Sabretooth: Unstoppable – Chapter 3 – Changing Tides

I never let
my guard go down
but you messed me up
when you came around
When the high wore off
know you needed space
but I don’t wanna wait
I don’t wanna mistake

Few thousand miles and an ocean away
but I see the sunrise, oh-oh, just like the other day
Picture your eyes as I fall asleep
tell myself it’s alright, oh-oh, as the tears roll by
Ooh, I wish I could feel your face
Ooh, I’m helpless when I’m oceans away

I never felt
a room so still
see the future coming
hope it isn’t real
I learned to fake a smile
as the time runs out
I don’t wanna wait
Oh, I don’t wanna mistake

Few thousand miles and an ocean away
but I see the sunrise, oh-oh, just like the other day
Picture your eyes as I fall asleep
tell myself it’s alright, oh-oh, as the tears roll by
Ooh, I wish I could feel your face
Ooh, I’m helpless when I’m oceans away
I’m helpless when I’m oceans away

~ Oceans Away (Arizona)

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

Tony sat in the chair, staring ahead in silence as the pilot called out their ETA to Victor.

The mutant didn’t respond, but he began getting the girls up and into seats, with belts fastened. One of the little ones clung to him and started to cry, and as Tony turned to watch, he crouched down to hush her and stroked her hair, whispering to her in a soft low voice. When she quieted, he disappeared through a door in the back and returned with bottles of water, one each.

Their eyes met, but Victor didn’t smile. “Ya want one? Zane, what ‘bout ya?”

“Any Rock N’ Rye left?”

“Gotta case. Tony?”

“I assume we aren’t discussing the rye whiskey cocktail. I’m not that lucky.”

Zane replied, “Faygo pop, the nectar of Detroit. Rock N’ Rye tastes like vanilla with cherry and a hint of Robitussin – not the shitty Robitussin, the good grape kind.”

“That sounds weird enough to be worth a try, if it’s cold – and if scotch isn’t an option, count me in.”

When Victor returned again with three open bottles, Tony took the offered brown ones and passed the extra to the pilot. To his shock, it did taste good.

“You prefer blue flavor?”

“Cotton Candy – one o’ tha sweetest, just like me.”

Tony didn’t respond to that. “What can you tell about the kids – were they … hurt?”

Victor stood behind the pilot’s chair. He had found a black t-shirt with Rocky Horror Picture Show lips on it, and changed into worn blue jeans. He was still barefoot. The curling golden mane was beginning to touch his shoulders.

“Mostly freaked out, got scents on ‘em, but – not tha other. They either didn’t have time or wanted t’ fetch full price too bad.”

“Thank God for that,” Zane replied.

“Ya called ahead?”

Zane nodded. “While you two were mopping up – it’s all set. Usual landing plan, they’ll meet us there.”

“Good. Gonna push back tha next stop fer a few days. Need tha break.” Victor tipped the bottle of blue soda to his lips and chugged it down.

Ignoring the disturbingly casual chat about schedules, Tony caught Victor’s attention. “We need to talk about what’s best for the kids. Some of them may have families.”

“Hafta wait ‘til we’re on tha tarmac, I need t’ sit with ‘em fer tha landin’.”

“This is kind of important.”

“Yup, an’ it can wait. They’re afraid o’ this flyin’ cigar tube.” Victor winked at him as he turned away to rejoin the kids. “‘Sides, I pinkie promised. Can’t ask me t’ break that.”

Tony tried to set aside his annoyance, knowing a lot of it was stress over his own problem looking for a fight. One glance back at the eight kids buckled into chairs, and Victor taking a seat between the two youngest ones, nearly evaporated his anger entirely. Some of them spoke to him in Spanish, and he answered them with a surprisingly age-appropriate vocabulary.

“He’s good with kids,” Zane commented.

Tony shot him a glare as he turned back to buckle up and stare out at the world again. “Are you having promotional posters made?”

The pilot’s grin could only be described as shit-eating. “Relax, chief – it’s almost over. Next stop: Kahului Airport on Maui.”

He lowered the faceplate just to escape the man’s grin, relieved he had already asked JARVIS to have his own transport sent to him at Kahului – the big jet with everything on it. He wanted out of his suit something fierce. He also didn’t want to be out of it around the feral.

~ ~ ~

Stepping down from Victor’s jet, Tony stood to one side. For the kids’ sake, he popped the faceplate back up when they came down the steps with the mutant in tow. They all ran up to thank him and he answered them in Spanish. When Victor asked them to gather up a short distance away, they did so without a fuss.

“Are we going to discuss this now?” Tony asked. He noted a large black van approaching. It pulled up not far from the kids and parked. “Someone you know?”

“Yup, a woman who knows all ‘bout kids an’ can place ‘em with real families.”

“Taking them back to Chile is an option they should have, with or without orphanages – I’m not an ogre.”

Victor waved to the older Hawaiian woman who emerged from the van with a young kid and a teen, both girls. Facing Tony, he sighed. “This is ‘er specialty, flyboy – let ‘er do ‘er job. They can cool their heels here fer a few days an’ she’ll get ‘em talkin’ ‘bout what they want an’ where they wanna go.”

“She’s a social worker?”

“Sure.”

Tony frowned. “This had better be official and not some criminal organization’s relocation plan.”

“Stop worryin’, I ain’t lettin’ jack bad happen t’ ‘em – she’s tha kid whisperer. Now I gotta deal with introducin’ ‘em an’ then we can talk quick if’n ya want, but I don’t make a habit o’ hangin’ ‘round at airports out in tha open.”

He should have gone over with him, but he stayed where he was. JARVIS informed him that his transport would be there shortly. Victor led the kids in an anxious knot over to meet the woman and her girls.

“I know he’s right,” he spoke to the AI. “They’re too rattled for making decisions right now, and I know… I know Victor isn’t going to harm them. Hell, he’s better with kids than I could be.”

JARVIS was silent. Tony watched as the woman spoke to the girls. Victor had crouched down again and two of them had instantly pressed into him. He said something to them and then he rose and helped as the woman and teen began getting all of them into the van. The vehicle didn’t move, but Victor turned away and headed back to him.

Tony walked to meet him just to get out of the way of the crew that had begun checking over the feral’s jet. “So how did it go?”

“They’ll be fine. I’m stayin’ fer a few days, so I’ll go see ‘em t’morrow. Whatever they wanna do, I can cover it.”

“Fine, but if you need anything for them, let me know.”

“Ya goin’ home?”

“Probably. Victor … I should leave this alone, I know that.”

The mutant frowned. “I can hear that but comin’, so’s ya may as well rip it off, get it over with.”

“There was a black towel, covered with blood, wadded up on the floor behind your seats in there. Do you want to tell me how it got that way?”

“Nope, wouldn’t be my first pick. I don’t gotta answer t’ ya, ya know that, right? Was a time ya mighta talked me int’ bein’ yer li’l pet kitty, but ya don’t wanna bother, do ya? Tha likes o’ me, I’m a bit too dirty fer yer taste, huh? That makes what I do on my own time even more my biz.”

“You caught one of them, didn’t you? Tortured him to get the location of the fishing trawler – killed and dumped him when you found it. But he told you about the kids, so you called me a second time.”

Victor cocked his head to one side and smirked. “Now see, solid guess – why even bother t’ ask me? Those kids’re alive an’ unhurt cuz I made a garbage human give up where they were. He tried t’ rile us up, Zane an’ me – told us some o’ those girls could be used without damagin’ their price. Gonna tell me that piece o’ offal was worth sparin’ ‘is miserable kiddy-diddlin’ life?”

Tony sucked in a breath, expelled it fast. “No.”

“Thought so.”

In the distance, he heard his jet coming in, and JARVIS confirmed it a moment later. “You win, if that’s what you want to hear. I have to go.”

“Ain’t ‘bout winnin’, Tony – I already lost anyhow. Tell me why ya never called me after that surprise sex drunk dial?”

Tony winced. “That’s not normal behavior for me. I don’t even recall much about it, and didn’t want to discuss it.”

“So ya ran away from it an’ me – at least yer consistent.”

“You want to push? Fine, let’s do this. I assume I was obnoxious and you were snarky but tolerant?”

Victor’s shoulders fell a little, his challenging stance morphing into something Tony couldn’t name. It wasn’t defeat. As the feral watched him closely, his tone was soft. “Ya were upset ‘bout Pepper: messin’ up yer shot t’ make ‘er yer mate. I helped ya feel better. Ya asked fer that.”

Her name pierced him. We’re always at arm’s length, no matter how close we become, and she feels more but won’t say – won’t risk… Now, I don’t know how to stop this problem from getting worse, and I can’t even tell her. “I-I really don’t remember much, I’m sorry – but thank you for … helping.”

“Yeah, sure,” Victor muttered, looking off at the jet in the distance marked with the Stark Industries logo. He shifted his weight from one clawed foot to the other and abruptly those warm amber eyes turned icy. “They came t’ rescue ya – if’n yer ready t’ run away now.”

Glaring at him, Tony burst out, “Why do I put up with you? Why do you put up with me? Why do you bother?” He held a palm up a second before the mutant could draw breath to reply. “No, don’t answer that – maybe we’re both better off not having this chat.”

“Tony…”

“What? What are you going to say? There’s nothing here, okay? Whatever this is, just… Stop trying.”

He fired up the rocket boots and hovered a moment, staring down at the feral’s shocked face. He looked hurt, which had honestly been his goal a moment ago, but he instantly regretted it. The mutant was just a convenient target.

The moment Victor looked down away from him, Tony let the faceplate snap down before he did something stupid.

What the hell am I doing? What. The. Hell.

He soared up and off to the jet a distance away that had his name painted on it. He couldn’t tell in that moment if it was a reminder of who he was or a taunt.

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

Victor felt his heart sink but didn’t watch him go. That hesitation, moments before the faceplate dropped, had been all he needed to see. Something was wrong, Tony was a mess for some reason, and he obviously had no one to turn to.

Pepper Pots, yer an idiotic li’l clueless bitch – but maybe I owe ya one. Long as ya sit on yer hands, afraid t’ claim yer mate, he’s got nobody left – ‘cept fer this nobody.

The inventor would be back – certain of that, he let it help him raise his head a little higher. He turned, saw his friend observing him as she stood outside the van, and straightened up in an instant. The mask came down, but it was useless – this woman could see through them as easily as Lenusya, these days. When he came up and leaned down to embrace her in greeting, he said nothing. She smelled like tropical flowers and sunshine. For a moment, it felt like an effort to release her, to lose that warmth.

Leimomi hummed softly under her breath. “Will you be coming home with us?”

“Not t’night. He’s gonna try t’ find me, an’ he will – gotta be someplace I don’t mind ‘im findin’.”

Nodding solemnly, she patted his arm. “I understand. Tomorrow then? Your family misses you, and these children you’ve saved will need to see you, for stability in the midst of all this change.”

Victor grunted as he scratched his unruly whiskers. “Not used t’ bein’ tha stabilizin’ sort.”

“You saved them.”

“So did he.”

Raising a white eyebrow, the old woman who looked like an eccentric Hawaiian art teacher dressed in a cotton version of the ocean, peered up at him and spoke just like a mystic shaman he used to know in Africa.

“You are here. He left. You are ohana, he is not.”

“He’s busier’n me, that’s all – an’ pissed at me, what else is new.”

With a shrug, she clucked her tongue. “You don’t want him to know about the house anyhow, but the girls need to see you. They’ve been abandoned for the last time – yet you must show them that.” She turned away, giving him a smile over her shoulder before she went to rejoin the children in the van. “You come home tomorrow. I will bury a pig for you tonight myself with pineapple and mango, how you like it – special, just for you.”

Victor grinned. “Well now. Ya do know how t’ persuade a fella.”

He waited until they drove off, and then walked to the car that had arrived to pick him up. Spotting his pilot, he tossed the man a short wave. “Just a few days, huh? Be ready.”

“Take the time you need, and I always am, Boss.”

The swankiest resort on any of the islands wasn’t far away, with a spa full of skilled people who didn’t hate mutants, and a private villa right on the beach – perfect for a clandestine visit from the Iron Man. Lenusya had already set everything up.

Once he gets a chance t’ yank that righteous stick outta ‘is ass, maybe he’ll want me t’ stuff it fer ‘im fer a change. So fuckin’ what if’n he’s pissed at me – it still drains tha balls just as good.

“Welcome, sir,” the driver greeted him, holding the door open as he climbed into the backseat of the limo. “The Andaz Maui at Wailea Resort?”

“That’s tha one.”

Victor leaned back and turned his head to stare out a window as the car pulled away to leave the airport. The Stark Industries monster jet hadn’t moved.

Tony won’t come ‘round ‘til after sunset; he’s gotta make a show o’ resistin’ temptation, after all – plus down-low conditions’re better in tha dark. I got time t’ relax an’ let tha pros get me all pretty fer ‘im.

He watched the beautiful scenery outside his window and purred in anticipation.

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

When the suit was off and had disappeared into the new platform he’d added to get in and out of it on the jet, he stripped shoes and clothes off in a trail to the shower.

In his private suite later, sitting in front of the computer in a white and wrinkled unbuttoned dress shirt and boxer briefs, he slumped as JARVIS told him the latest bad news: another core replacement option they had found couldn’t work, and his blood toxicity was rising again.

Tony stared down at the bead of blood on his finger from the prick to test it. The pain wasn’t enough to pull him out of the stupor he was falling into.

“Sir, the pilot is asking if you intend to head out tonight and where?”

“No, tell him to sit tight. If the crew wants to go out, fine with me.”

He picked up his phone and called Rhodey, but they went through the same circles they always did and even when his best friend tried to ask if he was all right, the words wouldn’t come out.

“Listen, Tony, you sound tired man – just get some sleep and call me when you get home, okay? We need to sort out how we move on with your new direction – unless you let me talk you out of it.”

“I can’t make weapons for the brass anymore, Rhodey – not changing my mind. Tell me they love their new mega-ambulance surgical tanks, make my day.”

“Oh they do. We’ll talk. Goodnight, Tony.”

He stood and began to pace, finger tapping on the side of the phone. Huffing out a breath, he sighed and called Pepper.

“Tony? JARVIS said you’re in Hawaii. How did that happen?”

“It’s a long story – call it a mission.” What he needed to say choked in his throat. She was right there, but out of reach … always out of reach.

“Are you okay? You weren’t hurt, were you? Tony, you don’t sound well.”

“I’m…” I need you in my life, in a different way, I … need… Oh, hell. “I’m just tired. Listen, I never gave them an answer, the whoever they were, there was an invitation.”

“What? Slow down a little, are you sure you’re okay?”

“I’m fine. I want to do that thing,” he wracked his brain and the first thing that fell out was the Formula One car he’d bought on a whim. “Monaco – the race – tell them yes, I want to do that. I want us … to do that. I’m way overdue for a vacation. How long has it been?”

“Oh, okay. It’s been almost two years. This is … weirdly … early notice, for you anyway, but appreciated. Consider it done. They actually held a spot for you. You’re still not driving that horrid car – the board backs me up on that, everyone backs me up on that.”

Touching the blue glow in his chest, he swallowed a sigh. “It’s okay, just – yeah. I want to do that, go there. With you, and … Happy.”

“I’ll make some calls. Are you going to sleep? It’s not late there yet, but still – you sound like you need to sleep.”

“Yeah, I will, I’m on the jet for the night, just going to stay here.”

“Coming home tomorrow?”

“Sure, yeah, sounds good.”

He let her make him promise to take care and when he clicked off the call, he hadn’t said goodbye. He couldn’t do it. By the time he set the phone on the desk, his hand was shaking slightly and his thoughts felt a little confused.

“This is going to attack my immune system, muscles, breathing, kidneys… It’s going to attack my mind. I’m already starting to ache in brand new places.”

“Sir, if I may suggest you take their advice and get some sleep? Eating healthy and getting enough sleep is –”

“No, not going to do that. JARVIS, get me a rental car, something with snarl to it: impress me. Have it dropped off here; I have somewhere I need to be.”

“Sir, I don’t think –”

“I can think and I’m going out, while I still can. Car, JARVIS, before I’m done finding clothes.”

“Yes, sir.”

“He’s here somewhere. Find him for me.”

Tony pulled open a few drawers and randomly yanked out jeans and a black AC/DC shirt. The white shirt hit the floor as he fetched his tennis shoes – the good running ones, in case the mutant was pissed.

“Who, sir?”

“Victor Creed.”

~ ~ ~

The uniquely black Maserati MC12 coupé roared and purred down the road as he took the 311 down to 31 Piilani Highway and out to Wailea. Flirting with the car’s top speed of 205 mph, he might reach his destination before the sun was finished setting.

Thrilling at the risks he was taking, he none-the-less knew the route; he’d even stayed in one of the villas before. The Andaz resort was technically a Hyatt property, and he had taken a few turns with one of their top executives there for a weekend a few years back.

He wasn’t shocked at all that the feral had picked one of the biggest villas. He might not need four bedrooms, five bathrooms, or a gourmet kitchen, but the 4,070-square-foot Presidential Villa was steps from the ocean and included a private 822-square-foot outdoor veranda with oceanfront views, a private plunge pool, outdoor grill, and indoor and outdoor dining and living spaces. Clearly, Victor took seriously his dislike of being cooped up.

Right up his alley and not a bad spot for a personal meltdown, which I refuse to have. Why the hell am I driving into the night unannounced and uninvited to drop in on an off-the-clock serial killer just because he’s great for a roll in the sack? After I chewed him out and told him to hit the road, it’d serve me right if I get there and he’s already got company for that ‘luxury bath with lava stone floor’. This is also a great way to teach your stalker that no means maybe. You’re insane, full stop.

The foot that was abusing the gas pedal didn’t listen as it hurtled him from Piilani Highway to Okolani Drive and then screeched onto Wailea Alanui Drive. The Maserati was likely under a ‘you break it, you bought it’ type of rental agreement, but he might buy it anyway.

For a de-tuned Enzo in an overblown chassis, it glides over bumps – the suspension just swallows them without a shiver. Like someone else I know. Here I go again – spending money and taking risks to feel better. Fast cars and talented feral bedmates can’t fix this problem.

He should have asked Happy to come out on the jet, or Pepper. Tony swallowed as he felt his heart thump oddly again.

It’s just heart palpations spiking as the toxicity increases, not a heart attack. It’s not a heart attack…

If he could just slow down, relax, take a little time, maybe he could tell them – something.

They won’t listen. I don’t know how to make them. His hands gripped the wheel so hard that they ached as his foot shoved down on the gas. I don’t … know how to say it. I never did.

~ ~ ~

He stood at the door to Victor’s villa with a rushing sound in his ears and fought the impulse to run. His hand, lifted to knock, was frozen in place. No sounds came from inside.

When the door opened to reveal the blond standing there in jeans, he couldn’t hide a flinch. Neither of them spoke until Tony swallowed hard.

“Not being able to control myself around you is not a good look for me.”

He managed not to flinch again when a large hand full of claws reached to cup his jaw. Victor took a step out, the other hand rising to touch him. Tony closed his eyes, so that the choice of what happened next wouldn’t be his to make. His lips parted, barely breathing.

Victor didn’t kiss him, scenting him instead as both hands held his face still. The low rasping voice made his stomach clench in the same moment that it weakened his knees.

“Tell me – exactly – what ya want an’ why yer here.”

“You know.”

“Can’t read ya good when yer rattled – or when yer not.”

“No, tell me what you want … from me.”

Victor began to move back, and his voice turned distant, guarded. “Ya ain’t earned that.”

Tony’s breath burst from his lungs in a near-convulsion of simply not being able to cope anymore. He fell forward against Victor’s body and could only breathe when the thick arms circled around him and supported his weight.

“I can’t … I can’t anymore,” he whispered, pressing his face into heavy muscle and soft fur.

When the lips kissed his hair, the gentle, almost affectionate rumbling tone melted him. “Tell me … Tony…”

“Take my breath away,” he murmured into that unstoppable strength. “Take my … choice away.”

He gasped as he was half lifted, half hauled through the door. It was shut, nearly slammed, and the lock and bolt engaged.

Tony kept his eyes closed and let himself be steered through the place until he was lifted and his back touched a soft bed and cool sheets. Opening his eyes just in time to see the claws shred the mutant’s jeans, he stared at the heavy cock as it thickened, defying its own weight as it tried to rise at its root.

The growl of lust was gentler than he had heard it before. He couldn’t look up, fixated on watching that brutal thing start to drip pre-cum as the head pushed its way out from the hood – the foreskin retracting in time with the claws.

He watched as he was moved and stripped. A pliant doll in the feral’s clutches, he allowed it – mesmerized by that expression of wonder as Victor looked at him.

Shutting his eyes again when the mutant rose to loom over him, he didn’t care what happened to him.

Three shallow breaths: he was turned, rolled, by hands far too large and lethal to be very gentle. On his belly as the gleam of the arc reactor was snuffed out by 1,020 thread count Egyptian cotton white sheets, his arms folded to hide his face. Thick fingers slid up one thigh, bending the knee and moving the leg up. The position opened his asscheeks to expose him and spread his legs wide.

Two weak breaths: the tongue touched him first, with barely a lick as it worked in, writhing deep inside. His skin twitched when the smooth curved front of the fang shafts touched his ass, soft lips obscenely kissing the invaded hole even as the tongue licked everything it could inside before beginning to thrust.

One fast desperate gulp of air was shredded by a moan and the moment the feral worked a hand underneath to squeeze his aching cock, Tony came in his palm as it closed around the head of it like a vice.

~ ~ ~

A purr emptied his chaotic mind as soft lips kissed his temple and that low rasp spoke his name like a benediction.

“Tony … breathe.”

He gasped and drew a breath that set him coughing. Cool glass was pressed to his forehead. It held liquid, and he would have fought to drink, but he was allowed to, nearly fed the bottle. He didn’t care. It was warm, burning his throat as it set his veins on fire. He would have kept drinking, but the bottle was taken away.

The mutant shifted, moved between his legs, and it wasn’t until the leaking head of that thick cock pushed into his body that he was even aware he had passed out and been slicked up and made ready for this.

Pushing in slow, the cock nearly split him. He gasped when it began to almost hurt. He couldn’t see anything in the dim room but flickering warm candlelight everywhere. So many candles – all of them white, like a peaceful and utterly mad church.

I’m lying on the altar. I am the altar. This is insane… I don’t want to be worshipped. I want… I want to be … hurt. Tony shut his eyes tight, fisted the sheets, and groaned. “Don’t stop, keep doing it. Do it until I feel … numb.”

Victor’s forearms struck the bed beside his head, and slow disappeared as the powerful muscles of lower back and abdomen worked like a piston to fill him again and again.

Tony forced himself to feel only the invasion of his body, the smooth yet still brutal push – no matter how gentle the mutant tried to be. Yet gentle wasn’t what Tony wanted.

“Call me something … something vile,” he whispered, his voice breaking.

“Hush now,” came the low whisper back over his ear. “Whatever this is, it’ll pass. I got ya … ya can let it go.”

“I can’t do this, I can’t be … weak. Show me how you do it. You’re never weak, never afraid. Show me.”

Gasping as the weight got worse, he felt a large hand push down between his shoulder blades. The other hand was gripping a hip, which was probably going to bruise. Abruptly, it yanked the hip, setting off an alarming pain so sharp that he couldn’t even tell what it was.

The next few thrusts got rough, hurting him despite all the slick. The depth he was subjected to was frightening, but it still felt good – as punishment … for being weak, for being unable to do what had to be done.

Tony clenched his teeth, endured it, as a shameful scream tried to break free. The fear of slowly being poisoned by the thing that kept him alive, unable to fix it, collided in his head with the fear of being broken as his body was brutally used. Yet he didn’t question it – he needed it. He deserved it.

The heavy head moved low over his back, his sweating skin vibrated by the growl. Tony groaned, imagining feeling those fangs biting out his life – until he felt the feral rutting inside him begin to come.

It took forever to stop, yet only took minutes. Shallow breaths racked his lungs as his wounded heart flailed wildly in his chest. He was trapped, pinned down and speared by a terrifying weight.

I told him not to stop. A chill of dread swept down his spine. I need it to stop!

Panic crested and he was helpless – and in the next heartbeat he was released and the powerful thing left his body. He was drenched in sweat and dripping – pouring – with cum between his shuddering thighs.

The mattress tilted and the weight lay down at his side. He flinched when he was grabbed and pulled against sweaty hard muscle and damp soft fur.

“Breathe deep,” the low voice instructed behind his ear, “let it out slow – calms tha heart rate.”

Tony was shocked and appalled when his voice shook. “I told you not to stop.”

“Told me t’ take yer choice away. Ya needed it t’ stop.”

“Can I take it back?”

Those warm lips feathered up the shell of his ear, making him shiver.

“What, yer choice? Natch – I aim t’ please.”

“You always want more.”

One amber eye appeared in his line of sight and narrowed at him. “Not gonna ask – even though yer scent’s off. Relax. Told ya I got ya.”

“How do you do it?”

A sharp smirk flashed before it was hidden behind the messy blond hair. “Yer ma ain’t never told ya ‘bout tha li’l birds an’ bees shit?”

Tony frowned and clarified his question. “How are you never weak or afraid?”

“Hmmm, if’n ya think ‘bout that, ya might could remember that’s bullshit.”

“But you’re … you don’t –”

“Shhhh, quiet now.”

“Victor, I –”

His head was turned by fingertips on his chin and when he was kissed, he sank into it. Victor’s expressive mouth and tongue soothed him into a boneless sprawl in the feral’s clutches. The kissing and fingertips stroking his skin here and there didn’t stop until he laid still and silent, breathing evenly.

Finally, he broke the silence to whisper, “Why didn’t you pick something ugly to call me when I asked?”

“Ain’t never seen nothin’ ugly in ya.”

“I could make a list.”

“What, like tha list ya got fer me?”

“No… Never mind.”

“Don’t gotta try t’ be perfect fer me … already convinced o’ that.”

“That’s not reality.”

“Call it fantasy then – t’ me, ya are, as ya are.”

“I should go, your schedule…” When he tried to move, a flashing ache skittered through his pelvis and lower back, stealing away both breath and voice.

“I’m where I wanna be, Tony.” The feral shifted, settled, pulled him in closer, and closed his eyes. “Yer where ya need t’ be.”

He wanted to argue or fuss to be released, but between one breath and the next, he wilted and allowed the solid warm comfort to soothe his fears.

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

Victor let Tony sleep, pulling in the breakfast cart quietly. It didn’t take long for the smell of food to make him stir.

Watching as Tony woke, he purred at his sleepy mussed beauty. The man smelled like him from head to toe – his musk, his seed.

“That smells good, now I’m starving.” Stretching, he groaned when he tried to sit up and flopped down on his back again with a wince. “Oh, wow. I think you drove a bus up my ass. Then you tried to parallel park.”

Victor smirked as Tony attempted to be covert in slipping fingers down there.

“I’m also damp without being sticky. So you’ve been busy.”

“This is a full-service resort.”

“Uh-huh. Let’s test that. Feed me?”

Victor sat on the bed, took his offered hands, and pulled him up as gently as he could. All around them, the rich echo of French cade wood, verbena, and Bulgarian lavender from candles long guttered out lingered to enhance the rest. When he leaned in to kiss his lover, Tony hesitated.

“A herd of goats ran through my mouth at some point – did you eat them?”

“Only tha ones that crossed my bridge.” Pressing their foreheads together, Victor whispered, “Kiss me.”

Tony didn’t move, but he responded to the kiss. Victor nuzzled his neck and ear, ducking his head to lick his jaw. Feeling cautious hands touch his chest and abdomen, he purred in Tony’s ear.

“You are insane levels of sensual.”

Letting the purr deepen, he dipped his head low to lightly nudge the arc reactor.

“Wait, Victor – if you wanted to, I’m sorry … I’m pretty sore, actually.”

He went still, forehead resting on the device. He didn’t know how to ask for what he wanted, afraid of how Tony might react.

“Hey, are you – ah…”

Victor held his breath until the inventor’s hands abruptly lifted and touched his hair. With one tentative stroke of fingers, the purr rumbled deep in his chest again.

“Oh. Okay. Hello, Kitty.”

Tony was awkward about it, but managed a few strokes and light finger combing through the loose curls that once again spilled halfway down his back.

Victor looked up into those beautiful dark coffee brown eyes and had to swallow before he could speak. “Gotta tray, breakfast in bed?”

“I’m all about it.” As Victor got up, he asked, “What are we having?”

“Eggs Benedict Arnold.”

“Yeah, did I forget to apologize for sort of calling you a thief, among other things?”

“Don’t matter none. It’s Nova Lox Benedict, juice an’ java.”

“Isn’t that a Canadian thing?”

“Tha salmon is, Nova Scotia – but it’s more o’ a kosher thing. Toss on tha hollandaise sauce an’ tha smoked salt-cured fish is fuckin’ tasty.”

“I never would have pegged you as a foodie – it was all growls, grunts, and ‘me eat meat’ at my house.”

“Yer house makes me grumpy.”

Tony glanced around at the white pillar candles on every available surface. “Speaking of unintended reactions to décor, those got a bit weird, you realize – friendly critique.”

“Candlelight an’ lavender are soothin’.”

“That many? Voodoo/snuff film weird. E for effort, really, but less is more.”

“I’ll keep that in mind fer next time.” His steady stare didn’t waver until the inventor dropped his gaze. He got no reply.

They both fell silent as they ate. When he tipped the toasted English muffin to let the food fall into his mouth between his fangs, he caught the brief flash of Tony’s smile. Without comment, the inventor acquired his abandoned muffin slices and ate them.

Finishing off the java, Tony moved the devastated breakfast tray and set his cup on it. “I hate to eat, shower, and run, but I need to go. Thanks for … everything.”

“Got one request.”

“If I let you shower with me, I’ll need a new ass.”

Victor arched an eyebrow at him as fear crept in. “Shoulda told me. How bad are ya hurt?”

“Nothing to worry about – it’s on me, I wanted it rough.”

“Ya wanted t’ be punished an’ humiliated – even hurt. Why?”

“I … don’t think I want to talk about it. You weren’t going to ask, remember? Or can I just say you haven’t earned that? Does that go both ways?”

Victor swallowed a growl. “Fair ‘nuff, yer biz.”

Tony rolled stiff shoulders and sighed. “What’s your request?”

“At yer house, ya kept sayin’ this was ‘sposed t’ be light an’ fun, though ya sure got int’ deep an’ intense just fine, more’n once.” Seeing Tony’s wary expression and tense body language, he frowned. “Whatever’s goin’ on with ya – my dick ain’t yer whippin’ post.”

Remembering to close his mouth, Tony glared at him. “I found out you’re a masochist, your files certainly prove you’re a sadist – so even if that was a thing, let’s not pretend you wouldn’t be into it.”

“If’n ya wanna play rough, toy with tha pointies, I’m down, love it. Ya wanna make me yer bitch, make me crawl an’ then fuck me, bring it. I’m int’ that. Hurtin’ ya ain’t what I want.”

Placing fingers to his face, Tony closed his eyes for a moment, pinched the bridge of his nose and rubbed at a temple. “That’s patently ludicrous. You’re into biting me and drinking my blood. You – do things – to people, with your ‘dick’ … that hurts, harms, and terrifies them, for kicks. So tell me again how that isn’t what you want.”

With a sharp short snarl, Victor looked away from him. “Yer not…”

“Don’t do that – don’t look down and get mopey on me. I’m not what?”

Jolted by the irritation in his voice, Victor met his gaze and let the word go. “Prey.”

“Well, small favors, good. They aren’t either, though – lots of them were innocents.” He huffed out a breath, staring at him. “Whipping post. Geez. You have a talent for making me feel like a three-inch-high jackass, you know that? I mean, you’re the alleged sociopath. I’m not used to caring if I offend or hurt feelings. Also, I’m the one with the sore ass – my bad, but still. I was half afraid you wanted to make me wider with that pelvis-yank stunt.”

Unable to hide the shudder those words ran down his spine, Victor swallowed. “Didn’t know … or mean t’.”

“Don’t fall apart over it, I’m not broken.” Tony slumped with arms crossed over his chest. “You do seem to forget your own strength at times. Other times, I forget your strength.”

Victor stared down at his fingers where a glint of metal was showing. “Don’t wanna risk losin’ it. Ya hype me up, good an’ bad.”

“Okay, light and fun – whether we’re roughhousing, dirty talking, bloodletting or not – does that work better for you, the guy for whom ‘horrifying felon’ is too mild of a description? I can’t even believe I’m having this conversation.”

Victor didn’t answer, and the villa grew silent. All around them, the world was awake and indifferent to them both. To escape his own confused feelings, he listened to it: people in the resort and on the beach, cars moving down the main road, the endless song of ocean waves. A baby began to cry in the nearest villa, and the mother sang to soothe the tears. He didn’t know the lullaby, but it was in Italian and beautiful. The crying stopped. He abruptly remembered the taste of warm milk from a teat as a soft trembling voice sang over his head.

‘Come a-loo, come a-loo, come a hi-lo, come down the merry stream…’ Fear scent thick, cloying, it infused into his perception of comfort. The voice was female, weak and afraid. In a flash, he saw his hand kneading the breast that gave milk – it was not the hand of an infant. The fingertips were raw … bloody. The blood had stained the cut white chemise that hung from her shaking thin body. ‘Through the woods we roam boys, through the woods we roam…’ In the distance, as the terrifying hunger forced him to drink, a heavy footfall was coming, chasing horror and fear before it.

Victor startled when Tony’s sheet-covered toes prodded his knee. He glanced up to see a slight smile, somewhere between the kindness shown at the Malibu house and the fake expression that appeared on that handsome face in photos so often. Like a talisman against the waking nightmare, he breathed in that beauty and felt the ghosts fade.

“Hey – light and fun starts now, right, since we are in bed? The internationally infamous boogeyman, Grendel himself – you’re going to ruin your spooky reputation at this rate.”

Dejected, Victor muttered, “Ain’t nothin’ t’ joke ‘bout if’n I nearly broke ya an’ didn’t notice.”

“Look, it’s already better after a good period of being unconscious. It’s fine. I came at you and egged you on, remember?”

Victor frowned, but met his gaze. “Why’d ya keep sayin’ ya trust me, before? Said it lots, even way back in tha damn frozen tent when ya didn’t know from jack if’n I’d seriously injure ya or not. Ain’t gotta high opinion o’ me on a good day – so why say that?”

“I guess I’m not lacking every instinct my ancestors ever set aside a spear to hand down. I just … didn’t think you wanted to harm me. Turns out I was right. I don’t know, maybe finding out people I thought were good really aren’t – can make a man roll the dice with a sadistic predator who at least is straightforward about what he does.”

Tony stared down at the reactor, his expression growing blank.

Victor watched him. He was familiar with that look. “Do ya hate it?” he whispered.

Blinking in surprise, Tony looked up at him and avoided the question entirely. “Why did you say my scent was off?”

“I can smell a whiff o’ illness – but ya don’t got tha sniffles, do ya.”

“No.” Tony winced, threw the sheet back, and gingerly moved off the bed. “I’ll figure it out and fix it – that’s what I do.”

“Tony?”

The inventor had made it to the open bathroom door and didn’t turn. His back was stiff, with either anger or pain. As he paused, a subtle strain of fear leaked back into his unnatural scent.

“Yeah?”

His stomach dropped, pierced by dread. “It ain’t bad, is it? Tha illness?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.” The bathroom door shut with a short snap.

Victor sat there for a long time, listening to the inventor forget the fact that he could hear the sounds of pain he made, even with the shower going. He finally dressed in jeans and a t-shirt before the water stopped – hoping to put Tony more at ease.

~ ~ ~

When Tony’s breath caught at the moment he began to bend down to put his tennis shoes on, Victor crossed the living room to the chair in a few strides and went to his knees to do it for him, fastening them quickly.

“Full service it is.” The inventor caught his eye and winked at him. He glanced around briefly at the serene opulence of the spacious villa around them. “I love places like this. I wish I had a week to appreciate it, but I don’t do nothing at all with much success.”

Fingers touched Victor’s hair and he froze to allow it, staring at the floor in front of the shoes. Tony toyed with the curls, tugging gently to straighten a few, letting them go to watch them curl again.

“Is this stuff going to hit the floor one of these days?”

“Usually stops at my ass,” he muttered under a curtain of it.

“Something we have in common.” The fingers moved to brush the hair from his eyes and held it there in front of his ear. “Don’t hide. Look at me.”

He got as far as his chin, staring at the artistic sculpted facial hair there and along the jaw. “Do ya want…?”

“Rain check, okay?”

“Didn’t wanna hurt ya…”

“Hey, hey… Come on. Eyes up here. I’ll be fine.”

Victor slumped at his feet, in a loose hold of fingers in his hair, barely breathing. Tony’s beautiful eyes shone with kindness again. His free hand rose and the thumb stroked up the front of a long fang. It made Victor shiver, but it felt so good.

“You used to be shorter, smaller – when you were younger, and your friend, well lover, I suppose, was bigger, wasn’t he?” When Victor nodded, Tony smiled and stroked the fang again. “You have two major modes of how you fill space – larger than life, with ‘I own it’ swagger, and trying to compact yourself into as small a ball as you can. It’s a little odd to see you do that from my perspective, but since you do … I should do the responsible thing.”

Victor wilted and looked away. This time, he wasn’t chastised for it. “Don’t need t’ hear it.”

“Yes, you do. We both should come with disclaimers. Don’t rely on me, don’t hang anything on me. I’m not … worth it.” Tony tucked the hair he’d been holding behind a pointed ear.

Victor’s head snapped up. “Ya are t’ me.”

“I don’t have much time.” He paled, his expression haunted. “Free time, I should say. For some reason, I keep ending up doing this with you, and now and then, it’s … well it’s exactly what I need.” Tony’s hands settled on his shoulders. “Victor, don’t count on me. I’m…”

He studied the handsome face and whispered, “Lightnin’ in a jar.”

Tony smiled, but he looked sad. “The jar has seen a lot of mileage.” Straightening in the basket chair, he withdrew his hands to his knees, the fingers tapping there first like skittish things before they settled. “I can’t be him for you, and I’m too much of a mess to be able to carry anyone else.”

“This ain’t ‘bout ‘im, an’ I don’t need nobody t’ carry me. I know who ya are, know yer outta my league.”

“There isn’t a league; there are just people who don’t deserve to be trapped in the wreckage I leave behind. That’s why I chase one night stands. You know that – you know that’s what this is.”

“I’m a way t’ get yer itch scratched – that’s no mystery. Teachin’ me anythin’, consent, all o’ that – it’s just what ya tell yerself t’ excuse wantin’ t’ fuck me.”

“Ah … touché. I had hoped you wouldn’t notice.”

“Don’t care. Told ya, I’m where I wanna be.”

“Victor…”

Barely able to speak, his voice was low and shaky … weak. “Don’t tell me t’ go away.”

Tony sighed. “I’m … not, because I don’t want to play games or toy with you. Pepper even told me not to, she said it was cruel – if that matters to you at all. I know my willpower often sucks. I can’t tell you ‘this is it’ because I’ll end up at your door again, sooner or later. You may say now that crumbs are enough for you, but they shouldn’t be and eventually you’ll realize that. I also can’t tell you I’ll make the effort to keep in touch. I probably won’t.”

Staring down at his hands, limp on his thighs where he knelt at Tony Stark’s feet, Victor felt despair clouding his vision.

“Nothin’ new t’ me. I ain’t what anybody wants t’ keep.”

“It’s such a cliché, but it’s not you, it’s me. You’re fascinating and fun – most of the time.”

“Ain’t ‘nuff, cuz I ain’t ‘er.”

“It’s nothing to do with Pepper. That ‘light and fun’ plan hinges on this. Don’t ask for more than I’m able to give. I simply won’t.”

Victor drew in a breath and let it out slow as Tony fell silent. In one smooth movement, he rose to his feet. “Got no claim here. If’n ya want … anythin’ … ya got my number.” He turned away to stare out the window, seeing nothing.

“Our stray tech deal still holds?”

“Natch. I don’t want yer shit in tha hands o’ bastards that might could use it on me. Still gonna trade me fer it?”

“Yes, with the original limitations. I can’t hand over things that make you a better criminal – I don’t need more innocent blood on my hands.”

Victor stifled a sigh and brought the mask down. Letting his lips stretch into a toothy grin, he faced the man and asked, “How ‘bout tha dirty fuckers – ya care what happens t’ their blood?”

Tony stared up at him, and it was hard to tell if he was sold on the attempt to retreat. “Not particularly, no.”

The inventor rose, trying to hide his pain. By the way he stood, with weight shifted to the left, Victor knew the muscles around the right hip were the problem.

With a snort, Tony groused, “Stop assessing me like a limping gazelle you plan to isolate from the herd.” He fished car keys from a pocket of his jeans. “Call or text when you want or if you catch more contraband – I’ll pick up or respond when I can. Actually whistling in my eardrum is not necessary.”

Victor stayed where he was, his back to the window. He could hear the waves crashing gently to the shore.

“How are the kids doing? I assume you’ve checked in. Have they said much yet?”

“Collection o’ orphanages in Chile or caught out on tha streets – they got nothin’ an’ nobody t’ go back there fer. My contact, she can place ‘em with good families here, an’ they all want that. They wanna stay close an’ still see each other. Gonna pay their bills, get ‘em settled, an’ watch over ‘em here an’ there. Ain’t gonna argue with ya ‘bout it, neither. Got it handled.”

“No argument at all – what you’re doing for them is … amazing. I won’t forget it.”

Victor nodded once and turned back to the window. The door unlocked, opened, and closed. He kept his eyes on the ocean, trying to use the soothing song of waves to drown out the sound of the slight limp in Tony’s gait as he walked away.

The undertow beneath the flotsam of his thoughts hid the helpless fear: the insidious creeping scent of a growing illness.

~ ~ ~

Victor lay draped down the pool steps at his Lahaina safe house and let Leimomi’s signature luau roast pig digest as he lazed in the pool that took up one end of his living room.

The waterfall in the room that fed the pool gave off a soothing constant rush of mist over his skin. The gentle breeze wafting through the open sliding wall was full of the heady scent of flowers and the alluring sound of the ocean waves. Spiking through the endless rush of water on all sides were the voices of children playing on his private beach – those who had been born here, and the new ones he and Tony had saved.

They shoulda been tha voices o’ cubs me an’ Tabitha had t’gether. Planned t’ bring ‘er here an’ she woulda seen how it could be … but that ain’t gonna happen.

Leimomi’s scent entered the room, adding coconut oil to the mix. As she stepped down into the pool and approached, Victor moved to the shallow platform and leaned his chin on crossed wrists out of the water to give her his back. Massaging strong hands warmed the oil as she smoothed it into his skin, working it into his hair as well. From neck and shoulders, down to the edge of the swim shorts he’d dug out of a forgotten drawer.

“I almost don’t recognize you in clothes,” she teased.

Victor sighed into a purr. “Got me a PG-rated house fer a bit, don’t wanna traumatize tha cubs.”

“We can place them easily with local families who will adopt them, but I wanted to give them time here together first. Hopefully, they will forge friendships that will last and have others of shared experience and heritage to talk to – that can be important as they grow older.”

“Fine by me, ya know what yer doin’. Anythin’ they need, now or down tha road, send tha bill t’ Lenusya like I said – that includes tha folks that adopt ‘em. Call yerself their sponsor or some shit, whatever works, but I pay tha bills, got it?”

“Of course, though you pay me well enough for all of it.”

“Yer money’s yers – they’re my responsibility.”

“As you like. I can send them all to my eldest son’s place, if you want peace and quiet.”

“Makani? Naw, he’s got cubs comin’ outta ‘is ears already. I like hearin’ ‘em out there. Can’t stay long anyhow – gotta swing ‘round tha globe again soon.”

“My Nalani tells me you aren’t in the Yukon often or for long.”

“Got yer spies everywhere.” He could almost feel her smile, warmer than the oil. “‘Preciate ya trustin’ me t’ have ‘er there fer Silas.”

“Don’t let your son grow up without you – he will need your example whether he is a mutant or not.”

“Nobody thinks I’m a good example fer nothin’ ‘cept ya, darlin’. He ain’t quite a year old yet, Nalani’s still nursin’ ‘im – I got time.”

“You will find it slips away all too quickly. Is Tabitha why you limit your time there?”

The purr guttered out. “She’s gotta right t’ see ‘im often as she wants – but it drives me up a tree bein’ ‘round ‘er. I don’t change much. These’re tha cards we’re dealt.”

“Once you love, you remain in love, even if others move on. I wish you could find some measure of peace for yourself. I wish you could have brought her here to have the baby. So much sadness…”

“I can’t figure out females at all,” he groused. Frowning, he added in a mutter, “Tabs ain’t a mystery, though. If’n I could change how we started, I would, but can’t go back – it’s done an’ gone.”

“And Tony Stark?”

“He ain’t mine an’ never was. Never will be.”

“Your feline self believes he belongs to that man, does he not?”

“Oh, he’s lickin’ Stark’s jaw an’ all now. Tha inner kitty’s stupid like that – he won’t listen t’ me or budge one bit. ‘Course, tha man’s got zip clue ‘bout tha hold he’s got on me. He thinks I gotta stalker crush. Now he’s … sick, somehow.”

“Sick does not mean doomed.”

Victor sighed and slid out from under her hands. Moving to the waterfall, he stood under it and let it flow over him. It was cool, soothing, and utterly unable to wash away the fear.

Tony has a sickness he’s afraid he can’t fix – he was scared, desperate, a mess…

Rising in his thoughts like a curse was a memory he hated: the twist of a delicate neck, the easy and horrific snap, and a woman who could have been all that he ever wanted or needed had slumped in his arms, dead.

The house was empty. “Bonnie,” he breathed her name like a prayer.

Her death had been a gift, an act of mercy, to spare her pain and fear – because he had promised to keep her safe. The virus she carried could have wiped out two continents, but only her fear and pain had mattered to him. He had barely known her, but he couldn’t care about that. He hadn’t been able to shake the ghost of what they could have been to each other.

Now Tony, now… Whatever this is, if it’s bad, if he… He felt sick, but the healing factor smoothed it away. For one blinding instant, he hated the healing ability that his mate did not have, hated that he had no way to share that, no way to help – any of them. The chill of a newborn fear crept into his heart and shattered his anger. He came t’ me wantin’ t’ be hurt. If’n he asks, t’ be … spared…

Hissing in pain, his head bowed as he held himself and snarled – and sunk flashing claws into his arms. Blood dripped down to the water, where it was diluted and pulled apart until it simply didn’t exist anymore – like them.

“Bonnie. Michel,” he whispered. “Can’t do it again, no matter how many times I do it in nightmares. No. Not Tony… I’d find a way t’ die first.”

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

Tony swallowed hard as he laid his head down on folded arms on his workshop desk. He stared at a glass of melting ice at his elbow as beads of condensation began to roll down it. He had broken his new pact with chlorophyll and poured the scotch out of pure desperation. The ice was insurance that only so much alcohol would fit in the glass. It had been just a few days since returning home, but normally, they would have solved a problem within hours.

“Where haven’t we looked for a palladium replacement? No stone unturned, right?”

“I shall run the numbers again and start a fresh search, sir,” JARVIS responded.

He picked himself up to slouch in the chair. “Once more into the breach.”

Looking around the workshop, he stared at Victor’s abandoned firearm on a work table: an antique and functional blunderbuss.

Don’t call, leave him alone. Have some pride. His gaze didn’t waver. He saved my life so often, but he can’t help with this. He sat quietly for a few minutes, picked up the glass to swirl the ice around, and then put it down as the familiar desire to be blitzed out of his mind to cope reared its ugly head. One vice or another, huh? Lesser of evils it is – from a health standpoint. Shit.

He picked up his phone, hit a speed dial number, and set it on the desk with the speaker on. As it rang, he tried not to fidget. The moment the mutant picked up and he heard the slight growl, Tony launched the first verbal salvo without stopping for breath.

“What are you wearing? Is it a ‘blood of your enemies’ sort of day?”

“Fur.”

Tony smiled and teased, “Neiman Marcus polar bear sheik, floor length mink?”

“Just tha fur my pa gave me on my birthday.”

“Not in a ‘bye baby bunting, daddy’s gone a-hunting’ sense, I presume.”

“Nope. What ya want, Tony?”

“Hmm, well you’re irritated with me, but at least you aren’t calling me Stark.” He tapped a staccato rhythm on the desk. “Remember when I mentioned sooner or later I’d end up at your door again?”

“Want me t’ set an extra plate on tha supper table or what? Thought ya were sore.”

“I am. I … want to ask for a favor. Feel free to call me an ass, tell me no, whatever you need to do.”

“Shoot an’ we’ll see.”

“I can’t relax, I’m not sleeping, I … need to relax.” He held his breath through an anxious awful pause.

“We ‘bout t’ have us a long distance circle jerk? At least yer sober, give or take. Ain’t found a disposable skirt? An’ ya call me a misogynist.”

Tony felt his neck flush as a stab of embarrassment warmed his skin. “I deserve that. If it’s no, that’s … fine.”

Another pause. “Ain’t sayin’ no – don’t got tha balls t’ tell ya t’ go fuck yerself, neither.” Victor sighed. “Could come out here – Oslo – by suit or jet. Yer ass can be off tha menu.”

“I can’t, I just need…”

He ran his fingers through his hair, nervous and feeling trapped by his own body. The mirror image on his monitor had shown him the evidence he couldn’t ignore – telltale patterns of poison crept through veins, reaching out from the arc reactor like a dark promise. His blood toxicity level had risen yet again.

“Victor…” he whispered into the feral’s silence.

“I got ya, Tony, don’t gotta worry none ‘bout that. Breathe fer me, deep an’ slow, an’ don’t stop.”

Flooded with relief, he leaned back in the chair and palmed his indifferent crotch. Focusing on breathing, he didn’t feel it stir until the low purr rumbled all around him, magnified by the AI. He opened his mouth to ask for what he needed to hear, but Victor already knew.

“Wish ya were here but damn, can’t say no. Need ya too bad. C’mon, Tony … lemme hear ya, lemme have ya…”

He forgot to close his mouth, and the groan he gave the feral when he was told to release himself from clothing burned away the shame he felt over asking for this.

Tony closed his eyes and did everything to himself that Victor told him to do, trying to experience only that and ignore the rest of his body.

“Sink int’ tha feelin’, an’ my voice. I love tha feel o’ yer cock, tha skin so smooth an’ hot, how it slides when ya stroke it. Tha taste … so sweet an’ … good.”

Letting out a nervous burst of laughter, Tony murmured, “I can’t taste it for you, I don’t bend that far.”

He was rewarded with a deep burr of that purr and shuddered at the sound of it.

“That’s it, relax. Stroke it an’ squeeze tha head each time ya get there.”

“Do you want me to tease it, not come yet?”

“No. Want ya t’ come fer me. Then yer gonna go stretch out on yer couch an’ nap it out. I’ll make ya come there, too.”

He felt it gathering, the curling and tightening pressure building. His hand gripped harder, moved faster, when Victor told him to.

“Growl purr at me, oh shit, I love that.”

The sound of it filled his head, his body. He twitched, arched his back and throttled his cock, a straining groan leaking out through his clenched teeth.

“Cup yer other hand over tha head,” Victor whispered. “Catch it fer me – it’s mine.”

Trembling, Tony cried out as he came, barely catching it. He gasped, his breathing rough again. Coaxed by the soft baritone, he slowed each breath, inhaling deeper. His hands were still shaking from the pure overload of sensations.

“Lift yer hand, Tony, lick it fer me – taste it fer me, I want it… Tell me how good it tastes – salty and sweet.”

He hesitated, his fingers trying to get it all so it wouldn’t drip. Caught by the voice, he lifted his hand to his lips. Remembering the times he’d seen the feral lick at it, how hot it was to watch that, he swiped his tongue out over the pearly slick.

“Go on, lick an’ suck it fer me. Tony, what I’d do t’ ya if’n I was there…”

In time with his words, he licked until his hand was clean. “It’s a little bit tart, too,” he muttered.

“Yup, like a touch o’ lemon – just thinkin’ ‘bout yer taste … gonna make me come.”

Tony sat up, hands on knees, and stared at the phone before closing his eyes again. “Come on, Victor, do it. Fall apart for me.”

When it happened, the feral didn’t roar or growl. It was a soft sound, almost a broken sound.

“Victor, yes…”

He rose slowly on jelly legs and went to lie down on the couch with his phone, not bothering to tuck himself back into his jeans. He set the phone on the coffee table. One hand on his half hard cock, he draped the other arm over his eyes.

“JARVIS,” he spoke quietly, “dim the lights, and the door, seal it. Amplify voice.” To Victor he asked, “Are you going to nap with me until we can do it again? If you have to go, I … understand.”

“No, Tony – I’m where I wanna be.”

Somewhere between too busy to bother and realizing he was becoming sick, he had stopped doing anything that wasn’t a mission or trying to solve his problem. He had been with no one more than once for even longer … except for Victor.

Fear crystallized when he was alone now, and the sound of the feral breathing yet not touching him cracked it, made it prism into an unbearable loneliness. He reached for the phone and set it on the arc reactor.

“Can you hear it – the reactor? You sleep better with that sound, don’t you?”

“Sleep better with ya.”

A slight shiver ran through him. “Talk to me, Victor, tell me … what you’d do if you were here now.” Tony’s hand had tightened on his cock, but as the rasping whisper answered, he let it loose.

“What I wanna do… Wanna chase yer demons ‘til they bleed out under my claws, wanna keep ya … safe.”

That low tone, already like a drug, had morphed from vicious protection to something that made Tony’s breath catch. He was weary now of taking sex from others – they wanted the rich playboy. They didn’t care at all, unaware that it was a performance, a mere mask. The feral had looked through that mask from the start, trying to see who was hiding behind it. Tony hadn’t wanted to let him see and had pushed him away to prevent it.

Why? Because he’s … a monster. That steady breathing through the phone was a comfort, until it hitched, stopped, and then slowed. He’s more animal than man, though – more animal than monster. Monsters aren’t born, they’re made. Victor’s voice in his head, something he had said in his kitchen in Malibu, ghosted into his troubled thoughts. ‘Somethin’ men do.’ He’s still trying to learn how to be a man in the wake of bad or absent teachers – just like me.

Tony lifted his hands to his phone, touching it since he couldn’t touch the person who wanted to help, wanted … him – saw him.

All the risk, how badly I’ve treated him, no matter how impossible I’ve behaved, he just – keeps trying. No one else … has.

He opened his mouth to speak, nearly choked on the words, and then gulped them out in a desperate whisper.

“Tell me how I make you feel.”

Victor hesitated. “Like maybe I could be … worth somethin’ … if’n ya wanted t’ touch me.”

Loneliness bloomed, sparking pain. God, I wish I could. He isn’t who I want, but he’s the only one … who is willing to do the work to … want me. Tony’s entire body fell still as he barely breathed enough to ask, “In one word, tell me how you’re feeling right now.”

Even amplified by the AI, he almost couldn’t hear the answer when it finally came. The soft low voice filled the air around him, half breath and half whisper.

“Weak.”

 

FINI.

(Sabretooth will return in The Hunt: Flipside.)

 

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Author’s Note: The flavor description of the Faygo pop was borrowed from an article about a Juggalo (ICP fan) taste review. I’m a fan of the band Insane Clown Posse, and I’ve decided that Zane should be from Detroit, their home town. Tony calling the Maserati MC12 a “de-tuned Enzo” is from a performance quote about the car by Jeremy Clarkson via Wikipedia. He was comparing it to an Enzo Ferrari. I love adding techie stuff in to let Tony sound more like Tony.

The references to goats and bridges are from the Norwegian fairytale Three Billy Goats Gruff, with Victor cast as the bridge-skulking troll who wants to eat them. It’s been my favorite fairytale my entire life. Bye, Baby Bunting is a very old nursery rhyme, first published in England in 1784. The lyrics Victor remembered his mother singing to him are from an English folk song called Down the Merry Stream, dating back to the Revolutionary War period (1775–1783). As stated in an author’s note in my tale Redemption, the downtempo haunting version I’m using for Victor can be heard in the Country tune Grandma’s Song, by Gail Davies.

I hope those who are reading this series in order already know who Lenusya and Silas are. The Hunt: Flipside will feature Jubilee as bait in a Hydra-hunting adventure when Victor will finally get to go after the Fixer, who tried to have Tony assassinated in my story Cutting Edge. I also need to update my other WIP fics … I’m so very behind on that front. Thanks for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)

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PreviousSabretooth Series

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