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Marco sensed a newcomer enter the Celestial Gym and a quick sniff said werelion. ‘Must be new in town,’ he mused as he headed out of his office to get a look at the newcomer.
Once in the gym proper he instantly identified the new lion as a young blond who gave off the aura of an alpha, strong enough that only Marco’s second, an ebony skinned lioness who’d legally changed her name to Artemis six years ago, didn’t defer to her in body language.
Marco walked over to her, Artemis stepping in line behind him, the blond’s head snapping in his direction the moment his first step in her direction touched the ground. A momentary sniff and then she bowed her head a slight dip before she brought it back up. ‘Hm. She’s good. Trained, moves like someone who knows they’re the most dangerous thing in the room and doesn’t feel threatened by anyone there. Respectful though, can tell I’m the Rex and acknowledges it but doesn’t defer past that. I wonder if she informed anyone she was entering the city.’
Buffy nearly grinned when she saw Marco crossing the room but instead only bowed her head temporarily in respect. He was rex now but she hadn’t been in the lukoi in seven years and by the look in his eye, he didn’t recognize her.
“Hello Marco,” Buffy said with a smile, then her brain identified Marco’s mate from seven years ago. “Hello Anise.”
Anise froze in place, and Buffy frowned. Odd reaction. Then Anise’s voice explained why, “B-Buffy?”
A smile covered the blond lioness’ face. “Did you miss me Anise?”
Marco, standing over to the side now was, understandably, just as shocked as Artemis was. Neither of them had seen Buffy since she went into the mental hospital after Lethe’s attempt to roll her and make her forget the entire night went horribly horribly wrong. Both lions were publicly lycans and knew that if two public lycans with no apparent ties to Buffy went and visited as often as they would have, someone would have tested her for the lycan virus and send her to a ‘Safehouse’. Now, a blond walks into the Celestial Gym, calls Artemis by her old name, and says she Buffy? “This is going to sound mean, but can you prove you are who you say you are?”
“It’s ok Marco, I know I’m... not the same person you last talked to. Can we talk in your office?” Buffy offered, she didn’t want to talk about this in the middle of a gym with every person in the place having super-sensitive hearing. Marco’s office was sound proofed even against preternatural hearing however and that meant that no one would hear it until the time was right.
Artemis, hope welling in her chest, looked pleadingly at Marco. If this really was Buffy then she wanted to be there. Buffy was her friend and responsibility. A year before Buffy was hospitalized she had been the one to infect her, purely by accident but the lioness still felt like she should have had the control to avoid it. She was young too, only two years older than the blond, but she’d taken the blond under her wing and they’d become close friends. It had torn her up when Marco decided it was too risky for her to go see Buffy in the hospital.
Marco winced at Artemis’ look. If he refused to let her follow he wouldn’t hear about it later, but if it was Buffy he’d feel like a heel. If he allowed it though, and this wasn’t Buffy, he wouldn’t be able to prevent her from attempting to kill the blond.
“Oh let her come Marco. I’d end up telling her the story later anyway,” Buffy snorted, causing both Artemis and Marco to look in her direction and again bother were taken aback by her stance. Lions always looked, and acted, like predators, it was practically hard-coded into their mental states. The blond who claimed to be Buffy though, she took predator to a whole new level. She stood in an aggressive, though not disrespectful, stance, her eyes up, head level and her senses constantly sweeping the room for danger. How could this be the same lioness who’d still been growing up when they lost her?
Marco nodded stiffly, turning away and walking toward his office. Sitting at his desk, Artemis standing to his right, and the blond claiming to be Buffy across from him he sighed.
Buffy frowned, she didn’t like that her return was causing Marco so much trouble. “It’s nice to see you Marco, Anise. My mom told me you went by the house after Hank showed his true colors to console her. I appreciate that.”
Artemis smiled in acknowledgement but said, “I go by Artemis now, never did like Anise.”
Marco nodded, the blond was was telling the truth, at least that Joyce had said that. Giving an apologetic look at Artemis “Do you remember the night you were infected?”
“Sure, I had gone on a date with a guy from school. Night came and we were at Lover’s Lane, having forgotten it was the full moon. We heard a howl, the Ulfric actually, and I realized what day it was and stopped kissing the boy and wanted him to drive us back to town. Apparently I had chosen badly because he was more focused on getting his hands under my top than getting us away from the woods,” Buffy stopped with a scowl.
“I got so angry that I slapped him, got out of his car and he drove off. Of course, then I realized that I was now ten miles from the city, alone, right next to woods that were swarming with lycans. Right about then Ani-sorry, Artemis found me and I ended up with scars right here,” Buffy paused to stand up, turn around, and pull her shirt up showing where the scars had been. Pulling the shirt back down Buffy sat back down and stroked Artemis’ arm, seeing the shamed face on the black-skinned lioness.
“I’m sorry Buffy... If I had kept control...” Artemis started, after Lethe had broken Buffy’s mind her guilt had gotten even worse.
Buffy interrupted the other lioness firmly, “I’d still be a spoiled californian princess with a racist asshole for a father and more worried about my waistline than what actually matters. I don’t blame you for what Lethe did, and I certainly don’t feel bad about being a werelion now. It’s ok.”
Marco eyed the exchange and nodded, he was convinced. This had to be Buffy. He’d detected no lies and there was no way someone could lie well enough to hide it from him, know that story, and know exactly where Buffy’s scars from the attack had been. They’d healed after her first full moon however so there’s no way anyone else would have known their location. “Good to see you Buffy. You’re... different.”
Buffy was about to reply when Artemis gave her a bone-crushing hug which the smaller blond lioness returned. When Artemis finally let the hug end, she was smiling from ear to ear when she asked, “So, why’d you come in? Just to tell us you’re out of the hospital or did you have another reason?”
“Both. I needed to tell the pride I’m out, and I need to continue those control exercises so I don’t break something I don’t want to,” Buffy replied with a grin.
“You seem different Buffy. You act like you know you’re dangerous, honestly from appearances I’d be forced to ask why you think you still need to learn control.” Marco informed the blond lioness.
Buffy sighed and her face lost some of it’s good humor. “Well, you know that I spent the last seven years in a deluded state. In that state I wasn’t a werelion, I was a warrior chosen by the Powers that Be to fight the forces of evil. I was what was known in the delusion as a the Slayer,” Buffy paused, allowing it to sink in.
“In my delusion I had similar strength, and speed, as I do right now. I also had instinctual knowledge of how to fight and expert knowledge of how to use almost any weapon I could lay my hands on. I was a hunter of the things that went bump in the night. That’s why my posture says I’m dangerous because... I am. Oh, not to you no,” Buffy stopped to stop the thoughts of danger from entering her pridemates heads, “Even in my delusion I never touched anything that didn’t endanger a human.”
“Ok... Let me get this straight,” Marco said looking at Artemis whose face showed the same ‘Oh Dear’ look as he felt. “You walk like a true predator because during your seven years away from us, your delusion made you the monster that other monsters fear?”
Buffy only nodded.
“You have instinctual knowledge of how to use all sorts of weapons? Cause I know no one ever trained you,” He asked again.
Again Buffy nodded.
Marco saw a flicker of hesitance in Buffy’s eyes this time, “I believe you, but do you mind if we test this?”
Buffy sighed in relief. “I was hoping you would. My brain tells me that I can do it but... I want to be sure ya know?”
Marco nodded. “Artemis, would you mind taking her down to the sparring mat, Bo-Staff, Boken, a demonstration with throwing knives, nunchaku... any personal favorites?”
“Nothing you have here,” Buffy replied with a shake of her head. She’d seen the weapon-rack and it was missing the blades she was most fond of, reverse handled knives, plus they didn’t do that well made of wood under shifter strength, tended to snap real fast.
Marco nodded and Artemis led Buffy back down and out of the office to the sparring circle.
“Ok guys, non-lions I’m sorry but you’ve gotta leave. Pride business.” The Regina ordered and the aforementioned non-lions left with a small amount of grumbling but none attempted to stay. Once the pride was the only patrons left in the gym Artemis turned to Buffy with a smile. “Lions, I’d like to reintroduce a member of our number who’s been... away for seven years. Some of you might have already recognized her. Buffy was a member of our number for a year after I infected her when her boyfriend left her up on lover’s lane during the full moon. Lethe...”
Buffy could tell Artemis felt guilty about what had happened to the small blond lioness and interrupted, “I’ve got this Artemis. Lethe called my beast, and after forcing me to act as a blood apple for a visiting kiss who were... none too gentle, he attempted to use his namesake abilities to make me forget and instead it broke my mind. I spent the last seven years in a mental hospital healing.”
“The old Rex was teaching Buffy how to fight so she could defend herself if caught away from pride. Marco wants us to find out how much she remembers,” Artemis smoothly cut in, no need to tell them the truth about her skills.
Over the next several hours Buffy and the pride tested the skills the small blond’s brain told her were there. She managed to draw with Artemis, the resident swordsmistress, with the Boken. Then Buffy beat one of the lions, by the name of Raul, with the bo-staff. The nunchaku didn’t go so well, she had never used them in the delusion personally so she was only moderately good with them. The throwing knives however, those the small lion managed to pin ten of them in an inch spread.
After the little test was done Buffy and Artemis were back in Marco’s office, Artemis sitting next to the blond with a wide grin on her face.
“Well?” Marco asked Artemis, Buffy knew he’d been watching but knew he was asking for his Regina’s opinion.
“I’d say she becomes Coercitor,” Artemis replied flatly. Buffy was visibly startled, she knew she was good but the Coercitor of a pride was the pride’s enforcer. They had the right to punish pride members as they saw fit if they caught someone going against the Rex and Regina’s decisions. Other than that, they were used much the same as a Bolverk of a wolf pack.
Marco looked almost as shocked as Buffy felt. “Are you sure? Most of the pride won’t remember much, and she wasn’t the most alpha of lions before anyway. No offense Buffy.”
Buffy shrugged, “It’s fine, I was a kid. Seven years in a world where I was literally the only thing between the world and the apocalypse made me grow up.”
Marco and Artemis both looked at her with sad expressions on their face.
“Don’t look at me like that. It made me stronger.”
Marco shared another look with Artemis. “Ok. When we announce you to the pack later tonight we’ll announce you as the new Coercitor. I hope you can handle alpha challenges because your position places you basically as highest under me and Artemis.”
Buffy looked at Marco with a grin and a fire in her eyes. “Of course my Rex. I will not disappoint.”
Marco looked taken aback for a moment before a giant feline grin took his face over. “This is gonna be fun. I feel you should know, we’re going to be leaving LA shortly. The new master of the city doesn’t seem to enjoy having such a large group of cats he can’t control inside his borders so when negotiations for an agreement eventually break down, no earlier than tomorrow by my estimations, we’ll probably have a week or so to leave.”
Buffy nodded. “I’ll tell my mom, she’ll probably want to come with us. I don’t think she gets that I grew up when I was sick. Where should I tell her we’re relocating to?”
Marco grinned and replied simply, “St. Louis.”