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    WolfM
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Embers - 5. Embers 5

It was already hot when Brandon opened his eyes. He looked at his watch and growled. It was only a little after five o’clock in the morning. Grabbing his toiletry bag, he made his way to the latrine and shower trailers. He stopped and gazed across the vineyard. It was a pleasant setting with row after row of grape vines, running until they faded away into the stillness of the brown haze. Movement in the distance caught his attention. As he focused on it, he was surprised to see kangaroos gathering at the edge of a pond. Several were definitely taller than him. He had heard how dangerous they could be, due to their powerful kick, and claws that nearly rivaled many lycan. The smaller ones seemed cute though. The sound of someone walking made him look away.

“Bloody big rats. They come out almost every morning to fetch some water. Only good use for the buggers is a nice juicy steak on my plate.”

Brandon glanced towards the human beside him. “Yeah, I’ve watched them the last couple days. They’re kinda cool.”

“You a Yank? Those things are a fuckin’ menace. Guess they do bring in tourists to spend money.”

They watched the roos for a while longer before the urgencies of their bodies made them head to the latrine. Once Brandon’s morning piss was taken care of, he stood before a row of sinks, and pulled off his respirator so he could brush his teeth. He glanced towards the mobile showers, then lifted his arm and sniffed himself. The scrunched up face caused some of the others nearby to laugh.

Water cascading over his body felt refreshing. The fact Brandon could not smell himself anymore was an added bonus. He wished a few more of the firefighters would make use of the showers as he cursed his sensitive nose. With the sleeves of his jumpsuit tied around his waist, he went in search of food.

“G’day, mate.” Noah had a Cheshire cat grin as he sipped his coffee. “So that’s what you hide under all those baggy clothes. No wonder you can practically lift one of our trucks.”

“Coffee first. Chat later.” Even after the shower, Brandon still felt like he was half asleep.

“Probably still feeling the effects of jet lag, plus the long hours. You didn’t get much time to adjust.”

Brandon held up his hand as he filled his mug with the steaming liquid. “Don’t make me bite you.”

The cougar chuckled and returned his focus to his own mug. He sat quietly as Lucas and Lachlan approached.

“G’day, guys. You sleep okay, Brandon?” The growl that met Lucas’ question definitely surprised him.

Noah did not contain his chuckles. “Mate, he’s absolutely not a morning person. Give him a chance to get some coffee in him first.”

“I’m gonna sit on that side of the table.” Lachlan grabbed a cup of tea and made sure to steer clear of the American.

Once he had made it through his first cup, Brandon faced his truckmates. “Sorry. Like he said to me earlier, the time change and long hours are still messing with me. I’ll be okay once we’re working.”

“Fuck me, mate. How’d you pack all those muscles on that small body of yours?” Admiration filled Lachlan’s face.

“Just hard work at work I guess. You toss around hay bales and feed bags all day and see what happens.” Once Brandon felt awake, his mood was more pleasant. “And I already told you I’m not fucking you. So stop asking.”

Brandon noticed sly looks from Lucas. He wondered if the Aussie was curious as to what the rest of him looked like. There was plenty of exposed flesh around the camp and neither of the gay men would complain about a little sexy eye candy to start the day with. If the slightly older lycan happened to hit the showers at the same time, he would give the man as good a show as he got. Just like with the others who openly cruised him around the bathroom facilities.

“Guys saying fuck me is almost as common as mate around here.” Lucas added sugar to his coffee. “Trust me, when Lackie here really means it, you’ll know. Won’t he, Noah?”

The hearty laugh from the feline was more than Brandon wanted that early. “Too true. Cunt’s the other friendly name, but we had to start watchin’ it after the human you replaced. His arousal went up every time we called him that. Plus Lachlan’s arse gets higher in the air whenever we call him one.”

“Rack off, Luc. You too, Noah.”

******

The Mutts and six other crews were battling to keep the flames at the edge of the Hunter Valley. The landscape all looked the same, yet another enclave bordering the mountains. Thick smoke billowed out of the trees. Behind them were a number of now-empty houses, evacuated horse stables, and lush vineyards beyond. The constantly shifting wind had the fire zigzagging through new fuel sources instead of burning back on itself.

Pressing forward, the teams worked their way further into the forest. Brandon and most of the crew traded their hoses for hand tools as a spray of water arced over his head from several of the trucks at the tree line. He dug the hoe side of his McLeod tool into the soil at the base of a tree, pulling it back, exposing the burning roots. With the rake side he attempted to dig out what he could and smother it. As he moved from hot spot to hot spot, someone followed with a water line to douse the coals. When he went around yet another tree, giving off little wisps of smoke from its base, a growth on the trunk shifted. He jumped before realizing what looked like bark through his face shield was fur.

Instinct took over and Brandon reached for the singed animal. “C’mere little guy. Let me get you out of here.” Pulling a little harder on the animal, it released its grip on the tree, and latched onto his side. Picking up his hand tool, he raced back to the trucks.

“What you got there?” Jaxon looked to what the American was cradling.

“I probably should have left it there, but that didn’t seem right.”

“I’ll get it some water.” Lucas was already grabbing a bottle from the truck.

Brandon sat on the step of the truck to better examine the small bundle he held. “I didn’t think I’d get to see a koala bear. Let alone hold one. He’s kind of cute even with some of his fur burned off.” The animal held tight to him as it drank the water it was offered. “You think he’ll be okay?”

The koala turned to grasp the bottle with both paws. Lucas gave a little laugh. “He’s actually a she. And she has a joey in her pouch.”

“Really? The respirator’s blocking my view.”

“You did the right thing. If the fire turns back on us again, it would have probably killed her, and it doesn’t look like there’s anything left for her to eat.” Lucas wrapped a damp cloth around the small animal. “Put her in the truck. I’ll call for animal rescue. There should be a team close by.”

As the day wore on, the various crews pulled several more koalas from the burn zone. It became a kind of game to see which group could find the most.

******

The late afternoon sun beat down with relentless intensity. A couple miles into the forest did not provide enough shade, even through the thick clouds, to evade the scorching temperatures. Sweat poured off Brandon’s face. In the heat, it created a layer of moisture inside the shield, he had to try and see though. A steady drip of liquid emanated from his respirator’s drain. He was not sure which was worse: breathing the choking smoke or the stifling humidity held in by his face shield. Watching the humans having to take more rest breaks gave him one reason to finally be grateful for his lycan nature.

Crews felled several trees in an attempt to form a fire break. Everything around them was lightly burning. A shift in winds would be all it would take to cause the low flames to crown into the eucalyptus trees. Men and women gave their all, using whatever tools they could, to beat back the monster.

A couple of large roos darted through the woods, trying to hop their way to safety.

“What the hell are they doing this far into the forest?” Thomas pointed to more coming at them.

“That can’t be good. Those bloody things rarely venture this far in.” Oliver had to move as a larger roo sped past. “Definitely not good.”

With a sudden fierce gust the fire exploded in all directions.

“FALL BACK!”

Most of the firefighters were able to escape the immediate area and work their way back to the trucks. Six of the Mutts and a group of humans became trapped behind a wall of flames. More fleeing kangaroos knocked some of the workers to the ground.

Joe looked around for a way to exit their situation and found none. He gave their position on his radio. “Need immediate water drops. Twelve caught in burn over.” Turning towards the people still with him, he gave the order no one wanted to hear. “Deploy your emergency shelter and hunker down.”

The heat from the conflagration intensified around the group as silver tents sprang up. Joe made sure everyone was tucked inside before he climbed into one.

Brandon huddled in the center of his. He knew Noah was to his left and Lachlan to his right. Jaxon and Lucas were close. “Great, I’m gonna die wrapped up like a giant burrito.”

The voice was not loud enough for the humans nearby to hear, but the lycan could, above the jet-engine roar of the fire. “Only a Seppo would think about food right now.”

Time felt like it stood still as the men waited for the danger to pass. At one point, the inferno was so bright, its orange glow was visible through the shelter lining. The thumping sound of helicopters in the area and the rumble of an aerial tankers gave a sense of relief that perhaps they would survive.

When the all clear was finally given, the firefighters emerged from their aluminum coffins to survey the destruction.

“Everyone okay? Give me a head count.” Joe moved person to person checking on them. Other than frayed nerves and some minor burns, it appeared there were no serious injuries or fatalities. “Thank god we got those shelters delivered from the Americans last week. I’m not sure the emergency blankets would have saved us.”

“Is that a body?” Brandon went to check on a large shape lying on the ground. He feared someone got caught by the flames before they could get in a shelter. As he neared, the stench of burned flash assaulted his nose. His helmet went flying as he ripped the respirator from his face. The dark haired American leaned against a smoldering tree as his stomach emptied itself on the ground. A hand on his back caused him to turn as he spit what he could from his mouth.

“I thought it might have been a person too. It’s just a roo, not that it helps.” Lucas handed his friend some water. “We’ll be seeing a lot more of that before we’re done.”

Picking up his helmet and face guard, Brandon could only nod.

“Let’s get back to the trucks. We’ve earned a break.”

******

Brandon had been with the crew based in the Hunter Valley for a week. The long days blended together. Even with the stamina of a lycan, the group was tired as they ended their final shift, grateful to have the next two days off. A shower, food, and sleep were the plan, though the order was up for negotiation.

Adults from the Liston winery and their neighbors, aided by the Red Cross continually restocked the food line as the younger generations served it up.

A chorus of, “Thank you for saving our homes,” and, “Happy New Year,” was offered by each resident of the valley helping out.

“Did you know it was New Year’s?” Brandon nudged Lucas. “Is it Eve or Day?”

“I can barely remember my name. I’m buggered.” The man rested his head in his hands. “All I care about’s food and sleep. Wish I could cuddle against my hubby tonight.”

“Know what you mean. I missed mine something fierce before I got here, but now I can’t even send him emails. Won’t be able to hold him again until probably August.”

“A lot of the wireless and internet systems have been destroyed. There are outages all over the country.” Lucas watched his new friend closely. “Can’t imagine going that long away from my husband. It’s not healthy for a wolf.”

Brandon shrugged, but the discomfort on his face was visible. “They always show the bridge lit up with fireworks on the TV back home, and I try to imagine what it’s like being there. It’s so much cooler than what my city does.” He rested his chin on his hands and yawned. “I hope my mate, Austin, is having a quiet New Year’s.”

The pair found a spot on the grass to sit with their crewmates.

Noah was the last of their team to arrive. He sat a couple boxes down in the middle of the group. “I asked one of the winery guys to go to the bottle shop, get us a couple slabs of beer to celebrate the New Year, and hopefully an end to these fuckin’ fires.”

“Fuck me. Leave it to the pussy to line up some frothies.”

“Mate, if you don’t want a coldie, then don’t drink one. Every time you say something like that though, it gives me a stiffy. I picture your arse in the air ready to take a pounding. Really startin’ to think you want some cougar cock in ya.”

“Careful Lachlan. I think Noah’s feelin’ frisky tonight.” Oliver teased. “Someone hand me a stubby.”

“How many fuckin’ names do you have for beer?” Brandon shook his head. “I’ll take one, and I call sloppy seconds after Noah.”

“Knock it off guys. If you want a root, go find someplace quiet and don’t bother anyone. Otherwise, enjoy your food and tell the big cat thanks for the beer.” Joe popped open a can and raised it to the group. “To the mangiest, flea bitten bunch of miscreants I’ve ever had the misfortune to work with, Happy New Year.”

“Hear, hear.”

“Someone set up a TV. They’re playing the fireworks from Sydney.”

“It sucks being so close and not seeing it in person. I’m finally in Australia and I miss the big New Year’s Eve party.” Brandon’s eyes were riveted to the colorful display emanating from the Harbour Bridge.

“Heard they almost didn’t do them because of the conditions this year.” Oliver tipped his can in the American’s direction. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll be back again and get to see them live.”

“At least they’re showing something good on the news for once.” James only looked away long enough to shove more food into his mouth.

The men watched as the images of the fireworks on the Harbour Bridge changed to people lining a smoke shrouded beach elsewhere in the country, wading into the water towards rescue boats, with a menacing orange glow behind them.

“Fuck me. You spoke too soon and jinxed it. They’re havin’ to get the holiday goers out by ship. We thought it was bad here. Victoria’s really screwed.”

Brandon’s eyes widened as the news story changed again. “What did they just say about Iraq?” Surprise, fear, panic, and more washed over him as he jumped to his feet.

Noah strained to read the caption on the screen. “The US Embassy in Baghdad’s under attack.” He turned towards Brandon. “Isn’t your mate over there?”

Copyright © 2021 WolfM; All Rights Reserved.
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Chapter Comments

So Brandon has to worry on two fronts, fighting the fires and his hubby in 🇮🇶 Iraq. Those poor koalas, at least the crew was able to help some of them.

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1 hour ago, IBEX said:

Even a year on, I still support the https://www.koalahospital.org.au and a kangaroo sanctuary. A big part of the Koalas habitat had been destroyed and a massive loss of all local wildlife was the result of these massive fires. So every effort to save, heal and restore wildlife is important still!
The descriptions of fire fighting in such a blaze are chilling...I cannot begin to imagine such horrors close up. I have family that had to be evacuated in California two years back, and a friend working for Forrests and Wildlife in Alaska...but he spends most summers somewhere in the lower 48 fighting fires. from his tales alone I am happy to reside outside of any affected areas

 

Thank you for supporting the koala hospital, IBEX. ❤️ With an estimated billion animals dead and vast areas unable to provide food, they need a helping hand as the land tries to recover. I've met several people who work the fires during the summer and travel or relax the rest of the year.

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1 hour ago, centexhairysub said:

Damn, not only is Brandon in danger from the fires; but now he has to worry about his husband in Iraq.  Not that he wasn't already worrying; but any attack or upswing in violence gives you extra reasons to freak out...

 

Somehow that was a fitting start to 2020 and the universe didn't think Brandon had enough on his shoulders.

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1 hour ago, Wesley8890 said:

I had a feeling something might happen in iraq. This reminded me of the video of people finding the koalas. The poor things

For a slow moving animal that can only eat certain leaves from the tree, typically new growth, the fires were disastrous. I have a lot of respect for the shelters and animal hospitals that have and are caring for as many furry friends as possible.

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49 minutes ago, chris191070 said:

So Brandon has to worry on two fronts, fighting the fires and his hubby in 🇮🇶 Iraq. Those poor koalas, at least the crew was able to help some of them.

Part of the life of being married to the military or being a firefighter. While the worry is always there during a deployment, unexpected acts of violence can easily break the focus someone like Brandon needs to keep to fight his own battles. I think eleven or so is the most koalas recovered from one burn area in a single day. That was spread across many crews working the area. Thankfully like EMS teams assisting the front line crews, animal rescue teams were almost always nearby to assist.

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Sh*t happens in big chunks when it happens, you respond you get up and deal or  you stay down and fail. Another awesome chapter, 

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1 hour ago, mikedup said:

Sh*t happens in big chunks when it happens, you respond you get up and deal or  you stay down and fail. Another awesome chapter, 

Thank you, Mike. Hugz. Yep, it's sink or swim. Think Brandon had enough times to sink as he grew up that he found he could actually swim.

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2 hours ago, dughlas said:

Great chapter.

Thank you, Dughlas :)

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I just finished reading “Running with the Pack.” Again. 🙂  The mention of Ethan and Aiden made me want to spend time with them. Such a great story!! I don’t know where you’re taking us this time with Brandon, but I’m happy to be along for the ride.

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15 hours ago, Geemeedee said:

I just finished reading “Running with the Pack.” Again. 🙂  The mention of Ethan and Aiden made me want to spend time with them. Such a great story!! I don’t know where you’re taking us this time with Brandon, but I’m happy to be along for the ride.

Ethan and Aiden? Who are those guys? Sounds like a clown act. lol. It's always fun to have you along for the adventure, Gee. :)

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This story brings a whole new meaning to shrimp on the barbie!😀

 

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Omg, I'm late. Catching up but just wow I love the slow build with the educational glimpses into not only aussie life but that of fire workers.  Loving this story. As always MONDAYS now have a new motivation thank you again Wolf.

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10 hours ago, dez421 said:

Omg, I'm late. Catching up but just wow I love the slow build with the educational glimpses into not only aussie life but that of fire workers.  Loving this story. As always MONDAYS now have a new motivation thank you again Wolf.

Thank you, Dez. I'm happy I could bring something positive to a dreaded day :) 

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