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Road Trip

by P L Nunn

 

8

 

They ran, pelting into the woods at breakneck speed. Scott holding back, snatching at Stiles' sleeve when he stumbled on a root or a hidden obstruction in the snow. Stiles complaining under his breath, wasting precious air when he ought to be using it all to just run, because the vanago was closing the distance between them.

Scott could hear its bulk breaking through the bramble at the edge of the wood, could hear the rumbling beat of its heart. The uneven snarls of an animal driven half mad maybe from its captivity at Dupont's hands. Or maybe it was simply mad to begin with, if that fable Dupont had spun them was true. And who was he to question the veracity of fables?

The wolf in him heard the predator behind them and snarled at the challenge. Half of him wanted to just let Stiles fend for himself and turn back and meet it. To rend flesh and shed blood and prove that he was no meek prey to be hunted down. But that was the wolfsbane that still pulsed through his veins like fire, talking. The other part, the rational part that was clutching after the frayed ends of control, remembered very well how badly outmatched he'd been with the first one and was rightly scared.

As scared as Stiles, who stank of it, who was still babbling between breaths - - coming up with fantasy ways they might get out of this predicament. Wasting his precious breath when the thing was almost upon them, because Stiles was only human and couldn't outrun it.

It burst out of the trees behind them, this hurtling mass of black fur and long wicked claws and Scott changed direction on a dime. Did the only thing he could do to gain Stiles a little distance, which was to go on the offensive.

And maybe he caught it off guard, its prey turning and brandishing claws of its own, the last thing it expected. He scored a ragged strike across its broad head and it lurched off its course, skidding in the snow, at least four hundred pounds of it scrambling for purchase as he launched himself over its shoulder, every instinct he had screaming that the only way to take out a larger, meaner opponent was to cripple it. He came down behind it, tearing at the back of its legs, trying to hamstring it. But the fur was thick and his claws barely made a dent.

"Scott," Stiles screamed at him, still there. Still goddamned there when Scott had tried to give him the chance to gain a little distance. Almost he wanted to rush over and disembowel him himself for the sheer stupidity of it.

Then all he wanted to do was dive for cover when the spray of bullets erupted, four or five in quick succession as Stiles aimed the gun and fired. The bullets started about eye level, before Scott hit the ground and ended up shredding the foliage overhead as the kickback drove the muzzle upwards. If Stiles had actually scored a hit on the vanago, the beast hadn't faltered. Just started, as Scott had at the deafening retort of gunfire.

Scott lifted his head and cast a split second glance at Stiles, who was ass backwards in the snow, fumbling to reestablish his grip on the rifle. Then the vanago pounced on him, raking claws across his chest, shredding his stolen jacket, huge jaws snapping at his throat. He roared back, shoving with arms and legs to get it off him, to keep it from chewing his head off.

Bam. Bam. Bam. The crack of more gunfire rattled off, painfully loud, and this time he heard the impact of bullets meeting flesh, and the thing on top of him reacted, springing backwards, giving him that chance he needed to scramble out from under. He hurt. The claws had scored flesh and bone and he wasn't healing as fast as he might have. He didn't know if it was the wolfsbane, or if the damage he'd already taken tonight was beginning to take its toll. There was a point, when the injuries started piling up, when even werewolf metabolism began fail.

"Go!!" He screamed at Stiles, not bothering to see if he did, just driving at the vanago, slashing wildly with his claws, aiming for its vulnerable eyes. Part of him reveling in the bloodlust - - part of him dwindling and another part surging up in glee at the sheer savage thrill of backing this monster down.

It lurched back, snarling and whipping its head, until maybe it just got fed up, or maybe he'd pissed it off so much that pain and survival instinct got eaten up by sheer rage and it stopped retreating. He barely managed to avoid its jaws, but the claws caught his thigh as he was skipping backwards, and he rolled, leaving a trail of blood as he did. He came to his knees, one hand on the tear in his leg, the other on a long, thick branch half buried in the snow. He tightened his grip, picked it up and hurled it like a javelin. Amazingly enough the jagged end pierced the thick hide above the shoulder and the vanago staggered back, screaming in rage/pain.

Scott bounded to his feet and ran, hurtling through the trees, his own blood hot and wet against his skin, his heartbeat thudding in his ears. Stiles' scent as easy to follow as if he'd been leaving a trail of brightly colored M&M's for Scott's convenience. Easy prey. Full out, it took him maybe two or three minutes to catch up - - Stiles, loping through the snow, one hand on his side, breath harsh and ragged - - almost done. Weak.

He could take him down in an instant - - dig his claws into soft skin and helpless flesh - - sink his teeth into his vulnerable white throat and tear out his jugular - -

God. Oh, God. He'd almost tensed to make the leap when something akin to sanity trickled back. He staggered to a halt, twenty feet behind Stiles, leaning against a tree, digging his claws into rough bark, trying to find himself in the midst of the beast the pain and the fight had brought out in him.

"Scott? Dude, you okay?" Stiles' voice. Stiles' presence, coming at him out of the haze edging his human awareness. Stumbling towards him, none the wiser. Scott pressed his forehead to the bark, hating himself for what the beast in him had wanted to do.

"No," he admitted, thready whisper.

"It still back there?"

"Yes."

Stiles grasped his arm, hissing at the bloody gashes in the coat, then tightened his grip, pulling Scott off the tree.

"What are we gonna do? We need a plan. A better plan than just running."

Scott shook his head, at a loss. Nothing left in him beyond maintaining control.

"You come up with one and I'm in."

"Yeah, right. We don't have a lot of options here. Not a lot to work with," Stiles scrubbed a hand through his hair in frustration. "Something with wheels is still top of the wish list. Well, right after not getting eaten. Did I hear something? Do you hear anything?"

He could hear his heartbeat. It was throbbing in his head like a drum beat. His leg was still bleeding. His chest was. The blood had soaked the leg of his jeans right down to his sock. He looked at Stiles, who was staring off to their right.

"There is something - -" Stiles started.

Scott shook his head, trying to clear the inward path his senses were trying to take, and it came upon him in a rush. The scent of the vanago, which it couldn't mask, even if it had decided to practice a little stealth.

It charged out of the thicket at them, and Scott shoved Stiles hard enough to send him tumbling. It hit him, four hundred pounds of muscle and sinew and it was like getting blindsided by a wrecking ball. The impact hurled him backwards into the trunk of a young pine. Wood splintered. Bone did, and he stifled a scream.

He dropped down to knees and elbows, clutching his ribs, gasping after breath, the pain forcing the wolf in to retreat, everything shifting, flesh, vision, consciousness for one brief moment, until adrenalin or survival instinct let him shake off the blackness and move.

Stiles was screaming at him or at the beast, Scott couldn't comprehend the words through the pounding in his head enough to tell. He scrambled to his feet, holding his side, circling backwards while the thing stalked him. A shifting mass of fur and claws. Glistening black gums pulled back to reveal long, yellowed teeth. The cuts he'd made on its face already healed. Amber eyes tracked him as he retreated, gauging almost, now that it was him and it playing out a game of predator and bigger, badder predator.

Canny eyes.

It was old, Dupont had said. Scott wasn't up on his Russian history. He had no idea when the Bolshevic revolution had taken place, but he figured it was a long time ago. If it had been human once, maybe decades and decades of being the beast had drowned any higher intellect. But maybe not. Maybe there was still something in there smarter than your average bear. It had survived this long, after all.

His eyes fixed on the collar, barely visible through thick, black fur. This wide, tight metal band locked into place, like Dupont was keeping this thing as a pet.

"Get out of the way," Stiles was yelling, the gun in both hands and God knew Scott didn't want to be anywhere near the business end of that thing what with Stiles unreliable aim. He dove to the side, ribs screaming bloody murder even as Stiles let out a short burst of gunfire.

He must have been prepared for the kick this time, because he didn't spray the forest indiscriminately. Half the shots hit the vanago, thudding into the big body with dull, solid thumps.

It pissed it off. With a roar, it turned from following Scott to lunge towards Stiles. Scott was on it, before it could close the distance and rip Stiles apart, gun or no gun. He got an arm around its thick neck, digging his claws into the throat above the metal band with one hand, tearing at the face with the other, clinging like a burr when it reared up onto its back legs, trying to fling him off. It could almost reach him with its front legs/arms, claws raking the back of his legs.

"Shoot it," he screamed at Stiles. There was no better position, with its underbelly exposed and it distracted by a werewolf on its back.

And Stiles complied, spraying the thing with bullets. The retort of the gunfire was deafening, the enraged roars of the vanago were. It thrashed under him, impacted by bullets. Pain tore through Scott's side, the thudding impact of lead as one of those bullets took him. And again, a stinging thud against his calf. He ground his teeth and locked his arms, putting everything he had into choking the beast into submission since the bullets seemed to be pissing it off more than really damaging it.

Until one lucky shot took it in the eye and tore out the back of its skull, dappling Scotts face with its blood. It rocked backwards, the strength going out of it, its back legs crumbing as it toppled, taking Scott with it.

He threw himself clear, hitting the ground badly, all his lupine grace eaten away by exhaustion and pain. He felt bone that hadn't even started to knit grate. Actually heard the sound of it. A uniquely excruciating sort of agony that hit on multiple levels.

"Holy shit, Scott, that was amazing."

He must have blacked out. Was sure he'd blacked out because Stiles wasn't that quick and he'd been across the clearing last Scott had seen him, back against a tree, futilely pulling the trigger on a gun that had spent its load. He was crouched next to Scott now, staring down with fever bright eyes and red spotted cheeks.

"Oh my God, I killed it. I did kill it right? Shot it right in the eye."

"You shot me," Scott pushed himself up and gasped, stalling half way. Breathing came hard, and he thought a little desperately that the last impact with the ground might have shoved one of those broken ribs into a lung. There was a certain, bubbly sound to his breath. The coppery taste of blood in his mouth, in his nostrils.

"Oh, dude - - I'm sorry. I wasn't aiming for you."

"You weren't aiming - - period." Scott gasped, accepting Stiles hand in getting to his feet. And regretting it as soon as vertical orientation hit. Everything swayed, vision going wonky, giving him two worried looking Stiles instead of one. Support came in the form of Stiles' arm around his waist and his shoulder under Scott's shoulder, taking a good portion of his weight.

"We need to move," Stiles was saying. He had the gun over his other shoulder, hanging by its canvas strap. "Blood thirsty monsters never stay as dead when they're supposed to after a good bullet to the head. So a little distance is a good thing."

Which was a fair point.

"You're out of bullets - -" he felt the need to comment. His head was still swimming. Everything around him ebbing and cresting with this weird throbbing rhythm.

"I know."

They kept moving, no particular direction in mind, just distancing themselves from the vanago - - just moving to keep ahead of the hunters that would be out there somewhere, on their trail. Especially once Dupont realized his hunter beast was down for the count. God. Scott hoped it was down.

Light was seeping into the woods, soft and grey with early morning. Brighter because of the snow. If they didn't go to ground, they'd be easy to spot. They needed a place, any place, to hide until darkness - - to give him the chance to heal. The shape he was in now, he'd be next to useless in a real fight.

"What's that?" Stiles voice at his side startled him. He'd been staggering along in that much of a daze, that he'd almost forgotten him.

"What?" But the moment he asked it, he heard it too. The low whine of an idling engine. They exchanged glances, edging through the forest, keeping to the thickest parts, until they reached a dirt track. There was a big SUV, shiny black paint spattered with mud and snow sitting in the pitted road. A man stood by the front fender, a rifle slung over his shoulder, a walkie talkie in one hand, a cigarette in the other. He looked as if he were waiting, keeping guard maybe, while his comrades skulked in the woods, trying to track them down.

Shit. Stiles formed the word silently, crouching in the brush next to Scott. Then his brow furrowed, his eyes narrowing with that look he got when schemes were brewing in his head.

"You distract him."

Scott blinked at him, a pace behind and feeling like there were important plots points that were escaping him.

"What?"

Stiles jabbed a hand towards the woods at the front of the Hummer. "You distract him and I'll circle around back and take him out."

"You?"

Stiles gave him a look of exaggerated offense and hissed. "Yes, me. What you think I can't take a guy down?"

Scott kept staring, not entirely sure he did.

"Okay. Look at it this way. If he gets spooked and decides to shoot first and ask questions later - - who's gonna just be dead and who's gonna miraculously heal from the bullet wounds?"

Scott shut his eyes and rubbed at the through and through bullet hole in his side that was taking its own sweet time closing up. It still hurt like a bitch. Everything hurt like a bitch.

"I'm sorta over the whole novelty of getting repeatedly shot, thanks. You try it."

Stiles bugged his eyes, glaring at him. Scott dropped his head and took a breath, then shoved to his feet, moving as low and as quietly as he could through the woods.

He crept about forty yards up, crouched there for a moment, listening to the sound of Stiles trying to stealth foot it around the back way, then stood, and stepped out onto the muddy track.

It took the guy a moment to realize he was there. Scott saw it the moment the body tensed, eyes widening and fingers dropping the cigarette in favor of swinging the rifle around and training it on him.

"Don't shoot." He held up his hands, exhausted and in pain and hoping that showed on his face instead of the wolf that would set these guys off. God knew what was showing in his eyes, between the wolfsbane and the fevered way his body was trying to rid itself of one too many hurts.

The guy wavered, maybe under orders from his boss just to track and not to take a kill shot, because Dupont seemed like the kind of asshole to Scott that would want that honor for himself.

He saw Stiles edge out from around the back of the big vehicle, gun in his hands, but held backwards, butt end forward. The guy's eyes darted, as if he sensed the movement behind and Scott stepped forward, drawing his attention firmly back where it belonged.

A finger tensed on the trigger and he almost expected a burst of gunfire and the sharp crack of accompanying pain - - But Stiles slammed the butt of his rifle against the back of the man's head and he went down, a sprawl of limp limbs in the icy mud.

Stiles looked shocked for a second that he'd actually done it, then elated as it sank in that 'he'd actually done it', and he grinned triumphantly at Scott, delivering a thumbs up, before he scrambled to the drivers door of the Hummer and jerked it open.

Scott limped down the track, while Stiles stood on the jamb of the door, impatiently urging him on with a rolling wave of his hand.

"C'mon. C'mon. Let's go."

The air inside the SUV was warm. The sort of blissful warmth that made a body sort of sink into the leather seat, shut its eyes and just go a little limp in appreciation.

Stiles jammed a foot on the gas and the Hummer lurched forward, spinning mud under its tires before it gained traction and surged down the tract. A whole hell of a lot more power under the hood than Stiles was probably used to with his Jeep. Suspension so sweet, that they hardly felt the ruts in the road they bounced over.

Which wasn't to say that they'd be any less screwed if Stiles drove them off the narrow track and into a tree.

"Dude, slow down." Scott braced a hand on the dash as Stiles took a turn in the track way too fast for comfort. "Do you even know where you're going?"

"I'm following the road. It has to lead somewhere."

"Back to the lodge, maybe?"

Stiles cut him an uncomfortable look and shrugged. "Maybe. But maybe not. Wait - - is that a turn off up there?"

It was. The track cut across a wider, gravel road. Stiles jammed on the brakes and took the turn, heading right. He came close to a head on collision with an open topped Jeep heading up it. The Jeep swerved, skidding off the road and into the brush on the side of it.

Stiles was uttering creative curses. Scott clutched his side and ground his teeth, bracing his feet on the floorboard, trying not to get thrown into the door again.

"Crap. Just son of a fucking - - balls - - they'll be onto us now," Stiles was finishing up his tirade.

The speedometer was reading sixty on a road that probably shouldn't have seen speeds above twenty-five. The rearview mirror showed Scott a lot of dust in their wake, but no sign of a pursuing vehicle.

"Here," Stiles had dug in his back pocket and come up with his cell. He tossed it at Scott. "See if I've got a signal again."

He turned it on, not holding out much hope. But amazingly enough, he got two bars. He cast Stiles a wide-eyed look.

"GPS us a route to I-5."


It was a damned bumpy road and still this thing drove like something out of a wet dream. Stiles was in love. The part of his mind that wasn't feverishly churning over the half dozen other problems they were currently facing, was trying to come up with an excuse his dad might buy, that would allow him to make an even swap. His Jeep for this shiny new Hummer. It seemed fair, since they'd tried to kill him, right? He might be willing to even forgive and forget - - provided they didn't keep coming after them - - for a chance to show up at school after winter break driving this monster into the parking lot. Because girls loved expensive, shiny things. Some girls more than others.

He hit a rut that even the Hummer's suspension couldn't cushion and one of his other problems made an involuntary sound of pain and curled in upon himself in the passenger seat.

"Damn, are you not healing yet? Why aren't you healing yet?"

Scott drew in a breath between clenched teeth. "I am - - it's just - - going really slow. Really slow."

"Does it have to do with the wolfsbane? That's gotta be messing with your system a lot - - y'know having it injected right into your veins? I think it's the wolfsbane."

"God - -" Scott growled, bracing himself on the dash when the right front tire hit a rut the size of Missouri. His eyes flashed red and claws that hadn't been there before dug gouges in the fine leather of the dash.

It was criminal, but at the moment, with Scott curling his fists, eyes squeezed shut, concentrating maybe on not going ballistic in the closed space of the automobile, Stiles decided not to call him on it.

"Scott - -?"

"I don't know!" Scott finally ground out. "Maybe. Maybe I just got shot one too many times."

That was a dig at him, Stiles just knew it. And okay, maybe his aim sucked - - and maybe the bullet that had gone through the vanago's eye had been sheer luck - - but he was pretty sure it was that bullet that had taken the thing down. And once Scott wasn't cringing in pain and hovering on the verge of a werewolf tantrum, Stiles had every intention of expounding on his Rambo moment in excruciating detail.

"Stiles - -" Scott was staring ahead, eyes narrowed.

Stiles leaned forward himself, peering over the wheel. He saw the gate in the distance, the one they'd passed when they'd entered Dupont's 'preserve'. On the one hand it was encouraging that they were on the right track. On the other, it was closed and there were a couple of vehicles half blocking the road in front of it, and guys with guns scampering around.

"Well fuck."

"What are we - -?" Scott started, while Stiles was cursing through clenched teeth. If they stopped they were dead. One way or another they were dead. So common sense said keep going. Well, maybe not common sense - - because common sense was screeching for him not to barrel full speed into a set of parked vehicles - - so maybe it was some other less popular sense that made him press his mouth tight and tighten his hands around the wheel.

"Put on your seatbelt," he said, fumbling for his own.

Scott stared at him, a distinct look of panic in his eyes, before he snatched for his own seat belt.

And Stiles floored it.

Men scattered when they realized they weren't stopping. A bullet cracked into the windshield, another into the grill, and then he hit the space between the two blocking cars, slamming into the front end of an open topped jeep, spinning it half on its side. The impact jarred the hell out of them, but didn't slow them down, and the Hummer slammed through the gates, spitting up wood and metal in its wake.

There was the ding ding sound of bullets hitting the back of the vehicle and they both scrunched down in their seats,

"Oh my God - - oh my God - - I am Rambo - -" he laughed hysterically. Everything was shaking. He had to lock his arms to keep his hands firm on the steering wheel.

"I think I hate you - -" Scott gasped.

"You worship the ground I walk on," Stiles countered, casting him a manic grin. Which faded when he looked in the rear view mirror and saw the dust of a pursuing vehicle behind them. Which okay, after kidnapping and assault and trying to hunt them down and kill them, it stood to reason these guys weren't just going to throw in the towel and head back to the lodge for a cold beer and an evening trading hunting stories in front of the fire.

At least not while they still had the chance of taking them out in the privacy of the great Northern California wilderness. If they could reach some semblance of civilization they might back off. A little hard to gun them down in the middle of some town and claim justification with a casual 'that one's a werewolf and that one just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, so no harm no foul, 'kay?'

Which didn't mean they didn't need help. The idea of calling his dad made him sweat. One, his dad was already half convinced that he couldn't take a walk down his own street anymore without stumbling into some life or death situation - - which, granted wasn't that far from the truth, considering Beacon Hills' history. And two, the reserves his dad had to call on were law enforcement and explaining the whole big game hunter on the trail of an innocent werewolf thing to a bunch of cops might not go over so well for his dad or the werewolf in question.

Which left the other, more reasonable option of giving the Argent's a yell. Jan Dupont had said they were familiar with the Argent family - -so maybe the Argents might be familiar with them. And if you were trying to back off a group of militant assholes with heavy artillery, it made sense to bring in your own artillery toting, militant bad asses to even the odds.

"I'm calling Allison," he said.

Scott didn't comment, looking too miserable to care.

He snatched up the cell phone Scott had dropped into one of the cup holder wells and hit Allison's number.

It rang enough times that he feared it might go to voice mail, before she picked up with a groggy, sleep hazed 'Hello?'

"Hey, Allison, what's up?" He said, casting a worried glace in the side view and confirming that their pursuit was still firmly in place.

"Stiles? Do you know what time it is?"

He glanced at the time on the cell then brought it back to his ear. "Why yes. Yes, I do. Listen, is your dad around?"

"Its four o'clock in the morning, Stiles. What do you want?"

"Well, funny story, that. Me and Scott are sorta in a little bit of a jam and could use a some help."

There was a pause from her end, a rustle of what might have been covers shifting, then the soft sound of her walking, before she asked curtly. "What sort of jam? I thought you were headed to some show up North."

"Yeah, well, that didn't work out so well - - and I'm not getting my money back on those tickets. And then there was the whole getting attacked by supernatural monsters and big game hunters trying to muderize us. That sort of jam. So you ever heard of a guy named Julian Dupont?"

"I know him," Chris Argent's grim voice answered, so Stiles figured Allison had gone straight to her dad and woken him up. "Where are you?"

"Trying to get back on I-5 somewhere north of bumfuck nowhere in the middle of the forest. The last town big enough to remember passing was maybe - - Redding?"

"At the Dupont preserve." Argent assessed and it just figured he'd be in the know. "How the hell did the two of you end up there?"

"Uh. There was like a thing - - a bear thing - - that attacked us and tore up my jeep - - and it seemed like a good idea at the time - - and then Scott couldn't let go of a scent and things went to hell - -"

"Are you guys okay?" That was Allison, which meant they were on speakerphone.

"Scott got tore up pretty bad. And we're running for our lives with guys after us that have a lot of guns - - so no, not really."

"But he's all right?" Allison pressed about the same time her father cut in with: "Dupont knows Scott's a werewolf?"

Stiles snorted. "He's been better. And yeah, Dupont knows."

"And he initiated a hunt?"

"Yeah."

"Then you're in trouble. Dupont is a relentless bastard who doesn't give up a hunt, once he's started. Present him with a challenge and he won't let it go."

"Well that's freakin' fantastic. What do we do?"

"Don't stop. For anything. Get back on I-5 and head south. Half way point between you and here is - -" Argent paused, likely pulling up a map. "Greenton. We'll meet you there. Do you understand?"

"Yeah,"

And apparently that was all the small talk Argent had in him and then it was just Allison's worried voice, telling them to be careful, before the connection was severed. And the problem with that was, being careful when the universe had decided to align against you was always easier said than done.

"Okay. Don't stop. Head South. That's a plan," Stiles muttered. "But hey, on the bright side, Allison still cares enough to worry about you."

Scott got as far as cutting him a slightly affronted look when a SUV skidded out onto the road from barely perceptible trail cutting through the bordering woods and slammed into the Hummer.

Stiles screamed like a girl. Scott did, as metal screeched against metal and the impact drove them off the road and into the grass and bramble on the far side. The Hummer plowed over brush and saplings, with Stiles yanking desperately at the wheel, trying to get them pointed back at the road.

The SUV tried to cut off that route, but Stiles cut the wheel hard and the Hummer bullied its way back on the gravel track. The SUV roared back up beside them, half on the road, half on the overgrown strip beside it. There was a pop and the backseat window on Scott's side shattered.

"Oh - - fuck -- " Scott's serious cursing was usually reserved for special occasions. Stiles supposed bullet spawned safety glass pelting him from behind qualified.

"Do something - -" Scott suggested, sliding down as far as he could in his seat, as another spray of bullets hit the side of the Hummer.

"Like what?" Stiles voice broke embarrassingly. He yanked the wheel, and the Hummer's big back end swung over, slamming into the front end of the SUV. It spun out, cutting a 180 swath in the snow-covered grass, ending up nose down in a gully, one back wheel off the ground and still spinning.

"That'll work," Scott said breathlessly, scooting up enough to peer over the door and into his side view mirror.

"Holy shit," Stiles gasped. Then. "I think I'm gonna be sick."

His gut was churning, nerves finally taking their toll in the form of nausea and a bit of after the fact light-headedness.

"God - - please don't," Scott cast him a desperate look.

Stiles waved a hand. The cold air coming in through the shattered back window was helping. The fact that he didn't see any vehicles in the rear view mirror let him take a beat and just breathe for a moment without his heart wanting to crawl up into his throat, and his stomach subsequently wanting to lurch up and fill the empty cavity.

He could breathe even better once he saw the turn off onto actual paved highway up ahead. He exchanged a look with Scott, who gave him a faint weary, nod.

Scott looked wasted. Stretched thin and exhausted and in more pain that he was letting on, of that Stiles was damned sure. There was too much old blood on his clothes to tell if he was still actively bleeding from any of his various slashes or gunshot wounds, but it was obvious that his healing had slowed down to a snail's pace.

He kept casting him worried looks, until Scott finally got tired of it, and said, without opening his eyes. "Dude, I'm okay - - really."

"You're full of shit. And your eyes are still flashing red."

"Yeah?" Scott opened them marginally and they were thankfully normal brown. But Stiles had caught a lot of flickers of red when they'd been hightailing it down the country road.

"They'll stop - - eventually. When the wolfsbane wears off."

"Yeah, and when will that be? You still having any urges to - - you know - - wolf out on me?"

"I hurt too much," Scott muttered. Then, he shrugged and admitted. "A little, but I've got it under control."

"So why aren't you healing?"

Scott shut his eyes again, pressing his head back into soft leather, refraining from speculation.

Stiles hated not speculating. Hated not being in the know when it was important. And Scott in the grip of some sort of unknown wolfsbane poisoning was important. He snatched up the cell, and scrolled through his contacts until he found Dr. Deaton. Since he was already waking people up indecently early in the morning, he might as well keep up the streak.

He dialed the number and Deaton, unlike Allison, picked up on the second ring, answering with the tone of a man who had long banished any traces of sleep.

"Hey Dr. Deaton. Quick question."

"Good morning to you. I wasn't aware that teenagers willingly embraced the front end of 7 am. How can I help you?"

"Well, hypothetically, let's say a werewolf got injected with a straight shot of wolfsbane - - like on a scale of one to ten, how bad would that be?"

There was an overlong pause on the other end of the line, then Deaton responded cautiously. "With most strains of the plant, it would be fatal within thirty to a hundred and twenty minutes, depending on the individual in question."

Stiles shot Scott a look, which Scott returned with a weary shrug, very obviously not dead.

"Okay, so let's say we've passed that mark and we're not getting any of the usual symptoms?"

"There are a few rare strains of monkshood that while poisonous, aren't always fatal when ingested. Detrimental, yes, but survivable."

"Oh. Well, that's good then. How detrimental, exactly?"

"These stains are used to bring out the wolf and suppress the human. In very, very controlled dosages, the effects are - - short-lived. A larger, more direct dosage - - you did mention an injection? - - would be more troublesome."

"I'm thinking larger dose, maybe."

"Stiles, while I appreciate a good hypothetical conversation as well as the next man - - lets be a bit more specific. Are we talking about Scott?"

Stiles blew out a breath. "Yeah."

"How long ago was he dosed?"

Stiles shot Scott a questioning glance and got a blank look and a shrug, which meant Scott had probably lost a lot of time when he'd been wolfed out. Stiles looked at his watch and did a little mental calculation.

"Uh - - if I had to guess - - four or five hours." It didn't even sound real him saying it. It felt like it had been forever.

"He's with you now?"

"Yeah."

"And he's in control?"

"Yeah. Are you saying he shouldn't be? It sounds like you're saying he shouldn't be."

Deaton was quiet a few beats. Then, "With a direct dose of wolfsbane in his system - - it's a little surprising he isn't trying to tear out your throat."

"Oh. Really? Well - - that's just fantastic. Great news, doc. Just what I wanted to hear." He controlled the urge to slam the phone against his forehead in frustration. He took a deep breath and plunged on. "That's not the only problem. He took a lot of damage and he's not healing like usual."

"Not surprising. The wolfsbane is a poison after all. As long as it's in his system, it's compromising his natural ability to heal. Add that to the fact that he's committing all his energy on keeping his predatory instincts in check and we've got a problem."

"So how long before the wolfsbane is out of his system?"

"It varies. 18 to 24 hours depending on the individual."

Stiles pressed his mouth in annoyance. 18 to 24 hours was a damned long time, when they were on the road a really long way from home, with guys that wanted to kill them maybe still on their tail. "That's just great."

He exchanged a look with Scott, who groaned and flopped his head back against the headrest.

The GPS predicted a five-hour drive to that halfway point where Allison's dad wanted to meet up.

Traffic wasn't heavy this early in the morning this far north up the I-5. A lot of tractor trailers, a few cars. He kept checking the rear view looking for pursuit. There were a few cars back there in the distance that looked like they'd been there for a while, but then, he wasn't sure. It was a lot harder detecting a tail than it looked on TV.

He had the heat on high, trying to counteract the cold air rushing in through the shattered back window, but it was only able to do so much. Scott was huddled against his door, one foot up on the dash, arms wrapped around himself. Every once and a while he'd twitch a little, shivering and he'd clamp his jaw to tamp it down.

"Any better?" Stiles asked for maybe the third time in an hour.

Scott was silent a bit, either taking stock and considering an answer or tired of Stiles asking. Finally he relented. "I can breathe again without it tasting like blood."

"Hey, that's something," Stiles said reflexively while he was coming up with various terrible reasons why Scott had been tasting blood when he breathed. "Why don't you try and get some sleep? Trust me, I'll let you know if shit's about the hit the fan."

Scott shook his head. "I can't."

"Why not?"

"If I'm asleep, I can't control it."

Stiles crinkled his brow. "Because of the wolfsbane."

"Its like this itch - - this really nasty itch - - that I wanna scratch so bad I can taste it - - but if I do, its only gonna make it worse. And if I'm asleep - - nothing's stopping me from scratching." He gave Stiles a helpless look, struggling with that analogy.

"The 'worse' being wolfing out and going a little crazy in the closed confines of a SUV. Yeah, I can see where that might be problematic. Let's listen to some music. Play some road games. I Spy sounds fun, right? Or the alphabet name game. Lets do the ABC's of sci-fi characters."

So for the next several hours, Stiles did what Stiles did best. He talked. About everything and anything that crossed his mind. He had a pretty open floor, since Scott's contributions to the conversation tended to be monosyllable at best. And every once and a while he'd catch a glimpse of red between Scott's half lowered lashes, or an involuntary extension of claws that had the leather arm rest pretty much shredded, when Scott's grasp on control slipped. Which got Stiles thinking about how both Deaton and Dupont had been pretty surprised at Scott actually being able to maintain that restraint at all. And since Stiles was verbalizing his mental processes at the moment, he asked it out loud.

"Do you think its just an alpha thing, you being able to deal with the wolfsbane shooter Dupont gave you - - or is it a 'true' alpha thing?"

He didn't wait for Scott's input before plunging on. "Because they were both pretty surprised, right? At you not going off the deep end. I mean, I get the feeling that if it had been just any old werewolf, they'd have gone stark raving running around howling at the moon, trying to shred anything with a pulse, crazy. Hell, some of the wolves I've met can barely hold it together if you look at them the wrong way, anyway."

"I did," Scott admitted uncomfortably. "At first. I don't know how long before - - before I ran into you and I managed to pull it back."

"But you did pull back. I appreciate that, by the way. Which brings us back to how.

So, have you got some Zen wolf thing going on that gives you a little bit more control. Is it like the force - - werewolf style? Which I have to tell you boggles my mind a little, because you aren't really the poster child for restraint and discipline. Maybe for scattered and disorganized. So its gotta be some sort of alpha thing that allows you extra resistance. And maybe you've got a little something extra to pull on since you're not your everyday run of the mill apha."

Scott gave him a narrow look from under his lashes and muttered. "Can we talk about something else?"

"We can, but this is interesting. I mean have you grilled Deaton for details? Other than the red eyes - - and I have to tell you, the yellow looked better on you - - and the ability to break tried and true rules of the supernatural - - what other super powers did you get?"

"I don't have super powers."

"Yeah, you sorta do. From day one, but that's neither here nor there. We're talking new ones."

Scott shrugged. "Everything's a little better, I guess. I haven't gone out and tested it."

"Yeah, well why haven't you? We need to get on that ASAP. Because as far as I can tell, you're not winning any championship belts in the kicking ass department. That thing back there whipped your ass. And I can think of at least - -oh, three werewolves off hand - - friendly ones - - well, relatively friendly - - that could probably kick your ass."

"Stiles, can we please talk about something else - -" Scott ground out.

This time when Stiles glanced at him, the claws were out and digging into the armrest and the while the brown eyed glare Scott had tossed him earlier hadn't been disturbing in the least, the red tinged one was a bit more unsettling.

Stiles swallowed and changed the subject. "Did I tell you about my MacGyver moment when I broke out of the lodge? With a pocketknife? I didn't tell you that, yet, did I?"

 

 

 

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