Spoilers: BtVS through Season 7, Mercy Thompson through Iron Crossed.
Timeline: Set after Chosen in BtVS and during Iron Crossed.
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Patricia Briggs owns Mercedes Thompson.

The first time he saw her, she was saving a little boy's life.

Samuel had gone for a walk along the Columbia River. The wolf inside him was restless, and frankly, he was, too; for it was becoming painfully clear that he was losing Mercy to Adam Hauptmann. Worse, he wasn't sure there was anything he could do about it.

That left him two options; either go for a run in the forest and pour all his frustration into a hunt, or clear his head and figure out how to get back in the game. Since he was technically on call at the hospital, his decision was easy.

He had just passed by Columbia Park, fully enjoying the scenery around him, when it happened; the kid who didn't look when he crossed the street; the truck parked too close to the corner, making it impossible to see around it; the car that sped around the corner much too quickly; the driver of that car, distracted as he talked on his cell phone.

And there was nothing Samuel could do to stop it. He was just too far away.

Unfortunately, the people closest to the boy were frozen, too. All except one.

Out of nowhere, someone came rushing toward the boy, a bright blonde blur. Then she – for it was definitely a she - pushed the boy out of harm's way. Unfortunately, she wasn't able to move herself out of the way in time. With a sickening crunch, the car hit the girl, sending her flying through the air until her body landed with a thud.

Samuel raced over to where she was, pushing his way through the small crowd that had already formed, and which immediately parted when he told them he was a doctor. He could hear someone calling for an ambulance, but he ignored it, his eyes raking over the girl to assess the level of injury.

Thankfully there were no obvious injuries, such as a compound fracture. Her pulse was strong and steady, too, which was another good sign. He could smell blood, but not much, all things considered. Still, it didn't mean there weren't serious internal injuries, or at the very least, a concussion.

Just then, the girl began to move.

"Ow," she muttered as she tried to sit up.

He immediately stilled her movements, pressing a firm hand on her shoulder. "Don't move," he ordered. "An ambulance is on the way."

Her eyes snapped open at this, and Samuel found himself looking into clear, completely steady, hazel eyes.

It was the first time he really got a good look at her, beyond that of a doctor viewing a patient. To his surprise, he saw that wasn't as young as he had originally thought. In fact, she wasn't a girl at all but a very attractive woman, even if she could stand to put some meat on her bones.

She gave him a small, almost amused smile, before shaking her head. "Thanks, but I'm all good."

He purposefully ignored this as he pressed gently on her ribs. "Does this hurt?" he asked, watching her carefully for any signs on pain.

She rolled her eyes. "Well, duh, I just got hit by a car. But do I think I have internal bleeding or broken bones? Sorry to disappoint," she brightly informed him.

Then she tried to get up once again, but he held her down firmly. This clearly did not make her happy, as her smile quickly turned into a scowl.

Samuel gave her his most placating smile, the one he reserved for his most stubborn patients. "Would you at least stay here until the EMTs get here and check you out, please?" he asked.

He saw her begin to waver. Then she sighed. "Okay, but will you please check on that boy? I'm worried I pushed him too hard," she asked, lying back down on the pavement.

Samuel nodded. He got up and headed over to the kid who was sitting on the curb in shock. Aside from that, however, he looked okay, having escaped with just some scrapes and bruises. He was very lucky.

Suddenly, there was a small gasp from the crowd behind him.

Samuel whipped around to look at the girl, worried that maybe she had taken a turn for the worse.

She was gone.

Samuel frowned. Did she actually just outmaneuver him? Of course, she benefited from the fact that his werewolf senses were going haywire with all the people around him. But still, she managed to get the better of him. It both intrigued and grated at him.

He looked at the people closest to where she had lain, and they pointed to the street behind them.

The wolf wanted to give chase, and Samuel did not fight him. It looked like he was going to get his hunt, after all.

Her scent was still fresh, but it mingled with the smells of the city, making it extremely difficult to track her. He did, though, doggedly, until he found himself looking up at an apartment building on the west side of town.

Part of him was tempted to storm in there and drag her to the ER. He resisted, though. Aside from crossing the doctor-patient line, there was a chance he would have to explain exactly how he was able to find her. While he was sure he could provide a perfectly reasonable explanation, there was no need to draw unwanted attention to himself.

Still, he passed by her apartment a few times after that, just to check on her. He never saw her, but her mail disappeared every day, so she was still alive.

He couldn't ask for much more than that, right?

The second time he saw her, she was a patient in the ER on his shift.

Recognizing the fall of blonde hair and her unique scent immediately, he strode over to her, not even bothering to suppress a grin.

He saw the recognition dawn in her eyes the second she saw him, and his grin grew even wider.

"You're a doctor," she said accusatorily, as if it were a crime.

Judging by her initial reaction to him and his suggestion to the hospital, it just may have been.

"Not just any doctor, your doctor," he pointed out cheerily as looked over her chart, earning him a few strange glances from Abigail, the attending nurse. "So Miss... Summers, what bring you here today?"

She stared at him for a moment, her lips pressed together in annoyance, before she finally relented and held out her arm, which was bruised and swollen.

"Fell down last night," she explained. "I thought it was fine, but when I woke up, it looked like this. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't broken or anything like that."

She obviously wasn't going to offer any more information than that, and since he couldn't detect any smell any fear, he didn't press. Instead he focused on her arm, gently probing the area as he felt for injuries.

"It seems fine. There are no obvious breaks. You might have a hairline fracture, though, so we should get some x-rays," he told her. "Just sit tight, and we should have you in and out of here in a few hours."

That was when he got the slightest whiff of fear. Furrowing his brows, he looked at her closely.

"You really don't like hospitals, do you?" he asked.

She arched an eyebrow at him. "Opposed to everyone else who does?" she wryly replied. Then she leaned back with a sigh, as if she were going to wait like a good little patient.

He wanted to believe her, but he had fallen for the same routine already.

He looked at Abigail. "Keep an eye on her," he ordered. He turned back at Buffy to give her a pointed look.

When she made a face at him in response, he grinned, and his smile stayed with him as he moved on to his next patient.

He meant to check on her frequently, but two gunshot victims came in and he was tied up for the next hour. When he finally made it back to her room, he was only half-surprised to see it empty.

It was the note on her bed that he didn't expect at all.

Sorry, doc, couldn't stay. Don't blame Abby. She had a cranky man down the hall who practically had his thumb superglued to the call button.

P.S. If you want to check on me this time, just call.

Her phone number was written underneath.

A short bark of laughter escaped before he could stop it. He hadn't felt this off-kilter in... quite a while.

People didn't challenge him, not through his authority as a doctor or through his status as the son of the Marrok and a very powerful werewolf in his own right. It was annoying, frustrating, maddening... and maybe a little exhilarating.

The third time he saw her, there no injury involved whatsoever, which was refreshing. Of course, considering that he had called her and, upon discovering that she was new in town, offered to show her around, bloodshed would've been highly inappropriate and a more than little disconcerting.

It wasn't a date, though. It was just a friendly gesture and nothing more. At least, that was what he was telling himself – right up until he kissed her.

They had been walking on the part of the river that passed through Howard Amon Park. Up until then, they had been making small talk, telling a little bit about themselves. He learned a lot about her then; that she had just moved here, looking for a fresh start, that she had a little sister who was apparently brilliant, that she had an unhealthy addiction to frozen, caffeinated beverages.

After awhile, however, there was a lull in conversation, and they walked in silence as Buffy sipped her Frappuccino. She was making these little sighs of contentment as she drank, and it was very distracting.

He decided that now was the perfect time to do something friendly and completely platonic, like point out some of the park's features.

Unfortunately, she chose that exact moment to point at something on the other side of the river.

"Over there is the—"

"What's that—"

They managed to avoid crashing into each other, but the jerky movements caused Buffy's drink to go flying, and Samuel suddenly felt very cold as the front of his shirt was covered with frozen coffee.

"I'm so sorry!" she gasped as she looked down at his shirt, trying her best to brush the ice off of his shirt.

Samuel winced as the coldness seeped in even further. He caught her hand in his. "It's okay," he assured her.

They stared at each other for a moment, both suddenly realizing how close they were standing. And then he kissed her.

It was brief, spontaneous, and he pulled away almost immediately, a bit embarrassed. But he still felt it, that spark. By the faint blush on her cheeks, she felt it, too.

She was the first to recover. "Well, at least let me put some water on it," she reasoned, gesturing to a drinking fountain nearby.

"That's okay. It really isn't necessary," he said again.

She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Yeah, you mentioned that," she said dryly. "What's the matter, doc? Can't let people take care of you?"

She hit so much closer to the truth than she would ever know.

Nothing else happened that night. They parted with a friendly peck on the cheek – and even then he felt that burn.

That's when he had to admit it; he was drawn to her, plain and simple. And he didn't like it.

His attraction to her was absurd. He loved Mercy.

He wouldn't call Buffy again. It was too dangerous, for both of them.

Even if kissing her was one of the more interesting things he had done in his 700 years of existence.

Of course, this made the fourth time he saw her very awkward.

It was just a few days later at Tumbleweed, the annual folk festival he had been roped into performing at.

He had just stepped onto the stage when he spotted her – or rather, the flash of gold as the sun glinted off of her head. And yes, he was beginning to believe that he would recognize that blonde hair anywhere.

She was sitting off to the side near the back. Their eyes met, and she saw the surprise register on her face. Then she grinned and waved.

He supposed he should've been surprised to see her as well, but he was beginning to learn that, when it came to her, anything was possible.

He smiled back, but he couldn't help shooting a guilty glance at Mercy, who was sitting next to Warren and Kyle. And Hauptmann, who had his hand on Mercy's shoulder. It was just the wake-up call he needed.

When he finished playing, he saw that some people were waiting at the side of the stage for him, obviously wanting to speak with him.

Buffy was among them, though she was standing a little bit apart from the main group. To his surprise, she looked different, the smile on her face polite and friendly... and nothing more. Perhaps even a bit reserved. He didn't know whether he was relieved or disappointed. Perhaps a bit of both.

Regardless, Samuel headed straight for her, feigning ignorance to the others.

"That was incredible," she said as soon as he was within earshot.

He inclined his head. "Well, I have a fair bit of time to practice, seeing as my patients seem to run away," he quipped.

She winced a little in embarrassment. Still, her gaze never wavered. "I do what I can to support the arts," she said lightly. Then her eyes flitted to the side, back toward the crowd sitting on the grass. "If it helps, I think you're cuter. Anyway, I should go. But I just wanted to say hi... and good luck!"

Then with one last, somewhat strained, smile, she turned and walked away.

He turned and followed her gaze, wondering what she had seen. He felt a flash of embarrassment when he saw Mercy. She had noticed the whole exchange.

Someone else walked up to him then; some man in tie-dyed shirt, but Samuel couldn't hear what he was saying. He was too busy staring after Buffy.

He felt his wolf stir then, making his opinion on the situation known. The wolf wanted to protect what was his. He wanted Mercy. He wasn't going to give up. She was pack; she was his future.

But Samuel? Suddenly, inexplicably, he didn't know what he wanted. And it worried him.

Then he caught himself.

No, this was crazy. For all he knew, Buffy was just a passing fancy. Even if she wasn't, he had almost certainly screwed up any chance he had with her.

Then he and Mercy kissed the very next day – at a pizza joint of all places – and he felt nothing. No spark whatsoever. And neither did Mercy.

It was then he realized that he didn't love her, not that way. She was already his pack, not as a mate, but as his family.

His mind immediately went to Buffy.

Still, he didn't call. Even though Mercy wasn't meant to be his mate, it didn't mean that Buffy was.

A very, very small part of him admitted that he was too afraid to find out.

Samuel was in a foul mood for the next few days. It was only made worse when he realized that none of it was because of Adam and Mercy, who were essentially all but mated now.

No, to his frustration, he didn't begrudge them their happiness one bit; he almost pitied Adam because Mercy was going to keep the Alpha's head spinning until he didn't know which way was up anymore. And then she'd probably spin him around some more.

The fact that Samuel would be able to bear witness to this actually put a grin on his face – which meant that he couldn't blame them for his bad mood at all. It meant that something else was bothering him, something he didn't want to face.

He slipped back into his daily routine of living, in every sense of the word. He avoided speaking with his father, as the Marrok would instantly sense his state of mind. And he was singlehandedly ruining his reputation at the hospital as being the nice, charming doctor.

Even Mercy noticed. Oh, she didn't say anything, but he noticed that she made sure to steer clear of him.

That all changed on Wednesday, though, four days after the folk festival.

He came home from work that day, only to find a Frappuccino sitting on the table – with his name written on the napkin underneath. Just then, Mercy walked in.

"I smelled it on you a few weeks ago. It was the happiest I've seen you in awhile," she explained. Then she scowled. "Just don't be an idiot and mess it up."

He could've kissed her right then and there. He did, in fact, grinning as he imagined Hauptmann's reaction.

Grabbing the drink, he got in his car and drove until he reached a familiar apartment building. He stared up at it, suddenly feeling nervous like a schoolboy.

He had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.

Charles could never know about this, that much he knew. His younger brother would never let him forget this, and to a werewolf, never was a long time.

He got out of his car and walked up the steps, Frappuccino in hand. Then he rang the buzzer and waited.

He just hoped that the fifth time he saw her would be the charm.