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Finding Her Pack

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Jackie looked out the bus window at the land whizzing by, and finally leaned her forehead against the cool glass. They had long since passed out of the city, leaving behind the towering buildings and bustling traffic that she was so familiar with, and through two more cities that weren't quite as familiar, but still felt like home.

Now, however, it had been almost an hour and nothing taller than a gas station had passed by the window. Currently there was just grass or corn or something - she had no idea - but it was all she could see out the window. She wasn't sure if they were in Indiana yet - she hoped not, unless another big city like New York was about to pop out of this stupid corn without warning.

She already knew she was gonna hate it here. There. Wherever, once they got there. She had no idea why her uncle wanted to live out of the big city anyway; it was supposed to be quiet, and the buildings were all short, and you couldn't just walk to anysplace, but it might be too far away? Jackie suppressed a shudder. She couldn't imagine living in a place like this, with all this open sky around you and not another human in sight. Her uncle lived on a farm, even.

A farm!

You kidding? Like with cows and pigs or something? Jeeze she didn't even know what kinds of animals lived on a farm here. Were the animals on farms different in different states? Jackie looked down at the book in her lap. She's been reading it earlier, before she started to get a little queasy. Reading on a bus was nothing like reading on the subway: it made her sick and she hated it.

It was a library book about the zoo, talking about all kinds of animals they had there. Jackie was supposed to have returned it before she left, but at the last minute she decided not to bother. What were they gonna do about it, anyways? Chase her all the way out here to Indiana? She hoped they did. The cops might even track her down, and haul her back to New York to face the charges or something.

A girl could hope.

But in the mean time, it didn't talk about farm animals and the like, only the exotic kinds you found in the zoo, so she was stuck. She'd find out when she got there, at least, but Jackie liked knowing exactly what she was getting herself into. Especially lately.

Although, it wasn't like her mom had completely pulled the rug out from underneath her. Jackie had known that her latest boyfriend was different - always talking about saving her mom, helping her with her second chance. Jackie heard them talking one night, about how impressed he was that her mom hadn't let the horrible things that happened to her get her down. From the way he talked, it was obvious that he meant Jackie being born as one of those horrible things.

There had been a different one, when she was a lot younger, who would give her little presents and say stuff about how it wasn't her fault she was born, but he hadn't lasted long. Jackie had worked out that her mom was blaming everything on Jackie, instead of her own drug use and refusal to get a real job. And Jackie knew her dad wasn't what those guys implied, because her grandma still did her best to take care of her, and told her the truth.

But apparently having a boyfriend who died in the war wasn't tragic enough or something, so her mom kept lying. It was the boyfriend who wanted rid of her, Jackie knew. He kept talking about scooping her mom up out of the slums, and helping her start over; you don't bring your old life with you when you start over.

Jackie knew she should have been grateful that her grandma was able to put her on this bus, and that her uncle - her dad's dad - had been willing to take her in, but honestly she was still suspicious. She didn't think her grandma wanted her gone the way her mom did, though that was the end result, for all intents and purposes. But she didn't know this uncle from dirt! Why would he just allow her to come live with his family, eating his food, getting in his way?

She didn't trust it.

Sighing, Jackie looked back out the window, shifting a little to get a new, cool, spot on the glass. Nothing had changed. She clenched her fingers around her book, and decided to occupy herself reviewing the animals in it.

She was in the Js; she'd just finished jackal and jaguar and was about to start on jellyfish. Jaguars were powerful and beautiful and were super strong hunters. But oddly, Jackie felt more kinship with the jackals, and not just because their names were so similar.

According to the book, jackals were shy, and preferred to hide, unless someone harassed them, and then they were really territorial. They ran in packs with their friends, just like the street kids back home, and they were opportunistic, the book said, meaning that they did what they had to to survive, even if it meant stealing food from someone bigger and stronger. They even had golden-brown fur, just like her hair!

The only difference was that Jackie didn't have a pack anymore, and the bigger, stronger, opponent had chased her off her territory.

^*^

As the plane took off, Janet - Jackie - leaned her forehead against the cool window glass. She could see Freddy running around in a bathrobe and handcuffs, and she had to resist giggling. She was pleased, actually, that they had gotten back together so quickly; they would both be present when - whatever Schaffhausen's real name was - opened the bag.

He reminded her a little of her uncle, actually. Not that her uncle was anywhere near as sophisticated, of course, but in the end, when he'd tripped over himself to stem her tears, that chivalry was familiar. It made her almost nostalgic for a moment, as she imitated her bumpkin of a cousin - small fish in the big city - and he rushed to take care of her.

Jackie hadn't seen her uncle - or her cousin - since she turned eighteen and high-tailed it back to the city. The police had never come looking for her library book, sadly, so it was up to her to make her own way back, two days after graduation, by way of a convenient black eye from softball practice and a very understanding female trucker.

She'd pulled a few small cons in Ohio and Pennsylvania on her way back, but her goal was always New York. From there, it took her only a few false starts to slide right into the life she'd pictured. No more mucking out stalls or picking and canning vegetables for her! With her perfected Midwest accent, fake farm girl naivete, and hints about grandpa's sugar baron/cattle baron/corn baron status, she fit right in.

This was only her second trip to Europe, but she had already enjoyed it so much better than Italy. She had planned to get off the plane at Paris and start again, but now she wasn't so sure. Part of Jackie simply wanted to quietly revel in the game she had just finished. Somehow… somehow it was different with those two.

And not just because they were fellow cons, because she'd done that before too; their territorial posturing had been obvious from a mile away. But… she couldn't quite put her finger on why, but she'd had more fun in the last week than she had in the past year. So much so that part of her wanted to go back to Beaumont sur Mer right now, just to continue the fun. It wasn't a feeling that Jackie was used to, or had felt in a long time.

It felt almost like… like having a pack again.