Just when Scott thought he was starting to get the hang of balancing being a teenager with being a werewolf, he had to get reminded of how precarious that balance could be.
He stared in disbelief at the hand-out for the state semi- and final games. With less than a week to go before the big weekend, the planning committee had at last released the times that the four games were to be played. The worst had come true: Beacon Hills was due to start their semi-final game half an hour before moonrise. On the day of the full moon.
He'd known about the last part, of course, because he now knew more about the lunar cycle than he ever thought there was to know. But he'd been holding out hope that Beacon Hills would earn the earlier time slot, the one that would let him play and still make it into hiding before he changed.
The time slot wasn't bad enough. Coach had printed the travel information up and distributed the flyers to the players, then proceeded to yell at them about what it said, starting with the fact that "some asshole" had scheduled the tournament so far from Beacon Hills that he was going to be forced to "haul all you slobs" off to a hotel where "you had damn well better behave yourselves." Oh, and because of some unspecified issues he was having with the bus company, the team would be making the trip to the game site on Thursday.
Scott closed his eyes. The letters continued to burn on the backs of his eyelids. Lacrosse finals, the one event he had most looked forward to, and he couldn't go. If any of the details had been different, he could have found a way to work around the full moon. But the details couldn't have been aligned worse.
On dismissal, the other players scrambled to their feet, their excitement palpable. Any excuse to get out of school was one to be celebrated, especially when combined with a night in a hotel away from parents. Scott remained seated. The blue-tinted paper shook from the strength of his grip.
Finally he leveraged himself up and followed Coach into his office. Coach was shuffling through the papers and folders piled on his desk, muttering about something he couldn't find; a black Bic pen stuck out of his mouth. His normally unkempt hair stuck out worse than usual. "Forget it, McCall," he snapped, reading Scott's intentions with a glance. Scott opened his mouth to argue, but Coach kept right on speaking. "I need you there." He slapped his hand on a piece of paper as if to keep it from blowing away, held it up with a triumphant gotcha. "I'm only going to say this once," he continued, "and save us both the effort: if you don't play—"
"I'm off first line?" Scott suggested, in the one pause he was given as the coach drew a fresh breath to power the rest of the threat.
"—You're off the team. You're done." He shook the paper at Scott, seemed to remember that he was holding it, crumpled it up and shoved it in his pocket. Re-aiming his finger at his star player, he shot the big guns: "Face it, McCall. Without lacrosse, you have no chance at college. Hell, without lacrosse, you have no chance at graduating."
Scott blanched. He had entered the office with a goal, but without having had any chance to work out what to say to achieve it. It was a conversation he'd never imagined would be necessary. Last year when the team had gone to state, Scott had eagerly accompanied them, even though he knew he had no chance of being allowed on field, and he had been scheduled to work that day, hours for which he had originally begged. Not going had never been a consideration. Now, in a handful of sentences, Coach Finstock managed to blow apart every excuse the teen might have been able to come up with, leaving him reeling, disoriented. "B-b-but, I—" he started, certain that he could still think of something if he could just get a chance to talk.
Coach yanked the pen out of his mouth and whipped it onto the desk. It bounced once, rolled to the floor. "Cancel your date, call in sick to work, get your chores done early. You're going to the finals." He twirled his hand toward the door in the loudest unspoken "Get your ass outta here," that Scott had ever seen.
Head bowed, feet heavy, Scott complied. Despite himself, he cast a glance back over his shoulder. Coach had returned to digging through the papers on his desk; without looking up, he echoed the earlier flick of his hand, having apparently anticipated Scott's reluctance to acquiesce. God dammit! Why wouldn't he listen? No sooner had the question crossed his mind than he realized how little it mattered. Sure, with enough perseverance, he could probably get Coach to listen. But then, what was he supposed to tell him? How was he supposed to explain that he would spend the day of the semi-final slowly going insane? That if he went out on the field, he'd joyfully slaughter everyone else out there? Scott dragged the toe of his shoe back and forth across the cement floor of the locker room, a hand on the metal frame of his locker. There had to be a solution. He just had to figure out what it was.
Stiles dropped his lunch tray on the table. The impact made the top bun of the sloppy joes slide off the meat sauce. "Why didn't you just show him?" he asked. "Sprout some fur, grow some claws—" He mimed long sideburns and waggled his fingers with the suggestions. "Oh, oh, or make your eyes glow," he added, squinting his own as if that would flick on some light switch in his head. "It's not like it would be hard to prove."
Scott scowled at him and set his own tray down. "Great plan," he replied. "Then I'll follow up with a demonstration at the pep rally. I'm sure there won't be any problems. It's not like there aren't enough people trying to kill me right now."
"You know, there's a big difference between telling Coach and telling everyone. Besides," Stiles pointed out as they took their seats, "if he knew the truth, maybe he'd let you out of the game. It's only the semi-final."
"What if he kicks me off the team, instead?" His voice rose as he spoke, his chest tightening at the thought. The metal cafeteria fork gripped in his hand started to bend. He let it drop to the table. Coach wasn't exactly known for being open-minded, but he did care about the well-being of his players. If he knew how dangerous one of his players was, how easily the violence of the game could end with that player ripping the others limb from limb, he wouldn't take the risk. Nor could Scott blame him.
Picking up the sandwich, Stiles squeezed a large bite into his mouth, licked the sauce off his lips, swallowed. "He said he's going to kick you off the team if you don't go, but that's only because he doesn't understand the situation. If you tell him and he still boots you, then what have you really lost?"
Scott bodily turned, narrowed his eyes in disbelief. "Besides the chance to ever play lacrosse again?" he asked. And graduate high school, and maybe go to college. The list of consequences just kept growing. He dragged his fingers through his hair, clenched his hands into tight fists. It was all he could do not to punch the table.
"You can't seriously be thinking about going to finals?"
Scott forced himself to untense, forced his fingers to uncurl. He was still wound tight inside. But he refused to take it out on Stiles. He sighed, instead, and prodded at his own sandwich. While he was hungry, the greasy meat didn't offer much appeal. Nor did the tater tots that filled the rest of the plate.
"Oh my god," Stiles proclaimed. "You are thinking about it." The sandwich hung, forgotten, in his hands. Sloppy joe sauce leaked from the bun onto his tray.
"No, of course not," Scott replied, the words sounding insincere even to his ears. The only lunch item he hadn't considered yet was a small red apple with a suspicious hole near the stem. He picked the fruit up, sniffed it, set it back down. "Fine. Maybe a little." With a frown, he scanned the room, suddenly realizing that no one had joined them at the table. "Where's Allison?"
Stiles slugged him on the shoulder. "Uh-uh," he said. "You are not changing the topic."
Rubbing his shoulder, Scott continued peering around the crowded cafeteria. He found Jackson eating at a table right in the center of the room with Danny, Brian, and a contingent of other lacrosse players. Lydia sat at a table near the door with the members of the prom committee, though she was staring off into a space over their heads while they giggled and nudged each other. He couldn't see or smell Allison anywhere in the room. Even though he didn't need to worry about her being a target of the Alpha anymore, not being able to find her still made him nervous. He rose up, knelt with one leg on the plastic seat, and tried to listen over the conversational cacophony around him for Allison's voice.
"God, you're pathetic," Stiles said directly into his ear. Scott flinched at the relative volume. "She's fine. Wherever she is, she's fine. She's probably studying in the library. People do that, you know. Study. And homework."
After a moment, Scott nodded, conceded the truth of his friend's statement, and sank back down. "What am I supposed to do, Stiles?" He pushed his finger into one of the tater tots, grinding it into a shredded potato pulp.
His friend took another, too large, bite of the now-remembered sandwich, and chewed thoughtfully. "You know, dude, you keep asking me that." He swallowed, shrugged. "I don't know how you're going to solve this one."
Now that the times were public, all anyone could talk about was plans for attending the finals. The Parents Athletic Club was organizing a fan bus for kids who wanted to ride up on Friday or Saturday to watch. The Administration—never ones to let academics get in the way of sports—announced that school would be dismissed two hours early on that Friday to allow students and faculty to safely get to the game site. The band director was stalking the halls trying to round up the instrumentation for pep bands for both nights—it being taken for a given that Beacon Hills would advance to the State Final. The excitement wasn't just palpable; Scott could taste it. It coated his tongue like espresso, became all he could smell. Rather than being rousing, the scent made his stomach curl in a tight ball.
People he didn't know kept congratulating him, asking him if he was ready, if he was nervous. "We're going to kill them!" more than one person assured him, fist pumping in the air at the thought of another trophy for the display case, another bragging point for the interschool rivalries. "We're going to slaughter them!" they shouted, as they ran through the halls. He swallowed against the lump in this throat that wouldn't go away. His could feel the vein on his temple throbbing, harder with each cheer directed at him.
He finally met up with Allison again in Econ. She greeted him with a quick kiss, took the seat behind him. "I missed you at lunch," Scott said. He scooted his desk back until it touched hers, sat sideways in his seat to get as close to her as possible. So far she was the only one who hadn't said anything to him about the finals.
"Sorry," she replied, sounding more distracted than apologetic. "I was talking with a teacher."
She waved the question off with her hand. "Nothing important."
"Oh," he said, brows creasing. Her heartbeat didn't give anything away. Was she keeping secrets now? Wouldn't he know if she were? Or did her hunter training include the ability to deceive werewolf senses?
She smiled then, wide and dimpled, blissfully derailing his train of thought. Now that they had his secrets out in the open, he really couldn't believe that she still wanted to date him. It was bad enough before she knew, when she thought he was quirky and weird, when all she saw was a guy who changed his story in the middle of a sentence, who ran out of parties and away from congratulations after winning a lacrosse game; now it had ratcheted up. He dreamed sometimes about her breaking up with him, was sure that she would when she started to grasp the danger he posed, now that she knew why he'd needed to run away. She grabbed his hand with both of hers and pulled it to her cheek. "So, are we still on for the range after school?" she asked.
The bell rang while he was trying to adjust to the topic shift. Ever since they had defeated the Alpha, Allison had been trying to take Scott out to the archery range. She had suggested it as a way to spend more time together while she trained, said it would help her to improve her own skills as she taught him. He kept deflecting the invitation, on the grounds that he had only ever touched a bow once at a summer day-camp when he was ten and he was worse at archery than bowling. "I hit everything except the target," he told her, when she pressed him for the story. "It was like, no matter what I did, the arrows wanted to do their own thing." Voice softer, he added, "Two times, twice—" He held up two fingers in a "V" as further emphasis of the number-"I hit the counselor—who was standing behind me. They made me do macaroni art for the rest of the week." To Allison's credit, she didn't laugh. She smiled, but she didn't laugh.
What he didn't tell her was that every time he saw a compound bow, all he could think about was getting shot in the arm on his first full moon. The story about camp was true, but also irrelevant. With his werewolf reflexes, archery wouldn't be a problem. Look what happened to his bowling game. But being around bows and arrows made him shudder, made it harder to keep the wolf quieted. Allison insisted that his reserve was nothing more than proper respect for a deadly weapon. He suspected that his fear was a nascent phobia. On the other hand, tough-girl Allison was hot, and he really did want to see that side of her more. "Maybe," he finally responded, hoping he'd be able to come up with an excuse to get out of going before school ended. He turned to the front of the class quickly in pretense of needing to pay attention before she could press him for a stronger commitment.
Finstock ended up saving Scott. He called Scott, Stiles, and the three other lacrosse players in the class to the front of the room. "These guys are what people think of when they think of Beacon Hills," he announced, pacing in front of the assembled row of teens, shoulders hunched like he was about to charge. He left a pause like he expected the class to applaud the players. No one did, though a couple people squirmed in their seats as if they were being tested on something they should know but didn't. Scott knew that feeling well. "Take a good look at these guys," Finstock said after a moment, "because you're not going to see much of them for the next week. These guys should be your heroes. Your heroes! When people think of Beacon Hills, they think of lacrosse, and that's what these guys are!" He sucked in a breath, as if gearing up for another verse. For once he had the entire class's attention, their eyes wide, faces schooled into shocked impassivity. As if he couldn't pass up this opportunity, he dismissed the players back to their seats and turned to the board. Stiles caught Scott's eye and made a face. Finstock hadn't outright said it, but it was clear that he intended to spend every extra-curricular minute he could snatch making the team practice.
Scott groaned quietly and buried his head in his hands. Every time it seemed like he was finally going to get what he wanted, the rules changed and what he wanted became the worst thing that could happen.