A New Page
Dain came stumbling out of the cabin he shared with Ed, boots untied and trying to navigate the shirt on his head as he scampered down the steps. Behind him poured a stream of curses and yelling, quickly muffled by a slamming door.
Dain sank onto the picnic bench just outside their cabin and started to make sense of his boots, their laces, and what the hell had just happened. He pointedly ignored Victoria and Terry, who sat on the other side of the table, grinning.
“Honeymoon’s over, huh, boss?” Victoria teased.
Dain’s eyes jerked up and pinned her in place as he growled. “Drop it, Simmons.”
Her grin only got bigger, but she fell silent. Her partner-in-crime, however, did not.
“I dunno, Alpha,” Terry continued, mock concern on his face. “Some of us are worried. Here, I brought this back from town for you.”
He slid a pamphlet on doggie obedience school across the table, with the phone number circled over and over. It was in a loud color and clearly decades old from some sort of family planning clinic. Dain’s glare intensified as his eyes panned from Terry and back to Victoria. “So, which one of you should I tellbrought this to me?” he countered, waving the brochure at the cabin behind him.
Terry’s body darted across the table, his hand snatching the offending item away from Dain and, just as quickly, stuffing it into his mouth and starting to chew. “Nah, we’re good,” he mumbled around the wad of paper. Making a face of disgust, he swallowed and shook his head trying to rid it of the foul taste.
Dain returned to his boots. “I hope you get paper cuts on that thing’s way out,” he muttered.
Terry was too busy patting down his numerous pockets in search of anything to rid his mouth of the flavor of ink and paper to respond. Victoria said what was on everyone’s mind though. “These days, I think most of us would take that over having to deal with Ed,” she quietly responded.
The duo rose in unison a fraction of a moment before Dain and the three of them walked towards the Farm’s edge in uncomfortable silence. Only the sound of their boots crunching in the snow broke the stillness. Once well out of hearing range of the cabin, Dain responded. “Yeah, I get that. I have no clue what’s up with him. He’s just…mad. Constantly. Wild mood swings. Everything sets him off.”
Victoria and Terry shared a glance. Dain’s admission that he’d lost the understanding of his mate’s behavior was unsettling. “What about?” Victoria asked. “She’s usually able to talk sense into him.”
Dain shook his head. “Simon’s had no luck getting up with her orafter they left for Europe. I’m starting to believe that was some sort of code with Jonas’s pack.”
“Have you asked Leanna about it?” she continued.
Dain rubbed his beard in thought. “Not yet. I’m hoping the few days apart will help clear the air. Rekindle the fires and all that.”
Terry’s facial expression clearly meant he wasn’t buying it. “I dunno, I’d be more worried about coming back to find all my stuff on fire, to be honest.”
Dain’s body language changed, shoulders rising and gait stiffening. Victoria, sensing the anger rolling off of him, tried to make light of Terry’s remarks. “Man, I think that’s just a thing that happens to you. The rest of us have normal break ups.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized her mistake. Dain spun in place to glare at the both of them. They instantly averted their gaze, looking away and baring their necks. “How about we do our fucking jobs and patrol the pack lands and stop running our damn mouths?” he seethed. “Is that something you two can do?”
“Yes, Alpha,” they both mumbled.
A few nights later, two wolves the size of horses stood over the body of a similarly large creature not of this world. Moonlight bathed the two as they crunched through bone, sinew, and unnatural construction. Blood and ectoplasmic residue were splattered across the snow. Steam rose from the cooling corpse and a slightly phosphorescent ichor evaporated in the moonlight. A short distance away, a grey wolf of similar size rubbed its back against a massive aspen tree. Even after removing this threat from the far reach of the packlands, the uncomfortable itch of something wrong kept bothering Dain. The itch had gotten worse over the last few days, and he had assumed it had to do with the underworld spirit they’d slain earlier in the night. But now it was only getting worse, to the point Dain could think of little else.
A distant howl, felt rather than heard, froze all three in place. Victoria and Terry’s tails dropped between their legs as they scurried over towards Dain, whimpering.
It came again, this time a mix of rage and agony. It felt like home and belonging and loss and confusion to Dain, like something intimately familiar and completely beyond understanding. It pulled at him in a way he hadn’t felt since…
In an instant, Dain sprang forward, a flash of cracking bones and twisting flesh. His form shrank into that of a traditional wolf, becoming leaner, smaller, and faster. Terry and Victoria, pulled along by the ferocity of the emotions coming from Dain, also transformed and followed without question. The countryside sped by them in a blur as Dain pushed himself to the edge of his own physical ability.
The howls increased in strength and anguish as the distance shrank. Through forests and underbrush, across streams and grasslands they raced, finally reaching the dusty road leading to the cabins. Approaching Dain’s home, outside stood a small crowd, the fear and confusion thick in the air. There were sounds of something crashing around inside, along with Ed’s wails of suffering. Windows were broken out, broken furniture scattered in the surrounding grass.
Victoria and Terry collapsed to the grass, tongues lolling out of their mouths in heavy panting. Dain launched himself at the cabin’s door, transforming back to human form as he leapt.
Dain’s leap ended against the stout human form of Forseti Torvald. Big Man collided with Dain mid-leap, tackling him through the picnic table the trio had sat at just a few days ago.
The roar from Dain shook the very ground. Pack members shrunk away and fled, but Forseti refused to let go. Double D and Simon raced to Forseti’s aid, desperately trying to hold Dain in place.
“Dain, stop!” rang out a woman’s voice.
Without fear, Marissa put herself between Dain and the cabin and grabbed his face forcefully with both hands, making him look at her. Tears ran down her cheeks. “Stop fighting, you can’t help him with this.”
Again Dain struggled. “What’s happening! Who’s in there with him! Let me go!”
“Dain, the only ones in that cabin are Ed…and Luna,” she explained.
The words sapped the energy from Dain’s. He collapsed, his pack-mates switching from restraining him to catching him in an instant. They slowly lowered him to sit among the ruins of the table. “Wha…what do you mean Luna?” he whispered, fearful and reverent.
Marissa knelt in front of him, carefully placing her hands on his shoulders. Her tears continued to fall. “On the full moon, Luna came to Ed and made him Wolf-Blooded—made him part of the pack. She rewarded Ed for his loyalty and dedication to us, and to you. I am so sorry, I should have seen the signs. We could have prepared him…”
Dain’s voice sounded small, like a lost child. “What do we do?” he pleaded with his Keeper of the Ways.
“Nothing,” she sobbed, pulling him into a hug. “Luna’s gift must be earned. Ed will have to fight to survive it. And he must do it on his own.”
The sounds continued through the night, shifting between the screams of man and something more primal. Once allowed to move, Dain slumped against the cabin door and refused to leave. The moon sank across the horizon as dawn broke the next day. The cabin had fallen silent.
With Marissa and Leanna by his side, Dain entered the cabin. The door barely budged, and only after Dain’s shove did it push the debris clear enough for them to enter. The inside reeked of a foul mix of a kennel and locker room, both long-since cleaned.. Barely any furnishings were in any recognizable fashion. Walls had been broken down; shelves, counters, and tables had been smashed. And in the center, among a pile of bedding and Dain’s clothes, was Ed curled into a fetal position. Blood was smeared across him, and visible wounds stretched across his body. Only his whimpering confirmed that he still breathed.
“Ed…” Dain whispered meekly.
Ed struggled to raise his head. At first, there was no look of recognition in Ed’s wild eyes, and he looked poised to fight. But, just as quickly, it passed. “D–Dain?” he croaked. “Need…you.”
Ed tried to rise, but collapsed back into the heap just as quickly. Moans of agony escaped him. Instantly, Dain was at his side, checking his mate as best he could. Ed shoved away Dain’s hands, instead pulling him into a fierce hug before falling back unconscious, his breathing steady. Dain looked up, helpless but relieved.
Tension visibly lifted from Marissa. “Thank Luna,” she said. “He did it.”
Leanna approached warily, acutely aware of the air of a wild animal that still clung to Ed. She laid her hand against his back and closed her eyes. Ed stirred, but only enough to squeeze Dain tighter. He winced, fully aware of Ed’s hard-won physical changes. “He’s feverish,” she stated. “And badly malnourished. He needs to eat, and then to rest, peacefully. There’s also something else in there. A, uh, hunger. It’s not as strong as what you have, Dain, but it’s like what the rest of the Wolf-Blooded feel. It’s…settling down now, feelings of home are coming from it. There’s also…Oh.”
Leanna blushed. “We should go and get them some food,” she stammered, walking quickly for the door and pulling Marissa along with her.
Dain’s confused look changed to one of amusement as Ed rocked the two of them with his movement. “Are you really humping me in your sleep?” he laughed.
It took a few days for Ed to leave the cabin, and several more before being comfortable around others. Weeks later, a small group sat around the new picnic table out front enjoying dinner. The day had mostly consisting of repairing and rebuilding the cabin’s interior, something that Dain had done without complaint (and for which Ed had sheepishly apologized over and over).
Simon walked up mid-meal and slipped a note to Ed. All conversation stopped. Ed opened the note. A Union contact in New Orleans needed help.
“How did you get this?” Ed asked. “I thought you said the Secret Frequency went down a few months back.”
Simon shrugged. “It did. This came by plain ol’ email. Not secure at all. They must be really desperate.”
“Uh, thanks, Simon.” Ed mumbled. He could feel Dain’s gaze on him.
Later that night, after everyone had left, Ed sat outside next to the fire. In one hand he held the note; in the other, his pocket notebook with everyone’s contact information in the Contingent that he knew. A cellphone laid next to him, the flames flickering off of the black glass. Dain padded up and sat down next to him.
“When do you leave?” he asked, trying to hide the hurt in his voice.
Ed released the breath he was holding. “I don’t know,” he said.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” Dain responded, sharper than intended. “It’s not enough they take you away from here, but they can’t even tell you when to be there?!”
Ed turned back to the fire. “No, it’s not that. I don’t know if I’m going. I don’t know if I can go.”
Dain cocked his head, like the sound had somehow come in wrong. “Huh?”
Ed stood up and stepped closer to the fire, shivering. “I don’t know if I can do this anymore. Just pick up and go. It doesn’t feel right anymore. Leaving the farm, leaving you. I know they need me, but…”
Dain followed, wrapping Ed in his arms. “…but you feel sick about the idea of leaving.” he finished Ed’s thought. “Yeah, that happens to us, once you pick a pack. Or more accurately, once a pack picks you. You don’t want to leave them.”
“Does it get easier?” Ed asked.
Dain was quiet for a while. “No. No it doesn’t. You learn how to deal with the feeling, but it never gets easier to leave the pack.”
Ed nodded. The silence stretched out until Ed deliberately reached out and dropped both the note and his notebook into the fire. “What are you doing?!” Dain exclaimed, reaching past Ed to try to rescue the quickly igniting paper.
Ed stopped him. “Leave it. I’m done with that life. It nearly killed me. On several occasions. And it took me away from here when you needed me most. I don’t know if I could go on if something happened to the pack and I wasn’t here to fight for it. I have a real chance here to start something good, something I can be proud of. The Contingent needs to exist, but there’s no place in it for me any longer.”
Ed turned to walk away from the fire, away from his past. And, as the smoke curled into the crisp and clear night sky, vanishing into the Milky Way above, he felt truly at peace for the first moment in a very, very long time.