Winter Wars

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“Where’s Ethan?” I ask walking into the kitchen. Everyone jumps at my voice. Marcus jumps off the counters and Tyler’s palm slams into a container of humus.

“Aww,” she groans. “Humus is so gross.” It slides down her arm as she hurries to the sink.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Marcus says taking his spot on the counter again.

I lean against it and bounce on my toes as nervous energy rushes through my veins. “I need to talk to him.”

“The only person you need to talk to is Jayson,” Trina says firmly walking into the kitchen with Ryner on her heels. I study the both of them for a brief moment and hide a smile forming on my face. It’s easy to see that his loyalties have changed. He must really love her if he did. People like Ryner are fiercely loyal and don’t simply cut ties in the blink of an eye.

Marcus’s phone rings and he walks out of the kitchen saying, “This is Marcus Travers.”

“I don’t need to talk to Jayson,” I grumble. “I have other things to do.”

“This is just as important as anything you have to do,” Ryner rumbles as he and Trina take their seats at the island. “You will need to work closely with him in the future. Keeping good relations is important.”

I cross my arms and try to keep still. “It can be important, but he doesn’t even want to see me and if I were I wouldn’t either.” I sigh. “Doesn’t matter right now. I need to talk to Ethan.”

“About what?” Trina inquired.

“Shit,” Marcus interrupts in a mutter, shoving his phone back into his pocket as he walks back in. “We have to go.”

“We, as in all of us, or we, as in you, Ryner and Jayson?” Trina asks.

“We, as in all of us, Tyler included, better get out asses to Kansas and fast because it’s hell on the border.” He directs the end of his sentence at me and I look to Ryner. He seems just as confused at me. Tyler jogs off to get Jayson and we make a beeline for the front door.

“What happened?” I ask.

“All this month there have been little skirmishes along the border. Between east and west,” he explains. Jayson and Tyler join us as we hop into a truck. Thankful that this one is a lot better than the one we’ve been using, I slide into the front seat between Marcus, who’s behind the wheel and (I shudder), Jayson. Tyler doesn’t like the front seat and no one wants to separate Ryner and Trina.

“Tensions are high and the militia, while organized, is disorganized on a bigger scale. Each state has its own and, even though we’re all together, they don’t want just one state to be in charge. So, to compensate for this, leaders, not government officials but top werewolves, have gathered at one of the biggest army bases in the west, Fort Riley Military Base. They’ve been planning this for a month and Ethan left early this morning to go there, but, for reasons we’ve yet to understand, they want to see Marcy.”

“Why do they want to see me if they’re just trying to organize the militia.”

“Because you’ll be in charge of this.”

“I—what?” How and when and why am I in charge of anything other than not dying? “Why would I be in charge of anything when I’m not even Alpha? I’m still a pup according to Ethan and anyone with a brain.”

“True, but here’s the thing, your dad was only sixteen when he took over as Alpha.”

I bounce in my seat as we hit a bump. “Dad was only sixteen? Why did anyone let him be Alpha?”

“Believe it or not, he wasn’t always so playful. He was very serious and that’s why he wanted Ethan as his Beta. Birds of a feather.”

“Oh, yeah,” Trina says. “Hey, Marcy, do you remember mom telling us how they met?”

“Do you remember how I hated that story because I was twelve?” Despite my grumblings, I do remember the story. Mom had, on a dare, asked dad on a date. The goal was to see how irritated she could make dad in the span of an hour. And, well, let’s just say the date went something like the conversations I have with Ryner. He got annoyed quickly, but he didn’t leave. At the end of the date, mom asked why and he said that it was rude to leave in the middle. Dad politely asked mom to never speak or associate with him again and dad went on his merry way.

The existence of Trina and I prove that mom didn’t listen to what dad said, proving that yes, I am my mother’s daughter.

Point being, if I really think about it, it isn’t too difficult to see dad being Alpha at sixteen. Even years later with me and Trina I can see it. But me? I know Greg said I have what dad had to be in charge, but my recent behavior screams otherwise. I’m still a kid. Rash and impulsive and awkward and unable to do something simple like apologize to someone I really care about.

Stifling my sigh, I listen to Marcus as he starts talking again.

“The thing about Fort Riley is for the other Alpha’s to judge you, make sure they have a good leader.”

“Can’t someone else take my place?” I grumble. “I’m not a leader.”

“You are a leader,” Tyler says. “Being a leader is more than just being in charge, it’s willing to sacrifice yourself for others. You were willing to give your life for Jayson and Ryner. I don’t care how stupid you think it is, it takes a whole lot of courage to put yourself in the way of silver arrows.”

“Tyler’s right,” Trina says. “You’ve always been a natural leader. Remember the neighborhood war?”

This brings a smile to my face. It’s been years since I’ve thought back to that. “We lost that war.”

“But we were close to winning it, even if you were six and going up against a bunch of boys.”

“But I’m not like that anymore, I’m… different from the way I was then or even a few years ago.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re different.” Marcus says. “You’re braver now than you were then. You’re a lot like your dad, Marcy. I’m sure he’d be proud of you no matter what you did.”

“If I murdered ten people, do you think he’d be proud?”

Trina snorts. At least she gets my sense of humor.

“Guys, the point I’m trying to make is that I think I’ll be able to do it, but I’m not ready yet.”

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. William Shakespeare.”

“Shakespeare killed off most of his characters.”

“Marcy, you know what I mean,” she sighs. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that you won’t be a great leader. Whether you want to or not, and right now I know you don’t want to, you have to take up the torch.”

I lean my head back. Everyone says I’m like dad, but Trina just said everything dad did in his letter. He wants me to be Alpha and dad knows me. If dad really thinks someone like me can be Alpha, maybe I can. Dad’s always had a keen eye for spotting hidden qualities.

The rest of the trip is quiet with only the radio keeping us from the quiet. Back at Sacramento Airport, we buy tickets and get on for the six-hour flight—which makes next to no sense to me. How can the flight across country and the flight barely half be the same amount of time?

Ryner and Trina next to each other, Tyler pairs with Marcus—“He’s always been my flying buddy. Keeps me distracted while the plane takes off.”—so that leaves me stuck next to Jayson. Again. We don’t talk. He stares out the window while I try not to break the armrest. I don’t do heights. On a bullet train hurtling at two hundred miles an hour over the earth, I’m fine. But thousands of feet in the air? Hard pass.

The hours pass in dizzying silence until the plane mercifully lands in Manhattan, Kansas.

With no baggage from out hasty exit, we walk right past baggage claim and straight to the rental cars. Trina is agitated at having to sit down again, but I’m happy at the change of pace. Cooler weather and being ground level is fine by me.

Fort Riley is only ten minutes away and Marcus assures as that there won’t be a problem, but as luck would have it, we have a problem getting in.

“I’m sorry, sir, but I have no verification of her. If she wants to get in, she’ll need to be subjected a background check. Unfortunately, our power is down at the moment.”

Marcus mutters something foul and says, “I’ll take Tyler to a hotel and get us rooms. Sorry, Ty.”

“Eh,” she shrugs. “It was a longshot I’d be recognized.”

“If they the case, I’ll be happy to send for someone to escort you out.” Marcus grumbles and mutters but gets out. Being the passenger, I climb into the driver’s seat, ask directions, and take off a soldier in another car escorting us.

At one stop sign a few minutes later, Trina puts her hand on my shoulder and says, “I swear to Jebus that one of these days I’ll teach you to drive, but for now, let me.”

I’m not a bad driver—I have my learners permit and I passed every test, I just haven’t gotten my license because I like to drive fast. It gets me places faster and it’s fun terrorized the passengers. I’d never actually hurt anyone, it’s just for a little fun.

Trina gets into the driver’s side and I scoot back to the passenger’s. The car that had been tailing comes into view. I can see that the driver is none too happy. “You take all the fun out of life.”

“No, I’m just trying not to hit the retired veterans.” She drive the speed limits, follows all the traffic and safety laws, lets the soldier escorting get in front—In other words, the rest of the ride is boring.

The building we stop in front of is long and low and, despite its tan and yellow appearance, a feeling of apprehension washes over me.

“Did Marcus say that a representative from each state is in there?” I ask.

“Uh-huh,” Trina nods standing next to me. The soldier ushers us to the door and I’m almost sure the only reason he isn’t being rude is due to his training and the fact that Ethan might have threatened him.

We trudge forward and the soldier—Sergeant Major Jones—holds the door for us. As soon as I set sights on the group sitting at the table, I want to turn and go with Marcus and Tyler to the hotel.

The eighteen men (yes, all men) are of different sizes, races, appearances, backgrounds and ages. The ages fall between nineteen and fifty making me the only underage Alpha and the only female. I’d count Trina, but she’s gonna be the Luna. Don’t you just love the feeling of being outnumbered?

Eighteen pairs of eyes fall upon us as we walk in. Ethan is my target and thankfully one of the closest. I don’t like him, but at least I know him.

As I walk, I try to find at least one friendly face in the crowd. Everyone looks grim and somber as though their favorite pet just died. No one even looks in the mood to joke or even crack a smile. My survival in this room doesn’t seem like it’ll be a long time.

“Ah, you have finally arrived,” Ethan crows standing. “We have been waiting for quite some time.”

He walks around the table a small and false smile on his face. “I’d have made you wait longer if you’d contacted me instead of Marcus,” I say. “Still, I had something to discuss with you so it might not have been that long.”

“Whatever it is, it can wait,” he turns to address the table of Alphas. “Gentlemen, this is Marcelletta Winters, daughter of Charles Kingsley Winters.”

Murmurs spread throughout the room. A few whisper that they expected me to be bigger. Some say that a woman isn’t fit to be Alpha. More than anything, they all doubt my abilities. I see only one person, the youngest looking Alpha, eye me with mild interest. He looks kinda familiar. Maybe the comments are meant to provoke me and if it is, it’s working. But I can’t let them see I’m short tempered. I have to rein it in and stay calm, be collected, choose my worse carefully, and hope to God I don’t end up cursing.

One of the older men looks at me with cherry red eyes and takes a deep breath. “So you’ve been marked.” His southern twang is hard to discern, but I make out what he says. Marked, huh? I vaguely remember Marcus and Tyler telling us something about that a week or two ago.

Because of the older man’s reaction, others start to get closer and press in on me, sniffing and looking closely.

“Okay, I know I probably smell amazing, but can you back up? I have a thing about personal space.” Keeping calm doesn’t mean I can’t still be myself.

A young Alpha, maybe twenty-five, glares at me with cold black eyes. “You’ve been marked, but by a human.”

I narrow my eyes. “Got a problem?”

“Only the weak get marked by humans.” So you’ll fight for humans, but excommunicate anyone who even thinks of humans as equals? Real smart.

Before I can retort, Trina put her hand on my shoulder and turns me around. “What does he mean you’re marked?” she demands. “Do you remember what that means because if you don’t I’ll be more than happy to explain.”

“I remember,” I say as the term clicks. “It means I belong to someone and I already know who it is and when it happened.” I lift my shirt to show three inches above my navel, in fancy lettering is SEBASTIAN BANEGAS. “He got this tattooed on me in case I was… handled too badly.” To be honest, I don’t even remember what happened. I was just walking with no real destination, something I enjoyed doing, when I was chloroformed by one of his henchmen. I woke up a few hours later with what felt like plastic wrap covering my torso. Needless to say, I kicked Nicky (the one who knocked me out) when I was feeling better.

Trina is silent for a few beats while I pull down my shirt. Her face morphs into fear, disgust, anger, and pain as she clenches and unclenches her hands. Then, instead of saying anything, she walks out. Leaves the building the way we came kicking the door open and leaving a heavy tension in the air.

“Ryner, do us a favor and check on Trina. She got on to me for my dangerous driving but with the mood she’s in I don’t want her to get kicked out of the army base for scaring the civilians.”

He nods and leaves. I turn towards Ethan. “You can do all the talking and planning since I’m not Alpha yet. I’m already irritated.” And I don’t know anything because you keep it from me. Ethan smiles like he knows exactly why I’m not taking his place. Amazingly enough he doesn’t say anything about it to the others—unless, of course, he’s already told them. In which case I’ll have to fight harder to be recognized.

Jayson and I take seats off to the side of the room and the meeting about organization begins.

To be honest, I try to pay attention. I really and truly do, but it’s so formal and boring I just want to fall asleep. The beginning is introductions which basically them bragging about experience and battles and all that other veteran stuff.

The next thirty minutes, after Ryner and Trina come back inside, everyone is complaining about the other, but, of course, it doesn’t sound that way. All of them, with a few exceptions, speak the same way Ethan does, archaic. If not the copious amounts of time I spend with Ryner and the unfortunate number of interactions I have with Ethan, I wouldn’t have a clue what they’re saying.

Since I know I need to listen to this, I listen to their words and absorb them but it all boils down to nothingness. Knowing that this might take a little longer, I aim to look like I know what’s going on. It’s like the look I had in math: I look like I know what’s going on, but I really haven’t the slightest clue.

The only person who seems to notice is the younger Alpha who at least looks a little bored too. On second glance, I’m almost positive I’ve seen him before.

It got kinda interesting when they finally got down to business. In reality, a lot of their problems can be resolved easily by just talking—and not in this über formal way. More like the way friends get down to business planning out a road trip or something like that. After failing to find a compromise on the militia—“My men have served for many years, unlike Utah where you are only just getting into the war.” (Everyone seems to have a problem with Utah)—they moved on to the next topic: battle strategy.

This is almost pointless because if there’s no army to even march. What’s it gonna take for them to realize that you can’t just say you’ll fight, but don’t commit enough to work out even the simplest of problems. It makes want to smack every single one of them. Of course, I’d probably be killed if I did that and a premature death doesn’t sound like a good idea.

The battle “strategy” isn’t really that. It’s picking out good places for an actual battle to be held. Most states of the west have enough open space for regular battles and enough forest coverage for any wolf battles. The east isn’t discussed to any length. They’re trying to kill all the humans and, therefore, are bad. End of story.

All in all, nothing but their judgment of me and a few good battle spots happened. And believe it or not, they made it drag on for two and a half hours. For a bunch of people who don’t know how to communicate they sure talk a lot.

The Alphas filter outside in groups of two or three people, or solo it and go off alone. Ethan sees to it that everyone is given a proper goodbye before he walks to us.

“I hope you learned something,” he says mockingly. “That was rather insightful.”

Insightful isn’t the word I would use, but I suppose I could see it.” I stretch and crack my knuckles. “It would be more along the lines of ‘boring’, ‘tedious’, and ‘useless’. But I’m not Alpha yet so what does it matter.”

“Ms. Winters,” someone calls. I ignore them in favor of talking to Ethan. There’s no way they’re talking to me. I only get called that by teachers who don’t know how to pronounce my first name and people like Onyx.

“Then it seems that you have to eye for productivity,” Ethan mutters.

“I do have an eye for productivity which is why I can tell you nothing important was accomplished.”

“… Marcelletta.” I turn at the mention of my name. It’s the youngest Alpha, the one who looks familiar. He looks apologetically at Trina who rolls her eyes and goes back to Ryner. I search his face. His features are kind of plain. His mouth, his nose, his eyes—but his hair is bright red. I know I’ve seen him somewhere.

“What’s up?” I ask. He turns to face me and then I remember. In one of the many and irritating glimpses of the futures I’ve seen, he was in one of them. Whether it ended good or bad is fuzzy.

“I wanted to talk to you,” he smiles. “It’d be nice to bounce some ideas off of someone more… open to new ideas and challenges.”

“Well, I do like to try new things as long as I don’t have to do anything too stupid.”

“Then how do you live with yourself,” Ethan grumbles and walks off towards the oldest Alpha. I roll my eyes.

“If that’s the case,” he continues, ignoring the rude comment. “Then would you come with me to talk? I could take you out, perhaps.”

I raise my eyebrow. “Do you mean like a date, or do you really just wanna talk about this? Be honest because I don’t want to do anything under false pretenses.”

He blushes and nearly turns the color of his hair. “I suppose it would be a little of both.”

I hold out my hand. “You can just call me Marcy. Or Letty, but no one really calls me that.”

He takes my hand firmly. “I like Letty. I’m William Penn.”

“Like the Quaker from colonial times? That’s cool. I liked learning about him,” I give him a cheeky smile. “You wouldn’t mind if I called you Penny would you?”

“I wouldn’t mind at all,” Penny turns to Trina and taps her shoulder. “Would you mind if I took your sister for a while?”

“Why would I mind?” she snaps. “She doesn’t ever tell me anything so why bother asking? I spent two years wonder where the hell she was. A few hours more won’t hurt me.”

I feel like she just stabbed my heart. Trina storms off towards Ethan. Ryner gives me a sad look and he and Jayson follow her. Now I’ve made a full circle. I’ve managed to piss off every single one of my friends.

God, I just love being me.

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