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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 - 26. Elijah's Encore

Happy New Year Everyone!

Elijah opened his eyes and saw the beautiful shades of blue and green staring at him. Smiling, he leaned closer for a kiss.

Ashton playfully rubbed their noses together. “Good morning.”

The happy-go-lucky look his mate wore was a welcome sight to wake up to. Ashton had made tremendous strides since regaining his natural appearance. The road they traveled to get to where they were now had been pitted with bumps and potholes. During the late fall and early winter, there were days when survivor’s guilt nearly overwhelmed Ashton and his twin, Austin.

Ashton described his guilt as a vise that would grip him tightly. He had a hard time accepting that he was alive when so many others had died. Donovan was instrumental in getting him and his brother the help they needed. He employed two shifters from other territories to help the boys who needed it.

Elijah beamed. “Have I told you how proud I am?”

Grinning, Ashton answered, “Only a gazillion times.”

It had taken several weeks following the battle for Ashton to realize his survival was based on a series of events that coincided perfectly. His guilt stemmed from a lingering idea that other kids deserved to live but would never have the chance. He still had days when Elijah would catch him staring at nothing with a far-away, haunted look marring the beauty of his heterochromatic eyes. Those days were much less frequent now but occasionally reared its ugly head.

A loud rumble interrupted their banter. Laughing, Elijah patted his mate’s firm belly. “We better get up and feed you before you’re too weak to function. You need to be at the top of your game if you want that white coat.”

After a rollercoaster of emotional highs and lows, a newly confident Ashton was accepted at the University of Montana. His goal was to apply to medical schools and become a psychiatrist. His brother wanted to follow in Donovan’s footsteps and become a general medicine doctor. Donovan was thrilled. He promised to teach them what they needed to know to treat shifters after obtaining their medical degrees. They needed their Bachelor’s first and would start classes in the fall. Sebastian bought a two-bedroom house near campus for them to use, claiming real estate was a solid investment for the pack.

Judging by the lack of noise from the suite, Tyler and Austin were already gone. Ashton’s stomach growled again, and he didn’t need further prompting to get up and get dressed. Elijah slid his hand into Ashton’s as they walked to the lodge’s cafeteria.

At the entrance, Reilly waved them over to their table. Tyler and Austin were there, chowing down on overloaded plates. Waving back, they went to the buffet table before joining their friends. Hunter and Kellan were already there, piling food on plates. They returned to the table, juggling utensils and coffee cups.

The Alpha’s mate was bouncing with excitement. Elijah smiled, happy to see him so exuberant. He and Austin’s butts had barely touched their chairs when Reilly gushed, “Sebastian got a beach house for the summer! We’re going on vacation!”

Sebastian flung his arm around his mate’s waist and pulled him close, temporarily squashing the shifter-turned-Tigger’s energetic enthusiasm. His grin betrayed the Alpha’s head shake. “You’d think he never got out of the house. Yes, I made arrangements for a private beach house for the summer. Wriggly Reilly and I will spend a couple of weeks alone, and then the rest of you are welcome to join us. Think of it as a thank-you gift for everything you did to ensure we defeated Huntington. The four of you were instrumental in securing victory. We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Elijah felt his cheeks flush with warmth. He knew they’d done their best, but he didn’t think the outcome hinged on their participation.

Austin squeezed Elijah’s thigh. “Wow! I’ve never been out of the country. Where exactly are we going?”

“It’s a small peninsula on the coast of Brazil, north of Recife. We will fly there and rent cars to get to the house. Nat Chusi owns it and was gracious enough to offer it to us for vacation. It has all the amenities of a luxury resort but without any other guests. There’s plenty of uninhabited forest, too, for our wolves to enjoy.”

“I can’t wait!” Reilly started jiggling again despite the heavy arm holding him tightly.

“It sounds fantastic,” Elijah remarked.

“What’s the weather like?” Ashton asked.

Reilly jumped in immediately with the answer. “It’s going to be gorgeous! The temperature should be in the mid-eighties with a little bit of humidity, but it shouldn’t be swampy like Florida.”

Austin wanted to know what there was to do. He rolled his eyes and instantly regretted asking when Hunter and Kellan snickered like a couple of pre-teens.

“Do you ever not think of sex?” he barked.

The Beta pair dissolved into full-blown laughter.

“When you two grow up, please ensure your passports are valid,” Sebastian said. “That goes for the rest of you. I need them by the end of the month. Nat will obtain the visas we need to enter the country.”

Elijah knew everyone’s passports were acceptable. He renewed his a few months prior and Ashton and Austin got theirs at the same time. Tyler’s was good for another seven years.

They spent the rest of breakfast discussing things to do once they were there. Sebastian mentioned ATVs and two boats that would be at their disposal. One boat was used for water skiing, and the other, a larger one, was perfect for deep-sea fishing or diving.

Elijah wasn’t sure about scuba diving. The thought of so much water surrounding him was daunting, not to mention sharks lived in the water, and he had never heard of a shark shifter. He shuddered at the image that popped into his head of encountering one of the toothy creatures. No thanks.

“Thank you for inviting us, Sebastian,” Elijah said as they stood to leave. “We really appreciate it.”

Ashton, Tyler, and Austin added their gratitude as they gathered the dirty dishes to drop in the bins by the door.

“Don’t forget we have to help Papi with the new furniture today,” Austin reminded them.

“Why don’t we go for a run first?” Tyler suggested. “Mama won’t be done with breakfast for another hour, and you know damn well we can’t place a damn knickknack without her approval.”

They headed to the lodge’s back deck, and everyone stripped. Four furry wolves tussled on the new spring grass before dashing across the meadow into the woods. Elijah enjoyed running with his mate, best friend, and brother-in-law. They moved in harmony, instinctively knowing what the others were doing.

Snow still covered the ground as they climbed higher into the mountains. Unsuspecting small creatures scrambled to get out of the way of the predators and fled for their lives. However, the wolves weren’t interested in the rabbits or squirrels. They merely wanted to enjoy being free and outside.

Even though Elijah wasn’t an animal shifter, he gained the beast's senses when he took on his wolf form. He smelled happiness and joy wafting from his mate. It reminded him of the spicy scents of Christmases before his parents died. Cinnamon, nutmeg, pine, and sugar cookies rolled into one. The sadness he felt whenever he thought of his mom and dad had melted into happiness that he had so many good memories to fall back on. Those days before they were murdered were innocent and carefree. It was a blissfulness he felt again with Ashton.

They returned to the lodge refreshed and exhilarated. Running in wolf form always gave him a burst of energy.

Papi was waiting for them in the family’s wing. Because of the sheer number of Williamsons, they had taken over a corridor that originally housed four suites. It had been converted into their own compound. Mama and Papi had a large master suite adjacent to the kitchen and family room. Elena and Declan shared a two-bedroom mini-suite with its own kitchenette and living room. Malcolm enjoyed his private man cave. His bedroom had an ensuite bathroom and a large area he set up with a kick-ass sixty-inch flat screen hooked up to his gaming systems. Felix and Micah had their own rooms but shared a Jack and Jill bathroom. Little Kaya had the other room closest to the family room with a small attached bathroom.

“Boys!” Papi threw his arms wide as he greeted them, drawing Tyler and Austin in for a hug before doing the same to Elijah and Ashton. “Ready to earn your keep?”

Tyler laughed. “We earned that back in the fall. This is just for bonus points.”

Austin elbowed him in the ribs. “Ignore him. You know we’ll help you whenever you need us.”

Ashton snorted and elbowed him back. “You mean as long as Mama cooks for us.”

“I’ll cook for you boys anytime.” Mama shooed Felix and Micah away from the plate of cookies, cooling on the counter. Micah stomped a foot but stepped back. He knew better than to incur Mama’s wrath, even over a stolen cookie.

“Come,” Papi instructed. “Declan and Malcolm helped me get the old furniture on the truck. The new stuff is waiting by the service elevator.”

The new furniture was custom-made from solid wood, which was much heavier than the pre-fab pieces they replaced. The old furniture didn’t hold up well with the frequent usage the family gave it. Mama decided they needed sturdier pieces. They had it made by a shifter from one of the packs who had helped in the battle. His furniture was incredible and would hold up to whatever daily abuse the Williamson kids could dish out.

Eventually, Mama wanted to replace their bedroom furniture, too. There was not one among them who dared to say anything about the usage that furniture had seen.

The group trooped downstairs, and lifting the heavy items was no problem for the wolf shifters. Elijah could handle the smaller end tables by himself. Mama pointed to where each piece should go, changing her mind twice before settling on the final arrangement.

She offered the plate of still-warm cookies as payment.

They took advantage of the rare opportunity to spend time with all of the Williamsons. Mama didn’t have kitchen duty that evening, so they spent the afternoon playing cards and board games. Instead of a big dinner, they grazed throughout the day. Elijah couldn’t remember the last time he spent a day like this. His cheeks hurt from laughing so much. Growing up, he and Tyler had more opportunities for family get-togethers, and he missed it.

It was dark out when Elijah slipped away to get some fresh air. He loved Tyler’s family, but at times like these, he missed his parents. Nostalgia washed over him when he thought of everything they wouldn’t get to experience. They would have loved the twins. Ashton lit up like a bright spotlight when Dad’s old Chevy was delivered. Sebastian let them convert an unused stable into a garage, where they worked on the car together.

Wayne’s niece, Lila, took a shine to Ashton, and together with Kaya, he didn’t stand a chance. His mate was a sucker when it came to those girls. They had him wrapped around their pinkies better than Gordon Ramsay could wrap a scallop in bacon. Ashton and Austin would have had the same effect on his mom and dad.

The soft scrape of the sliding glass door opening pulled his thoughts back to the present.

“Hey, E. Mind if I join you?” Tyler asked.

Elijah shook his head and patted the spot next to him on the double glider chair Sebastian installed on the deck. His best friend sat and leaned against him. The metal supports creaked rhythmically as they gently swung back and forth.

Overhead, millions of stars in the Milky Way glittered against a pitch-black sky. It was peaceful. The late-spring air was cool but had lost the sting of winter's cold. Sweatshirts were their only defense against the night air, and it was enough.

“Do you think our mates miss us?” Elijah asked.

“Nah, Mama is feeding them, and I’d bet the farm they haven't even realized we're not there.”

Elijah snorted.

They sat silently as the stars danced their way across the sky.

Cocking his head to the side, Elijah took a deep breath. “Listen. Do you hear it?”

In the dim light, Tyler’s brow creased as he strained his ears. “Hear what? I don't hear anything unusual.”

“Exactly. It's the sound of peace.”

Tyler bumped his shoulder. “Yeah. It's the sweetest sound.”

Several minutes passed as they enjoyed the quiet stillness of the night. The weather was still too cool for many of the nocturnal animals to do much other than catch their dinner and then return to their dens.

“Do you believe what Cassiel said?

Elijah knew the question was coming. It was one he had pondered ever since the Fae pointed out that he, Ashton, Tyler, and Austin didn’t have so much as a scratch on them when the battle with Huntington’s army was over. They were the only ones who weren’t hurt during the intense fight. Even though nearly two seasons had passed since the confrontation, he knew deep down that forces greater than himself or any of them had been in play that day.

He pressed his lips together and sighed. “Yes. He had no reason to lie. I can’t begin to fathom the workings of the supernatural world, but I know how I felt during the battle. Ashton felt it, too. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

“Yeah, I’m not sure what happened, but during the fighting, I was invincible.” Tyler looked to the night sky and slung his arm over Elijah’s shoulder. “I’m not sure any of us will ever fully comprehend how much he loved you.”

Elijah’s throat constricted, and his eyes prickled. The dam broke, and tears fell freely. His best friend held him, and together, they cried, not for the loss of the shadow shifter but with gratitude for everything he gave them from the afterlife.

Kage would live on forever.

One more to go.
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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