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you build it up (just enough)

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Nolan’s been able to smell the omega for weeks, just inside the edge of his territory. It sets him a little on edge, knowing someone’s there but not being able to see them. Not that he’s tried very hard to find them. The omega hasn’t caused any problems, just killed a few rabbits and squirrels, which is the only reason Nolan hasn’t gathered the pack to go find them, or reported them to the police. Still, he upps the territory patrol from once a week to all 5 pack members taking a round once a week. So far no one’s spotted them, and he doesn’t expect today to be any different.

Which is, of course, when he catches the omega’s scent just seconds before he hears the low growling coming from the copse of trees on the far side of the lake. He turns slowly, only barely able to see the man crouched between some bushes, teeth bared and claws out. It’s not an aggressive growl, but a cautious one. The guy’s obviously scared, and Nolan does his best to try to look non-threatening, keeping his posture relaxed and trying to project calm . It’s not just an omega, he’s a feral omega, and he’s obviously been out in the woods for a few months at least. His t-shirt and jeans are torn and dirty, basically rags, and his long hair and beard have leaves and twigs and who knows what else tangled in them. Still, he looks young. Probably not that much older than Nolan.

“Hi,” Nolan says lowly, knowing the man can’t answer him, probably doesn’t even understand him. But he also knows he’s smart, has managed to stay out of sight for weeks, and for some reason he’s deciding to show himself to Nolan now. He shrinks back a bit at the sound of Nolan’s voice, but he doesn’t run. “My name’s Nolan. Are you okay?”

The omega stops baring his teeth but keeps his hands up defensively, staring at Nolan cautiously. He doesn’t answer, not that Nolan expected him to.

“I’m not gonna make you leave,” Nolan promises, keeping his voice as soothing as he can. “I guess I’ll try to bring you some warmer clothes, but you probably only have another month until it starts getting below freezing. This is Canada, dude, you’re not gonna be able to survive out here like this.” As Nolan talks the omega slowly drops his hands, tilting his head like a confused puppy. They stare at each other after Nolan’s done talking until Nolan nods decisively.

“Alright, I’m gonna go now. I’ll come back with some stuff for you later, ok? Maybe tomorrow.” Nolan backs away slowly, not turning his back to him until he’s out of sight. He doesn’t really think the guy’s a threat, but better safe than sorry.

He finishes his round with the vague sense that he’s being followed. He can hear branches snapping and leaves rustling in the distance behind him, but the sounds never get closer and the scent never gets stronger, so Nolan keeps his back turned so he doesn’t spook the omega. The sounds stop when Nolan reaches the treeline and he shoots a smile over his shoulder as he heads back to his little two bedroom cabin by the lake. He’s not surprised to find Maddie sitting at his kitchen table. He makes the pack check in with him before and after their patrols and he knows Maddie worries about him, especially now with an unfamiliar wolf on his property.

“How’d it go?” she asks lazily, not looking up from her phone.

“I found the omega.” Her head whips around and she stares at him in shock.

“What! What happened?” She demands, storming over to inspect him for injuries.

“He kinda showed himself, I guess. He’s feral but he’s also, like… not?” She looks at him like he’s an idiot and he rolls his eyes. “Whatever, I’m gonna take him some warm clothes and stuff and maybe try to get him to come back here so he doesn’t die out there.”

“Nol, just report him to the police,” she urges. “They’ll take care of him.” Normally Nolan would agree, but something about that doesn’t feel right to him. They would put the omega in solitary confinement and try to rehabilitate him in a hospital until he was civilized enough to find a pack that would accept him. It feels too clinical, and as far as Nolan’s concerned he’s just… skipping the middle part.

“No,” he finally says after too long, when her eyebrows have started climbing to her hairline. “He’s not hurting anyone. I’ll try to help him and if he’s still out there when it gets too cold, I’ll call them.” He can see her struggling with wanting to question him, fighting between wanting to argue with her brother and not wanting to question her alpha. It’s something she’s been struggling with since Nolan turned 18 last year and left their parents’ pack to start his own and she followed along. Nolan waits patiently, knowing whatever she says isn’t going to change his mind, but eventually she just nods.

“Alright. Do you need me to do anything?” she asks.

“No, I think I’m just gonna grab some stuff from the store for him. Some warm clothes and protein bars. Maybe some water.” She nods.

“Alright, I have patrol in the morning. Do you want me to take them?” Nolan hesitates for a second, wanting to say no but not really sure why.

“Sure,” he agrees, because he has no reason not to. “I’ll go grab the stuff now. If he doesn’t show up just bring it back and I’ll try later.” He doesn’t examine why he doesn’t want the omega to show up for her. Some weird alpha instincts, he guesses, worried that the omega will hurt his sister. Or something. Whatever.

He hops in his car and makes the fifteen minute drive to the fishing and camping supply store that his dad owns and nods to Sanny where he’s talking to some customers at the counter. Nolan’s dad technically owns the store and takes care of all the accounting, but he gave Nolan the responsibility of running it. Nolan takes care of the inventory, merchandising, and hiring when needed, so he has free reign to grab what he needs from the shelves.

He starts with a thermal blanket and sleeping bag and dumps them behind the counter while he grabs a long sleeve shirt, some thick wool socks, and a frankly hideous fleece pajama set. He grabs a duffel bag and stuffs the clothes in along with some protein bars and some refillable water bottles. He eyes the tents, but decides he’ll come back later if he has to. He imagines the omega wouldn’t like sleeping confined in a tent where he can’t keep an eye on his surroundings or make an easy escape.

“Going camping, boss?” Sanny asks with a raised eyebrow once the customers have left. Sanny’s only been part of the pack for a few months, since he moved to town to go to college. He works part time at the shop a few days a week and he’s the best employee Nolan’s ever had.

“I found the omega,” he explains, to Sanny’s surprise. “I’m getting him some stuff to keep him warm. Maybe try to get him to trust me enough to let me help him.”

“You think that’s gonna work?” Sanny asks skeptically. Nolan shrugs. 

“I don’t know,” he admits. “But I’m gonna try.” More customers come in before Sanny can respond, regulars who call out a greeting to Nolan. He smiles at them, but leaves the small talk to Sanny as he gathers up the gear and shoves it in his back seat. When he gets home he washes out the water bottles and fills them up, setting everything by the back door where he normally leaves for patrol. But when he’s done he’s just… restless. He doesn’t technically have another patrol tonight but... it’s late September and it’s already getting cold outside when the sun goes down. Nolan already has the gear so he might as well take it out there.

It’s still light outside, the sun just barely starting to dip toward the horizon when he heads out the door. He jogs his way around the lake and makes it to where he last saw the omega and sets everything down, sniffing the air. He can’t smell the omega nearby. “Hello?” he calls out and waits for a few minutes, occasionally scenting the air. “It’s me. Nolan.” He feels a little stupid about it until he catches a whiff of something and hears a rustling of some leaves in front of him. The omega steps out from behind a tree and stares at Nolan cautiously. At least this time he’s not growling or flashing his claws.

“Hey,” Nolan says casually. “I got you some stuff.” He bends down slowly, not making any sudden movements as he unzips the bag and pulls out the clothes. The omega takes a few steps forward, eyeing the bag. He takes the shirt Nolan holds out to him and sniffs it, making a face at whatever he smells. He doesn’t make any move to put it on and Nolan doesn’t try to fight him on it. He pulls out the fleece pajamas next and can’t help but laugh at the horrified face the omega makes. Secretly, he’s a little relieved he’s not so far gone that he can’t recognize how ugly they are, or at least how much he doesn’t want to wear them.

“I know they’re ugly, but they’re the only ones I had,” he says, grinning when the omega snorts derisively. “What about socks?” he asks, noticing for the first time that the omega isn’t wearing anything on his feet. He winces, wondering how many cuts the guy must have from the rocks and sticks. Maybe he should bring a first aid kit out here. The omega hesitates, still looking at Nolan warily before he takes the socks and sits down on the ground. He has a hard time getting them on with his claws out, but he manages and Nolan’s a little proud of him. “I’m glad you still remember enough to do that,” Nolan admits as the omega gets back to his feet. “Are you ok out here?” The omega stares at him for a second before he nods jerkily.

He pulls out the blanket last, showing it to the omega before folding it back up and stuffing it in the bag. “There’s a blanket and some clean water, ok? If you need something warmer or more water or whatever, just like… let me know I guess.” He hesitates. “You could come stay with me. On the other side of the lake.” He points behind him, but the omega growls and takes a few steps away. “Or not. Just know the offer’s open.” He wants to take the shirt and force it over the omega’s head, but he figures he’s gotten all he’s going to get today with the socks. He wants to build trust, not force help. “Alright, I’m gonna head home then. Just… follow my scent if you need something.” The omega doesn’t respond, but Nolan didn’t expect him to. This time, he very deliberately turns his back on the omega as he walks away, showing trust that he’s not sure he feels. He listens for movement, but the omega doesn’t move for as long as Nolan’s in ear shot.

He’s restless that night, tossing and turning and getting almost no sleep. He knows he’s too grumpy when he wakes up at 5am to make breakfast and get to the store in time to open up at 6.  He’s never been a morning person but the early morning fishermen like to come in for bait or any supplies they’re missing. It’s good business that the store can’t pass up. At least the regulars don’t tend to stick around long, eager to get out on the water before people come along with boats and scare the fish away.

It’s a quiet morning and he sits half asleep behind the counter until his phone rings a little before 10 and jolts him awake.

“Hello?” he mumbles, not bothering to check who’s calling.

“Hey, did you get that stuff for the omega?” Maddie asks. “I’m about to do my rounds.”

“Oh,” Nolan feels himself flushing for no good reason. “I took it out to him last night. Figured he needed the warm clothes sooner rather than later.” Maddie hums curiously, and Nolan feels himself getting defensive. He forces himself not to say anything else.

“Alright, I’ll let you know if I see him. Should I take anything else out there?” Nolan tells her no and they hang up. He forces himself not to think about it again, getting up to grab his ipad and do inventory and mark the stuff he took yesterday off of the list. That takes up most of the afternoon between helping the occasional customer. Maddie texts half an hour after her patrol and informs him she didn’t see any sign of the omega, and isn’t he special that he’s the only one who gets to see him. He rolls his eyes and doesn’t dignify that with a response.

Tuesdays are the least busy, and he loves and hates working them for that reason. It’s relaxing, but time passes slowly, especially when he’s working the open-to-close shifts. His other employee, David, comes in around 3 and Nolan leaves him to man the front and hides out in his office, putting in supply orders where he needs to and emailing the financials to his dad to keep track of. His parents live in the next town over and other than occasionally popping into the store, they’re pretty hands-off about it. Nolan appreciates the freedom and trust, and his dad appreciates having the time to focus on the store he opened up in his own town.

They finally close up the shop at 9 and Nolan climbs into his car with a heavy sigh. He’s glad he only has to do the open-to-close a couple days a week. He has no problem leaving the store in Sanny’s hands, or Maddie’s when she decides she wants a couple extra bucks and picks up some shifts. But David’s not a wolf, not part of Nolan’s pack, and Nolan has a hard time leaving the store to him. Haysey and his girlfriend Stacey both have other jobs, so Nolan’s not going to ask them to help out just so he can have a break, and that’s all the pack members he has. He likes his small family, and he’s not actively looking to add anyone else to the pack. He figures if it happens, it’ll happen naturally like it did with Sanny.

He barely manages to shower when he gets home before he’s ready to pass out in bed. It’s only by pure coincidence that he left his bedroom window open and hears the distant howling as he walks past. It sounds sad, a little lonely, and Nolan’s pulling his shoes on before he even really decides he’s going to do it. He takes the familiar path around the lake and follows the sound to a little patch of rocks by the water’s edge. The omega’s crouched there, still wearing the socks, and he’s even taken off his tattered t-shirt and put on the flannel shirt, although it’s not buttoned. Nolan makes some obvious noise as he approaches, trying not to scare the guy, but he never turns around.

“Hey,” he says when the howling has stopped. He expects the omega to startle, to snarl or attack, but he doesn’t move, staring out at the water sadly. Nolan takes a couple steps towards him and crouches a few feet away. “I don’t know what happened to you,” he says gently, “but if I can help at all, I want to.” Nolan can’t imagine what could have happened to make this guy leave his pack, unable or unwilling to find a new one until he finally went feral. Whatever it was, Nolan doesn’t care. He wants to help.

The omega stands up and Nolan follows, staying very still when the omega walks toward him, stopping so close that they’re practically sharing breath. He doesn’t move as the omega stands on his tiptoes and presses his forehead against Nolans. They stand like that for one breath, two, three, and then the omega steps back. He looks a little less sad and he even manages a hint of a smile. And then his eyes light up and he turns around, walking back into the forest with his eyes trained on the ground. He finds a clear spot and waves Nolan over impatiently, so Nolan follows. The omega crouches down and starts scratching a claw through the dirt, and when he stands back up, the last thing he expects to see is N O L A N scratched unevenly in the dirt.

“Nolan,” he laughs, shocked. “Yeah, that’s me, buddy.” The omega nods enthusiastically and then crouches down again, scratching something else underneath it. “TK?” Nolan asks when the omega looks up at him. The omega grins toothily at him. “What does that mean?” The omega points at Nolan’s name and then at Nolan. Then he points at TK and then himself. “Oh, your name is TK?” The omega- TK- nods again. “Nice to meet you,” Nolan says, a little flabbergasted. TK stands up and looks at him, miles away from the sad, lonely wolf he was just a few minutes ago.

TK makes a strange growling sound in the back of his throat and looks at Nolan expectantly, like he’d just asked a question. Nolan raises his eyebrows and TK huffs, gesturing to himself. When Nolan still doesn’t move, TK growls again and steps forward, carefully reaching out and wrapping his fingers around Nolan’s wrist. Nolan makes sure not to react as TK pulls his hand forward, using his other hand to push the open edge of his flannel button up into Nolan’s hand. He drops his hands and looks at Nolan.

“You want me to button it?” Nolan asks. TK nods. Nolan hadn’t thought about him not being able to get the buttons with his claws, and his face flushes a bit as he carefully does them up. TK grins when he’s done before he turns and jogs into the woods, gesturing for Nolan to follow. TK leads them down a path only he seems to know that comes out in a small clearing close to the lake shore. There’s a small space carved out of the side of the land, almost like a shallow cave just far back enough for one person to sit and be protected from wind or rain. There’s a blanket there- the one Nolan had brought- sitting next to the duffel bag and he has the realization that this is where TK had set up his nest. Nolan’s a little floored that TK already trusts him enough to lead him here, after barely a day of knowing him, and he refuses to admit that he tears up a little bit. He’s never considered himself a very good alpha, too stoic and standoffish, but this omega trusts him. Which either means Nolan isn’t as bad as he thought, or TK is too trusting.

He understands why when TK picks up the flannel pants and then looks at Nolan before pointing to the button on his shredded jeans. Nolan doesn’t have to be asked twice this time, and he steps forward and undoes the button and the zipper, very purposely avoiding thinking about it. He turns away when TK shucks the pants off, even when TK rests one clawed hand on his shoulder to help balance while he pulls the flannels on. Thankfully, the waistband is elastic so Nolan doesn’t have to do any more buttons. When he turns back around, he suddenly has an armful of TK, who’s hugging him tightly and nuzzling his face into Nolan’s neck. Nolan usually has better self-preservation instincts, doesn’t like to be touched by strangers, but it doesn’t even occur to him to be worried that TK might try to rip his throat out.

Instead, he carefully returns the hug, running a hand soothingly up and down TK’s back. He feels a low rumbling start in TK’s chest, and if Nolan didn’t know any better, he’d call it a purr. He wonders how long it’s been since an alpha- or anyone- has touched TK and lets himself turn his face against TK’s dirty, tangled hair to try and offer some comfort. He can’t help but wonder what TK smells like under the dirt and grime that’s masking his natural scent. He lets TK hold on as long as he wants, but after maybe a few minutes TK lets go and steps back, looking more content than Nolan would think a feral omega could. Although, if he can still spell, he may not be as far gone as he seems.

“Come home with me,” Nolan asks, wanting more than anything to give TK a warm bed, some food, maybe even a shower and a haircut. TK takes a few more steps backwards, though, a strange series of yips and whines coming out of his mouth. Nolan thinks maybe that he’s trying to talk, but he has no idea what TK’s trying to say. He can read the cues, though. TK turns and walks over to his little blanket nest, putting his ripped jeans down with what looks like the tattered remains of his old shirt and wrapping the blanket around himself pointedly. He looks at Nolan, closes his eyes, and very obviously fakes falling asleep with a yawn. Nolan’s laughing at the theatrics when TK’s eyes pop open again and he pulls an arm out of the blanket to point at Nolan and pretend to fall asleep again.

“Alright, alright, guess I must look dead on my feet,” he admits. He’s been able to ignore how tired he is, but now that TK’s brought attention to it, it hits him again. Still, it doesn’t feel right to just leave TK out here alone. He hesitates for another second, TK starting to glare at him, before he strips off his hoodie and throws it to TK. It lands on the omega’s head and he lets out a disgruntled yip. “Just in case,” Nolan explains, before turning and jogging back home.