Timeline: December 30th, 2007
Grey and Ironclaw had just finished a hunt. They’d skinned several rabbits and laid them aside for the weekly sacrifice they made of them to the spirit of Young Father Bear. It was early in the day, since they usually hunted in the hours just before dawn and got the work of skinning and taking care of the meat in the morning. But despite the early hour they thought they’d warm up at the Blood and Brew because they knew that usually someone was there even if the bar wasn’t officially open. And anyway, Ironclaw had a key from Lyla.
It was just after 11 am and the Brew was just opening to serve lunches off the grill. In truth, few people came to the Brew for lunch. The couple cafés around town were more popular for that, and it was a bit early for most people to think about going for a beer.
When Ironclaw and Grey entered, there was no one else in the bar. That suited them just fine. If people were eating, they tended to finish early and leave when a number of Uratha were around. The two men were already seated at the bar when Rey came round from the back room from replenishing her cash drawer for the register.
Rey smiled when she saw Ironclaw, and it deepened with delight and pleasure at seeing Grey. “Hi!” She fought the urge to reach over the bar to hug him. “How are you two doing this morning?” She slipped the cash tray into the register and set things up to start business for the day.
“Hunting was good today,” Ironclaw said. To her ears, his voice sounded different, harsher and much more gravely. A glance at him showed her he bore fresh, pink scars that crept up from under his collar across his throat in a claw-like pattern. It hinted at far more new scars hidden beneath his jacket and shirt.
The sight of the scars put a damper on her good mood, and was a painful reminder of what happened Christmas Eve. As usual, she worked to keep her happy mask in place, but knew that there was no hiding it from Ironclaw if he chose to “look”. “Can I get you a drink, maybe something to eat? The lunch special today is Rey’s Magic Mushroom burger. Comes with your choice of fries.”
Grey watched Rey’s reaction to Ironclaws scars. He moved behind the counter and took her in his arms. “There is something I would like.” He kissed Rey gently but passionately. His relief that she was not there that night filled him.
Grey released Rey and returned to the proper side of the counter. “Oh and I’ll take two burgers and a iced chai. He reached into his pocket and slid a chai tea bag across the counter. HE smiled widely. “Hmm. Breaded mushrooms and a side of fries with ranch too!”
Rey picked up the tea bag. “Sure thing,” she said with a grin. His kiss helped her mood considerably, and she reached under the counter to grab a tea bag from her own stash of chai she kept at the bar. “How about you, Ironclaw?”
Ironclaw had watched his packmates’ warm greeting curiously. “One steak, rare, and an Amber Bach,” he requested. “I could cook that if you’re busy,” he said.
“It’s okay, I got it. The cash drawer is the last thing in the opening routine.” Rey got Ironclaw his beer and got the water going for the chai. “Did you want anything on the side with your steak?” she asked as she got everything she needed out of the fridge. After putting the burgers and steak on the grill, she put a very generous serving of her mushroom and onion mixture on the griddle.
Grey dunked the tea bag in the warm water untill it steeped then poured it into a glass of ice Rey had provided for him.
“Naw, just a fork and knife will do,” Ironclaw replied. “And thanks.”
“No problem.” Rey finished preparing their food quickly and with obvious ease. Ironclaw’s steak was cooked perfectly, and Grey’s burgers were piled high with onion and mushrooms. She set their plates in front of them, then took some time to tidy up a bit.
With the uncanny ability that all waitresses seemed to have, Rey turned her attention back to Ironclaw when his mouth was full of his first bite of steak and said “I know you wanted to protect me, but you could have at least told me something was up.”
He looked at her and chewed his steak. He didn’t rush but simply looked back at her with a faint smile on his lips. When he finished and swallowed, then then took a sip of beer. When he put it down he simply watched her without touching his food as if expecting something.
“What?” Rey frowned, her temper starting to rise.
He noticed her deepening color. “No need to get excited. I just I thought you had a question,” he said.
Grey took an oversized bit of burger and stuffed in a few fries. Determined to not be able to answer Rey if she turned her questions to him. That and it kept the laughter in. Though he could not keep it from his eyes.
Ironclaw’s comments just made Rey angrier. “Why didn’t you tell me we was going after the Pure pack Christmas Eve?”
“That’s a good question. Don’t you think so, Grey?” Ironclaw looked at his buddy.
Grey swallowed hard and looked at Ironclaw, then to Rey. He cleared his throat and opened his mouth to say something. At least it looked as though he would say something when he shoved more burger in his mouth. Shaking his head in agreement and making muffled speaking sounds.
Ironclaw looked back to Rey and shrugged. “Why do you think I didn’t tell you? The steak is very nicely done, by the way.”
“Stop trying to distract me with compliments.” Rey glowered at Ironclaw. “You didn’t want me to get hurt. Didn’t want me to come chasing after you like some fool cub.” Given different circumstances, Rey would have been amused at the fact she was talking like one of the Uratha.
Ironclaw finally broke into a smile and sat back with arms crossed as he chuckled. He raised an eyebrow. “But you wouldn’t have done that. Would you? I mean, if we were really worried about that, we’d just tie you to a post until we got back, wouldn’t we?”
“Tie me to a post?!” Rey was outraged. “You wouldn’t…” At that point, she realized she was being teased, and her anger dissipated as quickly as it had arisen. “Yes, you would have done something to make sure I couldn’t have followed.
“So that’s not it at all, Rey. I’m not concerned for your physical welfare. You can take care of yourself or if you can’t the pack will protect you. The reason I didn’t tell you is not because of what you might have done, but rather what I expected you to do. How I would want you to react.
“Now, let me put a hypothetical question to you, my young friend. What would you expect of a decent person who knew that innocent people were likely to be hurt or killed because of something people you knew were going to do? Worse, what if you knew in advance that some people you knew were plotting to get another innocent person killed? I don’t really want to hear your answer for that. Just know that I would expect you to do something about it. Loyalty to pack and friends or no, I would expect you to do something. I would not expect you to work against the pack in any way. But I would expect you to try to convince us that it was wrong, that there was another way.
“If you didn’t at least try, I would worry about you.
“And no,” he said with a shake of his head. “I wouldn’t just tell you something vague. That’s deceitful and I don’t do deceit well. I opted instead just to call the pack and get to it. I’d been working on this for a month and I wasn’t going to let anything foul up our one chance to get rid of two serious enemies in one blow. I didn’t even tell anyone else in the pack what I had planned until about an hour before I put out the call. I wasn’t going to give them time to let something slip.
“Yes, I was trying to protect you, and I did. The responsibility for what happened out there falls squarely on my shoulders alone and I don’t have to watch a little piece of your soul be tortured for not trying to save someone’s life. That’s important to me, especially now that there is something important I need you to do. Something that will take every bit of patience, skill, and humanity that you have in you.”
“What is it?” Rey asked? Her voice was soft, and she wondered what was so important that he’d entrust the task to her.
“Abigail Braff is dead,” he said. “She took her own life rather than submit to us. Her partner was killed in battle. Both did an admirable job in tracking and trapping the Pure pack for me. She didn’t know I was Uratha, of course, but in the end it didn’t matter. What does matter is that she was trying to kill the Pure pack to the west out of a somewhat misguided attempt to save her kids from the Pure pack who’d taken them because they are close to their First Change. She’s dead now, but we did rescue those kids as well as their father. The Braffs are back home minus a mother who became too much of a threat to my territory to allow live.
“They are going to be having a very hard time. Aside from the brain-washing the Pure fanatics did, they also have to deal with losing their mother and going through a first change. Well, actually just the eldest seems close to changing, but since the Pure took them both, we suspect the younger will change, too.
“Those kids need help. And frankly, it’s too dangerous to let them near my pack just yet. The spirit world and the physical world get all tangled up during these times and our presence could make things worse for them. So that’s your job.
“Also — Grey told me something else happened in that fight. Ramiel was there. And he murdered someone. Something happened then, some kind of mark. We don’t know what it means, but the same thing happened to Lyla when she killed the Pure alpha. There might be nothing you can do about that. I doubt they know what it means or they’d have said. But I have some concerns about Ramiel. He may be getting close enough to our ways that he loses his own way. I don’t want to see that happening.”
At this point Grey had finished his burgers and was working on the breaded mushrooms. “I worry for him. There is… Oooo ranch.” Grey didn’t complete his sentence as he happily dipped mushrooms.
“I worry about Ramiel too.” Rey leaned over and gave Grey a playful poke in the chest. “Though I hope I hold your attention better than a side order of ranch dressing.”
“I don’t know… it is ranch. And not the imitation stuff either.” Grey smiled as he chomped down another shroom.
Rey looked back at Ironclaw. “I’ll do my best with the children and the father. Lyla told me a little about how dangerous a time the First Change is. What should I do if it starts when I’m with them?”
“It won’t start until some time after they’ve been bitten.” He paused, then looked at Grey. “Er, has that boy been bitten yet? Not us, but by any of those Pure?”
“Not as far as I can tell. I was wanting to talk to you about setting that up. We need to take care of it so he can get on with life.” Grey had finished the food in front of him and washed it down with tea.
“Shouldn’t it wait, at least until we know how much damage the Pure have done to him?” Rey cleared away Grey’s dishes and put a piece of apple pie on the counter in front of her. “If they’ve “taught” him to believe he has to act a certain way, won’t it make helping him that much more difficult after his First Change?”
“I can’t say what they taught them.” He shrugged. “Waiting around being kept away from everything is not good for a child. The sooner the change happens the faster he can adapt. And we can have a better idea how to deal with his sister. If she ever changes.”
“Do you want them to know I’m pack, or should I just be a kind stranger?” Rey turned around to get a plate off the top shelf, and her shirt pulled up to reveal a portion of the scars on her back.
Ironclaw smiled. “I leave that to your discretion. I’ve told the pack to stay clear of them until its time. We’ll be monitoring them from the Shadow so we can tell when the Change is upon them, but otherwise, there will be no interference.”
“Gotcha.” Rey turned back to face the two men, pulling her shirt back down into place. “Darned shirt.” She put a piece of pie from a pie place hidden below the counter and slid it across the counter to Ironclaw. “It’s apple cranberry. I think it was one of my grandmama favorites.”
“It looks good but… I’m not much on fruits and vegetables,” Ironclaw said. He offered it to his friend. “Grey?”
Rey started thinking about Lyla and Ramiel. “Has Lyla talked about going after the Dark Man again?”
“She mentioned that from the beginning,” Ironclaw stated. “I presume that sooner or later she and Chaska will go looking for him again.”
“Did she tell you what brought me to her and Ramiel?” Rey asked. “How we ended up trying to track down the Dark Man together?”
He looked at her curiously and shook his head. “Nope. She never did.”
“Ramiel told me about it, but not the details.” Grey spoke quietly.
“It started when I was seven,” Rey said. In a soft voice, she told them everything, starting with the night the Dark Man had given her parents the necklace and ending with her sneaking out of the hospital with clothes she stole from a locker room. “So you see,” she said with a wry smile. “I have a pretty good idea as to what can happen when someone knows about our kind of secrets.
“But what I don’t know is why I’m not dead. At first, I thought the Dark Man was responsible for my parents’ death and for hurting me. Why didn’t whoever did it just kill me? They took their time cutting me.”
“Maybe they were interrupted,” offered Ironclaw.
“Could be. A couple months ago, I thought that maybe someone was trying to make some kind of message. Like some kind of ritual, or maybe a symbol.” Rey’s laugh was more than a little deprecatory. “Or maybe I’m just that foolish, trying to find a meaning beyond just being thankful I didn’t end up like my parents. Obsessing over them. I spent so much time worrying about them, what people would think if they saw them.”
Rey’s smile returned. “I don’t think that anymore. Well, not as often. And Lyla told me that the Uratha take a certain pride in having scars. A sign of strength, being a survivor. I don’t know if I’ll ever be proud of them, but at the very least, I’m starting to accept them.” She glanced towards the front of the bar, then back at Ironclaw and Grey. “Would… would you like to see them?”
Grey looked at Ironclaw as if to apologize for what he was about to do. Then without word he stood and went around the counter. He could tell how much was depending his reaction by the way she asked. This moment was vital. It could cut her deeper or help to mend her. His gaze was intense as he looked into her eyes. “Show me.” He said as he towered over her.
Grey ran his hand in a slow upward movement as Rey turned around and started to raise her shirt. He lifted the cloth up her back with his own hands trailing along her skin and the scars. One hand was holding the cloth and the otther put mild pressure on her shoulders, angling her back. She could feel the warmth of his breath trail over her skin, taking in the scent. Then without warning the wet warmth of lips pressed against her back. He gently kissed and lightly licked the scars on her back.
What is he? Oh god… Rey’s eyes fell closed and her breath caught in her throat. She never thought that something like that would feel so good. Her lower body clenched and she felt herself get wet.
Rey could feel him inhale deeply. Grey lowered the cloth and turned her so she could see him. The intensity in his eyes was almost too much. “You are beautiful.” He said with a smile.
“That is so unfair,” she said, holding his gaze, “doing that here, now, when I’m working, and can’t get you to finish what you started.” Her voice low, soft and husky, and carried the full weight of what she felt for him.
“I will make it up to you later. When we have better preparations.” Grey whispered into her ear. He hugged her tightly and went back to his seat. Smiling all the way. “Don’t get any ideas.” He said to Ironclaw jokingly.
Rey blushed bright pink, suddenly remembering Ironclaw’s presence. “So, uh, can I get you another beer?” she asked him.
The bar stools had high wood backs and Ironclaw was leaning well back on his as if lounging while watching a favored television show. “Hm? Yes and popcorn or peanuts if you have it. Please, don’t stop on my account.” He grinned and his eyes sparked with amusement. “Grey has some mad skillz when it comes to licking.” He winked at them.
Grey laughed, “Stop you’ll make me turn as red as Rey.”
That served only to make Rey blush brighter. “Ironclaw, you are so bad. I’m just glad Ramiel isn’t here. He’d have joined you, and possibly started giving suggestions.” She glanced at Grey, and the thought of him licking other things on her sent a thrill of hunger and desire shooting through her.
Rey got Ironclaw his beer and worked on calming herself down. “So, uh, Ramiel said he talked to you about the Dark Man.”
“Yeah. I told him it might be a spirit. Or perhaps Duguthim, though what I had to go on is vague. A man in a brimmed hat. Seems to have a lot of power. It could be anything really. What do you think Ironclaw?”
He shook his head. “Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Definitely powerful,” Rey said. “When Ramiel, Lyla and I were in Charlotte, on Lake Champlain, he was there. All the water spirits in the Lake were terrified of him.” She told them what had happened there. “It was really that encounter that got me thinking I might be wrong about him.”
“Sometimes,” Ironclaw said, “the actions of spirits make no sense. And all of the time, predicting what they might do is futile. If the Dark Man is a spirit of some kind, then it has reasons for doing what it does, but those reasons are not always going to make sense to us. Labeling any spirit as friend or foe, evil or good, ultimately is as meaningless as attempting to trying to teach a dog the alphabet. They do not see the world as any human does and do not operate by anything like human moral codes of behavior. They are utterly alien to this world.
“So maybe it didn’t hurt you one time. But maybe it did another time. Maybe at one time making you suffer gave it what it needed, but at another time there was nothing you had that it needed. If, that is, this Dark Man is a spirit at all.”
Ironclaw took a drink, then set his mug down and wiped his mouth. “The point is that unless you know what you are dealing with, don’t assume you can figure out whether it is friend or foe — and even then you may never be able to figure that out.”
Rey smiled. “I’m not a complete noob when it comes to spirits.” She knew she wasn’t being lectured, and that Ironclaw was simply stating a fact. “Not being with Ramiel and Lyla, away from Ramiel and Lyla’s driving need for revenge, let me get some perspective. Just chasing after him isn’t going to do anyone any good. We need to learn more about him.”
She frowned. “That reminds me. I need to go to Baltimore for a couple of days.” Rey didn’t really want to go there, but if she was going to find out more about her past, it was the only place she could start.
“Why?” asked Ironclaw.
“That’s where we were living when my parents died,” Rey said. “There might still be some papers and documents there about my family. About me. See, hedge witchery tends to run in families, but my parents exhibited no signs of any powers that I can remember, and my ability to see spirits manifested when I was very young. I just want to know if they were my biological parents, or if I was adopted, or…. Well, my parents weren’t exactly very nice people.” She shook her head. “I remember so little about that time. I don’t know if it was the necklace, or if someone deliberately did something to make me forget. Sometimes I start to remember things, but it’s like the memories are trapped under water and can’t get to the surface.”
Ironclaw finished his beer again. “Are you sure you want to dig those memories up?”
“No, but I need to try. I’ve got these huge blank spots. Sometimes I see or hear things that trigger a memory, and I can feel it there, but I can’t remember it. Like catching the faintest whiff of a scent of something you hunger for, but just can’t get to.” She sighed. “I know there are things that would probably be better if they remained buries, but I want to know what happened the night my parents were killed. If the Dark Man was involved in some way. If my parents tried to save me from whoever hurt me.” Rey didn’t add the possibility that they were the ones who’d hurt her. “I thought about invoking their ghosts and trying to ask them, but dealing with ghosts and spirits like that can be a bit tricky. I don’t like doing it when I don’t have to, or for purely selfish reasons.”
“Huh,” Ironclaw grunted. “Well, you’re not going alone are you?”
“Of course not. Hamilton will be with me, as always.” She grinned, but then continued in a more serious vein. “I was talking with Ramiel about it before Christmas, and he said he’d help. I was thinking of asking Daniel, because of his ability to see into the past.” Rey paused. “And possibly Michael. I may have to deal with the police. I kind of disappeared in the midst of a murder-suicide investigation. His being law enforcement might help smooth things over with the Baltimore PD.”
“Interesting.” Grey spoke up finally. “Three men and not one of them is me. Well I guess I know where I stand.”
After knowing him for years Ironclaw could tell Grey was teasing. Rey on the other hand may not have been so sure. Grey knew this but hoped she could suss it out fast enough.
“Grey, I…” A stricken look covered her face for a moment, then her eyes narrowed as she searched his face. She snorted softly and her expression changed to one of mischief. “Yeah, you know where you stand. On your own two feet, which are on a body taller than mine, which means you can reach onto the top shelf in the back room to get the jar of cocktail onions down for me.” She grinned. “Thanks for offering to help!”
Rey looked at Ironclaw. “If you’ll keep an eye on things for a minute, I’ll have him back out here in a jiffy.”
Ironclaw rolled his eyes but smiled with amusement.
Grey stood and headed to the back room. “Sure they get you alone in Baltimore. I get onions.” He smiled the entire way. Once there he turned and looked at Rey.”So where are these onions?”
“Over there.” Rey pointed, and Grey could see the jars. They would have been iffy for Rey to reach without something to stand on.
Grey retrieved the jar with ease.
“There was another reason I wanted you to come back here, for a bit of privacy.” A brand new, shiny house key appeared out of nowhere in her hand. She offered it to him. “I had this made for you yesterday morning.”
His eyes wore the smile brighter than his face did. ” So, ” he said with a smile” is this your way of asking me to house sit?”
Grey could see the anger beginning to spread across Rey’s face. He moved to her and pulled her close.” I am only teasing you. Though if you needed me to go with you I would find a way to go.”
“I know you would. I would love for you to come, but I won’t ask it of you.” She nuzzled the crook of his neck, and drank in his faint scent with a sigh. “I don’t know when I’m going, or how long I’ll be gone. And if the Braff boy starts his First Change, you really need to be here.” With reluctance, she pulled back slightly. “You don’t need to hide the fact I’ve given you a key to the cabin. I just didn’t want to give Ironclaw even more ammunition.” She smiled, and her eyes were drawn back to the curve of his neck, and she wondered if he liked being licked and maybe bitten too.
“Don’t mind Ironclaw. He likes a good show.” He handed her the jar. “Here’s your onions.” He smiled and walked back out to rejoin Iron claw.
Rey returned to her position behind the bar and put the jar away. “Thanks for holding down the fort,” she said to Ironclaw.
Grey sat down next to Ironclaw. PLacing on hand on his shoulder and using the other to shield his mouth form Rey. He whispered something to Ironclaw. “There is something I need to talk to you about sometime soon. You and Ramiel. For now just act like I am telling you that she was acting very naughty in the back room. I think we can get her to turn red again.”
Ironclaw nodded, raised an eyebrow at Rey, then laughed heartily.
“What?” Rey protested. She looked between the two men and fought back a blush.
Grey looked at her with lusty eyes as he continued to whisper secrets to Ironclaw.
“Stop that.” Soon Rey’s eyes were a mirror of Grey’s, and thoughts of what they could be doing right now spun through her head. She flushed and held his gaze with a look that promised passionate payback for his antics before looking away to find small boxes for the two pieces of pie on the counter.
Grey stopped his whispering and smiled. Nudging Ironclaw, he simply said. “Told ya.”
Ironclaw smiled and folded his fingers together behind his head. “You two really ought to get a room and fuck each other’s brains out. You’ll feel a lot better.”
“I know,” Rey answered lightly, her Louisiana accent slightly more pronounced. “But he said a month ago he wanted to wait.” She stood in front of Grey and leaned on her forearms on the bar, bringing her face close to his (and giving him an excellent view of her cleavage). “Or have you changed your mind?”
Grey smiled and leaned back in his chair. He looked at Ironclaw seemingly immune to the pull of her chest. “I wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting into here. You know give her time to realize my many flaws that I rarely work on.”
Ironclaw laughed. “Don’t you mean your many huge flaws you never work on?”
Rey rested her chin on her hand and watched the two of them with polite, attentive interest. She crossed her other arm in front of her and leaned on it, lifting her breasts higher and revealing the jade green lace that cradled them under her shirt.
Grey’s smiles broadened. “Yup those are the ones. I told her you would make a better mate. But it seems she likes a challenge.” He looked at her with teasing eyes that matched his smile. “Well I guess I will just have to fuck her then!”
Ironclaw laughed, and then climbed to his feet. With an overly dramatic bow and a clumsy flourish, he bid adieu. “That is my sign, then. Friends, enjoy your afternoon!” The pack leader, still chuckling with good humor, made his way out of the bar.
Rey chuckled and straightened up. “Unless someone from the pack wanders by and can be talked into taking my shift, that’ll have to be ‘enjoy our evening’. Nobody else is scheduled to come in until five, and my shift ends at eight.”
“Later Ironclaw. Take it easy when you can.” Grey turned his attention back to Rey. “Subtle.” He said as he looked at the lace. Then he stood abruptly taking both peices of pie with him. “Well I guess I have some planning to do, see you later.” Before Rey could put the pie away, he grabbed one up and headed for the door, scarfing it down as he went.