Monday, September 22, 2014
The Wolf-Shifter's Destiny
Well, if this didn’t suck elk antlers. Virgil had put a lot of time and miles behind him, and now he’d have to drive right back to the compound and start all over, this time with Darnell breathing down his neck. All because some bitch in a snit had used him as an impulsive escape route.
She had to go back, of course. That was never in doubt. Virgil tried to explain this to her, but she wasn’t having any. “You’re low-rank,” she said bluntly. “I don’t have to listen to you. You have to do what I say.”
“I’m packless,” Virgil corrected. “If anything, that makes me an alpha, head of the pack of me.” Hey, he realized. It did, didn’t it? He’d left his rank-obsessed pack behind. He was in charge of himself now. He sat up a little straighter. “If you stay away too long, you’ll end up packless too. You have to go back, right now.”
“Maybe I want to be packless.” They were seated at a creaky picnic table at the rest stop. Virgil had gotten them snacks from the machines. The she-wolf crammed coconut candy bars and peanut-butter crackers into her mouth in between refusals to cooperate. “Maybe I’m tired of being used and told who I have to mate with. Maybe the whole upper echelon should get stuffed and mounted on some human’s wall. Maybe alpha privilege sucks.”
He certainly couldn’t argue with that. Nevertheless … “They’ll come looking for you. I don’t want them finding me. You realize this looks like a kidnapping, don’t you? Do you know what they’ll do to me if they catch me with you?”
She daintily licked chocolate off her fingers. “Then we’d better make sure they don’t catch either of us, hadn’t we?”
Scat-damned high-ranks. Virgil munched gloomily on a cheese puff. Lupa save him, how long had these wretched things sat in the snack machine? He flicked it into the grass, where a magpie pounced on it. “What’s your name?”
“Hey, I didn’t choose it. We’re a wolf pack. Big family. Sooner or later they start running out of decent names.” She glared across the picnic table at him. “What’s your name?”
“Ha! You see? When I have my pup, she’s going to have a real name, like Mary or Sarah or something. Not—”
The she-wolf suddenly clapped a hand to her mouth. She bolted up and darted into the bushes. Magpies scattered. Virgil’s ears picked up on the unmistakable noises of yarking. “Um … Destiny?”
He hesitated to get up and go over there, but it seemed required. He compromised by going to the edge of the brush, with her hunched back just within reach. He hovered his hand uncertainly over her shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“No.” She straightened but didn’t turn around. “No, I’m not scatting okay. I’m pregnant.”
# # #
They sat side by side on the bench, with their hips just brushing. Destiny sipped water from a bottle. Little by little, the story came out. “You remember the alpha conclave last month?”
Virgil nodded sourly. As if he could forget. A bunch of puffed-up alpha assholes paying lip service to unity and cooperation while jockeying for the role of top dog. Hell on earth for any pack member under the rank of beta. Virgil had spent the better part of those two weeks out in the woods in wolf form.
“A lot of the males took off for the woods,” Destiny went on. Virgil nodded again, this time with guilt attached. “They could do that. We girls couldn’t. We were expected to entertain our guests.” She actually used air quotes for entertain. “Our esteemed leader, Ozbourne the Great and Powerful, had hopes of mating off one of us to an unattached alpha. Get a toehold into another pack through blood ties. We were ordered to do whatever it took to win the alphas’ favor.”
Virgil gulped. He’d always assumed the she-wolves had it easy, especially those up the ladder. All they had to do was look pretty and allow the males to pant after them. This aspect of their existence caught him off guard. All of a sudden his own life in the pack, with all its restrictions on mating, didn’t look so bad.
“I was one of the bitches assigned to that yelp from Michigan. You remember him? With the hair?” Virgil didn’t, but he made himself look knowledgeable. “He was cute, but grabby. Nice smile, though. And unattached, or so he said. Ozzy wanted to attach him, and trust me, he cooperated fully. And then … ” Her upper lip twisted, showing teeth. “He went home to the wife he’d neglected to mention. Three weeks later I’m barfing up my kibble and Ozzy’s telling me how lucky I am.”
“Didn’t you use … ?” Virgil stopped himself. He knew humans had methods to prevent accidental whelping. He’d never really thought about it regarding his own situation. Having cubs, establishing a pack, was pretty much the point.
Her bitter words confirmed it. “We weren’t allowed to. Ozzy wanted us fertile. Pregnancy was Plan B.” Again with the air quotes. “My aunt gave me this awful tea to drink. I guess it didn’t work.” She snorted. “Now I’ve got an alpha’s bun in my oven, a possible heir to their pack, and Ozzy’s got leverage. But first he wanted me securely mated to a wolf of his choosing. Somebody who could be his eyes, ears and nose in the Michigan pack. Needless to say, I was not consulted.”
Enter Virgil and his truck, with its convenient tarp over the bed. Given the circumstances, he couldn’t hold it against her. He’d have done the same. He was doing the same. “So where are you headed? Michigan?”
“Are you kidding? I’m headed away. Someplace with woods. I’d rather live as a lone wolf than let the pack push me around any more. I heard you telling Darnitall you were headed for Wyoming. Works for me. Just drop me off wherever.”
“Um. We’re not going to Wyoming. That was just my cover story. I left the pack too."
They wouldn’t let me mate. He had a feeling Destiny wouldn’t appreciate hearing that. “I wanted a change of scenery,” he said.
She nodded knowingly. “Yeah. I hear that a lot from the low-ranks. Where are you headed?”
“I haven’t decided yet. Maybe I’ll go all the way to the coast. I’ve never seen the ocean.”
“Me either. You don’t mind the company, do you? I mean, at least until I find a good spot. Someplace Ozzy wouldn’t think of looking for me.”
Or me, Virgil thought. They’d skin him alive and use his tail to decorate a motorcycle. Even if he took her back, they’d rip him to pieces on principle. But he couldn’t just dump a pregnant she-wolf at the side of the road.
Anyway, wasn’t the whole point of his great escape to find himself a she-wolf? Well, now he could check that off his to-do list. Not that he could keep her. Way too much baggage, not to mention the threat to his life. But he could hone his shaky dating skills on a real live girl, at least until she ditched him. Then he’d be better prepared when the real thing came along.
Besides, he’d been part of a pack his whole life. Shaking off life in a crowd might not be as easy as he’d figured. He couldn’t deny his relief at knowing he’d have another wolf around, if only temporarily. All of a sudden the big, bad world outside the pack looked a lot smaller and less scary.
“I pick the radio station,” he said.
She made a face. “You better like rock. Not that emo easy listening crap.”
“There is no other music than rock. Not even country western.”
Destiny brightened immediately. “Oh-kay.”
Smiling, Virgil clinked his bag of cheese puffs against her pack of crackers. Technically they didn’t clink, but he could tell she’d caught the gist. “East Coast, here we come.”