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The screams started during lunch. Scott didn't hear them until the commotion began to spread, like some virulent disease across the cafeteria, whispers at the outer edge turning to alarmed speculation and finally an outright rush of kids abandoning their seats to flood out into the hall, gawkers rushing the scene of the proverbial crime.
Lydia maybe even picked it up before he did, freezing in the line in front of him, hand outstretched towards the row of prepared salads, eyes round and wide and alarmed, when all of the rest of them were blithely unaware.
"Lydia?" he'd ventured, breaking her out of whatever it was that had snared her, and she'd blinked, looking up at him with dread filled green eyes. It was enough to make his chest constrict and his pulse began to pound in panic.
"What?" he whispered, even as the guy behind him in line started complaining about the hold up. It's a salad not a PSAT - - just pick one. Scott turned a dangerous look his way, the state of his nerves presently hindering his usual level of patience. Maybe there was even a glint of something a little more predatory than your normal high school sophomore exhibited in his eyes, because the guy swallowed and looked away. He turned back to Lydia, but she shook her head mutely, lifting a hand to her throat, fingers brushing across pale skin, an almost nervous gesture.
"Did you hear - -?" she whispered and he shook his head, not understanding. Which was around the time, a couple of kids burst through the cafeteria doors and whatever news it was they brought with them began its wildfire migration across the room.
Then, when he started paying attention, he heard the commotion outside. Heard the screams from half a building away, heard the thunder of sneakered feet on tile floors as the exodus began.
"God - -" Lydia whispered and Scott left her there, bolting out of line and heading towards the door along with half the kids in the cafeteria.
There was a crowd converging in the hallway outside the girl's locker room. There was Coach Finstock and vice-principal Hawkins trying to keep them away. Scott could smell the blood twenty feet away. There was a girl, crying against the wall next to the locker room entrance, the white soles of her sneakers stained with red. She was sobbing over and over - -Blood - - oh my God, so much blood - -
Someone came up close on his back and he didn't have to turn to know it was Isaac. Isaac bristling and tense and worried.
"Tell me it's not in the school?" Got hissed by his ear.
"I don't know." He needed to get in there. He needed to see and to scent while it was fresh.
"I need a distraction."
There was a pause, then. "I can do that."
Isaac slipped past him, shouldering his way through the crowd of kids. Zeroing in on a likely candidate, a big senior with a disposition for aggressive behavior and shoving him hard into a group of his cronies. The guy bristled, cursing as he regained his balance, staring with small, outraged eyes at Isaac, who stood there, smirking. He charged and all hell broke loose, kids scattering or knocked out of the way as the guy bowled into Isaac like an enraged bull.
As distractions went, it was a good one. Both Coach and Vice-principal Hawkins left their posts guarding the locker room doors and waded in to break up the fight. Scott didn't waste time. He slipped through the crowd and into the locker room, skirting the bloody footprints leading out. The blood itself started a few yards inside the room, pooling around the sprawled figure of Ms. Redman. Her eyes were wide and staring, the majority of her throat simply ripped away. There were pieces of flesh, of tendon and skin on the floor. It hadn't been a knife that had done it, but claws. How had it gotten into the school?
Gingerly, he stepped around the blood, trying to differentiate from all the hundreds of varied scents lingering in any given locker room. Sweat and deodorant, perfumes and shampoo's, female pheromones, menstrual blood - - the lingering sense of - - fear - - hanging in the air on some different level than the mundane smells. And something more familiar than all the other smells. A scent he knew as well as his own.
Stiles. He drew a shallow breath, not understanding. Thinking almost that his senses were playing tricks on him. But the scent was there, clear as day, where it had no business being. And once he was onto a scent, a strong scent, he could almost see it. Like he was following a drifting mist of colors outside the visual spectrum.
He stepped past Ms. Redman, following the trail deeper into the room, past a couple of rows of lockers, afraid of what he'd find. But it wasn't a body, just a phone on the floor. A few droplets of blood peppered the tile, more of it smeared the face of the cell. Stiles' phone. He knew it with a numb certainty. He picked it up, turning it over in his fingers, before another smear of blood caught his attention and he saw the dent in the lockers. Saw the bloody handprint on the metal, saw the puncture marks at the tips, where claws had bitten into the locker face, and he picked up the second familiar scent.
Zlata. Her unique scent, mingled with the blood, fresher than all the rest. As fresh as Stiles and Ms. Redman, all of them floating in the air like little colored dust mites. The colors of fear, the color of prey on the run. The colors of aggression - - the sense of a predator on the hunt.
He took a breath, staring at the phone in his hand, at the dent in the locker and a frightening suspicion began to form. There had always been something about her scent. Odd and subtle, when she wasn't throwing off utterly distracting sex pheromones. He'd never really thought about it, his mind thoroughly on more pressing problems. Zlata who freaked him out more than just a girl should have. Zlata who moved like a predator and looked at him like a predator sizing up prey, and he hadn't seen it.
He shut his eyes for a second in dread. Anger. Self-recrimination. A fear that ate at his insides like a cancer.
Idiot. How could he have been so blind? How could he not have known? He'd been close to her - -in both forms - - and he hadn't seen it. He should have known, and now Stiles was paying for it. And he couldn't get the image of the mangled corpses she left in her wake out of his mind. Couldn't stop the dread of what he was going to find at the end of this scent trail.
He had to shut his eyes for a second to force back the welling panic. He could feel the walls closing in, the black creeping in around the edges of his vision, the breath short and pained in his chest. And he couldn't afford it. He could not let it rule him. There wasn't a secret or a mantra to push it down - - like Derek said - - you just did it, because if you didn't you were screwed. The people that needed you were screwed.
He took a breath, clenching his fists and fought it down.
He shoved the phone in his pocket and started moving, following the mingled scents of Stiles and Zlata towards the door at the back of the locker room and into the empty gymnasium.
There was no gruesome discovery to be made there. Just a vast, dully gleaming floor, devoid of life or death. The sound of his footfalls as he padded across it echoed in the empty room. The twin doors leading to the back of the gymnasium were open.
Outside were the loading docks and the overflow parking. He could hear the sound of sirens. The police arriving at the scene. Stiles' dad arriving. Oh God. He felt the constriction in his chest again. He drew a deep breath, seeking the semblance of calm he needed to be of use to Stiles. He couldn't follow a scent if he couldn't breath.
There were few cars out here. Employee or school vehicles mostly. He got to the second row and the scent stopped. Just ceased to be. All he could smell was tire rubber and engine oil and gasoline. A car. They'd gotten into a car and driven away. And if there was a trick to tracking cars down roads where thousands of cars traversed daily, he hadn't discovered it.
Why hadn't she killed him already? She'd shown no restraint before, leaving bodies littered in her wake. But she'd been in beast form before - - she was a girl now - - and maybe the beast mind and the girl mind were worlds apart. But not so far apart that she hadn't ripped up a boy two nights ago.
That she hadn't torn the throat out of a teacher today.
And she'd sat at the kitchen table, drinking iced tea with his mom. Sat at the lunch table with his friends - - his pack, marking prey. And she had Stiles.
He stood there, flexing his fists, barely hearing the sound of movement behind him, until he caught Isaac's scent.
"Its Zlata," he said softly.
There was a beat of silence, then. "I told you she was trouble."
"She's got Stiles."
A long pause and then. "Yeah - - what are we gonna do about that?"
Scott turned to look at him, at Isaac standing there, a rip in the shoulder of his shirt, blood on his knuckles that wasn't his, waiting for him to tell him what the plan was. Because he was supposed to know. Because Isaac trusted him to know, when in reality, Scott didn't know anything. When he'd been stupidly ignorant of the things right in front of his eyes.
"Her house. We go to her house." It was the best he could do. The only place he could think to start when he didn't know anything else about her except what Dupont had told him. Except that he'd been in Dupont's 'care' for a day and it had messed with his head and Dupont had had the beast - - he'd had her - - for a whole hell of a lot longer.
Derek was waiting for them when they got to Mr. Klutsky's house. Scott had called him on the way home, desperate to know if the school was the first place she'd struck or if she'd been hunting before that. But his mom was fine. Everything was fine at home. Except for the predator that had been living two doors down. That was anything but okay.
Derek didn't ask if he was sure, when he met them at the curb, he just looked grimly at the house and said. "How long?"
Scott stood there, Isaac beside him, staring at the house and did a little mental math. "A couple of days after the barn."
"She moves fast."
"How does a girl that's been a bear for a hundred years pick up so much, so fast?" Isaac asked what Scott was thinking.
"She's a smart girl," Derek shrugged and headed for the house. He didn't bother knocking, just kicked the door in without breaking a lot of stride. Scott moved in past him, stretching every sense he had. The first thing he picked up was the stench of death. Of rotting meat and decay. He exchanged a look with Derek, who jerked his chin towards the back of the house. They moved through the front room, which looked like a mini tornado had swept through. A tornado with claws, if the marks on the walls and the rips in the fabric of the furniture were any indication.
They found Mr. Klutsky in a bedroom. All over the bedroom. Isaac gagged and staggered back. It wasn't just the smell - - although once they opened the door it was nauseating to the point of making him lightheaded - - it was the violence that had been done to a defenseless old man. Rage painted the walls of this room. Nothing sane had done this.
Scott fought back the bile that wanted to rise up the back of his throat and spun out of the room on Isaac's heels. There was nothing else living here and he needed desperately to get a lungful of fresh air to wash away of the reek of death. Isaac was outside, leaning over his knees, breathing hard. Scott joined him at the bottom of the porch, drawing in great lungfuls of air. Derek followed him a moment later, looking a little paler than Derek usually looked. The problem with wolf smell was that everything was more intense, including the awful stuff. He could still smell it, drifting out through the open door.
"What did you find?" Allison and Lydia were heading towards the house from the curb, from where Allison's car was haphazardly parked. Lydia lagging behind, looking as if she didn't want to know.
"She was here. She's not anymore," Derek said shortly.
"She killed the old man that lived here," Isaac added. "It's pretty horrible in there."
"She didn't come back here, after the school." Scott was sure of that. It had been a long shot anyway. The only starting point he'd had.
"But she was here?" Allison moved past them, up the steps, wrinkling her nose, even dull human smell able to discern the stench of a decomposing body. She took a breath through her mouth and turned to look at him. "She tracked you down and took over a house next to yours. What the hell does she want?"
"She's a hunter," Derek said. "She's hunting him."
"Yeah, it didn't look like a lot of hunting was going on at that party Saturday night," Isaac said.
Allison lifted a brow, glancing from Isaac to Scott.
"She's a girl now, not a beast," Lydia finally contributed, standing a few feet down the sidewalk, as if she really didn't want to get closer to the house with its reeking death. "Girls stalk different things than beasts. She's gone a hundred years without sex. Maybe she's just horny?"
"God," Scott hissed out a breath, so very much not wanting to hear that.
"So why'd she take Stiles, if she was after Scott?" Isaac asked.
"Because we're not easy prey," Derek said, meeting Scott's eyes. "Stiles was. She's messing with you."
He took a breath and looked at Lydia, who had insights the rest of them couldn't fathom. He desperately needed to know if she was sensing something now.
"Are you getting anything? Anything at all? She hasn't shown a lot of restraint before this - - do you think he's - - okay?"
She stood there, all of them looking at her, a wrinkle of dismay between her brows.
"I couldn't sense you - - when you were missing," she said finally, softly. "I can't sense him."
"But, you did sense something," Allison moved back down to her, clasping one of Lydia's hands in both of hers. "You led us to that barn. Something drew you there."
"But it wasn't Scott I heard," Lydia whispered. "It was all the people that died around him."
"So nothing?" Derek said impatiently.
Lydia shook her head.
"All that means," Allison said. "Is that maybe, nobody is dying. That's a good thing, right?"
Good seemed a relative term right about now. But Allison was trying hard to be optimistic, and Lydia looked so devastated, that he nodded.
Which was around the time, the phone in his jacket pocket, began vibrating.
It was easy. So very easy to cut through these weak human prey and take what she wanted. So very easy to fool them into complacence before she showed them her claws. The boy in the trunk of her car was proof enough of that.
She drove to the little house at the edge of the woods, and when she opened the trunk he was awake. Blinking up at her with wide, frightened eyes, holding out his hands defensively as she reached for him, babbling incoherently - - "Wait - - wait, oh, crap - - its you - - its you - - what do you want - -?"
She slapped his hands aside, doing him the great favor of not using claws and pulled him up, dragging him over the edge of the trunk. He staggered, one leg going out from under him and she hauled him up, growling.
"Oh my God - - you killed Ms. Redman - - you killed Troy Fischer - - where is this?"
He sounded disoriented, stunned. He tried to twist out of her grip, unruly and noisy, so she tightened her hand on his elbow to the point that his words trailed off into a yelp and his legs came close to buckling again.
"Stop. Stop. Stop." He clawed at her hand with his other, blunt nailed one, trying her patience, stupid, stupid prey that he was. She flung him at the low concrete steps and he hit, hip and shoulder and lay there, curling in upon himself for a moment, clutching his elbow, face screwed up in pain.
She stalked towards him, catching him by the scruff of the neck and dragging him up in passing, claws out this time, biting into the soft skin of his throat to keep him in line as she pushed him towards the door and through it. There was a patch of dried blood matted in his hair at the back of his head. Barely enough blood to count. She'd draw more, but she wanted the wolf here to see it.
She forced him into the bedroom, with its big bed and its sturdy iron frame where she'd fucked the man from the diner. What was left of his body was feeding the little things out in the woods behind the house. She pushed him towards the bed that she'd pulled out from against the wall and he barely hit, before he rebounded scrambling away, looking for an escape that wasn't there. Wide brown eyes, pale skin that barely contained the desperate rush of his pulse.
She let her teeth grow, filling her mouth like sharp, pointy blades of ivory and he blanched, putting his back to the wall next to the window she'd already boarded up. She stalked towards him and he edged away, wide-eyed, breathing harsh.
"As romantic as this little getaway is - - its not me you're aiming for - - its Scott. Right? Am I right?"
"Shut up." she said, grabbing his shirt when he'd run out of wall, claws ripping cloth and scoring flesh beneath. He flinched, but wisely, didn't fight her when she pulled him back where she wanted him.
"So what is it? You want to hunt him, or be his girlfriend? 'Cause you're sending mixed signals and he's not always so good at picking up the direct stuff."
She pushed him belly down on the mattress and bound his hands behind him, his heart beat this frantic beat beneath his ribs. Scared. Very, very scared. Good.
"If you're trying to get on is good side, hurting me probably isn't your best plan of action." He said it desperately, when she flipped him over. She stared down at him, brows drawn annoyance. He thought he understood her, stupid, stupid boy. She didn't need to ingratiate herself to a young wolf. His good will meant nothing to her, and he had destroyed his chance to garner a speck of hers. All she wanted now was submission, before she tore him to pieces.
"Your talking irritates me," she hissed at him.
"Yeah, yeah, I get that sometimes," He cringed in upon himself, squeezing his eyes shut when she lunged at him, claws on his jaw, stopping just short of piercing skin.
She swung a leg over his hips and crouched over him, letting the ends of her hair tickle his face as she whispered. "I rip out your tongue, maybe. No talking then."
He shuddered, having nothing to say to that. He reeked of fear. He was prey. And it took everything she had not to tear him apart. She wanted to. She wanted to rip open his soft belly and drench her hands in his blood while it was still warm with life. To feed on his flesh, because the flesh of humans was sweet. And she would. After he'd served his purpose.
She stroked the side of his face with claws only half out, then leaned in to lick the trail of wetness at the side of his eye. A poor substitute for blood. But a satisfying sign of his fear. She moved her lips to his ear and whispered.
"We call him, you and me." She pulled out the phone she had taken from the Man's bitch sister and held it in front of his face.
"Scott?" he whispered. "You want to call Scott?"
"Tell me his number."
He laughed. It was either courage or a break with sanity, but he laughed at her. "Seriously? He never gave you his number? And you want it from me?"
A muscle in her jaw twitched. She pulled back her lip in a snarl and gave him an alternate suggestion. "I could rip open belly, pull out intestines and wrap them around neck while you still live. Like a pretty necklace."
He stared up at her, looking horrified. "Okay, then. Let's call Scott."
Scott almost didn't answer the phone. The caller had a blocked Id and he wasn't in the mood for telemarketers. Something made him look twice at the unfamiliar number and take the call.
"Hello, wolf." Her voice was a purr on the other end of the line.
"Zlata," he growled, the hair on the back of his neck bristling. Every eye in Mr. Klutsky's front yard immediately focused on him. "Where's Stiles?"
She laughed, and the sound of it, low and amused, made him clench his fists.
"What? You lose him?"
"If you've hurt him, I'll kill you." He'd never meant anything more in his life.
"Come try," she suggested. "We see who comes out on top, no?"
"Where is he?"
"Listen," she suggested.
He did, focusing past the fear and the anger that made his own heart thud a frantic tune, to the sounds in the background over the phone. Her heartbeat was slow and steady, but there was another, pattering faster than his own.
"Let me talk to him."
"Ask nicely," she purred.
He shut his eyes and rephrased the question. "Please, let me talk to him."
There was a moment's pause, then, "Hey, Scott. So today - - today's turned out to be pretty sucky so far." Stiles voice was shaky, scared shitless and him trying hard to hide it, but Scott knew.
"Its gonna be okay. I promise. Are you all right?"
"I guess that depends on your definition of all right. I'm not wearing my intestines like a necklace - - she threatened to let me try that, by the way, real class act, Zlata - - So I guess, I could be worse. You know she's the vanago, right?"
"Yeah, I got that."
"Just making sure we're all on the same - - " Stiles voice broke off with an abrupt gasp, and Zlata's was back on the line.
"Maybe I dig out one of his pretty eyes and send it to you. Maybe I send you other pieces of him - - gifts from me to you, huh, wolf?"
"No, no, that sounds like a terrible idea." He heard Stiles in the background.
"I send you his tongue first. He talks too much," she seemed decided.
"Don't hurt him." Scott ground out. "Please, don't hurt him."
"You do what you're told, like a good dog and maybe I won't." She sounded amused.
"Whatever you want - - I'll do."
"You will," she agreed. "You keep your wolves out of it and your prey with their arrows and their guns."
"Yes," he agreed. Little enough choice otherwise.
Isaac was shaking his head, mouthing 'no'. Scott ignored him. Both he and Derek could hear every word. Allison and Lydia were standing there, staring, worried looks on their faces, only able to hear the one side of the exchange.
Anything she wanted, he'd agree to, if it got him to where she had Stiles. He'd figure out the rest once he was in a position to put himself between her and him.
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