There weren't supposed to be vans in Central Park, but of all the reasons to pick a fight with Kraven the Hunter, that would probably be the worst.
There weren't supposed to be campfires, either. He looked as if he'd settled in for the long haul, parked beside a pond.
Squirrel Girl dropped down from a nearby tree, and Kraven looked up from where he'd been trying to rub away something that had gotten on his skin.
"Girl of Squirrels!" he greeted. "You got my message!"
His method of delivery had been to catch squirrels and tell them that he needed to see her. The squirrels had not been thrilled with this.
"Tippy Toe said it was an emergency?" Doreen said. The squirrel in question was on her shoulder, as usual. Kraven didn't look like he was having a crisis, any more than van camping in a park was ever a crisis. Compared to the crises he was capable of, this was nothing.
"Yes," he confirmed. He reached into the leather pouch on his belt, and pulled out his phone. He handed it to her, but when she looked at it, there wasn't anything on it. Just a lockscreen picture of a woman in a bikini with a cougar. It may have been a cougar with a cougar.
"... what am I doing with this?" she asked.
"It's broken," he said. His accent came out in odd vowels and adjacent consonants, too much or not there at all. Sometimes it was thicker and she didn't know why. A confluence of difficult sounds, or else something in the air that reminded him of The Old Country.
She looked at his phone again. "What?"
"It does not work right," he said, pointing to it. "This is supposed to be the best phone, but it's slow."
She squinted at him. "Your emergency is that you need tech support?"
«I swear I didn't know,» Tippy Toe said. She patted her head as reassurance that she wasn't mad at her.
"You are young," he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Fix it."
"Tch." She shouldn't have, but she swiped to unlock. "I forgot that you're like a bajillion years old."
"Closer to one hundred."
"A bajillion," she repeated. "What are these apps?" She scrolled through page after page of icons with poorly rendered animals.
"Games of skill."
"Okay, so this phone is just full of spyware. It's more spyware than phone. We need to uninstall these."
"Do what you must," he said with a shrug. Then he paused to consider. "Do not open the camera roll," he added.
"Wh—ew!" She recoiled from him in horror.
"Or Kik. Or Snapchat. Or Twitter."
"Should I be touching this with my bare hands?" she asked, holding the phone between two fingers and away from herself.
He had to stop and think about it, which was a bad sign.
"Okay, don't answer that," she said, looking at the phone again with reluctance. "I'll just wash my hands when we're done. I should probably do it anyway. This phone is a breeding ground for computer viruses to evolve and infect people." She gestured vaguely at his stomach, which looked smudged with something black. "What happened there?"
"I fell into a fire."
"To who?" she asked. "Were you drinking?"
"Usually." He rubbed at the carbon char staining his abs again. "I will wash this while you fix my phone."
"I don't think you're supposed to swim in there, dude," Doreen called after him as he walked toward the pond. He ignored her, discarding his vest.
«Since when?» Tippy Toe asked. «I swim in there all the time!»
«I meant humans aren't supposed to swim in there,» she clarified.
«He barely counts. You've seen his Twitter icon.» There was a splash, but neither of them looked.
«Truuuue. You can go ahead and secure the perimeter while I do this, if you want.» She scratched Tippy's head. She knew she felt a little cooped up and anxious sometimes. She liked being able to run through the grass and the trees with the other squirrels. It was spring, besides, and that meant she was more eager than usual to socialize.
«Call if you need anything,» she said, bounding away. Doreen sighed, and got to work deleting app after suspicious-looking app. Some of them she had to Google the names of, because they were in Russian. Some of them she regretted Googling the names of.
She cleared out his cache, restarted, installed and ran a security suite, restarted, and then double-checked that it was running better. By opening a game she'd installed. It was cute, and it was about running a dance party zoo, and it was sort of thematically appropriate but mostly just safe. She wandered closer to the pond as she finished what she was doing, and finally looked up from the screen.
"Alright, I think your phone is... uh..." Doreen trailed off as Kraven re-emerged from the water, running his hands over his hair and in the process displaying his physique to full effect.
Apparently that weird lion-face vest was an important dividing line between fully-clothed and half-naked, despite how little it covered. The necklace of fangs and claws somehow made him look less dressed. And his muscles did a lot of interesting things when he moved that she'd never actually noticed before, maybe because they hadn't been wet. Things looked different in important ways when they were wet.
Maybe trying to avoid his horrible minefield of porn had reminded her that he was a guy, and not just an oversized action figure.
She didn't realize until it was too late that he'd come much closer than was entirely necessary, and was leaning towards her.
Like for a kiss.
She yelped, taking a step back and holding up her hand in the way of his face. Mostly his mouth. "Haha whoops nope, no, not, uh, no thank you."
Kraven paused. He stood straighter. She was extremely aware of the fact that she could probably grate cheese on his cheekbones, if that was something she wanted to do for some reason, which she definitely didn't but it was good to know the option was there. "I apologize," he said. "It looked as if you were admiring." He gestured to himself in a long, sweeping motion of his hand.
Doreen's face was turning into the sun.
"Sorry," she said, still holding his phone, and if she gripped it any tighter it would shatter. "It's not—I just don't—you and I aren't really—I like you as a friend, but my feelings—"
This time Kraven held up his hand, and she shut her mouth so fast she could hear her own teeth. She was grateful for the excuse to shut up. Why was she so bad at talking about her own feelings? They were hers. That should have made them significantly easier to understand and discuss than other people's! And yet.
"I think that you have misunderstood my intentions," Kraven said.
"... you weren't going to kiss me?" she asked, unsure if that would be better or worse under the circumstances.
"I was," he said. "But not for any kind of feelings reason."
"Is there another reason?" She was wishing she had some kind of box to stand on. Or a tree branch. He was too close, and she sort of had to lean back to see him properly, and the fact that she could pick him up and toss him in the air if she wanted didn't make that feel like less of a disadvantage. He could pick her up, too. And had. Repeatedly. At least once by the ankles.
"I thought you might want to have sex," he explained, as if it were the simplest thing in the world.
"Sex," she repeated, her mind having gone completely blank, unable to reconcile the many conflicting inputs. Like Kraven, and his thick eyebrows and soft mouth and aquiline nose and the dark curls that covered his chest and the matter-of-fact way he said 'sex'. Sex, but not feelings. "Like a hookup?" she asked, trying to decide if she should be indignant.
"If you like," he shrugged. "I do not care for that word, myself. It sounds unfriendly. We aren't strangers. This would be casual sex between friends."
She was starting to think that Kraven had some really interesting ideas about how friendship worked, or else his only two settings were big death and little death, with absolutely nothing in between. "How often have you done this?" she asked, incredulous.
Brown eyes narrowed. "What are you implying."
"I'm not implying anything!"
"It seems like you're implying something."
"I'm just wondering!"
"I am extremely discerning, in this as in all things."
"I'm sure you are!" she said, not sure why he was the one offended when he was a very large man in very tight leopard-print pants (which may or may not have been made of an actual leopard, she'd never been sure and she didn't want to ask) who had just suggested that she might want to bone down in the middle of a public park. "This seems sudden, is all, and—do you even have condoms?" Would he have just tried to... ugh.
"Miss Squirrel," he admonished gently, clearly insulted as he pressed a hand over his sternum. His damp, hairy sternum. "I am a hunter. Not an animal."
Her palm hit her forehead before she could stop it. She dragged her hand down her face. "Of course," she muttered. "You would keep condoms in there," she said, gesturing to his van. She paused. "Not to imply..."
"No, no," he assured her. "I do not deny that the Kra-van is a vehicle for a man on the prowl." She groaned. "However, if you are not interested—it is only that I do find you attractive." She blushed a little, not sure why she found that so flattering. "I thought that since you also find me attractive—"
"I never said that," she pointed out.
"Girl of Squirrels," he said. "Please." He gestured to himself with both hands this time. "Let us not kid ourselves."
"It's good to be confident."
"It is one of my many admirable qualities," he agreed. "I hope that I have not offended you."
"It's... fine," she said, trying not to bite her lip. Lip-biting was an attractive habit for other people to have, who didn't have buckteeth. Not that her buckteeth weren't cute. They were super, mega-cute. Just not so much with the lip-biting. "Still friends?"
"Of course!" he said, seeming surprised she would even ask.
"This isn't going to make things weird?"
"I should hope not," he said. "Do not be anxious," he ordered, and she didn't think he was aware that he was saying it as an order. "I am not a man of moles. In this, I would prefer more willing prey." Then he grinned, his teeth sharp. "Do you know, Miss Squirrel," he said in a confiding tone, "when you are frightened, you are very still, except for your tail." The tip of one finger and his eyes both followed her tail, which she realized now was whipping wildly back and forth behind her. Turning red, she grabbed at it to hold it in front of her and make it stay still. It wrapped around her neck the way it sometimes did when she was anxious. Her fur had fluffed in an involuntary threat display, and she huffed indignantly when he laughed.
"I wasn't scared!" she insisted. "I was surprised. You surprised me. You can't just surprise a girl with that kind of talk! I wasn't prepared. I haven't even shaved."
"Good," he said immediately.
He laughed again. "I know what I like," he said, raising both hands in a shrug. She really wished he'd put his stupid vest back on. "What I like is fur."
"Kraven!" she shrieked, trying to muffle her own shock with her tail. "I'm—oh my gosh, take your stupid phone back," she said, pushing the device towards him, still hiding behind her own tail.
"Thank you for your assistance," he said, taking it back from her. "If you change your mind, I will be here for some time, as I am hunting the most dangerous game."
"It better not be man."
"No. Well. Sort of."
"Kraven," she warned.
"It is a man with the body of a boar," he explained, "and the mind of a freshman economics student. He argues with strangers about libertarianism, and then gores anyone who disagrees with his essential premises."
"... that is dangerous."
Doreen was having trouble sleeping. Because of crimes and injustice and—
Because of her schoolwork and studies and—
She was stuck on the concept of casual sex being suggested as a friendly activity along the lines of a brunch meetup. Suggested, specifically, by an objectively attractive man. Being attractive was kind of one of his things! He was the hot guy, who made bold fashion choices and had terrible hobbies.
There was a difference between appreciating the aesthetics of a person in the abstract, and appreciating those aesthetics as something tangible and touchable. Touchable in a non-fighting context. Touchable with hands that were capable of doing things that weren't punching or roughly grabbing or throwing, things like—
She lifted her head enough to get her pillow out from under it, and then covered her own face with it.
She was not going to think about Kraven the Hunter masturbating.
She was already doing that.
If she screamed into her pillow, Tippy was going to want to know what was wrong, and then everyone would know that she was having impure thoughts about Kraven of all people because squirrels were actually terrible liars. Pretending to bury a nut somewhere weird wasn't actually a good lie! It was not the triumph of acting that some people seemed to think it was! Maybe her secrets could stand to be better hidden than a hoard of acorns, for once!
Cold shower. That was what people were supposed to do in these situations, right? Take a cold shower and think about baseball. Except boys playing baseball were actually pretty cute, so that would be a terrible distraction.
She locked the bathroom door, and got into the tub. She stifled a shriek when the water hit her, as cold as she thought she could stand it. Unbelievably, icy cold.
Like the Russian tundra.
Where she would have to snuggle for warmth to survive.
She turned the temperature back up, since it wasn't working anyway. The fur of her tail had absorbed enough water to be weighed down onto the floor of the tub. It got horrifyingly heavy when wet, and could sometimes be used as a bludgeon in emergencies.
Okay. She was a grown woman. She had needs. She had urges. She had a detachable massaging showerhead. This was absolutely fine, and not weird, because only the water would even be touching her and that meant Nancy wouldn't have to burn the whole bathroom for safety.
She touched herself experimentally first.
Yeah. This was definitely a problem. Okay. She'd just work her way up to the showerhead, if she even ended up needing it. Who could she think about that was safe?
Not Tomas. They were friends and he was called for and if she was honest she mostly just thought about kissing him because he was dreamy and she'd never gone much further than that in her mind.
Daredevil? She tried to imagine being caught in a steamy embrace with Daredevil. Surely she could manage that. He'd looked great the last time she'd seen him. He'd also looked uncomfortable because he thought she was twelve.
Okay, not that. Han Solo? No. He would never betray Leia and Lando that way. Or Luke, for that matter. Her name didn't even start with an L. A younger, prequel Han Solo? He wasn't even Harrison Ford, so at that point why even bother. This attempt at a masturbatory fantasy was a hunks-only zone.
Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace? No, he would find her tail off-putting and make weird faces in bed. Kraven? No. She was trying not to think about Kraven, and his hands around her ankles. No. Absolutely not.
Maybe men were just terrible. She-Hulk? Oh. That was—oh, but she felt guilty about that. She-Hulk had enough to deal with without being... fetishized? Was this fetishizing? The brief glimpse of what might have been a fantasy had focused a lot on big so it felt like fetishizing.
This was exactly why she didn't usually do this.
Just. Nobody. A faceless idea of hunkitude in the general shape of a man. He'd take her hiking—no, camping—no, this was treading dangerously close to ex-manbuddy territory. She deliberately made the faceless no-one man taller. On a boat. A... cool boat, on a pretty lake, and his hands on her arms and biting her ear and pulling her back against him.
Yes. This was working for her. The lake would mean she could be as noisy as she wanted and no squirrels would show up to try and save her from orgasms. They'd be the only people around, somehow, because of a terrible disaster.
Pull back. Less worldbuilding, more hunk hands. Running through her hair, and he—
No, this was definitely Kraven again. Wet, half-dressed Kraven, lounging on some kind of obnoxious yacht. Totally ruining this whole thing by existing. Probably taking weird dick pics to DM to strange Twitter women. She assumed they'd be weird. He wasn't the kind of guy to artistically arrange his penis for ideal lighting before adding a soft glow filter.
A soft glow filter was the last thing that man needed. No one could tell him about soft glow filters.
Except, in the end, for all her objections, she was thinking about Kraven in the sunlight with his hand wrapped around his cock and stroking it like an invitation. What would casual sex between friends even look like? What could he possibly have had in mind, looking at her like that? He found her attractive, he said, but that wasn't specific.
He was old and he'd been a supervillain and did those facts make him more or less likely to be into something weird that she'd hate? What if he had a gross thing for animal-themed women? She tried not to think about that. This was a fantasy and he'd like all the things that she liked and he'd kiss her a lot because she said so. Touch her and put his mouth on her and let her do what she wanted. Except he would be bossy, she could already tell, but she could manhandle him when she didn't like something because he had biceps the size of her calves and her calves were formidable.
His hands, she was fixating on his hands, the size of them and the callouses on them and the way they would feel against her skin.
She came using nothing but the tips of her fingers, and it wasn't as satisfying as she'd hoped.
Doreen had a lot of time to think while she was blow-drying her tail. Did she think sex was a special thing, for people who loved each other? Not really.
Maybe it was the squirrels. They the opposite of mated for life. They mated and then never went near each other again.
Which had pretty much been her M.O. thus far, it just hadn't been on purpose.
That didn't have to be bad. She wouldn't shame another woman for not being precious about sex. If she wasn't being precious about it, then why not have no-strings-attached sex?
For one thing, no one had ever asked. Not really. They might have suggested something like it as an insult, because they could tell she wasn't that kind of girl. Shouldn't have been that kind of girl, based on their understanding of girls who said dang and oh my gosh and believed in trying to be good and finding the goodness in others. Surely a girl like that would be utterly scandalized due to her prudish nature, and not the hardcore sex-pred vibes.
Asking people out didn't go well for her. The Daredevil Debacle still stung. She was in this weird manic pixie limbo where most men assumed she was off-limits, or naïve, and the ones who didn't... they went too far in the other direction, and read more into her than there really was.
Women didn't really seem interested. She looked at her claws, and made a face. Who could blame them?
No-strings-attached sex was sounding better all the time. Why not? It was the 21st century and she was a modern girl with liberal ideas about interactive genital configurations. This might be ideal for her. All of the physical contact and orgasms and fun, without any of emotional labor that disproportionately fell onto women even when those women already had a full course load and an intense career volunteering to punch strangers.
She'd have to think about it. If it even came up again. Who even knew with this city.
After an intense multi-boar battle that everyone probably should have anticipated the moment Kraven had said anything about a liboartarian, Doreen and Koi Boi stood in an empty lot beside a pile of prone porcined people.
Kraven the Hunter stood on top of the pile, with one leg bent, because he knew a good photo op when he saw one.
"You're right," said Circe, a sophomore in sociology whose parents had either known exactly what they were doing when they'd named her, or had really lucked out. "These men might be pigs, but turning them into literal swine hasn't taught them anything."
"Yeah," Doreen said, "you kind of just gave them huge powerful bodies? Like, really friggin' huge."
"They're now as physically dangerous as they are intellectually," Koi Boi agreed.
"I'm sorry," Circe sighed. "Give me a minute, and I'll fix it."
The air shimmered, and in an instant Kraven was posing on a pile of peopled people—mostly poli-sci.
"Oh, thank god, they kept their clothes," Koi Boi said, sagging with relief. He'd had serious concerns about being confronted with an enormous number of bare bro butts.
"From now on, I'll try to only use my powers for good," Circe said. "Like spying on wild apes to better understand their social structures outside of observation."
"That's great!" Doreen said. "I think. Would you like to help us with—"
"No," she said.
"Okay. Okay, cool. That's fine."
«Ask if she can turn you into a squirrel!» Tippy Toe chimed in from Koi Boi's shoulder.
«I'm not asking that!» she called back.
"I don't think my powers work on animals that are already animals," Circe said, misinterpreting the chirped discussion.
"It's cool," Doreen said. She turned to the people pile, and cupped her hands around her mouth. "Dude, you should probably get down from there."
Kraven held up a staying hand. He leaned back to better capture the number of fallen men in his selfie. Then he walked down, his steps heavier and hitting more people on the way than was necessary.
"Are you sure he's a good guy now?" Koi Boi asked.
"It's complicated," she admitted.
«I think he's reformed,» Tippy said, having been earlier bribed with a tin of fancy cashews.
"Thanks for the assist!" Doreen said. "Also for not killing any of the boar people."
"The world would be a better place if they were dead," he said dismissively. "However, as you have said—they are unworthy of a death at my hands."
"Right," Doreen said, ignoring that she'd never actually said that. Whatever way he wanted to interpret events was fine with her, if the end result kept his murderous impulses exclusive to the horrors of the deep. "Do you want to help us get these guys back to campus?"
"Okay. Okay, cool. That's fine."
"The witch girl has already left," Kraven pointed out, and Doreen turned to confirm that she was gone. Just empty midnight streets around the old abandoned Spam processing plant.
"They will be fine," Kraven shrugged.
"We should call the police to come retrieve them," Koi Boi said.
"Yes," Kraven said. "You do that."
"Wait," Doreen said before he could turn to leave, filled with a sudden panic that she was missing her only chance. "Can you give me a ride?" she asked. "To that thing we talked about earlier?"
Kraven raised an eyebrow. "The thing," he repeated.
«What thing?» Tippy Toe asked.
"You were talking earlier?" Koi Boi asked.
"It's complicated," Squirrel Girl said to both, "and also a surprise, so I'll see you guys later, okay?"
"Are you sure?" asked Koi Boi.
«Doreen,» began Tippy Toe.
"Okay bye!" she interrupted, pushing past Kraven and away from her friends to climb into the passenger side of the Kra-van. She shut the door a little harder than necessary, and fumbled with the seatbelt, refusing to look out the window or acknowledge anything around her.
The Kra-van smelled strongly of pine.
Kraven took his time getting in beside her. She stared at the dashboard as he buckled his seatbelt and started the car.
He broke the silence first. "The thing is that you would like to fu—"
"Yes, that is the thing I was talking about, yes."
He pulled slowly out into the street. He was a more careful driver than she would have expected, if she'd ever thought about what his driving was like. She'd only ever seen him when he was hunting—or rather, shoving perfectly nice duck-men into comically large burlap sacks that they must have sold at some kind of Kidnappers 'R' Us emporium because there was no other possible function for a burlap sack of that size. When he was doing that, there was a lot more speed and screeching tires.
Could he have been going extra-slow for her benefit? Was that a silly thing to think?
"You seem tense," he said. Her shoulders were up around her ears, and her hands were balled into fists that pressed against her thighs.
"Wow weird no I don't know why you'd think that yeah I'm super nervous, dude."
He glanced at her, then back to the road. She exhaled a long, shaky breath.
"My love life is so bad it made the news one time," she said, and he snorted. "Guys are super weird and I don't get them, like, at all? Sometimes they're like: you smiled at me! Marry me! And other times they're like: I know we're super good friends who hang out, like, all the time and we have a ton in common but I'm just going to be around you and be handsome and then date another girl, who to be fair is also pretty great, even if she's not you."
Slowly, she had relaxed enough that she could gesticulate, which she did wildly and with gusto. "I feel like I was supposed to figure this stuff out in high school, except when I was in high school, I was beating up Doctor Doom and solving mysteries and babysitting. And despite what certain books would have you believe, that doesn't leave a lot of room for dating a whole lot!
"I keep ending up with these, these just, these needy men, who really! They don't seem like they should be needy! But suddenly it's three in the morning, and they're crying, and you're like, you were older than me when my mom was born, dude! You should have this figured out! I don't know what you think I'm going to fix here, man! So a guy who's sort of thematically rugged or whatever goes in for a kiss and it's like my whole life flashes before my eyes because I'm not doing this again! I'm not! But, you know? I'm a grown woman? It's 2017? Maybe I can just have a good time with a guy and it doesn't have to be a big deal or anything? Maybe I'm allowed to do that?"
Kraven pulled into a space in the darkened basement of a parking structure. "I see."
"Do you?" she asked hopefully. That had been a whole lot of words and she had no idea what any of them had managed to convey.
He nodded knowingly. "You need very badly to get laid," he said, before getting out of the van.
She stared at the empty space in the driver's seat. "I guess?" she said, before clambering out of the van to follow him. He'd taken long strides to get in an elevator not too far from where he'd parked. She barely made it past the elevator door before it closed, pulling her tail in behind her.
They stood silently for a moment, Doreen holding her own tail. Kraven looked down at her sidelong. "Was it the Wolverine?" he asked.
"I think that it was either Sabretooth or the Wolverine, and I do not think that Victor is the sort of man even you would try to date."
Doreen started to turn red. "I have no idea what you mean," she said primly.
"The Wolverine has always seemed to me the sort of man to be a selfish lover," Kraven said thoughtfully.
She blushed deeper, half hiding her face in her own fur. "To you, maybe," she muttered. He let the issue drop with another wordless moment.
"You have a type," he said instead.
"I do not!" she said. "I like all sorts of people."
"All sorts of hirsute older men."
"I do not," she protested in a higher pitch. "This is not a pattern."
"How do you feel about Mr. Burt Reynolds?"
"I'm not answering that." He laughed, and the sound filled the elevator. She looked at the buttons, still slowly lighting their way upward. It was a tall building, and an old elevator. "Where are we going?" she asked.
He looked at her sidelong again. "You thought that I lived in a van in the park."
"I see how it is," he said, shaking his head. "This is what you think of Kraven."
"No!" she insisted. "I just... assumed you had a cabin. Somewhere. In the tundra. I guess."
"I also have an apartment. I have many places."
This apartment was probably his headquarters. His supervillain headquarters. Where he'd planned how to kill Spider-Man, all those times that he'd tried to kill Spider-Man. Which he wasn't going to do anymore, because hunting Spider-Man was a weird hobby for a person to have anyway, and that meant he wasn't really a supervillain now and it was totally okay for her to be here.
The elevator dinged. She let her tail go once she was in the hall, no longer paranoid about getting it caught in anything. She followed him once he'd unlocked his door, pausing in the living room. "Oh!"
He locked the door behind her. It probably should have been ominous. It wasn't.
"It's so... clean," she said, looking over all the plush furniture and fur rugs and fur throws. It smelled woodsy, but in a clean way, more like a woods-scented candle than like the actual woods. She would know. She was intimately familiar with the smell of the woods.
"You are insulting me on purpose, now," he said.
"You accuse me of being a vagrant who lives in my own filth."
"Nooooo," she said, turning to face him. He was taking his shoes off at the door, and she balanced on one foot to follow suit, pulling off her ballet flats. She set them beside his, which he would probably object to being called ballet flats, but which she had always secretly thought of as ballet flats. "I didn't mean it like that!"
"I thought you'd adhere more closely to problematic Western ideas about masculinity, was all!"
"I am very manly," he agreed, and she followed him as he moved to another room. The wood floors were cold against her thin socks.
"Yeah!" she agreed. "And usually guys who care about manly stuff are kind of, you know... slobs."
"Even animals do not foul their own nests," Kraven said with some disdain.
"Right." They were in his kitchen. It was sort of small, and almost quaint, except that if she called anything he owned 'quaint' then he would probably get offended again because what Kraven really liked to hunt for was excuses to get mad at people.
"I have a sensitive nose," he added.
"Oh." They'd been fighting crime. Was she sweaty? She was a little bit sweaty. It was a hazard of the job. Could she smell herself without him noticing that she was smelling herself to see if he could smell her?
"You smell good," he said.
"Oh." She blushed.
She sat. At the breakfast nook. That he had. Kraven the Hunter's breakfast nook, with a wooden bench like a church pew that ran along the corner. He had a napkin holder. It looked like he had made it himself out of a tree branch, using a chainsaw.
His outfit looked really, really weird in a kitchen. There was some kind of brass urn on the table. She thought it might be for coffee, because it looked like the sort of thing that a guy who punched lions would want to use for his coffee, and it would brew it so black and thick it was like tar and it would stick to her teeth and she'd drink it anyway to be polite.
He set a cup in front of her, glass and brass with a little handle, and busied himself with an enameled floral teapot.
This was not going the way she'd thought it would.
"Belka," he said, looking up to watch her tail. "You're frightened again."
"I'm nervous," she corrected, trying to get her tail to stop twitching. "Gimme a break, geeze."
"Geeze," he repeated, teasing, and she blushed. Steam rose from the teapot as he filled it from the urn. "Such a wholesome young woman, who has come home with Kraven the Hunter to have sex with him."
Something anxious twisted in her stomach, and she gripped her empty cup tighter. "That's..." She frowned. Had she misread this? Did he look at her and the things she said and see something she wasn't? "Are you trying to win?" she blurted out.
She tapped her claws against the glass as she tried to get her thoughts in order. "You're not just a hunter," she said. "You're Kraven. What you like is to win. It doesn't always have to be physical."
"You are suggesting I brought you here to humiliate you with sex?" he asked, dipping a spoon into a jar of something deep red, stirring it into the teapot.
He put the lid back on the pot. "You don't trust me."
"Good." He sat down at the other side of the bench, at the other corner of the table. It meant they weren't looking straight at each other. She kind of preferred that. "You shouldn't."
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't trust you," she protested.
He shrugged. "I think you know you have nothing to fear from me. That is a different thing from trusting me. I like you. I am a man of my word. But you should not trust me."
It made her sad to hear him say that, in that way. He had done so well at turning over a new leaf, relatively speaking. It seemed like a fatalistic attitude to have. "Friends should trust each other," she said.
"Some friends, maybe," he said. "You are Girl of Squirrels, who takes selfies with Galactus."
"I did," she said, beaming.
"You would befriend a snake if you thought that it was lonely," he said. "It would still be a snake."
"Snakes aren't inherently bad."
"A good snake can still kill you."
"That depends on the species."
"Don't muddy my metaphor with pedantry," he said with a disdainful wrinkle of his nose, picking up the teapot to fill her glass. It warmed her hands, until the heat was too much and she needed to let it go. "I have killed men."
"Don't," she said, because she didn't want him talking about things like that, because she liked to look toward the future and think about the good things that could be instead of the bad things that had been. Because a girl didn't take selfies with Galactus by thinking about all the worlds she hadn't saved and how many billions of lives he may have eaten.
"Yes," he said, pouring his own glass. "This is what I mean. I am Kraven the Hunter, your friend, who seeks to kill only leviathans and monsters. I am Kraven the Hunter, destroyer of men. It is out of respect for you that I will not let you forget."
She frowned at her tea. "I'll kick your butt if you start doing bad stuff again," she warned. "Even if we do have sex. Friendly sex."
"Hmm." He picked up his glass. "I am old. I am not the man I was ten years ago, or the man I will be in ten years. I like this man that I am now, but I will not lie and say that he will last." He sipped his tea.
Doreen sipped hers. It was sweet and fruity and kind of smokey. "Getting old seems like it sucks."
"Da. It, as you say, sucks the big one."
They sipped their tea.
"I like you, Belka," he said. "You seemed to be admiring, and it occurred to me that you are an attractive woman, and so it seemed only natural that we would have sex."
She thought she was getting better at turning slightly less red whenever he said it.
"I had no deeper motives at that time," he said. "I meant it when I said that my intention was friendliness. If what you would like is a promise that I will derive no pleasure from thinking of this as a conquest, I cannot give it."
She sighed. "Thank you for being honest," she said.
It didn't have to be a big deal. It wasn't a big deal. It was just sex, with a hot guy, who happened to be a supervillain sometimes but not anymore because she'd beat him up and shown him the error of his ways. If he was getting off on weird stuff... at least he wasn't going to expect her to deal with all his baggage?
Like. He was warning her about the baggage, but he was also leaving it at the door? Letting her know he might be busy juggling it later, but not expecting her to carry it?
This metaphor was getting weird. She just didn't want to be eighteen and trying to talk a guy through his night terrors about his dead wife again. All she ever wanted were the fun parts, with the motorcycle rides and posing with cigars and camping and even sparring. Maybe this could be like that—just the fun parts.
She inched closer to him on the bench. He sipped his tea, and casually draped his arm out over the back of it. She continued scooting closer, until her thigh was touching his. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and she held her tea with both hands to enjoy the warmth. His fingers toyed idly with the fur on her tail.
"You're really hot," she warned him, "so don't think I'm going to be ashamed of this. If you team up with a bunch of bad guys to fight the Avengers, and you try to embarrass me by saying we had sex, I'm going to be like: yes. I hit that. Then I'm going to high-five Iron Man, because we're friends, and if anyone's going to understand that situation it'll be him."
"Feh." He tugged her headband gently out of her hair to toss it aside. "No one with eyes could be anything but impressed by such a feat." She giggled as he nuzzled at her hair. She risked looking up at him. He was looking down at her. It seemed like the sensible thing that she'd stretch her neck a little higher, that he'd lean down until his mouth met hers.
He was an aggressive kisser, but not as aggressive as he could have been. She got the feeling that he was holding back, the same feeling she'd had in the car when it seemed like he could be driving faster. He smelled mostly like leather. His moustache tickled and his stubble felt rough. She could feel sharp teeth against her tongue. Was that a powers thing, or had he just paid for thematically appropriate cosmetic dentistry? The man wore leopard print pants. Who knew what he was capable of.
She hummed happily, anyway, and wished there was enough room between his thighs and the table to fit her. She pulled away, and hid her pleased smile behind her cup. He kissed her temple. "Cute," he said.
They sipped their tea.
He finished before she did. He set his empty glass on the table, and toyed with her tail some more. "No throwing," she warned.
"I said I was sorry."
She focused on finishing her drink. He slid his hand along the back of her neck, then up through her hair. She shivered.
"O-ho—you like that," he said, and she tried to take it at face value and not think about him deriving pleasure from conquest or whatever objectionable thing it was that made her so nervous.
Just let it be a kink. Just let it be what it was, and not need to be deeper. Just let one single relationship with one single person be what she'd thought going into it. Just this once.
He tousled her hair as she finished her tea. "Will you carry me?" she asked as she set her cup aside.
"Oh?" He was grinning. "You do not want to carry me?"
"I'm always carrying you."
He frowned. "Not always. Once! One time."
"Just carry me like a princess and don't throw me," she said, with a hint of a pout.
"One of those times you asked to be thrown," he reminded her, sliding off the bench to stand.
"This time I'm not, is the point."
"Yes, Miss Squirrel." He scooped her up with arms under her knees and behind her back, and her tail hung beneath her as she settled against his chest. The lion vest made things a little weird. She tapped one of the glass eyes. Then she ran her fingers along a scar on his chest, one of a series. Clawmarks, old and faint, mostly hidden by the hair on his chest. Which she was now running her fingers through.
She liked this. She liked that he could pick her up like this even though she was heavy. It didn't make her feel delicate, because she knew better, but it made him feel strong enough to handle her.
She reached up to grab his shoulders, and pulled herself up out of his arms. He stopped, trying to grab her by the waist. "Keep walking," she ordered, bracing a foot against his forearm and using it for leverage to get behind him. She fell to wrap her legs around his back, and her arms around his shoulders. She had to stretch her neck to keep the fur on his vest out of her face.
"You are aware that I am not a tree, Girl of Squirrels," he said, heading for the bedroom door.
"I climb a lot of things that aren't trees," she said. She nipped at his ear. He growled, and she giggled. When he opened the bedroom door, she gasped dramatically.
He had one of those big, round beds. Like from the sixties, or what she assumed was the sixties, based on everything she knew about the sixties from Austin Powers and that time she went to the sixties.
All the fur didn't help the retro aesthetic.
She did the logical thing when faced with this tableau, and launched herself off his back, doing a sweet flip to land backwards on a pile of what might have been bear fur. She looked at Kraven, upside-down, her arms out on either side of her. "I was hoping it would be a water bed," she admitted, bouncing the normal amount for a normal mattress.
"If it was, you would have broken it," he pointed out, pulling off his vest so he could discard it on the floor. It seemed like he was posing. Was he posing? She rolled sideways so that she could see him better upright.
Yeah. He was definitely flexing while he took his belt off.
"Do you know that from experience?" she asked. She took her earrings out, and tucked them into her belt. Then she got up on her knees to wiggle out of her leggings and panties, her skirt still covering her enough to keep her from feeling self-conscious. She sat to kick them off, throwing them to the floor.
"Yes." He bent, reached across the bed to grab her tail and pull her closer with it. She yelped, her legs curling to cover herself and possibly kick him in the face out of habit. He paused, and looked at her tail. "No good?" He gave it a gentle experimental tug. "It hurts?"
"I mean!" She was blushing again. "It's not the worst, but it's not great. Like? If you wouldn't pull someone by the hair maybe don't pull my tail?"
He squinted. He looked at her tail in his hand, and then back at her face. "You do not know this, because of your pixie hair," he said, "but I do that a lot."
"Pull people's hair?"
"Oh." Her tail twitched, which she might not have even noticed if he hadn't been holding it and providing resistance. "Then I guess just try to be careful," she said with a helpless shrug.
How often did that even come up? Would he have thrown her by the hair, that one time, if she'd had any?
"Of course," he said, and he pulled again, slower and more deliberately and making her squeak so that she had to cover her mouth and pretend she hadn't just squeaked.
It was evocative, was all.
"At least let me get my socks off!" she protested. They weren't even cute socks. They were gray trouser socks that she'd bought in the men's section because they were the right color and went right up to where she needed them under her leggings, none of which were particularly sexy features in a leg-based garment. He grabbed her ankle to inspect her leg, still holding her tail. "I'll kick you for real," she warned.
"No," he said, to either or both statements. "They are cute." He kissed her bare knee right above the stretchy fabric, then moved his hand to her thigh to lift it away from the other.
"Whoa okay yeah you just, you just get right to it, huh, you're not wasting any time, you're just, hi."
Rather than contradict this at all, he buried his face between her thighs immediately and aggressively. She squeaked again, the leg he wasn't holding wrapping around his head as a reflex. He had her whole lower half hanging off the edge of the bed, his hands holding her theoretically prisoner while he knelt between her legs. The hand on her thigh was as pleasantly rough as she'd thought it would be.
He nuzzled at her, and she covered her face with her hands, muffling a groan. He gave her a long, slow lick that made her shudder with anticipation. The tip of his tongue circled her clit, and when it dipped inside of her the crook of his nose—his nose! His nose, of all things!—ground against the bundle of nerves and made her toes curl. His jaw felt rough against her thighs, and his moustache was tickly in the oddest places.
His tongue kept working, her leg holding him close, and she tried to grip at his hair. Tried, because whatever product he used in it to make it do what it did gave it an unpleasant texture that she did not care for at all. She let out a huff of complaint, and then deliberately and a little spitefully tousled his hair.
He stopped what he was doing. She whined, and did grip his hair this time, now that she'd found the soft under-layer of unstyled fluff. She tilted her hips, and he pressed his teeth against her skin, not a bite but a warning. It got a little cry out of her, and when she looked down she could see him watching her. He licked her again, and she pressed her head back into the mattress, grinding shamelessly against his face.
She didn't actually have a thing about guys who were a bajillion years old. She didn't. But if she did, it would be because some of them used that time to get really good at this.
There were probably men that didn't take fifty years to figure out cunnilingus, but those men didn't proposition her for one-night stands in public parks next to their weird sex vans, which was apparently what it took because she was allergic to good decisions.
This was kind of seeming like an amazing decision, though. His tongue was stronger and faster and more agile than it seemed like tongues ought to be, which may have been some kind of side effect of his powers, which was the best possible side effect that a power had ever had. It was curling inside of her and drawing shapes on her clit and possibly writing the entirety of War and Peace, letter by letter, using nothing but the tip of his tongue.
Her back started to arch, claws dragging along his scalp, all her muscles going taut as her focus became singular. Closer, so close, she could feel it, right there, if he just kept going, if it were just a little more—
She cried out as her mind went blank, flooded with bliss that crowded out all else, frozen in a moment she had no desire to end. When it ended anyway, slowly ebbed away, she relaxed and let him go with a pleased sigh.
"You know," he said, releasing her go to stand and rubbing at the back of his neck, "if I were a weaker man, you might have hurt my spine."
"Yeah," she sighed again.
"You also drew blood."
"What!" She nearly fell off the bed as she shot upright. Kraven was running his fingers through his hair; they came away with red staining his fingertips.
"If we were enemies," he said, "I would kill you for this."
Doreen looked at her hands. Her claws had blood on them. "Aaah!" She held them out, as far away from the rest of her as she could. "Aaaaaaah! Aaah! Biohazard! Biohazard! Biohazardous materials! Help!"
He spread his hands in baffled indignation. "I give you orgasms—"
"One! One orgasm! Which was very good, thank you, I liked it a lot."
"—and you repay me in blood, and now you are the one who wants assistance."
He sighed, and dropped his hands to his sides. She watched him as he wandered away, muttering, into another room. He returned with a towel, rubbing it over his hair and leaving red streaks and spotches. Then he gathered her hands in it, and carefully buffed blood away from her claws.
"There," he said. "Better?"
She inspected them closely, then exhaled with palpable relief. "Yes, thank you."
"You realize that is what claws are for," he said.
"Not mine!" she protested. "Mine are for climbing! If I was planning to claw a person I'd wear gloves. Are you okay?" She leaned forward enough to wrap her arms around him and pull him into the bed. It was dangerously close to a suplex, if suplexes went sort of sideways and were clearly meant with affection.
"... do not pick me up."
"I barely picked you up." As he tried to look powerfully reclined after being dragged bodily into bed, she climbed on top of him so that she could look through his hair and assess the damage.
"You do not need to groom me."
"I'm not a monkey!" she reminded him. She made an unhappy sound as she found one of the scratches she'd left, red and raw and buried in thick black strands. "I'm so sorry."
"Yes, I am a delicate man," he agreed, unbuckling her belt while she was distracted. He threw it off the side of the bed to join her leggings. "Like a sad baby, you must kiss me better." He grabbed the hem of her dress, and yanked it upward.
"Hey!" She was briefly muffled by her dress getting pulled over her head, trapping her arms. She huffed as she pulled it all the way off, and scowled at him. He grinned. "Rude," she accused, pulling her arms free and tossing the dress.
"Never," he said, and he snapped the strap of her bra. "I thought this would be cuter."
She looked down at her own breasts, and the stretchy gray sports bra she'd worn. "Everything I wear is cute, because I'm wearing it," she countered, though that didn't stop her from pulling it up off her breasts and over her head. "Also? Getting to wear this is one of the top five reasons this is the most comfortable costume of all time."
"Hmm." He pulled her closer so that he could run his tongue over one of her nipples, and she giggled.
"You're still wearing pants," she observed.
"They're good pants."
"They're very on-brand."
"I will hear no sassing about my personal brand from the girl who wears ear nuts."
"Please never say those words in that order ever again." He rolled suddenly to put her beneath him, trapping her. "Oh!" Then he got up to slide off the bed. "Aw." She rolled sideways to watch him dig through his end table. "You have a really good butt," she informed him.
"Yes," he agreed.
"I give it an A plus, and a gold star, for butts."
"No less than it deserves." He hitched his thumbs in the waistband, and finally slid his pants off.
He turned around.
She clapped harder.
He posed outright, and could only have been more obviously flexing if he'd curled his arms like a body-builder at a competition.
"Oh, you don't have to—" He curled his arms, and flexed his biceps. "No, I was wrong, this is extremely necessary, continue." He grinned, turning this way and that and moving so she could admire him from various angles. She sat up so that she could finally peel her socks off, then got on her knees so she could bounce with delight. "This is the best," she declared, balling her hands into happy fists near her shoulders.
He jumped into bed the way a big cat might pounce, and she squealed happily, giggling as he caught her mouth with his. She could taste herself on him, which was technically also a biohazard and she probably should have said something sooner but he seemed a lot less anxious in general about getting bodily fluids on himself. Which was why she was so anxious about his bodily fluids. It was a vicious cycle.
She liked kissing him. She wasn't willing to make any objective statements about his skills, but she liked it. She reached down between them to touch his cock and confirm that he was wearing a condom. Then she put her hands on his shoulders, and rolled them over to get on top of him again.
"Always so determined to climb on top," he said, and she giggled again. She pushed him down, leaned back and rose up on her knees. Her fingers wrapped around his shaft, between her thighs, kept him where she wanted while she guided herself down. She bit her lip, braced her other hand against his stomach as the head pressed against her. Then it pushed inside her, and she groaned, letting him go to let gravity do most of the work.
That, and how wet she was from earlier. That was a significant help. She gasped suddenly with realization. "Did you technically give me a moustache ride?" she demanded.
"Yes?" He'd laced his hands under his head, and overall looked extremely pleased with himself about the fact that he was leading a life that involved lying in bed with girls climbing on him.
"Oh my gosh, I didn't even reali—ai, ah—ze!" It was hard to hold a conversation when she was slowly sliding onto a dick. Her hands were making fists again, bending her arms and then stretching them outward, splaying out her fingers in the air. "Is there a club, like the one for planes?"
"If there is, they haven't invited me yet."
"Should they—oh!" She looked down at where their bodies met, her thighs resting on his hips. She was all the way down on him, now. "My goodness." She wiggled experimentally.
It seemed like a lot. Then again, it had been a while.
"Now do your little jumps again," he suggested with a grin, gesturing up-and-down with his hand.
"Only if you give me another show," she countered. Immediately he arched his back and bent his elbows to flex impressively again. With a giddy giggle she attempted another bounce, but it was short-lived. "Oh—oh—oh, no, too much, oh frig, ah." She leaned forward to rest both her hands on his stomach, spasming around him, too much and too soon. She needed more time to adjust, even if it had felt really really good in an overwhelming sort of way.
She stroked a scar on his abdomen with her thumb.
He rolled them over, and she squeaked in alarm. "Kraven," she gasped, breathless.
"Sergei," he corrected.
"Oh." Her eyes were wide as saucers. He looked so much bigger when he was on top of her, and in this position she could see his face better, brown eyes and angular features and his nose three kinds of crooked. That necklace of his was hanging from around his neck, tooth and claw. "Sergei," she said shyly, and she felt badly about it when he didn't know that she was Doreen. Could she tell him that she was Doreen?
He'd told her not to trust him.
He responded to his name with a shallow thrust, and she cried out, all her nerves firing off with no way to distinguish between good and bad. "Come, now, Belka," he chided. "You can take more than that." He rocked his hips, thrust more, and she squirmed beneath him as she tried to get more or less or she didn't know what. She just couldn't not move, not when he was doing that. The fur that covered his bed was rougher than the fur of her tail, mingling underneath her.
"I—I—oh, nngh—Ser-gei—" This didn't seem remotely fair when he was overwhelming her on purpose. He knew exactly what he was doing, and it was just too-much enough to get her to make silly noises. He squeezed her breasts, then cupped her face, pressed his thumb against her open mouth and her tongue. She tried to close her lips around it, but he pushed her mouth back open, his thumbnail pressing against the backs of her front teeth.
"Such a cute little mouth you have," he said. There was a glint in his eye as he watched her, clearly enjoying the way her mouth looked held open. When he took his hand away, it was only because she'd started to adjust, quieter than she'd been. His hands went under her knees to lift them up and apart, with a hard thrust to make her scream, gripping the blanket beneath them and probably tearing into it. She panted, gasped for air, groaned as he kept going.
Too much, too soon, not enough, she needed more.
With her back braced against the mattress she used her legs and his grip on them to push him over.
"Belka," he said, voice strained, "is your goal that we will roll around entire bed?"
"That's why it's round," she declared, much more able to form words now that she was on top again. Then she curled her legs up by her chest so she could turn around, which felt interesting when he was still buried inside her. Her thighs were a soaked mess, but she didn't mind too terribly. She tried to keep her tail curled up by her shoulders, tempting as it was to bop him in the face with it. "We'll be like a clock!"
His hand slid up her back, over her neck, into her hair. She leaned into it, moreso when he used it to pull her backward so that she was laying back on top of him, her weight on her knees and his chest. Her tail was between their arms, more fur in a sea of it. He thrust up into her, and she groaned. "You like that?" he asked, stroking her hair.
"Almost perfect," she said, and she grabbed one of his hands to press it between her legs until his fingers found her clit. She'd do it herself, but she was paranoid now about scratching him. What a horrible place to get scratched that would be. Then she took his other hand out of her hair, and pressed it to her breast, exactly the way she'd been wanting. "Mmm—now it's perfect."
He squeezed her breast, thrust upward and stroked her clit. She groaned, wanting to reach back and grab at him but knowing she shouldn't. Figuring out what to do with her hands was the worst part of any social interaction, quite frankly, and the inclusion of genitals didn't make it any easier. He thrust again and again, and bit down on her shoulder. She cried out, tossed her head back and arched and grabbed his wrists.
"Yes, yes, oh, that's—just like that, oh—" Filling her up and touching her and there was just so much of him, her whole world was reduced to those points of contact and the beat of her pulse, pressure and friction and heat. Her tail wrapped around his neck, she wanted to be holding onto everything at once because everything felt like falling, constantly, drumming to a crescendo until she burst.
"Sergei," she sighed, when she could form words again.
He was still pounding into her as she came down from that peak, and as she went limp it was his turn to be on top again. He sat upright and brought her with him, pushed her forward so that she balanced on her hands and then tipped. She had to stretch to reach a pillow that she could pull under her head, her hips still up off the ground, his hips still moving against them.
Her tail had moved to curl at her back again, but he grabbed it instead, and she cried out in surprise when he pulled her back onto him with it. It meant she clenched down as he drove into her, and he did it again and again. She dug her claws deep into pillow she held. He leaned forward enough to stroke the back of her neck again, run his fingers over her scalp and make her shiver.
She could see what he meant about the hair pulling, now.
He was speaking in Russian and she couldn't understand a word of it—except for Belka, obviously, because what kind of girl would she be if she didn't know every possible word for squirrel? She was going to assume they were nice things he was saying, but she didn't have any way of knowing and she didn't think she'd ask. Every one of her senses was utterly overwhelmed and he could do all sorts of awful things and in this moment she'd like them perfectly well because anything he did could only add to the moreness of it all.
She was throbbing toward a crescendo again, not as distinct or intense as the one before it. It took a second to realize he'd spoken in English that time, "Say it again, Belka."
She could have melted into his bed when she came again, she felt so thoroughly undone. She cried out his name, and he thrust hard and deep, and she felt him twitch inside her. Vigorous and aggressive, like everything that came naturally to him, and her legs were trembling furiously. When he pulled out and let her go, she tipped over entirely, curling onto her side around the mauled pillow.
Would he be mad if she straight-up started hibernating in his sex bed? Because this seemed like a sex bed, not a sleep bed. She was all sticky and she should almost certainly have been asking to use his shower but goodness fucking gracious she was ready to sleep for a year.
When he re-entered her awareness, weight on the bed suggesting that he had left it for a time, he tugged at the pillow she'd claimed. She gripped it tighter, opening her eyes to scowl at him. He was still naked. He'd tried to fix his hair. This said something about his priorities that she'd already known.
"Is this what you would do to me?" he wondered, poking a finger into the pillow's stuffing using a hole one of her claws had made.
"No!" she insisted. "I never do this, I swear."
"Hmmm." He picked her up, pillow and all, and moved her so that her head would be on some of the many other pillows. He pulled some of the bedding up over her. "Then this is the best sex you have had," he suggested.
"No," she said, rolling her eyes.
She didn't think it was. She'd have to think about it when she could think.
The lights went out, and then his weight was behind her, joining her under the covers. Instead of snuggling right up to her, he was playing with her tail again. She attempted to bop him on the nose with it.
"It's soft," he said, undeterred, running his fingers through her fur. "Dense, also. Reminds me of chinchilla."
"Hmph." She was Squirrel Girl. Not Chinchilla Chick. Although she sounded awesome, and she would definitely want to hang out with Chinchilla Chick someday, and be friends.
"Some hunters take tails as trophies."
"Don't make it weird!" she complained, halfheartedly trying to pull her tail away from him.
"I only mean that this would make a wonderful trophy."
"What the frig, dude!" she said, pulling away in earnest. She turned to face him in the darkness. "What did I just say!"
"You should be proud of it!" he said defensively.
"Of course I'm proud of it, and you can't have it." She hugged her own tail, and he frowned. "You should work on giving people compliments that don't sound like you want to kill them and wear their skin."
"I do consider that the ultimate sign of respect," he admitted.
"See, and don't say that when you keep saying I have your respect."
"It is a different kind," he said, slowly reaching out to touch her tail again. He stroked her fur. "To take down a lion with my own two hands is to prove myself faster, stronger—its superior in all the things at which it should excel. A trophy tells the world that this opponent was worthy of Kraven the Hunter. Great, but I am greater."
She sighed. "That's not reassuring," she said.
"I'm strong! And fast! I'm great." She made a face that dared him to disagree.
"Yes," he agreed. "I could defeat you, Girl of Squirrels."
"It would prove nothing for me to do so."
"Not that you're stronger or faster?"
"Those are not what make you great."
"Oh." She wanted to ask what he thought did make her great, and to expound upon those things, in detail and at length. But he reached out and touched her cheek before she could.
"You see well in darkness."
"Technically they reflect."
"They glow," he repeated more firmly, taking his hands back. "Go to sleep, Belka."
"Hmph." She shut her eyes. "Only because I'm tired. I'm going to sleep for twenty years and it will be all your fault." She rolled back over, turning her back to him. He said nothing, and she listened to the silence for a long while.
Eventually, quietly, he moved closer. He tucked his knees behind hers, and wrapped his arm around her waist. Her tail curled backward around him.
The bed was empty when she woke up. She was still naked. She yawned, and recoiled from her own morning breath.
Priorities: brush teeth, get clean, find clothes.
She got up, and wandered cautiously into the bathroom. It was all formica and water-inefficient appliances. She felt awkward digging through his cupboards and drawers, but tried to ignore pill containers and salves and whatever else until she found a plastic-wrapped toothbrush. She timed herself for two minutes with his wall clock, because dental hygiene was important.
She kept her tail outside of the shower while she washed, because she absolutely was not going to ask Kraven the Hunter if she could spend a half-hour in his bathroom running Kraven the Hunter's hair dryer on high.
She'd seen his hair. She knew he had a hair dryer. Everyone knew it. It was probably a hideous steampunk air gun with fangs glued to it, but it was still a hair dryer.
Had his hair always looked like that, or had he ever gotten a perm? Had he feathered it in the seventies? These were important questions, and she would never know the answers. Nor did she want to, because it was just as likely that he'd shaved his head and bathed in blood as part of some kind of hunting ritual. She'd rather keep imagining the full Fawcett.
She left his bathroom wrapped in a comically large towel and smelling like rosemary olive oil soap. She was feeling bolder about digging through his dresser. There were, surprisingly, some normal human clothes for a person to wear.
That sure was a lot of tactical black turtlenecks. And stretched out black t-shirts. And camo. And denim. And no underwear.
Yeah. This all checked out.
She found an old black button-down that was missing some buttons, and settled for that. She swam in it, but it was long enough to compensate for the pants situation.
She found Kraven in the kitchen.
He was making pancakes and sausages. He was wearing jeans. It was deeply unsettling. "Morning," she said.
"Yes," he agreed.
He had interesting scars on his back. She touched one of them on the way to sit down. There was tea again, and mini-bagels. She poured herself a cup and contemplated Russian tea parties.
"You slept well?" he asked.
"Yesh, fankoo," she said around a mouthful of bagel.
She swallowed. "Sorry about your pillow. And your head. And sort of accusing you of wanting to wear my skin?"
"Apologies accepted." He flipped a pancake.
She sipped her tea. "So. You have regular pants."
"I have more than one pair of pants, yes."
"It's a reasonable observation! I only ever see you in the one."
"You see me when I am dressed for the hunt," he said. "Not when I am dressed for the laundry." She giggled as he added a pancake to the stack and started another one. "I have only seen you when you are Squirrel Girl, but I do not assume all of your clothes are for squirrels."
"How do you decide when I'm Squirrel Girl, and when I'm Girl of Squirrels?" she wondered, changing the subject from the fact that he was being more honest about his identity than she was.
"Sometimes I prefer the cadence." He flipped a pancake, and grinned. "It also makes me sound more foreign, and scary."
Doreen gasped. "Kraven! Don't use unorthodox grammatical constructions to capitalize on fear of the other!"
"You cannot stop me, Girl of Squirrels."
"Nooooo—" She was interrupted by pancakes being set onto the table. "—oooh. Pancakes." He set a plate on front of her, and took a small number off the top of the stack to put onto it.
"Yes, thank you."
He got her a bottle of maple syrup out of the fridge, and fixed his own plate at the counter. When he returned, he had all of the rest of the pancakes. And all of the sausages. And a significant proportion of a jar of jam.
"Cheat day?" she suggested.
"There is no cheating," he said, pouring himself a cup of tea. "There is only winning or losing." She snorted, adding maple syrup to her flapjacks until it formed a terrifying soup. "I thought that your obsession was with nuts," he said, staring at her plate with faint horror.
"I'm obsessed with a lot of things," she said, stabbing a pancake with her fork. "And squirrels basically invented maple syrup, soooo..." She shoveled a forkful of pancake into her mouth.
"This sounds wrong, but what do I know of squirrels." He shrugged, and they ate in silence for a while. "I am Kraven again, I see."
She turned pink. "I'm reserving Sergei for special occasions."
"How is the hunt going?" Doreen asked, changing the subject again. "For gigantos?"
"It is a process." That seemed like code for 'not great'. "Soon I will return to the sea to resume stalking my prey."
"That should be fun!"
"It is... challenging."
"Because they're super deep in the ocean and that whole place is super mysterious, even though it's right there and you'd think Namor would give us some useful friggin' data at some point?"
"The vast, indifferent emptiness leaves me nothing but reflections of my own existential dread, which I had previously fled to hostile untamed wilderness to escape." He sipped his tea with a thousand-yard stare that she could only hope was contemplative.
"Oh. Well, that's not good."
They ate in silence again.
"I am learning a great deal about sharks," he added.
"If you've been hunting endangered animals I'm gonna be so mad," she warned.
"Only a bull shark."
"They are only almost endangered," he said, unfazed. "They are also dicks. You would find them the most punchable of sharks."
"Okay, so, when you said you were 'learning about sharks', what you meant was that you've been ranking them on a punchability scale."
"These are important things to learn."
"Oh my gosh."
"Goblin sharks look the most punchable, but their only crime is ugliness. They eat garbage. To punch them is unsatisfying. I tried to punch a whale shark—"
"—but it did not fight back, and gave me the impression that I had hurt its feelings."
"It was an unworthy opponent, and the least punchable."
"They're gentle giants!"
"I rode one."
"After you punched it?"
"No. A different one."
"... okay that sounds a little cool. Kinda."
"It helped with the dread."
"Did you get a selfie?"
"No. The bull shark ate my phone. I got it back, but it was too late."
"Oh." She tried to imagine what he would have looked like punching a shark to get his phone back.
She turned pink.
"Are you thinking about what I looked like punching a shark?"
"No! Maybe? I don't know, whatever, shut up." She sipped her tea to hide her face. He pushed his empty plate away from himself, and slid along the bench until he was next to her again. He brushed his fingertips up the back of her scalp so she'd shiver.
"Call me Sergei."
"Kisses only," she warned.
"I'm still sore and I already showered, so if you want this to be a special occasion you're going to have to settle for a makeout session."
She sipped her tea while he considered her terms.
"Good," she said, setting down her cup, "because you didn't kiss me enough before."
"On my face."
"... ah." He bent to kiss her; he tasted like sugar and smoke. He hadn't put anything in his hair yet, and she thought it looked much better this way. He tickled the back of her neck, and she giggled. "Cute."
"The cutest," she agreed.
He tousled her hair, then frowned. "Do you dye your hair?"
"You know I don't. Are my roots weird?" He nodded. She rubbed her hair, irritated. "No, it just does that. I don't know why. I think it's a climate thing, and maybe the Avengers headquarters is making my hair go funny?" Once it grew out a little more, she'd have to cut it again to keep it consistent.
She'd also been going through a ton of moisturizer for the skin around her knuckle spikes. But that wasn't something she really talked about, because she didn't like to remind people about her knuckle spikes.
It was a whole thing.
Powers were dumb sometimes.
He successfully distracted her by kissing her again, cupping her face, and she hummed, putting her hand over his. "You have nice hands."
"Thank you." He used his other hand to grab hers. "Yours, also, when you are not viciously clawing at innocent men."
"That was an accident and I said I was sorry!"
He laughed, and kissed her again, but rather than be silenced she harrumphed into his mouth. She refused to be mollified, until he'd been kissing her for a solid minute and tugged at her lower lip with his teeth.
"Tell me something, Belka."
"Can makeout sessions also include handjobs?"
She barked a laugh so hard she nearly fell off the bench, trying to cover her mouth to smother the bizarre honk-cackle that his question had managed to summon like a Lovecraftian horror from the depths of her lungs. "Sergei!"
He put up his hands in an imitation of her helpless shrug from the night before. "What? Was that bad? My English, not so good."
"No, don't you dare! You knew exactly what you were saying, don't use your accent to get out of this, oh my gosh."
"It was an innocent question," he insisted. "You say you are sore, so no tail-pulling, so instead just, ah. Tail-pulling." He moved his hand suggestively as a visual aid.
"This had better not become a thing," she groaned, closing her eyes and rubbing her face.
"Asking about tail-pulling all the time!"
"Not all the time," he protested. "You come to my home, you leave my home, in between there is sex. I ask while I still can! Soon, I will be at sea, alone with my thoughts." He caught something in her expression, the shape of her eyes or the curl of her fingers. "Oh?" He stretched his leg to push the table away with his foot, making her squeak in alarm. Then he grabbed her to pull her into his lap, and she let him. "You like that?"
She straddled his thighs and tried to settle in comfortably, her tail curled against her back and his hands on her waist. "Like what?"
His bent index finger touched her jaw, his thumb tapping against her chin. "Lonely men, dreaming of you naked."
"Ew!" Her nose wrinkled. "Dude, no, you made it weird."
He laughed. "Lonely man, then. Do you like when it's just me?"
She fidgeted. "I don't know," she said. "It's not a request or anything. Don't go jackin' it on a boat just on my account."
"There is an abundance of pretty women for me to think about."
"Yeah, I bet."
"Do you want to be one of them?" he asked, coaxing. Determined to get an answer out of her despite her evasions.
She reached down between them, and pressed her hand at the seam of his jeans. He was already hard, and she gripped his shaft through denim. "Don't be gross."
"You like it," he taunted.
"I like you," she corrected with a little squeeze. "I think you're making fun of me." She needed both hands to get him unbuttoned, unzipping his pants and getting his cock out. "Which you shouldn't, because if I said that I'd think about you, you'd like it."
"I know you'll think about me."
"Okay, well, it's good that you're confident." She stroked him, and was struck by how utterly bizarre the phrase 'giving Kraven the Hunter a handy in his breakfast nook' was.
Life sure was weird.
"Where is your confidence?" he wondered. "Thinking about fucking you makes me hard." What a silly thing to make her blush when she had his cock in her hand. "Does that please you?"
"I'm allowed to like that!"
"Who says otherwise?"
"I don't know! Society, I guess?"
"Society is a lie we tell ourselves."
"Okay, so, that seems like a pretty serious overcorrection, but I appreciate the general sentiment I guess. Am I doing this right? Because you seem like you're having zero trouble holding a conversation and I consider that a bad sign."
He wrapped his hand around hers, squeezed tighter and stroked more forcefully. Her breath caught. "More like that," he suggested.
"Wait," she said, putting her other hand over his before he could let her go. "Can you keep doing that?" She moved her left hand to his shoulder, and was gratified when he used the right again. She kissed him, hyper aware of the way his hand felt wrapped around hers, brushing against her stomach through his shirt. Then she leaned back so she could see him better, tucking her feet under his knees and using her tail for balance so she wouldn't fall out of his lap.
She really liked this and she had no idea why but society was a lie anyway so whatever.
"What do you like about me?" she asked, watching him intently.
"You're cute." He might have been flexing again. That might have just been a consequence of what he was doing.
"Everyone thinks I'm cute," she said. "You like my mouth, right?"
"Mm-hmm." The lack of full sentences was encouraging.
"What if I sort of..." She used her left hand to squeeze her breast, letting her mouth fall open and her tongue fall out. His upper lip twitched, he grunted and their hands moved faster and harder over his cock, getting wetter.
The best response to this was not to immediately grin and giggle a do a little bounce, which completely ruined the effect. However: success! It was exciting!
He touched her cheek, suddenly, their hands never stopping. "I like that."
"The mouth thing?"
"The smiling, and laughing."
"Oh!" It didn't quite knock the wind out of her sails, but it certainly did something to make her feel breathless. She kissed him again, and she meant for it to be a quick kiss but she lingered.
"My name, Belka," he said when their mouths came apart, touching her forehead to his.
"Sergei," she sighed.
"Not like that."
She frowned, pulling back a bit. "What?" He leaned forward enough that he could nuzzle at her neck, but before she could enjoy it, he rubbed his scratchy beard on her like a steel wool hickey from hell.
"Sergei!" She tried to recoil, but he held her close with a hand at the small of her back, her hand all slick with precum as he continued to pump his cock with it. His name started as a shriek and ended as a laugh, and that was when he came, heat spreading along the shirt she wore and smearing over their hands. He pulled her even closer, pressed her chest to his and pinned their hands between their bodies as he kissed her.
"I make you a fine breakfast, and you make a mess of my kitchen," he scolded.
"Joke's on you," she said. "This is your shirt you just ruined, and that means I don't care." To emphasize her point, she reclaimed her hand, and wiped it on a clean spot of shirt.
He looked at his own hand, and then licked it, nearly causing her heart to stop with how suddenly it rocketed to the top of the list of hottest things she'd ever seen.
Then he also wiped it off on the shirt she was wearing, which was significantly less hot and made her jump right out of his lap.
"Sergei Nikolaevich Kravinoff," she said, stomping her bare foot on his floor.
"Ah! The full name! I tremble in fear at the consequences for my crimes."
"You'd better!" She made careful work of unbuttoning the shirt so nothing would get on her, and then dropped it into his lap. "I am going to go wash my hands and get dressed," she said. "My friends are probably worried sick."
"They should be," he said, lacing his hands behind his head again. "You are in the clutches of a criminal mastermind." He was wearing nothing but blue jeans and a lap full of semen-soaked shirt.
Once she'd successfully dressed herself for a walk of no-shame-whatsoever, she paused, considering her earrings. She looked in another pouch on her belt, where she kept a few paracord bracelets she'd made.
She was always looking for things to do with Nancy while she was knitting. Knitting itself she could never quite get the hang of, but she'd learned a lot of other cool stuff through experimentation. Like how to make really awesome bracelets.
She slid the hook of one of her earrings through the braided black-and-brown bracelet, then bent and twisted the wire until it would stay there like a charm.
"Hey," she said, sneaking up on him in his living room. He look briefly, violently startled, but he hid it well. He didn't even try to punch her as a reflex. It would probably be patronizing to tell him she was proud. Older men didn't really like that kind of thing from her, as a rule. "I want to give you something."
"Okay?" He scratched his head.
"So, I know you like trophies, and I know the whole point of them for you is that you take them, and you said you don't want one from me because you respect me in a not-hunting way, but." She held out the bracelet. "I thought I could give you this? Like a momento. Or like a trophy, I guess. A 'best butt' award."
Slowly, he took it from her.
"I don't know if you know about paracord bracelets—they're supposed to be a cool survival thing, for all those situations where your survival depends on having some paracord. I feel like you might have those more than I do. You don't actually have to wear it, this just seemed easiest."
He held it up so the acorn dangled from it. "Hmm."
"It was just a thought," she said with a shrug. "Anyway, I should get going." She pulled her phone out of her belt and checked the lockscreen.
... that sure was... a lot of missed messages...
... multiple of which were from Tony Stark, and were not butt dials, and were about an emergency and where was his pard and—
"Ahahahahaha whoops whoops whoops whoops uh-oh, oh, that's—" She opened one of his windows. "Whoooooops hey uh if anyone wants to know where I was and they ask you for some reason I was definitely doing something super important that wasn't handjobs okay bye—"
She jumped out the window.
Kraven contemplated the little bracelet. Then he slipped it on. He lifted it, the acorn hanging over the inside of his wrist.
"Doreen," he murmured, and with a small smile he kissed his trophy.