"And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial."
--Antony, Julius Caesar
"Death can not stop true love; all it can do is delay it for a while."
--Westley, The Princess Bride
“Stiles.” Genna is already running up as he climbs out of the second car, scowling as she looks him over. “Well, you've still got all your limbs, at least. What the hell?” she demands. “Jonas called over the radio, said you'd been hit. What happened? You look fine.”
“Yeah; he overreacted a little.” Stiles glances over at the kid currently sliding out of the passenger seat and doing his best to stay hidden behind the car. “I got some claws to the back, but nothing major. It doesn't even hurt much; just kind of itches.”
“You let it get behind him?” Genna glares at Jonas, who looks about ready to piss himself. Stiles can't blame the kid; the most unhinged werewolves he's ever seen have nothing on the power of Genna's glare, especially with her grey eyes gleaming nearly silver in the moonlight. “You had one job, damn it! Watch the flank, sound the alarm if anything closes in. How hard is that?”
“Go easy on him,” Stiles says quietly, laying a hand on her arm to pull her attention back to him. “It was a mistake; it happens. You know how hectic it can get out there, and he's just a kid.”
“Exactly,” she hisses under her breath, turning her glare on him. “He's just a kid. He wasn't ready to go out tonight, and I never should've let you talk me into agreeing to it.”
“Hey, everyone's gotta get their first time out of the way sooner or later, right?” Stiles says, and smiles when she snorts. “Maybe this is even a good thing. I'm not hurt that bad, and he's scared shitless now that he knows what can happen if he gets sloppy. Think of it as an important life lesson.”
“I'll think of it as evidence that he needs to get his ass back in basic training for at least a month before he goes out again,” she counters, loud enough for Jonas to hear. “But you're not wrong about the other thing.” She sighs, rolling her neck from side to side. “Jonas, help Tucker get the gear inside, and make sure it's cleaned properly this time, or I'll have both your asses.”
“So what did poor Tucker do to get on your bad side?” Stiles asks as they head into the house; Genna glances over as they walk past the glowering mountain of a man sulkily gathering the bags from the back of the SUV. “He call you by your full name again?”
“Said my new haircut makes me look like Draco Malfoy,” she says dryly, and Stiles bursts out laughing.
“Not true,” he chuckles. “You're way too tall to be Draco.”
“Oh, thanks, I feel so much better now.”
Genna sighs, unlocking the back door and stepping into what Stiles has affectionately labeled the War Room—a once-cozy den now cluttered with charts and old news reports, the walls covered in maps stuck with multi-colored pushpins. It's empty this time of night; everyone else is asleep or gone home, and the other members of their teams start filing through on the way to the kitchen, talking and laughing quietly.
“I don't like that you got hurt,” she finally says, stripping off her jacket and hoodie in the heat of the house, leaving her in a black tank top that reveals a fresh scattering of bruises along the pale skin of her upper arms.
“Likewise.” He raises his eyebrows at her when she looks up, surprised, and glances significantly at her arms. “What we do is dangerous; people get hurt sometimes. Hell, I've gotten worse than this before when I was on a hunt with you.”
“Exactly,” she snaps. “You were with me. I was there, I had your back, I knew you'd be okay.”
“I am okay,” Stiles says irritably. “I'm not some damsel in distress here, Genna; I've been trained for this.”
“That doesn't make me any less responsible for you. You're part of my crew, and it's my job to keep you safe.” She crosses her arms and stares up at him, eyes narrowed and jaw clenched. “You weren't safe tonight.”
“I was as safe as I could be, doing what we do.” He moves to stand beside her, bumping her shoulder with his. “You know what I think? I think you're just pissed my team got to the target first,” he says, and from the corner of his eyes, he can see her fighting a smile.
“Maybe that, too.”
“Hey, I told you the harbor was our best bet; you were the one who insisted on checking out the Fens.”
“You're trying to distract me.”
“You're observant,” Stiles says teasingly. “Look, there's just no reason to get worked up over this. We did what we set out to do, didn't we? A monster off of the streets, innocent lives saved, all that.” He bumps her shoulder again. “That's a good thing.”
“Yeah.” Genna uncrosses her arms and runs a hand through her hair. “Yeah, you're right. I'm sorry, I'm just . . . I get worried.” She glances up at him, and he's abruptly aware of how close together they're standing. “I'd feel better if you were with me.”
“I know. But I'll be fine.” It would be easy, so easy to take that extra half-step closer, to lower his lips to hers and take what he knows she's offering. And there’s a part of him that wants to. But instead he finds himself stepping away, rounding the table to peer down at the map of the city that’s spread over its surface. “And there's one less psychotic werewolf out there now, so I'm counting tonight as a win.” He glances up at her. “You should get some sleep; you've been running yourself ragged for the past few days.”
“Can't sleep.” She shakes her head, pushing the disappointment from her face with a visible act of will. “I'm always wired after a hunt; you should know that by now.” Hands braced on the edge of the table, she bends to study the map. “Gonna stay up for a while, try to get an idea of what our next move should be.”
Stiles glances at the map, taking in the scattered pushpins that mark the sites of murders or maulings that fit the pattern they're looking for. “What about Beacon Hills?”
Genna frowns, leaning forward a little, and Stiles has to force himself to look away from the cleavage that’s on sudden display. “There hasn't been any activity in that neighborhood,” she says.
“I’m not talking about the neighborhood; I mean the town. Beacon Hills, California.”
She looks up sharply. “How the hell do you know about that?”
“Um, I have adequate powers of deduction and pay attention to the world around me?” Stiles lifts his eyebrows. “There’s a blanket call for reinforcements every couple of weeks, and Amanda's walking around with a perpetually concerned look on her face. Things have gotten worse, haven't they?”
“You shouldn't be intercepting communications.”
“Yeah, I know, my naughtiness is a constant source of shame for me. How bad is it?”
Genna huffs out a sigh and straightens. “Bad. Things were holding steady there for a while, you know; Amanda actually thought hostilities might've been settling down. The first civilian casualties didn't come until a couple of months ago, but there've already been three so far. No one's sure if they're attempts at turning gone wrong, or if the pack has just started killing for the fun of it, but either way it's nothing good. The whole place is such a disorganized clusterfuck, our intel is spotty at best. The Argent girl out there is pretty much just a figurehead; she's not doing anything but keeping someone else with actual leadership skills from moving in.”
“That'd be Allison, right? Isn't she married to one of the betas?”
“She's gone native,” Genna confirms, and Stiles frowns.
“She get the bite?”
“Not as far as we know. But she might as well have; after what happened with her father, word is she swore official loyalty to the pack. Which is probably the only reason she's still alive, honestly. Derek Hale went after the whole family up there like a punishment out of Greek mythology.”
“Yeah.” Stiles crosses his arms. “I heard about the fire.”
“Three people dead when he burned down the main house, and general consensus is that we got lucky. Hale hasn't been willing to stray more than a few miles outside of his territory since his mate died, which means that at least we’re dealing with a minimum safe distance.” Her gaze flicks to the doorway that leads to the kitchen, where light and muted laughter are spilling into the room. “All our people know enough to keep a low profile—there have been a few incidents, some fatalities, but those were mainly freelancers or ex-fosters who were stupid enough to go in guns blazing.”
Stiles frowns. “Are we sure that isn't the best idea after all? Overwhelm them with numbers and clean up this mess once and for all?”
“That would be fine, if we had any accurate idea of what their numbers actually are. But they've got omegas coming and going all the time; some might even be joining the pack, we don't know. Rumor is they've got a warlock on their side, and god knows what else. And as long as Allison Argent is still officially the warden for that area, there isn't a hell of a lot we can do without her say-so. We need more information, we need a solid plan; we need patience, Stiles.”
“Right, because patient is what you need to be when innocent people are dying.”
“Patient is what you need to be if we don't want any more of our people to get killed unnecessarily.” Genna glances back down at the map, her jaw working like she's trying to figure out what to say. When she looks back up her eyes are hesitant, but her shoulders are squared and her jaw is firm. “Amanda told me she's thinking about letting me lead things up, when we've got enough intel to head out there.”
“Wow.” Stiles blinks at her for a moment before he breaks into a grin. “Wow, Genna, that's freakin’ huge!”
“Yeah.” She smiles at that, lets herself relax again. “It is. I'd get to have a hand in putting the team together, too, and . . . I want you to come with me. There's no one else I trust more to have my back. And you're shaping up as a pretty decent lieutenant.”
“'Pretty decent', huh?”
“Well, stop hassling me to put green recruits out in the field, and you might swing an upgrade.”
“I'll see if I can manage that before we head west,” Stiles grins, and something in the set of Genna's shoulders seems to loosen.
“Good. I want you with me, Stiles.” She steps forward, poking a finger into his chest. “But for that to happen, you've gotta stay alive long enough for us to get out there. Which means no more stupid risks, all right?”
“Fair enough,” Stiles says, holding his hands up in surrender. Genna nods once and steps back again.
“You want something to eat?” she asks with a nod towards the kitchen. “Before your team finishes their swarm-of-locusts impression?”
“Hey, I'm not the one responsible for Sanderson,” Stiles reminds her. He glances over his shoulder, towards the light and the chatter and the scent of someone burning the hell out of their toast. “I'm not really that hungry,” he decides, turning back with a shrug. “Think I'm just gonna head upstairs and take a shower.” He gestures vaguely at his back. “Get this cleaned up before it gets infected or something.”
“You need a hand with that?”
“No.” He steps back before he thinks about it, an automatic retreat that he tries to cover with a smile. “Nah, I've got it. Thanks, though. Try to get some sleep tonight, okay? I'll see you in the morning.”
He leaves the room without waiting for a response, making his way quietly through the darkened first floor and taking the stairs two at a time. Amanda and Michael will be asleep by now, and judging by the closed door to the guest room, the hunter in from Alabama probably is, too. Stiles can't quite remember his name at the moment, but he sends up a silent prayer that the guy is a heavy sleeper—his room is directly across from the bathroom, and he hadn't seemed like the type to react graciously to being woken at past three in the morning. Stiles hadn't been kidding about needing a shower, and actual violence in the house is rare enough that he’s willing to risk it, but you never knew with out-of-towners.
Stiles goes to his bedroom first, not thrilled with the idea of having to carry his filthy clothes and shoes back there after he gets cleaned up. Even after almost a year he still can’t help but marvel at having a room of his own—it's the smallest of the upstairs bedrooms, but compared to the barracks that the fosters share in the basement it's the fucking Hilton. He knows it's a perk of the fact that his parents had been old friends with the branch of the Argent family out west, and sometimes he still feels a little bit guilty about the preferential treatment.
Not bad enough to give up his privacy, but still.
He winces a little bit as he starts stripping off his clothes; he’d downplayed things for Genna, but the scratches on his back sting like a sonuvabitch, and he can tell from the way that his undershirt peels away from his skin that they've bled more than he'd been hoping.
Twisting to get a look in the mirror, Stiles can see that there's blood smeared all over his back, some already drying to brownish streaks and more seeping out slowly in a thin red dribble. Between the blood and his tattoo, it's difficult to tell the real extent of the damage; that will have to wait until he gets cleaned up. He shucks off his boots and jeans as quickly as his aching muscles will allow, folds his robe in half to wrap around his waist without getting it bloody, and heads for the shower.
The bathroom light is bright and harsh; Stiles lets out an involuntary hiss as he hits the switch, and ditches the robe on the sink to fiddle with the shower taps through eyes slitted nearly closed. When he steps under the spray he has to grit his teeth against the volley of curses that want to spill out of his throat. After the cold outside it feels like being pelted with burning needles when the water hits his back; his hand curls into a fist where it's braced against the tiles and he stands still, taking harsh breaths through his teeth until the pain dies down. When he's sure the wounds have been rinsed well enough he washes quickly, grateful for the first time in a while for his mandatory and hideous exercise routine that's made him flexible enough to reach his entire back with the washcloth.
Stepping out of the shower, he feels better and worse all at once. He’s warm and clean, and that's a pleasure not to be taken lightly; but he also feels achey and drained and loose-limbed enough that he's a little surprised he doesn't just collapse in a heap there on the bathroom rug.
“Just a few more minutes,” he mutters to himself, wrapping a towel around his waist before he fetches the first aid kit from beneath the sink. “Just gotta get a bandage on and you can sleep for a year. Or at least long enough that you stop talking to yourself again. C’mon, Stiles. Eye of the tiger.”
It's going to be difficult to patch himself up on his own, he knows; he should probably just suck it up and go downstairs, tell Genna he's changed his mind about needing help. But just the thought sends ice crawling down his spine, makes his chest tight until he has to brace his hands on the edge of the sink while he struggles to breathe. Stiles hasn't had a full-blown panic attack in years—long enough that his memory of the last one is vague and hazy around the edges—and he's not about to break that streak now. He focuses on his breathing, on dim memories of a warm hand on his shoulder and a low, gentle voice whispering reassurance. Eventually he manages to straighten, to feel more or less like a person again as he opens the first aid kit with trembling hands.
No, help with this isn't an option. Cursing under his breath, he glares at himself in the mirror. It's stupid; completely ridiculous. He trusts Genna, he knows she wouldn't do anything to hurt him. But the idea of another person's hands on his back while he's wounded and vulnerable is as mindlessly, irrationally terrifying as ever, and maybe a qualified therapist would be able to help him work through that, but right now he's just going to have to fucking deal with doing this on his own.
Stiles turns, swiveling his neck so that he can get a look at the cuts in the mirror. They've stopped bleeding, and he says a silent word of gratitude that they're not as deep as he'd feared. Scratches, like he'd said; deep scratches, maybe, but at least it’s nothing that will require stitches. He frowns, twisting his torso for a better look. Four angry red lines start at his right shoulder and run diagonally across to his left shoulder blade, just past the middle of his back. Two of the scratches, he's irritated to note, have swiped across the very edge of his tattoo.
“Son of a bitch,” he mutters, even as he starts dabbing antibiotic ointment over the stinging marks.
He likes his tattoo; even if it's pretty much always hidden under two or three layers of clothing, he still feels like it makes him just a little bit more badass. It stretches over his back from the bottom of his ribs to the curve of his shoulder, a stylized tree with a trunk and branches made up of a complicated twist of symbols that covers a full quarter of his back. Now one of those branches has an angry red mark through it, and it might not be deep enough to need stitches but he isn't sure he'll be able to avoid a scar.
Well, whatever. It'll be fine. He's been thinking about getting the design expanded for a while now, anyway; if he has to get it touched up, maybe he can look into some ways to add on.
He manages to get a large bandage affixed over the worst of the scratches and carefully slips his arms into his robe. Then it's a shuffling walk down the hallway back to his room, where he falls face-first onto the bed without bothering to change into pajamas.
It's good to be inside again, to be warm and dry. The hunt tonight was a brutal one, and somewhere in the third hour of crouching in the shadows and the cold, misting rain, Stiles had started thinking wistfully of home. Even now, it's a feeling that hasn't entirely dissipated. He's grateful to the Argents here for taking him in, for helping him build a life after his parents were killed; but as nice as this house is, and as well as he's always been treated, it's never truly been home. Home is a half-remembered feeling, an idea that his mind shies away from even as he longs for it. Home is something dead and gone, and better left forgotten.
Nevertheless, as he slides quickly into sleep it isn't far from his thoughts: his mother's smile and his father's hand on his shoulder, and a warm, strong presence that speaks of family, and safety, and love.