Kitty Goes to Washington Page 17

“It didn't come up. You guys listen to the show?”

Ahmed shrugged noncommittally and Luis ducked his gaze.

“Of course I've heard it,” Ahmed said. “A couple of times. But I have friends who are great fans, trust me.”

I wrapped my arm around Luis's and took a glass of wine from him. The evening was looking much less bleak than it had a couple of hours ago. In fact, it was looking positively glorious.

“It's okay. I'm used to people not admitting they listen to it. Let's sit, you guys have to tell me about all this.” I looked around at the room, the musicians, and the lycanthropes gathered together.

“Excellent idea!” Ahmed said.

Becoming a lycanthrope usually happened by accident, and it often didn't change the ambitions a person may have had before. The need to travel for a career, the desire to see the world, these things didn't just vanish. Lycanthropy often made them problematic, but people learned to deal with it. It was easier for some than others. Many of the other lycanthrope varieties weren't tied to packs, like werewolves typically were. But even solitary beasts had the problem of territory. Our animal instincts sometimes got the better of us, and travel meant the possibility of infringing on someone else's space, especially during full moon nights, when those instincts were most powerful. As I had quickly learned myself, the one thing a traveling lycanthrope needed more than anything was a safe place to Change and run during the full moon.

As home to the federal government, a bunch of embassies, and a couple of major universities, Washington, D.C., had a vibrant international community, and the lycanthropes were part of it. The Crescent gave them a safe place to gather.

Ahmed explained all this. “We who travel know there is no time for fighting. Death comes to us all and it is a tragedy to hasten it. We have much better things to do than continually fight over who among us is strongest. So, here we are. There are places like this in many large cities: New York, San Francisco, London, Istanbul.”

If T.J. had had a place like this, if Carl had been more like Ahmed, if we could have all acted a little more civilized—too many ifs. I needed too many it's to keep T.J. alive.

Ahmed pointed out a few of the patrons: Marian, the dancer, was a were-jackal from Egypt who had immigrated and was working to bring her sister over. Yutaka, near the bar, was a history student from Japan and a were-fox. The musicians: two wolves and a tiger. Ahmed also mentioned a friend of his who wasn't here tonight, a professor who had defected from Russia in the seventies, who was a bear. I couldn't even picture what a were-bear would be like. The place was a zoo.

It was also a paradise, a Utopia, at least to my admittedly inexperienced eyes. I heard a lot of stories from doing the show—but then, people only called me with their problems. I'd only ever heard, and lived, the worst of it. I never heard about how things worked when they were going well.

The wine made me weepy. I wiped my eyes before tears could fall. Luis handed me a clean napkin from the next table over.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yeah. This is so different from anything I've known. I never thought it could be like this. Everybody's getting along. You're all so friendly.”

“I'm happy we could make you welcome here.”

Ahmed said, “Your experience. What's it like?”

I shook my head absently. I wasn't sure I could put it into words. “Power. Jealousy. There was an alpha, and he protected us. But he controlled us as well. I had to fight for any kind of respect, but I refused in the end. It was all fighting and death. I had to leave. Then I get here, and Alette feeds me this line about the local lycanthropes being chaotic and dangerous, that they'd try to hurt me, and it was so easy to believe her. But she lied to me.”

Ahmed shook his head. “Perhaps not from her point of view. Alette mistrusts us all because there is no alpha, no one she can negotiate with or control. That is why she says we are dangerous.”

“You'd give her the benefit of the doubt?”

“I've encountered many of her kind, and I think she means well, in her own way. Her worst fault is arrogance.”

I had to chuckle at that, but the sound turned bitter. I wondered if it was too late to refuse Alette's hospitality. I could stay here the whole time.

The woman had stopped dancing. The musicians played slower songs now, gentle background music as they experimented with each other's sounds and harmonies. The evening seemed to be winding down; a few people were leaving, waving at friends as they left. I wasn't ready for the night to be over. I wasn't ready to leave this place.

Luis put his arm around my shoulders, a warm, comforting contact. I leaned back and nestled against him. With him on one side, and Ahmed on the other, gazing serenely over his domain, I felt like I'd rediscovered the very best part of having a pack of my own: the safety, the protection. Friends all around me who wanted to keep me warm and safe. It was how I'd felt before T.J. was killed. I didn't think I'd ever find that again.

Ahmed looked at me, his lips pursed studiously. “You know the story of Daniel, yes?”

I searched my groggy mind. I felt like a puppy napping in a friendly lap. I didn't want to have to think. “Daniel?”

“The story of Daniel and the lion's den.”

“That Daniel? Sure,” I said. It was a Bible story. In ancient Persia, Daniel was persecuted for his belief in God and tossed into a den of lions to be eaten. In the story, God sent angels to hold the lions' mouths closed, and he emerged from the den unscathed.

“Yes,” Ahmed said. “Do you know why Daniel survived?”

“It's a story about faith. God was supposed to have protected him.”

He shrugged, noncommittal. “Yes, in a way. But not how you think. You see, Daniel saved himself. He spoke to the lions and asked them to spare him. He knew their language because he was one of them—were-lion.”

My eyes widened. “The Bible doesn't say anything about that.”

“Of course not—not explicitly. But it's there, if you look. This was thousands of years ago, remember. Humankind and animal kind were closer then—our years in the Garden together were not so long ago. And our kind, the lycanthropes, we were the bridge between the two. Daniel was very wise, and what he learned was his purpose. That there was a reason for him to be part lion, that God had a reason to make him that way. This is what we learn from Daniel. That we have purpose for being who we are, and what we are, though we may not always know it. Daniel is a saint to us. It's one of our greatest stories.”

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