682 Close Your Eyes Long Enough
“Saul’s most recent report shows that the repairs to southern borders have been completed, and the foundations for the upgrades that Galen sent over have been laid,” Corrine said with a smile as she turned to the next document.
Axel nodded, looking down at the report that sat before him.
“Looks like the communications tower upgrade is also finished, and I heard this morning that the backup tower is almost done,” Axel said.
“Yes,” Corrine nodded and looked up at him with a smile. “Winter is better than ever.”
Axel nodded but did not look up.
“There are still a lot of security updates that need to be implemented in the residential areas,” he sighed. Making notes on the report.
Corrine sat back in her chair and kept her eyes on her son.
“Yes, but they are on schedule,” she said. “There is nothing so pressing that you can’t afford to leave this office for a few hours every day or night.”
Axel stopped writing and took a breath.
“I know you haven’t been going home,” Corrine said.
Axel set down the pen but said nothing.
“Talk to me,” she said. “Why are you here all day and night instead of home with your pregnant wife?”
“Because she’s not there,” he sighed, looking up at her with tired eyes.
“You knew?” he asked.
“Of course,” she said. “How could I not?”
Axel took a deep breath and sat back in his chair.
“What happened?” she asked. “The two of you are unlike any other couple I have known. I never thought there would be a day that you would willingly stay away from each other, much less have a reason to fight.”
“We didn’t fight,” he said softly. “We didn’t argue. We didn’t even disagree, really.”
He leaned his head back against the chair.
“She left, said she needed time,” he continued. “After what happened in Moonguard… she needed time.”
Corrine sat forward.
“Are you saying she blames you for what happened?”
“No,” Axel said quickly. “No, she doesn’t blame me.”
Corrine watched him carefully. She saw the young man that had cleaned the blood off Ashleigh’s wounds as she slept after returning from her first shift. The one that had become silent and solemn when he learned all that Granger had done.
His greatest strength and flaw was the size of his heart.
“So, this is about Ashleigh.”
Axel swallowed and shook his head.
“No, it’s about me,” he said. “I disappointed her.”
Corrine raised an eyebrow as she sat back in her chair and sighed.
“Axel,” Corrine said. “You need to stop worrying about Ashleigh.”
Axel furrowed his brows.
“Ashleigh’s isn’t even here,” he said.
“She’s my sister, and she is struggling with the loss of her mate. So how can I not worry about her?” Axel huffed.
“You can worry but stop trying to get involved. Stop coddling her and making excuses for her choices.”
Axel clenched his jaw. Alice and Myka both had already told him something similar. But it was a lot easier to say than it was to do.
“I’m not making excuses for her,” he sighed.
“Oh?” Corrine asked, crossing her arms. “Then you agree that she is responsible for Myka and those children being put in danger.”
“I agree that she made a bad decision,” he said. “But I approved the mission, and she did protect them.”
“Which she wouldn’t have had to do if she hadn’t faked the report,” Corrine countered.
Axel clenched his jaw.
“The report only mentioned the village. She did not know that the lake had such dangerous creatures.”
Corrine gritted her teeth. She stood and walked around the desk.
“What are you doing?” Axel asked as she leaned forward and opened one of the drawers.
She reached in and moved the hanging folders until she found what she sought. Then she pulled out a piece of paper. Finally, she moved back around the desk and sat in her chair across from him.
“Moonguard not safe. New creatures in village. Too dangerous for extended observation.”
Corrine read from the paper aloud. It was a copy of the original scouting report that Alpha Ross had sent with Myka.
“Moonguard not safe,” Corrine repeated angrily. “That means the territory, not just one section, was unsafe. New creatures in village. That means that the scout found unrecognizable hostiles in at least one location. Too dangerous for extended observation…”
“That,” she said, looking up and meeting his eyes with a cold anger, “means that the scout, trained to look for and analyze dangerous situations or creatures, felt that the enemy he discovered was too dangerous to be observed safely.”
“I know what it says,” Axel growled.
“Yes,” Corrine said. “Now that Ross has sent you a copy.”
Axel clenched his jaw.
“A copy that he had because the scout believed there was an immediate threat to the nearest pack,” she stated.
Corrine took a breath and let it out slowly.
“Knowing what the report actually said,” she continued. “Would you have approved Ashleigh’s mission?”
“Answer me,” Corrine demanded.
Axel took a breath.
“No,” he replied.
“And when Ashleigh read this report, do you believe she knew you would not approve?”
He turned away.
“Axel,” Corrine growled. “Do you believe that Ashleigh knew if you read the report sent by your scout, you would deny her request?”
“Yes,” he said quietly.
Corrine sat back and took a breath.
“If you try hard enough and close your eyes long enough, you will always be able to find an excuse for someone’s bad choices,” she said. “But at the end of the day, it was still a choice they made, and it was still bad.”
Axel swallowed down the painful feeling that was growing in his chest.
“You know she never wanted anyone to get hurt,” he said. “She thought she could keep them safe.”
Corrine met his eyes, and he saw the weariness, anger, and sorrow that lived in them.
“The only reason that Myka and those children were ever in danger is that Ashleigh changed this report,” Corrine replied, holding the paper. “Because she lied to everyone and chose to take that risk with their lives.”
Corrine sat back, feeling the exhaustion of the conversation settling over her.
“I know it, Alice knows it, and Ashleigh knows it,” Corrine sighed. “The only one trying to make excuses for her, is you.”