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Predator/Prey

Mac O'Roni




     Letís get one thing straight right off the bat: I may not know exactly how long Iíve been alive, but Iíve been alive long enough to get dangerously tired of the run-of-the-mill. I may not look real sophisticated, but Iíve got cultivated tastes. Like a cat whoíll only eat his Fancy Feast off your finest crystal, I only want the best. That means I spend a lot of time lookiní without much success. The best is hard to come by.
     The hunt is fun, though. There isnít much I like searching for more than that special smell thatís more intoxicating than the hardest bathtub gin. It isnít always female, it isnít always male, but itís always the sweet, heady scent of sexual perfection. And I really only smelled it once in my life. I suppose that makes senseóonce youíve witnessed the absolute pinnacle, everything else seems ordinary by comparison. I used to be satisfied with near perfection. That changed six years ago. It was just my rotten luck that things didnít work out right.
     I was down in New Orleans paying a visit to an old buddy of mine, one so old I donít even know how long weíve been buddies, and I donít think he does, either. Weíve got a few things in common. He doesnít look much like a centenarian, either. Heís not a mutant, aní he doesnít have a healing factor, but he doesnít age any more than I do. Heís a Thief, with a definite capital ďT,Ē and that means more than you might think.
     I hadnít seen him in a long time. It might have been as much as twenty years, but I canít keep track of that kind of thing. Years blur together after awhile and nothing changes but everything does. If youíve been alive as long as I have, you probably understand. Jean-Luc certainly does.
     Whatever. The point is, the last time I saw him he had one son, named Henri. A good kid but nothing special, at least as far as Thieves with Capital Tees go. This time he had two sons, and the new one was clearly far beyond merely amazing. I could tell that before I even met him, just from the way Jean-Luc sounded when he told me about him. Jeanís a good fella, you might not believe that of a Thief but itís true, aní you could always tell he loved his kids, but the way he talked about this boy, you could tell that he was just about proud enough to burst. ďYoungest Master Thief in history,Ē he told me, and any time he mentioned the kid you could hear him put it all in italics. Remy. My boy Remy. Donít know what I was expecting, but it wasnít what I found.
     It doesnít matter how much natural ability you have; to become a Thief youíve got to put in a lot of training hours. Boot Camp has nothing on what they put Guild Apprentices through. When you finally make Master Thief, youíre at the peak of physical grace; a state of Balance that masters of the martial arts can only envy. I think Remy musta been just about born a Master. When I met him he wasnít quite eighteen years old yet but already he was Break-In Specialist for the guild, a position that is at once the lowest form of grunt-work a Thief engages in and yet the one that commands the most respect. Only the crŤme de la crŤme specialize in that field. Remy could get into, or out of, anything. The most advanced security systems had no treats that he couldnít out-trick. And he. Was. Gorgeous.
     It seems to be almost a hard and fast rule that when a man smells like a prime fuck, and I mean a really first-class lay, heís the sort of Pretty Boy that sets my teeth on edge; batting eyelashes and smirking lips, a body thatís never seen any hard labor outside of a health club and a brain so convinced that the man attached is the best thing since sliced bread that they never think about anything except primping and priming themselves to be as attractive as possible. Thatís probably way too general, but thatís what Iíve found. Remy was different. Not to say he didnít know how perfect he was, because he clearly did. Itís just that he didnít spend that much time thinking about it. When you know youíre as hot as it gets, and youíre right, then I guess it just doesnít matter so much anymore. He kept himself looking good, and he strutted like a prize rooster, but all of it was just as natural and innate as his sexy, donít-fuck-with-me red and black mutant eyes. He was a pretty boy, but he was too hard to be a Pretty Boy. The scent of danger was a bright crimson runner under the salivating aroma of his sexual appeal. I knew from the minute I smelled him that he and I had a lot in common. The wild animal in him was overlaid by the shiny veneer of big city life, but I could sense it. A bull alligator slipping silently through black bayou waters. A sleek jungle cat crouching in the bushes and ready to spring. Dangerous. Maybe even to me. I wanted him so bad I could taste it.
     But he was my best old buddyís son, and although he was almost legal he was still technically jail-bait to boot, so I kept it in my pants. Sodomy is still illegal in a lot of places but I never cared about that; the law about minors makes sense to me, so thatís the one I follow. Iím like Jean-Luc and his Thieves that way; I only follow the rules when they suit me. It didnít suit me to leave without even the memory of a one-night rodeo with a perfect creature like that, but I did it. And for the last six years the memory of that boyís smell has ruined every near-perfect lay I could have had. I finally had to bury myself in my work with the X-Men because rippiní new assholes for tough guys like Sabretooth kept my mind off sex.
     And now, Lord help me, heís here. Not Sabretooth, I mean the kid. Remy. Heís calliní himself Gambit aní I donít think heís told anyone his real name or his real Profession, but itís him. Heís distinctive, and not just by smell. He brought ĎRo back to us and she convinced him to stick around. Donít think heís interested in the work, I just think he likes the company. Especially Rogue. Interferiní bitch, I could bone-claw her right now. Heís still gorgeous.
     Six years ainít been good to him, though. Heís too thin, too hard, too quiet. He doesnít look 24, he looks 36. I know what happened, though I ainít gonna tell anyone. Jean-Luc told me all about it. I never seen him so close to cryiní about anything in all the time I can remember knowing him. Itís gotta be hell, sendiní your kid away under pain of death. Particularly when youíre as proud of him as he is of Remy. Exile looks to have been damned hard on the kid. He canít trust nothing or no one now. Thereís lines in his face that shouldnít be there, lines that make him look like a carved statue, with all the life and warmth of stone. Sometimes his eyes light up and he gets to grinniní, and he looks his age then, but it isnít a good thing to see because it only happens when someone is about to get seriously dead. I was right about him, the kid is downright venomous. Some damn fine day heís gonna kill every mother-loviní one of us. I want him more than ever. He knows it, too. Teases me. Wonít let me get a taste but heíll sure let me sniff the cookiní. I donít know how what happened to him with the guild or whatever might have happened to him in the six intervening years could have put so damned much hate in him but it bakes off him like a madness, and sometimes it really is. A smart crazy, though, which is loads worse than a dumb one. God, how he gets to me. Maybe because his hate, his crazy, is so like a projection of my own.
     So Iím hunting again, only this time my intended prey is aware of me and just as intent, maybe, of preying on me. Itís exciting, maybe even one of them ďlife-affirming momentsĒ the shrinks talk about. Certainly when the hunt is on I feel more alive than I have for a long, long time. Sometimes I attack and manage to score off himónever the way I want to, but he always knows what I really mean by it. Just as often he counter-attacks and slashes me open, even though he doesnít have claws. And I know what he means. When you fuckiní wití me, mon cher, heís sayiní, you goní always wanna remember you fuckiní wití de besí. I donít know how long we can play this game. Probably a long timeóone thing the kid is good at is gaming. But Iím a patient man, when it comes to the hunt. Tenacious. Iím willing to bet my life that I can hold out longer than him. And the answer may lie right there in the way the two of us define what it is weíre doing. To him itís a game. Games, in his book, are meant to be won more than fun, but itís still just a game. And no matter how good the Gambler, in the end, the House always wins.
     To me, this is a hunt. And for me, hunts only end one way; with the predator feasting on the prey. My prey this time is a predator too, and a real hard-ass, but Iím the original hard-ass and I think thereís a trick or two this old dog can still teach a young fox. Weíll see. It may take awhile, but weíll see.
     Weíll just have to see.




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