The wolf’s furred ears flicked softly against Avon’s hand as the creature guided him to the storage room housing the other wolves. Not fully grown yet, its shoulder wasn’t comfortably in reach for him. Avon’s other hand still gripped the black dragon-handled cane, whether out of habit or as an easy defensive weapon was hard to tell. It wasn’t as if he needed it to be intimidating.
Argus glanced back at them, smiling at the wolf’s intense gaze, so much as Avon’s eyes had been. And will be again, he reminded himself firmly.
The storage room had a fresh, lived-in odour. In the corner, a handful of wolves splashed playfully underneath an automated waterfall set up for cleaning purposes. Toiletry troughs had been installed, operated by the press of a paw. The wolves were intelligent and found these wondrous and fun devices.
Argus, Avon and his guide weaved their way between the resting wolves, avoiding sweeping tails and muzzles resting on stretched out paws. Some lifted their heads to look at them; others followed them with their eyes.
Brave-Heart sat on his haunches, his head angled, vigorously scratching an ear with a hind leg. He stood as Argus approached. * Welcome. * A strong huff accompanied his greeting and he eyed Sharp-Eyes curiously.
The younger wolf lowered his head in greeting to the Alpha.
Argus said, “You’ve made yourself at home.”
The Alpha wolf dipped its muzzle. * It is a barren place, but full of wonders. *
“That’s what we’re here to discuss.”
Bright-Eyes poked her head out from the makeshift den, her fuzzy ears brushing against the side of the opening. * The young ones are asleep. *
Argus said, “We will discuss this outside then.”
Brave-Heart and Bright-Eyes padded silently after him as they headed to the corridor. A handful of Betas moved towards the mouth of the den; they would keep silent vigil outside until the Alphas returned.
The Alpha wolf directed a sharp glare at the young wolf. Sharp-Eyes bowed his head and backed up a step. It was not his place to attend a meeting of Alphas. Feeling his hand slip from the fur, Avon gripped the wolf’s coat. * Where are you going? *
Sharp-Eyes barked-whined and butt his head against Avon’s hand. * One will be here when you are finished. *
Brave-Heart said, * He is a young wolf and does not know his place in the pack. *
* Ah. * Avon found it amusing the animal kingdom had the same issues of class and dominance that humans did. * This wolf is useful to me. *
The Alpha wolf regarded the young wolf with serious eyes. * He asks many questions. *
* That is why he is useful. *
Brave-Heart and Bright-Eyes bent their heads closer, as if they were sharing private communication that could not be heard by the others.
* Very well, * said Brave-Heart. * He will be your eyes, Avon-Alpha, until you no longer need him. *
Avon nodded formally. * His training will be my responsibility. *
Brave-Heart gave a sharp exhale of laughter. * You can answer his many questions. *
Sester paused at the top of the flight deck steps. His arms crossed and he leaned against the frame, watching Reya at work. Her relaxed, precise movements were calming and reassuring.
A lithe, graceful tigress. An intriguing combination of fire and ice. He could watch her for hours if Argus wasn’t around. At the thought, a whimsical smile appeared on his face.
Reya turned around and spotted him. He could read her emotions easily, the eyes naturally narrowed in suspicion but quickly changed to a neutral expression. There was no hostility in her voice; only the careful impartiality of a woman who was a wary friend. “You’d better leave.”
She was honest in being his friend, despite instincts that told her to be careful. For that, he would always love her.
“What do you think of me?” he asked, coming down the steps.
“You don’t want to know,” she said curtly, turning back to training reports on her data pad.
Sester sat to her right side, studying her profile, his fingers drawing a line across the back of the couch. She was a beautiful woman, but not the kind for public consumption. Reya was someone to be savoured by the discerning. “You’re afraid to tell me what you truly think.”
Her eyes turned to stone at the challenge, just as he knew they would. “I have no qualms about telling you my opinions.”
“It’s not your thoughts that you don’t want to tell me.” His words were light.
“Reya,” he leaned towards her, his face earnest. “I’m in a quandary. You’re...,” his eyes sought hers, needing something only she could provide, “my only friend on this ship.”
“What about Kirsten?”
He grimaced because the words hit home like a fist. “I...don’t know.”
Reya’s tone softened at the hesitation and unease in his voice. “That’s surprising.”
“Have you had this problem before?” She put down the data pad.
The question and her actions were so reminiscent of some of his colleagues that Sester asked with amusement. “Reya, are you trying to psychoanalyze me?” His fingers stroke the top edge of the couch.
“Are you trying to avoid the question?”
He chuckled. “I miss you.”
She gave him a hard, no-nonsense stare. “If you’re interested in having a real conversation then you can stay.”
“You’re giving me a condition?”
“You came to me because you wanted a friend. Don’t waste this opportunity by playing games you know I have no interest in.”
“You used to like our games.” The brief time they had together as prisoners, the easy, teasing rapport they developed was something he wished they could have back.
Reya looked away, the memories of those times tugged at her. They had been pleasant and at the same time, it had been the worst time of her life. “You made me laugh at a time when I had nothing to laugh about. You made it bearable.”
“Just barely,” he said lightly.
Her eyes met his, needing him to understand. “I will always be grateful for your kindness.”
“It wasn’t just kindness, Reya. I cared about you; I wanted you to be happy. And...” He sighed in resignation as he reluctantly recognized the truth that always lay between them. “I hated Argus because I knew you would never be happy without him.”
The sadness in his voice touched Reya and the love in his eyes made her squirm uncomfortably in her seat. “Don’t...”
He held up his hand to stop her. “I know. It was a mistake and I was a fool.”
The agonized truth in his voice made her want to hug him but she knew it would be a big mistake on her part. She was determined never to make one with him again. “I’m sorry.”
“It wasn’t your fault. I’m a psychostrategist, I should have known better.”
“You are also human.”
His voice became grave. “When I look at people, I don’t see them as people, Reya. When I interact with them, it is always a game. I don’t know...if I can change.”
Reya touched his arm. “You can.”
Her confidence in him was a balm to his fractured soul. This was why he had come to her, because she believed in him. “How can you know that?”
“Because you want it.”