Somewhere on the trip from passed out to awake, I noticed the naked woman spooned up around me. We were laying on our sides, her breasts pressing against my back, her right arm wrapped around my stomach. A neatly manicured hand rested on the hip bone of the guy next to me. I had my head on his shoulder. He had, well he didn't have any clothes on either. I tried to remember what had happened the night before after I'd tried to chase down Allen, but failed. Little bits of bluriness and the smell of pine trees, but no real plot line. It was kind of like those weird foreign films tries to haul out for Scoobie movie night every so often instead of classics like Happy Gilmore. First thought: it must have been a hellava party. Then the woman behind me moved around just enough to trigger second thought: I hope I didn't do anything that is going to lead to Anya calling in old favors with her vengance demon friends.
Third thought: Jason said this was going to happen. We had talked in the jeep on the way out to the lupanar. His description of what to expect if I shifted had finished with me waking up buck naked in the middle of a dogpile of other clothing-free werewolves without much memory of what had gone on while I was in wolf form. So not unexpected, but still kind of weird and surprisingly comfy. I peeked around the room a bit more. It was one of the cabins I'd seen the night before- a bunch of us curled up together on mattresses on the floor, some baskets against one wall, and a couple of windows that were letting the sunshine in.
Fourth thought: I really had to pee. I untangled myself from the woman and tried to stand up. A bit of vertigo there. Everything was just a little too bright, smelled a little too intense, or felt a little too itchy. I successfully managed to get vertical on my second attempt. The woman who had been groping me scooted next to the man I'd been leaning on. There was only one door in the cabin, the one that led outside. Must be one of those deals where the toilets are in some other building. Great. I was so not ready to haul my naked self across the green. Far too many memories of an extremely embarrassing event in my life involving gym class and locker rooms and fire doors freshman year of high school. Fortunately, several of the baskets were labeled 'spare clothes, take them if you need them'. I quickly managed to find a pair of sweat pants that almost fit like they were supposed to, and headed out the door.
The bath house turned out to be easy enough to find. Like the old Froot Loops commercial, I just had to follow my nose. Not that it was necessarily a sign of poor restroom maitenance or anything, it was just really obvious with my new, suddenly enhanced sense of smell. Still feeling a little bit dizzy, I walked into the bath house and took care of business.
I started to wash my hands, and for the first time I really noticed how different my arms were. The night before, they had been criss-crossed with bite and claw marks with some bull whip lashes added to the mix for variety. Now the Mt. Vernon wounds were not only healed, but healed to the point you would have never known what happened. And the intense pain of the day before had been replaced by a sort of vague ache in my joints, like my legs had been bending in ways they weren't supposed to. Which made sense because that's what had happened.
I finished the hands, splashed a bit of water on my face, and let myself look in the mirror. Don't know what I was expecting, but it was the same old Xander face looking back at me that I saw every morning, except that the bruises were gone, and for some reason I wasn't going to have to shave today. Guess the little bits of facial hair went wherever the fur did when I shifted back and forth. Yeah, I could feel a bit of the beast all zonked out somewhere in my subconscious, but I still felt like me in the ways that counted. And maybe it had something to do with Hellmouth magics, but I could still faintly make out some of the older scars on my body from the Scoobie days. I was glad those scars were still there. Darn it I had earned them, and I didn't want some other magic coming through and washing all of that away.
The door opened, and I watched a reflection of Jason walk into the bath house. He had obviously been up longer than I had been since he had had time to dress in soft black leather pants and a blue tank top. A part of my brain really hoped werewolf life didn't involve a dress code like that.
"How are you feeling, Xander?" he said, smiling as he walked toward me.
"I think it's better than I thought it was going to be." He closed the gap between us. Out of habit, I moved to the side as he got close to my sink. I had learned the hard way back in junior high not to let anyone get in too close range when you're in a public restroom. But Jason followed me as I stepped to the right, wrapping an arm around my back and pulling us back together.
"Easy there, Xander," he said as his hand made circles on my back. "Time for a lesson. Physical contact, touch is very important now. You'll crave it. Touch can heal, make you feel better, ground you when the world goes crazy, and when you find that special someone, it makes it all that more intense. Don't shy away from it. Bad to even try." I wasn't about to at the moment. He was right. The back rub felt incredibly good. Not just from the physical part of it, but there was something else there now that needed the contact.
"That does feel nice. And except for the 'my girlfriend's gonna kill me' moment, it felt good too when I woke up back in the cabin all curled up with people." I blushed a little. Kind of awkward to admit you liked the whole drunken wolf frat party scene. Jason chuckled.
"Don't worry. When you shifted back to human last night, you promptly passed out on us. We tucked you into bed, your virtue intact."
"That's good to know. Cause I can hardly remember anything that went on other than managing a face, or is that snout, plant when I tripped over a deer antler. All the other werewolves probably laughed at me for that."
"They wouldn't. Everyone's got an embarassing story about what went wrong the first couple times they changed. And pack memory is long. You don't bring that sort of thing up unless you want to be reminded of your own first kill clumsiness."
"If you say so. And at least it was a buck out there instead of being Bambi's mother. Call me a sap, I just guess I saw too many Disney movies growing up, but I'm glad it wasn't Bambi's mother last night. The humanity! Or would that be the deermanity?" We both laughed. Stephen was right. Jason and I had a lot of the same sense of humor.
"Seriously, you did well for a first full moon experience. And you got major style points for making a lunge at Allen like that. There are a lot of us who get here because we've survived being attacked. Not too many of us have the cajones to go after an attacker who at the time is bigger and stronger than we are."
"It was more habit than anything else. In Sunnydale, everything was bigger and stronger than you were. You either learned how to deal, or ran away from home, and I couldn't run away from home because Jesse and Willow wanted to stay in Sunnydale."
"Still, it's good instincts for pack life. We're a hierarchy, and we have our scraps. Better to have a reputation for being agressive than to be seen so passive that anyone can mess with you." So not just one big fuzzy family, but a family with the usual drunken rages and thrown glassware. Great. My face must have shown something because Jason changed the subject. " Hey, most of the pack has gotten up and left for the day. It's still Wednesday, and they had to go to work or school. But I can start introducing around to the people who are still here. Be good for you to start getting to know folks."
"Sounds like a plan to me." We walked out the door into sunlight that was still insisting on being just a little bit too bright. As I kept blinking, Jason waved down a heavy man with close-cropped hair as he walked from the camp towards the cars.
"Hey, Teddy. I've got someone for you to meet." Teddy changed direction and came towards us.
"Newly bitten? Richard would have announced it last night if anyone was transfering in."
"Yes. This is Xander, and Richard's having me act as his sponsor." Teddy grinned at that. "Yeah, I know, but I am capable of explaining the rules. I'm just not good at following them. Anyways, I though it would be good to work on greetings."
So I shortly found myself rubbing cheeks with a guy who looked like an ex-football player, then sticking my nose behind his ear. It seemed weird at first, but as I inhaled, I realized that the scent was giving the beast some sort of important picture of Teddy.
"And that's how it goes." Jason said, standing to the side. "Hey, I didn't just flag you down for that. Xander's from out of town, and doesn't have a pack back home he can go to, so he's going to be in St. Louis for a while. He needs a job, and he worked in construction back in Sunnydale. You're the guy who knows which of the lycanthrope construction companies are hiring."
"What kind of experience do you have?" Teddy said.
"Mostly general labor. I was getting into drywall on our last big project, and I have to say I was pretty good with mud." I was suddenly in the middle of a job interview with a guy I'd been playing sniff sniff with.
"I'll see what I can do and call you later. Micah's been complaining lately about not being able to find skilled workers. I've got to run here. My stepdaughter's got a school program at one, and I can't miss it." With that, he was headed back to the car park.
"That was quick. And thanks for asking about the job for me. It's not like I can spend forever in Anita's guest room."
"Yeah, I know it's only a matter of time before she needs it for someone else. You're lukoi now. And while we can have some pretty huge fights within the family, we look out for each other in the end."
St. Louis wasn't Sunnydale, and never would be. But it just might not be a bad place to be until I can hopefully figure out how to control my beast well enough to really go home again.
Author's note- So here ends the start of what is morphing into a larger story arc. I hope y'all have enjoyed reading it, and I genuinely appreciate the kind words and feedback. The tale was supposed to be a standalone bit, but the plot bunnies kept breeding like they sometimes do, and I've now got a couple of firm sequels in mind (one that brings Buffy and Willow to St. Louis, and another that sends Willow and Xander to New Mexico) and a couple more vague ideas in need of coherence.