Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 15 – Epilogue: No Absolution

It’s like an intuition or a feeling in the air
An intangible impression that’s always everywhere

You bit into the apple, laid down your sword an shield
(Untie! A little bit dies, a little each time, the medicine smiles)
Then spun ‘round like a gyre in the unified field!
(Inside, your elegant guide, an arrow in flight a million miles)

I remember feeling the opposite of falling
(Into that spot where we untie every knot)
Spinning past the ceiling, absolution calling…
“Are you there, or not?”

It’s an open invitation, come see the sights of sages
We’ve been a pride of lions so afraid to leave our cages
Don’t fret over the pieces that smolder in the sun
(Untie! A little bit dies, a little each time, the medicine smiles)
‘Cause nothing can be broken when everything is one
(Inside, your elegant guide, an arrow in flight a million miles)

I remember feeling the opposite of falling
(Into that spot where we untie every knot)
Spinning past the ceiling, absolution calling…
“Are you there, or not?”

~ Absolution Calling (Incubus)

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Author’s Note: I have added a new funny part in the previous Chapter 14, 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. It also helps set up the next story in the series. Warning: Please be aware that this chapter contains some brutal child abuse in the form of a nightmare. It may be very triggering to some readers. Thanks for reading. @MET_Fic – AnonGrimm

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“I don’t know why they would back out,” Mara protested. “The wife is a mutant, but they can’t have children. They wanted this baby very much.”

Tabitha shot a grim look at Logan. “This is the second of three couples, and they refuse to say why.”

Logan frowned, got up from the kitchen chair, and headed for the door, abandoning his coffee cup. “Let’s take a stroll, darlin’.”

She hugged Mara before she followed him out onto the porch. “How about a sit, instead? Junior’s getting pretty heavy…”

He nodded and offered a hand to steady her when she sat on the edge of the porch with her belly against the raised railing. He settled next to her with a sigh. Watching him set his hands flat on his thighs as he often did in the throes of quiet frustration, Tabitha held her belly and pushed her bare feet into the warm sand.

“Ya know it’s ‘im.”

“I know,” she muttered. “We’re lucky he hasn’t killed them outright, I suppose.”

Logan bit off a growl. “If he wants ya back, both o’ ya, he probly knows killin’ would cross tha line.”

“He should have figured that out when he ran into Fiona, then.” She watched the sand fall through her toes and slumped where she sat. “All he has to do is wait until the adoption is over and then swoop in and steal the baby when we’re out of the picture. You can’t sit on the adopting couple until the kid goes off to college.”

“We could go back t’ Westchester. He’d find babysnatchin’ a bigger challenge in that crowd.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s what I want to do, juggle X-Force missions with single motherhood, while putting everyone in danger and getting stared at and muttered about for being the Girl Who Screwed Sabretooth.”

“It ain’t like that; tha bastard tortured an’ raped ya. They don’t gotta know shit anyhow, an’ if any-fuckin’-body gives ya trouble or so much as sneers at ya, they’ll have me t’ answer t’.”

“Until you aren’t there…” Sighing, she leaned her head on his shoulder. “You don’t want to go back there; you were trying to get away from all that. When do you get out of jail free, anyway – babysitting me isn’t your job. It shouldn’t have to be. Hell, you didn’t knock me up, you shouldn’t have to be stuck cleaning up my mess.”

“Wish ya wouldn’t do that,” he muttered, frowning.

“Do what?”

“Tear yerself down, act like it’s yer fault…”

“You first, tough guy.” She lifted her head to smile and wink at him when he glanced at her, and got a grudging snort. “You beat yourself up all the time, ‘bub’.”

“Gotta better idea, then?”

“Sure – we go off into the wilderness, somewhere with wifi, and live in a cave. You hunt, I’ll knit baby blankets, and you can raise junior as your very own.” Tabitha didn’t miss the curl of his upper lip even though he was getting faster at wiping it off. She caught his eye and smiled sadly at him. “No more apologizing for having a hard time coping with the whole ‘spawn of my mortal enemy’ instinct.”

“Ain’t tha kid’s fault or yers – can’t tell instinct that.”

“I know, it’s okay.” She slipped an arm around his and cuddled into it. “Maybe I wanted to give the baby up to strangers so I could go back to whatever is left of my life and pretend to forget about it all. Could I though? What if I turn out to be one of those mothers who just can’t give the kid up? Maybe I’ll fall hopelessly in love with junior and the single mom thing won’t seem so terrifying…”

“Could happen.”

“You’d be off the hook if I went back to Xavier’s, though. I can operate my middle fingers in the direction of judgemental assholes on my own.” She pushed against him playfully and won a smile.

“I got faith in ya fer that, but I doubt ya’d hafta use it much. That’s a pretty tolerant bunch.”

“Unless you’re Sabretooth … or his child?” She sighed. “He hates Professor Xavier pretty intensely; that’s not a secret.”

“Chuck … didn’t treat tha man very well. That’s been a bitter pill t’ swallow, since ‘is methods helped me so much, but I’ve never minded pointin’ out ‘is mistakes, an’ I’ve had t’ face facts – Hank is right. Chuck didn’t help Creed with all that mind-probe shit; he made ‘im worse, or gave ‘im real reasons t’ hate anythin’ wearin’ an X. We didn’t need that – ya sure as shit didn’t need that.”

“Wow. Beast said it backfired, too?”

“He made a case an’ I saw ‘is point – I’d asked Chuck t’ help me an’ we worked t’gether on it. Creed was forced. He was also kept caged an’ restrained tha whole time.”

“For obvious reasons…”

“Yeah, but that never makes a feral willin’ t’ try new things. If Chuck had tossed me in a metal gunnysack an’ forced ‘is way int’ my deep dark corners without askin’, I’d wind up wantin’ t’ bleed ‘im myself.”

“Wow, squared.”

“Don’t run off after any more urchins down blind alleys just t’ let ‘im know, but if ya ever send Creed a postcard, feel free t’ pass that tidbit along. Might not make a diff’rence, but still…”

“You said you used to hope he could change – do you still think it’s possible?”

“He has changed, from everythin’ I’ve managed t’ piece t’gether from what li’l ya did tell me. Do I think he could trade in a black hat fer a white one? Not gonna hold my breath, darlin’. Gotta start somewhere, though, right?”

“Right.” She laid her head back down on his shoulder. “I’m kind of nervous about the birth. The father is a six foot six feral tank – I am so doomed to have an ugly C-section scar, and I hate one-piece bathing suits.”

“Those scars can be fixed – maybe tha rest o’ ‘em too, if ya wanted.”

Tabitha closed her eyes, trying hard not to cry. The thought of giving birth to such a large baby was terrifying.

“If ya want me in there with ya when it’s time, say tha word, darlin’.”

The tears fell at his quiet words. “Yes… Please be there with me. I’m so scared, Logan.”

He turned and held her as she cried. “Yer one helluva brave gal, Tabitha – tough, too. Yer gonna be fine.”

~ ~ ~

Tabitha knew it was a bad idea, but she couldn’t stop herself. Everyone had gone to bed –  Mara in the big bedroom, and Logan on the couch.

Pulling her Prada purse out from under her bed, she fished around in it for her Nokia phone. There were a dozen missed calls with dates ranging all through her pregnancy – all but one of them were from Victor. The single voicemail was from the number he had added for Brys, and it had been left just days ago.

You cannot listen to that, Logan will hear it.

Loneliness and longing washed over her. Frowning, she put the phone back and pushed the purse safely under the bed. Getting up, she drew her robe on over her nightgown and went as quietly as she could to the living room. Moving to where she could watch Logan sleep, she leaned against a wall and studied him, knowing he would sense her and wake.

The muscles, sideburns, and wild feral appearance, even without the prominent fangs, made her miss Victor terribly.

Why didn’t he leave any messages? If I had picked up, what would he have said? Some of those calls were from before he showed up in that alley. Logan was shirtless; she hoped he wasn’t pantsless under the blanket. Probably not, although the jogging pants as jammies don’t hide much. She frowned and picked at the chipped nail polish on her thumb.

“Need somethin’, darlin’?”

Looking up, she saw him propped on one elbow, those jeweled blue eyes watching her. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you.”

He arched an eyebrow at her. “Sure ya did, or ya wouldn’t be standin’ there. What’s up?”

“I … don’t want to do anything stupid.”

“Happy t’ hear it.”

“I want to tell you something he’d consider a secret – it has to stay between us and you cannot look at my phone. Deal?”

“Lemme guess – ya gotta way t’ reach Creed on it, an’ he’s been callin’ ya.”

“Um, deal?”

“Deal.”

“How did you know?”

“Ya meant it when ya promised ya wouldn’t contact ‘im, an’ a young pregnant woman in ‘er early twenties ignorin’ ‘er phone fer ‘bout nine months is nearly a physical impossibility. I was tempted t’ call it in as a Guinness World Record. Figured ya had t’ have a good reason.”

“Ha ha.” She sighed and looked at him wistfully, feeling nervous to admit it. “I miss him, the nice version… God, how insane and sick am I?”

Logan sat up. “Ain’t neither. Creed is tha crazy fucker. Ya can’t abuse somebody every which way but loose an’ then decide ya changed yer mind an’ now ya wanna court ‘em t’ be yer mate after gettin’ ‘em preg by rape. That guy is full-tilt animal crackers an’ he probly don’t even know why yer runnin’ scared an’ stickin’ under my wing. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks we’re screwin’.”

“That’s the other thing…”

Logan frowned, the eyes narrowing. “Tabitha, ya know that’s gonna be a no.”

“Yes, and I wouldn’t ask, or try, I promise – okay? Ready for the but?”

“Shoot.”

“See, that right there – you sound, talk, and look so much like him; I’m sorry, but you do. It’s got to be as much of a picnic for you having to smell him on me as it is for me to be reminded of him every time you talk, growl, or move an inch in any direction.”

“Yeah, so what’s tha point, here?”

“This is nervewracking, so I’m going to beat around the bush. Okay – I know heightened senses can be hell, but I can’t help what you pick up from me. I know I can’t get as cuddly as my fear would like to, because you can’t help a reaction it might cause. Here’s the thing: I woke you up because I couldn’t help checking my phone and the temptation to call and ask him what will make him stop and leave me be was almost too much. I didn’t want to break my promise or make things worse, but … I fucking miss him, and I’m sorry but I need to be held so I can sleep and so I can’t touch the phone again. I swear I wouldn’t do anything…”

Logan was quiet, his face blank and utterly unreadable as he watched her.

She folded her arms over the top of her belly and frowned at him. “Dude, you have the most ironclad poker face I’ve ever seen, and that is not a compliment.”

Without a word, he laid back down and shifted closer to the back of the couch, lifting the light blanket in invitation.

Thank God for jogging pants… Tabitha moved and laid down in the robe, sighing in gratitude when he pulled her in and held her close in his arms. She put her head on his arm against his chest.

“One question?” he asked, tucking his chin over her curls.

“Sure.”

“Does he snore?”

“Not one bit.”

Logan snorted. “Neat trick – wonder how he manages that. I snore like a buzzsaw, fair warnin’.”

“Trust me, I know that. Your hospital couch would’ve had to be moved two blocks down for me to not hear Hurricane Logan. It’s okay. I need this. Thank you.”

“Try t’ sleep, darlin’.”

~ ~ ~

Tabitha attempted to relax in the hammock on the porch the next morning and thought about options. Logan was swimming, in long trunks, but she was working on pretending he didn’t exist – at least while he was half-dressed.

Why did I think being pregnant would cancel out horny? I wonder what Victor is doing… She sighed. I wonder who Victor is doing – Mr. A Girl in Every Port … or boy… Is it even possible he could miss me, or does he just want his ‘cub’?

Biting her lip, she closed her eyes. She wanted to get her rose buds shawl, but she didn’t like to wear it around Logan. The adamantium chain was bad enough, and she wouldn’t be surprised if he knew about the diamond ring.

Victor told me he missed me in that alley. He bought an engagement ring… If Ellison hadn’t fucked it all up … would I be married to Victor now? She happened to look up right when Logan was walking out of the surf. Damn feral muscle boys… He only appears to be hairier, though – Victor’s blonde fur is harder to see in some lights.

The image of Victor’s body hung in her thoughts. Raw heavy power shouldn’t be so lithe and graceful, but he was. The fact that such a damaged mind capable of horrifying cruelty controlled that body didn’t make it any less beautiful.

She’d been too embarrassed to try to find any personal toys, and she was getting tired of her own fingers. Her memories of Victor’s tongue and cock ran away with her and by the time Logan fetched his towel from the porch railing, he was doing that ‘trying not to notice’ thing. Rather than drying off, he wrapped it around his waist.

Totally unnessary with the trunks on, and sure enough – there it goes again. She was the only one who blushed, as usual. Even if we did something, I’d be imagining huge fangs and blonde hair. It isn’t Logan I want, whether he’d be a saner choice, or not. He’d likely be imagining a redhead with green eyes. That has to be why he seems so gutshot half the time. I guess Victor was right about them… “Sorry,” she muttered.

“No more ‘pologizin’ fer havin’ a hard time copin’ with basic urges ya can’t help.”

Tabitha smiled, grateful for his understanding. She swayed in the hammock before she got her feet on the wooden porch. Logan moved to help her and gave her a hand to sit at the railing again. “Thanks. Toes in the sand is my thing.”

“It don’t suck,” he agreed, and didn’t comment on her sigh over his speech habits as she sat with her legs between the rails and toes in the warm sand.

“It must be really obnoxious having to deal with the feral libido anytime a scent wafts your way.”

He sat on the porch near her facing the other way, leaned his back against the railing, and crossed his ankles with hands on his thighs. “Can be.”

“How do you control it? I mean, you don’t act on it. Creed never let one of those go to waste that I ever saw, regardless of the consent factor involved.”

“I’m very zen.” He chuckled at her expression. “Mean that literally, not blowin’ ya off. Learned a lot o’ meditation techniques in Japan – mind over matter is a real thing, if ya work at it.”

“I’m not zen, I’m just horny, and for the record, it’s not fair. Junior should be distracting me out of that. It’s also pretty embarrassing on so many levels that you always know.”

Logan shrugged. “It’s natural, darlin’ – nothin’ t’ be ashamed o’.”

“Even though you know I’m thinking about him?”

“I’m tha last man who’s gonna judge anybody ‘bout how moral their choice o’ fantasy partner might be.”

“What was he like in the 1960s? When he was a CIA agent and not a hired killer?”

“Brutal an’ mean, told ya that before. We were hired killers, though – only diff’rence was who was payin’ tha bills. He got ‘is jollies rippin’ folks t’ death an’ if we didn’t watch ‘im, he’d rape a female target, or a male target’s wife, pretty much fer fun. I stuck my share o’ guns in ‘is face t’ convince ‘im not t’ ‘play’ on tha missions.”

“Play?”

“That’s what he called it. Used t’ tell me I was a pussy fer not wantin’ t’ do it.”

Tabitha winced and gripped the rails as she leaned her forehead on the one between her hands. “He seemed so different in Vancouver. I heard him laugh – not that cruel, evil laugh – and he was … self-conscious, about how he looks, the eyes, the fangs… He acted proud often enough, seemed very vain…”

“‘God’s gift t’ bilge rats’ is what tha team used t’ call ‘im – if he wasn’t ‘round t’ hear ‘em.”

“Oh, I know he could be awful, trust me, but he was sad sometimes too, and I knew that he didn’t … like himself very much.”

“Odds are darlin’, ya mighta seen a side o’ Vic nobody else has.”

“You call him ‘Vic’?”

“Old habit.”

“Did you ever get along?”

“Not really. We were brainwashed t’ play nice back then, but it barely kept us from each other’s throats. He’s a loner too much fer workin’ with a team. I got tha advantage o’ pack mentality fer that. Two alpha ferals like us don’t fit on tha same porch. There were a handful o’ stellar bar fights that might could stand in as good times.”

“Well, if we end up having a fight, I hope it won’t be ‘stellar’. I’ve been doing more thinking about options than fantazing, believe it or not. I have a possible solution, but I bet you aren’t going to like it.”

“Ya wanna give ‘im tha baby.”

“How do you do that?”

“Yer right, I don’t like it.”

“I can’t risk him killing the adoption parents to take his kid.”

“It’s yer kid, too.”

“He told me more than once that he wanted the child and obviously, he meant it – Marco called and said the last couple is having second thoughts. I don’t want to risk others like that, not strangers or our friends.”

“Does he strike ya as a good father? I doubt anyone wants Creed t’ teach tha kid all he knows. What’s he gonna do, bring a car seat along when he travels t’ kill people?”

“He wouldn’t be the only one doing the raising; I bet I know who would, and … they’re good people.”

“This is ‘ya can’t tell me squat’ territory, huh?”

“Yes, it is. Whether he pays much attention or not, they will, and I trust them to raise our baby. They can teach the kid good stuff and love him. Also, I want to go back to Vancouver for the birth, to Lion’s Gate again. Junior needs to be a Canadian.”

Logan growled, and for once he didn’t check himself and stop it for her sake. “Ya expect me t’ guard ya this long an’ then just walk away when ya go off t’ face tha bastard?”

“We can’t risk him thinking I told you secrets. He won’t hurt me; I know he won’t.” She turned her head to look at him. “If he has what he wants… It might be the only way to get him to let me go.”

“Tell me yer not thinkin’ o’ goin’ back t’ that sick freak tha minute I leave. Ya been missin’ ‘im a lot – an’ ya know Sam ain’t waitin’.”

“I don’t want Sam back. I want to tell you why I’m not going to stay with Victor – it goes beyond Fiona.” When he didn’t respond, she continued in a soft, sad whisper, “At the plant, before Ellison, we split up to handle different areas. When he came back to me in the process building, he was keyed up on adrenaline, high as a kite with it. He wanted … sex. I guess he forgot that I can’t get that rough and he … hurt me. At the time, I was afraid he was betraying me, that maybe he had pretended to care for me. Now that I know all the crap Ellison did … I know Victor didn’t realize he was hurting me. He isn’t mentally stable and it’s like the danger of trying to share a bed – he’s just … like that. He hasn’t got a monogamous bone in his body, but all of mine are, and I couldn’t cope with being ordered around, or being alone – knowing he was off screwing someone else, or worse… What could I do? Try not to imagine if he’d been raping and eating people, right before finally returning to me? I can’t live that way. Even if he was sane, and not, well … evil… I couldn’t do it. I don’t want to be with someone if I can’t trust that I’m safe with him, or trust him at all.”

“How can ya be sure he won’t just kill ya when he realizes ya ain’t gonna be ‘is?”

“I can’t explain that.” She winced when he snarled and got up.

“If we’re goin’ t’ Vancouver fer tha birth, we better fly. How attached are ya t’ yer truck?”

“I love my truck to bits.” Tabitha looked up as he twisted the towel around his shoulders. “Marco could drive it somewhere for me, maybe Los Angeles.”

“Anywhere but Westchester, huh?”

Tabitha didn’t want to be angry, but then she abruptly was. She glared up at him. “Am I your excuse? Are you just burning to go back? I bet Jean’s still there … and still alone.”

He glared down at her and the ~snikt~ of claws on one hand made her guts clench. The metal glinted in the morning sunshine, lethal and frightening, but she understood the impulse and the instinct. Tears threatened as both her anger and her fear were pierced by the pain in his eyes.

“Logan, I know … of course I know. Something happened and whatever it was, it’s over, and I’m so sorry… I’m sick of crying, but I’m grateful I can. I’ve cried over Victor and the people he’s hurt, and … I’ve cried for you. I interrupted your life with this and your choice to guard me has meant the world to me, but when this is over, I can’t go back there. Maybe I will some day, I don’t know – being here has made me miss the hectic life I had, to my surprise. I certainly don’t want to be the one who drags you back there. We both need a break, don’t we?”

He turned away from her and his shoulders sagged as the claws retracted with a sharp ~snakt~. “If I go along with this mad plan o’ yers, ya gotta meet me after, so I know yer alive.”

“Okay,” she whispered. “I will.”

“I’ll come back here when ya go off t’ play stork fer that monster, drive yer truck out t’ Los Angeles myself. Ya want it back, ya show up. Hail a telepath, they can tell me when t’ get ya at LAX.”

“No problem.” She scooted back and slipped her legs out from under the railing to turn. Lifting her hands to him, she asked, “Would you help me up?”

He faced her and gently lifted her to her feet. “If he kills ya, I’m gonna hunt down yer trail an’ make ‘im pay fer it.”

“He won’t hurt me.” When he let her hands go immediately and didn’t try to hold her, she wiped at her eyes. “I shouldn’t have brought her up; I’m sorry, Logan.”

The poker face was back as he studied her in silence for a moment. It broke with his sigh. “If I had a brain, I never woulda let anythin’ happen. Havin’ what ya want can cut ya worse than not havin’ it, cuz when it’s gone…”

Tabitha nodded, her tears spilling. “Then you know what you’ve lost, and it hurts even if you understand that you never should have… The need is still there. Does it ever stop?”

He finally stepped close and held her. “I dunno, darlin’… If I could pick an’ choose tha memories that were carved outta me…”

She laid her head on his chest and let him stroke her curls. “Me, too…”

~ ~ ~

Mara cried more than Tabitha did when they were packed and Marco was ready to drive them to the airport. When his Jeep pulled out, she turned in the backseat to watch the little house get small behind them.

She had tried not to think about the number of weeks – creeping up on thirty-six – but she’d been cleared to fly by her doctor in Mexico, who had already spoken to her new doctor in Vancouver.

“Did you talk to Anne?” she asked Logan.

“It’s all set,” he answered, and she didn’t press him for more details.

It feels wrong to not tell Mara and Marco our new plan, but I’d be lying if tried to say I’m not grateful to follow Logan’s lead on this stuff. None of these people here are fans of Victor, and I couldn’t cope with looking in their eyes and seeing hurt, anger … betrayal… Seeing it in Logan is bad enough. He said we’re leaving because Victor found me, and that’s at least part of the truth. I’m going to miss this place and these people…

~ ~ ~

At forty-one weeks, she was resting in the guest bedroom of Anne’s house after the nurse assured her that for a first pregnancy, it wouldn’t be unusual if she didn’t go into labor for another week.

“Anne?” Tabitha asked, and the woman paused in the doorway. “What I said last night…”

“It’s okay,” Anne answered, “I’m working on not falling for him. It’s just slightly harder than giving up smoking was in college at mid-terms.”

Tabitha smiled when she did. “I feel you, girl.”

When Logan came in at bedtime, he would lie down beside her and hold her until she fell asleep. Most nights, she wasn’t aware of it when he got up to go to Anne’s bedroom. Sometimes, he’d be back in her room when she woke, usually in the armchair.

Almost at the end of forty-two weeks, Anne and Logan both insisted on admitting her to Lion’s Gate. Dr. Kairavi Nehru turned out to be wonderful and Tabitha trusted her almost at once. She also explained how they would be prepared if a caesarean section became necessary, but as Tabitha was in excellent health, it may not be needed at all.

Her first signs of labor turned out to be a trial run the doctor called Braxton Hicks, or false labor contractions, and she had started what was called ‘lightening’, when the baby starts to move downward to prepare for the birth.

“I like her,” she told Logan, smiling at him where he sat in the armchair near her bed. She had just had what seemed like her hundredth trip to the bathroom. “All that ‘the pelvis is meant to stretch’ sounds great.”

“Didn’t do much readin’ up on it, huh? Anne had books.”

“I’m not a big reader and ignorance can be bliss. I also like the fact that Dr. Nehru doesn’t mind you being in the delivery room with me.” Taking a deep breath and letting it out slow, she asked, “Are you going to have Storm come get you?”

“Probly. I’ll ask Chuck t’ make sure it’s ‘er, have ‘er take me back t’ yer truck an’ my scoot. Ya got yer hotel reservation by tha airport. Somebody’s comin’ there t’ pick ya up?”

“That’s the plan, but I haven’t called them yet. I’ll wait until I get to the hotel.”

“Is it gonna be Creed?”

“No, it won’t. He may not even be … where I’m going. He may be on the other side of the world. I’ll ask. Then I’ll be back here and fly to LAX to meet you.”

Logan sank low in the chair and leaned his head back, closing his eyes. “If ya ain’t there by two weeks, I’m givin’ yer truck t’ charity.”

“I’ll be there,” she whispered. He sat up with a sniff and stared at her, but before she could ask what was wrong, she knew. “Oh, shit… Logan? I don’t think I’m ready…”

He rose, called for the nurse and took her hand in his. “Yer gonna be fine, darlin’. I’ll be with ya tha whole time. It’s just gettin’ started.”

Soon enough, she found out what real contractions were like. “They remember I want an epidural, right?”

“Yeah, they know. Ya can have that when yer four t’ five centimeters dilated with regular contractions.”

“How do you know that?”

He gave her a wink. “I did read Anne’s books.”

~ ~ ~

Tabitha would have called her ten hour delivery a nightmare, but Dr. Nehru kept telling her that she was doing fine and it was going well. During a rest, she did wish she could snap a photo of Logan in hospital scrubs, mask, and elastic hat – Jubilee would have died. When it became clear that she could have a vaginal birth, she was so relieved she started to cry harder than she already was.

She wasn’t sure how she would have coped without Logan as her pushing coach, and it was hard to believe it was over when it finally was. By the time she let go of his hand, he was probably glad for his healing factor.

Dr. Nehru’s voice was all smiles behind her mask. “You have a beautiful baby boy, Tabitha.”

Logan quietly explained what they were doing as they did it, but it was hard to focus on what he said. Shots, Apgar test, eye drops, but all she could hear was her son when he cried for the first time. She found her tongue when she was asked about circumcision.

“Definitely not, he needs all of his parts. Logan, tell them…”

“No snippin’,” he announced, half growl and half order.

Just before they let her hold him, she took a deep breath. When the bundle was laid in her arms swaddled in a white blanket, she knew she wouldn’t see a baby with fangs – it was too soon to know if he was a mutant or not. She had closed her eyes, and when she opened them, she saw a perfect mini person.

“Hi,” she whispered. “I guess you really are a junior, huh?” For one breathless moment, the intensity of the wish that it was Victor beside her made her heart ache. Swallowing hard once, she glanced at Logan and managed a tired smile. “Look what I made,” she told him and then started to cry again.

~ ~ ~

“Well, kid, you have one advantage over your pa already – you know you’re a Leo. You’re also nine pounds, 21 inches, and you managed to tear your way out, so … like father, like son.”

Her audience of one was busy making use of the ridiculous things her breasts had turned into. He was beautiful and perfect, though, and she couldn’t blame him for messing up her figure, or for the very real tear he’d made during the birth.

The nurse was psychic, always coming in when her son was done nursing. This time, she had Logan in tow.

“Do you … want to hold him?” Tabitha asked, not sure what reply she wanted to hear.

Logan glanced at the nurse. “Would ya give us a few? ‘Preciate it.” Turning back to her, he sighed. “Not a good idea, havin’ my scent on ‘im.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“Anne’s ready fer us. She got what she called ‘tha necessities’ with yer cash, but I was afraid t’ ask.”

“I have to recouperate there a whole week?”

“Ya need it. If ya feel like fussin’ ‘bout it, hand ‘im over t’ tha nurse an’ go fer ‘nother piss.”

“No, thanks. I’d rather wait until I’m about to burst. Let me tell you, tough guy, you can claim to be more badass than me when you pop one of these out. I have to pour water on my junk when I pee until the tear heals. Not fun.”

“I rest my case.” He waved the nurse in before she exploded outside the door. Both of them watched her leave with the baby. “‘Sides, Anne offered ya free babysittin’, so ya better jump on that.”

Tabitha settled lower in the raised bed and sighed. “I have a birth certificate dilemma. I have no idea what to name him. Any ideas, Mr. Fount of Weird Knowledge?”

“Ain’t gotta decide now. Ya got thirty days t’ finish tha paperwork; it’s just a bit less hassle if ya get it done before ya leave here. Ya don’t gotta worry ‘bout fees, fer damn sure. Get t’ tha Vital Statistics office before tha deadline t’ finish filin’ out tha papers an’ sign.”

She smiled. “Did you just know that, or did Anne tell you?”

“Yer doc told me. ” He sat on the armchair by her bed but only perched on the edge of it. “I gotta guess on why ya can’t decide.”

Tabitha stared up at the ceiling. “Why?”

“Ya wanna know what Creed would want t’ name ‘im.” When she didn’t respond, he added, “These people, whoever’s gonna pick ya up, do they even know yet that ya decided t’ do this?”

“Not yet. I haven’t wanted to contact anyone…”

“With me ‘round t’ hear?”

“Yeah…”

He nodded and rose. “Anne is free fer lunch an’ agreeable t’ fetch somethin’ an’ sit at tha picnic table across tha way in tha grass. So … I ‘spose I gotta date.” Without commenting on it, he grabbed her purse from the top drawer of her dresser and set it beside her on the bed. “There’s decent traffic noise out there. Do what ya gotta do.”

The butterflies started as she watched him leave and shut the door behind him. The phone was in her hands before she noticed they were shaking. Going straight to voicemail messages, she checked the one Brys had left her first. Her eyes teared up the moment she heard his kind voice: ‘Miss Smith – er … Tabitha… Hello. As you can imagine, I’m calling with permission. I hope you got Mr. Creed’s message and gift, and if it was received well, or if you have any questions, perhaps you might return my call? Thank you. It’s Brys…’

Finding the number and mustering the guts to call, she bit her lip as the phone rang. Her heartbeat kicked up faster. She was holding her breath when it was picked up and at his hello, she blurted, “Brys, hi… I need to see you; can you come to Vancouver International Airport in about a week and get me, in anything other than a helicopter? I have something very important to discuss.”

~ ~ ~

There was a new strain between her and Logan, and while she understood why, it still made her sad. He was as unfailingly kind to her as he’d been since first rescuing her, but the difference was clear: his efforts to respect her choices wouldn’t let him express what he was really thinking or feeling. Yet if the poker face was down, it wasn’t hard to see the anger and helpless worry for her darkening his eyes.

She didn’t mention Victor or leaving, and they continued to call her son ‘junior’. Tabitha concentrated on healing and recovering her strength, and getting first-rate baby care lessons from a delighted Anne.

As they sat on the couch, Tabitha held junior as he nursed. She was breastfeeding without even questioning the choice, but Anne had assured her it was good for the baby. What else was I going to do with the milk jugs? She hadn’t admitted it aloud to anyone, but she knew Victor would have expected it if he were there. It felt so good to talk to Brys, but sort of spooky, too – Victor could have been right there. She hadn’t said what she wanted to discuss, but anybody could do the gestation math. Victor has to know junior is born now. Am I ready to face this?

Logan was out in the backyard with his cigar. She could see the top of the worn brown cowboy hat through the corner of a window, at an angle that meant he had it pulled low over his face.

“I love you for taking your vacation just to help us,” Tabitha told the nurse, “even though I realize I come with perks in the form of my bodyguard.” She tossed Anne a wink.

Anne laughed. “You aren’t the only one who needs to rest her bits.”

“I bet.”

“I just don’t have words to describe him. Even the sadness is wrapped up in the allure – I can’t decide whether I want to kiss the hurt, or … kiss everything else.”

Tabitha sighed. “Yeah…”

“Hon, did you two… Were you ever…?”

“Oh, God, no. Logan’s a friend, he’s … family, I guess. We didn’t always get along. Trust me, he can be obnoxious, and that smoldering anger isn’t fun when it goes boom – but he doesn’t hurt women or kids. I just used to be with someone like him, and I know how addicting that whole ‘sexy-moody feral’ combo can be.” They both knew she meant the violent father of the perfect angel in her arms, but neither of them said so. Victor is the ultimate elephant in the room, ivory tusks and all.

“So I’m dying of curiosity,” Anne began, smiling. “Does Logan bail at feeding time due to embarrassment, respect for modesty, or what?”

“Or what, definitely – maybe modesty respect, too. I don’t think he’s capable of blushing, and his ‘it’s natural’ kick covers a lot of territory. I’m not sure how much you’ve picked up, but Logan and Victor hate each other to a murderous extreme.”

“Yes, I understand that. He doesn’t say much, but … it’s obvious…” She reached over to stroke the little shock of blonde duck fluff baby hair. “So when you go, if you don’t return to New York, where are you headed?”

“Los Angeles. I want warm weather. Although Vancouver in August isn’t so bad.”

When junior was full, Anne helped her and taught her some more about his care. They got him settled down for a nap in the little simple crib Anne had bought. It sat at the side of Tabitha’s bed in the guest room.

“What are you going to do with that when we go?”

“I can donate it.”

Tabitha sat on the bed gingerly, noticing the nurse was looking out the window. She can probably see Logan from here. “Head on out there, he won’t mind; I’m just going to join junior in a nap.”

“Okay. Give a shout if you need anything.”

She waited a few minutes until she was sure the nurse had gone outside. Getting up carefully, she went to the window and saw Anne straddle Logan’s lap, his thick arms circling her waist protectively as he kissed her. She took the cowboy hat off and wore it as she worked on turning things into a lap dance.

Unbidden, a song Victor loved popped into her head, by his Joe Cocker guy: You Can Leave Your Hat On. He had played it in the Bugatti on the way to lunch on a boat cruise. She turned away to lie back down when she saw Logan stand up with Anne scooped into his arms. She was laughing, holding onto his hat as he carried her into the house.

Victor… I miss you so much…

~ ~ ~

“Don’t be a stranger,” Anne teased Logan before he got out of her car at the passenger dropoff. She melted when he kissed her.

“Might knock on yer door one o’ these nights, darlin’. Get a porter t’ help ya at tha hotel,” he added. He opened Tabitha’s door, crouched to look up at her under the hat brim and took her hand in his as his eyebrow arched at her. “LAX in two weeks, or tha truck gets it.”

“Yes, sir,” she said, giving him a salute with her free hand. She smiled, but he couldn’t manage one.

He kissed her cheek and tousled her curls as he stood. “Be safe.”

Looking up at him, she blinked back tears. “Logan … thank you. I’ll see you soon.”

When he shut her door, he patted the roof to send them on their way.

“There goes the strangest and most beautiful man I’ve ever met,” Anne said.

“Whom you aren’t falling for, right?”

“No, not one bit.”

“Uh huh.” Tabitha sighed to see him bypass the entrance to the airport. Anne was too busy dealing with traffic to notice.

Anne didn’t leave until Tabitha and the baby were settled in their hotel room. They exchanged numbers, hugged, and cried. When the door locked behind her, Tabitha had to sit because she was still too tired to pace. She used her new skills as a decently prepared young mom and made sure junior’s needs were met before cuddling with him on the couch.

It was dark by the time her door was knocked on. “Tabitha? It’s Brys – I’m alone.”

Smiling, she carried the sleeping and fed baby with her and let him in. “Hi. I can’t believe I’m actually looking at you. Can I hug you?”

“Only if I get to hold him,” Brys replied and hugged her gently. “Oh my, he’s perfect.”

“He hears that a lot; I’m afraid he’ll get a swollen head.” Tabitha handed him over, not surprised the cook knew how to hold a baby. “I’m not sure what to expect, I was hoping you’d help with the next step. Is … Victor at home up there?”

Brys headed for the couch as Tabitha locked and latched the door. “Not at the moment, he had to make a run down to Portland, and then he plans to return. He’s eager to see you again. The next job is in Detroit, but I believe after that, he has some time off .” He cooed at the baby who was now staring up at him in fascination. “Are you trying to avoid him, or see him?”

“I won’t say I’m not a little terrified, but I need to see him. I … plan to negotiate giving him custody.”

He looked up at her and winced slightly. “Custody…? You aren’t … coming back to him?”

“I can’t be his. If you want reasons, I’ll share all of them. I still love him … but I can’t.”

“I know why. I understand.”

“A lot of this hinges on you and Perrin, since Victor travels so much, among other reasons… I want our son to live where I can see him – if Victor will agree to that. Just visits – as his mother, nothing else. Victor and I need to be … something different now.”

Brys nodded, but he looked worried. “Perrin and I would love to raise this little darling. I have siblings ten years younger, and I used to help care for them.”

“You probably know more than me, then. Um … will Perrin be thrilled, or just tolerant because you want it?”

“He will be thrilled because the child is Mr. Creed’s son.”

Tabitha touched his arm. “It really doesn’t upset you, them … together like they are?”

“No, it doesn’t. Understand, neither of us would have much say if we did object, but Perrin has been through a lot in life and he seems to have a unique gift for handling and caring for Mr. Creed. Some of the other caretakers, in other safe houses, well – a few of them we are friends with. They all agree Perrin has helped smooth Mr. Creed’s more lethal edges, at least toward those of us who work for him.”

“That’s … good. I certainly failed in that aim.” Before she knew what she was doing, she had wrapped her arms around one of his and put her head on his shoulder as if he were Logan. “I know I couldn’t handle sharing Victor. Did you meet Perrin because you both started working for him?”

“I met and fell instantly in love with Perrin years before we ran into him. When we met Mr. Creed, he had jumped in on an impulse and saved both our lives. We had to disappear, and he offered to set us up here.”

“I’d love to hear that story someday.”

“Perhaps.”

“Even the first time, you weren’t jealous of them?”

“I was too busy being afraid he might kill him to be jealous. I still worry, sometimes. Perrin and Mr. Creed both have needs that mesh oddly well, that I wouldn’t be able to fill, for either of them. I’ve seen improvements on both sides. I suppose it tempered most of the misgivings I had and I’m grateful they can be those things for each other.”

“Better you than me, I was jealous as hell. Why did you look worried earlier – is Victor going to be angry in some horrid and violent way? Maybe I shouldn’t actually go there…”

Brys caught her gaze and gave her a sad smile. “He may seem angry, he often does. He doesn’t really know how to be anything else at times. Tabitha – he needs to see you. To really end things, if that is what you want, he will need to hear it from you. He wants his child so much…” He leaned down to kiss the golden fluff. “He also wants you, but he’s … changed. Perrin swore to me that Mr. Creed won’t hurt you.”

“Okay… I know ‘clean break’ is best, but I can’t give up this little guy and never see him again. Do you think he would allow me to visit?”

He sighed. “I couldn’t say, but I hope so. Would it be possible to leave now, or at least before morning?”

“I guess… Why?”

“I’m … a wanted man in much of Canada.”

“You are?”

“I’m afraid so.” When he winked at her, she groaned and laughed. “Actually, I have to get home so the jet can be sent back here again and refueled for the trip to Detroit.”

“You brought his jet to get me?”

“One of his jets. He gave me his personal pilot, though – as I can’t fly a jet.”

“Wow.”

“We can get you both settled comfortably for a couple of days, and Mr. Creed won’t be long. He didn’t want to go on this job.”

“Has he really missed me?”

“He has been … oddly subdued lately. Melancholy on the way to depressed, you might say.”

“Oh…” Tabitha bit her lip.

“This last week, he’s been busy with a project, trying to distract himself. It’s been so strange to see him quietly working away. I’ve had little to do.”

“We can go now if you want. I guess there’s a night clerk at the front desk.”

“Let me handle it, if you don’t mind.” He handed her son back to her before he rose. “What did you name him?”

“I haven’t yet. I want Victor to have a say in the choice. We’ve been calling him ‘junior’.”

“We?”

“Well, you know I’ve been camped out with Logan. I hope you realize why.”

“Mostly, I hope he never learns about the safe house.”

“I agree, and I’m going to make sure it stays safe.” She watched her son’s sweet face. “It must seem nuts to you that I said I still love him – after everything you saw that he did to me.”

“I know that Mr. Creed can be quite different, when he chooses to be.”

“If he’d been ‘different’ toward me from the start, things might have turned out better for him. Even if he had, though – I can’t cope with what he did to Fiona.” At Brys’s questioning look, she added, “The woman my suitcases full of clothes came from, and the diamond. Logan gave that to her…”

~ ~ ~

Tabitha’s introduction to the pilot, Zane, was a little surreal, for a few reasons. He looks like an escapee from a 1970s beach western, complete with the handlebar porn-stache. This is the man who flies Victor around the world to kill people. Victor had mentioned once that he sometimes returned to the jet covered in blood. The things this man might know…

She didn’t hand junior over, but she allowed the pilot to see him. Junior didn’t like the jet ride much and let them all know it. They landed in Faro, and Brys and Zane carried her luggage and baby stuff to a black Hummer H1. The sight of the car, though obviously a different one, made her shiver.

Perrin was driving. He got out to greet her and she was surprised when he embraced her. “I knew he’d be beautiful,” he said, stroking the baby’s cheek with a gentle finger.

Brys smiled when he showed her the car seat. “We were hoping.”

When they reached the massive house nestled at and twined through the foot of the Selwyn Mountains, it was still dark. The time in between the first time she saw it and now felt like decades had passed. The trees where she had blown up flamethrower tanks in the snow were surrounded by grass and wildflowers.

As they went inside the house, after Perrin entered the code, Tabitha looked around. “I keep thinking I’m going to see the snow leopard lurking somewhere. I’m glad he was able to take her to Nepal.”

Brys brought in her suitcase and duffle bag as Perrin went to fetch the rest. “He wanted us to set up your former room for you, I hope that will be all right? Your clothes and things from the Vancouver Four Seasons were put away there. Any of that you want to keep, I can pack it when you need to go. We already acquired quite a collection for the baby.”

“Did you get the pump, for the milk?”

“I did.”

Perrin had rejoined them by the time she walked into her former room. Tabitha froze and stared at the space between the bed and the heavily curtained window. She heard them setting down luggage and bags behind her.

“Brys,” she whispered, “would you take him?”

Holding the baby, he smiled at her. “This was his project.”

Tabitha moved to touch it. It was a crib – built and carved by hand. The wood was white and blonde, the style was old fashioned, with rockers. The outer corners were natural pieces of slender white tree trunk.

Most of the outer surface had animals carved into the wood, weaving through trees and mountainsides. The central figure was a trio of cats – a sleek lioness and her soft cub, and rising above them, curling protectively around them, was a majestic male lion.

Her fingers stroked over the family of cats as her tears fell. Inside, it looked like a modern crib with soft light green bedding and blankets.

Perrin spoke behind her, “He chopped the trees, cut the wood, built it, and carved it himself – all by hand. Half the time, I heard I him humming or even singing the same tune, over and over, but I never caught what it was and he wouldn’t tell me. It sounded haunting, and very old.”

Tabitha turned and leaned against him, grateful when he embraced her. “It’s so beautiful…”

“Just like him,” Perrin replied.

Tabitha wasn’t sure if he meant the baby, or Victor…

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

Batting his braid out of his way, Victor carefully cut into the thick piece of blonde poplar wood, his claws forming shapes in it as if they only brushed the surface to find them there.

He was sitting on a huge gray canvas tarp over the wooden floor of the double parlor, surrounded by cut pieces and planks of a poplar and a white birch. Now and then, he picked up the thick soft brush by his crumpled t-shirt and swept the wood dust away. His worn jeans were covered with it.

As he worked, an old folk song floated through his mind. The more he tried to ignore it or chase it out, the more it stuck. Finally, he began to hum it. He didn’t notice when his voice started to softly sing the words that he knew could be his first memory.

“Come a-loo, come a-loo, come a hi-lo
come down tha merry stream
Come a ran-tan-tan, come a dippy-dippy-dow
Hear tha row, tha bow wow wow
Tha bugle horn, tha big Fi-diddle and tha hidey ho
Through tha woods we roam boys
Through tha woods we roam…”

His voice trailed off as he heard someone approach, even though the scent was Perrin’s. The braid had to be batted away again.

“What are you singing, mon beau chat?”

“Nothin’…” He heard the hair sticks click and straightened to let the boy wrap the braid and secure it into a bun at the base of his skull with the fancy black sticks. “Thanks.” Leaning over again, he continued to carve the wood.

“It’s going to be beautiful.” The boy was silent as he watched for a few minutes before turning to leave. “I’ll bring you something to eat in a while.”

Victor didn’t answer as the haunting tune about a fox hunt went on in his head. The cub was almost formed, if not finished. He paused and touched it with a fingertip, careful not to let his claw prick the carving above it.

~ ~ ~

The boy was spent, still lying between Victor’s raised knees. His warm weight over Victor’s softening cock was as welcome a comfort as their mating had been.

“I think you’re still carving in your head,” Perrin murmured over the fur on his chest. “If you didn’t want to be finished, start something else?”

He shifted, and the boy always knew what he wanted. Moving off of him, he watched Victor roll onto his stomach. Pillowing his head on folded arms, he stared off at the cluttered mantel over the empty fireplace. The last of the sunlight through the window glowed on a crystal box there.

“Victor… It will –”

“Don’t,” he whispered. The boy fell silent, but restlessness and frustration grew until he got up and opened the window.

“Victor?”

“Call fer me when it’s time t’ clean up t’ leave fer Portland.”

“That’s not for three days yet…”

“Not ‘til then.”

He climbed through the window and out onto the mountainside as easily as the snow leopard ever had. The smells of sunset over a thick forest in summer drew him off into the trees at a lope on all-fours. Heedless of little branches that struck his bare skin or tried to catch in his long loose hair, he ran until the light faded.

~ ~ ~

Her scent in the house was fresh – their scents. Victor dropped the duffle bag on his bed and stood still, listening. Outside the closed master suite and down the hall, in her old room – the unmistakable cry of a baby sounded.

Behind him, Perrin approached from the hidden stairs. “She brought him.”

“Brought … ‘im…” Victor whispered.

Perrin stood at his side but didn’t touch him. “You have a son, Victor. He’s beautiful and perfect. She loves the cradle.”

Reaching out, he touched one of the doors to the hall with his fingertips. “Will she stay?” The gentle touch of the boy’s hand on his arm told him everything. He bowed his head onto the cool wood and drew in a ragged breath, letting it out slow. “Why’d she come, then?”

“You … should ask her.”

“I…” He growled softly in frustration. Straightening, he managed to open the doors quietly and went down the hall. Perrin followed.

Brys was there, but when he appeared, the cook moved to the door. “I’ll be in the kitchen,” he said. As he headed for the stairs, Perrin went with him.

Victor stood in the doorway and silently watched. She hadn’t realized he was there. She sat on the side of the bed next to the cradle with a bundle wrapped in green in her arms. Her blouse was opened as she nursed the tiny baby with a shock of blonde hair on his head.

“Forgot how pretty ya are,” he said, his voice softened by the sight of his cub in her arms. He winced when she startled and he could scent her fear.

“Victor… I – I didn’t mean to… I’m sorry. I’m glad you’re back. Would you come in?”

He moved to the chair at the small table, near the cradle, and sat without a word.

“He’s hungry.” Her smile as she looked at the cub was soft and private, and it made his stomach flip. She looked up at him. “I haven’t named him, I wanted you to have a say in that. Did you ever think about it?”

“Thought ‘bout lotsa stuff,” he whispered. “Did ya waste any time at all thinkin’ ‘bout what yer not givin’ me a say in? Why show ‘im t’ me, if yer just gonna…”

“Because I’m hoping to grant you full custody; all I want is the right to visit him. I trust Brys and Perrin to help raise him, and if he’s here, I can … see him. You know I wouldn’t allow anything to threaten this place with him here.” She gave him a sad smile when she noticed his Pink Floyd t-shirt. “That’s the shirt I wore, when…” She stopped and sighed. “Is that something that you could want?”

“That ain’t all I want.”

“I can’t.”

“Tell me why.”

“You already know. I can’t cope with how you live, or with how you would expect me to live. I can’t share you, and you wouldn’t change for me, you know you wouldn’t. I have to say this, and I’m not saying it to tease or torment you, it’s just a fact – I still love you, but I can’t stay and I can’t be yours.”

“Cuz o’ a collection o’ fools I’ve killed, meat t’ be wasted, yer just gonna…”

“Victor, I know what you did … to Fiona. You said she was trying to betray you, but she was just a terrified woman trying to help a man she had feelings for. She had no part in your feud. Logan shouldn’t have asked her to spy for him, but you did things … so horrific, it just – it made me sick. I see no difference between myself and a woman like her, and a man capable of that…” She sighed. “Logan did help me piece together the truth about what Ellison did to us both. I wish we’d been the sort of couple that would have allowed me to trust you, to not so easily be afraid that you were springing a well-planned trap. You mentioned a surprise, a ‘merry chase through the woods’, and I … I thought you were going to kill me. Did you know that you hurt me, the last time we…?”

He lifted his gaze from his fingers and stared at her, startled. “No…”

“I realized that later, that you were too hyped up on the destruction to know it. With everything else that happened right after … I believed what Ellison did was you. That happened because we didn’t have a foundation built on trust or love, or anything but cruelty, horror, fear, and pain… Victor you told me you planned to lead me into loving you because then killing me would be more ‘fun’. When you hurt me and left me, you asked if I loved you… You were terrifying. What could I do? I had to survive, for me, for our son… I am sorry you were injured so badly. I guess I’m not sorry you killed Ellison or Rothenberg, but … Fiona…”

Victor slumped in the chair with his palms open helplessly on his thighs. “Couldn’t see ya as anythin’ more’n a way t’ hurt Cueball at first, an’ t’ pay ya back fer tha Danger Room.”

“I know, but … abuse, terror, and rape isn’t going to make me capable of trusting you. Even later when you changed and I was shocked that I loved you, I was still afraid – of your intentions, of your anger and violent nature… You told me you loved me, but you still treated me like a possession. I understand the feral alpha thing better now, but I’m not a feral, and I can’t live like a slave.”

“Maybe I could try…” He trailed off, unable to stop the whirling thoughts and emotions. They circled in time with his quickening heartbeat, dizzying and loud in his ears. He could almost hear the desperate flutter of frantic wings.

“Victor … do you want to hold our son?”

He looked up to see the cub release the nipple. She moved to cover her swollen breast as quickly as she could without jostling him in her arm as she fastened buttons. Scooting closer, she reached to touch his palm with her fingertips.

“I … dunno if I … know how t’ do that.” She met his gaze and he shivered at the clash of emotions he read in those ocean eyes. “Don’t wanna risk hurtin’…”

“You won’t. You don’t hurt cubs, you protect them. I’ll show you how.” She put him against her chest and shoulder over a hand towel and patted his small back until he let out a burp. “I had to learn, too; I didn’t know anything.”

He couldn’t hide how his fingers trembled when she placed the cub in his arms and put his hands where they needed to be to hold him safely. Looking down, he watched the tiny thing stare up at him. He had to remember to breathe.

“Isn’t he beautiful?”

Victor nodded. When he could talk, he muttered, “Blue eyes… Are they like a kitten’s? All born blue?”

“So I’m told, but given our genes, he’s probably going to be a blonde and blue-eyed heartbreaker, just like his parents.”

He had already caught the cub’s scent in the master suite, but now he breathed it in deep. The struggle not to bristle at the scent of the runt all over her was maddening, but the cub was free of that rival feral musk.

Tabitha smiled at him and turned to stroke the side of the cradle. “This took my breath away. I had no idea you could make something like that. Don’t be angry at him, but … Perrin told me you were singing as you carved it. Would you tell me what you sang?”

He couldn’t look at her. “Ain’t nothin’, just a folk song that’s older than me, older than dirt, maybe. It’s ‘bout a fox hunt.”

“Did you ever think about names?”

“If it was a girl, ‘Victoria’.”

“Because of your name?”

“Cuz o’ Ma. I was named fer ‘er.”

“Oh… I thought you … hated her?”

Victor shook his head. “Buildin’ an’ carvin’ that, tha song just tumbled int’ my head. I think … she used t’ sing it t’ me. It dredged a lotta confusin’ stuff up outta tha muck. Maybe how she died might not be real, but I dunno what tha truth is, neither.”

She moved closer. “I hope you find out and I hope it’s a better memory. Did you … have a name for a boy?”

“What tha Frenchman used t’ call me before I remembered my name.” His son waved a fist and when Victor touched it with a thick finger, the tiny hand grabbed it. “Michel used t’ call me Silas…”

Tabitha leaned in and rested her head on his shoulder as they both looked down at the baby holding Victor’s finger. “Hello, little Silas,” she whispered.

~ ~ ~

Victor paced in his study. Tabitha was in her room using a breast pump so that their son would have a supply of mother’s milk when she left. He looked up when Brys knocked on the doorframe.

“Lenusya has made arrangements, sir. Do you remember Leimomi’s youngest daughter?”

“Nalani.”

“She and her husband Kai have a son very close to Silas’s age, named Kaleho. Lenusya told me that they are willing to come and help.”

“Can they stay ‘til tha boys are weened? Ain’t gonna be no powder crap in that kitchen.”

“Yes, sir, they can. Your offer was very generous, and while I may not be able to imagine wanting to leave Hawaii, Leimomi told me that Nalani has always wanted to travel.”

“Good. Next time ya talk t’ Leimomi, tell ‘er I promise t’ behave, too. She worries.”

“I will, sir.”

~ ~ ~

The forest air was intoxicating as Victor breathed deeply and took it all in, partly to calm his agitation and also to be certain the delicate young woman walking at his side would be safe.

Tabitha wore a colorful sundress and sandals that smelled like sunshine on sand. Unfortunately, the flowy cotton also smelled like Logan, as did far too much of her tanned skin. He tried to ignore it. She looked exotic in the deep northern woods of the Yukon.

He’d been in worn jeans only for days, trying to remember now and then to throw on a shirt. He had tied back his hair into a ponytail and pulled on Joe Cocker as an afterthought, but couldn’t return her smile when she noticed. Barefoot in the woods in summer was as vital as air.

“Do ya feel strong ‘nuff fer this?”

“Yes, I’m okay. I’m safe, too – you’re the only predator for miles, I bet.”

“There’s lotsa ‘em; they don’t run from me unless they know I’m huntin’.” He stared at her hand as she offered it for the walk she’d asked for. Victor swallowed a growl, sighed, and held it as they walked on.

“Nothing happened, Victor. I never did anything with Logan that I wouldn’t have done with Jubilee.”

“An’ how would I know tha boundaries ya got with Short Round?”

“I’m … a huggy person, and I was scared and lonely. We don’t see each other that way, we’re friends.”

He couldn’t help the growl at that. “Hate that he touched ya at all, but I guess it ain’t my biz now, huh?”

“Can I tell you something I found out that you might actually want to hear?”

“Depends – it gotta runt in it?”

“Well…”

He frowned. “Shoot.”

“It wasn’t just him, it was Hank, too – they both agree that Professor Xavier screwed up and treated you terribly, totally messed up how to handle you. They’re both sorry it happened.”

Victor snorted. “Gotta dime? Takes more’n their pathetic way-too-late pity t’ buy a cup o’ joe.”

“I don’t think it was anything to do with pity, but okay – I’ll shut up.”

“Don’t wanna jaw ‘bout ‘em,” he said, bringing her hand up to kiss her knuckles. “Rather just be with ya.” He tugged gently at her hand in his when the sound of the stream got closer through the trees. They were skirting the mountainside that the house was burrowed into, but the house was a good distance away. “Come on, wanna show ya somethin’.”

When they reached the small clearing in a grove of white birch and poplars, Victor released her hand and walked ahead of her. Taking it all in, he scented the place, still able to feel the echoes which were far kinder than his ghosts.

Someday, she’ll be one o’ those ghosts, probly long before she’s old an’ gone – ‘nother mistake I couldn’t fix,‘nother wound that won’t never heal.

“This looks like… Was there a house here?”

“A cabin, a long time ago. I helped build it – was taught how t’ do woodworkin’ here.”

Tabitha studied the clearing, spotted the old stones – a ruin of a hearth – and moved to touch them. The log walls and thatch roof were gone, but the hearth lingered, refusing to die – like him.

“Is this … a secret place for you?”

“I ‘spose, but … ya already know that secret.”

“Michel Richoux.” She turned to face him. “I thought you were following the railroad in tents.”

“This was after, when my murderous pigheadedness kept gettin’ me in trouble. We left before they could try t’ hang me, built this cabin and lived here. Nobody owned tha land yet, it was just wilderness. We hunted t’gether too, fished in tha stream ya can hear through tha trees, an’ I was … happy, I think – much as I ever can be with my fucked-up head.”

“Is this why you bought the land?”

Victor nodded. “Are ya tired? Ya can sit on tha hearth bench, it ain’t gonna fall before tha mountain does.”

“Thanks, I am, a little.”

She settled on it and for a moment, time caved in on him as the scent of tobacco rose in his memory.

“I used t’ sit on tha floor there, packed dirt floor, an’ leaned on tha hearth bench t’ rest. Hadn’t really got tha hang o’ sittin’ in chairs, then.” He turned slightly and pointed. “Right there was tha table an’ two chairs, he showed me how t’ make tha furniture. He’d sit in ‘is chair an’ tell me ‘bout tha Civil War an’ stories o’ stuff that happened in Europe. I thought they were just stories, like he made ‘em up, ‘til after servin’ in World War I when I saw a history book in a rich man’s house in Philly. I was just a dumb animal when I lived here, like tha men on tha tracks said.”

“Victor, would you sit with me?” He came to her slowly, unsure, but sat next to her. She slipped her hand in his. “Would you call the snow leopard you saved a ‘dumb animal’?”

“Nope.”

“People like that are awful, but they were trying to hurt you. You know you aren’t stupid. You are a feral, but … well, animals are wonderful – anyone using them as an insult are morons.”

“Yer not exactly nature gal, defender o’ critters,” he teased.

“No, I’m a city gal, but it’s still true.”

Victor shifted to face her, lifting her knuckles to his lips to kiss them again. He watched her, quietly breathing in her scent – hoping it would change and warm for him.

“What happened to Michel?”

“He wasn’t immortal – dead an’ buried over a century ago.”

“If you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay.” She lifted her hand and touched his face. “I did miss you. I wanted you with me in the delivery room so badly – it felt wrong, not being able to share that with you.”

He pressed his face into her touch and closed his eyes. “How long can ya stay?”

“Just a few more days. The safety of this place is riding on that, so I can’t stay longer.”

His eyes opened only to narrow into a glare. “Lemme guess – ya show tha runt yer alive, or he comes after me. Shakin’ in my boots, here.”

She sighed and dropped her hand. “This would be so simple if you didn’t hate each other. Fiona would be alive, and maybe we’d be together.”

“Could be, if…”

“If … what?”

“Tabitha … I still love ya, still need ya…”

He bent to kiss her lips, light and imploring. When she didn’t stop it, his free hand cupped a swollen breast. She wasn’t wearing a bra. She had told Brys that her breasts could hurt if the nursing wasn’t regular. He broke the kiss and touched his forehead to hers. Slowly, as if she were a small songbird he was trying not to startle, he let go of her hand and carefully freed her leaking breasts from the protectively lined front of the dress. Lowering his head, he took a nipple between his lips and gently began to suckle the sweet milk from it.

“Oh God, Victor…” Her hands held his head, not rejecting, but offering comfort.

He moved to suckle the other and felt something break and surface in his mind. It was gossamer and fleeting, soft as the breast between his lips and as sweet as the milk it gave him. He didn’t understand it, and at a loss, he pulled away in fear of it.

Afraid to face her, he hid under her curls, resting his head on her shoulder. The skin there still bore his marks, but he knew she wouldn’t stay – somehow he’d always known it.

When she drew back, he leaned against the stones behind them and didn’t watch as she covered herself. What he had done had spiked her scent into heat, yet he knew her body wasn’t recovered enough to take him, and the fear that she would refuse him left him feeling confused and lost. Over the trees, a flock of birds soared and disappeared. The son would be hungry soon, but there was nothing to fill the hunger deep within the father.

“You never really said if you agreed with me coming to visit,” she whispered, already pretending the exchange hadn’t happened.

Victor knew instinctively how and why that wouldn’t work. They had an addiction for each other, despite the choice she was making for them both. It was in his nature to push for more and she couldn’t control the scent of heat that had the power to drive him mad. Beyond that was this softer longing – for not only a mate, but for a companion and comfort.

A growl began. He spoke to quiet it. “Gimme legal custody an’ we can put in visitin’ rights, but ya gotta respect tha secrecy an’ security o’ this place, an’ my privacy an’ my secrets. Nobody comes here but ya, ever. Make yer arrangements with Brys fer visits, an’ one o’ tha boys’ll bring ya in from Vancouver. I don’t care how often or fer how long, but Silas stays here.”

“Okay…”

She folded her hands on her lap and lowered her head. The alluring scent of her desire to mate curled and lingered between them, sharpening his need until it strained against the seams of his jeans. He watched her fingers twitch and hesitate, and knew that she wanted to touch him.

She didn’t stop me from sucklin’ ‘er breasts; how far would she allow things t’ go before rememberin’ she’s sayin’ no? Can’t take ‘er on as somethin’ casual – want ‘er entire. “Tabitha … if ya won’t be my mate – then ya need t’ visit when I ain’t here.”

“Why? I can’t see you?” she protested, her tears rising.

“I can’t do this. I can cope with yer scent in tha house when ya ain’t here, but if we’re here t’gether… I’m gonna want more’n yer willin’ t’ give.”

“What if I was … willing? I’m still recovering, the birth … there’s a tear. On a visit, couldn’t we…?”

“Ya won’t take all I’ve tried t’ offer ya cuz ya don’t want it or me unless I become somethin’ I ain’t an’ can’t be. If ya just wanted t’ get off, maybe that could work … fer ya. I don’t wanna fuck buddy, I got that in spades. I wanna mate.”

“You want an international harem,” she muttered. “I want to be … special.”

“So this fuck buddy plan yer proposin’, how is that ‘special’? Pencil yerself in as one o’ tha people I fuck t’ scratch an itch, an’ it ain’t gonna be what ya want. ‘Special’ is earned, Tabitha. Ya can’t kick others outta my bed an’ try t’ change me t’ suit ya when ya ain’t givin’ back t’ me what I need.”

She stared at him, stunned. He looked out through the trees and up the side of the mountain and saw myriad flickers of dusty memories, almost at once. The stream and mountain, the forest, the cabin … two figures moved through them together. The tall man who knew the world and the crouched and loping feral animal who was afraid of the world.

One memory sparked from the depths: strong arms holding him in a crumpled heap on a dirt floor as blood flowed from his back. The angry voice had spoken in French, angry at the invading hunter who had shot him as he ran through the trees.

‘[Run, boy, up into the caverns. Don’t come out until I call for you, no matter what you hear.]’

He had obeyed, but he had watched as his mate invited the hunter into their cabin den. Soon enough, the hunter had screamed. The call came when he saw his mate drag the hunter out into the trees by the stream. Creeping up, half-crawling to him, he had crouched and looked up, in pain and afraid.

‘[You need to eat to heal, understand me?]’ His mate’s shining blade was covered with the hunter’s blood, the throat opened up. He cut the cloth open to expose the body. ‘[Get to it, boy. It’s nothing but meat.]’

Hunger had curled in his belly as he sank his teeth into his mate’s kill and ate, feeling the hand that stroked his back. He knew the blade would pierce him, to rid the flesh of the bullet so that it could heal. When it happened, he didn’t snarl. It hurt, but then the hand soothed as the flesh knit.

He’d left little of the meat behind. The cloth and wet remains were buried in the forest. He had curled up in front of the warm fire on a blanket and watched as his mate sat on the hearth bench above him to carve pieces out of one of the bones. Using the tip of the blade, he coaxed flying birds out of the bone – like some kind of wonderful magic. Carefully scorching the birds in the fire beside him, he turned them into ravens.

The strong fingers had been gentle as they braided the bead into his hair. The hand covered the back of his neck and pulled him up into a warm embrace on the stones, the blanket falling away from his nude body.

‘[When they come to hurt you, don’t let them kill you. I know I said not to kill in the towns, or on the tracks, but this is a hunt. You’re either the predator or the prey. You outwit them, hunt them, kill them. You don’t owe them your life just because fate made you something they fear. You kill them if they hunt you, boy. There’s never been a hunter like you.]’

He stared at the grass and wildflowers growing around his bare feet in front of the hearth stones. The earth beneath him held whatever was left of his mate: out of reach, lost in time, the memory of long-dead worms, and the dust of bones.

“Victor? Victor, are you okay?” Her hand had touched his hair, the fingers moving the cylindrical bead of bone tied into it to touch his bare shoulder. The bead swung back over her hand, and it looked like the ravens were flying.

He shook his head to clear it and shuddered. “I … I dunno…”

“I guess we’re stuck,” she whispered. “I can’t fit in your world as it is, and you won’t try to change it unless I do. If I did try, it would swallow me whole – it already has. I can’t be the little wife who kisses you when you finally come home to me, wondering what horrors you’ve done and trying not to be afraid that it could be me someday. I know I can’t be the wife who sits in the kitchen and cries while you screw the servant upstairs. I hope you understand that I do want you and love you, but this decision is … what I need to do.”

Victor sighed. “Darlin’, that just makes this harder t’ bear.”

“I’m sorry…”

The scent of her tears tugged at him to touch her, so he got up and got some distance. Old memories and shattered dreams couldn’t leap into a warming fire now – their ashes were cold, and he’d done more than his share to smother the embers. “Me, too, babe.”

He left the clearing and she slowly joined him. Neither of them spoke on the walk back.

~ ~ ~

An explosion of paperwork was spread over his desk in the study. Tabitha was dwarfed in his chair, trying to read it all. Victor had stretched out on the couch with his son. The cub was the center of a soft green bundle circled by one arm, impossibly tiny and fascinating.

“You could’ve warned me that your lawyer was a sadist,” she muttered. “Do I have to read every page of this? Can’t I just trust you and sign it?”

“Wanna play ‘what would Logan say’?” He couldn’t quite keep the sneer out of his tone. Silas grabbed his finger again and won a smile out of him. “Take it t’ Brys if ya want, he can read legal shit in seven languages.”

She turned the swivel chair to face him. “And miss seeing you play with our kid?”

“Call ‘im up here, then. Intercom’s behind that narrow tapestry by tha table in tha bedroom – tha one with tha ravens on it.”

“Now you tell me. You always kept that room so dark, I never even noticed any tapestries, even on my Nancy Drew hunt. Why is it hidden?”

“Don’t like t’ see modern tech clutterin’ up tha place.”

She got up and opened the sliding door to his bedroom, but then hesitated. He and the boy had left his bed a mess after the nature walk and he’d told Brys to leave it that way.

“I wish things were different.”

“Yer tha one makin’ this play; ya could change yer mind.”

Keeping her back to him, she whispered, “It wouldn’t work, and you know it.”

Victor frowned. “Ya can’t say ya didn’t have a clue what I was prior.”

“I don’t blame you for being angry, but try to remember that the first thing you did was toss me in your dungeon, and then in your corpse bin. It takes two.”

Watching her, he sighed. “Ya grew up.”

“I had to. I couldn’t keep dreaming that I had the ability to help you change. In the end, I was the one who changed.” She went into the bedroom and called for the cook. When she came back out, she sat in the chair with her elbows on the desk and hid her face in her hands.

“Tabs?”

“What?” she answered through her hands.

“Tryin’ not t’ snip at ya. It ain’t easy.”

She peeked at him with tears in her eyes. “Is that supposed to be an apology?”

“I guess. I ain’t had much practice – or … any practice…”

Sitting up to face him, she wiped at her eyes. “I’ll take it. Maybe we could talk a little later?”

Victor didn’t answer or look up as Brys arrived. Silas had fallen asleep. After an hour of listening to Brys explain things, Tabitha finally began scratching a pen over the papers.

“I hope you don’t plan to move him much, as stated in section ‘what the heck does that mean’ of page nine. I doubt if you want to show me more safe houses.”

“Probly only t’ Vancouver, an’ he won’t be travelin’ with me. Most folks are gonna think he’s Brys’s kid an’ that’ll be safer fer ‘im an’ everybody else.”

“This is the paperwork I got to fill in his birth certificate… Can I put your name on it as the father? Is that safe? There are people at Lion’s Gate hospital who know you’re the father. Speaking of which, I’d appreciate it if you left them in peace.”

Victor met her gaze. “Ya wanna record like that floatin’ ‘round? X-chumps can dig that up just tha same as any o’ my other enemies can.”

“I want it to say our names,” she whispered.

“I’m sure Mr. Yahalom can have the records sealed, sir,” Brys suggested. Nodding to them both, he left.

“There ya go, darlin’. Prob solved.”

“Can he seal them against mutants with special talents who really want to hurt either of us?”

“Gimme some credit, huh? I been at this ‘cover yer ass’ game way longer than ya have. Shaul Yahalom is a mutant with special talents. Anybody not authorized t’ read it is just gonna find a dry cleanin’ receipt or a recipe fer apple pie. He’s gonna meet ya in Vancouver t’ go over t’ tha Vital Statistics office an’ file stuff.”

“Okay, that works. He’s Jewish? Is he aware of your, um … colorful past?”

“Yup, an’ he understands that sitch better’n ya ever made an effort t’.”

“I can only go by what you’re willing to tell me.”

“Yeah, funny how that works. Ya sure like t’ take assumin’ tha worst t’ Olympic levels, though. ‘Sides, ya already know more o’ my deep darks than I’m comfortable with, considerin’ ya got yer bags packed t’ go runnin’ back t’ yer runt cuddle buddy.” Victor twitched and pinned his aching ears when Silas woke and began to cry, but then he smirked. “Gotta set o’ lungs, don’t he?”

“I changed him while you were having your payback tryst with Perrin, so he’s probably hungry. Unless an angry dad bitching at mom is upsetting – always a possibility,” Tabitha added, and rose from the chair. “Do you want me to take him?”

“Guess ya better, cuz my nipples ain’t got tha good stuff.” As she came to pick up the cub, Victor touched her forearm gently over the scars he didn’t leave on her skin. “Wait…”

“Victor…”

“Wish I coulda saved ya from Ellison an’ then had a chance t’ make things good again…”

She held their cub and leaned down to lightly kiss his forehead under his messy hair. “I wish you had never been hurt when you were a boy.”

Victor rolled to his back with a grunt as she left and laid his head on the arm of the couch. His hands rested over his ribs, the claws slowly sliding out in pent up frustration.

~ ~ ~

Lying in bed with his head pillowed on his arm, Victor brushed his hair out of his eyes and away from the tough but delicate-looking high-tech metal circlet centered over his forehead. Staring at the still-warm space beside him that the boy had left moments ago, he focused his thoughts and called up a memory that made his breath hitch in his throat.

The Memory Image Inducer that Stark had made for him in exchange for Rothenberg’s ill-gotten armor plate vests warmed on his skin slightly. How it worked was beyond him, but its results far surpassed the Shi’ar-based device Cueball had wanted him to use in captivity.

Projected from his mind, the form of a woman took shape. Her long golden curls were spread out on a purple pillowcase, not the gray one that was physically there. The image of her beauty was only slightly opaque and nearly flawless. Blue eyes stared into his with an eager hunger and fascination, and if he worked to concentrate on sense memory, he could even scent her smooth skin and the blossoming heat that never seemed to fade.

Reaching out, he knew he couldn’t touch her, but the memory was strong enough that he could sense how it had felt to stroke and cup her heavy breast. Fingers miming the movement, it looked so real… A hard-light hologram had been an option he had declined in favor of the sensors that could give him her scent.

The soft pink lips parted and spoke aloud in the room, “I don’t know how, but … I want to.”

Swallowing the lump in his throat that hadn’t been there when the memory was made, Victor whispered to her, “I’ll teach ya.”

Intruding over her scent, he caught the conflicting mix of scents of Tabitha as she approached the doors. She was leaving soon. The thought disrupted the memory and Bonnie’s sweet image disappeared. With a sigh, he slipped the circlet off and shifted to put it back in its small metal velvet-lined case. Tucking it away under the other pillow, he laid back down and sighed when she knocked on one of the doors.

“It ain’t locked,” he muttered.

“You didn’t come down for breakfast.” She was in a bathrobe, and the memory of dragging one off of her shoulders and away from her breasts with his teeth made him frown.

“Not hungry, babe.”

“Will you talk with me? I have to leave after lunch.”

“Ain’t gotta leave at all.”

“The appointment I have to make is with your lawyer, which you arranged. I signed lots of pages basically stating I wouldn’t inflict anyone on your home but myself, so…”

Victor didn’t reply to that. In the silence, as she took in his nude body eclipsed low at his hips by a thin gray silk sheet, the scent of her heat rose to devil him. “This ‘talk’ probly shouldn’t happen in tha nearly all-t’gether with ya smellin’ like a wet dream, darlin’.” When she came closer and sat on the edge of the bed by his thighs, a warning growl thrummed through his throat as his ears pinned. “Ain’t ya tha one who always insisted that ‘back off’ don’t mean ‘get in my space’?”

“You know I can’t help that. I need to ask you something.”

“Better be fuckin’ important.”

“It is to me…”

With a groan, he pulled his legs up away from her and sat up with legs crossed and the sheet wadded in his lap. His palms cupped his knees as the claws slid out. He didn’t care if the stiffening dick embarrassed or enticed her. He’d stayed in bed to avoid this, but then she had to arrive anyway, smelling like that…

“Please stop growling at me? It’s pretty nervewracking…”

“Talk or go – or stay an’ fuck. I ain’t gonna be teased.”

“This is difficult for me too,” she whispered. “Victor … I think I’ve been misunderstanding something about how you perceived what I did in the Danger Room. You’ve mentioned it more than once, being angry about what I did, saying I don’t understand it… I thought you meant my guilt-ridden inappropriate touching, but now I don’t think that’s really what upset you, or something else about it upsets you more? I’d like to understand…”

“Don’t wanna jaw ‘bout that. Yer leavin’ me – why’s it matter t’ ya now?”

“Please, Victor…”

He slumped where he sat. Unable to look at her, one hand rose and shoved his loose hair behind his pinned ears. His fingers toyed with one of the bone beads in the shorter locks of hair that hung around his face.

“Those are … pretty. I like the one with the birds, next to it. What is carved on that one?”

“White roses.”

“Oh. A lot of them. You seem to like that…”

“Eleven o’ ‘em. T’ tha French, white roses can mean ‘I love ya silently’. There bein’ eleven means ‘ya trapped my heart’.”

Her cheeks turned pink. “It’s bone, it looks … old?”

“It’s from Michel.”

“He gave it to you?”

“It’s ‘is bone. I cut an’ carved it after they killed ‘im, like he made some o’ tha others fer me.” He sighed into her silence, his fingers touching the carved ravens before the hand dropped again. His claws slowly retracted. “My inner beast in tha Danger Room, how ya acted, tha things ya did, he thought ya were choosin’ ‘im t’ mate with ya. Tha scent o’ yer heat was strong. He – I – thought ya wanted t’ be my mate. When I got my brains back, I knew ya were just tryin’ t’ scratch an itch. I didn’t understand things like intentions t’ be kind. Tha beast understands kindness better than I do an’ craves it, where I just … wait fer it t’ turn on me. When things changed between us, when ya smelled like ya wanted me… He can push me sometimes. He wants what he wants an’ never learned retraint or patience, neither. Still … he’s kinder than I am. He can be a protector, an’ kills t’ eat or defend. I’m just a killer.”

“So, when you hurt me…?”

“That was tha upright violent feral I became who hates yer X-tribe an’ wanted t’ hurt ‘em back. Tha beastie… He bonded with ya a long time ago. Ya never let ‘im loose or let ‘im mate, but … ya gave food, comfort … kindness. He woulda killed t’ defend ya, but then my brain healed, an’ tha need t’ get away from tha captors that were hurtin’ me came out as manipulatin’ ya t’ gimme a shot at freedom. Ya became just ‘nother o’ Cueball’s hated soldiers. When I was loose an’ desperate t’ escape t’ get away from that sick telepathic fuck, he didn’t come t’ face what he’d done t’ me. Only Psylocke did, an’ she was just – in my way.”

“Oh, Victor… I wish…” She reached for him to hold her and he pulled her into his arms on his lap. “Wait,” she whispered, when she felt his erection press against her thigh.

“I won’t hurt ya … I won’t ever hurt ya, I swear it…” He kissed her to silence her, one arm circling her back. She stiffened in his arms when he gripped her and twisted to put her under him on her back. “I won’t,” he breathed out the promise as his hands tore open the robe.

He moved down and claimed with his mouth that tormenting wetness. His tongue found the healing wound his cub had made when he was born and left it alone to lick and suck at her pussy with a desperate need.

She had slapped her hands down onto his shoulders and pushed at first, but when the pleasure began to build, she clung to him.

“Victor … please…”

He lifted his head and stared up at her until she met his gaze. “I only wanna give ya pleasure…”

“What about you? I can’t…” Tears streamed down her face.

He didn’t answer. He slid his tongue deep inside her body and felt her finally open to him as he pleasured her over and over, suckling at her wet flesh to taste her, trying to lock the feelings into his senses to fight off the emptiness of her leaving. He didn’t stop until she sucked in a sharper breath and softly asked him to.

“Hold me, please?”

He moved to lie next to her and pulled her into his arms. The hard heat of his cock was pressed between their bodies.

“I didn’t … want you to see how I look now…” she whispered, her scent spiced with anxiety and embarrassment.

His hand moved to caress gently over her belly. “Yer body fed an’ sheltered our cub, helped ‘im grow – nothin’ ‘bout it that ain’t beautiful.” He hid his face in her curls by her neck and hissed softly, unable to stop his urgent need to mate from pushing his cock against her hip.

“Victor, let me up…” Reluctantly, he released her and watched as she sat up. She put her little hand over his inner thigh and tugged. “I want between them,” she whispered. Kneeling there, knees apart for balance, she leaned forward and grasped his leaking cock. She squeezed his shaft and held his gaze, giving him a smile on the verge of more tears. “I love you and you don’t have to be afraid of what I know. I wish Xavier hadn’t hurt you like so many others did.” She kissed the head of his cock and ran her tongue around it as the foreskin retracted.

He groaned and shot all of his claws out to pierce the bed. He didn’t close his eyes – she’d be gone all too soon, and he didn’t know when or if he’d ever see her again. She would be a scent in the halls, another ghost trapped in the hollow pit that pounded in his chest.

“Tabitha … don’t…”

She knew, she nodded, the tears slipping down her cheeks as her tongue toyed with his slit, licking the clear pre-cum from it.

“I have to, love… I wish it were different…”

Taking him into her hot mouth, she sucked him as deeply as she could, one hand stroking the shaft, the other squeezing his golden furry sack hard enough to make any other man scream. When she released it, she sought the other place and pushed one finger in without hesitation. Crooking it, she drove him mad with pleasure as she sucked until he filled her mouth. She struggled to swallow it, though some dripped from her lips. Knowing what he wanted, she released his body and laid down at his side again. He rolled against her and kissed her, licking her clean of his seed. Careful and soft, he cupped a breast.

“If you need to, you can drink again. I want you to.” She gasped as he leaned over her and latched on to suckle. She held his head to her breast and stroked his hair. “Drink, my love… Oh, Victor … I love you, I’m so sorry for them all and what they did to you…”

It took over his mind – her voice, her sweet comfort and her milk. He knew this sensation, the peace and the comfort of the warm nourishment; it fled from him across all the time and all the hatred, to find him again, smaller, weak, and sick, held by thin arms and a quiet, timid love. Fear was there too, somewhere – the loud brutal male, the lash at his back when his small body failed to keep working…

Shuddering, he released her nipple and hid in her hair again. It was short, blonde and curling and smelled like vanilla. It wasn’t her. It wasn’t them, and he wasn’t small and weak anymore.

The soft delicate hands still stroked his hair. “I have to get dressed. Maybe you should sleep a little more. I won’t leave without saying goodbye, I promise.”

He let her up, kissed her when she leaned down to kiss his lips. When she left the room, he sat up and put his head in his hands. Somethin’ ain’t right, he thought, afraid of where these shifting shattered memories were leading. Afraid t’ sleep… Afraid … t’ remember any more.

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

Tabitha held her son and kissed his little crying face. “It’s like he knows,” she told them, and sighed, tears in her own eyes. “Oh, baby, don’t cry. I’ll get settled somewhere and see you soon, my little Silas. I love you so much!” She handed him to Perrin and blew little kisses. “Bye sweetheart…” It was awful to watch him walk out of the open doors of the master suite and disappear down the hall. Sniffing, she asked Brys, “Where is Victor?”

“Waiting in the hangar. He took your bags down himself.”

“I better hug you and cry on you now, or he’ll tease us both for doing it in front of him.”

Brys let her hug him, but chuckled. “I’m flying you to Vancouver, so we could technically do this there.”

“Right. I’m an emotional wreck, sorry.” The elevator ride, the rental snow mobile she’d ridden out here on, the sight of the black helicopter – it was a parade of strange memories and even stranger feelings. “Faro people still think I’m MIA? That’s sad … they were so nice to me.”

“That’s why we plan to fly you back and forth from the hangar here to the Vancouver airport.”

“To Victor’s hangar over there?”

“No, we’ll be borrowing one from Mr. Obinata. It isn’t safe for you to be seen in Mr. Creed’s facilities, just in case.”

“Where is he?” She glanced around for the six foot six massive feral, sure she couldn’t miss him.

“Right over there.” Brys pointed to a darker corner not illuminated by the lights that had turned on around them as they approached the helicopter. He left her to go and check over the machine.

For a moment, she startled when she saw only the glowing amber of his eyes. The outer hangar door began to open, controlled by Perrin overhead where she’d never been allowed to go. He was so protective of Silas, he’d probably carried him up there with him. The light of the summer afternoon showed her Victor in a crouch by the rough cave wall just before he rose to his feet. He approached her slowly, dressed only in worn jeans and the beads that decorated his loose hair.

I wish I’d asked him about the other beads, too. They obviously mean a lot to him. Some are made of wood, some are even metal. Maybe one day? My God, he’s beautiful… When she held out her hands, he took them in his large ones and held them gently.

“Hiya, Miss Observant,” he whispered.

He almost sounds shy. I hate this, I hate leaving him… “I think I miss you already.”

“Ain’t gotta worry ‘bout our cub. Won’t let anythin’ bad happen t’ ‘im; he ain’t gonna grow up like I did.”

“I know. I trust you all for that.” She sighed, and then tried to smile up at him. “I never got to see what you had stashed in the box marked ‘beans’, either. Care to tell me what that porn collection theme was?”

“Tony Stark.”

“Um … I don’t get it.”

Victor looked away from her to watch Brys for a moment, possibly just evading her gaze. “Most o’ those mags are tech titles, ‘cept fer when Maxim, GQ, or Playboy gotta interview.” He shrugged.

“Oh. Well … he’s definitely a hottie – and you already snagged his phone number. I’m impressed.”

“Trust me, he ain’t gotta clue ‘bout tha beans box.”

“Can I call you sometimes? So I can … ask how Silas is doing?”

“Ya can call Brys fer that.” Watching her eyes fill with tears, he sighed. “Call me if yer ever in tha kinda trouble ya can’t get out o’ yerself, which is probly a shorter list than I ever suspected.”

“Victor … I love you…”

He finally wrapped her in his arms and she snuggled into his barrel chest of hard muscle and soft fur.

When he kissed her curls, she heard him whisper, “I love ya, babe.” When he let her go, he smiled to see that she was wearing the Prada boots he’d bought her in Vancouver. They looked only a little bit odd under her red cotton sundress. “When ya hero types say bye, whattaya usually say?” he whispered.

“For missions, I guess we say ‘be safe’. I’m on vacation, though.”

“Brys’s waitin’, darlin’.”

He had turned away and she watched his long hair sway behind him. It was growing closer to the back pockets of his jeans. Sniffing again, she went to the helicopter. Brys walked around it to help her climb up. In the seat, a bundle wrapped in tissue paper was waiting for her. She picked it up and sat in the seat in shock. Pressing it to her chest, she started to cry. It was a bunch of white roses in full bloom, with no thorns … eleven of them…

“Victor, wait!” She set the roses on the seat again and Brys helped her down. She ran to him and when he turned, he picked her up against his chest and kissed her deeply. There would always be a danger, she knew that – it was the reason she had to go – but in his arms, his hunger thrumming in his chest as he held her tightly, she knew he loved her.

When he broke the kiss, he shifted her in his arms and brought one of them up under her knees to carry her back. She touched the decorations in his hair and sighed, feeling the thrum in his throat. It was that low growl of the mating need that she had become addicted to.

“I want to ask you, eventually, someday – what these other beads are, what they mean to you.”

Brys had picked up her roses so that Victor could set her gently into the seat. He buckled her in securely. The Prada purse was at her boots.

“If ya wanted t’ know that shit,” he told her, his tone soft and low, “ya shoulda stayed in bed with me this mornin’.”

“I don’t know if I can cope with never seeing you again, never talking to you again…”

He leaned in and kissed her before stepping back. “I can’t play tha maybes game, darlin’ – once we got t’ Vancouver an’ ya made me see what ya could do t’ me … I started playin’ fer keeps. Might could run int’ each other down tha road; sometimes I skate in here on all claws an’ crash unexpected. Never say never.”

She reached for his hand and he touched her fingers, but then stepped back again. She hugged the bundle of roses and felt her tears slip down her cheeks. “Goodbye, Victor…”

“Be safe, darlin’.”

He shut her door as Brys got settled and began flipping switches. Tabitha watched him walk away as the rotors began to spin.

“I wish…” she whispered, but couldn’t speak anymore as tears choked her, and Brys hadn’t heard her over the whine and roar of the rotors.

~ ~ ~

Mr. Shaul Yahalom was introduced to her by Brys before she had to say goodbye again. He was patient as she hugged the cook and made him repeat his promise to call her often to let her know how Silas was, and Victor, too.

“I have a feeling he may be with us more often now,” Brys told her. “He loves Silas more fiercely already than I believe he thought possible.”

Tabitha smiled. “I hope having him around more is a good thing; he seems to keep you busy enough all the time when he’s home.”

“I think it will be a good thing – especially for him.” He hugged her again. “Be well, enjoy life, call me when you get to L.A. safely – well, after Wolverine is gone.”

As she watched him return to the helicopter, she looked beyond him and realized she recognized the massive private hangar in the distance. Is the Bugatti in there? Sighing when Brys was out of sight, she turned and faced the lawyer as airport workers were loading her luggage into a Mercedes-Benz SUV.

“Um, thank you for helping me. Do I call you Mr. Yahalom?”

He smiled, flashing perfect teeth. “If it would help you to be more at ease, you’re welcome to call me Shaul, Miss Smith.” He was far younger than she had expected, handsome, tall, and wearing lightly red-tinted rectangular glasses. The suit he wore might have cost more than the car. His hair was black and just slightly longer than trim lawyers generally kept it – at least on TV.

“Deal, if you call me Tabitha.”

He offered her his arm to get into the passenger side. “Mr. Creed told me you might prefer not to sit in the back.”

“Yeah, I’m not into being chauffeured back there. Are we going to the Vital Statistics office straight off?”

“We need to, if you are going to catch your flight.”

She wanted to ask a million questions, but she also wanted to sit quietly and miss her son and … miss Victor. “Do you work for Victor, or is he like a client of yours?”

“I am part of the legal team that works for the Ryu Foundation.” Glancing over at her for a moment, he gave her a charming smile. “Therefore, both are correct.”

Tabitha smiled and nodded. He’s nice – but something about him is … spooky.

“I assure you, Tabitha, you are safe from my ‘spooky’ side. In fact, you are a priority – Mr. Obinata’s – and Mr. Creed’s – orders.”

She turned her head to stare at him. “You’re a telepath.”

“Among other things – yes. My apologies. I wanted you to know at the outset.”

“Uh, thanks. I thought Victor didn’t like telepaths.”

The smile flashed again, with honest amusement in this one. “He doesn’t, in most cases. I’ve proven myself to Mr. Creed – we all have, or we don’t continue to be in his service.”

Tabitha was amazed at how the lawyer operated. She was used to telepaths who cared about the rights of others and the importance of not violating their trust. Shaul Yahalom seemed to move through the world as if any and all people in front of him were rival chess pieces. He appeared to be honestly charming and used that combined with an array of mutant gifts that were largely unseen, until obstacles started falling out of his way like smoke in the wind. She almost felt sorry for the poor sheep in the Vital Statistics office, at the airport ticket counter, and in the security area as she was waved through it, roses and all.

He escorted her onto the plane, to a window seat in first class, non-stop to LAX. He held out his smooth, pale hand and she shook it, almost in a daze. “Thank you for allowing me to be of service, Tabitha.”

“Yes, uh, sure.”

“You have this row to yourself, so that you may rest. Mr. Obinata sends his regards, and he wished to give you this.” He handed her a white envelope from his inner breast pocket. “Safe travels.”

“Thanks…”

He left and Tabitha stared at the envelope. She set her flowers on the next seat with her purse and opened it with a fingernail. Inside was a slip of paper, a larger folded official-looking hunk of paperwork, a credit card in her name to the Los Angeles branch of the bank she used to have in Westchester, and a set of keys.

Some of the folded papers looked like a collection of recipes – until she stared at it longer as Shaul had taught her and saw what it really was. She swallowed and whispered it as she read it, “Silas Creed. Mother: Tabitha Smith. Father: Victor Creed.”

Blinking back tears, she looked at the rest of the folded papers and gaped at the deed for an address in Malibu, California. The description included the phrase ‘beachfront property’, and in the owner slot was her name. The seller’s name was Victoria Sévenat.

That’s the same name Victor put in my phone for his number. She folded the papers and put them all back in the envelope. The card and keys went with it separately into her Prada purse. Fishing out the slip of paper, she read it while holding her breath. The handwriting was small, neat, and beautiful – therefore it wasn’t Victor’s: He wanted you to have this gift. Perhaps it will suit you better than the first one. Tabitha let out her breath and picked up her roses. She settled back and held them and after takeoff, tried to sleep with their gorgeous scent near her face. Could Victor have found his diamond ring already? I hope he understands – it wasn’t right to keep it.

~ ~ ~

She couldn’t discard the roses before she met Logan just because he’d know who gave them to her. He’d be able to scent Victor all over her, so what did it matter.

On the curb outside of baggage claim at LAX, her truck was parked. Logan was leaning on it with the stub of a cigar still smoking a bit where he’d tucked it into his hat band. The porter who was helping her with a cart full of luggage looked at him nervously.

“Thanks,” she told him and tipped him generously with American cash. As he began loading the luggage into the bed of the truck, she faced Logan. “Hi. I’m still alive.”

“Did ya win a pageant?”

She ignored the dig about the roses and opened the passenger door to put them and her purse on the seat. His red Harley was parked behind the truck. “I’m glad you haven’t been smoking in here.”

“Natch.”

When she turned back to him, he was holding out her keys. She took them. “What now? I know you know. Does that mean you won’t hug me, after everything we went through?”

“Nope, don’t mean that.” He opened one arm and pulled her in when she came closer. “Glad yer alive, darlin’. What’re ya gonna do now?”

“I want to go home.” She smiled at him. “I got a house. First, I’d like to buy you dinner or something?”

“Never could refuse an offer o’ grub from a pretty gal.” He let her go and went to straddle the Harley. “Ya know this town?”

“Not really…”

“I’ll run point then. Gotta druther?”

“Your pick.”

“Brave woman.” He cracked a rare grin at her that showed his fangs. “What’re ya gonna do with yerself out here?”

“Heal, relax, get more tan – and get my abs back.”

“Noble goals. Follow a bit close, now, traffic in this burg’s a bitch.”

“Okay.”

When she sat behind the wheel of the big black truck and turned the engine over, she buckled up and waited for the Harley to pull out ahead of her. She followed him into some truly insane traffic, but as the sweet scent of Victor’s roses filled the cab, all she could feel was a strange sort of peace.

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

Victor sat on an armchair in the bedroom Brys and Perrin shared in the servant’s wing. He had carried the crib down the day before, after Tabitha had left. Silas was on the padded table as Brys taught Perrin how to change a diaper. The cook-turned-nanny had had the sense not to ask him.

Having the nursery stuff in the master suite simply wasn’t safe, or practical. Perrin had teased him a little about being the poster boy for why rich old families had nannies and governesses, but they knew the truth: some things Victor was too nervous to be responsible for. Brys had assured him that he’d learn in time how to handle the baby without worrying so much about how to control his strength, but Victor was also concerned about his mental state. He didn’t discuss that with them, but they seemed to understand anyway.

When the cub was clean with a fresh diaper, dressed in a one-piece thing that made him look like a baboon was about to hold him up on Pride Rock, Brys gave him to his father. It was a bit disturbing to be handed a bottle full of Tabitha’s breast milk, but he managed to keep the growling down.

He always felt foolish having to be told or corrected on how to do things properly, but was grateful for the instruction, regardless.

“Just a little more of an angle, sir – right like that.”

Victor watched the cub nurse in his arms with fascination warring with apprehension.

“Kill me now,” Perrin whispered, sitting on their bed and smiling at him.

“When is Nalani gettin’ t’ Vancouver?”

“Tomorrow, sir. Zane is set to bring them into Faro and then Perrin will pick them up.”

“Good.” He thought about Leimomi’s free-spirited youngest, and frowned. “Brys, let’s drop tha ‘sir’ shit, huh?”

“Sir? Uh…”

“Yer smirkin’ imp over there ain’t called me ‘Mr. Creed’ or ‘sir’ in ages. Nalani’s not tha type t’ start, an’ I ain’t gonna try t’ make ‘er, seein’ as she’s doin’ me a huge favor. Hell, ‘er an’ ‘er family don’t even work fer me, just ‘er ma does.”

“What … do you want me to call you?”

“First guess, I’d say ‘Victor’. Or ‘asshole’, I do answer t’ that, too.”

Perrin chuckled as Brys backed up closer to him. He threw his arms around his neck as the cook plopped down to sit between his lover’s thighs.

“It’s a … habit,” Brys muttered.

“Don’t much care if a few ‘sirs’ slip out while yer breakin’ tha habit. Seems t’ me, we just turned int’ a weird-ass li’l family fer ‘is sake,” Victor added, looking down and smiling at his cub.

“Yes, sir. I mean, uh … Victor.”

Victor looked up and winked at him. “Ya work on that, an’ I’ll work on askin’ fer shit, ‘steada orderin’ an’ demandin’ – or threatenin’…” He adjusted how he was holding the bottle. “Ya said cubs can feel stuff, sense emotions an’ shit. I don’t want mine feelin’ afraid o’ me … don’t want ‘im t’ fear jack.”

Perrin kissed Brys on the cheek and smiled at Victor. “Kill me now,” he repeated in a contented whisper.

~ ~ ~

Sitting on the stairs and watching as the dark-skinned Hawaiian beauty carried his cub up to the third floor to nurse him, Victor nodded to her husband as he brought their own cub up to their suite, just down from Tabitha’s empty room.

Between Brys and Nalani, he was getting better at caring for his son, and the time to relax and learn had helped him stay distracted.

“Victor?” Brys’s voice called, still slightly timid, across the vast open entrance hall. “You wanted a reminder? It’s almost time – you’re due in Detroit tonight.”

“Thanks,” he muttered.

He frowned and stretched when he got up and headed upstairs to shower. While shedding clothes in the master suite, he could hear Perrin in the dressing room, setting out a suit. He stopped at the fireplace mantel and touched the crystal box that held the curling lock of Bonnie’s hair. The metal case holding his personal Stark device sat beside it. On top of the case was a coiled adamantium necklace chain threaded through an expensive diamond engagement ring with an adamantium setting.

When the boy approached, he knew he was nude and in heat before his arms came around him to embrace his waist.

“Come along, Victor. You need to get out, get some different air in your lungs and perhaps some blood on your claws?”

“Gonna miss tha cub, but yeah, need that.” Perrin worked his hard cock between Victor’s asscheeks and rested it there as one hand reached to stroke him. “Might end up in Chicago before I come back – it’s close t’ Detroit, an’ that’s a serious distraction.”

“Mmm, you need to invite him here someday; I’d love to sample your pet metamorph. He could be Brys, so I could watch you fuck him.”

Victor smirked. “An’ folks call me ‘evil’. Rather take ya with me there, but I guess that’s a bad idea.”

“Ask your crush Stark for one of his holographic toys that would let me look like someone else in public – problem solved?”

Victor broke free just to turn and lean down to kiss him. “Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just kill every Canuck sonovabitch who still has yer sexy mug on a wanted poster.”

“That works, too.”

Growling with hunger, Victor picked him up and tossed him onto his bed on his back. “Ya know, if I could get ya preg, it’d simplify my life a whole fuckin’ lot.”

Perrin’s mock pout morphed into a sly smirk as wicked as Victor’s. “Wish in one hand…” he teased and laughed when Victor pounced and batted him onto his stomach.

~ ~ ~

The opulent suite in downtown Detroit reeked of blood and voided bowels from five slashed, bitten, and hollowed out male corpses littering the floors. The perfume of death had helped him fall asleep, but his peaceful and fed rest was soon shattered by nightmares.

It had begun with the sweet image of his mate giving him her full breasts to drink from. ‘If you need to, you can drink again. I want you to.’ She had gasped as he suckled, holding his head and stroking his hair. He’d frowned in his sleep, the pain of loss a sharp reminder that she wasn’t his mate – she had left him. ‘Drink, my love… Oh, Victor … I love you, I’m so sorry for them all and what they did to you… Did to you… Did to you…’ The milk was warm and sweet, swallowed greedily as he suckled the soft breast. It soothed the hunger that twisted in his small, thin body. Somewhere, close, a baby was screaming in a crib. He could feel the glare of the light blue eyes, just like ma’s, that watched him from the corner.

Thin arms, long brown and straight hair, she held his head against her breast. She was crying – he hadn’t meant to scare her when he’d jumped on her in the rocking chair, torn cloth, and taken it. ‘Drink, my baby; Victor, I’m so sorry…’ Heavy tread across the floor startled them both. Terrified, he released the nipple and nearly fell off of her lap. Crawling under the bed, he cowered on his belly and trembled.

Ma got up and rose to get the screaming baby. The moment she lifted him, it was too late. Fear was there, shoving open the door so hard it smashed into the wall as the loud brutal male stomped in, sweating and reeking from working in the field. The smell made his back sting. He could still feel the lash of the hard, pliant switch cutting into it when his small body had failed to keep working. All of him hurt, all the time now: joints, jaw, mouth, fingers, toes, ears, stomach, even his eyes … every part.

‘Five feet away an’ ya can’t hear that boy screamin’? Sittin’ ‘round with yer nightdress torn open like a harlot, but not feedin’ tha right boy? He’s gonna learn, Victoria.’

‘Zebabiah, please don’t hurt him anymore, he’s getting so weak…’

‘He is weak, cuz ya coddle ‘im all tha time, teach ‘im t’ fake sick t’ skip ‘is chores! Yer gonna turn ‘im int’ a weak an’ useless woman! He’s gotta be a man, gotta obey, an’ pull ‘is weight. Feed tha baby, he’s screamin’ like a devil’s got ‘im! Get that girl t’ help fer once!’

The eyes that glared darted behind the rocking chair, but the man didn’t strike. Hatred boiled up in Victor.

‘Get out here, boy.’

The lashes came again the moment he obeyed, marking the thin white scars. His stomach, always so weak, surged. The switch came again, even as he heaved, the violent burning of milk from a cramping stomach bursting from mouth and nose.

‘Ya stole it, ya damn thief, now yer gonna waste it? Lick it up, boy, or by God, I’ll break yer jaw an’ pour it down yer throat!’

Choked by terror and vomit, he shook as he bent his head, trying to obey. The lashes fell until his blood ran over old scars from new cuts. Pa’s huge hand grabbed his hair and twisted, yanking his head up.

‘I said ya could have food when ya worked a full day, boy. Yer brother Luther is still out there in tha heat while yer in here pawin’ at yer own ma’s body like one o’ those grubby soldiers at tha fort with their godless women. It’s a sin, boy – it’s a dirty sin, an’ sinners gotta be punished!’

‘Zebabiah, please, he’s just sick, an’ hungry, he didn’t mean it like that…’

Victor could see them: the baby clutched against her breasts, still crying – the milk was his. The small female child hid, protected under ma’s arm, as she stared at him on his hands and knees in vomited milk. From the moment she came, his ma’s milk and warmth wasn’t his anymore. The hate bubbled up and he let out a growl. Horrified, he looked up at his pa in fresh terror and saw his amber eyes flash mean.

‘That’s enough o’ that foolish game, too! Ya ain’t pretendin’ t’ be no dumb animal no more. Gonna learn ya, boy – gonna straighten ya out, so’s ya can grow t’ be a hard workin’ an’ godly man! One way or tha other.’

The switch was still, but the boot struck fast as his hair was clutched harder. The short, spiky golden hair was torn out in a clump when the dusty boot struck his ribs. He heard a dull snap and pain tore his mouth open in a scream. Ma sobbed but did nothing, the baby cried, but the female child just stared, wide-eyed and trembling.

Victor twisted his body to avoid it, but the boot struck again, blazing pain up his back. Stunned silent, he lay as still as he could. Blood was running from his mouth, a tooth had cut into it. His clothes were wet from spewed milk and piss.

Quiet an’ still, quiet an’ still … go away go away go away…

‘Brayin’ like a lamed mule ain’t how t’ be a man, ya useless lazy thievin’ waste! Ya better be up an’ out in that field t’morrow boy, or it’ll go worse fer ya!’ The boots stomped to the doorway. ‘Touch yer ma’s body like that again, take what ain’t yers again, an’ I’ll lash yer hide ‘til every inch is red an’ bloody. Yer gonna learn t’ obey yer pa – sooner or later.’

When the boots left, he began to cry quietly. He couldn’t move. He felt sick again from the feeling of the mess he was lying in. It had splashed onto his face and was soaking into his hair.

‘Please help your brother, I have to feed the baby and get him quiet.’

He heard the timid movement, but when he felt the touch on his shoulder, a terrible sound came from his mouth: a hiss like a rat when the cat got it. He fought to move, dragged his body off the floor and crawled away on hands and knees. In the next room that he had to share with his brother, he hid under their small bed and curled his body into a shuddering and bleeding ball. Every breath, every movement, was pain. Underneath it all, the fearful grinding hunger still burned…

~ ~ ~

Snarling as he snapped awake, Victor rended the bed, mattress and all, as he fought to get free. His legs kicked, the clawed toes shredding the blankets. He fell onto the floor where his claws dug in, gouging the gray marble. His jaw dropped, the fangs dripping, ready to slash, rend, kill…

Struck by the sweet reek of death and the tantalizing scent of blood that layered over the smell of his fear and sweat, he forced himself to go quiet and still.

Like an echo fading into the fog of his broken mind, he heard the terror of a small voice chanting, Go away go away go away…

When it stopped, the nightmare images faded with it. He collapsed on the cool floor, panting and trembling, but he couldn’t remember why. Afraid, he struggled up, retracted his claws and wiped his hands dry, if not clean, on the corner of a blanket. Grabbing his phone, he hit the speed dial for the pilot.

“Chicago, fast as ya can get my ass there. I’m comin’ now.”

“You got it Boss, the jet’s ready.”

He passed a mirror once he was dressed again in the damaged suit, to be sure his coat hid most of the gore. His amber eyes flashed under the lights and he glared at his reflection and turned away from it quickly. On the jet, he flopped into his chair, the coat mostly sparing it from the mess on him.

For the entire flight, he stared out the window at the black world dotted with white, red, and yellow lights as his hands gripped the arms of the chair so that they couldn’t shake.

As they flew over Chicago and circled to land at O’Hare, the lights got thicker. It didn’t look real, but he knew it was ripe and ready … and full of prey. The trembling stopped. He leaned on the armrest close the window and stared out as the jet tilted to land. His other hand lifted as both hungers crested. His cock thickened, the claws sliding out slow and curling long.

“Gonna make ya bleed,” he spoke in a slaughterhouse rasp to the unseen prey. “Sabretooth is comin’ t’ play; gonna show ya what ‘hunter an’ hunted’ means… Gonna learn ya, one way or tha other…”

 

FINI

(Sabretooth will return in Blood Song.)

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

Author’s Note: Down the Merry Stream is an old time English folk song that dates back to the Revolutionary War period (1775–1783), and pre-Victor. It was commonly played on fiddle and banjo. Victor is singing a downtempo haunting version, as can be heard in the not-as-old Country tune called Grandma’s Song, by Gail Davies. The French stuff: mon beau chat (my beautiful cat). The caretaker of the Hawaii safe house is Leimomi, which means “daughter of pearls”. Her youngest granddaughter’s name Nalani means “quiet skies”. Her baby son’s name Kaleho means “cowry shell”. The father is Kai, “from the sea”. Sooner or later, I’ll probably write a fic of Victor in Hawaii, since he’s in the snow so much. Of course, the onsie Silas is wearing is a Simba one from Disney’s The Lion King, hence Victor’s “baboon hold him over Pride Rock” joke.

For those who have read this story before, you may want to poke through earlier chapters again – I’ve run a full course of edits and ended up adding a lot more dialogue and other goodies. If I missed any accent typos or other boo-boos, I’ll catch them and fix them.

It is going to be strange to be finished with this story, and I may have withdrawals. Luckily for me, I have plenty of Sabretooth tales waiting in the wings to be added to the series, and some of them are either complete or partially finished already. I’m actually squeeing in anticipation to post the first of my Sabretooth/Iron Man fics, as well as the Sabretooth/Jean Grey fics. Victor is my drug, and my muse is apparently a total slut for him. LOL.

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

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PreviousSabretooth Series

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