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Route-34 was one long stretch of wooded, backcountry road that ran the length of three counties. The old road from Beacon Hills to the closest metropolitan mecca, that people had used to take a generation or three ago, before the interstates had been built. There wasn't much to speak of along it now. A lot of weathered old ramshackle buildings, gas stations and diners and motels that had seen a thriving business fifty years ago, but were lucky to keep afloat now that all the traffic had been rerouted down more modern thoroughfares.
She'd told Scott to head north on it and just ride, until he heard otherwise. She'd given him thirty minutes, which didn't give him a lot of time to get outside of town and onto a road heading towards some unspecified destination. She'd promised, if she saw anyone but him, anyone even resembling one of his on his tail - - that she'd take her time ripping Stiles apart. He'd believed her.
"This is bullshit," had been Isaac's opinion of the plan. "She's gonna kill you both, you know that, right?" Isaac was so upset at the prospect that his eyes kept flashing yellow in his agitation.
"You don't have a lot of faith in me, do you? Scott had asked, heading for the curb and his bike, concentrating on that one goal of finding Stiles. It was easier to keep his hands from shaking when he tunneled his vision and narrowed his focus.
"Allison shot like a dozen arrows into her and she was still kicking all three of our asses," Isaac reminded him.
"She was a beast then. She's a girl now." Scott tossed the spare helmet at Isaac with a warning look. "Don't follow me. Give me a little time to deal with this."
"How? How are you going to deal with this?"
"At least let's stop by my place and get one of my dad's trackers, so we can find you without her knowing," Allison laid a hand on his wrist as he swung onto the bike. "Please, Scott. You can't deal with this alone. We know what she's capable of."
"I don't have time," he tossed her a look and got snared for a second at the fear in her eyes. Fear for him. They thought he was walking towards his own death and they were probably right. His luck so far in surviving the vanago - - Zlata - - had been pretty miraculous. It couldn't hold. He still had to do it.
"He can't go into this alone. It's insane," Isaac was muttering.
"Maybe not." Derek moved up, grim faced. "If she turns into the vanago, she'll tear you apart, no contest. But if she only turns partially, you may stand a chance."
"What's to stop her from turning?" Isaac wanted to know.
Derek flicked a glance his way, before turning back to Scott. "Fear. The fear that she won't be able to turn back again. It takes the rare individual to go full animal and not lose themselves in the beast mind. For a century the human part of her was dormant. It took something pretty traumatic to bring it back to the forefront enough for her to initiate the change. Maybe you and Stiles blasting out her brains - - who knows. Doesn't matter. What matters is, the fear of going full beast and not being able to shift back might keep her from being able to shift back." He tapped his temple. "Its not just physical, its mental. So if it comes down to you and her - - you go hard and fast and you don't give her the chance to weigh her options. You rip her throat out before she rips out yours. No moral dilemma. No chance for redemption. No mercy. You hear me?"
"I hear you," he said softly, before shoving the helmet on and starting up the bike. "Don't follow me." He wasn't sure they wouldn't - - the way Isaac looked, the grim set of Derek's mouth hinted that they probably would - - but he had to hope they'd be cautious enough about it not to get Stiles killed.
Which put him on a desperate trek down rural route-34, trees and the occasional roadside collection of buildings flashing by. He kept thinking, what if he was too late. What if she'd grown impatient and decided to carry out her threats. What if this was all part of her game and she'd already done it, and he was just wasting time out here, amusing her. What if? What if? His head swirled with terrible supposition.
He'd ridden fifteen miles out of town, and was almost to the county line, when the phone in his pocket vibrated. He skidded to a dusty stop on the side of the road, pulled off his helmet and answered it.
"Turn around," she purred into the line. "There's a tavern on the side of the road with a pig on the sign. You understand?"
"Yes." He'd seen the place in passing, smelled the scent of smoking meat. Maybe a mile back down the road.
"You keep phone on, so I hear," she said. "No calling your wolves."
"No calling," he agreed. He pulled back out onto the road, the phone in his hand. It took him a handful of minutes to cover the distance. It was an old building with a tin roof and a bordered up gas station next to it. The sign above it had a jovial, dancing pig and the claim of Joe's Pig Shack in faded, peeling paint. A few cars and a pickup truck were in the dirt lot next to it.
"Park around back," she directed. "Come inside."
He did, parking the bike behind the building, out of easy sight of the road and walked around to the front entrance. The bell on the door jingled when he opened it. The inside was as old as the outside. Wooden booths and a long, faded Formica counter. It smelled of beer and meat and tobacco. No one bothered to enforce no smoking laws in this particular establishment. There were a couple of good old boys in faded caps sitting at the counter getting an early start on their beer consumption, a greasy looking guy behind it, all of whom cast him looks, as if he were infringing their territory by setting foot inside.
Zlata was sitting in one of the booths by the big, dirty glass window that allowed her clear view of the road. She had a plate of food in front of her. He walked over, hand clenching the phone and stood waiting.
"Sit." She waved a hand to the seat across from her.
"Where is he?" He stood there, everything he had bristling.
She picked up a piece of bar-b-qued pork with her fingers and sucked it into her mouth. "Sit. Now. Maybe I tell you."
He took a calming breath, another, and slid into the booth across from her. "What do you want?"
She smiled, licking sauce from her fingers, one by one. "This is good meat. Tender. You want some?"
"Where is Stiles?" he ground out, clenching his fists on the tabletop. The phone creaked in his hand. She reached out and took it from him. She cut it off and sat it next to hers.
"You sure you want nothing?" She asked him.
"I want you to tell me where Stiles is. I want you to leave us alone and leave here. I don't care where."
She canted her head, staring at him for a moment in silence, before she reached out, snatched his wrist and drove the knife next to her plate through the back of his hand and into the table top.
He managed not to scream. She'd driven the blade in up the hilt, pinning his hand to the table, and the shock and the pain made him see red around the edges. He reached for the hilt, instinctively, and she waved a finger at him.
"Leave it, wolf. Or maybe I get up and walk away and the next time we talk, I find another of your pack to make you listen to me. This one will be dead."
He drew a shuddery breath and slowly let his free hand fall to the tabletop. Blood was slowly oozing out from under his palm, just a trickle on the top of his hand, the blade restricting the flow. He shut his eyes and nodded.
"Good," she said. "You learn."
He half heard the guy from behind the counter move up to the table, past the rush of blood in his ears. The guy opened his mouth, like he was about to ask Scott if he wanted anything, but the words stalled, his eyes fixed on the knife hilt protruding from the back of his hand.
Zlata smiled up at him, showing just a trace of fang. "It is a game," she purred. "He likes it. Bring me another of these." She tipped the bottle of beer with her fingertip on the lip.
The guy stared at her warily, back to Scott, then shrugged and headed off to get her beer.
"I like this beer. The beer at home - -it taste like pig swill. No good. Vodka at least kills the taste after you drink enough."
She picked another chunk of meat off her plate, sucked the sauce off it before sucking it into her mouth.
"You've tried this bar-b-que before?"
He swallowed, staring at her. He could feel the metal of the blade grind against the bones of his hand when he flexed. It hurt like a bitch, but he'd felt worse things by a long shot.
"The sauce is good." She reached out, running her fingers along the back of his trapped hand, through the trickle of dark blood. She brought the blood-covered finger to her mouth and sucked it in, eyes flickering a deeper amber as she did. "Almost good as blood, no? You tasted the blood of a kill, wolf? You eaten flesh of prey while it's still hot with life?"
"No," he ground out.
She sniffed. "What sort of wolf are you, that hasn't made a kill?"
"A human one."
She grinned at him, a predator's grin, then picked up another chunk of meat, sucking it into her mouth.
"At home, before - - there was never enough food. Everyone starved during revolution. We'd kill a man for a loaf of bread on road. Strip his corpse and sell his belongings - - but it never occurred to us that meat on his bones would stave off the hunger. Only after the shriveled old bitch laid curse, did we come to relish the taste of human flesh. Then we never went hungry."
He stared at her, sickened. Terrified by the utter disregard she held for human life. "You're were an animal. You're not an animal anymore."
She canted her head, lifting a dubious brow. "You think not?"
The guy brought the beer, sat it down with a wary look at the knife protruding from Scott's hand, before shuffling off. The two guys at the counter were staring at them unabashedly.
She took a long drink from it, plucked another piece of meat into her mouth, licking her fingers, before she pulled a twenty-dollar bill out of her jeans and tossed it on the table. She grabbed the knife and yanked it out.
Scott hissed softly, blood welling for that moment before his flesh began to industriously knit itself.
She slid out of the booth, jerking her head for him to follow. Outside, she headed towards one of the cars, a dark, expensive sedan. He stopped a few paces from it, flexing the wounded hand. The skin was already mended, but the itch of knitting flesh and tendon on the inside sent shivers up his arm. The fear of getting into that car with her sent shivers everywhere else. He had to concentrate to keep his breathing even and steady.
"Come," she urged. "We go see your friend."
Short of giving up on Stiles, he had no choice. None. He blew out a tremulous breath and reached for the passenger door. The moment he was inside he picked up disturbingly familiar scents. Jan Dupont was all over this car. Fainter, but still prominent was the smell of the girl from the side of the road.
"Dupont's sister didn't get away, did she?" he stared at Zlata as she started the engine.
"No," she agreed.
"You killed her and the girl?"
Her mouth curved in a satisfied smile. He clenched his fists and snapped his eyes away from her, staring at the road as she pulled out. Not that he could dredge up much regret for Jan Dupont, but the girl, even if she'd ruthlessly stun gunned him, and stood by while he'd been tortured hadn't been much older than him. She'd had dimples when she smiled. Two more lives snuffed out and Zlata smiled like it was an accomplishment to be proud of.
She drove south from the diner, heading away from Beacon Hills. Maybe four miles up the road, between patches of woods, she pulled into a long dirt drive, past an unkempt yard towards a small, one story house that had seen better days.
She got out, bending down to look at him through her open door. "Come find out."
He got out, circling around the car cautiously. There was a neighboring house, a carbon copy of this one, but it was a good distance away. A long dead plot of soybean between it and here. There was just woods in the back and woods on the right hand side. Nobody close enough to hear a disturbance and report it. Not that the authorities showing up would result in anything but dead deputies, so he supposed it was a blessing.
"You killed the person who owned this house, too?" he asked.
She came up close beside him, her hand drifting up the back of his arm. "I give him something to smile about before I ripped off that part of him he was proudest of. He screamed then."
He shut his eyes, a visceral shudder at that image running through him.
"He's back there, in the wood. I show you, if you want. Live prey more interesting, though."
He shifted away from her, needing out from under the touch of her fingers. He caught Stiles' scent then, as the breeze shifted, and the faintest trace of blood. New blood. Old blood. He held his breath, focusing his hearing, and heard the sound of a heartbeat through the thin walls of the house. He was here and he was alive and for a split second Scott shut his eyes, a surge of relief flooding through him.
"He's not prey," he said through clenched teeth, knowing she was talking about Stiles. "People aren't prey."
She stood there, staring at him, the faintest glow of amber brightening her eyes. "Anything that runs is prey. Wolf should know this - - here." She pressed a closed fist against her chest. "Wolves that don't - - no better than prey themselves."
He let his own eyes flash, letting her know just how wrong she was.
Her grin elongated, showing him fangs, that though not nearly as long or as dangerous as she'd sported while in beast form, were still damned impressive.
"Maybe I go kill your prey now. Think you can stop me, wolf?"
He lowered his eyes, finding his center, that surging rush of primal power that fed the wolf inside. And he let it loose.
From one heartbeat to the next he shifted. He lunged at her, full on wolf, hoping to get in that one incapacitating blow that would take her down before she realized he was coming.
But of course she was ready for him. She swiped at him, her claws black and curved and longer than his, but he ducked under the blow, hitting her full body, sending them both crashing through the front door and skidding in a tangle of limbs and claws and fangs onto the floor inside. She caught him a glancing blow to the side of the head, and he saw stars. But he rolled, swiping at her as he did, and she was almost fast enough to avoid him, but not quite. His claws raked across the side of her face and she screamed, this vibrating roar that made the windows rattle. She caught his arm and flung him into the sofa. She almost dislocated his shoulder in the process. Strong. Just crazy strong.
He rebounded and came back at her. Ducked under the swipe of her claws, faster than she was, and scored a strike across her mid drift. Blood spewed in the wake of his hit, blood on his hands, blood blossoming across the bare, torn skin of her belly. He could just see the glistening coil of intestines before she put a hand to it, snarling, holding flesh together as it began to knit. It was horrific, that he'd done it, even when desperation and fear made everything red around the edges. It didn't slow her down, her arms were longer, thicker, her hands elongated into things that could house claws three times the length of his. She caught him a scored a hit that tore through muscle and tendon in his shoulder and sent him staggering against a spindly-legged table. He was off his balance long enough for her to catch hold of his arm and fling him across the room with the force to buckle the wall when he impacted. Plaster and splintered wood rained down with him as he sprawled. Blood running down his side from the gouges, head spinning from the impact with the wall.
She crossed the room after him in one bound and he barely managed to roll to avoid her full weight coming down upon him. He kicked out in desperation, catching her in the hip, slamming her backwards. He grabbed the overturned table and swung it, catching her full across the face, shattering wood and making her stagger. Her foot slipped in blood - - hers or his - - and she went down to one knee. Hard and fast and no mercy, had been Derek's advice, as if the primal instinct of self-preservation inside Scott had any need for that bit of ruthless wisdom. He was on her, bearing her backwards, claws at her throat, tearing through flesh.
"Stop, please," she cried staring up at him, wide eyed, blood on her lips - -and no matter what she was, at that moment she looked young and frightened and female, with her blood under his claws - - and he hesitated, staring down at her in horror, not able to carry through.
Impact hit his side, agony fast on its heels, debilitating pain that tore through him with blunt force. He looked down, saw the piece of splintered wood protruding from his side, just above his hip. She growled under him and drove it deeper. He tried to draw breath that wouldn't come, oxygen lodged in the knot of pain at this throat. She shoved him, claws raking his chest and he toppled backwards, clutching for the wood impaling him. She smacked his hand away, looming over him, blood drenching her neck, drenching the vest she wore, no fear on her face now, no wide-eyed supplication, just killing rage and cold purpose.
"Fool," she growled at him. She drew back her hand, claws extended and she wouldn't hesitate. He knew she wouldn't miss a beat, tearing out his throat. But instead of ripping out his jugular she grasped his hair, yanked his head up and slammed it back down, against the wood floor with a resounding crack of bone meeting hardwood. He saw stars, wetness spreading across the back of his head. She did it again and wood splintered, maybe the bone of his skull did. The third time and darkness rushed up with the impact and everything stopped.
Stiles couldn't move. He dared not move. He wanted to, but even breathing too deeply pressed the razor wire into the skin of his throat. He sat, back pressed against the tall wrought iron headboard, a noose of razor wire around his neck, the length of it trailing through the bars of the headboard, under the bed frame to where she'd fastened the other end to the footboard, as far out of his reach as the moon. His hands could have been loose for all the good it would have done him, tethered as he was with the sanctity of his neck on the line. There were already a few trickles of blood that he could feel, working their warm, slow way down this throat. She'd been damned meticulous in wrapping the wire around his neck.
She'd been gone for an hour, he figured, his internal clock a pretty accurate mechanism, when he heard the ruckus burst through the front door. And then all he could do was sit there, trying not to breath too deeply, while it sounded like some sort of were beast war was being waged in the other room.
Then it went quiet. Dead quiet and all he could hear was the sound of his own measured breaths. He wanted to believe, with every iota of optimism he had - - which unfortunately generally took a second seat to the more realistic streak of pessimism that generally took front row seatage - - that his friends that figured out a way to find him. That Scott had come bearing healthy reinforcements - - Derek, Isaac, even the damned twins would have been welcome, an Argent or two - - and that this eastern Euro were-bitch had just been handed her head on a platter. But of course, when did any plan they concocted ever work out smoothly or without hitches? Seldom at best.
He had almost worked up the nerve to call out and see if there were any survivors of the house shaking ruckus that had just occurred, when Zlata - - a damned bloody, battered looking Zlata appeared, one red stained hand clutching the ankle of the body she was dragging behind her. Scott's body, trailing a smear of fresh, dark blood across the floor in his wake.
Stiles stopped breathing, this fist of fear balling up between his heart and his throat. If she was bloody, Scott was just as much so, and Scott wasn't moving. He couldn't even see if Scott was breathing.
"You bitch - - you fucking bitch - - so help me God - -" he breathed, low and furious and he didn't care if he pissed her off, or how ridiculously underprepared he was to carry out the threat.
She cast him a glance, her eyes glowing supernaturally amber, the side of her face stained with blood, the gashes that had leaked it, closed up but still visible. There was a set of only half healed rakes on her stomach, still leaking a little blood at the edges. Healing, but not crazy fast. Not like when she'd been sporting a full-on fur coat.
There was a grimace of pain maybe, when she dragged Scott up and dumped him on the bed, feet at Stiles' end, head towards the footboard. There was a lot of blood in his hair. Blood staining his collar and the back of his neck. The shoulder of his jacket was black with it, the denim shredded from shoulder to breast. His shirt was wet with it. Stiles saw why when she grasped the end of a piece of wood and yanked it out. And kept yanking. It was long, maybe twenty inches of jagged, blood soaked wood that had had to go through organs on its way in. Scott didn't even flinch as she ripped it out of him. Just lay there, still like death and Stiles wanted to vomit.
"Oh - - God. Oh God - - you psychotic bitch - - what did you do - -?"
"Shut up," she lunged at him across Scott, growling, snapping teeth in his face. There was pain in her eyes. Damage done her that she was barely containing. There was no where to go without the razor wire ripping his throat to shreds, so he just shut his eyes, clenching his teeth, feeling the heat of her breath on his face, until she sucked in a hissing breath and the mattress shifted as she backed off.
He dared to open his eyes again, as she was pulling Scott's jacket off, going through the pockets, finding a phone that looked like Stiles', his keys, not much else. She tossed them aside, and started unwinding the stands of razor wire she'd attached to the footboard. For a moment, the tension on the wire around his neck let up, then she dragged Scott's arms up to the bars of the footboard and began wrapping the wire around his wrists.
"Seriously?" he choked as the wire pulled taut again. It was a bit of macabre genius on her part, tethering a werewolf who could have ripped his way out of a bit of flimsy razor wire without much effort, by the simple act of attaching the other end of the wire around the neck of somebody that didn't have the ability to miraculously heal up from things like a lacerated jugular. Which wouldn't necessarily stop Stiles' from getting his throat sliced open if Scott jerked up before he realized what was at stake.
She sat on the edge of the bed, after she'd finished twining the wire, one hand, claws still half extended on Scott's chest. She pushed the edge of his shirt up, baring his stomach. Stiles couldn't see if the wound on his side had closed up yet, but there was still a lot of fresh blood. The sort of dark blood that was almost black that wolves leaked when the wound was damned serious.
She ran her fingers across it, then brought them to her mouth, sucking the blood off one at a time.
"You are one seriously disturbed piece of work, you know that, right?"
"Stop talking or I kill you now instead of waiting for him to wake up and watch."
He choked back a hysterical laugh. At least she seemed convinced that Scott would be waking up. Please, please let her be right. And please let somebody like Derek or the Wonder Twins or Argent with an arsenal in tow, be close on Scott's heels. Please let them have figured out something a little less suicidal than letting Scott come into this solo.
She spread her fingers out on Scott's stomach, below his ribs, and his pulse fluttered under her hand. Good sign at least, even if he wanted very badly to snarl at her to get her claws off of him. She rose then, without a word, and left the room. A little less grace than she usually exhibited. Stiles hoped she hurt like a bitch. Hoped she'd maybe feel the need to go curl up somewhere and lick her wounds while she healed. Give the cavalry a little time to get here.
Because if there wasn't a cavalry on the way, they were fucked. Hard. In a very uncomfortable place.
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