"I love your blue eyes."
Stiles lifted the silence that had settled between them with soft words. He had started and held back a few times, evident by the changes in his breath and heart. Derek didn't know what he was expecting to finally break out of him.
It wasn't that. And the shock held him frozen.
"I think . . . you prolly think they're ugly," Stiles said. "But they're not." He swallowed loud enough to hear. "Because—because if eighty percent of what Peter said was true? Then you did it cause she was suffering."
And ice blade slipped between Derek's ribs, and he forgot how to breathe.
"You loved her, and she was suffering," Stiles went on, sounding different, distant—too old too young. "And . . . I mean you can't just watch something like that. You know?
"When you love someone that much, y-you can't just watch them suffer. You can't." A scratching sound told Derek that Stiles was picking at his jeans.
"It's terrible," he went on, voice the hollow of empty hallways. "It's . . . this . . . terrible kind of mercy. But there's nothing else you can do. I mean, what else can you do? You can't fix it. And—and you can't let it go on because . . . because it's just pain.
"So you have to.
"And it's . . ." His voice drifted for a second and came back thick with emotion, barely audible. "It's the kindest thing. Because it hurts so much. And you're gonna carry it forever. And it's like the last good thing you're gonna have a chance to do. And they're just gonna take that piece away with them."
He took a breath to steady himself.
"And I think . . . I think loving someone like that is beautiful."
Stiles paused and shrugged ever so slightly. "I just . . . if we don't make it out of here, I wanted someone to have said that to you." And then he grew quiet.
Derek stared hard into the darkness, struck dumb, barely breathing around the ache in his heart. He wondered who else knew. Maybe no one.
Stiles nudged him lightly with his elbow. "Derek?" he asked, growing doubtful. "Did you hear me?"
Derek let out a long, stuttering breath. "Yeah," he whispered.
"I heard you."
Aiden looked up sharply from Ethan's text, shoved his phone back in his pocket, and darted for the door just as the doorbell rang. It was too early for the Sheriff to be back with the glass bottles. He scented the air and shifted, growling.
"Open the door." The muffled voice of Peter Hale said, sounding tired.
Aiden undid the locks and opened the door part of the way, blocking it with his body. "We're not interested."
Peter scowled at him. "I ruined my favorite jacket for you."
Both wolves perked at the sound of Lydia's heels coming closer. She appeared at Aiden's side and nudged him out of the way as her gaze locked on Peter's. He flexed his shoulders and hunkered a little in distress.
"I figured you'd be dead," Lydia said.
Peter's mouth flattened. "You'd be surprised how often I hear that." He glanced to the side, pride momentarily quashed. "Apparently, I wasn't worth it."
Lydia made a hum of polite disinterest. "I'm in the middle of something, so . . ."
Peter brandished the laptop that housed the Hale's collection of lore. "I found something I thought might be useful."
From over Lydia's shoulder, Aiden growled again, but Peter kept his eyes on her. She gave him a long, calculating look and then turned briskly aside to let him in.
"For the record, I don't trust you," she told him with a smile.
"For the record, that's probably wise," he muttered back.
They settled at the dining room table, Lydia and Aiden standing behind Peter's shoulders as he opened the laptop and brought up some files. "What do you already know?"
Lydia ran through the information Chris Argent had given them on the agora skotadi, and some of her more illuminating findings on the history of the hekaloi.
"I think," she said, "that in order to kill one, we have to burn it." She grinned at Peter's pained expression. "Your turn."
"Yes. Well." He seemed suddenly uncomfortable in his own skin and shot her a withering look. "The agora isn't just a bunch of tables and tents. It's a magical manifestation that they've built over milennia. I assume your hunter friends know about the key?"
She grinned tightly. "Innocent blood. Got it covered."
"Right. They know what it is, but they don't know why. The blood doesn't get poured onto the lock, it gets poured into it. And from there"—he made a stepping motion with his fingers—"it drips down through a grating in the floor." He brought up an old, crude drawing on the screen.
"What's in the floor?" Lydia tried not to sound too interested, but Peter looked up and offered a feral smile.
"A heart." His voice felt like a caress, and Lydia edged away. "You see the blood animates the heart." He curled his fingers, mimicking a beat. "Gives it something to circulate. And that innocent blood starts to travel."
His eyes gleamed. "The door. It's not just a door. Look." He pointed to the drawing again and the poorly rendered sticks that made up the— "Bones. Held together by sinew. And look here, an eye above the door. I don't think that's just macabre decoration." He waved a splayed hand over the whole of the image. "All of this is covered in skin." He waited for her reaction, but she only stared back at him, looking expectant. "It's alive," Peter said with irritation. "Hunters used to find it using—"
"A dousing rod. I know."
"One that was attuned to a particular vibration. Something in that market produces a sound, Lydia. A wail so twisted it's beyond hearing. What do you think that is? Hell, what do you think it started out as?" He raked her with a suggestive gaze, and Lydia felt her body go cold, and her banshee throat tighten.
Peter eased off. "It has a heart, and skin, and bones, and an eye, and somewhere muscle. And that is what the blood is for, to uncramp the muscle that keeps the lock shut."
Lydia leaned down close, putting her face right in his. "Fascinating. Why do I care?"
He rolled his eyes and gave her a withering look. "I know you're only half the braintrust, but I've been inside your head, remember?"
"He what?" Aiden started, but Lydia cut him off with a gesture.
She pursed her lips and stared into Peter's blue eyes without blinking. "You think you can break the lock."
"I think they'll be in magical potion Wonderland. And I think that if you start killing people in their homes you should make sure you have a way out. Something for sale in the agora should be able to put it to sleep."
"Or kill it," Aiden added.
Peter's glare could have cut stone. "Yes, I'm sure that won't draw any attention." He looked back to Lydia. "All I'm saying is once your hunters are inside, they need to make sure they can get back out. And I think this is the best bet."
Lydia crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes. "Really."
Peter sighed and lowered the laptop lid. "I'm trying to help."
He cut her an annoyed look. "Derek is my only fami—"
He stood up just for the opportunity to tower over her. "What is it you think I'm after?"
She slid into his space, tilting her head up. She breathed through parted lips until she saw his gaze flicker and then placed a hand on his chest. "If I knew that," she said, tapping one finger. "You wouldn't be here."
Her smile was composed of ice and anger. Peter smirked down at her. "You are so my favorite."
She made a small sound of disdain and amusement and spun on her heel, motioning for Aiden to follow. They had table space to clear in the Argents' basement. As they rounded the corner, out of sight of the dining room table, Peter called, "So, anyone want coffee?"
The further they went along Oakwood, the weaker the hum seemed to get. Scott shook his head, his expression pinched as he tried to listen beneath the host yammering and the tracks playing.
"I think it's getting weaker," he told Allison.
"Are you sure?"
"I—it's really hard to hear, but I can't even make it out. I think we should go back."
She nodded and checked the traffic before pulling a u-turn.
Scott jumped when the phone in his pocket buzzed, and he scrabbled to pull it out. "It's Isaac," he said. "He says they're pretty sure its coming from somewhere in the northern part of town and we should head that way."
Allison made a thoughtful sound. "And you think it's coming from the west."
"We should head for the clinic," Scott said. "If we go back over the river and head toward work that'll take us up the whole west side of town."
He texted back to Isaac asking their location.
"He says they're near the old bank."
Allison glanced at him. "Tell him to head west."
Scott grinned because he was already typing it and then put his phone in the cupholder. He hunkered down as much as he could wearing a seatbelt and concentrated on the radio. He sang tunelessly along to "Rolling in the Deep" until Allison couldn't hold back a laugh and then bit his lips to keep silent. The hum wormed its way back into the signal, and by the time they were on Cherry Valley heading for Circle St., he didn't even need to concentrate to hear it.
"I can hear it now," Allison said.
Scott grabbed his phone and asked Isaac if they'd crossed Northern Bridge.
Just did. Can't even hear the radio.
You should stop. We'll come to you.
Scott looked over at Allison, his heart skipping in excitement. "They think they're close. We should start heading over toward Northern Bridge. Maybe we'll . . ." Scott's voice trailed off as an idea formed. He hit Isaac's quick dial. "Hey, put it on speaker."
"Okay," Isaac replied, sounding distant.
"Mr. Argent, do you think it'd be on a telluric current?" Scott asked.
There was a pregnant pause on the other end of the line. "I . . . guess that would make sense. There's a lot of heavy magic involved in a place like that. The hekaloi wouldn't have to expend as much of their own energy if they could draw it straight from the ground."
Scott nodded. "We're gonna need Danny's map. I'll call you right back." He disconnected and called Stiles's dad next. "Sheriff—"
"Hold on, Scott, I'm in the middle of—let me put this on speaker before we blow ourselves up."
Scott shot Allison a worried look, and she tried to keep her eyes on the road.
"Okay, go ahead," John called.
"Okay." Scott wanted to ask about the blowing themselves up but opted to go straight to the point. "Stiles had a map that he took from Danny. It has colored lines on it. Do you think you can find it? Probably somewhere in his room? We used it when trying to stop the sacrifices."
Lydia answered. "Why would you need to find the map?"
"Beeecause I need to know where the telluric lines are in the western half of town?" Scott scrunched his face, like, duh.
Lydia sighed and made a frustrated sound. "Don't. No, too much. Be careful!" she hissed, and someone else on the other end made a pained sound.
"Lydia?" Allison said, concerned.
"Yes! Telluric lines. You don't need the map because I remember it, so just give me an area."
It was difficult not to be impressed. "Okay? Somewhere around Northern Bridge on the west side."
Lydia hummed and told someone on her end to hold something and not shake it around. "One second. Try . . . Clayton and Conejo."
Scott smiled. "Got it. Way easier than finding the map. Uh, so, you guys don't blow yourselves up, okay? Please?"
"Trying our best, Scott," the Sheriff replied, sounding pained.
Scott hung up and called Isaac and Chris back with the new location. Chris suggested meeting up in the In-N-Out parking lot a few blocks away.
They pulled up next to the SUV a few minutes later, tucked in the most remote corner of the lot. The back hatch was already open, and Scott and Allison found Chris unzipping duffle bags and popping open gun cases. He handed Allison a small duffle.
Scott and Isaac both watched with piqued interest as she pulled a series of leather harnesses out of the bag and laid them out. She started with a set of gators that covered her lower leg from ankle boot to knee. As she slid the buckles in place, Chris extended a hand, offering her small, thin silver bolts.
"What are those?" Scott asked, as she carefully placed each one in a holder around her mid-calf.
"Electrified darts," she replied, glancing up. "One use each. You just hold the button on the back"—she stood up and showed him—"and stab." With a quick flick, she had the point close in toward his neck, smiling.
Scott grinned warily back at her.
She finished placing the darts in their holders and then moved onto the set of hip and thigh holsters for her knives. As she flipped the ring blades around her fingers, Isaac took an unconscious step back.
"You know, those really hurt," he said. And maybe he was a bit closer to Scott when he said it.
Allison gripped the handles so the blades were aimed down and gave him a look of regret and aborted apology. Scott wondered if they'd talked about it, about the attacks and the violence that had passed between them. He brushed his fingers against the back of Isaac's hand just once and heard his slightly raised pulse calm.
"They're pretty badass, though," Isaac added, which made Allison smile.
"Well that is the idea," she said, tossing in a wink.
She added a belt of sonic emitters and flash grenades and then pointed to the leather jacket draped over the back seat. Chris grabbed it for her, and she threw it on over the weaponry. The jacket came to her waist, leaving the blade handles within easy reach. She zipped the jacket all the way to her chin. It fit skintight. She grabbed a quiver from the back of the truck and loaded it with a selection of arrows, then strapped the quiver over one shoulder and slide a throwing blade into the strap that crossed over her chest.
She gave herself a once over and then looked to Scott and Isaac. "What do you think?"
Isaac considered the question with his jaw hanging open. "I'm . . . frightened and a little turned on," he said with a nod.
Scott grinned. "You look like The Matrix."
She flashed them both a smile.
Chris had traded his army surplus style for a similarly black-leather-clad look, although he bristled with more guns and fewer arrows. He closed all the bags and cases and slammed the SUV's door shut.
"Got the blood?" Scott asked. Because this would be a really short trip if they didn't.
Chris reached into a breast pocket of his jacket, touching the vial to be sure, and then nodded.
"So . . . how are you gonna know what you're looking for?"
"We'll know," Chris replied. "By feeling. Like, when you know you're walking in to danger. How you can feel the menace? Sometimes a dark street is a dark street, and sometimes it's a dangerous one." He shrugged. "Tonight we're looking for the dangerous one."
Scott looked doubtful, but they didn't exactly have many options. Any options. He caught and held Allison's gaze. "Please find them."
She took both his hands in hers and squeezed, then turned to her father. "Let's go."
It was sensory deprivation.
They had been together long enough that he had become accustomed to Stiles's scent and so perceived nothing. Two senses sliced off.
He wanted to drift, to sleep. He was so close to the edge already that it was barely falling. But sour fear devoured his guts slowly, giving him something to focus on.
Stiles kept fading in and out, succumbing to boredom. Derek could tell by the change in his breathing when he drifted off. And every time he came to, his hands reached for something, usually finding Derek's arm or leg, and gripping before he remembered he couldn't see and adjusted, then relaxed. Derek’s blood rushed maddeningly in those seconds because it felt—
It felt like something else . . .
Stiles talked in his sleep. Of course he did. And jolted awake once from something Derek was sure had been a nightmare that Stiles didn't want to talk about.
Now, he was sleeping again, and Derek wondered if he should be doing something else. Clawing at the walls, trying to dig, looking for something to break. They were just . . . waiting. The soul withers in the endless doldrums of waiting.
The sound of Stiles breathing tugged at him. So peaceful. Hard to ignore. He'd been keeping his eyes open to force himself to stay awake, but they were so heavy.
He was in the half-lucid state of near-dreaming when he heard a low, throaty gong.
Derek responded instantaneously and on instinct, hopping into a crouch and slapping a hand across Stiles’s chest to pin him to the wall, keep him within reach. Stiles gasped awake at being jolted and grabbed at Derek’s arm.
"Shhh!" Which worked for all of a second.
"Shut. Up!" he breathed the words on an exhale and listened harder. It sounded like it had come from above, and he craned his neck up to look, momentarily forgetting how pointless that would be.
Time passed. It didn't feel like very long, but Stiles started to fidget and shove at his hand. And Derek started to wonder if he'd dreamed the sound completely.
Gong . . . ong . . . ong . . . ng.
"That," Derek hissed.
"I didn't hear anything," Stiles whispered back. He swallowed. "Can I breathe yet?"
And Derek suddenly realized how hard he was pressing. Slowly, he eased off and settled back against the wall as he had been, only with nerves twice as frayed. He let his arms fall to his sides.
"What did you hear?" Stiles asked, and Derek could tell by the sound that he'd turned to face him.
He shrugged. "I don't know. Like something heavy hitting. Like a thud but more metal. I thought—" He smirked at himself and shrugged again. "Actually I don't know what I thought." For once he was glad for the overwhelming darkness. So Stiles couldn't see his face burning from embarrassment.
Stiles let out a huff of amusement. "Probably something along the lines of 'Holy fuck, we're going to die.'" His voice came out thin and strained.
Derek didn't know what to say to that. Because the truth was they probably were. Unless Scott worked some miracle. But true alphas were their own sort of miracle, so maybe anything was possible. At least with Stiles here, Scott would have a reason to come looking.
God, what a selfish thing.
He smacked his head back against the wall and apologized silently for thinking it.
He'd missed something in the minutes of personal wallowing, which he only knew because Stiles sat forward, taking his heat with him, and sniffed—snuffled—and sucked in a breath. Derek could smell him now, the fear and sorrow shifted his chemistry. Crying. He was crying as quietly as he could. Derek gave him a moment and then reached into the darkness until his fingers connected and he could press his palm against the broad flat muscle of Stiles's shoulder blade. He reached up until his fingers curled over the top of his shoulder and then tugged lightly. Stiles sniffed again and exhaled.
"I'm sorry," he croaked.
Derek frowned into the emptiness at him. "For what?"
And Stiles sighed, leaning back, and pressed his face into Derek’s shoulder. "I'm not as strong as you. As any of you." He sounded small when he said it, and Derek had to suppress a hysterical, startled sort of laugh that sank in and started to ache.
"Yes, you are," he replied, his voice a little thicker than a moment before.
Stiles scoffed. "You're not the one crying."
He couldn’t stand him like this, so close and breaking. Close enough to kiss. Christ…
Derek rocked to make room, then slid his arm around Stiles's back to hug him in closer. He tried a few times to form the words right, to tell him how that was no measure of anything valuable. "I would, but I forgot how," he said eventually. He felt Stiles angle his face toward him and then drop it back to rest on his shoulder. And it didn’t—did not—make Derek’s whole body burn.
Isaac and Scott watched Allison and her father cross the street and head in the direction Lydia had given them. It was a business district. Lots of mixed-use buildings, small offices, retail spaces, and storage. The look of worry on Scott's face said he hoped they knew what they were doing. It was already dark, and they had about seven hours before the hekaloi started doing things to Derek that Isaac really truly didn't want to begin thinking about. His chest was almost entirely healed, but he could still feel the terror of the short encounter. Scott clapped Isaac on the arm, startling him from the memory, and motioned toward Allison's car. She'd left the keys in the ignition, and they needed to get back to the others.
Now that night had fallen, Isaac could feel the coming full moon more strongly. During the day, it was easier to ignore the edginess, the itch. There was so much to do, so much world to focus on. But the world got small at night, insular. When everyone got quiet, it was harder not to listen to your own thoughts. He peered over at Scott. Nights had gotten worse for him, too. Isaac had heard him a few times pacing in his room. He'd called to him once, knowing he could be heard through the walls, but the reply had been short and cutting. The next morning Scott had apologized without prompting, but he'd kept his distance for the rest of the day, even finding some way to miss lunch and avoid everyone. That night he'd followed Scott out into the preserve. There was no way a beta should be able to sneak up on an alpha, but either he was better than he'd thought, or Scott was too distracted to care.
He'd killed a deer.
Chased it down at a dead run, tripped it with a swipe of his claws, and gone for the throat. Isaac had watched, breathless, from a tree branch downwind. He could hear the deer's heart racing, so he knew it wasn't dead. He'd expected Scott make a swift kill, then stand up, shift back, not so different from a sports hunter, even if Scott had never been the hunting type.
Instead, he started tearing. He slashed its sides and ripped open its belly while it screamed. Isaac had dropped down and rushed forward. He cut open its throat, putting an end to the creature's misery, and stared at Scott in dumb horror. Blood dripped down his face and splattered his clothes. He had glared at Isaac with red, angry eyes and heaved ghastly breaths. It wasn't his Scott looking back at him, and Isaac had shifted back into human form, holding up his hands in supplication. He remembered watching as Scott licked the deer's blood from his lips, still glowering, and the slow deliberate motion made his whole body shake with his pulse.
"Scott?" he'd asked, terrified.
The red glow of Scott's eyes had dimmed, and then he shifted and passed out, dropping like a sack onto the deer corpse at his feet. He wouldn't wake up, not matter how violently Isaac shook him. And so Isaac carried him back home, stripped him out of his bloody clothes, and put him in a bath. He shook the whole time, sure that Scott would wake up angry that he'd seen him, angry that he'd interfered. If he'd woken up naked in a bathtub with Isaac washing him down, he couldn't be blamed for any violent response.
But he hadn't. It had been like caring for a man-sized bag of sand. The toweling off was a little awkward.
A lot awkward.
Awkward enough that he thought he and Scott weren't mentioning the whole incident on account of how Scott must have figured out who gave him a bath, except Scott didn't remember anything beyond going up to finish his homework. He thought he fell asleep studying. Isaac decided to let him think it.
He hadn't meant to start keeping track of Scott's moods, but it was an old habit.
Isaac glanced across the darkness of the car and watched as the streetlights strobed Scott's face. The muscle in his jaw twitched. Angry, then. He absorbed the sense-emotions more fully and amended that: a color of worried that included anger. Isaac went back to staring out the passenger window. They drove past Meadowlark, and he watched a woman in a pickup watch them passing the intersection. Their gazes connected just a moment too long, and it touched something hardwired in Isaac's brain. He whipped around in his seat to look out the back and saw the truck pull out one car behind them.
"What?" Scott asked, checking in the mirror.
Isaac frowned. "I'm not sure." He turned back around, uneasy with indecision. "Don't head back yet," he said.
Scott flicked his hands up in question, not quite letting go of the steering wheel. "If I don't head back, where am I supposed to go?"
"Around. It doesn't matter." Isaac craned around again. "We're just . . . testing something."
Scott sighed dramatically. "We don't have time for this."
"Change lanes." Isaac watched for the truck's headlights two cars back. "Please," he added, glancing over his shoulder.
Scott put on the turn signal and moved into the left lane when there was space.
Anticipation had Isaac digging his nails into the seatback. He tried to hide the shadow of his body behind the seat and headrest just in case, peering between the cracks.
"Make the next left." He kept his voice low without meaning to.
Amazingly, Scott did as he asked, and just as they made the turn, the truck swerved over two lanes to follow.
Isaac's heart did a flip, and he faced forward. "Okay, definitely being followed."
Scott shot a look at the rearview mirror. "Is it them?"
"Who else would it be?"
"I don't know! Do they drive trucks?"
The headlights behind them drew closer, and Scott stepped on the gas. They were heading toward a residential area.
"We need to turn around," Isaac advised. "Some place with more people."
"More people," Scott repeated, as though he were thinking.
The truck's engine roared behind them, and Isaac turned around to a wall of blinding light. "Scott," he said in warning. It bore down. "Scott!"
Scott cursed, and Allison's sedan shot forward from impact, skidding and then taking off under its own power. Scott's eyes flashed red as he swung them around a corner and slammed on the gas. Isaac had to grip the handle over the door to keep from being battered around.
The truck came up fast behind them again, and Isaac could've sworn he smelled lavender in the air, even though that would be ludicrious.
"Hold on," Scott ground out, and then swung the car again, screeching the tires as they whipped around another corner.
They both panted, checking mirrors. The truck took the turn wide, crashing over the curb and clipping a parked car.
"Yeah, still there," Isaac said.
Scott glared as the roadway disappeared beneath them. "I have an idea."
"It's kind of a terrible one."
"Not feeling better about it."
They took another left.
"The mall's just up Paterson."
Isaac frowned over at Scott. It was just up Paterson. Except they were on the wrong side of a divided street. Which meant a light. Which meant stopping.
The truck rammed into their bumper.
And they were not stopping.
"I'm gonna regret—"
"I said it was a terrible idea." Scott grimaced.
They got to corner going somewhere near 80, and Scott whipped the car into oncoming traffic. Horns blared everywhere, screaming as they passed. Isaac curled up on instinct clinging to the arm that gripped the handle over his head. He couldn't breathe. Might even have been shouting. Scott's eyes burned red, and something about his movements became loose and fluid. He wove them between oncoming cars, skipping between lanes, sliding into and out of the shoulder. The horns and screeching tires merged into a single panicked sound of worldly protest. Isaac flinched every time they got in the way of another car and ended up having to look at Scott instead.
He didn't look terrified or out of control.
He looked determined and filled with that alpha swagger that read as confidence.
Isaac couldn't look away.
Scott jerked the steering wheel to the left, and they sailed into the mall parking lot. He aimed for the end with the movie theater and let the car slow.
Isaac slowly unwound himself and let go of the handle. His breath came in short huffs.
Scott parked the car in a nearly full row but kept his hands on the steering wheel just staring, staring. Then he blinked and looked sharply at Isaac. "Don't ever tell Allison."
Isaac shook his head. A lot. Because if Allison didn't kill Scott for endangering her car, she'd kill Isaac for letting him.
They both turned around and looked out the back for the truck.
The coast looked clear, so Scott pulled out of the space, trying to cover his own trembling now that the adrenaline had worn off, and took them on a long loop around the mall parking lot. He chose an exit that would take them the wrong way and started on a circuitous route back the Argents' apartment.
After a long, tense silence, Isaac looked over. "That was some pretty sweet driving, though."
Scott cracked a smile and relaxed a little. "Thanks."
"Let's agree to not ever do that again."