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"At the pointe. I'll meet everyone at the pointe. Be careful, don't shift in Yellowstone, there are cameras here and there. Can you help them to the pointe Lobo? I'll meet anyone who wants to meet with me in a few days. I appreciate it, my friend."
I rode out of Yellowstone on a four-wheeler behind Mac. I dozed on and off against his broad back. I lost track of Dad. There were vehicles and wolves around us. My wolves. I stirred upon occasion, saw Cherokee and Businessman running on four legs nearby. Anna's four-wheeler followed Mac out. Her vehicle had a small narrow trailer that Derrick was laying in.
I glanced over once and saw Running Elk beside me on an ATV. There was a girl pressed against his back who gave me the biggest smile and waved. I smiled back but didn't move my arms from around Mac, merely resting my head against him and yawning.
I wasn't sure where we were when we stopped. It wasn't his place or mine. All I know is Mac helped me in a door and I curled up on a mattress. I heard a growl and woke enough to look up. I huffed and Dad joined me, smelling of shampoo. I got as far as thinking I should clean up.
When I woke the next time, it was to the smell of food. I raised my head but couldn't focus my vision on anything. I heard a slap and Mac chuckle. I laid back down.
The next time I woke I really woke. I reeked even to myself and desperately wanted a shower. The lighting was dim but I could see the s.p.a.ce around me was large. I rolled off the bed, trying not to wake Dad.
"Showers are that way, stack of shorts there. Anna has a whole cooler here full of your tea."
Mac threw me a bottle of tea. I was surprised I had hands to catch it. Mac was shaking his head. I raised up... had I been a wolf and shifted enough to catch the bottle? I must have been. I remembered four paws. .h.i.tting the ground now that I thought about it.
I nodded to Mac, who had to be uncomfortable in that little metal folding chair. I took note of the pistol he had set on top of the cooler after he closed it. How long had he been sitting there watching over me?
I went in to shower, drinking the tea as I went. I hummed a little as I scrubbed, stopping to lean against the wall.
"Still tired?" Dad asked.
I nodded, closing my eyes and just enjoying the water. I about jumped out of my skin when Dad started rubbing me down with a lathered-up washcloth. I swatted his hand away.
"Not like I never scrubbed you before, Son. Let me get the backside. You really are filthy. Not as bad as the time you took the chocolate trail though. I think that was the only time your mom was really mad at me. She made me clean up the mess you made."
I stood there, leaning against the wall, letting my father do his mothering. I smiled, remembering the night he spoke of. It was the first time I had yelled at Dad.
I hadn't wanted to spend my birthday training. He had insisted he was going to track me to see what I had learned in the past year. He gave me a brief head start and I'd took off running.
I had used trees to keep my scent off the ground, jumping a fence to purposely land in a cow patty. It was a route we came to call the chocolate trail for two reasons. The first reason was the manure piles left by the cows I had jumped into like stepping stones, rolling thoroughly in each one.
The second reason was what had been waiting for me at home. My reward if I got home without him being able to trail me was a chocolate cake. He never let me eat chocolate, telling people I was allergic to it. It was my tenth birthday and Mom had made me the chocolate cake I wanted.
I made it home, cut one slice out to save for Mom, and ate the whole rest of the cake, wolfing it down, leaving him none. I was mad at him and full of vindication in my ability to outmaneuver him.
They got home with me curled up on the kitchen floor, under the table. I had gone in on their bed to wait for them, dozing on and off, when I felt sick. I had headed back to the kitchen to see if they'd made it home yet.
It was Mom's gentle touch that woke me up. She didn't say a word at first. When she did, she just gently told me she was going to get my bed ready, then looked at Dad over her shoulder.
"Clean your son," she had said. Not just said, but gently commanded in a way that left no room for argument.
Mom wasn't sure if my stomach was upset merely because I had eaten chocolate. She was leaning toward the fact I had eaten the whole cake that had upset my stomach. She had fixed up my bed while Dad took me into the bathroom to clean me up. I had dry manure all over me except my hands and face, which I had cleaned before eating the cake. I hadn't scrubbed the rest of me because I was in a hurry to finish off the cake before he got home.
Dad didn't say a word back then. Neither had I, despite the many rehea.r.s.ed arguments I had prepared for my dad. He had scrubbed my fur repeatedly, ma.s.saging the muscles in the process, finally getting me to shift back to a boy. Mom had slept with me that night, gently stroking my forehead.
I never thought about how the rest of the mess, the trail of goo I'd left all over the house, the chocolate cake which had come back up all over their bed, had gotten cleaned up.
"Was she really mad?"
"Not at you," he said, "at me for goading you as I did. She said I deserved to appreciate the results of my efforts. I spent that whole night and half the next day scrubbing in appreciation! Never did training on your birthday after that, only fun things for you. I miss her."
"Me too. I'm glad I have you though."
His hands paused in their scrubbing before going back to work on me. I think I might have dozed on my feet. He rewashed my hair.
"It's getting long again, time to get it cut, " he commented.
"Keeping it long this time," I mumbled.
I leaned on him as I stepped into the shorts, and he guided me back out and over to a kitchen set up.
I yawned. "Where are we, anyway?"
"Warehouse," Mac said quietly. "It's about two in the morning." He brought over two more bottles of tea.
"Go sleep," I told him as Dad brought over a big bowl from the fridge. It was full of potatoes, chunks of beef, and small carrots.
I lifted the bowl and gobbled it down, not even realizing until I was done that I literally had wolfed it down. I licked my snout, tried to shift back to man, knowing I was in-between.
"Don't worry about me kid," said Mac, "I think I've seen just about everything now."
I looked at his slightly wide eyes as he tried to be nonchalant about me wolfing down my dinner. I chuckled and grabbed the bottle of tea. Dad grabbed the other one as I put a hand on Mac's shoulder as I headed back to bed.
"Thank you for coming for us, " I told him, knowing how totally inadequate that was for all he had done.
Mac only nodded.
I thought about the first bottle of tea I had finished. I didn't remember where I had set it. Dad took the empty bottle out of my hands, pushing me back so I landed on the mattress.
"Sleep," he growled softly, jumping up next to me. I curled up, then stood and circled, landing so I was spooned inside of Dad, my head over one of his paws. He pulled his paw out but rested his head over my shoulder.
I sighed in contentment and slept.
I woke again as I felt a warmth in front of me go away. I looked up to see a woman holding the young she-pup.
"She's fine," I said with a smile. The woman hesitated, and in that hesitation, the pup squirmed out of her arms and made her way back to me. The bed was low and I reached over and picked the pup up by her scruff, setting her next to me.
"Brave one, thank you for coming to rescue me. You'll have to tell me the story of your adventure sometime."
She looked at me, her eyes shining, no longer content to cuddle now that she knew I was awake. She gave out a little growl, looking up at me before pouncing at my throat.
My arm snaked around her, rolling her along my chest. I brought my other arm around to tickle her nose. She sneezed and I laughed, letting go of her. She stalked me along the length of the mattress, heading down toward my feet. I was glad I had shorts on from after my shower last night.
"Grace!" a man's voice called out. She pounced before anyone could stop her play.
"Ouch, you have sharp teeth little one! My toes are mortally wounded!" I shook the foot she had nabbed, then laid it sideways as if it had died.
She yowled at the ceiling and went to claim her prize. I jerked my foot away before her tiny claws could sink into my tender flesh. She looked at me in surprise. Her mother picked her up and carried her away. I waved to her as she looked at me over her mom's shoulder.
"You used to love pouncing on my feet," said Dad. "There were days they felt like a pin cushion."
I laughed, sitting up and stretching.
"Feel better?" he asked.
"Yeah, still tired but better. Not sleep tired, just lazy tired. I don't feel like doing anything except eating breakfast."
I held my hand in front of me, shifted it to paw then back to a hand. It took almost no concentration. I had a feeling I had hit a new level in my ability to change forms. There was no line between being man and being wolf I reminded myself. I lowered my hand and looked at Dad.
"You've changed, Son. You remind me of my grandfather."
"Man and wolf," I said thoughtfully. "You'd said he'd stayed mostly wolf. I think I'm both now, all the time. My brain shifted while I fought. I needed to be both wolf and man at the same time. I think my brain went mid-shift. Tight squeeze in a wolf's skull."
It was Dad's turn to look thoughtful. "You keep taking us to new places," he said quietly. "I don't think I'm going to purposely try for that one though. You should have seen yourself. The timing was spectacular too, with that tremor happening when you roared, as if you'd summoned it forth."
I shook my head. "That wasn't me, it was Spirit Wolf, just like the night of the fire. It was both of us. I could feel him..."
Dad pursed his lips in amus.e.m.e.nt at my slight confusion. "It was worth seeing, anyway. Let's get you some breakfast. You slept for a whole day."
"Safe. Mac told her to stay away. He doesn't trust those wolves. Can't say I blame him."
I nodded. Mac looked to be in full warrior mode, treating the situation as if it was one of his black ops missions. A warehouse for a safe house, I thought. I looked around at the row of air mattresses. There was a section screened off with plastic pallets standing on end where the woman had taken the pup and where I could hear Anna.
Anna came out, her eyes locking on where Mac was sleeping. He had bunked by the entrance of that little area, where he could see into that s.p.a.ce if he had been awake. Anna gave me a nod as she stalked by, heading to the kitchen. When she came back by I scurried to the far end of the warehouse. Dad beat me there.
Mac's yell was priceless. Anna stood there holding a now-empty pot, fuming.
"Move the d.a.m.n bed!"
"d.a.m.n girl, you didn't have to drench me!"
"Move the bed now!"
"Alright, alright! Think you might appreciate someone watching out for you instead of you drowning them."
Mac hauled his dripping wet self up and shoved the air mattress over some.
Anna threw the pot so it skittered across the floor to stop by his feet. She went back behind the part.i.tion.
Mac held still at the clicking of the shotgun Anna was pointing at him. He turned around slowly.
"You need me to prove to you that I can watch out for myself?"
Mac sat down on the wet mattress.
"I think I'm in love."
Anna practically screamed in exasperation as she put the safety back on the gun and went back behind the part.i.tion.
A nudge on my arm had me looking at Running Elk. We busted out laughing at the same time.
"You're next!" Anna yelled without coming out from behind the part.i.tion.