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 guys 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 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 Vasser 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.
The shower was heavenly. Dave tossed him a change of clothes on the bathroom counter, stealing his pants and shirt to run them through the wash. John tried to not utterly hog the shower but the hot water relaxed the muscles in his injured shoulder and side, letting him be mostly pain free for a time if you ignored his scrapes and bruises.
John tried to ignore how his ribs showed against his torso, he had lost too much weight between the infection and his injury. Add in the constant stresses that the changes were putting on him each month and he looked like a gaunt refugee instead of a soldier. It was just a little after ten in the morning and he was already starving again. No matter how big a meal he managed to eat his body was constantly demanding more.
He toweled off and pulled on the loose sweats and tank top that Dave had left for him, cleaning up behind himself on auto pilot. He stepped into the kitchen where Dave was making sandwiches trying to ignore how his stomach clenched just at the site of it. Dave looked up with a grin, only to freeze for a second staring at his chest. He thought it must be the scars visible on his shoulder and arm but he followed the other man’s gaze to the red tags hanging outside of his tee shirt.
“You’re a Were?” Dave said, sounding shocked.
“Yes, I was infected in an attack to the base we were on.”
“That explains the refuge look, you’re not eating enough. Get started on these and I’ll make you something else.” He said, turning back to the fridge and pulling back out the meat and cheese.
“You’re alright with me being a Were?” John said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“Yeah. I know it’s not the most politically correct stance right now but it’s not like you asked to be turned, right? Go ahead and start on the sandwiches, really.”
“Thanks.” he muttered, sitting down at the breakfast bar and picking up half a turkey sandwich. He had to restrain himself from inhaling it in three bites.
“Have you went through any changes yet?”
“Three. I’m due to have another in a week or so.”
“You’re only changing once a month?”
“Yeah.” John said washing down the first half sandwich and starting on the next.
“You know you can change more often than that right? It’s supposed to help with how violent the changes are.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“From some of the Were we’ve had come through the precinct. Most of them are just trying to get by like the rest of us. There’s a small community of them in Bed-Stuy and a few other neighborhoods around town.”
“Good to know.”
“You have somewhere safe to change yet?”
“Just my hotel room. It’s not really big enough to change it but it will have to do for at least next week. After that I’m hoping to find an apartment I can afford soon but will have to make due until than.”
“The precincts allow Were to come in on the full moon and use of the larger cells if they are afraid it’s going to be a bad one.”
“I’m not violent. You don’t have to worry about that.” John said flatly, pushing his plate away.
“I’m not saying you are but I do know that the more a Were shifts the calmer and healthier the wolf is. Frankly, Colt, you look like you’re one good meal from dead.” Dave said, pulling out a bag of chips from the cabinet and pouring a few handfuls on a plate to set between them.
John was silent as he munched on his food considering what had been said. It was a constant pressure at the back of his mind, the need to change, to give in to the animal and run. The pull got worse as the moon filled, tugging at the presence he mostly tried to ignore. The brochures called it the inner animal and said it was a mental manifestation of the virus. He was fairly sure that was bullshit. The animal in his head was still him, just the wolf half of him, adding instincts and animal reactions to day to day life.
It was interesting to say the least. The wolf disliked the city, it disapproved of the constant noise and overflow of smells. It hated the screech and scream of the subway and trains, the constant press of too many people.
It approved of John’s run early each morning however pushing him to head toward the parks or any patch of green he was near and of anytime he managed to get mostly meat for a meal. It disliked the hotel he was staying in and the messy overlap of scents. It wanted a place where only his scent was, a place to mark as home, territory.
It liked the way he was constantly on the move each day but wanted a safe place to go back to at night. So far, John was mostly in agreement with the wolf only having to force it’s irritation down when he hit the subway. He was not sure if it was a good sign or not that the wolf had even like the fight, calming in his mind as they seamlessly melded in agreement to protect what was theirs.
“Well, on to happier topics. How’s your family handling it? Have you heard from Peyton?”
“Yeah, well the old man made it official and disowned me. I have not heard from Peyton. I tried to get her my number but Ii have no idea if it ever even reached her.”
“You’re kidding.” Dave said, staring at him in shock. “Damn that’s rough. Is there anything I can help with? I knew your old man was a jerk but hell.”
“No, I’m doing okay. Thanks, though.”
“Tell you what, leave your cell number with me and I’ll try and make sure Peyton has it at least.”
“I appreciate it, Dave.”
“It’s the least I can do, man.” He said with a frown. “Did you at least enjoy being in the marines before all this? You were in for what, ten years?”
John grinned at Dave’s blatant attempt to lighten the mood and spent the next hour regaling him with stories of the people and places he saw while enlisted. He finally begged off, promising to call if there was anything he needed and heading back to his apartment. It had been a nice spot of normality in his stripped down life. He was a little surprised that Dave had not married and settled down since that had seemed to be where he was heading after college but it was clear that he lived and breathed his job.
The change was only one day away and John was already feeling the effects. The wolf sat firmly in the forefront of his mind, instinct clouding some of his normal reactions. Yet at the same time he was filled with a swell of nervous energy. He went on a long run that morning, splurging afterwards on a real breakfast at a local dinner.
The next day, John was back looking for jobs.
“Hey, I’m looking for the manager.” He called out, eyes picking out a thin form moving inside the dark delivery truck.
“You found him.” The woman said with a grin striding forward and picking up a case and gesturing for him to take the next. “Follow me.”
John picked up a large box proclaiming the contents to be Bracardi and followed the woman into the back of the bar.
“Something I can help you with?”
“I heard you had an opening for bar staff. I have a resume if you need it.”
“You ever worked a bar before?”
“Not since high school, Mame.”
“The name is Dixie, Darling. The only Mame. I know are the Queens who come into lipsync on Wednesdays.”
“Alright, Dixie.” he said with a grin, setting his case down next to her’s.
“Let me see your resume, Honey. I have a couple of slots open right now with half the staff graduating last month. You don’t have the build to be a bouncer but you could clean up nice enough for the bar.” She said taking his resume and skimming through the information.
“I don’t have much of a wardrobe right now.” He said with a wince, hoping he would not have to buy a uniform.
“You’re a Were?”
“Yes.” He said simply, already bracing himself for the brush off.
“I don’t let any gang happenings go on in my bar, you want to fight you take it outside. We understand?”
“I’m not in a gang and unless someone starts insulting my mother or takes a swing first I won’t fight.”
“Honey, I don’t care if you’re Were or not but there are some around here that work for the local street thugs. I won’t have it in my place. You stay, you keep yourself clean and out of that mess, understood?”
“Cute.” She said with a smirk. “Come back tonight at five and we’ll see how you hold up. You last a week and you consider yourself hired.”
“I look forward to it. Thank you, Dixie.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Darling. Five o’clock sharp. Now go on, get some better clothes before you burn my eyes out in those tent rags.”
John smother the next “Yes, Mame.” that wanted to come out and headed out. He still had a bit of money set aside, it would be enough for at least one good clean outfit that actually fit without cutting into his down payment stash for the apartment he had yet to find.
First day at the bar.
Dixie confronts him about how run down he is, gives him the name of a Were he can talk to, explains that they change when they want to not just on the full moon.
Meeting other Were.