Sabretooth: Cutting Edge – Chapter 7 – Revelations and Fugue in D Minor

I think scars are beautiful
I think black is white
and I’m stuck between the hell I’m in
and where we lie
You say that this could kill you
your words cut like a knife
and we are the beautiful mistake
that I, I can’t fight

So I, I don’t care if it kills me tonight
‘cause I, I’ll be loving these scars for life
And I, I don’t care if it kills me tonight
‘cause I, I’ll be loving these scars for life

I think that we are chemical, I think the dark is light
And I know … each and every wrong you right
You say that this could kill you
your words cut like a knife
and we are the beautiful mistake
that I, I can’t fight

So I, I don’t care if it kills me tonight
‘cause I, I’ll be loving these scars for life
And I, I don’t care if it kills me tonight
‘cause I, I’ll be loving these scars for life

~ Scars (Alesso feat. Ryan Tedder)

*****************************************************************

Tony had an appointment with Mr. Obinata, and everyone knew he was rich enough to get one, yet he still ended up having to wait in the executive lounge of the exclusive floor that most customers of the Ryu Bank would never see.

Right at the end of the corporate work day was exactly where he would make an appointment for someone he never intended to see. It had been an hour now, his slouch was going to wrinkle his blue pinstripe bespoke suit and navy coat, and he couldn’t shake the idea that the banker was punishing him somehow. How much did he know about his time with Victor?

One shoe tapped against the silver and black state-of-the-art briefcase next to his chair. It was a prototype of a portable suit, not quite ready for curtain call, but better than nothing – just in case. He was hoping the business relationship he’d sort of formed with Obinata and Victor would render it an unnecessary precaution.

“Mr. Stark?” a pretty personal assistant type asked as she walked in.

Tony raised his hand and waved it to make a point. He was the only person in the fancy Art Deco room.

“Mr. Obinata will see you now, sir. Please follow me.”

Will, not can, he thought.

He got up, grabbed the briefcase, and followed as she talked in a matter-of-fact efficient tone.

“Mr. Obinata does not shake hands, apologies. He has a full schedule this evening, so please be as succinct as you can.”

“I’ll do my best.” She was new and apparently unaware he’d done all of this before. How many assistants does this guy go through in a year?

The New York branch of the Ryu Bank at 37 Central Park South was a monstrously tall building that had found an almost arcane balance between modern architecture and Art Deco. It looked quite odd, especially with the elegant Park Lane Hotel next door, but the interiors were calculated to awe – maybe even intimidate.

Tony was more impressed that it was not only one of many, but new branches were opening across the globe at a near alarming rate. So far, he’d seen four of them personally and every one was different with at least one oddly similar condition: an old building bought and renovated, but rarely altered. This one was not the oldest of them, according to JARVIS, but it was the first one Ryu Obinata had acquired to become his original flagship bank.

Obinata himself had to be a mutant; it was the only explanation that fit what the man could do. At least once, Tony knew the small Japanese banker had been in this building and in the time it had taken him to travel to Tokyo, breaking the sound barrier along the way in the suit, Obinata had arrived in that branch before Tony did.

It’s freakish how smart he is, too – like he has a computer for a brain. I’m not sure the other boardmembers are even real people and that’s maybe only one of many reasons they made me swear not to snoop as a condition of our agreement. Can he really run an organization of this scope alone? More importantly, is he Victor’s business partner, or his boss? Either way, he’s the man who sits on the throne while the lethal feral mutant lurks behind it in secret. I wonder what the real dynamic between them is like.

His guide had reached the huge oak Art Deco double doors with long and curling angular brass handles. As they started to open, he shook his head again over how thick they were and wondered if they hid a steel core.

“Please come in. Mr. Stark to see you, sir,” she announced as she opened both doors and swung them inside the vast office.

Tony didn’t waste time admiring the room. He’d seen it before, and he knew the banker would find any excuse to hurry him off.

Succinct, my ass. “Good evening, Mr. Obinata!” he greeted the man cheerfully as the doors thunked closed behind him.

“Kon’nichiwa, Stark-san. I am afraid I haven’t the time I would like for your visit.” The iron stare was chilling behind those thin metal frame glasses. “How may I be of service?”

Joining him at the long conference table in front of the rows of narrow windows, Tony sat in a chair when he did. The briefcase went under the table within easy reach.

“I came to ask you about Victor Creed. There are things I need to know in order for our agreement to continue, and I hope you’ll help me.”

“That is not a person I am at liberty to spill secrets about. I may have only a few minutes to spare, and truly if you were not you – I wouldn’t have agreed to meet today.”

Tony leaned his forearms on the table and cut to the chase. “The Halloween Carnaval event – why was he there, or was it just to stalk me again?”

“Creed-san went to West Hollywood to assassinate Osiris – but he took the job to protect you.”

“Who ordered the hit on Osiris?”

“I did.”

Startled, he sat up straight again. “Why?”

“He was a dangerous killer.”

“So is Victor.”

“Oh yes, but … Creed-san is so much more.”

“Tell me then, tell me about that. I’ve earned it.”

“Have you? I wonder. Yet that is for him to decide.”

“I’m not leaving until I get some kind of a real answer. He asked me if I ever learned anything about what he is – so … this is me trying to do that. Be a pal, toss me a bone.”

“Feel free to ask my next appointment, if you wish.”

“Your next –”

The heavy double doors were struck and swung inward fast. One of the handles hit the wall, shattering the strike plate and leaving a dent as Victor Creed stormed in – the proverbial bull in a china shop.

“Why tha fuck didn’t ya tell me when he called, Obinata? Coulda intercepted –” Victor shouted. Belatedly, his eyes locked onto Tony’s and both of them froze.

“I knew you would have dropped everything, and Paris was important. Stark-san was not here this morning, a little white lie on my part. He is here now and you need to settle this.”

The banker rose from the conference table and walked calmly past them to the open doors. His personal assistant reappeared, looking spooked, and helped him grab and begin to close them.

“Don’t ya walk out on me,” Victor threatened, a growl chasing the words. “Coulda told tha bastard t’ fuck off!”

“I am sorry, my friend. You need this. I will see you in Helsinki.”

The doors closed and they were alone. Tony stared at Victor, taking it all in – the rage, the glare, and the growls – and tried to breathe as everything he wanted to say slipped out of his mind.

He’s … magnificent. Claws were curling: long, shiny, and sharp, from his thick long fingers. There’s the huge black coat from that photo, and it’s bespoke, it has to be.

Victor’s ears were pinned down, the expressive face twisted into a snarl. He wore the same style, jeans and a vintage Black Sabbath t-shirt, with the same big boots. The long hair was braided, but the beads hanging around his face were fancier, and some were carved bone.

“How soon is SHIELD landin’ on tha roof, Stark.”

“They’re not, it’s just me.”

“On my turf, botherin’ my friend – I’m ‘sposed t’ believe that? Came fer information, on how t’ catch me, maybe?”

“Information, yes, but just to learn about you. I know a big part of our agreement for you was that my appointments would be set up in advance and agreed to, but I needed answers, especially after what you said about not knowing you. I need to understand you.”

“Bullshit.”

Tony sucked in a breath. He wanted to hit himself, but he couldn’t help it – he was getting hard and he wanted the frightening feral more than he ever had.

This is nuts, but being in the same room again, damn – just look at him!

He took it all in and couldn’t wipe the smirk off of his face as he saw Victor catch the scent, watched him check and hesitate.

Something wild crested in Tony when Victor hissed instead of growing calmer. He didn’t want the mutant to submit or obey – he wanted the beast.

“Do you want to cut me with those claws? Gut me?”

Tony stripped off his coat and turned to toss it on the polished wood table. At his ear, Obinata’s waterfall that ran down one wall was rushing and splashing into the rock garden under it.

As he turned back, he gasped and might have cried out, but Victor was on him. One large fist grabbed the silk tie and squeezed, just shy of throttling him. His mind reeling, he grabbed the thick wrists and tried not to struggle.

Victor’s sniff was chased by a snarl. “Lotta metal an’ tech packed in that briefcase. What tha fuck do ya think yer doin’?”

“I don’t know,” Tony fought to answer. “I have no idea. I just want … you. I need to get you out of my head.”

“Fuckin’ insane, comin’ here like this.”

“If I crossed a line I shouldn’t have, I apologize. We can discuss it after you allow me to breathe a little more?”

He was bent back over the table as he heard Victor’s boot kick the briefcase to the wall on the other side, where it hit with a thud. Breathing was getting more challenging, but the press of Victor’s hard cock against his body through their clothes shattered his thoughts and his caution. At the same moment, he realized something surprising: he didn’t feel afraid. He felt exhilarated. Victor’s eyes narrowed and Tony would bet the next sniff was also figuring that out.

“Oughta gut ya, ya arrogant sonovabitch,” Victor rasped at him, glaring into his eyes. “I created this with ‘im – ya don’t threaten ‘im an’ ya don’t belong here!”

“What … the … hell…” Tony’s mental gears spun. “I didn’t,” he struggled to say as the tie was pulled tighter. “Victor – I can’t … breathe…”

Yanking him up, Victor used his grip on the tie to half-sling him into a stumbling backward retreat. Tony gasped for air, fingers working at the tightened knot as he continued to back up. He couldn’t get it loosened to remove it, so he pulled at it to make the loop wider.

Victor’s advance was frightening, and fear finally slipped into his blood. This must be what it’s like for the people he kills… The accusation stunned him. I didn’t threaten Obinata – did he tell Victor I did? Is he trying to get me murdered?

The sickening memory of watching the mutant eat the other assassin’s organ twisted in his stomach as the horror of being eaten clouded and blunted his mind.

Tony stumbled again and almost slipped on wet rocks. The moment that he was hit by falling water, his back struck the rock wall. He spluttered a moment before he realized he could hold his head out of it as the water crashed over his neck and shoulders, soaking him in an instant. Victor pulled off his coat, threw it on the floor, and stalked right after him onto the rocks and into the splash and spray.

“I don’t know what he told you,” Tony said, already starting to shudder in the cold water, “but I didn’t threaten him. I didn’t even talk to him until I got into this office, he wouldn’t take the call. I was pawned off on the assistant, and told he wouldn’t see me. I pushed.”

The mutant advanced until the hands Tony held out to ward him off were pressed against the barrel chest. One of the clawed hands landed on the rock wall, the claws piercing it. The other gripped the knot of the tie, holding it like a threat without twisting it tight again.

“I was told to come in but warned he didn’t have much time to give me. He said he wouldn’t talk about you, all he said was he ordered the hit on Osiris, and you took the job to protect me. He told me I should ask his next appointment about you, and I guess … that’s you.” Tony panted under the stream of water as his breathing shortened in fear. The spray hit his hands and Victor’s chest, soaking the mutant’s clothes. “You took that job to save my life – you don’t want to hurt me. Please talk to me…”

In a mad attempt to change the situation, he moved one hand and brushed over a stiff nipple with his thumb. Raising the other hand higher, his fingertips settled on the collarbone. He forced himself to think about the bed games they’d played together and the times the mutant had saved him or soothed him.

“Gonna have smoke comin’ out yer ears in a minute – I can almost hear tha gears grindin’ in there. Tryin’ awful hard t’ spark yer heat up again, ain’t ya? Cuz ya think it’ll make a diff’rence, get me t’ back off … or turn me int’ yer ass puppet?”

“If he said I threatened him, he lied to you, to provoke you. Why would he do that?”

“I asked first.”

“No, I don’t want to control you, I never did. What we’ve done, that doesn’t count the same way, don’t you understand that? You liked it, and I found out that I … like it too, but making you obey in sex – Victor, that’s just a game. I can’t ‘make you’ do anything. You proved that on Halloween, just like you are now. You’re doing your utmost to scare me to death, and hey – progress – but a few minutes ago, I wanted you to push me down onto that table for a very different reason, and I know you understand that.”

Shivering again, his shoulders and neck starting to feel numb, he held Victor’s stare.

“He probly lied t’ get me here damn quick. Been moody an’ mopey – he don’t think it’s healthy fer business, can make me sloppy. Workin’ up a good mad burns that shit out.”

“At my grisly expense?”

“Yer still in one piece, ain’t ya? ‘Steada three rather large pieces…” Victor cocked his head at him with what might have been a smirk tugging at one corner of his mouth. “Still tryin’ t’ get yer heat back up? Lemme help.”

A claw slashed through the loop of the silk tie before they all retracted and the thick fingers began to unbutton his pale yellow dress shirt.

The water swept the remains of the tie away as lethal hands opened the shirt. Blue light from the arc reactor struck the mutant’s pupils and turned them into slits.

“Good thing I already know yer Lite-Brite won’t electrocute us in water, huh? Did my homework.”

“You wanted hypothermia to get me all along, I see that now.”

“Gonna warm ya up quick, don’t ya worry none ‘bout that.”

Tony gasped and clutched at the broad shoulders as Victor ducked down to rake his barbed tongue over both of his nipples.

“So just like that,” he muttered over the wet blonde hair, “your murderous avenging rage is gone and we’re done with it?”

The tongue scraped up his abdomen next and Tony writhed under it. The fear exploded into lust before his brain could catch up, and without pausing to consider if he had a green light or not, Victor hit his knees on the rocks and tugged to open belt and zipper.

“If ya miss tha murderous rage, keep talkin’. If not, shut up an’ enjoy, motormouth. Gonna suck this cock ‘til I’m done with it, then I’m takin’ ya up t’ tha suite t’ dig int’ that ass – fuck what ya want.”

Tony didn’t try to protest. He wanted it too much, and they both knew it.

As the insane pleasure began again, paling his memory of it, he let his hands hold the mutant’s head. When his fingers gripped some of the wet hair and tugged it, the purr nearly brought him to his knees. Victor held his hips still, pinning him to the rock wall. Even in anger, he was keeping him from harm.

The cold seeped into his bones and before long the pleasure was all he could feel. It defined his world, even as it tore him away from it.

~ ~ ~

Tony pushed back into Victor’s body above him for the warmth of it as much as to make him push that thick cock deeper inside him.

It was the second time Victor had remained buried until he could begin again and the first time he’d done it, Tony had struggled to get free just to know how it felt when the growling beast wouldn’t allow it.

The hand, claws flexed back to only prick the flesh on either side of his spine, had pushed him down. Growls had moved the hairs behind an ear. Then the teeth had pinched the skin at the back of his neck, the needle points holding him with a sharp threat as the thrusts began again.

That had been the moment. The teeth. The claws. Being held down for that relentless cock – Tony had moaned and come so hard it made him choke. That was when he knew there might not be a way to rid himself of wanting Victor.

Back up on his hands and knees now where he had been pulled for round three, he didn’t care about being a wet mess or whether or not it would ever stop. He hadn’t been hurt except in little ways he couldn’t help craving and burning Victor’s anger out by wallowing in pleasure was exhilarating.

He gritted his teeth when the mutant gripped his cock and jacked it in time with his thrusts. The hand moved just before he came, and caught it all. Knowing what he would do, Tony glanced over his shoulder to watch as the freakishly long tongue cleaned it off in one sloppy lick.

Their eyes met and Victor held his gaze as he came inside. The growls sent shivers up Tony’s spine that had nothing to do with the cold.

He didn’t comment, but he was a little relieved when the mutant finally pulled free and let him collapse under him. With a little effort, he rolled to his back, worn out and breathless.

Still perched on his knees, Victor ordered, “Spread.”

Again without comment, all for giving him what he wanted, Tony spread his legs and watched as the blonde settled on his belly between them to clean him up with that obscene and gifted tongue.

When he finished, and Tony was basted in saliva from the inside to half the distance up to his chest, Victor moved and settled at last next to him. Leaning on an elbow, hand propping up his head, the narrowed cat eyes studied him almost warily.

“You’re still angry,” Tony spoke calmly under that intense stare. “Can’t you just tell me why? I thought we fixed that misunderstanding down in the office. Tell me anything – let me know what you want me to know. I’m not a mind reader.”

Victor growled and turned away, flopping onto his back.

Tony sighed. “I mean that in the universal pillow talk ‘I’m not a mind reader’ sense. I suppose you’ve dealt with real mind readers, it wasn’t a good experience, and if I’m going to keep putting so many feet in my mouth, I’ll need a bigger mouth.”

“Yer pie hole is plenty big ‘nuff already.”

“You used to like my endless babbling,” he teased. “Is the honeymoon phase of the stalking over already?”

Victor growled again – one of the less sexy and more worrisome ones. “Raced back here from Europe t’ deal with yer trespassin’; blew my fuel plan all t’ hell, an’ tha schedule’s next if I can’t get back over there in good time.”

Tony ignored the next growl and cuddled in for the warmth factor. “Technically, I made an appointment which your partner, perhaps reluctantly, did agree to. How could I know he didn’t get your vote – let alone that he would lie to you to make you come here to ‘deal with me’. If he was just trying to get you laid to cure the grumpy blues, that may classify as the weirdest wingman ploy in hook up history. Not to mention that I don’t recall agreeing to the idea of telling other people about ‘us’ – whatever this mess is that makes up an ‘us’.”

“Didn’t tell ‘im shit ‘bout what happened, but he knows I like t’ stalk ya. Fer a brain like that an’ knowin’ me so well, probly lotsa stuff that’s easy t’ fig out.”

“So you’re friends – actual real friends? You were angry in a ‘don’t threaten someone I care about’ way. He’s your Rhodey.”

“Yup. I do got ‘actual friends’.”

“I see that now. I’m sorry, but you both often sound like you take turns being the boss of the other person. It was a bit hard to sort out.”

“He’s tha reason I’m more’n just a kneecap mook an’ petty hitman. Folks think I keep my pay here, or they think I’m Obinata’s personal assassin. Me an’ ‘im, our association ain’t public or private knowledge, an’ if any-fuckin’-body asks, ya tell ‘em ya dunno shit. Got it?”

“Got it. ‘Mook’, huh?” Tony chuckled. “Nobody says ‘mook’ anymore.”

“Gonna start callin’ me stupid? Don’t recommend it outside o’ a robot suit.”

Sighing, Tony sat up and moved to half-drape himself over the furry chest. The prototype suit in the briefcase was still on the floor where he’d dropped it when Victor had picked him up to throw him onto the bed.

“Your anachronisms are fun. I’m not mocking you and I wouldn’t call you stupid, because you aren’t.”

“But if’n I was, ya would,” Victor responded, still frowning.

“Probably – maybe not to your face, I choose life.” The glare that won him quickly melted into a surprising expression of dejection. “Hey, I’m kidding. I do make jokes about people’s varied ineptitudes to their faces. Trust me, you’d know – I have no shame.”

“Folks always look at me funny fer how I talk. Ya do, too.”

“The accent and ghastly grammar are pure entertainment, but I’m smart enough to know that isn’t a gauge for IQ. I like it, I swear – I get tired of being around pretentious blowhards. Have you ever been tested? For IQ?”

“Yup, years ago.”

“What was your number?”

“None o’ yer damn biz, genius.”

Tony frowned and looked away, glancing around the room. “Fine. This … is a crazy impressive suite. Do you always sock away one of these on top of your bank towers?”

“Yup. We sock away two, ‘is an’ mine.”

“Never an ‘ours’?” He winked at the blonde. “All that bossing each other around could be called your romantic tell.”

“Ya fuck Rhodey?”

“No. So…?”

“Naw, we ain’t that kinda friends. He’s pretty much tha exact opposite o’ me sex-wise.”

“Does that mean he doesn’t force people, or doesn’t eat them afterward?”

The amber eyes narrowed again. “Yer cruisin’, ain’t ya? Yer sittin’ in a real shitty spot t’ be baitin’ me.”

“Leaning against your ribs?”

“Within reach.”

“You wanted me to learn about you beyond your crimes. Your friend wouldn’t tell me anything and you’ve been dodging my ‘ask nice’. What’s up with that?”

“Get offa me.”

“No.”

Before the lips could peel back in a snarl, Tony leaned in and kissed them, licking the hard line between them to get into that warm and deadly mouth.

“Come on, honey … let me in.”

He stroked the chest and pinched a nipple, smiling at how easy it was to get the kiss he wanted once the growl switched over to lust.

“Didn’t you have this one pierced at that carnival? What happened with that?”

“I tore it out.”

“Ouch, geez… Why?” The cold stare met his and Tony sighed. “Of course, you’re not going to tell me. Fine. I’ll just go back to this.”

He turned the kiss into a decent making out and as the mutant finally began to relax, he moved his head to whisper into the pointed and twitching ear.

“On your belly for me, honey; it’s my turn to dig in.”

Tony got out of the way, half expecting his companion to get up and escape. When Victor rolled and spread his legs, Tony began to stroke his body anywhere he could reach, but the purr didn’t start up.

“That’s it,” Tony murmured over him, “let me, I need it. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Raise your knee higher for me, so I can reach everything. Oh that’s nice. Yeah…”

Victor folded his thick muscular arms in the pillows and buried his face in them. He mumbled something Tony couldn’t hear.

“Tell me again, honey…”

*****************************************************************

Victor spoke up, ignoring his twisting stomach. “Why do ya call me that?”

“Habit? I’m superficially affectionate. Pet names are fun?”

“I ain’t yer pet.”

“Figure of speech.”

Victor swallowed a retort just to eventually get that cock shoved where he wanted it. It was hard to control the growls, but then he didn’t bother.

Tha fool likes ‘em, so why fuss?

He closed his hidden eyes when the bright voice whispered in his ear again.

“Victor, let me know you want this.”

“What diff’rence does it make?”

“It matters.”

“It don’t.”

He hissed when Tony got up, stopped touching him, and left the bed. Frustration rumbled in his chest. It would be over soon, and he knew he would hate himself if he never got to feel the man inside him again.

“Tell me why.”

Victor lifted his head with all of the fangs on display. “Yer just gettin’ me outta yer system, ain’t that right?”

Tony frowned and held a hand out about five and a half feet from the floor, almost level with his temple.

“People have to be at least this tall to ride your mood swings.”

Angry at Tony and himself, Victor saw how this could go, but the fear of losing control and hurting the man won out. He didn’t move, but lowered his head to watch that beautiful body as he stood there.

Tha calls will stop. He won’t answer ‘em – ya know that. It’s comin’. Try t’ hold tha tide from comin’ in an’ ya drown. Why’d I do this? “Why did I…” he whispered.

“Victor … tell me one thing that you’re feeling or thinking right now. Just one thing. Try. Please. Why did you feel angry again? Don’t think about it, just say the next thing.”

“I feel like one o’ those bullshit exhibits where they tranq dart one o’ tha lions so some rich bastard’s brat can pet it.”

He watched Tony’s posture stiffen and then deflate; he looked … bewildered.

“I… Why do you feel like that? We trade off, it’s what we do.”

Victor wanted to shut up, he wanted to leave. He didn’t do either.

“I’m a novelty toy from a Cracker Jack box: play with it fer five minutes an’ toss it away. That’s why it don’t matter. Ain’t nothin’ I never seen before, happens a lot.”

“Do you want me to leave? If you don’t, you have to tell me what you want, because that matters to me.”

He couldn’t answer. He couldn’t answer and Tony would leave. He turned his head and closed his eyes.

When those gifted hands touched his back, it felt different somehow. He twitched at first and they had hesitated, but then they were gently stroking.

“I wish I could learn your language. I wish I could help. What are you thinking?”

“Ya can’t help. This could kill me. All yer kind ever ends up wantin’ is t’ change me, an’ ya call that ‘help’,” Victor muttered into the bedding. “Toe tha line, do what we say, be what we say. Don’t be what ya are … a filthy animal.”

The hands stroked and soothed, but they wouldn’t stay.

“Animals aren’t filthy. Victor, do you want this? I want it, I want you. Purr for yes…?”

One hand settled in the cleft of his ass. It didn’t matter. It was already over.

“Yes,” he whispered.

It wasn’t rough, but he knew he would remember every detail of it … because it was the last.

When it ended, Tony kissed him on his brow as he left him lying there. “You need sleep.”

Victor rolled to his back and stared up at the ceiling. As Tony moved around the suite picking up his things, he focused on the sound of the arc reactor spinning in the man’s chest. Between one breath and the next, he thought about killing him so he couldn’t leave. His stomach twisted again and the healing factor didn’t stop it.

He sat up and hissed softly when his hair snagged inside the messy braid. Unwinding it impatiently, he let it fall where it would, half-tangled. He got up and went to the window to look out at the park. One hand rose to press against the glass as the other touched the precious beads fixed into the hair around his face. As he often did, a fingertip touched each of the eleven carved white roses in the old piece of cylindrical femur bone. It helped him to calm himself.

It was still dark, though not to his eyes. Dawn was already threatening to give the world back to the others … to the humans. Behind him, one of the ‘princes of men’, as his mate used to call them, had gone still to watch him.

The subtle scent of heat rose to devil him, but he knew it wouldn’t make the man stay. Old words, spoken in French, rose in his thoughts and his heart ached to hear the memory of his mate.

They won’t understand you, boy – they’ll only seek to dominate, to drive away, to kill… Wild things are their enemy. This is why they scar the plains, forests, and mountains with cut wood and lines of steel. If you stand in their path, they will find a way to cut you down. Be wild, stay hidden, live – and always remember…

*****************************************************************

Tony gathered up his clothes and dressed again as a way to force himself to stop watching Victor as he stood nude in front of the floor-to-ceiling wall of window that looked out over Central Park. His long gold blonde hair was loose and surprisingly curly here and there. The carved bone beads were still in the strands and braids around his face. When he touched them, he looked so lost.

Whoever Victor had entrusted their clothes to had done a fine job. Even the leather two-tone blue and yellow brogue Oxfords were dry and gleaming. He’d found his suit hanging in plastic by the front doors and no one would be able to tell that he had been ravished in it under a waterfall downstairs. There was even a new silk tie that matched his daring fashion sense.

He had declined breakfast, and that was when the moody had seeped back into the feral mutant.

“You needed to get back to Europe fast. Where are you headed next? Helsinki?”

In the time it took to get a reply, he got his coat on and checked that his wallet, phone, and keys were in the pockets where he’d left them.

“Helsinki,” Victor muttered. “Back t’ Paris, after. Then Nepal.”

“Eclectic itinerary.” He glanced at his watch after slipping it on, glad it was waterproof. “I have to go.”

Victor turned to face him. The sun wasn’t up yet, but the sky was beginning to grow paler behind him.

The mutant’s body was a glorious distraction. The cock was hard enough to stand out from his pelvis, but too heavy to rise very high.

“Did you find that person who hired Osiris? Or should I remain on my toes?”

“Moscow had nothin’. Asswipe Egyptian might coulda been lyin’. I’ll find tha Fixer, but yeah – stay on yer toes, since I ain’t gonna be ‘round t’ watch yer back. May spread a lie ‘bout wantin’ t’ sign up with Hydra – could get ‘em t’ find me.”

Tony made himself turn away when all he wanted to do was strip again. “Don’t be a stranger,” he spoke into the silence as he picked up the briefcase and walked out.

The fact that a conveniently placed member of security helped him find the groundfloor lobby was no surprise at all.

When he reached his car in the parking garage behind the tower, he sat there for a few minutes and tried to relax. Other people were parking and walking by to get to work, and many of them stared at the bright orange curves of the Saleen S7 supercar.

Tony started it up and the twin turbo powerplant feeding the monster’s engine roared and purred. It was a prototype too, a rare thing of feral beauty with engine power boosted to 750 hp and a top speed of 248 mph. The upgrades might not see full production for two years yet.

I should go back to JFK and fly on home, but I never did get the answers I came for. My personal Gordian Knot is a mess, but I do know one person not far from here who could help me untangle it. Someone capable of objectivity who is considerably less loyal to Victor than Frankenbanker, and he’s had experience dealing with the feral mutant in question. It takes one to know one.

Central Park South was already too flooded with humanity as he exited the garage, so he’d have to save playing with the 0–60 miles per hour in 3.3 seconds feature for later.

“Westchester, here I come.”

He got to I-87 as soon as he could legally, and began to break the speed limit with a vengeance.

~ ~ ~

Tony was glad Scott Summers didn’t stay after greeting him at the door, listening to him babble about not having an appointment, and escorting him to McCoy’s lab. After asking the man how the defense systems he’d installed for them were working, he got a two word response: ‘Just fine.’

I’ve met drill sergeants with more bubbly personalities. Is the ‘grumpy no talking’ thing a mutant staple? At least I know Hank is immune.

It was also a good thing he’d already seen the science lab underneath Xavier’s home and school, or he would have been too distracted by its toys to stay on target.

When Hank greeted him, slightly distracted, Tony assured him that he could wait while he found a stopping place in his work. It was odd to be on the other end of that situation for once. He found a tall stool and sat on it, relying on his poker face to avoid wincing. The ache in his body felt good though – at odds with the turmoil of thwarted curiosity in his head.

The table next to him had a lamp clamped onto it – that had a distinct lean to it. To escape the urge to tinker with it, he looked up to watch the biochemist work with beakers and smoking test tubes. He was even holding one of them with his toes.

Dr. Henry “Hank” Philip McCoy, a.k.a. the Beast, certainly looked like one, with the animalian features and abilities. His similarities to Victor put Tony oddly on edge – long pointed ears that moved, fangs, retractable claws, and lots of fur, more fur even, although Hank’s was a dark blue. He wore rectangular glasses over bright blue (and normal) eyes that betrayed what he really was inside all of that feral and simian mutation: a kind and good man, with a mind as brilliant as Tony’s and an expert in more than one field of science, including biochemistry and biophysics.

Tony knew him reasonably well by now, and any time he needed to come here for business, he never missed a visit.

At times, they didn’t see eye to eye on how to go about the game of saving the world, and Hank had what Tony considered a restrictingly myopic focus on mutant affairs. Then again, it was Hank’s rights being threatened here and there as governments struggled to find a way to handle ‘the mutant problem’. He’d always preferred to drag the other man into scientific topics, but now he’d come to discuss his own mutant problem.

Poking the lamp, he watched it list the other way. The noise it made seemed to remind the biochemist that he was there, and Hank set things down to face him. He wore white scrub pants, a t-shirt with Einstein on it, and a long white lab coat. As they both stood to shake hands, Hank was only slightly taller, but Tony knew he weighed just north of 400 pounds – another odd similarity to Victor’s massive 385 pound metal-enhanced frame.

“May I get you anything?”

Tony reclaimed his stool, discovered it swiveled, and attempted to resist spinning around on it.

“Besides that lamp? The clamp is loose. No, I’m fine. I’m trying not to randomly fix anything you may not want fixed, so I plan to just sit here and fidget.”

Hank pushed up his glasses and blinked. “I meant something to drink? Ice water, soda? Anything more exciting than that is upstairs, I’m afraid – unless you like herbal tea.”

“Oh, got it – ah, no, still fine. My reputation precedes me, I see. I’ve seen the professor’s liquor cabinets – impressive. I didn’t realize he was a connoisseur of both elite booze and charming swill.”

Hank smiled; he was the very soul of politeness. “The swill is kept stocked for Logan. What can I do for your project, Tony?”

“There is no project. Well, there are many, but that’s not why I’m here. I need information. I’d like to get it from you, in particular, and can I have your word that this will be confidential?”

“Certainly – on all counts. How may I help?”

“I need to know anything you have on Victor Creed that explains, well, what he is?”

“Ah, Herr ‘Toothmonger. First, may I ask why you need this information? A good deal of what I know is already confidential, you see.”

“I understand. Reader’s Digest version: He destroyed the Hydra jet that was shooting at me and then didn’t let me die of hypothermia while I was trying not to have a literal heart attack. Apparently he did it because he wanted my help in taking out the Hydra base, which we did. One of the prisoners I was rounding up shot his own people and then bit a cyanide capsule in his mouth so they couldn’t be questioned. Creed – tore him to wet scraps right in front of me. I had to clean the joints of my suit with Q-tips, rubbing alcohol, and canned air. Paradoxically, Creed found the pilot they stole the jet from and saved his life.”

“Quite a mixed bag.”

“Apparently that’s a theme for him. The next time I ran into him was at an event in California, where I was a reluctant eyewitness again. Creed had killed a man who was trying to assassinate me and when I tracked him down, I saw him cut into the body. He grabbed the liver and was … eating it. I panicked … and told him I was going to have SHIELD pick him up, but he escaped.”

“SHIELD likely can’t handle him – not while he’s bonded with Adamantium, at any rate.”

“That’s what he said, near enough. He told me I liked to read about crimes he’s been accused of, but had I read anything about what he is? Well, INTERPOL, the NSA, the CIA, the military, the whole alphabet, you name it: all they have on him is crimes and allegations.”

“That is their job and he is a coveted collar, for certain. Gumshoes and G-men aren’t interested in what he is, only how to stop or contain him – or use him for nefarious purposes.”

“The X-Factor thing, nearly wiping them out via triggered brainwashing, I remember.”

“The Weapon X Program, and also the Hound Program – we still don’t know the extent of that.”

“Yeah, that sort of mess is why I’m never handing a suit over to the government. The safest hands are mine.”

“I personally believe Victor is safest in his own hands, technically, and while he’s not ‘safe’ by any means, when others put puppet strings on him, even X-Factor, he becomes far more dangerous. He values freedom over anything else.”

“I have to agree with him. He’s a feral mutant like Logan, and you for that matter, I get that. I want to know what he meant about finding out more. What is he?”

“To begin with, none of us are the same sort. Environment and nature or nurture, as well as mutation all play a part. I was born a mutant, without the extreme simian or feral features and fur. That came later. I also had a good family and a decent life through most of high school. Once I moved here as a student, life was good again. I was also born in our modern age. Logan remembers little of his past, but clearly has endured much trauma and hardship.”

“He’s older too, isn’t he? Somewhere in the misty 1800s?”

“Yes, although we aren’t sure on details. Victor … has likely had little if any nurture, a great deal too much nature, and trauma in spades, far beyond what the Weapon X Program did. He experienced scarce positive human interaction during his formative years. Up to age five, the foundation of the brain’s wiring and most aspects of self-view, personality, and how one views other people and the world is already set. If that period was traumatic and the abilities to love and trust were not formed in healthy ways, then that is the foundation one is more or less stuck with and learning to rise above it can take a lifetime.”

“I’m textbook for that in the absent/indifferent father category, so … that makes sense. What about how modern he can be verses how archaic he is?”

“He remembers most of his past and the ways of the 1800s and 1900s. People are generally culturally stamped by the decade of their golden years; we have no clear knowledge of when that was for Victor. Yet he was a young man at the start of the 1900s, and that spirit of change, of innovation, may have helped to form his interest in cutting edge new things, such as, well … you.”

“Yeah… Ah… Nearly anyone I ask says he’s ‘just an evil version of Wolverine’. I don’t accept that, entirely, and since Logan kills a lot of people, I’m not sure why he isn’t tucked cozily into a spot right next to Creed on the wanted posters. However … I just need to know the facts. How much alike are they, really?”

“The facts are, that he isn’t much like Logan at all – the broader brush strokes, perhaps, but looking closer, the differences are quite immense. No mutation is the same, as I said, but in Victor, it was a very intense change. Without the healing factor as part of the package deal, I’m not sure he could have survived it.”

“Okay, now to the good stuff – I’ll trade you in tech, I’ll even fix your lamp.”

“No trade is necessary, but I should ask: what do you plan to do with this information?”

“I need to decide what to do about him. Your people managed to contain him for quite a while. Then Professor Xavier arranged to have him serve for his crimes by working for X-Factor, which ended badly – mostly the fault of the Hound Program, but still.”

“Many authorities tried to pressure Professor Xavier to hand Victor over to be executed, but so many have tried that and failed. We wanted to try rehabilitation, but we were clearly out of our depth. X-Factor with security measures was a compromise, a tampered-with one, which also failed. As I said – puppet strings of any sort are a bad idea.”

“Well, I may have a more radical idea in mind. No puppet strings, no zap collars, no prisons. I just need to wrap my head around the problem before I can sort out how to solve it.”

Hank crossed his arms over his chest and tapped his lower lip with one finger. “I am intrigued.”

“Me, too. But first, another biological issue: I have data that Hydra captured him once and tortured him for a week – the freak that did it managed to leave scars that regrow if he cuts them away. It explains why he hates Hydra so much, but why was that even possible, to scar him? I’d like to know that.”

“So would I. Assuming you are referring to the small circular clusters of ridged scars along his lower abdomen?” When Tony nodded, he added, “I could never get him to talk about them, and the professor didn’t consider it a direction necessary to go in with his sessions.”

“I’d call it necessary. I can prove Creed prevented a thermonuclear war while I was a kid – that happened because he wanted revenge on the torturer. There are too many dichotomies here where he decides to do the right thing to just write him off and throw away the key. I just … want to understand.”

“Then we should begin with the basics. I am a hominid type mutant, taking after the great apes. What Victor is – biologically – is a felid type feral mutant. Logan is a canid, not felid.”

“So I should study lions, tigers, and wolves, oh my?”

“You could, yes. Victor’s mutation is also more extensive than Logan’s or mine, and much of his body’s systems and structures are only vaguely similar to human or not similar at all. In addition, mutants run high to a condition called chromosomal polymorphism, where one species contains members with varying chromosome counts or shapes.”

“That’s not surprising. If I remember my biology reading, all forms of chromosomal polymorphism can be a step towards speciation – such as how you have various classes of mutants, from your energy producers, the ferals, magnetism talents, telepaths, and so on.”

“Indeed, yes. One area of difficulty is that polymorphisms will often result in a level of reduced fertility. Some gametes from one parent cannot successfully combine with all gametes of the other parent. Yet when both parents contain matching chromosomal patterns, pregnancy can occur. In an attempt to form at least a limited feral baseline, I also tested myself and Logan – both of us have fewer polymorphisms. Of course, this helps put into perspective why more mutants are born to non-mutant parents, or a mix of mutant and human parents.”

“It is true the mutant gene is carried by the male?”

“Yes, it is. The only child of Victor’s that we know of was a boy who turned out to not be a mutant. The mother was a metamorph, a true wildcard, genetically speaking.”

“I didn’t know he had a son.”

“They, uh … never were on good terms. The boy grew to be a man who hates all mutants and ended up a very problematic politician for my kind.”

“Oh – Graydon Creed. Yikes. For the record, never voted for or donated to that guy.”

“Of course not – you are an intelligent and socially conscious person. Basically, as far as genetics go, Logan and I are, in some ways, better off.”

“So if I follow you with my level of biology education, you both would have an easier time having kids.”

“Yes, and that may be a blessing in disguise in another way. I believe the main reason we aren’t up to our ears in mini Victors by now, what with his potential reproductive habits, is due to the fact that only a certain percent of the population is enough of a genetic match to become pregnant by him.”

“Is he aware of that?”

“I … can’t be certain. He wouldn’t discuss it, or even listen to me. That … was not a good day. We had to repair the lab.”

“Tasmanian Devil alert. Got it. Hold on, ah … metamorph – does he still pal around with her? It’s the woman called Mystique, right? The other criminal in a zap collar working for X-Factor at the same time?”

“That’s the one, and they appear to have an ‘off again, off again, now and then on again’ sort of liaison.”

Tony fell silent as the image of Victor arriving at the Chicago conference hotel with … himself … hung in his vision. Odds are, that was her – playing me. He shivered. To cover it up, he jumped to the next pressing question. “Why does Creed eat people?”

“He is a carnivore in the literal sense. Eating people rather than a cow or sheep is a choice he makes, but eating meat is not. A cat can be observed eating grass, but it is generally for the purpose of inducing vomiting to expel a hairball or other obstruction or sickness.”

“So, don’t order a salad for him – good to know.”

“Victor’s digestive system cannot process vegetable matter. His body gleans those nutrients from the omnivore and herbivore prey animals he eats. The parts of his personality that developed more like a man have learned to ingest and even crave other things like candy, coffee, or alcohol, but his body isn’t built for that. The healing factor works to relieve those problems.”

“Cheetos and Twinkies,” Tony muttered. Ignoring Hank’s questioning look, he ploughed on. “What else is different? The super senses are like Logan’s, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Ah… Do you have those, too?” Does he know I just came from a dubious consent sex marathon with Victor? I’ve never been so happy that Logan didn’t answer the doorbell.

“Not to their extent, perhaps, but yes, I do. Is this a concern?”

“No?”

“Very convincing.” Hank winked at him. “Clearly, you’ve formed a friendship of sorts through trench bonding, I assume, and he saved your life, more than once. I can scent that you’ve been around him recently, but I’m not going to call the FBI on you for harboring a felon. Not when we harbored him, rather illegally, for quite some time.”

“Oh, okay. Not harboring, actually. It was more like breakfast this morning.”

“I don’t judge – if ever a fellow needed a friend or two, it’s Victor.”

“Well the super strength, speed, all that is similar – I’ve seen you on the basketball court, and Logan’s abilities are infamous.”

“Yes, although, a few of Victor’s adversaries or perhaps even allies have surgically enhanced his strength, speed, and healing factor, at least twice that we know of.”

Tony gaped at him. “To intentionally make him tougher and more deadly than he already was?”

“Correct.”

“That is insane.”

“Agreed.”

“He’s stronger than Logan, then? They seem fairly evenly matched from what I’ve read, besides the obvious height and weight differential. How does he manage to beat Creed?”

“To be honest, he often doesn’t, but to answer your question: ferocity, tenacity, and sheer willpower.”

“Hence the small, furry moniker. Okay then. What else? Why no lisp?”

“His jaw is bigger than a human’s – all the better to pack in more teeth. It is also quite a singular bit of genius, evolution-wise, in how the hinges of his jaw developed. From a biophysicist’s perspective, his mutation is frankly fascinating, in particular the jaw and throat. The configuration of the hyoid bones duality alone could be a thesis from Heaven for an aspiring student – if they could study him without dying, of course.”

Tony managed not to react, but his encounters with Victor’s throat had been fairly fascinating – he had to agree. “In a minute, I’m going to ask if you have an assistant named Igor.”

“For the physical mutations, I could make you a copy of my medical file on him. It is rather sparse, however. Most things I learned by observing him, or simply asking him. He does possess a remarkable knowledge of his own physiology, even if he doesn’t know terms or proper scientific names for things.”

“If you were able to study him as a prisoner for as long as you did, why is his medical file sparse?”

“We have an MRI, which he hated, but I managed to talk him into humoring me once. Drugs have no effect if the healing factor is working efficiently, including sedatives, and I wasn’t interested in doing anything exploratory without them that he would view as torture.”

“Wait, what?”

“I’m kidding, of course. If my suspicions are correct on how he acquired his biological knowledge of his mutation, he’s already endured enough of that.”

“Agreed.” Tony narrowed his eyes at the scientist and then raised an eyebrow. “Checking for how I react to things, huh?”

“Only a little.” Hank beamed a smile at him with an impressive amount of pointy teeth in it. “He heals, so no real need for medical attention, and most of his stay here involved therapy sessions with Professor Xavier, not medical testing with me – more’s the pity. In the end, what time I did have with him, I found it was far more productive to ask questions and find ways to cajole him into wanting to answer them.”

“How can you be sure he told you the truth? He’s a well-documented professional liar and manipulator.”

“Victor tells the truth quite often unless he has a real reason to conceal information. He told me lying took a lot of effort and the truth was more efficient. Getting him to talk at all is the real challenge.”

“Definitely. Breakfast was quite one-sided in the chat department. So eating people is a choice, but why choose that?”

“Abject hatred? The ultimate insult? Or a learned habit. From what I gathered, a lot of that has to do with the extensive and lengthy abuses and traumas he suffered from a very young age.” Hank slumped on his stool and his shoulders fell a little. “His mutation change struck unusually early. Most reach the change at puberty, which may actually trigger it. Victor was nine or ten according to what Professor Xavier discovered, and his mutation may have been triggered by trauma. Puberty manifested in him at the same time, however. It’s hard to determine which was the cart and which the horse, or it could have been something else entirely.”

“Professor Xavier got into his head, didn’t he? With or without permission?”

“Without, I’m afraid – at least for those older discoveries.”

Tony shivered. “I’m glad he isn’t here, then.”

Hank sighed. “He has his methods, and thought he could cure the madness and blood rages. In the end, after observing Victor’s responses to the treatments, I couldn’t support that method anymore. There is a wild creature in that man, but he also could be called a wild creature that has a man in him.”

“I noticed you call him ‘Victor’. Most people who hate him call him ‘Creed’, or worse.”

“I never claimed I hated him, per se. Wary admiration mixed with dislike is closer to the mark. I did notice you use the name ‘Creed’ with a certain amount of discomfort. Is that to conceal the fact that you would rather call him ‘Victor’?”

“You got me. So why do you?”

“In talks with him, using his name got me further. The more I learned, and the more Professor Xavier shared with me, it became obvious that Victor had had a very ugly life. I suppose I wanted to reach out, try to be kind.”

“I have to wonder…” Tony mused, frowning. “I had drinks with some of your teammates around that time, and they told me about the dungeon the professor tossed him into. Not to mention being poked and prodded mentally and physically. Is that what the X-Men call ‘catching more flies with honey over vinegar’? I’d have gone for your throats myself, if you treated me that way.”

“Try to understand. I doubt if your breakfast companion was quite the same fellow. When he was here, he was outraged, yes. He came of his own volition, but then got locked up and treated like a prisoner. The professor did it to protect our people, our students – but Victor saw it as a betrayal. He had asked for help to control the violent urges, so many of the sessions with the professor in the beginning, he did agree to. Professor Xavier felt that Victor’s real goal was to regain self-control merely to go off and continue committing crimes.”

“But he came to a man he considered an enemy to ask for help – that is serious desperation and a big leap of trust. He’s a rather dangerous person to betray, and also that’s a missed opportunity to teach him that he could begin to trust you all.”

“It’s a difficult line to walk, between working to defuse the threat he represents and attempting to truly dig in and help him. I’m told he began to resist, yet I’m not sure exactly when or why his consent was revoked.”

“He has trouble understanding consent at all, but I’ve seen him show … well, honor – even kindness and humor.”

“I found that capacity in him as well, along with an odd gruff charm. However, I also remember the night he eviscerated Psylocke, and she wasn’t the only close friend or teammate he has hurt over the years.”

Tony shivered. “Warren told me – I got him drunk in support.”

“Keep in mind that we are discussing a person who considers the murder of women Logan cares for to be an amusing hobby. That having been said, there are always reasons for even the most heinous behaviors. We can’t claim to understand him if we merely say he is ‘evil’. That is, as they say, a cop-out. One must dig deeper. However, it is a study that would take longer than I have today.”

“No problem, I’ll be out of your way soon. I should be working, myself.” Hunting for a new topic, he found an incomplete one. “How did you get Victor to agree to the MRI?”

“I told him Logan had done it and hadn’t been afraid of it.”

“Sneaky, but not entirely on the up-and-up.”

“I also bribed him with candy, I’m afraid. He was refusing to eat, among other things. I needed answers. No one wanted to give him raw meat, we were trying to stop the urges for blood. What we were giving him, he simply wouldn’t eat and he began to drop weight. I also observed the healing factor beginning to weaken. So I changed that situation. I suppose I became the lesser evil.”

“So what did you feed him?”

“Raw meat.”

“Good. If you give him a reason to like you, show that you admire some aspect about him, or if he gets curious about something, he’ll start to talk. Usually.”

“I agree. Victor is very good at being alone, but he can also crave company and if shown a modicum of respect, he is capable of having a mostly civil conversation. He also possesses a remarkable mix of poor self-esteem and near manic arrogant pride. I played up admiring his mutations, so similar to my own, and he became willing to tell me more about them.”

“Again, sneaky.”

“One does what one can in the pursuit of knowledge and should attempt to keep to the Hippocratic Oath, even when speaking with a potentially sociopathic killer.”

“Sociopath, huh? Are we handing out labels prior to the in-depth study?”

“Potential. He shows most of the symptoms; however, I believe his feral nature and instincts have much more to do with his behavior than any of us realized.”

“Give me an example.” Tony got up from the stool and began to pace a short path in front of it. He couldn’t be still for this. “Like, why does he … rape.”

“Ah. That is a felony behavior none of our methods of rehabilitation have been able to chip away at. It more or less makes my point – nature and instinct playing a bigger part than sociopathy, a twisted need to display power over another, or basic criminal intent.”

Completing the next round of his restless circuit, Tony repeated, “Example?”

“Take pheromones, if you will – they affect feral mutants much the same as they do humans, but far more intensely in most cases. A man exposed to them from a woman he finds attractive: he may ask her to dinner. A feral as mutated as Victor can be affected to a dangerous degree. Logan shared with me that it can take a strong will to ignore the stimuli and respect a woman’s boundaries.”

Tony picked up a pen from the table, clicked it twice, realized that would get obsessively annoying fast, and put it back down. “You don’t have that problem – do you?”

“Me personally, no, but again, they are not ‘modern people’ or particularly civilized. Or perhaps as an erudite fellow, chained to a syllabus for so long, I may simply be highly domesticated.”

“He doesn’t even seem to think about … what he’s doing to someone else.”

“I don’t believe thinking is necessarily a part of it. It is possible that Victor is either less able or simply less willing to control his reactions. Thus, he may get stimulated and respond with an urge to mate that leads to committing rape.”

“As theories go, that would be a hard sell for victims to cope with.”

“They shouldn’t have to. The onus is on him to change his criminal behavior. We are discussing why he does it. At times, I believe his motive is malicious, but other cases are clearly instinct, and if understanding is to be achieved, that must be taken into account – by researchers, at least.”

Tony leaned against the table and sighed, but nodded. “Sometimes it’s necessary to remove emotional outrage and moral offense in order to see something scientifically.”

“And therefore gain more insight, yes. Instinct is not thought; if it were, it wouldn’t be instinct. If you observe stray cats when a female is in heat, the civilized human niceties of wooing, dating, and asking permission are not what you will observe. Often, neither the female nor the males are ‘considering’ anything – they are simply responding to stimuli, and acting on instinct, complete with the male at times immobilizing the female to mate with her. In those situations, often the strongest male will be the one who gets to breed.”

Tony’s mind flashed through both disturbing memories of being pinned by Victor, and a few times it had happened that had altered his entire understanding of what he was capable of desiring in sex.

Swallowing hard, he merely said, “A human woman is not a stray cat.”

“Certainly not. Yet most humans observing mating instincts in nature do so through a lens of human civilization. It then becomes, ‘that poor female cat’, but she herself doesn’t have that viewpoint of her circumstances. She is in heat, with her own drives to seek a mate stimulating her behavior.”

“All right, I can deal with that concept – for alley cats. How can you be sure it applies to Victor?”

“In conversation, he didn’t seem to understand that his actions were criminal, because to him, they were instinctual. It is natural to assume others think as we do, and have similar values to our own. My students have whittled that down to calling it ‘Psych 101’ with a dash of sarcasm. Victor expressed to me that he felt females were duplicitous – he used far more misogynistic terms – in the way that their bodies proclaimed they wished to mate, but they either didn’t, or didn’t wish it with him. Being the male who won mating rights didn’t often win him a willing mate, and he expressed confusion and anger over it. I tried to explain, but to him, the pheromones were absolute and unassailable proof of a female’s readiness to mate in his view. He seemed to assume she should want the strongest male.”

“Because: instincts.”

Hank pushed up his glasses again and cleared his throat. “Yes, although that was quite a few years ago. He may have learned more since, and I certainly hope so, but I believe that many of the tenets of society and human interactions are confusing for Victor, especially as they can diverge from his instincts.”

Frowning, Tony picked up the pen again and started flipping it between his fingers. “How does Logan manage to control it then, if they’re both non-domesticated barbarians?”

“Logan made a choice. He has often sought out some of humanity’s rather strict codes of behavior, such as becoming a samurai, to learn self-control. I had the pursuit of six PhDs to keep me grounded. As Professor Xavier discovered, Victor has kept to the wilderness and away from humans at all for a good deal of his early life. He seemed to jump into being around people more during times he served in wars – which, of course, can be quite an uncivilized environment all its own.”

“How can anyone turn a blind eye, though? Sexual assault causes lasting damage, and if the other men he’s winning mating rights from are killed – their boyfriends, husbands – that’s an even bigger mess.”

“As I said, this does not excuse his behavior in any way. If he is going to be a part of society, he needs to learn how to control his nature and deny many of his urges and instincts in order to respect the boundaries and rights of others.”

The pen stopped flipping as he gripped it in a fist. “Even though, to Victor, those instincts and often unavoidable stimuli can be as difficult to control as deciding not to breathe.”

Hank laced his fingers together at his waist. “I suppose, yes – certainly – but one cannot tell his victims that they must be the ones to conform to his view of things.”

“No, of course not, but… I can’t help thinking – isn’t that a bit like dropping a lion into a stadium and expecting it to learn how to play football?”

“Some would call it a willingness issue. If you want a wooly hat, you’ll need to learn how to knit. The difference in people he has to deal with is, some expect him to learn as he lands there, while others of us, possessing wisdom and logic, understand it may take time – possibly a lot of time. Which, of course, he has – being immortal for all intents and purposes, or near enough.”

“The real trick is how to keep people safe until he learns.”

“Yes, but that assumes he chooses to learn at all. One cannot force that sort of deep core change – as the professor, and by default the rest of us, found out the hard way. If Victor’s choice is not to change or learn, what then? All of those government and law enforcement agencies you mentioned are thinking that they can either turn a blind eye, therefore taking on part of the blame, or they must find another way to keep people safe from him – and most methods are laughably temporary.”

“Those people … all they want to do is use him … or kill him.”

“For the record, I feel he is worth the effort to help, in a way that benefits him as well and without trying to force him to stop being who and what he is – but the task is daunting.”

“I don’t want to change him that way. I don’t want to lock him up or break him to make it happen, either. He needs to understand some things differently, but first, he has to care…”

Tony turned all of that around and around in the gears of his thoughts, and then abruptly tossed the pen down on the table and looked back up at Hank.

“The carrot and stick metaphor – he needs a good lure, a reason to choose change. If he’s mostly gotten whacked with the stick all of his life, well – it would make me hostile, I know that. Victor needs something quite spectacular dangling from that stick – and a chance, and space, to learn a different way to handle his feral nature. Not to squash it, but to modify the behavior. Inspiration first though, to help him want to try… That’s it. Victor needs a goal, something he wants; he needs … a really awesome knit hat.”

Hank smiled. “So it would seem. May I ask how Victor ended up being one of your projects? Merely in gratitude, even for saving your life, may pale as a motive when the real work begins – provided he would even entertain the idea or speak with you on the topic. At this stage, after all the mishandlings of many, his consent would be vital – for his well-being as well as for that of others.”

“I think you already know he’d be an amazing asset on our side of the moral fence.”

“Granted. He would be, and if it was something he chose for himself, it would be genuine.”

“I think he’s worth the time, worth the effort, too. He didn’t go that far into – well, depravity – overnight either, or without help. He seems to think few care if he lives or dies, and that most people would prefer the latter. That is no sort of environment in which to talk a lion into learning to knit a hat, solely because someone else told him that his ears are cold.”

Hank chuckled. “I concur. However, I would settle for him deciding to aim his violent energies at those who also harm the innocent.”

“I’d probably settle for that, too. Fighting Hydra with him was something else. Hey, if we could just occupy him with wiping them out, it’d be a better world.”

“It would indeed.” Hank rose to his large furry feet. “I wish you the best of luck. Don’t get eaten.”

Tony smiled as he approached and held out his hand, giving McCoy’s large, clawed, and blue-furred hand a strong shake. “Thanks, Hank. If I can ever return the favor, just ask.”

“Delighted to assist in a worthy cause, and as always, it’s a treat to mix metaphors with a fellow such as yourself. You already serve as a consultant for the security systems here.”

“Yeah, about that, get a new lamp – seriously – that’s my advice for you, as a freebie.” He tossed the scientist a wink and started the long trek out of the lab and back up to the surface again.

~ ~ ~

In the car, surrounded by Professor Xavier’s central fountain and manicured landscaping, Tony turned his phone back on and found a flood of messages waiting.

He had to get some work done on advancements he was designing for mobile surgical units for field medics, and he wanted to revamp and revisit a few systems to improve Stark Intelli-crops. The Secretary-General Kofi Annan had asked for his help in finding better ways to get clean water to people in underdeveloped countries way back in June, and he’d managed to respond once. A few of the voicemails were from Rhodey, days ago – he was going to be pissed.

With a sigh, Tony started the car. He always took a moment or two to settle in the seat and take it in – the initial roar of the engine, the deep purr as it idled. It could calm him, and it was a bit sexy too, to be honest.

*****************************************************************

Victor knew he was running from it, trying to forget the loss of Tony with work and distractions, but the world kept reminding him. On the television in his suite in Helsinki’s grand old Hotel Kämp, the news had shown him Iron Man fighting terrorists again in some nameless desert over 4,000 miles away. When he had turned it off, he’d fished out the toy Tony had made for him and set it on his head.

He didn’t dare use the Memory Image Inducer to show him its inventor – not yet. As he’d settled into the piled up pillows, he intended to call up Bonnie, but it was the telepath that appeared instead.

Birdy was sitting at the foot of the bed, her long blonde hair still wet, and a white fluffy towel around her delicious pale body.

“Hiya, doll,” he whispered to her image, though that wasn’t what he had said in the memory.

“Of course we have to leave, the job is over, Mr. Creed. The next one won’t wait,” she responded as she once had.

It wasn’t the same bed, but it had been this hotel. The fancy pile of Old World hospitality had occupied this very spot since 1887. He and Birdy had stayed here not quite two decades ago? Time often blurred on him; there was too much of it in his rearview mirror.

Two rooms had been booked, but she had never slept in hers. She had always acted like she didn’t want it, but he’d always known that she did, and sooner or later they would be tangled together again, panting and sweating as they worked to pump him dry. Once in a blue moon she would call him ‘Victor’ but most of the time it was ‘Mr. Creed’, and he hadn’t minded – it sounded like respect.

“Now yer worm food, if that, ain’t ya, doll? What a waste. Should visit, though, maybe. Ain’t dropped by yer stone in a while.”

She had given him the glow, that burst of telepathic juice that hit his scrambled blood-soaked brains and set them straight again – long enough to do the job, to remember who he was before he could sink back into what he was.

“Gettin’ rid o’ me woulda been easy fer ya,” he told her, staring into the big blue eyes. “Ya didn’t need t’ call in sonny boy fer that. All ya had t’ do was not gimme tha glow an’ run away far ‘nuff, long ‘nuff, ‘til I fell int’ tha red haze an’ forgot who ya were. Or ya coulda put me on some horrid memory loop, got me lost in my own fuckin’ head. Ya never did. Maybe ya liked it, what we did. Ya def liked tha money I paid ya.”

He twitched at the sound of a song coming through the memory – Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Had he put that on, or had she?

The girl in the projected memory, obeying some gruff taunt he’d made, began to strip away her towel. Tears shimmered in her eyes as she did it. It would take a little time before the fire in her was lit, before she would cling to him, urge him on. It always happened.

Haunting and sad, the song disrupted the memory. When she faded, he closed his eyes and let the words flood his thoughts. It sounded just like stuff that huge gruff but patient carpenter used to say to him – the warrior who was tired of war. Since it had been written, he’d called it Michel’s song.

So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from Hell
blue skies from pain?
Can you tell a green field
from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?

Did they get you to trade
your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
a walk on part in the war
for a lead role in a cage?

How I wish
how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl
year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here

The old lonliness threatened and no matter how long he ran from it, he knew it would always be there. He needed the wild places, the snow and the silence – he needed to forget how to be … anything at all. The beast within didn’t miss people who were dead, or others who had simply walked away.

A flash across his thoughts showed him his mate, the first to teach him how to want, how to need. Dark hair, dark eyes, rough hands, and the spirit of a creator, an artist – under that gaze, he had learned to make things, instead of only destroying them.

Carefully, not daring to open his eyes, he pulled the device from his head. “J’aurais aimé que tu sois,” he whispered, repeating the song’s title in French.

Restless, he rose and dropped the circlet on the bed. Picking up his phone and the battered pack of cigs, he went out onto the small balcony. Puffing smoke rings into the night, he hit the inventor’s speed dial key. Tony was off on a mission, so it should go to voicemail.

“Got yer pulse weapon,” he spoke after the beep. “Say where an’ when, if ya still want it.”

Ending the call, he held the phone and leaned on the rail as he smoked. Paris was next, to mop up loose ends. All he wanted to do was get to Nepal. The world was old there, and the winter and forest had never learned how to grieve.

Michel is long gone. Time gets ‘em, even if nothin’ else does – like dominoes made o’ bones. One day, if Tony lives long ‘nuff, he’ll be an old man an’ then he’ll die. Long after, I’ll be standin’ in a place, maybe this place, or maybe it’ll be dust by then … smokin’ an’ thinkin’ ‘bout Tony, who’ll be long gone.

Traffic passed below him like a symbol of time – indifferent as always. He dropped and crushed the cigarette butt under his bare foot. Reaching up into the hair by his ear, he touched the small piece of bone, his finger sliding over it as he counted the roses he’d carved there.

“Tony…” he whispered. Learned how t’ want, how t’ need … wish I never had.

 

FINI.

(Sabretooth will return in Vices and Virtues.)

*****************************************************************

Author’s Note: The title of this chapter was inspired by Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. The musical definition of “fugue”: a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase (the subject) is introduced by one part and successively taken up by others and developed by interweaving the parts. It fit this chapter to a T. “Kon’nichiwa” means “hello” in Japanese. I researched the crap out of the French phrase “J’aurais aimé que tu sois” for “I wish you were here”, with the ‘you’ in question meant to be a loved one. I hope it’s correct. I got it from people who claimed it was.

I had no idea how fond I am of Hank McCoy until I got the inspiration to write this scene with Tony and then started to work on it. Turns out, I adore Hank and I want to smish him. I’ve always liked him, but now it’s a serious fondness. I respect the views of any fan who likes Professor Charles Xavier, or “Cueball” to use Victor’s favorite nickname. However, I don’t like Xavier, and I never really have, except for a few stories where he was a good man. As a Sabretooth fan, I believe what Xavier did to Victor in captivity was basically telepathic rape, and it is the chief reason I hate the man. I think Victor wanted to escape the daily “treatment sessions” and his captivity so badly that he ended up baiting Logan into giving him the claw lobotomy. I believe he was seeking a way to die. At the start of all of that, after the death of his telepath, Birdy, Victor went to the X-Men for help, and asked Xavier in person to help him learn to control his blood rages that he needed the telepathic “glow” to fix – temporarily. To a certain point, I understand Xavier needed to take precautions to protect his people, but that doesn’t explain Victor’s canon views on the “treatment sessions” as torture and violation. Xavier was turned down by Victor to join the X-Men long before Logan came along. I believe he did what he did to force a fix to the blood rages, and maybe to turn Victor into an X-Man – like it or not, willing or not. That is some scary stuff, folks. Also, there are times in the comics where Xavier gets far too megalomaniac for me, (to say nothing of turning into Onslaught) even to the point of threatening Storm once that he would mind-control them all to obey in battle (his own “beloved” X-Men) if she and they wouldn’t allow him to join and lead a battle that Storm thought he should sit out on. So, it isn’t just my Victor who hates Xavier. The real challenge for me is when I’m writing Logan, Hank, or Jean – because they love the man.

Next up is the first Sabey/Jean installment, and then IronTooth will be back in Over the Edge. Thanks for reading and commenting, y’all are spoiling my muse! I am delighted to know that others can dig IronTooth as well. It may be the tiniest lonely little ship out there, but it’s my OTP and my obsession, all the same. –  AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)

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