Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 12 – Becoming

Open door, so I walk inside
Close my eyes, find my place to hide
And I shake as I take it in
Let the show begin

Open my eyes, just to have them close again
Well on my way, but on my way to where I’ve been
It swallows me as it takes me in its fog
I twist away as I give this world the nod

Open door, so I walk inside
Close my eyes, find my place to hide
And I shake as I take it in
Let the show begin

Open my eyes, just to have them closed once again
Don’t want control
As it takes me down and down and down again
Is that the Moon?
Or just a light that lights this dead-end street?
Is that you there?
Or just another demon that I meet?

The higher you are
The farther you fall
The longer the walk
The farther you crawl
My body, my temple
This temple, it tilts
Step into the house that Jack built

~ The House Jack Built (Metallica)

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

She couldn’t move, couldn’t think; from the moment the door downstairs had slammed, her world had turned upside down. Slowly, small sharp pains registered – her bottom lip was bleeding a little and something hard was digging into her hip.

Get up; you know he was dead serious about leaving the room. Whatever else you do, you have to leave the room. You have to survive… Her shaking hand went to her belly. Oh, God… What can I do? She almost cried out for Brys. In that moment, if she’d had any way to reach him, he was exactly who she would have called. I’m alone in a strange city, I don’t know anyone and no one cares. It was abruptly tempting to just stay there and wait for Victor to return. No, get up. Go out, go somewhere; you have to.

Tabitha pushed herself up off of the sack. She knew it would be stuffed with cash, probably in bricks like in the movies. She left it there and stood, got her balance, and went into the bathroom to clean up a little. Splashing cold water in her face, she grabbed the hand towel and dried off. Her lip had stopped bleeding.

Try not to look like a trainwreck, and then call the front desk. Clothes, get dressed.

She tried to focus on those things, attacking her curls with fingers only. The towel left in a damp heap on the bathroom counter still smelled like his sandalwood cologne. As she yanked on underthings in the dressing room, she could almost hear his purring voice and half expected to be touched, tasted, and worshipped.

Shut up, you stupid bitch. That isn’t worship, it’s ownership. Jeans, shirt, boots – these boots were made for walking…

Grabbing the card key, she hesitated over the sack. Across the room, the other half of the obscene amount of money was sitting in an open briefcase. She’d didn’t want to touch any of it.

Take the sack, you idiot, leave the rest. Tabitha turned and stared at the pile of black luggage with its small silver locks. No wallet, no purseso go buy them. She stuck the card key in her front jeans pocket and grabbed the sack before heading downstairs. It wouldn’t fit in her overcoat pocket and she didn’t want to take the fur coat. Just carry it. Phone, call the desk. Get a taxi.

She went to the hotel phone on the desk by the windows and froze in the act of reaching for it. Fear threatened to choke her. She looked up the stairs, as if expecting to find him there, staring at her – but he wasn’t there. With trembling fingers, she picked up the handset and pushed zero.

“H-hello?” She told the man her room number and asked for a taxi.

“Miss Smith?” the friendly male voice asked.

“Yes… Is … that okay?”

“I can have a car brought up for you, miss. The driver will take you wherever you’d like to go. Just come to the concierge desk when you’re ready.”

“What does that cost?”

“The car comes with the suite, Miss Smith.”

“Oh. Okay… I’ll be right down.” She leaned on the suite door when it shut behind her. Move, damn it.

It was strange not to have him pacing beside her, unnervingly silent for his size and weight. She wanted to collapse and cry, but refused to do it. Finding the concierge, she discovered she didn’t have to tell him who she was. Barely listening to him, she followed him out through the front doors of the hotel. Getting into the backseat of a black Mercedes, she stared at the driver in his suit and hat.

“Miss?”

“Sorry, I guess I need more coffee.” She couldn’t remember him asking her where she wanted to go. “Do you have a shopping mall a ways from here?”

“Pacific Centre, next door?”

“No, another one – farther away.”

“Oakridge Centre is out on West 41st Street.”

“That works.”

“Yes, miss.”

There was a time when having a luxury car and driver wait around while she shopped would have amused and delighted her. Now it was just strange and she couldn’t even focus on it. When she got out, she paused as he held the door for her. “Am I supposed to tip you? I’m sorry, I’m not used to this…”

“No miss, it’s taken care of. May I ask – are you feeling well? Do you need help in some way?”

“Not really. Um, actually, I don’t know Canadian money. Maybe this is nuts, but can you tell me what the exchange rate or whatever is? So I don’t try to pay for something expensive with a twenty?” He was patient, kind, and concerned as he explained, showing no surprise at her sack of cash. “Okay, you are awesome, thanks. Um, just wait for me, okay? I’ll find you here?”

“Yes, miss.”

“Great.”

She rushed off before he could reply. In the first expensive shop she found with purses, she fished some of the bigger bills out and bought a wallet and a big purse. Once, she might have been excited to own a black and gold Prada Gaufre Tessuto tote, clocking in at $1,780 in American dollars. Now it was reduced to camouflage; people tended to let the rules slide for a well-dressed young woman who they thought was rich.

Cash is king, too – good thing, because I have no I.D. At least now I have some smaller bills. Finding a coffee shop, she got a large espresso and sat at one of their little tables. What the hell am I going to do? Do I even believe him? Maybe he was lying. She sat back and groaned. You know he wasn’t, you dumbass bitch. He’s been screwing you nearly non-stop for about a month. All the birds and bees say you’re fucked Tab; now what are you going to do? Tears threatened, but she couldn’t afford them. Frowning, she burned her mouth a little chugging the coffee and got up. They have to have a cell phone store.

It was easy to lie: American tourist, other purse was stolen, had money in her coat at the time. She ended up with what Pete Wisdom would have called a burner phone and walked out to find a ladies room. Sitting on a chair in the ladies lounge, she held the phone and watched it shake in her hands.

I have to try, if only to let them know I’m alive – and maybe to see if they even give a shit at all anymore. She had asked the concierge what the long distance codes were for New York City. The number to the Xavier School had been memorized years ago. When it rang, she immediately hung up in a panic. Do I even want to go back? I can’t just leave and not… Her free hand pressed against her belly. What if they won’t take me back? What if I … want to go back … to him?

Tabitha got up, paced, ignored the people who came and went to use the stalls and sinks. Only a few of them noticed her at all. One woman, not much older than her, went by with a little girl. She was holding the tiny hand, carrying bags, and talking to her with excitement about meeting back up with daddy soon. Slumping back into the chair, she watched them go in and felt tears wet her eyes. She dialed the string of numbers again.

It rang, picked up, and she fought not to hang up. “Shoot – it’s yer nickle,” a gruff low voice answered.

Tabitha nearly swallowed her tongue. Be casual, idiot! “Hi … Logan?”

“Tabitha? Long time no. Guthrie ain’t here, darlin’. Unless ya wanted Jubilation?”

“Um…” Yes, my God, get off the phone with the mortal fucking enemy of your baby daddy! “If she’s around, yeah – yes … please.”

The Wolverine paused and she held her breath. “Ya awright, darlin’? Ya sound upset.”

“I’m fine, just wanted to talk to Jubilee. I miss her.”

“If yer sure. Hey, Bobby! See if Jubilee’s here, huh? She’s gotta call.” It sounded like he was in the kitchen. “He’ll see if she’s ‘round – mighta gone out bladin’. Where ya at, anyhow? Lost track o’ ya after San Francisco. Ya shouldn’t take playin’ dead so serious. Yer not still at that club in Seattle, I hope?”

“What club?”

“Tha one I caught yer scent in ‘bout a month ago. Ya’d probly rather I didn’t specify.”

Holy shit. “No, not there anymore. I … saw you come in. I had to leave, but I … wish I’d gone over to talk to you. Sorry I didn’t.”

“Glad ya left in general, they said ya bailed. If ya want yer last night’s tips, they gave it t’ me t’ hold fer ya. Planned t’ find ya then, but ya fell off tha planet.”

“Okay, wow, embarrassing…”

Logan snorted. “Ain’t none o’ my biz, right? Yer a grown woman.”

“That’s the rumor.”

“Hey, Jubilee went out, ya want t’ jaw with anybody else? Since ya sound homesick an’ all…”

“No, that’s okay. I’ll try her again later. Will you tell her I said hi?”

“Natch. Sure yer okay, darlin’?”

His voice was like a cruel joke; there were differences, but he sounded so much like Victor she was afraid she might start to sob. If he knew … he’d hate her.

“Tabitha … where are ya?”

“I’m … in Detroit.”

“Interestin’.”

“Yeah, it’s riveting, but cold.”

“Interestin’ that yer lyin’ t’ me, I meant. What’s goin’ on? Are ya in trouble?”

“I … I’m fine. Or I will be. Kind of got my heart broken, again; no shock, right? Just missed Jubes, sorry to bother you. Hey, I got to run, okay? I’m about to miss my movie.”

“Take care, darlin’. Holler if ya need any damn thing, ya got it?”

“Oh, okay… I will. Thanks. Bye.” She hung up fast, but about a whole conversation too late. Crap. Detroit? What the hell? Checking the time on the phone, she cursed again. It had only been one hour. I should get in that car and have him drive me to the airport. Shit, I can’t – they’d want a passport, a license, something. I’m here illegally, too. I could buy a car, but same problem applies. Cash for a bus? They could send the jet, but then they’d know…

She got up and went into one of the stalls at the back. Locking the door, she sat on the toilet and cuddled her new purse stuffed with cash bricks. When the tears started, she decided to let them go and ignored the people who tried to ask if she was all right.

Victor… You’ve been so different since … since we got here. She sniffed and thought about the night before. I needed to say no, I had to know I could. I fucked up… You were … so different. I’m supposed to make a decision, but I don’t know what to do. How can I know in just a few hours? This isn’t just a stay or go question, damn you.

Tabitha got up, wiped her face, left the stall and tried to remember where the car was. She knew she should figure out how to get back to the States, at least. She could always find the seedy side of town, ask around to see who could get her a fake I.D. and passport. Or just find a library and hack one of their computers to get what she needed.

Or, just buy a damn laptop, you moron. What about you? she asked, touching her belly.

All at once, so many things Victor had said and done made perfect sense. Cursing herself under her breath as she pushed the glass doors open, she stopped at the curb and watched the black Mercedes approach. She let the driver open her door and then told him to take her to Stanley Park. She left him at the Teahouse and went walking.

~ ~ ~

The bridge where Victor had taken her, kissed her and held her against him was empty. She couldn’t walk out onto it. Turning the other way, she asked a jogger for directions and walked out to the end of the forest where she could see the water. Cyclists and joggers moved up and down the seawall path. She had to clamber down a hill to reach it. Walking along it until she found a small patch of beach with logs on the sand, she got down to them and sat on one to watch the ships and barges go by in the distance.

I feel so alone, but I guess I’m not. Weird. So, would you have a tail? Fangs? Grow up to be a sadistic killer like daddy? The tears threatened again. She slipped the phone out of her pocket just to check the time. Almost three hours. He said go somewhere, he never said be there when he gets back. If I’m not, will he assume I’m halfway to New York? The job is supposed to be done tonight…

She kept hearing things and imagining him appearing, maybe from the trees like she had. He’d said he wouldn’t hunt her down, but was he lying?

I don’t even know what time the job was supposed to start, because he never told me. I guess if it’s time and I’m not there … maybe that’ll be that. If – big, big if – he actually doesn’t hunt me down … I might never see him again. He’ll be off to Nepal and then who knows where. I’ll have some doozy souvenirs, though – most of which will probably mean I can’t go home again… Was it ever home, though? I’m not exactly heading for a bus station as fast as the Prada boots he bought me can take me…

Tabitha got up and started walking again. She found some stairs back up to the trails and headed back toward the Teahouse and the hotel’s car.

I haven’t technically earned the bag of cash I’m lugging around, either… Her tongue touched the sore spot on her bottom lip where his fang had pierced it. I need more time, and I … need to talk to him, if he’ll listen. If I’ve already burned the bridges behind me, maybe I can build a new one? Maybe … he is changing.

The driver had the door held open for her before she even spotted him at the Teahouse. “Where to, Miss Smith?”

“Back to the hotel, please.”

“Yes, miss.”

~ ~ ~

“Thanks for your help and patience today,” she told the driver.

He gave her a short bow. “My pleasure, miss.”

The moment she entered the hotel, her hands began to tremble. She returned to the concierge desk. “Do you know if Mr. Creed has come back yet?”

“We haven’t seen him, Miss Smith.”

“Okay, thanks.”

Tabitha couldn’t face going back up to the room yet. She knew that when he returned he’d be able to scent that she’d left and come back, and he’d know where she was now. She headed to a coffee shop. Remembering the phone, she nearly panicked. If he saw the number she’d called… When a waiter went by with a used half full cup, she waved him over and plunked the little phone into the cold coffee.

“Miss?”

“I don’t need it anymore.”

“Yes, miss. May I get you anything?”

“Espresso with tons of sugar and cream – and a cupcake.”

“Right away, miss.”

She could see the lobby doors from the table she chose and she didn’t have to worry about getting fat anymore – that would take care of itself.

~ ~ ~

Perhaps an hour later, she heard the car; there was no mistaking it. It rolled up fast beyond the glass lobby doors and stopped just out of sight at the valet podium with a screech of tires.

Tabitha kept her hands wrapped around her second hot coffee in a vain attempt to hide the tremble of her fingers. When he came into sight, she held her breath. His entrance into the lobby caused a stir, as if a rock star had arrived – a volatile one.

It wasn’t obvious, but she knew he’d already caught her scent. Within seconds, his head turned and his luminous amber gaze locked onto her. The surprise came when he didn’t immediately charge over, angry and growling. He froze, staring back at her. Letting out her held breath, she lifted one hand and motioned to him to join her. The closer he came, the more people around them moved to a safer distance. They were all smarter than she was.

The Armani suit looked like it wasn’t damaged at first, until she noticed four small cuts in the thigh of the left pant leg. Otherwise, he seemed okay – but the relaxed and warm way he’d looked at her yesterday, all smiles and purrs, was gone.

Maybe he was changing; is it too late?

“Are ya bait now? How long ‘til they get here?”

“I’m not bait. They aren’t coming. I’m here because you wouldn’t talk to me this morning when I asked you to. Will you talk to me now?”

“Up in tha suite.”

“No, Victor, here – where lots of other people are.”

His expressive face morphed into one of the nastier narrow-eyed haughty glares, a growl riding low in his chest. “Ya think I won’t slash every throat here t’ get a one-on-one chat? Ain’t airin’ my private shit in public, girl.”

“Private topics can wait, okay? No one is lingering anywhere near us, anyhow. If I wanted to leave you, I could have. I didn’t, I came back.”

“T’ tha lobby, where ya think ya got me on a leash.”

“I’d never be stupid enough to think I had a leash on you. If anything, you still have one on me. You know I don’t want you to hurt anyone here. Did you expect to find me gone or maybe shivering on my knees upstairs? I aimed for the middle. You said leave, so I left. I had no idea the suite came with a car and driver, but I bet you knew. I went to a mall and got a wallet and purse. Mostly, I cried in a bathroom. I went back to the park, and then came back here to talk to you. Please talk with me?”

Growling, he grabbed one of the wooden chairs. She knew he’d spin it and straddle it with his arms crossed on the back. It creaked alarmingly under his weight. “Talk fast – those Blackbird jets are mighty quick.”

She ignored the crack. “I can’t make the choice you want me to in a couple of hours. After how you left, what you said … the decision just got a lot bigger than it was. We can’t sort that out with tonight hanging over our heads, either. That’s your ‘bottom line’, and I have no intention of messing that up.”

“What tha hell do ya want, Tabitha?”

She took her hands off of the coffee cup and gripped the fancy purse in her lap. “I want to earn this, fair and square. I turned my back on being a thief a long time ago. I want to earn it as a job, not on my back or on my knees. When the job is over – then I want time to make my decision. I get paid and I walk, you don’t follow, you don’t hunt me. You give me a week and then you meet me somewhere. If I show, it’s a yes; if I don’t … you don’t even try to find out why.”

“In a week, I’ll be in either New Orleans, Berlin, or Cape Town – with a side trip t’ Nepal.”

“New Orleans it is, then – Café Du Monde for breakfast. If you agree, I’ll go upstairs with you and look at maps and blueprints. Maybe after that or even tomorrow, I’d like to talk about last night – and this morning. Also… Victor, I want you to understand this – either I’m my own person, with you because I want to be, or I’m just a mess stuck in your claws. There is no middle ground on that. We don’t touch each other unless both of us want it. You need to know if I want you for real. This is how you find out – by letting it be my choice.”

He watched her in silence for a long moment. “That’s a heavy pack o’ ultimatums.”

“I’m just asking you to treat me like a free person who can choose to stay because she wants to. You said you wanted that. I understand it can be scary, I’m shaking in my Prada boots – but I could’ve climbed onto a bus. I kept … hanging around, thinking about you.”

When the growl stopped, he rose. “Ya gotta deal – which’ll be off in a hurry, first flyin’ monkey I see.”

“I think I burned that bridge the moment I let you have me because I wanted you. I’m not your victim or your captive now – choosing you … may be a choice they can’t forgive. Besides, I mostly hung with them to have something to do and to feel like I could make a difference. You’ve shown me a lot of ugly truths and I don’t think I believe helping people that hate me makes much difference anymore. It certainly didn’t mean a thing to Vaughn. I did my homework on this job. I believe it will make a difference; it will help people to stop this plant from going into production. For the rest, I need more time.”

“Keepin’ off ya ain’t never been easy fer me…”

Tabitha gave him a tentative smile. “Learn to ask first; play your cards right and the answer could be yes more often than you might think.”

She walked off first and she could feel him following her, even if he never made a sound. He was silent in the elevator and down the hall. Her card key opened the suite door despite the tremor of her fingers. The thought that he might kill her the moment they were alone had grown into a palpable tension between them. She walked in, set the purse on the table and turned to face him as he shut the door and leaned against it.

Because she could, she let her eyes sweep over him. The ponytail was wind-blown and that stubborn long lock of hair that never stayed in it was hanging in his face again. She wanted to approach and brush it behind his ear, but she didn’t move. He was watching her with that hungry focus, his body just as hungry.

“Maps?” she asked.

He shot her a look that was half glare and half lust. With a grunt, he left the door and went to the large steamer trunk that was still set beneath the window. The combination lock’s numbers spun and he unlocked and opened it. When he pulled out a long metal tube, she could see the tip of a rifle case below it. He opened the tube as he approached the table and pulled out a rolled sheaf of maps and plans – the same ones she’d studied at the safe house.

“Tell me where ya thought yer bombs would do tha most damage an’ I’ll tell ya if yer right.”

Tabitha moved to stand closer and looked at the plans. She had been prepared for him to want sex, if he didn’t try to kill her – what she hadn’t banked on was how much she wanted him, too. It would change her scent, make it tougher for him, but she couldn’t help that.

Ask me, Victor… I’m so sorry if I fucked up and picked the worst time to insist on a choice, but I’m not sorry I asked for one. You know I want you … just ask. “I would target these condensers, the reactor, this boiler, and the reaction furnace.”

“Not bad, I agree. Prob is gettin’ ya t’ each spot an’ not gettin’ ya caught in a fallin’ hunk o’ metal an’ concrete. Ain’t as fast as me by a long shot.”

“I don’t have to be fast. I place the timebombs one by one and then set them off from a safe location. That’s the ‘time’ part of the things.”

With a sneer twisting his expression, he replied in a flat, insulting tone, “Point t’ tha frail.”

Tabitha felt like he’d gut-punched her. As anger rose to cover her hurt, she abruptly understood him better than she ever had. “Don’t call me that.” He watched her as if seeing what she’d do – when she didn’t move, he walked away to face the windows.

“If ya did yer homework, then ya know what this pilot plant’s bein’ built fer.”

“Chlorine trifluoride – some of the nastiest stuff any idiot’s ever dreamed up. That’s why I want to help.”

“They ain’t done buildin’ yet, so it’ll be a lot safer t’ burn it t’ tha ground now; I woulda turned tha job down if they were already producin’ that shit. ‘Explodes ‘round damn near anythin’ organic’ ain’t a party favor I wanna play with.”

“When are we supposed to start?”

“Need t’ leave at sundown; gotta good while ‘til then. Was tha cupcake lunch?”

“So far.”

“I’ll call fer a cart. All o’ this sudden freedom mean ya wanna make yer own order?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Fine, then.” He didn’t move and neither did she.

“This is how it works, okay? Victor … can I touch you?”

“No.”

Tears rose in her eyes. She backed away and sat on the couch before her knees could buckle. “Why not?”

“Got me a few reasons, not one o’ which is any o’ yer biz.”

“You want it – it’s pretty obvious…”

“Answer’s still no.” A low growl thrummed from his chest. “Ya think a stiff dick means jack right now? Mighta had a shot at slippin’ a collar on tha beast, but ‘is bein’ happy t’ see ya don’t mean ya ain’t gotta deal with me first.”

“I don’t want to put a collar on you. You know, sometimes I think I’ve just gone stark raving nuts – for coming back here, or even for wanting and missing you in the first place. Do I have to remind you that ‘our first time’ involved you brutally raping me? That happened a few times, actually, but you were too busy calling it ‘making myself useful’ to notice. You threatened me into agreeing to your terms as a partner on this job, one clause of which was the ‘right’ to turn me into your whore. Meanwhile, you were planning to murder me after the job. Just for kicks, you decided to make my life a living hell – until we got here. So obviously, you aren’t the only insane person in this room.”

“Ya ain’t never gonna understand…” He wouldn’t face her. “My nature’s not like … people.”

“Help me, then. Tell me why you did that.”

“Did it cuz we were enemies. It was payback. Ya weren’t nothin’ but one o’ Cueball’s bitches t’ toy with ‘til ya quit wigglin’.”

“I have only a vague idea why you now say you want me, but I wonder if it’s just because you got me pregnant. Although why you would care about a child is frankly beyond me.”

When he finally turned, it was to glare at her, his large hands fisted at his sides. “Ya don’t hardly know me at all; ya think ya do. Maybe yer just not capable o’ understandin’ what ya did t’ me in tha bloody Danger Room. All o’ that was piled on top o’ what yer X-chumps did before an’ after ya, too. Maybe takin’ out all their sins on yer hide ain’t ‘fair’, but my nature don’t think much ‘bout that shit. Was gonna reel ya in, get ya t’ care an’ then gut ya.”

“That’s … horrific. Why?”

“Cuz tha look on yer face woulda been even sweeter if ya had feelin’s fer me before I did it.”

“Victor…” she whispered, fear turning her veins to ice.

“Don’t look at me like that; ya fuckin’ know damn well it ain’t like that no more. Ya been trusted with stuff maybe two other folks alive ‘sides us know ‘bout me – unless ya count Cueball, who felt he had a right t’ hit my brain with tha kind o’ mind-reamin’ torture that woulda made tha Gestapo blush. I seem t’ recall ya viewed that as ‘they were helpin’ me’.”

“I thought they were. I didn’t know. I told you a few times that I was just a B team player. I’ve barely ever spoken to that man. The biggest interest he ever personally took in me was during their stupid intervention to make me stop visiting you. Then they deleted my access, so you know, waste of an intervention. Why did you change your … plans … for me?”

“Yer tha one that changed tha game – ya stepped up an’ ya wouldn’t just lie down an’ die. When I knew ya were carryin’ my child, an’ even before that … I was tryin’ t’ imagine ya as my mate. Wouldn’t bother with bein’ all nice after we got here if I wasn’t. Sick o’ bein’ alone.”

“If you still had Bonnie, you probably would have killed me in my hotel room in Faro and maybe mailed my head to Professor Xavier. You know I’m right. I’m not stupid – I know when I’m playing rebound girl. I just happen to be a pregnant rebound girl, or you might still have been planning to kill me. Even if that has changed, I am always going to be at risk – if not from you, intentional or by accident, then by your enemies. I can’t stop you being paranoid that I could be bait and you can’t stop me from worrying about being killed in your sleep.”

“So why’d ya come back –”

She held up a hand to stop him, drew in a breath and let it go in a sigh. “In spite of that, and this is my crazy talking, some of the things you’ve taught me and how you’ve been since we got to Vancouver have changed things for me. I think I do believe you want me with you, but I still need time to decide. We already spent our morning finding out how difficult this could be.”

Victor frowned. “Ya wanna eat or not?”

“Yes…”

He didn’t look at her when he went to the phone. He ordered fancy filet steaks for them both and she was surprised to hear him order vegetables and fruits. When he put the phone down, his fingers pressed on the handset. “I ain’t gotta scrap o’ hope t’ stand on here, do I?”

“Please tell me why you’re so angry with me…”

“I gotta wait a week t’ hear if yer gonna kill my cub?”

“I … I don’t know what I’m going to do. We need to get through tonight first. I think I want you; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have come back. I have to figure out if that’s the choice that keeps me alive or not.”

As he turned to face her again, his shoulders slumped a little; the defeated look on his face broke her heart. “If tha answer’s no an’ I don’t get t’ ‘even try t’ find out why’, that mean I get t’ just never know what ya decide t’ do ‘bout it?”

“How would I tell you, if I need to walk away?”

Victor went back to the trunk and fished around in it. She was shocked to see him pull out her old leather purse. He took her gray Nokia phone out of it and turned it on. He dropped the purse – nowhere near as expensive as the one she’d bought with his money – on the table next to the Prada tote. He checked something on her phone, turned it off, and dropped it back into the purse.

“Told Brys t’ put my number on it before we left tha safe house. Probly where he got tha idea I was gettin’ ‘fond o’ ya’.”

“Victor, I’m sorry for upsetting you last night. I should have just given you what you needed, and then waited for breakfast and a less intense moment to discuss choice and consent. I fucked up. It wasn’t a rejection of you. When you wanted to be close and share with me, I…” She dropped her gaze from his to stare at her fingers twisting together in her lap. “That was just the newest thing that made me think I could want to really try…”

He walked over and sat a few feet from her. She didn’t dare touch him. “Yer so young, ya know that? Barely more’n a cub yerself. I think time an’ culture started goin’ backwards. In a lotta ways, includin’ legally, I was all grown up at fifteen, when today’s laws woulda called me a kid. Back then, twenty-three was pretty close t’ middle-age; now, tha law says yer an adult but half tha time ya behave like yer a kid. It can be a twisty mess, ‘specially when tossin’ my crazy bullshit int’ tha mix.”

“Do you know anything about babies or being pregnant?”

“Only one I ever knew ‘bout was grown before I knew. Ain’t never been preg, myself. Bet tha kooky cravin’s would be off tha chain fer me, though. Yak penis an’ ice cream, maybe?”

She was startled into a smile as her tears began to fall. Wiping at them impatiently, she shook her head, but didn’t look at him.

“Tabitha?”

She sniffed. “Yeah…?”

“Can I touch ya?”

Sucking in a breath, she turned to stare at him. “Yes, Victor…”

His fingers rose to brush at tears and when she pressed her cheek into his palm, he pulled her in to hold her close. She let him put her right onto his lap and then sobbed against his chest. Her curls were stroked and his other hand was warm on her lower back.

“Freaked out this mornin’ – didn’t mean t’ terrify ya.”

“I never meant to freak you out,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I didn’t realize you could … feel for me, like that – or at all. I thought I was just, you know…”

“Warm snatch?” He kissed her curls.

“Yeah, pretty much.”

“Ya gonna acknowledge tha mutual risks in this mess?”

“Yes, I’m starting to understand. I guess giving me my cell phone back must put your hackles up.”

“Literally an’ figuratively.”

“Wow, I’m hungry; I assume the plants you ordered are for me?”

“Not gonna catch me eatin’ weeds unless I’m tryin’ t’ cough up a hairball.”

Tabitha laughed and sniffed again. “Please tell me that’s a joke.”

“That’s a joke.”

“As long as I’m admitting to being as crazy as you, we may as well run with it. So, after lunch … do we have time to seal the deal in bed?”

“We can make time, darlin’. Figure if I lay ya good ‘nuff , ya might miss it too much t’ go without fer a whole week.”

“I missed you today and that was just for a few hours.”

“Missed me while in terror I might be comin’ after ya?”

“Only a little…?”

When the cart arrived, Victor let the servers set it up and then sent them out with a tip. He put the plate with greens on it at her chair. Tabitha didn’t look in the purses – she just moved them both to the couch and then sat at the table.

“So much food…”

“Ya might talk me int’ helpin’ ya with tha oranges an’ strawberries, but yer on yer own fer tha rest.”

“Do you just not like veggies?”

“Ain’t made fer that stuff; bad ‘nuff  I gotta candy an’ snack chips addiction – that shit is my crack.”

“I really did miss you – I missed hearing you and … well, not hearing you.”

“Got me back, babe, fer as long as ya want.”

“When you called me ‘frail’ again…”

“Once I get ya in that bed, gonna convince ya I didn’t mean that. Eat, yer feedin’ two now; don’t worry, anythin’ we dunno ‘bout this, we can find out.”

She ate, but she also watched him eat. His plate had four filets on it that might as well have had the hooves still attached. Spearing them with claws and shearing them up at the sides of his mouth behind the fangs was perhaps the weirdest boyfriend behavior she’d ever found charming, but it abruptly was.

I didn’t want to be alone in this and now I’m not. Maybe the X-Men won’t ever understand, but what have they done for me beyond room and board while risking my life on missions? I know there are still problems to sort out and insane compromises to make, but if I get to live in Hawaii with our kid, travel to meet him, and live like a queen? Maybe I could overlook a lot, including being his rebound girl – and someday, he might change…

The vegetables tasted like heaven and before they went off on the mission, which they were going to work together, he would lay her down and make her feel like a goddess.

Afterward, he’ll talk to me, and he’ll watch me like a starving man watches a feast. We’ll just see where it goes and work at it. That’s what couples do.

Tabitha leaned over with a slice of orange in her fingers and offered it to him. He moved closer to her, slid his long tongue out and licked the fruit before allowing her to feed it to him. By the time he straightened and speared the last filet, she was already wet for him. He smirked at her and gave her a wink with one luminous amber cat’s eye.

He knows it and I’m … glad he does. I need to work on not mixing my signals. The scent and the words need to match, as he says. I think maybe that’s how he learns to trust.

She had help with the fruit but ate every bit of the steak and vegetables. He had beer and he’d ordered water for her, but she didn’t fuss.

When he pushed his chair out, Tabitha got up and sat on his lap while he finished the beer. She placed her hand on her belly. A moment later, he covered it with his. Ducking his head down, he nuzzled her shoulder; the purr she had missed sparked and made her shiver with lust.

Tabitha gave him a soft little smile when she saw him watching her, almost studying her. His expression seemed caught between worry and cautious hope.

That’s how he looked when I came to the couch while he had the war movie on. I rejected the idea that he could be nervous about me, because, well – he’s Sabretooth. Maybe I have broken past all of the prickly and downright violent defenses? It’s like he’s afraid I’ll hurt … him. Wow. Does anyone else know that he can be this way?

“Startin’ t’ understand why those nosy fuckin’ telepaths poke an’ snoop where they ain’t been invited. Half a million fer yer thoughts?”

“I was thinking that people often misjudge you.”

Victor snorted. “No, they don’t. Most o’ ‘em got me pegged right on tha money.”

“Okay, tough guy, your secrets are safe with me – with or without threats. They never see this side of you. These ‘soft little underbelly’ things are as much a part of you as the violence and … the rest.”

“Most things breathin’ ain’t got no right t’ see tha softer side o’ yers truly. Ya paid yer dues, stepped up an’ knocked tha door down. Ya quit lookin’ at me like I’m some kinda ugly piece o’ filth, too. That shit don’t inspire a guy t’ open up ‘is tender bits an’ share.”

“You’re a feral mutant, Victor, but you’re certainly not ugly. I spend a lot of time watching you precisely because you’re hot as hell.” His purr returned and intensified, the thrum in his throat near her neck making her embarrassingly wet. “Those sounds you make, how powerful and fearless you can be – not to mention getting to play boss of all of that – it’s intoxicating. When you aren’t being … violent and abusive … a girl can fall for you pretty hard. I hope that’s mutual … even a little bit?”

“Told ya before, on that couch right over there, that I could fall fer ya, didn’t I? Guess ya thought I was lyin’.”

“In my defense, you had declared shortly before then that we were going to ‘play couple’.”

“Fair ‘nuff.” He pulled her gently into a closer embrace, his fingers lacing with hers over her belly. “I want this cub,” he told her, his near-whispering voice softened by the purr. “Want ya both.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed you would want a baby. It wasn’t exactly a plan on my agenda. Was it – a plan … on your end?”

“Nope.”

Tabitha fell silent. The reason for his short answer was obvious. It didn’t matter if it was a risk, because his plan was to kill me. Something about being pregnant changed that – probably a lot more than my door-kicking-down stubbornness to survive. “Why … do you want a baby?”

“Well, it ain’t cuz I wanna snack.”

“I was so not thinking that.”

“Hmm… Most folks would wonder, I bet.” He was quiet but she didn’t press. Finally, he drew in a breath and started again. “After Bonnie … lotta shit is diff’rent now in my head, got thoughts runnin’ amuck in there I ain’t never seen before. Had no idea somebody could want me like that.”

“I told you that you wanted more,” she whispered, hoping to prompt him to keep talking.

“Ya were right. Wasn’t plannin’ fer it, but … there it was. After she was gone … I hit a bad low. Ignorance is bliss, babe – not knowin’ what I was missin’, wished pretty hard I could go back t’ not knowin’. Figged it would go away, tha thoughts, tha wantin’ more… It ain’t budged. Was thinkin’ ‘bout keepin’ ya prior, but with tha X branded on yer ass, knew it was probly pointless. Then after I knocked ya up… Shit, I dunno, instinct makin’ my inner kitty wanna brood, maybe? I need … somethin’ – a reason t’ try. Way ya started actin’, smellin’ like ya want me fer real – I gotta try, cuz it might never happen again.”

Tabitha relaxed into him; she hadn’t noticed her body growing tense in his hold, but of course, he would have. “I’m going to help you succeed.” She squeezed their laced fingers tighter. “This can’t possibly be a baby bump yet, can it?”

“Just bloat, cuz tha body has t’ get ready an’ there’s hormones an’ gases an’ junk at work fer that.”

“I thought you were as clueless as me?”

“Ain’t never gonna be as clueless as ya, Miss Observant. Ya plannin’ on bailin’ in tha mornin’ fer yer thinkin’ break?”

“I – I don’t know…”

“If ya just wanna stay with me, make yer decision in style, I could take ya t’ tha Hawaii safe house on tha way out t’ Nepal.”

“Let’s worry about that tomorrow. By the way, what are you going to be doing while I’m placing timebombs in strategic spots?”

“Committin’ arson in tha office buildin’: records, process control room, mainly. Def gotta turn tha lab int’ a smokin’ hole, an’ then wreck their tanker trucks an’ a couple other structures. While tha firetrucks are dealin’ with that, nice an’ outta our way, I’ll head fer tha process plant buildin’ an’ help ya finish it off.”

“Are we cutting power to the place, phones, all that?”

“Nope, not even gonna bother; tha neighbors’ll be tha ones callin’. We want tha big red trucks an’ tha cops; it adds t’ tha confusion.”

“We aren’t killing anyone … right?”

“Right. Trick is bein’ quick on tha draw with tha wreckin’ shit, so’s by tha time they get there, won’t be no savin’ tha place. Tha client bribed most o’ tha construction workers an’ security; gonna be a skeleton crew o’ tha paid off variety, an’ then they’ll abandon tha place by six. Turns out, lotsa folks don’t want that crap bein’ made in their backyard, an’ everybody can use tha extra holiday cash. One o’ tha tree-hugger clients is gonna smuggle in a few party favors fer me, t’ help move things along.”

“Oh, okay; thanks for actually telling me all of this.”

“Ya gotta know tha plan, partner.”

“Does that mean I can hear about the client?” When he hesitated, she added, “I already told you I approve of what he’s trying to do.”

“How’d ya know it’s a he?”

“Well, it’s this Ellison, isn’t it? You said big cat rescue was his ‘hobby’. You’ve never been that secretive on your business calls and even in Japanese, that’s the only name you’ve ever mentioned besides Obinata the banker and Tony Stark. Right?”

Victor smirked at her. “Sexy, ambitious, an’ clever – my fave kinda gal.”

“Funny, I’d have accused you of preferring ‘silent, barefoot, and pregnant’. I’m not sure I count as ambitious.”

“Tha price tag fer yer help is pretty ambitious; ya also said ya wanted t’ be more than just my pet pussy. So, I’m thinkin’, down tha road, contract gal lessons – fer protection jobs, natch. Just t’ keep ya busy when ya ain’t barefoot an’ preg. Ya ain’t never silent.”

Tabitha stuck her tongue out at him. “I know all about birth control, dude, believe it or not. Just my luck I was taking a pill hiatus when you came along. I’m thinking, down the road, I’ll need a diamond of my very own before junior has company.”

“Only one?” he teased, nuzzling her neck again.

“We may have to remove the word ‘brood’ from your vocabulary, dude, unless you’re just talking about diamonds. Victor?”

“Hmm?”

“Will you take me to bed now and make me never want to leave you ever?”

“That’s my other plan.” He turned his head to kiss her, giving her a hungry growl when she nipped his lower lip in her teeth.

She was picked up as he stood and she clung to him as he went straight up the stairs. When he set her down at the foot of the bed and they both helped each other strip, she gasped as she was pressed under his weight on the bed before he moved down her body, tongue lashing and licking all the way. She watched his large hands, the roping veins and massive muscles of his arms, and then closed her eyes when his tongue entered her.

“Maybe I’d need therapy to grasp how I can want this after everything that’s happened,” she muttered, “but I’d require the therapist to experience your tongue before they’d be allowed to shrink me about it.”

His low chuckle so close to her slick skin nearly made her come. “Pick a cute one, then; man, woman – don’t matter none t’ me.”

“I’ve noticed that about you,” she teased. “I can’t even argue about the one-sided monogamy thing too hard, because I … don’t want anybody else.” He couldn’t answer her just then, but that was perfectly all right with her.

The moment he moved up and entered her, smooth and gentle, she felt tears prick her eyes.

“What’s wrong?” he whispered in her ear, with his long back curled over her and his face hidden in her curls.

“I-I’m not ready to say it, but … I want to.”

He pulled back his head to look in her eyes. “Not gonna push or try t’ rush yer choice…”

“What is it? What are you thinking?”

“If ya end up sayin’ no … this could be tha last time. I ain’t ready fer that.”

“Me either… I wish I hadn’t upset you; I’m so sorry, Victor…”

“Hush, babe, I got ya,” he whispered, kissing the tears as they fell.

As she quieted, she kissed him and clung to him, slowly realizing that this was also what he could be – making love, gentle and sweet. For the first time, she was able to feel it build slowly; a soft and unbelievable orgasm swelled and burst over her like the sensation of being drunk on the man inside of her.

He broke the kiss and slowed to a stop, his mouth opening as if in shock. She almost asked if he was okay and then felt him shudder within – coming without a growl or roar, without the need for pain to help him feel pleasure. Afterward, he simply melted, resting his forehead on her shoulder as his breathing ramped up faster.

Tabitha stroked his hair, a few fingers toying with the ponytail as he moved her curls with his gasps. He didn’t leave her body and she loved to feel him inside. She didn’t want their closeness to end.

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

“Tabitha, please,” he whispered. He felt her hands gently stroking him as his stomach flipped, the scent of his own fear making his pulse race.

“Victor, it was so beautiful, I’ve never felt it like that before… Talk to me, are you okay? Tell me what you need.”

“Ya … I need ya…” His fangs parted her curls as his lips moved to whisper at her ear, “Tabitha … I love ya…” He swallowed hard; it felt like he couldn’t breathe. He could scent her tears again but she didn’t smell afraid – only he did.

“I … love you, Victor. You’re shivering…” She reached for a blanket and pulled it mostly over his back, as far as she could toss it.

His mind swimming, he concentrated on breathing. They were both silent and when he felt able, he began to move inside her again. She held his head and lifted her knees higher, trying to move with him. Heat sparked fresh and he hardened once more as he pushed in just a little deeper.

“Don’t wanna hurt ya,” he muttered. “Need more…”

“It’s okay, you aren’t hurting me. Do you – need to … bite?”

“No,” he answered, barely able to form the word. “Not safe…”

“Victor, are you all right? Please talk to me, let me help…?”

His stomach swooped and flipped again; he began counting breaths in his head. By the third, the healing factor burned the nausea away but it couldn’t stop the fear.

“Are you – I don’t know if I should even ask this… Are you – afraid?”

He nodded once, unable to admit it verbally. “Dunno if I can do this. If ya go, they’ll tell ya t’ stay away, tell ya t’ never come back an’ t’ kill our cub…”

“Oh, Victor, no … there is no ‘them’ now. I won’t go back to them. Listen, I want to travel somewhere to think, that’s all. No one can tell me to do those things. We can talk about it. Kiss me?”

He lifted his head to kiss her, her mouth luring his body to thrust. He kept it smooth, but pushed deeper than he had. She couldn’t take all of him without pain, couldn’t endure his full forceful lust without courting injury. Yet she looked at him differently now and her scent was warm for him, even when the thread of her heat wasn’t running through it.

Pushing to make her come, he tumbled her into it haphazardly and intensely before ramping her up again. Her little blunt nails bit into his shoulders and the pain helped. Inspiration and abrupt hunger made him gasp.

“You need to come.”

Staring down into her eyes, he asked for what he needed. “Bite my throat…”

“Ah, you never…” She took a deep breath and let it out slow. “Okay,” she whispered.

Fingers were not teeth and instinct lashed inside him to fight as he leaned down and raised his chin, exposing his throat and offering it to her. She set her lips, his Adam’s apple moving under them as he swallowed hard. The moment she touched her teeth to his flesh, the growl rumbled beneath. She hesitated, and then bit down more.

“Harder,” he urged, “need it t’ hurt.”

He hissed when she tried to bite to hurt, but it fired his nerves into lust and began to calm the rising fear. His thrusts picked up and her scent was still saturated with heat. They moved together and she started to mix warm kisses with the bites. Her fingernails dug into his biceps, actually making little half-moon shaped cuts that healed around her nails until she dragged them down into long scratches. His skin felt hot as the scratches healed in her wake.

She gasped and tried to cling to him with trembling legs when he pushed too deep. Backing off, he dropped his forehead to her chest and pumped into her fast and shallow.

With a groan, she huffed at his ear. “Yes, Victor, yes … I need to feel it…”

The growl deepened and he had to struggle not to bite. This time it was no phantom soft pleasure that had driven him into a place within that he hadn’t understood. This was snapping lust, coiled to burst. He felt her muscles grip him as she came again and it tore his ejaculate loose so hard that it punched the breath from his lungs. Heart hammering, he sucked in air, threw his head back and snarled.

When he stilled and collapsed over her, he barely remembered to hold his weight off with his hands at the sides of her ribcage. Pulling his hips back, he withdrew from her body with a hiss before flopping over to his back.

Tabitha cuddled up close, mostly draped over him as his sides heaved in labored breaths. She kissed his chest and laid her head on it. “It’s kind of fun to see you looking worn out after sex, even though I know you’re actually not. Is that because I’m awesome in bed?”

“Cuz I actually give a damn ‘bout ya an’ stress ramps tha body up as much as anythin’ physical.”

“So is that a no on the awesome question?” She poked him in the chest and smiled.

“That was a straight answer t’ what ya asked. Would ya rather I tell ya tha truth ‘bout stuff, or just blow sunshine up yer ass?”

“Truth, please, and point taken. Um … stress?”

“Yup.”

“Oh…”

“Dunno many males who get excited t’ hear tha ‘I need t’ think ‘bout it’ answer. Seems t’ only be a favorite o’ tha females o’ tha species.” Glancing down at her, he frowned. “Ya got ‘question face’ – shoot…”

“Are you going back to the Yukon house right after the job is over, to take the snow leopard to Nepal?”

Victor closed his eyes. “Depends on ya an’ what ya do. If ya said ya wanted me t’ take ya t’ Paris fer a week, my schedule might hafta go fuck itself; ‘specially if it meant … ya were choosin’ me…”

“Can I ask…?” She fell silent for a few moments, but he didn’t press. “Why did you … say it? I mean, why now? The L-word?”

“Lesbian?”

“What?”

“Ya never saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. tha World? See, ya need me fer yer cultural education.”

In a quiet and subdued tone, she asked, “Are we pretending it didn’t happen?”

Victor sighed and lifted his head to kiss her curls before settling again. “I never got tha chance … before, with Bonnie. I was an idiot. If ya go, if ya don’t … come back … I need ya t’ know it.” Huffing out a breath, he added, “Ain’t gonna just whip that out three times a day –”

“No, I understand.” She lifted her head and he opened his eyes to meet her gaze. “Would it make you feel better if I came back to the Yukon house with you and just stayed behind there for my week while you go to Nepal? You could return there to get me on the way to New Orleans. Then we could work out what to do from there?”

“Bypassin’ Berlin an’ Cape Town on tha way? Yer def gettin’ a world map in yer stockin’; I’ll drop a hint t’ Santa. Why would ya wanna go back there?”

“I miss Brys. I admit, I might even miss Perrin – a tiny eensy bit. When you left me this morning, all I wanted to do, all I could think of, was to go cry on Brys and ask his advice.”

“Ya wouldn’t consider ‘is opinion just a bit skewed in my favor? Suspect ‘im o’ not bein’ real impartial? I sign ‘is paycheck an’ own ‘is roof, ya know.”

“I’d just like to see him again. Wouldn’t you feel less worried about me leaving forever if I did my thinking there?”

“Yeah, I would. I can put their number in yer phone.”

“Thanks, I’d like that.”

“Ya already know tha location, may as well. That way, if I gotta jet off cuz somethin’ came up, Brys can come get ya in one o’ tha choppers. If I’d known ya were that fond o’ tha froggy sap, I mighta worried less ‘bout ya droppin’ flyin’ monkeys on ‘is head. At least those boys won’t try t’ screw ya.”

Tabitha leaned in and kissed him. “You are a trip, dude. So are we showering or having a leisurely soak?”

“Gonna get all sweaty an’ dusty on Operation: Down t’ tha Chickens; I’d rather nap while ya cuddle me.”

“Could you push your post-job schedule back to squeeze in Christmas in the Yukon?”

“I might be able t’ arrange that. Do I gotta wear a silly hat?”

“Only if you want to.”

She moved to lie on her back and Victor rolled to his side and curled himself around her. “Told Ellison it might take a while t’ coax tha leopard int’ tha jet. What he dunno won’t make me care if he minds.”

“So, what is our client like…? What’s his deal?”

“Kenton Ellison, eco-terrorist t’ some, planet liberator t’ others; he’s an annoyin’ vegan from an old money family who’re probly embarrassed he’s their kin. Good chunk o’ ‘is inherited cash greases tha palms o’ lobbyists in my country an’ yers an’ when that won’t get ‘im what he wants, he spends more on tha likes o’ me t’ get things movin’ a bit faster than rented politicians can. Stoppin’ bad chemical crap, savin’ tha rainforest, he eats that shit up. Make no mistake, though, much as I joke, he can be a murderous sonovabitch.”

She pulled the tie out of it and started playing with his hair. “Kettle, pot… You don’t have any views on saving the planet?”

“Yup. I believe we all gotta give serious thought t’ tha kind o’ world we’re leavin’ behind fer Keith Richards.”

Tabitha burst out laughing and slapped his shoulder. Victor grinned, shifted to get more comfortable around her, and began to purr.

“Do you have your terrifying German alarm from Hell set?”

“I do. Gonna hafta teach ya ‘bout tha splendor that is Rammstein, darlin’. That pop shit on yer iPod made my ears bleed.”

“Rammstein, huh? What was the song?”

“Called Waidmanns Heil – means good huntin’. That’s a demo, tha singer’s a friend – he lemme record ‘im singin’ it cuz I liked tha lyric. Ain’t even on an album yet, just tucked in a battered notebook in ‘is suitcase at tha time.”

“Pretty exclusive – cool. So that’s what wakes you up before a mission… It fits. You speak German, obviously. How many languages do you know?”

Victor winked at her and closed his eyes. “Been too long since I counted ‘em an’ tha fuzzy suckers won’t hold still.” When her lips pressed a gentle kiss to his forehead, he smiled and began to purr again.

~ ~ ~

“There ya go.”

Victor handed her phone back and watched her dump the contents of the purse he’d confiscated into the Prada bag she’d bought. She tossed the old purse on top of one of her suitcases.

“Thanks. Are we taking your space car to do mayhem tonight?”

“Naw, tha airport minions brought my black Hummer H1.”

“Oh. Can we listen to my iPod on the drive?” She shot him a teasing smile.

“Nope. Gotta be stealthy an’ I can’t be quiet if I’m makin’ those pained wretchin’ noises.”

When she stuck her tongue out at him, he caught her and hauled her into his embrace. Grinning down at her, he kissed the tip of her nose before letting her go.

“I guess it’s suit up time.” She stared down at the pile of black gear he’d set out on the dressing room couch for her, most of it custom made. Her fingers touched the vest. “Do you ever feel nervous before a mission?”

“Not unless it involves a heavy hitter like Sinister or Cueball. I’d rather go pull tha tail offa Galactus.”

“So no worries for tonight? Run of the mill job? This vest is Kevlar – I recognize it from the safe house. It has Iron Man’s fancy plates in it.”

“Better safe than sorry; anybody tries t’ shoot me, it don’t matter much. Make sure ya got yer phone on ya; if anythin’ goes south an’ we get separated, I’ll come find ya. If ya can’t find me, call.”

Victor fastened the buttonfly on his black pants. He wasn’t sure if she’d realized his clothes were made of the same riot gear grade materials hers were. He hadn’t bothered with a vest, though – his was all aimed at avoiding fire. Pulling on the longsleeve shirt, he sat on the couch and fussed with the high neck of it; the cloth nestled right under his jaw.

Donning her tight black pants, Tabitha sat beside him to put her boots on. They were heavy, steel toe and treaded like biker boots on steroids. Standing up in her black bra, she put her hands on her hips and smiled at him.

“I love this, I actually feel dangerous. What would really improve it is your dildo rig. Stilettos are so overrated.”

Victor purred up at her. “Maybe we need t’ start a new Christmas tradition an’ try that out at home.”

“Home, huh? I like that. I might spend part of the week in a renewed hunt for your porn stash.”

“Footlocker at tha end o’ tha bed, in a box marked ‘beans’.”

“Beans? Why?”

Victor shrugged. “Somethin’ Brys had in tha kitchen. I wanted a box.”

“So are you a Playboy guy, Maxim – maybe Playgirl – or a Hustler bad boy?”

“All o’ tha above. Most o’ it’s celebrity rags an’ tech mags, though. Don’t really care ‘bout porn much.”

“Why those mags?”

“Go huntin’ an’ find out,” he told her and smirked. “Ya might notice a theme.”

“Challenge accepted.”

She approached and he leaned back to allow her to straddle his lap. He crossed his hands loosely at her back until she leaned in to kiss him. Arms tightening around her slender body, he growled with hunger.

“You don’t have to say it again,” she whispered in his ear. Her lips brushed it, her tongue slipping out to trace the outer edge to the twitching point. When he palmed a breast and squeezed gently, she gasped. “I love you, Victor…” Leaning back to catch his gaze, she smiled. “I need to feel sure, but … I know I want you. Are you sure … you want me?”

Victor’s breath caught in his throat, his heartbeat speeding up with both fear and heat. “Far’s I’m concerned, yer already my mate. Beast inside was callin’ ya that way before. Wish I didn’t need ya on this run, t’ be honest – feels stupid t’ risk ya.”

“No one running X-Force ever seemed to worry about that, so I’m taking it as a compliment and I plan to squee over it later. However,” she placed a fingertip on his lips before he could answer, “I’m good at this stuff, I want to help and it’ll be done faster together.”

“Ya gotta swear t’ me yer gonna be careful an’ stay safe. Cable is a douche, but Pete Wisdom’s a good teacher an’ I know yer gonna be capable an’ smart – but things can always go south, sometimes in a hurry. Trick is knowin’ how t’ salvage that an’ still get tha job done an’ survive t’ get paid. Ya ain’t gotta whole team fer backup.”

“I swear I’ll be okay. I’m a dangerous girl in badass boots, with a lethal boyfriend to back me up.”

“Speakin o’ that – I get intense when a job gets goin’ an’ that’s why I got us workin’ apart fer most o’ this. Don’t get done early an’ wander outta bounds t’ find me; I might be too jacked up t’ sense that yer in tha line o’ fire.”

“Yes, I understand.” She leaned in again, brushed his hair back and whispered in his ear, “I’ll tell you a secret – you’re ‘intense’ about ninety percent of the time.” When he lowered his head, she took the tip of his ear in her lips and suckled it.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “Ya had t’ pick now t’ figure out tha ear thing?” She shifted as his body responded and the diamond pendant she still wore rolled against his fingers. Victor released her breast and covered it with his hand. “Ya don’t gotta wear this no more if ya don’t wanna…”

“I do want to. I know you said she was trying to betray you and your banker, but I’m betting somewhere in there was a scared woman who didn’t want to die. It’s important to me to remember what you are, since you don’t want to stop being that person. I almost was her. Now though, I guess I want us both to … have the reminder that we’ll need to work on keeping me in one piece.”

He slumped, but nodded. “Just wanna hurry up an’ get it done.”

“Once it’s done, we can go … home. I want to snuggle up and watch that movie with you, the Scott Pilgrim thing. I’d like to spend Christmas with you and then kiss you bye and wait for you to come back after snow leopard delivery. If you need to hit Berlin and Cape Town on the way home, just do it – I’ll be sitting in our freezing kitchen chatting with Brys about how to child-proof your dungeon.”

Victor smirked. “Thought ya were sick o’ tha cold – an’ annoyin’ Perrin.”

“Oh, I’m all about Hawaii – after Christmas. Who is the caretaker there?”

“A native Hawaiian grandmother type who can bury a mean pig.”

“Is … burying pigs a thing you enjoy?”

Victor laughed. “Talkin’ ‘bout roastin ‘em in an imu, those underground pit ovens on tha beach; she used t’ do it fer tourists, ‘er family still does. Ya’d like ‘er; she’d like ya, too.”

“How does she feel about kids?”

“She’s had seven o’ ‘em, plus more grandkids than ya can count; so ya gotta expert t’ consult with.” He slapped her ass and got a squawk of protest that made him grin. “Hop up, babe. We gotta put clothes on, so quit tryin’ t’ get me in tha mood t’ take ‘em off.”

When they were ready, he brought over her other belt and strapped the HK P9 pistol on her hip. There were four more loaded clips on the belt. Finally, he put the vest on her and showed her how to fasten it. It covered her chest, back, and abdomen.

“This thing is weirdly not that heavy, but all of the gear can still slow me down.”

“Ya should try gettin’ surprised with adamantium on yer bones.”

“No, thanks.”

“Ya wanna carry tha Glock, too?”

“I’m too short to play Dirty Harriet.” She watched him strap on his piece and stared at it. “A Desert Eagle .50 cal? Are you aware that a gun that big on a guy like you is like strapping a cannon onto a nuke? Or were you planning to hunt moose on the way to the plant?”

Victor chuckled. “I hunt moose in tha all-t’gether with my bare fangs. Ain’t takin’ no chances with ya along on this run.” He picked up her new black overcoat and helped her put it on over the vest before pulling on his coat.

“I hope we aren’t walking through the lobby like this; although we could claim there’s a Matrix convention in town.”

“Ain’t goin’ through tha lobby. So are ya braidin’ tha mop, or am I shearin’ it off at my earlobes?”

“Don’t make me shoot you. Face that way and sit; I’ll get the brush.”

Victor curled his back forward and purred through the brushing part. He was pleasantly surprised at her braiding skills. “I’m guessin’ ya didn’t practice on Cueball.”

“On Betsy – Psylocke … for her dates with Warren. Um … Angel.”

“I know all their names – real, code, nick, or otherwise. Ya gonna miss any o’ ‘em?”

“Maybe Jubilee; we were friends and she never cared that I started out on the wrong side of the tracks.”

“That’s tha runt’s li’l Chinese pocket pet.”

“Uh, yes. I realize you have a serious hate-on for all things X, so we may need to agree not to talk about them? A laundry list of who you wish you could gut is not going to be my favorite topic.”

“Ya got it.”

“What now, Rapunzel?”

“Stuff it down tha back o’ tha coat an’ let’s go.”

“Are we checking out? All of our stuff is still scattered all over the suite.”

“Nope. That can be an after breakfast endeavor. Ya can cart yer bag along an’ leave it in tha Hummer if ya want, but keep yer phone on ya. A pocket o’ tha coat low by yer hips is tha best spot.” He rose and faced her, his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t take tha vest off, even after. Keep it on ‘til we get back here.”

She smiled up at him. “I will. Try not to worry so much; I used to do this sort of thing a lot. It was usually attacking an enemy base or trying to stop a megalomaniac, but still.”

“Workin’ solo or duo, it’s a lot diff’rent than playin’ on a team.”

“Kiss me, Vic.” After he bent down to kiss her, she smiled up at him softly. “We are a team.” She placed her hand over her belly. “Aren’t we, junior? Daddy is a worry-wort.”

“Daddy has vast experience with paranoia comin’ true. Off we go, Tabs – time t’ play rock star.”

He offered his hand and she took it. As they went downstairs and through the suite, the windows revealed a fiery sunset turning slowly into night.

Victor did enjoy her surprise at how they were shepherded through the back pathways of the hotel by men paid by Obinata to keep them unnoticed and unharassed. From a private elevator to the parking garage, they were flanked to the vehicle and the men stood guard until Victor drove off.

“That was a trip.” Tabitha buckled up and tapped the clock on the dash. “Pacific time in winter weirds me out. It’s only a bit after four o’clock and the sun’s going down. San Francisco and Seattle did not get me used to that. East Coast, all the way.”

“I barely notice, short o’ tryin’ t’ make a biz meetin’ on time. After ya get used t’ hoppin’ over tha Atlantic ‘nuff  times per week, it all sorta blurs.”

She nudged her bag on the floor at her feet to one side and stretched out. “Do you get much downtime? Vacations?”

“Gotta get unwind time in. Biggest reason fer all tha safe houses. I’m not real picky, though. Normally, I try not t’ schedule things right on top o’ each other. Sometimes I rack up a month between jobs an’ pick where I wanna hang my hat.” He maneuvered through traffic easily and glanced at her before watching the road again. “Odds are, that’s ‘bout t’ be wherever yer hangin’ yer hat.”

“I hope you like Hawaiian shirts then, because I’ve had my fill of snow this year. One white Christmas sounds good, but after that, the reindeer can land on the beach to find me.”

Victor smirked. “All those reindeer decorations an’ crap just make me hungry.”

“You can’t eat Rudolph; I don’t want to get coal for the rest of my life because of you.” She reached out and covered his hand on the stick shift. They fell silent, and then she turned her head to watch the city thin and change around them. When the bridge came into view, she squeezed his fingers. “What bridge is that?”

“Iron Workers Memorial. On tha other side, we’re takin’ Dollarton an’ gettin’ not too close t’ tha target.”

At Dollarton and Riverside, Victor gased up at an Esso station and then headed farther down Dollarton. He pulled into a recreational complex and parked at the back of the lot behind a row of blue metal dumpsters. A black cyclone fence stood between the lot and a forest full of trees.

“Laserdome Plus,” Tabitha said, reading the sign they’d passed on the way in. “We’re a bit overdressed for laser tag.”

“Maplewood Conservation Area,” Victor answered, pointing at the trees. “Hop tha fence, use tha woods fer cover, work down t’ tha target, hop ‘nother fence, an’ then it’s showtime in stealth mode – at least ‘til tha bombs an’ arson get underway.”

“Sneaky. Do we have a specific play or are we winging it?”

“Once I start settin’ fires, any sirens in tha area’ll be flushed my way an’ kept pretty busy with puttin’ ‘em out. After we’re in tha fenceline, ya hoof it t’ set yer bombs inside tha process plant; by tha time yer done, I oughta be crashin’ an’ torchin’ trucks, closer t’ ya. We meet back at tha fence where we got over. Don’t set off tha bombs ‘til we regroup. I’ll get us outta tha fenceline an’ we’ll work back through tha woods.”

“What if I can’t find you?”

“If we lose each other entire, set off one bomb an’ gimme ‘bout ten minutes. If I ain’t there yet, or if anybody comes ‘round t’ try an’ hurt ya, blow ‘em all an’ get back here t’ wait at my truck. Don’t run right along tha fence, but keep it in sight on yer left shoulder an’ ya can find this lot. Got it?”

“Got it. If I get held up in the factory?”

“I’ll come find ya.”

“Sounds good; you have all the bases covered.” She pulled a black t-shirt out of her bag, one of his, and tossed it over it. “Dinner after?”

“Yup.” He leaned over and kissed her. “Be safe, that’s an order.”

“Yes, sir.” She grinned at him when his keychain lock made the Hummer beep and they turned to face the fence. “Are we climbing that? It’ll just bend under you.”

“Come here, Dirty Harriet.” When he picked her up, crouched, and jumped it, she managed not to laugh after he landed and set her back on her feet.

“Your methods take some getting used to.”

“I’m one o’ a kind, all rumors t’ tha contrary.” Holding out his hand to her, he smirked when she took it. “Now we work in a nice romantic stroll on tha way t’ mayhem an’ destruction.”

“Classic. So, can you see in the pitch dark? Because I can’t; I’d have to pop a baby bomb for a flashlight.”

“Ain’t pitch dark t’ me; I only need one-sixth o’ tha light ya do t’ see just fine, an’ if I run outta that, can see int’ tha infrared spectrum some.”

“Wow. Your eyes glow amber in the dark, too – more than usual.”

“No time now fer ‘nother feral anatomy lesson. If ya wanna pop a will-o’-tha-wisp t’ see by once we split up, be my guest, but keep in mind that it can show others where ya are.”

“Yes, I know,” she responded, and gave him a smile. Her little fingers squeezed his again as they headed out. “Not my first rodeo.”

“Speakin’ o’ rodeos…” He led her deeper into the woods.

“Are we staying focused on the task?”

“Target won’t be empty ‘til after six an’ I seem t’ recall that yer fond o’ a diddle pre-mission.”

She didn’t protest and the adrupt change to her scent told him why. He spotted a fallen tree propped up by two others and steered her to and over it. The urgency of his heat had surprised him and if she tried out her newfound power to say no, he wasn’t sure how he would hold it back.

Victor pushed her overcoat out of the way and reached under her to open belts and pants. It all was rucked down to her knees in moments. He managed to wrestle his cock out and laid a hand on the back of her vest to push her down lower onto the trunk of the tree. She was growing wet fast but fingers sped that along, and then she gasped when he impaled her from behind.

He got lost in it, barely remembering not to shove too deep. One arm was wrapped around her waist and the claws of the other hand gouged the wood. He forgot to attend to her pleasure, but the near-ambush of it seemed to help her right along and she came before he did.

The moment he withdrew, he dropped to his knees. “Don’t move,” he told her, and shoved his tongue inside her to clean her up.

When he stood, he turned her and retracted his claws to refasten everything. Stepping back, he curled a hand at the base of his cock and swiped the mess upward off of it, licking his palm and fingers clean as she watched in a daze. Grinning at her, he stuffed the thing roughly back into his pants and contained it again.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he muttered, as she remained silent. “He’s gotta mind o’ ‘is own.”

Tabitha sat on the tree trunk and swallowed hard. “You should really kiss me after all that.”

He moved in and embraced her, kissing her deeply before placing a soft kiss on her forehead. She had a death grip on his coat lapels. “Wasn’t too rough fer ya?”

“That was probably the hottest thing that has ever happened to me, and you’ve already set that bar pretty high.”

Victor bent his head to nuzzle her neck. “Was afraid ya might whip out a ‘no’ on me an’ then I’d probly hafta find a knothole t’ fuck t’ keep from blowin’ my chances.”

“I don’t want to confuse the issue; I mean, here I am trying to get you to grasp consent…”

“But…?” He smiled when she let go of his coat and her fingers brushed a stubborn lock of hair behind his ear.

“Well, but … you are the way you are and I – fucking loved that, so… If you need that again and it won’t get us killed, injured, or arrested – and you can scent that I want it, I’m going to say ‘go for it’, because, holy crap, Victor…”

He grinned. “Oughta warn ya, I’m awful fond o’‘mid-mission mayhem-full-speed-ahead’ fuckin’, too; I’ve even kept at it after bein’ shot, before.”

“That would come under ‘won’t get us injured or killed’.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He winked at her.

“Just saying, though – if you get done before me and feel like heading my way to help out, that processes building is chock-a-block full of shadowy corners.”

“So ya can be a li’l minx when properly inspired; I like that on ya, Tabs.”

She smiled and kissed him before standing up. “Let’s find out if I can walk after that.”

They were both quiet on the way, at least verbally. He winced at every branch she snapped. She shot him an apologetic look a few times. Victor huffed out a small breath and resolved to teach her woodscraft.

It took them twenty minutes to move down parallel to the unfinished chemical plant at a walk. Beyond the fence they approached, Victor could hear and smell the harbor, even over the tangled scents of metal, concrete, and building materials in between.

“I keep expecting you to cut a slash in a fence and then we crawl through like in the movies,” Tabitha whispered.

“Jumpin’ ‘em leaves no trace an’ no trail.”

“Not to doubt your talents, but that’s way more impressive than a six foot baby fence – plus, razor wire.”

Victor tsk-tsked her. “Knock out any security cameras ya see if it makes ya feel better, but ain’t a scrap o’ ‘em gonna survive tha night. I’m headin’ north, yer headin’ south, tha complex ain’t that big an’ ya got yer targets. Ready?” When she nodded, he swept her up in one arm above his hip for the jump. “Gotta surprise fer ya when we’re done.”

“Tell me now.”

She yelped when he launched straight up from a crouch, grabbed the fence near the top, kicked off of it with his boots and pulled himself into a swing up over the razor wire. The trajectory sailed them into a flip before he landed on his feet and set her back on her boots.

Panting, Tabitha gulped. “That was a ten from the Russian judge. So, tell me?”

“Ain’t gonna ruin tha surprise; ya gotta wait fer dinner.” He kissed her quickly and stepped away. “Good huntin’, babe.”

~ ~ ~

Victor popped claws and rushed up the side of the metal maintenance building. He didn’t hear her footsteps move off to the south until he was out of her line of sight. Running along the rooftops of a garage and warehouse, jumping from one to the next, he reached the administration building at the northern end of the complex in moments. Slashing a lock on a roof access door got him inside the two-story brick structure. Following the layout from stolen schematics, he moved to the records department, ignoring the security cameras as he went.

At the back of the room, a pair of battered bank boxes sat between mostly empty metal shelves as if hastily set there. The scent on them was Ellison’s fellow tree-hugger, Peter Wendall, who had taken a job with the construction crew over a month before just to have access to this room. Opening both, Victor found the promised supplies: neatly packed M112 demolition blocks of C-4 in one, and fuse caps in the other. All he had needed to bring was the matches. The fact that they were loaded into separate cloth reusable grocery bags cracked him up.

Carting the ‘go green’ bags to the door, he fished out a handful of blocks and fuse caps. Inserting the detonators brought back fond memories of a hot jungle in Vietnam.

That bastard Duncan who used t’ eat bits o’ C-4 t’ get high an’ started singin’, drawin’ fire on all o’ us, he thought, grinning. ‘Til I accidentally stuffed some up ‘is ass; shame that fuse got lit before he sobered up. So careless.

Striking a match to light the fuse caps, he got back to the door in a hurry. On the way out, just for the hell of it, he grabbed and broke off the top of the fire extinguisher in a cloudburst of white powder. Brushing off his coat sleeve, he picked up the bags and headed for the process control room. The explosion in his wake put a spring in his step.

The entire complex should have been empty of people, after the ones bribed to leave at sundown let the others go for the day. It was the original plan before Ellison changed it at dinner, and after dropping in on the man at his home that morning, it should have been the reinstated plan – and yet five distinct scents were inside the next target ahead.

Victor growled. Ya better watch pullin’ funny stunts on me, Ellison – I told ya I’d kill yer whole hit list later. Fuck. She’ll wanna see what tha newshounds say ‘bout this an’ they won’t miss reportin’ a death tally. Fine. Herdin’ sheep it is.

Neither the fire alarms nor the sprinkler systems were online yet, another calculated delay by workers who agreed with Ellison’s group. After the records department went up, of course, the people who shouldn’t have been in the process controls room began to scurry and the sealed security door opened. Victor launched at them and tore the door off of its hinges. Three men managed to run out, the other two ran back in. Ignoring the instinct to kill them, he used a fist to bat one man into the other and roared as they escaped on the heels of the other three.

Growling, he got back to work setting more blocks and inserting fuse caps. Control panels and screens at several workstations surrounded the dim room, most of their wires in spaghetti tangles around the equipment and computers. Not one of them would ever be hooked up. As he lit the fuse caps and leapt for the doorway, he crossed the trail of the unknown men but ignored it.

As he trotted down the stairs to the lobby, the whole building shook from the blast upstairs. Whoever those fucks were, I got their scents now. They better not be on tha kill list I distinctly postponed… Victor hit the unlocked front doors as he exited and headed for the smaller gray single-story building to his right. Next stop, tha lab. By the time he slipped inside it, the administration building was a large rectangular torch and his heightened hearing could pick up the first of the sirens.

The lab had power and it was the only building that had been in full operation as the rest of the complex was constructed at a distance around it. The place was nearly papered in warning signs about the presence of flammable substances.

“Ya don’t say,” he told the signs. Lights are off, but somebody likes t’ hang meat in here, maybe – why keep it so cold in winter? Feeling impatient, he shook his head and got to work. Gonna be pretty fuckin’ warm in here soon.

The M112 blocks were all set and each had its detonator pushed in and ready. Since he had Tabitha at work setting plasma bombs in the process plant itself, he’d decided to use most of the C-4 here, keeping back three blocks and fuse caps for the trucks and remaining buildings. He rolled them in the bags and slipped them into his coat pockets. Matches in hand, he was about to light the first detonator, when a metal pallet in the corner caught his eye. The pallet and the trio of paint can-sized metal drums set on it smelled like aluminum – weirdly thick aluminum.

Suspicious, he paused and went to take a look. Kneeling down on one knee to inspect them, he caught sight of a collection of GHS pictogram labels and froze: flammable, toxic, health hazard, corrosive, and oxidizing. Below them, the formula CIF3 was clearly marked over other words: Chlorine Trifluoride, DANGER.

Victor almost forgot to breathe. Holy fuckin’ shit… He snarled and rose, backing away from the small drums. People here that shouldn’t be, CIF3 here that shouldn’t be, in tha lab where I’m ‘sposed t’ blow shit t’ hell. So what is this, Ellison? Best laid plans o’ mice an’ men often go awry? Or is this shit yer new plan cuz I pissed ya off this mornin’ – threatened t’ turn yer eco-terrorist swan song int’ somethin’ just a touch less grand?

Agitated, thoughts whirling, he started to pace as a growl thrummed in his chest.

I woulda never guessed that skinny vegan had tha balls t’ cross me, but he knows ‘nuff  t’ realize that if he did, he’d better take a stab at killin’ me.

He had told Tabitha he would have refused the job if the place was actually making CIF3. The plant hadn’t been online, so the drums were samples – either made in this lab or sent from somewhere else.

Victor stopped pacing and took another step back from the pallet as old memories he’d tried to bury seeped into his thoughts. The sound of a soft whispery voice speaking in German made him twitch and snarl before he realized it was only in his head.

The smells and sounds were subtle. It had been so quiet in the fancy stolen house that the voice had become his world. Leaning on an elbow in bed, a soft hand covering the weak chin, the slender man had told him a story about CIF3 being used in experimental incendiary weapons only two years before. It had burned at a temperature of 4352 degrees Fahrenheit, spewed from the mouth of a flame thrower. Victor had opened his blue eyes at that number and stared at the man beside him. A small benevolent smile and the demeanor of a tolerant father might have raised his hackles – but he didn’t dare show aggression to this one. Reaching for a robe, the man replaced his pince-nez glasses on the bridge of his nose and rose from the bed. Victor remained still, where he’d been told to stay.

‘[In the end, it was too volatile – impractical. Simply too hard to control, or make sensible use of – and we had lost too many good men to it.]’ The voice in Victor’s memory was regretful. The man had sighed and smiled down at him. The dried blood of a superior officer was still caked on his claws and they were stained dark from others before that – men he hadn’t been told to kill. ‘[A pity, isn’t it? How some tools, no matter how powerful, how beautiful – if they can’t be controlled – must be destroyed?]’

Victor shook his head violently, his gleaming metal claws snapping out as his hands rose to press against his ears. The dusty scent of stone and steel filled his nose and throat as he pushed the memory away.

The voice of Beast, Hank McCoy, speaking to Charles Xavier rose in his thoughts, just outside of his dungeon cell: ‘I can’t imagine it, Charles; adamantium turns into a liquid at 1500 degrees Fahrenheit, while flesh and bone will be consumed at only 200 degrees. Only someone with a healing factor – and an incredibly strong will – could survive that bonding process without going insane. Obviously, they didn’t succeed, whoever they were, but the attempt – since he’s alive and doesn’t have it – it probably nearly killed him. Whatever else you found lurking in our ‘Toothmonger’s head, that failed bonding process alone could have driven him irrevocably mad.’ “Shut up,” Victor muttered, his lips drawing back from his teeth. If he closed his eyes, all he saw was the regretful smile of a soft and terrifyingly lethal man. A man who had caused the death of more people than Victor had ever seen – with only his messy, spidery signature. ‘[It burned at a temperature of 4352 degrees Fahrenheit…]’ “Shut up … shut up … shut up!”

Victor staggered backward until his back hit a wall, his breath panting fast. His eyes snapped open just to escape the memories.

Tabitha… He tried to picture her smiling, but she hadn’t done it that much in his company. Tiny hand on her flat belly, the small smile when his large hand covered it. Tabitha… Abruptly, the growl sparked fresh. If Ellison is tryin’ t’ screw me over… Tabitha – is she safe? I gotta get back t’ ‘er!

He pushed himself off of the wall and snarled at his old nightmares of captors and masters.

Three li’l drums o’ liquid Hell; well, maybe it’s time I prove I got that strong will – no matter how fuckin’ crazy I am. As fer that sick scrawny fuck in tha glasses … he died a prisoner, swallowin’ cyanide t’ avoid tha gallows like a damn coward. How many times has some asshole stretched my neck in a bloody noose? A dozen? I’m still here. Victor straightened and faced the little drums. “Fuck all o’ ya. I’m still here.”

To a chorus of sirens, he went to the pallet. Fishing out the bags from his pockets, he moved the fuse cap detonators to the bag with the M112 blocks of C-4. Picking up the three drums, he set them carefully into the emptied bag.

Leaving them on the pallet, he went deeper into the lab and found a humming refrigerator. He yanked it open and grabbed up frozen ice packs from inside the door, purely out of healthy paranoia. Since nightfall, it was 33.4 degrees Fahrenheit outside, nowhere close to the 53.15 degrees boiling point of CIF3. He barely remembered to retract his claws before stuffing the ice packs around the drums.The pressure seals had to remain intact – for now.

Loping off out of the lab with the bags, he reached the back of the warehouse and stashed them. Free to hit all-fours on the return, he broke the door of the lab going through it and began to light the fuse caps. Retracing his run at top speed, he barely skidded to a stop in time to avoid smashing into the warehouse.

Firetrucks and police cars were on scene, trying to fight the blaze of the administration building. As the lab blew sky-high, they’d have plenty to do, but it also might make some of them decide to get stupid and start hunting for an arsonist.

Victor didn’t allow himself to think about what he had decided to do. In a crouch, he got busy turning a C-4 block into a thin putty shell around the top of one of the drums, like an acorn cap. Picking up the bags, he trotted around to the side and cut the lock on the first door he came to. Sucking in a deep breath, he carefully slid the detonator in and got ready to run like mad. When his fingers didn’t tremble lighting the insane bomb, he let a fierce grin stretch his lips wide. He tossed it through the door and bounded off.

The blast inside the warehouse threw him into the side of the garage, denting the wall. He knew the CIF3 could burn concrete and the gravel and sand beneath it, but the sound of tearing metal was satisfying, too. When he realized the emergency vehicles were retreating outside the fenceline, he began to laugh.

Can’t blame ya boys; my balls might be sucked up against my kidneys, but fuck, what a rush!

Squatting down with the bags, he picked one of the last two C-4 blocks and started to mold it around the next drum. As soon as he was ready, detonator between two fingers, he trotted around the front of the garage to find the neatly parked row of six tanker trucks.

“Eeny meeny miny, moe…” Picking the truck farthest from the garage, he punched the window in, unlocked the doors, and set his explosives collection in the passenger seat before hotwiring the truck. Driving it up onto the scales, he had an impressive view of the burning buildings and flashing lights not far beyond.

Victor put the truck in park and sliced a long piece of seatbelt strap off before getting out. He held his breath while lashing the combo bomb to the grill. Sticking the detonator into the C-4 on top, he fetched the heavy chain, hook, and metal toolbox he’d spotted in the open service door of the garage. It only took a few seconds to latch the back bumper to the steel railing of the scales. Restarting the engine, he dropped the toolbox on the gas pedal and shoved the stick into drive. The truck lurched against the chain, tires spinning and smoking.

Sure it was proof of insanity, he pulled out and snapped on his zippo lighter and moved close to light the fuse cap strapped to the front of the straining truck. The second it was lit, he jumped back to slash the chain.

“Burn, motherfuckers, burn!”

The truck launched down the scales ramp and smashed into the others as the CIF3 bomb turned them into an early New Years Eve fireworks show. The trucks were thrown partly inside the open garage building and soon it all went up like a rocket.

Always thought it was a shame that vehicles won’t explode like in tha movies. Reality can be so borin’ next t’ Hollywood. Turns out, just needed tha right kicker. Hoo yeah!

Laughing, Victor took off on all-fours to kill the maintenance building with his last block of C-4. Beyond it was the cement structure that housed the processing plant, and inside it or out, he’d find Tabitha.

“Tha surprise I got fer ‘er is gonna be sweet as pie.”

With a trail of destruction in his wake, Victor reached the process plant building and slashed the lock on a back door. The moment he entered he could smell terrified people, nearly buried under the stink of plasma bombs. If the fools from the control room thought hiding here was smart, they’d learn better soon enough.

Hunting them was a raw temptation. Arson and destruction came easy to him – chasing prey and not catching and killing it was hard. He didn’t know if they were the owners or the chemical engineers on Ellison’s list or not, but he decided he didn’t care about that just yet and when the prey ran, he’d let them scatter. The thrill of turning the place into melting slag had fired his blood and all he could think about was finding Tabitha.

Long as they ain’t found with claw an’ fang wounds, I can chase ‘em out an’ blame Ellison if they turn up dead in tha confusion – fer now, I gotta way more fun hunt t’ get on with.

The moment he caught her scent, he grinned and began to stalk her. Going by smell, all of her bombs were in place. Then he saw the tiny plasma will-o-tha-whisp bobbing along between two cylindrical drums. Beneath it, her form could be seen as a glowing heat signature.

Soundlessly, he followed; he was well aware she might throw the little bomb light at him if he spooked her. Willing to risk it, he loomed up behind her. “Fee fi fo fum,” he spoke in a hissing whisper.

She jumped, but managed not to burn him. “Don’t do that,” she scolded, but a second later she embraced him.

Victor wasted no time. When he broke her hold and reached to open her belts and clothes, her breathing and heartbeat sped up, her scent drowning him in pheromones.

The gun on her hip clunked when he picked her up and laid her out on her back on a work table between two control panels. Her legs dangled off of it until she lifted one boot, expecting him to unlace it. He held it up higher out of the way and gashed open the crotch of her pants with a claw.

“Hey, don’t – damn it!”

Victor paid no attention to her protest as her scent filled him with lust. He managed not to tear off the buttons on his pants. Gripping her legs behind the knees, he pulled her to the edge of the table and within moments he was thrusting inside her wet tight heat. He groaned at the pleasure, watching her in the light of her bombs, large and small. Her body shifted up and back with each thrust as she moaned for him, her fingers clutching at his coat sleeves. When he let her legs go to slam his hands onto the table at her sides, she hooked her treaded heels around his hips.

“It sounds like World War Three out there,” she said, panting for breath around the words. The sirens of firetrucks and police cruisers had crept closer again.

“Helluva aphrodisiac, ain’t it?”

“Won’t they come check on this place?” At that moment, they both heard a human call out for help, not forty yards from them. “Someone’s in here? What the hell?” She started to get up, but he held her down, a growl escaping his lips. “Victor, stop.”

“Gotta be tha fools that ran from me in tha offices, no fuckin’ clue why they’re here; I can chase ‘em out before ya blow tha place.”

She opened her mouth, probably to tell him to stop again, but he stretched out and kissed her silent. She struggled under him until she began to come and then went limp as he pumped faster, pushing deeper than he should. When he let her mouth go, she cried out.

“Need it,” he muttered against her neck. “Don’t tell me no…”

“Victor, wait–”

He didn’t listen. Urgency, wanton destruction, and thwarted hunting drives turned him rougher and she winced when he reared his body up and shoved in when he started to come. He let out a snarl as he filled her.

“Stop, let me up,” she demanded, her tone and scent sharp with anger.

Victor hissed as he backed up, watching his cock slip free from her body. He shoved it in messy and fastened the buttonfly. “Hit tha fence an’ wait fer me.” As she started to struggle to sit up, he leaned down and licked the flat of his tongue up the side of her face. Whispering at her ear, he added, “Don’t forget yer surprise, but maybe we can have us a merry chase through tha woods first. Ya can tell me later if it feels like freedom.” He kissed her deeply and then stepped away, flashing her a sharp Cheshire grin. “Ya love me, babe?”

“Y-yes…” she whispered, her eyes wide.

“Meet ya at tha fence in a tick.”

He disappeared out of her sight and went stalking after the idiot who had called out. He found the fools in moments and simply stared down at the strange tableau. Going by name tags on two labcoats, this was the kill list, trussed up for slaughter with zip ties securing them to pipes. Beyond them in the dark, he caught a scent that made him roar with rage. At his feet, the terrified lambs bleated.

Behind him, Tabitha yelled his name, but he didn’t answer. Leaping after the scent, he began to run it down. A loud crack echoed in the vast room and a hot burning pain entered his chest. He ignored it and launched himself at his prey. Mid-jump, the projectile in his chest exploded.Victor roared in pain and crashed into the metal supports of the heavy furnace. He stared up at it and saw hanging above it an orange-yellow glowing ball of plasma energy. Steel groaned and snapped.

Victor could feel a rush of blood wetting his coat. As his mind clouded in pain, he heard Tabitha scream his name. A metal scratching on metal sound a few yards off made him hiss; it seemed to stretch, going on forever. Other cries sounded as the scent of blood and piss sharpened the air  – and then the girl called out to him again, her shrill voice full of terror.

“Don’t, Victor, stop it! Please stop! Oh my God, this can’t be happening… Please…!” She cried out as if hurt. He heard her sobbing. “How could you? You fucking bastard, how could you!”

“Tab,” he whispered, as a sickening wave of dizziness swept over him. Confusion buried rage.

Far too close, an explosion went off. He struggled to turn his head and saw bright orbs flying and blasting metal objects.

“Tabitha … wait…” He looked back at the orb overhead just as it flashed and tore the top of the furnace into shrapnel. Lancing pain ended his sight and tore a ragged scream from his throat.

Victor tried to lift clawed hands to protect his head as the furnace toppled. Sharp metal struck his face, throat, and chest. The smell of blood burst around him as he was pinned – and then the blackness took him down.

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

Author’s Note: The movie Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is awesome. For those who haven’t seen it, Victor is referring to a funny bit where Scott is too nervous to say “I love you” to a girlfriend. When his friend tells him he has to say the L word, he says “Lesbian?” to avoid saying “love”. Victor has said “I love you” and I suspect it has scared him silly, and discussing tender stuff isn’t his thing. Also, the joke is an anachronism, but I love it too much to change it, so I thought I’d at least mention it here. This story is set in 2002, and the comics of Scott Pilgrim came out in 2004, with the movie arriving in 2010. I won’t even bother with a No Prize for this. Yet unless I can dream up a better joke that fits just as well, I’ll probably just keep it in there. Maybe one of the time traveling mutants had a DVD and a player and Victor stole it. Does that count as a No Prize?

Many of my locations and a lot of their details are real, and there are a few plants on the northern shore by Vancouver – at least one is a chemical plant. However, the plant in this story is not real, and it’s location is not where the real one is. I’m a lover of details and research is magic, but sometimes fictional locations are simpler to write. Chlorine trifluoride is real and so are its roots in Nazi weapons testing two years before World War II. The beastly stuff is used today primarily in the computer industry, as the chemical agent that makes a “clean room” clean. Victor also quotes from a Robert Burns poem “To a Mouse” when he thinks to Ellison, “Best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

For the Wolverine fans among us, he’s about to have another cameo in this story. I like to mesh my stories. By this point in “Redemption”, chronologically speaking, Logan’s fic “Shattered Silence” has wrapped up and finished. I shall probably have to break up the steady ‘first Tabitha and then Victor’ chapter structure in the next chapter, having more than one section for each of them, to get the story told right. At this point, three more chapters are planned for this story.

As always, thanks to everyone for reading, please do review, I love to hear from you. My stories will all eventually be on my blog (the link is on my profile), and I can respond to comments/reviews on the blog, via email, or via @MET_Fic – AnonGrimm

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