Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 14 – From the Ashes Rise

I’m gonna wake up, yes and no
I’m gonna kiss some part of
I’m gonna keep this secret
I’m gonna close my body now

I guess I’ll die another day
I guess I’ll die another day
I guess I’ll die another day

Sigmund Freud
Analyze This
Analyze This, this, this…

I’m gonna break the cycle
I’m gonna shake up the system
I’m gonna destroy my ego
I’m gonna close my body now

I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go

For every sin, I’ll have to pay
I’ve come to work, I’ve come to play
I think I’ll find another way
It’s not my time to go

I’m gonna avoid the cliche
I’m gonna suspend my senses
I’m gonna delay my pleasure
I’m gonna close my body now

I guess I’ll die another day
I guess I’ll die another day
I guess I’ll die another day

I think I’ll find another way
There’s so much more to know
I guess I’ll die another day
It’s not my time to go

~ Die Another Day (Madonna)

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

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

Author’s Note: I have added a new funny part in this chapter in the form of another phone call between Victor and Tony Stark. It shows up right before he takes the snow leopard to the jet for the trip to Nepal. I will once again be breaking up the steady ‘first Tabitha and then Victor’ chapter structure in this chapter, having more than one section for each of them, to get the story told right. There shouldn’t be much overlap in time between them, though. – AnonGrimm, @MET_Fic

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

Tabitha backed away from the hospital bed and stared at the beautifully wrapped large Christmas present sitting on it. It hadn’t been there minutes before she went into the bathroom to change into the clothes Anne had brought for her.

“Logan?”

He stepped in through the open door, saw the gift, and stopped. “That just appear there? Nobody got past me.”

“Yes…” She swallowed hard. “Does it smell like a severed head? Or a bomb? Or… What is it?” she whispered.

Growling, he took her by the shoulders and moved her farther back from the bed. Scenting the air, he looked perplexed. “Don’t smell like Creed on tha outside, but he touched somethin’ inside. Ain’t anythin’ dangerous or ‘recently dead’ biological. I just smell – leather, metal, paper, an’ ink.” Frowning, he sniffed again. “It’s cash.” He looked at her. “Ya wanna open it? Might oughta be me, just in case.”

“I vote you,” she replied, and stood behind him, peering around his shoulder.

~Snikt.~ “Ain’t gonna kill it,” he said, probably smelling her anxiety. He stabbed the top of the box at a corner, through the shiny green wrapping and red velvet bows. One slash of the single claw cut the top off and made it spin to the floor. He gave it another sniff and growled again. “A woman packed an’ wrapped tha box, a man touched it briefly, but everythin’ in it was touched by Creed. Tha bastard left ya a note.”

When he stepped aside, Tabitha sat on the bed to look at it. A small white envelope, like the kind that came with flower deliveries, had her name scrawled across it in black ink. It was sitting on top of a carefully packed fortune in cash bricks, just like the ones in her purse, except some of these were American as well as Canadian dollars.

“Is that … his handwriting?” The letters were large and sharp, her name slanting downward as it went. It was messy, manic – some of the letters were angled oddly – and it looked like he had tried to drive the ink in by force, for all the pressure involved.

“Yup.”

“You two were pen pals at some point? I’ve never seen him write anything.”

“In tha CIA, same team, paperwork fer that.” Logan sighed. “Ya wanna be alone?”

“No. Definitely not.”

The cash was inside a duffelbag, and if she picked up the coiled strap, the whole thing would pull free of the box. Careful not to damage her name, she used a fingernail to slit open the envelope. The card inside was a flat white notecard. In the same messy intense handwriting, the note said, ‘For the cub.’ As she read it, she heard his voice saying it in her head. She couldn’t stop the tears and didn’t try. Staring at the note, she felt the words under the card from the pressure of the handwriting. It was so strange to see those words.

Without handing it over, she showed it to Logan. “I’m not sure what to make of this.”

“Got me. Don’t think he knows what guilt means, but that’s probly a couple million or so. Might just be ‘nother head game, ya know.”

“This is stupid, but – I thought he would spell the way he talks. I have no idea why that even entered my head.”

Logan snorted. “Creed’s lotsa things, but he ain’t dumb.”

“I know. I found that out the hard way. Should I keep it? The money?”

“Yer already keepin’ tha fortune in yer bag. It won’t be stolen, or marked. That’s blood money.”

Tabitha sniffed and wiped at her tears. With a sigh, she whispered, “He told me he was subcontracting me to help blow things up, and he said he would pay me $500,000. What’s in my purse is half of that amount, which he kind of forced me to take. I wasn’t fooled, I knew he’d try to kill me; the whole speech was just an act. This is… Well, this makes no sense.”

“It’s up t’ ya, but … hard t’ say what tha message means. Fer ya t’ use in care o’ tha baby, or … in trade fer it.”

Tabitha shivered. “I have a whopping hospital bill, I bet.”

“I was plannin’ t’ cover that.”

“Well, now I can.” She looked at him. “You said it was my choice.”

“Takin’ it could mean somethin’ t’ ‘im that ya don’t want it t’ mean.”

She thought about it. “I have you around, so I don’t have to worry about that just yet. Right?”

Logan frowned. “Right. Yer call.”

Tabitha tried to lift the duffle bag out of the box with her good arm, gave up, and shrugged at him. Logan pulled it free easily and set it on the bed. She picked up one of the packs of hundreds in American dollars. It was bound with a white paper ring with mustard color borders, and the value $10,000 was printed on the ring three times.

“I assume this isn’t your first time seeing this much cash in one spot, what with the eyeball-guess.”

“Not my first.”

“How did you make the guess, just out of curiosity…?”

“A hundred o’ what yer holdin’ is a million in US dollars. Size o’ tha bag, two kinds o’ currency, exchange rate o’ one CAD t’ ‘bout 0.61 USD, ya got two million there, give or take. Count ‘em out, be close t’ two hundred packs in there.”

“Damn. Why didn’t you appear out of nowhere and save me before I flunked math?” Tossing the pack back in, she zipped the thick black leather duffle bag closed. With a shiver, she pushed the empty box onto the floor. “Can we strap all of this on your motorcycle? It’s checkout day, and I’m really ready to get out of here.”

He nodded. “Want me t’ carry it?”

“Please.” She shouldered her purse. “Let’s bail.” Finding Anne outside at the nurse’s station, Tabitha hugged her. “Thanks for the clothes.”

“You’re welcome. Logan has my address and spare key, and I’ll see you both tonight?”

“Sure…”

“At least until you sort out where you’re going.”

Tabitha noticed her glance over at Logan as he was leaving the room behind her and smiled. “Sounds like a plan.” Leaning in for another hug, she whispered, “Go easy on him – he lost someone, to the same person who hurt me.”

“Oh… I didn’t know.”

Her expression and indrawn breath had told Tabitha all she needed to know. Logan would be safe with this one. “And thanks for helping him forget, if you can. Oh, if you want a hug from him, let alone anything else, you’ll have to start it. I think he might be a little gunshy.”

She stood aside and let the nurse take her shot at that hug. She managed okay.

“Let’s get ya settled up, darlin’.”

Falling into step beside him down the hall, she asked, “So we’re staying at Anne’s? I call the couch, ‘bub’.”

“Don’t start,” he groused, but she caught the slight smile under the battered cowboy hat.

~ ~ ~

The livingroom wasn’t pitch dark, and it was mostly quiet, at least whenever her impromptu housemates took a breather. Technically, she couldn’t hear Logan much.

Going by Anne’s contributions to the noise, the man might just be ‘the best there is at what he does’. Bonus round…

Tabitha sighed. She could have slept in the guest room, but it was on the other end of the house and she didn’t feel comfortable being that far from her protector.

You go girl, she thought when Anne called out his name again, and tried to smile.

Logan had wanted her to bunk with Anne while he kept watch, but Tabitha had practically pushed him into the nurse’s room with the fiercely whispered reminder that of the two of them, she wasn’t the one Anne wanted to share a bed with.

She tried not to think of Victor, but it was useless. Pushing away the times when he’d been cruel was hard enough, but the other side of Victor, real or a lie, was what haunted her. His voice, saying he loved her, was a memory that always made her cry.

I miss him, but I have to face the fact that the man I miss may have never been the real Victor. It felt so real, like he opened up, let me in, and … and Logan told you that the man is a professional at manipulation.

Tabitha was almost asleep when she heard a guttural groan from across the room, through the closed bedroom door. Visions of amber cat eyes watching her as the massive body pushed her into pleasures she hadn’t known existed came crowding into her thoughts. She longed to feel again the way he would slowly unwind when he came and sometimes laid his head on her shoulder, accepting her petting and silent offer of comfort.

Tears rose and fell quietly as she tried to get settled so she could fall aleep. As her mind sank into flotsam dreams, they were abruptly cut by the scrape of claws into stone as blood was sprayed over snow like thrown rubies. Unable to move, she watched as thick slices of a man’s wrist fell at her feet. She felt something brush her lips. Parting them to suck on the fingers, the lethal metal claws shot out and stabbed into the back of her tongue. Struggling and choking on blood, she thrashed as more clawed fingers came over her head and hooked deep into the roof of her mouth. A terrible pulling pressure began.

She remembered the soft and open whispered words, but heard them in that low, slaughterhouse rasp, ‘I want this cub…’ With a crack, he pulled her open, ripping her body in two. She stared off through tears at nothing as she felt the claws reaching inside to close around the tiny crying head inside her…

Tabitha screamed when she woke, and then realized she’d been screaming in her sleep. She choked and stopped screaming, twitching in fear, as a heavyset body reached for her. The words, attempting to soothe, sounded just like … him…

“Darlin’, quiet now, yer safe – I got ya… Yer safe…”

Logan. She fell apart until he knelt on the floor and held her. He had pulled on his jeans, but the rest of the heavy muscles were bare and tangled with fur. She shuddered. “Logan, please…” She started to sob. When she struggled against him, he gently let her go. “I can’t, I’m sorry…”

“No need t’ be,” he told her. He got up and shot an imploring look at Anne.

When the nurse came up and sat beside her, Tabitha nearly crawled into her lap. “Shhh, Tabitha, you’re safe…”

She hid her face on the woman’s lap and sobbed. Across the room, she couldn’t hear a thing, but she knew the Wolverine was pacing.

“Would you get me a glass of water for her?” The hands that stroked her curls and back were small and gentle.

Tabitha couldn’t look at him yet, but sat up and took the glass when Anne softly urged her to. Drinking some of the water, she pressed herself into the fuzzy robe and soft breasts and tried to breathe. When she could glance over, she saw that Logan had sat on the floor, but he had also found and put on his t-shirt.

“I’m … so sorry…” she croaked, and quickly drank more water. His expression was full of regrets and sorrow.

“I shoulda known better.” He took the empty glass when she held it out.

Shivering from the memory of the nightmare, she looked down at her stomach, her hands stroking it over the blanket. “It’s still flat,” she whispered.

Anne petted her curls, trying to calm her. “That’s normal for now.”

Her stomach twinged. “Logan, am I…?”

“Nothin’s changed, yer still pregnant.”

Tabitha sighed and wilted against Anne. “Why isn’t it a bump yet?”

Anne shifted and held her close. “You’ve never had a child before, so it will take about twelve to sixteen weeks to start showing. Dr. Reneaux did an ultrasound, and bloodwork to determine your level of hCG; it isn’t an exact thing, of course. Do you want to know what she put down for your conception date?”

“No.” Tabitha sniffed. “She probably thought I was weird for not wanting to know her best guess for that. Give me a ballpark for when it’ll show?”

“Maybe another month or so.”

Tabitha couldn’t read Logan’s expression now, but when the topic was Victor, it was hard not to imagine judgement there, no matter what he said.

“I don’t want to know because then I might be able to figure out which time he managed it, which time it was that he raped me…” Her voice turned shrill as memories and panic collided. “I don’t want to remember what was happening, what he did to me that … that… did this!”

“Hush, now… Ya don’t need t’ know. Just let it do what it’s gonna an’ don’t worry ‘bout dates, darlin’…”

“I dreamed that he got me, ripped me open and … took it, the baby…” She sat up, abruptly angry with herself. “I was such a stupid fucking bitch. He hurt me so much, over and over, for nearly a month before Vancouver. I couldn’t escape, he’d have hunted me down and killed me. I ran once, there were men out there; he killed them just for touching me. He kept calling me his property, his … whore…”

“Sweetie,” Anne whispered. When she offered her hand, Tabitha held it tightly.

She couldn’t look at Logan and stared at Anne’s hand in hers instead. “He made me swear to obey or he’d kill me. He forced me to do things with him … to him… I just wanted to live, so I … did them. He hurt me whether I obeyed or not. Then he started to act nicer and it was so confusing, but I just wanted him to stop hurting me…” She crumpled into sobs again.

“Tabitha…” Logan whispered. “Ya aren’t t’ blame fer any o’ that.”

Looking up, she stared back at him. Fear and defensiveness turned her tone bitter. “I was afraid to tell you this… In Vancouver, he changed completely, even started acting like we were a couple. He was talking to me, telling me things about him, his past. He kept saying he wanted to keep me. I was scared, so afraid it was a game, a trap – and I guess it was… I knew he wouldn’t let me go, but I didn’t want him to be like he was before.”

He moved closer, the crouching gait making her wince, but when he settled again and offered his hand, she took it, still holding onto Anne’s in her other hand.

“Ya survived any way ya could. It don’t matter none t’ me if ya went along with ‘is insane games t’ stay alive – yer here, ya got away, an’ that’s what counts.”

“I bet you heard me in that parkinglot, begging him to stop, telling him I loved him.”

“Yer doc explained Stockholm Syndrome t’ ya, I was there.”

“What if it wasn’t that?”

“Don’t matter, not t’ me. I don’t care if he got ya so twisted up that ya were pickin’ out a china pattern – he was there t’ kill ya, an’ I wasn’t gonna let ‘im. Head games, torture, rape, hurtin’ people ‘til they’ll do anythin’ t’ get it t’ stop – it’s what he does. He does that shit when he’s bored an’ has time on ‘is hands. If he’s in a hurry, he just combines rape with murder an’ walks off. It don’t matter, darlin’; only matters that he hurt ya, an’ I’m sorry he got tha chance t’ do that – but whatever ya had t’ do t’ survive tha bastard ain’t yer fault.”

Sobbing in earnest, she let their hands go, slipped off of the couch and let him hold her. She could barely think, but his embrace was warm and she’d never felt safer in her whole life.

Once she quieted down, she muttered against his t-shirt, “I still can’t tell you anything he’d call his secrets; he’d kill everyone–”

“Shh, darlin’ … ya need t’ calm down.”

“He asked if I’d miss any of the X-Men and I said I’d miss Jubilee…”

Logan tucked his chin over her curls. “Jubilation is safe, she’s in tha middle o’ tha whole pack o’ ‘em.” After a few moments of silence, he asked, “Long as we’re lancin’ boils, can I ask ya somethin’ intensely personal? Gotta good reason…”

“Yeah.”

“Did it get t’ tha point where he wasn’t bein’ violent … in bed?”

“Yes…” she whispered. “I shouldn’t have –”

“Meant what I said, yer not t’ blame. He may get tha idea in ‘is head that yer ‘is, though, beyond head games, an’ that’s somethin’ I needed t’ know t’ keep ya safe. Got it?”

Tabitha sniffed, hesitated, and then nodded.

“Ya should try t’ sleep more.”

“I’m afraid to.” She looked at Anne. “I’m so sorry…”

“Sweetie, it’s okay. It’s almost morning. I can whip up some breakfast, eggs and bacon?”

Nodding again, Tabitha shifted and Logan let her go. She ended up back on the couch, but this time she could cope with leaning against him as Anne went into the kitchen. He kept his arm along the back of the couch, but let her cuddle in. Tucking her bandaged arm against his ribs, the fingers of her good hand laced with his and rested on his stomach.

“What are we going to do?” she whispered.

“We should get ya somewhere that he dunno ‘bout, but I need t’ see … Fiona’s grave.”

“I want to come with you. I thought a lot about her; I want to … pay my respects, and … tell her I’m sorry.”

Logan nodded once. “Me, too.”

“There is someone I’d like to see put in prison. It’s his fault I was kidnapped – he sent me right into … Creed’s teeth…”

“Rothenberg, outta Seattle?”

“How do you know that?”

“Caught ‘is scent along with yers in that club – know tha scumbag by rep mostly, an’ happy t’ help lock ‘im up. What ‘bout after that?”

“I liked the sequestering idea…”

“Then we gotta plan.”

~ ~ ~

At breakfast and later while saying goodbye to Anne, Tabitha couldn’t help but see the other side of the feral coin in how he treated the nurse. As a lover, he was catch-as-catch-can – everyone knew that – but the gruff and violent man wasn’t violent to his ladies. Moody, chronically introspective unless riled up, and quiet in general, were all qualities he had in spades. Yet Anne’s teasing easily got a smile and he was unfailingly kind – if he liked you.

Tabitha had never understood Jubilee’s near-worship crush and friendship with the Wolverine before, though she respected their whole trench-bonding thing. She hadn’t seen the alledged fun side her friend insisted he had, but she did have to reassess her long-held opinion of the man.

Next time I see her, I have to tell her: I get it now. I’m not going to worship him, but … I can see her point about the cool factor.

She let him strap her purse down with the duffle bag at the back of the red Harley. The jeans, sweater, and coat she wore had been bought for her by Anne, but she had insisted on wearing the heavily treaded boots that Victor had gotten her for the job.

Without worrying if they minded, she watched as Anne started the hug and Logan turned it into a full-body goodbye kissing grope. She felt a twinge of loss again when she recognized that behavior.

Healing factor and heightened senses – he’s probably cranky and moody so often because he doesn’t allow his rampant feral needs to criminally cross others’ boundaries on a whim. Another reason for practically shoving him into Anne’s bedroom – I don’t want to deal with the cranky moods.

He straddled the Harley and offered her a hand up behind him. When she was settled and had her coat tucked, she waved to Anne, but Logan didn’t.

I hope they don’t fall in love very often. Catch-as-catch-can is no fun for the person left behind with a broken heart. Swallowing hard, she sighed as she held on around his waist. I bet that’s how Fiona ended up a special target. The more she liked Logan, the more keen Victor would be to hurt her.

~ ~ ~

Mountain View Cemetery was big, and the oldest cemetery in Vancouver according to Logan. Tabitha wasn’t surprised that he knew the place was older than a century or so. She was surprised to see that the tombstone was an ornate gray granite upright. Most of the graves around it had flat markers, including the majority of the newer ones. Seeing the name on the stone made it real.

She accepted Logan’s help to dismount from the Harley and huddled in her coat in the cold as he approached the stone. At first, she felt numb, until she watched him pull the diamond on the gold chain from his inner jacket pocket. He coiled it on top of the stone and stood there mutely staring at it.

“Would you … tell me the truth?”

Logan looked up. “What good would it do? Ya been through ‘nuff .”

“I need to understand this, I need to know – what he did.” She approached and stood beside him in front of the tombstone. “Please…?”

“Some I know cuz he used t’ brag ‘bout it years ago … fer tha rest, I read tha autopsy and police reports. Dunno how he came across ‘er, but he probly pretended at first, showin’ off a fancy car, a suit, whatever tha fuck. Guess he coulda lied, made up some story ‘bout knowin’ me. Somewhere between playin’ nice an’ committin’ murder, she got raped – probly most o’ tha night an’ anyway he could manage it. He fractured ‘er pelvis… She was clawed up an’ bitten … neck, calf, shoulder an’… Tabitha, ya don’t need t’ hear this…”

She wiped her tears fiercely and shook her head. “I need to know. I need to really understand what he’s capable of.”

He lifted a hand to his face, fingertips poised on his forehead, and spoke from behind it. “Goin’ by blood loss an’ most o’ it just disappearin’… He drinks tha blood when he bites.”

“I know,” she whispered. “He did it to me.”

“They believe she died when he slit ‘er throat; it’s written as ‘three-inch hooked knives’ but we know better. There was blood from tha killer on tha bed an’ on a bloody letter opener, an’ she had dirt an’ gravel from outside on her feet an’ back. She probly gotta hit in an’ tried t’ run an’ he caught ‘er. Tha rest … was done after she died.”

“Oh my God…” Her hands rose to cover her lips.

“They found evidence … an’ he used t’ brag ‘bout…” He growled low in his chest and Tabitha jumped. “Darlin’, I’m sorry…”

“No, it’s okay… He admitted that he does things sometimes, he joked about it – necrophilia.”

“He wasn’t jokin’. She was found in tha early afternoon after tha night she was killed. From eyewitnesses that saw a tall blonde man in a coat get int’ a black Bentley an’ drive away, he spent hours with ‘er body. She had a carved up torso, mouth, an’ lots was missin’. He … eats some o’ tha organs…”

A sob tore through her on the heels of a harsh cry, but before her knees could buckle, he caught her. When he lowered her down to kneel on the thin crust of snow, he hit his knees in front of her and held her close.

“I didn’t want to think about it, all that time, afterward…” Her voice was almost shrill as her body shook in his arms. “Why? Why would he do that? I don’t understand!”

“Told ya it’s what he does, Tabitha. This is what he is. He lets tha beast inside run loose an’ he don’t even grasp why he oughta care who he hurts.”

“What possible reason… There is no justification for that, no matter what.”

“He hurt ‘er cuz o’ me, cuz he wanted t’ play an’ wanted me t’ know what he did.”

“I had no idea that you knew her. I kept telling myself that maybe he just slashed her throat. Isn’t that insane? Like that’s better somehow! I was … was…” She broke down again.

Logan held her tighter. “Ya were trapped; ya survived however ya could. He’s a real head-spinner, expert at deep cover, an’ a psycho sadist – but ya survived … ya beat ‘im.”

“I don’t feel like I survived…” she whispered, and melted against his chest. A hand stroked her curls, but when she flinched, it stopped.

Tabitha didn’t know how long they knelt there, but by the time Logan rose and picked her up with him, she was freezing and her jeans were wet from the snow.

“We should leave Vancouver t’day, at least outta tha city limits. Can ya manage clingin’ on tha scoot a bit more? How’s yer arm?”

“I can do it.”

“We can stop in tha first town that has a motel an’ a car dealership. Ya can’t ride behind me all tha way t’ Seattle with that arm, so yer gonna buy yer first vehicle. If it’s somethin’ we can pop tha scoot in tha back or trailer it behind, then I can do all tha drivin’.”

“All right…” He didn’t let her go until he was sure she could stand steady on her own. She swallowed hard at dark memories. “Don’t leave her diamond there like that – someone will just steal it…”

Logan faced the stone. With a ~snikt~, one claw popped, long and lethal. He pointed it down and stabbed it into the top center of the tombstone, gave his arm a twist, and then retracted it with a sharp ~snakt~.

Once more feeling numb, Tabitha watched him lift the diamond by its chain. He let it hang for a moment over the hole, and then dropped it down deep inside the stone. Silently, Tabitha selected one of the long stem white roses from a vase nestled in the snow near the stone. Standing beside him, she fed the stem in until the flower touched the granite.

Logan took his hat off, set it on the snow, and went to his knees again before the carved letters and dates. His fingers traced the first name. “Fiona… I shoulda been here sooner, darlin’. Ain’t even been in tha real world lately, but I made ya a promise an’ I  … didn’t keep it. Don’t matter none t’ ya now, I guess, but – I’m sorry…”

Tabitha picked up his hat and handed it back as he rose and faced her. When she reached for his hand, he took her cold fingers in his.

~ ~ ~

From inside the Seattle estate’s tall privacy fence, through the grounds to the house, and in an appalling amount of rooms within it, all they found was bloated corpses: slashed, broken, eviscerated, bitten, torn into pieces, and crushed. Even down in the small guest house by the edge of Lake Washington, they found three more bodies.

Logan had wanted to leave Tabitha in the bloodless foyer, but the risk was too great. She held her coat sleeve over her mouth and nose and insisted on staying with him.

The basement had been turned into a slaughterhouse, with parts of dead men dragged into a large pit dug into the cement floor. The pit made Tabitha shudder.

“The men Creed killed when I ran the one time – they were Rothenberg’s private soldiers. That pit must be where he kept the snow leopard.”

Logan snarled. “That explains tha really weird mix o’ smells.”

“Creed stole the animal and Rothenberg took offense. I … took a job with him, but I had no idea how bad he was then. When he wanted me to kill someone, I refused, and he was already pissed at Creed, so I guess to punish me, he told me a pack of lies and sent me to steal his pet back. I didn’t know he was sending me up against Sabretooth.”

“Yeah, that sounds like tha Jerry-wannabe asshole.”

In the master bedroom, they found the remains of Karl Rothenberg. Logan identified him by smell – there was nothing left of the face. The head and limbs had all been cut from the body and then neatly placed back together. The corpse was nude, the genitals were missing, and across the vast bloated stomach, a pair of words had been carved deep through skin and muscle: Hazard Pay.

At the sight of it, Tabitha staggered and fell to her knees before leaning forward to throw up.

Logan crouched beside her. “He did all o’ this, alone. Did it so quiet, it ain’t even been found yet.”

“Why?” she asked, bewildered. “I guess, because he wouldn’t stop harassing, he kept sending those men to get the leopard back…”

“Doin’ it in a way that would just be left here has gotta be a message – maybe meant fer us. After what ya told me, I wasn’t surprised ya wanted t’ come an’ deal with this fucker, so I bet it occurred t’ ‘im, too. Why else carve tha man up like that?”

Wiping her mouth on her sleeve, Tabitha struggled to stand. Logan helped her up. “Rothenberg was going to pay me $100,000 to ‘get his property back’. He called it ‘hazard pay’. I told Vic– … Creed … all about that.”

“Somebody needs t’ put that sonovabitch down,” he said, a growl riding his words.

Tabitha stood frozen and quiet, as if moving would make it all real. It was too horrid to be real… She knew he was thinking about her and Fiona, he wouldn’t care about these criminals – but she couldn’t look at all the death she’d seen here and be unaffected just because they were bad men.

The growl beside her made her shiver. She turned to stare at him and backed up a step at the ferocity she saw in his snarling face.

“If ya tell me where he held ya before Vancouver, I swear I can keep ya safe. I can –”

Fear and anger exploded inside her. “You can’t! Look at this! It doesn’t matter if I’m safe – he might not even bother with me. He’ll just kill everyone I know and love and most of them are people you love, too! How many people you love has he killed? How many!” She stood there shaking, staring down at Rothenberg’s mutilated corpse. Logan was silent. “You’ve been trying to kill each other for decades, right? You just heal! The rest of us … don’t…” She turned away and began to sob.

He hesitated before coming up behind her. “Yer right. I’m sorry.” His hands touched her shoulders. “Tabitha … I’m sorry.” She let him turn her and hold her gently.

“Logan, please … get me out of here…”

Wordlessly, he let her go and took her hand. She stared straight ahead and cried as he guided her through the blood and broken dead.

They had reached her truck before she could stop crying. She leaned on the side of the bed and stared at the red Harley. Its front wheel was propped up by a block of wood covered by leather and placed under its frame. The orange tie straps securing it upright in the bed almost made it look like a fly caught in a garish web.

I know how that feels… Will Victor let it go? Or will he always come around again, like he does to threaten Logan and those he loves…

Logan fished out a cigar from his jacket and lit it with a match, keeping the smoke away from her. “Whattaya wanna do now?”

Tabitha sniffed. Turning, she leaned her back against the black truck and put her hands in her coat pockets to warm them. “The same thing I wanted when we talked in the hospital.”

He nodded. “Okay. Ya got it. There’s a house I can take ya t’, in Mexico. Tha woman who lives there is protected by a cartel, tha head o’ it is ‘er brother-in-law an’ a friend o’ mine. She’d be good comp’ny an’ ya’d be safe. I won’t tell tha others ‘bout this, or tell ‘em where ya are.”

“I don’t know Spanish…”

“Gonna have just shy o’ nine months on a beach t’ learn.”

Tabitha sighed, a hand straying to her stomach. Unable to answer, she nodded.

“Ya need t’ be careful now, anywhere ya go. Creed may try t’ harm ya, either t’ get tha baby, or t’ kill ya both. Where I can take ya is as good as disappearin’ all t’gether, but no safe house is perfectly safe without bein’ careful. Ya understand?”

“Yes.”

“I’m gonna help ya, but I won’t be able t’ stay tha whole time. There’ll be others there t’ help guard ya, with ‘nuff  firepower t’ make tha bastard think twice. I’ll be there when I can be, as often as I can.”

“Okay.” She slumped a little. “Will you stay for a while at tha start at least, and … toward the end?”

“Count on it.”

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

Victor crouched barefoot in a white and perfect world on Christmas Eve. Under the icy crust, his claws scratched the stone he was perched on. He wore jeans and a t-shirt that he could ditch, his long hair pulled out of the way in a bun, and waited for his friend to join him.

One of the trees behind him abruptly had a man leaning against it, his hiking boots crunching softly through the pristine snow. He was bundled warmly in a coat and gloves, and carried a satchel that held a change of clothes for Victor, folded neatly over their supplies.

“It is a beautiful Tudor home, built in 1952, and worth about $25,000,000,” Obinata spoke softly in English, knowing Victor preferred it. “It even has a sauna. You love those.”

Victor looked out over the impressive house, pool, and beach house under a picturesque sunset. “Yeah, an’ I think I wanna make ‘em sell it t’ me.”

“How do you plan to manage that?”

“By bein’ tha Grinch that eviscerated Christmas. Nobody wants t’ live in a house where their son was brutally ripped apart an’ used t’ decorate tha tree.”

“You’re probably right. He’s inside now.”

“Nobody else is home?”

“No. The family is in Montreal and will be coming here in the morning.”

Victor’s grin stretched slowly. “Perfect.”

The moment his friend’s scent popped away, leaving barely a trace, Victor bounded down the snowy forested hill. Reaching the house, he stalked around to the front door. When he reached it, it opened and Obinata welcomed him in with a bow and a smile.

Looks so cozy, he thought, glancing around at all the holiday cheer in the spacious grand home. With a smirk, he retracted the claws on his toes. Hate t’ scratch up my pretty wood floors.

Obinata locked the door and disappeared as Victor began to hunt. Ellison’s trail went from the door behind him to the kitchen, around to the sitting room and out through the fancy half-circle patio doors. He could see the man standing there by a short brick wall, looking out over the Salish Sea. He was wearing a heavy coat.

Victor stood straight and simply opened the door and walked out. The stark terror on that thin face as he whirled was worth the wait.

“Don’t even try t’ run.”

He was fast when he drew the gun, but Victor was faster. One swipe of claws and the pistol fell to the patio in three pieces. His other hand shot out and gripped the coat, hauling the man up close.

“Ya fucked up, Ellison. Gotta make an example o’ ya now. Ain’t that a shame.”

Pulling him off of his feet, he tossed the skinny vegan over one shoulder and carted him back inside, ignoring his bribes and threats.

Obinata appeared, picked up the metal scrap, pocketed it, and then shut the patio door. “Everything is ready, and the fire is lit.”

In the livingroom, near the large Christmas tree, Victor dumped the man onto the rug. Reaching down, he grabbed one thigh and the calf and broke the leg at the knee. Smiling at the scream that fell into cursing, he turned to the tree and began moving the wires of the white lights a little higher.

“What … what are you going to do?”

Victor swiped his claws into the pine branches, cutting a man-sized gap that went back to the trunk, and tossed the branches into the cheery fire. He arranged two of the larger presents, sturdy wrapped boxes, under the man’s arms.

“Leave those there, or I’ll stick ‘round an’ kill every person that enters this house in tha mornin’, along with tha ones in those frames on yer fireplace mantle.”

“It was one girl; you don’t need her, you never did.”

Victor turned to his partner and the supplies the man had set out for him. Picking up the chain and lock, he secured Ellison to the trunk, under the armpits and high up around the chest. He used claws to cut away the coat and clothing sleeves from one arm near the banker.

Obinata opened the satchel he’d brought and took out an IV bag with attached tubing and a long capped needle.

“What I need is t’ make sure ya don’t die too quick from somethin’ as borin’ as hypovolemic shock. Obinata’s gonna hook ya up with some fluids an’ then inject in some dopamine, but I’m bettin’ ya won’t start bleedin’ too bad ‘til we get t’ tha main event.” Victor stood back and let the banker work. He nudged Ellison’s broken leg to get his attention back from the long needle. “If yer feelin’ chatty, tell me what tha fuck ya did an’ how ya did it. I already know what ya shot me with an’ who ya bought it from. What has me curious is how ya fooled my mate int’ thinkin’ it was me attackin’ an’ huntin’ ‘er.”

“Let me go and I’ll tell you – I’ll even show you…”

“Got it here, huh? Goin’ by tha scent I caught in tha plant, I’m bettin’ it used t’ be a guest at tha Sanctuary. In that case, I don’t need ya – I can sniff it out myself … after.”

“It is done,” Obinata said. Raising the bag, he hung its plastic hook on a branch of the Christmas tree over Ellison’s head. He picked up the satchel and moved aside, standing where he could watch.

“Looks like we’re all set.”

“Mr. Creed, this is insane… You can’t throw away everything we built over one insignificant woman.”

“She wasn’t insignificant t’ me, but yer ‘bout t’ really understand that. Fer all we built, I already gotta replacement fer tha Sanctuary. Remember that pretty waitress I didn’t get a chance t’ eat? Found a better use fer ‘er. That reminds me, gonna need yer phone an’ yer contacts book. I know ya never travel without ‘em. Bet they’re in yer bags in tha other room, huh?”

Setting the satchel down, Obinata walked off. When he returned, he held a phone and a leatherbound ledger book. “For Miss Pelletret. Thank you for your services in the past, Mr. Ellison.” He tucked them into the satchel.

“Before we get started, lemme go see where ya left my Christmas present, just in case ya don’t actually have it here.”

Victor scented the air, sifting through myriad other smells, past and present. As he moved into the room where Ellison’s suitcase lay on the bed, he followed the trail to an ornate box on a dresser. One claw cut the lock. He growled as he opened it and looked down at what was inside.

“Ngala…” he whispered. It meant lion in Tsonga, a Shangaan language of South Africa. The huge lion had gone to the Timbavati Game Reserve, ended up killing a useless human, and got shot. “What tha fuck…”

With great distaste, his lips peeled back from his teeth, he picked up the box that held the taxidermied foreleg of an animal he had helped to rehabilitate. The claws were shining and lethally sharp – and covered with adamantium.

As he returned to the tree and the meat chained to it, a low growl thrummed in his chest. “I used t’ laze in tha sun with Ngala at tha Sanctuary, watched ‘im grow up. So did ya. This is how ya treat ‘is remains?”

“The animal was already dead.”

“‘Tha animal’, huh? So this is it, this is how ya fooled ‘er. Even still has tha scent o’ ‘er blood on it. I’m bettin’ tha only reason she’s still alive is cuz I put ‘er in some serious armor, an’ yer weed-eatin’ habit made ya too fuckin’ weak t’ really swing this thing.”

He shut the box with a snap and handed it to Obinata. Crouching down, he crawled over Ellison’s legs, jostling the broken one just to make him cry out. Claws tore open the coat and clothes to expose the heaving abdomen under the chain. He pierced the skin shallowly here and there, watching the man’s face as his jaw clenched.

“Wanna tell me how yer not gonna gimme tha satisfaction o’ screamin’? If ya’d rather not be so cliché, I’ll understand. T’ be honest, I don’t care if ya scream or not – I’m all ‘bout watchin’ ya suffer … but yer gonna scream … ya can trust me on that.”

One claw slashed deeper, a short incision close to the pants. Ellison’s body bucked, but he kept his teeth clenched tight. Retracting claws on one hand, Victor pushed a finger into the cut and fished around. Finding what he wanted, he hooked it and pulled it out, just an inch or two.

“This is part o’ yer small intestine, called tha ileum. Looks like a li’l pink earthworm, a bit, don’t it? Gonna deck tha halls now, ya ready?”

Finger hooked in the bend, Victor began to pull, gentle and slow. He had about six inches of it out when the screaming started. The man could still curse between screams up to about thirteen inches.

With one hand busy, Victor wiped the dripping saliva from his chin with the coat sleeve of his other arm. “Told ya I get my greens by eatin’ a vegetarian here an’ there. I bet vegans got even more good vitamins an’ shit fer a carnivore t’ eat, huh?”

He kept pulling, using both hands now with claws retracted, watching Ellison’s face and writhing body avidly. Even with the IV, he began to fall into shock faster than most. When the ends of the gut tugged, Victor stopped. The screaming continued, but slowly grew weaker.

“‘Proximately twenty-one feet an’ eight inches in all – not bad. Ya probly got five more feet o’ large intestine in there, but we got plenty t’ work with right here.” He poked a finger at the coiled flattening pile of pink gut at the side of the body. Settling his weight on his knees and Ellison’s thighs, he let a claw pierce under the chin as he lifted the bowed head. “Pale, weak breathin’, kinda clammy – ya ain’t gotta heart arrhythmia, do ya?”

He snapped his fingers sharply at the man’s nose and smirked when the wet eyes stared back at him. Only a broken moan issued from the open mouth.

“Kenton? Yer ‘bout t’ miss out on trimmin’ tha tree.” Victor stared and watched as the life slipped away from him, wishing he could consume that, too. “Dead already,” he spoke to Obinata. “No fight in these herbivores.”

Letting the chin fall to the chest, he dug inside the cut in the abdomen, tearing it wider as the claw grew inside the cavity. Cutting one end of the disemboweled gut from the large intestine, he set it out of his way on the top of the glistening pile. He popped the rest of the claws and began carving without hesitation – into the torso, chest, and mouth. One by one, he cut out what he wanted before it cooled: liver and pancreas, thymus and heart, and the tongue.

Victor ate each organ as he cut it free. Grasping the chin again, he chuckled when Obinata sat on an armchair to his left, no doubt to get a better view.

“Am I ever gonna manage t’ do somethin’ that makes ya sick?” he asked, as one claw punched into the skull and slowly cut around it to remove the top.

“Likely not, my friend. Violent acts are natural acts; for you, this is a hunt, followed by a meal. It gives me pleasure to see you enjoy yourself, especially after so much loss.”

Victor carefully set the skull bowl over the body’s blood-soaked crotch, hair and scalp side down. Reaching in with clawed fingers, he pulled the brain free. His tongue licked it once before the claws held it behind a fang and his jaw worked, the sharp carnassial teeth shearing it up so he could swallow it, bite by delicious bite.

Saved for last, he stared at a piece poised on his claws. “This is tha right side o’ tha superior temporal gyrus. Inside it, Kenton Ellison had tha bright idea t’ betray me an’ tha spark o’ impetuous risk-takin’ fantasy was born – that he might actually get away with it.” Biting and shearing it up with pleasure, Victor swallowed and then growled with satisfaction. “Tasty.”

Using a section of the clothes on the corpse that wasn’t bloody, Victor wiped off his face and hands. Picking up the cut end of the small intestine as he backed up and stood, he let a grin take over his face as he lifted it and wove it through the branches like a decoration. Bringing the strings of white lights back down, he threaded the gut through them before letting the other end that was still attached inside pull taut. The cut end was left to dangle over the skull bowl.

Victor stood back to admire his handiwork. “Very cheery.” With a sniff, he turned and went into the kitchen. When he emerged with a crystal candy bowl, his teeth crushing the hard candied almonds in it by the handful, Obinata chuckled. When they were gone, Victor slipped the crystal bowl under the skull top. He straightened the head so that the corpse could greet the family properly. “That’ll do.”

Just because, he pulled out his phone, which had barely survived Ellison’s betrayal intact, and snapped a few pictures of the bloody tableau. They could go in the folder with the ones of Rothenberg.

Obinata rose and handed him the fresh shirt and jeans. He took the bloody ones from him and slipped them inside a plastic bag in the satchel, unfazed at Victor stripping and dressing in front of him.

“You did not want the eyes?”

“Makes fer better shock value if they get stared at by jeepers creepers over there.”

“Ah, I agree.” He held the wooden box under his arm. “Go ahead out, and I will lock up after us.”

~ ~ ~

In the parkinglot of the Larson Station restaurant on Marine Drive, Victor opened the passenger door of his new black Hummer H1 and put the wooden box, ledger, and phone on the seat. Shutting the door, he turned to face the banker.

“What do you wish for a Christmas gift, my friend?”

Victor smirked. “5240 Marine Drive, in Caulfeild, West Vancouver.” Winking at the banker, he added, “Gift me with yer talent fer acquisitions an’ charge me fer it; tha place goes way over our one million gift limit.”

“I have a feeling it may be on the market soon. For myself, I would like the gift of knowing you are in Nepal, securing a better life for the snow leopard, and perhaps relaxing a little?”

“I think I can swing that. I’ll discuss it with tha new liaison when I bring ‘er tha ledger.” Victor bowed when the banker did. “Thanks fer comin’ along on this one. Now all I’ll hafta replace in my new digs is a rug.”

“Perhaps I will make a gift of the new rug. Be well, Creed-san.”

When the man disappeared, Victor got into the driver’s seat and started up the diesel engine. The Trans-Canada Highway took him to Capilano Road, and then up to the Sanctuary and the newly occupied mansion in front of it. Bypassing the house, he took the service road that ran along the Sanctuary fence and parked at the head of it.

~ ~ ~

Sticking the ledger in a pocket of his coat and leaving the rest, Victor popped claws and climbed up to the master bedroom balcony at the back of the mansion. Landing on it, he retracted the claws. He could hear Liane in the room. Lifting a hand, he tapped on the glass of the balcony doors.

“Victor!” As soon as he was inside and shut the doors, she embraced him. “You’re barefoot? It’s freezing outside.”

“Don’t feel tha cold like ya do,” he answered. He held her chin in his fingers and kissed her, gentle and deep. She was in a black silk nightie under a warm robe, a new one. Breaking the kiss, he turned his head and licked her throat before meeting her gaze. “Need it…”

He pushed the robe off of her shoulders and picked her up in his arms, heading for the bed. He laid her down and straightened to shrug off his long black coat. He pulled the ledger out and set it on her nightstand before tossing the coat over the footboard of the bed. Catching her eye again, he smirked and peeled off his Ramones logo t-shirt as she watched. When he dropped the jeans and stepped out of them and up to the bed, her fingers reached out and stroked his stiff cock.

“Can I say that I missed you?”

“Ya just did.” He shivered with lust as she continued to stroke it, moving her body to be able to get her mouth on it. She licked and sucked at the head until the foreskin retracted.

“Will you stay – at least for tonight?” Liane gave ground as he set a knee in the bed and crawled over her.

“Fer t’night.” His hands slid the nightie up her body to her waist, then they gently freed the breasts from the silk neckline without taking it off. She wrapped her legs around his hips when his cock found her wet and thrust in deep.

She seemed to know he didn’t want to speak and she opened to him and surrendered her body in any way he wanted it. She seemed to genuinely enjoy it when he worked her open with tongue and fingers and then sank into her anus and got a little rough. Urging him to fuck harder, she moaned and writhed on her belly for him. When he came and remained inside, she grasped his wrist and kissed his fingers.

He watched her as she took two of them into her mouth. “Gonna let tha claws out a li’l,” he whispered. “Be still.” They slid out slow and she froze obediently. At one inch, he stopped them. “Suck tha fingers now.”

Liane did it without fear. When he backed them out of her mouth, she stayed still. As soon as it was safe, she leaned in and licked the metal on the top curve of one. The claws grew longer, her tongue moving over the top as it grew.

Victor retracted them, groaning as he touched his forehead to her back. He was growing hard again inside her.

“You are so beautiful… Please do it again…?”

He pulled back, grabbed her lube bottle and slicked his shaft again before pushing it back in. Reaching under them both, his weight on his knees and one hand, the other hand played with her slick and full pussy. It was difficult to keep his teeth out of her shoulder, but he wasn’t ready for that; once he started, he would only want more.

Victor snarled when he came, and as he pulled out, he rolled her to her back. He touched an ankle and she spread her legs for him to lie between them as he shifted down to clean her, lapping at her juices and his seed with a hungry growl thrumming in his chest. Her cries as he made her come over and over were different, the voice lower, more refined.

When he was sated, he curled up beside her and pulled her into his arms to sleep, nuzzling her dark wavy hair.

~ ~ ~

Victor woke to an empty bedroom, surprised she could leave without him knowing it. Listening, he heard her downstairs with her daughter. Other people, the servants, were ranged around the place, inside the house and out. He sat up, stretched, and smiled as he heard her coming back up to him.

“You sleep like the dead. Good morning…” She kissed him.

“Not my usual habit … weird.” He stood and headed for the bathroom. “Either been sleepin’ too much, or hardly at all, lately. Had a good evenin’ – an’ a good night – musta been what I needed.”

“Also, I have stealth mom skills. Do you want breakfast? There’s a cook … even though I’m used to doing that.”

“A pile o’ bacon or ham, any kinda meat’ll do me. Ledger with contacts is on yer nightstand. I need this Nepal thing sorted out, quick as we can.”

“Give me some pointers over breakfast and I’ll make it a priority – contact you when I get a … do you call it a lead?”

“Call it whatever ya like,” he replied. “Gonna have a P, S an’ S, an’ then I’ll be down. Tell tha servants t’ stay outta tha way; I prefer t’ remain an enigma.”

“P, S and S?”

“Piss, shit, an’ shower.” He grinned when she laughed.

“I’ll just see you down in the kitchen, then, after I chase the cook out.”

Over a late breakfast, with Mya content and quiet only if she could be in Victor’s lap, he taught Liane some tricks of how to talk to the people in the ledger.

“‘Cocktail party manners meets political campaign manager’ probly sums all that up. Fer Nepal, it shouldn’t be too bad. They don’t hate me personally, they just took Chad’s opinion o’ me too seriously.”

“Chad, the country, I assume? So … a lot of this requires me because many of these governments have you on their ‘most wanted’ lists?”

“Yup.”

“Victor, how did you get entire countries to be terrified to let you in?”

“Talent. If ya wanna sleep better at night, concentrate on helpin’ critters an’ don’t get bogged down readin’ all tha junk INTERPOL has on me.”

He watched her watch him, sitting at the table with her little child on his lap; Mya was half-asleep and blissfully happy that the ‘Lion King’ had come to visit.

“I’m not having second thoughts,” she told him. Sighing, she reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind his pointed ear. “I know you won’t hurt us. I’m… I’m going to just focus on the ‘critters’.”

“Normally, it ain’t such a sticky wicket, an’ ya wouldn’t be tellin’ ‘em I’m involved, but I’m gonna wanna visit this snow leopard. She’s been taught t’ eat people. Don’t tell Nepal that… I’m gonna need t’ follow up with ‘er, make sure she forgets that shit. It’d be nice t’ have a contact in their government who would look tha other way when I come an’ go. I’ll promise t’ be good an’ all that happy horseshit. If a good faith donation’ll get me in, Obinata can set it up. Whatever they want.”

“Is it true that you eat people?”

“Yup. They love t’ put ‘cannibal’ on the wanted posters; fact is, I ain’t human ‘nuff  fer that t’ even be accurate. Been at it fer nearly one hundred an’ fifty years – ain’t got Mad Cow disease yet. I figure that’s gotta mean somethin’.”

“Uh … you’re how old?”

Victor winked at her. “Look pretty good fer a fella my age, huh? This is why ya can do better’n me – I’m a mess an’ probly gonna be ‘round way after Mya’s an old lady. I don’t do monogamy or even come by that often an’ I gotta potentially homicidal form o’ PTSD that can hit me without any warnin’ – fer me or tha other person. Most dangerous thing ya done so far is fall asleep in tha same bed as me. Find a guy who likes cats an’ kids an’ when ya do, I’ll respect yer boundaries.”

“Until then, if you do come by, the offer stands. Men like you, that a woman can get obsessed with, are pretty rare.”

“Darlin’, most folks get on their knees in thanks that I broke tha mold. My groupies make up a seriously short list.” Victor picked up another handful of bacon and ate it with a purr. “Might swing by a bit more regular, though – I plan t’ acquire a house in Caulfeild. When ya eventually hear ‘bout it an’ start t’ wonder – yup, it was me. If ya wanna know ‘bout shit like that, ask me direct before ya go off half-cocked believin’ rumors or tha media.”

“I will … but I may have only heard the part about seeing you more often… You know, they even had a tree up and decorated when we walked in that first day. It was surrounded by a sea of presents with our names on them. I didn’t have the money for a tree or more than a few little gifts for her; we were about to have to move back in with my parents. Mya went nuts opening her presents this morning, painfully early; that’s why she’s wiped out. All of this goes so far beyond ‘thank you’, Victor – I just don’t have the words.”

“I prefer tha kinda thanks that don’t involve words,” he answered. When she leaned in, he kissed her as her child slept against his chest.

~ ~ ~

Café Du Monde was as busy as always. Victor occupied a table for four with his back to a wall, near the entrance to the kitchen. The plate of beignets had been consumed, the coffee refilled.

“Good morning, sir. Back again?”

Victor looked up, drank more coffee, and kicked the opposite chair out a bit with his boot. They had done this every morning for days now. “Have a sit, Réquan.”

He watched as the handsome young black boy with the long white stick and dark glasses sat. He was wearing the same clothes again, homeless or near enough, but he spoke too well, almost like he’d been a college kid. The mystery was better than boredom and frustration. Flagging down a waiter, he told him to get whatever the boy wanted.

“Been a week, can’t wait much longer. Ya probly won’t find me here t’morrow. Duty calls.”

The two of them sat in silence long after the waiter brought coffee and beignets and topped off Victor’s mug again.

“Let’s play, one last time?” his companion asked. “Do you mind?”

“Shoot.”

Réquan’s head turned as he listened to the bustle and din around them. He was pretty and tall enough for Hollywood, except for the face. The scars exceeded the reach of the glasses to hide them, here and there. He hadn’t seen the boy without the glasses, but he could scent a lot of scar tissue. The long dreadlocks tied back in a ponytail were fetching.

“On the Decatur side, second from the corner table. It’s a woman and man, white – he has tea, she has coffee. He’s nervous, and … she was crying this morning.”

“Why’s he nervous? Tha reason an’ how ya know.”

“He keeps shifting in the chair; because … she doesn’t love him anymore.”

“What a shock; lotta that goin’ ‘round. That’s good, though … yer gettin’ better. How’d ya decide ‘bout ‘er?”

“Her voice, there’s a tremor and she’s facing her chair in a different direction. She speaks to him reluctantly. Also, she keeps stirring the coffee. Their waiter is a young man and he speaks to her as if she is important – she must be beautiful.”

“Young, old, what?”

“She is younger, he is older – I can’t tell ages…”

“How’d ya know who’s drinkin’ what?”

“He squeezed a teabag over the cup. She keeps adding sugar and then sips. She doesn’t like the chickory coffee.”

“Not bad. Keep at it.” The smile that won him was bright, and intact. If he was homeless, it hadn’t been for long. “One more,” Victor challenged him. “Tell me ‘bout me.”

Without hesitation, the boy answered, “You are waiting for someone, but not sure they will show. It must be important, because you’ve been here for hours, each day, but at lunch, you leave. It sounds like giving up, but then you return and do it again.”

“What am I?”

The bright smile flashed again. “An interesting mix of patience and impatience.”

“Funny. Tell me.”

“You are tall, heavy. You have very long blonde hair, so you are probably a white man – but not … like a man. You are … a mutant, a feral. It fits the sounds you make, and I can hear the claws when you tap the table.”

“Blonde? How tha hell can ya hear that?”

“The waitress in the next section told someone else that you were blonde. She said, ‘That blonde man was freaking me out; He kept growling.’”

“Technically, that’s kinda cheatin’.”

“You said ‘be aware of everything, use it all’.”

“So who or what am I waitin’ fer?”

“Someone you love.”

“Woman or man?”

“I’m … not sure.”

“Why not?”

“Because yesterday you made a feral sound when the prettiest waitress served us. The day before that, you did the same to the waiter with the French accent. Still, I would say you are waiting for a woman.”

“Why?”

“Only a woman would leave you waiting this long.”

Victor chuckled. “That’s fer damn sure. Anythin’ else?”

“I also say that because you said woman before you said man. The inflection was on the first, and your tone was different.” He took a deep breath and let it out slow. “There is something around your face, or it’s a part of your face – it taps the coffee cup, not often, but when you put the sugar in, it taps if you move too quickly to drink. I … don’t know what it is.”

“My turn.” Victor added more sugar and drank. “Yer homeless, but it ain’t been long. Ya had some college, weren’t born blind, an’ lost yer sight cuz o’ violence done by folks who didn’t approve o’ ya much. Yer pretty easy t’ get along with, even fer an asshole like me, so I’m bettin’ they had a stupid reason t’ hurt ya: either cuz yer black, or cuz yer gay, or both. Gay mighta been tha reason yer out on yer own now. How am I doin’?”

“I was blinded at fifteen, racist bigots, you’re right. I spent a year in college before my family found out I’m gay. I’ve been on my own for three months.” He spoke a little stiffly, but hadn’t lied.

“Gotta job?”

“No…”

“Want one? Here in tha French Quarter, it’s just house-sittin’. I own a flat over a store. Ya can live there, in return fer takin’ care o’ tha place. Pay’s ‘nuff  t’ get ya back in college.”

“I… Yes.”

Victor called the waiter over as he dug for his wallet in his jeans pocket. Handing the man a lot of cash, he let him leave before leaning forward in his chair.

“Gimme yer hand.” He placed the fingers on his scruffy chin. “Both sides o’ that, there’s a pair o’ fangs. Points are sharp, so’s tha inside edge. Most o’ my teeth are fuckin’ razors. If ya want tha fucks that blinded ya t’ die, lemme know.”

He was still as Réquan touched the smooth front of the fangs. “May I touch your face?”

“Put yer fingers anywhere ya like, but ya might make tha neighbors blush.” The low hungry growl sparked in his chest when the boy stroked fingers over his cheekbones and petted the mutton chop sideburns.

“How did you know that I’m gay?”

“I cheated a bit fer that part – I can tell more by scent than anythin’. Ya spent a good chunk o’ our game sessions sportin’ a woody an’ ya didn’t have it prior t’ sittin’ with me.” Victor smirked when the boy started to speak, embarrassment and anxiety spicing into the scent of his heat. “Don’t say yer sorry – never ‘pologize fer wantin’ stuff, that’s how we know we’re still alive.”

“Who is the woman you’ve been waiting for?”

“She’s … somebody that I ‘spose didn’t plan on comin’ t’ find me. Guess I’ll hafta find ‘er. If I come here even one more day, gonna be a serious threat t’ my girlish figure. Puffy donut things buried in an inch o’ powdered sugar, an’ they bring ‘em in a decadent li’l pile, like one ain’t bad ‘nuff already – what a world.”

“That sweet tooth was one of the first things I noticed about you, right after the fact that everyone else was keeping their distance.”

“So natch, ya had t’ jump right in. I like it. Let’s bail, an’ I’ll take ya t’ tha flat. It has a phone, I’ll have someone call later t’day t’ get ya all signed up. Kitchen is stocked, but it’s mostly meat an’ Cheetos. Anythin’ ya need, ask tha woman that calls.”

The boy picked up his stick and stood when Victor rose from the table. “Did that growl sound when I touched you mean you don’t have to leave New Orleans too soon?”

“I do, yeah – told tha pilot I wanted t’ go after lunch, but it ain’t ‘after lunch’ yet.”

Réquan stepped up in front of him, reached out, and set his hand flat onto Victor’s hard and defined abdomen. “I … really need a shower…”

“Not fer me, ya don’t.” He lifted a hand and ran his fingers through the thick dreadlocks that covered most of his long back; he’d wanted to touch this boy by the second day. “I gotta use in mind fer that wood, an’ gamey is a turn on. Come on, we can walk, it’s just down Royal Street.”

~ ~ ~

Victor’s claws on one hand sank into the wall in the bedroom as the arm pillowed his forehead. His jeans were caught at his spread knees, but only their coats and the long white stick were on the bed. Behind him, the boy had pushed a porn career-worthy cock as far inside his body as it would go. Most of their clothes were still on, and his t-shirt covered his fist as he jacked himself in rhythm with Réquan’s thrusts.

Here and there, he let a claw pierce his dick. The wounds healed fast, though his moving fingers were covered with blood splatter from them.

Both the pleasure and the pain of it soothed his restless heart and body, a balm on the wound that had been reopened with the realization that his mate had left the hospital with the runt, and though he’d waited over and over, she had not come to meet him at their rendezvous.

~ ~ ~

Landing in Faro, Victor growled when he saw a missing person flyer on one of the buildings. Tabitha’s face stared back at him. It was a candid shot – she had given a fake tourist smile in front of the rented snowmobile that was still stored at his safe house. He tore the flyer off of the wall and carried it with him to the large orange truck that had pulled up beside the jet. Zane greeted Perrin as he handed him Victor’s black leather duffle bag.

Victor turned to look at the Falcon 50 EX parked on the gravel runway. He might be able to coax the cat into it. Glaring at the few locals who were watching them from a distance, he growled again over the sound of his boots crunching the gravel on the way to the truck.

Perrin was a welcome sight sitting in the driver’s seat of the blazing orange 1975 Land Rover 101. With the forward control 4×4 and modified V8 engine, it could go just about anywhere. He frowned at the exo-cage over the cargo bed.

“Guess tha Ugly Pumpkin might be tha best pick fer cat delivery, but I ain’t keen on stickin’ ‘er in tha cage back there,” he told the boy.

“Perhaps if you rode in it with her?” Perrin winked at him.

“Think yer funny, huh?”

“Do you wish to drive, Mr. Creed?”

“No.” He stomped around to the passenger side and climbed in. Perrin waved to Zane and drove off.

“Did Berlin and Cape Town go all right?”

“Peachy.” Victor reached over and palmed the erection in the boy’s pants; the groan he got felt like a jolt to the dick. “Drive faster, need t’ fuck.”

~ ~ ~

“She likes ya,” Victor told the boy as he watched the snow leopard leap onto the foot of the bed while he and Perrin were still tangled up in it.

“Should I confess that I sleep in here sometimes, even though you already know? I suppose she’s gotten used to me.”

Victor grunted. “Hope she can get used t’ bein’ back in tha mountains o’ Nepal.”

“Has Liane gotten you a clear path yet? I like her, by the way – in case you’d wondered. Lenusya likes her, too.”

“She’s nearly got ‘em cracked an’ gonna call when she does. I can sure pick ‘em – that woman’s damn good at ‘er new job, an’ she ain’t got eco-terrorist shit t’ distract ‘er, neither.”

Perrin crawled up Victor’s back and bit one of the pointed ear tips. “What else is she good at?” The purr thrummed instantly, but he didn’t answer. “Lenusya told me that Liane took one look at the Sanctuary’s veterinary clinic and announced it had to be bigger and modernized immediately. That apparently made the whole group love her right off.” The boy ran his hands all over Victor’s back before settling lower to fuck into him again.

With a groan, Victor tucked his face in folded arms and mumbled at him, “Harder… Where’d ya leave tha whip?”

“Are we not worried about disturbing your guest?”

“She’s a big girl. If tha phone goes off, don’t stop – we’re gonna fuck ‘til this bed don’t smell like X-bitch no more.”

~ ~ ~

When his phone rang, Victor was curled up in bed with the cat pressed warm at his back. Seeing Liane’s picture pop on the screen, he answered it and let her talk. She was figuring out how he liked things done.

“I have a new contact for you in Nepal, he is very concerned about conservation and saving snow leopards, but also worried about … well, you. I have managed to broker a slightly unusual deal, and told him I’d confirm the details with you.”

“Shoot.”

“His grandparents live in a remote area in the mountains, a tiny village, that would be a perfect region for the cat. He wants to declare it some kind of protected ‘no hunting zone’ and have a reason to keep the tourists away. He also thinks, as a ‘good faith donation’, that you could build his grandparents a new cabin home. They won’t let him send any sort of construction group, because they want the village to be ‘unspoiled by the Western disease of modern conveniences’; that’s a direct quote. You said ‘whatever it takes’, so I didn’t mention how weird it was to ask you to build a cabin, but … well, you seem to enjoy weird, so I figured I’d just ask you.”

Victor smirked. “I’ve built a few cabins in my day – in snow an’ out. If this gets me visitin’ rights, I’m game. Gotta be nowish, though, while I gotta few weeks o’ break. Cabins don’t go up in one afternoon, an’ I can’t hold off tha other jobs forever.”

“I think that would be fine with him. You also have to swear you won’t hurt any of the villagers, especially his family.”

“Natch.” After a minute of silence, he asked her, “What’re ya wearin’?” Her laugh made him grin.

~ ~ ~

Victor was still lying in bed half-asleep with his hand on his semi-hard dick when his phone rang again. He twitched into a muzzy sort of awareness, wondering why Liane was calling back right after they’d hung up.

Phone sex round two? Why tha fuck not? He groped to answer it without looking at the screen and held it up to his ear as his hand squeezed his dick. “Still horny, darlin’? Talk dirty t’ me, an’ I’m all yers.”

A male voice snorted and replied, “Mud puddles. Sweaty gym socks. Ooo, baby.”

Victor sat up in shock so fast, he dropped the phone and scrambled to get it back to his ear just in time to hear Tony Stark finish saying, “…specs and such, but if this is a bad time – or a really good time – I can call back in, oh, never.”

“Specs? What kinda specs?” he asked, in a game attempt to cover the blunder. He sank slowly down onto his pile of pillows and as Stark began to talk again, he slid his hand back around his now aching dick.

“Feel free to write this down later, you know, if you don’t have an extra hand to hold a pencil. The circlet adjusts, so I don’t need your hat size, but since you wanted it to be tough and thin, there’s only so much room for the techy filling after the power source goes in.”

“So far, that’s all in English; congrats, flyboy.” Working on not allowing his breathing to change, he began to stroke himself harder. “So specs means a choice lies before me on goodies?”

“Yes. This Shi’ar tech uses hard-light holograms, so obviously, that’s their secret for that awesome but ridiculously pedestrian monikered ‘Danger Room’ – heard of it?”

“Yeah, I’ve heard o’ it.” He managed to keep most of the sneer out of his voice.

“I haven’t been able to utilize hard-light in my appearance changing image inducers, but with this new tech, I could put it in yours. Then I realized, since it’s memories you want to induce, maybe you’d want more than visuals. A projected memory can’t be changed whether you can touch it or not, but I can make the memories multi-faceted with sensory circuits.”

Changing his grip and going slower, Victor swallowed a groan. “Tryin’ t’ follow ya here…”

Stark sighed. “The same part of the brain in charge of processing our senses is also responsible, in part, for storing our emotional memories. That’s why so many people smell a roasting turkey and start waxing nostalgically dull.”

Victor went still, his impatient dick forgotten for a moment. “Are ya sayin’ ya can make tha memories have tha scents they had?”

“Technically, you’d be doing that, by focusing on the sensory memory, but the sensors can boost that aspect and induce, or project, the scent, sound, and feel of a memory along with the sight of it.”

“Option B, def.”

“Check, smelly memories are go. You may now return to your regularly scheduled personal time. Give the poor girl my regards.” Stark hung up on him.

“Fuck.”

Victor dragged himself to his feet and opened the heavy footlocker at the end of his bed. Digging into the cardboard box marked ‘beans’, he snagged the top magazine stored there. It was the latest German print of GQ, sporting one of those steely expressions and trademark smirk, in a suit with the tie askew. He held a cigar in his fingers and his hair was a mess.

“One o’ these days, Stark … gonna hafta get a li’l closer than this…” He’d just gotten down to business when the man’s joke cracked him up and threatened to kill the mood entirely. “Mud puddles…”

~ ~ ~

He had dressed comfortably, packed light, and didn’t bother to shave. Curled up on the bed with the snow leopard, he picked up his head when Brys knocked.

“They’re ready for you, sir. I’ve put your backpack and coat in the vehicle.”

Getting up with a sigh, he didn’t bother with the doors. Opening the window, he climbed out and let the cat follow.

They ran in the snow, bounding after this bit of game and that as they went through the gray night toward the distant town. Victor could hear and see the orange truck driving along the North Canol Road, but he and the snow leopard ignored it.

By the time they approached the truck, it was parked and turned off some distance from the jet. They were down the runway a bit, away from the buildings. He ended up sitting on the steps up to the jet for an hour, nuzzling and chuffing with her, before she would follow him into it. He led her to the back where blankets had been placed with a few caribou furs and managed to get her to curl up with him.

Outside, he heard Perrin call a farewell to Zane. Victor had to hold the cat down and keep her still on take-off and landing. One truck bed trip later, they finally reached a place where they could climb up to the small and nearly vertical village on their own. Along the way, he saw signs of other snow leopards here and there, and some were males.

Victor spent two weeks with her in the wilderness, hunting and sharing kills, before he ever went down to the humans’ village. His first stop was the rustic one-room pub. Looks like Major Arnold Toht is ‘bout t’ walk up any minute an’ demand tha headpiece t’ tha Staff o’ Ra. Could be my kinda joint.

He turned just to see the novelty when he scented an elderly woman enter the place behind him. Speaking in Nepali at first, she then switched to a broken and halting English as she came right up to him. She was tiny and wrinkled, and utterly fearless.

“Come, eat, I cook for you…” She took his wrist in her fingers and led him outside and down the mountain through the snow. Slightly bewildered, he let her do it.

~ ~ ~

“Ya sure ya don’t want it bigger?” Victor asked them. The matched pair of little human mountain goats shook their heads at him as they smiled to see their cabin taking shape. “Awright, if ya say so.” He started to pick up the axe again, but then the woman approached with another basket. “Grub? Huh. Smells like meat. I’m game.”

She set out a pair of little pots on a treestump nearby. He could tell the yellow and red sauces were made with chili peppers and garlic, but he’d learned by now that her cooking was worth a try.

“Momo,” she explained, pointing to the dumpling looking things in the basket. “Yak meat.” She picked one up, dunked half of it in the red sauce, and offered it to him.

Victor pierced it with claws and tossed it down the hatch. “Mmm, okay – ya can keep bringin’ me these li’l bastards.” Before he reached for another, she grasped his wrist again and stared at the fingertips where the skin was healing as he retracted the claws.

“Hurt, now not hurt…”

“I heal fast. Don’t worry, I’ll have yer cabin built in no time. Wanna get it done before tha next bad snowstorm.”

She held his hand in both of hers and looked up at him. “Eat,” she said, and spread a crooked grin up at him. “Like the ghost of the mountain you bring to us, you must eat to grow strong.” Her husband gave a soft laugh behind her and nodded with her.

“I think I’m gonna like it here…” Victor dunked another yak dumpling in fiery sauce and tossed it into his mouth.

~ ~ ~

Victor woke in the warm den and nuzzled the snow leopard as a farewell, chuffing with her softly. It was early afternoon, and it was time he got back to work. The ghost of the mountain, as they called her here, remained behind and went back to sleep as he crawled out onto the rocks strewn with little marmot bones.

He bounded down the mountainside and stopped to grab his backpack at the cabin he’d built on his first trip here. The old man let him in and the old woman gave him sugary coffee and mutton. When he left, he hiked to the distant road to rejoin the world, surrounded by the scents of the grasses and leaves of summer.

The phone had barely been touched in the time he’d lived in Nepal on this latest visit, with both the cat and the villagers. He turned it on as the jet idled on the runway, ready to head out for the long flight ahead. One text message from Obinata was enough to turn his world inside out. It was dated a few days ago. Victor read it out loud in a whisper, just to make it real.

“She has been found, in Mexico. She is heavy with child.” He swallowed hard. “Zane…”

“Yeah, boss?”

“Ya still gotta brother livin’ in Veracruz?”

“Yeah, he’s still there.”

“How’d he like t’ make a shit-ton o’ money?”

“I bet he would, boss. Are we changing our destination?”

“Naw, keep on fer Lisbon an’ Dublin, but when we land in Lisbon, I wanna talk t’ yer brother.”

“You got it, Mr. Creed. Ready to go?”

“In a minute.” Victor hit the speed dial for the banker and poised on the edge of his seat with a low growl rumbling in his chest as it rang.

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

The sunrise over the beach was beautiful, the breeze warm as the chill of night faded. Tabitha sat wrapped in a blanket with her toes in the sand. At her back was a beach house with a new gray Cadillac SUV and a big black truck parked behind it. Inside the house, she could hear Mara Eva Casales singing in Spanish. The words were a lullabye. She watched the sunrise over the Pacific a little longer and then got up, one hand under her heavy belly. Mara’s son was coming to take her shopping in Cruz Grande that day, and she hoped her Spanish was good enough to not need his help with translating.

Draping the blanket over the porch railing, she was surrounded by delicious smells the moment she entered the house. She embraced Mara in the kitchen and went to her small bedroom to change clothes.

The room had been Marco’s, and she had left it as unchanged as she could. It wasn’t hard to do, since all she owned would fit into one suitcase, a duffle bag, and a purse. She liked to look at the drawings he’d done as a child that were tacked to the walls, and she loved the little band of Mariachi taxidermied toads on the dresser. The car models he had built with his dad were on one shelf.

His dad, who was killed by Sabretooth when Marco was twelve.

Sighing, she took a nicer colorful cotton maternity sundress out the small closet and fetched one of the new insanely large bras Mara had bought for her. Gently cupping her sore and often itchy breasts, she got into the sturdier bra with care, grateful that it would protect them comfortably. After spending her life with C-cups, it was beyond weird to be pushing steadily past D-cups.

I can’t even enjoy the new assets; they’re mostly a pain. The scariest villain I’ve faced in eight months has been a scratchy underwire C-cup bra – how pathetic is that? Then, as if it wasn’t bad enough, they started being sore. Mara says they might eventually leak a bit, too – fun!

The rest was easy to change and she dressed quickly, stuffing her feet into her most comfortable sandals. She didn’t grab her Prada purse that lived under the bed – she tried not to touch it much, or the phone inside it. A little beaded macramé purse with cash and essentials was good enough, and she would have the strapping and handsome Marco along to carry the shopping bags. He was older than her in his late twenties, but being surrounded by his boyhood history so much, it was hard not to think of him as younger.

When Marco drove up, she went out to see him hug his mother. “Hola,” she told him and accepted a hug with a smile. “Let’s go.”

“En Español, mi amiga,” he admonished with a grin.

Tabitha laughed and pointed to his Jeep. “Vamos.”

The town was small and a good distance from Acapulco for safety reasons, but the shopping was fun. They mostly bought foodstuffs for Mara to cook. She also picked up a few bottles of Rey Sol Anejo tequila, one for Marco and the others for Logan’s next visit. She chose it for the bottle – it was fun to watch Mr. Moody drink from the head of the smiling sun face.

She and Marco had lunch in town at their favorite place with sidewalk tables and she managed okay with ordering in Spanish. As always, she wanted to sit where a single white rose, not yet fully bloomed, lay on the table.

“[Who leaves these here?]” she asked in Spanish. “[I see them a lot. Sometimes they show up on the beach, down by the pier at the end of my walk. Everytime I come here, there is one. Are you leaving them?]”

“[If you have a secret admirer, it is not me. I admire you without secrets.]”

“[Very funny. You love Sofia. Now tell me everything she said on your last date, I need my vicarious romance news.]” As she usually did, she picked up the rose. The stems were always cut short and they never had thorns. She tucked it behind her ear.

Now and then, well-groomed men in expensive suits and sunglasses would appear or disappear around her when she was in town. She was used to it by now, though it had terrified her at first. Mara had explained that the cartel leader, a man nicknamed El Guiso, had his men looking out for them, and it was the reason Logan knew they’d be safe.

El Guiso means ‘the stew’ … weird name. Mr. Stew is Mara’s brother-in-law. Not a bad place, Logan – I’m surrounded by dangerous people who really hate Victor Creed.

After lunch, a little boy in ragged dusty clothes ran up to her holding a colorful dark blue and white scarf. Marco rolled his eyes as he rose to pay the bill and to speak briefly to one of the men in suits. “[You have scarves, Tabitha. Don’t let every one of the urchins get your money.]”

She smiled. “[I have plenty, they don’t.]”

“[You can’t save them all; there are too many of them.]”

She took the scarf without looking at it and wound it around her neck, but when she tried to give him money, he ran off down a side street. “Hey, wait…” The cartel’s men were everywhere. She rose to follow just for the thrill of the chase. Mexico had been good to her, but after so long with X-Force, she missed things she didn’t want to miss.

Tabitha was lead through a maze of town streets and alleys. Keeping to a brisk walk, the running boy outpaced her all along until she found herself at a deadend, the street ending in a wall. One of the bordering buildings was short and the sun flooded into the space. The boy stood there, smiling.

“[You forgot your money, kid.]”

Grinning, he pulled a wad of cash from his ragged shorts pocket. “[The lion man is right, you are a pretty lady, like the flowers.]” He ran by her and she heard his bare feet dodge around something big as he ran off.

“What?” She whirled and froze. “Oh my God … Victor. How…?”

He was standing there, blocking her in. The suit was black Armani and he wore sunglasses like the cartel men. His hair was just as long as she remembered, ponytailed, and a particular white rose was sitting in the buttonhole of his suit.

“Hiya, Tabitha. Didn’t come t’ hurt ya; just needed t’ see ya, is all.” He studied her up and down, pausing on her swollen breasts and heavy round belly. “Needed t’ see yer both awright, since ya never called t’ say, one way or tha other.”

“We’re fine. Please go.” She slowly lifted her hands, ready to burn him if she had to.

“I waited at Café Du Monde, after ya got outta that hospital. Every mornin’ fer a week, before I had t’ go ‘round tha world again. Hoped ya’d figure out tha truth months ago.” He cocked his head to one side at her and gave her a slight and sad smile. “Missed ya a lot, babe.”

Her hands began to shake. “Please don’t,” she whispered. “I had to put you behind me. I’ve never told your secrets to anyone.”

“I know ya didn’t. Ya got it all wrong, ya know. It was Ellison; he faked tha claws, killed those men, then attacked ya in tha dark an’ hunted ya down.”

“Those men were … eaten. The evidence, what was left … it proved it was you. You were there, hunting me; Logan fought you, made you stop.”

“Ellison shot me, some crazy explosive that tore my chest out. He pretended t’ be me an’ made ya blow up yer bombs. One o’ ‘em burned me an’ dropped an industrial furnace blown int’ shrapnel on top o’ me. Had t’ eat t’ heal an’ they were already dead. What’s tha point o’ tryin’ t’ lie ‘bout it now?”

“Why does it matter at all to you?”

“It’s always gonna matter. Ask yer runt ‘bout this. If he scented yer wounds, even he ain’t dumb ‘nuff  t’ miss it.” He showed her a black canvas duffel bag he’d held behind him and bent to set it down on the dusty street. Taking the rose out of his buttonhole, he set it on it. “Took tha snow leopard t’ Nepal myself, got it sorted out an’ just been workin’ since. Ain’t tried t’ harm ya.”

“What about Rothenberg, and his whole compound?”

“Went out like chumps, just like Ellison an’ ‘is eco-terrorist group. I got tha last one o’ ‘em a month ago. They hurt ya.”

“So did you.”

“Yeah I did, at tha start. That ain’t tha whole story, as ya damn well know. I’m guessin’ tha runt dunno that part.”

Tabitha felt tears gather in her eyes. “We ended when you tried to kill me, just like you told me you planned to.”

“I didn’t do that, darlin’. Take tha bag back t’ yer beach house an’ show what’s in it t’ dear ol’ Logan. Make sure ya insist on ‘im tellin’ ya tha truth ‘bout it.”

“I’ll do that, if you leave.”

He nodded slowly. “Do ya need anythin’?”

“No, I’m fine.”

“I never gotta chance t’ give ya that surprise I got fer ya.”

The tears spilled. “Please, Victor, please … you terrify me.” She couldn’t have read the expression on his face to save her life, and wouldn’t have trusted it if she could.

“I put it in tha bag. Do whatever ya want with it.” He took a step back. “I know yer plannin’ t’ give up our cub. Gotta nice family picked out yet? Somebody that don’t hate mutants? Damn, girl – I kept hopin’ … ya’d figure it all out. When ya finally do, ya know how t’ reach me.” He breathed in deep, and she knew he was scenting her. “Remember what I told ya, when we mated, before we left fer tha job. Remember, Tabitha.” He turned, left the bag, and walked away.

When her ears quit ringing from an utter panic attack that had rushed in when he disappeared, she could hear Marco and others calling for her. She picked up the bag, crushing the rose in the street.

“I’m here!”

~ ~ ~

Alone on the beach that night, with Logan’s visit scheduled the following day, Tabitha took a walk. She held a small dark blue velvet box in her hand. When she reached the pier and walked down it, she couldn’t muster surprise at the fresh scatter of white rose buds all over the end of it.

Mara had told her the white rose was suited to reverent occasions, like weddings and christenings. They were a fitting way to honor a friend or loved one, and could symbolize both a new beginning or a farewell. The pure white color was meant to convey respect, pay homage to new starts, and express hope for the future. The blue scarf she still wore was covered with white silk thread, embroidered into little rose buds.

She nudged some of them out of the way to stand at the edge of the pier. Forming a baby bomb to see by, she slowly opened the jeweler’s box. Tears rose as she saw, nestled on blue silk, a large diamond engagement ring, strung on what looked like a silver chain. There was a piece of paper folded under it, and she slipped it out. It was a receipt from a fancy custom jeweler’s shop in Vancouver, dated on the day and during the time that Victor had left her at the hotel after their fight. That had been before she ever mentioned wanting a diamond of her own, just to tease him.

Silent tears ran down her face as she replaced the paper and closed the box. She almost threw it in the ocean, and then slipped it into a pocket of her sundress. The thing that had been in the bag with it, nestled untouched in a wooden box, had frightened her. She’d fished out the jeweler’s box, zipped the bag up, and stuffed it at the bottom of her closet.

“Victor, I don’t know what Logan will say,” she whispered to the waves. “Will it change anything? Can anything change what you did?”

~ ~ ~

The bottle with the smiling sun face sat on the coffee table. In front of it lay an ornately carved wooden box with the lid open. Inside it, metal claws gleamed on the severed foreleg of a lion. Neither she nor Logan had touched it. He’d told her that Victor had handled the box, but his scent was not on the animal’s remains.

“Whoever did this, made this … that’s adamantium on tha claws.” Logan looked up at her. “Do ya want tha truth?”

She watched him as he shifted beside her on the couch. She was used to him now – the worn jeans, cowboy boots and cowboy hat, the big silver belt buckle with a longhorn skull on it. He rarely showed up in anything different. The t-shirt was new because it didn’t have claw cuts or bullet holes in it: a white undershirt, stretched over the hairy barrel chest. He was scruffy with tangled crazy black hair and looked, as he called it, ‘rode hard and put up wet’. Tabitha didn’t care. She scooted closer and wrapped her arms around one of his, laying her head on his shoulder as she stared at the lion’s shining claws.

“I want the truth,” she whispered.

“That has tha scent o’ yer blood on it. Tha man’s scent that was on yer armor vest, along with Creed’s – he touched this, he was holdin’ it, whoever he is.”

“It has to be Kenton Ellison – Creed’s client, the one who paid him to blow up that chemical pilot plant. He … told me that’s who did it – who attacked me. He said Ellison used that thing to make me think it was him.”

“Ya were doused in Creed’s scent when I found ya hurt with ‘im runnin’ up. Whether or not Creed attacked ya with claws, this Ellison very likely had a hand in comin’ after ya, an’ he used this. Then there’s how yer wounds looked. I didn’t think much on it then, cuz there he was, comin’ t’ finish tha job.”

“But…?”

“Creed’s claws move, separately. Tha fingers stretch an’ flex, gouge an’ slash. Yer wounds were straight, exactly spaced, like ya got slashed by a sharp garden rake – just like that weird fuckin’ paw thing. Also, they weren’t anywhere near as deep as he can cut. That vest? Creed could cut that int’ strips, armor an’ all. It took a beatin’, but odds are it was from the paw.” He fell silent for a moment and then added softly, “If Creed had slashed yer arm meanin’ t’ kill ya, he woulda severed tha hand right offa ya.”

“In the street, he told me that Ellison shot him in the chest with something that exploded and that my bomb dropped a torn up furnace on him.”

“That’s consistant with tha injuries I saw. He was missin’ a good hunk o’ meat near tha join o’ tha left shoulder. Looked like he cut ‘is eyes out, coulda been cuz o’ shrapnel.”

Tabitha took a deep breath, trying not to feel sick. “He admitted that he … ate … those men, to heal, but that they were already dead. He said Ellison hunted me, not him. So … Ellison must have killed the men – after he already dropped Creed. With that paw thing, he could have scratched up the metal and slashed those people to death…”

“Not that anybody could compare slash patterns; those men were nothin’ but bloody rinds an’ a smear o’ offal.”

Tabitha shuddered and closed her eyes, trying to see the horrid events in the process plant in a new way. “When I heard him roaring and hissing … the furnace wasn’t that far away. It could have been him reacting to being shot and pinned. He came rushing up meaning business, but … he could have been after Ellison, if that was who was chasing and attacking me… You never saw another man?”

“Nope. Lotsa people smells, cuz o’ where ya were. When I got there, all I saw was ya tryin’ t’ escape an’ screamin’ fer Creed t’ stop, an’ then Creed ‘isself, barrelin’ in – lookin’ like he meant t’ kill ya.”

“If it was Ellison, he was trying very hard to kill me. Creed murdered Rothenberg, he said he killed Ellison later … maybe it was to keep them from going after me? I know Rothenberg was mean and twisted enough to try, if he ever heard I got away safe from Creed.”

“Somethin’ else,” Logan said, and sighed. “When we fought, I said I couldn’t play ‘round cuz I wasn’t gonna let ya lie there an’ bleed. He actually went limp, right under me while pinned by my claws. Never saw that before in my life; he dunno how t’ stop when we tussle. He asked me t’ help ya, nearly begged me t’. Told me t’ take tha Hummer an’ get ya help. I couldn’t figure that out. Then I saw what else he’d done t’ ya… Got so mad over that, I didn’t pay much more attention t’ tha bastard ‘sides crushin’ ‘is fuckin’ throat t’ make me feel better.”

Tabitha opened her eyes and looked straight ahead. “Marco found me a photo of Ellison, after I first came here; he was almost as tall as Creed. As dark as that plant building was … if he was wearing a coat, and I heard the claws on metal and heard the hissing… I guess his plan worked. The only thing I can’t figure out is – why would he go after me and frame Creed, why shoot him with an explosive projectile? I never met the man, and he was his client…”

“They coulda had a fallin’ out – he said those men weren’t ‘sposed t’ be there, right?”

“He did. He promised me the job was destruction of property, that no one was going to be killed. The place was supposed to be empty.”

“Maybe this Ellison wanted some people killed after all. They were key personel, owners, lab scientists – if tha goal was t’ destroy tha place, killin’ tha people that built an’ ran it fits.”

“Why would Creed have a falling out over not wanting to kill people? He loves it, it’s his thing.”

Logan was watching her. Reluctant to meet his gaze, she held her breath to look up at him. “He’d object if he didn’t wanna commit a deal breaker that woulda made ya angry with ‘im – if things were goin’ good an’ he didn’t wanna jeopardize that…”

“Did my ‘none of it is your fault’ pass expire?” She looked away and let go of his arm.

Logan shifted to face her. “Nope, didn’t expire – just tryin’ t’ understand. If he thinks yer ‘is, if he considers ya ‘is mate … he may never stop comin’ after ya. This thing,” he gestured at the wooden box, “is proof he didn’t turn on ya at tha plant, an’ he went t’ some effort t’ make sure ya got it an’ told ya t’ show it t’ me. He wants us both t’ know it wasn’t ‘im that carved ya up – at least not near tha end.” He sighed and lowered his head. “He also knew right where t’ find ya an’ even mentioned this house, knew I come t’ visit ya…” Lifting his head, he caught her eye again. “That means nobody here is safe, includin’ ya. Is there anythin’ yer not tellin’ me?”

“I didn’t contact him, Logan.”

“Not accusin’ ya o’ anythin’. Why’s he goin’ t’ so much trouble t’ prove he didn’t attack ya at tha plant? Didn’t kill tha men he ate?”

“I’m afraid to say anything else – what if it counts as secrets told, in his mind?”

“Did he say he wanted ya t’ be ‘is mate?”

Tabitha hated herself for tearing up. She dropped her gaze to stare down at her huge belly and nodded once as the tears fell.

“Awright… That’s between us. Now that ya know it wasn’t ‘im … do ya wanna … go back t’ ‘im?”

“No matter what I say … I’m afraid … you’ll hate me.”

She winced and then froze when he grabbed her and held her close. She fussed for a moment, and then collapsed into him and cried.

“Not gonna hate ya, girl … not even close. I know we ain’t never been tha best o’ pals, but far as I’m concerned, yer a part o’ my family. Told ya I know ‘bout ‘im, how he is – that means I also know it ain’t all murder an’ rape with ‘im. One o’ tha reasons I try t’ hope fer some chance o’ ‘im changin’ is sometimes I’ve seen ‘im reach fer more’n death an’ hurtin’ folks. Truth is, if he ain’t comin’ after me, I got no clue what he’s up t’ beyond knowin’ he’s still takin’ contracts as an assassin. When we worked t’gether, that was in tha 1960s, an’ he was probly worse then – more brutal. If he got t’ tha point o’ askin’ ya t’ be ‘is mate, whether cuz yer pregnant or some other reason … I dunno, maybe he can change, but fer people like Fiona – it’s too li’l, too late.”

“I know…” she whispered, sniffing. “I told you he was changed in Vancouver. I had no idea he could be … a lover… I’ve never had anything, I mean, Sam… Oh, God, I can’t say it – not to you…”

“I’ve heard it before, from people he didn’t try t’ rape or kill… Hush, darlin’, it’s okay…”

“I couldn’t think straight in the middle of that, in Vancouver. Sam and me imploded because he ignored me. I never would have started sneaking into the Danger Room to visit Creed if I wasn’t being pushed away or ignored at every turn. He paid attention, wanted to see me, and he was nice … then. As a … lover … he still kept ordering me around and … I was just going through the motions, trying to avoid making him angry. The things he did … I’ve never felt like that before. It clouded and confused everything…”

“Ya know he’s too changeable, too unpredictable, an’ he’s dangerous even in ‘is sleep.”

“Trust me, I know that.” She tried to calm her breathing. “I know I can’t, whether it was real or not when he was … nice… The fact is, I was at risk every moment and he was pretty clear how life would be, and I … can’t live that way. Then there’s Fiona… I just can’t.”

~ ~ ~

Tabitha tucked the jeweler’s box with the engagement ring into a zippered inner pocket of her purse. She wore the chain without asking herself why. Beyond letting her know it was adamantium, Logan didn’t comment on it, and she didn’t tell him about the ring.

On the day that Logan would have left, he didn’t. He did go into town for a meeting with the head of the cartel. While he was gone, she went out for her usual walk on the beach. At the end of the pier down from Mara’s house, she found the worn wooden planks covered in white rose buds again. Logan had told her that he had never caught a whiff of Victor’s scent in the area, so he had to have someone placing the flowers for him.

She sat on the end of the pier near sunset, surrounded by white rose buds and wrapped in the scarf Victor had given to her. Tears slipped down her cheeks as she picked up a rose and kissed the soft petals. Holding the flower against her huge belly, she watched the sky turn orange and red.

How much of what you told me was true? Maybe all of it. The man I miss is real … but so is the man who mutilated Fiona, a girl very much like me. I guess we both knew that you wouldn’t change and I couldn’t bury my head in the sand forever. Do you expect me to just return and be yours, knowing it can’t really work? As soon as it didn’t work, you’ve certainly got the reputation for that ‘if I can’t have her, no one can’ sick psycho crap… And what about our baby?

Tabitha held her belly, stroking it gently. The child needed to be with a family, with people who would love it and care for it. Mara and Logan were helping and they had three couples to choose from.

Victor … you already know I plan to put junior up for adoption. Maybe you know who the potential couples are? What are you planning to do…?

In the distance, along the shoreline, she heard Logan call out her name, a note of worry in his voice. She got up immediately, walked back to the sand and headed his way, toward home.

“I’m here, I’m okay,” she called back. When she met him, she let him hold her.

“Ya think I don’t understand, but I do,” he whispered. “If ya felt love, no matter what tha situation was or how ya were treated, I understand that, too. I know it can be an ugly, irrational kinda hurt – an’ still feel like love.”

“I did, and it is like that,” she spoke softly into his hair, her chin resting on his broad shoulder. “Logan … you maybe think I don’t understand the danger, that it’s a risk whether he could really care for me or not, but I do…”

“Sometimes, doin’ tha right thing is tha most painful an’ tha last thing ya wanna do.”

“Yes … and I know this has also been so hard on you. You’ve never told me why you seem so sad all the time, and I suspect it’s not just Fiona. After hearing how crazy things have been at the school, I’m surprised you left. Yet in the middle of it, you dropped everything to help me, and you never blamed me. Thank you…”

“Not t’ take away from yer personal charm, darlin’, but keepin’ ya safe has been keepin’ me sane.”

Tabitha smiled a little and held him closer. “I’ve never felt safer in my whole life.”

He broke the embrace first and held her chin in his fingers. “We’re gonna be okay.”

“We are.” Wrapping an arm around her belly, she added, “All of us.”

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

Victor stared at the black logo of an eagle in flight, one foot holding a swastika. The typed letter and signature, and the spidery handwritten note and nickname below it, made it one of the strangest bits of history to ever survive the war. Perrin stood beside him, holding open the door to the safe.

“I didn’t show it to her, but after she found it – I read it to her, when she asked. She was more upset by the photo and made the assumption that you were proud of what was done at Babi Yar.”

Staring at the signature, Victor growled. He folded the letter and handed it over. Perrin tucked it into the safe and locked it in.

“Things ain’t always what they seem, boy.”

“I know.”

Victor turned away and headed back down the hall to the stairs. Silent and patient, Perrin followed him into the bathroom. The divan had a large towel spread over it. Stripping with a sigh, Victor got down on his stomach and stretched out. When his hair was wrapped into a bun for him and tied there at the back of his head, he buried his face in folded arms. The divan and room smelled of lavender, probably something Brys had put into the steaming tub.

He ignored the sounds in the room and tried to relax when Perrin’s hands, oiled for a massage, touched the taut muscles of his shoulders and back. It took longer than usual before the boy turned him into putty in his hands, but he managed it.

Near the end, one hand cupping his ass, the boy asked, “Do you want more?”

Victor nodded once. The boy crossed the room. He heard metal clink on glass and then the hands returned.

“Lie on your side,” he whispered. With a grunt, Victor obeyed. One hand stroked up the back of his thigh, urging him to shift it up and over until his knee touched the towel. The boy straddled the straight leg at the foot of the divan and leaned forward over his hip.

Victor remained as still as he could as his cock was pulled down between his legs on the towel.

“Breathe deeply,” Perrin told him. On the first indrawn breath, a thick glass dildo pierced his tight anus. The fingers of the other hand gripped his cock and rubbed it hard in moments. “Breathe for me,” he repeated, and pushed the sharp point of the jeweled hat pin half of its length into the shaft near the head before he continued to jack it. “Let them out, but keep still.”

Breathing out and in deep again, he allowed the claws to tear free from his aching fingertips and toes, but held his body in place. When the pin was slid in deeper, the hand taking a firmer grip on his cock, Victor snarled to feel and smell the blood. He knew the large ruby was nestled against his frenulum, leaking red as if it was the gemstone that bled.

The hand on his shaft moved once to squeeze the head, deliberately letting the point of the pin on the opposite side of it pierce a fingertip. The scents mixed, making saliva drip down his long fangs.

His cock healed around the long pin over and over as it moved with the harder strokes of the hand. The glass toy worked his breathing out of sync until the boy’s soothing voice whispering encouragement trained it back to slow and deep breaths. The dildo was kept slow and steady, almost gentle, but never stopping, pulling out to punch back in.

“Harder,” he said, half growling it out.

“Victor… No. Be still. Feel…”

The low growl stuttered out as he drew in another breath. The sensations tangled in his head: muted pleasure inside his body, bright pain and pleasure at war in his cock. He never knew when it would happen and didn’t understand how the boy knew when he needed it to; the moment the pin was torn out and the glass was pushed deeper, the feelings turned into a purely white hot pleasure as his seed spouted free to soak the towel. He hadn’t noticed the hiss in his throat until it stopped.

Another towel covered the slightly pink pearly mess and then the glass dildo was pulled free. He shuddered and moaned at the feeling of the muscle tightening. The meat of the cock healed and grew soft as it was placed with near-reverence on the folded clean towel. His body wilted, the boneless sense of being completely relaxed and sated melting him where he lay.

The boy moved, set things aside, and then knelt by his face. The fingers, still silken from the light oil, stroked his furry jaw. “The bath is ready.”

Victor’s brow furrowed, a frown pulling at his mouth.

“What is it, Victor?”

“Don’t ever leave,” he murmured. His eyes opened to watch the boy’s reaction.

“I won’t. Do you want to know why?” Victor nodded and closed his eyes. “Because I belong to you.”

“Ya love Brys. Not so sure I’m cut out fer lovin’ anybody.”

“I do love him, intensely and endlessly – but without you, we’d both be dead. This is beyond love, Victor. I think … you are simply the focus of why I am alive. Pleasing you, protecting you – is what I am. A moth to your exquisite flame.”

Fingers stroked his brow gently, sparking the deep thrum of a purr. It was a while before he could move at all.

The bath was delicious when he finally got in it. Afterward, he had sat on the edge of the tub as the boy took towels and dried him off. They went to bed, and neither of them were surprised when he slept right away.

~ ~ ~

Before dawn, he woke from a nightmare, claws slashing into a pillow. The miasma of his fear choked him.

“Perrin?”

“I’m here,” the boy whispered. He was standing naked beside the bed, where he’d been taught to escape to years ago in these moments. “I’m not hurt.”

Victor reached out with hands as the claws retracted, and the boy took them in his and came back to him without hesitation. “Tha fuckin’ nightmares are gettin’ worse.”

When the boy settled beside him, Victor shifted to lay his head on his stomach. “Do you wish to tell me?”

“It was tha war, an’ … ‘im…”

The boy stroked the loose hair down his back, fingers playing with the curls. “Tell me how it happened.”

“He snatched me outta tha clutches o’ Mengele; I woulda done anythin’ t’ get away. Healin’ factor was kept weak cuz it never gotta chance t’ replentish an’ there was never much food. What I got, I couldn’t even eat – it made me sick. Some kinda grain gruel shit… I gave it t’ tha kids, tha twins, all those twins…”

“How did they catch you?” Perrin whispered.

“I was in Austria in 1939 an’ heard that anybody who looked ‘weird’ was disappearin’. There were all kinds o’ Jews tryin’ t’ immigrate out… I read later that 300,000 people were vyin’ t’ get tha 27,000 spots o’ tha immigration quota fer tha US. I couldn’t even risk tryin’ that. I tried t’ get t’ Russia t’ disappear in tha wilds out there; ran smack through Poland, in September – so that didn’t go so great. I was in Wieluń when tha Luftwaffe bombed it t’ rubble. A German officer saw me survive a direct hit from a buildin’ that fell on my head, an’ I woke up a prisoner, too damaged t’ do much ‘bout it. Cuz o’ tha healin’ factor, I was one o’ tha first ‘special pets’ o’ Mengele’s in tha brandy new Auschwitz camp. Ya can’t imagine…”

“Himmler was able to remove you without a fuss?”

“Bastard could pretty much do anythin’ by then, yeah. They didn’t get far messin’ with me, though. Sinister can’t clone me proper, neither, so … whatever. After they watched me survive their man-made traumas ‘nuff  an’ realized they couldn’t take that talent fer their troops, I gotta bow slapped on my head courtesy o’ Himmler an’ went t’ Heydrich, head o’ tha Gestapo before Müller. Himmler would send fer me though, here an’ there. Tha bosses changed, but that never did. I hunted, interrogated, an’ killed fer ‘em. Only thing that mattered t’ me then was bein’ on tha dry side o’ tha waterboardin’. When I was sent fer, it was always in some grand house stolen from people they’d packed int’ trains, like cattle.”

“It was … a physical thing … you told me that. It was not give and take at all – was it?”

“Didn’t wanna get sent back t’ Auschwitz.”

“You did what you had to.”

“Hated that man. Ain’t many I’ll admit t’ bein’ afraid o’, but that’s one o’ ‘em. Nobody that fuckin’ weak should get hold o’ that much power. At least with Sinister, I got put down by somebody stronger’n me. I kept killin’ what Himmler called ‘tha wrong people’, includin’ some o’ their buddies from Hydra, an’ he threatened t’ destroy me – mighta had tha means, too. So I learned t’ toe tha line.”

“Part of that line was … Babi Yar?”

“Yup. That photo – that was t’ prove t’ ‘Heini’ that tha line was bein’ toed.”

“I understand.”

“I told … Tabitha … that it was a romp, that we played an’ poked each other fer fun. Told ya similar, way before that.”

“Do you want to tell me the truth?”

“I obeyed. It didn’t go both ways by a long shot. Kept runnin’ int’ assholes that outranked me who thought I should be dead an’ what saved my ass was givin’ it t’ ‘im – an’ killin’ tha right people when he said so. I told ‘im things an’ then he used ‘em against me, like when he realized he could order me t’ play bitch an’ it would get me t’ obey better’n I was.”

“Victor … what you’re describing is what rape is. That man … raped and trapped you, controlled you to use your power for himself.”

The growl sharpened into a snarl as he lifted his head, but the boy wasn’t afraid. “I lost a challenge, all it was.”

“You told me I was never to lie to you, that I was to tell you things if I felt you should hear them. You need to hear that.” His hands petted and soothed, and Victor was lulled to lie down again. “You are so strong, so powerful – and you were so young when your pain began. I know that it is hard for you to understand.”

“Don’t need no morality lecture.”

“You know me better than that. He used fear and a show of force, broke you down somehow and then molded you to be dependent on him – create a need and then fill it – is that how he controlled you?”

Victor growled, only stopping when gentle fingers rubbed the point of his ear. “Without ‘is favor, tha whole fuckin’ Nazi machine woulda come down on my head. Sometimes he rewarded me, other times there were … public punishments … if I really fucked up. He’d order it done, let people that hated me do it, an’ then he’d be my solace… I knew it, but it was better’n than tha camps, tha gas…”

“No chance of escape, because they were always watching and as they conquered Europe piece by piece, there was nowhere to run.”

“Yeah… In tha early 1940s it felt like they’d crush tha whole world under their boots. No other war was like it. Tha SD was watchin’ me an’ tha Gestapo was too – I worked with ‘em, but they never wanted me there. Himmler’s orders kept me outta tha gas chamber, but he never got my loyalty.”

“Tell me how it ended?”

“Study’s got tha books. When it all fell apart, May 1945, I got tha fuck out an’ split fer Romania, ended up in Istanbul fer a while. Only thing that got me through what was left o’ tha Nazi forces was that letter. Once I was outta Germany, I holed up at daytime an’ traveled by night – killed anybody who got a decent look at me. I was a feared soldier in World War I, Korea, an’ Vietnam. They never liked me, but they didn’t fuck with me, neither. Tha Nazis were diff’rent. Anybody under me was shakin’ in their boots, but over me? Those pricks were so sure o’ their grand destiny, they woulda marched over death when it came t’ get ‘em – or so they thought.”

“Himmler is dead. All of those men are dead. You’re still here.”

“So I keep tellin’ myself – ‘til tha chinless sonovabitch walks int’ my head, awake or asleep, an’ turns me inside out.” Victor lifted his head again. “Coulda hurt ya…”

“You didn’t. Sleep Victor. I’ll watch over you.”

“She ain’t comin’ back t’ me. She’s in their clutches now, bein’ told it was twisted, what we had…”

“She may return. The least she could do is speak to you.”

“Coupla times, she tried t’ tell me how she saw things; I didn’t wanna listen. She said I wouldn’t wanna live under somebody’s thumb … an’ she was right. I know what yer doin’, tryin’ t’ get me t’ see it. I was … holdin’ on so hard, didn’t see it…”

“Didn’t see what?”

Victor settled, but a low growl thrummed through him. “Saint Xavier used t’ tell me one o’ tha greatest traps ya can fall int’ was tha one I was careenin’ right fer… Guess tha holier-than-thou shit-stain was right after all ‘bout that. Ain’t that what yer really tryin’ t’ get me t’ see?”

“Victor … what trap?”

“Becomin’ what ya hate…”

 

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

Author’s Note: Major Arnold Toht was the Gestapo character from the Indiana Jones movie, “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” “Lion King” still belongs to Disney. I’ve edited Victor’s Hummers from H2 to H1, as the H2 doesn’t seem to have existed in 2002.

The Spanish: “Hola” means “hello”, “En Español, mi amiga” means “in Spanish, my friend”, and “Vamos” means “Let’s go”, according to online research.

Himmler, Heydrich, Mengele, and Müller were all real World War II Nazis. The “SD” were the Nazi’s system of spies, while the Gestapo were the secret state police, and both were among the most feared and evil groups humans have ever devised. As I’ve noted before, canon comics often flirts with the idea that Sabretooth was working for the Nazis, but I haven’t found many concrete or unchanging details on where, when, or in what capacity. In my opinion, despite being blonde and blue-eyed at the time, Victor’s feral mutation would have landed him in a gas chamber, but his healing factor probably would get him experimented on. I’m bending history to have Himmler engaging in male-on-male rape, but he was obsessed with the Occult, and it would be plausible that Sabretooth would fascinate him because of that.

I’ve enjoyed immensely tossing Logan into this story more; I hope you have, too. It may be obvious that I’ve fallen for Perrin. There may be a Victor/Perrin story in the series eventually. Réquan was invented on the spot, and I like him a lot, too.

There should be only one chapter to go on this story. It is technically part two of the series, with my tribute rewrite of “Mary Shelley Overdrive” slated to be part one. There are many other Victor fics plotted for the series, and some are already written and waiting on this one, due to spoilers.

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

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

PreviousNext

Advertisements

Leave a Comment...

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s