Riding with the Pack

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Chapter 2

Dean

He’d only been running a little over a mile when a sharp squeal infiltrated his ear drums, grabbing his attention. Startled, Dean came to a sudden halt while his crumpled bag of belongings plummeted from his muzzle.

He held his breath and remained absolutely still as he waited to hear the sound again. He dedicated all of his concentration to filtering out all of the distractions of the billowing wind and heavy rainfall as he strained to identify the mysterious noise.

Just as he was about to gather his loot and continue his perilous journey elsewhere, he heard the faintest squeak to his left. He cocked his head in confusion and began to stalk forward stoically.

Maybe its food, he thought to himself.

He’d been travelling for days and was running on fumes at this point. As if on cue, his stomach growled and began to send rumblings of graceless whale calls throughout the woods. He crouched down and began to ready himself for the hunt, fully prepared to devour any sick creature that came across his path.

I don’t care if its a rat, I’m so hungry I could eat a- He began silently but was cut off by the most heart wrenching cry he'd ever heard in his life.

“Daddy!” A small broken voice croaked.

Dean’s heart sunk into his stomach as he jumped to his feet in an instant, no longer interested in the hunt.

Tell me that’s not her, he pleaded to himself.

He swallowed the saliva that had previously been pooling in his mouth and crept forward. His heart clenched as he followed the soul crushing sobs to a small overhang of fallen tree limbs and overgrown foliage.

The scene looked as though a tree may have been struck by lightning years prior. The sharp edges of the splintered wood looked worn down by the elements and the bark of the tree was now covered in thick moss with a sprinkling of red spotted mushrooms.

The yellow wildflowers that poked out of the overgrown grass surrounding the fallen tree had closed their bulbs in a futile attempt to protect themselves from the hellish rain. The force of the water droplets had picked up and they seemed to fall from the heavens in droves as he stepped closer.

"Daddy!" The tiny voice beckoned brokenly, causing his ears to perk up.

He squinted his eyes in a pointless attempt to see past the downpour. Shaking the moisture from his saturated fur, he closed the distance between himself and the tiny makeshift cave of mossy wood and poked his head inside.

Allowing his eyes to adjust to the shadowy crevice, his gaze fell upon a tiny heap hiding at the very back of the hollow area. He listened to the tiny sobs that danced around the mass as it shook uncontrollably. His heart ached.

Poor thing

He quickly concluded that the family he'd come across earlier must be looking for her and a prick of fear clutched his stomach. He decided to discreetly sniff the air in order to be sure that she was in fact Aliuran but was struck by the overwhelming scent of vanilla and peanut butter instead.

The scent seemed to awaken his taste buds once more as his mouth overflowed with drool and his stomach let out a fearsome growl before he could stop it.

Terrified, both he and the blubbering heap froze and he watched in shock as the little girl snapped her head towards him. He looked on helplessly as she took in his complete form in absolute horror and he could only imagine how he must have looked to the small child.

At well over six feet tall on all fours and thick black fur that was matted and riddled with mucky leaves, he could only stare as the small mass huddled even further into the dwelling in an attempt to get away.

I’m not gonna- he tried to explain, forgetting momentarily that he can’t talk in his wolf form and instead flapped his jowls silently, revealing his giant canines and sufficiently scaring the poor thing half to death.

“Please, don’t eat me!” She squealed as she shielded her face with her tiny hand, wielding her other towards him in an attempt to keep him at bay.

He panicked and knelt down in an attempt to make himself look less intimidating. The last thing he needed was for her screams to attract the two men that were wandering the forest looking for her. He knew that if they saw him anywhere near the child, his death would be swift and painful. He shook the ugly thought away and huffed at the cowering child.

The girl glanced through the divisions of her pudgy fingers and met his gaze. He bowed his head closer to the ground and submitted to her, averting his eyes every now and then to show that he was not attempting to challenge or subdue her. Seeing this must have given her a bit of confidence as she began to speak to him calmly.

“Are you a mean wolf?” She inquired, fear lacing her angelic voice.

Dean shook his heavy head from left to right dramatically in order to communicate that he was of no danger to her.

“Are you a nice wolf?” She asked with a bit more confidence.

There was an eager gleam in her eyes as she spoke but she was still careful to keep her distance. He nodded his head up and down in an over exaggerated yes.

“Promise?” She squeaked.

He gave a firm nod and held his paw out to her as if willing to shake on it. She girl removed her hand from her face and crawled towards him, taking his paw into her tiny mit. Instead of shaking it, she hooked her pinky around the smallest digit on his paw and squeezed. While the process was a bit uncomfortable, he stayed completely still and allowed her to hold him there.

“Pinky promise?” She asked in a stern tone.

He nodded firmly once more and flexed his paw a bit in an attempt to squeeze her back.

“Okay, you can’t break a pinky promise, you know? If you do, I get to break your pinky. It’s the rules.” She explained without a hint of humor.

This was all business to her and the scene was quite comical. He struggled to hold in a laugh and instead let out another huff of air. She flinched slightly and tilted her head to the side as if readying herself to be harmed.

Noticing this, Dean decided to copy her actions and tilted his head to the side as well. She looked up at his emerald orbs and seemed to be studying his actions when she tilted her head to the opposite side. He did so as well and continued to mirror her motions as she bobbed her head from side to side a few more times before crumbling into a fit of giggles.

He studied the girl as she came closer to him. With a small hint of moonlight cascading across her face, he took in her appearance. She had damp, shoulder length raven black hair that was tied into two loose braids with small aqua bows at the ends.

Her tiny round face had dustings of light brown freckles that matched her big brown doe-like eyes that glistened with unshed tears. He watched as she wiped her cute little red button nose that was insanely runny with her sleeve and she smiled shyly back at him. She was wearing a ruby colored rain coat with matching rain boots that were covered in little pink hearts. She had on denim colored leggings that were glistening with rhinestones aswell.

Without warning, the girl reached her hand out quickly in an attempt to pet him. The action was enough to throw him off guard and he jumped at the sudden breach of personal space, causing the girl to flinch and swipe her hand away. She hid her head and took on a similar position as earlier, covering her face with one hand and using the other to keep him at a distance.

Her shoulders were trembling and a small whimper escaped from her heaving chest. Not wanting to scare the child anymore than he already had, he quickly plunged towards the child’s hand and gently pressed his forehead against her outstretched palm, allowing her to touch him. The girl took in a sharp breath and turned quickly to face him again, meeting his eyes with hers. She looked at him deeply and let out a small gasp before speaking.

“Your eyes look like sweet grass,” she breathed sweetly. “My mommy grows it outside of our house to feed the bunnies.”

She beamed widely, revealing a set of pristine white teeth, minus a missing front tooth.

Just as the girl was readying herself to say something else, a deafening crack of lightning lit up the surrounding trees and dyed the forest an eerie shade of blue for a moment before disappearing. The sound frightened the poor girl and she fell backward to the furthest part of the cave. Tears welled in her eyes and fell down her flushed cheeks as a sob caught in her throat.

Poor thing. I can’t leave her here like this, he determined.

The girl must’ve been miles from home and there was no way he could force her to travel out into the fierce elements. As the thought of tracking down the men that were out here looking for her flashed across his mind, he decided that a mission like that would be suicide. Not to mention the fact that the thought of leaving her out here alone made his stomach churn. He wished with everything in his being that he could comfort the child and tell her that her father was looking for her.

I can’t shift, it’ll scar the kid for life. Seeing a huge wolf transform into some naked guy is the last thing she needs right now. He weighed his options with himself internally.

The rain had begun to pick up yet again and blanketed the scenery in a thick wave of watery diamonds that was impossible to see through. It came down with a force that was beginning to physically hurt him as each droplet pierced straight through his fur and pummeled his fatigued body.

He shook his thick coat hard in an attempt to rid himself of the rain and stepped into the tiny canopy of moss. With his frame taking up most of the space in the dwelling, he crawled closer to the girl and nudged her with his nose, causing her to look up once more.

Looking utterly defeated, she threw her arms around his neck and pulled him into a tight embrace. She buried her little head into his wet fur and cried, leaving him with no other choice but to comfort her.

“I’m scared,” she wailed into him.

He lowered his head and enveloped the child in a soft quilt of his own fur as he guarded her from the treacherous storm. He buried his head into the girl, breathing in and out slowly in an attempt to slow her breathing with his as he desperately tried to ignore the decadent scent of peanut butter that seemed to radiate from her.

His stomach groaned once again and he thoroughly expected the girl to crawl away screaming. Instead, she pulled away from him and looked directly into his eyes.

“Are you hungry?” She asked between sniffles and gave him a questioning look.

Dean just shrugged his shoulders, not quite knowing what to say or how to communicate it. He watched as the girl reached behind her into a small yellow backpack and rummaged around for a bit.

“Ah ha!” She proclaimed and held up a square baggie triumphantly.

She lowered her arm and opened the sack to reveal a sloppily pieced together peanut butter sandwich that had been squashed into unforgiving angles. He watched hungrily as she pulled the delicacy out of the plastic wrapping and began to carefully rip it into two halves, getting peanut butter all over her pale little digits. She seemed to weigh the halves between her hands for a few moments before holding out the larger of the two to him.

“Here ya go! You’re bigger, so you get the bigger piece.” She explained nonchalantly as she stared into his eyes in what was almost a loving manner.

She seemed to be trying to take care of him and he found it endearing. He decided that taking the poor girl’s food wouldn’t be appropriate and he shook his head in an attempt to decline the offering, much to his stomach’s dismay.

“Are you sure? It’s peanut butter surprise! I made it all by myself,” she pouted.

She even appeared to be a bit hurt at the thought of him refusing to try it. She pulled at his fur and cupped a hand around his pointy ear as she whispered, “The surprise is cinnamon, but don’t tell anybody! Okay? It’s a secret.”

He simply nodded in understanding. She tore a tiny piece off of the larger half of the sandwich and offered it out to him in hopes that he would sample it. He sniffed the bit of food thoroughly before deciding.

Doesn’t smell bad, he thought to himself before ever so gently accepting the bite size portion from her teeny fingers. He allowed the taste to marinate in his mouth for a bit before swallowing it whole.

That’s freaking amazing! He grunted while his tail began to wag happily.

“Ya like it?” She asked with hope filled eyes.

He nodded and she offered the rest of the sandwich to him. He accepted it graciously before inhaling the buttery treat. The girl giggled and began to scarf down her half happily. They sat there in blissful silence for a few minutes, listening to the girl chew the remainder of her sandwich along with the orchestra of wind and rain that was thrashing at the entrance of the den.

Whilst admiring the zen, a sudden gust of wind hurled the storm towards them and heavy shards of rain battered their faces. The girl cried out as the glass like liquid bit at her sensitive skin.

Instinctively, he dove in front of her and used his burly back to absorb the showers that struck his spine mercilessly. As the wind howled behind him, he focused his attention to the girl and nudged her gently with his snout to show her that she was safe.

She looked up at him with reddened eyes that threatened to shed a new surge of tears. He booped her cheek with his wet nose and she let out a small giggle. Her smile was truly contagious and he couldn’t stop the goofy grin that broke across his muzzle.

“Thank you, I’m Tessandra by the way. But my family calls me Tessie,” the girl managed to croak out before delivering a deep throated cough that sent a chill down his spine.

He watched her closely and used his wolf vision to lighten the scene around her face in an attempt to view her more clearly. He noticed that the girl was now sopping wet and her lips had begun to develop an unsightly blue hue to them. She also seemed to have caught a chill as she was shaking uncontrollably. He could hear her pearly whites clattering together in her mouth.

He sat up and situated himself closer to the Tessandra, towering over her and bringing her close to his mostly dry underbelly in an attempt to transfer some of his body heat to her. The girl smiled and tried to scoot closer to him as well, but winced suddenly and decided to stay put. Curious as to the sudden change in her mood, he looked down at her and realized that she had been caressing her ankle the entire time that they had been together.

He sniffed her rain boot intently and began cocking his head to the side and grunting at it to try to get her to remove it. She seemed to understand his request and slowly removed the rubbery confine, whimpering the entire time. Once uncovered, she revealed a black and blue ankle that had already begun to swell and was radiating heat.

Definitely sprained, might even be broken, he analyzed. Poor kid. I wonder what happened.

“I was running in the woods and fell over a tree stump and hurt my ankle. I can’t even wall. It hurts really bad,” she explained as if reading his mind. “I wish my mommy was here. She would-!”

Tessandra sniffled and trailed off as tears fell cascaded down her cheeks. He quickly licked them away and although she smiled, the grin didn’t reach her eyes. Instead, she buried her face into his chest and ran her tiny fingers through his fur as her sobs vibrated through his rib cage. It felt like she was crying directly into his broken heart.

He sat completely still, allowing her to unleash all of her emotions onto him. After a few minutes, he was grateful when she finally spoke.

“You smell like mud and pine trees,” she muttered into his ebony waves.

I’m surprised I don’t smell worse, he snorted

She must have assumed his snort as him taking offense to her comment because she pulled away quickly and met his gaze with her mocha orbs, along with a horrified expression upon her damp face.

“Oh! I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings! I’m sorry! I love pine trees! They’re my favorite tree!” The girl blubbered out in a blur before continuing. “I only said anything because you smell like my best climbing tree from back home. I always climb it when I’m upset and it makes me feel better. And you make me feel better too.”

The last comment struck a cord within him and something began to change. When he looked at the girl, he saw a defiant little angel that was just as lost in the world and afraid as he was.

Maybe this is my purpose, he thought to himself as a warm feeling fell upon him.

“Can you stay with me? Just for a little while longer?” The girl pleaded with hopeful eyes. “I was so scared before you came here and now I’m not. You make me feel really safe. You won’t let anything bad happen to me, will ya Wolfie? Can I call you Wolfie?”

He nodded curtly and she grinned widely at sufficiently naming him. He watched her and wondered why she was out here in the first place, the middle of the dense forest being no place for a child her age. Once more, as if reading his thoughts, she explained her situation to him.

“I bet you’re wondering why I’m out here. Well, it’s my mommy’s fault really. She never listens to me,” she huffed before continuing while running her fingers through his fur. “I have three daddies. Daddy Gav, daddy Ryan, and daddy Lucas who is really MY daddy. I have two sisters and all of us have our own daddy but they all are still our daddies. My mommy loves all of them and said that they have a special bond. When I asked what that meant, she told me that all of my daddies are brothers and that they all love my mommy because they have this thing called a ‘true mate’, whatever that means.”

Dean had heard about werecats sharing true mates before, but only in situations that involve twins. Multiple children ran in Lycan families so he assumed it must be the same for Ailuran.

He wouldn't be surprised if the girl's fathers were triplets assumed that the girl and her sisters were as well since they all seemed to be about the same age. The more he pondered the idea, the more the situation from earlier began to make sense.

The three men and the crying woman were all her parents, the little girls that were in the SUV were her siblings, and the first man to run blindly into the darkness looking for her must've her biological father. He found it interesting that each child had their own father and was still trying to piece together the workings of a four-way relationship when Tessandra continued.

“Anyways, when I asked my mommy if I would ever have a true mate, she said I would,” she looked hurt before continuing. “But I would have to share him with my sisters, and if that isn’t bad enough, she said that Monica would be the one that picks him because she’s the oldest! How unfair is that?! ”

Picking a true mate? That doesn't make sense.

Lycan true mates were chosen by their Goddess. It was the strongest form of 'love at first sight' imaginable. He furrowed his furry brow as the girl continued her rant.

“I already have to share my prince charming with my sisters, and now I don’t even get to pick who he is?" She flailed her tiny arms in annoyance. "How come Monica gets to pick? It’s not fair. She’s only four minutes older and I’m bigger than her anyways.”

That’s really messed up. At least when wolves don’t have to share. He felt truly sorry for the child.

“So that’s why I ran away,” she blurted angrily. “I ran away to find my prince charming. I want to find someone that I love all by myself. I’m gonna find my own true mate and when I do, I’m not gonna share him with anybody. He’ll be all mine and that’s that.”

While her words were triumphant, her face still looked sad. She must have felt his eyes on her because she continued.

“I tried to tell my mommy and she wouldn’t listen to me. She said that Monica was gonna pick him and that we’d all have to share. My daddy tried to be on my side but the other daddies and my mommy got mad at him. Then my sisters all started laughing at me and made fun of me,” her voice was only a faint whisper now as she clutched Dean’s fur and sniffled.

“They’re always so mean to me. They never let me play with them and they always leave me out. That’s why I have a climbing tree, so I can get away from them. But today when I went to go climb on it, Monica was already up there. She stole my favorite tree, just like I know she’d steal my prince charming. So after lunch, I packed a sandwich surprise and ran away. It sounded like a good idea at the time but now I miss my daddy and my bed.”

More tears fell from her eyes as she laid her head on his furry chest, twirling his pelt between her fingers. The girl continued to blab on about her life for a while longer, revealing her dreams and secrets to him.

She explained that she was seven years old and told him all about her school; how she didn’t have very many friends and that she ate in the bathroom at lunch time. She also revealed that she had a dream journal and that her entire life was planned out in it. She told Dean about her dream wedding, baby names, her perfect house, and even what she would name her future dog.

“I’m also really afraid of the dark,” she admitted between yawns. “Which is why I'm so happy that you’re here. Ya won’t let anything get me.”

She nuzzled into his neck and began to doze off.

“I love you, Wolfie. You’re my best friend,” she whispered before falling asleep on him and taking his heart with her into the blissful world of dreams.

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