Keep the Freaks in Cages
A/N: Written, like so many other things of mine of late, for a fic meme on LJ. Enjoy.
Probably best read on 2/3 or 1/2 width and a larger font size, but I have bad eyesight.
The guy comes at him hard and fast- swings wide and figures that the fact that he's got nearly a foot and about a hundred and fifty pounds on him will make up for how wide open he's left himself.
In a split second Peter can tell how much the guy's had to drink, can hear his opponent's lungs crackle through twenty years of cigarettes, can feel his weight shift through the floor. His immediate instinct screams at him to duckpunchjabstomachdodgebody kneeNOW the man in the side as he falls. That sixth sense in the back of his mind thinks seven steps ahead of what his body's already doing and it's only through sheer force of will that he slows it down- ignores it.
His lip splits again. He tastes the floor through the blood; frozen dirt, booze, more blood, and a few more unsavory things are all present. Bruises on top of bruises on top of what's probably a few loose teeth- it doesn't matter. Not anymore. Not to him.
"Dude," he spits out blood as he picks himself up from the mat, carefully wiping his busted lips on the back of his hand. "My grandma throws a better punch than you, God rest her soul," he says, and then crosses himself to add insult to injury.
"You cocky sonuvvahbitch!" his opponent roars and charges him, swinging wide again. Peter sidesteps once, twice, and then lets the drunken giant get a lucky shot in that sends him crashing face-first into the chain link fence. The crowd of boozed-up rednecks and truckers jeer and yell their approval, hoping to finally see him lose a match. With his cheek pressed into the ring's fence he figures his face is probably going to be a mess of bruises if it isn't already, but he doesn't mind. He's earned them all, one way or another.
That little sense in the back of his head screams at him again moveleftNOW and he does, just in time for a mountain of denim and blue plaid to barrel into the fence where he'd been a moment before. The guy had gone shoulder-first in a tackle- he was trying to do some real damage.
The crowd starts booing and throwing things, banking on his failure to finally make some money on their bets and voicing their disapproval at his lack of serious injury.
As the guy turns and comes at him again, Peter decides that they can take those hopes for his failure and shove them where the sun don't shine. The giant roars and swings, intent on doing some real damage to whatever he can reach.
Peter sidesteps the punch and brings his elbow down on the back of the man's neck. He's experienced enough failure for one lifetime.
The guy stumbles but doesn't go down- a testament, no doubt, to the amount of alcohol he's consumed in the past few hours. Instead he turns and rushes at the skinny teenager that hasn't lost a fight since they started the matches a good four hours previously.
He receives a very calculated, very vicious jab to the bridge of his nose for his trouble. The crunch is audible throughout the room.
Peter Parker does not intend to fail again.
His much larger opponent stumbles back, holding his shattered nose with one hand and bracing himself on the fence with the other. When he pulls his hand from his nose it reveals a bloody wreck, but that seems to have just angered the beast because the flannel-clad mountain just spits blood and charges again.
Not a failure, Peter thinks- even as that sixth sense screams in the back of his mind to duckuppercutNOW and he ducks under a wild swing before popping up and catching his opponent in the jaw. The man stumbles, dazed.
Didn't stop him.
He punches, catching the man in the chest and sending him stumbling back further with a wheeze. He thinks he might hear bone crunch, but that could just as easily have been the crackle of the tar in the man's lungs.
Couldn't save him.
Another punch sends the man, blood streaming down his face and neck to stain the front of his shirt, flying into the chain link fence. He catches the man across the chin and the skin on his knuckles finally splits, though it's difficult to tell whose blood it is on his hand.
He punches again and his large opponent has stopped trying to punch him right back, but Peter's far from noticing.
Another punch. Another. He's vaguely aware that the crowd is still booing their displeasure at him.
"That's enough, kid!" the announcer grabs him by the arm and pulls him back, the other guy finally falling over onto the mat in a bloody mess. A couple of the big guy's buddies come in and pick him up, pulling him out of the ring and probably out of the bar. "Yer a piece'a work, y'know that?" Peter shrugs the announcer's hand away and instead goes to lean against the fence, refusing the drink one of the waitresses offers him.
He's relatively certain that the crowd's attention has focused back on Lou, the announcer; he allows himself a wince and a hiss of pain as he explores with his fingers the mess that his most recent adversary has made of his face. A couple teeth feel loose still, but he's just glad he's not spitting them out along with more blood. His lips are split in three different places and his left eye socket is tender, probably cracked. He's had worse, though. There's always been something worse.
"I'll take a crack at 'im," the crowd roars as the next sucker takes the bait, hoping to whatever higher powers they believe in that this is gonna be the one that Peter Parker finally loses.
"The king of the cage returns for another night, folks," Lou preaches to the already slavering crowd, "is the Wolverine gonna be the one to beat the Spider-Man?" Peter tugs at the front of the red wifebeater with the spider on it that he's wearing, rolling his eyes at the absurdity of the situation. His most-likely-cracked eye socket protests at the tiny movement and he decides not to push the matter further. The cheering starts up again in full force and he can feel the new guy climb up into the ring- that screeching little feeling in the back of his mind goes crazy.
Everything is off about the guy.
Peter turns but keeps his back to the fence, more to keep himself upright than it is to keep the guy from getting behind him. Face-to-face with him he knows that something's way off about his new opponent- the guy's weight on the floor of the ring is extremely incongruous with his somewhat small stature. His joints sound somehow metallic (at least two metal bones, but no signs of major surgery). He's got dogtags, and that means military. He's also stone-cold sober, which could present a problem.
"You can't be more'n sixteen," the guy growls, and Peter gives him an awkward-looking lopsided smile. The motion makes his face hurt. The serious, craggy look on the guy's face just gets deeper and more serious.
"Still can't beat me, though," Peter needles at the guy, trying very hard not to look like he's holding onto the fence to remember which way is up. That last guy must have hit him harder than he thought. Much harder.
"That ain't how I work, kid," the new guy cracks his knuckles and Peter can hear the metal in his hands metal bones in his fingers too oh holy shit is this guy the fucking Terminator- before the sense in the back of his head screams for him to duckslidekickNOW just in time for him to duck under the guy's arm and slide out of his immediate reach before kicking him savagely in the side. The guy stumbles and hits the fence, but gets right back up again.
"Best you got, old man?" Peter taunts. The guy doesn't rise to the bait, though. Just gets up and starts advancing. It's honestly a little bit terrifying, especially when the guy cracks his neck and he can hear an audible ting like metal hitting metal.
His brain screams duckpunchNOW and he does, ducking under a grab for the front of his shirt and popping up just in time to land a solid haymaker to the guy's left cheek.
He hears, rather than feels, four of his fingers break. He feels them a split second later.
The pain's enough of a distraction that he doesn't react to the DUCKDUCKDUCKDUCKNOWNOWNOW screaming from the back of his mind, and solid metal knuckles crack him hard enough in the side of the head that he doesn't even feel himself hit the ground.
He wakes up not quite yelling from the same dream it's always been, with blood and tears and lots of screaming guilt. He always checks his hands first, he turns them over and sees things where they aren't. The blood is never really there, but the movement of wiping his palms on his pants- shirt- jacket- that's always reflexive.
By the time he's finished the motion, he realizes that the Wolverine is sitting in a chair not too far away from the couch he's kitted out on with his feet on the table and a large stogie clamped firmly between his teeth. Someone's found his coat and had draped it over him while he'd been knocked out on the couch.
Oh, and he really needs to barf.
"That's the concussion," the older man says. His tone of voice can only really be described as the gruff backwoods Canadian version of 'concerned'. It's really not very concerned at all but the guy at least sounds like he's trying to help.
"I know," Peter manages around the splitting headache and the unfortunate amount of vomiting into the trash can at the end of the couch. He figures his entire face is a big bruise, and between heaves and spitting he discovers that his loose teeth have tightened up while he was out cold. His eye socket is definitely cracked, and it feels like someone trying to stab him in the face with a jagged piece of glass every time he moves his eyes.
"Yer a piece'a work, you know that too?" the guy blows a cloud of cigar smoke into the already-acrid air of the bar as he talks, before replacing the thoroughly-chewed smoke and taking another drag from it. "I don't even wanna know what the hell leads a kid to cagefightin' for money, but it ain't my business," he says after a moment.
Peter heaves into the trashcan again, but he's relieved that the guy won't ask questions. He doesn't feel like answering them, or even pretending to.
"So are you like the Terminator or something?" once the heaving finally stops, he speaks up. His voice is thready and weak, mostly from all the vomiting. When the Wolverine looks over at him, confused, he elaborates. "Metal bones, no scars. I can hear them when you move. Plus, you know, there's this," Peter holds up the hand he broke against the guy's cheek in their fight to emphasize his point. At some point while he'd been out someone had set his fingers and wrapped the whole hand up in gauze with an outer layer of duct tape, backwoods Canadian medicine at its finest. "I know how to throw a punch, and when I hit you it was like hitting a wall of steel."
"Y'start asking questions, kid, an' I will too," the Wolverine warns. Peter wipes his mouth on the back of his un-bandaged hand, and then wipes that on the couch. The chunky, threadbare old thing has probably seen worse. For a moment he thinks about long lonely bus rides, pickpocketing to survive, sleeping in alleyways and sneaking his way into Canada in the back of a semi. He doesn't want to tell this guy anything- not why he's here, not what makes him fight, not what makes him take a few hits before dishing out every night. Not what he's running from.
"What are you?" he asks, regardless. His curiosity is piqued.
"Don't rightly know myself," the Wolverine says. He puffs a cloud of smoke into the air and looks over at the kid, an eyebrow cocked and something vaguely passing for amusement coloring his hairy features. "Why, what're you? Mutant? Y'got some kind'a bone whispering power?"
"Nah," Peter gives the guy an awkward and gawky-looking smile, and he moves to scratch the back of his neck with one hand before he realizes it's the one wrapped in a duct tape cast. "Genetically-engineered spider powers from a radioactive spider bite."
"Sure, kid," the guy chuckles, but doesn't roll his eyes. "An' I'm best pals with Captain America." His boots hit the bar floor with a bang, and he gets to his feet with the cigar clamped firmly in his teeth . "I'm gettin' a beer, then I'm comin' back here an' we're havin' a talk about the dangers of getting' the tar beat outta' you fer money. Don't choke an' die without adult supervision."
As the Wolverine gets up and walks away, that little sense in the back of Peter's head starts to tug at him. The further the stocky guy gets towards the bar, the worse the feeling gets. When it's screaming at him that something's wrong is when he finally gets up, dizziness almost making him fall right back down onto the couch before he rights himself, puts on his coat and heads towards the bar.
As he sits down on the stool between the Wolverine/and some girl in a hood, Ed the Barman drops his winnings in a pile in front of him. The stocky guy to his left was already stuffing his share away by the time he managed to make a neat pile one-handedly, and he could feel the girl to his right watching him like a hawk with tunnel vision. That damned sense in the back of his head was still screaming as he stuffed his money in his back pocket, but it was too insistent to be about the girl that was probably giving some pretty strong thought to pickpocketing him.
"Got any milk?" he asks Ed with a lopsided smile. The old man dressed in plaid flannel fixes him with a withering look and fills the glass he'd been cleaning with water from the tap before putting it on the bar in front of the teenager. Peter took it in his free hand and raised it in a salute to the barman before taking a drink, finally washing the iron aftertaste of blood and bile from his mouth. His lips stung where they'd split, but they didn't start bleeding again.
"Hey, you guys owe us some money." Peter knew the hand on his shoulder was coming before it even so much as touched him. He can hear the creak of the floorboards behind him, the shift in weight as the man reaches forward, the crackle of tar in his lungs as he breathes. He took another drink and savored it, swishing the water around his teeth to further clean the acrid aftertaste of bile from his mouth. The Wolverine was a bit less silent to his left with his own adversary. "You broke my nose you little shit," the big guy from before is the one who has him, and he's known that since the guy grabbed him. Peter swallows and takes another drink, shrugging.
The girl further down the bar screams, and a few things happen at the same time.
That little sense in the back of his head screams at Peter to turnthrowNOW and as the big guy from before grabs him by the shoulder and spins him around he brings his glass of water with him and throws it in the guy's face. With a roar, the guy makes to slam him into the bar with enough force that it could potentially kill the teen with the concussion he has.
The Wolverine trades a few punches and then whirls his aggressor around to pin him against a ceiling support.
Claws come out.
Peter jumps- twists- sticks to the ceiling on instinct as the much larger guy that's about to try and kill him instead slams himself into the bar and topples over it.
Ed cocks a shotgun.
The whole bar grinds to a standstill.
"No freaks allowed in my bar," the old man grinds out from behind the bar, shotgun tucked against his shoulder and aimed squarely at the freak with the claws. "Get out. Both of yeh's-" Ed makes a move to turn the shotgun towards the ceiling, where Peter still clings like his life depends on it. In a flash of silver the gun in his hands is no more than a barrel, stock, and a few pieces of sliced-up metal leaking gunpowder and buckshot.
Everything is still again for a moment.
"Kid," Peter's attention snaps to the man with the claws holy fucking dickballs actual claws came out of his hands what is even reality anymore- "you runnin' from something?"
He's hesitant to admit it. He'd refused to admit it to himself, even, until he'd hitched a ride in a semi to hop the border into Canada. He didn't like the idea, since it inferred that he'd be able to eventually escape the ripping, tearing, bleeding, screaming guilt that clawed at him every time he closed his eyes.
He nods and drops himself to the floor, falling in a crouch before nearly toppling over at the sudden dizzy feeling. With an audible snikt the claws retract into the guy's hands, between his knuckles. The skin there immediately heals over, and nobody stops him as the Wolverine pushes his opponent out of his way and heads for the door.
"C'mon," he says, and he gestures with his jaw and a nod for the kid to follow him.
Peter tries his best to look like he isn't scrambling to stay upright as he heads for the door after the man with the claws.
And that's the story of how Peter Parker accidentally joined the X-Men and foiled a plot to mutate most of the world's important dignitaries.
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