Dust to Dust
Two Harbors, Minnesota, Richard B. Helgeson Airport
I’d slept the whole flight, my body and mind exhausted from the events of the past few days. When I woke, I reached for my mate and found only air. I hated being away from him. The only good thing was that I was going to see my babies again.
I moved the seat back up for landing, looking out over the frozen lake to the familiar landscape. It was good to be home, and my wolf was looking forward to running through the snowy woods. I checked my phone and caught up on the texts, answering a few. My two pairs of warriors were quiet. “How’s your leg, Brent?”
“Through and through, it will be fine in a few days,” he said. “Laura cleaned it and changed the bandage during the flight.”
“We’re going straight to the Oxbow Lake Pack, I want you to see their Doctor when we arrive,” I told him. Our Pack wasn’t big enough to have a dedicated Pack Doctor, though Chase’s training before starting his Psychology residency gave us a good backup.
“Are the babies coming,” Charles asked. Our twins, Mark and Cheryl, are going to meet us at the airport. I lost the breast milk I’d been pumping in the clubhouse fire, but the girls were full and ready for my twins. Cheryl was the firstborn daughter of the maternal line, a line that stretched back to the original werewolf mate of King Lycanos. She would have the same blessing of fertility that I had; I was fertile every year, while normal werewolf mated pairs were lucky to have one child in fifty years.
It was a blessing that had become my personal curse when my entire Pack was wiped out so a greedy Alpha could take me for his own. He didn’t get me, and I was adopted by a human couple at eighteen months of age. I didn’t even know I was a werewolf until I was eighteen and met Chase; until then, I thought I was going crazy. My life since then had been a whirlwind. I mated my man, I resurrected the Arrowhead Pack, built beautiful homes and a Pack House on our lakeshore, and had my twins. Mom met her second husband Roadkill at the Orlando clubhouse and joined the Steel Ladies. They are human, but know about us and are our responsibility.
Cheryl is loved and protected by our entire Pack, but we never stop worrying; someone might try to take her. Two warriors are detailed to watch her at all times of day and night, regardless of how many Pack members are around. They stay nearby even when Chase and I are with them; we’re just that paranoid. Charles was right to ask; if the twins met us at the airport, it would be their first time off Pack lands. The Oxbow Lake Pack was closely allied to us, Luna Margaret was my aunt, but protocol called for six warriors for Cheryl and two for me. I looked back at him. “The girls will have their protective detail when they leave for the airport. Since Brent and Laura are busy, you’re stuck with my back.”
“It’s an honor to serve, Alpha,” Bonnie said. She looked at me nervously, like she had something more to say. I could see she was sending to her mate for help.
“What’s on your mind, Bonnie?”
“I don’t want to be disrespectful, Alpha. It’s just that I can see on your face how upset you are about Connie. I know you didn’t grow up among our kind, so I’ll just ask. How much do you know about the warrior culture in the Packs?”
Her question made me pause. I knew we had them, but they were the responsibility of my Betas, Keith and Coral. Coral was Chase’s twin sister and had trained as a warrior her whole life. “I know they take it very seriously,” I said.
“Pack Warrior is not a job for us; it is our reason to live,” she said. “We swear on our lives to protect our Pack and our Alphas against all enemies.”
“We don’t want to die, but we aren’t afraid of death either. We pray to Luna for a warrior’s death, one that brings honor to our family and our name,” Brent continued. “We know you blame yourself for Nate and Connie’s death, but an Alpha cannot second guess their decisions. Nate and Connie served their Alphas well, they protected their charges, and they died in battle. It is the best death any warrior can hope for.”
I didn’t know if I’d ever fully understand Pack life. I learned something new each day as Alpha. Who the hell ever thought it would be a good idea for a nineteen-year-old to be in charge? If I had a choice, I would have learned under my parents for decades before I would take this job. Reality quickly erases the arrogance of youth. “Their Alphas will not be upset with me?”
“They will want to hear that they served you with honor. Nate never had a chance, but Connie took out half of the snipers and then went after Jose. He would have escaped if she had not caught him in the air.” Bonnie reached out for my hand. “She protected us and avenged the cowardly attack that killed her mate. Her courage and skill will inspire generations of young females who seek to follow a warrior’s path.”
“You think so?”
“We know,” Bonnie said. “It was stories like this that made me want to be a warrior.”
It was a lesson I would not forget. I’d taken the same kind of vow, to protect and defend my Pack members, but I hadn’t fully considered what that meant. Things happened in war. They were my responsibility. They could live and die on my decisions, and I owed it to them to be a good Alpha. I was going to talk to Coral later about increasing my self-defense and tactical training. She had already told me I was needed to interview two warrior candidates who were applying to join our Pack.
I was so deep in thought that the touchdown startled me. I looked out the window, seeing the vehicles idling by the hangar. I smiled as I sent a mental message to Coral. “How are the babies?”
“They miss their Mommy. Auntie Coral doesn’t have the boobie power to satisfy three of them.”
I laughed, Coral had her daughter Hope about a month after the twins were born. The three of them had been raised together, sharing time between our two houses and the Grandparents. The demands of two hungry werewolf babies had swollen my B-cups to the point they might never shrink again. “I’ll feed them on the way to Oxbow. Everything set?”
“Yes. The Alphas are here; we need to transfer the coolers to their Pack vehicle.”
“All right. Remind everyone the pilots don’t know they are transporting bodies, so we can’t be obvious about how we treat them.” We had pulled off the runway and soon parked inside a hangar with people from both Packs standing near a single Ford Expedition. The pilot opened the door and extended the stairway. “Thank you for a pleasant flight,” I told him. “Plan for a return trip in the morning after you’ve had a chance to rest.”
“Of course, Ma’am.” I walked off, Coral greeting me and handing me my winter jacket and hat from the pile she was holding. As soon as the pilot got the cargo door open, Beta Keith and Alpha sensed which cooler contained Connie and carried it to the waiting car. The other cooler was carried outside to one of our vehicles.
“What are we going to do with his body,” Coral asked me as we got into our vehicle.
“I have an idea. We can’t turn over the body because we can’t explain Jose being in jaguar form, but his DNA is the same whichever form he takes.” I sent to Brent and Laura plus my other Pack members. “When we arrive at Oxbow Lake, bring his panther in and ask the Doctor to extract as much blood as possible and put it in bags. I’ve got an idea to throw the Feds off his trail.”
“What are you going to do, Alpha?”
“Leave a blood trail for them to find. It may be enough to make the police presume his death. The more blood, the better, if there is enough, they will think he died.” I’d have to send it back down with the plane in the morning; I’d see who could go. I didn’t like the idea of Chase being down in Florida without someone from our Pack watching his back. If the Sons saw us change, or if there was another Jaguar in their group who caught or scent, they might go after him.
I opened the back of the Expedition that our three babies were in and kissed them. My breasts were full, so much that I needed to relieve the pressure as we drove away. “You look ready to pop,” Coral teased.
“I feel like I’m a walking boobie support system sometimes,” I said.
“We’ve got a little drive ahead of you, why don’t you feed them as we go?”
“I don’t know, they should stay in their seats,” I said.
“They’ll be fine. We’re well out of town now.”
Relenting, I pulled off my sweatshirt and undid the flap on my bra. I pulled Mark into my arms since he was fussing the most. He quickly sucked my left breast down, and I put him back then brought Cheryl to my right. Both of my babies loved their mommy milk, and I loved watching them as they ate. Soon she was back in her car seat as well.
“Much better,” I said as I rubbed my empty breasts. I had to change both of them before we arrived, but they were tired and content now. “I love the time we have like this.”
“I know, it’s what I miss the most while I’m working.” The twins fell asleep before we arrived, and we carried them into the somber Oxbow Lake Pack House
Connie’s wolf had been removed from the cooler and placed in a coffin; I saw both sets of parents standing behind it along with the Alphas. We joined the line of people paying their respects, taking one last sniff of their fallen Pack member. Many were crying. “Do you know what the plan is?”
“They will freeze her body in the Pack morgue until Nate arrives. The two will be buried together. They are already heating the ground in the Pack cemetery so they can bury them properly.” The cold winters meant the ground was frozen solid several feet down already, so insulated blankets and electric heaters were used to thaw it enough to dig. “The Doc will issue a death certificate for the human authorities, saying she died of a heart attack.”
”It’s good that he can do that,” I said. “I can’t imagine how we could handle the deaths and the long lifetimes without the help of werewolves with access to the human system.” Keeping our secrets wasn’t easy, not when a werewolf could live for hundreds of years. Most Packs limited the number of people allowed to interact with humans, rotating them when it became too obvious they weren’t aging. Makeup and hair color could only do so much. If it became too difficult, entire families would change Packs, or Packs would swap territories for a few decades. I was fascinated by the efforts that went into creating, maintaining, and managing identities.
“We’ve already got Harleigh’s new identity prepared. Since she’s about your age, we gave her the name of one of the babies killed in the attack on our Pack. The ones that died in wolf form never got reported dead, and the Council kept up the identity with school records, vaccinations and everything else.” It was a well-oiled machine. A few photos of Harleigh with her new hairstyle and color, and she’ll have her driver’s license, passport and credit cards.
Now I just had to convince her to embrace it.
Cheryl was fidgeting on my chest by the time I got to the front of the room, while Mark was asleep in Keith’s arms. I hugged her parents, whispering to them how proud I was of her and how well she fought. With Nate’s parents, I told them Chase would make sure he returned to them as soon as possible. I was crying by the time I got to the Alphas, and they both embraced me. “She was so brave,” I said.
“When all are through the line, I’ll be saying a few things before Doc takes her away. Could you tell everyone at once?”
“We can’t let the details become public, but if you give an Alpha gag order, I’ll be happy to tell the story.” My Betas got escorted to seats at the Alpha table with me, and a few minutes later, everyone was through the line.
Alpha Michael stood, the place instantly going quiet. “Today a warrior returns home to find her rest. Connie Thompson was a dedicated warrior who served her Alphas and her Pack with honor, and she will be missed. Some of you have already shared stories of her, but Alpha Rori was there when she died and is here to pay her respects and tell us how well she died. No one is to speak of these events outside of this room today without my permission.” The order washed over the room like a wave, and I reinforced it with my own to my Pack.
I handed Cheryl off to Aunt Margaret and stepped onto the raised area where Alpha Michael was standing. “When I didn’t know of my wolf, I became good friends with the members of a bike club in Orlando, the Steel Brotherhood. The Club welcomed me in, giving me friendship and acceptance for the first time in years. Among the people I became close to, Sean and Kelly Ryder and their daughter Harleigh were friends to me.” I paused for a moment. “Sean was a retired agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency and had done undercover work that resulted in the leader of a violent gang, the Sons of Tezcatlipoca, being imprisoned for decades. Unfortunately, his mate was shot in the raid, their son still in her arms. The humans don’t know the leadership of the Sons is Jaguar shifters.”
There was an intake of breath at this. Cat shifters were rarely encountered; they were dangerous and unstable. They didn’t have the stability of a Pack to settle their animal nature. Most were loners, and they didn’t have mates. “Jesus Correria is out of prison, and his son Jose came to Florida last week to get revenge. He and his men raped Kelly in front of him, then tortured and killed them both. Harleigh came home from school during the attack, and they shot her before she escaped on her motorcycle. She made it to the Brotherhood clubhouse, and they killed three of the Sons.”
The place was listening with rapt attention. “Alpha Chase and I went down to help, and we brought ‘working dogs’ and their handlers with us because we knew who the Sons were. While we were in the Clubhouse with the men, women, and children of the Club, the Sons attacked. You might have seen the news coverage. What they didn’t tell you was how critical Connie was to our survival. You see, they had snipers surrounding the Clubhouse, and they tossed Molotov cocktails against the building to start it on fire. Good men died trying to break out. Nate and Connie were just outside the fence, talking to me when the attack started. I’d just caught a whiff of a jaguar when shots rang out. Nate died instantly; he never had a chance.”
Nate’s parents were sobbing, and I moved over to them and put my hand on her shoulder as she broke down. “There were snipers on top of two buildings in front, and Connie didn’t hesitate. We each took one building, taking out the shooters in our wolf forms. Jose shifted as I was killing the third man, and it was on.”
I looked over at Alpha Michael; my face is grim. “I’m not the strongest fighter, but an adult male Jaguar is a nightmare to face. I held my own long enough for Connie to arrive, she had already taken out the men on the other building. When two more warriors arrived, Jose tried to leap off the building and escape, but Connie wouldn’t let him. She met him in the air, tearing into his neck before they both crashed to the parking lot below.”
Now her parents were sobbing. “Both were severely injured, and Chase finished off the Jaguar. Connie was in pain, she’d lost her mate, and the last thing she asked me was to make sure she would be buried with her mat.” I was losing it now. “She was so strong, so brave, and I’m so proud of her. You should be too.” Her Mom pulled me down into her arms, and we cried together until the room was empty. Doc arrived, and we followed him as Connie’s body was taken away.