I know this is long over due, and I apologize. Honestly if it were not for Ilona promising an apple pie in addition to bribing me with the old Sega Saturn game, Blazing Heroes, (a game we played years ago which just happens to feature a lion man) this would not have been possible. I hope you all enjoy.
I watched the Council of the Pack run from the room with their tails between their legs. One by one, they fled, careful not to look at me or the Bear. Finally the last of the shapeshifters went through that doorway. It was just the two of us.
I looked at Mahon the way an alpha looks at the subject. Mahon crossed his massive arms.
“It comes to this, then.”
I didn’t answer.
“It’s about time. I’ve been waiting for this, boy. It needs to be sorted out.”
Good, we understood each other. “Do you want to settle this here, old man, or do you have some place in mind?”
Mahon considered it for a long moment. “We’re going to need space. This place is too small.”
“Up on the fourth floor balcony, then.”
The balcony, a flat top of one of the smaller towers, was a stone square, about twenty by fifty yards. In spring and summer we used it for outdoor dining and gatherings, but in winter it was deserted. It would provide us with plenty of room and give us some privacy as well.
This thing between Mahon and me wasn’t going to be an exhibition. It wasn’t a fight to the death either, but if any of the Pack happened to witness it, it would become one. I would have to kill Mahon, and I did not want to do that. Mahon wasn’t my father, but I was his son.
This was between the two of us and when it was over we would know once and for all who was the strongest.
I walked through the doorway. He followed. Outside the room Derek saw me and stepped away from the wall. I glanced at him, said, “Follow me,” and kept walking. The kid fell in step behind us. We would need a guard to keep the rest of the Pack from sticking their noses where they didn’t belong and it couldn’t be Jim or Kate. Jim was my best friend. He would interfere. Kate… This was something I didn’t want Kate to see. Derek would do what he was told and would keep the rest out.
The three of us made our way to the fourth floor. A solid wooden door barred the way to the balcony.
I looked at Derek. “You stand here. Nobody gets on the other side of this door.” I held his gaze for another long moment to make sure I had his attention. “No one.”
I opened the door and Mahon and I walked outside. The cold air hit my lungs.
The door shut behind us.
Darkness had fallen. The sky was black and vast, and the small lights of stars pierced it with cold light. Behind us the grey towers of the Keep blocked the moon, but it was there, spilling light on the snow-strewn clearing around the Keep. Beyond it, black woods rose.
The balcony stretched before us, covered with untouched, white snow. Before this was over, we’d paint it red.
“How do you fancy doing it?” Mahon asked.
“Not like this and your half form sucks,” I told him. “I want you at your best. You better bear out.”
“In that case, you better come at me in your warrior form. It will give you a better chance.”
“No need,” I answered.
He laid his hand on my shoulder and said quietly, “My son, if you hesitate or hold back, I will break you.”
You will try. “No more talk.”
I let go. Heat flooded me. There was a tremendous warmth. It was like being stretched on a rack while being set on fire. And then everything pulled: bones, tendons, muscles, skin stretched tight. The hazy veil I didn’t notice fell away and suddenly the world was painfully clear. I smelled it all, the wind from the icy sky, the hint of smoke from the Keep’s kitchen, the dry stone, the clean snow, and the fur of a huge bear waiting to break my back.
Bear. Familiar scent. Safe. The same scent I smelled years ago, when I had no place to go and Mahon told me I had a home. He was huge then, big and rough, taller than me by almost a foot. “You can stay here, boy. We’ll treat you like our own. You don’t have to call me Dad. Just Mahon will do.”
Across the balcony, the Kodiak shook his head. He was huge, nearly twelve feet tall and weighing almost a ton.
Going toe to toe with him was out of the question. I shook, testing the shift. Everything had fallen into place. I wasn’t at full power, but that was fine. I was too pissed to take a rain check on this fight.
The shaggy giant beast reared up onto his hind legs and roared at me. That’s right show me that big soft belly. I opened my mouth and roared back, drowning him out. Bring it, fat boy.
My best bet would be to bleed him. Dart in, bite or claw, then out again before those big paws can connect. Don’t let him grab or hold me. If he could, Mahon would pull me into a hug and crush my head between his jaws. And if I was really lucky, he’d come at me just like this, on hind legs, gut out.
I dug the snow, testing the ground. My paw found ice sheathing the stones. Slick.
Come on, Bear. Come at me.
He dropped to all fours and shuffled toward me with his head lowered. Damn it.
If I let him, he would try to muscle me to the ground. I’d killed a bear before, and it was the hardest fight of my life.
Mahon kept moving, head down, shifting in, rocking from side to side. The bear shamble. It looked clumsy, but it let him use the thick layer of fur and fat that sheathed his forward quarters like a shield. And a flank attack wouldn’t go unpunished. Shambling or not, he was fast.
We never fought, not like this, but I had been watching him kill for the last fifteen years, and I knew that he would use that big head like a sledgehammer. Getting head butted by a bear was like being kicked by a horse. He’d knock me down and then put all of that weight on me.
It was time to dance. I let him get within five feet of me. Mahon lunged. I dodged to the side and buried my claws in his head and neck. Mostly what I got was fur and fat, but it hurt him. The Bear shook, trying to fling me off. I hung on and took a big bite out of his ear. The familiar taste of blood flooded my mouth.
Mahon bellowed in pain.
Yeah, that’s gonna leave a mark.
Suddenly my paws left the ground, and then we were moving. He drove me back, like hammer drives a nail. God, he was fucking strong.
There was nothing I could do about it, except to let go. I released my hold. Too late. The wall slammed my back and the full bulk of the Bear smashed into me.
The wall shook. On the other side of that wall Curran was getting a beat-down and he’d locked me out and left the boy wonder in position by the door to make sure it stayed shut.
The room was full of shapeshifters. The alphas, the betas, anyone with any sort of rank had shouldered their way in.
Jim loomed over Derek. The boy wonder had grown, but Jim still had about three inches of height on him and he squeezed everything he could out of them. “Move.”
Derek didn’t answer.
“It’s an Order.”
Derek stared straight ahead. The message was clear. Jim would have to kill him before he let that door open.
This was pointless. I pushed my way out of the room into the hallway. Barabas emerged from the room behind me. I dragged myself down the hallway, away from the crowd. My leg was on fire. For once I wished that I had brought the stupid cane, so I could move faster. We turned the corner.
“Is there another point from where I can get to the balcony?” I whispered.
“Get, no. See, yes.”
“Take me there.”
“There are stairs,” Barabas warned.
“Take me there or I will throw you out of the window.”
“Right this way, Alpha.”
I bit the bridge of Mahon’s nose. Welcome to the lion’s jaws.
He snarled in pain and dropped back.
I fell into he snow and ran, putting some distance between us. My ribs ached. Heat flowed, knitting the fractured bones together. No major damage, but one more like this and I was done.
I had to bleed him. In and out. If I sliced his skull enough, the Lyc-V would repair the damage, but not before Mahon would bleed. Enough blood in his eyes, and he’d be a lot easier to handle.
The bear shambled over. I dashed in, claws ready.
Fifty million fucking stairs, each step shooting a burst of pain into my hip, until I wanted to claw my leg bloody just to get at the source of it.
Come on, Kate, push. Push.
“Sorry about this,” Barabas said.
“Sorry about what?”
He picked me up and dashed up the stairs. Two seconds and we burst out of a small iron door onto the tiny stone balcony. We were in one of the side towers, at a ninety-degree angle to the main keep. Two floors below us, an enormous bear and my lion squared of on the bloody snow.
Oh Curran. You stupid, stupid man.
Barabas lowered me to the floor.
Mahon was breathing hard. His shaggy flanks rose up and down, expelling clouds of most vapor through his nose. Blood drenched his sides. Curran limped slightly, favoring his left hind leg.
Curran lunged, a blur. I held my breath. He danced close, sliced at Mahon’s face, and withdrew, avoiding a swipe of the colossal bear paw by a hair.
Curran was trying to bleed Mahon out, but the Lyc-V was healing him faster than he could hurt him. Sooner or later Mahon would catch him. And an hour ago Curran had been unconscious on his bed.
“Get me down to that balcony,” I ground out.
“I can’t,” Barabas said. “It’s too far.”
I couldn’t jump the distance, not with my leg. “Throw me.”
“There are fifty yards between us and them, not to mention the thirty foot drop,” Barabas said. “Your dead body would land between an enraged bear and a blood-mad lion. It’s my duty to assist you in any way I can, but suicide isn’t on the menu.”
My knee gave out. I sagged onto the stone rail and watched Curran fight. It was all I could do.
He was going to catch me. My side hurt like hell and my vision was a little blurry. Mahon had swatted my head with his paw twice. It felt like being hit by a car. I couldn’t take any more big shots to the head. I had to take him down and end this.
Mahon swiped at me. I snapped at him and backed away.
I had to goad him to go into a bear rage. If he rose on his hind legs, I had a chance.
I smelled Kate. She was here. Somehow she was here. If I took my eyes off Mahon, he’d clobber me. Why couldn’t she just do what she was told, one damn time, just one damn time?
I dodged left, straight into the wall. He thought he had me and closed in, huge, fast, unstoppable. I bounced off the wall, flipped and landed on top of him. Hello, old man. My claws pierced his hide and I sliced through his fur with all four sets of claws, peeling it off him from the head to his big shaggy ass.
Mahon bellowed in pain.
I leaped free and bit his nose. The bear paw caught my side. I took the hit – it hurt like hell – and swatted at his nose, cutting it. One, two, three. Again. Again.
He charged me again, his head lowered. I veered right, closed my jaws on his injured ear and bit the rest of it off. The Bear roared, in pain and fury.
I spat the ear out and knocked it toward him with my paw. No, you can keep it. Doesn’t taste that great.
The massive Kodiak bellowed like a foghorn and stood up.
Yep, that did it, now he was good and pissed.
With an earth-shattering roar he lumbered toward me, all bear, no human thought or strategy now, motivated by pure rage and pain. It would be his undoing or mine.
Mahon rose on his hind legs. Curran limped away. His side was bleeding – a bad sign. The Lyc-V wasn’t keeping up with the repairs.
Mahon kept moving. Curran backed to the edge of the balcony. No place to go.
If I lost him here, to this idiotic fight, after I fought and guarded him for two weeks, after I cried and thought he was dying, I would find him in the afterlife and I would murder him again.
Mahon swung, too wide. Curran ducked under the huge claws, shockingly fast, and dug his own claws into the bear’s left hind leg and bit down hard.
I knew how much pressure those jaws could unleash. He bit through the fur and the muscle, and then Mahon’s leg folded like a broken toothpick, as the huge feline fangs crushed his bones.
Curran twisted and kicked out with his back legs, a move no lion could ever think of without a human brain driving it. His battered body swung and his back crashed into Mahon’s uninjured leg. For half a second, the bear remained upright by sheer force of will, and then he crashed, falling backward, like a giant with his legs cut.
Oh my god.
Curran rolled out of the way before the enormous bulk could crush him. As he lay on his back, Curran placed his front paws and weight on his chest. The massive leonine head dipped down. Curran opened his mouth. His jaws closed on Mahon’s neck and held it, easy, almost gently.
A huge brown paw rose and fell.
It was over. Curran won.
I lay in the snow, exhausted. My body flowed into the familiar human form. Everything hurt. My body felt too hot, like I was burning from inside out.
“Good fight, boy,” Mahon boomed from somewhere to the right. “I’m proud of you.”
The snow was melting around me. The icy liquid felt good on my skin. Well, that’s downright pleasant. I could lay here for a while, as long as I didn’t have to move.
“Still think she is worth it?” Mahon asked quietly.
“Of course. She is my mate.”
Mahon sighed. “So you decided then.”
“Do you think we’d be laying here bleeding in the snow if I wasn’t sure?”
I picked up a handful of snow and put it on my face. Mmmm… That’s nice.
“I hoped she would be one of us,” Mahon said.
“Well, you can’t always get what you hope for. I hoped my own people wouldn’t try to murder my mate while I lay dying.”
“It never came to that,” Mahon said. “She is stronger than any of us knew.”
“I figured.” Mahon sighed again. “She will never understand us completely.”
“It’s not always about you. This time it’s about me. She understands me and that’s enough.”
Some sort of commotion was taking place behind the door.
“We’re never doing this again,” Mahon said.
“That’s up to you. Any time you need me to remind you…”
Mahon chuckled. “I’ve raised you too well.”
The door flew off its hinges and slid across the snow, Derek on it. Well, couldn’t say the kid didn’t try.
Catherine stormed onto the balcony.
“Oh-oh,” Mahon murmured.
Mahon’s wife stared down at us. Her hands went to her hips. “Which one of you idiots wants to explain to me what the hell is going on?”
With great effort I raised my arm and pointed in Mahon’s general direction. “Him.”
Kate appeared in the doorway.
“What did you do to the boy?” Catherine demanded.
“What did I do to him? What did he do to me!”
Kate knelt by me. I raised my hand and touched her cheek.
“You are an idiot,” she told me.
“I know. Catherine already pointed that out.”
“Is it settled?” Catherine demanded. It didn’t seem aimed at me so I didn’t answer.
“Yes,” Mahon said.
“Good. Get up.”
There was some movement and then the two of them shambled off back to the door and the light of the Keep. As they passed us, Mahon dipped his head. “M’lord. M’lady.”
Then they were gone. Derek followed them, carrying the door.
“You want to leave?” Kate asked.
She sat in the snow next to me. I put my arm around her, puling her close. Derek fit the door back in place. We were all alone. Just us, snow, and the stars.
“That was a nice move with the jump,” she said.
I smiled. “I kicked his ass.”
“Yes, you did. You need help getting to your feet, ass-kicker?”
“That’s my line.”
She laughed quietly. “I can’t carry you, you know.”
“Give me another five minutes. I should be able to walk.”
We sat in the snow and watched the stars. Tomorrow I’d have to deal with all of their shit again. But tonight was ours. We earned it.