well I guess if i'm not of use go ahead, you can cut me loose

She wanted to scratch him from the record. Forget that she had ever met him and that anything had ever happened. Start anew with this day, with a clear head and her priorities aligned. Commit herself to the pack and to learning the ropes and to being the person she wanted to be.

It was not so easy. Kenzie was loathe to even remove herself from her bed, where she had laid awake through the long hours of night. To get out, to take some step toward moving forward, was a task so daunting it bade her to clutch a second pillow to her chest and curl into a ball. Day after day, since she had left home, month after month, year after year, she had pushed herself to stand back up from every fall and keep going, to keep believing that there was good out there for her to find. She was growing increasingly tired and more cynical and more bitter. How long before the pack turned on her? How long before this good thing turned into a crock of shit too? How long before she ruined it?

Better to lay in bed, she figured, better to stay in her hole of misery than to rise on some lie of happiness only to crash back down even harder when it all inevitably turned to hell. But, the same stubborn ember of foolish hope that drove her onward before was still there flickering in the deepening darkness of her soul. She sighed into the pillow. Groaned and grumbled. Thumped her fist into the bed. Then Kenzie got up, showered, dressed, collected her bike and headed out, just as the sun was starting to reach long fingers between the buildings as it ascended.

Her first stop was a quick one fraught with paranoia as she hurried to procure what she was after before someone could realize that nothing was securing her bike to the pole it leaned against. She should have left the bike home. She hadn't been thinking. Fortunately, when she left the store, the bike was still there. In her hand, a cable bike lock that would spare her future torment of that nature. Kenzie had spent no time fussing about which lock to buy. She grabbed the first one that caught her eye; she thought it was cute because it looked like a snake.

Kenzie's next stop could not be decided on. Her mind was not in the right place for what she sought to do. She was not feeling thankful even if she knew she still had reason to be. So she slowly walked her bike along street lined with small businesses, window shopping, hoping some idea would jump out at her. But instead of an idea, an orange-and-white tabby cat shot out from behind a garbage bin, startling her enough to make her drop her bike. "Fuck!" She hurried to pick her bike up, fretting briefly over whether or not she had done damage to it. She hadn't.

The cat stood bristling at the corner of a building, poised to make a break down the alleyway. Flicking out the kickstand, Kenzie then crouched down and chirped at the cat, holding out her hand and trying to gently coax it toward her.

"Here kitty," she called softly.

The cat answered with a hiss and bolted.

Kenzie's head slumped forward with a resigned sigh.

She really did hate the feeling. It was aggravating, annoying. Bad enough that she had to constantly have a sense of everyone else who normally lived here, but when it was someone who didn't, she...

Well! Asha could send out another one of her own or she could prowl around town and seek the newcomer out herself.

It was a dog — she identified that much from far away. The dogs all felt kind of similar, and there were a bunch of them. All it took was for her to roam around on a drive before she caught wind of a scent that was vaguely familiar.

Putting her car in park, she followed, only to eventually find herself walking behind some lady with a bike crouching on the sidewalk. The offending cat was... oh, there. Bye.

"Please tell me you're not surprised by that," she called to her with a brow raise, and if it startled the wolf that was fine with her. She'd just drag her to the riverside and toss her in the water for her shift.

It would figure that one of the two people for whom she was shopping for a gift would happen along before she could find one. Kenzie felt her heart drop as she glanced toward the woman who had called to her and recognized Asha immediately.

"No," she replied softly, shaking her head as she stood back up. No cat no dog no any animal of any kind had wanted anything to do with her since she was bitten. It had taken her a while to realize it but she had. It was taking her far longer to accept it. "I just miss petting them. Guess I still hope sometimes I'll find one that doesn't run away." She offered up a smile. Stray cats had been a welcome source of company and comfort when she had first left home ten years ago. She really did miss her encounters with them.

Her plan to procure some small item of gratitude and drop it off at The Terrace was well and truly foiled. Though she wanted to salvage her idea, she could see no way to do so that wouldn't somehow be awkward. Might as well be truthful. "I was actually on my way to see you," she said. "I wanted to thank you for putting me into contact with Alina."

The girl who turned around struck her as familiar enough, and when she dove into her explanation for being here, the memory came back in full. "Oh, you're welcome!" Asha perked.

"So you're part of the pack now I take it?"

That was just logical. If it had gone poorly she probably wouldn't be getting a supposed visit.

Speaking of which, what was it with people not calling up ahead of time to set up a visit? If she didn't have her number, she likely could have gotten it from Alina. Really bizarre life choices, world.

"Mm-hmm," Kenzie smiled and nodded. Her heart hurt but she was doing her best to muster up the gratitude and happiness she should be feeling. Kai and Asha had truly done well by her and she had much to be appreciative of in the wake of their kindness. "I even have a job at the brewery, and a room with one of my packmates." There was a flash of a grin at this. It was still hard for her to believe sometimes.

She nibbled her lip. "I was hoping to find you a gift or something," she admitted. "But since you're here before I could... maybe I could take you out for brunch? Or if you know something you'd like to have that I could get for you... um." Kenzie smiled sheepishly, her awkwardness coming through.

Well wasn't that swell. Asha was pretty great at helping lost wolves, it seemed.

But haha, awkward! Being asked for what she wanted as a gift from like, a stranger, essentially. It was a sweet gesture but maybe a little extra.

Asha opened her mouth and then closed it and then opened it again. "I was actually on my way to do groceries if you wanna come along?"

She was not, she was prowling for intruders on her territory, but the truth was she needed to do groceries anyway so it wasn't an unreasonable cover.

It would have been far less awkward if she could have just found some small token of gratitude and handed it over like she had planned. Instead of standing here in front of a strong woman who clearly had no idea what to say to Kenzie's clumsy attempts at showing appreciation. Then again maybe a gift would not have been any less awkward. She could have picked up something that Asha hated or was allergic to... the possibilities for how she could embarrass herself were truly endless.

"Sure!" She grinned, relieved that Asha had enough grace to save her from her own self. "I could probably pick up a few things too." Some necessities perhaps. Loaf of bread, a jug of milk, a carton of eggs. Kenzie toed her kickstand up and settled in beside Asha, ready to follow and walk her bike along and grateful for the distraction. Something about the woman reminded her of Alina, but she could not yet put a finger on it. The haze in her mind did her no favors for understanding what she was sensing.

"I like this neighborhood," she commented.

That was a nice solution then. Asha offered a smile and kept an eye out for whatever the nearest supermarket was.

"Yeah, it's pretty nice. I bounced around between here and Larkspur and the Hollow for a while."

Never mind a stint in Ravenswood and also nearly moving to Belle Vista. Asha had pretty much been all over the map.

"Where was it you said you were from again? I know you popped into town recently."

"Oh just a small town up north a ways," she said. "I'm living in Cedar Creek now." Her heart lurched as she suddenly recalled that it was her claiming to live in Cedar Creek that prompted Kai to question her about knowing Alina in the first place. Too late to retract that, she went on. "It's not as nice a neighborhood but my apartment is pretty decent." Her apartment. It seemed a bit disingenuous to call it that but she supposed it was true enough. She was able to contribute though it was ultimately Alexis, on her paramedic's wage, that made it possible for the two of them to have a nice home in an unpleasant place.

"I take it you've been around Mountainside for quite some time then?"

She didn't offer much in the way of detail regarding "where," which was lame because Asha wasn't asking for a vague answer, but whatever. Maybe she had baggage.

"Cool. Yeah, moved here a little after college, so... maybe four or so years now?" Maybe. "Why go to Cedar Creek?"

In her mind's eye she was seeing spots and claws.

"I didn't really have a choice. I was told I was going to be staying with a pack member at her apartment in Cedar Creek and so that's where I am." The woman didn't need to know that she had been homeless before but... her answer might have implied that anyway. "That's where the pack is so I guess it makes sense to be there anyway."

Kenzie waited for a pair of pedestrians to pass them by before she asked her question. "So are you like... a leopard?"

Wait, what? She moved from her vague little town up a ways to Cedar Creek because she was told she was going to go move in with a pack member? But when she came to the Terrace last time she didn't know the pack even existed, so.

Weird. Probably a misunderstanding.

The question was offensive, as Asha thought of being a leopard and the cat took very vivid offense at the idea, snarling and spitting at the thought of being such a relatively wiry animal. And without proper rosettes, too! Inferior in looks and brawn all at once.

She snorted to the feelings from her other half, and spoke low enough. "Probably better if you just ask straight out what someone is instead of trying to guess. Jaguar."


Kenzie was bad enough with etiquette. That is to say, she was really talented at making a bit of an ass of herself. Faux pas were a specialty. Now it seemed there was a whole new chapter of etiquette regarding shifters that she hadn't even read a single page of.

"My bad," she said. "Sorry about that. I'll be sure to just ask next time."

Jaguar though. Cat-lover Kenzie felt a pang of envy at the woman's beast. Evident perhaps in the awe of her grin. If life were something like a Pokemon game and she got to pick the beast to start her adventure with, she would have picked a cat. But Asha was no ordinary cat either. She was an exotic jungle predator. Badass. Kenzie wanted to see it. She sure as hell wouldn't ask to though.

"That's really cool," she smiled, glancing upwards at a sign for a grocery store just ahead. She idly wondered if there would be any bacon on sale.

Yeah it was. Asha grinned, and sighting the store decided to go in that one.

"So how long have you had your dog for?" she asked casually, pulling out a cart from the rest of them and going to the dairy slash eggs slash juices section first. Need all of these, thanks.

Kenzie picked up a basket and added a dozen eggs to it as the pair of them perused that section. Her companion's question was met with a glance, a reflexive uh and a swallow. "Eight years," she confessed, feeling somehow okay talking to the woman about this. It was not the same comfort she felt when among her packmates, but there was a fellowship here. She was instantly reminded of the need to stop running and to embrace who and what she was, and to move forward. Kenzie straightened her shoulders and picked up her head with a swell of determination that rode atop the fragments of her heart. Now more than ever she needed to reclaim her footing.

"Eight years but it may as well be eight months since I've only ever tried to ignore it and suppress it and run from it. Enough of that though. I'm ready to be better," she rustled up a grin. "What about you? Seems like you... hm... feels like you're..."

Way fucking better and stronger than me.

Felt like...? Asha knew what it felt like.

It all came down to the fact that Asha's animal was a fucking cunt. This girl could sit here and gulp about having been a dog for eight years but the fact that she had managed to do that and not — whatever, die? — was a testament to her animal being a hell of a lot more chill than Asha's own was.

In her worst moments, Asha didn't see herself making it very long. And she wouldn't be where she was if her jaguar's ambitions didn't violently drag her up this path.

"That's good," she started with. "I'd say it's been... maybe a year and a half for me. Do you know who it was?"

She picked up a carton of eggs, opening it to make sure none of them were broken.

If Kenzie knew the true extent of what Asha seemed and felt like, she would have withered of utmost shame to then hear that Asha had only been at this for a year and half maybe. It would have given way to further admiration eventually but in this moment, in the fragile state she was in, it may have broken her. Though she had no reference for knowing when it was reasonable to expect someone to have the business of being a shifter figured out, eight years seemed far too long for how little progress she had made.

It was a good thing as well that her mind was too burdened for her to not make an immediate association between Alina and Red River Brewery and Asha and The Terrace.

"Ah, no," Kenzie shook her head. Her eyes glanced to her left wrist where beneath an assortment of bands and bracelets a swath of ugly scars lay, and then swept their surroundings before she continued. "It ran off after it bit me. Got scared by some traffic. Been going at this alone until now, met the odd person here and there and learned a tip or two but. Yeah." She looked back to her companion as she grabbed a block of cheddar cheese and added it to the basket. "I don't know if I'd want to know them. I feel like that might be hard to deal with." By the same token, she'd rather forget about the other people who had inflicted some form of trauma on her.

"Do you know who...?"

Aw. All that was very understandable and fine. Made her own life sound more fucked up, which was exactly what Asha needed as she surmised that all the eggs were fine and she placed them carefully in the cart.

"The man who... eventually became my boyfriend."

Slash king, slash werehusband, slash whatever. She offered a dry smirk.

How about you just open your mouth and swallow your foot there, Kenzie?

"Oh." Kenzie blinked. Quiet in consideration for a moment, she pretended to peruse the selection of yogurts: shameful peach, nervous blueberry, and good old fashioned awkward vanilla. She had no idea what to say. So, was it hard to deal with? sounded like the dumbest question. Momentarily, she thought of her and Fletch, and the comfort she had drawn from having a close friend who shared this unique struggle. Her heart squeezed painfully.

"That doesn't sound so bad actually," she said, genuine. If her attacker had been someone she had known, if maybe it had been an accident, it would be rather different than knowing the stranger who tried to kill you. Or so she thought. It was a purely optimistic 'let's get through this together' line of thinking. "Better than being alone to deal with it, yeah?" Kenzie smiled.

She really could only offer a laugh to that. Wasn't so bad? Things were nice now, sure. It had taken a while to grow into it.

"We both are aware that it was a fucked up way to end up in a relationship. I'd say we're making it work, though."

Well. To be fair it was a lot of Abraham putting up with Asha being incapable of compete faithfulness. But he seemed to love her, and he belonged to her, and that was a comfort as she felt she had love for him too.

Maybe not... Entirely selfless love, but. Asha wasn't perfect.

"Got someone?"

She tried not to laugh, but a soft hehe sounded from behind her closed lips nonetheless. "Well, that's all that matters," Kenzie said as she smiled softly.

"Ah, no. No one for me." Her closest friend had told her to get lost, a thought so bitter she could taste it on her tongue. What Kenzie had, all that Kenzie had, was a family of strangers. Time would change that, but time could not pass fast enough for her, and a weariness to continue to make an effort descended on her quick and heavy. The familiar niggling to run flared wild in her breast, foolish and unheeded as she stubbornly sought to extinguish it.

Seeking some distraction from her thoughts and the burden of her pain, she quipped, "someone should make an app for that. Call it Matches Under the Moon or something. Beast Meet." Kenzie rolled a shoulder, quirking her mouth to the side and hiking her brows. It was the best she had at the moment.

Fair enough. She laughed to the suggestion, wondering how anyone could be able to tell who was what on the theoretical app.

"Sounds like you should do it," she volunteered her playfully as she picked up two cartons of Abraham's preferred almond milk. "How would you verify people as being like us though?"

Grateful to delve into this theoretical topic flung far enough from her reality, Kenzie grinned and scratched at her scalp. "Good question." She hummed, her expression pinching in great — albeit theatrical — contemplation. "Well, I heard there's one app that makes you take a selfie in a given pose in order to prove you're authentic or something." She held out her palms. "Guess I could have people pose as their pets. Not that the pets could operate a phone... unless they were chimps."


Kenzie made a face; the thought of a Werechimp wrenched comical horror onto it. What an unfortunate fate that would be! Instead of a cool beast like a jaguar or a wolf, you would become pretty much a less evolved and fair hairier human. She shuddered, suddenly intensely grateful for the animal whose shape she took.

"Maybe... maybe an app is not the answer." She added a jug of milk to her basket with a small chuckle. Regular dairy milk. "Maybe we should bring back the old profession of a matchmaker person. Or do that thing where a group of people rotate around tables... err... oh! Speed dating."

Delving into the topic only revealed that it wasn't such a great idea after all, to which Asha smirked. But the next thought was a decent one! In person, you could easily tell if someone was a were.

"Maybe," she nodded. "How would you advertise it in a way that didn't bring... other types?"

Asha was maybe grilling Kenzie to think harder than she usually did, but it was harmless.

It was another good question.

One that Kenzie had a relatively quick and playful answer to, as the meat section sprawled before them ahead of the aisle they walked.

"I'll advertise it as being catered with an all-you-can-eat-raw-meat buffet."

She grinned. Kenzie had never been one to prefer her steaks rare, but since becoming part-wolf her tastes had changed. Now, even fully uncooked steaks looked appetizing, and the sight of all the fresh blood-red meat in their packages made her stomach knot with sudden hunger.

"Ha," Asha laughed it off, knowing a few weres who would be squeamish babies about it anyway. "Careful. Raw meat's a delicacy in some parts of the world."

She reached for a whole chicken and several cuts of roast, inspired by the topic to indulge some.

"What is it you do by the way?"

"True." She shrugged a shoulder with a smile. The hypothetical business of linking up Weres romantically was not without many obstacles.

Into Kenzie's basket went a pack of hickory smoked bacon that was indeed on sale.

"I'm bussing tables and helping in the kitchen at the brewery right now," she answered as her eyes skimmed over the chicken. "Odd jobs and the like. I'm hoping to learn how to mix drinks sometime." Boneless skinless breasts were also on sale and so a pack of them were set down on top of the bacon before Kenzie's gaze returned to Asha.

"What's it like owning a business? You must keep busy a lot."

Ah right. She might have mentioned that before. Asha nodded.

"Fun. Stressful," she answered the question back to her. "Lots of lost sleep, lots of covering last minute callouts. But I'm pretty proud of it, too."

A sigh. By the way, she'd noticed the choice in meat by Kenzie. Boneless skinless breasts were kind of the blandest way to have chicken unless you were really skilled in handling them, but she supposed it wasn't going to be her dinner, so it wasn't her problem.

"What's your ideal position?"

"I'd be proud too. I don't know that I could even run a business myself like that." Kenzie smiled, momentarily allowing her mind to drift towards that idea. It would be rather awesome, she decided, to be your own boss. Maybe if she sorted her shit out she could run her own business down the road, but as she stood right now, she knew she was too insecure and too inexperienced as a Were to juggle management; a thought that brought her to Asha's question.

"Ah, well, I'm not really sure," she said, having never spared a thought for her future employment beyond learning to mix drinks. "I don't mind what I'm doing now. Keeps me busy. Often there's different things to do here and there, and well, I don't have to deal with the public too much and I like that." There was a soft heh following her statement, a quirk in her expression that served to make light of her lack of ambition and her awkwardness around people — the very reason she was content not to be a server.

"I'm grateful to have a job at all. Guess it's just been too early for me to start thinking about what position I'd ideally like to have."

Asha nodded. That was fair, at least she knew what made her happy even if it was pretty bottom rung. (This she thought in the nicest way possible. Once upon a time, all Asha wanted was to just be a bartender.)

"That's not a bad thing. You don't have to worry about taking out business loans and stuff."

A pause as she considered getting pancake mix.

"What about in your group?"

She nodded in agreement, amused, unable to fathom herself taking on business loans when she didn't even have her own bank account. She had a ratty wallet and cash, and too few belongings to even fill the space in her small room. Though she was now in possession of more clothes and some other items than what she could fit in her bag.

"In the group?" She parroted, a bit unsure what the woman was asking. She knew Alina was the leader alongside Trick (sort of?) and that Dante was their Second. Beyond that she was uninformed as to any other positions she could aspire to. "Kind of the same I guess. I'm... so far behind. I have so much to learn. I'm just happy to be a member." Her, a leader? Second in command? Ha ha ha.

Pancake mix looked appealing to her too, calling to mind batter fried in an old pan over an open fire in front of an old tent. But bread was the only other item she intended to buy today. She had to be able to carry her groceries back on a bike.

Asha would have thought there was nothing wrong with that, maybe, but she found a sort of aversion to being so... drably content with a low place in a group. If someone else led it, even Abraham, and she wasn't right there at the top too, she'd probably have split and just gone ahead and done her own thing. Maybe started a war.

Whoa there, Asha.

"That's cool," she grinned belatedly. "You've got time, anyway. The pack's not going anywhere soon."

With that, she was happy to continue shopping and idly chit chatting.

"That's right."

The pair continued conversing through the grocery store. Kenzie picking up no more than the loaf of bread despite the number of temptations she came across. Before she left, she made sure to thank Asha again for her help, and handed over her phone number, insisting the woman let her know if there was ever anything she could do for her. She still didn't feel quite right about missing the opportunity to offer a gift, but was feeling better overall for the friendly chat and distraction, and hoped she could repay the kindness later.

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