Winter Wars

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“I’m not dead, I swear,” I say sitting up quickly. God, what a weird dream.

“Well, I would hope not,” someone says. “A pretty face like yours would be wasted as a corpse.” The person standing next to me smirks. Pale skinned and hazel eyes. Chiseled features and a natural smirk. Definitely a womanizer.

I stretch and yawn. “I can’t guarantee that. What time is it?”

“About five thirty.”

“Five thirty? Damn it, Ryner.” On the table next to the lounge chair, the knives reverted to the necklace. I put it back on. “He should have woken me up earlier.”

“He kinda threatened to hurt anyone who even looked like they were going to wake you up. I’m Marcus by the way.”

“Trina,” I say. “If Ryner didn’t want anyone to wake me up, why are you here?”

“Beta overrules,” Marcus shrugs. “It’s time for dinner. Should be great. Claire, Jayson, and Victor are the best cooks we have.”

“Yeah, I guess.” I stand and follow him out. “Do you know where my sister is?”

“Your sister would be…?”

“Marcy Winters,”

“Oh, yeah, I think she’s in the kitchen right now. She and Jayson came back from Westmoor Clearing about two hours ago.”

“What’s that?” Down several hallways and identical doors, we make our way to the main set of stairs. How anyone navigates this house is beyond me.

“In the woods to the east, there’s this big clearing surrounded by tall trees and a small stream goes through it. It’s a nice place to relax.”

“But we aren’t allowed outside,”

“What the Beta doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Marcus grins. “Only reason I know is because I saw them walking back inside.”

“Won’t Ethan be able to smell the woods on them?”

“For a normal person yeah, but Jayson always smells like the woods so it’s not something to be suspicious about.”

I hop down the last step and turn towards the kitchen. “Did she look okay to you? I mean, she didn’t look bad or anything?”

“She looked like she’d seen a ghost, but other than that she looked fine.”

“Uh, I guess that’s better than before.”

“Not the kitchen, we’re going to the dining room.” He turns me to another door where a long oak table sits about thirty people. Tyler waves at me from next to Marcy. Marcus is right, she looks a little shaken but nothing else.

I leave Marcus and make my way to the empty seat next to her. “How are you doing?”

“Okay, more or less,” she mumbles. “I’ve been better, I can say that much.”

“I think we’ve both been better.”

“I’m glad Ryner let you sleep. You needed it.”

“I wanted to be woken up sooner. I still have questions. And you don’t look any better.”

Marcy shakes her head. “I don’t want to go to sleep any time soon.”

“So you’re just as scared as I am?” I try to hide my relief. “I’m so done with today, I almost wish it was tomorrow.”

She smiles. “I know exactly what you mean.”

“Ooh, dinner’s about to be served.” Tyler bounces up and down in her seat. “I love it when I eat here. The food is always amazing.”

Jayson, Claire, and a tall Asian man I’m assuming is Victor walk out carrying hot pots and towers of containers. From the far end of the table, the food was passed down as everyone grabbed what they wanted. The three cooks disappeared again and came back with more pots and pans and Tupperware containers of food.

The food finally makes its way to us and when the smell besieges my nose, my stomach rumbles. The realization that I haven’t eaten in four days washes over me. Marcy must feel the same way because we both load our plates with roast beef, macaroni, cornbread, mashed potatoes, and a host of other dishes that I haven’t had in years. Being so busy before at the hospital, I never had time to sit with mom and dad to have a nice home cooked meal.

Who knows how long it’s been since Marcy last sat at a table to eat.

Marcy leans forward to grab the pitcher of lemonade, but her hair falls into her face. After five attempts, I lean over and grab it for her. “Thanks,”

“If you want, you can use this. You can have it.” Tyler offers a red bandanna from thin air. “You can tie your hair back.”

“It’s short, so I don’t know why it’s so bothersome. Thanks, Tyler.” With the bandanna tied on, she digs into her food.

Throughout dinner, although their attention isn’t focused solely on us, everyone gives us curious glances and worrisome stares. We’re too busy inhaling the amazing food to notice at first, but I start to feel full and not ready to pass out, I feel their eyes on me. When I look up, everyone is focused on their food and their individual conversations, but as soon as I look away, their eyes fall on us.

I’m positive Marcy knows but is ignoring it in favor of something more pleasurable: food. “Jayson may be unsociable,” she starts, “but he sure as hell knows how to cook.”

When our plates are cleared, I lean back and watch as everyone chatters. I wonder if they know about the war. Probably not. They wouldn’t be talking so much if they did. Then again, wolves are known for the wars they wage on one another. That’s why most are pushed to have children early.

Even still… if they don’t know, someone should tell them. Being kept in the dark is more irritating when you know you can do something.

“Got a problem?” Marcy asks. She looks up from her pork chop to glare at Myra. I hadn’t even noticed she was sitting in front of us.

Myra smirks and rolls her eyes. “I do, but you already know what it is.”

“Go screw yourself, princess.” She goes back to her food. If she’s insulting people, at least she’s calmed down, I think.

As the conversations die down, Ethan, Ryner, Jayson and another man are talking at the end of the table. Ryner gestures to us and mutters something. Ethan shakes his head. The hard look in his eyes declares the matters finished.

His sons start to stand, but Ethan gestures for Jayson to stay seated. “Your brother can handle this.” A look of hurt flashes over his face, but he takes his seat. Ryner hesitates but walks over to us.

“I am to take you to your room,” he says. “Please, follow me.”

I stand, but Marcy stays planted in her seat. “Marcy, let’s go.”

“No,” she says. “I’m not going anywhere with Ryner. I want Jayson instead.” She crosses her arms and I realize she saw what happened too. Still, this is no time to be immature about it. There are different ways to prove a point.

“Come on, Marcy.”

“No,” she says again. “I’m not moving until Jayson gets his butt over here.” I look to Ethan who’s glaring daggers at Marcy. He turns his gaze to me. His intent is clear: get her out of here. While I’m not excited about being put in charge of controlling Marcy, who never listens to me when she’s got her mind set on something, I understand where he’s coming from.

Jayson looks beyond confused at her refusal. Ryner just looks irritated. The conversations have stopped. Everyone is looking at Marcy as though she’s lost her mind.

“What right have you to refuse an order from the Beta?” a man asks. He’s a little heavy set with a mustache worthy of a trophy. Not in length or bushiness, but in tangles and lack of hygiene. It takes all my will power not to whip out my spare brush and comb to fix it.

Marcy, never one to back down from a challenge, faces him head on—but something’s different. In a normal verbal spat, she won’t even grace the person she’s fighting with eye contact unless she’s pissed off, i.e. her fight Ethan. But here she uncrosses her arms, sits up, and narrows her eyes. Her voice is deadly calm and I get a sense of déjà vu. “Every right as I am the Alpha’s daughter.” Power radiates from her voice. “Would you like to challenge me?” she asks softly.

The man looks like he’s trying to swallow a golf ball, but can’t quite manage to choke it down and it comes to me with the force of a ton of bricks why the scene looks so familiar: she’s imitating dad.

Dad never really liked it when we walked into his office unannounced, but I did it anyway because what ever I had to tell him always seemed life and death to me. Whenever he had company over and he immediately went to his office, he often looks like that. Powerful, intimidating, strong. Marcy radiates all of the things in more.

As if finally managing to swallow that golf ball, the man regains his wits and lowers his eyes to the table.

Marcy turns so Jayson. His eyes find something on the floor to look at. “Jayson, please walk me out.” He jerks to a stand and walks over to us. If he keeps chewing on his lip like that it’s going to bleed. We follow Marcy out as Ethan burns holes in the back of our heads.

“What’s your issue?” I mutter. “You’re already walking on thin ice with him as it is.”

“I know,” she groans. “But it pisses me off that he can’t trust Jayson like he trusts Ryner.”

“Uh, right here. Not deaf.” Jayson says. For once he isn’t stuttering; he sounds irritated instead. He turns to Marcy. “You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know,” she mumbles into her blanket as she falls face first into her bed. “But it had nothing to do with you personally. When I see assholes like your dad doing what he does, I can’t help but want to do something about it.”

“Our father is not someone with whom you would like to make an enemy of.” Ryner warns.

She chuckles. “One more enemy isn’t something I can’t handle. I’m not stupid; I know I screwed up. Again.” She adds after a pause. “But if you were me you’d understand why it pisses me off so much.”

“And yet there is nothing substantial you are able to do.” Ryner says. “Twice in one day you have angered him. It would be in your best interest to do as he says.”

“My best interest…” she mumbles. Marcy flips over and looks to me. “You’re awfully quiet.”

“Just wondering how I can be related to such a pigheaded, unintelligent girl who doesn’t know what good for her.” Marcy just rolls her eyes. “Honestly, are you taking any of this seriously?”

“Of course I am,” she snaps sitting with a jerk. “Do you think I find any of this a laughing matter? And why should we be bothered with it anyway? We’re not important. We’re just catalysts. Triggers of a gun and not the whole show.” She falls back on her bed.

“What does that mean?” I demand. “What do you mean we’re not important?” I’m complaining about not being important. If we’re not important, we’re not in danger, but her tone of irritation and annoyance has me wondering what specificity she’s leaving out.

“Just forget it; doesn’t matter.” She drapes her arm over her eyes.

“Marcy, just tell me what you meant.”

“I didn’t mean anything,” she kicks off her shoes. “Drop it. It’s not important.”

“You wouldn’t sound so freaking irritated if it wasn’t.” How can it be that we were bonding barely ten minutes ago? Now I feel very close to shaking her like a rag doll so she’ll just spit it out.

“It’s been a very, very long day,” she says avoiding the subject. “I am going to pass out soon, so please, shut the hell up.”

I ball up my fists and turn to Ryner and Jayson who had discovered something interesting about the paintings hanging on the wall. “Is there another room for me to stay in?”

“I do believe so, but—”

“Take me there,” I throw a glare Marcy’s way, but she has her back to me. Jayson frowns at me but says nothing. Ryner leads me out, down the hallway and to an empty and dusty bedroom.

Once Ryner leaves, I kick the door shut, crawl into bed, and cry myself into a fitful slumber.

When I hear the sound of thundering footsteps, I think I’m still dreaming, but when my door bursts open and startles me awake, I can still hear it.

“What are you doing in here?” It’s Marcus. His face is a mask of worry. His arm is in a sling and he walks towards me with a slight limp. “You’re lucky I can sniff you out through all of the dust.”

“What… what happened to you?” I yawn. Wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I follow him out and down the hallway.

“Last night there was an attack, not at all surprising given what Ethan told us yesterday.”

“Not following,” I trip over a bump in the carpet. “Why was there…? Oh.”

“Right,” he nods. “We managed to drive them off, but Ethan insists they’re gonna be back again tonight. They didn’t get what they were looking for.”

We begin to walk down the stairs, going slow for Marcus. “What were they looking for?”

“You and Marcy. If you and her were to die, this whole war could go sideways.”

“Why would that happen? Why are we so wrapped up in this?”

He shrugs. “You’re asking the wrong person, Trina. There’s really only one person who knows that and we haven’t seen Matrianna in years.”

“Is there any way we can find her? Ryner said he’d look…” My words grind to a halt as Marcus’s face morphs into despair. “Why are you giving me that look? Where’s Ryner? What happened?”

“Ryner’s… okay.” He starts slowly. “He’s not going to die or anything, he just won’t be able to fight for a while.”

The knot of worry that built in my chest start to come undone, but then another thought came to mind. “Who’s okay and who’s not? There aren’t that many injured people, right?”

“Nothing life threatening,” Marcus says. I squint as beams of sunlight come through an open window. The sun has barely risen over the horizon.

We finally reach the end of the stairs and turn right like we’re going to the kitchen, but walk a door on the left. “Since nearly everyone has some type of injury, Ethan wants everyone in the same place so he can give announcements quickly.”

When he opens the door, my instincts as a nurse kick in and I shudder. Unsanitary is the word I would use to describe the room. Injured people lay on the ground and in chairs. Some people are being treated for minor sprains, others have gashes on various body parts being treated now.

I tilt my head to the side, cracking it. “I want to help.”

Marcus looks surprised. “What can you do?”

“I’m a trained nurse. I spent two and a half years at a hospital caring for a host of different patients. I want to help.”

He frowns but points me to a man in a grey camouflage shirt. The same man that was talking to Ethan last night. “That’s Greg Hunley. He’s in charge of everything right now. If you want to help, ask him.”

Making my way through the throng of people, I get to Greg and before I can say anything he says, “Don’t have time for formalities. If you wanna help get over there,” he points to a group of people waiting to be treated. A few are asleep, others are grimacing at every move.

“I need all the help I can get and the fact that you have experience makes you all the better.”

I push up the sleeves of my shirt and set to work. Hours pass by in a blur as I wash, bandage and soothe the injured. It’s weird seeing so many wolves with injuries like this. Fast metabolisms and superhuman genetics makes it almost impossible for things like broken ankles, cuts and bruises to stay for long. What happened out there?

I’m working on a boy named Chris when someone puts their hand on my shoulder. Chris is just nineteen fighting in a war. Ryner is looking down at me.

“You have been working for hours. You need to rest.”

“No, I can keep going,” I peel away the makeshift bandage on Chris’s arm and begin working again. “There’s just a few more things I need to do.”

“You are exhausted,” he points out. “You did not sleep well.”

“Not really, no. But I work better when I’m tired. Forces me to focus more.”

He chuckles. “Marcy has also told me that. Word for word.”

“Well,” I mutter laying a bandage on Chris’s arm, “We did have the same parents with a scary work ethic. Where is she now?”

“Working on Jayson,”

“What happened to Jayson?” I sit back on my heels and stretch. I can’t imagine Jayson being much of a fighter. Him being a cook is easy enough with his nervous nature, but fighting? The image doesn’t come to mind as quickly.

Ryner lowers himself onto the couch wincing. “He was protecting the house with a few others. Marcus, Myra, Claire, Tyler—”

“Tyler?” I look around the room. If there’s someone I can’t imagine fighting even more than Jayson, it’s Tyler. She’s just a kid.

I spy Tyler stretched out on a part of the floor snoring away. I relax and sit cross legged on the floor.

“She was not injured badly,” Ryner assures me. “Jayson was injured keeping her from harm. It was very bad. Since we could not do anything until sunrise, Tyler and Claire watched over him. She is just a child,” he concedes, “but she can fare well on her own.”

“How bad is it?”

“It was worse this morning. When Marcy heard, she put up a fight and insisted she take a look. Our father could not have been against it, but she wore him down.”

“What does Marcy know about healing?”

“In her time with Sebastian, she saw her fair share of bullet wounds and the aftermath of knife fights. Part of her job was to keep everyone alive. She learned fast.”

“How long has she been up?”

“I am not sure,” he shrugs. “I know she has been awake since sunrise when we came back, but if and when she slept is not within my knowledge.”

“She didn’t sleep,” I say. “Sleep is for the dead anyway.”

“I would prefer not to attend your funeral for you to rest,” Ryner rumbles. “It would ease my worry if you and Marcy were to get rest.”

“Hard to sleep when we’re going to be attack.”

“Sleep during the day. There won’t be an attack until tonight.”

“Doesn’t make me feel much better.”

I turn my head as I hear a loud thud and Marcy stumbles in. “He’s okay,” she mumbles. “He’s sleeping right now.” She wobbles over to an empty couch and falls face first. Within seconds she’s asleep.

“Well, that’s one less thing for you to worry about.” I say to Ryner. “I really don’t think I can go to sleep right now.”

“Please try,” he insists. “We may need you again.”

I frown. “You’re not going back out there, are you?”

He looks away and repositions himself. “I might have to.”

“You are in no shape to go out in fight.”

“Not many of us are,” he retorts. “Just look around you. By tonight all of us will have to fight again. You and Marcy will need to be well rested if you want to help again.”

I frown again. “I don’t like this. Not at all.”

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