Bran silently made his way through the halls of the hospital. He made no effort to hide but knew people would overlook him anyway. Unless someone really focused on him, he went unnoticed. An extremely long lifetime of practice ensured his invisibility . . . he chuckled to himself, thinking of the times Mercy had poked holes in his well-rehearsed humanity. She was always quick to point out the flaws . . . thinking of her, his reason for being in this hospital, he felt the humor drain out of him. Once again, his little coyote had escaped death – cheated it really – by the narrowest margin possible.
After leaving Adam at the hospital to mourn in private, Samuel had called Bran. Speaking in hushed tones, Samuel had explained the last twenty-four hours, speaking quickly in rushed fragments, ending his tale with the current state of things – Guayoto was gone, Mercy managed to send it back to the Canary Islands, but in doing so had gotten herself killed – as good as killed. Her death was only a matter of moments.
Thinking back on that conversation, Bran paused, leaning heavily against the hallway wall. He backed the beast down with a violent force. The memory was a painful one – surprisingly painful for both man and beast – and even though they now knew Mercy was going to recover, the thought of her death left them both in a rage he did not trust he could control.
Shaking his head, Bran once again started walking toward her hospital room. How did he allow her to become so important, so essential to him? Mercy was mortal. The word left a bitter, metallic taste in his mouth. Bran realized, more than any of his fellow werewolves, that even with their healing abilities, strength and magic most of them were short-lived too. But unlike those wolves who were killed, Mercy's mortality was inevitable; a werewolf's quick death was avoidable. Like Bran, if they lived smart – careful – they could live indefinitely. No such option was open to Mercy, even if she managed to live smart (Hah!) or careful (not a chance!), she would still grow old and die in the blink of his eye.
And yet, in spite of her mortality, he cared. He cared deeply and fiercely. He could claim that he tried not to care but the truth of it is, the first moment her coyote had growled at him and attacked his ankles, he had known she belonged to him. Watching her yank on his pant leg, something inside him had calmed. The beast within him felt delight and amusement – he had not known his beast had a sense of humor . . . yes, Mercy was his. Still . . . he would lose her one day – had almost lost her a few days before . . .
Bran did not realize he was standing in front of the door to her room until it swung open. Adam stood in the doorway, looking slightly surprised to see him on the other side. Adam stepped aside and held the door to allow Bran to enter the room.
"I was just heading down to the cafeteria to grab something for Mercy and me. Can I get you anything?"
After a quick survey of the room, Bran's eyes fixed on the young woman lying unconscious in the hospital bed. Without looking away from Mercy, Bran gave a slight shake of his head. Bran did not trust himself to look at Adam. He knew his feelings were irrational but he blamed the other wolf for Mercy's current state – for leaving her open to the creature who did his best to kill her.
The Beast wanted out. He wanted to rip and tear and rend until this young pup was in shreds. He failed to protect Mercy. He had left her unprotected and vulnerable. He had allowed Guayoto to get ahold of her and . . .
Bran took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He had to stop that train of thought or he was going to lose the tentative grasp he had on his control. He stretched his neck and forced himself calm. What more could Adam have done? The reality of the situation was, put in that position, Bran would have made similar choices. Adam had kept Mercy as safe as she would let him. Mercy had chosen to take on Guayoto instead of doing the sensible thing and running. Like all those who learned to care about Mercy, Bran would once again have to accept her in all her foolhardy glory.
A little calmer, Bran forced himself to look at Adam. To outsiders who did not know the alpha, Adam looked calm and put together. But Bran saw through that practiced exterior to the man underneath. He looked like shit and something about that fact cheered Bran.
Adam was looking at Mercy, his expression, layered under the exhaustion that comes from days without sleep, was full of love and amusement. "They still have her on some killer pain meds, so she sleeps a lot." He smirked and shook his head a little, "and when she's awake she's pretty incoherent."
Bran moved to the side of the bed and sat down on the chair placed there. He resisted the urge to reach out and grab her hand, unwilling to expose too much of himself in front of another wolf.
"Don't let me keep you," he told Adam without looking away from Mercy, "I'll keep watch until you return."
Recognizing Bran's comment as the dismissal it was, Adam's wolf wanted to remind the old man just who Mercy belonged with – she was his mate, a member of his pack. Luckily, Adam's human side recognized Bran's comment as the request for a moment alone with the child he almost lost. Adam left the hospital room quickly before his wolf had a chance to wrestle control from him.
Bran barely registered the door closing behind him. Alone with Mercy, he suddenly felt awkward and slightly self-conscious – two emotions he was not used to experiencing. He fidgeted in the hard plastic chair, unable to get comfortable. He shook his head, forcing himself to admit that his discomfort had nothing to do with the chair under him and everything to do with the site in front of him.
Mercy was so still, so small . . . and silent . . . Mercy was never silent – even when she was biting her tongue, her body language spoke volumes, shouting her anger, frustration, amusement . . . laying in the hospital bed, her body was as silent as her mouth. The quiet of the room seemed eerie.
Hearing footsteps outside the room, Bran looked up in time to see a young Native American man he did not know strut into the room. The young man was looking out into the hallway, so he did not see Bran until he was completely in the room.
"You know, I could have sworn I saw the old man wandering the halls." He turned as he spoke, stopping short when he noticed Bran. He stood, staring at Bran for a moment. "Hey, you're not Adam – who're you?"
A growl escaped Bran before he could reign in his temper. He did not handle challenges well in the best of circumstances – and this moment was not the best of circumstances. The beast roared to the surface, prepared to rip this boy into shreds. Before he lost all sense of control, his brain finally caught on to what his nose was telling him – coyote. The strong scent of coyote filled the air and it was not coming from Mercy. So this young man was the other coyote about whom Samuel had told him.
"Bran," he answered curtly, not trusting himself to say more.
"Ah, that explains it." The young man pulled a chair over to the other side of the bed and casually sat in it, propping his feet up on the edge of Mercy's bed. "She wake up at all?"
Bran was shocked by the man's relaxed attitude. Even humans, most of whom have trained themselves to ignore even the loudest of their instincts, tended to be on guard around Bran when he was angry. Most beings sensed how dangerous he was, even if he kept himself under strict control. But this man either did not understand the danger – or did not care. Not trusting himself to speak, Bran shook his head in response to the man's question.
"I just stopped by on my way out of town to see for myself that she really is gonna make it – I gotta tell you, I have never seen anyone as bad off as all that who lived to tell the tale." He stared at Mercy for a minute before adding, "Guess the old man has his uses."
He dropped his feet to the floor and leaned forward, getting closer to Mercy than Bran was comfortable. "She looks better – not great, not even good – but still." With that, he leaned back in his chair and looked over at Bran. "If you and her hubby can manage to keep her out of any more major scrapes, she might make it a century or two." He paused and glanced back at Mercy's broken body, frowning. "But I doubt any of you are able to manage much about her."
With that, he stood up and brushed his hands down his jeans, as if knocking dust or dirt off of them. Then, he leaned over and kissed Mercy on the forehead, whispering about keeping in touch and seeing each other soon . . . Bran barely heard. He barely registered the young man saying goodbye or walking out the door . . . he had no idea how many minutes passed as he sat there trying to comprehend what he had heard – century or two – what had that man meant? Surely he was exaggerating, using an idiom for the passage of a human lifetime.
He looked up to see Adam standing there. Adam looked alarmed and spoke in rapid fire, "Bran, are you alright? Did something happen with Mercy? Did she wake up?"
Bran slowly held up his hands to stave off the questions and Adam fell silent. "You just missed Mercy's brother," Bran kept his voice low and casual.
Adam looked surprised and a little amused. "He's still in-state? I thought he left hours ago." He looked over at Mercy, heavily medicated in the bed, wires and tubes running out of her. "Guess he wanted one last look for himself." For a moment, Adam's face flashed with pain and grief, "she looked pretty rough the last time he saw her."
"What did he mean about Mercy?" Bran asked quietly, trying to keep his tone calm and neutral.
Adam looked puzzled, "why, what did he say? What's going on with Mercy?"
Bran stood up and paced over to the only window in the room. Staring into the glass, he could see his own reflection looking back at him. He hoped he did not look as crazed to Adam as he did to himself.
"He mentioned something about Mercy making it for a century or two – what does that mean?" Bran could hear the hope in his voice and prayed Adam didn't. He could see Adam's face reflected in the window, so he was able to see the joy as it spread across it. Bran spun around to look at Adam.
"Ah that," Adam began, smiling, "well, it seems that Coyote's direct descendents – his true children – gain a bit of an advantage in the aging process. I'm not sure how old Gary – Mercy's brother is– he wasn't very specific about his age – but it's well over a century."
Bran felt something close to pain as joy and relief and excitement rushed through his body. He could feel it coursing through his veins like lightening, shocking his system. It must have shown on his face – and every other part of him – because Adam looked a little alarmed and held up a warning hand.
"Let's not forget this is Mercy we are talking about. She is still bound to get herself killed in any number of ways long before she reaches the century mark. Hell, at the rate she's going, she'll be lucky if she reaches forty."
Bran found himself clenching and unclenching his fists, trying to expel his sudden rush of excess energy. He couldn't shake the high this news had given him. "Still . . . ," he began but then realized he didn't have the breath to continue.
Adam smiled at him, one of his bright, lights up the room smiles. "Sill . . ." he repeated. And then both of them laughed.