John gathered up the stack of paperwork, brochures, and his old patched duffel bag trying to ignore how naked he felt stepping out of the doctor’s office. It was different stepping out into an unknown situation without the hundred brothers in arms that’d had his back for the last decade. He didn’t bother offering his hand to the doctor and the doctor did not bother escorting him out already dismissing him as no longer his problem. He made his slow way through the corridors in a daze.
Outside it was cold and wet, normal spring weather for New York, the wind whipping through the streets and cutting into his jacket. His last posting had been in a desert so he didn’t have much in the way of cold weather clothing with him. At least he got a tan out of it, he thought with a smirk looking at the pale New Yorker’s he was passing. He absently wondered if his family had tossed all of his things when he was disowned. That had been a nice surprise, receiving a visit from the family lawyer to inform him he was not only discharged from the Marine and still ragged from infection and injury but he was also disowned from his family and written out of the will. All of it because he had been infected while doing his job, protecting the soldiers on his team. He was the only member of his squad to survive, the rest dying from the virus or from their injuries long before his fever broke.
The family lawyer had come to visit while he was still stuck in a crowded ward in the on base hospital. Mr. Sanders had strode into the ward like he was coming to set fire to the place, arrogantly demanding to see “Mr. Arrington.”. John had watched with amusement as the nurse at the desk took her time going through the paperwork to announce which bed was his.
He watched the lawyer approach trying quell the instinctive urge to straighten up in bed. His arm was still strapped to his chest with tight bandages, white lines of linen wrapping his ribs where they had been broken in the attack. He forced his breathing slow and even as the man strode to the end of the bed, pulling out several packets of paper, both of them ignoring the eyes of the staff and other wounded soldiers.
“John Colton Arrington?” he asked, raising one eyebrow in a questioning manner when he stopped at John’s bed.
“Nice to see you remember me, Sanders. How’s the old man doing? Still killing himself with fifty year old scotch and cigars?” John said as neutrally as he could. He knew he looked different from the college student that had been kicked out of his family home when he announced that he was joining the marines. He had gained muscle and the last bit of height he lacked while serving, his normally dark hair cut short and sun bleached almost auburn.
“Your father is quite well. He was very upset to hear of your injury.” The lawyer said with a wince, eyeing the expanse of bandages covering the younger man.
“Surprising, I would have thought he would jump for joy to hear I was leaving the Marines.” John offered blandly.
“Oh, I imagine he was quite ecstatic.” Sanders said with a grimace. “However, the information on your change in status was not taken quite as well.” he said with a glance at the red dog tags displayed proudly amongst the white lining his chest.
“I would imagine not.” John said amicably. He merely waited, watching the older man until he finally gave up the game in exasperation and spat out why he was there. John had never been a fan of power plays and had learned quickly how to shut them down.
“You have been cut off completely, disowned from the Arrington line. All assets that were part of your inheritance have been reclaimed and your father asks that you never return. He has no wish to see you.”
“Good for him. What about Payton, is she joining the old man in setting my childhood knickknacks ablaze?”
“Your sister has been away for school and has not returned to the manor for several years.”
“Good for her.” John said gruffly, trying to not wince as he shifted positions, he was propped up against the head of the bed on a too thin hospital pillow.
“Here are your copies of the paperwork.”
“Thanks.” John mumbled, thumbing through the stack one-handed as he ignored the other man until he finally left with a huff. Yeah, it was childish but his family was not exactly known for their level headedness outside of business. Immediately a rush of voices filled the room as the soldiers and staff started speculating on how much money he had just lost.
“You alright there, Ari?” One of the others asked. He had been one of the few still willing to talk to John after word got out of his status as a Were.
“Fine, Jones. Haven’t see the old man in ten years if not more. Getting axed from the family doesn’t mean much after that much time. I just want to see where my sister is on the fence.”
“Understandable, hope she’s the sensible kind.”
“No idea. Just going to have to see.”
“Luck with that. Family is always crazy, no matter how normal they seem.”
Mutters of “Amen to that.” and a few other variations rang out around the room before one of the nurses called for quiet, advising everyone to try and rest up.
One of the middle eastern warlords had some how weaponized the virus that caused lycanthropy. There was a small population of natural Were who lived and worked among the rest of them.They were a minority however since most people exposed to the virus did not survive. You had a better chance of survival if you were given what the soldiers called “the cure”, a shot of hormones and virus that had been modified to reject the changes it was trying to wreck on your body.
John had not been that lucky, you had to get the cure within an hour of infection to be cured completely. It had been hours after the attack before he had been found. So he was not cured, he was Were, and Were could not serve in the military. He would have been discharged anyway considering how messed up his shoulder and side were. The cure had not stopped his infection only tempered it so the fever did not burn him out and he survived. For the rest of his life he would wear red dog tags that marked him as an infected soldier.
He realized that he had been walking in the rain aimlessly for some time. His shoulder burned from having to balance the duffel, the scar tissue still red and tender against his pale skin rubbed painfully against his wet shirt. He had been sick and delirious with fever for over a month before he was transferred back to the states. He had been forced to stay in the hospital another two months until he had went through two successful changes and demonstrated that he was in his right mind once the change was complete.
Some of those who were infected with the weaponized virus fell into the change and went mad, lost in blood lust and the animal mind. That was how his squad had been attacked. The enemy troops had taken soldiers prisoner and infected them, once they were out of their mind with hunger and pain they had goaded the broken animals at the base. They had attacked everything in sight with a heart beat.
The Were were stronger than normal humans and their claws and fangs carved through Kevlar and camo like it was tissue paper, like throwing a tiger against someone wielding a knife. They had accelerated healing it took major damage to take a Were down. The snippets John remembered were like a bad B rated horror movie, grotesque twisted forms, half wolf, half human lurching through the camp leaving a trail of body parts and blood in their wake.
A Were in control of the change was a fearsome fighter but an out of control one was a monster. Thanks to the use of the virus as a weapon several senators and congressmen were pushing for more restrictions to were a Were could work and live, almost to the point of them being forced to live in controlled areas away from civilians, essentially concentration camps. While Were rights were not a large issue considering how few even survived the infection many other minority groups were up in arms over yet another group of people being treated as less than human.
A few of the brochures that had been pushed at him as he was discharged were to Were friendly hotels and apartment complexes, all on the worse side of town far away from the middle and upper class people who would complain and have money to back those complaints. Most were in Brownsville-East, South Bronx, and Bed-Stuy. The rest had been rather comical attempts by humans to explain how his senses and body had changed with the infection. In truth beyond a massively increased sense of smell and a new ease of seeing things in low light he felt more comfortable in his skin than he had been in years.
John made his way into the first subway stop he came across, deciding to head towards Brownsville and hope for the best. Using one of the free pass cards he had been given at the hospital. He watched some of the other patrons move away from him with amusement. He was underweight, exhausted, and still healing from severe injuries. The last thing he would classify himself as was a threat. Maybe they just saw another broken veteran who was liable to snap into PTSD at a moments notice. It just made him even more tired. It was yet another stereotype he would be fighting as he tried to find somewhere to stay.
He rode the train from one stop to another for what seemed like hours before he exited the subway and started the long walk to the first hotel. Three hotels later, he was starting to lose hope. He finally was shown to a tiny, grubby room at the back of the building after hours of walking. He would not be able to afford to stay here long on his tiny pension but at least it was somewhere to sleep tonight.
He staggered to the bed, dropping his bags to one side and went to take a shower in the lukewarm water of the smallest shower he had ever used and considering he was a marine that was saying something. At least afterward he no longer reeked of antiseptic and betadine from the hospital. He hadn’t been sure that he would ever get the burn of the cleansers out of his nose. It was still early in the day but he collapsed into bed, exhaustion dragging him down into dark murky dreams of gunfire and sand.
John woke late the next morning, feeling a bit better. He changed into jeans and a Marine corps tee-shirt that both were now much too big on his ravaged frame. There was no way a gym would fit into his budget but maybe he could run in the mornings to get some muscle back, he mused, lacing up his boots and sliding on his jacket. He needed to get a job soon but even with a Masters in Structural Engineering he doubted he would be able to find work beyond menial labor. A Were was required to disclose their status at every job interview. It was even a field on most job applications and if it was found out that you lied on the application you could face jail time and fines if charges were pressed.
He picked up a sandwich from a street vendor and forced himself to eat it slowly as he made his way to the subway. The virus had ramped up his metabolism until he was constantly hungry. The doctors at the hospital had insisted that it would back off once he caught up with the deficit he was running from being so sick.
He doubted it was that simple, if his metabolism was always going to be ramped up a bit beyond normal levels than he was going to constantly have to eat more calories to compensate for the lose. Add in the massive amount of calories that were burned during a change and he was going to have to eat like someone training for a marathon or triathlon to even keep his body weight up. He was going to go broke just from food it he was not careful.
He spent the rest of the morning at the library typing up a resume and generic cover letter. He printed out a stack of copies and did a bit of research on the Were virus while he was at it. Most of the articles were clearly written by none Were or consisted of autopsy reports from those who died from the initial infection.
Several articles went on and on about the inborn lack of intelligence and animal nature of Were that were born to other Were or turned as children. It smacked a little too much of racial profiling and political shuffling for him to take any of those articles seriously. He might be sick and exhausted but he was not losing any intelligence since the attack, if anything he felt a bit more clear-headed considering he was no longer running around constantly on high alert in a war zone.
They also went on about various wolf characteristics that could be used to identify a Were, everything from arm hair and bushy eyebrows to pointed ears and teeth. Yep, utter crap. For all that his body had wrecked itself adjusting to the virus it had not left any visible marks to show that he was Were that he could see.
He hit another street vendor for a cheap hot dog and a bottle of water before he went to a local cafe to peruse the available papers for job listings. He planned out the rest of his week like it was a long-range mission, blocking out parts of town that he would visit each day and places that he wanted to leave resumes at. The reactions at each place he interviewed were about the same.
“Master Gunnery Sergeant John Colton Arrington?” They asked, eyebrows raised.
“Yes, sir.” John said, shifting slightly in his automatic parade rest.
“It says here that you’re Were? Didn’t think they were letting the Were into the military.” They drawled like they hoped to catch him in a lie.
“They aren’t, sir. I was infected while working for the Marines in the middle east.”
“Working as a civilian?” They pressed with almost a hungry look.
“No, sir. I working as a marine. I served since I was twenty, sir.” They were always disgruntled at this, like they were convinced he was somehow still lying to them.
“I hate to turn a veteran away, Son, but I just don’t have any openings at the moment.” He said, completely ignoring the Help Wanted sign that sat in the front window.
“Of course. Thank you for your time, sir.” John said courteously, forcing himself to shake the hands that were offered and happily walking away from the ones that were not.
He applied to work everything from construction and dock work to grocery bagger and janitorial staff. No one wanted to hire a worn out looking veteran who was also a Were. No one called back for a second interview. No one called his cheap cell phone at all, not that he was really expecting it. He had given the number to a family friend hoping he would at least pass it on to his sister. His old man might be an asshole but he wanted her to at least have a way to contact him if she needed anything, not that he would be able to do much at the moment.
The next week he applied to bars and fish packing companies on the docks and at the fish markets. He at least got a small promise of day-to-day work if he showed up at five am to start unloading trucks as they came in. He was paid under the counter, three hundred dollars for every overflowing bin of fish that he could unload before eight am. The reek of fish stuck to his clothes and hair for days afterward, leaving him nauseous and fighting the urge to burn the clothes since no amount of washing got the smell out completely. He worked the docks three days a week, spending the rest of his time job hunting and looking for some place better to live. He only had another week until the full moon when he would be forced to change and he doubted the hotel would let him stay after that.
The pain of changing was slowly lessening as his wounds healed thankfully. The first time he had screamed himself voiceless before the last of his bones and muscles clicked back into place. It still felt unnatural and wrong while he was changed, half wolf, half human but the change itself was slowly speeding up with each full moon he went through. He knew that born Were were able to change fully into wolves and he hoped that he eventually would as well. The half state he was forced into each month felt monstrous and broken in a way he could not explain.
John was walking back from a morning of tossing fish, his nose clogged with the cloying reek when two men stepped in front of him blocking his way, one smoothly pulling a knife.
“Hey, man. We’re taking donations.” One of the young thugs cackled.
“I’m just heading home, guys. I don’t have any money.”
“No see, man, we been watching you. You work at the docks most mornings. Means you get paid. Hand it over or we might have to get rough, friend.”
“Fine, fine. Just calm down.” John said reaching into his back pocket for his wallet. When the other guy crowded close in anticipation of the cash he moved, lashing out hard and hearing the guy’s nose break. Knife guy was next stepping up to stab but John was in his element, blocking the knife with his jacket and punching with his other hand. He was in his element, instincts and training taking over as the two idiots stepped back in swinging. He blocked a punch and kicked out leaving the knife wielder down clutching his knee while the other gained a black eye. He froze for an instant when he realized that the deep steady growl was coming from him. That was all it took for knife boy to hit him in the side of the head with a convenient brick. Shouts sounded out down the street as the kid grabbed his wallet and hauled his other friend away as fast as they could go leaving John bleeding on the concrete and seeing double.
“Christ, you okay? Hey, don’t black out on me.”
“I’m fine.” John insisted, pulling himself upright using a nearby brick wall. His side and shoulder were aflame and his head pounded in time to his heart beat but his vision had cleared up already. Situation normal.
“Well, you look like you need to sit back down. Take your time.”
“Really, I’m good. Thanks.”
“Listen, I’m an off duty cop. You want me to drive you down to the precinct so you can report this?” the other man said earnestly. “I’d rather not leave you to keel over on someone’s doorstep.”
“Nah, just a couple of kids playing at being thugs. They didn’t even get anything.” John said with a sigh, pulling out a second wallet. He had grown up around New York and been in too many questionable areas to ever carry his cash and license in his back pocket.
“Nice, listen…do I know you from somewhere?” The cop asked helping him step out of the alley and onto the main street. John glanced up at the man, rubbing at a scrape along his temple. He was thin and muscular, blonde haired and blue-eyed, the poster child for every precinct.
“That depends, Davey.” he said with a grin, recognizing his old friend from college. “You still dating Megan Vassar or have you finally settled down?”
“Christ, Colt Arrington. Where the fuck have you been?” He asked with a wide grin, lightly tapping the other man on the shoulder.
“In the Marines mostly, just got out. No one’s called me Colt in years, not since college.” They grinned at each other for a beat before Dave looked away for a moment, checking the rest of the traffic on the street.
“So you just got out and wind up in my neighborhood. Gotta love the coincidences. Listen, my place is not to far, you’re welcome to come up and get cleaned up a little.”
“Thanks, I know I reek. I haven’t found a steady job yet so I’m making what I can at the fish market.”
“No problem, Colt, or do you prefer John now?”
“John’s fine, Thanks. Lead the way.” He said with a grin, gesturing the taller man to precede him. “I have to say, anything is going to beat the place I have been staying. Worst shower I have ever used and that includes a bucket and hose.”
“The thrills of the Military, see the world, learn new skills…”
“Get to enjoy the wonders of nature and primitive camping.”
“Exactly why I didn’t join. I like my boots without scorpions, thank you.”
“Nah, the scorpions were cool, it was the spiders you had to watch out for. Saw some as big as my hand, if not bigger. You ever want to scare someone, google ‘Camel Spider’ and show them the pictures.”
“Swear to God.” John said with a grin. True the things were not even really spiders and not as big as most of the stories said but it was never a good thing to find nocturnal animals in your kit after a long day, especially ones with that many legs. Shoving them in go bags had become a joke to play on the newbies coming in.