A/N: Thank you so much for the reviews, and thanks AwesomeGeek for the rec! :)+++
Bran watched as his son paced back and forth, patiently waiting for him to stop. After ten more minutes had passed, however, he had had enough.
“You’re going to wear a hole in the rug,” he said mildly, knowing that Charles would hear the unspoken command in his voice.
Sure enough, Charles stopped, though not before sending a look his father’s way. “Are you sure this is a good idea?” he asked, his voice low and intense with misgiving.
Bran shrugged. “There’s not much choice, is there? If we want to go public soon, we can’t risk any negative exposure.” At his son’s dubious look, he gave a small smile. “The Watcher’s Council can be very resourceful when they want to be, and from what I’ve heard, this new group is no exception. I have no doubt that they would’ve found the girl eventually. We just couldn’t risk a clash with them, not now.”
Charles thought about this for a minute before giving a nod of understanding. He was obviously far from satisfied, however.
“Did Leo know what she was?”
Pursing his lips, Bran studied Charles thoughtfully. He knew this question was coming; he expected nothing less. Still, he wasn’t eager to answer it.
“From what I was able to glean from the pack and from the girl herself, it seems as if Leo caught her, quite unexpectedly, trying to rescue the others,” he finally said.
Charles frowned at him, knowing that this really didn’t answer his question, but Bran feigned ignorance.
He didn’t let his son see that this had been troubling him as well, that it was why he had reached out to the slayers, knowing that he might need their cooperation sooner rather than later, even though the risk in doing so was tremendous.
As it was, the wolves overseas were already unhappy with Bran’s plan to go public. If they got wind of this before he was ready, there could be trouble, as they could see an alliance with the slayers as an aggressive move on his part to consolidate power.
And then there was the possibility that the truce wouldn’t work out.
Apparently, the same thought had occurred to Charles as well; for he was silent for another moment before he looked Bran directly in the eye. “And if the girl can’t integrate? If the slayer in her interferes and she can’t control her wolf?” he asked quietly.
He didn’t have to say like Doc Wallace
. It came across loud and clear.
Bran became serious, all traces of nonchalance gone. “Then we do what we always do. We protect the pack.”
He watched as Charles closed down, his face becoming expressionless.
Sometimes Bran deeply regretted choosing this lot for his son, but then he trusted no other to do the hard work, the job that no one wanted. And no one could do it as well as Charles.
Bran looked at his watch, and the light mood returned. “Shouldn’t you go? You’re supposed to take Buffy to see Rona, and you probably don’t want to be late,” he advised. “I have a feeling that little one can be a handful when she wants to. And I get the sense that that’s all the time.”
Charles growled but said nothing.
“Think of it as a learning experience – for everyone,” Bran added helpfully.
As the growl grew louder, so did Bran’s amused grin. As soon as his son was out of sight, however, it faded. +++
Buffy followed Bran’s second-in-command down the hallway, taking everything in as they made their way to Rona’s room. One thing was for sure; werewolves were serious about their hierarchy, as in an apocalypse kind of serious.
She obviously knew about this whole dominance thing – hence her worry earlier in the coffee shop – but seeing it in action was something else entirely.
Splash of cold water, meet Buffy’s face.
Every wolf they passed in the heavily guarded house immediately jumped out of the way the minute they saw them – or more specifically, the minute they saw Charles. Not only that, but they refused to make eye contact with him, their body language screaming submissiveness and fear.
She was pretty sure they were dominant wolves in their own right, too, at least some of them. Because a submissive wolf on guard duty? Probably not so good with the protecting.
After a particularly huge, beefy looking werewolf actually skittered
by them, Buffy felt a pit start to form in her stomach.
This was bad. How could any slayer conform to this, let alone Rona
? Of all the girls, with maybe the exception of Kennedy, Rona did not back down. To anyone.
Suddenly, working with the Marrok became more important than ever.
Straightening up, Buffy continued to follow Charles with new determination.
After a few more twists and turns, they finally came to a door at the end of the hallway. They walked right past the two guards, who suddenly developed an intense interest in the floor, and entered a large room. There, by the bed, was another wolf – presumably one who was a doctor – standing over Rona while he checked her vitals.
As they approached, he jumped right into giving them an update on his patient without so much as a hello – not that Buffy cared that much. In fact, she barely heard what he said, focusing all her attention on Rona instead as she looked the younger slayer over with a critical eye.
The first thing she noticed was that Rona’s eyes were closed; whether it was in sleep or unconsciousness, she didn’t know. And she didn’t like it.
To her relief, however, she saw that the bruises on Rona’s face were already yellowing; there was also no visible swelling around her arm, which apparently was broken.
Though she knew there were more serious injuries than just the ones she could see, Rona was at least healing.
That’s when Buffy finally allowed herself to feel all the worry that had built up over the past few days, and it was a little overwhelming.
She cared about all the girls, but Rona’s disappearance had hit her harder than most – for she was one of the few people Buffy truly felt comfortable around anymore. The newer slayers treated her like she was a god or something and the ones that were there on the Hellmouth with her, well – hello, emotional baggage.
For after the collapse of Sunnydale, everyone seemed to content to sweep all the problems under the Hellmouth, even Willow and Xander, and they expected her to do the same. There was no talking, no yelling, no nothing
. She was just supposed to accept that they had a ‘difference of opinions’ and ‘agree to disagree’.
As time went by, it still bothered her, but it seemed childish to hold on to her anger – so she did the mature thing and repressed. And every day, she felt the distance between her and her friends and the mini-slayers grow a little wider.
Except for Rona. Well, and Faith, but she kind of expected that, as they finally understood each other a little in those last days in Sunnydale.
But Rona? Total surprise.
And yet she had made a point to corner Buffy about a week after they closed the Hellmouth. Up front as always, she proceeded to inform Buffy that she wasn’t going to apologize for her part in getting Buffy voted off the island, that she stood by the way she had felt. But then right after that, almost in the same breath, she said that she could now appreciate the fact that sometimes someone had to suck it up and make the hard decisions, even if they weren’t popular ones – or the right ones.
And of course she had delivered that last part with a smirk.
From that moment on, there was a mutual respect between the two.
That wasn’t to say that they were friends exactly. Rona still called Buffy out every chance she got, frustrating her to no end. And Buffy still refused to let Rona out-stubborn her, upon pain of death.
Yeah, their relationship was a strange and twisted one – and something they both seemed completely comfortable with. She could only imagine what Rona would say if she knew how much it scared Buffy to see her lying on the bed, almost unnaturally still.
Almost as if she could hear her thoughts, Rona stirred, and Buffy couldn’t help the silly grin that suddenly appeared on her face.
Rona turned her head toward her. “Buffy?”
“I’ll give you two some time alone,” Charles said from behind her, nodding to the doctor to follow him out.
Distracted, Buffy turned to give him a quick smile of thanks before turning her attention back to Rona – where she immediately raised her eyebrow in mock disapproval as she looked the younger slayer over.
“You know, this was supposed to be a simple recon mission for the new girls,” she said pointedly. “I’m beginning to think you don’t follow directions very well.”
Rona let out a snort of disbelief. “Yeah, well, try leading by example and then we’ll talk,” she shot back. Then she winced as she took a deep breath and closed her eyes, the simple effort of talking clearly exhausting her. She took another breath before asking, “How are my girls?”
Buffy hesitated. She didn’t want to lie, per se, but Rona was in no condition to hear how freaked out they were right now. Well, some of them, anyway.
Diana and Alice were okay – mostly – but they were older, closer to Buffy’s age than Rona’s, and this wasn’t their first time out. But Emma and Madison were new recruits, barely sixteen, and they were taking this hard, Emma especially. It would be awhile before either girl was given a mission again, if ever. And they didn’t even know the whole story yet...
She gave herself a mental shake. There would be time to think about that later. Right now, she needed to focus on Rona.
“They’re dealing,” she shrugged.
Cracking one eye open, Rona looked at her skeptically – but she didn’t press for more details. It was a testament to how hurt she really was.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. Buffy almost thought that Rona had dozed off, but then she slowly opened her eyes again and sighed.
“So I’m a werewolf, huh?” she asked wearily. At Buffy’s nod, she grimaced. “So what happens now?”
Buffy took a deep breath. This next part was not going to be fun. “You need to go and learn how to change, how to control the wolf,” she explained. Then with a smirk, she added, “How to pee on trees. You know, the important stuff.”
Rona glared at her. “Better be careful or it won’t just be trees,” she shot back. Then she narrowed her eyes. “So, when you say I ‘need’ to go, do you mean you’re
making me, or he
Buffy made a face. Oh yeah, she was recovering just fine.
“You do know that you’ll have to play nice with the other wolves, right? Especially
Bran,” she emphasized.
This was not what Rona wanted to hear. “Yeah, like you would?” she asked sarcastically.
Suppressing a grin, Buffy tried to look as innocent as possible. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough. Lead by example, right? Though I have to say, so
not thrilled about going to Montana. In winter,” she added with a small shudder.
It took a moment for Rona to fully comprehend what she meant. Even then, she obviously didn’t quite believe it.
“Buffy, are you saying what I think you’re saying?” she gasped.
Leaning forward, Buffy gave her a smug look. “What? Did you think you could actually get rid of me that easily? Of course I’m coming with.”+++