For many people my age, summer is two months where you can do almost nothing. You don't have to worry about homework, tests or anything like that. It's a refreshing break from your usual obligations. While I have enjoyed my time off from school, I did make sure to continue with my writing, spending the summer crafting this story for the enjoyment of all Balto fans. However, I was not alone in this, as I did have a beta reader to look this over. That person is (depending on the site he's on) Omnitrix12/Dragon Tamer, and he provided a wealth of tips and tricks for polishing the story. Thanks DT and yes, I will hold off on the commas. (Curse you commas, always causing me trouble. Why can't you be more like the periods? They're a lot more cooperative.)

My latest story deals more with the relationship between dogs and wolves, and how it can sometimes turn for the worse. In this case, a conflict has arisen between a sled team and a pack of wolves over who can hunt in a certain stretch of land. Always the hero, Balto volunteers to step in to help sort things out, but he has more than one obstacle to face. The wolves distrust Balto because of his dog side, while the leader of the dog team distrusts Balto because of his wolf side. Our hero faces resistance on two fronts, but he pushes on, determined to bring peace.

Before you get too into this one, I strongly recommend you read (or re-read) my previous story "Finding Your Place". This story follows not long after it and features characters I introduced in that story. That way, you'll know what you need to fully enjoy this story and I promise you, this one will definitely be worth your time. That's all I wanted to say for now, so get comfy and enjoy my latest creation - "Protecting Their Own".

Prologue: First Strike

At first glance, the northern woodland of Alaska is a very still and quiet place. A thick blanket of snow covered the ground and the trees, a never-ending sea of white. While the snow and cold winter hindered some life, some still existed, and even flourished in this harsh landscape. The silence of the woods was soon broken by the cries of one of the creatures who had adapted to survive the winter. It was the barking of canines - sled dogs to be exact - and they were creatures that thrived during the winter. They ran along, pulling a wooden sled specifically designed for traveling over snow. Its flat runners skimmed along the surface with little resistance while the dogs pulled it along, their wide paws traveling easily across the snow while their bulky coats kept out the cold air that surrounded them. Directing them was a different creature, standing on the back of the sled. It was a human, and while humans' physical bodies were not adapted as well for the cold, their minds had developed to the point where they could work around that problem. They could make heavy coats that were worn over them to keep out the cold, and crafted the sleds that allowed them to travel quickly and safely over the snow. But their greatest achievement was that they had forged a bond with the dogs that went back farther than either side could remember. In return for the labour or companionship that the dogs could provide for them, the humans cared for them and made them a part of their own families.

That was what made the relationship so effective. The team saw each other as family even though they may not have any actual blood relationship. They ran as one, stronger together than each of them apart. It was the bond of the pack; an ancient instinct that predated the first meeting of dogs and humans. It was a carryover from their days in the wild, when they hunted their own prey, and today that pack instinct was playing out as the team was on a hunt. Catching the scent of potential prey, the dogs changed their course slightly. The human trusted the senses of his dogs and knew they were getting close. "Woah there, woah," he called out and the team knew that he wanted them to stop. They obliged, and the human rummaged for something in the cargo bed of the sled before producing a long rifle. This was another one of the tools the humans used to make up for their own shortcomings, as with a weapon like a rifle, they could kill their targets at a distance without having to overpower them. This time the human was looking for caribou, which would provide meat for his own family and his dogs. Giving the dogs some of the meat was a reward for their part in this hunt. They used their sharp senses of smell to track down the prey, they pulled the sled that brought the human to his prey, and would pull the body home for butchering. Some could see it as an example of symbiosis - two creatures working together to benefit each other.

After they stopped, the sled was anchored to the ground and two of the dogs resumed a conversation that they had started before they had left. "Look, I just feel that you should be a little more pleasant around Balto. Last week you were downright rude Spitz," a female said to the smoke-grey husky in front of her.

"Oh really Kari?" he replied, "I think I should be allowed to act how I want around that wolfy mutt."

"See, there you go again. You're always so hostile towards him. Balto really isn't that bad of a guy when you get to know him," Kari replied. Balto was a half-wolf, half-husky hybrid who had had carried out a great deed for the residents of the town a few weeks prior. He managed to help a team carrying medicine to the town return home during a fierce blizzard. The medicine was needed to treat an outbreak of diphtheria that had affected many of the town's children. Without it, countless lives would have been lost. It was wonderful feat, considering that Balto was a humble stray who had been heavily looked down on in the past because of his breeding.

While the dogs had formed a strong bond with the humans, despite them being very different creatures, they didn't get along as well with their closest animal relatives; wolves. It wasn't known why there was so much animosity towards them, but it may have been related to a fear of the unknown wild. Wolves and dogs led very different lives, and often the gaps would be filled with horror stories of the 'big bad wolf' and other villainy. This ensured that dogs had a fear of their wild relatives imbued into their minds from a very young age. This fear caused them to distrust not just wolves, but also any wolf hybrids for fear that they may have inherited their wild urges as well.

"Why can't you stop nagging me about it?" Spitz groaned.

"Because I'll never stop being your big sister," Kari replied. While the rest of the team saw each other as family only through the bond they shared as sled dogs, it was a reality for Spitz and Kari. Kari may have been born only a few minutes prior to her brother, but that didn't stop her from thinking of herself as the more level-headed sibling. She was one willing to give others another chance, and Balto's great deed had won him her favor, along with many of the dogs and some of the humans in town. However, there was still a ways to go before Balto would be accepted by all in town, and Spitz was one of those who was stubborn about half-wolves.

"I don't think Balto's such a bad guy either," another dog put in. "After all, he brought the medicine home."

"And he kicked Steele out of town," a third continued.

"He also treats Jenna very well, so that must say something about him," Kari said.

"How do you know he really does treat her well?" Spitz asked.

"Because I do talk with her," she replied. "She told me how Balto is so sweet around her, how he makes her feel safe, and how he doesn't let being a hero go to his head."

"It may not be going to his head, but it sure is going to mine. I'm tired of hearing about him all the time. It's Balto this and Balto that - can't we give it a rest?" Spitz grumbled.

"Fine, but-" Kari's next sentence was cut off by a sudden howl that cut through the air to the left of where they had parked. Turning their heads, they saw about half a dozen wolves coming towards them over a hill. They were almost on top of them, so Spitz knew what had to be done.

"Oh no, not these guys. Alright, everyone out!" he shouted before starting to wriggle out his harness. Attached to the sled they would be sitting ducks. Fortunately sled harnesses were designed so that dogs could remove themselves in an emergency. Spitz managed to get himself free, but only a second before he was tackled from the side and knocked to the ground.

"This isn't your territory dog, so get out!" the wolf growled above him but Spitz didn't respond. Instead, he snapped his jaw at the wolf's muzzle, the bite stunning it for a moment. This gave Spitz enough time to get up and take a quick look around. Each dog was facing down a wolf, with some only snapping at each other while others were rolling on the ground, jaws locked on shoulders, trying to gain the upper hand. Being free from the harnesses gave most of the dogs room to move around… but one of them had gotten stuck. It was Kari, and while she had managed to get out of the harness, the line had tangled around her one leg, limiting her movements so she tried to bite through the rope to get free. Spitz was about to go help her, but the wolf he had stunned had recovered and knocked Spitz back down to the ground. The two tussled, with Spitz sinking his fangs into the wolf's shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see another wolf starting to advance on the still trapped Kari.

"Aw, is the little doggy all tied up?" he taunted, but she only growled in reply. "That's too bad for you, but it makes my job a whole lot easier." The wolf snapped at her, and she jumped back. She avoided his bite, but doing so while still caught to the lines caused her to fall over, letting the wolf jump on an easy target.

"NO!" Spitz bellowed, forgetting his current foe and focusing on helping his sister. Spitz jumped away and charged full steam at the wolf on top of Kari, slamming his full weight into him and knocking him off his sibling. "Now you're in for it pal!" he growled and continued his attack. The wolf he had fought with earlier had chased after him, and it was soon two wolves on Spitz. Seeing her brother in trouble, Kari continued biting at the line, finally cutting herself loose and allowing her to even the odds. There were two wolves and two dogs in that fray, but the rest of the dogs charged in to defend their team-mates, followed by the other wolves. Soon there was only a large mob of biting and scratching canines, each trying so hard to fight the other, with neither side able to get a clear advantage. There was so much confusion that at some points, Spitz didn't know whether he was biting friend or foe. All he knew was that he had to keep going to stay alive.

Finally, the chaos ended when they all heard a thundering boom ring through the woods. Both sides recognized it as the human's rifle, and the wolves knew they would have to escape quickly or face death at the human's hand. "This isn't over you dogs!" one of the wolves cried out before darting away. The human cocked another round into the chamber and fired a second time. He managed to nick one of the wolves in the thigh, but it kept running, and soon there was no trace of them. The team was dazed and scared out of their wits, but none of them were seriously hurt.

"Is everyone okay?" Spitz asked, and they all nodded. Their owner checked each of them over, finding no serious harm. He harnessed the team and prepared to leave; he had found a caribou and would need to bring the team over to transport it home.

"As I was about to say before we were… rudely interrupted," Kari said. "I think you're over-generalizing things when it comes to Balto and the fact that he's half wolf."

"Over-generalizing?" Spitz replied incredulously. "Didn't you see those wolves attack us a few minutes ago? You're lucky I was able to tackle that wolf off of you!"

"I did see them, but Balto isn't as bad as them," Kari replied. "He may have had some troubles with Steele, but he'd never hurt any of us. In fact, I'd say that he's trying to give wolves a good name."

"Heh, some good name," Spitz thought. "I don't see that half breed out here helping us deal with those crazy wolves."