The Alpha Dilemma
The hatch opened, and Autumn came back down crying. By the time she got to the bottom of the stairs, Mary had ordered the children to shift back. They jumped off the bed, each taking a side of the young girl, and led her back to the bed and curled up around her.
Their Alpha’s voice boomed through the shelter. “Tom, get over here and catch her.” Richard Wolfe lowered the unconscious mother feet first down the ladder until Tom had her, then he climbed down himself. He tossed off the blanket he had used to protect himself from the intense sunlight during his brief trip from the shelter at his house to his daughter’s. “Everyone all right?”
Mary nodded. “The only damage was to a couple of cans of baked beans, and some laundry that smells like brown sugar now.”
Tom placed the woman back in her bed, but this time, he used a pair of handcuffs to lock her left arm to a pipe protruding from the wall. “It was tense, but she didn’t want to hurt us. She was scared and wanted to get away from us.”
“How did she find out?”
Rachel looked at the children. “Raven needed to go to the bathroom; she saw her changing back. We had the kids in wolf form for the night because we thought they would be able to protect themselves better.” She looked at where Autumn was now back to sleep with the dogs. “It’s my fault.”
Richard sat next to his daughter and put his arms around her. “It was a risk we took, and it didn’t work out. That’s just the way it is sometimes.” He looked over at Abigail. “We’ll talk to her when she wakes up, I clocked her pretty good when she came out of there. I’m sure she will be bruised.”
“I feel horrible. I know the Law, and she’s terrified of us. If she refuses the Change, we have to kill her to keep the knowledge from getting out. How do I deal with that when her daughter is here too? What, do we kill her too to keep the secret?”
“We’ll deal with that tonight, but we won’t make a hasty decision. We need to explain things and show her that we aren’t to be feared. All right?” Rachel nodded her head. “Now let’s get some sleep, sundown will come soon enough, and we have a lot of stuff to deal with tonight.” He kissed his daughter as she got into bed, then kicked off his shoes and climbed in next to her. She put her neck on his broad chest and quickly fell back into her slumber.
Bethany woke slowly, the smell of cooking food, and the hand caressing her face and hair pulling her mind out of the fog. She opened her eyes slowly, the light was bright in them, and she closed them again. The movement was enough to cause her pillow to shift. A man’s voice, deep and calming, was in her ear. “Welcome back. Love. Take it easy; moving might be painful until the burns are gone.”
She opened her eyes again, this time keeping them open long enough to adjust. She saw a chest, broad and muscled, with a patch of dark hair just in front of where her face was lying on his shoulder. She moved her head until she could see his face. He was gorgeous, she thought- like a runway model- but she had no idea who he was. He smiled at her, and it settled her down; somehow, this felt right even though her rational mind was wondering what the hell just happened to her.
“Beth, you’re awake!” She looked over at the cot next to her, where her twin sister Britney was resting in the arms of her own man. She looked at him, then at the man holding her in her arms, then back at her sister. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but I need you just to relax and we’ll explain everything to you.” She looked up with loving eyes at her man. “This is Eric; he is my man. His twin brother Derek is yours. They are our mates.”
“Mates? What the hell?” She rose up, grimacing with the pain, and looked at him again. “How? What?”
Derek kissed her forehead. “I know it is a lot to accept, but you are mine, and I am yours. Eric and I are werewolves. We found the two of you because your scent called to us, and told us you were the other half of us. The two of you were severely injured, so much so that we did the only thing we could to save you. We bit you.”
Her mouth could have caught flies. “This some freaky Vampire Diaries stuff?”
“No, my love, it’s real. The change helped to heal you, a little more, and your burns will be gone. They tell me your vision was lost that afternoon, but you can see now. How is your vision?”
She looked around. “It’s weird. I can see, but it’s in black and white. There are some colors, but not like before.” She looked at her sister. “Are you all right?”
Britney nodded. “My vision wasn’t as bad, and my burns are healing well. Eric bit me too. My eyes are good, but I can see it even better now, especially in dim light.”
“That’s the wolf vision coming in,” Derek said. “Your eyes are changing, developing the vision of the wolf. A wolf’s eye is different; it is sensitive to dim light but doesn’t have much for color vision.”
“Will I get my normal vision back?”
“I don’t know, Bethany. We’ll have to see what happens after your first shift.” She settled back down on his chest while he rubbed her back.
“So you’re my perfect guy or something? Why does this voice in my head sound so happy to be with you?”
Derek chuckled. “That’s your wolf, she’s inside of you now, a part of you. You can trust her; she will help you through the change.”
“Well, my wolf is starving.” Derek chuckled as he moved out of the way, putting a pillow under her head. “Get me some food then you have some explaining to do.” He got up and she watched him move away, her eyes lingering on his broad shoulders and tight backside. She then looked back over to her sister and mouthed, “He’s HOT!”
Britney laughed and said, “So’s mine. We are so lucky, Beth, they are so nice, and my wolf is over the moon when I’m around him. It’s going to be all right. Willow and Cheyenne are here somewhere, they don’t have hot werewolf mates and haven’t been bitten like us, but they are doing all right.”
“And Josi? Where is she?”
“She is going to Salmon with Doctor Marcus. She is going to try and find our parents.” They both looked up as Derek came back with a plate loaded with food. He fed her lunch as he filled her in on what was happening.
She had a lot of questions.
He had a lot of answers.
And when he kissed her, she finally understood what he meant about him being the other part of her soul.
Abigail felt stuck in the dark cave. She tried to sit up, but her body didn’t respond to her. She couldn’t touch and couldn’t feel much. She was in a fog, not realizing the sedative was still holding her back.
Her eyes would not open yet, so she focused on the sounds she could make out around her. Most she recognized, one she didn’t. The last thing she remembered was walking out of the closet after escaping from the werewolves, an explosion of pain in her jaw, then darkness.
She hadn’t made it.
Listening carefully, she could hear the delighted squeals of the children as Autumn played with at least two others. She could hear what sounded like a swing set, the whoosh of air past as she pushed higher and higher. “Raven, watch this!” A few seconds later there was the clank of chains then a soft thud. “Hah! New record! Beat that!”
“Oh, don’t worry, I will.” The voice of a boy this time, she heard him pushing higher and higher before he jumped. She focused for a moment on her body, she could start to feel things and figured out she was in a chaise lounge of some sort, probably out in the yard. She didn’t want them to know she was awake yet, so she resisted the impulse to move or open her eyes. The swing had started up again, this time with excited laughs of a young girl. Raven? There was a high pitched shriek as she jumped, and when she landed, the boy groaned loudly. The girls squealed in excitement. “See? Girls rule, boys drool.”
“You got schooled Michael.” Autumn said. “Can you guys be wolves again so we can play?”
“Mom?” Raven’s voice was higher and softer as she pleaded.
“All right, but stay in the yard. I know it’s dusk but when it gets darker Autumn won’t be able to see until the moon is up.” She heard the group run past her, and the door opened a few minutes later, her daughter ran past with two wolves chasing her. She was having fun, and the adults were watching them, so she tried to relax. She knew deep down the two young werewolves wouldn’t hurt her daughter.
“Do you think Abigail will accept the change?” She heard Mary nearby.
“They have to. It’s either that or be killed, though Richard would never tell her that. He’d tell them they could leave and then kill them when they are on the road.” Rachel started to cry softly. “He’s had to do it before; all the Packs have. I’ve never liked it, but it’s the Law. We can’t let our secret out; we’d be in danger if humans knew.”
“My mind understands that, but my heart does not. The option to change and be one of us isn’t an option if the other choice means your death. It would be so much easier if we could erase their memories or something.” She paused. “I think Autumn would do it so she could play in wolf form. It’s only been a few hours, but she fits in with our kids. She isn’t scared of any of this, look at her.”
They all listened to the squeals of the playing children as the conversation lulled. Finally, Rachel broke the silence. “I wish I had my mate here. It’s killing me not knowing that he is all right.” There was a soft sob. “I know he’s alive, I can feel that much. He’s too far away to link to, but with everything going on I’m worried.”
“Rachel, your husband is a former Green Beret. I’m pretty sure he can take care of himself for a few days. Richard and Tom will be back later on, once they’ve finished moving the supplies. And Reggie is doing a long patrol so he will be back by the middle of the night. Marcus is in North Fork, if he’s leaving about now, he should make it easily before dawn, even on that aluminum contraption he uses.”
Rachel snickered. “I know he is faster with it than on three legs, but the ‘pad-pad-pad-CLANK’ sound when he runs is something I never get used to. He’s got some ideas for…”
A scream cut through the night, followed by a loud “MOMMY!”
Abigail reacted instantly to her daughter’s distress, her eyes shot open, and she tried to get up. Her body wasn’t ready yet, so all that happened was that she managed to roll off the chair onto the grass below. She was still trying to get up when Mary ran past her, saying she was getting the first aid kit. She looked out in the yard, in the dim light she could see Autumn sitting on the ground, holding her arm to her chest as the two small wolves licked at it. Her heart broke with her cries for her.
Rachel was there quickly, pushing the wolves away; she instantly assessed what was going on. Her left forearm had a compound fracture, and she was bleeding. She moved the pups out of the way. Looking at them, she ordered them inside to change before gently picking Autumn up. She screamed as her arm was jostled. “I know it hurts, Autumn, but I’m a nurse, and we’ll take care of you. I have to get you into the treatment room, all right?” She nodded.
They got to the patio at the same time Mary was coming back out. “Leave the kit, get a wheelchair, and fetch Abigail then you can help me in the treatment room.” She moved through the house until she was in the room they used for treating werewolves outside the human medical system, and she set Autumn down gently on the table. “Autumn, you have a broken arm and one of the bones poked out. I can fix it, but I need to clean it up first. I will give you some medicine, so you sleep through the bad part, but I need you to be a brave little girl and let me help, all right?”
She nodded, tears streaming down his face. “Mommy? Is Mommy coming?”
“Mary went to get her, and she can stay with you while I’m doing this, all right?” She gently moved her arm, so it was near the edge of the bed on a pad, then put a sterile sheet over the rest of her body. She used one of the LED headlamps that still worked to take a close look at the wound. She had seen Marcus do this before but had never done the reduction and repair herself.
She knew she couldn’t wait for her husband, so she got to work. Moving over to the medicine cabinet, she drew a sedative that would put her under for a few hours and let her fix the arm without Autumn fighting her. She also pulled out a surgery tray, a soft cast, and the materials she needed to clean and prep her arm for the reduction. Placing all this on a rolling cart, she was turning around when Mary brought Abigail in on the wheelchair.
“Baby, I’m here!” Abigail still couldn’t move her arms well, but Mary pushed her on the opposite side of the bed and put her hand up so she was holding her daughter’s small hand in hers. “You’ll be fine, baby, it’s going to be all right.”
Rachel moved the table next to the bed, then looked over at the two. “I have to put her under while I set the bone. She’ll be asleep for a few hours.” Abigail nodded while Autumn looked at the needle in fear. “It’s just a sharp poke then you will get sleepy. When you wake up it will be done. All right?” When she nodded, she cleaned a spot on her shoulder with an alcohol wipe and gave him the shot. “Can you tell me what happened out there?”
“I was chasing Raven around, and I tripped. I put my arms out and I heard a crack, then my arm really hurt.” She started to yawn. “They tried to make it better, they licked up the blood but it hurt so much.”
Rachel frowned; sending to Mary over the bond, “You need to talk to them. If they licked an open wound, it could be the same as a bite.” She watched as Autumn struggled to keep her eyes open while her mom comforted her. It only took a few minutes until she fell asleep. In the meantime, she informed her Alpha over the bond of what had happened and her concern. He told her he would be there shortly, so she closed the link and started to prepare for the surgery.
She and Mary both donned gloves and masks, then put disposable gowns on. Mary used antiseptic wipes to clean the wound, starting where the bone was sticking out and working her way outward until the arm was ready. “I wish we had an X-ray for this,” Rachel muttered. “OK, we’re ready to set the bone. I need you to hold here at the elbow, just hold it in place and let me pull it straight.” She waited until she was in place. “Abigail, you might want to look away.”
Rachel picked up her left wrist with her right hand and trapped it next to her body, while her left hand hovered over the bone. She took a deep breath, then leaned back as the arm stretched. The jagged edge of the bone had to be guided into place by feel, and her fingers went into the wound to help move it around. It took about twenty seconds of pulling before she relaxed. “Dang, that was easier than I thought it would be.” She felt around, checking the alignment as best as she could. It wasn’t bleeding much. Using the surgical kit, she repaired the broken blood vessels and tissue and carefully sewed it shut. She then put gauze over the wound then wrapped it lightly. She then put her arm into the soft cast, tightening the Velcro so it would keep it from moving.
Abigail looked over. “Aren’t you going to put a cast on?”
“Not yet. I want Marcus to look at this before we do anything that final, and we need to monitor for infection.” She stripped off the gloves, then injected her again. “That was a strong antibiotic, just in case. Has she had her tetanus vaccination?”
“Yes, before school started, she got all the shots he needed.” She looked down at her. “Will she be all right?”
“She should be. The arm should be fine by the time the change finishes.”
Her eyes got wide at the inference. Just as she was about to ask, there was a knock on the door. Mary opened it to find their Alpha there, with the children holding on to each leg. “Rachel, you are done now?”
“Yes, Alpha. She will be asleep for a few hours. Mary, could you watch her while we talk with Abigail?” She nodded. “All right then, let’s move back outside. I don’t want to miss any more of the night than we have to.” She pushed Abigail out of the room, following the rest to the patio where Richard had set out some snacks and drinks. She pushed the wheelchair up to the table then sat on one of the chairs, pulling Raven up to sit on her lap. Richard sat on Abigail’s other side, and he had Michael on his knee. They looked at each other while eating some of the food before the silence became too much.
“I don’t want to die, Richard. I don’t want to become one of you, but since I don’t have a choice, I will.”
Richard looked shocked. “You can refuse the change. We won’t force you.”
Abigail smacked her hand on the table, shocking them all. “I knew you would say that, but we all know you won’t let me leave. You’ll kill me on the way out.” She looked at Rachel, her eyes hard. “Oh, I was awake long before Autumn got hurt. I heard everything you said, and now I know I can’t trust you at all.”
It was Richard’s turn to be angry. “I see we need to have another conversation about how to behave around humans.” Rachel slumped in her chair. “No, Abigail, I am not lying. It seems that once again, the rules we put in place to protect us from humans, and humans from us, have failed.” The children had their heads down since they had already talked about this with their Alpha. “It wasn’t intentional, and it can’t be changed now. The children reacted like they would if another werewolf was hurt; when she was bleeding, they licked the wound. Werewolf saliva has antiseptic and healing properties, plus it is a good coagulant. The licking prevented what would have been significant blood loss for that injury and reduced the chance of disease and infection. However, it probably will result in a different infection.”
Abigail looked in a panic between the two adults. “You mean that when those kids…”
“Yes. The licking of an open wound is no different than a bite. The werewolf gene is in the saliva, and it will spread like an infection through your daughter’s body. Alcohol wipes won’t help, and no antibiotic can stop it because it works at the genetic level. If she is infected and she survives, she will become one of us.”
“IF?? What the hell do you mean, IF?” She was on the verge of a full-on panic attack now.
Rachel put her arm around her shoulders. “Like any infection, there are risks. Your daughter is young and healthy, so those risks are low. You do need to understand what this means and what will happen over the next few days.” She grabbed a napkin and wiped Abigail’s face. “The first day, you don’t see much. Healing rates start to accelerate, which is a good thing as it will help her arm heal quickly. On the second day, her temperature will spike, and she will have flu-like symptoms. That is the toughest part. On the third day, the fever breaks, and she will have a higher metabolism and enhanced senses. Later that day, she will make her first shift. That shift is very painful and stressful since her body is doing things it wasn’t meant to do, but after that, the shifts will be painless and quick.”
Richard put his hand on hers. “Your daughter is probably going to become one of us, and there is nothing you or I can do to stop that now. She is still human, and she is still your daughter, but she will gain a wolf and the same ability to change that you’ve seen in Raven and Michael. The good news is that werewolves are stronger, faster, have better immune systems, better healing, and longer lives. She will be better off after this change, especially with everything going on around us.”
Abigail hung her head, thinking for a minute. “What about me?”
“You don’t have to be changed unless you ask for it, because with your daughter being a wolf you will keep our secret to protect her. Humans fear what they do not know; they fear that which goes soundlessly through the night. We put these rules in to protect both of our species.”
Rachel sensed the conversation was over, so she got up and put together a plate of food and tucked a water bottle in her pocket. “I know it is a lot to take at once. This whole day has been nuts for you. I also know that you don’t trust us yet, but we have never done anything intentionally to hurt you. Even when you threatened us, we knew it was just because you were frightened. There isn’t anything you have to do right now except be there for your daughter when she wakes up.”
Richard nodded. “We will help you both through this, Abigail. Let any one of us know if you need anything.” She smiled weakly before she was wheeled back into the house.
Raven came over and sat on her grandfather’s other knee, burying her face in his chest as the tears fell. “I’m so sorry, Grandpa, I didn’t even think about what I was doing, I just saw blood and…”
He hugged her back. “I know. Pups will make mistakes, but it was the adults who should have known better. Having you in wolf form around humans was a bad idea, and it’s something I am going to address with the whole Pack so this doesn’t happen again.” The pups gave him another hug, then hopped off to go play again. He watched them for a few minutes until Rachel rushed back out; the smile on her face could light up the night.
“Marcus just contacted me over the bond; he’s going to be here in a few hours!” She was bouncing in excitement. “He also said that he is bringing a family along, a human family he found on the road and a human friend. He wouldn’t go into detail, but it felt like something bad happened to them.”
Richard stood up. “All right, I’ll inform the rest of the Pack. We won’t screw this one up, the next person who reveals our existence to humans is going to get an up close and personal with my teeth.”
Silvia was in between her children in the back seat of the convertible, pretending to be asleep as she tried to process what was going on. Her husband was dead, she had been raped in front of her kids, and her savior was a werewolf. She was so far from normal she didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or have a total breakdown. She hugged a sleeping Zach to her side; he had fallen asleep when he stopped shaking, and the tears ran out. Michelle was asleep in her car seat, and she kept a shaking hand on her leg for comfort. Her children, born and unborn, needed her. She had to be strong.
Marcus was driving, but he could sense that she was still awake. He looked over at Josi; she was peering through the windshield for any other threats. She put on a good act, but he could sense her fear and see her shaking. “I know you’re having a tough time with what happened back there. I’d be worried if you didn’t. Nobody who kills and doesn’t question their action is truly human.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “You were brave back there. You had a job to do, and you did it. Because of you, those three have a chance to live again.”
“I understand that up here,” she pointed to her head, “but in here I’m still feeling guilty.” She pointed to her heart. “I can’t get the image out of my head. His head exploded, like when we used to shoot jugs of water out back.”
“I know.” He looked over at her. “I’ve killed before, and I wasn’t much older than you the first time I did it. Talking about it helped, but what got me through it was finally accepting that I did what I had to do, when I had to do it, and it was my job to do it. I knew deep down that I had done the right thing, that taking those lives meant innocent people lived.” He looked back at the road. “It doesn’t make the dreams go away. I still have those. They aren’t as bad now; my mate helped me move on from that. When I got back from the war, and I had lost all my close friends, I withdrew. It wasn’t healthy, and if I not for Rachel, I would probably have committed suicide within a year. My dreams were that bad.”
“What did Rachel do?”
“She listened.” He chuckled a little. “I told you the first time I met her, she was in wolf form, right? She was too injured to shift back. There was just something about her; even though she looked like this huge, dangerous animal, I didn’t feel that way by her. She gave me comfort just by being there, and her eyes were expressive and accepting. I was able to tell her about things I never was able to talk about before. There wasn’t a day after that when I didn’t regret leaving her there with her Pack.”
“So how did she tell you she was a werewolf?”
“She showed me. I found her on my front porch one day, and it was like she hadn’t left. She changed from wolf to skin while her front paws were on my shoulder. She was breathtaking. As a person, she had the same qualities I loved in her wolf. She is brave, caring, loyal, and patient. Even though I didn’t feel the mate pull like a werewolf, there was something so right about her. It was like I finally found the missing piece in my life. We made love, and I asked her to change me so we could be together always.”
Silvia’s voice came from the backseat; she was no longer pretending to sleep. “You chose to become a werewolf?”
“Yes, and I haven’t regretted it for a second.” He looked at her briefly in the mirror. “Werewolves have been around for millennia, but our laws have always kept the secret from humans. We scare them, and entire Packs were wiped out after being exposed. So we hide in plain sight. We have jobs, families, homes. Our children go to school and play sports and participate in activities alongside the humans, at least in our pack. Others separate themselves. Changing is only done for mates; our laws say it is a death sentence to change without permission and approval.”
Josi looked over quizzically. “Who would you need approval from?”
“Each pack has an Alpha pair; they are the most dominant wolves in the group and are the leaders. Decisions for the Pack are made by them, and they are subject to rules of the Alpha Council which is made up of all the Alphas on this continent.” He looked in the mirror and anticipated Silvia’s question. “There are 187 packs in North America, with a total of about four thousand members. My pack is pretty typical in size, we have forty-one members, and the pack I was visiting had about thirty. Too many wolves and it becomes difficult to control; they usually split as stronger wolves jockey for the top job. Too small and you can’t function well.” He looked up at the moon, then back down. “They are my family, my friends, but more than that. They are my closest companions, I would give my life to save any of them, and I know they would do the same. It is something I experienced in the Green Berets, that total trust and togetherness, and it is the greatest thing you can have in your life. Well, except your mate. That’s the best.”
“How did she turn you? Is it like the movies when you get bitten and turn into a wolf on the full moon?”
“Yes, you change by being bitten, but the rest is not always accurate. Think of an infection; it changes your DNA and your body. You get a high fever, like the bad flu, while you are changing. It takes about three days before it is complete and you can change to your wolf form. You gain a wolf inside you, like another consciousness that shares your brain. He starts wild, so your mate or Alpha has to be there to ground it until it can integrate with your own mind. If they don’t integrate, you can go feral, attacking anyone and anything. The tales of werewolves as monsters are because of these turns.” He looked in the mirror; she was taking it well so far. “She bit me as we were making love since the pain of her bite doesn’t do a much when I’m on such a high. Three days later, I was like her.”
Marcus stopped talking as they rounded the bend in the road; they could see the town of Salmon ahead in the moonlight. There were smaller fires and torches about, but their eyes only saw the huge bonfire on the east edge of town. He slowed down as they got closer, then came to a stop when a Sheriff blocked the road at the edge of town.
“Doctor Mendez, thank God you are here.” The deputy ran up to the door. “They need you in the clinic. It’s bad, real bad.”
“I know, Robert. It’s bad on the road. Can we talk for a minute?” He got out, and they walked far enough away from the car so the family wouldn’t hear him. “On the way here I came across a family. Three men had killed the husband, and were raping the wife in front of her kids.”
“Fucking BASTARDS! Let me get some guys together; we’ll go get them.”
Marcus shook his head. “Nothing left to do, we took care of them and left them by the side of the road. I’ve got her husband in the trunk. What are you doing with the dead?”
“We are burning them, that’s the pyre over there. Head over, and we’ll give him the best sendoff we can. We lost another three hundred today, and we still have volunteers going door to door finding more. I’d guess we only have a couple hundred who aren’t dead or severely injured.” He looked at the car. “Good thing some of the old cars still work. Any other problems on the drive?”
“No, but we came from North Fork so it wasn’t that long a drive.” He looked back at the car. “I’m going to help with her husband, then take her back to my place and let my wife help with her and the kids. She’s pregnant, too.”
“Fuck. I feel like driving up there and killing them again. Do they have power up in North Fork?”
“Not even. No power or electronics, most of the town is dead from the radiation, and many were blinded. There are only about four dozen people still alive up there.” He hugged him, then turned for the car. “We’ll catch up later, thanks for keeping things safe here.”
“It’s what we do.” They waved as they drove past and took a left towards the pyre.
Marcus looked in the back. “I’m sorry, but there are so many people dead, and we don’t have the equipment to do a normal burial. The best way to prevent disease is to burn them, so that pyre up ahead is being used.” She started to cry but nodded. “We will be with you. You should probably wake up your children so they can say goodbye.”
They pulled into the street near the fire; it was a section of new housing still under construction, this left open foundations that could contain the fires. The brush and trees were cleared so the fire wouldn’t spread. He parked the car and went around to the trunk to get the body. He picked up the blanket with her husband, and Josi closed the trunk so she could set him down on it. Silvia held Zach to her side as they came around. “I left Michelle sleeping; she’s too young to understand. Zach, we need to say our goodbyes to Daddy.”
Marcus moved the blanket back carefully so part of his face would be showing while the damage from the bullet would still be hidden. He didn’t want the last memory of his father to include that. Zack moved forward, crying softly as his hand rested on his Dad’s shoulder and he leaned in and kissed his cheek. Silvia followed suit; then she pulled the blanket back over his face. “Goodbye, my love.”
Josi hugged her other side while Marcus picked him up and walked him to the men tending the pyre. They were unloading the dead from a trailer pulled by an old farm tractor. One of the men came forward and took the foot end of the blanket; when they reached the edge, they tossed him into the blazing fire. He bowed his head, praying to Luna for their family to find peace, and then turned back and walked to the car.
He helped them back in; then they drove quietly through the empty town. It was a depressing drive; so many empty houses, dead people piled at the end of driveways waiting for pickup. They saw more activity downtown. “They must be using the basements in the larger buildings for shelter, most houses here don’t have basements.” There were people in the streets cooking over propane grills, and the smell of meats filled the air. “At least they are using the food in the freezers before it spoils.” The car left town again, and they turned into the driveway of his rural home. Before the car had stopped, Rachel was running out of the house.
“MARCUS!!!” She almost knocked him back into the driver’s seat as she barreled into him. She grabbed his hair, pulling him into a deep kiss that went on and on. She might not have come up for air except Josi walked around and cleared her throat. Marcus pulled back from her, kissing her forehead, then turned to make the introductions.
“Rachel, these are my friends. Josi, we found her up in North Fork, she has two friends Britney and Bethany who turn out to be mates to the Becker twins. Two other friends stayed with them, and she came here because she is looking for her Mom.” He moved to help get a sleeping Michelle out of the car seat as Silvia and Zach came around to greet her. Over the bond, he warned, “She lost her husband on the road and was raped. Josi and I killed the guys, but she’s holding on by a thread right now.” He pulled them forward, then said, “And this is Silvia and Zach Perkins. Silvia, this is my mate Rachel.”
“Mate?” Rachel looked at him while talking over the bond. “They’re HUMAN!”
“Yes,” he responded, “but they know about us. I’ll explain later, but I’d rather do it when your father is here. They need to meet the Alpha anyway.”
Rachel smiled at them all. “Well, we have plenty of food left over from lunch, and I bet you guys would like to relax a bit. Come on in.” She started to walk towards the house, arm in arm with her mate, and they followed behind.
Josi saw movement out of the corner of her eye and looked over. A huge black wolf sat at the edge of the yard with a white right ear and a white patch on his chest. She froze, there was something about it that made her look. When Silvia walked into her, they all turned around, but Josi didn’t move. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the wolf.
The wolf was also frozen, his eyes focused on her as he sniffed the air. A low growl filled the air; then they heard the bones crunch as he shifted back to his human form. Josi’s eyes took in every detail, from his tousled black hair to his chiseled face, broad shoulders, rippling abs and oh my. Her eyes kept going up and down his body as her mouth opened and closed repeatedly.
The young man was just as awestruck. I was the Thunderbolt that they talked about in the Godfather. He looked her over, taking in her black hair, her expressive eyes, and her toned body. He didn’t move, at least most of him didn’t. For the first time in his life, he got an erection. By the time he could put two cogent thoughts together, it was pointed straight at her.
He shook his head and walked forward as everyone else moved aside, whether they were respecting the moment or just trying to avoid the creepy naked guy. Josi didn’t move; she just watched transfixed as he came closer. He stood in front of her and reached up to touch her cheek. Sparks exploded across his fingers to her face, causing both to moan in the pleasure. “I’ve been dreaming of this moment for a decade. What is your name, beautiful one?”
Josi gulped, her hand moved to his chest, and the sparks continued as she moved it down his abs until she was gripping his shaft. “I’m Josi. Does this mean…”
“Yes, Josi, you are my mate.” He leaned forward to kiss her. Moving his hands to her head, he deepened the kiss. The rest of the world could be on fire, and neither would care. They had found each other. “My name is Reggie. I’m Rachel’s older brother. Welcome to our family.”
Josi finally looked around, releasing Reggie from her grasp as her cheeks flushed. In addition to the people she came with and Rachel, more people had come out of the house to see what was going on. A middle-aged man and his wife, another younger couple, and two young boys and a girl all rushed out to the front porch on the news that he had found his mate. She buried her face in his chest, hoping her clothes at least covered the raging hard-on that was pushing into her stomach.
Reggie caught a flying pair of shorts that Marcus had pulled from a box on the porch, and let her go while he pulled them on. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, Josi. We shift, and we’re naked when we do so. We don’t have the same views on nudity that humans do.” He pulled her into his side as he faced the people on the porch. “Please, let me introduce my family.”
He started to walk them towards the older couple but stopped when the woman rushed forward and engulfed Josi in a hug. “I’m so happy to meet you finally, Josi, welcome to our family! I’m Lisa, Reggie is my son.” Her husband came up and put his arms around both of them. “And this guy is my mate, Richard Wolfe.”
“Please, call me Dad.” He smiled at her as they finally untangled.
“Mom and Dad are the Alpha pair of the Salmon pack. Do you know what that means?”
Josi nodded. “We didn’t go into a lot of detail, but Marcus did explain some of the basics of your Pack. I’m just shocked, two minutes ago I was wondering if I’d ever find my family and now I’ve gained one!” She walked over to Marcus and hugged him. “Thank you again for saving us out there.”
Reggie let out a low growl, even though his brother in law was happily mated, Josi was unmarked, and his wolf was on edge. “I guess we should…”
Richard finished. “Go get to know each other.” Reggie looked at him, then at Josi. “You’re not going to do anything but look at her and ignore us anyway. Take her somewhere that you can get to know each other, but be back before sunrise. Marcus can fill us in on everything that is going on.
The young lovers didn’t need an engraved invitation. “Show me your wolf?”
He nodded and pulled the shorts back off, smoothly shifting back into his fur. Josi picked up the shorts and put them in her pocket, then came around to kneel in front of him. She ran her hands through the soft fur of his neck and chest while he rested his jaw on her shoulder, taking deep sniffs of her neck. “Give me a ride?”
Marcus nodded. “She’s good at it, but I’m sure you’re faster than I was.” Reggie chuffed and lowered himself to the ground, allowing Josi to climb on his back. She loved how her whole body started to tingle as her skin rubbed against him. He got back up and took off for the mountains behind her house, following his favorite trail to a spot they could be alone.
Lisa sighed as she watched them leave. “Rich, I never get tired of watching people find their mates.”
He pulled her close. “That was pretty tame. It wasn’t like pushing two Alphas into the river because I was barreling my way towards you.” Kissing her, then turning back to the house, he motioned for the others. “Come on out back, we’ve got the grill going, and there are some more Pack members out there who will be happy to see you.”
Marcus stopped. “Alpha, I need to go to the hospital, and I’d like to take you there.”
Richard turned around, Marcus only called him Alpha when it was Pack business in front of others. “This is important?” Marcus nodded. “All right then. Love, can you help settle our guests? We’ll fill everyone in when I get back.”
“Of course, dear. Come on, Silvia, I’ll introduce you to the others.” She moved into the house as Marcus and Richard got back into the convertible.
Marcus got back into the driver’s seat as his father in law moved around to the passenger seat. His Alpha stared at him while he started up the classic car. “They know about us? All of them? How the FUCK could you break our laws and let them know who we are? You’re in a world of shit, son.”
Marcus pulled out and started down the road, taking a moment to think about how to defuse the anger. “Things happened, Dad. Do you have any idea how bad it is out there?”
“We’ve stayed close to home, but we did have some humans show up, and they gave us an idea.”
“It’s the end of the world out there. North Fork has two hundred residents, other than the Pack there’s only a couple dozen still alive. Most of those are badly hurt, with serious burns and blindness. When that solar flare hit, it not only sent lots of radiation but it wiped out the ozone layer. The ultraviolet is intense during the day, that’s causing a lot of damage.”
Richard let out a long sigh. “I figured that when Tom got a sunburn just from running home. That doesn’t happen to wolves. How bad is the radiation?”
It was Marcus’ turn to sigh. “Pretty bad that first afternoon. I treated some people who were exposed to direct sunlight for half an hour. One had vision loss, and I don’t know if that will ever recover. Both had severe sunburns and radiation sickness. Now? The radiation levels should be down. You’re probably all right during the day as long as you cover your skin and use sunblock and sunglasses if you have to go out. You guys have been staying in the shelters, right?”
“Yep, we hunkered down right away thinking it was an attack when our phones and power went out. Better safe than sorry, we’ve been coming out at night to get supplies and patrol. Now, back to the subject. Why does Josi know about us, and why was she riding on your wolf?”
Marcus pulled into the parking lot of the Salmon Medical Clinic, which sounded like a lot more than the small building that it was. As a town of two thousand, it rated only a satellite clinic which had been staffed two days a week by Marcus, the rest of the time by a Nurse Practitioner. It was a good balance, allowing access to basic care while saving serious cases for the hospital in Idaho Falls.
It was completely inadequate for the aftermath of an extinction level event.
“Let me do my job here first. I need to make rounds. On the way through, Deputy Robert and the guys at the funeral pyre told me they found three hundred or so dead tonight, and they are still going house to house. The clinic is packed with injured; there is no power, no medical supplies, and no treatment that will save them.” He parked and turned off the car. “Come on.”
They opened the doors to see what looked like a war zone. Wounded were covering the hallways and every horizontal surface. Many were unconscious, but the noise from those who weren’t so fortunate ripped at his heart. Richard’s face dropped; there were not words to express what he felt. He knew these people; they had been his friends; they worked in the town; he had gone to school with them. Yes, they were human, but in a way, he knew they were his too.
“DOC! Thank God!” His nurse practitioner, Tammy Cordoba, moved slowly towards them. She usually was a bundle of energy, but the past few days had worn on her. He could see bruising on her neck and face, her eyes were bloodshot, and he could see a trace of blood from her nose. She almost collapsed in his arms.
“Jesus, Tammy, you look like shit.” He sat her on the floor and leaned her against the wall. “Have you gotten any sleep?”
She shook her head, no. “Too many patients.” She gave him an overview of what had happened while he looked in her eyes and mouth. Her tale was interrupted by a coughing fit that left a fine mist of blood on his shoulder.
He looked over at his Alpha. “Radiation poisoning. Even inside, the walls and ceiling weren’t enough to protect her.” Looking back, his shoulders slumped. “Let me guess- those who didn’t succumb to severe burns have blindness, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, and bleeding sores in the mouth and nose.”
“Yep, you just described most of the people here. I’ve been losing ten to twenty an hour for the last twelve. The body wagon has been here three times tonight already.” She coughed again. “I don’t have any supplies and no ventilator. All I can do is palliative care for the ones still conscious, but I ran out of painkillers a few hours ago. It sucks, Doc. The lucky ones will go quick.”
Marcus stood up. “Take a nap; that’s an order. I’ll make my way through. I have a few supplies back at the house. Have you collected medicines from the town?”
“The pharmacy gave me what they had, but it wasn’t much.”
Marcus looked at his Alpha. “Dad, can you find the Sheriff. As they go door to door, have them check the medicine cabinets. Any painkiller from aspirin on up, have them bring it here. Same thing for burn and antibiotic creams, bandages, anything they think we can use.” He watched him leave; he could feel the anger and despair through their bond and knew it was killing him to see this.
It took Marcus an hour to make his way through, there were almost a hundred patients in the small clinic, and more were being brought in all the time. There was nothing he could do to help them, not unless he could convince his Alpha to break Werewolf law. His jaw was set hard by the time his Alpha returned. “Come on, Dad, I need to go home and get some supplies out of my storage. Everyone, try to stay calm, and I’ll be back in an hour or so.” There were a few older ladies who were helping with things like distributing water, cleaning wounds, and covering the dead. They looked at him and nodded; they would take care of things.
As soon as they left, Marcus put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “Out of the hundred people in there, only a couple dozen will be alive in 48 hours. The town is dying before our eyes. Two thousand humans a few days ago, and by the end of the week, we’ll outnumber them. Their bodies can’t cope; they can’t heal as fast as we can, and they can’t function in the dark.” They pulled out of the parking lot. “They are good people who would be an asset to the Pack.”
“They aren’t Pack. You know the rules, Marcus. We can’t change people without their consent and the consent of the Alpha, and only in cases like yours of mates. I’m sorry, my hands are tied.”
Marcus sighed as they moved slowly through the dark town. “Richard, the two girls I told you about earlier I treated up in North Fork? Britney and Bethany are mates to Eric and Derek. When the three of us were coming here the first night, they caught the scent of them on the river, and I couldn’t stop them. Both girls would have been dead by morning, in fact, we had to use CPR on Britney as we were bringing them back to the Den. The boys bit them. Their wolves knew that the change would give them a chance. And you know what?” He looked in Richard’s eyes. “It worked. By the time we left the next day, the burns were almost gone, and one had regained consciousness. The change stimulates healing and regeneration. I even saw indications that the wolf vision changes could restore some sight.”
“I’m glad their mates survived, but we have RULES we live by. There are penalties for not following them, and you know what they are.”
“Calvin did too. That’s why he told his Pack that this was his decision and his only, so if there were any blowback, he’d take the fall. He changed them. They only had a handful of people still alive; they were all his friends and were good people. The ones who could understand he asked, the ones who were out of it, he just did it anyway. He bit them, Dad.”
They pulled up at the house again, and he stopped the car. “North Fork is now a werewolf town, and he saved those people. You need to do the same. All of those people,” he gestured back at the city, “all of them are dead anyway.”