Sabretooth: Redemption – Chapter 6 – Into the Woods

Seems I got to have a change of scene
Cause every night I have the strangest dream
Imprisoned by the way, yeah, it could’ve been
Left here on my own or so it seems
I got to leave before I start to scream
But someone’s locked the door and took the key

Feelin’ alright
I’m not feelin’ too good myself
Feelin’ alright
Not feelin’ that good myself

Boy you sure took me for one big ride
Even now I sit and I wonder why
And when I think of you I stop myself from cryin’
I just can’t waste my time I must get by
Got to stop belivin’ in all your lies
Cause there’s too much to do before I die

Feelin’ alright
Not feelin’ too good myself
Oh no, Feelin’ alright
Not feelin’ that good myself

Don’t you get too lost in all I say
Yeah, but at the time you know I really felt that way
But that was then and now you know it’s today
I can’t escape I guess I’m here to stay
’til someone comes along to take my place
With a different name and a different face

~ Feelin’ Alright (Joe Cocker)

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

The kitchen was empty; the Frenchmen might still be sleeping off the long night of bullet extraction. As she turned to go to one of the refrigerators next to the walk-in freezer, her eye fell on a trash bin in the corner, next to a short hallway.

Her mind flashed to the memory of Perrin taking the garbage to a burn pile out back – through the small door at the end of that hallway.

Limping to it as quickly as she could move, she paused at the start of the hallway when something dark on the wall over the door caught her eye. Dread dumped adrenaline into her blood when she recognized the rectangular metal thing mounted there, full of wires and lights.

The lights aren’t on and it’s not humming; he said he was keeping most things off because of Goshana. Inching in spite of that, Tabitha held her breath as she approached the door. She grasped and turned the doorknob – cursing under her breath when it was locked.

Terror filled her as she lifted a finger to the brass knob, but she didn’t give herself time to think. With a flash, a sliver of plasma shot out the lock. Tearing the door open, she got out from under the hideous metal thing as fast as she could and limped into the frozen world outside.

Closing the door with shaking fingers, she pulled the long bathrobe up higher to let the excess material flop over the sash. She secured the sash with a double knot and slunk off, circled the burn pile, and took off running in her boots and Creed’s robe, refusing to question the insanity of the choice.

Pain in her pelvic region as she ran stole her breath, nearly making her gag. The cold entered her lungs as fast as it began to creep into her body, freezing her extremities in no time. Letting terror give her speed, she pushed herself harder, knowing that just leaving the house meant Creed would likely kill her when he found her.

He will find me … oh, God, why didn’t I wait until he fell asleep, or let me go back to my room? No! Stop it! You could die waiting for that monster to get tired of hurting you!

Tabitha headed down out of the Selwyn Mountains, trying to remember which way the road had been.

How high up am I? Was the fucking kitchen door halfway up the damn mountainside? When she thought she heard a noise behind her, she tripped while looking back. Yelping, she tumbled head over heels into the snow. Fetching up in a deep snow bank piled against a trio of trees, she lay still a moment, panting. Crap! That’s great; why not snap a leg to go with your broken ass? Make it easy for him when he comes to tear your throat out!

She started to struggle up and then fell back again at the unmistakable sound of someone moving through the trees.

That’s not Sabretooth – who?

Rolling so she could peek back up the mountain, she was shocked to see two men in heavy arctic gear with bright orange coats decorated with red and blue stripes on the sleeves walking through the trees just a dozen yards over her head. They had hunting rifles resting on their shoulders, but the best part was that she recognized the color scheme of their coats – they were rentals from Faro, same as hers had been.

Tourist hunters – maybe with snowmobiles? “Hey! Help!”

They turned immediately, shouting in surprise.

“It’s a girl,” one of them said.

“Maybe it’s the one Eddy said went missing?”

“Hey,” the other man called back to her as they started toward her, “you that city girl, from out of Faro?”

“Yes!” As they came down toward her, she felt tears sting her eyes. She struggled to stand again, her limbs almost frozen stiff.

The men reached her quickly, the taller one dropping his rifle and stripping off his coat to put it around her. They were older, over sixty at least, but they looked surprisingly tough.

Like years with Cable didn’t prove silver hair doesn’t mean a man’s weak. These guys remind me of Wolverine, though. Maybe they were soldiers? Soldiers would be better against Sabretooth than just weekend warriors.

“Put that on, okay? We can help you.”

“What the hell are you doing in that?” the other one asked.

“She’s hurt, look! What happened to you, hon?”

“Please, there’s a man, he’s very dangerous – we have to get out of here! Do you have a snowmobile, or something? Anything?”

“Sure, a bit down out of the mountains. Zip that up and we’ll get you back to Faro, okay?”

Tabitha shook as she zipped the coat, unable to get very far. The man who had given it to her gently moved her hands and zipped it for her.

“Thank you…”

“Come on, hon, no time to waste. Surprised you didn’t freeze to death. Grab my rifle, Ben. Your name’s Smith, right?”

“Tabitha Smith.”

“Well, that’s Ben Breckenridge, I’m Ron Snyder.”

“They – the people from Faro – they’ve been looking for me?”

“Yeah, we all have – search party’s way off base, though. They’ve been looking in the Anvil Range and the Pelly Mountains. Eddy, guy from Faro’s sports rentals, he’s had everyone on the lookout.”

“Um, can we hurry? This man, he’ll hunt me down – he’s nuts and really … good at tracking.”

“If he cut and bruised you up like that, I don’t think we’d mind dropping the bastard,” Ben told her. “Don’t you worry, honey.”

The memory of a metal bowl full of crushed slugs chilled her more than the bitter weather. “Please, let’s just hurry.”

“Here, then,” Ron said, and swung her up into his arms in a fireman’s carry. “You’re limping pretty badly.”

Collapsing into him, she laid her head on his shoulder and breathed a sigh. “Thank you.”

“Hey, Ron, who’s that? Guy in black down there?”

Tabitha stiffened, her mouth going dry. “Where?”

“Got to be a hunter,” Ron answered. “Stupid to wear black like that. There’s another one.”

“You! Up here,” Ben called out. “Give us a hand, huh? We found that girl!”

Tabitha shifted in Ron’s arms to look, saw the men and gasped. “Oh, no…”

Before she could warn them, a shot rang out and Ron toppled, throwing her clear as he fell.

“Sonovabitch!” Ben yelled. He dropped Ron’s rifle at his feet and lifted his to his shoulder to fire, but the men in black shot him first.

“Oh, crap, oh crap, no!” Tabitha crawled over to Ron. “Please don’t die, I’m so sorry!”

Ron opened his eyes. “Keep your head down, hon.”

She stared as he drew a pistol from under his sweater. Gasping, she flipped over and formed a large bomb in her frozen hands. Pitching it down at Rothenberg’s men, she watched as it blew them back on their asses, destroying one of their rifles.

“Damn, hon – you’re a mutant!”

“Look, these men are killers! We have to get out of sight, now. Can you run?”

“Don’t know if I can stand up! Ben? Damn it, Ben! Answer me!”

Tabitha looked and then regretted it – the shot had taken part of Ben’s skull off.

“Fuck!” Ron shouted, and looked away. “Three more of them coming. Who are these bastards?”

He didn’t wait for her to answer, but Tabitha didn’t bother. She fired bombs as he fired bullets, trying not to kill, just put them down or destroy their weapons. Ron wasn’t so particular.

“Damn it, get behind me and shoot those things, girl, now!”

He moved to roll in front of her and she saw blood in the snow where he’d been lying. Tabitha fought to rise to her knees as more men came out of the trees below them. Ron saw her move and cursed. Reaching up to grab the front of the coat, he threw her down onto her face in the snow just as the horrid sound of an assault rifle split the air.

Looking up, she saw bullets slam into his body. Screaming as the man’s blood sprayed her, she formed a massive bomb and threw it down the mountainside without caring where it landed or who it hit. In a panic, she followed it with two more, before she realized she was quickly depleting her power.

Switching to the plasma shards, she rained them down like bullets, clipping the men in the shoulders and legs. Then a long jet of flames erupted up at her, catching the edge of the bathrobe on fire.

With a shout, she stomped it and lifted her hands again, but then something struck her shoulder, the burning force of it knocking her onto her back.

Blood … my blood…

Fighting to keep her senses straight, she saw that the bullet had passed through her flesh, leaving a deep slash in the meat. Screaming again, this time in rage, she sat up and tossed a bomb the size of the man’s head at his hands, blowing the sniper rifle into shrapnel and setting the man’s clothes on fire.

Another shot went through the robe and she cried out when she felt it bite into her thigh. Falling back, she twisted onto her side, but the next bomb she tried to throw fizzled.

“Hold your fire,” a voice called out. Four more of them came out of the trees and the one in front spoke again. “Tabitha Smith! We’re prepared to use lethal force, unless you surrender!”

“You haven’t seen lethal force yet, you stupid fuck!” Hands poised, she tried a bluff.

His skeptical expression told her he wouldn’t fall for it. “That last one didn’t work so well – you’re tapped out.” To his men, he said, “She’s burned out. Go fetch her.”

Tabitha tried to make another bomb, but nothing happened. She’d been too weak from the start, and then she’d thrown too many too soon, without making enough of them count.

Desperate, she scrambled for Ron’s pistol as they rushed her, but when she tried to shoot the first man, the gun only clicked.

They took the pistol from her, grabbed her by the collar of the coat and tossed her onto her face. She gasped with pain and went still as many footsteps crunched up around her through the churned snow. When one of them began to pick her up, she gritted her teeth and felt a wave of blackness rolling over her. She couldn’t understand the words they spoke. Pain jolted her as she was lifted and she fell mercifully backwards into the dark.

~ ~ ~

Her face was hot, her body almost frozen stiff. Sunlight, on my forehead – lying on something, but down on the snow, too. She tried to stir and felt rope cutting into her cold skin. At the sound of a zipper, her eyes flew open to see a strange man in black leering down at her. He was opening her coat – the hunter Ron’s coat – Ron and Ben, the men they’d killed. “Don’t you fucking touch me!”

He slapped her face hard, rocking her head back. “Filthy mutant. We’re going to kill you, but first you’re going to be bait for Creed.”

“Are you insane? He’ll kill you – then he’ll kill me!”

Another voice, the man who had been giving orders, spoke to her left. “He was keeping you – so you must be useful to him somehow.”

Tabitha hissed when the man leaning over her opened the bathrobe, exposing her bruised and scratched breasts. “One guess how she’s useful.”

The leader paced just out of sight, his boots crunching in the snow. “We need him out of his mind – so angry he might get sloppy. Any ideas?”

Several men laughed near them, but she couldn’t tell how many. They had tied her spread eagle, with ropes on wrists and ankles and another around her neck. She could only move her head slightly or the knot against her windpipe would tighten. The only rope end she could see was attached to her right ankle, trailing off to wrap around a tree trunk.

The man over her chuckled and reached down, his fingers pinching a frozen and aching nipple. He laughed when she screamed and he wasn’t the only one. “Mutie’s been fucking her … bet it’d make him mad if we took turns.”

Glaring up at him, she muttered through clenched teeth, “He wouldn’t care. I’m working for your boss, damn it – let me go! We’re on the same side!”

“About that,” the leader said. Moving into view, she saw that he was burned – recently. “Herr Rothenberg sent you here to kill you – since the mutie didn’t manage to do that, I imagine the job has fallen to us. Get off of her, Harris,” he ordered. “If the mutie doesn’t come for her by nightfall, you can head the line for all I care. Right now, I want all of you alert and watching for that bastard.”

Harris didn’t bother to close the robe when he moved off. Tabitha felt tears slipping down her face and fought to hang on to her senses. As preferable as passing out again might seem, she didn’t need to die of hypothermia. Searching for anything to focus on, she spoke to the leader.

“Those men you killed – they were innocent, just hunters trying to help me.”

“Wrong place, wrong time – and helping a mutie is no badge of honor.”

“Rothenberg tried to hire Creed once – did you know that?”

“Don’t waste your breath, girl – never know which one will be your last.”

“Your men shot me; I can’t be bait if I’m dead!”

“Good point. Perkins, patch her up.”

Tabitha tried to punch Perkins when they untied the ropes to doctor her, but Harris had stayed close; when he pointed a pistol at her, she stopped fighting.

~ ~ ~

The longest day of her life was being measured by the sun as it started to set. Her wounds had been crudely field dressed and Perkins had closed her bathrobe and zipped up her coat. She couldn’t feel all that grateful though – he’d already informed her he’d be in line when their leader, Manis, let them use her.

When she couldn’t stand it anymore and had to ask to be allowed to go to the bathroom, Harris watched the whole process just to humiliate her. They kept a close guard on her if she was loose, leaving the rope around her neck and using it like a leash.

She knew if Sabretooth came for them, she’d die with them, but she was starting to not care about that so much, as long as she could watch some of them die first.

Twice, they had trussed her up spread eagle again. Eventually, they’d gotten lazy and wrapped her neck rope around her instead, strapping her down hard on her feet against one thin pine tree.

Just to preserve her sanity, she tried to count them, learning names as fast as she could. It was difficult, if not impossible, with the way they kept milling and changing who had to guard her.

There might have been twenty of them, but Ben hit two and Ron got at least four. So that leaves maybe fourteen? Yeah, that’s too much party for me. At least we wounded some of them. As the sun sank lower, she shivered. Where the hell are you? Her eyes searched the darkening forest around her. You wouldn’t miss a chance to teach me the error of my ways, not to mention taking out these idiots.

“Hey, where are Carlson and Dugan? It’s their turn on mutie watch,” Harris groused.

Tabitha drew in a breath and held it a moment. Her guards had been new faces the last two changes and there were others missing that she hadn’t seen in a while.

“Anderson is gone, too,” another man said.

Manis strode back in from the tree line. “They’re on patrol.”

“Not Dugan – he got shot in the foot by that hunter; he’s good for nothing but mutie watch,” Harris replied.

Oh, shit… Tabitha let her breath go, watching it curl like white smoke in the air. He’s already here…

Catching her spooked look, Manis grinned at her. “It’s getting dark, Harris – didn’t you have first dibs?”

He wasn’t finished with the question before Harris had stepped in front of her. “Fuck yeah, sir,” he muttered, black leather gloves reaching out to squeeze her breasts through the coat. His fingers went to her zipper and hauled it down.

Tabitha gulped a breath and struggled with the idea of telling them. She bit her lip when the gloved hands opened the robe, tearing it back to expose her again.

Another man stepped up behind him. “Don’t take all night, Harris – I want to play ‘stick the mutie’ too.”

Harris grunted. “Untie the bitch, then. Can’t get at the good stuff with her trussed up against a fucking tree.”

“Hey Bowman!” the other man yelled into the trees. “You called sloppy thirds – better get up here before you miss your turn!”

“Fuck him,” Harris said. “Half of those assholes probably ran off, scared to death of a stupid mutie dog.”

Tabitha started to close her eyes, not wanting to see Harris’s leering face as he groped her breasts, pain lancing like knives into her cold nipples with every touch. Then a slight movement in the trees across the clearing made her eyes open wide.

Between the trees, a huge shadow moved closer, twin amber lights like slits glowing there. She couldn’t breathe as she saw his face appear, his claws gleaming red in the sunset as he put a finger up to his lips. Around the admonishing finger, the lips stretched and opened, displaying fangs and sharp cutting teeth in an obscene grin. Sinking back into the dark, he disappeared from sight.

All that held her up in that moment was the loops of the rope and the hands of the man who wanted to rape her. The other man moved behind the tree to untie the rope, but she abruptly knew he wouldn’t get far.

When the first scream sounded right behind her, hurting her ears, the horror of it turned her blood to water. Slowly closing her eyes, she fought to breathe and waited, wondering how many of them would die before she did and no longer wanting to watch any of it.

A knife blade at her throat made her eyes snap open again. Harris held it, his face a stiff mask of terror. Tabitha smelled something sharp and pungent, and then realized he had pissed himself.

Behind her, the man who had been untying the rope was dead. He’d fallen out of her sight, but the spray of his blood was all over the back of her head, shoulder, and thigh. It speckled the snow around her like thrown rubies, but Sabretooth was nowhere to be seen or heard.

Manis was shouting orders, getting his men to rally around him in front of her tree. Three of them made it, besides Harris. They bristled with guns, but only the rifles and pistols were left – the nine missing men were the ones that had carried assault rifles and the flamethrower.

Ignoring the shouts of his comrades, Harris muttered into her face, “That mutie touches me, I’ll slit your throat, bitch.”

Eyes full of tears, Tabitha struggled to remain as calm as she could. “He’ll want to kill me himself. If you threaten to beat him to it, you’ll only get hit next.”

“Shut up!”

Manis yelled to him to flank them, to draw his gun, but Harris was frozen in place.

“You should obey him,” she said. “Safety in numbers.”

“Think that mutie’s going to save you? I’ll cut you first.”

“I think he’s here to kill and maybe eat me. You guys are just the appetizer.”

The blade cut shallowly into her skin and she wondered if it wouldn’t be an easier death. At the same time, her pulse was pounding in her veins, the will to fight luring her to blow the man to bits.

No, I can’t … can’t kill… “You’re killing yourself, Harris, not me. You’ll be dead before you can take me out.”

“Die, mutie!” he screamed, and began to push on the knife.

Metal flashed, but it wasn’t the human’s blade. Striking the wrist too fast for her to see the fingers, wicked claws went right through cloth, flesh, and bone. The hand, still clutching the knife, fell to the red snow, sections of the wrist plunking down after it in thick slices.

Harris jerked backward, his remaining hand grabbing the stump. His screams were horrid as he dropped onto his back, writhing.

Bullets opened up, firing right next to her as the massive shape launched from behind her tree. One of them shot him in the head and Tabitha heard the dull clunk of metal as the slug was crushed against his adamantium skull. He turned his head to look at her throat and she saw the slug drop, the skin closing almost before it could.

Twisting back to face the four shooters, he waded into the midst of them, moving so fast that she only saw two more bullets strike his flesh, one tearing into his jeans at the thigh, another in his chest. Two of them died in the same instant after that hit, one under the claws, the other bitten in the throat.

She wanted to look away, but the carnage happened too fast. The last man with a rifle was picked up bodily, his back broken when Sabretooth brought a knee up sharply. Dropping him, he started to reach for Manis, but stopped when the man stuck the muzzle of his pistol against the feral mutant’s crotch.

“Don’t want to lose your dick, do you?”

The tips of Victor’s pointed ears moved, pinning down as he frowned. The long hackles were up and bristling on his body. “Not particularly, but let’s roll tha dice, huh? Think ya can pull tha trigger faster than I can rip yer guts out?” His claws were poised mere inches from the man’s torso.

“It doesn’t have to be like this, Creed. You know what we want.”

“I know ya were gonna let yer dogs climb on my piece – frail’s mine, Manis.”

“The cat isn’t yours.”

“Nope, she ain’t – she belongs t’ ‘erself. I’m gonna open ya up just fer touchin’ foot on my land, though. How’d ya keep gettin’ over tha fences alive? Yer like roaches.”

The pistol was pressed into the denim harder. “It’ll take you time to heal, you bastard.”

“Take it a bit t’ grow back, sure – but I can kill ya without it.”

“We can compromise somehow, perhaps?”

“What – I give ya half o’ tha snow leopard? Don’t think so, chump.”

Manis fell silent, his face growing still. All at once, his finger yanked the trigger back. Sabretooth never did gut him; his other hand shot up and grabbed the side of the man’s throat. With one flick of his thick wrist, he snapped his neck. Jerking his hips to one side, the bullet grazed him, cutting a bloody slice in his jeans.

Laughing, he threw the corpse away from him. Turning to face Tabitha, he noticed the whining and gurgling coward on the snow between them.

“Now fer tha piss-boy.”

Tabitha gulped in a deep breath. “I went nuts, I swear. I went to the kitchen, saw the back door, it just happened, and then –”

“Shut tha fuck up, would ya? I’m busy.” To her surprise, he crossed his ankles and dropped down in one fluid motion to sit Indian-style next to Harris. His eartips lifted – something she’d learned to associate with either focused attention or enjoyment. Grasping the man’s intact wrist, he tore his grip off of the amputated limb and spread the palm open in his hands. “Now, lessee, which o’ these li’l piggies touched my property?” Sniffing the gloved fingers one by one, his mouth stretched into a grin.

“Please don’t,” Tabitha whispered. “He’s already beaten.”

“Anthin’ inside my fence is my prey – hell, who am I kiddin’? Most things outside tha fence are too.”

“You don’t have to punish him for hurting me.”

“Who said I was punishin’ ‘im?”

His meaning came clear slowly in her exhausted mind, punctuated by a scream as his claws sheared away the pinkie finger. The grin pulled wider, his amber eyes locked onto her face.

“Oh, God…” She started to squeeze her eyes shut, but his low rasping voice stopped her.

“Better watch, Tabitha – watch, an’ I’ll stop at ‘is fingers. Close those baby blues an’ I’ll pluck ‘is outta ‘is head an’ stuff ‘em down yer throat.”

She watched, tears streaming, as each digit fell away. When he dropped the maimed hand, she let her chin fall to her chest. The screams stopped with another loud crack.

Rising, he stood before her, head ducking down to sniff at her body, his tongue flicking out to lick away the blood from the tiny cut on her throat.

“Ya broke my lock.”

“Please, Victor…”

“Told ya t’ drop that.”

“Sabretooth – I’m sorry. I won’t –”

“Ya smell like Snyder. Wearin’ ‘is coat, ain’t ya?”

“Y-yes… How did you –”

His arm lifted and he wiped thick strings of saliva from his chin with his forearm, smearing the drops of blood on his face. The long hackles on the forearm were standing up like the rest. “Gotta lot o’ these curs’ stink on ya; I don’t like that, frail.”

“Please…”

“Gonna present ya with a choice: me or yer freedom.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Sure ya do – speakin’ plain English, ain’t I? Ya can act like yer gonna obey me from here on out, or ya can go free.”

She yelped when his claws flashed on either side of her, but only the loops of rope were cut. She barely stopped her knees from buckling as his fingers closed the robe over her chest and then dragged the zipper of the coat up under her chin.

Stepping back, he crossed his arms over his furry barrel chest. “There. Yer loose – which ya gonna pick?”

“You won’t let me go,” she muttered. “You’re lying.”

“Callin’ me a liar; ya got guts, frail – can’t wait t’ play with ‘em.”

Tabitha held her breath and took one tentative step away from the tree, farther away from him. Another step, another, and then she saw the eager hunger in his face, the glowing slits of his narrowed eyes.

“Not lying, worse – telling the truth … just not all of it. If I run, you’ll hunt me.”

“Don’t miss a trick, do ya?”

“You came out here to kill me.”

“I did – I should – but I’m not in tha mood t’ spend what vacation I got left makin’ bombs tha old school way.”

“If I go back, will the original deal still hold?”

“Why not? Ya better start doin’ what I fuckin’ say, though. I’m gettin’ bored with repeatin’ myself. Gotta do it again, I might just put ya on tha menu.”

“I’ll do what you say,” she whispered. Waves of exhaustion came over her, pain and horror twisting her stomach. Before she could brace herself against the tree, she fell forward onto her hands and knees.

“Yer worlds away from everythin’ here, Tabitha, an’ yer life’s a fuckin’ shambles. Ya got no one now, not even that simperin’ Guthrie. Sunk so low, ya still gonna deny it? We’re two fucked up peas in a pod.”

Trying to hold back a sob, she nodded, afraid to argue.

“What was that, frail?”

“Yes…”

“Yes, what?”

“We’re … alike…”

She moaned when his hands touched her, but he didn’t cut her, didn’t break her neck. Hoisting her up, he turned and began carrying her up the mountainside. She couldn’t think, couldn’t feel – and in moments, she simply slipped away, her head falling against his chest.

~ ~ ~

It was the small suite, the bed – and her hair was still slightly damp. What she could see of her skin over the covers was scrubbed clean. The ugly truth of why she was there, why she was still alive, crept up into her throat and burned.

Brys was in the room, just inside the door, but it wasn’t the cook’s stare that was boring into her head.

“Mornin’, Tabitha.”

She winced and looked away from Brys to the open doorway. Creed filled it, arms crossed over his chest as he leaned on the wall.

Brys moved forward and set a mug of hot tea on the nightstand. “Drink this – it’ll help you sleep. You need a little time to heal. I’ll bring you some food later, when your stomach feels more settled.”

“Those men, the hunters – did you know them?” she asked Creed.

“Knew Ron Snyder, yeah, but not ‘is buddy; he actually had permission t’ hunt on my property. Oh, he didn’t have a clue who granted that permission – he woulda been a bit surprised t’ find me alive after seein’ me lose a game o’ Russian roulette. T’ be honest, I’d hafta be all embarrassed an’ shit – always had tha rep that I never lost that game. Then again, tha last witness is dead, now, so…”

“They tried to help me. They were willing to shoot the man who hurt me.”

“Fat lot o’ good that woulda done ‘em.”

“Why did he have permission to hunt here?”

“Ya ask tha weirdest questions, girl. Ran int’ Snyder in Saigon durin’ ‘Nam; we weren’t on tha same side, ‘cept fer one helluva bar fight. Don’t matter much now.”

“Could you … I mean… Please don’t dump them in that hideous hole?” Nervous under his stare, she touched the rope burn marks on her throat with shaking fingers.

With a grunt, he straightened and turned to go. “Hear that, Brys? Pass it on t’ yer boy, huh? Put ‘em out near Faro where someone’ll find ‘em; then their kin can bury ‘em. Good ‘nuff ?” he asked her.

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, whatever.” He stalked away out of sight.

She drank the laced tea when Brys handed it to her, eager to let it take her away from the choice she’d made.

~ ~ ~

In the next two days as she got her strength back, she didn’t see Sabretooth at all. Brys brought her meals to her and would sit and talk with her now and then.

Once, Perrin came to check on her and gave her the news that the hunters’ bodies had been claimed in Faro.

Tabitha had been struggling with the issue of how to survive under Creed’s roof and asked him, “How do you get him to want to be nice to you?”

Without hesitation, he answered, “I obey him and I appeal to his vanity. We’ve told you that before. What we never do, is assume we have any power or sway over what he wants. Brys is a gentle person, but you don’t hear him object if Victor wants to torture someone.”

“Unlike you, practically enjoying it.”

“Believe it or not, most of the people Victor has harmed here have not been good or decent; present company excepted.”

“He’s a monster.”

“I’m quite aware of what he is. A phrase a friend used once about him always amused me: ‘He’s my monster.’ How did the last round of cruelties get started?”

“That morning, when I went into his suite – he told me it ‘wasn’t a good time to be there’.”

“You should’ve listened and walked away.”

“In hindsight, yeah – thanks for the super late tip.”

“I was downstairs and heard some of your insanity. Why in Heaven’s name did you drag up his parents? There are better ways to die.”

Tabitha’s chin lifted. “I believe anyone can change, realize their mistakes and turn over a new leaf.”

“Victor is a psychopathic and sadistic feral, possibly the most unpredictably dangerous mutant alive. Some people are beyond redemption.”

“I can’t accept that. I’m not the person to change him, maybe, but that doesn’t mean no one can.”

“Your Professor X failed miserably; strongest telepath on the planet, isn’t he?”

“How do you know about that?”

“Victor is quite proud of making that man fail. He also told me you keep touching him like he’s your sweetheart. If you want survival advice, stop doing that.”

“Do you love Brys?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t know if I’ll dare to love anyone ever again. I used to love Sam… I’m no June Cleaver, okay, but I prefer to be in love with the person I’m in bed with; it’s a hard habit to break. Even showing honest interest pisses Creed off and I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone as much in my life, but I – I just want to live through this.”

“Start acting like a brazen hooker, then.”

“Um … why?”

“Rumor has it they live the longest in his bed. Oh, sure, now and then he hunts them in the streets in a big city; that’s what he was doing for fun in Vietnam, when he wasn’t busy killing for money. Fact is, high dollar ass is an addiction for the man – the fancier and more expensive, the better.”

“A taste for fancy … like the designer clothes…” Sighing, she slumped. “I’m not fancy – he loves to call me ‘white trash’.”

“You’re one of those X-Men people – that counts as forbidden fruit, another addiction he has.”

“Close, but no cigar. I was just in X-Force, the B team, sort of. How can I manage to be all brazen when he scares me to death?”

“You may have noticed that your fear is an aphrodisiac, too. How to manage? Hasn’t he shown you a few of his tricks? The man is – amazing – when he chooses to be.”

Tabitha thought of how Creed had outstripped any man she’d ever been with and nodded reluctantly. “Hate him or not – he’s as fascinating as he is frightening; I get exhausted trying to process both of those sides of the man at once. One minute he’s trying to choke me to death or starts to brutalize me, the next he’s chuckling, letting me pet him, and having amused snarky pillow-talk chats. Then I keep doing or saying the wrong thing and I get hurt again. I can’t figure out how not to do that.”

“To be blunt,” he told her, “having him want you in his bed is not a development I’ve been happy about. He’s not here that often and I’m quite addicted to his … company. Brys likes you, however, and his feelings matter to me, so I’ll give you a final bit of advice: when you feel stronger, seek him out. Don’t talk, don’t ask questions. Get the man’s attention, and then offer yourself. Don’t worry about showing fear or not – just give him what he wants. It could go a long way toward fixing the mess you made when you cut and ran.”

“No sane person would blame me.”

“Maybe not – but it’s the fast track way to turn yourself into prey in his eyes.”

“You really… You do crave him, don’t you? He called you ‘eager’. It’s not just a survival act?”

Rising from the wingchair, Perrin stretched like a cat and grinned at her. “No one fucks like Victor Creed.”

He walked out and shut her door before she could respond to that. Long after he left, she was still mulling over everything he’d told her.

Laced through her thoughts and fears – and the feeling of being trapped, doomed – was the memory of the pleasure Creed had given her. It couldn’t sway her from wanting to escape him, but at the same time, she had to face a second ugly truth.

I’ve gone crazy, stark staring bonkers – but I want to have that again anyway; if he’s not hurting me. It might be the only way to live to see Vancouver, too. So – do I have the guts? Better find some, Tab. What Brys said, about providing what Creed requires, or I’d end up feeding his bloodlust… God help me, there may be no other way.

~ ~ ~

The next morning, she woke before dawn and slipped into her bathroom to prepare for what was sure to be one of the maddest things she’d ever tried to do. Holding her breath, she pulled on her green bathrobe and went to the closed doors of the master suite.

“He isn’t in there,” Perrin’s voice called up to her from the bottom of the stairs.

Turning, she descended the steps to join him. “Where is he?”

“He went out over an hour ago – hunting with the snow leopard.”

Tabitha walked with him back to the kitchen. Her boots were there; Brys had been drying them by the fire, with the cut socks stuffed inside them. She said good morning to Brys, sat in a chair to put on the socks and boots, and then headed for the back door.

“Ah, where are you going?” the cook asked, worried.

“Hunting,” she replied.

He started forward as if to stop her, but Perrin put a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. “It’s damage control,” he explained.

I doubt if I’ll have to go looking for him – Creed will smell me out here and probably show up pretty quick. She shuddered in the frozen air, wishing she’d brought along Ron’s jacket. At least I’m not limping anymore. Hopefully, I won’t be again, later.

She hadn’t walked past the burn pile yet before she saw him; the snow leopard halted when he did. She couldn’t help staring up at him in the dim light of the rising sun.

He stood there nude, carrying a dead animal over his shoulders by its legs. It was some sort of deer, its cut throat dripping blood on his chest, thighs, and then the snow. Seeing her there, his lips pulled back into a snarl, his amber eyes narrowing. As she watched, his hackles rose.

No questions, no talking, she thought. Trembling from more than the cold, she turned around and dropped where she was, onto her knees. Her hands crunched into the snow and she winced at the sound of his kill thudding to the ground. Think about how good it was before, all the things he did that blew your mind. You have to smell like you want him, Tab… Think about the Danger Room, when you did want him. Stop being terrified, damn it! Can’t watch … oh, shit…

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

The moment he saw her outside, his anger boiled, only to be checked by surprise when she turned and fell to her knees in the snow. Her fear stink was cloying, but as her hands pressed into the frost in front of her, her hips lifting, her posture left no doubt of her intentions.

He dropped the caribou doe and stalked forward. With a hiss, the snow leopard bounded up to the rocks near the burn pile and disappeared into the white cliffs around the house.

Body trembling, the girl tried to keep still. Her scent carried no strain of arousal, but that hardly mattered to him. Going to one knee behind her, his cock already halfway hard at the sight of her submissive and inviting pose, he yanked the robe up to the middle of her back.

A low growl of predatory pleasure rumbled up from his chest, followed by a growing smirk when he realized she’d slathered herself up with the ointment she’d been given to tend to the scratches on her skin.

Without retracting the claw, he slipped a finger inside her slowly, keeping it straight until the tip pierced shallowly into the first inner curve of muscle.

The soft noise of pain she tried to swallow sharpened his lust in a few thudding heartbeats. Just as slowly, he withdrew the claw and sucked the taste of her off of his finger.

Dropping to both knees, hands grasping her hips, he didn’t need to guide himself to her; his erection strained, hard enough to brush his belly before he pushed it inside. His thighs bumped against hers and she fought to remain on her arms, but she wouldn’t be able to for long. Moving one hand under her to press his palm flat against her stomach below the knot of the sash, he pushed up on her smooth abdominals to hold her still.

Sniffing the air as he began to thrust, he growled again at the abrupt surge of her pheromones. The arousal spurred him on harder, his knees splaying to push deeper. Her arms collapsed, but she settled on her forearms instead, pressing her forehead against them. The shift pulled on the head of his cock, the pleasure dragging a hiss from him. He drove into her fast then with short, sharp jabs, intent on his release without worrying about hers, though the sounds she made had turned as warm as her scent.

She gasped when the tips of his claws pricked into the flesh of her hip and stomach, the fear in the noise driving him closer.

Leaning down over her back, his weight making her knees scrape and spread in the snow, he brought his lips to her ear and whispered, “Scream fer me…”

One light nip of fangs on the nape of her neck terrified her into silence, but when he put a bit of pressure into the grip, she gave him what he wanted in a loud bray.

Before the cry ended, his lust gathered and broke. Driving in as deep as he could, he straightened his back and filled her, a savage roar tearing from his throat to echo off of the back wall of the kitchen and the cliffs around them.

He moved the hand on her stomach, his arm clutching her against him as he reared back to settle on his haunches. Dragging her body up until it leaned back on his chest, he let her slide down to sit on his cock. Her weight shoved it deep enough to make her cry out. The other hand slipped fingers into her hair, moving the curls so his tongue could scrape up the side of her neck, over the pulse that pounded in the jugular vein.

“Mmm,” he breathed into her ear, his tongue tip tracing it. Her fear stink exploded again, even while her inner muscles still clenched around his softening cock. “Ya taste even better when yer pulse jumps like a scared rabbit’s. Maybe I’ll just keep ya right here ‘til I’m ready t’ go again.” He chuckled at her whimper, well aware that he was seated too deep inside her and that the pose was brutal on her lower back and shuddering thighs.

Feeling uncharacteristically charitable, he pushed her up off of him and back down onto her hands and knees, allowing their bodies to separate. His cock fell back onto his belly with a delicious wet slap.

Rocking back up onto his feet in one smooth graceful motion, he went to fetch the doe. He hauled it back up across his shoulders, careful to keep the slit body cavity closed against the back of his neck. Passing her, he remarked, “Get yer ass inside before ya freeze solid.”

He wasn’t surprised when the back door opened for him; no doubt, they’d heard them both.

Victor bypassed the kitchen and headed into the back room next to the walk-in freezer. Several shining steel hooks hung from exposed beams in the ceiling, with metal worktables around most of the walls. The concrete floor slanted toward the center to an old steel drain.

Setting the doe to hang upside down on one of the hooks, he brought a wide steel bucket over from the wall and set it underneath to catch the blood. He waited until he heard the skirt behind him to pry open the carcass, letting the organs he’d already severed and saved outside fall with a series of plops into the bucket. She made a small strangled noise and fled from the room as fast as her limping gait could take her.

A moment later, the boy appeared, ready to help. “She’s definitely a city girl,” he commented.

“That li’l gesture outside was yer idea?”

“No. I just gave her a bit of helpful advice on how to get back on your good side.”

Victor snorted. “Figured ya’d be happier if she wasn’t on any o’ my sides.”

“It’s not about what I want, is it?”

“Smart boy.”

Victor sniffed the air, the mix of blood, offal, and arousal spiking his lust again. When he turned and advanced on the boy, Perrin gave ground until his back hit the shelves that held the skinning tools. Without a jot of fear, he turned his head, giving Victor his throat.

Pressing his body into him, his cock trapped against the rough denim of the boy’s jeans, Victor opened his mouth. Fangs dripping saliva, he lowered his head and bit slowly into the side of the smooth-shaven neck, around the jugular and carotid arteries. Carefully controlling it, he pressed his fangs in just a little farther than he had done before.

He felt fingers touch his hips and then move down, but a growl stopped them. Drawing his teeth out, his tongue lapped up the beads of blood before they could drip.

“Sir, did you want your breakfast now or –”

Victor smirked against the boy’s skin as Brys dumped all the fear stink into the room that Perrin had been lacking. “I think we’ll have breakfast upstairs, Brys. Finish this up, would ya, get it skinned, wrapped, an’ hung in tha freezer?”

“Yes … yes, sir. Ah, shall I make up a tray now?”

“Yeah. If tha skirt wants any, make ‘er come down t’ eat with ya in tha kitchen; no waitin’ on ‘er unless I incapacitate ‘er again. Well – worse than just now.”

“Yes, sir.”

Stepping back from the boy, he turned and licked his lips as he left the room, hearing the boots behind shadowing his steps.

~ ~ ~

Victor spent the rest of the morning torturing Vaughn for information about Rothenberg’s raid missions, and then went out to inspect his fences until sunset. He found the cache of climbing equipment right where his prisoner said it would be and shook his head again at the trouble and expense their employer had gone to.

Carting it all back with him, he went up to the second floor armory and dumped it all in a tangled mess on one of the work tables. Not bothering to turn on the lights in the room, he went over to the wall where the armored gear was hanging. Opening one of the vest pockets, he slipped a Kevlar plate out, turning it over in his hands.

The top of the plate was coated with an odd film, almost like a skin of rubber, though it didn’t smell like it. The scent was familiar, however. Vaughn hadn’t been lying, yet it was hard to believe Rothenberg had connections that impressive, even with the evidence lying on his palm.

Taking the plate with him, he locked up the armory and went up to his study. Down the hall, the skirt’s door was closed. With a grunt, he hoped she’d stay in there.

Inside the study, he opened the sliding wooden door a crack and let a sniff determine that Brys had finished readying his suite. Both fireplaces were lit and warming the study and suite, so he didn’t bother with any other lights. Closing the sliding door again, he dropped his coat over the back of his chair and set the Kevlar plate on the desk before pulling out one of the bookcases from the wall.

Pressing his thumb pad on a glass square in the door of the hidden safe, he listened to the clicks as it opened. Passing over bundles of cash and the skirt’s phone and iPod, he fished out his cell phone. Closing the safe, he shoved the bookcase back.

Victor fell into his couch and stretched out. Retracting his claws, he slid the keypad down and speed dialed a very exclusive cell phone. Its owner was most likely in his workshop garage in California.

When the call was picked up, Victor put him on speaker and tossed the Nokia onto Jimi Hendrix’s face on his chest. “Found ‘nother bit o’ yer random tech up here, Stark.”

“Who is – Creed?”

“Yup. Kevlar plates in armored clothes, got yer black gel shit coated on one side – same as tha tires yer boys customized fer me.”

“‘Boys’ I had to fire for taking that project on, Creed. My company is going legit these days, remember – no more dirty dealings under the table. This means you.”

“Aw, yer gonna hurt my feelin’s. Listen up, flyboy – dirty dealin’s are what ya got goin’ on. Meat t’ be wasted outta Seattle – he’s got some toy soldiers that keep tresspassin’ on my land wearin’ yer fancy plates. Tha gel deflects tha lasers that should be cuttin’ neat li’l cauterized holes through ‘em. Sound familiar? So if yer still claimin’ t’ be on tha up an’ up, my guess is, ya gotta few ferrets in corporate sales yet.”

“Where are you?”

“That’d be privileged intel, hero. Don’t worry ‘bout tha meat – I’ll take care o’ ‘im, but ya might wanna check int’ invoices fer Kevlar armor an’ fire some more hooligans.”

“So the armor … you have it?”

“Some o’ it, yeah – lot o’ tha stuff’s in shreds – occupational hazard. Gotta few full sets, though, with tha Kevlar plates an’ yer top secret goop.”

“I don’t suppose you’d send it back?”

“Whattaya gonna do fer me?”

“Creed, damn it –”

“Be a shame if it all got sold on tha black market, huh? Bet it’d fetch a bit o’ shine; ‘specially with yer comp’ny stamp on it an’ all. Ya know what I want, Stark.”

“The Memory Image Inducer.”

“With tha improvements I wanted. Considerin’ I gave ya tha plans fer tha original toy’s Shi’ar tech, not sure what tha hold up’s been.”

“Stolen plans tend to give a guy like me momentary pause. Xavier’s not only a client for security products, he’s also a man I don’t want to tick off.”

“Not like I’m gonna tell tha bastard. So are ya too gutless t’ tinker it t’gether?”

“I believe I said ‘momentary pause’. Those plans produced a bit of drool, to be honest. What on earth is ‘Shi’ar’, anyway? Are they some obscure Japanese company? I like to know who I’m cribbing from.”

“They ain’t on Earth, but I’ll let Chuckles an’ McCoy explain – if ya wanna bring it up t’ ‘em how ya got their plans – yer call.”

“Chuckles?”

“If ya could find yer leak an’ cut off tha high-tech armor goodies goin’ t’ tha pain in my ass, that’d just be cream.”

“If he’s harassing you, I might invite him to dinner, help him design a cape.”

“Heh, yeah; ya wouldn’t want this bloated toad, he ain’t yer type – black hat, all tha way. Matter o’ fact, he’s after me fer stealin’ a cat he was feedin’ with people he didn’t like.”

“Tastes like chicken? That must be some cat.”

“Ya got no idea.”

“You eat people, Creed – I fail to see the shades of gray on this one.”

“We gotta deal, boy – ya gonna keep reapin’ tha bennies from it, or tell me t’ fuck off?”

Victor grinned. Judging by the sounds around the man coming through the phone, Tony Stark had risen from a chair and was starting to pace.

“If ‘yes’ gets you out of my hair and makes the trade happen, then yes, I’ll tinker. Send the armor, the damaged stuff, too – and I’ll finish the improvements on the MII.”

“How ‘bout we remember that we don’t trust each other? Finish it, bring it t’ New York, an’ hand it over t’ Obinata. I’ll ship yer ill-gotten property t’ ‘im. Got it?”

“Fine, fine, you win.”

“I usually do. ‘Sides, ya got nothin’ t’ worry ‘bout – it’s fer recreational use only, an’ in return, ya get t’ patch up ‘nother leak an’ recover wayward secrets. That’s called a win-win.”

“Well, it was a treat chatting with you, but I have to go shower off now.”

Victor chuckled. “Always a pleasure doin’ business with ya, flyboy.” He didn’t bother to sever the connection – Stark had already hung up on him. With a sigh, he frowned and called out, “Eavesdroppin’ ain’t ladylike, Tabitha.”

The skirt appeared in the open doorway in one of Brys’s dark brown bathrobes. Victor did regret missing the moment when she realized her skin and the green robe had gotten caribou blood smeared everywhere after their morning tryst.

Brys had probably been busy with laundry all day, after what he and the boy had done to his sheets pre-shower. The fact that the master suite was once again spotless by the time he got home was a testament to the man’s efficiency.

“Did ya just stop by t’ show off yer new threads?” he prompted her.

“I … wanted to discuss something. I didn’t know you were… You can just call up Iron Man on your cell? How about the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man?”

“Just Stark – got no use fer tha rest o’ those chumps.”

“Wow.”

Raising an eyebrow at her, he sneered. “Don’t get yer tits in a knot hopin’ I’ll ‘change’ just cuz I got that altruistic tin bastard on speed dial. Me an’ ‘im gotta deal goin’ – mutually lucrative in nature.”

“Sam said that Iron Man isn’t selling stuff to people like you anymore, or his company isn’t, anyway. Was that a lie?”

“Havin’ a cape in common don’t make yer precious hayseed an authority on Stark. I happen t’ be in tha unique position o’ lettin’ ‘im know when tha bad guys get hold o’ ‘is toys. Best way t’ get a couple o’ trinkets myself here an’ there, since he figured out Obinata an’ me are buddies. Flyboy ain’t happy ‘bout it, but I’ve been a better whistle-blower than anybody else, helped ‘im outta lot.”

“Wouldn’t that make you a little unpopular at megalomaniac cocktail parties?”

“Ya assume I give a shit ‘bout socializin’ with those morons.”

“All the years you spent in the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants might give someone that impression. Not to mention the Marauders.”

“Gave all that up fer Lent. They’re as bad as Cueball fer chasin’ after stupid social ‘dreams’. Ain’t got no causes, don’t give a rip who’s at war with who, neither. None o’ ‘em are good ‘nuff  t’ take me down, so I got tha luxury o’ not carin’ who ends up on top.”

“So … you don’t have any dreams or aspirations? No clue what you want to be when you grow up?”

“Think yer cute, don’t ya? Yer lucky I’m in a good mood.” Standing up as he clicked the keypad in, he palmed the phone and headed back through the wooden door.

“Um … can I talk with you?”

“Frail, ya wanna go where angels ain’t gonna tread, I don’t give a fuck.” He heard her follow and then she started to slide it shut. “Leave it open.”

Setting his phone on the nightstand, he pulled his t-shirt off and draped it on one of the chairs. He sat in the other chair and started taking off his heavy custom boots.

Needled by her comment in spite of himself, he told her, “Some folks like golf; I don’t. I gotta yen fer killin’, an’ I’m pretty fuckin’ good at it. Figured out nearly a century an’ a half ago that a man has needs, an’ some shit costs money. Stealin’ ain’t as easy as murder, so I decided t’ get paid fer doin’ what I love, an’ then I could get other stuff I wanted. It ain’t rocket science; truth is, I’m a hard workin’ capitalist.”

She tried not to stare when he stood and opened his fly, dropping the jeans to step out of them. His habit of never bothering with underwear seemed to both embarrass and amuse her.

Leaving the jeans on the floor, he kept the band in his hair and grabbed his book off of the table before heading to the bed. When he was propped up on pillows and covered to the waist, she got her tongue back.

“You didn’t show up for meals today. Did you … kill Vaughn?”

“Ya mean did I eat ‘im instead? No. Played with ‘im a bit an’ got some answers, proved ‘em, chased my own dinner on tha hoof. Don’t always hunt in my birthday suit, ya know.”

The skirt came forward and actually sat on the edge of the bed facing him, well within reach. Laying the book on his lap, he crossed his arms over his chest and watched her.

“You can read in this light?”

“Yup; ya gonna start naggin’ me now? Don’t recommend it.”

“I wasn’t.”

“Ya got five seconds t’ say what’s on yer mind; after that, yer gonna be in danger o’ wastin’ my time.”

“I’m sorry for being stupid enough to bolt like that.”

Victor smirked. “Ya already ‘pologized – on yer knees this mornin’. ‘Sides, ya ain’t sorry fer shit, ‘cept that ya didn’t make it outta here.”

She was silent after that. With an odd twinge, he realized he was pleased she’d dared to follow him. It made him frown. Solitude was better – yet he kept seeking out others, whenever the emptiness inside started to get too loud.

“I’m also sorry I called you a liar.”

“I tell tha truth a lot more’n most folks think, girl; it usually surprises ‘em.”

“That’s not the real shock about you.”

“Do tell.”

The return of his smirk made her nervous. Toying with the sash of her robe, she muttered, “Most people I know think you’re … well … stupid.”

Chuckling, he gave her a toothy grin. “Cuz I don’t talk like McCoy, I’m an idiot, huh? They think tha runt an’ Rogue’re stupid, too?”

“N-no.”

“Just me then? No surprise. Most o’ tha time, that suits me fine; ya can get away with a lotta shit when folks think yer an idiot.”

“Those men kept calling you ‘stupid mutie’ all day.”

Grin widening, he told her, “Sticks an’ stones, girl. What counts is comin’ out on top, which is all tha more fun when they’re so fired sure they’re gonna win.”

“Like Manis holding that pistol on you? I was watching and I barely saw it, you moved so fast. He’d pulled the trigger and you killed him before the bullet left the barrel. You didn’t even hit him where he expected you to.”

“Don’t like bein’ predictable.”

“The claws would’ve been faster.”

Victor shrugged. “I like seein’ tha look in their eyes when they step over int’ tha big dirt nap.”

She bowed her head. “Ron and Ben wouldn’t have died if I’d been smarter about my bombs.”

“Yeah they woulda – if they tried t’ take what’s mine. Ya did screw up, though. Ya tap out too fast, throwin’ those things like mad, not makin’ ‘nuff  o’ ‘em count. Prob is ya operate on emotions – let ‘em wind ya up so tight ya end up near useless in short order. Same fuckin’ blindspot tha runt has, always did.”

“He’s a force of nature – I’m nothing like that.”

“Heh, right. I been handin’ ‘is head t’ ‘im fer years cuz he lets me get under ‘is skin. Half tha time, all it takes is threatenin’ one o’ ‘is skirts. Push ‘im over tha red line, make ‘im go so far int’ tha beast within he forgets ‘is own fuckin’ name. Then I got ‘im.”

“Manis wanted to do that to you – that’s why they were going to … take turns… It was to make you so mad you’d get sloppy, or something like that.”

“That’s tha idea – if ya ain’t a flatscan. That’d only work on me if someone like that fancy tin man was jumpin’ me – somebody with balls big ‘nuff  t’ deal with what they set loose. ‘Course, bein’ able t’ fly outta reach would help. Other than that, a red-haze sloppy mad’s just gonna get ya dead. Hell, yer average idiot ain’t breathin’ after tha sawed-off runt gets that torqued. Thing is, if I keep my brains an’ he tosses ‘em out ‘is ear, I gotta sweet openin’ t’ exploit, sooner or later, an’ big ‘nuff balls t’ stay standin’ ‘til it presents itself.”

“Would you … teach me how?”

“Well first, tell ‘im yer gonna gut Red – or one o’ tha kids – never fails.”

“I’m serious – and you know what I meant.”

“Teach ya how t’ use yer power better, how not t’ fritz out so fast? Why tha hell would I do that?”

“It’ll make me more effective in Vancouver.”

“An’ ya keep on lyin’ t’ me.” He watched her, amused that she didn’t back down or simper. “Might be entertainin’. Fuck it – yer on.”

The skirt smiled and tried to sound casual. “Thanks. Pete Wisdom taught me a lot, but I’m still flying off the handle when I’m upset. After seeing how you took Manis out – I mean, I don’t condone … or…”

“Best ya don’t start thinkin’ I need ya t’ ‘condone’ shit I do, frail.”

Her gaze skated away from his, but still she didn’t retreat.

“What’s with the choker? You haven’t taken it off since I got here.” She surprised him by moving closer, her fingers reaching out to his throat.

With a snatch, he caught her wrist, a low growl thrumming in his chest. His ears pinned for a moment. It took longer for his hackles to settle. Drawing in a breath, he said, “Sudden movement t’ tha throat ain’t smart. Safer t’ ask first.” Before she could speak, he put her fingers on the necklace.

“Is it … human?”

“Yup. One o’ Hydra’s goons – snivelin’ li’l bastard, too.”

“Um … why are you wearing this person?”

“Already covered that didn’t I?” A fresh smirk twitched his lips. “I like t’ wear my trophies – tha ones that ain’t too big t’ cart ‘round. Gotta museum o’ sorts upstairs, all kinds o’ nasty goodies.”

Her fingers slid over the finger bones and teeth, pressing them into his skin lightly. “Did you bleach them?”

“Naw. If ya wear ‘em long ‘nuff , shower with ‘em an’ such, they come clean eventually.” When she jerked her hand back, he burst out laughing. “Gotcha.” She jumped again when his phone rang. Reaching to pick it up, he read his banker’s name and grinned. “How tha fuck are ya, Obinata-san?”

The skirt started to get up, until he popped his claws on his free hand and pricked her shoulder with light pressure. With a smirk, he handed her his book. She took it slowly, pretending she wasn’t trying to hear every word.

“Nope, t’morrow is tha earliest I can get there; we’re due fer a storm t’night. Tell Ellison t’ meet me at Gotham Steakhouse on Seymour. I’ll bring ‘is photos, an’ we can hash out tha details. Hey, gotta piece o’ new business: I’m gonna ship some Kevlar plates an’ such t’ ya, fer Stark t’ take in trade. Usual hostage exchange rules, an’ don’t give tha bastard shit if he ain’t got my inducer. Check it first, yeah? Precisely.”

He watched the skirt as he listened to Obinata’s work news. She had found his scrap of a bookmark and was squinting at the page, pretending to read it – though her eyes didn’t move a jot.

“I don’t care when,” he answered the banker, “but if ya can fit one o’ ‘em in between there an’ Nepal, it’d be a better use o’ tha fuel I’m gonna burn gettin’ ‘er there. Yeah, fine, whatever – ya can sort that out better’n me.” He abruptly switched to Japanese at that point, giving the skirt a wink when she looked up at him in surprise. After they discussed things he didn’t want her to hear, he chuckled. “Ya got it. Sayonara.” Disconnecting the call, he put the phone back on the nightstand. “Like BTO preached it, frail, ya gotta take care o’ business.”

“Where are you going?”

“Vancouver, gotta meet Ellison, sort out how t’ get tha cat turned loose where she won’t be hunted.”

“Oh. Is this – I mean, are we going there soon? To blow stuff up?”

“What, ya in a hurry?” Taking the book from her, he set it next to the phone. “Ain’t gonna tell ya when ya get t’ go blow stuff up. ‘Sides, ya gotta get better at it first. We can start after I get back, might be tha day after t’morrow.” His fingers reached out, the claws catching the collar of her robe and tugging it off of one shoulder without slicing the thick cloth or the smooth skin beneath. “Ya gonna be here when I get back, or am I gonna hafta hunt ya down an’ kill anybody who laid a hand on ya?”

She met his gaze, trying not to look at the claws. “I’ll be here.”

Solely to shock her again, he leaned forward and caught her mouth in a kiss, his tongue licking her lips before she parted them. Retracting the claws on one hand, he worked it inside the robe and slid two thick fingers into her abruptly wet heat.

Keeping her mouth busy, largely to shut her up, he set to the job of working her into a panting frenzy just because he could.

Her hands gripped his arms as she used the foot that was still on the floor to turn her body more, to give him better access to her flushed skin. He broke the kiss to take the collar of the robe in his teeth, pulling it away from her breasts until it fell open, pooling at the small of her back.

Breaking her hold on his arms, he brought wet fingers up to her lips. The thinnest tendrils of her lust were almost obliterated when he shot his claws out, still offering the fingers to her.

“Wanna watch ya suck ‘em, girl.” He studied her face as she struggled to make herself obey, waiting until she began to open her mouth, her body trembling with fear, before he retracted them again. Her twitch of fright made his cock wake up. “Do it good an’ I won’t pop ‘em when yer tongue’s slitherin’ over tha tips.”

“Sabretooth … please…”

“Call it a trust game. Suck ‘em … get me ready fer ya – get me hard fer ya.”

Victor growled as she hesitated, and then she swallowed hard. Eyes bright with brimming tears, her lips touched his fingertips, her tongue curling down them, licking her slick juices from his skin. Her body jolted when his other hand claimed her glistening slit, the claws disappearing a breath before he touched her.

Watching avidly, he worked at controlling the urge to pop them all and cut her. When the soft sucking pressure on his fingers got stronger, the bloodlust began to recede as his pulse picked up.

In the instant that he made her come, her mouth turned ravenous, her growing hunger and twining terror making him draw in a sharp breath. Yanking his fingers free, he tore the blankets out of his way and crooked a finger at her.

“Drop that an’ get over here. I’m feelin’ lazy.”

She stood and let the robe fall, but paused before lowering herself back down to the bed. “What … do you want me to do?”

His hand grabbed his cock and jerked it once. “Lick on this instead.” He could see the memory of the dungeon flicker in her widening eyes. “Ain’t gonna need t’ wire yer jaw shut after, though it’s temptin’ t’ do that just cause.”

“You like it rougher than I can get,” she whispered.

“So take tha hustler’s shortcut. Shit, girl, maybe I oughta make ya watch when I play with tha boy; ya might learn a lot. Yer actin’ like a fuckin’ virgin, not tha trollop ya are.”

“Can I have the lube first?”

“No. If I wanted yer pussy, I’d be in it – now suck it – an’ if ya say ‘nother word before I shoot, yer gonna regret it.”

Victor settled into the pillows, still angled slightly up the headboard on them, giving him a fine view as the skirt opened her jaw. Her mouth was soft at first, before she remembered that was a mistake.

Her teeth scraped the shaft just below the head as she attempted to be rough, but then she backed off of it and nearly apologized.

At his raised eyebrow, her mouth snapped shut. “Good girl,” he said, enjoying the angry flush that reddened her skin and enriched her scent. “Give ya a hint, Tabitha – use yer teeth, go nuts with ‘em.”

Again, she almost spoke, and then she glared at him. She moved her head down again, and managed to surprise him when she kept her lips in a tight little open ring to play with the foreskin, making it move and rub back and forth over the glans.

His hips jerked once, a groan torn from his throat. She was quick enough to lean back and move her mouth, before she brought her tongue in to slap and toy with the head. Using one small hand to retract the foreskin back and hold it there, she squeezed it and the shaft, as if she intended to strangle the head. Her fingertips couldn’t touch around it.

Staring up at him, she bit the smooth and already glistening head in a vicious nip, close around his slit. Victor’s claws shot out and pierced the edges of his pile of pillows. With a slow drag into fists, the cloth casing was slashed, letting twin puffs of small white feathers into the air. Keeping the tight grip on his shaft and foreskin, the other hand moved up to assist her mouth. With two fingers, she pulled at the skin to open the narrow slit and licked at the tiny opening. His hips jerked again when her teeth bit a second time around the slit, his thighs splaying almost involuntarily.

She shifted, moved to his side in the center of the bed, and lay close to press the flat of her tongue up the shaft. Finding the large vein that ran up it, she nipped it over and over, all the way up, before popping the head in her mouth again to suck it as hard as she could. She released the foreskin, played with it more and then chased it as it retracted, her tongue digging under it. She drew wet circles around his slit, and then found the frenulum and licked and nibbled it like a pro.

Eventually, the skirt remembered she had permission for other things and set her finger against the tight muscle of his anus. Her fingernail even scratched, teasing, in the shorter golden fur that grew between his ass cheeks. A breath later, she moved the finger, but before she could slick it up between her legs, he growled at her.

“Don’t bother; shove it in dry. Fuck, see how many ya can fit.” Catching her gaze and glaring at her before she spoke, he grinned at the frustration his restriction was building in her. “It’s an invitation t’ make it hurt, frail – ya gonna pass that up?”

One of her little blunt fingernails snagged the skin as she punched the index and middle fingers in. It stretched the muscle painfully and he snarled, which almost made her withdraw.

His hand moved like lightning, the palm slapping down on top of her head, the claws pricking into her scalp through the curls.

“Didn’t say stop,” he told her. When the fingers sank deeper, he hissed. “That’s it … make it hurt.”

Irritated with her feeble attempts to jack him, he released her head and batted her other hand away. Cupping his sack, he pulled it up and grabbed his shaft in the same hand, pumping the whole works hard and fast with a tight grip.

Victor closed his eyes as the skirt’s fingers finally got into the rhythm of being rough and continued to jack himself. His free hand perched on his chest, claws digging in, and when she hit his prostate and kept it up, he gave up thinking about her and let the collection of brutal sensations roll over him.

Moments before he came, he pulled his claws out of his chest and grabbed a mess of short blonde curls. She cried out in surprise when he tugged on her hair, pulling her up and over his hips.

“Give us a kiss,” he rasped at her, and pushed her face down.

The instant her hot mouth enveloped the head of his cock, he filled it, choking her. He arched his back, shoving his cock deeper, the scrape of teeth catching his shout, garbling it into a raw guttural groan.

He released her and himself at once and collapsed against the pillows, his eyes heavily lidded, but watching her through his lashes.

The anal ring muscle had contracted tight again around her sunken fingers and she seemed afraid to remove them. Her other hand had lifted to her mouth to try and catch what she couldn’t swallow.

Amused, he muttered, “Can’t care less if ya get some o’ that on me.” The look on her face made him chuckle. “Go ahead – tell me what a bastard I am.”

Struggling to swallow and then to breathe, she gasped out, “You’re a bastard.” Then she blushed halfway down her neck.

All too aware why, he smirked at her. “Yank ‘em out – we’re all done here.” The grunt and hiss that escaped his lips when she did it almost made a liar out of him. “Seems like ya do awright when I piss ya off. Thought havin’ t’ be quiet might make ya blow up.”

“How can you enjoy that?”

“Ever met a male o’ any species that didn’t?”

“Not that. Stabbing yourself … your chest.”

Sitting up with a huff of breath, he tapped his chest with one clawtip. “Like this?” Punching it into the flesh, he sniffed to catch the sharp tang of her disgust. Drawing it out slow, he watched her as she stared at the healing skin. “They tell me that tha first time I found out what pleasure was, I probly wasn’t in a good situation. Guess mixin’ pleasure an’ pain got t’ be a habit.”

“‘They’ told you? Who’s ‘they’? Shouldn’t you know for yourself? Good or bad, your first time is usually pretty memorable.”

“Ya’d think so, huh? ‘They’ were Dr. Valerie Cooper, Cueball Xavier, an’ Sinister – formerly known as Nathaniel Essex. I like t’ call ‘em, ‘Tha Good, tha Bad, an’ tha Ugly.’ My first’s one o’ those bits stuck in tha mental quagmire; probly in there some fuckin’ where, but who knows? Don’t really give a shit – drop it.”

“Um, it hurts you, though; I mean, you do feel pain. You might call it foreplay, but you obviously don’t always like it.”

“Pain an’ me go way back, frail. Sometimes I want it, other times it’s a bitch. Either way, bein’ as I am, it is possible t’ get a li’l used t’ it after ‘nuff  decades. ‘Sides, like I told ya, conditionin’ myself t’ searin’ pain got me outta some deep shit once or twice.”

The skirt held herself and shuddered. “I can’t wrap my mind around that.”

Victor twisted his upper body, pulled the pillows down and flopped onto his stomach, puffing air to make the loose feathers fly. Looking at her over his shoulder, he said, “Folks that spend their whole life never bein’ hurt – first time it happens, they freeze. Even if it’s minor, they can’t function. That ain’t like ya an’ me, girl. Yer daddy conditioned ya, an’ it made ya stronger.”

Her gaze was hard as she stared back at him. “It was horrid – and wrong.”

“Don’t doubt it – still made ya stronger. Did ya forget lesson one already?” Giving her a wink, he turned his head and buried his face in his arms. For a few rapid heartbeats, his back itched, but he ignored the buzz of instinct that protested turning his back to her.

He felt the heat of her hand over his shoulder blade before she spoke, and smiled. She kept sticking around when getting gone was smarter.

“Do you mind?”

“Don’t fuckin’ care.”

“Am I allowed to leave?”

“Haven’t decided yet.” Frowning when she drew breath for another volley, he growled, ears pinning again. “Shut it, girl. Pet any damn thing ya like, but shut it.”

Victor had nearly drifted off before her hands touched his back. They toyed with the ridge of long fur that ran down his spine between the shoulderblades. It thinned mid-back as it did on his pectorals, and then grew in longer again in a trail to his tailbone. She stroked it as if he was her pet. He was a little surprised when she began to massage the taut muscles of his back. A low growl started up in his chest and the hands paused, but then he decided he really didn’t care and quieted.

She reached for his hair next, gently taking it out of the ponytail. Her fingers ran through it, trying to lay it flat down his back, but the waves of curls defied her.

Voice muffled, he asked, “What tha hell are ya doin’?”

“You said I could.”

“I’m aware – question’s still on tha table.” With a grunt, he propped himself up on his elbows. “Figured ya’d bolt first chance ya got.”

“You hadn’t decided if I could yet.”

“Stop playin’ fuckin’ games, girl. Leave if ya bloody want t’ go.”

“I don’t want to … yet.”

“Huh. Didn’t know ya was crazy. Ain’t ya learned that stickin’ ‘round’s just gonna get ya fucked again?”

“I … want you to.”

With a slight shake of his head, he repeated, “Crazy.”

She stopped stroking his hair and ran her palm down his back, slipping her fingers into the furry crack of his ass in one long motion. The fingers brushed over the muscle he’d let her play with and then the hand moved to his thigh.

“Can I call you Victor again?”

“No.” Suspicious, he rolled to his back and watched her with narrowed eyes.

She came forward and lay down over his body, her hand reaching for the drawer of the nightstand. Fishing by feel, she found the tube and cracked the cap open. Bold as brass, she sat up and slicked his soft cock, nudging it out of the sleep he’d wanted. Getting herself ready spiced her scent with a strain of nervous embarrassment, but the arousal was getting stronger.

Thinking she meant to kiss him, he allowed her to move in close. Then she ducked her head and opened her mouth on his throat.

He set his claws in the middle of her back before her tiny and blunt teeth could close on his skin. She froze, a tendril of fear spiking through her scent. His growl thrummed under her lips.

They brushed him lightly when she spoke. “You don’t want to?”

His voice slid out, low and lethal, “Get yer fuckin’ teeth off my neck, frail.”

She lifted her head to look at him. “I’m sorry; I thought you’d like that.” She moved to kiss him and he allowed it, but the growl wouldn’t stop. “Open your mouth … please?”

“What’s yer game?”

Her tongue slipped out and licked the front of one of his prominent lower fangs. It instantly made him shiver and her seeing that pissed him off.

“You told me I could pet anything I wanted.” As she spoke, her fingers touched his side, caressing gently over his ribs.

“Also told ya t’ lay off touchin’ me like that.”

She pulled up and straddled his hips, pinning his cock against his belly. “I know. Sorry … it’s … I’ll stop doing that.” Dropping her hands to his chest, she flicked her hips, the motion rubbing her pussy up and down his shaft as her weight pressed down. Doing it again, she bit her lower lip and then asked, “Do you want me to stop that, too?”

He dragged his hand down her back, leaving light red scratches on her skin. “Like I said, ya ask tha weirdest questions.” Moving his hands to her hips, he added, “Again.”

Obeying with a small smile, she didn’t stop after one stroke. Between shifting jolts of pleasure, a memory surfaced: a woman, sitting just like that – doing exactly that. Her breasts were larger, blonde bouncing hair longer, and the smile she’d given him had been one of pure wonder without a hint of fear or revulsion.

Victor pushed at ghosts in his mind, weary of those torments and afraid of their power over him. Dispelling them wasn’t easy. His brows knitted, a frown growing that sparked another growl.

“Are you … is this okay?”

He moved all at once, pitching her off of him only to fall over her a heartbeat later. His hands hauled her legs open and he was sunk deep and thrusting before he knew if he meant to kill her or fuck her.

Licking up her neck, he set his fangs to her skin and let them pierce it, his tongue catching the blood as it welled and dripped. The skirt made a soft, high noise of fear that spurred both fangs and cock deeper.

Hunger filled him; it sang in his veins as his jaw began to drop, allowing the teeth to take most of her neck between them.

“Please don’t…”

Lifting his head, drawing the teeth away from her, he levered his jaw back up with a snarl on his lips that displayed fangs. She gasped at the sight of red that smeared them, diluted by dripping saliva.

“Way ya smell, way ya feel – really wanna tear yer throat out, girl.”

“But I … want to help you in Vancouver,” she whispered.

Something in his thoughts, buried deep, shifted. He leapt after it, falling further into the beast within. Senses sharpened, yet the evidence they gave seemed false.

“What is wrong?” The female voice was thick with terror and echoed strangely in his ears.

Victor sucked in a ragged breath. “Tha madness … still there, lurkin’ in dark corners…” He’d spoken to himself, to the ghosts – but she didn’t know that. Confusion tightened his face when he looked at her. Who?

“What can I… Can I do … anything?”

The firelight wavered as a frigid wind outside turned and poured in through the open window. It blew ashes and bright sparks out of the long hearth, swirling them into the air.

“Storm’s comin’,” he muttered. His body fell still, his thoughts clouding.

“Sabretooth … what is it?”

Sucking in her scent, he fought to identify it, and her. She’d been with him: her hair, skin, and her mouth – she had his smell all over her. Tabitha Smith. One o’ Chuck Xavier’s skirts. Ya wanted ‘er fer somethin’…

He shook his head almost violently, the tendons in his neck taut. Blinking down at her, his eyes widened as her features ran in his sight. Another snarl ripped through him as one hand closed over her throat.

Fighting the surge of red, of white in his mind, he reached for anything to stave it off, beat it back. A shudder went through his body and it moved within hers.

Mated… No, I was fuckin’ ‘er – shit, what is that? “Say my name, frail!”

“Sabretooth.” Gasping when his fingers squeezed, she yelped out, “Victor Creed!”

“Ya wanted this … ya still want it?”

“I don’t want to die, but I want … I want you to…”

Slowly, he began to thrust again, coaxing his body to satisfy his lust. His fingers eased, but didn’t leave her throat. Seeing it bared beneath him had abruptly been too much.

“Use my name, girl,” he ordered in a rough whisper. “Need it t’ remember…”

She lifted her legs and wrapped them around his hips, her hands stroking down his arms. “Victor…” Her voice shook, but the word was starting to mean something again already. “Victor … you are … amazing. Fuck me, Victor, please…”

Her tone had dropped into a burst of her own hunger, but he was too far gone too fast to sense if it was contrived. Yet her words reached him, drove him. Knowing the release could bring him back, he chased it, his thrusts growing rough, harsh.

With a burst of scent, wild and on edge, the snow leopard jumped through the open window. Victor gave her a chuffing growl, answered the low moaning noise she made with his own and then bent down to nuzzle the skirt’s shoulder and hair.

Slipping off down the back hall, the cat gave one more moaning call. He answered her, modulating the call into a soothing growl. When she quieted, he heard her find shelter in a dark corner of the dressing room.

“Victor? Is she okay?”

The odd question pierced the riot in his thoughts as the cat’s cries had, and slowly, the tide turned. He didn’t answer her, but tried to pick up his fallen rhythm again.

She attempted to move with him, but his weight was too much for her. Shifting his angle slightly, he listened to her voice speaking his name, the words around it blurring.

When he came, it was a shock. He almost bit his tongue as the heat of it tore through his battered senses. After, he couldn’t tolerate being touched. Withdrawing fast from her body, he rolled to his side.

Panting for breath, he watched her in silence until his pulse slowed. “Ya wanna go, then go,” he muttered.

“Are you going to hit or slice me if I ask if you’re all right?”

“Ain’t awright; I’m a fuckin’ lunatic.”

“I thought … what Wolverine did to your brain stopped that. You don’t need telepaths anymore, either.”

He tapped a temple with his finger. “Don’t need tha glow no more – still gotta stack o’ crazy locked up in here.” With a sigh, he fell onto his back, his hands limp on his chest. Forcing his breathing to slow as well, he closed his eyes.

“Do you know what did it? Was it … me?”

“Aw, hell, girl, I ain’t gotta clue. Play Freud in tha mornin’, huh? I’m wiped.”

“Should I go?”

He turned his head and opened his eyes to look at her. Tears were gathered at her eyelashes, ready to spill. For once, it didn’t please him to see her in fear or pain, or annoy him in general as a show of weak sentiment. His thoughts were lax now; the storm had passed.

“No.” He rolled away from her onto his stomach again.

“Victor? Can I close the window? It’s starting to snow on your furniture.”

Grunting at her, he hoisted himself up. Going to the window, he closed the heavy storm shutters first and then the glass, latching it securely. Stumping back to the bed, he tore the blankets out of his way and flopped into the prone position she’d interrupted.

He twitched when she worked herself under the blankets and touched his back, her chilled body trying to mold against him.

“Sorry, but I’m freezing.”

“Yeah, well, do it quietly.”

Soon enough, to his surprise, she fell asleep plastered to his back. Sleep eluded him for a long time as he hunted through his mind, seeking what had tripped him up, nearly overtaking him.

There were still far too many fragments floating in the quagmire of his brain and now and then one of them would trigger something dark and ugly. Choosing to be what he was didn’t take his power from him, but this threatened to take choice and power at once, and every time it happened, it got stronger.

What tha fuck did ya scramble in there, Chuck? he thought, a random memory of the thin bald telepath making him growl low in his throat, ears pinned. Don’t wanna risk lettin’ ‘nother mind-witch in there. With that inducer, I won’t have t’ get drastic; I can just sort out tha mess alone.

The skirt’s breathing intruded, reminding him that he wasn’t alone.

Came within a lick o’ eatin’ tha bitch, an’ now she’s cuddlin’ up? What tha hell’s it gonna take t’ break ‘er?

 

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

Author’s Note:  BTO is the band, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and Sabretooth is referencing their Takin’ Care of Business song. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, of course, is that famous film starring Clint Eastwood.  Twitter: @MET_Fic  –  Anon

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