One, two, three, four, five.
One, two, three, four, five.
One, two, three…
The light flashed and she watched again as the sequence repeated itself, the orange light pulsating through the motel's window blinds. Despite the fact that this was a backwater town in the bowels of Canada, the only room the manager said was available was the one directly across from the obnoxiously lit sign. When he'd pointed to the room, she'd stared silently at the unkempt, scrawny man and made him squirm but stopped short of calling him on his bullshit. It had been a long drive and she was too tired to give the asshole a well-deserved verbal beat down. She knew the sole reason he'd put her in this room was so he could watch her from his office window. Pervert.
Turning away from the pulsating light, she closed her eyes again and tried to focus on her breathing, the rattle of the air conditioner, anything to force her to relax.
It wasn't working.
Marie D'Ancanto sat up in bed and looked at the digital clock atop the nightstand; it read 9:34p.m. In just over an hour, she would be in a seedy bar, preparing to to end someone's life. Another stranger. Another existence cut short because some rich, selfish bastard got his tighty whities in a wad.
She pinched the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger and sighed as if the weight of the Western world hung on her shoulders. Once upon a time, she was a bright-eyed, hopeful teenager with dreams of becoming a veterinarian. Now, she was the perfect assassin; beautiful, smart, strong and capable of killing anyone with a single touch.
Marie looked at her bare hands. So slender yet so powerful. Erik once told her that their delicate appearance was the perfect distraction.
"Men would do anything for the chance to have those lean, nimble fingers wrapped around them in pleasure. Lust is the best weapon in your arsenal, my dear. Get close enough to make them greedy. It only takes a few moments and their desire will overtake all rational thought. Then…voila…the job is done."
Erik Lensherr had a flair for the dramatic and a definite knack for understatement. Her fingers entwined themselves with each other and her mind wandered back to that crisp fall night when her life irrevocably shifted course for the third time in less than a year.
~Ten years ago~
Marie shivered against the outside wall of the corner drugstore and pulled her jacket tighter to her body. So much for the desert being hot, she thought to herself. The neon lights of Las Vegas were a few miles away from the hotbed of scum, criminals and whores that populated this neighborhood. As she tried to distract herself from the cold wind caressing her bare legs, the memory of another night almost a year ago flashed through her head. The booming voice of her father echoed in her ears as clearly as it had the year before.
"Get outta my house! There ain't no place here for a freak like you!"
She'd stood in the driveway, watching as her father threw her clothes and a worn backpack out of the door where they landed, strewn across the grass. Her mother had stayed inside, not that she'd ever been someone to come to Marie's defense before. The hate and vitriol spewed from her father as freely as the alcohol he poured down his throat. Three days earlier, Marie had kissed her boyfriend, Cody, and put him in a coma. The doctors couldn't say whether or not he would make it.
So she'd watched as her parents ejected her from their lives because of an accident caused by what she was; a mutant. Something she couldn't control but that her parents would never accept. Sure, it would have been great if they'd been Ward and June Cleaver with reassuring hugs and a cup of hot chocolate to go along with words of love and support in this fantastically shitty time, but she knew that this was who they were. The core of Owen and Priscilla D'Ancanto was comprised of self-loathing, greed and selfishness and there was no way they would ever come close to the level of understanding she needed. Never had been. Never would be.
Marie had gathered her meager belongings into the backpack, turned around and never looked back.
The trip back down memory lane was interrupted when a black stretch limo pulled up to the curb. In one fluid motion, Marie stepped away from the wall and opened up her jacket, putting her hands on her slender hips.
The tinted window slid down and she heard a man's voice call to her.
"Miss, would you like to have some dinner and conversation this evening?"
Dinner and conversation…now that was a new euphemism for it.
Marie sidled up to the car and slipped inside, the warmth of the leather giving her goose pimples. The car was dark and it wasn't until they pulled up to the hotel that she saw that the man was in his seventies at the earliest. Creepers came in all shapes, sizes and ages.
She was good at reading people and knew despite his invitation that he was in no mood for pleasant conversation. So Marie had kept her mouth shut and her eyes and ears open. Only a few minutes after arriving in his extravagant suite, the man had directed her toward the bedroom and gestured for her to sit on the bed. She complied and watched as he moved toward her, his long, elegant fingers reaching toward her face as his slick tongue moistened his lips. The cat was preparing to devour the helpless bird.
Except Marie was far from helpless. As if flipping a switch in her mind, her skin became alive and she felt the tingle of her power surge through her body. When his fingertips connected with her cheek, she brought her own hand up to cover his. The man's initial smirk of lust quickly turned to a scowl as the pull of her mutation became stronger. He tried to step back but she was already draining his consciousness and he would be on the floor in less than five seconds.
His body hit the expensive carpet with a dull thump and Marie sat back on the bed, rubbing her temples as she pushed his perverse thoughts to the inner recesses of her mind. The man was unconscious and would most likely be in that state for another several days. She concentrated again and, in an instant, she felt her mutation recede.
Marie stood up and began to survey the room. Her 'date' had hung his coat jacket in the closet and there she found his well-stocked wallet. She left the leather case inside but took the cash and two credit cards – platinum, of course – for her to buy some new clothes and supplies. They would shut down the cards soon enough, but because his pin codes and account numbers were now in her head, convincing the right people she was his 'niece' for a few days would get her some nice traveling cash.
Finished with her task, she set about undressing the unfortunate man with the thousand dollar suit and arranged him in the bed as if he was simply enjoying his post coital slumber. A shiver ran up her spine at the thought of him touching her.
Marie adjusted her clothes and began to head for the door when she saw the handle begin to turn. Her instinct was to run, but diving out the window of a 36th floor penthouse was not the smartest of ideas. She couldn't fly…yet.
She kept walking, intent on telling his bodyguard that he was asleep and she was done for the night when a large man with close cropped blonde hair and a beautiful brunette walked into the room. Security? Guards? Employees? Whatever the case, she planned to stick with her original story and get the flock out of Egypt. She smiled, playing coy.
"Hey, dude's asleep. Got a little more than he bargained for, you know? So, I gotta get back to work."
As she passed by the pair, she felt the pressure of the man's large hand on her arm. "Ain't goin' anywhere just yet, frail."
The woman ignored Marie's greeting and walked further into the suite, disappearing into the bedroom.
"Victor…get in here."
He pulled Marie with him and stopped beside the woman at the end of the bed. The man's voice was deep and rough.
"He's not dead. Out cold. Breathin' is shallow."
Did he just sniff the air?
"Doesn't smell like they had sex, though." His dark eyes found Marie's. "But she could sure use a shower."
Well, that was insulting.
"Fuck you, creep. I'm not exactly living in high style like Daddy Warbucks here. I don't give two shits what you do with him, but I'm outta here."
Marie was only a few seconds away from turning on her skin and bolting from the room when she saw the woman physically change in front of her eyes. Her tall, dark haired form shifted and in a matter of seconds, Marie was face to face with…herself.
"What the hell?"
The woman shifted back into the form Marie had met just a few minutes ago. She smiled and stepped closer.
"Victor, let her go." The man complied and the pressure on Marie's arm was gone. "My name is Raven. I'm a mutant. This is Victor and he also has special gifts." Another step closer. "I assume that you have a rare talent as well."
Marie crossed her arms and eyed both of them warily. "Yeah. So, what do you care?"
"I think we can help you….?" Raven's tone lilted upward with the question.
"Marie. And I don't need any help. As you can see, I was just on my way out."
"And then what? You'll use his credit cards and cash, get yourself a shower and new combat boots and then…what? Steal more? Live in a motel?"
"It's worked for me so far."
"Not from what I smell, kid."
"Fuck you, Sasquatch."
His growl made her stomach clench and, instinctively, she flipped the mental switch and turned on her skin.
Raven's hands rose up in front of her chest. "Okay, let's just talk a minute. Look, Marie, I know you did something to this guy. We have a…community. Other people like us. We come together and use our talents for profit. With what you can do, you could make some good money."
She stepped closer to Marie again. "I assume you've been on your own awhile. I was too. This has been the best thing that's ever happened to me. I'm rich, I do what I want and wear designer shoes. Plus, I have a family now."
Family. That was Marie's Achilles heel. If there was one thing that she craved more than anything, it was to belong somewhere. Know that there were people who had her back and wouldn't just throw her out onto the street when things got tough.
"What's the catch?"
Raven shook her head and smiled. "Smart young lady. Obviously, we have to do something to earn the money we do. Well, we take contracts and eliminate threats, help persuade people to make decisions and, sometimes, we must carefully handle delicate situations."
"You're hit men."
This time both Victor and Raven laughed. "Not entirely. It is a part of what our company does, but individual mutants can pick and choose their assignments."
If Marie had wanted to leave her old life behind, this could be her opportunity. "I'm only sixteen."
"A sixteen year old who I see can take care of herself. Now, if you wouldn't mind telling me...what is it you can do?"
She looked from Raven to Victor and back again. They may not be her best buddies yet, but she could tell they didn't intend to hurt her and they were the first people she'd met that were mutants. She would roll the dice.
"I can turn a switch on in my skin and when I touch people, I take their energy, their memories and their powers, I guess." She gestured her head to the side towards the unconscious man on the bed. "He'll be out for around four days. If I'd held on any longer I would have killed him."
"And you have his memories. That's how you steal. You know where his money is."
Marie nodded her head.
Raven smiled and moved her hands to Marie's shoulders.
"Oh, Marie. There is so much in store for you."
~ Present Day ~
Marie slung her legs over the side of the bed and spied the folder that contained the details of her assignment. Assignment. Made it sound like some innocuous school project. Marie had quickly realized after leaving that night with Victor and Raven that while her new life did, indeed, afford her luxuries, it also saddled her with the realization that her 'gift' was nothing more than a weapon to be used against other people.
Some mutants could fly. Others could heal. Even Raven's abilities could be used for great things despite the fact she used them to kill people. But not Marie's mutation. Its only purpose was to suck the life out of another human being. As Marie grew older and realized there was nothing else she could do, no other job that could afford her the independence and wealth that The Company provided, she'd accepted her fate and become the best weapon anyone had ever seen.
That made Erik Lensherr insanely happy.
Erik was the President, CEO, Master, Commander and Pied Piper of The Company. He took in any stray mutant he could find. It didn't matter if they had an amazing power or one that was less 'flashy', they all became a part of the organization in one way or another. But Marie was Erik's prize. He'd always supported her, allowed her time off when she couldn't face the idea of listening to another person's pain, gave her a shoulder to cry on and, more often lately, ended up on the receiving end of her finger as it poked into his chest.
The first time she'd killed was in self-defense. The second time was to ensure her escape. The third time was because she wanted to know what it would feel like to freeze something. After that, the mental switch she threw in order to shut off the emotion of taking another life was much like the switch she flipped to activate her power. Take out the target and don't think about who they were. Do it to live. Do it to be a part of something. Do it because it's all you're good for.
It was who she was. Marie. The Loner. The Rogue. The Assassin.
She opened the folder and looked down at the eyes that stared lifelessly back up at her; so brown and so intense.
Marie scanned the pertinent details again.
Real name; James Logan Howlett.
Fights under the alias Wolverine. Also known as Patch and Weapon X.
She knew exactly why Erik wanted her to take this assignment. Others had tried to kill Logan but failed miserably. He was practically indestructible and one mean son of a bitch to boot. The only way to eliminate him was to drain his life completely. He might be able to heal from a bullet or a stab wound, but he wouldn't be able to heal from the touch of death herself.
Marie changed her clothes, took one more look into the mirror and winked at her reflection. She looked like the perfect bait for a Wolverine.