A New Alpha
“The radiation is killing you all, and I can’t stop it unless I do one thing. I want to bite you and make you a werewolf like me. That will help you heal.” Marcus waited until the reaction died down; the thirty or so people in the reception area of the clinic were wide-eyed.
“Bullshit.” Marvin Thorne yelled out. “There’s no such thing as werewolves.”
Marcus looked at him as he pulled off his shirt and shucked his shorts off. He was standing behind the reception desk so as not to shock the assembled townspeople who were here with the radiation sickness; the ones who had lost their sight were asking for updates from those who could still see. He knew the shift would change his leg and let the prosthetic go, so he let his wolf come forward and transformed in front of them.
There was a shocked gasp, and then the real reactions started. Some didn’t do anything but stare, some were frightened, some fascinated. He moved out from behind the desk on three legs. As he moved around the room, he looked at each person in the eyes so they could the intelligence behind his remaining eye. Some shrank back, while others reached out to touch his fur. He made a circuit of the room then went behind the desk and shifted. “Do you believe me now?”
“Well suck me dry and call me Dusty,” Marvin said. “It’s true.”
Marcus smiled as he pulled on his shirt and put his leg back in his artificial limb. “Yes, it is. I’ve been a werewolf for over a decade now. You all know me, I’ve been in this town, and I’ve seen many of you in the clinic. You know what kind of man I am. That didn’t change when I was bitten. It just gave me a few extra things. The reason I am telling you this now is because of the radiation sickness and blindness that you all will have. I can’t cure it with human medicine. The people in the rooms behind you are going to die. Most of you have already received a lethal dose of radiation, and it is going to kill you- slowly and painfully. The lucky ones go into a coma and don’t feel the pain. Hundreds are dying every day.” He looked out at them; they were shocked and angry at what was happening to them.
“There is one thing that can help that I can do for you, but it is permanent. When the werewolf bites, your body changes and regenerates. It allows the damaged organs to repair themselves, giving you a chance to survive. Changes to the eyes give you wolf night vision, and it can fix blindness.”
“So why are we even talking about this? Bite me now.” Louise’s arms had swollen, and she was coughing up blood. “I don’t care what I become, it has to be better than this.”
“So, as a werewolf, you gain strength, sight, a better immune system, and faster recovery time from injuries. We also age slower and live longer. That’s the good part. On the bad side, the change isn’t pleasant. It takes about three days to finish, and you will get a high fever, and the first time you shift to wolf form will be quite painful. After that, shifts are painless. You will also gain a wolf, a new part of you in your mind that will be your constant companion. That wolf needs a leader, a Pack to relate to; it’s how they are meant to be. A lone wolf will go crazy and may attack people, so we live together under an Alpha pair. There are thousands of werewolves in this country and hundreds of Packs.”
“So there are more than just you?” Marvin looked at him intently; you could see he was trying to figure out who else was like that.
“Yes, and if you choose the change- and I will not bite you without your consent if you are capable of giving it- you would join me or another, and we would help you adapt into your new life. Packs have a leader, we call him the Alpha, and just like a wild pack each of you will submit to his leadership and support the group. It’s like a big family.
Josi was struggling to hold on as Reggie was moving at top speed through the outskirts of Salmon. “I wish I could talk to you, I need to know what is going on,” she thought.
She felt a push in the back of her mind; closing her eyes, she focused on the sensation. Finding the source in her mind, she tried to grab it mentally when it began talking to her. “You can talk to me, love. Now that we are mated, we have a mental bond.”
She smacked his chest. “You could have told me,” she said out loud. “We could have talked all the way here,” she thought.
“It takes a while to get started, my mate. I was going to explain it tonight, but you figured it out. That push you felt was me asking to speak mentally. If you want to talk to me, you think of sending to me.”
“What if I don’t WANT to talk to you because you’re being mean to me or something?”
“Think of it as a connection point, if you don’t want it you disconnect, like putting up a wall. Once you are accepted into the Pack, you’ll be able to speak with the Alphas or other Pack members the same way. It’s the best way to communicate in wolf form, but we use it in all forms.”
She snuggled back into the soft fur on his neck. “So, what does it mean that Marcus’ pack bond broke?”
He made a hard right on the road before he answered. “Worst case it could mean he was dead, but I linked with Rachel. She can still feel the mate bond, so that wasn’t it. He won’t talk to her, though, he has his walls up to everyone. So he chose to leave us, to leave the Pack, and no longer have Richard as his Alpha.”
“Why the hell would he do that? He loves your Pack; he was so proud of it when he was telling me about it!”
“That’s what we are about to find out.” He ran across the lawn to the back door of the clinic, where at the loading dock the tractor and trailer were waiting for the next load of victims to be burned. Josi hopped off and ran inside. Finding a rack of clean scrubs, she tossed a pair to Reggie as he walked in behind her. She watched him change; he was not bashful about nudity, and she loved his body. She let out a disappointed sigh when he pulled the scrub bottoms up and tied them.
“Later, baby. Let’s find Marcus, Rachel is pestering me almost constantly as he still won’t open up the bond to her.” They opened the door to the back hallway of the clinic, and what they saw floored them. “Holy shit.”
Josi looked around; there were people on every horizontal surface. People with severe burns, swelling, bleeding, and all unconscious.
And all with fresh bite marks on their shoulders. “He bit them…”
Reggie moved through the rooms, his anger building as he went. Changing just one person was punishable by death under their laws, but changing dozens upon dozens, none of which were awake to consent to this? Madness! “Dad is going to blow a gasket. No wonder Marcus broke the bond, there is no way our Alpha would ever allow this.”
“It’s not so bad, is it?” Josi followed him towards the front. “They were going to die anyway, now they have a chance, just like my friends Britney and Bethany got.”
Reggie stopped and turned to her. “It’s one thing to turn a mate, that’s natural law, and the Council will understand. They have their mate to help them through the change and keep them from the madness. This?” He waved his hand around. “What happens in a few days when they wake up? No mate, no Alpha… if even ONE of them goes crazy, it could take out the rest of the town. They are a threat to us, our families, and our Pack. I’ve seen it before, Josi. That’s why they make the rules.”
“It’s still not wrong for him to try, Reggie. He’s a healer; it’s what he does.” She kissed him gently. “It’s the right thing. Everything is changing, and those who can’t adapt, they won’t survive.” She pulled away and walked towards the office area with him following. As they approached the door, she could hear all the talking going on. It was interrupted by a woman’s scream.
Reggie burst ahead, nearly pulling the door off the frame as his Alpha powers surged forward. He focused in on the source, a young woman sitting on the floor, blood on her shoulder.
Blood being licked off by a wolf, by his brother in law.
“MARCUS! STOP!” He raced forward, grabbing his brother-in-law by the scruff of his neck he pulled him away and tossed him ten feet towards the door. His body landed hard, skidding into the door as his paws fought to get purchase. He growled and shifted, his naked form revealing itself to the assembled group. A group of about thirty people, most with visible bites watched in horror.
Reggie was on him before he could get up. He grabbed him by the neck and slammed him into the wall. His hands shifted slightly, claws extending into his skin. “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
Marcus should have been scared, but he had been a warrior for a long time, and physical confrontations were nothing new to him. He smiled, relaxing his hands, then brought both of his hands up and smacked both sides of Reggie’s head with his palms. The impact dazed him, enough for him to break free of the hold. He stomped on Reggie’s left foot, then grabbing his hair, pulled him down into his knee. Blood sprayed from his nose as he fell to the ground.
“The Alpha is going to kill you if I don’t first.” Reggie moved his broken nose back into place, then rushed forward again. They crashed together in a flurry of fists and elbows.
Josi watched in horror as strips were torn from her mate and her friend, the partially turned hands and feet tipped with sharp claws. Reggie’s size and strength overcame Marcus’ experience, and he got on top and started to pound his face.
He was going to beat him to death if she didn’t stop this.
She ran across the room and launched herself onto his back. In his rage, he didn’t recognize her; he had blocked the bond, and so what happened next, he would regret forever.
He spun, his elbow swinging towards the person on his back, and it crashed into her cheek and split it open. She cried in pain as she was knocked off him, rolling a few times before she stopped as her back hit a chair. Reggie froze, his face opening in shock as he realized what had just happened.
Marcus sat up, working his neck side to side as he tried to clear his head. He ignored the pain and the blood of his beating, focusing only on the crumpled form in front of him. He started to move towards her, but Reggie held him back. “NO… she’s mine. I’ll take care of her.”
When he turned back, the injured townspeople in the room had already reacted. While the woman who had just been bitten helped her up into a chair, others put themselves in between her and Reggie. He growled at them, how dare they keep him from his mate! He moved closer, trying to see between them. He opened the bond between them and fell to his knees as the pain and hurt flowed through to him.
“Doc, I need your help. She’s going to need stitches.” That was enough to get Marcus moving; the group parted to allow him past. “Jesus, Marcus- he did a number on you.”
“It’s nothing; it will heal soon. Josi, how are you feeling?”
Josi blinked a few times. “Dizzy… he clocked me, didn’t he?”
“I’m sorry, baby.” Reggie was despondent over hurting her. “I didn’t know it was you.”
“Well, if you hadn’t behaved like that I wouldn’t have had to jump in there. You may be my mate, but Marcus is my friend AND your brother in law. What do you think your sister is feeling right now? He may not be speaking to her over the link, but you can bet she felt the beating you just put on him.” She looked at the people around her as Marcus went to get a stitch kit. She was holding a gauze pad to her cheek
Reggie stood up and moved to her, but the glare she gave him stopped him cold. “Josi, please. Let me hold you. My wolf is going nuts about this.”
She held his gaze, and then her instincts took over. She growled deep in her chest, the sound surprising them both, and she stood up, went toe to toe with him. “No. You lost control and not only hurt me but your brother in law. We found out what we needed to know; Marcus is all right, and you know what he has done and why. Now you need to fix this.”
She took his hand and led him to the loading dock. “Go home, Reggie. Talk to the Alpha and work this stuff out, before the sun is too high for you to move around.”
“I can’t leave you here. You’re still bleeding, and I have to know you are all right.”
“I’m not going to be all right,” she replied, “until this rift in the Pack is fixed. And I’m not leaving, either. Marcus is going to fix me up; then I need to help him here.” She pushed him to the door. “Don’t come back until you figure this out.”
He tried to fight, but her eyes and her bond agreed, he had to go even if it went against every instinct he had.
He knew she was right. His father would have to be told, and he would have to make him see reason.
If he couldn’t, it wasn’t just Marcus who would be dead. Richard could kill every person in this clinic by nightfall.
Josi sat on the desk, trying not to move as Marcus dabbed the cut on her cheek with alcohol and used butterfly strips to hold it closed. She was still pissed at her mate, he had attacked her friend without cause, and she had been hurt. He had been apologizing to her the whole run home until she blocked him out. Since she had not been accepted into the Pack, she had no other wolf she could link to except Reggie.
Marcus was tired, his remaining eye was getting a little glassy as he worked. She was worried about him. Reggie had explained how painful the break from the Pack was. He looked hollow now, like a part of him was missing, and it affected her. Right now they were the same- two people who had a link, but not a Pack. “Marcus, have you checked in at home? What’s going on there?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve been too busy, and I don’t have time for arguments.”
Josi frowned. “That’s not good. Rachel must be worried sick about you, and Raven doesn’t know what is going on. Do you want her father to let her know what happened with you, or are you going to come clean to her RIGHT NOW before she goes supercritical?”
He picked up the wrappers and threw them away. He had already checked her mating bite, it looked good. “Not the best move, huh?”
“I’m newly mated, but even I know that flowers and jewelry won’t work to dig you out of this hole. She’s your mate, Marcus- she deserves to hear it from you, especially since your actions today will directly affect her and your daughter. What do you think went through her mind when she felt you break the pack link? Do you have any idea of what this is going to do with her relationship with her father or her brother? You might have signed your death warrant, and you did it by going against the will of your Alpha.”
Marcus sat down in the chair. “He wasn’t my Alpha when I did this.” He closed his eye and let out a sigh. “When I was first in Iraq, I had more balls than brains. I did some stupid shit, put myself in danger, and when you do that it puts your teammates in danger too. I never thought about it until Master Sergeant Dill pulled me aside one day. He asked if I was trying to get killed, because I was going to succeed one of these times. There’s a difference, he said, between dying for something and just plain dying. ‘Corporal, you have to decide if this is a hill you’re willing to die on.’ Would it be worth the risk, or was it just stupid?”
Josi jumped down and pulled him into an embrace. “I understand, better than most I do. You never lost your human morality when you became a wolf.”
“Nope.” He looked up at her. “When I was here earlier, I couldn’t just walk away; I couldn’t let it happen. These are friends, coworkers, people I saw, patients of mine. How could I let them die when I could heal them?” He let his head hang. “Richard was my Alpha, but he wasn’t right. This was my hill. If it costs me everything, I know that I made the right choice.”
Josi put her hand on his cheek and lifted his face to look at her. “Then tell her that. She loves you, Marcus, but you need to let her in. She’s on your team.”
Marcus smiled. “You’re right.” He stood up, looking around at the people around him. “I need to get a couple hours’ rest, but I’ll link her now. If I survive the conversation, can you wake me up in a couple of hours?”
Josi smiled. “Sure. I’ll keep an eye on things out here, and help out where I can.” She let out a deep sigh as she looked around; of those who could choose, all had taken the bite. “What should I expect?”
“Not much for the next twelve hours, the fevers won’t start until tonight. You should see improvement in them as the change starts to heal and regenerate their tissues. Keep them hydrated and fed as best you can, but if they are bleeding from the throat or stomach, water only for now. There are cases of water in the back room, along with some food. Let the people who can help, help.” He looked around; there wasn’t any open space on the couch so he just pulled off his scrubs and went wolf, moving to a corner. He turned around three times then laid himself down, resting his head on his paws. A few more adventurous patients came over, petting his fur or resting their heads on him. They didn’t know why, but the inklings of the Pack to be together, to touch and to comfort were already starting to come forward.
He closed his eye and dropped the wall he had kept in place to his family. “Rachel… I’m sorry.”
He felt fear, loss, and joy all coming through the bond at once. “Marcus? Honey, are you all right?”
“I am now.” He paused to gather himself. “I’m sorry, Rachel. I had to do something, I had to go against your father, and I couldn’t involve you in it. It’s bad enough that I’ve ruined that bond, I didn’t want to take you down with me.” He explained what he had done and why. When it was done he waited. Now packless, he wouldn’t be allowed back in his home, his old friends would be forced to shun him, and his family might be kicked out. It all depended on how pissed the Alpha was.
Rachel finally spoke to him, and with it came a renewed push of her pride and love. “You did the right thing, Marcus. You wouldn’t be the man I fell in love with if you didn’t help them.” She sniffled a little. “The man who would risk helping an injured wolf in the mountains could make no other choice.”
“So you’re not mad?”
“No, I’m furious. Furious at you for shutting me out when I was worried sick about you, and furious at my father for putting you in this position. He should know better, and he knew about what Alpha Calvin did.” She paused. “I have to go. Reggie is back, and he’s filling in the Alpha now on everything that is going on. We have a Pack meeting shortly to discuss it.”
“OK, I want to sleep for a few hours. I’ll check in when I wake up, all right?”
“Sure, baby. We’ll be packing.” He could feel her sadness over the bond. “Find us a place to stay in town, love, because I’m not staying here.”
Reggie had run as fast as possible to get home since the rising sun was creating issues with his eyes. He knew from Marcus that it might be months before the ozone layer regenerated, and they would be able to be out all day again. The good news was that the solar radiation threat had diminished significantly, enough so that being above ground would be acceptable. He could tell by the distribution of patients at the clinic, and the stage of radiation poisoning he was seeing.
He had passed the information along to the Pack, who was glad to be able to leave the safe rooms they had been in the past few days. They had quickly closed all the drapes and covered all the windows to keep the residual UV out, but being able to sleep in bedrooms and beds again was a big morale boost compared to the crowded conditions of the shelters.
The sun’s rays were starting to bother him as he ran into the compound where he and his Pack lived, the houses between the river and the mountains and the associated farmland. He stopped in the trees and took care of business; the toilets at home still worked but took work. Since they were well out of town, they had a well and septic system and even had a hand pump well that still worked along with the river. You had to haul in a five-gallon bucket of water to get two flushes, so the wolves tended to use the forests for their more natural uses.
Reggie ran towards his father’s house, shifting as he jumped up on the porch he went naked through the front door and ran up to his room on the second. He was in basketball shorts and a T-shirt when his parents called for him.
He walked downstairs again to the Alpha’s office; opening the solid oak door he walked in and took a seat on the comfortable chair in front of the imposing cherry desk. Richard was sitting in his executive style leather chair, one custom made for his large frame, his mate Lisa perched on his knee and snuggled into his side. “Where’s Josi?” She looked at him quizzically, newly mated wolves never let their mates out of sight.
His shoulders sank as he looked up. “Up at the clinic with Marcus. I left her there.”
Lisa’s face fell. “What in the HELL did you do, Reggie?”
“I hurt her.” Tears started to well up in his eyes, causing Lisa to rush forward and embrace him. He sobbed on her shoulder as he hugged his Mom tight. “I lost control, and she got hurt.”
“Maybe you better start at the beginning, Reggie.” Richard wasn’t in a good mood; the Pack hadn’t reacted well to Marcus breaking his bonds. They didn’t know what was going, and he wasn’t willing to tell them yet about the discussion they had at the clinic earlier.
“I took Josi to the hot spring. It was going great; she had already accepted the ideas of mates and werewolves because of her time with Marcus and the North Fork pack. I marked her and completed our mating.” He smiled a little. “She’s amazing, and it was the best night of my life. We were on our way back home when I felt the bond with Marcus break. I knew he was going to the clinic, so we changed direction and headed there instead.”
Lisa went back over to calm down Richard, her hand on his back. “Richard wanted to go, but I talked him out of it.”
“So we got to the clinic and came in the back. The place is packed wall to wall with humans, most of them dying.” Richard nodded; he had seen it. “Before I saw Marcus, I saw what he did. Those people, all those people, must have been a hundred of them.” He took a deep breath and looked up at his father. “He bit them. He bit them ALL.”
Richard flew from his chair. Lisa had to catch herself from being tossed to the floor by the sudden move. “THAT SON OF A BITCH!” He roared his anger, his fists shaking as he fought back the shift. Lisa moved in, hugging him and nuzzling into the mark on his neck to calm him down. It took a few minutes before she could get him to calm down enough that he could sit down and focus again. The Pack had felt his rage, and she had been dealing with their concerns as her mate settled.
Lisa sat in his lap and looked back at Reggie, who was waiting with his face in his hands. “So then what happened, Reggie?”
“We went to the front, with the people who were still conscious. Marcus was in wolf form; he was still biting people. I ran forward and pulled him off, then we fought.” He paused and looked at the floor. “As we were fighting, Josi jumped on my back to try and stop me. I didn’t recognize who it was, and I threw her off. My elbow split her cheek open.”
“Is she all right?”
“I think so. She threw me out, told me to come home because she was staying there to help Marcus. He said he would patch her up.” He put his head in his hands. “My wolf has been going nuts.; he’s pissed that I hurt her and more pissed that we left her there. She won’t answer me over the bond, either.”
Richard looked up. “You have a link with her now?”
“Yes, but she’s blocking me or at least not answering. Marcus can still contact Rachel.” He grabbed his hair with his hands and stood up. “I ran back here, and I can’t go back and get her until sundown now.”
Lisa stood up and hugged her son tightly. “It will all work out, honey. She will come back. Your wolves will always make sure of that.” She led him to the door. “You look like hell, though. Get some sleep, and keep trying to talk to her.”
Richard watched as his son walked away until Lisa closed the door and went back and sat in his lap again. She settled into his arms, feeling him still pushing back the anger. “What do we do, love? He’s our son in law; we can’t let our family get ripped apart!”
Richard shuddered. “I made it clear to him where I stood and what Pack law was. He was the one who decided to play God and do this. Reggie should have killed him.”
“HE’S YOUR DAUGHTER’S MATE!”
“He’s dead to me now.” He set his now crying mate on the chair as he got up.
“He used to be human, Richard. He’s bound to look at this differently than a born wolf.”
“He was Pack; he had a wolf and a rank. He accepted all that when he was changed, and he knew what he was doing when he did it. He wants to make Alpha decisions; he can be his own fucking Alpha.”
Lisa was shaking with sorrow now as she watched her family destruct. “I know he did it wrong, but I understand why he did it. He’s a healer; it’s what he does.” She looked up at him. “You knew how bad it was, didn’t you. You never told me what you saw when he took you to the clinic.” His silence told her everything. “Those are our friends, our neighbors that are dying up there.”
“They aren’t werewolves, they are human and should stay that way. Just like Marcus should have stayed that way. I don’t know what the hell Luna was thinking. She should keep the mate bond among wolves; humans are too weak and will never fit in.”
Lisa looked at him with horror. “How can you say that? Both your son and your daughter have human mates, are you saying Luna made a mistake with them? That somehow they aren’t worthy of them?”
“That’s what I’m saying. This wouldn’t have happened if Rachel had found a good wolf in another Pack to settle down with.”
Lisa couldn’t believe it, she loved Marcus, and she could tell already that Josi had the spirit and will to be a good Alpha female in the future. She couldn’t wait to meet her wolf.
Her life was falling apart. She got up and moved to the door. “Are you sure, Richard? There are things we can’t take back, things we regret for the rest of our lives.”
“I know. I’m the Alpha; it’s MY job to uphold Pack laws. He knew what he was doing, that was why he broke the bond first- so he could defy my Alpha commands. I didn’t rip apart the family, HE did.” He walked away from her as she broke down sobbing and ran to their bedroom.
Opening the Pack link, he broadcast to all. “Marcus Mendez has betrayed his Alpha and his Pack. He has changed humans without consent and without permission, an act that is against Pack and Council laws and my express command. He is declared rogue and is to be killed on sight by any Pack member who finds him. All fighters are to meet at my house at sundown; we will rid this territory of him tonight.”
Cheyenne woke up refreshed in the late afternoon, and gently disentangled herself from Willow on the small bed. Willow shifted in the bed, rolling onto her back as the wolf pup between her legs whapped his tail against the bed. She scratched his ears as he lay back down; the pups felt safe with anyone in the Pack, and since they were new, the two humans had become a favored place to sleep.
She quietly got up and walked over to the next bed, where Britney and Bethany were lovingly tended to by Eric as Derek slept between them. “How are they doing?”
Derek smiled and looked up at her. “The fever should be breaking in a few hours; they are both strong and will come through this. I can’t wait to see their wolves.”
“What do you think they will be like?”
“They will be like my best dreams come to life.” He looked down at Bethany; she could see his love for her in his eyes. “Sleek and light of color, fast and strong. My wolf can’t wait to meet her and make her his.”
“Ugh.” She grimaced a little. “I want to see her change, but I don’t think I’m ready to see THAT yet.” She thought back; the Pack members weren’t shy about their sex lives, and there was plenty in human and wolf form; they just tried to give each other respectful privacy and looked the other way. She had become accustomed to the nudity and the activity, and it helped that no one was hitting on her or expecting her to join in. They all were waiting for their mates, and seeing what her friends had with Eric and Derek made her long for one of her own. She looked down, the bucket he was using to wipe them down with a washcloth was nearly empty. “Let me get you some cold water.”
“Thank you.” Derek looked up at her. “I’m glad the girls have friends like you. Please know that, wolf or not, you always have a home here with us.”
Cheyenne gathered her long black hair behind her and fashioned it in a ponytail, then reached down and grabbed the bucket. Putting her hand on Derek’s shoulder, she gave him a gentle squeeze. “Thank you for saving my friends. You will always be family.” She smiled and turned away, heading over to the corner where a 250-gallon container held the drinking water in the basement of their shelter. She nodded to the women who were taking care of the thirteen townspeople who were in the earlier stages of the fever.
On the way she grabbed the Solo cups she and Willow were using, as they would need to drink and do their teeth before everything started happening. When she got to the container, a naked young boy was standing there with his sippy cup in hand. “Dwink pwease Miss Sai-Anne?”
“Of course, Billy.” She filled his cup, and he drank from it as she was filling the others.
“Dank you.” He set his cup down and shifted back to his fur form, then ran across the room and jumped back up on the bed and snuggled up under Willow’s arm. The emotions snuck up on her, it reminded her of her little brother when they were young, and that made her think about home, and that led to crying softly as she set the cups and the bucket down on the small table. She felt strong arms wrap around her from behind, and she relaxed into the embrace of Megan.
“Hey, I’m the one who’s supposed to be all emotional and crying at the drop of a hat,” Megan joked as she relaxed her arms so Cheyenne could turn around. “Are you all right?”
She nodded. “Just thinking about my family.” She let her arms fall until she was touching the sides of Megan’s baby bump. “Are you not letting Mommy get her sleep, little one?”
Megan laughed. “It isn’t that big yet, but I woke up with an insane urge for Mexican food. I mean, who wants a spicy breakfast burrito?”
“Pregnant women whose mates will do anything to keep them happy.” She looked over to where Al was digging through the food cabinets and the coolers; she could see salsa and tortillas already on the table. “It sounds pretty good. Hey, I have some questions, would you mind talking for a bit while he’s cooking?”
“Not at all, I’ll tell him to make enough for all three of us.” She looked around, knowing how sensitive wolf noses were, she shook her head. “He better make enough for everyone. Once that food starts cooking, he’ll wake up the whole Pack.”
“It’s good for the men to cook, don’t you think?” Al glared at them, then went back in the cabinets and grabbed more ingredients. Soon he had eggs, cheese, and a bunch of sausage on the table. “They have to do more than just kill it and bring it home to keep their woman happy.” She left the happy couple behind and brought the cup to Willow’s bedside, then handed the bucket to Derek. The girls were still feverish and moved around in their discomfort, but she knew it was perfectly normal- and it was a lot less than what they had gone through earlier.
She moved back to where Al was starting to fire up the propane stove in their makeshift kitchen. “Anything I can help with?”
He glanced over to the table where the camping coffee pot was. “Can you make coffee?”
She rolled her eyes. “I was a barista, I worked at Starbucks by the college.” She moved over and started to fill the pot with water and put it on a back burner. “Beans?”
“No fancy stuff here, Folger’s is in the cabinet.”
“Oh my God, you people are so in the dark ages.”
Megan snorted at her as she walked away. “Would it make you feel more at home if I ordered a Grande, Quad, Nonfat, One-Pump, No-Whip Mocha,” she cracked as Cheyenne turned around with a red can in hand.
“Don’t tell me you’re one of those high-maintenance bitches who don’t tip.” She stared her down, then they both cracked up. “Besides, you’re pregnant, and coffee isn’t good for the baby. How about I get you an apple juice?”
Soon the basement was filled with the smell of frying sausage and eggs along with the coffee, and Al got help from several other Pack members as they started to put breakfast together for everyone. Willow joined them; she didn’t even look up until after her first coffee. “I’m not a morning person,” she apologized.
“No problem, girls. Now Cheyenne, what did you have questions about?” Megan put her burrito down as she looked across the table at them.
“Werewolves.” Willow had looked up and answered first. “Cheyenne and I are thinking about being turned; Alpha has said he would if we wanted.”
Cheyenne held her hand over hers. “We’ve seen how humans have fared in this, but if we change now, it means even longer until we can search for our families. And if we wait…”
Al looked at them with sorrow in his eyes. “You might not find them.” They nodded. “On the other hand, if you leave now, what are your chances of making it? And if you do make it, how will you get them to safety?” They looked down at the table. “And if you make it there, would you want them to become wolves as well?”
“I want them to live,” Cheyenne said. “Right now, living means being a wolf. Humans have no chance.”
“So, you need to be wolves to save them,” Al said somberly. “How else will you get there, and get them back? You are part of our Pack if you want to be, and your family will be welcome as well. You can have a life here, be part of something, part of the rebuilding of a new society.”
“Do you ever regret being a werewolf,” Willow asked.
“No, I live among humans and always thought they were missing out.” Megan looked around. “We live longer, heal faster, have better senses, stronger bodies and mates.” She squeezed Al’s hand. “If it hadn’t been for the Alpha Council rules that strictly limited turns, I’d have asked all my friends to turn.”
“And it’s not just physical stuff,” said Al. “Werewolf society is more stable, more of a family. We have clearly defined leadership and roles; we rally together and support each other. We also have stable relationships with other Packs; after all, that is where many of us find our mates. I found Megan at a pack in Colorado when I was visiting relatives.” He leaned over and kissed her gently.
They moved over for Alpha Calvin and Luna Kelly as they came over with their plates. Willow and Cheyenne looked at each other before they both nodded before Cheyenne spoke. “Alpha, we’d both like to be changed.”
“And we’d like to do it in a way that allows us to get to our families as soon as possible. I know Britney and Bethany will want to get their families, and Josi her Mom. How should we do this?”
Kelly smiled and took both their hands. “I’m glad you came to this decision, we’ve come to care for you two a lot in these short days. We understand about your families, but we want you escorted by experienced wolves who can help you avoid detection.”
Calvin nodded in assent. “I think tomorrow night would be a good time to do this; we can have a formal ceremony with the Pack. If you were to head for Salmon Pack as soon as the twins finish their change, you two could ride on the boys before your fever hit, and it will help the girls get used to their wolf forms. Alpha Richard could help you through the change, along with Josi. You stay in Salmon until after your change; then you can all make your way to Pocatello.”
“That sounds good,” Derek said as he came over to get breakfast. “The girls won’t rest until they have found their families, and so the faster we do that, the sooner we have them safe back here. I don’t think things will get safer on the road as time goes on.”
“Plus,” Eric added, “this time we only have to carry ONE of you.”
Willow chucked her napkin at him in mock outrage. “I can’t BELIEVE you just called your mate fat! When she wakes up, she’s going to want a piece of you!”
“And you can bet I’ll get a piece too!” The table erupted in laughter, setting the tone for another day.
Reggie was almost to his room when he realized he had forgotten to ask his Mom how best to get Josi to allow him to link her so he could apologize. He knew she was busy with Dad, so instead of using the link, he walked back to their office. He was almost there when his mom’s voice stopped him.
“HE’S YOUR DAUGHTER’S MATE!”
“He’s dead to me now.”
Reggie paled, he didn’t know it was THIS bad. Rachel was not going to take this well if he acted like that she would have to make a choice, and he knew which one HE would make now that he had a mate.
“He used to be human, Richard. He’s bound to look at this differently than a born wolf.”
“He was Pack; he had a wolf and a rank. He accepted all that when he was changed, and he damn well knew what he was doing when he did it. He wants to make Alpha decisions, he can be his own fucking Alpha.”
“I know he did it wrong, but I understand why he did it. He’s a healer; it’s what he does. You knew how bad it was, didn’t you? You never told me what you saw when he took you to the clinic.” Reggie shivered outside the door, he had seen it, and he knew. “Those are our friends, our neighbors that are dying up there.”
“They aren’t werewolves, they are human and should stay that way. Just like Marcus should have stayed that way. I don’t know what the hell Luna was thinking. She should keep the mate bond among wolves; humans are too weak and will never fit in.”
Reggie was in shock as he heard this, his fists clenched and he barely resisted the impulse to barge in there and defend his mate.
“How can you say that? Both your son and your daughter have human mates, are you saying Luna made a mistake with them? That somehow they aren’t worthy of them?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. This wouldn’t have happened if Rachel had found a good wolf in another Pack to settle down with.”
Reggie’s wolf was forward in his mind; he wanted blood. He pushed his wolf back, knowing this wasn’t the time or the way. It took him a few seconds to get control of himself; then he walked back down the hallway to his room. Closing the door, he sank on the carpet, his head in his hands. It all became clear to him- with his father and Alpha feeling this way, there was no way he would raise his family in this Pack. He had to leave, or he had to challenge his father for his position.
He reached out over the bond for Josi, but her walls were still up, and he couldn’t get through. He needed her so bad right now, the decision he made would affect them both, and he wanted to talk to her first. Giving up, he was about to reach out to Rachel when the Alpha’s announcement came over the Pack bond.
“Marcus Mendez has betrayed his Alpha and his Pack. He has changed humans without consent and without permission, an act that is against Pack and Council laws and my express command. He is declared rogue and is to be killed on sight by any Pack member who finds him. All fighters are to meet at my house at sundown; we will rid this territory of him tonight.”
His wolf howled in anguish, he was close to his brother in law, and he didn’t deserve this. He could be banished, but to hunt him down and have the Pack kill him was not justice, it was revenge.
It was a weakness.
Reggie mulled it over, using the Pack was the move of a scared man. If he wasn’t a threat to Richard as Alpha, then kicking him out of the territory would be enough. He called Marcus weak, but he was not. He was a warrior before he was changed, and despite his handicaps, he was a fearsome fighter when threatened. The fact that he was a healer first didn’t change that he was a dangerous wolf in a fight. And his mate, she was a force as well.
“RACHEL!” Reggie blasted over the bond. It opened to him; the family bond allowed him to feel some of the anguish she was in right now.
“Reggie…” She could barely compose herself; she was crying so hard.
“Uncle Reggie, why is Mom so sad?” Raven’s link broke his heart, the little ones weren’t on the Pack communication, and she had no idea what was happening to their family right now.
“Your Mom needs a hug right now, all right?” He shut down the bond with her so he could focus on his sister. “Rachel, you heard the announcement, right?”
He had to wait, he could feel her pain over the bond, and it was breaking his heart. “Why… why would he do this to me?” Killing her mate was the equivalent of killing her; even if she didn’t die because she needed to raise Raven, she would never be the same. Widows were just shells of what they were before; the loss ripped away any ability to have happiness and love again. Many chose to follow their mates to the moon instead of leading such a life.
“He’s afraid, sis. He’s afraid the Pack will line up behind Marcus if he were to give him a chance to speak. This way, he can frame it as Marcus going against the Pack, not going against him as Alpha. He won’t give him the honor of a challenge.”
She wailed again over the bond; this was tearing her family apart. He waited until she had recovered a little before continuing. “I overheard some things Dad said after I left. He… he thinks humans are inferior, that even changed humans aren’t as good as born werewolves. He said none of this would have happened if you had found a nice wolf from another pack to settle down with.”
Her sorrow was replaced by anger. “Luna doesn’t make mistakes. Marcus is a good wolf, a good man. I want no other. Who the hell is he to think that he can make that distinction?”
“He said the same about Josi, he doesn’t want his line polluted with humans.” He paused. “I can’t stay on as his Beta and heir knowing what he feels about my mate. I have to do it.”
“You aren’t strong enough yet, Reggie. If you step in that circle with him, he will kill you.”
“I’m hoping it won’t go that far.” Reggie paused for a moment. “I know Mom is against this, she is fuming that Richard is doing this to her family.”
“Well, I can’t wait around to find out. I’m going to my mate. If he wants to kill him, he’ll have to come through me.”
“He must get through me first, Rachel. I will stand with you, even if it costs us everything.”
She paused. “I love you, Reggie.”
“I love you too, sis. We’ll get through this.” He closed the bond before he finished his thought. “At what cost, I don’t know.” He laid down on his bed; closing his eyes, he kept trying to get through to Josi without success.
Meanwhile, Rachel had gotten off the floor in front of her couch and was hugging Raven as if her life depended on it. The scenarios went through her head, but they were all bad. If the Pack turned against him at Richard’s order, nothing she could do would save him.
“Marcus?” she pleaded over the link.
“Rachel, love, what is wrong?” He sounded like he had just woken up, which he had.
“It’s the Alpha… he issued a kill order on you. The Pack will be coming for you tonight unless we can stop them. You have to run, Marcus. If they all come I can’t stop them. You need to run, and run NOW.”
She felt his anger, then hopelessness. “Why, baby? Why would he do this?”
“He thinks humans are inferior and turned humans aren’t much better. You disobeying him challenged his authority. Reggie thinks he is afraid of an open challenge, so he’s using the Pack instead.”
There was a long pause before he replied. “I can’t leave here, baby. Much of what is left of this town is here, and they need me to care for them. If I leave them behind, what will happen to them?” There wasn’t an answer, because he knew what the answer was. “They need me here.”
“Take them with you. Do whatever you need, but get out of there today. Cover your skin, put on thick glasses, whatever it takes, but get OUT OF THERE NOW! Baby, I couldn’t take it if you were gone.”
“You’re right, of course.” He pinched his eyes closed as he thought. “I’ll do what I can. What about Josi? Does she know?”
“No, she’s got her walls up, and Reggie is going nuts not being able to talk to her. You must take her with you, love. Reggie may have to challenge Dad, and if he is killed, she will need someone to take care of her change, to bring her wolf through this.”
“And if Richard wins, she’s as good as dead anyway.” He gritted his teeth, his act of defiance was going to topple this Pack like a Jenga tower on a clumsy move. “I’ll take them to North Fork; Alpha Calvin will take them in.”
“I’ll meet you there tonight. While he’s gathering the warriors, Raven and I will leave.”
“Just take the mountains, you don’t want to be in the way. He could take you to force my hand.” He sent his love. “We both have things to do, honey. Get some rest; it’s going to be a long night. I love you.”
“I love you too, baby.” She closed the bond and searched for another link. “Mommy?” She could feel her pain as the link opened up.
“Rachel, baby… I’m so sorry.”
“Mom… we know. Reggie heard what Dad said after he left the room.”
“By Luna… oh no…”
“Yes, he knows. You have to stop him, Mom. Marcus and I are leaving. We can’t stay here and let him do this. If you don’t, Reggie knows what Dad thinks of Josi, and he will leave too- or he will challenge him for the Pack.”
“Baby, this is MADNESS! I can’t lose you all!”
Rachel sent her love, but also her determination over the bond. “Find a way to stop him, Mom. If you don’t, you won’t have a family past midnight.”
Marcus got off the chair he had been resting on, there would be no sleep for him, not any time soon. He pushed himself up, moving back with a slight limp to the treatment rooms in the clinic.
“Doc, you all right?” Mrs. Perkins asked him, she had been voluntarily turned and had been pestering him to get some sleep for a while now.
“No, Agnes… it’s not all right. I have to go figure some things out.” He walked through the doors to the exam rooms and down the hallway to the loading dock, stepping over the people who weren’t up and about. He could see the bite was helping already in their healing, though many had been close to death, they were starting to heal now. The problem would come tomorrow when everyone would start the fevers.
He had found some dark Ray Bans in one of the offices, along with a bandana he used to cover his nose and face. Then he took a blanket and covered himself with it before pushing open the door to the back.
The tractor was still parked there, the trailer used to transport the dead bodies attached to it. He walked around it, thankful that the building was still shading the area. He mentally did the math, then did it again. He even got up onto the trailer and laid down, but no matter how he figured it, the answer was the same.
There wasn’t enough room for everyone.
Even if he packed them like sardines, he could only get about half of the one hundred and seven people out of danger. At the speed the tractor could go, he could get them to North Fork, but he could never get back for the rest before sundown.
Math. It always wins, he thought.
He went back inside and sat on a crate in the loading dock, trying hard to figure a way out of this mess. Josi came through the door a few minutes later. “Doc? What’s going on? Agnes told me you got up and left.”
“You don’t know? Haven’t you talked to Reggie?”
She looked at the ground. “No, I’m still pissed off at him, so I’ve kept the wall up.”
He looked at her with pity in his eyes. “Go, talk to him. Trust me, you need to talk.” She looked at him wide eyed, then left him. Ten minutes later, he still had no answers but she had returned, and she had been crying.
“Holy shit,” she said. “What do we do?”
“I don’t know yet. All I know is that we HAVE to save these people, even from our own people. Also, I need to keep you safe. Reggie has enough going on without having to worry about you.” He held out his hand and she sat next to him, leaning into his side as she fought to control her emotions.
Finally, she looked up at him, staring into his good eye. “Marcus, what does it mean that he might have to challenge the Alpha?”
He hesitated, but she was his mate and she had to know. “Challenges are not common, but they can happen. If a wolf believes he is stronger, if he thinks he will be a better Alpha than the one they have, he can try to replace him. In order to make the challenge stick, he needs the support of at least one in four members of the Pack. Those adult wolves need to line up behind him as he makes the challenge at an all Pack meeting. If a quarter of the Pack doesn’t support him, the challenge is negated and the challenger is immediately killed by the rest of the Pack. It’s a way to ensure that challenges aren’t made frivolously, or by someone that isn’t worthy of leadership.”
She paled as he continued. “If the required number stand in support, the Alpha can concede the challenge and he becomes the new Alpha; the problem with this is that the new Alpha can kill or banish the old one. The other option is to enter the challenge circle, and once you are in, only one can leave.”
“That’s one way to put it. The two fight in wolf form until one is dead, and the victor is the Alpha.”
She sat against him, letting it sink in. “It’s a lot to risk, isn’t it?”
Marcus hugged her to his side. “It is, just to get to the challenge can be tough. The Pack has grown up under Richard’s leadership, they are comfortable with it. They won’t shift support to him unless they are convinced he’s leading them down the wrong road. That’s why he hasn’t done it yet. He needs to sound out those people in the Pack, make sure he has the support he needs to even make the challenge.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“Then he only has two choices, accept his father’s leadership or leave. If he leaves, he gives up his right to succeed his father, he forfeits all his property, and he must flee with his family. Just like me.”
She hugged his side. “Could you challenge him?”
He laughed. “I suppose I could, but physically I can’t beat Richard. He’s strong, and experienced fighter and he has both eyes and legs, unlike me. I’m a healer, not a fighter anymore.” He looked up at the door. “Those people need me. I was out here trying to figure out if I could take them with me, the North Fork pack would take them in, but it won’t work. Not enough room, not fast enough. Even if I could drive up there in the daytime, I can’t get them all there. I can maybe fit fifty in the trailer, and nothing else in town is running.”
“So what do we do?” She looked up at him, concern etched on her young face.
“What’s this we stuff? Are you French now?” She elbowed him. “You aren’t doing anything. Now that I know I can’t leave, it’s important you get out. I’ll send you up into the mountains where you can meet up with Rachel and Raven, then both of you request sanctuary with Alpha Calvin.”
“What about you? Are you just going to stay here and get killed?”
Marcus laughed. “No, I’d be in a lot of trouble with my family if I went and did that.” He put his sunglasses on. “I have to go see some people. I’ll be back before dark. Can you watch things here?”
She nodded as he got up. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “Reggie is lucky to have you. You are strong, a born leader, and you care. Never lose that.”
He pulled the blanket over him and pushed through the door into the sunlight. Josi closed her eyes, she had a lot to figure out, but part of it was why that sounded like a goodbye to her. She reached out to Reggie through the bond. “Reggie? Love?”
“My Josi… why are you so worried?”
“I talked to Marcus, and he explained what you were talking about when you said you might challenge the Alpha. Reggie, you can’t do this because of me. I’m not worth it.”
Reggie’s love surged through their new bond to her, its warmth filling her. “You are worth anything Josi, even my life if that is needed. It isn’t all about you, though. I could live with a father that resents who the Goddess selected as my mate, and thinks you weaken me and my family. I know in my heart that you would make him eat those words, for when your wolf comes she will be a strong one.”
“No, love, it’s about doing what is right. I was mad about how Marcus did it, but now I know why he did and why trying to convince my father of it was futile. He’s a better man than me, but I will fight for you, and fight for what is right in this world.”
She was so proud of him, it hurt. “Marcus said you want me to leave with his family.”
“Yes, it’s important that you be safe so I can focus on what I have to do. Let Alpha Calvin know what is going on, and go back and stay with your friends until I come for you.” He sent his love over the bond again. “And make no mistake, I WILL come for you. Nothing and no one will stop me from being with you.”
“You better. I have plans for you, Reggie. One night with you is nowhere near enough for me.”