WARNING: This is a BIG departure from my larger story, although it happens within the same 'alternate universe'. It is NOT a romance, and any humor is definitely of the dark variety. Plus there's gross AND explicit stuff. Read at your own risk if you hate things like that!

Marvel characters copyright to Marvel, as per usual.

For Theresa, who innocently started it, and Chris, who fanned up the spark....


Signs That Might Be Omens

Susan the Neon Nurse

 

"Hey! Hey you--furry guy!"

McCoy half-straightened, the hackles on his back raising as his muscular shoulders bunched. The degree of effrontery it took for someone to address him thus amazed him, particularly when that individual was so imminently slated to become his newest test subject. But after the instant of reaction, he chose to ignore her and concentrate on loading the materials before him into the injection gun. It was late, and he wanted to get this test started so he could go to bed. He thought he might see some interesting results by morning.

"You the boss here?"

"That's ri-ight," he crooned, turning his head around enough to flash his teeth in a humorless smile. Presumptuous little flatscan was on the verge of finding THAT out....

Not so little though, actually, he mused as he finished his task. She would be a good candidate for that idea he'd had for inducing mutations in ordinary (he didn't like the implications of calling them 'normal') humans. Taller than the average female, in fine physical condition--he'd been told she'd put up a good fight when his operatives had found her in the tunnels that were HIS domain. But he wouldn't be ready to delve into that experiment for a while yet, and she'd be a bother to keep....

McCoy turned, tapping the gun against his palm. As they said in the vernacular...party time.

His intended subject was standing--well, as close to it as she could manage, given the dimensions of the cage--with her bruised face pressed partway through the bars, wearing a peculiar grin. "You know, you need a lab assistant."

Now she was criticizing his LAB? McCoy scowled as he crossed the floor. There was a limit past which boldness ceased to impress him even a little, and she was perilously close to that line. "No offense intended," she continued in a friendly, familiar and yet vaguely mocking tone. "It's just that this is a big set-up, and you're doing your own simple preps. Looks to me like you don't have a tech."

McCoy paused to study her, sardonically wondering why the ones who didn't scream always seemed to think they could talk their way out of the situation. "And in a remarkable twist of fate, you happen to be one."

"Small world." Her manic eyes teased him.

Two could play at this baiting game. "You don't seem to have your...credentials with you," he observed, admiring once again the clean lines of her sleek form, now that she'd brought it to his attention. When the patrol found her, it was clear she had wandered through some of the more noisome pipes on her way in from the world above. Drub and his team had hosed her down before securing her here, but apparently her outer garments had been judged unsalvageable. Either that or the boys had been having some illicit fun.

"Ha-ha." She stopped smiling, but her the intensity of her gaze, if anything, increased. "My ID, including my hospital employee badge, was in my fanny pack. I suspect you could get ahold of it...if you felt like it."

"True. But to feel like it, I would first have to see some potential benefit that outweighs your current usefulness to me as a test subject." McCoy noted a hint of apprehension slip past the brave facade she was presenting, the first normal response she'd shown. "Just between us, it's pointless trying to charm me. I don't have a better side to appeal to." He laughed harshly at a stray thought, the most private of inside jokes. "Then again, perhaps I do...but he's not here. At any rate, I'm not going to set you free in response to such a transparent ruse. Even if you have the qualifications you claim, I'd waste more time watching to be sure you didn't escape than I would save by delegating simple chores."

She shook her head, a derisive half-smile quirking her lips. "Escape is not an option. What, do you think I ended up in these hellpits because I took a wrong turn out of the subway?"

THIS was a waste of time all on its own, and yet...just a fraction too entertaining to end. "What, then, led you to my humble abode?"

She suddenly seemed to have second thoughts about whatever it was she had been going to say, and only stared at him, assessing and suspicious. McCoy shrugged, hoisted the injection gun, and grabbed her arm, pulling it out through the bars. Oddly, she didn't fight or try to resist, didn't protest; her faintly challenging look struck him as strange, out of place for the situation. He paused, one eyebrow up in surprise at both of them. Ah, well, curiosity, one of his best and worst traits. "Well?"

"I shot a man." Though she said it with bravado, he could sense through the tremor in her arm that there was distress-driven truth in that statement.

"Why?"

"He annoyed me."

McCoy couldn't help but bark a laugh. "Another valid reason to keep you secured."

She looked down, away from his face, and the muscles in her arm drew tight with remembered emotion as her words bubbled out unchecked. "I went out with the jerk one time, ONE stinkin' time! And after that he wouldn't leave me alone!" She was either an excellent actress/liar, McCoy thought, or recalling actual events. "And no one would DO anything! Not even after he started threatening to kill me." She raised her head again to stare at him, anger clouding those remarkable copper eyes. "I knew how it would come out--seen it on the news a dozen times. A woman gets killed by a stalker and people knock each other over to say how tragic it was society failed her. But she stays dead."

"The dead DO tend to stay that way. In my experience," he said, pointing out the obvious in an almost gentle tone that was ruined by his smirk.

She took a stronger grip on the bar of the cage with her free hand and considered her surroundings. "Huh, I might as well have let him kill me. Didn't really improve my situation much, did I?"

"Not significantly," he agreed. "Although you'll at least be serving the cause of science this way."

She shrugged now, plummeting from her adrenaline high of a few moments before. "The hell with it. Whatever." She looked from her arm to the injection gun, as if suggesting he get on with his task.

McCoy raised the gun, twisted the subject's arm so as to expose the center of the deltoid, sighted the needle...then lowered his hand. Not that he wanted, or needed, a Scheherazade...but there went his damned curiosity melding with his analytical skills. "It's my understanding that selfdefense is considered a legal right up there."

She grimaced. "I didn't like the odds, and I shortened 'em. I'd overheard a guy at work say he knew how to get unlicensed guns--and sure enough, he did. That's a felony right there. And when I filed for a restraining order from the creep, he filed one back against ME-- like I'd voluntarily come within a hundred miles of the bastard!--so THAT would sound bad read out in court. Plus...I went to his place. That makes it premeditated."

Against all odds, it was beginning to seem she MIGHT have the sort of mental toughness he would require in a lab assistant. "What caused you to take that step?"

"He had come to my apartment while *I* was at work, and...carved something in the door."

"What?"

"'Soon'." She met his eyes to gauge his reaction, almost seeming to seek his approval.

"Poor strategy on his part," was McCoy's only comment. If you were going to kill someone who was in a position to retaliate, it was simply stupid to give them warning.

"He worked nights, see. And since most people work days, a lot of buildings are nearly deserted then. So I thought it would be safe. I went over, knocked, and when he came to the door I shot him in the face."

"The direct approach," McCoy grinned. He was almost starting to like this one.

"I guess." She drooped in despondency. "But wouldn't you know...the guy living across the hall from him? A cop. A cop who works the night shift." Shaking her head, she muttered, "Ten thousand apartment buildings FULL of people who don't want to get involved...and I pick the ONE guy with a neighbor who'd come running at the sound of a gunshot."

"What appalling bad luck," McCoy chuckled. Her disgusted expression was actually quite...amusing.

"So anyway...I heard the guy across the hall start to unbolt his door, and I ran for it. I threw the gun down--I guess I thought it would look funny to run down the street with a gun--I don't remember WHAT I was thinking. I read in the paper later that they found it in the hall, and got my fingerprints off of it." McCoy was not an expert on this world's jurisprudence, but her story was sounding more and more like it would result in a short trial with a predictable outcome.

"I'd brought some money and all, so I could hide out for a few days if anything went wrong." She laughed bitterly. "Great foresight there. But I didn't plan on my picture getting in the paper right away." She looked at him, not quite pleading. "So see, you COULD check it out, if you can get a copy of the Bugle. Today's or yesterday's--I'm not sure which at this point. Lost track of time."

The idea of having an assistant to do menial chores was growing steadily more attractive. It was certainly true he never seemed to have enough time to accomplish everything he wanted to. He'd toyed, in the past, with the idea of training one of his minions--but teaching was not one of his better skills; he knew he'd just lose his temper and end up being short one underling. "Not inclined to try to find your way back to the surface and throw yourself on the mercy of the court?"

She stared at him sourly. "I bet good ideas are the only kind you have, huh?"

He might end up killing this one too, for different reasons. "Is this the way you normally act on a job interview?" McCoy noted the leap of hope countered by her instant wary look. "What can you do?"

"Diagnostic tests. Collect samples." She shrugged. "Make coffee, clean up junk. Just normal tech stuff."

Would she do for HIS sort of work, though? "Let's see." He opened the cage door and she came out, moving stiffly at first, limping on one leg where a huge bruise purpled her thigh.

"Don't suppose you have a spare lab coat?"

"Shy, are we?" McCoy leered. She actually WAS worth leering at, if one cared to take the time for that sort of thing.

"Cold," she corrected, with a disdainful look down her nose. Her very short dark hair was still visibly damp, though beginning to dry into tangled waves.

"Sorry, don't wear them." With an 'after you' gesture he guided her to a workstation. After gauging the distance to the door--he could easily catch her if she tried to bolt, he decided--McCoy turned to a smaller wall cage. "Here," he said, tossing the white rat he'd removed.

The creature spasmed for a foothold as it cartwheeled through the air. His job applicant, to her credit, managed to catch it, just, by fumbling it with both hands until she could trap it against her chest. "Dammit, that hurt," she snapped at him, once she had the rat held securely on the counter. "Some of us with plain bare skin don't like juggling things with claws!" He just smiled coldly, arms crossed. "What do you want me to do with it?"

"Get me a kidney."

She stared at him, narrow-eyed, until she was sure he meant it. "Fine. You'll have to tell me where you keep things."

"You tell me what you think you need, and I'll get it." He didn't want to skew the results of this test of her knowledge by providing the optimum equipment.

"Okay." She looked down at the rat. "Razor. Scalpel, probe, forceps. Rubber gloves." He quirked his eyebrow. "Hey, I don't know what you've been playing with here."

"True enough." With a few quick passes through storage cupboards, he gathered what she had asked for.

"Let's see--alcohol, and something to put the sample in."

"Alcohol?"

"You want a contaminated sample?" Now she looked disbelieving.

McCoy didn't usually trouble with such niceties, but this wasn't a standard sample pull, either. He gave her the rest of her requested supplies without comment, and watched as she shaved a bald patch on her squirming victim, then gloved up with speedy efficiency. "What's your lab protocol for killing specimens?"

He considered asking her why she thought she needed to kill it, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. It WAS simpler to surgically extract something from a dead specimen. "*I* usually tear their heads off."

She snorted. "Not bite 'em off?"

"Only when I'm VERY bored," he assured her blandly. "OR very angry."

"Hmmph." Without further ado, she grabbed the rat by its hind legs and, with an abrupt but forceful swing, bashed the back of its head against the edge of the counter. With a faint squeak, the rat spasmed and died. She splashed alcohol over the shaved skin, then drew a slit with the scalpel. Using the forceps to widen the gap as she teased it further open with the blade, she switched to the probe to lever the kidney up to the opening. Clamping the forceps on the ureter and cutting that cord on the far side, she drew out the organ and dropped it in the petri dish he had provided. Hands on hips, she stared at him, waiting for his pronouncement.

"Have you ever done that before?"

She only paused a second. "No."

Good. He'd thought not; though she hadn't hesitated, it had been obvious she was thinking through each step instead of doing it on auto-pilot. But she had performed the task acceptably all the same. "In the future, if you don't know a procedure, ask me. I'll show you how I want it done. Once."

"Fair enough."

McCoy took the kidney, and the rat, and threw both back in the cage from which they'd come, where the surviving denizens began to swarm over the carcass, squealing as they fought. "Run some cold water over the soiled equipment, in the sink there. We'll get it in the morning; it's late." He pulled the cartridge off the injection gun and put it in the refrigerator. Now he would have to send out for another human specimen. Oh, well, always plenty available....

Again guiding her, they retraced their steps to the holding area. McCoy pointed wordlessly. She hesitated, looking sidelong at him, and he thought, with some satisfaction, that she was finally going to act like she should and beg him for something. "I haven't verified your story yet," was all he said.

To her credit, she didn't argue. Squaring her shoulders, she took a deep breath. "Fine."

Something about the way that motion set off the well-defined muscles tapering her back gave him an idea, although a vaguely disconcerting one. He was not usually tempted by the pleasures of the weak and inferior. "Or...we could make alternative arrangements?" He stroked the backs of his fingers suggestively against her arm.

She grew very still. "Is that going to be part of my job description?"

"Only in the sense that you maintain your newly upgraded status at my whim." McCoy made sure his tone was unconcerned. Even the implication of rejection by such as she would be more than he cared to endure. "My suggestion was for YOUR benefit, actually. I have two secure sites available, this cage and my sleeping quarters. Where you sleep is entirely YOUR choice."

Why did that make her relax again? Was the illusion of being in control of her life so crucial to her? THAT would make her easy to manipulate. She gave the cage one rapid glance, then said, "Fine, lead on. Why sleep on concrete if I don't have to?"

Her cold calculation almost made him change his mind, but he decided her actions were more important than whatever was going on inside her peculiar little mind. They walked through the monitor room together, and into the bedroom that adjoined it.

Blue light from the single security monitor within made the colors strange. Their shadows chased erratically across the walls. McCoy secured the door, as was his usual practice. She watched him do so, nodded to herself, and with fatalistic aplomb reached behind her to unfasten her bra. She stepped out of her panties next, then held both items out. "Where do you want me to put these? They're still a little damp."

"Throw them over the back of that chair," he instructed as he stripped off his pants, hanging them over a different one near where he stood.

She approached him, businesslike, making no pretense of passion, which at least was more dignified for them both than faking it. But her face took on a thoughtful frown as she placed her hands on his chest, cautiously assessing his fur, and from there on up his neck to his head. McCoy allowed it, curious despite himself. She lifted a few of his braids, and half-smiled. "I have to say, the hair and the earrings are very stylish."

"Mmm," he replied, and placed a hand on each of her hips, just at the curve of her waist, to pull her closer to him. He half expected her to push away, or at least fold her arms between them. But instead she let his action guide her forward, and she slid her arms up over his shoulders to clasp his neck in a loose hug. When she felt his penis stir against her body, she smiled with a knowing, secretive look. McCoy almost laughed. If she thought she had found the key to manipulating him, she was in for a shock. And yet, there was no need to...spoil the moment.

The peculiarity of this experience intrigued him. He assayed a kiss, and she responded with exploratory nibbles, letting her lips survey what they could reach of his face. McCoy found himself obscurely pleased she hadn't tried to fool him; he had HAD a real kiss before, and would know the difference.

"Might as well get comfortable," he suggested, breaking away from her ministrations. He inclined his head towards the big waterbed, and she agreeably climbed in. Laying himself next to her, he studied her form, reconsidering that potential mutagenic experiment. It truly was tempting. But he would have to think of a method to control her as well, he could see THAT now.

Idly, he drew his taloned fingertips across her belly, and she shivered, nevertheless giving the impression she liked it. "Trusting soul, aren't you?" he mocked. Surely she was under no illusion about the potential for destruction in those claws, or his total lack of qualms about using them.

"I imagine I trust you about as much as you trust me," she retorted.

"And that is as it should be," McCoy said, playing at soothing her ruffled sensibilities. He gently tweaked her nipples, erect from the room's chill and perhaps something more. "Satisfy my curiosity on one point, though." She met his eyes with candid challenge. "How is it you aren't afraid of me?"

"What makes you think I'm not?" she responded in a whisper, and put her hand on him in an intimate caress.

Giving up the pleasures of interrogation for more basic ones, McCoy encouraged his new assistant in her acquisition of his personal protocols. Initiative, within reason, could be a good thing.

With an eye towards the future, and that tricky control issue, McCoy made some effort to stimulate her as well. He had no idea how well he was succeeding, though, until partway through the actual act. The resilient body beneath his began to shudder, then spasm as she gasped out nonsense syllables and clutched handfuls of his back fur almost hard enough to hurt.

His next thought, after his conviction she was dying purely to spite him, was that she was faking her response. Except...one thing he knew well was physiology, and he did not believe her capable of altering the appropriate physical signs to this degree. Plus she was staring at him with undisguised shock and amazement.

"That was satisfactory for you, I take it?" he taunted, baring his teeth. She nodded, almost against her will. "You see, I'm not ungenerous with my benefits program...." This made her glare, and he laughed with a deep rumble as he continued. She deserved that; she hadn't needed to look quite so COMPLETELY astonished....

Interesting, he mused erratically as he pursued his own climax, how such simple things created this reaction. A few neurons jumped some synaptic gaps when nerve endings were stimulated, various chemicals began to run rampant within the body, and before you knew it, a chain reaction crucial to the survival of the species ensured it would be repeated through a clever side-effect called an orgasm.

Afterwards McCoy lay on his side, quite pleased with himself and the situation in general. He had the feeling that now his little flatscan friend's body would respond to him physically even when it was the last thing her mind wanted to do. That evened things up a bit. She was staring off into the semi-darkness, looking as contemplative as he felt, but much less happy. What did that look mean?

He decided to probe her thoughts. "Haven't I read that if you can evade capture for seven years, you can't be brought to trial for your illegal actions?"

"It doesn't count for murder," she murmured. After a quick sidelong glance, she sat up, hunching her shoulders as she crossed her forearms over her knees, blocking herself away from him.

"Looks as though you'll be here quite a while then, which is good. I would hate to see the time I'll spend on training you wasted." McCoy meant it as oblique assurance that he would value her, but could tell by the way the muscles in her back tensed that she had not taken it that way.

"It's not like I have much to go back to," was all she said in reply, her voice cold and distant, which irritated him. After a long silence, she asked, "How long have you been down here?"

McCoy sat up behind her. "Going on 20 years. But of course *I* can go above from time to time, if I choose to." He touched the back of her neck, intending to follow this pronouncement with a suggestion that eventually she might be able to do so as well.

She turned her shoulder away from his caress, then recoiled in a backlash of the same movement, hitting him in the throat with the rigid edge of her hand before scrambling madly from the bed. McCoy was stunned for an instant; partly from surprise, partly from the pain and the stars bursting in his vision. Then he leapt after her, snarling.

In just two jumps he had her, slamming her against the wall in a tackling grab that made her yelp. He twisted a handhold into her short hair and yanked her head back, claws at the ready. His only hesitation came from deciding whether to break her neck or tear her throat out; or both, and if so, which first?

Then McCoy again realized something was off in this scenario. She hadn't tried for the door, and was putting up no resistance now. 'She's TRYING to goad me into killing her,' he realized, which made him even more furious.

But it was a cold and rational rage. He marched her, by the hair, back to the bed, where he threw her down. "I THOUGHT we had come to an arrangement!" he hissed savagely. She wouldn't look at him, didn't respond, but her huddled position didn't strike him as properly fearful. Despairing, yes, but it wasn't HIM she'd run from just then.

At that thought, he picked up her nearest hand and examined her wrist in the dim light, running a thumb over it to be sure. It was smooth, unscarred. And yet, he was sure he was right. "Do you know what hesitation marks are?" he asked mildly.

She risked a look up at this, wary and surprised at his tone, and started to shake her head, then paused. "Skid marks on the highway?" she guessed, brow furrowed with the effort to recall some trace knowledge.

"Yes, sometimes. Any indication that someone sought to commit suicide, but wasn't able to complete the task." She pulled her hand away, and tucked it, as well as the other, under her upper arms, the brace of her crossed wrists a most inadequate source of protection. "For how long have you been making choices that led you from bad situations to worse ones?" he demanded, almost managing to sound sympathetic.

"I don't know what you--" McCoy tilted his head, calling her on her honesty. "--I don't know," she sighed, admitting defeat.

Better and better. THIS could solve the potential control problem. If she was truly on the verge of breaking down, he could rebuild her mind the way HE wanted it, through a combination of drugs and behavior modification. "What were you running from BEFORE you came down here?"

"The hospital." Her voice broke, and McCoy had the most appalling vision of having to somehow comfort her. But she rallied. "I worked at an end-stage care facility. Everybody there was dying. I'd go in to draw blood, and they would look at me like...like I might have the secret to their survival. I had to try to think of something cheerful to say to them, to the families. They all wanted me to tell them they were going to be the exception, the miracle...." Her voice had dropped to a whisper of tired horror. "But I knew they were going to die, no matter what I did. You don't know what that's like."

Something faint and strange stirred in him for an uncomfortable instant. "No. I don't," he agreed soberly. And if this was what it did to you, he was just as glad to miss the experience. "Well, at least that need no longer concern you. Perhaps Fate did you a favor by leading you astray today." He knelt on the bed beside her. "Over." She just looked confused. "Move. Over," he repeated, making each word distinct.

She thinned her lips but obeyed. McCoy stretched himself close beside her, confidingly intimate, acting as though nothing had happened. "You may call me McCoy. And I think I shall call you...Deathwish." The look she gave him at this might have been quelling to anyone else. "No? How about...Persephone?"

"My NAME is Karen," she informed him with something like her former spirit.

Now that he saw how her hostility masked a vulnerability he could exploit, he didn't mind it. "Your name is what I say it is, because YOU are MINE," McCoy assured her with confidence.

Her eyes flashed. "You wish!"

The old saying about being careful what you wish for crossed his mind, but his smile could have almost been called tender, on any other face. "Perhaps I did." He reached out and stroked her eyelids closed. "Now go to sleep. I have a feeling...tomorrow may be an eventful day."


"When it was dark and silent late last night, I think I might have heard the highway call.... Geese in flight and dogs that bite and signs that might be omens say I'm goin', goin', Goin' to Carolina in my mind." (James Taylor)


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