There was a split second before it happened when he knew the jar was going to topple over, roll off the edge of the damaged shelf, and shatter. He knew in that moment to wince, wait for the sound of breaking glass, and that this reaction would be the correct one because it was entirely human. Acting human, Chris had told him, was his most important job while they were here.
Still, the werewolf part of him could have reached out instead of wincing. He could have caught the jar easily while still maintaining his grip on the old crate in his arms. Or, at least, his instincts told him he could.
Ignoring those instincts in that split second, he now realized, was going to kill him. And fast.
He hit his knees hard, before he'd even registered that the tickle in his nose and mouth was turning into a white hot burning sensation. Isaac gasped for air, leaning over the crate, now busted on the floor, to try and hold himself up. His body trembled with the effort.
The staircase leading out of the old storage cellar they were raiding seemed far away at the moment.
The man wouldn't hear him with his weak human ears.
Isaac cinched his eyes shut as they started to burn as well. Shit. The jar. The stupid jar. It must have had some sort of wolfsbane in it. He'd remembered seeing it as he helped Chris load up the first two boxes, a fine black powder in something resembling a baby food jar, and it had been sitting precariously on one of the shelves behind them, the ones littered with old books and empty shell-casing boxes and mysterious containers with odd symbols marking their sides.
"Don't touch anything else," Chris had said, offhandedly. "My cousins might had retired long before their deaths, but they were still once hunters."
Isaac had fought the urge to roll his eyes at the time. But that was the sort of thing Chris said these days, since they'd left Beacon Hills together. Extra warnings. Extra advice. Often unneeded. But oddly appreciated. They were the type of comments a father would make, and that...Isaac didn't want to think about that, but he didn't want the concern in the man's voice to go away either.
Isaac understood. He really did. That Chris was only treating him this well because he needed a replacement for Allison. The older man's feelings weren't genuine. But Isaac didn't feel bad about sticking around when he told himself it was to help Mr. Argent cope.
A wet cough rattled his chest and something thick stuck in his throat. He spat it up, and it tasted foul. Isaac's blurred vision showed him a splattering of black gunk across the crate. He slid off the box with a groan and his face slapped the cement floor.
Isaac wasn't sure when he'd fallen asleep, but two hands were waking him. The hands were beneath his armpits, dragging him up an incline. His tailbone hit something hard. A wooden step, he realized. He hit the next one just as hard but didn't have the strength to tell the hands to stop.
"Isaac, hold still for me, damn it!"
When did it get so cold? The wind was whipping at him and the rain stinging his skin. He tried to open his eyes and saw it wasn't rain, but a water-hose, right before the jet of water splashed his eyes. He was outside the old house. When did he get outside the old house? Isaac couldn't recall making it up the stairs, but his head was clearing now. He was still cold, still shivering in his soaked clothes, his hair sticking to his forehead, but the burning was fading. And he was propped up against the outside wall, his legs spread out in front of him, the water puddled around him.
The sound of the water hose disappeared.
A livid Chris Argent was in his face a moment later, his fist balled in the wet T-shirt, jerking Isaac forward. "What the hell were you thinking, Isaac?" He shook him at every word, as if trying to force them to fall into place. Make them stick. "I told you to be careful! How could you be so stupid?"
The words came out of his mouth easily, old and well-practiced in his father's home. "I'm sorry. I'll do better next time," he muttered, his voice hoarse, "I promise."
"You-" Chris bit off whatever he was about to say. Something in his face changed, the anger leaving him. No, Isaac thought, not leaving, just being stored away, because Chris was good at compartmentalizing. "You're lucky. It was a weak strain of wolfsbane, one my cousins used to use to sedate wolves, and the powder was old. You look like you're going to be ok, but I should probably finish cleaning out the basement on my own. It's still in the air."
"I'm sorry." Repeating never helped, but Isaac was feeling lightheaded.
Chris winced. "It wasn't your fault. I didn't mean to yell. You just startled me. When I found you, you looked..." The man trailed off and stood up. He shivered, and Isaac figured he was cold too. "I'll go get what we came for," Chris continued. "Go to the car and get you some fresh clothes. You'll catch a cold."
Chris turned to walk away, and Isaac pushed himself up the wall until he was steady on his feet. "No I won't," he said, his scratchy voice barely loud enough to hear.
Chris stopped, but he didn't turn, didn't face him. "I know," he said, quietly, and walked back into the house.
Isaac stared after him a few moments, subconsciously squeezing at the hem of his shirt to wrench out the water. Chris was wrong. He didn't know, not all the time. There were plenty of moments when the man seemed to forget Isaac was a wolf. Isaac had taken that to mean he was doing something right, that he was acting the part well enough to pass. But that wasn't the case. The reason Chris forgot...Isaac knew. Sometimes Chris forgot it wasn't Allison standing beside him. And sometimes Isaac forgot it wasn't his father pretending to care.
"This isn't going to work," Isaac said.
Chris wasn't close enough to hear him. Not with human ears. But Isaac needed to say it for his own sake. Put it out there so he knew that some part of him was aware of the reality of the situation. They couldn't keep traveling together, checking on the Argent properties, looking for supernatural incidents that could lead to hunts. Pretending Isaac wasn't a runaway werewolf in the most dangerous place he could possibly be: at a hunter's side.
Not dangerous just for him either. He knew the risk Chris was taking. He didn't have to be told there were hunters out there who would turn on Chris for just letting a wolf live, much less paying for his hotel room and feeding him cheeseburgers.
No, this couldn't last much longer, but Isaac let that part slip from his mind. He headed back toward the driveway, to find fresh clothes. They could both play pretend for just a bit longer.