Con Nero stood alone near the central bonfire, as he usually did at a Howl, trying to watch everything and everyone.
He hadn’t really wanted to be the leader of a pack, and particularly not this particular pack. Given his choices he’d have much preferred to remain a simple family man, patrolling the streets by day, raising his sons and pleasing his wife at night, and supporting the pack alpha when required. Instead, he’d been forced to confront a pack alpha who’d tried to take something that wasn’t his, and at the end of it he, Constantine Nero, had become the new pack alpha, like it or not.
Nero hadn’t liked it much at all, but in the fourteen years he’d had the job he’d yet to see anyone he could trust to replace him. The several challengers he’d defeated either sought the power for purely selfish, short-sighted reasons or else wanted to reverse what progress he’d managed to make in bringing the pack out of its brutal, bloodthirsty past. None of them had been particularly intelligent; none of them gave a damn about the rest of the pack; and most of them weren’t smart enough to surrender, live, and try again another day.
Maybe it had something to do with ancestry, he thought. He’d once thought that all werewolves were like his family pack, descended from Venetian immigrants, easygoing, non-confrontational, only revealing their ruthless side when forced. This pack, on the other end of the spectrum, had been dominated since its founding by a handful of German families, with a distinctly savage German attitude to threats, outsiders, and change in general.
One result of that savagery was, what with one thing and another, there weren’t more than a handful of pack members within five years each way of Nero’s age. And most of that handful, his wife excepted, hated him with a fiery passion. Only the Wald clan actively supported him, and that was about to change. He'd already seen Andrea Wald watching him now and again, obviously looking for some moment of weakness which would allow her husband Bill to take over. Only her father-in-law, Wendell Wald, had kept that from developing into an active challenge.
Wendell in particular had been Nero’s greatest backer from the first day, a former alpha who, had the position been elective, would have been alpha-for-life. Wendell had even encouraged him to run for sheriff, and he’d been elected and then re-elected in no small part due to the Walds’ support. Nero would miss the old ex-alpha, in more ways than one.
This Howl, in fact, was the farewell party for Wendell and Abigail Wald. They were moving north, preparing to vanish before old age turned them feral. The few pack members who might have chatted with Nero were all gathered by the Walds’ barbecue pit now, swapping tales, telling jokes, saying their farewells. Everyone knew that, barring some horrible coincidence, they wouldn’t see either Wendell or Abigail alive again. This was their night- a wake, except with the guests of honor still able to take an active part.
So Nero stood alone, having said his own goodbyes to the eldest Walds earlier in the day. Being alone had its advantages, though; it meant nothing distracted him from watching the activities of the group, especially those fading in and out at the fringes.
For example, take Sally Stubbe, second child of Bill and Andrea. Technically she was standing right beside her grandparents, part of the group sending them off, but her eyes kept returning to a certain cluster of bushes just barely within the light of the bonfire. Mabel Garrity (speaking of age-mates with no love for him) had dragged young Walt Stubbe in there about fifteen minutes ago, and… well, the bushes were discreet, but a werewolf’s sight and smell and hearing could pick up enough clues to know very well what was going on behind them.
The interesting thing was, young Sally didn’t look jealous, annoyed, or disgusted. In between polite laughs and smiling responses to questions, she looked… intense. Nero had seen that kind of eyes on people studying a chess board, deciding whether or not to sign a mortgage, and on not a few suspects deciding whether to run or to brazen it out. The girl obviously was thinking very hard about something related to Walt Stubbe… now if only Con knew for certain what.
The movement in the bushes paused for a moment, then changed its tone for a bit before stopping altogether. Two wolves walked out from behind those bushes; the mid-sized, middle-aged Mabel and the tall, broad-shouldered wall of muscle that was the Stubbe boy in the fur. The only clothing between the two of them was Walt’s loose loincloth, which he was having trouble adjusting to conceal himself. Mabel gave him a slight shove towards the Wald group, tipping a wink to Sally… who, Nero noticed, frowned for only a moment before plastering on the polite smile she used for the well-wishers.
Nero’s eyes widened as Mabel, in mid-stride, did a one-eighty to stare at a couple going the opposite direction. The two wolves headed out of the firelight wore almost as much clothing as the rest of the Howl together. The male- that would be the new kid, Jack something-or-other- was still holding his human shape, blushing and obviously embarrassed. Yep, that’d attract Man-killer Mabel all right, Nero thought; fresh meat, innocent and timid, ready for the chase.
Fortunately, Carla Whitetail had snagged him first. Carla, her wolf form stretching her clothes so tight absolutely nothing was left to imagination, was hauling her chosen mate hard by the wrist towards the bushes Mabel and Walt had just vacated. Nero watched with bemusement as the two disappeared into the woods and, within the minute, clothes flew up and in the shadows.
Carla, it seemed, was about to teach the visiting werewolf a few things. She and Nero’s son Bill had educated one another quite thoroughly for a couple of years, with Bill telling tales of Carla’s imaginative applications of anatomy at the dinner table afterwards. He and his wife had tried a couple of them afterwards and had been a bit surprised themselves by the results.
Heh. I hope she doesn’t educate him too much, Nero thought. Poor boy might have a nervous breakdown.
Movement nearby took Nero’s attention off the rustling bushes. Walt had gone to mooch at the Wald barbecue pit, and Mabel, who normally didn’t have the time of day for him, was walking towards him for some reason. “Mabel,” he said noncommittally when she was close enough for polite conversation.
“Evening, Nero,” Mabel said, staring grimly up at him. “Where’s your wife? I want a word with her.”
“At home, as usual,” Nero said. “We stopped by the Wald house together earlier so she could say her goodbyes. Can I help you?”
“You never could before,” Mabel grumbled. Con Nero had been one of the few males in the pack she hadn’t bedded, and after her second husband had challenged him and refused to yield, he was the only one she expressed zero interest in. “But I suppose you’ll have to do. Have you been keeping an eye on your new boy?”
“I thought you were doing that for us both just now, Mabel,” Nero drawled.
“What? Oh, you mean that sugar-britches that Carla just dragged away?” Mabel shook her head. “No, I mean your new boy, that Gus. Look over there.” She pointed a finger off to the other side of the Howl from the bushes, where the young new werewolf, as big and muscular as Walt Stubbe and shamelessly, gloriously nude, held court over four- no, five- females ranging from just over the age of consent up to thirty.
“Looks like he’s making himself popular,” Nero said. He’d been a bit worried about that. When he’d found the boy wandering around the woods several months before, he’d been stand-offish, a loner, and suspicious. He was pretty sure “Augustus Cramer” was a fake name, especially since he'd had to arrange for forged identification for him. Even now he could see that he was silent, watching while the females did all the talking... and moving...
“Ha,” Mabel said humorlessly. “I’ve talked with two of the girls who’ve had him. They say he’s great, wild, rough... but he scares them. They say he’s done when he’s done, and if the girl says anything about it, then things get bad.” She looked over at the group and added, “And both of them are over there now. They say they’re too scared to cut him off.”
Nero frowned. “Mabel, I’ll back any woman’s right to say no. All they have to do is say the word to me.”
“Pfffh,” Mabel snorted. “It’s an alpha’s job to say yes or no, not the girl’s. Do your job.”
For a moment Nero considered asking Mabel what she would do, hypothetically, if he, Con Nero, the pack alpha male, demanded to screw her, here and now. The problem was, she might just say yes just to win her point. “If the women don’t say no, and Gus doesn’t actually break the peace,” he said instead, “then I’m not going to get involved. I’ve spent years trying to change tradition and bring rule of law to this pack, Mabel. I’m not going to undo it, no matter how good the reason might seem.”
“Heh. Too soft, Nero. You always have been.” There was that smirk he saw on Mabel’s face far too often, both amused and disgusted. She walked away, careful to swing her hips and raise her tail to show off her still-firm, full ass to him.
How many lives do I have to end, Nero thought, before I'm tough enough for the survivors?
Oh, well. Focus on the younger generation. That's where the lasting change will be. And Uncle Con might accomplish what Killer Con never will.
And then, out of the corner of his eye, Nero saw Gus Cramer lift an arm and point to one of the females courting him- Patricia Vulthar.
Apparently neither one of them was willing to go to the bushes.
Nor were their audience of the unchosen females.
And as the pack members gathered around the Walds began to notice, Nero sighed and resolved to have a talk with Gus about consideration for others at the Howl.