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Another eighth of a mile following the stream bank and Scott latched onto to something. Just stopped in his tracks, head up, nostrils flaring slightly, that hazy look he got in his eyes when he was concentrating hard and shutting everything else out in the process. Stiles gave him a moment to pin down whatever it was that had caught his attention, before impatience got the best of him and he demanded.
"What? You smell something?"
"Maybe." He didn't give more details than that, just cut away from the stream. Stiles cast a wary look across the ground looking for visible clues instead of olfactory ones, but there was nothing but leaves and twigs and more leaves and twigs, so he followed in Scott's wake, tromping through wet leaves. His Converse were muddy and damp, the bottom of his jeans were, from trudging along the stream bank and through wet bramble for the last hour. It could have been worse. It could have been snow. And instead of trying to find a trace of a possible supernatural beast, the supernatural beast in question could have been actively hunting them down. So all in all - - the day could have been a lot more horrifying than it was turning out to be. He was still jumping at little things. Scott was jumping at little things. Like normal everyday woodsy sounds, the unexpected flutter of birds getting startled into flight, the creak of water logged wood and both of them would start and stare and have to take a breath to fight off nerves that had gone into high gear.
No matter how much he'd scoffed at Scott's suggestion he hang back with his dad while Scott tried to track down the scene of the crime by himself - - the idea of that thing actually being out here, lurking in the woods - - scared him shitless. He had nightmares about that thing. Vivid, wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat nightmares. He'd never known anybody that he thought deserved a grisly death as much as Julian Dupont, but still, the images of what the vanago had done to him, clung to his mind like some noxious stain that wouldn't go away. The only thing that scared him more was the notion of Scott facing it down by himself.
Scott stopped dead, and Stiles was distracted enough that he almost trod on his heels.
There wasn't anything special about the spot, just more of the same, but after a second, Scott seemed to spy something and he knelt down, brushing leaves aside, before he jerked his hand back and rose, taking a hasty step backwards. Stiles crowded forward, fearless in his curiosity since the likelihood of a giant beast being concealed under a layer of leaves was slim to none.
"What? What is - -" he started, then stopped, narrowing his eyes at the blob of organic debris Scott had uncovered. It took him a moment to register what it actually was. It was an ear. A bloody, ear with a flap of grisly scalp still attached.
"Holy - - fuck - -" He cast Scott a look. Scott was pale, breathing hard, but there was a glimmer of red in his eyes. Freaked out enough that the wolf peeked out of its own accord. He was turning, staring into the trees, hands clenching and unclenching, nails gone long and sharp in his unease.
"Its not - - are you sensing it around here?" Stiles stood up, swallowing, staring into the woods himself, wishing he had a fraction of Scott's enhances perceptions. Being blind to possible threats lurking in the shadows was just damned inconvenient.
No," Scott said after a moment. Then again, with a breath of released tension. "No. I can't smell it at all. All I'm getting is blood. And not much of that. The rain washed most everything away. But not all of it." He kicked a thick layer of leaves, inhaling.
"There's still traces here. This is where it happened."
"You sure? Other than the big clue of the severed ear lying about, I mean."
Scott nodded. Then he drew his brows, a little uncertainty crossing his face. Reluctantly he crouched by the ear again, before looking up at Stiles. "I think - -I think its Troy Fischer."
Stiles blinked down at him. "You're shitting me?"
Scott rose, swallowing, eyes filled with justifiable dread.
"How - -?" Stiles started, then stopped, turning in a circle as he stared at the woods. "It wasn't just lurking around your general vicinity last night - - it got close enough to snatch a guy from the actual house you were at? How is that even possible?"
"I don't know," Scott said softly.
"How's nobody not notice a half ton frickin' monster bear roaming around the grounds?"
"I don't know. I can't remember half of what happened last night." Then he stopped, shaking his head, pacing a few steps and standing there, back to Stiles, this tenseness in the line of his shoulders that was almost palpable. "Is this my fault?"
He turned around and Stiles could see it in his eyes, the struggle to try and figure out a way to shoulder the blame for this. As if somehow he were responsible for the convoluted way a killing machine's mind worked, just because it had decided to fixate on him.
"Don't start. So help me God, if you try and take the fall for this, I will personally kick your ass. Just because this thing might be after you, doesn't make you responsible for all the collateral damage it does along the way."
"It does if I ignored it because it was easier not to think about it."
Stiles hissed and shoved a palm against Scott's shoulder. "You didn't know. We were all hoping it had just run for the hills. You, me, that poor preppy douche bag that it tore up last night, we were the victims. You don't blame the victims. So we know now and we get proactive. That's the best we can do, right? Try and keep anybody else from getting killed."
Being proactive and saving lives was something Scott could get his head around. Something that could give him the focus that he needed. And he needed that focus because with him still reeling from the last life and death situation, this was so not the best time for him to jump right into another. Scott took a breath, struggling with that concept for a moment, before he blew it out and nodded, a look of determination in his eyes.
"You should probably call your dad."
"Are you sure about that?" Stiles wasn't so much himself. The further his dad's guys stayed away from this the better the odds that none of them would end up like Troy Fischer.
"I think," Scott sounded anything but. "Tell him at least. Let him decide what to do after."
Which was only common sense. Leaving his dad in the dark had never worked to anyone's benefit in the past, least of all his dad. "Yeah, okay. He's not the only one that needs a heads up."
So they made calls, him and Scott both. Scott covered up the ear to keep it from being easily found and dragged away by some forest critter in the mood for a little bloody snack. Then they started walking, following some invisible trail that only Scott could sense, or maybe it was just Scott moving aimlessly, making good guesses about the way hunter and prey might have come. He'd gone silent, not talking much in the face of all this fucked up crap. It didn't stop Stiles from babbling. Talking was his defense mechanism against the nerves that wanted to make his hands shake and his teeth chatter. He concocted scenarios and he tore them down, with only the occasional comment from Scott for the effort. By the time the woods thinned and they reached the back end of the properties that sat north of the country club he'd been going on for twenty minutes. They walked out onto somebody's lawn and stared up at the back of a big house. A lot of big houses on big lots. A lot of acreage around these estates.
"Do you remember which house is Fischer's?"
Scott shook his head, scenting the air and they moved along the boarder of woods and private yardage. He stopped a few houses down and stared up a vast sloping lawn towards a stone faced house. He canted his head, picking up God knew what.
"This is it."
"Really? You smell something?"
"No. A sheriff's car just pulled up front. Your dad."
"Shit. You can tell the difference between car sounds? I had a dog that could do that when I was little. Remember Ginger?" Scott gave him a narrow look, but Stiles ignored it, catching his arm and pulling him back towards the cover of woods. "He doesn't need to explain us here. God, I so wouldn't want to be in his shoes, telling Troy's parents their son got eaten by a giant bear."
They stood there for a while, under the cover of woods, until his dad and one of his deputies and a man that was maybe Troy's father came out through the big row of French doors at the back of the house.
"We should probably go."
So they started back, weaving their way through the trees, putting distance between themselves and the house.
They kept away from the stream path this time, afraid they might run into the deputies his dad had warned would be combing the banks. He hoped Scott had an idea which way to head to get back to the road and the Jeep, because he'd stopped having a clue a while back.
"So one body in how many days - - like almost a week now? - - what the hell has it been doing all this time? Communing with nature? Eating bunnies? I mean the park service guys have been on the lookout, my dad has had his ear to the ground. How long ago did Argent give up hunting it? How come nobody's even seen a stay hair? Don't bears mark their territory? Like scratch trees and stuff? Or is that mountain lions?"
The answer came out of the trees to the left. Stiles yelped, taking a startled step sideways into Scott, which would have been a lot more embarrassing if Scott hadn't grabbed his arm and flinched backwards himself.
Derek melted out of the woods like a bad tempered, stubbled wraith. "And maybe it heard all the chattering a mile off and went to ground."
"Oh my God. Could you maybe like call out a warning before you sneak up on a person who's hunting freakin' monsters in the woods." Stiles felt the distinct urge to clutch at his chest, his heart was pounding so urgently. "And how did you get out here so fast. Scott just called you like a half hour ago. What, do you like just skulk around the woods for shits and giggles?"
Derek's brows twitched down. "Why are you even here? If you did run into it, it would chew you up and spit you out before you even got the chance to annoy it to death."
"Screw you, too, Derek. I'll have you know I was instrumental in taking it down once. Tell him, Scott."
Scott shrugged and backed him up with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "You had a really big gun at the time."
"I can get a gun again. I know people."
Scott looked skeptical at the notion, which was a little hurtful, since the last time they'd faced off against the thing Stiles having that gun had saved both their lives. It was just bad luck that he'd happened to shoot Scott a few times in the process.
"Yeah, you do that. Maybe it can feed it to you." Derek suggested offhandedly, like he'd given the subject all the consideration he was prepared to part with and was on to other things.
"You find anything?"
Scott said. "We found where it killed him."
"We found his freakin' ear," Stiles put in. "His ear! Sans body. Just hanging out under the leaves."
"I couldn't pick up a scent. Not even a trace of it," Scott admitted.
"It rained hard this morning. I'm not picking up anything either."
"How can something that big not leave a trace?" Stiles wanted to know.
"Even when it was right there in my face," Scott said slowly. "Its scent was - - subdued. Sort of. Not like a normal bear. Not like a normal anything."
"Yeah," Derek nodded. "When I was tracking it the first time - - it was hard to keep a lock on. But then, we've also got to figure that maybe stomping around in the woods looking for it might be the wrong tact to take. If this thing is tracking Scott - - we're looking in the wrong place."
"What's it gonna do, start loitering around the school? It's a fucking giant supernatural bear." Stiles sniffed, still annoyed at Derek's dismissal of his skills of self-preservation.
"Don't forget, there's a human deep down inside it. And it's that human part that's fixated. Animals don't hold grudges."
"Oh - - oh." Scott looked at Stiles with wide eyes. "The other night, when the power went out. Every dog in a five-block radius was loosing its mind. We thought it was a car that took down the power pole - - but what if it wasn't?"
"And nobody noticed the giant werebear lumbering around the neighborhood?" Stiles was starting to feel that nauseous feeling in the pit of his gut. A mindless beast was one thing - - a mindless beast they could outthink and out maneuver. But something smart enough to hide its presence in the middle of a suburban neighborhood - - something that had tracked Scott down to his very doorstep - - that had managed to follow him to a damned party across town and make its mark - - that was a different sort of challenge all together. That was something with an agenda. And if animals didn't carry grudges they sure as hell didn't have agendas.
"The dogs noticed," Scott said, looking more than spooked, looking scared. He looked past Stiles to Derek. "It knows where I live, but I'm not the only one who lives there. My mom - - my mom's home alone."
"Dude, its not gonna attack anybody in the middle of town in broad daylight. Right?" Stiles cast his own look at Derek for confirmation.
Derek shrugged. "It seems unlikely. But this thing is all over the place. Who knows."
Stiles narrowed his eyes at that lack of help.
Scott dug his phone out of his pocket, dialing home. Freaked out. That much was clear by the look in his eyes, by the way he was breathing. On the edge the way he'd been on the edge since Dupont.
"She's not answering. Why's she not answering?" Scott hit the number again, and started moving. Stiles looked at Derek, who frowned, and they both started after Scott.
"Maybe she's in the middle of something. Maybe she's outside." Stiles offered as he hurried to pace Scott.
Scott cast him a worried look, fingers clenching on his cell. "It was at my house."
Which was a damned good reason, Stiles had to admit, to freak the fuck out. But Scott had gotten really good over the last year and half of dealing with supernatural craziness, at holding his shit together even under the weirdest of circumstances. It was the whole thing with Dupont that had reset his trigger. That had him going off at shadow threats to the things he cared about. That had him breaking into a loping run in his desperation to get back to the road because of the far-fetched notion that this thing had taken to lurking around daytime suburbia.
Stiles swore and picked up his own pace to keep up, breathlessly trying to talk Scott down off the precipice of fear he was working himself towards. "There's no way I'm believing this thing is out roaming the suburbs middle of the day. My dad gets fifty calls every time somebody sees a coyote in their backyard."
He lost track of where Derek was, which was just par for the course. When it came down to people skills and people problems, Derek was sorely lacking.
He tripped on a root and stumbled, catching himself on a tree, skinning his palm in the process. He leaned there and glared, yelling at Scott's back. "Unless you're planning on running all the way home, you're not getting very far without me and my keys."
Which was around the time Derek came out of the woods up ahead, cutting right across Scott's path, catching hold of Scott's arm and swinging him around. Scott growled, shaking him off. Stiles was fifty yards back and he heard that, he saw the glint of red in Scott's eyes.
"Breathe," Derek snapped at him, getting right up in his face, shoving him backwards, against a tree, fists tangled in the lapels of Scott's jacket. "Breathe and think, Scott."
"Get off me," Scott shoved at him, claws out and Derek grunted, holes in his t-shirt. His eyes went blue and his teeth popped. There was the faint sound of ripping denim as he jerked Scott forward by the jacket and slammed him back against the bole of the tree.
"Leave him alone." Stiles dared life and limb by putting hand on Derek's shoulder, wanting him to back the hell up from Scott when Scott looked like he was teetering on the edge of losing it altogether. Like the look he'd had on his face when he'd gone off on Aiden at School. Just instinct and adrenalin without a whole hell of a lot of rational thought to back it up.
Derek ignored him. Leaning forward and growling into Scott's face.
"You gonna leave him to stumble around in the woods where this thing just made a kill, because the panic and fear give you tunnel vision? Because it feels like you can't get enough air to breath without the red crowding in around the edges? Because all you can see and scent and hear is the threat?"
"I don't stumble around in the woods," Stiles muttered.
Derek didn't spare him a glance, staring unflinchingly at Scott, whose eyes were fading from red to brown. Scott broke the stare, glancing at Stiles, breath coming harsh and fast.
"You lose your grip on control, you're no good to anybody," Derek growled at him. "You find a place to put that panic and that fear and whatever it is you can't shake from your head and you clamp it down, understand? We don't have the luxury of letting it rule us."
Stiles stood there, staring between the two of them, thinking that it was more than just supposition on Derek's part that let him know what Scott was dealing with.
Scott shut his eyes, taking that deep breath Derek had suggested, hands dropping from Derek's chest, nails still halfway to claws. "How do I do that, when it comes up so fast - - I don't even see it coming?"
Derek looked down at the three claw made holes in the shoulder of his shirt, the faint stains of blood from wounds that had already healed, then back up to Scott. "You just do."
For a breathless, endless moment there, all he'd been able to see was the carnage left in the wake of the beast, the damage done to the vulnerable flesh of its prey - - and all he'd been able to think about was what it would do to his mom.
And Derek had been right. He couldn't breath for it. He couldn't see what was right in front of him for the red tinged memories and the redder tainted what might have been's swimming in his head. He'd smelled the blood. He'd tasted it. And that's all he had seen.
His heart still pounded, but he could think.
He looked at Stiles. "Why isn't she answering the phone?"
"I don't know," Stiles put a hand on his shoulder, and jerked his chin in the general direction of the road. "Lets go ask her."
It was a more rational trip back through the woods towards the road and the Jeep then. Derek split off from them before they reached the sound and the smell of all the sheriff's men around the area where the body had been found. He said he'd find them later, and not much else, never big on doling out the fine details. Which left him and Stiles shuffling out of the woods, trying to avoid the notice of the deputies still at the site.
"It'll be okay," Stiles had been saying that off and on. Scott wasn't entirely sure which base he was covering. There were so many things just falling to pieces, that optimistic prediction needed to go a long way.
Six minutes down the road and Scott's pocket rang. He shut his eyes when he saw his mom's caller id. Stiles looked at him and mouthed, 'I told you so', before he put it to his ear and answered.
"Mom? You okay? Where were you?"
Which particular blurted concern made her pause on the other end and ask warily, when she did respond. "I'm fine. I was in the back yard. What's wrong?"
He took a breath and he told her. She didn't say a lot, but he could hear the uptake in her breathing, in her heartbeat over the line.
"Honey, why would it come after me?"
"I don't know that it will," he admitted. "But if it comes looking for me, anyone who gets in its way is in danger. I don't want you in the house alone, especially at night."
"Honey, I live with a couple of werewolves, I think I'll be okay."
He shook his head, clenching his fingers around the phone. "A couple of wolves aren't a match for this thing. Please take this seriously."
"I am, honey. I promise, you, I am. I've got evening shift this week anyway. I'm assuming me being in a hospital full of people will ease your nerves a little?"
"Yeah. Let me drive you, though. Or Isaac. I don't want you out alone."
"Okay. That poor boy. His poor parents. You did check to make sure Zlata got home all right, didn't you?"
"Zlata." He'd forgotten all about her. He glanced at Stiles, who lifted a silent brow.
"Um, we're gonna do that right now. We're almost home."
"So, she's okay," Stiles said when he severed the connection. "I told you you were freaking out over nothing."
"It's not nothing. It's really far from nothing. She's not the only one I'm worried about."
Stiles met his eyes. "Yeah, I know. And don't think there's not a freak out not waiting to happen with me - - but one of us needs to have his head on straight. If you're having trouble keeping it together, it sorta means I have to, right? And you're making me feel like I'm way out of my element, just so you know."
Scott leaned his head against the window and laughed. Stiles had that unwavering ability to get him on the right tract when he was in danger of swerving off it.
"So," Stiles said, when they turned onto Scott's street and pulled up in front of Mr. Klutsky's house. "If you need help facing down the hot girl you ditched, I got your back, buddy."
"I got it," Scott said dryly. He could see his house two doors down. The car in the driveway. Safe and secure. Just seeing it made him breath easier. Stiles got out anyway, and leaned against the side of the jeep, when Scott walked up to Zlata's front door.
He took a breath and rang the doorbell. After a minute, Zlata opened the door, a faint curious line between her brows.
"Hi." He gave her a nervous smile. "You're okay."
She lifted a brow and agreed. "I'm okay. Yes."
"That's good. Because there were some things that happened and - - well, it doesn't matter, because here you are and you're okay."
He cringed a little at that little collection of words, but since he'd started, he figured he might as well keep going.
"Listen, I'm really sorry, about last night. I didn't mean for that to happen. I'm just thinking we both drank a little too much and things sort of got out of hand. Me and vodka apparently don't mix - - and I shouldn't have left you there, but I was pretty wasted."
He got that out in a nervous rush. The way she was staring at him was making him sweat a little. Sort of a cross between pissed off and amused. He ran a hand across the back of his neck, where the hairs were standing a little on end and added weakly.
"So - - Just wanted to say, sorry and make sure you'd gotten home okay."
"You come in and we talk about it."
"Come in?" He blinked at her, caught more off his guard than he'd already been feeling by that invitation.
"You convince me to accept this 'sorry'. Maybe ask nice and I forgive." She dipped her head, smiling, as clear an invitation as he'd ever had and she wasn't even drunk. He couldn't wrap his mind around it. Maybe it was him. Maybe he was just so scarred from all the various trauma that had been heaped upon him lately that the idea of making any new human connection was this foreign, frightening thing. And when she leaned closer, her scent invading his nostrils, it did send shivers of something that might have been akin to fear racing up his spine. And he didn't understand it. Getting hit on by a girl should not have been the sort of experience that made his testacies sort of want to crawl up into his body. It should have had the exact opposite effect.
He stepped back, swallowing, forcing an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Zlata. I can't."
"What, you like boys more than girls? You leave with one last night and that one - -" she jerked her head towards Stiles. "That one you are always with."
"No. No, I love girls." He felt vaguely appalled at the accusation, regardless that all her facts were spot on. "And you're gorgeous - -really, really gorgeous - - it's just I'm not - - um - - right now's a really bad time - - it's been a bad week. A bad month and I'm really not in a place where I even want to think about dating - - but if I do - it's definitely gonna be with a girl."
She lifted a brow, eyeing him with a sort of cold speculation that made him just want to back up and run. Which was around the time Stiles came up behind him, apparently having remained at the curb as long as he was capable, clapped an arm across his shoulders and said without the slightest shred of tact. "What he's trying to say is, he's just not that into you. But there's a whole school full of guys who'd give up a testicle for a look from you - - so no biggie."
Her eyes narrowed and Scott opened his mouth, aghast enough that he went with it when Stiles turned him around and pushed him into motion back towards the jeep.
"Oh my God," he found the breath to whisper. "Why did you say that?"
"Dude, its true. And you weren't getting anywhere with the polite wuss route. And we've got shit to deal with."
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