The wolves come out at night.
Nate knows the dry, penetrating heat of the Kuwait sun is strong enough to discourage most of his men from shifting during the day, even as some others take it as a personal challenge. One thing that is true of all Marines, wolf or otherwise, they are always in search of a new way to push themselves that little bit further. Be just that little bit stronger, faster, better.
At night, though, his platoon wanders through camp Mathilda, more silent than whispers, ears quirked and backs arched: patrolling. Sometimes he catches them roughhousing, scampering around like puppies, or curled up with their noses tucked under their tails, resting.
There is no segregation at Mathilda for which Nate is both relieved and thankful. Bravo 2 and the other Recon wolves are allowed to move freely wherever they please. There is no Wolf Country in Kuwait, even if he’s heard some men calling Bravo 2’s tent that. Nate knows the only reason the tent bears the unofficial nickname is because his own platoon refers to it as such, despite the number of Marines sharing the space who are not wolves. For their part, the men of Bravo 3 who share the space accept the half-joking accusations of living in a wolf den with good grace ranging from a quiet shake of the head accompanied by an eye-roll or a laugh, to Kocher’s more brazen wolf-howl that never fails to be echoed by at least three of Nate’s platoon members.
The sun is already down when Nate steps out of the command tent, his thoughts racing to sort the new information and determine a reasonable plan of action. He keeps running into a wall in his own head, a stubborn part of himself that insists it’s not only his decision to make, that it can’t be.
A faint wind carries the sounds of shouts and cheers, overlaying the deeper sounds of snarls and barks that lead Nate to believe there are wolves putting on a bit of a show somewhere near his platoon’s tent, and he turns in that direction.
He stops just out of sight of the chaos. Depending on what’s happening around the corner he doesn’t want to have to step in and break-up the evening’s entertainment. Obviously, the roughhousing isn’t bothering the pack’s alpha, because Nate’s pretty sure he catches a fleeting glimpse of Rudy’s dark chocolate fur in between the cheering Marines, and there is no way Reyes would participate in anything that doesn’t have Colbert’s approval. Nate trusts his alpha to know when his own pack needs to let off steam, and when to make certain they’re not getting themselves into trouble.
“Brad?” Nate says, not bothering to raise his voice despite the noise.
A moment later, a tall, pale shape bleeds out of the darkness. Brad doesn’t sit, he simply pauses a few paces away and fixes Nate with his cool blue gaze, too keen to belong to an animal.
Nate tips his head in the direction of their staged victors and says, “Five mikes.”
Turning, Brad disappears back into the darkness and Nate takes a moment to marvel at how seamlessly his alpha wolf’s bright white fur can be lost in shadow.
It takes Brad less than five minutes to join Nate by the Humvees. He’s dressed in his fatigues, his boots laced perfectly as if he didn’t just rush into the tent and change. Dressing in a hurry is a skill every Marine learns within the first few days of training. A wolf usually has it down well before he gets off the bus.
For some reason, the first thing Nate thinks of to say is, “We’ve got shamal winds moving in.”
“Yes sir,” Brad confirms. “The air is thick with it.”
There are some things that get passed onto Nate from Battalion that he’s pretty sure his platoon is fully and entirely aware of and, what is more, has been aware of for longer than anyone at Battalion. Weather updates, for instance, are almost always met with a particularly dry quip from either Brad or Pappy. Nate always passes on the intel anyway.
Brad glances over at him, and Nate wonders if the man can smell the hesitancy and anger and concern that he is managing to keep out of his posture and his expression. There are some things that you cannot keep from a wolf, no matter how you try.
“Sir,” Brad says. “I trust that you did not call me here to discuss the weather.”
Nate takes a moment to gather himself before he says, “A small town in Arizona was attacked the other day.”
Brad’s posture shifts, he pulls himself up a little straighter, his eyes narrow. “Terrorists?”
“No,” Nate shakes his head. “Some ignorant assholes who tried to burn it to the ground. Americans.” He takes a breath, because this is the important part, “The town was almost exclusively populated by werewolves. After setting light to it, the men blocked each of the roads out of town, stood there with guns.” Brad is holding himself entirely still, so Nate continues, “As far as any reports say, there have been no fatalities. Some injuries, on both sides, that’s all. Most of the damage is to the town itself.”
Brad looks away. After a moment he says, “With respect, sir, that is not taking into account the long-term damage.”
“No,” Nate agrees.
It’s a mess, and it’s inexcusable. Nate wants to apologize on behalf of non-weres’ the world over, but words amount to exactly nothing when they can’t be translated into action. The only reason there isn’t a body count to go along with the news is because every citizen in that town shifted and got out in time, and then had the self-restraint not to rip the ignorant morons shooting at them apart. It was something that was never said explicitly in the briefing he just left, but everyone there was thinking it.
What is important, though, is the truth that they’re all left trying to adjust to, that neither he nor Brad wants to acknowledge because of its sheer magnitude.
Standing out in Kuwait, the uncertainty has been whether or not they will be called to fight. Whether or not they will be going to war.
Now, there is an even greater uncertainty looming.
Nate says, “Werewolves aren’t a secret anymore.”
They fall silent. Nate wonders what Brad’s thinking; if maybe he can make sense of this where Nate has been unable. He’s not even a werewolf, but he found himself clenching his fists all through the meeting at Battalion, worrying; wondering. The Battalion Commander had only minimal details to offer about what was going on back home. Whatever is happening has apparently been deemed irrelevant by Command. General Mattis wants every Marine focused on Iraq and the looming possibility of combat.
Nate wants to believe that werewolves will be accepted readily and easily, but he’s not that naïve. It’s almost a relief that his men are on the cusp of war because it means they’re not back home where everything is apparently about to go crazy.
“Are they pulling us out, sir?” Brad asks.
“That’s not the word I’m getting from Battalion,” Nate says. “The USMC is still working out an official stance, but I’ve been assured that they’re not pulling wolves back over this.”
Brad nods and rubs a hand over his face. It’s a lot to take in, Nate knows, but it’s not done yet. “It’s been suggested that bringing in a journalist might be to our advantage.” Brad’s eyes flicker up, but Nate continues, “It’s not an order, and Captain Patterson has already said he’s willing to have a reporter embed with Alpha, should it come to that.”
Godfather had pointed out that it might benefit their position if they had a reporter on the inside; someone unbiased that the civilian populous would be more inclined to trust, who could say that yes, werewolves are real and some of them are Marines, but they aren’t any more dangerous than any other Marine.
“I can see the pros and cons to this,” Nate says. “It could just as easily blow up in our faces, and it means we’d be responsible for a civilian. One who may or may not already be inclined to trust or even cooperate with us. I don’t think I need to say that, should something happen to that civilian, the platoon would not fair well with the media. To say nothing of the potential broader consequences.”
Brad’s gaze has shifted into the distance; Nate thinks he’s likely calculating his own list of probabilities. It’s what Nate did the minute Godfather had voiced the suggestion. “The CO is leaving this decision to me, as platoon commander. I have until o-seven hundred to give my answer.”
Brad sighs, because he hears the question that Nate is asking. “With respect, sir, this fucking sucks.”
Nate can’t contain his bitter smirk. It’s not ideal, not at all, but he can be thankful for what they do have going for them. For one, Godfather is asking Nate, he’s not leaving the decision to Captain Schwetje, and he’s not ordering. It means that Nate is able to consult with his alpha, rather than issue him with a direct order.
“It’s my understanding that the Battalion Commander would prefer to provide the journalist with options, rather than assign him to a specific platoon, in order to make the extent of our cooperation clear. There are plenty of wolves in Mathilda, Brad. We wouldn’t be denying access to information if we choose not to add Bravo 2 to the list.”
“Sir, as the only all-wolf platoon in Mathilda, I believe it would look suspect should Bravo 2 not be represented. Whether the reporter chooses us or not.”
Also true, but Nate has no intention of pushing one option over another. This is wolf business and it’s not his place to give orders here, even if the Corps has empowered him to do so. He’s not even certain himself what he would do if he were in Brad’s position. Every time Nate thinks he’s made a choice, he finds himself questioning it.
“Fuck it,” Brad says. “Put Bravo 2 on the list. We’ll deal with it if and when it comes to that.”
Nate nods. “Brad,” he says, and then hesitates because technically he shouldn’t be permitting this. Then again, no one specifically said that the information had to be kept secret, it’s a fine line but Nate intends to cross it. His platoon deserves at least this much.
He says, “This news isn’t expected to go mainstream until some time tomorrow. For obvious reasons, people are trying to keep it suppressed.” Brad smirks dryly and Nate rolls his eyes in agreement, they both know there is no possible way that anyone can keep this information under-wraps for long. “The BBC won’t have hold of it yet.”
Brad holds his gaze for a moment, and then nods. “Understood, sir.”
Nate trusts that Brad will know the best way to inform the rest of the platoon. It’s the sort of thing that would be better received from their alpha than from their platoon commander. No matter how openly his men welcomed him into their group, Nate is aware of the line that separates weres’ from non-weres’, and officers from enlisted men.
He watches as Brad’s head jerks in the direction of Bravo 2’s tent. A second later, there is a long wolf howl echoing in the night. The corner of Brad’s lip quirks up as the howl is quickly accompanied by excited yips and more howls.
“Rudy won,” Brad explains, for Nate’s benefit.
“If they keep that up for much longer, the Sergeant Major isn’t going to be able to pretend he isn’t perfectly aware of what’s going on in your corner of the camp.”
Brad’s eyes flicker over to Nate and then away again. A moment later, the camp falls back into silence.
Nate smiles to himself. Pack-speak, still something he’s trying to get used to.
“Get some sleep,” Nate says. “I’m pushing through the paperwork for a training mission, but I can’t get clearance if our Humvees keep dying before we get through the gate.”
“Sir.” Brad jerks his head in a sharp nod, and then steps off into the shadows, disappearing with the same ease he has in his wolf form.
Nate’s going to have to keep a closer eye on them, he thinks, as he turns in the direction of the officers’ tent. Too much downtime and his platoon might get distracted with the news from home; worries about how it will affect their family and other werewolves, or what the future might hold superseding thoughts of the possibility of war. He can’t afford to have his men distracted, not if he plans to bring them all through this.
That is precisely Nate’s plan.
To bring his platoon through whatever is coming for them, whether that includes crossing the border into Iraq and running headfirst into war, or not. No matter what the USMC or the United States of America throws at them, Bravo 2 is damned well coming out the other side of it.