There was nothing like silver moonlight on pine trees swaying gently in the night. Gabe howled, nose up to that great, beautiful planet that called to his soul.
He let his song travel on the wind, knowing it’d give away his hiding spot, but then again, he wasn’t really hiding from his mate. He just wanted to play a little with Mika, the way they used to play before they’d taken in a pack of wild and unruly shifter children.
Tonight, they had that chance, and so Gabe howled, then he took off, his paws slapping the ground steadily as excitement thrummed through him. He felt alive, so very alive!
In the distance, he heard Mika’s answering howl, and knew the chase was truly on.
Leaves—juniper, oak and pine needles—scattered under the force of his paws. Puffs of dirt formed little clouds and Gabe delighted in it all.
A pure wolf appeared ahead of him, tongue flopping and one ear cocked to the side. Gabe yipped a greeting—Come play with us!
The wolf danced in place then shot ahead of Gabe.
It wasn’t often a pure wolf would join him on a run. In fact, in the many decades Gabe had lived, he could count on one paw the number of times it had happened.
But before he’d gone another half dozen feet, he had to skid to a halt. It was either that, or collide with the wolves streaming out of the dense trees to the right of him.
The wind hadn’t been blowing in his direction, or he’d have smelled the wolves. It was strange to see an entire pack of them wanting to frolic with him. Wolf shifters and natural wolves weren’t enemies by any means, but they were completely different creatures.
Although, as the alpha circled back around to stare at him almost nose to nose, Gabe could see the intelligence in the wolf’s golden eyes. The alpha bounced once, then spun around and took off, his grey coat blending well with the surrounding shrubs and trees.
The rest of the pack followed, yipping and yowling playfully.
Joy, deep and ebullient, made Gabe feel as if he were effervescent inside. He joined the pack, and even though he was bigger, faster, different, the wolves didn’t seem to care. They nipped teasingly at him and danced and ran with as much happiness as he felt.
He heard Mika’s howl, closer now, and Gabe called out to him. The pack, almost as a whole, returned Mika’s call with a short series of barks, egging him to catch up with them.
Through the forest they ran, Gabe staying in the middleish area of the pack, enjoying every second of the night. He’d call out to Mika, and hear the excitement and happiness in his mate’s answering howls.
It had been too long since they’d taken a night for themselves, too long since they’d been able to let go and not worry for a bit. As much as Gabe would rather pick on Aidan, he was going to have to thank his friend instead for watching the kids and giving Mika and Gabe this time together.
Or with a pack of wolves, rather.
Gabe ran with them for miles, leaping over a wolf here and there, stumbling once when a little female darted under him. The wolves were playful, just as thrilled as he to be out in the night, carefree, letting Mother Nature watch over them and simply… well, simply living in the moment.
After the moon had moved over in the sky enough for Gabe to note that an hour or so had passed, he heard Mika’s approaching tread. A shiver of anticipation made the hair along Gabe’s spine stand up. He could scent his mate now that the pack had changed directions, could smell the need and joy Mika was exuding, which of course caused a reaction in Gabe, one that meant he was going to be parting ways with the pack soon. Lust, love, and need were quickly overtaking the fun of running with the wolves.
But first, he wanted Mika to join them. Mika, normally so gruff and serious, needed the freedom on this night in particular.
“Need you,” Mika clarified through the mate-bond he and Gabe shared. Mika was right behind him, bumping his nose against Gabe’s hip.
Gabe made sure to send him a mental eye roll in reply. He knew damned well what Mika wanted, and yeah, Gabe wanted that raw, heated mating too, burned hot at the thought of it, but Mika was going to have a little more fun first.
Mika’s growl was almost in Gabe’s ear.
Gabe huffed at his beloved, then smacked him with his tail. The same female wolf who’d almost tripped Gabe dove past him, and a second later, Mika yelped in surprise. He bounded past Gabe, and glanced back, a challenging look in his eyes.
“Oh yeah, baby. It’s on!” Gabe felt younger than he had in ages, like a kid himself, in fact. He put aside thoughts of sex and responsibilities, and simply played, chasing Mika, nipping at his heels, letting Mika keep the lead.
The wolves joined in, even the alpha, and running somehow became a wrestling match, games of keep away and leapfrog.
It felt so good to play! And to see Mika let go, to drop his guards and his usual reserve—it was a gift Gabe had never expected to see or for Mika to receive.
Gabe had to take a breather, and he sat, joined by the female wolf, who definitely had a mischievous side. Together, they watched the alpha and Mika act like pups. The rest of the pack was playing too, but Mika and the alpha seemed like fond siblings as they bounded around and tackled each other.
When the moon had moved across the sky, the alpha tipped his nose up and howled.
Mika joined him first, then Gabe and the others added their voices to the parting song. Despite the notes of sorrow, there was an abundance of happiness and hope in the song. The pack was moving on, seeking a safer territory.
Gabe wanted to promise them safety but he couldn’t. The laws protecting wolves were being stripped away left and right. He couldn’t blame them for heading out of the area. If they were shifters, they’d be better equipped to live in Lincoln National Forest, or anywhere, in a way. They could be human as needed, and their senses would be much, much sharper than they were now.
Mika’s lonely howl grew louder, and Gabe’s eyes burned with tears. The world was changing, and though he’d hoped it’d be for the better, it wasn’t, not for the wild creatures trying to survive.
Gabe forced away his melancholy and sorrow. Tonight was a night for celebrating, not for being a moody shit.
“It’s okay, Gabe. I feel it too. The world is changing. We could offer to help this proud alpha, but he’d say no, and he’d be offended too. We have to let him, and this pack, live their lives as they choose to do.”
Gabe knew that. He just wanted to save—
“Everyone, but you saved me, and you saved our kids.” Mika had stopped singing, as had the rest of the pack. Mika sat on Gabe’s other side, then he shifted and hugged Gabe. “You gave this pack something they’d never have had otherwise, an experience they will always remember and sing about.”
Gabe noticed the pack gathering to leave. He sniffled then shifted as well so he could hold Mika in return. “But I want them to be like this forever.”
Mika cupped his cheek and kissed him chastely a moment later. “Then they wouldn’t be who and what they are. They wouldn’t be…” Mika sighed. “Sometimes it’s hard to have faith in good being greater than evil, but we must keep believing that. This world will protect her own, somehow. And the wolves? Oh, Gabe.” He nuzzled Gabe’s cheek. “Magic. We’re shifters, but the wolves, they’re pure magic, honey.”
Gabe nodded, his melancholy wafting away. Mika was wise, and he was amazing. “You’re magic, too, Mika. There’s nothing in this world as magical as you. Happy birthday, mate.”
Mika shook his head slightly. “Not true. You gave me the most magical gift. We ran with the wolves, and we were carefree and younger. I never got to be carefree, or a kid. You gave me that tonight.”
Gabe’s heart stuttered as he smiled so big he probably looked like a weirdo. It didn’t matter, though. “I love you, so much.”
Mika rubbed his nose against Gabe’s. “And I, you.”
As the pack sang of new friends and hope for the future, Gabe pulled Mika down, lying on the leaves and dirt, surrounded by nature and Mika. “Happy birthday, stud.”
Mika’s lips quirked up and then he gave Gabe a deep, full-throated laugh that made Gabe quiver with love and need.
“Thank you,” Mika said a moment later, then he kissed Gabe, and the forest embraced them both as they celebrated together.