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His mom wasn't particularly happy about his showing up at the hospital and begging free rein to roam the roads of northern California for two weeks, but she relented. Maybe she saw something in his eyes, some need that bordered on desperation. Maybe seventeen didn't mean the same thing anymore when you'd gone through the things he had. What was a little unsupervised road trip compared to battling homicidal reptiles and death dealing Alpha's?
She believed in him. And she said as much, looking him in the eye with that level, trusting mom gaze that implied that if he did something stupid and broke that faith he'd feel the guilt of her disappointment for ages to come. He wasn't sure if she did it on purpose, or if it was some instinctual mom tactic to guilt kids into good behavior. It had always worked really well on him.
Stiles, who'd been hovering a few paces behind, ready and willing to provide back up pleading if she'd been reluctant to agree, grinned and gave him a thumbs up. The Jeep was already packed. It had been packed before Scott had changed his mind and gone to Stile's house. Stiles had just shrugged, as if it had been a foregone conclusion that Scott would eventually come around to his way of thinking. Which, nine times out of ten, usually happened.
It got them on the road before 6 and well on their way up Interstate 5. Stiles, who'd been ready to leave in the morning, didn't give Scott more than an initial curious cant of the brow when he'd suggested getting on the road that evening instead. That silent acceptance wouldn't last though. It wasn't in Stiles' nature to let curiosities go unanswered.
An hour down the road, Stiles hit him with the question. "So what happened?"
"What makes you think something happened?"
Stiles gave him a dubious look.
"I just thought, if we were going to do this - - you know, we ought to make the best time possible."
"It's not a race, dude."
Scott snorted and slouched deeper in the seat. "You know what I mean."
"No. I really don't. Tell me it doesn't have anything to do with Allison."
Scott cast Stiles an offended look and Stiles widened his eyes and jabbed a finger at him.
"Oh my God, it does."
"Watch the road."
The chances of avoiding telling Stiles were pretty slim in the long run, especially when he had two whole weeks to work on breaking Scott's resistance. Easier to just get it over with.
"Nothing, really - - just I saw them kissing outside school." He propped a foot on the dash and stared at the lights in the side view mirror.
"What kind of kissing? Like friends exchanging a little peck, or like just a little lip nibbling, or were like they trying to swallow each others tongues?"
Details. Stiles was always about the details. Scott shut his eyes and wished he didn't recall it quite so vividly. "God. Really, Stiles? It was pretty serious, okay. There were probably tongues."
He muttered that last bit and banged his head a few times against the headrest.
"That dick," Stiles groused, and Scott cracked an eye to look at him. "I mean what the hell? That's like guy rule number one, right? Don't hit on your friend's ex. Unless you ask permission. God, he didn't ask you if he could date Allison did he and you say something like 'sure'? Because I can totally see you doing that and then regretting it and moping about it forever."
"No. And no." But then - - maybe there had been some sort of hinting around a while back. Isaac sort of casually mentioning something about Allison and a movie playing downtown and Scott had been sort of distracted at the time - - he couldn't recall with what - - and wondering why Isaac was even bothering to ask. It had been a movie - - who asked for permission to go enjoy a movie with a friend, right? And Isaac had sort of stood there, shuffling his feet, looking nervous for no reason.
So it's cool, then?
Why wouldn't it be?
Right. Now that he thought about it - - he was an idiot.
"Then he's an asshat and it's not cool." Stiles was going on with a vehemence that made Scott feel marginally better. "You should kick his ass."
"I'm not kicking his ass."
"Yeah, I know you're not. Damn Scott. I'm sorry, dude."
"Can we not talk about it? Please?"
But Stiles couldn't not talk about a thing that had his ire up. Which wasn't entirely a terrible thing, since he was staunchly, irrevocably in Scott's corner and had no problem bashing lesser friends to back him up regardless of reason or fairness. Even so, by the time they stopped for the night at a state run park fifteen miles off I-5, Scott was willing to break into the bottle of Jack Daniels Stiles had filched from his dad's liquor cabinet.
As it turned out, with enough consumption of straight alcohol, werewolves could get wasted after all. He just hadn't tried hard enough the last time Stiles had tried to get him to drown his sorrows in the arms of cheap booze.
So with the pup tent up and a late dinner of hotdogs charred over a fire consumed, they sat in the darkness and commiserated over the cruel hand of fate and the thoughtless nature of women. Well, Stiles commiserated, having no head whatsoever for alcohol and the tendency to get chattier than usual when he consumed it.
Three or four shots and Stiles was riding a Jack high. It took half a bottle for Scott's enhanced metabolism to realize it was supposed to ease off a little and let the whiskey actually do its job.
"Who needs 'em," Stiles was going on, slumped against a log in front of the fire. "What's so great about having a girlfriend anyways, right, if they're just gonna stab you in the back?"
"The sex. The sex is really good." Scott had the bottle between his knees. He was feeling the weird juxtaposition of a head that felt half its normal weight and a body that seemed two times heavier. A dozen tactile memories of Allison's skin - -her mouth - - her hands - - flitted across his mind. She had really clever hands - - really creative hands. There was a little growing stiffness in his jeans just thinking about it. He groaned and took another swig of Jack.
"Sex," Stiles sighed wistfully. "I've heard about that. It's supposed to be awesome right?"
Scott canted a look at him, thinking there was the hint of something to be wary of in Stiles' tone, but the booze slowing him down enough that he wasn't sure.
"Umm - -yeah?"
"So rub it in," Stiles held out a hand for the bottle and Scott handed it over. "I'm gonna die unlaid. I feel it."
"No you're not." Scott felt offence on Stiles' behalf. "You're not gonna die - -"
"We all die. Rot in the ground. Worm food."
"Oh, God," He wasn't entirely sure how Stiles had gotten from sex to rotting corpses.
"If I died, I wonder if Lydia would suddenly realize she'd been missing out on all this?" Stiles waved the hand with the bottle, indicating his sprawled form.
"You're not dying. Stop talking about it."
They sat there, watching the wood in the fire slowly deteriorate into charred ash. Stiles drifted off, and Scott saved the bottle from tipping over by taking it from his limp fingers.
"What?" Stiles jerked back to semi-awareness at the save, blinking at the fire, then at Scott.
"Sleep?" Scott suggested, jerking his head towards the tent.
"Sure. Why not?" He got a wavery grin. "Tomorrow though - - tomorrow we're gonna pass by the biggest ant hill in California - -I'm hyped."
They hadn't quite made it into their sleeping bags before mutually passing out. Scott woke up sprawled in a tangle of polyfiber and camping gear and Stiles inside the tent, but he felt better. Lighter than he had the day before when it had seemed as if his world was crashing down upon him.
He didn't even have a hangover. Byproduct of a werewolf metabolism. Stiles was not so fortunate. He woke cranky and red eyed and complaining of a brain that wanted to explode out the back of his skull. He stumbled around camp, trying not to barf, while Scott did most of the work packing up, then slumped in the passenger seat with his jacket over his face, shutting out the daylight, while Scott drove.
It was a roadside diner/truck stop for breakfast. Stiles hunched over his coffee and stared balefully at Scott while he consumed a healthy platter of greasy diner breakfast fare.
"I hate you. And I mean that. Deep down, hate your guts."
Scott finished off a strip of bacon and grinned. Stiles glanced at his plate, turned a little green then looked away.
"You were the one that brought the booze."
"Yeah, and I expected it to last the whole trip. You're the one that went on a binge. You and your stupid werewolf metabolism."
Scott glanced up at the waitress who was in the process of trying to top off Stile's half consumed cup of coffee. She lifted a world-weary brow, probably having heard things a lot stranger than mentions of underage drinking and werewolf metabolisms.
He smiled at her anyway, his best apologetic one and tossed Stiles a 'yeah, he's a little weird, but what can I do?' look, then asked politely for the check.
It was a good day for driving. The weather was crisp, but it was warm for December this far north in the interior of the state. No rain, no snow yet, but once they reached higher elevations that might change. Which was okay with Scott. He liked the snow and the idea of spending a few days roughing it out in one of the state parks that riddled the vast unpopulated land surrounding the meandering I-5 was appealing. It had been a long time - - too long - - since he and Stiles had taken a weekend camping trip. They'd used to all the time, before he'd had a normal life ripped away from him.
By mid-afternoon, the hangover Stiles had been sporting had started to dissipate and he began to regain his interest in the world at large. There wasn't a lot to see in the stretch of highway between small towns. The giant ant farm proved not all that impressive, though Stiles took at least a dozen pictures of it to commemorate the experience. There was a lot of featureless landscape, a lot of brown, brown and more brown between splotches of green, but by the end of the day, they could see the land rising, cresting into the green mistiness of foothills.
It was raining by nightfall, the sky so overcast that the light of the full moon was weak and elusive. Scott still felt it. No matter how much control he had over the primal urges the lure of the moon drew to the surface, he never failed to feel it. A different sort of high than the one too much alcohol brought on. More like mainlining caffeine. A constant surge of adrenalin that heightened everything. It made everything brighter, sharper, more real. Pain, lust, jealousy, everything intensified. Everything except self-control. That tended to slip through the cracks with alarming ease if he let his mind wonder.
Derek had told him once, 'don't go into a full moon with a grudge. Take care of it before or deal with the consequences. Even old wolves, with a lifetime of experience occasionally give in to emotion when they're high on moonlight.'
Good advice, when after all day not thinking about Allison and by extension Isaac, it came back to hit him now. It hardly mattered that the reasonable part of his brain was in the back telling him to get over it - - that she wasn't his to get jealous over anymore - - because the wolf part was surging front and center, drawing back its gums with a proprietary snarl. The fact that he was two days drive from Beacon Hills was the very best thing for everyone concerned.
"You hungry?" Stiles broke him out of his dark reverie. There were the lights of a diner ahead, the first sign of life in twenty miles. It was an isolated little collection of buildings that consisted of a few ancient gas pumps, what looked like a closed antique store and a diner or bar. There were a few big rigs parked in the gravel field next to the pumps, a few pick-ups and old cars and about a dozen motorcycles in front of the bar.
"Is this like - - a biker bar?" Stiles peered through the windshield warily.
"I dunno. It says restaurant in the window."
"Yeah, but look at all the motorcycles. I've seen Son's of Anarchy - - these places can get rough."
Scott lifted a dubious brow. "Dude, this is not a biker gang hangout. And we need gas. And I am hungry."
"I'm just letting you know, I've got a bad feeling. Look," Stiles extended his forearm. "Goose pimples."
"It's cold. C'mon."
He hopped out of the Jeep and walked through the drizzle to the plank boardwalk fronting the pair of weathered storefronts. There was music playing inside, something older than both of them combined likely. A bell jingled in their wake when they walked inside, and a lot of eyes turned their way. A long bar, a few pool tables, a row of old wooden booths along a wall and several high tables scattered around the floor. The place smelled of beer and cigarette smoke and human sweat, with the undertones of fried food wafting in from the back. It was sort of like a bar out of a movie. But the people in it didn't look particularly menacing, just curious of strangers come in from a rainy evening. Most of them, the ones that looked more like they'd be caught riding the very envious collection of Harley's outside instead of driving tractor trailers were gathered around the set of pool tables.
There was an empty booth and Scott and Stiles scooted into it.
"Do you see a health department certificate anywhere? I don't see one. And this place sort of strikes me as an attack of salmonella waiting to happen. Or worse." Stiles picked up a grease stained, yellowed menu by two fingers, grimacing.
"Get something deep fried, then. It'll kill the bacteria."
A waitress sauntered up. Low cut tank top and tight jeans and too much makeup trying to cover up the lines on her face. She'd probably been gorgeous when she was younger and a little less worn. She still smelled like sex. It clung to her like some sort of primal perfume, like maybe she'd just come from having some in the back room.
Scott blew out a breath. Fucking full moon. Get a grip.
"So what's good here?" Stiles was asking, looking like he wasn't holding out much hope on a satisfactory answer.
She put a palm on the table and leaned down, giving Stiles a good solid view of her not inconsiderable cleavage. "Sweetie, everything's good here. You writing a review?"
"Uh - -" Stiles was floundering, eyes locked on her breasts. "Umm - - something deep fried?"
"Chicken fingers it is. How 'bout you, honey?"
"A burger. Rare."
She smiled at him. Then eyed him a little closer, her look turning speculative, sensing that something dangerous in him that the full moon brought out. She smiled again, a bit more inviting. He smiled back, half considering showing just a trace of fang. He was that on edge and it had been a very long time since he'd felt the moon so strongly. She shrugged and headed off to place their order.
Stiles was staring at him, eyes gone just a little narrow. "Oh my God, you're riding a full moon high, aren't you?"
Scott rolled his eyes, then considered it and shrugged. "Yeah, maybe. It's - - really strong this time."
"Yeah, well stop flirting with the biker bar waitress. Don't you watch TV? She's probably got a boyfriend or a husband over there that's gonna take offense and the last thing I need is my dad finding out I got caught up in some biker bar brawl."
"It would be sort of unfair odds."
"Yeah, they outnumber us like a lot."
"I meant for them."
"Dude," Stiles leaned forward and hissed, not amused in the least. "Don't make me take you outside."
Scott blew out a breath. Anything he did tonight, under the influence of the moon, he'd probably regret tomorrow when it wore off. So he pushed back the niggling agitation that was fueling the beast and found his center. Allison had been the initial anchor that had saved him from giving in to the wolf inside, but she'd only been the gateway to an inner wellspring of control. She'd been the trigger that had awakened him to the awareness that there was a core in him that was stronger than he might have imagined.
By the time the waitress brought them their Cokes, he had it under control. The burger wasn't half bad. Stiles complained about a suspicious fried object in with his fries. He did strike up a conversation with the waitress though, when she came to collect the bill, asking about a decent place to camp out for the night.
"There's a nice place about ten miles off I-5 down 16 where a lot of hikers camp. Called Geyser Springs. Lot of pretty trails. Can't miss it."
Which put them back on the road in the dark and the rain. If there had been a motel to be had, they probably would have splurged and gotten a room for the night. The waitress was right, once they turned off onto rural route 16, the cut off to Geyser Springs was hard to miss. There was a big weathered sign, proclaiming hiking, camping, fishing and swimming. The road leading past it was narrow and tree lined, winding through dark forested wilderness like a snake. Maybe three miles in there was an unmanned booth. They obviously worked via the honor system in the nighttime hours, because there was a lockbox with a slot in it and a sign proclaiming campsite fees of twenty bucks.
Scott dug a ten out of his pocket and handed it to Stiles, who added it to one of his own and stuffed them both into the box. Then it was more twisty road, which eventually turned into gravel instead of pavement, passing a lot of forks with wooden signs proclaiming this trail or that, or this way to the springs and that way to the lake. They took the lake fork and finally came to a large body of dark water.
They chose a spot and put up the tent, stuffed their gear inside and mist or no, walked down to take in the lake. There was a clearing with a little strip of sandy beach and a pier and trail leading into the trees that seemed to circle the lake. It was quiet, save for the occasional croak of frogs and the chorus of insect life. It smelled of algae and grass and fresh forest, the rain having washed away whatever lingering scent of humans campers had left. Whether there were other campers in some other site, he didn't know, but they were the only people here, around the lake.
The clouds thinned, the mist drying up, and a hint of moonlight shone through. He felt the thrill in his blood, but with nothing here but woods and water and Stiles, it was only a twinge. They walked the trail in the darkness, talking about maybe staying the day tomorrow and checking out the Springs. Maybe doing a little fishing and catching something and cooking it over open flames. Stiles liked the idea of fending for himself in the wilderness - - quoting something from some reality show he watched about mountain men. Scott rather thought Stiles wouldn't last a week living off the land, if it came down to it, but he didn't say it out loud and burst the bubble.
It was well past midnight by the time they crawled into the tent and hastily traded jackets for the warmth of sleeping bags. Stiles zipped himself up in his and was out in literally minutes. Scott lay for a while, staring up at the faint silhouettes of tree branches through the thin nylon of the tent roof, listening to the sounds of Stiles' even breath, to the subtle whispers of the forest. There was a deer, not too far away, delicately picking its way towards the lake shore, sensing their presence perhaps, but used to the quiet of humans at night, snug within their flimsy shelters.
He shut his eyes and listened to its heartbeat. A heartbeat that quiet suddenly sped up, thudding with alarm. He'd been so focused on it for a while there that he hadn't noticed the lack of all the other sounds. The utter, deafening silence the forest had fallen into. A shiver rippled down his spine, every primal instinct he possessed screaming move - - move - - move!
"Stiles," he hissed, shaking him awake, even as he kicked off his own sleeping bag and went for the zipper on the tent.
"Wh - - whaz wrong?" Stiles slurred, still sleep clogged.
"Shhh." Scott waved a hand at him in the dark. "Something's - - wrong."
He didn't say more. He didn't know more. He just slid out the tent and moved into the darkness, trying to pinpoint the wrongness. He felt it in the air, a scent/feeling that shivered across his skin - - a looming danger.
"Scott - -?" Stiles stumbled out of the tent in his wake, arms wrapped around himself, skin so pale in the moonlight he almost glowed. An easy target. He smelled like prey. Scott's own heartbeat picked up, a shiver of fear.
"Get to the Jeep."
"Just do it. Now," he growled.
Then he heard it, the sudden crashing of bramble as something that had stalked in silence gave up the pretense and broke through the underbrush with a purpose.
He caught the barest glimpse of it as it broke through the foliage in the darkness, caught the whiff of a oddly subdued scent - - no scent he'd ever smelled - - then it was rushing them, a gleaming flash of teeth here, the banked glow of amber eyes, a huge, thick body that vacillated between running on two legs and four, the rest of it black as pitch.
He brought out the teeth and the claws, roaring a battle cry and hit it full on, trying to drive it off course while Stiles staggered backwards towards the jeep, slipping in wet leaves, exuding a panic that Scott could taste. The thing he pressed against rumbled, a deep-throated growl, tasting it too. A predator that had latched onto the scent of prey.
It rose onto two legs, muscles flexing under fur that felt like it was spun from fiberglass and flung him off. The rational part of his mind half thought it was a bear - - some huge, malformed bear - - but the other part of him - - the part that knew more terrifying things walked in the shadows - - knew it wasn't so mundane.
It was ridiculously strong. He hit the tree the thing flung him at so hard it knocked his shoulder out of alignment and the pain roared through him like a freight train, not incapacitating, but empowering. Pissing him off enough that he shifted the rest of the way and screamed in outrage. He shrugged the shoulder back into place with a jerk of his arm and rushed in low, digging his claws into the tendons where the thing's back legs bent. Hauling backwards to get it off Stile's trail and damned well onto his own.
It rounded on him, swiping with a clawed paw the size of a frying pan. And it was fast, which he wouldn't have thought, considering its size. He was faster. He ducked the swipe, claws as long as his fingers barely missing taking his face off. He sliced up with his own, shorter claws, digging through fur and trying to pierce the flesh beneath.
He heard the door slam on the Jeep, Stiles having reached its dubious safety. The engine roared to life and Stiles was screaming his name, waiting for him instead of doing the sane thing and getting the hell out of there.
Scott spared him half a glance and that was all it took for the beast to score a hit that raked him to the bone. He went down, skidding in the wet mulch, gouged from armpit to the small of his back, the burn of it making his vision go black around the edges. And it should have come after him, should have gone for the kill, but maybe there was a difference in predator and prey in its mind. Maybe he was just an obstical to overcome in order to reach the one of them that didn't have claws and fangs and didn't smell like a hunter.
"No," he screamed, pushing himself up despite the tearing pain, but the thing was already at the Jeep, barreling into it with enough force that glass shattered and metal bent, the front end spinning into surrounding trees.
There was an echoing crack and the thing jerked forward. Again and this time, a chunk of its shoulder exploded in a spray of fur and flesh and blood. It screamed, this hoarse roar of pain and whirled, eyes wild and red rimmed in the black snarl of its face. It was hit again, the gun fire coming out of the darkness, the echoes of it rebounding off trees, making it impossible to tell from where or how many people were shooting. It charged in his direction, but it wasn't aiming for him, simply for escape.
It clipped him in passing, even as another bullet tore through it. Impact struck Scott's shoulder and he staggered a step, staggered another, skidding to his knees in the leaves as what sounded like high caliber automatic weapons fire tore through the night, ripping into trees, into the wet earth, pinging off the metal of the Jeep. It was all he could do to hurl himself against the vehicle and cover his head.
Then there was silence. This perfect moment of utter, still silence where he couldn't even hear the beating of his own heart. Where nothing moved in the darkness of the woods. Nothing living.
The door he was leaning against shifted, and glass from the shattered window trickled down.
"Holy - - fucking - - shit - -" Stiles was still shoving at the door, trying to get it open.
Scott made himself move rolling a little to lean against the wheel. It sounded like Stiles had to put a little effort into getting the door open, but then the way the beast had slammed into the Jeep, the metal was dented, crumpled.
"What the hell just happened?" Stiles tumbled out, staring with wide, freaked out eyes into the darkness. "Crap - - are you okay?"
"Somebody's coming," Scott said softly, tasting residual blood at the back of his throat.
"What? Oh - - crap - - another one?"
Scott shook his head, even as figures appeared out of the darkness. Human figures hefting weaponry that would make the Argent's feel inadequate. They moved with military precision, maybe a half dozen of them. Some of them crept into the shadows of the wood, circling the place the thing had finally fallen. A few ventured into the ruined campsite clearing, the muzzles of very recently fired weapons aimed towards them.
Stiles put up his hands, edging in front of Scott, giving him that second he needed to shift back fully to human form.
The slashes in his back were healing, but the bone deep pain in his shoulder was a persistent ache that wasn't going away.
"Hey, hey, we're not bears or whatever the hell that was," Stiles was saying. "So you can put the guns down."
They didn't seem inclined to listen, until a man with a shock of white hair moved out of the shadows where the thing had fallen and into the clearing to take stock. A tall, rawboned man with a sun weathered face and scar that ran from his right ear to the corner of his mouth. He had high caliber rifle slung over his shoulder. He took in the campsite, the jeep, them.
"No, " the man agreed. "What you are, is incredibly lucky."
"Well, yeah, I'm gonna argue that point," Stiles groused, sort of testing the waters and half lowering his hands. When no one took offense and started shooting, he dropped them entirely. "Oh my God, what was that thing?"
Stiles craned his neck, taking a step in the direction the thing had fallen. Two guns came up and he froze. The white haired man held up hand.
"As you said. A bear. A rogue and a man killer."
Scott pushed himself up and leaned against the side of the Jeep. There were three pretty horrific blood stained gouges in his shirt, but the darkness camouflaged them.
"That was a lot of bullets to take out a bear." Stiles pointed out. "And don't bears hibernate in the winter."
"Hmmm. Not the crazed ones. Is that blood on your hand? Are you injured?"
There was a little blood peeking out from beneath the cuff of Scott's sleeve. Whether it was his or the thing's he wasn't sure.
"I'm okay. It just nicked me." He wiped it off against the side of his pants and the arm hurt when he moved it. His head swam a little at the stab of pain that ran from shoulder to fingertips.
"It looks as if it did more than nick your vehicle."
"Aw, crap," Stiles turned to take in the damage. The front half of the Jeep was mangled, like, say for instance a huge, enraged uber bear-like-beast had rammed it. The front fender was bent in, metal pressing against the tire.
"I'll have someone tow it. I have a mechanic who can pound that out for you."
"That's okay - -" Stiles and Scott said simultaneously. Stiles gave him a questioning look and other than looking back with a wide eyed stare of desperation, he couldn't just up and blurt that these guys - - that the white haired one in particular - - were freaking him the hell out.
"No. I insist. It would be unconscionable of me to leave two boys, one of whom is wounded, stranded in the woods."
"I'm not - -" Scott started to deny it, but the blood was dribbling down the back of his hand again.
And that thing wasn't a bear and they knew it and the last thing he needed was scrutiny by a group of militarized hunters who might or might not have a taste for unconventional game.
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