Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 3 – Testing Ground

Do you take what’s in the box
Or what’s behind door 213
Chocolate man’s gone crazy
He’s in the Oxford up the street
Gonna take the Green River boat ride
With a Sea-Tac walking ho
With a cast of killers,
Black and Decker drillers
Funked up mental load

Hides the hooded Zodiac
Hey baby, what’s your sign
Got San Francisco shaking
Like the San Andreas line
Chuckie’s selling time share
At the San Quentin country club
Gein the mean lone furniture fiend
Selling tickets to his house of blood

The sweat beads up as the devil in you
Winds your ticking time bomb
And lights your vicious fuse

Gone, gone daddy, you’re really gone
On your bed of tales you somber on
Gone, gone daddy, you’re just a body thief
Gone, gone daddy, you’re really gone
Does it get you high, does it turn you on
Gone, gone daddy, you’re just a body thief

~ Body Thief (Faster Pussycat)

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She didn’t know how long she had sat slumped in the chair at the table after he left, her mind a riot of fear and desperation. She didn’t even know if it was day or night, or how long she’d been in the horrid pit. The windows were covered with thick curtains and she wasn’t sure she had the strength to go and see if there was light outside.

Slowly, Tabitha realized that she still smelled like the corpses left to rot there. The urge to clean up was strangled by the terror of being naked in this place. With the shower scene from Psycho spinning in her head, she felt sure Sabretooth wouldn’t leave her alone if he heard her bathing.

A knock on the open door made her jump, her guts cramping. Looking up, she saw a middle-aged man standing there, his smile and posture trying to appear open and non-threatening. Speech wouldn’t come yet, so she just stared at him.

“Ah, Miss … Smith, I believe he said? I’m Brys Cuvier, the cook. Have you had enough to eat, or do you need anything?”

Swallowing, trying to find enough spit to talk, Tabitha muttered, “Clothes. My clothes. He ruined…”

“Yes, well, I brought this in for you.” He took another step inside the room and lifted her duffel bag into view around the door.

“Where’s the rest of my stuff?”

“The snowmobile has been stored in the garage, most of the gear with it. I packed a couple of sweaters in here, as well; I’m afraid Mr. Creed destroyed your jacket. It’s very cold in the house, no electric heat – so…”

“‘Mr. Creed’, is it? Are you aware of what your boss does, what he is?”

“Quite aware. Unable to do much about it, but aware.”

“Where is he?”

“In the master suite, down the hall. He is – preoccupied.”

“With what?”

“With my … co-worker, Perrin.”

“Okay…” Her confusion hadn’t gone anywhere. “Preoccupied long enough to give me time to bathe, uninterrupted?”

“Difficult to say, but I expect so. You seem to have wound him up considerably, miss.”

“Wound him – what is he doing?”

“Generally, I try not to know.”

“Is this guy going to survive the experience?”

“Oh, yes – he enjoys it when Mr. Creed sends for him.”

“Wow.”

“Miss Smith?”

“Sabretooth is gay?”

The man smiled slightly, a tolerant expression settling over his features. “No, Miss Smith – Perrin, my lover, and I are gay. Mr. Creed is – opportunistic. If you wish to remain unharmed, may I suggest that you avoid labeling him – at least within his impressive hearing.”

“Your lover? Bit of shared property, huh?” She didn’t know why she was attacking, but she couldn’t help labeling this guy – as the enemy.

“Mr. Creed takes whatever he wants, usually the instant it occurs to him that he wants it. At the moment, Perrin is the reason he hasn’t raped you outright yet, so a modicum of gratitude wouldn’t be inconceivable.” Stepping over the little puddle of milk, he moved into the room and laid the bag down on the bed. “The tub is equipped with a showerhead and curtain as well, so one isn’t limited to a leisurely bath.”

“Maybe I should stay good and stinky – might deter ‘amorous’ attention.”

“That would be ill-advised. Mr. Creed isn’t like other men – the smell of that charnel pit is like fine French perfume to him.”

“Throw a touch of goat’s blood on my pulse points and I’m an instant prom date, is that it?”

“Your own blood will suffice, miss, just fine. Feel free to lock the door, but understand – locks never stop him. If you are quick, you might have a chance to be out and properly dressed before he emerges for supper.”

“Supper. What time is it? Hell, what day is it?”

“Early evening, just after six, and Friday. You spent almost two days in the oubliette. Now if you’d like to start your shower, I will clean up this mess.”

“You said you’re the cook?”

“Yes, miss.”

“The milk wasn’t your idea, was it?”

“Ah, no, miss. Frankly, I don’t try to understand some of Mr. Creed’s requests. Supper will be ready by eight and he will require your presence in the dining room. I’ll return to guide you there when it’s time.”

“Yeah, right. Can’t wait to sup with the devil.”

She watched him leave. Standing stiffly, she rose and rifled through the duffel bag. She’d expected her phone to be absent. All of her other personal belongings were there, except, weirdly, the iPod. The charger cables for them were missing, too. Shaking her head, she grabbed some clothes to wear with one of the thick sweaters and tried to walk without stumbling to the bathroom.

~ ~ ~

Tabitha slipped out of the suite before the cook came to fetch her. He’d cleaned up the milk and shards of glass, but hadn’t locked her in. Sabretooth’s threat of booby-traps hung in her head, but she couldn’t just sit in the room where he’d put her and not try to find some way out of her captivity.

The hall outside of her room was open with a tall wooden railing that allowed one to look out and down at the vast space the stairs occupied, dominating a formal entrance hall. Down at the end of the hall, she saw the carved wooden double doors of what had to be the master suite. Another pair of doors, less fancy, waited in between, but that seemed to be all there was to that floor; the hall and its railing stopped about ten feet beyond the master suite’s doors.

She hadn’t lived at least part time in the Xavier mansion without picking up a thing or two about the layout of rich people’s homes. Judging by the way the third floor was set up, the master suite had to be huge, taking up most of the floor. It appeared to be the top floor, too, but looking at the estate through binoculars had told her that there was plenty to this place that was higher than the floor she was on.

Maybe the rest is accessed from elsewhere, or even from inside the master suite? Doesn’t matter, Tab. You want down, this time – shooter game rules – so let’s see what’s waiting on level two.

Creeping out to and down the staircase, she didn’t stop to enter the second floor hallway. Like the third floor, it was open with a railing, but it circled all the way around with many more doors – some single, some double, all closed.

Below her, the real prize waited: the main exit. She couldn’t make out what was hanging on the wall over it, but it appeared to be some sort of weird massive rectangle constructed out of metal. She would place it somewhere between a piece of modern art and one of those ugly statues only the ridiculously rich would waste their money on. It was recessed into the wall in a way that didn’t allow the light of the chandelier to display it clearly at all.

What’s the point of buying it if you can’t even see what it really looks like? Overwhelmed by the sheer size and decadent opulence of the house, she muttered, “Boy, they lied – crime sure as hell does pay.”

On the ground floor, there were two hallways, one on either side of the entrance hall, but she didn’t even look at them. Facing the front doors of the house, she looked around and then sprinted over to them. Cursing when she rattled one of the doors and found them locked, she lifted a hand out of habit.

“Those doors count as mine, frail.”

Tabitha froze at that voice. Turning and looking up, she saw him standing on the third floor, leaning his thick forearms on the railing. Even from that distance, she could see the metallic gleam of his claws in the light from the huge antler chandelier overhead.

For all she knew, he might have been standing there nude. It was a theory more proved than not in the next moment when another man appeared from the open double doors behind him.

This one was shorter and more slender than the cook, but of similar complexion and dark hair. She watched, dumbfounded, as he ran a caressing palm across Creed’s back as he passed, belatedly closing a thick black robe around his bruised and scratched naked body. It was far too big for him and trailed a few feet behind him when he started down the stairs.

“I’ll give her a tour of the servant’s wing, Mr. Creed,” he said, smiling at her. “Perhaps there’s something she could help with in the kitchen before supper.”

Creed snorted and glared, and Tabitha held her breath until he turned away and went back to the suite. “Not in tha mood t’ go chasin’ rabbits in tha snow – watch ‘er, boy. Gonna nap ‘til tha grub’s ready.”

“Brys will want to know what wine you’d like with the meal?”

“Pop one o’ tha bottles o’ Cristal – we’re celebratin’ my new business relationship.”

The doors above closed, but not before she got a look at the man’s bare backside. The muscles of his back and long legs were insanely ripped and she’d stared before she remembered it could be hazardous to her health – but he never turned to see it.

“Impressive, isn’t he?”

“Perrin, is it?”

“Yes.”

“You’re ah … willing to mess with that?”

“Any chance I’m offered. Shall we?”

Mystified, she followed him to a door she hadn’t noticed at the side of the staircase. It opened to reveal a wide white hallway with a tiled floor. Dotted with still more closed wooden doors, it was actually lit with light bulb-bearing fixtures at regular intervals.

“Electricity – that’s a nice change. What’s with all the closed doors everywhere?”

“Only parts of the house are wired for electricity. Heat is maintained with fireplaces and most of the doors are shut to keep that heat where the people are.”

“Just three people?”

“Brys and I are the only servants who live here. Mr. Creed doesn’t feel the cold much, but he’s generous in letting us indulge in little luxuries.”

“Generous – not a term I’ve heard linked to him before.”

“Living under his roof can be quite different if you give him a reason to trust you.”

“Heh. Not really one of my goals, Froggy.”

“It should be. A suspicious feral mutant is far more deadly. Here is the kitchen.”

She followed him into a room that looked more like a four-star restaurant’s backstage area. Pots and other utensils, including a lot of knives, either hung from steel racks over the stone countertops, or waited in wooden blocks and shelves around the room.

The cook was there, busy and bustling. He came up to them when he saw them, spatula in hand and kissed the younger man in front of her without qualms. They spoke briefly together in French, Perrin gesturing to her once. Glancing at her, the cook switched back to English, presumably for her benefit.

“I was going to bring her down soon,” he said.

“She elected to explore.”

“Are you all right? Was he..?”

“Yes, never better. He wasn’t cruel.”

The two embraced quickly before the cook stepped back and returned to something that was bubbling in a cast iron pot on the stove.

“You’d best get dressed, and then if you would, both of you can help me; I need to finish setting the table as well.”

Nodding, Perrin turned to leave. “Stay here… What is your name?”

“Tabitha.” She caught his arm when he passed her and he paused. “He wasn’t ‘cruel’? How is that even possible? The man’s a monster, a killer, and a rapist.”

“Yes, he is. He’s also very – talented. When inspired by the proper attitude, the right demeanor, it is possible to have every nerve you possess blown out at once – if you can make him care about your own pleasure, that is.”

Tabitha watched him go with her mouth open. “Is he bonkers?”

“Perrin has unusual tastes.”

“So has Creed ever been ‘not cruel’ to you?”

Moving back to his stirring, the cook smiled. “I haven’t been required to attend to his other needs, for which I admit I’m grateful.”

“What’s your secret? I’d like to join that club, not your boyfriend’s. If that psychotic bastard puts one more finger on me, I’ll toss my cookies in his lap.”

“Mr. Creed mentioned that he had ‘history’ with you. What did he do to you?”

“He gutted a friend of mine who was trying to keep him from killing me – this after I helped him. He’s a real prince, your boss.”

“Your boss, too, now – I suggest a business-like manner around him for the best possible response.”

“Business-like. I was just going to try not to go catatonic when he walks into the same room I’m in.”

“Showing fear isn’t the best idea, miss, though Perrin disagrees – odd, considering he never seems to be afraid of Mr. Creed. One thing we do agree on that you should certainly avoid is looking at him with revulsion.”

“Yeah, right. I’ll just invite him to thumb-wrestle. By the way, why do you guys only speak French to each other?”

“Mr. Creed is not fond of the language and prefers us to speak English.”

“I’d have thought ‘Mr. International Man of Murder and Mayhem’ could understand French.”

“I said he isn’t fond of it, not that he couldn’t understand it. I have no idea how many languages he speaks, or to what degree he is fluent in them. I suspect he knows more of them than Perrin and I together can claim.”

“Geez, which of you is the president of the creep’s fan club?”

“Miss Smith, you seem to be a decent young woman.” He laid his spoon down on the counter and faced her. “If you’re here to assist him in Vancouver, whether or not you live to see it, or survive after the job is done, will depend on how you handle Mr. Creed. Perrin and I are willing to help you with that in any way we can, but your combative attitude will only get you abused and killed.”

“My combative – who kidnapped, walloped and nearly raped who, here? You two want to help me, show me the back door and get out of my way, got it?”

Sighing, he went back to cooking. “Mr. Creed has very mercurial moods, but he is notoriously vain, a fact that can save your life if you can grasp how to make use of it. He also seeks blood like a boy goes after candy. If you aren’t providing one or more of the things he keeps people like us around for – creature comforts, sex, a bit of conversation here and there – then he’ll end up using you to appease his bloodlust.”

“Brys, isn’t it?”

“Yes, miss.”

“I’m here because he threatened to kill me if I didn’t agree to help in Vancouver. Once we run down there, I’ll blow up some stuff for him and hopefully escape with my life, with or without getting paid. I don’t plan on having time to get cozy in my new job around here.”

“You will have time, I’m afraid.”

“Why, when does he go to Vancouver?”

“We don’t know the exact date, only he does. He told me it would be a least a week or two, maybe longer, so that I would know what quantity of supplies to stock up on before he arrived here.”

“Maybe a week – or more? Super. I’m so dead.”

~ ~ ~

When Tabitha managed to eat something at the long formal dining table, she was surprised that she could also keep it down. She had more than one glass of the fancy champagne to steady her nerves.

She would have thought Sabretooth would be the silent brooding type, and maybe he was here and there, but at dinner his willingness to talk was a shock. She listened mostly, only speaking when addressed directly. However, he seemed content to speak with the Frenchmen and less interested in baiting or tormenting her.

Both of the servants sat at dinner with them, instead of standing around in white jackets ready to fill everyone’s wine glasses. The food was more meat dishes than anything else and their host ignored any serving dish that held vegetables.

Tabitha didn’t know if she was eating cow, deer, moose, or people – she just chewed and swallowed and tried to hit the vegetables more than once.

She shivered in the chilled room, even though her chair was the closest to the long and low fireplace. When she lifted her glass for Brys to fill it again, Creed’s voice slid down the table to her.

“Go easy on that, frail. I’ve decided t’ move our sparrin’ match up a night. Give ya an hour after this, an’ then we’ll go.”

She didn’t respond beyond a slight nod. Watching him return to his talk with Perrin, she tried to think if there was anyone on the outside who could help her. Anyway she sliced it though, she knew the best opportunity for escape would be in Vancouver, not out here in the middle of arctic nowhere.

Trying to do it in a series of casual glances, she studied Creed as he talked. Stale memories had to be pushed away, but she remembered vividly how animated his face was. Even the strange amber eyes, glowing slightly, seemed capable of a startling amount of expression.

Weirdly, they’d been normal eyes in the Danger Room, with bright blue irises and deep black pupils, the whites almost devoid of blood vessels. Later, when he healed into a monster again, they’d turned back into the amber pits of menace. She’d never understood why they’d changed.

It was hard not to get caught up staring at two particular features of his face: the ears and the teeth.

His ears were pointed, like Spock, but they slanted back naturally, too. Then they’d move, pinning down with anger or pricking up more in a question – always with that odd backward slant to their shape.

The teeth, like the claws, were hard not to stare at. She’d noticed years ago that more of them were pointed than just the four canines, though. One smaller tooth on both sides of each canine was a razor spike. A saber-toothed cat’s longest fangs were the top canines, but on Creed, it was the bottom pair. The upper ones were far longer than Wolverine’s fang teeth, but the bottoms were almost obscene. They stuck out from his lower lip even when his mouth was closed. The lower fangs looked rounded in front, but tapered at the back to a serrated edge, the width from front to back wide, so that in profile they looked like curved blades. She was surprised every time he spoke that he managed it without some sort of lisp.

Once, after Sabretooth had started speaking to her in the Danger Room, she had asked Beast about it in his lab as casually as she could. After giving her a hard, long look, he had told her it had to do with the feral mutant’s jaw. It was longer and wider than a human jaw and hinged differently, allowing him to open his mouth wide enough to use the lower fangs in a slashing motion. Perhaps to remind her of the danger the feral posed, he’d also casually dropped the fact that unlike saber-toothed cats, Creed had a bite force considerably more powerful than modern lions.

The width of the jaw meant room for more teeth, too – the ‘Tooth Monger, as Beast often called him, had several extra over a human or non-feral mutant. Only the front central teeth on top and bottom looked human. She couldn’t see them, but Beast had told her that what would be molars in a human jaw were more like a lion’s teeth in Creed’s mouth. He’d called it a carnassial shear: molars that had developed spikes of their own for shearing meat. She supposed it explained the odd way he ate, often turning his head to the side to bite meat; he wasn’t technically chewing at all – he was shearing the meat into pieces small enough to swallow.

Tabitha spent the entire meal trying not to look at Creed’s hands. He didn’t use them to enhance his talking with gestures like most people, however, nor did he use them to pick up a fork. Hunks or slices of meat were speared with the claws to be sheared into chunks by the fangs and teeth. More than once, his oddly long tongue slithered out to lick his thick fingers clean of bloody juices.

She watched the tongue disappear again until just the tip was visible, and fell into staring as it toyed with the tip of one of the upper fangs. I wonder how often he stabs or slices it by mistake? Guess if it heals in seconds, it wouldn’t matter.

“Had enough, girl?”

Tabitha startled. Looking up at his malevolent smirk, she swallowed. “Yes.”

He was wearing jeans again, different ones – these had holes at both knees that didn’t look like they’d been bought that way for the sake of rugged fashion. The choker at his throat was bleached white bones and teeth – probably human.

Most of the fur on his upper body was covered by a black t-shirt and she was still trying to reconcile the fact that it had a Rolling Stones tour logo, cracked and faded, stretched across his barrel chest. Upstairs in the room they’d put her in, she had seen the longer fur thatched in the center of his chest and running along the edges of his forearms bristle and stand when he’d yelled at her. In the Danger Room, he’d been calm, until the end. She knew the fur grew longer down his spine between the shoulderblades, skipped mid-back, and picked up again down to his tailbone. Most of him was accented with that gold fur; it followed muscle patterns and all of it was soft fur, nothing like human body hair. She’d never had the guts to see if the pubic hair was the same.

The ‘mane’ is longer, still has that impossible curl to it, too. It was only past his shoulders a bit in the Danger Room and now it’s trailing most of the way down his back.

Creed put his elbow on the table and rested his stubbly and broad cleft chin on the heel of his hand, the metal claws glinting in the light of his eyes. The brush of long fur on the forearm went past the elbow to curl on the tabletop. Tabitha was watching how the wide mutton chop sideburns were tangled with wayward strands of blonde hair, all the fur nearly hiding the high cheekbones and strong planes of the face.

Abruptly, the stare penetrated her thoughts. Sitting back in her chair with a start, she realized what she’d been doing in time for his smirk to stretch into a broad Cheshire grin.

“Ain’t I tha handsomest atrocity o’ nature ya ever saw, frail? Tha face’s new, too, after some fuck o’ yer former boss burned tha old one off o’ my skull.”

Before her mind could shut down in terror, she remembered what Brys had told her about vanity. Gulping and dropping her gaze to the half-empty glass in front of her, she spoke and tried to do it without her voice cracking.

“I always thought you were handsome. Jubilee mooned about Wolverine a lot, but I’ve never been into short.”

She was stunned when he burst out laughing. It was a more pleasant sound than the ringing cruel laughter in her nightmares.

“Tha runt runs ‘round scowlin’ too fuckin’ much; got all that tortured nobility weighin’ ‘im down. He pisses ya off, don’t he, girl?”

“He likes to have opinions about how I live my life. It’s annoying, yeah.”

“Never liked ya hangin’ out with me, that’s fer damn sure. Too bad.” He stood and it was like seeing a mountain of muscle rise up and up, the palms pressing down on the table as he leaned in to stare at her again – because she was still staring at him. “Let’s go get sweaty, frail – show me what ya got. That kick ya caught my guest with was prime.”

Tabitha followed him, wishing she had the guts, or the stupidity, to bolt and run. The formal dining room had been down the right side hallway if she were facing what he called the grand staircase. They went through the entrance hall again and passed the stairs to enter the left side hallway.

Candles in wall sconces lit the main halls and when he opened yet another set of thick wooden doors, the room beyond was illuminated dimly by a second massive chandelier of antlers and cables. A similar fireplace to the one in the kitchen ran along the inside wall, the mantel standing at five feet, the length of it over ten feet. There was wood and tinder ready for a fire, but it was cold and dark, leaving the room freezing.

The floor, like the rest of the house, was polished wood, the chamber long and wide. She assumed it had several tall narrow windows, too, but all she could see was thick maroon drapes hung at intervals down the outer wall. The room was empty, except for a cluster of surprisingly modern exercise equipment at one end.

“A stair machine?” she asked, too amazed to remember to be afraid at the moment. “A treadmill… You have to work out?”

Chuckling, he closed the doors. “That’s theirs. One o’ tha perks o’ a healin’ factor’s bein’ naturally ripped.”

“Oh. Must be nice.”

“It don’t suck. Most mutants are a cut above; that’s what ‘homo superior’ means, ain’t it?”

“Yeah, well, I still have to rack up a few crunches here and there.”

“Don’t worry, girl – I’ll keep ya fit an’ trim.”

The fear was back, cutting into her gut and stealing her breath. “What sort of … sparring … did you have in mind? Do you know martial arts?”

He turned to face her and all the claws were out. “Never learned that shit an’ don’t need it. I’m a backwoods bar brawler, all tha way. Over a hundred years down, it’s worked just fine.”

“Um … you wanted to ‘see what I’ve got’ – does that include bombs? It’s a big part of the overall package.”

“Sure, if ya ain’t throwin’ ‘em at me.” He went over to the cluster of exercise equipment and reached into a wooden crate with both hands. They came up full of clay targets, like you would use for shooting practice. “Tell ya what, I’ll toss some o’ these any which way, an’ ya can blast ‘em before they hit tha floor.”

Looking around her, she asked abruptly, “Was this a ballroom?”

“Naw, double parlor. Tha original furniture’s all stored – twig French shit, useless fer sittin’ on an’ sprawlin’ out.”

“Who did you buy it – I mean, I assume you bought it.”

“Yeah, I bought it – from lawyers. Former owner went ten toes up, without my assistance. It took tha place o’ tha house in Vancouver.”

“You’ve changed things I bit, I guess – most wealthy French landowners don’t have oubliettes and dungeons.”

“Made a few changes. Oubliette was already here; it wasn’t empty, neither. Ya ready, or would ya rather keep stallin’ some more?”

“Y-yeah, sorry.”

Eyeing her thoughtfully, he sighed. “Not gonna eat ya, girl. Ya got skills I can use, don’t ya? Behave, an’ ya won’t get dead.”

He started throwing the round clay disks before she was quite ready, but she got ready fast, knowing she had to impress him. Using the small golf ball sized bombs, she destroyed every target in a matter of heartbeats.

“Not bad. That it?”

“Well, not exactly. Got more?”

“Sure.” He fetched another handful out of the crate. Tossing them farther and faster, he watched her avidly.

Tabitha let the lethal spikes of her power burst out of her hands like Pete Wisdom had taught her, winging them out as fast as bullets to burst the last targets into flaming dust.

“Ya don’t hafta count ‘em down, huh?”

“That was mostly for effect – psychological warfare, sort of, to scare the people I was throwing the bombs at. I don’t need to do that, though. I can still explode them when and where I want, as well, but now…”

He was advancing on her, almost stalking her and the fear closed her throat, cutting off her words.

“Now ya can suck ‘em back up. Congrats, girl – I’m impressed. Punch me.”

“What?”

Creed frowned, one eyebrow arching. “Ya ever sparred before? It involves whackin’ each other a bit. Punch me.”

“Are you going to punch me back?”

“Probly not – tryin’ not t’ break ya too bad. Here, let’s do this – ya get yer strikes in, with yer ninja shit, an’ I’ll block ‘em if I don’t feel like just takin’ it.”

“Um, okay.” Shaking in her boots, she threw a punch – hitting the Rolling Stones lips and tongue in the kisser, dead center of his chest. She had to jump to do it and it didn’t even make him grunt.

Grinning, Creed started to taunt her. The first remarks didn’t hit home; then he used an old favorite. “That it, frail? Didn’t yer daddy teach ya t’ punch harder’n that when he’d beat ya down fer breakin’ a dinner plate?”

He started to laugh, but her next strike was a solid side kick to his stomach and that got a grunt; he even stepped back a pace.

One more crack about her father and she was off. All the pent up horror and anger, the terror he’d made her endure, fueled her attack. Most of the hits, he just took, only a few of them effecting him much at all. When she sent a front kick up to his groin, his large hand snagged her ankle, yanked, and held her upside down by it.

Thrashing and yelling, she yelped when he dropped her onto her head. Her hands barely turned it into a roll in time and she landed on her knees, panting, glaring up at him.

“They always go fer tha crotch.”

“Softest part, isn’t it?”

“Not right now.”

Her eyes darted to his jeans before she thought, widening at the thick bulge there. When he advanced, she got her fists up, but he just reached through the punches and grabbed her throat. She went limp on her knees and hated herself for it.

“Fightin’ someone like me, ya gotta learn, frail. Most men would die in short order if ya rip their balls off ‘em. Been there, done that – they grew back. I’ve taken gunshots t’ tha dick, too – it grew back. Know what my pa taught me? If ya gotta chew yer own hand off t’ get loose from a trap … it’ll grow tha fuck back.”

His fingers squeezed and she began to choke.

“Please!” she gurgled out.

Creed threw her on the floor. She gasped and tried to roll over onto her stomach, but then he was on her, his weight pressing her into the wood. One hand squeezed her breast instead, the heavy press of his groin pushing against her crotch.

“Don’t turn yer back t’ an enemy, Tabitha; it ain’t smart.”

“Stop it, please…”

“Didn’t I say I’d touch ya if I damn well pleased? Well, didn’t I?”

“Y-yes…”

His head bent down and he sniffed at her throat. The mouth opened as his head lifted, the fangs dripping saliva onto her cheek. She froze when the tongue slid out and licked up the side of her face, barbed like sandpaper.

Rasping voice at her ear, he whispered, “Gonna do it, girl, but it can be nice or nasty.”

“It can’t be nice! Please, please don’t!”

“Nice means no claws in yer shiverin’ soft flesh. Nasty means I might forget I gotta use fer ya down tha road.” The claws retracted and his hands slid under her sweater and shirt, pushed under the cups of her bra. It left his weight nearly crushing her. “Be a good girl, Tabitha – open up fer yer Uncle Victor.”

He shifted and parted her legs with his knees, hands going down to open her jeans and his. He tugged the denim down, jerking her body up as the pants were yanked past her backside. The panties were hooked by thumbs and pulled down. His weight lifted and the hands stripped the clothing away from one of her legs, tearing the cuff of the pants leg to get it over her boot. He tossed the cloth to one side out of his way and left the other leg in the denim.

When the weight came down again, the hard and broad cock was loose and seeking. It set at her opening and paused, the heat of his breath back at her throat.

“If ya struggle, it’ll tear ya – such a li’l slip o’ a thing.”

“Wait, wait…” She cast about for anything, a way to reason with him, but her thoughts flew apart like leaves.

His rough tongue licked up her throat. “Gonna choose, frail?”

Tabitha struggled to keep her sanity intact. Tears were streaming down her face, but that just seemed to excite him more. “N-nice…” she whispered.

“Mmm … ya got it in one.”

He moved down, but not away from her. The shock of his mouth between her legs made her scream, the terror of the fangs threatening to unhinge her mind. Her legs started to thrash, tried to kick, but his arms wrapped around them, pushing her knees up. His hands gripped her thighs, the slightest tips of the claws slipping out to prick her skin.

“Be still, girl,” he murmured, lips brushing her vulnerable folds with the words. “Let it happen an’ it goes easy.”

The long tongue, thick and obscenely strong, struck her, swirled around and then entered her. His head moving slightly forward and back, his tongue began to thrust, the rasped barbs of it raking over tender flesh. The shock that it could create pleasure numbed her even as the brush of the smooth hard length of the fangs ramped her heart rate to a fevered pulse.

Tabitha’s thoughts splintered as what he was doing forced her body to respond, willing or not. No one had touched her in months and the muscles were tight and clenched. If he put himself in there without anything easing the way … she knew he hadn’t lied about tearing her.

Her body’s orgasm, its betrayal, took her breath away and then she began to sob. The rasped tongue withdrew, the tip lapping wetly at the outer folds. When he rose to press down over her body again, she realized too late why he’d put his mouth on her.

In the instant that he began to push himself inside, she knew the lubrication of her own body wasn’t going to be enough. Her hands fisted, striking his shoulders; one of them grabbed a loose mass of his hair and pulled. He growled, turned his head and nipped at her fingers with the tips of his fangs.

Tabitha felt the push of his cock shoving into her, brutalizing the muscles inside, and opened her mouth wide to scream, the sound of it echoing in her head.

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

Victor’s ears pinned as she continued to struggle. He had propped most of his weight off of her ribcage and chest by moving an arm, but that meant her leg could kick and flail. The movement was jarring and made his thrusts rougher.

His free hand left her breasts and batted her fists away. He grabbed the side of her neck and used it to smack her skull against the floor, dazing her. “Hold still or yer gonna get lubed up with yer own blood.”

One option was to simply knock her out and continue, but that would mean denying himself the little sounds of terror she made. The smell of her, with the taste of her pussy in his mouth, drove him close to the edge of losing control. If her blood added another layer to the heady mix, he’d end up tearing her throat out just to watch her die with his cock buried deep.

Another slight whack of her head to the floor finally made her stiffen and then go limp, all the will to fight him evaporating in terror and pain.

Victor sucked in a deep breath, trying to slow down the collecting bloodlust that lured him to tear her up. Deliberately pulling most of the way out of her, he changed his thrusts to shallow, sharp, and quick. The burn started in the pit of his stomach, stretched, and spread hot tendrils of sensation across his lower back. Resisting the urge to bury himself deep again, he kept it short and fast until the burst of violent pleasure made his breath catch. Arching his back, he let a roar shake the rafters overhead.

Withdrawing instantly, he noted only a few streaks of blood on his softening cock. He knew he’d pushed in deeper than her body had to give. Sitting back on his heels, he pulled off his t-shirt and used it to wipe himself off, tossing it on the floor. Shoving himself into his jeans and barely getting the buttonfly fastened, he got his hands under the girl’s body and hoisted her when he rose to his feet.

She struggled for only a moment, moaning, and then passed out in his arms. Letting the loose leg of her jeans flutter behind him, he carried her off out of the room and up the stairs. Opening the doors of the master suite, he dropped her down onto his bed before going to close the doors again.

Victor stripped off the rest of her clothes and the boots, dropping them all in a pile on top of the large iron chest at the foot of the bed. As an afterthought, he tore the bedding from under her and pulled it up to cover her instead. Shucking his jeans but keeping the choker around his neck, he stretched out under the covers and lifted his arms, crossing them to pillow his head.

He stared up at the vaulted ceiling through the posts of the bed and listened to the frail’s rough breathing. He knew it when she woke and smiled as he realized she was trying to assess the situation before admitting she was conscious. That was a good trick, but it didn’t work around a man like him.

“Give it up, huh?” he told her, his tone lazily casual. Glancing down and over at her, he saw her eyes open and then widen when she guessed where she was.

“Why am I here?”

“Cuz I ain’t done with ya yet.”

She curled to her side with her back to him instantly, her legs drawing up into a fetal position. The sobs were not muffled well by the hands that tried to hide her face.

With a low growl, he reached out and grabbed her shoulder to flop her onto her back again.

“Told ya once, don’t turn yer back t’ an enemy.” Shifting to his side to face her, he propped himself up on an elbow, his hand under his cheekbone. “Yer here cuz I don’t want ya t’ slip off t’ yer own bed t’ hate me in private. If yer gonna hate me, do it right here, right in my face.”

Her voice was shaking, a wreck, her face wet with tears. “Why?”

“That ain’t gonna be a one-time party, girl. Think I can keep mitts off with a piece like ya runnin’ ‘round, smellin’ like terror an’ pussy? Thing is, t’ survive this, ya gotta learn a few tricks. Fer past … favors … I’m willin’ t’ teach ya a few.”

“What… What is wrong with you … that makes you think I’ll want to learn anything from you now? Or ever?”

“Tryin’ t’ piss me off? ‘Sides, ain’t ya heard? I’m not right in tha head. Ya wanna live, ya might wanna learn.”

“After what you did –”

“Get used t’ that, frail. Fact is, more ya pump out that fear stink, more yer makin’ me wanna do it again right tha hell now.”

“– to Psylocke…”

“Oh, tha ninja bitch. Couple o’ things always bugged tha shit outta me ‘bout that whole deal.”

“Bugged the… You gutted her! You’re bugged by what, that you got her intestines under your nails?”

“Ooo, I like tha mad on ya.” His grin made her deflate fast, however. Sighing, he tried again. “What bugged me – all tha telepaths in that place an’ they didn’t catch a clue ya were desperate fer a bit o’ cold comfort? Maybe they did know, Tabitha. Maybe they knew an’ didn’t care!”

“No, they…”

“Uh, huh. Go on, try t’ justify it – ain’t no way. What’d ya do after?”

“I pulled back, away from everyone … pushed them back. I became … hard, cold to them all. I got … mean, violent in the missions.”

“Ya saw that they didn’t have yer back like ya thought they did. They expected ya t’ toe tha line, sing Cueball’s anthems, do yer job tha way they wanted it done, an’ shut yer damn hole. Ain’t that right?”

“They cared about me –”

“Lie t’ someone else, girl. Ya hear yerself? They ‘cared’, past tense. Don’t now, do they? Didn’t then. Ya were a soldier in Cueball an’ Cable’s li’l army. That’s their modus operandi, an’ I’m speakin’ from experience. They didn’t make ya a student – cardigans an’ pleated skirts – they made ya a soldier an’ used yer power in battle against their enemies. Bet they never bothered t’ say why those targets were enemies, neither. Grunts ain’t ‘sposed t’ ask why – tha brass points, tha grunt shoots. I played tin soldier enough t’ know all ‘bout that shit. Tell ya a mean truth – they’re wagin’ a war, yer fightin’ it. Big damn fuckin’ diff’rence.”

She was silent for a long time and he let his words sink in, watching her closely.

“What … were you going to teach me?”

“How t’ be hard, cold, an’ mean.”

“I don’t want –”

“How t’ survive … me first, o’ course, that’ll be handy. After that, how t’ survive whatever tha world tosses in yer teeth. Then I’ll teach ya how t’ catch it in yer teeth an’ throw it right back at ‘em.” A slight smile tugged at one corner of his lips. “How’d ya like t’ be so hard that not a fuckin’ thing can ever hurt ya again? No games, Tabitha. Ain’t that what ya wanted all along – from tha moment ya got hit with all that sacrificin’ ninja blood?”

Her teeth gritted, her anger breaking through the fear. “She was trying to save my life, to save me from my own stupidity.”

“Oh, yeah – that brings me t’ tha other bit that always bugged me. Why’d ya keep feelin’ me up, frail? Pettin’ tha kitty, bringin’ ‘im milk – can’t get more stupid, really. That ain’t a rhetorical question, neither – why’d ya do it?”

“The milk? I was trying to be kind to you –”

Growling, Victor snatched her hand under the blankets and clapped it to his growing erection, his fingers forcing hers to stoke it into a hard curve of aching hunger. Her yelp helped it along nicely.

“That! That’s what ya did, more’n once! Sure, ya didn’t have tha guts t’ pop it outta tha shorts, but still.”

“Sam was pushing me away, everything was changing… I was … lonely…”

“If ya want better lube, it’s in that nightstand drawer behind yer head.”

“I … no.”

“Suit yerself.” He let go of her hand and began to move over her, his cock striking her thigh. One hand dragged her legs apart and he settled between them.

Her hands came up to push against his chest. “Please don’t. You hurt me. It … it still hurts… ”

“Might wanna move those arms before I break ‘em.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Cuz I’m lonely.” His spreading grin made her suck in her breath.

“Wait! Can I… Let me do something else?”

“What tha hell ya still yammerin’ on fer? Like Faster Pussycat sang it, ‘Shut up an’ fuck.”

“I can try blowing you instead.”

Victor shifted his weight slightly and stared down into her desperate shining eyes. “Try, huh? Temptin’, but … no.”

Reaching behind her, he opened the drawer himself and snagged the abused tube. He leaned on one elbow at her shoulder and opened it, reaching to coat his cock with a generous smear. With a chuckle, he wiped the excess off on her perfectly sculpted line of dark pubic hair. He snapped the cap closed right at her ear and tossed the tube back into the open drawer.

When she burst into tears again, he paused, irritated. “What tha fuck is it now? Told ya it wasn’t gonna be a one-time party. Other handy thing ‘bout a healin’ factor – I don’t get tired real easy, an’ my dick don’t need much o’ a break in between.”

She finally gulped out, “I’m not on the pill…”

“Yeah? Me neither.”

He grinned and pushed into her, ignoring her feeble attempts to fight. Solely to fuck with her head while he was at it, he slowed down and angled his body just right to make hers feel good – well aware he could no matter what her brain or morals thought about it.

Most of the time, taking his own pleasure was all that mattered and as often as that included ripping them up during the act, he hadn’t gotten into much of a habit of making it pleasurable for them. On the other hand, if it was someone he didn’t intend to kill right off the bat, he’d learned what a mess it could make in their heads if he worked on forcing their bodies to like what he did to them.

The change, the realization in her wide wet eyes, zapped the fight right out of her. It wouldn’t get him off as fast or as good as letting his claws have a taste, but spunk was spunk, wasn’t it? He’d also learned that being picky was a waste of time.

After a moment or two, he realized he was learning things about her she might not want him to know. Chuckling darkly, he caught her mouth in a kiss. In the same way her legs had almost wrapped around his hips twice, her first instinct was to respond ardently to the kiss. As if abruptly remembering to fight, she tried to struggle again, but the ripples of pleasure he gave, each one squeezing his shaft deliciously as her muscles contracted, took the strength out of her resistance more with each stroke.

He tried to catch her mouth again, but she turned her head sharply. Her hands were back on his chest, over his collarbones, the feeble pushing a joke.

“No,” she muttered.

“No, what, girl?”

“Your fangs…”

“Think I ain’t figured out how t’ do that without slicin’ ya with ‘em?”

“You like biting!”

“Yup, I do. What, ya ain’t never played trust games?”

“Not with a psychotic killer!”

“First time fer everythin’, huh?”

Because she didn’t want him to, Victor kissed her again. Her teeth clenched tight against his tongue, but once the hand not occupied with allowing her to breathe under him got to work on her breasts, he knew that resistance would soon follow the rest. Fingers, with claws retracted, pinched her erect and flushed nipples. Testing how far it took for pleasure to become pain there, he then worked them right on the edge as soon as he discovered where that was.

Her mouth opened, perhaps to scream, but he shoved his tongue in it instead. Another shift of his body, a new angle for his smooth and steady thrusts, and she actually began to respond to both his mouth and his body. He thought about warning her not to let her tongue wander around his teeth too much, but then didn’t bother – if she lost it, he’d have to listen to her bitch a lot less.

Letting her lips go, he curled his back over her, dropping his head to lick at her ear and throat.

“I can’t, I can’t … oh, God … Sabretooth, please…”

“Call me Victor, girl.”

“No!”

“Feel that? Made ya come fer me; gonna make ya do it again an’ again, frail, ‘til yer nerves’re screamin’. Pace like this, I can fuck ya fer hours. Think ya can stand that? Did ya know a person can be fucked t’ death? Harder t’ do without usin’ tha pointy bits, but I’ve managed it once or twice. Their stamina ain’t nothin’ like mine. One time, I fucked a bitch ‘til she died o’ a heart attack. Didn’t stop me none. Cold’s a whole new sorta turn on.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“Call me by my name. Say it like ya did when ya slid yer li’l hand all over me, yer brainless captive lamb, yer harmless kitten…”

“I’m so sorry I did that, it was wrong –”

“Right or wrong, I don’t give a fuck ‘bout, girl. Pheromones ya were givin’ off – if ya’d gotten down on all-fours, I woulda fucked ya then. Why’d ya think I bothered t’ grab ya when ya tried t’ sneak up tha damn mountain? I can make an’ set my own fuckin’ explosives, tha old school way. Ya made me want t’ do this – fer years, thought ‘bout it. Shit, half tha times I jacked off while I was forced t’ work with X-Factor, it was yer tits I wanted t’ splatter!”

“When you got loose –”

“When ya set me loose!”

“You tried to kill me!”

His tongue scraped over her throat again, his head turning and jaw dropping wide to allow the teeth to take a careful grip, a pair of long fangs on either side of her neck. He let the points pierce the skin, his tongue licking at the little drops of blood.

Thrusts turning more insistent, harder, he let a growl vibrate the air between her skin and his mouth. Opening wider and rearing his head back just before the urge to bite became too hard to resist, he closed his mouth and smiled at her around the protruding bottom fangs.

“‘Nother secret ‘bout me, frail – maybe not so secret; killin’ an’ fuckin’ run pretty close in my veins. Most times, I’m doin’ both at once. Now don’t ya have somethin’ t’ say t’ me?”

She almost screamed, but her fear clamped down on it, helped her swallow it. Panting, she whispered, “Victor … Victor, please don’t kill me…”

“Yeah, girl, that’s it. Ya got nails – use ‘em.”

Her eyes stared up at him in confusion, her fingers limp against his collarbones.

Victor growled again. “Ya want me t’ finish before I break yer pelvis, or after? Use yer fuckin’ nails!”

Eyes wide, her fingers stiffened and she clawed into his flesh. His growl became a hiss, the tiny pricks of pain as the blunt manicured nails scratched and tried to break skin driving him into her faster.

“You’re hurting me –”

His guttural voice snapped at her like a whip, “What was that, frail?”

“Victor … you’re hurting…”

“Ya can take it,” he answered. His head dropped to her ear again as his thrusts strained deeper, the head of his cock striking resistance over and over. “Wanna hear ya scream fer me…”

She was sobbing again, even while he felt her body constrict around his shaft in another orgasm.

“Come on, girl – gonna damage yer fuckin’ cervix in a minute. Scream!”

It tore out of her throat, a loud bray of terror right in his sensitive ear. The nails cut into his chest in the same instant and all of it sent him right over the edge. He couldn’t hear her cry over his own roar of release and when it was over, he fell on top of her for a breathless moment. Before his weight could injure her, he pushed with one hand to quickly roll off to his back beside her, the action tearing his cock from her clenching pussy in a violent move that nearly made him come twice.

She started to curl up again, but he grabbed her arm and turned her to lie against his body instead, her cheek striking his chest. Her knee started to come up to wrack him in the balls, but his growl stopped her cold.

“Just cuz they can grow back don’t mean I enjoy havin’ ‘em abused right when they’re all relaxed an’ happy. Settle, breathe … ya live t’ see ‘nother day.”

His hand lifted, the palm pressing her head down, pushing her face against the thick hair on his chest. When her mouth moved against his skin, the heat of her panting breath as she struggled to speak stretched his lips into a languid smile.

“I’d rather let you kill me than let you do that again.”

“Aw, frail, what’s tha use in posturin’? Felt ya come four times. ‘Sides, if I kill ya, I’ll do it while I’m doin’ that again, not instead o’ doin’ it.” He clicked his tongue and let a real smirk take over his mouth. “Relax, ya passed tha test – hell, so did I.”

“What … what test?”

“Ya can take me on without me havin’ t’ be too mincin’ ‘bout it. Can’t get all tha way seated, but close enough. Ya went from a dead bang, ignorin’ tha pun, t’ a good time in zero t’ sixty. Means I won’t get bored so quick, an’ that’s good news fer ya.”

“So how did you pass?”

He frowned slightly, unable to read her tone. Her scent was spiked with fear and sex, but it didn’t explain her soft, wondering question.

Irritated, but letting it go, he answered, “Proved I can fuck ya without rippin’ ya up an’ still have fun. Which is also good news fer ya, by tha by.”

Victor felt the slick of her cum and his leaking from her body, some of it slipping against his thigh where her leg had stopped its intended assault. Normally, that wouldn’t bother him, but something about the feel of her lying there, head on his chest, abruptly made his skin crawl. Frowning, he grabbed a handful of blonde curls and pulled her head up away from him with a fast jerk.

“Ow! Hey!”

“Get up, go shower off.” Releasing her hair, his palm shoved against her chest, nearly tumbling her out of the bed.

“Here? I don’t –”

“No,” he answered, “I’m sick o’ lookin’ at ya fer one night.”

She stood shakily and almost fell. When he rose, she scrambled to get away from him. Yet in spite of her terror, as he stood there growing more and more angry, all the little fool did was stare at his body.

“That seem like a smart idea t’ ya?”

Turning her head away, her slender bruised body shaking with cold, she muttered, “You’re a beast.”

“Flattery’ll get ya everywhere. Out. Got yer own shower, don’t ya? Don’t bug me ‘til I’ve had one myself.”

She’d spotted the pile of her clothing and shoes, and darted to scoop it all up. Not bothering to put a stitch of it on first, she bolted out through the double doors, leaving them swinging back inward until they ground to a slightly open gap.

Victor called through it, “Get yer ass in here.”

Brys appeared, his face pale and his scent tightening with anxiety as he opened one of the doors a little wider. “Sir, do you need –”

“Need tha bed fixed, cleaned up. Be done an’ gone by tha time I get outta my shower, or I’ll get yer blood all over it. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

~ ~ ~

Victor lay sprawled on the huge black suede couch in his study. He let his damp hair drip into the folded towel under his head, not caring if it damaged the leather. He’d yanked on a pair of baggy black cotton knee-length shorts with a drawstring tie. Drops of water from his choker were pooling in the hollow of his throat.

The fire in the room was lit and burning bright, but his eyes didn’t need its glow in order to read the hardcover novel that was dwarfed in his hand. The other arm was stretched out, the fingers, claws retracted, absently scratching the snow leopard’s side where she had sprawled to match him on the rug.

Huffing out an annoyed breath, he read the same paragraph for the third time. At this rate, Lieutenant Davenport was going to catch the killer without him. A subtle change in the scents from the hall outside the open doors made his nose twitch, but he didn’t look up from the page. When the cat hissed and sat up, bumping his hand away from her fur, he sighed.

“Think yer gonna sneak up on a saber-toothed fella an’ ‘is trusty leopard, frail?”

Part of her appeared in the doorway, clinging to the wall. “You said not to bug you until after a shower … it’s after.”

Closing the book around one finger, he glared at her. “Why ain’t ya sobbin’ in a corner o’ yer room, or tryin’ t’ slit a wrist or somethin’ else practical that don’t interrupt my evenin?”

“I wanted to ask you about some of the things you said before.” She was dressed in a different pair of jeans, had her boots on, and probably all of the sweaters Brys had given her – or at least two. Taking in the whole scene in the study, she became more annoying. “You … actually read and use a computer?”

“Yeah – an’ I can spell an’ everythin’. Most o’ tha time, I remember t’ let someone walk me before I piddle on tha rug.”

“I’m sorry, Cre – I mean, Victor. All I’ve ever seen is all-fangs-ahead, or … you know, in the Danger Room. I never realized you might actually read a book.”

“My image don’t make ya think o’ culture straight off, huh?”

“What is that you’re reading?”

“John Sandford, Rules o’ Prey – crime stuff, a favorite. I’ve read tha whole series, ‘cept fer tha new one, includin’ most o’ tha books on all these shelves. I love Monty Python, hate Brad Pitt, an’ I think Shakespeare sucks, ‘cept fer Macbeth. I gotta CNN addiction, an’ if left unchecked, it could kill me; politics’re sheer poison. On tha other hand, I ain’t particularly fond o’ long walks on tha beach, an’ poetry blows goats. Now what – tha hell – do ya want?”

She slunk into the room, snagged a wooden chair near the door and plunked down into it. She winced a second later, her fear scent rising at the sound of his chuckle. “I want to talk about what you said: the telepaths at Xavier’s knowing I was in trouble and not doing jack? I also want to know what you can teach me, to survive any shit the world can throw at me.”

“Ya never learned not t’ poke a sleepin’ lion, did ya?”

“You weren’t sleeping, you were reading and from the sound of it, you were annoyed with it anyway.”

“Ain’t Mr. Sandford’s fault – it’s yers.”

“Did raping me all evening ruin your concentration? Gee, I’m sorry.”

Victor huffed again, picked up the scrap of paper that was standing for a bookmark and set the book down on the coffee table next to his bottle of Glenfiddich. The snow leopard hissed at her again and disappeared behind the couch.

“Gotta death wish, frail. Move back away from tha door; let ‘er pass ya.”

She got up, hoisted her chair and carted it closer to the desk. The cat, a white blur, shot out of the room. Determined, the brassy thing moved the chair back to the doorway and sat again, facing him.

Staying stretched out where he was, he hooked the bottle with one finger. He bounced the sharp-scented cap onto the coffee table away from his book and took a long pull of the amber whiskey.

“So will you talk to me?”

Eyeing her in silence for a moment, he shrugged and drank again. Wiping his lips with the back of his hand, he said, “It’s yer nickel. Shoot.”

“Xavier, Phoenix, Psylocke, and Cable – that’s a lot of telepathic juice.” Under his frowning stare, she lifted her arms and held herself tightly. “My teammates, my boyfriend … they set up an ‘intervention’ on me when I was about to bring you milk again and … visit.”

Victor’s upper lip rose in a snarl. She stopped and watched him, afraid but still determined to give her little speech. “Spill it, frail.”

“They … they claimed it was because they cared about me. They wanted me to stop visiting you, because it was … dangerous.”

“Sucks when tha stiff shirts’re right, don’t it?” He turned his frown upside down, knowing the smile was more frightening for most people.

“I tried to explain why I was doing it, that I had to believe in the possibility that you could change and help you to have a reason to change, to have someone show you kindness for once. They didn’t even want to hear me. In a way, you were right – they wanted me to shut up, cut it out and toe the line. I know they cared about me, but they never asked me why I did it.”

“So what part’s got ya confused?”

“The telepaths – why did you say they should’ve known?”

“Didn’t say that. What I said was, maybe they knew an’ didn’t care.”

Victor slid his legs over to the floor and sat up, letting his hair fall to drip water down his back and chest. He ignored the water that had pooled at his throat as it ran down his belly. Setting the bottle down, his hands lifted to gather and twist the hair into a knot at the nape of his neck, winding the long ends around the base to keep it there without a band. A low growl thrummed in his chest at her surprised and fascinated stare. Even her fear was receding.

“Why do you think that?”

“Fer starters, I was tryin’ t’ rile ya up.”

Her voice fell to a whisper, her eyes meeting his. “Please just tell me, Victor.”

One of his eyebrows arched. “Cueball really bent his shiny head ‘round tryin’ t’ ‘fix’ me. That other skirt, tha Mississippi Marauder, they call ‘er – Rogue – I pointed out t’ ‘er once how odd it was that he was workin’ on my shit so hard, but hadn’t bothered t’ solve ‘er probs in all tha years she’d been there, kissin’ ‘is ass an’ toein’ ‘is fuckin’ lines.”

“Rogue? What does she have to do with me?”

“It’s tha same song an’ dance, frail, same dog an’ pony show. I wasn’t lettin’ ‘im use me fer ‘is lousy ‘dream’ like she was, an’ fixin’ me woulda been a big feather in ‘is cap, made ‘im tha king o’ tha bloody mind-fucker circle jerk. Same time, one o’ ‘is own’s just waitin’ fer a scrap o’ help … probly still waitin’. Did any o’ those X-chumps, not just tha junior league, ever ask ya why ya’d rather spend yer evenin’s with tha likes o’ me?”

“No, I said they didn’t. From the moment they found out, all any of them said was ‘stop it’.”

“We’ll set that wisdom aside fer a sec, shall we?” He smirked at her, pleased when she winced. “None o’ ‘em asked ya, ‘Why ya so put out, Tabitha? Why ya so blue, so lonesome?’ Not one, ‘specially that goodie-two-shoe Guthrie ya were bonin’, ever asked that shit, did they?”

“No.”

“Telepaths, ‘specially Cueball an’ ‘is bunch … they dunno how t’ keep outta other folk’s brains. Red’s got radar fer emotional diarrhea ya wouldn’t believe. Why’d they ignore all that cryin’ out fer attention ya were doin’?”

“I wasn’t after attention, not like a brat wants all eyes on her, anyway. I wanted Sam ‘goodie-two-shoes’ Guthrie’s attention.”

“Face it, ya wanted t’ get laid. Odds are, tha Brain Brigade came t’ tha same conclusion an’ decided t’ ignore ya. As fer Guthrie, I ain’t surprised he blew ya off.”

“We were in love! Or he claimed to be. I know I was…”

“Aw, cry me a river, why don’t ya?”

“I liked you better without your brains, Creed,” she snapped back.

Surprised when anger didn’t even flare, Victor grinned broadly, enjoying her sass in spite of himself. “Yeah, well, I’m still snuggly soft.” Laughing at her shocked expression, he picked up the bottle and drank again. “Look, that boy got outta ‘is booster seat an’ got t’ play with tha big dogs, didn’t he? Dream job come true, all that happy horseshit?”

“Yes…”

“Tell ya somethin’ ‘bout men, girl – regular ones, not killers like me. If they’re tha type t’ get hot after tha brass ring o’ glory, they ain’t gonna pause fer a li’l pouty-lipped frail’s battered heart. If she’s lucky, he jumps over it instead o’ steppin’ on it.”

“Why are killers like you different?”

“Well, fer starters, I prefer t’ eat li’l pouty-lipped frail’s battered hearts. Plus, my brass ring grabbin’ is a whole ‘nother kettle o’ fish, an’ not likely t’ spoil any frail’s plans fer a picket fence – or fer a quick diddle before a mission.”

She actually glared back at his smirk. “So instead of mooning over Sam and ending up risking life and limb helping you, what should I have done?”

“Found ‘is best friend an’ fucked ‘im instead.”

“I sorta did that … later on.”

“Now that’s a hoot. Did it make it all better?”

“No, it didn’t.”

“Ya got tha same prob o’ many a li’l white trash chippie before ya, girl – ya hang yer heart an’ soul on some man’s dick, expectin’ ‘im t’ make yer life worth somethin’.”

“I am not!” she flared, but he cut her off.

“Yeah, ya fuckin’ are. Learn t’ stand on yer own hind legs, why don’t ya? Ever just live yer life fer yerself, take what ya want when ya want it, an’ hang tha sense o’ wonderin’ what anybody else thinks?”

“That’s your philosophy of life, Creed, and did you notice you’re the bad guy?”

“Ya think yer a hero still, Tabitha? Ya think takin’ a contract with filth like Rothenberg would make ol’ Cueball proud? Or worse, takin’ one with me?”

“You didn’t give me a real choice. Rothenberg … he caught me at a serious low point.”

“So, yer goin’ with tha ‘Devil made me do it’ defense? That’s rich. Take a tip – own yer shit, good or bad. If ya don’t, ya just sound like a whiny bitch.”

The irritating girl fell silent, but she didn’t look whipped and her scent had almost lost the sharp tang of fear. She watched him for a moment, and then fell to blatantly studying his body, her eyes roaming over him with a thoughtful expression on her face. Frowning, he took another pull on the bottle.

“Why does my looking at you bother you? Brys said you were vain; shouldn’t you like to be looked at?”

“Maybe if ya didn’t do it like I gotta pin in my head.”

“What on earth does that mean?”

“Like a specimen in a fuckin’ bug collection.”

“Or … like a monster? A freak?”

“Try that line on tha runt, frail, not me. I love bein’ who an’ what I am. It’s tha rest o’ ya that whine an’ cry all tha time, wishin’ ya were ‘normal’. Bein’ what I am gives me power, an’ I can’t get enough o’ wallowin’ in it. I told Cueball it was freedom, but he’s too damn blind an’ stupid t’ even know what that is – too busy squashin’ it in others.”

“That’s it – Xavier was right about you. You’re so sure everyone is going to either attack or shun you, you attack first to stop them from doing it.”

Victor’s voice dropped, low and menacing. “Yer lookin’ fer a beat down, girl.”

“I used to like watching you in the Danger Room when you were still nice. All that muscle… If it weren’t for being a horrid murdering bastard, you look like you should be standing on the cover of a romance novel, ripping some hapless girl’s bodice.” She stood slowly and stepped backward to the open doorway. “I can’t ‘shun you’, Creed. You’ve proven you can do whatever the hell you want. I plan to survive this, though; I’m going to learn and grow. Thanks, by the way – you’ve given me a unique new perspective about my old friends, lovers, and teammates. I’m sick of stumbling blind through the world; I’m not going to do it anymore.” With a slight smile on her lips, she disappeared.

Victor sat still and listened until he heard her door click shut down the hall. “Fuckin’ females – useless mush brains, every one o’ ‘em.” He thought about going down there, breaking in the door and beating her until a few bones broke. “Bitch can’t give me lip if ‘er jaw’s wired shut,” he grumbled.

In the end, he remained where he was and finished off the whiskey, knowing that if he allowed himself to strike her at that moment, he was mad enough to end up killing her fast.

“Ain’t gonna be fast, frail,” he muttered, glaring at the open doorway. “Game’s on now – gonna make ya wish ya never clapped eyes on me.”

Not interested in trying to sort out why her words had made him so instantly angry, he grabbed the small black controller next to his book and pointed it at a faded painting of a French winery on the wall between two bookcases. The painting slid to one side, revealing a large and expensive plasma screen.

With a grunt, he put CNN on and threw himself back into his stretched out slouch on the wide and warm suede. Closing his eyes, he let the chattering voices wash over him and fell into dreams of slashing them all, one by one – starting with the frail down the hall.

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

Author’s Note: In the canon Sabretooth limited series, Mary Shelley Overdrive (Nov. 2002), a character told a woman named Bonnie Hale that Victor loved Monty Python, hated Brad Pitt, and that she’d caught him more than once reading John Sandford novels. “Lieutenant Davenport” is the main protagonist cop of Mr. Sandford’s Prey series.

Mary Shelley Overdrive is my favorite Sabey story and it influences my Sabey tales quite a bit, here and there. I highly recommend it as an excellent read. (@MET_Fic)  –  Anon

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

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