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Animaux prédateurs

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“Do I remind you of him?”

Oh, transparent baby. “You don’t remind me of anyone but yourself,” Kate says, smiling and stamping down her reflexive rage. It’s good for Derek to be thinking like a jealous mate. It’ll keep him focused on outside threats.

.

Derek has an unfortunate habit of feeding her lines. It’s like he thinks she’s a flimsy little high school girl that he needs to fool by pretending to be tender and emotional, like he’s trying to coax her into giving him what she’s already giving him. There’s something grotesque and almost offensive about it, like seeing an ape dressed in a suit, trained to grimace in a fake smile that only serves to display how inhuman its bared teeth are. She does her best to discourage it.

.

A pack of wild wolves is one thing. They’ll try to take down livestock if it’s a bad game year, and the lone, raggedy ones will slink close to farmhouses to get chickens, but they generally prefer to keep to themselves, running a wide, respectful perimeter around humanity.

It’s the feral dogs you have to watch out for, especially when there are enough of them to form packs. There’s no natural wariness left in them. They’ll steal, kill pets, and maul a grown man for a hamburger; they consider the territory shared.

.

The op turns into a total clusterfuck. Kate picks up a kid’s sneaker just beyond the tree line and tracks the littlest Hale’s escape trail for three miles through the damp woods until it ends in a bloodbath beside the most enormous tree stump she’s ever seen outside of a redwood forest. This time of year, the temperature drops precipitously after sun-down, so she’s shivering in a sweat-damp thermal shirt as she shines her flashlight over the gouges in the earth, trying to figure out what the hell happened. She finally decides to pack it in before she loses something to exposure, goes out again at first light to take a better look, and spends the entire day in the woods without finding the fucking stump again.

As if that weren’t enough, the uncle ends up in the hospital instead of dead outright, and she turns out to have disastrously mispredicted the other two children as well. The eldest is with Derek when the alpha power hits her, which apparently provides enough of a steadying influence that instead of wilding out and making herself an easy target, they disappear together without a trace. Kate leaves her second-best guy in town, with an eye on the hospital, but as the weeks go by, it becomes clear that the two of them are either dead somewhere, or never coming back.

.

I had a fiancé, but he died, Kate told Derek when he asked, because it was the truth, because it made her look sweet and vulnerable, provided a good cover for the heartfelt declarations she wasn’t enough of an actress to fake, the callousness that showed sometimes. She could tell that Derek liked those things about her; it excited him that she could be cruel. He probably thought it made them a good match.

Sometimes, even now, she wakes in the dead of night from dreams about Jake. Sometimes in the dream, he turns into Derek, or Derek into him, or they’re the same person, streaked with soot and gore, blubbering and pleading the way Jacob did at the end, after they’d wiped away the blood and seen the raggedy moon of punctures: Please, Katie-Kate, honey, don’t, I swear I’d never hurt anybody.

I think we both know that’s not true, Kate usually says, and fires.

.

“I don’t understand what you mean when you say they’re animals,” Allison says. Her voice falters, her hands tremble, but her eyes haven’t left the monster once since she entered the room, and Kate’s heart sings inside her. Good instincts, baby. Don’t ever look away from a threat. The moment this precious girl turns eighteen, Kate’s gonna poach her off her weak, puling papa. It's been a long time since she had a good right hand man. “Derek drove me home. We had a whole conversation, we talked about--”

“Oh, they’re very intelligent,” Kate assures her. “They have sharp minds. But it’s the mind of a predator.”

Chin sunk down onto his breastbone, eyes closed, Derek snorts wearily. “What do you call yours?”

Thank you,” Kate says, turning a sharp, pleased smile on him. It’s one of the best compliments she’s ever received.