Running From The Moon
by K. Stonham
released 13th June 2020
The game against Quinnipiac was what brought it all to a head. Well, that and the fact that Eric's concussion happened the day of a full moon.
Eric knew he'd been incredibly lucky that none of Samwell's games this year had been scheduled against the night of the moon itself. He hadn't needed to take a single scratch! (Which, wow, the thought of Jack Zimmermann's expression if he had needed to miss a game made his head even more swirly.)
But now... ha.
Luck had to run out eventually, if you were one Eric Richard Bittle. Usually sooner, though he tried to ignore that. Still, almost an entire season had passed, so he'd started to relax and think maybe, just maybe, his bad luck streak had broken. Samwell was being a charm for him. The curse was broken!
No such luck.
He whined softly, shuffling a little forward from where he was hidden under his bed to risk a look at Jack.
Jack who was still there. Who hadn't left-Eric would have heard the door-and who hadn't called anyone.
Who also hadn't shouted or screamed, which was more than Eric would have expected. Not that he wasn't glad for it! His head hurt enough. Though being a wolf, oddly, felt better than being a human right now. Less swimmy.
If not less terrifying.
Jack was still sitting against the far wall of Eric's room, his head bowed, fingers knotted in his dark hair. Eric didn't think he was having a panic attack, but certainly wouldn't be able to blame him if he was.
He'd say he could smell the stress pheromones radiating off Jack, but to be fair, Jack smelled like stress ninety percent of the time anyway.
Slowly Jack's fingers loosened and he looked up, pale blue eyes cutting through the dimness of the room to meet Eric's. "Bittle?" he whispered, voice hoarse.
Eric nodded once-no use denying it, Jack had seen the Change-then scooted back under his bed again, pressing as far back into the corner as he could fit himself. Not out of grabbing or hitting range, should it come to that, but if Jack came at him, he'd have warning. And at least he had fangs and claws in this form, which hadn't been the case the last time he'd had jocks cornering him.
Not that puberty had done him many favors even in that regard.
Eric was just so tired of being the butt of the universe's jokes. Too small, too soft, too flamboyant, too gay. Too everything.
He crossed his forelegs, rested his head on them, watchful, and waited out the moon.
What the fuck. What the fuck. What the fucking fucking fuck. Bittle was a...
Jack realized his thoughts sounded entirely too much like Shitty, and made himself stop.
Werewolves weren't real. They were fictional creatures, thought up by starving peasants facing the terror of harsh winters. They were the subject of bad Hollywood movies that he would watch with his mom, snickering at her lambasting the terrible makeup and worse computer graphics. They weren't real. They weren't on Jack's team. They weren't... Bittle.
Except the golden wolf currently cowering under Bittle's bed gave complete lie to those statements.
Jack tilted his head, leaning to one side so he could actually see the wolf. Bittle. Whatever.
"Aren't wolves supposed to be bigger?" he wondered, because his brain-to-mouth filter was apparently shot at the moment.
That got Bittle's attention. His head jerked upright, his lips drew back, exposing pointy carnivore's teeth, and he actually growled.
"Uh, yeah, forget I said that." Jack momentarily buried his face back in his hands. "I'm not good with surprises. Sorry, Bittle."
A snuffing sound from under the bed, and then silence again.
Some interminable amount of time later, there was a soft knock on Bittle's door. Jack looked up.
"Hey, anyone home?" Ransom's voice came through the door. "I'm up for Bittywatch!"
Jack looked under the bed again. Bittle was still cowered into the corner, but his eyes were wide. Terror, Jack felt, translated well between species.
It took a second, but eventually Jack was able to push himself into standing and go to the door, opening it a crack. "Hey. Bittle's sleeping," he said. "I'll stay for a while longer."
Ransom frowned. "My turn, Jack."
Jack tried for his best unimpressed captain face. "Weren't you saying you needed to study more for O-Chem?"
"Yeah, but..." Ransom sighed, his expression torn between teammate and textbook. "You sure, Jack?"
"Go. Study. Kick ass," Jack intoned in his best hockey robot monotone.
It worked. Ransom snickered and held his fist up for a quick bump before walking away.
Jack sighed, relieved, as he closed Bittle's door. He didn't have to explain yet that everyone's favorite frog had suddenly turned into a wolf.
Abruptly his eyes focused on the calendar pinned to the back of Bittle's door. Under the cheery picture of a pie the month was laid out in a five-by-seven block grid, with games and practices cleanly noted, along with a few birthdays and tests. And the printed notation in the bottom of today's square, Full Moon, was circled. In red.
Jack flipped a month forward. The next full moon was circled too. And the one after that. And on and on, every one through the calendar.
He let the pages drop, realizing what this meant. "You couldn't tell us?" he demanded, addressing the bed. "Crisse, Bittle, we're your teammates! Who might need to know that you're unavailable once a month."
The snort from under the bed was clearly incredulous, and Jack reddened just a little.
"Fine, you're right," he said, sinking back to the floor. He peered back under the bed. "But we're going to talk about this once you're back to normal."
Bittle crossed paws over his snout and pointedly looked away.
Jack sighed and straightened up to start waiting out the night, wondering if all werewolves had the same eyes and fur when on four legs as they did on two.
Jack woke abruptly to a hard poke in his arm.
"Wake up. Checking practice," Bittle told him from six inches away.
"What?" Jack asked, hand coming to rub at his sore neck. Had he fallen asleep at his desk? Why was Bittle in his room? Wait, why was Bittle telling him about checking practice?
Looking beyond his teammate, Jack realized he wasn't in his own room. He'd fallen asleep, somehow, in Bittle's. Leaning against the door. No wonder his neck hurt.
"Lord on a bicycle, Jack, are you always this slow to wake up?" Bittle wondered. "And here I thought it was just me." He moved back, giving Jack his space. The smirk slowly slid off his face. "You wanted answers. Go ahead an' ask your questions."
Jack blinked. And straightened up. His back hurt too. He was never going to sleep like this again. What time was it? His thoughts felt like they were moving through January molasses.
"The moon went down a bit ago," Bittle informed him.
The check. The concussion. The... lycanthropy. It all came back in a rush.
"You've... been like that for a while," he said finally, meeting Bittle's brown eyes as the winger sat back down on his bed. He'd gotten dressed at some point, Jack noticed, at least into a t-shirt and pyjama pants. The overhead light wasn't on, though, only the soft fairy lights draped over the bookshelves. Well, good. At least Bittle had listened to that part of the doctor's instructions.
Bittle snorted. "Since puberty," he said. "Or all my life, if you want to look at it another way."
"You've got it under control?" Jack asked.
Bittle rolled his eyes. "There's nothing to control, Jack. I'm still me, whether on two legs or four."
"Anything I need to know?"
"Yeah, I can't play on full moon nights. That's pretty much it."
"Fine." Jack looked at Bittle's clock, and, yeah, it was right around checking clinic time. "Take your painkillers and get some sleep."
Bittle's eyes were wide and his expression surprised. Jack tried not to think how badly Bittle must think of him, to be surprised by his reaction. "That's it? Seriously?"
"What did you expect?"
A shrug. "Dunno. A bit more screaming and panic?"
It was Jack's turn to snort. "I did that part last night." The panic, at least. Not so much any screaming. All that was left was the need for more sleep (in a bed, damnit), and the general realization that if Bittle hadn't attacked Jack when he was most vulnerable, it really wasn't a concern. His teammate was as he had ever been.
"So, like... did you get bitten or something?" Ransom asked.
Bitty half-turned to him, the kitchen knife in his hand suddenly seeming very sharp and pointy as he glared and ground out, "It is hereditary, Justin. Bites don't work, and I do not appreciate that Hollywood fearmongering in my kitchen."
"Oh." Several things swirled up and then settled into new places in Ransom's mind. "So, like, your mom or your dad, or both...? Does it ever skip a generation?"
"My life is not Teen Wolf either," Bitty retorted. "The movie, not the TV series, Holster," he added before Ransom's BFF could even bring it up.
"So...?" Ransom prompted.
Bitty sighed. "I get it from my daddy's side," he replied. "Which's why I ain't a twin or more. A heck of a lot of women wolves have multiples. When the were's the dad, not so much. It's a dominant trait."
"If it's dominant, why aren't there more werewolves?"
There was a small smirk on Bitty's face as he glanced at Holster. "Just how many of us do you think there aren't?"
Holster shut up.
The smirk didn't fade as Bitty resumed dicing the apples with swift, sure movements. "Unless you find someone out, or interact with them on full moon night, tell me, how're you going to know?"
"Um. Silver allergies?" Holster tried.
"Bupkis," said Bitty with a shrug.
This time Bitty flat-out stared at Holster, clearly unimpressed. "You play hockey, Holster. Ever heard 'I went to a fight the other night and a hockey game broke out'?"
"Wolfing out?" Ransom tried for his stymied liney.
"Highly, highly unlikely."
"C'mon, what if a wolf's drunk or high?" Ransom pressed. His eyes widened. "Shit, Bitty, what about the times you've been drunk or high?"
"Alcohol's a central nervous system depressant," Bitty replied, using the back of his knife to sweep the apple chunks off the board and into his mixing bowl. "So's MJ. They make it less likely to wolf out." He snorted. "I'm bad at tests. Not stupid."
"Sooo... is that why there's that stereotype of drunk Southerners?" Holster asked.
Bitty rolled his eyes and set to mixing his filling. "No, that's 'cause we lost the war, Holster. Ain't you ever met anyone else from south of the Mason-Dixon? Lots of morons there. And not all of 'em are werewolves." He considered as he stirred. "And not all werewolves are from the South. Not by a long shot."
"So... is anyone else on campus a werewolf?" Ransom asked. "For the spreadsheet, come on!" he protested at Bitty's look.
"I wouldn't tell you even if you tried bribing me," Bitty said. His laugh sounded bitter. "One, you oughta know better. Haven't you listened to any of Shitty's lectures about forced outings? And two, even if I was inclined to tell you... answer me this. Exactly how long ago do you think it was that people stopped hunting and murdering werewolves?"
Ransom exchanged a look with Holster. "Um... 1700s?"
Bitty shook his head, his small smile flat and black. "Try again."
"World War Two?" Holster guessed.
Bitty shook his head again.
"Then when?" asked Ransom.
"People never stopped," Bitty replied, turning back to his bowl. "Sometimes, when you hear about about people being killed? Well, they sure aren't gonna say it on the news or in the papers, but word gets passed around the community. 'He was one of us.' 'She was one of us.' And maybe, just maybe, some of that isn't 'cause we're wolves. But some of them?" His left hand tightened briefly on his mixing bowl. "Well, some of them we know better. After all, didn't your mamas tell you about Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf? Guess which one I am, Ransom." His fleeting glance was sharp. "People kill wolves. Always have. So I sure as shit ain't giving you a hit list for any hunter that might hack your computer some day."
As Jack's hand inched down toward Bitty's waistband, Bitty grabbed it in an iron grip. "Jack, we can't!" he hissed. Above them, fireworks exploded in a shower of colors.
"Why not?" Jack asked. Because he really, really wanted to blow Bitty like this. In the back of a pickup truck, alone, colors painting his skin.
"Because people will know!"
Jack froze. "What do you mean?" he asked carefully.
Bitty glared at him. "My mama might not, but Coach? He'll smell it on us the minute we get in the door."
Bitty's intense expression melted away, his shoulders relaxing as he sighed. He tapped the side of his nose. "Wolf's nose," he said, as if that explained everything. Which it did.
"Oh," Jack said, as Bitty sank back down to lie on top of him. He took a moment to think about it, then asked, "We can still make out, though, right?"
Bitty's grin was sharp. "That we can." And he proceeded to suit action to word.
A minute later, it occurred to Jack, "Wait. You mean you can smell when someone's...?"
"Mm-hmm," Bitty said. He frowned. "You can all play innocent all you like, but this nose always knows when someone's got laid. Or failed to. And you don't even want to know what I can smell on that couch that y'all can't."
"Ugh." Given what he already knew about the couch's history, Jack definitely didn't want to add on whatever Bitty knew about it.
"Also, so that's why the Haus smells better than it used to?"
"Mm-hmm." Bitty snuggled into Jack's side. "It reeked."
"And why you're such a great cook? Because your senses of taste and smell are sharper than the rest of ours?"
"Why, Mister Zimmerman," Bitty chirped, "that's about the nicest way anyone's ever put it to me."
"I like being nice to you." Jack's fingers brushed along the down of Bitty's cheek.
Bitty's smile was sweet and just a little sad. "And I like you."
Jack wanted to kiss away the sadness. So he did.
He was serious about not giving back Jack's shirt. It smelled like Jack, where every other trace of him in Eric's room just seemed to fade. He wanted the reminder. And even though he knew Jack couldn't tell, that was part of why he'd left so many summer shorts at Jack's place, to make the condo smell like both of them. (And, realistically, Eric wasn't going to be wearing them at school for too much longer. The fall temperature snap was imminent, and the heating at the Haus was... uneven, at best.)
The thing was, though, Jack made him feel safe. This team made him feel safe. And that was dangerous. What if Chowder's inhibitions got too loose after some tub juice? What if Ransom or Holster unthinkingly made a joke in the locker room? What if Lardo accidentally forgot and said something? But Eric wasn't sure he'd ever felt safe before. Not in school in Georgia, certainly not at home with all the parts of himself he couldn't talk about... maybe alone on the ice in the middle of a skating routine, but that was long ago and far away.
He'd gone to school with a pack of his cousins scattered through the grades. If any one of them had ever felt like defending the runt of the Bittle litter, it hadn't happened while he was actually present.
But there'd never been so much as a hint of not being accepted here at Samwell. Never a tawdry joke or backhand remark, even before he'd come out to his teammates. Maybe, he thought... maybe it really was safe.
But he still wasn't telling them about Jack.
"Bless you," Eric said automatically.
Jack grinned at him across the Skype connection. "Not going to ask what it means?"
"I do not need more vocabulary words to add to my study list, Jack!"
Jack's grin continued unabated.
Eric sighed. "Fine, what is it?"
Eric repeated the word a few times as Jack corrected his pronunciation, rolling the sound of it around in his mouth. "Yeah, I still don't think that's going to be on a test."
It was when things eased up, though, when they opened up to their friends and Jack's coworkers, when he went to the Falconers' Family Skate, that things got a little weird. At least for Eric.
He hadn't noticed it before, hadn't really thought about it, but... wow. All those tall, handsome jocks (of whom Jack was definitely the handsomest), and not one of them was a were? Eric shook hands and smiled and chatted, sort of waiting to catch a whiff of that particular musk that meant one like me, and... not finding it anywhere.
Taking a quiet moment alone to check his pies, he wondered why none of the twenty-three Falconers were werewolves. At Samwell, well, he'd never expected to have another wolf on his team; the odds were just plain against it. But surely in professional sports...? After all, his dad had always said that weres were drawn towards athletics: "A way to get all that aggression and energy out, Junior." And every single Bittle cousin was an athlete. Most of them in football.
Maybe, Eric thought, that wasn't werewolves at all. He'd always assigned his lack of aggression to being the runt of the litter, to being weak, to being defective somehow. But if here he was, with a whole professional sports team and an NCAA D-1 team to draw conclusions from... Well, he was sure Holster would be able to use some statistics jargon about it, but maybe, Eric was beginning to think, it wasn't that werewolves were inherently aggressive and athletic.
Maybe it was just that the Bittles were.
And that the expectations he'd been brought up with that a real wolf was an alpha wolf, was a manly man, was a true Bittle... well, maybe those expectations were just that: expectations. That maybe the lack of fang-baring snarls in him wasn't being wrong.
Maybe all werewolves weren't like that. Because Eric wasn't, and he was a werewolf.
And maybe that was okay?
And then Tater came in, as ravenous as any of Eric's relatives, and he found himself smiling. Because that was one thing, his mother had confided to him, that she absolutely loved about being married into a family of werewolves: everyone always cleaned their plates then asked for more.
Even if they weren't wolves, athletes were like that too.
His mama just about broke her crust when Eric told her that Jack knew. He could hear the dough falling even over the phone line, and it sounded like it had landed on the counter, not the pie tin.
"But- but, Dicky, that's dangerous!" she protested. "If he knows you're a... well, you know," she said, unwilling to even say it over a phone line. Werewolves and their families, as far as Eric had ever seen, were deeply paranoid, and with good reason. "If he knows, sweetheart-"
"Mama, do you really think Jack would do anything like that?"
"Well, no, sweetheart, but you can't be too careful. You remember what happened to Rachael."
Not really, Eric thought, given that he'd been four at the time. But he was well aware that his father's second cousin had been murdered in downtown Atlanta in 2001, and that it was widely the belief of their family that it had been because the wrong person had found out what she really did on full moon nights.
"I won't say he didn't freak out a bit about it when he found out, Mother, but he's fine with it. Really." More than fine, Eric thought. And it was very nice to just zone out on full moon nights, listening to the moon sing with his head resting on Jack's lap, Jack's fingers in his fur as Jack watched one of his documentaries that Eric could care less about.
"And when did he find out about it, Dicky?"
Eric winced. "You remember that concussion I got, freshman year...?"
He actually had to hold his phone at arm's length from the shriek and yelling that earned him. He was not going to tell her that Jack was far from the only one of his Hausmates who knew. That was a brouhaha for another time.
(Coming out to Shitty had been oddly reminiscent of, well, coming out to Shitty. Eric didn't know what he had expected, but the instant validation and support he got was nice. Lardo had already known. Or at least been spectacularly unimpressed by the fact that she was going to be living across the hall from someone whose canines were literal as well as dental. She really was just that godly. Chowder, when he'd been told, had almost vibrated out of his skin with excitement about being told such a big secret. He'd hugged Eric and promised to never, ever, breathe a word to another living soul. Not even Caitlin...! Nursey had been a little freaked out. Dex, surprisingly, had not. "I'm from Maine," he'd said with a shrug. "What, you thought everything Steven King writes about was made up?"
Ollie and Wicky... well, Eric wasn't even sure it had fully registered with them. Ollie had just blinked and changed the subject to the possibility of peach cobbler, and Wicky had tilted his head to the side for a full five seconds, blinked twice, and said "Okay.")
After a couple more minutes of upset fluster, Eric's mama calmed down and eventually the conversation turned to Jack's last game, and then to plane tickets, and then Eric... just... just couldn't-
Jack found him crying in the bedroom, knotted up in misery.
Because Eric could tell his Hausmates that he was a werewolf, and roll the dice on being outed and murdered, but he couldn't even tell his mama he was gay.
Of course, then Alexei got his injury in game four of the Cup series, and all of a sudden he was staying with Jack and Eric while he healed. Which wouldn't have been a problem-Alexei turned out to be a pretty good houseguest-except that there was a full moon a week after the last Stanley Cup game. And Eric had to stress over telling yet another person his secret. And who even knew what kind of stories they told about werewolves in Russia!
(His own vlog post came back to him as he worked up the nerve: "It's something you'll likely have to do over and over (and over and over)." Sometimes current-Eric really resented past-Eric. Not that past-Eric had been wrong; in fact, exactly the opposite.)
And it wasn't precisely bribing, all right, when a couple days before the moon, Eric made sure Alexei was just taking his first bite of a fresh blini topped with homemade blueberry jam when he dropped the bomb.
The D-man paused mid-bite for a moment, then chewed and swallowed. "Who curse you?" he asked, serious. "I take issue with them, we get you turn back."
And it turned out that apparently Russian mythology had good werewolves and bad ones, and since Eric was apparently a good one (as evidenced by pie and jam making skills), that Tater thought someone must have cursed him. Which led to a whole couple hours' discussion about what being a werewolf did and did not mean, at least as far as it concerned Eric, and that was that.
Two nights later, when Eric padded out of the bedroom on all fours, he barely got more than a blink from Alexei before the man heaved over so there was more room between him and Jack. Settling into his usual moon-night spot, Eric closed his eyes and zoned with Jack's fingers in his fur, barely noticing when Tater said "Small B make for small wolf too."
It wasn't that he hadn't known there were other werewolves on campus... it was just that Eric had never bothered to seek them out. A passing whiff of musk in the quad or a classroom did not a connection make, and given how un-alpha he was among his family's pack, he'd never bothered to seek out the other wolves at Samwell to join a new one.
(And, to be honest, SMH was his pack. Got your back, and all that.)
But now, at the varsity captains meeting, talking with Shruti, he couldn't help but wonder if that had been a mistake. Because Shruti was like him, and she was nice. Friendly, even. And... not hostile to Eric, not even in the subtle "I'm the alpha, you're the omega" way the members of the Bittle pack were.
Eric liked her so much he thought he might cry.
"Oh, wow," she said, much after that first meeting. "Um, no offense, Eric, but your pack sounds a little... old-fashioned."
He snorted. "That's about the politest way you could've phrased it. I am not looking forward to going home at Christmas."
"Eh, maybe it won't be so bad," she offered. "You said it's more shock and silence on Facebook than, like, any real negativity, right?"
"Yeah." He sighed. "Pack is pack, and all that."
"Though," she said thoughtfully, "at least you don't have to worry about telling your S.O. about it."
"Still trying to work up the nerve?"
"Yeah. How do you just tell someone that you run with the moon and eat rabbits once a month?"
"I always preferred when we brought down a deer," Eric said. If Jack had connected the dots between Eric's lycanthropy and his taste for game, he hadn't brought it up yet. "It's just like coming out. You have to do it again and again and again..."
Shruti was silent for a minute, then squinted suspiciously at him. "How many people know you're a were?"
"Outside of family?" Eric grimaced, then started to tick off on his fingers. "Jack knows, obviously, but he found out, I didn't tell him... Shitty, Lardo, Ransom, Holster." Another hand. "Chowder and Dex and Nursey, Ollie and Wicky." One more hand. "Tater, because he had to stay with me and Jack after that Cup injury..." He looked back at Shruti. "And you. So, twelve."
Her jaw was dropped.
He'd known, before, that most of Bitty's family were werewolves, and he hadn't really thought about it when he met them over his Fourth of July visit. But back then they'd thought he was only a school friend, just someone passing through, and they hadn't known that he knew...
Well. Now that everyone's secrets were out in the open, and Jack was a potential (definite, if he had anything to say about it, but that was up to Bits) family member... somehow it made meeting the family different. More judgmental, maybe? Stronger handshakes, certainly, like they all had something to prove to each other. Definitely stronger hugs from the women of the extended Bittle clan, even Bitty's mom, who Jack knew wasn't a werewolf. Maybe she'd had to develop stronger hugs to match her in-laws?
Eric had sighed in the car as he drove Jack home from the airport. "Just so you understand, Jack... I'm like the omega in the family. The littlest and last and least."
"You know the whole alpha and omega thing doesn't exist in real wolf packs, right?" Jack had asked. "It was that one study of captive wolves-"
"Yes, I know that, Jack," Eric had cut him off. "And from some stuff I've found out from other weres, maybe not even all packs are like this. But the Bittle pack? There's a hierarchy. And I'm at the bottom of it. So you're comin' in on that."
Jack set aside the question of what other weres Bitty had been talking to, because he knew he wouldn't be told if he asked. "What should I expect?"
Another sigh. "I really don't know," Eric said, passing streetlights painting his face in flashes of yellow light. "Could be they'll like you because you're 'a real man,' whatever that means. Could mean you'll be eating shit at the bottom, just like me, because you're queer." His fingers tensed on the steering wheel, before he obviously made himself relax them. "They did really like you at the Fourth last year, so there's that. Maybe it'll be okay."
"Hey." Jack waited until Eric looked at him. "I love you. Whatever your family deals out, unless they actually try to murder me, it'll be okay."
Eric's smile had been wan, but there. "Just so we're clear, Mr. Zimmermann, you're not a white knight saving me from my family."
And now, Jack thought he understood better what Eric meant. Because while it was and is clear that the Bittle clan didn't value Eric nearly as much as Jack thought he deserved, this visit his family were different. It was just little things, nothing he could point to and name, but Jack understood perfectly that he and Bits were being evaluated. Or, in Eric's case, re-evaluated.
But fuck them all if they didn't see what Jack did: just how strong Eric was, in so many ways.
He thought they had come out on top, though, when the Christmas party was winding down to an end. His aunts' and uncles' good-byes to Eric seemed more sincere than the ones at the Fourth did, and one of Eric's cousins, on his way out the door, as much as asked Jack to come running with the pack the next time he was in Madison over a full moon.
"Sure," Jack said. "If the stars align and all that, you know."
"Cool," the man said, and left, the last of the pack.
Jack just stood at the door for a minute, Eric against his side, then asked, "What, exactly, was I just offered?"
Bits' laughter filled the room.
"You gotta stand up and take what you want, Junior," his dad had once told him. But that had never made sense to Eric, because the people who took were the people who took, and took, and took, until there was nothing left. And if he took, that made him into one of them, the bullies and jerks who pushed people around, wrecked their homework, locked them in closets overnight-
So Eric gave instead. It was something he was good at, something he had learned at his mother's elbow. He gave food, he gave friendship and advice and music and dance moves and laughter and as much love as he could pour out into all his boys.
He didn't captain the way Jack had. He also wasn't a captain like Ransom and Holster had been. But he'd been a captain before, and like then, he gave everything he had to his sport, to his team, in every way he knew how. And his team paid him back, in ways they didn't even know, filling up all the spaces in him that had been empty ever since elementary school. The one thing he had never expected, stepping onto the Samwell campus, was to be this happy.
He loved the Samwell Men's Hockey Team so goddamn much. They were his team. His pack.
And no petty stupid bully from Brown was going to get away with treating any member of the Samwell pack the way he was treating Eric.
"I still think you're nuts," Shruti said. "Making a pack out of normies."
"Now who's being prejudiced?" Eric asked, working bread dough to smoothness. "I mean, I'm still part of the Bittle pack. But I'm never going to live there again, so, what, I should be without a pack the rest of my life?"
"No!" She sighed and sipped at her bubble tea. "But it's just not the same, you know? Kesha loves me, but she doesn't get what it feels like, the wind in your fur and the moon singing in your blood."
"Ha." Eric shaped the dough with his fingers and the sides of his hands, lifting it gently into the bread pan. "We kinda tried, you know? Big SMH camping trip for everyone still in the area, full moon night..."
"Oh? How'd it go?"
He snorted. "Dismal. I forgot regular people have lousy night vision. They could run with me, sure, but they couldn't see where they were going." Shruti snorted laughter. "Holster wants to try again with night vision goggles or something, but I'm just not sure."
"You don't have to share everything with us, you know," Jack said, walking through to grab a Gatorade from the fridge.
"It's not about sharing everything, it's about sharing anything," Eric retorted.
Jack shrugged. "I can't share being 6'1" or Québécois with you. I thought you said being a werewolf was only part of you, not the whole package."
"Yeah, but you can't extract it, either," Shruti argued. "It's a big part, and it colors all the rest."
"Everything anyone is colors all the rest," Jack replied, sitting at the table. "Being gay, or bi, or a man, or a woman, or southern, or Indian... take any one part out and you're not the same anymore. Is being a werewolf really that much bigger than any of those other parts?"
Eric and Shruti exchanged a look. "Not... really?" Shruti guessed. "More likely to get you killed, though."
Eric scoffed. "Here and now, sure," he muttered. "Thirty years ago... Well, maybe it's not a bigger part," he conceded to Jack, "but it's not one that's easy to let go of, either."
Jack smiled, and took Eric's hand as he too sat at the table, bread safely in the oven. His wedding band gleamed smooth gold on his ring finger. "I'm not asking you to let go of it, Bits. Just to acknowledge that the rest of us can't, physically, share it with you."
Eric sighed. "I know. I just wish y'all could." Being the werewolf member of the Samwell pack was something he'd always have to do alone. But, he thought, not unsupported.
His pack was now geographically scattered, no longer under one roof, but still tightly connected. As Lardo had once put it, group chat was forever. And Eric knew not all of the others thought of their group as pack the way he did (Ransom and Holster would happily hold forth on the "found family trope" until Jack or Shitty or Lardo told them to shut it or risk sounding like Johnson), but he liked to think they understood what he meant.
And he understood, too, though his pack wasn't the same as a genetically connected pack, where most of them would take to the woods and run out the moon, that this, the pack he'd found and joined and help shape, was so good.
Pack meant fingers in his fur on moonlit nights.
Pack meant doing no harm to others but taking no shit from outsiders either.
And pack meant never again being afraid of being who, and what, he was.
Author's Note: Thank you to my Wonderful Husband, and especially to N-chan, for beta'ing this story! This was many months of bashing my head against a concept (Bitty as a werewolf, and how that would change, or not change, the context of the series) and they both helped make it immensely better than what I had originally written. Though I sadly was not able to work Wonderful Husband's suggestion of "ly-cake-thropy" in anywhere. Or "lycanthro-pie"!