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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 - 24. Chapter 24

The dust has settled. It's time to wrap this up and tie a pretty bow on it.

Caleb paced back and forth. He worried his thumbnail and cuticle with his teeth, forgetting that his wolf’s healing ability instantly filled in the ragged edges.

“You’re going to wear a hole in the floor,” Asa warned.

He ignored his mate, paced another length of the room, and then went to the window to glance at where the driveway disappeared into the trees, hoping to see the convoy of trucks and vans that had entered the territory.

It had been ten days since they defeated Huntington. During that time, they paid homage to those who gave their lives. Funeral pyres lit the sky every night for the first week. Caleb and Asa assisted with the first group of fallen warriors to give them a proper send-off. Silas and Rosalie presided over the funerals, reciting the appropriate words to send their souls to whatever afterlife awaited.

After assisting Donovan with the more serious casualties, it took Asa three days of sunbathing to restore his energy levels. Caleb’s exhaustion wasn’t as bad, bouncing back after one. Enya was another story. Five days after the battle, she appeared at the funeral pyres to pay her respect. She burned an enormous amount of calories overusing her powers during the war and lost nearly twenty pounds. Her cheekbones stood out sharply, and her clothes hung from her slight frame. Gauntness betrayed the toll of fighting to the very edge of her limits. The dark smudges under her eyes had faded to a dusky hue. It would take time, but the fire shifter would be fine with more rest and good food.

Asa helped Enya heal her mind. Taking life on purpose, even for the greater good of their world, exacted a high price in the form of mental anguish on the young girl. He could ease her mind and remove the distress that cloaked her psyche, but not without paying a price. In the privacy of their suite, Caleb held a bucket in front of his mate as he sat on the toilet, expelling thick, black sludge from both ends. He couldn’t imagine how horrific it must have been after Asa fixed all his mental and physical issues. Thankfully, the purging wasn’t prolonged. A couple of hours basking in the sun’s warmth returned Asa to normal.

Right now, though, Caleb had more important matters to concern himself with. One of those approaching vehicles carried his son, Vann. He, Asa, Sebastian, and Reilly had had a long conversation the evening before, and everyone agreed it was time Vann knew the truth. It was time for the boy to decide who he would spend his future with.

Caleb felt a hand on his arm, halting him. Asa’s beautiful blue eyes, full of concern, held his gaze.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Taking a deep breath, Caleb smiled. He knew deep down Asa, and everyone else was right. Vann was a good kid with a good head on his shoulders. He wouldn’t reject Caleb for being a coward and turning his back on him. Would he?

“Ugh. I’m so antsy!” Caleb twisted his neck from side to side, cracking the vertebrae with a loud snap. “Where are they?”

Asa chuckled. “It’s not Tyler driving the lead vehicle, so don’t expect them here in two-point-two-seconds.”

“Hey! I heard that!” Tyler hollered from the couch where he and Austin were calmly waiting for his family to return.

Just then, Sebastian and Reilly strolled into the common area from the hallway leading to their suite. Reilly was still moving a little gingerly after his near-death experience. His wolf, skittish as usual, had been reluctant to come out. It had taken much coaxing from Sebastian for the animal to comply so Reilly could heal properly. It was a true testimony to the strength of their bond.

Reilly sat on one of the couches, patted the seat next to him, and then crooked his finger at Caleb. Shaking his head, Caleb strode over and plopped down beside the Alpha’s mate.

“You do realize Vann is smarter than we give him credit for?”

Caleb quirked his eyebrow. “What are you saying? Vann already knows I’m his father?”

“Maybe. At the very least, I think Vann is aware of a deeper relationship between you. He’s probably figured it out in his head but needs confirmation in his heart.”

Caleb’s voice shook. “W-what if I break his heart?”

Reilly patted his shoulder. “Then Sebastian and I will help him pick up the pieces and move on. I don’t think it will come to that. Vann thinks the world of you.”

Hope shone in Caleb’s eyes as he dared to look at Reilly to gauge the truth of his words. The ice-blue orbs held his gaze, indicating the sincerity of his conviction.

“They’re here!” Tyler cried and bolted out the front door with Austin hot on his heels. Elijah and Ashton were right behind them.

Caleb stood and wiped his clammy hands on his jeans and then extended one to Reilly. Once standing, Reilly reached up to pull Caleb’s face down and kissed his cheek. “You’ll be fine,” he whispered, then returned to Sebastian’s side so they could greet their pack mates and give them a proper homecoming.

Asa grasped Caleb’s hand. “Let’s do this.” He led them onto the wide porch, where several vehicles pulled up and parked in the large driveway.

Tyler leaped off the top step and bolted to the third van when he saw his mom open the passenger door. The Williamson clan flooded out of the vehicle. Everyone was talking at once, with their words and their hands, nearly taking each other out because they weren’t paying attention and got too close to someone flying hands. It was the type of raucous reunion only they were capable of.

Caleb fidgeted as he scanned the discharging passengers. His heart skipped a beat when his gaze landed on the tall, lanky boy with brown hair the same shade as his own. Asa tightened his grip on his hand.

They watched Vann jog up the steps and hug Reilly, then Sebastian. His smile was brighter than the glare of sunlight off freshly fallen snow. Caleb’s chest tightened, watching them. He trembled, and his nerves kicked into overdrive when Sebastian said something to Vann and then gestured in his direction. When the boy looked his way, time stood still.

Vann strode toward him in slow motion. Caleb felt as if he were underwater. As soon as Vann was in front of him, time became a reality once more.

The boy cocked his head. “You wanted to talk to me?”

Caleb cleared his throat. “Uh, yeah. Would you mind if we went inside where it’s quieter? And is it okay if Asa comes along?”

Vann shrugged. “Sure.”

Caleb looked over the top of Vann and silently pleaded with Asa to join them.

They headed for the study instead of going to the living room or kitchen. It was a little-used room tucked away off the long hallway leading to the guest suite he and Asa stayed in.

They settled onto chairs at one of the round tables next to the room’s only window. Bright sunlight filtered through gauzy curtains, highlighting swirling flecks of dust dancing around the room.

“How was Texas?” Caleb asked awkwardly.

“Really hot.”

“Yeah, that’s typical.” There was a long pause. Vann quirked a brow questioningly, making Caleb fidget with the hem of his shirt nervously. “But I guess you know I don’t really want to talk about the weather, right?”

Vann nodded, then cut to the chase. “You’re my biological father.”

The boy's matter-of-fact statement took him by surprise. Caleb tried to swallow but choked instead. Asa thumped him on the back. Vann tried hiding his smile but failed.

“How long have you known?” Caleb asked when he finally caught his breath.

Vann bit his lip. “About twenty seconds.” He grinned mischievously. “I suspected it for a long time but wasn’t sure until you just confirmed it.”

Caleb elbowed Asa in the ribs when he snorted. Vann's cheeks and ears reddened as he grinned sheepishly.

“Ever since I was little, I dreamed you were my dad. My mom was always in them, holding me and whispering that she was taking me to stay with my real father. I don’t think it was a dream. I think it was a memory from the day she brought me to you. I loved those dreams because she was in them.”

Caleb’s breath hitched. He never realized how much Vann missed his mom. His son’s next words skewered his heart.

“Why didn’t you want me?”

“Oh, Vann. I always wanted you.” Caleb felt Asa squeeze his hand under the table. “The truth is, I was afraid. I didn’t know how to be a father. I was barely holding things together as Alpha of the pack. I thought your placement with your foster family would be temporary until I could find the right time to tell you. The days turned into weeks, then months. You seemed happy and well-adjusted, and I didn’t want you to suffer another loss if I took you away from them. The next thing I knew, years had passed, and I felt it was too late. I kept an eye on you, though. I went to as many school functions and baseball games as I could. Fear of rejection kept me from telling you the truth. I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t have to be afraid,” Vann whispered, casting his eyes outside over the vista stretching out beyond the curtains.

“I know that now. All I can do is admit I was stupid and ask that you forgive me and maybe give me a chance to make it up to you?”

Vann seesawed his head side to side as though contemplating the fate of the world. “Can I have a pony?”

The laughter that burst from Caleb nearly rattled the windows. Asa covered his mouth and refused to meet his eyes. Vann looked like the cat who swallowed the canary.

“Y-you c-can have H-hank.” Asa stammer-laughed.

When the final giggles subsided, Vann grew serious. “Maybe you could just, you know, talk to me. I want to get to know you. We have years of catching up to do.”

Caleb readily agreed. “I’d love nothing more than to do just that.”

“Other than hot, what else did you think about Texas?” Asa asked, genuinely curious about his time in Texas.

“I met some interesting people.”

“Mmm? Anyone we should know about?” Caleb queried.

“This dude named Corbin and three amigos called Marcel, Dante, and Duncan. Let’s just say they gave me an earful.”

Caleb raised an eyebrow at Asa. “Imagine that. I wonder what they said? Just wait until we get back to Texas.”

“Oh, you won’t have to wait that long,” Vann said. “They came back with us. Duncan said there was no way he was missing out on the fun, and Corbin said he’d be damned if he’d get shut out again.”

“That sonofa–”

Asa clapped his hand over Caleb’s mouth. “Thanks for letting us know. Why don’t I go find them while you two take a moment to talk? Hmm?”

Caleb found himself on the receiving end of a kiss as soon as Asa removed his hand. His mate winked as he sauntered from the room, swinging his ass.

Turning to his son, he felt a tug of apprehension and cleared his throat. “I truly am sorry. For everything.”

Vann narrowed his eyes, assessing Caleb seriously. “I understand. At least, I think I do. It must be hard finding out you have a five-year-old kid and then suddenly being responsible for that kid when you’re also responsible for a huge pack. For what it’s worth, I think you were an amazing Alpha. Even though I couldn’t say anything, I was proud of you, even if I wasn’t sure you were my father.”

Tears stung Caleb's eyes before spilling over onto his cheeks. He stood, and his heart swelled when Vann pushed his chair back, then came and wrapped his arms around Caleb’s waist, burying his face against his shirt, dampening the soft material with his tears.

It took a few minutes for them to get their emotions under control. When Caleb could speak, he asked, “Would you like to come back to Texas with Asa and me and give us a chance at being a family?”

“Hmm, let me see.” Vann tapped his chin. “A huge ranch with horses, cows, a cantankerous donkey, two dads, two brothers, a best friend, and a gazillion packmates? Am I forgetting anything?”

Mikey’s cooking!!” three voices hollered from just beyond the threshold.

Caleb laughed as Marcel, Dante, and Duncan spilled into the study from where they’d been eavesdropping and swarmed the Alpha, climbing on him like a pack of young pups. He’d been too distracted by Vann to register their scents. Corbin followed sheepishly behind them, so Caleb knew they’d only been there a few minutes and hadn’t heard the whole exchange. Asa leaned against the doorjamb with his arms crossed and one leg canted at an angle. A shit-eating grin split his face in two.

“Shhh!” Vann hushed the unruly teens. “Don’t let Sandi or Mama hear you if you want to live. You haven’t tasted Mama’s taco mac-n-cheese yet, have you?”

Caleb’s mouth watered at the mere thought.

“I take it that’s a yes?” he asked Vann, referring to his previous question.

Vann shoved his way past his friends and clung to Caleb. “It’s a yes!”

The three other boys whooped their agreement and tried to lift Vann onto their shoulders. They may have succeeded if they weren’t laughing so hard. Instead, all they managed to do was tumble to the floor in a tangled heap.

Corbin and Caleb untangled them and shooed everyone down the hall. The living room, porch, and driveway were in complete chaos as shifters milled about, hugging, crying, and getting in each other’s way as they reunited with their loved ones or accepted condolences from their friends. Finally, Sebastian ordered everyone to head over to the main lodge, where there was a hell of a lot more room. Not to mention food.

Caleb caught sight of two heads close together as they talked furiously. One of the heads belonged to a petite female whose arms flew in a manner only a seasoned Italian could interpret. The other had to be Sandi. Oh, they’d be eating well tonight!

Back at the lodge, the ladies took charge of an army of volunteers. Grills, stoves, ovens, and air fryers started working overtime, cranking out every assortment of buffet-worthy food known to mankind. The lodge’s freezers were emptied, and every microwave was put to use, thawing out the hundreds of containers. It was a wonder the circuits didn’t overload.

Hallways, elevators, and stairways were beehives of activity as volunteers shuttled food to and fro in the quest to get everything thawed and cooked. Tyler’s family helped set up the large tents and tables outside. When the food was ready, shifters drifted in and out in small groups, loading their plates and finding a place to sit, eat, and socialize. The Williamson clan took over an entire long table. The younger boys shoved at each other and stole food off each other’s plates until Mama scolded them in a mash-up of English, Italian, and Spanish.

Asa bumped Caleb’s hip as he stood at the window, watching the large clan bicker amicably. “We can have that too.”

Damn. How the hell did the man always know exactly what he was thinking?

“Yeah? Is that what you want?”

“I think three is a good start.” Asa put his arm around Caleb’s waist and squeezed. “Don’t forget. We have that cranky donkey of yours, too.”

Caleb laughed. “Where are we going to put everyone? My cabin isn’t big enough.”

Asa hummed. “Well, I can sell my place, and we can use the money to expand your cabin or tear it down and build something bigger. I don’t think Giles would object. In the meantime, we all could stay in the main house, or Jorge and Mikey have a big RV we can borrow while we renovate or build.”

“You’ve given this some thought, haven’t you?”

“I’ve given this a lot of thought,” Asa said softly. “I knew Vann would accept you as his father. Even if he didn’t, your place would be tight for us, Dante, and Duncan. The boys shouldn’t have to share a room. Besides, why should Corbin and Marcel be the only ones enjoying new digs?”

Caleb chuckled. “Is that so?”

“Well, I was thinking we could have a nice, sound-proof suite at the opposite end from where the kids’ rooms will be.”

“Go on.”

Asa peppered his shoulder with several kisses. “Maybe a deck with a private hot tub?”

Caleb turned and drew Asa into his arms, pulling him into a sweet kiss. One which instantly turned hot when Asa’s tongue licked at the seam of his lips, demanding entrance. Caleb’s jeans felt two sizes too small. The feeling disappeared like a magician’s assistant in a puff of smoke when someone cleared their throat behind them.

“I don’t mean to interrupt.” Reilly giggled. “Oh, what the hell, yes I do!” His giggle turned into an outright laugh.

Caleb tried to be annoyed, but the Alpha’s mate’s laughter was infectious. He and Asa found themselves laughing, too.

“What’s up, Reilly?” he asked when they settled down.

Another giggle slipped from the man as he replied, “Sebastian wants to see you when you have a moment.”

Reilly practically skipped off in the direction of the exit to the backyard. Caleb presumed that’s where they’d find Sebastian.

“No time like the present,” he remarked, taking Asa’s hand and leading him outside.

It was noisy and busy as they wound their way through the throng of shifters milling about. Even though many of the pack members who lived in other parts of the territory had returned to their homes, and all of the volunteers from the other packs had gone back to where they belonged, there was still a sizable crowd gathered.

Caleb felt a pang as he remembered past events he’d organized in this same spot that brought happiness to the pack when he had been Alpha. As much as he missed the people, he didn’t miss the heaviness of the responsibility of caring for so many shifters.

Everything happened for a reason, and if he hadn’t been poisoned and subsequently banished to Texas, he never would have met Asa, his true mate. He wouldn’t have Dante and Duncan, and reconciliation with Vann would still be a pipe dream. The hybrids would be stuck in their half-transformed state, and Huntington wouldn’t be dead. He shuddered at the thought.

Casting his eyes upward, Caleb saw stars twinkling in the night sky. Starlight, starbright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may. I wish I might. Have this wish I wish tonight. He squeezed his eyes shut and made his wish.

“Caleb! Asa! Over here!”

Opening his eyes, Caleb saw Reilly beckoning him and Asa over.

“Hey! Great impromptu party, huh?” Reilly commented rhetorically.

“Sandi and Mama are miracle workers,” Asa replied. “I don’t know of anyone else who could pull something like this off.”

“They are special,” Sebastian commented. “Do you have a minute? There’s something I need to discuss with you.”

Caleb looked at Asa and shrugged. “Sure.”

“Let’s go over to the fire pit,” Reilly suggested. “Nobody’s there yet, and it’s quieter.”

Sebastian lit the tinder below the stack of logs, and the flames soon crackled merrily as they sat around the warmth of the fire.

He pulled his mate close, and a single tear slipped down the Alpha’s face. “I haven’t had a chance to thank you directly for saving Reilly’s life.”

Caleb started to speak, but Sebastian held up his hand. “You had your directives. There was a clear order of who was to be saved. Reilly wasn’t on it. I don’t know what made you choose to save him, but I am forever grateful. To show my gratitude, I’m giving you a check.” He held up his hand as Caleb started to protest. “Someone donated the money anonymously. The card from the donor merely stated it goes to someone whose heart is worthy of love and who deserved a second chance.”

Sebastian handed Caleb a check. His eyes widened at the amount—one-hundred, sixty-eight thousand, seven-hundred and fifty dollars. Holy shit!

“We can’t accept this,” he said, trying to hand the piece of paper back.

“That’s too bad. If you don’t take the check, I’ll just transfer the funds electronically.”

Goddamn. The Alpha played dirty. Who the hell would donate such an odd amount of money?

Asa, always the voice of reason. “We could put in a pool for the kids.”

Caleb bit his bottom lip. “Fuck it. Texas summers are scorching. We’re getting a built-in pool. With an air-conditioned cabana.”

“Yay!” Asa cheered, then kissed him soundly.

“Thank you,” Caleb said, nodding to Sebastian and Reilly.

Asa added his accolades.

“No, we’re the ones who are in your debt,” Sebastian said. “Why did you disobey orders?”

“Because you are the High Alpha,” Caleb replied. “Reilly is your mate. Without him, you wouldn’t be whole. Just like Hunter wouldn’t be whole without Kellan and Zev wouldn’t be whole without Ben. The six of you have a unique connection. We needed your strength to support us during the battle. If Reilly died, Huntington could have gained the upper hand. It would have destroyed us all.”

Sebastian nodded. “Rosalie once said Reilly would play an important part in protecting the Veil. I think I understand now. Our connection gave me the strength to fight, even after I was beyond the end of my stamina. It’s that connection–our bond that enables us to be protectors. We’re not the ‘Sentinels’ of thousands of years ago. We’re the safeguards of the future.”

Caleb nodded.

The seriousness of the mood was broken by the laughter of Tyler’s family from the nearby tent.

“What do you say we go back and join the festivities?” suggested Sebastian.

The rest of the night was spent drinking, eating, singing, dancing, and, most of all, laughing. The sky was turning pink with the oncoming sunrise when most of them finally tumbled into bed. Caleb couldn’t remember the last time he’d had so much fun. His sides were sore from laughing so much. If he weren’t so exhausted, he’d wished his ass were sore too, but alas, he and Asa passed out almost when their heads hit the pillows.

Sebastian’s pack settled back into a regular routine. Nat Chusi, Andrew Faulkner, and Roberto Mata took care of the High Council business, allowing Sebastian to join the meetings via Zoom. It was time to return to Texas.

He and Asa had just finished getting dressed when a soft knock sounded on their door. Opening it, Zev stood there, tears in his eyes. “It’s Silas.”

The shifter’s tone said it all. Caleb took off at a dead run.

Rosalie nodded as he entered Silas’ room. The old shifter looked pale and fragile on the soft pile of pillows he was propped on. A weak smile played on his lips as his cloudy eyes drifted Caleb’s way. Sitting in the chair beside his bed, Caleb gently took Silas' hand in his own. It was like holding a bird’s paper-thin wing. A feeble cough sputtered from the old man’s lungs.

“You’re a good man, Caleb.”

“Shh. Save your strength. Don’t try to talk,” Caleb gently admonished.

“Psshh. My time is here, boy. I’ll walk with the Great Spirit soon. Don’t shush me, and don’t interrupt. I’m proud of you. I always have been. If I had a son, I would have wanted him to be like you. Promise me that you’ll raise those boys to be like you and your mate.”

Tears poured down Caleb’s cheeks. His mouth moved, but no words came out.

“Promise me.” The words were barely a whisper.

“I promise.” Caleb sobbed.

Silas’ chest rose and fell. It remained still. His mentor now ran free with the Spirit Wolves, the wind forever rippling through his fur as he roamed the open skies, free of the ravages of old age.

Asa held and rocked him as he cried for the loss of the man who helped him become the person he is today. Caleb vowed to keep his promise. Vann, Dante, and Duncan would become the best versions of themselves.

On the other side of the bed, Rosalie’s eyes brimmed with tears. Silas wasn’t her fated mate, but in their last years, they found a companionable love. Sebastian and Reilly surrounded her. Caleb did not doubt that they would ensure she was properly cared for.

As the pack elder, shifter custom dictated that they send Silas’ body heavenward by sundown the following day. Notice was sent out to everyone in the territory. Every man, woman, and child who could travel to the lodge was there. The turnout was worthy of the man himself.

Caleb insisted on being in charge of building the funeral pyre. A wooden dias worthy of a king was erected in the middle of the enormous meadow, where only a few days prior, they bade farewell to their fallen warriors. Massive logs were stacked in accordance with tradition.

At sunset, Caleb led the procession, holding the litter's front corner, which carried Silas wrapped tightly in an intricately woven burial shroud. The shroud’s image mirrored Silas’ wolf in his prime.

He, Asa, Sebastian, and Reilly carefully laid Silas atop the dias and stepped back. Rosalie approached, said something in an ancient language, and then set a match to the kindling at the base of the pile of logs. The fluffy material combusted instantly, and flames licked their way up through the small sticks, gradually heating up the larger pieces of wood until the pyre was ablaze.

A soft smile played on Caleb’s lips as memories played through his mind like a movie. The breeze pushed the smoke and ash downwind, but the acrid odor was sharp to their wolves' sense of smell. He could feel his beast’s uneasiness at the scent of death. He ignored him.

It would take a few hours for Silas to return to the earth from which he was created. Sandi and Mama prepared a reception for the attendees. It was all Caleb could do to get through until the end, and he and Asa could finally retreat to their suite. He fell asleep wrapped in his mate’s embrace, tears drying on his cheeks.

The next morning, the day dawned bright and cold. Winter was just around the corner in the mountains. In Texas, it was fall. The heat of summer was just giving way to mild days and cooler nights. There was plenty of work that needed to be done.

Caleb rolled over and smiled as Asa blinked sleepily at him.

“Good morning, sweetheart.”

“Gmrnghhhggpff.”

He chuckled and kissed Asa’s temple.

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

His hand snaked out from under the covers and smacked the alarm he’d forgotten to turn off. He smiled at how different his life was from the day he was shot.

“Let’s go home.”

This it it, folks. The final chapter. It's not the very end. There will be three shorter epilogues.
Don't forget to recommend it.
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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