“The challenger is the Burbank pack’s beta, Tommy Joe Ratliff, who’s determined to become second in command under me. We shall see how he performs during the fights,” Adam announced to everyone then turned his now calm and neutral face back to the naked blond in front of him. “These are my current betas. Sutan Amrull, Isaac Carpenter, Terrance Spencer, Longineu Parsons, Brad Bell, Sasha Mallory and Scarlett and Lee Cherry,” he said pointing at each of them. Tommy nodded, watching them closely for a few seconds before turning his attention back to Adam. His wolf was restless again, ready to fight and show them. Tommy couldn’t wait to finally shift. “You’ll start the fights once you test each other,” Adam continued. Tommy could barely stop an excited growl from his wolf. “No one shall be damaged permanently. This is for the position in the pack hierarchy, not for your lives,” Adam repeated the same words he said before a few times that night. Tommy nodded and tilted his head to the side to crack out his neck, waiting for Adam’s permission. The black-haired man watched Tommy for a few more seconds then he opened his mouth. “Shift and begin,” he said calmly and walked to a nearby big rock. He jumped on top of it with grace and stood there with his arms folded in front of his chest, watching them closely.
The second Adam uttered the words Tommy crouched and shifted to his light grey wolf form. His fur was ruffled up and seemed to glow in white in the semi-darkness of the forest before the approaching dawn. The other betas followed his example and in a few seconds he was facing different kind of wolves in color and size. Tommy let his and his wolf’s power come off in waves, not holding anything back. He wanted to test who’d submit to him and who’d take the challenge to fight. He was growling low as he took a few steps closer while he was keeping his amber eyes on the other wolves.
It didn’t take long for the wolves who were Scarlet, Lee – a clearly mated pair – and Sasha to cower down on the ground, offering their necks to Tommy. He accepted their submission, which meant that he’d only have to fight five times for his position. The odds were getting a bit better, although he could feel that the rest of the wolves were strong. Some would be a challenge even for Tommy, but he was determined.
Walking back to the middle of the clearing Tommy faced the remaining wolves. He knew they would wait for their turn while he was fighting them one by one. His first opponent, Brad was a dark-brown small wolf with black paws. It reminded Tommy on black socks. He’d have found it cute if he wasn’t leaping on him in the next moment. He ducked and the fight between them began.
Despite Brad’s enthusiasm and tricky fighting style, after half an hour or so, Tommy managed to overpower and pin him to the ground with his teeth pressing into his throat until he submitted. Longineu’s light-brown wolf seemed to be more of a challenge as it was nearly twice the size of Tommy, but the white wolf could use that and his speed to his advantage. He was held down a few times but he always managed to wiggle free and didn’t mind the bites and hits he got while fighting. He knew that most of them would become bruises and marks that would completely fade in one or two days. He didn’t know how much time had passed until he managed to make this wolf submit too, but after Longineu Terrance came and the sun was already peeking over the mountains by the time Tommy made him recognize his power too. By then he was panting and bleeding here and there. He tried not to show the slight limping after a bite to his left front paw. He couldn’t show weakness or let them know that he was getting tired. He had to reach his goal even if the fights were getting harder and harder with each member while he was climbing up on the pack’s hierarchy as he’d promised he would.
Isaac turned to be a difficult opponent. His black and grey wolf was quick, experienced and had a few tricks up his sleeve. He was dodging Tommy’s attacks, making him and his wolf annoyed and he had to change his tactics. The clearing was filled with growls and barks as they smashed together again, going for each other’s throats. The minutes were dragging out and both of them were getting more and more exhausted. Once Tommy had a close call, but he managed to wiggle free from Isaac’s teeth which were ready to clamp down on his throat. With a lucky kick he finally managed to jump on him and close his own jaws around the other wolf’s neck, holding him down. It took several minutes until Isaac backed down and went lax under Tommy.
He slowly backed away, keeping his eyes on the other wolf that crawled away, but Tommy felt no ill will from his direction. The defeated man headed right towards a brown-haired woman, who closed him in her arms. Tommy could feel and see the mate-bond between them clearly. For a moment it made him jealous. Not because of the woman or the man but for the fact that they had someone connected to them with such a bond. It was the strongest bond a wolf could have and he knew that it was also the most respected and sacred among wolves. He wondered if he’d ever find his destined pair. Not that he was so keen on the idea of being tied to someone else for the rest of his life, but he guessed when you were in that situation your point of view about freedom and happiness must change.
Focus, he told himself. He turned back to the last remaining beta, Sutan. He was a black wolf with a white patch on his chest. He was just as big as Longineu, but much more slender. The calmness coming off him intrigued Tommy and his wolf. He just stood up from sitting and his amber eyes followed Tommy’s every move, letting him catch his breath, for which the white wolf was grateful. For a moment he doubted if he would be able to win this fight with Adam’s right hand. This was the real position he wanted to have, but he could feel Sutan’s power pulsing behind his furry skin. He didn’t let it out to show off, no, he seemed more level-headed.
Tommy was pacing slowly from side to side, his eyes glued to his opponent as he tried to keep his weight off his already healing front paw. It wasn’t easy to find an opening on this wolf. He was rested, probably much more experienced than Tommy and he had to banish the thought from his head that maybe stronger too. As the reason why he was doing this flashed in front of his eyes, Tommy left the doubts behind. He had to prove to his father and pack that he was capable of looking after them. He had to win and have a word in the new pack’s life. He had to get into that position. He had to.
It was Tommy who first attacked, planning on sizing up Sutan’s skills and he wasn’t disappointed when he dodged him and counterattacked each time. He could feel everyone’s eyes on them by now, but he closed out their presence – especially the alpha’s – to concentrate on his opponent, who proved to be worthy of his title. It was a hard and long fight and by the time they took a break the sun was sending its warm rays on the forest. They were both panting, fur matted by drool and blood, but neither of them backed off. They stood their ground each time one of them attacked. Fur, spit and dust were flying again as they rolled in the dirt growling and yowling for long minutes, trying to get the upper hand.
When Tommy was pinned down once, he managed to turn on his belly and scoot out from under the black wolf just to get another bite, this time into his lower back. He yelped in pain, but kept running towards the rocky part of the clearing from where the crouching alpha was watching them, forearms propped on his knees. Tommy headed towards a rock, hearing the growling right from behind as Sutan chased him. The white wolf used the rock to step on it and jump, twisting his body in the air and pushing himself back against his opponent, hitting him in the chest with his whole weight. They landed in the dirt again and Tommy felt pain flare up in his ribcage, the ugly sound of breaking bones loud to his ears, but he didn’t care. He knew that if he missed this chance, he’d lose.
Sutan was a little disoriented by the impact, but on instinct he turned his head and tore at Tommy’s fur by the side of his neck. The white wolf tried to wriggle free this time too, but the pain flaring up in his side distracted him for a couple of seconds and that was enough for Sutan to finally pin him down from behind. He used enough weight to immobilize Tommy, who saw blood from both the pain and the humiliation he and his wolf felt when the sharp teeth took a firm hold of his nape.
Fuck, he thought and tried to wiggle free, but moving his torso and the way Sutan put more of his weight on him to keep him down made Tommy whimper again in pain. He knew that his ribs were probably broken and that he had two choices: trying to keep fighting like this or give up and surrender to Sutan.
‘Give up. You’re exhausted and injured,’ he heard Sutan’s voice in his mind as he tried to keep him out with little success.
‘I can’t,’ he protested, not wanting to surrender although his wolf’s will was starting to bend to the stronger male’s power. He could clearly feel Sutan’s wolf where his teeth sunk into his skin. It was powerful and calm but sent a warning growl and wave of his presence over Tommy.
‘We don’t want to hurt you. This isn’t a life or death fight. Surrender to me.’
‘No… I can’t.’
‘Your wolf wants to by now. I can feel it. And I can feel how desperately you want my place, but I can’t let you. You and your pack are still strangers to us. I can’t let you closer to Adam. Not yet.’
‘What are you saying?’ Tommy huffed, the tension still shaking his body, but he stopped trying to get away and the pain dulled enough for him to be able to take some shallow breaths.
‘That I’d accept another challenge from you later when you are healed up and we got to know you and your pack a little better,’ he said softly to Tommy’s biggest surprise.
‘Why would you do that?’
‘Because I can see something in you and your wolf that the others don’t and neither can you. Yet. You’re not ready to take my place.’
‘How can you possible know this?’ Tommy snorted again, puffing dirt off the ground and he repositioned his hind legs but didn’t try to break free.
‘I have my gifts. You’ll learn more about them just like you’ll learn about this pack and yourself. Now… surrender so your wounds can be tended and everyone can get some rest.’
‘Promise me. Swore on everything that’s dear to you that you’d let me challenge you some time soon,’ he insisted, not wanting to go down without some leverage.
‘I swear that when you’ll be ready, I’ll let you challenge me for my position,’ Sutan’s soft voice sounded in his head once more.
Tommy waited a few heartbeats until the words sunk in and then he and his wolf went lax under him, surrendering enough to make it clear that Sutan had won. Tommy was disappointed and when he glimpsed up from the ground feeling Adam watch him from the top of the nearby rock, instead of anger a strange sadness and exhaustion took over his body. He couldn’t explain why he was feeling like his failure was not only significant for his pack, his father’s memory and himself, but for Adam too. Why the idea of not getting close enough bothered him…
His thoughts and the eye-contact with the alpha were interrupted as Sutan slowly let his nape go and pulled back, soon turning back to his slender human form.
“It is decided then. Sutan remains my first beta and Tommy steps forward as my second beta. You all fought well tonight. The Burbank pack ceases to exist from this day on and truly becomes a part of the LA pack. In the following few days you can get used to your new position and the dynamic of this pack. Welcome home,” Adam stood up on the rock talking loud and clear to his wolves. “Go, eat and rest now.”
Tommy stayed on the ground as the alpha was talking then carefully stood up hearing his dismissing words. He felt a soft hand on his back.
“Tommy, let me help you. The healers are good,” his sister said a little worried. Glimpsing past her Tommy saw his sleeping niece in a brunette woman’s arms who was standing a little further. He turned his big head back to his sister and shook it a few times.
‘I’m gonna be okay, sis. Don’t mind me. I go home. Call if there’s something important,’ he said through their mind-link.
“We are supposed to stay here, Tommy,” she said carefully and a little worried.
‘I don’t care. I can’t stay. Not now. I’ll be back,’ he huffed and was glad that his sister understood he had to lick his wounds alone before he was ready to face anyone.
He carefully limped back to his clothes. It hurt breathing and that confirmed his suspicions about his ribs but he knew once he shifted back and rested, he’d be okay. He couldn’t even feel the other bruises and bites as he changed back standing next to the bench where he’d left his clothes. He carefully got dressed, not looking at anyone, put his music back in his ears and slowly disappeared down the path that led back to Adam’s house. He failed his first important task since his father had died. He knew it’d be a long day trying to come in terms with that failure.