Dominant Species

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Duane’s senses were starting to dull, the drive through the mountains thus far had been boring compared to what they had in the valley. They would make North Fork soon if they didn’t run into any trouble, he thought, and he couldn’t wait for that. Dogs may like to roll around in manure, he thought, but his human side found it tough to take the stench hour after hour. He couldn’t wait to get out and clean up. The cab of the dump truck was quiet, the women up front were not in the mood to talk and he was trying to focus on driving. The passengers in the dump truck bed were keeping quiet so far, not that he would hear them unless they screamed.

He made his way down a hillside and towards the stream below. Something… something wasn’t right, he thought, and then the moon cleared from behind a high cloud and he could see the dark shape blocking the road. He slowed as it came into his headlights, the tree was big enough to stop them and the road was too narrow to go around it. “Wake up.” He gently shook the woman next to him; he was going to have to get out and clear it. “I’ll attach a winch cable to the tree, when I’m done attaching it I need you to use this control to pull it towards us until we can get around it.”

Duane moved to the front of the truck, pulling the winch cable towards the tree. The separation from the stench of the poo wagon allowed his smell to search the wind, and when it did, he froze. Dropping the cable, he went back to the side of the truck and pulled off his clothes before shifting into his grey wolf with white patches. Moving forward, he sat in the headlights of the truck and let out a loud howl of greeting.

It was only a few seconds before the distinctively powerful sound of an Alpha returned to him, followed by howls from multiple pack members. He could tell they were surrounding him. Using the link with his remaining Pack members, he told them to get out of the truck and join him. It took a few minutes to get everyone out of the bed of the truck, so by the time the three Alphas walked around the tree and into his view they were all present and waiting. Duane and Luke were in the front and both bowed their heads in respect, along with all of the women and children standing behind them. Many were shivering in fright as the power of the three men washed over them. “Alphas… we come in peace seeking sanctuary. I am Duane Molback, former Gamma of the Wise River pack. The women and children behind me are all that is left of my Pack. Luna told me to bring them to North Fork.”

Luke stepped forward then. “I am Luke Morgan of the Wisdom pack, my sister Leia,” he nodded to her, “and I are the only survivors of the Wisdom pack. We joined with Duane because Luna in my dream told us to head for the Salmon River.”

The three Alphas looked at each other, then broke out in smiles. “Wow,” Reggie said, “Luna has been busy.” The refugees looked confused. “It’s all right, Luna has appeared in our dreams as well. One of the things she said to me was that she would be gathering wolves to us. You guys are just the first of many that will join our three Packs.” He looked around. “We need to send you on to North Fork, the Luna there will take care of you. The rest of us have some things to do first.” Reggie called up a number of wolves to push the tree off the road while he had Duane start loading his people up again.

“I’m sorry we’re making you get back in that stank pit,” Donald said, “but we don’t have spare vehicles. I’m taking warriors north, Luna is having me establish a new Pack in the Bitterroot Valley to protect the humans and wolves remaining up there. The humans are being terrorized by some criminals out of Missoula.”

They started walking towards the buses as they talked. “Could you use another fighter? I want to contribute where I can, once I know my charges are safe I can…” He froze, his nose sniffing the air, and his eyes glowing as his wolf surged forward. The smell, he was sorting it out, but it was there, and it made him instantly hard as he recognized it for what it was.

Donald looked at him, then at the buses. Beta Candice had just stepped off, she was frozen in place and was staring at Duane with wide eyes, eyes that were also glowing. “You’re him,” she whispered, but it was the sweetest sound Duane had ever heard.

“MATE!” His wolf took over, and he ran forward to her. She broke out of her state and ran to him, jumping in his arms as her legs wrapped around his waist. Their lips crashed together as the tingles worked their magic. His arms squeezed her tight as he spun them around to the whoops and cat calls of the assembled warriors.

“By Luna,” Calvin said, “That was quick!” He smiled broadly, any mating was a cause for celebration but he knew how long Candice had been waiting for him. He looked at the other Alphas as Duane carried her off the road, finding a stump where he could sit with her for a moment. He looked around, all work had stopped. “This isn’t a party, people, we have a job to do here. Get the dump truck loaded and send it on the way to North Fork, and get back on the buses.” It only took a few minutes before they were moving; a young man from the Salmon pack had volunteered to drive them since Duane was, well, “indisposed.”

They finally broke their liplock as he heard the truck get in gear. Duane cupped her face and looked at her. “Where are you going, love?”

“Corvallis, we are heading there to protect the humans. I’m a Beta of the North Fork pack, I’m in charge of organizing logistics until Alpha Donald is set up.” She hugged him tightly.

“Then I will be going there as well.” He stood them up, holding her hand as they walked to the bus she had stepped off.

She stopped in front of Alpha Calvin, hugging him she asked the question over the bond. “Of course,” he replied. “Duane, as you are mated to my Beta, do you want to become part of the North Fork Pack?”

“Yes Alpha.” He knelt before him and exposed his neck in submission; Calvin gripped his exposed neck with his teeth, and felt the Pack bond form. The removal of his old Pack bond and the forming of new bonds was painful for him, and Candice had to help him stay upright as his mind adjusted. They both helped him to his feet and back on the bus, where she had him put his head in his lap as they started moving again.

The rest of the bus gave the new couple as much privacy as they could as they journeyed north. They passed the dead towns of Gibbonsville and Sula and eventually broke out of the mountains into the Bitterroot Valley. It wasn’t long then until they were entering the town of Darby, where they expected to find Terry waiting for them, but he was nowhere to be found.

The buses stopped in the city center, a few of them getting out to stretch their legs. The noise attracted a few of the residents who seemed to expect them. “There a Donald in there?”

Donald looked over at the young man. “I’m Donald, have you seen Terry?”

“Yeah, he jumped up and shifted into his wolf just after sundown, took off to the north like a bat out of hell. He did say we could expect you coming through. My name’s Jason Striker. Are you going up to Hamilton?”

Donald nodded. “Good, then a few of us would like to come with. Terry told us what is going on, we talked about it and we don’t want those bastards getting anywhere close to our town.” As he was talking, a few more men, armed with rifles and pistols, lined up with him.

“Well, hop on then. We don’t want to keep you from a good fight.” He shook each of the six men’s hands as they boarded, then got back on and they started moving north again. “So Terry filled you all in?”

“Yes, although finding out werewolves was a bit of a shock, we frankly can use the help. The past week has been pretty rough on our town, and no one has been able to get things organized until he showed up.” Jason looked at the other men. “We are down to about thirty people. Whole families have been wiped out. I spent most of my time trying to save those who were sick, but very few remained. Terry bit the four that were left last night, they are improving but have the fevers now.”

Donald smiled, at least that was going well. “My charge is to bring safety and organization to this Valley. I’m the Alpha, the leader of the wolves that will be here. These two,” he pointed at Calvin and Reggie, “are the Alphas of North Fork and Salmon. They are here with some of their people to help me push those criminals out of the valley.”

Reggie shook their hands first. “I’m Reggie, and we know that until we bring stability to these towns there is no chance of bringing organization.”

They continued the discussions until they came up on the next town of Gorus. Barry wasn’t there, and no humans were either. “Fuck,” said Donald. “Where the hell did he go? These are the times I wish I had a Pack link with them.” He got back on the bus and they continued north to Como. There were some people there, but they said Brian and two other wolves had left a few hours earlier to go to Hamilton.

“You get the feeling we’re missing the fun?” Calvin looked ahead, hoping to see people. Henderson had people, all right, but it was a good thing they honked three times as they drove into town. They could see a few dozen armed humans on the rooftops, watching them carefully as they came to a stop in the center of the town. The three Alphas got off the bus, looking around for the Sheriff, and not finding them. Eventually, an older lady came out to talk to them.

“Hello Donald, good to see you back with your friends.” She gave him a quick hug. “The Sheriff and your other wolves all went north. After you left last night, they talked and decided that they didn’t want to meet a threat in town.”

“So they went back to Corvallis?” Donald looked north with concern.

“No, they are going farther north. The problem with Corvallis and here is that there are multiple roads into town they could use. They want to catch them before everything spreads out. They left us here in case they got past us.” She looked at the men and women in the buses. “I don’t think they’ll get past you, though.”

“Not gonna happen,” Reggie said. “Do you need anything here?”

“No, we’re just working to get things organized. We’re setting up a community kitchen, and trying to gather up useful items from houses where people no longer live. We’re also taking the dead we find to the mineshaft; it’s not the best burial, but it’s all we can do right now.” As she was talking, Calvin had mind linked with Candice. She kissed Duane and walked off the bus to stand with him.

“This is Candice, she’s one of my top Pack leaders and is gifted in organization. Candice, I need you to stay here and help get things running well.” She nodded, she knew that her job here wasn’t to fight, even though she wanted blood just like the rest of them. She pulled her T-shirt up to cover the fresh mark on her neck Duane had given her, then linked him to stay safe. She waved at them all as they headed back out of town.

When they rolled into Corvallis, this time Terry was there to meet them. He hopped on the bus as it was coming to a halt. “Hey Donald, glad you’re here. Too bad you missed the fun.”

(Hours earlier)

Terry, Barry and Brian huddled over a map at the Hamilton City Hall, along with the Sheriff and a half dozen townspeople. Terry was worried, their plans relied on intercepting any bad guys outside town, but there were two north-south routes, 93 and 290, and they didn’t have enough people to set up for ambushes on both roads. They needed people, as they didn’t know what kind of military vehicles the guys up in Missoula had stolen. Terry drew his finger along Highway 93. “This is where they came down last time, right?”

The leader of the Corvallis group nodded. Jesse Anderson was a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters . “Yep, then they came up from the river on the Woodside Crossing.” He pointed to where that road crossed the Bitterroot River. “The bridge here is a natural choke point, that would make a good blockade area. We should be able to push some vehicles onto it and slow them down a bit.” Looking back at the Eastside Highway, he shook his head. “Too much open land here, too many ways to go around a blockage. I think we need to be closer to town for this side. Put up some barriers to slow them down, but basically we need to know which way they are coming then we flow the people that way to respond. Our problem is communication.”

Barry smiled. “I think we can help there. What we can do is to put one of us on each major road, then the third stays here in town with your response force. Terry and I will shift to wolf form and push well north of town until we see them, and use our telepathy to contact Brian back here. I don’t think we’re dealing with high level tactics here, these are criminals and gang members we are dealing with.”

Terry nodded. “We need to draw them out of their vehicles if we can, I’d rather not shoot up something that we could use afterwards.” He looked at the other men. “Of course, if they are going to make it to town, do anything you can to stop them. We can’t have a repeat of last night.”

Terry and Barry took off their clothes just outside the building and shifted into their wolf forms, one heading out of town each direction. Within an hour they were both in a good position overlooking the approaches to Corvallis, and it wasn’t long after they made contact.

“Highway 93. Looks like two Army trucks, one jeep, and one pickup truck. I count eighteen hostiles, all heavily armed. They are ten miles out.” Terry waited until the convoy passed, then broke cover and followed them at his top speed back towards town. The fifteen minutes notice he provided them would prove critical to the town’s survival.

When the convoy reached the Woodside Crossing, the next part of their plan came into play. A young woman volunteered to decoy the men; she was dressed somewhat provocatively, showing off her assets to full effect, as she stood in the road just past the intersection and waved her arms. “Help me! Help me!” The vehicles came to a halt in a line and a half dozen men jumped out.

“Well, well, looks like we found us a good one!” The men approached her, some openly leering, as she put her hands down and started to walk backwards. “Don’t worry, little lady, we have plans for you tonight.” With this, she turned around and started to run back up the road. The six men took off in pursuit as the vehicles moved up to cut her off. She jumped off the south side of the road, into the brush on the west side of the river, and as soon as she was past the waiting men they stood up and opened fire.

The first volley of rifle fire took out all but two of the pursuing men. As their cohorts fell dead, the two tried to turn for the safety of their vehicles but were cut down before they could run ten yards. More men jumped out of the trucks, seeking cover on the north side of the road before finding out that this was a bad idea. More men stood up, blasting the men into oblivion before they could turn their rifles towards the new threat.

The drivers had seen enough, so the lead truck accelerated towards the bridge. He saw the cars blocking it, and staying in low gear he tried to push his way through but was ground to a halt. He was getting ready to back up and try again when Brian jumped up on the passenger side rail and reached out with his right arm, his pistol firing twice as the driver was instantly killed.

The town’s forces moved forward, mopping up resistance as they found it, and within two minutes of the ambush’s start it was quiet again. “Everyone all right?” Brian heard a man call for a medic, he had been shot in the arm through and through and his friend was already tying a shirt around the bleeding wound. Other than that, everyone had made it through all right.

They pulled the dead to the side of the road and collected their weapons. As they were going through the trucks, Terry trotted onto the scene, shifting from wolf form to human as Barry tossed him a pair of shorts. He had blood covering his face and chest. “You all right?”

Terry smiled. “Not mine. A couple guys thought they’d sneak back the way they came. Idiots didn’t even have guns.”

(Present time)

“So, Donald, we now have their working vehicles and arms. What’s the next step?” Terry sat next to Donald on the bus, and felt his Alpha power as he did so. “This is new. When did you become an Alpha?”

“Last night,” Donald said, “When Luna told me to be the Alpha of this valley. You want a pack again?” Terry nodded and he formed the Pack bond with him. Barry and Brian came on board and also submitted to him, giving him his first three Pack members. While they were recovering from the change in their bonds, the Alphas were meeting with the leaders of the Corvallis resistance.

“I think we make a thunder run,” Jesse said to the group. When they looked at him quizzically, he sat back and smiled. “Remember the Gulf War? An Army unit drove a column straight into Baghdad, not stopping for anything or anyone. We use their vehicles and do the same thing; they are expecting the guys back, so that works in our favor. That group runs straight for the center of town while the buses and wolves unload outside of town and sweep in towards the center, cleaning up any resistance as they go.”

Calvin smiled. It sounded like fun, and he wanted this over as soon as possible. With the men he had lost tonight and last night, the leader of this gang couldn’t have much left. “I like the sound of that. Let’s liberate our friends up in Missoula.”

There were cheers, tears and hugs as the convoy loaded up. The newly captured vehicles were driven by the new members of the Bitterroot pack, with a member of the North Fork and Salmon packs riding along for communications. Volunteers armed with rifles loaded into the back from the town, leaving the buses full of Pack warriors and a few townspeople. Most of them would be in wolf form when they entered town, as they could move much faster that way.

They were ten miles south of the city limits when Donald heard something he hadn’t heard in a week. “Quiet!” He pulled off to the side, soon followed by all the others. He looked out the window in shock as a black helicopter flew north along the river, until it disappeared into the distance.

The column pulled out after they were sure the helicopter wasn’t coming back out again. Donald was driving the lead Jeep they had captured earlier that night, followed by the two Army trucks and the pickup. Behind them were the two school buses carrying the majority of the fighters, both human and werewolf. Donald spoke to the North Fork wolf sitting next to him, and he relayed the message to the twin boys riding in the bus behind them. He knew that it was important to bring stability to Missoula after all they had been through, but he had a selfish interest in this town, one that was critical to his mate. He had to find her family, for without knowledge of them she would refuse to settle down in North Fork with him.

Eric and Derek were thrilled to be given this task; they would head straight to her parent’s house as the rest of the group swept into town. It was an honor for such young men as them to be trusted with the Alpha’s family.

It wasn’t long before the buses were pulling aside, just out of sight of the outskirts of town. The column waited until the warriors had dispersed along a line over a mile wide, in small groups of humans and werewolves. The line as one moved forward, and as they swept through the mostly deserted housing developments they heard the engines roar behind them.

The four vehicles sped past them, their new banners flying proudly from flagpoles newly mounted. They didn’t have much, but they did have the Corvallis High School flags, and the Blue Demons logo snapped in the wind as they shot past. The column ignored the people that came out of their houses, ignored the stalled vehicles and burned out buildings, and pushed forward towards the downtown. As they passed, the men in the line raised their arms in salute as they passed.

Eric looked over at his twin, both had shifted to their wolves as they had already memorized the route they needed to take. The moon was moving in and out of the clouds, and they tried to time their movements to the darkness as they raced ahead of the others to their objective. Their senses were overwhelmed by what they were seeing on the way in; the smell of death was heavy in the air, it was clear that the dead were numerous and no attempt had been made to bury them. The neighborhoods were partially burned out, probably from people using fireplaces and campfires at a time when there was no power or water available. They raced through those areas as quickly as they could, then slowed again where people might be around. The Alphas had warned them that people might shoot at wolves as a reflex, not knowing they were here to help.

As they reached Bench Street, they were relieved to see that the neighborhood seemed to be intact. They took turns racing between housed until they arrived at a ranch style house number 1987. Lifting their noses, they searched around the outside and didn’t sense or hear anything, so they went up on the front porch and shifted. Pulling on the clothes from their packs, they looked around the quiet neighborhood. There was plenty of decay in the air, but no indication of people.

They went to knock on the door before they realized the lock had been breached, it had been popped open with a crowbar and then reclosed. Derek reached into his bag and retrieved his Glock pistol, Eric following him as they stood on either side of the door. If anyone was inside, they weren’t likely to be friendly. Eric mentally counted down from three and then Derek burst through the door, moving to the left as Eric crossed behind him and covered the right side.

The place had been ransacked, but not much had been taken. They moved through the house, seeing that the master bedroom jewelry case was on the floor and empty. Whoever it was who did this was looking for money and gold, as everything else was left even if it had been tossed on the floor. They cleared the rest of the bedrooms, completing their sweep of the main floor, then walked back to the kitchen where the door to the basement was.

Eric opened the door and stepped aside; the basement was very dark, only a few shafts of light came through from the escape windows. They waited a minute, using their wolf senses they sampled the air and listened, but nothing came through. Eric moved quietly down the stairs, sweeping the room with his pistol as he descended, and when he was sure the room was empty he called his brother down. They moved through the man cave, noting the bar had been emptied of some bottles while others were broken on the floor. The laundry room and storage areas were clear as well. Derek stood next to his brother, looking around in disappointment. If her family wasn’t here, they were likely dead and neither of them wanted that answer.

“So what now?” Eric put his pistol in his pocket as they looked back through the basement. Derek didn’t say anything, but then they heard a noise from behind them. They froze, focusing their senses on the concrete wall behind them as they held their breath. It was faint, but they could hear people breathing. Eric looked at his brother and pointed at the wall. They spread out, placing their ears on the wall they could hear the panicked pants of several people on the other side.

“Hey… something’s wrong with these dimensions. See that window?” Derek pointed at the window during his mental communication. “That was a good twelve feet from the end of the house when we were outside, but here it’s only two feet. This has to be a false wall.”

They looked at the wall, most was blank except a large shelving unit on the side. Eric reached into his bag and pulled out the small flashlight, one that still worked and thus was worth its weight in gold. They looked at the edges and the floor. “Check this out,” he sent. “You can see by the dust pattern on the floor that this unit opens up on this side. We need to find the latch.” It took them a few minutes until they found it, then they could move the unit out of the way and see the vault-like door in front of them.

There was no quick way to get through this, Eric thought. “Maybe we just knock?” Derek nodded in agreement, so they used a wrench that was on the shelf to knock three times on the metal door. “Hello? We know you are in there. Silvia sent us to get you.”

They could hear some whispering inside, then a man’s voice yelled back at them. “Who are you?”

“I’m Eric Becker, along with my brother Derek. We’re from North Fork, Idaho. Silvia and her family were attacked on the road, we’ve taken them in. She asked us to look for her parents and her brother, that’s why we are here.”

There was a pause. “Attacked? Are they all right? Why isn’t David here to get us?”

Eric looked at his brother, the truth was always the best play. “David was killed when they were attacked and Silvia was assaulted. The trauma caused her to lose her baby.” There were gasps from the other side of the door. “Zach and Michelle are fine, they are staying with their mom. It was too dangerous for them to come get you.”

“So how are you here?”

“We came with a large group, the gangs that run this town are going to be dead by the end of the night. Too many people have been terrorized by them, it’s time to bring peace to those who need it.” He paused for a moment. “Are you Daniel and Ann Forrest, and your son Jacob?”

“Yes.” There was a pause as they discussed things among themselves. “How do we know you are telling the truth?”

Derek looked at his brother, it wasn’t like they had spent a lot of time with Silvia. Finally, he had an idea. “She showed me a photo of her family, taken at Michelle’s baptism. Zach is holding on to her side, he looks like he’d rather be doing anything else.”

There was a noise of bars moving and a few moments later the door opened. A man stood there, pistol in his hand, and looked at the two boys. “Zach hated sitting around, the boy just wanted to eat. He’s always been that way.” He waved them in. “This is my wife Ann, and my son Jacob. Any friend of our daughter is welcome here.”

They shook his hand and got a hug from Ann, but when they went to Jacob it was clear he was blind. “What happened with him?”

“When the power and communications went out, I thought it was an attack and I told everyone to get to our safe room here.” He shined the flashlight around, the room was long and narrow, racks of guns lined one wall and there were bunks and food shelves along the other. “Jacob went to get his girlfriend, she wasn’t home. By the time he was back to our house he could barely see, and his vision was gone by the time we got him down here. We’ve been hoping that it would get better, but no change so far.”

“We can help that if you agree, my mate.. uh girlfriend was the same way and we were able to restore her vision.” Derek looked at the three. “I can offer it to you, but you have to know a few things first. We are werewolves, and it is by biting him and turning him into a werewolf that we can start a regeneration of his eyes. He’ll become like us in about three days.”

Ann started to laugh. “Werewolves… just when I was starting to believe you! Get out of here, you…” She stopped as Eric pulled off his shirt and shorts and shifted into his large wolf.

“Like we said, werewolves.” Derek looked at them as his brother sat at his side. “We’ve always been here, we’re just a little better suited to living under these conditions than humans.” Over the next few hours as they got to know the three, they explained everything about werewolves and what had happened with Silvia since the solar flare event.

It was getting late in the night when Jacob made the decision to take the bite; his parents wanted to wait until they talked to Silvia about it first. Derek did the honors, biting his forearm and starting the turn. They reported back to Donald what they had done and that they would be staying with the Forrests until the next night.

Since they now knew that the radiation danger was passed, they left the safe room open and hung blankets over the bedroom windows to keep the light out. Eric and Derek brought sleeping bags into Jacob’s room so they could keep an eye on him, as the fevers might begin before the end of the day. Soon the house was quiet except for the light snores coming from Daniel.

Their sleep was interrupted about noon by Jacob, who was complaining about how the light was in his eyes. He sat up, rubbing his eyes and looking again; he could see in black and white! Looking around, he saw Eric and Derek sitting up and looking at him as he shouted to his parents that he could see again. They rushed into the room and embraced him as the twins smiled.

Jesse’s grin was wide as they led the Thunder Run to the middle of town. He was riding shotgun in the lead Jeep with Donald and two other wolves, dressed in desert camouflage with an AR-15 on a single point harness, it was just like old times for him. Frank was their contact with Salmon Pack and Luke with North Fork.

So far, the run had been easy, they had moved through the outskirts of town without opposition. As they got closer, some people came out to see what was going on. Jesse would scream “FREEDOM!” and they would raise their fists as they went past. It was time to rid the town of the infestation brought by the former inmates of the prison.

Things slowed down a little as they got closer to downtown, as there were more vehicles in the way. Donald had the Salmon pack warriors dismount and shift, sending them to each side of their convoy to make sure they wouldn’t be ambushed. They steered around the stalled vehicles near the Bank of Montana, and finally had a clear path to the City Hall in the main square of the town.

“Looks like we won’t hit any resistance,” the North Fork warrior said.

Just then, a volley of shots tore into the convoy. Donald jerked the wheel left as his windshield was shattered by multiple rifle rounds, and the trucks behind him also broke the line and headed for cover behind parked cars. Donald’s maneuver caused him to hit the curb, and the combination of speed and turn rate made the Jeep unstable, and it rolled on its side. Luckily, the Jeep body was between them and the snipers who were on the roof and windows of the three story building ahead of them. Donald freed himself from the seat belt, then looked around. “Everyone all right?”

Jesse popped his belt and rolled out, taking a position near the engine for cover. “I’m all right.”

Frank freed himself, moving to the rear of the vehicle for cover. “He’s gone,” he said. Donald looked up, one of the shots had entered Luke’s forehead and left a fist size exit hole on the back of his head, there was no coming back from that one. He grabbed the rifles and extra magazines, plus his bag of explosives, and joined Jesse up front.

“They have us pinned down on two sides,” Jesse said. “I count a dozen shooters in City Hall, and three more on top of the building to the left.” He looked around behind them, they had gone too far into the street to get cover from parked or stalled vehicles. They were truly on their own.

Donald moved over to where Frank was at. “Pass along to the Salmon wolves they need to circle wide and flank these guys, get in the buildings and take them out. Tell them we’re pinned here.”

Frank closed his eyes. “They are on it. The trucks are somewhat protected, the humans are spreading out. They’ve got a few with scoped rifles that will go after the shooters we can see.”

The next five minutes were tough on the attackers. There were a few good shots among the bad guys, and they had good elevated positions to shoot from. They were smart enough to shoot and move, and that made it tough for them to take them out. Jesse was getting nervous, being pinned like this never ended well. “We have to break out of this, boss. Any ideas?”

Donald looked down at the bag he had brought with; the homemade Claymores were in there, but instead of detonation cord they now had fuses. Four of them could make a difference. He took two out, and put his pistol and extra magazines in his bag with the remaining two. “If we can get inside, these charges will clear out an entire room, then we go room to room for the rest. We have to knock out the guys from behind.” He looked at Frank. “Any progress on getting at these guys from the back?”

Frank shook his head. “The parking lot behind the building is almost empty, no cover and too far to run. They’ve lost a couple already, they are still trying to figure out how to get in there.”

Donald looked at Jesse. “You stay here and provide covering fire. Frank, put these in your bag and shift. Tell everyone to give us cover fire while we make a break for it. When we get inside, we’ll both clear the ground floor, then you go to the second and I’ll go to the third.” As soon as Frank was shifted, he took his bag in his mouth and moved to the back of the jeep. They were just about to give the order to go when a loud thumping sound was heard, quickly approaching. Donald looked up, the helicopter was back.

The moon was bright enough that he could make out the Huey gunship and the door gunners leaning out the sides. The firing slowed as both sides tried to figure out what this was. Donald was spurred into action. “It’s our diversion, go go go!” He shifted, grabbed his bag and sprinted around the front of the vehicle as Jesse opened up, along with a number of the others in their team. Donald sprinted for the front doors as Frank ran for a ground floor window, both ignoring the bullets slamming into the ground around them as they ran. The helicopter made a low pass on the scene but didn’t interfere. Donald ran up the stairs, shifting on his final jump, and stood in front of the double doors. He opened it and jumped through, his pistol in his hand as he looked for resistance and found none.

Frank took a running leap through his chosen window, landing in a large office area. He shifted, ignoring the cuts on his body from the glass as he did so. He pulled the pistol out and grabbed the bag of explosives with his left. Moving to the doorway, he opened it quickly and knelt down. A man with a rifle was running his way, sighting quickly he squeezed the trigger twice and the man fell. He ran over to him, pulling the rifle away and slinging it over his shoulder. He heard firing from a room down the hall, so he went that way.

Donald had moved down the hallway to his left, finding no one he reached the emergency stairway and climbed up to the third floor. His level and the roof had most of the snipers. As he reached the doorway, he heard the helicopter coming back, but this time it had started firing. He could almost feel the machine gun fire as it slammed into the building and burst through the windows, but he ignored it as he entered the long hallway. He heard firing from a conference room to his left; pulling the first charge from his bag, he cut the fuse down to just a few inches before lighting it. He opened the door, tossed it in and ran down the hall towards his next target. The explosion rocked the building, and the firing behind him stopped.

Frank moved to the stairway as he didn’t find any more resistance. Running up a floor, he could hear several people yelling in the hallway behind the exit door. Smiling, he pulled out a charge and lit it. When it was nearly done, he opened the door and tossed it down the hall, then raced down the stairs to the landing. The explosion didn’t disappoint, the fire door caved inwards from the blast and was penetrated in several places. He didn’t wait for his ears to stop ringing, he just ran back up and through the door. The hallway was shredded, he counted four men dead and the fifth he shot dead as he ran past. He had made it to the west hallway when a door opened ahead of him and a rifle fired four times. He felt pain in his chest and his right arm as he dove to the side, his pistol falling to the ground as his hand couldn’t grip it any more.

There were shouts down the hallway as he pulled himself to a sitting position with his good arm. Ignoring the pain and the blood he was coughing up, he pulled the last charge out and lit the fuse. He could feel the life draining from him as he watched the fuse burn down. When it was almost there, he used the last of his strength to push himself forward and launch the bag down the hall with his left arm.

The explosion silenced the noises in the hallway, and he smiled as he bled out onto the worn carpeting. “Second floor clear… take care of my family… tell them I’m sorry… I…”

Outside by the trucks, Reggie felt the pain of the bond breaking as he processed the last words of his Pack warrior. He pushed aside the pain, the battle was still going on. The attack run by the helicopter had done serious damage to the men on the rooftops, and he needed to end this now. He ordered his men to attack. Instantly, wolves rushed forward through the empty parking lot, this time only sporadic fire greeted them. They entered through multiple doors and windows and kept going, shifting only when they needed to open doors or windows.

The battle only lasted a few more minutes before the wolves had taken down all the resistance. Reggie and Calvin moved to the area in front of the steps, the humans with them, as they met the warriors in human and wolf form who were now coming out of the building. They were being updated on the situation when Donald walked out the front doors, limping slightly as he moved.

The helicopter was now circling the square, so Reggie took his white T-shirt off and waved it over his head. “Put your weapons down,” he told everyone and they quickly complied. The Huey circled once more, then landed on the roof.

There was no sound as the dead and wounded were carried one by one to the waiting trucks; in addition to Luke and Frank, two other fighters had been killed and another six were injured. Humans and werewolves alike stood to honor the fallen as they went past, and to encourage the wounded. Reggie had them all return to the trucks while the three Alphas stayed in front of the stairs at the front of the partially destroyed building.

It didn’t take long for the men from the helicopter to join them. Three men, all armed with rifles and wearing flight suits, emerged from the doors as the helicopter waited for them above. The leader looked around before he walked down the stairs and stood in front of the three, while the other men stayed by the door.

“Welcome to Missoula, Captain.” Donald recognized the double bar insignia and the Montana Air National Guard patches on his suit. He also recognized something more surprising- his scent. He wasn’t human, he was a werewolf. “I’m Alpha Donald Ross of the newly formed Bitterroot Valley pack. This is Alpha Reggie Wolfe of the Salmon Pack, and Alpha Calvin Pierce of North Fork. What brings you here, Captain?”

He looked at the three and smiled. “I’m Beta John Kennedy of the Helena pack, but right now I’m representing the Air Guard under Colonel Michael Kent. I was doing my weekend duty when this hit, we managed to survive and get one of the old helicopters going. We were contacted by a ham radio operator who told us this town was under the thumb of a criminal gang, so the Colonel sent us to investigate. I take it that is why you guys are this far north?”

Donald nodded. “My mate’s family is from here, and we ran into those assholes down in Corvallis as they were getting ready to rape some women. We rallied the towns and came up here to get rid of them. Thanks for your help, by the way.”

John laughed. “The first pass we couldn’t figure out who was the good guys, but when I saw wolves surrounding the building I knew you were fighting them. There’s something satisfying about a weapons free run.” He looked back at the two men behind him. “My gunners sure liked it. They are human though, as is my pilot and my unit.”

The meet and greet was soon interrupted by the townspeople who had come out to see who had freed them from the grip of the criminals. There were medical personnel among them, who took the wounded to the hospital for treatment. Western hospitality being what it was, the park soon transformed into a picnic area as residents flooded in, bringing food and drink with them. It was a good chance for everyone to celebrate and get to know each other as the night was ending.

Captain Kennedy was first to break it up. “I have to get back to base before sunrise. How can I get in contact with you?”

Reggie talked briefly with the other two, then shook his hand. “Invite your Commanding Officer and his representatives to meet us in three nights in Salmon, land at the clinic there. We will have the leadership of the towns, civilian and werewolf, there to meet with you. Our goal is to bring peace and order to this land so we can keep as many people alive as possible.”

“I can do that. Thank you, Alphas, and I look forward to seeing you again.” He and his men went back into the building, and a few minutes later the helicopter took off and headed east.

“It’s getting late,” Calvin said. “We need to find places to rest for the night. Tomorrow we’ll burn the dead, then we can head back home.”

“You’re staying with us,” one of the women said. Sure enough, soon every wolf and human in their group had an invitation to stay with someone in town. Calvin smiled, this was exactly the kind of bonding they would need if the region was to take the next step. He walked with a family to the home he would stay in for the night, looking at the eastern sky starting to light up, and said a silent prayer of thanks to Luna for their success, and a plea to help the families of the dead.

Dawn broke on a different world than the day before.

“Alpha Josi, we need you again.”

The young Alpha groaned, opened her eyes and looked at the wind up alarm clock in the corner of the clinic waiting room that had been converted into a staff sleeping area. Thirty minutes… she had only been asleep for half a freaking hour and it was almost sundown. She sat up, rubbing her eyes as her wolf searched for its mate; he was too far away, they had left for Corvallis and weren’t expected back for a few more days. Reggie being gone left a hole in her heart that physically hurt; she had only been mated for a short time, but was addicted to him.

She groaned, then got up off the couch and walked back into the treatment area. She had been back there most of the night as a number of new wolves were making their first changes, and they needed an Alpha there to keep the new wolf under control. The Salmon pack had developed a model program for helping humans through the changes, as Doctor Marcus had personally bit over a hundred of the town’s residents to save them from a slow death due to radiation poisoning. The treatment and training they had to develop was now being shared with humans turned by other packs under an agreement the three Alphas made.

“Where is the new turn?” None of her Pack members could look her in the face, they just moved aside and then she saw one of the people that had been sent south to visit the other Packs. The young woman wouldn’t look at her, she kept looking at her hand which was holding something, a necklace, it looked like…

“I’m sorry, Alpha. We found your scent on a Ford Excursion outside Blue Dome on the way to Idaho Falls. There was a woman in the car.” Josi sank to the ground as her eyes picked up the detail of the necklace she had given her Mom for Christmas last year. “She was caught in the open, she didn’t have a chance. We buried her, we thought you would want this back.”

Josi’s mouth was open as the woman approached and placed the necklace in her hand. She looked at it and the emotions took her, she sobbed loudly as she fell to the ground. The Pack members all reacted to her emotions, some coming to embrace her while others shifted and howled their loss to the skies.

Josi’s only family member was gone, her mate was too far away to sense, and no comfort was enough for her as she wailed her grief to the room. Her Pack did its best, but ten minutes was all the time she had to grieve as another human was making the change.

Josi got up, wiped her eyes and went back to work.

When she had another break, she sought out Jessie, the young woman who had gone to Idaho Falls with one other. Taking her hand, she led her into a small examination room where they could have some privacy. “Thank you, Jessie, for taking care of my mother.” She touched the necklace she now wore around her neck. “She was all I had left, but at least I know.” It took a few moments before she was able to look at her eyes, there were tears in them. “What is it like out there?”

“It’s bad, Alpha.” She looked at her feet, then back into Josi’s eyes. “The closer we got to Idaho Falls, the worse it was. Cars in the road, in the ditches. People dead in the cars, in the ditches, pretty much everywhere. The desert sun had cooked everything pretty badly; if it wasn’t for your scent on the car, we wouldn’t have come within ten yards of it. We decided I should come back and tell you while he continued to Idaho Falls. We could smell the burning from there and see the glow on the horizon. I don’t know what he will find there.”

Josi closed her eyes, then opened them. “I guess we’ll find out in a few days. Come on, there are people who need help, and you need some food and rest.” She led Jesse off with her arm around her shoulder, providing the love and support needed from her Alpha Female.

They had almost made it back out to the reception area when Tammy broke through on the mental bond. “Alpha Josi, I need your help! It’s Robert, something’s wrong, his wolf is growling at everyone!”

She turned and ran back towards the rooms, wondering why a mate wasn’t enough to help Deputy Stevens complete his change. She saw her Pack members backing away from the open door; moving between them, she let her Alpha power precede her, she needed to squash this before someone got hurt.

The wolf standing protectively over Tammy’s wolf on the floor was huge, as big as Reggie. He was silver with black and white highlights, his eyes were a glowing green, and he glared at Josi as she entered. Josi expected him to cower as her Alpha powers washed over him, but the opposite occurred. He growled louder and let his own influence out.

Robert was an Alpha.

They pushed back and forth, both posturing as their wolves fought for dominance. Josi sent to Tammy to shift back to human form, but before she could change she was pinned to the floor. Robert had his jaws on her neck, and she immediately stilled and presented her neck and stomach in submission. When this happened, Josi felt her bond with her break as it reformed to her new Alpha.

Josi backed out of the room and closed the door, thinking that some time alone with his mate might be enough. Sometimes you needed to deescalate the situation, she didn’t want to fight with a newly turned wolf. She could hear the growling had stopped and the sounds had turned into those of a mating; Tammy was howling in pleasure as she was taken in wolf form. Smiling, Josi walked back to the front. “At least I’ll have some help after he gets through his basic training,” she smiled to herself as she sat down again.

“Alpha Josi, we need you again!” She let out a huge sigh and got up. No sleep was in her future, evidently.

Candice looked around the storerooms in the basement of city hall, and the rapidly filling nature of them. She had pushed aside her desire to mate with Duane because she had an important job here in Henderson; it was up to her to get people organized. As soon as the buses had left, she called a meeting of all the residents still alive on the steps of City Hall. They knew about werewolves, some of them were receptive and some were hesitant, but all quickly saw the wisdom in using their time to be prepared.

Just as they had done in her Pack, she divided the people into groups and sent them into town to collect what they could. The grocery store downtown took all the canned and boxed food they could find, power had been out way too long to risk the stench of opening a refrigerator or freezer. In these rooms, they were collecting clothing, boots, tools and anything else that might be of use. She was happy at the collection of gas powered machines collecting in a screened in area; the water pumps and small generators could come in very handy. Drugs and medical supplies were being collected at the drug store across the street.

The best news had been with the facilities. Several public works employees had survived and were put in charge of a team to restore water and sewage, without them disease would surely follow. They located at the National Guard armory a pair of towable generators and a truck that could tow them; once relocated to the water and sewer department, they were able to rig them up to the pumps required to get the systems back online. They promised to have the water towers filled again before sunrise so people could take a quick but cold shower. When they reported in, it was decided that they would run the systems every six hours or so then shut the generators down to save fuel, which was the next priority. Another group was working on using the portable pumps to tap into the gas station diesel fuel tanks and transfer them to towable fuel tanks.

It was all going well, it was just that her mind was on Missoula and wouldn’t settle until her mate was back safe in her arms. Her wolf was restless; she moved outside and looked up at the sky, it was going to be dawn in an hour or so. Pulling off her clothes and folding them on the picnic table, she shifted to her wolf form and took off for the river. As she reached the edge of the canyon above it, she sat and let out a mournful howl to the moon, a howl of loss and hope.

He ears picked up as her howl was answered from the hills on the other side. The return howl had power behind it, Alpha power, but it wasn’t her Alpha. She howled again, this time in greeting and invitation. She ran down and across the bridge, working her way to the edges of the farms on the west side of the river as their periodic howls got closer together. Finally, she saw a large wolf break through the trees and she sat as he walked to her. He outranked her, so she showed her neck in submission as he came closer. He sniffed her, she did the same, then she shifted to her human form. “Welcome to Henderson, Alpha, I am Beta Candice of the North Fork pack.”

The man shifted, he was young and strong with long blonde hair and bulging muscles. “I am Alpha Carl Johnson of the Blue Mountain pack. Well… what used to be the Blue Mountain pack.” His head dropped with sorrow. “Luna told me to head south, that I would find my future there.”

Candice chuckled. “Evidently Luna has been busy. Come on, we need to get inside before sunrise. I’ll get you fed and fill you in on everything that is going on.” They both shifted and ran back into town, Candice shifted and got back into her clothes and then led Carl inside where she handed him some clothes from the storeroom. “Dinner was an hour ago, but I’m sure they have some left over.” They walked together to the kitchen which was being cleaned up, but they were able to get a few sandwiches and some chips to take with them.

They sat outside at the picnic table, watching the sun wake up behind the mountains. They ate quickly, but eventually the silence became too much and Candice had to ask. “Alpha, where is your Pack?”

“Gone.” He looked to the north, his face was sad. “I was out on a patrol of our western territory when it happened. I didn’t notice much as first, but my Pack was at home or at work. They started having trouble, losing vision, then they got sick. I was deep in the forests so it took a little longer before I started having trouble seeing. I knew I couldn’t get back, so when I got to an abandoned mine shaft I went inside to wait it out.” He took a few more chips, set his jaw and continued. “I got sick, I was throwing up and feverish. I tried linking, but it didn’t work. I don’t know how long I was in that mine shaft, but when I finally healed I ran home in the darkness. My Pack, all twenty-three of them, was gone, as was everyone I knew in the area. It took me a full night to collect them all and send them off, I burned them all within my Beta’s house. That night, I lost the will to live.”

Candice reached out and put her hand on his shoulder, normally you’d never touch an Alpha but this one needed it. “You lost your mate?”

“No, I haven’t found her yet. It’s just the loss, the hollow inside me from being an Alpha and having no one left. I failed them.”

“There’s been so much death, Alpha Carl. I’m happy you made it, and that you are here. There is much work to be done, and frankly we need a bunch of Alphas to do it.” She filled him in on all that had been going on in the North Fork and Salmon packs, and the three Alphas that were currently up in Missoula helping the people there. “We have so many humans volunteering for the change, or those so severely sick they have to take the change or die, but we don’t have enough Alphas for them all. The other Alphas should be back here tomorrow night, until then please accept my hospitality and I’ll show you to a room for the day.”

“Of course,” he said. “I see your mating bite is fresh, isn’t your mate here?”

“No, he’s fighting up in Missoula. I actually have only been with him for a few hours, we met as we were traveling up here. Luna called him to me.”

“Congratulations,” he said as they moved inside. “Maybe Luna will show me favor as well.”

Brian wandered away from the gathering in front of the Missoula square, unsure of where he would go. The rest of his small pack was splitting up, already have received invites into people’s homes. He had been invited but had refused so far, he was restless and didn’t know why. He thought about it until his stomach started making noises; he had eaten some of the food earlier, but was still hungry. He followed his nose into the building to the kitchen where a half dozen local women were still cleaning up from the big meal.

As soon as he entered the door to the kitchen, his wolf rushed forward in his mind. There was a scent, a scent that called to his very soul… “MATE IS HERE” yelled his wolf in his head. His head tilted back, he scented the air and followed it to the sink area where a young woman with shoulder length red hair was scrubbing a large pot. “She’s human,” he told his wolf. “We can’t just mark her.” His wolf argued a little, but wolves are clever creatures and know the hunt can be spoiled by moving too quickly, so he receded and let his human side take the lead.

He moved next to her, taking a towel in his hand he started drying the pans she had already finished. She ignored him, but her intoxicating scent had him painfully aroused and the silence was difficult. “Hello, my name’s Brian.”

She kept her head down, not looking at him, and moved slightly away from him. He smelled a little more, and forced his wolf back as he identified the other smells- dried semen and blood. Given what had happened to the women they had rescued further south, he had no doubt what had happened to her, a beautiful young woman trapped with a bunch of hardened criminals. Finally, she spoke in a whisper. “Christine. Christine Dodge.” She scrubbed harder at the pot, as if she could remove her own stain with the same effort.

“I’m sorry you had to go through that, Christine. If I could kill them again, I would. My wolf agrees with me, we want to kill anyone who abuses others.” He noticed she froze when he said he was a wolf. “Yes, I’m a werewolf. I grew up in Wye River; we joined a number of people and werewolves to come up here and liberate this town. We couldn’t let them do things like they did to you.”

She didn’t say anything, she just rinsed the pot and handed it to him. She finally did look at him as he dried it, and he could see her interest. Human or not, the mate bond was going to do its work the longer they were near each other. “Thank you for the help. I need to go, it’s almost dawn.”

Brian set the pot down and reached for her hand, which was on the edge of the sink. She jerked as his hand touched hers, the tingles going through her hand and up her arm, there was something so right about his touch and yet she had just met him. She looked down at his hand. “What was that?”

“That was a sign that confirms what my wolf already knows. You are special to me, you are the one made just for me, the one I’ve been searching for. You are my mate.” He raised her hand in his, ignoring the shaking he gently placed a kiss on her palm, feeling her relax into the sensation. “I will never hurt you, it would be like hurting myself.”

“I don’t have time for a man, nor do I have interest in one.” She pulled her hand loose. “I need to go.” She turned and walked to the exit, the last woman was already turning out the oil lamps that had lit the small kitchen.

He followed her out the door and up the stairs to the front steps. Looking around, he could see the early rays of dawn behind the mountains in the east. “Can I escort you home? I would feel better knowing you are safe.”

“I want to go back to my place, but it’s at the far west end of town. I don’t think we can walk there in time. We’ll have to find a place closer.”

He smiled at her. “I can get you home in time, if you just trust me a little. Can you do that?”

She looked at him, something told her deep down she could trust him even though her mind was telling her that no man could get close again. Finally, she nodded. “Wait here,” he said. Going back inside and leaving his shirt in the door so it wouldn’t latch closed, he pulled off the rest of his clothes and shifted into his large gray wolf with black spots. Picking up the clothes with his teeth, he pushed the door open and padded over to her, sitting at her side. He pushed the bundle of clothes into her hand, and she got the idea and put them in her purse. Brian dropped his legs down and yipped, moving his head back.

“You want me to get on?” She knelt down, her hand exploring his furred shoulders as she took in the huge wolf. He yipped again. “What the hell, you’re almost as big as a horse.” She swung a leg over and put her arms around his neck, grabbing the thick fur on his forechest. He stood up, bringing her head up close to her normal five foot two height. She settled her one-hundred-pound frame on his back. Brian’s wolf luxuriated in the contact as they went down the stairs. He looked around. “Turn right and follow this road out of town.” He moved off, increasing speed as she became more comfortable until he was at a steady run.

The sun was just about up when she guided him to a two-story building. She jumped off and opened the door, ignoring the sounds behind her as Brian shifted and put on the clothes she had tossed to him. She walked in, he followed behind her and from her scent he could tell she was still nervous. “Come on, my apartment is downstairs and I have all the windows covered.”

She tossed her bag on the counter in her small kitchen and reached into the cabinet by the sink, pulling out a couple bottles of water. Handing one to him, she took a long drink then looked at him. “So this mate thing; do I get a choice in it?”

“Of course, there is always choice. It’s not a choice I would make; I believe you are my key to happiness and I would never reject you. I just want to get to know you, so you are more comfortable with me and you make that choice as well.”

She hopped up on the counter and looked at him through the soft light diffusing through the one window above the sink. “Why do I feel comfortable with you? Everything I think, especially after these past few days, would tell me to run away yet I want to cuddle up in your lap and go to sleep.” He snickered, his wolf would love that. “Are you using magic? Drugs?”

“Nothing like that. We believe that each wolf has that one person made just for them, and we identify them by smell first. There is what we call the mate pull, it works to bring you together.”

“And if I was a werewolf?”

“Right now we’d be in bed going at it like bunnies. I’d mark and mate you as soon as I could.” He noted her expression and went into a brief explanation of marking, while mating she pretty much figured out. Finally, after many more questions and with her bottled water gone, she jumped off the counter.

“I’m going to bed. You,” she pointed at the couch, “can stay there. I’m not ready for more than that right now.” Brian walked over and gathered her in his arms, smiling as her small body melted into his chest. He kissed her and let her go, she looked back once before closing the door. He pulled off his shirt and pants and went to the couch, finding a throw blanket and a couple pillows. It wasn’t the best result, but he could still protect her.

Alpha Donald, it’s Brian… I found my mate!” The mental message shocked Donald, as he had just reached the house where he was invited to stay for the daylight hours and was getting ready for a well-deserved sleep.

That’s fantastic, Brian, who is she?”

“Her name is Christine Dodge, and she was helping out in the kitchen. I went back to see if they had any leftover food that I could take with me and as soon as I opened the door, I smelled the most amazing scent. I tracked her down, she’s human but she is feeling the pull. She brought me back to her home, we’re in her basement apartment right now. I’ve told her I’m a werewolf and we’re working through some of the questions right now.” He could feel the pride coming through the bond as Terry and Barry added their congratulations. “She’s taking it well, better than I expected.”

“That’s great,” Donald said. “Just be patient and explain everything to her, the last thing you want to do is scare her away. Trust me on that.”

“There’s more. She won’t talk about it, but I could smell she was one of the women who was raped by those bastards. She shies from contact and is fighting the pull. I’m in her apartment on the couch, she wouldn’t let me into her bedroom yet.”

Donald sighed; this added a whole bunch of problems to the mating for him. “Just be there for her. When and if she wants to talk about it, she will. Just be patient. Where is her place?”

“I had to shift and let her ride because her apartment is well northwest of downtown, near the airport, and otherwise we’d have to crash with others. Being alone with her was a much better choice, I think.” After a few more words, he shut the link down; it was time to sleep.

He woke to her screams. The flimsy door lock on her bedroom stood no chance as he burst into the room ready to kill, only to find her rolling on her bed in the throes of a bad nightmare. Moving to the bed, he laid down and gathered her in his arms, pulling her to his chest. “Shhh… you’re safe. I have you. They can’t hurt you.” It took a few minutes for her to calm down and breathe normally as he rubbed her back and whispered comforting words into her ear. “Want to tell me about it?”

She looked up, her chin on his breastbone as he held her on top of him. The mate bond was helping, and when she stopped fighting it she relaxed and started to talk. “When it happened, I was sleeping. I work the night shift at a bar downtown. I woke up to the landlord screaming. When I went upstairs, he was wandering around the room, yelling he couldn’t see. I led him down to my apartment and we stayed hidden there for four days. I would go out at night, but everyone around was dead. He never recovered his sight, then he got a fever and started throwing up. He died horribly.” She started crying again. “I put him on a blanket at night and pulled him outside. I heard a truck coming, it was a big Army truck, I thought I was saved. I ran into the street and flagged it down.”

“It wasn’t the Army, was it.” Brian kept stroking her hair.

“No. They were dressed in orange and had wild eyes. They jumped out of the back and chased me down. One backhanded me, then they dragged me back and threw me in. Four men raped me on the way to the city hall.” She took a minute, relaxing again into his touch before continuing. “They locked me in a room with ten other girls at night. When they returned, they would pull girls out to take to their rooms. If you were lucky, it was only one guy. For others, it was five or more. They… they did things to me I still can’t think about without breaking down.”

“I’ve got you, Christine. They can’t hurt you again.” He kept her close, and soon her eyes closed and she fell back into a sleep. He closed his eyes, his wolf whining in his head. Sleep was tough to achieve, but eventually he did.

Two hours later, he opened his eyes. She had left a couple windows open to get fresh air into the apartment, even if heavy blankets had to block the harsh UV light. His wolf woke him up because something wasn’t right. Sitting up, he sniffed deeply and the smell of a fire came through strongly. He jumped out of bed and grabbed her sunglasses from the dinette table, then ran upstairs to the upper bedrooms. Moving the drapes aside, he looked out and froze when he saw what was coming from the mountains to the north. A line of fire was bursting forth, carried forward towards the town by gusty winds. The trees and houses were going up like kindling as the harsh sunlight had dried out and killed so many trees and all the grass.

ALPHA DONALD, WAKE UP! ALPHA! TERRY! BARRY!” He shouted through the bonds, hoping someone would answer. It took a few seconds before he got a response.

Jeez, Brian…”

“Alpha, we’ve got a huge fire building here on the northwest side of town. With the winds we have going, it’s going to sweep through town like Sherman through Atlanta.” He looked out again. “It’s about two miles from me, I’ve got to bug out.” In just the time he had been talking, he could see the fire line growing and advancing.

Brian, get back to the buses, we’re getting out of town. Hurry up, I’m alerting the other Packs right now.” Since there were a few other wolves staying in the same home he was in, he could get the other two Alphas notified of the threat.

What about the sunlight?”

“Do the best you can. Use sunglasses, cover exposed skin. Use a blanket over your head if you can and look down, and minimize the time you’re out.”

“That might be tough, boss, I’ve got to wolf out here to get back and she’ll be riding.” He ran back downstairs. “I’ll see you in twenty minutes or so, Boss. I have to go.” Rushing into the bedroom, he shook Christine awake. “Get dressed, honey, we’ve got to GO NOW. Fire is coming!”

Christine jumped up and pulled on clothes while Brian told her what the plan was. She put on jeans, a T-shirt, long sleeve flannel shirt and hiking boots. Over her head, she found a ski mask in her closet and pulled that over her head, then pulled out a pair of ski goggles and thin gloves.

“Do you have another one of those,” Brian asked. “The goggles will work better on me in wolf form than sunglasses.”

“I think so,” she said. Digging around on the shelf, she found another. He shifted into his gray wolf, and she adjusted the strap so the goggles fit over his eyes. He went to the bed and picked up his clothes in his mouth and brought them to her, she stuffed them in her pockets and then she led him up to the back door to her apartment. Pushing the door open, she let him go up the stairs before she swung her leg over and mounted him like a small horse. “Shit, we gotta go.”

He howled a warning howl as he saw what she did, the fire was much closer now and ash was starting to fly though the air in the gusty winds. He took off as fast as he could to the southeast, howling warning as he went. “Alpha, Christine found some ski goggles, they seem to work well in wolf form. We’re on our way.”

Donald cursed to himself, why didn’t he think of that. “Thanks Brian, I’ll pass the word. We’re getting everyone to the city square and loading up the buses, meet you there.

The fire was gaining on them; he could see burning embers being blown ahead by the winds, setting new fires in the dry grass and wood of the town. The smoke was now heavy, blocking out most of the sunlight as he ran. It sapped his strength as he ran, he eventually had to stop and cough before taking off again. Christine had her face buried in his thick fur, breathing through it and the ski mask, but she was starting to cough as well.

He made it to the bus on fumes; Donald pulled Christie off his back and pushed her into the bus as he shifted. He was still panting hard when Donald pulled him to his feet and onto the bus. As soon as the door closed, the bus started moving.

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