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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.
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The Light at the End of the Tunnel - 17. Chapter 17

At least the delay wasn't too bad.

“Shhh, it’s okay, Duncan. Asa won’t hurt you.”

Caleb’s heart squeezed tight as Dante tried reassuring his brother. Asa healed the two older boys with no difficulties earlier in the day. It was mid-afternoon, and if they didn’t get started soon, they would need to wait until tomorrow. He knew his mate wouldn’t mind. Asa would never force a child to do anything they were afraid of or uncomfortable with.

They were fortunate all three boys were multilingual, and their grasp of English was excellent. It wasn’t difficult communicating, which went far in their ability to ease the boys’ apprehension.

Asa squatted at eye level with the boy. “Duncan? Would you like to wait until tomorrow morning?”

Uncertainty clouded the boy’s blue eyes and deep furrows that no child should have marred his forehead. Caleb didn’t need a degree in psychology to discern that he wanted nothing more than to be normal again, but his fears were getting in the way, and Duncan was the only one who could conquer them.

After a minute of silence, the youngster tentatively reached up and placed his hand on Asa’s cheek. His mate held still as the boy stroked his scruff. It surprised everyone when he stepped into Asa and threw his arms around his neck. Asa’s eyes glistened as he returned the hug.

“Okay, we’ll wait.”

A soft sob was the only reply as Duncan buried his face in Asa’s neck.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Dante said to Caleb. His voice was scratchy from not being used.

Turning to him, Caleb replied, “There’s nothing to be sorry for. If your brother needs more time, he needs more time. This isn’t an assembly line, and there are no time constraints we have to adhere to. We are here to help the hybrids who want our help. If someone isn’t ready or they are scared, we wait until they are comfortable.”

Dante looked at him curiously. Caleb could almost see the wheels turning in his head. He was sure no one had considered the boys’ feelings the entire time they were in captivity.

“If you need someone to talk to, Asa and I are here. Corbin too. I know Pieter has counselors you’ve been seeing, but sometimes a person just needs someone to lean on.”

Dante chewed his bottom lip. “Can we do that after dinner?”

“Sure.”

Caleb looked across the field where Corbin and Marcel were walking, deep in conversation on the other side. The young French boy had taken a shine to Corbin, turning to him first after his healing was complete. Their friend enjoyed the attention, and it garnered him bonus points when it came to impressing Willa. She had a smile for the duo when she saw them together.

Caleb put his arm on Dante’s shoulder, and they walked over to where Asa was still comforting Duncan. The younger boy scrubbed the tears from his face when they approached. Wordlessly, Dante led him away so they could rest before dinner.

“Are you alright?” Caleb asked, wrapping his arms around his mate.

“Yes. Marcel and Dante weren’t nearly as complicated as any of the hybrids in Montana. It seems the scientists in Europe had fine-tuned things a little better. At least, by the time they got to these three.”

Caleb led Asa over to a couple of chairs and arranged them so they faced the afternoon sun. Sitting, they let the rays hit them head-on, and Asa hummed as he felt his energy recharge.

“Do you think Duncan will go through with it tomorrow?” Caleb asked.

“I think so. If you don’t mind, after dinner, I’d like to spend some time with him one-on-one if he’s willing. I think if he gets to know me better, he won’t be so scared.”

“That sounds like a great idea. Dante asked if he could talk to me after dinner. I think the kids are desperate for adult role models.”

“Hmm, I’m not sure how good of a role model I can be. I hope they aren’t disappointed when we return to the States.”

Something heavy dropped deep in Caleb’s stomach at that thought.

He shook it off and relaxed, soaking up some sun and allowing his mind to drift. He felt himself getting lighter, and without realizing exactly when it happened, it registered that he had lighted out. Another bright energy source vibrated next to him.

Together, they sped across the landscape, taking in everything and storing the information for later when their senses adequately processed what they had encountered. As the sun distanced itself from them toward the western horizon, Caleb followed the other trail of energy back to where they’d started, solidifying into his human form once more.

“Wow! That always amazes me,” he exclaimed. His brain was filtering through the images of what his light form had gathered. “Did we really zoom around the Eiffel Tower?”

Asa laughed. “Yep, and we zipped through Buckingham Palace, made the lights flicker at the Vatican, gave everyone standing in queue gaping at Stalin in his tomb a zap of static electricity, and caused a few pacemakers to tingle at that retirement home in Athens.”

Caleb marveled at the distance they’d covered in such a short amount of time. Traveling at the speed of light had its advantages. If Corbin weren’t with them, he’d suggest ditching the plane on the way home and taking the lightning express.

At that moment, a thought struck him. It was ridiculous, and Asa would certainly balk. Or would he?

“I know that look. Spill.”

Caleb tried to wipe the guilty look off his face and failed. “Hear me out.”

“Uh-oh.” Asa rolled his eyes. “Do I need to sit down?”

Shooting his mate an exaggerated really? look, he gestured at the chair facing the setting sun, then sat in the one opposite.

“We were in Moscow today, right? Russia.”

Asa nodded, narrowing his eyes.

“I was thinking, once we’re done here, maybe we could light out and pop over to where Huntington is hiding out and check things out for Sebastian?”

Caleb waited for his mate to say something. Anything. Asa sat there silently.

“Earth to Asa?”

The light shifter held up his pointer finger in a hang-on motion. “I heard you. I’m still thinking.”

Two minutes ticked by with nothing but the sounds of nature and the distant noises of others in the castle.

“You might be right,” Asa finally replied. “I think it might be worth considering.”

“Seriously?”

“Don’t sound so surprised. I’m not that much of a stick in the mud, am I?”

Caleb leered. “I wouldn’t ever use the term stick in the mud. I’d stick you somewhere else.”

Asa winked at him. “And I’d totally let you.”

God, he loved this man. “Seriously though, tell me why you’re onboard.”

“Well, for one, it makes sense. We’re here. There’s no one to say no. Second, we don’t have to worry about anyone but ourselves. Everyone else is safe either here, in Texas, or Montana. Third, Huntington won’t expect it. We can be in and out quickly.”

“Okay, let’s take care of these kids, then see what we can find out for Sebastian.” Caleb stood and extended his hand to Asa, pulling him up and into his arms. Before kissing him, he looked into his beautiful blue eyes. He wanted to see this every day for the rest of his life, looking back at him. Pure love. Asa was his touchstone. Kissing him centered Caleb’s thoughts and emotions. He knew his mate was what made him whole.

“Ewww!” Marcel gagged as he and Corbin approached their nook.

“Sorry to interrupt,” said Corbin. “Marcel wanted to know if Duncan went through with the process?”

Asa shook his head. “No. He wants to wait until tomorrow. I’m going to spend some time with him tonight and try to get him to be more comfortable with me.”

“Good luck with that,” Marcel remarked. “He doesn’t take to new people easily.”

“Why don’t you and I help him out?” Corbin suggested. “Duncan trusts you. If he sees that you trust Asa, it may alleviate some of his anxiety.”

“Sure. Duncan is a good kid. Dante told me a lot about what happened to them. Once we had our tablets, it was easy to communicate. I can’t tell you, though. I promised I wouldn’t.”

Corbin reached up and placed his hand on Marcel’s shoulder. “We’d never ask you to. Not unless their lives were in danger and the information would help. Everyone has the right to tell their own story in their own time, including you.”

Caleb saw the boy look away quickly and swipe his hand across his eyes. They all had stories that needed telling. It was going to take time and patience.

Clearing his throat, he announced, “It’s almost dinnertime. Pieter’s not the type to pitch a fit if we’re late, but we are his guests, and I’d rather not be rude. We’re going to go change our clothes, and we’ll see you in the dining room.”

There were additional guests in the dining room. Three families had arrived during the course of the day. When Pieter introduced them, Caleb recognized the hybrids from the information in their files.

Dante and Duncan entered the room, and when Duncan saw that Pieter was busy with the new arrivals, he immediately beelined it for them but plastered himself protectively against Asa’s side. Asa shrugged at Caleb’s questioning look. Somehow, his mate had broken through the boy’s armor and gained his acceptance. Caleb figured Asa’s gentle handling of the boy earlier, and willingness to postpone the healing until Duncan was ready must have made quite the impression.

Asa leaned over and asked, “Would you like to sit with us for dinner?”

The boy nodded.

Dante looked at Caleb with uncertainty.

“You are more than welcome to sit with us, too,” he assured the boy.

“I’ve never seen Duncan act like this. He doesn’t like change, and he doesn’t like new people.”

“My mate is a special man,” Caleb remarked. “If anyone can help your brother, it’s him. I’d like to speak with the new families. You can stay with me if you’d like. Asa and I will have a more formal meeting tomorrow for a question-and-answer session.”

“No,” Dante replied. “I’m going to hang with Marcel and Corbin. We’ll talk after dinner.”

Caleb couldn’t help noticing that Dante signed at the same time he spoke, completely unaware he was doing it. It was common among the hybrids who could sign to continue to do so after Asa cured them. It would take time for the boys to get used to being human again. Until then, they would need support. He was sure the three youngsters were being well cared for by Pieter and his staff, but it wasn’t the same as family.

Thinking of family made him focus on Vann. It still didn’t sit right with him that they had to leave Montana so abruptly. During his last conversation with Silas, the old shifter helped him see how the pros outweighed the cons. Caleb had made up his mind and decided to come clean to his son and let the chips fall where they may. Now, that would have to wait.

He and Asa had never discussed having kids. He wouldn’t be opposed to adopting or even fostering. But first, he had to straighten out the mess he had created with Vann. He hoped the boy wouldn’t hate him.

Shaking off the cynicism, he put a smile on his face and went over to mingle with the new families. Clara was kind enough to translate. Felix and Kurt were German, both from the northern area, closer to Berlin. Emil lived in Austria, in the southeast corner near Graz.

Asa joined them, Duncan clinging to his side like a sticky bur. Conversation was difficult due to the language barrier and the inability of two of the hybrids to vocalize properly, but they managed.

Dinner was more relaxed. Pieter and Clara kept the conversation flowing smoothly, translating when necessary. The kitchen staff laid the food on the buffet so everyone could help themselves. There was a wide variety of meats, including several types of German sausage, vegetables, and side dishes. Caleb especially liked something called käsespätzle, which was a version of mac-and-cheese.

After dinner, the new families excused themselves to get settled, assuring Caleb and Asa they would be ready for their meeting the following morning after breakfast.

Caleb pulled Dante aside as they watched Asa and Duncan leave. His mate said Duncan had somewhere in mind where he wanted to go so they could talk.

“He has a den he built in one of the unused guest rooms,” Dante disclosed. “It’s in a closet. It’s going to be a tight fit for Asa. But it makes Duncan feel safe.”

Christ Almighty, the poor kid. Caleb understood the need for kids to have comfort items like security blankets or stuffed animals, but to build a den to retreat to in order to feel safe? No child should have to do that, no matter what their age. Pups were supposed to turn to their parents when they needed comfort.

He couldn’t say why, but Caleb was immensely relieved that Duncan had allowed Asa inside his circle of trust. The boy needed love, and Asa had that in spades.

His train of thought was thrown off track when Corbin, Willa, and Marcel approached.

“What’s up?” Caleb asked.

Marcel shifted from one foot to another. Behind him, Corbin placed a supporting hand on his shoulder as if to encourage him.

Marcel briefly looked him in the eye, then deflected his gaze properly, giving Caleb due respect as an Alpha. “Alpha Caleb, would you mind if Corbin and I joined you and Dante this evening? I’d like to talk about what happened to me.”

Caleb stepped forward and tipped Marcel’s chin up so he had to look at him. “I no longer have a pack. You may call me Caleb. Yes, you may join us. Whatever you or Dante decide to share is up to you. Corbin and I are here to listen.”

“Thank you.”

“I am going to take that as my cue to leave you, gentlemen, so that you may have some privacy,” Willa said. “If I may? The west wing has a nice sitting area no one is using. I can let the staff know not to disturb you.”

“That’s kind of you, Willa,” Caleb replied. “Thank you.”

Willa leaned in to whisper something to Corbin that turned the young man’s cheeks red, then kissed his cheek. She gave a wave to the rest of them as she left, giggling.

Dante and Marcel teased Corbin by making kissing sounds as they led the way through the maze of the castle halls to the sitting area Willa mentioned. It was more like a living room. Dante explained that the wing was used when there were a lot of guests. It hadn’t seen much action since Sebastian moved the High Council headquarters to West Virginia, and there was a light coating of dust on everything.

The boys sobered up when the four were settled comfortably on the two couches facing each other with a beautiful hand-crafted coffee table made from a large cut of a redwood tree. It had been sanded smooth, and its edges scooped out to create a slight scalloped effect. A protective coat of lacquer gave it a shiny appearance.

Corbin and Marcel sat on one couch while Caleb and Dante occupied the other. The silence hung over them, inconveniently setting the wrong tone for Caleb.

“Boys,” he started. “I don’t want you to feel pressured into telling us anything. Why don’t we start by having you give us your thoughts on how the process went for you today? Letting us know how you feel can help us make things easier for the others.”

Dante was nodding, and after a moment, he spoke. “I was nervous at first. Even though you explained everything, it’s still scary. The process is hard to explain. Some of it hurt, but it wasn’t excruciating. It was mostly uncomfortable, like when you are trying to sleep but can’t seem to settle down.”

“It was different for me,” Marcel said. “The whole time Asa was healing me, it felt like tiny little pinpricks all over my body that wouldn’t stop. I wouldn’t say it was pain, maybe more like an itch from a mosquito, only everywhere. Imagine if you had bites covering you and you couldn’t scratch them. That’s the only way I can explain how it felt.”

Caleb shuddered. Even though shifters had incredible healing abilities, for whatever reason, it didn’t apply to mosquito bites. Sure, some didn’t react as severely as others, but he hated getting bitten. The itch would last for days.

“That’s good information,” he said. “We haven’t had that description before. It’s a good way of explaining it. Have either of you shifted yet?”

Both boys shook their heads.

“Had you shifted before you were taken?” asked Corbin.

Two nods.

Hmm. Caleb wondered what was holding them back.

“Why haven’t you shifted?” he asked. “I know Pieter said he was providing a protected area, and there would be older wolves to help you. Most wolves are eager to be released after being trapped for so long.”

Dante squirmed uncomfortably. “Yes. Our wolves wanted to run, but I told my brother I would wait for him. Marcel agreed to wait, too.”

Ahh. Caleb should have known. He smiled. “You’re a good brother.” Looking across the coffee table, he added, “You’re a good friend, Marcel.”

Marcel smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “That’s because Dante and Duncan didn’t judge me.”

Caleb glanced at Corbin, then waited. Marcel would speak on his own terms.

Dante wrung his hands together. “How much did Pieter tell you about us?”

“He said you and your brother lost your parents during a home invasion. Duncan saw them murdered. Your Alpha placed you with a foster family, and when that family fell apart and he had nowhere else to send you, he asked the High Council for help. That’s when you were sent to Norway and experimented on.”

Dante dipped his head once in affirmation.

Looking at Marcel, Caleb continued, “Pieter told us that Marcel came from what is considered an aristocratic family, tracing their lineage back to Jaeger. He was abducted while walking home from his riding lessons. His family disowned him after discovering he was experimented on and physically changed.”

“That is a very short version, but it covers the basics,” Marcel admitted. “My parents were, how do you say, when they think they are better than those around them?”

“Pretentious?” offered Corbin.

“Yes.” Marcel smiled. “Pretentious,” he repeated, rolling the ‘r’ with his French accent. “Even within our pack, they thought more highly of themselves. And I’m ashamed to admit they taught me the same. I was quite the asshole before I was taken and changed. Even after, I wasn’t very nice. It was Duncan who set me straight.”

“Duncan?” asked Caleb, his voice betraying his surprise.

Marcel snickered. “Yes. Our little Duncan. We were evaluated and then separated into smaller groups when we were first rescued. There were six of us in our group. Duncan was plastered to Dante’s side. Absolutely inseparable. It annoyed me. I thought Duncan was being ridiculous. I didn’t understand anything about anxiety or PTSD or any of that. I’m still ashamed of the cruel things I said.”

Dante rubbed his friend's back. “Marcel, we’ve talked about this. It’s okay.”

“I know. I can’t help it. It’ll take a while before I can forgive myself for being such an asshole.” He sighed, then shook his head in regret. “Anyway, one of the first things the adults did was give tablets to those of us who could use them. We shared a chat feature, and Dante blasted me the second we were online.” Marcel gave a little chuckle. “He is worse than a mama bear shifter.”

“The intake process included collecting our next of kin information. Of course, I believed as soon as I let them know who my parents were, I would be treated accordingly, like royalty.” Marcel scoffed and blew out his breath. “So fucking conceited.”

Corbin put his arms around the boy and whispered in his ear. Caleb’s shifter senses picked up ‘Don’t berate yourself. You’re not that person anymore.’ He couldn’t help the pride he felt for his new pack-mate. Corbin had a stronger sense of empathy than most, and it went a long way in helping to foster a sense of calmness when it was needed, like now.

Marcel nodded and sniffed. “I got a real, um, what is your American phrase—oh! Wake-up call! I got a real wake-up call when our group leader pulled me aside and told me my parents wanted a video call with me. I was excited to see them again, even if I couldn’t speak. I wanted to see their faces and hear their voices. I missed them and wanted to hear them say they missed me, too.

“It didn’t go quite as planned,” Marcel said, looking away, his eyes filling with tears. “As soon as Maman saw how I looked, she screamed and ran out of the room. Papa stayed. But I wish he had run, too. The look of horror on his face will be etched in my mind forever. It’s the last image I saw of him. He said, ‘Mon Dieu, je n’ai plus de fils”. I have no son.’ He cried as he left the room. Later, I was told my parents disavowed me, and my pack Alpha officially released and banned me from the territory.”

Corbin pulled the boy close and kissed his temple in comfort.

“I’m so sorry,” Caleb sympathized. “I know how you feel. I wasn’t exactly banned from my pack, but I did have to leave, and I am no longer considered their Alpha.”

The boys looked at him curiously. Caleb said, “It’s a very long story. I promise I’ll tell you, but not tonight.”

It wasn’t much, but they seemed placated. For now.

Marcel gathered himself. Caleb saw him straighten his shoulders and draw in a deep breath. “My parents’ rejection shattered me. I felt as if my life wasn’t worth living. I considered killing myself. I tried to think of the easiest way to do it. I was too scared to jump off a bridge. We didn’t have access to guns. The thought of cutting myself made me want to vomit. I didn’t even know where they kept the aspirin.

“The other hybrids hated me because I had been so mean to them. When they found out I was an outcast, they got their revenge. The taunts and bullying were relentless. The adults tried to stop it, but there was only so much they could do. I stopped using my tablet because there were dozens of nasty messages every time I opened it. I guess I deserved them.”

“No one deserved messages like those,” Dante declared, defending his friend.

Marcel smiled. “Maybe not. We were learning sign language, too. It’s amazing how fast boys pick up slurs in any language. Gradually, it tapered off as more families were located, and they came to get their sons. Soon, it was only the three of us left. By this time, Dante and I had reached a sort of truce. I sent him and Duncan a long apology. Duncan didn’t respond right away, but Dante came to my room one evening, and we ended up staying up most of the night talking through our tablets and signing because we needed the practice. We’ve been friends ever since.”

“Okay,” Caleb remarked, “but I don’t understand how Duncan is the one who set you straight.”

Marcel tilted his head to the side and straightened his back. The way he sat and comported himself belied his formal upbringing. Caleb noticed subtle signs of it at dinner in how he held his utensils and behaved.

“Duncan is a quiet, shy boy, non?” he asked, his French accent more pronounced. “Dante tells me before they lost their maman and papa, he was a happy, outgoing little boy. After arriving at the castle, I felt sorry for myself and hid in one of the parapets. Somehow, Duncan knew I should not be alone. My thoughts were going to a dark place again, and I was up very high.

“He came up to me and burrowed into my side. It surprised me because Duncan doesn’t get close to anyone other than Dante. He wrapped his arms around me and held me tight. I couldn’t help myself. I cried. I cried a lot. Duncan just sat there, quiet as a mouse, holding onto me. I’ve never felt so accepted by someone.

“When I finally stopped crying, he pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to me. It made me laugh. I used to carry them all the time. It was what one did when you could afford servants to wash, iron, and fold them for you. After I blew my nose, he took it, threw it over the edge, and handed me some ordinary tissue.

“He signed, ‘Your old life is gone, just like that handkerchief. You don’t have the things you are used to. Now you have tissues like the rest of us. Get used to it. You’re one of us now. We’re family: Dante, me, and you. We’ll help you if you let us in. In return, we’ll let you in, too. Deal?’”

Marcel looked at Dante, who wore a proud grin. “We’ve been brothers ever since. I don’t think we would ever want to be separated. Dante and Duncan shared their story with me, and I unloaded all my emotional baggage on them. Now you know.”

“Thank you for sharing that with us,” said Corbin. “I’ve already told you I think you are a remarkable young man. If I ever have kids, I hope I have a son like you someday.”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” Caleb remarked. “Dante, I said I wanted to get to know you tonight, but it’s getting late, and I need to check on Asa and Duncan. Would you mind if we continued tomorrow? Hopefully, Asa has made some headway with your brother, and he is more comfortable about being healed tomorrow. Maybe if you talked to him tonight, it may help?”

“It’s fine with me. It’s been a long day, and I’m getting tired. I’d like to check on Duncan, too. Everything we would have discussed tonight can still be said tomorrow.”

Caleb stood, extending a hand to Dante, pulling him into a quick hug. He crossed the room and hugged Marcel, too. He admired both boys and everything they’d endured. Right now, though, he needed to find his mate and see what would be in store for them tomorrow.

Hmm, reconnaissance in Russia... what can go wrong??
Copyright © 2023 kbois; All Rights Reserved.
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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. 
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