A/N: This story takes place in the X-Men: Origins movie-verse, mostly because Liev Schreiber's Sabertooth was badass.
P.S. I took the lyrics for "Lady Margret" off of the Cold Mountain soundtrack.
Disclaimer: I do not own Sabertooth or any of the X-Men characters in any universe that I'm aware of. Nor do I own The Tyger or any other works by the incomparable William Blake.
I'm not making one red cent from this story. I'm just havin' some fun.
She smelled of the forest; green, earthy. She lived in a cabin situated in a small clearing deep within the woods. Perched amidst the branches of an aging fir, Victor watched as the frail hung her laundry out to dry on a simple cord strung between two young trees in a stand of oaks not far from the house. Sunlight filtered through the bedsheets and clothing, making the colors glow like stained glass. It also shone through the pale cotton dress she wore and her curves were revealed in stark silhouette. A bit thin for Victor's taste; he was never much for tall, willowy types. They broke way too easily.
Her skin was bronzed from hours spent outdoors, her hair chestnut brown and cut short enough to reveal the nape of her long neck. Despite the late autumn chill, she walked barefoot. Victor found that a turn-on for some reason.
While she clipped a blouse in place with colorful plastic clothespins, she began to sing.
Lady Margret was standing in her own room door
A comb in her long yellow hair
When who did she spy but sweet William and his bride
As to the churchyard they drew near
Victor blinked in surprise. He hadn't heard that song in…shit, decades. It was the kind of song he heard throughout his childhood, sung by young girls as they did their chores. The frail's voice wasn't particularly beautiful, but her joyful enthusiasm made up for the lack of talent. Victor settled into a more comfortable position and continued to listen, intrigued by this woman who lived alone in the middle of nowhere.
The day passed away and the night coming on
Most of the men were asleep
Lady Margret appeared all dressed in white
Standing at his bed feet
She said "How do you like your bed? And how do you like your sheet?
And how do you like your fair young bride that's laying in your arms asleep?"
He said "Very well do I like my bed. Much better do I like my sheet.
But most of all that fair young girl standing at my bed feet."
Then once he kissed her lily white hand
And twice he kissed her cheek
Three times he kissed her cold corpsy lips, then he fell into her arms asleep.
She flicked out a sun-yellow top sheet, draped over the clothesline, pinned it in place.
It was to Victor's mind a happy accident. He'd finished a job for Stryker a few days ago and decided to take a couple of days off to explore the local forest, maybe hunt down a deer or two, when he'd come upon this clearing and the frail who made her home there. There was no sign of anyone else, and Victor's nose could not detect even a hint of another human being. This woman lived alone and had for a long time. Not even visitors. He smiled to himself, long canines bared. Looked like he'd be hunting something other than deer today.
The night passed away and the day came on
Into the morning light
Sweet William said "I'm troubled in my head by the dreams that I dreamed last night.
Such dreams, such dreams as these, I know they mean no good.
For I dreamed that my bower was full of red swine and my bride's bed full of blood."
With a silent grace uncanny for a man his size, Victor descended from his perch and crouched in the shadow of the trees, eyes agleam. The woman sang on, oblivious to the danger.
He asked "Is Lady Margret in her room? Or is she out in the hall?"
But Lady Margret lay in a cold, black coffin with her face turned to the wall.
He crept out from the forest's cover and out into the daylight. His feet, clad in hiking boots, made hardly a whisper in the grass. Victor's nostrils flared with the scent of his prey, her forest smells with an undertone that was distinctly female. (There was a dim sense that he'd encountered this alluring combination of scents before, but he shoved it to the back of his mind. He did not want to be distracted from the hunt.) His pulse quickened. He flexed his hands, claws extended in anticipation.
Throw back, throw back those snow white robes
Be they ever so fine
And let me kiss those cold corpsey lips, for I know they'll never kiss mine.
Then once he kissed her lily white hand
And twice he kissed her cheek
Three times he kissed her cold corpsey lips, then he fell into her arms asleep.
Tessa woke that morning to the sun angling through the window onto her face. To some this would be an annoyance, but the brightness penetrating her eyelids brought a smile to her lips. She stretched luxuriantly, joints popping, then relaxed with her eyes still closed and listened…
…to the slow music of the forest…the living things that measured their lives in sunlight and soil…the gradual shift of the seasons…the rapid movements of the creatures that dwelt beneath, among, and within them…myriad sensations.
It was not so much music as sensation. The living things that others saw as merely part of the landscape were in fact fully aware of the world around them, each other, and all that interacted with them and each other. Tessa listened to what the trees knew, what the grasses felt, what the mosses growing upon the stones perceived. It took patience to interpret what the green growing things perceived, but Tessa had many years of practice behind her. The sounds of the autumn season. The rasp of squirrel claws grasping the bark of the trees, the sluggish flow of sap slowing even more, the faint itch of dead leaves about to shed from branches. Flat teeth snagging, pulling and cutting at the last green shoots, creatures burrowing through dirt and tangled roots, the metal taste of blood on the ground as some hapless forager met its end in another beast's jaws. The same continual song, yet the notes were ever changing.
Tessa rose from her bed, ate, bathed. And all the time the music was with her. Most of the time it was simply part of the background, like the music piped into restaurants or shopping malls, barely noticed. But when the anomaly surfaced, she frowned and concentrated once again. Other, her mind interpreted the sensations into words. Predator … not bear … not wolf …
Her frown deepened. A man? People wandered into her forest from time to time—poachers or hikers—but this didn't have the same feel. A human in the woods was like a boulder that suddenly dropped into a river, altering its flow. Who or whatever this was didn't clash with the forest's harmony, but neither did it completely fit into the song. That was not what troubled her the most, however. There was something almost…familiar about this Other.
She debated with herself over going to investigate, but the music told her that the Other was gradually drifting towards her. She could just wait for it to arrive. Yes, she decided, she would wait. In the meantime, she went about her day as always. She cleaned, she repaired. She did the laundry, then carried it out to hang dry. The day was cool; soon it would be too cold for hanging laundry out to dry and she would have to resort to the dryer sitting all but abandoned in her laundry room. Out in the sunlight and the fresh air, with a light breeze stirring the hanging sheets, Tessa soon began to sing. It was an old folksong, the tune light yet the story it told predictably grim. Tessa sang it with enthusiasm, distracted for the moment from the woods' song. For anyone else, this would have proved a fatal mistake.
Pain lanced across Tessa's back, so sudden and intense she could only gasp as she spun to face the cause. A man loomed over her, lips pulled back in a feral grin made more so by the exposed fangs, face covered in coarse hair. He was dressed in hunter's garb, camouflaged pants and jacket dappled in woodland colors. Tessa stumbled away from him.
"Aw, don't go," the man purred, raising a hand, each claw-tipped finger lightly coated with her blood, "I was just gettin' started."
Blind panic washed over her thoughts. Tessa let out a strangled cry, turned to run, but a steely hand grabbed her arm and the next thing she knew she was flying. She screamed just before she struck the hard trunk of the nearest tree and fell to the ground. The impact made the air explode from her lungs. The feral man growled, dropped to all fours, and leapt after her in a single, catlike bound. Half stunned, still unable to catch her breath, she tried to scramble out of his way. He grabbed one of her flailing ankles, claws sinking into the skin. The fresh pain made her gasp, finally refilling her air-starved lungs. She cried out and kicked at him with her other foot, but the man dodged it easily, laughing at her pathetic attempt. He tightened his grip until the claws went deep enough to hit bone, yanked her viciously towards him. Tessa struggled, sobbing in terror. His claws shredded through clothing and flesh alike. A knee was forced between her thighs to shove them apart. His terrible weight pressed down on her.
"Now comes the fun part," he leered. The scent of blood and terror intoxicated him. Her panic-stricken eyes stared up at him. They were an intense green, irises stark against the whites of her eyes like pine trees in a snowfield. For a brief instant Victor was captivated, and again that dim memory flickered at the back of his mind, making him frown in puzzlement.
And then he was suddenly and violently yanked from his prey. Victor roared. His claws sank into hard wood coated in slippery earth. What the fuck? He twisted in his opponent's grasp and saw what held him. They were roots. Tree roots erupting from the ground, coiling around his body like serpents. Victor snarled and thrashed. Wood splintered and fell in chunks, but more quickly rose in their place. They wrapped around his arms, legs, and torso, tightening their hold until he could no longer move. Still he continued to struggle, face reddening from the effort.
Tessa rose unsteadily to her feet. Her dress hung in tatters. She crossed her arms over her bared breasts. The feral man's eyes latched onto her, mouth stretched in a grimace of hate. Tessa's body was crisscrossed with the deep cuts he'd inflicted on her, but they no longer bled as they should have. The wounds began to close. Within moments they were erased from her skin, not so much as a discolored welt remaining. With a shudder, Tessa turned away from her attacker and shuffled back towards her cabin.
"You bitch!" Victor roared after her retreating form, "You can't keep me tied up forever! When I get outta this, I'm gonna spread your guts all over this clearing!"
Tessa lurched through the door and slammed it closed behind her, cutting off his tirade. She sank to her knees, arms crossed over her chest, then doubled over until her forehead touched the floor. Her body trembled.
It had been so long since she'd experienced anything remotely dangerous. A lifetime of safety had made her lax. She should have paid closer attention, should have listened for the intruder's approach and prepared herself for a possible confrontation. But instead she'd daydreamed and let him sneak up on her, catch her unawares and make her panic like a cornered rabbit. If he hadn't paused for that brief second, if she hadn't come to her senses quickly enough to take advantage of his distraction, he would have…
"Stop," she hissed to herself. "Get up." Slowly, she straightened from her hunched position and regained her feet. She looked down at herself. Her dress was a tattered ruin and her skin was covered in dirt and blood. She stripped off the remains of her clothing, tossing them into the trash, and made her way to the bathroom to wash the filth from her. Later, clean and dressed in a pair of sweatpants and T-shirt, she wandered over to the window to gaze out at her captive. The intruder didn't appear to be struggling at the moment, just staring at her door. Tessa could swear she almost felt the heat of his baleful glare.
"What am I going to do with you?" She thought of those fangs, those claws. Again that hint of familiarity niggling at the back of her mind. I know … I remember … something.
An outsider might have told her she was in shock, that her mind was playing tricks on her. But Tessa knew herself too well. This was an old memory, she was sure of it. She spent a while trying to coax it into the light without success. It would come in its own time, and not before. Busywork helped, she knew from long experience. Tessa headed for the door. She reached for the handle, hesitated. Her jaws clenched in determination and she forced herself to grab the handle and turn. Come on, Tess. Don't give him the satisfaction of seeing you too scared to step outside your door.
Victor saw the frail emerge from the safety of her home and immediately let loose a massive roar. The woman flinched, then shut the door behind her and walked with rigid calm over to the overturned laundry basket, righted it. She continued hanging the damp clothes, making an obvious effort to behave as if she hadn't been affected by Victor's attack. But the tension in her shoulders, her silence, and the smell of anxiety wafting from her belied her apparent calm. Victor smirked.
The tree roots held him in an uncomfortable position. His muscles soon began to cramp. He flexed against his wooden bonds, but was unable to do more than produce a faint creak. Victor snarled. He hated confinement, hated more the sense of being at someone else's mercy. He longed to sink his fangs into that mutant bitch's throat and tear it open, to feel the hot spray of blood and hear the bubbling gurgle. The fact that she continued to ignore him only infuriated him more. As she finished with her laundry and headed back to the house, Victor erupted into a flurry of snarls and growls, thrashing in his wooden prison. The frail shut the door behind her without so much as a glance his way.
Night settled in. Tessa ate her dinner with little appetite, then decided to turn in early. No surprise, sleep did not come easily. She could deal with the emotional trauma, but not the continual nagging thought that there was something she should remember. There were many whose faces had faded from her memory over time, but she was pretty sure she'd remember that feral man, no matter how far back they might have met. He was nothing if not one big, loud, deadly statement. That razor grin, those claws. Cat's claws. Tiger claws.
In what distant deeps or skies …
She could feel the memory being to rise in her thoughts. Rather than try to grasp it and risk it sliding away like an eel, she made herself relax, open, and let it come …
A different night, lifetimes ago, in a much smaller home. The warmth of a fire, the flicker of candlelight. Tessa curled up on a bearskin rug in a long, modest nightgown with a blanket draped across her shoulders like a shawl. A book in her hands, its pages dimly illuminated. Across from her, dressed in similar nighttime attire, two boys of differing ages, cross-legged, elbows on knees, hands clasped beneath their chins. Both solemn, the younger mimicking the older. Their eyes gleamed with reflected light, like animal eyes.
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare seize the fire?
The boys listened to her words, enthralled. By the poem? Or by the woman who read to them? Tessa suspected a little of both, especially where the older boy was concerned. His guarded stare hinted at the hardships he'd endured. So burdened at so young an age. But there was no helplessness in him, for the hands tucked beneath his hairless chin bore a tapered claw upon the end of each finger. Claws which Tessa knew could extend to more than twice their length at will or when he was agitated. But for now they remained at rest.
What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?
When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tessa's eyes flew open. A shudder ran through her. No. Please don't let it be …
Needless to say, Victor did not sleep that night. The long hours were spent either straining against his imprisonment, cursing at the frail, and simply waiting. The first rays of dawn found him covered in dew. His breath misted in the morning air. He was thirsty. Considered licking some of the dew when the front door opened. The frail stepped outside as the sun barely peeped over the distant treetops. Still barefoot, Victor noticed; another detail which tugged at his memory.
She walked around the side of the house and approached a small open-sided structure a few yards distant, collecting an armload of wood from a large stack along the way. The faint smell of ash and smoke told Victor it was some kind of outdoor brick oven. Within moments she had a fire lit and fresh smoke poured out from the chimney. The woman went back to the house and reemerged carrying a large platter. Victor sniffed: dough, cheese, sausage and ham. He blinked. A pizza for breakfast? Not one of those crappy prepackaged frozen ones either; everything smelled fresh. The frail slid the platter in through the oven's slotted opening, used a long handle with a flattened shovel-like end to push it further into the hot interior. The scent of cooking made Victor's stomach twist and growl. Great. Thirsty and hungry.
It seemed an eternity before she used the oversized spatula to pull the platter out and lay it on a stone slab that served as a table. She waited a few minutes for it to cool, then picked up a pizza cutter, divided the pie into six large wedges. She then picked up one of the steaming slices and gingerly proceeded to eat it then and there.
Victor ground his teeth. That bitch! She had to realize was hungry after hours stuck out here and she goes and has her breakfast right in front of him! He wanted to shout abuse at her, but knew it would only let her know that her actions were getting to him. Damned if he was gonna give her the satisfaction.
Two generous slices later, the woman picked up the platter with the remaining pizza and returned to the cabin. Victor glowered at the door, only to see it open again and the woman step out with a pizza-laden plate in one hand and a glass of water in the other. As she tramped through the grass, dew coated her bare feet, made the cuffs of her trousers darken. She stopped at arm's length from the captive feral. Though her expression was neutral, Victor could smell the fear she held at bay. She held the glass out to him. Victor suddenly lunged, snarling. His teeth snapped shut a hair's breadth from her hand. The frail jerked back and for one sweet instant her fear-scent permeated the air. Victor smirked.
Tessa swallowed the lump that rose in her throat, then extended her arm out to him again.
Now comes the part when she pours it out on the ground, he thought sardonically.
She took a tentative step towards him. Victor's smarmy expression slipped just a little. Another step, her arm outstretched. The rim of the glass lightly touched his bottom lip, leaving behind a bead of moisture. Victor's tongue slipped out of its own accord to lick the drop from his lip. The glass pressed against his mouth with gentle insistence.
Victor's lips parted. Tessa tipped the glass slowly, careful not to let any of its contents dribble. She watched his throat flex with each swallow as the water quickly dwindled. She set the empty glass down by her feet, then used her free hand to lift a pizza slice from the plate and brought it to his mouth. Victor's expression was a mixture of wariness and contempt along with the usual hostility. But it was food, and he was hungry. It'd do him some good even if the bitch tried to poison him. He bit into the slice.
Tessa grew more tense the closer her fingers got to his mouth. But when they were down to the lat bit of crust, the feral man's eyes met hers for just a second, daring her to chicken out. She pursed her lips and shoved the last bite into his open jaws. The man smirked. It seemed to be his preferred expression. Tessa picked up the next slice.
The food disappeared quickly; Victor was famished, after all. In the face of his apparent complacence Tessa allowed some of her tension to ease. And then when they got to the last slice the feral nearly bit the end of her finger off. Tessa yelped at the sudden pain and jerked her hand away; the wound healed instantly. Victor chuckled, licked his blood-smeared lips. "Dessert."
He expected anger, maybe a few choice words in regards to his parentage spat out at him. He never expected to see her expression change from shocked to sorrowful. As if he'd betrayed her somehow. As if she had a right to feel betrayed. Victor felt his sneer become more forced; it was that or let his confusion show, and he wasn't about to reveal any sort of weakness to her.
The woman bent, picked up the empty glass, then turned and went back to the house.
What happened to you? The question lodged in her throat, unspoken. What happened to your brother?
She remembered them both, James and Victor. Two lost souls alone in the wilderness. They were wary of others; it was a hard world for young orphans, harder still if they were Changed. That was Tessa's word long before the word mutant became common. Mutant, from the Latin mutare, "to change." Tessa went through her own change when she was not much older than Victor. She was fortunate in that it was easier for her to conceal, and the few who did know never treated her as if she were less than human. Many years later, she discovered this was rarely the case for others of her kind. More often they ended up in Victor's and James's situation, treated with suspicion and violence, forced to drift from place to place, unable to settle down in safety or find people they could trust. Perhaps she shouldn't wonder that Victor turned out this way.
You don't know for sure he's the same boy you met all those years ago, Tessa chastised herself. Yet deep down she knew it was him.
Did he even remember her? Would their history matter to him? He'd always been a wild creature, but now there was a cruelty in him that overshadowed his humanity. He'd relished the terror and pain he inflicted on her. The boy Tessa remembered was not like that; he resorted to violence only when he felt it necessary to protect himself and his little brother. There was no sadistic gleam in his eyes then. But that was long ago.
"I'm going to let you go," Tessa said to him on the third day of his captivity. "If you try anything I'll trap you again. If you leave and then try to double back, I'll know. You won't be able to sneak up on me again."
Victor sneered. After three days his facial hair was noticeably scragglier. His limbs had long since moved past the cramping stage to total numbness. The anger had settled into his stomach, a slow-burning knot of vengefulness. "How good 're you at sleeping with one eye open, frail?"
"You're welcome to find out," was her cool response. The feral chuckled.
Tessa backed up to put some distance between them, just in case he tried something. Then her eyes clouded as she focused inward, to that part of herself that influenced the song. Victor felt the thick roots begin to loosen their grip. He expected them to withdraw with the same speed as when they'd surfaced and simply let him drop. Instead, their movements were slow, and they laid him down on his back with care before vanishing beneath the earth. Despite their gentleness, Victor's muscles sang in an agony of renewed bloodflow. He gritted his teeth and flexed his stiffened limbs. Fuck, that hurt!
Tessa kept her distance as she watched him stretch the stiffness from his muscles and climb to his feet. The two mutants regarded each other for a long, unpleasant moment. For a moment it seemed the frail might say something, but then thought better of it. Finally, Victor uttered a derisive snort and turned his back on the silent woman. He stalked towards the edge of the clearing and vanished into the woods. She watched him closely long after he was out of her eyesight. The feral man tried more than once to circle back so that he might approach from behind the cabin. Testing her. Each time Tessa made the tree roots writhe so that the ground trembled beneath his feet. He took the hint soon enough. Tessa continued to watch his progress until he went beyond the range of her senses. In the ensuing weeks she found herself unable to relax, waking in the dead of night with the certainty that he lurked just outside her window, jumping at the slightest noise whenever she was outdoors. She hated the loss of her serenity. Only when winter set in did she finally lose some of the lingering tension. Here the winters were so harsh, the snows so deep that no one could reach her. She was safely cut off from the world until spring. The months trickled by, the snows receded, fresh shoots poked from the ground and buds studded the trees. Tessa ventured out with a little more caution than she once did, but otherwise was able to resume her old routine. And the next few years passed without incident.
By some miracle the car was still where he'd left it when he went on his ill-fated excursion. The engine purred to life without hesitation. Victor drove to the nearest down with a decent hotel, booked a room, and proceeded to deplete the local water supply in a long, much-needed shower. Then he called up room service, ordered half the menu. Only when he finished the gigantic meal did Victor finally call in. Not surprising that Stryker was pissed by his extended absence.
"Where the hell have you been? You were supposed to contact me over forty-eight hours ago!"
Victor lounged on the hotel room's sofa, feet jutting well past the opposite end. "What can I say. Out in the elements, eating raw venison, fighting off bears and such. Who can keep track when they're havin' that much fun?" If he held his breath, his keen ear could pick up the telltale sound of teeth grinding together.
"We'll discuss the heady distractions of communing with nature later," Stryker hissed, "Right now you've got a job to do. If you leave now and don't make too many pit stops you should get to the location while the target's still there."
Victor yawned. "So where am I heading?"
"Great. Another podunk town."
The colonel ignored the interruption. "The target's just outside the city limits, working in some two-bit traveling carnival. Officially he's in charge of one of the game kiosks. His real job, however, is to power the entire carnival."
Victor felt a knot form in his full stomach, whether from excitement or anxiety he couldn't say. "Bradley."
"Make it memorable. I want it to make the front page of all the local papers."
"Yeah, I can do showy," Victor replied carelessly. He received directions to Springfield before he hung up the phone. "So much for a good night's sleep."
Much as he'd love to venture back into that forest and show the mutant frail what her insides looked like, revenge would have to wait. Time would make the deed that much more pleasurable, and Victor had all the time in the world with a memory to match. He knew how to hold a grudge, how to nurture it within his heart for months or years at a time. Once he waited more than thirty years to get back at a man who'd crossed him. A man who spent those intervening years getting married, raising up a family. Three decades to make a home, and in less than a day Victor turned his enemy's house into an abattoir, his wife and children and grandchildren into unrecognizable piles of shredded meat and offal. And he made the man watch it all before he finally slit his throat.
Let the frail wait until she let her guard down, until she convinced herself the danger was long gone. For now there was work to do, an old comrade to meet for a brief hello before a very bloody farewell.