For all the things that Nate feels woefully ignorant of when it comes to his platoon, there are things that he picks up rather quickly. Maybe it seems like an insignificant thing but there are twenty-two people in Bravo 2, which makes twenty-two wolves under Nate’s command.
Matching a man to a name is one thing, but matching a wolf to a man, and then to a name, is another. Especially when Bravo 2 are not the only wolves housed in Wolf Country, and Nate doesn’t want to just line the men up and ask them to shift.
For obvious reasons, Brad Colbert is the first wolf that Nate can confidently pick out.
Brad is tall and surprisingly wiry for a Marine. He has blond hair and bright blue eyes and the men affectionately call him, Iceman. Nate isn’t surprised to find that the tall sleekness follows Brad into his wolf form. He is bright and white, excepting for a line of cream flecked with pale brown that runs from the tip of his snout up to the crown, and along his ears. He is the tallest wolf on base, coming almost to Nate’s hip when they stand side-by-side.
The others take him longer.
The last one he figures out is Wynn, and by the time he realizes that the wolf he often sees stalking in front of HQ, with a black and white streaked back and pale snout, fur that is almost an auburn brown on the underside of its tale down and its legs, with a white underbelly is Mike Wynn, Nate has almost started to think that Mike isn’t a were’ at all.
In his own defense, Mike has been purposely ambiguous.
“We’ve been off-and-on without a Lieutenant,” Mike says, when Nate mentions it later. “I had to go back and forth between the Captain and the guys. It’s easier to lock it down outside that fence. It’s not lying, ‘cause most everyone knows who on the base is a wolf. S’just dealing with some folk is easier if you give them the chance to forget what you are.”
Nate can accept that, even if he doesn’t agree with it. There are different ways of handling that tenuous position as go-between, and he can see the attraction to the method Mike utilizes. Nate, however, believes that Mike shouldn’t have to make that choice because it shouldn’t matter.
Every wolf living in Wolf Country is a damned fine Marine. That they are also damned fine wolves should not make any difference to anyone anywhere because being a wolf doesn’t automatically mean you are dangerous.
“Aw, that’s cute, LT,” Ray says. “How’s Cinderella doing? Is she living out in your neck of Fairytale-land these days?”
“Shut the fuck up, Person,” Nate says. “Pass me another beer.”
Nate doesn’t know what the big thing about werewolves is. They’re strong and fast, they have extremely good eyes and a keen sense of smell and all that and whatever else, so he can understand how people can think that they’re good soldiers, or kind of cool, or what-have-you.
“Jesus, you’re drunk,” Brad says.
And maybe that’s true, but that doesn’t change his point.
Brad pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes long-sufferingly and says, “LT, go to bed.”
“That,” Nate says, triumphantly. “Is my point.” He breezes right past the way everyone in the room sort of freezes, because that’s a revelation he’s going to have later, and this is now. “You don’t have homes!”
“I have a home!” Espera says, indignantly.
Nate shakes his head because yeah, okay, some of them have homes but, “Technically, that just supports my argument.”
“Holy shit, LT,” Ray says. “Where were you when I was on the debate team. We would have totally rocked.”
“My point is I had to fucking sign-you out like it’s fucking elementary school!” Nate says.
The Corps has been trying to figure-out what to do with werewolves for a while. They’ve been making some headway, and apparently things are less prejudiced than they used to be, though Nate has trouble believing that because, yeah, his guys are still tagged and have to be signed-out into a non-wolf’s custody.
There are exceptions, like for Espera and his wife, because the Corps is pragmatic and is secretly hoping that Tony’s little girls are going to be wolves who will join the military.
“As if I’d stand for that,” Tony snorts.
“Nate,” a warm voice says, sliding across his senses, elusive but so very familiar. “Go to sleep.”
“Fine,” he says. “I’m going to sleep. But I’m exceedingly angry about this.”
“LT,” Christeson says, looking at him with sort of wide eyes. “Nobody said anything.”
Nate snorts because, whatever. “I signed you all out until tomorrow,” he says, dragging himself to his feet and wobbling for a moment. “If any of you decide to run out and get laid or something, be back here by noon because apparently if I don’t walk in with every one of you accounted for...” he trails off, because it’s not worth thinking about.
“It’ll be fine. Good night.”
“Right,” Nate says. “Good night.”
In his team leader meeting the next day, Nate finishes informing them that they are being given Humvees to drive when they get to Iraq. “What good are we going to be in Humvees?” Pappy’s slow-honey voice asks.
Nate says, “There’s a lot of distance to cover in Iraq. I’m sure they are there purely as a method of transport to bring us to and from locations out of which we will be conducting our missions.”
It’s only after he finishes saying this that he realizes he didn’t actually see Pappy’s lips move. When he looks to Brad, Brad’s blue eyes have to shift left to meet his gaze, whereas usually Brad is entirely focused in TL meetings.
“Pack speak,” Mike says, nodding his head knowingly when Nate corners him after the meeting.
Nate shifts as he stands by his desk. “What the fuck is pack-speak?” he asks, the words tripping one after the other. Then he adds, “You guys are psychic?”
It’s shocking, because in all the files he’s been sorting through since arriving at Margarita, never has he come across even the faintest suggestion that werewolves are psychic.
“We’re not psychic,” Mike says. “It’s not like reading minds and shit.” Nate lets out a relieved breath, but then Mike adds, “It’s more like a radio.”
Apparently most werewolves have this ability in wolf-form. It goes beyond any communication that an actual wolf might have with another wolf out in the wild, which Nate figures must relate to the cadence of snarls and growls, and also body language.
This is something unique to werewolves. An ability to touch minds when they’ve shifted, which is usually shared only with pack, simply because touching minds is apparently quite personal, but that isn’t a rule strictly adhered to.
“There were no wolves in my team leader meeting,” Nate states, meaning none of his TL’s were sitting there in their furry wolf-shapes.
Mike shrugs. “Technically there were,” he says, with a shy grin. Nate isn’t amused. “Look, it’s not like we’re the only wolves keeping quiet on this. The Corps found out about our night-vision and suddenly they’re not giving us enough batteries for our PEC-4’s and NVG’s, thinking it’s redundant. We can be a hell of a lot better than we are, but not if we don’t get the support we need.”
Nate can understand the concern, but he can’t quite reconcile himself to the secrecy. “Not all wolves can use it when they’re human,” Mike says. “And either way, it’s personal. Most guys don’t want to use it with someone they don’t consider pack. Not with someone they just got thrown-in with for a mission. If they take the radios, or start giving us crappy wiring thinking we’ll make do, we might not be able to.”
Nate can see the logic in it, but he still feels a bit off about the secrecy. He’s used to reporting information to the Corps, it’s been a significant part of his training.
This is what Nate comes to: he deeply respects Captain Patterson, who is a wolf, and if pack-speak is still a secret then that means Patterson, to make no mention of Major Eckloff, have kept it to themselves as well. Nate can defer to their better judgment.
Bumping down a dirt road in Iraq, everyone leaning out the windows of their viktors to watch their sectors, but equally confident there’s no trouble brewing, Ray Person starts singing ‘Rasputin’, and Team 1 Alpha starts harmonizing.
There is no way, three viktors back, Nate should be hearing Team 1 singing, but he can.
2-1-Bravo joins in at the chorus, and soon the entire platoon is singing, their voices filling up the Humvees and rippling through each others' heads, which is about the strangest thing that he’s ever experienced, even if it doesn’t actually feel strange at all.
Nate experiences a surge of relief that they have this, an untainted and entirely unobserved method of communication. It’s not because he has anything particularly significant to say, or even because he has anything private to communicate. It’s because it’s just theirs. A reminder that they’re there together, going through all this shit together.
When Kocher’s voice echoes through Nate’s head, telling them that they sound like “a bunch of wailing cats hung over a fire”, Nate wonders idly about how far the bond might stretch, but it’s not anything he feels a pressing need to test. He can hear his men, that’s what matters.