It's been about a year and I've forgotten how to write. Not that my other fics are in any way, shape or form exceptional pieces, but still. I'll rewrite this chapter once I get the hang of things I suppose.

"When I was their age, I was settled and mated," Rusty Morgan said with a heavy sigh, rubbing his large hand on his bald head, his impressive handlebar mustache moved as he wiggled his crooked nose. "But the boys are just as wild as ever. It is like they are refusing to grow up."

Alpha Winter leaned back in his chair with a laugh, the wood creaking from his weight. "They're only twentyfive. Times are different now. They will settle eventually."

"They are spending all of their free time at my bar, drinking it dry, and there's that damn betting book of theirs."

Alpha Winter laughed loudly. "I've heard of it."

"They're out of control, with their gambling and fighting and- and-" Rusty stopped himself with another sigh.

"And?" Alpha Winter pressed with an amused smile, gulping down his morning coffee, hissing as he burned his tongue.

"Well, the women certainly like them," Rusty huffed out, unable to keep the slightly proud puffing of his chest under his leather vest. "And vice versa. But I just wish they would settle down already, Henry. They're breaking apart my bar, if Max isn't there to reign them in anyway."

"They sound like a chip of the old block, if you ask me," Henry commented with another laugh. "You were a bit of a wild one yourself back in the day."

"At their age I had Molly, I was mated," Rusty breathed, his fingers tightened around the cup in his hand, so hard Alpha Winter thought he might break it. "She grounded me."

Henry tapped his mug with a knowing nod at his old friend, his smile curved into a deep frown. The morning air blew in through the open window, the spring day already warming Alpha Winter's private office, promising another unusual sweltering day.

Rusty narrowed his eyes at the steam rising from his coffee, lost in memory, the shadow of a smile graced his lips before he grimaced with pain and took a careful sip. He huffed out a sigh, shaking his head. "I still miss her. Not a day goes by where I…" he trailed off, unable to finish the sentence because of the lump in his throat. Henry gave him a consoling nod. "The boys take after her," Rusty breathed, "They all look like her."

"Thank goodness for that," Alpha Winter said with a grin.

Rusty chuckled, a smile tugging his lips again. "They need their own mates, to settle them. A couple of nice girls that could reign them in, stop this boisterous behavior of those."

"The twins are-" Alpha Winter smacked his lips, thinking of the least offensive term he could possibly use, and landed on a simple, "-Intense."

"They both swear they will never mate. They say it's not a life for them." Rusty frowned into his mug, swirling the coffee around. "My bar wont survive if they don't," he added jokingly and Alpha Winter laughed heartedly.

"You'll see, in time they'll change their minds. All it takes are a couple of very special girls to tame them. But I don't think Josh and Jamie are anywhere near ready to mate."

"They're my sons," Rusty said but agreed with the statement with a defeated nod. "I have not been very good with them. I couldn't- I wasn't in a position to-" Rusty growled at himself as he stopped, shaking his head. "I was grieving."

"I know," Henry whispered, nodding.

"It wasn't just Molly. It was a girl," Rusty mumbled, his gaze fixed on the huge, mahogany desk in between them. He swished the coffee around in the mug again. "I could have had a daughter, as well, did I ever tell you that? It was a girl."

"No." Alpha Winter shook his head. "You never have."

"It's been twenty years and it still hurts. The pain is… Anyway, the boys needed me, and I wasn't there for them, I was..."

"Grieving," Henry supplied.

"But so were they. I should have been grieving with them. The twins don't even remember Molly much, they were only three when it happened. But Caleb was six, and he struggled." Rusty sighed deeply, his eyes staring into the bright morning outside the window. "The way I handled her death will always be my biggest regret, I was so absent in the boys' lives, they didn't deserve that. They lost a mother." He sipped his coffee. "And then they lost a father. I threw myself into the bar with everything I had, tried so hard to work and forget."

Henry nodded, he remembered how it had been. Rusty had been his Enforcer, the best of his wolves. But losing Molly had struck him as if he had lost half of himself. And he couldn't cope. The pack had risen around them, taken care of the boys as much as they could, the community pulling together as Rusty had fallen apart. Caleb, the eldest, grew as quiet as he grew big, turning his pain inwards, pushing everyone away and when he was old enough, he began living more in the surrounding woods than in town. The twins, however, grew up rambunctious and unpredictable, a pair of unruly, wild pups that clung only to each other. Rules meant nothing to them, neither did authority. Thankfully, as they got older, they had calmed, if only a little, taking up carpentry at Alpha Winter's suggestion, channeling their chaotic energy into building half the pack homes.

"By the time I got my head screwed on again, the twins were adolescents, just as impossible as they are today. And Caleb? I barely saw him. He prefers his solitude to the pack still."

"The boys have all forgiven you. You know they love you."

"I wouldn't blame them if they didn't," Rusty said with a sad laugh, shaking his head. "But by some miracle they still see me as their dad. Unfortunately, I've done nothing but spoil the twins rotten since I came to my senses, trying to make up for my absence. I can't find it in me to deny them anything. They're all grown, and I still can't say no to them. I've never been able to set boundaries or rules with them. And now? Well, you see how they are."

"They're good guys, their hearts have always been in the right place," Alpha Winter said, nodding at his own statement because he knew it was true, they had always been, even after losing their mother. "They may be… as they are, but they mean no harm. They're just having fun."

"Fun," Rusty tasted the word with a frown. "They're having too much fun."

Henry laughed, his thoughts turning to the twins. But then they fell to their older brother and his laugh subsided. "And Caleb?" he pressed, tapping his thick fingers on the rim of the mug.

"Still roaming the woods. I see him once or twice a year, but he prefers to be alone. I worry about him."

"He'll come home when the time is right," Henry stated, "I'm counting on him."

"I know," Rusty said with a nod, then finished his coffee. "But he's a stubborn man," he admitted sheepishly, scratching his tattooed neck.

Alpha Winter laughed. "It comes with the territory." He put his feet back on the floor and leaned on his elbows on the desk, giving his old friend a comforting smile. "The twins will be fine, Rusty, just fine. They'll mate when the time is right and not before. You just have to give them space."

"I guess you're right." Rusty breathed out in disappointment. "I just wish the time was now." Henry laughed at that and watched him rise from his chair. "Thank you, Henry. I'm going to see if I can get some sleep before tonight." Rusty said, yawning, stretching his large, tattooed arms above his head.

"I'm always here, Rusty," Henry said with a nod. Rusty lowered his gaze, rolled his head to the side to expose his throat, but his Alpha waved away the gesture with a chuckle, and then Rusty left.

Henry sat back in the chair again, carefully drinking his coffee as he stared into the bright morning sky through his window. He had meant what he said, Rusty shouldn't worry about the twins, Jamie and Josh were good boys. Rambunctious? Sure. Rash? Absolutely. Hotheaded and foolhardy? Definitely. But underneath it all, they were decent men. They worked hard, they were friendly, and, admittedly, loved in the pack for their antics.

Imagining them mated was a bit of a stretch, though. No matter how hard Rusty might want it. The boys wouldn't be tamed just yet. Not in this decade. He swished around the rest of the coffee, chuckling softly at the thought. Then emptied his mug and placed it back on his desk.

"What did Rusty want?"

Alpha Winter turned in his seat to see his mate standing in the doorway. "He's worried about the twins," he said.

Penny laughed and shook her head. "He should be, they're trouble those two." But the smile on her face and the humor shining from her eyes showed what she really thought.

"He wants them mated," Henry said softly, waiting for her response.

She laughed in surprise, her body shaking. "Those two?" she asked. "Surely not, a woman would have to be mad to-" She stopped herself, narrowing her eyes at her mate. "You are not getting involved in this, Henry," she warned him with a raised finger. "You are not to meddle."

"I would never," Henry said, standing from his desk. "I am Alpha of this pack, I never meddle."

Penny raised her eyebrow at him as he walked closer to her. "I mean it. You can't get involved. It was bad enough you interfered with your own Omega's love life."

"You've seen her with Max, you know I did the right thing," he pointed out, sliding his large hands around her waist as he hugged her closer. "They're in love, Bella wouldn't have been happy with his brother."

"And you meddled with AJ and Dylan," Penny continued, trying to appear unmoved by his caresses up her back, but her own hands started slowly stroking up his chest, feeling her mate through his shirt.

"That was different," he stated, crushing her close, so quickly she gasped up at him. "They are also in love, and my daughter deserves all the happiness I could possibly give her."

"Yes, alright, I suppose that one was different," Penny conceded, her hands having reached his broad shoulders, her arms snaking their way around his neck. "But stay out of this."

"I will."


Henry groaned. "You don't trust me?" he asked, nuzzling his nose into the crook of her neck, kissing up her throat, making her moan in contentment as his hands roamed her backside.

Penny closed her eyes, her head rolling back to give her mate access, her hands grabbing on to the gray locks on his head. "We don't have time for this, Omega Mallard will be here soon," she breathed with a sigh. Then shrieked as he lifted her from the floor and hoisted her over his shoulder.

"We'll be quick," Henry mumbled giving her bottom a quick squeeze, then marched up the stairs with her giggling.

"Eight ball, corner pocket," Jamie called out as he took aim with his cue. Blowing a few stray locks of hair from his face, he narrowed his eyes at the ball in question. There were three hundred dollars riding on this shot. He wasn't worried though, he could already feel the money finding their home in his pocket. He knew he could make this shot in his sleep, the real test was keeping a straight face while his opponent believe he was struggling.

Naturally, he put on a show, he hesitated when he had to, and he took deep, steadying breaths when he felt he should. And the wolf on the other side of the table, watching him unsteadily, continuously shifting his weight from one foot to the other, bought every theatrical trope Jamie could throw out. Because Jamie had been lucky that night, his opponent was not Northcreek. A Northcreek would know not to put money against him. This Riverhead wolf would know soon enough as well.

Jamie took aim again, wiggling in his step, and pushed forward. The ball spun, hit the side of the table, then the other, and then the third, spinning wildly on the green felt. And finally, sunk straight into the corner pocket as promised.

"Well, that was lucky," Jamie said, soaking his words in surprise he didn't feel, then laughed when he couldn't keep it up.

"You cheated," the wolf spluttered, throwing his cue on the table.

"I never cheat," Jamie stated, taking a swig of his beer that had been left on the edge of the table. His humor drained. "Brad, was it?"

"No one is that good, there's something…" The other wolf frantically checked along the side of the table. "You've done something to this, Morgan," he stated, giving the table a kick. Other patrons in the bar had quieted, most taking an interest in this new development.

Jamie put down his own cue, and with a wolfish grin he took a step closer. The Riverhead wolf was shorter than him by a head, a wiry man with a patchy beard. Brad took a stumbling step backwards, only now thinking it might be a bad idea to bait a wolf this much bigger than himself, something that made Jamie's grin widen. The bar went silent, but the atmosphere began to throb with excitement. They knew what could happen, they expected it.

"I don't cheat," Jamie persisted, "Cut your losses, pup, don't make it worse than it already is."

But Brad was apparently as dumb as he was bad at pool. "You shouldn't have made that shot," he insisted, waving frantically at the table. "There is no way you could have. You cheated somehow!" And then he solidified his stupidity, he pushed Jamie in the chest.

Jamie snorted down at him. His blood drumming through his veins. He knew how this would go, he knew exactly what that wolf was asking. And there it was, a few more Riverhead pack members pushing through the crowd to stand by their friend. Jamie could see in their eyes what they were waiting for, they weren't there to stop it, quite the contrary. And Jamie was in no mood to disappoint them. He heard the chair scraping along the floor, his own friends were standing. But before he could take the first swing, a hand patted him firmly on the shoulder, holding him back.

"Jamie, that's enough," Max growled out.

Jamie breathed out an annoyed huff. "Come on, Max, we're just having a little discussion." He laughed and crossed his arms over his chest, his sleeves struggling as his biceps were tensing with frustration. "A casual conversation," he added, still staring daggers at the Riverhead wolf.

"Yeah, aha," Max continued, "You still haven't fixed the table from last discussion." He released Jamie when he felt it was safe and picked up the empty bottles from the pool table. "It's a long way back to Riverhead," he said, addressing the three wolves in front of him. The other guests in the bar had formed a circle around them, fully expecting another fight from the one twin there, but were now groaning with disappointment. "It might be better to start heading home, don't you think?"

Brad shifted his feet, snorting at the suggestion. Another wolf's chuckle faded. The third one's shifty eyes searched the place. All were staring, waiting for them to make their move.

"Do you need help leaving?" Jamie pressed, clearly wanting them to say yes.

"Come on, man, it's not worth it," a Riverhead wolf placed his hand on Brad's shoulder, pushing him forward. Brad just snorted again, growled as he left with the others, shuffling their feet angrily on their way out.

Jamie met Max's accusing eyes as he walked away, carrying the empty bottles back to the bar. "I had it under control," Jamie yelled laughingly after him. And it was true, in a way, only the way he would have handled it was vastly different to Max's more sedate way.

"You are such a hot head," Dylan commented from his seat at a table, having watched the game. Grinning widely at Jamie, he took a swig of his beer.

"Passionate," Jamie corrected, picking up his cue and setting up the balls in the triangle, ready for play. "Spirited," he added with a laugh.

"I can think of a few other words to describe you," Dylan said with a shrug. "Besides, Josh isn't here, don't you two usually tag team?"

"We're not attached at the hip, you know," Jamie grumbled, taking aim. The satisfying sound of the balls knocking against each other and rolling on the table, knocking into the sides made him smile. "I can do just fine on my own with a couple of Riverheads, don't you worry." Which was true, Jamie didn't technically need his twin brother to back him up every time, but still, he would have preferred him there. With a shrug he lined up the cue again.

"He'll be back, Morgan," a wolf from the bar yelled out.

"I know," Jamie replied with a laugh, "And he'll try to win again, but this time he'll try to cheat. It happens all the time."

"Nah," another wolf disagreed, "Not that one, he scurried out of here with his tail between his legs. He won't try again."

"You willing to make a bet of it?" Jamie asked.

"Don't, man." Dylan groaned and rubbed his face with a chuckle. "Don't do it."

"The book!" someone from the crowd shouted eagerly. "Get the book."

Jamie threw his cue on the pool table with a grin, whipped his loose hair out of his eyes and snorted in a laugh. "Book," he decided, to cheers and laughter from the bar. He walked with determination to the bar, Max behind it rolled his eyes at him, and pulled out a thick book from behind it. The book that had followed the twins since adolescence, their betting book. It had been created as a joke but now served as their tradition. The age of it showed clearly in the worn cover and some pages were sticking out, having been shoved back in where they had fallen out. But Jamie opened it nonchalantly, glancing playfully at the audience he had acquired and found the next empty page in it. He put pen to paper quickly, calling out the words he was writing. "Brad of Riverhead will return to Silver Moon within two weeks, demanding a rematch with me, Jamie Morgan, and he will try to cheat." He was met with cheers again, and locked eyes with a pale wolf across the bar that laughed the loudest. "Carl, you willing to endorse?"

"Definitely," Carl exclaimed, emptying his bottle, "Because I don't believe he will be back."

"Great," Jamie said as he dotted it down. "Carl will be my opposition, and when I win, which I will, you-" he said, nodding to the wolf, "-Will pay for my beer all evening."

"That could get expensive," Carl mumbled, scratching his stubbly cheek, rethinking his commitment. "And when you lose?"

"Drinks on me," Jamie said with a smirk, whipping his long, reddish hair out of his face again. The bar held its collective breath, waiting for him to continue with anticipation. He laughed and added, "For the bar." The cheers were deafening, and Jamie laughed at Max's headshaking as he slid the book back in its place under the counter.

Max leaned his elbows on the counter as he scratched his head under his dark beanie. "That, my friend, could- no, will- get very expensive."

"I won't lose," Jamie said confidently with a shrug of his shoulders. "I'm a Morgan, we're lucky people. Not a bet in that book has gotten the better of me."

"Not one?" Max asked with a raised eyebrow and a smirk on his face.

Jamie was about to growl at him when a female voice giggled in his ear, the breath tingling his earlobe. "Lisa," he purred as he slid his arm around her waist, the woman in question resting her arm on his shoulder as she pulled him near. "Hey, you."

"Hi baby," she breathed, batting her lashes at him, pulling her jet-black hair behind her ear. "I've been looking for you." She kissed his earlobe, then bit it playfully.

"I dare say you've found me," he breathed suggestively in her ear before taking another deep swig of his drink. Jamie heard Max's snort, even if he tried to hide it. Jamie hadn't exactly been hiding so he knew she was lying but he didn't care, Lisa was a beauty with a bountiful ass that fit his hand perfectly, and tonight he was in a good mood, he was just in the right frame of mind to let her take advantage of that.

"Don't go anywhere," she said with a giggle, and left him by the bar. "I'll be right back, baby." Batting her lashes at him over her shoulder, she made her way to the ladies room. Or at least that's where Jamie thought she was going, he didn't really care as long as those swaying hips made their way back. He grinned as he took a swig of his beer, then sat it down with a content sigh.

Max laughed and shook his head at him. "She's trouble," he told the redhead still grinning in her direction.

"I know," Jamie stated with a shrug, "She always have been. I like it," he announced cheerfully, ignoring Max's disapproving eye-roll.

But Max thawed quickly when Jamie turned his disarming grin up a notch. He slapped the rag over his shoulder down onto the worn counter and sighed again and said, "Everything's coming up roses for you at the moment, I guess," he stated.

Jamie nodded as he finished his beer, slamming his empty bottle back down on the table with a loud laugh. The twins had only just finished renovating a house on the edge of town, a project that had taken many long, busy months, and now with summer on the horizon the twins were free and eager to enjoy themselves. "All work and no play makes Morgan a dull boy," Jamie said with a wiggle of his eyebrow and a chuckle before adding, "Or, at least, a bored boy." And if Lisa would just come back, he would have a playmate, he was just in the mood for one of those. For the night anyway. But then a flash of blue at the edge of his vision distracted him, he snorted and perked his head up, scouting around with a growing smirk on his lips. There it was again, making its way to the other end of the bar. Jamie got up slowly, keeping the blue in his sight.

"Don't," Max breathed, and when Jamie ignored him, continuing to scout ahead with a growing grin on his face, he repeated himself more sternly, "Do not."

"I'm just going to say hi," Jamie defended himself without even looking at Max, "Just a quick hello."

"Leave her alone," Max exasperated, "Lisa will be back soon, don't bother Kat tonight, you know how you two get."

Jamie feigned innocence, holding up his hands in defense. "Just a friendly hello, what's the harm?" he said, but his smirk widened wickedly, and Max rolled his eyes.

"…It's all so interesting when you think about it. When you really think about life. Because is the meaning of life the same for humans as it is for animals? And then, where do we fit in? Lupines, I mean, what is our meaning of life? Does it resemble humans? Being a wolf? Or are we a slave to the animal within?"

Kat nodded with her mouth pressed into a thin line as she hummed her noncommittal answer. She hadn't had enough to drink for these types of questions, but clearly her companion felt differently.

"Human philosophy doesn't touch on our own," the wolf on the opposite side of the small, round table continued before he sipped on his martini. "Which is why I'm so excited to be teaching at the school next term. Imagine it, a whole class filled with open minds ready to discuss philosophy."

Kat held back a laugh, covered it quickly with a gulp of her beer. Marcus had gotten his first teaching job at the pack High School, and remembering her own High School experience Kat wasn't exactly sure the students would be jumping at the chance to discuss any kind of philosophy. She could be wrong though, Marcus was an incredibly enthusiastic man, maybe he would rub off on them. That was one of the reasons she liked him, he was exceptionally clever, well educated, and he was incredibly kind and gentle, so different from any other wolf in the pack, in comparison all other wolves were loud and obnoxious, not an intellectual thought in their heads, not like Marcus. Kat herself had never gone to college, her artistic abilities had emerged as a teenager and she was passionate about her glassblowing business. She had only just opened her shop in town and it was going really well so far. No more hour long drives to the city to sell her wares and she was able to spend much more of her time working, which she loved.

She tucked her blue hair behind her ears and nodded earnestly at him, returning his smile as he pushed his round glasses up his nose. He was handsome, she decided, neatly trimmed black hair and clean-shaven jaw, his collared shirt was powder blue, and his tan colored pants were pressed. She knew his appearance was a stark contrast to her own, having a fondness of tattoos and brightly dyed hair, her septum piercing and affinity for dark clothes didn't help, but he genuinely didn't seem to mind, and she loved that about him. He was not as judgmental as the rest of the pack.

"I'm happy you're so excited," she decided on as she emptied her beer.

Marcus said something, but she couldn't hear it. The music was loud tonight, the laughter and chatter in the bar was as well. It was packed, and the heat of bodies moving around them were making the already warm spring night heat up to unbearable levels. The bar was packed, as usual, and Kat cursed the design that the pack didn't have another bar within a reasonable radius. She hated the place and would rather have gone on a run on their date, but Marcus enjoyed conversation and the hum of other wolves around him, he had been away studying for so long he felt more connected to the pack when he was in its midst. Kat would have preferred to disconnect, especially with the smirk she just noticed was making its way through the crowd towards them, his long red hair in disarray around his shoulders and his blue eyes twinkled with amusement as he downed his beer before he made it to their table.

"Kitty Kat," Jamie announced happily with eyebrows lowered in wonder as he looked from Marcus to Kat and back again. "Out and about on this humid night, and with Marcus Day? What a surprise."

"Leave, Jamie," Kat replied curtly, "I'm not in the mood for your shit tonight."

Jamie ignored her and turned to Marcus. "Haven't seen you around for a while, Day, what's up?"

Marcus needed no further invitation to jump headfirst into a long-winded tale of his exploits since leaving the pack, and eagerly explained the experience of studying at Stanford. Kat wasn't listening, in fairness she had heard it before, but instead she narrowed her eyes at Jamie, scowling her dissatisfaction. She knew Jamie well enough to know he didn't care about whatever Marcus was saying. Did Jamie Morgan care about anything in the world that wasn't betting and beer? Hardly. Was he even listening? Standing there nodding his dumb head every few words, his dumb grin on his unshaven dumb face.

Jamie swallowed his laugh as he studied Kat out of the corner of his eye, glowering at him openly, biting her lip in anger. He was enjoying making her squirm, enough to continue to pretend to listen to boring Day. "Philosophy, huh?" he announced loudly, cutting off Marcus mid-sentence, jolting the wolf into silence. "Does that mean you know the meaning of life, then?" he asked with a smirk, sarcasm coating every word.

Marcus gave a startled, short laugh and Kat expected him to roll his eyes at Jamie. But Marcus didn't. "That is a very complicated question, and I have actually had many interesting thoughts on-"

Kat growled inwardly, she knew Jamie was only toying with her date and Marcus was too friendly to even notice. "Marcus," she interrupted him, softly, placing her hand on his arm with an affectionate squeeze, "My throat is so dry, would you get me another beer, please?"

Marcus blinked in surprise a few times, mentally pulling out of his train of thought, as if only just waking. "I- Yes, of course," he said slowly, and with a quick apology to Jamie and a returning pat on Kat's hand he made his way to the bar.

"What the fuck are you doing?" Kat hissed.

"Having a delightful philosophical discussion," Jamie answered sweetly and placed his empty beer bottle on the table.

"Get that off my table, you are leaving," Kat informed him sharply, "Piss off, Morgan."

Jamie pushed his hair behind his ear and laughed, clutching his hand to his chest dramatically. "Ouch, Kitty Kat, you're hurting my feelings here."

"Do not call me that, you disgusting neanderthal. You are so fucking-" she stopped herself and snorted at him. "No, you know what? Just leave, I can't be dealing with you tonight."

"Aww, am I ruining your little date with the most boring wolf in the pack?" Jamie purred.

Kat huffed and straightened in on her stool. "Marcus just happens to be the sweetest, most polite, most caring wolf I have ever encountered."

"Well, well, well, music to my ears," Marcus said laughingly as he put down the new glistening bottles on the table and kissed Kat on the temple. "What prompted this declaration?" he asked with a smile so genuine it grated on Kat's nerves.

But he never got an answer, another wolf joined them, draping herself over Jamie's arm and pressing her generous bosom into his chest. "Hey baby, where did you go?" Lisa asked him and proceeded to give him a kiss so wet Kat felt drenched just sitting nearby. "I have plans for you tonight, bad boy," she growled at him playfully, biting his lower lip.

"Well, I can see you're very busy," Kat said loudly, trying to not to yell her frustration at the wolf currently getting very distracted by a pair of breasts being pushed up at him. Jamie mumbled something in reply but Kat could not figure out what it was. It infuriated her even more. "We'll leave you to it, then," she ground out through gritted teeth and practically jumped from her chair. "Going for a smoke," she said and nudged Marcus, "You coming?"

"Yes," he hurried out and nodded, "Yes." Kat tore through the crowd, stomping her boots on the dirty, sawdust covered floor, and Marcus followed, but not before he had patted Jamie on the shoulder and said, "I'm intrigued by your interest in philosophy, if you would ever like to have a discussion I'd be more than willing."

"I'll keep that in mind," Jamie mumbled, waving at him as he disappeared in the crowd.

"What a loser," Lisa purred in his ear, kissing his lobe softly. Jamie blinked and returned to the presence, giving her a wide smile in return and a squeeze of her ass that made her giggle.

Max had come over to retrieve the empty bottles from the table, rolling his eyes at Jamie and huffed his disapproval. "Why can't you two just leave each other alone?" he asked as he wiped down the table. Jamie shrugged. "I swear you two seek each other out just for a fight every time you're both in the vicinity, what gives?" he continued as he slapped his rag over his shoulder. He gestured with the empty bottle at Jamie and sighed. "Be an adult for once, alright?"

Jamie laughed and held up his hands in surrender. "Come on, man. She was with Marcus of all wolves, how could I not?" Lisa pouted prettily up at him, her attention waning.

Max rolled his eyes again. "At least your brother isn't causing trouble tonight." He scanned the thick crowd around him, trying to spy a man with similar red hair as Jamie, but gave up. "Come to think of it I haven't actually seen him tonight?"

"Supplies," Jamie answered as he draped his arm around Lisa's shoulders, pulling her tight and her smile returned. "He's on his way, he offered to pick up the planks we need for the new Johnston house."

Grass and twigs crunched under her bare feet, as she skidded in mud and leaves. The moon was not full, that at least gave her cover. Trees and bushes rustled as she passed, threatening to give away her position but she didn't dare stop. Her heart thumbed painfully in her chest, her breath was short pangs of her loose hair and fog. But she couldn't run as fast as she wanted.

"Mommy," came the small voice beside her, "Mommy, I'm tired."

Cassie swallowed her breath. "I know, baby," she whispered, hitching the bundle in her arms higher, her son gave a sleepy grunt on her shoulder. "Just a little more, OK? Just a little further, baby, I promise," she said and felt the guilt form a lump in her throat as she squeezed her daughter's little hand in her own and forced her forward. She didn't know how much longer she could run with them, Mina was tired, her little legs couldn't go much faster. She was too little, too little for this. They both were, Gabe had even fallen asleep jostling against her shoulder. Neither of them deserved this. And she didn't even know where she was going.

But Cassie couldn't stop. It was now or never. She pushed forward, charging through bushes and around thick trees, the thicket growing denser.

Until it opened abruptly. The trees giving way to a dirt road she hadn't expected. The screech of brakes and the skidding of wheels swerving, dirt and mud raining. Cassie blinded by headlights was too shocked to scream, but Mina buried herself in Cassie's skirt and shrieked her fright. Gabe, waking, started wailing as his short arms tightened around her neck.

Josh swore loudly and turned the wheel sharply as his foot hammered down on the brake. His truck swerved dangerously close to a tree but he managed to right before a crash. The truck stopped, engine purring. "Motherfucker," he hissed and slammed his hands on the wheel, willing his heart to crawl back down in his chest. He had almost hit someone.

He jumped out of his truck, needing to see that he hadn't, when he saw her standing there, in the middle of the road, one kid crying in her skirt, the other screaming in her arms. But she just stared at him, her eyes wide, still in shock.

"Are you alright?" he asked her. She blinked, collecting herself, shushing the boy in her arms as she comforted the girl by her legs. But she didn't take her eyes off Josh, not did she answer him. "Are you Ok?" he asked her again, taking a few steps towards her. "You're out late with- with those two," he said motioning to the children. She shied backwards, away from him, and he stopped walking. "Seriously, are you alright?" Josh asked again, confusion setting in.

He could smell she was a wolf, there was no doubt. Her scent penetrated the blossoming forest and the muck on her clothes. It was also obvious just what she was. Silverstream. Josh groaned and rubbed his neck, stretching his arms above his head as he yawned. He did not want to deal with Silverstream wolves tonight. He was too tired. Northcreeks and Silverstreams did not mix well either.

"Silverstream, huh? On Northcreek territory." She said nothing to that. Josh didn't actually care, she was no threat to him, not with children in tow. And he was in no mood for trouble anyway. "Well, I'll be off then," he said, pointing to his truck with his thumb over his shoulder as he stepped back. Best just to drive away at this point, he had no business meddling in Silverstream affairs. "Have a lovely… night… walk… thing-" He shrugged. "Or whatever the hell you're-"

A howl in the distance cut him off and the woman in front of him faltered, gasping out a silent scream as she searched in the direction of the howl. This wasn't good. Josh took a few steps towards her. "What the hell is going on?" he demanded, he had an unsettling feeling forming in the pit of his stomach. "Look if this is just some Silverstream trick to get me-"

She whipped her head around, facing him again. Her wide eyes shut him up. Fear. He recognized that instantly, desperation and fear. Her lip quivered and she crushed her still sobbing children to her. "I…" she started, her voice disappearing. "I can't go back," she coughed out.

Josh looked at her as she shook her head slowly, taking in her dirty clothes, ripped in places, a leaf was tangled in her blonde, unruly hair and she was scratched on her arms from thickets and branches most likely. The girl at her side, crushed to her with one arm, just as dirty, hair streaked over her face as two huge brown eyes blinked up at him. She had lost a shoe, he noticed, small toes on the dirt road. The boy still sobbed quietly, his head tucked firmly against what Josh presumed was his mother. That unsettling feeling grew rapidly.

"You… can't…?" he repeated slowly, trying to wrap his head around this feeling.

Another howl pierced the night and Cassie let out a yelp as she started. She tucked Mina's hand in her own and made for the other side of the road, needing to get away. They had discovered she was gone. She had to escape.

"Wait," the man who had almost run her over called out after her. And for some unknown reason she did. "Wait," he called again and ran to her, a wind whipped his red hair around his head. "You can't go like that," he said motioning wildly to her kids. "You can't- You just can't-" He groaned and rubbed his face. "I can't fucking believe I'm doing this. Man, I can't believe this," he growled at himself. Another howl and Cassie's heartbeat quickened. They were close. Too close. Even if she ran now she couldn't outrun them. There was no way."

Josh growled again when he saw her reacting to the howl. It was closer. He really could not believe this was happening. "Get in the back," he told her. She was frozen on the spot, blinking at him. "There is a small space between the planks, go," he urged her, "Just- just go now before I regret it."

Cassie didn't move. Gabe was holding on around her neck so tightly she had trouble breathing and Mina's small hands shook as she clasped her thigh. The howling was closer. She could run, her wolf would give them a chase. But she could feel her children cower, they didn't stand a chance. She met the stranger's eye again, locked on her as he held out his hand, motioned to the back of the truck which was loaded with timber.

"Go before I regret it," he repeated, his voice was soft but the command strong. His stubbly jawline pulsed as he bit his lip, still looking to her to make her move. Run or hide. Did she dare take a chance on him? His long reddish hair blew in the breeze, and he tucked it behind his ear. Another howl, a different one, there were more than one wolf on her tail. The stranger glanced in its direction, she could tell his shoulders slumped in resignment. When he turned to her again he urged her with his hand, his eyes searched her for an answer, begging her to make up her mind.

And she did. She hoisted Gabe higher on her shoulder and made for the truck. The stranger didn't help them up, he busied himself untying the planks as Cassie huddled down between them. She barely got herself into a comfortable position, snuggling close to her kids when he threw old, dusty blankets over her. The thick stench of sawdust and dirt covered them and she felt like gagging.

But then held it as she heard the rustle of leaves and the approach of footsteps. No. Of paws.

Josh straightened but didn't turn around. He knew they were there. His hands gripped the rope and he grunted as he tightened it around the loose planks, knocking them into place with his hands. He tried ignoring their presence, didn't want to show his discomfort, but the hairs on the back of his neck quivered every step they took towards him. The stench of Silverstream had penetrated the cool night air as soon as they appeared. And he finally turned to see them standing, spread out, across the dirt road.

One stepped forward, his fur receding as he stood himself upright, arms crossed over his bare chest. Whipping his short-cropped locks out of his snarling face he huffed at the truck. It was clear they could see the skid marks on the road, the disturbed mud as he had slammed the breaks and the way the truck was perched on a slope, half in a thicket, gave away the accident. "Had a bit of trouble, Northcreek?"

Josh shrugged. "A deer jumped out in front."

"A deer?" the wolf questioned, his grin widened dangerously. His Adam's apple jumped as he chuckled, revealing a thick scar spanning the width of his throat.

"Yes," Josh answered, sighing with impatience, "Knocked my supplies loose." Grabbing the next piece of rope, he tightened the other end of the planks into place. "What's it to you, Silverstream? You guys are far from home tonight."

The Silverstream wolf chuckled darkly. "A bit of night hunting," he said with a shrug. The other wolves were circling, moving around the bushes, scouting the area while keeping their focus on Josh.

Josh felt the clammy hand of fear tickle down his back. He was outnumbered, even if they were on Northcreek territory it wouldn't help him. "On Northcreek ground? Daring. You guys have no business here," he said, wishing the wolves didn't notice the small crack in his voice when he spoke. Seven of them, he counted out of the corner of his eye. He wished his brother had come with him that night, they would still be outnumbered, but with Jamie he would have at least stood a fighting chance if this group decided to become hostile. Or, more hostile.

The wolf chuckled again, ignoring his statement. "Have you seen a little she-wolf around these parts, Northcreek?"

Josh shook his head slowly. "Nope."

The wolf took a step closer. "She was going this way," he pressed, "Have you seen her?"

"It takes seven of you to catch one female?" Josh forced a laugh. "What's the matter, Silverstream? Can't keep your females under control?"

The wolf snarled and stepped up to him, so close Josh could feel his breath on his face when he grunted and his dark eyes flashed with annoyance. "You watch your mouth, Northcreek." The other wolves began circling closer, watching the scene unfold, ready to pounce if they had to. Josh recognized their positions and felt their approach even if it was slow and calculating. "And tell me which direction that little bitch has run."

"You guys need to run back to the mountains. This is Northcreek territory. You don't make demands here," Josh stated. He crossed his arms over his chest to shield his pounding heart.

The wolf laughed harshly in his face, the wolves at his back snapping their jaws in accompanying humor. Josh watched as a mangy wolf stalked around his truck, sniffing at the car tire before examining the driver's seat. Josh had left the door wide open when he had jumped out, the keys still dangling in the ignition. He had to get rid of it before it moved to the planks strapped to the back, before it got to the bundle of rugs thrown in between them. He prayed that silly woman could keep the kids quiet. He didn't even dare glance at the pile in case his interest gave it away.

"And what are you going to do about it?" the Silverstream leader barked out, "You're alone, wolf. No one could hear you howl all the way out here."

"This is Alpha Winter's territory, wolf," Josh pointed out, mustering up what venom he could force into his voice. "You best remember that."

The wolf snorted in a laugh and glanced at his companions. "This is Alpha Winter's territory," he repeated. Some of them had shifted, standing back with their arms crossed and interest painted on their faces. They joined in his laughter.

"Your Alpha is a million years old," one of them called out.

Another agreed, "That raggedy wolf needs to retire." The group laughed.

Josh's attention was taken by the wolf by his truck. It had moved closer now, sniffing the air. If the woman and those kids were found it would be the end of Josh, they would turn on him fast. He had to act. "Alpha Winter is still the strongest wolf in the state. The biggest pack, pup," Josh snarled at the wolf in front of him, pushing his shoulder, making him take a few stumbling steps back. "I think you guys should get out of here before I do howl. Alpha Winter does not take kindly to trespassers. Especially Silverstream fucking scum like you."

That did it. The wolves' ears perked up and the air became thick with growling, jaws snapping in anger. And then Josh's vision shook as the strange wolf's fist had connected instantly with his jaw, sending him flying. His back slammed against the side of the truck. Josh blinked, rubbed his jaw and looked up at the group moving ever closer around him. The wolf had given up searching his vehicle, but now he was faced with a different problem.

"Big mouth on a lone wolf," the leader of the gang said, grabbing Josh's shirt by his throat and pinning him against the side of the truck. Flanked by the other wolves, some shifted, some not, he punched Josh in the gut, making him double over in pain. "You're lucky we're in a hurry tonight, or we might have had some more fun, Carrot top," the scarred wolf spat as he pulled Josh's hair back, forcing him to expose his throat to them.

With another punch to Josh's face, and one in his stomach, he released him, and Josh slid down to the ground where he landed on all fours, coughing and wheezing.

The wolves shifted, their paws heavy on the road as they snarled and snorted at him, and then they ran, disappearing in the thick forest around them as fast as they had arrived. Continuing their hunt.

Josh coughed again, wiped the drool off his chin with the back of his hand, and sat back on his feet before pulling himself up by the open car door. "Yeah, lovely chatting with you guys as well," he coughed out, rubbing his sore jaw. This was so not how his night was supposed to have been. Fucking lack of timber and now a Silverstream encounter on their own fucking territory. All because of… he stopped and blinked as he remembered. The woman. He walked around his truck, making a show of checking the tires, ensuring the wolves had disappeared. When he was satisfied, he whipped the blankets off of them.

The woman stared up at him, shielding her children, the only movement was the gentle breeze in her hair.

Josh took a deep breath, attempting to comprehend what just happened, pinching the bridge of his nose as he gathered his thoughts. "Right, so they're gone. You can be on your way now."

Cassie swallowed. The wolves may have gone but her fear had her in an iron grip and wasn't letting go. She gave him a shallow nod and forced her sore body to move. She sat up, keeping her hands on her children and not daring to let go.

"Where are you headed?" His voice was soft, almost a whisper as though anxiety was still raking through his body as well.

She blinked slowly, shaking her head. "I'm not going back. I can't go back," she whispered to him. It wasn't an answer, but it was the only words running through her head at that moment and she felt the need to say them out loud.

Josh rubbed his face with a deep sigh. "Yeah, I gathered that much," he growled. He looked around, scouting through the dark trees. "But where are you actually headed? There's no city or town for fuck-" He glanced at the children and corrected himself. "For miles around here." Not counting Northcreek, but she was heading away from that direction. "Where are you trying to go?" He looked at the children again, huddled against their mother, both looking tired. No, exhausted was a better word. Had she come from the mountains all this way? She couldn't have.

Cassie bit her dry lip, cracked from her panting, until it hurt. "I don't know," she admitted.

Josh groaned and rubbed his face again. "You don't know?" he demanded. "You don't know?" he repeated, feeling himself getting angry. What the hell had he gotten himself into? "You can't just- you can't just run around the damn woods like this. With them!" he shrieked, gesturing wildly to the children with her. "You just can't do that! Look at them, they're tired," he continued, outraged on their behalf. "And you don't have a plan?" He had been afraid of this, yet somehow already knowing by the look of her. Groaning loudly again he leaned his head against the planks to his right. He knew what he was going to do. He didn't like it. Not at all. But he knew what he had to do. Damn this silly inclination to be a decent lupine being.

"Alright." He stood, sighed, and ran a hand through his hair. "Get in the truck."

"W-what?" Cassie questioned.

"I'm not going to pretend that I'm absolutely thrilled having a Silverstream anywhere near my baby," he said, patting the beat-up vehicle, "But you are tired, all of you, and you don't know where you're going. I don't know what the fu- what you're running from" -he corrected again with a quick glance at the kids- "but you just can't continue like- like- like this." Once more he gestured to the two small shapes sitting behind her, they were looking at him wearily, peeking through their mother's arms. "Just get in the damn truck."

Cassie hesitated, but slid down from the back of the truck, careful not to disturb the planks and reached back to grab her son who latched on to her instantly. She didn't see that she had any other choice. This wolf was a stranger, she shouldn't trust him. She didn't. But he hadn't only hidden them without a second thought, he had clearly taken a beating for them as well. She could tell he tried to hide it, but his jaw looked like it was throbbing, and he held his hand tight against his stomach, still trying to breathe normally. She had heard Northcreeks were insane, that they never knew what was good for them, but she never expected them to treat a stranger like that. A Silverstream. When he looked at her with annoyance, his eyes were kind underneath. And he was right, they could not continue like this, the kids did not deserve it. So she made a decision.

Josh held out his hand to the young girl, she glared back at him, not moving. She was not trusting. Good. At least one of these damn Silverstreams had any sense. "Nevermind," he mumbled and let the woman help her daughter down. He opened the back door for them and was for once glad he had picked a truck with a backseat. Not that he hadn't had good times in that particular back seat, but he rarely had passengers to drive around.

When he jumped back in behind the wheel, he saw them huddled together tightly, the small boy's eyes already drooping as if he was about to fall asleep against his mother's thigh. "I'll take you somewhere to spend the night, alright?" he said, meeting the woman's eyes through his rearview mirror. "But let's be clear, you're still a Silverstream, and after that you're on your own. Kids or no kids. You get that?"

Cassie nodded. She didn't for once entertain the thought that this wolf was her savior, but she felt Gabe's gentle snore against her thigh, and she felt Mina's small shoulders dropping as she too succumbed to sleep, and then she could feel her own vision getting blurry as her eyes narrowed and eventually shut.

Josh ground his teeth and turned the key. The truck spluttered to life and he maneuvered it onto the road and made for home. He glanced at the three sleeping figures in the back. This was not good, this was not what his night should have become. He had been heading for Silver Moon, he was going to shoot some pool with his brother, he was going to have a few beers and a few laughs. Maybe even a lucky she-wolf would tickle his fancy. He snorted at the sight of the kids. Not this, not dirty Silverstreams in his truck. He would never get the damn stench of their pack out of his seats. He charged down the road, tapping his hands on the wheel in irritation.

What was even supposed to do with them? What were they running from? No, he stated inwardly, sitting straighter in the seat. No, it was not his problem. He was just giving them a place to crash for the night. It had nothing to do with him. His jaw throbbed like a bitch and his stomach was sore, he had done enough for them. They were Silverstreams. They could fend for themselves.

Maybe he would give them something to eat. They were just kids, they were so small… But that was it! Nothing else, he thought with determination as he turned the wheel and familiar surroundings came into view, and finally, after what felt like hours of driving, Northcreek town opened before him.