Jackson let the car idle for a moment as he dug through the middle console. Buried in the bottom and scratched to hell, he found his old pair of sunglasses. “Here. Put these on.”
Wren squinted at what he held out, then carefully, he reached out and took them. His face relaxed as he slid the sunglasses on.
“How long were you blindfolded?”
All right. That’s fine. They’d brought in new wolves before who took a while to settle in. “Ok. Let’s just get you home so you can have a bath.” Wren tensed up at his words. “You have to look presentable before you meet my dad.”
They drove home in silence. Wren was a tense statue beside him, not once did he turn his head to watch out the window. He didn’t fidget. He didn’t ask a single question about where they were going.
Jackson felt a prickle of insecurity run down his spine at the utter stillness of his companion. He might have been a little too impulsive in this purchase. He glanced over at the wolf as he waited for the garage door to open. “We have a lot of wolves working for us. Just… Stay close to me. I’ll get you an official tour later.” He pulled the car into the garage and turned it off. They sat in the dark for a beat. “We’ll only be here a week, so don’t worry too much about remembering where things are.”
Nothing. No reaction whatsoever.
“Ok. Follow me.”
Jackson got out of the car, but Wren stayed put. Jackson waited outside the passenger door to give him a moment, but when two long minutes passed and Wren still didn’t move, Jackson opened the door himself.
Wren stepped out of the vehicle before Jackson could say a thing. Jackson stared at him for a second, but Wren stared straight ahead and made no move to make eye contact.
Ok. That’s fine. He slammed the door shut and stepped away. Wren stepped so he was directly behind Jackson’s right shoulder. Jackson ignored the prickling of fear and led the way to the main house.
They walked through the flower garden toward a side door. Wren stayed in his place behind Jackson, just barely within Jackson’s peripheral vision. As far as he could tell, Wren didn’t look around at the new place. He didn’t react at all to the massive gardens surrounding them.
It would be fine. He’d calm down and adjust soon enough. The wolf had only ever had one owner. It must be intimidating going into a new place after 24 years of the old routine.
The kitchen was bustling as Jackson and Wren stepped in. Margaret stood at the stove stirring what smelled like chicken soup. “I know you didn’t just bring a dirty wolf into my kitchen while I’m trying to cook.”
Jackson gave her a big grin when she looked over. “Sorry, Margaret. I wanted to see if you’d have Kia bring up dinner for Wren and me?” She started to smile back, but the smile froze as she looked at Wren. Her head cocked to the side and she breathed in. Her nostrils flared. “Oh, Margaret, this is Wren. Wren, Margaret.”
The other wolves in the kitchen kept casting curious glances towards them. Margaret gave Wren a soft smile. “Welcome, Wren.” She turned back to the pot on the stove. “Kia will be up soon with your food. Go get him a nice bath.”
Jackson nodded in agreement and made his way through the kitchen, up a flight of stairs, and down a hallway. “All right, so this is my room,” Jackson said and heard the first reaction from Wren since he’d said his name.
It was just a sharp inhale. Barely a sound, really, but enough that it made Jackson worried. Sunglasses’ parting words rang back in his head and Jackson again wondered what ‘personal’ meant in relation to this wolf.
“I’ve got the good bathroom and I figured you’d like some privacy,” Jackson explained and opened the door. “Plus Kia will be bringing the food to this room. I don’t want her to have to scent us down to find us.”
Jackson was happy he kept his room fairly neat as they stepped into it. The blinds were wide open, showing his perfect view over the expansive flower garden. His comforter was rumpled on the bed from where he’d been sitting on it before leaving earlier.
Wren didn’t look around at all.
“You can take off the sunglasses now. Or I can shut the blinds if it’s still too bright.”
Jackson nodded. “Yep. Ok. Follow me.” They stepped through the open bathroom door. “Tub, shower, shampoo, conditioner, soap.” He pointed at the various bottles then pulled out two washcloths and a towel. “Do you want to take a bath or shower?”
No response. Jackson stared at him. Wren stared just part his shoulder. Realization dawned on him.
“Do you know how to use a bathtub or shower?” Jackson asked. There was no response. “Answer me.”
“No.” One painful sounding word. The chicken soup would be good for him later.
Jackson had definitely been too impulsive in this purchase. “Ok. Just… I’ll run you a bath then and we’ll take it from there.”
Jackson turned his back on the wolf and leaned over the tub. He cranked up the hot water until steam was rising, then tempered it down with some cold. He heard a rustling behind him, but he ignored it. Wren had given him no reason to not trust him so far and it was almost a relief to know Wren had at least a little bit of curiosity in him.
Jackson knew the wolves all had sensitive noses so he held back on adding any oils or salts to the water. Once Wren had relaxed, he could choose his own scents, whichever ones wouldn’t irritate his nose.
“All right,” Jackson said as he turned. “It’s - what?”
The largest wolf he’d ever seen was sitting in front of him. Jackson kept his face straight as he stared at the sunglasses still perched on the nose, this clearly wasn’t a time to smile. His fur was darker than average and matted beyond belief. The blindfold was stuck and hanging behind his head still. The markings themselves were rather standard. The fur on his back was mostly black, interspersed with some gray and white. It faded to an almost pure gray around his chest and on his sides. The middle of his chest to his stomach looked like it would be white, if it was clean.
“The wolves here usually clean themselves as humans,” Jackson said. Wren didn’t respond or change back. “All right, well… I guess it’s a good thing I have a large tub. Get in.”
Wren stood and cautiously stepped into the tub. He froze once his first paw hit the water, then scrambled in the rest of the way. Jackson stepped back in an effort to avoid the water sloshing over the side of the tub. He stared at Wren, who had lowered himself down into the water so the top of his head, sunglasses, and nose were the only things exposed to the air.
“I guess I got the temperature right. Do you want to just soak for a while?” No response. Jackson held in his sigh of frustration. “Soak for awhile, then turn into a human and scrub your hair with this.” He put the shampoo on the side of the tub. “Follow it with this.” He put the conditioner next to it. “Put this soap on this washcloth and scrub your body until the dirt is all off. And take the sunglasses off soon.”
He felt stupid giving step by step instructions for getting clean, but since Wren wouldn’t talk with him he didn’t really have any other choice.
“I’m going to get you some clothes to change into. I’ll be right back.” He pulled the remote from his pocket and fiddled with it so Wren would be able to move a farther distance and set the remote on the edge of the sink.
He left. Wren was quite a bit larger than him so he made his way down to where they kept the uniforms for their wolves. A pair of sweatpants to sleep in and a plain white shirt would be enough for now. They could go shopping later, once Wren had calmed down enough to hold an actual conversation.
When he stepped back in his room, he could hear the water sloshing in the bathroom. The wolves they owned all had no sense of modesty, probably since they had a communal bathing area. He wouldn’t hesitate to walk in and drop off clothes to any of the rest.
Jackson knocked on the door. “I’m just bringing some clothes in.” He opened the door after a beat passed with no response, then froze in the doorway.
Wren was human. The sunglasses sat folded on the floor next to the tub. Wren leaned back against the edge of the tub. Thick, corded muscles, previously hidden beneath his shirt lay along the rim. He had his hair slicked back out of his face and shiny with water, though still a tangled mess. His eyes were half-lidded as he stared directly at Jackson. Jackson swallowed hard as he felt his heart trip over itself.
Wren slid down a bit lower in the water as Jackson stared, and Jackson ripped his gaze away. He set the folded clothes down on the sink. “Do you need anything else?”
There was a long beat of silence, then Jackson left the room without looking back. The door shut with a soft ‘snick.’ He fell down onto his bed and stared at the ceiling. He had definitely and 100% been too impulsive.