Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 4 – Lessons in Blood

For so long my life’s been sewn up tight inside your hold
And it leaves me there without a place to call my own

I know now what shadows can see
There’s no point in running ‘less you run with me
It’s half the distance through the open door
Before you cut me down
Again
Let me introduce you to the end

And I feel the cold wind blowing beneath my wings
It always leads me back to suffering
But I will soar until the wind whips me down
Leaves me beaten on unholy ground again

So tired now of paying my dues
I start out strong but then I always lose
It’s half the distance before you leave me behind
It’s such a waste of time

‘Cause my shackles
So you won’t be
And my rapture
So you won’t believe
And deep inside you will bleed for me

So here I slave inside of a broken dream
Forever holding on to splitting seams
So take your piece and leave me alone to die
I don’t need you to keep my faith alive

I know now what trouble can be
And why it follows me so easily
It’s half the distance through the open door
Before you shut me down
Again
Let me introduce you to the end

~ Shackled (Vertical Horizon)

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

 

Even with the roaring fire at her back, the kitchen was cold. Tabitha sat at the table with her face buried in her folded arms and didn’t move when Brys picked up her breakfast dishes.

She hadn’t seen Sabretooth since she left him in his study the night before. Initially, she’d been grateful to have some time to think, but now that she’d been at it awhile, she realized that she was almost more frightened by her thoughts than she was of the dire situation she’d landed in.

I’d love to be hatching an escape plan, but who am I kidding? He said it – I could throw bombs at him until I burned my power out; he’d just heal, hunt me down and gut me. I could find a back way out; he’d just figure it out, hunt me down and gut me. I can’t survive out there with a couple of sweaters and no transport, and he would find me before I got real far anyway. No phone, no payphones in the Yukon wilderness… Her head snapped up fast enough to startle the cook. “Is there a phone in the house?”

“No, I’m afraid not, miss – nothing you could have access to.”

“Don’t you have a cell phone? What if there’s an emergency – and how did Creed contact you to say he was coming out here?”

“There’s a radio and a cell phone for the estate’s use but they are only accessible via the master suite, in the main control room above it. Mr. Creed has his cell phone, of course, as well as yours – but he isn’t likely to allow you to use them.”

“Wow, you’re getting pretty free and loose with the boss’s secrets, dude.”

Brys sighed. He turned away from her and started throwing together another omelet. “His instructions were to answer your questions, even if it gave you useful information.”

Tabitha’s hopes perked up briefly and then flagged again. “Proving he isn’t the least bit worried I’ll be able to make use of any of it.”

“Miss Smith, for what it’s worth … I am sorry he hurt you.”

“It’s worth squat, Brys, and stop calling me ‘Miss Smith’ or ‘miss’ period, huh? My name is Tabitha. Where the hell is your insignificant other? I want to ask him some useful questions.”

“He’ll be back soon, I expect. He was asked to set up some equipment for Mr. Creed.”

“So ‘Tooth was serious about that handyman crack? I’d have figured he could turn a wrench or hang a picture frame himself.”

“Tooth?”

“Sabretooth – it’s his … well, I guess it’s a codename. Most people who care to know are aware of his real name, though, I think.”

“Ah, yes, of course. In his business, he uses his given name far more often. At the moment, he’s not at home; Perrin is to have the equipment ready when he returns.”

“Didn’t happen to go to Zimbabwe, did he? That might give me a running start.”

“He went hunting with his … guest, before dawn this morning.”

“Oh.” Tabitha drummed her fingers on the table in front her, her body still slumped forward. She was sore from what he’d done to her, but the really disturbing thing was how her brain kept swinging back to the pleasure laced in with the pain. Running away from those thoughts as she had all morning, she spoke again to keep them at bay. “Okay, I’ll bite – what’s the equipment for?”

“I have no idea. You can ask him when he comes in for breakfast.”

They both looked up when the kitchen door opened a short time later. The younger Frenchman entered, yawning and rolling his shoulders.

“Speak of the devil,” Tabitha quipped. “Brys says you guys are supposed to answer my questions – you game?”

Perrin accepted the plate Brys handed him and sat opposite her to eat. “Within reason, yes.”

“Hey, he didn’t put limits on it. What’s this equipment you were messing with?”

“Shackles and chains, attaching them to the wall.”

“Charming. The dungeon needed a few more, huh?”

Perrin smiled at her, but didn’t reply. Tabitha watched him eat for a few silent minutes, trying to work up the guts to ask the questions she hadn’t been wanting to think about. Fear and self-loathing were as good as a muzzle and by the time she managed to speak, Brys was picking up another empty plate.

“Your boss raped me last night – for a good chunk of the night.”

“I thought he would have done so sooner.” Before she could cuss him out, he added, “I attempted to distract him to spare you a little longer, but he has a one-track mind for some things.”

“I’ve already figured out that he plans to make a habit of it. Tell me… Tell me how you manage to live to walk away?”

Sipping the coffee the cook brought him, Perrin set the cup down and leaned back in his chair. “I have a different status here, you have to understand that.”

“Everyone’s got more status than me – hell, he treats the cat better than the people.”

Perrin smiled. “Victor isn’t fond of people in general.”

“You call him Victor?”

“Not when addressing him – unless he asks me to. I believe Brys told you that a business-like manner is the safest?”

“Yeah, sure – not that I’ve been real safe around here.”

“You have largely been defiant.”

“Don’t drag me off the topic. How do you get him to be ‘not cruel’ to you?”

“As I said, I have a different status. Victor values what we do, as it keeps him from having to be concerned about the little things of daily life. We’ve worked for him here for years and he seems to trust us now. If he were to harm us, he would only be inconveniencing himself.”

“It’d be a big inconvenience to you, too, you know.”

“He often threatens and it would never be wise to behave as if one doesn’t believe he means it – but generally he doesn’t intend to hurt us. It’s the same when he requires sex. While he tends to prefer violence and harm, he wants to keep me healthy enough to do my job.”

“Okay, but…” Tabitha gritted her teeth, took a breath, and then let it go slowly. “Is there anything I could do to make him … less brutal?”

“Obey him. Defiance, hesitation, and repulsion – these things can get you killed.”

“Can’t I … I don’t know … try to be willing?”

“Giving in to avoid harm sounds like a safe course of action, but it can backfire. Victor likes a bedmate to show fear; it gives him a sense of power. If you try to hide your fear, he may decide to do something that will dig it out of you.”

“You weren’t showing fear yesterday – petting his back before you came down the stairs? What was up with that?”

“I think Victor can relax more with a male, at least one who is weaker than he is, which is most men, of course. A man isn’t so physically delicate and a willing one who knows how to obey him without getting – attached, shall we say – will fare better in the long run.”

“Great. So to get out of this alive, I just need a sex change.”

Brys came up and joined them at the table. The two clasped hands lightly. It was obvious the topic made him uncomfortable, but Tabitha had the feeling it was due to worry for his lover’s welfare, not jealousy.

“Should we tell her about … our suspicions?” Brys asked.

Tabitha leaned her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her folded hands. “Suspicions! Sounds fascinating.”

Perrin sighed. “We don’t know much, but we suspect something happened about a month ago, before he left New York City. He’s said very little about it except one story he told me about strange men, I suppose you could say ‘freaks of nature’ – scientists pretending to be soldiers. They hunted and tried to kill him, and he couldn’t seem to kill them. Yet he talks in his sleep sometimes and he said a woman’s name more than once. When he mentioned the scientists, he said they were after a woman, and then he wouldn’t discuss it any further.”

Brys added, “Perrin got the impression that he cared for her, but lost her.”

“Killed her, you mean,” Tabitha said with a sneer.

Perrin studied her for a moment in silence. “Hard to say, and yes, he may have – but his voice when he said her name… I’ve never heard him sound like that.”

“What was the name?”

“That would not be on the list of things we’re going to share with you.” Perrin got up and carried his coffee out of the room.

“Why bring it up then?” she called after him, but he ignored her and shut the door, almost slamming it. “Well?” She turned back to the cook. “What’s the point of telling me just that much?”

“Were you ever … close to him?” Brys asked.

“Uh, yeah; rape is real up close and personal.”

“No, I meant…” He took a deep breath and tried again. “Were you ever near him in a way … well, like a couple would be?”

Tabitha opened her mouth to bitch him out as memories of the night before threatened to make her sick, but then she could almost feel again the press of Creed’s palm on her head, making her lay her cheek on his chest after pulling her against him.

“Yes. I started to roll away and he yanked me up against him instead, even made me put my head on his chest. Didn’t last long. He grabbed me by the hair and nearly tossed me out. Remember? He started yelling at you next.”

Brys looked miserably uncomfortable, but Tabitha couldn’t care at that moment. “Being close like that … I think it would be very dangerous for you to court that with him.”

“Court it? I wasn’t going courting! He made me plaster myself on him, and then he got pissed off!”

“I apologize, ah … Tabitha. It was a bad choice of words. Suffice to say, being affectionate, and a woman, could very well bring out the worst in him – if last night was any indication.”

“How many women have you seen him with? Isn’t he content with your boyfriend when he’s here?”

“First, I’ve never seen Mr. Creed ‘content’. Second, as for women, I have seen how he is with a few of them over the years –”

“Yeah? So where are they now?”

“In the oubliette.”

~ ~ ~

Her head was still swimming several hours later as she stood by one of the two windows in her room, her hand pulling the cloth out of the way without opening the curtains. The sun, lost in the forest somewhere, was setting.

Lunch and dinner had come and gone, spent with the Frenchmen in the kitchen, and Sabretooth hadn’t shown up at all throughout the day or evening.

Tabitha had largely remained silent, her questions forgotten in the rush of white noise in her brain. Plots of how to escape or bring help had begun to fade from her thoughts as hopelessness sank in and began to take hold. All she could focus on was living long enough to get to Vancouver.

Never been there, but it’s supposed to be big, a real city. If I can just get there, maybe I’ll find my chance… She startled when a knock sounded on her door, terrified that it might be Sabretooth – then she frowned. He wouldn’t knock, idiot. “What is it?” she called out.

The door opened and Perrin stood there. “Mr. Creed sent me to fetch you.” When she didn’t move from the window, he added, “You don’t want him to come looking for you.”

“Where was he, and where is he now?”

“I don’t know, and he’s in the master suite, in the upper levels.”

“That’s where the radio is, and a phone, isn’t it?”

“Yes, actually – among other things. It’s not wise to keep him waiting – he’s not a patient man.”

Glaring at him, Tabitha let the curtain fall and went to the door. “Since he missed dinner, I suppose I’m on the menu?”

He didn’t answer her, but when he walked off she followed, her hands fisting at her sides.

The master suite was as sprawling as she had originally suspected, though she hadn’t had time or inclination to notice much about it before. To take her mind off of Sabretooth, she quickly looked around as Perrin led her inside.

Her eyes refusing to settle on the vast expanse of the four-poster bed, she asked, “This room’s chock-full of secret doors, isn’t it?” She gave the space a negligent wave, but her trembling fingers betrayed her fear.

“Yes. This way.”

She barely got a glimpse of other rooms down a short hall off of the front bedroom, their doors uncharacteristically open. Most of them were too dark within to even guess at their contents or purpose. Only one, the bathroom, could be studied quickly when Perrin paused at the end of the hall.

The usual plumbing suspects were there in the gloom, though the shower stall was huge and appeared to be walled in with glass. Multiple jets studded the one marble wall at the back of it. It was a modern luxury, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the black stone basin on a dais in the center of the room, twice the size of a regular Jacuzzi.

“Tabitha?”

“Is that a bathtub?”

“Yes, sort of a cross between a mini pool and a Jacuzzi. Mr. Creed is quite fond of them,” Perrin replied. “I’m told he’s had one installed in several of his homes.”

She turned and stared at him. “Several of his… How many does he own?”

“I have no idea. I’ve only heard him mention five of them, mostly by the cities they’re in if the house figures in a tale he’s telling. If one catches him in a good mood, he can be surprisingly eager to talk about past conquests and kills.”

“He ever tell you about cutting up a grab bag of X-Men?”

“No. Most of his dealings with people who wear an X involve times when his freedom was restricted – not moments he seems interested in reliving. He’s only told me of the times he bested one of you and won, even temporarily.”

Tabitha finally noticed that he was standing in front of the last room off of the hall, his hand still curled around the wall after flicking on the light. She didn’t pay the room any attention for a moment, however, after her eyes were drawn to another weird metal sculpture on the wall beyond his shoulder.

“What’s with the ugly metal art?”

He ignored the question. “This is the dressing room. We really should hurry.”

“Dressing room?”

She stepped into it after him and stared around her, stunned at the closets without doors and the shelves, all stuffed with clothes. Dressers lined one wall and there were a few large chairs with footstools. In the center of the room was a strange piece of furniture, octagonal and full of oddly sized drawers. Various objects were strewn across its dark red felt top: a gold watch, some kind of foreign coins, a pair of cufflinks – but no cell phone.

The rack of gray and black suits closest to her was full of designer labels and probably custom tailored.

This looks like that store Archangel went into when he and Psylocke took me shopping that one time. Armani, Versace, Hugo Boss, and a batch of others I could never even pronounce … crap! “Why the hell does he slum around in torn up jeans all the time?”

“He’s technically on vacation right now; these are mostly work clothes.”

“Creed kills people while wearing Armani?”

“One has to impress the occasional wealthy client. Plus, sometimes his targets lead him into unavoidable black tie events.”

“So where’s his fur-trimmed ‘union suit’? Out at the cleaners?”

His smile told her he knew exactly what she meant. “I believe that is stored at the house in Chicago. Here we are.”

The Frenchman stood in front of a trio of mirrors against the back wall. They were angled in on each other like the mirrors in Archangel’s store on Fifth Avenue. Tabitha moved to his side, shaking her head at the mental image of Sabretooth in a tuxedo.

“We look smashing. Where is the brute?”

Smiling, Perrin reached up and touched the left-hand mirror at its edge. Tabitha stepped back a pace when the central mirror slid down into the floor, revealing a stone stairway.

“He bought this place from Goldfinger, didn’t he? Or Dr. No?”

Stepping through, he offered her his hand. “Quickly, Tabitha. Remember what I told you about hesitation?”

“Yeah,” she muttered, disdaining his hand, “nothing about this would make a girl hesitate.” She moved to stand on the step below him, trying not to panic at the thought of the mirror closing behind her. “Any lights up here?”

“Not on the stairs. Mr. Creed doesn’t need them. Don’t worry; the door will stay open so that we can see.”

“Right. Don’t worry. You can be an insensitive asshole, you know that?”

“Now and then, yes.”

Tabitha counted the steps, glaring up at Perrin’s back when she realized there were thirteen of them. It was dim at the top and she couldn’t see how he opened the door there, but it slid into the floor like the mirror had.

Anxiety cramping in her guts, she stayed exactly behind him – if anything leapt out at them, she planned on it getting him first.

The room was dim and freezing cold. It had a few lit torches in sconces on the rock walls, but no fireplace. A few pieces of furniture were in the room, mostly closed cabinets that looked like antique wardrobes, and one of the strangest tables she’d ever seen in the center of the room.

It was carved here and there with odd square patterns at each corner, but the legs or base of it was the weirdest part of the thing. Practically another ugly sculpture, it held the table top up and then continued at the far end beyond the top, running right up the wall. It appeared to be bolted there. The table didn’t look like wood, either, and might be metal painted black.

She almost reached out to touch it to see what it was made of, but then drew her hand back warily. The thing looked … evil.

Evil furniture. Should’ve had a nap, maybe? Don’t let the ‘Addams Family’ mansion get to you, Tab. “Okay, so what gives? Where is he?”

Tabitha turned when Perrin walked behind her. He didn’t answer until he had returned to the top of the stairs. “Will that be all?”

“What are you –” Something moved behind her and she froze. “You bastard…”

“I think we have everythin’ we need,” Sabretooth’s slaughterhouse voice answered from the blackness at the back of the room.

She wanted to scream, to curse, even to push the man down the stairs, jump over his corpse and run until the monster behind her caught and killed her – but she couldn’t move. Staring as Perrin turned his back on her and descended, tears rose in her eyes when the stone slab of door rose up to seal her in.

“Didn’t he tell ya he was bringin’ ya t’ me, frail?”

His repeated warning about not putting her back to an enemy was all that allowed her to face him, but she couldn’t see him in the dark corner. A tiny light flared, a lighter – and then she could see the long, thick fingers and horrid claws as he lit a cigarette.

Sabretooth stepped out into the flickering torchlight, but he brought a lot of the blackness with him. Slowly, her brain processed that it was only black clothing and a long black coat that dragged a foot behind him on the rock floor.

Swallowing hard, she asked, “We couldn’t have just talked in the dining room?”

“Ain’t here t’ chat – yer here t’ learn.”

“Did you know you forgot the chalkboard? I’d fire the decorator if I were you.”

“Attemptin’ bravado … cute – I can smell yer fear, girl.”

“Wh-what’s on the syllabus?”

“Gonna make ya hard – so nobody can hurt ya. Said ya were interested, didn’t ya? No time like tha present.”

His spreading grin dumped ice water into her veins. “Oh, shit…”

“Lie down on tha table, nice an’ easy like a good girl, an’ we’ll get started.”

“No fucking way, Creed.”

He took a drag on the cigarette and lifted his chin to blow the smoke over his head. The motion put his fangs on display. “Gonna try t’ burn me? Don’t advise it. Either ya get up there yerself, or I’ll put ya up there.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Teach ya.”

“Are you planning to let me survive the lesson?”

“Natch. Waste o’ time t’ teach ya if I’m just gonna kill ya, huh?” Another drag, and the smoke was blown at her. “Tell ya what – ya obey me before I finish tha cig, an’ I won’t start breakin’ fingers.”

Obey, obey, obey, she thought, her mind spinning. Obey and you might live. Shit! Stepping forward, her fingers reached out and touched the foot of the table. Metal, gritty paint. Oh, crap, I don’t want –

“Ya ever smoke these things, girl?”

“When I was young and stupid.” She didn’t know what shocked her more, her insult or his laughter.

“That’s right – when ya used t’ steal yer daddy’s. I remember. They can’t do a damn thing t’ me, o’ course, an’ I prefer a fine Cuban cigar, but now an’ then… Shame is, they don’t last so long.”

Trembling, she tried to hoist herself up, but the table top was higher than her hips. To stall him, she asked the first crazy thing that entered her head. “When did you first try it?”

“Smokin’? Aw hell, that was … early in tha 1880s, round 1883 or so. I was layin’ down rail from Calgary t’ tha Yukon when I was fifteen; somewhere along there, it was. French fella, sick o’ civilization after servin’ with tha Yanks in tha Civil War – he had ‘em. He was one o’ tha few that didn’t treat me like a freak, so we got on decent.”

“You remember all that?” She yelped when his hands grasped her hips and lifted her up to sit on the table’s edge; she hadn’t heard him approach.

His hands spreading her thighs, he stepped up to stand between her knees. When she leaned back away from him, his grin flashed again. One hand rose and he sucked on the cigarette, the fire there burning down fast to the filter. Turning his head to blow the smoke to one side, he dropped the butt and crushed it under his boot.

“Why wouldn’t I remember it? Good times.”

“I-I’m used to Wolverine not remembering squat about his past. Those government programs –”

“Oh, yeah, yeah, but tha runt an’ me don’t got tha same friends, an’ mine are a helluva lot more useful. Bastard by tha name o’ Psi-Borg fixed a lot o’ that shit they did t’ me. Broke tha blocks, ripped out tha fake shit; far’s I know, he got most o’ it. Lotta stuff came seepin’ back in over time, gotta shitload o’ it all at once, too. Not fun, but better’n lettin’ tha suits make me their fuckin’ ass puppet.”

“Sabretooth – are you…”

“Am I what, girl?”

“Are you going to hurt me?”

“That a trick question? Naw, I’m kiddin’. I dunno, Tabitha – would ya rather fuck? Table’s a great height fer me.”

“No,” she whispered.

Creed lifted his hand, one shining metal claw on his index finger held in front of her face as the other fingers bent down. It moved closer to her chest and she leaned back to avoid it, until she was almost lying flat.

“Get comfy,” he told her, his upper lip showing a fang a beat before the smile stretched wide again. He stepped back and grasped her boots, pushing his palms on the soles to shove her up farther onto the table.

Trying to get away from him, she used her arms to slide up higher on the freezing metal slab.

“That’s it, lie still. Can ya reach tha edges o’ tha table?”

With the word “obey” hanging in her head, Tabitha stretched her arms out, her fingers struggling to reach the edges. “No, I can’t…”

He touched something under the foot of the table and she heard a metallic click. Before she could move her arms, bands of metal snapped out over her wrists and pinned her, two more of them catching her ankles. Her shout of surprise echoed off the rock walls before it was covered by the low, dark chuckle of the man standing at her feet.

“Coulda just man-handled ya int’ place, but tricky’s a helluva lot more fun. Didn’t think ya’d be so gullible, tell ya tha truth, but that’s tha breaks, huh?”

Tabitha couldn’t speak. She watched him move around to her side, the claw up and out again. He set it at the collar of her sweater and began to rip the threads in one long and smooth cut, the wool fibers parting like butter.

Next, he cut the shirt beneath, ignoring it when a couple of the buttons popped and went flying. His fingers peeled the clothing away from her body slowly, his glowing amber eyes watching her with an avid hunger.

Gasping as the cold rushed over exposed skin, her tears began to fall when his palm pressed against her ribs below the bra.

“Gotta safeword, girl?”

“N-no… Sabretooth, please!”

“Ain’t even done nothin’ t’ ya yet, have I? Well, no matter; I don’t listen fer safewords that good anyhow.” Meeting her widening eyes, he gave her a thin smile, the sharp white of the bottom fangs protruding obscenely from his lips in the flickering yellow light. “Here’s tha first lesson … ya listenin’? Yer body uses nerves t’ transmit pain. Pain ain’t nothin’ but a message, tellin’ ya somethin’s wrong in tha body. Trick t’ survivin’ any damn thing is t’ learn t’ ignore tha message.”

“Please don’t…”

“Shut tha fuck up. Yer gonna walk outta here on yer own damn feet unless ya piss me off. This ain’t a game, Tabitha, an’ ya asked fer this. Cry if ya gotta, but I don’t wanna hear a fuckin’ thing come outta yer mouth. When ya can take what I’m gonna do without a sound, I’ll say ya pass. Ready?”

Tabitha nodded, her vocal chords caked with terror. When one of the claw tips touched her, tapping on a rib, she felt the razor point break the skin. It was like a needle and when it tapped again, her blood began to bead up under it. She clenched her teeth, her whole body shuddering.

Creed’s voice, low and rasping, covered over her. “Remember when yer daddy first hit ya, how ya used t’ cry an’ bray. Later ya learned that just pissed ‘im off an’ he’d beat ya more, so ya started t’ learn how t’ take it, how t’ be silent when ‘is fist came down.”

The claw left her skin. Tabitha squeezed her eyes shut, ears straining for his voice. Her torso twitched when his palm slid up to cup and grope one breast over the bra.

“Daddy ever do this, girl? Huh? He ever fuck ya? Ya can answer that.”

“No,” she whispered, barely able to form the word.

“So, just this…”

She couldn’t look, but then his fist punched her in the stomach. Her eyes flew open, the restraints bruising her wrists and ankles through the sweater sleeves and jeans as her body bucked. She began to open her mouth to gasp, but saw him glaring down at her. Sucking air in through her nose instead, she sealed her lips against any cry, staring up at him in horror.

Creed leaned over her, his lips at her ear, the palm pressing into the bruise as it started to form and darken. “Remember, Tabitha – remember how ya learned t’ take it in silence. How did ya do it? Did ya think o’ somethin’ else, go t’ yer ‘happy place’? That’s a direct question. Might wanna answer those.”

Trying to swallow, to speak, she muttered, “I used to … imagine that I was … empty. A void, no bones to break, no … nothing in me he could hurt…”

All five tips of the claws poised over her bruising stomach. “That’s good, girl … real good. Yer further along’n I thought.” The claws pricked the skin and it tried to ripple away from them. With the slightest pressure, they stabbed in a little farther. “Pain’s a message, girl – don’t accept it.”

His other hand fell on her thigh, the claws there poking into the denim, but not into her flesh. The fingers squeezed and pain bloomed there, quickly morphing into agony. A scream was building in her throat, her breath huffing in her nose to keep it down, to swallow it whole. When he spoke again, his face low over her stomach, his voice became her focus, became her world.

“Here’s tha secret: ya gotta close yer body. Slip int’ that void, girl, become tha dark, become tha silence. If ya gotta become tha pain t’ do it, do that – whatever it takes. Close yer body … close yer body…”

Tabitha felt it coming over her, unsure if it was the old retreat of her mind or just her consciousness checking out. The feeling washed over her like a wave of cold and dark, and the pain of claws and crushing grip began to fade away from her senses. All that was left was the voice.

It changed slightly, but she had no name for it as it thrummed across her skin. Somewhere on the edge of herself, she knew the claws had left her. A tug moved her a little, but then it stopped.

“Tabitha… Tabitha?”

“Yes…”

“Be still. Don’t move a muscle. Be still.”

“Still…”

She felt the claws slide through something that covered her, but the void had her and she didn’t know if they tore cloth or flesh. Her eyes had closed as she hung on every word.

When one of the claws pricked her between the legs, she began to gasp, but bit it back. Then a new sensation of pressure-pain invaded as the claws, the fingers, slid inside her. From within, they pricked again, making her whole body flinch.

“Be still…”

The next time, she obeyed, sinking into the black. The voice seemed to fade, but it didn’t matter anymore. Nothing mattered anymore.

“Tabitha … come back t’ me.”

Inside, the claws snapped … retracting back?

At her ear, the voice, the breath, thrummed warm. “Tabitha… Ya just impressed tha hell outta me, girl.” A low rumble, then words. “Time fer a reward, huh? Ya can make noise now if ya want – but I’ll try not t’ take it personal if yer too stoned fer that yet.”

The fingers moved, bent and crooked, and pleasure bloomed where pain had been, burning away the memory of hurt in bleeding flesh. The warm breath left her ear and throat, the fingers shifting, and then something hot and wet touched her. It licked and entered her as the fingers withdrew.

Pushing up out of the dark, obeying the voice, she opened her eyes to see a spill of golden hair on her stomach. Inch by inch, the wet muscle pushed into her and she grasped for what it was, what he was doing.

His tongue… She tried to yank herself back to her senses but her body was betraying her again as waves of heat washed up her stomach and crept down her trembling legs. A dry tongue failed to wet dry lips. “Sabretooth … how…?”

Creed didn’t answer until her moan filled the room. Her hips bucked more than once as his tongue stroked the convulsing muscles inside her, licking her slick juices. His lips sucked at her folds as the tongue withdrew into his mouth, and then its tip slipped out again to lick the wet cum sheen off of her glistening flesh.

“How, what?” he answered, his voice roughened by lust. “How’d I get so fuckin’ talented? Been doin’ it fer a hundred plus years, girl; with enough practice, even a brute like me gets it figured out eventually.”

Tabitha couldn’t think. She felt like her body was melting. It twitched when the hard braces on her wrists and ankles snapped open, but she remained lying still, dazed and almost drugged.

“What did you do to me … how did you do that?”

“Which part?” When she couldn’t answer, he chuckled. “Think it might be my turn, girl.”

He grasped her ankles and jerked her down until her legs were dangling off of the table, knees bent. The pressure of the edge of the metal slab on the backs of her thighs made her wince, but she was still too drunk on what he’d done to protest.

“I ain’t a Boy Scout, huh? Can’t say I ain’t always prepared.”

Tabitha heard sounds, a thunk of wood, a clink of metal, but none of it registered. Her eyes closed again and she couldn’t care if the table was cutting off her circulation or not.

Eyes flying open, she shouted out in shock when his cock entered her. She started to rise, but his palm pushed her down, the fingers flexed back to keep the claws out of her bleeding stomach.

He’d found a lot of something to slick it up with, but the sheer size of him, hard and hungry, stretched her and scraped.

Frowning, he grabbed her up, yanking her forward until her backside was barely on the table. Pinning her against his wool coat, he angled his hips and thrust up into her.

She opened her mouth to scream, but all her throat gave her was a deep groan as the heat from before, from his tongue, doubled and then began to build again. His hands were on her hips then, his strength lifting her body and dropping it down onto his cock even as his legs thrust up, driving it into each drop.

Tabitha was tightening her grip on bunches of black wool at his shoulders before she realized she had been clinging to him. His head curled over hers and when she opened her mouth to suck in air, she tasted the silken strands of his hair as it covered her face like a curtain.

The voice sent a chill of hot breath down her ear. Unable to form words, it purred and growled, spiking her pulse with every lift of the hands, every thrust. She lost count of the times he made her come and when the fingers curled around her hips tighter and the claws bit, the pain only made it happen again.

Creed’s head dropped to her shoulder, his mouth nuzzling her neck. It opened wide, the fangs settling on flesh, the points starting to break skin as her fear slammed through her.

All at once, the guttural sounds he made against her throat terrified and chilled her but ramped her heat up again with each chuffing huff. Piercing, going deeper, the fangs drew blood and she gulped in a deep breath, afraid it could be the last.

“Cre-Victor… Victor!”

Her mind started to numb again, the fresh lesson blending with old horrors. Pushing it back, knowing he was about to bite deeper, she shoved her fingers into his hair. Instinct tried to make her yank it, to jerk his head up, but she knew she couldn’t make him move and that it might make him bite down. Slowly, insanely, her fingers began to caress, to stroke, just like she’d done to Sam’s blonde cropped mop for years.

Forcing her voice to be soft, if trembling, she spoke his given name again. “Victor, Victor … come back to me. You feel so good, Victor. Careful … Victor, please be … careful…”

Tabitha clenched her teeth and swallowed her scream when she felt him shudder, felt him begin to come. The fangs bit harder for a fraction of a second, and then he reared his head back, the lethal spikes sliding free without slashing. His roar caught in his throat, nearly choking him.

When his body pitched forward, she splayed her thighs as wide as she could and let his chest press her down. Afraid his weight could injure her hips, she lifted her legs and wrapped them around him tight.

Creed’s hands left her hips to smack into the table on either side of her, the claws rending deep scratches when they moved.

Refusing to cry out, terrified it would drive him further into the shocking savagery that seemed to have overwhelmed him, she slung her arms around his neck and bit into the collar of his coat.

Can’t think, don’t move, oh, God, oh God… Don’t move, don’t scream!

Time stretched and her muscles began to cramp. She felt his palm on her back first, and then his body straightened, pulling hers up with him. The hands moved, gripped her hips, smearing in her blood.

She hissed, unable to stifle it, when his hands pushed her pelvis back, allowing her to sit solidly on her backside again. She wasn’t sure he’d regained his mind until the low chuckle sounded in her ear.

“Bit clingy fer my taste, girl. I’d rather not wear ya all day.”

Making aching muscles obey, she let go of his collar, neck, and hips, her limbs trembling with more than cold. His body was warm and losing that in the freezing room made her teeth start to chatter.

When he began to step back, she almost closed her eyes, but then she forced herself to watch his spent cock slip out of her body. To her surprise, it was uncut – a fact she hadn’t noticed when he’d forced her. Large hands quick and efficient, he stuffed it back into his slacks, heedless of the mess, and pulled the leather belt tight.

Puffing out a breath, he swept the coat off of his shoulders and swirled it up to settle it around her back. Without hesitation, she shoved her arms into the sleeves and hauled it around her.

Creed came forward again and Tabitha struggled to remain still. Lifting a hand up, his thumb and index finger gripped her chin with a surprisingly gentle touch. Using that grip to turn her head, he seemed to be inspecting the bite marks on her throat. The feel of blood dripping down her skin made her shudder again.

“Those boys tell ya t’ do that?”

“To do what?” she whispered.

“Sweet-talk tha beast.”

“N-no… I’m sorry if I, I mean… They said that would be a … bad idea, um … to show affection?”

“Yeah, well, they’re right.”

“But you were going to –”

“Think I dunno that?” he shouted. Releasing her face, he retreated from the table and began to pace, claws running up and down the sides of his thighs, threatening to shred the cloth.

“I’m sorry –”

“It ain’t amnesia, frail, got it? How’d ya think I knew all yer dirty li’l secrets? Tha beast in me knows what he’s doin’, what he’s hearin’ – he’s just not that good at processin’ it ‘til I get back in tha driver’s seat! Talkin’ ain’t ‘is language, but we do share a brain!”

Huddling in his coat, immersed in the musky smell of him from it, she winced and bit her lip, looking down away from his glaring amber eyes. “I don’t want to die,” she murmured.

“Hop down offa that.”

She started to obey, but hesitated, knowing she’d fall. “I’m – I can’t; my legs are all rubbery.”

He came at her fast, in three long strides, but didn’t strike her. His hands picked her up under her arms and set her on her feet.

Discovering for himself that she couldn’t stand on her own, he knocked her legs out from under her with his arm and lifted her bodily, his coat trailing behind them as he turned toward the door. Stabbing one finger against something on the wall, she watched in a daze as the barrier slid down and revealed the stone steps. Below, the mirror back was opening, too, the electric lights from the dressing room flooding the bottom steps.

Creed carried her down and out. She winced and turned her head when he opened his mouth, prepared for the yell that time. “Perrin!”

The Frenchman appeared as if conjured. “Bath? It’s ready.”

“Bring up some o’ yer bandage shit an’ some o’ my booze. Whiskey.”

“Yes, Mr. Creed.”

Tabitha didn’t know what was happening, exactly, but it was happening entirely too fast. Creed carried her to the vast bathroom, the lights revealing it to be floored and paneled in black marble. She was set down, somewhat gently, on the steps of the dais.

His hands were less gentle when he yanked off her boots, his claws slicing right through the laces. Her clothes were in shreds, a fact she had barely noticed. She dimly remembered him slicing the sweater and shirt open, but tearing out the crotch of the jeans was a missing detail.

She started to limply struggle a little when she realized he was stripping her outright, but he almost didn’t notice her feeble efforts. She was still sitting on his coat, but he’d gotten her arms out of the sleeves.

Creed stood, leaving her leaning against the steps. When his hands reached behind his head to pull off the black t-shirt, Tabitha let her eyes roam over him at will. With the amount of places that were bleeding on her body, she decided he couldn’t hurt her much more for looking at him.

He’d already kicked off his boots. He saw her watching when he dropped his pants, but didn’t seem to care past a grunt. Realizing he wasn’t wearing any underwear at all, she abruptly smirked.

It was wiped away by a yelp when he picked her up off of the coat and hoisted her once more. Half afraid he planned to drown her, she struggled a bit again when he stepped down into the warm bath.

“Be still,” he commanded, his voice rough and probably angry.

The words, so like a part of the strange hypnotic spell he’d put her in, made her thoughts separate, her body go limp.

His overt care in sitting in one of the marble seats inside the tub, with her on his lap, surprised her. He turned her to put her back against his chest and as she went still, he stretched his body out with a sigh.

Tabitha leaned back against him, her mind in a drugged swirl. I’m alive…

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

The water was warm, not hot. Perrin had been instructed to make it a temperature the frail could handle, so it was going to cool far too fast for his liking. Glaring at the ceiling, he didn’t bother to pick his head up when Brys arrived to help care for the girl.

“Ah, sir, may we … have her?”

“She’s all yers.”

He closed his eyes as Perrin reached for her and the two men picked her up out of the bathing tub. They managed the extraction without letting her feet kick him anywhere tender, at least.

“Stay in here,” he barked at them. “Set ‘er on tha divan.”

Eventually, he lifted his head and moved to the other side of the tub, folding his arms on the edge and resting his chin on them. Watching them work, he was silent.

Since Perrin was the one getting clawed up here and there, Brys had become the first aid expert. They laid her out on thick towels on the divan and the boy held the bowl of warm water so that Brys could clean her wounds.

None of it was much worse than he gave the boy on a bi-annual schedule, but the amount of cuts, punctures, and bruises seemed to upset the elder Frenchman.

“Here,” Brys said, “Press that there. We have to stop the bleeding. The hips and neck are the worst.”

The girl, on the other hand, was acting as if she was the one sucking on a whiskey bottle steadily for the last ten minutes. Most of the time, her eyes were closed, but when they opened, she didn’t seem to care about the men or their touch and ministrations – she would stare back at Victor.

It shouldn’t bother him and he could always make her look away first, but something haunted the big blue eyes under blonde curls – or maybe it was just him.

Fuckin’ stupid bringin’ ‘er here. Ain’t even been a month since… He growled, the sound making all of them pause. Sloshing over to the far side of the tub again, he took up his original lounging stretched-out pose. Laying his head back, he closed his eyes and listened to them, letting their mixed and shifting scents wash over him.

The acrid stench of the medical soap made him snarl, tugging shards of foggy memories out of Victor’s murkier depths.

Psi-Borg had fixed most of the oldest stuff and a lot of the middle-ground stuff, but all of the shit this or that government or megalomaniac had done to him since then was free to rattle around in his head: remembered, repressed, or forgotten.

A clean smell of bandages followed the sharp tang of antibiotic ointment, but those didn’t make his skin crawl – no scientist or power mad quack had ever seen the need to use bandages on him.

Lifting the bottle of Glenfiddich to his lips again, he drank it down to half gone. For one profound minute, he wished he was capable of getting drunk.

“Thank you,” the girl told them. “Will you help me up?”

“He, ah, wanted you to stay here –”

“I want to sit on the dais steps.”

“Tabitha…”

Perrin interrupted him. “Come on, I’ll help you walk. That pain pill should kick in soon.”

“Can I have the coat, too? Thanks.”

They moved her, bringing her scent closer. Theirs receded.

“We’ll be just down the hall if either of you want or need … anything,” Brys said.

Silence … except that he could hear her heart beating against her ribs and the softer sound of her palm sliding over the sleek wool of his black coat. They’d wrapped her in a bathrobe, one of his, and she had the coat folded partly under her and then pulled up and draped across her lap. The layers of black cloth, wool and cotton, smelled like him, making her scent blend with his … again.

“Victor?”

Without moving, he let another low growl rumble through his chest. “Changed my mind ‘bout that, frail – Creed’ll do just fine.”

“I’m not going to apologize for anything.”

“Technically, ya already did. Twice.”

“I certainly don’t expect to hear one from you.”

“Smart gal.”

“What did you do to me?”

“Fucked ya.” Her sigh should have angered him, but he couldn’t muster the give-a-shit. “Shoulda bit yer damn throat out instead.”

“It was almost … hypnotic.”

“That’s a new way t’ describe my prowess.”

“You know what I mean. I’m just curious. Most of these cuts … I didn’t feel them, even if I knew they were … happening. Those things you said… Please, I just want to understand.”

Victor huffed, and then sat up. Holding the bottle half in the water to rest it on his thigh, he glared at her. “It ain’t Voodoo, girl. ‘Sides, what I tapped in ya was already there; Daddy musta worked ya over good, fer a fuckin’ long time, too.”

“He was like that most of my life, worse when he found out I was a mutant.”

“What I was gonna teach ya, yer void trick, that was it. Ya already know how t’ do it.”

“It was like being drunk, though.”

“I wouldn’t have a ref’rence fer that.”

“If it’s supposed to help someone survive, how can it really work if I can’t think or do … much of anything … when it’s happening? It seems a person would be … well, helpless, in that condition.”

“It ain’t a state o’ mind fer fightin’ t’ tha death in, frail. It’s survival. It’s how t’ live when yer gettin’ kicked in tha teeth. Don’t let it touch yer core, don’t let it in ya, an’ it can’t break yer spirit. That way, when they quit kickin’, thinkin’ yer beat, ya rise up an’ show ‘em diff’rent.”

“Like the X-Men?”

“Don’t flatter yer idiot babysitters. Those white hats ain’t never had me on tha ropes enough t’ put me down like that. Red came close,” he admitted, frowning at the memory, “but she let up right when she coulda gotten nasty.”

“Wolverine with a claw lobotomy probably counts.”

“I asked ‘im t’ do that – threatened ‘im ‘til he couldn’t stop ‘isself. Runt’s tha only one o’ ‘em with an ounce o’ guts, or a pound o’ mean – but it didn’t keep me down, did it? Not with yer kind, considerate help – nursin’ me all genteel-like outta tha kindness o’ yer … heart.”

She was stubborn, refusing to let him bait her. Also, she shied away from that part of their past, as he assumed she would. Yet her pulse had just quickened – it seemed something he’d said had either excited or alarmed her.

“You wanted him to stab you in the brain? Did you think it could kill you?”

“Ain’t nothin’ they’ve found can kill me.”

“That’s not what I asked. Did you think –?”

“How long ya think yer gonna be breathin’ if ya keep pesterin’ me ‘bout this shit?”

That shut her up, but her questions brought a lot of flotsam up from the depths, most of it poked and picked over by Cueball and later by the government psychiatrist, Dr. Valerie Cooper.

Mystified about why he cared to continue talking at all, he grumbled, “Had a lotta shit goin’ on in my head then. Hell, coulda been what Psi-Borg did that kicked it off. Madness it was, pure blood hunger – couldn’t think, couldn’t function. Tha beast had me by tha throat an’ tha balls at once most days. Needed tha glow t’ fix it, like what Birdy used t’ give me – pure hit o’ telepathic juice. With tha glow, it got healed over fer a bit … t’ lemme think, lemme … be.”

“What you said about liking being you – it wasn’t letting you, was it? Didn’t Birdy get killed?”

“Yeah, an’ not by me. Oh, she woulda been, probly, eventually. My own dear darlin’ baby boy offed her: Graydon Creed. After that, when yer white hats got me … life wasn’t a bowl o’ fuckin’ cherries no more. Snappin’ tha runt’s precious control seemed like tha best option.”

“He said you broke out of the force field on the door, but didn’t get very far.”

“Cuz he was standin’ there, breathin’ down my neck! Didn’t really mean t’ run, though. Not any farther’n killin’ ‘is friends so he’d throw down with me, anyhow. Turns out, ‘is bleedin’ claw cured me, gave me a handy defense against tha Brain Brigade, too. I fuckin’ love irony. Sure, it took a while t’ land on my feet, but I always do.”

“So the lesson is to close yourself when you are … down and being hurt. Then you get up and fight back when you can?”

“That’s tha idea. Ain’t just fer gettin’ beat down, though – how I got outta that cage an’ later, how I beat X-Factor’s inhibitor collar, was by gettin’ my body used t’ tha pain they were usin’ t’ control me.”

“By not accepting the message, because you already know what the problem is and you know you have to … ignore it to survive. Okay, I can do that.”

Victor chuckled. “Makin’ it sound mighty easy, ain’t ya? Advanced part o’ that lesson is t’ not need yer void at all. I didn’t beat that fuckin’ collar by goin’ t’ my happy place. I bulled through tha pain, let it burn me good an’ learned how t’ condition myself ‘til I could do it an’ stay conscious on tha other side.”

The girl tried to hide her surprise, but her face had gone pale. “Maybe I’ll stick with the beginner stuff to start out with. What’s next?”

“Still game, huh? I’m impressed. Ya got way too much white hat in ya, though; lesson two, ya’d flunk big time.”

“Should I wait to heal first?” she asked, her tone a challenge.

“Doesn’t involve ya gettin’ whacked – that’s where ya learn t’ get payback on someone who’s been whackin’ ya – dash o’ turn-‘bout’s-fair-play.”

“You’d heal up fast and I bet I wouldn’t mind hurting you.”

“Do tell.”

“Can I have some of that?”

Smirking, he moved to the front of the tub and handed her the bottle. “Rest up, girl. We’ll chat ‘bout lesson two in tha mornin’.”

“Wow, that’s … intense.” She gave the bottle back with trembling fingers.

“Odds are, tha boy’s happy pill’s been carvin’ its way through yer bloodstream. Ain’t fair t’ blame tha Scots fer that.”

“Scots?”

“Tha single malt, frail.”

Her heart-shaped face melted into a smile that proved the drug was kicking in. “It’s not fair that you’re handsome,” she told him, her words slurred. “Evil is supposed to be ugly … you know, humpbacked – with a limp…”

Victor watched as she began to slump, his frown morphing into a smirk when she went limp and collapsed on the stairs. He made no effort to prevent her head from striking the marble step when she passed out.

He let out a shrill whistle to call the servants in. “Cart ‘er back t’ ‘er room. I don’t wanna see ‘er ‘til after breakfast, which I plan t’ spend with my guest. Need any more meat in tha freezer?”

“Elk would be nice, if you happen across one,” Brys answered, “or another caribou, sir.”

They began hoisting the girl up between them. When Brys got her into his arms, Perrin picked up the long coat. Catching his eye, Victor crooked a finger at him to bring him closer.

“Get back here when yer done with ‘er, boy – I wanna lot more hot water an’ some comp’ny that don’t yap so fuckin’ much.”

“I’ll only be a moment, Mr. Creed,” Perrin replied. His smile was pleased, and the sweeping glance the boy gave him was heating his blood already.

Might need a good hunt before lesson two, he thought. Just in case tha skirt actually grows a pair.

~ ~ ~

In the twilight hour before dawn, fresh snow was falling over the Selwyn Mountains. Victor crouched on a slanting outcropping of stone downwind from an elk with an impressive rack and an unfortunate limp in one foreleg. The injury had drawn the short straw for the animal and the predators were closing in to assure that only the fittest would survive.

Somewhere up the slope, the snow leopard was letting the prey catch her scent. Soon, she would show herself in order to flush the animal away from her – and straight into a waiting ambush. At the moment, Victor had lost her in the winter landscape, only her scent on the wind telling him where she was lurking.

His muscles were taut and ready, the hiss of falling snow ignored as he watched the elk grow nervous. Ice on the stone beneath his nude body, freezing wind flowing over him, these things barely registered as he settled into the near mindless focus of predator seeking prey.

The cat moved, making a short lunge at the elk. She leapt back to avoid a kick, and then lunged again to drive it down the slope.

It turned and ran, heading right for him. Victor lifted his body up an inch higher, drew in and held a breath, and then jumped.

He landed on its back as it launched by his ambush point, his arms wrapping around the thick neck. The animal tried to shake him off and he let the movement slide him over until he swung down like a lead weight on its neck. Dropping his jaw, he opened his mouth wide and jerked his head down and in, the fangs catching and slashing the throat. Getting a good solid hold, the jaw began to close, the power of his bite force severing the windpipe with the carotid and jugular as his weight dragged it down. Teeth closed tight, he tore them out of its throat with a grunt.

Victor slammed his fist into the elk’s shoulder and twisted his body to avoid being pinned under it when it toppled. Snow exploded under them when the animal dropped to its side. The moment his clawed foot struck the ground, he pushed off with it to land on the prey, using his weight to keep it down.

The snow leopard bounded down to them and leaped onto the elk’s hind quarters, her claws digging in as she stayed clear of the legs. With the carotid severed, their prey had already fallen still and silent.

Victor licked at the blood on his chin, exhilarated by the hunt. He was covered with a wide spray of it, but hardly noticed in the heated rush of the kill. Growling with pleasure, he butted heads with the leopard, rubbing his face in her fur as she came up to greet him.

As they had done before, she waited until he used his claws to cut the hide off of the carcass. He didn’t bother with a precise taxidermy-quality effort, but it would make a good bundle for carting meat back home, as well as a welcome addition to the warm fur collection.

Once the fur was dropped in a pile to one side, he gutted the animal and let the mess slip down the snowy slope. There were plenty of other creatures who would benefit from their leftovers later, but for now, both hunters settled down to tear and shear meat with fangs and claws.

Leaving the hind quarters to the busy chuffing attention of the cat, Victor reached into the opening he’d torn and yanked out the rich organ meat. It would be more than enough to satiate his hunger, and then he’d start carving out other portions for the freezer.

Before they left the remains of their kill to scavengers, Victor grabbed the antlers at their base and used them to break the animal’s neck, pulling the head back. Claws and brute strength cut and tore the head free. Being a gentleman, he tore off one of the forelegs, too, for the leopard to snack on later.

With an antler and hoof in one hand and the meat bundled in the bloody hide in the other, he started off up the mountainside just as the sun was beginning to brighten the forest. As the light rose over the treetops, the snowfall ceased, leaving the world in a crisp white silence. Beside him, the cat padded along, quiet and content.

He returned to the rock passage they’d emerged from and smiled when his guest’s fangs tugged at the dangling foreleg. Dropping the hoof, he let it fall. She chuffed at him and headed off over the snow, dragging the meat between her front legs.

For a moment, he wished he could just cache some meat in a crevice in the mountains somewhere and loaf about in the snow all day – but he had a skirt to train. Lugging his kill, he entered the passage and followed its winding way back to the secret gate that connected it to the house.

Reaching the kitchen, he was amused to find the skirt still sitting with the servants after breakfast. Even better was her shock at seeing him arrive nude, smeared with blood from nose to toes, carrying only some of the larger hunks of an elk.

The Frenchmen jumped up to help, used to his habits by now, but the girl just sat and stared. He handed his kill over to them.

“Gonna have a shower,” he told her, as he started unraveling his long, thick braid. “Then we’ll head down t’ tha dungeon fer yer next lesson. Meet me at tha foot o’ tha grand staircase in an hour.”

She didn’t say a word in reply, but managed a nod. Grinning, Victor walked out, leaving bloody footprints in his wake.

~ ~ ~

“It’s covered, quit yer whinin’,” Victor told her as they descended the dungeon stairs to the chamber that housed the oubliette.

The girl stared at the thick metal cover the entire way through until she almost fell down the next set of stairs. Arms flailing to catch her balance, her hands struck his arm and back, fingers curling around his bicep.

He paused on the step to let her regain her balance and when her hands left him, the one pressed to his back almost petted the blonde fur there.

“If ya wanna pet me, just say so – don’t need t’ pretend t’ be fallin’ on yer ass t’ get yer strokes in.” He glanced over his shoulder and smirked at her huffed glare.

“How many people are in that disgusting hole?”

“Ain’t never bothered t’ count ‘em; it’d be tough now, what with tha way they tend t’ fall t’ bits. If yer bored later, feel free t’ take a crack at it.”

“Is being psychotic a full-time job for you, Creed?”

“That’s a condition, not employment. Killin’ folks is my full-time gig.”

“Who’s paying you to destroy this plant in Vancouver? What are they making there that’s so bad?”

“Didn’t ask so many questions, took their word fer it bein’ bad, don’t really care. Client’s a group o’ tree-huggers; that’s why they want it toppled without killin’ tha workers. I ain’t complainin’ – waitin’ fer their ‘right moment’ is givin’ me a bit o’ relax time. Or it would be, if I weren’t wastin’ my vacation teachin’ ya shit those X-chumps shoulda covered by now.”

“I’ve learned a lot since we ‘met’ last; Pete Wisdom was leading X-Force for a while and he taught me more than Cable ever did.”

“So how is ol’ Petey these days?”

“I’ve lost track. I suppose you’re going to tell me the two of you were buddies? His bad boy image wasn’t an act, huh?”

“Wouldn’t say buddies, by a long shot. Chewed on ‘im once is all. As jobs go, he kept it from gettin’ borin’.”

“Boy, that was vague. He taught me how to make my bombs into bullets, how to kick ass like a ninja, and a lot of other nifty spy shit, with computers and such.”

“Ya don’t say.”

“What?” she asked, irritation riding her tone.

Reaching the bottom of the dungeon stairs, Victor walked ahead of her and then turned, a sly smile tugging at his lips. “Not tha best idea t’ show yer hand like that, frail. We ain’t buddies, neither, ya know.”

“I already showed you the changes in what I can do with my bombs, not to mention some of my less than effective martial arts moves on a brute like you.”

“Didn’t know ya could hack, did I? Good thing my systems’re iron-tight an’ booby-trapped, huh?” When the girl grabbed her wrist reflexively, Victor laughed. “Already tried it an’ got shocked, right? What, before breakfast? Thought I smelled a bit o’ scorch on ya.”

“You are a bastard.”

“Yup.”

“So why are we down here?” She held herself and shivered in the chilled air. The sweater she was wearing was one of the boy’s. They’d found new laces for her boots, too.

Victor walked over to the wall just at the edge of the torchlight, passing five cells like the one he’d originally put her in. She was ignoring her usual curious nature to keep her eyes on him – showing she had a working brain that morning, at least.

Putting his back to the wall, Victor lifted his hands and batted the heavy and unusually shiny shackles that swung on their short chains on either side of his head. Casually, he set his ankles into the bottom shackles, but didn’t bend to fasten them.

“This is why; figured ya’d be more comfortable if I wasn’t loose an’ breathin’ down yer neck.”

“‘Comfortable’ isn’t a word that comes to mind with you around.” She eyed the restraints warily. “That’s supposed to hold you?”

“Made o’ adamantium, girl. Had tha boy put ‘em up tha other day just fer yer lesson.” Smiling at her, trying to make it nice and friendly-like, he added, “If ya’d care t’ close ‘em up an’ turn tha locks, we can get goin’.”

The girl seemed to be considering the idea from all angles, as though trying to sort out if it was smarter to restrain the hands first, or the feet. He chuckled when she moved to his left wrist, but remained perfectly still.

She had to get close, had to stretch to reach the shackle and close it. Turning the ornate key that hung in the keyhole, she stepped directly across his body to reach the other wrist instead of stepping back first.

Victor sucked in a slow breath, audibly drawing in her scent. She flinched and he grinned, but she got the key turned in that shackle as fast as she could. Without looking up at him, she dropped to one knee and pushed his jeans cuff up to close the restraint around the right ankle.

Again, she moved across him directly without moving back, ending up on both knees to fasten the last shackle under his jeans.

“Mmm, ya look damn good on yer knees, girl. If ya wanna go back t’ that pettin’, be my guest.”

The expression on her face and in those large blue eyes when she glanced up was caught between anger, fear, and that ballsy curiosity. It was the same as the night she’d first snuck into the Danger Room, a breath before her hands had touched him.

“That won’t hold you,” she whispered. “I’m not that stupid.”

“Debatable, but we’ll see. Fer now, let’s say I’m lettin’ ya have tha upper hand – fer tha sake o’ yer … education.” He smiled when she tucked the key into the front pocket of her jeans.

To his delight, she remained on her knees and asked, “What am I doing with you now that I’ve theoretically ‘got you’?”

“On tha floor, just behind my right foot – there’s a buck knife; good solid Vietnam Era model 119 from 1962 – nothin’ better fer people who ain’t got claws.”

The scrape of the blade on the rock as she grasped the black handle made all the hackles on his body start to rise. Instinct had to be pushed down, the flutters of it in his gut ignored. He watched as she lifted it, met her gaze when she looked up again.

When she rose, she was only five inches from his body, the thick fixed-blade knife held firmly in her hand. The eyes darkened and he knew she was wondering how badly she could damage him before he healed.

“Do it, an’ find out.”

“Wh-where?”

“I don’t make this offer t’ many, frail – put it wherever ya want.”

Suspicion tugged at her lowering brows. “This doesn’t get you off, does it?”

“Try it an’ see.” Her morality, the whitest of hats in her abruptly brimming eyes, made her hesitate. “Ya know I’ll heal. Do it.”

The tip of the 5 7/8 inch blade touched his skin, angled at the line between the oblique and the abdominals on the right. Still, she hesitated. Gritting his teeth against a growl, he lurched his hips forward, stretching out the six-inch chains. The speed of it sent the blade into the muscle cleanly, if only an inch or two.

“Hoo, yeah! There, I got it started fer ya.” He watched her stare at the welling blood as it began to drip down onto the worn and fraying waistband of his jeans. “Thought ya wanted t’ hurt me, Tabitha. Now’s yer chance. Wait, look, leave tha blade in. See that?”

She seemed pinned by both fascination and horror as she saw the flesh try to heal around the blade. Yanking it out, she gasped as she witnessed it knit together until the muscle and skin were smooth and unblemished once more.

“What does that … feel like?”

“Ya ever have yer foot go t’ sleep on ya, then it tingles when ya move it? Almost hurts, but not quite?” At her nod, he added, “Sorta like that. It’s a buzzin’ sensation, with heat. It closin’ over shit’s a bitch when it’s bullets – wound heals right over ‘em, gotta dig ‘em out later, one by one.”

The girl shuddered at his words, yet she stood closer as soon as he sagged back against the wall again. Lifting the knife, she used just the tip and ran a long scratch from under his nipple all the way down to the jeans. It was so light, it didn’t even draw blood.

“Now that just tickles. Try again; put some elbow grease int’ it.”

“But I’ll –”

“What, ‘hurt’ me? That’s tha idea, ain’t it? Don’t tell me I gotta start dirty talkin’ ya, girl.”

She lifted the blade to the same place again, managed to punch the tip into the flesh and started to draw it along the scratch she’d made. Blood seeped and then spilled as she went, dripping onto her fingers. Halfway down, she gave a little cry and pulled it free.

“I don’t think I can do this. I’m … I’m not like this.”

“Already stitched. All better. Given ya plenty o’ reasons t’ wanna do it; ya gonna tell me it ain’t been enough?”

Meeting his gaze, she didn’t seem to notice that her free hand had risen to press against his stomach. “What is the point of this? I can’t stand here and cut you up with you quietly just … just … taking it.”

“Would ya rather open these cuffs an’ have me chase ya ‘round tha dungeon? See if ya can stab me when I’m comin’ at ya?”

“While that might help, I’d rather not. You seem to get – sidetracked – easily.”

Victor smiled down at her and let the purr in his gut come up into his throat. “Oh, I’m already sidetracked, girl. ‘Sides, if ya can’t at least get one good stab in, this is goin’ down as a flunk.”

“Weren’t you ever sickened by all the violence – even when you were a boy?”

“Told ya I was layin’ down rail at fifteen? ‘Nother man, hundred pounds heavier’n me, was bustin’ me fer days fer no damn reason – probly just fer how I looked. Found me in a bar after hours, had a broken bottle in ‘is hand. I gutted ‘im from crotch t’ Adam’s apple with my claws. Know what happened next?”

“Wh-what?”

“Bastard never bothered me again.”

“There are other ways to settle a fight –”

“Sure are – coulda torn ‘is balls off. Told yer X-buddy Rogue before, ya can only get one good surprise over on someone who think’s yer weaker’n they are. Lose that one shot, then ya lose gainin’ tha upper hand. Perspective fer ya is t’ find that openin’, that chance t’ surprise ‘em, an’ fuckin’ do somethin’ before they can take it away from ya.”

“Surprise them, huh?”

Before he could answer, she reached up and wedged the knife handle in his mouth, behind the fangs. He started trying to spit it out, a growl rising, when her hands flattened on his stomach. The fingers splayed, and then she began to touch him, pet him, like she had long ago.

He stopped the coiling bunch of muscles that were preparing to rip himself free and then tear her limb from limb, and forced himself to go still.

Her head leaned in, her mouth opening to kiss the swells of hard and heaving muscle he’d tried to coax her to cut. Her tongue darted out, licked one of the lines between the muscles, and then she kissed his skin again.

The fur there in a line from his belly to his waistband curled, wet from her tongue. The sensation made the muscles ripple as he sucked in his breath, but the action stirred echoes, too – a riot of things he’d repressed out of self-preservation.

“Isn’t this what you really wanted?” she whispered to the dusting of blonde hairs that fanned out thinner over his lower belly. “You don’t need to hurt me; you don’t have to … to get what you want from me.”

Steel chains clinked as his arms tensed, his fingers spreading. The claws slid out, slow and lethal. She looked up at the sound and saw them. A shadow of fear passed over her face then and she straightened. Lifting her hands to his mouth, she tried to remove the knife.

Victor snarled at her, but when she tried again, he allowed her to take it gingerly out.

“Am I wrong?” she asked, a note of desperation creeping into her voice. “I may be new to playing with knives, but I’ve seen lust in the eyes of a lot of men when they look at me. I’d rather not touch you again, but if you’re just going to keep forcing and hurting me, then I can … do it … willingly.”

He watched her in silence, trying to gauge what the hell she was after. Her words and her scent didn’t match.

“Creed? Do you want me to open the shackles?”

There was the fear stink, all in a rush as she dropped the knife at their feet … she was afraid she’d gone too far and his silence was terrifying her. Victor clenched his teeth against the ghosts in his head – the bleeding, haunting torments her soft touch had torn free.

It’s not tha same … she ain’t willin’, she’s desperate. Somethin’ else, too – she’s lonely t’ tha core, makin’ ‘er more desperate. Used t’ be drawn t’ me, now she’s caught up in old wants an’ gonna slap a survival label on it t’ make it not ‘er fault. Nothin’ ain’t ever this bitch’s fault. A smoldering but never forgotten conviction slid back into the blood that raced in his veins: to make her pay. His voice slid out, rasping and full of menace, “Naw, frail – I want ya back on yer knees.”

“I’m sorry if I – They said I shouldn’t, but I thought you might want me to, might stop being cruel if I did, and I –”

“Make it up t’ me. Suck my dick.”

She almost hesitated, until his growl made her think better of it. Her scent hadn’t changed, however; the fear had spiked, but the underlying hint of arousal was still there. As she sank to her knees and reached out to open his jeans, the heady smell of her pheromones thickened almost as fast as his cock.

When she pulled it out, it was obvious she’d done this many times. Dusty memories of prostitutes from over a hundred years ago invaded his thoughts and he let them – they were far safer than his untarnished ghosts.

Victor hissed when her mouth surrounded him. Her tongue swirled around the foreskin, working under it without a qualm, though she could barely take in more than the head without choking. Yet she seemed to have decided how to make this tolerable for her morals – she was going to pretend he was someone she had loved, wasn’t she? It would make her soft, make it too much like…

The hiss erupted into a growl, his wrists jerking on the chains. “If ya touch me like I’m that baby-faced shit Guthrie, I’ll break yer neck an’ skull-fuck yer corpse, bitch!”

In shock and panic, her teeth nearly bit down. She stopped and began to back off of it.

“Pick up tha knife – we ain’t done with lesson two yet.”

She groped for it as her lips slid off of his cock. It was so hard it bobbed at her lips as if seeking her wet heat on its own. Lifting the weapon, her eyes narrowing, he saw the thought as clearly on her face as if he’d been struck by telepathy.

“Cut it off now, frail, an’ I’ll fuck ya up yer ass with it while I’m waitin’ fer tha new one t’ grow back so I can do ya proper.”

“Where do you want it then?” she asked, her fury blazing as hot as her fear. They had torched and killed the arousal that had led her to kiss him, but he didn’t care about that.

“Vastus lateralis – right in tha side muscle o’ tha thigh – an’ if yer hand comes offa tha handle, I’ll feed it t’ ya, manicure first.”

The ripping plunge of the blade into the tight muscle was as hot as her mouth, but she seemed to have forgotten about that. On the heels of his roar of pain, he glared down at her, panting.

“You like that, you sick fuck?”

“Ain’t bad at all,” he told her, grinning fiercely. “Ya need somethin’ t’ do with that mouth, though, don’t ya? Let’s see how far ya can swallow it.”

Her mouth caught his cock and this time all pretense of tender passion was gone. She tried to take more of it in, but choked far too soon. Grabbing the shaft with her free hand, she squeezed and jerked it. The motion and her anger made the hand on the knife pull down, tearing the stab wound open even as it healed around the blade.

Victor’s body lurched, the open jeans falling off of his hips. The denim snagged on the knife handle, covering the girl’s white-knuckled grip.

Abruptly, his hand was pressed against the back of her head, fingers twining in the hair, claws shearing away one of the bouncing curls. She choked, but he thrust with his hips and shoved his cock deeper, tearing past the resistance in her bludgeoned throat. His other hand, the snapped chain swinging, covered her grip on the knife handle, his strength pushing on the blade so hard that the finger guard began to sink into his flesh.

Blood spurted, striking her cheek – drops of it trembling on her lashes as her eyes squeezed shut, pouring tears.

Victor watched her blood-spattered and tear-streaked face, his teeth bared in a savage snarl as his orgasm gathered, crested, prepared to burst. In the end, he knew it would be the agony of the blade more than the inadequate little mouth that would make his cum fill her. Grinding her fingers under his, he tore the blade down farther and stared – aching to see it when more than blood would dribble from her swelling lips.

He didn’t know when or how pain had started to blend with pleasure in his blood, in his gut. The answer was lost in one of those murky places left in his abused brain; perhaps it had even been cut away when the runt’s claw tore its liberating path through his skull.

Pain was a part of him, though, as it had always been, whether his own or the pain of someone splayed under his claws, or split by his cock. Both were good, both sang in his veins until his tattered soul was set free again: from the past, from the buried things he couldn’t – wouldn’t – look at … things buried none too deeply.

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

Author’s Note:  I almost put this note at the start of this scene, but then I decided it would interrupt the mood, and you’ve all read the strident warnings at the start of this story already, right? I hope… Suffice to say, the Frenchmen were right – showing affection is not a good idea around Victor Creed. The reason why can be found in the aforementioned Sabretooth limited series, Mary Shelley Overdrive. The young lady’s name in that story is Bonnie Hale. She was a curvaceous busty blue-eyed thing with long curling blonde hair. For as naïve as she was, she turned out to have a taste for violence and Victor’s violence on others only turned her on. Granted, he was attacking bad guys, but still.

Spoiler Warning: Bonnie and Victor had a big “lust that could have become love” whirlwind night together. One could argue that Creed seems to “fall too fast” for Bonnie, but I think it was a case of “living in the now” meets “unprepared for the unexpected”. Women are terrified and repulsed by him for the most part. Yes, the prostitutes and Madam in the story seem fond of him, but he is probably the owner of the building they live in and so their loyalty may be “bought and paid for” rather than being a spontaneous and honest affection, like he is getting from Bonnie out of the blue. She sparks a fierce protectiveness in him fueled by sex, shared violence, and the utter shock of her truthful and honest attraction to him. I’ll just say it didn’t end well for her and let you read the limited series for the details. Beware, though, this story has a lot of spoilers about this series later on. End of Spoilers.

Whether or not these two could have become a couple (dating a psychopathic hired assassin is bound to be challenging) the writers of the story decided not to explore that angle, though I fervently wish someone in canon comics bloody would. The events of that limited series happened almost a month ago by the start my tale and Creed is far more torn up about everything that happened than he realized he would be. I believe it’s left him caught between being unwilling to let another person in and wanting someone to ‘take her place’. As a default, he is wary of allowing himself to be anything other than brutal to most people. For that to change, something rather monumental would have to happen, with someone rather extraordinary coming along in Victor’s life. Obviously, that person isn’t Tabitha Smith. However, I plan to tackle the issue myself in a future sequel to this tale, so stay tuned!

The names “Goldfinger” and “Dr. No” are from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels/films. I hope this chapter wasn’t too brutal for anyone, but I prefer my Sabretooth to be vicious (as a murderous psycho would be). Also, my thanks to those who are reading and reviewing; your comments have made my day! (@MET_Fic)  –  Anon

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