Epilogue - The Week of Thanksgiving 2015
"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." (Maria Robinson)
Clay kicked back on the porch, balancing precariously on the back two legs of the chair as he swung his feet up to rest on the porch railing before taking a long pull from the beer bottle in his hand and relishing the quiet after the shouting of the previous day and the tears of that morning, but now it looked like all would be well.
So much had changed over the last couple of years. Roque had gone . . . dead and, after the betrayal, Clay couldn't bring himself to be sorry. They were all out of the army now, but at least justice had been theirs. They'd exposed Max and everything that he'd done. They'd been cleared and had their positions reinstated, only to promptly hand in their papers together and it was just a matter of time before they had all left the Army as a team, just like they'd been for so long. Aisha was gone, vanished back into the woodwork for now at least and somehow, bizarrely, Clay was relieved.
It had been hard to keep Cougar and Jensen's status as wolves a secret with her around, but they'd managed it. For the most part it was thanks to Cougar. The sniper had taken to being a wolf with far greater ease than Jensen, not that Clay held any of that against Jensen. Cougar's change had been different in so many ways. They'd known what they were getting into, Cougar had known to an extent what to expect and from the beginning he had not fought it.
Jensen had guarded him protectively in both forms for months; still did, although Cougar clearly didn't need it. Cougar's acceptance of his wolf had let Jensen finally begin to fully accept his own, to stop fighting the other side of himself.
Thinking of which, Clay smiled to himself as the two wolves appeared on the grass between him and the surrounding woodland, gambolling and chasing each other like puppies. Cougar's wolf was beautiful, maybe not quite as much as Jensen's; in wolf form he was darker, sleek and elegant, but he exuded a confidence that Jensen was only just beginning to find. That was so much like the two men in their human forms as well.
For so long they'd all thought of Jensen's incessant rambling as annoying and frustrating, never realizing that it was just layer upon layer of self-protection kicking in to hide Jensen's own lack of confidence. Now Clay could hear the difference in the rambles; the ones when Jensen was just drawing attention away from what he was really thinking and feeling and the ones when he was trying to lift spirits.
Cougar was the one who had discovered they could change back to human during the full moon. He described it as being uncomfortable and when they had needed to do it, both of them had invariably been irritable and snapping at the slightest little thing when they'd had to keep their human form for the whole day, but it had kept them safe during their time with Aisha and both of them had always slunk off before sunset to change and relax.
When it had all been over, Jensen and Cougar had bought this place right out in the countryside, miles from anyone. Over the past months they'd gradually done it up, bit by bit; Clay figured it was still what you would call a Work in Progress, but month by month it was more and more comfortable and always a home.
Clay thought back over the last twenty four hours. Cougar and Jensen had invited everyone up this week for Thanksgiving. Pooch had called Clay in advance to warn Clay that it was a full moon and maybe there was more to the invitation than the two men were saying. It wasn't that the invitations were uncommon, Clay knew Pooch, Jolene and their little one often came up to visit as did Jensen's sister and his niece, but he also knew that he and Pooch were the only ones to ever have visited at full moon. The invitation had been for a full week's vacation and neither Pooch nor Clay were willing to leave the two men to face Jensen's sister alone.
They had eaten well the first night there, a Cougar speciality and then put the children to bed. Drinks had flowed for a while although Jensen and Cougar had barely touched their own. Every time he'd passed, Cougar had let a hand fall to Jensen's shoulder or wrist. Eventually he'd sat back down alongside Jensen and had taken his hand. There had been a cackle of glee as Jensen's sister had laughingly said, "So you about to tell us you two are getting married or something?"
Jensen had paled and swallowed, a look of impending nausea on his face as he'd denied the accusation before launching into a much curtailed explanation of how he and Cougar were wolves during the full moon.
Jensen's sister's expression had changed first to one of disbelief and incredulity, then anger before she'd screamed at him for being a bastard and stormed out of the room. Jensen had looked heartbroken for a moment before heading for the screen door that lead outside, closely followed by Cougar.
Clay had sighed and started to say he would go and try to reason with Jensen's sister but Jolene had stopped him, telling him to give her a little time to calm down. Instead she'd insisted on them telling her the whole story. Jolene had accepted it, grateful for the times that Jensen had protected and saved her husband, she'd been heartbroken to hear of Jensen's struggle, irritated that he'd had to keep it a secret from his own family, that he'd had no one to help him deal with it beyond the incompetent men in the room with her. She knew that they would have protected him with their lives, just as he would do for them, but the only one of them who was really capable of dealing intelligently with the emotions Jensen would have had, was Cougar and she knew full well with Cougar that it probably wouldn't have involved a huge amount of talking.
"Is that when they got together?" she asked.
"Not straightaway, but after a while, yeah. Guess Cougar had felt that way for a while," Clay added, knowing full well that Cougar had kept his feelings hidden for a long time.
"So Cougar's a wolf too . . . how did that happen?"
They'd told her the truth about the mountain pass, about the way they'd all have died if it weren't for Jensen's wolf and about Cougar's plea and how it had broken Jensen for a while, but that Cougar had probably helped him work through it. Typical men, she had figured that even now they couldn't see the truth that what had healed Jensen's soul was the love he shared with Cougar.
With the story over, she'd nodded and stood, saying she was going to see Cougar and Jensen and then she would be the one to talk to Jensen's sister and if either of them so much as thought about moving she'd make them very sorry.
She'd found Jensen and Cougar outside on the steps, Jensen sitting between Cougar's legs, leaning back against the older man as Cougar murmured reassurances in his ear. She'd gone and sat herself down beside them. Jensen started to pull himself more upright as if to move away from Cougar. She stopped him and then leant in to press a kiss to Cougar's temple before reaching for Jensen's hand and beginning to talk. She'd told him how sorry she was for how he'd been turned and how much he'd had to suffer because of it, but how glad she was that it had happened because of all the good that he'd done in saving the rest of his team over and over again. She'd told him she was thankful that he'd turned Cougar as well and that they could be together and that she loved them as her family, just the same as she'd done the day before, the week before and she would in the months and years to come.
She'd asked if she could see the wolves when they turned and they'd agreed that after the change they would come back to the house since she wanted to see them both and see how handsome they were. Cougar had smirked at that, tightening his hold on Jensen. Cougar had listened and heard her out, stopping Jensen's attempts at interrupting, knowing that Jensen needed this acceptance in case his sister's never came. Jensen needed this love to heal the parts that were still damaged by how long he'd fought his wolf and felt isolated and a burden to others. Jensen still needed to hear that he was a good man and that he could live without the fear of becoming a monster like the man who'd turned him.
Jolene had then wrapped her arms as far round them both as she could and promised that she would talk to Jensen's sister, because she was sure that all would be well. Then she'd leant in and kissed Jensen's cheek before standing up and tapping the brim of Cougar's hat so it dropped forward over his eyes, before toppling off his head to land in Jensen's lap and with a quiet, "You're still my boys, whatever happens," she'd slipped back into the house to find the other woman.
None of the men really knew what Jolene had said to Jensen's sister, but when she'd appeared later that evening, eyes still red-rimmed, the glares had been for Clay and Pooch instead of Cougar and Jensen. She'd gone outside to find her brother and there had been no raised voices, but all three seemed subdued when they came back in a short while later.
The party had broken up for the evening soon after and they had each headed for their own beds.
Jensen had been up early and headed out before anyone but Cougar got up in the morning and Cougar had been outside in the barn when the others finally made their way downstairs. The children had been excited as always and had gone out hunting for Cougar and Jensen. Cougar had brought them back to the house ready to make everyone breakfast reassuring them all that Jensen had just gone to do some errands. Jolene had ushered him away from the kitchen saying that she would cook breakfast and so he and the children had set the table before the others had come in to eat.
Jensen made it back before lunch, greeted on the steps by Cougar as he climbed from the car. Cougar reassured him that his sister was still there but was worried that the disagreement the day before was why he'd gone out this morning. She'd shut herself into the den and had left Clay and Pooch to look after both children. She'd talked to both Cougar and Jolene for a while but what she really needed was her little brother to set her heart at rest.
Jensen had nodded and headed for the den to join her, the bag he'd brought back from his trip still in his hand. He knocked on the door then stood in the doorway waiting for her to look at him. Her eyes were tear-filled as she'd apologized over and over again wrapped in his arms where he'd come to sit next to her, promising that it wasn't really him she was angry at that it was the army, the situation, the need for it to have been secret so long, the amount he'd had to suffer alone.
He held her until she calmed, whispering his own apologies into her hair and they'd clung to each other like they'd done so often when they were younger. Finally with them both calm, he'd reached for the bag he'd brought with him and offered it to her.
"Last time, I pissed you off this much was when I enlisted," he said quietly. "When you finally forgave me, we watched this together . . ." She pulled Lord of the Rings from the bag and smiled, eyes damp again but this time with love and affection. "We won't get through it all before . . . I change tonight but . . . we've got the whole week and . . . and maybe . . ."
"Yeah, we can watch it together, Jay." She'd pulled him in closer for another hug. "Maybe we should make lunch and round up everyone who wants to watch with us."
They'd spent the afternoon watching the first part of the trilogy, with Jensen on the floor at his sister's feet, her hand toying constantly with his hair, the tension between them gradually easing as the movie went on.
The door creaked open behind Clay and he saw Jensen's sister and Jolene standing there with Pooch just behind them. This was the first time the two women would have seen the wolves and right now the two of them were chasing each other, nipping at each other and barging into each other as they each tried to exert a little power over the other.
"Hey ladies," Clay said quietly. "Why don't you come and sit down? They'll calm down in a bit once they've let off a bit of steam. They'll probably come over to investigate then."
"God, they're gorgeous!"
Pooch smiled and wrapped his arms around his wife, grateful for her reaction and hoping that it would help ease Jensen's sister's way to accepting them both.
She moved forward, leaning against the railing as she stared in amazement at the two of them playing together, her eyes following each movement they made. "They're amazing," she whispered. She turned to Clay, "I'm not sure that I can forgive you for your part in this, in the secret and making him suffer all that for so long alone but I love him, even like this. He's still my little brother."
"We – I thought we were protecting you, keeping you safe, the longer no one found out the safer I thought I could keep him."
She nodded and turned back to watch the wolves. "Which one is Jensen?"
"Can't you tell?" Pooch laughed as Cougar made a sneaky move and caught Jensen by surprise pinning him down before licking his muzzle and then getting off again, his attention suddenly turning to the porch.
"Is that Cougar?" she asked the question tentatively.
"Yeah, he's as sneaky like that as he is when he's human!" Pooch explained fondly. "Here they come, just don't worry, okay? It's still just Jensen." He issued the warning as Jensen's attention followed that of Cougar and as he realized that everyone was out on the porch, he bounded to his feet and began a full on run towards them.
Cougar yipped behind him and Jensen glanced back over his shoulder before skidding to a halt at the bottom of the steps. He waited there, tilting his head to one side while he watched the people above him. Then with great care, he climbed the steps and eased his way past everyone else to his sister's side, pressing his nose into her hand. She held her breath, looking at Pooch and Clay for guidance. "He won't hurt you," Pooch said. "You can touch him."
She let her hand drift up to stroke gently between his ears and he pressed in closer. "He's kind of affectionate," she laughed.
"He's Jensen," Clay said. "Don't expect too much that's different, apart from the quiet. That takes a bit of getting used to."
She sat down back against the porch railing and Jensen followed her flopping down alongside and letting his head drop onto her stomach while she carried on stroking and petting him. They were joined a few moments later by Cougar, who stood alongside Jensen watching them with approval before sitting down beside Jensen and letting his head drop onto Jensen's back.
Author's Note : Thank you for reading, sticking with what became a really huge story. The original aim was to write a story of about 5,000 words but, once I got going, to do the original prompt justice it needed more. It was a first in so many ways - I'd not tried writing anything more than comment fics for the Losers before and I've never tried to write a story in which a major character would be a werewolf or anything similar. Here's hoping you all enjoyed it enough not to think it was awful. Thanks to those people who commented previously, your kind comments are much appreciated.