An Overdue Arrival (Invite Only)
Xeph glanced down at his cell phone. Aha. That was good, the two Kadzait he had been expecting had finally arrived. Not just at the Den but in Nachton. In his mind they were long overdue.
When his Challenge and subsequent take-over had happened, forty years ago now - was it that long? It didn't feel like it - Xeph's Pack had been thrown into chaos. It was a Kadzait civil war, the sides made up of those wolves who thought humans should be slaves and those who felt they must be equals within the Pack. Xeph's side was obvious.
It had taken years, nearly a decade, to wrest order from the clutches of chaos. After that order, things hadn't gone smooth as silk; Xeph realized that integrating humans into a Pack of werewolves was a job no one man could handle. He'd begun delegating responsibility to those who were level-headed and good with people. Within another ten years he'd built a sizable branch of diplomats, counselors, and helpers dedicated to smoothing the way for Kadzait of all kinds.
Since the Pack was settled more or less permanently in Nachton now, Xeph had had one of his favorite teams out and around. They'd been away for years and now it was time to bring them to their new home. They were veterans; not his oldest team by far but definitely the oldest wolf and human team. For a long while none of the Illamar had really been brave enough to take on this role. Some, but not all, of his Amaroq had been willing to work with Illamar but there hadn't been any volunteers.
Then about fifteen years ago these two had formed up, his first Illamar/Amaroq team. Xeph loved them for that, so it was only natural to have them here in Nachton.
Reclining on the bench he sat on, soaking in the late afternoon sunlight, he propped his bare feet up and crossed his arms behind his head. It would be good to have them here. It meant permanency. It meant his Pack was growing strong.
It meant many good things.
Almost delicately she grasped her dress, an ankle length sleeveless garment that was form fitting around the bust and hips and then flowed more freely around her legs. It was mostly white with splotches of bright red. From a distance she looked like a blood splattered extra in a horror movie but up close the pattern became more clear, knotted tree branches and clusters of spiky needles. The entire ensemble was almost normal; until Gretta lifted her long dress up enough to reveal bright red rain boots.
Leaving everything else she had brought with her in the vehicle, Gretta started off through the grass. Turning back to her companion, she smiled and said. "Hurry up, Josh, We don't want to be late.â€
Still grinning at the obvious joke, she crossed to the meadow and lifted her hand to the brim of the hat, adding its protection to the flimsy shade the straw provided. Keen eyes roamed the edges until they spotted a figure lounging in the shade of one of the gazebos. "This way.â€ That said, Gretta marched off determinedly across the meadow toward the shrouded figure.
He didn't question the direction she headed in; her sight was far better than his. They were walking across a well-kept field. The grass looked native; it was dotted here and there with weeds and flowers, but it was short and decently groomed. All around the perimeter of the field there were covered benches of log and stone, and it was upon one of these that Josh finally saw a large figure, reclining.
He glanced down at himself and straightened his suit coat which, even after the car ride from the airport, was wrinkle-free. Very good. The dark grey suit complemented him nicely; the white shirt beneath was crisp and clean and the tie around his neck was perfectly straight, flawlessly knotted, a rich cobalt blue that almost made the bits of blue in his grey eyes stand out.
He patted his pocket to make sure his cell phone was there. Then he patted his other pocket to make sure Mel's cell phone was there. Both accounted for. They approached the Alpha of the Kadzait, a man Josh had only met a few times and always briefly, in a formal capacity. This was no different.
"Alpha Xephier," Joshua said after softly clearing his throat. He didn't have to verify his identity; everyone in the Pack recognized this man on sight. If his height didn't do it, his mismatched eyes did.
"Joshua Wesson and Gretta Lang, sir. I'm sorry we're late. The flight departed five minutes after schedule."
"Good to see you both again," he said. They didn't know each other well, but Xeph was familiar with their work. He was looking forward to actually spending some time with this team of facilitators, liaisons, if you would.
He held his hand out and offered it first to Gretta and then to Joshua. "Please, most people just call me Xeph. That will be fine."
And late? What was this about late? Xeph looked up at the sky. It was late afternoon, that was about it. He hadn't expected them at any particular time, especially not traveling in like they were.
"I'll let it go this time," he said, grinning at Joshua, his mismatched eyes moving to Gretta. "Just, you know, try not to let it happen again."
They seemed an odd couple, Joshua in his suit, Gretta in a pretty red and white dress... and red boots. He liked that. Xeph hated when people took themselves too seriously. He'd wear that dress over a suit any day. Probably wouldn't pull it off anywhere near as well. He just didn't have the hips for it.
"I'll have someone bring your luggage if you leave your keys at the front desk," he said. "I imagine you'll want to rest and get settled in. I do have rooms for you both, if you want to come with me."
He started off across the Tikerak to the beautiful sprawling Den, careful not to walk too fast. As they headed in the direction of the big lodge he said, "I'm glad you agreed to come to Nachton and I'm looking forward to working with you both. I hope the city agrees with you."
Gretta was excited to see what Nachton held for the both of them. She had a good feeling about this place.
When they reached the bench where the pack leader was sitting, Josh introduced them both and apologized for their lapse in time management. She had no sense for such things so if he said they were late then they probably were. Likely because of her. Perhaps she shouldn't have looked at the books in the airport store or the souvenirs but they had caught her eye. The book and the stuffed raccoon wearing a Nachton Bandits t-shirt were now next to her seat back in the rental car.
She decided she liked Xeph. Gretta had made that decision long ago when they first met him but she was reminded of it again today. Keeping the smile off her face, Gretta did her best to look straight forward at their pack leader after he told Josh not to let the lateness happen again. It was hard not to sneak a glance at her partner to see what kind of minimal expression had crossed his face. She was amused though and hoped he was also.
Falling in line with Xeph, she nodded. "I think it will.â€ Gretta placed a hand on her hat and looked up at the trees and sunshine as they walked. "It will be nice to call something home that is not rented by the day.â€
"No sir, it won't happen again."
He furrowed his brow at the resting and settling in idea. Joshua would have preferred to get straight to work, regardless of the time of day or the fact that they'd literally landed in Nachton an hour ago. He supposed it made sense though; Mel was right. It had been a long time since they'd come to settle in any one place. Maybe it would be good to take a shower and change his clothes.
He glanced at Mel, his grey eyes softening. He said nothing, but he wondered if she'd wanted to settle long before this. It was partly is fault she was doing this; he had initially sort of talked her into it. He didn't think it had been a hard sell, but sometimes he did think he owed her more than he could ever repay. She had been his friend for a very lnog time; long enough that he had long since stopped thinking of her as a Packmate and simply assumed she was a sister, like his biological sisters.
"Yes, sir, that would be a big help," he said when Xephier told them someone would bring their luggage. "We were very happy to be asked here."
He looked around the Tikerak, surrounded by towering pine trees and smaller leafy trees, a thick forest around them just waiting to be explored. The sky above them was clear blue fading to twilight. Here and there a late bird or an early bat fluttered by. It was a beautiful place, hard to believe the city of Nachton was just a stone's throw away.
He glanced at Mel and his lips turned up in the barest of smiles. They were both a little excited to be here; he just refused to show it.
He smiled down at Gretta, then looked up toward the massive log and stone building that was the Den. "I'm sorry you've been running around on my account," he said, truthfully apologetic. "The work the two of you, and everyone like you, have done, has helped build us into a stronger Pack. As things get quiet, I'm hoping to settle our teams down in more permanent positions. There will still be traveling involved, but hopefully from a central location."
The aftermath of any war took a long time to settle. Even a small Pack-only civil war. Xeph meant every word when he said his liaison teams were builders. They surely were; Xeph had tried to be everywhere at once early on in his leadership but even the tirelessness of an exuberant young werewolf could not make him appear in simultaneous international locations.
They entered the Den. Xeph stopped at the front desk, not the sort of desk like a hotel had, but more of a small administrative assistant's office. Here they kept track of who was in which suite, who came and went as a visitor, and of course, they filled the needs of their fellow Packmembers. There was no room service, no housekeeping, or anything like that, but they were all there to help. They provided direction, answered questions, sent and received packages, and in general made life a little more convenient.
After retrieving the keys to Joshua and Gretta's rooms and handing them to their owners Xeph showed them around the ground floor. He gave them a brief tour of the great room, it huge living and dining area, the kitchen, the library and gym, the computer room.
"We did our best to match your preferences to the available suites we have," Xeph said. "If anything isn't to your liking, things can be changed."
So far the Pack was small enough that they still fit nicely into the two wings of the Den. Eventually Xeph knew he would have to add on to it, and he already had plans for that, but for now they all lived quite comfortably.
"You're both on the second floor as requested, in the right wing. I think you'll enjoy the view."
He gestured for the two new Kadzait to follow, and headed to the upper floor of the aforementioned wing.
She did like that idea that others would eventually also serve a set location, traveling from a central place. Gretta nodded. "It would allow the liaisons to get to know their people better, form long term relationships and become a part of the community. A wise decision.â€
Josh said they were very happy to be there. She nodded in agreement, reaching out to hook an arm through her friend's and give him a small armed hug. Yes, they were both excited. Seeing him almost smile was an example of exactly how interested he was in coming to Nachton.
It was surprising that their preferences were taken into account. Gretta figured they would just be given whatever was available. The second floor would be perfect. She preferred quiet and solitude when she was not out being sociable.
The tour was quick but the place looked large enough to accommodate the pack members that were living in the city without looking like a large concentration camp or government facility. It looked homey, cheerful and lived in with a rustic almost commune feel to it. Gretta decided that she liked it much better than a hotel already.
"Do you have gardens here?â€ She had not seen any but they had not been everywhere. The thought of being able to grow something again was wonderful.
He tried to tell himself to calm down; he knew he was simply eager to have things be perfect. He let Mel do a lot of the speaking, because her personality seemed to be a good fit for their Alpha's and they were chatting nicely. Josh didn't worry that he absolutely had to be heard. That wasn't his way. Instead he listened and observed for the moment, although he did murmur his agreement with Mel's opinion about being able to help their fellow Kadzait.
In the meantime they climbed a set of stairs and emerged onto the second level of the right wing. Instead of going down the hallway Xephier stopped them immediately and handed Josh a key.
He was instructed to see how he liked it. Josh could say he already did; being on the very end of the hall pleased him. It was a corner room and he would have plenty of solitude here. Fitting the key into the lock, Joshua opened the door on a fairly spacious apartment.
They walked in to a living area with an open kitchen and dining room; the whole main area here had very few walls and gave the apartment the feeling of being larger than it probably was. There was a large skylight over the central living area. A balcony looked out into the woods beyond the Den.
The apartment was already furnished, with comfortable fittings of dark wood and sage green. Joshua enjoyed the colors together; they gave the place a soothing feel, an air of relaxation. He had been inclined to simply accept whatever had been chosen for him, and probably would have waited until everyone was gone before poking around but now he was intrigued. He walked in, opened the balcony door and looked out. He could practically smell the fir trees; Mel and the Alpha probably could.
Pulling back into the suite Josh found a short hallway that led to a bathroom on one side, with a small study on the other. The study was done with a glossy, polished wood floor, a floor-to-ceiling bookcase with a rolling ladder, and a good sized desk with a view of the forest out back. On the opposite side of the suite, across the living area, he found the master bedroom which was, again, a fairly generous size. It too had dark highly polished wood floors and all the necessities; bedside tables, a bureau, a walk in closet. There was another bathroom off the master bedroom with a deep tub with jets in it and a separate standing shower.
Returning to the living room Josh allowed himself a small smile as he turned to Xephier. "This... is lovely," he said slowly. "Thank you. It already feels a bit like home."
He would like to personalize it a bit; while Joshua wasn't really big on clutter or decorating he did feel like a home needed something in it to make it feel like one. With four younger sisters there were always little crafting projects, knick knacks and what-nots on the shelves, candles, flowers, just things that made sense. Josh wanted a few of those things; in fact, he'd brought some of them with him.
The one thing that was missing he could already see a place for. There was plenty of room along one of the living room walls for a piano. Not a big one, but perhaps a nice upright piano. That was how he relaxed, losing himself in music, writing ad playing and dreaming more of it up until he could forget whatever stress had led him there. There was plenty of room here for that and he appreciated it.
He did not miss the fact that Gretta slipped her arm into Josh's. He didn't speculate on the nature of their relationship; the little hug could have meant anything (indeed, the two had requested separate living spaces). Instead, what it symbolized to him was what he had been striving to achieve this whole time. Humans and werewolves living together, all Kadzait, all equals, all part of the same Pack. This couple symbolized that desire, and they had been working together for decades. Xeph felt a wave of confidence in this decision.
He smiled at Gretta's next question about a garden. "We don't have any gardens. Not yet," Xeph said. "There has been some land marked for one, though. If you're interested, I can show you where it is."
It would be no trouble to build a fence, which Xeph felt was necessary. Nothing like having a moon-crazed werewolf tear through your garden during a full moon. He certainly didn't want to see anyone's hard work go to waste even if the result was green, leafy, and barely palatable. Another thought sprang to mind and he said, "Oh. My wife, Nikhila, has a greenhouse down by our cabin."
He grinned a little sheepishly. "I might have gotten her a larger one than strictly necessary. If you wanted to grow a few things in there, I'm sure she'd welcome the company."
He showed Joshua to his suite first as they climbed the stairs to the second floor. The younger man (it felt strange to make that observation; Joshua's dark hair had a touch of silver at the temples, making him look somewhat older than Xeph, who was fifteen years his senior) took a cursory look at the open living space and seemed to hesitate before giving in and walking around.
Xeph tried to remain restrained. In truth this was one of his favorite things to do - compile a list of what he knew about a person and try to make them feel welcome when they first showed up to their new home. It was very difficult to determine whether or not Joshua liked his new suite. Until the man smiled and admitted it seemed very much like home to him.
"I'm glad you like it," Xeph said. "Any changes you want to make, you're welcome to. If you need help with anything at all just swing by the front. There's no shortage of wolf-power here."
Turning to Gretta Xeph said, "Your suite is just next door."
Gesturing to the doorway out, Xeph then handed Gretta the key. There had been no real logic in who got which suite, just what Xeph thought would fit each person.
He mentioned that his wife had a greenhouse so perhaps she might be willing to help with the garden project. However, the way Xeph spoke of the building suggested that she might have her hands full with just the greenhouse.
They went inside and after their tour of the downstairs, Xeph showed them to their new quarters. Josh's was first and Gretta immediately noticed that it was the corner space. She knew that he would love the peace and quiet that such a placement would provide.
She stood in the entrance of his suite and watched him wander through it. Biting gently on one thumb, Gretta's eyes followed Joshua around the main area and then waited anxiously for him to emerge from the other rooms and give his verdict.
He actually smiled.
Clapping her hands together happily, Gretta turned to Xeph and translated his calm demeanor and quiet words. "This is Josh jumping for joy.â€ She smiled at her partner even as she teased him. "He's excited...on the inside.â€
She looked up and pointed. "That's very pretty.â€ Looking out the windows, Gretta turned back to Xeph. "You are right. This view is perfect.â€
They wandered next door to her's and that was already wonderful. She loved that Joshua was her neighbor. It would have been strange to not have him close by.
There was a small entrance area with a tall slender mahogany table on one side and a hanging set of coat pegs on the other. That little area opened right into the living room.
"I love it!â€ Gretta walked forward into the large open space. It was dominated by a square sunken area with sand coloured modular sofa pieces covering the sides. There was a moss green chenille rug inside the square conversation area and in the center was a black circular table.
It was absolutely perfect. The seating was all around a table where people could talk or play games. It was not pointed at a television set or fireplace. She loved that guests would be facing each other and not some object in the room. The floor above the sunken area was dark English oak. The walls were an antique white, just soft enough to not be harsh but still crisp, light and spacious looking. Dark wood shelving units lined the two side areas. They had odd shapes and sizes built in for knicknacks and books. Directly above the sunken area was a large circular skylight.
The far wall was dominated by large modern glass windows the ran from floor to ceiling. Gretta noticed that there were moss green curtains of heavy upholstery material on either side of the windows that could be pulled closed if she wanted more privacy or less light. Glass double doors opened out onto a balcony much like the one that she had seen in Josh's suite. The thought that they could both stand outside on their balconies and chat to each other while watching the sunset was a pleasant thing to look forward to.
Off the living room there was a kitchen and eating area, another room and a bathroom. She wandered around them quickly and then headed back to the main room.
There was a small set of stairs leading up to a loft area. She smiled at her two companions and then hurried up the stairs. The area was a narrow walkway on the two sides with an open dark wood railing that looked out over into the living room. There was a small inset nook area on the inner wall that was lined with a u shaped bench with cushions and more shelving for books and things.
The far area was the bedroom. It had a steeply slanted ceiling that gave it that sort of attic bedroom feel. On either side of the bed were large long windows and over the bed area was a circular window. She thought it would be nice to be able to lay in bed and glance up at the stars.
Waving over the railing down at the two men, Gretta hurried back to the stairs to rejoin them.
"Its amazing.â€ She smiled at Xeph. "Thank you. I can't wait to move in.â€
Gretta turned to Josh, and with typical lack of understanding for the time involved in a task, she asked. "Can we do that today?â€
As they headed to Mel's new home Josh gave his own suite one last backward glance, as if reassuring himself he'd be coming back. This was much nicer than he'd expected. Nicer than any luxury hotel suite. It was a good sign. He worried about having made this choice; he and Mel were so far from their families. His sisters, his mother... he feared for them constantly, the emotion so old that it felt completely natural, but they had all urged him to do this. And really, it was his job to do as his Alpha asked although it had been made clear to them that if they wanted to decline, they were welcome to.
Joshua banished those thoughts as they entered Mel's new home. At first glance he decided it really was a good choice for her. It was spacious but not boring. A little bit too busy for him; he actually preferred the simple classic layout of the apartment next door but for Mel this was fantastic.
He followed her during her exploration although he remained downstairs when she went up to the loft, murmuring to Xephier, "I didn't expect to see a suite like this here."
Mel returned quickly and Josh raised his eyebrows at her question. Typical Mel. He smiled at her. "I think maybe it'll take us a little time to get settled, but yes, we can start today."
He turned to Alpha Xephier and asked, "When do you want us to report in tonight, and where?"
It never occurred to him that they wouldn't jump immediately into work.
He observed their interaction with each other, enjoying how well they played off each other. Gretta's lightheartedness countered the weight of the universe that Joshua seemed to be carrying, although, as Josh joked back at Gretta, Xeph thought that maybe this particular Illamar was just the restrained sort. He didn't seem to lack a sense of humor.
When Josh mentioned his surprise at the suite's layout to Xeph, the Alpha shrugged and smiled. "I asked the architects to be creative. I didn't want a row of cookie cutter apartments. I wanted spaces that were unique and special. I wanted homes, not an institution."
Then he chuckled. "You should see some of the lower level suites. There are some very den-like apartments for those of us who would rather burrow."
Wolves came in all shapes and sizes when they wore two legs. Some of them enjoyed spaces and views, others preferred a cozy den. Xeph had tried to arrange for accommodations for every sort.
He was given yet another example of the dynamic between the two which nearly made him laugh. In the space of ten seconds, Gretta appeared to expect the unreasonable, Joshua countered, and then turned around and asked something equally unreasonable of Xeph. He tried not to laugh.
Clearly, Joshua and Gretta were a good team for a reason. Joshua seemed to keep Gretta tied a little more firmly to the Earth while she, in turn, seemed to help keep him from getting too tied down to it. He couldn't wait to see them work together some more.
For now, he addressed Joshua's question while trying not to laugh. He didn't want to alienate the man.
"You know, I hadn't expected you to dive right in. Or, maybe I did, but not the way you expected. There's dining in the great room this evening from six until nine or so, although the kitchen is always open to you - those are just the hours our cooks will be preparing food. It's very casual. Come and eat as you please, if you want."
He sensed that Joshua might not be happy with his next statement unless he phrased it in the form of a sort of order. "For the rest of the week and possibly the next one I really think both of you, and the Pack, would be best served by your getting to know the grounds and the city. If this is going to be your home base, and if you're going to help our Kadzait around here, I need you both to be a part of everything."
Yes, he was asking them to relax for a little while and get to know the area before he put them to work... but he suspected that if he put it too casually Joshua wouldn't like it. Gretta, he thought, would probably deal well with either request.
He slid his hands into his pockets. "If there's nothing else you need at the moment, I have to get the kids ready for dinner. You're welcome to join my family downstairs if you like; we generally eat with the Pack."
Group activities were normal for their kind. Some wolves might be loners, sure, but those wolves generally didn't seek out the Den to live there. As a human, Joshua might not feel that drive to be with his kind all the time but Gretta possibly did.
"Your things should be up here very soon," Xeph said. "I hope you like it here."
With the niceties out of the way he excused himself to get back to his own home and help Nikhila with Noah and Avery. He would check in on them again at dinner, whether or not they chose to sit with his family, and probably the next day as well, but for now the best thing to do would be to let them settle in.
There would be plenty of work in the coming months, he was sure of that.
((ooc: Xeph out))
Their alpha did not seem to expect them to come to work this evening. He did mention dinner with the pack in the great room. They should be there for that. Gretta realized that if he had not mentioned it to them that she would happily have spent all night deciding where things needed to go.
Xeph then told them to get to know the grounds and the city. She added the people of both because that was of great interest to her and Josh. Americans were odd and fascinating. Their pack mates would be from all over and that would be nice. Different cultures kept things exciting.
"We can do that."
She shook her head, no, when Xeph mentioned anything else they might need. He then said he needed to go get his kids ready for dinner. He mentioned their things arriving soon and expressed a hope that they would like it here.
When he had left, Gretta turned to Josh and hugged him. "I think we will." She smiled up at him. "What do you think?"
"We'll be there, sir," Josh said when Xephier invited them to dine with his family. It didn't once occur to him that such an invitation was anything but a direct order.
Before long they were alone in Mel's new apartment and his best friend was hugging him and looking up at him with that carefree twinkle in her eyes. Now that they were alone Josh could drop the formalities. He hugged Mel back and smiled down at her.
"I think I need to buy a piano," he said. "It's not exactly what I was expecting. It seems like more."
He glanced at his watch. They had an hour or so before dinner began and their bags were being brought from the car. "We can wait here for our things, but would you rather go for a short walk? I'd like to stretch my legs, and we could start by exploring the grounds here."
They'd gone from one plane to another then into a car. Josh would love a walk. A run would be better, but he was in a suit that he didn't particularly want to mess up.
"That is perfect!"
She let him go and looked around her apartment. It was like a little piece of a palace. Her piece. It made her happy already and that was without her things in it. Gretta knew that with the few treasures that she had collected this suite would seem like the refuge that she had never truly had before.
It was a little disappointing that she could just dive in and start unpacking but Joshua was right their things had not been delivered yet. While she could indeed wiggle her nose, Gretta had not yet mastered any magic with the gesture, except to make small children laugh.
The idea of a walk was a good one. "Always right to work with you..." She hooked her arm through his and headed for the door. This was hardly the thing they normally found themselves doing. Gretta found her job rewarding but not always pleasant. A stroll through around the grounds was not likely to be very confrontational or emotional in any way. "I think a walk would be nice."
((OOC:Both Out ))