They really should’ve put tape down or something. He’ll be sure to mention that to Derek on the off chance that they both survive this.
“It’s Darcy’s pack!” he shouts to anyone who’s listening, darting out of the Jeep’s headlights and behind the shelter of the closest tree as the hunters start shooting at anything they can see.
“No shit, Sherlock!” someone calls back; Stiles’s answering laugh catches sickly in his throat.
The pack has scattered, trying to keep from giving the hunters any easy targets. Derek is yelling for the humans to get in the Jeep and head back to the house. Stiles can see Allison, crouched behind the rear bumper as she yells back that he must be dreaming.
Amanda is barking orders, trying to get the hunters gathered together, but some of them clearly aren’t used to working in an organized group like this; one of the women gets too close to the shadows and screams, high and ugly as a set of claws rake across her thigh. She goes down to one knee and something snags her ankle, yanking her backwards like a scene from their own live-and-in-person horror movie. It’s Amanda who drops her bow, sprinting over to grab the woman’s forearms and brace her weight against the pull of the thing that has her. Genna and Tucker are firing arrows as fast as they can at the shadowy outline where the wolf must be, but half-blinded by the glare of the headlights, hardly any of their shots are hitting home. And everyone else is distracted by what’s happening there, Stiles spots Kaden, shifted and slinking out of the darkness at the rear of the group.
Stiles steps out of his cover, grip tightening on his bat as his muscles tense, preparing for a burst of speed that he knows won’t be enough. Before he can make it more than two steps, however, Derek leaps past him, flinging himself at Kaden and knocking him to the ground.
“Are you actually insane?” Stiles screams, tearing across the road to where the two wolves are fighting, clawing and biting at vulnerable skin. He arrives swinging, clipping Kaden’s temple with the tip of his bat and sending him reeling back into the shadows, snarling as he goes. Stiles turns on Derek then, trying to drag him back the way they came. “They’re not gonna care which team you’re on! You stay out here, both sides are going to be trying to kill you, and eventually one of them’s gonna do it!”
“It’s my fault we’re all out here in the first place,” Derek growls, easily pulling his arm free. The hunters are starting to notice them now, though thankfully they don’t seem to be easy targets at the edge of the light like this. “Letting a rival pack decimate them during what’s supposed to be a peaceful discussion isn’t going to—”
Derek’s mouth drops open, fangs gleaming faintly as he lets out a pained, choking noise. Stiles’s eyes fall to the bloody arrow head that’s punched through his stomach; then Derek is stumbling, pushing him away even as Stiles tries to steady him, and Stiles can’t do anything but watch in horror as another arrow hits his back and sends Derek to his knees.
Genna is already notching a third when Stiles spots her. Her face is hard and furious as she takes aim, and Stiles doesn’t pause, doesn’t think. He drops his bat, leaving Derek behind as he runs straight at her, putting his body squarely between them. From the corner of his eye he can see the others rushing in, as if Derek’s stupid sense of responsibility has opened the floodgates. Boyd and Erica fly past him, already shifted and leaping at Anna, now crouched and snarling in front of Amanda. He can hear Lydia and Danny behind him, trying to calm the rest of the hunters down enough to explain what’s going on—Danny with compelling calm and Lydia through sheer force of personality. Stiles only has eyes for Genna, however, hardly even flinching when she pulls her shot at the last minute and sends it veering just past his head.
“Stop!” He holds up his empty hands. “Stop, Genna, it’s not—”
She doesn’t wait for him to finish. They’ve sparred together so many times that he ought to be able to see it coming, but she’s always been impossibly faster than him. He barely has a chance to blink before she drops her bow, darting a hand out to grab him by the collar of his shirt. His own momentum works against him when she pivots, and the world spins around him as he’s flipped over her shoulder to land hard on his back. She’s over him an instant later, knee pressed hard against his chest where his lungs are already struggling to pull in air again, and her knife is a bright, dizzying flash as she pulls it out to press against his throat.
“You son of a bitch.” She’s staring down at him in terror and betrayal, as if she’s wondering how long he’s been a monster without her realizing it. “We took you in; we kept you safe; we made you family. And this is what you give us in return?”
“Genna, please.” He can feel his heart hammering against the blade at his throat. His own knife feels heavy at his side; his fingers itch to reach for it, but he forces himself to keep still. “I didn’t. I wouldn’t. You know that. Think.”
For a moment—just a moment—her expression wavers. Then it hardens again and the blade presses closer, drawing a trickle of blood that slides slowly down his neck.
“No. We hunt those who hunt us. If—if that’s what you are now . . . if that’s what you’ve become—”
Neither of them see it coming. Something slams into her chest, knocking her aside, and Stiles tries to scramble to his feet. He makes it to his knees and falls back down, lungs burning as he tries to remember how to breathe.
“Stop,” he manages to croak, trying to rise again. “Don’t—”
He can’t focus properly, can’t see who it is that saved him, can’t make his own voice heard. For a moment he’s sixteen again, every moment as agonizing as crawling over broken glass as he drags himself across the floor, too late to save his dad, too late to do anything. By the time the memory clears there’s a dark, blurry figure moving towards him and he reaches out for help, needing to get up, to move, to act.
The hand that wraps around his left arm is small, covered in thick fur and tipped with claws that pierce past the thick fabric of his skin, through his skin and into muscle. Stiles cries out and tries to pull away, but a blaze of pain shoots up his arm as the claws dig in even deeper. He feels himself being dragged away, faster than he would’ve believed possible, his legs flailing uselessly, unable to find enough purchase to haul him up. The noise and light from the road fade quickly; bruises bloom along the back of his body as he’s pulled over the ground, scraping over hidden rocks and fallen branches. Each inch brings a fresh burst of pain in his arm, and his sleeve is slick and wet and sticky with blood.
Stiles can still hear sounds from the road at the edges of his awareness when they stop, and he’s finally yanked to his feet. His teeth rattle when he’s slammed back against a tree, claws scratching at his skin where fingers have wrapped themselves around his throat. The ones in his arm withdraw, and his head goes light with a sickening mixture of pain and relief even as the hand around his throat tightens.
There’s just enough moonlight filtering through the trees, still sparse with new leaves, for Stiles to be able to make out Darcy’s face in front of him. She’s naked, blood spattered over her pale skin as she shifts back to human form. Only her eyes remain unchanged, glowing red above her wide smile as she licks Stiles’s blood off of her fingers with a happy hum.
“I wish we could take our time here.” Darcy looks up at him, batting her eyes in sickly flirtatious mockery. “Sad to say, though, it’s probably good that we can’t. You’re not really the type to fall in line easily, are you Stiles? Not even for someone willing to give you what those sad excuses for alphas couldn’t.” She heaves a regretful sigh. “Guess I’ll just have to kill you after all. I mean, don’t get me wrong; it’s still fun that way, but I do wish I could’ve kept you around longer.”
“One of these days,” Stiles chokes out, “I’m gonna figure out how I keep attracting batshit-crazy alphas. Is it, like, a pheromone thing?” He can’t move his right arm without attracting attention, and the fingers of his left are weak and clumsy as he tries to unsnap his knife. “Maybe if I just started wearing, like, a really strong cologne.”
“Are you actually stalling for time?” Darcy laughs in his face. Her breath stinks of the blood smeared over her lips and chin. “Your friends are all busy fighting each other. They’ll kill each other off, and this territory will be mine. So thanks, sweetheart; I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“Your pack’s gonna die, too.” He feels like crying when the securing strap refuses to unsnap, and black spots begin to bloom in his vision. “Don’t you care about that?”
“Why should I?” she asks as casually as if he’d said that he thought the weather looked like rain. “I can always make another one if I need to. It’s not like it would be the first time.”
Surprisingly, that’s what finally spurs Stiles into action. Pack isn’t something to swap out, to discard like a worn-out pair of shoes. The thought that Darcy could genuinely believe that makes him sick, makes him furious, and he lets the anger run through him like fire, lets it give him the strength to rip the knife free and plunge it hilt-deep into her belly.
The hand at his throat loosens, drops away, and Stiles leans heavily against the tree behind him, coughing and gasping as Darcy staggers back. A high, pained whine bursts out of her throat, her shaking hands wrapping around the knife and pulling it loose with a sick squelching sound.
“You,” Stiles rasps, fingers curling into the rough bark at his back, “are a shitty alpha.”
Darcy snarls, her fangs lengthening again as her brow lowers and fur begins to sprout from her skin. Stiles takes a deep breath and fixes his sneer in place, determined to show no fear, because he might be weak and unarmed and about to die, but she doesn’t fucking deserve it.
He doesn’t see what stops her at first, what makes her eyes go wide an instant before the red in them starts to fade. It's not until she stumbles, begins to fall, that the moonlight catches the arrow that’s pierced her throat. She hits the ground, and Stiles looks up to see Genna not a dozen feet away, lowering her bow.
“That—” Stiles cuts off, coughing again as she hurries over, but he manages to give her a shaky thumbs-up. “Great timing. Really. A+, would be saved by you again.”
“Seems likely.” She grabs him by the chin and pulls a mini-flashlight from her pocket, shining it in his eyes despite his attempts to squirm away. “Your pupils are responsive,” she says, stopping her attempts to blind him. “It doesn’t look like you suffered any sort of debilitating brain damage, at least.”
“What about you?” There’s an ugly-looking gash on the side of her head, making the hair at her temple look dark and matted in the moonlight. “Are you okay? Here, lemme shine that thing in your eyes.”
“I’m fine.” She batts his hand away, and it might be the near-asphyxiation talking but Stiles thinks he sees a hint of a smile on her face. “Grab one of her arms; we’ve gotta get her back to the others.”
Now that he’s listening for it, Stiles realizes that the sounds of battle have mostly died down, and his stomach suddenly feels like ice.
“What happened? Are they . . .”
“No. Arm, Stiles.” Genna leans down and he follows her lead, indulging in a vindictive sort of satisfaction as they drag Darcy’s body over the same ground she’d hauled his ass over. “Amanda’s not stupid; she realized what was going on pretty much as soon as you got carried off.” They walk in silence for a moment; it’s slower going dragging a body with only human strength, even with two of them working together. “Sorry for shooting your boyfriend,” she says after a moment, and Stiles nearly loses his grip.
“Derek isn’t my boyfriend,” he says automatically, and shoots her a look. “And no, you’re not.”
“I am.” She shrugs. “Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again in similar circumstances. Still, I knew there was another alpha in the area; I probably shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions just because I was . . .” She shrugs again, more tightly this time. “Anyway.”
They stumble out of the underbrush and onto the road, into a scene that Stiles doesn’t quite know how to interpret, something that looks like the strange hybrid child of a confab and a stand-off. Weapons are still out, along with fangs and claws, though most of the wolves have shifted back to mainly human, and Derek and Amanda seem to be conversing more or less civilly. That they’re doing so over the bloody body of the late, recently-turned Anna only registers as mildly disturbing; Stiles is pretty sure that he’ll be more disturbed by that later, when he’s rested enough to process things like a normal human being. Two of the hunters he doesn’t recognize are wrapping another body in a clear plastic tarp—Jack, he’s guessing, as everyone else seems to be accounted for.
Including, Stiles is shocked to note, Bryce. Dazed and spattered in blood, he’s standing in front of a wary-looking Allison as Danny binds his hands behind him.
“Um.” Stiles lets Darcy’s arm drop unceremoniously to the ground as every eye seems to turn to him at once; he lifts his right hand in an uncertain wave. “So, I’m guessing I missed some stuff here.”
“Where the hell did you—oh, shit.” Scott darts over and drags Stiles to the impromptu first-aid station they’ve set up in the open back of one of the SUVs, tugging impatiently at his jacket until he can get a look at his arm. “Are you okay? You disappeared and I didn’t see which way you’d gone, and what the hell happened?”
“It’s okay.” Stiles hisses as Scott peels away the tacky cotton of his overshirt. He looks at the bloody mess of his forearm and swallows down a sudden surge of bile. “Or, you know, it’s better than being dead?” he says, turning away. “So that’s almost the same thing.”
“Is it—” Derek has moved over next to them, his eyes fixed on Stiles’s arm. His voice sounds strained, though that might have more to do with the ragged, bloody holes in his t-shirt, thankfully free of arrows now.
“You really ought to be next.” Stiles wishes he hadn’t sat down, since his body seems to have taken that as the signal for an adrenaline crash of epic proportions. “Actually, you should be first. C’mon, Scott, the guy has holes in his torso, isn’t there any sort of triage system set up here?”
“There is,” Derek says before Scott can so much as look up. “I’m already healing; you’re not; you get medical attention first. Stiles, did she bite you?”
“What? No!” Stiles looks down at his arm, his stomach roiling as he realizes it must look even worse to someone who hadn’t been there to see it happen. “No, these were, uh. Claws. Really sharp, pointy, unpleasant claws, but . . . no teeth. And hey! We got the alpha.” He manages a weak smile as he lifts his free hand in a celebratory fist. “Go team!”
“Yeah, we figured that out when Mr. GQ over there went catatonic,” Scott puts in. “I think she’s been doing that same creepy-ass mindfuck that Peter tried to do to me. Dude, I can clean this up and bandage it, but you’re definitely gonna need stitches.”
“I’m not going to the hospital; there’s no way I could possibly explain how I managed to get punctures in my arm that happen to be spread out in the pattern of a human hand.” He looks up and finds Amanda watching him. “Besides. We still really need to talk.”
“We do.” She steps forward, arms crossed and eyebrows raised. “But maybe somewhere a little more secure this time?”
“There are still, uh. The bodies,” Scott says, almost apologetically. His wince mirrors Stiles’s as he sprays an antiseptic onto the wounds. “Sorry, sorry.”
“The girl is the one who was turned a few days ago.” All four of them look up as Allison walks up, bow lowered but still in her hand, her face as hard as tempered steel. “If her alpha was screwing with her mind, she might not have had much choice in what she did.” She locks eyes with Amanda. “She deserves better than what you’ll do with her body.”
“Maybe.” Amanda narrows her eyes right back, her gaze flicking between Allison and Derek. “You’re willing to take responsibility for it?”
“We can bury her out at the house,” Derek says. “There’s a place. We’ll make sure she gets the rites she should have.” He glances at Darcy’s body, still lying at the edge of the road, his expression torn between contempt and regret. “That one you can take charge of, if it’ll give you peace of mind. There’s a cemetery on the north side of town. Isaac.” He doesn’t bother to raise his voice, but Isaac comes jogging over nonetheless. “Help them find a grave to use if they want. Take Jackson with you.”
“The fact that you have several convenient places to hide bodies isn’t exactly reassuring,” Amanda frowns. “You realize that, right?”
“It’s practical,” Allison puts in. “And I’m sure you have the same back in Boston, so don’t try to pull any holier-than-thou bullshit right now. We’ll take care of business, get our people patched up, and meet again in an hour.”
Amanda casts a significant look at Derek. “I thought you were supposed to be the alpha here.”
“Don’t see any particular need to step in,” he says calmly, crossing his arms with a smirk. “Allison’s doing just fine on her own.”
“All right then.” Amanda lifts an eyebrow, but looks back to Allison. “What do you propose?”
“Smaller groups. I think we can all trust that we’re not out to kill each other now, and this many people is way too many if we expect to accomplish any sort of meaningful discussion. Two from each side, plus Stiles as a go-between, seeing as he’s the only one here who actually gives a shit about both sides.”
“I get to be the mediator.” Stiles pulls his arm back, twisting his wrist to test the bandage. “Awesome. There’s absolutely no reason to expect this not to work.”
Amanda snorts at that. “Well, if you start doubting your ability to be impartial, just remember that our side’s the one that saved your life tonight.” She raises an eyebrow. “One hour. Now where are we—”
“The cafe.” Everyone looks at Scott in surprise, and he stands up. “The Full Moon Cafe, downtown. It makes sense. No one’s gonna want to make any sort of potentially violent scene someplace where the cops might actually get called; besides, the whole idea when we started the place was . . . well . . .” He glances over at Stiles.
“Neutral ground.” It’s so strange to remember it now: all the hours he spent poring over business proposals and lease agreements and plans for the sigils he and Deaton worked into every surface they could manage. Strange to know that he’s been there with no recollection of the thing he poured so much of himself into building. “Which was actually on the short-list when we were naming the place. You know, because of the coffee pun? Well, the wolf pun was just as good.” He glances up at Derek, then back to Amanda. “It was supposed to be symbolic. Werewolves and hunters coexisting, you know. Scott’s right; it makes sense.”
“Plus,” Scott adds. “Snacks.”
“Point,” Stiles agrees.
“Well, now that we’ve settled the truly important question,” Allison says, sending a quelling glare their way, “we should get moving. We’ll see you at the cafe in one hour.”
“We’ll?” Derek asks once Amanda has nodded and walked away to gather her people. He doesn’t sound like he’s arguing, but Stiles recognizes the undertone of authority he’s injecting into his voice and rolls his eyes as Scott helps him up.
“Yeah, no shit Allison’s going. She speaks hunter, and this is still technically her territory.”
“And I’m going to make sure they know that.” Allison’s voice is still hard; there’s regret in her eyes as she very carefully avoids looking at Stiles’s arm, at Derek’s bloody shirt. “I’ve been so angry about what hunting did to my parents—what they let it do to them,” she corrects with an apologetic glance at Stiles, “that I let myself forget that I have responsibilities. The things I know, the things I can do . . .” She takes a deep breath. “The whole reason that hunters exist, the reason they should exist, is to keep people safe; to protect people who might not be able to protect themselves. I might trust your friends to watch out for other humans, Stiles, but I don’t want them anywhere near my family. And I’m going to make sure they get the hell out of my house.”
“You are so hot when you take charge,” Scott grins, and Allison rolls her eyes, but she smiles back.
“Not the point, sweetie.”
“Stiles, do you think you could, like, record the meeting on your phone or something so I can watch it later?”
“Okay, wow, I am so not getting in the midst of whatever kinky dominance games you two want to play. Save it for the bedroom, dude.”
“I’m surprised,” Derek says, and rolls his eyes when they all turn to look at him. “Not about that, no. But Scott, I thought you’d be arguing to be the one going with them.”
“The whole point of working together is that we have different strengths applicable to different situations, right?” Scott shrugs. “Unless you think that you should be the one talking to the fucked up beta in a fragile mental state while I try to negotiate territory rights with hunters predisposed to violence, this seems like a pretty obvious way to go.”
“Dude, did you just use the word applicable?” Stiles blinks at him. “And predisposed?”
“Yeah, Stiles.” Scott makes a face, throwing an arm around his shoulder. “Believe it or not, I didn’t actually revert to a tenth-grade reading level while you were gone.”
“Can’t blame me for being surprised; I’ve obviously always been the brains of this operation. Okay, so let’s get these massive holes in my arm patched up before we have to go to the Annual Beacon Hills Can’t-We-All-Just-Get-Along Summit. You’ve got stuff back at Derek’s place, right? I mean, I assume you do, since you guys haven’t gotten less disposed to getting the crap kicked out of you in the past couple of years.”
“Maybe some food would be a good idea, too,” Derek says, eyeing Stiles cautiously. “Before you completely crash.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Allison reaches into Stiles’s jacket pocket and pulls out his keys. “I’ll drive, okay?”
It’s a little surprising how efficiently they all still work together. Back at the house Lydia oversees the rites while Erica and Boyd bury Anna near the house; on the drive there Stiles had been filled in on the end of the fight, and he can’t help but wonder what happened to Kaden, how many others there might still be out there. They’ve earned a respite but not true peace, and it’s something that they all need to remember. Meanwhile Danny, armed with a taser and a can of Lydia’s wolfsbane mace, escorts a still-dazed Bryce to the holding cells beneath the house; when he comes back up to heat a can of condensed soup for him and Stiles to share, he’s blushing in a way that makes Stiles’s eyebrows shoot all the way up to his hairline.
Scott has set up a desk lamp on the kitchen table for extra light, and Stiles would swear that he holds his breath the entire time he stitches up the holes in Stiles’s arm. Allison tends to Derek as much as he’ll allow; Stiles is pretty sure that he only endures it because it gives him an excuse to hover and keep an eagle eye on what Scott is doing.
In less time than he would’ve believed possible, they’re all cleaned up and looking presentable enough to go out in public without worrying that someone might ask why, exactly, they’re all covered in truly distressing amounts of blood. It’s approximately two-thirty in the morning, and they’re already going to look suspicious as fuck meeting up in the middle of the downtown area. Luckily Stiles remembers enough now to know that this is actually only about two and a half hours before Boyd usually gets there to do the morning baking, and if pressed he’s pretty sure he could manage the necessary bullshit to explain their presence to the cops. Provided, that is, that his dad hasn’t had him declared legally dead when he disappeared; he makes a mental note to look into that.
Stiles is feeling stable enough to insist on driving this time, making sure before they leave to let Scott know in no uncertain terms that he’s expecting his Jeep back, thank you very much. The tension on the ride there is unignorable but not particularly uncomfortable; he doesn’t think that any of them are really expecting this to go poorly, possibly because none of them could imagine things possibly going worse than their first attempt. For the most part, Stiles is focused on trying to keep his eyes on the road and off of Derek. The clothes Stiles was wearing earlier are the very definition of lost cause, and he very intentionally neglected to ask whose sweater Erica found for him to wear. It might very well be his imagination telling him that its smells like Derek, but if it’s not . . . if it’s not, then he’s definitely not in any state of mind to consider the implications.
The fact that he’s definitely wearing one of Derek’s jackets is bad enough.
He parks on the street in front of the cafe; metered parking doesn’t begin until six, which Stiles is praying to god will be enough time, though he comforts himself with the knowledge that if it isn’t, any parking tickets will probably be in Scott’s name. One of the SUVs is parked down the block, on the other side of the street, as inconspicuous as a neon sign. Stiles watches Amanda and Genna climb out as Derek pulls out a set of keys, glancing his way but not saying a word as he unlocks the front door to the cafe. A high, regular beeping starts immediately, and he steps inside to disable the alarm.
“Um.” Allison glances at the approaching women, then back to Stiles. “I’m gonna make some coffee; Derek’s completely useless with the machine. Do you want any?”
“Thanks,” he says with a grateful smile. “I appreciate it.”
She squeezes his shoulder as she steps inside, and Stiles takes a deep breath as he meets Amanda’s eyes. They hold for a beat, two, three as she gets closer; then she steps onto the curb, glances over at Genna, and sighs.
“Be quick,” she tells them. “We have business that takes precedence over whatever heart-to-heart you two are about to have, got it? Five minutes.” She looks back at Stiles and her face softens; it’s not an expression that she often wears, and all the more meaningful for it. “We missed you, kid.”
“Thanks.” It’s all he can manage before his throat catches, so he just nods, and she smiles like she understands.
He thinks she really might.
She heads inside, where a handful of lights are already burning, and Stiles and Genna are left alone on the patio. Her arms are crossed as she studies him, her expression unreadable.
“You’re not coming back, are you?” she asks after a moment. They both know the answer already, but Stiles shakes his head.
“I belong here. And I don’t just mean in a philosophical, home-of-my-heart kind of way. I had a life here, a family; I think maybe even . . .” He shakes his head again. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
“Try me,” she says tightly. “And do it in, like, three minutes.”
“I can’t. I just—seriously, there’s literally no way I could make you understand before we have to go in there.”
“Is this about—” Genna shakes her head, setting her jaw. “Never mind; it doesn’t matter. It’s not like we ever . . .” She sighs. “I don’t understand.”
“I know. And I want to explain it so that you do, but . . . look, you’ve been my best friend for the past two years of my life. I don’t want to lose that just because I’ve found what I had before. I’ll tell you everything, okay? But it’s kind of a long story.”
A hint of a smile starts to tug at her lips, and she steps forward to bump her shoulder into his. “So buy me lunch tomorrow and tell me about it. I figure you owe me for saving your life tonight, anyway.”
“I swear, the things you’ll do for free food.” He reaches out and loops an arm around her shoulders, steering her towards the door. “Sounds like a plan, though. I know a good place.”