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How to Earn Your Discharge from the Last Chance Fusiliers

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Once a month, Colonel Moran goes off on a mission, and takes only Captain Watson along with him.

It’s the greatest mystery in his unit. Colonel Moran is his own mystery, the weird little exception even in the fusiliers. Colonel over the smallest regiment in the army. Unkillable. Deeply insubordinate and often of questionable loyalty to his superiors, but of unquestionable loyalty to his men. It’s known that he got his rank for two reasons: Moran functions with a team only when he’s leading that team, and he has a habit of performing above all expectations. Send him on a suicide mission and he’ll come back unharmed with everything you asked for and more.

He’s a brilliant tactician, a crack shot, and a natural leader.

Watson is a little bit infatuated.

He’s straight, of course. Always has been. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t fascinated by Colonel Moran. His superior is powerful, charismatic, and almost absurdly masculine. They have almost nothing in common. Their differences are comical: Watson is short, Moran is tall. Watson is a moral, honest man. Moran is a scoundrel who cheats at cards and kills indiscriminately.

But there is one thing that they share, and it binds them together. They both need the war, and they need it in exactly the same way. The danger gives them a reason to live. It stokes their blood and ignites their minds. And somehow, the two of them work perfectly together. They understand each other.

When Moran reaches for something, Watson is already holding it out. They move as one, anticipating each other’s movements. Almost from the start, Moran notices their compatibility and starts assigning Watson to all the same watches. Moran hand picks his team from his regiment for each mission, and from the first week Watson is assigned to the fusiliers, Moran puts him on the team every single time.

It’s a thrill. He knew that Moran had commissioned an army doctor for his regiment. The last one had died badly—things happen in war, after all, although Moran’s unit was known for their unusually high survival rate. Colonel Moran had the hail-mary team. They were the ones who got sent on the impossible missions, and they were the ones who had been thrown out of all the other regiments. This was where you got sent if they didn’t have quite enough on you to stick you with a dishonorable discharge.

Or if you had found out something you weren’t supposed to know, and you were a little too stubborn to just look the other way. Stubbornness was a Watson trait. It had a history of getting him into trouble.

But there was an opening for an army doctor in the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. Such a neat little fix, for getting him out of the way.

Welcome to the Last Chance Fusiliers, John Watson. There are three ways out. One is getting shot. That’s an honorable discharge. Two is getting shot where it counts. Do send us a letter from hell, won’t you? And three is finally earning your dishonorable discharge.

Plenty of ways to do that.

 

He has been in the Fusiliers for less than three weeks when Colonel Moran picks him for a high-security mission.

Just the two of them, with two days worth of food. No special gear, not even a bedroll, and they’re off alone into enemy territory.

Moran tells him nothing. Not where they’re going, not why, not what he’s supposed to do. But that’s fine. Watson is a soldier. He knows how to shut up and follow orders, even when he doesn’t understand. They travel by night, and spend the day in a bombed-out ruin. But Moran finds a door that still locks, with solid walls on three sides and a window with a decent view on the fourth, which makes their hideout safe, and almost comfortable.

They tell stories to pass the time. Stories that aren’t worth the telling, for anyone else, in any other situation. But they’ve got eight hours to fill, and time goes faster when you talk, so they tell stories.

Watson tells him about the scar he got on his knee from a mailbox. Moran tells him about learning to read. They’ve got better stories (the girl who broke Watson’s heart, or the time Moran learned how to rape), but they don’t tell those ones. The big things, the things that formed and changed them, aren’t things they share or can even comprehend in each other. But the little things, that no one else would ever find significant, those things they understand effortlessly.

“Almost time,” Moran says. The sun is down, sky darkening rapidly. “You stay here. You keep the door locked. And you don’t shoot at anything outside of this room. If anything gets in, that’s its mistake and your discretion. Nothing outside.”

“Sir,” Watson agrees, although those are odd orders. “I don’t like you going out there alone.”

“You’re about to like it even less.”

Moran undresses without a word. Boots, belt, weapon. That’s not so bad, not so weird, except that he’s still undressing, and Watson knows they didn’t bring anything for him to change into. No armor, no disguise.

He’s seen the colonel shirtless before. Moran is the kind of man who strips off his shirt at any opportunity, especially on sunny days. He has a habit of basking, like the tiger that left the set of four parallel scars down his chest; white against the tanned and freckled skin. Watson hasn’t seen the terminus of those scars before. They lay upon his hip like a caress, the marks of some possessive lover. A few inches to the right and the tiger would have succeeded in gutting him.

“Sir,” Watson repeats, tense. The word contains the what are you doing? and I don’t like this that Watson is too obedient to voice.

Moran steps out of his trousers, setting them aside in a neat, military pile. “Repeat your orders, captain.”

“Stay,” Watson recites. “Attack nothing outside this room.”

The colonel steps toward the door. He is fully nude, and unarmed. Watson scrambles to his feet. “Sir. We are in enemy territory.”

“I don’t have time to argue, captain.” Moran puts his hand on the lock, and opens it. “Stay.”

 

Watson does not stop him.

His commanding officer has such absolute conviction about what he’s doing, and Watson came here full well knowing Moran’s reputation: mad, unkillable, with a skill and a penchant for the suicide missions. But this seems so far outside of any kind of logical purpose that Watson’s obedience is pulled taut and fraying.

Too late now: the colonel is gone, and the darkness outside is deepening.

The distant sound of bombs and gunfire by night are familiar now. They are part of the landscape of Afghanistan. Rocks, dirt, ruins. Some days John wonders what the place would look like in peacetime. Would it heal like Artois, and cover over this no-man’s-land with meadows and fields?

It’s a pleasant thought, but probably false.

If there are beautiful, blooming parts of Afghanistan, he has not had leave to see them. All he has seen is the death and ruin of the war.

The screams are not unfamiliar, either. But these screams are different somehow. Watson is accustomed to hearing screams of anger and alarm, interspersed with the jabbering of accusations and threats in the local dialect.

These are screams that belong better in a trashy thriller movie: long, drawn-out wails of disbelieving horror.

Watson has heard men being tortured. He has heard women being raped (and twice risked his life to stop this). He does not want to know what experience could draw these begging screams of abject, uncomprehending terror. His mind struggles to put an answer to it while his will tries to fight it down. It isn’t his job to ask questions. His orders are to stay.

He would stay away from the window if he could, knowing that he’s under orders not to attack or interact with anything outside this room. The window doesn’t matter, shouldn’t matter, but he can’t help wanting to know as much of the situation as possible. That’s how you survive.

There’s nothing out there but darkness. Over the nearest set of hills he can see the ambient light of something—a city, a camp. Could be any distance from here.

The night drags on. Watson has no hope of sleeping, although that wasn’t in the orders one way or the other. He cannot sleep while his mind is haunted by the intermittent bouts of screaming (at varying distances), and the occasional bone-chilling howl. It is almost like a wolf in its manner, but deeper and rougher, with a rasp like a tiger’s roar.

In the morning, shortly after sunrise, there is a knocking on the door, in the pattern that the fusiliers use. Watson unlocks it, and Moran saunters in with a grin. He’s unharmed and clean aside from a little dust.

“Colonel,” Watson says, rattled.

“I appreciate your ability to follow orders, Captain Watson.” Colonel Moran walks past him, dressing himself with casual ease, as though he hasn’t spent the night naked and unarmed out among the most haunting sounds John has ever heard.

“What happened out there?”

“I went for a very pleasant run.”

“I heard screams.”

“We are at war, Watson.”

Confused and alarmed, John watches him as he dresses and equips himself. He is concerned for his colonel’s well-being, confused by the impossibility of the situation, and shaken by the things he heard in the night. But he likes Moran. He has never had a better commanding officer, and even regards the man as something of a friend.

His gut tells him to trust the colonel. His intellect tells him that there is no way Moran could have been involved with any of the sounds he heard. Faced with a conundrum, his mind is forced to accept the simplest possible explanation: Colonel Sebastian Moran is just reckless and insane enough that he honestly enjoys going streaking through enemy territory at night.

“It isn’t safe,” Watson insists, lips drawn in a tight line.

“This is going to happen again,” Moran says, irrefutably. “If you tell me I need to bring along someone else, I will.”

“No, sir.”

Watson tells himself that the sounds he heard were a coincidence. Moran had nothing to do with them, nor they with him.

 

They move into enemy territory with the rest of the team the next day, headed for a terrorist holdout that they’re supposed to infiltrate and disarm. But the job has already been done for them.

Gouts of blood paint every wall. Blood spills in thin red trails down stairs, to form sticky pools on the stone or to bake into the dry red dust of the courtyard. The bodies strewn through the fortress have been torn apart. Gutted, dismembered, and mauled, like the work of a remarkably systematic wild animal.

“Tiger,” Colonel Moran decides.

“Tigers are extinct in Afghanistan,” Watson says, voice low. Even in war, this scene is exceptional. Blood doesn’t bother him, and never has, but he has also never seen it in such a lavish display across every available surface.

“Yes, well,” Moran drawls, “we seem to be proving that’s increasingly inaccurate.”

It is difficult to argue with the four parallel scars that they all know are concealed beneath the colonel’s shirt. John does so anyway.

“A tiger couldn’t do this. There are too many men, too well armed. This is a fortress.”

“Tigers are intelligent,” Moran points out. He walks unafraid through the carnage, to the command room at the center of the place, and starts gathering up maps and plans from the desk. “They have been known to hunt men. Especially the Caspian tiger. Usually for food, but maybe this tiger had a grudge.”

Watson doesn’t believe him. But he has no better explanation.

An extinct tiger appears out of nowhere, slaughters an entire garrison, and vanishes without a trace. And that’s the feasible explanation.

 

Moran schedules their off-duty time to coincide.

Most days, he stays at base and studies maps, developing strategy for upcoming missions. When he’s not at that, he spends his time with the off-duty fusiliers, beating them all at dice and cards.

It is common knowledge that Moran cheats. But his men love him, and have adopted an unofficial regiment-wide policy that if you don’t notice your opponent cheating at cards, you deserve to lose. Few things delight Moran more than being successfully outwitted by one of his men at cheating. The whole regiment is constantly working to come up with new cheating strategies for the games they play, and the favored card games around the fusiliers are picked accordingly. Watson is one of few who doesn’t enjoy the attitude. He can keep up with the rest without a problem, and has a better eye for it than most, but it’s common knowledge that Watson won’t cheat, and that even Moran doesn’t cheat against Watson, out of respect.

Moran has peers among the other colonels, both in and out of the fusiliers, but Last Chance Moran gets no invitations to their events. Captain Watson has received invitation to officer’s socials where Colonel Moran’s invitation was blatantly misplaced, but he has the good sense never to accept. Sebastian’s men love him, while the entire rest of the army barely tolerates him—and them, by extension.

Watson spends most of his free time reading. He gets along just fine with the men, well enough that none of them resent his spot as Moran’s second in command, but he has never been one for noisy pubs and late-night carousing. Once he finds out that Moran has the best selection of books on the base, and a colonel’s quarters are substantially more comfortable than a captain’s, he tends to spend his free time curled up in a chair in Moran’s quarters. It leaves him close at hand if the colonel needs a trusted eye to give him a second opinion on his maps, and Moran’s rooms are always quiet.

“Wouldn’t have taken you for the bookish sort,” John teases, picking The Jungle Book from Sebastian’s shelf.

“I’m not,” Sebastian confesses. “I was always the kid with the street smarts.” He looks up from his map then, leaning forward on his elbows. “But when I was eight I realized that literacy is one of those weapon that the haves use against the have-nots, and I always prefer to be the one holding the weapon.”

“Wouldn’t have taken you for a socialist, either.”

“Definitely not a socialist.” Sebastian grins at him, amused. “I believe in rule by power. If I am strong enough to take something, it is mine by right.”

John lifts his eyebrows briefly. “Right. Definitely not a socialist.”

 

In about a month, Sebastian proposes another assignment with the same mysterious parameters. Just the two of them, alone and under equipped in enemy territory. He finds a room with a locked door, this one without windows, and leaves John there alone while he goes out into the night in nothing but his skin.

John doesn’t sleep. Can’t sleep. And the things he hears while he doesn’t sleep are the same things that have haunted his nightmares for a month.

Terrified screams. Supernatural howls.

He unlocks the door when the colonel returns in the morning.

“What happens out there?” he asks, unable to meet Moran’s eyes.

“You tell me, Captain Watson. I know you’re a clever man.”

John watches him dress. He isn’t sure he’s okay with this, but he isn’t sure he has a choice. He can either be here while it happens, or he can be somewhere else while it happens.

Twice is not a coincidence. He does not want to know if there’s another fortress of dismembered bodies.

But he still has no explanation.

Colonel Sebastian Moran is turning into a wild animal on the full moon and ravaging the countryside.

No. Absolutely not.

No.

 

His feelings toward Sebastian grow conflicted, but they do not diminish.

He still has that initial infatuation toward Sebastian, grounded in the trust he has toward a responsible commanding officer who takes good care of his men, fed by the friendship he feels towards a man who makes him laugh, and framed unshakably by their natural affinity for each other.

They work well on a team together, and he starts to look forward to the time they spend alone, swapping stories and waiting for sunset.

“Tell me the truth,” John asks, when Sebastian stands up and starts to undress. Their nest this month is less secure than in the past. Two windows, and one wall is half gone. The door is rickety, but Sebastian finds a heavy dresser they can use to barricade it.

“No.”

“Why not?” It isn’t an accusatory question. He honestly wants to know. Over the last three months, there has been a growing friendship between them. In private, they call each other by their given names and dispense with rank, at least until the moment that Sebastian will reaffirm his orders and step naked into enemy territory.

“Because you already know. Shall I save us both some time?” Sebastian folds his arms and smirks at him, launching into a rapid-fire recounting of a theoretical conversation. “I’m a werewolf, John. No, you’re not, that’s impossible, there’s no such thing. Then how do you explain the noises that you ask me about every time I return? There must be some explanation, something not that.”

John watches him, mouth dry. His mind rebels at the options he is offered.

“Does that about cover it?” Sebastian asks. “Or is there anything else we need to discuss?”

“No,” John says. “There’s nothing.”

“As always,” Sebastian says, stepping out of his trousers and folding them neatly, “I appreciate you not shooting me.”

“I won’t shoot anything outside of this room,” John says. The orders are very simple. Not much room for misunderstanding.

“Anything inside the room is at your discretion.”

“Do you know—“ John asks, then pauses, struggling to phrase the question. “Are you still you?”

“Well, there’s a philosopher’s question for a werewolf if I ever heard one. What defines me, John? Is it my body, my mind, my personality? In all aforementioned cases, no. I am not still me.”

Stark naked, Sebastian leans against the dresser by the door. The sun is down already, but there are a few minutes yet before moonrise. He can answer some questions.

“Can you tell friend from foe?”

“Depends. If I focus hard enough on a destination for days in advance, I will remember to go there. I’ve never killed an ally, but I’m very careful to put myself in enemy territory over the full moon. I’m putting us both in danger by bringing you along at all. Putting you alone in the middle of a werewolf’s territory? It’s one hell of a risk for us both. Good thing for you and bad for me that you’re an excellent shot with that gun.”

“You aren’t serious.”

“No.” Sebastian smiles and shakes his head, brushing it all off as a joke. “But it’s just such a nice night for a run.”

The easy smile is just so like Sebastian, and the joke is his type of humor, as well. He’s the kind who tells horror stories around the camp at night. This is just one of his horror stories, because John’s spooked himself into a state where he’s ready to believe it.

It’s a joke.

Sebastian, a werewolf. Ha.

John returns the smile, reassured, and pushes the dresser forward to block the door once Sebastian leaves.

It isn’t until halfway into the night, when he’s begun shaking with disbelieving terror at the sounds outside, that he realizes how desperately he wants to believe that Sebastian’s story was only a joke.

 

Sometimes, when they both have a day or two off in a row, Sebastian drags him into town, or off into a peaceful area in the nearby hills, where they can get away from the noise and duty of the base.

“This isn’t safe,” John points out.

Sebastian just grins at him, spreading a blanket out on the ground and sprawling back to watch the stars. “No one around but farmers.”

“You can’t be certain of that.”

“I’m a tactician. And you’re being a worryguts.”

Huffing out a laugh at the term, John relents and drops down on the blanket beside him. “You don’t have the slightest care that we shouldn’t be this far from base and you haven’t told anyone of our location.”

“Nope. But if you’re going to keep whinging, I will leave you at base next time.”

Smiling fondly at the threat, John looks up at the stars. They are crisp and gorgeous out here. Away from the light pollution of cities and Camp Bastion, the milky way is a bright swathe across the sky. He’d never seen it before the war. “You won’t.”

Sebastian doesn’t respond, because they both know John is right. Both of them prefer each other’s easy company over anyone else at base, and Sebastian relies upon him as a second in command. His position as Sebastian’s favorite is secure. And while he’d never admit it, John loves being dragged along on Sebastian’s regulation-flaunting expeditions. Especially the ones that end in stargazing.

They go occasionally into town, as a change of pace, but neither of them care for the entertainments to be found there, nor have much interest in the slim romantic pursuits that so many of the other army men waste their time chasing. They are united in their unusual preference for quiet conversations and risk-filled adventures as a break from the death-defying missions that make up their daily life.

“What’s your type?” Sebastian asks, hands behind his head.

It isn’t a strange question. Sebastian comes up with all manner of truly unexpected queries as topics for conversation, which makes this question positively ordinary.

“You mean the kind of girls I dated before the war?”

“There was no before the war,” Sebastian jokes. It isn’t the first time he’s made this joke. Their shared secret is that they are happier at war than they had ever been in the relative safety of good old England. They aren’t the only ones. Plenty of career officers in the world. But they are the ones who know they are too broken to function in a mundane world or mundane jobs, and they will be here until they find one of the three ways out of the fusiliers.

Once Sebastian joked that they both already knew their fates. Two discharges. One honorable, one dishonorable. And we’ll both be shipped off to England.

Don’t say that, John scolded him.

What? You know I’m right. Only one other way out, and we both know we aren’t going to die here. Not you, and definitely not me. One honorable, one dishonorable. It’s just a matter of time.

“Tall. Clever. Bossy. The sort who drag me into trouble and giggle over it.”

“Always girls?”

There’s a pause before John agrees. “Always girls.”

“Dull.”

“Dull?”

“I’m for variety, me,” Sebastian says. John can hear the grin in his voice, even though it’s too dark to see.

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

Sebastian laughs, and they both fall quiet again.

It’s Sebastian, as usual, who breaks it. “Did you leave anyone behind, when you came here?”

“A sister and a mother, yes.”

“I didn’t mean family.”

“No. My last girlfriend broke up with me shortly before I finished my residency, and I felt like I was fading away in my life in England. So I signed up. Never looked back.”

“You seem like the relationship type.”

John snorted. “You don’t.”

Bursting out, Sebastian laughs loud and fearless into the night. It only takes seconds before John is laughing with him, and then it’s infectious, the two of them giggling helplessly over a joke that wasn’t that funny in the first place.

 

Sebastian’s criteria for his full moon hide-outs are simple: an empty room in enemy territory that John can defend, that the enemy won’t notice and the wolf can’t get into. He picks strategic spots, where he can send the wolf into suspected enemy hold-outs without too many civilian villages nearby. But there usually are civilian villages, and sometimes the screams John hears come from the wrong direction.

John’s not okay with that. He can’t be okay with it, and it haunts him. But he doesn’t know what else to do. Sebastian is his commanding officer, and there are terms like calculated risk and collateral damage that apply to the situation. The only alternative is to turn in his best friend.

If anyone believed him, he doesn’t like to think about Sebastian’s fate. It might be good luck and it might be bad that Sebastian is the only werewolf in the army, but John doesn’t think for a minute that any army would give up the opportunity to have a whole pack of werewolves made from obedient, loyal soldiers, instead of Last Chance Moran.

So he keeps his mouth shut and obeys Sebastian’s very simple orders. Stay here. Keep the door locked. Try not to shoot me. Say nothing.

They have bad luck on the fourth month. The nest Sebastian picked is in far worse shape than his intel led him to believe. There is a door, and it locks, but there is a whole wall missing. It isn’t nearly enough to keep the wolf out, and there’s no hope of finding a replacement in time.

Sebastian roars with frustration, slamming the side of his fist against one of the standing walls, and then sighs and drops his forehead against the wall.

John has only once seen him this angry, when they lost a man to a land mine. Sebastian blamed himself for not spotting it.

Sebastian takes a few deep breaths, working through the situation before he offers John an out. “If you leave now, you’ll be going through enemy territory alone and in daylight. With hardly any fucking cover.”

“Or I stay here, with you,” John says, an unstated question hanging at the end of his words.

“I have no idea how much danger you’re in from me.” Growling, Sebastian slumps back against the wall and slides to the ground. “The only relevant information on it I have at all is that a werewolf can recognize his mate, if mated to a human. I think I can tell friend from foe, but it hasn’t been tested. I might try to rape you. I might try to kill you. You’re going to have to shoot me.”

“What happens if I shoot you?”

“Depends. A shot to the brain will kill me. A bullet anywhere else might just piss me off. I can expel bullets and heal when I shift, but the problem is I can’t control the change on the full moon. If I bleed out before sunrise, I die. And even if I don’t, it’ll probably break my imperative to return here, which means I wake up naked in whatever remote nook the wolf finds safe.”

John sets down his gear and takes a spot nearby. All of their options are bad. “I’ve seen the aftermath you create as a wolf. You should have been shot dozens of times in every single case.”

“You’re asking why I wasn’t? I’m fast and I can stalk. I don’t think they’re expecting me. I’m a good killer as a man. I’m better as a wolf. But you’re an excellent shot, even by moonlight, and I don’t think I’ll want to kill you. If I don’t leave you alone, I think I’m likely to give you a clear shot.”

John opens his mouth to say I’m not going to shoot you, but the words don’t come out. They can’t be sure he won’t, and that’s why Sebastian is telling him this. But he’s at least certain that he won’t shoot to kill.

They sit in painful silence, stewing over their situation.

“Do silver bullets work?” John asks, an hour later.

“Yes,” Sebastian says. He doesn’t look up. “They’re fatal. They’re always fatal. That I know for sure. I was told that silver on the skin will rash, but silver in the blood will kill. Even shifting doesn’t help. Silver’s the cure, you see. It destroys the lycanthropy. Supposedly there’s a legend that if you survive silver poisoning, you’ll be human again, but no one survives. If there’s any chance at all, it’s got to be under five percent.”

Grimacing, John crosses his arms. It doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to die. “Who told you all this?”

Grinning mirthlessly, Sebastian shakes his head. He tells John plenty of secrets. Apparently that isn’t going to be one of them.

The sun sets on their silence, but the moon doesn’t rise for a few hours after that.

“Good luck,” Sebastian murmurs, when he finally stands up and begins to undress.

“You too,” John says, with a frown. “Don’t… die.”

Sebastian laughs, and walks out naked into the night.

This time, John watches. He sees Sebastian climb the crest of a hill, stepping into the first rays of moonlight, and sees him shudder and fall to his knees.

It’s too far away for him to hear whatever snapping of bones and tendons accompanies the change, but it looks painful. His shape warps, growing and shrinking simultaneously as he shifts into something more animal than human. John does hear the agonized yell that Sebastian makes, which turns into a yowl and finally the reverberating, predatory howl he’s heard on previous nights.

Gun at his side, he waits.

After only a few seconds, the wolf turns. His gaze unerringly seeks out John, and he returns back down the hill to approach him.

He isn’t a wolf, not really. John has seen wolves in the zoo, and he knows that human Sebastian is more than twice the size of a full-grown male wolf. As this, Sebastian seems to have only increased in mass, making him an enormous demon hound the size of a small horse.

It approaches unhurriedly, gaze never straying from John.

“Don’t,” he tells it, as it reaches the gap in the wall. Taking a step forward, he moves his gun in front of him, but keeps it pointed at the ground.

The wolf huffs, as if in response, but it stops approaching and begins to circle around the perimeter of the room, watching him the whole time.

It’s beautiful, when it stands in the moonlight. It’s not completely canine in appearance—there’s a little bit of feline in the shape of the skeleton, although the canine predominates—but there’s nothing human remaining. Even his eyes are dark and feral. There’s intelligence in those eyes, more intelligence than he’s seen in any animal, but it’s still inhuman and deadly.

“We talked about this,” John says, voice firm, not turning his back on the creature. “I will shoot you.”

He knows very little about canine body language, but he feels confident that it isn’t stalking him. There isn’t any sign of impending attack. As far as he can tell, it’s just considering him.

“Do you know me?” John asks. There isn’t any kind of response. Whatever’s left of Sebastian inside him isn’t enough to understand human language.

It approaches at a slow angle, head down but eyes intent on him. Gun still at the ready, John stands his ground.

The wolf sniffs at him: first his knee, because its head was down, and then it lifts its nose straight into his groin.

John feels himself blush—an absurdly human reaction. “Hey!” he yelps, taking a step back.

Head tilting very slightly, the wolf stays where it is and eyes him. Huffing again, as if amused, the thing that is not Sebastian turns and walks away.

“Christ,” John swears. He watches it leave. When it’s gone, he feels his knees go out as he drops to the ground and shudders uncontrollably.

 

Sebastian comes back in the morning just before dawn. It’s still this side of the spring equinox, so the moon goes down before the sun goes up. John hasn’t ever gotten the details from him on just how that affects the lycanthropy. This is the first full moon that he’s accepted the situation.

He sees Sebastian walk up and shift, stepping from animal to human with only a few painful staggers in the midst of the transformation. He stops outside the broken wall and looks John up and down. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah.” John shakes off the tension that he’s kept all night, and sits down while Sebastian dresses himself. They’re both sleep deprived, but at least they’re both still alive and unharmed.

Neither one talks on the trip back to base.

 

Their next full moon coincides with a mission.

Sebastian doesn’t think it’s a problem. He plans to do things same as ever: just the two of them in enemy territory, and let the wolf take care of the mission.

John doesn’t like it. They’ll be going into a bad situation underequipped and undermanned, and counting on an uncontrollable factor to get them out.

“We’re the hail mary contingent,” Sebastian teases, dismissing all of John’s concerns. “This is what we do.”

In the end, it’s Sebastian’s call, and John isn’t about to be left behind. They travel by night, as usual. With the moon full, the desert is bright, and they get into trouble quickly. John takes a grazing wound to his arm, and their planned route is blocked, but they manage to find a second-floor room in a bombed-out house that will hide them as long as they don’t stand up.

Sebastian sprawls on the floor, making himself comfortable. “How bad is it?”

“Just bloody.” Taking a deep breath and accepting that they are safe for now, John strips off his shirt. “Help me with this.”

“They got your wanking arm,” Sebastian jokes, expertly cleaning and bandaging the wound for him.

Unable to help a smile, John shakes his head. “You don’t know which is my wanking arm.”

Sebastian smirks at him. “Am I right?”

He’s incorrigible. Something about these situations seems to make Sebastian even more inappropriate. John guesses that danger is a turn on for him. For both of them, really.

“You’re right,” he sighs.

This full moon will be the fifth. John doesn’t think he’ll ever learn to like these expeditions. He knows that some nights Sebastian kills innocents, and there’s nothing he can do about it. The old stories do call it a curse, after all.

All the same, he would rather be here than have someone else come in his place.

“We’ll be trapped once the sun’s up,” John says. “And if they come looking for us…”

“We’ll deal with it. This is not where we die.”

Laughing weakly, John looks over at him. “You sound so sure. Where do we die, Monsieur Moran? Tell me my future.”

“You already know what I see in your future.” Securing the bandages, Sebastian rolls onto his back, gazing up at where the roof should be. “I don’t know what happens to us after we get shipped back to England.”

“I do. At least for you. You move to Yorkshire and haunt the moors like a proper werewolf.”

Sebastian guffaws. Clapping a hand immediately over his mouth, he shakes with silent laughter until tears run from the corners of his eyes. They have to stay quiet, but John can’t help but join in. He always gets the urge to giggle when they’re in horrible situations together.

But after a minute, the joke peters out and it doesn’t seem so funny anymore. There aren’t any enemy targets in England. Sebastian would be killing innocent civilians every full moon.

Shifting restlessly, they watch the sun come up. They can talk in whispers, but neither has anything to say. It feels like it has all been said and all their stories have been told.

“Wanna make out?” Sebastian asks, with an impish grin.

John’s mouth quirks with amusement. “Are you really that bored?”

“I don’t have to be bored to want to make out with you,” Sebastian flirts, holding his gaze. “So tell me, John. Are you that bored?”

Heart thudding, John licks his lips. He’s been nursing a crush on Sebastian since the start, which has deepened into friendship. It isn’t his first crush on a man, but he’s never acted on any of those feelings before. So much easier to act on the ones with girls.

His mind skims over all the ways this is a bad idea, and rejects them. “Sure,” he agrees.

Crawling over on his belly, Sebastian tips his head up and waits until John leans down and kisses him.

He doesn’t expect Sebastian to be a good kisser. On the surface, Sebastian is a jock—brusque, shameless and domineering—and John expects him to kiss accordingly. But they have all day, and Sebastian’s in no hurry. His kiss is slow and lazy, and surprisingly skillful. There is still a predatory edge to it, but that is dampened beneath the playful side of the Sebastian who is John’s best friend.

Growling happily, Sebastian rolls onto his back, pulling John down with him for lingering kisses. They have all day, and as long as the motion detectors they set downstairs don’t go off, they have no reason to worry. Kissing for an hour, Sebastian pushes for nothing more. His fingers stray over the skin of John’s lower back, sneaking up under the shirt, but remain otherwise well-behaved.

When the kiss finally breaks, John moves away to get a drink of water. Sebastian sits up on his elbows and watches him with a smirk. “That’s a good look on you.”

“What is?”

“Rumpled.”

“Thanks. I think.”

“Are we good?”

John looks over, considering, and hands him the water bottle. “Is this going to happen again?”

“Frequently.”

Laughing briefly, John nods. “Yeah. Okay. Good.”

Openly appreciative, Sebastian keeps grinning at him. “You know, since they did injure your wanking arm, I’d be happy to help with that.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you. You mean the wanking arm that you had me putting my weight on for the last hour?”

“That’d be the one, yes.” Sebastian’s grin is irrepressible. “Come back here.”

“And again, being the one of the two of us who isn’t injured, you could come over here,” John gripes good-naturedly as he crawls over.

“Yes, but I’m comfortable.”

When John gets within reach, Sebastian flips him onto his back and kisses him again. There is no lazy patience this time. Sebastian doesn’t hurry, but his hands roam with clear intent. Groping him firmly through his trousers, Sebastian breaks the kiss in order to trail bites down John’s neck.

“Careful,” John gasps, writhing under him. “You’ll leave marks.”

“So?” Sebastian lifts his head to study John’s face. “Half the regiment already thinks we’re fucking. No one cares, and it won’t change anything between us or at base. Why not leave marks?”

“You wear hickeys around base for a few days and I’ll think about it.”

“Deal.”

They spend the day swapping handjobs and blowjobs, with long, lazy kisses in between idle conversation. John thinks it’s the best day he’s ever spent trapped and hidden in enemy territory.

At the end of it, Sebastian strips down. Naked, he watches the sun set. They both know the moon isn’t far behind.

“Does it have anything at all to do with the sun?” John asks. “Or is it all about the moonrise?”

“Both. I can shift at will most of the month, but it’s harder to turn wolf by day and harder to turn human by night. On the full moon, I’m compelled to shift. It can be delayed after moonrise, if you keep me out of direct moonlight, but around the apex I lose all ability to control it, and it’s hell to try. I’m already itching to shift.”

“I’ll be here,” John promises.

Stealing a kiss, Sebastian goes.

 

Alone in the dark, John curls up to wait. He could track his friend—now lover—by sound most nights. There were screams and gunfire from the direction of their enemies.

Too much gunfire, tonight. According to their intel, Sebastian is substantially outnumbered. He doesn’t actually know Sebastian’s capabilities in a fight. He wonders if Sebastian does.

How many men can a werewolf kill before it’s outnumbered?

When the gunfire stops and doesn’t return for an hour, John knows it’s over. From what he knows from other nights, he expects Seb to go hunting afterward, for food or sex. He knows Sebastian has raped local women as a wolf, and the thought makes him sick. It’s only slight consolation that none of Sebastian’s kills have been in any way eaten.

It’s still deep night when the motion detectors downstairs set off the little alarm in John’s pocket.

Getting quickly to his feet, gun at the ready, John stays crouched. He finds himself hoping that it’s his inhuman killer of a best friend, and not enemy troops. If it’s enemy fighters, he can assume Sebastian is dead. But if it’s not, what is Sebastian doing back early?

After a too-long pause, there is a soft scratching at the door—polite, like a pet asking to be let in. John hesitates for only a moment before opening it.

The wolf limps in, bleeding from a rear leg. Exhausted, it curls up on the floor nearby, eyes focused on John.

“Good boy,” John murmurs. He knows the wolf can’t understand him, but maybe the sentiment will get through.

Grabbing what medical supplies he has on hand, he kneels by the wolf and reaches for its leg. Expecting to be snapped at by a defensive wild animal, he is surprised at the complete docility.

He’s never seen Sebastian injured, but he’s heard from the men that either Sebastian doesn’t feel pain or he hides it expertly. There are multiple stories that Sebastian has walked himself into the med tent with serious injuries that no one noticed, because he’d been behaving like he didn’t have a care in the world.

It seems more likely that Sebastian just hides it well, but it’s surprising that trait carries over into his wolf form.

“You’re seriously just going to sit there without a sound while I patch you up? House pets aren’t as well-behaved as you.” Getting to work cleaning up the wound, John sighs. He hopes Sebastian is right about his ability to heal when he shifts. It was a fairly serious injury, and he’s lost a lot of blood. “Is it because you’re smart enough to know I’m a doctor, or just because you trust me?”

Sebastian just watches him. It’s unnerving.

“Some of both, then,” John concludes, carrying on both sides of the conversation. When he finishes, he moves away to pack his supplies, and the wolf whines. It repeats the whine every minute until John comes back over and sits down by his side. Gentle as a dog, the monster puts its head in Johns lap and dozes.

Grateful that one of them at least can get some rest, John pets his head and waits.

At dawn, the wolf growls, tugging at the bandages with its teeth.

“Hey, stop that.” John pushes its head away. This time it growls and snaps at him, threatening only, but settles when it sees he’s going to remove the bandages.

As soon as he’s freed, Sebastian shifts. In the light, at close range, John could see the incredible pain on Sebastian’s face, and wonders how much agony it takes to make Sebastian wince like that.

On the other side of transformation, Sebastian looks around, surprised to be back inside. “You let me in.”

“You were injured.”

“Did I have my head on your lap?” Sebastian smirks a little at that, giving him a doglike head-tilt.

John scowls at his smirk. “You’re healed now. Let’s go.”

Sebastian dresses, but he doesn’t drop the topic. “You shouldn’t have let me in.”

“You were bleeding.”

“I could have hurt you.”

“You were the most well-behaved patient I’ve ever had.”

Growling, Sebastian shoves him up against a wall. It’s the first time in their friendship that he’s used physical intimidation against John. “The wolf thinks you’re his mate, John. Don’t encourage him.”

Returning the scowl as good as he gets, John stands his ground. “What do you call spending the day making out and getting off, if not encouraging that idea?”

Sebastian shoves away from him. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Let’s just go.”

 

“Sex?”

Startled out of reading The Prisoner of Zenda mid-sentence, John blinks. “Sorry, what?”

They’ve been back for three days, and Sebastian hadn’t said a word about what had happened, so John just let it be. There are a lot of things that you don’t talk about, in the army. When Sebastian hadn’t said or done anything in three days, John assumed that it wasn’t going to happen while they were at base.

Rolling up his maps, Sebastian shoots him a wry grin. “What, you didn’t hear me?”

“I heard sex.”

Sebastian laughs. “Did you now? Someone’s mind is in the gutter.”

“What? Oh. What did you say?”

“I said sex.”

Fondly exasperated, John sets down his book. “In that case yes, please. You know perfectly well I haven’t anywhere better to be. You know my schedule better than I do.”

“Of course I do.” Sauntering over, Sebastian leans over the chair and places his hands on the arms, trapping John in the chair. John notices instantly that he’s throwing his weight around again. Trapping him in the chair is the same sort of primal display of superior height and strength that he was showing a few days ago, while they were making out. When it had stopped the next day, John assumed it was just a mood he was in. Now he knows it’s linked to sex. Apparently when Sebastian’s aroused, he becomes more of a neanderthal.

That’s not a problem for John. Sebastian’s always pushy and dominant, and John doesn’t mind following his lead. If there’s an issue, he stands his ground with good old Watson stubbornness until they resolve it.

“Bedroom,” Sebastian purrs, nipping possessively at John’s lips in what isn’t quite a kiss.

“Yes.” John pushes at his, but it’s like pushing a brick wall, and Sebastian stubbornly pushes back. Asserting physical dominance. Again. Well, that’s going to get annoying fast.

“Sebastian,” John snaps, dropping into his Captain Watson tone.

Surprised, Sebastian cocks an eyebrow at him.

“I am not submissive,” John states, enunciating clearly. “Back. Off.”

Sebastian’s head tilts, re-assessing the situation. John is put in mind of a badger facing down a tiger, as the tiger tries to decide whether or not the fight is worth it. The tiger would win, no question, but not before the badger made him damn well regret it.

After a moment, he nods. He backs off, and offers John a hand up.

“Fair,” Sebastian says, clasping John’s hand for a moment when he pulls him back up. Just like that, they’re back to near-equals. Colonel Moran may be his commanding officer, but Captain Watson has rank of his own, and he’s letting no one forget that.

“I still say bedroom,” Sebastian adds.

“Yes, that’s the plan.” John grins at him, and makes his way to the bedroom.

They normally stand a little closer inside one another’s comfort zones than most people, but now the comfort zones are gone. Sebastian crowds him on the way to the bedroom, and pushes him up against a wall to kiss him once they’re inside. He’s still aggressive and dominant, but there’s a much improved leash of respect on his behavior.

Sex is not going to change the relationship between them. John thought that they’d already established that. He wonders briefly if the wolf’s ideas of mating had anything to do with Sebastian’s sudden forgetfulness of their power dynamic. He’s never thought to ask about how much of the wolf crosses over into Sebastian’s daily life.

“Can I fuck you?” Sebastian asks, nuzzling affectionately at John’s shoulder. He might almost be sniffing at him.

“I’ve never…” John starts, not sure how to finish that sentence. Now he realizes he probably should have spent the last three days sorting out his feelings about gay sex, instead of assuming it wasn’t going to happen.

Sebastian waits. He’s not wheedling or bargaining for it. It’s just an offer. If John says no, he knows the topic will be dropped and won’t come up again.

“Do I get to fuck you?” John counters, wanting to know how this fits into their dynamic.

“No.”

The flat refusal is a shock. Sebastian’s always very strict with his policy that he won’t ask his men to do anything that he won’t do himself, and he’s always putting himself in the position of most danger. For him to not even think about it is baffling.

John pulls himself to his full height, ready to stand his ground for the second time in as many minutes. “Why not?”

“Do you remember what I told you about my political views?”

“Yes. Might begets right.”

“So, no one fucks me.”

John’s mind strains to catch up with the connotations of that. “So I don’t have the right to fuck you because I wouldn’t be able to force you, if I tried, but you would?”

“Yes.” Sebastian states it like it’s a simple, uncomplicated fact, and should be obvious.

John peers at him. “Have any of your partners ever told you that you have a messed up bedroom paradigm?”

Sebastian shifts back a step, some of his friendly warmth draining away. “Most of my sexual partners don’t offer opinions on the topic.”

“What, because—“

“Do you know how many counts of accused or suspected rape I have in my file, John?”

John falls silent, staring at him. He’s not shocked. He knows that there are huge gaps in Sebastian’s morals. In so many ways he’s a decent friend and a charismatic leader. Some days John forgets that he’s also a borderline psychopath.

“And that of course doesn’t count full moons,” Sebastian continues, with a cruel smirk. “I’ll tell you this, John: they’re not very good at counting.

“We’re done here.” John pushes him away, and leaves.

 

Nothing changes between them.

Sebastian doesn’t proposition him again, and everything goes back to the way it was. When the next full moon comes around, Sebastian offers to take someone else, but John declines.

They don’t discuss it further, until they’re holed up in their hideout for the month. The walls are solid this time. Not even a window to let in air.

“What does it mean for the werewolf,” John asks, breaking the heavy silence between them, “to mate?”

Expression mixed, Sebastian looks over at him. “You don’t want to know.”

“I think I have a right to know,” John argues. Sebastian’s previous mentions of a werewolf’s mating habits have been rare, but more than once he’s hinted that John is at risk to be mated. Whatever that means.

Taking a deep breath and scowling, Sebastian hesitates for a minute before answering.

“I don’t know much,” he confesses, finally. “I know that a werewolf can recognize his mate on the full moon, and that his behavior can be gentled and even controlled by his mate.

“Werewolves are violently primal, especially on the full moon. The drive to hunt and fuck is overwhelming. Wolves don’t commonly murder either humans or their own kind, but werewolves will do both. You’ve seen the kind of death toll I rack up. It could be worse because it’s me, and I kill and rape for fun as a human. Bad luck for everyone involved that I got the bite.

“The men who turned me…” Sebastian pauses, glancing over. “I’ve never told anyone this. I don’t think I have to clarify how deep of a secret this is for me.”

He shifts, sitting forward and hugging one knee up to his chest. It’s the most emotionally defensive posture John’s ever seen on him, and that makes it unnerving. “I was captured by a terrorist cell. I was supposed to be tracking them down. Eight months they had me. Most of this is in my file. I’m pretty sure what it says in my file is that the terrorists all of a sudden started having uncanny luck with their targets. Their deadliness and efficiency tripled.

“And then I escaped and came back to the fusiliers. I brought with me enough information to hand them that terrorist cell on a silver platter, along with substantial information on many others. My file does not outright state that I was suspected of colluding with the enemy during my capture, which is mostly due to the fact that the information I brought back was valuable enough that they were willing to overlook their suspicions, even if they’d had proof.”

John frowns at that. He doesn’t think that Sebastian is above treason, and it’s telling that Sebastian doesn’t make a claim for innocence. “They were werewolves?”

“Some of them. Like I said, werewolves will kill their own kind. They have to be kept apart on the full moon. But these men, they had old lore on werewolves, and they controlled them. The wolves were never ranking members of the unit. They were just controlled. Pointed at their enemies and sent to kill.”

“How do you keep something like that a secret? How do our superiors not know about werewolves?”

“Several reasons. I think more of the attacks were against the Americans, and I don’t think the Americans want to share that information. I also think it’s classified several levels higher than you’d expect. Wouldn’t want to start a panic. And there really are very few of the wolves, either. These men knew that the more there were, the harder they’d be to control.

“I shouldn’t have been bitten, but one of them… he was more of a fanatic than the others. Twisted, too. More twisted than me. I think he thought it’d be funny, to turn me wolf and then send me out to slaughter my own people. Bad luck for him that I hated him far more than I hated the English.”

John feels nauseated. “That’s how you escaped.”

“That’s how I escaped. At any rate, I learned from them that there are three ways to deal with a wolf on the full moon. You can point him at something, and send him to kill. As you’ve seen, that works pretty reliably, but is also very messy. You can lock him up in the most solid cell you can find and pray to whatever gods you like that he doesn’t bust out. Or you can give him a mate.”

“A mate. Meaning… how?”

“If a werewolf has something to fuck on the full moon—willing or not—he’ll stay put and fuck it. Sex is more important than the urge to hunt or kill. If it’s not willing, chances are higher that he’ll kill it, intentionally or no.”

“And by ‘something’, you mean…”

“I mean humans,” Sebastian clarifies. “Werewolves fuck humans.”

“Right.”

“I don’t know anything about female werewolves. I know that male werewolves will try kill each other, though I don’t know if that’s universally true. As far as I know, werewolves are attracted to humans, and they don’t give a damn as to whether or not they’re willing.”

“So that’s all a mate is? A fucktoy?”

“No.” Sebastian frowns. “I’m not sure. At the least, a mate is a semi-willing partner kept for more than one month. Typical practice that I’ve seen was to kidnap a victim and chain them up for the wolf. Naked and lubed up. Male or female didn’t seem to matter. If the captive survived for long enough that they stopped trying to run away, they were called a mate. I do know that mates were a lot less, uh, damaged in the morning. I don’t know if the wolves are more careful because they’re fond of their mate, or … I don’t know. I’ve never had one.”

“Right.” John swallows, hugging himself. “And we have no way of finding a solid cell for you without tipping someone off about what you are. But if you had a mate, you wouldn’t go out slaughtering innocents.”

Sebastian’s head swivels sharply toward him. “It’s not an option.”

“People are dying because of you, Sebastian. If we could stop that…”

No. I will not put one of my men in danger to protect the enemy. I could rape you to death. That is not a risk we are going to take.”

John falls silent. His conscience aches.

 

Their seventh full moon together is the one that John thinks of as the massacre.

They argue over the plans a full week in advance. Sebastian insists that the spot he’s chosen is worth the risk.

But this isn’t out in the middle of nowhere like most of their expeditions, where there aren’t many people except their enemy targets and the occasional tiny village. This is next to a sizable town, and there will be far, far more civilians around than combatants. It’s too much of a danger, and John hates it.

Sebastian won’t change his mind, and it comes down to John’s choice of going with him or letting someone else go in his place, same as ever.

Things are tense between them once they’ve settled into their nook. John wants to break the silence. He wants things to go back to normal between them, but he doesn’t know when that was, or what kind of normal he’s looking for. He wants a haven for them, somewhere green and lush where the world can leave them alone, and all the tension between them will melt away. He wants the war to never end, so that they can go on forever like this, in a place where they belong and have purpose, like they never did back home. He wants Sebastian not to be Sebastian. He wants to live in a world with happy endings.

But he already knows how this is going to end. Sebastian’s prediction haunts him. Two discharges. One honorable, one dishonorable. It’s only a question of when.

“Don’t go, tonight,” John says.

Sebastian’s whittling away at a lump of wood he found. It isn’t yet clear what he’s carving it into, but he has all day. He’s happy to take his time. He looks over at John with a skeptical expression, but makes no comment.

“People are going to die, Sebastian.”

“You didn’t have to come.”

They fall silent again, heavy and regretful.

“Things changed, between us,” John says. “I thought they hadn’t, but they have.”

“You rejected me.”

“And if I hadn’t, you would have mated me, and you rejected that.”

“Sucks.” Sebastian clearly doesn’t share John’s desire to discuss nostalgic hypotheticals.

“All month, everything’s fine between us. Or at least good enough.”

“And?”

“And I don’t want to sit here in uncomfortable silence, Sebastian! You’re my best friend.”

Sebastian doesn’t look up from his carving.

“Not here,” John persists. “Not these days. Not when it’s just the two of us.”

“I don’t know what we’re supposed to do,” Sebastian comments. “I want you, and you want me to not be a psychopath or a werewolf.”

“I want to forget all that. Just for today. Just for these days, when it’s just the two of us and our rambling conversations and lazy make-out sessions.”

Sebastian grins a little and glances over. “We only did that the once.”

John manages a smile back at him, feeling momentarily hopeful. “We could make it twice.”

Setting aside his carving, Sebastian nods. “Come here.”

 

“Stay,” John says.

The moon’s already up, and Sebastian’s itching. They watch the sun set through the window, standing side by side and trying not to think of the coming night as impending.

“Can’t.”

“Twice now the wolf hasn’t hurt me. You won’t hurt me, Sebastian. You don’t have to do this. Stay.”

“Can’t,” Sebastian repeats. He sheds his clothing efficiently, and then returns to the window, as shameless as ever in his magnificent nudity.

“Sebastian.”

Sebastian ignores him.

Sebastian.”

Sebastian’s gaze snaps over to him, attitude changing completely from his lazy camaraderie into sharp anger. “Stand down, Captain Watson.”

Posture straightening, John tightens his mouth and stares straight out the window. If he objects again, it’s insubordination.

Two things keep him in place there as Sebastian opens the door and steps through it. The first is his military obedience. The second is the knowledge that if he tries to block Sebastian’s path, Sebastian will toss him out of the way and go anyway.

His tense obedience lasts for mere seconds after Sebastian’s gone.

Restless and angry, John paces. Gun out and in his hand, he listens. Sebastian prepares for every full moon by focusing at length on his intended targets. And every single full moon he’s hit the target in question, no problem. Except that afterward he goes looking for civilians.

If he runs into the civilians first, will the wolf really have the self-control to carry out his mission?

John hears a woman scream.

It’s close. Just around the corner. He’s gotten good at picking out different kinds of screams by now. He knows what werewolf attack sounds like. And he knows that Sebastian’s going to rape her.

He’s out the door and down the stairs before he realizes what he’s doing. But there isn’t any choice. He can’t stay put, not when he’s close enough to prevent this. There’s no way he’s just going to stay put and let Sebastian do this.

It takes only seconds to find Sebastian.

His victim is screaming, her clothes in tatters and her skin rent in several places from the wolf’s claws as he tries to push her into a position he can mount.

John levels his gun at Sebastian. A shot to the brain will kill. He hopes that won’t be necessary. “Stop.”

Intrigued, the wolf drops her. She escapes, weeping and screaming, and the wolf takes a few curious steps toward John. His teeth are bared, aggressive. John isn’t sure, in this situation, whether Sebastian even recognizes him

“Stay,” John tells him, but it lacks the absolute conviction of his previous order. The woman is gone now, the rape prevented. So now John is back to his original problem, of trying to stop the wolf while knowing that he won’t shoot Sebastian.

The wolf knows it, too. He walks straight up to John and snarls in his face. John stands his ground, but his gun is down. He knows the wolf recognizes him. He’d be dead already if it hadn’t.

There’s a moment of taut silence as they stare each other down, establishing dominance the way they always do. But their lines of power always fall slightly in Sebastian’s favor, and the wolf can’t pull rank. Not now.

Growling, it smacks him. The strike is more reprimanding than anything, and those huge claws are sheathed. He can only guess that it’s the wolf’s version of a punch, and the power behind it knocks John solidly off his feet. Falling sideways, he only barely catches himself before the wolf smacks him again. It bats him around like he’s a naughty puppy. Catching himself on all fours, John goes to push himself up when he feels the wolf’s teeth close around the back of his neck. It’s a very gentle hold, careful not to break the skin, but the threat is painfully clear. Sebastian could sever his spine without a thought.

John can hold his own when he’s facing Sebastian. When he’s facing down the werewolf, the lines of dominance between them are entirely different, and John doesn’t stand a chance.

Going limp as a gesture of submission, John fights down the panic bubbling up in his gut. The wolf releases his neck, and secures its teeth in his shoulder, instead. Its hold remains loose and gentle, but threatening, and John stays still. If it bites him, there will be two werewolves in the fusiliers. No part of that is good.

He feels it mount him, and shudders. It’s small comfort that he’s still fully dressed and fairly confident that it’s a physical impossibility for Sebastian to rape him like this. The wolf is even larger than Sebastian, and John is in no way prepared to take him. It wouldn’t work. But it’s still plenty humiliating to feel the wolf rut against his clothed arse.

The wolf gives him a few rough thrusts, and then stops. John feels like he’s being taught a lesson. When the teeth tighten on his shoulder, he knows he is.

And then the wolf bites down, and he yells. Massive teeth cut through his flesh, into muscle, and then pull away.

John braces himself on his good arm, shuddering, as the wolf walks away from him. He’s bleeding profusely, arm wet with his own blood and the wolf’s saliva, and he knows that this is punishment. Punishment for disobeying Sebastian, for getting in his way. For rejecting him, and for not being his mate.

He’s pushed himself up on one knee when the screaming starts.

John looks for his gun, but it’s gone. He knows exactly where it fell, and it isn’t there. A chill of suspicion goes through him that the wolf took it.

Another scream.

John staggers and wavers, torn between trying to interfere—again—and trying to get back to their safe nest and the supplies he left there.

The wolf returns, dragging a body in its mouth. It drops the corpse in the street in front of John, and then walks away again. He understands immediately.

Those eyes, so terribly intelligent. It was always intelligent, and it’s the most dangerous creature in the world, built around the most dangerous man John has ever met. The werewolf is an inhuman beast with the soul of an amoral killer.

And it’s going to massacre the entire town in order to teach him a lesson.

 

John loses consciousness after the fifth body laid at his feet.

When he wakes up, it’s morning, and Sebastian is bandaging his shoulder and forcing water down his throat. John swallows, barely, and the world goes black again.

 

He wakes up again in a hospital.

Doctors and nurses fuss over him, but none of them have the answers he needs. When he asks, he’s told that he’s not allowed to see anyone from his regiment. No one answers questions about Sebastian. There’s a lock on the door to his room and a guard standing by it at night.

When he can stand, he’s taken to an empty gray room with a table and two chairs, and he sits there for some time before being joined by a man he doesn’t recognize.

“Captain John Watson of the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers.”

“Sir.”

“Report.”

John doesn’t know what to report. He’s been in and out of consciousness for days. “We were on a routine mission, sir. I don’t remember what happened.”

“Tell me the last thing you do remember.”

“We were waiting for nightfall before we could move. Where’s Colonel Moran?”

“Do you remember being bitten by a wild animal, Captain Watson?”

I remember my best friend massacring an entire town to teach me a lesson.

“No, sir. I don’t remember anything.”

 

It takes him several days to get enough of the story to know what’s going on. Sebastian called in reinforcements in the morning, but refused to explain anything.

Their superiors have an extremely suspicious massacred town of civilians, a severely injured John and absolutely no way of explaining what happened. He doesn’t get to see Sebastian, but he learns that Sebastian won’t answer any questions. John claims ignorance—which is mostly true—or refuses to answer.

His shoulder heals slowly, and it burns. The doctors worry about infection and fatality, but it heals. John counts the days until full moon.

The fusiliers get word to him that Sebastian’s been sent home. A dishonorable discharge. No one knows what happened, but everyone blames Sebastian. They’re right, but John doesn’t like the idea of Sebastian loose on the English countryside.

When he’s released from the hospital, he has a stiff shoulder and a limp, and he’s unfit for duty. John looks at the words on the paper they give him. All of them blur and swim together, except for the line at the top.

Captain John Watson. Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers. Honorable discharge.