Ryan fought to keep his breathing slow even as a constant growl slid from his chest, matched by the one from the other Were. They circled eyes darting to the audience and guards like two fish in a bowl, keeping an even distance between each other. Ryan watched the play of muscle over the other Were and tried to ignore the small part of him that wanted to push forward and force a fight, that had never been his style. It was better to wait for your opponent to rush in unprepared than to put yourself in the same situation.
Ryan did the best he could to sink into the wolf’s instincts that were pushing at him. His human fighting experience and instincts would not be much help in a fight that took place between what were essentially two large wolves. A bell sounded from one side and the blonde wolf lunged without hesitation forcing Ryan to dodge. They lunged, dodged and grappled around the pit each looking for an advantage over the other. The other wolf let out a yelp each time Ryan’s fangs found purchase but Ryan fought silently beyond the constant throbbing growl that issued from his throat and the occasional snarl when they were face to face.
The audience above them was in chaos, shouting screaming as if to urge them on. They were a blur of motion and sound above the pit, something else to be tuned out as his vision narrowed down to his opponent. How do you take down an animal without killing it? Limit it’s movement.
Even before the thought was complete he was lunging to bite hard against one of the blonde Were’s front legs. He felt the bone give as the Were whined high and pain filled above him, fighting to push him away. Ryan let go and danced away trying to clear the taste of blood from his tongue. The Were lay on the concrete, throat bared and waiting for the kill stroke that Ryan would not deliver.
The only door out of the pit opened and he was lead out of the fighting ring and back to his cell. Soon after his opponent was dropped into his cell on the other side of the corridor. Ryan whined a soft sound of apology to the other man who had already changed back to heal his arm. He glanced between him and the guards warily before returning a small nod.
Ryan settled down on the concrete in his cell, not bothering to change back for the small bites and cuts that had made it through his thick coat. He would save him energy for when he had a major injury. They were given bowls of tasteless gruel soon after that Ryan ate quickly, before curling into a ball at the back of his cell. He would need his strength to get out of here.
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?” she asked, as she cleared his plate and refilled his water with practiced moves.
“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 shrugged, shelving the matter to the back of his mind for now. There was no use worrying about Reapers when he was going to be eating hot dogs three times a day soon if he didn’t find a good place to stay.
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, trying to cover the distance between them and the rest of the squad.
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 bit 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.
Present day, New York.
“Ryan, if you have a minute can you come to the office?” Dixie called though the quiet music filling the closed bar. The staff 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.” Dixie said with a small grin at his discomfort.
“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, I appreciate it.”
“You’re welcome, Honey. Now get back out there and finish up so we can all go home.”
“Yes, Mam.” He said with a grin, ducking the envelope she tossed at him head in rebuke.
He headed back out into the bar to help finish the last few tasks.
“Everything alright?” James asked, glancing up at him as he came back behind the bar.
“Yeah, everything’s fine.” Ryan said with a small grin, his mind still occupied with meeting other Were like himself.
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. He tried not to stare at the two children playing in wolf form, puppies tumbling about while an adult Were sat to one side, dark brown ears twitching as he watched over the group. 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.
A young came and an gestured him to follow. He tried to ignore the way the stares of the men and women who came to their doors did not matter. Frankly compared to their scents the staring was just an afterthought. The chant of “Not pack.” from the wolf was constant, along with the occasional note of “Alpha.” when the scent of certain males drifted to him. It was a burnt bitter smell to their scents that made him feel like he was standing in front of his basic drill instructor again, fighting the urge to drop his gaze. Ryan fell back on his military training and letting his body fall into the familiar movements like he was on base under inspection. He was shown into a study like room with a woman seated to one side.
“Please have a seat. You must be Ryan?”
“Yes, Mam. Thank you for seeing me.”
“I was surprised when Dixie said that she was sending a young male to see me. Many Were are very traditional and such a request would be an insult.” She waved away anything he would have said, continuing. “I am merely informing you so that you don’t insult a pack leader by accident. All interactions with strangers on pack grounds must go through the Pack Leader. In the Freeburn pack that is my husband, Richard. However, since I am his second, I am able to make decisions on his behalf, and so I welcome you.”
“Dixie had said that you are newly changed, as a soldier?”
“Yes, Mam. I was changed just a few months ago.”
“May I ask exactly how long? Your scent is still faint like that of one newly turned.” Maria said with a frown.
“I have been through four months of changes, Mam. I was very sick after the infection and it took about two months to get back on my feet.”
“That would explain your scent and frankly how thin you are. Your body has burned itself out between the sickness and the forced changes. It would help you adjust faster if you could change more often but I would not suggest it until you are stronger. Changing while you do not have the reserves to sustain you would do more harm then good. Tell me, what do you know of the Were?”
“Honestly, Mam., not very much. I have what the Marine doctors could tell me from government brochures and a bit of research in libraries. It seems mostly to be inaccurate.”
“Yes, the government has done many studies but it seems to escape them that simply asking a Were would answer most of their questions.” She said with a slightly bitter smile. “Tell me, are you able to scent the other Were here? Can you note the differences?”
“Yes, Mme.” Ryan said with a slight nod.
“Good, is your wolf explaining any of it?”
“I know that some of them are Alpha but I don’t know what that means.”
“The explanation is not exactly acceptable by most Human cultures so I ask that you hear me out completely before you ask any questions.” She said, voice slightly stern.
“Alright.” Ryan agreed, shifting slightly in his seat.
“The Were society has three positions, or gender roles if you will. Alpha, Beta, and Omega. The roles are set at birth by your scent and demeanor but they do not ultimately control where you fall in the pack, only your base nature. An alpha may hold a nurturing role while a Omega leads, but it is rare. I myself am an Omega.” Ryan let her scent filter through him, noting the hint of honey that he had smelled on one of the Were he had passed. The one who had lead him to the room has not had it, instead smelling like fresh cotton.
“And the young woman who showed me in?” He asked softly, uncertain if he should be interrupting her.
“Very good. She is a Beta.” She said with a gentle smile. “Most Were fall into the Beta or Alpha category, Omegas are more rare. In one hundred births only ten or so will be Omega.”
“May I ask what the…roles mean exactly?”
“We believe it was a way to ensure that there were people around to care for the Young. Alphas are born leaders. They are dominant in their attitudes and continually push themselves to be the best they can be and to provide for their partners. Betas are the neutrals, they can lead or care for others yet do not have the drive to do so that Omegas and Alphas have. Omegas are the caretakers, they traditionally are seen as breeders since they tend to be very fertile but that attitude is slowly changing allowing them to take other roles.”
Ryan paused, trying to pick a role for himself, he would think maybe Beta since he had traits of both Alpha and Omega, wanting to both care for and protect his partners.
“I can see you are trying to decide where you fall. I can tell you, your scent labels you as an Omega. It is unheard of to see a forced Were to be Omega, you are the first I have ever seen.” He opened his mouth to argue and again she stopped him with a smile and a raised hand. “The label means nothing more than that you are wired to crave a mate as you would be if you were an Alpha. It is rare for Omegas to be males however and you will be treated differently than another male by those who follow the old traditions. It is rather like the old view of women in the US, meant to be seen and not heard, taking care of the children and home with no voice in any decisions. Thankfully we are a more modern viewed pack and have few members who follow the old ways.”
Ryan nodded in thanks, sitting back slightly to try and absorb this. So he would crave a partner as an Omega. Hell, he had done that since high school, he might have mostly been a loner throughout his life but that did not mean he did not want to find friends and lovers to care for. It was just another facet of himself that the Wolf mirrored, he could live with that. It just meant that they could be both Hunter and the one someone returned home to after the hunt.
“May I ask, Mrs. Freeburn…how do the Were feel about same sex partners?”
“Those who follow the old traditions would be very against it if it were made public. Most packs allow those who wish to mate with another of the same sex choose as they would. The Freeburn pack does not limit such relationships though other packs I am aware of do.” She paused looking at Ryan as if searching for something. “If I may ask, were you gay before becoming a Were?”
“We have no homosexual members in our pack at the moment but that is by chance, not by choice. If you wish to join the pack it would not factor into your membership.”
“Thank you, that is good to know.” She hesitated a moment, before continuing on.
“There is one other thing you need to be aware of. While humans are occasionally open to having multiple partners it is common place in the pack. We generally bond for life with our mates and there are some pairs who are happy to simply exist by themselves but many of us take at least one other mate. I myself am also bonded to a Beta of the pack.”
Ryan fell still thinking on this until a knock sounded on the door. They were interrupted for a moment as a young girl carried in a tray with tea and snacks.
“Thank you, Elisa, I am sure our guest will enjoy the refreshments.” The girl gave him a shy smile at his quiet thank you, before hurrying out of the room. “Please help yourself.” Maria said, smoothly pouring two cups of tea and taking one for herself. Ryan helped himself to a few of the cookies and tea sandwiches, nibbling as they both sipped on the sweet honey mint tea.
“I know you must have questions, please feel free to ask me anything.” Maria pressed, sipping at her tea with a small smile.
“I was told that most packs do not associate with the Were that have been forcibly changed. Why did you agree to see me?”
“Partly as a favor to an old friend and partly because we have already taken in one of your kind. I will take you to meet him once we have finished tea.” she said with a frown. “As for the other half, I grew up in a traditional family, one where Omega were chattel to be passed to the highest bidder. I defied my family in taking Richard as my mate and have never regretted it. I see other Omegas and even the infected being forced into situations where they have no option and feel that I must do what I can to change that.”
“I appreciate that you are willing to do so, Mam. It’s good to see that Were are the same as everyone else with homes and families.”
“Even if you would not be accepted in the pack here?”
“Even than. I have been alone for much of my life, Mam. I will not deny that a home and family are not something I would like but I have done without them for most of my life. Being denied a pack would not break me.”
“Good. I am sad to say but I doubt our pack will be taking in another forced. If you are finished, let me take you to met Shawn, he stays in another part of the house.”
“Of course.” Ryan said, stuffing the last corner of a sandwich in his mouth and washing it down with a sip of tea.
“I must warn you, he is very ill.” She paused running her eyes along his thin form. “Rather like you were soon after the initial infection, I would think.” She said guiding him down several corridors before knocking softly on a wooden door. A voice called for them to enter. Inside the room was a wide room filled with several beds, a small hospital or sick room.
“What is wrong with him?" Ryan asked, eyeing the emaciated form laying on a twin bed to one side of the room.
"He is rejecting the wolf." she said with a frown. "He was a soldier like you, changed in battle then sent home to die. We found him on the streets close to death. Unlike you, he has pushed the wolf away, rejecting the changes made to his body. He refuses to change with the moon and soon it will cause his body to shut down. If he gives into the change now it will result in madness and he will have to be put down.” She said gently, watching Ryan. “I wanted to show you this so that you know, going back is not an option now, Ryan. If you reject the wolf, you will die. All you can do now is live as you can.”
Ryan gave a tight nod, watching the broken shell of a man before him. Shawn was missing a leg below the knee, the war wound that had likely caused his infection and signed his ticket back home and out of the military. He shook with fever and delirium, body arching and twitching as he dreamed.
Ryan was shown back to the sitting room afterwards and they were joined by the pack leader, Richard F
burn. The thick scent of Alpha flooded the room as the man walked in, the press of instinct fighting with his need to not submit to a stranger, forcing his body into a tight line. Maria had stood as the door opened and Ryan copied her leaving him standing and fighting the urge to kneel. Maria quickly went to the two connecting door and opened them, letting in fresh air to diffuse some of the scent.
“That was rude, Richard.” she said, voice hard as the man took a seat. Ryan stood frozen, unable to get his body to relax enough to retake his seat, it felt too much like giving in, submitting to an unknown alpha he held no allegiance to.
“I apologize if I have overwhelmed you.” Richard said with a small frown watching the other man fight with himself. His voice was deep and resonant, filling the room with ease. “I must admit it was a bit of a test. Omegas and Alphas are able to control our scent to some extent, increasing it or decreasing it in times of stress. I wanted to see how you would respond to an Alpha.”
“And?” Ryan managed to bite out, shifting back to stand against a nearby wall. It was not a retreat he consoled himself, it was moving to a more defensible position.
“If you had caved and given into my authority we would have helped you find a compatible pack you could join. As you did not, I am comforted that you are strong willed enough to stand on your own without an Alpha at your side. I cannot offer you a place in my pack at this time, not while we have another infected in our care and I needed to know that you could stand on your own. If you could not, it is my duty as Pack Leader to ensure that you are safe in another pack.” Ryan managed a ragged nod at this. It made sense but his entire body was still fighting to both submit and to fight, leaving him feeling drained and broken.
“Ryan, do you need to sit down?” Maria asked gently, coming to stand to one side so she could support him if he needed it. That finally snapped him out of the loop he was in. He forced his stance into a parade rest, forcing his head up and his trembling muscles to relax as the Alpha looked on with approval in his eyes.
“No, Mam. I’m fine.” He said, his voice still rough yet his tone was strong.
“Well done.” Richard murmured, and Ryan tried to ignore the swell of satisfaction he felt at having impressed this Alpha. He left not long after, heading back to his hotel with promises to return if he had any other questions or needed help in any way.
The last bit of advise Maria had given him as she showed him to the door stuck with him as he walked back to his hotel room and got ready for work.
“There is one more part of being an Omega that you should know about.” she murmured stopping him just before the door. “I have never known a male Omega so I cannot say if you will go through the yearly cycles the same as a woman. Once a year a female Omega goes into heat. For several days they become ruled by their hormones and bodies, pushed to mate. It can be ridden out without mating but it is not pleasant.”
“And you think I might…go into heat?”
“I do not know. I will try an contact another pack I know, the Ravenholdt pack, to see if they have any information to share. Until than I can only warn you as I would a sister Omega. The heats are marked by just that, fever. Your skin becomes extremely sensitive to touch. The only good news I can give you is that there has never been any male pregnancies that I am aware of so you do not have to worry about that.” She offered with a stressed looking smile. She clearly did not like talking about such sensitive matters on the door step.
“Well…there is that at least.” Ryan choked, fighting back the urge to panic. So he might go nuts for a few days and want to fuck everything in sight. Male pregnancy notwithstanding, it didn’t sound like much more than a few of the more drunken leaves he’d taken while in the marines. Just one more strange thing to get adjusted to. Great.