Jason sighed as the lights of a truck washed over him. He’d been hoping the abandoned country road might stay abandoned, so that he would be able to shift and go the rest of the way on four feet instead of two.
It got worse when instead of rushing past the truck pulled to the side of the road and the driver stuck an arm out the window to wave him over with a hand that was weathered and hardened from a lifetime of hard work. Jason argued with himself fiercely in that moment. On one hand, ignoring the driver would be unspeakably rude, and Jason’s Mama had raised him better than that. On the other, Jason really didn’t feel up to dealing with anyone else right now, not when his wolf was so close to the surface.
The manners hammered into him since birth won, so Jason plodded over to the passenger door of the truck and got in.
“Howdy there. The name’s Jake.” The man said as he sat there in his dusty overalls. He looked like every old farmer Jason had ever seen on TV, though the smells had never managed to make it through the screen like they were battering against his nostrils now. Jason manfully managed to resist the urge to pinch his sensitive nose shut and shook the man’s hand.
“Jason Lupenburg. It’s nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping.” He said, even as he grumbled a little sullenly in his head that he hadn’t asked the man to stop.
“No problem, always happy to help out. You staying or going, stranger?” The man asked.
If Jason had had the choice he wouldn't have been here at all. He would have stayed in Washington in his too-small apartment that grew bitterly cold in the winter. It had been a lonely, quiet place that he didn't have any reason to treasure, but at least it had been familiar.
“Staying, actually. My company needed some staff to move to a nearby office, and I was one of the ones chosen. I’m renting this place in town somewhere on a street called Mayflower. Are you familiar with it?” Jason asked.
For some reason, this caused the man to laugh. “Am I familiar with it? Boy, am I. That’s the Tucker’s old place. This town sure was sad to see them go, but I suppose it was for the best- I wouldn’t have liked the thought of their poor boy having to be in that cold college town all by himself. He got a scholarship to Princeton, can you imagine? Someone from our town going to a school like that?”
“That’s quite an accomplishment.” Jason said, meaning it.
“You bet it was. You should have seen the look on his mom’s face when she found out. Why, her and her husband both began making plans to move out there with him right away. They're all rather close, you see…”
Jason hadn't really wanted their life story to go along with his comment, and so he sighed and leaned his head against his window as the man drove. He allowed the sound of the old man's voice to fade into a dull drone.
His wolf was putting up a fuss in the back of his mind. He kept insisting, with bared teeth and ruffled fur, that he wanted out, out, out. Jason hoped that they would get to their destination soon so he could change behind the safety of locked doors. The wolf would be calmer when he was able to let it work out some of its nervous aggression.
He woke up the next morning to a knock on the door and a head that wouldn’t stop pounding. His wolf had been angry after the man in the truck had finally dropped Jason off at his new front door. Angry enough to do some serious damage to the house around him.
Jason winced as he looked around at the torn curtains and damaged walls. He really should have known better than to keep his wolf locked up for as long as he had. He wouldn’t have, had the necessity of hitchhiking his way here to Missouri not necessitated it. His wolf had never liked closed spaces, so Jason had never owned a car.
As a result, he was likely never getting his deposit back on this place, even if he did some really good patch jobs on the things the wolf had damaged.
That was for later. Now, there was another knock on the door that probably needed some sort of response.
With blurry eyes Jason stumbled over to his front door and opened it only a crack to peer outside.
“Yes?” He said in a tone that instantly had him kicking himself for his rudeness.
“Oh, poor thing, you look even worse than Jake said! You just let me come in and cook you a nice big breakfast, sweetheart. I'll get you feeling better in no time!” A little old lady was chattering, her eyes worried as she did her best to get a good look at him through the small sliver of open door.
Jason didn’t want her to get a good look at him, so he made the sliver a touch more narrow.
“Thank you, ma’am, but I’d rather just go back to sleep.” He said in the most polite tone he could manage.
The little old lady pursed her lips at him. “You do look like you could use some sleep. Hmm. Well, you go on ahead, then. But first you best get the groceries that I’m going to leave here on the porch and put them away, you hear? Some of them are perishable, and they’ll cause a rotten stink if you don’t.” she said, and indeed Jake could hear the rustle of the bags in her hands.
“I’ll do that, ma’am.” He replied obediently, and waited until he could hear her put down the bags and walk away before he ventured out onto the porch.
Bags of groceries lay there, more than he expected. More than he would have ever needed for breakfast. There was enough food here to last a week, even on his enhanced metabolism. Jason’s gut twisted with guilt. He’d have to find out later who the little old lady had been and give her a better thanks than the one he had.
Jason had underestimated the amount in those bags. Actually, the groceries had lasted him two weeks, and he was only now making a run to the mom-and-pop grocery store that serviced the little suburban town he found himself a part of.
He hadn’t thanked the woman yet. At first it had been because he had no idea how to find her. Then, because a little time had passed and he thought it might be awkward. Now, because a lot of time had passed and he knew it would be. The longer that went by, the worse he felt about it. But what could he do at this point? Use his superior sense of smell and track her down to thank her for something she did weeks ago? That seemed creepy, even to him.
He was being angsty about it in the cheese section when Lacey Bryant made her entry into his life.
“Get the swiss cheese wrapped in saran wrap.” Lacey, who he only knew as the woman in front of the cheddar at the time, said brightly, “The owners of this place make it themselves, and trust me- It is one of the best things you’ll have ever tasted in your life.”
“I guess I can’t refuse after a recommendation like that.” Jason said as he picked up a block of said cheese, more to prevent getting a lecture about how good it was than anything else. …Alright, and because he was a little curious about it, too. The woman both looked and sounded honest, and that didn’t happen too often when people were exaggerating.
It also helped that placing it on top of his other groceries worked as a small way to hide the amount of meat in his cart.
The woman smiled and propped one hand loosely on her hip, “I can tell you got that to shut me up, you know? You’re lucky I don’t mind- and that that truly is going to be the best cheese you’ve ever had.”
Jason coughed awkwardly and looked away, inwardly cringing in his skin. He knew that she probably meant it all in good fun, but he hated confrontation when he didn’t know someone well enough to be sure if they were teasing on not.
The woman softened and let her hand swing off her hip, “Hey, it’s okay. I really didn’t mind. You’re a shy one, aren’t you? Alright, I’ll leave you alone. I’ve got to warn you first, though.”
The woman sounded serious, enough so that Jason looked at her in surprise.
“The Tucker’s were really dear to a lot of us here, and they asked us to be kind to you when you rented their place. That means you’re going to have a lot of friends in this town. A lot more than you know about. So don’t worry so much about offending us, or angering us, or even scaring us. We’ve all got tougher skin than that. Something for you to keep in mind, okay?” She said, and Jason’s skin goose bumped as his wolf’s head perked up, the more feral part of him baring his teeth defensively.
She couldn’t possibly mean what Jason thought she meant- could she?
“Sure.” Jason said numbly.
The woman nodded, turned, and walked away, leaving only traces of her floral sent behind.
Afterward, Jason stared at a block of cheese with terrified eyes for a long time before he moved again.
He met Little Janey later- three weeks later, in fact. He’d just stopped twitching at the odd shadow or sudden noise inside and outside his house, when suddenly she was just there. Standing in his living room as though she belonged there, staring at him with her arms crossed over her small chest and her hair wild with tangles.
Little Janey, whose name he also didn’t know at the time of the encounter, was a little girl not a day over five years old. Brave, stubborn and not particularly interested in listening to the rules, she drove her parents to distraction at the best of times. She also had a heart made of gold.
“How comes you haven’t cuddled me yet?” the little girl demanded while Jason could do nothing but stand and stare.
“I’m sorry, what?” He managed to croak. Somehow.
“How comes you haven’t cuddled me yet?” The little girl repeated slowly, in an obvious show of patience, “Allen and Mr. and Mrs. Tucker used to cuddle me lots. But yous haven’t tried to cuddle me once. It’s. Wrong.”
Jason’s mouth opened and closed uselessly. He had no idea what to say or how to deal with the situation before him. He should tell the girl that he wasn’t a member of the Tucker family and thus was not part of their inner circle of cuddling, probably, but the words were frozen on his tongue. He was so flustered that he was seriously considering fainting to escape the situation. God, what was he supposed to do with an unexpected child in his living room?!
Then salvation came in a harried-looking father rushing in through his front door.
“Janey!” The man cried as he swooped her up into his arms, “I thought you might be here! What have I told you about coming to the Tucker’s house now that they’re gone?”
“Not to do it unless the new person says I can. But daddy, daddy, he didn’t say anything at all, really, so he didn’t say I couldn’t!” Janey exclaimed.
Her father sighed, deeply. “That’s not the way it works, sweetheart.” He said, before seeming to suddenly realize that he and his daughter were not alone.
“Oh! Oh, God, I am so, so sorry for Janey barging in like this! Really! She’s a good girl, she’s just- good at getting places she’s not supposed to be. And really doesn't understand why she shouldn't be there. I’ll take her home now and get her out of your hair. Just let me know if she broke anything-“
If she broke anything, Jason thought a little hysterically. What about his brain?!
“and I’ll send you a check with money to replace it. I’m so, so sorry. Again.” And the embarrassed father was escaping out the front door in a flash of speed that almost made Jason think that he might be enhanced, too.
Walking over to collapse on his couch, Jason tilted his head back to look at the ceiling and wondered at the people in this town.
He really liked them. The people in this town, that is. The more interactions he had with them- and there were many over the seven months that he stayed there so far- the more he and his wolf grew attached. So much so it was starting to become a problem. A big problem with the way that his wolf was fighting being chained up on the full moon more fiercely. The wolf desperately wanted to run free. Yearned to be with pack.
We have no pack. Jason snapped at him sharply.
He ignored the way that it caused his both wolf and an inner part of himself to whine in pain.
It was the last evening hours before the rise of the full moon, and Jason was taking the new chains he’d purchased to his isolation room when the door of his living room swung open and there were people swarming into his house.
Jason dropped the chains to whirl and snarl at them, only to stop dead at the sight of his new friends- his new pack- standing there.
His mind abruptly went several different directions at once. He’d ruined things, he’d ruined things. Wait, were they here to kill him? Had it all been a lie after all? No, they were all conspiracy theorists and he’d just confirmed their suspicions and now they were going to take him to an underground lab and experiment on him and he didn’t want to be-
Slowly, carefully, a warm form came up to him. It stood as close as possible without actually touching him.
“You’re having a panic attack, pup.” The little old lady who had dropped off groceries at his front door so long ago said. He knew her name was Miss Annie, now. He knew that she made the best cocoa he’d ever tasted. He knew that she was so, so kind.
He didn’t know what she was doing here, like this. But as she talked him through his panic attack, he had the suspicion that he was soon to find out.
“I told you we should have told him we were coming!” Lacey hissed to her husband as Little Janey’s parents both murmured their soft agreement.
“But you know that going against Miss Annie is a bad idea! What else was I supposed to do but stop you from telling him? Let you tell him and then face her wrath?!” Richard hissed back.
“She wouldn’t have cooked you cookies for a week, Rich, get over it.” She snapped.
“Considering that her cookies are like my life blood, I see where he’s coming from.” Brad- Janey’s papa- said before his husband smacked him over his head.
Miss Annie sighed, “Children, you are not being helpful right now. Silence.” As everyone obediently shut up, Miss Annie turned back to Jason, who had been absently listening to the conversation as he calmed from his panic attack.
”Pup, I realize that I might have gone about this the wrong way, but I had a sneaking suspicion that you were hurting yourself during the full moon, and I see I was right. Now, considering the circumstance, I’m willing to leave and take everyone else with me. But I’d rather not. The thought of leaving you here to be in pain gives me no joy, Jason. We are all willing to stay, willing to give you some company during the full moon. If you are willing to let us.” Miss Annie told him in a gentle voice.
Jason was silent for a moment as he thought.
Standing there, feeling solid and warm as she let him lean against her, Miss Annie felt like pack. She felt like Alpha.
And both he and his wolf were so, so tired of being alone.
“Alright.” He managed to say in a tone so soft he worried they wouldn’t be able to hear it, “Alright. If you’d all like to.”
There was a soft cheer from all parties present, with Miss Annie staying where she was as she instantly began to instruct the others in constructing a nest of cushions, pillows and blankets on the living room floor. As the nest was completed and Jason was drawn into the warmth of several warm bodies within it, touches against his skin and then fur warm and platonic and familial, he felt at peace. For the first time in a long time, he felt like he had a pack.
Later, he would find out that the Tuckers had been wolves. Later, he would find out that the whole town knew. Later he would find out that there were even more people that wanted to be there for him, but they’d held off on approaching so as not to overwhelm him.
Later, he would find out that all he'd ever needed to get the family he always wanted was a little luck and a bit of chance. And a town full of people not willing to let him stop trying to find somewhere to belong.