Derek's eyes popped open the moment Stiles's father opened his door and started sneaking down the stairs. The guy was trying, really, shuffling his feet on the carpet before letting his full weight onto the stair and taking ten times longer to come down a single flight than if he'd just walked. He was trying, Derek knew, to let him sleep, to be a good host. But heightened senses and a constant state of alert didn’t care much for honest effort. He heard John step closer and dropped his eyes shut. The Sheriff smelled mostly of aftershave and gun oil.
"Sleep all right?" John asked after a second.
Derek froze in surprise, then slowly opened his eyes and frowned a little in confusion.
The Sheriff smirked and shook his head. "Have you met my son?" was all he said before he turned away.
It made Derek grin a little despite himself, and he sat up. "Fine," he replied. If fine meant staring at the ceiling, burning with embarrassment at having run away, too much a coward to let someone see the fissures. Or reaching for his phone only to delete the message unsent. If it meant being too brittle to speak, and meant hoping to disappear into the cushion until exhaustion hauled him under.
"Well," John shot him a look, "you're a better man than I. Spent more time than I'd care to admit on that thing. Always gave me a stiff neck." He rubbed at his neck absently and shrugged in Derek's direction. "But I usually deserved it."
Derek didn't know what to say to that, so he just nodded. Maybe it was a family thing, the way they brought you in slowly, like sinking into a feather bed. A silent subtle fall into strong hands, a lighthouse for the wayward. Just a keen eye and an honest smile, and you could be living near the hearth fire and breaking bread.
John disappeared into the kitchen, and a few minutes later Derek could smell coffee. There was some clattering of cupboards, and the Sheriff returned with a large mug in one hand and a metal insulated cup in the other. He set the mug down and gave Derek a look. "Cream and sugar. Fend for yourself." He hooked a thumb back toward the kitchen. "And please tell my son to get to class on time?"
Derek started to tell him that the kids were all skipping class, but he thought better of it. Might as well let the man have his harmless illusions. "Sure," he said instead, and weathered the calculating look the Sheriff gave him on his way out the door.
By the slow, steady pace of his heartbeat, Stiles was still asleep. Derek let him stay that way and got up to fix his coffee, a little cream, lots of sugar. He circled through the house, testing the air near the windows and doors, until he was satisfied that nothing lurked.
Then, he sat at the dining room table, in the quiet, and listened.
Stiles came down not long after in a rainbow of mismatched flannels. He marched to the kitchen without so much as a look or a hello and started pulling open cabinets and drawers. Curious, Derek got up to follow him and stood just inside but out of the way, his hip checked against the countertop. Stiles had collected and arranged, so far, cake flour, eggs, milk, salt, and sugar. He moved with uncharacteristic precision, opening the fridge and retrieving butter. He set it on the counter next to his ordered row.
There was something different about him, something calm and intent and focused that Derek had never witnessed before, and it left him fascinated if not a little disconcerted. So he just watched as Stiles set up his bowls and measuring cups and found himself grinning slightly in bemusement as each item got measured. Not approximated: measured, carefully so, as though a dusting of extra flour would end the world. Then baking powder, salt, some sugar. Stiles hunched down to eye the liquid level as he poured the milk, then cracked in two eggs, added vanilla, and mixed. He stirred the thin stream of wet ingredients into dry by hand, moving the spoon around gently, like he was mixing clouds. He finished by microwaving half the stick of butter for 48 seconds and swirling it in after he was sure it melted.
He never once turned or glanced in Derek's direction, but something buzzed between them anyway. An awareness. Stiles knew he was watching. Derek knew he knew, with no looks, no words. Just trust.
Stiles paused after placing the pan on the stove and setting the flame to low, his hand still gripping the handle. "It's the only thing my mom taught me how to make," he said, his voice low and almost apologetic.
For a second, Derek found it hard to breathe. Pain trickled in his chest and closed his throat. "Guess that makes it your best dish, then," he whispered.
Stiles's shoulders tensed then shook a little in a silent laugh.
When he poured the batter, the fingers of his left hand started flickering in sequence. Derek watched for a few seconds before he realized Stiles was counting. And that this was how he honored that memory, by following her rules. By doing it perfectly. A ritual and a spell to summon her ghost. His precision wasn't about the perfect recipe, but about the perfect memory.
One that he was choosing to share.
Derek found himself glad that he wasn't being asked to talk. He wasn't sure he could have.
He was witness to an offering and could not imagine why.
Stiles kept the oven on warm and stashed the pancakes onto their waiting plates inside as they were done. He sliced pats of butter and laid them in between, drizzled on real syrup with the same zig-zag pattern. It didn't take that long, but Derek could have watched for hours, that foreign, steady boy. When the last pancake was done, Stiles turned toward the French press and then spun around holding it accusingly in Derek's direction.
"You didn't make me any?"
Derek smirked at him. "I did. You were asleep. Make more."
Stiles sighed overly dramatically but did, in fact, make more.
As soon as they sat down, the old Stiles returned, and Derek was surprised at how bittersweet it felt. "Have you talked to Scott?"
"No." He tried a forkful of pancake and accidentally let out a soft sigh of pleasure. Stiles might have turned a little red. They both might have ignored that.
"Okay, well, I'm thinking we need information, and that Deaton's got to know something useful. I mean, that guy, he's like a cryptic dictionary of weird. So we head over there, see if we can get him to tell us anything. Which will probably be some kind of miracle. And since Scott's got Lydia, they can have her look through the bestiary and start translating. Yeah?"
Derek bobbed his head in a nod, too intent on eating to say anything. And anyway, he didn't have much to say. It was a serviceable idea.
Stiles nodded back at him like it sealed the deal and then started on his pancake stack, talking as he chewed. "I googled hekaloi, by the way. Nothing. Like six tons of nada, which is both astounding and terrifying. I mean, the info on werewolves was pretty decent but"—he paused to swallow—"these guys? I just . . . how does anything stay that off the radar?"
Derek shrugged. Black magic?
Stiles went on, "I figured I'd at least find a copy of that nursery rhyme of yours, but not even that."
So maybe the information on werewolves wasn't that decent, Derek thought. But there didn't seem much point in telling Stiles so.
They finished and dumped the dishes in the sink. Stiles disappeared into his room to change and came back in an absurd number of layers: t-shirt, flannel, and red hoodie. He took out his phone to text Scott. A second later, his phone beeped with a reply.
"Scott says Ethan got Danny to agree to the blood thing. H-o-w?" Stiles spoke his replies as he typed them out. "Don't know. Lydia gave him advice. I'm so not asking." Stiles snorted. "Could . . . be . . . educational." He made an offended noise at whatever Scott sent back. "Totally . . . focused . . . dude. We're . . . going . . . to see . . . Deaton." The phone chimed, and Stiles read, "Check back in later." He looked up at Derek. "Good?"
Not that he'd ever say anything, because you didn't disrespect another man's car, but Stiles was so glad Derek had swapped the truck for the Camaro again. He figured he must have gone through some sort of alpha-life crisis and opted for the "more practical" vehicle once he had betas to cart around. Which was smart and all. Very adult. But the Camaro just sorta rocked. Felt wolfy and powerful and so very Derek. Stiles slid himself into the passenger seat and gave the dash a fond pat. Derek eyed him skeptically.
"What? I missed it. Many harrowing experiences in this car."
Derek's eyebrows said something condescending, and Stiles just sighed. So misunderstood.
"Take a left out of the driveway," he supplied absently.
"Stiles," Derek said in a give-me-your-attention sort of way that had Stiles looking over in question. "I know where the Animal Clinic is." He could have said it mean—snapped or growled—but he didn't. He actually sounded fond, like he was trying not to laugh or smile.
"Right." And Stiles tried not to smile himself.
On average, Derek was actually an impeccable driver. Careful, attentive, speeding just the right amount to not be worth pulling over. Whatever his choice of vehicle might say about him, the way he used it said, "Nothing to see here."
They turned onto Cherry Hill Road, which was a straight shot to the clinic. Stiles had his head down, staring at his phone. He was trying different spellings for what he thought hekaloi might be listed under. Then he tried chopping off the last few letters and ended up searching heka magic glamor -photography. He grunted and chewed at one of his fingers as he scrolled.
"Uh, well, heka was the name of ancient Egyptian magical rituals. And uh . . ." He lost his train of thought as he kept reading. Ancient Egyptian magical rites included the belief that spiritual powers resided in the body and could be acquired by ingestion. "Wow . . ."
“Can you be more—” he cut himself off. "Stiles," Derek said, weirdly alarmed.
Stiles snapped his head up to look at him, and Derek jerked the car to the left, throwing them both around in their seats.
He looked ahead at an SUV barreling toward them. They were in the wrong lane. Stiles felt his heart jump into his throat. They were in the wrong lane. "Derek?"
"I know." He jerked the car to the right, but the SUV swerved to stay in their way. Shit. Stiles twisted to look behind them. Another truck gained quickly, filling the rear window.
He slammed on the brakes, tires screaming, and threw the car into a right turn. The engine of the SUV roared louder.
With a cry, Stiles curled up on instinct.
The world exploded.
Screaming, bending, breaking metal.
Everything blurred as they spun, and a second impact hit like a fist.
His chest hurt, and his face hurt. Couldn’t see. Couldn’t breathe. Stiles swung his hands groggily at the cloud in front of him. Airbag.
“Der’k,” he coughed out a sound no more than a groan and blinked over to see Derek’s head thrown back, blood running from his nose. His window was busted.
Stiles tasted blood.
He reached for Derek’s shoulder, but someone was suddenly there, reaching through the shattered window. They started to pull Derek out of the car, and he came to as they hauled his upper body out. He jerked, and his eyes flashed blue, which was wrong. Then he started to struggle, slithering and clawing, bucking and slamming his legs around the inside of the car. Also wrong. One of the rescuers hollered and held something over his face and— Oh. Oh. Not. Not rescuers.
Stiles felt his pulse go through the roof as the realization struck him. He reached for his seatbelt to get free, and something hit the car door from the outside. His fingers slipped on the button. “Fuck, fuck!” And with a terrible rending the car door vanished.
Hands grabbed at his shoulders, his face, and he tried to wriggle away, bite the fingers that came near him. But they sliced the belt, lifted him bodily, and held something over his nose and mouth. Too many hands. Too strong. Lavender, he thought as he struggled, kicked, screamed into the fabric. Felt dizzy.
And then everything went black.
Isaac slogged back into the apartment, eyes red and watering from yawning. "I hate being on watch," he muttered, and fell onto the nearest couch.
Allison gave him a sympathetic smile. "Go sleep." And nudged his knee with hers.
He tipped his head back and slouched obediently, burrowing into the cushions.
"Not here," Allison laughed lightly at him, keeping her voice hushed as she traced a few fingers through his hair.
He grinned without opening his eyes. "Like it here . . ." And quickly nodded off.
Scott glanced across the dining room table at Aiden, who had been nursing a coffee for the last fifteen minutes. Aiden met his eyes briefly, then downed the rest of his cup and left, resentment in his stride. He still advocated running, but Scott held his ground, and whether it was pack dynamic or peer pressure, he'd won. Allison's father had taken Lydia to his office just after breakfast to see if they could find any useful books, which just left Scott feeling useless and Allison . . . Well, he didn't know how Allison was feeling.
Scott picked up his phone. Again. It hadn't chimed, but he checked it anyway, his knee bouncing in agitation at the blank notification bar. He set it back down. Picked it back up.
Allison slid into the seat that Aiden had vacated. "You keep checking it," she said, perfect brows pulled together in a frown.
Scott shook his head. "I haven't heard from Stiles."
"You texted him?"
"Yes. And then I called." Worry formed a ball in his gut, and he could see as its weight infected Allison.
"Well, did you try Derek?"
"Yes. Voicemail." Scott sighed and bounced his leg harder. He chewed his lower lip for a second, considering his options, then stopped when he reached a decision. He dialed work.
"Hi, Scott," Dr. Deaton said. "Calling to check your hours?"
"What? Uh, no. . ." Should he have been? "Have you seen Stiles?"
Deaton took an excruciatingly long second to reply. "Not lately. Should I have?"
"He and Derek should have been there over an hour ago."
"I'm sorry, Scott. The only person who's been here today so far is Mrs. Michaels—"
"With her cat, Ginger," the two of them said together.
Scott's stomach dropped. "Okay. Thanks. I gotta go." And he hung up before his boss could answer. His grip on his phone tightened, and he locked eyes with Allison. "They never made it to the clinic," he said. A cold, tight panic skated up his spine. "Something's wrong."
"You don't know that."
Scott's fingers shook a little as he scrolled for the Sheriff's work number.
"Beacon Hills Sheriff’s Department, this is Sheriff Stillinski."
"Sheriff? Hey, it's Scott," he said, trying to sound normal and failing.
"Hey, Scott," the Sheriff replied, suspicion already lacing his tone.
"Have you seen Stiles?" Scott tapped a finger against the tabletop and tried not to look at Allison's concerned face.
"Last night. I left before breakfast . . . why? Is he not at school?"
Scott scrunched his face. "Actually, none of us are." And even though Chris Argent had suggested it, Scott could feel the apology in his voice as he said it. He'd seen the disappointed look on the Stiles's dad's face enough times already.
The Sheriff sighed heavily into the phone. "This is about those things following Derek. The heka—"
"Hekaloi. They told you?"
"Some. Scott, what's going on?"
"I can't reach Stiles," he said. "They were supposed to go to the Animal Clinic to talk to my boss, but I just called there and they never made it. And I don't—"
"Scott." The Sheriff cut him off, his name short and hard on his lips. Scott could hear the Sheriff's heart starting to hammer on the other end of the line.
"Sheriff?" he asked, leaning as though it would help him listen and locking eyes with Allison.
"The shortest route between the Clinic and our house."
"Cherry Hill Road."
And the Sheriff's heartbeat pounded harder.
"We—I gotta go."
"Scott, I'm sorr—" The line went dead midsentence. Scott dropped the phone from his ear and stared at it in confusion. He could feel his own heart starting to race.
Allison leaned closer across the table. "What? Scott, what? What'd he say?"
"I don't—" He shook his head like clearing cobwebs. "I don't know, he hung up." He peered at her, the pain in his stomach twisting harder. "That's bad, right? That has to be bad."
The look on her face agreed, even if she didn't want to say it. She bit her lip and sank slowly down onto her chair.
Scott could feel himself starting to vibrate with worry, and he struggled against a strange, almost foreign urge to howl like he had the night he found Derek. To call his to him and know in his blood that they were okay. Even though Stiles couldn't answer such a call. He should have been the first one able to. If anyone should be able to tell him I'm here, I'm fine, Don't worry, it should have been his brother. That he couldn't made the power worth hardly anything at all.
So he paced. Fought against shifting and howling in the Argents' living room and paced, clutching his phone.
Isaac stirred on the couch and then his eyes popped open as the sense-emotions radiating from Scott smacked into him. "Scott?" he asked, tentative as he pushed himself up straighter. "What's wrong?"
Scott paused long enough to exchange a look but didn't trust himself to speak. He grimaced and kept moving.
Isaac craned around and looked to Allison for answers, but she shook her head lightly and offered a weak smile.
After fifteen minutes of tense silence, Scott's phone rang. He nearly stumbled over his own feet as he stopped to answer.
"Scott. Scott, there was a car accident on Cherry Hill Road. I had to get—" He sound ragged. "It was a strange report. Three cars, no drivers, no victims, nothing. But when you said . . ." His voice grew thick, and he took and unsteady breath.
"Scott, it’s Derek's car. Smashed in driver's side door. Passenger door ripped off its hinges."
He felt his whole body freeze and start going numb.
"We f—we found their phones in the car."
"Oh my God. Was—was there blood?" Scott could feel his knees growing loose.
"No. Not really. The airbags deployed and the seatbelts were cut. Scott . . ."
"I know." It came out a whisper.
"He's my son."
"I know. We're gonna find them. We're working on it, I promise."
"Where are you? As soon as I'm done here—"
"The Argents' apartment."
Stiles's dad sucked in a breath. "If these things hurt him . . ."
Scott knew. He knew because he could feel in his chest just behind the shock. "I gotta go," he said quickly, and hung up. Because the rage clawed its way to the surface, burning bright and sharp. It passed through his edges, exploding outward, pressing the air from his lungs. And for the first time ever, really, he tasted the bloodlust for what it was and wanted it.
"Scott?" Isaac asked warily. He had gotten up and was edging closer.
Scott whipped around to face him, panting, and saw him flinch back in fear. Fear. He'd never wanted Isaac to look at him that way. And the realization cut through the spinning rage, sending its darkness scattering to all sides. The red bled out of Scott's eyes, and Isaac eased back toward him in relief.
"Sorry," Scott muttered, shaking and guilty, unable to meet Isaac's gaze.
"I heard what he said. The hekaloi have them, don't they."
"What?" Allison stood up from her seat at the dining room table.
Scott nodded miserably at them both, and Allison's jaw set.
"Dad!" she shouted.
It brought both Chris and Lydia running.
Allison looked at her father and then at Scott, redirecting his gaze.
"They took Derek and Stiles," Scott ground out. The dark pain in his chest pulsed, and he could feel his eyes going red. Pack. Protect. He pressed his eyes shut and tried to force the power down, but it whistled with a dark wind that called to the coming full moon. "We need to find them." And someone needed to pay. He'd felt anger like this before, but whether it was the spark of an alpha or the darkness threading around his heart, the intensity shocked him. He rocked back on his heels and shook with effort.
Allison stared at her father. "The agora. You said Gerard was looking for it. How?" She spared Scott a worried look in passing.
Chris stepped further into the room, keeping a healthy distance from Scott and his red eyes. "Used to be that hunters used special dousing rods to test the energies of the area. If there was one around, the rods would lead them to it. Now, we track them down through radio waves. The agora emits a signal at 75hz. With the right equipment, we can zero in on that frequency and triangulate a location."
"Do you have the right equipment?" Scott asked, enunciating over his fangs.
Chris shook his head. "No. But if we're going to have any chance of finding it today, we'd better start now."
Scott heaved breathes like bellows and willed his transformations back. The deep desire to rend something with his hands ebbed as he kept his eyes locked on Allison. She seemed to understand and gazed back resolute and calm. When it calmed enough that he could trust himself to speak, Scott glanced around the room formulating a plan. "Isaac, you go with Allison's dad. I need to go see my boss."
"I'll go with you," Allison offered.
"Keep translating," she sing-songed.
Scott nodded at her. "And tell Aiden to get back up here. You should keep him close."
Lydia smiled slowly at him.
"Not . . . that close," Scott amended rolling his eyes.
"So, what is it we're looking for?" Isaac asked as he climbed into the passenger seat.
Chris started the engine and pulled out of the driveway. "A bandpass filter pedal. Two of them, if we can find them."
"Okay." Isaac paused. "I have no idea what that is."
Chris smirked. "An old school, expensive piece of audio equipment."
"And that will help us how?"
Chris drew a deep breath and turned on the car radio. "Right now, somewhere, there's a radio station that's on the same frequency as the agora. Trouble is, we can't hear it because they broadcast too wide a range of signals at once. It just blends in. But, if we take a small radio, plug it into the pedal, and set the pedal to a specific frequency, we can narrow it down and hear only what the market is broadcasting. The closer we get, the louder the signal will get."
Isaac squinted at the radio in concentration. "Okay . . . but we don't know what station to listen to?"
Chris tapped the radio off and settled into his seat. "No. That's just . . . trial and error."
"Great," Isaac nodded and shifted in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes. "So, where are we going?"
Isaac nodded again and gave Allison's father a long sideways glance. They hadn't really had "a talk" or the talk, and it ate away him, the not knowing. Surely he must know about their dates, about all the time they spend together. He couldn't reasonably not know. And after all the . . . everything with Scott, another werewolf had to be some kind of blow to his fatherly pride. But he hadn't said anything. Just . . . watched. With those cold eyes and stoic face and not a hint of sense-emotion coming off him to provide even a clue. People didn't mask themselves that well. Not that he had tons of experience or anything, but everyone else he'd met gave off something. Mr. Argent? Only when he wanted to.
That, if nothing else, kept a small sliver of ice pressed against Isaac's heart—a warning to be watchful.
Isaac scratched at his temple and shifted again.
Chris shot him a look. "Everything okay?"
"What? Me? No. Uh, no, yes. Fine." Very smooth.
Chris's eyes narrowed, but he turned his attention back to the road.
Grant at Guitar Nation knew exactly what they were looking for the moment they asked. And was equally sure that he hadn't seen a retro piece like that in a long time. Most guys who had 'em kept 'em forever, because nothing else worked quite the same.
Chris offered him a very white, dangerously pleasant smile. "Grant. It turns out that I really, really need one of these today."
Grant grinned uncertainly back. "I get it man, I do. But we just don't have any in stock. The good ones, you know, they're like hand-crafted."
Isaac offered Chris a small ghost of a nod—Grant wasn't lying. Even though there was no reason for him to lie, it was still nice to know where you stood in your negotiations.
As he nodded in disappointment, Chris reached into his jacket pocket and drew out a wad of hundreds. Isaac tried his best to keep his eyes in his head. It hadn't quite sunk in just how lucrative being an arms dealer could be. Or that Allison's family was a cut above middle class. They didn't flaunt it like the others, like Lydia would have.
Chris peeled off a few bills and put them on the counter. "As you say," he told Grant, his voice caramel warm and liquid smooth, "components like this are difficult to come by. Now, I could drive all around town trying to find what I need, but . . . I'm going to bet that you know someone who wouldn't mind renting me one for . . . a day or so?"
Grant stared at the money and eyed Chris like he wasn't quite sure he was reading this situation correctly. Because it sounded like a drug deal. "I . . . uh—"
Chris laid another bill down. "Extra hundred for you for facilitating." He smiled that blinding smile, and Grant automatically grinned back, looking more distressed than anything.
"Yeah, uh, I think my buddy Louis—"
"Why don't you give Louis a call," Chris said, modulating himself so it sounded friendly.
Grant nodded absently and turned away, digging his phone out of his pocket.
Isaac leaned in a little close. "Why does this feel so illegal?" he whispered.
Chris just gave him an amused look.
"We are . . . going to return it, right?"
Chris sighed. "Yes, Isaac, we're going to return it. Just . . . keep listening for bells, hmm?"
Isaac crossed his arms and stepped back, dutifully focusing his attention further and further outside the store. Scott had called him a guard dog once. He hadn’t really felt like one until now.
Grant did, indeed, come through, even though his eyes said he expected a cop to storm in the door. He gave them Louis's address, snagged his finder's fee, and looked incredibly relieved when they left the store. On to the way to the car, Isaac said, "I think he thought you were mob."
And Chris just smirked at that.
After the exchange with Louis, they headed to the pawn shop on Oak Terrace. It wasn't one of the nice ones, where the owner organizes everything, so Isaac picked through the whole music section for anything that looked like it had the right number of nobs, and handed them over to Chris for inspection. They spent a good hour and ended up with nothing. Super Pawn was across town, not far from the ironworks, and a veritable Walmart of unloved toys.
"Who buys this stuff?" Isaac muttered, trailing Chris through the unlabeled aisles.
The guitar pedals had their own section, far more than Chris could sort through on his own. He held one up as a sample. "The one we're looking for? One of these knobs will say 'frequency' or 'notch,' and the others will be for bandwidth or gain."
"And the gain knob has to be positive."
"Right." Not that he knew why, but at least this way he could be of some use.
They started at opposite ends of the shelf and worked inward, setting the discards back in even rows. Isaac's heart jumped when he picked up one with a notch knob, but the gain numbers went negative. He gave it a disappointed scowl. As he lifted the next candidate, something in the air made him pause. He turned his head slowly to peer toward the front of the store, eyes searching, and drew a long, slow, scenting breath. Sickness stuck at the back of his throat, and he dropped the pedal.
"Isaac?" Chris's voice came out hard and wary.
Isaac scanned the aisle and moved himself into the center of it, hands ready at his sides. Adrenaline flooded his system as he tensed. "Tell me you found one," he said, not looking back. Lavender and rot drifted toward him, coating his throat with floral bitter. Behind him, Chris rifled through what was left. Isaac felt his heart start to hammer at his ribs because there, there, the bells. "Mr. Argent," he called in alarm and started backing up, closing the space between them.
"I think I found one."
The shrung shrung of bells got closer. So close he could pick out the individual chimes that made the whole. They sounded with regularity. With footfalls.
A man in a suit appeared at the far end of the aisle. He didn't saunter in or step into view. He suddenly was, and Isaac gasped involuntarily in surprise.
"Is that—" Chris began to ask.
"Run." Isaac growled out the word and turned to follow, even though it would take them away from the door. He barely glimpsed Chris's back before the man in the suit materialized again—just there, right in his path. Isaac jerked trying to stop, but his momentum carried him forward so he swung wildly, unleashing a claw.
It grabbed his wrist, a swift effortless motion, and glowered with human eyes.
Isaac's eyes flashed gold, and he pulled at his arm.
The hekalus thrust a palm at his chest, and he flew. Slammed into a metal rack and toppled down amps. Isaac's chest, fuck, hurt. Like breathing glass, and he tasted blood. He threw the amps in the thing's direction as he tried to stand. It swatted them down, sometimes back at him. Fast. Efficient. Shrung. Shrung.
An amp hit him in the face, knocking him down, and Isaac scrambled back up. Still on his knees, he threw himself forward, diving at it. He struck out with both claws, aiming for its gut.
Flesh. Wet. Tearing.
His hands sank in, a gross slide.
The hekalus grunted in what he hoped was pain. And Isaac gripped and twisted.
Black liquid thicker and fouler than blood ran down his hands. The stench of it made him reel, but he dug his claws in harder, roaring.
The hekalus beat down on one of his arms with a fist.
And it snapped.
He heard it. Pain shot through his body. Mouth open in shock, Isaac let go, scrambled back cradling his arm. He heaved a breath and coughed out blood. Scurried back for every step closer the man came. The hekalus glanced at his wounds, then looked up and slowly smiled.
Isaac's back hit the last row of shelves.
He levered himself up, looked right. And darted left.
He barreled into the man in the suit and shrieked in surprise. Because he had not been there. Had not been. It hadn't run by him or ducked through the shelves.
Isaac pushed, trying to knock it off balance.
The hekalus grabbed a fistful of his hair to yank him upright, and then held him. Isaac raked at the arm, tearing cloth and skin, drawing more rank blood. He kneed the man in the groin, hoping to loosen his hold. The hold tightened, and Isaac's vision went bright and black as it punched him. Once. Very hard.
He panted, tasting and smelling of blood, and tried to look up. The hekalus smiled down—a row of perfect white.
A knife flashed.
And suddenly Chris appeared, driving the blade down through the thing's neck from the side.
It looked . . . startled. And let Isaac go to grapple with the flat handle of the throwing knife, already coated in its own blood.
Chris grabbed Isaac's shirt and yanked him up to standing. "C'mon!"
Isaac coughed and struggled to breathe, leaving a trail of blood drops. Pain lanced through his chest and lungs, coal hot and sharp. His arm throbbed, and he held back small screams as the bone shards ground together.
They hurdled past the registers and out the door. Isaac staggered toward the SUV when Chris let go but fear carried him inside. They tore out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires.
Isaac concentrated on breathing. It came in short, short gasps. But that was all he could manage without his whole body flaring into pain. He winced as he tried to look at his arm, and wincing stitched needles of pain across his face. Strangled cries fell out of him.
"Isaac?" Chris asked, pressing a hand onto his shoulder.
"Hurts," he managed to say, his voice constricted to a whisper. Worse than the time Derek broke his hand.
Chris squeezed his shoulder a little. "Are you healing?"
He swallowed, and it tasted a little less like blood. "Think so. I don't—I need to—"
Chris put both hands back on the wheel and checked the mirrors. "I'm taking you home."
Isaac cracked open his swollen eye. Oh God, the pedal. "Did we . . . get it?" A bit of cool relief burst in his chest, and his breathing got a bit easier—enough that he didn't have to pant.
Chris touched the pocket of his coat. "We got it."
Isaac stared at the box-shaped lump for a second, frowning even though it ached. "Did we pay?"
And at that Chris barked a small laugh.
Allison drove because the fear and worry and anger twined Scott into a thin wire, pulled taut by the coming full moon. The longer he had to think, the worse his imaginings got. Stiles beaten and left in a ditch. Stiles stabbed and bleeding out somewhere, shouting for him.
Stiles still. Forever pale, unearthly still.
"Scott?" Allison asked, worry coloring the word.
He looked at her and followed the flick of her eyes down to his own knee, where blood spread into the denim around clenched claws. His brows furrowed in confusion and a bit of surprise, and he pulled the nails out slowly. The wash of relief as each wound healed loosened a bit of the tension, cleared a wisp of the fog.
"Sorry," he told her, for having put that worried look on her face.
Allison looked doubtful but nodded.
But it wasn't just Stiles. Mostly Stiles, sure. But Derek, too. That was a half-built bridge. And he could see it—the other side—even if he didn't know how to get there, couldn't tell what still stood in the path, because he thought he'd made every overture. Said the right things. But when Derek looked at him, there was still something distant in his eyes. Scott could feel the chill, the gulf. He'd thought he'd have a chance to fix it; figure out what it meant and what it was and make it better.
"We're gonna find them," Allison said, drawing him out of his thoughts turned maudlin. She believed it.
"They should have been with us."
Allison made the turn for the Animal Clinic. "It wouldn't have made a difference. They didn't attack the house, they attacked the car. Even if they'd spent the night with us, as soon as they left . . ." She shrugged and gave him a sad look.
She was right. Of course. But her being right didn't banish the guilt at letting his own be harmed. Allowing his pack to suffer. The rage pulled tight again, and Scott felt his pulse start to rise, his breathing cutting shorter. The dark roots around his heart constricted and thrust out thorns.
They would pay. Someone would pay. Scream between his teeth and die knowing his fury.
Allison pulled into the clinic parking lot and threw the car into park. She put a hand on his shoulder, and Scott looked at her with red eyes.
She didn't flinch or pull away, just caught his gaze and held it. "Scott." Her voice the definition of steadfast and calm. He had always been able to ground himself there. "We're going to get them back."
The red glow of his eyes receded and the burning mix of emotions that churned inside settled for a moment under her watch. She waited as he took a calming breath and then drew back her hand. He could still feel it there though, and drew focus from the memory.
Scott couldn't keep from jogging into the clinic. "Dr. Deaton!" he called as soon as he was through the door.
Deaton looked from the old woman standing in front of him to Scott and Allison and back. Unperturbed, he handed the woman a small medicine bottle and instructed her to start administering the pills that night, then twice a day for two weeks. Scott breathed shallow, impatient breaths and bounced on the balls of his feet while Mrs. Applebaum asked a dozen questions about new and different dog foods. His boss never glanced at him, which was entirely his way and completely irritating, and Scott had to clench and unclench his hands just to keep from causing a scene. Allison touched his elbow, and he managed to at least stop bouncing.
Mrs. Applebaum smiled at them on her way out, and Scott managed a strained grin before charging forward and into one of the exam rooms.
"You're here about Stiles?" Deaton asked as he closed the door behind them. "I told you, I haven't—"
"What do you know about hekaloi?" Scott said quickly.
Deaton's manner shifted, darkened, and he moved to stand across the exam table from Scott. "Why do you ask?" he said, sounding like an ink still pond.
Scott scowled. "Because they're here, and they have Derek and Stiles. And I need you to tell me what you know." He tried very hard not to yell. The effort to be still made it feel like he was vibrating.
Deaton dropped his gaze to the metal table and pressed his lips together for a moment. "I know . . . that they use a very old, very different kind of magic." He looked up at Scott. "They come from Ancient Egypt. Heka was a kind of magical rite performed in those days. And at least one of the beliefs was that the flesh itself contains magical properties. If you consume the flesh . . . you transfer the properties. At some point, Egypt and Greece mingled."
"The reign of Ptolemy," Allison supplied, and Deaton nodded.
"The ancient Greeks," he continued, "had a goddess, Hekate, who was known for witchcraft and especially . . . necromancy. Now that could be coincidence, of course, but I rather doubt it. I think, the practitioners of heka became acolytes of Hekate."
Scott shrugged and shook his head impatiently. "Okay?"
Deaton placed his hands on the table, spreading his fingers. "The acolytes of Hekate stored their knowledge in the library of Alexandria."
Scott sighed and let his eyes fall shut. "Which burned."
Deaton nodded slowly. "Which burned. Taking most of what we might know about their powers with it. The hekaloi maintain a body of lost knowledge all their own. What we know, we know from anecdotes at best. Theirs . . . is unlike druidic magic. We use energy—anam—in nature, in people. They use blood. Flesh. And bones. It's visceral in the worst meaning of the word. Extremely powerful, and extremely dark."
"But . . . you know how to fight them?" Scott asked.
Deaton's expression fell further. "I'm not sure I can."
Scott narrowed his eyes. "Not sure you can or not sure you will." Allison looped a hand around his arm at the harshness in his voice.
Deaton just stared him down. "I'm not sure I can," he repeated. "Druidic countermeasures work against druidic magic. There's nothing to say that any of what I might give you would work against something like that."
Scott settled back, swallowed his anger, and nodded bashfully.
Allison tipped her head to the side. "Do you know anything else about them? Weaknesses? Anything we can use?"
Deaton drew a breath and searched the ceiling for a moment. "Hekate was a goddess of . . . liminal spaces. Doorways, gates, crossroads. Of passing from one to another. The hekaloi have this . . . ability. They can rhipēt. Think of it like a short range teleport. They literally pass between moments of unobserved time."
Scott exchanged a questioning look with Allison. "What does that mean, unobserved time?"
Deaton gave him a thin smile. "It means don't blink."
Allison nodded thoughtfully. "Because if we're watching them—"
"It's not unobserved." Deaton tipped his head at her in agreement.
Scott thought back to Lydia's description of the attack. "Lydia said the one that came after her looked like a yoga instructor. But you're saying they're from Ancient Egypt. Shouldn't they be kinda . . . old?"
Deaton's eyebrows considered his argument. Then, "If you replace every part on your car with a new one, how old is it?" He paused a moment to let them consider. "But that's not the real question. Because what you're seeing isn't the real hekalus. What you're seeing, what Lydia saw, is just a glamor."
“Right, my dad said they can look like anyone.”
Scott's expression hardened. "Like Ms. Blake."
"If effect, yes," Deaton nodded. "But unlike hers, which was just a mirage, a trick of perception, theirs is more . . ." He searched for a word. "Substantial. It’s like a golem that they’re hiding behind. "
The information rolled around Scott's head. "So you don't think mistletoe will work on them, like it did on her."
"No," Deaton shook his head. "I don't. But . . . if you want to take some with you, I suppose it can't hurt. Poison is poison, all the same."
Allison leaned forward, leveling a steady gaze at Deaton. "We don't want to poison it, we want to kill it. Quickly."
He huffed a humorless laugh. "Well. With the glamor still in place, you're not even going to hit it. Not really. You can't shoot something you can't see. And you’re not really seeing them."
"So, then, we have to figure out how to see it," Scott said, annoyed.
Deaton glanced between the two of them. "Scott, I'm sorry, but this isn't my area of expertise. I can try to do some research on this sort of magic, but I'm not sure what I can do."
The muscle in Scott's jaw jumped, and his whole body drew tight with anger. He nodded, not trusting himself to say anything, and stalked out of the room.
When Allison caught up with him, he was already in the car with his seat belt fastened.
"We need to go see my mom," he said toward the window. "Ethan should have already brought Danny in."
Allison's replied quiet and wary, and somehow that just made his anger worse.