His footsteps are heavy on the stone floor and the door closes behind him with a dull thunk. Ennis wipes his hands on a rag and sets it on the table. The chains don’t so much as rattle and the boy’s head doesn’t lift. He eases a crooked finger under the kid’s chin, tipping it up.
The boy’s smile is bloody and he spits in Ennis’ face. “What’s up, Hatchet-face?” he says and his voice is reedy and thin.
They haven't broken him then. Ennis doesn’t want to examine why that pleases him so much.
The kid’s head lolls, the blood loss making lucidity difficult for him. “Words are still a bit much, right? It must be tough when your brain’s smaller than your bicep.”
Ennis smirks and flexes right in front of the kid’s face. His eyes blink separately. “My brain is smaller than my bicep,” he says, patting the latter. “That’s basic human anatomy there.” He leans in, huffs hot breath into the kid’s face. “Should I draw you a picture?”
Stiles actually grins. “I don’t see any crayons, Wolf-man.” He coughs, choking on his own blood. “And I suspect you might use my blood if I say yes.”
Ennis drags a finger through the dark red blood dripping down the side of Stiles’ face and holds it up to him. “I probably wouldn’t need to take any more. You’re doing a pretty good job of bleeding out right here.”
Stiles’ eyes roll back. “Happy to oblige.”
He won’t last much longer, the headstrong idiot. Ennis pulls him in by his waist, lifts him so his wrists are no longer pulled by the chains. Stiles’ legs wrap around his calves, not wanting to accept the help that’s being offered but in too much pain to fully refuse it. Ennis hefts him up higher, taking the choice out of his hands and tightening Stiles’ thighs around his waist. It’s not the first time he’s done this for him. It probably won’t be the last. “Deucalion’s going to kill you,” he says lowly. “It’s only a matter of time now.”
Stiles doesn’t look impressed. “I suspected it.” He nods and swallows like it’s painful. Ennis looks away and Stiles grins into his face. “Don’t look so sad for me, Brutus, you’ll break my heart.”
It’s what Stiles has called him since they first brought him here. Ennis hadn’t bothered to correct him but Stiles should know his name before he dies. “Ennis,” he tells him.
Stiles looks confused for a moment, like he can’t figure out how the word works in their conversation. After a minute he snorts. “Wow, Brokeback Mountain ruined that for you, huh? Ennis the equestrian.”
It shouldn’t make him laugh. It does before he can catch it.
Stiles leans his head on Ennis’ shoulder. It’s heavy and warm. “You’d probably eat it rather than ride it,” his voice fades and stretches, “and then some dude would paint you mid-bite because a wolf eating a horse? That’s art.”
“You’re delirious,” Ennis tells him.
Stiles snorts, corrects, “Just off my meds.” He leans back, stares at the place where his head rested on Ennis’ shoulder like it’s nonsensical.
Ennis remembers when they’d first brought him here, weeks ago now – Hale really is the world’s worst Alpha – he’d smelled like something antiseptic and bitter. Now he smells like earth and ash and the fiercest determination known to man. “You smell better without them,” Ennis finds himself saying.
Stiles watches him for a long moment, eyes narrowing. He tries to drop his legs but Ennis’ hands are still on the backs of his thighs. His breath comes painful and wheezy and his muscles go completely lax, giving in to Ennis’ grip. If he were to drop Stiles now, the kid wouldn’t be able to catch himself.
Ennis realizes, in this situation, Stiles trusts him. Perhaps because Ennis doesn’t torture him like Kali, mess with his mind like Deucalion, or manipulate him the way the twins try to. He’s the only one who seems to have figured out that all of it is pointless. The kid isn’t going to talk.
Stiles’ mouth widens to show teeth, blood filling the gaps. “You’re not as dumb as a box of nails, are you?” he says, voice slightly looped.
“Maybe not,” Ennis agrees gruffly. He’s wondered when Stiles would bring it up. The others treat him like he has all the intelligence of a rock, but Stiles hasn’t almost since the beginning. He’ll poke at it because he knows it’s a sore spot. Even in doing so though, he never talks down to him the way Kali and Deucalion do.
Stiles snorts. “I think I like you best, Brutus.” His eyelids flutter and he slips into unconsciousness barely a moment later, his injuries from his most recent round with Kali catching up to him.
Ennis holds him up for the next forty-five minutes regardless.
He hears Deucalion’s roar two floors up and wonders if he’s finally killed the boy. He knows better than to check now.
It’s another five minutes before Deucalion stalks into the room, stinking of Stiles’ blood and dripping it onto the hardwood. Ennis strains his ears and hears the weak thump of a heartbeat.
Still alive then.
He can’t seem to tune out from it and it follows him for hours. He gets up, listening to the snuffling, snoring sounds coming from the rooms next to his, before he makes his way down to the basement.
Despite being able to hear Stiles’ heartbeat, he’s half-convinced the body he’s looking at has no life left in it.
Stiles is back in the chains, dangling from them, and there’s blood soaking through his shirt. Ennis can’t tell where it’s coming from. “Kid?” he says when he’s nearly on top of him and he still hasn’t moved. “Stiles?” he says, more insistent.
The kid’s head jerks back and his mouth fumbles into a grin. His voice is raw and broken in fundamental ways. He sounds nothing like himself aside from the speech pattern. “Brutus, my muscle-bound captor, and how are you on this fine... whatever day it is?”
Ennis can’t quite meet his eyes. “Tuesday,” he tells him, feeling uneasy.
Stiles pulls a face. “Ugh, no, Tuesday’s are never fine. Benign maybe.” His eyes roll back and he blinks hard, lips quirking. “How are you on this benign Tuesday?”
He'll be dead soon now. The room reeks of his blood and his heartbeat is too slow. Ennis wraps a hand around him, clenches his fingers in the small of his back while black lines run up his arm.
Stiles actually sighs as the pain drains away.
Ennis can feel something sticky and open touching his fingertips. The wound is ripped into his side and his back then and, from the scent of it, the blood is still flowing freely. He lifts Stiles up and around his waist the way he usually does. “Stiles,” he says urgently, “tell him what he wants to know.”
Stiles shakes his head. He closes his eyes and breathes deeply when the motion dizzies him. “There aren’t many things worth dying for,” he says with a cheeky grin, “but ‘everything you love’ is one of them.”
Ennis growls and accuses, “It’s compliant suicide.”
Stiles looks slightly put out. “Well, that’s a glory-sapping name. I prefer to call it ‘an act of heroism.’” His grin widens. “That’s the only way people are going to sing songs of my bravery.”
Ennis rolls his eyes and scoffs. “That’s realistic,” he says sarcastically.
“I think so,” Stiles says, pleased, refusing to be put off by Ennis’ tone. He must see something in the clench of Ennis’ jaw or the shadow of his eyes because he pulls back and swallows, his expression turning serious. “Brutus?” he says, eyes hooded. “Ennis?”
Ennis looks at him, their eyes meeting. It’s one of the few times he’s allowed himself that.
“You knew this was coming,” he says, voice hard and almost his again. “There’s no way around it. I could tell Duke everything he wants to know, I could put it into nifty little haikus, he’d still kill me once I was done.”
It’s true but that doesn’t mean Ennis wants to acknowledge it. He leans back, wanting to distance himself from this half-dead kid while still keeping him from suffocating from hanging by his wrists. He looks away and his brows furrow heavily. “How did you know?” he asks quietly. “That my IQ hovered above six?”
He can see Stiles’ pale lips curving into a smile, soft and slow, from his periphery. His head falls onto Ennis’ shoulder again and his eyelids droop. Ennis isn’t sure how much of that is in his control. “You stopped asking me questions the second day I was here,” he tells him, breathing hard. “You knew almost before I did that I was never going to answer.”
Ennis grits his teeth. “I wish you would,” he says lowly.
Stiles laughs and it’s more breath than sound. “No, you don’t.” His fingers flex above his head, going from tight to loose and it’s a physical sign of his surrender.
Ennis is torn between wanting to hurt and comfort him for it. Stiles has no right to be so strong and so weak in the same moment. Not after he’s made Ennis care.
He trails the soft pads of his fingers down the side of Stiles’ face. It’s strange to use them so gently, to not want to crush what’s beneath. He smooths a thumb over Stiles’ lower lip and Stiles doesn’t flinch away. He holds Ennis’ gaze and it feels like a question that he can’t answer.
He doesn’t know what he wants but he suspects it might be to go back before Stiles was ever taken. Because Stiles makes him question things that are better left unanswered.
It was simpler without him and simple is all Ennis should want.
The metallic tang of Stiles’ blood catches in his nostrils and he knows Stiles is dying right in front of him, slowly and torturously. Ennis slides a hand over the back of his neck and draws away his pain until Stiles drifts into sleep.
Half an hour later, he steps out of the basement, closing the door behind him. The sound of the lock clicking into place is fitting punctuation to the decision he’s made.
If Ennis texts their location from a burner phone to Hale, well, that’s no one’s business but his own. He’s covered his tracks well enough that Deucalion will never trace it back to him and there’s no way an Alpha as terrible as Hale will ever put it together.
Stiles will, but Ennis knows him well enough to know he’ll guard that secret with his life.