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Scott overslept. He figured it out when his mom threw a pillow at his head and startled him out of a perfectly horrible nightmare concerning an endless hall full of classrooms with no numbers on the doors and himself late for some extraordinarily important test and no idea where to go to take it.
He bolted upright, breathing hard, and blinked up at him mom's exasperated face peering down at him.
"I thought you'd left with Isaac. You're going to be late." She was in scrubs, her hair in a messy tail at the back of her neck, looking just a little frazzled, as if she was running a little late for work herself.
He cast a hasty glance at the clock beside the bed. 8:32, which meant he had exactly 28 minutes to make the first period bell.
"Crap," he muttered, throwing off the covers and making a dash for the bathroom.
"How late were you up?" she called after him through the bathroom door.
Pretty damned late, trying to finish four chapters of the most God-awful boring literature known to man. "I was doing homework, mom."
Which was both a truthful excuse and one she couldn't argue with. He took a four-minute shower and pulled on the first pair of jeans he found lying around. The jersey might have been moderately clean but drastically late beggars couldn't be choosers. He was pulling on his jacket and shrugging on his backpack when he breezed through the kitchen. Fifteen minutes. He could make that.
His mom handed him a piece of only slightly burned toast on his way past.
"Thanks, mom." He stuffed half of it into his mouth and grabbed his helmet off the stool by the backdoor.
"Don't kill yourself trying to get there on time, honey," she called after him as he bolted outside.
It was a gray morning. Sort of overcast, but not cold enough for more than rain if the sky let loose, which it probably would right around the time Coach gathered them all out on the field after school for the first round of tryouts. Coach wouldn't care. He was all for 'making men' out of his players and a little nasty weather only deterred 'girls and little boys'. Coach was all about the tough love.
He was on the long stretch of Rt. 17 when he saw the car off the side of the road. A grey, late model coupe with a flattened rear tire. He would have passed on by, save for the girl that stepped into the road, waving a hand with a makeshift, blood soaked bandage. Even going fifty, he could smell the blood in the air before he got a good enough look to see it on the t-shirt she'd wrapped around her hand.
He pulled up next to her, one foot on the ground, bike idling.
She moved up, a smile of relief on her face. Pretty girl, with short brown hair and bright blue eyes. A little older than him maybe. There was something about her that was vaguely familiar.
"Other than being stupid and not knowing how to use a jack?" she waved the bandaged hand. "It slipped when I was trying to jack the car up. I feel like such a girl for not being able to change a flat tire."
"Its okay. My mom's never figured it out either. Have you got somebody coming?"
"I wish. I forgot to charge my phone, too. It's been a bad morning." She offered an embarrassed smile. "I hate to ask - - but would you mind giving a girl a hand?"
What was one tardy in a brand new semester? He had a whole clean slate to start making black marks on. He rolled the bike onto the side of the road, hung his helmet from the handle and went to take a look at her flat.
"Do you go to Beacon Hills?" He asked her, squatting down to position the jack under the car.
"High school?" she laughed, hugging herself under her coat. "Are you just flirting with me, or do I look that young?"
He grinned up at her. "You just look sort of familiar."
"We did meet once," she said as he was loosening bolts. "I was making espresso."
He looked back at her, and the tip of the stun baton in her hand caught him in the side of the neck. It felt like a hundred million volts of white fire injected directly into his spine. His muscles contracted, slamming him forward, into the car. She followed him down with it, hitting him again in the chest and it was like his heart was about to explode; like a thousand little electrified fishhooks trying to tear through his skin.
He went down, spasming in the gravel, sight going black and charred around the edges. Through tunneling vision he saw her standing over him, the long black baton sizzling with live current. She pulled a phone out of her pocket and hit a number, barely waiting a beat before someone answered and she said.
"He's down. Come pick him up."
She looked down at him, canting her head, expressionless. Then she touched the live end of the baton to his chest again and everything ran screaming into black.
It was five minutes past the first bell and Scott hadn't shown up to class. Stiles figured he'd had a late night battling through mid-century American literature and was probably running late. Mr. Deeds was only barely aware of the existence of students in his class, so the tardiness might have escaped notice if Scott had slipped in with a good enough excuse, save for the fact that the sub had decided to show a little spontaneity and surprised them with a pop quiz. He sent a surreptitious text, warning of just that.
Ten minutes in and Stiles began tapping a pencil on the desk top, focus divided between the paper in front of him, his quietly dormant phone, and the door.
He sent another text.
Five more minutes and he couldn't concentrate on the words on the paper because he was too busy being annoyed at Scott's inability to answer a simple text.
He hit send and sat there, glaring at the phone perched on his thigh, willing it to vibrate. Five more minutes and agitation turned to anxiety, because that's how his mind worked. Anything less than instantaneous resolution and his nerves started to thrum. He couldn't help it. And with anxiety came the too vivid ability to whip up creatively morbid scenarios in his head. He remembered last night and that spooked look on Scott's face in the parking lot, before he'd tried to brush it off. Like he'd caught wind of something that had freaked him out a little. And it had barely been two weeks since they'd had a fracking psychopath trying to hunt them down and they'd been walking around the last few days like it had never happened. He wanted to pull at his hair.
He sent another text instead.
He was a writhing mass of nerves by the time the bell rang. God knew what he'd written on the quiz, but he tossed it on the teacher's desk regardless and stomped out into the hall amidst the rush of other students, phone already at his ear. It rang until Scott's voice mail picked up and Stiles hissed and snapped.
"Where the hell are you, dickhead? Answer your damn phone."
He stalked ten paces down the hall, then stopped, turning against the tide and shoving his way back down towards the doors at the end of the hall.
Somebody caught his arm, and he almost shrugged the hand off, but peripheral vision recognized red hair and big green eyes and he let her stop his forward momentum.
"What's wrong?" Lydia asked bluntly, staring up at him, a little furrow of concern between her brows.
"I don't know. Maybe nothing. Maybe he just forgot to charge his phone. Maybe I need a Xanax. Who the hell knows?"
The furrow deepened. "Who?"
He shook his head and flung out the arm with the cell. "I'm on edge. I'm really on edge - - after what happened - -"
"Scott?" She guessed when his answer skirted around the question she'd actually asked.
"He didn't show up to class."
"Maybe he's sick."
He gave her a look. "He doesn't get sick."
He started walking again, through the thinning migration of kids rushing to get to second period before the bell rang. Second period wasn't a priority for him at the moment. He went through the doors leading out to the back parking lot and tried Scott's number again.
Predictably it went to voice mail. "So help me god, you better be lying on the side of the road somewhere, because if you're not answering my calls and you're not, I will fucking find a way to kill your werewolf ass."
"That sounds like the sort of message an angry mom would leave. Aside from the cursing and the death threats."
He started, not even realizing Lydia had followed him out. She stood there staring at him calmly, one hand clutching the strap of her purse and just looking at her made him ease back enough to remember to breathe.
"Maybe he had something to do - - maybe something came up." She suggested.
"He'd have told me." Stiles nixed that notion.
She gave him a skeptical look. "He runs everything by you first, does he?"
"Generally," he sniffed, then looked up as the side doors swung open and spilled out Isaac, with Allison on his heels.
"Oh, now it's a party." Stiles let out a breath of frustration.
"What's wrong?" Allison said. "Isaac heard you freaking out."
Of course he had. Fracking werewolf hearing. "What do you mean 'what's wrong?' You might not have noticed, but Scott didn't show up for school today. Wait a minute," he stabbed a finger at Isaac. "He did make it home last night, didn't he?"
Isaac nodded, a wary look in his eyes. "He got home. He was home when I left this morning."
"Stiles - - he's late for school, he's not returning texts - - that doesn't necessarily mean he's in trouble," Allison reasoned. "It's Scott, sometimes returning phone calls isn't his number one priority."
"Right. This from the girl whose dad told us horror stories about the sonuvabitch who was hunting us never giving up a chase. This, from that girl. I've got a feeling, Goddamnit."
Then he had a thought and spun on Lydia. "Have you had any feelings?"
She shook her head. "No. I'm sorry."
Stiles hissed through his teeth. Though he supposed Lydia not having death premonitions was a good thing.
Isaac was pacing behind them like a wolf in a cage, curling his fingers in and out of fists, and it was making Stiles' nervous tension jump into hyerdrive.
"Isaac," Allison snapped, maybe starting to get caught up in the epidemic of nerves herself. "You're not helping."
He looked up at her like a dog caught gnawing on the leg of the coffee table. She pressed her knuckles to her mouth and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Sorry. Call his mom. Maybe it's something simple. Maybe she had car trouble. Maybe Deaton had an emergency and needed his help. Just call."
The only problem was, nothing in their lives was ever simple anymore.
Scott came to with his face against musty, straw covered dirt. A tremor pulsed through him, muscles still shivering in ghost reaction to the massive dose of electricity. So either he hadn't been out that long or she'd been zapping him regularly to keep him down.
The girl. The face registered dimly now. A girl he'd seen in passing at Dupont's lodge. One of his staff.
He smelled the faint sweet scent tobacco amidst the musty scents of straw and mold, old manure and rust. The scent of men. And more frightening yet, the familiar, oddly subdued scent of the beast Dupont had set on Stiles and him. All this came to him on the heels of one indrawn breath. Panic set in on the next.
He rolled to his side, but his arms wouldn't cooperate, pinned behind his back, metal biting into his wrists. Not the give of handcuff chains, but something solid and rigid. He came to a crouch regardless, just with a little less grace and stared into the shadows of what looked to be a cavernous old barn. There were men in those shadows, he couldn't see how many, but he heard the sound of their breath, the shifting of their bodies, the shifting of weapons as they tensed. He saw the flare of a match, the cherry heat of the tip of a cigar being lit, and zeroed in on one man leaning against a stack of battered crates.
Julian Dupont, with his long, scarred face, his prematurely silver hair and the dead eyes of a man who killed for pleasure. Scott growled, anger and fear bringing out the fangs, straining against the metal that held his wrists. Dupont canted his head, slipped his hand into his pocket and brought out what looked like a small black remote and from one second, to the next Scott's blood started eating its way through his veins.
He doubled over, choking on a garbled scream, tasting blood in his mouth, blood in his eyes, acid burning through body, unbearable pain spiraling out from the throbbing pulse at his throat. Melting him from the inside out. He'd barely been cognizant of the prick that had preceded the immediate agonizing torment. It was worse than the electric shock. Worse than anything he'd ever felt, that he'd ever imagined he could feel. Passing out wasn't a viable option for escape, because it followed him into wavering darkness.
He was shuddering when he swam back into consciousness, curled in a knot on the dirt floor, blood thudding thinly, desperate for a foothold, behind his temples, everything hazy and grey around the edges. He was aware now of the weight encircling his throat. The warm touch of the metal band around his neck. The collar.
Julian Dupont crouched beside him, elbows on knees, the fingers of one hand idly turning the small remote. "A hard lesson to learn, I know. But I trust you understand now?"
Scott glared up at him, blinking back wetness that he hoped was tears and not copiously flowing blood. "You bastard - -"
The pain hit again, before he could quite get the word out of his mouth. He arched off the ground with it, screaming. It didn't last as long this time, and Dupont gave him time to recover enough to actually see, before he repeated. "I trust you understand?"
"Yes," he gasped. His throat felt like shredded meat. Bloody and raw.
"It's a form of hydrochloric acid mixed with certain natural substances designed to maximize the effect. The ingredients vary, depending upon the species. It is actually eating away at your insides with each dosage - - a human being wouldn't survive the first hit of it - - but your body repairs the damage almost as quickly as it occurs. A strong enough dose, injected at the back of the neck might prove lethal if it ate through your spinal column entirely, but hopefully we won't need to administer that. I find it a particularly effective method of training. Wouldn't you agree, Scott?"
He glared up, clenching his jaw to stop the trembling. The pain was still there, that reedy feeling of bleeding internally, but he could also feel the healing, the gradual lessoning of the hurt.
This man wanted him dead. Wanted to finish the hunt he'd started. He didn't know if this little torture session was part of the game or if Dupont was just a vindictive prick. Either way, it sucked for him.
"I thought you wanted to hunt me, not train me," he ground out.
Dupont laughed, rising, circling. He took a drag off the cigar and blew out a long stream of smoke.
"Oh, I do. But in the process of finding you, I made a few inquiries of people in the know with the Wolf community. And the wolves do love their rumors. There are whispers afloat, curious whispers that have the old families a bit riled."
He leaned down, grasping the collar of Scott's jacket and dragging him up to his knees. It was hard to maintain even that kneeling position, when his muscles still felt like jelly. Dupont crouched in front of him, fist curled in the edge of his jacket, leaning in close enough that he could feel the heat of his breath on his face.
"Whispers of a true alpha," Dupont said. "The first in a dozen generations of you beasts - - but a made wolf and not a born one - - which understandably might piss off a few purists of the old bloodlines. Rarest of the rare, regardless. You might even say a collector's item that would be worth, to the right buyer a considerable fortune. You can't imagine the pleasure of hunting down and ending something that exists nowhere else on earth. And to think I almost killed you out of hand."
If he lunged now, when the bastard was so close, he could rip his throat out. It wouldn't even take that much strength. Just good aim and desperate need. It might even be worth it, even if the others killed him in the process. And maybe Dupont saw it in his eyes. Maybe his hatred of the sick son of a bitch was so intense that he had no more control over the flash of red in his eyes than he did over the beat of his heart.
Dupont canted his head, smiling, and acid poured into Scott's veins through the collar, rupturing vessels, burning him up from the inside out. He screamed past the blood in his throat and writhed, until his body slowly started the cycle of repairing the damage all over again. Through the ringing in his ears, he heard the low rumbling growls of something within the depths of the barn. The clink of claws against metal as a large body shifted restlessly.
He pressed his face against the moldy straw, sobbing, desperately trying to draw in breath through the fire lancing his throat. Dupont lifted a brow, unimpressed, as if the infliction of pain meant as little to him as the lighting of a cigar.
Someone moved up next to him, almost as tall, same silver hair. His sister. When she stared down at him, her eyes were as dispassionate as her brothers. Colder perhaps. "I know you like your entertainments, Julian, but better to recoup what we've lost and there are offers already."
Dupont lifted a brow. "See? Word travels fast in certain circles, when the item in question is singularly unique. We'll wait a bit. Let the interest build. And I've only just acquired him, sister. Let me have my entertainments."
Her mouth pursed, annoyed. The movement of her hand drew Scott's eye to the long black shape of the dormant stun baton as she tapped it against her leg.
He rolled to his side, managed to get himself to his knees, the quiver in his gut having nothing to do with any pain inflicted by them this time. It was fear. He swallowed and it tasted like blood. But the rawness of his throat had eased, so it was residual.
"There are people who are going to be looking for me." Please, God, let them miss him soon enough to start looking.
"The Argents?" Dupont lifted a brow. "Yes, that was a surprising ally to come to the rescue of a wolf. But the word I hear, is that this arm of the Argent family tree had fallen from grace. They don't have the power of the family to back them up anymore. So it's just a man and a barely trained girl. And though Chris Argent is a foe to never take lightly," Dupont waved an arm at the shadowed figures of his men. "I believe I have him outgunned."
"What about the other boy?" Jan Dupont asked. "He's seen our faces and I don't like loose ends."
Dupont waved a hand. "I leave him to your tender mercies, my dear. I trust you to take care of it."
"No," Scott screamed and the lingering pain and the weakness wasn't enough to keep him from launching himself at the silver haired bastard. He heard the answering roar of something in the depths of the barn, the rattle of bars on a cage, then Jan hit him with the stun baton as she threw herself out of his way. He still hit, Dupont, full-on wolf, fighting off the pulsating surge of shock that wanted to freeze up his muscles, going for the jugular.
The dozen needles jabbing him in the neck, releasing their poison into his blood were a better deterrent. That took him down and kept him down, even his desperate rage eroded away by the excruciating pain of the acid.
Dupont shoved him off, angry enough that he'd gotten within an inch of teeth to throat, that he drove a boot into Scott's side once he'd gained his feet. It was a dull pain at best, compared to the other.
"Don't - - don't. He's not a threat - - I swear - he's not a threat." He choked the words out and blood came with them, soaking into the straw under his cheek.
Dupont made no reply, just nodded tersely to his sister, who turned on her heel and strode off. Dupont made a motion then, and two of his men melted out of the shadows, hauling Scott up between them. He tried to get his feet under him, but his legs were still rubbery from the electric shock. He made more of an effort when they dragged him towards the shadows at the back of the barn and the scent of the vanago became stronger. There was a large cage in the darkness, half draped by canvas. Something huge shifted in the depths of it, issuing low, rumbling growls. There was another, smaller cage next to it, big enough for a large dog, or a man. He'd been in one like it before, courtesy of Dupont. He still had nightmares of that cage and the helpless shame of being caged like an animal.
He dug in his heels, frantic. One of them cuffed him with the butt of a gun for the resistance. They thrust him inside and slammed the gate. Dupont locked it himself.
"Remember the last cage? This one will put you down in an instant the moment you test its integrity.
He stared up at Dupont, gathering calm, gathering what reserves he had left. "Whatever you want - -I'll do. Just don't hurt my friends. You don't have to hurt anybody else."
Dupont canted his head, amused. "What I want from you, does not require your cooperation."
For a moment, Dupont's gaze flickered to the larger cage, but the thing in its depths made no move, made no sound save for the rumbling whisper of its breath. Then he turned and left and his men followed in his wake. Two of them stayed, positioning themselves near the big barn doors. The rest of them drifted out after Dupont.
Scott shut his eyes, breathing deep, aware - - oh so very aware of the weight of the collar around his neck. If the cage was humiliating, the collar was doubly so. He shifted, trying to find a position that didn't make his shoulders ache quite so badly. His hands were close to numb, his palms wet from blood trickling down from where the manacles had sliced into his wrists. Healed now, but the next time he tried them, he'd make new wounds. He wasn't sure he could break them if he tried without the leverage to back up the effort. He tried again anyway, straining muscles that were still rubbery from the shock and the poison, against hard edged steel until the metal cut his wrists to the bone. The blood flowed hot and wet down his h ands, but the manacles didn't give. He leaned his head back against the bars and silently wept. Good for no one, not even himself.
The thing in the other cage moved and he froze. It slunk forward, past the canvas draped across the back of its cage, this huge, slope backed shape with fur black as ink and small, gleaming golden eyes. From a distance, it might have been mistaken for a bear, but close up, the inconsistencies were obvious. The length of the claws, the way the limbs bent. The shape of the jaws, longer and more deadly than any grub eating black bear. The last time he'd seen it, he'd been clinging to its back, digging his claws into its massive neck while Stiles had been riddling it with bullets. He'd thought they'd killed it. Apparently its ability to heal was no less miraculous than his own.
It sank down, eyes fixed on him, gums pulling back in a purring snarl to reveal teeth the length of his fingers. Around its thick neck was a collar - - one he'd noted before. He imagined it worked on very much the same principle as the one he'd been fitted with.
"It sucks, huh?" he said softly.
It kept staring at him, nostrils flaring, as if it were speculating what he'd taste like.
He wasn't sure how much time had passed, but someone was sure to have noticed he wasn't where he was supposed to be by now. Stiles would know something was wrong when he didn't show up for school and wasn't answering his phone. Please, please, please let him go to someone for help better suited for dealing with trouble than he was. Let those someone's be around when Dupont's sister made a try for him, because Scott had the feeling the chances of him getting out of this on his own and helping himself, were slim to non-existent. Like the Argent's, Dupont knew how to contain prey.
He stared at the beast across from him and whispered brutal honesty. "I'll kill him, if I get the chance."
It offered no response, but for one brief moment, something flickered in its eyes, a shift from slit pupiled gold to white rimmed green, before they shifted back. Human eyes. Then it pushed itself up and skulked back to the depths of its cage, leaving him alone in the shadows.
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