Troy Barnes looked around the faces of his new Spanish study group. It was pretty obvious why Abed and Britta had invited them all to study with Jeff, even if they didn't look like they had much in common: under the surface, they did. Their kind could smell it on each other. It was tense, around the table, and quiet, like none of them wanted to be the first to break the silence.
He would kind of have expected them to be yelling at each other or something, actually, because he could also smell that there was a lot of inner rage simmering around here, but maybe they didn't do that, and it was going to be all trying to stare each other down instead. It was kind of creepy, both the smelling and the staring, but that was sort of Troy's life now, so, whatever. He took the chance to size them up, as best he could, because he was pretty sure he was going to be stuck with these people for the next few years, study group or not.
Pierce Hawthorne dropped a hand to the table with a heavy thud and smiled at them, showing teeth. "Well. I suppose I should take this chance to welcome you all to your new school, since I am, after all, the acknowledged alpha of Greendale's werewolf pack."
Okay, like, there was being cautious in a new group and all, but Troy couldn't let that stand. "Dude, I talked to Hairy Tim before I started here, I'm pretty sure you weren't the big wolf on campus last year." Talking to one of the wolves who had just finished at Greendale had been part of the whole 'how to deal with your new werewolf status' mentorship and adjustment program his paranormality counselor had got him into, which was, like, complete bullshit, but some of Hairy Tim's stories about the old guy had been hilarious.
Pierce was unfazed, though. "Okay, fine, as the acknowledged successor of the previous Greendale pack alpha--"
"You're the only wolf who was at Greendale last year who's still here," said Annie, the cute white girl who looked vaguely familiar to Troy, even if he couldn't put his finger on why. Maybe she'd been at one of the support groups or something. "I checked the records. The others all either transferred or graduated last year, and besides, there hasn't been a big pack here for awhile. Among the current students, the seven of us are it. I'm not sure that's the same thing as you being acknowledged successor to the old Alpha, although I'm fairly new to learning the norms of werewolf culture, so--"
"If we're going with the whole pack dynamics thing, I nominate Pierce for omega," said Abed Nadir from his seat beside Troy.
"Seconded," Troy said quickly. From the way Abed had brought it up so quickly, Troy was pretty sure he was speaking from experience. And maybe Troy had been a high school quarterback, but he knew himself well enough to know that he definitely wasn't a natural leader, and he didn't want to deal with fighting to stay out of the bottom spot on top of everything else. Besides, Abed didn't deserve to either.
Annie was frowning at him, but Shirley already had her hand halfway up in agreement, so he figured they were good, since that made it three to two of the people currently here. Shirley would probably make an awesome alpha. There would be cookies. Lots of cookies.
"Pierce isn't going to be the omega," Jeff Winger announced from the doorway. He'd disappeared with some mutter about the bathroom early on, which nobody was surprised at because it was obvious he'd only set this up because he wanted to get with Britta, and Troy hadn't really expected him to come back.
He smelled really strongly of Britta now, which was sort of gross, because Troy kind of thought Britta was smarter than that, but then Jeff stepped forward to slip into his vacant seat, and Troy saw that Britta was just following him into the room. Okay, that made sense.
He really wished Greendale offered a class on The Science of Smelling or something. It was a lot harder than it sounded at first. Maybe he should suggest it.
"Nobody is going to be the omega," Jeff was continuing, "because there's no such thing as an omega wolf. Or an alpha wolf, for that matter. The whole dominance structure is a load of bull hockey cooked up by some sexually frustrated social rejects who needed some way to justify that no attractive women ever wanted to have sex with them, other than the obvious fact that they were such comprehensive losers that even mundanes could smell it on them, and it inexplicably became a fad and managed to outlast similarly tasteless trends like polyester shirts, disco, and the sexual liberation movement. Meanwhile, real wolf packs are simple families, with a mother and a father and a bunch of kids they're raising, etcetera, and half the time the parents split up as soon as the cubs are old enough to hunt on their own, because wolves are independent creatures who need space to roam and don't need to depend on anyone. I don't buy into that pile of dominance crock, and neither should any of you."
Shirley frowned and said, "But my ex-husband said that all werewolf packs have an alpha. It's part of the natural order of things. I don't want to go against the natural order, it's not God's way."
"Actually, Winger's right," Abed put in. "The Alpha-Beta-Omega narrative that has become a popular cultural touchstone in discourse, both among ourselves and among non-paranormals, was derived almost entirely from observations of wolves, and werewolves, in highly constrained and unnatural situations, mostly captive wolves in zoos and therianthrope groups in dense and socially stressful urban environments. In fact, what is often referred to as 'pack dynamics' is far more like the 'pecking order' as observed in chickens than anything canines practice, and among mammals, is most substantially developed in higher primates such as baboons and bonobos. For wolves under stable conditions with sufficiently large and rich territories, the dominant individuals in any group are generally simply the oldest breeding pair, the wolves who have the most experience raising cubs and therefore have the rights and responsibilities of parenthood, which is not a situation I have calculated as likely to develop here, at least in the short term."
"I agree with Abed," Britta said, slightly too loudly. "We have no need to follow those outdated, patriarchal, appropriative and Western-centric hierarchies unless we choose to, because we may be werewolves but we are also human beings, and we are not controlled by our animal instincts, except possibly occasionally when we smoke up a little too much during certain moon phases, but I've learned better now. I for one will never choose to buy into any system that judges a female based primarily on her breeding stat-- wait." Britta narrowed her eyes and stared down the table. "Is that why you've been sniffing around Shirley ever since we got here, Pierce? Because she's the only 'breeding female' in our class?"
Pierce shrugged. "What? Chicks on the Pill smell funny."
They all just stared at him. Troy honestly couldn't figure out what he was supposed to say to something like that, and the others didn't seem to be doing any better, even Shirley, whose eyes were going sort of amber-colored.
Finally Jeff said, "Anyway, it's all completely irrelevant, because this isn't a wolfpack, because we are not a bunch of frou-frou howl-at-the-moon emo kids. We're students at a community college who just happen to be in a Spanish 101 study group together, completely by chance and with no ulterior motives at all."
"Yeah!" said Britta. "Maybe we should concentrate on Spanish, huh? Señor Chang didn't sound like he was going to be going easy on us!"
Yeah, but no. If Troy actually wanted to study Spanish there were many more useful places he could be. On the other hand, these people were a lot cooler than any of the wolves he'd met in the support groups, which said something about the kind of wolves who went to support groups, because he was pretty sure that the only other person here who could even marginally qualify as 'cool' was Jeff, and he was wearing track pants with a red stripe down the seam. But hey, maybe he could ask them about some of the wolfy stuff that was still confusing him. Which reminded him of something.
"So, yo, speaking of Señor Chang," he said, "Any of you guys know if he's one of us or not?"
"Yes," said Abed, Britta, and Annie, at the same time that Jeff, Shirley, and Pierce said, "No."
"Oh. So it's not just me not knowing much about this stuff? He really is weird?"
"I can't figure it out," Annie said. "He smells like a wolf, only somehow, not. Of course, I'm just as new at this as you are, Troy."
"He smells wrong," said Shirley. "That man ain't no wolf, wolves smell clean."
"Oh, believe me, Shirley, werewolves can be wrong inside, too," said Britta. "I'm sure all of us, well, most of us, here are good people, but I've met plenty of wolves in my day who were just off."
"Plenty?" Pierce asked, with his eyebrows raised.
"Okay, once, but he was so totally creeptastic he made Pierce look like Santa Claus, and not even a creepy mall santa, and he smelled kinda like Chang, a little."
"Hey!" Pierce protested. "I've been a werewolf since before you were born, young lady, and I'll have you know that most wolves can be upstanding citizens just like myself--"
"Yes," said Abed. "But we're not talking about most wolves. We're talking about Señor Chang."
"And I've been a wolf since before I was born," said Jeff, "and I can tell you that he's not a wolf. He doesn't smell like a wolf, he doesn't respond like a wolf, and he only acts like a wolf if you buy into the stereotype that all wolves are raving psychopaths, which I'm sure none of us here do, okay?"
"There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio," muttered Abed, which sounded like a quotation or something.
"Shakespeare? Really?" Jeff replied. "I thought your thing was TV and movies."
Abed shrugged. "There are some excellent movie adaptations. I didn't realize you were also a born wolf, Jeff. We should compare notes."
"You know what? That's a good idea," Jeff said. "As founder and tutor of this study group, I declare that we should get to know each other before we start with the studying. Let's all go around and introduce ourselves, and talk about how we ended up where we are now. I'm Jeff Winger, and both of my parents were wolves, and also there were some issues with my law license that we're not going into right now. Shirley?"
Shirley offered them all a sweet smile. "I'm Shirley Bennett, and I became a werewolf because my cheating douchebag of an ex-husband picked it up from one of his floozies and then didn't tell me about it until it was too late." Her smile abruptly seemed more threatening than sweet. Troy looked away.
"Oooh, kinky," Pierce said, and wolf-whistled.
"Oh my god, really?" Troy burst out. Seriously, what was with this guy?
"What? The condition is only spread by direct blood-to-blood contact, you can't get it from just good Christian marital duties. Hidden depths, Shirley. Delicious, delicious hidden depths. I knew I could find more reasons to be attracted to you."
Shirley's claws really were digging gouges into the tabletop now. Troy looked at Jeff, but he was leaned back and smiling a little to himself and didn't seem like he was about to do anything. Troy frowned, and started to say something himself, but he was interrupted by Annie.
"I'm Annie Edison, and last year I was attacked by a feral werewolf in some scrubland outside my hometown, so I'm just at the beginning of this jour--"
"You were attacked by a feral?" Abed asked, rapid-fire. "But feral wolves, especially with attacks resulting in new infections, are vanishingly rare in the present day."
"I know, I'm one of only two cases in this whole state in the last decade," Annie said, and then Troy's eyes widened as he suddenly realized why he recognized her.
"You're Little Annie Adderal!" he said, pointing at her. "You overdosed on your pills and went wandering out in the woods and your parents told everyone you were in rehab! Damn, I knew that story was a lie."
"If you knew it was a lie, why did you get drunk and go out there the night before your big game on a stupid dare?"
"Dude, I thought the rehab thing was a lie, but I didn't think it was really a werewolf attack!"
"Well, obviously you didn't think it was a werewolf, considering you didn't recognize me until now even though I sat behind you for three years and you're still wearing that stupid letter jacket! I don't know why I ever expected you to care, anyway, obviously you wouldn't have gone out and been bitten on purpose just so we could find each other in defiance of our families and be destined --"
Troy didn't catch the last bit of that because Shirley and Britta were still loudly trying to inform Pierce of why he was a terrible person, and then he started to hear a growl.
It was an amazing growl, with depth and echoes and, like, three different tones in it; it vibrated right down Troy's spine, and it cut through everything the rest of them were saying until the room fell silent. Then Abed coughed a little and closed his mouth.
Troy stared at him. "Abed. Dude. That was awesome. How did you do that?" The guy hadn't even transformed, even a little bit. His eyes were still the same deep brown as always and his hairdo wasn't ruffled.
Abed shrugged. "I've had a lot of time to practice."
"Thank you, Abed," Jeff said, and then his phone rang. He glanced down at it. "Meanwhile, as I think that demonstrates, this group clearly has some interpersonal tensions it needs to work on before we can cohere as a study unit. I have to go do a thing, why don't you all talk it out while I'm gone?"
They looked around the table at each other and shrugged. "What was that you were saying about, like, destiny, Annie?" Troy asked her.
She blushed. It was kind of cute, even if Troy had no idea why that question would cause it. Girls, go figure.
"It was nothing," she said. "Just like I'm obviously nothing to a hotshot football player in a varsity jacket."
"What do you have against the jacket?" he demanded. "And sheesh, what's your damage? I'm sorry I didn't recognize you right away, okay, you didn't used to be even slightly hot. Wolf works for you, girl."
"Oh. My. God," Annie said. "Also, why did I have to find out about this group by eavesdropping? Were you trying to exclude me deliberately?"
"Dude, that is so not my department! Ask Britta, she was the one who invited everybody. Maybe she was trying to cut down on the competition for alpha female."
Annie gaped at him, and then shouted across the table at Britta, interrupting her intense conversation with Abed.
Oh, okay. Now was when the yelling was going to happen. Troy could do yelling.
By the time Jeff wandered back in -- followed again by Britta, but smelling for some reason like pine forest and cheap red wine -- it wasn't just Abed who was growling. Shirley's end of the table was never going to recover from the gouging, Annie was at least halfway to transforming, and even Abed had his claws out.
"All right, everybody," Jeff declared loudly, slamming a manila envelope down in front of his seat. "I wanna say something. Siddown," and they all did, muttering a little, but they did. "I am incredibly disappointed," Jeff continued. "You can't keep ahold of yourselves for fifteen minutes? I can't even blame it on your wolves, because even wild animals wouldn't turn on each other like this, for no real reason. And you know what? You're not wild animals. You're human beings. Human beings who just happen to have a thaumaturgically-active pathogen running in your bloodstreams, but that is not an excuse, because what you're doing now? This is human stuff. Put your claws away."
They all did, kind of sheepishly. Troy hadn't even realized his were out.
"I'm blaming all the worst of you on your human sides, but it's a good thing that you're doing this. Wolves wouldn't fight about abstract grievances like this, because wolves wouldn't care. Wolves wouldn't care about-- the things you guys care about. Because humans can be better than wolves, too. And that's why you're a study group, not a wolfpack, and that's why you can be better than this, because you all care a hell of a lot about what you think of each other. That's compassion. That's being human.
"But you know what else is a human thing? Shame. We look at each other, and then back at ourselves, and we're ashamed. And it's easy to blame those parts of ourselves that we don't like on the wolf in us, to say that's not human. But that's when we're most human. Because human beings can have compassion for just about anything -- except themselves. But look. The worst of us may be in our humanity, but so is the good in us. Look at me. It's clear to all of you that I am awesome, but I can never admit that. Because if I went around all the time talking about how I'm awesome, that would make me an asshole.
"But what I can do is talk about what makes Annie awesome. Annie became a werewolf when she was attacked by a feral wolf. And it's easy to think of that as being a victim, but it's not. Because most people who are attacked by a wolf die. Annie fought back. Annie fought back so hard that she drew blood from her attacker, because otherwise she would never have found her own wolf. You wouldn't think that to look at her. But Annie is a fighter. And we need fighters like Annie.
"And Pierce. We need guys like Pierce. This guy was right when he said he'd been a wolf longer than I'd been alive. He has wisdom to offer. He knows what's what."
"Well, I did--" Pierce started, self-deprecatingly, but Jeff spoke over him.
"We should listen to him sometime. And Shirley. Shirley has earned our respect. Shirley is the closest anyone in this room has ever come to being a real alpha wolf, because she's a parent, and that, keeping a family together through the good times and the bad, being a leader to people who depend on you for everything - that's the hardest job there is. That's what real wolfpacks are about. And don't test her, because she can damn well defend herself, and her pack, if she has to.
"And Troy. It's easy to look at Troy and see the stereotype, see the prom king and football quarterback, but this is the man who walked open-eyed into a forest that nobody came out of alive, and that, my friends, that takes balls.
"And Abed. A lot of us stumbled into a world where magic is real, where creatures like werewolves walk the Earth, and Abed may be a werewolf was born into, but you know what? Abed doesn't even need that kind of magic, because Abed has the real magic, the deep magic."
"That deep magic? That thing that's better than being wolves? That's being human. That's being better. You are all better than you think you are."
"I want each of you to turn to the person beside you, and I want you to extend to that person your human compassion. I want you to have faith in our ability to be more than wolves, to be better. I want you to say, "I forgive you. I care about you as a person, and as a human being."
So they did. Except Pierce, and Jeff made him do it again. "There," said Jeff. "You have just stopped being a growling pack of half-feral wolves in cages of human flash. You have become something more than your base instincts and your fear. You have become something... unstoppable. You have become... a Spanish Study Group."
It was kind of like the stuff they said in Troy's post-paranormality group counseling sessions, except this time Troy somehow bought into the cheesiness, and he wasn't sure why.
"Wow," Abed said. "It's too bad you don't believe in alphas, because you would be an excellent alpha. You remind me of--"
That was kind of exactly what Troy was thinking, except for whatever reference Abed was about to make and Troy was about to fail to get, but Jeff said. "Abed. Don't."
"Good. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a dinner date with Britta," Jeff said.
Britta proceeded to turn him down for that date in one of the most glorious takedowns Troy had ever seen off the gridiron, until Jeff said, "Fine. You know what? I don't care about your study group anyway." He held up a thick manila package. "I happen to have copies of all the answers to all the tests for the entire year, and if anyone here thinks I have wasted their time--"
Troy didn't think that sounded right. One of his aunts was a teacher, and she never even wrote her tests until, like, the Sunday night before, or at least that was how she got out of family dinners, but before he could interrupt, Pierce took a long sniff and said, "You get that from a fairy?"
Oh, that was the pine-and-wine scent, okay. It was even stronger on the package.
"Yes," said Jeff. "Why, do you have a problem with fairies?"
"Oh, no, not at all. In fact that's exactly the sort of friends I figured you'd make," Pierce said leeringly. "But you did check to make sure it's really in there, right? Fairies are tricksy little vermin, especially if you're making deals with them." He waggled his fingers like he was casting a spell.
"Pierce, oh my god," Britta said, "that was so racist--"
"Of course I checked it," Jeff said. "I'm not stupid."
They all looked at where the duct tape that sealed the envelope was very clearly untouched.
"You might want to check it again," Pierce said delicately. "Fairies. You know."
Jeff glanced over at him, and then sat back down and ripped open the envelope. A pile of marigold-colored printer paper spilled out, but from what Troy could see, the sheets were all blank. Jeff pawed through the pile with increasing desperation until he got to the last sheet, glanced at it, and then dropped his head into his hands. "God-- damned-- fairy-- gold," he said.
Abed snagged the last sheet from where Jeff had dropped it, read it, and raised his eyebrows. At Troy's nudging he showed it to him. All it had on it was a scrawl in black pen: "Bibbiti-bobbiti-boo-yah."
"It's a quote from Disney's Cinderella," Abed informed him in a voice just a little bit too loud for a whisper.
"I know," Troy replied, "but what does it mean?"
"Okay," Jeff said in a muffled voice. "So what I am going to do is, first, go find a horrible little fairy and stuff him into his own desk drawer, and second, fail Spanish."
"You're not going to fail," Annie said. "It's just the first week quiz."
"Yeah," Troy backed her up. "Like, an hour of studying, we'll all be fine, it's all like hola and hasta la vista."
"I've never studied before in my life," Jeff said into the table. "I have no idea how."
Britta glanced at them over Jeff's head, silently asking if they should give him a chance and let him stay. Troy was fine with it; the guy was clearly kind of a douche, but he was good at speeches, and hey, the whole study group idea was his anyway. The others seemed to more or less agree, so it looked like the group was back up to seven.
All of them except for Abed, that is, who didn't seem to get the whole body-language-conversation thing. He had half-transformed one of his ears into wolf-form and was cupping it with one hand and looking confused.
Awesome. Troy wondered if Abed could teach him how to do that.