Sabretooth: The Hunt – Flipside – Chapter 2 – The Most Dangerous Game

The rabbit and the wolf when they decided to leave
The rabbit and the wolf no longer hiding the seed
The rabbit and the wolf so innocent and wee
The rabbit and the wolf I know it’s hard to believe
Hunted, wanted

The rabbit and the wolf the carnivore and the beast
The rabbit and the wolf the city cries while they bleed
The rabbit and the wolf are tryin’ to make ends meet
The rabbit and the wolf trapped in a dead end street
Hunted, wanted
Hunted, wanted
The rabbit and the wolf

~ The Rabbit and the Wolf (The Picturebooks)

“I am a recovering narcissist. I thought narcissism was about self-love till someone told me there is a flip side to it. It is actually drearier than self-love; it is unrequited self-love.” ~ Emily Levine

“If you expect the world to be fair with you because you are fair, you’re fooling yourself. That’s like expecting the lion not to eat you because you did not eat him.” ~ Pravinee Hurbungs

“There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

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Victor grabbed her raised arm to haul her up. Pulling her over his shoulder, he held her there with one hand as he took off again – traveling by rooftops.

Heedless of the harrowing fall she was risking, she struggled, kicked, and pounded fists on his back. While she obeyed in not sparking fireworks in his face, the shrieks and yelling were impressive – and going to make eluding pursuit difficult. He was willing to put up with the Tarzan and Jane antics, though. After all, he didn’t want to elude her hunters too successfully.

Aiming for a rooftop maintenance shed he knew well, he landed in front of it and dropped the girl on her ass less than gently. Slashing the latest deadbolt, he turned to pull her inside.

Dumbfounded to see her sitting there with a phone in her hand, about to tap a speed dial button that would probably bring the whole stinking X-cavalry around his ears, he moved to snatch it. Before he got there, it exploded out of her hand and the next three slugs fired slammed into his chest.

Roaring when he spotted the shooters scaling up the next building with fancy ropes and gadgets, he snatched up his captive again and bounded away to gain more distance. When she started to scream, he landed a blow on her temple light enough to knock her out, and got back to the business of finding a place to hole up.

Need a playin’ field where tha prey’ll be more comfortable comin’ outta their holes. Hmm… Lower East Side might could work, between tha bridges. Dingier, lotsa dicey alleys ‘round tha outskirts o’ Chinatown an’ such. Perfect. Gonna take a bit t’ get down there, but hey – I do got all night.

~ ~ ~

Victor waited slightly impatiently for his in-flight entertainment to wake up.

All quiet on tha Western Front so far but hostiles are likely en route. Highly amusin’ that my underworld reputation o’ bein’ fond o’ expensive hotels would one night come in handy while duckin’ int’ a tiny apartment hotel – it oughta gimme ‘nuff time t’ reboot tha pipsqueak.

Jubilee was sprawled where he had dumped her, in a shoebox apartment on the bed’s thin hideous floral bedspread. He fully intended to tell her what his nose could still smell on it.

The five story yellow brick hotel with green metal fire escape stairs snaking up the front had a measly two stars and at first glance, it looked like the perfect place to be murdered in. Unless you were used to how this end of Chinatown and the Two Bridges area did things, you’d never realize the jumbled storefront displaying colorful plastic tourist trash was actually the entrance to a hotel.

Bunch o’ Midwest racists an’ a Russian ain’t gonna know this area. It’s perfect, but tha cleanin’ fee is gonna be fucked – sans lube.

Victor had gotten in via the roof, through the window at the fire escape. Out of respect for a building built in 1900, he’d used a claw to slice the lock rather than cutting the glass on the window. He’d locked Jubilee in, and then strolled downstairs to steal the apartment key once the clerk went off to use the john. The old man seemed half blind to him, so he utilized his dusty Mandarin forgery skills and scrawled in the ledger that Mr. and Mrs. Tony Edwards had booked the unit.

Tony won’t mind me usin’ some o’ ‘is name fer a good cause – savin’ a child an’ all.

Tucking cash under the ledger was an old trick – so that the man would be too fussed about forgetting to put it away properly to worry about the fact that he couldn’t remember what Mr. Edwards and his lovely wife had looked like. A little touch of guilt like that could go a long way for incidental security, if Hydra did happen along to canvas the place. The actual cash he got out of the till, since he hadn’t brought any.

Glancing around, he felt a twinge of guilt himself. He’d never cared about theft, but he preferred it to be a white collar crime when he did it. This place and its people were not rolling in money, and if his hunt went well, it would be expensive to fix the room in his wake.

Suck it up. Yer an asshole – just livin’ tha dream. With a grunt, he made a mental note to have Lenusya settle things later and carted the key upstairs.

Back in the apartment, he opened a small bottle of water and sacrificed it and the sad little peanuts packet to his healing factor. The bullets in his chest had healed over as lumps, but he ignored them for now. Making her watch him cut them out was sure to be a good time. Opening the window a crack, he leaned his hip on the sill and kept watch through the green railing bars of the fire escape.

Not bothering to look at her much until she began to wake, he ignored the pathetic attempt to feign sleep. Is that some lame survivalist bullshit those morons teach upstate? Tabs tried it, too.

Noting that she was not in a uniform, he winced at her crippled fashion sense. She wore athletic workout tights with a crazy multi-color geometric pattern that clashed so triumphantly with the bedspread, it hurt his brain. Converse All Star High Top tennis shoes finished off that end. For some reason, they were bright red with yellow smiley-face wide laces. Keeping with the smiley-face theme, a big one covered her yellow t-shirt, the circle drawn in black. Her wide red belt, made of plastic, had little hidden zippered pockets. Her destroyed phone had been kept in one. Others held a little cash, some kind of candy gum, and a fruity-smelling lip gloss. She wore silver dollar-sized gold hoop earrings that actually looked expensive and faintly smelled like the runt.

Wonder which year anniversary o’ bein’ a sidekick rates gold? Ya oughta put yer toys away proper, fireplug, or somebody might could scarper off with ‘em. That’d be a damn shame, huh?

The rest hadn’t changed much, even if she was a smidgen taller; she was still a short Chinese punk kid with messily cropped and gooped black hair. Unlike Tabitha, it was harder to tell if this one had hit puberty or not but mutant talents said yes. Despite her ancestors, he knew when the peepers fluttered open, they would be mutant blue.

He had once asked Cueball’s resident Dr. Frankenstein, Henry McCoy, why so many mutants were born with blue eyes, but he hadn’t gotten much of a sensible response. Once the thirty-two dollar science words had been piled high enough, he had ceased to pay attention. Whitecoats were useless for getting a straight answer.

Mostly wanted t’ know why mine abandoned blue for Pa’s amber – but tha real question is, why were Pa’s like that at all? He sure as shit wasn’t no mutant – latent genes or not, McCoy, ya bloody crank.

Growling, he focused on the psychedelic pipsqueak to escape old and endless circles that simply didn’t matter anymore.

The growl popped those baby blues in a hurry, and Victor regretted not having the foresight to be looming close to her instead of across the small bedroom. He was about to fix that with a threatening swagger, when a scent outside caught his attention.

Crouching down, he sniffed at the breeze coming through the window opening. Fingers poised on the faded blue denim over his thighs, he listened. Satisfied that he could take this one without alerting the others, he turned his head slowly to freak the kid out as he glared at her.

“I’m goin’ out there t’ snag us an idiot t’ satisfy my … curiosity.”

Rising, he crossed the room and grasped the phone from the nightstand, lifted it to show it to the girl, and then crushed it into a sharp and flaking plastic ball.

“Gonna need ya t’ stay right where ya are an’ keep shuttin’ up. If’n yer ass moves more’n two feet offa that bed fer any reason, I’ll hafta teach ya t’ mind me better tha next time. Ain’t nowhere t’ run, shortcake. Place is crawlin’ by now an’ they all seem hot t’ pop ya in a sack. Ya get that, don’t ya.”

She had huddled up against the headboard and scrunched herself into an upright fetal curl, with a pillow clutched in front of her. Staring at him, she nodded.

“Smart. Sit tight – yer Uncle Victor’s gonna be right back.”

He returned to the window, opened it and slipped out, looking back once to toss the kid a wink. It was an even split shot that she would obey this time. Either way, he would handle it.

The heat had let up a bit, but it was still downright balmy on the streets and his prey was sweating like mad in oversized clothes and coat with bulletproof gear underneath. She was hiding the gun, but he could smell a lot of metal.

Scenting everything around him, ears up and open, he followed the woman. The prey was moving down Catherine Street studying the storefronts, and it looked like she was actually going to check the hotel.

So at least one o’ ‘em ain’t deeply stupid. Right on time, bitch – lucky short straw.

Slipping around unseen as she got closer, he crouched and sprang, wrapped her in his arms and fell with her into the dirty street. Pressing her under his weight almost knocked her unconscious, but a quick light punch to the head finished the job. Without hesitation, he hoisted her up over one shoulder and used claws to climb the front of the hotel to the fire escape landing on the top floor. Crossing to his window, he opened it and with a bit of effort, stuffed his catch through.

“Oh, geez…” the kid muttered.

“Got me a brandy-new respect fer Santa Claus now, tell ya that. Shit, bitch – how much armor an’ crap does a gal need, huh?”

He lifted her again and tossed her to the bed, nearly dropping her on top of Jubilee. He was impressed at her skill in getting out of the way while not leaving the bed as ordered.

Yanking the long coat open and shredding the shirt and pants, he whistled softly at the high-tech body armor under it and the bulky bullpup automatic rifle cleverly strapped to hang under her arm.

“Tavor X-95 419, Israeli,” he told the kid. “Stupid thing t’ lug ‘round a burg like this.”

Cutting a strip of coat and wadding it up, he stuffed it into the woman’s mouth, chuckling when she woke in the middle of the procedure, wide-eyed and flailing. “Yeah, wake up, cunt. Time t’ sing – after I get ya outta all this turtle shell shit.”

Hydra’s latest and greatest tactical armor still split like clotted cream under his claws. She fought, but he barely noticed. Slicing and finally breaking the armor off, he tossed it all to the floor on the window side. Her hated Hydra uniform and boots hit the floor after it. When all that was left was bra and panties, the kid got up off the bed and began to back away, her fingers reaching for the lamp on the nightstand.

Victor looked up and hissed, freezing her in place. “Two feet, kid – don’t test me.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Find out why they’re after ya.”

“She can’t talk with clothes on? Why do you care anyway?”

Ears pinning, Victor snarled. “Shut tha fuck up, huh? I’m workin’ here.”

One tug had snapped the leather straps when he’d stripped her. He used the leather as a handle, rifle dangling, and set it business-end down between the bed and nightstand. On the opposite side of the bed, lamp forgotten, the kid had practically stuffed herself into the other matching narrow space. She had ducked her head and covered it with her arms.

Odds are my reputation’s got tha brat’s head poppin’ with tha possibilities, here. I’d hate t’ disappoint. With a snort of amusement, he leaned low over the prey, on his knees on the bed. “Gonna pull yer gag. Make any noise that ain’t tellin’ me what I wanna know, an’ tha next thing I slash open will be yer skin.” Pinching the wad of her coat in fingers topped by shining claws, he drew it out of her mouth in horrid slow motion. “There, now. Why’re ya roaches here, why ya want tha kid?”

She tried to recite name, rank, and service number, but he interrupted by cuffing her on the ear with the back of his hand.

“Don’t care ‘bout who ya are, what ya are is bad ‘nuff. Why ya tryin’ t’ pop tha brat in a gunnysack?”

“Orders.”

“Tha Fixer’s orders? Paul Ebersol?” One clench down of her teeth and a subtle shift of her expression told him that was a yes. This bitch is so easy, gonna get bored fast. ‘Sides, don’t really care why they want tha brat, she guessed right, there – long as they want ‘er ‘nuff t’ keep comin’. Need tha Fixer, though. Will killin’ ‘is troopers flush ‘im out or make ‘im bolt? “Let’s up tha stakes before I get bored, huh?”

Victor swiped a claw under the little strap that connected the bra cups. All that heaving breaths action made the cups spring away. She was nicely framed by the coat that was still spread under her pale body. When she made no attempt to cover herself with hands or arms but tried to grab his wrists instead, he felt a grudging respect for her guts and sense of priorities.

Just makes me wanna see those guts too, natch.

Feeling eyes on him, he flicked his gaze over to see the kid glaring up at him. A wicked smirk spread his lips thin as his ears rose, excited and ready to play. Looking back at the breasts, he hissed.

“What a set o’ tits, dee-licious in two ways. Somethin’ t’ aspire t’, huh? Once ya finally outgrow yer Itty Bitty Titty Committee membership? Awright, so much fer fussin’ ‘bout minors bein’ present. I wanna see if’n tha fascist carpet matches tha drapes.”

Slapping a palm over the woman’s mouth, he cut skin when he cut away the panties. The sharp scent of blood wound him up worse than he already was, and he spent a little time getting more of that tasty smell in the air until she was bleeding from dozens of tiny yet deep cuts. Removing his hand, he grinned at her as she panted for breath under him.

“Nice match, I ‘preciate a neatly trimmed slit hedge. Who’s yer commandin’ officer? Yer team, platoon, whatever tha fuck ya call it – name yer plat-daddy an’ I’ll stop carvin’ on ya. Deal? Is it that Russian fucker, Revilo Timchs? Yeah? Now we’re gettin’ somewhere. No ID, no insignia, so this is some kinda ultra-sneaky mission, more’n usual, even. Still in uniform underneath, though. Huh.”

Studying her, the mere sight of nude bleeding prey was an awful temptation. He wanted to fuck and he wanted to tear her up – and the way their chat was going, he wouldn’t get much more out of her.

Odds’re good that she dunno nothin’ o’ worth at all. Timchs might – got good intel he’s one o’ Ebersol’s fave field grunts these days.

He reached out and stroked up her inner thigh with the pads of two fingers, claws flexed back to merely scratch thin pink lines. She hid her terror well – but that was a mistake. It pissed him off.

“Tell ya what, suck on this.” She tried to scream when he shoved the wad of coat back into her mouth. “Ya dunno shit, do ya? Nope, ya don’t. That means ya only got two uses left.” He licked at the saliva that had begun to drip from his fangs. “Kid, keep yer head down, lessen ya wanna broaden yer education.”

In rapid succession, he snapped the woman’s elbows and wrists, and then leaned back to break her ankles. The body under him bucked and thrashed, moaning around the gag.

“Stop it, what are you doing!”

“Ya move or scream, an’ I’ll break ya next.” He got up off the end of the bed and opened his jeans, laughing when she gasped and hid under her arms again. He tossed his jeans at her casually, smirking when she kicked at them with one tennis shoe. Hauling off his t-shirt, he threw it onto a chair. “Told ya don’t look, an’ I bloody meant it – cuz I’m ‘bout t’ color outside tha fuckin’ lines on this meat stick. Hoo yeah…”

Reveling in the horror on the prey’s face, he quickly forgot about the brat. Too impatient to play games, he fell over the bleeding body and made it bleed more. The legs tried to kick, the feet moving strangely on broken ankles. Yanking them open, he crawled up until he could shove his cock inside it.

“Fuck,” he ground out, and hissed. “Tight as a vise, damn. Gotta call ya Janet, now. Ya a virgin? Is this a deflowerin’? Golly, I’m honored. Hope ya taste as good as tha pussy feels…”

He bruised the large breasts in his hands, letting the claws cut in. Her struggles increased, ramping up his excitement. Bowing his long back, he set fangs to her shoulder and bit, then moved his head and bit a breast. Leaning his head on her chest, he gripped her hips and thrust harder. Just before he came, something thick inside broke with a sharp snap. Snarling, he sank his fangs into her throat and shoulder, and the moment he shot his cum inside the body, he let his weight come down and heard the spine break. Buried fangs was all that allowed him to control a roar of triumph.

Still thrusting for the pure sensation of it, he bit down harder and tore things when he closed his jaw and pulled his teeth free. Shearing up the meat, the carnassial teeth crushed bits of bone with it. He swallowed it all before biting in again for more. He couldn’t recall exactly how long the muffled screams had continued. It hardly mattered beyond his preference to hear them, full-throated and braying, echoing around him as he fucked and ate at once. Having to prevent that was always a damn shame.

When the body began to cool, he withdrew and straddled the hips on his knees to get his claws at the bruised and bloody torso. The meat was good – as sweet as the pussy had felt. He ate his fill, sampling the prey all over. Before he finished, he moved down and licked and sucked his seed from the cooling slit.

In the end, the only thing that made him stop was the rapidly dropping temperature of the corpse. He got away from it before the bladder and bowels released, and only then, with the claws on his toes snagging in the cheap carpet, did he finally register the fear stink and gulping sobs from beside the bed.

Snarling at it instinctively, he abruptly shook his head. Retreating to avoid the urge to kill it, he backed up to the window and perched on the narrow sill again. The beast within was sated, but still hyped up from the thrill of the blood.

On impulse, and needing the distraction, he turned the claws on himself and went after the bullets healed inside his chest, going by feel and scent. Working on regaining his calm while he did it, he stared at the torn red thing on the bed. As the bloodstain under it grew, it slowly obscured the ugly bedspread.

Well, that’s a mercy, anyhow.

~ ~ ~

The bright moon opened the world before him, as inviting as the corpse on the bed had been before it died.

Victor knew that humans and most mutants saw only the inky black of night, but for him it was peeled away to reveal a muted and precise beauty. The city was laid bare around him outside the window – but it wasn’t empty. Three figures moved with stealth through the concrete jungle, maybe 200 yards away and approaching down Catherine Street. He could hear a dozen more beyond them; the scent of metal, composites, and gun oil was thick around the squad of troopers.

Smells like tha whole party’s totin’ X-95 toys. Weird pick fer a buncha modern Nazis. Gotta sniper in tha mix too, I bet. I would, if’n it was my game plan.

Fear stink and sobbing sounds still filled the gap on the other side of the fouled bed. The small body stuffed between bed, wall, and nightstand hadn’t moved much, ever since he’d finished with the toy and convenient meal, after it died. The rival musk scent on its – her – skin was faint, but it still had the power to roil in his gut and make his fingers ache to pop claws again.

“There’s more o’ ‘em comin’,” he told her.

Her voice shook. “Rot in Hell, dude.”

Victor turned his head to look at what little of her he could see and smirked. “She tried t’ shoot ya, Short Round. I dug bullets outta my chest that are livin’ proof that ya owe me one.”

“You did … that … to her, alive… Then you killed her and … kept doing it… You ate…”

“So ya went an’ looked – color me surprised. Wasn’t tryin’ t’ kill ‘er, mostly cuz I wasn’t done yet. Pelvis an’ spine snapped.” He shrugged. “It happens.”

“Oh my god, shut up. Why did you do it!”

Snarling, he rounded on her. “Ya bloody fuckin’ know why ya pissant li’l useless mascot. Those assholes shot me fer savin’ yer wretched hide. Maybe ya’d learn t’ be more grateful if’n I shoved tha crushed bullets up yer ass with my foot, huh?”

She crumpled, sobbing harder. One defiant middle finger attempted to keep up the tough gal façade as she pressed her forehead back onto her knees.

Runt’s adopted cub or not, still a cub – technically… Fine. Victor growled and tried again. “Gotta eat so’s we can survive all tha hell fallin’ on us. If’n ya spot a steakhouse or a herd o’ antelope in tha john, lemme know. Otherwise, there’s just this bitch … an’ ya.”

“I hate you.”

“Yeah? Well be quiet doin’ it, cuz if’n tha whole mess o’ ‘em find us before I fig out our exit strategy, this sitch’s gonna be an even bigger clusterfuck.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Helpin’ ya?”

She glared up at him as she tried to regroup. “Why save me from them?”

“Ain’t none o’ yer fuckin’ biz why.”

“It’s all a game to you, isn’t it? You’re going to kill me. You hate Wolvie, so you hate me.”

“‘Wolvie’?” His ears pinned in disgust. “He puts up with that cutesy shit?”

“I was like thirteen, ‘kay?”

“Ain’t now, are ya? Didn’t jump in fer ‘Wolvie’. Fer ‘im, I woulda torn yer guts out by now, worn ‘em like a feather boa an’ gone off t’ see tha Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

Victor rose and turned away from the window to face her, allowing the claws to slide out slow and curl long as he walked around the end of the bed.

With a gasp, she hid her face against her knees again, her thin arms hugging her legs.

“We gotta go, kid. Hafta keep ahead o’ tha hunters. I don’t like playin’ prey one bit, but we need some space before we can turn tha tables on these bastards. Get up.”

“Get dressed,” she snapped back.

Her voice was muffled as she hid from his blood-streaked nudity. His fur was matted with gore and his dick, still at half-mast but hooded again, was smeared with a red and white mess.

Chuckling, Victor advanced on her. “Dunno how ya ended up all delicate after playin’ sherpa t’ tha runt fer years. That asshole can’t keep a set o’ clothes on ‘is stump-ugly carcass. Pants. Right there. Toss ‘em over, lessen ya want me t’ come an’ get ‘em.”

She groped blindly around her, grabbed his jeans, and tossed them in a wad over his clawed toes.

He pulled them on, shoved his bloody dick in, and fastened the buttonfly. “Time t’ go.”

The girl looked up again timidly. “What about her?”

“What ‘bout ‘er? Ya wanna bury ‘er in a fifth floor $190 a night hotel flat? Ain’t talkin’ ‘bout a goldfish, li’l girl. This bitch won’t flush.”

“Aren’t you killers at least worried about evidence?”

“I been leavin’ a trail in my wake since before ya had such a long list o’ presidents in this country. Whenever they have managed t’ catch me, they’ve tried t’ kill me. I been lynched, shot, fried, injected, ya name it – none o’ that shit sticks. Tha methods that might could work, they done put on tha ‘cruel an’ inhumane’ list, didn’t they? So they settle fer lockin’ me up an’ throwin’ away tha key. Ain’t no flatscan prison ever built can hold me.”

Jubilee glared up at him. “That’s a person, not a blowup doll Happy Meal! Somebody’s daughter, mother –”

“Somebody’s Hydra stormtrooper – fascist meat. Ya comin’ or would ya rather wait ‘til my handiwork starts t’ bloat? In this heat, it’ll draw flies. They’ll lay their eggs right in there, ya know. Left ‘em plenty o’ spots t’ choose from. Gonna be a regular maggot daycare.”

The girl moaned, lurched forward onto hands and knees, and threw up.

Victor laughed. He thought about taking the weapon, but then opted to destroy it instead. Strolling back around the bed, he pulled his t-shirt back on and fetched the rifle out of its corner. The claws cutting through the wretched brute sounded awful, and he pinned his ears down in self-defense.

He didn’t bother to toy with her over it as she watched in shock. Heavily armed troopers were on the move out there, and a dozen or so of them might be a real challenge – it happened, now and then.

As he moved back to the window, he tossed a taunt over his shoulder, “Anytime yer ready, Jubilee.”

She wiped her mouth on the hanging askew bedspread and refused to look up at the mess on the bed.

Climbing through the window like she’d done it a million times, she balked when he offered his hand, the claws retracting slowly as she stared at them.

“Puh-leez, I can get down a fire escape without assistance, dude.”

“We ain’t goin’ down, we’re goin’ up. Ever heard tha phrase ‘ride tha tiger’?”

“Not my scene. I like bubblegum. This is under duress, got it?”

“Sure – or ya can try fendin’ fer yerself again, but it didn’t go so good last time.”

“Just so we’re clear.”

“If’n ya planned t’ stand here yammerin’ an’ bleatin’ all night, why come out so docile?”

Her temper flared with her volume. “Docile? Oh, when I go docile, I’ll be dead.”

Ears pinning, he hissed. “Remindin’ me o’ my options may not be so smart just now.”

Glaring at him, she couldn’t hide her fear. It soothed his irritation. Watching him, her thin shoulders slumped a hair.

“I needed out of there. And … I don’t want to be shot or gunnysacked.”

Fingers hooking in his front pockets, his smirk began to stretch over his face. “They say it’s all ‘bout tha devil ya know.”

“Nobody in their right mind would call you a lesser evil.” She crossed her arms over the smiley shirt and glared at him.

Victor sighed. “Depends how cuddly they are with Hydra. We done bondin’ here?”

“Fine. Duress squared.”

Sneering at her, he turned and went down on a knee on the grating of the fire escape, offering his hands again. “Climb up an’ hang on, shortcake – ya don’t gotta worry ‘bout a thing with me – ‘cept me.”

He chuckled at the mincing way she tried to climb up piggyback, yet how she readied herself told him she’d done this before, too.

“See? Nice an’ docile.”

“Docile and traumatized are different things. You’d know that if you cracked a dictionary, like, ever.”

“Bet yer at tha head o’ yer class an’ all in mutant guerrilla fighter school, ain’t ya. Tutor me later, huh? Tick, tock. An’ quit wrigglin’ back there. Ain’t no pony ride at tha pettin’ zoo. Shoulda tinkled before we left.”

“Ugh,” she complained, as her arms were smeared with the blood on his neck and chest as she got her grip settled. “You are so gross.”

“Messy eater,” he quipped, “always was.”

She managed to stay on and not screaming this time as he carted her around was a bonus. He kept track of the scents of the enemy as he jumped over Catherine Street to a few connected rooftops and loped along them, parallel with Madison Street.

Gonna be a challenge t’ hit tha right mix o’ not too well hid an’ not caught in a trap. Dunno Ebersol that well, only met tha arrogant Ohio prick a coupla times. He wasn’t nothin’ but a bit player then – how’d he climb up t’ division head o’ Hydra’s pencil-neck geek club? They must be gettin’ desperate. Speakin’ o’ desperate, why chase a B-team firecracker? Lessen they want leverage over tha runt, she ain’t worth much.

He kept to the more grimy backstreets closer to the Manhattan Bridge once he abandoned the rooftops. Stopping for a breather when the kid was about to fall off, he took cover in an alley near Market Street and let her slip down onto her feet. He was too amused to fuss when she used the back of his t-shirt to wipe blood from her arms and hands.

“You’re trying to passive-aggressive rip my arms off, right?”

“Quit yammerin’ a minute, gotta listen.” When she opened her mouth again, he put a hand over it and used it to shove her into the bricks of the building behind them – relatively gently for him. Fuck, they ain’t that far back. “They put a tracker on ya?” Removing his hand, he glared as she spluttered.

“Ow. No, I don’t think so. I mean, sniff me – unless they tossed one from twenty feet, no way.”

“How’d they get on yer six?”

“Um…?”

Victor growled. “Ya were window shoppin’ – then ya were runnin’. How’d it start?”

“Oh. I saw their reflections in a shop window and bailed – I mean, I can spot trouble quick by now – when it doesn’t drop on me out of the sky.”

Ignoring her disgusted huff, he did scent her, leaning down as he did it. Nothing was unusual, and if she’d had a tracker on her clothes, he would have smelled it in the hotel.

“Gettin’ paranoid,” he muttered.

“Getting?” she asked, eyebrows shooting up.

Straightening to tower over her again, he huffed out a breath. “Original threat still stands: ya hit me with fireworks or try t’ blind me with ‘em, yer gonna get broken.”

“I actually remember that, dude – it was pretty vivid.”

“Shut up.” He scented the air again as strategic options popped in his head. “If’n we get in it deep, yer gonna pop tha damn things at ‘em, got it? Be useful – convince me keepin’ ya breathin’ is worth tha trouble.”

“Maybe I’ll just use my powers if it benefits me – against them, I mean,” she amended fast as he snarled at her. “But if they corner me, shoor – I’ll let them have it.”

“Sit tight, I’m gonna go even tha odds a bit.”

“I can’t promise I won’t try to run like hell, dude. You do not have my best interests at heart.”

Moving away from her, he glared back once. “Keep in mind, I can track ya – ain’t no gettin’ away from me, kid. Stick ‘round an’ I won’t let ‘em get ya. If’n yer an idiot an’ they do pop ya in a sack, maybe I’ll get bored an’ let ‘em have ya.”

Grinning, he winked at her and began to sing in an off-key baritone as he walked off around the corner and out onto Market Street. “Bye, baby buntin’, daddy’s gone a-huntin’, gone t’ get a rabbit skin t’ wrap tha baby buntin’ in.”

Victor climbed back up to the rooftops the moment he heard her move. Tracking her was easy. She didn’t utterly suck at moving quietly, but the candy in the belt and the product in her hair were beacons to his nose. On the other side of the chessboard, the troopers were on the move, too. He hadn’t caught Timchs’s scent yet or Ebersol’s.

Lackey tastes pretty good in a pinch. Just gonna hafta spin tha bottle ‘til I’m facin’ what I wanna suck on.

Peering over the edge as his current roof was bisected by another alley, he crouched and watched as four troopers pounced and surrounded the brat.

He glared when the fireworks burst from her hands. This scrap wasn’t considered a powerhouse by any means, but she’d held her own against him during one of his brief escapes from Xavier’s dungeon when their power grid had gone down. Like any pyro or energy blasting types, plasma incendiary mutants had never been his favorite flavor to tangle with. The threat of fire was a serious one.

They’re usin’ harryin’ fire – not tryin’ t’ outright kill ‘er. So they want ‘er alive. Good t’ know. With a roar, he jumped in front of her and watched the guns rise to shoot him. “Blind ‘em, kid!”

Victor was surprised when she obeyed fast, and his laughter rang out around them as he used that opening to bloody advantage. It was a bit disappointing that it was only four of them, but he couldn’t really complain.

He leaped on the closest one, dropped his jaw, and bit off the face, partially crushing the skull as his teeth tore the skin away from it. Instantly, it worked – shocking and devastating the others so intensely that they were slow to engage. Only one of them even managed to fire a weapon at him. Easily dodging the bullets with twists of his body, he reached out and grabbed the Tavor assault rifle and yanked it out of the man’s hands. Twisting his torso and bringing the weapon around, he opened fire with it on the next trooper.

Head shot. Golly, guess helmets ain’t in tha budget.

The armored body fell at his feet. Ducking down to avoid more bullets, he grasped the ankles of the corpse’s boots and hurled it up, swinging it through the air. It struck the shooter and knocked him to his back. Dropping the body, he jumped on the one he’d mown down and slashed claws across the face, throat, and chest. The armor and clothes may as well have been tissue paper.

Shoving his fingers into the chest plate, he picked that corpse up like a bowling ball and turned to grin at the last one still standing. The fool froze for a moment, and then bolted for the top of the alley. Letting the pierced one fall, he loped after the prey, reaching with long arms to swipe at the legs as it ran. Screaming, it stumbled and crashed into the dirty concrete at the end of a trail of slices of its flesh, some still with slivers of armor stuck to them by blood.

“No! Please, no, don’t – I didn’t –!”

Claws slashed and opened the back, grasping and tearing the armor away. He rolled it as he followed it down, biting and gouging with feet and hands – until it stopped wiggling.

Growling, he turned his head slowly to stare balefully at the kid. As he rose, he wiped blood and long strings of saliva from his mouth with the back of his wrist.

She lifted her hands to threaten him and the growl sharpened into a snarl, lips pulling back from the teeth. Lowering her hands, she retreated, almost crying out when her back struck and rattled the metal grating of a delivery door.

Victor stalked back to her. Hearing the gurgle of blood in a throat, he looked down at the one he’d bitten first. “Well, well – lookie here, a survivor. Losin’ my touch.” With a shrug, he left it as it was and began collecting the weapons. He destroyed them with his claws, dropping the pieces over the messy parts of another trooper. “Good work by tha by,” he told her as she stood there shaking. “Impressive reflexes with tha firepower – did tha runt teach ya that?”

“How could you!” the brat shrieked at him, frantic and shrill. Her little fists clenched and struck the metal.

Ears pinning, Victor’s eyes narrowed. “Yer kiddin’, right? Ya do know who yer fuckin’ runnin’ with here? ‘Sides, fer all ya know, they wanna shove a stick up yer nethers an’ roast ya. I beat a motherfucker with another motherfucker t’ save yer skinny ass. A li’l gratitude wouldn’t kill ya – but I might, if’n ya don’t learn t’ stay put when I say stay put.”

She slowly wilted as she took in the dripping red claws and fingers, the blood-splattered feet. Scarlet was smeared over his face and sprayed over his clothes and up his arms.

With a snort, he began to walk off. “Better. Silence is golden, pipsqueak – duct tape is silver. C’mon.”

In a broken little voice, she whispered, “Please don’t leave him like that.”

“Thought ya didn’t want me t’ kill ‘em?”

“He can’t survive that. He’s … suffering.”

“Good.” Victor watched her, glowering. “Wanna give ‘im ‘is face back? Ain’t gonna fit right with ‘is skull all dented up.”

“Please?” Tears shimmered in blue eyes.

Like Tabitha – an’ Bonnie. “Ugh. Waste o’ my time. Goody fuckin’ brat.”

He returned to it, popped claws on his foot again, and lifted it over the throat. Shoving them in, his irritation nearly drove him to decapitate the wretch.

“Natch, ya don’t watch tha mercy killin’ ya asked fer. Wanna kick it? Just t’ blow off steam. Ain’t hangin’ on t’ tha rest by much, now. Street billiards, huh? Call yer pocket first.”

With tears running down her face, she pushed herself off the grating and muttered, “You’re disgusting.”

“Stroke my ego later, we ain’t run outta ‘em yet. Gotta move. Hop up.”

“I can walk.”

Growling, Victor grabbed her, tossed her up over a shoulder, and trotted off away from the pursuit. She screamed again in outrage, punching and trying to kick him.

“Dunno why yer so pissy. That was guerrilla warfare at its finest, Short Round. Ya stunned ‘em fer me t’ mop ‘em up – Chuck would be proud o’ ya.”

Before she could scream at him again, one light punch turned her into a limp sack and in the blessed silence he was able to elude the others.

Entering a warren of dark little streets and alleys almost under the ramp for the Manhattan Bridge, he cut through a fence and found a dead end corner behind a dumpster. Hidden there was the scent he had tracked – a ratty old couch.

A tangle of smells hung in the air, none of them pleasant: unwashed bodies had mated on the couch, drugs had been injected, smoked, and consumed. The reek of waste of all kinds seemed rubbed into every surface. Dotted around here and there, almost glowing softly in his enhanced vision, pale used condoms looked like strange mushrooms.

Dumping the kid on one end of the couch, he searched the area thoroughly before shoving the dumpster a bit into a better position as a blind. Keeping all senses open no matter what it cost him, he went back to the couch and fell onto the opposite end of it with a grunt.

Victor filtered through the sounds of traffic on the nearby bridge, streets, and the more distant Brooklyn Bridge, plus boat traffic on the East River. Somewhere back down near Madison Street, a car alarm went off.

The kid came to with a groan and the minute she breathed in, she nearly choked. “Oh … I’m gonna gag…”

Victor’s snort made her stiffen before she wilted. She covered her mouth and nose with her hands and drew her legs up until she was scrunched into another ball of misery. Cautiously glancing around only added a sharper tinge of green to her flushed cheeks.

“Oh, crud…” she muttered through fingers. “Um, why are we sitting here in a dead end alley on Satan’s couch?”

“Ain’t no such thing as a dead end t’ me. Couch is softer’n concrete an’ better’n sittin’ in cold barf.”

“When you put it that way… I’m lucky I can’t see much in this gloom, I bet.”

“Count yer blessin’s.”

“Yeah, no comment.” She sniffed and then made another noise of disgust. “I d’know how you can even be here, with jacked-up senses.”

“Real challenge is siftin’ through it all t’ scan fer scents o’ tha enemy.”

“The enemy … are still people.”

Victor closed his eyes and attempted to get comfortable. “Hydra. Barely people at all.”

“That’s exactly what others say about us.”

“Ask yer precious X-morons if’n they like Hydra. An’ yet ya gotta prob with killin’ ‘em, same as they do. Flatscans that hate us, wanna kill or torture us, an’ ya wanna show ‘em mercy. Maybe yer just parrotin’ what ya were taught but trust me, kid: fanatic fascists don’t count. Bet Cueball would agree if’n he wasn’t so busy bein’ one – or capable o’ bein’ honest worth a damn.”

Shooting him a sullen glare, she taunted, “You used to be one. Didn’t you?”

“Conscripted by ugly circumstances – ain’t tha same as believin’ their bullshit.”

“I’ll take Nuremberg Excuses for $500, Alex.”

Victor smirked. “Funny. I escaped before they could catch me in that net. Was happy t’ hear ‘bout ‘em dyin’, though it was years before I heard tha whole story. That fucker Himmler was planted in an unmarked grave in tha forest near Lüneburg, before tha Brits eventually dug ‘im up an’ cremated ‘im. If’n I knew where they dumped tha ashes, I’d piss on ‘im.”

“Um … uh-huh. So … what are we doing here, really? Where is here?”

“On tha maps, they call it Mechanics Alley, though it ain’t tha historical one by that name. Spot like this, we got us an out vertically if’n we need one; if those bastards find us, only so many can come at us at once.”

“Making it easier to kill more of them. Goodie. Y’know, I had this whole dream that I wasn’t going to grow up to be a killer.”

“I was pissed when I found out Rosemary’s Baby wasn’t a documentary ‘bout George Clooney. We all gotta cope with disappointments in life, shortcake. Pickin’ tha runt t’ follow ‘round like a puppy ain’t a great plan if’n ya don’t like killin’. Surprised ya even bat an eye when I do it.”

“The differences are vast.”

“Hardly. He kills Hydra too, with gusto – makes literal hills o’ their corpses big ‘nuff t’ stick a flag in – I know that fer a fact. T’ be fair, he don’t fuck an’ eat ‘em, ya got me there. Stick in tha mud, that mutt – always was. He got ‘is hard-ons makin’ me toe tha line on missions, back in tha day.”

Victor smirked again as he read her micro-expressions, almost able to see the biting comebacks in Logan’s defense flipping through her brain, followed close by common sense wiping the slate back to a saner response.

“Am I going to be connected to this? Tossed in the clink?”

“Duress, right? More o’ tha aidin’ an’ abettin’ type sitch, plus I threatened ya. They’ll believe it, trust me. Hell, I’d even vouch fer ya on that score – but it won’t come up. Tha law don’t want no part o’ it if’n they fig it’s me. Told ya why already.”

To his shock, she was quiet after that. He scanned through the morass of sounds and scents again but for the moment, they were well-hidden from their would-be hunters.

Gotta gauge this right. Can’t hide too good. Frustrate ‘em at every turn, kill a few, inspire tha grunts t’ call fer new orders. If’n they gotta have my bait alive, that gives me some wiggle room.

The brat’s voice interrupted his planning; her tone was subdued, full of regret. Curiosity scratched at him.

“Logan found the men who murdered my parents. Gave them to me with bows on their heads, said if I wanted to kill them, go ahead. He told me I could use my powers, give them a stroke, get off scott-free.”

“Probly right. So why didn’t ya?” He opened his eyes to look at her when she sat up more.

“How do y‘know I didn’t?”

“Ain’t tha type. Heat o’ battle, maybe, not knowin’ yer own wattage – shit happens. Cold an’ planned? Nope. Odds are he knew that. It was a test, girl.”

“Well … yeah. I wanted to, but … that’s not who I am – not who I wanted to be. I used a gymnast move to kick them in the balls at the same time. It made me feel better.”

“Ow,” Victor empathized, giving his sack a sympathy rub. The kid ignored it.

After a beat, she added, “That’s just one reason I never regretted ‘picking him’ – that he would do that. Logan understood it, my grief and … rage. Those thugs destroyed my life.” Jubilee frowned. “The others, the no-kill bunch, would’ve suggested I have Professor X shrink my head and then they’d maybe want me to hug it out or something.”

“Yup. No respect fer what ya lost or how ya lost it. Ya know why, right?”

“The real reason or your made-up one?”

“My assessment from a bloody intimately personal observation point – when I was in that asshole Cueball’s clutches.”

“‘Kay… Why?”

“They only fix what’ll make ya a better soldier fer their agenda. Ask tha Mississippi Marauder how much help she got – bet she’s still waitin’. Told ‘er she would be. She was doin’ ‘is biddin’ already – nothin’ t’ fix there.”

The kid studied her tennis shoes as if they held the secrets of the universe. “I don’t want to believe that, but … it doesn’t feel too far off-base. Rogue still can’t touch anybody.”

“My point.”

Jubilee bowed her head and sighed. “Those thugs … I d’know what happened to them – they were out cold when we left. I hope they didn’t hurt more people because I showed mercy. Would Logan have killed them later? I never had the guts to ask.”

“Ya know their names?”

“Molokai and Reno – I’ll never forget. I hope they’re dead.”

“They are now.”

She looked up at him sharply, her lower lip stuck out in a frowning pout. It might have been charming on a creature with tits – provided it didn’t also smell of the bloody runt.

“You d’know everything, or anything, about it. You lie all the time.”

With a sigh, Victor sat up and leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Ya’d be surprised how often I tell tha truth, kid – less effort than fibbin’. Oh, I’m good at lyin’ when I gotta, sure – but fer somethin’ like this, no reason t’ bother. I know most o’ tha lowlife criminal rats in tha trade, heard o’ tha rest. Happens, when ya live long ‘nuff.”

“Are you going to claim that you killed them – to manipulate me?”

“Nope an’ nope. Don’t gotta manipulate ya, yer outgunned by a mile, here.”

Jubilee sighed again. “Shoot.”

Over her head and unobserved, he smirked, amused to hear her use slang she’d picked up from the runt. “Molokai died o’ ischemic heart disease, technically – it gave ‘im a heart attack. Reno croaked from bone cancer – a long an’ ugly way t’ go. So ya got yer revenge anyhow. Dunno who they mighta hurt in-between but there ya go.”

“How do y’know that about them?”

“Told ya, I hear things. Never worked with ‘em, they were two-bit thug idiots. Believe me or not, don’t care.”

“Thanks … for telling me.”

Grudgingly, he muttered, “Yer welcome.” A beat later, he frowned. All this fuckin’ bondin’ shit with tha runt’s fave is makin’ me itch. He grunted in annoyance and picked the first thing he thought of to harass her about. “Damn distractin’ with ya sittin’ there smellin’ like fruit.”

The kid looked up at him, frowning. “I guess I’m lucky I don’t smell like steak.”

Chuckling, he shot a leer her way. “Oh ya do – pretty much everybody does.”

“Thanks for sharing. Wow, this is weird. If you’re hiding a board game or Twister mat somewhere, ready to liven up the party later, count me out.”

“Weirdest part fer me is not dismemberin’ tha runt’s favorite pocket pet.”

She glared at him again, instantly all puffed up. It was almost cute – like a pissed-off kitten. “You don’t scare me.”

“Bullshit.” Victor flopped back to relax with a smirk, putting his clawed bare feet up on the grubby cushions. Hands on thighs, he let the claws cut their way out of his bloodstained fingers and curl long – on display for her. “I scare ya outta yer li’l cotton candy brains.”

“If you were going to kill me, you would have. Saving me from Hydra? Keeping me safe from them on the run? Na-uh, no way.”

“Maybe killin’ Hydra pukes gives me a hard-on an’ if’n they want ya so bad, I keep gettin’ opportunities t’ do that. Be a shame if we ran out, huh?” He caught the look of fear and doubt before she could wipe it off her face and grinned at her. “Ya ain’t never gonna know what’s goin’ on in here,” he told her. Tapping a temple with one claw and letting it draw a bead of blood, he added, “Never know what I might could do.”

Jubilee fixed him with an angry stare – a clear challenge. Did she realize that? She took a breath and retorted, “Vague threats 101 – cheap scare tactics without the commitment.”

“Oh, ya want specifics?” Victor unwound his body from his end of the ratty couch and slid along its filthy length to sit close to her. “When I run outta Hydra goons t’ gut, I’m gonna take ya somewhere tha runt’ll find ya an’ use my claws on this face that he’s so fuckin’ fond o’.”

He ran a claw along the side of her face in front of her ear, leaving behind a thin crimson scratch. The claw moved to the hinge of her jaw as she froze, tears rising in her eyes already.

“Gonna cut these, slice yer lower jaw off, turn it upside down an’ let ya wear it as a teeth tiara – after I gut ya, so’s I can hear all the screamin’. Yer gonna smell like watermelon an’ bloody viscera. Think ‘Wolvie’ would like that?”

The tears fell. “I hate you.”

“That’s more like it.” He sat back again next to her and sprawled out in a comfortable slump, the challenge beaten down. “Bit o’ free advice: ya don’t wanna lemme get bored, Short Round.”

Jubilee sat curled up in crumpled misery smelling properly of fear with her chin on her raised knees and arms around her bent legs – her default position around him, apparently.

Def gotta ‘preciate tha balls on tha puffy kitten, though. Points fer funny insults while terrified. This one might just be wasted on tha runt – downer pissy kill-joy fucker. How’s he always gettin’ better toys? Ain’t got Tony, though. I win.

The blessed quiet lasted all of ten minutes. He couldn’t muster a scrap of surprise.

“I’m hungry.”

Victor rolled his eyes. “‘Go t’ ground’ don’t mean strollin’ off t’ tha local waterin’ hole.”

“I thought you were supposed to be Mr. Resourceful.”

“Ya weren’t a fan o’ my last bit o’ resourceful food gettin’. Ya want me t’ hunt some rats fer ya? They ain’t bad raw, in a pinch – no fuss, no muss – lessen ya insist on ‘em bein’ skinned an’ deboned.”

“No thanks. I’m allergic to vermin – probably why I don’t want to hang out with you.”

Victor chuckled. He wasn’t hungry, but her scent was making him crave sugar.

Unclenching slowly, as if wary of sudden movement with him so close, she began to dig in the zipper pockets of her belt. The enticing fruit and sugar smell billowed up like a little cloud. He knew what it was, but messing with her was a good way to hold off boredom.

“Got any candy in there?”

“Aren’t you supposed to offer me candy?”

Victor snorted.

“Um… I have gum – watermelon-kiwi Bubblicious.”

“Naw, can’t deal with that – ain’t got cow teeth.”

“Yeah, well, I do. Your loss, dude.”

She eagerly dug out the new pack and opened it. Her hesitation before she tossed the strip of colorful paper to the ground was amusing as hell, considering how it was surrounded by dried piles of barf, wet piles of shit, and used rubbers. In the midst of that mess, the wrapped cubes of gum smelled like heaven.

Victor leered over her again with a sharp Cheshire grin. “Tell ya what – ya chew that an’ I’ll just hang ‘round real close an’ sniff it.”

Jubilee glared at his blood-smeared face, tossed the gum back into the pocket, and zipped it up. “Pass.”

Smirking, he leaned back. “Suit yerself.”

Sated on fascist long pig and balls comfortably lighter, he felt a cat nap creeping up. Trusting her to be quiet and still for that without sneaking off or attempting to harm him was out of the question.

Victor pushed her back against the couch without a second thought and snuggled in. One hand, claws drawn in until they were only peeking out, rested high up on her thigh as he effectively turned her into a teddy bear.

Scenting tears again, he felt her slender body freeze stiff with a new kind of fear. His intention was to make her stay put this time, yet she seemed to think he had other games in mind.

Victor curled his lips into a sneer of irritation over her head, but telling her he didn’t do that to cubs was pointless. She wouldn’t believe him, and it would undermine the dread he was aiming on using to control her.

“Don’t…” she whispered, her voice breaking.

Got ‘er cowed but those li’l fingers’re twitchin’. Push too hard an’ yer gonna get a snoot full o’ tha Fourth o’ July. “Shut yer yap. Gonna catch some Zs. Keep still an’ quiet,” illustrating the order with a threatening stroke of clawed fingertips on her leg, he added, “or else.”

She bit her lower lip and cried – quietly, at least.

This one ain’t thinkin’ loud t’ hail Chuck or anybody else, neither – same as Tabitha. I didn’t even hafta turn tha screws t’ confuse tha kid outta doin’ it like I did Tabs. I’d already be hip deep in assholes if she had a lick o’ sense. Why tha fuck wouldn’t they teach ‘em – ‘specially tha junior squad – t’ do that? Are ya that big a dick, Cueball? Can’t be bothered? Yeah ya are. Fuckin’ bastard. Why any o’ ‘em follow ya at all has gotta be tha biggest mystery o’ tha modern age. I’d ask Jeannie – if’n I ever see ‘er again – but it’d suck t’ give ‘em tha idea if they ain’t thinkin’ o’ it already.

With a grunt, he settled in and closed his eyes. Sleep tried to be elusive until he called up thoughts of Tony. It soothed him instantly: that look of intense, almost surprised, pleasure in those beautiful eyes as his mate made his blood sing. The memory of that pleasure affected his body enough to help it relax.

Anthony … need ya. Keep tha horrors out…

~ ~ ~

Two small sounds woke him: one was a short distance away, and the other was tucked underneath his leaning torso.

Troopers not far off, hard t’ pinpoint how many. Is tha brat pickin’ off nail polish? Opening his eyes and looking down at where she had scrunched herself in an effort to touch him as little as possible, he snorted at her. Yup. Ballsy, give ‘er that. “Quit it.”

“Afraid I’ll get glitter paint flecks on you? It would be an improvement.”

“Tryin’ t’ listen. Gonna have comp’ny soon ‘nuff.”

Victor closed his eyes and slowed his breathing. Finding the footsteps again, he could place their direction, but a headcount was still hard to pin down.

Too many feet, not ‘nuff boots – is it a trick? “We need a spotter. Yer it.”

“Do you want me to go hysterically deaf? I’m not sticking my head up to get it shot off.”

“They want ya alive, ain’t nobody gonna shoot ya.”

“Did they tell you that while you were chewing off their faces? Seriously, dude?”

“Ain’t hit ya yet, have they? Had lotsa chances.”

“Just because some of those idiots are sucky shots doesn’t mean I’m off the hit list, y’know. Geez.”

Victor loomed over her and spread a sharp trademark grin across his face that made her shrink down as small as she could under it. “How ‘bout this: do it cuz I fuckin’ say so.”

Glaring up at him, she poked him hard in the ribs. He was so startled by it, he forgot to react. “Get off me, then.”

Victor growled as he rose to his feet. He crossed to the side of their dead end box where the footsteps had been approaching along Henry Street.

“This one – I climb, ya peek.”

“You suck.”

“Yup. Damn good at it, too.”

“Hey, I’m PG-13, so try not to overshare. I do not want to hear where you stick it on a regular basis.”

Hackles rising higher under his shirt and up his arms, he growled. “Ya stupid ‘nuff t’ call me a faggot?” He was surprised again as she studied him in silence, arms crossed over her flat narrow chest. Just a cub. Just a scrawny skin sack full o’ bird bones – easy t’ break, if’n she fuckin’ keeps pushin’ me.

“I don’t use that word – it’s offensive and my gay friends agree. Take a pill. Newsflash: I don’t like you because you mutilate, rape, and murder people to get your kicks. If you’re also into other stuff, great – but don’t share. Period. I don’t want to hear about it.”

“Ya do know tha asshole ya mascot fer does tha same shit. Hate t’ break it t’ ya – again.”

“He doesn’t rape.”

“Two outta three ain’t bad, huh?”

“Yeah, this isn’t even about me.”

She got up but paused to fish out her gum. This time, she didn’t hesitate about littering and the white paper wrapper fluttered down to the filthy concrete between them. The fruity sugar smell was an instant cloud around her.

“If I’m being forced to risk my life, I’m going out popping. That is what I do. What you do is pick fights until you get one. I’m not going to be your punching bag, pal. Also, if you do come at me with claws, teeth, or … anything else, I will pop your ass so hard that your eyes bleed. I won’t hesitate – threats or no threats. You know I spent years with Logan, learning every trick I could – well he taught me tons. Maybe I can’t escape you, but if you get any ideas past the bait ploy, I will defend myself.”

Zipping the pack back into her belt, the kid watched him coldly. She wasn’t calling his bluff; she was standing up to him – again. A reluctant budding respect for the tiny bold thing was born in him as he glared down at her.

Hissing, he ordered, “Pop quietly – we’re tryin’ t’ use stealth, here.”

“You got it.”

“All aboard, kid.” He knelt down to let her clamber up his back, amazed when she remained quiet.

Claws sliding out, he began the climb straight up, slowly. Brick dust fell in his wake, but every score of the claws was as silent as that gently falling dust. He could hear it – as he could hear the odd mix of boots and feet – but the enemy had no idea that he was on the move to discover their secrets.

Gaining the narrow roof, he crouched low and tugged at her shoe in fingertips to get her to dismount. “Keep low, follow my lead,” he whispered. “Other side o’ this roof, they’re comin’ down that street. Shut yer yap too, lessen yer answerin’ my question.” He stalked low and she followed. Stopping a few feet from the edge, he heard her whisper behind him.

“Which question is that?” Jubilee crept forward past him in a decent, almost feral, crouch.

The ridiculous idiot popped her gum as she looked, making him growl. As she ducked back down, he muttered, “How many are there?”

She glanced back at him with wide eyes. “All of them, I think.”

Victor’s eyes narrowed into grim slits at her. “Lookin’ fer an actual number.”

The gum popped again. “Maybe fifty?”

“Fuck…” Ignoring her surprise, he growled low in his throat. So they brought in more or Obinata’s source never saw all there was. Where tha fuck is tha Fixer? Don’t stand me up, Ebersol, ya pussy.

“So what now?” the kid whispered. A second later, she screamed as bullets pelted the roof around them.

Victor looked up with a snarl and spotted the shooter – a sniper on a higher roof a disturbing distance away. “Get under me.”

“In your dreams, be-yatch!”

Roaring his hate for them all, he jumped and knocked her flat under his torso as bullets that had been aimed for her slammed into his back. His weight nearly injured her, the strike of her head on the roof knocking her silly.

“Time t’ go, brat.”

He rose and grabbed her around the waist before leaping away across the rooftops to escape them. In one jump from roof to roof, he spotted more troopers in the alley below and solved the mystery of feet and boots: some of them were carrying their military-style footwear by the laces tied together over a belt.

Bloody hell, that’s a Timchs trick – where ya hidin’, Revilo? An’ where’s yer damn boss? Fuck.

Victor could feel the bullets working in deeper as even the healed-over lumps sank down. Soon enough, they’d be too deep to remove with claws and could threaten vital organs. Growling, he steeled himself to ignore it all as he put his head down and ran.

Aiming for the Brooklyn Bridge, his course kept getting derailed by gunfire. At some point, he bounded across Chatham Square before getting driven off again, closer to the county and city government buildings.

Whenever the opportunity presented itself, he went up. As he finally gained enough ground and altitude, and got sick of the struggling and screaming of his clinging bait, he skidded to a halt and dropped her on her ass in a far cleaner hiding spot. The space was tiny at the sloped top of a skyscraper, occupied by a fancy statue capping the thing over their heads.

Jubilee gasped and put her back to the stone slope as the wind picked up. Victor flopped gratefully to lie next to her and stared out at the city. He wasn’t even sure yet where he’d run to. The hectic pace had made familiar landmarks blur. He began to study the buildings to get his bearings when she started up again, making him hiss.

“What the heck, dude? How many times are you going to whack me in the head? You nearly crushed me to death! And this? This is not safe!”

“Shut tha fuck up,” he rounded on her, and glared when she obeyed. “Gotta fig this shit out.” That’s tha Metropolitan Correctional Center, with tha Moynihan Courthouse past it – which makes this tha David Dinkins Manhattan Municipal buildin’. We’re not far from City Hall an’ tha Boss Tweed buildin’. So now what?

“So much for those goons not shooting at me,” Jubilee muttered, knowing perfectly well he could hear her.

Glancing at the kid, he frowned. He might not have caught on to Hydra’s tricks yet, but she wasn’t wrong – too many of the last few rounds had been aimed right at her.

That’s a game changer monkey wrench. Maybe Ebersol doesn’t want ‘er after all? Why send troopers t’ hunt ‘er, then? What tha fuck is goin’ on? Victor hissed, his ears pinning as he ignored her alarm and fear. Either way, gonna let filthy Hydra fill tha puffy kitten full o’ holes or what? Glaring out at the city, he growled. Nope.

The wind shifted and he snarled as a scent hit his nose. Roaring, he spotted another sniper on a courthouse balcony across the way just as the shot hit him. The smell of it made his blood run cold. Frantic, he tore the large cylindrical projectile out of his chest, rending shirt and flesh to do it. Throwing it back at the sniper, it exploded in the air between them.

“Oh my god!” Jubilee shouted. “What was that?”

“Ain’t messin’ with that shit! Go rag doll and shut up, ya li’l bitch – now ain’t tha time t’ piss me off!”

He leaped with her under his arm and her scream rang out as they plunged down to the next available roof he could get to. Once he reached the ground, he paused long enough to let her piggyback again, mindful of trying not to pitch her off. Instinct pushed him to hit his top speed, but he growled and ignored it. She wouldn’t be able to stay on, and really disappearing wasn’t the goal.

Sure ‘bout that, ya bleedin’ idiot? He loped across Centre Street, dodging a car or two, and began to turn to avoid crashing into City Hall. Two snipers or tha same one? Too far away t’ scent in this wind. How tha fuck did they know we’d be up there under tha Dinkins statue? Can’t use a mind witch on me!

Troopers harried them time and again as they crossed City Hall Park, but they only had normal ammunition. Victor didn’t care if he was playing prey or not now – as long as he kept ahead of any snipers with exploding rounds.

Same fuckin’ thing that brought me down at tha plant outside o’ Vancouver when Tabitha ran, thinkin’ I was huntin’ ‘er – but we were both bein’ hunted. It damn near blew my arm off. Startin’ t’ be less fun, Ebersol – yer gonna pay special fer that.

“Let me help!”

“What tha fuck ya squeakin’ ‘bout, now? Kinda busy, here.”

“I won’t blind you or hit you at all – let me hit them! If I can, I can help!”

“Ain’t no help if’n ya won’t kill! Think this is Romper Room shit?”

“Oh, the hell with you! Cope. Watch and learn, dude!”

She let go and executed a brilliant and insane rolling ditch to the grass. On her feet before he could lope back to her, she whirled away from him and blasted the next group of troopers that were the closest on their tail, her colorful plasmoids exploding their weapons in their hands.

“Well, fuck me runnin’,” he told her, put his back to hers and roared out a challenge. It was answered as more of them arrived – a lot more. “Gonna get more’n blood on ya at this rate – keep sharp, kid!”

“They aren’t going to be shooting at us once they’re in range – I am over these guys!”

“Pop away, then. Stay close!” They clearly planned to beat him with pure numbers. How many would it take to be too many? Pile on ‘nuff hyenas an’ a lion’s gonna be up shit creek. Fuck! Gotta get outta this mess!

Good as her threat, Jubilee was destroying their assault rifles right and left, but she would tire and deplete her power just like Tabitha had. They turned in a rough circle as different groups pressed in. Men, and some women, that the kid had disarmed went for pistols next. Anyone stupid enough to rush them was cut down by flashing claws.

Sirens were screaming all around and he knew he was close to being pushed into the red zone as he realized that he couldn’t remember when they had started up. The beast within was outraged as the amount of lead he caught doubled, but the feeling of a closing trap was driving him to bolt.

What if Puss in Boots don’t recognize tha brat as a cub he wants t’ protect? Hang in there, asshole – gotta stay at tha wheel.

Victor twitched and turned when he caught the scent of the sniper – the first one. The man had climbed City Hall and was crouched down on a knee, taking aim.

How tha fuck are they movin’ so fast? “Time t’ run fer it – gotta get t’ Broadway,” he shouted behind him over the din to the kid. “Bastard with explosive bullets is back!”

“Why there?”

“Run now, pelt me with fuckin’ questions later!”

She turned and ran when he did, but he was faster. He scooped her up on the way to the sweet sound of traffic.

One arm holding her torso against his chest, he slashed through the troopers in his path, leaving them broken and bloody – but alive.

These mooks can’t afford t’ let tha law catch their fallen comrades – might slow some o’ ‘em down.

By the time he tried to lose them by dodging through cars, he had Hydra and the NYPD on his ass.

With any luck, tha boys in blue’ll be after tha fascist pigs, too. Hope this bullshit don’t get tha attention o’ tha X-freaks. Fuck, fuck, fuck! Looming overhead down Broadway was lucky 233, an old neo-Gothic brute – the Woolworth Building. Easy t’ climb fast an’ one helluva obstacle fer ground troops. “Hey, shortcake – ya wanna play Kong an’ Faye Wray?”

“What?”

He gripped the kid’s body tighter and hit top speed.

Jubilee saw the target too late but began shouting when she did. “No, not up again! I hate up! Crap!”

Her arms squeezed his like a vise where he held her, and she turned her head to bury her face in his chest as he launched straight up.

~ ~ ~

“Oh God, oh God…”

Victor glared down at her as she clung to the railing of a small balcony at the top of the Woolworth Building where he’d put her. “Ain’t ya a former maybe woulda been Olympic gymnast? Kinda silly t’ be afraid o’ heights.”

“How many balance beams have you seen that were 500 feet in the air?”

“Try 792, which is ‘bout ten feet over our heads, at tha spire up there.”

“I am not looking up. I would so barf.”

“Shouldn’t be lookin’ down neither, I’m thinkin’.”

She whipped her head around to glare at him. “Are you? Can you think? Why are we here? How does this help?”

“It’s a bloody awful obstacle, that’s why, easy t’ climb, an’ tha crazy architecture gives decent cover. Ya happy?”

~Pop~ went the gum. “Happy? Oh yeah, dude – peachy. All better.”

“Gotta get outta sight while it takes ‘em a bit t’ regroup. Between Hydra an’ tha cops, they’re gonna have roadblocks an’ eyes all over, not t’ mention my personal fave, fuckin’ snipers.”

“This isn’t going how you planned, is it? Great. I’m so dead.”

“Shut up an’ lemme fig this out.”

“Shoor, take your time – I’ll just be over here watching my very short life flash before my eyes. Swallowing my gum in terror is not a last meal, y’know!” A vicious snarl cut off the tirade, yet under her breath, she muttered, “Gamble with your hide, you huge hairy freak, not mine.”

He ignored her muted defiance and took in everything else. The night was alive with sirens all around. The lights of police cars were thick on Broadway, Barclay, Park Place, and more.

Flashin’ like Yank Christmas – Monopoly Board from Hell…

“Hey! Tall, blond, and psycho – I got an idea.”

“Said shut up. Play damsel an’ zip it.”

Hands on hips, she glared at him. “I don’t damsel. Are you going to listen or not? You’re not coming up with anything.”

Growling, he faced her. “What?”

“Which building is that one? It’s all dark at the top.” The kid pointed.

Turning, he spotted the one she meant. “That’s 15 Park Row. Terrace and towers level down there is gutted, ‘sposed t’ be renovated, but nobody with tha give-a-shit can afford it.”

Jubilee’s little hands gripped the railing as she stared down. “All those cop cars are driving around, there’s a shootout with Hydra going on – no one is looking up. So – we jump, hide in one of those tower things. No lights, no people.”

Victor snorted. “Yer freaked out by bein’ up here, but ya wanna jump offa tha damn thing? Ya didn’t have fun last time.”

“I want to get home in one piece. Those shooty guys and gals keep tossing lead at me and appearing out of nowhere to do it. Fast.”

“Ya noticed that, huh?”

“Yeah. Years with Mr. Twitchy taught me tons, we covered that.”

Forearms leaning on the railing beside her, he studied the top of the other building. “From here, that’s nearly a 400 foot drop, gotta be 370 feet across.” He whistled, even as his heart thudded in his chest at the sheer insane thrill of it. If’n it don’t work, it won’t kill me. Glancing over at her, he frowned. Kid would be paste. “That might not be a distance that’s scrawled with tha other stats on tha back o’ my baseball card, shortcake. Can’t get any room fer a runnin’ start at tha top o’ this brute, neither.”

“What about launching off one of the gargoyles like a springboard?”

“Not doin’ that. It’d break.”

“Since when do you care?”

“Since I first read ‘bout architect Cass Gilbert finishin’ tha thing in 1913, in my mornin’ paper in 1913 – tallest buildin’ in tha world fer seventeen years. I ain’t defacin’ it.”

“Fine, ‘kay, no gargoyles, sheesh. If you felt the same about people’s entrails, more of them might like you.”

“Ain’t tryin’ t’ be liked, never was. Chasin’ shit like that’s just ‘nother way t’ let folks control ya. Not wild ‘bout yer plan, neither…”

Jubilee was trying to appear brave, but she was trembling. No amount of sugary gum could mask the thick fear scent around her. “I never said it was a good idea, but I’m not supposed to let you get bored, right?” She peered over the edge again, the gum popping as she mused with a matter-of-fact air, “Wolverine could jump it.”

Victor snarled. “C’mere.” She moved to climb his back, but he growled at her. “Yer twig arms ain’t gonna hold on fer a stunt like this, an’ those asswipes are probly already too close. Down in front.”

The kid hesitated, unsure what to do, so he just snagged her, smirking at her squawk of protest. As she was mashed against his torso, belly to belly this time – or near enough for a shrimp – he held her there with one arm again. She immediately began to fuss, pulling his concentration away from sorting out the best trajectory for the jump.

“Be still,” he ordered, nearly hissing the words.

Muffled against him, she muttered, “If this is how you get your rocks off, I am not interested, dude!”

It honestly took him a beat to figure out what on earth she was upset about, and then her next squirm rubbed over his growing erection. With a derisive snort, he groused, “Don’t flatter yerself, scrap, that’s adrenaline kicked int’ overdrive. Listen up – grip my belt tight in both hands, but yer playin’ rag doll again, got it? I’ll keep ya pressed in tight, but don’t try t’ wrap shit ‘round me or you’ll fuck this up. If’n ya do fuck up, keep this in mind – I’ll survive tha fall. Ya won’t.”

“Great encouraging speech, there, Hairy. Go team.”

“Shut up.”

He lined up his arm over her spine and cupped the back of her skull in a clawless hand as he began to move. Climbing up to crouch just under the base of the spire, he took a deep breath and let it out slow.

“Are you going to tell me not to scream?” she asked, speaking against his chest. “That might not be in my skill set. Oh, crud.”

“Ya an’ me both, pipsqueak.” He sank down into a powerful crouch and lowered his head to whisper in her ear, “Geronimo…”

Victor sprang up – not across or down – to get an arc, aiming at the open air over the target. The lurch of the jump stole their breath but at the apex of it, as they began to fall, dual screams were torn from both of their throats.

A shock of gunfire sprayed out as they fell and Victor gripped onto the kid tighter, his outstretched free arm ready with claws splayed to catch anything he could. They were falling short. Lunging in mid-air in a pure panic, his claws scratched the green patina of one of the copper pawn-shaped knobs over the gargoyles before they bit in around its base.

With one arm and both legs, he grabbed on with claws and barely managed to stop a harrowing slide down. Crawling up the Park Row façade fast, he gained the roof at last and peeled the kid off him, dropping her on her ass in the dark.

“Hit that tower, fast!” he ordered, and she got moving with impressive speed, ducking behind its curving side.

He followed and cut a glass pane out, nearly chucking her through into a heap on the floor inside. Not wanting to damage the structure, he climbed up to the longer upper window and cut it out to crash inside the tower.

“Hey,” she called up in a hushed pissy hiss, “stop tossing windows at me.”

It was still a tight fit for him, but like most cats, if he could get his head through, he could manage the rest. Landing in an ungraceful heap out of sheer mental exhaustion, he grinned as he unwound himself to sit up, ribs heaving.

“Hoo yeah!”

“So that ‘always lands on your feet’ thing is bogus?”

Ignoring her, Victor surged up and went to look out through one of the forward-facing windows as the kid collapsed on the wrought iron circular staircase at the center of the tower. His t-shirt was hanging off him oddly, likely shredded, but he couldn’t care.

“Dunno where tha fuckin’ shooter was hidin’, but shit, that was a hoot! With any luck, they didn’t see where we landed.”

Jubilee sighed. “I’d kiss the roof-sweet-roof, but it’s pretty filthy in here. Can we get away now? And maybe grab some grub?”

Still grinning, Victor turned to the window he’d cut the glass from, scenting as he went. “Sounds like a plan. Gotta finish ditchin’ tha assholes, first. Got me an idea fer that.”

The kid didn’t answer, her scent spiced with fresh fear. When he glanced back at her, she looked horrified.

“What now?”

“They shot you. Your back is … oh, my god. Yuck. Dude…”

“Think I dunno that? Listen up or our death-defyin’ escape ain’t gonna do us no good. Stay put in here, don’t make a peep, don’t light no sparks. Got it? No matter what.”

“I’m staying put while you do what, exactly?”

“Gonna go up and out, get seen runnin’ from this buildin’. Draw ‘em off, double back.”

“Uh, sure. Easy-peasy, right? While they see you without me and start a search for my pancaked gooey corpse?”

“Damn straight. Gonna actually sit tight? If’n I gotta chase ya, again, this shit might could go south quick.”

“With those trigger-happy creeps crawling around everywhere? I’ll sit. Unless they find me before you get back. Or I start to really die of starvation. I swallowed my gum, but it won’t hold me for long, got it? I might for real pop, dude. Fair warning.”

Victor shot her a sharp grin. “Back in a tick.”

His hunger tore at him and it was probably for the best to get away from her just then. She leaned away as he climbed up the stairs past her, barely pausing long enough to find out first if they could take his weight.

Tha men who built these sky palaces – standin’ without ropes on tha tippy tops o’ ‘em like crazy monkeys – knew what they were fuckin’ doin’ an’ they didn’t short sheet nothin’.

Entering the cupola at the top, he found no glass in the openings there and slipped outside through one of them that faced Park Row. Leaping down and away, he tore off over the long narrow roof of the building, right along the edge. A pattering of gunshots told him he had their attention. Keeping one arm pressed against his chest, he hoped they would think he was still carrying the bait. Jumping down to other rooftops, he hit top speed and led them off on a merry chase.

As soon as the gunshots stopped, a few popping in the distance, he made a wide loop back with stealth. At one point, pausing to let screaming police sirens race by on the street below, he hid crouched in the dark on the side of a building and took in the stirred anthill of a city all around him.

Ain’t felt this alive in a while out on my own. Needed this. Insane jump – a risk like that, fuck … feels good.

Moving back toward his bait as careful and slow as he could manage and still make decent time, he couldn’t have carved the grin off his face with his own claws.

~ ~ ~

Re-entry through the open cupola window was easier to do with more care since the slower pace back had helped calm him. Hunger still threatened to turn him savage, but he could control it better with his spirits as high as a kite.

The kid was sitting where he’d left her, on the bottom step below him, unaware he was back. Struck again with amazement that so much brass could be stuffed into such a tiny package, he ditched the impulse to scare her and allowed his claws to clack on the metal railing to alert her.

Probly a good plan not t’ spook ‘er when she’s this keyed up – hate ‘em damn flashpops in my face. She twisted to look up at him and stared before gulping and looking away, reminding him that she was afraid of him anyway – he’d worked hard to ensure that. Ain’t yer sidekick, idiot. Puffy kitten still hates ya. “Climb out yer window,” he called down softly, “I’ll meet ya outside on tha roof.”

Victor led the way once he rejoined her, keeping watch all around as she followed him. It was quieter around the place, with the circus still going a distance away. The NYPD were keeping Hydra occupied for now.

Good riddance, motherfuckers. Been fun rippin’ ya t’ bits, but it ain’t gettin’ me tha prey I want. Ebersol ‘parently ain’t tha sort t’ face what he aims ‘is troops at. Bloody coward. Time t’ regroup an’ come up with a better plan.

Finding a roof access door on the long end of the building, he clawed the lock and went down the stairs.

“We’re going into the building – where people are?” she whispered behind him.

“Cleanin’ staff areas, out tha back, while the circus goes tha other way. Can ya do sneaky or do tha gums flap nonstop?”

“Stealth mode, you bet.”

“Ready fer that rest an’ grub without tha offal o’ humanity as stinky scenery?”

“Oh, yeah – I could eat a moose without sauce.”

“Climb up, then – piggyback rides fer free, goin’ once.”

“But you’re … healed, of course. Doesn’t it still hurt, though? They’re in there.”

“I’ve had worse, but if’n I don’t eat soon, yer gonna start lookin’ mighty tasty.”

“Got it.” She mounted up easy with little assistance, already used to the differences and skilled at keeping her balance. “So where are we going to chill out and hopefully stuff our faces? With the whole city looking for people that look like us?”

“Headin’ fer tha Beekman – close by an’ top o’ tha line grub. Wealth has its perks, kid – they love havin’ my money grace their digs an’ they’re too fond o’ it t’ ever turn me in.”

“Awesome. Mush, dude.”

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

Author’s Note: This chapter title is borrowed from a short story by Robert Connell published in 1924, which was later made into a movie in 1932, also called The Most Dangerous Game. It involves a big game hunter who is shipwrecked on an island where the owner, a Russian aristocrat, likes to hunt humans and shoot them. He ends up being hunted with dogs by his host. Janet and the virgin taunts are a Rocky Horror Picture Show reference. During the Vietnam era, a platoon sergeant was affectionately referred to as the “Plat-Daddy”, and although the term has since faded, the role remains that of the “Father of the Platoon” – info courtesy of Military.com. Victor references another war movie, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) about WWI, which he fought in. The hotel outside of Chinatown is real, at 49 Catherine Street, NYC. I’m sure it’s a nicer place than Victor implies – he can be weirdly snooty about luxury digs. I love the idea that he rips them off but feels bad about it. Giving him a bit of Robin Hood syndrome (is that a thing?) amuses me.

The idiom “ride the tiger” means to find yourself in a precarious situation. The phrase comes from “He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.” Meaning, once you find yourself in a dangerous circumstance, getting out of it can be even more potentially hazardous. It’s also a drug reference to being high on injected heroin; the volume markers on the syringe make up the stripes. Jubilee has seen a lot and heard a lot as Wolverine’s sidekick, so she knows both meanings of the idiom.

“I’ll take Nuremberg Excuses for $500, Alex” references the TV game show Jeopardy, and Nazis on trial in Nuremberg who claimed they only followed orders and were not responsible for their war crimes. Rosemary Clooney also belongs to herself. Rosemary’s Baby is a 1968 psychological horror film adapted from a novel by Ira Levin. Victor has a movie star crush on George Clooney that predates his Tony Stark crush, but he’s never turned stalker on Clooney. Victor’s love of old buildings, some of which he’s older than, also amuses me. His admiration for the brave men who built many of the historic New York City skyscrapers could stem from his time building railroads with similar tough blue collar types. Poster boy for macho, white collar often seems weak to him – unless the man in question happens to be Tony Stark, LOL. Pretty much everyone knows about giant ape and film King Kong. For the fun of it, I’ve decided my Victor’s favorite incarnation is the 1976 film with Jessica Lange as Faye Wray. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)

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