Laura examines her hands, the bruises rapidly healing, knuckles popping back into place, leaving behind only flaky dried blood. She tastes metal in the back of her mouth, leftover adrenaline. The old man whispers in her mind, You don’t have to kill, Laura, there are other choices, but she’s fairly sure her father never listens to him and so she won’t either.
She snarls at the last surviving man, snapping her teeth, and kicks a foot claw through his skull, the blood splattering hot and wet up to her knee. The other kids couldn’t kill unless pushed, always hesitating. Laura never had that problem.
“Laura! Come on,” her father is ordering, gore on him as well. He takes her arm and drags her easily towards the car, Laura going without much protest, more interested in getting her hands on the candy she knows Xavier saved for her, something fruity and sweet.
Settled in the back seat with him, Laura chews, satisfied, watching her father. Xavier naps on and off next to her, the occasional dream floating through Laura’s mind, a confusing mishmash of images. Laura likes Xavier enough. He doesn’t treat her like she’s stupid. Just because she’s silent and serious and capable of sitting still for long periods of time doesn’t mean she can’t think.
Laura points at the tags dangling from Logan’s neck, glinting silver in the light. He raises an eyebrow, and she tilts her head in question. “They’re dog tags,” he grunts, tucking them back inside his shirt. “You get ‘em in the military so they can identify you if you die. Vic-” He stops himself, coughing. “Never mind. You don’t wanna hear about him.” Laura does, but words still feel trapped in the back of her throat, so she doesn’t ask.
At the next rest stop Laura waits til the attendant’s not looking before she takes a Coke from the fridge, having learned from last time. Logan’s heavy hand clamps down on her shoulder seconds later, his presence announced by a rattling cough and a rough, “Put it back.”
She turns and glares, holding the Coke close. She’s thirsty. When he tries to take it she knocks his hand away, moving back against the fridge and baring her teeth. He sighs. “You’re just like him sometimes.” Laura wonders who “him” is, but her father is turning her around, steering her towards the front of the store. “Look, kid, I’ll buy it for you, alright?”
He’s not the boss of her, Laura thinks. She can take care of herself. If they weren’t being chased she might try to fight him. Instead, she resentfully hands the Coke over, making a face. For now, this’ll do.
Laura’s legs swing from the doctor’s chair; he’d let her sit there when she refused to leave Logan’s side. Her father breathes loudly, the poison crawling up from his lungs. Her jeans have a bloodstain on the cuff, maybe Logan’s blood, maybe hers. Convincing the doctor to take them hadn’t been difficult. Some people miss mutants, she guesses.
Laura unsheathes the claws in her hands, examining them, wondering if one day she’ll get sick like Logan, too. She doesn’t remember the operation to put metal in her bones, just waking up with a body that felt heavier, was deadlier. Gabriela had been horrified. Laura has never minded.
On the bed, Logan makes a gruff sound low in his throat, twitching. Laura tenses, prepared to fight him down if he thrashes. Instead, he grunts, “Victor. Vic, no,” and rolls over as Laura wonders who Victor is. She’ll ask Logan later, she decides, spinning her chair around and waiting for her father to wake up.
Her father has a lot of pictures in his wallet. A beautiful woman with dark hair. Another beautiful woman with red. A team full of people, some clearly mutants, some not so, all grinning, Xavier seated in front. Laura’s favorite is the one of her father and another man with a similar look and build, arms over each other’s shoulders.
“Who’s this?” she asks, holding it up.
He looks over, growls, “Don’t go through my stuff.”
She snatches it away when he tries to take it. “Tell me.”
“That’s your Uncle Victor,” Logan grunts, a muscle jumping in his jaw as he stares stubbornly at the road ahead. An uncle, Laura marvels. She never imagined such a thing.
“Is he dead?”
“I dunno. Maybe. We don’t talk.”
“Why?” she asks, shuffling through the photos again.
“Cause he’s a feral son of a bitch,” her father says, but Laura thinks he looks happy in the picture. She doesn’t ask any more questions though.
After her father’s death, Laura says goodbye to her friends and sets off in search of her uncle. She doesn’t really know why, just knows that she found and lost a father without really getting to know him besides the last few seconds when she looked in his eyes and saw there what she used to see in Gabriela’s. Both the people she’s loved have sacrificed themselves for her now. The new mutants will be okay without her, with Rictor in charge.
It takes Laura a while to find her uncle, but the mutant community is small, and Logan’s name still garners respect even when it’s used by an eleven year old. Sabretooth, she learns Victor’s name is. Sabretooth and Wolverine. Laura wonders if she should choose an animal name as well, maybe something like Wildcat.
Her uncle lives in the wilds of Canada, far from anyone else. Laura, driving a stolen truck, has to stop a mile away and hike the rest, digging the claws on her hands into rock when it gets steep. The grit leaves tiny slices in the soft skin over her knuckles, healing almost instantly. By the time she reaches his house it’s almost dark, Laura not bothering to hide her footsteps. He’ll be able to smell her.
Sure enough, he’s waiting outside when she walks up, a mountain of a man even bigger than her father. “Who the fuck’re you?” he asks, baring a fang.
“I’m your niece,” Laura says, peering up at him. She’s done research, and she knows Victor isn’t a good man. But he is her uncle, which means something.
“Bullshit.” In response, Laura unsheathes her claws, holding her hands out so he can see, watching the suspicion leave his face as his eyebrows rise. “Well goddamn.” Victor drops the cigar he’d been holding, crouching with feline grace. “Jimmy finally knock someone up?” Jimmy. James. Her father’s real name.
“I was created in a lab.”
Victor’s grinning, feral and pleased. “Of course you were. Lemme guess. He sent you here so his big brother would protect you while he goes off and saves the world.”
Laura lowers her sunglasses to eye him coolly. “No. He’s dead.”
She’s not expecting the honest grief that crumples Victor’s face, the heavy layer of misery flooding his scent. “Jimmy’s dead? Impossible.”
“I buried him.” Laura gestures at her arms. “He stopped healing.” Victor rocks back on his heels, howls at the sky, a mournful, strangely animal sound that raises the hairs on her arms. It echoes throughout the mountains a thousand times as he looks back to her. In the ensuing silence they just stare at each other, both stonefaced, Laura beginning to shiver in the cold air.
“What’re you doing here then?” he asks hoarsely. Laura doesn’t know how to explain, doesn’t even know herself what she wants. She just knew she had to find him, so she shrugs one shoulder, ducking under his arm and inside his house.
It’s pin neat, small, a kitchen and a fireplace, two rooms leading off to what she presumes is the bathroom and bedroom. There are no knickknacks, nothing to show that someone lives here besides the dishes at the side of the sink. And books. A lot of books, stacked by his armchair, on the table, one propped next to the sink with water stains on its cover. She picks one up, examining it, only to have Victor snatch it out of her hands.
“Hands to yourself, kid.” She snarls half-heartedly, already busy going for the other rooms, finding the bathroom boring, sliding under his arm to look in the bedroom. He’s ineffectually chasing her around, too big for this space and for Laura, who’s always been faster than everyone else.
His room has a large, comfortable bed, the sheets mussed; it reeks of him, of whatever brand of mutant their family is and something brooding, thoughtful. He corners her when she gets on the bed, bouncing, barely the same height as him even standing this tall. “You’re a little shit, kid,” he says, almost fond, sounding so much like Logan that Laura feels tears prick in her eyes.
She falls to sitting, bouncing one more time, looking down at her knees and feeling exhausted for the first time since this all started. She’s been running for so long, she just wants rest. “Descanso,” she murmurs. “I want to rest.”
Victor, mistaking her words as a request, gestures at the couch in the other room, where the fire’s crackling. “If you’re staying, you can sleep there.” Feeling all the weight of the past couple days, Laura makes her way over, falling face first into the cushions, asleep instantly.
Sixteen hours later, Laura wakes up to the smell of meat cooking, her mouth watering. She didn’t even dream, looks at the ceiling for a minute or so until she has her bearings, then sits up to look over the back of the couch. Victor’s in the kitchen bent over the stone, back to her.
“I dunno, uh…” Victor hesitates, turns with a pan full of sizzling meat. “I never got your name.”
“Laura,” she says, heaving herself over the top of the couch, checking to make sure her bag is still on the floor where she left it. When it is, she heads over to Victor, stealing a strip of whatever it is he’s cooking, feeling the burns on her fingertips only briefly, and sits on the table, swinging her legs. There’s a book next to her thigh, a paperback, that she picks up to read.
“You can read?” Victor asks, so she gives him a deadpan stare. Of course she can read. She’s eleven.
He shrugs one massive shoulder, hooking a claw into a strip of meat and wolfing it down. “I was half grown before I learned to read.” There’s silence while they eat, Laura ravenous. When they’re done, Victor pushes his plate away and says, “There’s not much for a kid to do up here. TV, mostly.”
“Rest,” Laura repeats. “Just rest.”