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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.

Chapter Text

He finds a rabbit on his back porch the next morning. A dead one. It’s left just outside the back door and Nolan knows instinctively that it’s a gift from TK, a thank you. Nolan shrugs and picks it up, figuring he can skin it and cook it. Maybe he’ll take it back out to Travis and they can share it. He’s probably been eating raw meat this whole time and, while his wolf brain accepts that, his human brain thinks of how much better a cheeseburger tastes. At least Maddie’s opening the shop today, and Sanny’s coming in to close so as long as nothing goes wrong, Nolan has a day off.

He takes the time to cook the rabbit before he heads out. He doesn’t even bother doing the whole territory route, just heads straight to TK’s little cove with the rabbit meat. He finds TK waiting for him, sitting with his back against a tree wearing Nolan’s yellow hoodie, and his whole face lights up when he sees the food. Nolan sits down next to him and holds out the food, hiding his smile when TK carefully pulls the hoodie off and folds it in his lap, like he doesn’t want to get it dirty. He sits close enough to Nolan that their shoulders brush and eat in silence, and it’s the most comfortable Nolan’s been with probably anyone in his life.

“I have to finish my patrol,” Nolan tells him when they finish eating. “But I can come back when I’m done.” He’s honestly a little hurt when TK waves off the comment, but it’s washed away when TK follows him, walking along beside Nolan and chattering in the strange yips and growls like he’s trying to tell Nolan a story. Nolan lets him go, the chatter kind of comforting, and wonders what TK was like before this happened to him. He seems like he’s probably someone who talks a lot and Nolan’s so curious about what he’s saying that it drives him a little crazy. They make the circle back to TK’s cove and decide to continue on for another lap, and then they sit together for a little while longer until Nolan’s stomach starts growling around dinner time, and then TK shoos him away back home with a grin.

The next week passes about the same way. Nolan wakes up to a rabbit on his porch every morning. Sometimes he cooks it, sometimes he takes it into town to have someone turn it into jerky. He heads to the woods and TK joins him for a lap around Nolan’s territory, chattering away, pointing at things in the forest and saying things Nolan doesn’t understand. Two days he has to open the store, and he makes sure to tell TK that he won’t be there on those days until late. That Friday, though, he opens the store and then leaves David there by himself for the first time. Nolan’s so anxious to see TK that leaving his shop doesn’t make him as nervous as it normally would. Still, he keeps his phone on and asks Maddie to stop by the store and just check to make sure everything’s okay. He doesn’t bother to go inside when he gets home, heading straight to the woods for their daily walk.

He gets home a couple hours later and sees lights on in his house. He’s not surprised, exactly, but he definitely didn’t expect the entire pack to be in his living room. Haysey and Stacey are curled up on the couch, with Maddie on Stacey’s other side. Sanny’s in the armchair yawning.

“Patty!” Haysey shouts when he spots him. “Where have you been? You don’t call, you don’t write. I thought you were dead !” He’s teasing, but Nolan feels a flash of guilt. He’s been so preoccupied with TK that he hasn’t even checked in with the rest of the pack recently. “Oh don’t look guilty, Maddie said you’ve been spending time with that omega. How’s that going?”

Nolan sinks to the floor across from the couch with a groan. “His name’s TK. He can still write, I guess, but he can’t talk. I gave him some clothes and some blankets but he refuses to come back here with me so I’m waiting him out. He’s, uh, been leaving me rabbits as a thank you.” That earns some laughter and a raised eyebrow from Maddie.

“So that’s why you’ve taken over all our rounds?” Stacey asks. “You’re hogging him all to yourself.” Nolan flushes and shrugs.

“He trusts me,” he explains. “He usually walks with me.”

“Can we meet him?” Maddie breaks in. “Maybe he’ll be more comfortable coming here if he knows us.”

“I-” Nolan starts, unsure. He wants TK to meet the pack; the thought makes him feel something warm settle in his chest. It’s just that he’s not sure how TK would take it if Nolan suddenly confronted him with the whole pack. “I’ll ask him,” he finally decides. “I don’t want to overwhelm him, but if he says no to meeting all of you, maybe we can start one at a time.” They all accept that easily and then Haysey turns on a movie and declares it a pack bonding night. It’s nice, and he hadn’t even realized how much he missed having all of them together until he had it. Still, he can’t help but feel like something’s missing, the phantom feeling of a shoulder pressed against his.

He brings the idea up to TK the next morning when they’re almost back to the cove after their walk. “The pack wants to meet you,” he says cautiously, aware of how TK’s shoulders tense. “It’s okay if you don’t want to,” Nolan assures him. “I just wanted to ask just in case.” They’re both quiet until they get back to TK’s little nest and then TK bumps his shoulders and nods hesitantly. Nolan still doesn’t want to force him and he has to think for a second before he comes up with a plan that might work.

“Do you remember that spot where we first met? Near the territory line?” TK nods. “The full moon’s tomorrow night so the pack will be hanging out here anyway. I’ll bring them to that spot and you can decide if you wanna come out, and if you decide not to, that’s okay too.” TK’s shoulders drop and he nods, relieved, and Nolan knows he made the right choice. He pulls TK into a quick hug and sends a text in the group chat. They sit there in the sunshine for awhile longer until TK grins at him mischievously. Before Nolan can ask him what he’s doing, TK strips himself down to his filthy underwear and then yips happily before launching himself into the lake. It startles a laugh out of Nolan, shaking his head at TK when he resurfaces and tries to gesture Nolan into following him.

“I’m good, bud, it’s too cold in there for me.” TK rolls his eyes and dips back under, swimming a few feet away. Nolan moves closer to the shore and watches as TK seems to try to clean himself up as best he can. It doesn’t help that the water’s dirty and cold and there’s a distinct lack of soap, but Nolan doesn’t comment. TK doesn’t last very long before he’s climbing out of the water, shivering. “I told you it’s too cold, you dummy,” Nolan grumbles, herding TK back to the cove and grabbing the blanket. He uses it like a towel to try and dry TK off before he tries to help TK shove the clothes back over his head. TK doesn’t lose his grin the whole time. 

 ~

The next afternoon the pack is assembled at Nolan’s house and he leads them down the familiar path around the lake to the meeting spot. He lets them wrestle around in the grass for awhile to let out some of their pent up energy. Sanny has a leaf stuck in his hair and Maddie has grass stains on her jeans, but they’re all grinning. He makes them all sit down once he catches TK’s scent so they’ll hopefully look a little less intimidating.

“Do you think he’s gonna come out?” Sanny asks after a few minutes of silence. Nolan shrugs.

“I don’t know. It’s up to him.” He says it loud enough that hopefully his voice carries to wherever TK’s hiding, assuring him that he doesn’t have to come out if he doesn’t want to. It’s maybe 30 seconds later when he hears a yip coming from over to the left. He looks over but doesn’t see TK, and then a few seconds later the yip comes again. It takes him a few more seconds to realize that TK’s calling for him and Nolan stands up and heads toward the sound. He’s a few feet into the trees when he sees TK, shoulders hunched around his ears and looking more nervous than Nolan has ever seen him.

“Hey,” Nolan soothes, resting his hands on TK’s shoulders. “You don’t have to do this. We can try again later.” TK shakes his head vehemently and pushes Nolan’s shoulder to turn him around. He grabs Nolan’s wrist with one hand and uses the other to push him forward again. “Oh, you want me to go first? Be your human shield?” TK nods, looking almost embarrassed, but urging Nolan forward.

All eyes are on them when they step out of the trees and he feels TK tremble a little bit. He wants to reach back and comfort him, but that would mean breaking out of the tight grip TK has on his wrist. “Uh, so this is TK,” he says. “TK, this is Kevin, we call him Haysey, Stacey, Maddie, and Travis, we call him Sanny.” TK perks up a bit when he says Travis and looks at Nolan excitedly, pointing at himself. “What?”

TK picks up Nolan’s hand and, very carefully keeping his claws away from Nolan’s skin, spells out T R A V I S on the back of his hand. He points to himself again. “Your name is Travis?” Nolan asks, earning an excited nod. TK’s eyes flick to Sanny and back. “So TK is a nickname?” TK nods again, spelling something else out on Nolan’s hand that he doesn’t catch, but “your last name starts with a K?” TK nods again. “Well, everyone, this is Travis, but we call him TK,” he finally says.

He doesn’t super like the disgruntled look on Maddie’s face, but everyone else looks delighted. “Nice to meet you, other Travis,” Sanny says with a grin. “I like you already.” Nolan leads TK over to the circle and they sit down so close that TK’s practically in Nolan’s lap. TK never lets go of Nolan’s wrist and the pack start up a completely unrelated conversation. He feels TK start to relax by the minute. Nolan loves these people so much, and their easy acceptance of TK. Maddie’s the only one still shooting them occasional odd looks, her eyes caught on TK’s shirt for some reason Nolan doesn’t understand until he looks over and sees TK’s wearing the hoodie Nolan gave him. He doesn’t understand why she would be so weird about it, though. TK was cold, so Nolan gave him the hoodie. It’s whatever.

He doesn’t find out the reason until an hour or so later when they’ve headed back to the house and the rest of the pack leaves.

“You and TK seem pretty… close,” she says cautiously. “I knew you were spending a lot of time together, but that was… I don’t know. Not what I was expecting.”

“What were you expecting?” Nolan asks, maybe a little defensive.

“Just that… it’s only been, what, a week and a half? And it’s like he’s… imprinted on you or some shit. He’s really attached to you, Nols.”

“I’m the only person he knows,” Nolan retorts. “Once he gets more comfortable with the pack I’m sure he won’t be so attached to me. He’s not normally that, like, physically clingy. He was nervous.” Maddie sighs but she seems to relax.

“You’re probably right,” she agrees. “I’m just nervous because he’s… he’s feral, Patty. And I can’t help but wonder why. Did he leave his old pack, or did they kick him out? And why? Why didn’t he find a new one? It just doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m not worried,” Nolan admits. “From day one he’s never tried to hurt me or anything. Whatever his reason for going feral, I’m sure we’ll find out someday. Right now I’m just working on getting him back to normal and we can figure the rest out later.” She looks like she wants to argue, but she just shrugs.

“Alright. Just let me know if there’s anything I can do.”

“Maybe we can cut the patrol schedule back down, since we know the omega isn’t a threat. You could take back your normal one tomorrow,” Nolan says, although he really, really doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to sacrifice that time with TK, but he also knows that she’s right. He needs to be around people other than Nolan, and maybe now that he knows Maddie he’ll be more likely to come out when she’s out there. She brightens at the idea and agrees enthusiastically.

~

There’s a squirrel on his doorstep the next morning, instead of the usual rabbit. He laughs a little bit, wondering how badly the rabbit population is down now. He doesn’t particularly like the taste of squirrel, though, so he disposes of the poor thing on his way into town to open the shop. He has another open-to-close today, some things he needs to move around and get ordered as the change of seasons means getting the winter gear out. The morning flies by as he moves things over to clearance and he’s so startled by his phone ringing that he almost drops his armful of brand new snow shovels.

“What’s up?” he asks Maddie when he fishes it out of his pocket.

“He walked with me!” she says excitedly. “Like, not at first, and he wouldn’t really get super close to me, but at least he came out, you know?”

“Aweomse!” Relief floods through Nolan’s chest. “Did he talk to you at all?”

“Talk?” she scoffs, like she thinks he’s messing with her. “You know he can’t talk yet.”

“No, I mean,” he hesitates, feeling a little embarrassed. “He just, like, chatters. It sounds like he’s growling but it’s like he’s telling stories and stuff.”

“Oh,” she says. “No, he was quiet the whole time. But anyway, I gotta go to class. See ya, loser.” She hangs up without waiting for a response and as happy as he is that TK’s not afraid of the pack, Nolan’s stupidly relieved that TK didn’t try to talk to Maddie. It feels like… like their thing, and he doesn’t want to share. Which is stupid because TK isn’t his , isn’t his pack and isn’t even really his friend . Except he feels like they are friends. He thinks for two people who can’t talk, they understand each other remarkably well. He can’t help but wonder what TK will do once he’s found his way back to himself, and his stomach ties itself in knots thinking that TK will leave him.

That feeling of dread sits in his stomach all through the rest of the day until he closes up the shop and heads home. He wants to go straight to the woods and find TK, but he forces himself to stop. He doesn’t know what weird alpha instincts are kicking in and making him so attached to TK, but he thinks they should probably get some space before Nolan gets too invested. He doesn’t sleep very well that night, wondering if TK’s cold, or if he’s hungry, or if he misses Nolan at all.

There’s nothing on his porch the next morning. No rabbit, no squirrel, nothing. He squashes the stab of panic he feels, worried something happened to TK, and grabs his shoes. He’s halfway around the lake before he’s even fully awake and the sun isn’t even fully in the sky by the time he makes it to TK’s cove. His heart stops when he doesn’t find TK there. The duffel bag and blanket are there, though, along with Nolan’s hoodie folded neatly on top of the bag. It’s fine. There’s probably nothing wrong. If the police came and picked him up, they would’ve taken the gear too. Not to mention that they’d have to let Nolan know before they entered his territory. Still, he scents the air, relieved when he smells no one other than himself and TK. But then where the fuck is he?

“TK?” he calls out, listening for a rustle, or the happy yipping he’s used to. There’s nothing. His heart starts racing as he makes his way back to the trail, hoping maybe TK is waiting for him there. “TK, come on. Where are you?” Nothing. No sign of him on the trail and if he’s nearby he’s staying carefully out of smelling range. Nolan’s suddenly hit with the fear that TK just… left. Maybe he moved on or went back to his pack. Maybe he left Nolan’s territory and someone did call the police on him. He starts jogging along the trail. “Teeks, please.” Some of the desperation bleeds into his voice and a few seconds later, he catches TK’s scent. He stops in his tracks and waits, the scent growing stronger until he can hear rustling leaves and TK steps on the trail, arms crossed. He looks like he’s… pouting .

“You scared the shit out of me,” Nolan scolds, taking a step toward TK, only to freeze when TK takes a step back. “What’s wrong?” TK scowls at him. “Are you ok?” He nods jerkily. “Are you mad at me?” He nods again, this time harder, still scowling. Nolan doesn’t have to ask to know what this is about. “Because I didn’t come out here last night?” TK looks away, but not before Nolan catches the hurt on his face. He’s such a dick. Nolan’s pretty much his only friend in the world right now and he left him out here all alone.

“I’m sorry,” he says sadly. “I worked all day, and then I was tired, and Maddie said… it doesn’t matter. I’m just sorry. But I was worried about you when I couldn’t find you. I thought something happened to you, or that you decided to leave or something.” TK sighs heavily and drops his arms, stepping up close to Nolan. He looks Nolan in the eyes pointedly for a second before very deliberately tilting his head and baring his throat. Nolan’s breath catches and he feels like he might pass out when TK grabs his hand and brings it up to his throat, holding Nolan’s hand there against his skin.

It’s unmistakable, what this means, and the weight of it almost knocks Nolan off his feet. He strokes his thumb over TK’s skin absently. “You want to be in my pack?” he whispers. TK’s eyes flicker to Nolan’s and he nods just slightly, pressing Nolan’s hand harder against his throat before taking his hand away. Nolan doesn’t move. “Of course you can be in my pack.” You have been since the moment we met , he doesn’t say, but he thinks he can see the understanding in TK’s eyes. Something clicks into place, like a missing puzzle piece, and he pulls TK into his arms before he realizes he’s moving. TK nuzzles against his throat, that rumbling starting up in his chest just like last time they did this. They stand like that for a long time, and Nolan realizes there isn’t really anywhere else he wants to be.

Chapter Text

Nolan cuts the patrols back down to once a week, and even that seems a little redundant since he’s out there every day anyway. The next two weeks pass pretty much the same, except he’s convinced TK to stop leaving him dead animals, mostly for the sake of the local rabbit population. He already has more jerky than he knows what to do with, and he makes TK eat it with him, despite the disgusted look TK has at the texture. The pack bonding nights happen out in the woods now, despite the weather rapidly getting colder, since TK still refuses to actually come into Nolan’s house. The pack was thrilled when Nolan told them TK was officially part of the pack now, and he knows they’ve all gone out to the woods alone at some point just to spend time with TK.

He’s even managed to get TK almost saying real words. It started when Nolan convinced him to call him Pat, since it was easier for TK to say. It still comes out sounding more like a bark than anything else, but with every passing day TK starts to act a little more human. Sometimes he pulls Nolan down onto his blanket nest in the cove and forcibly snuggles him while Nolan tells him stupid stories about the store, or the visit he and Maddie took to see their parents, or whatever else pops into his head. It’s nice, but every night he can’t help but ask TK again and again to come home with him. He doesn’t know why TK won’t. If it’s that he just doesn’t trust Nolan- which hurts- or that he doesn’t want to leave the woods- which is dangerous.

It’s the last straw one night when it starts to pour down rain. It’s basically a freezing rain, coming down in sheets that means you’ll be drenched within seconds and Nolan wrestles with himself, pulling on his shoes and staring at the door. He’s never wanted to force TK to come inside, but there’s no way he’s letting him stay outside like this. TK can leave tomorrow if that’s what he wants, but this is ridiculous.

But as he throws the back door open, he comes face to face with a drenched and shivering TK who has one hand raised like he was about to knock. “Get in here,” Nolan demands once his split second of shock has passed, replaced by his instinct to protect. TK hesitates just for a moment before he steps inside, looking around warily like he’s expecting a torture chamber or something.

“Pat,” TK barks, reaching a hand out and fisting it in Nolan’s shirt.

“Yeah, buddy, I’ll take care of you, okay?” Nolan soothes, leading TK into the living room. He hesitates for a second before deciding the first thing he needs to do is get TK some dry clothes. “Wait here, okay?” The second Nolan steps away, TK makes a wounded noise and scrabbles after him. He’s scared , Nolan realizes. Nolan doesn’t get it, what it is about his house that terrifies TK so much, but he relents, grabbing TK’s wrist to guide him to Nolan’s bedroom.

Helping TK change into dry clothes isn’t as awkward as it used to be for Nolan. He’s taken TK a few changes of clothes the past few weeks, and they have enough of a routine down that TK doesn’t even protest when Nolan pulls the shirt over his head and swaps it out for a hoodie. They swap out the drenched sweatpants for a new pair, too long and too loose for him, and Nolan has to tighten the drawstring so they don’t fall down. After using a towel to dry TK’s hair, he pulls TK back to the living room and lets him hover while Nolan starts a fire in the cabin’s fireplace.

“Pat,” he says again, almost desperately, when Nolan’s done. He’s looking at Nolan with wide grey eyes, looking more uncomfortable than Nolan’s ever seen him.

“What do you need, bud? We can do whatever you want,” he promises. TK hesitates for a second before snagging Nolan’s wrist again and pulling him back to Nolan’s bedroom. He has to let go to strip the comforter off of Nolan’s bed, but he herds Nolan back to the living room and lays it on the floor in front of the fireplace, arranging it how he wants it before he sits down and pulls Nolan down with him, their backs against the couch. He climbs into Nolan’s lap and buries his face against Nolan’s shoulder with a pathetic whimper that has Nolan’s heart breaking.

“Pat,” he whimpers. He tries to say something else, something slurred that sounds suspiciously like scared and Nolan wraps his arms tighter around him.

“I’ve got you, babe,” he soothes. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. I’m your alpha, remember?” TK nods against his shoulder and it takes maybe half an hour before his trembling slows and stops. It isn’t much longer after that that Nolan hears his sleepy snuffling and realizes TK has fallen asleep. Nolan’s ass is falling asleep too and he’ll probably have a crick in his neck, but he can’t even think about moving a muscle. He closes his eyes and lets his mind drift.

He’s startled some time later by the sound of the front door opening. Maddie freezes in the doorway, staring at them with her jaw practically on the floor. Thankfully, TK doesn’t stir. Nolan moves a finger up to his lips, signalling for her to be quiet, and she nods.

“I brought you dinner,” she whispers, holding up the bag from the local diner. He almost tells her to put it in the fridge but his stomach growls as if on cue. She rolls her eyes and brings the food over, even opening up the containers for him. It’s just a burger and fries, but it smells so good it has his mouth watering. He whispers his thanks and pops some fries in his mouth just as TK starts sniffing, lifting his head and aiming a bleary-eyed stare at Nolan. Nolan pops a fry in TK’s mouth and TK starts chewing on instinct, still not completely awake. It’s barely a split second later before he stiffens, a growl tearing out of his throat as his head whips around to glare at Maddie. He bares his teeth, the threatening rumble not letting up, and Nolan doesn’t know if he or Maddie is more shocked.

“Teeks,” Nolan scolds, hands settling on TK’s waist. “That’s Maddie. You know her, remember? Knock it off.” TK stops baring his teeth, shrinking into himself like a scolded child, but he doesn’t look away from Maddie and he doesn’t stop growling. Nolan has to take a second to remind himself that, no matter how much progress they’ve made, TK’s still feral. He’s still uncomfortable being in Nolan’s house, still not completely comfortable with the pack except for Nolan. He runs his hands soothingly up and down TK’s sides.

“I’ll head home,” Maddie says quietly.

“Sorry, Mads,” Nolan says, not taking his eyes off of TK.

“No, I get it,” she assures him. “I’m just glad he’s here safe and not out in the storm. Take care of him, Nols.” TK doesn’t stop growling until Maddie is out the door and they hear her car pull away. And then he drops his eyes, ashamed, looking like he’s barely daring to breathe.

“I’m sorry,” Nolan says gently. “I know you’re scared and I promised I’d help.” TK leans down and bumps his forehead gently to Nolan’s, and Nolan knows his apology was accepted. “Are you hungry?” TK looks disgusted by the food, but every time Nolan holds the food to his mouth he accepts it without complaint, and it doesn’t take long to polish off the whole meal. Nolan argues with himself for a minute, looking at the dirt still coating TK’s skin, and wondering if he can convince TK to take a shower.

“Will you try something for me?” Nolan asks gently. TK nods, no hesitation. “Will you take a shower? Try to get some of this mud off of you?” TK purses his lips grumpily before he finally nods, climbing off of Nolan’s lap and waiting for Nolan to lead him to the bathroom. They strip TK down to his underwear- that final boundary that Nolan won’t cross- and he only hesitates for a second before he strips down to his underwear too. He seriously doubts TK will let him leave the room, and this will probably go better if Nolan helps. He grabs a washcloth and waits for the water to warm before he herds TK into the spray.

As soon as the water hits TK, dirt and mud flow off of him in a stream. Nolan’s heart breaks and he can’t help feeling like a bad alpha, letting TK live like this, even though he knows TK wouldn’t have let him do anything about it before today. He lets the water do the work, turning TK in circles and guiding his head back into the spray until the water flowing down the drain is clear again. Then he grabs the wash cloth and soap and goes to work, starting with TK’s face and beard. The disgruntled look on his face makes Nolan laugh out loud and TK starts up a stream of those growls and yips, sounding awfully like he’s scolding Nolan. He hears a “Pat” every now and then, and a few words he thinks he recognizes, like “mean” and “rude” but he just grins.

He hits the waistband of TK’s boxers and has to drop to his knees to start cleaning below the knee, carefully focused on what he’s doing and not all the tanned skin in front of his face. TK’s attractive under all that dirt, exactly Nolan’s type, but Nolan knows he absolutely can’t do anything about his attraction while TK’s like this. That’s fine; he can wait. He’s just going to focus on doing anything he can to help TK, and push everything else to the side.

When he’s satisfied that TK is as clean as he’s going to get this time around, he pops back up and eyes TK’s hair. It’s… definitely a lost cause. It’s so tangled that he’s better off starting with a full shave than trying to brush it out, and Nolan makes a mental note to ask Stacey to come over and help out if TK sticks around long enough. Still, they’ll probably both feel better after it’s washed, so he grabs the shampoo and gets to work.

TK dries himself off while Nolan grabs him a new pair of underwear and some new sweatpants since the other ones are muddy now. As much as TK acted like he hated the shower, he’s smiling when he emerges from the bathroom and mumbles something that sounds like a “thank you.”

"Don't thank me yet," Nolan warns, herding TK back into the bathroom. He grabs the brand new toothbrush and toothpaste out of the drawer and gets it ready before holding it out to TK, who sighs dramatically but takes it and starts brushing. Once he starts, he seems like he doesn't want to stop and Nolan has another flash of guilt. He should've brought TK a toothbrush weeks ago. Once he’s finished, TK rinses his mouth out and Nolan has a flash of what he could’ve been like before. His eyes are drawn to strong shoulders and a narrow waist before he forces himself to leave the bathroom. He needs to get it together; he can’t be interested in someone who doesn’t even really have the ability to consent to the attention.

TK follows him out of the bathroom, sticking close to his side, and Nolan faces the dilemma of where they’re going to sleep. He has a guest room, but he knows for sure that TK won’t sleep in there by himself. Nolan still doesn’t get why he’s so afraid of the house when he’s perfectly content sleeping outside by himself, but he’s not going to try and fight it.

“Where do you want to sleep?” Nolan asks him. TK looks mournfully to the window where the rain is still pouring down and then picks up the blanket they’d laid in front of the fireplace. He walks down the hall to Nolan’s bedroom and then drops the blanket on the floor again, bunching it up until he has a little nest next to Nolan’s bed. Nolan thinks for a second of trying to force him onto the bed before he sighs a resigned, “yeah, alright.” He grabs a spare blanket from the hall and settles himself on the bed. By the time he’s comfortable, he hears TK’s soft, even breaths and Nolan knows he’s already asleep.

Nolan’s supposed to open the store tomorrow, but the prospect of leaving TK here all alone when he wakes up is too awful so he sends Maddie a quick text.

Can we swap shifts? U open tmrw and I’ll take Fri?

Yeah , she sends back almost immediately. Is he ok?

Fed, showered, teeth brushed and asleep. Thnks. He doesn’t wait for a response, just rolls onto his stomach and falls asleep, resting easily knowing TK is safe nearby.

~

He wakes up to a gentle tapping on his shoulder and groans, burying his face in the pillow. He smiles at TK’s amused snort and earns a soft growl when he doesn’t move.

“Pat!” Nolan’s still secretly thrilled every time TK says his name, and he likes to reward good behavior, so he rolls over and blinks groggily at TK’s grinning face. “Food,” he says urgently, giving Nolan his best puppy eyes. Nolan grabs his phone off the night stand and makes a face.

“It’s only 7am,” he sighs, sitting up. “You were supposed to be the reason I could sleep in today.” TK’s face falls, looking at Nolan cautiously like he isn’t sure if Nolan is actually upset or not, and Nolan decides immediately to get over himself. “Sorry, I’m just grumpy in the mornings. Not your fault.” He rests a hand on the top of TK’s head, grinning when TK launches himself onto Nolan’s lap and hugs him.

“Food,” he says again into Nolan’s shirt, but he doesn’t act like he’s going to move any time soon. Now that the coating of mud and sweat is gone, TK’s scent hits Nolan full force. Just underneath the smell of Nolan’s soap, it’s pure lake water and pine, and completely TK. Nolan buries his nose in the crook of TK’s neck and doesn’t even try to hide his sniff. It reminds him of summer days on the lake and he smiles.

Nolan holds onto him for a few more seconds and then dumps TK on the bed, enjoying the outraged squawk. He leaves him pouting on the bed and goes to search the fridge for something TK will eat. He’s pretty sure bacon will pass the test, but he’s not sure about eggs or toast. He may have to do some careful bribing, but honestly he’s just glad TK’s still here and didn’t disappear as soon as the rain stopped. He doesn’t know how long TK will stay, but while he’s here Nolan’s going to do whatever he can to make him want to stay.

He’s just plating the food when he hears music coming from the bedroom and TK walking in a few seconds later with Nolan’s phone in his hand. He seems to have found the spotify app and he’s playing some country band Nolan doesn’t recognize. It’s obviously not an accident, Nolan realizes as soon as TK starts trying to sing along, howling more than anything. He dances around the kitchen, phone in hand, until Nolan makes him sit down and eat. He still refuses to use a fork, but he seems happy enough to eat everything on the plate as long as he’s allowed to scroll through spotify and listen to whatever he wants. There’s real joy on his face, and Nolan wonders when the last time TK heard music was. It’s funny watching him trying to keep his claws out of the way while he types on the screen and Nolan catches himself staring more than once.

He finally has to wrestle the phone away after TK spends almost an hour with his nose glued to it, and he sulks on the couch for another 15 minutes while Nolan gathers up all their dirty clothes and starts the laundry. He’s surprised when he sees TK walk into the bathroom and then a little later hears the toilet flush. TK using the toilet wasn’t something he had even considered worrying about, but now that he knows he doesn’t have to it’s a relief . He even hears the sink turn on and what he assumes is TK washing his hands before TK comes to find him and drags him to the back door.

“Pat,” he says happily. “Go.” Nolan blinks at him. He’d thought maybe he’d have more time before TK tried to leave, and he knows how disappointed he must look, but he nods.

“Alright,” he agrees quietly. “But you need some warmer clothes.” TK looks at him strangely, tilting his head like he can see that Nolan’s sad but doesn’t know why. He gets dressed obediently when Nolan brings him a hoodie and some socks and even hesitantly slips on Nolan’s shoes, which are way too big for him. Nolan makes a mental note to pick some up in TK’s size when he goes to town tomorrow.

TK races out the door and then turns around to make sure Nolan’s following him, chattering away as they make the usual track around the lake. Nolan can even follow a lot of what he’s saying, talking about the fish he can see in the water, and the rabbit he hears nearby. The words are rough, and it’s only because of the time they’ve spent together that Nolan has a chance of understanding, but he does. He likes it; this feels more like a friendship, where they can communicate. He kinda can’t wait until TK’s gotten the hang of talking again, to find out all the things he wants to say.

He’s sad when they get to TK’s cove. There’s still mud everywhere, air crisp and cold, and Nolan knows that snow can’t be that far behind. He doesn’t understand what’s happening when TK starts gathering up his nest, shoving the wet pile of clothes and the blanket in the bag, but he doesn’t ask. TK shoulders the duffel bag and then wanders the rest of the path beside Nolan.

“You probably wanna wash all that, huh?” Nolan asks when they’re nearing the cabin, finally catching on. “Especially since it’s all soaked now.” TK just shrugs, but he lets Nolan take the bag from him as they climb the steps to the porch. He still hesitates before he steps inside, but once he’s in he moves around easily. He sprawls on the couch, and the ease of the movement is almost jarring to Nolan. He’s only really seen TK in the woods, acting like a wolf, but today he’s acting more like a human. His movements are more natural, his words a little clearer, and Nolan understands him perfectly when he asks hopefully, “phone?”

Nolan hands his phone over and laughs from the laundry room when he hears music blasting a few moments later. He switches the clothes from earlier into the dryer and dumps the contents of TK’s bag into the washing machine. When he comes back out, he leans over the back of the couch and looks down at TK until TK meets his eyes.

“Will you stay here?” he asks. “It’s getting too cold out and I’m worried about you being out there.” TK only hesitates for a second before he nods.

“Home,” he says quietly. Nolan looks down at him in surprise.

“This is your home?” he asks. TK’s brow furrows in frustration and he shakes his head a bit, opening and closing his mouth a few times. Finally, he raises a hand and lays it on Nolan’s chest right over his heart.

“Home,” he repeats. Nolan’s heartbeat stutters in his chest and he raises a hand and presses it over TK’s to hold it in place.

“I’m your home,” he says, just to make sure. TK’s smile is almost blinding and, yeah, Nolan’s pretty okay with that.

Chapter Text

“We have to do something about your hair,” Nolan finally says later that afternoon. TK’s got his head in Nolan’s lap, still scrolling on the phone while Nolan’s half paying attention to something on Netflix. “Will you…” he trails off, afraid to ask too much of TK too soon. He pauses long enough that TK looks up questioningly. “Will you let Stacey cut it?” TK’s eyes widen.

“You do it?” TK asks hopefully, the longest coherent sentence that Nolan has heard from him. He grimaces.

“I’m not great with haircuts,” he admits, patting TK’s chest apologetically. “I can help you shave your face, but Stacey does hair for a living. She’ll make you look better than I can.” TK hesitates and Nolan pulls out the big guns. “She’s pack, Teeks. You know I won’t let her do anything to hurt you.

“Pack,” TK repeats, like he’s trying to convince himself. “Okay. Yes.” Nolan plucks the phone from his hands and texts Stacey before TK can change his mind, and she responds almost immediately that she’ll be there in 10 minutes. Bless her. He drops the phone back onto TK’s chest and lets his hand rest right below it, scratching his fingers lightly over the fabric of TK’s shirt soothingly.

Stacey and Kevin let themselves in and two sets of eyebrows raise when they see TK on the couch. Nolan may have forgotten to let them know TK’s living inside now, but after their initial surprise, they act like nothing’s out of the ordinary.

“Hey, TK!” Kevin greets, holding out a hand for a fistbump. TK sits up and returns it awkwardly, barely able to take his eyes off of Stacey and the bag in her hand.

“Hi,” she says gently, setting the bag down. “Nolan asked me to give you a haircut. Is that ok?” TK nods warily, reaching out a hand to blindly grab Nolan’s wrist. “Awesome. I’m gonna make you look fantastic. I promise.” She smiles at him warmly and he even manages to return it a little bit.

“I’m thinking the back porch?” Nolan asks, standing up and pulling TK with him. “There should still be plenty of light.”

“Sure,” she agrees, leading the way. They grab one of the deck chairs and have TK sit in it while Stacey pulls out a pair of scissors and a comb. “Do you have a towel or something so we can keep the hair from getting down his shirt?”

“Yeah, I’ll grab one,” Nolan says. He isn’t even able to take a step before TK makes a panicked noise.

“Pat?” he asks frantically, already half out of his chair. “Stay.” Nolan cups TK’s face in his hands, rubbing a thumb over his cheekbone gently.

“I’m just gonna grab a towel, okay?” he promises. “I’ll be right back. And Stacey won’t touch you until I’m back.” TK looks at Stacey, like he’s looking for confirmation, and she nods.

“I promise,” she says with an easy grin. TK sits back down reluctantly, but he doesn’t try to follow Nolan this time. Kevin, however, is one step behind him.

“I didn’t know he was talking now,” Kevin observes. “And since when does he come in the house?”

“Since last night,” Nolan grumbles. “It was the rain. He couldn’t stay out in it. And he’s been talking for awhile, just not around anyone else. I think… I think he’s embarrassed.”

“He trusts you, though.” Nolan shrugs, opening the linen closet and grabbing a towel. 

“I’m his alpha. He knows I’ll take care of him.” He doesn’t look at Kevin as he turns back down the hall, embarrassment coloring his face.

“Can we spend more time with him now?” Kevin asks, stopping Nolan before they step back outside. “Now that he’s doing a little better, maybe being around the pack will help him.” Nolan feels something like guilt settle in his chest. He hasn't actively been keeping the pack away from TK, but he knows most of his time and attention has gone to him the past few weeks. He’s probably been neglecting the rest of the pack.

“Of course,” he agrees. “He’s still a little nervous about being in the house so I don’t know if having everyone here at once will be a good idea. But we can do stuff outside while the weather’s still ok. I think he mentioned he likes fishing.”

“Pat!” he hears impatiently from outside. He doesn’t bother to hide his grin from Kevin before he steps back outside, shaking the towel out so he can fold it over TK’s shoulders. TK grins up at him but his smile disappears as soon as Stacey skims a hand over his hair. “Pat,” he says again, holding a hand out. Nolan slips his fingers into TK’s.

“She’s not gonna hurt you,” Nolan promises. “She’s pack, remember?”

“Pack,” TK repeats dutifully, holding carefully still as Stacey pokes around his head.

“I don’t know, guys,” she sighs, brow furrowed. “We might just need to shave it down and start from scratch.” TK growls, just a low grumble in his chest that’s more a grumpy pout than a threat. But after a second he sighs and nods, pulling his hand out of Nolan’s to cross his arms grumpily.

“You’re gonna feel so much better,” Nolan laughs. “And if you wanna let it grow out again, we’ll do a better job of keeping it brushed and clean.” TK tries to hold his pout but his lip quirks up at the corner and he lets his arms drop. Stacey roots around in her bag until she pulls out a battery powered shaver and comes around to look at TK.

“I’ll leave a little bit so you won’t be completely bald,” she promises. “You ready?” TK nods, but when Stacey turns the trimmer on and the buzzing starts, he flinches and reaches for Nolan’s hand again. “Just give me a thumbs up when you want to start. And if you need me to stop, just tell me.” After a couple deep breaths TK hesitantly holds up a thumb and closes his eyes.

He doesn’t flinch at the first touch to his skin, which honestly surprises Nolan. He holds very still, eyes closed with a white-knuckled grip on Nolan’s hand. He seems to be ok for a few minutes and then the trimmer touches the back of TK’s neck and he bites out a “stop!” Stacey does, backing away immediately. TK’s eyes find Nolan’s, pleading, and Nolan moves forward to crouch in front of him. TK takes Nolan’s hand and pulls it to the back of his neck.

“You’re doing so good, Teeks,” Nolan promises, squeezing the back of TK’s neck comfortingly. “You’re almost halfway done. Think of how much lighter your head will be once all that hair is gone.” He’s just talking to talk, to sooth TK with his voice, but he earns an amused snort and TK’s shoulders gradually relax. He pulls Nolan’s hand away and links their fingers again, giving Stacey another thumbs up.

“You sure?” she asks, hesitant to touch him again. He nods. He has to stop her a couple more times, and each time Nolan’s ready to step in with soothing words and a pat on the head. It doesn’t take much longer to get the rest of the hair cleared off and TK sighs in relief when the towel is finally taken off his shoulders. Kev’s there with a broom and dust pan, ready to clear off the porch while Nolan pulls TK to the bathroom and makes him lean over the tub.

“I’m gonna wash your hair,” Nolan explains. “Just like at a salon.” TK grunts but doesn’t move as Nolan warms up the water and pulls the showerhead from the wall. He makes quick work of the washing, being careful not to get any shampoo in TK’s eyes at the risk of getting growled at. When he finally scrubs a towel over what’s left of TK’s hair, he can’t help but laugh. He has maybe a quarter of an inch of hair now, and it makes his beard look so out of place on his face.

TK turns to the mirror and Nolan loses it at the horrified look on his face, laughing so hard he has to brace his hands on his knees. Two pairs of footsteps come down the hall toward them and then Stacey and Kevin are in the doorway, trying not to laugh at the sight. “Pat,” TK says sharply. “Shave.”

“Yeah, okay,” Nolan agrees through his giggles. “We’ll get you cleaned up.”

“Want me to do that too?” Stacey asks. “I have a beard trimmer in my bag, I think.”

“No,” TK says quickly, looking at Nolan pleadingly.

“I think I got this one,” Nolan assures them both. He eyes TK consideringly. “We’ll need to trim it first, I think.” TK’s facial hair isn’t super long or thick, probably just three or four months worth, but Nolan isn’t sure if he should leave some stubble or if TK prefers to be clean shaven. He picks up his electric trimmer in one hand and the good old fashioned shaving cream and razor in the other and holds them out. TK doesn’t hesitate before he points to the shaving cream.

“This I have to see,” Kev laughs from the doorway. Nolan rolls his eyes and plugs the trimmer in so he can clear away the worst of the hair before he has to attempt to slather TK’s face with shaving cream.

“Hop up,” Nolan says, patting the counter next to the bathroom sink. TK does, accepting the small trash can Nolan thrusts into his hands and letting his legs fall open easily when Nolan steps between them. “You ready?” he asks. TK grins at him, completely at odds to how tense he was earlier, and holds still as Nolan turns the trimmer on.

He tilts TK’s head back just a little bit and starts carefully dragging the trimmer over TK’s skin. TK doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even seem bothered, and Nolan has to take a steadying breath at the trust TK’s showing him right now. He chats idly with Kev and Stacey as he makes quick work of the beard, leaving only stubble behind.

“Do you want to stop there?” Nolan asks TK, just in case. TK brings a hand up to scrub at his face and shakes his head.

“Shave, Pat,” he says. Then, as an afterthought, “please.” Nolan grabs a washcloth and soaks it in warm water, scrubbing it over TK’s face to clear away any lingering hair, and then rinses it out and makes TK hold it to the bottom half of his face.

“You’re looking better already, bud,” Kevin says. TK rolls his eyes. Nolan’s just glad he’s not tense anymore, seeming to have accepted Haysie and Stacey being here. He waits until the cloth has gone cold and then lets TK pull it away from his face.

“I don’t think you’re gonna like this,” Nolan warns when he picks up the shaving cream. TK growls something back, but Nolan only catches the words “know” and “shave” and “before”. He’s good at expressing himself one word at a time, but when he tries full sentences he can’t quite get all the words out clearly. Still, Nolan knows the tone. He doesn’t give any more warnings before he squeezes some shaving cream into his hand and starts slathering it over his face. TK’s face twitches a couple times, but other than that he remains completely still, even closes his eyes and lets Nolan move his head wherever he needs it.

He rinses his hands off and grabs one of the brand new razors out of the package, running it under some warm water before he takes a deep breath and turns back to TK. He’s nervous. TK doesn’t seem bothered, but Nolan’s afraid to hurt him, afraid that if he accidentally manages to nick TK with the blade that TK will freak out and run away. He hears a sniff from the doorway and turns to Kevin and Stacey who are watching him.

“Can you guys go do something else?” he grumbles. “You’re making me nervous.” Kevin rolls his eyes, but Stacey starts shoving him out of the doorway.

“Of course,” she agrees with a smile. “Just holler if you need anything.”

“Don’t kill him,” Kevin shouts over his shoulder. Nolan freezes for a second, knowing it was just a joke but something about it still scaring him.

“I won’t kill you,” Nolan mumbles. TK snorts, not even bothering to open his eyes, the picture of ease. Nolan steps back between his legs and lets his fingers trail over TK’s face, right above the line of shaving cream, so TK’s not surprised at the first touch of the razor to his skin. Nolan takes him time, makes sure that he doesn’t miss a spot, TK yielding underneath his fingers whenever Nolan tilts his face.

It doesn’t happen until Nolan’s almost done. He must press too hard, because TK flinches and when Nolan pulls away there’s a drop of blood welling up on his jaw. “Shit,” Nolan spits, grabbing the discarded washcloth and pressing it against the cut. “I’m so sorry, Teeks.”

“Okay,” TK soothes, fingers closing around Nolan’s wrist. “Okay, Pat.” Nolan knows he’s more worked up about it than TK is, but his heart rate slows back down to normal the longer TK sits there stroking his fingers over Nolan’s wrist. He pulls the cloth away eventually, when the blood has stopped, and he checks with TK before he finishes the last little bit of his face.

“You’re all done,” Nolan smiles, idly dragging his fingers over TK’s face to check for stubble that he missed. He doesn’t realize how close he is until he catches TK’s eye, and then realizes he can feel TK’s breath fanning across his face. He freezes, lost in the green-grey of TK’s eyes and TK’s soft skin under his fingers. For a second, just one second , Nolan almost does it, finds himself leaning forward, until the uncertainty on TK’s face snaps him out of it. What the fuck is he doing?

He takes a large step back and clears his throat, his cheeks aflame. He shoves the washcloth back in TK’s hands and tells him to rinse his face while Nolan looks anywhere but at him. TK does as he asked and then obediently puts on the aftershave Nolan tells him to use. Nolan’s ready to bolt, to retreat to the safety of the living room, but TK steps in front of the door and blocks him in.

“Pat?” he asks hesitantly, hurt flashing across his face when Nolan dodges the hand he holds out. “Pat,” he says again, softer. “Kiss?” Nolan’s head whips up, looking TK in the eyes for the first time since the almost-kiss. He looks nervous, uncertain, but he tries to smile when Nolan looks at him.

“I’m sorry,” Nolan says in a rush. “I shouldn’t have… Teeks I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable, I promise. I would never do anything you don’t want. It won’t happen again.”

“I want,” TK interrupts, stepping forward. He follows when Nolan steps backwards until he’s pressed to the wall with nowhere to go. “I want,” he repeats. “Kiss you.” He doesn’t try to touch Nolan, and Nolan is grateful. His head is a jumbled mess, and he doesn’t know if he would be able to say no if TK kissed him right now.

“We can’t,” Nolan says, firm but quiet. “Not right now.” TK’s face falls, obviously hurt, and Nolan allows himself to rest a hand on TK’s shoulder. “You know I want to, but not right now, okay? You’re still… a big part of you is just running on instinct right now and I don’t know how much of this is you wanting me , and how much of it is you wanting an alpha. A safe space, someone you can trust that will take care of you.”

“Want you,” TK argues.

“I want to be the one to take care of you,” Nolan admits. “And not just as your alpha. But right now it’s the pack’s job to help you, okay? We’re all gonna do our best to help you get back to normal, and we can’t be any more than that until I know that you want me for me.” TK doesn’t respond for a minute, eyes on the floor, but eventually he looks up with a nod.

“Hug?” he asks instead, and Nolan opens his arms easily. TK tucks his head under Nolan’s chin and wraps himself around Nolan like a clingy octopus, not letting go until Nolan forces him back and starts herding him to the living room. He shoves TK on the couch next to Kevin and goes to the kitchen to make dinner, relieved when TK doesn’t follow him into the kitchen and curls up next to Kevin instead. He needs to be better about not letting the two of them live in their own little world and letting TK actually socialize with other people. Which reminds him…

“I have to work open-to-close tomorrow,” he announces to the living room. He doesn’t actually want to ask the question on his mind, and it turns out he doesn’t have to.

“I’m off tomorrow,” Kev volunteers. “I can hang out all day. Wanna go fishing with me?” TK’s face lights up so brightly that Nolan’s surprised it doesn’t blind everyone in the room.

“Yes, fish!” TK chirps, looking at Kevin like he’s a god. Nolan rolls his eyes and leaves them to it.

Kevin and Stacey hang out for a couple more hours until Nolan’s yawning becomes obnoxious, and then they make their escape. Kevin promises to be there early so they can get out while the fish are biting and TK hugs both of them before they leave. He still sleeps on the floor next to Nolan’s bed, even though Nolan tried to coax him into the guest bed.

The alarm the next morning comes way too soon, but Nolan opens his eyes to a bright eyed TK staring down at him. Nolan grunts something unintelligible and tries to roll back over.

“Pat,” TK says loudly, right near his ear. “Fish.” Nolan groans again. TK tugs on his arm until he rolls onto his back and holds up a hand inches away from Nolan’s face. “Look!” It takes a second for Nolan’s eyes to focus, but when they do he’s suddenly wide awake.

“Your claws are gone!” he observes, sitting up and grabbing TK’s hand to inspect. “Your fingernails are filthy.” TK huffs and snatches his hand back.

“Work,” he chirps, tugging Nolan’s arm until he’s forced out of bed.

“If you’re gonna be a morning person, you can’t sleep in my room,” he grumbles. TK just laughs.

Kevin somehow manages to get there before Nolan has to leave and he’s horrified to have two morning people in his house before it’s even hit 6am. It’s cereal for breakfast today, even if TK still turns his nose up at it. He drinks his coffee, trying desperately to keep his eyes open while Haysey looks through the fishing gear Nolan has in his closet.

“Should be good to go,” he announces, shoving a ball cap backwards on TK’s head. “It’s gonna be pretty chilly today so dress warm. And we’ll put on sunscreen so mother hen over there won’t worry.” Nolan glares at him, but he’s glad Kevin’s thinking about this stuff so Nolan doesn’t have to. TK rushes off to the bedroom and comes back a few minutes later wearing one of Nolan’s thickest hoodies.

“I need to get you your own clothes,” Nolan says, making a mental note. He has open-to-close shifts the next 2 days but maybe the day after he can head into town and find some stuff. He can’t quite take TK into town yet, worried that he’ll be overwhelmed, and maybe a little worried that Nolan will get in trouble for not reporting a feral omega. It’s not illegal to not report, but it’s definitely frowned on, and Nolan would rather avoid the scrutiny. He’s almost out the door before he hears an angry noise behind him and turns just in time for TK to launch himself into Nolan’s arms.

“Bye, Pat,” TK says, pulling back to look at him. “Good day.”

“You have a good day, too,” Nolan laughs, unable to resist pressing a kiss to TK’s temple and running a hand over his freshly shaved head. “If you catch anything good you should have Kevin cook it up for dinner.” TK grins and hugs him one more time before racing back over to Kevin and grabbing the fishing pole. Nolan catches Kevin’s raised eyebrow and returns it, but Kevin just shrugs.

“See ya, boss,” he calls. Nolan waves over his shoulder and heads to work.

It’s a busier day than Nolan expects it to be, but nothing he can’t handle. He is really seriously considering adding another employee, though, so he’ll need to talk to his dad about payroll and what they can afford. It would be nice to have a little more free time, now that he has a reason to be at home.

Kevin sends him pictures through the morning: TK with sunscreen smeared on his face, the fish they’re catching, TK looking like there’s nowhere he’d rather be than on the lake. He realizes these are the first pictures he has of TK and wonders why he hadn’t thought to take any before.

“Earth to Nolan,” someone says in his ear, and Nolan jerks back, startled. Maddie’s grinning at him, peeking down at his phone and cooing. “Awww that’s such a cute picture of him. Haysey’s with him today, right?”

“How did you know that?” Nolan asks, grabbing his phone back.

“Stacey told me about the haircut adventures last night. I brought you lunch by the way.” She drops a bag on the counter and Nolan’s mouth waters at the sight of the mini pizza. “Do you need someone to stay with him tomorrow?”

“Uh, yeah, actually,” Nolan admits, through his full mouth.

“I volunteer,” she chirps. “He wasn’t very happy to see me last time but now that he’s settled in maybe he’ll let me. Oh, and the pack is having dinner at your house. I know you have the group chat muted while you’re at work so I wanted to let you know so you’re not surprised.”

“I have to work until 9,” Nolan reminds her.

“We’ll wait around,” she promises. “We’re mostly there for TK anyway, we don’t need you. We just want him to like us and you hog him all the time.” Nolan glares at her and she grins.

“Sorry,” he finally says, knowing she’s right.

“It’s been good for him,” she says, softer. “You’ve done so much for him, but being with the pack can only help, right? I promise if we overwhelm him we’ll all leave him with Haysey since he seems pretty comfortable with him now.”

“I’m not worried about him,” Nolan says, realizing that it’s true. “Not really. I just… I don’t know.”

“You like him,” she says. “And it’s more than just wanting to help him, isn’t it?” Her tone is gentle but Nolan feels guilt settling low in his gut.

“I really, really like him,” Nolan agrees. “He’s really funny, and he has so much personality. And he’s so happy all the time, like even when he was living in the woods with practically nothing he just seemed so happy to be alive.”

“Nol,” she says gently. “You like him. I mean, you’re interested in him, aren’t you?”

“I know I shouldn’t be,” he admits. “And I’m obviously not gonna do anything about it right now, but yeah. I love being around him and making him laugh and listening to him try to talk about things he likes. I think all the time that I can’t wait until he can talk again and I can hear all the things he wants to say.” When he looks at her, he’s surprised to find her smiling at him softly.

“That’s sweet,” she teases. “I’d say be careful, but I know you, and I know you will be. Just take it slow.”

“I know.” He’s cut off when the bell over the door jingles and someone walks into the shop. “Hey,” he says after he’s greeted the customer. “If I give you my card can you go into town and get TK some clothes? And some shoes; he doesn’t have any.”

“Of course!” she agrees, and he knows it’s a bad idea as soon as her face lights up. He’s probably going to regret this. He gives her his card anyway, reminding himself it’s for TK who literally has nothing. That’s worth it whatever bill she racks up on his credit card.

The afternoon drags, especially knowing that his whole pack is at his house without him. There’s enough customers to keep him busy, but not enough to make time pass quickly. He makes the decision to close up at 8:30, silently apologizing to any last minute customers that he’s angering.

It’s worth it when he walks into his dark living room, a movie he doesn’t recognize playing on the tv and the whole pack snuggled together on a nest of blankets on the floor.

“Pat!” he hears from somewhere in the pile before TK wiggles his way free and launches himself across the room. He hugs Nolan tight for a second before he pulls back and gestures down to his new clothes. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” TK looks like he belongs in the camo pajamas, and he looks so happy that Nolan can’t help but grin back at him. He comes willingly when TK drags him back to the pile and the pack moves to accommodate him.

“How was work?” Maddie asks while they get resettled.

“It was work,” Nolan grumbles. He somehow ends up with his head on Haysey’s stomach and his feet on Stacey’s lap, TK pressed against his side. Maddie and Sanny are on TK’s other side. It’s pretty comfortable and the alpha in him is practically purring having his whole pack together, safe and happy. He lets himself turn and press his face against TK’s neck, just for a second , but then TK makes that happy little purring sound and tilts his head and it’s not like Nolan has any interest in seeing the end of the movie anyway. He feels a hand patting his arm and he turns his head just enough to see Maddie grinning at him over TK’s shoulder.

“You two are gonna be gross together, aren’t you?” Haysey observes.

“Yep!” TK chirps, slipping his hand into Nolan’s. Nolan wants to brush it off, tell them they’re not anything, but it would be a lie. He accepts it for the acceptance it is, them acknowledging what their relationship could turn into, and he’s happy. Thankfully, no one pushes the conversation and they settle back into watching the movie. Once it ends they start another one, but Nolan’s so tired he falls asleep barely half an hour in. They wake him up some time later and shoo him to bed, Maddie promising she’s going to stay with TK tomorrow, and he checks his alarm before passing back out.

Chapter Text

When his alarm goes off the next morning, he feels more rested than he has in weeks. Spending time with the pack always does that for him, and he knows he needs to do it more often. He chills in bed for a few minutes, but his peace only lasts long enough for him to realize he can’t hear TK’s soft breathing from the floor next to him.

“Teeks?” he calls out, sitting up and panicking when the floor next to him is empty. He checks the living room first, but only finds Maddie sound asleep on the couch. The kitchen and bathroom are empty and Nolan can feel panic starting to seep in until he notices the door to the guest bedroom is closed. He’s not very quiet about opening the door and TK’s eyes blink open from where he’s laying on the bed.

“Pat,” he whines, rolling onto his back. Nolan can’t stop himself from stepping forward and running his hand over TK’s peach fuzz hair.

“You scared me,” Nolan whispers back, smiling down at him.

“Sorry,” TK mumbles, trying to keep his eyes open while pressing up into Nolan’s touch.

“No, it’s good,” Nolan assures him. “I’m glad you’re sleeping in a bed.” TK just hums in response and lets his eyes fall closed. Nolan thinks he’s fallen back to sleep, but when he takes a step away TK forces his eyes open again.

“Have a good day,” he says carefully, like he’s making sure he says each word right. “I’ll miss you.” It steals the breath right from Nolan’s lungs and TK grins up at Nolan, like he’s proud of himself. Nolan leans down and presses a lingering kiss to his forehead.

“I’ll miss you, too. Have Maddie call if you need anything,” TK nods and he’s asleep before Nolan’s out the door. He wakes Maddie to tell her he’s leaving and decides as he’s opening up the store that he’s going to go get TK his own cellphone over lunch. It’s not like TK really needs a babysitter, and as long as he has a way to contact Nolan during the day- and a way to order food since Nolan doesn’t trust his cooking abilities- he should be fine. It’s a painfully dead morning to make up for the busy day yesterday. It’s unusual for a Saturday morning, but he takes the opportunity to straighten up what he didn’t get to yesterday.

Getting a line added to his phone plan over lunch is more painless than he expected. He gets TK an iphone, but one that’s a few models old and isn’t going to cost him an arm and a leg. Just a few fingers, maybe. He programs all the pack’s numbers into the phone and downloads spotify and logs into his account.

Business picks up a little in the afternoon, but it’s dead again when Maddie walks in followed closely by TK.

“What,” Nolan says blankly from his stool behind the counter.

“Hi Pat!’ TK chirps, not even looking at Nolan as he starts making his way around the store.

“Mads,” Nolan says, quietly so TK won’t hear. “Why did you bring him here?”

“Well we don’t exactly have much in common,” she whispers back. “Kev kept him entertained with fishing and stuff, but we can’t even agree on a good TV show to watch. And besides, it’s not like he’s feral anymore. He’s even speaking in full sentences when he wants to.” She’s right, he realizes as he watches TK move around the store. With his fresh shave and haircut, and his fingernails instead of claws, TK looks just like any other customer in the store. A fact that’s proven when another customer comes in and doesn’t even spare TK a second glance.

“You’re right,” he admits. “I, uh… I got him a phone.” He pulls it out and sets it on the counter. “So I guess he could go home alone. I think he would be fine.”

“Or he can stay with you,” she counters. “It’ll give him something to do. He seems glad to be out of the house.” TK picks something up off a display and examines it closely before he brings it over and sets it on the counter.

“Pat, what’s this?” he asks, still slowly and carefully.

“Some kind of heater that’s supposed to be safe to use in tents,” he says. TK hums and picks it up, returning it to the shelf before he continues his scan.

“I guess he can stay with me,” he finally says. “If nothing else, I can stick him in my office and give him the phone.”

“Great!” she says, practically before Nolan can finish his sentence. “I’m gonna go take a nap. Did you know he’s a morning person?” She’s out the door before Nolan can respond and TK wanders over, leaning his elbows on the counter next to Nolan.

“You’re already bored, aren’t you?” Nolan asks. TK just shrugs, but Nolan knows him well enough to know that it’s true. Nolan glances at the customer, but he’s on the far side of the store examining some tackle boxes closely, so Nolan slides the phone in front of TK. “I got this for you.” TK’s eyes widen comically and he looks up at Nolan with something like awe.

“For me?” he repeats, letting his fingers brush the screen lightly. “Pat,” he sighs happily.

“I downloaded spotify, but you can’t play it very loud when there are customers in here, okay?” he warns as TK unlocks the phone and starts clicking around.

“Thank you,” TK beams up at him, standing on his tiptoes to kiss Nolan’s cheek quickly. Nolan flushes bright red and leaves him to his exploring, heading back to ask the customer if he has any questions. Fifteen minutes later, once he’s helped the guy check out, Nolan leans back on the counter next to TK. When he glances at the phone, he’s surprised to see facebook open. He must make some kind of noise because TK smiles at him ruefully and then clicks around until he’s opened up a photo.

“Who is that?” Nolan asks when TK shoves the phone in his face.

“Chase. My brother.” His voice is sad and Nolan all at once remembers that TK left his pack . He’s been so used to having TK around that he completely forgot to wonder what it was that brought him here. He swipes and there’s a photo of the same guy- Chase- with his arm around a younger looking TK on a boat. TK’s hair is almost down to his shoulders and he’s wearing a camo tank top and cargo shorts and he looks so relaxed and happy. Nolan doesn’t want to ask but…

“What happened?” TK swipes to another picture of a middle aged couple lazing on beach chairs. They don’t look like they know the picture’s being taken; they’re holding hands, smiling at each other like they’ve forgotten anything else in the world exists, and a harsh sound forces itself out of TK’s throat, almost like a sob. Nolan slides an arm around his waist and TK turns to hide his face against Nolan’s shoulder. He’s shaking, but he doesn’t make another sound and Nolan doesn’t feel any tears. It takes a few minutes before he’s settled enough to pull away and look up at Nolan.

“They died,” he says simply, steadily. Nolan feels the bottom drop from under his feet. TK’s been dealing with this for months all by himself, alone for who knows how long, and fuck . He’s seemed perfectly happy most of the time and Nolan wonders if he really knows anything about him at all. TK lays his forehead back on Nolan’s shoulder and Nolan’s glad for it, both for the comfort he can offer and for the chance to get his shock under control before he says something stupid. I’m sorry seems pointless and I’m here for you seems empty.

“I’ve got you,” is what he finally says.

TK’s quiet for a few seconds, and then, “I know.” Neither one of them moves for a few minutes until the bell over the door jingles, and then TK lifts his head.

“Hey, Jim,” Nolan greets when he sees his dad’s buddy come in. Jim nods, raising an eyebrow at Nolan’s arm still wrapped around TK’s waist. Nolan’s not exactly shy about it, but TK slides out of his grip and practically hides himself behind Nolan. Nolan doesn’t get it for a second, but then he realizes. Jim’s an alpha, and TK hasn’t been around any other alphas besides Nolan for months.

“Hey,” Nolan murmurs over his shoulder. “Why don’t you go hang out in the office for awhile?” TK nods gratefully and slips away with the phone still in his hand. A few seconds later the sound of a soft country song floats out from behind the door.

“Your parents mentioned you had a new pack member. Seems like maybe a new boyfriend, too?” Jim asks with a teasing smile.

“Not yet,” Nolan hedges. “We’re still getting to know each other.” He doesn’t go any further than that, knowing anything incriminating or embarrassing will make it back to his parents. Nolan’s dad asked Jim to check in every once in awhile to make sure Nolan and Maddie are handling everything okay, and while Nolan had told them about a new pack member, he’d glossed over the details as much as possible.

“Mhmm,” Jim hums, raising a skeptical eyebrow. “Seems like a shy one. What’s his name?”

“Travis,” Nolan says. “I wouldn’t really say he’s shy, but, y’know. New territory, new pack. He’s just still getting settled in.”

“I’m sure it won’t take long for him to feel right at home. He’s got a good group of people to look after him.” Nolan flushes but accepts the praise. He’s only 19 and sometimes he feels too young to have his own pack, worries he’s not doing enough, so sometimes it’s nice to have the reassurance. They make small talk for another few minutes until Jim finally buys a tub of bait and leaves.

“You just make sure you call your mama,” he warns before he steps outside. “She’s been worried because she hasn’t heard from you and Maddie won’t snitch.” Nolan laughs, mentally thanking his sister.

“I’ll call her,” he promises. “See ya.” Almost as soon as Jim’s out the door TK comes back out of the office and squeezes himself into the space between Nolan and the counter, his back against Nolan’s chest.

“Look,” he says, nodding towards the phone. TK has more facebook pictures pulled up, of him as a baby, with his family and friends, on the lake or in a cozy-looking living room. Christmases and birthdays and seemingly whatever other reason they could find to get together. Nolan slips his arms around TK’s waist and holds him tight as he swipes through albums. Sometimes he points out a family member by name, or a childhood friend.

“My parents and brother,” he says after awhile, “died in a car accident.” The words are forced out, painful and raw. “I ran.” Nolan waits, but TK doesn’t say anything else and the screen goes dark. He holds on tight until TK wiggles and then turns in Nolan’s arms and hugs him back. With one hand Nolan digs his own phone out of his pocket and texts Maddie. 

Can u come close? She sends back a string of angry faces and he thinks about explaining, but with one hand all he ends up typing back is, TK emergency .

Be there in 5 , she responds. This time Nolan can feel TK’s tears warm and wet on his shirt and he murmurs nonsense trying to comfort him. One of Nolan’s regulars, Sherri, comes in and her eyebrows shoot to her hairline, but Nolan just waves her in with an apologetic smile. He can see her shooting looks at them as she walks back to the camping supplies, and thankfully no one else comes in before Maddie gets there.

“Oh TK,” she sighs when TK pulls out of Nolan’s hold and she catches a glimpse of his face. He lets her hug him for a second before he pulls away from her, too.

“I’m okay,” he assures her, and his smile really does look genuine, if small.

“Thanks for coming in,” Nolan says.

“Anything for TK,” she grins, nudging him in the ribs. “It’s only a couple hours anyway, and I got a nap in.”

“Lucky you,” Nolan yawns over his shoulder, herding TK out to his car. They don’t say anything in the short drive back to the house, and when they get inside Nolan lets TK drag him to Nolan’s bedroom. He shoves Nolan down onto his back on the bed and then sprawls himself on top of Nolan, pulling the blanket over both of them. It’s always surprising how easily they fit together, but it’s definitely something Nolan can get used to.

“Do you wanna talk about it?” Nolan asks once they’re settled. TK shakes his head, so Nolan goes for the distraction tactic. He pulls up a stupid fortnite video on his phone and TK tilts his head so they can both watch. TK drifts off to sleep at some point and Nolan takes the opportunity to order them some dinner because he doesn’t have the heart to move TK off of him so he can make something.

The rest of the night is easy, mostly the two of them sitting around in comfortable silence or watching something mindless. Nolan doesn’t go more than a few minutes without having TK touching him in some way, and the touch is grounding for both of them. Eventually Nolan forces TK to go take a shower and then he takes one himself, a little disappointed to find that TK has gone back to the guest room to sleep, but he reminds himself that he’s the one who set the boundaries. Whether TK doesn’t want to share a bed with him, or TK doesn’t want to make Nolan feel like he has to share, Nolan’s going to respect it.

Chapter Text

The phone, in hindsight, was probably a bad idea. TK logged out of facebook after that day in the store, but now whenever Nolan’s not at the house he gets texts constantly . He can’t really say that he minds, but when he’s trying to help customers and his phone is constantly buzzing in his pocket it’s a little distracting. He refuses to mute it, though, just in case.

The week after TK opens up to Nolan in the store, Nolan hires someone else so he can be at home more, and weekly pack nights become a regular thing over the next month . It’s nice; they’ve settled into a bit of a routine, and TK even helps out in the store when Nolan’s there. His speech is pretty much back to 100% but he’s still wary about helping customers, so Nolan mostly has him shelf stocking. The first time Nolan gave him a paycheck his eyes lit up like it was Christmas and he immediately spent most of it right back on fishing gear.

TK’s even gotten pretty close to Sherri, the one who walked in on TK crying on Nolan’s shoulder in the shop. The next time she came in she’d been extra nice to him, almost motherly, and she was the first non-pack-member TK opened up to. Sherri spent half an hour showing TK the photo album on her phone of fish that she’d caught and TK was enamored. She’s not a wolf, so TK was more okay with talking to her than any of the other regulars back when he was still mostly running on instinct. She never asked why he couldn’t talk back then, but he thinks she probably figured it out. Nolan had to step back into the office to hide his misty eyes the first time TK had hugged her.

“I’m gonna log back into facebook,” TK says one day when they’re just chilling at home. Nolan looks up from his own phone to see TK fiddling nervously with his. “There were a bunch of messages and posts on my page last time I didn’t look at.”

“Okay,” Nolan says carefully. They haven’t talked about this since the store incident, but part of him is relieved TK’s ready to bring it up again. “Do you wanna be alone?” TK rolls his eyes and slides over on the couch until he’s pressed up against Nolan’s side. The cuddling had dwindled over the past month to what would probably be considered normal levels to anyone else. Nolan has missed it fiercely. TK types his password in and grimaces at the little red notification box at the top of the page.

He takes a deep breath and clicks on his profile, scrolling down until he finds the older posts from a few months ago. The first few are variations on “we miss you” and “please let us know you’re okay” from all kinds of different people. He scrolls through them slowly, occasionally pausing on some that seem to hit him harder than others. The most recent one is just from a week ago, and Nolan’s heart aches for the people who have been missing him, some of them probably family members who lost the whole Konecny family in one swoop, only not knowing if one of them was alive or dead. When TK gets caught up, he closes out of the app and Nolan thinks they’re done until he opens the camera and leans in closer.

“Smile, Pat,” he says.

“No,” Nolan deadpans, raising an eyebrow but TK snaps the picture anyway, grinning blindingly at the camera. He opens facebook again and posts the picture with the caption I’m okay. I’m sorry for worrying everyone. “There,” he says once it’s posted. “Problem solved.” Nolan snorts.

“Sure, bud,” he agrees, even though the problem seems to be the opposite of solved. He expects a flood of messages to start pouring in any second, and he’s proven right when a facebook video call starts ringing barely 30 seconds later. TK freezes, so still that Nolan’s not even sure he’s breathing, and he understands why when he looks at the screen. The call is coming from Chase Konecny. “I thought you said…”

“Yeah,” TK chokes out. “He’s not… he died . How is he calling me?” They sit there staring at it long enough for it to stop ringing, but seconds later it starts up again.

“Are you gonna answer it?” Nolan asks. TK nods, but doesn’t move. Nolan reaches out hesitantly, waiting for TK to stop him, but when he doesn’t Nolan hits the accept button.

“Chase?” TK sobs when his brother’s face fills the screen. They’re both looking at each other like they’ve seen a ghost.

“Travis, what the fuck ?” Chase’s voice breaks and Nolan can see tears in his eyes. “Where the fuck have you been?”

Me?” TK screeches. “They told me you were dead!” Chase collapses back in his chair like his strings had been cut. He closes his eyes and scrubs a hand across his face. Nolan takes the opportunity to squeeze TK’s knee and tilt his head, silently asking if TK wants him to leave. TK leans his weight more heavily against his side, turning his head to press his forehead to Nolan’s shoulder just for a second. When they look back at the screen Chase is looking at them strangely.

“It was a huge misunderstanding,” Chase says once they’ve all calmed down again. “When the accident happened, mom and dad died right away.” TK sucks in a sharp breath and his free hand shoots out and wraps around Nolan’s wrist. “I was alive but they rushed me to the hospital in critical condition. Somehow when they sent the officer to tell you what happened they told him I was dead too and by the time they realized the mistake you were gone and you’d left your phone behind. Everyone thought you’d come back in a few hours, or a few days, but then you just… never came back.” The silence is thick, deafening, as it sinks in for both of them. Such a simple mistake has drastically changed their lives and it’s almost impossible to imagine.

“What happened to you?” Chase asks when the silence drags on. “It was like you just… disappeared.” TK opens and closes his mouth a few times and then shakes his head.

“I can’t,” he chokes out. “I can’t do this right now. I need…”

“Can I come get you?” Chase asks in a rush. “Where are you?” Nolan wants to snap at him, tell him to give TK time to process this until he realizes the ugly feeling swirling in his gut is fear. He should be happy for TK reuniting with his family, but all he can think is now he’s going to leave . He’s so fucking selfish.

“I’m in Eagle Ridge,” TK says hesitantly, glancing at Nolan. Chase’s whole face crumples.

“That’s just a couple hours away,” he rasps. “You’ve been so close this whole time. Can I come get you?” TK’s starting to tense up a little too much for Nolan’s liking and he leans over to whisper in TK’s ear.

“You can take whatever time you need,” Nolan tells him. “You can give him the address or whatever, but you can tell him to wait if you need some time.” TK nods, some of the tension leaving his shoulders.

“I’ll text you the address,” TK parrots to Chase. “But just… don’t come tonight. Just give me some time to process.”

“Okay,” Chase nods eagerly. “Tomorrow?” TK hesitates for a second and then nods. Chase doesn’t push any more, instead flicking a glance to Nolan. “Sorry, but, who are you?”

“Nolan Patrick,” Nolan says, and nothing else.

“My alpha,” TK says, almost reverently. He smiles up at Nolan, so sweetly that Nolan’s helpless to do anything but smile back. “He’s the best.” Nolan can see Chase biting his lip against the millions of questions he wants to ask, but he finally just nods. “I’m gonna hang up now. I’ll talk to you later.” He doesn’t even give Chase a chance to respond before he hangs up and tosses his phone to the other end of the couch.

“You okay?” Nolan asks. TK nods, wiggling so he can lay down with his head in Nolan’s lap. Nolan sends out an SOS to the pack, mostly so he doesn’t have to think about what’s going to happen when Chase shows up. It would make sense for TK to go with him and find his family and friends again. He’s not sure what the pack situation is- doesn’t even know the story of how TK ended up here- but he knows for sure there are people that love him and want him back. He doesn’t blame them; TK’s the best person he’s ever met.

The pack’s all there within the hour, not asking any questions as they set up their nest of blankets on the floor. Nolan grabs TK’s phone and sends Chase the address before he fills in his usual spot between TK and Haysey.

“My brother’s coming,” TK says quietly once they’re all settled in. There’s a ripple of shock through the room; by now everyone knows what happened to TK’s family- or what they thought had happened. “He’s alive and he’s coming here.”

“That’s great!” Stacey says genuinely, but there’s an undercurrent of sadness in her tone. The rest of the pack echoes her and then they fall silent again.

“Does that mean you’re leaving the pack?” Sanny asks from Travis’s other side, voicing the question they all have. Travis doesn’t answer, burying his face against Nolan’s chest. There’s a tension in the air, Maddie looking at Nolan with sad eyes, but someone digs out the TV remote and turns on one of the Avengers movies. That somehow sparks a Marvel marathon and they order pizza that they eat still piled together on the floor. Someone raids Nolan’s beer stash and distributes them and they fall asleep like that sometime after 2am, full and buzzed and cozy. Nolan’s grateful that the next day is a Saturday and none of them have to work.

He’s not so grateful when he’s woken up by the doorbell at what feels like way too early in the morning. He forces his eyes open and pats around for his phone, groaning when he sees it’s only 9am. The rest of the pack is still passed out around him and Nolan has to disentangle himself from some arms and legs before he can get to the front door and open it.

He’s not exactly surprised to see Chase standing there, but he does feel a little bitter about it. He gets wanting to see his missing brother as soon as possible, but TK’s been through some shit and Chase is pushing a little too fast. Still, he just steps back and gestures for him to come inside, pressing a finger to his lips to warn him to be quiet. He’ll let TK handle this however he wants. Chase pauses when he sees the pile of people on the floor, but then follows Nolan to the kitchen without comment.

“You hungry?” Nolan asks as he pulls out all the bacon and eggs he owns. He considers pancakes but he doesn’t think he has the patience for that.

“No, thanks,” Chase mumbles, sitting at the kitchen table. Nolan gets to work, not knowing what to say to break the silence. The smell of food rouses the pack and they start trickling in one by one. They don’t even blink at Chase’s presence, the unfamiliar scent obvious in the house, and they start filling the silence with small talk to avoid the obvious elephant in the room. It’s pretty obvious once everyone’s there except TK, and Nolan can’t help shooting nervous glances toward the living room.

“He’s awake but he’s pretending like he’s not,” Maddie says quietly, taking the spatula out of his hand. He nods and doesn’t spare anyone else a glance before he goes back to the living room, laying down facing TK on their little blanket nest. TK keeps feigning sleep for another few seconds and then he finally opens his eyes.

“You can ask him to come back later if you’re not ready,” Nolan reminds him after the silence lingers. TK looks like he’s considering it, but then he shakes his head.

“Nah, it’ll be good to talk to him. It’s just… a lot.”

“Yeah,” Nolan agrees. “Do you want breakfast first?”

“I’m too nervous to eat,” he admits. “I feel, like, fucking guilty or something and it’s stupid. I feel like I abandoned him.”

“You didn’t know,” Nolan argues gently. “You couldn’t have known.”

“I know, but I still feel like I should’ve .”

“I don’t blame you,” Chase says from nearby. Nolan and TK both jump and look at him; they hadn’t heard him come in. “Whatever happened, you didn’t do anything wrong.” Nolan stands up and helps TK to his feet, steadying him with a hand to his waist.

“I’ll let you two talk. I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything,” Nolan says. He hesitates for another second. “Maybe you could go in the bedroom? A little more private in there.” TK nods, pointing Chase to what has become TK’s bedroom and then he waits until he’s out of earshot.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he says matter-of-factly. Nolan blinks at him, embarrassed at how easily TK can read his worry. “No matter what, okay? Remember when I told you that you’re my home now?” Nolan nods, heart racing. “That hasn’t changed. You’re my pack, okay? My alpha. But more than all of that you’re my best friend, Nolan.” Nolan’s been able to keep himself in check, but his desire to kiss TK right now is almost overwhelming. Instead, he pulls TK into a hug, only allowing himself to press his lips to TK’s temple and hold him like he’s never going to let go.

He has to let go, though, when Chase steps back out of the bedroom and clears his throat awkwardly. TK smiles at Nolan and pats him on the cheek before he turns and follows his brother. Nolan watches them go and then wanders back into the kitchen where the pack is whispering fiercely.

“Alright what’s happening?” Maddie demands, setting a plate in front of Nolan. “How is he alive?”

“Apparently there was a huge misunderstanding. I guess he was in the accident and they told TK he was dead but he wasn’t actually dead,” Nolan explains. He can see all of them gearing up to bombard him with more questions, but he holds his hands up to stop them. “That’s about all I know. TK posted on facebook last night and then got a facetime from Chase, he told us exactly what I just told you, and then he showed up this morning.”

“Is TK gonna leave?” Sanny repeats his question from last night. Nolan sighs.

“I don’t know,” he admits. “He says he won’t, but none of us saw this coming. This is…” he shrugs. No one pushes it and they finish eating in silence, listening to the low murmur of voices from the bedroom. They can’t hear what they’re saying, no matter how much Nolan strains his ears. They all help him clean up the kitchen and then he shoos them away, promising to text them with any updates. He can’t sit still, wandering around the house straightening up, throwing the blanket nest in the washing machine, making sure to keep clear of the bedroom door so he’s not tempted to listen in.

It’s maybe 45 minutes before the door finally opens and they step out, both of them with red eyes like they’d been crying. Nolan drops the throw pillow he’d been fluffing pointlessly and waits as Chase nods at him and steps out the front door.

“Go for a walk with me?” TK mumbles. Nolan nods, both of them pulling on shoes and a coat before heading out the back door. It’s cold, but it hasn’t snowed yet so the path is clear. They take the familiar route around the lake, but when they reach the split that would take them to TK’s cove TK splits off and heads that way, slipping his fingers into Nolan’s to pull him along. They haven’t been back to the cove together since TK came back to gather his stuff and it’s a little bittersweet. He hates remembering TK out here cold and alone and filthy, but he’ll always remember this place fondly. TK takes him to that same little patch of rocks that Nolan first sat with him and pulls Nolan down to sit next to him.

“I should probably tell you the whole story,” TK says. “Of how I got here, I mean.” Nolan perks up; he hadn’t wanted to push but he’s always wanted to ask TK what happened.

“If you’re ready,” he says.

“I mean, you know the first part,” TK starts. “When they told me my whole family was dead, I guess I went into shock. I was in community college and had a part time job but all I remember thinking was that I had to get out of there as soon as possible. I packed up my camping stuff, pulled a few hundred bucks from the ATM, and went to this campsite my family used to go to all the time. Chase said they found my car parked by the side of the road near the campsite with my phone still inside.”

“They couldn’t find you?” Nolan asks.

“I didn’t want anyone to,” he admits. “It’s all kinda hazy, but I remember finding a campsite where no one was around and I went to the store and bought a bunch of, like, canned food so I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone for awhile. I remember hearing people yelling my name sometimes in the woods but they never found me. And then they got close one day and I packed up what I could and booked it. I guess I just started hiking and didn’t stop. I don’t remember losing my mind, but my alpha was dead-” he cuts off when his voice cracks. Nolan slides his arm around TK’s waist and TK leans sideways and rests his head on Nolan’s shoulder.

“My alpha was dead,” he says when he gets his voice under control. “My family was dead and I went so long without talking to another human or wolf. I was out there for four months, and I don’t even remember most of it.” Nolan sucks in a breath and holds TK tighter. Four months is a long time… longer than he wants to think about TK being out there alone.

“And look at you now,” Nolan teases, trying not to let on how rattled he is. “Still feral but at least you’ve brushed your teeth.”

“Because you found me,” TK says seriously. He pulls away so he can turn to sit facing Nolan. “I don’t know why I decided your territory was where I should stay, but it’s like I just knew it was safe here. I’d been in other packs territories and all I remember is fear and doing my best to get out of there as fast as I could. But then I got to your territory and I wanted to stay.”

“It took you weeks before you showed yourself to me,” Nolan reminds him.

“You never looked for me,” TK argues. “You could’ve gotten the pack together and forced me out of the territory. You could’ve called the police and they would’ve taken me to a hospital and shut me up in a room and forced me into a pack I didn’t choose. Instead you waited for me to come to you and brought me clothes.” Nolan looks out at the lake, his cheeks flaming.

“I wanted to keep you safe,” he says. “I didn’t want to force you into something you didn’t want.”

“When I was in the woods, I don’t think I was really having any human thoughts,” TK says. “I was in survival mode, just food, shelter, protection. Do you know what my first actual human thought was?”

“What?” Nolan’s afraid to ask, just because of how amused TK looks.

“It was when you pulled out those pajamas.” They’re both laughing before TK even finishes his sentence. “I saw them and literally my first real thought in months was ‘those are fucking hideous.’”

“They were, weren’t they?” Nolan grins.

“But they were what started bringing me back,” TK laughs. “You cared about me even when you didn’t know anything about me. And you didn’t expect anything back from me.”

“Why wouldn’t you come in the house?” Nolan asks the question that’s been burning in him for weeks. TK smiles wryly.

“I had lost the only home I’d ever known,” TK says quietly. “And as amazing as you were, I guess I felt like coming into the house would make it more real. Like I was replacing my family. And then that night it started raining and I was freezing and I remember thinking ‘this is so fucking stupid.’ You were already my alpha, and there was nowhere I wanted to be other than with you.”

“You said I was your home,” Nolan grins.

“You still are,” TK says. It’s there on his face, that he wants to say something else, and whatever it is must be big if TK’s not just saying it, but Nolan waits him out. “I’m going back with Chase,” he finally says slowly. Nolan’s blood turns to ice in his veins. He’s on his feet a second later, running his hands through his hair.

“Alright,” he says on a breath. “Alright.” He should’ve expected this. TK cares about him, Nolan knows that, but he can’t compete with TK’s actual brother . Of course he doesn’t want to stay here. He doesn’t realize he’s pacing until TK steps in his path to stop him.

“Nolan,” he says, like it’s not the first time he’s said it. “I’ll be back. I just need to go show myself to my friends and family. And… say goodbye to my parents, since I missed their funeral.” Nolan’s heart shatters in his chest and he pulls TK into a hug.

“Right,” he says against TK’s hair. “Sorry.” He doesn’t really believe that TK will be back. It’s too easy to imagine how he’ll slip back into his life from before. He’ll see his old town, his old friends, his old pack, and he’ll forget all about Nolan. That’s okay. Nolan can let him go, if it means TK will be happy.

“Stop it, idiot, I can hear how loud you’re thinking,” TK laughs, pulling back to take Nolan’s face in his hands. “ I will be back .” And then he pulls Nolan down and kisses him right on the lips. Nolan’s too shocked to react, can’t even properly kiss TK back before TK pulls away to look at him. “I love you. And before your brain short circuits, you don’t even have to say it back because I already know you love me too.” TK’s grinning brighter than the sun.

“Teeks.” Nolan’s brain is too fried for anything else.

“You can kiss me again if you want,” TK offers. “I know you’ve been pining for weeks.” Nolan’s prepared this time, and when he leans down TK presses up eagerly, holding onto Nolan’s shoulders and pressing himself all along Nolan’s front. It’s not like fireworks go off, or whatever they make you think will happen in the movies, but a feeling of rightness settles over Nolan. He’s glad they didn’t rush this, that he can be sure that TK’s kissing him because he wants to and knows with absolute certainty that TK could leave if he wants.

But TK is leaving. The thoughts jolts Nolan out of his good mood and he breaks the kiss, but TK doesn’t let go of him.

“You don’t think I’ll come back,” he says, not a question. Nolan shrugs. “Not gonna lie, Pat, that hurts.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, or whatever,” Nolan mumbles. “I just think there’s a lot happening for you right now and we’ve got kind of a routine or whatever, but when you go home you’ll like…”

“You think I’ll wanna stay because it’s familiar,” TK fills in. “You think I’ll choose to stay there instead of choosing you.”

“Choose me over your family, Teeks?” Nolan asks, hating how brittle his voice sounds. “Yeah, why wouldn’t you?”

“Nolan James Patrick,” TK sighs. “ You are my family. You and Maddie and Kev and Stacey and even Other Travis. I’m glad I have Chase back and that I can go see my cousins and stuff, but I’m gonna come back. You decided to be nice to me and you’re not getting rid of me now.” Nolan sighs and rests his forehead against TK’s, still not quite letting himself believe that TK would choose him, choose them .

“I love you,” he says, closing his eyes against TK’s grin.

“I know,” TK chirps. He kisses TK one more time, breathing in that familiar pine and lake water scent for a few more minutes as he holds on. He memorizes the feeling, making absolutely certain that he’ll remember what it feels like to have TK here with him, and then starts leading him back to the house, texting the pack on the way back so they can come back and say goodbye. Chase is waiting in the living room while TK goes to pack a bag and Nolan has to make awkward small talk until the rest of the pack starts barreling in to say goodbye.

It’s a shock when TK walks out of the bedroom sometime later wearing Nolan’s yellow hoodie. The hoodie that Nolan had given him that night in the woods when TK had refused to come home with him. He doesn’t know what his face looks like, but TK grins at him.

“I stole it back after you washed it,” he admits, stepping into Nolan’s space. “My wolf brain told me to hide it so you wouldn’t take it back and then I got attached.”

“Looks good on you,” Nolan says quietly, just for TK to hear.

“Softy,” TK teases. “Come help me put my bag in the car.” TK only has the one bag, and it’s a blatant attempt to get Nolan alone again, but no one calls them on it and Nolan’s relieved when they don’t follow them outside right away. He’s still not completely convinced that he’s ever going to see TK again, and he takes the opportunity to back TK up against Chase’s truck, out of sight from the house, and kiss him senseless.

They may lose track of time for a bit, because next thing he knows someone’s clearing their throat loudly next to them. Nolan pulls back to see Maddie looking absolutely disgusted.

“Well glad you’ve sorted that out,” she says. “But now I have to go bleach my eyeballs, thanks.”

“You’re welcome!” TK says happily, disentangling himself from Nolan.

“They were making out!” Maddie shouts toward the house, and seconds later everyone else piles out.

“Finally!” Kev crows. “Thought I was gonna die from all the pining in the air.”

“Shut up,” Nolan grumbles, but he knows his cheeks are flushed and his lips are swollen and he’s grinning like an idiot. Chase says his awkward goodbyes and climbs in the truck, waiting for TK to go around and hug everyone until he’s back in front of Nolan.

“I’ll be back,” he promises again. “I’ll be super annoying and I’ll text you multiple times an hour and call you every night and probably facetime you a lot, just so you know how much I miss you.”

“Don’t worry about me,” Nolan says, secretly hoping TK will actually text him constantly. He’s gotten pretty used to it and he knows he would miss it if TK stopped. “I’ll see you.” TK raises his eyebrows expectantly and it takes Nolan a second to catch up. “I love you.”

“Love you,” TK grins. Someone- Maddie- makes a gagging sound while someone else- Haysey- awwww ’s but Nolan can’t even make himself be embarrassed about it. It’s not like they didn’t know already. TK climbs in the truck, saying one last goodbye before he closes the door behind him and Chase starts to pull away. They all stand there watching the truck disappear down the road, the happiness and sadness and worry all swirling around in Nolan’s stomach until he feels like he might be sick.

“You gonna be okay without him?” Stacey asks. Nolan shrugs.

“We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Nolan throws himself into work over the next week . He can’t really remember what he did before TK showed up in his life like a hurricane and he decides he must’ve been pretty boring. True to his word, TK texts Nolan regularly throughout the day. Sometimes it’s pictures of parks or places he used to hang out like the local hockey rink. Sometimes it’s about how he saw his grandma and she cried for half an hour, or how he visited his parent’s graves. He hasn’t called Nolan, explaining that he hasn’t had a moment to himself since he got there.

It’s like they think I’m gonna take off again , he texts Nolan on the fifth day after he left. They won’t even let me sleep in a room alone . Nolan might be reading too far into it, but he wants to ask TK if he’s still planning on coming back. He doesn’t know about TK, but he thinks if he was faced with his grandma’s tears he might cave too.

But he doesn’t ask. He keeps working and hanging out with the pack, and finally a week and a half after TK left, Nolan gets a facetime call as he’s settling in bed for the night.

“Chase is running interference with my cousins,” TK says as soon as Nolan accepts the call. “I think he can tell I’m starting to lose it.”

“At least you know they missed you,” Nolan offers.

“Yeah, I’ll say,” TK snorts. “My grandma has cried every time I’ve seen her. She made me tell her everything that happened and then she told me I have you bring you up here to meet her so she can make you cookies or some shit.”

“Yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly what she said,” Nolan snorts. “Are you having fun though?”

“Sometimes,” TK shrugs. “I miss you. Sometimes all I want is to be laying on the couch with you watching River Monsters and eating bad takeout.”

You could be doing that right now if you came home , he stops himself from saying. “You mean me trying to watch River Monsters while you talk through the whole show,” he says instead.

“You’re not fooling anyone, Patty,” TK sings. “You love to listen to me talk. Maddie told me so.”

“My sister doesn’t know anything,” Nolan argues pointlessly as the blush on his cheeks gives him away. TK just laughs.

“It’s ok,” TK assures him. “I like that you listen. It just makes me miss you even more when I’m here with people who don’t seem to care what I actually want.” It comes across as bitter and Nolan wants to ask what’s wrong but he’s afraid of overstepping.

“Do you know how long you’re staying?” he asks instead, which isn’t really a better question but at least it’s not as pressuring. TK’s quiet for long enough that Nolan starts to worry.

“They want me to stay for Christmas,” he finally says. Nolan keeps his face carefully blank, but that’s a whole fucking month away . He expected TK to be gone a week or two, and maybe he’s being selfish, or maybe it’s his alpha instincts wanting his pack close, but that seems a little excessive. “Patty, I can feel your panic from here, stop it.”

“I’m not panicking. Do you know what you’re gonna do?” he asks, pointedly neutral. Just because TK can read him like a book doesn’t mean Nolan can’t pretend to be a better person than he is.

“That’s what I mean when I said they don’t listen to what I want. I wanna spend Christmas with you, but they keep guilt tripping me about how I ran off and made them think I was dead,” he sighs. “But I know how hard Christmas is gonna be without my parents this year and I don’t wanna abandon Chase either. Part of me wonders if I’m not just like hiding from my feelings or whatever if I choose to stay away.”

“I can see that,” Nolan agrees carefully.

“What are you thinking?” TK asks after a couple moments of silence. Nolan doesn’t actually know what he’s thinking. He takes a second to figure it out before he sighs in defeat.

“Maddie and I are going to my parent’s house on Christmas day,” he explains. “Everyone’s going our separate ways so it makes sense for you to stay with your family.” It hurts to say it, but it’s the truth. Nolan had been a little excited to take TK home with him for Christmas, but maybe it’s better this way. He can put off telling his parents the whole story for a little while longer and TK’s family can be together to grieve properly for the first time.

“Is the pack doing anything?” TK asks.

“We haven’t really talked about it,” Nolan admits. “I was thinking maybe doing something on the 23rd since I think everyone’s leaving to go home on the 24th. We’ll probably talk about it in the group chat.”

“I’ll keep an eye out,” TK promises right as there’s a loud scuffling noise and the sound of a door banging open.

“Time for game night,” an unfamiliar voice says. “What are you doing?”

“Talking to my…” TK trails off, looking back down at the phone. “Boyfriend?” he tries. “Hmmm… my alpha? My… my Patty,” he finally decides, grinning down at the phone. Someone makes an exaggerated gagging noise and snatches the phone from TK’s hand. Nolan doesn’t recognize the guy, but he can only assume it’s one of TK’s cousins.

“So this is the kidnapper, huh?” the guys asks, dead serious. Nolan’s heart drops to his fucking feet. Kidnapper? Is that what TK’s been telling people?

“Shut the fuck up!” TK snarls, Nolan watching completely frozen as he grabs the phone back. There’s some commotion and shouting and then the door slams again and the lock clicks. “Pat, you know I don’t think that,” TK says before he even has the phone back up to his face. “Some of my family is just a little upset.”

Kidnapper?” is the only thing Nolan can force out.

“Like I said, you know I don’t think that!” It’s the frantic undertone of TK’s voice that finally snaps Nolan out of his shock, his instincts screaming protect and comfort . “My family’s upset because of everything that happened and some of them are convinced I wouldn’t have stayed away on my own. They think you took advantage of me and, like, tricked me into your pack.”

“Teeks…” Nolan says weakly, wondering if that’s exactly what he did. At the time he thought it was the best option, safer for both of them, and he’d justified it that TK could leave the pack whenever he wanted. Maybe he’d been wrong. Maybe he shouldn’t have let an omega not in his right mind join his pack without actual consent.

“Pat, I swear if you don’t stop looking at me like that I’m gonna steal Chase’s truck and drive home,” TK says frantically.

“That would look bad,” Nolan blurts, mind still not completely processing how much he’s fucked up.

“I don’t fucking care,” TK growls, the sound low enough that Nolan knows he needs to de-escalate this as fast as possible. “You didn’t force me into anything, Nolan. If anything, I forced you.”

“You didn’t,” Nolan interrupts. “I wanted you.”

“You mean you want me,” TK says a little desperately. “Present tense.”

“I- you know I do,” Nolan admits. “I love you.” Nolan can’t really see what happens, but it’s like TK just collapses, goes boneless against the bed and it takes a few seconds before he props the phone up again.

“I fucking love you too,” he says fiercely. “I chose to be in your pack. You didn’t force me into anything, okay? I chose you because you made me feel safe and protected and happy. You even ate all the rabbits I brought you.” That draws a laugh out of Nolan and TK grins at him.

“There were a lot of rabbits.”

“So many,” TK nods. “My omega brain wanted you to know I wasn’t useless and I could provide for you.” They grin at each other for a second until Nolan’s smile falters.

“But your family thinks I, like, held you captive or something,” he says.

“Not all of them,” TK argues. “I told you my grandma wants to make you cookies. And Chase has decided he likes you which has helped most of them get over how upset they were. There’s just a few of them that can’t seem to accept that I chose to stay away. Mostly the cousins I was closest to before I left.”

“I would never… Teeks, I would never keep you from your family,” Nolan promises, knowing he has to make absolutely certain that TK knows this. “If you told me right now, or ever , that you want to leave the pack I wouldn’t stop you.”

“I know you wouldn’t,” TK agrees. “And that’s why I wanna hop in the car right now and drive home and make out with you until I can’t feel my lips.” Nolan laughs and ducks his head, wanting that more than anything but doing his best not to show that on his face. Home , TK keeps saying. Home to Nolan. Because Nolan’s his home. The roller coaster of emotions from the past fifteen minutes is almost too much for him to handle.

“Guess I’ll have to wait patiently,” he finally decides. “You should stay there for as long as it takes to convince your family I’m not a controlling asshole.”

“Or until I can’t stand how much I miss you and have to come home,” TK counters.

“Or that,” Nolan snorts. They just kinda stare at each other for a few more minutes, neither one of them ready to hang up quite yet.

“I love you,” TK finally says.

“I love you,” Nolan responds. And then with one last grin, TK hangs up.

~

To say the next two weeks drag is an understatement. The pack is so busy with finals and work and travel plans that they hardly have time to get together, not to mention that the shop is practically dead. He’s working open-to-close pretty much every day since he has nothing better to do with his time, although he ends up closing early more often than not. It’s mostly only the regulars coming in and that’s more out of habit than because they actually need to buy anything. That doesn’t stop them from asking him some variation of “where’s your boy?” every time they come in. When he explains TK’s visiting family he gets sympathetic pats on the shoulder. He must look really pathetic when Sherri leaves one day only to come back a couple hours later with cookies and a comforting hug.

“Stop moping,” Haysey shouts one day as he bursts into Nolan’s house only an hour after Nolan got home from work. He grabs the spare PS4 controller and throws himself on the couch next to Nolan, forcing him to restart his game of fortnite. “I know your life before our dear TK was bleak and sad, but you still have me! I’m all the company you need.”

“Thank you for coming,” Nolan says diplomatically, like he had asked Haysey to come here instead of the invasion it is. He nudges Haysey’s ribs lightly and doesn’t protest when he gets his hair ruffled in return. The rest of the pack trickles in over the next couple of hours and piles in around them. Maddie and Sanny look dead on their feet, their eyes glazed over with the stress of papers and exams, and they all curl up as close as they can. Stacey’s the last one there, slipping into the space that was left between Kev and Nolan.

“Almost break,” Nolan mumbles to the room in general, ignoring the feeling of someone missing next to him.

“Thank God,” Maddie sighs. “I only have one more exam left but it’s my hardest one.”

“You’ve passed all the others though, right?” Stacey asks. Maddie nods with another dramatic groan.

“Mine are mostly papers,” Sanny says. “I have two left to turn in and they won’t be graded for like another week.”

“You’re the one that decided to be an English major,” Maddie snipes back. It devolves into an argument pretty fast that the rest of them tune out. Stacey waits until Nolan dies on screen and then turns to him.

“How’s he doing?” she asks, eyeing the empty space next to Nolan sadly.

“I haven’t talked to him in a couple days,” Nolan admits. “I mean, he’s texted but we haven’t talked on the phone.”

“Is he coming back for pack Christmas?”

“I’m not sure,” Nolan says. “I don’t know if he’s decided yet. It’s a little rough with his family right now.”

“I can imagine,” she sighs, patting Nolan’s knee. “He’ll be back before you know it.”

“Yeah,” Nolan agrees, even though he isn’t actually sure she’s right. The word kidnapper floats through his mind at the worst times and he has to keep reminding himself that TK genuinely likes him. Chase likes him, even, and by now Nolan knows Chase’s opinion matters more to TK than anyone else’s. And even if TK doesn’t come back, Nolan will be happy for him. Stacey lets it drop and Nolan passes the controller off to Maddie, letting his eyes slip closed and enjoying having his pack around him again. There’s only one more week until Christmas and he’s counting down the days.

Chapter Text

Two days later , Nolan’s in the shop mopping the floor to get rid of the puddles of snow people have dragged in. Business has already started picking up this week leading up to Christmas as family members flood into town and people look for an excuse to leave the house. He’s constantly being introduced to people’s cousin’s boyfriend’s brothers and aunt’s sister’s friends. It’s frankly exhausting, but Nolan can’t make himself ask his employees to work more than one shift a week with all they have going on, so he bears the brunt of it. Jim stops by and scolds Nolan for working too much, but they both know Nolan’s not going to stop. He might as well prepare for the lecture from his parents now.

He ordered everyone’s Christmas gifts online so he wouldn’t have to venture out into the crowds alone. He promised himself not to go overboard- not that he could afford to anyway- so he found small but hopefully meaningful gifts for everyone. He got Stacey two certificates to her favorite spa that she raves about all the time, along with a brand new fancy tackle box for Haysey. He checks out Sanny’s goodreads and finds some books on his to-read list for him. A charm bracelet for Maddie that has a charm for each member of the pack.

Shopping for Travis is hard . Nolan knows he likes fishing and camping and hockey, but he pretty much already owns everything he needs for that. And besides, getting him something from his own store seems pretty stupid. He’s down to the last few days and he has nothing to show for it. He’s a fucking bad boyfriend.

He’s ripped out of his thoughts when the bell over the door jingles. He sighs a little and works a smile onto his face before he turns to greet the customer. And freezes. The mop falls out of his hand and clatters to the floor.

“Hey Pat,” TK says, grinning so wide that it looks like it hurts. Nolan’s just… stunned. Before he processes what he’s doing, he’s across the room and sweeping TK into a crushing hug. He smells all wrong, like strangers and the stale air of being in a car too long, and Nolan doesn’t even try to stop himself from burying his face against TK’s neck, sliding TK’s coat off so he can run his hands up and down TK’s back and arms and shoulders. TK melts under the touch, a hand slipping into Nolan hair with a pleased little purr.

“I feel like I shouldn’t have to see this,” someone says off to the side. Nolan raises his head and sees Chase watching them, somewhere between amused and disgusted. He starts to unwrap himself from around TK, but TK holds on like an octopus.

“You can go, then,” TK says, voice muffled where his face is still buried in Nolan’s shirt. “Thanks for the ride.” Chase sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes.

“I’ll drop your bag off at Nolan’s house. See you at Christmas,” he says pointedly, nodding at Nolan before he’s out the door, muttering under his breath about ungrateful brothers. Nolan ducks back down and breathes TK in, feeling himself settling. He’s happy to have his missing pack member back, safe and sound, but he’s also just… happy . He missed TK more than he thought it was possible to miss someone he’s only known for a few months.

“I didn’t know you were coming back,” Nolan says when he’s finally able to pull himself away. TK doesn’t let him go completely, resting his hands on Nolan’s shoulders with that stupid grin still on his face.

“I wanted to surprise you,” TK laughs. “And it was worth it. You should’ve seen the look on your face.” Nolan flushes, embarrassed, but TK presses up and kisses him, just like that, easy as if they’ve been doing it for years. It’s just a peck, barely long enough for Nolan to feel it, but he feels himself grinning back.

“Did anyone else know you were coming back?” Nolan picks up the mop and the coat and pulls TK back behind the counter in case any customers decide to come in. He definitely doesn’t complain when TK tucks himself up to Nolan’s side.

“Yeah I made a side group chat so you wouldn’t see. They’ll come by the house at some point.”

“Did Chase drive you all the way back here?” It’s a 6 hour round trip drive, a long way for Chase to come drop TK off and drive back home.

“Yeah, I got my license back but there’s something wrong with my car,” TK explains. “We took it to a mechanic and he said something I totally didn’t understand but basically means that the engine broke and I’d have to get it replaced.” While he talks TK hops up to sit on the counter facing Nolan, and Nolan can’t resist the draw to step between his knees and rest his hands on TK’s thighs. “So I decided just to sell it as-is and get a new car down here sometime. So Chase drove me back here and I’m supposed to ask you to drive me back there for Christmas but I think that’s pretty bogus so I’m just going to make him come get me if he wants me to be there so bad.”

Nolan’s grinning at the familiar rambling, letting his hands trail up TK’s thighs to rest on his hips, his eyes caught on TK’s mouth.

“Patty, my eyes are up here,” TK chirps. “I’m all for making out in the middle of the store, but if someone comes in, you know you’ll never live it down.”

“You won’t live it down either,” Nolan grumbles, reluctantly meeting TK’s eyes. TK leans closer, like he’s going to tell Nolan a secret.

“I have no shame,” TK whispers. “You could strip me naked in the middle of the store and I wouldn’t care. As long as we don’t get arrested for public indecency,” he amends. Nolan lets himself think about it, lets his eyes trail down TK’s body and actually think about the things he wants to do to him. TK leans back a bit, tilting his head to bare his neck to Nolan and Nolan thinks about biting him just a little.

“Not in the store,” he finally says firmly, despite being unable to pull his eyes away.

“So this is an option now?” TK asks. “You’re finally convinced that I’m here because I wanna be? That you’re not holding me captive or whatever?” The word kidnapper flashes through Nolan’s mind and he tenses, trying to pull his hands away, but TK grabs them and won’t let go. “Nolan.”

“I know you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t wanna be,” Nolan concedes. “And I know Chase wouldn’t have brought you back if he thought I was doing anything against your will.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Nolan admits. “I guess I just don’t understand why you would…” want me , he doesn’t dare say, but it’s there. Nolan’s nothing special. He runs a fishing and camping supply store in a small town in Canada that no one has ever heard of. He doesn’t have a college degree or a fancy house, and his pack is awesome and they’re his family and he wouldn’t trade them for the world, but they’re the most ragtag pack Nolan’s ever seen. He’s selfish and works too much and never has anything interesting to say. It doesn’t make sense for TK to want to stay. TK’s frowns at him, opens his mouth, and Nolan is quite literally saved by the bell.

“You’re back!” Sherri cheers as Nolan backs away to let TK hop off the counter. She walks over, smiling brightly at both of them.

“I couldn’t stay away too long,” TK teases, rounding the counter to hug her. “I’d miss you too much.” 

“Oh, I’m sure it’s me you’d miss,” she laughs, looking between the two of them. “Nolan always looks a little grumpy, but you could practically see the storm clouds swirling around his head the whole time you were gone.” Nolan glares at her but he’s distracted when TK comes back to him, looking up at him so fucking happy that Nolan forgets to be mad.

“Good thing I’m sticking around then,” TK finally says. “Can’t get rid of me now, Pat.” Sherri coughs, sounding suspiciously like she’s covering up a laugh, but Nolan can’t be bothered to drag his eyes away from TK’s face.

“Right, I’m just gonna have a look around,” Sherri says. “Just don’t forget you’re in public, boys.” As soon as she’s far enough away, TK takes Nolan’s face in his hands and pulls him down so they’re eye to eye.

“I’m choosing you, Pat,” he says, quiet but sure. “I chose you all those months ago, and I’m choosing you today. I’ll choose you every day, and I’ll remind you every day if that’s what you need.”

“But why?” Nolan can’t help but ask. TK pauses to consider the question, letting Nolan stand up straight again but looping his arms around Nolan’s shoulders.

“Because I love you,” he says easily. “Because you’re kind and grumpy and you care about people more than you like to show. You’re a great alpha and your pack loves you. You work too much because you don’t want to make your employees work too much, and you care about the store. You’re stubborn because you care.” He flashes Nolan a grin. “You have awful taste in music and movies, but you let me pick what we watch and you don’t care when I talk through the whole thing.”

“I like listening to you talk,” Nolan says.

“You like listening to me talk,” TK adds to his list. “You showered me and shaved me and got me a haircut and held my hand when I was scared when it would’ve been so much easier to turn me in.”

“That doesn’t seem like a very good reason to stay,” Nolan argues.

“Those are just things that make up who you are,” TK explains. “I like the whole package, even in the mornings when you’re grumpy and growl at me.”

“I’ve never growled at you.”

“I think you were just too tired to remember,” TK laughs. “But you definitely have.” Nolan ducks his head, hiding his face against TK’s neck.

“And what if you get tired of me and decide to leave?” he voices the question that’s been plaguing him. TK thinks about it.

“I’d like to say that’ll never happen, but I’m not psychic. I don’t know what will happen,” TK admits. “But I know right now that there’s nowhere else I’d rather be and I mean it when I say I’ll choose you every day.” TK breaks off when a couple people walk in and they step apart, Nolan greets them and then makes eye contact with Sherri, who looks pointedly toward Nolan’s office door. Nolan nods at her gratefully and pulls TK in, closing the door behind them.

“I know it won’t always be this easy,” TK continues. “Right now we’re in the honeymoon phase I guess, but I know we’ll probably have times where we’ll get mad at each other and fight or whatever. I just think that it’s worth it to see where this goes, and I’d rather give it a shot and have it not work out than to not try at all and miss out.”

“Me too,” Nolan sighs with relief. He feels better about it, that they’ve acknowledged that it might not work out. He wants it to, more than anything, but their relationship had a weird start and maybe a part of him is worried that time will draw them apart. But TK’s right, all they can do is try, and Nolan would hate himself forever if he didn’t give them a chance. “Sorry to be such a drag on your first day back.”

“I kinda just kissed you and left,” TK says. “We didn’t really get a chance to talk about it, but I didn’t wanna leave without at least letting you know where we stood in my eyes.” Nolan wants to kiss him again, and then realizes there’s no reason he can’t. He hooks an arm around TK’s waist and pulls him in, letting himself relax into the rightness of it. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he thinks he’s going to enjoy the ride.

~

Nolan doesn’t think of himself as overly sentimental, but having the pack crowded in his house the last few days before Christmas makes him feel just a little soft. He may have put off decorating, to TK’s absolute horror, so Kev and TK go pick out a tree that night while Maddie drags Nolan to pick out some ornaments and lights. Sanny and Stacey stay back and make dinner, which they all devour as soon as they get back.

“You look pretty pleased with yourself,” Maddie says from behind him where he’s standing back watching everyone crowded around the tree stringing lights. Nolan shrugs.

“Nothing to complain about,” he says, grinning when TK drops a pack of ornaments and they scatter everywhere. Good thing they got the plastic ones. He abandons Maddie to go help him pick them up and then gets dragged into hanging them up. Afterwards, they all curl up together to watch a movie, and the empty space Nolan had been feeling next to him is filled perfectly. Nolan has his head on Kev’s arm, TK sprawled across his chest, and his pack all tucked together smelling like family .

And when it’s time for bed, TK follows Nolan into his bedroom.

“We’ve never shared a bed before,” Nolan observes, laying on his side facing TK.

“I’m gonna snuggle the fuck out of you,” TK grins, reaching out a hand to pull at Nolan’s arm until Nolan moves, propping himself up on one arm so he’s hovering over TK. “We’re not in the store anymore.”

“No,” he agrees, confused.

“Earlier you said not in the store,” TK continues. “We’re not in the store. In fact, we’re in a nice comfy bed in a room with a door.” And, oh , he gets it when TK slips a hand in Nolan’s hair and tugs him down. Sure, they’ve kissed before, but not when Nolan could slip his hands under TK’s shirt, trail biting kisses down his jaw, kiss every inch of skin as he peels TK’s clothes off.

Sex with TK isn’t as frantic as Nolan always pictured. Really, TK’s pretty happy to just lay there and let Nolan do what he wants, occasionally pulling Nolan up for a kiss or guiding him with a hand in his hair. Nolan’s never heard better sounds in his life than when he makes TK spill over his hand, and the grin on TK’s face when he gets his own hand on Nolan is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. When they’re both spent, snuggled back up together, Nolan leans down and kisses the flush on TK’s cheeks, knowing it’s mirrored on his own.

“That was fucking worth the wait,” TK mumbles once they’re settled back down, lips brushing Nolan’s skin where he’s sprawled across his chest.

“I’m-” Nolan starts and then cuts himself off.

“What?” Travis asks, raising his head so he can look at Nolan’s face.

“I’m really glad you found me,” he mumbles. “And that I found you.” When he risks a glance at TK’s face, he looks a little misty eyed and Nolan continues before it can get too emotional. “But I haven’t gotten you a Christmas gift.”

“Pat,” TK laughs, properly distracted. “You don’t have to get me anything.”

“I had no idea what to get you,” Nolan admits. “Everything just seemed so shallow and I wanted to give you something meaningful.”

“You already gave me something meaningful,” Travis argues gently. Nolan bites his lip and avoids his eyes, which earns him a heavy sigh and a poke to the chest. He shimmies up until he’s sitting on Nolan’s thighs and tilts Nolan’s face up with both hands on his cheeks. “I’m serious. You gave me a home and a family when I felt like I didn’t have anyone. You gave me clothes and a phone and a bed and made sure I never needed anything. That’s worth more than any Christmas gift.”

“Yeah but that’s not, like, the point,” Nolan argues.

“That’s exactly the point,” Travis says. “Christmas is about spending time with the people you love, and nothing you could’ve given me would’ve meant more to me than just being here with you. Because I love you. And you love me. And that’s all I really want for Christmas anyway.”

“You’re so fucking sappy,” Nolan grins, heart full.

“And I didn’t get you anything either.” Nolan laughs and pulls him down for a kiss.