Lydia could feel the sun that filtered through the curtains caress her face, teasing her out of sleep. Her first conscious thought, coming before any attempt to assess her body's needs or musing about the new day, was, 'This is day eight. Allison, Scott, and Stiles have been missing for seven days.'
She couldn't control the memories that automatically followed: Chris Argent calling her to ask if she knew where Allison was, then the Sheriff calling to ask the same thing about Scott and Stiles. The day she'd spent glued to her phone, waiting for one of them to text her and tell her about the latest supernatural mishap they'd been caught into, reassuring her that they were fine, apologizing for worrying her. And then, finally, another of Sheriff Stilinski's calls, informing Lydia that that an AMBER alert had been triggered and her friends been officially declared missing. Vanished into the night, like they'd been a mirage that had just dissipated one day.
Lydia felt tears leak at the corner of her eyes and decided it was time to get up and get ready for the day. She didn't want to get her pillow wet again. She put on the clothes she had prepared the day before, carefully applied makeup to look as immaculate as ever. The movements were so automatic that she didn't feel fully awake until she was almost finished.
Opening up her wardrobe, she looked through it for some kind of accessory she could add to the dress she was wearing. For once, the sight of all her clothes overwhelmed rather than comforted her. She took a deep breath, which caught in her throat when her eyes fell on a midnight blue cardigan that belonged to Allison—she'd forgotten it here the last time she had slept over. The color clashed with the pink dress Lydia was wearing, but after a moment of hesitation, she shrugged out of the sweater she had on and exchanged it for Allison's cardigan. She brought it to her face before putting it on, but her mother had washed it and it didn't smell like Allison's perfume anymore. She closed the wardrobe and leaned her back against the door, trying to breathe. When she saw it wasn't working, she allowed herself a few sobs.
The last thing she'd done yesterday before going to bed had been to call the Sheriff to check on the news about Stiles, Allison, and Scott, just as she'd done every day since they'd gone missing. The man had sounded worn out, each of his word heavy with the weight of his terror and grief, and she'd tried to find something comforting to tell him but hadn't come up with anything worth saying. There was nothing that didn't sound hollow and false.
Hollow was exactly how Lydia felt as she delicately dabbed her eyes after barely a minute of crying, careful not to smear any of her makeup. She sat at her vanity table and looked herself in the mirror to see if anything needed to be reapplied. Her tears had subsided and her anxiety settled back deep in her chest where it would sit all day, making every one of her moves a little harder than usual.
A knock on her door, and her mother called, “Lydia, are you ready? You're going to be late for school.”
Lydia opened her mouth to answer, but her voice caught and she had to clear her throat before she could speak. “I'm almost ready.”
She thought she'd sounded normal, but her mother still opened the door and leaned inside. “Oh, honey,” she said, giving Lydia a sad look. “You don't have to go to school if you don't feel up for it.”
“I'll be fine,” Lydia said, fiddling with her mascara. It wasn't exactly that she wanted, or even needed, to go to school, but what else could she do? At least class would be mildly distracting.
Her mother stepped behind her and put her hands on her shoulders. Lydia focused on the reflection of her mother's perfectly manicured hands in the mirror. “The police will find them. You know Sheriff Stilinski's doing everything in his power.”
Just as she knew what her mother didn't know, which was that Chris Argent was also moving heaven and earth through slightly different channels, and that Derek Hale had come back from wherever he'd taken Cora and Isaac—South America, she thought—to help with the search. Even the twins were helping, and maybe their actions were a bit self-interested, since they were aiming to become part of Scott's pack, but it didn't matter what their motivations were. Lydia had faith that all these people wouldn’t rest until Allison, Scott, and Stiles were brought home safe and sound; what was hard to swallow was the fact that there was nothing she could do. Her brand new banshee powers were worse than useless, because even if she could control them, there was nothing she wanted less than to be the one to find her friends' dead bodies.
“Mom, I need to finish getting ready.”
Her mother sighed and squeezed her shoulders, then left the room, closing the door behind her with a soft click. Left alone, Lydia let out a shuddering breath.
School was noisy and crowded, as it always was, and Lydia made her way through her fellow students with the determination of a general going to battle. It was muscle memory by now, and everyone parted before her almost unconsciously. Everything went just as routine dictated. The first few days Lydia had caught bits and pieces of conversation about Scott, Stiles, and Allison's disappearance, but with no new information the rumor mill seemed to have exhausted the topic. Life went on as usual, as if Lydia's friends being there or not made no difference. Odd to think that not so long ago it wouldn't have made much of a difference to Lydia either: she hadn't met Allison yet, and Scott and Stiles were barely a blip on her radar. Now, though, just going through the day without them felt like a chore.
Time passed sluggishly, none of the classes challenging enough to need more than a fraction of Lydia's attention. By midday she had a headache and was seriously considering going home at the end of the period, and to hell with her afternoon classes. She glanced at the clock for the fifth time: still ten minutes to suffer through before freedom.
Her math teacher droned on and on, periodically turning his back on the class to write on the board. Someone chucked a paper ball at him, but it missed its target and the teacher didn't notice; a few immature chuckles followed. There was a mistake in one of the equations the teacher had written earlier, but Lydia knew better than to point it out. Some teachers could handle being corrected by their students, but he wasn't one of them. She pressed her fingers to her temple and started rubbing circles there. Her headache was getting worse, and it wasn't helped by the hubbub from outside. She looked in direction of the window, irritated, but they were on the top floor and all she could see was a piece of the sky.
“Lydia, are you okay?” This was Danny, sitting next to her across the aisle.
“I'm fine,” she said. “It's just—the noise.”
“Yes, those people outside—”
There must have been a crowd of them to be so loud, and now Lydia had to wonder what so many students could be doing out of class—unless they weren’t students at all? They were shouting excitedly, like the audience at a concert. At first it had been nothing distinct, but now the crowd had united into a chorus and a single word echoed, pulsing through the air like a heartbeat. Lydia tried to focus on it—ill, kill, kill, kill, KILL.
Lydia startled, heart in her throat.
“Lydia?” Danny asked.
“Can you hear that? What're they doing out there?”
“Who's doing what?”
“The crowd outside,” Lydia hissed.
She'd talked a little too loudly, and the teacher frowned at her. “Miss Martin, can you concentrate on the lesson, please?”
“Excuse me,” Lydia said, trying her hardest to sound composed. “Can I go to the bathroom, please? I'm feeling a little sick.”
The teacher obviously wasn't happy with it, but he wasn't Harris' level of heartless, so he gave her a reluctant nod and she bolted from her chair.
She wandered the hallways, but nowhere was safe from the racket. She ended up leaning against a locker, her forehead pressed against the cool metal. Then she realized it was Scott's locker, and that Stiles' was just next to it, and she almost burst into tears.
“Um,” said someone to her left. “Are you—are you alright?”
Lydia sighed. She was tired of being asked that question, and didn't want to talk to anyone right now, but she forced herself to turn and face the newcomer: she looked familiar, and after a moment Lydia recognized her as Kira, the history teacher's daughter. The girl who had a crush on Scott and had done research for him about bardo. She wore her hair in a ponytail thrown over her shoulder, and looked at Lydia with wide eyes. There was a nervousness about her that reminded Lydia of Stiles, albeit a shyer and gentler version of him. Lydia immediately resented Kira for her association to both Scott and Stiles.
“I'm perfectly alright,” she said, more peevishly than the question warranted.
Kira's face fell. “I'm sorry, that was a stupid question. Of course, you're not alright, your friends—”
Lydia had never wanted anyone to shut up more than she did now, and she was friends with Stiles. “Can you hear that ruckus outside?” she asked, interrupting Kira's nascent babble.
“Uh? You mean, the other students around us?”
The bell had rung since Lydia had left class, and the hallways had filled with their usual flow of students, hurrying to get to their next class.
Lydia shook her head. “No, I mean like a crowd, outside—people yelling, cheering.”
“I—don't hear anything out of the ordinary.”
Kira looked sorry not to have a better answer for Lydia, but Lydia shook her head again and said, “It's okay, don't worry about it,” effectively dismissing Kira. Obviously no one else but her could hear that noise, and Lydia knew what it meant when she could hear things others couldn't: it meant danger, imminent death. She didn't feel any pull to go anywhere, so there probably wasn't a dead body to find, not yet, but something was going on. And she was determined to find out what it was.
It was probably all his fault. This was Stiles' first lucid thought, and it stuck with him for a long time after that. He was thrown into a dark room and fell on his elbow, the shock reverberating painfully through his arm. The curse he let out was enough to send Scott berserk.
“Don't touch him!” Scott roared, and the decidedly inhuman growl that followed froze Stiles' insides into a ball of dread.
He tried to get back up, but it was hard to find his balance with his hands bound behind his back. He rolled on his side and struggled to hoist himself up on his knees.
“Scott? I'm okay, buddy. See—”
But it was too late—Scott's eyes were glowing red and his fangs were showing. He moved as if to launch himself at the person standing between him and Stiles, but a shot resounded and Scott crumpled to the floor with a pitiful groan.
“Scott!” Allison cried out, and she dropped to Scott's side, tugging at the binds tying her hands behind her back. Stiles crawled up on his knees to join them.
The person who had shot—a middle-aged woman with blond hair cropped short and a face sharp like the blade of a knife—nonchalantly raised the weapon she'd just fired.
“This one is loaded with ordinary bullets,” she said. She had a surprisingly deep and yet melodious voice. “This one, though—” She pointed at the rifle tucked under her arm. “This one's bullets have a little something added to them to give some spice. Wolfsbane, if you catch my drift.”
Stiles gasped at the word, and the woman smiled. “Yes, we know about werewolves. All of my men have similar weapons. So tell your friend not to feel too invincible, even if he seems to be an Alpha.”
She looked down on Scott, rolled into a ball on the floor and shaking. The only source of light came from the hallway so the woman's face was half-bathed in shadows, but Stiles interpreted her look as confusion—she was surprised by Scott, probably not expecting someone so young to be an Alpha. She was definitely not disconcerted at the whole werewolf situation, and that raised a new line of questioning.
“He's your Alpha, I guess. Which means you'll take this seriously: we're prepared for your kind,” the woman continued with more assurance. “Consider this shot a warning.”
Allison was making soothing noises at Scott, hunched over him as if to shield even though she couldn't touch him. Stiles' head ached, probably from having been tasered earlier, but it didn't keep him from puzzling over the woman's words: they thought that Allison and he were werewolves too. Had they been specifically going after werewolves? Were they hunters? Would it help or hurt Allison and Stiles' position to point out the mistake? Stiles finally decided on keeping silent for the moment. There was little chance that they would be let go—not that Stiles would be willing to go if it meant leaving Scott behind—and more that they would simply be executed. Whatever was wanted from them, it was probably better to just play along for the moment.
“What do you want from us?” he asked instead.
The woman smiled again, and it looked nasty. “We didn't exactly plan for you—I'm sorry to tell you that you were victims of the wrong time, wrong place—but don't worry, we'll find a use for you.”
The door was closed behind them and they were left alone inside. There was a narrow opening cut out at the top of the door, so a little light came in and let Stiles see that the room was small and probably empty. Scott sat up, Allison hovering by his side.
“I'm okay,” he said, and Stiles heard more than he saw his smile. “Already healed.”
“They didn't even hurt me, not really,” Stiles said. It came out a little snappier than he had intended, but Scott didn't seem to take it the wrong way.
“I know. I was just, I was barely conscious, running high on wolfy instincts, and that sound—you in pain—I couldn't stand it. I guess I reacted more than acted.”
A small bundle of warmth spread inside Stiles' chest at the words, but he coughed and turned again to the door. There was no handle on their side, so it had definitely been designed to hold prisoners. Stiles' hands were still bound so he used his foot to test it, giving it a kick. “Steel-reinforced,” he declared.
“They said they didn't plan for us, but they were clearly expecting prisoners,” Allison said, echoing Stiles' own thoughts.
“That person we saw running in the woods, maybe?” Scott said.
“Probably. And that woman's definitely a hunter.”
Stiles whipped around to face Allison, his interest piqued. “Yeah, that's what I thought too—she obviously knows about werewolves, at least—but how can you tell for sure?”
“Well, she knows more than just the simple fact that werewolves exist: she knows how to hurt them, and she knows the jargon—she could tell Scott was an Alpha. They had tasers, which, granted, aren't unique to hunters, but that's another point. There's also something about the way she talks and holds herself that makes me think of my dad, and... all the other hunters I've met.”
Keeping a shoulder against the wall, Stiles started to follow it to make out the exact size of the cell, and see if there were any more openings.
“They were armed to capture,” he said thoughtfully. “Even though that woman said they weren't trying to capture us. Think your dad might know her?”
“I have no idea,” Allison said. “My dad still keeps away from the hunter community, even now that he isn't retired anymore.”
Stiles snorted. “If he ever was. But even if you don't know her, there's a possibility she might know about you, right? The Argent clan's heir.”
“If she does, then it doesn't look like she recognized me. She thought we were all werewolves.”
“She saw that we were pack,” Scott said. “And she just assumed the rest.”
Stiles had finished his tour of their cell, and it had been depressingly short: the room couldn't have measured more than 20 square feet, cement walls and floor, and he hadn't felt any window.
“Which shows how much she knows,” he said, sitting down—or rather, dropping down—next to Scott and Allison. His shoulders were cramping from the enforced position and he rolled them one after the other for some relief. He longed to be able to massage his aching head, but it wasn't an option for the moment.
They sat in a circle and no one talked for a moment. With nothing left to distract him, the silence made it hard for Stiles to resist the pull of his dark thoughts. This was all his fault—the idea came back with a vengeance, like a punch in the gut. He'd dragged Scott and Allison in the preserve to search again for Malia Tate, and that was when they'd stumbled onto a bunch of armed people chasing a slim figure skittering between the trees. The whole endeavor had been stupid. Finding out what had happened to Malia eight years ago had been his dad's obsession at first. Then they'd figured out that the girl had turned into a coyote and they had to stop her father from killing his own daughter out of ignorance, so of course it was important, but when had wandering around in the woods ever done them any favors? If he'd just gone by himself, then—
Scott nudged him with a shoulder, interrupting the vicious circle of his thoughts. “It's not your fault. We followed you into the woods. It wasn't even the first time, and we generally don't get kidnapped.”
“Well, I seem to remember that one time it got you bitten by a crazy Alpha werewolf.”
“Turned out okay, though.”
“I wonder at your definition of 'okay'.”
“Let's try to sleep,” Allison said, and Stiles was grateful for the change of subject.
“Yeah,” he said. “Sleep sounds good.”
The floor was bare and the temperature in the cell, albeit not downright cold, was not comfortable enough for them to sleep well without any sort of bedcover.
“We should—” Scott squirmed, obviously just as uncomfortable as Stiles was with the way his arms were bound. His pants were wet with blood and the sight and smell of it made Stiles queasy. “We should sleep close to each other. To keep warm.”
They lay down on the cold hard floor, slotted together back to front like Legos, with Scott occupying the middle position. Scott's body warmed Stiles' back, which left his front feeling all the more vulnerable, but he tried not to let that keep him from falling asleep. He also tried to ignore the temperature, the hard floor, the awkward position—his shoulders were aching fiercely now and the binds cut into his wrists; his idle hands brushed at some point against a really inappropriate part of Scott's anatomy—and the terrifying uncertainty of their situation. There was a hollow feeling at the center of his chest—it was a familiar one, had been there since the ritual with the Nemeton, but it felt worse right now, like the darkness was feeding on the situation. Eventually, though, exhaustion got the best of him and he fell into an uneasy slumber.
They were woken up the next morning by the woman hunter and a bunch of her goons, and relieved from their binds. The ache in Scott's shoulders and wrists quickly vanished as though it had never been there, but, watching his friends grimace and rub at their bruised wrists, he felt a churn of shame at how unfair it was that he could get over it in the blink of an eye and they couldn't. Of course, he thought to himself as he felt the stiff material of his blood-soaked jeans chafe against his thigh, his healing abilities came with a price. But if he could use it to divert harm from Stiles and Allison, then it was more than worth the discomfort.
“What are you gonna do with us?” he asked defiantly before Stiles could do it.
The woman gave him an assessing look. “You're very young for an Alpha. You got us curious. You three were an unexpected catch, so we're just going to try and see if you're worth the trouble. If you're not, you're dead.” She smiled broadly and Scott saw that one of her front teeth was chipped. “My name's Annie Miller, by the way.”
Scott caught Stiles' grim look and felt his stomach drop: he knew enough to understand that her giving them her name and not trying to hide her face was a very bad sign. It meant she didn't expect them to ever be able to pass the information.
She looked at them expectantly, like she wanted them to introduce themselves in return. When none of them spoke she merely shrugged. “I'll just find out by myself, then.”
They were pushed out of the room and chained at the wrists and ankles like inmates in a prison show. Scott's chains felt particularly uncomfortable, irritating the skin on his wrists in a way that didn't feel natural, almost like a burn. Miller caught him wincing and gave him a wink. “We mixed a bit of silver in it. Like it? We haven't had any customer feedback yet.”
Scott looked back at her with a blank stare and she chuckled softly, shaking her head as though she found him silly. They were led through a long, impersonal corridor, with a concrete floor and walls painted white. Allison and Stiles both moved stiffly, stumbling a couple of times and being manhandled back to their feet by the armed men. Scott could feel cold apprehension swirl in his gut, growing with each step he took. He tried making himself demand to know where they were taken, but the words froze in his throat. He didn't really want to know—he wanted to keep walking down the hallway and never get to their destination, because it couldn't be anywhere pleasant.
But Stiles, of course, had never been able to remain silent once in his whole life. “Where are you taking us?” he asked. “You're not going to kill us right away, so it means that you want us to do something, or do something to us. What is it? Medical experimentation? Sex slave trade? Or—ow!“
One of the men had used the butt of his rifle to hit Stiles in the face, and Scott registered the burn in his wrists from the chains before he even realized he had lurched forward. He heard chains jiggle and saw another of the men restraining Allison. Her eyes were dark and wide, and when she looked at him Scott felt a violent urge to do something to help her and Stiles that clashed against his blatant impotency.
“I'm fine, Scott, I'm okay,” Stiles said, his voice choke-full of pain. Both of his hands covered the hurt side of his face like he was trying to hold his head together. “Don't—don't do anything.”
Miller hadn't made a move, letting her men handle the commotion, but she was looking at the three of them thoughtfully. “You're not werewolves,” she said in Allison and Stiles' direction, not making it sound like a question. “But you're an Alpha,” she said to Scott. “Their Alpha, that much is obvious. Interesting.”
One of the men, a bulky, beardy mountain of a guy that looked like he could snap any of them on his knee, approached Miller and asked her in a lower voice: “Should we cancel—”
“No.” Miller smiled that sweet, bright smile of hers that Scott was starting to hate. “Certainly not. A teenage Alpha and his human pack mates. That ought to be fun. I'm very curious to see if they can hold their own against our little Tracy.”
Against? Scott met Stiles' eyes, or at least the one eye that wasn't covered by Stiles' fingers. Were they going to fight? Who was Tracy?
He had his answer a lot quicker than he'd have liked. As they walked further Scott started to distinguish noises, something like the excited babble of a crowd waiting for a show, and his stomach clenched at the picture that those sounds were starting to paint in his mind.
“Fuck,” he heard Stiles murmur, and knew that his friends could probably now hear it too. “Those bastards. This can't be for real.”
They finally got into a wide room full of people. Only the middle of it was properly lit up, showing off a square space enclosed by wire fences. The audience was kept to the sides of the room by metallic safety barriers, that had also been used to clear a path up to the cage. As they walked that path Scott could feel the crowd's curiosity and excitement press up against him on both sides, making his skin crawl. A flight of steps, and they were unchained and shoved into the cage through one of the corner openings. The delimited space was wider than Scott was used to from watching cage fighting on TV, but the purpose for the whole setting was still clear. The light in the cage came from spotlights placed at ground level on each corner of the cage, and their white, unrelenting luminosity quickly started to give him a headache.
“You know,” Stiles whispered, leaning towards him, “this would almost be kind of cool if it wasn't so deeply fucked up. Like, dude.”
Scott was way too used to Stiles blurting all sorts of inappropriate things to be fazed by that statement, but Allison shot Stiles an incredulous look from Scott's other side. Another corner of the cage was opened and someone joined them inside: at first glance it looked like a thin, dark-haired girl about their age, but something about her face struck Scott as strange—oh, fangs, she must be a werewolf, which made sense since Miller had thought the three of them were too, but there was also something trailing behind her, like a shadow, or—
“Holy shit!” Stiles exclaimed as a long, lizard-like tail whipped from behind the girl and snapped in the air. The crowd cheered and clapped as though it was some kind of cue.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” a voice boomed from somewhere above them. It was probably unsurprising that the person talking wasn't joining them inside the cage. “Welcome tonight for another thrilling, bloody death match. Three newcomers against our spitfire Lizard Girl! Who will come on top?”
“What the hell is this?” Stiles whispered frantically.
A bell rang. “I don't know, I— Get down!”
The end of the tail flew in their direction and they ducked on instinct. Scott had never seen any creature like that girl before, and yet something about her was familiar, nagging at the back of his mind—
“Kanima!” Stiles exclaimed. “We need to watch for the tail!”
“Like Jackson?” Allison said, but didn't have the time to elaborate because she had to dodge the tail once more.
They backed down from the tail's assault until they were almost against one of the fences and had nowhere else to go. The crowd booed, and the girl—Tracy?—growled and her eyes flashed gold. This was the only warning Scott got before she threw herself at him.
Scott and the girl rolled on the ground under the crowd's excited cries. Scott could feel the girl's claws dig into his shoulders. Her face was a couple of inches from his and he was taken aback by the glint of madness in her golden eyes. She snapped her fangs at him, like she wanted to take a bite out of his nose, and he frantically tried to push her away. She was unnaturally strong for her size, resisting all his attempts to buck her off him, powered by a rage that had her in a frenzy to get to him, like he'd killed her whole family and she finally had her hands on him.
He managed to grasp her wrists and tried to wrestle her arms away from him, her claws dripping with his blood, and she was so focused on him that she didn't see the boot coming for her head. Allison kicked the girl hard enough that she jerked back with a surprised sound of pain. Scott scrambled away from her and jumped to his feet. Stiles and Allison stood at his back, and Stiles murmured to him, “I don't think she can properly direct her tail at something that's behind her. We need to surround her, divide her attention. Wait for my signal.”
The girl was picking herself up already, wavering a little like she was dizzy, but as soon as they tried to get close to her her tail soared into the air, forcing them to step back. Following Stiles' directions they split up to circle her, poking in turns at the safe space she created around herself with her flying tail. More than once they narrowly missed being struck by the tip of the tail, and Scott wasn't sure what would happen if they were, if they would be paralyzed like with Jackson, but she was definitely using it like a weapon so it was instinct to avoid it. She was also slashing the air with her clawed hands, her movements becoming jerky and furious. They were getting to her, but although her increasing frustration meant she was becoming more predictable in her attacks, she didn't seem to tire, while Scott could see that Allison and Stiles were getting weary, moving more slowly, their reflexes losing a fraction of their sharpness.
The crowd seemed to be getting bored with all that dancing around, because some booing had joined the cheering and the shouted suggestions of 'claw them open!' and 'bash her head in!'. The girl crouched to the ground, hands resting in the space between her legs, and Scott was struck once again by how animalistic she behaved—what was she? Had she always been this way? Had something been done to her? Then she used her position to spring in the air, aiming at Scott, and was only stopped in her momentum by a shoe hitting the back of her head.
It's was Stiles' shoe—she growled and whirled around to face him, and that was when Stiles shouted, “Scott, now!” The end of the girl's tail followed her movement a fraction second later and whipped back to hit him in the neck. Stiles fell face first to the ground, and Scott launched himself forward, a growl of his own rumbling in his chest, and held the girl down while grabbing the end of her tail as it reeled back to her. She tried to fight him off, squirming under his weight, but the sight of Stiles falling had fired him and for the first time in the fight he wasn't just defending himself but wanted to keep her down, to crush her before she tried to hurt them again.
“I'm okay!” he heard Stiles' slightly muffled voice say, and he felt something in his chest loosen. He risked a glance up and saw Allison kneeling by Stiles' side, a hand on the back of his neck.
“Just like Jackson!” she said, and Scott relaxed even further. Stiles was only paralyzed—it wasn't fun, but he'd been through it before. It would eventually wear off, and he'd be just fine.
Only, now that anger and protectiveness weren't burning in Scott's chest as strongly, he wasn't sure what to do with the girl he held firmly secured under him. She was still struggling, kicking up her feet and clawing at whatever part of his body she could reach, creating short little bursts of on and off pain. He wasn't going to be able to keep her down indefinitely—but then Allison came along and kicked the girl in the head a few times until she was half-unconscious, and he had a short respite.
He looked up at Allison, disheveled and breathless, her face red from exertion.
“What do you think we—”
“Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill!” That was the crowd, elation mounting with each cry.
A death match, the man had said at the beginning. They expected him to kill that girl. She was already weakly stirring with a low moan, and she looked so vulnerable like this, just like a normal girl with slightly prominent teeth. Someone entered the cage, and Scott recognized him as one of the men that had led them here. He was holding a rifle and told Scott, “What are you waiting for?”
As in a dream, Scott brought his hands to the girl's neck, watching them shake. What the hell was he doing? Sure, she had attacked them, but it was likely she didn't have a choice in the matter. She had probably been doing this for a while. And she was defenseless right now, wasn't fighting back anymore—this would make him a murderer.
The man with the rifle sighed, looking put upon, and fired his weapon. Pain erupted in Scott's thigh and he fell back from the girl with a groan. His ears were ringing, but he heard Allison and Stiles both cry out his name, and the man who'd shot him say, “If one of you don't kill her, the next bullet will be a wolfsbane one.”
Scott grunted in pain, pressing his hand to the wound. It was just instinct by that point, because the wound would be healed in a few minutes anyway. He thought the bullet might have broken a bone, though, because the pain was greater than the day before, radiating through his whole leg, and he didn't think there was any exit wound. What would become of the bullet once he'd healed? He'd been shot before, but he couldn't remember the details. Would it just dissolve inside his body? The thought made him faintly sick.
“Scott?” Stiles called. “Scott, are you okay? Talk to me!”
Kill, kill, kill, kill.
The crowd was relentless, and the man with the gun was getting impatient. Allison pressed a boot against the girl's throat, just as she was starting to blink, and pressed all her weight down.
Scott hadn't been able to help his cry, even though it was useless, even though he knew Allison had no choice. He heard the girl's windpipe crush, heard her gurgle through her last living moments. Stiles' head was turned the wrong way and he was asking in a panicked voice, “Scott? Scott? Allison? What's going on? Shit.”
Allison retained her position for a long time, looking pale but determined. Scott listened for the girl's heartbeat and heard it slow down until there was nothing more to hear. Then it was over.
“We're alive,” Allison said, probably for Stiles' benefit. “Scott and I are both alive.”
Scott felt dazed, like he'd taken a blow to the head on top of a bullet to the leg. This was all a dream, had to be a dream.
The man who'd shot him said, “Don't feel too bad for Tracy. She didn't have more than a few fights in her anyway.” He gave Scott a toothy grin. “Welcome aboard.”
They had to carry Stiles out of the cage, and they chained Allison and Scott again before they dragged them out. Nothing of her surroundings registered much to Allison as she kept her eyes leveled at the floor, watching rows of impersonal white tiles unravel, dirtied by all the feet that had walked on them before. Their guards were nothing more than pairs of scruffy combat boots to her.
They were pushed into a room and the chains were taken off Allison's wrists. On the far back wall of the room a line of showerheads were fixed and there were drains on the tiled floor, but no stalls. One of the guards said, “Take off your clothes. We'll give you new ones after your shower.”
“What about my friend?” Scott said. Allison looked to see that Stiles had been dropped on the floor like a sack of potatoes, and that Scott was gathering him in his arms.
“If you don't help him, we will,” the guard said.
He'd talked in an unconcerned tone like it was all the same to him, but then kicked Stiles in the hip to punctuate his statement. Scott let a growl slip, but the guard gave a little shake to his gun and cocked an eyebrow at Scott.
“We'll help him,” Allison hurried to say. Her voice was oddly rough and she didn't recognize the way she sounded.
Allison and Scott teamed up to get Stiles out of his dirty jeans, sweatshirt, and t-shirt, while he tightened his jaws and tried not to look them in the eye. It was uneasy work, because Stiles couldn't help them by lifting up his arms or legs or butt, and they had to manhandle him like a wax doll, tugging the clothes off his insensitive limbs. When he was down to his socks and underwear, Allison glanced in direction of the two guards still inside the room.
“What are you waiting for?” said the taller of the two, the one who had kicked Stiles. “It's not like we've never seen a dick before,” he added snidely, which made his partner snicker.
Allison exchanged a look with Scott, who looked furious but still nodded, and they silently finished getting Stiles naked. His cheekbone was red and swollen from the hit he'd taken before the fight, some dried blood flaking where the skin had split open. Allison was trying not to look at his naked body, giving him as much privacy as the circumstances allowed, but it was difficult to undress him and not see anything, and she couldn't help but be surprised to notice that he was a bit more toned than she'd have thought. Not to Scott or Isaac or Derek's level, but still nothing to be ashamed of. He caught one of her looks and blushed, so she kept her eyes firmly on a crack in one of the tiles afterward.
Then it was Allison's and Scott's turns to undress and the guards were still in the room. They were ostensibly half-turned as if to give them privacy, but Allison caught one of them leering in her direction. Cheeks flushed with humiliation and impotent anger she faced the wall, pretending they weren't there. She took off her shoes first and threw them away with a shudder of disgust: their soles were bloody, probably from Scott's blood, and she'd left a pathway of reddish stains all the way up to here. As she took off the rest of her clothes, her back stiff and her teeth clenched, she thought she could still feel the guards' eyes linger on the length of her body, leaving slimy trails on her skin like a pair of fat slugs.
Allison and Scott had to haul Stiles up, and the three of them huddled under the same showerhead. The water was cold and in no time they were shivering and chattering their teeth, Allison and Scott scrubbing themselves and Stiles vigorously until their skin was pink from it. The blood from Scott’s recently healed wound swirled down the drain with the water, and Allison had to breathe through her nose to fight off nausea. Twice now Scott had been shot to make a point; they were going to keep pumping him full of bullets until he—Allison bit the inside of her cheek, using the pain to center herself and keep her thoughts from straying.
They made a quick job of washing up, none of them wanting to linger through what was probably the most uncomfortable shower in their existences. They were naked, wet, and pressed tightly together as Allison and Scott supported Stiles' weight, keeping him from slipping and cracking his skull on the tiles, but it wasn't sexy at all. It was miserably cold and awkward, and the way the guards kept shooting them jeering glances made the whole thing feel dirty.
Once they were done they were given worn but clean underwear, pants, and long-sleeved shirts, as well as socks and sneakers. They were sent back to their cell—or maybe a new one, but built on a similar 20 square feet cement box model. They spooned together as they had the night before, this time with Allison in the middle. Scott wrapped around her like a blanket, and Stiles had regained enough movement to be able to weakly fold into a fetal position.
Allison fell asleep pretty quickly, too exhausted to consider the repercussions of what the day had brought. It felt like no time had passed at all when a nightmare startled her awake: she could still hear the crunch of the creature's throat under her heel, could still see its—her?—dead eyes staring at nothing. She shivered, keeping her eyes shut, and felt the arm coiled around her waist tighten its grip.
“Are you cold?” Scott murmured into her ear.
She nodded, and it wasn't a total lie. Scott was warm at her back, but by contrast she felt even colder on her front, where Stiles had been curled against her but was now missing. She sat up and Scott followed suit, keeping an arm around her. She turned her back on him and gently picked up his arm to get it off her, mourning the loss of his body heat but also the comfort that his touch had brought. All the defenses she'd tried to build against him since their breakup had crumbled, and she wanted nothing more than to be back in his arms and cling to him for dear life. She managed to keep herself from asking for it out loud, though.
Stiles was up and pacing the length of their cell, muttering to himself like a madman. The bruising on his face had turned a violent purple, black under his eye. When he saw they were awake, he exclaimed, “Finally!”
Allison felt a shot of irritation flare up at that comment: if sleep was the only comfort they had left, what was wrong with indulging in it? It wasn't like they had to be up for school or anything important.
“How long have you been up?” Scott asked. He looked wary for some reason, like he was recognizing the precursory signs of some impending disaster.
“I don't know. An hour, maybe? Hard to track time without—Wonder what they did with my watch. It was a birthday present from my grandma. She's always nagging me about losing my stuff, but this time you'll agree that it is definitely not my fault—”
“Maybe you can try to ask for it back.”
“Yeah, right, sure.” Stiles briefly interrupted his pacing to give Scott a wry look, and then started up again.
Watching Stiles all keyed up made Allison feel incredibly weary, so she tried to doze off again. Unfortunately, Stiles seemed to have now become incapable of pacing in silence. He was holding a long uninterrupted monologue of trivial comments mixed with more serious concerns about their situation. Sometimes Scott chimed in and they discussed for a little while, but mostly Stiles didn't seem to need the input to keep talking.
When it was obvious that she wouldn't be getting any more sleep, Allison got up and walked a few steps to stretch her legs. There wasn't really enough room for more before she and Stiles were in danger of walking into each other, and she tried to ignore the claustrophobic feeling it triggered.
“What do you think was that thing, anyway?” Stiles asked, rubbing his forehead with an insistence that suggested a headache. Well, he was giving Allison a headache too, so she wasn't very inclined to sympathy. “Like, the tail and the paralytic poison pointed to a kanima, but it wasn't all lizard-like like Jackson was, and the fangs—”
Allison gritted her teeth. I'm going to kill him was on the tip of her tongue, but the comment never passed her lips: killing was something she did now, wasn’t it? She couldn't just keep making that kind of comment idly, like she was still the same person she had been only a few days before.
“Stiles,” Scott said mildly. “Shut up.”
“What? Oh. Fuck, Allison—”
Allison refused to look at Stiles—she didn't want to deal with his pity, or his disgust, or his understanding. She wished he would just change the subject and start rambling again about something else, but of course Stiles wasn't one to let anything go.
“Allison, I'm so sorry. I'm a jerk, I shouldn't have—”
“Oh my god, Stiles, please, please, just shut your mouth. Can't you just, I don't know, just sit in a corner and not talk for a few minutes? I swear, you're going to drive me insane, and—”
“Allison. Allison, hey.”
Scott came up to her and put a hand on her shoulder, holding onto her in a firm, but not restraining way, and Allison could feel from his hand all the strength he kept in check. She felt a hot rush of anger surge up in her chest: did he think she was unhinged, was that how he saw her now? And why was he trying to calm her, but had let Stiles rave for what felt like hours? She could feel that dark spot buried deep behind her ribs, the one that Deaton had warned them about, pulsate like a second heart—it made her want to lash out, scratch and bite until someone else bled.
“I'm not a spooked horse, Scott,” she snapped at him, batting his hand away. “I'm just tired, okay, I'm tired and he's getting on my nerves!”
“Yeah, I know, believe me, I know.” Scott was talking in that soothing low voice he used on animals at Deaton's. Allison had the almost uncontrollable urge to scream, but it would definitely make her look deranged so she bit her tongue to contain it. “I know you're just on edge right now, and I know that Stiles can get—a bit much. But he's not trying to be annoying, I promise you.”
“I have ADHD,” Stiles said with a shrug. “And I've been off my meds for over 48 hours now, so if you think I've been annoying then brace yourself, it's about to get a lot worse.”
He'd said it flippantly but with a hint of tension, and for the first time Allison noticed real distress under his agitation.
“Oh.” She crossed her arms and let out a soft breath, feeling her anger and annoyance deflate. “Now I feel like a jerk.”
“Don't. I know it's—Scott knew me before I was diagnosed, he can tell you horror stories about it.” Scott mock-shuddered, and it put the ghost of a smile on Stiles' face. “Sometimes it got too much even for my parents, and they loved me.”
“I just—neither of you ever said anything about it.”
Scott and Stiles shared a look. “I guess it's just one of those things, you know?” Stiles said. “A fact of life, like, the sky's blue, Lydia's smart, Finstock loves lacrosse, I have ADHD. Not much to talk about.”
Looking back, it did explain a lot about things that Allison had always chalked up to Stiles being Stiles, and she felt like an idiot for not having figured it out sooner. The awkward silence stretched for a moment until Stiles, who had kept more or less still while they were talking, started fidgeting again like he couldn't help himself. He cursed, looking beyond frustrated. He was wringing his hands, as if trying to keep them from flying off.
“How long do you think they're going to keep us locked up here, huh? Hours? Days?”
He didn't let Allison or Scott answer this and banged his head against the wall. Not hard enough to hurt himself, but the thump still made Allison wince.
“Oh my god,” he moaned. “I'm gonna die.”
“You're not going to die,” Scott said.
“I'm gonna go crazy and drag you down with me.”
Scott, whose eyebrows were aggressively trying to fuse with one another, went to Stiles and dropped an arm around him. “Hey,” he said softly, rubbing circles into his friend's shoulder. “You're gonna be okay.”
Stiles snorted in disbelief, but still leaned into the touch. Allison looked at the two of them, biting her lips.
“What do you need?” she asked.
Stiles turned to look at her. “What?”
“We're locked in here for the time being—we have no way to know when they'll let us out again, or—” Allison swallowed against the feeling that something pointy was stuck in her throat. “How can Scott and I help you cope? I don't know much about ADHD. Do you need something to keep you busy? Is that it?”
“Uh, yeah, preferably some kind of physical activity? Like, I don't think I could read right now even if we had the material.”
“Okay.” Allison tapped her lips with a finger, thinking. An idea was starting to form in her mind, and it might even be good for all of them. “There are a number of exercises that are a part of my workout routine since I started training with my dad. Obviously we can't go jogging and we don't have any equipment, but we can do pushups, and abdominal crunches, and stuff. It will keep all of us busy, and keep us fit for—whatever comes next. What do you think?”
Stiles looked at her with wonder, like he couldn't believe she'd come up with a solution that his fevered mind had missed, and Scott was dazzling her with an approving smile. Allison couldn't help feeling a warm flush of accomplishment at their reactions.
“Yeah, I think that'd be great,” Stiles said. “Thank you, Allison, you're the best.”
Allison gave him her sweetest smile. “Don't thank me yet. I'm going to work the two of you to the ground. In two hours, you will be begging for mercy.”