Scott caught the scent from the far end of the field. It was diesel fumes and oil and Gillette shaving cream and sweat, and it made his stomach knot because he knew that mix, even though he hadn’t smelled it more than a year and he didn’t realize until now that he had ever noticed it. He stumbled to a stop on the field, his nose automatically going up, trying to seek out more. “What the hell’s your problem, McCall,” someone shouted as he twisted past. The scent was gone, then a fresh breeze brought another burst. Someone slammed into him and he hit the ground hard, his breath momentarily knocked out. A collective “oh” rose up from the stands. He heard the voice that belonged to that smell in the audience and shut his eyes against the onslaught of emotions that followed.
Then he was being helped from the field and lead to the bench. His helmet was lifted away. A light shone in his eyes. He shook it off. “I’m fine,” he protested. “Just thought I … saw … something,” he added, because he wasn’t going to say what really happened.
“Of course you saw something, McCall,” the coach snarked. He was kneeling in front of Scott, a penlight in one hand which he shined directly into Scott’s eyes. Scott cringed and turned his head away. “You saw our chance at a goal get intercepted,” Coach said.
“Sorry, Coach,” Scott said, trying to sound contrite. He wanted to turn to the stands and track down the origin of the scent, but held back. Sparklers burned in his eyes; he wouldn’t be able to see anything useful right now, anyway.
“Take a few minutes to catch your breath,” Coach responded, standing up. “Hell, take the rest of the quarter. You’re no good if your mind’s not with the team.” He flicked the light off and stalked down the bench. “Greenberg, get out there,” he added, hooking his thumb toward the field.
“What was that about?” Stiles asked, scooting down the bench to sit next to him. Though otherwise suited up, his gloves and helmet were absent. He clearly held no hope for getting to play tonight.
Scott glanced around to see who else might be listening. No one was. “I smelled someone,” he said, dropping his voice.
“Who?” Stiles asked, perking up. “The Alpha?” He twisted around, eyes flicking over the players and the crowd as if the person should stand out in every way now that he’d been recognized in one way.
Scott shot him a dirty look. “No.” He rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the last of the sparklers. The scent was steady now, impossible not to taste with each breath. Memories bubbled up: being encouraged to jump off the high dive even though his knees shook so hard that he could barely climb the ladder / camping, just the one time because it poured the whole weekend / fighting, oh how they fought, shouting at each other loud that his ears rang afterwards. “My dad,” he said.
“Here? What’s he doing here?” Stiles demanded. Stiles knew the whole story, of course. The two had been friends before, pushed together at school because they didn’t fit comfortably into any other group. But it wasn’t until after that last fight between Scott and his father—the one shortly after his freshman year started that resulted in Scott moving back in with his mother—that their friendship lost its superficiality. Scott needed someone to confide in and Stiles needed someone to help, and neither realized how well those needs fit together until Scott arrived at Stiles’s house in the middle of the night, exhausted from biking furiously for over five miles, and closer to tears that any fifteen year old boy would ever admit.
The McCall men hadn’t spoken to each other since.
“I don’t know,” Scott answered with a shrug. His shoulders were tense and he sat hunched forward. The game played on in front of them, and he watched it for a while without processing anything he saw. “He must want something,” Scott finally concluded.
“Maybe,” Stiles offered, “he just wants his son back in his life.”
Scott’s jaw set hard. “He doesn’t even know me,” he said.
Jamie McCall was waiting outside the locker room when Scott emerged. He stood against the wall, but positioned so he had a clear view of the doors. He was dressed in worn blue jeans, the ghost of an oil stain on one thigh, and an equally worn black t-shirt that might have once had words printed on the front. His weight had shifted in the last year, leaving his face gaunter and his gut pouchier, but he stood up tall and straight while he waited; he wasn’t here to grovel. His smell was stronger too, with more nuances, some of which Scott didn’t immediately recognize. “Good game, Son,” he said when Scott drew near enough. He finished the last with a smile that looked rehearsed.
“Dad,” Scott replied, not sure what else to say. Even thanks didn’t seem right. The elder McCall had done everything he could to talk Scott out of trying out for the team. More than one of their fights had centered on his father insisting that Scott trying out was a waste of everyone’s time and money because of his asthma, his lack of coordination, his temerity. “They’re just going to laugh at you,” he’d shouted. “Why do you want to give them more reason to tease you?” Scott couldn’t remember what he’d shouted back, but he’d never forget how his father had looked at him, pity burning in his eyes for the son who would never live out his dreams.
“Come on,” his father said now, “Let’s go grab a bite to eat.” He threw an arm around Scott’s shoulder and started guiding him down the hall. Scott’s sports bag bumped against his other side. Despite the casual demeanor on the outside, his father’s heart was pounding so fast and hard that Scott half expected to hear ribs begin cracking.
The two men were exactly the same height now, a point that Scott felt must be important, though he wasn’t sure why. The three inches he’d put on since he moved out now felt like an accomplishment. He was also broader in the shoulders and more muscled--which he sensed his father didn’t approve of.
Then there was the whole werewolf thing.
They made it as far as the school’s parking lot before Scott balked and pulled away. “I’m not going with you,” he said. His father’s face molded itself into a not-quite-blank that made Scott clench his fists. His father could still be reasoned with—but another wrong step or two and the shouting would begin. Now that Scott could hear the blood thrumming inside the man, his teeth grinding, the not-expression looked almost sinister. There was a time when Scott would have hid from the fight he saw brewing, and a time after that when he would have shouted back, even as he quaked in his sneakers. Both those times ended that night in the woods. “I haven’t seen you o-o-or heard from you in over a year,” Scott said, still somehow unable to restrain the stammer that came out when he couldn’t find the words he needed fast enough. He struggled to keep his own anger in check, to not be the one who started the shouting, to not transform right here. “What makes you think you could just show up and…and…have everything be perfect?”
His father cringed at the stammer. “I haven’t been a very good father to you—“ he began, trailed off as if waiting for Scott to jump in and offer protestations to the contrary. Scott narrowed his eyes, took a small step further back. The parking lot still had cars in it, though it was slowly emptying. Several of his teammates and their parents milled about; he could hear threads of conversation about plans for the night or the next day, reiterations of highlights from the game, couples reuniting after whole hours apart. Though negotiating between and amongst each other to exit the school grounds, no one was really paying attention to those outside their little family groups, least of all to the McCalls. “I got a new job,” the elder said, apparently deciding to change directions with his attempt at an apology, or maybe he was abandoning the tactic all together.
“Congratulations,” Scott replied. He tried to mean it; his father losing his last job was part of the reason that Scott had moved out. Or maybe it was part of the reason they had fought so much, which was why he’d moved out. He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, not wanting to get roped back, knowing deep inside that he probably would eventually. He had enough drama of his own these days. “But that doesn’t explain why you couldn’t pick up the phone.” He hitched his bag higher up onto his shoulder and started to turn away.
“Scott,” the elder said, placing a hand on Scott’s forearm as if to stop him. Scott glared down at it. “Son,” he amended. He sounded contrite, smelled of a fresh burst of sweat and nerves. “I’m leaving.”
Scott blinked at him, opened his mouth, closed it. His mind whirled with contradictory thoughts, none of which he could grasp to examine more carefully. The corner of his lip started to pull up in a snarl; somewhere in the back of his mind he heard a howl. Slapping his father’s hand away, he began to walk until he gained enough distance to run.
By the time Scott arrived home, he had managed to talk himself through a spectrum of distinct emotions—underlying it all was the sneaking suspicion that whatever happened next, he was going to screw it up. For all that was going so incredibly right in his life—making first line, Allison—so much else was going incredibly wrong. The sappy grin that came to his face when he thought of Allison was wiped away when he thought about his grades, Jackson, the hunters, the Alpha, his dad. Then there were the parts he didn’t talk about. “I’m having trouble dealing with aggression,” he’d told the coach, when what he really meant … how could he explain the dark rage that seethed inside him all the time; the fact that when he talked to people, he had to forcibly not think of them as prey, not see them covered in blood by his hand?
He couldn’t explain how his own personality was the werewolf’s first victim.
He dropped his sports bag since inside the door. The Lacrosse stick strapped to it clattered against the wooden floor. In the living room, the lamp was on, the only light that was. His mom was sitting on the couch, legs crossed, suspended foot jittering. She was wearing her scrubs. Her purse sat on the floor with the car keys on top. From the depth of the scent, she had been waiting there for hours, nerves frayed. For a split second he thought about ignoring her, walking up the stairs and slamming the door. He wanted to wallow by himself for awhile, to try to work through the turmoil in his head and in his gut. In truth, all of his emotions were intensified now; the human ones, even depression and fear, had become a valuable reminder of whom he needed to hang on to. But, that was his mom there, his mom who wasn’t at work when she was supposed to be, who had obviously been waiting for him to come home. Squaring his shoulders, he turned in to the room. “Mom, you’re home,” he said, as if he had just noticed her. “Why are you home?”
“Sit down, Scott,” she replied, patting the couch seat next to her. Her tone didn’t brook any argument. He complied, his eyebrow quirking up in a silent question. “I got something in the mail today—“
“Oh, god. The progress report,” he moaned, burying his face in his hands. Parent/teacher conferences were coming up; progress reports would have been sent home for anyone who needed a heads up, or who couldn’t make the conferences. He was flunking practically everything. He was certain that, if it were possible, he’d be flunking his free period. Usually he managed to keep his grades in a solid C range, at least high enough to keep everyone’s attention off of him. This semester, he lived in expectation of his teachers inventing new, lower, grades to give him when even an F was too high.
“We are going to have a conversation about that, Mister,” she replied, a narrowing of her eyes turning the sentence from a threat into a very dangerous promise. She drilled her gaze into him until he looked away in shame, then added, “Later.” Scott started to breathe a sigh of relief, but she continued. “I got something from the lawyer.”
“Lawyer?” he repeated. In sixth grade, when his parents were going through their divorce, “The Lawyer” was an invisible, but ever present participant in his life. Once the divorce became final, “The Lawyer” dropped out of sentences, out of power, out of mind. Scott hadn’t realized until now how much he didn’t miss hearing the title invoked. Even after all this time, the invocation brought a rush of vertigo, as if he’d just taken a step in the dark and discovered that the ground had been removed. “What about?”
“It seems—“ Her voice choked. She swallowed, cleared her throat, pulled a small needle-pointed throw pillow from behind her back and examined it as if she were confused about how it had gotten there or why it had taken her this long to notice the discomfort it caused. Her mother had made the pillow, Scott recalled. “It seems that your father plans to file for custody of you. Full custody.” Her heart was racing; the acrid scent of fear roiled from her.
Scott’s brow furrowed. “Can he do that?”
His mom gave a bitter laugh. “Oh, he can do that.” She ran her fingers over the needle-point pattern on the front: a butterfly with oversized blue wings.
“Why would he do that?” Scott pressed. Was that what his dad had wanted to talk about? Not that he was moving away from Beacon Hills, but that he planned to take Scott with him? Away?
She took a deep breath, let it out. “I asked myself the same question, since it’s not like he put up a fight when you moved here. So I called him.” Scott’s eyes widened. His parents hadn’t had a direct conversation since the day the final papers were signed; they’d barely been able to have one before that. “He told me,” she continued, as if she couldn’t believe the words that were about to come next, “that you aren’t thriving here.”
Scott threw his hands up in frustration. “What does that even mean?” he shouted, his voice cracking.
“It means,” she replied, “that he thinks I’m a terrible mother.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Do you think I’m a terrible mother?”
“No,” Scott replied, now on his feet, though he didn’t recall standing up. “Of course not.” And he meant it. Though she wasn’t a perfect parent, he did have the experience to make a comparison. He and his mom lived in peace, most of the time. If anything, she gave him too much freedom, though he would never admit that to her. He took one angry step, then another—managed only to pace in a tight circle. “He can’t do this. I-I-I’m not going. What if I don’t want to leave?” He looked wildly around the room, searching for something, he didn’t know what. Abruptly, he forced himself to stop, squeezed his eyes shut, took a deep breath and held it as long as he could.
“Scott,” his mom said, tone softer, reassuring. She grabbed one of his hands and held it. “We can fight this. If you want to.”
“I can’t handle this,” Scott cried. He dragged his hands through his hair, threw his head back, fighting the urge to howl … or sob. As soon as his mom finally left for work, a mere four hours after her shift was supposed to have started, he’d summoned Stiles over. As a testament to their friendship, Stiles didn’t even ask why. It was nearly midnight, as the clock next to his bed kept reminding them. The sleep pressure building behind Scott’s eyes made it feel much later, ate away at the threads of patience he’d managed to cling on to. He knew he was being unreasonable, knew that the crawling and pricking inside him was a consequence of the new intensity, yet couldn’t seem to switch it off or turn it down.
Stiles, as usual, blithely filtered out the parts of Scott’s behaviors that he didn’t find useful. “Too much?” Stiles asked. He’s already been through the litany of problems. Twice. He was dressed in the cut-off sweats and loose t-shirt that he wore for bed, and he’d arrived carrying his pillow and a blanket. It was touching that he’d simply assumed that he’d be crashing on Scott’s floor, not that this would be the first time one or the other of them had spontaneously slept over at the other’s. Unlike Scott, though, Stiles didn’t seem the least bit tired. His eyes were wide and bright, maybe a little too so, and he kept twitching. He was stationed on the desk chair in Scott’s room, riding it backwards, while Scott prowled the area around the bed.
Scott threw him the dirtiest look he could muster, an I dare you to do better challenge implicit in it. “What do you think?” he demanded, making no effort to hide the sarcasm.
“You have been a bit tightly wound,” Stiles commented as if Scott hadn’t responded. Though his tone was calm, even thoughtful, his fingers were active: drumming on his knees, tracing the bolts in the seat-back, touching his close-cropped hair. “It’s like were-Scotty has two settings: mope and yell, with nothing in between.” Only because the comment held not a single drop of judgment was Scott able to let it slide off his back. “The way I see it, you need to prioritize. You being a werewolf isn’t going to change, at least not anytime soon, so that one’s not worth worrying about--”
“Not worth worrying about?” Scott repeated, isolating each word. This comment wasn’t so easily dismissed. Stiles, of all people, should have some sense by now of how truly awesome the whole werewolf experience wasn’t.
Stiles spun back and forth in the chair, allowed one full rotation before planting his feet and continuing with: “Doesn’t it strike you as suspicious that your dad is interested in you now that you’re a Lacrosse star?”
“I’m not a star,” Scott protested. Sure, the team was doing well this season, but they had already been a winning team before he made first line. Keeping the streak going wasn’t all that much of a challenge, and it certainly wasn’t all him.
“Maybe not in the grand scheme,” Stiles conceded, “but your picture and stats sure have been in the local sports section a lot.” Scott quirked an eyebrow at the mental image of Stiles reading the newspaper. Hell, anyone reading the newspaper, especially the Beacon Hills Chronicle. Then he remembered that Stiles had a passion for both the police blotters and the obituaries. It wasn’t a stretch to think that his friend would find his way to the sports pages. Stiles wasn’t known for passing up a chance to not learn something new. “You’ve even made the front page a couple times.”
“I have?” Scott asked, feeling a blush creep up his cheeks. He’d never been in the paper before. Even the one time that his Cub Scout troop had been pictured, the photographer had managed to crop him out. Now he was in the paper. A lot? As in, more than once? Why hadn’t anyone mentioned this to him?
Stiles grinned, blinked rapidly several times. “That’s really gotta be pissing Jackson off.”
“Wait,” Scott said, Stiles’s comment about Scott’s father finally sinking in. “Why would that matter?”
“Think about it,” Stiles replied. He draped his arms across the back of the seat. He fingers continued to work at the air. “What father doesn’t want to be able to brag about his son?”
Scott shook his head and dropped to the edge of the bed. Chasing Stiles’s thought processes often ended with both of them frustrated and with Stiles just having to explain everything, anyway. Chasing Stiles’s thought processes when they were…enhanced…was just futile. An ache was building in Scott’s head from the stress, the lack of sleep, the knowledge that he wouldn’t be making up any missing sleep tonight. “What’s your point, Stiles?”
“See,” Stiles answered. “Mope. You were yelling, now you’re moping. Though I gotta give you that moment of humility.” He gazed off toward the ceiling. “Does that count as a third setting, or does that mean that you do have in-betweens? Are you like this with Allison?” A quick shake of his head and he brought his attention back before Scott even had the chance to snap out his friend’s name. “OK, I could be reading this all wrong, but I don’t think he’s back for you. I think—“ his hands stilled, “--he’s back for the you he can be proud of.”
Scott frowned, trying to make sense of that statement. It was the kind of profound insight Stiles would come up with. Like a fortune from a fortune cookie, it sounded great until you realized it could be applied to anyone and therefore meant nothing. He gave up. Falling backward on the mattress, he stared up at the rough-textured ceiling. “He’s my dad,” Scott said. “Aren’t parents supposed to love their kids?”
“Well, yeah,” Stiles agreed. “Of course he loves you, but you hafta admit that you’re not the same person you were a year ago--”
“I’m not the same person I was a month ago,” Scott interrupted. He picked his head up long enough to confirm that Stiles was still listening to him and hadn’t been distracted with disassembling the chair or playing cat’s cradle with a piece of thread he’d found on the floor, then let it fall back with a thump after Stiles offered a shrug of concession.
“—and your dad wants to get to know you. Except he thinks you’ve… Look, all parents want their children to be, I don’t know, something they can show off.”
“Like a car?”
A beat passed before Stiles answered. When he did, his tone was laced with forced patience. “Sure, like a car. You’re like a car.”
Scott nodded. Maybe Stiles thought the analogy was silly, but it made sense to him. His dad looked at Scott now and saw his son, but the son he wanted, not the one he’d had to take. But he only saw the surface. Scott hadn’t been able to bring himself to tell his mother about his lycanthropy. If anyone could handle knowing, she’d be the one. What would he do if his father found out? The man couldn’t even stick around when all he’d had to deal with was asthma. Scott groaned, tried to fall farther back into the mattress and discovered that he couldn’t.
“Aaaannnd, that would be enough serious talk for one night,” Stiles said. “What do you say we call it a night. Catch some zzz’s, deal with things with clearer heads tomorrow, yeah?”
Monday brought the day of parent/teacher conferences, the dreaded event which Scott allowed to slip his mind. Through the whole day, in fact, he managed to spend not a single second’s thought on how much trouble he’d be in by the end of the day—an easy feat since he got to be alone with Allison. Eventually, though, willpower wasn’t enough.
The first thing his mother said to Scott when they got home from conferences was, “Maybe your father is right.” She wore a look of utter defeat on her face, in her posture. The car ride home had been silent except for the crunching of the wheels on the road, the susurrations of their bodies that Scott shouldn’t have been able to hear, and the caught inhalations of half-formed and aborted thoughts. “I swear, I don’t know what’s come over you these days,” she said. Her disappointment in him was palpable. She had so many disappointments to choose from, he knew. When all this was over, he would be lucky to only be grounded for the rest of his life. Car keys would be revoked. Probably his cell phone, too. His newly developed social life would be over. And his mom would never trust him again.
“Mom, I’m sorry,” Scott replied, the words feeling hollow and inadequate even as he spoke them. “I didn’t mean … I-I-I was just trying ….” He hung his shoulders, scuffed at the floor with his foot. What had made sense as he was doing it couldn’t be put into words. His mom would never understand why he had to give Allison the day, even at the risk to himself and his chances of completing his sophomore year. And it had been so perfect, just the two of them wandering around the forest. Even the ever-present rage had been cooled, nearly quenched. The happiness she brought him felt euphoric. And her comment to him at the end about wanting to spend the night together … he quashed that memory before the illicit thrill in his stomach could spread. Then the two lovers had gotten out of the car at the school and reality crashed in.
The hallway in the house was awash with light, enhancing Scott’s sensation of being under intense scrutiny. Unpleasant though it was, this should have been a perfectly normal, if unbearably tense, moment as he waited for his mother to assign his punishment. Abruptly, it changed. His mom took a step toward the stairs and Scott caught a whiff of something in her wake: wild animal, blood, cordite. He didn’t have time to identify it. Like the switch that Stiles had mentioned was flipped, the werewolf reared up inside him. His sight burned red, vision shifting to allow new light spectra. Scott squeezed his eyes shut and twisted away, slapping a protective hand over his mouth. The growing fangs pressed against his lower lip.
“Oh, ho,” his mom chuffed. “You’d better look at me when I’m talking to you, young man.” She reached out a hand as if to grab him, forcibly get him to meet her gaze—never mind that she hadn’t been saying anything.
Scott pulled away and tripped up the stairs toward his room. Now his mom knew what to say. “You get your ass back down here, Scott McCall,” she yelled after him. “We are not done talking.” He slammed his door shut and collapsed on the floor, breathing heavily, praying that she wouldn’t follow him in.
He tried to fight against the change, against the tearing and rearranging of muscles, of internal organs. While the effects weren’t all visible from the outside, they were very real and very agonizing. He tried to breathe through it as if the changes were trumped up versions of a stitch in his side after too much running, tried to stretch and flex as if only battling off a hyper-Charlie horse. He had to bite back the cries of pain, knowing that his mom would hear them. Nothing worked to stop the change.
Then, it did.
The wolf retreated. Scott remained behind, curled breathless on the floor. Sweat sheened his body. He shook with the aftermath as if recovering from hypothermia. He had started to change—had almost finishing changing—and he had no idea what caused it. Not for the first time, either. While it wasn’t exactly random, the change seemed like it could be caused by anything, some times progressing farther than others, for no apparent reason. And other times, the wolf didn’t come out when he felt sure that it would. He was still surprised that he’d made it through dinner at the Argent’s. Then there was the mystery of how to make the wolf go away. He’d done it once. But how? He knew there had to be rules; he just couldn’t figure out what those rules might be.
His mom started up the stairs. Her footsteps echoed up through the floorboards. Summoning reserves and acuity he didn’t realize he had, Scott forced his limbs to work and threw himself into bed, pulling the sheets up around him. He was doing his best to look like a teenager trying to avoid punishment by going to bed early and not like a teenager who’s planning to sneak out of his room to go to a forbidden party—neither of which were true, which made his charade difficult—when his mom tapped twice on the door and walked in. Her expression was set—not with anger or disappointment, as he expected, but with resignation.
“I’ve been trying to figure out the right thing to say,” she started, one hand on the doorframe as if she needed extra support. “Growing up is … tough, and things haven’t been easy for you. I know that bad decisions are part of the deal.” She rolled her eyes up toward the ceiling, a trace of a wry smile touched her lips. “Have I got a few stories that you will never get to hear.” The lightness vanished. “But, I’m in over my head here, Scott. I need you to talk to me, tell me what I can do—because it’s clear that you need more help than I know to give you. Whatever’s going on in your head, we need to get it figured out before you get yourself into real trouble.”
Scott hesitated, knowing that he could never tell her what was really going on. She might be able to cope; she had certainly demonstrated her strength over the past few years. But what if she couldn’t? Where would he go then? Steeling himself for yet another lie, he nodded.
For a moment she looked like she was going to press. Then her gaze softened, the way he sometimes caught her looking at him when he was little. “I love you,” she whispered, rested her hand on the doorknob, took a breath, pulled the door shut. Out in the hallway, she added, very softer, “I hope you know that.”
School was cancelled on Thursday and Friday so that the police could investigate the attack in the building on Wednesday night and so some necessary repairs could be made. Despite the best effort on Thursday morning to sleep in, Scott found himself blinking into the morning light streaming in his window at 7:18. His whole day was laid bare and unscheduled before him. Without school in session, Lacrosse practice was also cancelled, and he wasn’t scheduled for the animal clinic. He felt unfocussed, misplaced.
He was also grounded.
Between the grade report, the truancy, the flakiness with his work schedule, and now his mom’s terror over him being nearly killed, Scott was forbidden from leaving the house for any reason until further notice. As he had predicted, he was also forbidden from watching TV, using the computer, using his cell phone, eating junk food, or having friends over. Today was to be spent catching up on homework. He glanced over at his now computer-less desk where his mom had helpfully stacked all his textbooks and groaned. That was a lot of homework.
The house was quiet, but not really. The radiators throughout the older structure ticked and popped. Water gurgled through pipes. Electricity hummed in the wires. He could actually hear the current, loudest especially in the kitchen where the coffee maker had just clicked on. And now he could smell the first tentative drips of coffee, hear as they splashed into the carafe. His mom was still asleep, her heartbeat slow, her soft snores regular. She’d never know if he …
Yeah, she probably would. Whatever he thought he could get away with, she’d find out. And then he’d really be in trouble. He stared up at the ceiling, stretched slowly from his toes up his body, yawned. His fingernails darkened, started to lengthen, retracted. Concentrating, he made them grow again on purpose, the first time doing so since that night with Derek and the bullet. He ran through it several times, fascinated by the visual. It was getting easier. Tried his teeth and marveled at the feel of them extending, mouth dropping open slightly to allow for their presence. He pressed his tongue against the new enamel, tested the sharpness, tasted a drop of blood. The canines vanished. His tongue healed, but the coppery taste lingered, made him shudder at the thought of what those teeth could do. He scrubbed his hands over his face, rubbing out the last of the sleep, checking for changes to his face that he couldn’t see. Aside from a zit forming above his right eyebrow, there was nothing of note.
Transformations still didn’t make any sense. The whole thing was impossible, of course, but once you got past that idea … actually, that just made it worse. He had so many questions, most of which roiled half-formed around his head. And no one to answer them. As reticent as Derek had been to share information related to the big issues, Scott hadn’t dared approach him with questions about the details. More, he had suspected that Derek wouldn’t know the answers. Just because the man had been born a werewolf didn’t mean he could explain how it all worked. Why it all worked. And now Derek was dead. Stiles was right; he needed a Lycanthropy for Beginners class. Too bad no such thing existed. In the back of his mind, he could hear his mother snipe about how if he were in that class, he’d just flunk it.
The piercing jangle of the house’s phone caught him by surprise. He slapped his hands over his ears, but still heard his mother’s sleepy “’lo.” She didn’t speak again for long enough that Scott rolled out of bed and padded over to the door, a leftover habit. Still a useless one, too. He couldn’t hear the other speaker over the thumping of her heart. “Fine,” his mom finally said. “You’re his father.” With that, she hung up. A second later, her bedsprings creaked, feet hit the floor with a soft thunk. “Scott?” she called. “Are you up?” She appeared in her doorway, robe half on over her pajamas, hair still pulled back in her sleep ponytail. Seeing him, she confirmed what he’d already worked out.
Given the alternative, it still turned out not to be a relief that his dad was going to pick him up. Chemistry homework had more appeal. His feelings must have shown because his mom frowned, cocked her head as if confused. “Why do you hate him?” she asked.
“Why do you?” he fired back.
“Oh, Scott,” she replied, dropping her head against the doorframe. “What happened between us—“ She drew a breath, gathering her thoughts. “We were always wrong for each other.” She let that comment sit in the air between them. Scott crossed his arms, waited for more. No one had ever bothered to tell him what was going on beyond the logistics. He’d overheard enough fights to figure out some of it, but there had to be more. There was always more. “For awhile,” she continued, “we could ignore that. Then you came along, and we were so focused on you that we could ignore each other. But, after a few years that didn’t work anymore.” She heaved a breath as if the explanation released her from a huge burden.
Scott shifted on his feet, waiting to hear something he didn’t already know.
After a moment, she said, “Your father is the kind of person who needs to figure out things for himself, on his own schedule. He can be pretty dense, sometimes.” She chuckled, shook her head as if remembering a specific example that she still couldn’t believe. Her brow furrowed. “But he does love you.” It was clearly costing her to admit this. “He’s not always great about how he shows it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.” She straightened up, finished pulling on her robe as if the conversation were over, but didn’t turn to leave. “Scott, you’re sixteen. You know he can’t make you do anything you don’t want to do.”
Scott heard the car coming miles away. While he heard hundreds, if not thousands, of cars in a given day, he instinctively knew that this was the one he was listening for. A few minutes later, he watched from his bedroom window as it pulled up to his house: a gun-metal gray Corvette convertible with the top down, his father at the wheel. A brand new white baseball cap on his head contrasted sharply with his tanned skin and black hair. Scott rolled his eyes. Even without his enhanced senses, he could smell the desperation. The car was too expensive, the person driving it trying too hard to look like he always drove this kind of car. He didn’t. When Jamie brought Scott’s belongings to the house a week after Scott’s midnight fleeing, he’d done so in a rusted out 25 year old Buick that he had sworn he would drive until the engine fell out.
His father didn’t get out of the car, not right away. Nor did he honk the horn. He just … sat, staring straight ahead, his fingers drumming on the steering wheel. The car’s engine rumbled in a February morning that was cold enough to make the moisture in the exhaust visible. Jamie wore the same shirt and jeans from the other night, no jacket. It was like he thought that sheer obstinance would keep him warm.
After several long minutes, he peered in the rear-view mirror, adjusted his baseball cap, tucked some loosed hair back under it, and stepped out of the car, shutting the door carefully behind him. Now he stared up at the house, eyeing it as if it were a dog he wasn’t sure was chained up. It had never really been his house. Melissa had inherited it from her mother when she moved into assisted living, and had themselves only moved in a few months before Jamie packed his bags and left. Scott’s brow creased as he tried to imagine what his dad saw from the sidewalk. When Scott had moved back in, he hadn’t thought one way or the other about the dwelling itself, just the parent who occupied it. He took it for granted that what belonged to his parents also belonged to him. But his dad wasn’t welcome here, and everyone knew it. Jamie closed his eyes briefly, drew a deep breath, then shoved his hands in his front pockets as if reaching some kind of decision.
Seeing his dad like this was strange. He looked so … not nervous, exactly, but insecure. Scott tested a few other synonyms, rejected them all. Until that moment, Scott would have scoffed if anyone had suggested insecure as a descriptor for his father. He was loud and volatile and—a memory of that camping trip popped into his head. He had been ten, old enough to follow basic campground rules. The skies had opened up while they were out hiking. They had returned to the campsite to discover that the tent flap hadn’t been secured and everything inside was drenched, the ground churned to mud from the power of the rainfall, and the Buick wouldn’t turn over. His father had hustled them into the back seat, turned the heater on full, and huddled with Scott until they dried off enough for the boy to fall asleep. The tent was Scott’s fault. His father never once yelled, never once blamed or accused Scott, even though he could have. “Our stuff will all dry eventually. As for the car, she’ll start after the rain stops,” his father promised. “Everything gets quirks when it gets older. She—“ He patted the seat, “--doesn’t like thunder storms.” He had been right, of course. Now that Scott was thinking about them, he realized that there had been a lot of equivalent moments, ones where he father protected and guided him, as a father was supposed to do. Fewer as Scott grew up, but never completely absent.
All of a sudden, Scott found it hard to hate him. He wasn’t ready to forgive him, but the desire to hate dissipated.
Scott heard his father pound on the front door and his mother answer, then he stopped listening. He could guess well enough what they would have to say to each other, assuming they had anything to say at all.
The conversation didn’t take as long as Scott expected it would. Or maybe it took longer. While waiting, he copied out the formula for a Chemistry problem into his notebook, stared at it blankly. Had Harris covered this material? At all? He couldn’t remember. His hand gripped the pencil as if he could squeeze an answer out of it, fingernails turning white from the pressure. He thought about how he’d made them change that morning totally on purpose, and the irony of how something that should be physically impossible made more sense than chemistry. “Werewolf,” he said, sounding the word to an empty room. “I’m a werewolf.” A blush crawled into his cheeks. He’d only been able to say the word a couple times. He avoided even thinking it, unable to get past its utter ridiculousness. Every time Stiles said it—which seemed to be far more often, and far more enthusiastically, than necessary—he winced. Lycanthropy wasn’t supposed to be real; how was it taking over his life? True, he had other things to balance it. But, Stiles and Allison and first line, they’d all be left behind if he moved out of Beacon Hills. He’d attend a new high school and maybe he’d make new friends. There might be a Lacrosse team, though most schools didn’t have them. The only thing he could count on was that he’d still be a werewolf.
He jumped at a knock on his door, checked quickly to make sure his hands, teeth, vision were human before opening it.
“You ready, buddy?” his dad asked. His heart was pounding, the reek of nervousness overpowering his usual scent. Scott had to turn his head away to try not to breathe it directly, it was so strong. He’d smelled it the other night at the game, too, though he’d been too caught up in the primary scents to pay it much attention.
“Where are we going?”
Jamie shrugged. “Thought we’d catch some breakfast. Talk over a few things.” He peered into the room, eyes sweeping the furniture and wall decorations, pausing on the exercise bar that hung in the bathroom doorway, the muddy jeans discarded on the floor. “Your mom told me you’re grounded.” He sounded distracted now. Or maybe disinterested.
“Yeah,” Scott answered. “Grades.” His mom must not have rattled off the list because his dad seemed to accept the short answer as a sufficient one.
Jamie took a breath. “I got you something,” he said in a rush of words. From behind his back he produced an object wrapped in a white plastic bag. “It just came out. I know you won’t be able to play it for awhile….”
Scott took the package and opened the bag. The glossy box for the expansion pack for Rings of Hell, a video game he had been into all through middle school, fell out. He eyed it quizzically. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d played it. Actually, he could: he and Stiles had spent a sleepless weekend with it the previous winter, after talking about the then-current expansion for months on end. Then Lacrosse had started, homework started rolling in, and he’d taken the job at the animal clinic, and the game slipped out of his mind. He hadn’t even known that this expansion was being produced.
“Consider it a late birthday present,” his dad said, in response to a question that hadn’t even crossed Scott’s mind.
“Thanks,” Scott replied. He tried to sound like he meant it, even as he realized that he would never play the game. Never mind that his birthday had been eight months ago. Violent, bloody video games didn’t hold the appeal that they used to. Scott returned the game to the bag and set it on his desk. The idea niggled at him that he was being bought. “I’m not moving back in with you,” he said suddenly. He started, looked around to see who else had entered the conversation—figured out that no one had. He ran the sentence back through his mind. Yes, he’d heard himself correctly. Did he mean what he’d said?
Jamie’s eyes widened briefly, his heart skipped. But the smell of his nervousness dimmed. He seemed more surprised by the timing than by the content. Scott wasn’t sure how to interpret that. Maybe they did have a few things to talk about, still. “Just breakfast, then?” Jamie asked. “My treat.” He stepped to the side in a silent invitation. Scott hesitated, then nodded. “You’re gonna love the car I’ve got. Picked it out just for you—“
“What happened to the Buick?” He followed his father down the stairs and out to the car, flashing a reassuring smile to his mother in the living room. She was sitting on the far end of the couch, clearly trying not to interfere. As he passed, she clasped her hands and looked up, as if shooting a quick prayer into the sky on his behalf.
“I can’t believe you remember that old thing,” Jamie replied with a dismissive hand wave.
Scott quirked an eyebrow, but this time managed not to say what he really wanted to. He could see his father donning the bluster as if to wear it into battle. “So, new car, new job, new town,” Scott summarized, instead. “You’ve been busy.” It would be more impressive if he couldn’t smell the diesel and oil, couldn’t guess how much truth was being redacted. A new notion bloomed, took root: Everything his father had shown him was part of a contest—
“Wait ‘til you see the apartment,” Jamie continued, as he slid into the car. Scott caught a whiff of new car spray, and underneath that the residual scent of previous drivers. “It’s got a pool and an exercise room and satellite TV with a sports package. You’d really like it.”
—one that he wasn’t sure he was winning.