When The Change happens, there’s no denying that the world is hugely and irrevocably altered. Family bonds become secondary to pack bonds; some packs form arounds families, but it quickly becomes apparent that social ties trump blood ties every time. Gender biases and divisions become hopelessly muddled when alpha, beta, and omega dynamics are added to the mix. There’s a substantial baby boom because so many more people can bear children, and no one is used to worrying about getting their male partner pregnant.
And yet, strangely, Sam’s life is virtually unaffected. He changed alpha, one of the easier transitions. The military is forced to completely revamp its policies on gender and sexual orientation, but given the complexity of The Change, the revamp basically boils down to anyone of any configuration can serve unless or until they become a problem. And while that takes some weight off of Sam’s shoulders, it’s not the enormous relief it might have been, since he himself has changed from being a man attracted only to men to an alpha attracted to omegas of both flavors (though he’ll admit he feels more attracted to male omegas). He decided not to pursue serious relationships years ago, anyway.
Everything else in his life goes on more or less as it did before The Change. And then General Drake calls Sam into his office. There is a Thai man in a crisp business suit sitting with the General. After a moment, Sam recognizes him as the Thai Ambassador.
“General Drake,” Sam greets him. “Ambassador Sakda.” They all exchange handshakes and seat themselves. The General and the Ambassador seem cautiously pleased that Sam recognized him.
“Colonel Trautman,” the General says, “Ambassador Sakda has an… issue we’re hoping you might be able to assist with.”
Sam learned long ago not to make any promises without details. “I certainly also hope so,” he says. “The Kingdom of Thailand has been a valuable ally in the past.”
The Ambassador nods. “Please allow me to explain. Approximately two months ago, we became aware that we had lost access to a forested area several square kilometers in size not too far outside Bangkok.”
Sam raises his eyebrows. “Lost access?”
“Anyone who enters the area is returned unconscious or severely wounded to the edge,” Ambassador Sakda confirms. “Tourists. Local villagers. Government investigators. Military. There are no exceptions. We assumed that a pack had formed from the local community and was driving out outsiders.”
“That seems a reasonable assumption,” Sam agrees. “But not an accurate one, I take it?”
Sakda nods. “You are correct. One of our military teams was eventually able to determine that there is no pack. Only one man. A Westerner.”
“Ah,” Sam says. One Western man holding several square kilometers of forest just outside of Bangkok? Combine that with Sam’s presence in this room, and it has to be John.
General Drake gives him a look. “I can tell you’ve guessed what’s coming. It’s John Rambo, Colonel. The Thai team confirmed it using his file photo. From their hospital beds. All indications are that he’s gone feral.”
Sam suppresses a wince. Social bonds have become orders of magnitude more important since The Change. Betas could manage without them, although not particularly well. Alphas and omegas both struggled, until instincts overwhelmed their conscious minds and drove them to find the connections they needed. As far as Sam knew, his long distance friendship with John, conducted via letters and the rare phone call, was the only thing remotely resembling a social connection that John had. Sam should have realized this would happen. “At least he didn’t kill them,” he offers.
Ambassador Sakda’s lips thin. “My government is not pleased to have lost control of part of their territory,” he says, words clipped. “Especially not to an outsider. There was a suggestion that we resolve the situation immediately using force.” Sam goes cold for a moment. “However, I did my research on this John Rambo,” Sakda goes on, “and I convinced my superiors that this was an unwise plan.” Sakda pauses. “I allowed them to believe that the primary consideration was diplomatic.”
Sam smiles faintly. At last, here is someone who didn’t underestimate John. “Of course I’ll do anything I can to extract John,” he says, “but you know it’s exceptionally difficult to detach an alpha from territory they’ve claimed.”
Sakda and Drake exchange a look. “Well, that is the one thing we have going for us,” the General says. “Rambo didn’t Change alpha. He Changed omega, which means he’s protecting his den, rather than claiming his territory.”
It takes a moment for Drake’s words to sink in. When they do, a rushing noise fills Sam’s ears.
John is an omega, and that makes John his, because John has always been his. I’ve come to get my boy, Sam said once, when John was alone and surrounded by hostile civilians--just like he is now.
Sam needs to go get him.
Slowly, Sam realizes that he’s gripping the arms of his chair so hard that his knuckles are aching. The rushing noise in his ears--his racing blood and breath--begins to subside. As his focus returns, he realizes that General Drake, also an alpha, has pushed his chair as far away from Sam as he can, and is up against the wall now. The Ambassador is unaffected; this why betas have excelled as Ambassadors since The Change.
Sakda is, in fact, smiling slightly. It’s easy to guess why: Sam’s reaction makes it pretty damn clear that he’ll do whatever is necessary to retrieve John from Thai territory.
Sam takes a careful, calming breath. “That does simplify matters. How soon can transport be arranged?”
Transport is set for the following morning. Logically, Sam knows that this is fast, under the circumstances. Having identified John and determined a course of action, the Thai government has already switched to monitoring the borders John has established, rather than challenging them. The situation is stable rather than urgent.
Sam isn’t feeling logical. A member of his pack is alone and under threat; he should be there. But Sam isn’t in charge of this situation, and no arrangements he could make independently would get him to Thailand as fast as the military can, even if he left earlier.
So he forces himself to be patient and tries to remember that no matter how strongly he feels John is his pack, John might not feel that way. John is, after all, alone. He might believe he’s been abandoned. Before The Change, Sam had been trying to let John live the life he said he wanted. But after The Change… Sam curses himself for not realizing how much John, who flat out said he “likes belonging to something,” would need a pack and prays that John will acknowledge him when they meet again.
At the departure time they load Sam, the Ambassador, and the team Sam has worked with most--though even that isn’t very often, given the time he’s spent in D.C.--onto a transport. The team is there in case John doesn’t respond to Sam as they hope he will, though Sam doubts they would have any more success than the Thai teams did. Three of the six team members are alphas, two are omegas, and one is a beta. The beta is the only one who doesn’t visibly take a stronger hold of their instincts when they get a whiff of the pheromones Sam is putting out.
He doesn’t apologize. He told General Drake that the team wouldn’t be any help and that his reactions would make transport difficult for them, and the General sent them anyway. Sam leans back against the side of the transport, eyes closed, and focuses on trying to rest.
Their arrival in Thailand underlines just how concerned the government is with losing control of their territory. Not because there’s some pomp and circumstance greeting, but because there is no ceremony whatsoever. They arrive at a Thai military base and are barely through introductions before Sam and the American team are ushered into jeeps driven by a pair of Thai officers and taken directly to the location.
The road crosses the edge of the territory John is defending; this is where he left nearly all of the interlopers after he’d incapacitated them. They leave the jeeps on the road and hike into the forest.
The road is only out of sight because the forest is thick when Sam feels a prickle on the back of his neck and catches a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. “Gentleman,” he says, slowing to a stop and glancing around at the American team and the Thai officers alike, “I’ll need all of you to wait here.”
The team leader frowns. “We’re here to back you up, sir.”
“No, you’re here to help me resolve the situation,” Sam says firmly. “And right now you can best help me do that by staying here.”
“With all due respect, sir, my orders say that the target--”
“The target,” Sam interrupts, catching the other alpha’s eye and holding it, “is my pack, and he’s feral. Getting between us would be damn foolish thing to do.”
The team leader’s nostrils flare, and when he scents Sam he falls back a step. “Yes, sir.”
Sam turns and continues into the forest.
He continues to catch flickers of motion at the edge of his vision as he moves away from the other men, but he doesn’t turn to look. Their scents slowly fade from Sam’s awareness and another one creeps in. It’s dark and earthy, reminiscent of freshly tilled fields. It teases at Sam’s instincts and urges him to turn and seek it out. But Sam knows John: if he tries to bring them face to face before John is done evaluating the situation, John will vanish. So Sam continues deeper into John’s territory, his direction arbitrary and unimportant.
It’s only a few minutes after Sam has completely lost the scent of his companions that John silently steps out from a cluster of trees maybe five yards ahead of Sam. He’s wearing jeans and work boots. If he had a shirt when he left the monastery, he’d lost it, because he’s bare chested now. He’s streaked with dirt and spotted with scratches and abrasions from running through the forest and fighting, and he’s staring Sam down fiercely.
The intensity of the desire that floods Sam almost bowls him over. He’s never wanted anything in life as much as he wants to chase John through this forest, to run him down until they’re both soaked with sweat, and to bowl him over and taste the pursuit on his skin. Sam hasn’t just come for his pack, he’s come for his mate.
Even as Sam’s pulse leaps into a faster rhythm, John’s scent spikes, and it’s heavy with arousal, too. For a moment they’re still, eyes fixed on one another, the mutual awareness growing clearer between them: this is my mate. Then John turns away from Sam. He pauses and glances back over his shoulder, the look both a challenge and an invitation, before darting back into the forest.
Sam leaps after him, and the chase is on.
The chases that Sam has witnessed since The Change have been teasing things, a game played between people who think mating is no different than getting married.
John isn’t playing.
He runs hard, pushing Sam to his limit as he strives to keep up. This chase is absolutely a test. Not of whether or not Sam can catch him--John is almost twenty years younger and has had months to familiarize himself with this terrain; if he wants to lose Sam, he will. No, this is John determining Sam’s limits and finding out exactly how hard Sam is willing to push them for John.
Since the answer to that is to the absolute end, the only thing stopping Sam from grinning as he scrambles over fallen trees and ducks branches and pelts flat out across the occasional clear spot or down a narrow game trail is that he’s breathing too damn hard. Half a dozen times Sam loses sight of John, but his scent trail is strong and guides Sam true. Once Sam loses John entirely, but before he can do more than slow down John reappears momentarily ahead of him, the clearest glimpse Sam has caught since the chase began.
They run until Sam’s muscles are burning and he tastes blood from breathing so hard, until his hands are stinging with scrapes from scrambling over obstacles. He knows he’s starting to slow, that although willpower alone can keep him moving, his body can’t maintain the same pace. The thought is still new when Sam pulls himself up the embankment of a mostly dry stream bed and realizes John is only a few strides away. Sam’s adrenaline spikes and he launches himself forward. The distance closes; Sam slams into John and the two of them go tumbling to the ground.
When they come to rest John is facedown, Sam sprawled over his back, knees planted on either side of his hips. Leaning down, Sam nips John’s throat. It’s a quick, hard bite, and it draws a low, rough moan from John. He tilts his head and Sam takes the invitation, licking from the base of his throat up to his jaw, the salt of sweat giving way at the end to intoxicating taste of John’s scent oils, leaking from the glands under his jawline.
John moans again and shifts under Sam. Sam pushes himself up, hands by John’s shoulders, giving him room to move. John twists onto his back and reaches up to tear at Sam’s clothes, wrenching his uniform shirt open and barely giving Sam a chance to shift his weight onto his knees before yanking it down his arms. They end up rolling across the forest floor as they pull and push undershirt and pants and boots out of the way.
Sam is on top again when they finally toss the last bit of clothing aside. John’s hair is full of twigs, there’s a rock under Sam’s knee, and Sam can feel leaves sticking the sweat on his body, but he doesn’t care, because John is bright-eyed and eager beneath him.
Reaching up to pull a twig loose, Sam finds himself making a fist in John’s hair instead, pulling his head back to expose his throat. John moans loudly, arching up to rub against Sam, hands flexing on Sam’s flanks. His cock is a hot, rigid line against Sam’s skin and the smell of his arousal is almost overwhelming. Sam sucks a mark into John’s throat, almost dizzy with how damned good it feels to mark him, to claim him.
John’s legs flail a bit as Sam moves down to suck and bite marks into shoulder, collarbone, and chest, so Sam pauses a moment to guide them up around his waist. John moans happily as he wraps his legs securely around Sam, holding him close. He’s hanging on tight enough that Sam can’t keep working his way down John’s chest, so he moves back up and takes John’s mouth instead.
The kiss is a mess, eagerness and moans and panting making it mismatched and sloppy, but Sam loves every second of it. He keeps kissing John even as John uses his thighs around Sam’s hips to nudge him until Sam’s cock is sliding through the copious slick John has been leaking.
Sam moans, breaking the kiss despite himself. He pauses for a moment, tilting his hips away, and John growls and tugs with his hands. Sam growls back and grabs John’s wrists, pulling them up above his head and pinning them there. Any idea that that might give him a moment to gather himself is blown away when John moans, “Sam.”
It took Sam almost a year to convince John to use his name instead of his rank in so much as a letter. He’d been half convinced that, overwhelmed by instinct, John would go back to that. Discovering that on the most basic, primal level John knows him sends a rush of pleasure through Sam that is so intense his cock spurts a little pre-come. Sam tightens his grip on John’s wrists and takes another kiss, pressing forward and letting his cock nudge at John’s rim.
John sucks hard on Sam’s tongue in response, pulling any part of Sam inside him that he can. Sam doesn’t tease, not anymore. John is past ready--if there was any doubt about that after the way he’s been pulling at Sam, his wet, relaxed hole would dismiss it. Sam pushes and his cock slides into John with breathtaking ease.
Sam has never thought much about the fact that he’s somewhat larger than average; it’s not like having a big dick has had a big impact on his life. Now he finds himself grateful for it, because it means he gets to spend a little longer sinking into John, gets to thrust a bit deeper and stretch him out more.
The sounds John makes as Sam fills him up are incredible, gasps and moans and the occasional sharp, high noise of satisfaction. Sam’s knot is already starting to swell when he finishes pushing inside. Rubbing it against John’s rim makes Sam want to knot him now, but fuck, they aren’t there, not yet.
That said, they aren’t going to be taking things slowly, not if the demanding gaze John pins on Sam when he pauses, fully buried, is any indication. Sam takes a moment to kiss him deeply before setting a good, hard rhythm. He could go faster, but he wants the sharp slap of their bodies meeting, the shock of pleasure and the tease of what’s to come that he gets whenever his knot smacks into John.
John’s wrists flex in Sam’s grip as his hands clench and release, but he doesn’t try to pull free. In fact, when Sam loosens his hold slightly, John doesn’t move, just growls at him until he firms up his grip again. John doesn’t seem to need his hands, anyway--his legs are locked tight around Sam, heels occasionally digging in hard enough to bruise as he urges Sam on.
Sam doesn’t let John’s eagerness rush him, just continues fucking hard and steady into John. The slick clutch of John’s body around Sam is better than he could have imagined. Every withdrawal is a long, hot stroke around his cock, and every thrust back in is a thrill of claiming, of taking John and having John welcome it. John closes his eyes after awhile, face suffused with pleasure, mouth open a little as he pants for breath and moans in turn, but Sam keeps his eyes open, drinking in the sight of John relaxed and accepting and glowing with ecstasy.
Sam’s knot is throbbing now, half swollen and covered with John’s slick. On a particularly hard thrust it stretches John’s rim a little and fuck, it feels so good that Sam can’t help grinding on that thrust. John isn’t exactly inviting restraint, arching up against him. Sam’s not quite ready for a tie yet, but it feels incredible, and John is so relaxed, and so clearly loving every second of this, and it’s so easy to push a little more, to slip his half-swollen knot into John.
“Yeah,” John groans, eyes opening and locking onto Sam’s.
Breathless with the pleasure arching through him, Sam rolls his hips, the thrust short, just enough to tug his knot free for a moment before forcing John’s hole to take it in again. John sobs, legs clamped around Sam so tightly that Sam almost can’t pull back at all, but he manages it, slides his knot out farther this time, drawing a whine of protest from John before driving back in, knot and all.
John actually cries out, his hips bucking up towards Sam. He’s close. Sam fucks his knot into John again, and again, and even though it continues to grow, John keeps taking it. Sam keeps going until withdrawing from John actually hurts him, and then he can’t help thrusting in hard, his hips bucking again once they’re pressed together. His knot throbs and, as if signalled, John’s body clamps down tight. John moans, long and low, his body rippling around Sam, milking Sam’s orgasm out of him. Sam can’t hold himself up anymore; he releases John’s wrists and lets himself down to rest on John’s chest as the last shocks of his climax wrack him. They’re still tied when the exertion of the run and the sex and the hormonal rush of mating overtake Sam, and he falls asleep.
When John wakes, he knows exactly where he is.
That’s not always a given, but the last who knows how long is hyper-real in his memory. The monks hadn’t driven him out, but after The Change he knew he didn’t belong there, and they knew it, and eventually it was too much to bear. He was probably part way gone already, by then, or he’d have planned better than just walking into the forest.
He’d taken shelter in a cave for a few days when it rained, and by the time the sky cleared he was deep enough into his instincts that the cave had become his den. After that all he could do was wait until his alpha found him.
John remembered recognizing Sam, and the chase, and the mating that had followed, but he couldn’t shake the fear that the alpha sprawled on top of him wasn’t actually Sam at all. He needed a pack, but he’d driven off alpha after alpha. What if his desperate body had only tricked his mind into seeing the alpha he wanted?
Just the idea that the fledgling pack bond that is anchoring John might belong to a stranger makes him feel ill. He has to force himself to think rationally. At least now he’s capable of rational thought--pack bonds can be broken by a stronger alpha, or distance, or neglect. If he has to, John can go find Sam himself, now. If he has to.
Well, there’s only one way to find out.
Opening his eyes, John looks up at the canopy of the forest for a moment. Then he makes himself turn his attention to the head resting on his chest. The short, graying brown hair is immediately familiar, and relief rushes through John. He doesn’t know how Sam knew to come find him, but he had.
As the relief eases, John turns his attention towards the pack bond. It already seems stronger, as though John’s happiness that Sam had found him has fed it. John closes his eyes again, remembering Sam finding him. He’s glad, now, that he’d been feral when he met Sam in person post-Change. He hadn’t been attracted to men before The Change, and they probably would have wasted months dancing around each other before acknowledging the attraction. John is certain that they’d have gotten there eventually, considering how intense his reaction had been on seeing Sam, but his feral self had cut right to the chase. Literally.
John opens his eyes again and looks down, warmth filling him at the sight. One of John’s arms is tucked around Sam, holding him secure on top of John. He lifts the other hand and tentatively strokes it over the arm Sam has slung over him and down the back of Sam’s shoulder. He stirs slowly, so John keeps stroking until his eyes flutter open. After a moment he shifts and props himself up, managing not to lean on anything sensitive in the process.
“John?” Sam says, meeting his gaze. “You all with me?”
“Yeah.” John’s voice is rough. It’s been a long time since he spoke to anyone. He clears his throat and wets his lips. “I remember everything,” he says, to save Sam from asking, “but I didn’t keep track of time. How long was I gone?”
“I don’t know when you left the monastery,” Sam says, “but the Thai ambassador said that you took control of this area about two months ago.”
John lays his head back down on the ground. “Shit.”
The warm weight of Sam shifts off of John. “I’m sorry it took me so long to get here.”
John opens his eyes and pushes himself up quickly when he see Sam sitting up, guilt in his eyes. John frowns; he can’t imagine Sam leaving him in trouble for even a few days, nevermind two months. “How long was it from when you found out I needed you to when you got here?”
Sam pauses. “About 36 hours.” John snorts; the flight time alone from DC to Thailand was something like twenty hours. But Sam shakes his head and looks away. “I should have known you’d need me, after you Changed. You should never have gone feral in the first place.”
“The Change hasn’t even been around for a year,” John says. “No one’s an expert on it yet, and the people who claim they are pull half the shit they say out of their asses. You couldn’t be expected to know anything. No one could.”
Sam meets his gaze. “I don’t know the Change, but I know you,” he says.
“And that’s why you’re here now,” John says firmly. “Because even before you got here you knew, the same as I did, that you’re my alpha.”
After a searching look, Sam nods. “You’ll have to come back with me, you know.”
It’s John’s turn to nod. “I left because I didn’t belong anywhere, Stateside. I will, now.”
“You can bet your ass you will,” Sam says, smiling.
John snorts. “Thought my ass was already yours.”
Sam’s gaze darkens. “You think once is all I want?”
Heat rushes through John. “No more than it’s enough for me,” he says. “But I want the next time to be in a bed.”
Despite that, they spend a minute staring at each other, control teetering. Eventually John forces himself to stand, brushing off some loose dirt and a few twigs before holding out a hand to Sam, still seated. “Come on, I know a stream where we can rinse off before heading back to your escort.” After a moment Sam takes his hand and lets John haul him to his feet. Once standing, he gives John a look up and down and smirks. “What?”
“That’s a good look on you,” Sam says, teasing. “Sort of wild man meets forest spirit.”
John snorts. “Says the man with leaves stuck to his ass.”
Sam brushes at himself and glares at John when no leaves are encountered.
John just chuckles and heads for the stream.