what I'd do if any freaks showed up in my bar -- give 'em both barrels in the ass!"
Striding away to serve newly arrived customers, the metal door opening with more regularity as spectators arrived for the impending fights, he failed to notice the sudden, almost unnoticeable stiffening of two spines. The clawed mutants exchanged glances, again reminded that they were relatively lucky -- they could pass for flatscans in most situations.
"Fuckin' racist asshole," Logan snarled under his breath, only Helena's sharp hearing detecting the utterance.
"Hey, what time do the fights get started?" she called.
"About nine, honey," the barkeeper answered. "If yer wanna place any bets, I'm yer man. . . say, yer sound like yer English. Yer have the same problems with freaks over there?"
Helena smiled thinly, hazel green eyes glacial as Logan chugged down the last of his beer, tossing back the whisky chaser in a single gulp. She shrugged indifferently, noticing an empty plastic crate on the floor near the barman's feet.
"Nah, we're a bit more tolerant."
"Must be that English politeness," the bartender observed with a nicotine grin.
"S'pose," she agreed, focussing on the crate, which moved silently a foot to the left.
Heading for the till with a fistful of money, the barkeeper yelped as he tripped headlong over the crate and fell untidily to the floor. Logan's bearded face split in a grin as coins bounced and kneecaps crashed into hard wood. With a grunted 'ooof', the barman ended sprawled full length on the grimy floor, a random beer spill soaking into the seat of his worn blue jeans. His wife hurried out of the backroom, all lacquered ash blonde hair, tight denim skirt and concern.
"Gawd! Yer alright, darlin'?" she exclaimed, helping her crimson-cheeked husband to his feet.
"Why d'yer leave the damn crate there?" he spluttered, nursing his cracked knee and aching elbows.
Watching him curse and squint at the floor for the fallen money, Logan twisted on his stool to face his travelling companion.
"Yer got a good sense o'timin', Hels," he rumbled, noticing a large glass jar filled with coins on the bar. A hand-written note plastered across the front read 'Tipping is not a city in China'.
"Mmmhhhhmm," she agreed, a corner of her mouth curling.
"Whaddaya reckon?" he asked, gesturing at the steadily filling room. "Two hundred, three hundred seats? Two dozen fights, mebbe?"
"Yeah, prob'ly," she nodded, picking out contenders and their entourages from the increasing throngs. "I'll spread the betting cash through all the pools going, so we'll get a good return, plus your winnings. They've got two nights of fights, so we can clean up if we're careful." 'No winning too easily or you'll get our mutant arses lynched.'
Wolverine gave a feral almost-smile and rubbed at his beard with the heel of his hand, rolling his shoulders.
"No problem, darlin'," he assured. "Yer do yer thing, an' I'll do mine."
Pushing up the rim of his leather trilby, the short, sweaty-browed emcee brought the large, old-fashioned microphone close to his mouth. The crowd was beginning to warm up, stamping feet, waving fists and placing ever more substantial bets as alcohol consumption increased. Strutting around the interior of the cage, carefully stepping over a small puddle of blood, he gesticulated dramatically.
"Laaaaadeeeeeeeez an' gennlemen!" he intoned, peering around at the catcalling, rowdy mass of faces. "Is anyone here MAN enough ta face the mighty MAX!"
Max, a towering flannel-shirted grizzly bear with a nose that bent in the middle and off to the left, growled menacingly and cracked his knuckles. He had won three fights, sustaining only a split lip, knocking out each of his opponents. When there were no immediate takers, he roared, showing heavily filled teeth, earning renewed screams from the crowd.
"I think it's time I got started," Logan growled, beginning to rise from his seat on an overstuffed couch next to Helena. "That guy's buggin' me."
Placing her sixth empty Canadian Gold bottle on the unvarnished plank mounted on two gravel-filled paint cans that served as a table, the Englishwoman eyed the sturdy fight cage critically.
"Hold your horses, He-Man," she said firmly. "I feel like a turn."
Wolverine stopped short, thick fingers poised at his collar ready to unfasten his shirt in preparation to fight. His eyebrows escalated to his hairline and he turned around to face her, incredulity written large across his features.
"Yer gotta be kiddin'," he stated. "They'd laugh yer outta the joint, an' besides, I fight; yer place the bets and poker hustle."
Helena's lips crimped with umbrage and her chin lifted.
"Why should you get all the fun?" she demanded, leaning to one side as a teenaged glass collector gathered up the empties. "I feel like a change. After all, I do the thinking and you get to inflict mindless violence. This is the twenty first century -- gender equality and all that."
Logan frowned, certain there was an insult in there somewhere. He scratched at his ear and flicked a glance over at the cage. It was his arena, his territory, the place he vented most of his frustrations. He shook his head with an air of finality.
"You think I'm asking your permission?" she enquired sweetly, hands folded calmly in her lap.
Logan knew when she became saccharine winsome or icily polite, it usually meant big trouble. Like him, when she made up her mind, there was very little could change it. Sighing exasperatedly, he spread his hands disarmingly.
"I don't want yer gettin' hurt, darlin'," he protested, thinking he could appeal to her feminine sensibilites with a bit of chivalry.
"You mean your male pride's kicked in," she sniffed, not fooled in the least. "I can take that feller with one arm tied behind my back, and you know it -- you're just worried big, bad Wolverine'll get upstaged!"
"Yer the one who's always harpin' about bein' careful," he grumbled. "Whaddaya think's gonna happen if ya get in there an' clean the floor up with his ass?"
Beaming, Helena stood up and flexed her fingers like a pianist preparing for a concert overture. Delving in her pocket, she produced a bobble and tied back her hair. Almost alarmed, Logan raised his hands.
"Now, darlin'," he began, trying to sound reasonable.
"I think I'm gonna make a nice little bundle," she said, ignoring him entirely. Taking a deep breath, she bellowed; "I'LL FIGHT HIM!"
The silence was instantaneous and total, dropping like a lead brick. Logan winced, resisting the urge to bury his head in his hands. Scornful laughter and hooting broke out, filling the converted barn with a deafening cacophony of derision. Max scowled and flushed an unpleasant beetroot, folding his massive arms across his chest. Unconcerned, Helena glared around at the beer-sweaty faces and glazed eyes.
"I said, I'll fight him," she repeated loudly. "Unless the mighty Max is frightened a girl'll whup his hairy arse." 'Back me up here, Logan. You've said I'm the only thing like a true friend you've got, so prove it.'
Reluctantly, Wolverine cupped his hands to his mouth and yelled; "Hundred dollars says she can beat him!"
Scores of people openly goggled, glasses, bottle and wads of money clutched in hands, features outlined in the flickering electric light and flames from the oil barrels serving as grates. A disbelieving murmur swept the throngs, the few women in the crowd looking at the young woman in black like she had dropped off the soles of their shoes. A hulking, bald man in a black T-shirt with the sleeves hacked off stood up. The legend 'only the tough survive' adorned the front above a technicolour snarling wolf and eagle.
"I say let the stupid bitch get a pastin'!" he roared. "Her money's as good as anyone else's!"
The emcee turned questioningly to Max, who complained under his breath, but was prepared to accept a few taunts if it meant he increased his winnings. Shrugging, the emcee took hold of the microphone.
"Laaadeeeeeez and gennlemen! We have a new contestant!!"
Smirking triumphantly, Helena pulled off her heavy silver rings and clunky watch, handing them to Logan for safekeeping. Looking mildly embarrassed, he pocketed them. She stripped down to her combat pants and a tiny black tank top, throwing her fleece jumper and leather coat down on the sofa. Honed muscles slid in her slender, winter-paled arms, products of hours of combat lessons and hard road living.
"Wish me luck?" she asked with a quirked eyebrow.
Logan merely scowled disgustedly and handed her a scruffy bundle of notes for the entry fee. Mouth turned down at the corners, he sat down and picked up his beer, pointedly not speaking.
"You're a sexist pig, sweetheart," she teased. "It's only one little fight."
With that parting shot, she was gone, striding away through the catcalling, sarcastically clapping crowd towards the fight cage. The bald man mockingly held open the door, slamming it shut with exaggerated ferocity behind her. Handing her entry fee to the emcee, who bowed and chuckled, shaking his head, she squared up to her opponent. Max looked down at the black-clad young woman, who was considerably smaller, a few dozen pounds lighter and sported several silver rings in her ears. She smiled coldly and met his gaze, blowing him a kiss. Max growled, realising he was being insulted.
"Yer got a name fer yerself, honey?" the emcee asked kindly, hand over the microphone, as if he cared whether or not she ended up bleeding and unconscious.
Helena thought for a moment, a sly smile bowing her lips as she shook out her limbs, stretching muscles.
"Yeah," she said gleefully. "Wolverana."
"Our special guest contestant toooo-night!" the emcee announced, stubby finger wagging. "The lady of Britannia -- WOLVERANA!"
Logan almost choked on his beer, spitting out a spray of golden liquid over an unsuspecting trucker, who swore complainingly. Wiping his chin on the back of his hand, he frowned and reached into his jacket for a cigar.
"Oh, that's just too good, English," he muttered. "I'll give yer my balls an' be done with it."
Striking a match, he lit his cigar and inhaled irritatedly, hunkering down over his beer. In the cage, Helena held up her arms and paraded haughtily about to the grumbling of the crowd. Max raised his meaty hands, earning an enthusiastic cheer, and lumbered forward.
"Don't hurt her too much," the emcee advised, not bothering to lower his voice. "We don't want that guy she's with gettin' snippy, he looks like he could be trouble."
"You're damn right," Helena interjected pleasantly. "He's a whole load of trouble, but there again, so am I. . . I promise to play nicely and not beat-up Maxy-waxy . . . too much."
Rolling his eyes with a resigned air, the emcee stepped back and out of the ring. The door clanged shut, chainlink rattling like a drawer of cutlery. Dropping her weight back onto her boot heels, Helena fluttered her eyelashes and pantomimed simpering, flicking her long, curling ponytail coquetishly. She danced en pointe around Max, just out of reach, reacting with theatrical horror as he growled and swiped at her with a shovel-sized paw. Somebody laughed, and within moments the entire audience was quaking as she threw sharp little punches at her opponent, irritating but not really hurting him.
She knows how ta work 'em almost as well as me, Logan thought, glancing around to see bet after bet being placed. I'll be damned if the girl ain't playin' with the stupid Canuck.
"One good hit an' she's down," the trucker opposite observed, lighting a cheroot.
"Don't count yer chickens just yet, bub," Logan advised. "Wait till she gets goin'."
The trucker harrumphed dismissively, but moments later placed a substantial bet on the Englishwoman as she backhanded her opponent and jabbed him in the stomach, slipping away before he could raise a hand.
"STAND STILL!" Max screamed hoarsely, dizzy from wheeling around as she darted about him like a stinging hornet.
Abruptly, she did exactly as she was told, the crowd screeching for Max to land a blow. A sheen of sweat glistened on her brow, but her breathing was steady and unhurried. Turning to blow kisses at the crowd, she grinned and cocked a hip provocatively, causing Logan to snort with laughter, despite himself.
"Take my breath away, big boy," she purred, batting her eyelashes.
Max snarled furiously, swinging out with a devastating left hook. She dropped beneath his arm and the blow missed. Her right elbow shot back and she punched her weight, a hard, accurate strike. Max's head snapped back with a clearly audible click and he staggered back against the chainlink, eyes momentarily unfocussed. The crowd hissed, but a few cheers rang out from the back rows.
"Goddamn," the trucker exclaimed around his cheroot, blinking with surprise.
Logan simply grunted noncommittally and considered going to the bar for another beer. Hauling himself away from the chainlink, Max kicked out, catching his opponent in the ribs. She hissed and flew back, landing straight on her backside. Leaping up, she responded with a roundhouse and an uppercut that lifted the huge man from his feet. The cheering grew louder and more enthusiastic as blows, kicks and jabs were exchanged. Lighter on her feet that her opponent, the English mutant never missed a blow, bobbing and weaving around Max, wearing him down. Unexpectedly, he lashed out and caught her in the mouth, causing her to yelp. Fingering her split lip, hastily smearing the fragrant blood to conceal the rapidly healing wound, her eyes narrowed.
Temper rising, the small muscles in her forearms twitched as she resisted the urge to pop her claws. Seeing her snarl as a face-obscuring fist caught her in the temple, knocking her down, Wolverine grinned inwardly.
She ain't playin' with this one anymore, he thought. Say goodnight, Max.
Rolling onto her back, Helena planted both booted feet into Max's abdomen as he towered over her in the mistaken belief he had won. Crashing back into the chainlink, scattering spectators who had climbed up for a better view, the burly fighter croaked breathlessly as her boot came whistling towards his face. Metal heel met cheekbone and the last thing Max heard before unconsciousness claimed him was the unmistakable crack of shattering bone. Whirling around, scraping a strand of sweaty hair from her face, Helena yelled her victory, shaking her fists at the screaming, whooping crowd.
The emcee scuttled into the cage and over to the out-cold Max, staring with naked disbelief. Peeling back an eyelid, he peered at the orb beneath and huffed with surprise. He gazed at the Englishwoman with something akin to respect, doffed his hat, took her hand and brandished her arm.
"The victor! Wooooooolveeeerrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaannnnaaaaaa!!!!!"
Whistling and clapping drowned him out, the same women who had cast disparaging stares rushing to the cage to squeal gushing encouragement and offers of drinks. The prospect of a woman who could beat the men at their own brutal game suddenly became exceptionally appealing.
"Well, I'll be damned," the trucker announced, arms folded across his corpulent belly. "Never thought I'd see the day."
Logan scowled half-heartedly and stood up, jerking his chin at her. She grinned and raised a brimming shot glass, tossing back the neat vodka in one swallow. Looping a friendly arm around the diminutive emcee's shoulders, she spoke quietly into his ear. Snatching up his microphone, he thumbed the switch.
"Are you gonna let THIS woman take your money?" he demanded, pausing for effect. "She got LUCKY! Let's show her what Loughlin City's made of!!!"
Realising Helena had absolutely no intention of leaving the cage after a single fight, Logan looked heavenwards for mercy and sat down grumpily. For him, it seemed it would be a very long, fightless night.
"THE VICTOR AND QUEEN OF THE CAGE! WOOOLLLVVVVEERRRRRAAANNNAAAAA!"
The crowd exploded into shrill whistling, thunderous applause and bellows of approval as the last contestant swayed, collapsed and failed to move of his own volition. Hair long since tugged out of its ponytail, tousled in wild static curls and wet-slick tendrils around her face, the Englishwoman hooked her fingers through the chainlink and howled at the spectators. Kicking it so it rattled, metal links vibrating with the tempo of stamping feet, she bared her teeth, chest heaving with exertion. The emcee stared at her, a small, concerned indent between his brows.
"I'll just sort out yer money," he mumbled, refraining from adding any potentially unwise casual term of endearment. "You go get cleaned up an' see me after closin'."
A pair of hazel green eyes snapped to him, making him swallow nervously as he felt uncannily like an ageing rabbit faced with a she-wolf. For a long moment, she did not speak, then nodded curtly and strode away. Remembering to add a slight limp to her walk, she stepped down from the cage and into a gabbling, laughing sea of faces and back-clapping hands. It appeared most of the female spectators had won a great deal of money backing her. Nostrils narrowing against the stench of perspiration, tobacco and stale perfume, she smiled and nodded, accepting the glass of whisky pressed into her hand by a bespectacled girl in her twenties.
Two broadly grinning young men approached her, their similarity suggesting a sibling relationship, and hoisted her up onto their shoulders. Bemused, she found herself paraded around the converted barn like a hunting trophy. Unable to keep from laughing, she allowed two circuits of the large building before jumping down and handing her bearers a crinkled green bill for a round of drinks. Beaming, they headed for the crowded bar, elbowing their way to the front. Scanning the throngs, she spied Wolverine's distinctive dark head and pushed her way over. Sat with his chin leaned sullenly in his hand, a stogie protruding from the corner of his mouth, he blew a plume of blue grey smoke.
"Aren't you going to congratulate me?" she asked, plopping down next to him.
He grunted sourly, watching as people began to leave, winnings collected. Cocking her head, Helena studied his expression, brushing a light thought probe over the surface of his mind.
"Don't tell me you're sulking!" she crowed, pulling her sweat-sticky hair away from her neck. "Awwwww! Poor ickle diddums didn't get to play out!"
"Can it, Hels," he growled, shooting her a warning glare.
"Don't piss on my parade, wide boy," she growled back, eyes flashing. "You'll see the benefits of the cash, just like me."
Logan scowled, large hand clenching at his knee. Straightening, he trained his fierce hazel eyes on her, something that would have intimidated another woman.
"Mebbe," he gritted. "Mebbe I'm gettin' a little fed-up of runnin' things by yer an' wadin' in when yer get yerself inta trouble."
"Oh, here it comes," Helena complained with a heavily exaggerated sigh and roll of her eyes. "The chest-thumping 'me man, you woman' routine. Has it occurred to you that I don't need you to 'wade in'? No! But your stupid bloody male pride won't let you sit there -- you've just got to cause a fight and get several different coloured kinds of shit beaten outta you and every other bugger in the place. It must've killed you to sit there twiddling your thumbs!"
Hearing the anger in her voice, Logan scowled and bunched his shoulders, reflecting life had been much simpler without her around. He was tempted to march outside and turf her belongings out of the trailer into the ice-filmed snow. She glared at him and tutted as she sensed his thoughts. They went throught the same routine each time they fought.
"You gonna throw me out now?" she demanded challengingly.
Purloining a red paper napkin from the table, she blotted at her neck and cleavage, wiping away some of the fight sweat, muttering darkly. Logan watched her out of the corner of his eye. Skin glistening palely, she smelled of adrenaline, temper and clean perspiration, underlaid with a note of blood and jasmine. Opening his mouth to fire off a suitably cutting retort, he screwed his fists and snarled wordlessly, smothering a sudden, violent urge to grab her and kiss her until she shut up.
Not that again, he told himself furiously, looking away. Yer wanna fuck yerself over? We've been over that already. You. Her. No-go. We'd tear each other apart inside a month, dammit. Get a hold of yerself, yer stupid Cannuck! Yer fine until yer arguin', then yer always start gettin' ta wonder. . . Shit. . . don't let her sense me thinkin' like this. Sometimes, Hels, I wish I'd never fuckin' met yer. . .
Vowing to find himself a willing woman and banish all treacherous thoughts, he shot her a hot glare, only to find she was smiling. Patting his shoulder, she slung her fleece around her waist.
"C'mon, caveman," she said, tone placating and somewhat amused. "I'll buy you a beer to put out those flames."
Looking at her askance from beneath his eyebrows, he wondered if she meant his temper or not. Acquiescing, finding it suspiciously difficult to remain angry, he rose and dusted off his jeans.
"Make it a whisky an' yer've got yerself a date, English," he declared, screwing out his cigar stub in a nearby ashtray.
"Bestill my beating heart!" she gushed, grinning.
Halfway across the bottle and debris-littered floorboards, they were confronted by the bald man wearing the wolf and eagle T-shirt. Blue eyes alcohol-glazed and just this side of vacant, his expression was ugly, body language quarrelsome.
"Hey!" he challenged. "How come yer fight so good?"
"I dunno," Helena returned. "I s'pose the fellers in this town are just plain soft."
"Bitch!" he hissed, swaying slightly. "Yer've cost me some good money!"
"Hey! Leave her be, Stu!" someone called from the anonymity of the bar crowd. "Yer gotta expect ta lose when yer bet!"
Throwing up a hand disgustedly, Stu burped loudly and stumbled away, too drunk to cause more than a nuisance. The English mutant watched him go, eyes flickering distant as she scanned his mind. Turning to Logan, pupils dilating a fraction as she withdrew her mental probe, she frowned.
"We'll have to watch him," she advised. "He's getting suspicious -- he saw you fight last month, and now he's seen me. We could have a problem here."
Wolverine, hazel eyes tracking the departing bald head, frowned and scratched at his muttonchops.
"Can yer fuck with his memory a little?" he asked.
"Maybe," she shrugged. "If we see him again I'll cloud his head. . . I was talking to the landlord earlier, and there's a poker tournament at a place a few miles down the road. I was thinking I'll clean up there while you do your thing here -- sound okay?"
The taciturn Canadian nodded agreement and they resumed wending their way to the bar.
"Sounds good ta me, darlin'," he rumbled. "I'll pick yer up afterwards and we'll hightail it outta here. I don't usually get around here more than once every few years anyway. Besides, I'll beat 'seven different coloured kinds of shit' outta him next cage fight. A few loose brain cells should see ta his memory alright. . . Now, where's that damn drink yer promised me?"
Well, you all know what happens next day -- Rogue arrives, Stu gets more than suspicious, pulls a knife, Wolvie pops his claws, and the rest, as they say, is history. . . .
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