CoR Fix

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The Railyard, Warehouse
As a training ground, the railyard didn't leave as much to be desired as Rhetta might have expected. She didn't need much - mostly just open spaces and closed spaces and people to beat the hell out of until they learned to do it right and be worth the patch they were wearing, or hoped to be wearing. She'd work on that later.

As a home, though, well, that was something different. The railyard wasn't the Den, and it'd never be the Den no matter what happened with it. Maybe it'd be someone else's place, some day. Maybe some of those idiot pups, like Liam, maybe they'd feel that way about this place some day. For her, though, every corner she turned just felt foreign. It was the Bloodstones' place, but it didn't feel like theirs, not the way the Den had.

It made her irritable, much like everything else lately, with lately meaning the last five fucking years. Irritable was fine. She'd just have to channel that into whatever she ended up doing. Training up the idiot pups so that they could stand guard duty without-

-A breath left her, that she hadn't realized she was holding, the tension suddenly gone, her hands relaxing on the chair she'd been debating either moving aside to make space or throwing across the room, for much the same purpose.

He's here.

She knew. Of course she knew. It wasn't even conscious at this point - his scent was there, too, once she'd thought about it, but she'd known before she'd been aware of it. It went deeper than that, by now, something instinctive, raised up over the years just like she'd been.

She listened, silent, to the steps in the hall outside. His gait had changed. She knew that, too, because she should have recognized it but didn't. Like she'd been waiting to hear his footsteps, and now she could hear the ones that she knew were his, but they felt wrong - the wrong sound, the wrong place, the wrong time.

She didn't turn when he entered. Let him be the one who chose to face her first. Maybe he needed it. Maybe he needed something, someone, anyone - she should have been here. The air smelled like him, and it choked her, strangled her voice.

Baron. Eight years he'd been Baron, since he'd taken the pack. Five years she'd been gone, when she should have been here. And now things were different, and Ragenard was First, and Baron was...

She found a word, soft, from before all of that.

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Baron stood there silently watching Rhetta from the entryway. He could tell she knew he was there even before she spoke. She always knew when he was there. But he couldn't bring himself to take those last few steps. She, like the others, had trusted him with the direction he had taken the pack. And he had failed them. That one word that passed her lips damn near undid him.

"I meant to be there today," he said finally.

The turmoil that roiled through him did not reflect on his face, but Baron had long been a master of masking his feelings behind an outward facade of calm indifference. He had never been able to hide it from Rhetta though. In the past that did not bother him, but here and now...

The thought of her picking up on the guilt and anger -


The sound of the rifle reverberated through him like a shockwave. He could smell Vanessa's blood, hear her scrabbling against the pavement from the knife she had taken for him.

He had endured his share of pain and loss during his lifetime, and had never shied away from danger. He had skirted death more times than he could recall. None of it weighed on him like that night at the casino.

"I'm sorry I couldn't protect them," he said, his voice rough from the effort it took to get the words out.
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"Yeah." Yeah. "I meant for you to be there, too."

Harsh, but everything about this was harsh. Rhetta had never lied to him before, and she wasn't about to start now. If she turned around and looked at him, he'd be calm, outwardly calm, just like he always was. Appearances were distracting. She could feel the turmoil, the point where he'd almost flinched at something buried in there, where he'd controlled it by force of will.

More apologies. Everyone was sorry about the same damn thing. She turned at that, her eyes flicking over his shoulder, checking the hallway outside. She'd have known if someone were coming, but she still checked every time. It was just the two of them, though, and Rhetta finally let her eyes travel over him, wondering what of the past five years would be reflected on the outside, if anything.

"Xandre is sorry too. And everyone else. And me. It doesn't change a thing." A motion of her shoulder, not quite a shrug. A shrug was harder to get out of, if you needed to switch into action. Move like you mean to. Her dad had taught her that, way before any of all of this. He'd died for the Pack, just like so many others. He'd known it was coming. Some day, she'd do it too. It was just a matter of when, for all of them.

"Are you going to be sorry, or are you going to do something about it?"
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The thought lingered on his mind that it should have been him who killed Rowan. Who tore that fuckers throat out and watched him gasp and bleed out on the ground. He should have been with the pack when they moved against the Scions. He should have so many things, but she was right. Regret over the past wouldn't change anything about the present.

So for now, he let it subside. It was still there, beneath the surface. That raw anger that the Guiscard's where so well known for. But it was carefully tucked away until such a time that it would prove beneficial to unleash it.

"I went to see Colette," he said in response to her inquiry. "To get the lay of how things are out on the border right now. We are going to need more than reputation to stave off what is to come."

Blood in the water he thought to himself. So much blood in the water, and the sharks would be circling.

"Ragenard is handling things on the Iverian front," he added. "Most of the local gangs are too afraid to make a move yet, but they've been testing us. And eventually they will learn that they have the advantage in numbers. And that's if a bigger player hasn't been watching for an opportunity to make a move. We need to get them ready. Can you do that?"

He looked her dead in the eye, and there was a familiar intensity that raged behind that calm facade. One that said he would see the pack protected, whatever the cost.
Rhetta had made the same assessment about the idea that others were going to see them in a moment of weakness and do something more permanent about it. She'd mentioned it, that first moment back, with Sel and Xandre and Desmond. When Baron hadn't been there.

She had a feeling that particular scar was going to take a while to fade - but drawing attention to it wasn't going to do the Pack any good. Right now, they needed to be stronger than they were, and until they could manage that, they were at least going to have to fake it convincingly.

"I don't know." It was easier to focus on the doing than the thinking - it always had been. The answer probably wasn't what he'd hoped for, but she still hadn't lied to him. It wasn't the right time to start. "They're young. I can work with that. They don't know what the hell they're doing. I can work with that, too. But they're scattered, and that's an issue. People don't see this place the way we saw the Den. You remember."

She remembered. She remembered begging her dad to take her in when she was a tiny little girl in pigtails. She remembered sitting in the corner of some of those rooms, doing her schoolwork slowly because she was too busy watching what everyone else was doing. She remembered getting old enough to sneak over there on her own and feeling like she had every right to be there, and she remembered that once her dad had died, people had stopped telling her to go home and just let her be. The Den was home.

And the Railyard was a shithole. Sure, the Den had been a shithole too, to some extent, but it was their shithole and that made a big difference.

"I'm not a leader." She'd never really needed to be. Little things, sure. Easy things. The last thing she'd led had been that easy little operation that had ended in a complete clusterfuck and gotten her and Sel behind bars for five years - what the fuck kind of a track record was that?

"Guess I'll figure it out." There sure as hell didn't seem to be much other choice, and if that's what he needed, then she'd do it, because all he'd ever needed to do was ask.

"Baron- -James..." Fuck. Neither felt right. Her eyes had been on him the whole time, but they sharpened, piercing.

"Who do you want to be?"

Had anyone asked him, these last two weeks?
"You're a survivor," Baron countered as he met her gaze unwaveringly in return. "There's not many of us left, from the old days. We owe it to the younger ones, to see that they can survive what's coming, before we're gone too and they're left to face the consequences of our decisions. You should be asking them that question."

The question did give him pause though. What did he want to be? Pack Leader? To be the one to lift them up out of the life Mathis had created for them? No... those had all simply been the means to an end. At the core of it all, he had simply sought to protect the pack, and to not become Mathis.

"When I came to, Everyone expected that things would simply go back to how they where before. But every shark in the water would have smelled blood. They would have been clambering over each other to try and take me out in a bid to destabilize the pack further. I would have become a vulnerability to them. Ragenard is what the pack needs right now. But while I fully expect that bastard to out-live every last one of us, he can't protect them all. So we train them."

There was something resolute in those words.
"Hmh." Survivor. What the actual fuck.

Rhetta's parents had died for the pack. Her dad, at least, had known it was coming, and gone anyway, because Mathis had asked him to. If Baron had wanted a sacrifice, she'd have been there, no hesitation. She knew it. He knew it.

He'd asked her for something completely different, and she... she'd never refused him before, and she wasn't going to start now. Not with that. Not with...

She was too much of a bitch to drop her eyes, so they stayed where they were, right on his, even if it was uncomfortable. Maybe it was supposed to be uncomfortable. Maybe it was better that way. So she waited, and she listened: would have, would have, would have. He was saying what he should. It made sense. Of course it did.

Rhetta pushed herself off the chair, finally deciding to close the distance between them.

"That is a whole fucking lot of not an answer, James Guiscard." James, not because it felt right, but because it felt wrong, and it had better fucking feel wrong right now. Only now did her eyes shift, and only to check over his shoulder, make sure they were alone, before they returned to his and her voice lowered. "You still want it."

Not because it was the right thing to do, but because he wanted it. Just that. But he was putting the Pack first, just like he always had, just like they always would - and so it'd be Rage, because he was the right choice right now. Not Baron.

That was why it had to be James - because if she went back to Baron, it'd all fall apart. Maybe not. Maybe he could hold it together - but it'd muddy things, if it got too obvious that-

-that what?

-That she'd still fucking take her orders from him, that was fucking what.

Fine. Right now... right now that meant Ragenard, and half a pack that didn't know what the hell they were doing. Train them.

Rhetta gave him a little nod, acknowledgement of the order of things, already contemplating.

"Train him."

It wasn't so much a correction as an addendum. Him - Ragenard - who'd probably thought he was safely out of this leadership mess and had now gotten thrown to the front of it. Him - Ragenard - who most of the pack had expected to take over the pack instead of Baron, but who'd thrown in and supported his brother anyway. Him - Ragenard, who was going into this with a fractured pack and blood all around them, the rest of the Lutetian gangs probably already circling.

Him, and all the rest of them.
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