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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

The Light at the End of the Tunnel - 13. Chapter 13

And now back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress......

Watching Asa pull off the miracle of healing would never cease to amaze Caleb. Even now, the power he held as he manipulated the energy needed to reroute cells and nerves was mind-boggling. More than that, witnessing his mate give the deformed hybrid pups their life back, knowing he contributed to the abuse, gave him a sense of redemption.

Over the past few weeks, he and Asa had developed a routine based on trial and error. It hadn’t been easy. Asa started slowly and gradually increasing the number of attempts to heal each day. They discovered it wasn’t an exact science.

Each hybrid had unique challenges, and some needed more attention than others. They worked overtime each night with Donovan to screen medical issues more closely. Asa found he could comfortably heal up to three to five hybrids a day. It was a better outcome than they expected. Every third or fourth day, he’d rest and recharge. Occasionally, he’d stop after only one or two pups because their issues required more energy than Caleb could provide a boost for, leaving Asa depleted.

Another thing that struck Caleb was the resilience of youngsters. Asa took care of their minds, as well as their bodies. He admitted he tweaked the synapses responsible for processing trauma within all of them. Caleb’s heart swelled when he thought of how selflessly Asa gave of himself to better the lives of the youngsters. The measure of change he provided didn’t cure their mental trauma, but it gave them the ability to cope with it in a healthy manner. Donovan still recommended continued therapy, and the therapists reported that they were all doing well in such a short time.

Cameron Nading was the poster child for the complete healing process. The young man had an upbeat attitude and an unabashed joy for life. When he looked in the mirror after Asa healed him, his face lit up brighter than the midday sunshine on the summer solstice. His parents, Heath and Lauren, couldn’t have been more effusive in their gratitude.

Later, Elijah pulled him and Asa aside with tears in his eyes. Cameron was the first hybrid he and Tyler had successfully rescued and held a special place in his and Tyler’s hearts. There was still a measure of guilt within him at his role in the shapeshifter’s kidnapping. Caleb felt a sense of absolution, knowing he had a part in making Elijah happy.

Despite the good outcomes, Caleb was anxious to return to Texas. He couldn’t pinpoint why he felt uneasy, only that there was an increasing need to make sure the Texas pack was safe. There was no doubt in his mind that Giles was more than capable of protecting his pack. Still, he couldn’t shake the thought that something terrible was about to happen. Maybe he’d discuss possibly taking the remaining hybrids back to Texas with him and Asa.

Asa came up behind Caleb and wrapped his arms around his waist. “Penny for your thoughts.”

He chuckled. “I doubt you’d get your money’s worth.”

"I can tell something is bothering you, so spill.”

Caleb blew out a breath and scrubbed his hand over his face. “Damn, this mate connection thingy.”

It was Asa’s turn to laugh. “Mate connection thingy? That sounds sexy.”

Rolling his eyes, Caleb spun around and kissed his mate soundly. When he pulled back, he couldn’t help running his thumb across Asa’s bottom lip, all shiny from their lip lock.

“Still feeling antsy?” Asa asked.

Caleb nodded. Earlier in the week, he mentioned that he couldn’t shake his foreboding feelings whenever he thought about their home in Texas.

Asa hugged him and said, “I’ve been scrutinizing the rest of the charts with Donovan. We’ve prioritized the remaining pups here. If I’m careful, I can take advantage of the longer sunlight hours and increase the number of healings I do each day. I’ll have to recharge a little more often, but it’s doable.”

Caleb tried to protest, but Asa covered his mouth with his hand and continued. “I can be finished here in two weeks, give or take. As for the rest scattered over the country, I’m sure Giles will be okay with temporarily hosting those willing to travel. It may be safer for everyone if we continue this back home. Why don’t we talk to Sebastian later and discuss it with him? If he agrees, then I’ll need you on your A-game to help boost my energy when required.”

He had to admit Asa had a point. From the start, they realized his mate could draw short bursts of power from Caleb in addition to direct sunlight. It came in handy on a few cloudy days when overcast skies filtered the sunshine.

“Okay,” he agreed.

Today was an off day for Asa. They sat on the back deck of the main house, soaking up the sun, grateful to be apart from the never-ending hustle and bustle of the lodge. The facility was filling up quickly as members from other parts of the territory moved there for safety. It was another reason why heading back to Texas made sense.

Sebastian sent word to all of his pack. Anyone who wanted to relocate to the lodge was welcome. Caleb initially questioned Sebastian’s logic about having so many people in one place. He asked him if it might make them more susceptible to attack. The Alpha responded by saying they were vulnerable no matter where the pack members were. In this case, he believed the adage ‘there’s safety in numbers’. It also increased the number of able-bodied shifters available to defend the territory when Huntington finally made his move. Training was ongoing nearly around the clock.

After a couple of hours of soaking up the sun, Asa stood and then tugged on Caleb’s hand. “Come on. Let’s see if Sebastian is available.”

Heaving his ass off the low Adirondack chair, he grunted as his back popped in protest. “Fine.”

“Oh, don’t get all pissy, or no happy ending for you tonight.”

“Low blow, mate.”

“There won’t be any kind of blow if you don’t get your ass moving.”

Caleb pressed his lips together tightly, trying to suppress the smile threatening to break out. Asa laughed as he pulled on his hand.

They found Sebastian in the kitchen rummaging through the fridge. For half a second, the Alpha froze like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. When Sebastian closed the refrigerator door, Caleb saw the proverbial cookie jar was the last half of a chocolate cream pie from last night’s dinner.

“Busted,” Sebastian confessed with a sheepish grin. “I’ll share if you don’t tell Zev. He was salivating earlier thinking about this.”

Caleb snorted. “Deal. Serves him right. I’m sure he stole the last roll of toilet paper from our bathroom.”

Sebastian snickered as he took plates down from the cupboard. “Sounds like him. What can I do for you other than get you some pie?”

“I thought we could give you our daily update and discuss something else that’s been on our minds,” Caleb said.

“Is everything okay?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Asa. “That’s part of what we need to discuss. I’ve been reviewing the remaining hybrids’ situations with Donovan, and I believe we can accelerate the process.”

“Not that I’m complaining, but is there a reason you need to speed things up?” Sebastian asked, a furrowed brow as he slid them each a plate with a slice of the pie.

“That would be because of me,” Caleb admitted. “I’ve been anxious to return to Texas. I can’t shake this feeling that something bad is brewing.”

“Have there been any threats Giles hasn’t told me about?”

“No,” Caleb confessed. He pushed a forkful of pie around on his plate. “There’s nothing specific. Just a gut feeling.”

The Alpha set his fork down, sat back, and folded his hands. “I can respect that. There have been several times I wished I had followed my gut instinct. When are you thinking of leaving?”

That was it? Sebastian readily accepted his explanation just like that? Caleb snuck a sideways glance at Asa. He didn’t seem surprised.

“We were thinking two, maybe three weeks,” Asa stated. “It will depend on how smoothly the remaining healings go.”

“Will you be back?” Sebastian asked, directing his gaze to Caleb.

“When we’re needed, we’ll be here.” It was the best he could promise.

Silence stretched for a long moment, with Sebastian looking like he wanted to add something.

Finally, the Alpha took a deep breath and said, “Guys, I can’t express how much I appreciate everything you’ve done. Especially you, Caleb. You had every right, and no one would have blamed you if you had turned the other cheek when you discovered your mate was the cure we desperately searched for. You are an incredible Alpha and, more importantly, an exceptional man. You inspire me to make your legacy in this pack something to be remembered for generations.”

Caleb tried to speak, but his voice caught. Asa reached over and gripped his hand, lending him support. He blinked a few times and cleared his throat. “Thank you, Sebastian. I can’t take all the credit. If it weren’t for this man right here—” he looked at Asa with unmistakable pride, “—we would all still be searching for answers. He saved my life.”

A beautiful blush crept over his mate’s pale skin, and Caleb lifted the hand he was holding to kiss the back of it.

“We are in your debt, Asa,” Sebastian said. “Our pups are the future. They are safe and whole, thanks to you. No amount of gratitude can adequately convey how thankful we are.”

“I would have done it no matter what. Nobody should endure what was inflicted on your packs, least of the most vulnerable. I’m glad Alberts and his associates were killed. If there’s anything we can do to help fight Huntington, just ask. As my mate promised, if you need us, we’ll be here.”

“I hate to see you go, but I understand the need to ensure your pack is okay.”

“They’re not even our pack,” Caleb admitted.

“What? Giles told me he was inviting you to become permanent members.”

Caleb shifted his gaze, embarrassed to admit his wounded pride was why he declined the invitation.

“He did,” Asa confessed. “But Caleb wasn’t ready. Then things moved so quickly, and we didn’t think about it before we left.”

“Please accept his offer. Lone wolves are more vulnerable to all sorts of negative consequences. You know that as well as I do. Considering how unpredictable Huntington is, I would feel better knowing you have the protection of a strong pack like Giles’.”

Sebastian was right. Caleb knew he couldn’t let his feelings of shame get in the way of gaining the acceptance Giles and his pack freely offered. “We’ll make it a priority as soon as we return.”

“If there’s anything you ever need, don’t hesitate to ask,” Sebastian offered. “That extends to Giles as well.”

Caleb extended his hand across the table to the only man he wanted to take care of his old pack. “You do the same. I’d be proud to fight by your side.”

A look of understanding passed between him and Sebastian. They would forever be bound by the common goal of protecting the ones they loved and considered theirs.

The following two and a half weeks were exhausting and exhilarating. The summer solstice granted them nearly sixteen hours of sunlight. They made the most of every minute. Asa powered through the last day. With the help of multiple boosts from natural sunlight and Caleb, he healed the final six pups on their list. The last hybrid gazed in the mirror with tears in his eyes as the sun slipped beneath the horizon. His parents wept joyfully as they led their son away, thanking Asa profusely.

There were still a couple of dozen hybrids who had not been healed. All of them had returned to their packs after being reunited with their parents when Sebastian’s army liberated them from the facility in Idaho. When they were ready, arrangements would be made to get them to Texas. Sebastian still had teams in the field searching for the remaining missing pups. When they were found, they would be evaluated and brought to Asa so he could heal them.

Physically, Asa had cured all the pups brought to him. There were a few, like Johnny, whose deformities were so severe it was impossible to restore the affected extremities completely. Thankfully, the boy who had been confined to a wheelchair could now walk, albeit with a slight limp. Asa speculated that the limp might resolve itself once he fully transitioned into puberty and his wolf appeared.

Donovan shooed them off when they offered to help restore the sunroom. Caleb was grateful, as Asa was depleted and needed rest. He accepted Caleb's extended hand and allowed himself to be led to their room. Locking the door, Caleb set about caring for the exhausted light shifter who accomplished miracles. He stepped into the ensuite, turned on the shower, and set out some towels before nudging Asa into the bathroom, where he stripped them down.

His mate was putty beneath his fingers, blindly following orders to turn, lift an arm, then a leg. Caleb gently scrubbed the day’s labor away, rinsed them off, then toweled them dry. Asa gave a satisfied groan when Caleb tucked him into bed, scooting up behind him to wrap his arms around his lover. Soft snores reached his ears before he finished pulling the covers up. He smiled as he kissed the damp white locks and closed his eyes.

It was late, and the sun was high in the sky when Caleb stirred. As much as he preferred the enjoyment of holding Asa, his bladder was ready to burst. He tried not to disturb his mate as he eased his body out of bed, but Asa stirred anyway at the loss of Caleb’s body next to his.

“G’morning,” Asa grumbled in a sexy sleepy voice.

“I think it’s closer to good afternoon.” Caleb leaned down and kissed him. “Don’t lose that sexy look. I’ll be right back.”

He hurried to the bathroom before he could embarrass himself like an un-potty-trained pup. He made it just in time. When he returned to the bed, Asa’s eyes were closed like he’d fallen back into a light doze. However, as soon as the mattress dipped under Caleb’s weight, he rolled over, opened those pretty blue peepers, and smirked.

“My turn. Don’t you move a muscle.”

Caleb admired the tight ass as it sauntered away. In a matter of minutes, Asa returned and pounced on him. It seemed the rest had recharged his batteries. If there was any doubt about what time it was, there was no denying it was well into the afternoon by the time two happy and well-sated lovers emerged from another shower.

After drying off and getting dressed, they headed to the kitchen to scrounge up something to eat. Zev and Ben were at the table with a platter of fruit, cheese, and crackers spread out in front of them. It wasn’t until they were halfway across the room that Caleb noticed someone else.

The boy looked up from the book he’d buried his nose in and broke out in a wide grin. “Alpha Caleb!”

Caleb’s heart leapt into his throat at the sight of his son. Vann had grown a couple of inches in the time he and Asa had been healing the hybrids. Gone was the cute-as-a-button little boy. He now had the lankiness of a teenager, complete with a sharpness to his features that hadn’t been there. It was a shock when Vann got up and threw his arms around Caleb’s waist in a tight hug. He had always prided himself on control, and his son clinging to him tested his control like nothing else had.

He and Asa’s schedule meant that his and Vann’s paths hadn’t crossed since their arrival. As much as it hurt, Caleb preferred it that way. It was easier to shield his heart when there was some physical distance between them.

“Hello, Vann. It’s good to see you.”

It’s good to see you? What the hell was that? Inwardly rolling his eyes at himself, he felt Asa nudge him a little. It was just enough to snap him out of his idiocy.

He turned his attention to Zev and Ben. “What have you guys been up to today?”

The pair glanced at each other and then looked at Caleb apologetically. He sighed. It wasn’t their fault he was uncomfortable around his son.

“Vann wanted some stuff he left in his room,” Zev answered. “We were on our way back from Great Falls. We taught Vann how to shop a Sizzle Sisters grocery list properly.”

Caleb laughed at the nickname for Mama Garrison and Sandi.

“We filled six carts and two flats!” Vann exclaimed.

“We’ll have to make another trip in a few days. I can’t believe Costco hasn’t banned us,” Ben quipped.

“They’d never ban us,” Zev retorted. “We give them too much business. However, we might not have to make so many trips. I’ve been speaking with the inventory sales manager, and she said if I email her a list once a week, she can do a special order for delivery. I need to clear it with Sebastian, though. I’m not sure it’s a good idea to allow humans onto the territory if there’s a risk of Huntington attacking.”

“Instead of having them deliver, it might make more sense for Sebastian to purchase a box truck big enough to transport all the supplies at once to cut down on the number of trips you make. You can still pre-order everything,” Asa suggested.

“Good idea. I’ll mention it to Sebastian when we have our next pow-wow,” Zev promised.

Caleb felt Vann’s eyes on him as he fixed sandwiches for himself and Asa. He didn’t want to ignore the boy but didn’t know how to engage him. Now that he was no longer the pack Alpha, their dynamic was different.

Vann took the decision away when he politely said, “Excuse me. Alpha Caleb?”

As he sat at the table, Asa leaned into him and pressed his shoulder against Caleb’s, nudging him on. “Yes, Vann?”

“Are you happy now?”

The question startled him, and Vann must have sensed it. “I’m sorry, Sir. I know it’s none of my business, but you were so sad when you had to leave. I-I just wanted to know if you were okay now.”

Caleb’s heart nearly burst with pride for the empathetic, caring young man his son had become. No thanks to himself, but he was grateful the young shifter had such positive role models in his life. There wasn’t anyone other than Sebastian and Reilly whom he trusted to raise his son the way he would have if he had the chance.

A little voice inside him told him he could have the chance if he only manned up and took accountability for his actions. But what if Vann rejected him?

Caleb tucked the fear away and smiled at Vann, channeling all his love. “Thank you, Vann. It’s kind of you to ask. Yes, I am much better now. I had a lot going on, but after I met Asa, he helped me figure some stuff out. He’s made me very happy.”

Vann smiled, then went back to his book. Caleb let out a soft breath. Kids his age wanted simple answers, and his son seemed satisfied with the one provided.

“Speaking of being happy,” Zev interjected, breaking the awkward moment. “Everyone is extolling your praises to the skies and beyond, so much so that Sandi and Mama have convinced the masses that the only way to thank you properly is to feed you, along with everyone else in the pack.”

Caleb threw his head back and groaned.

“What?” Asa asked. “Did I miss something?”

Ben stood and clapped the light shifter on the shoulder as he carried his plate to the sink. “Nope, but you’ll probably wish you did once the ladies sink their hooks into you.” He laughed.

Shaking his head at his mate’s antics, Zev explained, “Sandi and Mama are what we refer to as feeders. Their answer to everything is food. A new pup is born? Let’s have a casserole party! A milestone birthday or anniversary? Potluck time! The last mosquito of the summer dies? Break out the barbeque! You get the picture?”

“Oh, hell,” Caleb muttered.

“You mean they want to throw a huge party for us?” Asa asked. Caleb was sure he still wasn’t grasping the magnitude of what Zev inferred.

Ben chuckled. “Bingo, my friend.”

The reality of what was proposed hit Asa like Wile E. Coyote slamming into a cliff wall. His expression was comical. Incredulous only scratched the surface.

“W-we don’t need a party!” Asa stammered, shocked at the thought of a huge thank you brouhaha in their honor.

Vann looked up from his book and quipped, “You don’t need a party, but you’re gonna get a party.” Zev and Ben doubled over with laughter. Caleb couldn’t help it when the corners of his mouth curled upward with amusement. He didn’t want a party any more than Asa did, but he knew better than to protest.

“Can’t we just skip out?” Asa whispered, forgetting the ultrasensitive hearing of wolf shifters.

“Not if you don’t want Sandi making Wayne string you up by your balls,” Zev declared. “Or worse, she’ll do it herself.”

Unconsciously, Caleb shielded his crotch with his hands, eliciting further laughter from the peanut gallery. Even Vann was snickering.

“So when are they planning this death by salad squad?” Caleb asked.

“This weekend. Saturday afternoon until whenever,” replied Ben. “They know you’re anxious to get on the road, so we figured you could party Saturday with us. Sunday can be a recovery day, and you can be on the road first thing Monday.”

“Fine,” Asa gritted out. “There better be whiskey.”

Caleb nuzzled his mate’s neck. “I’ll make sure of it.”

Zev and Ben looked relieved. Caleb couldn’t blame them. He didn’t know Mama, but he and Sandi went way back. He’s seen firsthand the rare occasions when she unleashed her wrath. It was not pretty.

Saturday was two days away, giving Caleb and Asa time to wrap up some loose ends. Asa spent an afternoon with Donovan reviewing some of the more challenging cases. His mate wanted to ensure the doctor would look out for certain signs and symptoms of potential problems or anything he may have missed.

Caleb took the opportunity to spend time with Silas. The old wolf shifter voiced his opinions without holding back. During the hours they spent rocking away on Silas’ balcony overlooking the back meadow of the lodge, he imparted his advice and then bestowed praise.

“You’ve come a long way, son, and I’m proud of you. I know it hasn’t been easy, but you have the support of your mate to carry you when needed. It’s no longer necessary to shoulder the world by yourself. You deserve to be happy.”

“I don’t always think so, but I’m starting to believe it.”

“One more thing. Don’t let your foolish pride get in the way of what you want the most. The boy is old enough to know the truth. He’ll forgive you.”

Caleb turned his head and uncharacteristically bit his bottom lip. “But can I forgive myself?”

His words were barely a whisper, but Silas reached over and placed a gnarled, wrinkled hand over his strong, smooth one. “Only you can make that decision. I have faith that you’ll choose wisely.”

Saturday afternoon was proof that Sandi and Mama, with the help of an army of capable shifters, could pull off a gathering of epic proportions. The lodge currently housed close to five hundred. Feeding that many people daily was daunting enough; at least many of the families chose to cook for themselves, so it was manageable. Throwing a party for those numbers required coordination worthy of a full-scale military planner.

They pulled it off spectacularly. Sebastian discovered several cattle herds needed culling, and the party was the perfect opportunity to ensure nothing went to waste. There was nothing in the world like freshly butchered meat. Teams were assigned to handle cooking, baking, setting up tents and tables, and clean-up when it was over.

Pack members pulled him and Asa from table to table, wanting to thank them personally. The cured pups—they could no longer be called hybrids—and their families stopped them throughout the evening to thank them again. It was humbling.

Sebastian broke out a bottle of Green River Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey he reserved just for Asa and Caleb. His sharp shifter nose could easily pick out the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon, cherry, and a hint of leather. Flavors of vanilla, caramel, and chocolate mint teased their taste buds, and the perfectly smooth, oak-barrel-aged libation lent a pretty pink flush to his mate’s cheeks. They paced themselves, wanting to enjoy the evening, not get rip-roaring shit-faced.

Music played, drifting out of well-placed speakers, louder near the tent housing a temporary dance floor. The selection spanned a catalog of Kidz Bop to hip-hop and everything in between. Country, classic rock, disco, and pop accompanied an ever-changing rotation of shifters jumping, bumping, grinding, and swaying to the beat. A few older folks even managed to sneak in some waltzes and swing numbers. At one point, Caleb could’ve sworn he heard an accordion's peppy yet annoying notes squeezing out some polka.

As the evening progressed, moms and dads took their leave, carrying young pups passed out from exhaustion. Most of the older set were gone by ten o’clock, leaving a much smaller group of less than one hundred. The majority were the core members of Sebastian’s pack and their families.

Asa leaned into him, resting his head on Caleb’s shoulder. “I guess this wasn’t too bad.”

Caleb reached for his Glencairn glass, which Sebastian gifted them a set of, and took a sip. “No, it wasn’t bad at all. I’ve missed this.”

Asa pulled back and regarded him with a curious expression. “Do you want to stay here? I never really asked you. You always said you wanted to go back to Texas, and I assumed that’s what your heart desired.”

“Oh, sweetheart, it does. Don’t get me wrong. I adore Montana and wouldn’t trade all the years I’ve had here for anything. But I love you, and my place is with you, and you belong in Texas. It’s time for me to move on. Now that things are right with Sebastian and my old pack, I’m okay with an occasional visit.”

Seemingly satisfied, Asa kissed him soundly, then dragged him to the dance floor to sway to a cheesy Air Supply ballad. Luckily, the tempo picked up, and a few songs later, they dropped into their chairs, sweaty and thirsty. Caleb downed a bottle of water, then another, barely quenching his thirst.

He pulled out his phone to check the time and was surprised to see four missed calls from Giles and three from Luke. Immediately, he stood and headed out of the noisy tent. He and Asa strode toward where Sebastian and several of his guys sat around a fire pit, the loudest sound being the occasional pop of wood within the flames.

He held up a finger when the Alpha shot him a questioning look. Tapping Giles’ contact, he listened as the phone rang once before the call connected.

“Giles, what’s wrong?” he asked before the man could say anything.

His friend cut straight to the chase. “Someone torched Corbin’s ranch. Everything went up in flames.”

Caleb felt the color drain from his face.

Sorry for the slight delay. Pitfalls of still being a working schmuck.
Copyright © 2023 kbois; All Rights Reserved.
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Thanks to everyone who stuck it out throughout this series. Don't forget to recommend and leave a review! 
Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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