The next few weeks were hell for Lydia. Deaton had promised it would be challenging, and he hadn't been lying. He made her fast, and take suspicious mind-altering drugs that gave her terrifying hallucinations—Peter Hale, plunging his fingers down her throat in an attempt to merge with her, shushing her and murmuring how much he needed her all the way—had her go through the same ice bath ritual her friends had. It wasn't that they didn't get any results—almost daily she could hear whispers inside her head, sometimes the crowd again, sometimes voices that she could swear were her friends. But nothing useful ever came out of it, and that was what made her frustration grow exponentially with each day.
On top of it all, she had to make sure her mother didn't suspect anything. Which meant getting up every day for school even when she was dead tired, pretending she had to work on school projects after class, locking herself up in her room when she was home, just so her mother didn't see the dark smudges under her eyes that makeup couldn't hide, or the way her hands sometimes shook. She could tell her mother was getting worried anyway, if only because she'd tried to subtly suggest Lydia start counseling again, but there was no avoiding that. Once they found her friends, everything would go back to normal—or at least, as normal as things could be in Beacon Hills.
She usually went through the school day like a zombie, barely remembering anything of it afterwards. It didn't worry her much, because she could afford to miss weeks of class and still graduate top of her year, and graduating felt like a secondary concern as long as her friends were missing anyway. It meant that when one day she found herself in the music room without a memory of how she'd gotten there, she didn't think much of it at first.
She checked her watch, saw that she only had mere minutes before her next class, and sighed in annoyance. Why had she come here? She didn't even have music class. Unless—
She'd been walking up to the door, hurrying to get to class, but she stopped herself, suddenly rigid and cold. The last time she'd been here, it had been because of one of her banshee trances. So maybe the same thing was happening here. Her heart started pounding harder.
“Okay, okay,” she murmured. “What's the message?”
She was feeling an urgent need to get out of here, so she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then another, falling into a pattern from one of the breathing exercises Deaton had taught her. She had this. She was controlling it—it wasn't something that just happened to her.
It started as a barely audible murmur at the back of her mind, too hushed and distant to be noticeable if she hadn't been listening for it. It was the sound of a crowd again, buzzing and rumbling with excitement. Lydia opened her eyes, raking her eyes around the room. It was still deserted, nothing standing out: not the empty desks and chairs, not the instruments pushed back to the side, not the... The teacher's piano. Lydia took a few steps in its direction, and thought that the crowd in her head was getting louder. She went closer, lifted up the lid, and ran her fingers over the keys. Then she pressed a few of the keys, randomly trying them for sound. She couldn't have explained what she was looking for, but when she pressed one key and the murmurs in her head increased, she knew she'd found it. She tried all the other keys, and got the same result from some of them. She then played the sequence in various orders until she found one that sounded right. Again, she couldn't have told someone else what right sounded like, but she played the notes several times until she was satisfied, and one thing Deaton had been adamant about was that she needed to trust her instinct, and not muddle the message by overthinking it.
Small tremors were running through her hands, but this time it was mostly excitement. She fumbled through the content of her school bag, found her notebook, and wrote the sequence using the numbering system she'd been taught when she'd had piano lessons as a kid. She shoved it back inside her bag and turned on her heels, planning to skip her next classes and go straight to Deaton. She was in such a hurry that she almost ran right into Aiden.
He caught her by her shoulders. “Hey! Lydia, what's going on? You look—”
“Let me go,” she said through her teeth, trying to rein in the urge to physically lash out. Not only would that be pointless given how much stronger than her he was, but she always thought of herself as above physical violence. “I have somewhere I need to be.”
“Tell me what happened,” he all but ordered her, making her hackles raise. “I followed your heartbeat, you sounded—”
“Are you stalking me?”
She shoved at him, and to his credit he stepped back willingly, looking bemused. “I just wanted to make sure you're okay. We've barely seen each other since—”
She made a disgusted sound. “That's what you're worried about? My friends are missing. I don't have the time or the right frame of mind to let you romance me. Why can't you get that?”
“I'm not suggesting you stop looking for them! Ethan and me are helping too, remember? But it doesn't mean you should stop living your life. I mean, I could help you get your mind off of things—”
He had the nerve to smirk a little there, stepping closer, like he thought it would be enough to make her run into his arms.
“No,” she said firmly, and he stilled. “What if it was your brother who was missing?” At the look on his face, she saw that it had never occurred to him that those two situations could be comparable. “I don't pretend to know anything about your relationship with him. But I care deeply about my friends. I haven't had that many people in my life I could really call that, people I could rely on. I have to do anything in my power to find them.”
“Okay,” he said, though he mostly looked confused. “I didn't mean to imply that you don't care about them. But, like, when we've found them, maybe—”
He looked hopeful. She ran through what she'd said in her mind, and realized how it could be taken as a 'later, maybe'. She hadn't planned that far, to be honest. She had no brain space for thoughts of sex or romance these days. She looked him over, at his strong, sturdy frame, and remembered running her hands all over his abs. This had been nice, she couldn't deny it. And it wasn't that she didn't care about him—as much as she'd tried to limit herself to casual hook-ups since Jackson, she just wasn't wired in a way that allowed her to not give a damn at all about people who she had sex with. But just as the memories of their moments together were flitting through her mind, other memories came in: Allison, the feeling of her curves under her hand, her laughter against her lips; Stiles, shaking and panicking, that moment she'd felt him stop breathing when she pressed her mouth to his; Scott, squeezing her fingers as he adamantly told her he'd do his best to save the people whose death she foresaw.
“Lydia?” Aiden was frowning, probably sensing something in her heartbeat or her scent that he didn't like.
She bit her lower lip. Allison, Stiles, and Scott were her friends. That was why she wanted to find them, and any other considerations were just... stray thoughts, idle fantasies. But it would be cruel to let Aiden keep his hopes up.
“I know you're trying to convince me you're a good guy, Aiden. But in order to really be a good guy, you need to convince yourself first and foremost. To do the right thing because it's right.” He opened his mouth to speak, but she didn't let him. “This isn't about me. Don't let this be about me. We had a lot of fun together, but it's over now. Do you understand?”
He looked frozen, like it had been the last thing he'd expected to hear from her. She could tell he was going to try to talk to her out of her decision, but now that she'd told him what she had to, the urgency from the message she'd received in the music room was returning, and she didn't want to waste any time getting to Deaton.
“I have to go, now,” she said. “I'm sorry,” she added, feeling a smidge of remorse at the stricken look on his face, and then marched past him, ignoring his calling her name repeatedly.
She found Deaton handling a nervous elderly couple with a puking cat, so she sat in the waiting room, studying the numbers she'd written on her notebook. She'd used that system because it had come to her naturally, and numbers always spoke to her, but now that she was looking at them the figures nagged at her mind, calling to her, like they meant something.
The sound of Deaton's voice made her jump. She'd been buried deep in her thoughts, but she'd also come to subconsciously associate him with a number of creative tortures, and it didn't matter if she'd always been a willing participant.
She got on her feet and shoved her notebook under his nose. “I got a message.”
“A message,” he repeated.
From anyone else, it would been made to sound as a question, but Deaton said the words like he was only trying them out. He looked at the numbers for a few long, careful seconds, then back at her, an expectant expression on his face.
“From the piano,” she said. She shook her head, more to clear her mind than to express negation. “I sounded it out on the piano, at least. Each number represents a key—it was just a convenient way for me to write it down, but the more I look at it, the more I think the numbers themselves mean something. How does it make sense, though? I just—”
“Trust your instinct,” he said. “Don't try to apply reason to it.”
“I know,” she replied a bit snappishly. “I know that. The numbers must be some kind of cipher. A simple substitution cipher? Something more complex?”
“Don't approach it like you would any coded message. The key to this is probably more emotional than rational.”
“How can I not use reason with a coded message? I don't know how to do this! I don't know how to turn off my brain. Damn it.”
Her hands were clutching the notebook hard enough to wrinkle the page, and she could feel her frustration mix with her exhaustion in a messy, hot ball that started in her chest and threatened to burst through her throat. Her head pounded. How was it fair? The first message she managed to get in weeks of putting herself through punishing abuse, and she wasn't equipped to read it! Stiles would be better at this, he was the one who could make crazy leaps in reasoning and have them work, who saw patterns in chaos with an infuriatingly accurate instinct. Stiles would—
“The numbers, they all—Calcium, radium, rubidium, indium, tin. Oh my god, that's it!”
She was babbling, not making any sense, and Deaton's normally unfazed composure cracked a little bit when he asked, “Lydia? What is it?” in a slightly puzzled tone.
She forced herself to slow down, grabbed the threads of the pattern she could see and weave them into something that made sense. “I think all the numbers correspond to an element in the periodic table. It's something Stiles—we were doing our chemistry homework together one day, and he said that the elements could be used to code a message, and I said it would limit the content of that message, but—Look! 20 is calcium, so Ca,” she said as she wrote it down. “And 88 is radium. 37 is rubidium—”
She frowned at the result: CaRaRbInSn. “It doesn't look like a word. A name, maybe? I imagine that some vowels have to be inserted between the consonants...”
She tried a few combinations until she found one that worked for her. “Cararobinson,” she read out loud. “Cara Robinson? Definitely a name, then. But without any context, I don't know how useful it can be.”
Her excitement over deciphering the message was dropping, and she felt once again defeated and tired. This person could be anyone, and this was assuming that Lydia hadn't made any mistake about it. It felt right to her, but if you looked at it logically, then it didn't make any sense how that message could have gotten to her through such convoluted ways. How could she be sure?
She fell the weight of Deaton's hand rest on her shoulder. “We'll tell the Sheriff about it. He'll know what to do with that information. You did your part.”
She would have liked to do so much more, but she was tired enough that hearing this still brought her some measure of comfort. This was progress. She needed to take it one day at a time.
They were only left in the cages for one night, and then immediately transferred somewhere else, to Allison's relief. On the way there, they speculated about why they had been moved twice in such a short time, and why they'd been put somewhere that had obviously not been designed for people-sized beings.
“Something made them change their plans,” Stiles guessed. “They had to move us but none of their hide-outs were... available? Or safe? I don't know, but something made them rush this.”
There was no way they could use this, supposing they were even right about it, but it was comforting to think that things weren't completely going their captors' way. When they arrived to their new location, instead of being taken to a new cell they were led into a different kind of room: the walls were bare but there were tatamis on the floor, a rack holding knives of various sizes, and wooden planks painted with targets on one end of the room. Allison, Stiles, and Scott looked at each other, unsure of what was going on.
“Look happy, kids, because this is recreation time,” Miller said. “Training,” she clarified when they returned her with blank stares. “You've done very well so far, much better than we ever expected.” She smiled a bright, excited smile that reminded Allison uncomfortably of her aunt. “You getting time to train will make for a better show. You can probably learn a lot from each other.”
Her eyes lingered on Stiles, who bristled, but then Miller looked at Allison with a knowing smile. Allison felt her hackles raise at the implicit challenge.
“Also,” Miller said, “don't assume that because we're leaving you alone in a room with weapons you have more chances to escape than usual. We're just outside the door. If you're looking for trouble, all you'll get is a bullet—hopefully somewhere non-vital, but no guarantee.”
She patted the gun at her belt meaningfully, before leaving the room.
“She knows who you are,” Stiles said to Allison.
“Yeah,” Allison murmured, her eyes on the closed door.
“She didn't before, though. She must have done her research. I have to give her credit there: she must have balls of steel for being willing to endure Chris Argent's wrath.”
“What could she do, though?” Scott said. “It's not like giving back Allison with a note of apologies will soothe Allison's dad: 'oops, we're sorry, we didn't know. No hard feelings, right?' I can just imagine his face.”
Stiles snickered, and Allison cut in irritably, “I don't think Miller's in charge here, anyway. Remember that man you saw, Scott? He must be the one behind all this. I doubt this kind of man would be afraid of my dad.”
“Your dad's pretty scary,” Scott said.
“To a sixteen-year-old who wants into his daughter's pants, maybe,” Allison replied. She didn't want to think about her dad; every time she did she automatically thought back to how she'd lectured him about their new hunter code, and how far she'd fallen from it. Nous protégeons ceux qui ne peuvent se protéger eux-mêmes. Yeah, right. “Okay, we don't know how much time we're given to train, so we should get started. Stiles? Let's go over the bases again now that we have actual room to spar.”
Scott went to poke at the knives, and Stiles shuffled his feet toward the center of the room with Allison, grumbling a little.
“What?” she said, annoyed. “Don't you want to get better?”
He sighed, and the expression on his face shifted—she realized then that he had merely been giving her shit, but he now looked serious. “No, yeah, I want to. It's not like I don't know that out of the three of us, I'm the lesser fighter, to put it mildly.”
“Don't sell yourself short. You've done very well for someone who's never been trained.”
He smiled. “Don't act too nice with me, Allison, or it'll go to my head. Anyway, I'll probably always be the most obvious target, because Scott is a fucking werewolf, and you, like, hold yourself like a warrior.” He sounded matter-of-fact rather than like he was trying to pay her a compliment. “We can use this to our advantage, as long as I can actually give them some hell.”
“Okay, so let's do this.”
They worked on the bases for a little while: she corrected his stance, showed him how to throw a punch and give it more power by turning his foot and rotating his body, demonstrated a basic round kick to him.
“It's preferable that you hit your opponent with your shin rather than your foot: the shin is the hardest, largest bone on the leg that you can use in a fight.”
“Okay, roger that. Hard is good.” She made a face and he smirked impishly. “Sorry.”
Scott had abandoned the knives and was watching them, and Allison beckoned him to come over.
“Are you just going to laze around while we're working?” she said, smiling to show that she was teasing. “Why don't you join us?”
“I don't know, I'm—I mean, I'm a lot stronger than you two. I could hurt you.”
Allison rolled her eyes. “You don't go around breaking stuff all the time, do you? So you're in total control of your strength. Stiles and I will be fine. Come on, I want to show Stiles how to do a clinch hold. I'll use you as a training dummy.”
He raised his eyebrows, but didn't comment and walked up to her. When she told him to he compliantly folded on himself so she could hook an arm over his neck while he circled her chest so that they were holding each other in a neutral lock. Scott's face was pressed to the side of her chest and she had her nose almost in his hair. He was warm against her, a block of compact muscles, and she could feel his heartbeat reverberating in her back.
“Okay, so—” She cleared her throat, finding her mouth a bit too dry to speak. “Here Scott and I have each other in an underhook, so none of us have the advantage. Having two underhooks is the advantageous position. You can transition to this position from double underhooks—let me show you.”
They kept training and after a while, Allison ceased to be so acutely aware of Scott and it became more comfortable. Allison and Stiles wrestled each other for practice, and then Scott and Stiles tried sparring too but it quickly dissolved into good old-fashioned rough-housing, both of them rolling over the floor like two over-sized puppies.
“Okay, quit it, you two!” Allison admonished them, although she was trying to hide a smile. It was fun to watch them act as they should, like two teenage boys who had been best friends from childhood.
Scott had pinned Stiles to the floor, holding him there by pressing all his weight down on his chest, and they were both laughing when the door opened. The boys' laughter died at once, and Allison stiffened. Scott sprang to his feet and held a hand out to help Stiles up. The man who'd just entered was holding his rifle like he was ready to use it, and he was shadowed by two similarly armed men. Miller was nowhere to be seen.
“Playtime's over,” the man said gruffly. “You're getting back to your cell.”
Scott walked over to the door, not threatening in any way, but he still earned himself a hard look. “No funny business, mutt.”
Scott held his hands palm up. “I won't try anything. I promise.”
The man narrowed his eyes like he found Scott's very earnest tone suspicious, which admittedly was fair for someone who didn't know Scott's infinite capacity for earnestness. They were all patted down to check if they weren't taking any of the knives back to their cell, then ushered out of the room at gunpoint.
Allison wasn't surprised when the next day they were taken out for a new fight. Allison and Stiles were both given knives—a pair of 7-inch steel blades with leather handles—and Allison regretted not doing any knife training the day before. She talked Stiles very quickly through it: “Your stance is very important, okay? You need to be very mobile—don't hold your knife that way! You risk cutting yourself. Hold it forward—look, let me—”
She arranged his fingers around the handle to her satisfaction, then closed her own fingers on his wrist, holding his eyes for a moment. “Don't stab yourself with this, or I'll be very pissed.”
“Pointy end goes into the enemy, got it.”
Allison exchanged a concerned look with Scott: the weapons, added to the fact that they'd been given time to train, meant that the organizers were upping the violence. Scott had his claws and fangs out and his eyes burned red. The other end of the cage opened, and the hum from the audience's idle chatter cranked up a notch, becoming high-pitched and excited.
Two teenagers were pushed inside, both boys: one of them was a big bulky black guy with a passing resemblance to Boyd, while the other was a thinner white boy with a mop of dark hair. They both looked outwardly human, no visible fangs or claws, no tails, no glowing eyes. All the other chimeras had already changed when the fight started, and the apparent harmlessness of their opponents made Allison uneasy.
“We let them come to us,” Stiles whispered while their fight was announced in the usual grandiloquent terms. “Don't let them touch you before we have an inkling of what they can do.”
“We need to get close if we want to get to use the knives,” Allison said.
“Then Scott, maybe—”
“I'll attack them,” Scott said immediately. “Force them to show us their moves.”
“There's two of them, though,” Allison said. “We don't even know if they're the same—mash-up.”
They didn't have any more time to talk strategy, because the bell rung and it was time to fight. Allison felt her previous nervousness dissipate: her heartbeat settled down, her breathing slowed. Scott ran to the two boys, trying to take them at once, but maybe they'd discussed strategy with each other too because they immediately sprang apart, leaving Scott to deal with the black kid.
“Let's take on this one together,” Stiles murmured to Allison. She merely nodded her approval.
Their opponent had a handsome, friendly face, the kind Allison could see herself falling for if they hadn't been facing each other in a death match. He was also watching them with a calculating look that took Allison by surprise. In their previous matches their opponents had been enraged, almost out of it, to the point Allison had wondered if something had been done to them to make them more combative. They'd been able to exploit it and it had allowed them to come on top every time, but she could see it wasn't going to work out as well this time. She shared a look with Stiles—his face was bleak, so he had probably come to the same conclusion.
The three of them circled each other for a moment, until the chimera lost patience and jumped at Stiles, probably having judged him the weakest. Stiles slashed at the space between, preventing the kid from getting closer, and Allison took advantage of the fact that Stiles had their enemy's attention to circle around him, trying to catch him from behind. She managed to grab him in a chokehold, but then she felt something tug at her sleeve and she yelped in surprise, reflexively letting her prisoner go.
“What the hell!” Stiles exclaimed. “That looked—”
Stiles didn't have the time to heed Scott's warning before he was jumped by the guy Scott had been fighting. Scott, all wolfed out and bleeding from a few different wounds, immediately rushed to his friend's help, tearing the black kid off Stiles and hurling him against the fence, triggering cries of delighted fear from the spectators who'd been standing a little too close.
“He has—little mouths—everywhere!” panted Scott. “On his neck, on his, his—”
Allison had no more than a second to puzzle over what he meant. The guy she'd let go had scuttled away from her to go after Stiles again. He chopped at Stiles' ankle, making him lose balance. Stiles fell on his hands and knees, and before he could get up or roll over to have enough leverage to use his knife, his opponent had pinned him to the ground.
The one Scott had thrown against the fence was getting back to his feet, so Allison shouted at Scott, “Take care of him!” before she ran to Stiles' aid. Stiles was trying to throw his opponent off him, but when the guy grabbed him by the shoulder, Stiles screamed in pain.
What the—He just touched him!
Do you think Stiles has time for your musings, Allison?
Her mother's voice snapped Allison right back into the fight, and she grappled with the guy wrestling Stiles to make him let go. When she managed to tear him away she caught sight of the palm of his hand: in the middle of it there was an oval mouth full of sharp teeth, hungrily gnawing away at nothing.
Allison recoiled a bit in horror. Oh god.
She wrapped her arm around his torso and tripped him, bringing him down too fast for him to use that horrible mouth on her. She pinned him to the ground and straddled his back, trapping his arms under her knees, and at first he tried to push himself up. When he couldn't get her off him, he tried to wriggle from under her and escape at her rear.
You need to finish him NOW!
Allison clamped her knees tighter and leaned over the kid, who was swearing under his breath. “Shit, shit. Get off me, bitch!”
She grabbed his thick mane of brown hair to tilt his head toward her and he squeaked, eyes moving wildly in panic. With her knife, she cut the exposed throat. The deeper you go, the quicker it will be. This was something her father had told her, but she still heard it in her mother's voice. Blood squirted from the severed carotid, splashing Allison's hand. The kid's eyes had turned completely white and he was gasping and coughing, ugly garbling coughs that made the blood flow harder. Allison waited until the stream of blood started to dry up, then wiped her hands on her shirt and stood up, leaving her victim weakly squirming on the floor.
“And this is another win for our favorite team!” The audience exploded with joy.
Allison looked for Stiles, who was had risen to his knees, clasping his bloody shoulder. Then she looked for Scott, who was standing, looking down on the body at his feet. The Boyd-lookalike was dead too, no visible blood on him but with his head at an odd angle from his shoulders. Scott must have snapped his neck.
Stiles met her eyes. “We're alive,” he said.
She went to help him up, and took a moment to breathe into his neck as she did.
“Yes, we are,” she murmured. That had to count for something.
In the shower, while Allison mutely washed the blood off her hands, Scott helped Stiles clean up his wound to the best of his ability, pulling away his pain through the process.
“What the hell was—that thing?” Stiles ground out, twisting his neck to try to look at the wound. “Did you see his hand? That was teeth, right? There was like, like a mouth—oh god, he bit me with his fucking hand!”
“Stop moving so much,” Scott murmured as he examined the bite: there was a series of puncture marks forming a circle at the junction between Stiles' neck and shoulder. They were small but looked deep, and if they'd really been made by teeth Stiles was running a high risk of infection. Scott's stomach clenched at the thought.
When he was done cleaning the marks were still bleeding sluggishly, so Scott sacrificed a band of the clean t-shirt they'd been given to dress Stiles' shoulder. When he tried asking for some medical supplies, all he got in return was grumbles from the guards.
Stiles pat him on the shoulder and said, “I'll be fine.”
Allison, who hadn't spoken at all since the end of the fight, brushed off Scott's concern in a similar way. “I'm okay,” she said. “It was just—a little gorier than usual, I guess.”
“You were pretty hardcore out there,” Stiles offered, and the smile Allison returned him looked almost genuine, so Scott told himself not to worry.
The first thing he did upon waking up the next day was to check Stiles' wound, and he found that the skin around the puncture marks was red and puffy.
“It looks infected,” he said, trying to think past the uncomfortably hard pounding of his heart.
He exchanged a look with Allison and read the same worry there: if it got worse, would the guards give them medical supplies? Would they let them see a doctor? It wasn't as if their captors would lose a second of sleep if one of them died.
He took a closer look at the wounds, pressing a bit against the edges until Stiles hissed, and saw that one of them was oozing a yellowish fluid. Yeah, definitely infected.
“How are you feeling?” he asked Stiles, who had been uncharacteristically quiet through the examination.
“Okay,” Stiles said. “Tired, I guess,” he added, then shrugged his other shoulder.
They were all tired, of course—Scott wasn't sure he could remember what it felt like to be fully rested—but Stiles sounded flat in a way Scott didn't like. He was holding himself still but not in a tense way, and it was unusual because not moving should be an effort for Stiles, but now he was pliant in Scott's hands like an articulated doll. Scott frowned and pressed a hand against the back of Stiles' neck.
“It feels like you have a fever.”
Stiles sighed, like all the emotion he could muster about it was weariness. “I'm guessing this isn't good.”
“No, it isn't.”
Scott pressed his lips together, then went to the door of their cell and started pounding on it. “Hey!” he called. “Hey! My friend's sick! Can you hear me? Hey!”
The eventual response was a hard pound from the other side of the door, enough that the panel shook from it.
“Yes, we can fucking hear you, mutt!” barked a harsh male voice. “Stop yapping or I'll shoot a bullet to your kneecap.”
Scott now knew to take that kind of threat seriously, but Stiles' health was at stake and he couldn't back down. “My friend's sick,” he repeated.
“What is it to me?”
“His wound got infected,” Scott explained as calmly as he could, even though he could feel his growing claws dig into his palms. He thought he might recognize the voice, and unless he was mistaken this particular guard didn't seem needlessly cruel. Maybe he could be reasoned with.
“Can you get us anything to help? Even just some clean water and soap.”
Only silence answered him, but at least it meant that the guard was thinking about it. Scott decided to press his luck. “If it gets worse, he could die. Do you think your boss would want him to die here rather than in a spectacular fight in the cage?”
The guard groaned, mumbled “okay,” and Scott heard his footsteps echo away.
He went back to Stiles, who had sat in a corner with his arms around his knees and leaned against Allison on his uninjured side. Scott kneeled in front of him, and Stiles looked up.
“You really showed him who's the Alpha, Scotty,” he said. “'M proud of you, man.” His eyes had an unhealthy shine to them and his cheeks were flushed.
“They've kept us alive so far.” Scott tried to discreetly wipe his bloody palms over his dark pants, but Allison caught him doing it and shot him a look. “I don't think they'd want us to die when they can't bank on it.”
“Why am I not feeling comforted?” Stiles muttered, then pressed his forehead against his crossed arms.
Scot swallowed uneasily, his worry having materialized into a lump blocking his throat. The fact that Stiles wasn't complaining about his wound, that had to sting like hell, or about the fever, did nothing to reassure him. Quite the opposite, actually, because Stiles was the type to whine endlessly over a stubbed toe, but walk on a broken leg in stoic silence. That he was so quiet right now meant he probably felt like utter shit.
“Hey,” he called softly, cupping the nape of Stiles' neck again, but this time to comfort rather than to check his temperature. “You rest up, okay? Lie down with Allison.”
Immediately, Allison tugged Stiles down until he had his head on her lap, accompanying the movement with soothing murmurs: “Okay, come here, yeah, there you go.”
“I want it to be noted that I'm only caving because Scott looks ready to cry,” Stiles said, burying his face against Allison's thigh.
“That's not true!”
Stiles opened an eye. “Sure it isn't. You big bad Alpha wolf, you.”
Allison chuckled softly, stroking a hand over Stiles' arm, and Scott fought a smile. Stiles would be fine; Scott wouldn't accept any other eventuality. He silently repeated his promise to himself, setting it in stone: you will get them out of this; nothing matters but Stiles and Allison's survivals.
The guard brought them a basin of clear water and a bar of soap, and Scott went to work, washing the bite as thoroughly as he could, while Stiles bit down on his knuckles, stifling sounds of pain and curses.
“What the fuck are you doing back there?” he asked through gritted teeth. “Feels like you're slicing through my shoulder again, and let me tell you, once was enough.”
“Sorry, sorry,” Scott said quickly, wincing as more fluid spurted from one the marks. He started pulling away more of Stiles' pain, but Stiles shrugged him off.
“No, stop it. You're going to take on too much of it.”
“Okay, fine. Here, I'm done.”
Stiles turned and sagged against him, looking spent, and Scott let him rest there for a moment, curling a hand on the back of his head. Since they couldn't reuse the soiled piece of fabric Scott had first bandaged the wound with, Allison tore a band from her own clothes and offered it to Scott. He tried not to let his eyes linger on the sliver of skin from her midriff revealed by the tear.
Once he was bandaged again Stiles quickly fell asleep on Allison and Scott settled on her other side, throwing their blanket over them for warmth. Stiles slept fitfully, twitching and whining against Allison. He smelled like anxiety, but it wasn't unusual for Stiles and he needed the rest so they let him sleep, talking softly so they wouldn't risk waking him up.
“Do you think he'll be okay?” Allison asked. She was playing with Stiles' hair, messing with it and then smoothing it back.
“He'll be fine. Stiles's made of tough stuff. Bacteria aren't going to be the things that wear him down.”
“Scott.” Allison cocked her head, giving him a sideway glance. “Don't. Don't lie to me because you're afraid I can't handle the truth. I'm part of this nightmare too. We're a team, okay?”
Scott ducked his head. “Sorry. Sometimes I forget you're made of tough stuff too.” He felt gratified when it wrenched a smile out of her. “The truth is, I don't know. If we had access to antibiotics, if we could get him to a doctor, then it wouldn't be a problem. The fever worries me, but I wasn't entirely joking about Stiles being tough: his immune system is iron-clad. Trust me on this; I've rarely ever seen him get sick.”
“Okay,” she murmured.
She felt warm and solid against his side, and Scott couldn't help but admire the way the sunbeams falling from the high window drew golden lines on her dark curls, the shadows nestled in the hollow of her throat, the sweet roundness of her cheeks.
“What?” she said, a hint of laughter in her voice. “What are you looking at?”
“You,” Scott said. He hesitated a second before going on, but they were living on borrowed time, so he should speak his mind whenever he could. “You're just so beautiful.”
She shook her head as if to counter his words, but he knew her, and knew what that dimple at the corner of her mouth meant: she was pleased by the compliment. She smelled like it, too.
“I'm not,” she said. “My hair's a mess, I'm wearing sweatpants and a torn t-shirt, and I think Stiles is drooling on me.”
“You don't need anything to look beautiful.”
She looked at him, and for a moment he couldn't breathe as he read in her eyes the same longing he felt. He thought maybe she would try to kiss him, and slightly parted his lips in anticipation, but the moment passed and she broke eye contact, saying lightly, “You're so corny.”
“I know,” he replied in the same tone. “Stiles tells me I should write Hallmark cards.”
“For once I happen to agree with him.”
They kept chatting on and off as the hours stretched indefinitely, only touching trivial topics like how hard Coach Finstock was probably riding the lacrosse team to compensate for Scott's absence, what superhero movie they wanted next, whether Lydia's hair qualified as red or strawberry blond and exactly how many pairs of shoes she owned. Scott saw Allison's leg jerk involuntarily before she shifted her weight with a wince, and he asked her, “Do you want to switch? You haven't moved for a long time, you must be feeling pretty stiff.”
Allison looked down on Stiles, whose eyes were moving wildly behind their lids. “We're going to wake him up if we move.”
“He'll go right back to sleep. The fever's knocking him down pretty hard.”
Scott took on Stiles' weight and held him while Allison wriggled from underneath him. Once she was free she stretched her legs with obvious relish, and Scott settled Stiles on his own lap; he had slept through the whole procedure and simply burrowed his face against Scott's stomach. He still felt hot to the touch, but any source of heat felt good in the coolness of their cell. Looking at the way his friend trustingly snuggled against him, Scott felt a swell of affection bubble inside his chest. Stiles looked so young like this, a throwback to their childhood years.
Allison scoffed. “It looks like we're pretty interchangeable to him.” She looked at her pants and made a disgusted sound. “Look at this,” she said, pointing at a darker spot on the fabric. “He did drool on me, the jerk.”
Scott laughed, threading his fingers through Stiles' hair, noting how long it was now, and eventually Allison joined him. Her laugh was the best sound in the world, and he didn't care if that was a corny thought. He took a breath in, enjoying the way Allison and Stiles smelled a bit like him and like each other, as was always the case these days. For an instant there, his only wish was that they would be allowed to stay like this forever, the three of them huddled together in the protection of their cell.
Stiles woke up on someone's lap, to the feeling of someone stroking his hair. He assumed it was Allison at first—his last clear memory was of falling asleep on her—but then the hand moved to cup his face and it was too big to be Allison's. It was tempting to keep pretending to be asleep and indulge in the comfort provided, but now that he was genuinely awake Stiles could feel the urge to move like a series of electrical shocks running through his limbs. He opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was Scott's smiling face.
“How're you feeling?” Scott asked.
Stiles sat up with a groan, working the crick in his neck. He was sore everywhere, but at least he was relatively clear-headed and didn't feel anymore like there was burning sand behind his eyelids. His wound still stung, but not as much as it had before, which he took to be a good sign from his hazy memories of what he'd read about wound infection. He thought he might have been dreaming, and it left him with a fuzzy head and a foul taste in his mouth, but he couldn't remember anything about it. He actually couldn't remember any of his dreams since the kidnapping, but he figured it was probably for the best.
“I feel like shit,” he said with a heartfelt scowl, which for some reason made Scott grin even wider. “Dude, were you petting me?”
Scott responded with an unapologetic shrug. Allison was in the middle of their cell, doing push-ups. She stopped when she saw Stiles looking, and wiped her face with the back of her hand. Stiles took a moment to appreciate the way her sweaty shirt clung to her chest.
“How long did I sleep?” he asked, rubbing at his eyes and trying to get all the grit out.
“Most of the day,” Allison said. She tipped her chin in direction of the window and the dimming light that came from it.
Scott pressed a hand on his forehead and Stiles tried not to lean into the touch. “You still feel warm,” Scott said. “But better than this morning.”
“I'll be fine,” Stiles said, unconcerned.
“Scott told me about your marvelous immune system,” Allison said.
“It is a thing of wonder,” Stiles said, punctuating his statement with a raised finger. “When I was a kid I ate all kinds of stuff off the floor and never once got sick from it. I ran around half-naked all the time, and—Oh, woah.”
He'd started getting up as he talked, but his vision greyed at the edges and he swayed on his feet. Scott caught him before he could fall, guiding him back to the floor.
“Hey, take it easy, Rambo. You need to drink something, you must be pretty dehydrated from the fever. We kept your share of water.”
Allison brought him a half empty bottle of mineral water, and it was only when Stiles felt the divinely cool liquid down his throat that he realized just how thirsty he was. He gulped it down despite Scott's admonitions to take his time, until he choked and coughed up water all over his t-shirt.
“Why do you never listen to me?” Scott said mildly, giving him totally unhelpful slaps on the back.
“When do I listen to anyone?” Stiles said, but looked mournfully at the wet spots on his shirt. He shouldn't have wasted water; he knew they wouldn't be getting anything else for the day, and he had a suspicion that Allison and Scott had saved him more than his fair share.
They'd saved him some food too, more bland rice, and even though Stiles felt slightly nauseated he automatically forced himself to eat. He felt weak and a bit shaky, and knew he needed to keep his strength up. Eating awakened his appetite, and he was actually more hungry when he was done than before, but his rumbling stomach had become a constant companion—he had a theory that the amount of food they were given was probably calculated to keep them in a good enough shape to keep fighting, while weakening them enough that they didn't have the energy for anything else.
After his meal there was still some daylight left, and Stiles was now wide awake and too wired to even think about going back to sleep. Even though his wound hurt like a bitch he tried to do some sit-ups, but he was still feeling too poorly for that sort of exercising and almost blacked out after a series.
“Settle down,” Allison told him firmly, shoving at him until he sat with his back on the wall.
They played several rounds of twenty questions, then charades. They tried to play Hangman but without anything to write with they lost track of what letter had been used already, and they tried Never I Have Ever, but it was kind of boring without alcohol. None of it was enough to capture Stiles' attention and he kept drifting away, missing his turn or getting confused about which game they were playing at the moment. His body was out of his control and he couldn't stop wriggling his leg, drumming his fingers on his thighs, shifting position every five seconds. It was annoying because he knew he was getting too restless to be able to sleep later, but there was nothing he could do about it.
At some point Allison caught his hand in hers and squeezed it, so he stilled. By now it was dark outside, but still early enough that the electric light was on in the hallway and filtered through the opening on the door, and Stiles could make out Allison's face and the way she was frowning at him.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Don't apologize,” she said.
It sounded like an order and he half-smiled, wondering how inappropriate it would be to tell her that her bossiness was kind of a turn-on.
“What else can we do?” Scott said, sounding anxious.
Good old Scotty, always so eager to help, Stiles thought fondly. He scratched his cheek—they hadn't been able to shave since they'd been kidnapped and the growing stubble itched like crazy. Even more annoying was the way the hair on his face grew in mangy patches, making his wannabe beard probably look ridiculous. Stiles' mellow feeling towards his friend turned into annoyance when he thought about Scott's ability to grow a proper beard. How unfair was that?
“Hey.” Allison wiggled her fingers in front of his face. “Are you with me?”
“Okay, so you can't exercise,” she said in a 'thinking out loud' voice, “but you'd feel better if you were engaged physically, am I right?”
“Yeah, but there aren't a whole lot of things we can do locked up in here.”
“Maybe if—you—” Allison was still holding his hand, and Stiles became a lot more aware of it when he realized that she had moved closer to him. “Something physical?” Her other hand suddenly materialized at the top of his thigh.
Scott made a surprised sound, and Stiles spluttered. “What are you—what? Allison, it sounds like you're offering to give me a handjob or something.” He tried to laugh, but it came out kind of strangled.
“Well,” Allison said, a little impatiently. “Would it help?”
“Er.” What was he supposed to answer to that? “I don't know. Maybe?”
“Okay. It can't hurt to try. Is it alright with you, Scott?”
Stiles couldn't hear Scott's mumbled answer through the deafening sound of his heart thumping inside his chest, but it must have been affirmative because then Allison was unlacing Stiles' pants while he gaped at her. This might have been, he thought dazedly, one of the most amazing things to ever happen to him in his short and yet eventful life, and the context was so unlikely that Stiles wondered for a moment if he was dreaming a badly scripted porn movie. It had to be a fever dream; there was no way this was reality.
Allison's hand closed around his dick and he gasped. “Oh my god.”
He was ashamed to admit to himself that that mere touch felt like heaven, the pain of his wound taking a temporary background to the pleasure. Allison's grasp on him was neither too tight nor too loose, and her hand was calloused from weapon handling but Stiles didn't mind it at all. She's gotten so close to him that their foreheads almost touched, and he could smell her—clean sweat and a whiff of the industrial soap they were given, but Stiles was used to the boys' locker room, and in comparison to that Allison's scent was a divine fragrance.
“Like this?” she asked.
“A little—a little faster, maybe? A little rougher.”
She smirked, the dimple that popped at the corner of her mouth giving her a wicked look. “I can do that.”
She sped up her thrusts and Stiles thumped his head against the wall, trying not to come too quickly. He noticed that Allison's breathing had changed, becoming harsher and faster: evidence that this was affecting her too—that he was affecting her, or maybe it was only the situation—and she wasn't just performing an impersonal service. He felt his abdomen contract with the spike of arousal that the realization brought.
“You—you can touch me,” she said, her voice higher-pitched than normal. “If you want to.”
Scott made a noise at that moment, halfway between a moan and a grunt. Stiles had almost forgotten he was there, and he tried to look at him past Allison, but Scott was swathed in shadows and Stiles could only see that he was sitting with his legs spread, chest heaving as he watched them.
“Do you mind if I—um,” Scott said, sounding singularly breathless.
“Oh, uh, suit yourself, buddy,” Stiles said, and Scott didn't waste time shoving a hand down his own pants.
“Touch me, Stiles,” Allison said, and this time she sounded more authoritative than tentative. She had wedged herself between his thighs, his knees framing her hips.
“Okay, yeah, I want to, believe me, I do, but—oh—where, where can I—” he babbled, reaching out at the same time and touching her ribs.
“Wherever you want.”
She'd breathed out her answer and Stiles groaned, closing his eyes. God, this was porn, actual, real life porn, and his heart felt like it was trying to jump out of his ribcage, so it might just be the thing to kill him. Death by porn. How utterly ironic. He palmed her breasts through the fabric of her t-shirt—she had no bra, because her last one had disappeared with their original clothes, and apparently the Murder Tournament organizers didn't feel that bras were an essential item to be a killer. And for once, Stiles thought he might agree with them as he felt Allison's nipples harden under his thumb, and was rewarded by a hitch in her breathing.
“Allison, Alli—I think I'm—”
Scott was panting in the background, each of his breath loud and heavy in the silence of their cell. Allison's breath felt warm against Stiles' lips, not even an inch away. One twist of her wrist and Stiles' orgasm seared through him, and he had to bite his lip so he wouldn't scream and attract the guards' attention.
He opened his eyes, and saw that Allison was still very close, enough that he would just have to lean forward to kiss her. It felt like it was a moment made for kissing, but with Scott right there—Scott whose breathing had slowed down, so he must have come at about the same time Stiles had—it just seemed wrong somehow, and Stiles couldn't bring himself to cross the gap. Then the moment passed and Allison broke away from him, leaving him feeling the cool temperature more acutely than before. She licked her hand, and because Stiles' brain functions were just rewiring, it took him a few seconds to get that she was actually licking his come off of herself. He had to give his dick a stern little squeeze to remind it that playtime was over.
“Do you need—”
“I'm okay. Don't worry about it. We should go to sleep,” Allison said, flashing him a quick smile.
The reminder that, if today had been a day off, then tomorrow they may have to fight whether Stiles felt up for it or not, efficiently doused any leftover arousal he might suffer from.
“Yeah,” Scott said, sounding a little dumbfounded. “Yeah, sleep.”
They spooned for the night, and, even though it wasn't Stiles' turn to be in the middle, Allison and Scott concertedly tugged him down between them and he was too wiped out to protest. Maybe it should have been uncomfortable after what had just happened, but mostly it just felt normal, safe. Once they had settled with Allison at his back and Scott on his front, Stiles leaned in to murmur into Scott's ear, “You're not mad at me, are you?”
Scott reached back, and fumbled a little until he had a firm grasp on Stiles' forearm. “Never,” he said.