His entire body aches like one big bruise—as far as he can tell, that might actually be the literal truth. Opening his eyes is difficult, almost not worth the trouble. He upgrades that ‘almost’ to ‘definitely’ when he finally manages to haul his eyelids up and catches sight of the tube running down his arm, full of sluggishly flowing blood. He makes an effort to keep from tracking the tube to wherever the blood is headed; he really doesn’t want to know. He also barely has the energy to move anyway, and tied up as he is there’s nothing much he could do about it, so.
Unfortunately, in his efforts to avoid looking at that particular horror, he finds himself looking straight into Chris Argent’s smiling face.
“Finally. I was beginning to think you’d sleep the whole day away. I tell you.” His expression is as calm and reasonable as ever, which only makes the madness lurking in his eyes all the more terrifying. “Young people today.”
Stiles has spent years ensuring that he has more than just his wits to get him out of danger. Hours spent bitching his way through training sessions, lessons on wards and belief and the good solid weight of a bat in his hand. And now it’s come down to this again, just him and his mouth and his powers of persuasion.
“You know you’re out of your fucking mind, right?”
Well, okay, that was less than diplomatic. To be fair, though, he’s a little out of practice.
“I’d say that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Argent crouches in front of his chair, holding up a single warning finger. “You should be counting your lucky stars right now, Stiles. The original plan was to kill you, after all.”
“Right.” Stiles swallows down bile. “Instead you’re just gonna use me against everyone I care about; that’s much better. You were our ally,” he spits out, unable to hold it back any longer. “We trusted you; you were ours.”
“The fact that you thought that made things a hell of a lot easier,” Argent agrees with a friendly slap to Stiles’s knee. Stiles wishes his hands were free. Wishes he could wrap them around Argent’s throat. “You think I’d just let what happened to my wife go?” His eyes harden, the hand still resting on Stiles’s leg tightening painfully. “You should know better, Stiles.”
“Your w—” Stiles can’t help it. He starts to laugh. “Are you fucking kidding me? Are you seriously trying to pretend that whatever you’re planning to do now is somehow comparable to your wife killing herself because of your bigoted fucking family? How is that anything even resembling justice?”
Argent surges up, seizing Stiles’s bruised jaw in a grip so tight he’s afraid that it might wrench out of the socket altogether. “This isn’t about justice,” he hisses in Stiles’s face, his breath hot and thick with a sickly sweet, nauseatingly familiar smell. “It’s about vengeance.” He releases his grip with a contemptuous flick of his wrist. “Another thing I thought you of all people would understand. Well. I’m sure he’ll get it, at least. See, it’s not about everyone, Stiles.” Argent stands, shaking out the sleeves of his coat. “Just him.”
Fade out. Mental static, like a channel that won’t come in. Sorry, kid. Blocked for your protection. And then—
“—not about either one of you. Not really.” Peter leans over him, all regretful smiles and apologetic eyes as Stiles tugs at the ropes binding his hands beneath the table. He’s been there long enough that the metal has warmed from his body heat, long enough that it’s started to grow slippery with his sweat. “You understand that, don’t you?”
“I understand that you’re both fucking crazy,” Stiles snaps. Why doesn’t this rope have any fucking give? Where do the others think he is; what do they think happened to him? What will they think if— “And no, I don’t actually believe that you picked us out as pawns for your twisted little sadistic mind games because we just happened to be convenient.”
“No, I didn’t.” Peter’s smile widens, like he’s impressed. Stiles wants to claw it off of his face. “Still, that doesn’t mean it’s anything personal. I like both of you, I really do.” His eyes harden. “But peace is a luxury. It’s something meant for people who haven’t lost as much as we have. That’s what the pack needs to understand. It’s okay to be afraid,” he says soothingly. “I’d imagine that sacrificial lambs usually are.”
Stiles tugs at the ropes again, fueled by desperation more than hope now. “Argent.” His voice cracks, and he sets his jaw against the fear that’s trying to swamp him. “He thinks you’re his friend.”
“I know.” Peter’s smile is nearly blinding. Handsome as a fallen angel. “There’s a delicious sort of irony there, don’t you think? Now. You’ll thank me for this later.” He pauses. “Okay, you probably won’t. Nevertheless.”
There’s nothing that Stiles can do to avoid the wadded-up handkerchief that Peter stuffs in his mouth, or the strip of cloth that he ties around the back of Stiles’s head to hold it in place.
“Aren’t you finished yet?” The door slams closed behind Argent, and Peter steps back from the table.
“Waiting for you. Never start a medical procedure without a nurse present. There’s more tea brewing, if you’d like some.”
Argent snorts, but walks over to the hotplate and pours himself a cup. “This is hardly life-saving surgery.”
“Isn’t it?” Peter’s teeth are sharp and bright. “I thought that was the whole point.”
The scratch of his claws over Stiles’s bare back is bad, but not unbearable. Slowly, methodically, he traces out a pattern, carving it into skin. The air grows thick with the scent of blood, and terror so strong that even Stiles can smell it. Blood is pooling warm and wet in the small of his back when Peter’s left hand reaches for the jar of dust on the rolling cart beside him. Black as charcoal, flecked with specks of white that look like bone.
Stiles can’t see, but when it hits his back he knows—it’s fire and flame, spreading beneath his skin until he’s screaming, screaming as it burns him from the inside out, turning him to ashes himself. Until all that remains is Peter’s hand on his shoulder as he whispers low and hideous in his ear to breathe, relax, it will all be over soon. That hand, that voice, holding him down as surely as the ropes, until every last trace of him has been burned away and—
He jerks upright, heart nearly beating out of his chest as he strikes out against the hand on his shoulder, flailing and uncoordinated in his panic. That same hand darts up to catch his fist mid-air, holding him still as his vision begins to clear. By the time he recognizes Derek he’s already being being let go, released with a haste that would be insulting if he weren’t so fucking grateful.
“Jesus fucking Christ.” Stiles slumps forward, face buried in his hands as he tries to stop shaking. “God.”
“Are you all right?” Derek’s voice sounds far away. “Do you need . . . water, or . . .”
“If you offer me tea I will fucking kill you,” Stiles mutters into his palms. “Oh my fucking—the tea.” He shoots upright again, and he turns to look at Derek in blossoming horror. “The tea that Darcy gave me, it’s the same kind that Peter used to drink. You remember: the shit he said was medicinal, that smelled like a graveyard. Goddamn it. That’s how he was keeping under the radar, why you didn’t realize when he became an alpha again. It’s probably why why you haven’t been able to sniff Darcy out, either; something in it must help mask what they are. And when he gave it to Chris—oh, shit.” He cuts off as his head begins to spin again. “It’s like a drug for humans; it must be. Makes us suggestible. That’s how she got me to go along with her, why I couldn’t—”
“Hey. Take it easy.” Derek’s hands are back on his shoulders, easing him down onto his back again, and Stiles is too busy trying to keep his head from falling off his shoulders to think about why that’s not upsetting him. “If you throw up on the bed I’m gonna be pissed.”
“Heh. Good to know you care.” Stiles squeezes his eyes shut, taking a handful of deep, steadying breaths. Someone has put his shirt back on; it scrapes against his recent cuts as he lies there, another reminder of how much he’s had to take in in less than twenty-four hours. His fingers flex against the softness of the comforter beneath him, and his eyes fly abruptly open. “Where the fuck am I?”
“We brought you upstairs when you fainted. You’re in my room. I’m dead serious, do not throw up on this bed.”
“Um.” Oddly enough, the idea of being in Derek’s bed is helping him relax, letting him focus on keeping a lid on his frustrated lust and shove what he’s just remembered to the back of his mind. “I did not faint.”
“Sure, Stiles. Whatever you need to tell yourself.”
“Damn right.” Stiles scrubs a hand over his face. “How long was I out?”
There’s a hesitation before Derek answers; Stiles is pretty sure that can mean nothing good.
“A little over three hours.”
“What?” Stiles shoots upright again. “Are you fucking kidding me right now? Why didn’t you wake me up sooner?”
“We tried,” Derek snaps. “You were fucking dea—” His mouth closes so hard that Stiles can hear the click of his teeth. “There was no waking you up. Lydia thinks it was too much for your mind to handle, breaking both of those blocks at once; we’re lucky we didn’t put you in a coma. Erica and Scott both said you probably needed to wake up on your own, anyway.” Derek eyes him with something like censure. “You scared the shit out of everyone.”
“Tell you what, next time I’m kidnapped by psychopaths and given mystical amnesia, I’ll try to be more considerate.” Derek looks like he’s trying not to crack a smile at that, and Stiles rolls his eyes. “So I’m guessing it’s happening soon, if you went against medical advice of questionable validity to wake me up?”
“Boyd and Erica went out to watch one of the hunters who’s been in town for a couple of months and tracked him to a place on the east side of town. Allison confirmed it’s one of her family’s old safe houses.”
“That’s a little sloppy, isn’t it?” Stiles eyes the side of the bed, but decides he doesn’t quite trust his own legs yet. “They have to know we’d know what’s going on.”
“I don’t think they care.”
“No.” Stiles thinks about it for a moment. Sighs. “No, they wouldn’t. They’d want us to know they’re here.”
“You keep saying . . .” Derek’s stare seems to steal all the breath from Stiles’s lungs. “You’re saying ‘we’ now.”
Stiles shrugs tightly, looking down. “I told you I wanted to figure out whose side I’m on.” He forces himself to look up again, to meet that frighteningly intense gaze. “I was willing to die for you. For all of you, for . . . you were wrong. There really isn’t a difference between pack and family. Not one that matters, anyway.”
“No,” Derek says quietly. “I guess there really isn’t.”
Stiles wants to kiss him so badly he can almost taste it, wants to lean across the empty space between them and hold on tight. But as soon as he starts sliding over Derek stands, and Stiles has to swallow back a sick wave of disappointment and self-recrimination.
“Everyone’s waiting downstairs,” Derek says, heading for the door. “I’ll give you a minute.”
“When they did this to me.” Stiles fights against a fresh wave of nausea, and Derek freezes in place. “It wasn’t really about me. They did it to hurt someone else.”
Stiles nods absently. “Did it work?”
Derek’s hand tightens on the doorknob. “Yes.” He opens the door and glances back. “Come downstairs as soon as you can.”
“Sure. Right.” Stiles takes a deep, steadying breath. “I’ll meet you down there. There’s just . . . one thing I need to do first.”
He finds what he’s looking for under the bathroom sink. It takes longer than he expects—he’s out of practice, and he keeps missing spots. Ten minutes later, however, he’s walking into the living room, trying to ignore the constant chill of cool air against his scalp.
“Oh, Stiles,” Lydia moans when she catches sight of him, her face falling into lines of horrified disappointment. “You finally had a decent haircut, and then you go and do something like this?”
“It’s symbolic, okay?” He rubs a hand over the short fuzz on top of his head. “Or something. Either way, shut up.”
“I like it,” Scott says with a grin, slinging an arm around Stiles’s shoulders.
“Thanks, man.” Stiles gives him a quick squeeze and a smart-ass grin. “But, you know, it’d be a lot more comforting if you didn’t have such questionable taste in general.” He laughs as Scott makes an outraged squawking noise and shoves him away. “Present company excluded, Allison.”
“Someone remind me why we thought it was a good idea to bring him back?” Danny is lucky that his smile is adorable enough to make Stiles forgive a multitude of sins, though that doesn’t stop him from flipping him off.
“Exactly what I was wondering,” Jackson chimes in. “Couldn’t we have maybe let him keep forgetting the more annoying parts of his personality?”
“It’s good to have you back,” Allison says quietly as Scott and Jackson start sniping at each other.
“I’m glad there’s still something for me to come back to. Don’t think I’ve missed who’s been keeping things from going to hell here.”
“Hardly?” Allison shakes her head, her expression edging towards a scowl. “Your friends from Boston are coming here because I fucked up. I was so angry with the whole idea of hunters—what happened with my mom, and then my dad . . . that life stole my entire family from me. I chose the pack instead, out of spite as much as anything. If I hadn’t—”
“If you hadn’t, then I probably would’ve killed you.” The room goes quiet and everyone turns to Derek, who’s leaning against the wall as if he hasn’t just casually talked about murdering someone. “Or you’d have had to kill me,” he continues. “As bad as things got . . .” He huffs out a breath, jaw working around words he clearly doesn’t want to say. “As bad as I let things get, your decision saved a lot of bloodshed. What happened here is my fault, not yours.”
“Not to burst your bubble—I mean, obviously you’re a really terrifying alpha and all,” Isaac says after a moment, “but if we weren’t on board, we’d have just fucked off like those three.”
“It’s true,” Lydia sighs as Isaac nods in her direction. “You people have always had a distressing lack of common sense.”
“I think we’re all missing the big picture here,” Stiles says. “Which is that Derek is a hot-headed jackass who nearly took everyone else down with him in his doom-spiral of epic manpain.”
“Why did I actually miss you, again?” Derek grumbles, and Jackson tosses up his hands in exasperation.
“That’s what I’m saying!”
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Danny says mildly, “but wasn’t the point of this drama for Stiles to save us all with his magically restored brain or something?”
“Okay, one: your tone is hurtful, Danny. Really hurtful. And two: wow, hey, no pressure or anything.”
“He has a point,” Isaac says. “You’ve picked your team, now where’s the play?”
“The play is that I try to call Genna again, and try to convince her and Amanda to come out here.”
There’s silence for a moment. “That,” Jackson finally says, “is a really terrible idea.”
“Jackson, stop being an ass,” Lydia snaps. “But . . . yeah, it really is.”
“No,” Scott says, staring at Stiles. It’s a familiar look; Stiles remembers it now, finally remembers countless times when they were younger, when the sheer mad genius of one of Stiles’s plans would hit. “That’s good. I think we can work with that.”
“I’ve gotta side with Lydia and Jackson on this one,” Isaac counters. “How is this a good plan, exactly?”
“We’re protected here. There are wards to keep any non-pack folks far, far away; it’s safe as houses. Or, um.” Stiles clears his throat. “Possibly another phrase that’s less personally significant, given the histories of some of the people in this room. Anyway! We call them up, meet them at the boundary line, and have a good old-fashioned parlay.”
“If we take the time to actually talk to each other, we might have a chance of ending this without a battle I think we can all agree we’d probably end up losing,” Scott adds. “I know it’s been a while, but we do all remember that non-violent conflict resolution still exists, right?”
“Yeah, I have to say I’m pretty much over the idea of murdering anyone else right now.” Stiles grins. “No matter how obnoxious Jackson tries to be.”
“Please, Stilinski, you know you’d still gank me in a heartbeat if you thought you stood a chance.”
“No offense, but it’s been a long time since you were important enough for me to bother killing.”
“Stiles, make the call,” Derek interrupts. “Allison, get everyone equipped; Lydia, if you have any more tricks up your sleeve, now would be the time to speak up.”
Stiles is already heading out onto the porch before Derek’s finished giving orders, punching Genna’s number into his phone as he goes. It’s cold outside, but he doesn’t feel like detouring for a jacket right now, so he just sucks it up and shivers as he listens to the phone ringing in his ear.
“Hey Stiles,” Genna answers after just a few rings. She sounds cool and collected, as he’s only ever heard her a handful of times before, and it sends a chill down his spine. “I thought you might be calling tonight.”
“It doesn’t have to go down this way,” he tells her. No point in beating around the bush at this point. “There’s no reason this has to get any messier than it already is.”
“You’re absolutely right. I’m sure you’ve figured out where we are by now; come over and we’ll talk.”
“You have to know that’s not gonna happen.” Stiles shivers again. “Amanda’s standing right there, isn’t she?”
Genna sighs, and when she answers she sounds a little bit more like herself. “You know she is. Stiles, please. Don’t do what it seems like you’re doing.”
“What’s that? Trying to make sure everyone makes it out of this alive?”
“Not everyone always deserves to make it out alive, Stiles. You know that.”
Stiles winces. “But everyone deserves a fair shot.” A hand brushes against his shoulder and he nearly jumps out of his skin; he whirls around to see Derek smirking at him, Stiles’s jacket held out in front of him, and Stiles rolls his eyes but grabs for it gratefully. “Genna, please,” he says as he struggles to slip his arms into the sleeves and keep his phone in place at the same time. “You’ve been my best friend for the past two years. Just . . . please? Do this for me.”
There’s a long silence, and Stiles feels his heart sinking further with every second that it lasts. Then, finally, “What’s the proposal?”
It takes several seconds of flailing, overly-enthusiastic silent dancing before Stiles is calm enough to speak again. “We meet in the preserve and parlay. There are seven people in our group,” he says, casting a questioning look at Derek and getting a nod in return. Good; he’s seen them fight, and Erica and Boyd sitting this one out would be a serious handicap if things start to go badly. Which isn’t, you know, unthinkable right now. “You bring a group of seven too, and we’ll see if maybe we can’t talk this out before it descends into bloodshed. There’s always time for that in the morning, right?”
There’s a heavy sigh over the phoneline. “Are you—okay. Okay, fine, I’ll tell him! Amanda’s in agreement, and she wants to work out the details. I swear to god, Stiles, if this is some kind of a trap—if you’re using me to get to everyone because you’ve gone native—”
“Paranoia freak, it’s not a trap. Um.” He glances at Derek again. “I’m gonna give the phone to Derek; he knows the area better than I do, and besides, it should probably be, like, team leaders working it out, right?” Stiles worries at his lower lip. As mind-numbingly awful as some of his discoveries over the past week have been, he still can’t bring himself to believe that he was wrong about Genna. “I’ve missed you,” he finally says, and is rewarded with another sigh.
“Of course you did, moron. I’m awesome, and extremely missable. Put the freakin’ alpha on the phone and we can hug it out later, provided I don’t have to kill you.”
Stiles laughs and hands the phone over, wandering back inside as Derek and Amanda start to talk. In the living room, Allison is double-checking her bow while Lydia and Danny debate the merits of bringing along the canisters of wolfsbane-laced mace . The tension in the room is palpable, thick and cloying. There’s every chance, Stiles knows, that this really is a terrible idea. There’s every chance that someone could die tonight. But somehow, for the first time since he woke up, he feels the tension draining out of him, feels the horror of his memories begin to truly fade. In this place, with these people, he finally lets himself feel safe.
Scott sidles up, hands jammed in his pockets and a nervous grin stretched over his face. “Almost feels like high school again, right?”
“Yeah,” Stiles laughs. “This is definitely shades of our fucked-up adolescence. Except you and Derek aren’t bitching at each other about who gets to be in charge.”
“We have a system. I focus on keeping our pack from killing each other; he focuses on keeping anyone else from killing us. It works.”
“Will wonders never cease.”
“People grow up; things change. At least back then I wasn’t worried about my kids when we went into a fight where we were ridiculously outmatched,” Scott says. “Speaking of which.” He shrugs. “You know your dad is watching them for us tonight. After this is over, if we’re all . . . well, I thought you might want to come with us to pick them up. Say hi to your dad, and maybe just—I mean, they’ll pretty much be dead to the world, but if you wanted to—”
“Are you kidding me?” Stiles’s grin stretches from ear to ear. “Dude, yeah, I wanna meet your rugrats. I’m gonna be Cool Uncle Stiles; they’re so gonna love me best.”
“Please.” Scott rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning right back.
“Just wait! I’m gonna be the one they go to when Mom and Dad, like, totally don’t understand them.”
“Stiles,” Allison calls from across the room, “are you already making plans to corrupt my children?”
“No m’am.” He eyes her bow warily. “Absolutely not. No corruption going on here, nope.” Still watching her, he leans aside to whisper to Scott, “Seriously though, how young is too young to start teaching them about Call of Duty?”
“Why don’t we all wait to make our future life plans until we’ve seen how tonight goes?” Derek steps into the room, handing Stiles his phone as he moves past him. “It should take them about twenty minutes to get here, and we should be waiting for them. Grab what you need and head out.”
“Erica and Boyd aren’t back yet,” Stiles says quietly.
“They’re meeting us at the property line.” Derek glances at Stiles’s jacket. “Are you going to be warm enough?” he asks, and immediately looks like he wants to bite off his own tongue.
“I’ll uh . . . I’ll be good.”
Derek rolls his eyes and mutters, “That’ll be the day.”
“Hey Stiles.” Allison looks like she’s trying not to smirk as she tosses something his way. He catches it on instinct, a little surprised when he realizes that he’s holding a heavy hunting knife in a solid, well-worn leather sheath. “Just in case,” she says, with a quelling look at Derek.
“Thanks.” Stiles hooks the sheathe to his belt and grabs his bat from where it’s leaning against the wall. He hasn’t cleaned it, and the wood is still spotted with flecks of blood. “Well, I’m good to go.” He nudges Derek with the tip of the bat. “After you, o fearless leader.”
“Are you, like, constitutionally incapable of not being obnoxious?” Jackson asks as they all begin to head out the door.
“Sorry, man, but you’re still not gonna make it back on the list.”
“You know, if I were less secure in myself I might be a little bit concerned with this antagonistic flirting thing you two are so committed to,” Lydia comments, breezing by, and the sound of Danny and Allison’s laughter drowns out Stiles’s and Jackson’s sputtering protests.
Scott tosses Stiles the keys to the Jeep—his Jeep, his baby, and it breaks his heart to realize he’d forgotten her along with everything else—and the humans pile in while the wolves take off running.
“You know, the claim that we’re not expecting trouble doesn’t really hold water when we’re also making sure we can manage a quick getaway,” Danny says as he clicks his seatbelt into place. “Just saying.”
“We’re hoping there won’t be trouble,” Allison corrects from the passenger seat. “That doesn’t mean we aren’t expecting it.”
“Ah, just like old times,” Lydia sighs, her voice thick with faux-nostalgia.
“Come on, you know you missed this,” Stiles says, shooting a look at her in the rearview mirror. “At least a little.”
“Missed riding around in your smelly Jeep while I head into almost certain death, for my wardrobe if nothing else?” She sniffs haughtily. “Not likely.”
The four of them keep the snark going all the way out to the property line, an old patterns that Stiles hadn’t even realized he’d missed until he finds himself in the midst of it again. They pile out of the car where the rest of the pack is waiting for them and cluster together, checking and re-checking weapons in between glares from Derek that do absolutely nothing to quell their steady stream of chatter. Boyd and Erica have beat them there, and when Boyd starts asking Lydia about the process she used to develop her mace, Stiles edges towards the front of the group.
“They’re coming?” he asks quietly. Derek has gone still in the way that means he’s listening to something that human ears can’t pick up yet.
“Sounds like two cars.” Derek’s jaw sets as he glances over. “This is a big risk, Stiles. How sure are you about these people?”
“Amanda and Genna? Um. Eighty-five percent?” Stiles runs a hand over his head, still distracted by the way it feels now. “They’re good people, but I’d be lying if I said they couldn’t get a little trigger-happy. The rest of them . . .” He heaves a gusty sigh. “It depends who they brought with them. A situation this fucked-up, I think they’d pick some of the steadier people to back them up, but I’ve gotta be honest, none of the hunters I know could ever really be described as ‘emotionally stable’.”
“Thanks,” Derek grumbles. “That’s very comforting.”
“Yeah, well, you can have comforting or you can have the truth.” Stiles shrugs tightly. “Usually not both, though.”
There’s no more time to debate the issue; even Stiles can hear the cars now, the heavy rumble of SUV engines and the crunch of tires over the uneven dirt road. Everyone clusters tighter together on instinct more than design, back-lit by the Jeep’s headlights as a blaze of light hits them from the front. Scott and Allison both step forward, taking their place at the front of the pack.
When the two huge black vehicles roll to a stop they angle so that no one’s being blinded—a small consideration, maybe, but one that gives Stiles a tiny flare of hope. The less posturing they start out with, the better their odds of keeping things civil.
Amanda is the first to step out, sliding down from the driver’s seat of the lead vehicle and striding forward like she owns every inch of the ground beneath her feet. She stares at each member of their group in turn, sizing them up. She’s dressed for battle, all denim and leather and cotton for ease-of-movement, wild black curls bound back out of her face; but aside from the knife strapped to one leg she appears unarmed, and Stiles lets himself breathe a little easier despite the fact that the hunters filing out behind her apparently came loaded for bear. Genna steps up to Amanda’s right side, two bows strapped to her back, and rolls her eyes when Stiles winks at her.
“You picked an interesting meeting spot,” Amanda remarks with a raised eyebrow. Behind her, Jack is glaring at Stiles like he suspects him of puppy-murder, but the rest of the hunters are casting wary glances at the woods around them. “It seems like we could’ve had a more civil conversation at a—” She cuts off suddenly as she tries to take another step closer, frowning down at her foot where is seems to have frozen in mid-air. For a moment she tries to push through, but eventually she pulls her foot back and fixes Derek with another measuring look. “I see.”
“Stiles’s idea,” Derek says easily; if Stiles weren’t watching for it he might have missed the tension along the line of his shoulders.
“Way to throw me under the bus there, buddy,” Stiles mutters, but he steps forward until he and Amanda are nearly toe-to-toe. Even in her flat, practical boots she’s as tall as he is, and he centers his focus on her eyes, big and dark and hard as steel. “It seemed like a sensible compromise. If anything, it’s weighted more in your favor. Any of the tooth-and-fang contingent want to break the truce we’re working with and attack, they’ve gotta come out from behind this nice, protective barrier. Meanwhile, if you guys decide to start shooting, you can do that from right where you are.” He swallows heavily. “Which, um. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t. But still.”
“Genna told me, but I’ll be honest, Stiles, I was having trouble believing it.” She stares back at him, confusion and disappointment flitting quickly over her face. “You really have switched sides.”
“Returning to my roots, I like to think.” He hears his voice going hard, unable to stop it. “Who I used to be.”
“What are you talking about?” Amanda demands.
“Stiles.” Genna steps forward as well, looking genuinely concerned. “What happened? Your parents were hunters, just like mine were. You told me about them, remember? You’re one of ours; you always have been.” She turns a dangerous glare towards Derek and the others, her voice turning hard. “If you did something to him—”
“They didn’t do anything to me,” Stiles snaps.
“I took you in as a favor to your family.” Amanda eyes Stiles like he’s a bomb wired to go off. “Chris was friends with your parents, and whatever else his faults may have been—”
“You don’t know.” Stiles takes a deep breath. “I think you really don’t.”
“Whatever mental breakdown you’re having, son,” Amanda says in carefully measured tones, “I’d appreciate it if you could hold off until we’re finished with the business we came here for.”
“That’s part of it, though, isn’t it?” Derek finally steps forward as well, positioning himself to Stiles’s left. “What this all really comes down to. Trust,” he clarifies, offering what could easily be mistaken for a friendly smile. “Whether or not you all still trust each other enough to believe you’ve got people’s best interests at heart. Whether or not you trust Stiles when he tells you that we’re not the ones behind the civilian attacks.”
“Is there a particular reason we should at this point?” Amanda counters. “It seems to me we’re dealing with a case of Stockholm Syndrome at best.”
“That would technically only apply if I were being held captive.” Stiles holds up his hands at the look she gives him. “Right. Not the point.”
“Why are we even listening to him?” Jack demands angrily from the edge of the group, his face clearly flushed even in the questionable light. “Whatever the reason, he’s siding with monsters. I say we just—”
He doesn’t have a chance to finish. There’s a sudden movement behind him, a clawed hand wrapping around his throat, and a strangled scream that turns to wet gurgles as he’s yanked backwards into the shadows. Stiles has just enough time to see the horror blooming over Derek’s face, the stunned betrayal in Genna’s.
“Ambush!” Amanda shouts, wide-eyed she grabs the bow that Genna thrusts at her.
And then all hell breaks loose.