Faith sat on the couch, turned sideways with her back to Nathaniel as he carefully brushed her thick, curly dark hair, then pulled it back and braided it to keep it out of the way. When he was finished, he tied the end off with one of his own hair ties.
The braid was just long enough to brush Faith’s butt, and if her reaction was anything to go by, she loved it. She jumped off the couch and whirled, the hair swinging out like a whip, then swung her head from one side to the other. She jumped up onto Nathaniel and wrapped her arms around his neck, brushing her cheek against his as she purred.
“T’ank you, Da,” she whispered. She heard movement in the doorway and turned to see the woman she had thought was her mommy standing there, staring at her with wide eyes.
“She…she looks...” Anita whispered, staring.
“I know, Anita, I’ve seen the pictures,” Nathaniel agreed. “Just like you when you were young.”
“And nothing like her biological mother, who was blonde with blue eyes,” added Micah, coming up behind his Nimir-Rah and wrapping an arm around her waist.
“I spoke to Jean Claude,” Anita said, the two of them making their way into the room and sitting down next to Nathaniel. Faith was staring at them, eyes wide, nervous, her hands fisted in Nathaniel’s shirt. Micah held out a gentle hand, and she glanced up at Nathaniel, who nodded encouragingly. Slowly, she reached out and put her hand in his, then, after a moment she scrambled across Anita and stared up into the larger leopard’s yellow-green eyes.
Faith stared at the eyes of the man in front of her, a man who she knew instinctively wouldn’t hurt her, but who still made her nervous with his mere presence. She could feel him, like ants crawling over her skin, and she didn’t understand why. She looks over at Anita, feeling the same thing from her, safety but an odd nervousness. With he Da there was nothing but safety.
“He’s got his lawyers looking into the legal angle. He’d like to meet her soon,” Anita’s tone showed what she thought of that idea. “I told him no. Not yet at least. Zerbrowski should be here in about an hour.”
Faith felt the worry permeating the group, and a jolt of fear hit her belly. Were they going to send her away because she wasn’t good enough? Didn’t her Da and his family want her like she wanted them? She crawled back to Nathaniel and curled up in his lap, trembling slightly.
Nathaniel smelt her fear and stroked a hand over her hair for a moment. “What’s wrong, Faith?” he asked gently, lifting her face off his leg.
“Are…are you going to send me away because I’m a bad girl?” asked Faith, voice quivering slightly in fear. “Don’t you want me?”
“Of course we want you!” exclaimed Anita, surprised at the strength of feeling she had when she heard Faith’s slightly broken question. “Why do you think you’re a bad girl and that we wouldn’t want you?”
“Because…” Faith said slowly. “They always said I was a bad girl, dirty girl, not good enough for anyone…and they always sent me away.”
Anita’s heart twisted in her chest at that description, reminded of her own lonely childhood in her father’s house after her mother’s death. “We want you here, Faith, and we’re going to do everything we can to keep you,” she promised, stroking the girl’s soft hair gently, then giving her braid a soft tug. Faith clung to her words like a drowning man tossed a rope, but she still found herself doubting in them.
Just then, the doorbell rang. Nathaniel stood and, passing Faith to Anita, went to answer it. Faith twisted slightly in Anita’s lap, so she was looking up into the woman’s face. Anita smiled gently down at her, although there seemed to be a slightly strained edge to the expression.
Nathaniel reappeared, nervous expression on his face and a much larger man behind him. Zerbrowski studied the tableau in front of him with a slight frown upon his face.
“Blake,” he growled slowly. “What’s going on here? Where’s the baby?”
“This is her,” Anita said slowly. “It’s a long, complicated story, Zerbrowski. Nathaniel, why don’t you take Faith to play in the garden while we explain?” she suggested. Faith hopped down from her lap willingly enough, and crossed the room in a blink of an eye, startling the policeman, who eyed her much more cautiously. She scrambled up Nathaniel’s body and wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck, and, chuckling, he carried her out to the backyard.
“Have a seat,” Anita told her friend, who sat quickly, knees feeling oddly weak.
“What’s going on here, Anita?” he demanded, voice shaking slightly from nerves as he stared after the two young wereleopards.
“When we got back from last night,” Anita said slowly, “We found Nathaniel and Faith sleeping downstairs. We were just as confused as you are now, and then we had a visitor…”
“So, here you are, here she is, and now we have to figure out what’s to be done.”
“Her grandparents want her,” said Zerbrowski slowly from where he was sitting.
“The same grandparents who disowned her mother after she was turned? Are you sure that they’ll want her once they know everything about her?” demanded Micah, frowning.
“We’ll find out, I guess. Apparently they’ve already contacted a lawyer,” Zerbrowski said.
“So have we,” admitted Anita after a pause. “She needs us, Dolph, and we want her. She was sent to us to care for, to raise and give a good childhood this time around. You should have heard her talking earlier…it was heartbreaking.”
“She looks just like you, Anita,” Zerbrowski commented, having been wondering about that since he had entered the room. “And I mean exactly. She has your hair, your skin, your eyes, if I didn’t know better I’d believe she really was your kid.”
“So, where do we go from here?” asked Micah, seeing Anita gape at her friend, over something he knew his lover had already noticed.
“The grandparents want to see her. Dolph’s bringing them around, along with social services,” admitted Zerbrowski. “They didn’t come with me because I was worried when you said there was something I needed to see before this went any further. You do know that Dolph’s going to blow his top over this one, right?”
“I know,” sighed Anita, remembering the detective’s destruction on an interview room when he had been talking to Jason, a member of the local werewolf pack to whom I was both Lupa and Bolverk.
We could hear the faint sounds of childish laughter echoing through from the backyard, Nathaniel obviously having left the doors open to listen in on the conversation. Just then, the doorbell rang.