Stiles couldn't take the weird angles making his limbs fall asleep anymore, so he'd gone back to sitting at Derek's side. Derek felt around for him until he found his hand, but he let Stiles be the one to lock their fingers together.
"Derek," Stiles said after a time.
"I don't wanna die in here."
The whisper wrapped around Derek's heart and squeezed. "I know."
"I've been thinking of a plan, but I don't think you're gonna like it."
Derek huffed. "Just get it over with."
Stiles sucked in as much air as he could; it sounded like winding up. "Okay. I think when they come for us, because I'm assuming that they will come for us, that A) I should do all the talking and B) you shouldn't wolf out at them or try to kill them as soon as they show up."
"I—what?" Derek turned to stare at the black void in Stiles's direction.
"I'm serious. Harmless puppy."
He blinked in confusion. "Stiles, why would I ever do that? They're going to kill us, and you want me to let them?"
"No. I don't want you to let them. Please do not let with the maiming. What I'm saying is that literally the only thing we can do is try to surprise them. Right? They have every advantage. And the only control we have is over what we do. And they're going to expect the big bad wolf to come out all teeth and claws, and maybe if that's not what happens it'll throw them off. Or they'll let their guard down. I don't know. Something."
Derek grunted unhappily.
"I know, okay? I just—I don't think doing what they expect us to do is going to get us anything. Okay?"
Derek realized by the sudden ache in his jaw that he was grinding his teeth and he focused on stopping.
Stiles shook their hands lightly. "Derek?"
He pushed out an angry breath through his nose. "I don't like it."
"Yeah, I kinda figured. But will you do it? Or not do it, as the case may be?"
It was insane. Honestly. What sort of plan was letting your enemy take you to your slaughter without resistance? But Stiles had a point about expectation and surprise, loath as he was to admit it. It might be the only possible thing they could do given the circumstance. If he attacked right away, they'd incapacitate him immediately, he was sure of that. A few additional seconds of consciousness might be worth something that close to the end.
Stiles shook their joined hands again, more urgently this time. "Derek?"
He sighed, deflating. "Fine."
Stiles tightened his grip a little and then rubbed his thumb across Derek's pulse, trying, Derek thought, to be a comfort.
It may not have made him feel any better about the "plan," but it did start to lull him to sleep. Every time his head fell a little too far forward, he jerked back awake, only to slip slowly under again.
He awoke to a thunderous cracking sound and flew instantly to his feet, hauling Stiles with him.
Light pierced into their endless darkness from a fissure in the wall that slowly widened with the grinding of stone on stone. Stiles let go of his hand, and Derek flinched from the light, trying to cover his eyes from the sudden onslaught and blinking in pain. All he could see was white as he staggered back, but he felt Stiles near him and reached for him. He caught his arm and tugged.
"Get behind me."
Stiles pushed his hand off. "I got this," he whispered, and moved to stand between Derek and the three shadows resolving into people shapes in the doorway. Derek scowled at his back as his heart ratcheted up. It wasn't right. Instinct tore at Derek's insides, insisting that he get between them, do something, keep Stiles safe. He must have made some sort of sound, because Stiles held up a calming hand toward him, urging him to be still. The pain in his eyes lessened, and Derek could face the opening in the wall without flinching. With effort, he kept himself from shifting, though it wavered right on the razor's edge.
"Hey!" Stiles called toward the figures. He dropped his hand and squared his shoulders. "Hekaloi, right? Yes? Okay, good. Lovely dungeon you have here. Very solid construction. Very isolating. Good craftsmanship. But I feel there's something you really should know, which is that I am not a werewolf. 100% grade C human. No special powers, not particularly strong, not particularly handsome. I pretty much . . . pretty much have nothing, you know, of value. Now, if I understand correctly what it is zbieracz like yourselves do, you are looking for rare magical qualities, which means that we have just a really big misunderstanding. So, if you just wanna let me go now, you know, I won't tell your boss, I won't tell anyone. Just forget the whole mistaken kidnapping thing ever happened." He stopped to wait for a reaction, but the three figures remained motionless and cast in shadow. Stiles frowned. "Okay . . . uh, you should also know that I'm the sheriff's son, so the longer you keep me the more people are gonna coming looking, which is probably not the best thing for you, yes? I mean, your shadowy operation of ill-repute vibes are very strong."
Derek swallowed, waiting for the hekaloi to say something. For a moment, part of him thought it might work and a blade of fear and betrayal cut through him—that Stiles would escape and leave him behind.
"Let's go," one of the figures said and motioned with something that flashed like a sword.
Stiles started forward, and one of them grabbed him and shoved him out into the hallway.
"Nice suit," Derek heard him say. "Armani?"
The one in the middle, a man about Derek's size by the silhouette, stepped over the threshold and lifted a sword in his direction. "You, too."
That, Derek felt with a sinking sensation, was not a good development. His fingers burned on the edge of becoming claws, but he held them in and stepped forward. The figures resolved into detail as he got further out of the dark. Two men and one woman, all in dark suits wielding short, brutal-looking swords, which he highly doubted they really needed. The woman took rear guard.
"So, this is way out, right? That's where we're going?" Stiles craned around to look at the hekalus in between himself and Derek, the one that seemed to be the leader.
The hallway stood in stark contrast to the pit. That had been all earth and concrete. This was cement and metal, like the basement of a modern building instead of some medieval hole. The walls were grey and boring, the lights fluorescent. They passed a single staircase with a metal railing, and Stiles turned to point at it.
"Hey, shouldn't we maybe be goi—"
"Move!" the leader, the blond one, shoved Stiles hard and sent him stumbling, almost crashing into the suit in front of him.
Derek's anger spiked, and he clamped his lips down over lengthening fangs.
Stiles shot the hekalus an affronted look and then tried to get a look over the shoulder of the one in front of him. Whatever he saw brought him to a sudden halt and sent his pulse skyward.
"Der-ek!" he called in warning and then turned to try and run.
In an instant, he shifted, baring fangs and claws, and spun on the hekalus behind him. Derek aimed for her face, but she caught his arm and smashed the hilt of her sword into his ribs. He roared and dropped down to kick out at her legs. Something hit his arm out from under him, knocking him over. He rolled and hopped up.
A cry of rage.
Derek spun to see him being lifted by the third hekalus. He roared and charged at the leader who stood between them. Between one blink and the next, the blond was gone. Something hard hit him on the back of the head, bursting his vision with white light. He crashed into the wall and slid to the floor in a daze. The blond hekalus bore down, and Derek slashed up sloppily with both claws. He felt his hands tear into flesh and recoiled when the blood that came out was black and thick.
"Derek!" Stiles flailed, kicking at the knees of the hekalus that carried him to the room at the end of the hall. He raked with blunt nails, and kicked off the nearest wall. Stiles fought like a badger.
And then Derek saw what Stiles had seen. A metal table with straps through the open doorway.
He snapped his attention back. Aimed a boot at the blond's knee and kicked for all he was worth. The bone snapped audibly. The hekalus merely scowled, but it gave him time to scramble away and get to his feet. He had to get Stiles. He had to get to the stairs.
And in the moment of indecision, the woman appeared suddenly at his side and cracked his temple with her sword.
He fell into darkness.
The sex shop hekalus stood behind his small counter, bent slightly to look down into a shallow bowl. He glanced up at Allison as she entered, smiled a little, and went back to speaking in a hushed language she didn't understand. She came to a stop just opposite him and watched as the surface of the dark liquid in the bowl rippled and gurgled. It made no sound, but the hekalus seemed to understand well enough. He nodded gravely.
"Όpos thelete, Zosimus."
He touched his finger to the liquid, and the surface went still. When he drew it back, Allison could see the distinctive red smear of blood. Something in her quickened at the sight of it, and she watched, transfixed, as he brought his finger to his lips and sucked it clean. He smiled slowly at her, and she felt herself blush.
"Your boss?" Allison asked when she could find her voice. She indicated the bowl with the tilt of her head.
"Yes . . . He says he was just about to begin a procedure, but if you'd like to see the specimen before he starts, he would allow it. The Argents are always honored guests in our halls." He deep voice flowed through her like wine.
"Seems we have quite the reputation."
"And job performance history," the hekalus said, coming around the counter. "Your family has procured many items for us over the centuries." He motioned for the door and bowed slightly so she would go first. "And, we hope, have counted yourselves well compensated."
Allison looked at him over her shoulder. "Well, I'm here, aren't I?"
And to that he just smiled. They walked along the market's path in silence, Allison dropping a half-step back so that the hekalus could lead. "Is your companion coming?" he asked as they turned a corner and the lights above got suddenly dim.
The air felt colder, too, and Allison tensed. "My father?" She laughed a hard, humorless laugh. "No. I don't need him for this. And he's got other procurements to make."
The hekalus hummed and continued on, past darker and smaller shops that smelled more and more like rot. Allison wondered what she'd find if she opened one of the doors. A part of her very much wanted to know and coiled with anticipation at the idea.
They came to a break between shops, and the hekalus started down a black alleyway. She couldn't see anything, but Allison heard a knob turn and blinked at a flood of light that poured through whatever lay beyond.
"I do apologize for that," his smooth voice said into her ear.
Allison touched his face lightly. "Just unexpected."
He made another of those pleased sounds and then led her into an entirely different and substantially newer part of the agora. The shops and trampled dirt facade were just that. A staged play to meet customer expectation. Because what she walked into was a bright gray concrete hallway with industrial lighting and chipped paint. It could have been the basement of any office building.
She followed him down the steps, and they made a right down the hall. There was only one room at the end, and through the glass window she could make out people in suits and white coats moving around. As they got closer, her heart started to hammer, and she had to concentrate to take even, determined steps. As the hekaloi inside shifted out of the way, she could see an exam table, and a face she knew.
The hekalus came to a stop beside the door.
"As you can see, still fresh."
Allison stared in at Derek, bound to a table with metal bands on his ankles and wrists and a leather strap across his forehead. Blood ran down the side of his face, and he didn't look conscious. She held her breath for a second. "He's beautiful," she said as she exhaled, fogging the window a little. It cleared quickly, and she angled herself to get a better look into the room. That could definitely be Stiles's shoe and pantleg.
She turned serious eyes toward the hekalus. "You said you were starting a procedure? But won't that ruin—"
He held up a hand. "The harvest isn't until midnight. This first is . . . noninvasive. I promise your experience will be everything you desire, so long as you leave us enough afterward for our work."
Allison pressed a pleased look onto her face. Left enough? "Excellent. Shall we talk price?" What had Kate done in these rooms? Part of her wondered, but the black cord inside that heated at the sight of Derek's blood and sparked at his helplessness knew the types of things she had done. It understood the arousal and intoxication of power.
She turned from the door with a flush of embarrassment and waited for the hekalus to begin leading her out. On the way up the stairs, she slipped her phone from her pocket and typed Scott the address, hoping that everything was taken care of on their end. That everyone would come. Because she was busting into that room whether they were or not.
He woke into light and the throb of a headache.
Derek tried to move to touch his head and found his arm stuck fast. The clouds in his mind cleared instantly from a rush of fear, and he tried to move anything at all, pulled at both arms and legs, but cold metal cut into his skin. He tried to lift his head, but that, too, was held down. He struggled with sudden panic, jostling the table, but stopped when it got him nowhere. Someone moved in his peripheral vision: a hekalus in a white coat by the smell of lavender and the jangling of bells. Any semblance of control evaporated in the cold fire of his fear, and he shifted without meaning to.
Stiles was here. He could smell him. And his fear. But tied flat to the table as he was, he couldn't see him. And he didn't dare speak, not without knowing why they hadn't both been slaughtered after the attempt in the hallway. The cold fire left Derek trembling in his bones. He curled his fingers as close to a fist as he could and pressed his lips over his fangs hard to try to keep it from showing.
The hekalus shuffling around the room said nothing. Just moved wheeled carts and shifted the positions of metal objects.
God. Oh God. . .
They cut things open. Alive. Vivisected. If he was lucky, they'd kill him early. He needed to find a way to make them kill him early.
Somewhere to his right, a door opened, and another hekalus swept in. This one came right to his side and leaned into view. He had deep set brown eyes and black hair that was starting to grey.
"A young beta," he said with a heavy accent, looking at Derek but not speaking to him. "Very nice. Full of strong energy." He met Derek's eyes, then.
Derek wanted to snap his teeth toward the man's neck but managed to only sneer instead.
The hekalus laughed lightly. "Do you know? That's what I love about your kind. So defiant." He leaned in conspiratorially. "Can I tell you what you're thinking? You're thinking that you won't give me what I want, no matter what it is. That you will deny me."
Derek averted his eyes and stared at the wall, eliciting another laugh.
"Yes, exactly! Exactly. But your problem is that you don't know what it is I want." The hekalus smiled. "So I'm going to help you. Let you in on the secret." He drew close to Derek's ear and whispered loudly. "I want your rage. And your sorrow . . ."
"Leave him alone!" Stiles suddenly bellowed and rattled the whole table he was similarly strapped to.
The hekalus turned from Derek with a look of delighted surprised. "Ah, the human." The man came over and leaned down close enough for Stiles to smell the rot of his breath. "That was very brave." He cocked his head. "What will you do if I don't leave him alone?"
Stiles scowled at him and swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.
The hekalus smirked and turned to his compatriot. "Ariston, a knife please."
"Zosimus," Ariston replied. He moved by Derek and handed over a small silver blade.
"Knife?" Stiles said, his voice thin. He strained to get a better look. "What—hey, what are you—hey!"
Zosimus slipped the knife under his jeans at the hip and cut a quick, straight slit all the way down. Stiles gasped, then clamped his mouth shut. He squeezed his eyes closed when the other side got sliced, then grunted, shaking, when Zosimus ripped the fabric away, revealing boxers and pale, trembling legs.
"Ariston, get the shoes," Zosimus said.
Suddenly, the laces instantly loosened—cut—and they took his socks and shoes as well. Stiles tried to curl in on himself to hide his nakedness, but the restraints on his ankles kept him pinned, his legs too far apart not to feel the violation of their stares. He breathed, trying to deny them the satisfaction of a reaction.
"What do you want?" Stiles demanded through a clenched jaw.
Zosimus leaned over him. "From you? What I want from you is simple, boy. I want you"—he leaned in closer and dropped his voice to a whisper—"to scream."
Stiles's eyes got impossibly wide and he started pulling at his wrists frantically.
Zosimus disappeared from his view and he almost started screaming right then in panic. But that was what they wanted. And he didn't want to give them anything they might want. Stiles bit down on his lip until he drew blood. And even then, even then, he hadn't been prepared.
Derek couldn't see. He couldn't see anything. Zosimus had told Stiles he wanted him to scream and a second later, jesus, he did. It tore out of him like he had tried to hold it back and failed. And then he could smell burning flesh. Hear it sizzle. Pop.
Derek's body convulsed in rage. He roared and bucked against his bonds as Stiles screamed, screamed. The whole table shook and jumped. Agony filled his senses. They were burning him. Burning him. And he couldn't, could not again. He strained against the strap holding his head down and screamed himself until his throat was raw with it.
Stiles's wails changed, lessened, cut off altogether as he ran out of air. Then he was gasping and crying with every breath, moaning in pain. The sizzling had stopped. Derek jerked hard against everything, just trying to see.
"Ariston," Zosimus said, and the second hekalus moved to somewhere above Derek's head. The table clacked, and the whole thing tilted, raising him up.
He almost wished they hadn't. The sole of one of Stiles's feet was red and peeling. It made his stomach churn.
Zosimus watched him for a second, then made the same adjustment to the table they had Stiles on, bringing his face into view. He was pale and his whole face wet with tears. He cracked open an eye enough that they could look at one another, and then opened the other to lock gazes. Werewolves had no monopoly on defiance.
"Do you think he can stand another?" Zosimus looked at Derek and grabbed a handful of Stiles's hair. "Hmm?"
Stiles's face crumpled and he shook his head faintly, as much as the restraints would allow.
Rage and sorrow.
Derek bared his teeth and pulled at his right arm for all he was worth. He concentrated his strength and focus until the metal cut into his skin and started to bleed. Until the strain felt like it would snap his own bones.
He didn't look up when he heard the torch fire up again. Couldn't.
Stiles started to keen even before the heat got close, because now he could see. He could tell it was coming and would know.
"Please, please, please, please."
He screamed like a gunshot.
It hit Derek in the chest. The heart. Stole the air from his lungs and the strength from his limbs. Because he could not help. Could not save him.
The smell and the sound ripped open old failures.
And when Stiles finally cried his name in agony, Derek broke.
Tears slid from the corners of his eyes.
Ariston pressed something cold to his skin. A vial. And captured the tears as they came. Derek blinked, empty and disbelieving.
"That's what you wanted?" His voice sounded ragged and alien to his own ears.
Zosimus cut off the torch and smiled. "The contents of tears change with their cause." He shrugged.
He had told the truth. Rage and sorrow.
Derek could hear Stiles's heart beating fast, so fast, but he looked wrong, too white. Derek needed him to open his eyes. Just open his eyes.
"Zosimus!" Someone yelled from outside and came bursting through the door, panting. "Zosimus. There's"—he gestured wildly—"there's a hunter. Outside. He demands to see you. He says he wants to trade for the human."
Zosimus glanced at his assistant. "Do we have enough?"
Ariston held up the vial to the light and then nodded.
"And what does this hunter think he has to trade?"
The new hekalus glanced at Stiles and then back to Zosimus, concerned. "The banshee and a true alpha, for the boy. Unharmed."
Zosimus's face passed through surprised to impressed, and then darkened. "Alive will have to do." He checked the clock on the wall. An hour before midnight. "Looks like we have time. Tell the hunter to bring them in."
The hekalus shifted from foot to foot. "Sir. He demanded to see you. Personally. Outside."
Zosimus arched an eyebrow.
"It—they are very rare, sir," the nameless hekalus said, clearly excited by the prospect.
Zosimus narrowed his eyes. "Did he say why he was so interested in the boy?"
The hekalus nodded. "Because, sir, it is his son."
Scott knelt on the cold asphalt, his hands bound behind his back and the tip of a crossbow bolt touching his hair. He kept his head bowed and exchanged a look with Lydia, who shivered on her knees beside him.
Sheriff Stilinski stared hard at the entrance to the agora. He couldn't see it, anymore, strictly speaking. Solid objects had lost their substance, gone dark in his new vision. What he saw instead was like colored wind, watercolors on black velvet forming the outlines of familiar shapes. The wolves all swirled with the color that lit their eyes—distinct edges but indistinct features. Green and blue lines meandered through the ground like veins branching off from the thick river of color that he could see a few blocks away. The door to the agora bled out tendrils of yellow, sickly light that swirled over its surface.
If he aimed the crossbow at something glowing, the sights cut black shapes into the light, allowing him to aim.
The gear that he'd borrowed from Chris to look more the part of a hunter brought back memories, some of it muscle memory that altered the way he stood, the way he watched. Soldiers never really completely come home. He made a quick scan of the empty lot, and it gave him the chance to check on the Argents' SUV with Isaac hiding inside. Pulling up in a police cruiser seemed like the wrong way to make an impression, and Chris kept a spare set of keys by the front door. (Isaac's glee at learning to hot wire a car had been instantly crushed.) John couldn't see any yellow light in the car, which he hoped meant the hekaloi couldn't see Isaac either. Ethan and Aiden had stayed back further up the block, holding themselves in reserve until they were needed.
So here he stood. Shouting at a yellow door.
"You're testing my patience! Either someone—"
More yellow light flared from the doorway, and something white emerged with a green swirl pumping out magic from its chest.
"You wish to speak to Zosimus?"
"If that's who's in charge!" He had to shout to be heard over whatever magic they had laid on the area; the hekalus, it seemed, did not.
"Would you like to come in?"
"You took my son! I think we'll do this right here! And if I'm not happy with how I find him, you're not gonna like what happens to your true alpha!" He shoved the bolt against Scott's skull, and Scott let his eyes flash red. The hekalus made an aborted reach in Scott's direction.
"Zosimus is coming. We—patience, hunter. We do not trade in public like this. It is unheard of. He was reluctant to come."
"Trust me. This is me being patient," the Sheriff said, more to himself than anyone.
For a minute, no one moved, except Lydia who shivered and couldn't quite hold back tears of fear.
Then the door opened and a bulbous flare of white light came through, roiling like the surface of the sun. It threw off flares that arched out into the air around it, and John had to squint to keep the pain from overwhelming him. That had to be Zosimus. And embedded in his chest, just like the other, was a green swirl. Another hekalus came out the door behind him. Three targets. He adjusted his shoulders and started through the first mantra.
"Hunter!" Zosimus called, his voice filling the air, banishing the magic that kept everthing muffled. "Or should I say, Sheriff? Your son told us you would be coming. He did not mention you would bring us gifts."
John slowed his breathing. "Well. I have to admit. You being Greek, I did like the irony."
He stared at the green light on Zosimus's chest so he wouldn't blink, and then with a quick flick brought his weapon up and fired.
The bolt hit Zosimus in the chest, and Scott flew into action. He snapped the bonds on his wrists, clawed off the ones on Lydia, and rushed her back toward the car. Isaac burst from the SUV and started for the hekalus on the right. Scott spun and ran at the one on the left, that had appeared suddenly at the Sheriff's side.
Scott leapt and tackled the suited man in the chest, sending them both sprawling. He tumbled off and came up on his feet, crouched low. Between blinks the hekalus appeared in front of him and landed a punch to Scott's jaw that shattered bone. He dropped from the shock of it and spit blood. Behind them, the Sheriff ran for cover behind the SUV.
More hekaloi poured from the door, placing themselves in front of Zosimus, who had lost his glamor. He looked like a mountain of rags and stretched higher into the sky than a human should.
Scott howled a signal and scrambled to his feet. He could see the top of Isaac's head over a few hekaloi in suits and raced to join him. John had already shot another medallion out, so Isaac swung his claws at a brown burlap cloak and black bindings. He missed and took a hit to the face. As he staggered, Lydia shouted from behind for him to duck.
Just as Scott reached them, the hekalus exploded into flames, and Scott had to jump back to keep from colliding.
Something hit his knees from behind.
He twisted as he fell and clawed the yoga pants woman across the face. The glamor bled, then healed itself, and Scott couldn't untangle his limbs quickly enough to get away.
Aiden launched himself off the hood of the car and into a full body tackle, throwing yoga pants to the ground and rolling to a stop.
The burning hekalus shrieked and spun, bringing a new stench into the world as its binding burned off and monstrous flesh bubbled. Isaac steeled himself and ran at it. Movement flickered around him, but he kept focus. The fire had almost burned itself out, so he aimed for the throat. A quick slash, and he felt his claws slice into flesh. They came back covered in red blood, and he had a split second to watch the black form fall.
He glanced up at pandemonium. The Sheriff had hit a few of the hekaloi, turning them into their real selves. Aiden and Ethan each took on one, while Scott ran interference with the ones whose glamor was intact. They all bled. And at this rate, they were going to lose. Isaac heard pounding on metal and saw the Sheriff beating on a door opposite the agora entrance. He rushed to his side.
"I need to get higher!" John shouted at him and pointed to the windows on the third floor.
With a nod, Isaac shoved his claws into the door and ripped it from its hinges. He turned and joined Scott in keeping down the ones who still looked like people in suits, beating a few with the remnants of the door before they tore it from his hands.
Scott shouted for Lydia to keep throwing the bombs, and a second later, the black form breaking Aiden's arm erupted in fire. Too many still had their glamors. Scott panted, assessed, and threw himself at hekaloi already engaged with his pack. He grabbed them from behind, pinned their arms, and prayed that the Sheriff would recognize an opportunity.
He wasn't disappointed.
After Allison left him by the door, Chris had made another circuit around the agora, scouting for any more all-seeing eyes and, more importantly, any good places to leave a small explosive charge. They weren't sure if mistletoe would have any effect, but better to try and fail than not try. He only had six charges and spaced them as evenly as he could. He watched through the window of the healer's shop as Allison returned and then went out to meet her and the hekalus. She gave him a single nod. They were here. He fell into line behind her and followed them back into the sex shop, keeping a silent, respectful distance.
Allison needed to learn to haggle better, but they'd brought enough cash to pay half upfront. Half when the hekaloi deemed their property in good enough condition to not tack on fees for damages. The hekalus agreed to come find them when the werewolf would be ready, and so they were free to wander around more until it was time.
The Argents huddled themselves in the dark end of the market, pressing into the unlit corners around the shops near the basement door. Isaac had sent Allison a text letting her know that they had called out Zosimus, so the big boss should be out of the way any minute. She'd wondered how they'd done it but didn't ask for details. Instead they hid themselves in the shadows and waited.
It wasn't long before the basement door opened and two hekaloi came out, one wearing a lab coat and the other a dark suit.
"A true alpha, sir! It's been centuries!" the suit said.
The one in the lab coat replied, "Be calm, Krakos. Your enthusiasm might make him ask for more."
"Yes, Zosimus, of course. I just—"
"I know . . ."
Allison and her father waited without breathing for them to round the corner and then slipped out of their hiding places. The basement door opened on silent hinges, and they were in.
A true alpha and a banshee. The pack had come demanding Stiles.
They had not come demanding him.
Derek didn't think Scott would leave him to die, but he couldn't be sure. Not truly sure.
At least one of them would make it out.
The hekalus Ariston stood in front of a counter in the corner carefully applying a label with a date and time to the vial of tears he had collected.
That would be his future, parceled into containers neatly labeled with dates and times.
The door suddenly slammed open, and arrows streaked black through the air, followed quickly by Chris Argent and Allison. Ariston made a startled cry and turned, and got another arrow in the throat. He staggered and started to pull the shafts from his flesh.
Allison sliced the leather band holding Derek's head down and pulled the pin that kept his wrist locked. She loosed another arrow into Ariston, pinning his hand to the wall, and then pulled the pin closest to her that held Derek's ankle.
Derek hurried to undo the other pins on his own, sliding down to the ground as he was freed. He watched Chris pull the pins on Stiles.
"No, don't!" Derek shouted.
But Stiles had already come free. He slid to the ground and shrieked as his ruined feet touched the floor. Stiles crumpled into a shaking heap, whimpering and trying to bite back the sound. Chris stared down, startled, and Derek shoved him out of the way.
"Stiles, look at me!" He held his face in both hands. Stiles blinked at him. "I'm gonna carry you, okay? But I need to keep a hand free, so I need you to hold on. All right? Can you do that?"
He was white as a sheet and sweating, but he nodded.
Derek turned and pulled Stiles's arms around his neck. He hooked his hand around one thigh and hoisted Stiles onto his back. A second later, black veins spidered up Derek's arm as he siphoned out some of Stiles's pain. It was enough that Stiles could hook his ankles together to hold on.
For a second, everyone forgot about Ariston pinned to the wall.
When Chris turned, the hekalus stood behind Allison, and there wasn't even time to shout. His eyes widened, and she knew. She dropped, spun, and sank one of her daggers into the thing's thigh. Chris shot it in the forehead. And Allison raked two daggers from groin to neck as deep as they would go. She pulled the blades back and kicked the thing away before its black insides poured out all over her.
"C'mon!" Chris shouted and ran out into the hallway.
Allison looked at Derek. "Go!" And then followed him.
Stiles flailed in Allison's direction. "Gimme a knife."
She stared up at him. "What?"
"Give me. A knife!" he said, dark eyes blazing.
She handed him one of the ring blades, and he clutched it with a death grip.
"Allison!" Chris shouted.
Two shots sounded, and Derek saw the guards from before running down the hallway at them, their swords flashing. "Go!" He shouted at Allison and leaned against the wall to give her room. She slipped by, pistol-bow drawn, and fired. The woman hekalus caught the bolt in the shoulder and paused to look at it with disgust. The leader bore down on Chris.
The third . . .
Derek blinked, eyes darting around.
"Derek!" Stiles cried and slashed downward.
Derek spun, his claws cutting across the width of the hallway. He hit the leader's arm, diverting the tip of his sword, and swung his fist at the man's wrist, driving it into the wall. The hekalus dropped his sword but followed through on the turning momentum with punch to Derek's face. Derek fell against the wall, Stiles's unsteady weight knocking him off-balance. Stiles switched the knife to his other hand and lunged, catching the hekalus in the throat. He opened a gash that zipped itself shut almost as quickly as it had opened, but it was enough to give Derek time to recover.
He turned to run, but the hekalus appeared in front of him. He sank his claws into its chest, turned, and threw it down the way they'd come.
"Don't blink!" Allison shouted.
"What?" Derek turned to look at her, panting.
"They can't do that if you look at them. Don't. Blink."
"I see it!" Stiles said. "Go, I can see it!"
Derek stared at the hekalus as it got up and started running back at them. They couldn't win a fight like this.
"We need to run!" he bellowed.
Chris shot a few more rounds, pressing the hekaloi back, and Allison shot arrows through them pinning them to the wall.
They made a break for the stairs.
Derek turned from the hekalus and ran. He closed his hand around Stiles's leg tighter and drew as much pain into himself as he could stand. He rounded the corner into the stairwell.
Stiles jumped, and Derek almost fell forward.
"Duck!" Allison's command cut clarion through their confusion, and Derek dropped forward, holding them in a plank position over the stairs.
Allison's bow zipped in rapid succession, and when Derek turned, the hekalus looked like a pin cushion wriggling against the far wall.
Chris had his hand on the door knob. "Get ready to hold your breath."
"What?" Derek stared at him.
"Oh God," Stiles moaned still watching the hekalus along with Allison.
"Mistletoe. Just . . . deep breath. Keep running."
Derek stood as though Stiles was no weight at all.
"Ready?" Chris asked.
Chris hit a button on a small box on his belt, and the room beyond the door shook with sudden tremor.
And then they went.
Chris led, two pistols out and firing at anything that moved. He squinted at the fine mistletoe dust in the air and never broke stride. They moved like a well-trained unit, maneuvering around corners with precision while keeping each other covered. Either all the hekaloi were already outside or they hated mistletoe more than anyone might have guessed, because they made it to the exit with no real resistance.
And burst into the outdoors to smoking calamity.
Swathes of asphalt flamed, filling the dark sky with smoke that glowed red and yellow. Burnt bodies littered the ground, and they swerved around them as they ran. The pack had Zosimus in a semi-circle, his cloak fluttering out around him. He stamped one foot on the ground. The copper bells rang. Every time a werewolf charged forward to attack, he sounded the bells and knocked it back, as though punching it in the gut. Lydia hurled another bottle, but that too went skittering wildly as the energy from the sound of the bells knocked it away.
Allison and her father joined the ring around the hekalus, holding their weapons at the ready. Derek eased back into the darkness, carefully wrapping his free hand around Stiles's other leg to give him a break from holding himself up.
"You're outnumbered!" Scott said, his voice thrumming with power as his pack became whole.
"You can't kill me," Zosimus replied, and he threw a bolt of invisible power at Ethan, tossing him back into the metal railing at the far side of the lot. Aiden twisted with pain and bared his teeth.
"We killed the others."
Zosimus laughed, showing white teeth. "They weren't Hekate's high priest."
Stiles curled himself close to Derek's ear and whispered something holding out Allison's knife.
"So you think you can hold all of us off? For how long?" Scott called. He charged forward, until a stamp of Zosimus's foot bounce him back.
Derek took the knife, letting Stiles do the work of holding himself up, and slipped soundlessly back toward the door into the agora. His route brought him around Zosimus's back, opposite the rest of the pack, and he crouched to stay in shadow. He looked at Scott and flashed his eyes blue. Scott's eyes, ever so briefly, flamed out and then returned. Derek drew back, aimed, and threw the knife like pitching a baseball.
The whole motion happened in silence.
Zosimus grunted in surprise as the knife sank into his flesh, slicing through a few ribbons of black linen as it went.
In his moment of distraction, Allison fired an arrow into his chest, and Scott made a single diving leap toward him.
Derek gathered Stiles up again and ran, while Scott sliced the linens from Zosimus's chest with a roar, revealing chalk-white flesh. The hekalus kicked him off with impressive strength and clutched at the torn bandages as he got to his feet. With so many eyes on him, he couldn't rhipēt and stumbled back toward the door. Allison fired another arrow, her father a few more bullets.
"You're not getting away!" Scott roared and chased after him.
Zosimus slipped through the door and slammed it shut. Scott ripped it open a second later and ran in after him. He came back out panting and confused.
"Scott?" Allison called.
He looked at her and his face shifted back to normal. "It's gone. There's just—there's nothing there."
For a moment, everyone was silent. Fires sent up smoke around them.
"Stiles?" The Sheriff's voice rang out from somewhere near the front of the SUV. Everyone turned to see him crawling forward, one hand on the bumper and the headlights bright in his face. He stopped for a moment to catch his breath and looked up aimlessly. "Where's my son?"
"Dad?" Stiles pulled himself higher on Derek's back, and Derek carried him closer.
John reached out a hand, searchingly, and didn't look at either Stiles or Derek as they approached.
"Dad?" Stiles asked again, this time in alarm. "Scott, what's wrong with my dad?"
"It's—he's gonna be blind for a while," Scott replied, scratching at his head.
Stiles squeaked. "What?"
"He—" Scott cut himself off. "Derek, you're bleeding."
Derek shot him a look. "What? No I'm not." But Scott was pointing, and Derek twisted to look at his shirt, darkened with blood. He frowned. "But that's not—"
Scott was at his side lifting up Stiles's shirt. "Oh my God."
Allison drew closer and gasped, and John sat up, alert. "What?"
Stiles gave them all confused looks and twisted to look at his side. "What are you guys—"
"Don't!" Scott smacked him on the head. "Don't move! I'm calling my mom."
"Scott, I feel fine."
Chris came over, his face a stone, and then looked at Derek. "Get him in the car."
"Will someone tell me what's going on!" John got to his feet, and Isaac wrapped a hand around his arm.
"We need to get back to Lydia's car," Isaac said.
John's face crumpled as he turned to his voice. "How bad?" he whispered.
Isaac squeezed his arm. "I don't know. Bad."
Derek brought Stiles to the side of the SUV. "Scott! Go around the other side. Help me get him in. Make sure you keep a hand on him."
Gently as he could, Derek offloaded Stiles onto the seat. Scott pulled from one side and Derek pushed from the other, try to keep him as flat as possible. Stiles had to bend his legs up toward the ceiling to fit lying down. Scott siphoned off his pain while Derek ran around to the other side and slipped into the seat. He set Stiles's head on his leg and pulled the pain out of him through both hands.
Scott jumped in the front seat and Chris peeled out of the parking lot. Scott turned in his seat, staring at Stiles with his big, worried eyes.
Stiles scoffed. "You guys, I don't know what you're so worried about I feel fine."
"You're not fine," Derek said in a stern voice, tense from worry and the secondary pain.
"Well, I feel—”
Derek cut off some of the siphoning, and Stiles gasped. He beat a fist against Derek's leg.
"You're not fine," Derek repeated. "Scott, hold his arm."
They shared the pain while Derek tore Stiles's sliced shirt pressed the wad of fabric against the wound that opened like lips across his side, trying to stanch the heavy flow of blood.
"Just stay awake, okay?" Scott said, trying not to look at the growing smears of red on Derek, on the seats.
Stiles's breaths started to quicken. "Okay . . ." He locked eyes with Scott. "Scotty?"
Terrified tears filled Stiles's eyes. "I think . . . it's getting harder to breathe."
Derek's chest hollowed out, and he buried one of his hands in Stiles's hair. "Drive faster!"
He and Scott stared at one another, and Chris slammed on the gas, blowing through every red light between them and the hospital.