Title: Branded (pt 2)

Author: Wolverine6Claws

Rating: R, violence

Characters: X-Men, team

Word count: 3733

Disclaimer: The X-Men, Morlocks, Marauders, Power Pack, X-Factor, Thor, Sabretooth, Magneto and all other known heroes and sinister ministers belong to Marvel Industries and its partners. The only thing I own is this particular alternate story depicting what this author believes may have happened during and after the Mutant Massacre if Gambit had actually been found alive in the tunnels after this great siege and slaughter of his own kind.

Part two

~oO0Oo~

As X-Factor worked their way through the tunnels, the team ended up separated and while Jean Grey, Scott Summers and Hank McCoy fought off the Marauders occupying their section, Warren and Bobby found themselves separated from their teammates in the ensuing battle. They were able to fight off their pursuers and were making their way back to the spot they'd last seen their teammates when they came upon a small group of survivors making their way toward an exit tunnel. The terrified bunch included a young boy they both knew named Artie and the two former X-Men decided to escort the small troupe to safety when they were set upon again.

"Lovely day for a funeral, isn't it, Flyboy?" Vertigo taunted as she and Blockbuster stepped out from the shadows, cornering Warren and the child he carried in his arms.

Bobby turned in surprise and ushered the group quickly from the area down an adjacent tunnel. "Go, go!" he urged. "Angel!" he called back to his teammate.

Warren suddenly found himself face to face with the murderous bandits, Vertigo, Blockbuster and Harpoon. He slowly set the boy on his feet and leaned down close to the boy. "Run to Bobby, Artie… then keep running. No matter what you hear, don't stop. Don't come back. No matter what happens, you keep running," he told the young Morlock boy who nodded, glancing at the Marauders. He gave the boy a guiding shove and Artie ran away, past Bobby into the dark tunnels. "Iceman, get them to safety!" he ordered the younger man and then Angel stood back up to his full height to face the mutant assassins. "I know who you are, Vertigo. We've faced off before… and I know your weaknesses."

Vertigo began to send out her sonic wave and Warren's head began to spin slightly. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath to keep focused. "What's the matter, Angel face? Feeling a little dizzy?" she asked.

The winged mutant opened his eyes suddenly and pinned her with his sharp blue gaze. "You'll have to do better than that if you want to take me down!" he shouted then launched himself forward with a single flap of his wings to land a hard blow to his opponent's chin. Vertigo spun around under the surprise attack and fell to the floor.

Before Warren could pull his arm back for another strike, Blockbuster reached out and grabbed his wrist. "We plan to do much better than that, flyboy! You're gonna die real slow." He pulled Angel forward with incredible force, nearly breaking his wrist, and Warren cried out in pain. Blockbuster laughed darkly and pulled Warren up close until his hot, stinking breath in his face made Angel want to puke, "Slow…. and painful!"

Angel was slammed into the ground and set upon by both Blockbuster and Harpoon. Blockbuster reached down and grabbed fistfuls of white feathers in both hands and yanked the winged mutant off the floor by his wings. Squeezing his fingers, he snapped the delicate feathers and fragile wing bones in his brawny fists.

"ARRRHHHH!" Warren screamed.

~~~ oO0Oo~~~

The scream carried through the warren of tunnels, reaching into the darkness like desperate fingers clawing at the edge of a cliff. The sound brought Artie to a skidding halt and the young boy looked back the way he'd come. He remembered Angel's words though and with Bobby urging him on he turned around and kept running.

~~~~oO0Oo~~~

Vertigo picked herself up off the dirt floor as Blockbuster repositioned his hands and crushed another fistful of feathers and Angel's screams sliced through the subterranean maze and echoed off the concrete walls. She winced slightly at the sound as she brushed the dust from her clothes and snarled at the do-gooder.

"Teach him a lesson before he dies," she ordered.

Harpoon and his companion shared a dark smirk just before Blockbuster picked the fallen angel from the floor and turned to slam Warren into the wall behind him. The broken wings flapped haphazardly and at odd angles as Warren fought against the pain to remain conscious.

"String him up like a scarecrow, Harp," he suggested as he held the X-Man to the rock wall.

Harpoon grinned as he raised a slayspear to his shoulder and energized it. Pulling his arm back he took aim. "With pleasure," he replied and threw the charged spear as hard as he could. It pierced the shattered appendage to his left; and after impaling the wing it imbedded itself nine inches into the solid rock wall.

"ARRRRHHHHHHHHH! !" Warren screamed again, the intense pain pulling him from his semi-conscious state.

Harpoon and Blockbuster laughed heartily as Vertigo smiled with satisfaction. Blockbuster held Angel in position as he moved to the other side to get out of the way, still pressing a large beefy hand into Angel's chest to keep him from sliding down the wall.

"All clear," he told Harpoon. "Tack him up good."

Harpoon pulled another spear and charged it with high energy before launching it. As the impaling object hit home this time though, their victim barely grunted against the pain as he hung now in shock and barely conscious. The velocity of the spear shredded feathers and shattered delicate bones as it drilled itself into the rock and the energy charge seared the wing muscles with full thickness burns.

Blockbuster stepped back carefully; pulling his hand away slowly to be sure the mutant hero would remain pinned to the wall. Warren Worthington's own body weight couldn't drag him to the ground though, because in order to attain the ability to fly his skeleton was made of hollow bones, just like a bird, so his body weight was a fraction of what he appeared outwardly. He remained where they'd put him.

"You're a loser, Fly boy," Blockbuster told him. Grabbing a fistful of blond hair he lifted Warren's head and spit in the X-Men's face. "You're nothin' but a stuffed shirt, rich boy. Tacked up like a scarecrow to warn off the other losers you call your friends. Where are they now, huh?"

"They're right here, bub," Wolverine snarled and the three Marauders spun around. He growled low and menacing, showing his large fangs and brandishing long, shiny claws.

"Wolverine!" Vertigo yelled in surprise. "Let's move!" she ordered and made her escape down a side tunnel.

In desperation, Harpoon launched another slayspear at the X-Man before retreating down the tunnel behind his teammates, but it sailed wide and pierced the wall four feet to the right of the feral's head.

Wolverine's eyes glowed like golden orbs in the tunnel darkness as he stood very still, letting all his senses take in his surroundings so he could evaluate his position. His gaze flicked from left to right in short jumps as he tilted his head, listening. His nostrils flared as he sniffed at the dank, musty air; sorting out the scents that belonged down here with the ones that didn't.

His gaze came to rest on the man hanging from the wall and Wolverine blinked as his mind cleared a bit. A sound from behind him made his ears twitch and he looked over his shoulder at the people racing down the tunnel toward him. He knew who they were before they appeared out of the darkness.

"Wolverine?" Scott identified him in mild surprise as he came to a halt.

"Summers," Logan returned the greeting and let his gaze size up the newcomers that now stood with him. They were all completely beaten down, bloodied, and exhausted.

"My stars…" McCoy breathed out as he noticed the body of his friend hanging from the tunnel wall.

"Warren!" Jean cried and ran to his side.

"He's still alive," Wolverine told them, still holding his spot as he let his ears and eyes continue their surveillance. His nose simply verified what he was seeing and hearing; nothing. At least nothing of the Marauding band they'd been contending with for the past few hours. He stood guard over his former teammates as they carefully removed the spikes from the wall and lowered Angel from where he'd been literally crucified.

Wolverine sniffed the air repeatedly as the three members of X-Factor did their best to wrap the broken wings so they could transport Angel as quickly and safely as possible. Hank got to his feet and moved to stand beside Logan as Scott and Jean finished preparing Warren for extraction. He looked Logan over with a keen eye, noting the torn, blood-soaked uniform.

"Yours?" McCoy asked, in reference to the blood staining Wolverine's skin and clothes.

"Mostly," Wolverine growled back.

"You okay?" Hank asked.

"You know me," Wolverine answered and McCoy nodded somberly.

"Indeed I do," Hank nodded, but he still had the need to ask. He always felt better to ask and not simply assume that because of his healing factor Logan was always okay. "So why are you down here, Logan?"

"Same reason as you," Wolverine told him. "One of the Morlocks showed up at the mansion asking for our help… and then he died." He turned his dark, feral gaze on McCoy. "There's someone else down here."

Hank raised his head and peered down the two tunnels before them. "Morlocks?" he asked.

"Nope," Wolverine replied. "…someone else."

"Where's Bobby?" Scott asked as he came to stand beside them.

"Didn't see him," Wolverine answered, "but his scent goes that way… toward the exit. He's got a whole group of Morlocks with him. You three head that way, get Warren to the mansion, we got a nurse standing by."

"Where are you going?" Scott asked Logan, glancing at Jean as she finished wrapping Warren in a psi-bubble to keep him together as they made their way home.

"I'm gonna do what Storm asked me to do," Wolverine told him and turned toward one of the tunnels.

"And what exactly did she ask you to do?" Scott asked as he and Hank watched him disappear into the dark.

"Find her some answers…"

~~~oO0Oo~~~

Wolverine moved cautiously down the dark tunnels. His ears pricked at every sound no matter how small, his eyes darting in every direction as he followed his nose through the shadows and the overpowering scents of death and fear and…

Sabretooth?

A low growl rolled up from his chest to the base of his throat and he snarled outwardly. It didn't surprise him at all to discover Creed's scent mingling with the pungent odor of terror and gallons of spilled blood now drying thick on the walls and in thick gritty pools in the dirt at his feet.

Logan blinked as Victor's scent tainted his tongue; the detailed image of Creed standing right beside him emerged quickly in his mind's eye and Wolverine let his eyes dart around him. He wasn't wrong in his conclusion and was proven correct when Sabretooth stepped out of the deep shadows only a few yards in front of him.

Wolverine's posture seemed to relax as he dropped his shoulders and straightened slightly. Now that the unseen danger was visible he began a new calculation for defensive and offensive moves.

"Well, well, well," Victor began to taunt his opponent with a large grin on his face, "… if it ain't the runt. What are you doing here, Wolverine? This ain't your business."

"It is my business anytime you and the rest of the filth come out to play," Wolverine told him.

"You wanna play, Logan?" Wolverine didn't answer; he just stared at Sabretooth towering in front of him. Creed studied him for a moment then nodded; the challenging stare was all the answer he needed. "Let's play."

He lunged at Wolverine with lightning speed, but just as he'd made his decision to move Logan's sharp eyes caught the shift in his stance and saw the move before it was executed. His claws released as Creed's feet left the ground.

Sabretooth caught the foot-long blades deep in the ribcage as he slammed into Wolverine and drove the much smaller feral to the ground beneath him. He howled in agony as his own immense weight dragged him deeper onto the impaling razors. Wolverine grunted beneath him as the air was forced from his lungs. If his skeleton hadn't been laced with metal he was sure he'd have been crushed to death. That was bad enough, but Logan didn't relish the painful coming back to life and having to live through the pain of broken bones knitting back together either. Some people considered him lucky to be able to overcome such injuries, but they really had no idea of the torture he had to face as his body put itself back together. Luckily though, he wouldn't have to tolerate such pain as his own skeleton protected vital organs from the crushing blow. Creed's hot breath washed across his face and the stench of it made his lip curl.

"Geezus, Bub, ever hear o' mouthwash?" With that he pulled up one knee and used it to kick the dead weight off of him. He shimmied out from beneath Victor and got onto a knee, being sure to keep his claws deeply imbedded in Vic's torso. As he rolled Creed onto his back, Logan leaned on his fists, eliciting a gasp and a grunt from his opponent. Victor looked up at him and both hands came up to wrap around Logan's wrists.

Wolverine snarled and leaned forward further, to keep himself planted there. As his strength slowly seeped away, it was impossible for Victor to lift Logan's 300 pounds. He brought his long legs up and around, trying to catch Wolverine between them in order to twist him off and into the dirt but Wolverine's short stature was often a benefit to the scrappy little feral. He noted the move and as Vic's legs came up and around like a windmill, Logan simply ducked a bit and the long limbs swept high over his head. He snarled at Creed triumphantly as Victor labored to take a breath with the steel spikes impaling his lungs.

Wolverine's head tilted slightly to one side as he watched death take his victim. It was an awesome sensation to watch Sabretooth die… and he relished the moment each and every time it happened. He often wondered though if he'd allow himself to enjoy it so much if he knew it would be a permanent death – but it never was.

Creed's hands loosened around his wrists and his legs stopped moving. His amber eyes glazed over and rolled slightly upward as warm blood and frothy bubbles seeped out of the holes in his chest to coat Wolverine's gloved fists. Logan waited a few seconds as he felt the slowing of Victor's heart through the extended blades. It was an awesome sensation; having such an intense sensitivity to touch and every movement as the beating of his opponent's heart transmitted the slowing rhythm through his claws to his hands and up his own arms. Logan wondered in that moment if this was anything at all like what Rogue felt when she absorbed the life force of another person. It wasn't the same thing obviously, but it was enough to give him the impression of absorbing Victor's life energy.

The final beat of the heart brought Wolverine back from his internal wanderings. He looked down at Sabretooth; still and lifeless, pinned beneath his hands. Pegged to the dirt floor much in the same way Creed's buddies had impaled Angel to the wall. Fitting, he mused darkly then shifted his weight. Rolling backward off the knee he had buried in Vic's abdomen he shifted his balance to his feet and slowly retracted his claws. As the blades sheathed Logan pulled his fists away from the bloody mass and stood up.

He looked at Sabretooth for a moment and then his eyes slid sideways. Sniffing the air, he picked up that unknown scent again. Whoever it belonged to, Logan didn't know. He knew though that it was not a Morlock, though it was a mutant and a male… and his scent stank of fear and danger.

Perfect.

He left Creed where he'd fallen and stepped over the body following the scent. His ears pricked again at a small sound in the dark. Wolverine stilled and listened… he could hear breathing. He could hear their hearts beating. His eyes narrowed as he sorted out the signals his acute senses were picking up. There were two… one, a child, female; the other, not.

Wolverine's eyes darted around as he listened - a child's fearful whimper… and a male voice trying to comfort, hushing her fears.

Curious.

His vision was like a wolf's in the pitch blackness and his eyes picked up the slightest glint of illumination to shine like golden orbs in the dark. Logan followed the curve of the tunnel, placing his soft soled boots carefully in the loose silt on the floor as he approached his target silently.

A few yards away he could make out the shape of a rock ledge protruding from the tunnel wall and movement coming from behind it. Wolverine froze; standing upright in the middle of the tunnel, out in the open, but he might as well have been the invisible man for those he was observing didn't have his super human eyesight.

He tested his prey… allowing a low growl to slowly roll up from his chest. The sound in the darkness made the target freeze in terror.

Silence.

A child whimpered… and the other attempted to silence its fears. Wolverine growled again.

"Mon Dieu…. Creed? Is dat you?"

Logan frowned. He didn't recognize the voice or the accent, but the whispered exclamation was in french. "Nah, it ain't Creed," he answered, a dangerous growl underlying his words. "Come outta there."

As he watched, the darkness in the tunnel thinned slightly at first then fell away. Logan squinted his sensitive eyes as they tried to adjust to the sudden glow cutting through the blackness from a few yards ahead. As the light strengthened he could make out the cause of the illumination; a rock. The rock to be more specific, the one Frenchie was hiding behind. As the figure rose from behind the sheltering object, Wolverine's gaze drifted down to where the gloved hand was resting atop the solid mass. Clearly he could see that the stranger was in fact a mutant and was sending his own power to the rock to make it glow reddish-gold in the confined space. He figured the tall stranger did that for his own benefit, since Logan's sight was fine in the pitch dark.

When he raised his eyes to the stranger's face, he noted that the eyes also seemed to be aglow. They looked demon-like in the underground sanctuary. 'How fitting,' Logan thought. What was happening in this private lair was hell on Earth and nothing short of it.

"Who are you?" Wolverine asked with a snarl that showed off his pristine white fangs.

"A friend, mi," Frenchie replied.

"You ain't no friend o' mine, friend," Wolverine returned and then noticed the girl peeking over the rock beside the red-headed invader. "Sarah?" he said, recognizing the bony mass overlaying the young girl's forehead. She was known as Marrow due to the extra bone mass she could create within her own body.

"Logan?" she whimpered, warily standing up to see him clearly.

"Come over here, darlin'," he encouraged her, keeping his tone quiet and level.

"Dere no need fuh dat," the stranger told him, reaching down to snag Marrow's shirt with his fingers. "Remy not gon' hurt da fille," he assured the masked avenger staring him down. "We kin talk about dis, homme."

By now, Logan's worldly experience pegged the stranger as a Cajun from the bayou area of New Orleans. He snarled at the man as he impeded Sarah's escape from his clutches.

"Let her go, Cajun," he warned and to emphasize the seriousness of that suggestion he slowly released his claws. They picked up the colors of the glowing rock, glinting blindingly as he slowly turned them over in a threatening display.

"Mon Dieu… Wolverine," the Cajun whispered, recognizing the famous silvery blades talked about as if a myth of legend.

"Sarah!" Wolverine barked at her to get her moving.

The young girl startled at Wolverine's snap and broke free from her captor's grasp. She ran into the open and straight to Logan, stopping behind him as her protector.

"I wasn' gonna hurt her, homme," the tall stranger told him, "Was protectin' her."

"Yeah right," Wolverine snarled and stepped toward him. "Sarah, stay put," he told the young girl and she backed up against the wall and slid down to hunker there and wait for Logan to come back. Logan closed the distance between them slowly, stepping around the glowing rock as the Cajun took a step backward to match every step Wolverine took toward him.

"Listen, Homme, dis don' need to go down like dis," he said, reaching into his duster.

The move wasn't lost on Wolverine and he launched himself at the tall Acadian before he could withdraw his hand with a weapon. With a loud roar that rolled thunderously through the underground lair for miles he set upon the infiltrator.

The Cajun's eyes widened in sheer terror as he saw the Wolverine race toward him suddenly and plant one booted foot on the rock and vault high overhead with those deadly blades extended. The stranger withdrew his hand holding a full deck of playing cards that began to glow immediately. He flipped his wrist like tossing a Frisbee, sending fifty-five paper thin explosives toward the attacking feral. The full mass of the tiny explosions going off all at once blinded Wolverine long enough for him to lose clear sight of his prey. The Cajun side-stepped the attack and pushed out with both hands, connecting with Logan's torso as he flew over his head, sending him harmlessly to the dirt floor behind him.

Wolverine hit the ground with his arms extended, but was pushed off his trajectory. He hit the ground on his right side and rolled a few yards until his momentum slowed enough for him to twist his body into a somersault and landed on his feet. He turned, snarled at the tall invader and lunged again.

TBC'd

_._,_._

.

_,_._,_