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Her power precedes her, though Bran can hardly see her, can hardly smell her, past the layers of outerwear and the scent of cold she brings into the house with her.

Her scent becomes clearer as she sheds layer after layer -- blood and earth, sunshine and salt water -- handing them off to an uncharacteristically silent Mercy. He thinks he knows what this blond woman is, she who drove into Aspen Creek and straight to his home as confidently as any of his children, though he can only guess at who. Once Mercy leaves with the clothes, Samuel will keep her from returning to the room until Bran gives the all clear.

Bran watches as he leans against the back of an overstuffed low-backed chair, arms crossed over his chest and the toes of his bare feet kneading into the rug. If he thinks long enough, he can remember who gave it to him or made it for him, but that kind of looking back wasn't their way. The past could be an anchor that made living nearly forever an unbearable weight. There is more than enough in the here and now, more than enough to remember of the recent past, to keep him occupied.

The blond thanks Mercy as she hands the girl her last article of outerwear, a multi-pink striped knit hat with two pom-poms that match a pair of fingerless driving gloves, before giving her attention to the elephant in the room.


“Hi, there!” she had chirped at Charles when he’d opened the door to her insistent knocking. “It’s your friendly neighborhood slayer, here!"

Bran had instructed his son to let the girl in. Charles had silently stepped aside, allowing the young woman to all but bounce across the threshold, but didn’t actually welcome her in. That was when Mercy had almost magically appeared to take her things – and likely find an excuse to stick around.

"What brings a slayer to Aspen Creek?" Charles says as soon as Mercy has left. From where Bran watches, he can see that his son has unknowingly imitated his stance – arms crossed over his chest, toes of his bare feet pressed into the floor. There are no rugs where his son stands, the better to maintain traction for running human feet and wolf paws.

Bran had almost laughed at her greeting, recognizing the reference instantly, but he knows that Charles’ facade won't have cracked at all.

"Wow, tough room," the blond says, her face falling a little in disappointment. "Not a nerd?"

The evidence of which is in his son's continued silence.

The pretty blond slayer shrugs and Bran thinks she must be older than she looks to be so nonchalant. Charles has intimidated men and wolves three times her size, no matter that slayers can be a cocky bunch especially now that there are more than one of them. Which makes Bran snort.

The pretty blond peers around his son, noticing him for the first time. "Alright! Someone who gets my borrowed nerd-humor!"

"Actually I was thinking of 'There can be only one,'" Bran says.

Her face lights up and the other half of her scent -- sunshine and salt water -- comes to the fore. "I know that one! Highlander, right?"

Bran shares a smile with her. "Yeah, you know it?"

"A show starring a yummy former male model with a to die for accent, a mane of glory and a gorgeous sword? Xander and Andrew didn't even have to try very hard with that one."

"So I'm guessing you also like Xena?"

"Is it colder than a head cheerleader's coldest cold shoulder outside? Heck yeah!"

Bran chuckles at the pretty blond slayer's enthusiasm as Charles looks on, a distinct look of disapproval on his face. "If you two are finished."

Looking appropriately chastised, but amused nonetheless, the pretty blond slayer stops leaning around Charles. "Sorry. Good thing you stopped us when you did. Slayers have Very Definite feelings about the Warrior Princess."

Charles continues to stare at her.

"Not much of a talker, huh?" This she directs towards Bran, peering around Charles until she remembers herself. "Sorry!" she says, wincing. "We just discussed this."

"Why are you here?" is Charles' response.

The pretty blond slayer smiles. "Oh, y'know, just here to fetch our resident werewolf! Word on the street is that you have him." Her words are as perky as ever, but there is the undercurrent of steel that Bran is far more used to associating with slayers than this happy Valley Girl variant.

Bran can sense the tension in his son, although he seems to give no outward sign when he says, "And whose word would that be?"

"So you don't have him?"

"We do--"

"And is he okay?" her concern is genuine and immediate. It strengthens the salt water and earth in her scent. Whoever she is, beyond being one of the legion of slayers that now roam the Earth, her feelings about the wolf in their infirmary were personal.

Tell her whatever she wishes to know about the pup, Bran projects to Charles.

"He's been stabilized," Charles tells her.

The pretty blond pales. "So it was bad." She makes it a statement, but the stiff set of her shoulders declares that she wants Charles to tell her she's wrong.

"Our doctors believe he was gored by moose."

"What, seriously? Aren't they, like, vegetarians?"

"Half-ton vegetarians who tend to get nervous around large predators."

She scoffed. "But c'mon! They have grass teeth--"

"And large horns and sharp hooves. Even a deer can cause serious damage if given a reason."

A hand flew to her mouth. "Oz!"

Your brother would say you need to work on your bedside manner, he told his son as he pushed off from the overstuffed chair.

"We should let her see him," Bran says genially as he comes to stand beside his son. Charles dwarfs him, as he dwarfs most people, making Bran appear shorter and slighter than he is. He conveniently stands a half-step in front of his son -- enough so that Charles' Brother Wolf won't feel the need to defer to him without alerting the slayer before them.

"If he can be moved, I'd like to take him home," she says looking between the two of them.

Bran shakes his head. "Perhaps if he'd been able to keep his wolf form, but he shifted back on the way here."

She sucks in a sharp breath through her nose. "And you're sure a moose did this?"

Nodding, Bran says to Charles, "Didn't they find the animal not too far from where they found..." He looked at the pretty blond slayer again. "You said his name was Oz?"

She nods.

Charles inclines his head. "There were some slash marks on the animal but most of the blood was lobo."

The pretty blond swears and immediately apologizes. "Sorry! Sorry! I shouldn’t swear in front of strangers, especially when you've both been very kind. In your own way." She tries to smile at the crack, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

Bran extends an arm. "Let's go see your friend."

"Boyfriend, actually," she says with a smile that does reach her eyes. "So you see why I'm kind of Anxiety Girl. He was a good friend, though, before we made with the smooching." She covers her face with her hands, slowly pushing them up until the heels of both hands press into her eyes. “Sorry! I’m not usually a babbler. I think this is all starting to catch up to me.”

Bran steps forward slowly – a distraught slayer is no less unpredictable than the moose that harmed her…boyfriend – and gently wraps his hands around her forearms. If not for the sense of power that has been constant since she stepped out of her light jeep, he wouldn’t know that this pretty young woman was a fierce and deadly warrior. She is by no means his first slayer, however, so he’s not entirely surprised. Fragility was one of the slayers’ deceptive charms. That his hands wrap so completely around her arms is unexpected however, and part of him takes pity on this girl.

“You weren’t really in the neighborhood, were you?” he says when he can see her face again.

She shakes her head. “We’ve been tracking Oz since he dropped off the grid.”

“You’re probably hungry and tired, as well as Anxious Girl.”

She smiles, a little embarrassed, but seemingly also grateful that he understands. “Probably.”

Nodding slowly, ever aware that the pretty young woman in his hands may only be a child but is still a dangerous one, Bran says, “How about we see that young man of yours, then we’ll get some food.”

He glances back at his son. To the slayer it probably looks like he’s getting permission, but instead he silently instructs his son to have Leah or Mercy pull together light refreshment. Mercy and Samuel have been listening from the other room, so Bran is sure that it will be the pair of them. He hasn’t seen Leah all day.

“Thank you so much,” the pretty blond says with genuine feeling. “I really appreciate this.”

“Wolves take care of their own,” Bran says as he tucks her right hand into the crook of his arm. Something about his words or actions make her stiffen momentarily, but only for a moment.

When Bran leads her away from the interior of the house, she frowns and asks where they’re going. He chuckles. “I forgot for a moment that you aren’t as tolerant of the cold as we are. We’re getting right into a car, so you won’t need quite so many layers, but let’s get you dressed.”

“Yes, please! My California blood is too thin for all this mountain air.”

Bran chuckles again as he hands her into the mudroom. She’s more than halfway dressed in what she deems suitable for ‘going right into a car’ when Bran says, “You know, we don’t even know your name.”

“Really? Oops! Usually my watcher reminds me about that stuff,” she adds, blushing. “Please call me Anne. And you are?”

“Bran,” he says, watching her wind a scarf around her lower face, scenting that what she says isn’t completely true. Which part of it, however, remains to be seen.

Her eyes crinkle as she smiles behind the pink and cream knit scarf. “Our names go together. If you say it a certain way. Anne and Bran.”

“Bran and Anne.”

Her smile grows.

Bran tucks her right hand into his arm once again. “Let’s go check on your friend.” To his son he says, And while we’re at it, look up Anne the Vampire Slayer.