A/N: I'll just say thank you and let you get on with reading.
Chapter 26: Challenge
"Delgado is forcing them to shift, and then he's going to make them challenge him to the death. Tell her to come to the DC Pack quick," Luis whispered quickly. He hung up without another word.
Hodgins got on his phone quickly, calling the security at the house. They listened to the conversation, hardly breathing. "They're gone," Hodgins said grimly as he ended the call.
Brennan got to her feet quickly, startling Angela and Hodgins. Booth glanced down at her, recognizing the same determination. Hodgins and Angela knew exactly what they were thinking without having to translate anything.
"You can't go," Angela said pleadingly, "You just got out of the hospital."
Brennan startled them with the jaguar roar, a coughing sound that had elements of a lion's growl underneath. She modulated her voice for an enclosed space, but it still made everyone's ears ring. Booth nuzzled her ear to calm her down and encourage her, his mane brushing her neck comfortingly. Even Angela was too worried to awe over the sweet gesture.
::I must,:: Brennan signed emphatically, showing her teeth for extra emphasis.
"Please," Angela said simply, tears welling up in her eyes. "My baby needs a godmother."
The blatant manipulation almost swayed Brennan. But she thought it over quickly and decided that the risk of fighting Delgado was worth the possible reward, even though she would like to stay safe for her friends' sake. Booth noticed her struggle, as he often did, and stepped forward.
::I will be with her,:: he signed, looking at his beautiful partner. In his heart he was resolved that if it looked like Delgado was about to hurt her, he would kill the son of a bitch, no matter what the consequences. He turned back to Angela. ::I won't let anything happen to her. Delgado must be stopped.::
It took Angela a little while to decipher this, but Hodgins was already turning toward the DC Pack offices. They were near his house, so they were not very far from the DC Pack offices. Already the landscape was turning wooded and rising and falling in hills.
"Bren, please," Angela begged. "You aren't strong enough."
::I am,:: Brennan signed clearly. ::Let me be strong.::
Angela sobbed once, then shakily smiled through her tears. She did what her booklet on shifters told her not to do and hugged Brennan's neck, holding on for a long moment as she wept into Brennan's fur. When she let go, Hodgins grabbed his wife's hand and held it reassuringly.
As they entered the long driveway that led to the DC Pack, Brennan fought not to claw the carpet of the car. She relaxed her paws, retracting her claws. Booth was also tense, his body tightly coiled as he balance around the twists and turns through the trees. They came around the bend and could see the Pack offices, blending in with the scenery.
The immensity of what they were doing hit Booth and Brennan when Hodgins pulled to a stop outside the front of the building. If they went into a rival Pack headquarters in their animal forms, they were challenging Delgado for control of his Pack. That they didn't want control of the Pack was of no consequence. Delgado and his Pack members would see it that way. If they wanted to bring Sweets and Daisy home, they would have to fight a power-hungry, experienced shifter for a Pack that he had built up from the ground. They shared a meaningful glance, knowing that they were playing into Delgado's hand and giving him a legal recourse to end Family Felidae. Even so, they had no doubts.
When Hodgins opened the door for them, Booth stepped out majestically. He personified the reason that lions were called the king of the jungle. His muscles rippled under his golden fur and his long mane danced in the breeze. He looked strong and powerful. Brennan followed him out, a dark shadow behind him. The contrast between them was as striking as always. On the outside, Brennan and Booth looked like exact opposites, no matter their form. But where it counted, they were the same.
They followed their noses to the back of the building. Their ears told them that there were many shifters there, probably circling their Alpha and the "challengers." Sure enough, they circled around the building and found a crowd of shifters. Some were in their wolf forms, at the front of the crowd. Most were in their human forms, edging around, but not pressing close, to the wolves. Booth and Brennan tried to see inside the circle, but the crowd blocked their view.
Booth took a deep breath and roared, a physical blast of sound that scattered many of the people in the crowd in fear. Side by side they walked through the crowd and Brennan growled viciously at anyone who dared to get in their way. Booth and Brennan moved through more shifters than either had ever seen in one place to the center where Delgado waited for them in his wolf form.
Brennan immediately looked for Sweets and Daisy. They were unconscious, midway into a shift, and looked terrible. The half-form looked disgusting in and of itself, but the young couple looked worse for the wear. She tried to remember when they last shifted, but the date didn't come to mind. Brennan went to stand between Delgado and her Pack. Booth stood beside her, guarding her flank.
::The cats come to claim their own,:: Delgado signed mockingly. The wolf sign language was abrupt and brutal, much like the man himself. At his words, the humans in the circle laughed, some nastily and some nervously. Delgado snapped at Brennan and Booth from across the circle, hoping to startle them. Neither of them so much as batted an eyelash. Brennan hunched down, ready to spring, but Booth made a sign to wait. He glanced around. Ramones was Delgado's bodyguard and acted with the Alpha's authority. He should be around, especially if his Alpha was in danger, but Booth couldn't see him or smell him in the press of the crowd. Brennan watched Delgado with her unnerving stare, crouched down and ready to pounce while Booth watched the crowd, looking for Ramones.
::Do you come to challenge me?:: Delgado asked.
::Let me take my Pack home,:: Brennan answered fluidly. Although she knew that she would be able to take him down in a fight, she also knew that she and Booth would take a lot of damage. She would have to fight Delgado, as the Alpha of Family Felidae, but Booth would have to keep Delgado's Pack honest, and she expected Delgado to cheat.
::They belong to me,:: Delgado said, snarling at the jaguar.
::Then I challenge you for them,:: Brennan responded.
::I accept your challenge,:: Delgado signed as he jumped at Brennan with a growl.
She sprung through the air with a grunting roar and the jaguar's speed. Booth sprang with her, but not at Delgado. He hit Ramones as the wolf flew through the air toward Brennan's unprotected side. The two sets of combatants crashed together with a terrible sound. Fangs and fur flew, and the wolves came away the worst from the first engagement. Delgado was bleeding from Brennan's mighty claws, but he was too quick for her to bite. Ramones had a gash on his side, and his fur under his neck was matted with blood where Booth had been able to sink his teeth into him. Booth had a slash on his muzzle, but it was a minor annoyance.
Delgado was surprised that he had been hurt. With that brief attack, he knew that he was no match for Brennan, but he was a wily opponent and not constrained by the rules as Brennan and Booth were. He howled and in response the wolves set up a howl, a plaintive call to hunt. Wolves on the sidelines threw themselves at the partners with fanatic devotion.
Booth and Brennan backed towards each other, flank to flank facing the circle as a dozen wolves ran toward them. Booth roared, stopping a few with the sheer might of his powerful being. Brennan roared in response, snarling with a sound like ripping paper. Both voices radiated with the authority that came from being alphas. The wolves hesitated, but the craziest of them attacked despite the warning.
The partners devastated them. The wolves were young and inexperienced, not used to fighting in their animal forms, whereas Booth and Brennan had been forged in the fires of pain and suffering. They both tried not to kill the wolves coming towards them, although it was within their rights to do so. Brennan crushed one wolf's spine with one bite, knowing that he could recover most of his mobility if he shifted soon enough. Booth bashed a wolf in the head with a paw the size of a dinner plate, knocking him back into the mob, but his claws were sheathed. Each wolf that came at them was thrown back with terrible wounds, but still they came, urged on by Delgado and Ramones. The wolves kept attacking as Delgado circled like a jackal around the fight, looking for his chance to take down the bigger predators.
As the ranks of the wolves thinned by Booth and Brennan's onslaught, Delgado grew troubled. Booth and Brennan panted in the middle of the fallen wolves, but other than scratches, they were untouched. Brennan's teeth were red with blood as she kept up a low growl and Booth shook the blood off his whiskers nonchalantly. As confident as Booth and Brennan were, they knew that Delgado would be underhanded enough to ask the pack members in their human form to go after them with weapons. Neither of them would survive a bullet to the brain. Brennan decided to end it.
::Coward,:: she signed, clear enough for all the pack to see it. ::You send cubs to kill me.::
Delgado growled furiously as his pack turned to him to refute the claims. ::I am strong,:: he signed. His weak response made his pack nervous. Ramones noticed this and snapped at an obviously unconvinced pack member. The wolf jumped, but didn't rush to attack the noble felines in the middle.
::I challenged you, Delgado,:: Brennan signed with a roar. ::I don't hunt for children.::
She clawed the air, rearing on her hind legs and showing her vulnerable belly as a taunt. Booth kept his eyes on Ramones. The gutless weasel tried to get another wolf to attack, but suddenly the wolves melted into the circle of people with tiny, unsatisfied yips. Booth could hear them running for the wood line. He growled in satisfaction.
::I challenge you, Delgado,:: Brennan said again for the third time.
The wolf looked sideways at his second, giving Ramones a signal. Ramones lunged in one last attempt to kill Brennan. She roared her defiance, but Booth was too quick and swiped Ramones out of the air. He landed on his feet, and the two guys faced off. Booth roared, an intimidating sound directed straight at the wolf that made Ramones flinch. His ears went back and he snarled at Booth, circling him warily. Ramones darted in, aiming for Booth's back leg. Booth spun, using his cat-like reflexes, and latched onto Ramones' back with his fierce teeth. He shook once, and Ramones went limp. Booth roared in triumph, letting his opponent fall to the ground, defeated.
In the moment of distraction, Delgado leaped for Brennan, hoping to take her unawares. Brennan growled viciously and jumped to meet him. They crashed together in the air and fell with a resounding thud. Delgado landed on top, with a secure hold in the fur on the side of Brennan's neck. Brennan was on her back underneath him, but was putting her claws to deadly use. Delgado was used to fighting other wolves and forgot that Brennan had devastating claws on both her forepaws and her hind paws. She dug her claws on her hind legs into Delgado's stomach and eviscerated him. He drew back, stumbling as he realized the damage she had caused.
::Shift now and I'll let you live,:: Brennan signed, limping to her feet. Her neck was bleeding, but Brennan didn't know how much.
::I'd rather die than shift under your command,:: Delgado said. He dropped to his side weakly, his blood staining the ground. His breath rattled in his throat pitifully, but he used his last energy to snap at Brennan as she came closer. He signed weakly, ::Mercy strike.::
::So be it,:: she signed grimly. She roared to get everyone's attention, even though they had been riveted on them the entire time. She made an emphatic gesture that meant "Witness this!" She signed to the remnants of the pack, ::Delgado has asked for a mercy strike.::
With an appropriate amount of ceremony, she bit Delgado on the back of the neck, severing his brain stem from his spinal cord. He died quickly and as painlessly as Brennan could manage. His wolves howled mournfully, and the shifters in their human forms looked grim. Booth came to stand next to her as she panted, feeling stunned that she had really defeated Delgado. Together they waited for another attack.
One by one, the shifters made the signs of submission. In a wave, all the shifters bared their throats or rolled onto their backs to show their bellies. The wolves crept out of the woods to submit to the new alpha.
Luis came out of the crowd, still looking pale and gaunt. He made the sign of submission before Booth and Brennan, like a vassal swearing allegiance to his liege. Then he looked up and grinned.
"Well, alpha lady, you got yourself a pack," he said irreverently, grinning maniacally the entire time. "What're you going to do with it?"
Brennan looked at Booth unsurely, and Booth looked back in surprise. What were they going to do with it, indeed?
A/N: I hope you liked it. There's more to come.