††††††††††††††† "I'm sorry, Jenden," said the werewolf pack's leader. "You have a lot of the blood, but not enough. You aren't a shifter. And, barring some legendary enchantment, you never will be."
††††††††††††††† "Thank you for being honest with me," sighed the human. "It's just... I've felt out of place all my life. The few days I've been here I've felt like I belong. To lose this..."
††††††††††††††† "If it's any consolation, were you a shifter I would be honored to have you in my pack."
††††††††††††††† "Thank you," Jenden repeated.
††††††††††††††† "I heard something," said the werewolf, his tone more firm. "Something in your voice. We don't refuse non-shifters because of some prejudice. Our rituals and ceremonies - our lives - require us to be able to shift forms. I'm not blowing you off, here."
††††††††††††††† "I know, and I apologize if I gave the impression I thought that," said Jenden, lowering his eyes. "It's just... surely there's something I can do?! Some way I can fit in with the pack, some duty I can perform which doesn't require being able to shift..."
††††††††††††††† The leader could almost see the lowered ears and drooped tail. The young man's mannerisms were in many ways more wolf than human. Because of this the werewolf went an extra step, for the first time thinking beyond the traditions to the why behind them. And had an idea, something he figured might cause controversy, but which he knew most members of his pack would accept, some eagerly. After all, it would free up at least one true werewolf for duties elsewhere.
††††††††††††††† "There could be a way..." he stated, a smile spreading slowly across his face. "Yes. And it's related to something both humans and wolves do, so it might just work..."
* * *
††††††††††††††† Jenden laughed as he separated the cubs. Just weaned, and they were already practicing dominance challenges, but their clumsiness meant there was a chance of actual injury. His human-appearing charges were less aggressive, but in many ways more demanding. The offspring of werewolves who were born with four legs were smarter than natural wolves, and those on two legs were hardier than normal humans. However, he loved them all, and they treated him as a favorite uncle, often obeying him more eagerly than they did their own parents. They seemed to understand, instinctively, that he was outside the normal hierarchy of pack rank. The few times they did challenge him, well, they were still young enough that he could handle them physically if he had to.
††††††††††††††† "Any problems, over here?" came an inquiry from the entrance to the den.
††††††††††††††† "Just the usual," Jenden stated, grinning.
††††††††††††††† "Well, as long as it hasnít risen past the level of routine disaster to unusual catastrophe..."
††††††††††††††† The older female limped into the cave and sat with a grunt. Several the youngsters ran to her, but the rest either kept playing or went to Jenden.
††††††††††††††† "You're good with kids," the elder stated, smiling as the human dealt skillfully with the demands for attention.
††††††††††††††† "I was the oldest in a large family," Jenden replied. "I was changing diapers by the time I was five. This is actually easier in some ways."
††††††††††††††† The elder nodded, only half her attention on the cubs - which caused some of them to run back over to Jenden, who was more active in his affections - with the other half on the man. He might not be able to shift, but he had enough of the blood that the youngsters accepted him. As did most of the adults, now. Wolves and humans were both good at accepting and even caring for the disabled, using them for tasks where an able body wasn't really necessary. She, old and lame, was considered an honored elder, not least because of her store of knowledge. And Jenden... well, most members now treated him as a werewolf with a handicap, rather than as a human. He did the work of her previous two assistants, and did it better, paying more attention to the little ones. And he showed respect for her and her tales, obviously fascinated by everything he learned about his feral kin.
††††††††††††††† She nodded again, more slowly. Yes. She'd had her doubts at first, but now she knew. Not only would he replace her as the caretaker of the young when the pack was busy with other things, but he would receive as much of her learning and wisdom as she could pass on. He would be her successor in the duty of keeping the lore, as well as caring for the cubs. She wouldn't force the issue; she'd let the rest of the pack decide for themselves... with a bit of subtle guidance from her, of course. One helpful thing; she still had several good years in her; by the time she was gone, a large portion of the pack would be cubs he had cared for.
††††††††††††††† The old wolf chuckled, but softly, to herself, not wishing to disturb Jenden and the cubs. After all, he already had half of them asleep, cuddled together around him for warmth and companionship.
This document is Copyright 2006 Rodford Edmiston Smith. Those wishing to post or reprint this story may contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org