Chapter 24: Targets
Beta Denise Thorssen’s POV
“BETAS TO MY OFFICE NOW!!” The command thundered through the bond as we were getting ready for bed. I looked at my mate, wondering the same thing- what the hell pissed him off this time.
“We better get over there before he destroys another desk,” Charles said as he took my hand. I put my remaining shoe on before he helped me up. His arm moved around my waist as we moved to the door of our quarters. We didn’t have far to go; this wing held only the Alpha and Beta quarters, and our offices. The Alpha quarters took the end of the building, our smaller rooms were on the north side of the hallway, and our offices were on the other. The Alpha’s office was next to his quarters, a conference room separated his large office and the smaller Luna office from ours. The Pack House was quiet; we knocked on his door and walked in.
As soon as I saw him, I knew exactly what had happened. He was sitting on the floor, leaning back against his desk, an open bottle of whiskey in his hand. Tears were flowing down his face as his free hand was touching his neck, the mating mark already fading from his skin.
Our Luna, Madeline, had died.
Eleven mated werewolves had gone with Doctor DelMara, and eleven females had died. I rushed over, kneeling by him and pulling his head into my shoulder. I was crushed, losing Connie had almost sent him feral, and to follow it up by losing Madeline was so unfair. Some had spoken in hushed tones about him taking another mate so soon, but I knew the pressures he was under. Everything was going to hell, and he had no heir, no future. A Pack with no heir was an invitation to take over. “Oh, Mitch,” I said as I gently rocked him. His emotions broke, the tears pouring out as he sobbed onto the T-shirt I was wearing.
My mate took the bottle from him, going over to the bar and pouring it over ice in three glasses. He sipped on one, waiting for his Alpha to gather himself again. When he finally ran out of tears, he moved over and helped him back into his chair. When he was done, he brought him the bottle and a glass, the other glass he gave to me. As soon as he sat down on the couch, I sat in his lap, his free hand around my waist. “When?”
“I started feeling her pain at about ten thirty, it felt like I was being stabbed in the gut,” he said. “I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. I suffered with her, then the pain started to fade.” He wiped away a tear, then took a gulp of his drink. “At eleven twenty, it stopped- the pain, gone, the bond ripped away a moment later. I could feel the mark dissolving, my soul being torn apart again. She’s gone.”
“She was a good female, a good Alpha. I am proud to have known her,” Charles said. “To Madeline, may Luna embrace her and dry her tears.” He raised his glass, then I took a sip of the burning liquid. Mitch gulped down the rest of his, getting up to fetch the bottle again.
“Drinking won’t stop the pain,” I said. “You should rest, let us make the arrangements for her memorial service.” We had been averaging a memorial every other day for three weeks.
“I’m fully aware of what is involved in losing a mate, Beta. I don’t need your lectures.”
“I’m sorry, sir, I just don’t want to lose you again. You scared us last year, lashing out, disappearing for days on end.” I looked down at my drink. “We are your Betas, we are here to help you.”
“Then drink with me.” And so we did. Bottle after bottle, until the sun rose and he finally slept.
I managed to sleep for a few hours at a time, and my day was ruled by checks and worry over the tiny child. Little Jennifer was a fighter, but she had so much to fight against. I spent an hour in my office, doing research on what I needed to do before I was back in the room. I stared at the tiny form in my gloved hands through the plastic cover. She was no longer blue, she was a bright red now. She refused to take a bottle and was running a temperature. I’d given her antibiotics already, but if she didn’t get any milk in she would dehydrate and shut down. “I’ll have to put in a feeding tube,” I told Jessica, who was nervously waiting for the verdict.
“Have you ever done that?”
“Once, ten years ago, on a full-term baby,” I said. I had reviewed the basic process and set up the equipment. She would be on a tube for weeks, allowing me to control better her fluid and nutrient intake. I simply couldn’t be here all the time to feed her by syringe. I set Jennifer down as Jessica put her hands in the glove bag. “I need you to hold her, neck slightly back, and head towards you,” I said as I readied the tube. Carefully threading it through her nose, then down her throat, I made sure it was in place before taping the tube to her face.
Jennifer did NOT appreciate what we were doing, but it was for her own good. We pushed a few cc’s in, checking to make sure it was not coming back up. When I was satisfied, I stood up and stretched. “Next feeding I’ll have you do,” I said. “We need to make sure she doesn’t get tangled up in wires and watch for signs she needs a diaper change.” Werewolves could easily scent when she needed it.
We had a chart we were tracking everything on; vital signs, bowel and bladder movements, and feedings. I scheduled one every three hours, and with the tube she could be fed whether she was awake or asleep. “I need to get a nap, wake me before she is due to eat. If her temperature rises another half degree, wake me up,” I said. I was nervous about infection, that was the biggest danger right now. I didn’t know what effect the bleeding had on her, if she had ingested her mother’s blood or another pathogen. At this age, her immune system was weak, a cold would kill her easily.
“I’ve got it, Vivian. You get some sleep.”
“New parents don’t get sleep,” I smiled as I pulled off my gloves and tossed them away. I went back to the entryway, where the beds were set up. Snake had gone back to the clubhouse, but I saw Moose and Scrape watching television in the break room, bags of chips on the table, rifles within reach. I collapsed into my bed and was asleep in moments.
Beta Denise’s POV
Alpha Mitch slept until noon, then he shifted and ran out of the Pack House. He didn’t respond to the link, he just ran. “My love, he went east into the woods. He can’t be out there alone.”
“I’m on it already,” Charles sent back. “I have a team set up, we’ll monitor.” I was worried about him; when the despair of mate loss set it, it was all too tempting to just give yourself over to your animal part. If it went too far, became too unbalanced, the wolf couldn’t get its human side forward again. It would attack humans, kill livestock, and continue until it was put down. Taking down an Alpha was hard, taking down a feral Alpha could take a whole Pack.
He ran most of the afternoon before returning. I met him at the door, tossing him shorts and a shirt as he changed back. “Welcome back, Alpha Mitch,” I said as I gave him a hug. “Feel better?”
“I do,” he said. “I don’t feel like risking the whole Pack by killing Doctor DelMara now, so that’s progress. Meet me in the conference room, bring the Pack leadership with you.” He walked down the hall, disappearing into his office.
Ten minutes later I had gathered my mate, the Head Warrior and his mate, and the Delta in the conference room. Knocking on the door, I let the Alpha know we were assembled. He came in as we stood, our heads lowered respectfully, and took his place at the head of the table. He put the territory map in the center, showing where all the Packs had been prior to the outbreak of SPUDS last year. It was a sobering map.
In Minnesota and western Wisconsin, two dozen Packs had existed. “I’ve color coded these,” he said as he pointed out the Packs in yellow. “These are the Packs that I know still exist,” he said. Ours, and four others. He pointed to the ones in pink. “These packs, another twelve, were absorbed whole by other Packs. The rest are missing, presume destroyed, or disbanded.” This included the three Packs we had been allied with earlier. “I can’t tell for sure which of these remaining Packs is doing the attacking, I just know what happens when they do. All men and boys are killed along with the older women. I’m assuming the fertile females are mated off, and the young girls are being kept as future mates.”
“Are you thinking one of them is going to attack us, Alpha?” The Head Warrior was recently mated, and worried.
“It’s inevitable,” he said. “The numbers will drive it. Look at this Pack. We’ve lost women, and now half of our adult males have no mates. There are only a few dozen in the pipeline, even if we changed the rules to allow mating before 16, it wouldn’t come close. Every year that this curse continues, women will get pregnant and die.”
“So Alpha command the mates, isolate the women during the heat,” I said.
Charles laughed. “Good luck with that,” he said. “Who is going to keep their horny, sexed-up mates away? The same unmated men who have no hope and no future because there aren’t women for them? They are already leaving,” he said. “Four have left the Pack in the past month, I know they thought they had a better change of finding a mate as a lone wolf than in a Pack. Plus, having mates separated during their heat is dangerous. The females can die, and their wolves will fight them, insisting they go with their mate.”
“The purpose of a Pack is to provide a stable structure for the wolves to mate and raise pups,” the Alpha said. “If there is not a path to that, things will break down. I’ve heard stories from some of our refugees already; higher ranking wolves killing males to take their mates, girls as young as twelve being taken as mates, and we know about the organized attacks. Having enough females in the Pack is required for Pack stability, and we don’t have that.”
“So what do we do, boss?”
“We get women of our own,” he said. He pointed at the Brainerd Pack territory. “This is the smallest of the remaining Packs; I expect our warrior numbers are similar, but we will have the element of surprise. I want to attack within the week.”
I had a timer set, making sure I checked Jennifer every five minutes while I studied. She was sleeping and was not due to be fed for another hour. I had my books out, working my college algebra homework.
When I came down here, Vivian had a talk with me about my goals. I wanted to be a neonatal nurse; it was the perfect mix of my natural desires and the needs of our species. Vivian had quickly enrolled me at a local community college, allowing me to start getting my required classes out of the way. She told me that she had enough money for Carson and I to live and go to school, provided we agreed to break our Pack bonds.
That was an easy call for me, I never wanted to go back there. I had seen the looks the Alpha gave me, heard the rumors about his plans. Carson would die, and he’d take me as his new mate now that Madeline was gone. We had already agreed to do it, we were just waiting for the right time. Breaking Pack bonds could cause headaches and fatigue for a few days, and we needed to be strong and ready.
I heard a noise, looking up I sensed something wrong. I smelled vomit. I stood up and looked, Jennifer had vomited her last meal and was struggling to breathe. “VIVIAN!!!” I didn’t wait, I opened the top of the incubator and grabbed a cloth. Turning her in my hand face down, I quickly cleaned the fluid from her face, but she was still having trouble. I set her on her side and reached over and turned on the suction machine, making sure it was at the lowest setting. I carefully used it in her mouth as I held her above the blanket.
Vivian rushed in as I was trying to suck the vomit from her mouth and nose. “What happened,” she said.
“Vomited, she was choking,” I said as I moved over.
She checked her airway, grabbing the suction bulb and removing a little more. She finally sat back, returning her to her back, and got out her stethoscope. “She inhaled some of it,” she finally said.
This wasn’t good, it could lead to infection or pneumonia, both of which were a bad idea. We used some thin blankets, so we could lay her on her side, ensuring if she coughed any up it wouldn’t go back down. “It’s not unexpected, feeding tubes can cause problems. We probably gave her too much too fast. We’ll drop the amount and feed every two hours, starting in an hour,” she said.
I watched as Vivian held the tiny baby, talking to her. I could sense the bond that was forming. Her wolf thought of the tiny one as her own, despite her father still being alive. I removed the soiled linens and brought a fresh sheet, replacing the one in the incubator as she held her.
“I’ve got this now,” she said, “You get some sleep. And it wasn’t your fault, your quick action saved her,” she said.
I walked over and gave her a hug, letting the tension go. “You’ll be a great Mom someday, but she has a father,” I told her before I left.
I could barely her her whisper, “We’ll see.”
Alpha Clark’s POV
The meeting over, I returned to my office. I booted up my computer while I ate the sandwich that had been left on my desk for me. I logged in to AOL, smiling as I heard the “You’ve Got Mail” sound. My heart skipped as I saw the email; I was shaking by the time I read it, and when I opened the photo, I started to cry.
I had a daughter.