Kitty Goes to War Page 24

Ben and I sat at the table, opened packages of food, and started eating. This was one of the things that made my human side twitch—the human side wanted to offer food to Tyler and Walters first, out of politeness. But to the Wolf, that would have meant handing over authority—alpha wolf ate first. So Ben and I started eating, and the others watched, which meant they were still willing to give me the authority.

“You two should come eat something,” I said after the first minute. I pushed one of the boxes to Tyler, who ducked his gaze and took up a skewer of meat. Walters gathered himself, hesitating and drawn to the meal at the same time. I left one of the skewers in front of the empty chair and didn’t look at him again.

Soon, all four of us were sitting around the table, having what from the outside looked like a normal meal. Success. Then, we talked. Just talked. I asked about favorite foods, bad restaurant experiences, hometowns, and families. Got them to open up a little—got them to ask questions. I wanted to show them that werewolves could have lives. I passed around cans of soda. Maybe next time we’d bring beer. I didn’t really trust them with beer just yet.

Eventually, the conversation came around to the elephant in the room: the supernatural, being a werewolf, and what else was out there.

“Vampires? There really are vampires?” Tyler said.

I forgot how little experience they had.

“Yup, there really are,” I said.

“I guess I figured they were real,” he said. “You turn into a werewolf and figure a lot of things must be real, right? But it’s weird. I never thought I’d actually meet one.”

“I can arrange that, if you want,” I said.

“I don’t know that I do,” Tyler said.

“They smell funny,” Ben said. “Kind of dead but not really.”

“You’d like Rick. He’s very easygoing, for a vampire,” I said.

“I still wouldn’t want to piss him off,” Ben said.

“No,” I agreed wryly.

“Do you run into a lot of this kind of thing? Vampires, rogue werewolves, whatever?” Tyler asked.

“Yeah, I kind of do,” I said.

“How?” he said. “I know you said you were attacked, but how? You don’t exactly look like the creepy supernatural type. Either one of you. You look like a typical yuppie couple. No offense.”

None taken. In fact, I was sort of flattered. Ben and I looked at each other, exchanging one of those familiar glances, all our history passing between us. Neither one of us had chosen this life. But we’d done pretty well with it, together.

“My cousin’s a hunter,” Ben said. “I was helping him out when I was attacked.”

“I had a really bad date back in college.” I shrugged. That statement covered so much that a detailed explanation just couldn’t.

Tyler looked as if he wanted to ask questions, to get elaboration, but he only shook his head. “I volunteered for this. But Captain Gordon—he didn’t tell us everything. Like how to deal with people. What to do when you don’t have anyplace to run.”

“I think he expected us all to come home together,” Walters said into his food. He’d raised his head to look at us, his expression mournful. Wounded, I decided. He was wounded. “He expected us to still be a pack. That he would still be taking care of us.”

I wanted to tell him everything was going to be okay, as if he were a little kid. So strange to see someone that tough and capable look that lost.

“Bad planning on Gordon’s part,” I said. “He should have spent a little more time teaching you to take care of yourselves. The whole pack thing… it can be a lifesaver. It can be supportive and amazing. But it can also be codependent as hell.”

“We were a family,” Tyler said. “That’s part of why the captain picked us. None of us have wives or kids. It was just us.”

“Thank goodness for small favors,” I muttered, not quite under my breath. These guys having kids would have added a whole other level of tragedy to the situation.

“It didn’t matter how much the captain explained, we still wouldn’t have known what to expect. Like this,” Tyler said. He wiped his hands on a paper napkin and pushed up his left sleeve. “What do you see?”

A really buff arm, with a rounded shoulder and well-defined biceps. The dark skin was smooth, unblemished even by goose bumps. I shrugged and said, “Your arm?”

“I had a tattoo here. Really nice, tribal—covered half my arm. We all had tattoos—names, unit badges, good-luck charms, usual army shit. Then Gordon turned me. When I woke up, there was a big ink stain on the sheet and no tattoo. That happened to all of us.”

“It healed,” I said. “Werewolf superimmunity—your body rejected the ink as a foreign object.” Good thing I hadn’t been thinking of getting one of my own.

“It was like being erased,” Tyler said. “Starting over with a clean slate. But it also felt like losing something. I lost something I thought was going to be part of me forever.”

I knew how he felt. Saying so would sound trite and probably not help much.

“Have you heard anything about Van?” Walters asked suddenly. “The doctor won’t tell us anything.”

I didn’t imagine Shumacher talked to them much, if ever.

“Vanderman you mean?” I said. “No. Not apart from his being charged with murder.”

Walters slumped. “It wasn’t him. I mean, not just him. He wasn’t in his right mind.”

“He still has to stay in custody.”

“He’s taking the fall for us,” Tyler said.

“I don’t think you should feel guilty,” I said.

“You’re so keen on helping us, you ought to be helping all of us,” Tyler said.

“We’re a pack,” Walters said, as if it was a mantra.

I started thinking this would have been easier with Vanderman included. If I could rehabilitate him, the others would follow. Then I remembered the look in his eyes, that killer instinct. If Tyler and Walters were going to function on their own, they had to do it without the alpha.

They were making progress here. They were talking. They weren’t panicking or raging or about to shape-shift. They were acting almost normally. I had to give them goals, keep them motivated. Distracted. We had to make progress.

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