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The Jeep was in pretty bad shape.
Scott and Stiles slogged down to the garage bright and early to take a look. Well - - not exactly bright or early - - but it was the effort that counted. It was snowing and it had almost been eleven when Scott had finally poked his head out from beneath the covers and blinked back to consciousness. Stiles had still been dead to the world, a Stiles-shaped lump under the covers of his own bed, but then they'd had a pretty late, pretty awful night.
The traces of it at least had faded entirely from Scott's skin. Other than a ruined shirt and some bloodstains that they couldn't get out, it was like it had never happened. Except that it had and he could still smell the blood, even diluted on his jacket, as well as the lingering scent of the thing that had attacked them.
They'd tromped down to the main floor once he'd dragged Stiles out of bed, and asked directions to the garage from the girl serving coffee to two old guys smoking cigars and reading newspapers on one of the leather couches before the big fireplace. Legitimate guests.
It made the place seem a little less ominous, even with all the dead animal heads leering down from every direction, knowing that this was an actual hotel of sorts, with lodge staff puttering around doing their jobs and the smell of coffee and the fading remnants of breakfast drifting in the air.
There was a set of glass doors that he hadn't noticed on his first trip through this room, leading to really posh looking dining room. Another set leading off to what looked like maybe a gaming room, and a few off shooting halls leading deeper into the lodge. There were pictures on the wall behind the long, gleaming wooden bar in the main room of the Dupont's in the company of people he assumed were influential and important.
The girl manning the impressive looking espresso machine was young and pretty, even if she did look down her nose a little at them, like they were strays her boss had brought in out of the night.
"Follow the road to the left once you get outside and it'll take you down to the garage. Its about a quarter mile."
A quarter mile in a snow that was still wet enough to verge on light sleet, but Stiles wanted to see the Jeep in the light of day. So they slogged through the weather, down the long gravel road that led behind the main lodge.
"You don't need to say it," Stiles said, looking miserable and cold, cheeks spotted with a little bit of red, flakes of wet snow clumping in his hair.
"Say what?" Sometimes they were completely in sync, other times he had to give Stiles a little prodding to give him clues to what was going on inside his head.
"You know. That you were right and I was wrong. Yeah, I said it and it doesn't happen often, but in this - - okay. Maybe this trip was a bad idea."
Scott gave Stiles a dubious look. "I didn't say it was a bad idea."
"Yeah, well you came close enough."
Scott sighed and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans.
"It wasn't a bad idea. It was just - -bad luck."
"Yeah? Do we have any other kind?"
"I like to think so. I'm sorta thinking we wouldn't be alive otherwise."
Stiles gave him a look, as if he were trying to figure out whether Scott was practicing a little sarcasm. He finally rolled his eyes and muttered. "Oh my God - - optimism."
Scott shrugged, tossing him a smile. "When all else fails. Hey at least its snowing."
"Like that's a good thing." He dug in his pocket for his cell, checking for a signal again. "Damn. Still nothing."
The lodge garage was a big corrugated metal hanger looking structure shielded from the view of the lodge by a thin strip of trees. It was large enough to house two hummers and a couple of SUV's and still have room for the flatbed truck from last night and a battered old Jeep.
Stiles stalked around it, bemoaning its sorry state. And it did look pretty pitiful, beat up and abandoned in the midst of a lot of really expensive, shiny vehicles. It didn't look like anybody had started doing anything to alleviate any of the damage yet.
"Hey aren't you supposed to fixing this?" Stiles demanded of one of the two mechanics puttering around the garage. They were both sort of huge, Slavic looking guys, who gave Scott the impression of lacking anything remotely resembling senses of humor.
One of them stood up from the bench he'd been sitting at, tinkering with some big, oily looking engine part. He ambled over as Stiles was stabbing a finger at the Jeep, scowling over the various damage.
"Front axel is bent. Driver's side door unrepairable," the guy rumbled in a thick accent. "Ordered parts from yard in Dixon, that'll be in tomorrow. Or the next day."
"The next day?" Stiles exclaimed with the sort of impatient agitation that suggested he'd totally missed the fact that the guy outweighed him maybe twice over and looked sort of like Dolph Lundgren's older, larger brother. "What? You can't bang it out? I thought you were going to bang the dents out? It doesn't even look like you've started?"
The guy beetled his brows, and it looked as if he were contemplating banging a few dents into Stiles, who experienced the occasional odd bout of obliviousness when it came to self-preservation.
"Yeah, okay. Thanks." Scott caught Stiles arm and pulled him bodily backwards.
"So we're stuck here for another day or two? We're gonna miss the show."
Stiles' bitched about plans gone awry the rest of the walk back to the lodge. Scott nodded when he was supposed to nod, commiserated when Stiles tossed him expectant looks and generally directed half his attention to the white that had turned into real snow while they'd been in the garage poking the mechanics. It was starting to stick to the ground and the trees, coating everything in a thin film of icy white.
They stomped off snow and ice on the front porch, before going back inside the lodge. The warmth of the place was like a welcome slap in the face when they walked in.
Dupont was sitting in one of the leather chairs across from the two old guys in front of the gigantic hearth. His sister was conferring with the girl at the espresso machine. She waved them over when they hesitated inside the door. He hadn't been particularly keen on the details last night, most of his energy directed into simply not falling down, but he picked up on them now. She was every bit as tall as her brother, and she wasn't even wearing heels. There was a faintly Slavic look to both siblings, but they lacked anything resembling an accent. She smiled at them and it wasn't the sort of smile that lit up a room, but more like one that made you think she was thinking inappropriate things.
She gave him a long up and down look, which concreted that inappropriate thoughts notion he'd had and made him sort of want to edge behind Stiles, before she turned her attention to Stiles and laid long fingers on his forearm.
"I see the two of you found the garage. I'm told the repairs to your vehicle will take a little longer than anticipated."
"Yeah, we heard," Stiles groused. "What's with the lack of cell signal up here?"
She smiled and waved a hand. "The surrounding foothills are rich with iron ore. It tends to interfere with the signals. But that serves us well. We pride ourselves on being a retreat from the stresses of civilization. Our guests come here to escape and the lack of technology is part of that escape."
"No computers? No TV?" Stiles asked, having already noted the lamentable lack of a television in their room.
Jan Dupont shrugged.
"That's not escape. That's just punishment," Stiles muttered.
"Are you hungry?"
She led them to the kitchen and what looked like a staff dining room off to the side of it. There were smells coming from the place that were mouthwatering. The cook made them sandwiches. The best sandwiches Scott had ever consumed. Roast beef on buns fresh from the oven with this sauce that made him sort of want to pull up roots and live here. They forgot their problems for a little slice of time while they sat there at a long plank table and wallowed in the luxury of a gourmet lunch.
Dupont himself came by when they were finishing up, plotting among themselves whether they could beg seconds from the chef. He leaned on the table next to Stiles and looked across at Scott.
"You look considerably improved from last night. I feared I might have to call in a physician."
"Uh, yeah. I'm good."
"Nothing a good night's sleep couldn't take care of, " Stiles chipped in helpfully.
"I'm relieved to hear it. I understand you'll be marooned here for another few days while parts come in for your Jeep. I appreciate that two teenagers might find our retreat a bit rustic with the lack of modern conveniences, but I'm sure you'll find something to occupy yourselves."
Scott widened his eyes in embarrassment that Stiles complaints had gotten back to Dupont already.
"No, we're okay. We're just happy you're fixing the jeep for free. Right, Stiles?" he tossed him a pointed look.
Stiles rolled his eyes and grudgingly agreed. "Yeah, really happy about that."
Dupont smiled. "Good to hear. Why don't you try a few of our trails? With the snow, they should be quite beautiful. There's also the stable, if you'd like to try your hand at horseback riding."
"Trails through the woods where you said there might be another crazy 'Russian bear'?" Stiles asked warily.
Dupont's smile didn't change an iota. "That is no longer a possibility. I assure you our trails are safe."
"What happened to the one from last night?" Scott asked.
"It was disposed of."
"And will you stuff and mount it, like the rest of the animals in here?"
Dupont canted his head, faint amusement in his eyes, not missing the distaste that Scott couldn't keep from his voice. "Do you disapprove of a hunter paying tribute to his prey for a game well played?"
"Yeah, I'm thinking the game's sort of rigged. Guns against teeth and claws doesn't sound so fair."
"You might be surprised." Dupont said.
"Not so much," Stiles muttered under his breath, tossing Scott an under the lashes look warning that this line of conversation was veering into dangerous territory. Scott couldn't help it. The animal heads bothered him. The idea of killing something majestic and then staking it out like a trophy for the murder just sat wrong.
But Dupont let it drop, more than likely not prepared to waste his time getting into a philosophical argument with a seventeen-year-old freeloader. He wished them a good day and strode off.
So with nothing better to do, they ventured back outside. In the hour they'd been inside, the snow had covered everything in a fine white layer. It muffled everything, made the world pristine and new again. They tromped out into it and his mood lightened immediately at the sheer enjoyment of a snow-covered world. It hadn't snowed the last two years in Beacon Hills and he'd missed it. Stiles was less enthusiastic, complaining of cold fingers and soggy shoes, so Scott lobbed a soggy snowball at him and scored a side of the head hit, which shut him up and started a war.
As snowball fights went, there wasn't a lot of ammunition with only an inch or so of actual snow on the ground, but they made the best of it and were both pretty crusted with ice and snow by the time Stiles begged a ceasefire and stood bent over his knees, brushing snow off his hair from the last dead on strike Scott had made. Stiles bitched and complained about him cheating by using werewolf abilities, but it wasn't like he could turn them off. Not like he could flip an internal switch and make his aim less deadly, or his body perform at half power - - He could physically try and hold himself back, to slow himself down, to try and ignore the sounds and the scents that always wanted to intrude, but it took a constant effort.
Stiles understood, even though he liked to gripe about the unfairness of it all, when it came down to physical contests. It was okay, since Stiles could kick his ass at word games and puzzle solving. So it all evened out.
They tried the stables, even though Stiles professed a profound uncertainty about his compatibility with horses. But it was Scott that proved the problem, when the horses caught his scent and went into panic mode inside their stalls. They high tailed it out of there, while the stable hand tried to convince his charges that a wolf hadn't just wondered into the stable to eat them.
After a couple of hours they'd both had enough of the cold and headed back down the increasingly snow covered trail they'd been following towards the lodge.
"So, you get Allison a Christmas present?" Stiles asked, his hands stuffed under his armpits inside his jacket.
"What? Why? Did you get Lydia one?" Scott countered, feeling just a bit of a rush of guilty panic.
"Of course I got Lydia one," Stiles scoffed as if Scott were an idiot for even questioning the possibility. "I got her two actually, but one was like a backup just in case she didn't like the first. She's picky, you know."
Scott shrugged, agreeing with that one on principle. "I was planning on getting Allison something - - but like a friend gift, because - -you know - -?"
"You just being friends and all?"
"Right. But I wasn't sure what qualified as girlfriend gift and just a friend gift - - soooo I was sorta putting it off. And then you dragged me out of town and I never got the chance to go shopping."
"Dude, you haven't done any shopping have you?"
Scott shrugged. On his list of important daily things to accomplish, shopping of any kind tended to rank pretty low.
"Even for you mom?"
"Well, I was going to. I figured I'd pick something up while we were on the road and bring it back."
"You suck. I got all my shit bought and wrapped and ready to go. Dad's taken care of, Allison's gonna give Lydia her present from me when she sees her Christmas day because I don't trust Lydia not to open it before then."
"Oh." For a kid that tended to bounce off the walls with pent up energy when his ADHD kicked into high gear, Stiles could be ridiculously well organized when he put his mind to it.
"What did you get her?"
"A pair of boots."
"Boots. She likes boots. Shoes. Things she wears on her feet. Geeze, its not like I got her lingerie anything."
Scott lifted a brow at the defensive tone. "And what was the second thing?"
Stiles shrugged. "A book on God Particles."
Scott blinked at him warily. "Like a religious book?"
"No dumb ass, its theoretical physics. She mentioned something about being interested in the Higgs Boson effect in the linear universe and - - anyway, I found a signed copy of book by Higgs on Ebay and thought she'd like it. So what were you thinking about getting Allison as a just friend gift again?"
Scott tossed him an irritated glare and kicked at a snow-covered stick in the path. "I have no idea. I don't even know if I should now. Would it seem weird?"
"Eh. I dunno. No weirder than anything else she'd expect from you. You haven't exactly descended to stalkery behavior, but with the right incentive I bet you could get there."
"Oh, God. I don't want to get there."
Stiles shrugged, suddenly looking pleased with himself. "You could catch a squirrel or something and have them stuff it and mount it up at the lodge and give it to her. It would almost be like you made it yourself - - give it that personal touch."
Stiles smirked and Scott started contemplating tackling him and pushing him face first into the snow.
That's when he caught the scent. It came at him, like scents sometimes did, rushing up and hitting him with an almost visceral intensity. That same subtle, odd scent from the beast last night. The same - - but not quite.
He stopped dead in his tracks, the hair on the back of his arms standing up.
"What?" Stiles demanded. Had maybe asked more than once while Scott was standing there, assaulted by his own hyper vigilant senses. From the north, it came from the north. He shook his head, veering off the trail, treading through unmarred snow through the trees.
"Damnit, Scott, what the hell?" Stiles hissed, following him.
"I smell it. That thing."
"What thing? Not THE thing? The one that almost killed us, thing?"
"Yeah," he confirmed, most of his attention focused on following the trail of the scent. It shifted in the cold air, unique and distinct, his awareness of it so sharp that he could almost 'see' it in wafting in the air before it. That's what following a scent was like now, like trailing a surreal rainbow of olfactory colors.
Stiles was making frustrated, gargling sounds behind him. "Are you out of your freakin' mind? The correct response if you smell something that has the ability to toss around cars and to shred us with its razor sharp claws, is to go the other direction."
"I just want to - -" he stopped, staring down at a coned, metal pipe protruding from the ground at the edge of the woods. A ventilation pipe, maybe. They could see the backside of the lodge across an expanse of snow-covered ground.
"What? You just wanted to what? Drag me into mortal danger? Because trying to track down - - wait, what is that?" Stiles caught up with him and stared down at the shaft.
"The scent's coming from there."
"This is a ventilation shaft. Is there something below? Must be something down below."
"Yeah," Scott agreed.
Stiles looked up at him with worried brown eyes. "I don't wanna know. This is so not our business. We so do not need to know what's down there."
Scott stared at the shaft, the scent branding itself into his awareness. Other scents as well. Blood and sweat and smoke, earth and stone and oxidation. He put the tips of his fingers on the cold, cold metal of the cone and heard through layers of earth and stone the vibrating roar of something enraged and desperate.
He snatched his hand back in surprise and looked to Stiles. But Stiles hadn't heard, just like Stiles couldn't 'see' the trail of a scent in the air.
"We do not need to worry about whatever the hell you're smelling, dude. We need to get the Jeep fixed and get out of here without any more fucked-up shit ruining this trip."
It was a reasonable plan. Stiles generally tended to come up with reasonable plans. Except when he didn't. But then his record was better than Scott's.
"Yeah, you're right."
"Damn right, I'm right. Geeze. Just when I'm starting to be a little less freaked out about this place you have to go and ruin it for me."
Stiles took a breath and stomped off across the field towards the lodge. "Just stop smelling shit."
"I can't just stop. I just do."
"Well ignore it."
That Scott could sort of do. Stopping thinking about it was another thing altogether.
When they slunk back into the lodge, the main room was deserted. It was barely four o'clock and they had a whole night to kill with no Internet and no TV to help pass the time. They took turns melting the cold away in the massive shower. Then sat on Stiles' bed with a deck of cards and played through the repertoire of card games they both knew. Went through a bout of wrestling, which Scott won handily, after Stiles got bored with legitimate games and decided to try a hand of 52 pick up, and then finally sat on the floor and stared mournfully at the unresponsive face of their smart phones, lamenting their disconnect with the world.
"We could go downstairs and see if they'll feed us again," Scott suggested.
"I guess. I wonder if they'll let us into the billiards room, or if that's for paying guests only?"
"I dunno. Let's find out."
The doors to the game room were actually open when they came downstairs but the two old guys were inside, playing pool and the room was cloudy with cigar smoke, which made Scott's eyes water a little even from the next room, so they veered down the hall leading to the kitchen where the smells were much nicer. It smelled as if something delicious and poultry related was roasting. Stiles was all set to veer off into the kitchen, but Scott caught his arm, staring down at the doorway at the end of the hall. It was faint, almost imperceptible, but he caught the scent again. Along with the smell of stone and earth.
Stiles gave him a questioning look and he jerked his chin towards the far doorway. It took Stiles a second, but he got it without the benefit of words and narrowed his eyes in frustration. He shook his head once, vehemently and gave Scott a shove towards the kitchen.
"Whatever you're thinking - - no. Just no."
There wasn't a lot of room for argument with the kitchen staff looking up at them.
"Dinner is at six," the chef informed them with a pointed stare.
"Soda's?" Stiles inquired and the man sighed as though they were severely disrupting his flow and waved a hand towards a glass-fronted refrigerator stocked with all manner of bottled beverages.
So they each grabbed a soda and went back to the main room to flop down on the leather furniture around the hearth. There were a few magazines and newspapers on the side tables, which Stiles poked through out of desperation. Scott sat nursing his Pepsi, staring at the passage leading to that door. He couldn't scent anything out here, with the cloying stench of cigar smoke covering the less poignant smells. But he knew it something was behind that door. Something not natural. Something maybe that had been driven to extremes last night.
"Stop looking," Stiles hissed at him.
"Don't you want to know what it is?"
"It tried to eat me. So no, not particularly."
"They're lying about it."
"Yeah, so? We lie about you being a werewolf all the time." Stiles lowered his voice to a hushed whisper on that last part, but Scott still looked around to make sure no one had drifted in to the room to overhear. Stiles had a point though. Scott sank a little deeper into the cushions and frowned, not liking it.
"What are the chances of you just letting it go?"
"I don't know. Fifty percent?"
Stiles arched a brow at him. Scott rolled his eyes and amended. "Twenty-five."
Stiles held up a magazine with a cover shot of a woman with a massive rifle on her hip, one booted foot on the back a dead brown bear. "This is the mentality we're dealing with here. I'm thinking don't piss them off."
Six hours later, after a supper that had probably been fantastic, but Scott had managed to plow through without really tasting, after two games of pool and a half dozen rounds of darts in the game room that Jan Dupont had told them they were free to use as long as the other guests were not in attendance, he still couldn't get that door and what lay behind it, off his mind.
Stiles had gotten into the mini-bar and done a bit of sampling of the various liquors stocked within. He was lying on his back on the bed, playing some game on his phone, just wasted enough that the lack of anything resembling real entertainment wasn't such a hardship.
"I'm gonna go downstairs," Scott said.
Stiles blinked up at him. "Seriously? Is your goal in life to make mine miserable?"
"Just chill up here. Play Angry Birds. I won't be long."
"The hell," Stiles tossed his phone down and sat up. He swayed a little until he took several deep breaths, then narrowed his eyes at Scott accusingly. "If you're going to do something stupid - - and let me get it on the record right now - - this is stupid - - then the least I can do is have your back."
"You don't have to - -"
"I know that. And if we run into anything even vaguely snarley I'm so abandoning you and running like hell. Just so you know."
"That's a good plan. But I just want to take a look."
"Famous last words."
Stiles shoved his feet into his sneakers and stood up. Wavered a little more until Scott caught his arm and gave him a questioning look.
"Dude, I'm fine." Stiles waved him off.
The lights were low downstairs. The fire banked to a low crackling burn. Upstairs Scott could hear the sound of slow breathing and steady heartbeats, the sound of people at rest. There was nothing downstairs. It was deathly quiet, save for the occasional crumbling of burning wood. The door at the end of the hall was innocuous and bland, as if it were any other doorway. Stiles leaned against the wall while Scott stood in front of it, questioning his obsessive need to see what lay beyond it. It wasn't just the scent. It was that cry he'd heard. Animal panic and desperation. Something trapped down there that shouldn't be trapped. The part of him that was wolf lamented at that call, lamented at anything caged that should have been wild and free. Even if it was a rampaging monster?
Maybe not. But he needed to see, just the same.
"What are we doing here?" Stiles urged momentum one way or another.
Scott swallowed and put his hand on the knob. It was locked, predictably. He took a breath and twisted the knob, a sharp jerk of the wrist that snapped the lock and the door swung open.
"That's just great. They won't notice that," Stiles muttered under his breath, then crowded close in behind Scott to see what lay beyond.
It was stairs. Leading down into darkness. He fumbled for a light switch, even his sensitized wolf vision unable penetrate the shadows at the deepest portion. He found a switch and bulbs flickered on. One at the top of the stairwell, one at the bottom. Stiles pulled the door shut behind them and followed him down. Twenty steps to the bottom, where the passage was rough, like it was hewn out of stone. A long, stone passage with a few bands of electrical piping running along the bottom of the wall, with light bulbs sporadically placed, throwing the passage into weird patches of shadow. And cold. The cold you'd expect under an earth covered in December snow. He could practically hear Stiles fighting to keep his teeth from chattering half way down the passage.
"This is a bad idea. A bad, bad idea - -" he was muttering. "How far does this thing go?"
Not that much further. Scott could smell the sudden flare of warmth, the sudden awareness of open space beyond the last patch of light. The onslaught of scent that had been building and building all the walk down the passage and hit him like a slap to the face when they stepped out of the passage and into the chamber at the end of it.
Something screamed in the darkness and a weight impacted metal and stone. Stiles yelped and scrambled backwards, staring blindly into shadows that Scott was only just beginning to make out. Cage doors. Thick bars of welded iron and steel driven into walls of stone. Three separate enclosures, the depths of which were shrouded in darkness.
A shape, large and black hit the bars of the one in the middle and Scott flinched back against Stiles.
"Oh my God. Oh my God," Stiles was clutching at his shirtsleeve. "Is that it? That is it."
Scott took a breath, forcing the claws that had come out back into obscurity. He shook his head, frowning. "I don't think so. Not the same one at any rate. It smells - - different."
He took a step forward and Stiles made a miserable sound behind him. The thing had retreated back into the shadows, nothing more than a shadow itself. Not as large as the first one, though, he thought, though it was still larger by far than a man or a man shaped wolf. It half crouched, eyes glowing amber in the darkness, the smell of its anger - - of its hatred of the bars that caged it - - acrid in the air. Almost he thought he saw a gleam of dull metal around its neck. A collar.
Stiles edged up behind him and held up his phone, snapping a picture. In the flare of the flash the thing exploded, rushing the bars again in a manic fury, claws as long as Scott's forearm wrist to elbow digging furrows in the stone floor. They both scrambled backwards, half falling over each other in their efforts to distance themselves from the beast.
"Holy fuck, dude. What is that thing?" Stiles was clutching at his arm so hard his nails were breaking skin.
"I don't know. I thought - - I thought - -" he'd half thought maybe there might be something like him, buried beneath the animal surface. Some shape shifter beyond his ken that still held a shred of humanity. But there was nothing in this things eyes that even suggested higher intelligence.
The chamber was suddenly illuminated by the stark yellow of fluorescents. The black beast shrieked and flung itself into the furthest corner of its cage. Scott spun, dragging Stiles with him, vision still swimming from the onslaught of light.
"Crap. We're screwed," Stiles was muttering, even as men crowded into the chamber, several from an entrance on the far side and another few in the wake of Julian Dupont, who stopped a few feet into the room and shook his head sadly. The gun in his hand, the multiple guns in the hands of his men, belied any real regret.
"I offer you the hospitality of my home and this is the gratitude I'm shown? Truly unfortunate that you decided to test my patience, boys, because I can assure you, I take my personal privacy very, very seriously."
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