Kevin thinks he’s been inside this carriage container for four days now.
That’s only an estimate, which is as good he can manage when his senses are all messed up from being stuck inside a metal box where everything looks, smells and sounds foreign. They only familiar thing they’ve left him is his blanket. Mom’s scent is all over it but it’s days old now, fading away like the fog in Kevin’s head is easing up. Kevin’s mostly been keeping to one corner of the container, stiff from staying four-legged since they took him.
It’s not as though Kevin was completely unprepared for this. Mom told him it was likely to happen someday, that packs often get moved or shuffled around, and that he should know what to do when that happens. That said, even Mom was surprised when they came for him the way they did, with their tranquilizer guns. It’s not as though Kevin’s a problem wolf that needs to be knocked out to handle. He’s a star pupil, and hasn’t bitten anyone. That one time he did as a pup doesn’t count. He didn’t know that vaccination shots hurt, okay?
But here he is. His container is comfortable, clean and well-stocked. It even almost feels like the capsules of home (not home, not anymore) with its white surfaces and ceiling lights, but this one is moving. He’s being transported.
There are other wolves nearby. Kevin hasn’t seen them, but he can smell them, and they smell wrong. A part of Kevin thinks the wrongness may be because he’s too used to the smells of the capsules – of Mom and Channing and the others of their pack – so everyone else would be strange by default. But the more he inhales the more the wrongness deepens, casting new layers of scent information that he can’t dismiss as a fluke. He’s pretty sure wolves should not smell like metal fire.
Find the leader, Mom used to tell him. If they don’t have one, figure out the hierarchy.
It’s hard to focus on those old lessons now that Kevin’s actually here. The travelling has made him dizzy, thirsty and tired, and it’s honestly a miracle that he can smell the nearby wolves at all.
After days of constant movement, the container comes to a shuddering halt. Kevin perks his ears up in the sudden silence, picking up movement and faint voices outside.
He still hasn’t gotten used to the way gods speak; their language seems to have no syllables whatsoever, and sounds more like air rumbling through hollow space than actual voices. The tones are easier to make out, though, and these voices are relaxed, casual, non-aggressive.
There’s a faint hiss, and then the container door starts to open.
Logically, Kevin knows he should be cautious and assess his new location before even stepping out.
He would have, honestly, except there’s grass just beyond the edge of the container. Actual grass growing on actual soil, not like the potted grass they’d been given to chew on back in the capsules. Here the whole freaking floor is a living mat to run on, which is just nuts.
Something primal in Kevin’s brain switches on – frolic? Frolic! He bounds out of the container, yipping when the grass tickles his paws. He bounces a couple of times to test that the ground is solid, and then freezes.
There is another container nearby, its doors also open. Two wolves step out of it, upright and in their two-legged forms. If they smelled wrong before, it’s more obvious now.
“Well, hello,” says the female wolf. “New puppy.”
She smells strange by herself, but it’s the second wolf, the male wolf, who has the fur at the back of Kevin’s neck standing up. He smiles at Kevin, and although it’s not a threatening smile, when Kevin takes a deep breath he can smell ash and metal and fire – unliving things that should not be able to have a wolf shape.
“Hello,” the wolf says.
Kevin panics. It’s not his finest moment, but after days of being cooped up and scared and angry it’s almost a relief when the age-old instinct to flee grips Kevin’s legs and sends him bolting.
Running is usually a safe bet, except where this is new, foreign territory and Kevin has no idea where he’s going aside from away. His legs scream their relief at the exertion, but then he realizes there are also trees here, actually tall trees with thick trunks and branches and leaves, with bushes underneath and it sounds like there’s running water somewhere nearby. There are also wolves living here, big wolves! Two – no, three of them, partially hidden by the trees.
Kevin’s senses are swamped, too much at once, too much to process, everything smells new and he’s gone and fucking left Mom’s blanket behind in the container. Dammit.
Something huge is chasing him.
A bear? Mom told him about bears, creatures that can go two-legged without shifting. Or maybe it’s a wendigo, those are about the right size. Would they even keep wendigo and wolves in the same enclosure? Mom said that wolves are always kept separate from other species, but times change and maybe Kevin’s part of some brand new interspecies mingling program.
Is he an apex predator here? He hopes he’s an apex predator here. It would be a huge shame if he died on his first day.
Kevin zigzags wildly through the bushes, yelping when a freaking stream appears in his way. He leaps, wondering hysterically why they’d let water just run on the ground like that, surely that’s a waste of resources, isn’t it? What the hell kind of place is this?
The bear barrels into him, knocking Kevin sideways. He rolls, kicking his legs wildly until his brain processes that he’s only kicking air.
There is a predator nearby, but he’s sitting on his haunches instead of mauling Kevin for being stupid. It’s surprising that he’s just a wolf, with a gleaming brown coat and all the correct wolf parts. He’s even wearing a belt similar to Kevin’s – the only difference is that the strap across his torso has little pockets on it, presumably for carrying things, and the loin-wrap is almost down to his knees, with a little slit to allow the tail to come through. His jaws are closed but his teeth must be as huge as the rest of him, and no wonder Kevin thought he was a bear. He had no idea wolves came in that size.
Kevin slowly rolls over on to his belly, crouched low, ears back and watchful of the other wolf in trying to figure out the protocol of what to do next. The wolf shakes his mane and arches his back, fur drawing in to skin and muzzle retreating into his second face.
The wolf himself is just as huge two-legged as he was with four. “Hey, you okay?” he says, his voice quieter than Kevin thought it would be. Kevin nods, and the wolf offers a reassuring smile. “Welcome to the enclave. We’re all wolves here, you’re safe.”
Kevin is about to ask what the hell the enclave is when he remembers he’s still four-legged. He pulls in and flexes, his muscles resisting a little from underuse. Eventually his other face eases out, along with the matching voice box. “What...” he coughs. “What’s the enclave?”
“This place.” He gestures to their surroundings with a jerk of his head. Kevin doesn’t follow the suggestion, instead keeping his eyes firmly on the wolf. “I’m Sam.”
Kevin’s still low to the ground, cautious and wary, despite this wolf smelling more normal than the other two. “Kevin.”
“Nice to meet you, Kevin.”
“Two other wolves arrived with me. They were... strange. Especially the guy.”
Sam unfolds himself, standing up and up and all the way up, which makes Kevin feel even tinier. Sam’s nostrils flare when he inhales. “We know them. They’re okay.”
That statement is supposed to be comforting but Sam’s simple matter-of-factness drives the breath from Kevin’s lungs. After four days on high alert it sinks in that that he’s never going to back to the capsules, that this is his home now, that wolves with hands like dinner bowls are normal and wolves that smell like fire are supposed to be okay.
A sudden bubbling hysteria itches in Kevin’s chest. This is the start of the rest of his life.
Kevin feels his lips draw back, and shrill whine escaping his teeth. He doesn’t know why he’s doing it. Well, he knows why he’s doing it, he’s having a panic attack, but he doesn’t know why that means whining. He wants to go four-legged but his muscles hurt, everything hurts, he even lost Mom’s blanket.
The ground is stable, warm and grassy. Kevin flattens himself against it, still whining, fingers digging into the dirt.
“Do you want me to go?” Sam says carefully.
“Yes, please,” Kevin replies, voice muffled. “Since I’m safe.”
“It’s a good enclave. Plenty of resources. You should explore. Uh, when you’re ready, of course.”
Kevin waits until Sam’s footsteps have faded to an acceptable distance, and then slowly curls into a ball. When he closes his eyes the smells and noises of this place – the enclave – wash over him, little waves of information that remind him of the newness and permanence of this place.
No one bothers him. He can smell other wolves nearby but they keep their distance, their voices muffled by the stream and rustling of the trees. Kevin lies in the grass and mourns, and waits, and resettles himself. He imagines Mom’s hand scratching behind his ears, and waits for that memory to become soothing instead of sad.
His mouth is dry by the time he decides he’s done. Kevin sits up carefully, smacking his lips, and lifts his head up to study his surroundings just like Mom taught him to do. He can do this.
The enclave is very different from the clean, regular environment capsules. It’s surrounded by a massive circular wall made one-way glass, which is at least familiar, but here they’ve painted the glass natural colors as though to hide what they are. The colored glass also serves to make the enclave seem larger than it is, as though it’s but a section of a real forest. It’s quite impressive.
The plants all seem to be real and breathing. The water is fresh, the ground is springy. Most of the light is natural, coming in through the massive skylight that is the ceiling. The wolves here seem to actually live inside this self-contained pocket of reproduced wilderness instead of only getting to visit it occasionally as a reward. Kevin spends some time wondering how many places like this exist in the world, how much they must cost to run, and whether Mom ever used to live in one herself. She always seemed to know more about organic resources than they’d ever had in the capsules.
All the other wolves seem to have congregated near the center of the enclave, farthest away from the walls. Kevin takes that as a chance to explore the walls themselves, noting the subtly hidden grooves in the glass, the little openings that allow the stream to come through, the little platforms which Kevin assumes are the places where the gods leave their food.
It’s pretty ingenious engineering, actually. Kevin is tempted to dig to see how deep the soil goes but he doesn’t because he’s had enough tranquilizers for a lifetime, thanks. It’s still an interesting thought, though.
There’s only so long that Kevin can circle the border of the enclave, and it’s high time he meet the pack. He stops by the narrow stream to check on his reflection, and gingerly washes his face. He’s already met three of the wolves (for a given value of ‘met’) and none of them were like the wolves he’s known. The rest of the pack’s going to be… well, it’s going to be something.
Kevin stands up, adjusts his belt, and starts walking.
He’s smart, he’s young, he’s strong. He can be – he will be a valuable member of any pack lucky enough to have him. He learns quickly. He can be resourceful. He is terrified, but he can deal with it.
The wolves have congregated in a little clearing between the trees. There are a number of them – six, maybe seven. The wrong-smelling ones are there as well, but to Kevin’s surprise they’re the exceptions. Some of them seem to be arguing, but it doesn’t sound that heated. Regardless, Kevin can’t allow that to stop him from making a proper introduction.
The volume of voices drop a little as Kevin approaches, his scent making himself known. By the time he enters the clearing their faces are turned towards him. Some of them even look friendly.
“What’s this one?” a tall one asks.
“This is Kevin,” says Sam. “The… newer one.”
“Hello, Kevin!” says another, who introduces herself as Charlie. “You have excellent timing, the burgers are ready.”
“Great.” Kevin approaches tentatively, noting the way the wolves have settled themselves.
Sam and Charlie are sitting near their small fire in the center of the clearing, where they’re poking at little discs of packed meat that must their meal. The tall one, who Charlie says is Dean, is standing a little ways away, his hackles up. The two strange-smelling ones are Meg and Castiel, and they’re sitting the opposite side of the clearing from Dean. Meg’s smile is worrying, and Castiel barely notices him. Also standing is another female, Jody, who looks irritated and tired.
“We’re going to welcome the new wolf,” Jody announces, a little too loudly. “Sit down.”
Kevin has no idea who the alpha is. It might be Jody, but she isn’t the first to reach for the food. Charlie is to first to reach for the food, but she immediately passes some to Kevin and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to eat. Sam does eat first, but he’s sitting on the floor, his legs tucked under him.
“This place is very nice,” Kevin ventures.
“Isn’t it?” Charlie says. “I’ve only been here a few months myself, but it’s pretty swank. Hey, we gotta pick your burrow, that’s gonna be exciting.”
“Ease up on the kid,” Meg says. She has a slight drawl when she speaks, plus the other wrongness that makes Kevin’s spine itch. “This is a lot to take in at once.”
“Can it, Meg,” Dean says. “Like you give a shit.”
“Dean,” Jody says warningly, “don’t you start—”
“Well,” Meg counters, “you’re just going to have to deal with it.”
“You gonna make me?” Dean says.
“Guys, the burgers are getting cold!” Charlie exclaims.
It’s havoc. Kevin keeps himself as still as possible as he watches it unfold, more bewildered than frightened. Everyone’s yelling at everyone else, except for Sam, who is quietly eating his burger as though nothing is happening. Jody is waving her hands in Dean’s face, Meg is jumping up on to a log, and Castiel is declaring in his unreal metallic voice, “I don’t like conflict,” and flops onto the ground with his belly up, his black fur bursting out to reveal the most incongruously enormous four-legged form Kevin has ever seen.
It ends when Charlie runs off, prompting Dean to curse and run after her. Jody turns her attentions to Meg, but Meg just ignores her and saunters off, forcing Jody to chase her. Castiel remains where he is, four legs in the air and tongue lolling out the side of his mouth.
Kevin looks at Sam. “So that’s your pack?”
“That’s the pack,” Sam says.
Kevin looks down at the grilled piece of meat that is his burger, and then slowly brings it up to his mouth. It actually tastes pretty good.
“There’s no alpha here,” Kevin says.
They eat. Eventually Castiel rolls back over on to his front and sets his head down onto the forepaws. He still smells like lightning and his four-legged form is unnaturally bigger than Sam’s, but he tilts his head and purrs (purrs?) when Sam scratches behind his ears. Elsewhere someone starts to howl, only to be interrupted with an angry shout of, “Hey!”
Okay. Kevin was expecting weirdness, but he thinks this is a weirdness that he can handle. There’s no alpha to please, which throws a whole bunch of Kevin’s plans out of whack, but he can figure this out given enough time. Heck, maybe these wolves would think his old pack was weird if they met them.
“I’m going to check out the burrows now,” Kevin says, standing up. “Thanks.”
“Sure thing,” Sam says. “Have fun.”
At first Kevin keeps mostly to himself as he gets his bearings. Charlie and Sam make occasional efforts to get him to mix with the others but they let him be once they get the hint. Kevin needs to make his burrow comfortable, develop a clear map of the enclave in his mind, and figure out the place’s routine.
The underground burrows are all god-made and part of the terrain, which means that they’re strong and solid. There are a number of them all over the enclave, most of them unused and some containing artifacts of wolves long gone. There are pieces of cloth, scrap metal, chewed-up cardboard and so on, though these remnants are tiny, almost unnoticeable. The enclave is kept in very good shape.
Kevin chooses a burrow tucked under one of the large trees, and it’s a quick walk away from a wading pool. Most of the other wolves have taken burrows at the center of the enclave, which is understandable, but Kevin doesn’t mind being a little closer to the border. The burrow is clean, which makes it easy work to scent it up as Kevin’s home, and a couple of rocks and dried leaves top it off for décor. At night Kevin curls up at the far back of the burrow to sleep. Sometimes he hears the other wolves howl or talk, but there’s no loud brawling, no mechanical noises of the gods tinkering around just beyond the glass walls.
It’s pretty peaceful.
Then there’s the routine of the place. With the exception of Meg, all the wolves here are larger than Kevin, so it’s a sensible choice for him to spend some time up in the trees observing their ways. The gods deliver food once every two days, and the parcels are rationed out by either Sam, Dean or Jody. Every week or so there are non-food deliveries –boxes of cloth, leather and other trinkets, small live animals for them to hunt – much like the deliveries back in the capsules. Jody calls Kevin to participate when they distribute the supplies, and he picks some things to fix his belt and set up his burrow.
Sam likes to run, loping over the terrain with such huge strides that Kevin thinks it’s a wonder that Jody can keep pace. Dean prefers to canter instead of run, though he makes deliberate circles around the borders as though patrolling the enclave. Once or twice he’d come by Kevin’s tree to peer up at him curiously, almost impressed. As for Charlie, she seems pretty typical in her playing and rummaging, but she doesn’t let anyone into her burrow, not even Dean. Meg and Castiel tend to keep to themselves, much like Kevin does.
All adults, none with obvious seniority, and with no mated pairs that Kevin can detect. There hadn’t been mated pairs in Kevin’s old pack either, but most of them had been young excepting Mom, who’d been their alpha.
Then again, Kevin’s senses are all out of whack because of Meg and Castiel, so he wouldn’t be surprised if he misread them entirely. Like, of all the wolves here Castiel’s the one who smells the oldest, but that can’t be right. Can it?
It’s only after a thorough reconnaissance that Kevin finally ventures out from his safe spots, following the stream to where Meg and Castiel have their neighboring burrows. Castiel is four-legged, pushing a couple of small stones around with his paws, while Meg is sitting on a log and combing her hair. She doesn’t pause her grooming when Kevin clears his throat.
“Someone had better start being interesting,” Meg says.
“You’ve lived here before,” Kevin says. “You and… Castiel.”
“How d’you figure that?”
“You left things behind.” It had taken a while to match the old scents, but Kevin’s pretty sure. “And Sam pretty much said he knew you guys. So either you lived here before, or you lived with Sam in another habitat.”
“I’ll take Door A.” Meg smiles beatifically, and Kevin wonders if some wolves are able to keep their full canines even when two-legged. “What, you want a demonstration? Sit, beg, roll over?”
Kevin starts at the low growl in her voice. “Never mind. Sorry to waste your time.”
He starts to leave, only to be stopped when Castiel yips softly. Meg sighs and says, “Yes, he doesn’t get the reference. Kid, stop.” She waits until he turns around. “That was a joke. A domesticated wolf joke, because that’s what I am. I smell strange to you because our hormones get messed up after a while in that life, and the scent changes with it.”
Kevin understands the word, but not the context. “Domesticated? By who, the gods?”
“Don’t call them gods,” Meg says sharply. “They’re leviathan. And yes, by them.”
“Does a name make a difference?”
“Accuracy makes a difference. To call them gods is to admit awe. How about let’s not, hmm?” Meg nudges a foot against Castiel’s side as though prompting for a seconding of her opinion, but Castiel just huffs and stays shifted. “This one’s… well, we haven’t really decided on a word for what Castiel is. Dean likes to call him a freak of nature, but he’s biased. Don’t let Castiel’s size fool you.”
“Okay.” So there are more kinds of wolves in the world that just the breeds that can be differentiated based on the colors of their coats and shapes of their muzzles. Castiel has really long claws. “Okay. Thanks.”
Meg raises her eyebrows. “That’s it?”
“Why, what’d you think I wanted?”
“We’re social creatures,” Meg says. “Sit down, make yourself comfortable. Castiel can braid your hair.”
Is she talking about pack socializing? Kevin’s nose still itches when he gets too close to them, though that’s really nothing personal. He just needs time to get used to them, is all, like he needs time to get used to sleeping underground and being able to see the sky when he looks up.
Kevin’s thoughts must be visible on his face, because Meg shrugs loosely. “Well, we’ll be here.” She chuckles. “Where else will we go, right?”
Okay. Charlie said that she’s the newest wolf to arrive before Kevin. Meg and Castiel have lived here before. Sam and Dean have left their scent practically everywhere (which is annoying and kinda overwhelming) so they’re the elders of the enclave. Jody, though. Jody seems older than Sam and Dean, but her scent is newer. Maybe that’s why there’s no alpha or alpha pair here – Jody is older but Sam and Dean have seniority of time spent in the enclave. Maybe?
There is wind in the enclave due to the vents built high up into the wall. That means that upwind and downwind are actually freaking relevant here, which is all kinds of awesome and allows Kevin to stalk in the undergrowth. He’s four-legged and hunched under some bushes, tail pressed close against his body as he watches Jody sit on a rock and carve a piece of wood.
Is it weird that she reminds Kevin a little of Mom? Only sometimes, because Jody seems to defer to Sam and Dean as often as they defer to her, while Mom’s position was undisputed. Kevin hopes he’s not just projecting. Jody is in the top tier of the enclave, though, and Kevin would do well to observe her to learn his cues.
Jody’s knife is short, maybe the length of her hand. Kevin didn’t have many chances to handle metalworks back in his old pack, but they seem to be more generous with the supplies here. Who knows what he’ll be able to do.
There’s a rustle to Kevin’s left. He turns, only to see a huge green-gold eye staring at him.
Kevin yelps and flails, hitting branches on his way up. Getting horribly tangled in the undergrowth is possibly the worst way to lose his cover, and all the more so when the green-gold eye apparently belongs to Sam, who unfolds himself upward, crosses his arms, and says, “What are you doing?”
“Nothing.” Kevin shifts and kicks himself out of the branches. “Nothing! How did I not smell you?”
“You did, you just were just too busy paying attention to something else.”
Kevin glances sideways, to where Jody is shaking her head and grinning, but still whittling away. “I was just… investigating.”
“You weren’t going to pounce?” Sam asks.
“I’d like to see him try!” Jody calls out.
“I wasn’t!” Kevin brushes himself down with as much dignity as he can. “Even if I was, I wasn’t going to do it while she’s holding a knife, what the hell.”
Sam looks skeptical. Which, yeah, is a reasonable frame of mind, what with Kevin still being the new one here. Kevin tries a smile, because smiles aren’t threatening (unless they’re coming from Meg, apparently), and if he were shifted out his ears would be flattened down to his head.
“Can I ask what you’re investigating?” Sam says.
“Oh, you know…” Kevin waves flippantly at the general vicinity. “This and that.”
Sam purses his mouth a little when he thinks. He turns to Jody for a moment, flicking two fingers against his temple in a little gesture of acknowledgement, and then scoops up Kevin’s elbow in a bowl-sized hand to pointedly lead him away.
“Whoa there now,” Kevin protests, though he doesn’t put that much effort resisting Sam’s firm pulling him along. “I really wasn’t gonna jump her! Is she your mate, I thought nobody here was mated, have I been getting the mate scents wrong, too? Did you know your pack is so freaking strange? Wait, sorry, that’s offensive, my bad, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Your turn to whoa now, Kevin,” Sam says as he stops and turns to give Kevin his full attention. No other wolves immediately nearby, and Sam could theoretically rip out Kevin’s throat and have him a mid-morning snack and no one would be the wiser. “Are you planning to escape?”
“What?” Kevin says.
“Don’t bother lying, I’ll be able to tell.”
Somehow Kevin believes him. “I’m not planning to escape. Where would I escape to?”
“Your old pack?”
“How would I find them again?” Kevin asks. “I mean, I’m sad, yes, and I miss them all the time, but that’s… That’s something that I can pack away. I know that this is my new home, and I have to adjust. I’ve been prepared for this.”
If anything, this just confuses Sam even more. “Prepared for what?”
“Your pack is…” Kevin clears his throat. “So you, Dean and Jody are older. Meg and Castiel are…okay, I don’t know what they are, to be honest, but me and Charlie are new, right? We’re the young stock, and we were put here to round things out. Wolves get shifted around to new packs, new habitats, to see what works. So I’m trying to see how I can be useful here, to this pack.”
Sam’s brow furrows. “You think I’m old?”
“Yes. No! No, you’re in the spring, prime of your life, look at those biceps.” Kevin smacks one of them, and does not whimper when it feels like he’s backhanded solid rock. One day Kevin’s biceps will totally be that awesome. “Totally not old.”
“Do you know what aging actually looks like?”
“Yes,” Kevin says, offended by Sam’s raised eyebrow. “My mom was alpha of my old pack. I wasn’t raised with just pups.”
Sam’s expression softens. “I’m sorry that they took you from her.”
“Yeah, well.” Kevin shrugs. “Anyways, this pack happens to skew young, and I had to adjust the hierarchy in my head. What, is this habitat only meant for young wolves or something?”
“Does it matter?” Sam turns away for a moment. His hair is really long, the edges curling past his chin. Maybe his neck gets cold. “I’m going to take you at your word that you’re not going to try to escape.”
“Good.” Sam turns back to Kevin, and his voice is low and serious when he says, “Because people have tried it before, and it didn’t work out. This is one of the best habitats I’ve ever lived in, and hand-in-hand with that is the fact that it’s one of the best guarded.”
“The leviathan watch us all the time.”
“No, I mean…” Sam pauses, as though trying to word himself carefully. “I don’t mean just through the glass. They have little eyes all over the enclave.”
“The cameras. Yes, I know, they’re really difficult to miss.”
Sam frowns. “You know about the cameras?”
“Well, yeah, they’re the only mechanical things in an organic environment. My nose isn’t that broken.” They’re not all that different from the tiny cameras that had been all over the capsules. Channing hated them, but Kevin only noticed them when she pointed them out. “They’re embedded really well, though, like in the trees and rocks and stuff? How do they even keep them running?”
“Uh.” Sam blinks rapidly. “Every few months they cordon off parts of the enclave for upkeep.”
Kevin nods. “Makes sense. I mean, like you said, this place is really nifty, and nifty needs maintenance.”
Sam studies Kevin for a long moment. “You should get to know Charlie,” he says at last. “She likes… tinkering with things she finds inside the enclave.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Kevin asks. “Do they allow that?”
“As long as we’re amusing ourselves. They are looking out for our… well-being.” Sam has almost the same delivery as Meg when he talks about leviathan. There are some pretty bitter wolves around these parts. Not that Kevin would say that out loud.
“Cool.” Kevin belatedly wonders if that was a subtle attempt to get him to check Charlie out. She is the other youngest wolf here, which is kind of a cliché, but clichés do serve their function. “Can I go now?”
“Sure, of course.” Sam backs off, his smile abruptly friendly, his arms loose at his sides. Unaggressive. “You know you can just come see any of us if you have any questions. You don’t need to sneak around.”
Except that Kevin is the newest wolf in a pack that doesn’t have a clear social structure for him to find his own place. The habitat is super fancy but the wolves skew younger, and Kevin really doesn’t want that to mean that wolves are brought here to be softened up before being sent to… wherever else. If he asks that out loud there’s a chance Sam will confirm it, which is a risk Kevin isn’t willing to take yet.
It’s fine if things are run differently here, because it’s not like Kevin’s harboring some bone-deep belief that all wolves everywhere are the same. But it does leave him floundering a little more than he’d prefer, and the gentle reassurance and openness of Sam’s face isn’t enough to make up for it. Kevin could ask him more, but Sam hesitates too much and watches his wording too often.
“How ‘bout I ask you something,” Sam says. “How’d you learn to climb so well? Are there trees where you’re from?”
“Oh! Um, no, not really, the capsules were metal structures, very different from this place. There was lots of white and grey, but like made of layers and tubes you could climb through? More vertical than this place anyway.”
“Were there curved edges and bars to climb?” Sam asks. When Kevin starts in surprise and nods, Sam adds, “I used to live in one of those, too. Not for very long, but it was… It exercised different muscles and was pretty cool, I had fun. Did the leviathan give you tests with the flash cards, too?”
“Yes!” Kevin exclaims. “The prizes were mostly simple things like flints and charcoal, but it felt good to get the right answers. Me and my… the others, we used to compete to see who’d get the most.”
“How about mazes, do they still do those?”
“Oh, yeah, definitely! Those are so much fun, especially when they let us free roam.” Kevin talks about the sheer ingenuity of the leviathan structures and mazes that they were given to explore, and although they’d known these were tests of their intelligence and strength, they’d still been fun.
Sam listens, his eyes alight with interest and his mouth quirking every so often. His head is slightly bowed due to Kevin’s height, but that seems to be more an unconscious thing than anything else, for he seems honestly enraptured by Kevin’s description of a previous habitat. In fact, Sam’s eagerness is almost unnerving, as though there’s a sad sort of envy inside all of his questions.
“But this place is great, too,” Kevin says. “It’s different, but… That just means it offers different things to learn.”
“Definitely,” Sam says. “Do you run? ‘Cause if you run, you should totally join me and Jody once of these days.”
“With you?” Kevin says, and slowly looks Sam up and down. “Dude, I think I know when not to kick my ego in the balls.”
“Right,” Sam says with a laugh, “because it’s easier to run when your center of gravity is higher off the ground. Indulge an ‘old’ wolf, why don’t you.”
“Hey don’t throw that back at me, I don’t even see any gray.” Kevin reaches up without thinking, his fingers moving to the hair near Sam’s temples and combing outwards. Wow, yeah, Sam totally has something going on there, it must be really comfortable when he sleeps. “Yeah, you’re good. Serious, though, I’d prefer to be better prepared before I humiliate myself. I’ll let you know?”
Sam’s grin is bright. “I’m going to hold you to that.”
They may not go on a run today, but Kevin lets Sam take him over to the distribution platforms, explaining how they work. If Kevin wants to be helpful, he can take a turn managing the arrival of food and supplies, and Kevin is grateful for the chance for it.
Every so often, the wolves gather in the clearing to tell stories. Charlie says this is something the pack started doing more often once she moved to the enclave. Personally, Kevin prefers staying in his burrow at night, mostly because his night vision isn’t very good and the reflection off the glass gives him a mild headache, but the next time Charlie invites him to join, he goes.
“Welcome fellow travelers!” Charlie is standing up while everyone else sits around in a loose circle. She has a long cord around her neck from which a carved tooth dangles; apparently the rule is that only whoever’s wearing it gets to speak. “We have new meat with us tonight, but he shall be spared the task of having to offer a story of his own to be worthy of our circle. That comes later.” She grins at him.
“Hey,” Sam says, “why does Dean get to sit on that side? What are those?”
“Puppets,” Dean declares proudly. He’s fashioned little figures out of twigs and leaves, tied together with string. “Crucial storytelling props. This one is—”
“Is that the Top Secret project you’ve been working on the past few days?” Sam asks.
“Maybe,” Dean hedges.
“The Top Secret project that you threatened to bite my tail off when I so innocently asked what you were doing—”
“Are you wearing the speaker necklace? I don’t see you wearing the speaker necklace, I see Charlie wearing the speaker necklace.” Dean makes at a face at Sam, who gives him an unimpressed stare, and for a moment Kevin successfully forgets that these are two-hundredish-pound wolves who could crush Kevin’s skull between their elbows. Dean adds, “The speaker tells the story, and the floor shuts their cakehole.”
Jody, who is half-chewing on the leftover bones from dinner, chimes up just then: “This is the worst prologue I’ve ever heard.”
“And I agree with you there,” Charlie says amiably. “You, back up, and you, take your station. Now I ask you to open your ears and dig your dewclaws in. Now we start our tale on a fair day, many years ago in a land covered in glorious green…”
It takes a minute or so for Charlie to get her momentum, but once she does, it’s like… magic. Through Charlie’s fable she is transported and transports everyone with her, beyond the walls and streams, out of the enclave, into a world of elemental wolves and cougars and mountain lions, where adventures are made and endings are sought. Channing might say that this kind of practice is dangerous, but Kevin is enthralled.
Mom’s stories were simple and moralistic. Kate and Brian had more flair when they tried, but it admittedly wasn’t often. Kevin’s never enjoyed a show before, Dean sitting close by Charlie’s feet and providing sound effects and visual action pieces with his puppets.
“But why would she go to the alpha?” Sam asks at one point. “Why doesn’t she become the alpha, wouldn’t that be easier?”
“No, that wouldn’t be easier,” Jody protests, “because then she’d have to deal with the other wolves, and her goals are more primal than that.”
“I don’t think they’re primal at all,” Sam says. “Her emotions are going against the instinct of the pack.”
This is new, too, the audience providing their commentary while Charlie hovers, undecided whether their discussion is the most flattering thing ever or is in danger of poking holes into her story. Kevin doesn’t mean to laugh at her expression, but he does, and the glare she shoots him has him ducking his head quickly.
Charlie’s really nice and excitable, and it’s totally not her fault that Kevin’s slightly on edge around her. To be honest, Kevin’s slightly on edge around everyone for various reasons, but Charlie is... Well, to come right down the facts, she’s around his age, and she’s female. There’s an expectation there, and it doesn’t matter if Charlie doesn’t care because Kevin can be self-conscious enough for the both of them.
Kevin’s rut cycle has been regular over the past few seasons. He hasn’t felt a hint of his next one, but just knowing that it’s coming, that spring is just around the corner, weighs Kevin with an obligation to give Charlie a wide berth. It’s quite clear that she could turn him down flat if she wanted – she’s a little older than he is, more confident and assured of her place in the enclave – but still, Kevin doesn’t want to look at her and only see that expectation. It wouldn’t be fair to either of them.
There are duties that are personal, but there are duties that are owed to the pack. Health and survival are key even in a well-sustained environment like this, and survival includes bringing about the next generation.
His old pack only had Mom to watch over them, and Kevin never asked why. He has vague memories of other elder wolves but they’re too hazy to be useful, and mentioning those memories used to make Mom sad or angry, so he didn’t. The leviathan never sent any more mature wolves into their habitat but he’s sure, based on Mom’s lessons and guarded stories, that if they judged her to have more value in pregnancy than in raising a series of orphaned pups – Channing, Kate, Brian and Michael – alongside her biological one, then they would have.
It kind of makes Kevin ill to think of it as a duty, but he’d still taken Sam’s suggestion to see Charlie few times, during which he’d marveled at her carvings and had some cool discussion the mechanics of the enclave’s streams. There’d been no talk of mating or pups, so Kevin knows that his nervousness is all in his head. What happens will happen when it happens, and all that.
“See, now you’ve done it,” Sam says. Kevin jumps when a hand lands on his shoulder – Sam has apparently scooted over to poke him. “You’ve completely lost your audience.”
“I’m not the one who started asking questions,” Kevin says.
“Thank you!” Dean says.
“I was saving them for after,” Kevin adds. It’s at this point that Kevin’s eye drifts over to the underbrush on the far side, his gaze caught by movement. His vision takes a second to adjust, and then he sees the eyes down there, half-lidded and blue. His scent is too subtle but that’s Castiel; no one else in the enclave has eyes that color. They’re not focused on Kevin.
Kevin must have stared too long because Dean turns to look, and then his lips peel back into a low growl.
“Let him listen,” Kevin blurts out. “Dean, it’s a good story. It’s pretty obvious Charlie worked hard on it. He just wants to listen.”
Dean’s scowl is fierce but Kevin holds his gaze, trying his best not to flinch. Charlie bites her lip and fiddles with her necklace, watching Dean closely. After a long moment Dean turns away, but he flicks his fingers against Charlie’s ankle, a subtle signal for her continue. Charlie visibly relaxes, smiles at Kevin, and starts again.
“Good going,” Sam says quietly.
Kevin can’t help shooting Sam a quick glare of annoyance. It hasn't escaped his notice that this isn’t the first time Sam hasn’t intervened.
Sam ducks his head, abashed. “I… sorry,” he whispers. He bumps his shoulder against Kevin’s, which thanks to the fact that they’re sitting down means that the height difference is less an issue and Kevin doesn’t get an elbow to his eye. “Long story.”
“Really?” Kevin whispers back. “I can sum it up – Dean doesn’t like domesticated wolves, or fake wolves.”
Sam stiffens a little, and from the corner of Kevin’s eye he thinks he sees Sam open his mouth to protest or explain, but then decides against it. It’s a good thing, too, because Charlie’s just getting to the good part.
All things considered, Kevin can’t really be that offended that no one told him there’s an eighth wolf in the enclave. After all, this is a pack that somehow assumed that he knew that Sam and Dean are brothers, as though this is information that people absorb with the sunlight or something.
But Kevin does find out about the eighth wolf, the scents of his burrow toned down by its proximity to the stream, and soil packed up at the entrance that made Kevin assume it was empty like so many of the others. It’s during one of which Kevin’s walks that his ear catches movement inside the burrow, and his initial thought is that it’s live prey left inside the enclave for them to hunt.
Kevin sniffs the ground, and then paws at the earth tentatively. The opening is narrow, but he’s a relatively small wolf and is able to squeeze through it with some effort.
At far back of the narrow, dark burrow, is another wolf. He’s about Kevin’s size but older, his frame a little skinnier, his fur slightly matted. There is food nearby – the other wolves must have been dropping it off for him.
The wolf eyeballs him warily, though he doesn’t show his teeth in an aggression display. Kevin whines curiously, keeping a respectful distance.
The other wolf shifts. “This is a terrible location,” he says nervously. “You don’t want this burrow.”
Kevin joins him by going two-legged, and sits back on his haunches. “I have my own burrow. It’s just, no one told me there was another wolf here. Are you trapped? Sick?”
Kevin considers the wolf’s slightly panicky expression, and the way his eyes flicker in various directions, almost as though aware of the hidden cameras. “You’re scared of the leviathan. What’d they do to you?”
“Not what they did, what they will do.” The wolf introduces himself as Chuck, and he admits that he didn’t order the other wolves to hide his presence, more like they decided to respect his desire to stay unseen. When Kevin asks if he’d rather he leave, Chuck seems to shake himself off and insist that it’s fine, he hasn’t had guests in forever but he remembers how it works, and invites Kevin to sit.
“You should let someone groom you,” Kevin says. “Your coat looks really uncomfortable.”
“I—I couldn’t.” Chuck scratches behind his ear absently. “I mean, I won’t be here long anyway, so I’m not really pack.”
“What do you mean you won’t be here long?”
“Too many males here already. And I… caused the last escape attempts. The leviathan may not understand our language but they understand tone. They study us all the time, watch our behavior, analyze everything we do.”
“I know that.” Kevin tells him about living in the capsule, and Chuck nods slowly, his eyes slowly lighting up as he grows more interested. “They want to understand us and ensure our… propagation.”
“And I messed that up,” Chuck says. “Maybe not directly, but indirectly. They’ll take me away any day now. Once you’re settled in, probably.”
Kevin almost apologizes, but Chuck’s bitterness is directed inward, not outward. He’s fearful for himself and has broken off from the rest of the pack in anticipation of the future. Kevin says, “I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay inside all the time. You need some fresh air, some sunlight.”
“Makes me easier to catch.”
“If they want to catch you, they’ll catch you,” Kevin points out. “Being in a burrow isn’t going to stop them. If you know the leviathan, you should know that.”
Chuck flushes guiltily. “Fine. I stay in here ‘cause it makes me feel better. You’re young, you don’t know. One death is a big deal, but many dying, it’s—it’s catastrophic.”
“Because we’re an endangered species,” Kevin says quietly. He shivers and rubs his arms nervously. “Yeah, I guess I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have so many deaths.” It still doesn’t make sense in Kevin’s head, what with the nourishment and comfort of the enclave, yet the remnants of wolves who’d lived and gone are numerous.
Chuck is sitting up now. “How do you know? That we’re endangered?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? The way we live? The exaggerated comfort, the way wolves get moved around to find pack combinations that work?”
Where Chuck had been twitchy before, he is now very still. He is alert and upright, the way a wolf is when their attention is caught. If his other ears were out, they’d be perked up. “Most wolves can’t take that knowledge,” Chuck says quietly. “It distresses them. Sometimes to the point of… self-destruction.”
Kevin nods. “It was like that at my old pack. I tried not to talk about it, but it just seems… logical to me, I guess?”
“Oh howling father,” Chuck curses softly, reaching out to grab Kevin’s hands clumsily. “You can listen, you must listen. It’s Kevin, right? Kevin, I must tell you everything before they take me away.”
“Uh.” Kevin looks down at Chuck’s hands. “I really want to groom you, though.”
“You can groom me all you want,” Chuck says, waving it off. “As long as you will also listen.”
Kevin is unsure whether he’s supposed to take that as ominous or promising. He settles for somewhere in between, and discovers that Chuck is a very different storyteller from Charlie.
Kevin’s had questions his whole life. He’s also learned not to expect answers, though he takes them where he can and pieces others together as he goes along. Chuck is different from the other wolves here; he talks with a frantic energy that is invigorating and humbling. Chuck talks as though he has nothing to lose and everything to give. After a few visits, Kevin’s head feels full and Chuck’s coat looks much better.
It’s only natural that afterward Kevin wants to search out Castiel. He still sees Castiel and Meg around the enclave on regular basis – it’s a comfortably big habitat, but not that big, and Kevin doesn’t care about minding the unspoken territories (as if they can afford to have territories here). Kevin knows that Castiel likes to sit by the fancy little waterfall and pool that is very near the glass wall. The spot is so picturesque that Kevin suspects there’s a viewing room just beyond the glass, and he imagines that leviathan like to sit there and contemplate the wolves’ existence. Or something.
Castiel is indeed at that spot when Kevin goes there today, sitting upright, his legs hanging over the edge of the pool. What Kevin doesn’t expect is for Sam, not Meg, to be with him. Sam is four-legged, and Castiel is talking to him as he cards through the fur of Sam’s back.
“Certain types of bracken are good for our health,” Castiel is saying. “They will help with our digestion, but they don’t last very long so they have to be eaten fresh. They taste like rain.”
Sam’s ear pricks when Kevin approaches. Castiel glances up at Kevin briefly, his smile benign, then he returns to his work. Kevin sits down to watch.
Chuck called Castiel a lightning wolf. No matter how normalized his scent of burning metal has become, its foreignness is a constant, and Kevin likes giving that foreignness a name. Kevin tries to imagine what it must have been like when the lightning wolves started showing up in the habitats, with their arsenal of unnatural strength and disproportionate four-legged forms. Chuck said that lightning wolves can fell a tree with their bare paws and snap another wolf’s leg in one bite. Kevin has, fortunately or unfortunately, only ever seen Castiel carry branches that Meg throws for him to catch. Kevin’s imagination is pretty awesome but here, he thinks, it must fall short.
In many ways it makes Kevin feel better to know that Castiel and his kin are literally not natural. It explains the dissonance between Kevin’s eyes and other senses.
“This cutie here,” Castiel says, tilting his head towards Kevin, “he’s the result of a premium breeding program. He’s excellent stock, you can tell by his teeth and eyes. Very valuable. Oh, but don’t worry, Sam! You’re excellent stock, too. Hardy. Resilient.”
“What kind of stock are you?” Kevin asks. “Were you… were you made to breed with us for our survival?”
“What does survival mean?” Castiel says distantly. “The passing of genetic material is an important element, but surviving is also necessary for survival. Making it day to day without killing each other, that sounds like an accomplishment. Especially after the crossbreeding program with domesticated wolves failed.” Castiel’s laugh is thin, almost dreamy. “Did you know that when the interbreeding program was started, natural wolves could not recognize domesticated wolves as their kin? Called them dogs, a whole other species. Very fascinating. It’s a pity you missed it.”
Kevin smells Meg approach from behind. She says, very quietly, “He wasn’t always like this.” Sam’s tail flicks. Castiel keeps combing through Sam’s fur, now talking about the types of plants that tend to grow around a water hole.
“Should you be talking about him like he’s not here?” Kevin asks.
Meg settles on the ground, legs tucked under her. “I’m just saying, if Castiel is the first lab-grown wolf you’ve seen, then you’re getting a very skewed impression. They were created to herd the rest of us. When the fighting started between natural wolves and… my kind, the leviathan added these engineered super alphas to bring things under control.”
“Which didn’t work out,” Kevin says.
Meg cocks her head a little in acknowledgement, her smile small and inscrutable. Kevin wonders how many incompatible packs she and Castiel must have been sent to, before the leviathan decided that it was worth the risk sending them back to this one. Kevin wonders whether Channing, Brian and the others have been moved to new packs of their own, and if so, how they’re coping.
“They have been moving towards naturally-occurring plants, too,” Castiel says. “The last time I was here there was a mix of engineered plants and natural ones, but it’s so nice to see them going organic. It’s very nice, and the smell is much better, don’t you think?”
So while Kevin and packmates were being raised under controlled conditions, other older packs were collapsing under their own weight. Not just in this enclave, too – Chuck’s been to various habitats and he’d said that fighting has been pandemic, the leviathan’s wolf recovery and integration program backfiring in a spectacular way.
Kevin, Kate, Channing, Charlie… they are part of the next wave of recovery programs. Kevin feels… Actually, he doesn’t know how it feels, because it’s too big to process all at once.
Sam’s eyes are open, and they swivel towards Kevin as though he is trying to gauge his thoughts. Kevin suddenly remembers the scars he’d seen on Sam’s other body – although he’d been curious about them, he couldn’t think of any polite way to ask. Sam and his brother are hardy, Castiel said. They survived the fighting. Dean holds a grudge, which Kevin understands. The ghosts in the enclave have names – Bobby, Jo, Ellen, Rufus, Ruby, Ash and so on – and though they mean little to Kevin, he feels humbler in being reminded that they lived and loved here.
There’s a bark in the distance. It’s Dean, and Sam immediately stands up, bumping his head against Castiel’s hand before sprinting off towards his brother. Castiel watches him go, but then looks back down at the empty space where Sam had been, frowning in confusion.
“One day we’ll work on that object permanence, Cas,” Meg says.
“Sam is more permanent than all of us put together,” Castiel says. “That was nice. I’m glad.”
“Why’d they send you back here?” Kevin asks. “If it went so badly the last time with the intermixing?”
Meg shrugs. “Who knows? The other packs aren’t doing that much better than this one. And Cas here tends to scare people.”
“I like rosemary,” Castiel says. “I will collect some for my burrow.”
“Cas scares people,” Kevin says flatly.
Meg laughs and falls over gently onto her back, popping a long piece of grass into her mouth to chew. “It was either that or put us to sleep. We’re still more valuable alive.”
Kevin shifts and crawls forward on four legs until he nudges up Castiel’s hand. Castiel smiles down at him, and scratches behind his ears before starting work on his coat. Meg hums an acknowledgment when Castiel starts talking about different types of thunderstorms.
Kevin finds Sam doing push-ups near his burrow, Charlie four-legged and curled up on his back as he moves. Charlie raises her head when she sees him, and she yips faintly before Sam hushes at her to stop moving.
Kevin sought him out to ask a question, but ends up saying, “No.”
Sam pauses in the up portion of the push-up, and turns faintly to eyeball Kevin. “What?”
“This offends me,” Kevin says. “I am offended. Why is this necessary.”
“It feels good,” Sam says, muscles flexing as he starts again, moving up and down while Charlie apparently enjoys the ride, tongue drooping from the side of her smiling jowls. Kevin has to work hard to suppress an envious growl at the display of strength. “You know, blood circulation and—” he takes a breath, “—all that.”
“That’s why you run. What’s with the upper body strength?”
“Dude, are you angry?”
“Yes!” Kevin sits down, compelled to watch Sam closely for the no-doubt hidden flaws of his technique.
“Were you the toughest wolf in your old pack in addition to being the smartest one?”
“That’s nothing to do with…” Kevin trails off. “Are you suggesting I’m competitive?”
“Hey man, you said it.” Sam stops at the next push up. He jerks his shoulder a little, which is apparently Charlie’s cue to dismount. He rises up into a crouching position and makes a gesture at Kevin. “You give it a shot. Let me see.”
“Not in front of you.”
Sam laughs. “I’m not making fun of you, Kevin.” Charlie barks her agreement, and does a little circle of encouragement.
“No, no,” Kevin says, shaking his head. “I came to ask you something. About – about Meg and Castiel.” Sam’s face falls a little. It’s very subtle, and Kevin wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t been looking for it. “I think the pack deserves to know if there’s going to be a problem. Considering what happened here in the past.”
“The past doesn’t matter,” Sam says. “Meg keeps to herself, and Cas is… well, you know.”
“You do know that’s not really an answer. I get what happened was terrible, but if there’s going to be another round of fighting because they were brought back—”
“It’s not going to happen,” Sam says flatly. “Trust me, it’s over.”
“Trust you,” Kevin echoes. “Right. Does Charlie know about the fighting? Did you tell her?” Charlie has frozen in place, fur along her spine rising up in anxiety. Kevin feels bad for her, really he does, but he’s on a roll.
“No, because it doesn’t matter,” Sam says, eyes flashing with anger. “None of that bullshit about pedigree or breeding or species matters anymore. That’s what we learned at the end of the fighting, when the bodies were collected and the blood washed out of the grass. Our literal job is to not die, and all of us who survived the riots remember that.”
Kevin holds Sam’s glare. “Does Dean know this?”
Sam blinks a little, startled. “That’s got nothing to do with it.”
Kevin’s going to die in this enclave. The knowledge hits like a fist to the sternum, then reaches in to his ribcage to squeeze. He’s not even angry at Sam or Dean, or the leviathan, or Chuck for feeding his curiosity more than it perhaps was able to chew. He’s angry at himself for letting himself become self-aware and feeling this way, when he should be – what, grateful? Relieved? Content that their only purpose in the world is to not die?
If he were still with Mom, he wouldn’t know any of this. He would continue to be curious but not curious enough, and he’d play and learn and take the leviathan’s tests and feel good whenever he got something right.
A part of his mind is telling him to stop, focus and break this down into manageable chunks. The rest of his mind is in the middle of a full-blown panic sprint. His body doesn’t know what to do.
“Kevin?” Sam says carefully. “Hey, Kevin, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Kevin hears himself say distantly. “Sorry to take up your time. I’m going now.”
“Kevin…” Sam starts, but Kevin’s already shifted and bounding off through the bushes.
It’s the night of the full moon, and he’s too gloomy to do more than sit at the mouth of his burrow with his head on his paws to wait for it to pass. He’d mostly missed his first moon in the enclave, having been too exhausted for exploration and slept it through, but he’s wide awake for this second moon.
The pull of the moon is mental as well as physical, and this one floods his chest with a furious longing for Mom, Channing and the others.
Everything is amplified during the moon. Kevin feels his unhappiness like a physical ache, so much so that it takes him a while to realize that he’s not alone. Another wolf has found him, and Kevin can’t be fucked to be embarrassed that he might have been broadcasting his sadness to the world. The other wolf – Jody, he recognizes, once he takes a proper whiff – pads in close, her paws as soft as leaves, and slowly sets herself on the ground, a foreleg distance away, and lays her head on the ground in a position that mirrors Kevin’s.
For a moment Kevin is angry, because he didn’t ask her to join him and sometimes misery just wants to be miserable. She should be running with the others – Kevin can hear them bounding around the enclave, invigorated in their celebration of the moon. But being angry takes up too much energy, leaving Kevin drained all over again.
Does any of it matter? Wolves are dying, maybe because the habitats are failing, or their biology is failing, or all their evolutionary flaws have just ganged up and decided that their time is done. Why didn’t they just leave him back at his old pack, where he’d at least be with his loved ones as he waits to die.
They lie there for a long time, unmoving aside from the occasional twitch of their tails. The emotional riffs of Jody’s scent slowly makes its way through Kevin’s congested nose. She is sad as well. Her eyes are closed, and melancholy rises off her as she breathes.
The moon pulls. Kevin huffs under his breath, and the soft noise makes Jody stir and open her eyes. He cocks his head a little, asking for permission, and she flicks her ears in a yes. Jody shifts, unwinding her legs to make space, and Kevin tucks in against her side.
Kevin falls asleep like that, and when he wakes up the moon has passed its zenith. He yawns and, upon realizing that Jody’s awake, inches out of the lee of her body. Jody stretches, fur flapping when she shakes. She blinks groggily at him, and then cocks her head, asking her to join him.
They head down to the closest stream. The enclave is beautiful at night, and still new enough to Kevin that he can sit at the water’s edge to just enjoy the view. Jody laps at the water for a while, and then sits back and shifts.
“You okay there, Kevin?” Jody asks. “There’s still time if you want to run.”
Kevin shakes his head. Jody stretches her legs out in front of her, while on the far side of the enclave Charlie and Sam are trying to get Dean down from a tree. Kevin can’t see Meg and Castiel, but when he takes a deep whiff, the night breeze carries their scent from their side of the enclave. They don’t feel the pull of the moon like the rest of them do. Kevin wonders what that’s like.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Jody says quietly, and Kevin feels himself bristle at her gentleness. He hates himself for that, too, because Jody knows loss as well, the scent is all over her, but still Kevin resents her for it. “Would you like to know what I do?”
Not really. Kevin cocks his head anyway, inviting her to continue.
“I create mementos,” Jody says. “I make things in the shape of memories that are precious to me.”
That sounds stupid and dangerous. Or awesome. Maybe it’s all three.
“Doesn’t that trap you in the past?” Kevin asks.
“There can be too much of anything, yes.” Jody tilts her head up to the moon, her eyes bright. “But for me, personally, it helps to have a physical object to look at, so I don’t need to be afraid I’ll lose the pieces in my head. Then there’s space for me to think about other things.”
That makes sense. Jody has some mad skills with her flint, though Kevin doesn’t recall any clear shapes in the carvings that she’s worked on. And it’s true that that’s not all she does – Jody has her own housekeeping tasks around the enclave like everyone else.
Kevin still has some cardboard and charcoal from the last supply drop. He’s been using it mostly to keep track of the enclave’s activity schedule, but he could put it to additional use. The only thing that gives him pause is that the leviathan will see all of it, which is a strange thought to settle in his head after having had his entire life to get used to their constant watching him.
“And leviathan have never taken your things away?” Kevin asks.
“They encourage creativity, as long as it’s not harmful to anyone.” Jody leans close, her voice a whisper when she adds, “I design them so that no one can know their meaning except for me. Cracks me up thinking about the leviathan trying to make sense of ‘em.”
Kevin snorts under his breath. “That works.”
Jody pats the top of his head gently. “Yes, it does.”
The leviathan come for Chuck soon enough. From their conversations Kevin had been under the impression that it’s been a long time coming, yet as soon as it happens, there is one massive freak out.
Kevin is in his burrow when he hears the shouting start. He crawls out to the sight of the glass door closest to Chuck’s burrow opening, letting in a handful of leviathan. Now, Kevin saw his fair share of leviathan back in his old habitat, though they’d mostly stayed behind safety glass as they did their tests and observations. That said, they will never ever not freak him out.
Their shapes are dark and changing, like smoke and oil. Sometimes they’re two-legged like wolves, but they’ve apparently compensated for their lack of visible eyes by having a million teeth. Their scent is like a black hole of information – beyond knowing that they’re there and how many they are, there is no information that can be gained through their smell, the most basic of identifiers. It’s like they partially exist somewhere beyond the understanding of the five normal senses, which is both terrifying and really freaking annoying when you’re trying to track them down.
Kevin runs cautiously towards the activity, keeping his body low and his ears open. The leviathan’s voices are garbled and low, almost as intangible as their scents, and their tone is calm, as though trying not to scare the wolves that they’re tentatively approaching. Sam and Dean are four-legged; Dean has his mouth around Chuck’s arm, holding on to him, while Sam has his teeth on display. Watching all of this is Jody, who is crouching two-legged on a rock in readiness.
“It’s okay,” Chuck’s saying, struggling to break free from Dean’s hold. “It’s okay, I’m ready to go.”
Dean’s growl is sharp, a clear no.
Jody speaks, her voice firm and steady: “They could have put us to sleep to take him, but they didn’t. They’re allowing us to say goodbye.”
“Please don’t do this,” Chuck says.
Kevin catches Jody’s eye. He follows her lead, bunching his legs when he sees her tense up in readiness. The leviathan are closer now and they could take Chuck away easily enough, but they’ve paused, as though waiting to see what the pack will do next.
Kevin moves when Sam does. Sam lunges towards the nearest leviathan, which is an emotional, unnecessary move because while Sam may be strong, he is not that strong. Kevin tackles Sam before he makes contact, biting at nearest body parts while Sam yowls and snaps his teeth. Elsewhere there’s a yelp and a growl – Kevin just catches sight of Chuck running towards the leviathan and Jody leaping off her rock towards Dean – and then Kevin’s rolling across the grass, hissing when Sam’s claws dig into his forelegs.
Sam shifts in Kevin’s hold, his hands coming out and grabbing fistfuls of Kevin’s fur to shove him away. Kevin is winded when he hits the ground, but he rolls over to watch, and is surprised when Sam rushes for Dean, who barks and goes two-legged just before Sam barrels into him.
Just before he disappears through the leviathan's door, Chuck glances back. He is calm and ready, not at all like how Kevin had been when they’d come for him. Kevin hopes he has a good pack waiting for him.
“Everyone’s gone!” Sam shouts, shoving at Dean. “They’re all gone!”
“It’s not my fault!” Dean yells back. “I could’ve stopped him but these—”
“This pack is not just the two of you anymore!” Jody shouts. “You have to stop it!”
“They’ll put him to sleep—” Sam exclaims.
“You don’t know that!” Jody says.
“They won’t.” Meg doesn’t shout, but her voice rips through the rumble like a gong. Kevin didn’t even hear her show up but there she is, unimpressed as ever. “If they didn’t put me or Cas down, they won’t do it to Chuck either.”
Sam shakes his head, furious. “You don’t get to—” He pauses when Kevin stands up, growling a warning.
“You want to settle this now, longshanks?” Meg strolls forward, hands splayed out on either side of her. “Or both of you at once? A threesome might be interesting. It’ll be better than the self-righteous bullshit you’ve been playing since we got back. This pack is less than a quarter the size it used to be, how do you even get off on that?”
“You have as much blood on your hands, Meg—” Dean says.
“As do you,” Meg counters. “Make a decision. Either you accept that’s in the past and move on, or we settle this now properly.”
Kevin expects the brothers to stand down. He really does. When that doesn’t happen, Kevin yells a war cry and enters the fray.
Castiel comes trotting along once it’s all over.
He sits on his haunches and observes the carnage: Dean is washing his arms in the stream, Meg is still shifted out and licking her hindleg, while Jody and Sam are lying on their backs, limbs spread out. Castiel scratches behind his ear and then slowly sprawls out on the grass, legs up in the air, which is probably the extent of his thoughts on the matter. Jody, who is nearest to him, squints for a moment and then reaches over to scratch his stomach.
It’s so stupid, Kevin thinks. They’re wolves, they’re supposed to be better than this. He’s lying on his side, staring at his hands. He thinks he’s sprained something.
Maybe, despite all their intelligence and all their evolutionary history, their physicality continues to rule them. Heats, ruts, the moon pull, territorial urges – these are only the obvious manifestations of the command of their biology. There are other, less obvious manifestations, and perhaps this is one of them.
All wolves wrestle from when they’re puppies, but Kevin’s always thought of that as just another of many social bonding activities. Kevin doesn’t want to think of them as inherently violent creatures, but perhaps… they’re inherently violent. Dean has scratches over his arms, and he looks the most relaxed that Kevin’s ever seen him. Maybe relaxed isn’t the right word. Relieved. Satisfied.
“Okay,” Charlie announces as she bounds into view, “so I have cool packs, but there are only three, so you’re going to have to decide among yourselves who gets them.”
Jody makes grabby hands at her. “Gimme.”
The worst of their wounds are merely minor scratches, bites and bruises. It’s nowhere near enough for the leviathan to intervene – which they didn’t – and anyway, alpha status fights can be far more vicious. It’d been more bluster and noise than bite, with Sam, Dean and Meg at the center of it while Jody and Kevin tried to get them to stop. A different kind of wrestling for a different kind of goal.
Kevin shudders when he wonders what the leviathan must think about their behavior. What conclusions would they get from that, and what does it say about them that they’ve decided not to interfere? He supposes there’s something to be said about how it’d been more about the screaming than the fighting – though Kevin doesn’t have all the context to understand all the barbs they’d flung at each other – and the only reason everyone’s collapsed is because Jody cleverly decoyed it into a race and they’d run themselves into exhaustion.
Meg sits up and shifts. She works her jaw, and the motion has her catching Sam’s eye. They look at each other for a moment – well, that’s not outright aggression there, at least? It’s more like some kind of… recognition. Castiel wiggles across the grass, inching closer towards Dean. Dean makes a face at him, but dismissively flicks Castiel’s tail, which is… at least not shouting?
These wolves are so weird. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Charlie makes way more sense than all of them put together.