The following story contains strong language.
Reader discretion is advised.
In the sweltering heat, Alpha Superior continued to dig the trench for a well that would be placed later that day. Sweat dripped from his forehead, and he swiped it away with the back of his hand. He wasn’t physically exhausted; digging was an easy task for him. But the heat was a fierce adversary. Hitting something hard, he threw the shovel down, clawing the large rock from its foundation in the dirt.
Above him on higher land was his Beta working, laying the foundation for the house they were building for an elder. Why that pack elder wanted to live in the Dominican Republic he didn’t know. It was hot, uncomfortably so for lycanthropes as they were naturally warm, having evolved from the frigid climate of Romania. But his wolves could finally move and live wherever they pleased.
The idea that they were forever territorially bound to their place of birth was becoming obsolete. Traveling between cities was easier and quicker, allowing pack mates to go from one country to another without much difficulty. Their collective identity was still very much ingrained in their DNA, which was why when Superior received the call that elders wanted to build a home in Azua but were not strong enough to do so, he sent a platoon of wolves to help. He, his self-chosen brother, and a few other strong wolves worked hard for their elders.
He didn’t want to be there with mud caked onto his jeans and sweat dripping from his brow, but he would do anything for his pack. Wolves helped wolves, always. Still, he’d rather be in his grandiose home in Romania, where many pack members lived and congregated.
They were close to humans; he could tell, as he could hear schoolchildren playing soccer in the nearby dirt plain.
His confusion deepened as to why elders would want to live there. Humans were foreign to them. They weren’t a part of their collective identity and thus didn’t share a mind link with them. Humans were dangerous even though they were physically weaker.
The species that let their own starve in the streets and die in the cold, knowingly and willingly, made him uncomfortable. It meant they truly did not care and would do anything to maintain their materialistic lifestyles.
He shouldn’t judge humans. Perhaps he was being a hypocrite. It was no secret that he lived a lavish lifestyle. Having a grand home, nice cars, fashionable suits, and so on, he definitely wasn’t a minimalist. But there was once a time when he had to beg for food and sleep on hard floors. He convinced himself he was different. Yes, he liked his fancy accessories, but he would never trade the security of another wolf for a car or wealth.
Humans would, and that unsettled him.
Ironically, most saw him as a callous, cold-hearted lycanthrope. Even his own people viewed him as a strong yet austere individual. He liked that. He wanted that because no one would tread on his territory or position. And that meant his pack was safe. It meant he fulfilled his duty. Many pack mates envied positions of power, but that power came with great turmoil.
Beta Superior nor Alpha Superior had blood relatives. They were erased—murdered, removed. Their pack was their family. The Beta and Alpha, despite not being of blood relation themselves, they grew up together fighting for their lives and honoring their species. Champions of Lycanthropes was what they called the adopted brothers.
Alpha Superior scoffed as he pressed his foot into the edge of the shovel, pushing it deeper into the ground. The shit he’d gone through wasn’t something he’d wish on most.
“Thank you, Ana.”
Ana was a female with graying hair and fair wrinkles on her caramel skin. She lived there with a few others.
Beta Kaius took a large, sweating glass of water from the tray the older woman was carrying before Ana came over to the hole and kneeled to present the tray to the Alpha.
He took a glass.
“You’re welcome, Alpha,” she said sarcastically from his lack of gratitude, and he nodded once in response. She sighed, reaching out her hand to caress his cheek. “One day, that scowl will disappear.” She stood up, then went to the next lycanthrope and handed her a glass of water.
The younger female was Hasina. She had come with Dalmar, her mate. The male walked to her, taking her in his arms. The sight of the mates and that look of pure, unadulterated love and trust almost turned his blood cold. He would never have that. That was his curse, his punishment, his greatest sorrow.
He looked away, burrowing the blade of the shovel back into the dirt once again and then flicking it to the pile on the other side. As the sun began to set, the elder females called the working lycanthropes for dinner.
Alpha Superior climbed from the hole, dusting off his hands on his pants. A hoard of wolves made their way into the small makeshift cottage that would be taken down soon once the construction was finished.
They sat on the dirt floor, being handed plates of raw meats and a bowl of stew. Meeting the eyes of the elder female, Alpha Superior nodded—a silent affirmation of her work.
Alpha Superior rarely spoke. He didn’t open his mouth unless it was to demand something or to insult another about their work. He was introspective by nature, a calculating and divisive leader of his species. He was a hardened man from years of fighting and having given a duty he never wanted but was punished with.
His brother was the opposite. Kaius was boisterous, filled with laughter and care. His brother wasn’t liked by everyone but fervently loved, and his presence was asked for often. Even though the two shared physical similarities, their personalities and ranks within the pack were what differentiated them.
While Superior sat and ate in silence, his brother engaged in conversation across the small room. Others seemed to surround Kaius, enjoying whatever he was saying. Alpha Superior thought Kaius spoke too much, but it was fitting as Kaius was a practiced attorney. His mate, a human named Celest, said she loved Kaius’ orations as much as the others did. She was a surgeon in the United States.
With full stomachs, the lycanthropes returned to their work. When the sun set, they laid out sleeping cots outside for the night. The Alpha chose his spot in front of the small home, a silent announcement of his dominance and protection over the area.
Lying with his forearm on his head, he let out a deep sigh as he gazed up at the stars. After taking a moment to enjoy the darkness, he dug out a book from the depths of his sleeping bag.
His reading was interrupted, not by lycanthropes or even by another animal but by a cry—a loud, high-pitched shrill that made his ear twitch in annoyance. He would have ignored it if it hadn’t been for the small hum of empathy that rang in his chest. Begrudgingly, he picked himself up from his cot and ignored how the others mirrored his actions, remarking on the annoying, never-ending screams of sadness.
They followed the noise. It came from a shack far from their elders’, on the periphery of the town. And when they entered, their faces wrinkled in discomfort as the pungent smell of sickness and death filled their nostrils. A woman lying unconscious on the uneven floor greeted their eyes.
Kaius checked her for a pulse. He shook his head as the Alpha continued through the dilapidated shack, toward the dirty and ripped blanket on the floor, where a baby girl was crying vigorously in the corner.
Against his better judgment, he leaned down and picked the babe up. As he cradled her to his chest, something bloomed under his skin. A connection, as if he were her solidified in a singular moment. He realized—equally mortified and accepting—that this child would never be abandoned and harmed again. He would protect her, shelter her.
He tried to convince himself it was an act of kindness on his part; that even as he walked back to the elders with the girl in his arms and the looks of his mates on his back, he didn’t care for the child. And as he handed the baby off to Ana and Hasina, he was sure that whatever protective instinct had developed would surely vanish with time.
When state officials came to collect the child, saying that they would place her in a good family, anger clawed at his chest. So he asked his brother for a favor, a big one. He was by no means a father figure, nor did he want to be. He didn’t wish to take parental responsibility (in part, he knew a baby should never have him as a father).
Kaius and his mate took the child in, raising and loving her as their own in addition to their first daughter, Eveline.