Toad hurt in places he'd never even thought could feel pain. It was like his entire body was on fire... It probably was, damn that weather witch! His vision was hazy, he could observe dark figures hovering around him.
"I don't see why you had to rescue him. We don't need another mouth to feed." The voice was strained and hoarse, and Toad couldn't tell if it belonged to a man or a woman.
"Shut up, Masque. I lead The Tunnelers, not you." A strong, angry male voice cut in.
A blurry figure leaned forward, "I think he's coming too."
"Crap! Healer isn't finished yet, he'll be in agony!" That strong voice practically shouted.
"Regardless of my actions, Berzerker, he will be in agony." An elderly man's voice now.
Toad tried to move his tongue, to speak, to scream, but he couldn't control it. His tongue was on fire.
His eyes finally focused, and he realized that he was not among The X-Men. He was in a dark, dank tunnel, surrounded by strangers. A small fire set in a ancient brazier sat nearby, giving both light and much-needed heat. An old man with a beard was running his hands over his body, blue light flickering between the two surfaces, easing his pain.
A blue-haired Asian woman dressed in torn red clothing was leaning over him, looking at him in concern.
He recognized her at once.
Berzerker... Healer had called their leader Berzerker. Could it be the same man, after all this time?
His mind drifted back to Three Mile Island, where he and Berzerker and many others had been imprisoned, experimented on like rats, until they had been freed by Wolverine. Toad had joined The Brotherhood, and Berzerker had gone off to chase some pipe dream of a mutant sanctuary.
Toad looked toward the voice, he saw a tall, muscular man standing near him, eyes filled with worry. He was shirtless, odd in such a damp, cold place, revealing impressive muscles. He was wearing ragged blue jeans, though Toad couldn't see his feet, maybe he was barefoot.
Blue eyes gleamed in his handsome face, and his hair was shaped into ridiculously over-sized bright gold mohawk.
"Toad, can you hear me? Nod if you can hear me."
"He won't be able to speak until I can treat his tongue." The old man was getting hoarse, his features growing pale. "Perhaps I should do so now, I do not know how much longer I can expend this much energy.
Healer's hands moved over his mouth, tracing his long, charred and blackened tongue. The pain faded then vanished. Healer stood unsteadily for a moment, then fell, only to be caught by Berzerker.
"Go, rest." Berzerker said softly, "If you die, the whole tribe will suffer."
A large, insectoid creature resembling an oversized cockroach gently picked the old man up and carried him into the darkness.
Toad was still in agony, but the old man had eased it a great deal.
Berzerker leaned over Toad, "Toad... Do you remember me?"
"Y-yeah... Ray... Lil' Ray Carter."
Scaleface giggled. "Little Ray..."
"Toad, we're trying to help you. You've been badly burned..."
Berzerker frowned, he was trying not to sound patronizing.
"Scaleface took on her other form and pulled you out of the harbor."
"'Ow'd ya' know..."
"We have our own telepaths here. We know what Magneto put you up to, that's why the other tribes won't let you into the main Alley." His eyes suddenly turned hard, "Did he force you to do this?"
He knew Berzerker wouldn't like the answer, but he decided to be honest. "Nah, I did it f'r The Cause. He didn' force me inta' anythin'...We did it to protect mutants..."
There was a flicker of disappointment in Berzerker's handsome face, "I see."
"What 'bout the others?"
"Magneto was captured, Sabretooth is off licking his wounds somewhere and Mystique is shielded somehow."
"Mags' was captured?"
"I say leave him for the police." He turned slightly and saw Masque, a hooded, robed figure with half of it's face hideously deformed, as if by fire or acid. He still couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman, "He'll just bring the cops down on us."
"Masque, don't question my judgement!" Berzerker's angry voice echoed through the tunnels, "If you think you could better lead the tribe, then challenge me so that I can kill you and shut your mouth forever!"
Masque made a strained show of submission and disappeared into the shadows.
"Masque hates everyone. If he wasn't so useful, even The Drain Dwellers would have driven him out long ago." Berzerker muttered angrily.
"'Es a bloke?"
"I think so..." Berzerker shrugged, "Nobody really knows."
"So, ya' built y'r lil' kingdom?"
"The Morlocks were already here, I just organized this tribe. We Tunnelers build the world they live in, and protect them."
"'Ow long 'fore Healer can come back?"
"You were nearly dead when Scaleface brought you in. His energy is limited, he's not a young man. It may be a day, may be two or three. But don't worry, I sent Blowhard and Cybelle to steal some medicines for you, it should help the pain. If it's too much, we can have Bliss put you under again."
"I've 'ad worse..." He said weakly, honestly, this was the most physically painful experience of his life, but he couldn't show weakness, not even to an old friend.
Ray grunted, "Still the tough guy."
"What the 'ell happened to y'r hair?" Toad tried to change the subject.
"It reflects my rejection of human society." Berzerker ran a hand over his mohawk, "Besides, I kinda' like it."
" A lil' big, ain't it. Wat's it, a meter high?"
"You know I don't know the Metric System, America hasn't gotten around to teaching it yet..." He smiled, "'Heard NASA lost a multibillion dollar satellite 'cause they couldn't tell metric from standard."
"Bloody Yanks, always gotta' be different." Toad grunted. He noticed something unnerving, he was partially covered by a warm blanket, but he was naked underneath, "Where the 'ell are ma' clothes!"
Berzerker shrugged, "They were soaked, we took them off to dry them."
"Me and Healer. Don't worry, the girls didn't see a thing."
Toad pulled the blanket over his bare chest, "I don' like people lookin' at me..."
"I know, but we had to do it. You were nearly hyperthermic. Besides, people here don't judge on looks, Hell, you'd probably have a harem of adoring girls..."
"'Cept I'm a terrorist an' a murderer. An' I got a bad personality, I don' like people an' they don' like me."
"Hey, it's me you're talkin' to, Berzerker. I got that name for a reason, ya'know. My temper's pretty famous down here. Some people actually run when they see me."
"Ever kill anyone in cold blood, Ray?"
"I-I've," He looked at his feet, "I've killed, when I have to, like those perverts that tried to kidnap us, or that guy that attacked Scaleface."
"But 'ave you ever killed somebody jus' 'cause they were 'uman?"
"No." Ray looked a bit uncomfortable, he'd always hated hurting people, so Toad changed the subject.
"Ya' know, Ray, with a shower, a GOOD haircut an' some new clothes, you could prob'ly be a male model." Toad pulled the blanket down a bit, exposing his green, well muscled chest, "But n'body wan's to look at this."
"You always were too hard on yourself, Toad. There are probably a lot of women who'd find you attractive," He smiled, "Besides, you're too shy to be a male model."
"How can ya' walk around wit' no shirt in this icebox?"
"Scaleface and I, and the others, usually live in a warmer area of The Tunnels, and it's not as bad for me here as it probably is for you." He sighed, "We belong to a community, The Tunnelers are one tribe out of several, and most of the others don't want you to know where exactly they live. They're afraid you'll bring the police or Magneto or The X-Men on our heads. This is just a 'safe-house', an old smuggler's tunnel from Prohibition, away from the others."
"So, even here people don' trust me."
"Hell no! I'm an evil bastard. I'd a' jus' lemme drown."
"You don't have to evil, you know."
"It's too late fer me, Ray, you can't save me from what I've done."
"It's never too late to change."
"If I stayed here, Magneto'd come lookin' f'r me when 'e gets out, and he'd take over. Turn this whole place into a trainin' camp for his disciples. I don' want that to happen. This was yer dream, 'member?"
"That doesn't sound like something an evil man would say."
"Well, I owe ya' one... More'n one, prob'ly. I mus' be gettin' sentimental in my old age..."
"Maybe you actually have heart." Berzerker smiled.
"Nah, that X-bitch prob'ly fried some brain cells... I won't have a bloody 'eart when I get my hands on her." He looked up at the imposing Morlock, "Why'd ya' save me, knowin' what I was, what I was tryin' ta do?"
"Because we're old friends, I couldn't just let that witch kill you."
"Berzerker, we got the medicine."
They both turned to see an attractive, short haired black woman and a slightly overweight man puffing on a cork pipe and holding a large bag. Toad quickly pulled the blanket back up to cover his chest.
The woman, presumably Cybelle, chuckled, "Cute and shy."
Toad blushed dark green.
"Now, now, keep yer hormones in check, girlie." The man, Blowhard, handed the bag to Berzerker, "Ya' know how to use this stuff?"
"Some of it. Cybelle, would you go get Scaleface. She's better at first aid than I am." Berzerker shrugged, "Outside of Healer, we don't have much medical care, any medical knowledge is valuable. What we can't make or grow we have to steal."
Scaleface emerged from the darkness and began looking through the bag, "Looks like we have everything we could get, painkillers, salve for the burns..." She turned to Toad, "Would you rather Berzerker or I apply the salve."
Toad didn't like anyone touching him, but he didn't want a chick, even a chick he knew, seeing him naked, let alone putting her hands who-knows-where.
"Ray... Would ya'..."
Berzerker smirked a bit, "Of course, but remember, I've already got a mate."
Several days later,
Toad paused at the entrance of the old warehouse which sat above his make-shift 'hospital', and turned.
"Ray, thank you. An' thank Healer an' the others, too. Ya' didn't have to save m' sorry a**, but ya' did, an' I'm grateful."
Berzerker smiled, "Anything for a friend."
He watched sadly as Toad hopped off into the night, wishing he'd been able to convince him to stay. But Toad had been right, he was too well-known, too high-profile, someone would come for him, eventually, and Berzerker had to protect his people. He sincerely hoped he'd be okay, on his own.
Toad didn't look back, he couldn't, 'cause then he'd go back, and bring Hell upon his friend. All those years ago, when Ray had first suggested The Morlocks, he'd figured he was just hiding from the inevitable. Maybe he was, but Berzerker had turned out a damn sight better than he had.
Toad. Mortimer Toynbee, assassin, murderer, terrorist and Grade-A Bastard.
That was him.
He shook his head, it was too late for him. It had been too late since that day that young, naive green-skinned boy had decided to throw his lot in with Magneto. Since he'd sold his soul for a little respect and attention that he desperately needed and never gained.
"Good luck, mate... You deserve it." He whispered into the wind.
Notes: The Tunnelers are a sub-tribe of Morlocks led by Berzerker, they carve out new tunnels and homes for the other Morlocks. The Drain Dwellers are their term for the other Morlocks. Most of The Tunnelers look down on The Drain Dwellers as weak, but they'll protect them all the same.
Morlocks tend to use their 'mutant' names, but Berzerker lets Toad call him Ray because he doesn't know any better and they're old friends.