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.
He spent his day traveling around the city applying for jobs or just leaving resumes where he could, walking as much as possible to save on bus and subway fares. He hoped to wear himself out enough by the end of the day to drop into an exhausted sleep but it didn’t always work. Most nights he got a few hours of sleep before the nightmares snapped him awake and shaking.
He thought he was doing rather well for a soldier returned from the war, reintegrating the psychs liked to call it. He ate, slept, and kept himself clean while hunting for work. He kept himself too busy to think on the fields of death, full of friends and enemies alike, that haunted his dreams and sometimes his waking hours. He was fine until the subway.
His shoulder burned and stabbed at him with every breath, cold rain chasing him from the deserted streets and into the crowd filled subway terminal. He hooked his bad arm tight against his stomach, hoping that limiting the movement would stop the grinding burn of wounds that should have long since healed. The psychs on base had been convinced the pain was all in his head but he spent too much time writhing in pain as if the fangs were still buried deep for it to be all PTSD.
He boarded his train, taking a seat and trying to stop shaking. He knew he looked like a burned out junkie strung out without his fix but he was drenched to the bone, his bad shoulder stiff and the only seeming point of heat on his body. The wolf within him kept a constant stream of complaint, pressing for him to leave, hide, find a den and lick his wounds.
A sudden slamming boom had him on the ground, almost under the seat before his body finished registering the sound. He pulled his suddenly steady hands from his head to see the wide eyed stares of the people around him. He carefully got up in the swaying car and moved to stand by the door ignoring the gazes that followed him and the jeers from several young toughs farther down the car.
He just had to get home, just back to his room and he would be okay. He kept that as a mantra running through his head as he forced himself to walk, not run, once the doors hissed open and allowed him to escape the subway car. He ignored the way his hands shook with reaction and cold, stuffing them in his pockets as he stepped back into the rain. He was sure he was hypothermic by the time he got back which was slightly impressive considering Were ran a few degrees hotter than regular humans.
His hands shook so badly he dropped his key twice before he managed to get back into his room. Dragging at his wet clothes, he forced himself to hang the sodden material over the radiator before he went to the shower to try and warm up. He spent the rest of the night wrapped up in bed jumping at every sound, jerking away from dreams of claws and black furred muzzles with human eyes peering back at him as they slowly tore his chest open. He tried to ignore the fact that the wolf had his eyes. He spent most of the night staring at the crack under the door waiting for morning.
The rest of 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 seemingly hours after the change started. They said his first change had only taken an hour.
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.” He said trying to back away before the punks could start anything.
“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.” A voice said somewhere to one side, a hand reaching to steady him as he got his legs back under himself. It was pure bad luck that he grabbed his bad shoulder, forcing a gasp out of John before he was released.
“I’m fine.” John insisted shaking off the assistance, 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, all fucked up..
“Well, you look like you need to sit back down. Take your time.” The man said, shifting to one side to look back out down the street.
“Really, I’m good. Thanks.” John insisted, tugging his clothes back into place and trying to ignore the rather bad rip down one side of his jacket. Knife boy had gotten one good slash in before he had lost the blade. At least it had not cut him at all.
“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, I’m fine and it was 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 cop advertisement and recruiting spielprecinct.
“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?” The man recoiled slightly to take a better look at the shorter man next to him before breaking into a short bark of laughter.
“Christ, Colt Arrington. Where the fuck have you been?” He asked with a wide grin, lightly tapping the other man on the shoulder, mindful of any other injuries he might have.
“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. Jeeze.” he whistled. “Gotta love the coincidences.” he eyed the disheveled state John was in for a long breath before he tucked his phone away. “ Listen, my place is not to far, you’re welcome to come up and get cleaned up a little.”
“Thanks, I know I reek.” John said with a wince. “ I haven’t found a steady job yet so I’m making what I can at the fish market.”
“Not a problem. Trust me, I did plenty of similar jobs the first few years on the force, 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 while carrying a fifty pound pack and getting shot at.”
“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.”
“Really.” Dave said, eying the smaller man with disbelief.
“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 needed to do better than this or he was going to wind up back in the hospital.
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 on to the base we were stationed aton.”
“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.” He pressed, making another two thick ham sandwiches before he sat down to eat his own.
“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?” he asked cautiously, “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”
“No, it’s alright.” John said after a beat, tucking his tags back under the tee shirt. “I’ve been through three. “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?” He asked, forcing himself to chew the food slowly, clearing his mouth with a sip of water before he spoke. See, civilized animal here, not a stray.
“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. Frankly, I wish we could get a few on the force. They’re better than sniffer dogs when it comes to tracking a suspect on foot and harder to take down if it comes to a fight.”
“Good to know.”
“You have somewhere safe to change yet?” he asked, nibbling at his own sandwich as John started on the second sandwich at his elbow, ham.
“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 allows Were to come in on the full moon and use one of the larger cells if they are afraid it’s going to be a bad one. You’re welcome to do the same if you need it.”
“I’m not violent. You don’t have to worry about that.” John said flatly, picking up his bottle of water and taking several gulps..
“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 or crowded spaces. 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.
He was fairly sure that thinking about part of yourself in the third person was a bad idea but he had no real context for what he was going through. He had run dozens, heck maybe even up to over a hundred missions over the last ten years, many of them classified but he had always had some kind of intel to use as his guide. He was flying blind in this, using only his gut instinct and that of the wolf to guide him since most of the information he found seemed either blatantly false or biased.
“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 I 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.” John said, feeling a flash of affection for the other man. Dave had always been the steady one in their group. While John was off on hunting trips most weekends during college, the rest of their group of rich college kids drank and partied their way through school. Dave was the one who made sure everyone got home safe most nights if not exactly sober.
“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. He worked extra this week at the fish market to make sure he had enough to afford a different hotel after tonight if he got kicked out. Were might be welcome at the place but having a man spending half the night screaming was never on the menu no matter how cheap the place.
The last stretches of muscles finally clicked into place and John fought to pull himself to four feet. He whined slightly as his shoulder burned and the scars along his side added to the pain of stretched and torn muscles. He slowly dragged himself up to lay panting on the small bed, ignoring the way the frame creaked and groaned at his weight.
It made no sense that he would actually be bigger as a wolf than as a human, but he was. He was more dire wolf than timber wolf, shoulders hulking and muscular on his long frame, the thick coat of fur only made him seem even larger. Yet, he still maintained his human weight on average and most of the basic characteristics would stay the same. It was extremely rare but sometimes a wolf would have different eye or fur color than his human half.
The banging and shouts from the nearby rooms finally stopped but he could not stop the deep thrumming growl that rumbled from his chest with each breath as the wolf protested their confinement, they were meant to run, to hunt, not to cower in an ill fitting den. Frankly, he agreed with the wolf, his body thrummed with the need to moved and run even with every muscle screaming in pain. Until he was sure he was completely in control of the wolf’s instincts they would continue to change in a locked room.
The separation between the wolf and him was gone while he was changed and he could not say what would happen out in the world. Would he give into the blood lust and hunger that drove so many of the other infected men mad? He did not know. The wolf filled his dreams with hunting, tracking smells, hunting the rabbits and doves that he had hunted as a teenager on his families land. He woke with the taste of blood on his tongue and the memory of the warm limp forms of the animals he had killed in his hands.
The press of wrongness still pushed at him, he was closer to a normal wolf than human this time but the differences were still there, the paws more hand like, the shoulders and legs still too human to move easily, smoothly like they should. He pulled the details that he had gotten right this time to the front of his mind and tried to memorize the feel and movement of the muscles. Each time he moved just a fraction closer to wolf.
The small room lay close about him in grey scale. He knew from his earlier changes at the hospital that his fur was the same reddish brown of his hair, his eyes still the greenish hazel they always were, now just surrounded by fur and a wolf’s skull. Once his muscles stopped twitching and some of the ache faded he spent the rest of the hours until the moon set tracking the various smells that coated the room, he was slowly learning what each variation meant and tried to guess how long ago it had been left by how strong the scent was. Some scents seemed to fade quickly while others lingered for no reason that he could discern. The tracking and scenting kept the wolf entertained until the change back started.
The banging had barely stopped when it started back up on the door. He forced him aching body into a pair of jeans and shuffled to the door. The banging thankfully stopped as he fought with the deadbolt and chain. The hotel manager was on the other side, face red in anger. The color drained from his face as he took in the angry red scars that covered John’s chest, shoulder, and torso.
“Listen, I don’t mean any disrespect to Were but I can’t have that much noise here. I need you out if you’re going to do that every full moon.”
“I know. I’ll be out by the end of the day.” John agreed tiredly, trying to ignore how the other man’s eyes stared at his scars.
“Make sure you are.” He said with a firm nod before turning away. John closed the door and shuffled back to the bed, he tumbled back into bed, exhaustion pulling him back into the dark as soon as he was horizontal.
That afternoon he pried himself out of bed and into the shower before gathering the rest of his things. He stopped at the manager to drop off the key, waving away the other man’s apologies. This time at least he already had a hotel that he knew allowed Were not to far away.
He had avoided it the first time around, the faint scent of other Were leaving him nervous and twitchy as he surveyed the small block of apartments that surrounded the hotel. He had been avoiding trying to track down the various Were he scented about the city, not sure of what kind of reception he would receive. The spokesperson for the Were, an older female lawyer whose husband was a Were, had called the forcibly infected an abomination and calling for severe punishment for those that had created and released the altered virus.
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 darkened back of the 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. “If you want to talk, you’re going to have to help.”
John picked up a large box proclaiming the contents to be Bracardi and followed the woman into the back of the bar and through a side door into the bar. The only lights on were at the bar, shrouding the rest of the place in darkness. It looked like most of the bars he had frequented in college and on leave.
“Something I can help you with?” She asked cutting the top of her case with a pocket knife and starting to stack bottles on the bar.
“I heard you had an opening for bar staff. I have a resume if you need it.” He said pulling a copy out of his jacket.
“You ever worked a bar before?” She asked, not looking up from her task.
“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 when she had emptied the one in front of her.
“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?” she asked, eyes running back along his frame like she would be able to see the scars that had turned him.
“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 each other?” she said, stepping up next to him, folded knife still in one hand, bottle of liquor in the other.
“I’m not in a gang and unless someone starts insulting my mother or takes a swing first I won’t fight.” John said firmly, shifting automatically into a more secure stance incase the small woman decided to go crazy. He had long ago learned to never judge and opponent by their size, a small opponent often meant that they fought harder and dirtier than a regular size opponent would.
“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. He is introduced to several new Were in a local pack and to a soldier like himself who was infected. The Soldier is rejecting the change and it is killing him.
Confrontation with the local gang members. Shows up at the bar beat up the next day. Were’s heal fast but bruises still take a day or two to heal.
Kicked out of the hotel after he forces a change before the full moon, he spends a few nights outside before he gets pulled into the Were homeless community.
Running with the Pack Members on a full moon.
Visit from his sister.
Sister sells him out to the cage match runners.
His ring is seen by Dave who is working undercover gambling on the Cage Matches.