Chapter 68: Without a Ker
“Where’s Mabel?” I looked around, almost in panic, as the last of my Pack members exited the charter flight and she was still gone. Al and Marge were by my side, she was reaching through the bond for her and she wasn’t answering.
“Mated and moved,” said Gunny as he came up and gave us a big hug. “Some retired Beta from Alaska swept her off her feet. They are visiting his Pack right now.”
“Alaska?” Marge started rolling in laughter. “Mabel was just telling me about how nice it was down here, never having to worry about snow again. I’m SO going to bust her chops now.”
“Me too,” I said. “I’m never going through another North Dakota winter, my cat and I love the jungle life.” I leaned back into Craig’s muscled chest. “You with me?”
“Always, my mate. I like clothing-optional weather, especially for you.”
I smacked his arm and grinned. “I’m not going into heat until next year, you know.” We got back in the cars and drove back home. There was plenty of space now, the island seemed kind of empty with everyone gone, and even now I found myself missing the chaos from before. “How did the trip go, Gunny?”
“Really well, actually. Since the war ended, the packs have come out in a level of cooperation Mabel said had never been seen before. We had no problems traveling between Packs, in fact we were honored guests wherever we went. Having a common enemy and facing the demise of our species focused everyone on what was really important.”
“How are the Packs doing?”
“Struggling, really. The consensus of the Alphas we talked to is that a third of the Packs no longer exist, either wiped out completely or absorbed into others. It could be better, some might be waiting it out to see if humans really will accept us.”
I sank into the seat. “What about the Johnson Pack? I know Renee is alive, but what about the rest?”
“Derek sends his regards. He’s really busy right now, trying to rebuild his Pack House and taking in refugees. He said he was down under a hundred left when the war ended. The ones that returned to him were a big boost. He owes you his eternal gratitude for saving his most vulnerable.”
“But he doesn’t know, right?”
“Nope.” Gunny leaned back and closed his eyes. “It was hard lying to them, Ella, telling them you were really dead. Some people knew already because of the press coverage, others have been isolated so long they didn’t know. It crushed them and their Pack to hear you were gone.”
I hated this. I hated having to hide, I hated that I asked people to lie to me, most of all I hated that I couldn’t just get on a plane and visit my family.
We got back and got everyone settled, and after wrassling my kids into bed I retired back to our room and dropped my clothes in the hamper before joining Craig in the shower. Later, as we were cuddling and getting ready to sleep, I let him know what I was feeling.
“I know you miss things, Ella, but your safety is the most important thing to me,” he said. “I know it sucks, but I’d rather be stuck forever on this island with you than spend a single day with you gone.” I leaned down and kissed him hard, relaxing into his embrace. “I’ve talked to Al already. He agrees, the longer we can keep you dead to the world the better.”
“I just feel like I want to go on offense for a while, you know? I can’t live like this forever, cats aren’t meant to be looking over their shoulders. My panther wants to hunt.”
He pulled me tight. “And my wolf wants you safe in my den, with our babies.” We fell asleep slowly that night.
The next morning, I pulled Al and Gunny aside and told them what I was thinking. Al was certain we should stay hidden, but Gunny surprised me with his answer. “You’re right, Ella. It’s time we started hunting.”
“Craig won’t let me.”
“I didn’t mean you. Send me.” I looked at him funny. “It makes sense. When you want to kill a sniper, you send a sniper. I’ve still got contacts in the military and the CIA. I can try and track her down, plus I can see how the CIA really feels about her and what is going on.”
I thought about it for a bit. “You’re Pack now, Gunny…”
“Yes, and that means I protect them AND that includes you. Plus, I don’t have a mate here, so traveling around isn’t a bad thing. Truth be told, it’s kind of boring around here. Nothing but pigs and waves.”
I snorted. “Try spending months and months in cat form around here, by yourself.”
“No thanks.” We talked longer about how it would work, and when we brought Craig in he quickly agreed.
A week later, Gunny was flying out on the plane that had brought Mabel and her mate Carl in for their visit. Carl didn’t look to be sixty, he looked like Cary Grant and loved like a porn star, if the noises from their room were any indication. When they finally came down for breakfast the next morning, I had left a carton of condoms on her chair. “You don’t want to ruin your youth by getting pregnant now, do you?”
“If these aren’t made of Kevlar and steel, they won’t last a minute with us,” she smirked. “I’m happy to see you finally figured out what they are, now we just have to teach you how to use them!” Wait a minute, that boomeranged on me quickly! “We’ve got a lifetime of loving to make up.” She kissed him deeply, he wasn’t even embarrassed by her behavior. I could only imagine what it was like to find your mate at that age. “Besides, if we were to have a child it would be Luna’s second greatest blessing in my life.”
“What?” I put on my shocked face as I lifted my shirt so Gary could latch on. “I was #1 up until last week, and now you’re shoving me down to the third spot?”
“Fourth,” she said. “Your babies are much more fun than you were, because I can just hand them back.” I loved having her back, but she no longer belonged here and I could see that in her face. It was hard saying goodbye, but they promised to visit- especially in February.
Months passed with no news from The Pack was thrilled when the first discussions of Wolfstock came about. It was everything I thought we needed as a species- a chance to find relatives and mates, to form a united leadership, and put a better face on werewolves after the long war. I was just apprehensive; I wanted my Pack to go, but I knew I couldn’t. It also made it more likely someone would slip up and let out I was still alive.
When it rolled around, almost the entire Pack went; it was important for the families and young ones to be able to find their lost relatives and friends. One of the big things that was coming from it was a complete census, so we could finally know who made it and where they went. I was curious about what had happened to some of the Belden Pack members who had gone elsewhere when my parents were killed and I was attacked.
It seemed like a different lifetime back then. All I had to do was go to school and dream of my mate.
Craig and I watched the opening ceremonies on the TV in our room, our children surrounding us on the big bed. I nearly lost it when they started a slide show of the packs that had been lost, some had been friends and allies. The waterworks didn’t stop for me, as they awarded medals to five people who had shown great courage during the war and reflected the best of our species.
The second person to receive the medal was Jimmy Erickson, the warrior we had rescued from the Johnson Pack at the beginning of the war. He was standing there, his remaining arm around his mate, as the emcee read his citation. The logistics and support network he stayed behind to set up, providing food, weapons and shelter, had saved hundreds of wolves from certain doom.
I lost it at the last award. Derek and Amanda walked on stage, holding a photograph as the assembled wolves rose to their feet. They accepted the award… for me, posthumously. My initial distribution of the UV filtering contacts had saved many from death, and word quickly spread to all Packs of its effectiveness. “That was actually Ker,” I said to the screen. The stage filled with dozens of children and vulnerable adults who were saved and sheltered thanks to my efforts.
“She may have lost her wolf, but she never lost her love for us,” Derek said. “She risked capture time and again to bring people out, and many have returned to us after five long years, safe and happy. We owe her more than we can express.”
Craig held me as I broke down, my oldest hugging me tight as we watched the outpouring of support. I dried my eyes as I watched the coverage; mates being found, the fun runs, and the interviews.
When Renee walked into that challenge circle, my blood ran cold, and when I saw what happened to her I shifted and ran into the jungle. My cat needed to kill, to destroy, to maim after what she just saw.