"Well, that was less exciting than I imagined," Sophie stated after her and Tasha had been tied into the pack. "The stories you werewolves put out about becoming a pack make it sound like a bloodbath wrapped in an orgy."

"It's the best way to keep others from trying to join. I mean who wants to play in blood and other bodily fluids from multiple sources? Only the sadistic, making them an easy refusal. Most who are not dual-bodied come into an established pack through their mate, which in truth does include the blood and fluids exchanges. Others just assume that to do it outside the mating bond would take the same triggers." Kelsey explained as the pack bonds started to settle around the four, tying them together as a true pack should, as a family unit.

"As Kelsey says. Not everything is as difficult as feared. Perception can be twisted by something as simple as not correcting wrong assumptions. As it really has no bearing on pack behavior, why fix something that could be used as a shield from those who would abuse being included. I would like to say that all Alpha's would have the strength to keep their packs uncorrupted without these false stories, but as we all know that is just not the case. The strong must protect the weak by keeping secrets, it's not our ideal world out there. One day maybe, that belief helps us to not give up." Thomas concurred to his new packmates.

For Sophie and Tasha, the inclusion in the new pack only settled a new mantle of closeness around them. Letting them know that no matter what they would never be alone again. Depending on their own unique makeup it would let them share in the powers and thoughts of their pack family. The could only freely use what was offered to the pack unless forced by the Alpha pair. Meaning they could also share what made them unique of they desired. Only the Alpha and Luna could force entry and sharing, but no one had worries of Thomas or Kelsey ever crossing that boundary unless it was beyond life and death. They had been and seen too much of how that ability could be abused by the most benign, so actually shied from doing more than what little needed to be done to tie the pack together.

For Kelsey to have the strained pack link with her Father and pack finally severed was both enrapturing and depressing. She had officially turned her back on her Mother and innocents still trying to survive in the Birch-Strong Pack. She had a slight hope that they would believe her removal was due to her death, keeping her Father from taking his anger at her final betrayal on those that could not survive his wrath. Kelsey only hoped that the little pain and aggravation she had experienced since leaving had filtered back, making her demise believable. Alpha Karan knew she would never ask for help as he had told her often enough he would laugh in her face should she even try.

Thomas on the other hand finally released any ties he still held with his birth pack. He had been a shadow figure in it for longer than he cared to remember. Casting a shadow on his brother's reign as Alpha, even as he had no desire to challenge him for his position. Though there was always elders that used his pack status as a needle to his little brother. Now that would no longer be possible. Thomas only hoped he could have a chance to talk with his brother before he believed either that Thomas had finally died on one of his hidden missions or that he had finally tired of all the internal politics that tried to keep the brothers at each other throats and gone rogue. Both would hurt the last of his family in ways that he would do anything to stop. But those worries were for another day. Today he had his mate by his side, as his Luna. A pack to organize and support and by the looks of a new assignment that even the Council couldn't nay say.

"Sophie do we have a time we need to leave The Oracle's land by? I think we need some alone time to get used to each other without outside influence. Not that I can hope for The Oracle to keep her fingers out of our pie for long, especially as we are on her land. It's just that since she has insulated herself and lands from the outside world it would be an ideal place to get to know what this pack is all about. Most packs have been around for generations, if not eons. Meaning they already have an identity of exactly who they are. It may be tweaked from Alpha to Alpha but the essence is usually the same. We are a new pack and will be running around in neon red saying attack here if we don't have time to form a cohesive identity." Thomas asked of the girl/woman who he could now feel as dual as any were, the only difference was that youth battled with extreme age.

"We haveā€¦I mean The Temple Guardians have a camp they use occasionally for training exercises. No one is there now I can talk to Glenda about us borrowing it. The place is kept stocked for a whole unit to stay for up to a month. Though I have already been told we have to be at The Rivero Pack's Park Te' in about two weeks. Do you think that would work?" Sophie offered, beyond glad that she wasn't going to have to fight to be regarded as a functioning member of the pack.

Arriving at the offered camp Thomas and Kelsey was happy to see that it wasn't devoid of creature comforts. Two squat buildings lined the sides of the open training area. The training area was then stopped by a lake, allowing for more than just land training to be enjoyed at the idyllic looking get-a-way. The path that had taken them there entered from the far side of the area encompassed by the lush forest that seemed to take up the vast majority of the land belonging to The Oracle and her Guardians. Making it possible to train in and on varied scenarios in just a few acres of area.

"We are far enough away from The Temple grounds that none should interrupt. Plus as it's The Guardians training fields The Oracle won't be sending any petitioners this way. Can't train effectively if you show your cards on the first deal." Sophie stated as she walked toward the first one-level building on the east side of the field. "Me and Tasha can share the bunkhouse. I figured you newlyweds would use the Captain's quarters next to the classroom in the other building. There are stables and a boathouse further around the lake but I can't see making Tasha sleep there now that she is one of us."

"Now that Tasha is tied to us, it would hurt to separate her like that. Good call." Thomas was sure to praise the positive actions of his newly acquired pack mate. "Why don't we check out our quarters to see if we need to do anything because I have to tell you having to set up your sleeping area after even just an afternoon of training can be a killer. Then we can meet in the classroom. As of now I want to start the buddy system. No one should go anywhere alone. It will help you both get used to what pack life is like. Packs live in each other pockets, so Sophie you need to get used to being surrounded all most constantly. And Kelsey and I need to be able to feel at ease with the constant presence of another. Tasha is probably the only one who won't be getting annoyed with our first lesson."

"And that is how you know you have a good Alpha," Kelsey whispered as her and Thomas walked to see their new quarters. "A strong wolf never worries about his shortcomings because he knows not only will he fix them, but that his strong ones already outweigh them. Sometimes I forget just how great of an imbalance there is between you and what I grew up with. I promise that I will do you proud as your Luna, just give me time to catch up."

"Kelsey you have nothing to catch up to. You have spent your entire life fighting evil. Maybe not the conventional way, but you didn't sit back and hide in a corner. It's too easy for those that just peek into the window of your life to spout a better way. I have to tell you that in the three years of hell that I watched you go through, not once did I think you were there because of an easy choice." Thomas explained as he tried to show Kelsey just how amazing he found her. "I may not have understood exactly what choice you had made most of the time I was there investigating. I did know that an open and shut case was not you. That is the reason my assignment wasn't ended earlier, something kept me from making the snap judgments the others before I did. You never fit into the mold as you should have if you were like Karan or your mother, Miranda. You were neither victim nor abuser."

"I told you about that pedestal. I'm getting closer to using it as your sleeping pill. I want to say you should have just left me to the round-up and be done with it. But that will just start an argument. I will say that next time you have to choose between me and our new pack you know what the right choice is. Neither of us could live if we saved each other at the price of their lives." Kelsey stated not hiding the fact that his words while they warmed the part of her heart she was trying to keep hidden, made the regrets of her life choices deepen.

Kelsey couldn't let Thomas see that his words had burned a new mark in the tally she kept of wrongs she had to right. If she had played her part better he would have chucked her into the refuse pile and taken Karan out, probably before the first year was up. That is two extra years of hell she was responsible for to those that would have survived the cleansing of the puss that was destroying a once proud and powerful pack. The weight on her shoulder made her shag for just a second before she caught the intense look in Thomas' dark chocolate eyes.

"I have no regrets about that extra time and neither should you. I learned things that saved and doomed more than just you by using it to really look at who was who in the Birch-Strong Pack. As you showed me with Jasmine nothing is black and white, but I had to be able to say what shade of gray was not excusable. I couldn't have done that with a quick in and out. The twisted desires of Karan have sunk his tentacles into every corner of the pack. Making even the purest of pack mates guilty of things that should spell death in a healthy pack. Those metrics can't be used for a pack that has been abused and forced to conform to an Alpha that had an aversion to any goodness. How would the Council have judged the twins if I had not been there to learn the reason they turned their backs?" Thomas pushed to make Kelsey stop trying to shoulder his decision as her fault.

Bringing up the twins, as they were collectively known throughout the Birch-Strong pack as you never saw one without the other. They had been playing the boogie man to those that dared to stand-up to Alpha Karan, even through whispers. What was not know was that the twins were actually triplets. Their sister had been kept in the Alpha's pleasure/torture room to pay for any time they failed. Their own Mother had given the three to Alpha Karan to spare her own life when they were just children. As far as they knew she had left and never looked back. Thomas had a strong suspicion she never made it off pack lands. She had made a devil's bargain in hopes of returning to save her children, but she couldn't hide her true intentions well enough to escape the mass unmarked graveyard of Karan's "missing" pack members.

Stories like their's abounded in the Birch-Strong Pack and Thomas' brief stay within the packs "loving" arms only made things murkier, not clearer. If there was any hope to do the right thing it was going to take even more time. It was a sad fact that no quick solution could be seen. Yes, starting with taking out the cancer that was known as their Alpha would go a long way to getting things on the right track. But like a surgeon that finds the spreading vileness moving and growing you can only do so much with a hatchet job. Using the scalpel takes longer and more precision but in the end, the healthy pack will be able to rebound. As long as they find an understanding and strong person to lead them through the tough choices that will need to be made after the removal of the black rotting heart beating inside Karan.

"What are you thinking of now? Your look is enough to make me think about running and finding a cubby hole to hide in." Kelsey broke into Thomas meandering thoughts, "If you want to file for divorce you passed up your chance last night. Now you are stuck with not only me but two more girls. You know in this pack you are seriously out-womaned?"

"I have no desire to lose what I have just gained. And I can take being out-womaned, as I am man enough to handle it." Thomas smirked back at Kelsey not letting her insecurities spark any anger in himself. "I have fought to hold you by my side for three years and just because I had to take on a few odd pack mates to do it just makes it all the sweeter. You are worth more than I have done so don't go thinking that I am about to regret what made me complete for the first time in my long life. I finally have a reason to go forward that doesn't include revenge, justice, or anger. Please don't take that away from me by doubting our bond when things get a little rocky."

"Sorry. Kind of a habit by now. You are right. You aren't a naive little boy playing at being a knight and I'm not the dizzy damsel in distress. We are not stereotypes in some fairytale in a book. I guess that means we get to write our future and I would love to say I am by your side until the end. I will try not to fall into the insecure abused girl routine too much. I learned a long time ago that I was better than that. I want us to work, I want our pack to thrive, and most of all I want to be happy. The best revenge isn't destroying the evil in your life. It's learning to live and laugh after you do it. I refuse to give Karan any more of my soul than he has already destroyed." Kelsey stated, her voice growing stronger as she realized that she had a choice to make.

Either she and Thomas could go with the same old story of just destroying Karan and all his plans and then try and live with the destroyed lives he left behind. Or they could strive to build a meaningful life that included laughter and hope to outshine the nightmares that would follow Kelsey and those that had been caught in Alpha Karan's web. Survivor just meant you made it out alive, not whole and functioning. Kelsey was never one to do things by the half and just surviving and taking down Karan and his cohorts were only half the equation. To truly win they had to go a step beyond and learn how to accept the abuse they were given and gave out to get to the other side. Then they had to see that it was all worth the darkness. Because without that darkness, they couldn't appreciate the beauty of light as much as they did.