Kitty Goes to War Page 21

I wanted to sit. I wanted us all to sit around the table, but that wasn’t going to happen. Tyler was pacing along the back wall; Walters was crouched on the cot, gaze darting between us. Trying to decide which of us was the alpha. I stood so I could stay at their level; sitting would have put myself lower than Tyler at least, and would have called my dominance into question. Werewolf pack bullshit. But it mattered and I couldn’t ignore it. Hands on the back of a chair, staying as relaxed as I could manage, I watched them.

They smelled wild and terrible; the room stank with the scent. All werewolves, even in human form, smelled a little wild, a hint of fur and musk touching their otherwise human bodies. These two smelled more wolf than human. More than that, though, they smelled frightened, thick with adrenaline and uncertainty.

What did I tell them? That they should at least try to overcome the instincts to fight and run? That life—a human life—was worth living? They needed therapy, and I was vastly unqualified to be a therapist. Especially when Ben was right and I ought to be getting a little therapy myself. But who else was going to help them? Who else could begin to understand?

“Tyler, sit down,” I said. “Please. You’re driving me crazy.”

He looked at me, shot me a skin-searing glare—then ducked his gaze and slouched into one of the chairs across the table. I was amazed; I tried not to show it. Happy with that little victory, I let Walters continue hunkering. I didn’t want to press the cornered wolf, as it were.

“Well,” I said. “What’s next?” Thinking out loud more than anything. I didn’t have to do anything but listen to them talk. That’s what therapists did, right? If only.

“Van should be here,” Tyler said.

“He’s not. I’m sorry,” I said curtly.

“We’re a pack. We should be together,” Tyler said.

“That’s your wolf talking. You have to take care of yourselves right now. Vanderman hasn’t done a very good job looking after you, has he? He hasn’t been a very good alpha. That’s what got you all into this mess in the first place.”

“What do you expect us to do?”

“Talking’s a good start.”

Tyler’s body language was nearly human. He was slouching unhappily, but his attention was on me. He was leaning on the table, his fingers laced together. Not clenched like claws. Walters, on the other hand, was almost cowering. I could see the ghosts of ears pinned back and a tail clamped close to his body. There was the kind of deference a canine showed because he was offering respect to a leader. Then there was the kind of deference he showed because he thought he was going to get smacked down. Because he didn’t know what was going on, and he was afraid. Walters hadn’t said a word, yet. He just kept staring at me. If I could break that stare, I might be able to shake him.

“I respect your loyalty to Sergeant Vanderman. But if you want to go home, if you don’t want to end up locked in a cell for the rest of your lives, you’re going to have to let him go and move on.”

“It’s not right,” Tyler said. “It feels like abandoning him.”

“Is this some army ‘leave no man behind’ thing?” I said, trying to keep my temper—and sarcasm—in check. The last thing the room needed was more aggression.

“You don’t understand.”

“What Vanderman did to Yarrow, Crane, Estevan—how does that fall into the philosophy? Isn’t that leaving someone behind?”

Walters got up and started pacing, just a few feet along the back wall. I ignored him. Let him work off the nervous energy; I could only keep these guys calm by staying calm myself.

I continued. “Captain Gordon seems like he was a good guy. It sounds like he really took care of you. Vanderman shows all the signs of only caring about the power, without any of the responsibility. Now, I don’t know how much you really know about werewolves, how much Gordon really taught you. But it’s not just supposed to be about the power and playing follow-the-leader. You still have to at least try to be human, if you want to keep living with people.”

“We’re not people,” Tyler said in a rough voice.

That made my stomach sink. I held on to my sanity by clinging to the belief that I was human—maybe a different kind of human with some wacky supernatural problems going on, but human all the same, with a husband, a job, a mortgage, a family, and all the other good stuff.

If Tyler didn’t believe he was human and a part of human society, what chance did he have?

“Did Gordon warn you?” I said. “Did he tell you what it was like before he did this to you?”

Tyler winced, as if he was trying to remember something he’d forgotten—or that the remembering was difficult. “It seems like such a long time ago now. But he didn’t talk about this. He said he would always be there, he said he’d look after us. We’d always be a pack.”

Nobody should ever make that kind of promise.

“What did he say to you guys to recruit you into this? How did he convince you that this was a good idea?”

“We had a job to do in Afghanistan. An impossible job. We didn’t have the tools, the resources. But Gordon—he had a way. Of course it wasn’t easy, but if you have the chance to get the job done—if you have the ability—you take it. He promised to make us strong—unbeatable. And he did.” Tyler raised his gaze and set his jaw, determined.

I wondered if part of the problem with Vanderman was that the pack never accepted him as a replacement for Gordon. They—or at least Tyler—still saw Gordon as their alpha. Their captain. Vanderman couldn’t take over, but he was too strong for the others to dominate.

Walters slouched now, arms crossed, still hunched in on himself. But I got the feeling he was listening to me.

I leaned on the back of the chair. “I had to ask, because I didn’t want to become a werewolf. I didn’t get a choice. I have a hard time understanding why anyone would ask for this.” The only situations I’d seen where I could even begin to understand involved life-threatening illnesses—if the alternative was dying, why not become a werewolf?

After a moment, Tyler said, “That’s rough. I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks. But you know, moving on.”

“You think it’s that easy? Just move on?” Tyler said, with a harsh chuckle.

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