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by P L Nunn




She sat in the car, in the rain, watching the wolf's house. The radio, which she had discovered when the man had first taken her here, played softly in the background. One more amazing aspect of this world she had awoken in. One of her favorites. She'd enjoyed the throbbing tempo of the dance when she'd been just a girl, before the curse had taken her life away from her. And she'd been good at it, tossing her skirts and surging with the flow of rough melodies and clapping hands and stomping feet. The right music was like sex, primal and rhythmic.

And she'd found a rhythm last night, while she'd prowled the wolf's territory in the darkness, scenting out new hunting grounds. Testing her boundaries. She was afraid to try and change back into the form of the beast, lest the beast mentality overwhelm her again and trap her in that form. But there were degrees, she found, that she could revert, and still maintain enough of her humanity to retain control.

The wolf hadn't sensed her at all, outside his very home, until she'd allowed the beast to surge to the fore, had allowed her limbs to alter, to thicken with the beast's bulk of muscle and sinew and bone, felt power flood through her veins with a euphoric rush, and then everything with senses sharper than a stone had taken note of her. And she'd reveled, dancing in the darkness, leaving her mark and casting the entirety of this gathering of prey in their flimsy houses in darkness.

Until finally, she'd drawn the wolf out. And she'd crouched in the darkness and watched. Watched him and his pack mate, one of the wolves from the place where the Man had died, and the human bitch who'd shot her, creep out into the night. Young, all of them and ill at ease with the disruption she had caused in a place that was supposed to be safe territory.

She could have taken them all, if she'd wanted. Disemboweled the bitch with one swipe of her claws, torn the other wolf apart with hardly more effort, before she focused on her own. She'd have to hurt him to make him manageable. Cripple him badly enough to take the fight out of him, because young he might, be, but he'd proven he was not weak. She'd crouched there, pulse pounding over the prospect. And the beast in her surged to the fore at the notion of a quick, violent victory, but the human wanted to savor the chase.

Which found her, sitting in the car in the rain on his street the next day, watching the ebb and flow of human prey from their houses. She watched the wolf dart out into the rain, when a car pulled up, driven by his prey. Her fingers tightened on the wheel, sight narrowing to hunter's vision, because that particular prey had eluded her more times than sheer luck might account and he held a special place in her esteem. When she killed him, it would not be out of hand. It would be part of the game.

But she needed a vantage. A place within the wolf's own terrain. The beast could never have laid in wait unnoticed, but the girl - - the girl could pass among them like a wraith if she wished. The girl could pretend very well, that she was still one of them.

There were many houses on this street, but most of them were full of prey that might be missed if they simply disappeared. Finally, she found one, where there was only one scent and that stale and lonely. A house not far from the wolf's, where the hedges were a bit unruly and the yard unkempt. She pulled her car into the drive, as if she had legitimate business, and knocked on the door. And again, until finally, it opened and a sour faced old man peered out at her.

"I'm not buying," he said, looking beyond her, as if he expected she was only the first of a line of intruders come to disturb his peace.

She canted her head, smiling. "Rude. You need manners, old man."

He blinked at her, surprised into momentary sputtering, indignation, before she ripped the door open and shoved him back into the shadows of a house that smelled, disgustingly of age and stale tobacco. She shut the door behind her as he was moaning, trying to scrambled backwards, cursing at her, threatening to summon the law.

She walked towards him, flexing her hands, letting fingers and talons extend, then she crouched, stopping his retreat with claws against his wrinkled throat.

"What - - what are you?" He croaked, rheumy eyes staring at her in horror.

She considered, then smiled. "I think you and I shall discover that together, old man."

Scott felt numb and it was a blessing. Because for a while there, he hadn't been in school - - hadn't been trying to rip apart someone who was a tentative friend - - he'd been in that barn, flashing back to that dreadful moment when the beast had flung Stiles across the blood filled space like he was a discarded doll. Back to that moment when everything was red tinged and throbbing with pain and he'd thought Stiles' was one more corpse among a field of corpses. And he'd done the only thing he could do - - he'd attacked.

But Stiles wasn't dead. And this wasn't that barn and Aiden wasn't the beast, no matter he'd damned well overstepped boundaries. And there was blood under his nails, blood on his hands and he stuffed them into his pockets trying to hide it, while Coach was yelling at him and Aiden in a voice that sounded oddly muffled, when Coach's yelling usually made him wince with its volume and intensity.

"Clean this up. All of you, clean this mess up. Earthquake my ass," Coach was grumbling, staring at the blackboard with its impact fractures. "Both of you see me after school for detention and be grateful that's all you're getting."

Then Coach was wandering out the room, muttering to himself.

"Scott?" Stiles positioned himself in Scott's line of vision, dipping his head to make eye contact. "You all there, buddy?"

He swallowed, nodding. Isaac was hovering, idly rubbing at his forearm. There was blood on his skin and the fading traces of healing claw marks. He'd done that, maybe, and he didn't even remember it.

The twins were standing across the room, Ethan frowning, Aiden looking just a little bit contrite.

"Sorry," Aiden said begrudgingly. "I shouldn't have - - sorry."

"What?" Stiles wasn't looking particularly gracious. Stiles was looking flustered and pale. "Sorry you used your freakin' werewolf strength and threw me across the hall in the middle of school? Sorry for that?"

Aiden glowered and Ethan shook his head in frustration and stepped in front of him. "He's sorry. It shouldn't have happened. It won't again."

"It better not," Isaac growled. And even though Stiles and Isaac weren't exactly BFF's or even close to it, when it came down to them and everyone else, Isaac was a creature that took pack mentality to heart. And he never had completely gotten over the things the twins had done under the guidance of Deucalion.

"Are you okay?" he asked Stiles.

Stiles turned back to look at him, this gauging expression in his eyes. "Yeah. I'm okay. You think I wasn't? Is that what you thought? Where were you at, Scott?"

Scott felt a little tightening in his chest, the forerunning of panic. This wasn't supposed to be happening. He was supposed to be putting it behind him. He'd been trying so hard to put it behind him. And he thought he had, up until that moment when he saw Stiles flung into the lockers and all his illusions of stability had come tumbling down.

Stiles caught him by the elbow, steering him towards the door, casting a look over his shoulder at the twins, at Aiden in particular. "This is your fault, dickhead, you clean it up."

They went outside, blowing off last period completely. It was moist and grey, but at least the rain had let up. Isaac trailed behind, worried furrow between his brows. Worried about him. Just like Stiles, and he really, really didn't want to be the center of that focus.

"I did that?" he asked Isaac, motioning to the now pretty much healed scratches on his arm.

Isaac shrugged, as if it were no big deal. But it was. It absolutely was.

"I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault."

Scott half laughed at him in disbelief. "Then whose fault is it?"

"I can tick off a few names off the top of my head," Stiles said. "Scott, what the fuck happened, back there?"

Scott couldn't find the words. They were all jumbled up in a shameful, snarled knot in his head. He didn't want to think about it. He had been trying so hard to actively not think about it, to push it away and ignore it. To deny it. He wanted to deny it. But he was beginning to have the sinking feeling that denying it might the worse thing he could do. He nodded, clenching his fists, blowing out a breath as he tried to gather scattered thoughts.

"I thought - - I thought you were dead - - all I could see was the vanago - - and blood and bodies - - and I could feel the pain - - like it had just happened." He could almost feel the tightness of the collar around his throat. The cold grip of metal just waiting to spew acid into his veins.

"Dude," Stiles caught his wrist, pulling his hand down from where he was rubbing at his neck. "Its not there."

Isaac just stood there behind Stiles, shifting a little, that look on his face that you'd think was furtive, if you didn't know him, but was really just Isaac, anxious and thinking.

"I'm okay," Scott took a breath, feeling the need to reiterate, even if none of them believed it now.

"No you're not," Stiles said bluntly. "You're having flashbacks in the middle of school and that is so not okay. You were halfway to wolf in the middle of the damned hallway and the only bright side is that it was Aiden who set you off and not some other regular prick without supernatural healing abilities."

Scott stared at him, feeling sick at the thought. Physically sick to the point that he took a shaky step backwards, towards a wet wooden bench and sat down, leaning over his knees. Stiles was right. He might have killed someone. That blood on his hands might have been life's blood.

Stiles sat down next to him, forearms on knees, so he could bend down and meet Scott's eyes. You need to work this out. We need to work it out. Because this whole thing - -" he waved a hand at the school in general. "Not good."

Which was understatement of the year. Scott swallowed, nodding.

"What'd you do to piss Aiden off, anyway?" Isaac asked.

Stiles swung a glance around to him. "What makes you think I did anything?"

Isaac lifted a brow, looking dubious. "Because I've talked to you."

Stiles narrowed his eyes indignantly. "Right and you're such a font of personality - -"

"Could you two please - - just be nice?" Scott asked tightly. There was a hard-edged ache behind his eyes to go with the upset in his stomach. And it had been a long time since he'd had a headache. About as long as he'd been a werewolf.

Isaac shrugged. Stiles took a breath, as if it were taking everything he had to just let it go. It probably was. Finally he mumbled. "He was up in my face about Lydia."

Scott stared at him, trying to piece that together in his head. "Why?"

"Because he's got an inferiority complex? Maybe the leather jackets and the big, expensive bikes are compensation for a tiny dick? How the hell should I know?"

"I'm thinking not," Isaac said.

Stiles rolled his eyes and that struck Scott as funny. He dug his hands in his hair and laughed.

"Yeah, see? That's just not right," Stiles muttered.

Detention was predictably, locker room grunt duty. Coach had a gleefully malicious glint in his eyes as he set them to their punishment. Which consisted of the banishment of the mildew and grunge lurking in the shower and Coach wanting the porcelain of the toilets so clean and shiny he could see his reflection. The only bright side was that Aiden got the toilets.

It didn't occur to him until after he'd been released, that he'd ridden to school with Stiles and was stranded on foot. He could walk home, it was only seven or eight miles, and get his bike, but he was going to be later to work than detention had already made him. But when he reached the parking lot, Stiles' jeep was there, the only car still in the student lot, Stiles inside with his back to driver's door and legs stretched out across the gearshift onto the passenger seat, fixated with something on his phone.

"Dude, you waited. Thanks." He opened the door and Stiles tore his eyes up from the phone, shrugging.

"If you're gonna catch shit for defending my honor - - it's the least I can do, right?"

Scott gave him a look, then slapped his ankles to get him to move his feet.

"So - - home or work?"

"Work. Deaton will give me a lift home."

Stiles pulled out of the lot, conspicuously silent for a whole handful of minutes, before he cast a look Scott's way and commented.

"You realize, that other than a few sort of general, really unenlightening comments about what happened that day, you've just sort of glossed over the details of what Dupont did to you, right?"

"Yeah." There was nothing to do but agree with that assessment. He hadn't talked about it. He hadn't wanted to. He still didn't want to.

"And I let it slide - - I guess because I figured you'd been traumatized enough and didn't need to relive it."

Scott sank a little deeper into the seat, dreading where this was going.

"But I'm thinking maybe not talking about it is sort messing you up on the inside. That there are things mucking around in your subconscious eating away at you."

"Did you do a little reading while you were waiting for me?" It came out sounding a little sullen and Stiles cast him a side-eyed, arch-browed glance.

"Why yes. Yes, I did. And you will talk to somebody. Me. Deaton. Hell I don't care if its Derek - - but you've gotta open up to somebody and its not like you've got a range of options that are gonna understand about the whole werewolf/hunter scenario. Everything I've read says talking about it is the first step to dealing with it."

"All the reading you did in the hour you were waiting for me?"

"Dude, don't deflect. Deflection and denial are symptoms."

"Stiles, I'm okay. It's only been a few days since - - I'm still having nightmares is all and it's just got me tense. It's getting better."

"Today was better?"

"Today was messed up. It won't happen again." He wouldn't let it happen again.

"Dude, you didn't know it was happening today." Stiles snapped, jamming on the breaks and pulling off the side of the road in a spatter of mud and gravel. He reached out and caught Scott's wrist, drawing his hand away from his neck. He hadn't realized he was scratching at it. "Tell me about the collar, Scott. Tell me why there was so much blood on the ground under you in that fucking barn. Tell me anything."

He pulled his hand out of Stiles' grip, having the strongest urge to just open the door and get the hell out of the jeep and the pressure Stiles' was applying. Running seemed the smartest thing to do when all he had to do was shut his eyes and he could feel the burn of the poison flooding his bloodstream. Taste the blood in his throat from either the acid or him screaming himself raw. Smell it, acrid in the air, and feel the dirt and straw grinding into his back when he writhed on the floor in agony while that bastard stood there casually enjoying the infliction of it.

"Scott," Stiles voice got through, soft and worried, and he opened his eyes, focusing on Stiles' pale face.

"Claws," Stiles jerked his chin down, and Scott looked at his hands and the fully extended claws.

"Oh," Scott remarked a little breathlessly, and with an effort pulled them back.

"You can't even think about it, without going back there, can you?" Stiles asked quietly.

He shook his head, stricken. "I try not to think about it."

"Dude, that's not helping."

He looked blindly out the window, caught himself scratching at his neck this time and wondered how often he'd been worrying at it, at that ghost weight of the collar, without even knowing.

"There were needles on the inside of it," he said dully, trying to find a place to describe it that didn't put him smack dab back in the center of it all over again. "Every time he pushed a button - -it injected acid - - he said it was acid - - right into my bloodstream. It felt like - - I was on fire from the inside out. I was, I guess - - it was burning things up inside - - faster than my body could heal it. I didn't think anything could - - hurt like that and be survivable. Lucky me with the healing thing, right? He could just wait for me to heal enough, so that he could do it all over again."

"Oh, God," Stiles whispered.

"He said - - they said - - they were going to take me out of the country, so he could take his time, before they sold me to somebody who'd do it all over again before he hunted me down and killed me. And I would have rather died, right there - - I swear to god, I wished he'd just killed me - -"

"No you don't," Stiles snapped. "And that didn't happen. None of that happened, because you have friends who wouldn't let it. Stop dwelling on the shit that could have been and focus on what actually was."

"Like that's better?"

"He had you for a day and it was the worst fucking day of your life - - but like you said, it could have been for a lot longer. So yeah, that's better."

Scott leaned his temple against the cold glass of the window, clenching his hands into fists to keep them from shaking. Everything wanted to shake with the onslaught of memory. He'd thought he'd been doing such a good thing pushing it to the back of his mind, trying to partition it off from the reality of his real life. But he wasn't so deluded that he didn't realize his ability to compartmentalize was pretty sketchy at best. And now that Stiles had him thinking about it, it was just right there, bloody and abrasive and exhausting. The collar had been this brutal, agonizing weapon Dupont had used against him, and he could still feel it, like it had branded itself into his nerve endings. Dehumanizing, like the cage, reducing him to barely more than the beast Dupont had called him when he was writing in its grip. He hated the memory of that. Hated the notion of his humanity stripped away. Hated the fact that he woke sometimes, shaken out of sleep by the nightmare feel of Dupont's hands on his skin, the scent of Dupont's arousal in the air, strong as the blood scent and that was a whole different sort of mortification.

"I don't want to talk about it anymore. Not right now," he said softly. "I'm late for work."

Stiles sat there, staring for a moment, then nodded, turning the engine over and pulling back onto the road.

The first thing Stiles did when he got home, was kick off his clothes, turn the shower on as hot as he could stand it and step under it, letting the hot water ease away the newly awakened ache in his back. The dirty stench of Dupont's ghost was harder to wash away. Scott had told him a fraction - - the merest tip of the iceberg of what was tearing him up - - and even that had been enough to make Stiles want to find whatever icebox they had the slashed up remains of Dupont's body stored and kick the dead flesh until his foot went numb.

He pressed his forehead to the tiles and seethed for a while, water sluicing down his back, cursing Dupont mostly, Aiden a little, Scott a little less, but him mostly because he was being stubborn to his own detriment. Not that Stiles didn't understand, because some things just weren't easy to admit. Discussing the method of your own destruction was probably a little hard to have a casual conversation about and Scott had a hard time putting feelings to words, even at the best of times. Oh, Scott had all sorts of feelings - -he was empathetic as hell - - he just tended towards the doing over the talking about the doing most of the time.

When the water temperature began to cool down, he figured the hot water heater had given its best and it was time to get out before the hot shower turned cold. He got dressed, popped a couple of Tylenol and eased himself down in front of the computer. Scott had been right, an hour's worth of reading on PTSD did not an expert make, and he was pretty far out of his depths. Maybe Deaton would be better suited to help, if Scott would talk to him. It had to be somebody Scott trusted. It had to be somebody in the know, because the issues that needed the light of day couldn't be cleverly skirted around, even if Scott had been capable of clever skirting.

It occurred to him, that maybe he should consult with Lydia. He'd lay odds that if he called her right now, she'd have reams of useful knowledge just lying around, unused in that amazing head of hers. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed a stellar idea. So he picked up the phone and called.

It was a little after eight, when Deaton dropped Scott off at home after work. He hadn't said anything to him, even though he probably should have. But after the little chat in the Jeep with Stiles, he felt roughly like he'd been dragged through enough spiky, briar filled bramble to fill his quota for the day. And if talking about it was somehow supposed to make him feel better about it - - well, then talking about it was overrated.

His mom's car was in the drive when Deaton dropped him off, the porch light this inviting beacon in the darkness. He could smell the scent of sausages and pasta sauce from the road. His mom wasn't the best cook in the world, but she made a mean spaghetti and the thought of a big pot of that waiting inside, made the world a little less cold.

He tromped through the back porch, stomping his boots on the welcome mat to shed mud. He headed into the kitchen and stopped, in the midst of dropping his backpack on the counter by the door, caught off guard by his mom sitting at the kitchen table in the midst of a conversation with a strange girl.

A strange, stunningly gorgeous girl who looked up at him from her seat at the end of the table before his mom turned to smile a welcome at him.

"Hey, sweetheart. Supper's almost ready."

He blinked at her, trying really hard not to stare like an idiot at the girl, who's presence seemed to be a more of an important topic of conversation than the timetable for supper.

"Ummm - - great?"

His mom's smile widened. "Scott, this is Mr. Klutsky's grand niece, Zlata. She's come to stay with him for a while."

"Klutsky?" he was having trouble piecing together the little things, like names his mom seemed convinced he ought to know, when he swore to God the girl looked like she ought to be on the cover of a Victoria's Secret catalogue and she smelled like earth and sex - -

He took a breath, tearing his eyes off her, absolutely sure that his level of stress today was seriously impacting his ability to form rational, coherent thoughts. "Oh. Mr. Klutsky down the street?"

"Yes, that Mr. Klutsky," his mom humored him, way, way more perceptive than he was comfortable with. "He's not doing well and she'll be taking care of him."

"Hello." The girl, Zlata rose, padding around the table towards him with this graceful, swaying stride.

"Your mother, she has told me of you," she had an accent that sounded Eastern European. It was inexplicably hot. "I am, how you say, excited to have you?"

"To meet," his mom corrected with a laugh, rising herself to go the stove.

"Yes, as you say. My English - -it is not so good." The girl looked up at him from under her lashes and thank God that he was the only one with hearing sensitive enough to pick up on the sudden uptake in his pulse.

"So - - so you're not from here. From the States?" He managed to ask that without stumbling over his words, which was a good sign.

"No," she agreed, still looking up at him, still standing close enough that he sort of wanted to take a step backwards, but wasn't sure if that would seem rude.

"She's from Poland," his mom supplied.

"And - - will you be going to school here?" He regretted asking it the moment it left his mouth, because the way she looked, this sort of ageless bone structure, she could have been anywhere from seventeen to twenty-five.

"I mean, unless you're too old?" he tried to correct and from her raised brow and his mom's over the shoulder look, figured that that addendum hadn't actually helped.

But she didn't seem offended. In fact, she canted her head, this faint pleased curve on her mouth and said. "Yes. I think school will be a very good thing. Very good."




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