Timeline: January 30, 2009
Rey left the Blood and Brew and went directly to Ramiel’s place to wait for Lyla. She knew that’s where Lyla would most likely head when she was strong enough to walk. She stood waiting for Lyla on the porch.
Rey had to wait a long time, long enough for the motion-sensing porch light to wink out. It was damned cold out and it felt like frost would seep into her bones. Just when her mind had wandered to how she was going to handle this for about the millionth time, the porch light suddenly winked on. There in the snow, wrapped in Chaska’s furs, was Lyla.
After her conversation with Chaska, and having properly thanked him for helping her after the fight, Lyla had limped home alone, telling Chaska she wanted time to think. Besides, she was now at the bottom of the pack, she’d told him, and it was now everyone else’s responsibility to watch out for her and protect her, even if she might not have the same rights and responsibilities she used to have.
When Lyla saw Rey waiting for her on the porch, the ex-lupa stopped and stared. She had expected to have to talk to Rey. She hadn’t expected to have to do right now.
“I’m glad to see you’re up and around,” Rey said with her usual friendly smile. “Why don’t you come on inside and we’ll get you warmed up and some steak into your tummy. Then we can talk.”
Lyla was again surprised by Rey’s tone. She nodded and started up the stairs. Then she noticed the big, nickle-plated gun Rey had used to shoot her stuck in the front of Rey’s pants. Her body betrayed her with shaking badly enough she tripped on the stairs and lost her balance and her grip on the furs. To her own humiliation she fell in a disorganized heap and banged her knee painfully on the top stair.
Without a word, Rey helped Lyla stand and wrapped the furs back around her.
Lyla’s face was red and she was not at all composed. After Rey had helped her to her feet, Lyla jerked away from her. Although she was seething, her frustration was more with herself than anything. She wasn’t used to losing. It happened, but only very rarely, and never a dominance fight.
She looked at Rey a moment, then said in a controlled voice, “We go in there, then Ramiel will come down and ask why I’ve been beat to hell and my clothes trashed. Again. And when I tell him what happened, he’s going to be spitting mad, Rey.”
“And what exactly do you plan to tell him?” Rey asked calmly.
“The truth. And why shouldn’t I?”
“You know as well as I do that there are a million different shades of the truth. What happened was pack business, and as your Lupa,” Rey said, with a subtle emphasis on her title, “I’m telling you you’re not going to say anything about it until we’ve had our talk.”
“Then if you want to talk, we better not do it here,” Lyla stated.
“Then we go to my cabin.” Rey turned and walked down the steps.
Lyla looked at the gun. Again her body began to shake. Traitor! she told her body silently. But the fear was real. She was used to being in control, being the one with the power. But right now she had no power at all, either in terms of social power, or in spiritual power as all her essence had been spent trying to heal some of the injuries she’d taken tonight. And her body was weak now as well; not all of her injuries could be healed. Right now she was vulnerable and her instincts were screaming at her that the gun could kill her. Not the gun; the witch with the gun. It was this conflict inside her, the instinctual reaction to something — someone — who could have ended her life, and her sense of pride and unwillingness to surrender. She had the shakes bad and she felt like throwing up.
Instead, she turned and followed Rey down the path that would lead them through town and on to Rey’s cabin.
Rey kept the pace that Lyla could match, just as the others did with her. She avoided the busier pathways to prevent questions and not to further Lyla’s humiliation.
When they passed the last buildings and entered the farmland surrounding, the night was very quiet. The cloudless night sky held none of the earth’s heat it had gathered from the sun, and the moon and stars gave Rey enough light to see by.
She knew the path ahead was clear; Hamilton was scouting the way. Rey didn’t talk, feeling the silence would be best for Lyla. She knew her friend was stressed enough as it was.
When they arrived at the cabin, the building was dark but she knew soon enough it would be nice and warm. The motion sensor-activated light she’d installed flicked on and they walked in its brilliance to the front door. Rey climbed the steps easily and opened the door, then turned to wait for Lyla.
Lyla had to have been freezing. Though wrapped in furs, she was otherwise naked and barefoot. Still, she said nothing to Rey, simply walking past her and into the cabin. She turned and then waited, clutching the furs to herself.
Rey closed the door and turned on the lights. The cabin, while not hot, was considerably warmer than it was outside, thanks to the banked fire. “Let’s check your bandages to make sure everything’s alright.” She looked at Lyla kindly. “After that, you can get cleaned up while I get the fire going and supper on the stove.”
Chaska had done a very good job, Rey noticed. Lyla’s injuries, which were severe, had been healed but for one, ugly bullet wound — the one in her stomach. The one that had finally stopped her juggernaut-like assault. It had to be very painful, Rey knew, and even moving around would have produced enough pain most people wouldn’t be on their feet at all. It was a gut wound and the only reason it wasn’t a mortal wound was because Lyla was a werewolf and because Chaska was a good healer. The only other damage Rey noticed was to Lyla’s feet. The walk through the snow had chapped them, nearly froze them. That had to have hurt, too, but perhaps the pain in her stomach overshadowed any other pain. Rey could her frozen, chapped skin of her feet were healing even now.
Rey hadn’t noticed how Lyla had to struggle to keep up on the walk home. She’d never looked back but simply expected Lyla to keep pace. Lyla had said and done nothing to draw attention to it.
Nor did she say anything now. When Rey finished checking her injuries, Lyla went to wash her face in the bathroom. When she returned, she remained standing, watching Rey finish putting a pot of stew on the stove.
“Why didn’t you ask me to slow down on the way here?”
“It’s your job to look after the pack’s females now,” Lyla said.
“And, what, you’re not allowed to ask or say anything?”
Lyla looked back at her steadily. “Do you think I am weak Rey?” She let the furs drop. Lyla stood naked before Rey and it served as a reminder. Rey saw the extensive network of tribal tattoo work Grey had etched permanently into her body. Each one was a symbol of the prestige and respect the spirits paid her. And she had more respect from the spirit community than any other werewolf in the pack. Further, Rey noticed something else she hadn’t when she was checking Lyla’s wounds before — Lyla was very strong. For a woman, she was highly toned, her muscles well-defined. Her body was both sleek and powerful. She’d been working out and it showed.
“I did not lose a dominance fight tonight,” Lyla stated. “I was not defeated — I was punished. And I know you know that I was a hair’s breadth from taking all of you down. If there is a next time, it will not be me who is punished.”
“Are you threatening me?” Rey’s vioce was calm, but the way she held herself was different fro anyting Lyla had ever seen from her before. There was a new strength to her – not physical, but something more. In the past, Rey had always carried a touch of submissiveness, a willingness to always be a follower and not a leader. And now, it was gone.
“I asked a question. Does that threaten you?”
Rey sighed. “No, your asking questions doesn’t threaten me. But you’re standing there, flexing your muscles at me, showing off the respect you gained from the spirits, and talking about revenge. I’m the one who gave you that belly wound and ended the fight. Do you intend to try and punish me for what happened tonight?”
“No. What happened wasn’t your fault. Ironclaw is responsible for what happened.”
Rey watched Lyla quitely for a moment, debating what her next words should be. Was her former lupa too wound up, too angry to hear let alone be willing to understand what she wanted to tell her? The young witch, now Lupa of the Young Father Bear pack, decided to let it go – for now. “No, I do not think you are weak. I never have. But right now, it doesn’t matter how strong you are, I’m Lupa and I have decided I intend to stay that way.”
Lyla looked at Rey, wondering if Rey understood what she was saying. Without the shield of the Ulfric’s decree limiting dominance challenges, she’d be fair game to anyone ambitious enough to want to seize the position. There was no doubt in Lyla’s mind that she would be that candidate. “I’m sorry to hear that,” said Lyla. “June may be a difficult month for both of us, then.”
“Perhaps,” Rey said. “Five months is a long time and many things can change. And that brings me to one of the reasons I want to talk to you. First, the Blood and Brew. I want you to sign it over to me, lock, stock and barrel.”
Lyla stiffened, but thought about it. She’d built up the place for the pack. It shouldn’t bother her who ran it, so long as it still provided for the pack. On a personal level, though, she did business from there. She had the privacy of her office and she often met with certain individuals that help insure the running of her more shady dealings. And she knew why Rey wanted it; all the girls worked there, and it had become the de facto purview of the lupa’s position; she give the pack females jobs, and they all worked for her. It allowed the lupa to provide for them, which was a vital function for a lupa. Grudgingly, she had to admit she could find some other place to run her business. Rey could likely force the issue by going to the other women and Ironclaw. Lyla didn’t relish that thought.
“Okay,” she said. “I will do that for you. But I would like to ask you a favor in return.”
“The bar pays for the pack. The money it earns provides for their food and even your own food and lodging. In combination to Ramiel and I providing a home for them at our house, it provides security for the whole pack. I would like you to swear that in the future, the Blood and Brew should always belong to the Pack. And should there not be a lupa to accept ownership, then it should fall to the Ulfric.”
“An interesting, and a reasonable request,” Rey said and gave a little smile, “but you can’t always con a con. If there is no lupa, then the Blood & Brew will be sold to someone completely unrelated to the pack in any way and the proceeds split equally among the pack members.”
“Fine,” Lyla said. Then she asked, “Then you give your word on that?”
“Not until I know why you were trying to trick me.”
“Trick you? You’re using your new position to steal my property. I don’t think my request was unreasonable Rey. Think about who your friends are and whether you want to keep them or not.”
Rey’s eyes flickered downwards for a split second. “I know who my friends are, and where my loyalties lie. I’m doing my best to provide for the pack, and I don’t want to make any promises that might harm us in the future. I’m also having a hard time understanding how the fact Ramiel letting the pack have rooms in his house has anything to do with the bar.”
“It’s my home, too,” Lyla said hotly. “They wouldn’t be there if not for my help. As lupa, I supported my pack and I’ve provided for them. All I’m asking of you is the same!”
“I have never doubted or questioned your ability to provide for the pack, Lyla,” Rey replied calmly. “Especially since I am one of the people who have benefitted most. I was unsure if you had permanently linked the two. If you no longer had ownership of the bar, then they would lose their homes there. I’m grateful to see that’s not the case, and I apologize for the misunderstanding. In return for giving me the Blood & Brew, it will always belong to the pack, and should there not be a female in the group to act as Lupa, ownership of the B&B will fall to the Ulfric. Is that acceptable to you?”
Lyla anger melted as quickly as it had flaired. “Thank you, Rey. I’ll have a lawyer draw up the needed paperwork in the morning and get it signed over tomorrow.” She bent down and picked up the furs she’d let fall, then covered herself again. “Was there anything else you needed?”
“Yes, there is.”
Lyla looked at Rey. “What’s that?”
“What do you plan on doing with your other business while you’re in Mythic City fulfilling your promise?”
“Oh!” Lyla smiled and looked sheepish. “That. Actually, I was hoping you’d still be willing to help me with that. A lot of it takes a personal touch and the only person alive that knows enough about my operation to keep it going is you.”
“If you want me to, I’m going to need your help too.”
Lyla replied with a grin, “Hey, you’re the lupa. And uh, before we forget, we should probably go over the current acceptable mate list sometime.”
“Of course. See, there’s a problem with me helping you. Up until now, I’ve been your employee. I can’t be your employee anymore.”
Lyla’s smile faded. “I suppose not,” she said.
“Would you be willing to accept me as, say, an advisor? You won’t be able to boss me around, but I’ll be there to help you when you need it.”
Lyla worked it out for herself. Rey wanted to give being lupa an honest try. Lyla had expected to be the real power in the pack regardless of position, but Rey’s moves made it clear that wasn’t going to happen. And what did it matter, really? Losing the position and prestige stung. But it had happened very quickly, like a band-aid being torn from a wound before the pain could register. Lyla didn’t need it to continue to grow her empire of crime. And nothing forbade her from trying to take over the position again in the near future. In the mean time, it wouldn’t hurt her to recognize Rey as Lupa for now.
“Yes, Rey. I can do that. Tell you what. Running the biz is hard work. Why don’t I make you my partner?” She added in a voice meant to tempt Rey, “It’ll pad your income very nicely. I’ll have to show you the books anyway, so you know what you should be collecting. It’s only fair you have a vested interest in seeing that collection continue to happen on time and paid in full, right? And then if this works out for us, I could keep you on as my partner even if for some reason you had to step down from being Lupa.”
Rey was surprised at Lyla’s offer. “To be honest, I don’t really care about the money, except for how I can use it to help the pack.” In fact, that was true about all the money she earned, no matter the source. She kept enough to pay her bills and a bit for what limited fun things she treated herself to. The bulk of it was spent on the pack – food, keeping the various stashes and caches she’d set up stocked, and so on. Sure, the money used to come from Lyla, but she rarely kept it much of it for herself.
“But sure. Let’s give it a try.”
“Done,” Lyla said.
“I just have one more question. Do you want some shoes, maybe some pants and a shirt, and something to eat before you leave?”
Lyla smiled. “Uh, yeah. That would be nice. Thanks, uh… Lupa.”