John was a big fan of alleys.
Warm vents of air in the winter and buildings to cut the wind. Cool shadows from those buildings in the summer. Private nooks and crannies for him to huddle in year round. Putting his muzzle down on his paws with a muffled sigh John relaxed in the protection of the dumpster. Really the only drawback was the smell. The bottom of the dumpster was high enough off of the ground that he could crawl completely underneath it in his shifted form with only a little bit of squeezing.
The average New Yorker wouldn’t be able to successfully identify a wolf if their lives depended on it. A big gray dog with sharp teeth though, that was universally understood. During the day if he had to be out and about it was always a gamble whether he was wearing fur or patchwork clothes. Either way he went people tended to cross the street to get out of his way. They were, marginally, less likely to call animal control if he was standing on two feet at least.
The shady corner he had managed to curl up in was a lot cooler than the shimmering heat that curled through the city. It wasn’t exactly an air conditioned hotel room with a queen sized bed. Last time he had stayed in one of those though he’d just fallen asleep when the metal door had burst inwards with an almighty bang as it had nearly disintegrated under the weight of a furious werewolf's clawed paws.
John had only been a werewolf for a matter of months and the change had still been an awkward and difficult thing. That night though it had felt like the most natural thing in the world to shed his human form in a swift shift that had let him leap through the window on two feet and land on four. By the time John had stopped running the pads of his paws had been sore and cracked from running on the pavement.
John was unwilling, and at this point unable, to pay for a room that he would have been too tense to sleep in. So back alleys it was for the time being until he figured out how the pack kept finding him. The normal sounds of the city flickered past John’s constantly twitching ears in a nearly constant blare of noise. Everything blended together, honking taxis, chattering pedestrians and the almost drowned out percussion from a street musician all came together to form a soothing type of white noise.
The tinkling sound of a glass bottle being kicked down the cracked concrete of the alley brought John’s half lidded eyes flying open. The next sound of multiple sets of running feet that came echoing into the lair that he had created for himself brought his head up as far as it could go. John gathered his feet underneath his body preparing to defend himself or to flee depending on how cornered he felt.
The first persons shoes that came into his line of sight were a pair of beat up running shoes with scuffed soles and ragged laces. The track pants above those shoes were just as unassuming. Light gray cotton that looked like good quality fabric that had been well loved. The dumpster was low enough to the ground to obstruct his vision and cut the interloper off above the knee. A wolf’s hearing was more than enough to make up for what he couldn’t see.
The shoes sprinted down the alley full tilt going past the dumpster and out of his line of sight. They slowed only when the runner apparently found the chain link fence that had been helpfully topped with concertina wire and the gate padlocked shut with a heavy duty chain. Unless the man was an Olympic worthy athlete who wore heavy duty leather gloves as a matter of course on his morning runs he wasn’t going any further.
The deep gasping breaths and the stink of fear sweat made that even more unlikely.
The next group of shoes that came into John’s view were a different breed. The sneakers were those obnoxiously chunky overpriced kind that were always purchased unironically by young men who were more interested in wolf whistling at pretty girls than in making any kind of an honest living. The metallic tang that followed them in the air spoke of an abundance of necklaces and knives.
John could feel his lips peeling back involuntarily from his teeth. He was going to do something stupid. The CIA had done a lot of unpleasant things to him in the name of stamping out any sort of a hero complex.
The results had been decidedly mixed.
When John finally slunk out from under the dumpster the group of young men, five strong, had encircled the older man with jeers and hands that were picking at the loose sweatshirt. When John was in his shifted form it wasn’t that he couldn’t understand words it just took a lot more concentration than he was willing to give generally. In a fight the wolf’s mind came to the forefront and took control in stressful situations. Higher thought was more of a nuisance than anything; making him trip over his own paws more often than not.
The groups chosen prey had his hands spread out in front of him in apparent supplication as he pressed back as far as he could into the fence. John had no idea why the group had honed in on the small man that they had cornered. No apparent money. The wrong gender and age for these young thugs to be going after for any sort of sexual gratification. So either they just wanted to scare a middle aged man or he had done something to gain their ire.
Probably the latter he decided when the man stiffened up his spine and aimed a nasty kick to the leader of the groups knee. John felt his mouth gape and tongue loll out in a lupine laugh. Little bantam rooster. Probably a terrible idea to push them any further since he thought he was all alone but John had always loved a fighter. The blow had been unexpected and landed solidly.
His ears picked up the lovely sound of cartilage cracking and the leader gave a squeal of agony as he fell onto the rough concrete of the alley. The remainder of the group couldn’t seem to decide whether to go after the little man or if they should help their lead dog to his feet. Second in command seemed to have the quickest reaction time and he lunged towards the small runner with a fisted hand pulled back and his focus on nothing else, well, no point in missing an opportunity.
John lowered his head and charged forward with a scrabble of nails that none of them seemed to notice until he had slammed a bony shoulder into the back of the seconds knees knocking him off his feet and straight into one of his buddies with a breathless grunt. After that it was chaos. The group may have been well practiced in school yard bullying but even in his shifted form and on four legs John’s head came up above their waists and when he reared up on his hind legs, to snap menacingly in their faces, he towered above them.
John kept his teeth carefully out of bare flesh but let them shred clothing and graze the surface so that the boys could feel how close he came. No use in saving this guy’s life only to get chased down by animal control. He didn’t know if they’d be able catch him but he figured a big dog drawing blood, no matter the circumstances, would bring them down on his head. So he knocked them back with his body weight, giving the runner some room to breath, and firmly planted all four feet into the ground and lowered his head. Humanity may have been mostly removed from their animal past but none of the group of boys in front of him mistook it for a sign of surrender.
It felt strange to bark, but John figured growls while more menacing probably wouldn’t garner the same amount of attention. So he let the barks bellow out of his chest in a booming staccato that cut through the noise of the city and seemed to echo down the length of the alley and out into the populated streets of the city. New York was never going to be a place where people came running to help but the group had already been unnerved enough by both the man’s unexpected resistance and the presence of a huge dog that could easily match them pound for pound no matter how skinny he might have been. They broke and ran.
When the second managed to drag himself to his feet he pulled up his leader with him. The blonde draped an arm over his own shoulders and nearly dragged the still whimpering boy away with the rest of the group hot on their heels. John let his lips slowly fall back over his teeth before he snorted disdainfully. Shaking his body hard and letting that ridge of fur that had lifted between his shoulders fall back into place John let himself start to relax again. The way the fence clanged, John figured the runner was trying to at least climb out of his reach. Well at least he wasn’t stupid enough to think that just because John had come to his defense that meant he was automatically on his side.
John looked over his shoulder at the small man. Mindful to keep his lips firmly sealed and his ears pricked forward. There, a couple of slow wags and the runner slowly crept down from the fence. Rescue mission successfully completed, now to make a swift exit. John sneezed happily at the man before he turned away again and started to trot back towards his dumpster. Nice blast of adrenaline, so he wasn’t going to be napping anytime soon, but it was still hours from sunset and he needed to cool down. Crouching down low again to crawl back into his slightly cooler den John was relieved to hear the man’s soft footsteps hurrying out of the alley nearly without pausing.
John whuffed a little when he lay down and let himself sprawl out flat on his side. It had been a long time since he’d attacked anyone and the last time he had he’d been fully human. So really he’d managed to do a good deed, taught some human puppies some manners, and the concrete felt lovely and cool against his heaving sides. It wasn’t even noon and John figured this was already the best day that he’d had in a really long time.
So when it all went to hell later that afternoon John figured he’d jinxed himself really.