At the home of Charles and Anna Cornick (1 month after Mercy's Engagement)
"Who is Mercy exactly?" Anna asked while she lounged on the couch with her husband stroking her back, "I've never seen Bran so out of sorts before."
Charles laughed. Anna could feel the sound waves resonate in Charles' chest as he continued, "You've never seen Da when Mercy's around. Riling up werewolves is a talent of hers."
Anna tilted her head to look at him, "Including you?"
Charles was pensive for a moment.
"No. She was always too intimated to really try anything," he responded.
Anna studied his eyes, "Regret?" she asked.
"A little. I spent an entire summer teach her everything I know about cars. How to drive them, take them apart, put them back together," Charles took a breath in contemplation, "She was a good student. I learned a lot about her that summer."
Anna reached up and touched his face.
"But you didn't let her get to know you," she stated, confident in her knowledge of her husband's possible reactions.
He took her hand and kissed her palm.
"I didn't know how. I had watched her grow up, but from distance. I just couldn't allow myself to be her friend," Charles finished.
"She needs my help. I was lucky in that I was able learn all the traditions of my mother's people. But Mercy never had that chance," he said.
Anna leaned in kissed Charles.
"Remember to tell her that you love her," she said when she pulled back from him.
Charles looked at her quizzically.
"There's pack and then there's family. Mercy is family. I can feel it through you and your father, but I also get that the same regret from both of you. Like she never knew you cared. It can be really hard feeling unloved among werewolves," Anna stated.
Charles kissed her deeply, reminding her just how special and precious she was to him.
Mercy pulled up to deceptively simple ranch-style home in Aspen Creek. She sat in the car for moment, letting the relative safety of her car calm her down. Mercy reminded herself that Charles had willingly agreed to help her. Or at least he sounded as willing as Charles ever did. Despite the fact she had spent a significant time with him and around him while she lived her, it didn't change the fact that he made her… uncomfortable as he did most of the wolves in Aspen Creek. It was only two years ago when Charles hugged her when she had briefly returned to Aspen Creek after a 15-year absence, did she think that maybe he thought she was more than just the annoyance that his father kept around.
Over the past few months, she learned that she had been wrong about quite a few things about her upbringing and about wolves in general. How Bran and Samuel felt about her was one of them so when Samuel suggested that she should talk to Charles about the spirits she had been seeing, she thought that it was possible she could have been wrong about Charles too. Still, she was beyond shocked when, after talking to someone that Mercy assumed was Anna, Charles' new mate, he invited her to Montana.
As she looked up at Charles' home, she still couldn't believe she was here. She could count one hand how many times she's been inside this house. While Charles never actively prevented people from coming to his home, he wasn't the most welcoming host either. Still, she needed answers and Charles was the best person she could think of to get them. Drawing on her courage, she got out of the car and knocked on the front door.
A woman about four inches shorter than her with warm brown hair answered the door with a sweet smile.
"Hi, you must be Mercy," she said and Mercy couldn't help, but be taken back by what seemed to be genuine kindness. She didn't know what to expect from this woman that was Charles' mate, but she did know that most female werewolves had a tendency to hate her on sight.
"Yeah," Mercy replied, "You're Anna, right?"
"Yep. Please come in. Charles is finishing up something's in his office," she said and opened the door wide so Mercy could step through. Mercy felt Anna's eyes on her, sizing her up, as she closed the door.
Mercy sighed, "Look, it was a long drive over here and I'm too tired to play any wolf dominance games. I can get a hotel room if you think I have any interest in Charles or am interrupting your fantasy of being the lycan June Cleaver."
Anna laughed, a warm, musical sound coming from her throat.
Mercy raised an eyebrow at her, "What?"
"It's just nice to her someone reference something from this century," Anna replied smiling.
Mercy looked at Anna again, unsure of what to make of her.
"You don't have to say in a hotel. You're family. Practically Charles' sister. You're more than welcome here," Anna finally said.
Mercy was touched. She wouldn't gone that far, but the way Anna said that it was hard to argue. She said that like she was simply speaking fact, not the reality changing revelation that it was. With the silence finally broken, Mercy thought about what she said and realized that wolves have been killed for saying less.
"Sorry about…" Mercy started.
Anna held her hand up, "It's ok. It's apart of being an Omega wolf. The power to bring peace and get people to tell you what's really on their minds."
Mercy huffed, "Most people would say I do enough of that on my own."
"So I've heard," Anna laughed, perching herself on the couch.
Mercy followed and sat down.
"Whatever you heard has been greatly exaggerated, I'm sure," stated Mercy.
"So you didn't wrap Bran's Porche around a tree?"
Mercy rolled her eyes, "What does everyone tell that story?"
"Because it's the most interesting," said Charles' voice as he came down the staircase.
As he descended the stairs, Mercy was surprised by the changes she saw in him. He seemed… lighter. Charles was always like a sentry standing guard who was never off duty. Samuel, on the other hand, took breaks to play with the neighborhood kids and be silly. Charles never let his guard down like that. Looking at him, she wouldn't say that his guard was down now, but he was definitely more at ease. Anna touched the back of his hand as he sat down next to her. Mercy saw the closest thing she had ever seen to a smile cross Charles' face. Seeing them together made her a little more excited about what her married life could be like. Mercy broke out into a wide smile.
"How was your trip?" Charles asked her.
"Quiet. A lot of time to think," she said. Adam had not been too excited about her taking this trip to Montana, but Samuel convinced him it was necessary. Neither one of them could help Mercy or give her the answers she had been seeking. The only person she knew that could do that was right in front of her.
"So, do you want to get to sleep first or do you want to skip to chase?" Charles asked.
Anna gave him a look while raising her eyebrows, chastising him for being rude. Mercy laughed.
"It's ok," she said to Anna and then turned to Charles, "How do we get started?"
"Tell me about the dream and what happened afterwards," Charles replied.
Mercy nodded and told Charles about what happened two nights ago as best she could remember it.
* * *
Two nights ago
He had an easy smile and a confident walk, the kind of man whose jovial, carefree exterior hid a strong and crafty hunter. In that way, he reminded her of Samuel. As he walked across the rodeo, he caught the eye of a girl that Mercy couldn't see. The mischief in his eyes made him seem younger, but more dangerous.
His shoulder length raven hair was in a ponytail and, although he wore the customary boots that identified him as a rider, the baseball cap on his head with a stylized coyote on the front screamed defiance. Mercy could see the hardened faces that dotted the crowd letting her know they didn't like having an Indian in their rodeo.
He got on the bronco and winked the blonde who suddenly appeared next to her. Her image was fuzzy, but Mercy was confident that she knew her.
"Now at gate 2," the announcer called, "Joe Old Coyote."
* * *
Mercy popped her eyes open and felt another presence in her room. She turned to see the transparent image of rider from her dream, Joe Old Coyote, her father.
There was something else about him too. He wasn't a ghost. She had seen ghost all of her life. She knew what they felt like and how they effected the environment around them. This image of her father didn't feel like that. Staring at him, she was reminded of a time when she was sixteen, right after she moved to Portland. Just like the Marrok's pack, she knew she didn't really belong with her mother's family and the suburban life she had created for herself. Mercy thought that maybe her father's people might have the answer to her search for acceptance. She tried to find out everything she could about her father and his tribe. She came up with more contradictions than facts and more questions than answers. She let it go after that and focused on European history in college, which was less painful and a lot less personal.
Suddenly the image of her father shifted into a coyote. The coyote put his front paws on her bed and nuzzled her neck. She closed her eyes, relaxing into what qualified as the first hug she had ever received from her father. When she opened her eyes, he was gone.
Caught somewhere between hope and pain, but strangely lacking in fear, Mercy got out of her bed and walked to the kitchen. With shaky hands, she made herself some tea and took long sips to calm her nerves. Usually she only saw the recently dead, stubborn ghost who refused to past on or those ghost who replayed the moments of their deaths. This was her first encounter with a spirit so personal.
* * *
"I finally told Samuel about it when I saw the spirit coyote in my shop. That's when he told me to talk to you," Mercy finished.
Charles looked at her, considering, "You're certain it was your father."
"Yes. Don't ask me how, but I know," Mercy got up and started pacing, "What I don't get is why now? I've seen ghosts all of my life. Why hasn't he shown up before?"
Charles took a deep breath and looked up into Mercy's eyes.
"He was there before. He's always been there," Charles replied.
"What? What do you mean?"
Charles stood up, "Everyone talks about with you and Da's car is because the story shows that the luck…the spirit of the coyote is still alive."
Charles took one step closer to Mercy.
"You should have died," he said in a matter-of-fact tone, "but you were protected. I know because I saw the spirit of your father holding you after the wreck."