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A Taste for It

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Victor always drew blood.

After they'd raced away from the only home James had ever known, Victor went from the friend who watched out for a sickly young boy to a protective older brother, an instructor, intent on making James as tough as he was, as tough as he needed to be. The first time had been only a few days after they'd gone. Victor stole food for them and brought it into the edge of the woods where they'd slept. Before he'd let his brother eat, Victor wanted to make something clear to him.

James coughed blood and pressed his hand against his stomach, blood pouring between his fingers. He tried to say Victor's name, scream it, but the pain took all his focus. He didn't make a noise until the agony started to fade. Only then did he manage to scream, "Why?"

Victor smiled at him, wiped the knife in the grass, then folded it and slipped it into his pocket. And then the pain was gone.

"It will never last, Jimmy. If anyone ever hurts you, the pain won't last. Remembering that makes it easier."

Victor hardened him to pain, taught him to take it and work through it even before it faded. Taught him to fight. After a few years, Victor taught him to fuck with the same aggressive zeal he'd taught him everything else.

By the time they took up weapons to fight for a country they didn't belong to, Jimmy was the one drawing blood at least half the time, striking the first blow, gaining the advantage, pinning Victor belly-down. He more than made up for the years before he'd reached his full height and size, and Victor had the advantage.

Logan sniffed the air and frowned up at the sky. The chemical stink made the muscles in his back twitch and set his teeth on edge as if he'd been licking metal.

Hot breath on his neck and a damp body pressed against him wasn't completely unexpected, but it surprised him in how comforting it was, how welcomed, despite the crushing heat.

"Smell that, Jimmy? The sergeant still thinks it was rain." Victor chuckled in his ear. A tongue slid up the side of Logan's neck. "But it can't hurt us."

And that was all Victor cared about, Logan knew. He didn't care about the people here, the culture, his fellow soldiers. It could all go, as long as he and Logan were all right. Hell, Victor could destroy it all himself and whistle as he walked away. Logan didn't care about the war, either. Like Victor, he fought because he could. Why mattered little. But the people . . . .

He felt himself toppling, Victor's weight insistent against his back. He pressed against it, though half-heartedly. Last time they'd found a moment alone, he'd been the one pressing Victor down after a struggle. He didn't fight this now, because he needed it.

The pain made him hiss through his teeth, which drew a growl from Victor. Logan pushed back just as hard, not caring about the pain. He'd heal before Victor was finished--he always did. He could tell by the hand that shoved beneath him and pulled at him in a way he'd come to appreciate, if not look forward to, that this time was supposed to hurt. Sometimes, when Victor went slow, and Logan caught a glimpse of a soft part of his brother he guessed only he had ever seen, Victor still drew blood before they were done. When Victor held him tight afterwards, gasping for breath and shuddering, Logan would feel claws dig into his back, dampness spreading wherever they lay. Victor didn't mean to do that, not at those times.

Logan couldn't be sure, but he told himself that anyway.

When he'd been a boy, his father had put down one of their dogs for killing chickens that belonged to someone nearby. He'd said that once an animal had a taste for blood, putting it down was the only thing you could do. At the time, he'd thought it terribly unfair to the dog. Now, he understood his father's reasoning, but still believed that if they'd given the animal another chance, it might have proven them wrong. At least it could have, if it wanted to.

Victor slammed into him, Logan's forearms sinking into the ground until he couldn't hold himself up under the weight. A brutal, final thrust had them both flat on the damp leaves, Victor on top, panting in Logan's ear. When both had caught their breath, Victor laughed again--a soft, malicious sound that Logan thought marked him as different more than his claws or teeth.

"What do you think they'd do if they could smell it the way we can, and knew the exterminator had paid a visit?" That chuckle again. "Killing its own soldiers to try to win a war. Interesting strategy. Bold. I like it."

"Could be a mistake," Logan said, mostly because he wanted it to be. "You really think they know it's likely to kill their own men?"

"Of course. So should you. I thought I'd taught you better than that."

Logan hissed at the burn across his back as Victor's claws tore the skin below his neck, across his shoulder blades. He felt a hot tongue lap along the wound, and then the wound was gone. The weight lifted from Logan's back, and a hand grabbed his to pull him to his feet.

"Like I said, Jimmy, it won't hurt us."

"No," he said. We're the only ones who can do that.