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by P L Nunn




She watched the wolves disappear amongst the crowd of prey and she seethed. It was all she could do to keep the beast from surging forth and ripping into them in a blood drenched frenzy of enraged frustration.

The other wolf had just earned a painful death and she'd laugh while she ripped out his entrails and showed them to him. Then she'd take them perhaps and decorate her wolf's yard, like some sort of grisly garland for him to find. A punishment for the both of them for thwarting her pleasures.

She lifted her hand to her mouth and sucked off the blood under her nails, one by one, the flavor of the wolf vibrant on her tongue. His mouth had tasted like vodka and wolf and male and his body had been hard and responsive under her. She still felt the heat of arousal between her legs. For sex and blood.

"That's harsh, baby." The prey whose house this way came to stand close behind her, reeking of alcohol and cologne. "The guy you're with ditching you for another guy. I always knew there was something off about McCall."

She glanced up at him, nails itching to elongate. He was tall and young with a square, pleasing face. The scent of his blood, just beneath of the layer of his skin made her run the tip of her tongue across her teeth.

"Believe me, it'd take a global disaster to pull me away from you in the middle of getting it on." His hand grazed the small of her back. "McCall's a fucking moron."

She slid her hand down his arm, folding her fingers around his hand and looked up into his eyes with the half lidded gaze she knew men responded well to. "But you, you're not moron?"

"Hell no," he affirmed with the breathless anticipation of a man who was surprised to discover that his crass attempt at seduction had succeeded.

She smiled, and pulled him through the crowd, towards the stairs.

"We can go to my room, upstairs - -" he suggested, happily following in her wake.

"Outside. We go outside."

"Outside?" he complained. "You wanna do it outside? Its cold."

She glanced back at him with a raised brow. "You afraid you can't get it up with cool air against your skin? I help with that. I make it warm for you."

He gaped at her, nodding. He led her through the back, out sprawling glass doors to a huge lawn, and beyond that, down a sloping expanse of grass and hedges, there were trees. The edge of a wood. The smell of pine and decaying mulch. She laughed, releasing his hand, and heading towards it, trusting he would follow her to hell at the behest of the flesh between his legs. She could already smell the scent of his arousal.

She moved into the trees, with their shadowed privacy and he followed, calling her name. In the darkness she let her claws creep out, felt the shift of bone and sinew as her very bones shifted. The first few times it had been disconcerting, almost painful, but now, the way her body realigned itself as she let some of the beast back out, was exhilarating. Almost a precursor to sex itself.

She led him deeper into the woods and when they were far enough out that no one might hear his screams, she turned and showed him exactly what it was that he had followed into the night.

Allison whispered into his ear, words that meant nothing, just hot breath against his skin, the tease of teeth against his lobe. Her hair was this dark curtain of silk that tickled his face, the movement of her hips as she ground her ass against his erection this unbearable, explosive drive that built and built and built without fruition. The blood on her nails when she drew them down his skin was new though. Allison wasn't shy about using her nails, but she never drew blood. And it felt like it was rolling down his skin in rivulets. Like she'd torn him open.

And her voice, when she said his name sounded just a little cross. More cross the louder it got, and less like Allison and more like him mom. Which was startling and disturbing, because his mom had no place at all in this scenario.

He blinked sluggishly, groaning at the sunlight shining in from blinds that should have been safely pulled. His mom crouched at the side of his bed, disconcertingly eye to eye and lifted one disapproving brow. If he hadn't been lying on his stomach, the Allison inspired morning wood safely trapped between him and the mattress, she might have been more disapproving still. Still it was mortifying enough her just being here, while it was taking its own sweet time deflating.

"I can only hope, that the one thing your miraculous, supernatural ability to repair bodily injury doesn't cover, is the head splitting hangover you so richly deserve." She smiled at him, one of those tight, annoyed smiles she used when she was trying to avoid yelling at him.

It took him a moment or two of profound disorientation before the jumbled memories of the night before started to file back into waking memory. Oh, yeah. Somebody had been gyrating on his lap last night, but it hadn't been Allison.

"Umm - -" he ran a hand through his hair, trying to access whether there was any residual pounding of the head, other than the rush of embarrassment. Other than the angle of the sun suggesting it was way to early to be up on a Sunday morning, there seemed to be no other lingering side effects. "No, I think I'm pretty good."

Her smile faltered and she stood. "Really? Really, Scott? You come home last night drunk enough that you actually can't walk the proverbial straight line and that's what you have to say to me?"

"I couldn't walk a straight line?" He honestly didn't recall being that wasted. But then the details of actually getting home were pretty indistinct. He still had on the clothes from last night, sans boots, but he had no memory of actually falling into bed.

She narrowed her eyes and he scrambled for a more apologetic tact.

"It sort of got away from me, mom." Things had settled down enough that he felt safe rolling over and scrubbing his hands across his face. "I didn't think it would hit me that hard - - I mean beer and whiskey don't do anything for me - -"

He trailed off, as her expression darkened, realizing he was digging himself in deeper rather than out of the hole.

"Right, so you decided to move right on to vodka? Being an old hand at hard liquor at seventeen?"

"Umm - -" he had to wonder what Isaac had told her. Because, God, things were a little blurry in his memory, but what he did recall he was pretty sure he didn't need his mom in on the details of. Because there'd been sex - - almost sex - - involved in a public place and holy crap, what had he been thinking?

"I could smell it on you," she clarified, as if she knew exactly what had been going through his mind. " Isaac didn't spill, in case you were wondering. I get the feeling he'd take your secrets to the grave. You were lucky he was there to drive you home."


"I thought you were more responsible than this."

That hurt. Especially when her eyes softened and the irritation drained from her face, replaced by a sort of weary resignation. "Didn't you go there with a girl? Do you even know how she got home?"

"Umm - - I don't think she was as messed up as I was - - I'll check on her." Though honestly, the idea of knocking on Zlata's door this morning and looking her in the eye made him cringe. He really, really hadn't meant to go where he ended up going last night.

She stared at him for a moment, before sighing and admitting wryly. "Maybe its genetic. Vodka has a tendency to kick my ass, too. I never got to wriggle out of the hangover part of the experience, though. I expect better of you, honey."

Which was how she left it. A disappointed frown and a little censure that hit him right in the gut and he'd almost rather she yelled and threatened a grounding.

He sat on the edge of the bed once she'd left and tried to gather scattered memory, that he had the feeling wasn't going to sort itself out anytime soon. He swallowed and listened to the sounds of his mother in her bedroom, but there were no sounds of Isaac in the house. He was probably at work, Sunday being a popular day for funerals. He still had his job at the cemetery, part time, experienced gravediggers in short supply in a town where the mortality rate was disturbingly high.

So there would be no enlightening information from him for a while.

He took a breath, deciding that if he wanted to clear his head, the best way to start was with a shower. So he shed the clothing he'd slept in, stepped under hot water and got rid of the lingering stench of alcohol and cologne and the myriad other smells that clung to him from the party last night. God, his mom had been able to smell the stink and she was working with nothing more than human senses.

He stayed there for a while, head bent under the spray of water, letting the heat work its way into his skin. Concentrating on nothing but the feel of it, the sound of it, was calming. When he got out, shook the water from his hair, wrapped a towel around his hips and went back into the bedroom, Stiles was sitting at the head of his bed, playing with his phone.

"Dude, what were you doing, taking a bubble bath? You were in there forever?"

Scott decided against suggesting Stiles perform some impossible sexual act upon himself, and opted for. "Its before nine on a Sunday morning. Why are you here?"

Stiles ability to pull off a devastating scoff was unparalleled. He did so with a sniff and a raised brow before closing out whatever he was doing with his phone and saying. "Are you serious? The fact that you weren't considerate enough to give me a running commentary of what happened last night is bad enough, but you didn't even have the common courtesy to call when you got home? I need information. Spill."

Anyone else might have assumed that statement laced with a good deal of wry sarcasm. Scott knew Stiles well enough to know dead seriousness when he heard it. Stiles' need to know didn't just border on the line of obsessive, it went right over the edge. Holding out on him while he was practically twitching was just cruel.

"Well, interesting fact. Vodka kicks my ass. I swear to God, three maybe four shots and I was messed up."

"Really?" Both Stiles brows went up. "Vodka? It tastes like something out of a first aid kit."

"I know, right. But if you mix it with fruit juice, it's not so bad."

"Noted. So, go on. What else?"

"Well, it wasn't that great a party. I didn't know most of the people there." He hedged. He would tell Stiles eventually, because he always ended up telling Stiles eventually, he was just having a hard time getting it out, half of it hazy and unclear in his own head.

"Yeah, well, you and Fischer don't exactly run with the same crowd. Bunch of Ivy League dicks and over privileged assholes. Why do you think I didn't crash?"

"Yeah, then why did you push me into going?"

"You know exactly why I pushed you to go?"

Scott chewed on the inside of his cheek and muttered. "Yeah, well about that - - I also sorta made out - - a lot."

Stiles blinked at him, momentarily bereft of instantaneous reply. Then, "With a girl? Who?"

"Who do you think?"

"Zlata? Oh my God, you made out with Zlata? Score." Stiles proffered a palm for a congratulatory high five. Scott sighed and ignored it.

"Dude, I was drunk off my ass. And I barely know her. And it was like right there, in the middle of the party - - in front of people."

"You sound like the key note speaker for the California chapter of Abstinence Now. Dude, you're a dude, you were having sex pretty much non-stop until Allison dumped your ass - - and then for like eight months its just been you and a five fingered date - -" Stiles wiggled his own fingers for reference and Scott glowered. "When a super hot chick wants to jump your bones - - the big head stops thinking and the little head takes over. That's just biology."

"She didn't dump me."

"Dude, she so did. And it's okay. You get to know Zlata. Another couple of days and you're in love and you're screwing like bunnies. Until some relative of hers with a gun, figures out you're a monster and threatens to end it the permanent way. And it's just like old times."

"You know, sometimes I hate you."

"No you don't. You love me all the time. I'm your one constant. So give me details."

"I'm not giving you details," Scott grabbed a pair of boxers and jeans and headed back to the bathroom to put them on. "Isaac hauled me out of there before I could do something really stupid anyway."

"Isaac? What was Isaac doing there?"

Scott came back out, shrugging. He found a shirt across the back of the chair and pulled it on. "I dunno. But I'm kinda glad he was. Some guy was filming us on his phone."

Stiles eyes got round and he grabbed for his own phone.

"Isaac deleted it before he could upload it," Scott told him dryly.

"Well damn, Isaac was actually on the ball," Stiles said, tossing the phone back down and eyeing Scott. "Dude, you've got a hot girl that's totally into you."

Scott flopped down on the edge of the bed, not so sure how he felt about that. Sure, Zlata was gorgeous, but there was just something about her that made the hairs on the back of his arms stand up sometimes. Something that put him a little on edge.

"What?" Stiles gave him a look, catching on to his lack of enthusiasm at the prospect.

"I dunno. Just - - she makes me sorta nervous? Just a little."

Stiles sucked on the inside of his cheek for a moment, turning that over. Finally, he said. "If I were going to psychoanalyze you - -"

"Oh, please, please don't."

"I'd say you were either still stuck up on Allison - -"

"I'm not."

"Or that Allison messed you up enough that you've got self-esteem issues going on and the idea of a hot girl wanting you is freaking you out - -"

"There's no self-esteem issues."

"Or your wolf senses are picking up that this girl is trouble in high heels and maybe don't discount basic instinct just because I think at least one of us needs to get laid between now and graduation."

Scott stared at him not expecting that and Stiles shrugged, a vaguely apologetic look on his face. "Hey, I can admit to being occasionally pushy."

"I need to check and make sure she got home all right," Scott sighed. "I sort of cut out and left her there last night."

Stiles did a little hand roll, not looking particularly concerned. "Whatever. I was thinking of going downtown today. You coming?"

"What for?"

"I dunno. It's Sunday, nobody's trying to kill us or eat us or do anything remotely life or sanity threatening - - I thought maybe just screw around - - catch a movie - - whatever. I'll even go and knock on Zlata's door for you if you're too much of a wuss to check on her."

Scott rolled his eyes, though Stiles wasn't entirely far from the truth. It sounded like as good a plan as any though. He even managed to get out of the house without much more than a frown from his mom. The fact that he'd stumbled home drunk last night and gotten away with nothing more than a stern talking to was pretty amazing.

"She was seventeen, once," Stiles reminded him when he remarked on it. "I bet you money she was a wild child."

"I don't want to think about it."

Stiles snickered and got into the Jeep. They drove the few doors down to Zlata's uncle's house and sat there, engine idling while Scott got up the nerve to get out and go knock on her door. If he'd had the common sense to get her phone number, he could have just called.

Stiles phone rang while he was gathering resolve. The Caller Id identified it as his dad.

"Hey dad. What's up?"

Scott tuned that out, taking a breath and opening the door. Might as well get it over it. How pissed could she be, really? Maybe it was all a hazy memory for her this morning as well. Maybe she was embarrassed as he was. Stiles put a hand on his arm as he was getting out, and he glanced back at him, freezing at the look on his face.

Whatever his dad was telling him wasn't good. Scott focused his hearing, picking up the Sheriff's voice on the other end of the line. " - - found it this morning when he was out walking his dog. Looks like it happened last night. Another 'animal attack'. I'd lay odds on it being the same 'animal' that ripped up those bodies in the barn, by the look of it.

Scott shut his eyes, the faintest sensation of vertigo sweeping up on him from the edges. He dropped his head, breathing deep, trying to stave it off. He lost a little track of what the sheriff said next and only picked up the line of conversation when Stiles looked at him and said.

"Yeah, he's with me. Yeah, we can head over."

Stiles hung up and blew out a breath of his own. "You heard that?"

"Some of it."

"Some guy found a body out in the woods this morning when he was out walking his dog. A pretty ripped up body. He wants you to see if you pick up anything around the crime scene."

"Okay." Scott nodded and pulled the door shut. He felt a spreading sensation of numb.

"He says the body is torn up like the ones at the barn."

"I heard."

"Which means that thing's still around here."

"Yeah, I got that."

Stiles opened his mouth, on the verge of something else spewing out, then he shut it down, looking back at the road, knuckles tight on the wheel.

"If it is it, the Vanago," Stiles finally said. "Its been laying low for a week now. No killing sprees, no bodies popping up - - nobody reporting slaughtered livestock. How's nobody not noticed it?"

"I don't know."

"I mean, is it a mindless killing machine or is it smart enough to bide its time and pick and choose its kills?"

Scott finally turned to look at him, a chill piercing the layer of numb. He remembered its eyes, staring at him through the bars of the cages. He remembered so very, very vividly the press of its teeth against his throat - - and the fact that it had chosen not to rip it out, when it had been tearing apart everyone else without hesitation. Because it had been playing with him. It had been a game. And he'd seen that in its eyes too, that glint of almost amusement in the midst of the killing rage. It was the first time he'd allowed himself to think about it when his head wasn't clouded with shock and pain.

"When it was after us in the woods up north," he said slowly. "There was nothing but animal instinct to hunt and kill. It was different here. There was something - - something behind its eyes."

Stiles took his eyes off the road to stare at Scott. "What do you mean? Intelligence?"

"Maybe. A different kind of focus than just hunt and kill. It was playing with me. If it had wanted me dead, I'd be dead - - and it wanted me to know that - - I think."

"And this is the first time you think to mention this?"

"I was trying not to think about it."

Stiles digested that for a minute before admitting. "Well that's just disturbing."

"Highly," he agreed.

"Playing with you how? Cat/mouse sort of play? That's the feeling I got when it was batting me around."

Scott glanced at him, frowning. It hadn't been casually toying with him in preparation of a kill. It had been more an alpha taking down an unruly beta who dared offer a challenge. It had been a power play and it had taken him down and showed him who had the longer teeth and the sharper claws.

"No," he finally said. "It was putting me in my place. I'm not prey. I'm another predator and it was making sure I knew who was who in the hierarchy of things."

"Yeah, that's fantastic," Stiles said dryly. "Just stellar. So I'm prey? Me and pretty much anyone else who can't spout fangs and claws?"

Up ahead there were the flashing lights of a gathering of police vehicles off the side of the road at the edge of a bridge spanning a stream gully. Wood bordered the road, one of the big spans of parkland that speckled Beacon Hills. Stiles pulled off behind the last car in the line and they got out, hesitating by the Jeep as a few deputies trudged up the slope, proceeding the men from the medical examiners officer who were struggling with the burden of a body bag. There was a stretcher waiting at the side of the road and they deposited their load upon it, rolling it the rest of the way towards the open doors of the M.E. van.

The body bag sealed most of the scent away, but Scott picked up the faintest trace of decomposition. Stiles nudged him with an elbow and jerked his head towards Sheriff Stilinski who had appeared at the top of the incline. Stiles headed towards his father and Scott moved in his wake.

The Sheriff took them across the road to the incline that lead down the other side to the stream. The slope was slick with wet leaves from an early morning rain. It was a decent little channel where the bridge crossed the water. Maybe ten feet across, stream running smooth and clear until it came up upon a collection of limbs and bramble that had knotted up on the other side of the bridge.

"That's where the body was found," The sheriff pointed under the shadow of the bridge towards the bramble. "It got caught up in the debris. A dog sniffed it out. The ME figures it had been in the water for twelve to fourteen hours, so I'm doubting you can get anything off of it, Scott."

Other than the stench of death, he was probably right. And there was nothing but the smell of men and wet forest here.

"The body ended up here, but this isn't where the attack happened." The Sheriff said. "But I was hoping you might be able to help figure out where it might have been dumped into the water. I'm giving you a head start, before I send my guys out looking, to see what you can pick up."

"I can try. But with the rain this morning - - I might not have much luck. There's definitely nothing here."

He looked up stream, along the forested bank. The body would have come down stream from somewhere up there working its way down from who knew how far up.

"You're sure it's the same thing from the barn?" Stiles asked.

His dad shook his head, looking tired and marginally appalled. "Being in the water all night did a lot of damage, but the way that body was sliced up - - yeah, I'd say it was similar. Whatever did this - - there was a lot of rage."

"Do you know who it was? The victim?"

"Not yet. Young and male is all we have at the moment. Go. You don't have a lot of time before I have to send my guys out."

So they headed up stream, walking the bank.

"I could go faster if you stayed back with your dad," Scott suggested, but it wasn't Stiles slowing him down that was bothering him. It was the idea that that thing was still out there somewhere, lurking in the shadows and he didn't know how many more times his luck was going to hold if he had to fight it off again. If it took him down, then there would be nothing between it and Stiles.

"Are you kidding?" Stiles hopped over a root and used a couple of flat rocks to make his way along the stream bank.

Scott shrugged. "Just saying."

"You're worried it's out here and we're going to run into it," Stiles said, brandishing his unnerving ability to read Scott's mind. "It's the middle of the morning. The woods are crawling with cops. If its out here, its either long gone or its lying low."

"You don't know that."

"I'm optimistic."

But a mile or more down the path of the stream and still Scott had picked up nothing. And he was starting to think he wasn't going to. The woods thinned and there was a broad expanse of manicured green.

"Is this West Hills Country Club?"

"Yeah, I think it is." Stiles moved out from the tree line onto the green. The big white clubhouse could just be seen over the hill. It was a very exclusive club.

"Then Troy Fischer's house is right around here. Like practically within walking distance of the club."

"Yeah, it is." Stiles drew his brows, chewing that over, then met Scott's eyes, both of them coming to the very disturbing realization that if it was the vanago that was responsible for the body Stiles' dad had found, then it had made a kill within a very short distance of where Scott had been last night.

"You know I don't believe in coincidence, right?"

"Yeah," Scott said warily. "I've heard you mention it a time or two."

"Yeah, well, this is me repeating it. What are the chances of this thing just randomly deciding to attack somebody like literally on the doorstep of the house you were at last night?"

"I dunno. Anything's possible."

"Right, you go ahead and play devil's advocate and I'm gonna counter with - - what if its still tracking you? What if it's not just tracking you - - but like you said - - it's playing with you? Didn't Dupont say it was a relentless hunter? And you got away from it. Twice."

"So did you."

That made Stiles stop and swallow. "Yeah, but I'm just prey. You're the predator it was trying to make an impression on."




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