NaNo (Nov. 7th)

Once more with feeling. After this I will be posting only chapter updates, or new scenes unless a major re-write happens.

Ch. 1 (Lost)

 

Ryan ran. He ran like someone was behind him trying to kill him. He ran harder than he had ever ran in his life, maybe even harder than while in fire fights and as bombs sundered the earth around him in sprays of brick, blood and sand. He struggled to control his breathing, his chest burning with strain, the thick iron taste of blood filling his mouth as his lungs pumped like bellows. This could not be happening, it was insane.

He thrashed through the heavy growth, instincts pressing him to use his environment against the heavier men who ran behind him, dodging through tight gaps in bushes and low hanging branches. He ignored the way the thorns scrapped his skin and tore at his hair and clothes, leaving thin trails of fire across his skin. He pushed out into the next clearing, trying to cross the open area at a sprint, hoping against fate that he would make the other side before the men did. The snap of a rifle somewhere behind him jerked him into a low weaving zig zag hoping to throw off their aim.

Feet pounded behind him as the men reached the clearing, immediately spreading out to try and out flank him. His instincts warred with his military training, pushing him to move into the shadows, to double back and force them to lose his scent. Blood trickled down his face from where a lucky blow had spit his cheek, split his lip. He panted, trying to force his batter mind to think beyond the animal instincts driving him. This was not a game he could win.

The sudden punch of a dart slamming into his back forced a cry from his throat as he fell, hands scraping in the dirt as he tried to right himself. The men quickly closed in, a second dart taking him in the thigh as he crouched. A deep rumbling growl filled the space between them even as his world tilted, the man shifting into indistinct black voids with piercing eyes, the drug finally pulling him into oblivion as the first blows fell.

 

***

Three months earlier…

 

Ryan 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. This was not marching out into the desert sun in the same uniform as every other man and woman around him.

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 trying to dismiss the sudden wish for his gun to be pressing a firm line into his thigh.

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 small smirk looking at the pale New Yorker’s he was passing.

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.”. Ryan 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.

“Ryan Colton Arrington?” he asked, raising one eyebrow in a questioning manner when he stopped at Ryan’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?” Ryan 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.” Ryan 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.” Ryan 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. Ryan had never been a fan of power plays and had learned quickly how to shut them down. After growing up with his father, this lawyer was easy.

“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 to the manor. He has no wish to see you.”

“Good for him.” Ryan said, his face stony and calm. “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.” Ryan 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.” The other man said stiffly, handing over a stack of folders.

“Thanks.” Ryan 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. Ryan gripped his tags for a moment, glad the lawyer had not noticed the signet ring that had fallen behind them. It was one of the few things from his family that he had kept.

“You alright there, Ari?” One of the others asked. He had been one of the few men still willing to talk to Ryan after word got out of his status as a Were.

“Fine, Jones. I 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.” he said with a grimace. “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.

Ryan shifted to lay down on his cot, tossing the papers to one side. Nice of his father to send the family lawyer for a visit 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.

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.

Ryan 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’d 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 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 and the unknowing soldiers within. They attacked everything in sight with a heart beat.

The Were were stronger than normal humans and their claws and fangs carved through Kevlar and bone like it was tissue paper, like throwing a tiger against someone wielding a knife. They had accelerated healing meaning it took major damage to take a Were down. The snippets Ryan 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.

Ryan 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 was 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.

 

Ch. 2

 

Present.

 

Ryan slowly came back awake laying on a stained, wet concrete floor. The air reeked of blood and sickness making his wolf whine and urge him to find a safe corner to hide in. Low whines and growls filled the air. He slowly pulled himself up into a tailor seat as he glanced around. His head ached from whatever they had drugged him with.

He sat naked on cold concrete, even his dog tags and ring were gone. The wolf gave him the scents of old blood that permeated the cage, filling his mind with a constant low growl of warning.  This reminded him way too much of the one time he was captured and held for a month while on a mission. He was in a small metal cage, set in a row of similar cages. The cages around him were filled with Were in their wolf or half human forms. One or two men sat naked in their cells. All of them were heavily scarred and thin. No one spoke beyond a rumbling growl that made the air seem to vibrate as too men were pulled out at gunpoint and led away. Hours later one of the men was brought back injured and bleeding, the other cage remained empty. The rest of the captives were tossed power bars and bottles of water before the lights went out.

 

***

 

Past. First full day in New York.

 

Ryan 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. He could do this, how hard could it be to be a normal guy again, right?

 

The reactions at each place he interviewed were about the same.

“Master Gunnery Sergeant Ryan Colton Arrington?” They asked, eyebrows raised.

“Yes, sir.” Ryan 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.” Ryan 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.

He spent his days 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 tried 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 as the adrenaline burned through him making every detail around him sharp, every motion a potential danger to investigate.

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 his heart hammering against his ribs. He ignored the way his hands shook with reaction and cold as the adrenaline left his system, 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 wolves had his eyes. He spent most of the night staring at the crack under the door waiting for morning.

The rest of the 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 but it had felt endless.

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.

Ryan 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.” Ryan 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 Ryan 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 thrumming the air around them was coming from him. That was all it took for one of them 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 Ryan 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 Ryan before he was released.

“I’m fine.” Ryan 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.” Ryan 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, he was not sure he completely trusted his enhanced healing to not let him get an infection yet.

“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 of kids playing at being thugs. They didn’t even get anything.” Ryan 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. Ryan 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 spiel.

“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?” 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 Ryan 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.” Ryan 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 Ryan now?”

“Ryan’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.” Ryan 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. Ryan 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.

Ryan 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 the base we were stationed at.”

“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?” Ryan said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

“Yeah. Look, 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.” Ryan said after a beat, tucking his tags back under the tee-shirt. “I’ve been through three. I’m due to have another in a week or so.”

“You’re only changing once a month?”

“Yeah.” Ryan 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.” He murmured, already mentally vowing never to use the jail for such a purpose.

“You have somewhere safe to change yet?” he asked, nibbling at his own sandwich as Ryan started on the second sandwich at his elbow, ham.

“Just my hotel room. It’s not really big enough to change in 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.” Ryan 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.

Ryan 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 Ryan’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, Ryan 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. His gut had rarely steered him wrong but he felt like he was leaning over a cliff reaching for something with no way to stop himself if he fell.

 

“Well, on to happier topics. How’s your family handling it? Have you heard from Peyton yet?”

“Yeah, well the old man made it official and disowned me. Sent the family lawyer to officially ask me to never darken his doorstep again. I haven’t 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.” The wolf made soft sounds of approval in his mind, it liked this man.

“No, I’m doing okay. Thanks, though. I’m just glad that Grandfather is still alive to keep the title away from him.”

“I know, heaven help us if Duke Arrington passes away. I’m still in some of the circles even if I did abandon my family duty to become a cop. I haven’t heard a peep about it so at least he’s keeping it out of the papers.” Dave said with a sigh. “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.” Ryan said, feeling a flash of affection for the other man. Dave had always been the steady one in their group. While Ryan was off on hunting trips or running through the streets around campus 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?”

Ryan 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 Ryan 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 Ryan 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, thankfully that was not Ryan. He actually was rather normal looking for a Were according to the doctors, not that it was exactly a comfort when you’re a giant half human wolf.

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 move and run even with every muscle screaming in pain.

Until he was sure he was completely in control of the wolf’s instincts, however 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 his 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 Ryan’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.” Ryan 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. Ryan 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 new 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, Maria Fitzgerald, an older female lawyer whose husband was a Were, had called the forcibly infected an abomination and was calling for severe punishment for those that had created and released the altered virus. She was strangely silent on how she wanted those forcibly changed treated however.

 

***

 

The next day, Ryan was back looking for jobs, taking the subway farther downtown to try and get to a few of the local bars before the afternoon rush hit.

“Hello, 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.”

Ryan 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. She was a small, older woman with grey streaked blonde hair that was pulled back into a thick ponytail. She wore jeans and a form-fitting t-shirt that showed off the tattoos that wrapped each muscular bicep.

“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 shifting his case to the other arm.

“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 lip sync 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 held by the neck like a weapon.

“I’m not in a gang and unless someone starts insulting my mother or takes a swing at me first, I won’t fight.” Ryan 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?”

“Yes, Mame.”

“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.”

Ryan 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.

 

***

The next afternoon he headed downtown to the bar a bit early. He had spent a bit of his savings on several pairs of jeans that actually fit and a few long-sleeved tee shirts and button downs he could layer for work. The Ha’Penny’s sign was already lit even though it was only just after three in the afternoon.

 

“Good, he’s here. James, come meet the new potential bartender. Ryan, this is James, our occasional bartender and owner of the Ha’Penny.” Dixie waved another man forward who was wiping down the long wooden length of bar that filled one side of the room, the rest of the wooden floor was open space to mingle and dance with a handful of booths and tables near the wall.

“Pleasure to meet you.” James said with a light English accent.  “I hope you’ll stick around longer than the last guy.”

He was a roguishly handsome man, tall and lean with a wiry muscular build that promised strength. His dark hair fell in disheveled curls, long on top while trimmed short everywhere else. Dark eyes and pale skin filled out the image. Ryan would have called him Black Irish if he didn’t have the rich English accent layering his every word, he probably made a killing in tips on his accent alone.

“He’s all your’s, James. Don’t break him too soon.” Dixie said with a cackle, waving goodbye before she headed towards the back.

“Always careful, Dixie.” James deadpanned. “Welcome to the Ha’Penny.” James said, waving him along to follow James behind the bar and gesturing for him to start unpacking the boxes stacked to one side, loading the contents on to the bar to be sorted.  “Monday and Tuesday nights we are a traditional pub, darts and football matches on the tellie. Wednesdays is Karaoke, Thursday’s trivia night, and Friday and Saturday we have live bands of just about every genre. If you have a favorite in town let us know, we’re always looking for different bands to lure in.”

“I just got back in town but I’ll keep it in mind.”  Ryan said with a grin.

He liked the atmosphere of the place already. The other workers were laughing and joking as they swept and prepped the rest of the place. They finished stocking the bar and set up to finish the prep work, cutting lemons and limes and restocking any bottles that were getting low. They talked cocktail recipes and what the place had on tap while they worked. Around four pm the customers started to trickle in. It was slow but considering it was only a Tuesday it was not a bad night. Ryan was mopping behind the bar when James came back in, waving for him to hand over the mop.

“Okay, rookie. We’re done for the night. We close early Monday through Wednesday, closing around 11 to midnight depending how crowded we are, you’ll get out of here around midnight most nights. Then we stay open late Thursday through Saturday, closing around 2 am and finishing up around 3 or 4. Closed on Sunday. Get here by four pm at the latest, earlier unless you want half the staff to hate you.”

“Sounds good. Guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

“Looking forward to it.” James said with a grin. “Have a good night, Ryan.”

“You too.” Ryan said, turning and waving to the others before stepping out the door.

 

He blew out a breath once he was away from the bar and walking, great time for his libido to come back to life. He had not had the slightest interest in sex for months between his wounds and the infection. Now that his body was finally starting to fill out and get enough food everything was cranking back up with a vengeance.

It did not help that James was a handsome man with a wicked sense of humor. He hit all of Ryan’s buttons after only five minutes of talking to the man. The last man to do that for him had been Sam, his best friend and partner, a member of his unit in the Marines and the one who watched his back. He had died along with the rest of the soldiers in the attack.

He would have to clue James in on his status in more than one area and hope that he wouldn’t take it badly. He did like the man and hoped they would become friends but he doubted any regular human would want to date a broken soldier and who was also a Were. Not anyone sane anyway.

Sam and him had been best friends for years, following each other from mission to mission, watching each other’s backs until finally they had fallen together completely, seeking out what privacy they could get to hold each other in the dark. They had never said they loved each other and there were no open looks or touches of affections between them. It had been a secret they shared only in the dark, stolen touches and harsh grabbing hands as they slacked the sexual tension that living in each other’s pockets created.

That night, Ryan lay on his narrow mattress thinking about Sam. They never had enough time together, it had always been frenzied and rough coupling until one or both of them came and then it was back to business as usual on base. Ryan had wanted more than that. He wanted time to hold Sam to him for hours, to memorize his musky scent and the taste of his skin. Time to do more than rutt against each other or a quick hand job. To plunder his mouth and map his skin with gun callused hands, to nip and suck at each small imperfection until he had them memorized.

More than once Sam had left him aching and hard, leaving him to take care of it himself as the other man pulled on his boots and left, his own need already sated and cum cooling on Ryan’s boxers. They never kissed, and rarely touched beyond sex. Ryan knew it had not been love for Sam, that once their tour was over it would have soured and been forgotten. He had wanted it to be more but you rarely ever get what you truly want, right?

The handful of times they had actually managed to get leave together Sam would hunt down a girl for the night while Ryan got drunk. Eventually Sam would come back to the room they were sharing and either pass out or they would have sex again before moving to separate beds. Once or twice, Sam had passed out once he came, leaving Ryan curled against his side body slick with cum yet to happy at being held for the night to make himself move.

Yeah, Ryan knew it had been a bad relationship, bordering on abuse but he had taken what he could get to keep his best friend near him. He tried not to think if in doing so he had killed his partner and lover by having him by his side when the monsters stepped out of the shadows to claim him.

 

***

 

Now that he was starting to heal his wolf abilities as he was coming to think of them were coming more online as well. Scents that had been annoying but ones that he had been able to ignore were like sulfur in his lungs, tantalizing unknowns pulled at him, pulling his attention as the wolf pushed at him to follow and track, smell and learn. He spent hours on his morning runs tracking strange scents around the city and memorizing what caused them.

He had finally found other Were in town or to be more precise they found him. He had realized that most of the staff at the dinner were Wolves the second or third time he ate there. It took a few more times of eating there before he was approached.

“I do not mean to be rude but you’re a Were, right?”

“Yes.” Ryan said simply, watching how the other workers were tracking the conversation. It was quiet in the dinner today so with a Were’s enhanced hearing they probably could hear every word.

“You don’t have a pack though.”

“No, how can you tell?” he asked making the young woman grinned and give a small barking huff that his wolf translated into “puppy”.

“You never smell of other Wolves. We weren’t sure if you were actually Wolf at first, you’re scent was so weak. You’re newly changed?”

“A few months now. I just got back to town a few weeks ago.”

“You need to be careful. Lone wolves have been going missing on an off for the last year or so. The police refuse to help track them since the packless tend to wander.”

“I can handle myself, I’ll be fine. Thanks.”

“If it’s the Reapers, no one is safe. They hunt down Were that are living homeless or the unwary. Be careful.” She said moving away to clear the next table. Wonderful, vague warnings and a new enemy to watch out for.

 

***

Ryan was crouched, moving at a slow prowl behind Sam, rifle at the ready. He was at the back of the squad, covering their rear. He had just turned to survey the empty field behind them when the screams started. Gunfire, lit up the darkness as the other soldiers fired at their attackers. Sam broke into a run, bolting down the drainage ditch they were using as cover.

A black misshapen silhouette crouched over one of the fallen soldiers, feeding. Sam’s gun came up and shot it in the head even as two other forms bounded out of the darkness. Ryan opened fire trying to drive the animals back but they shrugged of the bullets and wounds like they were not there. A shout spun him as a black monster, all teeth and claws slammed into him. He got one shot off before the gun was wrenched from his hands.

Jaws biting into his shoulder even as claws scored down his chest and side wrenching a scream from his throat. He had an instant of relief as the animal reared back only to collapse from a point-blank shot through the eye from Sam. His eyes widened as he watched the other two shapes converge on Sam. He disappeared into a heap of blood and black rippling fur. Ryan fought against the heavy weight of the animal pinning him down but he was already losing too much blood. His world faded to blank even as he screamed for Sam, hand searching for his handgun.

 

***

 

“Ryan, if you have a minute can you come to the office?” Dixie called though the quiet music filling the closed bar. They were all hoping to be able to head home in a few minutes.

“Sure, Dixie.” Ryan called out, glancing back at James to make sure it was okay.

“Go on, you never want to leave a southern woman waiting.” James said with a grin, loading up the last of the glasses and lugging them back to the industrial dishwasher in the back. Ryan tossed his rag in the sink and made his way to the back office. He knocked and opened the door once Dixie prompted him to come in.

“There you are. Don’t worry, you’re not in trouble and your job here is safe.”
“Good to know.” Ryan said slowly, sinking into the chair in front of her desk.

“I normally don’t interfere in my employee’s lives outside of the bar but frankly, honey, you look like shit.”

“I’m just not sleeping much, Dixie. It’ll get better.”

“Darlin’, Your bags have bags and you look like you’re losing weight you can’t stand to lose. If you weren’t Were I’d be giving you addiction pamphlets. Since you are however, the best I can do is this.” she said handing him a card.

“That’s a friend of mine, Marie. She’s a member of a local Neutral pack here in town. They have taken in lone wolves like you before. Even if you don’t join the pack they can give you some pointers.” She said, motherly concern filling her voice and body language. “I like you Ryan and I would rather not see you waste away just because you might not understand something about being a Were. Promise me you’ll at least talk to her?”

“I’ll talk to her, Dixie. I haven’t really met any other Were yet. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Honey. Now get back out there and finish up so we can all go home.”

“Yes, Mame.” He said with a grin, ducking the envelope she tossed at him head in rebuke.

 

Two days later he stood at the entrance to an older apartment building with a central garden. It was a nice clean space with a few children playing among the low trees and grass. The scent of the place was anything but relaxing however. The scent of other Were covered every inch of the building and even the sidewalks in front, proclaiming the space their territory. He was stopped just inside the door to wait for Maria.

He’s 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.

 

What is wrong with him?” Ryan asked, eyeing the emaciated form laying to one side.

“He is rejecting the wolf.” she said with a frown. “He was a soldier like you, changed in battle then sent home to die.”

***

 

Present day. One month, one week in New York.

 

It was a slow day at the bar. Ryan had been working there two weeks and finally was trusted to man the bar alone while it was slow. He pulled out a copy of the classifieds and was hunting the ads for an apartment he could afford when James came back out carrying a rack of clean glasses. Ryan abandoned the paper to help him restock them on the shelves. If he also got to enjoy the play of muscle along James’ arms as he reached and stretched, well, he’d consider that a bonus of the job. A large silver watch graced one wrist while the other was wrapped in dark leather bands accenting the contrast of pale skin and thick leather. The hint of a tattoo showed at the bottom of one bicep from where he had rolled his sleeves up.

He glanced along the bar at the couple parked in one of the booths. The young woman sat partly draped across the man seated next to her, hands roaming as they talked, clearly just killing time and teasing each other until one or the other gave up and made a break for the nearest bed. It just made him ache to watch too people so relaxed and open with how much they loved each other. He wanted that, it made his chest ache, like part of his soul was missing without a partner. It had never been like this before, yes, he missed Sam but he had known they would never be together for life. Now his entire body ached for someone to hold onto and never let go of.

“You looking for a new place?” James asked nodding to the paper.
“Yeah.” Ryan said, forcing his eyes back to the classifies. “The hotel I’m in is really overpriced but everything I’ve seen is way out of my price range.” Ryan admitted with a grimace, he could afford the place for a few more weeks if he worked the docks on the weekends and mornings after the bar closed but it would not work long-term. He was finally getting his energy and strength back, his body filling back out with muscles and now working non stop was pulling him stretched tight again, hunger always biting at him.

“I’m actually looking for a flat mate right now if you’re interested. The apartment’s upstairs if you want to take a look after work.”

John opened his mouth to agree before his brain caught up with him.

“You know I’m a Were, right?”

“Yeah, since the first day. As long as you don’t eat any of my shoes I don’t have a problem with it. The landlady’s fare as well, she doesn’t discriminate.”

“Dixie told you? Does all the staff know?”

“No, Dixie didn’t tell anyone. I just know the signs.” James said setting down the rag he had been using and turning to face Ryan. “You’ve been here two weeks and you’ve gained weight. You looked strung out and half dead when we hired you. No one but Were come back from an illness that fast.” He said running his eyes along Ryan’s frame. “You also spent all of Saturday night rubbing your ears on and off. The band was rather loud.”

“I didn’t realize it was that easy to spot.”

“Only if you know where to look. I’ve been working on a few cases involving Were the last few months.”

“Cases?”

“Yeah, this is just my downtime gig when the other job runs slow. I’m a Private Investigator and consult for the police on occasion. They pulled me in for a stack of missing person reports that are all Were.”

“Reapers.” Ryan muttered in shock.

“So you’ve heard of them also.” James said his eyes lighting up with interest.
“Not really, I just got warned that Were without packs have been disappearing and to watch out for the Reapers.”

“Beyond the name and Were running scared we have no real leads. Someone is snatching lone Were off the streets. Occasionally a body will turn up but so far that’s rare. Mostly it’s just disappearances, Were going missing, no one knows where or how, they leave everything they own behind and are just never seen again. Beyond being Were there seems to be no trends or pattern beyond most of the missing being Infected Were, not natural-born.”

“The natural Were have a community right? They watch out for each other. Infected Were don’t have that. We’re alone.”

“That is true, the infected Were tend to wind up homeless unless one of the packs take them in.”

“Does that happen often?”

“The packs accepting an infected? I hate to say but I have only heard of one pack taking in infected Were, they’re a neutral pack that is staying out of the politics and gang wars alike . The gangs take them in if they wind up on the streets however.” James added with a frown. “You’re not looking to join a group are you?”

“Me, nah. I’ve been a bit of a loner for most of my life.”Ryan said with a bitter smile. “No point in trying to fit in now.”

“Well, Normal has always been overrated.” James said with a wide grin, his throaty baritone sending shivers down Ryan’s spine. “Tell you what, come up and check out the place tonight. You can spend the night if you like and make your decision later in the week. I know you have a long commute back and forth between here, your hotel, and the fish markets.”

“How do you know about the fish markets?”

“You might wear different clothes but your shoes are still the same.” James said with a grin. “I noticed you had fish scales stuck to the leather last week when we were unloaded the last shipment.”

“That’s amazing.”

“Frankly, I wish I had your senses. A Were has the nose of a bloodhound attached to a human brain that allows them to process, identify, and analyze each scent. They would revolutionize crime scene analysis.”

“I’m just trying to get used to everything still. You would probably want a born Were for that kind of thing.”

“Oh come on, if we can train dogs to track and find people or contaminants surely we can train an infected Were to do the same. Plus you were already in the military so you know how to operate in a police chain of command. You would be perfect.”

“Running around crime scenes?”

“Oh, you’d love it. Thrilling chases, danger, getting to show the feds exactly how incompetent they are. It’s brilliant.” James said all but bouncing in place. “Tell you what. Even if you don’t take the apartment, come by this weekend and I’ll let you run around on the case with me. If you like it you can work as an assistant to me and I’ll knock off half your rent in return.” The man was all but vibrating in his excitement, talking extremely fast as he paced the tight confines of the bar, arms waving to emphasize his points. Ryan grinned at him, fighting the urge to laugh.

“Alright, alright. Chill, man.”

“Good lord, to people still actually say that?”

“I’ll see the apartment and then we can see about the weekend. We haven’t even talked how much the rent is yet.”

“Wonderful, we will have to broaden your vocabulary if you keep pulling out old phrases like that however.”

“I thought I was unique.” Ryan said laughing.

“Perhaps, only time will tell and all that.” He said grinning at Ryan and he was helpless to do anything more than grin back in return, laughing softly at the crazy man who it looked like was becoming his roommate.

 

***

 

It was a nice apartment, the furniture was a little beat up but still in good working order, like the leather couch he had slept on, worn but not broken. The room in general had a comfortable air, full of the smell of coffee and lines of sun where the shades were pulled back. Wandering with his coffee cup he perused the shelves lining the room, only the wall next to the door was left bare and stark white. The library was a mixed bag, science and medical texts vied for space with biographies and fiction.

“So are you a chemist or researcher of some kind?” Ryan asked, eying the small lab set up in one corner, Test tubes and microscopes fighting for space with a double screened computer.

“Something like that.” James said with a small smile.

***

The next morning at James’ apartment.

 

“Probably the landlady.” James murmured, setting his laptop to the side and getting the door, revealing a short grey haired woman who happily bustled through, her musky perfume invading the apartment along with her.

“Morning, James.” She called merrily as she hurried past him and into the kitchen. “I brought you some extra casserole. I’ve been experimenting for the cookbook again and cannot stand to look at another plate of the stuff.” she said, placing a large casserole dish on the stove. “Oh, I’m sorry dear, I didn’t realize you had company. I’m Mrs. Harper, the landlady.” she said hurrying to clasp Ryan’s hand in a quick firm grip.

 

“Mrs. Harper, Ryan here is looking for a room to rent. Think you could show him the apartment?” James asked, grinning from behind his coffee cup.

– Mrs. Harper’s happy twitters as she told him a basic history of the building and it’s one or two famous inhabitants.

 

***

 

Moving in with James.

 

“Sure you don’t need help with any of the boxes or anything? Mr. Simmons next door is normally willing to help out if we need it.” Mrs. Harper asked handing him the key as she took his down payment and forms.

“No, I just moved back to town recently so I don’t have much.” Ryan murmured uncomfortably.

“Well, if you need anything you just let me know.”

“Of course, thank you Mrs Harper.” he agreed, surveying the apartment. James was out. They had agreed to meet up when he moved in but some case had come up and he had sent a text telling him to go ahead and move in and they would see each other once the case was over.

“Is James out often? Must be nice to have a quiet renter.”

“Oh, goodness, James quiet?” she said with a laugh, “Heavens no. It’s quiet while he is working on a case but the rest of the time he is a right bear. I hope you’re up to dealing with it, dear, he can be a bit much.”

“Well, I guess we’ll see.” he said with a grim smile.

“There is a casserole in the oven if you are hungry later, feel free to call if you need anything. I’ll leave you to get settled.”

“Thanks again, Mrs. Harper. Have a good afternoon.”

“You as well, dear.” She said happily as he showed her out and closed the door behind her.

With another sigh he went to the kitchen to survey the empty cupboards and fridge. Apparently his new roommate had a thing against having food in the apartment. The fridge had a few bottles of expired condiments and racks of test tubes while the cabinets turned up an ancient box of cereal and tea along with an assortment of cookware mixed with laboratory glass, chemicals filled the bottom cabinets. With a shrug, he tossed everything expired and added the items to his own list.

When he got back from the store James was frantically scribbling along one white wall with a blue marker. He was still in his bartender attire, jeans and a fitted tee-shirt with combat boots. The wall was covered in taped up sheets of paper and news clippings, various undecipherable lines of scribbles and diagrams filled the space around each.

***

 

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.

 

James takes him upstairs to sleep it off, gets him to change to help the injuries heal. He spends the night as a wolf in James’ loft above the bar.

 

***

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 through town, letting the wolf push him into what it thinks as safety.

 

***

Scene of a cage match.

***

The Station Apartment complex was a mostly Were community.

John is considered tainted or damaged since he was changed by force, few of the Natural Were wish to deal with him.

 

“We are a neutral pack. We are not interested in fighting over politics. We agree that Were need rights and we support those who are going through the legal process to gain rights for the Were but we do not want our pack pushed into the spotlight. We do not condone the Were who have embraced the violence of the wolf and given into the madness of blood lust, nor do we welcome them in our homes.”

 

***

 

Ryan watched from his seat in the back of the dinner, happily munching on his breakfast as someone rushed to  the front and turned up the news report.

“The pack of Maria Fitzgerald has closed ranks today in mourning after the death of the wife of their pack leader, Richard Fitzgerald, and the main spokesperson for Were rights.” The male announcer said with a frown as footage of body bags being removed from a home played in a small window to his right. “Mrs. Fitzgerald was killed last night in an attack by other Were along with the three other people that were meeting with her at the time. Those included Were rights supporter, Senator Michael Thompson, who just last week announced he was drafting a bill to guarantee the protection of Were civilians as US citizens.”

 

***

 

Ryan had spent much of his childhood and teenage years alone. Disappearing into the woods surrounding his family estate had been his getaway from his drunken father and his fists or his emotionally absent mother who spent most of her life in a happy Valium stupor. He had been there for his sister until she had been old enough to start running on her own, disappearing to friends houses and extended trips abroad before she was even in high school. He refused to consider the scars lining his back that he could have run from but knew the fists and cane would fall on his sister or mother if he did. They had needed him so he had stayed.

He took up hunting and riding horses as a way to stay outside longer, farther away from the house and his family. On the weekends and nights his sister was out of the house he would disappear into the trails lining the woods, running until his legs gave out. He brought back doves and rabbits for the cooks to fuss over so they could not say he was off goofing around. See, he was doing something useful, hunting. And if he often thought of his father at the other side of his gun or bow, well, no one ever knew but himself and God.

Running with the Pack Members on a full moon.

***

Visit from his sister at the bar. Flirting with James, dreams of Sam.

***

Sister sells him out to the cage match runners. James searches for him.

-Flashback of his sister, Peyton. Her betrayal.

***

His ring is seen by Dave who is working undercover gambling on the Cage Matches.

***

Escaping the cage match during a fight.

***