The Extra Mile 

He had finally FOUND THEM.

Iago knew, in theory, he could have easily texted Alex and asked her where her and her little happy band had holed in up Red Rock, exactly, but that took most of the fun out of it. Part of it had been wanting to come across it on his own. He hadn't avoided Red Rock at all since it had come under the collective bear/coyote sway, but... he'd also been spending a lot less time out here in general. For other reasons.

But with an afternoon off (the stupidly chill weather heralding the end of outdoor carpentry season), and nothing else immediately dragging for his attention with daylight still strong, he'd gone for a little drive around, hitting paths through the great stretches of long road he normally didn't take.

So here he was, basically the middle of nowhere (nowhere being Red Rock), and he was 95% certain the reason he had been beaten to death by the scent of coyote the moment he'd stepped out of his subaru was because this was where they had established themselves. It was difficult not to get excited. Did they man the gas station themselves? That was actually pretty brilliant. Interesting!

He was going in! And if for some reason he couldn't make a friend (or reconnect with one he felt he already had!) he could at least get snacks. Because that was practically as important. He felt (and looked) supremely peppy.


 She knew that smelly-smell, that smelly smell that smelt like a lion or whatever. More than just a scent, but that was a whole new sort of feeling that was hard to describe much less identify. It was just there, light any other sense - as if she'd had it from birth. And she supposed in an artsy-fartsy sort of way being turned was like rebirth and - whatever. She minimized the tab for Pinterest on the computer because she definitely wasn't looking up home DIY's on company time.

But also - she was the boss, so ...

 What, or rather, who walked through the door was familiar enough that she doubled over the counter, elbows propped on it as she grinned. "Excuse me, I require all peasants to curtsy when they enter my domain, Iago."

Could a man glow to death? Cause he was going to. Something about her had changed since the last time he'd been graced with her presence--the fight night having been what it was--but he should have known, considering. A mighty, queenly presence that made the lion walk softly even as Iago wasted zero seconds on closing in on the counter.

But before he got there, it seemed, gasp, she was letting royalty go to her head. Buckling down on a grin, he stopped and folded, one arm out and the other hand to his chest as he offered her her dues. Only, only, because he considered her a friend and he didn't think for a moment she was serious.

Back upright, hands going for the counter--or rather, her arms on the counter, to clasp at her in warm greeting with two sets of clipped digits. "I didn't think I'd be lucky enough to find you here, Alex!"

 She laughed when he didn't take offense, the corners of her eyes scrunching as he bowed and she turned her arms so that she could squeeze his hands briefly in turn. It was a quiet afternoon (not that surprisingly in Red Rock, really) so she felt no need to be terribly discreet. "I work a lot of the day shifts - owners bonus, I don't get to come in to close." And she couldn't very well protect any of them from any potential undead threat if she couldn't leave the counter.

Looking down at their hands, she held his up, slid away from the old of the other and lifted her brows. "Look at you - you trying to blend in all of a sudden?"

Owner bonus. Seriously, he'd already known, but to see her in her own place, doing this thing and being Queen!! was huge after she'd seemed so down on band parties back in December. That was how it had been, right? That was how he remembered it, anyway. But what he'd witnessed at the Cage told him she had plenty of support now.

But then she had his hand and was questioning it. Because she got it. She knew. This wasn't his way. He frowned. "Afraid so. I have a roommate that I can't properly bullshit. The teeth are bad enough."

 She let him go, kept her grip light at any rate so that he could slip away whenever he pleased. "A human?" Dipping her voice low at any rate, her brows lifting in a brand of concern that was purely friendly in nature. "Last time I had one of those I ended up fucking it up real bad, just a friendly warning."


He heard her loud and perfectly clear because it was the alarm bell that lived with him constantly! Advice that would have been good to heed, that he would have loved to in so many ways. He was lucky to have reason to be at home so little as he was, but there were times it still felt like a gamble.

So that pouty frown persisted. "Bad news, he's my brother and he was sleeping in his fucking truck."

 She smirked, picked up her bottle of water from the shelf just below the countertop and took a sip. "Well that sounds like a whole ordeal of a story, Iago." And she would leave it at that, resist the idea of pushing for more as she set the bottle back down once she screwed the cap on halfway. "Anything else exciting happen since we last spoke?" Wait, how do you explain pointy teeth to your human brother???

He brought his sad, sad unsharp hands back to himself, and shrugged with a reblossomed smile. Yeah. It was a story alright! Not one he was super into telling because it had tried to kill him in the early phases, but maybe to Alex he would have at least complained a little if she'd wanted him to. But she was asking after much happier things, so! No reason to dwell on the drunk he let sleep on his couch.

"Well! Hmm," yes, huge things, but he wasn't in the business of throwing open the doors of his private life, much as being able to gush to someone might have been fun. "I saw you at fight night with your crew. But did you see me with mine?"

 "Uh ..." There was a slight hitch to her voice, a little wobble as she squinted as if her memory was particularly atrocious. "I don't think so? But in my defense, it was chaotic in there and I was pretty focused on not getting my ass kicked in front of everyone." Her sinuses felt a little clearer in that moment, some sort of phantom pain left behind from a broken nose that had been a bitch to heal.

"You guys thinking of going official?"

He wasn't offended that she hadn't seen them. Maybe a little disappointed that she might not have seen him earn his concussion from Ingrid, but also maybe his pride could stand to not have everyone know about that. He chuckled.

"There's just three of us, so... I mean, we're about as official as we can get right now." So much so that he'd just recently agreed to it outright, even if Sokol had... well, right now was not the time to reflect on Sokol's offer to put brakes on the whole operation just for Iago's comfort. It still twinged something funny in his chest.

 "Well if you got one another on speed dial and you'll show up if shit hits the fan, I consider that pretty fucking official, Iago." Unsure if he was being modest or sincere but willing to let sleeping lions lie, or whatever. "I'm happy for you - everyone should have people." Feeling weird saying it considering everything but believing it all the same.

Honestly, it was about as official as he needed it to be, and her reassurances kept him feeling very light about the whole thing. "Everyone," he agreed. "And I couldn't ask for better than mine." Even Ingrid, as much as they were strangely at odds but also not... Well, the way he favored Sokol certainly evened things out.

"I actually met one of them out here in Red Rock, months back. I think he was scouting the place but we've been going further out south during the full moon since you guys moved in."

No hard feelings, just conversation.

 She busied herself by organizing disposable lighters in neat little rows by pattern when he went on to mention Red Rock. Stifling the impulse to warn him that there was a mutual agreement between her and Cliff that three would be a crowd. "Any specific spot got your eye these days?" Whether they were thinking official or not, it wouldn't hurt to know.

"Sokol's thinking Larkspur. Honestly, I'm just along for the ride as far as all those decisions go."

Unless something he was completely and utterly against came up (unlikely), Iago knew how to stay in his lane of indifference. He stood up a little straighter and went to a nearby rack to give some jerky a good, considering stare of is this what I need in my life right now.

 Ah, Larkspur. There was still a weird divide of feeling there - the sense that it was home, at one time. A protect impulse that wasn't hers to feel, not anymore. She smiled instead, pleased that he walked away and distracted himself with jerky so that she could work through that little stumble. Hadn't the raccoon forever back said something about ...? She was probably making shit up in her own mind.

"I liked Larkspur while I lived there - always something to do." Also, Sokol - helluva name. "You guys decide that's king of the hill, I take it?"

It was a nice little brownie point in favor of Larkspur, for all Iago had spent very little time there and felt nothing towards it at all outside of this one single fact of it maybe being home sometime. Probably. If Sokol didn't change things around, which... who knew, maybe he would! Anything could happen these days.

"Sokol, yes, I think he's the only one who wants the title," he chuckled, pulling a package of sweet and hot jerky from the stand. That was his, coming with him, thanks. "Suits him, and I'm happy to follow him and Ingrid... well, I think she just likes the idea of stability. Good lady, though."

She'd grown on him, even if they had trespassed on each other a few times.

 "Ingrid, Sokol, and Iago - that sounds like a dapper bunch." Sincere as she made note of the vacuum-sealed pack of meat he had in hand. "There's six of us, including me. For the longest time though it felt like it was just me and the girl who gnawed on me." Before Larkspur, before everything. And while she was happy with how things had turned out - while she wouldn't go back for anything, it still felt weird to say.

"They'll start coming out of the woodwork, you guys will see."

A dapper bunch of foreign lions in the mountains in Colorado... it sounded unreasonable if he was being honest, but it was the facts. He tried to wrap his mind around the idea of six lions--or more!--someday, but he almost couldn't do it. The three of them had come to a point where it felt right, so even if they needed the numbers, would welcome more... It was an idea that nearly perplexed him.

"It sounds incredible really. Do you all get along?" Iago wasn't one to worry about people so much, he could find a way to get along with most. But he'd seen how ego could hurt people in a pride first hand. What would have been tolerable and escapable outside of the confines of a group became the sort of thing that got under your skin when you couldn't simply say 'see you never.'

 "I mean if you're asking if we end out full moons in a dog pile in the middle of the offal, no." There was little point in trying to sell Iago on a romanticized version of a reality he might actually be living very soon. "But no one hates anyone's guts, so that's good. We're all at least friendly with one another and that's really all I can hope for."

Her denial of the storybook version of group life made him snicker as he wandered down another aisle not far off, either. In search of Oreos, if he was being honest. He could have gone for something seasonal if they had it, but hey... he supposed he was stuck with the standard, it looked like, as that was all that sat on the shelf at the moment. Hardly a tragedy, but still!

"Friendly is a place to be. I think that's Ingrid and me, if we're being honest. Not hanging out any other time than when the lions want it, but doing alright when we do."

Did he want that to be better? More genuine? He wasn't actually sure, still working on the concept of... connecting with people for real.

 She didn't watch him as closely as she would most people, less concerned about him getting sticky fingers - trusting he wasn't dumb enough to try it. The open way in which he shared names and relationships was humbling and strange to her, a set of cards she personally preferred to keep a bit closer to her chest. "I take it that you're more friendly with, uh,...." Well, it certainly hadn't been a Ben or a Mike.

 "Soko ..." Her voice dropped a bit without really meaning to as she tested the name. "But, I mean, that's good - really that's what matters most, that you get along well with the person who will be looking out for your ass first and formost."

More friendly was one way of putting it. That much he'd keep to himself, even if it put a smile on him he couldn't help, even as he plucked an orange soda from the fridge area in the back and then started back up towards her, apparently having claimed enough. "If I didn't get along with him I probably wouldn't consider the whole thing at all." But hey, that was behind him, weirdly enough.

Setting his three items on the counter before her, he really took a moment to look at her.

"You enjoying watching out for yours?"

Maybe he'd come back around sometime, see if he could identify them all over time. You know, for fun.

 It was an interesting spread of junk food, she'd give him that - not really a combination she personally thought as palatable, but that wasn't really all that important in the long run of things. Hitting the space bar to wake the register she started scanning, grinned as she looked him in the eye - enough so that she flashed teeth.

"You know what? Yeah, I do."

"¬°Muy bien! I think that's probably the key. Not that I know shit about leading anyone anywhere, but... it makes sense. More of... doing what you love, just from the top."

He met her gaze, still feeling energetic. Her progress was something to behold. To see where they'd both stood ten months ago, compared to now. Well, it was a reminder that they were never stuck in the lulls.

 She supposed when you pared it down to the bare minimum, that's what it all came down to in the end. She enjoyed helping, enjoyed what she was - liked the idea that she could pay back some of the good she'd stolen. Maybe not enough to make it right - but enough to ... soften the blow? She nodded all the same, cleared her throat and read off his total as she went through the motions.

"Don't be a stranger, Iago - alright?"

He paid her in cash, still prowling smiles territory. She had been his first big contact here, the one that had made him certain there were probably things out here for him. A brief initial encounter that he hadn't forgotten, even when other things had come along to take so much of his time and attention. He did consider Alex a friend, assumed she felt the same, for all their lives didn't intersect all that much.

"Never," he promised her as he straightened up and gathered his purchases. "I know where you are now, after all. Maybe another fight sometime, eh?" And he would move to take his leave, foodstuff shoved under one arm as he waggled his fingers at her in a parting gesture.

 "Sure I'll wipe the floor with you." She leaned into the counter when he turned to leave and called after him with the same grin still stuck across her face. "All I need is a time and a place!" Spirits a little lifted from the whole encounter, really.

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